Feb 282020
 

Only the second Coleburn review on ATW. Tsk tsk. For shame. It’s almost like some strange factor is limiting access to malts from this Speyside distillery. Hmmm. Oh…right.

For the record, Coleburn was yet another casualty of that devastating extinction event that claimed so many distilleries in the early 1980s. The distillery was a bit of a Frankenstein’s lab throughout a fair chunk of its existence, used mainly for production experimentation, and largely dedicated to providing malt for the Diageo family of blends. Seems a shame in retrospect, as we begin to realize the long term ageing potential the malt had. We say that far too frequently of late, I realize. I also concede we sentimentalize a bit too often as well. Such is.

This 21 was one of the iconic Rare Malts releases that sits in high stead and coveted pride of position for many malt drinkers. And rightfully so, I’d argue. We may see more nuance and subtlety through other ranges (and bottlers), but for pure bombast, it really is hard to pip the Rare Malts.

Coleburn was founded in 1897 and shuttered in 1985. RIP.

59.4% abv. Distilled in 1979, bottles in 2000.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Sour and just slightly cheesy. Sour Ju-jubes and quality eau de vie. Greengage. Orange, apple and cranberry. A wee bit of smoke. White chocolate. Honey. Riesling and green grape skins.

Palate: Oh, wow. Great arrival. Enormous, actually. Malt and rubber. Grapefruit zest (and a bit of pith too). Kinda makes it a bit weedy and bitter. Adds complexity. Rubber bands. Vegetal notes. Crunchie bar. Band-Aids. Reminds a bit of old Ledaig (a ’72 Cadenhead, in particular). Kinda dirty.

Finish: Drying, with firm tannins (though not overly aggressive). Let’s call it a ‘fair’ wood presence at the back end. Somewhat grassy. Some rubber. Vaguely industrial or chemical-y. In a great way.

88.5/100

 Posted by at 11:22 am
Feb 112020
 

Everybody’s darling. And rightfully so. It’s gotten to the point where most Springbank expressions don’t even hit the shelves anymore. At least locally. Preorder lists are a mile long, the din of begging voices is nearly deafening, and the tears of those who miss out are nearly voluminous enough to swim in. And why? Well…I think it ultimately comes down to something that would make other brands shudder: A complete lack of consistency. In short, Springbank is the most wildly inconsistent distillery in Scotland. In every sense of the word. They produce what and when they want (irrespective of distillery capacity or clamoring legions of thirsty fans), and they’ve managed to turn the idea of batch variation from something akin to the proverbial albatross into their greatest strength, and even their ‘misses’ are better than most distilleries’ ‘hits’.

This is what whisky making used to be. Period. Before the age of yield and consistency, the industry was very much at the mercy of barley and yeast variance, all-over-the-map wood policies, greater fluctuations in demand and pressures on stocks, less calibrated and measured production techniques (still firing, cut points, etc), and on and on and on.

And while Springbank is not immune to the many changes in the industry, Hedley and Co. have made it their business to march to the beat of their own drum. Status quo is not Springbank’s MO. And it probably never will be. A visit to the distillery will leave you…ahem…’woke’ (to cop an expression the ‘kids’ are using nowadays) to just how alien Springbank is to most of the industry. And just how utterly brilliant it is for it. Also…this is the only distillery on earth that can get away with as much sulphur as it does. I utterly detest the brimstone, but even I can’t fight just how singularly compelling Springbank is.

I’m rambling now, but perhaps a proper Springbank ‘Distillery In Focus’ feature is in our near future. Hmmm.

Anyway…let’s discuss this expression. Springbank 15 is a juggernaut of a malt. At once monstrously bold and mellowed enough by time to be approachable by all. And if the flavours are not particularly your cup of tea? Well…that’s fine, but it’s hard to argue objective quality with a whisky like this. And the dram in hand…I must say that this particular batch is an absolute cracker. Better than the most recent 18 we had, I’d wager.

46% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Noses older than 15, I have to say. Decent wafts of peat smoke. Salty, coastal, briny, and all of those other Campbeltown superlatives. Purple fruit. Oily dried fruits. Engine oil. Tobacco. Old libraries (in a 15 y.o.?!?). Cinnamon. A bit of sulphur (that largely blows off with time). Grape juice. And maybe some bramble jelly. Dunnage. Stables. White pepper and ginger. Just a hint of florality.

