Sep 222019
 

Can’t lie. I’m pleased as punch with this one. For personal, biased reasons and just for the way it sits on my palate.

Now, before we go further…I did warn you, remember? I did say that I’d be reviewing some store casks from time to time. And by that I mean the barrels we (as a small committee) select for Kensington Wine Market to purchase as store exclusives. I remember the range of Glen Scotia cask samples we received being quite good, and I remember this particular cask being a stand-out amongst them, but when the actual bottles arrived they were so much better than I remembered. In fact, I have to say that this is one of the store casks I’m most tickled to have played a part in selecting. I should also add that this is probably the most interesting Glen Scotia I’ve ever tasted.

But ultimately, does my bias really matter? It’s not like I made the stuff. All credit goes to the folks at Glen Scotia. We were just lucky enough to score a fantastic selection of cask samples. And this particular expression is almost the epitome of Campbeltown single malt whisky. A great cask at a great age.

53.6% abv. 227 bottles from an ex-sherry hoggy.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A dirty dram; one where most of the fruits are buried. Leathery, with notes of spent engine oil. Smoky and salty. Coastal, without hitting too deep on brine or decaying kelp notes. Mince tarts with slightly burnt pastry. Darkly smoky. Graham cracker crust under blueberry cheesecake. Pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. A wee bit ashy and sooty. Notes of Sen-sens.

Palate: Oil again. What I’d imagine linseed oil would taste like. Sunflower seeds. Dark purple grapes. Much jammier and fruitier here than on the nose. Caramelized ham skin. Reminds of Bowmore Laimrig in ways. Almost seems like this could have been chocolate malt (read: heavily toasted malted barley). Black currant cough sweets. Sweet and syrupy before it plummets into ashy dryness.

Finish: Uber long and oily. Mid-firm tannins.

Thoughts: In some ways, this makes me think of a filthy armagnac. A none-too-fruity dram that defies a lot of description. One to be tasted in order to properly be appreciated. Great stuff.

91.5/100

 Posted by at 11:22 am
Sep 182019
 

Earlier this year Ardbeg Drum shook my faith in the Great Big Green. It was…less than stellar in this cat’s humble opinion. Bad? No. Of course not. Good? Meh. Not even quite. But Drum is now in the rearview mirror. We’re now on the eve of the proper arrival of Traigh Bhan here in Canadian waters. Traigh Bhan – named for a local beach, and translated as ‘the Singing Sands’ – is what we’ve been waiting for: proper age-stated Ardbeg. And not just age-stated, but what an age! Traigh Bhan is a meant to be a permanent addition to the core range, albeit in batch releases that will vary year upon year. The price? Well…let’s leave that aside for a few moments and just revel in the fact that this iconic much-loved distillery has finally reached a point – post-renaissance – that they are able to release a regular release at a brilliant state of maturity. Apex Ardbeg. Not much more to say really.

Consider me on record here and now saying that this is spectacular. And I can’t lie…it’s nice to be able to ‘fanboy’ it up a bit again for my beloved Ardbeg.

46.2% abv. An utterly perfect drinking strength. Matured in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Oh. Oh, boy. We’re tiptoeing up to the line where we cross over into tropical territory. Especially with those grilled pineapple notes. Lime. Orange. A faint hint of cherry. Black wine gums. Lemon pound cake. Kumquat. The smoke is quite subdued, and there’s little in the way of real earthy peat. Vanilla cupcakes. Caramel sauce on pineapple (again with the pineapple!). The five flavor Lifesaver packages. Eucalyptus. Toasted marshmallow. Ginger. Complex and perfectly integrated.

Palate: Quite soft for an Ardbeg (mind you…we are at nearly two decades here). Mid level smoke profile. Licorice. Oily vanilla seed. Mocha. Orange and citrus. And here we go: there’s the pineapple again. Greengage. Smoked sausage. Ginger and white pepper. Clean wood. Nice harmony between nose and palate.

Finish: Long and perfect. Lime zest. Vanilla ice cream popsicles. Faint green fruit skins at the end (green apples and green grapes).

Thoughts: Ardbeg back at the top of their game. I adore this release. Can’t wait to drink more of it. Much more.

