Sep 182014

SMWS 1.172 “Sophisticated, Delicate And Feminine”117

55.7% abv

Score:  89/100


This feels wrong.  So wrong.  Naked Glenfarclas from a refill hogshead.  Unlike pretty much all of the distillery’s output, there is no sherry influence here (unless they built this hoggy from cut down staves of a disassembled butt, but I doubt that.  Or…maybe this hoggy held sherry at one time?  Also doubt it).  Either way, seeing Glenfarclas this exposed feels sorta like walking in on someone in the shower.  Perhaps I should also add that for an anorak such as I, it gives the same perverse sort of thrill.

Whisky geeks will most likely be all over a malt like this.  It ticks all the right boxes for the purist.  Big natural cask strength, no added coloring, no chill-filtration, bottled at a suitably mature age and well labeled for clarity.  But most importantly, it’s a unique malt in that it offers up something different for all of us to natter about in our infinite geekery by breaking the distillery’s stereotype and showing us a very different iteration of a much loved theme.

To me, this is exactly the kind of release that makes whisky exciting and keeps it fresh.  It is a 19 year old bottling from an outturn that yielded just 230 bottles.  But pushing aside the inherent awesomeness of all of the meta associated with this one, let’s discuss the actual ins and outs of this particular expression.  Its 55.7% abv delivers flavour by the spadeful, and instead of those exceptional leathery, dried fruit and Christmas cake notes so typical of Glenfarclas, here we’re treated to more ripe fruits and deeper spice notes.  

I wish more folks out there, especially the really devout Glenfarclas fans, could have an opportunity to try this one, but unfortunately that’s the nature of not only the SMWS, but single cask bottlings in general.  This one just happens to be even more exclusive than most single cask releases out there, as it is only available to SMWS members (or was, as I assume it is now long gone). 

If you get an opportunity to try this one, do so.  Highly recommended.

Nose:  Earth.  Candy and floral notes.  Let’s call it Turkish Delight-ish.  Orange jelly.  Grape jelly.  Stewed peaches and apples in baking spices.  Canned pears.  Pie crust.  Very firm oak notes.  Dry cinnamon sticks.  Moist tobacco.

Palate:  Very tangy arrival of fruits and jelly candies.  Quite lush.  Clean wood, but slightly bittering around the mid to back end.  Allspice and candied ginger.  Ever eaten flower petals in a salad?  This latter note may help contribute to that bittering influence.  Some orange zest and pith.  More apple sauce. A touch of honeycomb.  Very un-Glenfarclas.

Thoughts:  Arguably the most apt name I’ve ever seen on an SMWS label.  This one definitely exemplifies all three adjectives.  Also…decent tasting notes on the bottle.  I can’t say I disagree with much of it.


- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:01 am
Sep 122014

At the risk of wading into something I want no part of…

Man…there have been some seriously acrimonious words bandied about in public of late, and all over differing views relating to whisky and whiskey. I confess that I love a good discussion or debate as much as the next guy, but there are some lines that are being crossed right now, and I have finally reached a point where I feel I have to say something.  

This forum here on ATW has always remained open and willing to embrace views of polarity. I have NEVER censored a comment, and I like to think that’s because those of you who do choose to comment here are highbrow, respectful and intelligent individuals. I thank you for that, and for making what I do easier and infinitely more enjoyable. To be clear…nothing that has been posted here on ATW, or to me personally, has sparked this post. A little birdie told me you’d have to look elsewhere to find the proverbial straw that finally broke the camel’s back.

So…as you may have noticed, I’m a fairly passionate guy when it comes to protecting the things and people I love. I have my own views, and occasionally I get up on my soapbox too, but I also pride myself in knowing that I don’t intentionally aim to harm an individual. Unfortunately, in recent days I’ve read one too many exchanges of outright name-calling, mudslinging, personal insults, etc related to what others believe or have done in the name of their whisky point-of-view or actions (inactions even?).

