Jun 092013

Benriach/BenRiach: The Little ‘r’ Big ‘R’ Tasting

On May 28, 2013, the Dram Initiative sat down to a range tasting featuring BenRiach whiskies.  The tasting was hosted by the ever engaging and knowledgeable, J Wheelock, of Authentic Wine & Spirit Merchants.  This was the second range tasting of the Dram Initiative, Calgary’s newest and most progressive avant-garde whisky club for whiskey swingers that are willing to experiment with all things whisky.

BenRiach, for the benefit of the great unwashed, means “The Hill of the Red Deer”.  The distillery is located near Elgin in the beautiful Spey Valley and was built in 1898 by John Duff.  Unfortunately, the distillery only produced whisky for two years before succumbing to the Patterson whisky crash of 1900, and was mothballed. However, the malting floors continued in operation and supplied the neighboring distillery, Longmorn, with malted barley.  In 1965, after the sale of the distillery to The Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd, the distillery was almost completely rebuilt and whisky production started up again.  The distillery was sold again in 1977 to Seagram and then again to Chivas in 2001, who almost immediately closed it in 2002.  In 2004, the distillery was sold to Billy Walker along with two other partners, Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter, who started up production again.

This tasting was designed to pick the top single cask from 1983 – 1986 Bourbon barrel/hogsheads, from the four currently available in the city of Calgary.  The second goal was to highlight the influences on the whisky from Sherry, Port and Madeira and lightly peated and heavily peated malted barley.  The third goal was to speculate on the need to capitalize the ‘R’ after one hundred and six years.  So, whilst we were drinking, enjoying and voting on our whisky, we came up with a top ten reasons why:

Top Ten Reasons For The Capital ‘R’ In BenRiach:

10)  ‘BR’ stands for two chess pieces, the Bishop and the Rook, in honor of Joseph Henry Blackburne, a brilliant British chess player who dominated the game during the latter part of the 19th century. He was nicknamed “The Black Death”, and occasionally became violent when he drank whisky (rumored to be Benriach) during his chess games.

9)  Inspired by Bruichladdich and their complete disregard for convention, BenRiach has capitalized the ‘R’ for Rad or Radical, to point out all the radical types of whiskies being served up by the Rad new owners for public enjoyment.

8)  ‘BR’ means …………. Best Regards. In trying to become a polite company, it was thought that this change could make BenRiach come across more cultured.

7)  Capital ‘R’ in front of a word makes it special, therefore if the distillery is special, it goes without saying that the people who make the whisky must be special too.

6)  Anything associated with the British Royalty helps sell (you can also charge more for it) ………….. So the thinking was to capitalize the ‘B’ & ‘R’ to stand for British Royal, thereby giving the name a sense of entitlement.

5)  ‘B’ and ‘R’ are the initials of the legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, a star home run hitter before the age of steroids for both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.  He was also the only player in history to credit his athletic prowess to a steady regimen of cigars, women and of course ……… whisky (rumored to be Benriach).

4)  The name was changed in honor of Billy Walker and his secret love for country music and in particular, a band called B&R, which are short for Big Kenny and John Rich.  In 2004, the same year in which Benriach was acquired, the band put out his all-time favorite song, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy”.

3)  The capital ‘R’ was for Alistair Walker and his favorite book growing up which was ABC by Dr. Seuss.  His favorite part of the book was “BIG R little r” in which “a one Rosy Robin Ross was going riding on her red rhinoceros”.

2)  Major confusion between the Marketing and Finance departments with the mixed up thought, that by capitalizing the ‘R’ it would solve any potential problem for under-capitalization.

1)  The capital ‘R’ stands for “Resolution” which was made in 2004 by the owners, to stay out of the pub and not to buy another distillery. This resolution was broken in 2008 with the purchase Glendronach now the GlenDronach distillery, and Capital ‘D’ was for “Don’t do it again”.  This “Don’t do it again” was promptly broken, yet again, in 2013 with the acquisition of the Glenglassaugh distillery, soon to be the GlenGlassaugh distillery, with the Capital ‘G’ most likely standing for “God” as in “Oh God, I can’t believe they lent us the money to do it again”.




#1 AWS 1986 – August 2012 Cask # 5458 Bourbon Barrel 50.5 % ABV 217 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled by Authentic Wine & Spirit Merchants Alberta by J Wheelock.

Locally known as “Wheelock’s Wicked Whisky”.

NOSE:  Sweet ripe oranges & cherries, cinnamon, banana & apples. Raisins and some yeasty notes.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel sauce, green apples, liquorice.

FINISH:  Long and little tart at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Nice all around dram, my second favorite of the tasting.


#2 CWS 1985 – September 2012 Cask # 531 Bourbon Barrel 49.9 % ABV 189 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled for Co-op Wines Spirits, Alberta.

NOSE:  Smoke and leather. Some floral notes and apricots jam. Like an old Armagnac.

TASTE:  Light smoke and tobacco. Nutty, sour oranges and lots of black liquorice.

FINISH:  Long and warm.

ASSESSMENT:  Odd to get that much smoke from a non-peated whisky, must come from the floor malting somehow.


#3 CSN 1984 – August 2012 Cask # 1114 Hogshead 56.1 % ABV 198 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled for CSN Wine & Spirits, Calgary, Alberta.

NOSE:  Ripe sweet honeydew melon, creamy vanilla, flora and waxy.

TASTE:  Butterscotch overload, spices, pears, raisins and almonds.

FINISH:  Long with some nutty liquorice right at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Interesting, lovely balanced dram.


#4 KWM 1983 – September 2012 Cask # 298 Hogshead 44.2 % ABV 233 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled For Kensington Wine Market, Calgary, Alberta.

NOSE:  Pineapple expresses, ripe melons, maple syrup. Five alive fruit salad.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel, coconut milk, sweet ripe fruits.

FINISH:  Medium to long, caramel finish.

ASSESSMENT:  This is a tropical shit storm of fruit. If you like a fruity dram, this is the one for you.



After tasting the first four drams blind, the Dram Initiative club members voted by a show of unwashed hands, which showed their inclination in the following order:

Win           Kensington Wine Market 1983 cask # 298

Place         Centre Street North 1984 cask # 1114

Show        Authentic Wine & Spirits 1986 cask # 5458

4th             Co-op Wines Spirits 1985 cask # 531


#5 KWM 1994 – September 2009 Cask #4810 Madeira Finish Hogshead 57.1 % ABV 250 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled For Kensington Wine Market, Calgary, Alberta.

NOSE:  Sweet fruit syrupy, almost like a liqueur. Burnt sugar with vanilla bean.

TASTE:  Sugar & spice and all things nice. Black licorice that coats the tongue and stewed fruits.

FINISH:  Long and spicy.

ASSESSMENT:  Many layers and much depth to this one.


#6 1977 – July 2010 Cask #1033 Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish Hogshead 52.2 % ABV 331 Bottles

2010 Annual Limited Release Batch 7.

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries. Caramel, rich coffee and cigar notes.

TASTE:  Major dill. Toffee, raisins, dark fruits and nutty.

FINISH:  Medium. Lingering and sweet.

ASSESSMENT:  Excellent sherry cask. Wow, this one really shows just how good a sherry finish BenRiach can be.


#7 1975 – August 2007 Cask #4451 Lightly Peated Port Pipe 53.7 % ABV 707 Bottles

2007 Annual Limited Release Batch 4.

NOSE:  Smokey coke & rum. Citrus and sweet cherries with a little pineapple.

TASTE:  Thick overpowering clove sweet, spices and oily liquorice.

FINISH:  Medium and fades fast.

ASSESSMENT:  You really need to love rum to like this one.


#8 1984 – July 2010 Cask #4052 Tawny Port Finish Peated Hogshead 51.7 % ABV 265 Bottles

2010 Annual Limited Release Batch 7.

NOSE:  Assertive smoke, but pleasant. Stewed fruits and cream.

TASTE:  Minty smoke & pepper. Oranges, a little floral and some coffee notes.

FINISH:  Long and a bit drying.

ASSESSMENT:  I like this one the more I drink it.


Thanks to J Wheelock for hosting the Dramned.  You complete us.

Congratulations to BenRiach for starting up the malting floors again, (sorry to the next generations of hunchbacks) we know it’s expensive, but whisky drinkers do take notice and appreciate the effort.

What’s next for the owners of Benriach?  Well, according to the rules of distillery monopoly, if they buy one more distillery, they can start building a new larger mega distillery!


– Your humble Drudge, Maltmonster

 Posted by at 8:53 am
May 242013


Ok…we’re nearly at the point of publishing reviews for the new Macallan 1824 NAS series.  Before I get to that little bit of fun however, I kinda wanted to knock out at least one more of these Macallan featurettes.  In a previous piece on the Sherry Oak series, I promised at least two, and possibly three, more runs of tasting notes from the Macallan ranges.  Moving on from the Sherry Oak releases we checked out here, let’s take a peek at a handful from the Macallan Fine Oak line.  Here are a few bits of insight regarding this, one of the main branches of the Macallan tree.

A few decades back Macallan decided to have a little fun.  Or maybe it was a cost-savings venture*.  Not really certain.  Already famous for single malt whisky matured in butts from their own Spanish bodegas, the good folk at Macallan began sourcing ex-bourbon barrels from the US.  These barrels were sherry-seasoned, and whiskies matured in these casks were married with other, more typical, stocks from the distillery.  The result was an entire new range for Macallan that since 2004 has run in parallel with the Sherry Oak releases.

*When you consider the price of American bourbon barrels vs the price of Spanish sherry butts…egads!  We’re looking at a difference of (if rumours are correct) around 1000%.  Ouch.

Anyway…the whisky…starting with the new make spirit as a benchmark…


Macallan New Make

Notes:  63% abv.  Crystal clear.

Nose:  Slight nuttiness.  Malty.  Fresh bitter fruit.  Rubbery acetone.  Metallic note somewhere in there.  Oh yeah…and some cereals.

Palate:  Fire water.  With a bit o’ citrus.  Estery.  Please put this waxy young thing into the rock tumbler (ahem…a fine sherry bucket) and knock those edges off.

Thoughts:  Unrecognizable as a Macallan really.  Shows you what the distillery’s wood policy really means.  Cool as hell to see this as a new make.

Bottle Shots 2 026

Macallan 10 Fine Oak

Notes:  40% abv.

Nose:  Dusty oak.  Red fruit.  Barley.  A wee bit dry and mildly figgy.  Orange.  Honeyed woods.  Cereal.  Slightly sharp and thin.

Palate:  Again…disappointingly thin.  And a little sharp.  Really?  This is Macallan?  High notes of citrus.  Oak.

Thoughts:  Simple.  Underdeveloped.  Pleasant, but…simply not ‘my’ Macallan.


Macallan 15 Fine Oak

Notes:  43% abv.

Nose:  Some orange and just a touch of white pepper.  Lots of soft creamy vanilla.  Grains.  Some light lavendar notes.  Slightly grassy.  A touch of nutmeg and scone.

Palate:  Pie crust with a touch of spice.  Some oaky notes and strong vanilla.  The top fire-toasted layer of creme brulee.

Thoughts:  Clean.  A definite step up from the 10 y.o.  Quite unassuming, but well-made and refreshingly drinkable.

067 (2)

Macallan 17 Fine Oak

Notes: 43% abv.

Nose:  Green fruit skin.  Hint of ginger.  Caramelized sugars.  Oak peeks through as it opens.  Hay and mellow spice.

Palate:  Fruits arrive with a little more confidence.  Oaky and drying.  Everyone leaves but the woods, which arrived late anyway.  Surprisingly drying.