Palate: Flinty, Dirty and slightly matchstick-y. Chocolate. A very toasty malt profile, doused in over-caramelized sugar. Plum and prune. Sticky raisins. Some berry notes. Lapsang souchong tea. Licorice. Wet earth. Old World wine, four or five days open. Like spilling spent coffee grounds and a lit cigarette into a glass of Bowmore 18. Yep.

Finish: Long and smoky. Smoked fish and berry coulis. Candied apples. A bit drying, but oh, so long.

Thoughts: Thrilling, really, that a whisky like this still exists in our age of homogeneity. Gives me hope. And 46% is the perfect strength for this dram.

90/100

 Posted by at 5:43 pm
Jan 312020
 

Lord t’underin’ Jaysus, b’y, what a dram!

And what’s this? Our first Millburn on ATW? Not all that surprising, I suppose. Even our mate Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun fame has only managed to wrap his paws around a couple dozen examples of spirit from this long lost distillery. Fear not, though: I have one more sample in the wings that I’ll try get to soon, while this one is still fresh in my memory. To be fair…these things are nearly as rare as Trump truths. And we all know…well…never mind.

Millburn. The distillery that once was, is no more, but now, according to Brian Townsend’s fantastic book ‘Scotch Missed’, is a steakhouse that goes by the name of ‘The Auld Distillery’. A better fate, he argues (and rightfully so), than that of most lost distilleries in Scotland. Shameless plug for Townsend (which benefits me not at all): buy this book. It’s a brilliant wee read. Probably no more than 200 pages, but crammed with enough knowledge to sate even the fiercest malt historian.

This utterly fantastic expression of 25 year old Millburn came from Diageo’s brilliant Rare Malts line. I came in not knowing what to expect and found myself utterly blown back by this one. If you get a chance, do not hesitate. Though I imagine those chances are pretty damn hard to come by nowadays. At least affordably.

61.9% abv. Distilled in 1975, bottled in 2001.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Fruits and chocolate. Pineapple…fresh, grilled, juiced, whatever! Melted honey. Fruit salad. Sandalwood. Melon, orange and more. Man…so much cool fruitiness! Chocolate covered almonds. A slight earthiness. And a very gnarly yogurt note. Beyond unique. Beyond incredible.

Palate: Oy…a very hot arrival. Chocolate (milk!). Smoke. Cherry and orange. Yogurt covered Fun Fruits (anyone else remember those ’80s lunchbox snacks?). Lindt milk chocolate. Oh, so fruity. Nice toasty malt notes. The wood is singing loud and clear.

Finish: Long and fruity. Goes on a wee bit longer than forever.

Thoughts: Whiskybase has this at 89.40, based on 122 ratings. To clarify…122 people are wrong. Simply unforgettable.

93/100

 Posted by at 9:54 am
Jan 272020
 

Not a single tasting note on here for Pittyvaich? Pffft. In fairness, we’ve only had our grubby little paws on three of them locally, but that’s no excuse for delinquency in sharing the word on those we have tried. The goal is, after all, trying to maintain a broad horizontal swath of distillery notes for those who want to hear a bit about all of it. Not to mention…with an expression such as this – the Diageo special release from 2015 – there will undoubtedly be more folks interested than there would be for one of the OMC single casks or something.

Pittyvaich was founded in 1975, and produced for a mere 18 or so years, before being shuttered in 1993 and ultimately razed in 2002. It was a purpose-built distillery, meant to supply malt for the Bells blends. The distillery (and brand) changed hands in the mid-1980s, finding a new home in the ever expansive stables of, you guesses it, Diageo. The distillery (more an addendum to the Dufftown distillery than a true matter-of-fact distillery) somehow managed to fend off the mad rash of early ’80s closures, which sort of suggests that maybe Diageo was unwilling to concede that such a young and probably still immaculate facility should be surrendered less than a decade after what was almost certainly a substantial investment of capital to get it off the ground. By 1993, however, the writing was on the wall for Pittyvaich (and Rosebank, for that matter). The doors closed and stayed closed.

