Jun 302015
 

From bastardized binary to howling at the moon…from storming the Canadian border to life inside the biosphere, I can hardly think of a musician, aside from Clutch’s Neil Fallon, who can suck me in with just a few words and have me hanging on every syllable.

For those maybe not so ‘in-the-know’ Neil is something of a furious tentshow revivalist preacher meets blues-shouting prophet and wordslinger.  Much like Tom Waits, the only vaguely comparable performer I can think of, Neil casts a rather lengthy shadow across the face of modern music.  His is a voice to last the ages.

As I write this, I’ve been a Clutch fan for going on two decades (yeah, friends…we’re getting up there, aren’t we?), and thankfully the music just keeps getting better and better.  Each new album release date is a day I mark on the calendar and await with glee.

And how could I not love a man who has mentioned the names of one of my daughters and my wife in the lyrics of his songs (Weezy and Isabella)?

This interview came about by chance.  A wee while back I saw a link Neil posted on Twitter to a short clip with Scottish actor, Brian Cox, pronouncing Lagavulin.  I replied asking Neil if he was a Scotch drinker, and a fan of Lagavulin in particular.  “To a fault, sir,” was his reply.  We shared a few messages afterwards in which he graciously agreed to share a little time discussing whisky, music and…well…wherever else the conversation leads.

So…let’s see where it goes then…

neil-fallon

Image from Ultimate Guitar

 

All Things Whisky:  First things first.  Exceptional taste aside, why Lagavulin?

Neil Fallon:  I have a hazy recollection of first being introduced to Islay malt at a bar in Scotland some years ago.  When I got back to the U.S., Lagavulin was the most readily available and I’ve been a fan ever since.

 

ATW:  For a lot of people a drink as bold as Lagavulin is something of an acquired taste.  Is this what  you cut your teeth on or was there a bit of a ‘ramping up’ to get to where you were appreciating the hefty smoke and earthy notes of Islay whisky?

NF:  Prior to going to Scotland with the band, my knowledge of Scotch was little more than Dewar’s straight up, Dewar’s on the rocks, or Dewar’s and soda.  That’s what my grandpa drank and I think I associate it with some fond memories.  I wish I could remember the name of the bar that opened up the single malt rabbit hole.  There was a maelstrom of single malts flying around for the better part of an evening.  I hope you’ll understand my inability to recall the details of that particular night.  I do remember that it was an epiphany, though.  The range of tastes were remarkable and of all of those, it was the Islay that really got me.  It was a cold night and it tasted like a seaside bonfire.

 

ATW:  Can you share a couple other favorite distilleries or particular whiskies (Scotch, bourbon, rye, what-have-you)?

NF:  A friend of mine Chis Hadnagy (author of  “Social Engineering – That Art of Human Hacking” and someone you should interview) introduced me to an amazing 25 y.o. Speyside, Glen Deveron.  I’m not a big fan of bourbon or rye.

 

ATW:  Can you recall what got you into whisky, or which dram was your first?  Was it a positive experience at the time?

NF:  It was probably at a Christmas party in the 1970’s when I accidentally helped myself to some of my grandfather’s Dewar’s.  Heavily diluted, of course.

 

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ATW:  Does a good whisky ever really fit into life on the road, or is it more of a downtime sort of drink when at home and in between road jaunts?

NF:  I suppose it’s for the best that most single malts are expensive.  The cost prohibitiveness discourages it from becoming a regular on the band’s rider.  For the better part of the 90’s I drank myself silly with Jack Daniels.  I can’t stand the stuff now.  Gives me hives.  No joke.  A single  proper malt demands to be sipped and not lipped in some absurd back stage circus.  I can’t do that anymore.  The body doesn’t process overindulgence like it used to.

 

ATW:  Speaking of home… you’re a family man now, I believe.  How does this affect your writing cycles?  I have two daughters at home, and know firsthand how hard it is sometimes to pick up a guitar.  Do you have to block off time for writing and playing or does your creativity still have a sort of natural flow to it?

NF:  Prior to parenthood, I thought that having a kid would be the death knell of the creative life.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The process of raising a child and having to answer countless questions about the world we live in has been a real boon.  Yes, it is harder to find time to dedicate to writing.  I have to do that between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. when my son is at school.  But the structure is for the best.  An open ended deadline is a lazy man’s best friend. I used to write into the wee hours of the night, but that just doesn’t work any more.  There’s no negotiating with a 5 year old.

 

ATW:  I saw an interview on youtube not long ago, posted by kidsinterviewbands.com.  In true Southern gentleman style, you volleyed questions and answers with the young lady interviewer with class and tact.  As a fan, it was a pleasure to see such a refreshingly down-to-earth approach and lack of pretention.  Is something like this a bit of a welcome respite from what I imagine is the tedium of a rather formulaic interview process?

