Nov 202012
 

Compass Box Hedonism

43% abv

Score:  89/100

 

What a nifty little whisky this is.  Compass Box’s “Hedonism” is a blend composed entirely of grain whiskies.  Light, snappy and full of character.  A relatively easy drinker that will have you sitting up and taking notice.  There is something very different here.

Think Scotch and the immediate connotation (in my wee mind anyway) is that deep malty, heavy and earthy profile we know and love.  Tackling grain whisky requires a suspension of those preconceptions.  You’re coming into something here that will be closer to a North American style whisky.  Don’t let this veering from the norm deter you.  There are some really good grain whiskies out there, even if they are quite few and far between.

Compass Box produces in rather small batches and works with what is available at the time.  They are also not averse to tweaking the recipe as whim and refinement dictate (case in point…latter editions of The Peat Monster).  I say this as a caution.  What I am tasting in the bottle shown above may be different from what you try (fortunately the packaging has also periodically changed, further helping differentiation) in your bottle.

First notes on the nose are big raw coconut and lovely fresh woods.  Hella cool and quite unique and defining.  Extreme sweet notes are tempered with some nut and vanilla.  Cream of Wheat, fresh scone and summer citrus.  Very pleasant on the nose.  Homey, but elegant and charming.  Very, very well-composed.

Clean cereal notes come across on delivery.  Some vanilla and sugary white chocolate (Easter candy-ish?).  Citrus again and a nice austere wood linger…with echoes of coconut.

“Hedonism” isn’t the best whisky I’ve ever tasted, but there really is something that makes me want to go back to it.  Very rewarding in its individuality, and masterfully built.  I’ll remember this one, and will be speaking of it to others.

As a final note I’d like to add that, although perhaps not the biggest fan of all Compass Box products I’ve sampled, I must admit I have a lot of respect for the path John Glaser’s little enterprise has taken in producing their whiskies.  Compass Box has the stones to not only fight the good fight, but to win.  Love it.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:28 pm
Nov 202012
 

Clynelish 10 y.o. (A.D. Rattray)

59.7% abv

Overall:  89.5/100

 

Clynelish.  A Northern Highland distillery of some reknown, though not necessarily for the right reasons.  I won’t dig in to the sad, sordid details here, but I do just want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that we ended up with Clynelish at the cost of Brora.  No…it is not a just world.  It is a further sad fact that most of the current distillery’s production ends of up bottled not as single malt, but in blends…notably Johnnie Walker Gold.  Heartbreaking really, especially when one considers that Clynelish has the capacity to distill about 4.2 million litres annually.  Finding a bottle of Clynelish, depending on your locale, may be more difficult than you can imagine.

The fine folks at independent bottler A.D. Rattray picked a dilly of a pickle with this cask (errrr…that means ‘good’, in case you’re not too up on your redneck speak).  Young and vibrant, but bearing some attention-grabbing nuances that bely its relative youth.  Cask strength delivery (59.7% abv) helps buoy these notes along on high tide.

This young beefcake, matured in a refill sherry butt,  has what I’d imagine to be a fairly universal appeal.  Sweet, clean and easy enough, but at the same time intricate and complex enough to delight us whisky nerds.  The complexity and meandering development here were quite a surprise, as this is a relatively young whisky to exhibit such characteristics.  A brilliantly timed bottling by A.D. Rattray.

First notes on the nose are rich creamy toffee or caramel.  Buttery, sweet and smooth.  Something akin to those little Werther’s candies we all love.  Bit of a dusty background (dunnage warehouse?)…similar to a pleasant old woodshop.  Something here reminds me a bit of saltines as well (perhaps sea salt?).  Also a lovely fruitiness right up front that compliments the toffee notes.  Hints (and no more, I think) of smoke.

Oily, creamy consistency on the palate.  Mouthcoating, and just as with the nose, first notes are of butter toffee.  Then some fruit (both dried and juicy fresh)  Some wine-y sherry notes.  A bit of oak and vanilla.  Spices to be sure.  Nicely paced development, slowly revealing its flavors and character.  Much more than the OB Clynelish you’re liable to find on the shelves.

