Aug 262012
 

Bowmore 15 y.o. Darkest

43% abv

Score:  84/100

 

Years back, Bowmore was one of the old vanguard producing malts that carried a gorgeous fruit profile, often tropical and exotic, moreso than the slightly one-dimensional releases of late.  Trust me…I’ve tried them.  These malts, primarily from the 60s, 70s and 80s are really something to behold if you can get your paws on ’em.

Many an eve has been spent on quiet ponderence (errr…sometimes rather boisterous) with members of The Collective as to just what happened to change things, and what it would take to get back on track.  A few distilleries, we’ve noted, actually seem to be moving in the right direction of late.  Won’t mention them here, but the next decade or so should be rather interesting.

Anyway…

I’m not the biggest fan of the new stable of Bowmore. Let’s get that out front first thing. I have tried several of them and to date, still reach for the 12 year old more often the others. Even that is only slightly better than middle of the road malt to me. Bowmore is held in such esteem that I immediately expect more from them. Perhaps this is unfair. Perhaps not. With well over 200 years of history and more awards than any other Scotch single malt, expectations are bound to be high.

But having said that…refer back to first paragraph.  Bowmore has produced some of the greatest whiskies I have ever tasted.  Where I used to be rather lukewarm to the distillery, I have more than come round.

Let’s move on to the Darkest itself…

There seems to be more smoke here than the 12 y.o., but a tad less peat. The peaty edge logically fading a bit with a few extra years in wood. I would sort of expect the smoke to peter out a bit too, but…doesn’t seem to have. The nose is smoky chocolate, treacle, sherry and bacon. Fairly fruity (but dark dried fruits) and a little grassy. There is something dark and menacing in the back fire and brimstone?  Not entirely pleasant. Funnily enough…one of the eves I tried this, I did so with a group of others. One of them (Scott) said it “has a darker side to it”. True…very true.

The palate is slightly bitter but fairly mellow overall. The smoke and chocolate are primary here with the sweetness tagging along like a perky little brother. Tangy peat and fruit skin are there too. It is the smoke that lingers though, with a tart finale that trumpets its last fading call long after your final sip.

This is another malt that absolutely benefits from some oxidation.  I can almost guarantee you’ll enjoy this bottle more after it has been open and sat for a couple of months (if you’re the sort who doesn’t drain them in days, that is).

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:36 am
Aug 262012
 

Grants Family Reserve

40% abv

Score:  70/100

 

A review a couple of years in the offing.  For no other reason than a slightly traumatizing first meet and compromised first impression (if ever we raise a glass together I’ll fill you in).  I like to think that by this point I am coming in with no bias, but who knows what residual shudders are still going on up in that mass of gray matter.  The subconscious is a tricky beast.

So…from what I understand (unsubstantiated rumor, at best, but seems plausible)…dash of ‘Fiddich…splash of Balvenie…couple others in smaller proportion…and a heaping helping o’ grains to prop it up.  Correct me if I am hearing wrong.

What we end up with is…(drum roll)…a blend.  No more.  No less.  Certainly not great, but neither is it offensive.

The nose is malty and grain-rich.  Slightly feinty and just barely staying afoot under the weight of caramel, mashy notes and a dense cloudy homogeneity.  A wee lot of peat as well.  If I’m to be truly honest…this is why blends get a bad rep.  This is simply boring and lifeless.  Hunting for individual fruit notes and such is nearly a lost cause.  I know they must be there.  Water would normally open a whisky up and allow some of those lighter notes to blossom, but as this is only at 40% out of the bottle…if you have to add water…what’s the point?

A mouthful yields more of that weighty maltiness.  Sweet barley and dull caramel.  Only here do we begin to get hints of what may be dried fruits.  The finish…meh.

 

Comment:  Yet another one where JM is off his f’n rocker

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:13 am
Aug 192012
 

Amrut…Secrets Of The East

One night, not so long ago, a secret conclave of some of the world’s greatest minds gathered to discuss the secrets of the Far East…

This insufferable bunch of mad geniuses was led by mystic guru, Jonathan Bray, on a flight of spectacular design.  Though some secrets are meant to kept…some are meant to be shared amongst a few of the more esoteric and learned among us.

Welcome to the inner circle.