NF:  I’ve done countless interviews with black clad metal journalists that pride themselves on being “extreme.”  But I’ll tell ya, that interview had me squirming.  I think I said “Ummmmmm…” more times in that interview than all others combined.
Kids aren’t impressed or trying to be anything that they’re not and I think that was what was so refreshing about that  particular interview.

 

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ATW:  From the first Clutch concert I attended in 1995 (opening for Marilyn Manson at the New York Theater in Vancouver) to the most recent (headlining here in Calgary at Flames Central) for Earth Rocker, it is interesting to note that the energy has remained consistently high throughout the years, but that the vibe has shifted from one of a more intense and brooding nature to one of a more crowd-bouncing shout-along.  Is this simply natural progression or conscious evolution?

NF:  It’s a natural progression.  We’ve never premeditated our music.  It’s a simple process of trying to write music that we enjoy playing.  Having said that, a good deal of our early stuff isn’t exactly us anymore.  There’s a lot of anger in the early work and frankly, I’m not an angry person. I’d rather risk disillusioning some folks while being honest than keep them satisfied by jumping through the same hoops.  There’s some bands out there that have been “angry” for 25 plus years.  That just has to be a drag.

 

ATW:  It’s arguable that no one in contemporary music is writing lyrics with as much wordplay, far-reaching and pertinent references and relevant cultural observation (albeit often quite cryptically) than yourself.  I won’t ask the ‘inspiration’ question, but I will ask if there are a couple of songs you can reflect back on now (in all modesty) and say ‘fuck, that was brilliant bit of writing’?

NF:  Ha.. that’s hard for me to answer without sounding like a jerk.  There’s always something I wish I had done better or had not done at all.  But I can think of two songs that are dear to me in that I think they represent important shifts in the band’s sound.  “Big News” was a bit of a watershed moment.  After that song, I felt it was much easier to write songs that had a lot more fun and humor in them.  The other song would be “The Regulator.”  That song opened up the door to a lot of more blues elements for us.   It was also one of those fortunate moments where the lyrics seemed to match the mood of the music quite well.

 

ATW:  Over the last couple of years (at least in the circles I travel) Clutch has become much more of a household name, with many immediately referencing a pivotal scene from the AMC’s The Walking Dead.  This particular scene could not have been more perfectly set, with possibly the band’s most atmospheric tune thus far, The Regulator, perfectly capturing the emotion.  How did your involvement with The Walking Dead come about?  Did you, as a band have direct say in green-lighting the use of the song?  Are you a fan of the series?  The genre?

NF:  I was a fan of the show before I got the call that they wanted to use “The Regulator.”  I was stoked, to say the least.  It came about by our publicist shopping the song around.  These days TV shows and video games are just as important as terrestrial radio, if not more so.

 

ATW:  Alright.  Time for some cold, hard honesty.  I gotta ask a question (mostly because a bunch of my mates begged me to) even though I’m sure it’s been beaten to death already.  All the guys wanna know…how does the beard go down with the ladies?  Or at the very least…with the one lady that matters most to you?

NF:  Heh.  I’ve never asked.  But I will say this…  I’d love to lop the damn thing off, but I’m afraid of what I might find underneath.

 

ATW:  Let’s go back to one or two about the malts to close out, if you don’t mind…Imagine, if you will, you’re sitting down one eve to relax over a good book and an even better whisky.  What are they?

NF:  I like Glenkinchie 12.  I think poetry is easier to handle if booze is involved.  With that in mind, I would go for Dylan Thomas or W.H. Auden.

 

ATW:  Finally…how about a good whisky and album pairing?

NF:  I’ve never been too much of  a Bruce Springsteen fan, but I’ve recently discovered the melancholy brilliance of “Nebraska.”  So if we’re in the mood to brood… let’s go Islay.  I tried Bowmore’s White Sands recently.  That would go well with an album as dark as “Nebraska.”

 

ATW:  Sincere thanks, Neil, for taking the time.  Perhaps next time through town you’ll have a chance to come out for a few drams of something brilliant, old and rare.   I’m sure we can find a couple on the shelves that will suit a Southern gent.  Slainte.

NF:  Again, apologies for taking so long to get this to you.  Slainte.

Neil

Image by Dirk Behlau, www.thepixeleye.com

Clutch releases ‘Psychic Warfare’ this September.  Mark the calendar.  And if you don’t already own it…buy ‘Blast Tyrant’ while you’re there.  You’ll thank me.

