May 082021
 

A nifty little Laphroaig that never quite made it to our shores. Well…that’s not entirely true, of course, or I’d not be sharing notes here. But…where there’s a will (and crafty friends), there’s a way. In this case, via a mate who somehow maneuvered his way into possessing a couple of bottles. Fortunately, he’s also a generous soul.

This one strikes a chord with me for one important reason, and it isn’t a sentimental one. It has to do with the craft of bottling a good spirit at a good state of development. In other words, picking the fruit when it’s ripe. This 16 year is the epitome of beautiful cask/spirit interaction. The oak is lean and firm; the spirit is at a perfect age, rich and fruity. You can tell that the big estery notes are being checked by the creaminess and soft spices of the barrel. Brilliant balance.

All I can say is, bless the man or woman who discovered just what a barrel could do to Scottish spirit. And bless the exciseman who made the illicit distillers run from hill to hill with their spirit hastily bunged up in wee casks. Assuming all those romantic Scottish tales we’ve heard are true, of course.

48% abv. 11,500 bottles. 1st Fill Ex-Bourbon Barrels.

Thanks to my mate, Ben, for the drams of this guy, and the photo below.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Instantly, blindly, recognizable as Laphroaig. Very clean and elegant. Orange and lime. Honeydew and tangerine. Sea spray. Almond and just-scraped vanilla bean. Minerally, coastal notes. A little bit boggy and earthy. Some grassy notes. Tongue depressors and chest rub. Phenols have mellowed beautiful.

Palate: Big and oily. Blood orange with anise or maybe just fennel. Starfruit, candied orange peel, gooseberry. Getting non-too-subtle hints of the bourbon influence here, and it is entirely complimentary. Salt licorice. More of that oomphy Laphroaig smoke than the nose hints at. A bit of a sour fruit tang, which I like a lot.

Finish: Long and full of tannins, oak and that neat marriage of ju-jubes and wine gums I get in a lot of Laphroaig. Still a fair bit of citrus too.

Thoughts: Frustratingly, right in my wheelhouse. Frustrating, of course, due to lack of (local) availability. But we can’t have ’em all, aye? Hopefully, the age statement gap that Laphroaig is currently managing (mismanaging?) can be closed. The leap from 10 to 25 in the range is a bit challenging for those of us who were rather keen on the mid-rangers. (And please let’s not discuss the NAS’ers)

88/100

 Posted by at 9:06 am
Mar 102021
 

A series of long-winded essays, or just a few lines to stir the pot and tiptoe back outta the kitchen before it gets too hot. Let’s go with the latter. Less words means less opportunity for me to stick my foot in my mouth. Though, I’m sure I’ll do so a few times anyway. Let’s see if we can’t blow up the comments section below…

First things first. Just a sort of “you heard it here first” bit for you. I am keeping eyes and ears open for the right ATW partner in crime. Finding an Angus (not in the literal sense, of course; I know one of them) is mighty tricksy. I’ve yet to come across someone who shares my stylistic leanings, literary trappings, palate preferences, etc. If and when this happens, these jottings will become a bit more frequent. I struggle more and more to extricate myself enough from life to be able to do this as regularly as I’d like. So…’ATW Angus’…if you’re out there…come claim your place.

So…about those undisclosed/undeclared malts. Sigh. What should we say here, other than stop…f*cking…doing it. Whatever happened to clever label workarounds, such as hints and clues (and insider secrets, oh my!)? I’ve seen enough $300ca bottles of ‘Undisclosed Speyside’ or ‘Unnamed Orkney’ or ‘An Islay Malt’ to last me a lifetime. If you expect me to pull out my coin purse (figuratively speaking; I don’t actually own a coin purse), I really do want some idea as to what I’m buying. How else are we justifying the price tag on just one more unproven asset?

We get it. The world is watching Campbeltown. Yes, Springbank is brilliant, and yes…Glengyle is really starting to show its pedigree. And absolutely, some Glen Scotia can really shine too. Just, y’know…slow down, folks. Share the wealth. Seeing FB or Instagram posts showing ten bottles of the new 12 year Cask Strength land on one person’s shelf really pisses me off. Especially now, when I can see behind the curtain and know how many others are missing out despite intense passion for the brand.

The ‘drinkers’, the ‘collectors’, and the ‘accidental accumulators’ I can deal with. The ‘flippers’ however…fuck ’em! I keep getting asked for advice as to which bottles are going to go up in value by people I know are looking to make profit off of them. Please don’t ask me anymore. This may be something we now have to deal with indefinitely, but don’t expect me to like it or play along. Start querying me about this and I guarantee I’ll extricate myself from the vicinity in a real big hurry. I wish a plague of medieval genital diseases to befall flippers. Bah. Humbug.

Cadenhead’s recent dumbing down. How we went from the generally exciting Small Batch range to this new dumbed down range is beyond me. Farewell cask strength. So long transparency. Adios to even the tasting notes. They’re not even telling us cask type anymore. Shame, Cadenhead. This is a true regression.

