Dec 072016
 

Laphroaig 40 y.o.img_4047

42.4% abv

Score:  94.5/100

 

I owe a proper write-up on a recent experience I was fortunate enough to take part in.  A full-on top notch, knock your socks off kinda tasting, that is, held by and for a wee somewhat secretive conclave known as the Gang Of Four.  That piece will be done in coming days (as soon as I figure out the right angle to attack it from), but a couple of the malts warrant individual reviews.  And this is most definitely one of them.

Oh, man.  Laphroaig 40 year old.  One of the gents involved in the l’il collective for this once in a lifetime tasting referred to it as a bucket list malt.  Couldn’t agree more.  I recall a couple reviews over the years (Jim Murray and Serge Valentin, I believe) that mentioned the toss up between the 30 and 40 for the crown of ultimate Laphroaig.  Let me add my name to that list (albeit miles below, in terms of standing, fame and respectability).  It really is hard to choose, even when tasted head to head, as we did this night.  The 30 holds a special place in my heart for a few reasons, but this 40…well…words are sometimes elusive with these things.

It’s very possible there are a couple factors at play here that contribute to the stunning majesty and depth of sweet, fruity notes in this one.  First…it was made in 1960, a time when consistency was less a benchmark than quality.  Many moving pieces would have likely added to the complexity here, not the least of which would have included more old barrels to choose from, direct-fired stills, worm tub condensing, in situ malted barley and maturation in famed Warehouse #1.  Second…we’re likely dealing with a bit of Old Bottle Effect here (or OBE, in shorthand).  This was bottled more than 15 years ago.  No matter what anyone says, I firmly believe that time in the bottle does soften whisky.

Let me just say that in no uncertain terms this is one of life’s greatest whisky experiences.  The malt is beyond fantastic and acknowledgement of the moment one gets to drink it and all of the history that led to that is the stuff memories are made of.  Breathtaking dram, to say the least.

The full write-up will have more tasting notes (some from the others swedged in with mine), but these are mostly mine below.

Sincere thanks to the kindhearted soul who allowed us to taste this grail malt.  Unforgettable.  Beyond appreciated.

Nose:  An absolutely enormous fruitbomb.  Like fruit cocktail.  Specifically orange and tangerine.  Grilled pineapple, rich in caramelized sugars and syrup.  Sweet cherry notes.  Very, very dessert-like.  Soft and perfectly balanced spices.  Old books.  The peat is nothing more than a fleeting memory.  Smoke…barely.  Everything is faint, subtle…and stunning.

Palate:  Fruit salad immediately on arrival.  Soft and creamy.  Almost custard-like.  Beautiful spices.  Slightly oaky, but hey…this is a forty year old dram.  A little more peat and smoke on the palate than the nose would have us believe.  Eucalyptus.  Just a wee bit of fennel.  Again…all are more like echoes of the original resonance.

Thoughts:  Up until shaking hands with this stunning old gem I could unequivocally state that the 30 year old was the greatest Laphroaig I’d tried.  I think this pips it.  Barely, but yeah.

 

– Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:31 am
Nov 242016
 

Lagavulin 8 y.o. 200th Annniversary Editionimg_4024

48% abv

Score:  87/100

 

So…you may or may not know, but Lagavulin 8 comes with a big fat ‘what the fuck?’ written all over it.  On the one hand, that question is easy to answer.  On the other, well…not so easy.  This limited edition expression from arguably Diageo’s classiest of brands was released as part of the distillery’s bicentennial celebration.  Two hundred years is a doozy of a milestone, and one can only assume the occasion would be met with fanfare equal to the magnitude of the occasion.  Well then…why an eight year old?

In the late 1880s, when historian Alfred Barnard visited the distillery, he was poured a dram of eight year old Lagavulin which he referred to as ‘exceptionally fine’.  This current 200th year commemorative release was crafted as a way to pay homage to Mr. Barnard’s acknowledgement of the historical quality of Lagavulin.  So you see?  The choice of an eight year old is somewhat apropos.  Well…sort of, anyway.  Isn’t this then a commemoration of a milestone decades later than the one you’re actually trying to focus on?  Hmmm.

