Dec 102017
 

Hey, friends.

Before I get too much grief for not spreading the whisky gospel here as frequently as I should, rest assured…I haven’t gone anywhere just yet.

I’ve been doing a lot with whisky and a lot with writing.  Just not writing about whisky.  I’ve been captaining a handful of whisky events here in Calgary (sharing the spoken word, and not just the written), and I’ve been rather buried in trying to knock off the last stretch of my second novel.  Almost there.

A few of you were kind enough to track down my first published foray, “Sadie”, and shared some great feedback.  Thank you for that.  Appreciated more than you know.  Breaking into the writing world is harder than you can imagine.

Earlier this year I finished my first actual novel.  It’s a dark one.  I can’t lie.  Gritty.  Nasty.  Think early Stephen King and you probably have an idea as to the vibe of seventies-homage horror I was aiming for.  All polished up, of course,  with a bit of contemporary stylings.  If you’re interested, “Darker Things” is available on Amazon here (US) and here (Canada).  E-readers only, at the moment, but hard copies will be available soon.  Early reviews have been great (and flattering), but every review/rating helps.  If you do elect to follow me down this dark path, please, please, PLEASE leave some Amazon/Goodreads feedback.

Have also started a new blog for this venture.  Feel free to pop by in its infancy.  www.darkerthoughts.com

Thanks a million.

More whisky to come.  Soon.

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Nov 262017
 

Head To Head – Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release vs General Release

 

A bit later than I expected getting to this.  Such is.  I’ve learned to stop caring about any sort of schedule for this site, self-imposed or externally-nudged.  And you good folks have been infinitely patient and supportive.  Appreciate that.  More than you know.

As with any Ardbeg release that hits the shelves in both Committee and general release, the immediate question is one of quality comparison.  How does the more readily available (and affordable) standard version hold up to the higher strength, alternately-packaged and premium-priced ‘members only’ edition?

In this case?  Quite well, actually.  As you’d expect, the Committee bottling is a better dram.  In all respects.  It’s deeper, richer and brings to the fore some notes that are either muted or non-existent in the general release.  But that’s not to say the general release isn’t a great dram.  It is.  I think Dark Cove was meant to be an Uigeadail-esque Ardbeg, redolent of heavy sherry and deep peat, dark in tone and color.  It succeeds on all fronts, but I think more interesting than this comparison would be a proper H2H of Dark Cove vs Uigeadail.  Perhaps we’ll have to do that one too.  All in the name of science, right?

Good malt, this.  Happy to have a few of each put away for future sessions.

 

Ardbeg Dark Cove (2016)

46.5% abv

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Deep and rich.  Dark fruits.  Pepper.  Fisherman’s friend.  Moist tobacco.  Fruit leather.  Wet ashy notes.
A touch of raspberry.  Fennel.  Smoked ham.  Clay-like and minerally.  Warm, melty caramel aromas.

Palate:  Horse blankets (no, I’ve never licked horse blankets, but the smell of ’em is the taste here).  Peat and smoke.
Gooey, jammy notes.  A tobacco linger.  Hot ginger.  Pepper.  Brine.  Seared scallops.  Dark chocolate.  Medicinal / Band-Aid notes.

Thoughts:  Not as good as Uigeadail, the other big sherried Ardbeg to which this is often compared.  But…still good, of course.

 

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release (2016)

55% abv

Score:  90/100

Nose:  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Peat.  Licorice.  Iodine.  A new pouch of loose tobacco.  Damp earth, wood and moist dunnage.  Wet ash.  Very savoury.  Smoked ham and all sorts of BBQ notes.  Dark, dark oily vanilla here.  A mash-up of red, green and black Ju-jubes.  Big dark caramel notes.  Hoisin.

Palate:  Gooey, sticky malt.  Smoky and peppery.  Burnt shellfish.  So much bigger of a delivery here than the standard release.  The oiliness is heavenly.  Rich fruity notes.  More vanilla.  Smoked fruits.  A fresh bag of dried fruits.  Licorice.  So thick and tarry.  Wow.