From the majesty of the Himalayas to the monument of the Taj Mahal.  From the birth of four of the world’s major religions to the rise of the Kama Sutra (pun intended).  From the Ramayana to all of the stunning Hindu deity statuary.  From the eye-meltingly beautiful Tabu to the irrascible charm of Apu Nahasapeemapetilon.  India’s contributions to all that we love simply cannot go unrecognized.  And now…whisky.

To me there is simply no other distillery as exciting as Amrut.  Over the past few years they have ratcheted it up to a level of quality and innovation far surpassing almost all of their Scottish contemporaries.  Not content to simply find a winning recipe and stick with it, the folks at Amrut have repeatedly shattered preconceptions by releasing one glorious expression after another.  Fusion, Intermediate Sherry, Portonova, Two Continents, etc.  Each retaining the distillery’s characteristic spicy and doughy, orange and chocolate backbone but dressed up in its own shimmeringly expressive elegance.

When the opportunity arose to host Jonathan Bray at my place and have him roll out some of these whiskies for The Collective’s benefit, it was a chance to jump at.  We gathered…we learned…we drank…then, well…some things are best left unsaid.

First up…we started with a wee glass of Old Port Deluxe rum, Amrut’s contribution to the ‘cane crowd.  Not being a rum guy, it was tough to really get my teeth into this one, but as an educational experience…s’alright.  From there straight into a couple of quirky as hell cask samples.  Not even whisky these, and in one oddly green-tinged case, an absolutely mindboggling concoction.  Curiouser and curiouser.  None of us, no matter our level of experience could come even close to pegging these ones.  The thing is…Amrut does so many unique things you simply don’t know where to begin.

At this point, we began lining up the real stars of the evening.  The single malts.  Jonathan led us through the range while revealing nifty little tidbits about the distillery and sharing some wicked little anecdotes.

This was not just a virtual tour of one of the world’s great distilleries.  This was an immersion into Amrut.

 

A final note:  We sampled seven malts from Amrut on this night.  I have taken the liberty of including a couple extras; for no other reason than to let you see the depth and breadth of this marvel of the East.

Enjoy.

 

Amrut Single Malt

46% abv

70/30 ex-bourbon/virgin oak

Nose:  Doughy.  Barley.  Sweet mild nutmeg.  Cocoa powder.  Orange rind.  Spices grow.

Palate:  Chocolate.  Barley.  Creamy.  Still slightly grainish.  Slightly firey and youngish…but not underdeveloped.

Thoughts & Impressions:  What a brilliant entry level malt.  If only all distillery’s had a flagship like this.

Amrut Two Continents

50% abv

Matured in India and Scotland

Nose:  Cherry.  Spices (cinnamon?).  Vanilla.  Chocolate.  Mint.  Honey.  Dough.  Lime.  Baking spices.  Hot cross buns.  Exotic dried fruits.

Palate:  Hot chocolate.  Zest.  Cinnamon.  Cereal…maybe cream of wheat.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Integration.  Such flawless integration.  Simple but at the same time so complex.  Love this malt.

 

Amrut Herald

60.8% abv

Nose:  Typical Amrut spice profile.  Creamy.  Almond.  Swiss milk chocolate.  Raspberry.  Botanicals.  Vanilla.  Spruce tree.  Yellow sugars.  Lime.

Palate:  Cinnamon and almost rum notes.  Deep ribbons of chocolate.  Sweet.

Thoughts & Impressions:  “It’s not fighting me” – Gord.  Couldn’t a said it better m’self.

Amrut Kadhambam

50% abv

Kadhambam means ‘mixture’:  Rum, sherry and brandy casks

Nose:  Marzipan.  Melon.  Cantaloupe.  Zippy.  Cocoa.  “Amrut” (yes…that is now a flavor profile).  Cinnamon, nutmeg and clove.  Grape.  Spicy bread.

Palate:  Apple.  Bread.  Gorgeous delivery and smooth development here.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Great nose, but phenomenal palate.  The way this one unfolds is magic.

 

Amrut Intermediate Sherry

57.1% abv

Ex-bourbon into Oloroso into ex-bourbon.  Sandwich maturation. 

Nose:  Beautiful Oloroso sweetness.  Raw bread dough.  Orange zest and cherry.  Cocoa shavings.  Amrut spice melange…particularly nutmeg.  Wee bits of eucalyptus.

Palate:  Warm chocolate.  Orange notes.  Spicy and sweet sherry juiciness.

Thoughts & Impressions:  One of the absolute highlights of the Amrut range.  This is a stunner.  Pure and simple.

