ATW

Oct 152019
 

Another beauty from the Lowlands. And another drop of liquid history in the glass. St. Magdalene (or Linlithgow as it has occasionally been known as) was a distillery founded on the site of a former leper colony. I may have mentioned that before. This is one of those lost distilleries that hasn’t quite caught the fancy of collectors to the same degree as a few others (whose names we’ve mentioned enough for now), but whose output unquestionably rivals some of those great legendary releases in terms of intrinsic quality. So the question, as always, is a frustrated ‘why?’ There are always answers, but none that are apt to satisfy the malt historian or closed distillery aficionado. Such is the nature of the game in an industry rife with peaks and troughs.

This uber scarce Mackillop’s Choice St. Maggie is a gem of a malt, though, so let’s simply enjoy the opportunity at hand, and not wax too nostalgic.

62.6% abv. Distilled in 1982 and bottled in 2001, so…a 19 year old. From cask #1336. And sadly, long gone.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Beauty. Soft creamy, fruit notes. Well worn and oiled leather. Honey on crackers. Soft threads of smoke and melted wax. Good pastry. Stewed tropical fruits as it develops. Peach cobbler. Moist tobacco.

Palate: Velvety arrival. High quality melted chocolate. Beautifully smoky. The fruit flavours are everywhere here: threaded throughout, drizzled on top and deeply resonant at the back end. Slightly wine-y (but in a pleasant way). Apple, with some ‘almost tropical’ flavours. Toasty clean oak.

Finish: Apple skins. Pear skins. Peach pits. Clean cereals and firm oak. Loooooooooong, oh so long.

Thoughts: All I can say is…please may I have more?

91/100

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Oct 142019
 

Jackie Thomson is unquestionably one of my favorite people in the whisky world. Actually, qualifying that statement with the word ‘whisky’ is entirely unnecessary. Jackie is simply one of my favorite people. Period. When I reached out to her some months back about my latest trip to Islay, she immediately said she’d find a way to take care of us. As you can imagine (or have read here on ATW in past jottings), I have been to Ardbeg many times. Yet somehow Jackie and the team at the distillery always manage to make it a special and singular experience. No two visits have ever been quite alike. Each one has become sort of unforgettable in its own right. This 2019 excursion was no different.

We arrived at the distillery, dropped our bags at Seaview Cottages where we’d be staying for the next three nights, and wandered over to the Old Kiln Café to check in. We were immediately and warmly greeted by Jackie, who then, in turn, introduced us to our guide for the day, Ron. If you’ve not met this gent, you’re missing out. He’s a great addition to the Ardbeg family. A passionate ambassador with a deep well of knowledge. He’s also a very comfortable person to hang out with. Ron led us out behind the distillery to where the pier stretches its time- and water-worn finger out into the cold depths of the Atlantic. There we chatted and enjoyed a dram of the just-launched (that very morning!) Supernova 2019. When the glasses were empty, we went inside for a fantastic ‘pull back the curtains’ kind of tour. I’ll save the details of that experience for a proper trip post in the near future. That’s not why we’re here, after all. So, after wrapping up the distillery tour, we were taken to a special little room where Ron told us what we’d be tasting that day. And oh, man…what a treat the boys were in for.

Jackie had set aside some legacy bottles of The Peaty Path to Maturity line: Very Young, Still Young, Almost There and Renaissance. All sealed; all just begging to be opened. And indeed, that was the goal. Ron said Jackie thought it would be neat if we could take these brilliant old sealed bottles and pop the corks, together, for the first time. Ummm…ok. If you insist.

I have, of course, tried all of these malts a few times before. I’ve even published reviews here on ATW. But I’ve never worked through the entire range in one sitting. It adds context and perspective. It also serves to distinctly highlight the Glenmorangie PLC era of Ardbeg. To say this was brilliant would be an understatement. And at the very end of it all, Ron pulled out a beautiful 14 year old second fill bourbon barrel cask sample. I didn’t take notes on that one – what can I say? The moment kind of stole me away – but I do have a wee sample tucked aside. Maybe I’ll share some thoughts later. Perhaps I’ll even amend this post.

