Jul 232014
 

Kilbeggan005

40% abv

Score:  74/100

 

Amazing how similar the words ‘blend’ and ‘bland’ are when you really get down to it. 

This Kilbeggan NAS release seems to be the flagship of this particular range out of County Louth’s Cooley distillery in the Eastern climes of Ireland.  Kilbeggan also produces 15 and 18 year variants from what I’ve read, but on Canadian soil they’re either non-existent or as rare as our camera-shy local celebs, the sasquatch and Ogopogo.  Having said that…if the profiles of those two drams are much in keeping with that of this NAS offering I doubt I’ll be scouring far and wide for ‘em.

I don’t want to get too down on this one, ’cause it’s not an offensive whiskey by any means.  If you’re a fan of Irish whisky in its entry-level incarnations (Jameson, Bushmills, etc), I’m sure you’ll find this almost as drinkable.  My own personal gripe with this one is simply that it’s just far too run-of-the-mill and unabashedly underripe.  Young whiskey is fine…so long as the spirit is of highest quality and it boasts a profile that is hitting high notes in its infancy (big cask strength sherry bombs and peat monsters immediately spring to mind).

I should also note that when a bottle such as this is labeled as ‘our finest blend’, it doesn’t exactly light my fire for much else in the range.  Just sayin’. 

Nose:  Sharp, crisp and clean grain.  Youngish, but rather decent blending, I’d say.  Very light fruits.  Citrus zest.  floral or perfumed.  Almost rye-like spices (just big clean grains, I think?).

Palate:  Oh, wait.  What happened here?  Very drying.  Sauvignon blanc.  Walnut and Brazil nuts.  Raw grains.  Not bad, but I wouldn’t say this is something I’d really ever reach for.  Grassy and tea-like at the back end.

Thoughts:  All that was promised on the nose falls flat on the palate.  Sooooo disappointing.  Light enough to suit those unaccustomed to the inticacies of Scotch single malt, I suppose, but those who have a more demanding palate will be shouldering this one aside for something with a little more complexity.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:51 am
Jul 222014
 

Connemara 12 y.o.003

40% abv

Score:  82.5/100

 

Connemara’s NAS standard offering is a unique and interesting addition to the canon of Irish whiskey.  It’s youth though almost becomes an ingredient in and of itself, providing a razor thin profile of almost ‘too clean’ grains.

Now we’re looking at what I assume is the same malt a few years down the path to maturity.  I came at this one expecting the peated apple and leather profile to be slightly more muted…the grains to be a little less up front…and a little more oak to be forefront.  That doesn’t seem to be quite where this one ended up, but it’s not toooooo  far off either.  Let’s call it a progression on a theme.

Again we have a double distilled, peated Irish single malt.  All sorts of seemingly oxymoronic word jumbles there, but mixing it up a bit is ever a good thing.  Points to Connemara (Cooley distillery) for added something fun to our drinking repertoire.

AT the end of the day though, what the senses tell us about what’s in the glass is all that matters.  In this case it’s a whiskey with a hell of a surprising nose (in all the right ways!) and a rather disappointing palate.  These are always the greatest letdowns.  Still very decent, but feels a bit like an undelivered promise. 

Nose:  Peat.  Pepper.  Chocolate.  Grape.  Apple.  More fruits.  Leather.  Salty.  Just a hint of putty.  Noses bigger then 40%.  …and almost like a youngish Springbank/Hazelburn somehow (WTF?!).  Very, very nice nose.  Smells older than 12 years.

Palate:  Peat.  Pepper.  Slightly nutty again.  Ok…more than slightly.  Like licking leather.  White wine influence.  Grains at the back end with some grass.

Thoughts:  Great nose.  Not as great on the palate.  Still good, but I wish the dialogue betwixt the nose and the palate was a little more…coherent.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:57 am
Jul 222014
 

Connemara Peated Single Malt131

40% abv

Score:  81/100

 

Peated Irish whiskey from the Cooley distillery in County Louth, Ireland.  Yep.  Peated Irish whiskey.  Somewhat of an anomaly, this.  It’s not often you’ll encounter peated whiskey coming out of  the Emerald Isle.  Fun stuff. 

First things first…this is a rewrite of a review from several years back.  (Anyone remember sister site, Liquorature, where this whole blog thing originated from?)  I thought it was high time to write some slightly updated tasting notes and pretty the whole thing up a bit.  Lipstick on a pig, if you will (I refer to my own writing, not the whiskey).  Anyway…

Irish whiskey is typically – though not always - triple distilled.  This is one of the truly defining characteristics of the style and region.  It is often recognized (and occasionally lauded) for its clean, sharp and fruity barley sugar profile.  Unfortunately it is also known (fairly or otherwise) to be primarily bottled at a meager 40% (or thereabouts), chill-filtered and pumped out in massive young batches.  Again, though…not always.  Connemara, however, is a double distilled Irish whisky, putting it more in league with its Scottish brethren (successors?).  Double distilled and peated, huh?  Ok, then.  Let’s explore this a little further…

This is really clean peat.  Considering Islay is a mere 30 miles off the coast of Ireland, it’s sort of surprising how different the DNA of the bog is.  It’s more leathery and lacking all of the briny, medicinal and tarry notes so prevalent in Scotland’s most infamous smoky drams.  This earthy, peaty blanket sits like a heavy leather drape over a basket of fruit and soft grains.  Personally, I think the fruits and grains are pushing back against the peat.  It’s not really all working together.  Not a bad whisky overall, but a bit of a conundrum that’s keeping me puzzling a bit.

