Jan 142020
 

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

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

62.3% abv.

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

Tasting Notes

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

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

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

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

91.5/100

 Posted by at 10:24 am
Jan 132020
 

Can’t believe I’ve never reviewed this one. ‘Specially seeing as how yer boy is an unapologetic Bunna fan.

At an earlier sinDicate Single Malt Society tasting we elected to get a wee bit cheeky and pulled together a ‘barely legal’-themed night; all 18s. One of the 18s we chose for the line-up was an earlier bottle of Bunna 18. As you probably know, it’s a rather decadent dram. Turns out it was also my wife’s favorite of the night. So…many moons later, it just seemed apropos to open a bottle of something a little bigger, a little bolder and a heck of lot more expensive than that 18, on a night when it was just her and I.

Fun to revisit this one. Not much more to say, really. It’s sort of a perennial classic. Old, wizened and as luxuriantly aware of its own girth and swagger as it needs to be. Love it. And as an aside…the distillery turns 140 years old next year. If Distell’s recent investment (a pretty heaping sum) is any indication, there looks to be another 140 ahead. Hope so. Even if Maltmonster doesn’t so much.

46.3% abv.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Nutty Oloroso. Sticky dried fruits and equally sticky toffee pudding (like my mate Dave makes!). Syrupy and heavy. Thick, thick, thick smoky honey. Slight menthol. Cherry liquor. Malty. Chocolate. Ovaltine, maybe. A banana and Nutella sandwich. Dunnage. Just the faintest whiff of far off peat. Maybe a memory of gunpowder (yass, yass…the faintest wee bit of sulphur).

Palate: Dried fruits. Loads of sherry. Candied nuts. Chocolate. Figs and sultanas. Cinnamon Toast Crunch. A wee bit of smoke. Damp wood. A little bit weedy too. Butter tarts with slightly overdone pastry. Marmalade. Candied orange peel in dark chocolate. That Islay salinity is here on the palate, moreso than on the nose.

Finish: Long and almost droopy, it’s so heavy. Very much on green berries and jimmy fruits, before the wood takes over and leaves a hint of toasty cask.

Thoughts: A lovely old school style of malt that I admit being a little sentimental for. Not a flawless outing, nor a preferred style necessarily, but this one is more than just the sum of its parts.

88/100

 Posted by at 8:47 am
Jan 122020
 

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

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

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

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

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

Tasting Notes

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

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

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

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

93/100


 Posted by at 8:16 pm
Jan 032020
 

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

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

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

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

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

54.6% abv. 227 Bottles.

Tasting Notes

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

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

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

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

89/100

 Posted by at 9:56 am
Dec 052019
 

Warning: Extreme bias ahead. And I have no intentions of hiding it.

The sinDicate is the name of the club we started up here in Calgary after pulling the plug on the Dram Initiative. We’re about a year and a half deep into this new adventure, and have been pursuing opportunities to purchase a bespoke cask for the club since the earliest days. After a couple of less than stellar rounds of cask samples sent our way by brands I’ll not mention here, Kilchoman stepped up and sent us a package of brilliant malts to consider. I mean, every one of the samples they sent was good enough to consider buying. Ultimately, though, one shone a little brighter than the others. Cask #148. An exceptionally clean and vibrant ex-bourbon barrel filled in 2012.

The phenols on this malt are still huge, as one would expect in a 7 year old whisky, but there is a creaminess here and near-tropical depth that have no business being so prevalent in a cask this young. The quality was there, the price was right, so we leapt. A couple months later 260 bottles landed on the shores (errr…rolling hills?) of Alberta. And we could not be happier.

Members have scooped up the vast majority of this one, but there are a few dozen bottles available via Kensington Wine Market. And one more biased opinion before we move on to tasting notes: KWM really is Canada’s best whisky store. If you don’t believe me, pop on in sometime.

56.7% abv. 260 bottles.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Some of the cleanest peat notes I’ve found in a malt this young. Surprisingly creamy and a wee bit reminiscent of our past KWM 10 year olds. Strong citrus notes (lemon and tightly wound key lime). Grilled pineapple. Orange and tangerine. A bit of kiwi and underripe pear. Crushed ginger. Lemon furniture polish. Clotted cream and some sort of dessert flambe. A faint note of pool water.

Palate: Great delivery. Vibrant fruit notes in lockstep with threads of clean smoke. An earthy undertone. More tangy pineapple. Almost candied. Salt licorice. Quick-steeped Lapsang Souchong tea. Vanilla cream.

Finish: Salt licorice notes linger. Granny Smith apple and pear skins. Aloe. Cask char.