The flip side too is that an eight year old is hardly an occasion-making knockout of a malt, is it?  Slightly anti-climactic, if you ask me.  If I was the one who had control over teeming warehouses of slumbering Lag I think I would have taken it upon myself to build something a little more…spectacular.  Perhaps an 18 year old.  Or something to rival the Feis Ile or Jazz Fest releases.  But still at a reasonable price point.

To be fair, Lagavulin did release a 25 year old this year as well, also done up in 200 year markings, but it’s price was beyond ridiculous.  Of course it was going to be, though, seeing as the 21 from a couple years back retailed at almost $900 Canadian.  Ouch.  Maybe we’ll just take our affordable eight year old and shut up.

Is it good though?  Yeah.  Quite.  I liked it anyway.  And most others I know that have tasted it found it quite decent too.  We’ll take comfort in the fact that there is finally another option from a distillery that historically has held to a very limited range.

Nose:  I’d guess Caol Ila, if given blind.  Burnt rubber.  Noses very young, but unflawed.  Quite herbal.  And smells fresh off the mill.  Ocean water and fresh mussels or oysters.  Brand new wellies.  Citrus.  Minerally.  Quite sharp.  That very typical Lagavulin Band-aid-iness (can that be an adjective now?).

Palate:  Sharp and immediately on the attack.  Young.  Nutty.  Smoky.  There’s a substantial industrial, dry smokiness here.  Burnt seafood.  Dry and ashy.  Tarry even.  Lots of citrus.  While the nose hints at the delicate nature of underripe Caol Ila, the palate is much more of an uppercut.  Even so…not sure I’d guess this was Lagavulin if I didn’t know better.  Well…maybe.  Granny Smith apple skins on the finish.

Thoughts:  I think this would be great poured over Islay oysters with a squeeze of lemon.  Oh, wait…it is.  Possibly my new favorite meal.  Good malt, not quite great.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:31 am
Nov 222016
 

Bet you expected another rant on rising prices, NAS follies and shady practices, yeah?  Not this time.  I tackled much of this recently for a rather bigger audience.  An article Ian Buxton published in the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2017 is liberally peppered with my thoughts and quotes (thanks, Ian!).  That’s good for me for now.  I can’t lie…I’ve been enjoying the smooth sailing of late.  Nice not to always be the one rocking the boat.  The waves made may only be wee ripples by the time they spread to the wider world, but locally they can be quite choppy.

Anyway…I’m jotting away here for a reason.  Thought I would provide a bit of context and a ‘heads up’.  2016 has been a very rough year.  I won’t get into all of the personal stuff we’ve dealt with, but the one thing that most affects this site is likely the monolithic shadow of unemployment under which we’ve been living since April.  Obviously whisky buying (and cigars, and…) had to be one of the first casualties.  It sucks, but that is life.  I still have things to say, and whiskies to share the word on, but we may not be able to be too contemporary or relevant.  Not that I’ve ever minded being the guy late to the party.

I think what will suffer the most is reviews of lower quality malts and more budget brands.  I simply have trouble getting my hands on mediocre whisky.  I don’t buy it often (occasionally for reviewing), and now certainly won’t be buying it.  I actually have fun writing about some of those lesser quality drams (it gives me an entirely new vocabulary to work with), but this has always been a shortcoming of the site in my opinion.

Things will pick up again, but do be aware that we may try a few new things in the coming year.  I’ll see what I can do about sourcing whisky samples to keep things topical, and we’ll tackle some new ideas, I think.  Perhaps even a guest writer or two to bring a freshness to the scene.  Oh, yeah…and I’ll try to be a little more regular with posts.

Finally…in the interest in full disclosure I want to share the truth.  I have little interest in returning to the industry I was previously employed in.  And even if I did want it, it will be a loooooooong time recovering.  Chances are slim.  I have been actively investigating work in an industry I know a fair bit about.  Yes…the whisky world.  Not sure what that could ultimately mean here, but we’re all adults, right?  It should be understood that feeding my kids and keeping the bills paid supercedes all other thoughts and priorities.  Hope we don’t find too many conflicts, but only time will tell.

As always, appreciate your engagement.  Onwards to 2017.

