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
Dec 242016
 

Hi, friends.

First off, I want to wish all of you, and all of your friends and family, a happy holiday season.  Here’s hoping the next few days are full of magic and memories.  And here’s to a better 2017 than 2016 was for many of us.  Sincerely…thank you for hanging ’round with me (and us) here on the site, via email and in person when situations allow.  Good company is not only appreciated, it is the lifeblood that sustains.

Just so you know that it’s not all idling and procrastination around here, I am finally working on some jottings from the Islay experience a couple months back.  I won’t be doing it in a day by day fashion this time, but in a more event-inspired manner.  Many more reviews are near complete and some more random bits of writing and opinions coming your way.  Perhaps I’ll even get back to sharing the word on some past Dram Initiative club events that I’ve been remiss in writing up.  We’ll get there.  Aiming for much better consistency going forward.

So…on the eve of one of the most celebrated and jolly of days, I wish you all the best, and hope to see you soon.

 

– Curt

 Posted by at 9:49 am
Nov 222016
 

Bet you expected another rant on rising prices, NAS follies and shady practices, yeah?  Not this time.  I tackled much of this recently for a rather bigger audience.  An article Ian Buxton published in the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2017 is liberally peppered with my thoughts and quotes (thanks, Ian!).  That’s good for me for now.  I can’t lie…I’ve been enjoying the smooth sailing of late.  Nice not to always be the one rocking the boat.  The waves made may only be wee ripples by the time they spread to the wider world, but locally they can be quite choppy.

Anyway…I’m jotting away here for a reason.  Thought I would provide a bit of context and a ‘heads up’.  2016 has been a very rough year.  I won’t get into all of the personal stuff we’ve dealt with, but the one thing that most affects this site is likely the monolithic shadow of unemployment under which we’ve been living since April.  Obviously whisky buying (and cigars, and…) had to be one of the first casualties.  It sucks, but that is life.  I still have things to say, and whiskies to share the word on, but we may not be able to be too contemporary or relevant.  Not that I’ve ever minded being the guy late to the party.

I think what will suffer the most is reviews of lower quality malts and more budget brands.  I simply have trouble getting my hands on mediocre whisky.  I don’t buy it often (occasionally for reviewing), and now certainly won’t be buying it.  I actually have fun writing about some of those lesser quality drams (it gives me an entirely new vocabulary to work with), but this has always been a shortcoming of the site in my opinion.

Things will pick up again, but do be aware that we may try a few new things in the coming year.  I’ll see what I can do about sourcing whisky samples to keep things topical, and we’ll tackle some new ideas, I think.  Perhaps even a guest writer or two to bring a freshness to the scene.  Oh, yeah…and I’ll try to be a little more regular with posts.

Finally…in the interest in full disclosure I want to share the truth.  I have little interest in returning to the industry I was previously employed in.  And even if I did want it, it will be a loooooooong time recovering.  Chances are slim.  I have been actively investigating work in an industry I know a fair bit about.  Yes…the whisky world.  Not sure what that could ultimately mean here, but we’re all adults, right?  It should be understood that feeding my kids and keeping the bills paid supercedes all other thoughts and priorities.  Hope we don’t find too many conflicts, but only time will tell.

As always, appreciate your engagement.  Onwards to 2017.

 

– C

 Posted by at 10:13 am
Sep 182016
 

18 September 2016

Today is September 18th. The day after my 12th wedding anniversary. We were kid-free last night (mother-in-law swooped in and took for the night), so had a lovely night together, just the wife and I. Nice to have that time together before leaving for a longish stretch. We’ll get the kids back around noon today, I imagine. After that I will milk every last minute with my beautiful daughters, before hopping the plane for Glasgow tomorrow morning. In short, I think this is the last lead-up post before we hit Scottish soil. Not sure if I’ll be able to do much blogging from there, so we may not be in touch (excepting Twitter and Facebook) until I return to Canadian soil. So how ‘bout one last jotting before go time?