Nose:  Leather, green apples and peat.  All three in abundance.  Soft sugar cookie notes cushion the seeming youth.  Honey and heather.  Some slightly floral notes.  A touch barny too.  Horse blanket.

Palate:  Drying and nutty.  Peat.  Apple skins.  Honey.  Thick, fresh pressed apple juice mixed with smoky distiller’s beer (wash).  More apple skins.  Somewhat wine-y.  Putty.  Grassy finish.

Thoughts:  I’m not entirely convinced the peat is really working here.  Would love to try this whisky sans the bog influence.  There’s a lot of good stuff going on though.  The peat and sweet never seem to dance in step, seeming somehow at odds.

         

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:25 am
Jul 212014
 

Bushmills Black Bush007

40% abv

Score:  79/100

 

Ok, my juvenile friends.  Quit chuckling over the rather…ummmm…questionable choice of name and let’s just get into the whiskey itself, what say? 

Black Bush.  A blended Irish whiskey from a distillery I’ve carried on a near two decade love affair with.  Bushmills holds pride of place in my wee shriveled heart, simply due to an abundance of great memories and sentimental attachments.  While I can’t suppress my own personal affinity for the dram, hopefully I can provide an accurate sense of what’s in here and a score reflective of the true quality and character of the whiskey.

As far as blended whiskies go, this is rock solid.  It brings a little more character than most of the caramel-driven homogeneity that typically weighs down the blends section in most spirit shops.  Having said that…it’s certainly no extrovert in terms of trumpeting an overtly unique profile either.  That’s fine though.  I don’t believe most folks reaching for the blend are looking for a challenge.  More likely just something that promises to be easy-drinking and bears a smooth and sweet character.  Black Bush definitely ticks the boxes (laying it on pretty thick with the sweetness, I might add), and delivers a dram of broad commercial appeal.

And that’s the crux (and for some, the rub).  The flavour junkies, Scotch snobs and connoisseurs are likely to be looking elsewhere, as this one is just a little too pedestrian for the more advanced palate.  GIev it a go, though.  You might surprise yourself.  Well made is still well made.

I personally l lean towards the Original or the 16 year when drinking Bushmills.  Maybe that will change when I lay paws on the 1608 or the 21 year in coming days.  Bear with me…

Nose:  Grape.  A lot of grape.  Nutmeg and cinnamon in bread dough.  Creamy caramel latte.  Pepper.  Some florals.  There is a LOT of balance on the nose here.  Almost hard to pick apart actually.  Great composition.  Hmmmm…in short, kinda like a mixed berry scone with a dusting of light spices.

Palate:  Grape again.  Into clean cereals.  Honey.  Some big influence from sherry cask blending, I’d guess, just by following the rollercoaster development of this one.  High grain component here, I think.  Very thin, but mouthwateringly juicy.

Thoughts:  A little anemic and lacking in oomph, but seriously drinkable.  Great mix of uber clean and sweet and fruity.  This is a throw-the-cork-away kinda drink.  Hard to get excited about, not special in any way, but easy to quaff.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 

 Posted by at 10:16 am
Jul 202014
 

So… now that we’ve arguably offended nearly everyone in the wider whisky world with our NAS discussion (and will offend the rest with a few planned upcoming features), let’s get back to sharing the word on a few choice whiskies.  What say?

Coming days we’ll tackle the following (in theory):

  • Connemara
  • Connemara 12 y.o.
  • Kilbeggan
  • Ardbeg Kildalton (2014)
  • Johnnie Walker King George  IV
  • Benromach Peat Smoke
  • Bowmore White 1964
  • Bowmore Gold 1964
  • Bowmore Springtide
  • Oban 14
  • Bushmills Black Bush
  • Talisker Storm
  • Talisker 57 North
  • Talisker 25 (2005)
  • …and several randoms, indies and whatever strikes my fancy.

We’ll also share the word on the last couple Dram Initiative club events (Alberta Distillers with Norm Little; Bowmore with Iain McCallum and our year end wrap-up event at Moxie’s Downtown) and last week’s killer Ardbeg TracTOUR dinner event with Charton Hobbs/LVMH.

Oh, yeah…and some early bits of planning for Islay Trip 2015 (14 months away!).  Wife just gave me the final green light to lead a ragtag crew of fine folks across the pond again.  Bring on the peat reek!

Few other bits and pieces planned, but we’ll get there when we get there.

In the meantime…sincere thanks to all for all of your feedback, contributions to discussions, insight, shared thoughts on whiskies and ongoing encouragement.  It’s appreciated more than you know.

