Oct 252012

Bowmore Surf

40% abv

Score:  76.5/100


Bowmore and I are not the easiest of bedfellows.  At one point it was kind of a love/hate deal.  Some of my favorite drams (and further…my all time favorite whisky) are Bowmore.  At the same time some of the most unbelievably mediocre malts I’ve ever tried originated from the same distillery.  What gives?

Bowmore Surf is a Travel Retail exclusive, and not available here on our distant shores.  Normally if you tell me that I can’t have something I only want it more (market it a limited edition and I am f*cked…seriously.  Gotta have it).  Fortunately for my pocketbook, and consequently the longevity of my marriage…I don’t need to have this, no matter whether it is limited/exclusive/rare/whatever.

This is a malty young Bowmore.  And not a great one.  It is one from the lower end of the Bowmore spectrum, in terms of both price point and quality.  Age?  Not sure.  I’ve heard possibly a 12 year old.

Nose:  Notes of smoked meat, a bit of tangy citrus and earthy peat up front.  There are notes of chocolate, though none too bold, and salt.  Kinda more ‘sweat’ salt as opposed to ‘briny’ salt.  Yeah…exactly.  Not quite as bad as you’d think though.  Hints of dry and bitter dark berries (on both the nose and palate), and quite bitter greens (again…they show up across the tongue and on the nose).  Smoke on the palate, some gritty, briny grainy-ness.

The finish has some staying power and fortunately those more pungent and bitter notes mellow into something a little softer and caramel smooth after a few moments.  Pleasant and natural oak-leeched caramel, that is.

Not bad.  Not great.  You won’t find it around here, but I guess worth trying if opportunity presents.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  www.singlemaltwhiskyshop.com

 Posted by at 10:18 pm
Oct 232012

Caol Ila 10 y.o. Unpeated

65.8% abv

Score:  87.5/100


Check the label.  What the hell am I drinking?  Caol Ila?  Malt whisky?  Nah…I don’t buy it.

This is simply a mindf*ck.  I dare anyone to stick their nose in this glass and not believe they were dealing with an aged grain whisky.

For curiousity, if no other reason, I’d suggest snapping one of these up if opportunity presents.  Last word from the distillery is that there are no plans to produce anything else unpeated in the future.  Demand for the standard peated Caol Ila (5% of production being for single malt…95% for blending fodder) is simply too great right now.  Shame really…this was a fun little experiment.

Nose:  Big and rich in sweet barley notes, this has much more in common with an old grain whisky or mature rye than with a whisky from one of the most polarizing Scotch producing regions in the world.  The malt notes you’d expect from a single MALT are sparse and almost seem to be lacking.  In good conscience I have to say…bloody hell, is this sharp!  Clean toasted sugar notes and a lovely coconut aroma up front (hmmm…ever had a Malibu and pineapple juice?).  Smooth chocolate.  A bit of lemon, very typical of Caol Ila.  Lightly floral and a fair infusion of menthol/eucalyptus.

Hot and biting on delivery.  Lemon sharp and anesthetizing (nearly lobotomizing, to be honest!).  Shimmering grains and sweet vanilla pulled young and lively from the oak.  Finishes surpringly rich in balance, and absolutely altogether pleasant.

Did I love it?  Nah.  Did I appreciate it?  Hell yes.  Surprising and enamoring.  And I gotta ask…have you ever bought an abv this high?!  Gawdamn, but this is ENORMOUS!


Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat

 Posted by at 10:09 pm
Oct 232012

Laphroaig 18 y.o.

48% abv

Score:  91.5/100


Maybe I’m wrong here, but I’d guess there just may be something a little older than 18 in this Laphroaig.  I don’t think that happens much nowadays, but in ages past (errr…a few years back even) it wasn’t necessarily a rare thing to find some brilliant old whiskies being married with younger casks to strike a harmonic whole.

With single malt whisky experiencing the boom it currently is, every drop counts.  Especially the now virtually priceless drops of older stocks.  I’d venture that in current days your 18 year old whisky is usually no more than 18 years and 6 minutes before it is ripped from the cask and bottled for retail.  Yes, yes…I’m a cynic, I know.

