May 162017
 

Head To Head – Auchentoshan Valinch 2011 vs Valinch 2012

 

I quite fell in love with Valinch when it landed here.  The 2011 edition, that is.  It sold out before I managed to scoop a couple for future sipping sessions, but such is.  These aren’t the sort of whiskies I generally squirrel away for any other reason than value and price point.  Let’s face it…there’s always something new coming, as a mate of mine says.  I did pick up the 2012 when it arrived, but found it…well…less exciting than its predecessor.  Still quite a good dram, but it didn’t light my fire in the same way.

A few weeks back a mate of mine came by with a heel of the 2011.  Lo and behold I still had a heel of the 2012.  Neither were opened in the year of release, so rest assured these bottles are not on life support.  Both have been open for a fair while, however, but I’m happy to report that they are still lively and bright.  Perfect opportunity for the H2H I’ve wanted to do for quite some time.  So let’s do it.

Right off…the 2011 is lighter in color than the 2012.  While color means less than nothing in this reviewer’s eyes, it does speak to batch variation.  In and of itself, no bad thing, so long as the quality stays uniformly high.  The ’12 has a richer golden hue.  The latter is just a hair shy in terms of abv.

Initial nosing…hmm…fairly consistent across, but the ’11 is definitely softer.  Let’s dive in a little deeper.

 

Auchentoshan Valinch 2011

57.5% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Great wide appeal, I imagine.  Fruity, sweet and infinitely approachable.  May not be overly complex, but in a case like this – where everything is clean and rich – there’s no need to overcomplicate things.

Pretty sure this is exactly what I recall from a couple years back.  And yes…I did go through my old tasting notes.  a few new ones here, but mostly the same.

Nose:  Yep.  As expected.  Soft vanillas and rich orange notes.  Zest and all.  Some tangerine or tangelo.  Soft oak notes.  Seems like lively bourbon barrels.  Maybe even some first fill or virgin oak in there?  Notes of almond and toasted marshmallow.  Maybe even some very sweet, soft chocolate.  Some fairly substantial spice notes that hint at just how active those American Oak barrels were.

Palate:  Big bombastic arrival.  Orange zest.  Strong thread of dark vanilla.  Yep…syrupy, with a lot of fruit.  Some eucalyptus (again…those free-spirited American Oak barrels).  Slight herbaceousness (am I spelling that right?).  Even a touch of licorice.  Lovely.  Oaky linger.

Thoughts:  Sticking with initial assessments.  This is like a creamsicle.  Originally scored an 88.  No need to change it up.

 

Auchentoshan Valinch 2012

57.2% abv

Score:  84.5/100

 

Hmmm.  The balance so effortlessly achieved in the 2011 is sadly MIA here.  Still decent enough, but the palate can’t deliver what the nose hints at.  Definitely not in the same league as the first edition.

Nose:  Orange and vanilla.  But sharper on the zest, and a little less on the sweet, pulp notes.  Some chocolate, both white and milk.  Definitely more chocolate than on the 2011 edition.  Some syrupy fruits, bordering on jammy.  Softer than expected, considering the wallop the palate delivers.

Palate:  More aggressive here, with a fair bit more oak.  Oily arrival.  Drier and more harsh on those wet wooden notes.  Citrus pith and oily orange skins.  Dark chocolate.  And again…some licorice.

Thoughts:  I like the nose more than palate, but even the palate is decent.  Seems younger than the previous batch though.  Kinda reinforces the fears we have about both NAS and slippage.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:13 am
May 152017
 

KWM 25th Anniversary Blends (Berry Bros & Rudd)

 

As promised, though a day or three late (what else is new, right?), a few thoughts on the new KWM exclusives.  These siblings came from the warehouses of the good folks at BBR.  I don’t know the whole story – and hopefully you’ll forgive my lack of homework here – but I have come to understand that Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market was offered up these undisclosed blended beauts as part of a sample set that included mostly single malts.  These ones jumped out as something special.  The 40 year old, in particular.

