Jan 172020
 

Perhaps the most nomadic pot stills in the UK. Inverleven was a malt distillery secreted amidst the complexities of the Dumbarton grain complex in the Lowlands, just a hop, skip and a jump from both Glasgow and the Highlands ‘border’. It fell silent in depressive early ’80s, was mothballed in 1985, and finally decommissioned for good in 1991.

When the clever (and frugal!) folks at Bruichladdich learned of the distillery’s pending demolition, they sent a team – spearheaded by engineering specialist extraordinaire, Duncan MacGillivray – to loot the distillery of anything worth taking. That turned out to be nearly everything. Including the both wash and spirit stills, along with an old Lomond still. It took a canny sense of what was and wasn’t possible (in fact, they knocked out a wall to get at the goods!), but in the end, Team Teal made off like ruddy bandits. The Lomond is now pumping out the Botanist gin. The wash still ended up sitting courtyard, behind the iconic ‘Laddie barrels, as nothing more than decorative display. The spirit still went into storage.

After the Remy takeover of Bruichladdich, and subsequent ousting of (re)founder Mark Reynier, the stills eventually made their way over to Ireland, where they are now bubbling away the beer and low wine at Mark’s latest endeavor: Waterford.

Whew. Moving on.

I don’t know much about The Bottlers (or TB, as they’re also known), but if you check ’em out on Whiskybase, they have a heck of a run of bottlings, almost all scoring very high. And some incredibly cool distilleries too.

And Inverleven itself? Well…the malt is scarce, though not unattainable. I’ve only ever tasted two or three, myself, but they were good. And I will hunt more.

53.2% abv. Distilled in 1967, bottled in 1997.

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: Spicy and citric. Slightly stew-y. Salty pastry dough. Some salted dark chocolate. A vague smokiness woven throughout. Notes of orange and orange juice. And a decently robust malt profile.

Palate: Hot and a little sharper than expected. Smoky and carrying a bit of a rubber note. Almost…but maybe not quite…acrid. Strong orange zest. Dark chocolate. Something like Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. And…for my Canuck friends…sour cream Timbits.

Finish: Smoky, with that stew note again. Toasted oak. Fruit skins with some dryness.

Thoughts: No gamechanger, but a very cool dram nevertheless.

87/100

 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Jan 162020
 

Some malts leave you at once speechless and tripping over your tongue. You know…the ones where you find yourself gobsmacked simply at the opportunity to try them (yes…fortunately that does still happen, even this deep into the game) and stuttering to make sense of what you’re tasting. This Ben Wyvis is just such a one.

The distillery was one of the shorter lived in Scotland, shuttering with resounding finality in 1977 after a mere dozen years of production. Releases are nearly non-existent, somewhat controversial (a misleading offering by Invergordon under the Ben Wyvis name), and not particularly held in the highest of esteem. None of which matters, though. These sorts of drams are the reason Scotch whisky has stoked the fire in my belly for all these long years.

I think it goes without saying that this is a piece of liquid history. And if you’re not in the know…the Ben Wyvis stills (and much of the other equipment) were scooped up by Hedley Wright for a song and carted off to Campbeltown to be used in the rebirth of the Glengyle distillery. You know that funky and delicious young Kilkerran you love? Yep…that spirit bubbled away in the Ben Wyvis stills.

50.1% abv. 84 bottles. Distilled in 1968 and bottled 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: Antique-y, in a way. Or at least a near-extinct style of malt. Char and dunnage. A decently lively cask. Some tangy fruits. Also some strangely spiced fruits. Old books and a spice cabinet long neglected and gone to stale and fading. A bit of an odd funk that’s stubborn and elusive when it comes to tasting notes. Vegetal, maybe? Sticky candied walnuts. A slight licorice-y note in there too. Buried in there are some rather neat fruit tones too.

Palate: Plum (neat!). Some smoke and a bit of cask char (is it maybe lightly peated?) Black current. Burnt pastry. Pepper and ginger. Under ripe guava. Someone mentioned dirty water or something of that ilk.

Finish: Gristy. Quite long. A bit tannic.

Thoughts: Quite difficult to unravel, actually. Or maybe it’s just that the notes are some that I either can’t pinpoint or haven’t yet met. Either way…no masterpiece, to be sure, but one fuck of a cool malt to try. I may be overscoring a tick. But maybe not. I really don’t know.