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with any of the instances to which I’m referring, count yourself lucky, continue to behave and I’ll be happy that you didn’t finish reading this post. And apologies, but I simply refuse to repost, or even directly refer to any of these instances, lest I lead anyone else to read what I think is embarrassing public spectacle and shameful denigration of others. Apparently some folks out there need to do a little self-reflection and recall what their mothers likely tried to instill years back: ‘If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.’

What happened to reasoned criticism? Intelligent debate? Common courtesy? At the end of the day there’s nearly always a way to make your opinion heard and your voice resonate in an articulate and respectful manner that would make people want to hear what is being said. The outright vitriol and brutish attacks I’ve read recently have literally made me absolutely disregard everything else these individuals have to say. How do you take seriously the words of a petulant infant? That’s how it comes across. You may have good points to make, but I won’t be listening.

Now I don’t for a minute believe we all need to be friends, or even to actually respect one another. Respect is something to be earned. I do, however, believe that everyone is entitled to a modicum of basic human decency. I may not like your opinion, but so long as it is an INFORMED opinion, and delivered in a respectful manner, I will listen to it.

So, listen up, keyboard warriors and internet mercenaries: It’s easy to hide behind anonymity and distance while lambasting someone for a tack that doesn’t jibe with yours, but ease does not make right. Bloggers, journalists, industry people, authors, distillers, all of us sharing the word on the drinks we love…we tend to become something of an entity, to a degree, and I think that strips the human element out of it for some of the readers (listeners). I think some individuals out there are losing sight of the fact that there are HUMAN BEINGS behind these whisky-related personas. These are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, parents and friends to others out there. Whether or not you disagree with their very existence should remain incidental to not being an outright boor to another person.

This is not a biblical ‘turn the other cheek’ or ‘love thy neighbour’ thing. At the end of the day, we all look stupid when any of us takes the low road.

As I hinted at above, please don’t dig for the individual instances I’m referring to. Again…don’t reward bad behaviour. Instead, I’d only ask that you absorb the message I’m trying to get across. Differ, debate, get heated, what-have you. Just do it with a little class.

In summation: Before you hit ‘post’ or ‘send’ or ‘tweet’, maybe think twice. Leave the passion in your message, but skip the personal attacks. And for god’s sake…lighten the f*ck up. It’s a drink.


- Curt

 Posted by at 2:15 pm
Sep 092014

Convalmore 28 y.o.028

57.9% abv

Score:  91.5/100


This is an exciting whisky to finally get ’round to tasting and reviewing.  I’ve been wanting to do this one for a couple of years now, ever since it made its way into whisky lore and became a part of the cult canon. 

Convalmore is another of those ethereal malts that only exist in print and tall tales for many of us.  The distillery was closed in ’85, not long after the rash of distillery closures that claimed victims such as Port Ellen and Brora, and as far as I know, the distillery was subsequently dismantled.  For shame too, if this malt is any indication.  Very few Convalmore OBs exist (two, proper; three, if you include the Rare Malts edition), and indies are nearly as scarce on the ground.  I think it goes without saying that if the opportunity presents itself, it is well worth making the effort to taste it.

This dram is held in very high regard by some incredibly gifted palates in the industry (Broom, Buxton and the bunch), and early reviews of this 28 y.o. malt helped to launch its reputation  far into the celestial stratosphere.  As you can imagine, that sort of ringing endorsement by gents I respect had me slavering for an opportunity to taste it.  My curiosity here was twofold; first, to try something from this now defunct distillery and second, to form my own assessment of the validity of hype for this collectible l’il gem. 

On the more topical front, the plain jane packaging on this Diageo special release has earned more than a few comments over the years, and I must concede even I’m not immune to its ‘old tymee county fair’ look and subtle charm.  Keeping it simple compliments the rather uncomplicated whisky within.  Uncomplicated, however, does not mean without depth.  This really is a very elegant Speysider with enough going on in the glass to stay interesting for many long nosing and tasting sessions.

