Jun 182012
 

Awkward is having your wife catch you with a sassy 18 year old.  Domestic nuclear winter is having her come home and find you messing around with nine 18 year olds at the same time.  Not that anyone would want to be in that situation.  Errr…ummm…

Ok, ok…listen up, boys.  They may be pretty…they may smell good…they may taste good…and they may not even be ‘out of your league’…but no 18 year old will ever give you what a stunning 32 year old can.  I promise.

Though usually I’d give you a few paragraphs of preamble before jumping in to the nitty gritty, this time let’s leave it up to the imagination…

Let me tell you a little about how this one goes.  First there was a fair-haired lass from Speyside…

 

Glenfiddich 18

43% abv

Nose:  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.  Oaky, but young and vibrant for 18 years.

Palate:  Smooth and unchallengingly sweet.  Creamy vanillins dance with dried fruit and crunchy apple.  Lovely really.  Almost refreshing.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She’s familiar and you can’t help but sneak a second peek.  Cute and red-apple-rosy-cheeked.  Probably dated the quarterback.  Do you have a chance?  Maybe.  Is she worth it?  Hmmmm…time will tell.

 

GlenDronach 18

46% abv 

Nose:  Heavy sherry, rich and sweet…could only be Oloroso.  Cherry and cocoa.  Cinnamon and gingerbread.  Vanilla.  Slight yeastiness.  Fruitcake, mild cigar leaf and deep plumminess.

Palate:  Slight bitterness, almost tannic.  Heavy raisin bread and rummy fruitcake.  Drying.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Bubbly and fresh, but…there’s a little more of a dark side here.  This is not vanilla sex.  This is jeans and cardigans by day…handcuffs by night.  There’s a sensibility and maturity here that tells you no one will ever know about this dark side but you.

 

 

Macallan 18

43% abv

Nose:  Rich and chewy sherry…but very soft.  Nutmeg and cream.  Muted cherry.  Toffee.  Heather.  Nearly faultless nose.

Palate:  Mildest of dried fruit.  Caramel.  Warm melted chocolate.  Oak.  Lasts none too long, but a beautiful top note and denouement.  Man…what exceptional balance.

Thoughts & Impressions:  This one is a princess.  She’s not in your bed ‘cause she wants to be.  She’s there ‘cause she’s slumming and looking for an experience.  Don’t get too settled…don’t fall in love.  You can’t afford the upkeep on this one.

 

Highland Park 18

43% abv

Nose:  Creamy honey and rich peat smoke.  Dusty, spicy vanilla.  Mild cigar.  Rich sweet butter.  A bouquet of soft fruit and barely seen floral notes.  Hint of dill.

Palate:  The delivery is unbelievably smooth and calculated. Rich wood smoke teases, then mellows out with sweet caramel notes

Thoughts & Impressions:  Messy-haired and ready for a pillow fight.  She’s not leaving till sun-up.  And that’s not ‘cause she wants to sleep.

 

 

Bunnahabhain 18

46.3% abv 

Nose:  Smoke and sherry.  Ashy peat.  Pear and sweet banana cream.  Some sort of orchard fruit.  Honey and vanilla.  Stunning interplay at work here.

Palate:  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.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Just a down-home small town girl that everyone underestimates.  The thing is…she’s bloody brilliant at everything she does and no one who meets her can resist her.  This is a keeper, if only you were looking to settle down.

 

Talisker 18

45.8% abv 

Nose:  Yeah, baby…there’s the Talisker pepper!  Salt.  A peaty backbone.  Cinnamon and ginger.  Some kinda soft orange fruit.  Toblerone.  Warm leather.  An absolute classic on the nose alone.

Palate:  Pepper.  Surprisingly sweet and fruity.  Swirling ribbons of smoke.  Peat.  Faint notes of old sherry.  Such a phenomenal linger smoked green apple.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Yow!  She’s a spicy one.  Blonde and bold.  Fiery-tempered.  Full of personality.  Highly possible she’s also the love of your life.

 

 

Longrow 18

46% abv

Nose:  Prickly and peppery.  Hint o’ mint maybe.  Smoke and caramel.  Licorice.  Some salt and thick cream over blueberries.  Wee bit o’ peat, but not near what I’d generally expect from a Longrow.