I did promise to introduce this ragtag assortment of beasts who are travelling together, so…who are these strapping young men (and withered old bastards)?

Tone. The little big man. At one point in his misguided younger days he was a bit of a rummie, but fortunately we’ve managed to fix that. Tone brings an easygoing Rasta swagger to his day-to-day and a watchful ‘take it all in’ kinda vantage. His laid back styles will be the mellowing influence that helps me fully appreciate the slower side of things. And considering we’ll already be on Islay time that will be slow indeed.

Danny. The ‘Viking’. Or ‘The Beard’. No one I know has embraced malts with this sort of enthusiasm, eidetic memory and…errr…let’s face it, thirst, since…well, ever. Of all the guys that need the fierce might of Islay malts to smash headlong into their huge personality it would be Danny. There’s a profound hunger for good times in this lad. And I’m sure we’ll find some with him in tow (or in the lead?).

Steve. Generally we call him Simcoe. He’s a quiet ‘un. Until you wind him up with a couple drinks and start discussing social programs, Canadian government or some of the more delicate societal issues many folks think about but few dare to tackle head-on. Then he’s a regular Charlie Mothafuckin’ Bronson. Steve’s like me in many ways; far too buried in big city life these past few years. I think his internal baggage and mine will fall away at the same time. The moment our feet touch town on foreign shores and the pull of real world ‘adulthood’ lessens.

And of course yours truly. Wordslinger. Shit disturber. Sadist. Masochist. Whatever. If you’ve been visiting here for a while you all know me. ‘Nough said.

I think we’ve ironed out all our wee little travel wrinkles and, as much as possible, are about ready to go. Unfortunately it’s now looking like the surprise I was hoping to have come to fruition (and have been hinting at) is probably not gonna happen. Can’t lie; I’m a little heartbroken. It would have made for some cool blogging, but more importantly, some cool memories. Such is. Just in case some miracle happens to come together, I’ll still not reveal here until after the trip.

I plan to share all details when we get back, but unfortunately I’ve simply run out of time to give any more notes on the leadup and planning stages. As always, I’ll take meticulous notes on the daily ins and outs, as well as all drams sampled along the way. Well…notes of what drams were sampled, not necessarily notes on the drams themselves.

Look forward to catching up with you soon, mates. Gotta run. 24 hours of family time ‘til wheels up. Peace.

 

 – Curt

 Posted by at 8:02 am
Sep 112016
 

11 Sep 2016

Nine days now. Guess we should backtrack a little, yeah?

Getting a third solo trip off in a matter of a few years is not an easy thing. Marriage and kids means compromise and buckets of understanding. Oh…and likely some serious spa time or something as recompense. I won’t get into the actual negotiation process here, but suffice it to say that some conditions needed to be met in order to make this happen as regards the homefront. Once we had that squared away it was time to start tackling logistics.  I should mention (and not because I have to) that my wife is beyond amazing.  Honestly.

First things first. September is a great time to visit Islay. The weather is mild; the crowds non-existent; personal attention at the distilleries at soaring heights; and the overall experience less geared toward the masses and more…specialized in many ways. While all of these things are incentive enough to travel at this time, the reality is I go to Islay not just for the malts. For me it is a disconnect from the ‘real world’. When I get tired of being an adult and simply need to let my mind turn to simpler things I know it’s time to go back ‘home’.

Locking down accommodations early on the island is paramount. That and travel arrangements. The distilleries are unquestionably the most flexible part of the trip. In fact each time over I’ve booked, then rebooked, then sometimes made third adjustments to either the tours themselves or the dates and times for each. I always start by roughing out an idea as to when I’ll hit each distillery, then figuring out the most logical base from which to operate.  As Bowmore is most central, most of my time is spent there.