Quite liked this one.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  A.D. Rattray

 Posted by at 8:49 pm
Nov 202012
 

Buffalo Trace

45% abv

Score:  88/100

 

Near the Northern end of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail (irrespective of the fact that it is no longer a part of the Trail, or the Kentucky Distillers Association, for that matter) sits one of the greatest North American distilleries in existence.  Buffalo Trace.  Responsible for the production of Sazerac, George T. Stagg and Eagle Rare (among others), Buffalo Trace is also responsible for production of…shock!…Buffalo Trace.

While I should confess outright that bourbon is not really my drink, there are a few I really do love, and I will generally keep a bottle or two kicking around for those occasional (but overwhelming) cravings.  As a rule though I’m usually partial to the more earthy nuances of single malts.  Bourbons seem more suited to those ‘need for sweet’ times for me.  Much like Canadian whiskies.  But putting aside any thoughts to my personal bent…I’m going to sing it from the rooftops here…Buffalo Trace is a helluva good drink.  And not just for a bourbon.

The nose is where this one really shines.  It truly does border on flawless, in an almost unbelievable highwire balancing act of rich spice and intoxicating fruits.  But…the devil is in the details, or so they say, right?  So…on to the details…

Nose:  Sweet peaches n’ cream corn.  Synthetic cherry and grape juice.  gorgeous balanced spice and vanillins leeched from the cask.  Sour JuJube candy notes.  Redolent in fruit.  Beautiful.  Really beautiful.

Palate:  Not quite reaching the highs attained on the nose.  Grape juice.  Spices and spices and spices.  Dusty oak notes.  Better to not let it sit on the tongue too long.  Just give it a few seconds to swish and dance around and swallow it fresh.

The nose alone bumps this up a notch or two.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:10 pm
Nov 192012
 

Writer’s Tears

40% abv

Score:  80/100

 

An interesting Irish from a familiar distillery.  For the sake of maintaining its desired anonymity let’s call it Schmidleton.  Capiche?

The Writer’s Tears website (which also sports a very rudimentary lesson on Irish whisky) maintains that their ratio of pure pot still whisky to single malt whisky is a closely guarded secret.  Ummm…ok.  Not really certain why that needs to be kept under lock and key.  Two distilleries using the exact same still design…exact same water source…exact same spirit cuts…etc…will still produce VERY different whisky.  Truth.  But…if marketing some sort of hush-hush recipe helps…so be it.

Anyway…said to be a favorite style of Irish writers through the 19th and 20th century, let’s see how it holds up in this humble hack of a writer’s opinion…

Nose:  Lemon and orange zest.  I recall a big banana note on the cask strength version.  Still here in this standard release to be sure, but milder.  Vanilla and lemon yellow cake.  Light whiffs of allspice.  Slight lilac-iness.  Custard and sweet cookie dough.  Light and Auchentoshan-ish.  (No…this is not simply because ‘Toshan is also triple distilled like many Irish…they really are quite similar!)

Aperitif-like and very easy to put back.  Orange, vanilla, oak and nutmeg-dusted creme brulee.   If not an aperitif, then certainly a light dessert malt; perfect for following white fish or a mild creamy chicken dish.  Very grassy/grainy finish (Sauvignon Blanc-like…reminds of young anCnoc) with an orange and banana cream linger.

Light…pleasant…unoffensive…and entirely Irish.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:49 pm
Nov 192012
 

Octomore 1.1

63.5% abv

Score:  89.5/100

 

“Because it’s there.”  Mallory’s famous reply to being asked why he wanted to climb Everest.  I can’t help but think that it was something not too far removed from that simple logic that led to the ‘Laddie folk creating the world’s most heavily peated dram.  More of a ‘why not?’ than a ‘why?’, if you get my drift.  It seems to be just in keeping with that free and easy fun spirit that has defined Bruichladdich from day one.

