ATW

Mar 142017
 

Longrow 18 y.o. (2015?)

46% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Consistently one of my favorite whiskies going – and certainly one of the best 18s out there (especially in light of the tragic fall of Highland Park 18) – it’s always a treat to revisit Longrow 18.  I think I’ve shared notes on two previous versions of this classic from Cambeltown.

The heel of this austere and elegant single malt from the Springbank family was shared my way by a good mate of mine, Danny (last name withheld for legal reasons…he’s wanted in most states and provinces).  He and I went back and forth a couple of times trying to figure out whether this 18 is the 2014 or 2015 version and haven’t really reached a conclusion.  It was bought in 2016 in a place that flips inventory fairly regularly, so let’s assume it’s a 2015.  Either way…newish.

Ultimately, as if often the case with good whisky, there’s less to talk about here than with bad whisky.  Suffice it to say that this batch has been held to the same uniformly high standards as all previous editions I’ve tried so far.  It’s refreshing to see a distillery keeping their standards high and endears me even more to one of the best in the biz.

I wish prices were lower, but hey…Springbank has always had a fairly high price point (the nature of doing it all yourself and in a craft style with lots of employees).  At least they’re delivering the goods, but it’s hard to talk about value for money here, when discussing sub-twenty year old single malts at nearly $200.  Such is.  This would seem to be the new norm.  Anyway…the quality is high enough here that I don’t cringe nearly as bad at the price tag as I should.  (Having said that, no…I didn’t buy this.)

Thanks again for the chance to try this one, Danny.  You’re the man, cool guy.

Nose:  Soft white fruits.  Chewy candy notes.  A faint hint of latex (older barrels in here somewhere?).  Red jujubes.  Apple pie with light cinnamon notes.  Pear.  Melon.  Suede.  Gentle peat.  Noses older than 18.  Love it.

Palate:  Very tangy.  Some orange and leather.  The peat has a great ebb and longer to it.  Soft spices.  White baked dessert notes.  White fudge.  Beautiful mix of fruit and peat.

Thoughts:  Lovely old school style.  Expensive (at about $200 a bottle), but rather exceptional.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:35 am
Mar 092017
 

Laphroaig Select

40% abv

Score:  78/100

 

Well, this is awkward.  Kinda feels like having to fire your wife.  Being hard on something you love is never fun.  Unfortunately there is a bit of an axe to grind here, so let’s do it and do it quick.  Like ripping off a Band-aid.  Maybe it will hurt less.

I’ve always held Port Ellen on a pedestal.  Right beneath my beloved PE is the stylized ‘A’ in the Celtic ring (yes, Ardbeg, of course).  Ardbeg likely ties with Bruichladdich, though not necessarily because their whiskies are on par.  I love both for different reasons.  So, let’s call the number two position a tie.  And number three with a bullet…Laphroaig.  This one has been creeping on Ardbeg lately.  It’s arguable Ardbeg produces great malts more consistently, but it’s also arguable that Laphroaig produced greater malts from time to time.  I’m sure mature stock and expressions with some older constituent casks contributes to that.

I tell you this so you understand how biased I am toward Laphroaig of late.  Imagine, then, my bewilderment at a malt like this: Laphroaig Select.  At its essence it really boils down to ‘why?’.  The brand has a flagship 10 year old (one of the best out there, I might add, in spite of its low abv) and a young fiery NAS expression that is beloved by most and, aside from the lack of age statement, ticks most other boxes for whisky lovers (non-chill-filtered, natural colored – I think?, and high strength).  So why…why then would they release a watered down, inferior, just-clearing-the-hurdles 40% NAS monstrosity like this?  It’s incomprehensible to me and most I’ve spoken to).

Over the last couple of months we’ve witnessed Quarter Cask jump from about $50 (as low as $40 in some places) up to $85.  The 10 y.o. is still creeping, but is still lower than the new QC pricing.  The ‘high end’ Laphroaig Lore crashed our shores at an even $200.  And now there are a handful of new Laphroaig NAS releases hitting the market (Four Oak, 1815 and I think there may be one or two more, though I could be mistaken).  At this point I’m left head-scratching.  Maybe I’m falling out of love here.

I’d love to see others weigh in on this one, though I’m pretty certain I have an idea what the comments section below will look like.

Nose:  Peat, of course.  Faint smoke (but everything is faint at this anemic abv).  Leather.  Wet dog.  Brown paper bags or slightly damp cardboard.  Vaguely farmy.  A touch of salt or brine.  Lime.  A little bit of dill.  Earthy notes, as we’d expect.  Everything muted.

Palate:  Thin and watery.  Dry smoke.  Lacking a lot of flavour.  Slightly weedy.  Earthy.  Olive brine.  Not a lot more.  Hello…finish…are you there?