All of these Peaty Path releases were pulled from a fantastic 1998 spirit run. I believe it was parceled into quarters for this series.

I saw Jackie the morning we left Ardbeg. We had a great chat in the early morning lull, before the machinery cranked up and the tourists converged. She made me a wonderful Uigeadail hot toddy to ease my congestion (yes…I caught the inevitable Scottish cold) and we sat and chatted for half an hour or so. This wee visit was one of my trip highlights this time. It was just a beautiful quiet moment with someone I appreciate immensely. And before I left that morning, I caught a peek of the diary entry that marked our visit to Ardbeg. It simply read: “Curt & pals (something different)”. This was certainly that. Incredibly grateful to the good people at Ardbeg once again.

So, how about some tasting notes then?

All notes; no scores.

Very Young

Nose: Prickly and young, beautifully so. Smoke and a deep, clean earthiness. Kiwis. Key lime pie. White pepper and ginger. Lemons and lemon curd. Salted dough. Fennel. Deep minerally notes.

Palate: Sharp arrival, that feels like tongue acupuncture. Smoky as all get out. Uber clean malt. Green gage. Black wine gums. Licorice. Charred lime. More kiwis. Mint Leaves candies. Chlorophyll.

Finish: Herbal notes. Quite grassy. Popsicle sticks.

Thoughts: Brilliant young stuff. Recognizing the level of quality in this parcel of casks must have been the catalyst for this series, ’cause, man…this is really nice whisky. Much more than just ‘potential’.

 

Still Young

Nose: Definitely still young, indeed. Lime and charred wood. Much more savoury than Very Young. BBQ sauce notes, even. Ammonia. Candy apples. A lot of smoke and peat. Solid spice profile. Cumin. Lychee.

Palate: Massive arrival, but less so than Very Young. Sweet and spicy. Cracked black pepper. Grilled bell peppers. Clean woody tones. Plasticine. Grape skins and apple peelings. Smoked oyster. Big, big smoke.

Finish: Seafood. Green under ripe fruits. Quite drying.

Thoughts: A step further, but I think about in par in terms of quality. In other words, love this one too.

 

Almost There

Nose: Oh, wow. A very creamy nose. Orange creamsicle. Big smoke again. Spices are nicely checked. Still notes of ammonia. Lindt chili chocolate. More balance here than its predecessors. Grilled pineapple. Clotted cream.

Palate: Sweet arrival. Mouthwatering, actually. Tangy citrus and chili peppers. Grilled whitefish. Good mix of spices. Smoked tangerines (could there be such a thing?). Eucalyptus. Lapsang souchong tea. Tar. Moist vanilla. Black licorice.

Finish: Long, long, long. Firm oak. Vanilla extract. Citrus extract. A licorice note that hangs around too.

Thoughts: Here we go. Much more complexity and integration. Some of our crew said this was the best of the bunch. Best of first three, yes. Best of the series…errrr…maybe not.

 

Renaissance

Nose: And even more fruits! Orange and lime. Fruit salad. Great smokiness. Vanilla. Kippers. Iodine. Vicks Vapo Rub. Hot cross buns. Matcha. And mochi. Fantastic nose.

Palate: Man, what an arrival! Sooooo juicy. Licorice and smoke. Rubber and tar. Impressively fruity. Nice mid-palate spices, dominated by ginger. Plaster. Some bread notes. And sorta hospital-y.

Finish: Long and smoky. Salt licorice. Granny Smith apples.

Thoughts: Yep. Undoubtedly my favorite of them all. The apex of the range. And rightfully so. Here’s where it all comes together. Why a whisky like this isn’t a regular addition to the Ardbeg range, I don’t know. Beautiful clean spirit, well chosen wood, and a perfect age that balances high phenols and rising fruit tides. Love it.

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Oct 132019
 

Back about four and a half days now. And I can’t lie, I have never experienced such jet lag. I simply can’t seem to get back in the swing of things. Granted, I only took a single day of recovery before heading back to work, but still. I think I’m starting to wear my years with a little less grace than I once did. I ask no sympathy, though. How do you feel bad for someone who just spent the better part of two weeks drinking with his mates in some of the greatest warehouses in Scotland?

