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
Aug 272019
 

Ever heard that expression ‘if you try to be everything to everyone you’ll end up being nothing for anyone’? That’s sort of what I’m struggling with here on ATW right now. Readership is understandably low coming off a very lengthy hiatus – which means there isn’t much of a barometer to gauge opinions – but I’m doing to my best to tackle a bit of everything here. That was always the game plan and I like to think that, throughout the years, I’ve done just that. I’ve drunk rotgut and scored it limbo-low, and sipped 70 year old drams that would make your accountant’s eyes roll back in his or her head.

Believe it or not, the easiest drams for me to source are those that fall in the mid zone. Couple hundred up to about a grand. Those at the lowest price points are scarce in my circles, simply because neither me nor my friends are buying them. And those at the top…well, I do get to try quite a few, but they’re far from everyday treats. Fortunately, my job allows me access to so much more than simply what I secure myself. Hopefully I’m getting at a bit of what everyone wants to see.

The reality is, though, that there is almost certainly a much wider audience for a review of an Oban 14 than there is for, say, a 1966 Banff. The latter is fun to read about for context and historicity, but the former is what aids in buying decisions for some. And I think, aside from a virtual social engagement, that’s what most use this site for. I think you guys and gals know me by now, though. It’s the scarce and storied malts that really light me up. They tend to be in very limited allocation and they tend to be pricey. ie. Not for for everyone.

But the problem is that notes on so many of these brilliant old and rare drams will never see the light of day. There are legions of hoarders out there who will never open these bottles, collecting showpieces as opposed to collecting the memories associated with the experience of sharing them. And that’s fine. No judgement. (Okay…maybe a little) But if I can use this as a platform for getting more info out there, I will. It gives perspective, if nothing else. And keeps my batteries fueled for the other stuff in life that is less enjoyable.

As I said, though…reviews of that nature target a very select audience: those with pockets deeper than most of us will ever have and those with a bent to masochistic and vicarious participation. In other words, the geeks who can afford ’em and will buy ’em, and the geeks who simply devour every word about the most complex spirit in the world. I recognize that some of the site’s content could be construed as pretentious. I guess there’s no getting around that.

But let’s continue to fight the good fight together. You let me know what you want to see on here and I’ll try to make it happen to the best of my ability. And hopefully I can continue to walk the line between archiving notes on grail malts and sharing the word on the daily drinkers. Because they all deserve their day in the sun, aye? And who knows? With the bubble reaching (arguably) its apex position, its not only possible but probable we’ll see it pop (or at least deflate a bit) and perhaps the gap between these points will close a bit. Food for thought for another day, though: careful what you wish for. It would not be a good thing to end up where we were back in the late 1800s. Or the 1920s. Or the 1980s, to speak to a bit of more topical time.

Much love…

 Posted by at 9:02 am
Aug 012019
 

As much as I’ve kept a fairly public persona for the last decade or so, I do relish my privacy. There aren’t a lot of pictures or videos of me out there, and I prefer it that way. But the point has been made – here and elsewhere – that too many people hide behind anonymity, especially when they say anything polarizing. I get it. Sometimes an online persona isn’t really a viable option, especially when the subject matter being debated may cast a shadow over one’s professional life. The flipside is (in my opinion, anyway), if you are going to throw your voice out to the public, then step up and own it. There are too many chickenshit keyboard commandos lobbing grenades with no concept of repercussion. I miss the days of consequence. Action/reaction. Throw a lunch, expect one in return. So…consider this a reintroduction. There are always new readers, and there are probably a lot of old school readers who’ve never met me face to face, despite the amount of online interaction we’ve shared.

In short…I’m Curt. I like whisky. And writing.

I’ve been writing about whisky for over a decade now. I’ve led countless tastings (both public and private), presented for large groups, contributed to publications, and traveled for what I love. I’ve created successful whisky clubs, bought private barrels and led several distillery tours over to Scotland. I have a lot of single malt whisky here. Like…several hundred bottles. I don’t collect, however; I just squirrel away bottles when the price/opportunity is right. They’ll all get opened at some point. Or traded. Or given away. I don’t flip bottles, nor do I much like the secondary market. I get it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

My blood is mostly Scottish (with a bit of English; y’know…neo-Germanic all the way back). Scotland is home away from home for me. I love Islay and the whiskies that are made there. I adore Brora and Port Ellen. Springbank and Clynelish and Glenfarclas are perennial favorites that are never in short supply around here. I also kinda think that every distillery in Scotland has brilliant barrels sleeping away in their warehouses. Whether or not they are ever given their day in the sun is another matter. It all comes down to how they’re used, right? And if I have my druthers…unpeated second or third fill ex-bourbon at 30-40 years. That’s my jam.

I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters. I work in the whisky world, but this blog is on my own time (and my own dime), so updates are as frequent or infrequent as life dictates. As Lennon said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

This is me.

 Posted by at 11:41 am
Jul 242019
 

My name is Curt. And I have a problem.

It’s not a deal nor a test nor a love of something fated.

