ATW

Apr 182020
 

Can you believe it’s taken a decade for me to get ’round to putting up tasting notes for Oban 14? I carried this one like an albatross for a long time, but I suppose it’s about time for this mariner to shed the dead bird and get on with things, aye?

Oban 14 was one of the earliest malts I remember really sinking my teeth into. And there’s a reason it resonates strongly with me. I moved out of my folks’ place when I was quite young. My dad took yet another work transfer and, at 17, I was stubbornly unwilling to leave my girlfriend and uproot for the umpteenth time in my life. So…I got a job and stayed behind when the fam moved on to…browner pastures. As was probably the case for many of you out there, job number one for me was in a kitchen. I was good at multitasking and good at cooking, but I was also good with people. Fortunately, management saw this and allowed me to start slinging drinks and serving tables instead. I think it was partly in recognition of an untapped resource, but also an empathetic response to them knowing how hard I was struggling to finish high school while working enough hours to cover rent. Either way…they broke the rules and let me bartend underage. This concession, of course, drastically altered my income. There were also…errr…romantic perks. (Enough, boy, enough.)

At the end of the night, when the place had emptied out and the doors were locked, management would take off into the back to finish cashing out, and we front-of-the-house folks would slam a quick pint and sample the whisky behind the bar. Oban 14 was one of the first to really jump out at me.

I’ve revisited a few times since those early days, but not nearly often enough. And now, with a glass in hand, I really do feel like I’ve sold myself short. This is a much more elegant and rounded malt than I recall. I’m digging it now more than I ever have in the past.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Somewhat delicate, but with a big personality, if that makes sense. Quite beautifully fruity, with some nice orange and grapefruit notes topping out first. Kiwi and kumquat. A faint peaty prickle and loads of saline sea breeze. A bit of pepper. Leather. Stewing fruits.

Palate: More peat now. In fact, it arrives first. Milk chocolate and cinnamon/nutmeg-esque spices. A bit of wet, smoky grist. A really cool orange-y tang on the mid-palate. Honey in green tea. Nice thin notes of smoke throughout. A bit drying, with a brilliant grapefruit candy note that teases an appearance in all-too-brief moments.

Finish: Surprisingly long. Leaves some neat fruit skin notes and very clean oak. I love that the barley still shines through.

Thoughts: A real shame about the anemic bottling strength, but I recognize this may not be targeted for the purist. Truly a pleasant revisit. I can’t lie: I’m kinda crushing on this malt right now.

87/100 (Though at 46% or higher, I think we’d be nudging closer to 90%)

025

 Posted by at 1:17 pm
Apr 162020
 

Hey, all.

Hope you’re keeping well, strong, safe, and healthy. These are interesting times, to say the least. After a couple weeks in quarantine (not just isolation), I was cleared to return to work. I spent about two weeks back at it before starting to deal with some more respiratory issues. So…back in lockdown, and awaiting the call to go for another test. Sigh. To be clear…the only real issue I am having is a pretty nasty shortness of breath that waxes and wanes a bit. Otherwise…I feel okay for now.

Staring down another couple weeks of this doc/boss-mandated isolation has obviously burdened me with a lot of free time. My sights turned to writing fiction or writing here for you. I can’t lie; I have the attention span of a gnat lately, so wee blog blurbs have a lot more appeal. However…

Readership is low these days. Not just here, where the updates are served up in fits and starts, but on other blogs as well. People nowadays, I think, are looking for soundbites and immediate gratification (social media); or they’re looking for video content which allows them to listen while doing other things. I fear for future generations and their ability to process the written word. 😉

So, the question is? Do we continue with whisky reviews and chat here? The comments have largely died; most of the usual suspects have moved on; and the per-day visits are like the foot traffic in most brick and mortar retailers these days. Is it worth continuing this little malt log?

Drop a line. Share an opinion.

Hope you’re all well.

 Posted by at 10:36 am
Mar 292020
 

Hi, friends.

For those of you kind enough to follow my darker literary pursuits, Rotten Soil, my second novel is now up on Amazon. A lot of us are in isolation/quarantine/misanthropic bliss, so a bit of escapism is pretty much mandatory. The thing is…most of us are also suffering a fair bit of economic strain too.

So, I have put the book up at $0.99. I make nothing, but at least maybe a handful of good people can fill a few hours with thoughts other than the second coming of ‘Captain Trips’. I have also dropped the price of Sadie (short story) and Darker Things down to $0.99.

If you do read any of them, and find yourself with a few minutes time afterwards, I’d freatly appreciate any reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. No pressure, though. This is not a quid pro quo thing.

Hope you’re all taking care and being safe. I’ve been debating whisky reviews here for a bit now, but it seems almost inappropriate at the moment. Feel free to a drop a line and share your thoughts.

