Feb 272011
 

Port Charlotte

“It was Jim’s idea,” says Mark Reynier, CEO of Bruichladdich.  Mark is referring to the initiative to resurrect the distillery in Port Charlotte.  With the closure of the Inverleven Distillery in 2003, Master Distiller Jim McEwan saw an opportunity to purchase the existing equipment before demolition.  A team led by Bruichladdich’s General Manager, Duncan McGillivray, ventured to Dumbarton and dismantled the distillation equipment, bolt-by-bolt, and shipped it by barge back to Islay.

Though plans to put Islay’s ninth distillery into production have unfortunately met with delay, for all intents and purposes, this project is still a ‘go’.

For those not in the know, Port Charlotte is destined to be Islay’s next destillery. Pieces are coming together, and it is only a matter of time until whisky flows from the stills in the village of Port Charlotte. From 1829 through 1929 the Lochindaal Distillery produced a peated malt whose resonance lingered long enough to lead to Bruichladdich’s plans of renaissance.  The buildings in Port Charlotte are still in tact from a time when the heavy hand of prohibition led to the Lochindaal Distillery being mothballed, however the last known bottling from this distillery was opened and drunk in 1963.

At the time of writing (2011) there is an indefinite hiatus in terms of rebuilding this highly anticipated addition to Islay’s stable of malt producing giants, however, irrespective of this, Bruichladdich has been producing a heavily-peated spirit under the Port Charlotte moniker for a nearly a decade now.  Eventually, plans are to shift this production to what will be Islay’s newest phoenix…Port Charlotte.

Though we’ll likely never know what the original malt tasted like, the new Port Charlotte is an instant classic.  It is a whisky that is simply unmistakeable.  The releases to date are all are young, biting, citric, and carry that hallmark Bruichladdich buttery character. They are all smoky and peaty, with a phenolic character that seems contrary to the declared 40ppm peating level.  The heft here makes me think this is a conservative number.  Each also delivers a wonderful anesthetic feeling after a couple sips of each (not surprising at this high of abv).

Forgive me for not being able to source a bottle of PCMV (the latest Port Charlotte multivintage vatting, and sadly not available in Canada as yet), but in the meantime…here are the ‘Big 4’:

Port Charlotte PC5, PC6, PC7 and PC8

Port Charlotte PC5 Evolution

Bourbon and sherry casks 63.5% 40PPM 5 y.o. 6,000 bottles

Nose:  Black licorice.  Peat and smoke.  Thistly and green with a touch of new make fruit.

Palate:  Prickly on arrival.  Caramel, sharp greens, tarry.  New make peaks through a little.

Finish:  Green apple and waves of smoke.

Balance:  Young and sharp, but surprisingly already showing strong suggestions of what it will become.

Impressions:  A little Caol Ila-ish, believe it or not.  Somewhat fruiter and a little drier than the others in the lineup.  Hasn’t quite mellowed with that caramely butteriness typical of the others.  Not nearly as balanced as the others, but extremely charming in that ‘dirty girl next door’ kinda way.

Port Charlotte PC6 Cuairt-Beatha

Bourbon and Madeira casks 61.6% 40PPM 6 y.o. 18,000 bottles

Nose:  Bucketloads of peat and smoke.  Butterscotch.  Hints of dust.  Sharp and salty.  Characteristic Bruichladdich butteriness.

Palate:  Swirling smoke.  Tar and anise.  Caramel.  Citrus zest

Finish:  Neverending.  Hints of oak here.

Balance:  Deep.  Sooooo deep.

Impressions:  My favorite of the bunch. The nose, especially, is in a league of its own. Bold, unique, sexy. I adore this whisky.

The Port Charlotte Lineup

Port Charlotte PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach

American Oak Finish 61% 40PPM 7 y.o. 24,000 bottles

Nose:  Sharp smoldering peat and smoke.  Pungent woodiness.  Enormous caramel sweetness.  Freshly picked garden herbs.  Cola and citrus.