Thoughts:  Fresh and vibrant.  Wife called this one ‘wintery’.  Hmmm.  Not so sure ’bout that, but…it does have a rather refreshing coolness to it.  Really liked this one.


Macallan 21 Fine Oak

Notes:  43% abv.

Nose:  Candied or maybe honeyed.  Rising bread.  Tropical fruits.  Hay.  Slightly floral.  Grains.  Sweet buttery toffee.  Honey and a perfect melange of X-Mas spice.  Wood influence at a perfect age.  Sweet.  Orange zest.

Palate:  Unfolds slowly.  Woods arrive first.  Spice and zest.  Buttery baking and drying fruit.

Thoughts:  A lot more ‘electric’ than the rest of the range.  Great nose with excellent balance.  Palate is a little duller than the nose, but still very good.  This one surprised and charmed me.  More please?

062 (2)

Macallan 25 Fine Oak

Notes:  43% abv.

Nose:  Waxy vanilla.  Green and dill-like (basil?).  Aged bourbon cask notes (ghostly fruit and sweetness).  Caramel apple.  Dusty grain.

Palate:  Sharp green notes and wax carry to palate.  Red fruit skins.  Rich and mouthwatering.  great finish too.

Thoughts:  Not even remotely comparable to the Sherry Oak 25, but hey…am I gonna say no to this?  Hell no.  Another good drink and very indicative of how much quality you can see in older Macallans, irrespective of the big sherry maturation.


Macallan 30 Fine Oak

Notes:  43% abv.

Nose:  Fruit still seems quite lively.  Vanilla weaving in and out.  White peppered peach.  White cranberry.  Wood shavings.  Grains are strong.  Beautiful restraint.

Palate:  Vanilla carried by mild oakiness.  Bread crust.  Cacao shavings.  Touch of orange.  Fades to a drying finish.

Thoughts:  Don’t think I’d peg this as a 30 y.o.  Mature enough, but definitely wears its years well.  I still gotta go with the Sherry Oak line as a personal preference, but this is bloody great drink in its own right.


Alright.  Two rounds down.  Part three will be the Oddballs; a selection of a few slightly more off-the-beaten-path releases from Macallan.  Further…I’ll tackle the Mac Travel series (Twenties, Thirties, Forties and Fifties) as well as the afore-mentioned 1824 series (Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby).  Stay tuned.



– Words & Tasting Notes:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:05 pm
Mar 312013


Many days back (yes…I am occasionally that slow getting these pieces posted) a good mate of mine arranged a very…errr…sprawling Macallan tasting for me.  So sprawling in fact, that by dram number eleventy-three my nostrils were closing, I was seeing two of everything and all my s‘s had turned into sh‘s.  Of course, you gotta wonder what good your tasting notes are by the time you reach this point of hyper-sobriety, so in the spirit of maintaining some sort of integrity here, I insisted on revisiting a few of these that we tasted later in the evening.

As I began typing up my tasting notes I realized that the feature had grown to such obviously unwieldy proportions that I would have to split it into pieces, and showcase the malts in a more logical fashion.  This also allowed me to visit a couple extra for the sake of inclusion.

Part one will focus on the Sherry Oak range.  Part two, the Fine Oak series.  Part three, a few of the Macallan one-offs and oddballs.  (And to honest…I am debating a Part four…we’ll see).  I’ll preface each with my tasting notes for The Macallan New Make spirit simply as a point of reference to highlight the journey from birth to bottle.

In this first segment…some of the malts that helped define The Macallan reputation.  (Or more accurately, I’ll tackle the contemporary descendants of the whiskies that made The Macallan a legend.)  Sherry has long been the distillery’s hallmark, so let’s start there…


Macallan New Make

Notes:  63% abv.  Crystal clear.

Nose:  Slight nuttiness.  Malty.  Fresh bitter fruit.  Rubbery acetone.  Metallic note somewhere in there.  Oh yeah…and some cereals.

Palate:  Fire water.  With a bit o’ citrus.  Estery.  Please put this waxy young thing into the rock tumbler (ahem…a fine sherry bucket) and knock those edges off.

Thoughts:  Unrecognizable as a Macallan really.  Shows you what the distillery’s wood policy really means.  Cool as hell to see this as a new make.

Bottle Shots 2 021

Macallan 12 Sherry Oak (Recent Edition)

Notes:  40% abv.

Nose:  Mild mik chocolate.  Nutmeg and almond.  Orange.  Pinecone (NOT pine).  Touch of maltiness (hard to catch until moving the glass away).  Lightly floral.  Fudge.  A little ‘toastier’ than earlier editions.  Dark caramel.  Obviously the sherry is large and in charge at this age.

Palate:  Oaky delivery.  Rich in dark red fruits and the faintest tendril of smoke.  Some deep strong chocolate too.

Thoughts:  Charming enough, but not the giant that Macallan delivers in more aged incarnations.


Macallan 12 Sherry Oak (Older Edition)

Notes:  40% abv.

Nose:  Creamier than more recent editions.  Toffee.  Seems to be some malts older than 12 years in this one.  Fruits are more vibrant than in newer bottlings.  Warm cinnamon buns.

Palate:  Not quite up to the soft nose.  Bread dough.

Thoughts:  Substantially different from the latest incarnations, though I know not from whence this has come.  Packaging is different though.  I think there may be a few older casks vatted in here.  Smooth and drinkable.


Macallan 18 Sherry Oak

Notes:  43% abv.

Nose:  Rich and chewy sherry.  Soft and refined.  Mild nutmeg and cream.  Muted cherry.  Toffee.  Heather.  Warm leather.  European bread.  Mint.  Nearly faultless.

Palate:  Mildest of dried fruit and rumballs.  Caramel.  Warm melted chocolate and orange.  Oak.  Lasts none too long, but a beautiful top note and denouement.  Man…what exceptional balance.

Thoughts:  Wow…what harmony!  A very young 18…in a good way.  Nose here is bloody brilliant.


Macallan 18 Sherry Oak (1981)

Notes: 43% abv.

Nose:  Cinnamon and nutmeg.  Cherry, orange and citrus.  Tobacco.  Old cask notes that suggets there is whisky in here older than 18 years.  A touch of licorice and wax.  Borders on a touch of the trpoical.  Polish.

Palate:  Beautiful cherry and orange rind delivery.  Splashy and juicy arrival.  Wow.  Fruits and maturity.  Moves into lovely wood tones.

Thoughts:  Full sunrise to sunset development.  Lovely all the way through.  If only current exressions were this good.


Macallan 25 Sherry Oak

Notes:  43% abv.

Nose:  Rich, oiled leather.  Heavy…so heavy. Christmas cake.  Cinnamon (almost like buttery cinnamon spread). Orange.  Maraschino cherry.  Caramel fudge.  Dark chili chocolate.

Palate:  Oily and rubbery.  Dusty dried fruits.  Great maturity meets fun vibrancy.

Thoughts:  I expected a tannic drying finish, and couldn’t have been more wrong.  Great drink.  Exceptional, really.

064 (2)

Macallan 30 Sherry Oak

Notes:  43% abv.

Nose:  Waxy.  Sherry ebbs into tarry mature notes.  Leather.  Deep-running spices.  Dried apple.  Crushed walnut.

Palate:  Apple skins and winter spice.  Wax and tar.  Long and bitters out slightly…in a pleasant way.

Thoughts:  Sexy.  Brooding and deep.  This…this is what I imagine when I think of the storied reputation Macallan has built itself.  I could linger over this for hours before even sipping.  This is a dram to adore and worship.


Macallan Cask Strength

Notes:  59.3% abv.  Bottled for Canada.

Nose:  Heavy sherry and all that usually accompanies.  Demerara sweetness. Christmas pudding.  Fruit cake with heavy marzipan frosting.  Kirsch and dark chocolate.  Well-oiled baseball mitt.

Palate:  Enormous arrival.  Thick toffee.  Sherry wollop.  Fruit skins and mouthwatering juiciness.

Thoughts:  I love this.  The only thing comparable is an Aberlour a’bunadh, which is one of my favorites.  At this point it’s a toss up which I prefer more.


– Notes:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:42 pm
Feb 182013

Know Your Enemy – A Whisky Guy’s Take On A Rum Tasting


It seems that many in the spirit spheres seem to think that an appreciation of whisky means at least a rudimentary appreciation for the brown spirit sector as a whole.  While a few out there do indeed see the parallels, this humble taster does not correlate color of libation with inherent appreciation.

Put simply…rum and I…we don’t get along.  Though I have tried many and many and many…well…the only rums I’ve ever really appreciated were those that most closely resembled a whisky (pure and aged).  Or those that were so unbelievably franken-engineered as to be nearly unrecognizable as such (ahem…The Kraken, in all its spiced and modified syrupy vanilla glory).

So why then would a non-fan, and relative spirit purist (excepting the afore-mentioned Kraken), opt to sit in on a rum night?  Simple.  I was a seat-filler.  Though not as pretty as the gals who cover the washroom breaks at the Academy Awards, the purpose was still met.  Guest speaker comes to town…tickets don’t sell…rep needs seats full for said speaker…voila!  Free tickets.  Further…said rep is a buddy of mine and all ‘round decent chap.

Generally speaking I’m a half-full kinda guy, so there was certainly some positives to be taken away from the eve.

  1. The rums weren’t that bad.
  2. It was a great experience and teaching tool for the nose and palate.
  3. The company kept was top notch.
  4. It afforded my whisky-swillin’ mates something to mock me for.
  5. One should always know one’s enemy…and this was an insider’s view if ever there was.

Friend, colleague, partner-in-crime and author emeritus, sage Lance Surujbally (who handles the rum reviews on my other site www.liquorature.com) and I have a longstanding good-natured feud about the merits of our respective choice of drink.  I’m right, of course, but I commend the man, he makes a valiant effort.

As Lance was also in attendance this night, I would expect nothing less than his unadulterated feedback (and snappy, biting backlash) on this piece.  After all…no one I know personally has more knowledge of the sappy cane-juice than he.

All joking aside, this was a fun night.  Informative to boot.  This was the first time I had spent time properly nosing and dissecting rum.


Cap’n Jimbo, Complete Idjit…sharpen your spears and prepare for counterattack…the whisky guy takes on your beloved syrup!  Ahoy!


Flor de Cana 4 y.o. Limon

Notes & Nuances:  7-Up or Sprite.  Lemon Zest.  Slightly creamy.  Mint and aloe.  Green melon.  Little bit grassy.  Lemon pledge.  Young and green.

Thoughts & Opinions:  Refreshing and syrupy sweet.  More like a fortified soda than a sipper.  Add mix, drop in a cube or three…guzzle.


Flor de Cana 5 y.o. Black Label

Notes & Nuances:  Coffee.  Sweet and bitter.  Vanilla.  Deep, dark caramel.  Nutmeg.  Molasses (sharp and pungent).  Hint of anise.  Molasses is really, really big on palate.

Thoughts & Opinions:  This is rum.  Yep.  Sure is.  Pretty much exactly what I’m not into.  Not bad, but just something to mix with Coke as far as I’m concerned.


Flor de Cana 4 y.o. Extra Dry

Notes & Nuances:  Sweet and vanilla-rich.  Chocolate and toffee.  Almost sherry-like.  Creamy and has some smooth whisky notes.  Makes me think a little of Glenfarclas.  Mild spices.  Tropical and citric.  Alcoholic Play-Dough bite on delivery. Almond/marzipan/Amaretto on the palate.