Is Elixir Distillers the future? I continue to be amazed at the depth and breadth of Sukhinder’s amassed stash of casks. Hopefully the well is deep and we’re not simply skimming the best off the top before seeing a stagnant puddle of young Caol Ila and such below. I have a feeling Mr. Singh is much smarter than that. As it stands, Elixir is as exciting as it gets right now. I’m loving where they’re taking us.

Gordon & MacPhail still really needs to loosen the purse strings a bit, and that includes anything to do with Benromach. Seriously. These 40% and 43% malts need to go. The days of Scrooge McDucking it are over, guys. Get with the times. 46 is the new 40. This has always been a problem with this company (or companies). They may have the best warehouses in Scotland, and a wood management policy that shames all others, but this incessant dilution is killing the reputation. Even the new Benromach 21 is at 43%. Why?

No…a revived Port Ellen or Brora will not be the same. And even if it somehow miraculously ends within spitting distance of the old distillate…let’s face it…it will be another 30 years yet before it reminds us of our beloved lost icons. And even ignoring changes to yeast, barley, etc, any chance of a recognizable DNA rests on what happens in a contemporary wood program. Don’t expect prices to get better on extant stock either. Ever. Not gonna happen.

Anyone else missing Scotchwhisky.com? Not the editorializing, apologism, and opinion pieces (those were largely rubbish, anyway), but the data, news and one-stop-shopping aspect. The team that put this all together deserve their place in the whisky heavens. I miss my frequent visits, and am grateful that the site itself – dormant though it may be – still exists. It truly is a treasure trove of valuable whisky knowledge.

To the heads of the big ‘uns: your ‘brand’ is never going to be iconic if you keep rebranding to modern fonts, brighter colors and square-shouldered bottles. Hate to pick on these guys – two of my favorite distilleries – but Benromach and BenRiach…come on guys…you messed up with the new livery. It really is bad. You both had strong and recognizable images already.

Is Ardbeg clawing its way back to the top? Blaaack, Blaaack Committee, Wee Beastie, Supernova 2019, Traigh Bhan 1 and 2 were all good. Not just good, actually, but really good examples of what each was trying to be. Yes, even those pinot-casked Blaaacks. And yes, even that five year old. But more about that in a moment. In the meantime, can’t wait to try that 25 y.o.

Pandemic sample sharing and the rise of online tastings. I know, I know. It’s not the same as a pint and hug from your mates, but at least it’s something. Small victories these days, aye? And hey…drinking at home means no need to worry about safe travel arrangements afterwards. That’s a win, at least! Dunno about you, but I’m slowly coming ’round to these Zoom sessions.

Let’s get back to the idea of really low age statements. Quit nipping ’em in the bud! While at first I was impressed by the ballsy swagger of releasing 4 and 5 year old malts with age statements, we’re now seeing a couple too many 5 year old indies, etc. Sorry, guys. These are simply not ripe whiskies. A cask has work to do in both additive and subtractive capacities. And no matter how heavily peated your make, or how sloshy your wet-fill barrel is, nothing is hiding the fact that 5 year old whisky is just not ready. Good whisky shouldn’t be overly boozy or spirity.

Not all Clynelish or Ben Nevis is good. Period.

We’re starting to see a trend back to where color is king. Darker malts always draw the eye, but I’d argue shouldn’t always draw your wallet. I will concede, however, that most people falling into the color trap are doing so with the indies, which tend towards a more natural shading, at least. Just…caveat emptor.

The SMWS. Bless ’em. Love the Society, love the ethos (the original mission statement, anyway). But maybe it’s time to ask if the SMWS has abandoned its core principles. I mean, blended malts, cask finishes and $400ca bottles of 12 year old Ardbeg fly in the face of everything the Society once stood for. Namely, the purity of the single cask single malt. Read Pip Hills’s latest literary outing and you’ll see what I mean. Hopefully this new face is only a stopgap measure for dealing with depleted stocks, and one that the folks in charge abandon in short order. Otherwise…this is really, really frustratingly sellout-ish.

Anyone else missing the legitimate experience? Scotland is home away from home for me. I can’t lie…I’m about a month or two away from swimming across the Atlantic to experience the esoteric thrill of a proper warehouse jaunt at one of my beloved distilleries. Dear God, how I miss it all. The tours, my friends over there, the straight-from-the-barrel experiences. All of it.

So. About sherried malts. Man…empty those fucking barrels of their previous contents before filling ’em with malt! A five year old whisky should not be the color of coffee or Cherry Coke. And yes…one egregious example that just arrived in our neck of the woods is really setting me off here. Sherry itself is not that color, so tell me how a five year old from Glenwhozit ends up near opacity when it’s only spent a half decade in wood. I am being 100% honest when I tell you a couple distillery folks I’ve spoken to (and no…I won’t mention who, when or where) have explicitly conceded to wet-fill casking. (i.e. there is still stuff sloshing in the so-called empty barrels that are being filled). Not cool. You can’t hide underage malt behind wet casks.