I have a quick malt malt feature tasting note coming later today, then we’ll start digging into trip updates, reviews and some editorializing. Bear with me. Much to come. In the meantime…it’s good to be back.

And yes…I am already planning 2020 trips.

 Posted by at 11:52 am
Sep 272019
 

Sorry, friends. Simply ran out of time for more reviews and updates. I’m heading for the airport in an hour. Follow along (with my very sporadic updates, I’m sure) on Instagram, Twitter or FB, if you’re so inclined.

Best to you all. Catch you later.

C

 Posted by at 8:46 am
Sep 242019
 

Another of the great lost distilleries. Dallas Dhu was one of the fallen soldiers in the rash of 1983 closures that permanently shuttered some of the most iconic producers in Scotland. Now…whether or not all of said distilleries would have been held in the same esteem they are now if they’d not had their lives shortened is a matter of some debate, but hey…a lot of…err…less than premier distilleries have survived the ages and are still kicking out juice, so who knows?

But let’s not confuse Dallas Dhu with some of the greats (port Ellen, Brora, St. Mags, Rosebank, etc). It’s stocks have never really been held in the same esteem by most connoisseurs. I have a personal bias in favor of this distillery, but I know others who are rather indifferent. I hate to say I’m right and they’re wrong, but…y’know…I’m right and they’re wrong.

The Rare Malts series contains some absolutely legendary bottlings, as many of you are probably aware. The absolutely stunning twenty-somethings Broras and Port Ellens are lights out malts. This DD isn’t quite of the same caliber, but make no mistake…it’s a gem.

60.54% abv. Distilled in 1970; bottled in 1994.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: An absolute fruit bomb. Candy and chewing gum. Grilled pineapple. Under ripe kiwi. Warm caramel. Meringues. Warm fudge-y notes. Crème brulee. Soft chocolate poured over peppered fruits. God…so much fruit here.

Palate: Again on those crème brulee notes. Grilled fruit (caramelized syrupy flavours). Sea salted caramel chocolates. Nice toasty malt and toasted oak tones. Less deeply fruity now than the nose lets on. Chocolate covered candied ginger.

Finish: Long and warm, with sot fruits and beautiful fade.

Thoughts: Yet another spectacular example out of the Rare Malts range.

92/100

 

 Posted by at 3:09 pm
Sep 232019
 

Hey, friends.

Four days now ’til our wee collective of malt mates heads across the big drink to visit the motherland. I’m miles behind on my organizing, but that’s life, right? And who am I to complain? It’s well-nigh impossible to solicit sympathy when your gripe is a lack of prep time for an excursion to go drinking with your mates for a week and a half or so. It’s a paid gig (i.e. it is actually work for me), but there’s no two ways about it: it’s also a lot of fun.

I may have one or two little trip posts for you before we set off, but that will depend if there’s anything worth reporting. I will also try to get another review or two up before go time, but I can’t promise that will happen. And after that, of course, I won’t be back tapping at the keys until at least the 9th or 10th of October. Hopefully there will be some stories to share. The ones that are safe to share, that is. Sometimes you have to err on the side of discretion.

You can follow along on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter though, if you like. I’m not a diligent social media player, but I’ll probably drop a few cool pics and experiences on those platforms along the way.

In the meantime, hope you’re all doing well. And any of who may be in the neighborhood while we’re over are welcome to join us for a dram along the journey. Slainte!

 Posted by at 7:45 am
Sep 222019
 

Can’t lie. I’m pleased as punch with this one. For personal, biased reasons and just for the way it sits on my palate.

Now, before we go further…I did warn you, remember? I did say that I’d be reviewing some store casks from time to time. And by that I mean the barrels we (as a small committee) select for Kensington Wine Market to purchase as store exclusives. I remember the range of Glen Scotia cask samples we received being quite good, and I remember this particular cask being a stand-out amongst them, but when the actual bottles arrived they were so much better than I remembered. In fact, I have to say that this is one of the store casks I’m most tickled to have played a part in selecting. I should also add that this is probably the most interesting Glen Scotia I’ve ever tasted.

