Jun 302014
 

Octomore 3.1007

59% abv

Score:  90/100

 

Man…I almost feel like I need to shout over the incredible volume of this malt.  This is a loud, loud whisky.  And that, of course, is a good part of its charm and appeal.

Bruichladdich Octomore.  There is no other single malt in Scotland that is nearly as successful at five years old.  Peat monsters work quite well in their youth, as we’ve discussed, and this is no exception.  Version 3.1 (sounding much more like a web release, than a batch number) is a beautifully clean drink.  Phenolic and bordering on one dimensional, yes, but sometimes just sticking with what you know…and doing it better than anyone else…is more than enough.

Quick recap:  Bruichladdich is the current undisputed heavyweight champ in the ever escalating peat wars.  This particular edition of Octomore boasts a pre-distillation phenol count of 152 parts per million, though more contemporary batches have ratcheted that up a notch further to 167 ppm.  What actually ends up in the glass is a story for another day (and perhaps written by someone with a bit better grasp of chemistry than I), but rest assured any edition of Octomore is a beastly dram.

Octomore is so much more than just an exemplification of a novel concept though.  It has defined a contemporary style for flavour junkies and extremists.  It has towered above others through persona alone, but has always been able to fall back on the reality that this is damn good distillate in its own right.  A clean spirit cut married to great oaken barrels.  End of story.  Having said all of that, and acknowledged Bruichladdich’s status atop the pile, I’m sincerely hoping that rumours of an impending Ardbeg Supernova 2014 make the competition interesting again.  Fingers crossed. 

Nose:  Smoke.  And more smoke.  Damp, dark and vegetal.  Buttery.  Moist dark soil.  Immensely farmy.  Very strong dark chocolate.  Cola.  Smoke.  Lemon.  Tarry Asphalt and rubber.  Wet, sooty ash…and rock.  Sweeter than you’d imagine, but not really fruity.

Palate:  Lapsang Souchong tea.  Earthy, damp smoke.  And, paradoxically, big black billows of dry smoke as well.  Some anise.  Lemon.  Butterscotch.  a lot of peaty influence, to be expected.  Like mouth-breathing when you take a chilly morning walk in Bowmore (anyone who has been there will know that smoky tang in the village air).

Thoughts:  Very much an Octomore.  Exactly what I had hoped for when I picked this one up.  Begs the question now…why am I ever without a bottle of this stuff open?  One of the best young malts on the market, and far from just a novelty.  But, hey…I’m just a peathead.  To quote ‘Sid and Nancy’:  “Never trust a junkie.”

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:00 am
Jun 232014
 

Ardbeg Auriverdes001

49.9% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

I doubt there’s a ‘buzzier’ whisky out there right now.  Even still…and much as usual…we’re a little late to the party.  I did get to try a couple drams of this on release day, but am only now getting ’round to sharing some proper tasting notes and personal thoughts.  Oh well.  I’m not even remotely worried about being first with these reviews; just the last one standing.  😉

Let’s take it back to square one for a moment or two.  Each year at the end of May/beginning of June Ardbeg takes the whisky world by storm, launching their latest novelty limited release.  A couple years back was the eponymous ‘Ardbeg Day’.  Last year’s release was given the appellation of ‘Ardbog’.  And this year we have ‘Auriverdes’.  The linguists out there (of which I am not one) may recognize the roots of this one in the Latin ‘auri’ for gold and ‘verdes’ for green.  Aside from the immediate and obvious connotations (gold liquid in the green bottle), there’s a deeper resonance with this choice of name.

2014 is the year of the World Cup (in fact, we’re smack dab in the middle of WC fever as I write this).  This year’s host nation is Brazil, whose team’s nom de guerre just happens to be…yep…’Auriverdes’.  Clever cheeky folks at Ardbeg, huh?  Ok, ok…the Ardbeg to football connection may be tenuous at best, but we’ll let it slide so long as the end product is a good ‘un.  But we’ll get to that momentarily.