We four (whom I’ll introduce in the next blog) arrive in Scot(ch)land on the morning of the 20th. We land in Glasgow at about 8:00 am.  Plans are to leave our luggage at the hotel (right across the way from the airport), find a quick breakie and head to Auchentoshan for the first of ten distillery visits on this little pilgrimage. Not sure what the afternoon plans entail, but the eve will most likely see a reunion with an old friend, Mark Connelly, at the famous Bon Accord whisky bar. This will be a test of willpower, to say the least. Early plans are to be on somewhat good behavior, in order to be fresh for an early start and 8:30 am flight to Islay. Not to mention we’ll have been on the go for a day and a half (or more, unless the lads can sleep on our flights) without sleep by this point.

Day two sees us land at Islay’s itsy bitsy airport at 9:10 am and head straight from there to Kilchoman. Perhaps we’ll do a drive by the Lochindaal Hotel in Port Charlotte to drop our bags before spending the morning at Islay’s micro distillery. We’ll have a quick lunch at the distillery’s wonderful café after the Premium Tour, then beeline it straight for Bruichladdich to meet up with my mate, Allan Logan. Plans are to spend the afternoon with the good folks in teal until they finally tire of our hijinks and send us packing for Port Charlotte. At that point…dinner and drinks at the Lochindaal.

Day three: Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila. In other words, the redheaded stepchild, northeastern part of the island. If visitors to the island need to shortlist their distillery hitlist these are typically the first two casualties. Truly a shame that folks would elect to skip these ones, as both are situated on some of the most beautiful of the island’s terrain. Bunna is an absolutely stunning old relic and Caol Ila is a lumbering beast that helps put distilleries like Kilchoman, Ardbeg and Bruichladdich in proper perspective (though all for different reasons). Bunna will be the Dram Tour, while Caol Ila will be the Premium Tour.  Both, in my humble opinion, also produce some of the whisky world’s most underrated malts.

Day four: We’ll be leaving Port Charlotte, and the familial comfort of Iain and Katie’s Lochindaal Hotel, in order to make Bowmore our home base for the duration of the trip. We’ll have breakfast with Iain before taxiing around the loch to drop our bags at Meadowside Bed and Breakfast (the wonderful home-y lodging of my friend Kate McAffer), and then continuing on to Ardbeg. The tours/experiences we initially hoped for at Ardbeg sadly became obsolete during the planning process. I emailed back and forth with some friends at the distillery and it looks like we’ll have a special day lined up for us irrespective of initial disappointment. Just what that actually means…who knows? We’re happy to play it by ear though, and trust in the folks with the keys to the kingdom (Jackie, Mickey et al). We’ll do lunch at the Old Kiln Café and spend the afternoon soaking up the atmosphere (and drams).  This eve should see our first foray to the legendary Duffies whisky bar in Bowmore.

Day five: Hitting the water to venture across to neighbouring Jura. Just so happens that for the third time my journey coincides with the Jura music festival. This time we’ll be there to check out some of the festivities after we take part in the upgraded Sweet And Smoky Experience at the distillery. We’ll scout a bit of this deer-riddled isle (standing stones, the house that Orwell brought to fame, the Paps, Corryvreckan?) before back to Bowmore for evening drinks and din.

Day six: One of the island’s most amazing places: Laphroaig. This distillery is utterly beautiful and run with such profound attention to detail and obvious love that it is unquestionably palpable when you visit. It’s also arguable I tend to linger ‘round Laphroaig longer when I visit Islay than at any other distillery. We’ll be doing the Distiller’s Wares tour. Two and half hours of boggy bliss. At the end of the formal bit of the tour we’ll be doing some cask sampling and bottling our own souvenir to bring home. Cannae wait.

The evening will see us touring the southern part of the island, before drowning our livers at Duffies.

