Jun 262016

SMWS 33.130 “The Farmyard And The Chip Shop”IMG_2109

56.1% abv

Score:  89/100


Oh, man, do I like this one.  The last of four SMWS Ardbeg releases I stacked up head to head (to head to head) a couple weeks back.  Not only is it the closest to the true spirit of Ardbeg – falling squarely into that phenolic and tarry/ashy sort of profile I love – it was unquestionably the best of the range.

I’ve shared enough words on the SMWS 33’s of late, so let’s keep this one short and sweet.  Let me just say that releases like this are the very reason I have kept my SMWS membership up to date.  It will be interesting to see if the club still has access to these young barrels of Ardbeg going forward, now that the brand is no longer owned by the good folks at LVMH.  Sorta doubt it.  As we know, indie Ardbegs are becoming more and more just relics of a bygone era.

Nose:  Tar, ash and soot.  Menthol.  Very nasal-clearing.  Leather.  Lime.  Seared scallops.  The notes on the label suggest tomatoes, and I completely agree.  BBQ sauce and grilled meat.  Some dry smoke.

Palate:  Fiery, savoury arrival.  Very juicy though.  More vinegar-y BBQ notes.  Mint candy.  Like a mouthful of smoke.  Black ju-jubes.  Definite notes of grilled seafood.  Lime.  Black coffee.  Fennel that grows bigger and bigger at the back end.  Slightly herbal.  Loooooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Quite in line with what Ardbeg tends to release nowadays.  And quite in the strike zone.  I like this one a lot.  Still a little rough around the edges, but that’s part of its charm.  Much like we love the Hanson Brothers for their scrappiness.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:14 am
Jun 212016

IMG_2105SMWS 33.113 “Sweet, Peaceful Dreams”

60.4% abv

Score:  88/100


Ok.  Back to these Ardbeg SMWS reviews we’ve not yet finished.  A little off the beaten path, but tons of fun.  With this ’33’ we’re moving into somewhat more familiar Ardbeg territory, but still only at the periphery in some ways.  Yes, it’s monstrous (and probably offensive to the sensitive) but it also bears a softer, sweetness that might surprise those looking for the signature whomp of Kildalton’s heavyweight champ.  The closest profile analogy I can give here is Serendipity meets Corryvreckan.  If you were fortunate enough to have landed a taste of Serendipity back in the day you’ll know the subtleties I’m hinting at.

Part of me thinks Ardbeg is actually a tough malt to screw up.  Such is the nature of a great distillate and talented stillmen who recognize the ideal cut points of the spirit run.  And nowhere is this more evident than when you see the flawless spirit hit a clean bourbon barrel and then be rocked to sleep for a few years.  The last part of the equation is plucking it from the cask at its true apex age for delivery to the bottling line.  In this instance it was the Scotch Malt Whisky Society who had final say in when it was bottled, and fortunately they chose a good time for it.  So as I said…with this one – an eight year old – we are indeed in familiar Ardbeg territory.

Now that’s not to say this is completely typical, but it does bear all the hallmarks.  Feisty, smoky as hell, earthy, citric, coastal.  You know the drill by now with Ardbeg.  Bigger than big.  The fact that LVMH owned both Ardbeg and the SMWS at the time this one was released may have something to do with the level of quality control.  Who know?

Nose:  Dough.  Sweet candy notes.  A hint of Play-Dough.  Surprisingly creamy.  Faint unlit pipe tobacco.  Sugar cookies.  Anise.  Seems almost mildly-peated for an Ardbeg.  Damp ash.  Orange.  Then orange and lemon zest.

Palate:  Soft arrival, surprisingly, then wham!!  Sharp peat kick to the meat and two veg.  (A touch of) Melon, with some lemon and orange.  Then an explosion of smoke and licorice.  Dark vanilla bean.  Coffee.  Meaty and plummy.  Gets barn-y.  Big earthy, peaty notes.  Wow…the smoke keeps expanding outward.  Very hot whisky.

