ATW

Dec 102018
 

Ardbeg Grooves

46% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Past due here, I know, I know.  Betcha thought I’d be jumping at the bit to share a few words on the latest Ardbeg.  Being a so-called ‘fanboy’ and all.  Every time I review one of these releases I kinda feel like I have to duck and cover.  So be it.  I hold steady to my opinion that no distillery in the world is putting out this high a level of distillate year upon year.  Not every release is a knockout, but not a single one is bad.  Ever.  Actually, not one is ever less than really good.  Contentious, I know.

Some out there are saying that this profile is a little too ‘manufactured’ (or some such sentiment), but this deep fruitiness is spectacular with the big smoke behind it.  Really.  Think smoke-infused jam or something of that ilk.

Grooves was matured in charred ex-wine barrels.  As opposed to that wet-fill wine casking that all too often results in that weird sour winey tang at the back end of the development, in this case the sugars have been caramelized into the wood and come forth in a beautiful charry sweetness.  Gotta say, I think Grooves is probably my favorite of the recent Ardbeg releases.

Nose:  Surprisingly soft and jammy fruits behind big smoke and savoury BBQ notes.  Charred pork in some sort of berry reduction.  Smoked apricot (if only there were such a thing).  Some ashy, sooty notes.  A whiff of caramel.  Jam on well-toasted bread.  Damp smoke (as from wet wood).  Hard cherry candies and real vanilla bean.  With enough time in the glass…a whiff of well-toasted marshmallow.

Palate:  Coastal and, yes, very Ardbeggian (that is a word.  I refuse to hear otherwise!).  Warm rubber and salt licorice.  Dry and dark.  Ash again.  Smoked meat bark.  Beautifully gooey and sweet.

Thoughts:  Love it.  No two ways about it.

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:38 pm
Dec 062018
 

Hey, friends.

Appreciate the outpouring of support over the past week or so.  The site went down, as many of you know, and the amount of people I had contact me was a little overwhelming.  I’m beyond flattered.  Especially in light of my utter delinquency of late.  You’re good people, and I appreciate you.

AS for the issue itself?  Nothing.  Nothing at all.  The message you would have seen referred to the account being suspended or something.  It was nothing more than a technical f___-up.  A buddy of mine hosts the site for me, for which I pay him and he pays on further.  Unfortunately, he had migrated to a new host and the direct billing to CC didn’t go as planned.  Oops.

Alas, all is well.  Up and running.  Well…walking.  Errr…limping along.  Alright, let’s face it.  I’ve been at a complete standstill.  Priorities are elsewhere right now.  I do have intentions to come back to this (at least part time) in the very near future.  Next review will almost certainly be Ardbeg Grooves.  But in the meantime, I’ve been busy.  Work, yes, but it’s more my free time I’m referring to.  If you care for the reason, read on.  If not, rest easy, the site is still here and under no threat of disappearing.

Last week I finished the first draft of my third novel.  It’s called “The Colony” and it’s the biggest and (IMHO) best yet.  It’s been a monster to undertake and I’m not finished with it yet.  I’ve been working through the rewrite as we speak, so that I can turn it over to my ‘editor’ and the select few that constitute my ‘peer reviewers’ at some point in the next couple of weeks.  The story itself is a blurring of lines between historical fiction and folk horror.  It’s a split narrative that alternates between present day Oregon/Massachusetts and 1690s Salem.  Yes, for those of you historically-inclined, that was indeed the time of the Salem Witch Trials.  But, of course, the tale couldn’t be that simple.  Let’s just leave it at that.  Wink and nudge.

I’ve yet to really do anything with my second novel (“Rotten Soil”), but I will be either shopping it or self-publishing soon.  My first short story (“Sadie”) and my first novel (“Darker Things”) are both on Amazon.  “Rotten Soil” will have its time in the light too, but I’m not sure exactly when.  In the meantime, however, this new one has my heart.  I need to wrap it up.  Not least because book four has been conceived.  It’s itching away in my noggin and wants out.  It will be called “Balance” and it’s already kinda disturbing me.