It’s the fact that I work in the whisky world. Most of you are probably aware I spend most of my waking hours at Kensington Wine Market in Calgary. KWM is sorta like the Malt Mecca of Canada. Twice now the store has been runner-up for World Whisky Retailer of the year. Yup. We’re just that good. And humble.

I’m telling you this (or maybe just reiterating this, if it’s something you already knew) to give you some idea as to where I’ve been and what’s happened to the site over the last year or so. (Hint: nothing. Nothing has happened here). The simple truth is that I was finding it hard to balance my work responsibilities with my prime directive: honesty. Let me show you what I mean…

One evening many, many months back I wrote a couple reviews for the site. One was a rather positive review for a malt I liked. The other…maybe not so positive. The whisky in question was sulphury and…well…flawed. I published one. I went to publish the second and sorta pumped the brakes. We have loads of this stuff left on the shelves. If I talk shit about it, who’s going to buy it? Then I thought, just wait until it sells out, then publish. But that theory comes with its own problems. I could just see someone at some point calling me out: if you knew it was shit, why did you let me buy it? 

I struggled with this until just a few days ago. Then I decided, too bad. This site has been around for a long time. Ten years. It deserves better than to die a slow, whimpering death, relegated to the periphery of online whisky lore, while daily visits continue to drop. So…I had a sit-down with Andrew. Andrew “Scotchguy” Ferguson, that is. I’m sure you know him from his monolithic online presence, if not as the owner of KWM. I told him where I was at with it, and he was in absolute agreement: get ‘er back up and running.

And the thing about negative reviews? Well…two things, actually: 1) Caveat emptor. Buyer beware. What I write here (in terms of reviews, anyway) is one man’s opinion, and in no way an attempt to push opinion as fact. Almost every online retailer out there now has a review system on their site. I often read user reviews, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them, or base my own purchasing on them. And 2) At any given time, probably 75% of what we sell in-store is open for tasting. If I feel a whisky is not great, I simply don’t suggest it to customers. If they want it, however, and can try before buying? Hey…they’ve bought based on their own tastes, and I respect that. Especially if they are bucking the trend and going against the tide. There’s a deep-seated honesty in forging your own path and ignoring the din of voices all shouting in chorus.

Additionally…I will still be reviewing store-exclusive casks from time to time. We do a lot of these. Fair warning: these scores will almost certainly be uniformly high. Is this a conflict of interest? No. Not in my opinion, anyway. I’ve helped select these barrels for purchase, based on empirical evidence (i.e. my own tasting experience with them) and knowing that they were good. Sometimes great, even. Would I stand behind a purchase worth tens of thousands of dollars if I didn’t think the whisky was good? Of course not. And again…you can always come in and try for yourself. Our track record for selling entire barrels in record time is legendary. That, in my mind, speaks volumes about the level of quality we insist upon.

In short…we’re back, baby.

ATW will look a bit different going forward. Not sure what that means yet, but we’ll figure it out together. I do know that reviews will look a bit different. The content will be similar, but the format may be tweaked a little. Gotta keep it fresh for myself too, aye? And, at the same time, try to keep to a framework that people know and recognize. A few more inside jokes, a bucketload of non sequiturs, and some occasionally surreal ramblings will likely be par for the course too. Oh, and perhaps the odd diatribe.

I’m kinda hoping to recruit a few guest writers into the fold. There are several reasons for this, but it mostly comes down to injecting new life into the site and sharing the workload. As of now – until I find my ‘Angus’, anyway – reviews will all still be mine. I sorta feel like this is the only way to maintain consistency. You guys have learned to understand my palate, if not necessarily trust it. It would be disingenuous to let someone else start scoring whisky here until I am positive their tastes nearly mirror my own.

I’ll be leading another crew back to Scotland in a couple months, too. Six of us in total. It promises to be an absolute blast, so you can almost certainly expect some jottings on that l’il endeavor as well. Hopefully some stories, a handful of reviews and some random musings. We’ll see what shakes out.

Also, the sinDicate Single Malt Society is going great guns. Coolest whisky club around. I’m really proud of this one. The Dram Initiative was great, but sin is next level. And cheeky as f*ck, to boot. Which is, of course, my MO. We’ll share a bit more about that in coming days too, including some notes on the club’s first cask purchase. Exciting stuff.

Anyway…it’s good to be back. I’ve missed you guys and gals.

 – Curt

 Posted by at 4:22 pm
Jul 222019
 

You hear that rumbling? Like a great old engine awakened from a long slumber? Me too. I think it’s time. The monster has awoken.

You ready to do this all over again, friends?

 Posted by at 10:10 am
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
Dec 102017
 

Hey, friends.

Before I get too much grief for not spreading the whisky gospel here as frequently as I should, rest assured…I haven’t gone anywhere just yet.

I’ve been doing a lot with whisky and a lot with writing.  Just not writing about whisky.  I’ve been captaining a handful of whisky events here in Calgary (sharing the spoken word, and not just the written), and I’ve been rather buried in trying to knock off the last stretch of my second novel.  Almost there.

