Aug 072017
 

img_4054Laphroaig 27 y.o.

57.4/100

Score:  93/100

 

I struggle with reviews like this one.  There’s always the question as to the value in posting them.  Any time I’m jotting notes for a long gone, overly-expensive or single cask release I question if I’m actually providing content that matters.  Let’s face it…only a wee handful of folks will ever try these drams.  So why bother, right?  I suppose the flip side is that we all sort of have an obligation to record what we can as we can for the sake of posterity.  Far too much has already been lost to time already, even in the tiny microcosm of the whisky world.  So…forgive the indulgence with some of these oddballs, but I think we’ll keep throwing them out there.  Especially seeing as how few others can or will.  Let’s keep our liquid history alive.

This l’il gem was a real treat tossed in at the end of an utterly spectacular Laphroaig tasting I took part in some time back.  While we went beyond this one in terms of age (up to the spectacular 40!), this one had to cap the eve, as its overwhelming depth of sherry would have buried the more delicate 30 and 40 year olds.  The soupy viscosity of this lagoon-black dream dram was in a league all its own that night and, quite frankly, probably on any other night as well.

It’s malts like this that help keep the excitement alive.  Shame they’re so few and far between nowadays, but it makes the hunt a bit more sporting and the catch just that much more special.  Being a 2007 release (distilled in 1980), I imagine it’s well-nigh impossible to track down a dram of this stuff, but if you can, do so.  972 bottles from a vatting of five Oloroso barrels.

Nose:  An absolute explosion of sherry.  The kind of drink you need to spend time with.  Orange zest.  Orange fruit flesh.  Thick jam.  Cherry and raspberry.  Chocolate.  Dark stone fruit.  Mint.  Heavily oiled leather.  Very faint peat, surprisingly enough.  Licorice.  Hoisin sauce.  Very savoury nose, all told.

Palate:  Chocolate.  A decent heft of spice.  Dried fruits.  Christmas cake.  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Quite figgy.  And very oily.  Licorice.  Orange.  Again savoury.  Nice smoky linger.

Thoughts:  Truly unique offering.  Another one of the malts responsible for pushing Laphroaig to the top of my favorite distilleries list.

*Thanks to the gent who shared this.  Your anonymity is safe here and your generosity is shouted from the rooftops.  Cheers!

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:15 am
Jul 192017
 

Littlemill 21 y.o. Second Edition

47% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Wow.  First time we’ve reviewed a Littlemill.  Weird.  I think I have a couple more samples in the archives.  Guess I should check and write up a few more.

Littlemill is one of those silent stills we like to romanticize a little bit.  It’s a distillery that was lost more than twenty years ago – long after the rash of distillery closures that rocked the whisky world in the early ’80s – but one that has never carried the same sort of emotional (or financial) resonance that other lost gems such as Port Ellen, Rosebank or Brora do.  Littlemill was shuttered for good in 1994 and, after being gutted for equipment and suffering a rather nasty blaze, the distillery was subsequently demolished.  No chance of a rebirth for this Lowland malt of fair, but not inflated, repute.

This particular expression was the second release of an official 21 y.o. that hit shelves before the owners decided they wanted a piece of the big pie.  The next Littlemill OB would be a 25 y.o. with a fat four figure price tag.  As you can imagine that one swiftly proceeded to…yep…sit unsold on shelves the world over.  Tsk tsk.  Greed.

Neat malt though when all is said and done.  Enjoyable, unique and not too badly priced.  Limited run of only 4,550 bottles, so probably long gone in most markets.

Nose:  Lovely, naked, mature nose.  Probably a bit too naked for those looking for big personality.  Soft and creamy/custardy.  Fresh made flan.  Wind over grain fields (I know, I know…cheesy as hell).  A hint of black current cough drops.  Vanilla, but not in that over-vanilla’d sort of way.  Very, very soft spice palette.

Palate:  Quite an attack.  Dry and gingery.  More of that black current note.  Or maybe the seeds of black grapes.  Lacks the softer fruits I’d expect in a malt of this age.  Oak is firm, as is the cereal backbone.  Maybe a touch of citrus pith.  Quite drying.

Thoughts:  A very singular dram.  And interesting all the way through.  Yet…nowhere spectacular.

*Thanks to my mate Mike for passing this one over.  Cheers!

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:26 pm
Jul 182017
 

Bruichladdich Black Art 5.1

48.4% abv

Score:  87/100

 

One of the buzziest malts available at the moment, I’d argue.  Black Art 5 hit our shores just a week or two back.  The buzz was immediate and intense, with plenty of questions flying as to whether or not the whisky justified the $300 price tag (up about $50 from the previous edition).  So, let’s see if we can’t find out for ourselves.