92.5/100

And yes…I will update the photo when I get my hands on a bottle proper.

 Posted by at 6:39 pm
Sep 142019
 

A new big and bold Kilchoman. But that could be any Kilchoman, really. What sets Loch Gorm apart from the rest of the range is the sheer heft of sweet, sticky sherry that permeates every crack and crevice of the malt, underscoring the malleability of the base distillate. It works beautifully here, speaking to the sky-high quality of both the spirit and the barrel it went into.

I truly believe it’s hard to mess up a spirit this good. You’d have to actively try, in fact. Such is the lightning in a bottle singularity which Anthony Wills and team (with the guidance of the late Jim Swan) have been able to capture at Islay’s landlocked farm distillery. There are occasional missteps in cask choice (the wine casks, guys, the wine casks. <shudder>), but I suppose we should chalk that up to a matter of personal preference, since I know many folks who adore that style. Fear not, wineheads, you’ll have no competition from me for those releases. They’re all yours. But sweet sherry like this? Yes, please.

46% abv (and really no need to be higher. This is the perfect drinking strength). 15,000 bottles. The neck tag says this was a vatting of twenty Oloroso sherry butts from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately reminds of Bowmore Laimrig. Stylistically, at least, if not the same sort of nuance and ppm equality. Mixed berry fruit leather. A mix of orange, lemon and lime juice. Ammonia. Smoke and charred wood. Burnt lemon. Savoury, barbecue sauce. Grilled shellfish.

Palate: Smoke and loads of it. Big. mouthwatering arrival. Grape jam. Cola syrup. Licorice babies. Apple peelings with a fresh squeeze of orange. A bit of a minty-ness going on. Caramelized ginger. Cherry cordials. Like what I imagine smoldering cedar might taste like. Big sherry, but not top-heavy. Lindt dark chili chocolate.

Finish: Long and exactly as you’d expect: ebbing notes of oak and drying sherry. Leaves a bit of a dry-mouthedness. Last flavours are green apple skins and charred white fish. Beautiful finish.

Thoughts: Very coastal. Rich and decadent. Dirty and oily. Love it. A great variant in the range. But I must confess…I love Machir Bay a little bit more.

88/100

 Posted by at 4:18 pm
Sep 092019
 

Sherry fiends…here you go. This one should be right up your alley. This is what old sherried whisky should be: thick, rich, gooey, complex and multi-faceted. There was a time when this sort of flavor was what I expected from sherry-matured malts. Unfortunately, those days seem to be largely behind us.

Most of what’s hitting the tastebuds nowadays is an anemic facsimile of this beloved old style. The words ‘sherry-seasoned’ have begun to ring as a death-knell for a lot of malts in the eyes of most of my whisky mates. They simply look the other way for decent drams when they see these syllables strung together. There are, of course, great drams out there that fall under this appellation, but the real problem is that they’re being sold at the same sort of price point that old school proper sherry bombs used to sell at. Y’know…the ones matured in gorgeous, ancient bodega butts. The savvy among you will likely immediately see the issue here. The industry always told us that the higher prices levied against sherried whiskies (compared to their bourbon casked cousins) was justified by the price of sherry butts (ten times the price, they’d say!*). So why is that the case now then, when most of what we are seeing are just seasoned hogsheads? Hmmmm.

Anyway…

Glengoyne. The older the expression, the more proper sherry influence. The younger expressions are a mix of bourbon and sherry. Those beyond the 18 are exclusively sherry. The 21…s’ok. The 25, though? Wow. On a rainy day like today I can 100% say that I could happily sip this all evening while the storm rages on outside my window. Beautiful stuff.

And love, love, love the 48% bottling strength.

*A rubbish idea. The cask itself may work out to about ten times the purchase price, but it also holds two and a half times what a bourbon barrel does, so it’s far from a ten to one kinda comparison.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Bucketloads of sherry (for those from eastern Canada: that would a be a ‘shit ton’ in your dialect). Sultanas and figs. Cuban Lunch bars slammed headlong into Eat-More bars. Mincemeat tarts. Lots of nutmeg. Lots of mulling spices. Burnt berry compote. Eucalyptus. Licorice. Treacle toffee. Sticky toffee pudding. Morello cherry. Moist cigar leaf.