Palate:  There’s the peat I expected on the nose.  Comes through with some spiced apples and smoke.  Lindt chocolate with chili.  Long, long finish.

Thoughts & Impressions:  The dark-haired younger sister of your girlfriend.  Sassier and miles more charming.  No, you’re not wrong…she is trying to seduce you.

 

Caol Ila 18

43% abv 

Nose:  Slightly ‘green’.  Honeydew melon.  Aloe.  Mild citrus.  Fruits are starting to come forward.  Salt.  Very light smoke.

Palate:  A little more smoke than on the nose.  Great green fruit delivery.  Lovely and uplifting.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She comes from the biggest house on the street.  Her parents have lots of money and drive brilliant cars. She’s the one everyone wants but are afraid to approach.  Shame, really.  She’s also a sweetheart, and easy to love.

 

 

Laphroaig 18

48% abv 

Nose:  Orange and chocolate.  Cedar.  Fruity.  Heavy vanilla and black licorice flavored jujubes.  Pear drops.  Sambuca and fruit bowl with dominant bananas.

Palate:  Poached and caramelized white fruits.  Floral smoke.  Some dark chocolate and Werther’s Originals.  Drying with tobacco and clean smoke.

Thoughts & Impressions:  This is a mysterious one.  Redolent of exotic and foreign perfumes.  Dark and alluring.  This is the Dashiel Hammett heroine seen through a haze in a dark and smoky bar.  You love her.  But can you handle her?

 

 

But…

After a romp like that I promise you you’ll still be left wondering ‘what if?’  And further, that empty feeling won’t be sated until you finally spend a little time with the one that should have had your attention all along…

 

Springbank 32

46% abv

Nose:  Smoke and wax.  Coconut milk and soft pineapple juice.  Marmalade.  Vanilla and oak.  Some tame spices.  Becomes fruitier and fruitier over time.

Palate:  There’s the maturity.  Waxy…smoky and oaky.  Dried fruit…apricot maybe.  Creosote.  Gorgeous, gorgeous oak.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She’s what you’ve waited for.  Vibrant and sweet.  The older she gets, the more you love her.  Age has taken all of her best and given it just a little more brilliance by imparting a mature knowing.

 

barry's place pics 014

How can you possibly top her?  Simple…you can’t.  I’ll take my beautiful 32 year old over any 18 year old…any day.

Happy birthday, babe.  Love you.  Always have.

 

– Tasting notes and write-up:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt (except Caol Ila, courtesy of Pat)

 Posted by at 10:50 pm
Jun 172012
 

So…we’ve had a bit of a chinwag about the SMWS.  You know their dirty secrets and you’re aware of their dirty people.

Now let’s talk a little about how it all works.  First things first.  You want to buy the malts…you gotta be a member.  No exceptions.  If you want to taste the whiskies before committing, well…that’s another story.  Check out the schedule for the First Friday tastings through Kensington Wine Market.  Once a month members can taste all of the whiskies in the new Outturn for $35.  Non-members can attend for $45.  Decent dramming (all at cask strength, remember!) for a fair price.

Now you’re probably wondering what ‘Outturn’ means.  This refers to both the release of a small handful of new whiskies and the number of bottles of each expression released.  Example…”this months ‘Outturn’ features seven new malts” or “the ‘Outturn’ on this new 123.07 is 779 bottles”.  Clear as mud?  Good.

And the ‘123.07’…easy.  The ‘123’ refers to a certain distillery, while the ’07’ refers to the number of casks the SMWS has bought from said distillery.  In this case, this would be the 7th cask that the Society has purchased from Glensomethingorother.

As mentioned earlier on, I can’t tell you what these bottlings are.  Instead…have some fun with it.  Go to the SWMS site and read the notes for each expression.  Follow the clues provided therein.  Let there be a little mystery.

 

Alright already.  Enough chit chat, right?  You wanna know what the whiskies are like, right?  Let’s dive in.  I’m thirsty!