 

Amrut Portonova

62.1% abv

Nose:  Blood orange.  Milk chocolate.  Tiniest bit of tart fig.  Dark, over-ripe fruits.  Heavy black cherry.  Sugar cookie.  Creamy sweetness.  Raspberry puree.

Palate:  Delivery is pure melted chocolate.  Foreign spice market.  Biscuit or raisin scone.  Freshly zested orange.  Raspberry jam here too.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Perfect balance and an absolute explosion on the tongue.  Head-to-head with the Intermediate as my favorite in the Amrut range.

Amrut Double Cask

46% abv

7…almost 8 years old. 

Nose:  Root beer.  Cinnamon.  Ginger.  Grapefruit zest.  Bourbon.  Caramel.  Doughy cinnamon bun.  Pepper.  Apple.

Palate:  Creamy.  Sweet cherry.  A little more oak here.

Thoughts & Impressions:  One of the more unique, while not necessarily eye-popping, of the bunch.  Again, dear Amrut…why aren’t you in general release?

 

Amrut Fusion

50% abv

Nose:  Peat.  clove and cocoa.  Typical orange-ish notes.  Smoked meat-ish.  Thick dense fruitcake.

Palate:  Right back to zippy!  Marmalade and cacao bean.  Peat.  Tightens up and contracts with a bit of drying tartness.

Thoughts & impressions:  A rather preferred malt o’ mine puts in a rather underwhelming showing in this lineup.  Great nevertheless, but…not quite on par with the sweet awesomeness that came before.

Amrut 100

57.1% abv

100l barrels…57.1 is the old British 100 proof…100cL bottles…100 bottles per country…

Nose:  Peat.  Sherry and cherry.  Farmy.  Iodine.  Briney.  Glossette chocolate covered raisin.  Heavy/dense mincemeat.  Sweet cookie notes punch their way through the peat and smoke.

Palate:  Bittersweet chocolate.  High content cocoa.  Anise.  Tannic.  Peat.

Thoughts & impressions:  “That’s got some sh*t goin’ on.” – Jay.  Makes me harken back to BenRiach Solstice.  Is this port-finished?  Nope…jus’ bourbon.  Fruity and awesome.  Peat meets sweet.  Wish this was readily available.

 

Amrut Cask Strength Peated

62.8% abv

100% Scottish barley

Nose:  Peat.  Iodine.  Smoke.  Fruits.  Earthy.  Orange.  Ocean water.  Strawberry.  Mint.  Chocolate.  Dough.

Palate:  Greens and spiced chocolate.  Orange zest.  Smoky.  Heavily smoked barley.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Neat to see such a heft of smoke and peat backing those definitive Amrut flavors.  While I prefer the sweeter end of the spectrum from this distillery, this is great.

Thanks, Jonathan.  Appreciate your coming out, sharing, enlightening and entertaining.  These nights are always a blast when venture down South.

Slainte!

 

– Words and tasting notes:  Curt (with some help from The Collective)

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:30 pm
Aug 192012
 

Bowmore 1972 (Signatory)

45.4% abv

Overall:  93/100

 

The mystique that surrounds Bowmore is like that of the Macallan.  There is an age-old reputation, bucketloads of history and rumors of magic that surround this whisky from Islay’s oldest distillery.  Much like the Macallan, I find that younger (or perhaps ‘more current’ would be a better choice of words) bottlings of Bowmore are simply not up to much, and certainly do not support the reputation that this distillery rests on.  Veteran drammers insist that older vintages were astounding.

So…if we want to scrape aside the scree and see a little more of the bedrock that Bowmore has been built upon exactly how far back to we have to go?  Unfortunately I can’t tell you that.  I can tell you however, that I had to double the age of the oldest Bowmore I had tried to date in order to find the one that put a spell on me.  This 1972 Signatory independent bottling was 36 years old at the time of decanting.  This…this is not the Bowmore that the younger generation of malt fiends know.

Here age and beauty waltz like old lovers and make something magical happen.  This is like looking back in time and seeing how stunningly beautiful some of the aged Hollywood starlets are that many of us young’uns (relatively speaking) only know in their twilight years.  This is class.  This is elegance.

