May 192014

GlenDronach Grandeur 31 y.o. (Batch 3)092

45.8% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Generally speaking, any little whisky write-up I do will have some sort of pithy angle to it.  That’s just me trying to keep it interesting for myself, and hoping to entertain a litte while we get our ‘geek’ on.  But, like it or not, sometimes the best approach is a straight forward one.  (Having now conceded this, does that now make it an angle in and of itself?  Hmmmm.  Let’s just move on…)

A good mate of mine contends that GlenDronach are the big dogs when it comes to sherry casks nowadays.  Forget Macallan…forget Glenfarclas…forget Aberlour.  It’s tough to admit he’s ever right, but at the same time it’s becoming increasingly hard to argue the point when the distillery puts out drams like this.  Simple fact of the matter is that all of the best mature sherry bombs I’ve tried in recent times have all borne the ‘Dronach moniker.  Spending a couple hours in the distillery’s warehouses is now one of those bucket list things for me.  Would make a hell of a write-up too, if I ever get ’round to it.

GlenDronach Grandeur is a 31 year old distillery bottling.  Or was, I should say.  This Batch 3 from a wee while back is apparently the last of this grandfatherly old malt to bear this unique age statement.  After a period of fallow, Grandeur is now to be resurrected as a 24 year old.  A sign of the times, unfortunately.  Especially as I can’t imagine we’ll see a compensatory price drop when this happens.  Time will tell, I suppose.  We’ll hold to optimism, however, that the end product continues to be held to the same standard of near flawless Oloroso butt vatting, ’cause let’s face it…this is exceptional.

Nose:  Dried tropical fruits and rich jammy notes.  Oiled leather.  Figs.  Espresso.  Sandalwood.  Furniture polish.  Sticky toffee pudding.  Bitter, high cacao chocolate.  A vaguely waxy, latex note.  All with a berry coulis sweet thread throughout.

Palate:  Very mature fruity notes on arrival.  Some coffee again and chocolate fudge.  Glosette raisins.  Almond paste.  Maybe even raw almonds as well.  Or toasted almonds.  Walnut.  Oily savoury notes too.

Thoughts:  Great cask selection.  A couple of well chosen barrels…and absolutely no ‘blending away’ of crap.  This is what mature sherry should taste like.  I find I actually crave this flavour profile some evenings.

*Big thanks to my mate, J Wheelock, for the opportunity to try.  Ahem.  More than once.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:45 pm
May 192014

Glenglassaugh Torfa008

50% abv

Score:  79/100


Here we have the third official Glenglassaugh from the recently revived distillery.  It started with ‘Revival’ a couple years back…continued with ‘Evolution’ last year…and now we have ‘Torfa’.  ‘Torfa’ comes from the Old Norse word for ‘Peat’, according to the distillery’s website.  (Wondering if others will others follow suit now with these Scandinavian naming conventions.  Highland Park blazed the trail, of course, and now ‘Glassaugh has blown the Viking horn in turn.  Have we now moved laterally from our Celtic roots to our wider Germanic lineages in choosing names for our malts?  Meh…so be it.  Some fun for the linguists out there, I suppose.)

First things first…I have to raise the same concerns here as I did in the review of Revival.  Basically, that it’s too young and maybe hiding its true self a little (here it’s the peat, there it was the Oloroso).  Now…before you think I’m down on this one, hear me out.  This is actually quite a decent spirit.  There is a lot of potential in the glass here.  At the moment it’s kind of like a young colt chomping at the bit, but given the right amount of time and attention, it very well could be a winner.  And likely will be.  In fact, this peated variant is like a more syrupy version of a young Kilchoman, which bodes very well for the future of Glenglassaugh.

Pre-distillation peating for Torfa was apparently to about 20ppm, but as you likely know, that level of phenols does not necessarily translate directly to the bottle.  Irrespective though, the fact remains that this is a relative smoke monster.  It’s youth ensures that its feisty claws are firmly dug into the billowy cushions of smoke and that those peat notes are bold and forefront.

In briefest summation: This seems like a bit of a novelty bottling.  I’m more interested in seeing what the distillery’s true naked profile will be in a few years.  In the meantime, we’ll have fun with these releases and watch patiently as it comes into its own.

BTW…do note that I’ve scored this a full six points higher than the ‘Revival’.  Nice upward trajectory in a mere two years, wouldn’t you say?

Nose:  Dry smoke and ash.  Pepper.  Dusty asphalt.  Lemon, lime and dry pie crust.  Slightly nutty.  Brine.  Hay.  A touch of custard.  The smell of a cast (as in plaster, fabric and some vaguely sweaty medicinal notes).  Not dissimilar to Kilchoman new make.  Some creamy vanilla notes come out after a while.