85/100 (ish)

 Posted by at 1:33 pm
Jan 142020
 

How ’bout some Rosebank? I’ve been delinquent here when it comes to arguably the most iconic of Lowland single malts. In fact, I think there are only two reviews posted thus far. Fear not. I have a few more to come.

Diageo’s Rare Malts series is held in very high esteem. Rightfully so. The distilleries represented are revered and coveted, and the expressions themselves are, generally speaking, near-forms in terms of representing their respective brands. Not only that…they’re also offered up about as naked and natural as can be, and at blindingly high abvs. This Rosebank was tasted as the last malt in a ridiculous closed distillery tasting and was big enough to cut through all that came before. Not bad for a triple distilled Lowlander, aye?

62.3% abv.

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: White chocolate. Lemon. More lemon. And some more lemon. Orange. Furniture polish. Slightly floral. This could maybe be a light style of malt if it weren’t for the blistering abv. Herbal. Some cinnamon and dry dunnage-y notes. Fresh cut apples, drizzled in lemon juice. A little boozy.

Palate: Huge! Bigger than that even. Lemon again, as we’d expect. Prickly. Wood spice. Ginger and apple. Oily vanilla bean. A touch of potpourri. Good firm oak; very clean. Chocolate, both white and milk.

Finish: What a clean, long and beautiful finish. Ends on citrus peel and tongue depressers. Maybe a wee bit of apple.

Thoughts: One of my all time favorite Rosebanks. A beauty in all its facets. This is the reason for Rosebank’s reputation.

91.5/100

 Posted by at 10:24 am
Jan 122020
 

For all our access to rare drams, unique bottlings and bespoke casks, there’s one glaring shortfall in Alberta’s access to whisky: Brora. I literally can’t think of more than ten or twelve expressions that have hit our shelves. We’ve landed a few of the Diageo Annual Releases, a DL O&R Platinum 30 y.o., and maybe a G&M or two. I know we should be grateful for what we do get, but when it’s your favorite distillery that can be a hard pill to swallow. Enough whining. Moving on.

This is quintessential Brora. I know other vintages are more coveted, but that doesn’t necessarily lesson the impact of stunners like this 1978. It has all the hallmarks of what makes the distillery monolithically iconic, but it’s also all very much more subdued than I expected. Is that the vintage? Or the age? Who knows? And who cares, actually? The reality is…this is a beauty and I want more.

And did I mention that this is birth year Brora for me? 😉

48.6% abv. Sadly, only 2,964 Bottles.

And once again…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: Peat and that celestial Brora waxiness. Somewhere between spent candles and honeycomb here. Green tea. Gorgeous peach tones. Salty dough and a bit of minerality. Slightly oceanic, actually. Some orange. Some melon. Some very soft, creamy pineapple. And still more fruit. Chamois leather. Soft smoke. Peach pie and peach tea. Old candy. Stunning really.

Palate: More of that peach. Smoke and wax carry all the way through, as we’d expect with good Brora. Rather coastal. Seashells. A bit of chocolate. Perfect pastry. Honey again. Putty and clay. Just vaguely floral. Some orange fruit notes. Rich, rounded and oily.

Finish: Exceptional long slow ebb (that’s the beauty of such a heavily oily dram!). Earthy and slightly smoky. Thankfully that peach note lingers too.

Thoughts: Absolutely beautiful, but we knew this one would be, even before we cracked it open. Reputation casts a long shadow.

93/100


 Posted by at 8:16 pm
Jan 032020
 

Alright. Let’s us start off 2020 with a bang, yeah? How ’bout a sassy lil indie Port Ellen weighing in just a couple years short of a full three decades?

This one was tasted in a spectacular range of eight different expressions of Port Ellen, including six of the Platinum series from Douglas Laing. The whole range was provided by our mate, Maltmonster, under the guise of ensuring that the whiskies were tasted before those horrible wax seals failed and the malts were compromised. Uh…sure. Let’s go with that. The event itself was a tag team affair between MM and another mate or two. And on behalf of those select attendees privileged enough to attend…all I can say is that we were humbled and grateful to be invited.