C

 Posted by at 11:06 am
Feb 282020
 

Only the second Coleburn review on ATW. Tsk tsk. For shame. It’s almost like some strange factor is limiting access to malts from this Speyside distillery. Hmmm. Oh…right.

For the record, Coleburn was yet another casualty of that devastating extinction event that claimed so many distilleries in the early 1980s. The distillery was a bit of a Frankenstein’s lab throughout a fair chunk of its existence, used mainly for production experimentation, and largely dedicated to providing malt for the Diageo family of blends. Seems a shame in retrospect, as we begin to realize the long term ageing potential the malt had. We say that far too frequently of late, I realize. I also concede we sentimentalize a bit too often as well. Such is.

This 21 was one of the iconic Rare Malts releases that sits in high stead and coveted pride of position for many malt drinkers. And rightfully so, I’d argue. We may see more nuance and subtlety through other ranges (and bottlers), but for pure bombast, it really is hard to pip the Rare Malts.

Coleburn was founded in 1897 and shuttered in 1985. RIP.

59.4% abv. Distilled in 1979, bottles in 2000.

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: Sour and just slightly cheesy. Sour Ju-jubes and quality eau de vie. Greengage. Orange, apple and cranberry. A wee bit of smoke. White chocolate. Honey. Riesling and green grape skins.

Palate: Oh, wow. Great arrival. Enormous, actually. Malt and rubber. Grapefruit zest (and a bit of pith too). Kinda makes it a bit weedy and bitter. Adds complexity. Rubber bands. Vegetal notes. Crunchie bar. Band-Aids. Reminds a bit of old Ledaig (a ’72 Cadenhead, in particular). Kinda dirty.

Finish: Drying, with firm tannins (though not overly aggressive). Let’s call it a ‘fair’ wood presence at the back end. Somewhat grassy. Some rubber. Vaguely industrial or chemical-y. In a great way.

88.5/100

 Posted by at 11:22 am
Feb 112020
 

Everybody’s darling. And rightfully so. It’s gotten to the point where most Springbank expressions don’t even hit the shelves anymore. At least locally. Preorder lists are a mile long, the din of begging voices is nearly deafening, and the tears of those who miss out are nearly voluminous enough to swim in. And why? Well…I think it ultimately comes down to something that would make other brands shudder: A complete lack of consistency. In short, Springbank is the most wildly inconsistent distillery in Scotland. In every sense of the word. They produce what and when they want (irrespective of distillery capacity or clamoring legions of thirsty fans), and they’ve managed to turn the idea of batch variation from something akin to the proverbial albatross into their greatest strength, and even their ‘misses’ are better than most distilleries’ ‘hits’.

This is what whisky making used to be. Period. Before the age of yield and consistency, the industry was very much at the mercy of barley and yeast variance, all-over-the-map wood policies, greater fluctuations in demand and pressures on stocks, less calibrated and measured production techniques (still firing, cut points, etc), and on and on and on.

And while Springbank is not immune to the many changes in the industry, Hedley and Co. have made it their business to march to the beat of their own drum. Status quo is not Springbank’s MO. And it probably never will be. A visit to the distillery will leave you…ahem…’woke’ (to cop an expression the ‘kids’ are using nowadays) to just how alien Springbank is to most of the industry. And just how utterly brilliant it is for it. Also…this is the only distillery on earth that can get away with as much sulphur as it does. I utterly detest the brimstone, but even I can’t fight just how singularly compelling Springbank is.

I’m rambling now, but perhaps a proper Springbank ‘Distillery In Focus’ feature is in our near future. Hmmm.

Anyway…let’s discuss this expression. Springbank 15 is a juggernaut of a malt. At once monstrously bold and mellowed enough by time to be approachable by all. And if the flavours are not particularly your cup of tea? Well…that’s fine, but it’s hard to argue objective quality with a whisky like this. And the dram in hand…I must say that this particular batch is an absolute cracker. Better than the most recent 18 we had, I’d wager.

46% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Noses older than 15, I have to say. Decent wafts of peat smoke. Salty, coastal, briny, and all of those other Campbeltown superlatives. Purple fruit. Oily dried fruits. Engine oil. Tobacco. Old libraries (in a 15 y.o.?!?). Cinnamon. A bit of sulphur (that largely blows off with time). Grape juice. And maybe some bramble jelly. Dunnage. Stables. White pepper and ginger. Just a hint of florality.

Palate: Flinty, Dirty and slightly matchstick-y. Chocolate. A very toasty malt profile, doused in over-caramelized sugar. Plum and prune. Sticky raisins. Some berry notes. Lapsang souchong tea. Licorice. Wet earth. Old World wine, four or five days open. Like spilling spent coffee grounds and a lit cigarette into a glass of Bowmore 18. Yep.