Palate:  Thankfully tastes a little more mature than it noses.  Pulpy apple.  Smoke.  Citrus, as we’d expect.  Wet rocks and salt water.  Some sweetness.  A touch of oatmeal.  Granny Smith apple and Bartlett pear skins.  Sauvignon blanc.  While this may be mainland peat, it certainly tastes like the more oceanic Islay bog matter.  Rather neat.

Thoughts:  This was not ready to be bottled.  Smells younger than it is even, if that’s possible.  I’d guess a year or two if blind.  The thing is…you can’t fault the whisky here, only the decision to bottle it in its infancy.  Generating cashflow is imperative in a fledgling operation (or revival), but you gotta balance that against the currency of your reputation in future years.  I look forward to what this will be in another 5-10 years.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:16 pm
May 132014

Lagavulin 12 y.o. (2011)051

57.5% abv

Score:  90/100


Can’t believe we haven’t yet covered one of these beastly young Lags here on ATW.  Lagavulin is so intrinsically identifiable as the refined old gent of Islay-  the more austere and mature dram of the big three (Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig) – that getting to see it in its untamed youth is kinda like seeing old photos of your grandparents and finally realizing that these beautiful old souls you know and love were once young, active and full of verve.

Lagavulin is most often seen in its 16 year old flagship incarnation.  That whisky is a classic.  A touchstone.  A personal favorite.  (And, in my humble opinion, still in great shape, irrespective of what some others say regarding quality slippage).  But once a year we smokeheads and peat-o-philes are blessed with a scrappy and snarling 12 year old annual limited release of Lagavulin.  That four year age variance constitutes a world of difference in terms of what the final product turns out to be.  To be honest though…I’m not sure which I prefer more.  I suppose the truest answer to which Lagavulin is my favorite would have to be ‘the one closest to hand’.

One quick note on appearance now.  Not cause the aesthetics mean anything, but because it may speak a little about the casking for this one.  This malt looks fairly blonde.  Much lighter than the 16, which I believe has some sherry influence.  Does that mean that this is primarily (or entirely) bourbon barrels?  Or that the 16 is heavily coloured?  Dunno.  I do know, however, that the 16 carries more notes I’d associate with some sherry in the mix.  Either way…having a bottle of each on hand ain’t a bad thing.  Just sayin’.

By the way…drinking this stuff while on Islay is the stuff dreams are made of.  This is the distilled essence of the island.

Nose:  Coastal as hell.  Band-aids soaked in brine.  Ocean water.  Cracked white pepper.  Smoldering peat fire and bucketloads of tasty smoke.  Mint leaves candy and green ju-jubes.  A touch of soil.  Oysters on the shell…with a good squeeze of lemon.  Some cocoa behind it all.  A touch of coffee.  Horse blanket.  Something kinda creamy and sugary.  Sweeter and fruitier than I’d imagined it could be.

Palate:  Sweet, smoky delivery.  Very earthy.  Lemon and shellfish.  Intense salt and pepper.  Bittersweet chocolate.  A little anisette.  Grains are crisp and clear.  Sour apple peelings.  The smoke and medicinal notes echo on and on.  Man…I love a whisky that lingers on the tongue like this.

Thoughts:  Lagavulin is just as impressive in youth as it is in maturity.  Here we get to see the power of the peat before time has really knocked the jagged edges off.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:35 am
May 122014

Compass Box The General019

53.4% abv

Score:  93/100


Now here’s a whisky that has generated a significant amount of buzz over the past few months.  Not to mention garnered pretty much universal acclaim in nearly every printed word I’ve seen so far. 

Reading these reviews and write-ups, without having been able to taste for myself,  has been a bigger tease than the proverbial virgin prom date scenario.  It’s no exaggeration to say this was probably my most anticipated dram of the last year or so.  I’ve been anxiously looking forward to this one since first hearing about it.  Not because blends generally turn my crank, mind you, but because I think nearly all of John Glaser’s work is rather exceptional. 

Glaser has a gift for sourcing great casks.  That in and of itself is a blessing in an industry rife with mediocrity in terms of available barrels hitting the market, but that’s only half the battle.  It’s what he does with the whiskies he does secure that is cause for amazement.  ‘The General’ is a release that very possibly eclipses all that came before it in the company’s already rather impressive portfolio.

‘The General’ is a blend of two other blends, each of which was married in relative youth and allowed to mellow for further decades.  If rumour holds true, one of these blends was at least 33 years old, while the other is probably somewhere into its forties.  I’m not sure what the component whiskies are that eventually ended up coming together under the name of ‘The General’, but man…what a fateful meeting.  These are like perfectly cast pieces of a puzzle that were always meant to be together as parts of a whole.