Now…just as it is debatable whether or not Mallory and Irvine ever reached the summit of Everest, it is also debatable whether or not McEwan and Reynier managed to ‘top out’ on this peat expedition.  There are of course, various camps on this one.  One says that this is a novelty and was a shameless grab for headlines.  The other, and correct ( 😉 ), opinion says ‘Hell no!  This really is a well-made dram!’

Obviously you know where I stand on this one.

This first edition was peated to 131 ppm.  Subsequent releases have continued to up the ante to the point where Octomore 5_169 boasts a whopping 169 ppm phenol payload.  The debates rage on regarding whether or not there ceases to be a noticeable difference after a certain level of nose/tongue peat-blasting.  Not really certain myself, but I can confidently assert that these Octomore releases are a true revelation in terms of peat and smoke adoration.

Nose:  Farmy and oily as f*ck.  Lemon and salt.  Licorice.  Butter.  Hot roads and sour kiwi.  Anchovy.  A very typical Bruichladdich butterscotch.  Sort of one-dimensional without being simple or boring.  Like many shades of the same color.

Palate:  Fire-roasted fish.  Licorice and lemon.  Cola bibs.  Salty.  Very sharp.  Very tight.  Like scouring your tongue with hot coals and dousing the burns in seawater.  Really.  Invincible tastebuds and an iron throat mandatory.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:43 pm
Nov 192012
 

Bunnahabhain 12 y.o.060

46.3% abv

Overall:  88/100

 

Can it really be so?  Is someone at the top finally starting to take notice of what the little people have to say?

It seems the entire whisky world has been clamoring for the industry to drop the artificial coloring and chill-filtration, and most importantly…to bottle the stuff at a higher abv, and it seems as though that din is starting to be acknowledged.  Burn Stewart have helped lead the charge in the revamping of their line-up, which includes Deanston, Ledaig, Tobermory and Bunnahabhain.

This now standard beefed-up Bunnahabhain 12 is one to hunt for.  Bunna is Islay’s sleeper.  It boasts the lowest peating level (2ppm) of all the Islay malts and has long held a reputation as the mildest of the island’s drams.  This sort of puts it in a different league, since comparing it to an Ardbeg would be ridiculous and akin to comparing apples and oranges.

Having said that…this is now a hefty dram.  It is bold in terms of nose and palate, and the viscosity is unchecked as the oils are allowed free reign without chill-filtration.  What you can expect as a result is a substantial and mouth-coating whisky.  Of course this is admirable and a desirable quality, but really means nothing without a bouquet and flavor to back it up.  Thankfully…this new 12 year old absolutely delivers on both counts.

The nose is fruity and sweet.  Hints of banana are tempered with rich Speyside fruit notes, a gentle maltiness and creamy caramel.  There is a tickle of peat teasing here and there and a drizzle of sherry over all of it.  Something about this leads me to impressions of mellow rye as well.  The palate delivers just a touch too much sherry, but I can live with that.  The finish carries on long and pleasant with lingering dried fruit notes.

For different reasons, this will absolutely hold its own against the other Islay malts now.  Vastly different, though bold and unique in its own right.

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 5:11 pm
Nov 192012
 

Bruichladdich Laddie Ten

46% abv

Score:  86.5/100

 

The culmination of ten years of blood, sweat and tears.  Errr…hopefully none of which is fully realized inside the bottle itself.

While most fledgling distilleries would be holding their breath in anticipation as to whether or not their finally mature new spirit would live up to hope and hype, I imagine the folks at Bruichladdich were simply sitting back waiting for the party.  They knew they had a good product…they’d already had accolades and awards heaped on them…and they’d also been releasing young editions of their distillate under various names and incarnations for a few years by this point.

Even so, I guess, there would have likely been a ‘we’ve arrived!’ type celebration (much like Ardbeg experienced a few years back after their own resurrection).

What we have in hand now is Bruichladdich’s first new 10 year old malt consisting entirely of whisky produced under the new reign.  Remember…the distillery only reopened just over a decade ago.  And…as the vast majority of critical voices are affirming…it’s a damn decent dram.