Anyone else kinda miss the days of paxarette? Just how many of our beloved old sherry bombs were a direct result of the practice of paxing casks?

ScotchTrooper. This one touched me. I remained largely quiet on social media, as I didn’t know Brett personally, but what a devastating story of a man who seemed to have positive interactions with pretty much everyone he met. Hoping the family finds comfort and grace and healing.

Alright. Let’s save the rest for part two. Peace and love, mates. Do something kind for someone today.

 Posted by at 10:19 am
Jan 262021
 

Wow. I’m impressed. Batch 2 arrives with all the character and bombast of Batch 1, but much less misogynistic endorsement and rabid demand. Color this kid happy.

The fever pitch that arose following Jim Murray’s award left legions of folks hunting for bottles that seemed to disappear almost overnight. If rumors are to be believed, a parcel of what remained was bundled up and sent to the eastern reaches of this far-flung land, while an additional boatload was shipped overseas to sate one of the Asian markets. It makes sense to spread the wealth a bit. And as a Canuck, it makes me happy to see good Canadian whisky finding some well-deserved appreciation abroad.

And I think we’ve gotta hand it to Alberta Distillers: their ability to maintain consistency is second to none. While I’m certain this batch will again be much too small to meet demand, I’m optimistic that ADL has finally seen the light and realized they have the golden goose here in their Calgary distillery. I’m confident we’ll see this expression becomes a permanent addition to the Alberta Premium range. Goes to show it’s never too late to make a push for the front of the pack.

By the way…this one was all Black Current Halls Cough Drops to me, and sure enough, the packaging references black currents. One of the few times I’ve enthusiastically agreed with a brand’s published notes.

66.0% abv. Number of bottles? No clue. But certainly too few.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Blueberry n’ brambleberry. Black Current Halls Cough Drops. Raisin cookies, and all the requisite spices you’d expect (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc). Clean, sinus-clearing notes of fresh-cut pine or spruce; kinda like a stroll through the lumberyard. Chocolate covered cherries. A bit of caramel. A squeeze of lemon. French vanilla ice cream.

Palate: More dark berries here again. Reminds me of the berries I always pick while walking the footpaths on Islay (yes, I know, we’re getting a bit esoteric here). Tight, tight spicy rye. Eucalyptus. Clove and cinnamon. Pine sap. Chocolate. More currents. Grass (a mate of mine says maybe a black tea).

Finish: Long and oaky. Herbal and grassy. Quite oily.

Thoughts: Finish may drag it down a tick, but still a stellar sip. This is what rye should be. Makes me question even further the misstep that was the 20 year old from last year.

89/100

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Jan 202021
 

I came into this one with low expectations, I’ll admit it right up front. That had less to do with Ardbeg’s ability to create a decent young malt, and more to do with the fact that I kinda think most sub ten year old whisky tends to be a tad underripe and undeveloped. I expected brashness, a bit of a new make-y character, and not a lot more.

Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong.

Long months before Wee Beastie landed on our shores, it had already sparked a frenzy among the slavering peat fiends ’round here. The shop was so inundated with requests that we had to set aside a separate binder to manage all of the pre-orders and special requests (yes, yes, we still do some things in the ol’ analog way at KWM). And no matter how many times we shouted that this one was now a permanent fixture in the core range, it didn’t seem to quell the hunger (or thirst?). Perhaps part of that early pursuit was a weary and schooled intellectual approach, suggesting that many consumers are now aware that a new brand always puts its best foot forward (and often declines thereafter), but I think the reality has more to do with FOMO: fear of missing out. Ardbeg has cultivated legions of fans around the globe, and even with perpetual production (and an exciting new expansion!), the distillery is likely always going to be producing shy of demand.

As for the Beastie, I know I’m late to the party. Sorry ’bout that. Crazy times. But here we are. And fortunately, we have a dram of hella good young Islay malt in hand. Impressive beyond its years, and so much better than I’d hoped.

A vatting of ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso casks, served up at 5 years young and 47.4% abv.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Yes, it’s peaty and quite feisty, as we’d expect in such a rambunctious youngster. Almond. Creamy lemon meringue. Warm welly boots and chlorine. Fresh pepper. Cold coffee. Something kinda like drinking mezcal in a barn. Pee in a pool. A very coastal tarriness. Bundt cake. Oat cakes. Oyster liquor and other fine briny things.

Palate: Very clean smoked peated grist. As mouthcoatingly smoky as you’d expect. Licorice. Key lime pie. Lemon cakes. Ladyfingers. Mint leaves. A bit of very-expected Granny Smith apple. And cough drops of some sort.

Finish: Long finish, primarily on chlorine, smoke and salt licorice.

Thoughts: It’s young, yeah, but it’s not spirity. An impressive – and ballsy – outing from our beautiful Ardbeggian family. Very much the distilled essence of Islay.