The beauty of mature blends like this is that they often bear most of the hallmarks of good malts, and they usually come in at a substantially more approachable price point.  Proof’s in the puddin’ though, aye?  So let’s dig in.

 

Berry Bros. & Rudd 25 year old Blended Scotch Whisky

46% abv

Score:  84.5/100

 

I sampled this in the store a few weeks back and was immediately charmed by the nose.  Soft and hinting at some sort of tropical melange.  Never quite gets there, but suggests it.  Perhaps it’s just the subtle pineapple notes.  Sitting down with it in a more controlled environment I’m a little less enamoured, but still impressed.  The wood is loud, but when it settles, the subtleties that prop it up are quite lovely.

Good whisky.  Great blend.  Limited to 222 bottles from cask #46572.  $199.99

Nose:  Pineapple and vanilla.  Pine or eucalyptus.  Almost noses like mature Canadian whisky in some ways.  Citrus.  Floral notes.  Soft aromas of fresh baking.  Very soft fruits in syrup.

Palate:  A lot of oak.  Fairly creamy though as the wood fades.  Then a berry-driven tartness crops up.  And a bucket of spices.  Then the wood resurfaces.  There’s a fruitiness here, but it’s almost as if the fruits have been baked into something.

Thoughts:  I recall liking the nose an awful lot when I first tried it.  Less wowing now, but still good stuff.  Noses like a single malt.  Give it time in the glass.

 

Berry Bros. & Rudd 40 year old Blended Scotch Whisky

46% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Holy hell.  What have we here?  This is immaculate.  We’ve not only nudged into tropical territory we’re drinking mango smoothies on white sands on a tiny little atoll in the Caribbean.  Yum.

The nose is instantly a mouthwatering, knee-buckling showstopper.  As good as I recall it being on first tasting, it came nowhere near the heights I’m seeing now.  Much more texture and integration here.  Noses and tastes like a wizened old single malt.  Love it.

Limited to 120 bottles and will set you back $429.99.

Nose:  Gorgeous mature nose.  Almost tropical…ok, not ‘almost’.  Soft doughy notes.  Melon and orange.  Great toasted oak notes.   Sweet and tart at once.  Nice balance.  Some smoke meets Five Alive tropical fruit juice.  Richly oiled woods.  Old books.  Caramel syrup.

Palate:  Rich in tropical fruits.  All mango, orange, papaya and such.  Juicy and oily.  Lovely palate.  Surprised at how restrained the oak is.  Maybe some chocolate and unlit cigar.  Polish.  Fruit skins.  Gooey, thick caramel syrup notes.

Thoughts:  Great whisky.  All around.  I would not guess this was a blend.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:26 pm
May 072017
 

Caol Ila 1984 21 y.o. (Cooper’s Choice)

46% abv

Score:  85.5/100

 

A few weeks back, at a whisky club meeting in the community hall we frequently douse in fine and rare Scotch whisky, a good mate of mine, Joey, brought me a little flask.  I don’t recall his exact words (even though this was at the beginning of the night, before the madness ensued), but he said it was a Caol Ila.

I took it home, poured it into a glass sample bottle and left it on the shelf until it caught my eye again about a week and a half ago.  I paired it up with a couple other Caol Ila samples (’cause that’s the way I try to taste these things) and sat down with pen in hand.

Now…to be fair to this one, I did try it against a couple of 30+ year old expressions.  It came across more feisty and more lively, but maybe a little more shallow in terms of complexity.  To be expected and, if you know me, not at all outside my preference.  I like peated malts with personality.  That’s not to suggest this was a young’un.  Even blind (knowing only that it was Caol Ila) I could tell there was some age on it.  21 years, I found out later, and from a 2006 vintage.

All in all, this was textbook Islay, if not immediately recognizable as Caol Ila.  A lot of brilliant flashes of flavor and aroma with just the slightest off note.  Sulphur?  Maybe.  Tough to tell, but something threw this one off just a tick.  Still a rock solid malt.