Thoughts & Opinions:  Though young, a little more character and feist here.  Some interesting notes, but a very synthetic arrival spoils this one for me.


Flor de Cana 7 y.o. Grand Reserve

Notes & Nuances:  Crème brulee.  Caramel and vanilla.  Mocha.  Dried fruit and nutmeg.  Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar.  Burnt, or heavily toasted, marshmallow.  Molasses on delivery.  Bitter on palate.

Thoughts & Opinions:  Aha!  Now we’re getting somewhere.  A little more character. A few notes that actually make me reach for a second sip.  Particularly appreciate the smooth creamy choco-crème notes.


Flor de Cana 12 y.o. Centenario

Notes & Nuances:  Mild tobacco.  Molasses and creamy caramel.  Butter.  Christmas cake.  Wood is becoming a little more prevalent by this age.  Vanilla.  Light bourbon notes.  Sweet and slightly whisky-like (kinda like an old sherried malt with burnt sugar notes).  Sweetened coffee.  Almond paste.  A few jagged bitter notes.

Thoughts & Opinions:  Hit and miss.  Dodge, dodge, jab!  Age does not equal greatness.  This ain’t bad, but it also ain’t greatness.


Flor de Cana 18 y.o. Centenario Gold

Notes & Nuances:  Mellow maturity.  Just a hint of pepper.  Marshmallow cream.  Thick threads of vanilla and mild molasses.  Hint of citrus and wax.  Nutty…mild though.  Melted chocolate and honey Nougat.  Salty.  Burnt sugar and tannic sharpness.

Thoughts & Opinions:  Some very good notes here.  Some rather biting nippy bits too.  ‘Burnt’ and ‘tannic’ as descriptors should give you some notion of the less than favorable bits.  Aside from these little buggery nitpickety barbs…the experience is cohesive.


Now…I’ve done my chores.  Can I go out and play?

*Apologies…I have photos from this eve, but they are locked on another computer that has died on me.  One day I’ll rip the drive out and get ’em posted here.



 Posted by at 9:45 am
Dec 122012

The End Of Another Year…

Ok.  Let’s be clear straight up.  I’m no authority.  I don’t pretend to be.  I just keep a running online dialogue of tasting notes here.  Kinda like publishing a diary or something.  I never seem to get around to publishing notes for more than a handful of what I’ve actually tasted, but through the course of a year I do generally get to try a fairly extensive selection of whisky, and I do keep notes on much of it.  For these reasons it is fairly easy to do a quick survey of the year’s most memorable drams.  Only one rule…2012 had to be the first time tasting these.  There were other brilliant drams through the past 365, but if I had tried them at some point in the past…off the table for consideration.

So…a couple quick points:

First…this is not a ‘best of’ list.  This is a ‘most memorable’.  Some of these whiskies stick out due to personal associations I have, memories made with them or simply personal bias.

Second…this is not an ‘awards’.  I have a personal belief that none of us amateur hacks should pretend to enough authority to publish an awards piece.  The most important reason I say this is simply thus: without tasting an enormous range, rich in breadth and depth, how the hell am I ever supposed to claim that I have tasted enough to declare this one or that one the ‘whisky of the year’.  Jim Murray?  Sure.  The guy tastes thousands in his symester.  The maniacs?  Absolutely.  The mindboggling numbers of malts tasted speak for themselves.  Whisky Mag?  Betcher ass.  Can’t tell me these folk don’t put back a vast array of entry level through uber-elite malts through the course of the year.  And my personal vote…if anyone should be doing this?  Serge at Whiskyfun!

Anyway…if I were to write ‘The Story Of Whisky 2012’ (and I am, right here and now)…this is how it would go…


Ardbeg Lord Of The Isles – On june 2nd, we launched the Ardbeg Embassy in Calgary and celebrated the first Ardbeg Day.  After a lovely multi-course meal (paired with a suite of suitable Ardbeg drams and cocktails), we closed the night with this gorgeous old malt from years back, generously donated by Mr. Anonymity himself, Maltmonster.  Many thanks once again, kind sir.  Appreciate the opportunity to have tried, as did all in attendance I am certain.  This is an absolutely stunning old Ardbeg…just a few steps shy of the brilliant 1977 release.

Bowmore Laimrig 2011 Feis Ile Bottle 15 yo – A rather special dram.  This was bought for me by David, of Duffies in Bowmore.  Granted, ‘twas towards the back end of a night full of HEAVY lifting (glass all the way from table to lips and back down again…many, many reps), but even so…this was a stunner.  Beautiful rich lush tropical notes and sparklingly clean sherry.  I hunted the island, begged favors, pleaded and cajoled…no luck sourcing my own bottle.  It’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all, I suppose.

BenRiach 1972 – Took me a while to decide if this was one of the drams of the year or not.  Then I realized that the answer was right in front of me.  You don’t debate the merits that long if it wasn’t something entirely memorable.  Lovely drink, and this shared in good company; global visitors and old mates from home alike.  And THAT, my friends, is why we do this, isn’t it?

BenRiach 1971 – Not only one of the most memorable of the year, but one of the best I’ve ever tasted.  Ever.  Like a top 5’er, to be honest.  A tropical fruit bomb of beautiful, usually elusive flavors and aromas.  This is a rare, rare treat.  Sadly missed my window on this one, and even though the price was high…I would gladly pay.  A once-in-a-lifetime treat.

Brora 21 y.o. Rare Malts – Does life get much better that sitting outside on a beautiful early autumn day with a dram of Brora, a good Cohiba and a great friend to chat whisky with?  Not bloody likely.  Cigars and malts…hmmm.  Yes, of course the cigar deadens your receptors for the whisky, but the overall experience is what this is all about.  This is not my favorite Brora, but a beauty nevertheless.

Signatory Glen Scotia 1977 – A steal of a deal.  Surprise from a relatively little known distillery (in the grand scheme of things).  Maltmonster poured this for me.  (How the hell does the guy source so many great whiskies?!)  After falling for it…I called KWM to ask about grabbing one and the ‘Monster had just scooped me on the last bottle.  (He still denies it was him, and that there was some left when he bought his umpteenth bottle.  Pfffft!)

Octomore 2008 Cask Sample (Cask #1201) – An over-charred cask of Octomore.  As of late September, 2012 this was still maturing in the warehouse at Bruichladdich.  A couple drams pulled straight from the cask, and a healthy sample brought home.  Burnt rubber meets char meets peat monster.  I’m not even certain this is all that good, but…awww, hell…what a dram to sip in an old dunnage warehouse!

Serendipity – Not that this is truly one of the greats, but it was a great experience tasting it.  An evening in a great whisky bar with great mates on the island of Islay.  This is a blend of older Ardbeg and 12 year old Glen Moray.  …And yes…it is a damn good drink (else it wouldn’t make this list).  A nose of sweet fruits and bubblegum.  We…uh…made certain to finish this bottle off before we finished our trip off.

Bowmore 1995 Oloroso Cask – How do you top sitting down in the darkened hallowed isles of Vault Number 1 at Bowmore Distillery (home of the legendary Black Bowmore), and pulling the bung from a cask of Bowmore slumbering away in an Oloroso bed?  If you’re 99% of the population…you don’t.  Not the best dram I’ve tasted.  Not even close.  Not even the best Bowmore I’ve tasted, but nevertheless…a great experience.  A very, very memorable dram.

Amrut Portonova – Another humdinger of a dram from Amrut.  Sweet jammy fruit notes meet a whirlwind of exotic spices.  First bottle this year?  Demolished.  Second bottle this year?  Ummm…yep.  Also demolished.  Also enjoyed in good company on many occasions and recently with Ashok Chokalingam at a private event.  I fell for this one.  I fell hard.

Yamazaki 18 –  This one was apparently pulled from our markets due to high levels of carcinogens, if rumour is to be believed.  Either way…a true stunner.  One that took me away to foreign and unfamiliar places.  Frightening in its brilliance.  I know where half a bottle or so slumbers and hope to taste again before expiring (me or the malt), as…alas…it is not in the cards to procure this vintage for myself.  Sometimes ya just gotta be grateful for experience.

Ardbeg Day – Single malt of the year?  Nope…not in these humble eyes anyway, but hey…what do I know, right?  I have to confess though…this is a great dram.  And not only so, but I (and the other four that joined me) made some great memories with this one on Islay in September.  We bought a bottle…separated into flasks…and proceded to nip away through the days and nights.  Along the Battery…along the pier…for breakfast…for bedtime.  Any time of day is Ardbeg time!


With eyes forward to 2013…I (and we at ATW) wish you a happy holiday season and brilliant new year.



– Words:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:25 pm
Dec 042012

With The World Set To End…

I’m not one to relive past mistakes; although I seem to have made a few, probably more than a few, maybe likely more than my fair share…but not when it comes to the upcoming apocalypse.  Now, I’m not talking that Chicken Little “the sky is falling” overreaction thing again, and yes…I may have gotten it wrong in 1997 when I was trying to hitch a ride on Comet Hale-Bopp…and I may have reacted excessively in 2000 with the Y2K total collapse of society…and then again in 2011 with the near miss of Earth from Comet Elenin…but given the amount of media attention on this Mayan prediction, I truly believe this is the BIG ONE!  Thanks to some sage Mayan calendar writer we have been foretold exactly when the end of days is going to happen….. December 21, 2012.  This day is fast approaching and rather than dwell on how unfair the whole thing is, I say when life gives you llamas, make llamanade.  Now is the time to stock up and head for the hills.

One of the essentials for surviving in this bold new world would of course be Single Malt Scotch Whisky.  It doesn’t have an expiration date, tastes great, doesn’t freeze, it’s great for cuts and it’s real good for lifting your spirits after you have to shoot some of your close friends that neglected to heed the call of the oncoming catastrophe or worse, may have turned into some flesh eating, half dead rum drinker.

The real question, of course, is which single malts would be the preferred tipple of choice of the modern survivalist.  Well, to aid the decision making process, the following is a list of single malt whisky paired to the particular impending calamity;


POLAR SHIFT – This would signal the coming of the third Ice Age and bring on a real bitter cold…like living through an Edmonton winter.  Peat is what is needed to combat the frozen chill, peat and plenty of it.  The peat smoke lets you know you’re alive and the warm finish stays with you all the way down to your icy toes.  Recommendation would be:  Peated whisky or a really strong drink.


Curt:  Ardbeg Supernova SN2010 60.1% abv

NOSE:  Uh…have to get back to you when my singed nostrils regain sensitivity.  Kidding aside…a true face-melter.  Nearly impenetrable smoke and dense peat reek.  Freshly ground black peppercorn and BBQ.  Salt.  Tangy lemon.  Chocolate.  Tar and asphalt.

TASTE/PALATE:  Smoke and pepper.  Oily and salty.  Anise.  Brine.  Liquid Smoke.  Cola with a citrus twist.

FINISH:  Will linger till the end of days (as few as there may now be).

ASSESSMENT:  Not sure whether this will numb you deeper than the Arctic chill, or melt anything frozen within miles.  Either way?  P-p-p-p-p-please may I have s-s-s-s-ome more?


Don Tse:  Scotch Malt Whisky Society 53.151 / Chinese Hercules  10-years old, refill bourbon hogshead, 58.0% abv from Islay

NOSE:  Salt, alcohol, charcoal briquettes and a hint of bacon fat.  If you threw some freshly printed mimeograph pages onto a charcoal fire and used that fire to fry up some bacon, you’d have a aromas pretty similar to this complex dram.

TASTE/PALATE:  Bacon fat, charcoal smoke and salt-cured meats.

