Mar 132012
 

GlenDronach 1995 (PX Sherry Puncheon) KWM Exclusive

52.2% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Sexy…very sexy.

The ‘KWM’ in the title refers to the Kensington Wine Market, a local specialist retailer here in Calgary with a fine boutique selection of malts which often fall outside the mainstream.  For obvious reasons, we like this.  For those ATW readers and adherents outside of my locale (and there are starting to be quite a few.  Cheers!) you may have a little more difficulty procuring a bottle of this, but do make the effort.  I don’t imagine you’ll be disappointed.

This particular ’95 GlenDronach cask (682 bottles) was recently purchased and bottled exclusively by KWM.  Years spent in ex-Pedro Ximenez wood have imparted such strength of character that it is easy to see why the team at KWM opted for this cask.  Dark and rich, enchanting and enticing.  The enormity of 52.2% abv is the perfect vehicle to carry the intensity of these bold flavors.  I’ll concede I am a sucker for a rich sweet cask strength sherry…especially when it has a few years behind it.  Even moreso as the temperatures drop in the cold winter months.  Having said all of that, this one still kinda knocked my socks off.  In an odd sort of paradox this whisky is old beyond its years, but still young and spirited.

GlenDronach (anything beyond the 12 year mark) is starting to be one of my favorite sherried malts.  The revamped lineup more than holds its own against its contemporaries, and to be completely honest…its only real competition from the sherried Speys is Glenfarclas, in my opinion.

So what have we here?

Nose:  gorgeous cask influence (sherry and fresh oak); zesty fruit and pinches of spice; a mild maltiness and slightly meaty character; eclair and a touch of charred wood smoke.  Stunning nose.

Palate:  chocolate and sherry arrive holding hands; waves of spices and bitter apricot; oak and malt; explosive delivery and a wicked fade that reverberates in waves.

I can’t even imagine how phenomenal this would have been at 17 or 18, but even at 15…right up there.

A note of kudos to any involved in cask selection…well done.

Right now I only have the sample.  I WILL be buying this.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:50 am
Mar 132012
 

GlenDronach 15 y.o. Revival

46% abv

Score:  92/100

After having recently had my socks knocked off by a couple of exclusive bottlings of GlenDronach I decided to revisit the core range. Glad for it too. “Revival”, GlenDronach’s new 15 year expression, is exactly what I’ve been looking for. A mid-price sherried malt that sparkles without the benefit of excessive aging (and the price that comes with it) or cask strength might (contrary to popular belief, I don’t always want that massive delivery).

To its credit this malt is still bottled at a respectable 46% abv. As I’ve been attempting to drill this home for some time now, I’d like to clarify a little here. Higher bottling strength (alcohol by volume, or ‘abv’) equals a deeper intensity of flavor. We’re not out to get soused here, folks…we’re looking for the proper form of delivery for so romantic a drink. Why dilute the magic?

At 15 years the malty cereal notes so prevalent in the 12 year old expression have all but disappeared.  Instead we’re left with sweet Oloroso sherry and chewy toffee.  Rich and creamy melted chocolate, lightly spiced orange, and fine threads of vanilla and oak are rounded out by a touch of dried cherry and tart plum. Delightful.

Though wickedly tasty in its own right, the nose is so much bigger than what you get on the tongue. How could it not be? By no means is this a disappointment…simply an observation.

It all ends on a high note, as the finish is unique and defining.  The mildly peppered blackberry notes that linger are something that will keep me coming back to this one time and again.  Doubtless, the best expression in the current range.

Shimmeringly beautiful. This one had me at ‘hello’.

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:44 am
Mar 112012
 

Laphroaig 10 y.o. Cask Strength (Batch 001)

57.8% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Peatheads, rejoice!  Another young cask strengther to sink your fangs into.  The peat, smoke and briny medicinal characteristics that so define the Islay whiskies tend to severely polarize drinkers.  Mostly the noobs, I believe.  An acquired taste?  Perhaps.  Regardless, these scents and flavors are massive and unmistakable.  For the uninitiated palate this can be quite a challenge.  For those of us who like a little smoke and fire in our glass…this one’s for you.

Laphroaig’s flagship expression is their 10 year old.  Though unquestionably great as bottled, the 10 year is somewhat neutered by being bottled at 40%.  This beefier version of the 10 year throws ocean winds and sea spray all over your campfire as expected, but also offers a diverse palate of notes to provide a spectrum of nuances.