And while it never does quite reach the heights I had presupposed (my own fault, really), it is a really fine whisky nevertheless.  

Nose:  Caramel candied apple.  White pepper.  Cinnamon.  A mix of citrus juices (orange, pink grapefruit, tangelo).  A touch of wax and oil paint.  White flour.  Soft white and milk chocolates.  Hot cross buns.  Vanilla.  Moist tobacco and clean soil.

Palate:  Beautiful mature waxy notes with a touch of char.  Strong and syrupy.  Tart and tangy fruit notes.  Very spicy…very chewy.  Rich in ginger, ground nutmeg and cinnamon.  Just a touch of fennel.  More juicy fruit notes, moving into more tropical flavours like tangerine and pineapple.  Mouth-coating and delicious.  The cask is still singing loudly here, but it’s clean and lovely.

Thoughts:  Bottled at an absolutely gorgeous age and state.


- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:32 am
Aug 272014

Bruichladdich Scottish Barley176

50% abv

Score:  86/100


Bruichladdich is no stranger to No Age Statement whisky.  In fact over the past ten or twelve years they’ve probably been one of the most visible proponents of the concept.  I think this approach was first viewed by the distillery as a necessary maneuver in order to get whisky on the shelves throughout the first decade of production after their 2001 reopening.

Considering how fundamentally opposed I am to the idea of opaque marketing with whisky, I imagine it’s somewhat surprising (even to myself, if I’m to be honest) how much I adore and support Bruichladdich.

Let’s face it…no other distillery has done as much to reinvigorate the whisky world over the last few years as Bruichladdich.  They’ve pushed hard for higher bottling strengths – first 46% as a standard, and now 50%.  They’ve foregone artificial colouring.  They’ve made a mockery of the concept of chill-filtration.  Their employment of local labour is staggering, especially viewed in contrast to the two-man crews running some of Diageo’s multi-million litre producers.  Their innovative cask play, phenol manipulation (and exploitation!), terroir-first approach, experiments with organic barley, unprecedented guerrilla marketing, over-the-top bottle designs and simply unparalleled passion are more than enough reason to keep dollars flowing from my bank account into theirs.   There’s no two ways about it.  Bruichladdich have made whisky exciting.  I do begrudge them the NAS thing, but absolutely support them in perpetuity for everything else.

So that’s Bruichladdich.  Now let’s talk about this Bruichladdich: the new Scottish Barley core release.  This malt supercedes 2011’s Laddie 10, the distillery’s first proper 10 year old under the new regime.  Unfortunately, if all the sources I’ve culled are correct, Bruichladdich simply couldn’t keep production at a level that would support an ongoing 10 year old at this time.  That particular malt was met with such positive acclaim and widespread demand that the distillery finally had to step away from the idea of the Laddie 10 as their core expression and back up a few steps into the NAS territory again to give themselves some breathing room.  The Laddie 10 is still available at the distillery, from what I understand.

Oh well.  There are worse problems to have than overwhelming demand, I suppose. 

The logical first question would most likely be whether or not the Scottish Barley is a step down from the Laddie 10.  And I honestly wish I could answer that for you.  Unfortunately I don’t have a bottle of the Laddie 10 open at the moment.  In a couple weeks time I will be able to try them head to head and assess which comes out on top.  There may be slight score adjustments to the respective reviews at that time.  Either way…that score is a personal assessment.  Dont’ get hung up on the number.  Instead, just read the tasting notes below.  At the end of the day, though, this is a really good whisky.  Well worth your time.  Well worth your money.

Nose:  Orange.  Maybe a vague touch of tangerine or something semi-tropical.  Scone dough.  Very mild vanillins.  Rosewater Turkish Delight.  Lemon.  The barley is still recognizable through it all.  Sweet and balanced.

Palate:  Some nice heat on arrival.  Barley sugar sweetness up front.  A nice candied fruit follows.  Grassy Sauvignon Blanc tones.  A very slight (but very nice) fuel note that dissipates with time in the glass.  Still getting some orange.  A touch of pepper.  Toothpick and apple skin.  Quite drying.  None too complex, but doesn’t need to be.