Palate: Good, rich, old school sherry. Dumpy and delicious. Great arrival, great structure. Old woods and a bit of furniture polish. Orange oil and rich marmalade. Jammy fruits. Dark chocolate. Spicy fruit cake. Toasted whole grain bread. Coffee liqueur. A decent nuttiness too, bringing a bit of dryness.

Finish: Long, deep and dark. Melted cocoa and some herbal notes. Late tannins. Black tea.

Thoughts: Just some good ol’ well-aged, Oloroso-soaked whisky. Brilliant expression from Glengoyne.

90/100

 Posted by at 1:57 pm
Sep 062019
 

I’m a planner. Can’t help it. It’s good to be on top of things when other people’s hopes and plans and money are on the line. If it’s just me flying solo, I couldn’t really give two shits about being organized; when things go off the rails, that’s just another opportunity to make adventure. The best stories come from those sorts of goings-on. But organizing doesn’t always go as planned. Especially with a lot of moving parts. Let me explain…

Early talk of this trip began in 2018. A high-level tentative ‘budget’ was pulled together and quoted to the lads. All seemed on the up and up, and then…well…the calendar year ticked over, and a whole lot of prices went up. Not ideal when you’re trying to honor your word as to costs, right? I wiggled and wrangled and tweaked and adjusted and managed to keep it very much in the ballpark. The ongoing debacle in the UK sorta helped in regards to the pound-to-dollar conversion rates. Thank God. In the end, it all worked out, but I may have added a few more grey hairs to the lid along the way. Such is.

Moral of the story? Book early. But not too early.

Moving on…

Where do we find ourselves now? Three weeks ’til the big show. Dave and Kent are heading out in separate solo jaunts, extending their time over and knocking off some personal agenda stuff (and yes…I imagine there will be a distillery or two visited as well). Dev and Doug take off on the 26th, squaring away some auction stuff before heading for Leith. These four cats will be hooking up at SMWS HQ in order to make a run at drinking the vaults dry. I’m just hoping one of ’em scoops up a bottle of some sexy Islay malt to mule across to the Island of Dreams and share with the rest of us.

On Friday, Sept 27th, Scotty and I will hop the big silver bird and light out for Glasgow, via Amsterdam. We’ll set down at about 10:00 am, hook up our rental car and make tracks for Arran. We’ll be late arrivals to the distillery (nearly 4 pm!), but hope to suck in as much as we can. Take that how you will. We’ll overnight it on the island, then catch an early morning ferry back to the mainland. Once we make landfall in Androssan we’ll be booting it back to Glasgow to hook up with all the other chaps so we can be at Auchentoshan for 2:30 pm. Apres ca…le Bon Accord! Or the Pot Still. Or some other place to eat, drink and be merry.

The following morning will be an early one. Our flight to Islay is scheduled to lift off at 8:00 am, setting us down on a little slice of heaven at 8:45. I have a driver booked for the entire duration of our Islay stay. Hughie Currie is a beautiful soul who always brings a smile to my face. I can’t imagine a trip over without him being involved. The next five days will be a slow, but very deliberate, marinating period for our livers. Nothing like gallons of peated malt to season a man up right, aye? We’ll lay waste to all nine distilleries on the island throughout the day times, then spend our eves carousing in the atmosphere of some of my favorite pubs and whisky bars in the world. Of course, staying at the Ardbeg Seaview Cottages for a portion of the trip means some late nights spent out behind the distillery, sitting on the craggy coastline and watching the waves roll in.

When we finally bid (a temporary) farewell to Islay, we’ll be heading for Campbeltown, via the Port Ellen ferry across to Kennacraig, then hopping a bus down to the tip of the peninsula. Two nights and three days in Campbeltown will be plenty of time to see Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank distilleries. We’ll wrap it up with a sick tasting in the Cadenhead warehouses before scooting off to the airport to catch a 5:30 pm flight back to Glasgow. One last pub night in the big city, then we’ll have to be up at the crack of…who am I kidding? We may as well not even sleep. I think we have to be up at 3:00 am or something for the return flight to Calgary.

