Dec 112015
 

Ardbeg Supernova 2014137

55% abv

Score:  91/100

 

Yes, I realize I’m gonna get lambasted by the righteous for this review, but I really don’t give a shit.  So be it.  Those that want me to negate any positivity toward all whiskies that are NAS will be chomping at the bit to have their say here, so let’s get it out of the way early, before I explain my reasonings (no, not justifications):  yes, I really like this whisky, and no, I do not support the philosophy or pricing behind it.

At one point Ardbeg was unquestionably my favorite distillery.  In terms of consistently producing solid releases they’re definitely still at the top of the heap, but unfortunately it is becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile a love like this with my own moral standings regarding whisky.  Yes, I have such things as moral standings.  I do still love Ardbeg.  I love the island it is from (my home away from home); I love the people at the distillery (truly beautiful souls); I love the smells and tastes (celestial, in my humble opinion); and I do love the aesthetics and intangibles associated.  Sometimes the ones we love most, though, have the power to hurt us deepest.  Why Ardbeg insists on this path of non age-stated malts is beyond me.

But Supernova 2014 now…is it good?  Yes, it’s actually very good.  It was bound to be, wasn’t it?  A few dissenters’ opininons aside, Ardbeg seems to be one of the few distilleries that actually seems to unite malt lovers, despite what would seemingly be a polarizing profile.  It’s not hard to recognize the inherent quality in each subsequent release, irrespective of whether or not it’s to one’s personal tastes.  Sometimes quality is objective.  The fracture point comes between those who will swallow anything and everything Ardbeg markets (literally) irrespective of price, and those who recognize that the combined might of good malt + strong marketing and aesthetics = blank check pricing policies, and are turned off by that.  Reflect back now.  Can you recall a new Ardbeg release in the last 5 or 6 years that has hit the shelves at anything less than $120 or so?  Not around here anyway.  And that is with a fairly readily-acknowledged admission to ages of really not more than ±10 years.  So, I guess the real question with Supernova 2014 is not whether or not it is good, but whether or not it is $200 good?  And sadly, no.  No, it’s not.  Around $90 will get you a cask strength 15 year old Bowmore Laimrig, and that is a stunner in its own right.  The math speaks for itself.

Ultimately Ardbeg sells, though.  The market dictates prices.  And Ardbeg will not be getting cheaper anytime soon.  C’est la vie.

Nose:  Extreme iodine.  Lots of saltwater.  Smoke and pepper.  Green mint leaf candies.  A little bit of cinnamon coming through.  Ash and licorice.  Evergreen.  Coke and lime.  This is huge stuff.  The sherry influence makes this a lot mustier and damper than the razor sharp SN2010.

Palate:  Wood smoke.  A lot of salt licorice.  Smoke…and more smoke.  Citric tartness.  Granny smith apple skins and clean oak shavings.  Quite drying as it fades out.  There’s more, but you don’t need more.  Tangy, smoky, licorice-y.  Awesome, really.

Thoughts:  To be concise: a very good, very overpriced malt.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:40 am
Dec 102015
 

Té BheagTe Bheag

40% abv

Score:  81.5/100

 

Infamous in these circles as ‘Tea Bag’. For those who think hooked-on-phonics is the way to go…well…perhaps not with Gaelic. This whisky is pronounced ‘chay veck’, which means ‘the little lady’ or ‘a wee dram’ in Gaelic.

Té Bheag is being marketed as a ‘blended Gaelic whisky’ by its producers at Pràban na Linne.  Their goal, apparently, to provide ‘authentic whisky for the Gaelic speaking islands of Scotland’.  Sources vary, but I’ve heard this is a blend of 8-11 year old whiskies from Islay, Skye and Speyside.  I would assume that 8-11 would be subject to change from vatting to vatting; the inherent issue with NAS whiskies.  As this is a blend, though, we’ll cut a little more slack.  At the same time, we’ll also give credit where credit is due: this non-chill-filtered whisky is comprised of 40% single malt.  If you know your blends, you’ll recognize this as a rather impressive ratio of malt to grain. Generally the composition of a blend will rely a bit more heavily on the grains to hold it up, with the malts being more like the diamonds in the setting.  Seems Pràban na Linne is putting an emphasis on quality and character over simple economic considerations.  I should also note that it is exceptionally rare to find a 40%er that is non-chill-filtered.  Well done, folks.