Thoughts:  This is NAS, so the immediate assumption is youth, and while there is certainly a heft of young whisky in here, I think there are a few slightly older casks thrown in to add a little softness and knock the edges off a bit.


- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:39 am
Aug 262014

Compass Box Oak Cross107

43% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Let’s repeat the idiom we’ve trumpeted here since day one.  We love Compass Box.  We love John Glaser.  We love his maverick style and damn-the-torpedoes approach.  Most importantly though…we love his whiskies.

So many of the expressions he’s created over the years have really great stories behind them, built on evocative imagery, esoteric naming conventions and revolutionary displays of non-conformity.  These controversies have been well articulated through the whisky ‘media’, and have only served to make the SWA look stupid and outmoded.  The organization itself, and its adherence to tradition in most matters, only make sense when industry-vested interests are removed and a liberal dose of logic is applied.  Otherwise, every innovation is a perceived threat.  It’s this butting up against logic that has been the thorn in the side of someone like John Glaser, who is merely trying to stretch the canon, not overtly bend the rules.

The name of this vatted malt (again…I refuse to bow to the idiocy of the unnecessarily confusing SWA-enforced ‘blended malt’ nomenclature) is a reference to the juxtaposition of malts matured in both both American and French oak.  The whisky that results from this crossing of the more effusive American oak and the tighter-grained, refined French oak brings a profile that, while not necessarily instantly unique, is immediately charming.

Strip away all of the adornment of cask (and cask head) play, clever name, and snazzy packaging, however, and you’re apt to find a little bit of a surprise.  So often when we pull back the curtain, what we find is that we’ve been awed by nothing more substantial than so much smoke and mirrors.  In the case of Oak Cross (and Compass Box as a whole, really), behind that curtain we actually do find a real modern day wizard.  One who is making things happen as promised, and not simply talking the talk.  Glaser set out to make great whisky.  And once again, he has.

I read the company’s spec sheet on this one and started doing my own sleuthing to find out which distilleries from the regions disclosed therein were actually included in this three malt vatting, before finding a shortcut in simply Googling the answer.  As it turns out: Dailuaine, Clynelish and Teaninich.  An odd threesome, but a menage that certainly equates to more than just the sum of its parts.  The integrated whole here is spectacular, and the suggestion of this being a blending of any sort (even one comprised entirely of malts) seems almost preposterous.  Try it if you doubt me.

I should note…I have tasted this whisky many times over the years, and this is not the same dram I remember from earlier releases.  This is a malt that seems to get better as the years go on.

Oak Cross seems to fly under the radar a bit compared to some of the other Compass Box releases.  Not sure why.  I can only imagine that will change soon.

Nose:  Gawdayum!  Is this ever clean.  Orange and lemon zest.  Some polish.  Buckets of spice (mild cinnamon, clove and nutmeg).  Oily vanilla.  Apple and a hint of peach.  Pepper and just the faintest earthy peatiness (almost like good clean soil).  Spiced cake.  Salty home made play dough.  LOVE the balanced profile.

Palate:  More oak and vanilla notes here than the nose hinted at, but not overwhelming at all.  That pithy citrus zest again with some ginger and other spices.  Some clean, farmy barley flavours now.  A touch of peat.  A little drying.  Red apple skin.  It’s the Clynelish that really shows through the most here.  A few notes that remind of ’70s peated Glen Keith (Glenisla).

Thoughts:  Far too drinkable.


- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:24 pm
Aug 132014

Dram Initiative #012 – Bowmore with Iain MacCallum

June 6th, 2014


I have no plans to ever run with the Bulls in Pamploma.  Or to swim the choppy South African waters near Dyer Island without a shark cage.  Or to voluntarily check myself in for a vasectomy.  Or even to try driving the manic and frightening lanes of ancient Roman streets.  But arguably even further down the list of ‘things to not do in this lifetime’ is to engage in a drinking contest with Iain MacCallum.  If stories hold true (and we heard more than a couple on this unforgettable eve), the man’s liver is a shoe-in for the Scotch Whisky Hall Of Fame. 