Palate:  Dense smoke.  Touch of dill.  Mouthcoating.

Finish:  Everlasting, but what would you expect? At this ABV and this heavily peated these flavors ain’t going anywhere.

Balance:  A little more ‘in-your-face’ than the other two. But I likes…I likes a lot. I concede you’ll likely get a better balance out of the PC6 and PC8.

Impressions:  Seems most aggressive of the bunch.  Not sure why.  Tried this on multiple occasions against the others, and even had concurrence from fellow tasters.  Utterly delicious though.

Port Charlotte PC8 Ar Duthchas

Bourbon and Madeira casks 60.5% 40PPM 8 y.o. 30,000 bottles

Nose:  What else? Peat and smoke.  Amplified clean cucumber and hints of dill.  Toffee.  Cola.  Citrus zest.  Hint of chocolate.

Palate:  Fruitier delivery.  Slightly (and I mean ‘slightly’) easier smoke.  Sweeter and more caramel.  Citrus.

Finish:  Ssssssssssmoky and woody.  Fruitier finish lingers.  Green apple.

Balance:  Most balanced so far, but I miss the jagged tors of the earlier releases.

Impressions:  A little more complex, but I prefer the more youthful bite. Saying this is my least favorite of the three is really not giving this its fair due, as it is still one hell of a dram.

Dissecting these gorgeous monsters is hard. You first have to disassociate the alcoholic burn and peat/smoke components. If you can do that, you’ll still be hard-pressed to find individual characteristics. This is essentially the same whisky at different ages, with different finishes. Logically, they would be fairly similar.  The obvious solution would be to add water, but as said before…as soon as we start adding water it becomes hard to know that you’re tasting the same strength as anyone else out there.  This sort of negates the review.

My personal opinion is that it’s more logical to simply weigh degrees of flavor and aroma balance and decide which one fits your palate best.

The wait for Port Charlotte’s rebirth is like the wait for ‘Chinese Democracy’, but we’ll be here with glasses raised to Bruichladdich when it becomes reality.

 Posted by at 10:41 am
Feb 212011
 

Malmonster weighs in on two drams exclusive to the Calgary market (or as far as can be muled or shipped).  Great whisky at great shops.  I would recommend moving quickly if you hope to get your hands on these.

 

SMACKDOWN

 MANZANILLA   vs.   MANZANILLA

“THE RUMBLE IN THE ROCKIES”

Two exclusive Manzanilla Sherry cask 12 year old single malt Scotch whisky bottlings for * (CCCUFS) Calgary from Springbank & Bruichladdich.

A little background for the benefit of the great unwashed.  Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes in Spain. Fino is variety of Sherry that is very dry and pale as a Canadian after a long winter.  Manzanilla is a very light variety of the Fino Sherry.  Quality used Manzanilla Sherry casks are something that the accountants weep over because of the price.  Accounts are not well loved by most master distillers.

The contender Tommy Dreamer aka “Pretty Boy” for SPRINGBANK

Distilled 1996 – Bottled 2008 56.4% ABV Cask # 258 Manzanilla 12 Year old.  Limited to 594 bottles.  Bottled exclusively for Kensington Wine Market in Calgary.

NOSE:  Burnt sugar, spicy Partagas cigar, nutmeg.

TASTE:  Chewy vibrant spice, chocolate cake, almonds.

FINISH:  Long and warm, but very smooooooth.

ASSESSMENT:  Great stuff.  The people that helped choose this cask did a great job and should be consulted for any future cask selection.

Kensington's 1996 Springbank

The upstart Fit Finlay aka “The Belfast Bruiser” for BRUICHLADDICH

Distilled 1998 – Bottled 2010 55.8% ABV Manzanilla cask.  Limited to 240 bottles.  Bottled exclusively for Willow Park Wines & Spirits Calgary

NOSE:  Banana custard, chocolate fudge, honey.  There is way more here than I have described, may need some help on this one.