The nose here speaks volumes as to the inherent quality of the pure spirit itself that Bruichladdich is producing.  Clean, salty and infinitely quaffable.  Caramel and crème brulee with toasted marshmallow.  The wee tiniest bit of peat and dry smoke…and I mean tiny.  Some iodine and straw.  Malty and figgy sweetness.  Splash of lemon.  Seems like a bit of youthful maturation in there with maybe…maybe(?) a whiff of sulphur.  Still vaguely young and spirity.

A young, rather clean drink.  Good solid heft, but rather hard to describe as there isn’t really a defining characteristic.  This is not a bad thing.  I only mention because we are so used to a very defined profile in our drams (peaty, sweet and sherried, old and woody, tropical and rich, vanilla’d and spicy, etc).  Here we have the ghost of peat and smoke met with invigorating seaspray and tingly citric notes.  Somewhat of a fruity backbone, really.  And yes…the sweet barley sugar notes and oak are notable.

I won’t call this a ‘great’ dram, but I will say it is great for ten years.  And to give proper due…it’s a very, very good drink.  Bruichladdich has crafted something they should be proud of.  Not quite there yet, but this is a whisky that will be a beauty at 17 or 18 years.  Can’t wait to follow this journey through the years.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:48 pm
Nov 182012
 

Alright.  Time to have another go at a post on the site that gets a fair amount of attention.

What you’re reading right now is a re-write of an old ATW feature.  What it really boils down to is this, friends…the times they are a changin’.  Whisky is becoming more and more expensive.  It is also seemingly less readily available in some markets.  And depending on your line of thinking, it is also becoming harder and harder to ensure the product you’re buying now is as good as the same product bought a decade ago (if you believe those out there banging the drum in support of the ‘quality slippage’ argument, that is).

When I originally put together the first ‘go’ at a post on this topic (a couple years back) I did so with the intent of aiming at the TRUE beginner working within a VERY humble and spartan budget.  The reality is, however, Scotch is not a poor man’s game, and this may have been the wrong tack to embrace.  There are, to be sure, a few gems out there that can be scooped for phenomenal deals, but in the end you’re always going to end up paying for quality.  I hate to break it to ya, but all those arguments you’ve heard about ‘older doesn’t mean better’ or ‘price doesn’t equal quality’…they were, for the most part, a load of shit.  Ninety five times out of a hundred the older, more expensive drams will be better.  To be fair, if you inserted the word ‘always’ in there a couple of times (i.e. ‘older doesn’t always mean better’) I would agree with the statements.

What I’m really getting at here is that I think most folks are looking for an idea as to how to build a good Scotch cabinet, not just a cheap decent one.  The sad fact of the matter is…this costs money.

Seeing as how you’re lurking around on whisky blogs with the rest of us spirit-snobs, I am going to assume a certain level of knowledge and experience with whisky (yes, yes…shame on me…and yes, I do know what they say about assuming).  With that in mind I wanted to tackle putting together a few malts that would constitute a really nice (but still relatively beginner) cabinet.  The idea here is that you would have somewhat of a balance of profiles, some great malts to sip yourself…and in the event you had a knowing guest over one eve you’d never be short on something tasteful to pour.

Before we get to it, let’s step back a moment for a little bit of clarification.  This little exercise originally began long, long back with a few members of the Collective trying to come up with ten entry-level price point bottles for the aspiring anorak to begin their own scotch whisky cabinet.  The flaw in this challenge was a basic one I have come up against many times.  Often…for just a few dollars more…you can upgrade from that ‘entry-level’ ticket to something astounding.  Trust me…it’s all about quality, not quantity.  Depending on where you live, one or two of the drams listed below may set you back a tidy sum (though with careful shopping…no more than $150 or so).

A couple of final notes:

  1. These are all readily available bottles.  Snootery may say that old Brora, Port Ellen or Rosebank would be the bee’s knees on your shelf.  Scarcity and cost may say otherwise.
  2. This is neither a true beginner’s cabinet, nor a dream cabinet.  Just something somewhere in the middle to give good balance, good value and good selection.
  3. This list sorta doubles as a good giftbuyer’s list as well.  Honestly.  I can’t imagine any Scotch lover wouldn’t be pleased to receive one of these.
  4. The following list are my suggests.  Only mine.  Having tried all of these I can positively swear that a) they are great drinks and b) the couple/few dollars more is well worth the investment.