I think most folks know by now that Black Art was Jim McEwan’s masterwork.  A recipe he held close to his chest, and with which he loved to play the angle of ‘secretive alchemist’.  It made for fun stories at his live events and plenty of talking points on blogs and reviews.  Without knowing the details of how it’s been put together, I can tell you is that it’s unquestionably a lot of sweet and sour wine cask interplay.  The final product is built of pre-renaissance Bruichladdich that has been re-racked into some sort of wine barrels procured under the Reynier-MacGillivray-McEwan era.  We know this, of course, because the age statement of 24 years stretches much further back than the distillery’s reopening and because the palate don’t lie:  there’s wine all over this one.

A couple bits of disclosure right off:  1) I adore Bruichladdich, and 2) I do not like the Black Art expressions.

But – and I’ve said this before – take that with a grain of salt if you’re one of those folks who likes the wine finished/matured malts that are so prevalent on the shelves nowadays.  I personally shy away from these expressions (though there are a few winners), but that doesn’t mean you won’t like ’em.  If this sounds like apologism, forget it.  I’ve said the same thing about Black Art before.  Different tastes make the world go ’round.

So, before we even dive in let me tell you what I expect.  A nose that is mature, sweet and appealing – rich in a big, bold fruity/floral melange – but a palate that arrives with a split second of magic before attacking the back and sides of the tongue with a tangy, wine-heavy tenacity.  Oh yeah…and a finish that disagrees with me entirely.

I guess the big story this time around though is that this one is Adam Hannett’s baby, not Jim McEwan’s.  He likes to say that he got the recipe from Jim, then promptly through it away.  I paraphrase, of course, but the message is the same.  So, who’s better at?

Nose:  Sweet and fruity.  Showing some age right off.  Sour candy.  Some orange and cherry notes.  A light smoke behind the jamminess.  Hint of dunnage.  Slightly floral mid-note.  Then more fruit compote.  A tick savoury too.  Toasted caramel.

Palate:  Decent arrival.  And…yep…into the weird wine-iness.  Maybe not as heavy as some of the past Black Art releases though.  Macerated dark fruits.  Slightly grapey, with some chocolates and brandy.  Peppers and spice.  Just a flirting with sulphur, but not heavy.  Back end is wet oak and tannins.

Thoughts:  Definitely different than Jim’s vattings, but some shared DNA, to be sure.  As expected, too wine topheavy for me, but an enjoyable slow sipper nevertheless.  Think I prefer this one to Jim’s creations.  Shhhh…don’t tell.

 

– Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:05 am
Jun 172017
 

Ardbeg Kelpie

46% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

It’s that time of year.  That May / June window when the fiercest of Islay distilleries releases its latest bit of spirit alchemy on the wider whisky world.  It’s a time that polarizes like almost no other in these circles.  On the one hand, the haters, who detest the gimmickry, marketing hype, youthfulness and lack of age statement.  And let’s not forget a price point that outstrips the core range.  On the other hand, the lovers, who are hooked long before the bottles ever hit the shelf.  These latter, acolytes for life, irrespective of all the aforementioned negatives, ready to lay out the bucks for the lore, the aesthetic, the tongue-in-cheek fun and let’s be honest with ourselves…an unbelievably uniform level of quality.

The simple fact remains, even the worst Ardbeg releases are still better than almost anything else in their weight class.  Price may be a little contestable (depending on where you live), but at least you know you’re not ending up with an bottle of swill at the end of the day.  Kelpie is no different.  This one did some slumbering in barrels constructed of oak harvested from somewhere near the Black Sea.  Apparently we have a mix of straight bourbon-matured Ardbeg and these rather unique Russian barrels.  Neato.

And a Kelpie?  Said apparition is some sort of water demon said to haunt the island’s rocky shores in the form of a nightmarish marine bull or stag sort of creature.  Ummm…’kay.  Let’s go with that.  I admit it, I love the angles Ardbeg seems to find time and again.  We keep talking about it, so it’s obviously working.

But ultimately, all that matters is quality.  Whisky served up this young is rarely going to break that 90 point mark for me nowadays (yass, yass, I’m a jaded old fuck, I know), but high 80s speaks volumes, I think.  May not be for everyone – and this will do little to placate the haters – but it is really good whisky.  In spite of that…can’t help but wish we were seeing older releases with age statements.  Oh…and at fair prices, I should add.

Either way…my Ardbeg love continues on unabated.

Nose:  Whoa.  This seems young.  Seven or eight maybe?  Warm rubber (like bicycle tires in the sun or newly-worn Welly boots), dark chocolate, black coffee, oily vanilla bean.  Licorice.  There’s a fleeting note of Cherry Cordials here.  A mix of olive brine and lime juice.  A little bit of orange.  Some medicinal notes.  There’s a neat savouriness too that hearkens back to Alligator.  Bucketloads of peat smoke and Islay-ness.