 

– C

 Posted by at 10:13 am
Nov 222016
 

Amrut Spectrum20161111_205014

50% abv

Score:  92/100

 

I know more than a few out there have been waiting for me to get around to sharing some thoughts on Amrut Spectrum.  I think, in fact, even one or two of the good folks behind the brand have been waiting.  If you expected a bit of a hook or a slice on this one (i.e. veering away from known territory) you may as well move on.  I’ll lay it on the line early here and you can read on or move on as you see fit.  The simple fact of the matter is that this is another ruddy brilliant dram from our mates in India.

The story on this one has already made the rounds.  Spectrum is a malt matured for three years in ex-bourbon barrels before being shunted for a further three and a half years into casks specially commissioned from alternating staves of five different barrel types: American, French and Spanish oak, as well as ex-PX and ex-Oloroso.  Neat, and beyond innovative, really, in an industry heavily governed by tradition and a lack of forward thinking.  The resulting profile is one rich in jammy fruit, almost molasses-thick sherried notes and rich, rich, rich helpings of dried fruits and coffee.  A couple mates of mine thought sulphur, but I beg to differ.  This is just heavily cooked whisky.  It’s beyond big and borders on over-cooked.  I like that though.  I’m a sucker for big sherry, and this fits the bill.

I can’t prepare you for this one.  Big, sub-tropical notes, dark fruits, cold coffee, bittersweet chocolate.  All in harmony.  Lovely and rich.  This is a small sipper though.  Meant to be enjoyed in wee sips over long hours of contemplation.  Not a malt for overindulgence, as the malt itself is an indulgence.

Nose:  Dark chocolate and jammy dark fruit.  Orange zest.  Slight smokiness.  Gooey toffee.  Furniture polish.  Almost a cola note.  Coffee.  Nougat.  Cherry, raspberry and even a hint of reduced blueberry.  Or more simply… a mixed berry jam.  Cinnamon, cardamom and burnt sugar.  Coffee liquor. Candied orange peel.  Can’t get over the depth of chewy chocolates, toffees and fruits.  Great melange.

Palate:  Whoa.  Big, dark and bordering on bitter.  In all the right ways, that is, being a beautiful balanced tannicity.  Smalls savouring sips are the way to go with a malt this deep and immersive.  Like an infused Kahlua of some sort.  Oily dried fruits and gooey jams.  More candied orange, but wrapped in chocolate (anyone tried the Bernard Callebaut chocolates like this?).  Cough syrup.  Nutty notes and hints of strong, rich rum.  Gooey, sticky dessert.

Thoughts:  Reminds a tick of some heavily sherries Kavalan, but has definite Amrut DNA.  50% abv is generous, but I want this even bigger…at least high 50s.  What Amrut can do in a few short years is simply incredible.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:37 am
Nov 202016
 

Laphroaig 2004 Cask #45 Bottle Your Own20160925_110724

51% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

Laphroaig runs some pretty damn cool visitor experiences for those that make the pilgrimage across the water to Islay.  As if you needed more motivation.  Even without upgrading to said tour experiences, the good people at the distillery will treat you like family.

In fact, I’ll go step further.  It’s arguable that one Islay distillery produces malts I like more, while another does things in a manner I respect more than any other distillery in the world.  Having said that…Laphroaig combines those two aspects into one big, beautiful, peaty coherent whole.  It’s hard not to love the green and white.

Two of the higher end experiences the distillery offers include the opportunity to sample from three pre-selected casks and bottle your own 250 ml bottle directly from the barrel, replete with cask char residue and all.  Now…if you’re a whisky geek and purist as I am (and many of us are), this is the ultimate in both dramming experiences and souvenir hoarding.  Couple that with a healthy dosing of peat juice along the three hour journey and man…I don’t know how else to sell it to you.

This malt was one of the three I tried at the distillery.  It was a 12 year old malt from a bourbon barrel.

I don’t review whiskies like this in order to aid in buying decisions (obviously), but in order to tell a story.  In this case, to tell you that a few of us went to peaty Neverland and had an incomparable experience.  You can do the same.  And if you do…it will be absolutely unforgettable.