Here in Calgary this year, our local Ardbeg Embassy and regional distillery representation pulled together a hell of an Ardbeg Day celebration.  This was a joint effort between local LVMH representation (Charton Hobbs) and Calgary’s Unquestionable whisky champion (Andrew Ferguson).  I won’t get into all details here, but before the day culminated in popping the cork on four and a half litres of ‘Auriverdes’, there was riot of an Ardbeg Day football (soccer) game, pitting team ‘Auri’ against team ‘Verdes’.  Sad to say I can’t report that the good guys won (i.e. the team captained by yours truly) but that’s ok…I’ve always been more of an antihero kinda guy, myself.  Either way…a very memorable occasion and launch for a very memorable dram.

Ok…media blitzing and marketing buzz aside…what makes this new evolution in the Ardbeg canon stand out?  A new ‘innovation’ in the handling of the cask heads this time.  Apparently one barrel end was lightly toasted to release more of a light vanilla influence, while the opposite was more heavily charred to elicit darker coffee-like notes.  The cynic in me would like to elicit a hearty and dismissive ‘pfffft‘, but the simple fact is…you can’t argue with results.  If that really was what was intended all along, it was a heartily realized experiment.  The whisky does indeed carry these very characteristics, and quite at the forefront too.

Auriverdes is a return to a more mature (though I don’t believe this is all that advanced in terms of actual years) and somewhat lighter style.  It takes me back to the Airigh Nam Beist from a few years ago.  And I have to say that I like it much.  VERY much.

Nose:  Sweet, sweet peat.  And smoke, of course.  Anise…fennel.  Salt, pepper and ginger.  A substantial lime note.  Touch of lemon too.  Honeydew melon and other soft, faint fruits.  Quite creamy.  Those coffee/mocha notes that are being advertised everywhere are indeed here.  With quite some vanilla as well.  Ice cream-ish.  Love the oak notes; those both fresh and burnt to ash.  Great nose all around.

Palate:  More lemon, with licorice, tar and damp ash.  Surprisingly sweet and soft.  Gentle smoke (well…gentle for someone accustomed to Ardbeg’s usual fare).  Lively wood notes.  Sharp coffee and dark chocolate (but not too heavy on these notes).  Much going on here.  Neat citric back end (is that grapefruit?!?).  Also…more medicinal than I generally find Ardbeg.

Thoughts:  Great balance on this one.  A softer Ardbeg than the last few releases.  And surprisingly…all the better for it.  The nose, in particular, is lovely.  Again…closer in style to the Airigh Nam Beist, I think.  Will have to try the two side-by-side.

 

– Reviewed by: Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:43 pm
Jun 162014
 

Springbank Cask 450044

46% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

Here’s an odd Springbank.  Not one you’re likely to find easily and not not one you’re bound to hear much about either.  Tracking down details on this one is like hunting for hen’s teeth.  Call me lazy, but I’m simply not willing to do spend a whole whack of time trying to suss out details on a malt that was a very limited run, and is really only being written up for vanity.

It’s an official Springbank distillery bottling.  15 or 16 years old.  Bourbon cask matured.  And that’s about it.  Good enough for this guy, except I guess I’ll take the opportunity to remark on the rather mundane (and let’s face it…bloody boring) packaging.  Oh well.  True beauty is that which comes from within (so sayeth us ugly ducklings).

This bottle was picked up locally here in Calgary for a gent’s night with a few of my good mates.  It was a rather surprising affair, being a little bit less instantly endearing than most expressions from Campbeltown’s best distillery, but a pleasant malt nevertheless.  The straight bourbon cask maturation makes this one a bit unique.  Not one for the ages, but certainly does the trick today.

Nose:  Peat and smoke.  Chewy red candy.  A little bit salty.  Old dunnage warehouse notes.  Prickly cracked white pepper.  Good rye toast with butter.  Good mix of spice and old wood.  Crunchy bartlett pear and some apple.

Palate:  Immediately peaty with iodine and green apple.  Thick and syrupy delivery.  A Bovril meatiness meets dried fruits.  Quite a spicy tang to it.  A better nose than palate, but still decent here as well

Thoughts:  I think maybe the simplicity of the wood allows the peat to show through a little bigger than we’re used to from Springbank.  You’ll undoubtedly find better Springbanks out there, but this is still a neat one to try.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:57 pm
Jun 122014
 

Talisker 27 y.o. (1985)086

56.1% abv

Score:  93/100

 

Last year’s sassy special release from Diageo’s Classic Malt pepper monster, Talisker.