Thoughts:  This…this is not the Laphroaig I love.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:48 pm
Feb 282017
 

Amrut Naarangi111

50% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Naarangi – Hindi for ‘orange’.  This one just as easily have been called ‘Amrut cheekily skates up to the edge of the rules, flashes a bare ass at the powers that be, then skates away laughing’.  But then again…what rules does Amrut have to follow?  Short answer: None but those they make for themselves, which essentially means satisfying their own moral compass and innate sense of curiosity.  Ok, ok…and that would have been a hell of a stupid name for a whisky.  But you get the point, yeah?

As you know, under the regulations laid out by the SWA (Starchy Withered Assholes, if I’ve heard the acronym spelled out correctly), Scotch malt whisky can contain nothing more than water, yeast and barley (oh, yeah…and seemingly as much of that nasty over-bitter artificial coloring you may wish to add).  No infusions, no creative barrel play, no true innovation.  Sometimes this is a good thing.  We whisky codgers are nothing if not suckers for the purity of tradition.  Having said that, how does the category ever advance if the forward-thinkers are forced to work in hobbles and shackles?  Quite a balancing act, I’d say.  And one which I’ve not really attained my own philosophically enlightened vantage for yet.

Anyway…though not bound to the sacred tenets like the great producers in Celtic-land, Amrut has chosen to play it square.  They did not infuse the whisky with orange (like another Maverick whisky maker did in the not too distant past), instead they infused the sherry that previously lived in the cask with orange.  Ergo, when the barrel was dumped the residual oils and flavors from the peels would be left clinging as tightly to the staves as Trump supporters to a gun law.  When Amrut new make spirit was splashed inside these wooden beds for the long sleep (well…not too long in the case of Bangalore’s unforgiving climate) the effect was obviously immediate and massive.  This is a heck of a unique dram, and really is only a hop, skip and a jump from a liqueur.

Nose:  Huge orange and spice notes.  Citrus oils.  The fruits are very lively on this one, both juicy, over-the-top ripe ones and dry oily figgy ones.  Some chocolate.  Immediately recognizable as Amrut, in spite of the tomfoolery.  A slight pastry or dough note.  Vanilla.

Palate:   The palate is a little disappointing compared to the vibrancy of the nose.  Lots of candies and fruit notes, and actually maybe a little too sweet.  And also a little sharp and woody.  Lots of spice again.  Caramelized sugars.  Orange oil.  Syrupy.  Almost liqueur-like in both flavour and texture.

Thoughts:  Liked it a lot.  Not quite love, but sometimes it’s nice just to be ‘in like’.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:51 pm
Feb 172017
 

Lagavulin 1966 50 y.o. Cask #55207-lag-09-img_3386

?% abv

Score:  91/100

 

I got back from Islay about four and a half months ago now.  Initial plans for the website were to offer up a full travel blog sort of thing like I’d done a couple times before.  After all, things change and every experience is different, especially as traveling companions go (and boy, was it interesting this time!).  Since settling back home, however, I’ve rethought my game plan.

I think I’m just gonna publish a handful (or more) of the more unique experiences, reviews and stories.  Like I said in a previous post, I’m gonna start using this site more as a blog, and not just a review factory.  I think it may be a bit more conducive to chat too.

Anyway, here’s the scoop:  A friend of mine, who I now consider one of my best mates, put everything on hold to fly over from Dubai to join our wee misfit crew of drammers and dreamers.  He moved meetings, dealt with a hell of a travel schedule and came out to become an absolutely integral part of our little collective.  I’m sure you all know the lad I’m talking about.  His name is Tabarak Razvi, the Malt Activist.

But we’ll come back to that in a future post.  Right now I want to share some notes on a whisky and an experience that  was beyond bucket list.  On one of our later days on this trip (after the damaged wrist, the broken phone, the incessant cold, the rain days, and all) we visited Lagavulin for an hour or two in the warehouse with the inimitable Iain MacArthur.  We sipped through 12, 14, 23, and 34 year old cask samples in the dunnage next to the distillery.  We also tried the 2016 Jazz fest release, then snuck out back to navigate the ruins of Dunyvaig castle with a 200 ml of Lag 16 and drams of the 2006 12 y.o.  Sounds rad, yeah?  Wait, it gets better.

After the masses had disappeared, and we had slipped and slid our way down the crumbling battlements of the old castle and returned to the distillery grounds, we bumped into Iain again.  A little gentle persuasion, and he led us back to the warehouse with glasses in hand.  He poured generously (a little too generously) from a tiny quarter cask marked #552 and the year 1966 stamped on the barrel head.  Fifty years.  Let that sink in for a moment.  After the most sincere thanks we could offer to one of the most amazing men on the island, we ran back up the hill, glasses sloshing to hop the bus back to Bowmore.  Five guys…a public bus…the bouncy and bumpy high road to Bowmore…and fifty year old Lagavulin in our glasses.  Yep.