Obviously I drank this on site, but sincere thanks to ‘the bearded one’, aka Danny, for the chance to enjoy this in more meditative environs.  Was nice to revisit and take some notes.

Nose:  Earthy dram, this.  Notes of tea.  Sweet but strong vanilla.  Mint Leaf candies.  Smoked seafood on the shell.  Very fresh eucalyptus.  A truly organic whisky.  Lime…and more lime.  Freshly baked scones.

Palate:  More lime here.  Smoke and peat, as we’d expect.  Medicinal (agin…as we’d expect).  Minty.  Very vibrant.  Ashy.  Smoky.  Salt licorice.  Rubber.

Thoughts:  A beautiful old school style Laphroaig.  We tried three, and all were interesting, but this one had the most harmonious nature about it.  Lovely stuff.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:13 pm
Nov 122016
 

Redbreast 12 y.o. Cask Strength Batch No. B1/15img_1058

57.4% abv

Score:  92/100

 

I literally could not think of a critical word to throw at this dram if I tried.  It’s whiskies like this that make me question what the hell most of the rest of Ireland has been doing for years.  And further…makes me very, very excited for what is to come from Waterford in future years.

Let’s face it, Irish whiskey has needed a kick in the ass for years.  It has lagged behind Scotch in all senses.  But now, having run headlong into a bottle like this, it’s heartening to see just how pristine the drink can be when treated with the care it deserves.  This is more than just cask strength Irish whiskey.  It’s an absolute fruitbomb marriage of spectacular barrels bottled at the perfect age.  I could go on, but it’s really unnecessary.  Just buy this whiskey.

Nose:  Fruity and floral and doused in rich milk chocolate.  Creamy orange and tangerine.  Custard and ginger.
A sprinkle of white pepper.  Grilled pineapple.  Oily jujubes.  Soft, clean wood notes.  White cake and very mild but balanced spices.

Palate:  Huge bourbon-like arrival.  Orange fruits.  Grilled, caramelized pineapple.  Pepper, cinnamon and ginger.
Toasted oak.  Threads of vanilla.  Still quite creamy.  Warm pastry.  Very rich, very deep and beautifully mouthcoating.  Nice direct tie between nose and palate here.

Thoughts:  This is a truly beautiful whisky.  Incredible composition and brilliantly vibrant.  The fruits are
exceptional.  Probably the second best Irish dram I’ve ever tried.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:10 am
Nov 082016
 

Amrut Single Cask #2701 “Bengal Tiger”138

56.5% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

Alright.  Let’s get back to Amrut.  It’s been a while, I think.  This time a single cask release nicknamed ‘Bengal Tiger’ and bottled exclusively for the Canadian market.

As you all know by now, Amrut has long held a coveted spot in my top-tiered whiskies.  Their penchant for unbelievable consistency of quality and unprecedented innovation are second to none.  To further illustrate this latter point I’ll be tackling a couple other special releases from the distillery in the next few days.  But for now, let’s dig into a malt from Bangalore that sits just shy of six years old this time.

Full disclosure on the part of our Indian friends here: this one is a 2009 vintage bottled in 2015.  Unpeated Indian barley strong and bold at 56.5% abv.  The cask type says PX-sherry on the label, but I’m pretty certain this was at least partially bourbon-matured.  Could be the PX cask was the last bed it slept in.

And like most Amrut releases, this is another very special dram.  Rich in fruits, exotic spices uncharacteristic of Scottish single malt and bearing the DNA of Amrut all the way through, this is absolutely prototypical of the distillery.  Errr…sort of.

Here’s the rub.  And also the thing, I think, that speaks to the value of experience in writing about whisky.  This is not meant to be derisive, so bear with me.  If this whisky was tasted within the first hundred or couple hundred whiskies I’d tried – or was one of only a couple of Amrut expressions I had tasted – it would likely have scored higher.  It’s only exposure to the general category – and Amrut, in particular – plus an awful lot of time (and brain cells) spent building the experience that leads to the revelation that Amrut is usually even better than this.

Pretty gentle criticism, I know.