Thoughts: Super proud to have our name associated with this one. Unquestionably one of my favorite Kilchoman expressions.

90/100

 Posted by at 10:28 am
Oct 212019
 

Long days we’ve waited for this. Not just this for this whisky, in particular, but for Alberta Distillers to finally shake the sleep from their heads and recognize the potential for their ultra pristine, clean and spicy, homegrown rye. I truly believe some of the world’s greatest rye whisky (and I mean real rye whisky, not simply Canadian whisky colloquially referred to as rye) is produced right here in the heart of Alberta’s most bustling metropolis. Even the standard Alberta Premium at 40% and non-age stated is knockout stuff. To finally have a cask strength version of this stuff is like Christmas come early.

But the real question, of course, is whether or not the whisky is actually good. And I’m tickled pink to report that it is much more than good. And every opinion I’ve heard from those who’ve tried it seems to fall in line as well. ADL has killed it with this release. Here’s hoping this isn’t simply a one-and-done sort of offering. It would be great to have this as a permanent addition to the core range. Especially now that Dark Horse is apparently on the way out.

It’s big, bold and brazen stuff. And we love it for all those reasons.

65.1% abv. In other words…hot, hot, hot.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Demerara sugar and maraschino. Eucalyptus. Maple syrup lollies. Coffee liqueur. Pine sap. Toasted wood. Lemon furniture polish. Apple streusel. Butter tarts. Cinnamon. Not as much vanilla as I would have expected.

Palate: Overripe banana. Crème brulee. Some nice fruity, boozy notes. A bit of raspberry and cherry. A bit of both orange and lemon zest. A thread of blueberry coulis. Beeswax. Sweet raisins. More cinnamon. And apple at the back end.

Finish: Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. The aftertaste of mentholated cough syrup. Clean pine or spruce. British treacle toffee.

Thoughts: All I’d hoped for. And maybe a little bit more. The abv is near blinding, so don’t be shy with water (though I prefer it neat).

89.5/100

 Posted by at 3:01 pm
Oct 152019
 

Another beauty from the Lowlands. And another drop of liquid history in the glass. St. Magdalene (or Linlithgow as it has occasionally been known as) was a distillery founded on the site of a former leper colony. I may have mentioned that before. This is one of those lost distilleries that hasn’t quite caught the fancy of collectors to the same degree as a few others (whose names we’ve mentioned enough for now), but whose output unquestionably rivals some of those great legendary releases in terms of intrinsic quality. So the question, as always, is a frustrated ‘why?’ There are always answers, but none that are apt to satisfy the malt historian or closed distillery aficionado. Such is the nature of the game in an industry rife with peaks and troughs.

This uber scarce Mackillop’s Choice St. Maggie is a gem of a malt, though, so let’s simply enjoy the opportunity at hand, and not wax too nostalgic.

62.6% abv. Distilled in 1982 and bottled in 2001, so…a 19 year old. From cask #1336. And sadly, long gone.

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

Tasting Notes

Nose: Beauty. Soft creamy, fruit notes. Well worn and oiled leather. Honey on crackers. Soft threads of smoke and melted wax. Good pastry. Stewed tropical fruits as it develops. Peach cobbler. Moist tobacco.

Palate: Velvety arrival. High quality melted chocolate. Beautifully smoky. The fruit flavours are everywhere here: threaded throughout, drizzled on top and deeply resonant at the back end. Slightly wine-y (but in a pleasant way). Apple, with some ‘almost tropical’ flavours. Toasty clean oak.

Finish: Apple skins. Pear skins. Peach pits. Clean cereals and firm oak. Loooooooooong, oh so long.

Thoughts: All I can say is…please may I have more?

91/100

 Posted by at 12:10 pm
Oct 142019
 

Jackie Thomson is unquestionably one of my favorite people in the whisky world. Actually, qualifying that statement with the word ‘whisky’ is entirely unnecessary. Jackie is simply one of my favorite people. Period. When I reached out to her some months back about my latest trip to Islay, she immediately said she’d find a way to take care of us. As you can imagine (or have read here on ATW in past jottings), I have been to Ardbeg many times. Yet somehow Jackie and the team at the distillery always manage to make it a special and singular experience. No two visits have ever been quite alike. Each one has become sort of unforgettable in its own right. This 2019 excursion was no different.