While this may not bode well for longevity (hmmm…Shane MacGowan and Keith Richards may have contrary opinions to that line of thinking), it certainly leads to several lifetimes worth of truly hilarious anecdotes packed into one tall and lanky Scottish frame.  And in turn…to a bloody brilliant night of laughter and spirited conversation. 


For those of you who may not be ‘in-the know’, Iain is the Brand Ambassador (aka Master of Malts), and former blender for Suntory’s Bowmore.  He now makes his mark on the whisky world by traveling the map, engaging with, and educating, the masses and spreading a brilliant concoction of science and fun.  It’s this rather deadly combination that makes an evening with the man such a memorable one.  At once highly educational and infinitely entertaining, Iain is the quintessential spokesman for not only Bowmore, but whisky in general.

Our evening with Iain came about through the efforts of Kathy Johnson, of  Lifford Wine & Spirits here in Calgary.  I’d spoken with Kathy on a couple occasions at various festivals and events  regarding the idea of holding a Bowmore night for the whisky club.  We made tentative plans to pull something together at some point in the none-too-distant future and left it at that.  Fast forward a couple months and sure enough an email arrived in my inbox from Kathy, offering up Iain’s time for a night with the club.

We immediately set to pulling together a line-up of malts for a top notch event.

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Bowmore is a distillery that is easy to get passionate about.  It is old and iconic and absolutely personifies the classic Scottish malt.  It’s name is one instantly recognized by connoisseurs and laymen all ’round the world.  It’s reputuation has been built drop by drop and to this day the distillery stands in high stead in literally all circles.

One of my favorite whisky quotes of all time is one lifted directly from the wall in the visitor’s lounge at the distillery itself: ‘If you can’t find a Bowmore to fall in love with, you may have to consider very seriously the possibility that you’re wasting your money drinking whisky at all.”  I hate it when people presume to tell others what they should, or will, like, but in this case the sentiment is fairly astute.  The distillery boasts such a chameleonic profile that there is bound to be an expression that fits your tastes.

This evening’s tasting flight was specifically tailored to reach a broad spectrum of flavours and nuances.  Iain took this idea a step further even and maximized every opportunity to teach little techniques for coaxing flavours from the glass and understanding the way the senses work.  It was sort of like being made hypersensitive to the nose and palate for the course of a couple hours.  There were more than a few wide eyes and ‘lightbulb’ moments in the crowd.  Goes to show you never stop learning with this stuff.

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And as for the Dram Initiative itself…

Well…the club has grown to a point where single bottle events are more the exception than the rule.  We are often now sourcing two bottles of each expression in order to accommodate the ever-growing attendance.  How we handle this going forward is still being negotiated.  The level of interest is simply beyond where we thought we’d be after only a dozen or so gatherings.  We have a core of faithful members who come out rain or shine and a seemingly endless line of curious folks who want to sit in on events.

Evenings like this particular one with Iain have led to substantial word of mouth circulating about the DI.  And like a proud papa, I can happily say I don’t recall anyone who hasn’t been blown away by the calibre of events we’ve been fortunate enough to pull together.  Our members…our speakers…our partners…all absolute class acts.  Makes for one of the most enjoyable rides I’ve been on in quite some time.


The Bowmore event line-up, for those that are curious, ran the standard range up the 25 year mark, with a few extras thrown in.  There are, of course, other Bowmore expressions out there, but I’m pretty certain this was a big enough tasting as it was.

The malts we tried:

  • Bowmore Legend
  • Bowmore Small Batch
  • Bowmore 12 y.o.
  • Bowmore 10 y.o. Tempest (Batch 3)
  • Bowmore 15 y.o. Darkest
  • Bowmore 15 y.o. Laimrig (Batch 3)
  • Bowmore 1992 16 y.o. Wine Cask Matured (Limousin Bordeaux)
  • Bowmore 18 y.o.
  • Bowmore 25 y.o. Small Batch Release
  • A.D. Rattray Bowmore 15 y.o. Cask #2057


All in all…another knock-out tasting. 