Fast forward a few years and the DRFSR at Diablo HQ saw the windfall potential in feathering out the remaining stocks from another lost distillery to the whisky cognoscenti. Albeit at greatly inflated prices from what this rather innocuous style of malt would have sold for in more sane and sober times. Such is. We whisky history buffs are always going to shell out a bit extra to taste the spirit of a bygone age, aren’t we?

Ultimately, though, this is a so-so malt from what was almost certainly just a so-so distillery. That’s my two cents, anyhow. 131 people on Whiskybase were more generous with their scores than I. Goes to show, this is all just one guy’s opinion, aye?

49.9% abv. Distilled in 1989, bottled in 2015. Refill Bourbon Hogsheads. 5,922 Bottles

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately one to only fall ‘in like’ with. Damp hay, with some notes of green tea. Herbaceous. Popcorn. Bittersweet chocolate. Clean malt. White flour and cereal tones. Some soft, almost unidentifiable fruits. Heavy cream on popsicles. Cedar.

Palate: Wine gums. Rather firm oak. Some odd sort of dental note (reminds of being in a dental clinic). More of those tea notes. Vanilla. Chardonnay. Ginger and white pepper. Grape skin tannins. Somewhat drying.

Finish: A little tired and lazy, if I’m being honest. A bit flat with no real standout notes that carry on.

Thoughts: I like it just fine, but wouldn’t go so far as to say I love it.

83/100

 Posted by at 4:06 pm
Jan 252020
 

Oh, man. What a spectacular surprise. This Rare Malts Glen Albyn was tasted as part of a spectacular range of expressions from closed distilleries and, I can’t lie, it wasn’t even remotely on my radar as one of the ones to look out for. It ended up being one of my favorites of the night.

Glen Albyn has become as scarce as sober uncles at backwoods barbecues these days. This is largely due to the fact that the distillery never really enjoyed much in the way of prestige and, in fact, there have only ever been a couple of official bottlings released. When you then consider the distillery was made redundant in 1983 as part of Diageo’s clean-up and downsizing, well…it’s not to hard to see why we’ve only had our hands on a few releases.

And if I’m being honest? This is the only one that has wowed me.

54.8% abv. Distilled in 1975, bottled in 2002. 6,000 bottles.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Smoke and char. Awww, hell yeah. This is right in my wheelhouse. Tangy fruit. Some great lime notes. Ammonia. Mocha. Savoury BBQ notes. Jolly Ranchers. More chocolate. Coal smoke. Some sort of insect repellent. A hint of Old Spice (yup…that Old Spice). Hardwood glue. Burnt plastic. Indian rubber ball. Mineral notes. Grilled tomato. Almost a grilled cheese (or cheese toastie) sort of funk. Brilliantly integrated, despite the disparate list of aromas.

Palate: Kerosene and burning leaves. Pepper. Bitter chocolate. Really fuel-ish, in such a profoundly cool way. An absolutely ancient style of malt. Melon rind. grapefruit and tangerine.

Finish: Kinda drying, actually. And bitters out a but in the end (grapefruit-like). All pleasant. And very long.

Thoughts: Splendid. Keen. Neato. Love it.

92.5/100

 Posted by at 10:58 am
Jan 232020
 

Another in Glenmorangie’s Private Editions range. The 10th, I believe. And this is one I’ve been infinitely curious about ever since hearing about it. Yeast is, after all, the new frontier. In this chap’s humble opinion anyway.

Allta is Glenmo’s attempt at producing a single malt built on a beer made from their own strain of wild yeast. Said yeast apparently propagates uncontrolled on their Cadboll barley. Neato. So, the question is…why is yeast so exciting? Well…think about it. some of the most incredibly complex and interesting beers are built on a bedrock of ambient yeast. Consider the great Belgian lambics, for example. Now take this to its logical conclusion: whisky is distilled beer, left to age for prolonged spell of time. Wouldn’t it just make sense that the more interesting the yeast play, the more interesting the end product?