Anyway…something had to give.  There are only so many hours in the day.  That something was whisky reviews.  I’ll try to do better for you all going forward.  Bear with me.

More to come.

Thanks a million for all of your support.  Sincerely.

 

C

 Posted by at 11:08 pm
Oct 232018
 

“The King is dead, long live the King!” A very famous saying, most likely Irish in its origin, and in this case it applies nicely to the coronation of Calgary’s newest Whisky Club.  With that being said “The Dram Initiative is dead, long live the sinDicate!”.

The sinDicate Single Malt Society, Calgary’s* newest incarnation whisky club, was given life in an incubator known as The Green Bean Restaurant & Bar on the 19th Day of September in the Year of the Dog.  In the early evening hours of this hallowed Wednesday, a Tragically Hip Cult of 36 sinners, with a collective drinking weight of over 7,000 pounds, met on this inaugural night of nights, to witness Original Sin with a Titanic Talisker Tasting (let that sink in). The lineup was designed to make even the most squirrelly-headed Westcoast whisky drinker rethink NAS whisky, and bring our newly-founded membership to full Sin.

*Calgary, rated number one city in the world for whisky & enjoyment of life … Edmonton & Victoria not so much.

The orator on this night was none other than the Club President & Crystal Glass Immaculation Specialist, Curt Robinson, AKA Manitoba Sauron.  Curt regaled us with stories of the distillery’s past, which included a history of triple distilling and how it came to pass that yet another incredible distillery is owned by the Plastic Barrel Wrapping, Johnny Wanker Gang.  Curt talked about the direction of the new sinDicate club; a club where members want to gather regularly, not just cherry pick events to attend from a series of tastings; quality of whisky is foremost with six to eight bottles per tasting. Capping membership at 50, ( 44 members to date ) with a waiting list thereafter, guests can attend once but by invitation only.  70% attendance is expected, but the club is flexible in all things whisky.

Under the watchful and all seeing eye of the Manitoba Sauron, the club tasted the following eight expressions of Talisker, intertwined with the history of the Distillery and club business:

1. 10 Year Old 45.8%

It’s been said that he who is without Sin drink the first glass, so as usual this task fell to Maltmonster or Gandalf the Green as I have been shackled with lately, all because at a tasting of Bunnahabhain I said, “Send these foul beasts into the abyss”.  So with great PRIDE & a hearty toast, the evening, the club and a new sinful path began with a sea spray crash of new sinDicate branded Glencairn glasses.

Great intro to Talisker.  Smoked oysters with peppercorns in a lemon & lime brine sauce.  Diageo considers the ten year old to be a classic malt of Scotland, representing the Island style.

2. Distillers Edition 1992 – 2005 45.8%

Both Amoroso and its better-known cousin, Oloroso, are the ENVY of finished whisky. This Amoroso finished Distillers Edition doesn’t disappoint. It is like the sea monster Moby Dick, hooking up with a sexy pole dancer named Chocolate Delight, in a briny creamy raspberry tsunami of sensual debauchery … or not.

Not always a fan of the Distillers Edition, but this one hits the mark of enjoyment and still keeps it within the Talisker’ s uprights.

3. Storm 45.8%

It’s the great and wise blending wizards of Diageoz’ way of saying NAS and proud.  Storm … no … more like the wind from a weekend chili cook off on a cloudy SLOTH-filled day.

More younger whisky than older in this mix.  I believe there is a better use for older whisky than to drown it out in a storm of youth.

4. Port Ruighe 45.8%

Again, another GREED-driven NAS product, but at least this whisky takes on some interesting notes with its Ruby Port finish & cherry liqueur intensity, whilst retaining some farmy unpleasant low tide notes.

Port Ruighe is the Gaelic translation for Portree, the largest town on Skye.

5. 57 North 57%

ANGER in liquid form. Out for a hike in Grizzly Bear country, left your pepper spray at home, this might actually work better, but not for use against Cougars as they may be attracted to cheap whisky.  This NAS whisky seems like a really hot version of the ten year old, without some of the fruity notes.