First of all, make no mistake…this is Laphroaig.  Burning stacks of peat, smoke, and citrus sit up front.  This prickles at both the tongue and nostril with sharp peppery notes and anise.  Some mild, but pleasant, cacao…a hint of pickle (?!)…some dust and spice.  I find it has a sort of cured meat quality as well.

This whisky is enormous.  It lingers in a way only Laphroaig can and leaves a hazy veil of peat reek over everything in the room.  Mouthcoating…sharp…and with a delicious burn on the tongue.  I would suggest it be tried neat before adding any water.  You simply don’t mess with a dram like this.

One final note…even though this is bottled at a respectable 57.8% abv, I find it has a subtlety that eclipses the Laphroaig Quarter Cask.  Where the QC is raw and jagged, this is a little more polished.  Personally I prefer the QC.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:48 pm
Mar 112012
 

Lagavulin 16 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Lagavulin 16 year old is one of Islay’s greatest gifts to the rest of the world.

What an elegant, austere and classy looking bottle.    What a beautiful rich orange amber liquid.  What a gorgeous smoky rapture.  And also…

…what a wet band-aid slap in the face of a bottle.  Yep…you read that right.  Hang tight…we’re coming back to this.

One of the big three from Islay, and named as one of the Classic Malts, Lagavulin enjoys a fairly stellar reputation.  Deservedly, I’d say.  What a monster.  Absolutely typical of an Islay bruiser, this is a peat and smoke bomb.  The nose is huge.  Lush with earth, fire, salt and iodine.  Smoke blankets it all nicely, and peat shines through everywhere.  Aside from all of these base components of Islay, you’ll also find a bit of orange, spice and oak.

When adding water I would suggest mere drops.  A shame this whisky is bottled at only 43%.  As such, too much water will surely drown this.  (I am itching to get my hands on the 12 year old cask strength, to see what this is like without the additional 4 years of mellowing, and at proper strength.  When I do, rest assured notes will follow).

On the palate this is mellow and smooth.  A bit of sherry on top of everything mentioned earlier.  It is quite oily and mouth-coating.  A little bit sweet…a little bit bitter…without being bittersweet.  (???)

Now…what was that about wet band-aids?  These whiskies tend to have what many refer to as a medicinal smell.  Lagavulin has this in spades of course, but it is more defined.  It truly is a band-aid-like scent.  Odd, but tangible.

The finish is beautiful and long.  So long, in fact, that I went to bed after a couple of drams last weekend, and woke up still tasting smoke.

A friend of mine, David, offers the sagely advice that one should drink for the season.  If this is your philosophical approach to whisky, then you’ll be certain to think of this as a winter dram (or maybe a damp, windy, late fall evening dram).  Though I follow this logic for the most part, I just want to add…follow your taste buds and cravings.  I’ve sipped the peat monsters on late summer night outdoors and enjoyed them immensely.

Whisky should be personal.

One last thing…you must read this beautiful little review for a more…esoteric approach to this wonderful whisky:

http://www.connosr.com/reviews/lagavulin/lagavulin-16-year-old/bliss/

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:43 pm
Mar 112012
 

Laphroaig 10 y.o.

40% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Sadly, Laphroaig 10 has all but disappeared from the local markets (ahem…Canada).  The reason for this would seemingly be the launch of the Quarter Cask expression.  So…while the 10 year old is undoubtedly a fine dram…the trade off is ultimately worthwhile.  Because we’re all friends here, come on…let’s face it…The QC is bloody brilliant.

So why would a distillery of Laphroaig’s repute not have both expressions side by side on the shelf?  Well…simple age reasons really.  The 10 year old and QC both share the same price point, but the QC matures in (about) half the time.  I’m sure you can figure it out from there.

For us peatheads, this bodes poorly though.  Our selection of Islay gold is somewhat limited as it stands, and that extra Laphroaig option would be warmly welcomed back, I figure.  Alas…we make do.

So for those who have only tried the Quarter Cask, interested in how they stack up?

Well…put simply…you’ve got the winner with the QC.  That extra 8% abv and youthful peat nip in the QC are also buffeted by much bigger smoke winds.  The 10 year old, though quite exceptional in its own right, just doesn’t have the sheer monstrosity that the Quarter Cask does.