Thoughts:  Creaminess takes us into thoughts of the vanillas imparted form the French Oak in some batches of Corryvreckan.  Must have been a very lively bourbon barrel.  Almost like an Ardbeg vatted with a Tormore (I know…weird, aye?).  I like the fruits, but this is definitely unbalanced.  Extra point for the singularity of this one.

*Kelly Carpenter, founder of the SMWS CA saved this  sample for me a couple of years ago.  Thanks, Kelly.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:46 am
Jun 192016

Jura Brooklyn576

42% abv

Score:  76/100


Truly one of the oddest bottling strengths I’ve ever seen.  And yet another in the endless, shameless parade of NAS nonsense.  Let’s assume this one actually does have a raison d’être – and I recall reading about its genesis a long while back – but it’s really just the next schtick, isn’t it?

Playing to some contrived connection between the wee Hebridean Shangri-La of Jura and the bustling metropolis of NYC.  Ummm…sure.  Reaching here, aren’t we, folks?

Anyway…the whisky.  A mix of ex-bourbon, pinot noir and Amaroso casks.  Without even tasting it those words would be enough to tell me that this is one of offspring of the Whyte & Mackay blending house.  Parts of this whisky work to a degree.  Other facets simply leave me head scratching.  Cohesion seems to be secondary to the storyline itself, and I kinda think if we’d skipped the pinot casks and let this one mellow for a few more years maybe this would be a different review.  But we’ve all seen ‘Wayne’s World’, aye?  “If a frog had wings he wouldn’t bump his ass when he hopped.”

Apparently there are malts in here up to 16 years, but I imagine the ratios are grossly skewed in favour of under 10s.  Such is the bane of NAS marketing.  Fortunately we have our finely-attuned senses to guide us through the bullshit, right?

Now I must admit…I have a soft spot for Jura.  Probably beyond what the whisky actually deserves, to be honest, but even so, this one is…not great.

Nose:  Nut-heavy and overly-malty.  Sharp with young notes.  Barley sugars, faint fruit melange (like bland frozen berries) and a touch of peat.  A little pepper.  Smells of a freshly-opened bag of white flour.  Leather.  Berry scones and sugar cookies.  Something slightly feinty here.  Just seems too young, but to fair, it does soften with time.

Palate:  There’s an earthiness here that hints of peat.  Leathery notes.  More nuttiness, and too heavy on the wine influence.  Like chewing barley stalks.  Farmy flavours (hard to articulate).  Yeah…there’s the wine and peat fighting it out.  Slightly, very slightly tannic.  Meh.  Let’s stop.

Thoughts:  Blind, I would immediately guess Jura or Dalmore, as this has Paterson’s fingerprint all over it (even if made – apparently – by Wee Willie Tait).  In other words…wine cask tomfoolery and such.  Not my cup of tea.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:57 pm
Jun 122016

Dram Initiative #020 – St. Paddy’s Day Irish Night


(Long overdue event recap.  More of these to come…)

It’s fun to pick on the Irish.  Well…that’s not entirely true.  It’s fun to pick on a particular Irish chap I know.  Mostly ’cause he definitely dishes more than he takes, but also simply because he’s delusional.  Y’know the type.  Believes Guinness is brewed of water from the fountain of youth; actually buys into the Bushmills 1608 date; subscribes to the theory that pubs truly are sunscreen for the Irish; and conceded his heterosexuality is threatened in proximity to Colin Farrell.

Anyway…when it came time to schedule our March event it was a no-brainer to make it a St. Paddy’s day celebration.  We pulled out all the stops to suss out a line-up of Irish drams that told a bit of a story (and gave a well-rounded view of Irish whiskey as a category) and settled in for a tour of the Emerald Isle (figuratively speaking), making distillery pitstops along the way.


I tried convincing our Irish whipping boy to present this one, but to no avail.  The way it works in the DI is that we almost always have top tier speakers coming through to present to the Collective, but from time to time either the line-up of malts isn’t conducive to an outside speaker or there simply isn’t one at the ready.  In such cases the poor saps in the club are forced to listen to me ramble on for a couple hours.  This night was just such an occasion.  Two hours of yours truly nattering about the ins and outs of Scotland’s poor lesser sibling.  At least – as a form of apology/anesthetic – they had a few tasty drinks to help the medicine go down.