 

Yours,

Curt

 

 Posted by at 8:33 pm
Jul 092014
 

(Author’s note:  Wow.  NAS whiskies are more contentious than even I thought.  Not only are there disparate views between the insiders (industry) and the outsiders (consumers), there are a crazy amount of ways to tackle the issue (or avoid it).  All, though, are relevant to the discussion.  My own take on the subject has more to do with disclosure and relative value for outlay; not necessarily objection to the idea of young whiskies.  But we’ll get there in a minute.

Sincere thanks to all of the good folks who shared some insight below.  An email asking for others’ input was sent out far and wide.  It is as interesting to note who responded and who didn’t, as it is to read the opinions themselves.  In the words of John Lennon: “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey”.

I hope this isn’t too rambling an affair.  It could have been a good chapter in a book if I’d really cut myself loose.  One day perhaps.  Bear with me…)

 

Aside from the rising cost of whiskies, there is likely no topic in the greater whisky-sphere that garners more discussion of late than that of the trend towards No Age Statement whiskies.  To be honest, I’ve almost felt rushed to publish this piece simply to keep up with the times.  The fact of the matter is that whisky is changing.  Fast.  This is a very dynamic age for our choice beverage.  Many of these changes are highly beneficial to the industry and consumer alike (the rise of global markets, educated and diverse consumer bases, rapid dissemination of information…though of course this last can be double-edged, etc…).  Some of the changes occurring are not so symbiotic however.  The only one I want to tackle in any depth here is the rising tide of No Age Statement whisky, or ‘NAS Whisky’ as it is colloquially known.

While the concept of NAS is not new, there has always been a bit of a resistance to the producers not declaring the age of the ‘whisky in the jar-o’, if not to the actual malts themselves.  Let’s say this is more of an undercurrent than a true revolt, to be fair.  The thing is…whiskies in this style seem to be gaining an awful lot of momentum lately and have suddenly become the new black.  This is the reality of the market today.  There simply aren’t the mature stocks available to support the ever-expanding market for good whisky.  You can call this a lack of planning and foresight if you like, but the reality is no one foresaw a boom of such magnitude.  No one.  Ok.  Acknowledging the trend is one thing.  Accepting it is another.

I must concede to both having enjoyed many NAS whiskies, and to buying them.  A few in particular immediately spring to mind: Aberlour a’bunadh, Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Ardbeg Uigeadail, Glenfarclas 105, Macallan Cask Strength, etc.  Great whiskies, all.  However…I want to draw attention to one thing: in no way are they made any better for the consumer by not having a number on the bottle.  We know they’re young.  We accept it.  Big flavour drinks (sherry bombs and peat monsters) tend to do well in youth.  So…having launched these brands and made them highly successful with legions of adherents, why not come clean and share the ages now?  What is there to lose?  We already love the whisky.

A couple recent releases have been huge sources of ignition in this ongoing debate, and for my own wading into sullied waters.  Laphroaig Select, Highland Park Dark Origins, Talisker Storm, any Ardbeg in recent years and probably none moreso than the Macallan 1824 color coded range (‘The Stripper Series’, as my mate calls it, based on the rather peeler-esque naming conventions).  This Macallan series seems to be sort of the ‘jumping the shark’ moment for NAS releases, wherein the brand is now using color as a measure of quality.  To a degree I came out in defense of this range.  Not because I supported the NAS (or color) concept, but because I disagreed with the negativity and presuppositions running rampant without most people having actually tried them.  The malts aren’t all that bad.  In fact the two more premium ones (Sienna and Ruby) are actually very good.  In hindsight…maybe I should have stayed quiet though.  I still stand behind the marks, but now admit I have to face up in opposition to the concept behind their creation.

Unfortunately, at the root of it all the reluctance to embrace NAS whisky (and essentially volunteer to put blinders on…tacitly at least, through our purchasing) is a problem that can be laid directly at the feet of the brands themselves.  For years we’ve been led to believe that older was better.  And that age justified high prices.  And as a logical extension, that high prices were indicative of maturity, quality and placement in the elite echelons of whisky.  What the industry is now asking is that we forget that decades long indoctrination and accept on faith that they will continue to put good whisky in the bottle and that the price points will be justified even if we no longer know what is in the glass. 

Here’s the thing…

Most of us know there are overhead and ROI (return on investment) concerns for the distilleries to mature whiskies into their twilight years.  That has always been a point used to justify the luxury pricing of single malt whisky.  As an example, if we know that the greedy angels have taken half a cask over the years via evaporation, we don’t feel so bad about paying a slightly inflated price when we buy.  It makes sense.  What doesn’t make sense is being asked to accept on faith that the price points being levied now (especially in an age of increasing sticker shock) are fair when we are missing a part of the equation we have always used in determining what we’re willing to spend.  We can easily find out what an empty sherry or bourbon barrel costs…or a ton of barley…or what the dollar to pound rate is…or what fuel and transport is running in this age…or maybe even what the average distillery worker is being paid.  We’d also previously been able to make some assumptions (dangerous, I know) about fair market value by watching age-stated whiskies across the brands (i.e. the average price of an 18 y.o. is ‘x’ dollars).  In short…we’ve been on somewhat solid footing to buy in an educated manner.

Now…suddenly…we find ourselves in a position where the rug is being pulled out, and we’re stumbling a bit.