 

With no further ado…a dozen or so bottles to help flesh out your whisky cabinet…

 

Johnnie Walker Black Label.  Hey…sometimes you just need a blended whisky.  This is one of the best out there and available nearly everywhere.  A very smooth and drinkable blend with a deep and mysterious character.  The smoke that moves in and out on this one is tasteful and obscure.  Good enough for the snobs, but also enjoyable enough to pour for the noobs so as not to dent your good malts by sharing with someone who doesn’t really care or appreciate ‘em.

Macallan 18 year old.  This one carries a hefty price tag, but is a very, very balanced and refined dram.  One of the few in the Macallan range that boasts the quality to justify the often crazy (cough cough ‘exhorbitant’) price point.  Take price out of the equation though?  Damn good drink.

Lagavulin 16 year old.  Is it possible to have a palate for peat and not appreciate this beautiful and beguiling classic malt from Islay?  Gad, whatta nose!  Every now and again you’ll hear chatter about quality slippage on this one.  Not sure what malt those folks are sipping, but it certainly isn’t any of the Lag16 bottles I’ve purchased.  One of the best in the Diageo stable.

Springbank 18 year old.  Just a few miles off the shores of Islay is another island of whisky fame.  Campbeltown.  Once home to more than 30 distilleries, Campbeltown now houses only three.  The pinnacle of these three is undoubtedly Springbank.  This distillery produces three different styles of whisky under three different names.  Springbank is the moderately peated brand.  A real beaut.  If you’re brave…grab yourself a bottle of the Longrow 18 as well.

GlenDronach 15 year old.  From the Speyside region of Scotland.  Here you have a brilliant example of affordable AND exceptional sherry-matured whisky.  This 15 year old is, to me, the apex of the standard line.  Sure to please, with sweet juicy fruit notes and dry figgy sherry as well.  If you get the opportunity, do try some of the older single casks this distillery produces.

Aberlour a’bunadh (any batch will do).  A malt released in small batches from another Speyside distillery of reknown.  This whisky is a true bruiser.  Bottled at a hefty cask strength of ~60%, this is one to take your time with and savor.  A winter warmer if ever there was.  Deep…dark…sweet…stunning.  Caution…there is batch variance, but I’m sure even the worst are much, much better than the competition.

Ardbeg Corryvreckan.  Any Ardbeg release really (Ten, Corry, Uigeadail).  This one though has such a complex and cascading profile that continues to explode in firework after firework on both the nose and palate.  Strong and unique, this is definitely not one for the faint of heart.  Brilliant meld of peat, smoke and sweet.  A personal favorite.

Talisker 10 year old.  A young and feisty pepper monster.  The 18 year old is miles better, but few and far between on the shelves, so let’s say the 10.  This is a very individual drink with a character all its own, and a lovely personality in its own right.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…no cabinet should be without a Talisker.  Affordable as hell too!

Highland Park 18 year old.  Good bottle to have on the shelf, and while I do enjoy it, it’s not a personal favorite.  So, why is it here then?  Simple.  It is quite good, but more importantly…it is generally known as the ‘greatest all ’rounder in the world’ (thanks, MJ…everyone and their dog likes to quote that one).  Not sure I buy in, but y’know what?  Contrary to popular belief I’m not always right.  ;)

10  Glenfarclas ???.  Any Glenfarclas.  Generally, the older the better (but not always!).  Most often recommended is the 15 year old, but I have had a very mediocre 15 recently that makes me a little gun shy on the referral.  Anyway…to the point…this is a topnotch distillery.  Check out something from ‘em if you can.  17?  21?  40?

…now…if you want to have some fun from there…play about with some of the Glenmorangie line, Tullibardine range, Auchentoshan (maybe the Valinch?), older BenRiach, Bruichladdich or Laphroaig.