FINISH:  Medium.  The smoke fades, though some remains present throughout, allowing the flavours of oil and fatty meats to shine.  Mmm…pork chops…

ASSESSMENT: The vast majority of Caol Ila expressions can be spotted from a mile away and this one is no exception.  This expression is a meatier, less smoky Caol Ila.  But make no mistake, the smoke is still there to warm you on a cold Canadian, southern hemisphere night.


GIANT SOLAR FLARE – Think of the great tan you’d get followed by the dropping of a few body parts due to an excess of sunshine units.  When I think of too much radiation I think of inbred hillbillies…and what’s the best way to stave off the effects of those long sunny days?  Well, I would have to say it would be a light sweet vanilla refreshing minty drink that can only come from a first fill bourbon American Ozark mountain oak cask.   Recommendation would be:  Whisky from a bourbon hogshead barrel, a bourbon or a really sweet drink.


Roger Hanks:  Bruichladdich Redder Still 1984 50.5% abv

NOSE:  Fruity with a floral touch but the vanilla is there.

TASTE/PALATE:  Creamy smooth, sweet with fruit and vanilla, a nice balance.

FINISH:  The oak comes to the surface with a little smoke.  Mouth drying.

ASSESSMENT:  A nice easy drinking whiskey even at 50.5%.  The vanilla from the Bourbon barrels is there.  The wine finish gives it a different colour (radish orange) and would have contributed to the fruity floral notes.  Definitely a winner.


Maltmonster:  Glen Scotia 1977  33 Years Old  September 5, 1977 – June 17, 2011  Matured in a Hogshead Cask #2751 Bottle #115 of 159 52.0% abv Bottled by Signatory

NOSE:  Peaches, tropical fruit, honeycomb, marzipan and a little doughy.  Wonderful nose with lovely fruits that mostly comes from older casks of the seventies.  You might want to nose this before you apply your sunblock 1,020 for the day.

TASTE/PALATE:  Creamy vanilla, lots of fruit, melons, milk chocolate with a little bourbon mint and cinnamon.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Very pleasant and a balanced malt.  Just remember the meek shall inherit the earth – after the whisky drinkers are through with it.

ASSESSMENT:  Now if you did manage to survive the extreme radiation, then I think the first order of business (after a nice malt whisky, of course) would be to redo all the lyrics to those happy sunny day songs ……………………. Here comes the sun, here comes the sun, and I say It’s not all right.  Bad day sunshine, bad day sunshine, I need to run when the sun is out.  Sunshine on my shoulders makes me blister, sunshine in my eyes can make me blind.  I’m walking on sunshine, I’m walking on sunshine and it’s starting to make me feel sick.

FYI:  Unfortunately with all the intense radiation it could cause damage to any unprotected whisky.  So remember to put any bottles deep in the basement away from any windows and out of sight from any three eyed messed up DNA mutants hillbillies that might want to harm you or worse ……..steal your whisky.


Gord “g-man” Henke:  Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey 45% abv Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

NOSE:  Marshmallows, vanilla ice cream and caramel covered raisins.

TASTE/PALATE:  Caramel and vanilla, creamy, viscous, some citrus, a bit of the rye comes out in the corn.

FINISH:  Somewhat long with a little heat. Slightly less peppery than 100% rye would be.

ASSESSMENT:  This is the bourbon that Ian McShane’s Al Swearengen served throughout HBO’s Deadwood series. That alone would warrant a tasting. It was also a tribute to a family recipe lost over 150 years ago and has had great success throughout North America ever since. I enjoy this whiskey for its sweet nose and mellow taste. As bourbons go, it’s easy drinkin’, not overly bold, affordable, available and in my opinion quite enjoyable.


J Wheelock:  Isle Of Jura Boutique Barrels 1996 Bourbon Cask  56.5% abv

NOSE:  Vanilla (naturally), some citrus plays around the edges, hints of cinnamon and warm toffee notes

TASTE/PALATE:  Burst of warmth, slowly developing into a much more fruity dram than expected. Undercurrents of classic American oak vanillin playing in two-part harmony with the welcome heat.

FINISH:  Lengthy, gentle cinnamon spice and ever-so-slight bitterness on the back of the palate. Excellent for a post-feast comtemplative sipper.

ASSESSMENT:  Classic Jura can be a good “starter” whisky, in every respect of the term.  This offering is less “Angels peeing on my tongue” and more “Fire in the Sky”.  Finally – a focus on using Small Batch Bourbon casks sourced from Kentucky and a higher abv have made Jura burn brighter than ever.


ZOMBIES – What can I say?  It’s possible.  Hollywood seems to support the idea, and I have always trusted Hollywood.  Now, I’m old school and my understanding of the playing field has always been that Vampires don’t glitter in the sun and Zombies, although very persistent, still move slow but are attracted to sound and possibly smell.  So what to do?  Well, I wouldn’t go with a rum finished whisky for fear this odd flavor may actually attract them.  I would think triple distilled whisky would be the answer; the less the impurities, the less they would sense your presence.  Recommendation would be:  Triple distilled whisky, Irish whiskey or a drink with less impurities.

Maltmonster:  Auchentoshan Valinch  2011 57.5% abv Lowland Triple Distilled

NOSE:  Oranges, oranges and more oranges.  Ripe tangerines, lemon.  Creamy vanilla and a little floral.  So fresh and so vibrant and so very, very much alive.

TASTE/PALATE:  Honey sweet, oranges, cherries and strawberries.  Bourbon mint and caramel.  (As I bit into the dead ripe nectarine, it had a crisp juiciness about it that was very pleasurable ……………….until I realized it wasn’t a nectarine at all, but a human head).  Unless you want your head to become that sweet nectarine to a Zombie or become a manwich, you better stick with the triple distilled malts.

FINISH:  Medium.  Very drinkable…hard to belive this is a cask strength bottling.

ASSESSMENT:  I have never really fully embraced the younger versions of Auchentoshan malts until now.  Thanks to the DEAD-ication of Suntory/Morrison Bowmore Umbrella Corporation we finally get a great younger Auchentoshan, and at cask strength which is outstanding.  Remember…after the Zombie apocalypse…when you think you have someone eating out of your hand, you better count your fingers.

NOTICE:  If the Zombie apocalypse were to happen and if AF were to turn or was about to turn or I suspected he was going to turn (bit of a judgment call on my part) then I invoke the right of Primoris Rudimentum (Latin for first attempt) dealing with him with extreme prejudice, to help him achieve a more restful state.


Curt:  Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 001  57.8% abv

Never one to play by the rules, I had to put a different spin on the Maltmonster’s approach to handling the impending zombie apocalypse (oh yes, friends…it will happen).  Sorry, Maltmonster…sometimes a little out-of-the-box thinking is required to best these mindless bastards.

Fellow zombie nerds will know right where I’m heading with this one.  In order to order their escape from a horde of slathering cannibals in Episode 2 (infamously titled ‘Guts’) of Season 1 in AMC’s The Walking Dead, Rick and the gang resort to one of the most brutally disgusting bits of brilliance I’ve ever seen in zombie canon.  The hack apart a dead walker, lather themselves up in the reek of death and decay and stroll out amid the hordes of flesh eaters.  Seemingly smelling more of their own…the zombies leave ‘em alone.

So…in homage…my whisky selection will take the same approach.

The plan…disguise my inherent purity (yeah…right!) by pouring dram after dram of strong Islay malt, full of the pungent peat reek of decaying organic matter down my throat.  This, all in the attempt to walk among them undetected, possibly smelling even more strongly than the dead.  In honor…

Laphroaig Cask Strength Batch 001

NOSE:  Smoke and brine.  Cocoa.  Iodine.  Tar.  Burnt and fishy.  Sweet and candy-ish (sour ju-jube?).  Capers.  Lime candy and…uh…cannabis?  Caramel apple.  Ash.  Dill, honey and white chocolate.

TASTE/PALATE:  Sweet and smoky as hell.  Like chewing farm-fresh barley.  Black licorice.  Hefty, hefty smoke notes.  Oily and viscous.  And some fish.

FINISH:  Poached apple, salted meat, oak, tobacco and tart fruit skin.  Long, long linger.

ASSESSMENT:  The smell of this one certainly deters the living…why the hell not the dead?!


Davin de Kergommeaux   Glenlugie* nas, “The Zombie Killer” abv unknown. 

NOSE:  Wafting whiffs of damned near everything. Damned, I tell you, damned! Sherry, cognac, rum, red wine, white wine, peat, no peat, malt, no malt, napkins, bottled who knows what, and unbottled tap water.

TASTE/PALATE:  Not so much integrated as congealed, and with a slippery mouthfeel, it goes down in a single gagging glug, glug, glug. There’s no stopping; it’s all one lump.

FINISH:  Not nearly soon enough.

ASSESSMENT:  Behind the tasting tent and ¾ through a second bottle of Satan, I heroically seize the challenge to taste the dump bucket. Age statements tell of the youngest whisky in the blend, so best to call this nas – age as uncertain as a Zombie invader’s. And this happenstance vatting of glory knows what could be anywhere from 15 to 65% abv. It’s a little of everything and little of anything. Disturbing? Yes! Disgraceful? Even more so! But will it bring a Zombie to a disgusted full stop? Dead in its tracks I tell you, as dead in its tracks as I now wish the Beelzebub had done to me. If only he can hold the bucket to his lips without a hand falling off, we live to dram again.

*not to be confused with Glenugie.  Or maybe exactly that…


LARGE METEOR IMPACT OR SUPER VOLCANO – Both come with a nuclear winter scenario, with permanent dark ash-filled skies and acid rain.  Very similar to living in Vancouver or Victoria, with their permanent dark cloud cover (although they don’t have acid rain, they do however have acid-crazed hippies from the seventies which can appear threatening).  The only way to fight back against the lack of sunshine would be to have a malt with added favor, like that imparted from a first fill sherry European oak cask, this would be enough to improve your mood to get you through another dark day. Recommendation would be:  Whisky from a sherry barrel or finished in a sherry barrel or intense wine finish whisky.


Phil Aldred:  Glengoyne Ewan’s Choice, one of a series of single cask bottlings from the Glengoyne Stillmans’ range. Wood type: Sherry Puncheon

Cask: #441 Bottle: 406/600 Strength: 51.5% Distilled: 13 April 1986 Bottled: May 2005 Gold Medal winner in the Malt Maniacs Awards, 2005

COLOUR:  Dark walnut with golden highlights. Flashes of brilliant burgundy when held to the light.

NOSE:  Christmas cake in a glass. Dried fruits, with mulled wine and cloves providing balance, and fleeting hints of leather and mocha.

TASTE/PALATE:  Not surprisingly, dried fruits dominate the flavor – raisins, sultanas and prunes. Some early drying which subsides as the rich luscious fruit layers return.

FINISH:  Exceptionally long and warming. This whisky is guaranteed to sustain through the longest nuclear winter.

ASSESSMENT:  Not an overly complex whisky, but very elegant and stylish. The palate is firm but deftly avoids the overwhelming sweetness found in some sherry heavyweights. Considering the limited quantities and the fact that it is jealously guarded by those few who are fortunate enough to have acquired a bottle, this is a little-known gem. What a pity so few bottles were made, and even fewer remain.


CHRISTOPHER COLLOM:  Ardbeg Corryvreckan 57.1% abv

NOSE:  Salt, smoked meats, pine needles, raw oysters and seaweed, even a hint of vanilla (believe it or not). Medicinal. Did I mention brine du mer?!