We stepped back in time to look at the origins of the spirit (and spurious, unprovable claims of precedence) and dug into topics such as the column distillation, pot still whiskey, the rise and fall and subsequent rise again of Irish drams and finally went through the distilleries themselves in order to shed some light on a drink that is only now seeing a resurgence to its once-proud past.  And at the very tail end of it all we spoke to the future and how Irish whiskey could finally see some true revolution in coming days, under the maverick stylings of Mark Reynier’s new Waterford distillery.  Even I managed to get excited about a few of these drams.

I say that, not because many aren’t great, but simply because I find them often too light and too…neutered.  Irish whiskey at an abv of 46% or higher, and non-chill-filtered has been a relative scarcity.  No different tonight, but there were a couple that hit that bench mark, and better still…there were a couple absolutely stunning knee-knockers in the midst.  The two Jameson Rarest, in particular.  Just wow.


So…for one night a year (or this year anyway), we figured it would be apropos to don the green and cheese out like a bunch of cultural tourists and join the (un)official Irish drinking team.  I dare say we done ’em proud.  It was a festive eve.  The right people, and the right spirit.  Pun intended.  It was a night for Guinness.  For Flogging Molly and The Pogues.  For Dropkick and Liam.  For Sinead and U2.  For culturally insensitive, borderline-racist Irish jokes (in good taste, I must add).  And yeah…for Colin Farrell.  The gang truly seemed to enjoy our little detour from the norm.


The evening’s bevies (in order presented, though not necessarily ranked):

Bushmills 16 y.o. Single Malt

Bushmills 21 y.o. Single Malt

Bushmills 1989 Single Cask #7983 (Bourbon)

Green Spot Single Pot Still

Midleton Very Rare 2011

Redbreast 12 y.o. Single Pot Still

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve 2007 Edition #16544

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve 2009 Edition #55251

Teeling Hybrid Malt Whiskey No. 1 Edition


And finally…

I have to give credit where credit is due.  In all fairness, our overgrown token leprechaun was a good sport, especially considering how liberally I peppered my presentation with mockery.  He took it like a champ.  Fear not, though.  I’m already working on my material for the next St. Paddy’s Day lambasting.  Let no shamrock go unturned in the name of a good insult.  Slainte Mhath!

Until next…


 – Images:  Curt, Steve & Scott 

 – Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:33 pm
Jun 072016

SMWS 33.93 “Tarry Peppermint Tea”IMG_2099

55.9% abv

Score:  86/100


Another nifty little Ardbeg from the SMWS.  At ten years old this time, but not likely too comparable to the distillery’s flagship ‘Ten’, as this one is from a refill sherry butt that yielded up 626 bottles; not an ex-bourbon barrel.

Ardbeg SMWS releases are well-coveted nowadays.  When they do hit the market they tend to be quite young and still full of teeth.  I think the oldest I’ve yet seen hit the shores here is an 11 year old (but I should double check that before I swear to it).  What this means is that the Ardbeg we do get from the SMWS should be somewhere in the neighbourhood of the standard or limited releases the distillery puts out.  I can’t really say that’s the case though.  Only one or two of the eight or ten Ardbeg SMWS bottlings I’ve tried actually fit the distillery’s recognized profile.  Odd, in ways, but understandable when you acknowledge that a) the distillery isn’t likely to let its best casks go to anyone (despite the fact that the SMWS and Ardbeg were under the same ownership up until about a year ago) and b) every cask is a snowflake.  Additionally, as we know, the single cask path is often paved with some very wobbly stones, so any preconceptions that this would be truly ‘Ardbeggian’ may be mistaken.

As the score above should attest, though, this is a rather decent outing.  I like the singularity here, if maybe mourning the lack of true Kildalton capital ‘A’ might.  In short…I liked this one, but didn’t love it.  But Ardbeg is like pizza or sex, right?  Even when it’s bad, it’s still good.