Thoughts:  Flawless?  Nope.  But exactly what I wanted it to be.  Really like this one.  So much more than just the regular release at a higher strength.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:29 am
Oct 292017
 

Ardbeg Ten (2015)

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

Re-reviews haven’t really been a thing here on ATW, but the times they are a changin’ and the subject of decline is one that comes up time and again, so…let’s revisit an old favorite and a bottle that’s always open around here.

No need to spend a lot of time talking about this one.  We all know it.  And let’s face it…I do spend a lot of time on Ardbeg here.  MJ had his Macallan, Serge has his Brora, I have my Ardbeg (and PE).  We write about what we love.  (Ano…I do not consider myself to be in such illustrious company, just drawing a parallel).

I do want to say, though, that I don’t buy into the recent rumblings that An Oa will boot this from the core range.  That would be suicide.  This brand has proven time and time again that they’re nothing if not a few steps ahead.  The last thing they’re gonna do is go entirely NAS.

Oh yeah…and they’re producing at an incredible clip, with long range plans for distillery expansion.  Surprised it took so long.  Anyway…notes:

Nose:  Razor sharp and incredibly clean.  Big smoke and very organic peat notes.  Citrus (lemon and lime).  Salt water.  Vanilla.  A little orange and pear.  A nice peppery bite.  Jolly Ranchers.  Shellfish drizzled in whisky.  Ginger and more pepper.

Palate:  Peaty arrival.  Assertive lemon notes.  Pepper.  Chocolate (white and dark).  Lime and a touch of orange oil.  Love that peppery, licorice-heavy back end.  Apple peelings on the finish.

Thoughts:  As good as ever.  Arguably still the best 10 year old on the market.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:04 am
Oct 192017
 

Gord Downie has been the voice of my life for as long as I remember.  His words are the stories that play in my mind.  His music is the soundtrack that plays through my memories and colours every aspect of my life.  If there was ever any secret narrator linking together the milestones and meaningful moments of my life, it was Gord.

My heart hurts right now.  A lot.  I feel like I lost a friend.  A close friend.  One who was always there for me and always able to make the worst days a little bit better.

There’s so much more I want to say but, for once, I’m lost for words.

You’re missed, Gord.  Already.  And you always will be.  Thanks for everything.

Love and peace.

Gord Downie

1964 – 2017

“…armed with will and determination, and grace, too.”

 Posted by at 7:17 pm
Oct 152017
 

Ardbeg An Oa

46.6% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Here we go.  New Ardbeg time.  Always an exciting thing for this guy, as you know.  In this case it was quite a fortuitous set of circumstances that led to my tasting this one.  Just so happened An Oa was released on the very day I, and a few mates, visited the distillery a wee while back.  Serendipity?  Perhaps.  But late at night…after a few drams of Ardbeg…deep in my semi-delusional mental meanderings…I like to pretend they released it when they did just to commemorate my visit.

Errr…right.  Anyway…

I should confess that we drank an awful lot of this stuff on the island, and I’ve been sitting on this sample for several weeks now, so it’s simply a matter of delinquency that we’ve not gotten this posted earlier.  Hey, life is busy.  What can I say?  Either way…what say we finally get to it, yeah?

So…obviously I had very early firsthand opinions about this one, and usually my first impressions are pretty spot on with what my end impressions are.  But it’s been rather interesting to read what the wider whisky world is shouting about An Oa.  If you’ve been following along you’ll likely know that most early word is quite positive.  That is somewhat surprising, in and of itself, cause let’s face it…everyone loves to hate on Ardbeg.  To be fair to An Oa, it actually is quite decent (as is all Ardbeg, if we’re actually being honest with ourselves), but I still can’t help but find myself slightly disappointed.

