May 192012
 

Tomintoul 12 y.o. Oloroso

40% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

Tomintoul.  Not a distillery we’ve seen much from in Canada.  Recently a few expressions docked on this side of the pond and made their way from the waterside to my landlocked neighborhood here in Calgary.  Hopefully this is a full-on emmigration experience and not a once over trip.  Gotta be honest, this was a really, really pleasant surprise.

The most lively and spriteful of Oloroso sherry casks have spent about 18 months rounding off the initial period of bourbon maturation for this youthful Speyside malt, giving it a Peter Pan ‘forever young’ type of vivacity.  Neat.

Oloroso almost seems a cheat to me.  It is so sweet and tangy that it immediately adds a level of playfulness to a spirit often thought of as a stuffy old boy’s club kind of drink.  PX is a little like a dessert wine.  Manzanilla can be a wee bit tart still and drying.  But Oloroso…Oloroso is more like a cherry popsicle on a hot summer’s day.  Sweet…juicy…refreshing.  The only problem I have with it is that I always find myself wondering how  decent the base spirit is before this sherry finish sweetens it all out.

Nose:

Sweet, sweet oloroso.  Fruity as hell.  Home-y notes of hot cross buns.  Sugary raisin, crunchy berry and oranges.  Cherry lollipop.  This was exceptional sherry casking.  Not a faulty cask anywhere to be found here.

Arrives with a sweet juicy flare and big pleasant tingle.  Juicy as hell and had my mouth watering straight off.  For a young whisky…this is really damn good.  It loses a little on the finish, but everything that came before more than makes up for it.

Scores an extra point or so for how vibrant and balanced this is at this age.  At 21…I fear to think

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:17 am
May 192012
 

Amrut Portonova

62.1% abv

Score:  92/100

 

What the hell are they doing in Bangalore?  Really?  This whisky is simply stunning.  So good, in fact, I question whether there may be something dark and clandestine at work.  Something akin to that crossroads meet where Robert Johnson supposedly sold his soul to the devil.

Here we have another young(ish) Amrut (but fear not…they all are), strutting its coat of many colors, and once more…dazzling the senses of  everyone I know that has tried it.  Possibly none moreso than yours truly.

What I wouldn’t give to taste the Amrut New Make spirit.  The skeleton of this distillery’s whisky shows through in every expression they release.  That tells me that the spirit itself, irrespective of any cask/maturation influence, is where the heart of Amrut lies.  If anyone can get a bit of this newborn liquid into my hands, I will be infinitely grateful.

Now…at an average of six years (according to the international face of Amrut, Ashok Chokalingam, as mentioned on Scotchnoob), the Portonova is again smashing preconceptions in the ‘older is better’ debate.  This is mature sooooooo far beyond its years.  Having said that, the temperate Indian environment certainly forces a new philosophy on aging.  I’m pretty sure anything left in situ in the Amrut warehouse would be nothing but cask dust by the time it reached the dozen or so years that generally characterizes a ‘young’ Scottish malt.

The nose boasts the most spectacular melange of spices.  Truly this is a flavor profile unlike anything I have ever encountered.  The closest to this deep dark mysterious note I’ve ever found (excepting other Amrut’s) would be in the Yamazaki 18.  Orange and a complex figginess (not quite) meets the richest of Swiss milk chocolate.  Dark over-ripe fruits, juicy and foreign.  Sweet soft crumbly sugar cookies and something infinitely creamy.  Yes…even at 62.1%.  Port?  Ummm…ok.  I’ll take your work for it, though this is not truly port-ish.  A few others have mentioned raspberries.  Hmmm…I can see it.

A delivery of pure warm melted chocolate and foreign spice.  freshly shaved orange zest.  Biscuity (or raisin scone perhaps).  Perfect balance and a marvelous explosion on the tongue.

These guys simply play at another level.  I find myself nearly tongue-tied by this distillery, and have since the first time I tasted the Fusion.  Never have I had such trouble wrapping my head around whisky.  What comes out of India leaves me as flabbergasted as the folks outside of Wonka’s great factory.  Delights not found from any other producer.