While the event was some time ago now, I do still have a few sma’ samples put aside for future reviews. In other words…we’re not done talking Port Ellen. Not by a long shot.

I know some of you love these Port Ellen porn reviews, while others simply roll their eyes. Hopefully there’s more value in archiving notes for these old gems than not, though.

This particular expression – a big, bold 28 year old matured in sherry – is a real cracker. Though I prefer PE in ex-bourbon, these outliers are a real treat from time to time.

54.6% abv. 227 Bottles.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Big sherry notes masking most of the PE-ness. Tar and smoke, of course (else this wouldn’t really be a Port Ellen, would it?). Chocolate. oiled leather. Menthol drops. Cold coffee. Caramelized bark of a perfectly cooked ham. Savoury, smoky and rather brisket-y as well. Some notes of aloe. Licorice All Sorts. Fruit leather. Under-steeped Lapsang Souchong tea. Polished Wood.

Palate: More immediate licorice now. A nice smokiness, neither huge nor one-dimensional. Dried fruit and jammy notes. Raspberry and balsamic. Charred ham again. Black current (real and of the mentholated cough drop variety). Smoked tea again. Some underlying shy notes. And green apple.

Finish: Quite drying (there’s the tannicity from the sherry, I suppose). Fruit skins. Strawberry and raspberry, but…in a reduced form. Long and lovely.

Thoughts: In a way, this is almost not identifiable as a Port Ellen. Strange mash-up of coastal Islay charm and big wet fruitiness. A little bit of a sherried Bowmore-esque quality as well.

89/100

 Posted by at 9:56 am
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
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
Aug 232019
 

Rosebank sorta straddles that barrier between first tier and second tier when people discuss their personal biases and rankings for the much-mourned closed distilleries. No two ways about it, there’s a deep sentimentality out there for this iconic and quintessential Lowlander, but Rosebank will almost certainly never be held in the stead of Port Ellen or Brora. Especially now, as the eve of the distillery’s renaissance approaches. Another factor, of course, is that Rosebank closed in much more recent times than did the ‘Big Two’. Ten years later, to be exact.

But I think more than any other issue at play is simply the makeup of the malt itself. We’re a comparing a relatively innocuous (that’s not to say it wasn’t lovely, and occasionally even spectacular) light and floral dram with the enormity of the massive peat profiles from an era where homogeneity hadn’t yet become the de facto standard. Now, hear me out: brands don’t strive for homogeneity, of course, but when your grand pursuits are yield and consistency, it becomes inevitable that character will be the sacrificial goat. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s there were many more variables at play: a ‘by touch’ method of brewing and distilling, inconsistent cask policies, wild west wood policies, etc. Inevitably, this is what led to such fantastically singular casks slumbering away in some of these fossil distilleries we hold in museum piece-like awe. This is the very same reason that Springbank continues to climb the charts in drinkers’ esteem nowadays.

This 25 year old Rosebank is a near perfect example of what the distillery’s ‘house style’ could be considered. And though I still don’t find it a home run dram, I can’t argue the intrinsic quality. It’s there in spades. Lovely dram. One more please.

50.5% abv. From an ex-bourbon barrel that yielded 192 bottles. Distilled in 1991, just two years before the distillery closed, and bottled in 2017 for the 175th anniversary of Cadenhead.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Definitely soft and perfumed. White chocolate and a drizzle of warm honey. Toasted marshmallow. Rosehip. Gooseberry. Pineapple upside down cake with French vanilla ice cream. A very berry-heavy artificial sweetness. Also quite creamy.

Palate: Toasted oak, much more assertive than expected, and almost leaning toward bitter. Grapefruit pith, which also bitters a bit, but in a more pleasant way. Orange, mango, kiwi and lychee (yup, as it says right on the bottle).

Finish: Clean and oak-driven. Rather lovely, if maybe a bit anemic.

Thoughts: Really good example of the style and the distillery, but also a perfect example of why Rosebank will rarely be knock-out whisky for me. Very drinkable (not far off some good old Irish whiskey I’ve had, actually), just not my preferred style. Should also note that it just gets better and better with time in the glass. I probably had it a point or two lower than the score it’s getting before it ‘evolved’ with time.