TASTE/PALATE :  Got this off the web, and actually agreed with it — though not verbatim (rare indeed. I will concur with Andrew Ferguson’s notes more often than not, but rumor has it that he gets those sent to him by Maltmonster! OK, now I’m just dropping names.):

“Chewy peppered steak soaked in pepper sauce with the tang of crispy seaweed; black tarry espresso coffee that coats the palate with rich dark fruits (blackcurrants, blueberries and cherries) and bitter almonds; as the taste soaks in deeper, star anise and hickory emerge.”

FINISH:  More hot pepper sauce, bing cherries, chocolate, coffee even.  Might remind one of SMWS 33.114 (Sweet versus Savoury), or 33.70 (Keith Richards Meets Socrates), if you are lucky enough to have hovered around those single barrel offerings from Edinburgh.

ASSESSMENT:  Maybe our visit to the Ardbeg distillery in 2009 is too much bias to overcome, … but the peat, Macleod!  The PEAT! I’ve even forgiven them for distributing Corryvreckan in Canada (despite claims of an Islay-exclusive status whilst in the good company of Mickey Heads).  Jim Murray hasn’t mumbled much about this Ardbeg, but then again he didn’t know about it at the time he was giving the 10 year old it’s third consecutive WWOTY crown. C’est la vie.  Or, as they say in Gaelic … ” Sin é an saol .” Malt Advocate thought otherwise in ’09 — t’was their whiskey of the year!

Naming this after a whirlpool ties nicely into local lore, but to see the tempest without traveling to the Inner Hebrides, just rent and watch “I Know Where I’m Going” (1945); among the greatest post-WWII black and white films EVER! Yes, the Corryvreckan is in there.

and the protagonist even has a dram, if I recall correctly. Too bad they didn’t have as refined a single malt as THIS back in the day, eh …  slainte!


Jeff Paterson: Glenfarclas 105 – 10 Years, 60.0% ABV, Speyside

NOSE:  Dense oak, round sherry and shellac, maple/caramelized sugar. There’s also a persistent floral note, reminiscent of Nadurra Triumph. Beautiful amber +3, with razor-thin legs and molasses tears.

TASTE/PALATE:  This is where the sherry shines, sweet and medium dry. Oak and tannins are somewhat neutral, but this improves with water, as does the mouthfeel. Not as complex as the nose, but holds the ABV better.

FINISH:  Long and dry with an even fall-off, coming to a conclusion rather than just… the bitter end.

ASSESSMENT:  As Guy Fawkes said, a desperate disease requires a dangerous remedy, but this one is a 90-class mixed blessing, coming with its own sensory ABV-EMP if you crowd it or try it neat. The cork on mine started to decay in the neck. On Oct. 2, 2012, the Grants launched a 20-year-old version for tactical use – the age of the smart sherry bomb has arrived.


Andrew Ferguson:  Glenfarclas 1997 KWM Family Cask  56.3% abv & Glenfarclas Chariman’s Reserve 175th Anniversary 43 y.o.

Your average visitor to Yellow Stone National Park, transfixed by the beauty of the landscape, the wildlife and the McGeysers is blissfully unaware of the smoldering lava-bomb ticking away beneath their feet. Every 70 to 100 thousand years the Yellow Stone caldera erupts ejecting 1000 times the ash and lava of Mount St. Helens. A blast wave destroys everything in a several hundred kilometer circumference, ash falls several meters thick over an area of tens of thousands of kilometers, skies darken cooling the planet for decades giving rise to a nuclear winter or mini ice age. Crops fail, forests burn and all of sudden everyone is pining back to the good old days when you could follow your favourite celebrity’s self-destruction on Twitter. Most concerning of all, we are due for another eruption.

With such a dire (short term) and bleak (longer term) future ahead, what whisky would be best to soften your harsh new reality? The answer is both one and twofold and always Glenfarclas. If Hollywood can be trusted, and I think Charlie Sheen has shown it can be, the super volcano apocalypse would begin with a short but violent burst lasting around a week.

This first week or party period would be a feast for both the eyes and ears, not unlike a series of YouTube rants by a Grand Warlock. Such an exciting and dramatic event would need a strong whisky to calm the nerves and flavours to contrast with the ashy-smoke clogging your lungs. Some might think a peaty malt would be in order to compliment the newly smoky air, but contrast is the way to go. I can think of no better whisky for this scenario than the Glenfarclas 1997 KWM Family cask. This Oloroso sherry cask matured whisky is very nutty and candied with leather and tobacco notes. Dried dark fruits make for a long pleasant finish, which is good, because clean potable water with which to rinse after brushing will henceforth be harder to find. Added bonus, the 56.3% abv will allow the whisky to double as a disinfectant in a post-apocalyptic world.

The second or scenic period will begin a week to a month after the start of this new geologic age. Those of us without Tiger Blood in the veins will quickly succumb to the post party depression and give up. Sure the sunsets will be magnificent for the next couple of decades, but that won’t make up for the dust storms, raging forest fires or lack of new “winning” moments. You need a whisky to balance things out, something with a sense of history and place to anchor you while you adjust to your new post Two and a Half Men Reality. For this you need the Glenfarclas Chairman’s Reserve 175th Anniversary. This 43 year old whisky has all the classic elements of a good older whisky and none of the more negative elements (too much oak, bitterness and excessive price) The Chairman’ Reserve is a marriage of four casks collectively 175 years of age. The palate is round and full with enormous depth and complexity. Dark Christmas cake notes, Cuban cigar tobacco, rich dark spices, layer upon layer of fruit and treacle sauce too.

A super volcano event like a new Charlie Sheen outburst is not just a possibility but a reality; it is just a matter of time. If the discovery channel can be trusted it could happen tomorrow.


…and finally…I had to save the piece de resistance for last.  Our mate with the soul of a poet, Jonathan Bray put together a brilliant little piece worthy of its own showcase…


Jonathan Bray:  Stranahan’s Snowflake Paladise Cask Finish Colorado Whiskey 47% abv

Giant Solar Flare


Snowflakes…. I used to curse the sight of them after endless months of frigid Winter. How I wish now to close my eyes with an upturned face and feel the soft caress of gently falling snow and the fresh invigorating aroma of blanketed pines.

Awaking with a start I roll out of the superheated beam of blazing light piercing through a jagged crack in the rock. Also scurrying away from the searing shard and looking decidedly worse for wear are my beleaguered companions Barry, Curt and Pat. Blessed with fortune and giving us pause to reflect on the random nature of survival, the four of us blissfully unaware of the impending End of Days Apocalyptic phenomenon about to descend, were on a Whisky hike through the majestic Rocky Mountains.

Not wanting to mix whisky and anything even remotely challenging we had sauntered through easy trails and soft pine needle laden paths reaching our first stop the Cave and Basin in Banff.

Wondering if a few drams of choice whisky would induce a miraculous sighting of the almost extinct Banff Springs snail we had slipped packs and proudly produced each of us a special bottle in the hopes of wowing and amazing our whisky crazed peers.

It started as a bright flash that lit up the open expanse of the cave mouth and instantly overloaded our retinas sending sharp pain lancing through even the insulating layers of just consumed whisky. Snatching up our packs we began scrambling back and away from the superheated sunlight as we retreated deeper into the recesses of the cave. After our panicked spelunking excursion Barry the Apocalyptic expert among us confidently gave voice to answer our bewildered looks of questioning horror. “Giant Solar Flare”.

Faced with the enormity of the realization that we were now in a post-Apocalyptic world we took stock of our situation and more importantly our resources for further survival.

Given the nature of the day trip and the overwhelming emphasis on whisky being the key ingredient of the experience, we began to take stock of the rations on hand. We all realized that a couple of meager cheese portions along with a sliced French Baguette and a single link of cabanossi, was not going to go far amongst the four of us.

How long then could we expect to survive in a cave devoid of any nutrition beyond what we had on hand? The tourist area beyond the cave entrance once complete with a café laden with delectable goodies was now nothing but a wasteland of debris and baked earth seared beyond recognition by the intensity of the biggest Solar Flare in Earth’s History. Given the rarity of a snail sighting in the warmth of the cave’s natural mineral spring we weren’t expecting escargot supplements to come into the survival equation.

With Oakley Thermonuclear Protection Pat was able to venture closer to the mouth with his ever present camera and take only a few hurriedly snapped photos before the heat and glare drove him back to our subterranean prison. The pictures as seen through the small LCD screen of Pat’s formidable SLR showed the utter devastation of the outside environment and squashed all hopes of venturing out.

Resigned to our fate we made ourselves as comfortable as possible on our packs with whisky glasses in hand we began what we expected would be our last whisky experience.

Bringing forth a cherished bottle each in turn poured healthy drams and waxed lyrical about what little we could see of the color in the gloom of the recessed interior along with what seemed to be a heightening of our other senses allowing for what we all agreed was an epiphany that seemed to define our search for the perfect dram.

Coming to my turn I pulled out my bottle of Stranahan’s Snowflake Paladise Cask Finish Colorado Whiskey.  This lovely Whiskey is distilled from 100% Rocky Mountain Barley with nothing else but yeast, Rocky Mountain Water and passion.

1 of only 156 bottles, bottled at 47% without chill filtration or any coloring. Beginning its life in new American white oak for 2 years and 2 months it was then transferred into white Hungarian oak previously used to mature Sonoma Red Wine to complete its maturation.

Deep amber color infused with a subtle red hue when held up against the backlight of our now defunct i-phones.

NOSE:  Bananas Foster with hints of caramelized orange. Warm and inviting, the nose just draws you in. With patience more subtle influences swirl into focus, Meyer lemon, a whiff of subtle clove and vanilla.

TASTE/PALATE:  Creamy mouth-feel with dark orange chocolate undertones. Caramel toffee and roasted almond appear with background sweetness – creamed honey?

FINISH:  Lingering and touching on soft dry tannins, reminiscent of some red wine influence. Definitely feels a lot older than it is with rolling fruitcake and bitter orange marmalade evolving over a lengthy finale that makes this one extremely yummy whiskey.

ASSESSMENT:  Like its namesake this Snowflake is a unique and beautiful creation that exemplifies why Stranahan’s rose from a backyard boutique distillery to be bought out by Proximo Spirits last year. I just hope Jess was able to have fun spending his money before roasting like a marshmallow on a campfire under the instantly radiating pulse of torching flame.

With our tasting done, bottles empty and meager rations consumed all were in agreement that walking out to face the world one last time would be preferable to being forced to draw straws for who was to become the next meal. Settling in for our final night in the cave I eventually drifted off into a contented sleep and dreamt about Snowflakes…..


Final Thoughts…

Now…come December 22, 2012, if the world as we know it has not changed, then no big deal, at least you will have some great single malts to enjoy for any occasion.  A peated malt for a cold winter’s day, refreshing bourbon vanilla malt for a warm summer’s day, a triple distilled malt for before dinner and a hardy sherry malt for after dinner.  Just remember, if this Armageddon doesn’t materialize then at the very least you will have the jump on being prepared for the next major event…

MEGA-FLOODING from the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet in 2016!!! (For which we will start to take advanced bookings and deposits December 23, 2012 on the new and improved “ Titanic Ark 2”).


– Your humble drudge, Maltmonster

 Posted by at 11:09 pm
Aug 192012

Amrut…Secrets Of The East

One night, not so long ago, a secret conclave of some of the world’s greatest minds gathered to discuss the secrets of the Far East…

This insufferable bunch of mad geniuses was led by mystic guru, Jonathan Bray, on a flight of spectacular design.  Though some secrets are meant to kept…some are meant to be shared amongst a few of the more esoteric and learned among us.