And I can’t lie: I’m exhausted just thinking about those first couple days back home. Our livers will be petrified little prunes and our pores will be nothing more than wee off-gassing vents to dispel some of the bog reek we’ll be emanating. But I live for this shit. And I’ve said it before: these journeys feel like going home.

I could fill you in on the exact details of all these distillery bookings, but I think I’d rather save that for recapping what actually goes down, as opposed to what is planned. There will be much more to come. Stay tunes, friends…

 Posted by at 2:04 pm
Sep 042019
 

This style of malt has huge appeal for me. I may have used this analogy before in some other context, but a whisky like this is a coelacanth. In other words, a Lazarus. A dead style, come to life again long after we thought we’d kissed it goodbye. That analogy applies both to the distillery and the style. Benromach was Gordon & MacPhail’s first foray into distilling and distillery ownership, while the style is sadly anachronistic in this day and age.*

When G&M reopened Benromach in 1999, after a near 16 year closure, their aim was to produce a 1950s style Speyside malt. You know what that means, aye? Bingo! Peat. It’s a different dimension added to a familiar style, and one that works extremely well against such a rich and robust spirit.

If what I’ve read is correct, Benromach is peating to about 12 ppm. Not high, by today’s metrics, but substantial enough that phenol-phobes will definitely be turning a nose up at this one. Irrespective of the actual numbers, the smoke is an omnipresent entity, weaving its way through all other nuances and flavour notes. And for my tastebuds…it works beautifully. Is the 10 a knock-out? Nah, of course, not. But it is really, really good. And as close to a knockout as you can get at this age and price.

I also want to add that the more mature malts under the new ‘romach regime are already showing signs of being something very special. This is the sort of whisky I want to drink at about thirty years of age or so. I think that’s where it will really shine.

Shame about the 43% bottling strength, but we’ve already harped on G&M’s propensity for these ‘no man’s land’ abv’s, so let’s move on.

43% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: A light smokiness, as we’d expect, knowing what we do about Benromach. Oil lamps. Unbaked pastry shells. Wind over hay fields (I know, I know…settle down, Auden). Warm suede and polish. Orange marmalade and orange juice. Berry compote. Toasted almond.

Palate: Gentle earthy, peaty notes, with threads of clean smoke and toasted oak. Warm leather (horse saddle? And no…I’ve not licked saddles). More orange, vibrant and lovely. Citrus pith and rind. Dusty wood. Hints of corn (think dried stalks, unbuttered popcorn, etc). Vaguely nutty.

Finish: Mid length. Slightly tannic at the back end. All pleasant.

Thoughts: Any day, any time. Adore this style. And not just this style; I adore this dram. One of the best 10 year olds on the market.

89/100

*Yes, I’m aware Ardmore is much in the same camp, though they’ve been consistent about it for a very, very long time, and in this guy’s humble opinion, lack the multifaceted profile.

 Posted by at 2:51 pm
Aug 302019
 

Oh, man. I really don’t relish talking about Macallan much these days. It kinda feels like picking on a very weak bully, if that makes any sense. Macallan is more of a monolith than ever before, but at the same time it’s but a shadow of its former self. I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile the contemporary profile of the brand with those massively sherried, brooding old beauties from past decades. The lack of decent sherry butts plays its part, of course, but let’s also shoot the elephant in the room while we’re taking aim: the prices being levied against any Macallan that breaches that 18 year mark are bloody offensive. Marry that concern to the amorphous flavour profile that neither adequately reflects what Macallan has always been about, nor does it any favours, and…well…it’s hard to love this great old icon with the same zeal I did in earlier times.

So, as I said…I don’t really like discussing Macallan. Mama always said ‘if you can’t say anything nice…’ And you know where it goes from there.