Laphroaig 10 is nifty though.  All that you’d expect of an Islay whisky is front and center.  Peat…smoke…iodine and tar…and big briny seaside tartness.  As counter-intuitive as this may sound, it is sharper but mellower than the QC.  The sharpness comes from a citric tang, while the mellow side is simply from not hefting that extra alcohol and raw earthiness.

Don’t be fooled, peat lovers.  This is still enormous.  Mouth-coatingly oily and dense, it is chock full of smoke and seaside depth.  Close your eyes.  It’s hard not be instantly transported to dark and stormy Islay shores, where the ocean heaves massive waves against warehouses of casks, and rain falls diagonally through the night.

Breathe deep…let your lids droop…sink deep into that chair.  This is indeed weighty stuff.

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:38 pm
Mar 112012
 

Kilchoman Spring 2010

46% abv

Score:  85/100

 

Here’s a quirky l’il Kilchoman, and utterly winning in its unique profile.  Having recently wended my way through a very encompassing range of expressions from this young Islay distillery, this was one of the ones that really stood out.  Yes, the quality of spirit is inherent, but so is the wood policy.  If memory serves (and as I get older, it often doesn’t) Kilchoman was using ex-Buffalo Trace bourbon casks for maturation of their firey young spirit.  The sweetness of Buffalo Trace working wonders to knock some of the barbs from the heavily-peated Islay malt.

The most interesting thing about this expression is that, for a farm distillery a few miles inland, the spirit somehow exudes a bold and undeniable oily smoked salmon nose.  Oceanic notes are nothing new to Islay malts, but this decidedly fishy nose is new to me.  Having said that…it works.  I can’t help but wonder what exactly is contributing that profile to the whisky though.

The nose is, as mentioned, heavy in salmon-esque effluence.  Peat and smoke are omnipresent, of course, and  rounded out with lemon juice, kerosene, mussels in white wine and a grassy/herbal note.

The palate, both on arrival and playing out through the finish, also carries that fishiness.  Notes of hoisin sauce and syrupy pear still manage to be heard amid the hot cacophony of peat noise.

Good drink.  Don’t be fooled by thinking this young distillery is a one-trick pony.  Their expressions, while young, are already varied and carry unique fingerprints.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:31 pm
Mar 112012
 

Kilchoman Inaugural Release

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

Here it is.  After much anticipation, the first official whisky produced from Islay’s youngest distillery, Kilchoman.  Gotta be honest too…this is a one-in-a-million success story.  The distillery, that is, not just this expression.  Kilchoman have managed to develop a sweet and unique whisky, the likes of which some distilleries with much more age to their credit are still struggling to come to terms with.

Is it perfect?  Of course not.  No whisky is.  Without question though, I can attest that even at three years old, this is a dram to be reckoned with.  I can’t wait to try this as a 12 year old malt in a few years.

The nose is scrappy and chock full of win.  Sort of a Rocky Balboa fighting spirit from this underdog distillery.  Licorice, iodine, citrus zest, raw smoke and earthy peat lead the charge.  There is a brininess reminiscent of capers and bonfire and maple bacon as well.

Drinking the stuff reveals salt and smoke in healthy doses (which works well, as I healthily dosed myself in Kilchoman!) with cracked black pepper.  Certainly a young and bracing delivery, but offset nicely with some sweetness.  The fade is all crunchy Granny Smith apple and smoke.  Warm and long lasting.

This really is a damn good whisky.  In fact, better than nearly all of the really young malts (under 5 y.o., that is) I’ve tried.  More than holds up to the hype that built early, and promises a very…very bright future.

Perhaps an extra point for being so bloody good at such a young age.  Remarkable.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:23 pm
Mar 112012
 

Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength

61.6% abv

Score:  91/100

 

On the windswept and storm battered shores of Islay a small peat fire smolders near the treeline.  The Sound of Islay smashes the rocky coasts of Islay and Jura, yet neither rain nor salty sea spray can douse this flame.  A quaich is passed around the fire from person to person.  The warming uisge beatha being sipped from the vessel, named for the rushing torrent which passes between the islands, is ‘Caol Ila’.
Are we on the same page now?
This whisky is quite simply one of the truest expressions of the Islay malt I have ever come across.  Intricate…delicate…immediately identifiable and ferociously intense.  The most challenging thing about this whisky is that even at cask strength of 61.6% abv, it retains that signature Caol Ila delicacy.