TASTE:  Creamy cappuccino, marzipan, orange peel.

FINISH:  Long and sensuous.

ASSESSMENT:  This will set your heart a-bubblin, on the rocky road to Dublin.  One of the best and most interesting sherry casks I’ve tasted from Bruichladdich.

Willow Park's Bruichladdich

* CCUFS: Calgary Current Center of the Universe For Scotch

          – MM

 Posted by at 9:47 am
Feb 172011
 

Note:  This event took place on the 1st of December, 2010.

Laughs were easy tonight.  The audience, 102 strong, was there to have a good time and J. Wheelock’s casual demeanor helped to make a relatively formal event feel both comfortable and familiar.  A gift he has.  I mentioned similar thoughts regarding J’s approach in a review of a tasting he put on for Highland Park last year.  Edrington has an ace in the hole here with someone whose skill is matched only by the sincerity of his passions for what he presents.

J Wheelock at work

This particular event, much like the last, was a case where class won out.  The visuals, those of both Willow Park and Edrington, were warm, dark and cozy.  The ambience was set from the moment of arrival.  Everyone was greeted at the entrance with a glass of the Famous Grouse on ice and instructed to mix with bottles of ginger beer on the tables to create what they had deemed “the Ginger Grouse”.  Not bad.  Not particularly my thing though.  Regardless of preference and palate, it was a great welcome.

The presentation began with some history on the distillery, region and malts, and was peppered with humorous anecdotes and shared personal experience.  These are the pieces that come together to make these sorts of tastings worth attending (of couse, the whisky doesn’t hurt either, I suppose).  Many enthusiasts will never step foot on Scotland’s shores, let alone be allowed into the inner sanctum of some of the distilleries, so these insider insights are both entertaining and enlightening.  

As the presentation unfolded we began to work our way through the lineup of malts that had been laid out for us.  Quite a range, really, and one that afforded a good look at the varied portfolio of the Macallan.  A few brief notes (several of these will be reviewed in the coming days) to give you an idea:

The evening's fare...a nice range of the Macallan

 

Macallan Sherry Oak 12 y.o. – Slightly oaky.  Sharp purple fruit and honey.  Sherry brings a touch of baking spice. Caramel apple.  Peppery grape/raisin on the palate.  Thin feel.

Macallan Fine Oak 15 y.o. – Typically Speyside-ish.  Tangy fruit, vanilla, fresh greens and smoked wood.  More floral and woody on the palate than the nose.  Somewhat weak in the delivery.

Macallan Sherry Oak 18 y.o. – Complex maturity.  Toffee with cinnamon and sherry.  Oak is an anchor.  Smoked apple skins.  Spices creep to the front on the palate.  Figs and cloves.  Best Macallan I have tasted to date.

Macallan Fine Oak 21 y.o. – Quite peppy and fruity.  Sweet caramel and vanilla.  Mixed tropical fruits.  Big citrus notes.  Nice arrival that builds to a head of creamy orange fruit and sugars.  It is the peppery woods that linger.  My wife referred to it as quite wintery fresh (my words, not hers).

Macallan Fine Oak 25 y.o. – Stunningly sweet toffee notes.  Mild and mature fruit.  Mildly floral with a hint of pepper.  Touch of peach and sugary biscuit.  Hint of smoke on the palate with a bit of an apple bite in the finish.  Almost bitter.  Much better nose than palate.  Great nose, in fact.

Macallan Fine Oak 30 y.o. – Mature and dignified.  Beautifully balanced fruit and caramel.  Again…dry apple finish.  While good…age does not win out here though.  The 18 year old is better.

Gotta be honest.  I have made no small secret of my uncertainty regarding Macallan.  It was never an issue of not liking the whiskies…more like being underwhelmed with what I had tried.  Did this tasting alleviate that?  Well…yes and no.  We tried some great whiskies, the 18 in particular being quite spectacular.  We also tried a couple that were beyond what most in attendance would pay for a bottle.  Both tasty and rewarding.