 

     A4 – “Soft, Spicy, Rich and Intense”

     Outturn:  434 Bottles    

     22 y.o.    

     47% abv

Nose:  Rum-like.  Old and mature.  Latex.  Orange Rind.  Prune.  Fennel.  Hints of bourbon.  Green apple.  Little bit of anise.  Steak rub or BBQ sauce.

Palate:  Spicy and hot.  Licorice and cherry eucalyptus.  Apple finish…though somewhat medicinal.

Thoughts & Impressions:  An Armagnac.  Something a little different.  Not quite my thing, but Deah Lawd, is this unique!

 

     17.32 – “Boiled Sweets and Grapefruit Peel”

     Outturn:  214 Bottles    

     9 y.o.    

     56.2% abv

 

Nose:  Honey.  Heather.  Vanilla.  Malts and a touch of feints.  Dusty cask.  Lemon.  Very light really.

Palate:  Barley.  Some tartness.  Lemon.  White wine notes…Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Young and just waiting to come into its own.  Don’t get me wrong…not bad now, but in a few years…would be great.

 

     123.07 – “Unusual and Highly Enjoyable”

     Outturn:  779 Bottles    

     10 y.o.    

     59.6% abv

 

Nose:  Malty.  Beef bouillion…OXO.  Thick veins of caramel.  Deep dark wine.  Brine.  Brown sugar.  Rye bread.

Palate:  Tannic wine notes and malt beef.  Fades to barleys.

Thoughts & Impressions:  First thoughts were this could only be one of two distilleries, but…nope…I was dead wrong.  Figured for sure a Mortlach or Springbank.

 

     37.50 – “Pizza in a Sweetie Shop”

     Outturn:  263 Bottles    

     12 y.o.    

     54.5% abv

 

Nose:  Sweet and floral.  Like a soapery (Ivory?).  Creamy and sugary.  Zesty.  Basil…oregano…Italian seasoning?  Very clean.

Palate:  Young, sharp and clean.  Zesty spices.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Now here we gots us sumpin’ alive and just…  Thought the name was a little quirky until getting nose deep.  It is pizza-ish!

 

     76.83 – “Cocktails After Rugby”

     Outturn:  605 Bottles    

     15 y.o.    

     57.1% abv 

 

Nose:  Feints and malt.  Mint.  Vanilla, cream and caramel.  Peanuts.  Ginger.

Palate:  Creamy.  Vanilla.  Caramel corn.  Kinda spicy.  Maybe a little orange.  Good balance for a flavor profile.

Thoughts & Impressions:  The nose…s’ok.  The palate…s’almost awesome.

 

     36.49 – “A Country Kitchen Garden”

     Outturn:  278 Bottles    

     21 y.o.    

     52.4% abv

 

Nose:  Fairly up-front and dusty grains.  Floral.  Mild spices.  Perhaps a hint of butter tart.  Lemon.  Light…very light.  Lowland-ish.

Palate:  Barleys and mild spiced bread.  Faint apple cinnamon.  Age is deceptive here.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Light and lovely aperitif dram.  But having said that…pretty sure this would be more than alright at pretty much any time o’ day.

 

     35.61 – “Just So-ooh Nice”

     Outturn:  213 Bottles    

     21 y.o.    

     60.4% abv

 

Nose:  Sugar cookies.  Rich, thick and creamy.  Spiced baking and treacle.  Cherry jujube.  Syrupy.  Pepper bite.  Waxy cherry note (Did this come from an ex-Maker’s Mark cask?)

Palate:  Bourbon.  Dolce de Lecce.  Syrupy, candy, waxy notes carry through to palate.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Best o’ the bunch.  Highly possible I have a little bit of a crush on this l’il sweetie.  Seconds?  Yes, please.

 

     127.20 – “Invigorating, Eye-Watering, Breath-Catching”

     Outturn:  202 Bottles    

     8 y.o.    

     64.2% abv 

 

Nose:  Farmy.  Peat and iodine.  Burnt out fires.  Creamy and buttery.  Smells like a wine influence.  Young and aggressive.  Fruits?  Bahahaha, don’t be ridiculous.  Well…maybe citrus.  Any other  notes?  Who knows.