But ultimately, does my bias really matter? It’s not like I made the stuff. All credit goes to the folks at Glen Scotia. We were just lucky enough to score a fantastic selection of cask samples. And this particular expression is almost the epitome of Campbeltown single malt whisky. A great cask at a great age.

53.6% abv. 227 bottles from an ex-sherry hoggy.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A dirty dram; one where most of the fruits are buried. Leathery, with notes of spent engine oil. Smoky and salty. Coastal, without hitting too deep on brine or decaying kelp notes. Mince tarts with slightly burnt pastry. Darkly smoky. Graham cracker crust under blueberry cheesecake. Pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. A wee bit ashy and sooty. Notes of Sen-sens.

Palate: Oil again. What I’d imagine linseed oil would taste like. Sunflower seeds. Dark purple grapes. Much jammier and fruitier here than on the nose. Caramelized ham skin. Reminds of Bowmore Laimrig in ways. Almost seems like this could have been chocolate malt (read: heavily toasted malted barley). Black currant cough sweets. Sweet and syrupy before it plummets into ashy dryness.

Finish: Uber long and oily. Mid-firm tannins.

Thoughts: In some ways, this makes me think of a filthy armagnac. A none-too-fruity dram that defies a lot of description. One to be tasted in order to properly be appreciated. Great stuff.

91.5/100

 Posted by at 11:22 am
Sep 182019
 

Earlier this year Ardbeg Drum shook my faith in the Great Big Green. It was…less than stellar in this cat’s humble opinion. Bad? No. Of course not. Good? Meh. Not even quite. But Drum is now in the rearview mirror. We’re now on the eve of the proper arrival of Traigh Bhan here in Canadian waters. Traigh Bhan – named for a local beach, and translated as ‘the Singing Sands’ – is what we’ve been waiting for: proper age-stated Ardbeg. And not just age-stated, but what an age! Traigh Bhan is a meant to be a permanent addition to the core range, albeit in batch releases that will vary year upon year. The price? Well…let’s leave that aside for a few moments and just revel in the fact that this iconic much-loved distillery has finally reached a point – post-renaissance – that they are able to release a regular release at a brilliant state of maturity. Apex Ardbeg. Not much more to say really.

Consider me on record here and now saying that this is spectacular. And I can’t lie…it’s nice to be able to ‘fanboy’ it up a bit again for my beloved Ardbeg.

46.2% abv. An utterly perfect drinking strength. Matured in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Oh. Oh, boy. We’re tiptoeing up to the line where we cross over into tropical territory. Especially with those grilled pineapple notes. Lime. Orange. A faint hint of cherry. Black wine gums. Lemon pound cake. Kumquat. The smoke is quite subdued, and there’s little in the way of real earthy peat. Vanilla cupcakes. Caramel sauce on pineapple (again with the pineapple!). The five flavor Lifesaver packages. Eucalyptus. Toasted marshmallow. Ginger. Complex and perfectly integrated.

Palate: Quite soft for an Ardbeg (mind you…we are at nearly two decades here). Mid level smoke profile. Licorice. Oily vanilla seed. Mocha. Orange and citrus. And here we go: there’s the pineapple again. Greengage. Smoked sausage. Ginger and white pepper. Clean wood. Nice harmony between nose and palate.

Finish: Long and perfect. Lime zest. Vanilla ice cream popsicles. Faint green fruit skins at the end (green apples and green grapes).

Thoughts: Ardbeg back at the top of their game. I adore this release. Can’t wait to drink more of it. Much more.

92.5/100

And yes…I will update the photo when I get my hands on a bottle proper.

 Posted by at 6:39 pm
Sep 142019
 

A new big and bold Kilchoman. But that could be any Kilchoman, really. What sets Loch Gorm apart from the rest of the range is the sheer heft of sweet, sticky sherry that permeates every crack and crevice of the malt, underscoring the malleability of the base distillate. It works beautifully here, speaking to the sky-high quality of both the spirit and the barrel it went into.