Welcome to the inner circle.

From the majesty of the Himalayas to the monument of the Taj Mahal.  From the birth of four of the world’s major religions to the rise of the Kama Sutra (pun intended).  From the Ramayana to all of the stunning Hindu deity statuary.  From the eye-meltingly beautiful Tabu to the irrascible charm of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.  India’s contributions to all that we love simply cannot go unrecognized.  And now…whisky.

To me there is simply no other distillery as exciting as Amrut.  Over the past few years they have ratcheted it up to a level of quality and innovation far surpassing almost all of their Scottish contemporaries.  Not content to simply find a winning recipe and stick with it, the folks at Amrut have repeatedly shattered preconceptions by releasing one glorious expression after another.  Fusion, Intermediate Sherry, Portonova, Two Continents, etc.  Each retaining the distillery’s characteristic spicy and doughy, orange and chocolate backbone but dressed up in its own shimmeringly expressive elegance.

When the opportunity arose to host Jonathan Bray at my place and have him roll out some of these whiskies for The Collective’s benefit, it was a chance to jump at.  We gathered…we learned…we drank…then, well…some things are best left unsaid.

First up…we started with a wee glass of Old Port Deluxe rum, Amrut’s contribution to the ‘cane crowd.  Not being a rum guy, it was tough to really get my teeth into this one, but as an educational experience…s’alright.  From there straight into a couple of quirky as hell cask samples.  Not even whisky these, and in one oddly green-tinged case, an absolutely mindboggling concoction.  Curiouser and curiouser.  None of us, no matter our level of experience could come even close to pegging these ones.  The thing is…Amrut does so many unique things you simply don’t know where to begin.

At this point, we began lining up the real stars of the evening.  The single malts.  Jonathan led us through the range while revealing nifty little tidbits about the distillery and sharing some wicked little anecdotes.

This was not just a virtual tour of one of the world’s great distilleries.  This was an immersion into Amrut.


A final note:  We sampled seven malts from Amrut on this night.  I have taken the liberty of including a couple extras; for no other reason than to let you see the depth and breadth of this marvel of the East.



Amrut Single Malt

46% abv

70/30 ex-bourbon/virgin oak

Nose:  Doughy.  Barley.  Sweet mild nutmeg.  Cocoa powder.  Orange rind.  Spices grow.

Palate:  Chocolate.  Barley.  Creamy.  Still slightly grainish.  Slightly firey and youngish…but not underdeveloped.

Thoughts & Impressions:  What a brilliant entry level malt.  If only all distillery’s had a flagship like this.

Amrut Two Continents

50% abv

Matured in India and Scotland

Nose:  Cherry.  Spices (cinnamon?).  Vanilla.  Chocolate.  Mint.  Honey.  Dough.  Lime.  Baking spices.  Hot cross buns.  Exotic dried fruits.

Palate:  Hot chocolate.  Zest.  Cinnamon.  Cereal…maybe cream of wheat.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Integration.  Such flawless integration.  Simple but at the same time so complex.  Love this malt.


Amrut Herald

60.8% abv

Nose:  Typical Amrut spice profile.  Creamy.  Almond.  Swiss milk chocolate.  Raspberry.  Botanicals.  Vanilla.  Spruce tree.  Yellow sugars.  Lime.

Palate:  Cinnamon and almost rum notes.  Deep ribbons of chocolate.  Sweet.

Thoughts & Impressions:  “It’s not fighting me” – Gord.  Couldn’t a said it better m’self.

Amrut Kadhambam

50% abv

Kadhambam means ‘mixture’:  Rum, sherry and brandy casks

Nose:  Marzipan.  Melon.  Cantaloupe.  Zippy.  Cocoa.  “Amrut” (yes…that is now a flavor profile).  Cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.  Grape.  Spicy bread.

Palate:  Apple.  Bread.  Gorgeous delivery and smooth development here.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Great nose, but phenomenal palate.  The way this one unfolds is magic.


Amrut Intermediate Sherry

57.1% abv

Ex-bourbon into Oloroso into ex-bourbon.  Sandwich maturation. 

Nose:  Beautiful Oloroso sweetness.  Raw bread dough.  Orange zest and cherry.  Cocoa shavings.  Amrut spice melange…particularly nutmeg.  Wee bits of eucalyptus.

Palate:  Warm chocolate.  Orange notes.  Spicy and sweet sherry juiciness.

Thoughts & Impressions:  One of the absolute highlights of the Amrut range.  This is a stunner.  Pure and simple.


Amrut Portonova

62.1% abv

Nose:  Blood orange.  Milk chocolate.  Tiniest bit of tart fig.  Dark, over-ripe fruits.  Heavy black cherry.  Sugar cookie.  Creamy sweetness.  Raspberry puree.

Palate:  Delivery is pure melted chocolate.  Foreign spice market.  Biscuit or raisin scone.  Freshly zested orange.  Raspberry jam here too.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Perfect balance and an absolute explosion on the tongue.  Head-to-head with the Intermediate as my favorite in the Amrut range.

Amrut Double Cask

46% abv

7…almost 8 years old. 

Nose:  Root beer.  Cinnamon.  Ginger.  Grapefruit zest.  Bourbon.  Caramel.  Doughy cinnamon bun.  Pepper.  Apple.

Palate:  Creamy.  Sweet cherry.  A little more oak here.

Thoughts & Impressions:  One of the more unique, while not necessarily eye-popping, of the bunch.  Again, dear Amrut…why aren’t you in general release?


Amrut Fusion

50% abv

Nose:  Peat.  clove and cocoa.  Typical orange-ish notes.  Smoked meat-ish.  Thick dense fruitcake.

Palate:  Right back to zippy!  Marmalade and cacao bean.  Peat.  Tightens up and contracts with a bit of drying tartness.

Thoughts & impressions:  A rather preferred malt o’ mine puts in a rather underwhelming showing in this lineup.  Great nevertheless, but…not quite on par with the sweet awesomeness that came before.

Amrut 100

57.1% abv

100l barrels…57.1 is the old British 100 proof…100cL bottles…100 bottles per country…

Nose:  Peat.  Sherry and cherry.  Farmy.  Iodine.  Briney.  Glossette chocolate covered raisin.  Heavy/dense mincemeat.  Sweet cookie notes punch their way through the peat and smoke.

Palate:  Bittersweet chocolate.  High content cocoa.  Anise.  Tannic.  Peat.

Thoughts & impressions:  “That’s got some sh*t goin’ on.” – Jay.  Makes me harken back to BenRiach Solstice.  Is this port-finished?  Nope…jus’ bourbon.  Fruity and awesome.  Peat meets sweet.  Wish this was readily available.


Amrut Cask Strength Peated

62.8% abv

100% Scottish barley

Nose:  Peat.  Iodine.  Smoke.  Fruits.  Earthy.  Orange.  Ocean water.  Strawberry.  Mint.  Chocolate.  Dough.

Palate:  Greens and spiced chocolate.  Orange zest.  Smoky.  Heavily smoked barley.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Neat to see such a heft of smoke and peat backing those definitive Amrut flavors.  While I prefer the sweeter end of the spectrum from this distillery, this is great.

Thanks, Jonathan.  Appreciate your coming out, sharing, enlightening and entertaining.  These nights are always a blast when venture down South.



– Words and tasting notes:  Curt (with some help from The Collective)

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Jul 252012

A Few From Our Friends At Alberta Distillers Limited

Snugged in not far from the heart of Calgary, just miles from the foot of the Rockies, lies one of the whisky world’s most surprising little secrets.  Namely, Alberta Distillers Limited.

This very industrial looking distillery – leagues apart from the polished copper stills and tour-oriented distilleries of Scotland – is a deceptive little giant.  However, much like in Scotland, the people who run Alberta Distillers are the lifeblood of the company.  A while back a few members of the collective were fortunate enough to tour the distillery and were treated to an absolutely exceptional experience.  The ADL family welcomed us like long lost family members.  From initial contact with recently retired quality assurance manager Kathy Pitcho to our behind-the-scenes tour with Distiller Rick Murphy, this was a warm downhome experience.  The tour itself was both enlightening and entertaining, and the overall experience was every bit as memorable as any overseas distillery tour I’ve taken.

While it is easy to hunt and peck the web (or bookshops) for all the ins and outs of Scottish distillation, details regarding Canadian whisky production are a little more obscure.  This opportunity to spend some time with the faces behind the whisky we love was a treat.

After the tour proper, we were taken back to ADL’s tasting lounge for a dram (or four).  The lounge is a site you simply have to see.  Much like the throwback tasting room in a distillery like Lagavulin, this charming little sitting area is straight out of a time long gone.  Loved it.  As we settled in to sip a flight of whiskies, Distillery manager Rob Tuer joined us for a bit of blind tasting.

We were afforded the opportunity to sample a couple of (as yet) unbottled expressions, under the caveat that we not mention what was being experimented with, as well as an offering from the general release spectrum.  After a bit of fun, several laughs and a brilliant little bit of interaction, we were actually thanked for having asked to come (!!) and each sent off with a bottle of Alberta Premium and a nifty little gift.  Truly unbelievable.

It was great to see that the people at Alberta Distillers are as special as the whisky they make.

While this piece has been a long time in the making, I did sincerely want to take the opportunity to share a little bit about our hometown pride.

ADL’s flagship expression is Alberta Premium, a young 100% rye whisky, rich in spice and sweetness.  And while this whisky is a stunner in its own right, the distillery has also managed to awe the legions of Canadian whisky drinkers twice in the past couple of years.  First with a stunning 25 year old limited release, and then again last year with an equally winning 30 year old.

Stay tuned.  I happen to know there is a further surprise in the coming days.

A big ‘cheers’ from ATW to ADL!



Unaged Rye (aka ‘new make’ or ‘white dog’)

abv unknown

Nose:  Almond paste.  White chocolate.  Cherry.  Saltines.  Caramel corn.

Palate:  Popcorn.  Almond.  ‘Bitey’.  Silky Delivery, then…WHAM!!  Hottest spirit I have ever tried.  Salty and savoury.  Fast fade.

Thoughts & Impressions:  “A glass of Chuck Norris”


Alberta Premium

40% abv

Nose:  Mild artificial lemon.  Light cocoa.  Amazingly clean grain.  Vibrant.  Crunchy berry.  Caramel.

Palate:  Apple.  Sheaves of grain, dripping caramel.

Thoughts & Impressions:  One of the best Canadian spirits going.  And undoubtedly the best price point.  There is always a bottle of this at home.


Alberta Premium 25 y.o.

40% abv

Nose:  Lumberyard.  Fresh cut pine.  Dust.  Char and wax.  Bit o’ eucalyptus.  White pepper.  Old dunnage warehouse.  Very dry spiced fruit.  Vanilla.

Palate:  Pine and big grains.  A very mature 25.  More fruit than on the nose.

Thoughts & Impressions:  This has seen more wood than Pinnochio’s girlfriend.  Lovely and charming, and deserves undivided attention to discern all of the nuances.



Alberta Premium 30 y.o.

40% abv

Nose:  Deep char.  Almost a note of ‘burnt’.  Smells younger than the 25 y.o. expression, and the fruits are certainly more prevalent.  Orange and cherry.  Pine.  Creamy caramel

Palate:  Mature…smoky…waxy…oaky.  In essence…old.

Thoughts & Impressions:  I remember initially liking the 25 more than one.  Not so sure anymore.  Truly a fantastic offering from this distillery.  Up until recently was still available.  You’ll be hard pressed to find it now.


Alberta Springs 10 y.o.