Finish: Long and smoky. Smoked fish and berry coulis. Candied apples. A bit drying, but oh, so long.

Thoughts: Thrilling, really, that a whisky like this still exists in our age of homogeneity. Gives me hope. And 46% is the perfect strength for this dram.

90/100

 Posted by at 5:43 pm
Jan 312020
 

Lord t’underin’ Jaysus, b’y, what a dram!

And what’s this? Our first Millburn on ATW? Not all that surprising, I suppose. Even our mate Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun fame has only managed to wrap his paws around a couple dozen examples of spirit from this long lost distillery. Fear not, though: I have one more sample in the wings that I’ll try get to soon, while this one is still fresh in my memory. To be fair…these things are nearly as rare as Trump truths. And we all know…well…never mind.

Millburn. The distillery that once was, is no more, but now, according to Brian Townsend’s fantastic book ‘Scotch Missed’, is a steakhouse that goes by the name of ‘The Auld Distillery’. A better fate, he argues (and rightfully so), than that of most lost distilleries in Scotland. Shameless plug for Townsend (which benefits me not at all): buy this book. It’s a brilliant wee read. Probably no more than 200 pages, but crammed with enough knowledge to sate even the fiercest malt historian.

This utterly fantastic expression of 25 year old Millburn came from Diageo’s brilliant Rare Malts line. I came in not knowing what to expect and found myself utterly blown back by this one. If you get a chance, do not hesitate. Though I imagine those chances are pretty damn hard to come by nowadays. At least affordably.

61.9% abv. Distilled in 1975, bottled in 2001.

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: Fruits and chocolate. Pineapple…fresh, grilled, juiced, whatever! Melted honey. Fruit salad. Sandalwood. Melon, orange and more. Man…so much cool fruitiness! Chocolate covered almonds. A slight earthiness. And a very gnarly yogurt note. Beyond unique. Beyond incredible.

Palate: Oy…a very hot arrival. Chocolate (milk!). Smoke. Cherry and orange. Yogurt covered Fun Fruits (anyone else remember those ’80s lunchbox snacks?). Lindt milk chocolate. Oh, so fruity. Nice toasty malt notes. The wood is singing loud and clear.

Finish: Long and fruity. Goes on a wee bit longer than forever.

Thoughts: Whiskybase has this at 89.40, based on 122 ratings. To clarify…122 people are wrong. Simply unforgettable.

93/100

 Posted by at 9:54 am
Jan 272020
 

Not a single tasting note on here for Pittyvaich? Pffft. In fairness, we’ve only had our grubby little paws on three of them locally, but that’s no excuse for delinquency in sharing the word on those we have tried. The goal is, after all, trying to maintain a broad horizontal swath of distillery notes for those who want to hear a bit about all of it. Not to mention…with an expression such as this – the Diageo special release from 2015 – there will undoubtedly be more folks interested than there would be for one of the OMC single casks or something.

Pittyvaich was founded in 1975, and produced for a mere 18 or so years, before being shuttered in 1993 and ultimately razed in 2002. It was a purpose-built distillery, meant to supply malt for the Bells blends. The distillery (and brand) changed hands in the mid-1980s, finding a new home in the ever expansive stables of, you guesses it, Diageo. The distillery (more an addendum to the Dufftown distillery than a true matter-of-fact distillery) somehow managed to fend off the mad rash of early ’80s closures, which sort of suggests that maybe Diageo was unwilling to concede that such a young and probably still immaculate facility should be surrendered less than a decade after what was almost certainly a substantial investment of capital to get it off the ground. By 1993, however, the writing was on the wall for Pittyvaich (and Rosebank, for that matter). The doors closed and stayed closed.

Fast forward a few years and the DRFSR at Diablo HQ saw the windfall potential in feathering out the remaining stocks from another lost distillery to the whisky cognoscenti. Albeit at greatly inflated prices from what this rather innocuous style of malt would have sold for in more sane and sober times. Such is. We whisky history buffs are always going to shell out a bit extra to taste the spirit of a bygone age, aren’t we?

Ultimately, though, this is a so-so malt from what was almost certainly just a so-so distillery. That’s my two cents, anyhow. 131 people on Whiskybase were more generous with their scores than I. Goes to show, this is all just one guy’s opinion, aye?

49.9% abv. Distilled in 1989, bottled in 2015. Refill Bourbon Hogsheads. 5,922 Bottles

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately one to only fall ‘in like’ with. Damp hay, with some notes of green tea. Herbaceous. Popcorn. Bittersweet chocolate. Clean malt. White flour and cereal tones. Some soft, almost unidentifiable fruits. Heavy cream on popsicles. Cedar.

