Aug 282016

Apologies, all.  Something crashed here.  Not sure if it was WordPress, Suffusion (the theme you’re used to seeing here) or a server issue.  Pretty sure it was the second.  If you’ve visited in the last day or so you’ll know the site looked as archaic as Pong or Asteroids for a bit.  No idea what happened, but I think we’re on the up and up now.

Thanks for standing by.

Now…back to our regularly scheduled programming.


– C

 Posted by at 9:57 am
Aug 252016

Kavalan Solist Sherry S100209017AIMG_2374

57.8% abv

Score:  90/100


I am a huge fan of the Solist brand from Kavalan.  In fact, one of the single greatest malts I’ve ever tried in my life was an earlier edition of this very same expression.  That bottle is inextricably tied to some very special memories now, but I can’t help but mourn it nevertheless.  More than that, though, I wish I could step back in time and kick myself for not buying more than one bottle of it when I had the opportunity.

If you’ve not tried these cask strength sherry bombs you’ll likely have no idea as to just how over-the-top rich and expressive they can be.  Thick and gargantuan, in fact.  Unquestionably some of the biggest drams I’ve drunk.  I compare my contemporary Solist Sherry experiences with first meeting Aberour a’bunadh all those years ago.

If you’re looking for some sort of metrics or comparables in the Scotch whisky world the closest approximation I can give you to a dram like this would be a 40 year old sherry-matured Longmorn or GlenDronach or something akin.  And even then, the flavours won’t align with expectations.  Kavalan matures very rapidly in the subtropical climes of Taiwan, making time less a factor in the spirit’s evolution than ambient temperature and cask breathability.  It makes for an instantly identifiable profile, but sometimes forgoes nuance and complexity in favour of bombast, uniqueness of character and a juicy, spicy profile.  Either way…I love it.  But then again, I wasn’t looking for ‘Scotch redux’.  I’d much rather a drink that carves its own path.

This particular bottling is actually a less than spectacular batch, but even so it scores this high.  Neat stuff, and utterly singular.

*One final note: I did try one batch (read: single cask) of this whisky that was a right mess.  Sulphuric offnotes and a lot of bitter unpleasantness.  Such is the nature of single cask releases.  However…it also serves to illustrate that it’s always worth going back and double checking a brand from time to time.  Fortunately that one bad experience was an anomaly.

Nose:  Rich syrupy dark fruits.  Oily dried fruit.  Coffee and dark chocolate.  Orange zest.  A touch of licorice.  Black cherry.  Fudge.  Molasses.  Strong exotic spices.  A hint of hoisin.  Moist fruitcake.  Dark soil.  Prunes.  Very ‘jammy’, as we like to say.

Palate:  Chocolate.  Jammy, stewed fruits.  More of that licorice note.  Big, wet woody notes.  Cold espresso.  A hint of Sen-sens and maybe Fisherman’s Friend cough sweets.  Coffee grounds.  Again…thick jam notes and more on that fruitcake, or Christmas cake, or whatever you want to call it.  Long, long, finish with some neat fruits at the back end.

Thoughts:  Give it time to breathe.  Oxygenation – both in the bottle and the glass – brings this one new dimensions.  Worth giving it some time.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 5:51 pm
Aug 102016

Isle Of Jura 1977 Juar064

46% abv

Score:  89/100


…and on the heels of that spectacular ’76 Jura we looked at a few days back, here’s the follow-up release: a very different and singular ’77.

Juar: Gaelic for “the yew tree” this time ’round (recall the ’76 referenced the Rowan tree).  This one is nowhere near as spectacularly nuanced as its older sibling, but is perhaps a little more bombastic for all that.  Again, some linguistic pagan origins here to tie this back to a land rich in lore, this time possibly hinting at regeneration, immortality and portals to the “otherword”, if you buy into the marketing fun, that is.  Not to mention that Yggdrasil itself has occasionally been rumoured to possibly have been a yew, and not an ash as most would believe.  Meandering fun, and provides some interesting conversation fodder for the timeless moments spent sipping this wizened old malt.