Pràban na Linne makes its home on the Isle of Skye, home of the Talisker distillery.  As Té Bheag has been confirmed to contain Skye malt in the end product, we do at least know that there is Talisker in the mix.  As for the remaining components in the recipe?  Who knows.  We could assume Caol Ila from Islay (though I detect nothing of that profile), and as for Speyside, well…your guess is as good as mine.

While this blend is quite regularly available locally, it has crept from somewhere around the $30 mark to upwards of $40 in even the most affordable of shops (i.e. Superstore).  In others it goes for even more.  $40 may be a little bit of a stretch here, but it is a decent dram in all fairness.  Any more than that though?  Nah.  Likely a pass.  There are simply too many great and colorful single malts out there.  Malt snobbery shining through, I suppose.

Nose:  Rich in heavy toffee, caramel, butterscotch and any other ooey gooey stuff you can think of.  Notes of honey and a touch of ginger.  Apples.  Slight hints of pepper (just a wee bite) and peat, which again hearkens back to Talisker. I would guess a bit of sherry-matured malt in here too.  Not sure on that though.  Fruit and nut.

Palate:  That heavy, rich creamy caramel carries over to the palate as well.  A slight earthy, tobacco, peatiness.  Caramel apple.  Cinnamon cookies.  Vaguely fruity, but kinda like stewed fruits that have been doused in dulce de leche.

Thoughts:  All in all…a fairly distinct blend.  Smooth drinking, singular, but maybe lacking enough of an edge to make it truly stand out.

         

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:30 am
Dec 082015
 

Macallan Fine Oak 17 y.o.066 (2)

43% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Hmmm…tough one.  While much of the world mourns the loss of age stated expressions in the Macallan range, it’s somewhat tougher to get too weepy over the current scarcity of most of the Fine Oak releases.

For those who are maybe not so up to speed, the FO line-up is built around the idea of vatting together bourbon and sherry-matured barrels.  If I’ve heard correctly over the years, this is something Macallan has always engaged in, but for this series the ratios are skewed heavily in favour of using drastically more affordable bourbon casks in the mix than sherry butts.  Financially sound, of course, but not so sound in terms of preservation of reputation.  Let’s face it…Macallan built it’s monolithic name throughout the years by way of the deep and rich complexities of their heavily-sherried malts,  Unfortunately, with few exceptions, the Fine Oak range which hit the shelves in the mid-2000s never quite delivered to the standards set by its ‘redder’ brethren.

This isn’t to say we judge our whiskies based on colour, name or any other such triviality, but the reality is that those sherry bruisers from olden days were magical in a way that Macallan simply hasn’t been able to replicate with their current stocks and contemporary expressions.

While this may seem like merely a bias against the FO series, it should be noted that there are tasting notes here on ATW for more than 25 different Macallan expressions (as of now).  Additionally I have tried many, many more which I’ve not written up.  At this point I can unequivocally state that Macallan’s forte was never the FO expressions.  Mind you, neither is it the current 1824 series.  Sad to see the decline of an empire.

But let’s not veer too far from the point.  Fine Oak 17.  This one is actually one of the better FO releases I’ve tried.  The price point was higher than most were comfortable with, but that’s the reality of both single malt and Macallan.  So be it.  Either way, a decent dram, if not quite exceptional.

Nose:  Green apples and grape skins.  A bit of citrus and maybe orange.  Ginger and vanilla.  Caramelized sugars and a faint whiff of smoke.  Hay, and herbal notes.  Soft spices spice.  Slightly overly woody.