The most feasible long term solution to help smooth out the booms and busts is in the industry working to correct the misconception that 10+ years instantly equates to the quality marker for drinkability.  The goal being to alleviate malt snobbery, I’d think (though they’ll want to bring this concept back again in a decade or two when the bubble bursts and we’re again being told that age does indeed matter).  The powers-that-be could do this by accepting the reality of some short term expenses in whisky education for their younger malts, but instead, sadly, they are taking the easy way out and opting to simply erase the digits from the bottle.  Sorry, guys…but we’ve noticed.  This was never gonna just fly under the radar.

One night not long ago, my good mate J Wheelock and I were sipping drams and discussing this very issue.  He hit upon something that struck me as utterly brilliant.  As we were excitedly hopping up and down in celebration of our brilliant tête-à-tête game-changer of an idea it occurred to me that Ardbeg had already done exactly what we were proposing.  J’s idea was for the brands to put right on the label a little graph/chart/what-have-you that would speak to the percentages of the aged casks in the release, without actually committing to just one number as a statement.  Light bulb moment!  Ardbeg did exactly this with Rollercoaster a few years back, when they showed on the back label the proportions and ages of each respective whisky in the vatting.  Brilliant.  Utterly brilliant.

008

 

It begs the question…would most people not feel better knowing that while some of the whisky in the bottle is young and vibrant, it is married with enough old stock to bring out some depth and subtlety?  Would it not be a perfect middle ground, allowing distilleries to use some younger stock and cushion the impact on valuable maturing barrels, while also helping consumers suspend the cynicism that they were being foisted nothing but unripe barrels?  J puts more flowery verbiage to this below than I ever could.  You can read his comments near the bottom of this piece.  To me though, this is the ultimate win-win, short of the bottle simply stating ‘aged to a minimum x-number of years’.

Another question that begs to be answered is where the heck is the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in all of this?  The self same organization that has turned folks like Compass Box’s John Glaser into a bit an antihero crusader?  This is the uptight organization that has set undeniably rigid standards over the years (well…excepting cases where the issue at hand is contrary to their own interests).  If age clarity in labeling were an SWA-mandated initiative, the playing field would be levelled.  As it stands, what is the carrot that leads a distillery to buck the trend and take a new tack on this one?  Nothing.

Here’s an All Things Whisky prediction for you: the distillery(s) that steps up and leads the charge by proudly proclaiming that they stand by the quality of their malts, even in youth, and will ‘man up’ (or ‘woman up’) to putting lower single digit ages on the bottles will be lauded and more than amply rewarded by discerning whisky enthusiasts.

Let’s pause a moment and go back to discussing my personal favorite distillery for a moment.  Ardbeg.  Ardbeg could conceivably step up as pseudo heroes in this sort of market scenario.  Can you imagine if the distillery did a right turn with their marketing approach and began throwing true low age statement numbers on their standard releases such as Uigeadail and Corryvreckan?  If they came out with a stance such as ‘we haven’t bottled anything over 12 years in age since the mid 2000s, and look at the awards we’ve won with our young malts.  Now we feel it’s time to share the information with our fans’.  Grand…slam!  Game over.  Instant credibility on both sides of the fence.  We consumers would love the honesty and clarity, while the industry would have a successful and well-laid precedent to fall back on.

The argument has been made (I believe by our anonymous mate at My Annoying Opinions) that bloggers are the new marketeers for the brands.  If that’s so, and the brands want to continue to rely on us to spread the word, then they need to put the information in our hands and allow us to speak from an educated platform, instead of culling together information, suppositions and occasionally leaps of logic.  Hey…we all make mistakes when this happens.

So, ultimately why am I so opposed to the NAS trend?  Simple really.  Knowledge is power.  Put the information in front of me and let me make up my own mind.  Don’t hide the relevant details because it suits your agenda (which…again…is contrary to what the initial ‘age is better’ stance Scotch has always rested on).  There really is no justification for NAS whiskies that I can get behind or align myself with.  The sole purpose for their existence is to mislead the consumer.  On the one hand…the brands have a blank cheque to bury youthful ‘unripe’ barrels in blending, and on the other…it shows that they take a condescending attitude to consumers by believing that we will always be swayed in our buying solely by the number on the label.  This is insulting really.

This is an industry I have supported in all of its facets.  I buy young whisky.  I like young whisky.  I’ve bought lots of NAS releases too, even though I do so with a bit of a grudge.  I do this because the malts are good.  No one is saying we shouldn’t sell young whisky.  Just that it should be done with full disclosure, much like all other mandates for required information on consumables.  I like to think I have been crystal clear in all I’ve said about it privately and publicly.  The hundreds and hundreds of bottles that have crossed my doorstep have proven fidelity.  My commentary comes from a place of love and intentions to hold pure, and to high standards, something we love and covet.  All facets need to work towards help both sides maintain trust and cordiality, ‘cause, man, I tell ya…there’s a lot of cynicism in the blogosphere right now.