Triple Cask. Three wood types. Okay. Nothing really innovative here, but I can’t lie: seeing the word ‘sherry’ on the label makes me grit my teeth. Because with Macallan, it rarely seems to stand in isolation. Inevitably these days, ‘sherry’ is being chased by the word ‘seasoned’. You know what that means, aye? Sherry Lite; just a suggestion of what we hope for in our Macallan, due to little real wood penetration (minds out of the gutter, kids!). And the resultant whisky here, even at 18 years, is about as exciting as a lukewarm bowl of Cream of Wheat porridge. Is it bad? Nah. But neither is it really good. Certainly not good enough to justify that nearly $350 price tag anyway. At $150 or $180? Maybe. Maybe.

43% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: A fairly pronounced spiciness, right out of the gates. But almost like cinnamon, nutmeg and cocoa powder stirred into cream or custard. Still sorta floral and perfumed. Caramel cake with candied nuts. Lemon and honey. Spanakopita. Soft toasty notes.

Palate: Quite sweet and almost syrupy, despite its anemic body. Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. Cinnamon sticks. Hints of chomping on an unlit cigar. Just suggestions of mince pies. Slightly wine-y actually. And a bit flinty. Nose was more interesting than the palate, if I’m being honest.

Finish: Slightly tannic. More oak and vanilla than I hoped for at the back end. Shortish.

Thoughts: Credit where credit is due, though: there’s a decent balance struck here. And while 43% is better than 40%…46% would have been much more to my liking.

86.5/100

 Posted by at 3:35 pm
Aug 292019
 

A perpetual favorite of mine and most (errr…all) of my mates ’round here. And it might actually be my favorite 25 year old distillery bottling on the market, now that I think about it. Laphroaig 25 is always the perfect marriage of dead peat (i.e. faint and faded with time) and soft fruits, tiptoeing towards the realm of tropical. I know some folks out there are looking for the coal fire wallop of young phenols in every glass they pour, but the truth of the matter is that Laphroaig is one of the most spectacular malts out there if left alone for a couple decades in good oak.

This is the 2017 edition, and I believe it’s as the others: a mix of bourbon and Oloroso casks. Either way, it works a right treat. I don’t think we need to say much more.

48.9% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Soft smoky undertones. Lime, melon and mango. Pineapple and chest rub. Threads of white and milk chocolate. Skin-on almonds. Just a faint ammoniac barn-ish smell. Iodine (this is Laphroaig, after all!). Oysters. Kinda…sooty and charry. Wine gums. Dead flowers. I love how this one opens up.

Palate: Salt water taffee and black licorice. Cola cubes. Cantaloupe and grapefruit. A bit flinty, with a nice olive brininess. Oily vanilla. Heavy cream on a bowl of citrus fruit wedges. Grilled pineapple. More of that eucalyptus. Coriander. Grilled whitefish. Ahhhh…that grapefruit tartness; love it.

Finish: Clean and vibrant. Good, lengthy fade. Leaves Granny Smith apples, lemon and smoky grist notes behind.

Thoughts: As I said, a perpetual favorite, held to incredibly high standards. And fortunately, always seems able to rise up and meet them. Can’t help but think that maybe one less butt and a few more bourbon barrels in the vatting would have taken this up a couple points.

89/100

 Posted by at 7:43 pm
Aug 272019
 

Ever heard that expression ‘if you try to be everything to everyone you’ll end up being nothing for anyone’? That’s sort of what I’m struggling with here on ATW right now. Readership is understandably low coming off a very lengthy hiatus – which means there isn’t much of a barometer to gauge opinions – but I’m doing to my best to tackle a bit of everything here. That was always the game plan and I like to think that, throughout the years, I’ve done just that. I’ve drunk rotgut and scored it limbo-low, and sipped 70 year old drams that would make your accountant’s eyes roll back in his or her head.

Believe it or not, the easiest drams for me to source are those that fall in the mid zone. Couple hundred up to about a grand. Those at the lowest price points are scarce in my circles, simply because neither me nor my friends are buying them. And those at the top…well, I do get to try quite a few, but they’re far from everyday treats. Fortunately, my job allows me access to so much more than simply what I secure myself. Hopefully I’m getting at a bit of what everyone wants to see.

The reality is, though, that there is almost certainly a much wider audience for a review of an Oban 14 than there is for, say, a 1966 Banff. The latter is fun to read about for context and historicity, but the former is what aids in buying decisions for some. And I think, aside from a virtual social engagement, that’s what most use this site for. I think you guys and gals know me by now, though. It’s the scarce and storied malts that really light me up. They tend to be in very limited allocation and they tend to be pricey. ie. Not for for everyone.