While quite lovely in its own right, I only wish I could say it lives up to its predecessor.  It’s certainly lively and a deft exercise for the tastebuds though.  And doubtless one of the best Jura I’ve yet tried.

34 years old, but noses younger.

*Took blind tasting notes and subsequently discovered this was port-finished.  Explains the winey-ness about it, doesn’t it?

Nose:  Fruity.  Rich in berries.  Scone dough.  Old books.  Some orange.  And then more orange.  Very slight winey-ness to it.  Rich spicyness.  Warm hot cross buns.  A slight nuttiness (as we find in most Jura).  Salt water taffy.  Hint of smoke.  Old cask.  Great harmony.

Palate:  Those are some tangy fruits.  Black current cough sweets.  Damp woods and grape juice.  Yeah…seems some wine influence.  Or just very tannic wood.  Ginger.  A very pleasant earthy, mineralness about it.  Leaves flavours
reminiscent of unlit cigar tobacco.

Thoughts:  Smells like a mid-aged Speysider.


– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:42 pm
Aug 102016

Well…in spite of a tumultuous ride of late (or perhaps because of it?), a small contingent of us are indeed bound for Islay in a few weeks.  Long time readers will likely recall both 2010 and 2012 excursions to this land of bog and brine, as those were documented day by day, but perhaps less glamorously documented were the rainchecked trips scheduled for 2014 and 2015.  Suffice it to say, this four year break between visits to my ‘home away from home’ has been far too long.

I’m pretty clear about my biases here on ATW.  My love for Islay, its malts and all its trappings are well and truly acknowledged here.  It should come as no surprise that this little island feels like home to me.  I’ll go one step further: in a way it’s really the only place on earth where I feel completely relaxed and at home.  I was a kid who moved a lot, and have either maintained that nomadic tendency throughout adulthood, or settled for spells in places that held little appeal.  This comment greatly offended my wife at one point, so let me clarify: emotionally, home is wherever my family is, of course, but geographically (and sentimentally, I suppose) home feels more like Islay.

The people are great.  The land is beautiful.  The pace is slow.  The air bracing.  Life…just seems to make more sense there.

Anyway…time to start documenting things here.  Feel free to read along as we go, or wait for the reviews and such in between.

39 days ’til wheels up.

 Posted by at 2:47 pm
Jul 292016

Isle Of Jura 1976 Feith A’ Chaorainn068

46% abv

Score:  92/100


I think I’ve conceded this here on ATW before:  I have a glaring hole in my common sense and a pseudo-blind spot in some respects when it comes to Jura.  If I’m to be totally honest, several of the whiskies have been less than awesome.  Some have been merely average.  Others have been good.  And some have actually been quite special.  And then, a few steps down the road from there, two or three have actually been spectacular.

The thing with Jura, though, is that it’s wildly inconsistent, generally too wine-heavy and often has a nutty/malty character that doesn’t work for me.  So why then do I give them a bit of a pass?  First off, because I think Jura has improved dramatically in the past few years.  Secondly, and probably most tellingly, I cotton to nearly everything that comes from the Hebridean heaven of Islay, and that sort of carries over to Jura as well.  I’ve romanticized the heck out of the region.  I like to believe that I can still distance myself enough to score fairly, though.  And I think past Jura scores speak to that.

The malt we’re looking at now happens to fall in that last category I mentioned above.  Utterly spectacular.  So let’s dig in…

‘Feith A’ Chaorainn’, means ‘The lands around the Rowan tree’.  Like most contemporary whisky releases, the brand found a cool angle and spun the hell out of it.  This one, fortunately, happens to be cooler than most, and ties back to superstitions surrounding the Rowan tree.  Said superstitions speak of protection for the island’s travellers, guarding against malevolent beings and witchcraft, being the tree from which the first woman in Norse mythology was made, having saved the mighty Thor from a powerful torrent, being the tree on which the devil hung his own mother, a portal between worlds, and is the culmination of a Greek myth involving a lost chalice and the blood and feathers of a gods-sent eagle.  Pick the angle you like best.  All seem rather esoteric and badass in mine eyes.