Nose:  Smoke and rubber.  Lively fruits, particularly lemon (and maybe lime).  Chewy candies, not gummies.  Ashy.  Orange zest.  Butter tarts.  Smoked, oily fish.  Heavy, almost burnt caramel.  Thick and viscous.

Palate:  Liorice.  Grilled lemon.  A fair heft of oak and smoke.  Pastry.  Oily again, and actually a little drying. Long and smoky finish with some grass at the back.

Thoughts:  Vibrant.  Lively.  Hints at some sulphur, but I’m on the fence as to whether or not I’m imagining it.

* Thanks, Joey.  Fun one to try.  Love tasting blind like this.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:24 am
Apr 242017
 

Caol Ila 34 y.o. (Cadenhead Small Batch)

60.1% abv

Score:  93.5/100

 

Yep.  Three and a half decades of sleep.  Gives my wife a run for her money in terms of affinity for dozing.  This one was tasted as part of an utterly mindboggling range of independent Caol Ila this past weekend.  Not only was it the oldest of the run, it’s actually the oldest of the 46 Caol Ila I’ve tasted to date.  Just shy of half of those have been older than 20, to be fair, so I do have some idea as to what we’d be looking for in older expressions of Caol Ila.  We certainly found it here.  And then some.

This is fantastic stuff.  Peat that is so far off in the distance it has faded into a seamless sfumato-esque haze that seems like nothing more than a suggestion.  Soft fruit notes and essence of mature old malt.  Hard to dissect, really. the integration is that complete.  And 60.1% at 34 years?  Wow.  Spectacular strength and delivery of flavour.

Sometimes you don’t need a lot of words to get the point across.  I think we’ll leave it at that.

Nose:  Spectacular nose.  Maybe the best Caol Ila I’ve ever nosed.  Old whisky to be sure.  Latex and soft, soft oak notes.  Melon.  Bordering on tropical.  Just hints of lemon pie.  Some orange.  Gorgeous tartness.  Vague industrial oiliness.  Slightly fishy.  Just the barest whisper of smoke.

Palate:  Awesome.  Maybe the oak is a little too strong, but otherwise everything is in check and firing on all cylinders.  Wow.  Great fruit tart enormity.  Thick and oily.  Grapefruit (flesh, pith and zest).  Licorice.  Hint of eucalyptus.  Gorgeous all the way through.  Nice finish on orange fruits and citrus.

Thoughts:  Great integration, great complexity.  This makes me think of old Samaroli casks.  Well done, Cadenhead.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:34 pm
Apr 182017
 

Laphroaig Lore

48% abv

Score:  82/100

 

I love Laphroaig.  It was one of my first and truest whisky loves.  I like to think that no matter what missteps the brand may ever make (and there have been a few; I’m looking at you, Select) I will still be there waiting.

We weight these things, not by the failings, but by the successes, and there is simply no comparison to the heights reached by some of the Laphroaig I’ve drunk (25 year olds, 30 year olds, 40 year old, cask samples, single casks, etc).  So it’s with a somewhat forgiving heart I’m going to try to talk about Lore.  I heard a while back that this one was to be a replacement for the 18 year old.  That was whisky shop talk, but there may be some basis in truth.  After all, we’ve watched 18 go the way of the dodo, only to be replaced by a limited edition 15 year old, which also abra cadabra’d its ass out of here.  Either way, it’s a sad state of affairs when we see a beloved and mature classic with a respectable price point (18 years and only about $100 locally!) disappear in favor of a $200 NAS offering.  Ouch.

The point has been made, so let’s not belabor it.  How about the whisky in the jar?  How does Lore stack up to the rest of the Laphroaig range?  In short…pale, flat and uninspired.  It’s slightly unbalanced and lacking in the oooomph I’m looking for in Laphroaig.  I’d drink it, of course, but only on someone else’s dime.  Probably best to take a couple bottles of 10 or QC over this, if you want my two cents.