I like An Oa.  Really, I do.  It’s a decent entry level Ardbeg.  The flavours are decent (young, but decent) and the whole idea of balance that the release is predicated upon is commendable.  But wait…is this really an entry level malt?  Really?  In terms of flavour profile and undisguisable youth…absolutely.  In terms of price?  Well…locally, at least, this one seems to have been positioned between the Ten and Uigeadail.  I was under the impression that this was to be the new entry level Ardbeg.  Seeing as how I can still scoop up the Ten for well under $70 in some locations ’round here, and that An Oa will retail at ~$100, I’m obviously out of sync with things.  Would love to hear something official that speaks to this.  Anyway…tasting notes…

Nose:  Noses young.  Smoke and rubber.  Custard.  A hint of banana.  Lemon.  Salt licorice.  Warm rubber.  Lime and chilis.  Straw.  Ginger.  Eucalyptus.  Soft, creamy sherry notes.  Vanilla-rich oaky bottom line.  Pleasant, but lacking.  More creamy and custard-y than the Ten (and not really better for it).

Palate:  Yep…tastes young.  Oak, vanilla.  Peat.  Loads of licorice.  Sen Sens.  Citrus zest (oily and rich).  Some of the mid-palate fruits are nice.  Orange in particular.  A lot of Granny Smith apple at the back end.

Thoughts:  Yes, it’s good.  Of course it is.  But I think we’ll stick with the Ten, to be honest.  This is too soft for an Ardbeg.  Oh…and cute marketing campaign, I should add.  As always.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:53 pm
Oct 122017
 

So…Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank.  Wow.  I’m in shock.

I knew Port Ellen was coming at some point.  Brora and PE announced the same day?  And Rosebank right after?  This is the second coming of the holy trinity.  I’m stunned.  Almost speechless.

I have some pretty strong opinions about this, but I’m not quite ready to articulate.  Suffice it to say I am tickled pink and not sharing the cynicism others are.  How ’bout you skeptical buggers that keep me on my toes?  Thoughts?

 

– C

 Posted by at 8:44 pm
Oct 122017
 

No. 1 Vaults of Bowmore

No trip to Islay could possibly be complete without a visit to Bowmore.  I’m not speaking about the village, though the distillery is nestled right along the coastline of the beautiful little settlement, but of the distillery that has perched on this hallowed ground since at least 1779.  It is Islay’s oldest distillery and one of the oldest in Scotland.  Of course, that all rests on the presumption that you buy into the marketing hype.  As we know, we only have to look as far as Bushmills a few dozen miles across the water to recognize that a claim of longevity does not necessarily make it so.  The records from these times are maddeningly vague.  Especially for a malt geek.

But let’s not spend too much time on the whos and wheres and whens of history.  The point here is simply to share a bit about a place that has become synonymous with the legendary malts from this iconic Islay distillery.  The birthplace of drams like the Gold, White and Black Bowmore (in each of its iterations) and several stunning examples of whiskies from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.  Y’know…before the low road led us to that bumpy stretch of time wherein the distillery was more renowned for its lavender and lilac influence than the deep, tropical fruits that helped define what the world’s greatest whiskies really were.

A visit to the No. 1 Vaults is only possible through the highest ended Bowmore tours.  You’ll pay for the privilege, but you’ll also experience something few others will.  The warehouse sits down at the water’s edge where the waves kiss the walls and share their oceanic influence with every ebb and flow and gust of sea-sprayed wind.  Inside the walls are moldy and spongy, dank with black growth fed by the fumes of aging barrels.  The ceilings are low…the aisles are narrow and the smells are…well…let’s just say you need to experience it for yourself.

There is an element of disillusion that comes into play though nowadays.  A stroll through the casks slumbering herein shows that the warehouse is home to malt not much older than its teen years.  Unless, of course, the best of the best is squirrelled away in the darkest and dankest of nooks and crannies.  Who knows?  I think we all like to imagine this mecca teeming with stunning casks stenciled with distillation dates from the ’60s and ’70s.  Alas…none that I saw.