88/100

 Posted by at 10:52 am
Aug 202019
 

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Dead Distillery Births Live Monster of a Whisky!

Yep. This one really is a true monster of a whisky. And I mean that in all the right ways. Towering, monolithic, hideously beautiful. This takes the concept of subtlety and pounds it into a bloody pulp of submission. And it’s that paradoxical contrast of refined maturity and overt, beastly aggression that makes me slaver over it.

I should be forthright and confess my personal bias here, so you know to take my score with a grain of salt. I love malts like this. They’re over-the-top, far from balanced, and almost not even whisky anymore. They’re also an utterly fantastic and welcome deviation from the mainstream. Shame about the price point (tickling the four figure mark), but it is fair. Relatively speaking, anyway. Caperdonich is, after all, shuttered for good, and the stuff in the glass is almost four decades old. If the occasion arises, do not miss out on this one.

In terms of drinkability…a slow, deep contemplative sipper.  A heavy, one-and-done, take-your-time kinda dram.  In terms of true appreciatibility (yes, I sometimes make up words; what of it?)…a near priceless glance at a bygone era.  The sort of malt I get sentimental about.

50.4% abv. 462 bottles.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Deep and rich and beautiful. And 100% over-sherried, but I love it for that. Polished wood. Old Cognac or Armagnac. Orange oils and morello cherries. Dunnage and old libraries. Rancio. Oily, dried tropical fruits. Sandalwood. Marzipan. Very high end dulce de leche. Licorice. Quite savoury, actually. A distant whiff of smoke.

Palate: Waxy with notes of old polish and that fine old Cognac or Armagnac again. Dried mango, fig, cherry and papaya. Kirsch. Apple skins. More of those savoury notes threaded through with a bit of mince. Moist trail mix (nuts, chocolate, dried fruit). All Sorts and Eat More bars. Tastes…well…old.

Finish: Long and pleasant. Less oaky than expected. Nice, slow-drying fruitiness, bordering on tannic, but not quite.

Thoughts: Alright, maybe a little long in the tooth, but this style works for me. It’s not a regular go-to type bottling (even if the price was lower), but it is a hell of an occasional experience. Ahhh, who am I kidding? I’d drink this anytime I was offered one.

92/100

 

 Posted by at 1:01 pm
Aug 182019
 

The 28 year old official bottling of Convalmore from 2005 was, if not a knockout in the traditional sense, definitely one of my personal favorites. Its simple and elegant, yet bold, approach to a very naked and traditional style won me over big time. It did the same for others I know, as well. I seem to recall Dave Broom had a particular fondness for it. Though I see eye to eye with Dave’s views less and less as the days go on (though, having shared beers with him, I can attest he is a lovely man whom I’d love to hang with more frequently), I do have to say I’m riding shotgun with him on that particular dram. If memory serves, the 32 year old was really quite fine as well. So let’s dig into the 36 year old now. All three of these OBs are, of course, Diageo releases.

Convalmore’s last spirit ran through the safe in 1985. The buildings are still intact, but the equipment is long gone. It’s malts like this that make us mourn these closed distilleries with a tear in our eye.

58% abv (Wonder what this was racked at, in order to still be sitting at 58% after nearly four decades.) Distilled in ’77; bottled in ’13. Only 2,680 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: Great attack! Wow. Almost savoury. Extremely well-composed. Perfectly matured, clean ex-bourbon style. Crème brulee with a sprinkling of pepper. Crème caramel. Almost apple pie-like too. Lightly toasted almond. Saw-burnt wood (like when your tool gets bound up mid cut). Biscuit tones. Honey. Gentle fruit notes, nudging into tropical territory, though hard to pinpoint specific fruits. Most of the sweetness, though, is just clean, fresh orchard fruit tones.

Palate: Amazing arrival. Uber juicy. Slightly tart and furniture polish-y. Apple crumble this time, complete with that cunchy, crusty, awesome toastiness. Brioche. Deeper fruits now, much deeper. They’re starting to fight the wood by this point, and just barely winning. Bottled at the perfect time.

Finish: Fantastic slow fade. A perfect flavor marriage of all that came before it. Dies a slow death.

Thoughts: Beautiful old dram. Leaves me wanting another glass. And another. And another.

93.5/100

 Posted by at 9:25 am