However…I have to stand behind the conviction that Macallan’s price point is simply too high.  The 12 year old is nearly $80 and the 18 year old hovers around $175.00.  At the end of the day I promise you can find better malts for less.  Does this make these bad whiskies?  Come on…of course not.  Quite the contrary.  I simply expect more for less, and can’t think of another brand out there that is pricey across the range as the Macallan.  I’ve said before though…value is subjective, and obviously many others out there see things in a vastly different light than I. 

Back to the evening…

To close out an already great night, J. asked everyone to take home the Macallan tumblers that had been placed in front of each setting.  A nice token and one which Edrington has done at both events I have attended. 

Nosing techniques and explaining the flavor map.

This tasting was nifty for me.  For the first (but hopefully not last) time my wife actually attended with me.  Can’t think of anything that could have made the night better. 

This will certainly not be the last event I attend put on by the Edrington group.  A great tasting.  Look forward to the next.

 Posted by at 8:42 pm
Feb 082011
 

John Glaser is the man behind Compass Box whiskies.   His unique and uncompromising approach to the craft is nearly unrivalled in terms of innovation and determination.  This fierce drive and desire to break the mold have led to more than a few hackles being raised, and conversely…not a few glowing accolades.  While finding ways to work within the narrow confines of SWA regulation John has still managed to carve his niche and blaze a trail of originality.  His battles to bring The Spice Tree to life are legend now. 

Along the journey, John has littered the path with gems the rest of us are fortunate enough to pick up.  Hedonism, Eleuthera, Flaming Heart and The Peat Monster are but a few.  I would strongly recommend any whisky enthusiasts find their way to one of John’s tastings, and if that proves an impossibility…well…hit up your local specialist and tell them you want Compass Box.

Now.

Without further ado…

John Glaser.

John Glaser

ATW:  How did Compass Box come about?  Your history in wines and working with Johnnie Walker have quite obviously given you a formidable bedrock from which to start, but was there a catalyst that made you say “okay…here’s what I’m going to do…”?

JG:  Starting Compass Box came out of a realisation that I was in a unique situation:  I am someone who likes making things, who enjoys the creative process, and I found myself living in the UK with an idea for doing Scotch whisky in a different way (that of the craft-scale blender), access to purchasing whisky direct from the producers, and an understanding (due to my work) of how to bring whisky brands to market internationally.  One day, on a holiday to the island of Eleuthera, I simply decided I was going to act on this and do it on my own.  There did not seem to be any option otherwise.  It just seemed to make perfect sense.

 

ATW:  Can you explain the significance of the name ‘Compass Box’ and why you
chose it?

JG:  See:  http://server7.sky-map.org/starview?object_type=5&object_id=69&locale=EN

 

ATW:  Compass Box whiskies are beautiful marriages of only a select few components.  Was this more of an early reflection on the quality of certain whiskies and your opinion of how they would compliment each other, or a reaction to the homogeneity that is too often a product of blending many whiskies?

JG:  It was both.  My approach to blending is that I WANT the characteristics of key whiskies to stand out.  I don’t want to use so many components that you achieve homogeneity.  It’s a different approach to blending than others take.  I start by using component whiskies with significant character and build around that, adding a few other whiskies to enhance complexity, to complement, to create balance.

 

ATW:  When you started up Compass Box were you aiming primarily at whisky enthusiasts?  Has this changed over time?

JG:  I have always aimed at people who seek out good stuff.  Whether whisky enthusiasts or not.  The core mission of our business is to share the joys of great whisky with more people.  In the beginning, this was mostly picked up by enthusiasts, but as we ‘ve grown, our reach has broadened.

 

ATW:  Do you single-handedly create all Compass Box expressions?

JG:  As our business has grown, and as the range of what we offer grows, I have been helped enormously by Gregg Glass, my assistant.  I still create the direction for new whiskies and lead the creation of these through prototype development.  Gregg helps me with this and helps manage our relationships with the distillers, coopers and our bottler.