Oh, and by the way…not so much on the tar (in my opinion), but definitely the mint.

Nose:  Mint jelly.  Cigarette (generic, I know).  Deeply phenolic, and bearing notes of clay or putty.  Deeply briny, and somewhat barnyard-ish.  The mint grows exponentially over time.  Very seaside-esque.  Smoked oyster.  Some ash.  Slightly citric and vinegar-y maybe.

Palate:  Big oaky notes redolent of bourbon.  Spice and eucalyptus.  A lot of smoke.  Sharp citrus.  Apple skins.  A Palate that reminds a tick of Corryvreckan, oddly enough.  With maybe drops of Oogie in there too.  Seafood on the shell.  Dry scones.  Tannic fruit skins at the back end.

Thoughts:  Quite aptly named dram.  Unique enough to keep me coming back for more, but quite jagged.  While this came from a refill butt, I would never guess sherry. I may be being a mite stingy with the marks, but it’s definitely an outlier for Ardbeg.  Cool to try though.

*A friend of mine, Kelly Carpenter, founder of the Canadian extension of the SMWS put this little sample away for me a few years back, knowing I was an Ardbeg junkie.  Just now tasting.  Thanks, Kelly.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:54 am
May 292016

IMG_2086SMWS 33.70 “Keith Richards Meets Socrates”

57.3% abv

Score:  74/100


It’s 12:15 am.  May 29th, 2016.  It is now the day after Ardbeg Day.  Or perhaps I should say Ardbeg Night, as they’ve elected to brand it this year.  Over the past few days I’ve been fortunate enough to taste both the Committee and general releases of this year’s bottling, ‘Dark Cove’.  Unfortunately, however, I have no samples of either to review at this time, nor had I opportunity to set pen to paper and capture thoughts when I did try them.  Oh well.  I’m sure I’ll get another chance at some point.  In the meantime I figured I’d go one better this eve, and – sticking to the theme – tackle four indie Ardbegs from the SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society, that is).

I’ll be posting tasting notes for all of them in very short order, but let’s kick it all off with the earliest of the bunch.  This 33.70 was a cask from several years back now.  1998 to be a little more precise.  It was born of a sherry gorda that yielded 848 bottles (I know!  Whopping outturn!), and bottled as a 10 year old.  And I must admit that the name alone had me excited to try this one.

Unfortunately, high expectations and distillery fanboyism has led to disappointment as devastating as a wee boat smashed to kindling on a rocky cape.  I came in expecting to sail high on this one (rich, dark natural colour, high strength, relatively mature age and from earlier (read: better) years) but my hopes were immediately tempered.  Reality is a harsh mistress sometimes.  This decader is heavy and cloying in thick caramel (which is bad enough) and nothing – not even herculean phenolic might – can completely temper the sulphuric undertones.  Put as simply as possible:  This was a real dud barrel.  Such is the nature of the single cask game, I suppose.  Disappointing nevertheless.

Nose:  Syrupy, heavily sherried nose.  Damp horse blanket.  Almost a vague hint of sulphur.  Too much caramel.  Ok…definitely sulphur.  Something reminds of young(ish) port here.  Savoury stewed fruits (even a little tomato).  Stale ashtrays.  Wax crayons.  Poor quality Roman Nougat.  Smoke.  Organic, mineral notes.

Palate:  Ash.  Smoke.  Immediately drying.  Bitter chocolate.  More ash and tar.  Salt licorice.  Cooked greens.  Oversteeped lapsang souchong tea.  Caramel apple.  Slightly syrupy.  Very dry finish.  And yeah…hints of burnt matchsticks.

Thoughts:  Not my kind of Ardbeg.  At all.  Granted I am grossly intolerant of sulphur, but still.  I had such high hopes too.  This is just…no.  Let’s move on.


– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:47 pm
May 232016

Laphroaig 15 y.o. 200th AnniversaryIMG_1406

43% abv

Score:  90/100


While the old Laphroaig 15 always seemed to take such a drubbing in its day, it’s quite interesting to see the esteem in which it is held today.  Be it a rose-colored glasses scenario or a don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-’til-it’s-gone sort of thing, either way, we’ve seen quite an about face in terms of how that malt is revered.

When it was revealed that Laphroaig would ring in its 200th anniversary with a re-release of the 15 year old a collective cheer resonated throughout the whisky world.  Unfortunately that news was sort of shackled to the revelation that we’d be waving goodbye to the beloved 18 year old.  To make matters worse it came to light that the 15 too would only be available for a short while and in limited quantity (72,000, I believe).  It would seem we’re destined to have nothing consistent in the Laphroaig age-stated range beyond a 10 year old.  Truly an unfortunate situation, as Laphroaig is a malt that tends to mature very well.

I haven’t been able to try the two 15s (older and newer) side by side as yet, but I can say that the differences are both unquestionably perceptible and not at all a bad thing.  Both malts are surprisingly gentle and subtle, but the newer expression bears bigger smoke and less soft fruit.  While certainly no new school phenol bomb, this 200th anniversary edition is rather reminiscent of older Laphroaig expressions (read: pre-market explosion releases arguably harbouring older casks in the vattings).  And while less fruity than the earlier runs, this one does bring a wealth of sweetness not seen in contemporary Laphroaig (excepting the stunning 2015 Cairdeas).

Personally, I think I prefer the earlier editions for their subtleties and complexities, but this one really is a beauty.  Glad I grabbed a couple when the opportunity was available.

Nose:  Very vibrant; moreso than I’d expected from this low of an abv.  Soft fruits, earthy peat and a clean breath of eucalyptus.  Green mint leaf candies.  Lime and melon.  Maybe a little grapefruit.  Smells like rain on the beach.  Medicinal and notes of damp paper.  Definitely more assertive than the old 15.

Palate:  Much bigger here.  Bombastic smoke.  Tar.  Charred seafood.  Lime juice.  Toasted marshmallow.  More citrus zest.  A touch of fennel.  Mineral and medicinal notes.  Drinks a little bigger than the rather anemic 43% would suggest, fortunately.  Some candy sweet notes.  Vanilla and peat.

Thoughts:  Great whisky.  Laphroaig killed it this year with their two bicentennial releases, though the Cairdeas definitely pips this one.  Would have been a knockout at cask strength.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:19 am
May 212016

Nikka From The BarrelIMG_1385

51.4% abv

Score:  88/100


Sadly it would seem that Japanese age-stated whisky is becoming even more scarce than its Scottish brethren.  We’ll be a little more lenient in this case, as Nikka From The Barrel is actually a blend, in spite of what your senses may lead you to believe.

I meant to get to this review a couple years back, actually, as a few bottles of this one have been dust-gathering in my basement ‘whisky warehouse’.  Something always seemed to come first.  Now, being couch-bound and only three days out of surgery, I figured it was maybe time to hit up a few of the outliers in the collection.  Perhaps we’ll hit the Red, Black and White series too.  We’ll see.

As to this one…

Well, like I said…no age statement.  Japan is dealing simultaneously with serious overdemand and vastly understuffed warehouses.  If this was Scotland I would suggest it had to do with poor foresight, but I don’t think anyone realistically could have foreseen the rise of Japanese malts to the world stage (or even blends, for that matter!).  I’ve read a few whisky wordsmiths suggest they raised early cautions, but 5, 6, 7 years ago is not the sort of early caution that alleviates pressures on a spirit that relies on the advancement of years for development of flavour profile.

Does this mean we’re more forgiving of Japanese NAS whiskies than Scotland’s sleight of hand?  Nah, not really.  Japan relies less on historical governance and adherence to legislated restrictions than does Scotland, ergo less need to cowtow to the party line.  Tell us it is young and delicious, share the age on the bottle and concede the cask make-up.  Let’s face it…it’s not like the SWA will come a-knocking on those eastern shores.  Unfortunately, the reality is that Japan has sort of positioned itself as the legitimate heir to the Scottish empire, inheriting (if unofficially) its standards, conventions and, in a way, exists almost like a Platonic ‘form’.  Good luck shedding that skin now.  Am I getting too deep here?  perhaps.  So let’s move on.