Nose:  Chilis.  Leather.  Marmalade.  Unbelievable amounts of savoury spice.  Sugar cookies.  Orange macaroons.  Candied ginger.  A lot cinnamon and heavy bourbon cask notes behind a curtain of dried fruits and mince.  Some milk chocolate.  Hot cross buns.
Salty dough.  Slightly peppery.

Palate:  Yep.  Amrut.  Tannic, surprisingly.  Immediately a big spicy arrival.  Orange oil.  Some raisin, orange and liqueur-soaked fruitcake.  Herbal notes.  Cinnamon buns.  A mix of wines and teas.  Chocolate and nut.

Thoughts:  Not my favorite Amrut, but man…I have weak criticisms to level at this one.  Even the distillery’s weakest are still head and shoulders above most of the industry.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:22 pm
Oct 282016
 

Port Charlotte Valinch 12 y.o. Cask #R15/358-00102-bru-00-img_3784

58.4% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Those of you who’ve made the pilgrimage to Bruichladdich distillery are likely well aware that the gift shop/visitor center is home to an ever-changing cask of Laddie single malt, spigoted and ready for pouring.  The idea being that the ultimate souvenir of your distillery visit has to be a hand-filled bottle of Bruichladdich, straight from the barrel.  And in actual fact there are now two barrels on offer to those so inclined.

When we visited in late September of this year the choices were 12 year old Bruichladdich – unpeated Laddie, that is – matured in a first fill sherry cask and 12 year old Port Charlotte matured entirely in ex-bourbon wood.  The former was not to my tastes, being slightly over-wined in my opinion.  The latter, however, was a rather special malt.  And I had to have one.  Or three.  Well…one for me and two for the club.

The Bruichladdich team have given these casks the appellation ‘Valinch’, named for the tool typically used in pulling samples from the barrel.  Not 100% sure of the rationale behind the choice of name, as there is no valinch involved in the process, but…such is.

Novelty aside though, I think what most appealed here for me was affirmation that the Port Charlotte line is one that ages gracefully.  Peated heavyweights are often at their best in youth, but we’ve seen Port Charlotte to be a bit of a hydra, showing multi-facets.  This particular barrel was further validation of my affections.

I think we all know the deal with Port Charlotte by now, aye?  Bruichladdich call this their ‘moderately peated’ line, but c’mon…40 ppm is hardly moderate, is it?  Not only that, but if you’ve tasted the PC series you’ll know just how big and rich these drams are in terms of smoke and peat reek.

This particular spirit went into wood in 2003 and only met glass circa late 2016.  Twelve years in a good naked bourbon barrel shows me just what I’d hoped to see: Port Charlotte softening and calling forth flavours from the wood to harmonize with the phenols.  At a dozen seasons we’re seeing a pretty damn decent balance.  Love it.

Bottling your own can be either a nifty souvenir or pretty gnarly way to get your hands on an extremely singular malt, but caution for those heading over to Islay…this little experience will set you back quite a few of your hard-earned ATM-dispensed food stamps.  I think these Valinch bottles, at 500 ml, used to run about £50, but are now £75.  A bit pricey for a 12 year old malt (and again…only 500 ml!), but man…how do you say no when faced with the prospect of corking up your own hand-filled?

Nose:  Rubber and smoke.  A hint of cherry.  A lot of spice and a lot of fruit.  Seems somewhat devoid of that butyric (read: buttery) note I associate with Port Charlotte.  12 years is obviously a good age for this one.  Chocolate and peat.  Obviously quite some smoke.

Palate:  Ok…a little more buttery here.  The smoke is more restrained than expected.  …at first.  Fennel.  More smoke now, with rubber, smoked oyster, salt water and burnt lemon.  The fruit suggested by the nose is absolutely crushed by the enormity of peat and earthy tones.  Tastes like a heavily charred bourbon barrel.

Thoughts:  More Port Charlotte on the nose than the palate (if that makes sense).  Neat as hell single cask outing.  Sadly, available only at the distillery.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:37 pm
Oct 092016
 

Laphroaig 10 y.o. Cask Strength Batch 00806-lap-00-img_3798

59.2% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Finally.  A long awaited return to a range I fell in love with years ago.  I wrote up Batch 001 and 002 here on the site in early days – and have a bottle of Batch 003 in the archive – but sadly I’ve not been near another one these releases since.  Wait…notes say I tried Batch 004 at some point too.  Unfortunately they are, for inexplicable reasons, not available in Canada no matter how much we plead.  And trust me…I have taken this to Beam Suntory on more than one occasion.