I visited the distillery in September of both 2016 and 2017.  The 1998 bourbon barrel (Cask #514) below was there both times, and stunning in each of its tastings (at 18 and 19 years of age respectively).  The sherry butt that we contrasted with in 2016 was an absolute fireworks show.  Deep and rich, redolent of jammy fruit and just the right amount of smoke.  The kind of malt I could have seen developing into a new incarnation of the Black Bowmore in another 25 years or so.  Sadly, that butt was peeled out for bottling sometime between visits and has now been replaced by the one fro which I’m sharing notes here (Cask #2071).  This latter is a stunner too, but not in the same league.

To be honest, I was just fortunate to be there in back to back years.  If you can make the journey over, do so.  And if you get to taste these barrels as they evolve, please share your thoughts.

Slainte.

Bowmore 1998 19 y.o. Cask #514 (Bourbon Barrel)

ABV:  unknown

Score:  92/100

Nose:  An absolute soft fruit bomb.  Peat as an afterthought here, really.  Pear.  Vanilla.  Creamy custard.  Soft sugar cookies.  Roman nougat.  Crème brulee.  Soft spices, moving on medium.  Apple.

Palate:  Easy white fruits again.  Soft threads of vanilla and syrupy fruit cocktail.  Orange and cherry notes are bold and forefront.  Soft oak.  White cake.  Scones.

Thoughts:  Stunning bourbon barrel.  Again…if left for a few more years…wow.  Of course, the price would have been reflective, but I shudder to imagine what this could have been, considering what it already is.

Bowmore 2002 15 y.o. Cask #2071 (Sherry Butt)

ABV:  unknown

Score:  92/100

Nose:  Big, bold sherry meets peat a la Laimrig or Devils Cask.  Hints of eucalyptus.  Licorice.  Rich jammy fruits.  Faint coffee notes.  Dark chocolate (and maybe milk chocolate too).  Cherry cordial.  Dunnage warehouses (of course).  Minerally.  Salty.

Palate:  Creamy fruit notes (jammy, but think fresh cream on top of it).  Compote or coulis.  Sweet smokiness and a very appealing oiliness.  Chocolate.  More jams.  Dried fruits.  A hint of tea.

Thoughts:  Brilliant barrel.  Not as brilliant as the last, but still exceptional.  This one plays to everything I love about Bowmore.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:54 am
Aug 072017
 

I want to posit something for debate.  More than that though, I am looking for some insight to help me properly formulate my own views on a subject that gains more traction around here day by day: the issue of valuing bottles that are being bandied about in trade (or…<shudder>…resale).  A lot of subjectivity follows that may be stated rather factually.  I am relying on years of empirical ‘research’ when I speak out here.  Bear with me.  Feel free to contest.

I used to live by a hard and fast ‘the value of the bottle stops with what I paid’.  I swapped bottles at face value.  I gave bottles to friends (sealed and open).  I rarely resold, but if I did it was at cost (or less) and most often with the original receipt tucked inside the tube or box.  Part of this was simply tied to the ethos that it’s simply a drink and not the commodity that others would have us believe.  But a large part of it was a rejection of the system that leads to bottle flippers.  Those folks that buy up limited releases by the case lot and immediately fling bottles at the secondary market with an eye to making fast cash.  This infuriated me (and still does).  You know as well as I do that it serves to take good whisky away from the punters and put it firmly in the hands of collectors.  These malts rarely get opened, and if they do, they have to be bought at a premium.  The folks that would arguably derive the most enjoyment often end up being cut out of the loop.  Frustrating, to say the least.

But times change.  Even if my views are less inclined to do so.

The reality is that there are less and less great whiskies being released.  No, this is not a cynical statement meant to evoke the ‘decline’ arguments we engage in here so frequently.  It’s simply a statement that whiskies from a decade ago were arguably of a consistently higher quality.  No finger pointing.  Just an acknowledgment that before demand took off through the stratosphere there was a lot more mature whisky on the market.  Notice we leave price out of this part of the discussion.  At this point it is irrelevant.  Case in point…old Springbank 21 versus newer versions.  Night and day.  Same with the 18s.  Same with Highland Park.  Etc etc.