Palate:  A little thin, as we’d expect at 43%, but not a bad arrival.  Fruit-led and slightly tannic as it folds over the tongue.  Poached apple or pear with cinnamon.  More citrus and notes of sugar cookies.  Vanilla fudge.  Still a touch of smoke here (surprisingly).  The finish is a little disappointing; leaving not much more than a slightly eucalyptus note and the wood.

Thoughts:  This lighter style Macallan doesn’t sit quite right with me.  Not as a whisky, I mean, but as a Macallan.  I’m reminded of hearing George Grant speak of Glenfarclas; remarking that they would never release bourbon-matured Glenfarclas, as that is not what the name Glenfarclas is all about.  Macallan should lean a little more heavily on the big sherries, I think.

 

– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:05 am
Dec 072015
 

OCTOGEDDON 20/10/15  

Anxiety is not something you normally associate with a whisky tasting, but on this night, fear hung in the air like the waffling bouquet of a plastic Chucky doll on a campfire.

Prior to the tasting smoke alarms in the Whisky Hall were temporarily disconnected. The Fire Department & City Bylaw Services were notified of possible air quality violations. Police in the area were advised to raise their stun gun setting to maximum. Animal Services set skunk traps and Emergency Medical Services set up in the Whisky Hall’s parking lot equipped with defibrillators and oxygen packs.

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Members attending the tasting were asked to bring a change of clothes so as not to offend non-peat drinking partners upon their arrival home or in the off chance a member might lose control of their bodily functions.

Before entering, all club members were required to read and sign a disclaimer as to the possible side effects of extreme peat exposure such as:

-              Inability to breathe

-              Loss of coordination

-              Blindness

-              Cardiac arrhythmia

-              Spontaneous combustion

-              Appearance of God

-              Tourette’s syndrome

-              Excessive sweating or soiling

-              Abnormal sensations

-              Permanent loss of brain function

Was this really a tasting or more of an experiment?  All I know is Health Canada was very interested to learn the effects of extreme peat exposure on a control group such as our members.

Like the Berserker of old, membership was encouraged to dawn a special limited edition “Octogeddon Hammer & Barley Tattoo” to demonstrate their bravery. Apologies to any I may have told that the tattoos were easy to remove … that may have been an outright lie.

Is Jim McEwan the father of this Octomore?  I think so, after all he is quoted as saying, “The spirit is the child and the cask is the mother”. What he didn’t say, but we all know is, “Who’s your Daddy?” and by that I mean we believe Jim spawned all these Octomore casks at Bruichladdich and maybe a few unknowns on Jura as well.  You have to admit Willie Cochrane bears a striking resemblance to a certain young Cooper.

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Our club President for life, Curt Robinson, was our spirit guide for the evening. Curt’s first words were, “Dram Members! Prepare for glory … swill hearty!  For tonight we drink in Edmonton!”*

*Edmonton or Hell, both have the same meaning here in Calgary

During the tasting Curt reminded us that it’s been more than thirteen years since Jim McEwan, the mad genius of Bruichladdich, laid down into casks a terrifying peated formula. Jim, who was taught from birth to thank the Irish for teaching Scotland distillation. Taught that distilling on Islay in service to the whisky world was the greatest glory one could achieve in life.  Jim has moved on now (about a ½ block from the distillery), into retirement, but on his last trip to Calgary I overheard him say… “Remember Bruichladdich.” As simple a sentence as a Jim can give. “Remember why we distilled.” For he did not wish tribute, nor monuments, nor monotonous poems of distilling like that windbag Robby Burns. His wish was simple, “Remember us”, he said. That was his hope, should any whisky enthusiasts come across Islay, in all the countless centuries yet to be. May all our voices whisper to you from the ageless stones, “Go tell the Ileach, passerby, that here by Islay committee rules, we distill.”