Here is my personal take on it:  let’s back the industry into a corner.  We’ve done it before and seen positive results such as higher bottling strengths, and a move towards natural color and away from chill-filtration.  This NAS issue can be handled the same way.  Speak out…and vote with your dollar.  Either the brands can concede that the only reason they won’t release low number age statements on bottles is because they believe the consumer lacks the logic and rationale to accept the whisky as such, or because they want to maintain the ability to continue to pull the wool over our eyes by hiding grossly undermature spirit in large vattings, while leading us to believe it’s not as young as we fear; or…they can start having the same faith in us that we are supposed to have in them and their NAS approach, and believe we’ll buy smart and continue to give them our hard-earned dollars (pounds).  I think it was Ralfy, a long while back, who mentioned that if he didn’t see something on the label, he assumed the worst (regarding coloring in this case, I believe).  Hate to be contrary to my usually optimistic outlook, but I’ll reluctantly take the same approach with NAS.

I also recall Jim Murray reviewing Ardbeg Still Young in the Whisky Bible a few years back, wherein he expressed similar sentiments.  And I quote: “Go on.  Be bold.  Be proud say it: Ardbeg Aged 8 Years”.

 

My opinion here is just one of many, though.  I thought it would be interesting to let a few others weigh in on this one.  So as I mentioned in the author’s note above, in the interest of allowing all sides to have a voice, and to make it a more balanced (and hopefully entertaining read for you), I sent out an email to many of whisky folk from all facets of the industry.  Producers, blenders, writers, bloggers, ambassadors, agents and, of course, knowledgeable consumers.  What came back is what you can read below.

Thanks to all for taking the time and sharing the benefit of your knowledge.  We may not all agree, but I can think of no better bunch to make this journey with.  Slainte!

Finally…Dear Readers…feel free to drop a line in the comments section below.  You never know who’s listening…

 

- Curt (ATW)

 

Thoughts from some others:

“When we bottle a product specific to whisky geeks or connoisseurs we have no problems in listing out the age as most of them will understand how whisky matures in India. In contrary, if we got to target the main stream consumer base, we got to go for NAS route as age is the generally perceived bench mark; although not true in reality, of quality. In this case we had better to go on NAS route as educating all of them is a painstaking process. This is specific to Indian single malt whisky. It is all about our love affairs with angels of Bangalore”  - Ashok Chokalingam (Amrut, Brand Ambassador and the kindest heart in the industry)

 

“Not Aged Sufficiently, Never Ample Stocks, Negligible Advertising Spend; Nothing Anywhere Similar,  None As Supreme, Nearly Always Superior, Naturally Added Sophistication.  Depends who, how and why.  The tyranny of the age statement can create unreasonable – and unsustainable – price points; it can prevent optimal flavour profiles.” – Mark Reynier (former CEO…and much more…Bruichladdich)

 

“Some people talk about NAS whiskies as an issue because of the perceived risk that some companies may abuse it, but how come no one is talking about whiskies with age statements that suck or are otherwise poor value for money?  At the end of the day, people judge whisky based on brands that are known for putting good quality liquid in the bottle and offer good value for the money.  If some companies use NAS whisky as a way to compromise on quality while enhancing their profit margins, they will eventually be caught out by consumers and their brands will be tarnished.” – John Glaser (Compass Box, Founder, Master Blender and creative genius)

 

“NAS stands for No Aged Stock ;) It really is what it says : It’s a means for distilleries to sell us young(er) malt, for more money, having exhausted most of their old stocks. It also means : more profit, and indeed more flexibility in creating whisky to a certain profile without having to worry about keeping enough stock of a certain age to continue a line of whiskies.” – Gal Granov (Whisky Israel and unstoppable Twitter force)

 

“NAS whiskies fall into two categories

1:       Scotch whiskies that due to limited supply of aged stock and burgeoning Asian markets are now re-branded without an age statement. The Scots (bless em) have spent a century educating the consumer that “older is better” now slowly but surely they are repositioning themselves and trying not to lose face or credibility with those same consumers that are still largely un-educated about the true nature of whisky. Most customers around the world willingly follow whatever is fed to them by the marketing powers but it seems already that there is resistance to this change if the feedback I have been receiving from retail stores is any indication.

2:       NAS whiskies that by climate and location age at a much faster rate than in Scotland. These whiskies by their nature should be NAS as the consumer would take any Age Statement and filter it through their Scotch taught knowledge that young age equals inferior whisky. Any of these distilleries that put an age on the bottle would be dooming their product to collect dust on the shelves. Angels share at 3% per annum versus 6%, 10% 12% or even a whopping 18% has a big impact on how quickly a distillery can create a delicious and balanced whisky, potentially at a much younger age.

In the long run there will always be Scotch whiskies produced that will have an age statement even if in much smaller quantities. The movement of Scotch Whisky distilleries to go NAS will really play into the hands of distilleries worldwide that are making great whiskies in a much shorter timeframe. The playing field will slowly become more level and whiskies will be judged more on their merit and less on if they come from Scotland or not. This is underlined by the prices that the Scottish NAS whiskies are still fetching. For value, consumers will slowly but surely move over to flavorful and balanced drams from climates that allow the magic to happen faster.” – Jonathan Bray (Singlemalting.com, El Presidente PVI Global)

 

“It’s become as contentious (and misunderstood as ‘sulphur’).  Age is not a determinant of quality.” – Dave Broom (Whisky Journalist and Author Extraordinaire)

 

“Like acid wash or skinny jeans, everything comes back into fashion.  Some are good, some are bad. NAS whiskies are no different.” – Johanne McInnis (Whisky Lassie and she of the Whisky Fabric fame)

 

“NAS is like any other whisky: there are good examples and bad. Ultimately whisky should be judged on what it tastes like, the age is increasingly irrelevant; and if the price is to your liking, or preferably free, then all the better.” – Ruaraidh MacIntyre (Charton Hobbs/LVMH Ambassador – Ardbeg and Glenmorangie…and Ardbeg.  Did I mention Ardbeg?)