Palate:  Unmistakable.  Deep peat and iodine.  Dry ashy smoke.  Banana?  Maybe.  Odd…peated banana.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Holy mule kick!  Ya likes ‘em young?  Ya likes ‘em peaty?  Ya likes this one!  Hard to imagine any other distillery producing a malt like this.

 

-Tasting notes and write-up:  Curt

– Images:  SMWS Canada

 Posted by at 10:18 pm
Jun 162012
 

In Part 1 on the SMWS Canada feature, we talked about the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.  Now lets discuss ‘who’.

While I’d like to tell you it is two fine upstanding old gents in tweed coats and a tendency to use the phrase ‘hmmm, yes…rawther’ to punctuate their thoughts, nothing could be further from the truth.  C’mon, you stodgy old buggers.  Scotch ain’t the old boys’ drink it once was.

Here in the Great White North, our champions of the green-bottled single cask are a husband-wife team of young, enthusiastic anoraks, who love to socialize, laugh and bring their passion to the masses.  After years of rumour regarding the SMWS‘s migration to Canadian shores, we finally have this duo to thank.

So…in the absence of this refined pair, who better to lead the charge than two deep, dark and mysterious serious-minded individuals who would never be caught dead in a compromising photo*, Rob and Kelly Carpenter.

I’ll let them speak for themselves…

 

Co-Founders of the Canadian branch of the SMWS, Kelly and Rob Carpenter

ATW:  Who are Rob and Kelly Carpenter?

Calgary-based husband and wife and recreational whisky enthusiasts with full-time day jobs who have been lucky enough to turn a hobby into a great side business.

 

ATW:  How did you two find yourselves immersed in the world of whisky?  What was the catalyst?

The catalyst was having the good fortune to live in Edinburgh, Scotland for a year.  Kelly was always a fan of whisky as she grew up in a house where it was her parents’ drink of choice, but Rob didn’t get into it until we attended a whisky tasting during our first month in Scotland.  That’s when he finally saw the light.

 

ATW:  What led to such a passionate interest in the SMWS and to the initiative to bring it to Canada?

A fellow Canadian, and classmate of Rob’s at the University of Edinburgh, Sam Simmons, took us to the Members’ Room of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith one night.  Called “The Vaults,” it’s known as the spiritual home of The SMWS; it’s a fabulous old building with great high ceilings and dark wood and big comfy leather chairs where members (and guests of members) can settle in for a dram (or several), some good food and great fellowship.  As fantastic as that room is, though, it was of course the whiskies that really got our attention.  We couldn’t believe the quality and variety and wanted to try as many as possible! As we sat there that first night, with Sam waxing philosophical about how he’d love to bring the Society to Canada, Rob’s wheels were already turning on how to do that!  Unlike Sam, who is still in the UK (and is now global brand ambassador for The Balvenie), we returned to Canada after our year in Edinburgh and immediately started bending the ear of the Managing Director at “HQ” to bring The Society to Canada.

 

ATW:  I imagine there were some pretty substantial logistics obstacles in the process.  Can you share any big ups and downs regarding setup and launch?

We’ve had all kinds of issues, just as any small business faces when starting up. Developing a website, setting ourselves up as liquor agents, then figuring out how to ship product, how to format the marketing materials, etc. Of course, this business has a strong regulatory aspect to it as well, and we’ve had to work with the regulators in each province a fair bit, but on the whole the regulators have been very helpful. It’s been a lot of work but the response from the members makes it all worth it.

 

ATW:  The Western incarnation of the SMWS is obviously of a slightly different make-up and caliber than in the UK.  How are you finding reception here in Canada?  Does it differ drastically from your experiences in Scotland?

We’ve found people extremely receptive. As in the UK, they love the variety The Society offers and the uniformly great quality of the bottlings. It’s a lot of fun introducing a Society bottling to someone who’s never tried it before and seeing their eyes go big and hearing ‘that’s amazing!’

 

ATW:  Is Canada getting a fair shake at all casks that the global SMWS is seeing?  Do you two have a say in what makes it here?