57° North northerly line of latitude at which the distillery is situated on the Isle of Skye.

6. 18 Year Old 45.8%

This is the stuff of Legend.  The perfect bottling age for this whisky, just like the Lagavulin 16, Loch Dhu 10 or Bowmore 1964, the Talisker at 18 years is truly at its best.  I have loved this expression from the time I was a young wizard traveling middle earth.  The fruits, pepper, liquorice, smoke, orange and tidal flotsam are in balance and taste sublime.

Why Diageo punished Canada by removing sales of the Talisker 18 one can only hazard to guess, but here are my top five reasons with a little SARCASM:

i)             Because Canadians have no inclination for NAS stories or Trump facts.  It’s not that we aren’t gullible, it’s that we prefer stories with Dragons, Hockey or Leprechauns.  Please, no more Vikings riding Unicorns or spend it like Beckham, rich grain sucking sports stars.

ii)            Because Canadians are constantly calling the Bosses at Diageoz, Wankers.

iii)           Because Canadians didn’t buy into the whole Rare/Old Mortlach thing.

iv)           Because Canadians didn’t support Diageo during the Cardhu Pure Malt controversy.

v)            Because Canadians supported the Glenora Distillery in Nova Scotia keeping its name.

7.  25 Year Old 2012 Edition 45.8% 5,772 Bottles

I have been fortunate to have been part of a GLUTTONY of tasters who have tasted a few of these 25 year olds and can say with complete certainty that these maritime titans all have their own distinctive DNA. This 2012 version is at the crossroads of age. It still retains the pepper smoke, lemon and maritime favors, but in lessor amounts while letting the sweet fruit notes say more.

8. 30 Year Old 2009 Edition 53.1% 3,000 Bottles

This is a lovely old refined whisky, with LUSTy sweet fruit notes, banana, vanilla and citrus.  The smoke, pepper & seafood surprise are still there, just way less.

To drink and appreciate a Talisker 30 is a rare privilege, but to drink it with a group of like-minded whisky nerds is beyond words.

Cheers to the Beaners of The Green Bean Restaurant & Bar.  This is a welcoming establishment where you can take a break from your worries, get away, where everybody knows your name (whisky geek) and they’re always glad you came.  You get a real sense that the Beaners are always there to help in any way they can and by help I mean pour a cold beer & provide counter space to rest it on (although they have to work on their shamrock Guinness top).  I know it’s a lot of work to set up, and serve the food, so thank you Beaners of the Green Bean, for all that you do.

Big thanks to our President.  You really do complete us!  Sorry about pissing you off with the last club, but to be fair you said you were moving to some cold wind wept Island in the middle of the F#@king Atlantic during your tumultuous Chronicles of Hernia, Generation X, pre-forty, grass is greener near Ireland phase.  Shout out to the Privy Council Committee Members listed for helping to enable the rank and file at these events, Privy Council Committee Member, Antonio (Tone) Dourado, AKA Radagast the Cool, Privy Council Committee Member, David (Dave) Stephen, AKA Coach Gimli, and Privy Council Committee Member, Maltmonster, AKA,Gandalf the Green.

Éirinn go Brách,

 – Maltmonster

 Posted by at 10:48 am
Aug 232018
 

Elements of Islay Lp8

53.5% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

I know there’s a fair bit of interest in these Elements of Islay releases, so let’s dig in to a rather juicy little specimen from Laphroaig.

If you’re feeling a little out of the loop as to what these austerely packaged little oddballs actually are let’s see if we can’t first catch you up a bit before we discuss the dram at hand.

Elements of Islay is the brainchild of Sukhinder Singh, he of The Whisky Exchange fame.  The man behind Elixir Distillers.  The evil genius who tempts us with the Port Askaig expressions.  Yeah…that guy.  Elements are small batch releases from the distilleries of the land of peat and smoke.  Each distillery is given a two digit alpha code appended with a numeric.  The alphas hint at the distillery (i.e. Lp = Laphroaig) while the numerics reveal the batch number.  As you can see, then, this would be the eighth release of Laphroaig.  Easy as pie, right?