Tab recounted the tale here for your reading pleasure.  He and I both had small samples to bring home with us, so you can compare and contrast tasting notes.  While he chose not to score this esoteric experience, I’m throwing a number at it.  Is it high?  Maybe just a touch.  But it’s my party and I’ll sigh if I want to.

Nose:  Noses soooooo young.  This must have been a fourth fill barrel.  Faint smoke.  Citrus.  Just the weakest hints of honeydew melon and pineapple.  Firm white cheese (cave-aged Gruyere?).  Very minerally…or something like clay.  In ways smells almost like new make.  In other ways…smells very, very old.  Irreconcilable, really.  Notes of dunnage and old books.  Briny and oceanic, to be sure.  Iodine and medicinal notes.  A slight farminess.  Faint tea notes.

Palate:  Much more smoke than expected.  Huge sweetness.  Almost minty.  Green candy notes.  Lime.  Some tangy fruit (maybe pineapple again, though not very ‘tropical’).  Peat (there it is!) and dry old tea.  More oak here than on the nose (though still less oaky than expected).  Faint fennel.  Smoked seafood and shells.  This is an enormously oily dram.  Some licorice at the back end.

Thoughts:  Unmistakably Lagavulin.  So, yeah…it’s overcooked.  So what?  Too oaky and not the best of barrels, but this is still exceptional whisky.  The experience behind it definitely adds to the score for me, but it’s nigh impossible to disassociate the two.  Just the fact that it’s still here?  Yeah…’nough said, I think.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 

 

 Posted by at 9:17 am
Feb 172017
 

Morning, friends.

Just wanted to offer up a sincere thanks to those who still check in regularly waiting for updates.  I’m still here.  All is well.  For an unemployed guy, I’m anything but sedentary.  Time is not really on my side lately, though.  It’s not so much the time to write (I’ll get to that in a moment), as it is the time to sit down and do a proper tasting session.

As many of you are likely aware, I published a short story last month.  There was a bigger project in the works even then.  I’ve finally given myself over to it completely, and within the next week or two should finish the first draft of my first novel.  A much darker bit of writing than the last.

In the short term, I’ll have a review going up here within the hour.  Hang tight.

For those that have asked, the first is available here (US) and here (Canada).  And to those that have read, commented, offered their thoughts…thank you.

Cheers.

 Posted by at 8:54 am
Feb 072017
 

Macallan has just released a new 12 year old, flying in the face of the unrelenting negativity that has plagued the 1825 color-led series.  Bowmore has just released a new age-stated range for Travel Retail.  Neato.  Usually Travel Retail is the launch pad for all sorts of NASty stuff.  Ardbeg hit us with a 21 y.o. last year.  Several ambassadors and distillers who have visited our local whisky club and our parade of festivals have said they will stick with age-statements, barring an oddball here and there.  Refreshing.

Is this maybe a response to the chorus of voices that have rung out from Serge, Ralfy, Tab, myself, Dom and untold others?  I’m honestly not sure.  And far from confident enough to make an assertion like that, but I can say that many of the industry folks with whom I’ve spoken are well aware of consumer opinion and do, in fact, read the blogs and such.

As I’ve said, I think the industry is setting itself up for another crash.  Global markets are not what they were forecast to be (China never delivered on ‘promise’, France seems to be on the wane, North America is moving to rye and bourbon, etc), and the economy – as heavily-reliant on fossil fuels as it is – has been in the tanks for a long time now.  Factor in the uncertainty of NAFTA, Brexit and the over-sized Oompa Loompa with the combover down south and, well…things are shaky.  Whisky makers jumped on the last decade’s rampant demand and resorted with logical (if maybe shortsighted) actions: ramp up!  We’ve already seen some (Diageo) pull back on some planned initiatives.  It looks to be an interesting decade.  If we can keep our skin in the game, that is.

Keep fighting, Jedis.  There will come a time in the not too distant future when things will be better.  I feel it.

 

– C

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Feb 072017
 

You don’t honestly expect the empire – errr, industry – to sit quietly by while we take shots at the subterfuge they build around the product, do?  All through life we are told that we should question the status quo.  Accept nothing at face value.  Ask the hard questions.  Never has this been more relevant than in this age of billionaire orange men running superpowers.

The flipside is, though, that the more you question, the more you dissent.  And the more you dissent, the more it becomes an us versus them game.  They collect paycheques for doing (and saying) what they do (and say).  We’re just ‘intemperate and ill-informed’ and driven by ‘hotheaded ignorance’.  Sometimes even ‘‘expert’ bloggers or social media superheroes’.  Notice ‘expert’ was already cheekily given quotation marks by the condescending tool who said it.