Sincere thanks to Kathy and Michael at Lifford for all of their help and support for this one.  It was great to have you out. 

And to Iain, for a night that has been repeatedly hailed as a members’ favorite.  We appreciate your coming out on an evening when I know you were feeling far less than tiptop (a tooth issue, not a hangover, you cynics!).  Your knowledge, humour and sordid tales of mayhem and debauchery are a standard we all aspire to.  Errr…sort of. 

Cheers to all!


- Words:  Curt

- Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:19 am
Aug 122014

Dram Initiative #011 – Alberta Distillers Limited with Norm Little

May 2014


Norm Little and I have very different ideas of retirement.  When I get through with the great grind, I can promise you the last thing I plan to do is hang around the old stomping grounds with all of the people I’ve toiled with through the years.  My feet will hit the road for parts unknown (and for those known and loved) and work will be the last thing on my mind. 

But maybe that speaks volumes about our respective jobs.  Or our attitudes.  Or simply the people we meet in the fields we engage in.  It’s not work when you truly love what you’re doing, right?  Either way, Norm still loves what he does.  And it shows.

Norm is, even in his pseudo-retirement, an unwavering ambassador for Alberta Distillers.  He travels the circuits here, and has become what they call the ‘rodeo ambassador’ for the brand, throwing back great drinks with the ‘rough and tumble’ sort that make a living (or at least a loving) out of the more traditional Western way.  And speaking with the man, that is exactly where he wants to be.

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You had to know that it was only a matter a time before we delved into Canadian whisky.  The Dram Initiative is a whisky club after all, not just a Scotch club.  While still a relatively niche market in the global sense, Canadian whisky is now on the upswing again, and we could easily have had our choice as to which brand(s) we wanted to present to the collective. 

The reality is though, our choice was a no-brainer.  Alberta Distillers Limited (ADL) is a distillery right in our own backyard in Calgary.  They have been responsible for some of the most well-received and highly awarded rye whiskies Canada has ever produced.  They are also the only Canadian distillery that can legitimately say that they are producing 100% rye spirit. 

The past couple years have seen the distillery finally seeming to take cognizance of the fact that they have something the world wants, and it ain’t just a mixing whisky.  This is damn good stuff.  Of late we’ve been privy to an exceptional 25 year old (grossly underpriced), a stunning 30 year old (also shamefully affordable) and the latest innovation, Dark Horse.

Hopefully the distillery continues this trajectory of experimentation and premiumization.  It’s not that I want to pay more for my drams; it’s that I recognize a quality to price ratio that is simply not in sync with the rest of the world.  Don’t believe me?  Get your hands on some of this and then tell me otherwise.


As with all DI events, we cobbled together our unique resources to create an occasion.  Making memories is what this is all about.  The committee, with the help of Kate and Beam, pulled together an exhaustive line-up of the distillery’s whiskies, then complimented it with a couple of related gems to fill out the big picture.  But whisky is only half of it, you know.

Norm dug deep into his saddle bag of trail stories and mischief to share some stories with those in attendance.  We heard tales relating to the early days of Calgary and Alberta, the start up of the distillery, the evolution of the spirit and development of the brand, and some neat little nuggets relating to the people involved along the way.  We also heard some tales of Norm’s hijinks and shenanigans.  These little musings are what keep us coming back to the drink. 