A recent trip to Islay was the perfect opportunity to finally scoop another bottle of this young bog beastie.  Actually, between the four of us that went over, we picked up four bottles of it.  Only one now remains intact (now secure in the archive a chez moi).  After sipping it in one of the island’s pubs, we immediately bought a bottle for evening dramming in Bowmore.  The other two bottles have been generously shared amongst 50 or so good people.  Just the way malts were meant to be treated.

I remember loving these releases, but I don’t recall such harmonious sweet and smoky balance.  Still retains the feist of young Laphroaig, redolent of smoke, peat, earth and medicine, while bringing syrupy sweet candy fruitiness.  Absolutely spot on whisky making.  Every peathead deserves the opportunity to try this one.  Find it…buy it…share it.

Nose:  Wow.  Medicinal AND fruity.  Much deeper threads of jammy fruit than I’d ever expect in a young Laphroaig.  Lemon and lime.  Mint Leaves candy or eucalyptus.  Dry smoke and earthy undertones.  Cocoa powder (dry and drier).  Maybe even chocolate.  This even SMELLS like a thick drink.  Ashy.  Iodine.

Palate:  Unreal delivery.  Sweet, syrupy, rich and fruity.  And a peated hammer to the teeth.  Lots of smoke.  And sooty, char notes.  Lovely.  Almost burnt fruit skins.  Jammy.  Like licking the ashtray at the end of a kitchen party.  Flinty and redolent of lapsang souchong tea.  A finish that seems endless.

Thoughts:  Love this dram.  Not for everyone, but those who love it will truly cherish it.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:37 pm
Oct 082016
 

Octomore 2005 10 y.o. Cask Sampleimg_2883

?% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

Another review that means nothing to anyone, but maybe 5 or 6 people.  But, hey…it’s my online journal of notes, so it’s ok to be self-indulgent from time to time, right?

This wee jotting is kind of like the third part of a trilogy.  On my past three trips over to lslay I’ve been fortunate enough to drink some scorchingly enormous Octomore straight from the barrel in the warehouse.  Each time I’ve written about it.  Much like last time, a mate of mine, and Bruichladdich distillery manager, Allan Logan was kind enough to send me away with a wee take-away sample of this 2005 barrel from the Port Charlotte warehouses.  Serves as a neat looking glass into what the rawest of raw Octomore looks like.  And being a fan of the bottled expressions, I can unequivocally state that the sipping experience is nothing compared to the unfiltered bombast of the oily spirit straight from the cask.  Each barrel differs, of course, but the uncompromising oiliness and strength make it singular.  And drinking it in an old dunnage warehouse doesn’t hurt at all either.

And this one?  Well…it’s Octomore through and through.  I loved it, as you can imagine.  It’s a softer dram than most are used to, but that’s much to do with the additional five years of mellowing.  Octomore is typically a five year old dram.  If I’m being honest, I think I prefer the youthful nature of the standard releases, but not one of the bottled expressions will ever beat these warehouse drams in terms of pure experiential enjoyment.

Thanks again, Allan.

Nose:  Sharp citric bite immediately announces Octomore.  Yet somehow it’s also creamy.  Dark smoke.  White fudge.  Chewy candy (think jujubes, not gummies).  Lemon cake.  Rubber.  Phenols are huge here.  A touch of vanilla.  Key lime.  Rich, dark cigar leaf.

Palate:  Wow.  This is a big drink.  Bigger than big.  The nose is somehow subtle, but the palate…not so much.  Rubbery.  Big acrid phenolic notes (beautiful!).  As cheesy as this sounds…it tastes like fire-cooked seafood by the ocean.  A brief bit of bitter coffee and oversteeped tea.  Sweetness at the back end.  Almost fruity.

Thoughts:  Octomore doesn’t come in any size but XXL, and this is certainly that, even with a decade of mellowing.  Exactly as we’d expect.  And want.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:12 am