If Compass Box, a relatively small upstart of a company, can pull off a release like this, why can’t the big guns in the industry do the same?  Or better?  If only more whisky makers would approach blended whisky with the same reverence that Compass Box does, perhaps the style would be much less maligned today.  ‘The General’ is a pristine example of the true ‘blender’s art’ whisky.  This and ‘The Last Vatted Malt’ (yes, a blended malt, not a blend) are simply in a league of their own.   

Sadly, for the masses, there were only 1,698 bottles of this whisky produced.  If you didn’t get one early on, you’re not likely to find one.

Nose:  So much harmony here.  Creamy fruits, dusted in nutmeg.  A little bit of orange.  Smooth polished oak notes.  Toasted caramel or toffee.  Creme brulee.   Meringue.  Old fashioned candy shops.  Almost notes of syrup and eucalyptus.

Palate:  Oh, my god.  What a delivery.  Thick and oily.  Mouthcoating and mouthwatering.  Chewy and rich.  Deep toffee notes.  Marmalade.  Figs.  Coffee cake.  Some sort of spiced fruit and nut mix.  Luscious.  Long finish.  All brilliant notes ebbing on the finish.

Thoughts:  This is simply beyond good.  Tastes like more.  …And that’s what I’ll have next.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:54 pm
May 072014

Port Ellen 24 y.o. Cask #2466 (A.D. Rattray)052

60.6% abv

Score:  91/100


Opening a new bottle of Port Ellen is becoming more and more a cause for occasion as the days go by.  The shelves are barren of releases from this shuttered Islay distillery, and what is out there – if you do manage to find it – is priced beyond the common man (which I most certainly consider myself).  To put it simply…Port Ellen is nearly as rare as hen’s teeth nowadays.

For this very reason, it was a treat to crack a bottle of this 24 year old malt for a group of mates a couple nights back as we sat around and pretty much behaved as you’d expect a bunch of pretentious 30-somethings to behave (even though we brought along a 40-something and a 50-something, just for their worldly ways and charm).  A great quote which I’ve long since lost the attribution for went something like this: “don’t collect the whisky; collect the memories you can make with the whisky”.  And so we did.  Hey…you can’t take it with you, right?

There’s an interesting tale behind this release.  Cask #2466 was a split cask for A.D. Rattray, in which 188 bottles were released in 2007 as a 24 year old at 60.6%, and the remaining 199 bottles were released in 2008 as a 25 year old at 60.4%.  Not an occurrence we see often, and one, I can only imagine, that would drive some completist collectors absolutely batty in trying to track down both halves to this whole.  Fortunately, that’s not me.  I just drink the stuff.

If it helps, though…I believe the 25 year old portion of this malt was released only on European shores, while the 24 year old was a bottling that landed here in Alberta and was an exclusive for Liquor Barn and Liquor Depot.  The latter is what we have in hand, have now tried a couple of times and will speak to here.  I believe it is now gone, but incredibly was still on the shelves up until just a couple of weeks back.

Before we dive into my notes on this one, I just wanted to mention that the only other tasting notes I saw for this release (again…the 24 year one) were passed on to me by a mate, and referred to it as similar to an Octomore.  Until I popped the cork on this one I was a little skeptical about comparing a 24 year old PE with a fiery young Bruichladdich, but the comparison is surpringly apt.

This isn’t a whisky with a lot of complexity, but what it lacks there it more than makes up for in personality.  A rather fascinating mix of young and old profiles from this cask that was filled in 1982, just one year before the distillery finally closed its doors for good.

Nose:  Enormous.  The biggest Port Ellen I’ve ever encountered.  Peat and smoke.  ‘Burning barnyard’ farmy notes.  Iodine.  Seabreeze.  Vanilla ice cream.  Pepper.  Tar and chocolate.  Lime zest and green Jolly Ranchers.  Herbal.  White chocolate dipped honeydew melon.  Gets better and better the longer you nose it.  Surprisingly starts to get a little creamier as it relaxes.  Apparently this came from a sherry cask.  Ummm…ok.  If you say so.

Palate:  Hell yeah!  Huge and hot.  Peaty and oily.  The cereals are everywhere.  Minerally and slightly tart.  Leaves and branches (not that I’ve ever eaten them, but it’s like the palate’s equivalent of that olfactory experience).  Slightly medicinal.  Ash and charcoal.  Much less fruit than I’d expect for 24 years on, but maybe some hard fruit candies.  Especially the green ones.

Thoughts:  Like an oily Caol Ila slamming head-on into a farmy Octomore.  Wow.  Just wow.  And more importantly…how the hell did this one manage to come out at such an astronomical, blinding abv after 24 years?!


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:27 am