For someone geeky (like me, like many of you), this little project means a deviation from the norm. Most distilleries are tied (at the moment anyway) to Mauri and Kerry as their primary strains. A mix of M and MX, depending on the desired life span of the wee bacteria and the desired speed at which they sink their teeth into all those fermentable sugars. And a few distillers are, I believe, still using a bit of brewers yeast, as well. Kudos to Glenmorangie for steering the ship in a different direction on this one. Hopefully a sign of things to come in the industry. (Although Dr. Bill Lumsden’s education was intrinsically linked to yeast, so who knows if others wil have the same vested interest.)

51.2% abv. 1st and 2nd fill ex-bourbon.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Orange and almond. Vanilla. A little porridge-y. Maybe a little boozy too. Honeyed and floral. A slightly pine-y note. And citric. The pine and citrus together make it a touch sharp. Cinnamon. Lemon poppyseed muffins. Quince jelly.

Palate: A strange syrupy sweetness. Caramelized nuts. Very estery (those artificial banana notes that seem to be intrinsically tied to brewers yeast). Quite spicy. And again…boozy. The new make spirit is still showing through somehow. More lemon. Slightly dough-y (doughnut dough). Sauvignon blanc. Not unpleasant, but not something I’d go back for seconds of.

Finish: A bit of purple grape. And grape skin. A fleeting glimpse of mandarin (pith and all).

Thoughts: Meh. I waver between bored indifference and disappointment. I wanted to get excited about someone finally pursuing yeast as the volatile wee catalyst it really is, but this…well…this didn’t really work. I should note that 10 or 15 minutes in the glass does wonders for the nose. Sadly not so much for the palate. 

77/100

 Posted by at 2:17 pm
Jan 172020
 

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

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

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

Whew. Moving on.

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

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

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

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

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

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

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

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

87/100

 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Jan 162020
 

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

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

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

50.1% abv. 84 bottles. Distilled in 1968 and bottled in 2000.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

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

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

Finish: Gristy. Quite long. A bit tannic.

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

85/100 (ish)

 Posted by at 1:33 pm
Jan 152020
 

I caused a wee bit of a ruckus ’round here when, not too long ago, I mentioned how much I loved this malt. There was a bit of “Jesus, he’s finally lost the plot, aye?” I must concede, I probably would have thought the same about me if you’d told me an Aberfeldy would be this coveted, but bear with me a moment.

Just over a year ago now, on the eve of our annual Christmas party, I poured out about a half a bottle of this stuff for the last dozen or so malt-swillin’ stragglers. I handed out glasses and listened with barely subdued glee to a rising chorus of “holy shit!” and “What is this?”. So…before you consider me certifiable (which I may well be, but not necessarily for my opinions on this malt), do understand that I definitely do not stand alone on this one. Gordon & MacPhail are well known for their rather…ummm…anally retentive approach to managing their own malt casking. But whisky such as this 24 year old Highlander is a perfect case study in just why they do it. There is simply no other brand or bottler in the world that succeeds so consistently at capturing those ancient, antique-y notes in their whiskies. And thank God they do; this is one of my absolute favorite flavor profiles. Utterly spectacular.

58.7% abv. 586 bottles from a first fill sherry puncheon.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Man. What a dinosaur. Antique-y and singular. Some old school fuel notes (tight charred oak tones that sort of hint at kerosene or coal smoke or something). Very old Armagnac. Polished wood. Chocolate. Espresso. Demerara. Ancient sherry. Flambeed banana, where maybe the alcohol isn’t entirely burnt off. Old leather armchairs. Rich hardwoods. All the mixed smells of Black Magic Dark Chocolate, but dusted in ash and wafted with smoke. I could go on and on and on…

Palate: Licorice. Chocolate. Like chewing sticks of charred oak. Malt. Bitter orange zest. Figs and dates. Bitter grapefruit pith and guava. Good old Armagnac and even older Jamaican rum. Charred tropical fruit. Marmite. Very oily.

Finish: Like a Cuban cigar with Armagnac. Dark chocolate, high cacao. A tad waxy and a bit dirty. Looong.

Thoughts: What can I say? I adore it.

92/100 (That’s as objective as I can be, but I might love it a bit more than that even, if I’m being honest. But let’s stick to a fair score.)

 Posted by at 8:19 am
Jan 142020
 

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

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

62.3% abv.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

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

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

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

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

91.5/100

 Posted by at 10:24 am