This was a hell of a dram coming out of the Isle Of Skye, and I can only laud Diageo for recognizing it as such and releasing it at the perfect state of maturity.  It takes some foresight to properly assess and hold onto these great casks as they develop.  More importantly though, it takes the right nose to know when it’s time to pull the spirit from the barrel and let it meet the bottle.  27 years turned out to be just that magic number here.

A great cask strength whisky firing on all cylinders.  A rare gem well worth trying if the opportunity presents, though I imagine it is fairly difficult to come by in most markets and at this late date.

Nose:  Creamy caramel, with some beautiful fruits.  Primarily of the orange-ish tropical variety.  Roman Nougat candy.  Pepper.  Brine and shellfish.  Those beautiful old wax/paint/latex notes that define great old whiskies.  Orange and other citrus notes.  Wood smoke.  Mild peat.  A faint touch of rubber at the back end as it develops.

Palate:  Some rather farmy notes.  Coffee with dark chocolate.  Orange and lemon.  Salt and pepper, as we’d expect.  Not just pepper though, but some chili as well.  Peat.  Not quite as fruity as the nose promises, but

Thoughts:  A beautiful old whisky.  A mate couldn’t get over how ‘Maritime’ this was, and indeed it says so right on the bottle.  I can’t help but agree.  This is a great age for Talisker.

Thanks to the fine fellow (whose anonymity I will respect here) for sharing this one.  Cheers!

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:41 am
Jun 122014
 

Glen Albyn 1981 Cask #50 (Signatory)033

57.5% abv

Score:  83/100

 

Review from a sample provided by a good mate of mine, Andrew Ferguson of Kensington Wine Market, a long time back.

Ok…let’s do another Glen Albyn.  This time one that was distilled just two years prior to the distillery’s 1983 closure and bottled in 2010, making this a 29 year old single malt. 

This Glen Albyn managed to hold onto a rather respectable 57.5% abv even after nearly three decades in wood.  How we do adore the strong older whiskies.  If you really want to suss out a malt’s make-up, the best way to do so is to have the whisky in a healthy state with a high alcohol content.  Alcohol, after all, is the medium for capturing the flavours and aromas we’re so keen to get our hands (and taste buds) on. 

The outturn from this particular hogshead was 262 bottles.  Again…not bad for a dram of this age.  And while this one isn’t an immediate charmer, it still has enough going on to make it interesting. 

Nose:  Fresh-cracked black pepper.  Dry hay and cereal notes.  Herbal with some green tea.  Grass (not freshly mown, but that which is cut and has had a day or two of moisture and sun).  Slight coastal wet rock and fishiness (odd).  I expected a lot more fruit here.  There’s a little, but more a melange than any actual concentration of individual fruit notes.

Palate:  Pepper.  Farmy and barn-ish.  Here’s the farminess hinted at in the hay on the nose.  Fiery as hell.  Peach tea (is this all the fruit we’re gonna get here?).  Barley is singing loud and clear.  Decent.  Nothing special.

Thoughts:  Always a treat to go back through the ages a bit, but a fine example of how those old and collectable malts are not always collectable for the right reasons.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:28 am
Jun 122014
 

Glen Albyn 1976 (Gordon & MacPhail)082

43% abv

Score:  87.5/100

 

Let’s go back to the ‘closed distillery’ theme for this one.  Here’s another former DCL (Diageo) distillery that fell victim to the financial crunch of the early ’80s and shuttered in 1983.  This time we’re looking at a Highland distillery (Inverness, in fact) that was known more for its contributions to Mackinlay’s blended whisky than for it’s own name:  Glen Albyn.  

Fortunately for those of us who like delving into history a little bit, there are still a few surviving casks from some of these closed distilleries.  These barrels lie primarily in the hands of independent bottling firms (and possibly blenders).  And while they may not always be an accurate representation of the distillery’s true profile, that’s more than ok by me.  Tasting drams like these is like sinking deep into a bit of Scottish history and whisky lore.  And let’s face it…there’s always something almost inexplicably hair-tingling about sipping a drink that was made before you were even born. 