The tasting started with apprehension, but like lemmings jumping off a cliff, once the brave Irish members drank their whiskey, the others followed in kind. And so the tasting was under way, ultimately the Dram members did what they were trained to do, what they were bred to do, what they were born to do! The Dram members taught never to leave an empty glass, never to fall down. Taught that imbibing at a tasting, in service to the Dram Initiative was the greatest glory one could achieve that day.

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Our whiskies of the night were as follows:

1)      Octomore 1.1   Released 2008 131 PPM / 63.5 % ABV 5 Years old, this whisky was born October 16, 2002, then laid to rest inside Bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace and presented to the known world April 2008 at a heart stopping 63.5 % ABV with an unheard of 131 PPM, limited to 6,000 limited bottles and put into glass as black as coal. At the time of distillation, this whisky had the highest level of peat ever to be found. My personal favorite of the night with all the sweet vanilla oozing out from the casks. The question was asked, “Can one drink this much peated whisky and expect to remain unchanged” and the answer came back, “I’m not sure, but let’s find out together”, and so we started into the second malt of the night.

2)      Octomore 2.1   Released 2009 140 PPM / 62.5 % ABV 5 Years old and limited to 15,000 bottles. I think the prevailing attitude at Bruichladdich Distillery was if no body died from 1.1 let’s keeping kicking up the PPM.

3)      Octomore 2.2  Orpheus Released 2009 140 PPM / 61 % ABV  5 Years old and limited to 15,000 bottles, finished in Chateau Petrus wine casks. Named after a character in the Matrix, best known for the line ……… “Diageo created a world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” This malt seemed to be the favorite among the unwashed masses in attendance.

…At this point we took a small break then it was back to peat and repeat…

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4)      Octomore 3.1   Released 2010 152 PPM / 59 % ABV 5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. The PPM in this malt just went from Islay cruising speed to battle speed.

5)      Octomore 4.1 Released 2011 167 PPM / 62.5% ABV 5 Years old and limited to 15,000 bottles. The PPM in this malt just went from Islay battle speed to attack speed. I believe some members might have hit a second puberty with this malt.

6)       Octomore 4.2 Comus Released 2012 167 PPM / 61% ABV 5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. Finished in Sauternes cask. This malt was named for Comus, the son of Bacchus (the Roman god of wine and partying), along with a John Milton’s poem (about the tension between sensual pleasure and physical abandon, extravagance and moderation, chastity and virtue). Well, all I can say is living on an isolated sheep filled Island, surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with long cold winter storms and having access to large quantities of high alcohol spirits might be cause for some distillery workers to test boundaries.

…After another small break then we started repeating ourselves…

051

7)      Octomore 5.1   Released 2012 169 PPM / 59.5% ABV 5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. Rumor has it that when Lance Armstrong heard that Bruichladdich was on a tour de force, he was immediately interested in the performance enhancing qualities of this malt. When asked if this was true, he denied it.

8)   Octomore 6.1   Released 2013 167 PPM / 57% ABV   5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. The PPM was dropped by 2 PPM, based on the rumor that the heavy peat was causing people to stick their fingers inside their glass and then talk like Jim McEwan.

9)      Octomore 6.3   Released 2014 258 PPM / 64 % ABV Islay Barley, 5 Years old and limited to 18,000 bottles. Said to be from the kiln of hell itself. The PPM in this malt just went from Islay attack speed to ramming speed. Rumor has it that rather than using yeast, Jim McEwan ate raw peat and sweated into the wash back to start fermentation. I do remember nosing this malt … then the next thing I remember was being hit with 1,000 volts arcing across both nipples from the defibrillator, a smile from an Emergency Medical Responder whom I temporarily mistook as God, and some Dram member saying welcome back and telling me I should finish my dram.

…Bonus Peat Round…

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10)    Octomore 7.1 Released 2015 208 PPM / 59.5% ABV 5 Years old.  Bonus malt, not on the tasting mats, but a last minute addition from our friends at Glazer’s Canada. Octomore, pronounced Ochdamh-mor, which I now think is Gaelic for “by the sweat and or the sweat, of McEwan”.