Long and short of it is that this 500 ml bottle of 51.4% blended whisky is a hell of a drink.  Bold and rich, balanced and nuanced.  Much to like here.  And though I don’t know the current pricing, this one was about $55 Canadian when I grabbed it a couple years back.  Not bad at all.

Nose:  Definitely noses like a Japanese whisky.  Chocolate, soft balanced spices and poached fruit.  Some savoury mince notes.  Pepper, raspberry and blackberry.  Notes of spiced dough.  Lovely nose.  I would guess malt, not blend.

Palate:  Arrives with spice and clean oak.  Second sips are softer.  Fruits and milk chocolate, like a Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar.  Tea and tart fruit juice.  Apple.  Orange and cinnamon.  Very rich and heavy in dried fruits.  Which we love.  Spicy and savoury.  Big whisky, this.

Thoughts:  This one benefitted from a fair bit of breathing time in the bottle.  Not that it was rough off the cork, but the time spent mellowing was well-invested.


 – Image and words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:03 am
May 122016

Port Ellen (Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask) Cask #3887 27 y.o.IMG_1483

50% abv

Score:  89/100


These little forays into Port Ellen nostalgia are about to become a lot more scarce than they have been in the past.  I think I may have three or four more malts from this closed little piece of heaven to review in the next…well…whenever, but after that the well ’round here is really running dry.  I do know of an opportunity or two in the future that may change this, but serendipity has to be on my side.  Crossing my fingers.

Anyway…this one was tasted (again) at a recent Dram Initiative event I hosted.  If you’re not ‘in the know’, the Dram Initiative is our local whisky club, named for that esoteric little conclave from Lost.  We like wordplay, and definitely like the more cerebral aspects of modern civilization (such as programming that actually had script and plot, as opposed to halfwit celebutantes and Jersey shore inbreds).  But I digress.  Suffice to say, the club put on one hell of an event for the 80 plus members in attendance.  Eight Port Ellens spread over a couple hours of history, sentiment and shared opinion.  This 27 year old indie from the Laing brothers was the second last of the eve, and, incidentally, the second favorite of the masses.

It’s a quintessential Port Ellen as far as I’m concerned.  Very typical of the distillery’s profile, and very much on ethat helps perpetuate the PE mystique.  I’ve said it many times before (but not sure whether or not I’ve done so here on the site): Port Ellen is a whisky that matures well.  Late 20s are a great (I’d argue optimal) age for this distillery.

Nose:  Citrus, and quite a bit at that (lemon and lime this time).  Vanilla.  Salt water.  Slightly herbal (hints of green tea).  Biscuity, with some nice fruit notes (orange and berry).  Chocolate.  Freshly milled grains (seems ‘dry’ and dusty).  Expected peaty, smoky notes are an afterthought.

Palate:  Very typical Port Ellen profile.  Great arrival.  Delicate.  Citric.  Quite oily.  Tastes of subtle white scone or biscuit.  Tart fruit notes.  Smoky and peaty.  Granny Smith apple skins.  Toothpicks.  Leaves behind salt licorice.

Thoughts:  Right in my wheelhouse.  A great outing from Port Ellen that wears its years well.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:32 pm
Apr 302016

Apologies for the infrequency of updates in recent days.  Bit of a challenging time.  Lost someone dear to me this morning after a lengthy struggle.  I’d be lying if I said this hasn’t occupied much of my mind space over the past couple months.  An upcoming surgery has kept me preoccupied, and as of last week I find myself in career transition mode.  A lot of stress and uncertainty leading up to this have been a greater distraction than I care to admit.

In short…head hasn’t been in the game.  But we’ll fix that.  Ever onwards.

Thanks for support and many warm comments.

More soon.


– Curt

 Posted by at 9:12 am