Oh yeah…and the whisky is at least as good as the tales it is linked to.  Just as magic.  Just as timeless.  This is Jura on the world stage.

Nose:  Soft and beautiful.  The best nose on any Jura I’ve ever met.  Pear.  White flour.  Faintest whiff of latex.
White chocolate.  Roman nougat.  Soft custard notes.  Vanilla.  Nuts.  Rich hard wood (but not shavings or sawdust or anything).  Citrus and oil.  Wet rock.  Just a wee whiff of far off smoke.  Stunning, really.

Palate:  Nice ‘oaky’ cask notes.  Faint touch of char and smokiness (but not peat).  Soft fruits and white baking (biscuits,
scones, buns, something).  Lemon cream.  Rich with oily fruit notes.  Soft pie crust.  Barely steeped green tea.  Faint ginger.  And other light spices.  Leaves very clean oak notes.  Very rich for a 46%er.

Thoughts:  Not just beautiful for Jura, but beautiful for whisky.  Period.  This is an amazing drop.


– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:39 am
Jul 262016

Kilchoman 10th Anniversary Release091

58.2% abv

Score:  90/100


Alright.  Celebrating the distillery’s 10th anniversary…at the 11 year mark.  Oops.  Been sitting on this one for a while.  So be it.  The whisky took years to arrive; why should the review be in any great rush?  Timeliness is the least of my concerns, if I’m being honest.  Not like we’re here to sell product or anything.

This Kilchoman 10th Anniversary Release is a rather special vatting of casks from 2005 through 2012.  In other words…a pile of snapshots from three through ten year old.  And yes…this does include spirit from the famous cask #1.  So while it isn’t really an evolutionary sensory experience, it does give an idea as to how the more mature Kilchoman distillate softens the massive spikes and tors of the younger malt we typically see bottled at about five years old or so.  I should note that, seeing as how that Kilchoman cask #1 is just a wee single barrel, and the outturn for this release was 3,000 bottles, there is likely no more than dribbles of that precious ‘old’ malt in this whisky.  Almost certainly most of cask #1 will still be slumbering away for a future release of prestige and…errr…a much more profound sticker shock.

Either way…this non age-stated (but semi-vintaged) release is a hell of a whisky.  Not even remotely subtle, but somehow still soft and cozy.  Sound like nonsense?  Probably.  But trust me…whiskies this big can still be gentle and approachable.  This is just such a one.

Do we like it?  Yes.  A lot.  Hopefully something like this becomes a permanent part of the Kilchoman range, albeit with a declaration of cask make-up (perhaps something akin to Bruichladdich’s recent campaign?).

And finally…just wanted to say that it’s with a heavy heart that I look at these bottles of Kilchoman that bear the signature of Mr. John MacLellan.  He was a gentle soul, a kind man and the footprints he left behind will be followed by many for years to come.  RIP John.  Thanks for the small bits of time we spent together.

Nose:  Deep smoke.  Dry smoke.  Lots and lots of smoke.  Earthy peat.  Dry, dusty notes.  Definitely some sherry influence here.  BBQ sauce.  Lemon and salt water.  Hay.  Freshly milled barley.  A touch of dill pickle.  Ash.  Berries.  Key lime.  Very sweet.

Palate:  Beautifully sweet arrival that gets absolutely steamrolled by peat and smoke.  Man…this is big.  Peat and pepper-powered.  A lot of naked barley.  Oily.  Big underripe green fruit notes.  Lime zest.  Fennel.  Red/purple grape or plum skins.

Thoughts:  If tasted blind, I would guess Ardbeg.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:32 pm
Jul 122016

IMG_2357Mortlach 1998 Co-op Exclusive (Gordon & MacPhail)

59.7% abv

Score:  87/100


A bottle made even sweeter due to circumstance.  A mate of mine and I laid down a bet at the start of last year’s NFL season: who could pick the most division winners.  Do note…this guy is a junkie for the game and knows waaaaay more than I do.  I got two right (out of eight).  He got one.  For two huge football fans, obviously a pretty pathetic outing.  Goes to show, I suppose, that on any given Sunday…

Anyway, the stakes were a bottle.  No other real parameters.  And this Mortlach single cask was his ‘settling up’ offering.  Hell of a generous dude.  And a Scot to boot.  Known to be ‘frugal’ and all that, right?  I prefer ‘smart with money’.  😉

Said lad presented this one to me at the tail end of a Dram Initiative club tasting a couple months back.  I immediately cracked it and poured out most of it for a roomful of eager malters.  Needless to say it went over like gangbusters.  I kept back a wee bit to be able to write this up and offer public thanks.  So…thanks, Stu!

