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
Jul 082016
 

Ardbeg Dark Cove20160528_122452

46.5% abv

Score:  89/100

 

Not a lot of bad press floating around for this one.  Unless, of course, you take into account those wanting to criticize the marketing team behind Ardbeg.  Personally, I think they’re a bunch of mad geniuses and aesthetically gifted wizards.  Of course we dislike the NAS factor, but it’s difficult not to appreciate the clever spins, yarns and angles they come up with.

Case in point, Dark Cove, which pays homage to the early days of illicit distillation at Ardbeg and the measures taken to avoid the excise man.  The imagery (literal and implied) of moonlit rocky shorelines, hidden caverns, dark waves and complicit locals makes for a heck of a tale.  But a story in and of itself is nothing when we’re referring to the quality of the whisky in the glass.  Proof’s in the pudding, as the say.  We’ll come to that in a minute though.

Dark Cove was 2016’s Ardbeg Day release, and when it landed, it arrived with all the expected fanfare.  Cool, stylish events…badass animated Ardbeggian videos…glorious graphics…and untold thousands of drams being poured at Ardbeg embassies around the world.  LVMH has deep pockets.  There is nothing half-assed in an Ardbeg launch.  If you’ve not attended one, I’d highly recommend penciling in the date next year.

Now the drink itself…

I would argue that Ardbeg’s contemporary reputation was built largely on the back of Uigeadail, that sherried phenolic heavyweight that even the most jaded seem to adore (or at least admire).  From there, an empire was built.  The limited releases that have followed have been a mixed bag of hits and misses for some, but those that have a perpetual spot on the shelf for a bottle of Oogie should find themselves tickled ruddy pick for this one.  It bears all the familiar hallmarks of sweet waves of sherry smashing headlong into a sharp and jagged coast of heavy peat.  The marriage is exceptional.  Better than Uigeadail?  Not sure.  I’ll sample side by side when the opportunity presents.  Watch the comments section below for updates.

And finally, while I have tried both the general and committee releases of Dark Cove I can’t say which I prefer, as the settings and companion drams were of vastly disparate measures.  At some point I’ll do a head to head.

Nose:  Windy, wet seaside and beach fire.  Smoke and rubber.  Lime, and dark fruit compote.  Earthy peat.  A few drops of coffee.  Fennel.  Iodine (and slightly ammonic too).  BBQ sauced and seared pork.  Damp linens and dry spice.  More lime, dark chocolate and spice.  Minerally.  Kelp.

Palate:  Infinitely Ardbeg.  Nice ‘peat meets sweet’ marriage.  Dry and sooty.  Grapey sherry notes.  Citrus juice.  Tastes of leather.  Salty.  And rich in that Ardbeg rubberiness.  Very oceanic palate.  And ashy.  Unfortunately, while entirely pleasant, seems slightly muted by the comparatively low (by Ardbeg standards) bottling strength.  Nice looooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Tastes like more, to be honest.  A good outing from Kildalton’s finest.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:55 pm
Jul 042016
 

Aberlour a’bunadh Batch 52IMG_2382

60.5% abv

Score:  88/100

 

There was a day when each successive batch of a’bunadh used to light me up like a kid at Christmas.  Nowadays…meh.  They’re simply not up to what they used to be.

Let me qualify that:  these Aberlour releases are still better than most of the watered down, colored and filtered expressions from the big brands that are hitting the market, but a’bunadh has lost the edge it once had for its delectable sweet and fruity charm.  Now it’s just another cask strength (occasionally underripe) bruiser.

Even so, when my wife came home a couple months back with a bottle of this and a Kilchoman for me I was tickled pink.  One…because she knows me and was kind and wonderful as always, and two…because I know readers like to hear about these storied batch releases.  In short…I was more excited about writing it up for the site than I was to actually drink it.  Fortunately it was decent enough to be able to enjoy both.

I think the most important thing I can possibly say here is that a’bunadh is not what it once was.  Sorry.  I don’t know if it is a change to sherry-seasoned casks as opposed to proper sherry butts (which I hear many in the industry are doing now)…a shift to younger malts in the batch vattings…or simply a different style the blender is aiming for.  Either way, the deep, sweet, aromatic jamminess that made a’bunadh a thing of legend is now merely a background cello in an orchestra of instruments cranked up to 11.  Sad really.

By no means is this a bad dram.  Marks and notes below should attest to that.  Unfortunately, the benefit of experience allows me to say unequivocally that this malt is on the wane.  The nature of batch releases, however, ensures we’ll be curious to see if the next is a return to form.

One more important thing to say.  Less than two years ago Aberlour a’bunadh was about $77 a bottle locally.  A couple weeks back I saw it at $126.  Shame on you, Aberlour.  No amount of justification (currency exchange, market conditions, barrel shortages, etc) will ever be able to square that circle.  Shameful gouging.  While the wife and I do share a bank account – and ultimately I did end up paying for this ‘gift’ in a roundabout way – it needs to be made clear I would never support that kind of consumer-disrespecting audacity.

Nose:  Dark jammy fruit.  Creamy chocolate.  Leather.  Deep spicy sherry notes.  A slight cherry cola-ness about it.  Not nearly as fruity as old a’bunadh unfortunately.  Dark toffee and a hint of both coffee and tea.  Prunes and figs and such.  A hint of mint.

Palate:  Better.  More fruit now.  Berry jam on slightly burnt toast.  Damp wood.  Mocha.  Candied orange peel.  Walnut.  Maraschino cherry.  Dark, oily vanilla.  Caramel with some fruit.  Better arrival than finish.

Thoughts:  A little too sharp (or too young?).  Is it just me or is a’bunadh getting spicier and meatier over time?  Not bad, but nowhere near its glory days.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:04 pm