Nose:  Lime.  Warm rubber.  Shellfish.  Smoke and peat.  Eucalyptus.  Vanilla.  Surprisingly restrained.  Salt and pepper.  Licorice and tar.  Dry, faint Lapsang Souchong.  Watered down, maybe.  Too heavy on the rubber notes.  Like bicyle tires in the sun or new Wellies.  Very dry and…flat.

Palate:  So muted.  Better than Select, but by nickels and dimes, not dollars.  More peat, smoke, and licorice.  Dry smoke.  Earthy and herbal.  Some pepper and chilis.  Everything dull though.  Slightly chalky and minerally.  Some green candy notes.  Not a lot in the way of finish.

Thoughts:  We went from 18 to 15 to this?  Ouch.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:02 pm
Apr 172017
 

Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve113

59.6% abv

Score:  84/100

 

Finally getting ’round to this one.  Odd considering this was one of those ‘jump the shark’ malts for me.  I remember a little too well a dialogue with a good mate of mine (a vested retailer) who was somewhat irked with my indignation at the nearly $200 price tag on this NAS unpeated Caol Ila that hit the shelves in late 2013.

That still sits wrong with me, especially in light of subsequent age-stated variants in the line (as high as 17, I think, locally at least) that have come in cheaper.  Such is.  Let’s not regurgitate the old cud.

Unpeated Caol Ila.  Odd stuff.  The 10 y.o. was a monster.  Can’t say it was spectacular, but it was unquestionably singular, and there was enough behind it to make me an admirer.  This one?  Well…not as much, I’m afraid.  That 10 was about six points higher in terms of abv and still had a ghost of peat glimpsed at the periphery.  This one (seemingly quite young, I might add) is much more naked.  Wood and clean spirit.  Not a lot more.  Spirity almost, if I’m being honest.  Still a decent enough drink, but not even close to a bargain at these prices.

When a few of us visited the distillery in very late 2012, one of the distillery folks mentioned that Caol Ila had not done another run of unpeated spirit since (I believe) 1999.  Each each successive release in their “Unpeated Style” line was simply the next successive year of a slowly maturing distillate.  I don’t think that is the case anymore (if it ever was), but I’ll try to do some digging and follow up in the comments below.

If you can find it, stick with the 10 year old Unpeated from about eight years back (give or take).

Nose:  Citrus (mostly lime).  Minerally.  White chocolate.  Had a preconceived notion this would nose a little older.  Vanilla cake.  Touch of orange and melon.  Herbal tea notes.  Somewhat reminiscent of Canadian whisky in an odd way.  Overall…quite nice and approachable.  Not even remotely Caol Ila-ish.

Palate:  Whoa.  Big oily arrival.  Grassy.  Some Sauvignon Blanc notes.  Oak and vanilla.  Lemon.  Some creaminess here.  Still not Caol Ila.  Would never guess blindly.  Sharp woody notes.  Dries up.

Thoughts:  Better nose than palate.  Ultiamtely lacking personality.  Not bad, but almost too naked and lacking in character.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:29 pm
Apr 122017
 

Tormore 14 y.o. (Batch No. A1409)

43% abv

Score:  81/100

 

Man, this one is long overdue.  It was a gift from a really good friend of mine.  And not just any gift, but a ‘just because’ gift.  One of those singularly heartwarming occurrences that should have at least merited my having reviewed it in a timely manner.  Not that that was expected or anything, but the public acknowledgment kinda ups the ante on the sincerity of thanks in a way.  Or so I believe, anyway.

Moving on.  Tormore.  A distillery from which we see very little breadth.  In fact, to date, this is the only official bottling I’ve ever seen.  But 14 is a neat little gateway into the heart of this Speyside malt.  A little more mature than most entry level expressions.  We appreciate that.  We’d probably appreciate it a bit more if it was offered at 46%.  Alas, beggars can’t be choosers.  And ultimately – especially for the price point – this is a fairly rewarding dram.  Spectacular?  Not even close.  An evening session dram?  Unquestionably.  Pop the cork with a couple mates and toss it.  Call it a night when the bottle’s dry.