Ok…here’s where things get tough.  I have a decent little stash of malts.  So do many others I know.  We’re not opposed to trading and rehoming bottles from time to time.  I am a firm believer that a whisky belongs with the person who will most enjoy it.  So…we make trades.  But how do we do that with others who maybe don’t have access to malts excepting those that have been a part of the new school production?  We all come into the game at different times.  I know loads of folks who have insane collections, purchased at a  time when our malt bucks went sooooo much further.  I think we all envy the previous generations to a degree.  I know it’s not just me who feels this way, but it has become increasingly difficult to turn over whiskies in trade when I don’t feel I can get something comparable in return.  I am speaking mostly to inherent quality of the product itself here, not value.  As in…I want something in return that tastes as good or better.  A trade has to be equitable, right?  Otherwise the concept of trade breaks down.

But let’s even take the value side of things for a moment.  A lot of limited releases from brands like Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Springbank have hit exorbitant sums on sites such as The Whisky Exchange or various online auctions.  How then do we justify swapping these away, knowing that contemporary expressions are usually larger batches and much less singular than those of the past?  And far less likely to achieve the same value, having been bought at the height of the bubble.

A lot of rhetoric, I know.  But a daily struggle ’round here as we try to help our mates build their collections in a fair manner.  I love helping out my buddies, but I don’t like doing it at a deficit in nearly all transactions.

The simplest answer is, of course, to open them and share them.  I do a lot of that.  Arguably more than three quarters of any bottle I open gets poured for others.  But…that doesn’t help them to put the bottles they covet on their own shelves.

So, friends…how do you value your own bottles?

 

– C

 Posted by at 12:09 pm
Aug 072017
 

img_4054Laphroaig 27 y.o.

57.4/100

Score:  93/100

 

I struggle with reviews like this one.  There’s always the question as to the value in posting them.  Any time I’m jotting notes for a long gone, overly-expensive or single cask release I question if I’m actually providing content that matters.  Let’s face it…only a wee handful of folks will ever try these drams.  So why bother, right?  I suppose the flip side is that we all sort of have an obligation to record what we can as we can for the sake of posterity.  Far too much has already been lost to time already, even in the tiny microcosm of the whisky world.  So…forgive the indulgence with some of these oddballs, but I think we’ll keep throwing them out there.  Especially seeing as how few others can or will.  Let’s keep our liquid history alive.

This l’il gem was a real treat tossed in at the end of an utterly spectacular Laphroaig tasting I took part in some time back.  While we went beyond this one in terms of age (up to the spectacular 40!), this one had to cap the eve, as its overwhelming depth of sherry would have buried the more delicate 30 and 40 year olds.  The soupy viscosity of this lagoon-black dream dram was in a league all its own that night and, quite frankly, probably on any other night as well.

It’s malts like this that help keep the excitement alive.  Shame they’re so few and far between nowadays, but it makes the hunt a bit more sporting and the catch just that much more special.  Being a 2007 release (distilled in 1980), I imagine it’s well-nigh impossible to track down a dram of this stuff, but if you can, do so.  972 bottles from a vatting of five Oloroso barrels.

Nose:  An absolute explosion of sherry.  The kind of drink you need to spend time with.  Orange zest.  Orange fruit flesh.  Thick jam.  Cherry and raspberry.  Chocolate.  Dark stone fruit.  Mint.  Heavily oiled leather.  Very faint peat, surprisingly enough.  Licorice.  Hoisin sauce.  Very savoury nose, all told.

Palate:  Chocolate.  A decent heft of spice.  Dried fruits.  Christmas cake.  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Quite figgy.  And very oily.  Licorice.  Orange.  Again savoury.  Nice smoky linger.

Thoughts:  Truly unique offering.  Another one of the malts responsible for pushing Laphroaig to the top of my favorite distilleries list.

*Thanks to the gent who shared this.  Your anonymity is safe here and your generosity is shouted from the rooftops.  Cheers!

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:15 am