Anyway…here we have an 18 year old Islay malt from the legendary Laphroaig that boasts a profile far surpassing the number on the bottle.  Pleasant surprises like these don’t come often.  (Hmmm…maybe that’s why there are a couple extra bottles of this on my shelf).

The nose is where evidence for my aforementioned theory on this malt is most prevalent.  Big vanilla and sweet tangerine.  Orange and chocolate.  Pear drops and bubblegum.  Black licorice jujubes…right outta the bag and sorta carrying the scent of the others as well.  Some sweet smoke and faded dirty peat notes.

Man…what a beautiful orange tang on arrival.  Back to pear and syrupy fruit cocktail.  Peat and smoke (but none too heavy for a Laphroaig).  Chocolate and Werther’s Originals.  A bit of tobacco pungency.  Finish is slightly drying, kinda lengthy, completely pleasant.

Laphroaig young enough and old enough to be in its prime.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:26 pm
Oct 212012

Alberta Premium Dark Horse

45% abv

Score:  85.5/100


Nothing like being fashionably late to the party, huh?

I should have covered this one a while back now, but alas…circumstances cropped up that prevented that from happening.  Namely, that I’m a dunce and in all that was going on missed the release date on this one.  I had the whisky in hand…I’d tried it…but I knew I had to keep ‘mum’ until release date.  Then…promptly forgot about release date.

Sigh.  Apologies to any interested.

Anyway…this is an exciting whisky for me.  First and foremost, it is a release from a distillery with a stellar track record.  Second, said distillery is based right here in the neighbourhood.  Third, this distillery, Alberta Distillers, does not play with innovation for the broader market.  This whisky is blazing a brand new trail.  My friends at ADL…well done.  Not only recognized, but appreciated.

Dark Horse is said to be a mix of 6 and 12 year old rye (100% rye, I might add).  Added to this, yes…added…is about 8% bourbon and a bit of sherry for good measure.  Now…for our friends not so in the loop with Canadian Whisky regulations who are undoubtedly asking ‘what the fuck?’ right now…well…put simply…Canadian whisky can legally have just over 9% additives to the spirit and still be marketed as Canadian Whisky.  Swallow your incredulity and just enjoy.

On the nose:  Big, big fruits (dark red jam-like fruits) and cracked pepper.  A touch of dill up front that seems a little odd in concept, but actually works quite well (others have said pickles…including a roomful at a recent Canadian Whisky tasting I attended).  Oak.  This really is a mishmash of rye spiciness and bourbon sweetness.  Floral notes collide with vanilla and cinnamon.  Sweet and lovely, but somewhat…contrived.  Not in a bad way, I just mean that it has a sort of odd unprecedented quality to it that makes me think of some crazy fun time in the blending lab.

Dusty corns and faux fruits hit the palate first, overpowering the grains, woods and spice that follow.  Super sweet and kinda waxy.  Very bourbon-ish, to be honest.  Apple peel on finish.  Keeps me reaching for more.

I’m still not 100% (maybe 95%?) won over by this one, as I was with the previous ADL releases, but the odd thing is…the level in my bottle keeps dropping.  Let’s blame it on my desire to share and let others try.  Sure…that’s it.

And yes…I will be buying another bottle.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:48 pm
Oct 212012

Alberta Premium

40% abv

 Score:  88.5/100


Alberta Distillers.  Calgary’s secret little gem nestled in the gorgeous heart of…Ogden industrial park.  Ummm…yeah.  Ok, so maybe we don’t have quite the austere beauty surrounding our amazing little distillery that many of the big producers in Scotland have, but let’s dismiss the concept of terroir for now, and simply appreciate the contents of the cask.

Award winners, and in recent days finally embracing a little bit of innovation with their exceptional product, Alberta Distillers Limited, or ADL as they are colloquially known, have become sort of ‘darlings’ of late in the whisky world.  Rightly so.  This is damn good stuff, and it warms my heart to know that we’re producing something so exceptional in our own backyard.

The distillery’s true claim to fame is in producing one of the world’s very few 100% pure rye whiskies.  Rye, just so we’re clear, is known as a grain extremely difficult to work with.  The yield is generally not as high as other mashes and it is apparently sticky as hell, gumming up the works and causing no end of headaches.