 

“A little research (or an aged uncle) will reveal that until the 1960’s most Blended Scotch was sold NAS preferring the use of the terms ‘Standard’ and ‘de Luxe’. We should not forget that, at that time, Blended Scotch represented over 98% of all the Scotch Whisky sold. On the other hand AS were available on Single Malts from the early part of the 20th Century.

We should all accept that Father Time is the less important part of the maturation process; Mother Nature (cask influence) has greater importance.

Both are essential but, like human reproduction the Father’s contribution is simply ephemeral.

Have the confidence to choose what you like in terms of taste and be proud of your selection. Leave the AS importance to those who need to justify the price.” – Ronnie Cox (Brand Heritage Director, Berry Brothers & Rudd, austere wit)

 

“With some existing NAS Whiskies, there is a “back story” of sorts that articulates the component malts in the vatting. Yes, there may well be liquid within that is younger than what would be considered an industry “standard”, an invisible cut off age that we somehow cannot dip below. Is it 12 years old? 10? Many brilliant cask strength Whiskies would fall under that magic mark, themselves.

If the heart of the argument is disclosure, why not then disclose away? If we understand an NAS malt to contain “Whisky that is upwards of 15/18/21 years old” or higher, would a formal percentage satisfy? Let’s give consumers a graph, a pie chart that tells them what they seem to want to hear – “This bottle contains 12% malt that is old enough to drink itself, 58% has more than earned its right to play on the team and the balance is to remind you that youth is to be cherished.” – J Wheelock (Brand Ambassador, BenRiach, GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh, Jura, W&M…and far too humble whisky geek)

 

“I think there is a lot of mistrust surrounding NAS whiskies. Some of it justified, some of it not. While there has been a notable shift towards them in the last few years, they aren’t exactly new. The Aberlour A’Bunadh, Macallan Cask Strength and Auchentoshan 3 Wood are all NAS whiskies, and have been around for a decade or more. And all three have been popular with consumers. The recent shift towards NAS whisky is the industry’s attempt to meet demand while keeping prices down and managing pressure on their stocks. Is this bad for the consumer? Not if the quality of whisky remains high, and the consumer feels they are getting value for their dollar. If they don’t feel they are getting value, then they will put their dollars elsewhere.

There will be more NAS whiskies in the years ahead as demand continues to put pressure on maturing stocks. Some recent releases like the Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Glendronach Cask Strength (released in batches) and Tomatin CuBocan have been widely accepted. Others have stirred controversy. My advice to consumers is to try before you buy. If you enjoy what you are sampling, and feel the price is fair, then who cares if it has an age statement.” – Andrew Ferguson (Ferguson Whisky Tours, Manager Kensington Wine Market, All ‘Round Whisky Guru)

 

“NAS whiskies are nothing new.

It’s impossible to guess how much whisky you will need in 10 or 12 years, let alone 21, 30, 40 and 50 years, and this industry is constantly moving between ‘Boom and Bust.’ Sometimes we have to much and everything has an age, at other time we don’t have enough (now) and ages have to be removed. If the industry continues to grow and everything else remains constant, you could be another 20 years before there is stock to allow age-statements to return. Alternatively the demand could collapse tomorrow, leaving distillers with surplus stock that they can’t sell, which would be left to age on until the cycle begins again. 

Many distilleries were closed for long periods in the 1980’s and early 1990’s and the release of NAS whiskies like Bowmore Darkest, Springbank CV, Glenfarclas 105 and Aberlour A’bunadh enabled Distillers to vat younger and older casks, produce excellent Single Malts and hit a nice price point, despite the irregular production 10 years earlier.

For the last 25 years, the large Single Malt Brands have focussed on marketing Age-Statement as the only measure of quality (OK, maybe colour as well!)

The average consumers assume that older and darker automatically means better, and this simply isn’t the case. Whilst time in cask is important, it is just one of many variable that contribute to the quality whisky you have in your glass. Cask Quality, Cask Type, 1st, 2nd or 3rd fill, vatting ratio, peating level, bottling strength, marriage time, chill-filtration and colouring amongst others are just as important, and I’m glad that the industry is now putting more time into education on all these aspects, and not just age.

At Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky, our Big Smoke 46% and 60% are NAS, however at the moment the youngest Islay Malts we are using is these whiskies was distilled in 2000. We also have whiskies that contain casks much older than the age on the bottle. Black Bull 12 year old currently contains a high percentage of whiskies over 18 years old, and the Black Bull 40 year old contains whiskies up to 46 years old, so there are still bargains to be found if consumers shift their focus away from purely buying based on age statement.” – Peter Currie (Global Sales Manager, Duncan Taylor and a man not afriad to share an opinion…thankfully)

 

So…now have your say, friends…

 Posted by at 8:39 am
Jul 052014
 

Longrow Rundlets & Kilderkins075

57.1% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

This Longrow was the second in Springbank’s run of ‘Rundlets & Kilderkins’ releases, following on the heels of the Springbank, and preceding the Hazelburn.  All, of course, produced at Campbeltown’s Springbank distillery.

Rundlets & Kilderkins, for those of you out there who may have been as ignorant as I was when this came out, are barrel sizes for both wine and beer, respectively.  These are smaller type casks used primarily for accelerated maturation, much in the vein of the quarter cask line of thinking, wherein a smaller barrel elicits greater spirit to wood contact.

I had already assumed the whisky would be good…hey, this is Springbank, after all…so I guess the only real surprise for me is that this is not over-oaked, assuming the spirit spent its entire life in said wee barrels.  At 11 years old, this is a sassy drink.  Well-executed.  Sadly limited to a mere 9,000 bottles.  Hopefully this will be a recurring release.

Nose:  Lots of peat, pepper and smoke.  This is an old school and beautifully aggressive nose.  Like a charming old pugilist with a busted up nose and cauliflower ears.  Love it!  Leather and camphor.  Synthetic fruits a la chewy candies (not gummy, mind, but more like Ju-Jubes or something).  Bird’s custard.  A touch of caramelized grilled pineapple.  Quite an old fashioned malt with some very farm-like notes.

Palate:  Great peaty and smoky arrival.  Sweet and thick, and more…creamy, if you believe that?!  Slightly tannic.  Farmy straw notes again.  Sweet artificial fruitiness again.  Licorice, but not the black variety most will think of.  More like chewing on licorice root.  Into some dry grassy notes.  Good rollercoaster development.  Long finish.

Thoughts:  Longrow is a whisky that is almost sublime at 18 years or so, but still manages to shine in its rollicking youth.  Case in point in the R&K.  Odd age to bottle at, yes, but the whisky don’t lie.  Hoping, hoping, hoping for a second edition.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:27 pm
Jul 012014
 

Springbank 18 y.o. (2011)barry's place pics 079

46% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

Another absolutely classy malt from Springbank.  This is where the distillery really shines.  The spirit ages very well, and the distillery has managed a great cask policy over the years (sadly, not the case with their warehousing of mature stocks).  Not sure how much the traditional approach taken by Spingbank has to do with the overall quality of the product, but the two seem to walk hand-in-hand, so I’ll make my own assumptions.

Doesn’t matter though.  What does matter is that this is a damn fine  dram.  Even now, in this age of overarching mature malt shortages, this one has still been held to a high standard of quality.  If you DO manage to get your hands on a bottle of an older edition though…wow.  That really is something special.

Nose:  A smoky and ‘old timey’ malter.  A fair bit of pepper.  Slightly barnyard farmy.  Smells of warm rubber bands.  Pastry shells.  Anise.  Not as fruity as I’d hoped for.  Just a touch ashy.  Still a very charming and ‘throwback’ style of malt.

Palate:  Great body and presence.  Smoked caramel.  Some spicy, woody and leathery notes.  Malty grains (and maybe multi-grains?).  Some pepper and citrus.  Some nifty savoury notes.  Touch of ouzo.  More smoke to’ards the back end.  Great development.

Thoughts:  Good old fashioned whisky.  The older variant was better (and much more fruit-rich), but this new one is still a keeper.  Hopefully mature Springbank is slumbering away in the Campbeltown warehouses, ’cause quite frankly old Springbank is sexy.

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:44 pm
Jun 302014
 

Octomore 3.1007

59% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Man…I almost feel like I need to shout over the incredible volume of this malt.  This is a loud, loud whisky.  And that, of course, is a good part of its charm and appeal.

Bruichladdich Octomore.  There is no other single malt in Scotland that is nearly as successful at five years old.  Peat monsters work quite well in their youth, as we’ve discussed, and this is no exception.  Version 3.1 (sounding much more like a web release, than a batch number) is a beautifully clean drink.  Phenolic and bordering on one dimensional, yes, but sometimes just sticking with what you know…and doing it better than anyone else…is more than enough.

Quick recap:  Bruichladdich is the current undisputed heavyweight champ in the ever escalating peat wars.  This particular edition of Octomore boasts a pre-distillation phenol count of 152 parts per million, though more contemporary batches have ratcheted that up a notch further to 167 ppm.  What actually ends up in the glass is a story for another day (and perhaps written by someone with a bit better grasp of chemistry than I), but rest assured any edition of Octomore is a beastly dram.

Octomore is so much more than just an exemplification of a novel concept though.  It has defined a contemporary style for flavour junkies and extremists.  It has towered above others through persona alone, but has always been able to fall back on the reality that this is damn good distillate in its own right.  A clean spirit cut married to great oaken barrels.  End of story.  Having said all of that, and acknowledged Bruichladdich’s status atop the pile, I’m sincerely hoping that rumours of an impending Ardbeg Supernova 2014 make the competition interesting again.  Fingers crossed. 