40% abv

Nose:  Creamy.  Orange zest.  Gorgeous spice balance.  Rich caramel…bordering on over-toasted.  Sweet and ‘produced’.  Entirely pleasant…better yet…comfortable.

Palate:  Super sweet.  Midway carnival caramel apple.  Very sweet.  Clean and pleasantly spicy.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Hmm…tough one.  Something seems…not natural here.  Lovely, but don’t overthink it.



– Photos:  Bottles & Glasses…Curt, Cask…Pat

 Posted by at 9:56 pm
Jul 182012

The story of the Brora distillery is a confusing one, so for the benefit of the great unwashed I will try and explain.  The Clynelish distillery was born in 1819 in Brora, Sutherland and operated under the name Clynelish distillery until 1968, after which the owner changed the name to the Brora distillery.  It then operated under the name Brora distillery until it was permanently closed in 1983.

Congruently in 1968, a new larger distillery called the Clynelish distillery had been built across the road by the same owner as the old Clynelish distillery, now the Brora Distillery.  The new Clynelish distillery was using the same production personnel, accessing the same water source and copied the same still design as the old Clynelish distillery.

The old Clynelish distillery, now called the Brora distillery, was not needed and was to be mothballed.  Because of drought conditions on Islay, the Port Ellen distillery could no longer meet the evil owners’ demands for peated whisky used in their blends so the Brora distillery was then used to produce a peated style of whisky to satisfy that requirement.  In 1983 such a surplus of whisky existed in Scotland that the Brora distillery was deemed surplus to demand and was finally put down, along with the Port Ellen distillery and a few others by the evil minions of Diageo.

Name changing is not new; history is full name changes.  In the case of the Brora distillery the owners changed the name for a reason, which I believe was to keep the well-respected name of Clynelish alive.  The past is full of other notable name changes to serve a purpose, some good, some twisted, while others are not so easily understood.  Some examples of other prominent name changes are:

– Gordon Matthew Sumner, after a run with the law, changed his name to Sting

– Anakin Skywalker was forced to change his name to Darth Vader

– Franc/Deutschmark/Peseta/Drachma/Kroner/Punt/Lire became the “Euro” and then became paper worth a little less.

– Prince Rogers Nelson was born a Prince, then abdicated to become a former Prince, then symbolized himself and finally we hope, kissed a frog and turned himself back into a Prince

– Marion Michael Morrison road into the sunset with the name John Wayne

– Brad’s Drink fizzed into Pepsi-Cola

– After the death of (Phil Krundle ) Landfill, his brother Gil Krundle took his place and then he changed his name to Landfill

– Ralph Lifshitz metamorphosed into Ralph Lauren

– Ernesto Guevara de la Serna had cause to become Che Guevara

– Cigarette brand giant Philip Morris Co. Inc., changed its name to the soothing and friendly Altria Group


So to honor this once great and now lost distillery, we gathered the Gang of Four (named after a failed attempt to gain control of Diageo through the voting stock at an annual meeting of the shareholders) together and sat down on a rainy June evening in Calgary to enjoy a range tasting of Brora malts.  We assembled together six wonderful Brora malts but the more things change the more they stay the same, which is why we included a Clynelish malt in with our Brora malt range tasting.  With each malt, we openly discussed tasting notes, mostly enjoyed each other’s company and noted our top four malts of the night.



Clynelish 14 year old

46% ABV

NOSE:  Candy sweet, citrus fruits, fresh cut grass, waxy.  Pepper and a hint of varnish.

TASTE:  Tart, ginger, again some citrus notes, salty and nutmeg.

FINISH:  Medium and drying at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  A change to a more peated version would do you good; yes a change would do you good.


Brora 21 Year Old 1977 / 1998

56.9% ABV

Rare Malts Series Bottle #2758

NOSE:  Creamy caramel, bit winey. Lemons, oranges and some spice.

TASTE:  Lemon drops, soft wood smoke, black liquorice and very honey sweet at the end.

FINISH:  Medium-long.  Lovely delicate dram.

ASSESSMENT:  Ch-Ch-Changes pretty soon you’re gonna get a little older, time may change me but I can’t make Diageo reopen the distillery and produce a great younger malt as this.  Tied for the second place malt of the night with the 32 year old.


Brora 30 Year Old 1975 / 2005 

56.3% ABV

Special Release Series Bottle #2155 of 3000

NOSE:  Caramel, musty, elegant smoke and lemons.

TASTE:  Pepper, citrus, peaty, black liquorice and a hint of eucalyptus.

FINISH:  Long and lingering.  The English refugee in the gang said “you like this because it reminds you of Port Ellen”, mocking me for my love of Port Ellen (Note to self…must check with Canadian immigration to see if he’s in the country legally).

ASSESSMENT:  Don’t go changing to try and please me you never let me down before, release 2005 I said I love you and that’s forever and it’s a promise from the heart, I couldn’t love you any better, I love you just the way you are.  Have tried numerous bottles of Brora over the years, and the 2005 has always been my favorite and was again rated hands up the number one favorite of the night.


Brora 25 Year Old 1983 / 2008

56.3% ABV

Special Release Series Bottle #352 of 3000

NOSE:  Farmy and floral, burned butter, oranges.

TASTE:  Very herbal, smoky, citrus and bit briny.

FINISH:  Medium and little salty at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Diageo now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over and had me believing it was always something that Calgary had done and I don’t wanna live that way now, Brora you’re just a distillery that I used to know.


Brora 30 Year Old 1979 / 2009

53.2% ABV

Special Release Series Bottle #893 of 2652

NOSE:  Cherries and oranges, vanilla, candied fruit, sensuous smoke and a little farmy.

TASTE:  Liquorice, green apple tart, lemons.  Where did that complex nose go.

FINISH:  Medium to long and a little oaky at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  We love the peated malt so we keep waiting, waiting on the distillers to change it’s hard to be persistent, when we’re standing at a distance so we keep waiting, waiting on the distillers to change.


Brora 32 Year Old 1979 / 2011

54.7% ABV

Special Release Series  Bottle #1353 of 1500

NOSE:  Sweet cherries, lots-o-fruit, lemon and eucalyptus.  Farmy and grassy with infused smoky notes.

TASTE:  Very herbal, pepper and briny.  Citrus notes.  Oily and lots of tannins.  Lots of focused layers to be found on the palate.

FINISH:  Medium to long and a touch briny at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  There were times when I thought the Brora stocks would last for long but now I think they can’t carry on it’s been a long, a long time coming but I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will and Brora will live on only in our memories.  Tied with the 21 year old as the second favorite of the night, although the 32 year old had more number 1&2 votes combined.


Brora 30 Year Old 1976 / 2007

57.5% ABV

Douglas Laing Old & Rare Platinum Bottle #63 of 109

NOSE:  Succulent ripe cherries, lemon & lime. Farmy and a little musty.

TASTE:  Black liquorice, delicate peat smoke and a bit briny.  Citrus notes and some raisin.  Waves of taste.

FINISH:  Medium to long. Little oaky at the end, although still very pleasant.

ASSESSMENT:  If the stocks of Brora were to leave here tomorrow, would you still remember the taste and if Brora were to reopen things just wouldn’t be the same cause this new Brora would be a different malt and this malt you shouldn’t change, lord knows it shouldn’t change.  Great showing for this malt and was rated a strong number four of the night.


– As always, your humble drudge, Maltmonster


A Calgarian went to see a judge in order to change his name.  The judge asked what his name was.  The man said, “My name is John Edmontonsucks.”

The judge says, “I can see why you want to change your name, but what do you want to change it to?”

……………………….“Michael Edmontonsucks”

 Posted by at 7:48 pm
Jul 152012

Calgary’s Andrew Ferguson is an interesting guy.  Truly.

This year marks his tenth anniversary as the ‘Scotch Guy’ at Kensington Wine Market.  In that time he has managed to expand the whisky selection from an initial tableau of 60 expressions to upwards of 300 bottles.  And while quantity tells part of the tale, quality tells the rest, as KWM’s selection is really second to none in the city.  New malts are always en route, often exclusive to the shop, and often sell out rather quickly.

Andrew has made a point of keeping his friends close (and in the case of the Maltmonster…his enemies closer) and it is this engagement with us schmoes that has made him not only the premier whisky retailer in Canada, but also a great guy to call a friend.  Case in point is his dilligence in involving customers in tastings of cask samples to aid in cask selection.  KWM regularly purchases and bottles exclusive casks from some of the world’s greatest distillers.

In February of 2007 Andrew launched the Calgary Chapter of the Companions of the Quaich with an inaugural dinner at Buchanan’s Chop House.  This little enterprise now boasts a membership of some of Calgary’s most entertaining and interesting individuals, and events never fail to be anything less than memorable (and chock full of perfect blackmail moments).

The following year, 2008, Andrew started Ferguson’s Whisky Tours.  A couple times a year he leads a handful of enthusiasts across the pond to tour some of Scotland’s best distilleries.  These tours are not your ordinary whisky jaunts.  Andrew’s industry connections and personal passion have led to some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for those who sign up.

Of course, someone with their finger held so tightly to the pulse of the blood of Scotland is bound to be recognized by the industry at some point.  Indeed, April 2011, the Keepers of the Quaich opened their arms to Andrew and toasted him with a dram of anCnoc 16 for his inauguration.

Here’s an opportunity to listen to a guy that has managed to turn his passions into a career.  Not many of us can say that.



ATW:  First things first…everyone starts somewhere.  What was the catalyst that got you interested in whisky, and at what point did it become more than just an interest? 

AF:  A friend in University got me hooked with a bottle of Lagavulin 16 Year. I didn’t know at the time what I liked about it, I just liked it. So I started buying the odd bottle in University when I had the sheckles, and I recall Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Lagavulin being my favourites. I started at Kensington Wine Market in 2001, with the intention of just sticking around for a few months until I could get back on my feet and then get a real job. I’d been away travelling and had shut down a painting business I was not enjoying. As it turned out, I was able to create my own career here with the support of an understanding boss. As clichéd as it may sound, it was a very natural and organic process and I never really saw it coming. It just happened!


ATW:  You’ve managed to turn a passion into a career.  Something not a lot of people can say.  How did this development come about?

AF:  It really happened of its own volition. I had never started out with a plan to be a Scotch expert, and even in the early years while I was getting my feet and growing my reputation I never really intended to stay the course. I planned to go back to school, get a business degree and land a real job. I envisioned working at a desk somewhere that would allow me to moonlight and sell whisky. But I love the job I have, and it continued to grow in terms of expectations, opportunities and responsibilities; it’s been impossible to let go of it. By far the most rewarding thing about the job is the relationships and friendships which have grown out of it. This is a big part of what has kept me so attached to this place.


ATW:  Tell me a little history about Ferguson’s Whisky Tours.  What led to you setting up this enterprise? 

AF:  It started out as a way to cover the cost of my trip to Scotland and also a way to share my experiences with others. I first made a pilgrimage to Scotland in 2006 and fell in love with the country, and even more so with Scotch whisky. I spent the better part of three weeks visiting as many distilleries as I could, wrote a travel blog and immersed myself in the experience. It was a wonderful trip, but lonely as well. I had people from distilleries to welcome and host me, and take me for dinner, but it was a relatively solitary experience. When I started talking with my employer about going back in 2008, she suggested I take a group with me of some of my customers. Around the same time a few of these people had expressed interest in and were encouraging me to put together a tour. I took my first group in 2008, and it was an incredible experience and a huge hit. Some of my fondest memories are from that trip. The next year in 2009 I split it off as a side business and started organizing and guiding trips. It has really taken a life of its own from there and I am currently in the process of building a new website. Both my trips in May are full and I have a lot of people inquiring about trips this fall.