Anyway…unless they result to the name-calling crap (as above and below), let’s keep it above the board.  While disingenuous, to say the least, at the end of the day they are real people with real families and real feelings.  (Though there’s one character I’m not so sure about)  Don’t give up the fight, but do it at a level that continues to highlight the deception and let time validate the right.

This goes for the big guys at the top, but also applies all the way down to the small, small, small so-called ‘Intelligent’ ones who can’t even handle a dissenting opinion without reaching for the ‘block’ button on their Twitter accounts.

Because lord knows we’d hate to be fall in with the ‘many self-promoting, opinionated and vocal experts; (with) sadly, so little expertise.’

 

– C

 Posted by at 10:23 am
Feb 072017
 

This may sound like the musings of a miser, but…

Rumours persist that this enormous round thing that has been scaring the hell out of us all (a Death Star?) – and by that I mean this whisky bubble – is heading inevitably towards the big explosion.

Distilleries in Scotland are producing at an unprecedented clip.  Casks are being rolled into warehouses with the uniformity of stormtroopers.  In some cases, barrels are being filled at higher abv than what has become the standard 63.5% casking strength simply to accommodate more alcohol in the warehouses.  And behind it all, more warehouses are being constructed to house the vastness of production.  That doesn’t even touch the new distilleries in varying stages of planning, permitting and construction that are set to perpetuate the flood.

And that is just Scotland.

Ireland, Canada and the US are teeming with both micro and macro-scale projects.  Bourbon and rye are on the rise, so logically production increases follow.  Taiwan’s Kavalan is doubling from 4.5 mlpa to 9 mlpa (million liters per annum).  Japan is producing at a sprint to try to close the mature stock gaps they’re facing.  And ‘world whiskies’ (oh, how I hate that term) are on the rise in ways we’ve never seen.

Not to mention…every time I attend a fest or chat with my whisky geek mates someone inevitably mentions the dream of starting up a distillery.

I hate to see anyone fail, especially at something that involves a lot of passion, time and money, but I can’t help but think we’re heading straight for the next whisky loch.  Remember what happened in the eighties?  I hate to say it, but that is exactly what is needed to fix the state of whisky pricing and bullish marketing standards.

The rebels have fought hard, but now it’s time for someone to blow the reactor.

 

 Posted by at 9:52 am
Feb 072017
 

Ugh.  Just bounced from one cold right into another.  Sinuses are throbbing.  Feel like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck.  No tastings for a bit.  I do have a couple of fun ones in the wings though.  I think we’ll start with a 50 year old Lagavulin.

Incidentally, is this a blog or is this a blog?  Time to start treating it as one.

 Posted by at 7:14 am
Jan 222017
 

Laphroaig 25 y.o. Cask Strength (2008)img_4049

50.9% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

No two ways about it.  I’ve been a pretty lucky soul.  This is another one of those spectacular drams I’ve been fortunate enough to try year upon year.  I think to date I’ve tried the ’08, ’09, ’11, ’13 and ’14 versions of this quarter century cask strengther, as well as the more restrained (though still lovely) 43%er that came years back.  All were great (even that latter lightweight).  Some were exceptional.

This was tasted as part of that recent G4 event I wrote up a couple weeks back.  In almost any other range this would have been the showstopper malt tp close it all down with.  In this case, however, it sat middle of the pack.  What I’m trying to say is maybe take that 91.5 with a grain of salt.  Tasted in a different range it may have notched an extra point or so.

Pretty obvious what you’re getting with a dram like this.  Old, faint peat and only hints of the smoke and iodine that so characterize younger Laphroaigs.  The fruits are emergent and the sweetness has been ratcheted up.  Oak is an outlier.  Kinda like an unpresuming frame around a gorgeous work of art.

Alright.  So, that’s a gem of an old Leapfrog.  Easy to share kind words, as one would likely suspect.  Up next on the radar: Select and Lore.  Sharpen your knives, guys and dolls.  Things are about to get ugly.

Nose:  Roman nougat candy.  Very soft peat and just whiffs of smoke.  Lime (both sweet and tart).  White pepper.  Notes of ripe melon.  Chewy candies.  Plenty of orange.  Soft chocolate.  Faint hints of rubber.  Anise.

Palate:  Juicy and mouthwatering arrival.  Very creamy and lush.  Licorice right off the bat.  Yeah, there a peaty smoky edge here, but not overly large.  Sour fruit.  Fresh cracked pepper.  Soft spice notes.  Anise or fennel.  And…yeah…more licorice.

Thoughts:  Top tier malt

*Thanks to the kind anonymous benefactor for this one.

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:06 am