But the problem is that notes on so many of these brilliant old and rare drams will never see the light of day. There are legions of hoarders out there who will never open these bottles, collecting showpieces as opposed to collecting the memories associated with the experience of sharing them. And that’s fine. No judgement. (Okay…maybe a little) But if I can use this as a platform for getting more info out there, I will. It gives perspective, if nothing else. And keeps my batteries fueled for the other stuff in life that is less enjoyable.

As I said, though…reviews of that nature target a very select audience: those with pockets deeper than most of us will ever have and those with a bent to masochistic and vicarious participation. In other words, the geeks who can afford ’em and will buy ’em, and the geeks who simply devour every word about the most complex spirit in the world. I recognize that some of the site’s content could be construed as pretentious. I guess there’s no getting around that.

But let’s continue to fight the good fight together. You let me know what you want to see on here and I’ll try to make it happen to the best of my ability. And hopefully I can continue to walk the line between archiving notes on grail malts and sharing the word on the daily drinkers. Because they all deserve their day in the sun, aye? And who knows? With the bubble reaching (arguably) its apex position, its not only possible but probable we’ll see it pop (or at least deflate a bit) and perhaps the gap between these points will close a bit. Food for thought for another day, though: careful what you wish for. It would not be a good thing to end up where we were back in the late 1800s. Or the 1920s. Or the 1980s, to speak to a bit of more topical time.

Much love…

 Posted by at 9:02 am
Aug 262019
 

Not only have there been requests to write up a few Arran malts, but there is an absolutely rabid following for the stuff around here. Part of that loyal fanboy and fangirl-ism, I honestly believe, can be laid at the feet of Kensington Wine Market here in Calgary. (And yes…I work at KWM. But you knew that, aye?) Twelve bespoke casks of Arran have been brought into the store over the past few years. Twelve. And having sold through all but the last handful of our most recent acquisitions, I think we can safely say that, at the very least, we’ve helped cultivate the adoration.

The icing on the cake is that Arran is a ridiculously approachable malt; complex enough that geeks still love it, but sweet and easy-going enough so that even those with little experience can find it a decent gateway dram. The key, though, is that inherent sweetness that defines the distillery character. So, where does it come from? Well…

Here’s what we know (based on info from Scotchwhisky.com): decently lengthy fermentation time (~65 hrs, shell and tube condensers to maximize copper contact; tall stills with long lyne arms (ditto on the copper contact); Kerry M yeast (slightly longer for the yeast to get moving, typically resulting in a more fruit-driven distillate) and a solid wood program that focuses primarily (though not exclusively) on sweet jammy sherry butts and clean active ex-bourbon casks. The malts are nabbing really robust cask influence at relatively youthful ages, without then having to be offered up too young. A nice balancing act, really.

So, what comes out the other end is a sweet, syrupy and ester-driven pile of loveliness. I can’t always drink such a sweet style, but man…what a well-composed spirit. Hard to argue that.

I’ll be heading for the distillery in a matter of weeks. Hopefully I can confirm a few details then. More to come…

Tasting Notes

Nose: This one even noses sweet. Bucketloads of fruit. Sliced apple and berries drizzled in lemon juice. Decent oak structure, without being tannic. Some sherry in here too? The suggestion of an unlit cigar sitting behind a vase of week old flowers (you’ve lost the plot, ATW!). Pineapple and mandarin. Lemon meringue pie, with toasted meringue. Plantains.

Palate: Juicy arrival. Then big oak. Then an explosion of fruity sweetness. Apple and orange with a squeeze of grapefruit. Dried papaya slices. Mashed banana. Pineapple flan (flan de pina). A decent amount of citrus again. Danish pastries. Orange ju-jubes.

Finish: Clean and dominated by fruit skins. Lemon popsicle, especially the stick afterwards.

Thoughts: Nice balance here, if a wee bit sweet for my tastes. I do like the fruits here, edging into tropical territory.

87.5/100

 Posted by at 11:07 am