Palate: Wine gums. Rather firm oak. Some odd sort of dental note (reminds of being in a dental clinic). More of those tea notes. Vanilla. Chardonnay. Ginger and white pepper. Grape skin tannins. Somewhat drying.

Finish: A little tired and lazy, if I’m being honest. A bit flat with no real standout notes that carry on.

Thoughts: I like it just fine, but wouldn’t go so far as to say I love it.

83/100

 Posted by at 4:06 pm
Jan 252020
 

Oh, man. What a spectacular surprise. This Rare Malts Glen Albyn was tasted as part of a spectacular range of expressions from closed distilleries and, I can’t lie, it wasn’t even remotely on my radar as one of the ones to look out for. It ended up being one of my favorites of the night.

Glen Albyn has become as scarce as sober uncles at backwoods barbecues these days. This is largely due to the fact that the distillery never really enjoyed much in the way of prestige and, in fact, there have only ever been a couple of official bottlings released. When you then consider the distillery was made redundant in 1983 as part of Diageo’s clean-up and downsizing, well…it’s not to hard to see why we’ve only had our hands on a few releases.

And if I’m being honest? This is the only one that has wowed me.

54.8% abv. Distilled in 1975, bottled in 2002. 6,000 bottles.

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: Smoke and char. Awww, hell yeah. This is right in my wheelhouse. Tangy fruit. Some great lime notes. Ammonia. Mocha. Savoury BBQ notes. Jolly Ranchers. More chocolate. Coal smoke. Some sort of insect repellent. A hint of Old Spice (yup…that Old Spice). Hardwood glue. Burnt plastic. Indian rubber ball. Mineral notes. Grilled tomato. Almost a grilled cheese (or cheese toastie) sort of funk. Brilliantly integrated, despite the disparate list of aromas.

Palate: Kerosene and burning leaves. Pepper. Bitter chocolate. Really fuel-ish, in such a profoundly cool way. An absolutely ancient style of malt. Melon rind. grapefruit and tangerine.

Finish: Kinda drying, actually. And bitters out a but in the end (grapefruit-like). All pleasant. And very long.

Thoughts: Splendid. Keen. Neato. Love it.

92.5/100

 Posted by at 10:58 am
Jan 232020
 

Another in Glenmorangie’s Private Editions range. The 10th, I believe. And this is one I’ve been infinitely curious about ever since hearing about it. Yeast is, after all, the new frontier. In this chap’s humble opinion anyway.

Allta is Glenmo’s attempt at producing a single malt built on a beer made from their own strain of wild yeast. Said yeast apparently propagates uncontrolled on their Cadboll barley. Neato. So, the question is…why is yeast so exciting? Well…think about it. some of the most incredibly complex and interesting beers are built on a bedrock of ambient yeast. Consider the great Belgian lambics, for example. Now take this to its logical conclusion: whisky is distilled beer, left to age for prolonged spell of time. Wouldn’t it just make sense that the more interesting the yeast play, the more interesting the end product?

For someone geeky (like me, like many of you), this little project means a deviation from the norm. Most distilleries are tied (at the moment anyway) to Mauri and Kerry as their primary strains. A mix of M and MX, depending on the desired life span of the wee bacteria and the desired speed at which they sink their teeth into all those fermentable sugars. And a few distillers are, I believe, still using a bit of brewers yeast, as well. Kudos to Glenmorangie for steering the ship in a different direction on this one. Hopefully a sign of things to come in the industry. (Although Dr. Bill Lumsden’s education was intrinsically linked to yeast, so who knows if others wil have the same vested interest.)

51.2% abv. 1st and 2nd fill ex-bourbon.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Orange and almond. Vanilla. A little porridge-y. Maybe a little boozy too. Honeyed and floral. A slightly pine-y note. And citric. The pine and citrus together make it a touch sharp. Cinnamon. Lemon poppyseed muffins. Quince jelly.

Palate: A strange syrupy sweetness. Caramelized nuts. Very estery (those artificial banana notes that seem to be intrinsically tied to brewers yeast). Quite spicy. And again…boozy. The new make spirit is still showing through somehow. More lemon. Slightly dough-y (doughnut dough). Sauvignon blanc. Not unpleasant, but not something I’d go back for seconds of.

Finish: A bit of purple grape. And grape skin. A fleeting glimpse of mandarin (pith and all).

Thoughts: Meh. I waver between bored indifference and disappointment. I wanted to get excited about someone finally pursuing yeast as the volatile wee catalyst it really is, but this…well…this didn’t really work. I should note that 10 or 15 minutes in the glass does wonders for the nose. Sadly not so much for the palate. 

77/100

 Posted by at 2:17 pm