The distillery’s flagship expression, Alberta Premium, is a young (5 year, give or take) 100% rye, full of character and pristine in its clean lines and sharp profile.  This spirit that works so well at 5 years truly spins itself into liquid gold at later ages, as evinced by limited edition releases of 25 and 30 year olds, already long sold out.

The nose is all rich spice, smooth vanilla and sweet caramel.  Rye, of course, but light and familiar.  Not heavy and brooding like a dark German rye.  Dry dusty popcorn (no butter…no salt).  Lemon Pledge, rock hard crunchy berry.  This whisky is sleek, seductive, sexy and elegant.  It’s like silk pajamas on silk sheets.  If you’re a malter who loves your beefy Scottish fare, be prepared for something entirely new.  Candian whisky is something sweeter…deep in spice…light and confident enough to let the grains really sing.

The delivery is effortlessly smooth.  Creamy and mouth-coating.  Buttermilk silkiness threaded with toffee, vanilla and sweet fruit.  Caramel apple.  Clean spicy rye.  Exceptionally drinkable.  My only real complaint here is a rather short finish.  Otherwise…not a hitch to be found.

If this wasn’t enough to seduce, how does ~$20-25 a bottle sound?


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:23 pm
Oct 212012

Ardbeg Serendipity

40% abv

Score:  90/100


‘A happy accident’, I’ve read.  Or something along those lines.  The cynic in me sides with the sceptical masses on this one.  ‘Accident’?  Really?  Come now.  Please explain to me how an Ardbeg accidentally gets married with a Glen Moray.

And that is just what this dram is said to be comprised of.  20% 12 year old Glen Moray and 80% older Ardbeg (supposed age varies depending on which source you read).

Sigh.  Clever marketing aside…what have we here?

Nose:  Syrupy fruits (think canned pears or fruit cocktail with cherry), bubblegum and dinner buns.  Odd combination, to be sure, but the notes are all mild and unassuming.  It works well.  A touch of tame white pepper and salted lemon too.  This is a creamy dram, rich in sweet vanilla syrup.  Is there peat or smoke typical of an Ardbeg?  Undoubtedly.  But I’ll be damned if I can detect more than a faint whiff.  Lighter even, I’d think, than the recent Blasda.  Think old ’70s lightly peated Ardbeg.

The palate is equally smooth and light.  Sort of boasts an almost refreshing character.  Light white fruit and yeasty, doughy notes are well met by a vanilla woodiness fading into gristy barley notes.  Drying and slightly tart.  While not as delightful as the nose, the palate is still a charmer.  I do have to say…the nose is awesome!

Serendipity is definitely primarily Ardbeg at heart.  I can only imagine that the Glen Moray adds a vibrancy to the fruits (and likely some more ooomph to the vanilla influence through newer, more active, casks), but I’d be doing nothing more than speculating as to the true rationale for this marriage.

So…let’s just say this…

It is a vatting (a blended malt, if you will) with a clever gimmick and syrupy sweet name that seriously, seriously does what it was meant to do.  Try it if you can find it.  And…any out there who know where I can find a bottle…please do not hesitate to contact me.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 5:15 pm
Oct 212012

Glenrothes 1975 Limited Release

43% abv

Score:  89.5/100


Ok. Tackling one more ’70s vintage Glenrothes release here.  1975 this time.  These Limited Release expressions are quite delicious as a rule, and this ‘ere is no exception.  Not my favorite, I’ll concede, but a lovely well-made dram nevertheless.

By no means the sherry bomb one might expect in a whisky from this distillery, I can only speculate that this would have been a lovely fiery dram if it had been bottled at cask strength.  To my dying day I will never understand the rationale to bottle an older malt at anything less than natural cask strength.  Stretching your stocks is understandable in terms of profit concerns, but seriously…jack your prices a little and give us this malt at a higher strength, please and thank you.


A fine nose here.  Old and mature latex notes, telling the tale of seasons spent mellowing away in the cask are front and center.  A fantastic fruity melange follows, built of layers of cherry and raspberry, and then an orange tang.  A smooth and creamy vanilla cake-like lightness, not necessarily too far off from notes of crème caramel or toffee pudding as well.