Day seven: Lagavulin. Unfortunately we just had the rug pulled out from under us again. We had booked and confirmed for a 9:30 am tour, followed by a warehouse tasting with (I believe) Lagavulin legend, Iain MacArthur. And much like last time over, the distillery has gotten back to me to cancel the tour, as they’re entering silent season for distillery maintenance. We’ll still get the warehouse deal, but will not get to scout around the stills and such. I’m trying to negotiate, but not really optimistic. Sigh. Diageo is nothing if not rigid and set in their path.  Kinda think there should be a contingency plan on behalf of the company in these sorts of cases, as many people make this a once-in-a-lifetime trip and to be rebuffed…well…let’s just say it sucks.

Again we’ll spend the evening touring, but the northern part of the island this time. And perhaps a visit to Islay’s brewery, Islay Ales, to sample some of the local grog.  I’m sure a few cold ones will be welcome after the fiery heat of peated drams thus far.

Day eight: Last day on the island, and what a way to go out. We’re booked for the Craftsman’s Tour at Bowmore. Quite a finale, this is one of the most impressive of the island’s tours available to visitors and malt lovers. A visit to the Number 1 Vaults is icing on the cake for any Islay trip. There’s no way we were missing this opportunity. I’ll save details for later, but trust me…this experience is a magical one.

We’ll fly out at about 6:00 pm and try to take in a little more of Glasgow before a morning flight on the 28th takes us back to our loved ones and familiar beds. I imagine it will be much like the Spirit Of The West song by this point: “You’ll have to excuse me, I’m not at my best, I’ve been gone for a week, I’ve been drunk since I left, And these so-called vacations will soon be my death, I’m so sick from the drink, I need home for a rest.”

There are many, many details planned along the way (and some very special drams), but I’ll save those jottings for the day to day entries after it’s all gone down. Cause let’s face it…things change. You can bet, however, that our eves will be spent in the pubs, our bellies will be filled with great home fare (both malts and meals), our days will be spent walking the coastlines and sharing drams and that there will be some sheep that may want to go into hiding when they hear the first loud ‘eh’ from we sodden Canucks. 😉

And yes…I still have a bit of a reveal coming for ya. Just waiting on finalization, but should be able to share the word in a couple days at the latest. If all goes as I hope, there will be some cool shit coming. Fingers crossed.

More details to come, friends.

 

 – Curt

 Posted by at 2:48 pm
Sep 022016
 

I meant to get this little trip ‘diary’ kicked off much sooner than now, but as John Lennon said “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. 2016 has been a rough year so far. In fact, this trip nearly got pushed off yet again, but I reached a point where I dug my heels in and said ‘I need this’. And so we’re going.  Takeoff is 10 am, September 19th.

Those of you who have been with us on ATW since the early days will be well aware that I’ve done this trip a couple times now (with variations along the way), and spent an awful lot of words sharing the experience in a travel blog sort of scenario. The first time was a solo jaunt that took me from love to infatuation. I was overwhelmed with all that Islay is, was and continues to offer going forward. I’m sure the rose-colored glasses thing had something to do with it, but the trip was truly magical. I’d go so far as to say it changed who I am fundamentally. But doesn’t solo travel always do that?

The second journey over was a vastly different experience. Less beholden to the serenity of introspection and intimate one-on-one treatment, but beautifully bombastic with the shared energy of five guys shucking the daily grind and escaping to this land of malt and waves. Having the right companions makes all the difference. The five of us meshed incredibly well.

Both trips hold incredibly special places in my heart.

This time ‘round it will be four of us heading over. Laidback, easygoing fellows with an eye to letting the current take us where it may. The hard bookings are made (flights, accommodations, distillery tours), but the rest of the trip will be more free form. And that excites me.

I think we’ll be a little more nitty gritty with our coverage this time ‘round. The more sordid details and all. And hopefully a little more timely too. I’m actually thinking about asking if any of the other lads care to share a bit of their story here on the site. We’ll see.

Oh yeah…and I should mention…there is a little something in the works for this trip that is infinitely exciting for me if it does indeed come to fruition. I’ll not spill details yet, but you’ll be first to know if it does happen.

Much, much more to come.

Seventeen days ‘til wheels up.

 

– Curt

 Posted by at 9:36 am