Barring possibly Ardbeg, there is not a better distillery on earth.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:52 am
May 172012
 

Bunnahabhain 18 y.o.139

46.3% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

No beating around the bush.

I adore this whisky.  Where the old Bunna 18 seemed somehow flat and lifeless, this is vibrant and sparkling.  It is not only incredibly relevant, but a welcome addition to the Islay malt stable, something I think Bunnahabhain has struggled with in recent years.  Most whisky drinkers, when asked about Islay malts, will wax poetic about Ardbeg, Laphroaig or Lagavulin.  Others may think of the rebellious Bruichladdich or fledgling Kilchoman.  Not many immediately think of Bunnahabhain, the island’s most lightly-peated offering.

Bunnahabhain has never been bad, it has simply been overshadowed and under-hyped.  My personal approach to Bunna was that if I was going to spend money on an unpeated (or lightly peated) whisky, there were far better ‘bang-for-your-buck’ drams on the market.  Bunna has kicked that approach out the window with its recent facelift.

Here is the 18 year old expression, non-chill-filtered, and bottled at a perfectly suited 46.3% abv.

Though I believe all whiskies should be served up in this manner, it holds particularly true for the older vintages, which need the oomph of a higher alcohol content to let all of those sexy flavor notes and subtle complexities carry a little more heft.  Bunna 18 is a prime example of this theory.  Older than it’s years and just starting to show that waxy age, this is a malt that is unquestionably Islay, but unmistakeably unique.

The nose is smoke and sherry.  Ashy peat.  Pear and sweet banana cream.  Some sort of orchard fruit.  Honey and vanilla.  Stunning interplay at work here.

First sips…

Wow, what a mouthful.  You can feel the oily tentacles exploring every oral crevice.  This is a gooey, chewy malt full of smoke, sherried honey oak and a complex tapestry of spritely fruits.   This is maturity and youthful zest in perfect harmony.  Kinda like a mix tape (showing my age here) with the odd classic sprinkled in amongst a hatful of new indie bands.

The finish is thick and solid and lingers.  Lovely.

There is something quirky and odd about this one.  Something akin to a distinguished old man wandering the halls of a nursing home with his ass hanging out the back of his dressing gown.  Bearing both age and zip, this Lazarus act is one of the whisky sphere’s greatest miracles in recent years.

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:31 pm
May 162012
 

Port Ellen 9th Release070

57.7% abv

Score:  92.5/100

 

I  waited many a long day to both taste and review a Port Ellen.  In  point of fact I actually turned down an opportunity to taste this expression a  while back simply because I had already beaten up on my palate earlier that eve  with a few other Islay malts.  It just seemed like a waste.   Put simply, Port Ellen is a malt that deserves undivided attention and an  unbiased palate.  Its pedigree, value (subjective or otherwise) and  reputation demand respect.

That  being said…this also insinuates a lot of pressure and expectation on PE to  deliver and be exceptional.  Is it?  Well…

At this  point I can’t even pretend to hide my bias.  I have a junkie’s  weakness for Islay malts.  Peat is like a vice.  Or  more accurately, the smoky heft and majesty of these medicinal malts is like a  vice.  All eight of Islay’s working distilleries have produced  whiskies that have charmed the socks off of me.  Now let’s look at  a dram from a distillery no longer producing.

Amid  the economic tumult of the early 80s (1983, to be exact), Port Ellen was the  most heartbreaking of casualties.  A distillery that simply fell  victim to surplus, as United Distillers elected to retain Caol Ila and Lagavulin and let the  doors swing shut on Port Ellen forever.  Oftentimes when a  distillery is closed the possibility of the phoenix act is still a  reality.  The distillery may lay dormant, mothballed, as time  marches on, awaiting a new owner with deeper pockets and bigger dreams.   Port Ellen, unfortunately, is history.  The distillery that  once produced Islay’s most cult and collectible spirit is now a maltings that supplies malted barley to the island’s  operational distilleries.