I truly believe it’s hard to mess up a spirit this good. You’d have to actively try, in fact. Such is the lightning in a bottle singularity which Anthony Wills and team (with the guidance of the late Jim Swan) have been able to capture at Islay’s landlocked farm distillery. There are occasional missteps in cask choice (the wine casks, guys, the wine casks. <shudder>), but I suppose we should chalk that up to a matter of personal preference, since I know many folks who adore that style. Fear not, wineheads, you’ll have no competition from me for those releases. They’re all yours. But sweet sherry like this? Yes, please.

46% abv (and really no need to be higher. This is the perfect drinking strength). 15,000 bottles. The neck tag says this was a vatting of twenty Oloroso sherry butts from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately reminds of Bowmore Laimrig. Stylistically, at least, if not the same sort of nuance and ppm equality. Mixed berry fruit leather. A mix of orange, lemon and lime juice. Ammonia. Smoke and charred wood. Burnt lemon. Savoury, barbecue sauce. Grilled shellfish.

Palate: Smoke and loads of it. Big. mouthwatering arrival. Grape jam. Cola syrup. Licorice babies. Apple peelings with a fresh squeeze of orange. A bit of a minty-ness going on. Caramelized ginger. Cherry cordials. Like what I imagine smoldering cedar might taste like. Big sherry, but not top-heavy. Lindt dark chili chocolate.

Finish: Long and exactly as you’d expect: ebbing notes of oak and drying sherry. Leaves a bit of a dry-mouthedness. Last flavours are green apple skins and charred white fish. Beautiful finish.

Thoughts: Very coastal. Rich and decadent. Dirty and oily. Love it. A great variant in the range. But I must confess…I love Machir Bay a little bit more.

88/100

 Posted by at 4:18 pm
Sep 092019
 

Sherry fiends…here you go. This one should be right up your alley. This is what old sherried whisky should be: thick, rich, gooey, complex and multi-faceted. There was a time when this sort of flavor was what I expected from sherry-matured malts. Unfortunately, those days seem to be largely behind us.

Most of what’s hitting the tastebuds nowadays is an anemic facsimile of this beloved old style. The words ‘sherry-seasoned’ have begun to ring as a death-knell for a lot of malts in the eyes of most of my whisky mates. They simply look the other way for decent drams when they see these syllables strung together. There are, of course, great drams out there that fall under this appellation, but the real problem is that they’re being sold at the same sort of price point that old school proper sherry bombs used to sell at. Y’know…the ones matured in gorgeous, ancient bodega butts. The savvy among you will likely immediately see the issue here. The industry always told us that the higher prices levied against sherried whiskies (compared to their bourbon casked cousins) was justified by the price of sherry butts (ten times the price, they’d say!*). So why is that the case now then, when most of what we are seeing are just seasoned hogsheads? Hmmmm.

Anyway…

Glengoyne. The older the expression, the more proper sherry influence. The younger expressions are a mix of bourbon and sherry. Those beyond the 18 are exclusively sherry. The 21…s’ok. The 25, though? Wow. On a rainy day like today I can 100% say that I could happily sip this all evening while the storm rages on outside my window. Beautiful stuff.

And love, love, love the 48% bottling strength.

*A rubbish idea. The cask itself may work out to about ten times the purchase price, but it also holds two and a half times what a bourbon barrel does, so it’s far from a ten to one kinda comparison.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Bucketloads of sherry (for those from eastern Canada: that would a be a ‘shit ton’ in your dialect). Sultanas and figs. Cuban Lunch bars slammed headlong into Eat-More bars. Mincemeat tarts. Lots of nutmeg. Lots of mulling spices. Burnt berry compote. Eucalyptus. Licorice. Treacle toffee. Sticky toffee pudding. Morello cherry. Moist cigar leaf.

Palate: Good, rich, old school sherry. Dumpy and delicious. Great arrival, great structure. Old woods and a bit of furniture polish. Orange oil and rich marmalade. Jammy fruits. Dark chocolate. Spicy fruit cake. Toasted whole grain bread. Coffee liqueur. A decent nuttiness too, bringing a bit of dryness.

Finish: Long, deep and dark. Melted cocoa and some herbal notes. Late tannins. Black tea.

Thoughts: Just some good ol’ well-aged, Oloroso-soaked whisky. Brilliant expression from Glengoyne.

90/100

 Posted by at 1:57 pm