85.5/100

 Posted by at 10:54 am
Dec 232020
 

In 2013, a good bunch of folks, led by our revered pied piper, Andrew Ferguson of Kensington Wine Market infamy, stole away to the foothills of the Canadian Rocky Mountains for a weekend of absolutely next level whisky tastings. The apex event of the weekend was a tasting of some of the most legendary 1964 Bowmores known to man- (and woman-) kind.

In a completely unexpected (though gratefully accepted) bit of generosity, a wee set of samples was brought back for yours truly. Obviously, whiskies like this require pristine conditions in order to really be able to properly assess ’em, so…seven years after these priceless vials landed in my lap, on an afternoon when the palate was clean, my personal desire was sky high, and the interruptions were kept to a bare minimum, I finally sat down with these precious drops of Islay’s greatest distillate and took a bit of a journey. My couch sipping session may have lacked the elegance and atmosphere of the initial event, but the malts are transportive, to say the least.

Listen. I wanted this post to be a poem of such epic proportion Yeats himself would have wept, but there’s simply no way I can throw commonplace nouns and verbs at these malts and have them ring true to just how special they are. Man’s limitations are pretty glaring most times. Fortunately, the whisky gods are verbose and have said all that needs to be said via the glass. I know that doesn’t really help here, but if you’ve ever had the chance to taste these drams, you’ll understand what I mean. And I happen to know that a rather substantial portion of you have actually tasted at least one of these drams. For those that haven’t, bear with me as I do my best to articulate just what these Bowmores are all about.

Before we dive into tasting notes, however, let me just say: tropical, tropical, tropical. Get used to hearing it. I’ll be throwing that word around a lot over the next few paragraphs. When we speak of those legendary vintages – the ones that make whisky folk weak-kneed and starry-eyed – 1964 Bowmore has to be right up at the top of the pyramid. There is something utterly magical about them. And I have to say, they are also some of the very best drams I’ve ever had the pleasure to taste.

Y’already know how I feel about the Black Bowmore (42 y.o.), aye? I think at the time I reviewed it, I scored it at 97 points, the highest mark I’ve ever assigned. I opted not to simply repost those notes and scores, but instead to revisit and reassess even that old favorite. So, without saying any more…let’s just dive in, shall we?

Black Bowmore 1964 42 y.o.

Five oloroso sherry casks. 827 bottles. 40.5% abv. Released 2007.

Nose: Beautiful clean chariness. Five Alive fruit juice infused with the cleanest and most elegant of smoke. Now we’re into a stunning mix of fresh and dried tropical fruits. A bit of peach with all those other to-be-expected notes of guava, mango, passionfruit, pineapple and more. A beautifully dark and rich cherry tang. Black currents. Pink grapefruit. A hint of cold coffee. Vintage sherry. Faint echoes of peat. Old oiled machinery. Ancient polished wood. This just reeks of majesty and age.

Palate: Slightly medicinal. More smoke than either the White or Gold Bowmore, and more earthy peat to boot. Hugely tropical. Sticky, oily dried mango, apricot, pineapple, peach. More orange. More pineapple. Brine and a much more profound Islay-ness than the nose suggests. Seared seafood. Charred grapefruit. Baked ham. Griotines. Cherry cough syrup. Figgy pudding.

Finish: Some decent tannins, but it’s that deep, dark oily, and rather bittering finish that steal the show. Just wow.

Thoughts: Does it get better? Honestly?

96/100

White Bowmore 1964 43 y.o.

Six bourbon barrels. 732 bottles. 42.8% abv. Released 2008.

Nose: Tropical heaven. Sweet pineapple. Mango, orange, papaya, grapefruit, passion fruit. Man…the parade of fruits is endless. Dunnage. A touch of marzipan and sugar cookies. Tropical fruit pie. Honey. Marmalade. Fruit flan. White chocolate. Truly stunning cask notes; almost hard to believe wood can do this.

Palate: Oh, dear God. Grapefruit, mango, passionfruit, papaya. Grilled pineapple rings. What a stunning sweet/sour tang. Can’t stop the flood of saliva. Oily. Only faintly smoky, but there’s a definite coastal element to it. This is all fruits, spritzed with citrus juice (lemon, lime, orange and grapefruit). Such clean, but rather indistinguishable, spice tones.

Finish: Those tropical tangy notes linger forever. Maybe longer.

Thoughts: Utterly incomparable.

95/100

Gold Bowmore 1964 44 y.o.

Three bourbon barrels and one oloroso sherry cask. 701 bottles. 42.4% abv. Released 2009.

Nose: Toastier than the White. I can only assume that’s the toasty, nutty influence of the sherry butt. Crème caramel. Still unbelievably tropical, of course. Tame those pineapple and orange notes just a wee notch (though they’re still huge!), and add some kiwi. Vanilla. Warm honey. A hint of fruitcake (made with ancient cognac). And yeah…maybe a hint of old Armagnac. Faint peat.