ATW:  Can you share a few of the bigger successes, personal highlights and maybe humorous mishaps in launching Ferguson’s Whisky Tours?

AF:  There have been so many highlights that it would seem hard to select a few, let alone one. Tasting the White Bowmore in the Number 1 Vaults at Bowmore certainly would be near the top. We were the first people outside the company to taste the follow up to the Black Bowmore. Jackie Thompson at Ardbeg opening the mill and getting covered with flour is another memorable moment. She was guiding another group and I in May 2011, and was telling a story of the time a group asked her to open the mill and how her black outfit had been covered in flour! I had to remind her that it was my fault… There have been some other funny moments like stone I drove over on Arran which cracked our vans oil pan, the time I awoke sleep walking in the hallway of my Edinburgh hotel and the time one of my guest ran along the side of the slow moving van in the rain to enjoy a cigarette (he tripped over a road construction sign). But the funniest moment had to be the German singing an a capella song in English that he had written about his trip to Bowmore. It wasn’t so much that his song was funny, but he was one of 40 of the most motley crew of Germans imaginable (he was by far the most straight laced), and the buildup to this song was something out of a British sitcom. It was one of those you had to be there moments, I was trying so hard not to laugh that I started crying and had to step outside and just let it out. The next day as we were walking up the malting floor stairs at the distiller we saw the Canadian flag being raised while the German flag was lying in a crumpled heap on the ground. It all came flooding back! They turned out to be good guys, but the scenario was so bizarre,.

Did the Malt Monster ask this question? Ask him why he turned down a glass of the 10th Release Port Ellen in Craigellachie? That’s a good story too!


ATW:  Though I imagine each time out is a unique endeavor, what can a guest on one of your tours reasonably expect to experience?

AF:  Each tour is unique, and obviously the whiskies change with time. Basically they can expect to get the best tour and tasting the distilleries, or independent bottlers are willing to offer, excellent food, interesting company and generally a great time. I pride myself on putting on the kind of tour I’d want to be a part of. Small, focused on whisky, but ready to have a good time. I look after all the details from the time the guest is picked up in Edinburgh or Glasgow on the Sunday morning until the tour concludes on Saturday night with a dinner at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh. Along the way they will see the best whiskies and distilleries the region has to offer (I currently do three tours: Islay, Speyside and one which covers the Orkneys and Nothern Highlands) as well as the most important points of interest. I also where possible try to leave enough time for at least one round of golf, weather permitting. In 2013 I am hoping to offer my first Japanese whisky tour.


ATW:  It is unarguable that the mass appeal of whisky has broadened over the past few years.  The reputation Scotch has had as an ‘old boys’ drink has been somewhat eradicated by a slew of interest from the younger spheres, a greater balance in the sexes and aggressive marketing to a younger demographic.  This is all bound to affect the output from the distilleries, in terms of flavor profile, volume, cost and overall quality. Do you see this working for or against the intrinsic quality of good whisky?

AF:  Interesting question. The biggest driver right now is the growth in the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Distilleries, especially the bigger ones are falling all over themselves to increase production to take advantage of the rapidly expanding markets, especially in the East. While some of the smaller placers are catering whiskies to appeal to certain demographics the bigger players are only concerned with one thing, getting as big a piece of the new markets as they can. And the consequences are already been seen, stock shortages in existing markets and price increases. This leaves me with several concerns: firstly, that quality will suffer, especially from the bigger producers as their production increases; secondly, that rapid and large price increases, especially among the older and rarer expressions, will shift consumer interest to other products; thirdly, that the industry is expanding so rapidly that it is creating yet another bubble (like those of the late 1890’s and late 1970’s) which will eventually pop. The last of these concerns me the most. 


ATW:  When you encounter someone in the shop (link to KWM) who is new to whisky how do you generally determine where to lead them and help them make their purchase?

AF:  I have a couple of go to whiskies for the neophyte, like the Arran 10 or the Glenmorangie Original. The key is to start them off with something soft but flavorful. First impressions are very important, you don’t want to ruin whisky for them so in my mind the key is to start with something easy to appreciate. Generally we’ll offer them a sample to see if they like it, and based on their response I’ll generally know which direction to take them. What’s really interesting is giving a tasting with a group of beginners, people who’ve never tried or enjoyed whisky. Taking them through a flight of six whiskies I find that if you start with the lighter softer ones and build into progressively stronger tasting whiskies almost everyone will be able to enjoy peated and cask strength whiskies. What I take away from this is that the manner in which you present them to people, and the order, is just as important as the strength and flavour.


ATW:  One of Kensington Wine Market’s (link to KWM) greatest features, I hear repeatedly, is that there is always the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’.  The open bottles in the shop are of all ages and price points.  How do you make it financially viable to open so many whiskies, and do you see the return in what the average shopper takes home?

AF:  This is one of our competitive advantages, and I certainly don’t want to give away all of our secrets. We do pride ourselves on having open bottles of most of our whiskies available for customers to sample. This started out organically and has really taken on a life of its own. I conduct most of my own tastings, rather than relying on agents, suppliers and brand ambassadors to do them for me. I don’t think there are many stores where this is the case. This means the heels, the partially full leftover whiskies stay in the shop, making them available for customers to sample them. Eight years ago when we first started offering samples I might have had a dozen whiskies available for sampling at any given time. It really caught on with our customers and word spread. As business grew we were able to offer more tastings which meant more heels.

The bottles we have  open are a reflection of the tastings we offer, which range from $35 introductory tastings to my Ancient Malts Tastings which cost $200-300/person and many others in between. The Ancient Malts are to the best of my knowledge unrivaled in Canada, featuring whiskies like: The Macallan 50 Year Lallique, Black Bowmore 1964, Gold Bowmore 1964, Auchentoshan 1957 50 Year (both casks) and the Gordon & MacPhail Generations Glenlivet 1940 70 Year (tied for the world’s oldest whisky) to name just a few. In late March of this year we offered an Ancient Malts Tasting featuring seven 40 year old whiskies. I don’t know any other business which is doing this.

Being able to sample a whisky, at $50, $100, $200, $500 or $22,000/bottle, before you buy it gives the customer the confidence that they are making the right decision. Especially if it is my recommendation.


ATW:  Something you’ve driven hard through KWM (link) is the importance of having exclusivity of product and purchasing your own casks.  This is obviously a brilliant tool in helping overcome competitors and chains that may be able to undercut a smaller store by way of volume purchasing.  Can you share a bit about what determines your cask selections and what goes into obtaining a portfolio of exclusive bottlings?

AF:  The Alberta liquor industry is a relatively even playing field, at least in theory, all stores have to be given the same price on every product regardless of volume. We believe our  prices are fair, and in line with our major competitors. Exclusives and single cask purchases build interest and mark us out as whisky specialists. We are especially careful about how we choose our casks, because we want our customers to be confident that we will always sell them whiskies of superior quality and interest. Ultimately I will make the final decision when selecting a cask, but I try to involve others in the process whom I recognize as having good palates. At the end of  the day we select our own private bottlings, and this above all else guarantees quality.

In addition to our private bottlings we do aggressively go after obtaining exclusive distribution of certain whiskies. Our customers like variety, and this is one way we are able to provide it to them. The exclusive opportunities come from hard work and relationship building. Whether it is with our customers, suppliers or the producers, relationship is everything. 


ATW:  What is the most personally rewarding aspect of being in the position you are in, as regards the running of the club, the tours, the shop, etc?

AF:  Without a doubt the friendships which have grown out of the business: customers, agents and brand ambassadors. I count many of these people among my closest and most trusted friends. There is a thriving whisky subculture, and I love being one of the cogs around which it turns in Calgary and Canada.


ATW:  Being on the frontlines, and watching the evolution of the whisky Industry, what trends do you see consumers moving towards?  Away from?

AF:  More and more women are getting interested in whisky, though I think there is still a lot of room to educate, grow and serve this demographic. As far as customers shifts I see two divergent trends: firstly, a growth in collecting and secondly, a shift away from brand loyalty. The first, collecting is still on the up, with the major brands leading the way. Some of them I fear are pushing the collectability too far, with the risk they will slay the Golden Goose. But it is the second trend which interests me more. Customers at this end of the spectrum are increasingly less brand loyal and more focused on quality than age or price. Cask strength, unchillfiltered, single cask and naturally coloured whiskies are the future. Whiskies bottled at 40 and 43% with added caramel colouring are the past and rapidly losing market share to the others. Some companies site tradition, fear of alienating customers and cost as reasons to continue these practices, but I don’t buy them. I think they are assuming the consumers aren’t educated in these regards, and that may be the case now but it’s changing. They should be looking to the next generation of whisky drinkers, not just the current ones. Customers are becoming better and better educated, and those distilleries that recognize this trend and respond to it will do better than the others in the long run.


ATW:  Which distilleries do you see making the greatest inroads with the consumer right now, and in what ways?

AF:  Small and independent distilleries are the hottest products right now. Firstly, because they have largely bought into the single cask, non chillfiltered, no added  colouring and cask strength trends while the larger companies have not. And secondly, because they are more creative and willing to experiment. There are some bigger players which have started to move in these directions, but they are the exception. Most large players are focused on gaining market share in new markets rather than growing and developing their existing markets. This may pay off for them globally, but it will cost them market share in their existing markets; and already is. Of the smaller players I think Glendronach and BenRiach are the two most dynamic right now. Some of their single cask offerings are spectacular, but also limited. Springbank has long been ahead of the curve on all four fronts, and is still doing well, though it concerns me that they seem to be a distillery with a lack of ambition. They seem to be comfortable with who they are and what they’re doing but have little desire to build on that. I love how the distillery is small, traditional and family owned, and that it is such a big part of the local community. It also makes great whisky, I’d just like to see them take that concept are grow it. They used to be a real leader, and I’d like to see them return to that perch. They have so much potential…


ATW:  With so much of your livelihood tied up in whisky, is it still possible to simply sit down and enjoy a dram?  What are a couple favorite ‘downtime’ drams for you?

AF:  Working in an industry where I am exposed to alcohol on a daily basis, it would surprise people to learn how seldom I drink at home. I love micro brewed beer, and good wine, but my drink of choice is still single malt Scotch whisky. When I do have a dram or two, my favourites are generally Bowmore, Ardbeg and Port Ellen. In the last year though I’ve really developed a taste for sherryed Speyside whiskies like Glenfarclas and Glendronach. My preference is generally for cask strength, sherry cask and peated whiskies.


ATW:  What is your favorite whisky experience to date?  What is on the bucket list to top it?

AF:  Opening the Macallan Lallique 50 Year live on CBC radio and tasting it blind for the first time was a big moment. It was by a factor of 10 the most expensive bottle I had ever opened and the genesis of much of what has followed over the last 5 years. My second was the sampling of the White Bowmore 1964 in the No.1 Vaults Warehouse at Bowmore on Islay during my first group whisky tour in 2008. We were the first people outside the company to have the opportunity to sample the whisky, and to do so in the holy of holies. It was an experience I will never forget.

As for my bucket list, I would like to eventually visit every distillery in Scotland, of which there are a little over 100.To date I’ve been to 70 or so. I am also looking forward to touring the whisky distilleries of Japan.


ATW:  Final question…is there any sort of protocol you have in place for dealing with problem customers?  Like say, some dirty Irish folk from Edmonchuk?

AF:  Patience, lots and lots of patience.



 Posted by at 3:59 pm