Fortunately  stocks of Port Ellen are still to be found.  Oft released as indie  bottling at neutered abv’s, it is a treat to see  releases like the Diageo Port Ellens.  In  this particular case we are looking at a 30 year old whisky at a still  impressive 57.7%.  This presentation allows us to see Port Ellen in  all ‘er glory.  And she is  lovely.

The  nose is typical of Islay.  There is a somewhat fragile and  ephemeral quality here.  Slightly surprising when you consider  bottling strength.  A most trusted friend (the incomparable Maltmonster) suggested the closest one would get to a Port  Ellen would be Caol Ila.  I see where he was coming from.   The same delicacy I’ve noted in regards to that malt is to be found here  as well.

Nose:  Melon.  Jolly Ranchers.  Briny seaside fire.  Light waves of  chocolate.  A hint of something still fresh that adds to that fragility.  Almost like a faded eucalyptus.  There is  a sexy maturity at play here.  Age becomes almost a note in and of  itself.  Citrus.   The peat and smoke are soft, but grow with time.  Slightly rubbery.  Candy notes.  Syrupy white fruits.  Berries (someone said blackberries?)

Palate:  Here is the peat that was subdued on the nose.  Lime zest.  A neat sweetness.  Bubblegum, almost?  Herbal, yet spicy.  Lapsang souchong tea as it develops.  Ash and tar.  Smoke is all over the palate.  Rubbery wax.  Licorice at the back end until it finally ebbs into that tart peaty green apple skin familiarity.

Thoughts:  Sweet, but the palate explodes with smoke.  Somewhat bittersweet to drink this piece of history, as I’ve acknowledged before.  On the one hand, fortunate to have experienced it.  On the other…well…when it’s  gone…it’s really gone.  Did it live up to my (high) expectations?  Indeed.  Here is the hype of Port Ellen vindicated.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:21 pm
May 162012
 

Redbreast 12 y.o.

40% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Another delicate and charming Irish pot still whisky.  This one kind of surprised me with just how unbelievably drinkable it was.  I mean almost too drinkable.  I could get in serious trouble with a whisky this smooth and palatable.

While I can’t say that I’m completely won over by Irish whisky, I do like quite a lot of it, but at the end of the day…it simply can’t hold a candle to my darling Scottish malts.   Or not often anyway.  I think this primarily has to do with the lightness of the spirit.  I’m a full flavor kinda guy.  I loves ‘em big and bold.

Someyimes though, you gotta concede good juice when you taste it, irrespective of whether or not it falls into your typical fare.  Case in point…Redbreast 12 year old.

The nose is bourbon-heavy, and smacks of a rye-like sweetness too.  Typical of many Irish whiskies, this is a fruit fiesta, led by big orange notes.  There is a beautiful balance to here with the sweeter notes meeting some warm creamy counters in the aromas of a morning bakery, oatmeal raisin cookie, warm suede, light spice and smooth vanilla.  Lemon pie too.

The palate is a perfect sum of its parts.  Here we have a veritable fruit basket in a glass.  Mouthwateringly full and absolutely engaging.  Fruity, warming and familiar, sweet and delicious.  It doesn’t overstay its welcome (whiskyspeak for ‘short finish’), but is entirely enjoyable while it does hang about.

Absolutely nothing to fault here.  Having said that…it’s also not spectacular.  Although at cask strength or maybe at 18-25 years old, I’d argue it could be absolutely magnificent.

Would love to try this stuff at cask strength.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:08 pm
May 162012
 

Highland Park 15 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  86.5/100

 

This was a pleasant surprise.  I remember being somewhat less than enthused with Highland Park’s 15 year old expression.  Not that I didn’t like it, but simply that it seemed a little lackluster in an otherwise brilliant portfolio.  To sate my curiosity, and alleviate a gnawing concern that I wasn’t giving this one its due, I nabbed a bottle a few months back and finally got around to popping the cork.