Up until recently the only place I had been able to sample these malts was on forays across to the motherland.  Thankfully the good folks at Pacific Wine & Spirits have been bringing ’em into Alberta for the past few months.  We’ve seen some super cool Octomore, Bunnahabhain, Bowmore and a couple versions of the much-lauded ‘Peat’ land on our shores.  Cool stuff, and I am definitely a big fan of this range.  It does seem odd, however, that one of the whisky world’s greatest and most experienced personalities would opt for NAS releases.  I assume it has to do with these vattings being a mix of largely mature stocks, for a decent degree of complexity, and a younger barrel or two thrown in for vibrancy and heftier smoke profile.  That’s just speculation, though.  Otherwise, the only rationale I could come up with would be that the age statements associated simply don’t support the price point.  I hate to think that’s reason.  But at $280 for a 500 mL bottle?  Who knows?

Discounting that sad little truth, however…great dram, this.  Gooey, chewy and utterly delicious.  Jammy Laphroaig in this style is a treat.

Nose: Hmmm.  Smells like sherried Laphroaig.  Vinegary BBQ note.  Charred rib ends.  Sweet, tangy berry coulis.  Mint jelly smashed headlong into raspberry jam and smeared on slightly burnt toast.  Cherry cordials.  Nice and lively.  And uber smoky.  No sulphur to be found!

Palate: Sharp and punchy.  Love it!  Sweet, gooey and mouthwatering.  Berry jams again, on almost-burnt toast.  And again, saucy meaty tones.  Almost Ardbeggian.  Like smushing a red, black and green ju-jube in your mouth at the same time.

Thoughts: Right in my wheelhouse.  Great style.  Not a great price, unfortunately.  Nearly $300 for a 50cl bottle.  Ouch.  If you have some restraint (in terms of speed of consumption) and deep enough pockets…a really good score, however.

 

– Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:08 am
Aug 212018
 

Aberlour a’bunadh Batch 54

60.7% abv

Score:  87/100

 

As much as a’bunadh has changed over the years (and not necessarily for the better), I can’t find it in myself to walk away from it.  The whisky is still bold and singular.  It’s still ticking all the boxes of proper whisky presentation (excepting our beloved age statement).  And it’s still priced fairly.

Wait…nope.  Forget that last.  Canucks have been complaining about being taken to the cleaners for a bottle of this stuff for a couple of years now (an increase from $70 to $130?! C’mon!), but it seems we’re about to have some compatriots in our struggles.  This feisty young NAS malt has jumped from the sub £50 mark to £80 in the overseas markets as well now! What.The.Actual.Fuck.

Not only are we subjected to a sherry “seasoned” casks nowadays in lieu of proper sherry butts, but we’re expected to pay almost double for this inferior degree of barrel influence?  The industry has long told us about how expensive butts are (about ten times the price of bourbon barrels is the going narrative) as a justification for the price of sherried malts.  So, what’s the rationale now, big biz?  Hmmmm.

Anyway.  Decent malt, this, if now more on the savoury side of the sherry spectrum than the jammy, fruit-driven side.  I’ll drink it, but I won’t buy it anymore.

N:  This malt seems to get more spicy and savoury, and less fruity every time I try it.  Huge notes of mince pie and rum-sodden Christmas cake replete with marzipan topping.  A little bit of cask char.  Some in-the-shell peanuts.  Just a hint of stewed tomato.  Some dry grain.

P:  Oh yes.  Great arrival.  Deep spice and very jammy here (in spite of the lack of similar characteristics on the nose).  Viscous and almost syrup-thick.  Mixed berry filling in chocolate cake.  Orange jam.  Almost hints of rye spice.  A lingering flavour of balloons (odd, I know).  Heavy sherry all the way through.  Quite decent, if not the best batch.

T: Better palate than nose.