Bottled exclusively for Co-op Wines & Spirits (and still available at the time of writing!), this is a typical meaty Mortlach.  Seems most Mortlach I’ve drunk of late has been heavier on florals than bovine, but this one takes me back into familiar territory.  Good outing.  And a hell of a lot more exciting than the standard range of generic (aside from the odd bottling strength), overpriced distillery bottlings.

Nose:  Moderate beef note at the fore.  Quite spicy too.  Tea and toast.  Salted meat.  Very dry, overripe berry notes.  Neat nose, if slightly ‘flawed’.  I like it though.  Very, very faintly hints at sulphur.  Big nose, all told.  And yes…there are some sweet fruity notes, but they are ridiculously hard to pin down.  Monk’s Blend tea.

Palate:  Still meaty, but rich and soooo much more than the nose gives us.  Great bold and juicy arrival.  Barley is clear and rich.  Still a slight Bovril meatiness to it, but tempered with chewy dark fruits.  Leathery, with notes of very dry cinnamon and ginger.  Something green and weedy here.  Big barley finish.

Thoughts:  This one stutter-steps into my ‘oddball winners’ category.  Not without its bumps, but its merits make it worthwhile.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:07 pm
Jul 112016

Glenlivet Nadurra Batch 0814DIMG_2359

55.7% abv

Score:  91/100


I remarked at one point how this malt seemed to be an underappreciated darling in the wider whisky world.  Fast forward to the present and that seems to be far from the case.  There is a very loyal – and ever-growing – following for this cask strength Glenlivet.  Past Nadurra reviews are some of the most popular on this site and the comment sections beneath still maintain momentum long after the fact.  Ergo, it seemed apropos to tackle another batch (before they all disappear in favour of the NAS offerings)

I recently came across this bottle for under $80 locally (fair price, if you know the lay of the land in terms of how far our dollar stretches lately).  Unfortunately most of the Nadurra I see on the shelves nowadays is one of the dodgy NAS versions the brand has launched as a replacement for this fairly consistent (and generally high quality) 16 year old.  I believe – and please correct me if I’m wrong – that the 16 year Nadurra is on its way out in favour of the smokescreen malts just mentioned.  A shame, and nearly as big a botch on the ‘Livet name as the recent Cipher and Alpha.  But let’s not trip down that rabbit hole here.

Happy to report that Batch 0814D holds to the high standards established under this banner.  The malt is not only meticulously crafted, but lands right in an absolutely gorgeous sweet spot of soft fruits and creamy character.  I’m not quite as enamoured with Nadurra as some of the regular readers here on ATW who horde the stuff, but this is one batch I will likely grab an extra bottle or two of before it goes the way of the dodo and mastodon.

Nose:  Huge orange top note and soft mixed fruit.  Vanilla and custard.  Creamsicles.  Hot cross buns.  A smear of jam.  Very fresh, fruity and appealing.  Roman nougat.  Very dessert-like.  Caramelized pineapple with pepper.

Palate:  Awww, hell yeah.  There’s that orange again.  More fruit.  And more.  There’s an oakiness behind it too.  Like sucking the stick of a creamsicle after the ice cream is gone.  Quite some vanilla.  Ginger.  Honey candy straws.  Chewy and oily.  A very thick drink.

Thoughts:  Nudging on into tropical territory.  I love this whisky.  Shows well on any occasion.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:28 pm
Jul 102016

Bowmore 19 y.o. (Adelphi)IMG_2353

57.2% abv

Score:  89/100


This is from a wee sample gifted to me by my mate, Cam.  An utterly unexpected surprise, both due to its unsolicited handover and the oddball nose here that seems miles from a typical Bowmore.  This is a malt that shows why the independent game is arguably so much more exciting than just picking up the distillery releases.