Palate: Slow to develop, then wham! Cold espresso. Twiglets. Grapefruit. Guava and passion fruit. Mango. Mandarin. A beautiful subtle smokiness. Glazed ham and pineapple. Prosciutto. Raspberry.

Finish: Deeper than the White, but maybe a tick less endearing. Still bittering and tropically tart.

Thoughts: Nose is more muted than expected, but the palate more than makes up for the whispered beginnings.

93.5/100

Black Bowmore 1964 31y.o.

Sherry butts. 1812 bottles. 49% abv. Released 1995.

Nose: Toasted marshmallow. Saville orange. Molasses. More smoke here. Oily and syrupy. The tropical notes are here, but not as monolithic as they appear in the trilogy releases. Polish. Old wet oak. Cherry, raspberry and strawberry with passion fruit, peach, pineapple, guava, etc. Tobacco pouch or snuff bag. Oiled leather.

Palate: Whoa. Syrupy, syrupy, syrupy. More of those reduced dark fruits – like a smoked cherry and raspberry reduction. That sweet/sour balance is incredible. Pink grapefruit. Passion fruit. Mango. Cold espresso. Tobacco. Seared duck. Seaspray. A stronger flinty minerality.

Finish: More tannic than the others, by far. But that bittering finish is, once again, to die for.

Thoughts: Denser, darker, somehow more syrupy than the 42 y.o. Stronger tannins, and less tropical notes. Though I’m sure it goes without saying…utterly stunning.

94/100

Bowmore 1964 Fino 46 y.o.

One fino sherry butt. 72 bottles 42.9% abv. Released 2012.

Nose: Candied sweetness. All those tropical notes smash head on in to a confectioner’s shop. Bubble gum. Salt water. More tropical juices (yes, yes…you’re getting sick of the word ‘tropical’). Scones. Heavy cream. Mandarins. Kiwi. Sour cherries. Key lime and blood orange. A hint of fill.

Palate: Oh, wow. Kiwi and guava. Lemon pie. A squeeze of lime. Grapefruit pith. Green curry. Dill. What the hell?! The tropical notes keep expanding as it develops. Love that gorgeous medicinal note that toes up against the tangy fruits. Oily and salty. Mango. Tiramisu. Honey.

Finish: Long and slightly drying. Cherry cordials. Tropical fruit skins.

Thoughts: This one shattered any expectations I had. Simply mindboggling.

95/100

 Posted by at 8:25 am
Dec 102020
 

This one came as a bit of a surprise in my circles. Normally we don’t get so hung up on color that it becomes the primary speaking point, but let’s face it…this stuff is about four shades darker than previous releases. It looks like medium roast coffee mixed with cherry cola. The usual light-to-dark color spectrum of the big three Kilchoman expressions – Machir Bay, then Sanaig, then Loch Gorm – was turned on its head with the arrival of this 2020 edition of Sanaig. It scrambled the wee rainbow and threw the darkest of ’em all smack dab in the middle of the trio. Quite frankly, the hue shames the fully-sherried Loch Gorm. And while Sanaig may be a marriage of ex-bourbon (30%) and ex-oloroso casks (70%), it’s unquestionably the sherry that stands center stage here. You’ll get some of the spice from those bourbon barrels, but the more subtle notes – coconut, vanilla, etc – are lost beneath the deeper wash of Oloroso.

Expect big spice, big dried fruit tunes and bucketloads of savory, charry, goodness. Oh, and quality. You’ll find it here in spades.

Sanaig is named for a rocky little cove off the northern coast of Islay where the cold, harsh waves of the Atlantic dash themselves time and time again against ancient metamorphic rock. Are we running out of geographical/geological features on Islay to name our beloved malts after? Asking for a friend.

46% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: A hella big peaty dram. Beachside bonfire. Islay malt married to grape juice. Raspberry and orange. Fig spread. Ju-jubes. Seared scallops and bacon. Some sort of red wine-reduced savory meat sauce. A bit of unlit pipe tobacco.

Palate: A lot smoke, a fair bit of hickory. Fruit leather. Arrives juicy, develops some slight tannins around the mid palate. Purple grapes and plums. Figgy pudding. Sen-sens. Cough drops.

Finish: Long and smoky. A hint of smoked shellfish and some flinty notes as it fades.

Thoughts: A little top-heavy – or maybe just overly rambunctious – but well-built, nonetheless.

88/100

 Posted by at 12:43 pm
Dec 082020
 

I kinda get the impression that Hedley Wright wasn’t born with enough middle fingers. If you don’t know the gent I’m speaking of, rest assured that I mean this with the utmost respect for this nonagenarian. Confession: I absolutely adore the Hedley ethos.

Some of you are probably aware that I have an almost unconditional love for Campbeltown and Campbeltown whiskies. I love the place, the people, the history and the distilleries. I love the bars and the late-night strolls. Most importantly, I love all the memories I’ve made there. The clock seems to move at a different pace on this wee peninsula.