Palate:  Slightly rubbery here too.  Peat is sharp and on the attack.  Everything is cloaked in smoke.  Now some softer fruity notes emerge and the mouthfeel becomes surprisingly creamy.  Some orange and lime again.  Firm oak, without being vanilla-laden.  A bit of salted licorice.  The malt is sweet and brings cereal notes that are clean and rigid.  Nice.

Thoughts:  Make no mistake, this is huge whisky.  The 46% abv belies how massive it really is.  Incredible times when 46% seems anemic, no?

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:39 am
Jun 172017
 

Caol Ila 31 y.o. Cask #2930 (Silver Seal)

54.2% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Check out that bottle!  One of the coolest, most retro looking pieces of whisky-ware I’ve yet seen.  Not that we decide our whisky opinions on the aesthetics, but credit where credit is due, right?  Of course, it doesn’t hurt that we’re sipping a 31 year old cask strength from one of Islay’s most consistently enjoyable distilleries.  Especially as regards older malts.

Caol Ila ages beautifully.  I think we’ve discussed this in other places.  In many ways it’s like the poor man’s Port Ellen.  The spirit is peated to about the same specs, would have been casked into wood procured under the same wood policy and, in cases such as this, matured to an age we see most Port Ellen releases at.  Let’s not forget that Diageo owned Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Port Ellen at the same time.  But at the heart of it all, the most important factor is that the oily spirit marries well with wood for extended periods of time.  In fact…I don’t believe I’ve ever met an over-oaked Caol Ila.

And as for this Silver Seal…gorgeous.  Rich and classic.  Elegant, to be sure, but with enough bombast to please the discerning.  The phenols in this malt fade to wispy tendrils of austere beauty, but that mature smoke brings a complexity I miss in modern malts.

Let’s face it…the Italian independent bottlers know their whisky.  Between these guys, Samaroli and Wilson & Morgan there are some spectacular casks on the market.

Nose:  Slightly doughy with a pepper note.  Some light peat and smoke.  Hints of candy and bubblegum.  Nice citrus backbone.  A hint of grassy, herbal tea notes.  A hint of savoury herb, maybe oregano.  Salt and pepper.

Palate:  Grassy arrival.  Very oily.  More smoke now.  Oak is assertive, but pleasant.  Neat fruity and sweet development.  Linseed oil.  Citrus peel.  Earthy, peaty notes sprinkled all over this one.  Nice tart closeout here.

Thoughts:  Very nice whisky.  Rich throughout.  Balanced and delicious.  This is the first Silver Seal malt I’ve tried.  Hope to get my hands on more.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:29 am
Jun 032017
 

Caol Ila Connoisseurs Choice 2003 (Gordon & MacPhail)

46% abv

Score:  90/100

 

It’s become a bit of a thing.  We go to Islay.  We buy a bottle (or two) for drinking around the hotel (or B&B) and in between times.  And consequently that bottle becomes an object of some sentimentality.  It helps, of course, when the whisky turns out to be brilliant.

This G&M 2003 was just such a case.  A dozen years old and a firecracker of a malt.  Five of us on Islay last September found this bottle intriguing enough to cough up a few quid for when we saw it at both the Co-op and the Whisky Shop.  We pooled our schillings, popped the cork and poured the first round and not a face in the room could help but light up in appreciation.  Brilliant dram, this.  Clean and pure and, while not exactly a classic Caol Ila, it is certainly a classic malt.  Gordon & MacPhail have some of the best barrels in the industry, and it’s a treat to see them starting to hit the shelves at 46% instead of the old 40% or 43%.  Appreciate it much.

One of our crew brought back a bottle with him, but I was butting up against my limits of what I could bring back (who am I kidding?  I demolished those limits).  Not to mention, my suitcases were bursting at the seams.  Fortunately a few bottles of this landed in Calgary not too much later and I was able to scoop one.  I think maybe we’ll save that one for a session of trip reminiscences with the boys at some point a little further down the line.

Nose:  Smoke, peat, ash and iodine.  All of which we’d likely expect.  None too delicate here.  Oil.  Earth.  Citrus.  Minerally notes.  High cacao dark chocolate.  Green rock candy.  More chocolate emerges with time in the glass, milk and white now.  Vanilla.  Some sort of fruity reduction.  A hint of bubblegum.

Palate:  Oh wow.  What an arrival.  Smoky and fruity.  The color belies how sweetly, juicy this is.  Usually this much mouthwatering juiciness comes in darker heavily sherried malts.  Some citrus again.  Smoked shellfish.  Lovely linger on all the right notes.  Smoke just builds.  Again…that touch of bubblegum.

Thoughts:  Gorgeous variant on a Caol Ila.  I think I’d guess Laphroaig blind.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:10 am
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