 

ATW:  Where does the inspiration for your new lines come from? Do you start with a specific end in mind, or build on the-go as you come across interesting casks that will form the foundation of something new? Have you ever reached out to your customers for input on new blends?

JG:  Inspiration comes from all over.  There is no formula.  I believe if you work hard and if you keep your eyes open inspiration will come along.  You can’t plan for it.  You have to just keep working.

 

ATW:  What can you say about the Compass Box wood policy?  You are purchasing mature (or maturing) whiskies to use in your blends, of course, but the wood you choose for final maturation will obviously have an influence on your end product.

JG:  Our policy is to work with higher quality, more active wood.  By higher quality I am talking about two aspects:  one is how active the oak is, which is based on how many times it has been used.  The more a cask is used, the less it has to offer in terms of flavour materials and the less complexity you are able to achieve in the whisky. Most casks in Scotland are far too many times in my mind.  Which is why so many Scotch whiskies are boring.  Secondly, I am talking about the inherent quality of the oak for maturation purposes.  This is based on the tightness of the grain, the type of seasoning (air-dried, which we prefer, versus kiln-dried), the duration of the seasoning, (generally, longer air drying of the wood creates more complex and delicious flavours in the wood), and the type of toasting and/or charring the wood is exposed to (this transforms the flavours in the oak further and very significantly).

 

ATW:  What is the Compass Box expression you are most proud of to date?

JG:  You mean, which child am I most proud of?  Hmm.  Difficult… .

 

ATW:  Going on a decade now, can you reflect back on the peer reception Compass Box received upon inception, and the esteem it is held in now?

JG:  Perhaps a question better answered by others.

 

ATW:  What has been the single greatest hurdle Compass Box has had to overcome?

JG:  My tendency to try and do too much.

 

ATW:  Compass Box has been the recipient of many awards (over 60 at this point, I believe).  Can you speak to the award that meant the most to you?

JG:  Our first award for Innovation was given to me in our second year, and it was presented to me by the late Michael Jackson.  I look back on this fondly, for he was such a tremendous influence on the world of whisky (and beer, for that matter!).  He was a devoted individual who worked extremely hard, right up until he passed away.

 

ATW:  When you hold master classes or tasting events, what is the message you really want to get across to the audience?

JG:  Share and enjoy.

 

ATW:  There has been mention of Compass Box tastings that allow a ‘blend at your table’ deal for attendees.   Can you elaborate on this and the inspiration behind it?

JG:  I simply believe that one way to change peoples’ perceptions of something, of anything, you need to offer them rational explanation for why their current perceptions are inaccurate.  To change the perception in whisky that blending is somehow bad (and anything “single” is supposedly good), I let people blend for themselves, using our components.  They see that when you start with high quality components, and just a few (not 30 or 40), and if you blend with care and with a stylistic objective in mind, you can make lovely things.  When people experience this, it changes their minds about the possibilities with whisky blending.  For ever and for good.  This is our “blending school” program which we have been running for several years now.

 

ATW:  …and finally, a fun one…

I believe you were a literature major.  Can you recommend a few book and whisky pairings for the Compass Box expressions?

JG:  Alfred Jarry and The Peat Monster.  I’ll buy a drink for anyone who
makes the connection between the two!

Thanks, John.  Your time and effort are appreciated.

The gauntlet has been thrown.  I wiki’d Alfred Jarry and am now more than intrigued.  Readers out there…if you make this connection please do not post it here.  Keep it on the downlow until you meet Mr. Glaser.  Let’s keep this challange alive.

Slainte

 Posted by at 7:40 pm
Feb 082011
 

ATW’s good-hearted foot soldier and trained palate extraordinaire Maltmonster takes us on a head-to-head battle between the world’s peatiest drams…Bruichladdich’s Octomore and Ardbeg’s Supernova.  This particular collision is between the first release of Octomore (1.1) and Ardbeg’s latest incarnation of Supernova (SN2010).