 

Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:25 am
Aug 202018
 

Bunnahabhain 18 y.o. (2017)

46.3% abv

Score:  79/100

 

Why?  Just why?  Who is vatting this stuff?  It pains me to write this, but it’s pretty simple really: It’s easier to omit than to subtract later or to try to overlook.  I would think that should be fairly readily understood.  To be completely transparent: Bunna 18 is typically my favorite 18 on the market, but I can’t recall the last time I tried it without finding huge dollops of sulphur.  It’s unbelievably frustrating to find such deep honeyed, nougaty fruit notes and have them chained to mediocrity (at best) by brimstone.  Please, please, please…leave those flawed and detested butts out of the vatting.  And if you’re sulphur-blind…well, maybe don’t be involved in the selection process for casks.

I probably sound like the Fedora-sporting sulphur police here, but I stick by what I’ve said in the past: if a malt is sulphured, it is flawed.  Sulphur via barrel management is probably the most egregious.  Don’t fill young spirit into bad barrels.  But there is also the issue of not letting your stills do the dirty work they were meant to do.  There is a reason they are made out of copper after all.  Run your stills slow enough to let the metal do its work in stripping out all of those off notes.

Okay.  To be fair, there’s not bucketloads of it here, but there is certainly enough to warrant discussion.  And…for me to debate the standing I hold this expression in going forward.

N: Big and almost cartoony at first nosing.  Sulphur by way of struck match(sigh).  Almost as if someone lit up at a windswept, seaside distance.  Nougat and honey.  Great dried fruits and whisky-soaked nuts.  Dunnage and polish.  Just a slight wine tang.  If you can get past the sulphur…nice nose.

P:  There’s a sharpness of burnt match again here.  And the sherry tastes young and sharp.  Kinda fights the age statement in a way.  Seems anachronistic.  Chewy toffee, dried fruits and scones.  Then some maple and clean oak notes.  Fruit tea and herbal notes.

T: With time the sulphur fades.  Thank God.  Still not up where it should be, but head and shoulders above the previous batch.  Though it pains me to score this one so low.

 

  – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:59 pm
Jul 262018
 

Kilchoman Kensington Wine Market 25th Anniversary Cask #255/2007

56.6% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Not quite the li’l Lolita that Ardnamurchan, Abhain Dhearg or Wolfburn is, Kilchoman is now truly coming into its prime.  Creeping up to the point where it’s just a few years shy of being  able to legally drink itself now, the malt is becoming more and more of a Islay mainstay.  Five more years and we’ll be able to say there is 18 year old Kilchoman in the world.  And that…I am dying to try.

Alright.  In keeping with the spirit of inhumane deregulation that is running rampant in the US right now, let’s just shoot the elephant in the room: I DO work for Kensington Wine Market.  Full disclosure.  Nothing to hide here.  I have biases and I like to think I’m pretty forthright with you guys and gals about ’em.  And if my opinion was the only one you were privy to, I’d expect nothing but skepticism.  I’m okay with that.  I’ve taken my lumps when need be.  However…I am going to ask here and now that others who have tasted this one weigh in in the comments section below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

As to this particular expression: a decade old malt from the li’l farm distillery that could.  Ten years.  Know what happens at ten years?  The peat tends to shed some of its volatility and the softer nuances begin to sashay forth.  This is when peat becomes magic in my humble opinion.  Less of a one-trick-pony and more of a fireworks show that speaks to accents and deeper complexity.  Each year added on becomes a tale of additions and subtractions: addition of nuance and subtle notes coaxed from the barrel and subtraction of intensity and one-dimensionality (not to mention those acetone notes that confirm youth).  The true test of this math, though, is whether you reach a zero sum, wherein the pluses and minuses reach equilibrium.

And here…we have it.

You can read the tasting notes below, but what you really need to know is that this is probably the single best Kilchoman I’ve ever tasted.  At the time of writing I have tried 48 different expressions from this wee Islay upstart.

Only 212 bottles, and only at Kensington Wine Market.

One final note:  This is probably the best Kilchoman I’ve tried.  The second best might just be the cask sample for the upcoming KWM exclusive 100% Islay Barley.  More to come on that one.

Nose:  Loads of smoke, as we’d expect.  Incredibly sweet peat.  Lime and licorice.  Saddle soap and warm leather.  Oyster liquor.  Seared scallops with a touch of soy sauce.  A smear of orange marmalade and a nice line of cocoa that runs through the whole.  For how huge and bombastic this is, it’s also incredibly creamy and approachable.  Superb, vibrant nose.