The nose delivers chocolate, drying fruit, a little orange zest and a touch of lemon pepper.  Vanilla and butter toffee, a touch of aloe, a whiff of smoke and light brine.  I sat with my nose in the glass for about 40 minutes before my first taste, simply unable to believe this was the same distillery that produces the Bowmore expressions that hit the shelves nowadays.

The arrival is silky smooth and the development is as crystalline and unmarred as a lake surface on a windless day.  (My wife sipped without grimace…that is saying something).  First flavors are toasted wood and dry smoke.  Soft chocolate and raisin are next and the citrus develops a little more boldness in peeking out towards the end.  The lingering notes however, are primarily toffee and lightly toasted oak.  Thankfully these notes are the kind that stay ’til the party’s end, and even then you are sad to close the door behind them.

Andrew Ferguson, From Kensington Wine Market, who graciously provided this sample, told me he refers to this as the ‘poor man’s Black Bowmore’.  Hm.  Not far off really.  The Black Bowmore is still untouchable, in my books, but I’ll take this as a substitute anyday.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Shamelessly cribbed from The Whisky Exchange

 Posted by at 2:47 pm
Aug 142012
 

Hey…Where The Hell Are All The Whisky Reviews?!?

Hello, friends!  How y’all?

So…previous note doesn’t seem to have been clear enough.  You want the reviews?  Hundreds of tasting notes?

You gotta look to the left of the screen.  Then click on the name of the distillery.  This will bring up all reviews/tasting notes for each.

But fear not…there are many, many, many more in the wings.

Look forward to sharing.

And to all that have dropped a line or posted comments…thank you.  Your insight and input are appreciated.  Slainte!

 

Errr…Left.  Thataway…

 

– ATW

 Posted by at 8:11 pm
Aug 122012
 

Port Charlotte An Turas Mor

46% abv

Score:  86.5/100

 

This is actually a tough one for me.  I adore Port Charlotte in all its tongue scalding peat-infused cask strength glory.  The first time PC6 melted my face I thought I had died and gone to heaven (or hell…pretty sure that toasty little locale will be more to my liking anyway).  PC5, PC7 and PC8 were all delectible little fireballs in their own right.

So why then, with a new Port Charlotte in my glass, am I suggesting this is a tough one?  Quite simply because it has been gelded.

I want to be explicitly clear here.  This is still a damn fine drink.  It has all the characteristics that make Port Charlotte infinitely enjoyable.  It is peaty and smoky…buttery, citric and salty…carries a bit of youthful fruit and a load of licorice.  And too…it practically screams Islay.  The problem is…I have a punching bag of a palate.  I love bold strokes of flavor and rich depths in what I consume; be it food, coffee, beer, wine or whisky.  I taste this PC and can’t help but compare it to the big guns in the range.

Having said all of that…for those that take a little more civility in the glass, while still embracing the stormy ferocity of Islay malts…this one is a gooder.

Farmy notes of cowsheds.  Iodine.  Peat and smoke.  Faintly buttery and vaguely medicinal.  A ghostly trace of mixed berry.  Lemon.  Licorice.  Barley.  Swirl gently and…voila!

If you can find (and afford) the cask strength vintages in the PC family, I would nudge you in that direction.  If not…you’re still in for a treat with this one.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:49 pm
Aug 112012
 

Springbank 10 y.o.

46% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Holy hell, this is a monster.  An absolute old school powerhouse of malt that I think may still be fermenting on the way down.  This whisky is deep enough to explore for hours.  Cavernous and complex, it serves up a veritable feast of scents and flavors.  I would strongly recommend taking your time here and slowly becoming acquainted with this young Springbank.

The nose on this dram is freakin’ enormous. Right off there is a sour malt punch backed up by a smoky peat cloud. Then the mishmash of scents start coming from all angles here. There is a salty meatiness, game-y really, that is met with pungent spice and maybe something like smoked fish. A sharp attack from somewhere that seems sort of citric…but not. (Sorry!?!)

The tongue gets a working over too.  Malt, malt and more malt are delivered in waves.  It is salty, peppery and drying.  The oily viscosity of this malt helps it linger for hours.  When I finally got my head wrapped ’round the enormity of this Cambeltown gem…I was completely surprised to find I was left with hints of gentle oak, juicy fruits (citric…rinds and pith) and…less surprising…smoky malted barley.