Old latex notes again (not a bad thing!) and faux sour cherry hit the tongue first.  From here the malt kinda bitters a bit.  A pleasant pungent earthiness too.  The nose would have scored it higher, but it kinda hits some sharper bitter notes on the palate that kept me honest in terms of scoring.  Still a great drink though.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:55 pm
Oct 212012

Glenrothes John Ramsay

46.7% abv

Score:  90.5/100


To celebrate his pending retirement, Glenrothes’ ‘Malt Master’ (what does one have to do to earn a title like that?!) john Ramsay put together this rather special vatting of sherried single malt.  A range of casks dating between 1973 and 1987 were selected as special vintage, married together and re-racked into sherry butts for a further period of integration.  Two of these butts were then vatted, with an output of 1400 bottles, to make up the Glenrothes John Ramsay Legacy.

Going out on your own terms is something very few of us ever get the opportunity to do in life.  To go out on your own terms and have your swan song be something like this?  Not bad, John.  Not bad at all, sir.

A lovely nose.  As to be expected from a distillery famous for its sherried drams, the primaries here are…well…very typical sherry characteristics.  Sweet and tangy, dark fruit and spice.  Citrus zest (somewhere between orange and grapefruit), French vanilla cream, faded potpourri, sage, eucalyptus and some lovely ‘inexplicable’ fruits.

The palate is tannic and drying with flavours of wine gums and a warming spiciness (clove and ginger, methinks).  On into an almost tangerine note and further into the spices.  There is a creamy sweetness here too that I can only compare to adding honey to tea.  Imagine a spoonful of honey that has only half melted off into the hot liquid before you pull it out and taste the warm sweet melt on your tongue.  A very downhome old school licorice-ness to it as well.  Long and lingering.

I’d love to sip this one late one snowy eve by the fireplace.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:39 pm
Oct 212012

Glenrothes 1978

43% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Another great ’70s Glenrothes release.  This time from my birth year.  (Please keep all snarky comments to yourself, thank you very much).

With the ‘Rothes producing upwards of five and a half million litres annually, only a small portion of their distillate actually ends up in either one of their ‘vintage’ releases (i.e. with a year on it) or more likely, in their ‘Select Reserve’ entry level malt.  It is reassuring to note that once you move away from their blend fodder, or this rather mundane entry level whisky into some of the older vintages, you will find some real gems.

Here’s just such a one.

Aromas of raspberry jam and the best of Christmas cakes.  Fruits and fruits and more fresh fruits.  Big vanillins and a bit of caramel courtesy of cask-leeching.  Restrained honey and cinnamon stick, soft nuts, artificial cherry.  Quite a marriage.  Familiar and comfortable.

Sweet, fruity mouth-watering delivery.  Slightly wine-ish, with some nice spice dustings.  Again…jammy.  Dries into nice mellow oaky notes and fresh apple.

A lot of good things came out of 1978.  Just saying.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 4:01 pm
Oct 212012

Glenrothes 1972 Limited Release

43% abv

Score:  91.5/100


The ’70s are generally regarding as the true apex of whisky making.  Malts from this age have a certain something that is intangibly fantastic.  The flavour profiles, while not consistent from distillery to distillery, are very specific to this era.  These whiskies scoop awards, command hefty sums and stun the palates of those fortunate enough to partake.

Glenrothes, on the other hand, is not a distillery that I hold dear.  Not bad, by any means (‘bad’ being an adjective I reserve for very few drams), but ‘underwhelming’ would perhaps be the most choice work to describe.  It’s that terrible Catch-22 type situation, where the best of the distillery’s malts are old and rare, but of course the distillery needs to turn bottles at a younger vintage in order to maintain cash flow.  And obviously…to attract a younger or more cash-conscious demographic.  Let’s be realistic; not everyone can afford three figure bottles.

In this lovely old limited release 1972:  Dusty and old jams n’ jellies.  Spicy oak notes, empty cigar boxes and honey nougat (the stuff of Toblerone).  Fruits are primarily of the dehydrated and dessicated sort…mainly dried apricot.  After it sat a bit, I got the faintest coal notes.

The palate is mixed dried fruit, but primarily prune and apricot.  Cloves and wet wood.  Takes us into granny smith apple territory towards the end.  Mature and lovely.  Great depth and flavors that bend and transform over time on the palate.

One of the best ‘Rothes I’ve tried.  …So far.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:21 pm