My initial impressions on the nose were how subtle this was.  On first pour I honestly could not believe this was over 60%.  The complex delivery of pepper and coffee, malted toffee and chocolate, iodine, salt and citrus is sallied forth on a bed of gorgeous peat smoke.  Discerning these notes takes time and patience in allowing the whisky to breathe.  The intensity slowly builds in the glass until finally it runs over, allowing hints as to just how immense this is.

Slow olfactory development aside, it absolutely explodes on the palate.  Now this is more along the lines of what I expected from an Islay malt at full volume.  This is like gargling diamonds; the utmost beauty but sharp enough to cut glass.  The flavors arrive in tendrils that tickle at the back of your throat before tickling your mind, all the while working to foil attempts at dissection.  Hints of smoked and salted beef…lemon pepper cedar-smoked fish…chocolate with chili pepper…iodine and peat smoke.  There’s a slightly malty edge too.

The finish is stunning, really.  Like nothing I’ve tried.  There are notes that make me think of a dawn fire, lingering with a beautiful burn and fading in a cherry citric barley denouement.

The sheer immensity of this one is mindblowing.  Something akin to pouring salt water over a peat fire to extinguish the flames.

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:56 pm
Mar 112012
 

Amrut Fusion

50% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

No, I’m not sleeping.  All of the adjectives I need for this dram are ‘Z’s.  The Fusion is mindblowing.  (Okay…that one didn’t need a ‘Z’).  This whisky is zingy, zippy and zesty.  I can’t remember being so taken aback by a whisky before this one.

Ever had pop rocks?  Y’know…those fizzy little candies that hiss and tingle and pop on your tongue.  No?

Okay.  Let’s try another approach…

Remember your first orgasm?  That ‘holy hell…what was that?!‘ moment at 12 or 13 when you discovered…well…anyway…you know what I mean.

Can you imagine a whisky that packs that kind of surprise?  That is Fusion.

This deep orange drink is bottled at a hefty 50% abv (hell yeah, Amrut!).  It is the biggest 50%’er I’ve ever tried.  Bold and unique.  Quirky and surprising.  It will surprise your nose and tickle your tongue, literally leaving you with that wonderful anesthetic feeling (numb lips).

The individual notes are not hinted at, but all step up to take their turn at the forefront.  Peat, chocolate, spice (cloves), orange zest (think Grand Marnier), smoked meat (salami?), rum and sherry.  Wow.  The harmony and balance of all of these is magical.

So many ‘fused’ flavors competing for your nose/palate.

Chocolate and spice continue to vie through the finish, which lingers long and warm.  Many, many minutes later as it finally began to fade, I was left with bitter green fruit and a bit of oak.

Amrut Fusion is so surprising, it will make you doubt what you have just tasted and want another glass.   Stunning.  Or should I say…’ztunning’.

I should note…though the Amrut distillery was founded in 1948, it has only been recently that their whiskies have exploded on the world stage.  I truly can not wait to see what comes next for Indian whisky.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:46 pm
Mar 112012
 

Laphroaig Quarter Cask

48% abv

Score:  89.5/100

Another monster from the bog.  Laphroaig has done something different here.  In order to replicate whisky distillation and maturation from the days of old, the craftsmen at Laphroaig have finished this whisky in smaller casks to allow greater wood/whisky contact.  The Quarter Cask is aged to about 5 years in bourbon casks before the transfer.

The QC is the ultimate in successful whisky experiment and innovation.  There is simply nothing to rival this.

As you’d expect nothing less from Laphroaig, this is a bottle full of smoke.  Heavy peat, yet smooth beyond its age.  Seems a little raw around the edges as it lacks that certain sweetness you find in some some of the other Islays.  Big fat arrival…long development…finish that lingers almost as long as the beautiful aroma.

This is all smoke (no mirrors, thankfully).  The real deal.  Heavy and lingering.  Massive arrival that develops into something with a bit of heat and…I know, I know…dirt.  Very earthy.  I think I’m getting a touch of anise in there as well.  Typical young peat citric notes are a little buried (surprisingly) by smoke, but present nevertheless.

Definitely a winter whisky, but one that will have you thinking of summer bonfires.  Very raw and overpowering…in a good way.  I can promise you that the smell of this whisky will still be blanketing the room long after your glass is empty.

At ~$50 a bottle, and a brilliant bottling at 48% abv, this is definitely one to snag a couple bottles of if the opportunity presents itself.  One helluva Christmas gift idea too.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:36 pm