But I suppose we should be talking about the whisky we’re reviewing, aye?

Kilkerran, as many of you will know, is not a distillery; it is the brand name for the single malt produced at the Glengyle distillery.

So, here’s the tale as I’ve heard it told, for those that may not have listened to me sentimentalize this one in person: Back in the early 2000s, Campbeltown was in danger of losing its regional status in the eyes of the Scotch Whisky Association. The ‘wee toon’ ’round the harbour – once the world’s most famous and in-demand whisky-producing sector – had reached a point where only two distilleries remained in production. A mighty fall for a town (and region) that once boasted more than thirty producers.

Enter one Hedley G. Wright, a generational descendent of the Mitchell family (whose name you’ll still see adorning Springbank bottlings to this day), and his mad machinations to protect the regional status of Campbeltown. Hedley made the argument that the Lowlands only had three operational distilleries and were still a recognized region, ergo, if Campbeltown had the same number then they should reap the same benefits. The SWA agreed. So, Hedley bought the neighbouring corpse-distillery of Glengyle, cleaned out tons of birdshit (and who knows what all else), and tricked out the building with equipment purchased from the now-defunct Ben Wyvis distillery. All equipment, piping and possibly even the kitchen sink was procured for a rather paltry £300,000. And in 2004, the spirit began to flow.

Twelve years later we’ve reached the culmination of a lot of ‘work in progress’ releases, and if I’m being honest…this is one of the most impressive age-stated renaissance expressions I’ve ever encountered (Laddie 10 being another). It’s everything I wanted, and a whole lot more.

Batches vary, I understand, but this one was apparently 70% ex-bourbon, 30% ex-sherry. Bottled at 46% abv. Bottle code: 18/337. Bottled: 03/08/2018.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Awww, yeah. A heapin’ helpin’ of the Campbeltown funk. Love it. Smells of the farmyard. Oat cakes. A touch of pool water (chlorine?). A balanced salinity. I keep catching a fleeting whiff of blueberry. Lemon. Burlap, or hessian. Peanuts in the shell. A bit minerally, maybe slate or clay.

Palate: Love this distinctive peatiness. A nice clean citrus, both lemon and orange. Licorice Babies. Like chewing on a stalk of straw. Those oat cakes are back again. Overbaked – not quite burnt – pastry.

Finish: A nice lingering farmy funk. Salty crackers. A nice peaty fade.

Thoughts: Almost indistinguishable from Springbank. And that, of course, makes perfect sense.

89/100

 Posted by at 3:36 pm
Dec 042020
 

It never sucks to drink Brora. You could waterboard me with this stuff and I’d probably be okay with it. Ok…that may have crossed a line. Sorry.

We just reviewed a Clynelish, so how ’bout Brora? Sort of a VW/Audi thing. Or something. Unfortunately, I have less than a dozen bottles of Brora left in the bunker, so unless something drastically changes in the coming years, reviews of this Sutherland beauty are bound to be as scarce as oases in the Sahara. Recently, however, I had occasion to pop the cork on a special bottle to mark a celebration: I promised some mates that if Trump was booted from office I would open a Brora. I also promised myself a mental health break from the political divisiveness that seems be tearing civilization apart and a return to whisky jotting in my spare time. So…here we are.

Brora has a reputation, of course, but Brora also has a complicated personality. Not only are there some nearly impossible ties to unknot between Brora and Clynelish (especially in the earliest years of tandem distillation at the neighboring sites, but also between the more heavily-peated outings and those that are more fruit/wax/caramel-driven. I’ve had both. And both can be utterly dazzling. And, though it won’t put this conversation to bed, it will at least allow us to hit ‘snooze’ for a bit and return to this rather big subject later on. Let’s just say, I have my theories.

This 34 year old is one of the more restrained Broras I’ve yet tried. The nose, especially, is a wee bit shy, but the palate is much more expressive. If you’re chasing big phenols, you’re looking in the wrong place. But at 34 years, you’d be looking in the wrong place no matter which expression you were tasting. There’s a nod to the peatier years here, but it arrives like the fashionably late party goer. Albeit…maybe a bit more well-behaved, when all is said and done.

This release was a part of Diageo’s Annual Releases back in 2017, before they nixed the inclusion of Brora and Port Ellen in those outturns. It was limited to 3,000 bottles. 51.9% abv.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Little peat to speak of. But of course, there’s some wax. A touch of milk chocolate. Orange juice. Warm chamois leather. Incredibly soft fruit mélange. Apple pie (easy on the cinnamon and such). Putty. Even a faint hint of capers. Clay. An unlit Cuban, where the aromas are subtle and pretty.

Palate: Oh, wow. Juicy and mouthwatering. Orange and tangerine right up front. There’s a bit of smokiness come the mid palate, but it arrives with vanilla, melon and much more wax. Some more citrus, mostly lemon. Now we have some peat, by way of a slight earthy funk. A touch of blanched almond.