This 36 y.o. from Glen Albyn was decanted from a few refill sherry butts.  And none too active of butts, at that.  The sherry influence is incredibly soft. 

Finally…I’ve said it before and I’ll continue to harp on it here…I will never understand the rationale of bottling any malt this old at anything less than cask strength.  Amazing what the motivation of the mighty dollar (or pound) can do.  The folks at Gordon & MacPhail, while some of the nicest people around, are particularly guilty of this, and the sad fact of the matter is that they have warehouses teeming with brilliant old barrels.  Hopefully we see a few more of them served up au natural in the future.

Nose:  Cinnamon.  Milk and white chocolates.  Ju-jubes.  Fruit cocktail in sugar syrup.  Lemon muffin.  A little bit of tartness.  Light clean florals.  Some dental cement and a touch of polish.  Banana cream pie.  Something here that reminds of a very old rum.

Palate:  Again…that fruit cocktail, syrupy soft sweetness.  Chocolate again.  Oranges and orange zest.  White cake dessert notes with smoke and wine.  Almond and other toasted nuts.  A little over-oaked, to be honest.

Thoughts:  36 years old, and should have been pulled sooner.  Having said that…as I mentioned above, these must have been quite dead sherry butts, as I’d almost guess this came from ex-bourbon barrels, as opposed to sherry.  If you can pull small sips across the tongue and try to wrap your head around the heavy oak…this is close to a winner.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:11 am
Jun 122014
 

SMWS 77.24 “Mouth-Numbing Handbags”012

57.2% abv

Score:  92/100

 

Man, these guys (and gals) have fun with their naming conventions, don’t they?  ‘Mouth-numbing handbags’.  WTF?!  Gotta love the SMWS for this bit of tomfoolery that adds a smile to our sipping.

Another obscure as shit distillery from the Northern Highlands.  Well…obscure under it’s own name, that is.  This distillery (which may or may not be Glen Ord, if we’re keeping with the SMWS tradition of ‘sworn to secrecy’ releases under numbered, not named, distilleries) is more known for being bottled as The Singleton.  That malt, as you may be aware, is a rather generic entry in the Diageo stables.

With a production capacity as high as the distillery boasts (and still expanding!), and knowing the limited range of OBs they release, I can only assume that most of the distillate ends up blended away under the Johnnie Walker brand.  Sad, really, but let’s remember that for all the bottles of shameful Red Label that hit the shelves, there are also great bottles of Black, Blue and Green.  Well…perhaps not Green anymore.

Anyway…

That’s where the indies, such as the SMWS, come to the save the day for us malt enthusiasts.  By releasing odd casks like this 77.24 we get to see another side of the distilleries.  This is the kind of stuff that makes single malt whisky as much fun as it is.  In this case I’ll move forward with the hopes that there just may be more impressive whisky in the warehouses of Glen Ord that isn’t destined for mediocrity!  This is a hell of a cask, served up at just the right age:  A solid 23 years.  Good on the SMWS for scooping this one.

‘Nough said.

Nose:  Quite some pepper and spice.  Polished wood.  Caramel apple.  Think there’s a touch of smoke there too.  Ruby grapefruit with sugar.  Some peach and some of the most perfectly ‘in-check’ vanilla I’ve yet encountered.  Poached apple with mild x-mas spice.

Palate:  Smoke and peppery spice…maybe chili.  Citric tang.  Fruit salad.  Old cask notes and toasted oak.  Leaves behind an old school, almost kerosene-like, smoky candlewax and oak.  Close to an aged Talisker, to be honest.  A beautiful whisky.

Thoughts:  Glad to have tried it, but one of those bittersweet drams that leave you wanting more, all the while knowing that you can’t have it.  Better to have loved and lost, as they say.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:42 am
Jun 112014
 

Glengoyne 21 y.o.Glengoyne_21

43% abv

Score:  83.5/100

 

The next step along the line in the old (and now obsolete) Glengoyne range.  This was the version from a couple years back (early 2010s, I think), before they snazzed it all up with new packaging and such.  I have tried the newer edition, but only in a festival setting.  Not an ideal venue to assess whisky, of course.  I can say, though, that I was not overly impressed with that one either.