This is a whisky of backbone and character.  Absolutely amazing and unique.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:33 am
Aug 112012
 

Springbank Claret Wood

54.4% abv

Score:  90.5/100

 

A brief introduction to the Springbank Distillery:

Springbank, one of only three distilleries in Campbeltown, is renowned for its independence and tradition.  All aspects of whisky production – from malting through bottling – are done at the distillery in Campbeltown.

Springbank have never chill filtered, nor colored, their whisky.  Interesting to note as well, that the Springbank Distillery produces, by various methods, three distinct single malts (Hazelburn, Longrow and of course, Springbank).

At one time there were more than 30 legal distilleries in Cambeltown.  Sadly, that number has dwindled to three.  On a positive note however, the Springbank family are doing things to make themselves stand out.  Their fierce independence and traditional methods are heroically admirable in an age of increased automation.  Technique and old world morality mean less than nothing though if the whisky is not up to scratch.  I am happy to say that is nowhere near the case with Springbank.

This particular whisky has moved around a wee bit throughout the course of its maturation.  Born in the stills of Springbank, it was casked for 7 years in bourbon, moved to claret (bourdeaux) casks for 3 years, then into sherry wood for 2 more before finally finding a home in the bottle.  And just as I find that someone well-traveled is often a much more rounded individual, this whisky seems to have greatly benefited form its nomadic existence.

The years in wood have been very kind, imparting a beautiful deep mahogany hue.  Those with a bent to the aesthetic in their whisky will certainly admire this in the glass.  Sexy.

Those with a more…utilitarian approach will be tickled pink at the 54.4% abv, and hefty mouth feel.  It is uber-rich and oily with a beautiful coating quality.

The nose is sweet and redolent of caramel toffee, chocolate and vanilla well met with some smoke and spicy peppers.  There is a bit of fruit, predominantly apple, as well.  Beautiful, really.

The palate is more than pleasing, but can’t quite meet the expectations set by the nose.  The smoke and sweetness are still apparent, and pushed to the forefront through the heavy alcohol.  Delicious, if not quite up to its olfactory counterpart.

One of the great releases in the Springbank line.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:23 am
Aug 112012
 

Bushmills 10 y.o.

40% abv

Score:  84/100

 

Not my favorite Bushmills, but a solid addition to range nonetheless.  This one takes the sweet caramel barley of the Original, but amps it up with bucketloads of wine-y fruits.  Expect a little dust and oak over deep purple grape and mildest sherry.  There is a bittering berry in there as well, but notes of butter-rich milk chocolate smooth it out and remind of Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut.  The grains at this age are still singing like a plucked piano string, and ten years in oak doesn’t seem to have taken much of the edge off.  Not a bad thing however, just a little sharper than I had expected.

The real beauty of Irish triple distillation is how much it strips the spirit down to purity and allows the barley to take center stage.  This is the heart of a whisky…why shouldn’t it play the star?  Hints of citrus zest round out the nose.

The palate delivers tart dark fruit skin (again…think purple grape) that morphs into apple skin towards the back end of development.  Before we get there though, soft orange fruits and creamy caramel light up the taste buds.

As I hinted at, there are several better Bushmills expressions out there, but the unique character of this one makes it worthwhile if you like your Irish.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:11 am
Aug 112012
 

Bushmills Original

40% abv

Score:  84.5/100

 

This revered old chap will always hold a special place in my heart and a place on my whisky shelf. This is where it began for me. The first whiskey I fell in love with. I’ve climbed mountains with it and drank it on my wedding day. I’ve been sick on it and been more than well on it. I truly cannot remember a time when there wasn’t at least a couple different Bushmills bottles in my cabinet.

So what makes it so special? Well…to be honest…nothing really. It is rather typical Irish fare. Light and clean, fruity and grainy.

It is also utterly delicious, and its simple drinkability is where so much of its charm is wrought.

The nose projects sweet caramel barley and smooth subtle nuances of rye or mild bourbon. The delivery is as smooth as a mature Canadian rye. The notes you’d expect based on this are front and center: Mild vanillins, soft and gentle spices and sweet orchard fruit. Primarily peaches. Chewy as hell and nifty to note that while certainly young and clean…it carries flavor notes of something a little older than its years.

Even at a slight 40% abv and chill-filtered, the finish is pleasantly sustained. As the whiskey limps to a slow death on the palate, the final throbbing notes are of a caramel fade and crunchy apple.

Charming, approachable and affordable. The great news is there are all sorts of places to go from here in the Bushmills range. Next? Most likely the Black Bush.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:59 am