One last note…I love this packaging.  Crisp, clean and elegant looking.  I know that means very little in the grand scheme, but it pleases the hell out of the eye nonetheless.

Nose:  Quite pleasant on the nose.  Almost ‘Fiddich-ish, if I had to compare it to something.  A liberal dousing of citrus.  Hints of apple, orange and cranberry.  Toasted marshmallow, nuts and vanilla.  Sour hard candies.  A drop of rum and a jigger of orange liqueur over sponge cake.

Palate:  Fairly substantial arrival for a 43%er.  Tart and zippy.  Almost wine-y, but not overly so.  Apple, black currant.  A quick note of oily dried fruit right out of the bag.  Fairly malty.  A little too much oak in the mid to back half.

Thoughts:  More a noser than a sipper, but decent all told.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:36 pm
Apr 032017
 

Old Pulteney 8 y.o.

40% abv

Score:  79/100

 

The most important thing I’ll ever say on ATW: whisky is about the stories.

Think about that for a moment.

It’s a drink that is built on stories that are years and decades and centuries old.  It’s a drink that is shared along the way to making memories and future stories with friends.  It’s a drink wherein the very fabric of its being is rooted in time.  And the passage of time – especially for an aged spirit like this – is where stories are born, live and grow.

This indie Pulteney from the good people at Gordon & MacPhail is a malt that has now become a piece of my story.  I love that.  The whisky itself?  Meh.  Not so great.  But that’s beside the point.  What matters is it that it takes me places.

That may seem counter to conventional thought, aye?  When you spend money you want good return on your outlay.  Completely logical.  But sometimes you take a leap of faith on something because the price is right (and it was for this one) and because circumstances dictate (which they did).

When a few of the good guys were over on Islay this past September one of the lads saw this bottle sitting bottom shelf in the Co-op in Bowmore.  It was intriguing enough that he cleared a little furrow in his bag just big enough to mule this guy home with him.  The packaging was retro and charming…the distillery one we typically like…the bottler one whose reputation is beyond repute…and quite frankly…it was a bottle we wouldn’t see back home.  It didn’t end up getting cracked open until a couple months later, but it’s since been passed around and shared with many more folks than just the initial contingent who were there when it was purchased.  And that becomes part of the story too.

Am I getting a little too cheesy here?  Probably for some.  Such is.

Nose:  A light nose.  Approachable and actually quite charming, straight off.  Faint hint of bubblegum.  Playdough.  Red berries.  Slightly perfumed.  Vaguely malty.  Uber light.  Not much more.  Higher strength may have helped.

Palate:  Ok, not sure what happened here.  Clayish.  Very flat.  Almost bittering.  Like under-ripe cranberries.  A bit cardboardy. In spite of the notes here…it’s not bad.  Just…not great.

Thoughts:  Very little in the way of balance.  Would score higher if on the nose alone.  But…holds a bit of a sweet spot in my heart nonetheless.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:20 pm
Mar 142017
 

Longrow 18 y.o. (2015?)

46% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Consistently one of my favorite whiskies going – and certainly one of the best 18s out there (especially in light of the tragic fall of Highland Park 18) – it’s always a treat to revisit Longrow 18.  I think I’ve shared notes on two previous versions of this classic from Cambeltown.

The heel of this austere and elegant single malt from the Springbank family was shared my way by a good mate of mine, Danny (last name withheld for legal reasons…he’s wanted in most states and provinces).  He and I went back and forth a couple of times trying to figure out whether this 18 is the 2014 or 2015 version and haven’t really reached a conclusion.  It was bought in 2016 in a place that flips inventory fairly regularly, so let’s assume it’s a 2015.  Either way…newish.

Ultimately, as if often the case with good whisky, there’s less to talk about here than with bad whisky.  Suffice it to say that this batch has been held to the same uniformly high standards as all previous editions I’ve tried so far.  It’s refreshing to see a distillery keeping their standards high and endears me even more to one of the best in the biz.