Nose:  Smoke.  And more smoke.  Damp, dark and vegetal.  Buttery.  Moist dark soil.  Immensely farmy.  Very strong dark chocolate.  Cola.  Smoke.  Lemon.  Tarry Asphalt and rubber.  Wet, sooty ash…and rock.  Sweeter than you’d imagine, but not really fruity.

Palate:  Lapsang Souchong tea.  Earthy, damp smoke.  And, paradoxically, big black billows of dry smoke as well.  Some anise.  Lemon.  Butterscotch.  a lot of peaty influence, to be expected.  Like mouth-breathing when you take a chilly morning walk in Bowmore (anyone who has been there will know that smoky tang in the village air).

Thoughts:  Very much an Octomore.  Exactly what I had hoped for when I picked this one up.  Begs the question now…why am I ever without a bottle of this stuff open?  One of the best young malts on the market, and far from just a novelty.  But, hey…I’m just a peathead.  To quote ‘Sid and Nancy’:  “Never trust a junkie.”

 

- Reviewed by:  Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:00 am
Jun 232014
 

Ardbeg Auriverdes001

49.9% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

I doubt there’s a ‘buzzier’ whisky out there right now.  Even still…and much as usual…we’re a little late to the party.  I did get to try a couple drams of this on release day, but am only now getting ’round to sharing some proper tasting notes and personal thoughts.  Oh well.  I’m not even remotely worried about being first with these reviews; just the last one standing.  ;)

Let’s take it back to square one for a moment or two.  Each year at the end of May/beginning of June Ardbeg takes the whisky world by storm, launching their latest novelty limited release.  A couple years back was the eponymous ‘Ardbeg Day’.  Last year’s release was given the appellation of ‘Ardbog’.  And this year we have ‘Auriverdes’.  The linguists out there (of which I am not one) may recognize the roots of this one in the Latin ‘auri’ for gold and ‘verdes’ for green.  Aside from the immediate and obvious connotations (gold liquid in the green bottle), there’s a deeper resonance with this choice of name.

2014 is the year of the World Cup (in fact, we’re smack dab in the middle of WC fever as I write this).  This year’s host nation is Brazil, whose team’s nom de guerre just happens to be…yep…’Auriverdes’.  Clever cheeky folks at Ardbeg, huh?  Ok, ok…the Ardbeg to football connection may be tenuous at best, but we’ll let it slide so long as the end product is a good ‘un.  But we’ll get to that momentarily.

Here in Calgary this year, our local Ardbeg Embassy and regional distillery representation pulled together a hell of an Ardbeg Day celebration.  This was a joint effort between local LVMH representation (Charton Hobbs) and Calgary’s Unquestionable whisky champion (Andrew Ferguson).  I won’t get into all details here, but before the day culminated in popping the cork on four and a half litres of ‘Auriverdes’, there was riot of an Ardbeg Day football (soccer) game, pitting team ‘Auri’ against team ‘Verdes’.  Sad to say I can’t report that the good guys won (i.e. the team captained by yours truly) but that’s ok…I’ve always been more of an antihero kinda guy, myself.  Either way…a very memorable occasion and launch for a very memorable dram.

Ok…media blitzing and marketing buzz aside…what makes this new evolution in the Ardbeg canon stand out?  A new ‘innovation’ in the handling of the cask heads this time.  Apparently one barrel end was lightly toasted to release more of a light vanilla influence, while the opposite was more heavily charred to elicit darker coffee-like notes.  The cynic in me would like to elicit a hearty and dismissive ‘pfffft‘, but the simple fact is…you can’t argue with results.  If that really was what was intended all along, it was a heartily realized experiment.  The whisky does indeed carry these very characteristics, and quite at the forefront too.

Auriverdes is a return to a more mature (though I don’t believe this is all that advanced in terms of actual years) and somewhat lighter style.  It takes me back to the Airigh Nam Beist from a few years ago.  And I have to say that I like it much.  VERY much.

Nose:  Sweet, sweet peat.  And smoke, of course.  Anise…fennel.  Salt, pepper and ginger.  A substantial lime note.  Touch of lemon too.  Honeydew melon and other soft, faint fruits.  Quite creamy.  Those coffee/mocha notes that are being advertised everywhere are indeed here.  With quite some vanilla as well.  Ice cream-ish.  Love the oak notes; those both fresh and burnt to ash.  Great nose all around.

Palate:  More lemon, with licorice, tar and damp ash.  Surprisingly sweet and soft.  Gentle smoke (well…gentle for someone accustomed to Ardbeg’s usual fare).  Lively wood notes.  Sharp coffee and dark chocolate (but not too heavy on these notes).  Much going on here.  Neat citric back end (is that grapefruit?!?).  Also…more medicinal than I generally find Ardbeg.

Thoughts:  Great balance on this one.  A softer Ardbeg than the last few releases.  And surprisingly…all the better for it.  The nose, in particular, is lovely.  Again…closer in style to the Airigh Nam Beist, I think.  Will have to try the two side-by-side.

 

- Reviewed by: Curt

- Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:43 pm