Here we have an ‘interesting’ malt from the Highlands, and one that boasts a very different profile from the younger variants in the range.  Much more pronounced depth of sherry influence.  Emphasis heavily on the ‘much’.  You’ll still find the distillery’s inherent maltiness omnipresent (and almost a distraction), but the swirling depths of ‘dark’ and tangy/sweet notes are quite a game changer.

Having said that…this is still only an ‘ok’ whisky.  Some great individual characteristics, but it never really fires on all cylinders as a cohesive whole.

Nose:  Deep sherry influence.  A little drier and more complex than I expected.  Dusty, mincemeat notes.  Chocolate syrup.  Much cinnamon and a bit of cedar.  Dark breads and sweet molasses raisin cookies.  Neat nose.  Smells younger than 21, I think, but very nice nevertheless.  A mash-up of the spice cupboard and a good cigar.  A squeeze of orange.

Palate:  Maltier than I’d like to see it.  Apples and orange marmalade.  Loud woods now.  Dark chocolate with creamy filling.  Sticky toffee pudding.  Plum skins.  Very drying.  Should be fruitier than it is.

Thoughts:  Nice enough as it is, but this could have been much more impressive at cask strength.  Kinda falls a little flat unfortunately.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Drink Inform

 Posted by at 1:16 pm
Jun 112014
 

Glengoyne 17 y.o. glengoyne_17_year_1

43% abv

Score:  79.5/100

 

Think this one is now long gone, excepting those few bottles still dust-gathering on the shelves out there.  Highly possible, though, that they’re gathering dust for a reason.  Not a great malt from a distillery that I’m having a tough time really getting behind.  Nothing bad from Glengoyne (that I’ve encountered anyway), just nothing good either.  Simply another middling malt from the Highlands.

Pour a glass and the first nosing will have you thinking this just might be one of those affordable grail malts we all hunt for.  First sips, however, will tell you otherwise.  Sigh.  Big disappointment.  Love the nose though!

Nose:  Wow.  I really like this nose.  Very gentle, pleasant and approachable.  Creamy with light butterscotch notes.  Sweet pastries.  A touch of orange and pineapple.  Cookies and a little bit of milk chocolate.  Brilliantly subtle spices.  Restrained wood notes.

Palate:  Man…huge disconnect between nose and palate.  Still malty and nutty like the 10 year.  Slightly salty playdough note.  Some orange now.  Vanilla.  Deeper threads of sherry influence here than the nose belies.  Thin, and tannic.  So disappointing after the intricacies promised by the nose.  In what seems like a theme in the Glengoyne OBs…not a great finish.

Thoughts:  Would benefit enormously from being scored on nose alone, but you know we can’t do that.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Drankgigant.nl

 Posted by at 7:27 am
Jun 102014
 

I talk too much.  And write too much.  I’m not as verbose as some I know (Hey, I’m looking at you, ‘Caner!), but I certainly have the gift of gab.  This comes in handy at times, but does drag along its own baggage as well.  Case in point when I sit down to share a few tasting notes here on the site and feel obligated to spin a l’il web of words in order to flesh it out a bit and pad the background info.  Perhaps we can all agree that the Malt Madness site and the Malt Whisky Yearbook have covered this stuff way better than I ever will.  I’d suggest both as indispensible resources.

So why am I telling you all of this?  Simple.  Because it affects all of us here on ATW.

Here’s the thing…daylight’s a wasting.  So many whiskies, so little time.  What it boils down to is that I can go on trying to find the syllables to cough up 500 word posts, and struggling to avoid repetition and verbal diarrhea, or…I can cut down a few of the less…errrrr…exciting reviews to a size we’ll call ‘micro-reviews’.  This should allow me to publish a little more frequently, if all goes well.

Some write-ups will still be in the style of my regular, witty, irreverent and occasionally cheeky self.  (Did I forget modest and humble?)  Y’know…long, meandering and likely to have you skipping to the tasting notes at the end (if that even).  It will depend on the muse, to be honest.

This is something I’ve debated for a while now.  Let’s try it out and see how it goes.  Feel free to let me know your thoughts as the first few go up.

As always, folks…thanks for reading and dropping the occasional line.  It is appreciated.  Sincerely.

 

– Curt

 Posted by at 9:04 pm