 

– Words:  Curt and Neil

– Photos:  Curt (except as noted)

 Posted by at 8:18 am
Jun 252015
 

Two Brewers Yukon Single Malt 6 y.o. Prototype106

43% abv

Score:  72.5/100

 

Check these cats out.  What the hell?  Two Brewers is the brainchild of a couple of pals, Bob and Alan, up in Whitehorse who have been batching up craft suds for close to two decades now and decided to take a bit of a swing at the distilling side of things at some point in the late 2000s.

As you can see by the photo this was a prototype release (i.e. nothing official and not available retail).  The gents had bottled and labelled up this young buck specifically for the MS Whisky Fest here in Calgary.  Towards the back half of that festival night I took a flyer on this one and decided to give it a go instead of reaching for one of the old standbys.  Glad I did.  They’re onto something up in the great white north.

Here’s the deal:  This is a young malt.  It’s not quite there yet.  But…it’s a fair bit further along than it should be at six years and it’s a surprisingly great cut of spirit.  The nose here is wonderfully redolent of spicy bourbon notes and hints at more age than the bottle declares (always a good thing).  The palate isn’t quite on par, but again…give ’em time.  A few more years and this will be a solid option for denting your whisky budget.

Thanks to Bob for passing on the wee heel of this one so we could share the word.  Can’t wait to see where these gents go from here.  Keep those stills flowing, fellas!

Nose:  Single malt, maybe, but noses like a big ol’ bourbon.  That’s some active wood.  Big spicy bourbon notes.  Tons of fruit (almost Speyside-like).  Cinnamon.  Eucalyptus.  Cedar and pine.  A surprising amount of soft chocolate.  Rising bread dough.  So much immensity of spice it almost burns the nose.  Cool as hell.

Palate:  Spicy and meaty delivery.  Tastes a lot younger than it noses.  Slightly waxy and new make-ish.  I don’t think this has anything to do with anything but youth.  In other words: decent spirit cut, but needs time.  A few years down the line and this will be a hell of an interesting whisky.  Reminds a tick of Montana Roughstock single malt.  Big wood notes smash headlong into eucalyptus.  Again…very bourbon-ish.

Thoughts:  It’s young, yeah, and not quite there, but man, what an exciting nose.  Worlds of potential for these chaps if they stick to this plan.  Neat stuff.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:19 am
Jun 232015
 

Craigellachie 13 y.o. 007

46% abv

Score:  79.5/100

 

Craigellachie absolutely killed it with this branding.  Man, look at that bottle!  Gorgeous, old school packaging that instantly creates a preconception of the magical old school malts that folks like Serge at Whiskyfun gets to try seemingly at will.  Unfortunately, while the wrapper is definitely of the old guard, the malt is unquestionably of the new.  The former helped lure me into the purchase.  The latter led to this review.

I think you can see where I’m going with this.  Put simply, this is a minor league malt that isn’t quite being given the coaching it needs in order to play in the big leagues.  Most of the distillery’s output ends up in Dewar’s blends.  They put out about four million litres of spirit each year, but it’s only recently we’ve seen a real presence of the Craigellachie distillery releases.  I’d argue there might be a reason for that, if this malt is any indication, but I’ll remain somewhat on the fence until I get an opportunity to sample the 17 and 23 year variants.  Hopefully those have a little more balance and finesse.

I do appreciate the 46% abv though, and will keep an eye on this one in coming years to see if there’s any tweaks to the recipe.

Oh, and by the way…what the hell sort of testimonial is it when the brand itself offers up this little nugget on its website:  “Full, belligerent, and sulphurous as a struck match.”  WTF?!

Nose:  Slight grape note.  Nice barley notes.  Milk chocolate covered raisins.  Honey and lemon.  Banana, ginger and pepper.  Poached apple and cinnamon.  Some dried fruit, leather and spice (maybe some sherry influence here?).  A touch of tobacco too.  Black currant scones.

Palate:  A little more zippy here, with some tangy fruit notes and bigger oak than the nose belies.  Apple skins and lemon juice.  Burnt chilis or something, almost immediately after sipping.  Juicy at first, then dries along the sides of the tongue as it develops.  Sharp (almost bitter) vanilla notes.  Pineapples in pudding…with pepper.

Thoughts:  A punchy little malt that falls under the ‘fairly generic’ heading.  Aside from being slightly…errr…off-kilter in balance, it’s not a bad beginner malt.  Not one I’d reach for often, but that’s personal bias.  I find most Speysiders in this age bracket to be fairly interchangeable and rarely to my taste.  There’s something a little darker and more biting here than most though.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:20 pm
Jun 142015
 

“Islay Malt” (Bunnahabhain 10 y.o.) Review *007

59.2% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

* Tasted and scored blind.  This l’il review will be done in two parts (in this same post).  I will update these notes as soon as I know more and find out what exactly this whisky is. 