Palate:  Creamy butterscotch or caramel, then…wham!  Smoke and earth.  A touch of Thrills gum and some horehound candy.  A bit of lemon curd.  Nice tangy fruits.  Fresh orange.  Perhaps some stone fruit.  Strong oaky backbone and some oily vanilla.  Slightly leafy and minerally at the back end.

Thoughts:  Sometimes you don’t need a lot of words.  I’ll give you one, though: winner.

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 

 Posted by at 4:17 pm
Jun 132018
 

Hey, all.

Those sounds that have been keeping you up at night?  Yeah…probably me.  Sniffles, coughing, throat clearing.  My bad.  I’ve battled one cold after another for weeks now.  I imagine it has something to do with the fact that my wife works in a virtual petri dish of kid germs and somehow manages to smuggle home enough to share with me.  Lovely lass, ain’t she?

Anyway…lest ye think I’ve turned tail and run for the hills, I do have a couple of partially written reviews coming in the next wee while (as soon as I feel my senses are back where they need to be).  Look for some Elements of Islay (as requested), some more Cadenhead releases (again…just cause you asked) and a few peated gems to share the word on.

In other news, I’ve been shopping around my second novel and am 30k words deep into my third.  Blogging’s fun and all, but fiction is where my heart is.

But let’s not wait for reviews to trigger dialogue here.  I’m curious as to which distilleries – in this age of delusion and nearly unfathomable prices – you feel are still worth the investment of loyalty and income.  Share your thoughts.  Don’t be shy.

 Posted by at 9:30 am
May 032018
 

Cadenhead Invergordon 43 y.o.

48.3% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Grains were starting to worry me there for a bit.  I can’t say the fear has been entirely alleviated, but I’m starting to relax my guard a bit.  I was beginning to think that grain whisky was the new NAS.  You know…a cheap, mass-produced product that required little investment on the part of the big brands and would help ease pressure on maturing malt stocks.  Haig Club was a prime example of how bad it could get if we allowed the narrative to continue unchecked.

Fortunately, most of the grain whisky we’re seeing (almost entirely via the indie bottlers) is being showcased with a substantial amount of age behind it.  Usually at least two or three decades.  It’s this sweet spot (actually, I’d argue that maybe it’s more like the fourth or fifth decades) in which grain whisky really shines.  Kinda like the awkward and gawky little sister who finally emerges – chrysalis-like – from her teen years to be the princess her parents always knew she was.

Yet even with age statements that supercede my years (not by much anymore, sadly), I find grains largely miss the mark for me.  There is a lack of complexity that brings them more in line with mature Canadian whisky than any other category.  It serves to showcase just how important the malting process is to Scotch whisky.  Those myriad layers of flavour and aroma simply don’t develop the same when the distillers are using maize, wheat, rye or unmalted barley as their mashbill.  Not to say those can’t all be great in their own right, but examples of spectacular expressions are much more few and far between than in the single malt sphere.

This Invergordon from 1972 is a bit of a gem.  Not a pristine diamond, but a precious stone nevertheless.  There is a sparkling purity here that is easy to fall for.  And even more easy to become enamoured with?  The price.  $400, give or take.  For a four decade old dram, that is a steal.

Nose:  Soft-smoked caramel notes.  Toasted oak.  Crème Brulee.  Steamed milk.  Nougat.  Pine and eucalyptus.  Brioche.  Old notebooks.  Furniture polish.  Soft chocolate.

Palate:  A surprisingly vibrant palate.  Super-creamy and easygoing.  Fresh woods.  Raw almond notes all over this one.  Faint marmalade.  Hot cross buns.  Toasted marshmallow.  More on those warm toasty caramel aromas.  But ultimately…a little too woody.  That kinda negates what would have been a lovely finish.

Thoughts:  I like it.  A lot.  But it’s short term relationship kinda stuff.  Not a full blown love affair.

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:47 am