I’ll be honest here and say that I still find this the least spectacular of the range, but it sparkles in ways I don’t remember from initial impressions.  It is a mellowed version of the 12 year old, but I still find I prefer the youthful bite and malty edge of that expression to this.  Maybe that’s just me.

All personal preference aside, this is simply another solid outing from one of the best operational distilleries out there.

As mentioned, the maltiness of the 12 year old has all but disappeared by this age.  Three more years in oak have dulled that throb down to a slow heartbeat.  So what remains of the Highland Park character when you tumble the edges off?  Peat and smoke?  Check.  Honey?  Check.  Meadow flower/heather?  Check.  These three always seem to form the backbone of any HP I’ve tasted (excepting that odd…truly odd…Hudson’s Bay, bottled by the fine folk at ‘Laddich), and while they by no means define Highland Park they do sort of exemplify the distillery’s character.

I also picked up a touch of dill, some toffee (or light caramel) and a hint of chocolate.  Finally, and quite interestingly, hay and horse blanket.  Nifty.

All told…not a bad ride.  Personally though…I’d get off one stop sooner (12 year) or take this train to any of the more distant stops (18, 25, 30, 40 year).

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:55 pm
May 162012
 

Ardbeg Supernova SN2010035

60.1% abv

Score:  91/100

 

I know more than a few of you have been waiting for this review.  Sorry to keep you waiting, buoys and gulls.  This simply is not a whisky that can be reviewed after a single sitting.  Now…many moons later…I have cowered in the shadow of this beast on more than one occasion and feel a little more comfortable sharing my thoughts.

Conversations regarding the Supernova nearly always revolve around either the novel enormity of this phenolic explosion or the ongoing phenol war between this and Bruichladdich’s Octomore.  Either way, it is a sad discredit to the inherent quality of this young and beastly Ardbeg.

A few months back my wife and I celebrated our six year anniversary.  A great evening of getting tattooed, having dinner together and heading out of town for a night away was capped by curling up in front of the Lost with drinks in hand.  Hers…fermented grapes.  Mine…fermented barley.  Though I don’t remember hers…I’m pretty certain she’ll never forget mine.  It literally made the hair on her arms stand up and brought a tear to her eye.  This was, of course, the SN2010.

So what is it that constitutes this dram which wields such tremendous fury?

Nose:

The phenols at this level are absolutely blinding.  This is a young Ardbeg with the volume cranked up to 11.  We peat lovers have become somewhat jaded in recent years with a spate of enormously peated whiskies, but when you consciously step back and consider the contents of the green bottle in hand…well…it is hard not be bowled over.  This is almost an abomination in the whisky world through its sheer enormity.  Its sublime flavors are likely to be lost on the novice.  Heed this…take your time with the SN2010.  It will pay off.

As many of you know by now, I like to visualize these things.  Humor me if you will.  Ocean waves whipped to a frothy fury; savage and unstoppable winds tearing long coastal grass from its roots and blasting the remnants of peat embers hither and yon.  …And no shelter to be seen.

It is sharp and jagged, developing from throbbing waves to a full blown tsunami within minutes of pouring.  The peat and smoke are forefront (what else would you expect?), but fresh cracked pepper and chocolate are clear.  Equal parts dirt and grass…salt and hard lemon…and tar.  Typically Islay.  Not a lot new, but here in brilliant proportion and numbing strength.

Palate:

A mouthful of smoke and pepper.  Oily and tar-like.  Extremely salty anise and brine.  Finally there are hints of wood.  Only hints, mind.  A nifty bitterness creeps in with the oak as well.  This absolutely has to be the final drink of any evening.  You simply won’t be able to taste anything after annihilating your tastebuds with the Supernova.

I hate to blast the critics here, but anyone saying that this is simply hype and not a good whisky…well…best spend a little more time with this, folks.  Y’may not like it…but you are WRONG if you say it is not a good dram.  There are better Ardbegs out there, but that is neither here nor there and makes this one no less relevant.