We arrived at the distillery, dropped our bags at Seaview Cottages where we’d be staying for the next three nights, and wandered over to the Old Kiln Café to check in. We were immediately and warmly greeted by Jackie, who then, in turn, introduced us to our guide for the day, Ron. If you’ve not met this gent, you’re missing out. He’s a great addition to the Ardbeg family. A passionate ambassador with a deep well of knowledge. He’s also a very comfortable person to hang out with. Ron led us out behind the distillery to where the pier stretches its time- and water-worn finger out into the cold depths of the Atlantic. There we chatted and enjoyed a dram of the just-launched (that very morning!) Supernova 2019. When the glasses were empty, we went inside for a fantastic ‘pull back the curtains’ kind of tour. I’ll save the details of that experience for a proper trip post in the near future. That’s not why we’re here, after all. So, after wrapping up the distillery tour, we were taken to a special little room where Ron told us what we’d be tasting that day. And oh, man…what a treat the boys were in for.

Jackie had set aside some legacy bottles of The Peaty Path to Maturity line: Very Young, Still Young, Almost There and Renaissance. All sealed; all just begging to be opened. And indeed, that was the goal. Ron said Jackie thought it would be neat if we could take these brilliant old sealed bottles and pop the corks, together, for the first time. Ummm…ok. If you insist.

I have, of course, tried all of these malts a few times before. I’ve even published reviews here on ATW. But I’ve never worked through the entire range in one sitting. It adds context and perspective. It also serves to distinctly highlight the Glenmorangie PLC era of Ardbeg. To say this was brilliant would be an understatement. And at the very end of it all, Ron pulled out a beautiful 14 year old second fill bourbon barrel cask sample. I didn’t take notes on that one – what can I say? The moment kind of stole me away – but I do have a wee sample tucked aside. Maybe I’ll share some thoughts later. Perhaps I’ll even amend this post.

All of these Peaty Path releases were pulled from a fantastic 1998 spirit run. I believe it was parceled into quarters for this series.

I saw Jackie the morning we left Ardbeg. We had a great chat in the early morning lull, before the machinery cranked up and the tourists converged. She made me a wonderful Uigeadail hot toddy to ease my congestion (yes…I caught the inevitable Scottish cold) and we sat and chatted for half an hour or so. This wee visit was one of my trip highlights this time. It was just a beautiful quiet moment with someone I appreciate immensely. And before I left that morning, I caught a peek of the diary entry that marked our visit to Ardbeg. It simply read: “Curt & pals (something different)”. This was certainly that. Incredibly grateful to the good people at Ardbeg once again.

So, how about some tasting notes then?

All notes; no scores.

Very Young

Nose: Prickly and young, beautifully so. Smoke and a deep, clean earthiness. Kiwis. Key lime pie. White pepper and ginger. Lemons and lemon curd. Salted dough. Fennel. Deep minerally notes.

Palate: Sharp arrival, that feels like tongue acupuncture. Smoky as all get out. Uber clean malt. Green gage. Black wine gums. Licorice. Charred lime. More kiwis. Mint Leaves candies. Chlorophyll.

Finish: Herbal notes. Quite grassy. Popsicle sticks.

Thoughts: Brilliant young stuff. Recognizing the level of quality in this parcel of casks must have been the catalyst for this series, ’cause, man…this is really nice whisky. Much more than just ‘potential’.

 

Still Young

Nose: Definitely still young, indeed. Lime and charred wood. Much more savoury than Very Young. BBQ sauce notes, even. Ammonia. Candy apples. A lot of smoke and peat. Solid spice profile. Cumin. Lychee.

Palate: Massive arrival, but less so than Very Young. Sweet and spicy. Cracked black pepper. Grilled bell peppers. Clean woody tones. Plasticine. Grape skins and apple peelings. Smoked oyster. Big, big smoke.

Finish: Seafood. Green under ripe fruits. Quite drying.

Thoughts: A step further, but I think about in par in terms of quality. In other words, love this one too.

 

Almost There

Nose: Oh, wow. A very creamy nose. Orange creamsicle. Big smoke again. Spices are nicely checked. Still notes of ammonia. Lindt chili chocolate. More balance here than its predecessors. Grilled pineapple. Clotted cream.

Palate: Sweet arrival. Mouthwatering, actually. Tangy citrus and chili peppers. Grilled whitefish. Good mix of spices. Smoked tangerines (could there be such a thing?). Eucalyptus. Lapsang souchong tea. Tar. Moist vanilla. Black licorice.

Finish: Long, long, long. Firm oak. Vanilla extract. Citrus extract. A licorice note that hangs around too.

Thoughts: Here we go. Much more complexity and integration. Some of our crew said this was the best of the bunch. Best of first three, yes. Best of the series…errrr…maybe not.