Finish: Clean and long. Some honeydew melon and deeply herbal notes.

Thoughts: Not sure why this one isn’t held in higher esteem than it is. May take a wee bit more concentration, but peeling back the layers shows just how elegant and layered it is.

Score: 92/100

 Posted by at 10:07 am
Dec 022020
 

I sell whisky for a living. And yes, for the most part it is everything it’s cracked up to be and more – largely because of where I sell whisky, but that’s a story for another day.

I get asked all the time for recommendations that come in around that $100CA a bottle marker, and asked what I would drink in that price range. The Classic Laddie, Pulteney 12, Benromach 10, Johnnie Black (honestly), and Clynelish 14 are some of my immediate thoughts. There has to be both character and quality there to hold my interest. In my line of work, there is no shortage of great whisky at hand, so for a so-called ‘entry level expression’ to remain in constant rotation at the forefront of my grey matter, it has to be really damn good. And Clynelish 14 is consistently really…damn…good.

Part of it might be personal bias – I love the tangled and messy story of Brora/Clynelish – but there is more to it than simple infatuation with a distillery’s history. The fact of the matter is that Clynelish produces one of the best makes in the Diageo stable. It may not always turn out the way we’d hope in indie bottlings, but the brand’s flagship 14 is a winner. A bit waxy, a bit coastal; laden with citrus and a wee bit of a flinty edge. It’s hard to ignore inherent quality and singularity in a field that can sometimes (especially in younger OBs) feel a bit stagnant and one-dimensional.

46% abv.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Slightly boozy, without being spirity. Apples and barley fields. Linseed oil. Shale and salt water. A nice minerally underbelly. Dried ginger. Beeswax. Lemon Pledge furniture polish. Maybe a faint whiff of smoke back there somewhere.

Palate: Immediately waxy. Some apples and a squeeze of orange (and a decent dribble of lemon concentrate). Sauvignon blanc. A nice tannicity keeps things firm. Briny and coastal. Salted pasty dough. A puff of dirty smoke at the back end.

Finish: Love the tang and pucker as it ebbs. Leaves a bit of orange zest, salt water, and vanilla. Reminds a bit of dental gauze. Still rather drying.

Thoughts: Consistently one of the stalwarts of the <15 year olds. Some batches are better than others, but I’ve yet to find one I wouldn’t spend money on.

Score: 87/100

 Posted by at 9:19 am
Nov 092020
 

I don’t suppose there’s any reason to wade in slowly, is there? I mean…we’ve known each other for quite some time here on ATW, most of us. And I think we all know that most of the time things are more akin to back alley bare knuckle boxing than to full-on gloved-up pugilism, right? So let’s step into the fray a little bit here. I want to say a few things, but I imagine there are a few of you out there that wouldn’t mind chirping in a word or two, as well. Feel free to weigh in with comments, if you so see fit.

A couple of months back, Jim Murray created quite the stir when he crowned Alberta Premium Cask Strength Rye his 2021 Whisky of the Year. That, in and of itself, isn’t the biggest deal. Maybe a little bit of a stretch, but to be fair, the whisky was really, really good. The review here on ATW attests to my firm belief of that. And Murray has long been considered a bit of a leading contrarian. His picks always seem to fall far outside the norm of what most would consider believable winners. Unfortunately, accusations of payoffs and under-the-table dealings have followed him for years. Personally, I’ve never bought into that idea. Some of Murray’s more controversial picks have included Ballantine’s 17 year old blended whisky, Crown Royal Northern Harvest, and an elusive, apparently non-existent batch of Ardbeg Uigeadail. The general consensus seems to be that someone like Murray, being the leading whisky critic in the world, probably has access to some of the most insanely brilliant drams from the 50s, 60s, 70s and every other age imaginable. Ergo, it seems almost inconceivable that Murray’s selections would be so…pedestrian. Inconceivable, that is, until one considers that the man is essentially trying to sell the same book year upon year, with minimal changes to the bulk the text. So how does one keep such a tome relevant, and make sure consumers keep coming back with fistfuls of dollars (or pounds/euros/what-have-you)? It’s simple. Keep it controversial; keep ’em talking. And, let’s face it, picking a 1970s single cask outing from, say, GlenDronach, with an outturn of less than 600 bottles, doesn’t really speak to the masses. But some mainstream release that no one could see coming…and available at an affordable price point, to boot? Rather brilliant, actually.

But that’s not the real controversy this time. The issue at hand, as it relates to the Jim Murray brand, is not a new one. It’s a tale that has become part of the oral lore of the man in the white fedora, rarely turning up in the written word (for fear of legal reprisal, I’d imagine?), but almost always surfacing in face-to-face discussion. The real controversy that has bubbled and roiled beneath the surface for years now has been Murray’s reliance on sex, innuendo, and what is being called out as overt misogyny. And unfortunately, the language in The Whisky Bible does little to assuage the accusations.