For complete tasting notes please visit Allthingswhisky web site and look under ‘Octomore’.

After we finished drinking our last malt Curt told the group of phenol fanatics “No empty glasses, no driving; that is Dram law. And by Dram law we will sit and drink. A new age of Whisky has begun, an age of peat, and all will know that 45 Dram Members gave their dignity to drink ten life altering malts!”

To the Dram members I say, “I’ve never been more proud of a group of whisky drinkers than I am of you. To the committee and cleanup crew, thank you for what you do”.

To our spirit guide for the night, Curt Robinson thank you for guiding us through this marsh of peated whiskies. I truly believe the members were surprised that you were able to speak right to the end.

A special thanks to Tony Perri, Director of Operations, Alberta, Glazer’s of Canada, for your generous contributions. I hope the next day didn’t prove too difficult, and based on your ability to drink, we have promoted you to a Dram prospect member.

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 – Words:  Maltmonster

 – Images:  Pat Carroll & Curt

 Posted by at 9:41 am
Dec 032015
 

BenRiach 1999 Cask #57669 Dram Initiative Exclusive127

57.6% abv

Score:  90/100

 

This one has ‘bias’ written all over it.  And stubbornly I refuse to back down from the score I’m giving it.

Full disclosure: I (along with a couple other gents, including the nefarious MaltMonster) picked this cask to bottle for our local whisky club, The Dram Initiative.  After going through a couple runs of cask samples, this 16 y.o. bourbon barrel jumped out as a stellar example of what happens when a distillery’s best cut goes into a flawless cask for a few seasons.  What we ended up with is the epitome of ‘universal appeal’.  Quite simply, this is a beautiful, creamy fruitbomb of a malt, with just the right dashes and sprinkles of spice.

For those not local or ‘in the know’ regarding The Dram Initiative, this is a 100 member strong club we launched more than two and half years back.  We do things big – with sprawling ranges and high end malts – and try to combine the sublime with the ridiculous.  There are always great drams, lots of laughs and a flair for individuality.  An endeavour like bottling our own barrel seemed like a brilliant unifying factor for members.  And indeed it has been.  This BenRiach cask will certainly be the first of many DI-exclusive bottlings.

Anyway…when I say ‘bias’ let’s not forget that we, of course, had nothing to do with actually making this whisky or anything; It’s more for transparency and an acknowledgment of the fantastic work the team at BenRiach has done.  Mashmen, Stillmen, Warehousemen, all the way up the ladder.  To end up with a malt this clean is a true testament to craft and passion.  And I guess maybe we did have some say in what this whisky ultimately ended up being.  Our role in the end product came about by way of saying ‘stop the maturation, and bottle it’ when we recognized the intrinsic quality of the malt.

This is a great whisky.  Proud to have been a part of seeing it come to fruition.

Nose:  Sweet and syrupy.  Almost jammy in some ways.  Oh, man, this is like the ultimate dessert.  Caramel apples.  Soft vanilla.  Toasted coconut and grilled pineapple.  Roman nougat.  Some tart and tangy moist dried fruits (maybe fruit leather).  All rich in sweet heavy cream.  Such a great mix of rich fruit and softer vanilla-heavy baking notes.  Harmonious and universally appealing.  LOVE it.

Palate:  Oh yeah!  What an arrival!  Lots of vibrant fruits with a creamy sweet undernote to balance it out.  Delivers what the nose promises, by way of those borderline tropical coconut/pineapple notes.  Viscous and mouthwatering.  Great, but subtle spices from the bourbon influence.  This malt had a beautiful 16 year long nap in a gorgeous comfy, cozy bourbon barrel.  It’s awake again now and infinitely charming in all its subtle complexities.

Thoughts:  Not sure what more to say.  Love this whisky.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:25 am