An Adelphi bottling, this 19 year old was distilled in ’96, yielding up 214 bottles.  Elementary deduction (olfactory profile, small outturn, pale gold shade, etc) tells us this one was either a bourbon barrel or a hoggy.  I’d think maybe the latter.  Either way…it’s naked and lovely – though out of character in some respects.  The downhome farmyard notes are much more reminiscent of moderately peated Bruichladdich (sans the butyric note) or, from the mainland, BenRiach’s mature peated offerings.  Neato.

Fun one to try.  Not sure where you can find this one (if at all anymore), but I would recommend.

Thanks again, Cam.  Appreciate the kind share!

Nose:  Peppery and barnyard-ish.  Dry and dusty.  Seafood platters.  Oceanside.  Aromas of walking through long dry grass.  Or maybe hayfields.  A tangy BBQ note develops over time, but it’s quite timid.  Quite faint on the Bowmore-ness I was expecting (and hoping for).  Black current cough sweets.  A touch of rubber.  Yeah…peat and smoke.  But faint.

Palate:  There we go.  More Bowmore now.  Still farmy.  Dry, ashy notes.  Salt water.  Dried berries.  Jammy notes.  Rubber and anise.  Smoke.  Very juicy here.  Nowhere near as dry as the nose seems.  Gooey toffee.  Some chocolate or fudge.  Or chocolate fudge.  Grape juice.

Thoughts:  May be the farmiest Bowmore I’ve ever nosed.  Great palate.  A grower and changer.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:40 am
Jul 092016

Tullibardine SovereignIMG_2352

43% abv

Score:  80.5/100


No one really gets a pass in regards to the NAS thing, but there are a couple of distilleries (Tulli, Ardbeg, Laddie, ‘Glassaugh, etc) that have a slightly better reason than others for doling out these contrived concoctions.  Namely, sustained closures that led to substantial production gaps.  What they end up with then is a finite amount of older whisky and a growing store of very young whisky.  The logical options then become twofold: release the old stocks at high prices and decimate your ‘sure thing’ or release immature and underripe malts and reap the wrath of poor reviews that are almost guaranteed to follow.  The latter, of course, means that you may tarnish the brand and risk not recovering your reputation.  The former means that you alienate many due to price point and run yourself out of mature bonded malt.  Neither option sounds too appealing, right?

Here’s where things get shady.  You can also choose to ignore the two well-trodden paths and forge ahead on a new path of marrying the old and the young.  Doing so means that almost no one in their right minds is willing to put a 7 year age statement on something that may be substantially composed of 20 year old whisky.  And as we all know, the SWR states that only the youngest component malt may be stated on the bottle.  Hence we end up with malts like Sovereign.  And pretty much any NAS release ever.

But enough of the philosophical nattering for the moment.  We’ve heard this story many times.

Sovereign is an easy handshake of a whisky.  A pleasant meeting – enjoyable enough while it lasts – but not likely to make much impression in the long term.  Nothing wrong with that.  I count Compass Box Asyla in the same stable, and thoroughly enjoy that one when I have it too.  These are just not whiskies that keep me loyal, however.  They’re a little too simple and one-dimensional to make me want to buy ’em.  Good enough stuff though.  Well made.

In simplest…kind of a meandering little dram that I enjoyed more than I thought I would.

Nose:  Mandarins in syrup.  Lemon.  Tangerine.  Quite clean and very naked.  Touch of ginger and pepper.  Vanilla.  White bread.  Actually a rather pleasant nose.

Palate:  Flat.  A notch down from what the nose would have us believe.  Slightly drying after a moment or two…like a green tea in ways.  Grassy.  Pancakes.  Vanilla-heavy cream.  Quite sweet, but not as easy to pin down fruits as on the nose.  Fair enough.

Thoughts:  This is a breakfast malt.  Nothing offensive, but nothing really special either.  Exactly what an entry level malt should be.


– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:13 am