 

You’ll find reviews of most of these here on ATW.  In the event you’d like to know a bit more before spending your hard-earned food stamps, feel free to drop me a line either via email (under the ‘Contact Us’ page) or in the comments section below.  If any of you out there do take any of these as recommendations, drop a comment below and let me know what you think.

 

Sweet Drams!

 

– Words:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:28 pm
Nov 132012
 

Whyte And Mackay 21 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

Well, well, well…what have we here?  A little unexpected, a lot awesome.

Can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a blend this much.  Really.  There is a delightful spryness here that I wouldn’t normally associate with the blend industry, but which helps restores my faith in the institution.  (Sadly, I must confess that a recent run of less than impressive blends have somewhat soured me of late.  And no…I am not a malt snob.  Ok…maybe a little.)

I should also admit that, for the most part, I’m not really a fan of Richard Paterson’s whiskies.  I am however, a fan of Paterson himself.  The man truly knows how to put on a show, and through personality alone draws attention to his brands.  No two ways about it…the guy is entertaining as hell!  For those not necessarily in the know as to just who Paterson is, check this little two part video of W&M’s master blender doing what he does best:  Pt 1 and Pt 2.

So…while admittedly not sold on some his other masterworks, I must admit he’s got me on the hook with this one.  This is bottle number two I’m working my way through now and I have a third put aside for rainy days to come.  No lie, I’m hard-pressed to think of a blended Scotch whisky I like more than this.  It’s actually quite a stunner.

Biggest surprise here is in the integration.  If you told me this was an older malt I’d believe you.  First up…the grains are clean and pretty.  Sugar cookies and soft vanilla follow.  Some floral notes and a bit of cherry meets peach punch meets syrupy orange.  Slight nuances of latex or old well-worn furniture polish (something very lovely and only found with age).  Toasted oak, caramel/butterscotch and other surprisingly fresh orchard fruits as well.

The palate is mature, oaky and redolent of sassy fruit (peach again!).  Not too far off an old ‘Rothes or something.  Maybe just slightly easier on the sherry.  A little raisin.  Next…an aged waxy note and a slow drying sensation.  Barley sings a little louder on the fade to finish.

Wow.  This was not expected.  Lovely and immediately endearing.

 

Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:05 pm
Nov 132012
 

Ardbeg Day045

56.7% abv

Score:  91/100

 

A limited run of 12,000 bottles meant to commemorate the launch of International Ardbeg Day on June 2nd.  You can only imagine how quickly this flew off the shelves.  …Or in our case (Canada) never even made it to the shelves.  I had to cross the sea to nab bottles of this!  Yes…life is rough, I know.

I’ve read reference to this release as very much another ‘Uigeadail’.  I can sorta see the rationale for comparison, but here again, as with each Ardbeg release, there is something to differentiate.  Sometimes innovation is entirely unnecessary, and it simply makes more sense to find a winning formula and stick with it.  Such is precisely the case here.  Ardbeg decided to take a damn good spirit (comprised of nothing more than a mix of eight, nine and twelve year old bourbon casks married in sherry butts) bottle it strong and clean and sit back and collect the accolades.  If it ain’t broke…or so they say.

The nose is led off on notes of pungent peat smoke, iodine and braised barbecued meat.  There is a dry quality to this one.  Closest I can come to nailing it down is the smell of wet rock (ever suck on a pebble?), ashes & tar and oysters on the shell.  Lemon Pledge and lively eucalyptus.  Fishiness meets farminess.  A medicinal Band-aid note I’d more closely associate with Lagavulin.  A damn good expression of Ardbeg, to be honest, with a slightly odd ashy profile.

Flavour wise…BBQ chips (crisps, for my mates on the other side), weighty in salt, smoke and sweet meatiness.  That ashiness follows through here as well.  Licorice.  A lingering fishy peat and brine.

Recently referred to by a friend as a natural ‘progression of the range’.  Absolutely dead on.

Shame this was a limited release.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo: Curt

 Posted by at 8:39 pm