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The evening’s line-up went a little something like this:

  • New Make Spirit (White Dog) Unaged Rye
  • Alberta Premium
  • Alberta Premium 25 y.o.
  • Alberta Premium 30 y.o.
  • Alberta Premium Dark Horse
  • Tangle Ridge
  • Alberta Springs 10 y.o.
  • Pendleton Let ‘Er Buck (*)
  • Pendleton 1910 12 y.o. (*)
  • Whistlepig 10 y.o. Straight Rye Whiskey (*)

You’ll notice the latter three have an asterisk beside them.  These whiskies, while they may be sold under the banner of another brand, are all produced right here in Calgary at the distillery.  In the past, ADL has sold and tankered away much bulk spirit prior to bottling.  This distillate is subsequently matured and bottled by various other companies, but the DNA remains prevalent.  You just need to know to look for it.  This external demand for ADL’s whisky is as clear an affirmation of the quality of spirit produced here as anyone should need.

I’ve heard rumblings that internal demand for the Alberta Premium brands is increasing, though, and this practice of ‘off-saling’ may be dead or dying.  What can we say, world?  We make good stuff here in Calgary and would rather see it held to our standards, than those of anyone else.


After our friend Norm had shared some stories from his years of accumulated lore, another mate of ours, J Wheelock, came up (with a little bit of arm-twisting) to share a few laughs and some of the story behind the Pendleton brand.  This is one of the afore-mentioned outside bottlers of ADL spirit (though not so transparently).  J is arguably one of the best presenters I’ve ever seen.  Better still…he’s one of the good people.  I count myself lucky to have him in my circle of ‘more-family-than-friends’. 

J had the room laughing and talking it up amongst themselves before turning the room over to yours truly to discuss the rather…errrr…questionable tactics of Whistlepig.  Fortunately, this company’s disingenuity seems to be behind it and they are moving in the right direction of late (and winning back a few fans, it would seem).  Bottles of Whistlepig had to be sourced from Binny’s down in Chicago.  Well worth it to try something like this, jacked up to 50% abv.  A relative rarity in the Canadian whisky style.

I should repeat though…all of the whiskies we tried this eve were produced right here in Calgary at Alberta Distillers. 

I know we managed to make a few converts this eve.  To those that came out and were surprised at the quality on offer…here’s hoping you enjoy your journeys in Canadian whisky.  It will be a fun ride for the next few years.  We’re just putting this stuff back on the map where it belongs.


Many thanks to Norm Little for all of his time and effort.  I know rooms this big are not normally Norm’s thing, but he did a bang-up job, and we were tickled pink to have him out.  And to Beam Global for all of their kind support and assistance…our sincerest thank you.  Finally…many thanks to one of my favorite couples:  J and Kate.  Both shared much time, physical effort, unparalleled insight and simply bucketloads of their ‘J and Kateness’ with us for this wonderful evening.  To all of you…slainte!

And if any of you should happen to meet Norm in your travels…tell him Curt said to ask about his ‘booze’.


- Words:  Curt

- Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:18 am
Aug 122014

Talisker 30 y.o. (2009)barry's place pics 065

53.1% abv

Score:  92/100


One more old Talisker for the books before we move on into something else.  This is the 2009 special release of 30 year old from the only distillery on the Isle of Skye.  Not a lot of lead-in required here (especially after the amount of older Talisker we’ve covered in the last while).  It’s a great malt from a great distillery at a great age.  As you can imagine, this one is a killer.

Peat, pepper and soft fruits work together here in one of those inexplicably awesome combinations like chocolate and chili…Plant and Krauss…sex and…well…pretty much anything goes with that one, but you get what I’m saying.  A little bit of heat paired with a little bit of sweet is magic. 

And for any out there that want to contest that older isn’t usually* better…well…try this against the 10 year old and let me know how that works out for ya.

Nose:  Peaches.  Buckets of peaches.  Smoke, but very soft.  Chocolate of three kinds: white, dark and milk.  Pepper, of course…this is Talisker, after all.  Salt.  This is very soft and restrained on the peat notes.  Great fruits here.  Kinda like canned fruit cocktail, cherries n’ all.

Palate:  Starts off creamy, but dries out fairly quickly.  Never hits the depths of tannic dry-mouth, but definitely leaves the sides of the mouth a little puckered.  Much salt and pepper.  The fruits are still here.  Melon and some borderline tropical notes.  The peach is less prevalent, but still there and very pleasant.