From our perspective Canada is absolutely being treated fairly in cask allocation. The Society’s headquarters is very good at ensuring all branches have an equal crack at rare and unique casks. HQ has been very supportive of the Canadian branch.

 

ATW:  What can you explain about the SMWS cask selection process?

The Society in Edinburgh has a variety of sources for its casks so it gets samples on a regular basis. If the samples are deemed to be of acceptable quality they are forwarded to the Tasting Panel to be put through a rigorous grading system. The Tasting Panel consists of whisky enthusiasts, Society ambassadors, writers, poets, etc.  and they actively participate in offering their impressions of the nose, palate, finish, etc., both without and with water. The Chair madly records all the comments being tossed around, and if the sample gets a passing grade (only about 50% of casks the Tasting Panel tries are passed) the Chair then crafts the musings of the Panel into the curious tasting notes that Society members see on the bottles and in Outturn (the monthly listing of new releases).

 

ATW:  Any thoughts to one day opening up a Calgary Club House for SMWS members?  In the meantime, I hear tell that it is generally acceptable for members to converge on your place for cigars and drams.  Is that right?

We’d love to be able to have a venue in Calgary and other Canadian cities at some point in the future where members can enjoy fantastic Society drams in great settings. That, however, is a long term vision and for now we are content with ensuring members get great variety every month and introducing The Society to as many people as we can.  As for converging on our place, the door is always open, but we have a fierce security guard who may not be as welcoming as we would be.

 

ATW:  What are a few of the more spectacular bottles you’ve come across?  Any real duds?

Actually, we’ve still got some bottles that we brought back from Scotland before we launched the Canadian branch that we’re afraid to open because we remember them as spectacular when we tried them in Edinburgh, and as we’ve said before about Society bottles, once they’re gone, they’re gone!  We like to tell people that The Society bottles two types of single malt whisky: fantastic whiskies and interesting whiskies. We’ve never found a dud; The Society maintains consistently great quality in its bottlings. Of course, there will always be some that members like more than others, but it would be boring if we all liked the same thing. In the end, The Society is really about satisfying the never ending curiosity of single malt enthusiasts for new and unique offerings.

 

 

ATW:  Which distilleries have you been particularly impressed with in the SMWS bottlings?

Bottles from Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Glen Scotia are consistently outstanding, but again, there’s never a dud and it always boils down to individual tastes and preferences.

 

ATW:  As the SMWS gets on its feet in Canada, is there an inherent difficulty in determining quantities of each expression to order?  Has stock and availability been an issue up to this point?

When we started we had no idea how people in Canada were going to respond. As a membership organization, The Society is a very unique concept, and we didn’t know if people would balk when told that they could only buy the bottlings if they were members. So we were cautious about how much stock we ordered initially. But the response has been very positive. Unfortunately, as a result we’ve had some challenges with stock availability which the members have had to be patient with, and we thank them for that. We’re now starting to see more stock come into the country. But the fact remains that these are always single cask releases and they will therefore never be of unlimited quantity; once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

 

ATW:  Are you happy with the reception to the society in Canada?  Any future initiatives?

Thrilled!  Our expectations and projections of where we’d be six months in have been hugely exceeded.  It must be noted, however, that we wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we find ourselves today were it not for the tireless effort , enthusiasm and support of Calgary’s Kensington Wine Market and in particular their whisky buyer, Andrew Ferguson.  A huge supporter of this crazy endeavor since the beginning, Andrew’s whisky knowledge and clientele is arguably second-to-none in Canada.  It’s been primarily thanks to his huge following that we’ve garnered the interest we have.

Future initiatives include expanding into other provinces so that our members outside of Alberta can find Society bottles on the shelves of liquor stores in their own provinces.  It’s a slow process, full of red-tape, but we are now planning to launch in BC in the fall and we are currently in talks with the LCBO to try to ensure that Ontario residents can access Society bottlings as well.

 

ATW:  Any last thoughts?

It’s time for a dram…or two.

 

ATW:  Finally…tell us your best lawyer joke…

Lawyers aren’t funny (however, it’s imperative that wives of lawyers have a sense of humour).

 

Thanks, Rob and Kelly.