A few of you were kind enough to track down my first published foray, “Sadie”, and shared some great feedback.  Thank you for that.  Appreciated more than you know.  Breaking into the writing world is harder than you can imagine.

Earlier this year I finished my first actual novel.  It’s a dark one.  I can’t lie.  Gritty.  Nasty.  Think early Stephen King and you probably have an idea as to the vibe of seventies-homage horror I was aiming for.  All polished up, of course,  with a bit of contemporary stylings.  If you’re interested, “Darker Things” is available on Amazon here (US) and here (Canada).  E-readers only, at the moment, but hard copies will be available soon.  Early reviews have been great (and flattering), but every review/rating helps.  If you do elect to follow me down this dark path, please, please, PLEASE leave some Amazon/Goodreads feedback.

Have also started a new blog for this venture.  Feel free to pop by in its infancy.  www.darkerthoughts.com

Thanks a million.

More whisky to come.  Soon.

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Oct 192017
 

Gord Downie has been the voice of my life for as long as I remember.  His words are the stories that play in my mind.  His music is the soundtrack that plays through my memories and colours every aspect of my life.  If there was ever any secret narrator linking together the milestones and meaningful moments of my life, it was Gord.

My heart hurts right now.  A lot.  I feel like I lost a friend.  A close friend.  One who was always there for me and always able to make the worst days a little bit better.

There’s so much more I want to say but, for once, I’m lost for words.

You’re missed, Gord.  Already.  And you always will be.  Thanks for everything.

Love and peace.

Gord Downie

1964 – 2017

“…armed with will and determination, and grace, too.”

 Posted by at 7:17 pm
Aug 072017
 

I want to posit something for debate.  More than that though, I am looking for some insight to help me properly formulate my own views on a subject that gains more traction around here day by day: the issue of valuing bottles that are being bandied about in trade (or…<shudder>…resale).  A lot of subjectivity follows that may be stated rather factually.  I am relying on years of empirical ‘research’ when I speak out here.  Bear with me.  Feel free to contest.

I used to live by a hard and fast ‘the value of the bottle stops with what I paid’.  I swapped bottles at face value.  I gave bottles to friends (sealed and open).  I rarely resold, but if I did it was at cost (or less) and most often with the original receipt tucked inside the tube or box.  Part of this was simply tied to the ethos that it’s simply a drink and not the commodity that others would have us believe.  But a large part of it was a rejection of the system that leads to bottle flippers.  Those folks that buy up limited releases by the case lot and immediately fling bottles at the secondary market with an eye to making fast cash.  This infuriated me (and still does).  You know as well as I do that it serves to take good whisky away from the punters and put it firmly in the hands of collectors.  These malts rarely get opened, and if they do, they have to be bought at a premium.  The folks that would arguably derive the most enjoyment often end up being cut out of the loop.  Frustrating, to say the least.

But times change.  Even if my views are less inclined to do so.

The reality is that there are less and less great whiskies being released.  No, this is not a cynical statement meant to evoke the ‘decline’ arguments we engage in here so frequently.  It’s simply a statement that whiskies from a decade ago were arguably of a consistently higher quality.  No finger pointing.  Just an acknowledgment that before demand took off through the stratosphere there was a lot more mature whisky on the market.  Notice we leave price out of this part of the discussion.  At this point it is irrelevant.  Case in point…old Springbank 21 versus newer versions.  Night and day.  Same with the 18s.  Same with Highland Park.  Etc etc.

Ok…here’s where things get tough.  I have a decent little stash of malts.  So do many others I know.  We’re not opposed to trading and rehoming bottles from time to time.  I am a firm believer that a whisky belongs with the person who will most enjoy it.  So…we make trades.  But how do we do that with others who maybe don’t have access to malts excepting those that have been a part of the new school production?  We all come into the game at different times.  I know loads of folks who have insane collections, purchased at a  time when our malt bucks went sooooo much further.  I think we all envy the previous generations to a degree.  I know it’s not just me who feels this way, but it has become increasingly difficult to turn over whiskies in trade when I don’t feel I can get something comparable in return.  I am speaking mostly to inherent quality of the product itself here, not value.  As in…I want something in return that tastes as good or better.  A trade has to be equitable, right?  Otherwise the concept of trade breaks down.

But let’s even take the value side of things for a moment.  A lot of limited releases from brands like Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bruichladdich and Springbank have hit exorbitant sums on sites such as The Whisky Exchange or various online auctions.  How then do we justify swapping these away, knowing that contemporary expressions are usually larger batches and much less singular than those of the past?  And far less likely to achieve the same value, having been bought at the height of the bubble.

A lot of rhetoric, I know.  But a daily struggle ’round here as we try to help our mates build their collections in a fair manner.  I love helping out my buddies, but I don’t like doing it at a deficit in nearly all transactions.

The simplest answer is, of course, to open them and share them.  I do a lot of that.  Arguably more than three quarters of any bottle I open gets poured for others.  But…that doesn’t help them to put the bottles they covet on their own shelves.

So, friends…how do you value your own bottles?

 

– C

 Posted by at 12:09 pm