Thoughts:  A beautiful old salty dog of a Talisker.  Not quite as great as the 2010 edition, but hey…we’re talking single point differences.  In short…exceptional.

*before the cannibals sharpen their teeth, note I said ‘usually’, not ‘always’.


- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:46 am
Aug 042014

Talisker 57° North 068

57.0% abv

Score:  89.5/100


Talisker 57° North.  Named for the northerly line of latitude at which the distillery is situated on the Isle of Skye.  Pretty fitting name and concept.  I can get behind this one.

57° North is a high-test no age statement single malt from Talisker.  Notice I’m not using the words ‘cask strength’ even though this one boasts a sky-high (pun intended) abv of 57%.  Based on a lot of reviews I’ve been reading lately, it would seem many folks out there are confusing high alcohol content single malts with ‘cask strength’ single malts.  ‘Cask strength’ is a natural occurrence, wherein the whisky is pulled from the barrel and not reduced in strength before hitting the bottle.  You often end up with decimal places behind the alcohol percentages on these bottlings.  It’s most likely this attribute, more than any other, that leads to the belief that a whisky is at natural barrel strength.  In some cases, the distilleries are opting for a higher abv simply as the best vehicle for delivering flavour to the taste buds…and we love ‘em for it!  Cases in point: Ardbeg Uigeadail at 54.2%, Ardbeg Corryvreckan at 57.1% and Amrut Intermediate Sherry at 57.1%.  All manufactured strengths, and arguably a good part of the reason these whiskies are so universally adored.

Talisker 57° North has been carefully engineered to an even keel 57% abv.  I kinda think some of the other big producers could take a lesson from what Diageo has done here.  Higher abv equals greater flavour concentration.  If your whisky is good, wouldn’t you want the drinker to experience all of it’s subtleties and nuances?  And at the end of the day, if I’m in the mood for something a little lighter, I’ll add my own water, thank you very much.  But hey…this is Talisker we’re speaking of.  Who the hell wants less flavour?

Moving on…

Let’s talk about one other whisky geek subject here before we get into tasting notes.  Terroir.  The idea that ambient location adds to the character of the spirit (i.e. the soil, the barley strain, salty seaspray or oceanic breezes, etc).  A contestable subject, to be sure, and one that we’ll dedicate a much greater wordcount to at some point in the coming days, but it has a relevance here I want to quickly touch on.  I’m only going to use one particular talking point here to illustrate my case:  It’s very interesting to note how many of the coastal distilleries (Pulteney, Talisker, Scapa, Highland Park, the Islays, etc) boast a profoundly seaside-ish and briny character.  Even those that end up partially (or fully!) matured on the mainland.  Hmmmm.  Curious, I’d say.  Anyway…something for you to mull over.

Let’s get back to the malt at hand.  This is big and bold Talisker, redolent of all of the qualities that make Talisker special.  I love seeing it given a supercharged outlet for its exuberance.  This is a whisky that likes to be loud…and should be heard that way!

Nose:  Creamy.  Chocolate.  Pepper, peat and ash.  Smoke and a bit of over-heated rubber (have you ever blown a radiator hose?).  Chilis.  Lemon.  Wet hay and other farmyard aromas.  Brine.  Shoe polish on good leather.  Ginger.  There are also some sweeter fruit notes that develop over time.  Kissing cousins to Port Charlotte and Longrow.

Palate:  Big, beautiful arrival.  Pepper up front.  Immediately sweet, in a ju-jube kinda way.  Almost fruitcake-like too.  Peat comes next, on waves of salt water, smoke and lemon juice.  A bit more rubber now.  Surprisingly not a really long development or linger, but great throughout.

Thoughts:  This is like a concentrated variant on what Talisker 10 used to be a few years back.  NAS, but firing on all cylinders in its (assumed) relative youth.  Very well put together dram.


- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:16 pm