 

Renaissance

Nose: And even more fruits! Orange and lime. Fruit salad. Great smokiness. Vanilla. Kippers. Iodine. Vicks Vapo Rub. Hot cross buns. Matcha. And mochi. Fantastic nose.

Palate: Man, what an arrival! Sooooo juicy. Licorice and smoke. Rubber and tar. Impressively fruity. Nice mid-palate spices, dominated by ginger. Plaster. Some bread notes. And sorta hospital-y.

Finish: Long and smoky. Salt licorice. Granny Smith apples.

Thoughts: Yep. Undoubtedly my favorite of them all. The apex of the range. And rightfully so. Here’s where it all comes together. Why a whisky like this isn’t a regular addition to the Ardbeg range, I don’t know. Beautiful clean spirit, well chosen wood, and a perfect age that balances high phenols and rising fruit tides. Love it.

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Sep 242019
 

Another of the great lost distilleries. Dallas Dhu was one of the fallen soldiers in the rash of 1983 closures that permanently shuttered some of the most iconic producers in Scotland. Now…whether or not all of said distilleries would have been held in the same esteem they are now if they’d not had their lives shortened is a matter of some debate, but hey…a lot of…err…less than premier distilleries have survived the ages and are still kicking out juice, so who knows?

But let’s not confuse Dallas Dhu with some of the greats (port Ellen, Brora, St. Mags, Rosebank, etc). It’s stocks have never really been held in the same esteem by most connoisseurs. I have a personal bias in favor of this distillery, but I know others who are rather indifferent. I hate to say I’m right and they’re wrong, but…y’know…I’m right and they’re wrong.

The Rare Malts series contains some absolutely legendary bottlings, as many of you are probably aware. The absolutely stunning twenty-somethings Broras and Port Ellens are lights out malts. This DD isn’t quite of the same caliber, but make no mistake…it’s a gem.

60.54% abv. Distilled in 1970; bottled in 1994.

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

Tasting Notes

Nose: An absolute fruit bomb. Candy and chewing gum. Grilled pineapple. Under ripe kiwi. Warm caramel. Meringues. Warm fudge-y notes. Crème brulee. Soft chocolate poured over peppered fruits. God…so much fruit here.

Palate: Again on those crème brulee notes. Grilled fruit (caramelized syrupy flavours). Sea salted caramel chocolates. Nice toasty malt and toasted oak tones. Less deeply fruity now than the nose lets on. Chocolate covered candied ginger.

Finish: Long and warm, with sot fruits and beautiful fade.

Thoughts: Yet another spectacular example out of the Rare Malts range.

92/100

 

 Posted by at 3:09 pm
Sep 222019
 

Can’t lie. I’m pleased as punch with this one. For personal, biased reasons and just for the way it sits on my palate.

Now, before we go further…I did warn you, remember? I did say that I’d be reviewing some store casks from time to time. And by that I mean the barrels we (as a small committee) select for Kensington Wine Market to purchase as store exclusives. I remember the range of Glen Scotia cask samples we received being quite good, and I remember this particular cask being a stand-out amongst them, but when the actual bottles arrived they were so much better than I remembered. In fact, I have to say that this is one of the store casks I’m most tickled to have played a part in selecting. I should also add that this is probably the most interesting Glen Scotia I’ve ever tasted.

But ultimately, does my bias really matter? It’s not like I made the stuff. All credit goes to the folks at Glen Scotia. We were just lucky enough to score a fantastic selection of cask samples. And this particular expression is almost the epitome of Campbeltown single malt whisky. A great cask at a great age.

53.6% abv. 227 bottles from an ex-sherry hoggy.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A dirty dram; one where most of the fruits are buried. Leathery, with notes of spent engine oil. Smoky and salty. Coastal, without hitting too deep on brine or decaying kelp notes. Mince tarts with slightly burnt pastry. Darkly smoky. Graham cracker crust under blueberry cheesecake. Pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. A wee bit ashy and sooty. Notes of Sen-sens.

Palate: Oil again. What I’d imagine linseed oil would taste like. Sunflower seeds. Dark purple grapes. Much jammier and fruitier here than on the nose. Caramelized ham skin. Reminds of Bowmore Laimrig in ways. Almost seems like this could have been chocolate malt (read: heavily toasted malted barley). Black currant cough sweets. Sweet and syrupy before it plummets into ashy dryness.

Finish: Uber long and oily. Mid-firm tannins.

Thoughts: In some ways, this makes me think of a filthy armagnac. A none-too-fruity dram that defies a lot of description. One to be tasted in order to properly be appreciated. Great stuff.

91.5/100

 Posted by at 11:22 am