*if you ever get the opportunity to share a dram with Maltmonster, ask him to see the photo of Kelly on his phone.  😉

Watch for Part 3, tasting notes on eight different SMWS casks, coming soon.  Slainte!

 

– ATW

 Posted by at 11:43 am
Jun 102012
 

      

 

Dispatch 1 from #7:

Mystique.  Something that is sadly lacking in far too much of our day-to-day existence.  How ‘bout some alchemy?  Astronomy?  Mythology?  Conspiracy?  Anything, really.  Just something to spice things up a bit.

A few months back, October of 2011 to be precise, saw the launch of Canada’s branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, heretofore referred to as the SMWS.  While none too overtly underground or bound to incite the loonies to pull out their foil caps, the best kept secrets of the SMWS will only ever be revealed to members.  Fortunately…the ranks are still open to new folk becoming initiates.

 

 

First things first…what is the SMWS?  Put simply…the ultimate proponent of single cask single malt Scotch whiskies.  Small batch bottlings, naked and glorious.  Unchill-filtered, un-colored and barrel meets bottle without the addition of water.  Brilliant.

All of this is not to say that the SMWS is (or isn’t) the best independent bottler out there.  That is a conversation for another day.  Nonetheless, it is a staggering organization that seems to have (or have had) access to casks from every distillery conceivable.  If you are a malt anorak that lives and dies by the unique print each whisky boasts, there is arguably no other bottler than can provide you with the breadth that the SMWS can.

The history of this organization is not mine to share here.  This little feature serves only to spread the gospel about the Canadian branch.  Wiki is your friend, folks, but note…like all great mysteries…there may be more here than meets the eye.

And while there are no secret handshakes, no ritual initiations, no Stonecutter’s anthems, no degrees, and sadly no skull to drink from (c’mon…admit it…that would be cool!), there is still a bit of society secrecy and elitism.  SMWS bottles are only available to society members.  No degree of envy or desire will land you one of these beautiful green bottles without having the passkey (ahem…your membership number).

But further, to add an element of mystery and secrecy, each bottle is identified only by a number, a title as esoteric and ephemeral as a Tom Robbins quote and some over-the-top tasting notes.  Oh yeah…and these tasting notes will usually feature some obscure hint to lead you in the right direction if you care to play private dick and try to suss out the source distillery on your own.  The teasers are often along the lines of ‘this distillery’s cast-iron mash-tun is painted bright red’ or ‘the distillery was built in 1779’.

 

 

The two passionate (errr…eccentric) individuals you’d have to thank (or blame) are Calgary couple, Rob and Kelly Carpenter.  Watch for SMWS Pt 2 in the coming days…an interview with these two dram-swillers.  If the opportunity arises, do please put a bug in their ear about launching a Calgary SMWS clubhouse.  Rob…Kelly…your acolytes are waiting.

And finally…

What rhymes with orange?  Right.  Nothing.  And what rhymes with the names of most Scottish distilleries?  Even less.  In keeping with the SMWS code of conduct I, of course, won’t tell you any of the distilleries by name, but I had full intentions of playing a little rhyming game to drop a few hints with my future tasting notes, but hey…what the hell rhymes with Auchentoshan, Allt-a-Bhainne or Cragganmore?  Seriously?

Having said this…SMWS Pt 3 will be a feature tasting with a handful of specially selected malts.  Your clues to solving this?  None.  Even I no longer recall what is in the bottles.  You’ll have a number, some tasting notes and my unsolicited opinions.  Just an opportunity to see some of the uniqueness available by the bottle.

When we’ve made our way through Pts 1, 2 and 3, if you should find yourself intrigued, pop on by Kensington Wine Market here in Calgary and have a little tete-a-tete with Andrew Ferguson.  Andrew has partnered up with Rob and Kelly as the retail front for this little venture.  I’m sure he’ll be happy to collect your hard-earned dollars, reward you with the keys to the vaults and send you off happier in the fight against sobriety.  Following the SMWS posts throughout the duration of this week, Mr. Ferguson himself with be the honored guest in another ATW interview.  Stay tuned.

#7…out.

 

– Chatter:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:08 pm