At some point in the future I’ll put up my own notes for how these stack up.

Anyway…back to the here and now…

 

BOG PEOPLE – EXPOSED

TASTING OF TWO PEATED WHISKIES SUPERNOVA & OCTOMORE

 

Bog People also known as peat freaks, marsh mutants, peatophiles and phenol fanatics exist all around us. They hold normal jobs, eat normal food and they live just like normals, except they have a dirty dark secret.  They are addicted to layers of decaying vegetation called “peat”.  They roast their peat over barley, which they turn into alcohol in order to speed the delivery to their brains.  Most normals have no ideal as to the scope of the problem or the ability to recognize an infected person.

As a self acclaimed expert with months of experience I have no problem in identifying the people of the bog.  Four easy clues to identifying people who suck the bog juice are as follows;

1)  Language.  It’s a dead give away.  They use words like medicinal, tar, iodine, smoky, creosote, bonfire, diesel, reek. Learn these words and know the first warning signs.

2)  Visual.  Look around the house for bottles with  names like Authenticus, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Brora, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Laphroaig, Port Ellen.  Be careful here, they are a tricky bunch and have been known to hide, or as they refer to it “stash”, their bottles.  Check the basement, attic and the garage.  They have also been known in extreme cases to hide their bottles at the neighbor’s.

3)  Leader.  Yes I said leader.  They follow and pay homage to the prophet named James Murray.  Again look around the house for books, and in particular look for a bible which bares the prophet’s name.  At the mere mention of the prophet’s name most bog people will stop whatever they are doing and immediately start chanting “Ardbeg whisky of the year, Ardbeg whisky of the year, Ardbeg whisky of the year”.  Know their leader and it could save your life.

4)  Promised land.  As strong as the need for some birds to head south for the winter, so is the desire for each Bog person to visit their promised land.  Their mystical home land is called “Islay”, which is an island off the coast of Scotland very close to Ireland.  They feel compelled to visit this island at least once in their lifetime.  Anytime the name of the mystical homeland is mentioned their eyes glaze over, drool falls from the mouth and they babble names of distilleries located on this mystical island.

Other warning signs of peat freaks in your midst may be breath smelling of a campfire, saved websites of distilleries on Islay, wills stating their bodies are to be interred on Islay.

Two commonly preferred whiskies drank by bog people are:

ARDBEG – SUPERNOVA (SN2010)

60.1 % ABV.      OVER 100 PPM

NOSE:  Strong smoke, farmy.  Lemon and pepper.

TASTE:  Salty, liquorice, some fruit.  Very chewy.

FINISH:  Long and warming.  Little dry.

ASSESSMENT:  Not as assertive as the Octomore and way more balanced with favor.

Ardbeg SN2010

BRUICHLADDICH – OCTOMORE  01.1   

63.5% ABV.   131 PPM

NOSE:  Creosote, Bolivar cigar, smoked oysters…hell maybe a smoked kitchen sink.

TASTE:  Intense smoke, salty and some young vanilla.

FINISH:  Powerful, robust and long.

ASSESSMENT:  Like the taste you get after breaking a bottle on the road and then spending the next hour licking it up.

Bruichladdich Octomore 1.1

 

Never, never use pepper spray on a peat head as they only enjoy this as additional favoring.  Also never use a stun gun on them as the many years of exposure to peat has left their senses so dull as to render the stun useless.  Never approach a large group of peat heads as they can be very dangerous.  I heard from a creditable Hollywood source that George Romero wrote Dawn Of The Dead after visiting some peat freaks on Islay.                         

If you find yourself trapped with a peat freak please remember the following:  Burn some smoky incense or light a fire which will serve to calm them; tell them you have to go to the store to pick some smoked oysters or smoked salmon to pair with their brew; Once outside phone the police, they are very adept in dealing with these deviants.

– MM

 Posted by at 7:37 pm