Alright.  Not gonna get too deep into this one aside from saying it was shared with me, unsolicited, from a mate out in Eastern Canada.  Such is the wonderful world of whisky.  A lot of good people out there just looking to share the experience.

So…this is what we do know as of now:  It’s a 10 year old malt from a bourbon barrel (#900070 from distillery ‘x’).  Served up at a big, big 59.2% abv.  You can see the handwritten label in the photo above.  I don’t know any other details.  I’m not sure if further info is online anywhere, but I intentionally did not Google any additional details  regarding this cask number or anything else related to what is stated above.  What would be the fun in that?

I’ll drop a few more lines under the tasting notes below when the truth sets me free.  For now…

Nose:  Chocolate and chili.  Peat.  Flinty, wet rock notes.  Ash and deep char.  Smoke.  BBQ sauce and a tangy wine note.  Apple and maybe some citrus.  An odd note I’m having trouble putting my finger on.  Ivory soap.  Licorice as it open up.  And just slightly farmy/leathery.

Palate:  Big and jammy up front.  Great arrival.  Smoke and anise.  Can’t get over how chewy this is; stays sweet and juicy.  Somewhat of a disconnect between nose and palate…for the good!  The nose seems dry and punchy, while the palate is lush and mouthwatering.  Notes of what I can imagine apple skins dropped in ash would taste like.  Big dry smoke.  A squeeze of tangy citrus.  Big whisky, this.

Thoughts:  Reminds a little of Ardbeg Alligator, due to the char notes…and Galileo, due to the fruit notes…and Day, due to the ash notes.  Having said all of that…it’s not really Ardbeg-esque.  I really like this.  There is an odd note on the nose that takes me back to a whisky from my early dramming days, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what that malt was.

Follow up:  So…turns out this is an indie Bunnahabhain, bottled by Whiskybroker.  Never would have guessed it, especially with phenols hovering between Diageo’s Islay specs (35 ppm for Lagavulin and Caol Ila) and those of Laphroaig (give or take 40 ppm).  This is a very different beast from other peated Bunna I’ve tried (Toiteach, Ceobanach and a few indies).  Out of character and enjoyable as hell.  It’s kinda like the average housewife who breaks out the leather and latex behind closed doors.  Fun stuff.  Here are a few more details for those who may be interested.

** Thanks to our mate, Portwood, for the opportunity to try something unique and to have a little fun with it.  Enjoyed the malt and the experience.  He didn’t want thanks or anything, but that’s not how we roll.  Anonymity maintained, however.  Cheers!

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:15 pm
Jun 022015
 

Tobermory 10 y.o.008

46.3% abv

Score:  79/100

 

First off:  Not that we score with this in mind, understand, but I do love the simple and aesthetically pleasing packaging.  No need for frills and all that jazz when it comes to young, readily available malts.  Old school, clean and classy.  But what strikes my eye as pleasing is incidental to what’s in the bottle, right?  So let’s move on.

Tobermory is a distillery on the Isle of Mull.  You may recall we tried one of their peated expressions (Ledaig 10) just a few days back, so I won’t rehash any of the details here that we already covered there.  The distillery produces a rather limited range of products and independent versions are few and far between (at least where I live), so, to date, I have managed to wrap my hands around only four different bottles of Tobermory: two indies and two distillery bottlings.  All quite different from one another, I might add, but none especially vibrant in its own right.  And yes, this release is one of those that I have tried a few times before.  Suffice it to say that sitting down to jot up some notes on the standard 10 year old is a slightly less than thrilling endeavour.

I won’t throw a lot of words at a whisky that I’m really sort of ambivalent towards, so let’s just let the malt speak for itself.

Nose:  A youngish ten.  Somewhat aggressive.  Vaguely peaty.  Even a little feinty.  Lemon.  Pepper.  There’s hints of Jura here and even a banana-like note that reminds a little of young Bunnahabhain.  Some very under ripe cranberry and crunchy apple with a dusting of cinnamon.  Wood shavings, a barley mill and just a hint of ash and dirt.  This is supposed to be the unpeated malt from this distillery?  Hmmm, sorry…not quite.

Palate:  Wow.  Like a mouthful of white flour and raw grains.  Pastry dough.  More apples and a hint of ginger.  Honey.  Almost tastes like a young virgin oak malt.  Not a lot in the way of fruit.  More woods and cereals.  Even some grassy notes.  Or maybe damp green tea leaves.  A rather fun palate in some ways, and a little bit of a departure from the nose.  Interesting, if a little unbalanced.

Thoughts:  Not bad, but not a very subtle malt either.  Could stand to benefit from either longer maturation or better wood choice, I think.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 

 Posted by at 7:58 am