I wish prices were lower, but hey…Springbank has always had a fairly high price point (the nature of doing it all yourself and in a craft style with lots of employees).  At least they’re delivering the goods, but it’s hard to talk about value for money here, when discussing sub-twenty year old single malts at nearly $200.  Such is.  This would seem to be the new norm.  Anyway…the quality is high enough here that I don’t cringe nearly as bad at the price tag as I should.  (Having said that, no…I didn’t buy this.)

Thanks again for the chance to try this one, Danny.  You’re the man, cool guy.

Nose:  Soft white fruits.  Chewy candy notes.  A faint hint of latex (older barrels in here somewhere?).  Red jujubes.  Apple pie with light cinnamon notes.  Pear.  Melon.  Suede.  Gentle peat.  Noses older than 18.  Love it.

Palate:  Very tangy.  Some orange and leather.  The peat has a great ebb and longer to it.  Soft spices.  White baked dessert notes.  White fudge.  Beautiful mix of fruit and peat.

Thoughts:  Lovely old school style.  Expensive (at about $200 a bottle), but rather exceptional.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:35 am
Mar 092017
 

Laphroaig Select

40% abv

Score:  78/100

 

Well, this is awkward.  Kinda feels like having to fire your wife.  Being hard on something you love is never fun.  Unfortunately there is a bit of an axe to grind here, so let’s do it and do it quick.  Like ripping off a Band-aid.  Maybe it will hurt less.

I’ve always held Port Ellen on a pedestal.  Right beneath my beloved PE is the stylized ‘A’ in the Celtic ring (yes, Ardbeg, of course).  Ardbeg likely ties with Bruichladdich, though not necessarily because their whiskies are on par.  I love both for different reasons.  So, let’s call the number two position a tie.  And number three with a bullet…Laphroaig.  This one has been creeping on Ardbeg lately.  It’s arguable Ardbeg produces great malts more consistently, but it’s also arguable that Laphroaig produced greater malts from time to time.  I’m sure mature stock and expressions with some older constituent casks contributes to that.

I tell you this so you understand how biased I am toward Laphroaig of late.  Imagine, then, my bewilderment at a malt like this: Laphroaig Select.  At its essence it really boils down to ‘why?’.  The brand has a flagship 10 year old (one of the best out there, I might add, in spite of its low abv) and a young fiery NAS expression that is beloved by most and, aside from the lack of age statement, ticks most other boxes for whisky lovers (non-chill-filtered, natural colored – I think?, and high strength).  So why…why then would they release a watered down, inferior, just-clearing-the-hurdles 40% NAS monstrosity like this?  It’s incomprehensible to me and most I’ve spoken to).

Over the last couple of months we’ve witnessed Quarter Cask jump from about $50 (as low as $40 in some places) up to $85.  The 10 y.o. is still creeping, but is still lower than the new QC pricing.  The ‘high end’ Laphroaig Lore crashed our shores at an even $200.  And now there are a handful of new Laphroaig NAS releases hitting the market (Four Oak, 1815 and I think there may be one or two more, though I could be mistaken).  At this point I’m left head-scratching.  Maybe I’m falling out of love here.

I’d love to see others weigh in on this one, though I’m pretty certain I have an idea what the comments section below will look like.

Nose:  Peat, of course.  Faint smoke (but everything is faint at this anemic abv).  Leather.  Wet dog.  Brown paper bags or slightly damp cardboard.  Vaguely farmy.  A touch of salt or brine.  Lime.  A little bit of dill.  Earthy notes, as we’d expect.  Everything muted.

Palate:  Thin and watery.  Dry smoke.  Lacking a lot of flavour.  Slightly weedy.  Earthy.  Olive brine.  Not a lot more.  Hello…finish…are you there?

Thoughts:  This…this is not the Laphroaig I love.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 3:48 pm