I can’t be certain (at least until I kick it and have to check in myself), but I believe this peaty bastard is actually used for stoking the fires of hell.

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:36 pm
May 162012
 

Yamazaki 18 y.o.barry's place pics 008

43% abv

Score:  92.5/100

 

Damn, what a nose.  Deep and chocolaty.  Buckets of spice.  Sherry up front with the accompanying choir of raisin, deep woods and rum-like fruitcake notes.  There is the slightest hint of sulfur, which contrary to what I would expect, by no means even comes close to tarnishing this one.  Finally…soft waves of licorice and black cherry.  This is magic.

Engaging the tastebuds reveals heavy sherry and gorgeous deep ruby fruit.  Long and rich in delivery and development.  Picking up a little Kirsch in there too.

Oh, man.  I’m really not sure what to say.  It feels like some sort of transgression to share anything about this malt.  So deep and swirling in mystery is it.

This is a drink for lounging in dark jazz bars…for French burlesque music…for untold flings in foreign lands…for loosening your tie and lighting a cigar…for discussing Tom Waits…or reading ‘The Maltese Falcon’.

Exotic and arousing.

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:06 pm
May 162012
 

Glenfiddich 18 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Safe as safe can be.  If you’re a malt enthusiast…you’ll probably want to steer clear.  Perhaps finding this a little…run of the mill.  Or perhaps you’re of the sort that is mature enough in your stylings to simply appreciate a really well-made whisky when you try one.  This is not bells and whistles, flash and pomp, fireworks and sex scenes.  Glenfiddich is quite simple really.  A whisky whose craft will pass into lore as the absolute template on how to not go wrong.

The only problem for this guy?  It’s life’s beautiful mistakes that give this world the character and verve that makes me want to rise every morning.  Take away those bumps in the highway and I’m liable to fall asleep at the wheel.

As a rule…keep your Glensafe.  Nine times out of ten I’ll opt for a Springbank.

Though this may sound disparaging, it’s not particularly meant so (as I hope the score attests).  Just thought you and I should be on the same page going forward.

The nose is rich in heather and gooey honey.  Big ol’ baskets of fruit and armfuls of flowers.  Creamy vanilla ice cream, drizzled in creme caramel.  Red apple.  Berries in cream.  Pancakes and syrup.  Though the oak is becoming slightly more pronounced by this milestone, I still don’t think I would peg this at a full 18 years.  Young and vibrant.

The delivery is just as decisively competent as the nose.  Smooth and unchallengingly sweet.  Creamy vanillins dance with dried fruit and crunchy apple.  Lovely really.  Almost refreshing.

How do you fault a whisky of this quality and consistency?  Simple.  You call it boring.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:51 pm
May 162012
 

Bruichladdich Blacker Still

50.7% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Normally a sulfur note this prevalent would leave me searching for a plant or some other discreet location to dump my drink.  However…and this is a big however…there is something that works here.  Somewhat of a ‘succeeds in spite of itself’ scenario.

Those in fear of bold sherry…kindly take leave.  This is monstrous.  20 years old and I imagine more than a couple of those were spent sucking up grape residue from former sherry wood.

So…the malt.

Sulfur.  Heavy and brooding.  Deeply oiled leather.  Beef in burnt teriyaki sauce (over-caramelized sugars…still carrying some salts).  Dates or figs or what have you.  Cherries in dark chocolate.  Think meaty and spicy.  Also think: “when baking your fruitcake…be sure to turn the oven off in time”.

Sulfur, meatiness and burnt notes carry through to the palate.  The sherry is as dense as a Scottish rain cloud.  Heavy toasted sugars.

I realize that some of the afore-said may not give the most favorable impression, but before forming any preconceptions, re-read the ‘however’ that introduces this review.

One final caveat:

Give this whisky a good 15-20 minutes in the glass before devoting time.  It needs to open up.  I promise you this breathing period will allow a little diffusion of the sulfur flaw, and greatly benefit your enjoyment.

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:46 pm