It took Becky Paskin, spirits journalist and editor of the incomparable (and now sadly defunct) Scotchwhisky.com, to bring this issue bubbling to the surface of our public whisky discourse. Paskin put herself out there and, risking the ire of a largely male-dominated whisky world, said the things that should have been said long, long ago: that this sort of marginalizing, incredibly inappropriate speech is not even close to acceptable. Period. Sexism is something the whisky industry has struggled with for far too long now, but this sort of egregious example is on another level entirely. And while many were quick to agree that things needed to change, it goes without saying that it should never have been allowed to reach this point in the first place. Brands, retailers, and ambassadors have been using Murray’s scores to sell product for years. Why did it take the fortitude of Becky Paskin to make so many of us do an about face?

I think the thing I struggle with most is that it took this long. I mean, rumors of Murray’s impropriety have stretched back many a long year now. I know of venues and organizers who, after hosting him, utterly refuse to have him back. I’ve heard tell of walkouts and interactions with female audience members that made me cringe, simply in the telling of the tale. Forgive me for not rehashing details or providing examples here, but my knowledge of the law is meager, to say the least, and a libel case is not something my bank account can afford right now. Suffice to say, much is word of mouth, but makes me think of the old adage: if it walks like a duck…

But even forgoing the accusations of impropriety, there is simply no question that Murray’s language (bordering on blue, in many cases) is out of touch and anachronistic not just in the age of Me Too and progressive equality, but in the year 2020. We, as a race, should be better than this. Again, I’m going to choose not to repeat any of the dozens of examples of overtly sexual text from The Whisky Bible that have made their way around the media over the past couple of months, lest my doing so amplifies the voice, but let me simply state that if the language one chooses to use marginalizes and makes a segment of the population uncomfortable, then maybe it’s time to change. And by maybe, I don’t actually mean maybe.

Credit where credit is due: Murray is a hell of a writer. It’s not easy to sell over a million copies by being a hack writer (James Paterson, Dan Brown, etc not withstanding). If you want to read prose that teeters on the knife edge of poetry, read Jim Murray’s Complete Book of Whisky. As an author, he truly is gifted with a knack for beautiful turns of phrase most of us can only envy and admire. It’s in other matters, though, that he leaves us wanting. Or in some cases, wanting a little less. In Murray’s contemporary jottings, it would seem that a bit more socially conscious diction and a sense of judiciary selectivity are the pieces that are lacking. In short, as gifted as he is, there is simply no need to resort to this sort of lazy eroticizing to romanticize a great drink. There are plenty of non-innuendo driven superlatives that would not only suffice, but more adequately serve the purpose.

But they say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and maybe there’s some truth to that. In four days Murray turns 63. Hardly an old dog, excepting in the matter of old habits. Instead of a scenario where most would have issued their mea culpa, Murray instead doubled down, referring to “faux outrage” and the criticism being an exercise in “cancel culture” meant to take down “the world’s most successful author on the subject.” So much for tact.

Whether Murray recovers from this, or The Whisky Bible ever regains its place of prominence remains to be seen. A legit apology or entreaty to make amends does not appear to be forthcoming. I think many are now curious to see what sort of rebranding, if any, will be undertaken to strip the tarnish from this once towering reputation.

So the question now becomes one of who or what fills the void left in the wake of Murray’s exit. Well…it’s simple really. And I don’t understand why it didn’t happen sooner. In 2012 I did an interview with Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun, wherein I asked him whether or not he had plans to publish any sort of alternative to The Whisky Bible. It need be noted that Whiskyfun is now home to almost 20,000 tasting notes. In Serge’s genuine and endearing humility, he assured me that he was not the cat to chase down the chubby little mouse (Murray, I mean, and yes…I am paraphrasing, as Serge is much too polite to use such an analogy), and had no plans to publish (in paper form, at least) his whisky reviews. Now here is where I’m left a little perplexed. In an age where paper is starting to take on the stigma of plastic or fossil fuels, why are so many married to the idea of a hard copy book that brazenly refers to itself as the bible, staking claim to a title that suggests near impunity from criticism? All of us, seemingly, carry our phones with us everywhere we go now. Does it not make more sense to simply bookmark Whiskyfun on our mobile browser? The reviews are fair and humble. They are articulate, relatable and succinct. And more importantly, they are legion. It’s hard to imagine a source more complete than what Serge has curated for us on his site. I dare say, in 2020 The Whisky Bible is well nigh obsolete. It has been in my circles for many years now anyway. And no one I know mourns its place on their shelves.

So let’s take this opportunity to reflect a bit on where else we may be overlooking long overdue change. When is reflection ever a bad thing?

Finally, I just want to say thank you to Becky for saying what should have been said long ago. Your courage is an inspiration.

And for those that want a few more details, here’s an article from The New York Times that provides a bit more context.

Yours,

C

 Posted by at 1:26 pm