Sep 222019
 

Can’t lie. I’m pleased as punch with this one. For personal, biased reasons and just for the way it sits on my palate.

Now, before we go further…I did warn you, remember? I did say that I’d be reviewing some store casks from time to time. And by that I mean the barrels we (as a small committee) select for Kensington Wine Market to purchase as store exclusives. I remember the range of Glen Scotia cask samples we received being quite good, and I remember this particular cask being a stand-out amongst them, but when the actual bottles arrived they were so much better than I remembered. In fact, I have to say that this is one of the store casks I’m most tickled to have played a part in selecting. I should also add that this is probably the most interesting Glen Scotia I’ve ever tasted.

But ultimately, does my bias really matter? It’s not like I made the stuff. All credit goes to the folks at Glen Scotia. We were just lucky enough to score a fantastic selection of cask samples. And this particular expression is almost the epitome of Campbeltown single malt whisky. A great cask at a great age.

53.6% abv. 227 bottles from an ex-sherry hoggy.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A dirty dram; one where most of the fruits are buried. Leathery, with notes of spent engine oil. Smoky and salty. Coastal, without hitting too deep on brine or decaying kelp notes. Mince tarts with slightly burnt pastry. Darkly smoky. Graham cracker crust under blueberry cheesecake. Pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon. A wee bit ashy and sooty. Notes of Sen-sens.

Palate: Oil again. What I’d imagine linseed oil would taste like. Sunflower seeds. Dark purple grapes. Much jammier and fruitier here than on the nose. Caramelized ham skin. Reminds of Bowmore Laimrig in ways. Almost seems like this could have been chocolate malt (read: heavily toasted malted barley). Black currant cough sweets. Sweet and syrupy before it plummets into ashy dryness.

Finish: Uber long and oily. Mid-firm tannins.

Thoughts: In some ways, this makes me think of a filthy armagnac. A none-too-fruity dram that defies a lot of description. One to be tasted in order to properly be appreciated. Great stuff.

91.5/100

 Posted by at 11:22 am
Sep 182019
 

Earlier this year Ardbeg Drum shook my faith in the Great Big Green. It was…less than stellar in this cat’s humble opinion. Bad? No. Of course not. Good? Meh. Not even quite. But Drum is now in the rearview mirror. We’re now on the eve of the proper arrival of Traigh Bhan here in Canadian waters. Traigh Bhan – named for a local beach, and translated as ‘the Singing Sands’ – is what we’ve been waiting for: proper age-stated Ardbeg. And not just age-stated, but what an age! Traigh Bhan is a meant to be a permanent addition to the core range, albeit in batch releases that will vary year upon year. The price? Well…let’s leave that aside for a few moments and just revel in the fact that this iconic much-loved distillery has finally reached a point – post-renaissance – that they are able to release a regular release at a brilliant state of maturity. Apex Ardbeg. Not much more to say really.

Consider me on record here and now saying that this is spectacular. And I can’t lie…it’s nice to be able to ‘fanboy’ it up a bit again for my beloved Ardbeg.

46.2% abv. An utterly perfect drinking strength. Matured in ex-bourbon and ex-Oloroso sherry.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Oh. Oh, boy. We’re tiptoeing up to the line where we cross over into tropical territory. Especially with those grilled pineapple notes. Lime. Orange. A faint hint of cherry. Black wine gums. Lemon pound cake. Kumquat. The smoke is quite subdued, and there’s little in the way of real earthy peat. Vanilla cupcakes. Caramel sauce on pineapple (again with the pineapple!). The five flavor Lifesaver packages. Eucalyptus. Toasted marshmallow. Ginger. Complex and perfectly integrated.

Palate: Quite soft for an Ardbeg (mind you…we are at nearly two decades here). Mid level smoke profile. Licorice. Oily vanilla seed. Mocha. Orange and citrus. And here we go: there’s the pineapple again. Greengage. Smoked sausage. Ginger and white pepper. Clean wood. Nice harmony between nose and palate.

Finish: Long and perfect. Lime zest. Vanilla ice cream popsicles. Faint green fruit skins at the end (green apples and green grapes).

Thoughts: Ardbeg back at the top of their game. I adore this release. Can’t wait to drink more of it. Much more.

92.5/100

And yes…I will update the photo when I get my hands on a bottle proper.

 Posted by at 6:39 pm
Sep 142019
 

A new big and bold Kilchoman. But that could be any Kilchoman, really. What sets Loch Gorm apart from the rest of the range is the sheer heft of sweet, sticky sherry that permeates every crack and crevice of the malt, underscoring the malleability of the base distillate. It works beautifully here, speaking to the sky-high quality of both the spirit and the barrel it went into.

I truly believe it’s hard to mess up a spirit this good. You’d have to actively try, in fact. Such is the lightning in a bottle singularity which Anthony Wills and team (with the guidance of the late Jim Swan) have been able to capture at Islay’s landlocked farm distillery. There are occasional missteps in cask choice (the wine casks, guys, the wine casks. <shudder>), but I suppose we should chalk that up to a matter of personal preference, since I know many folks who adore that style. Fear not, wineheads, you’ll have no competition from me for those releases. They’re all yours. But sweet sherry like this? Yes, please.

46% abv (and really no need to be higher. This is the perfect drinking strength). 15,000 bottles. The neck tag says this was a vatting of twenty Oloroso sherry butts from 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately reminds of Bowmore Laimrig. Stylistically, at least, if not the same sort of nuance and ppm equality. Mixed berry fruit leather. A mix of orange, lemon and lime juice. Ammonia. Smoke and charred wood. Burnt lemon. Savoury, barbecue sauce. Grilled shellfish.

Palate: Smoke and loads of it. Big. mouthwatering arrival. Grape jam. Cola syrup. Licorice babies. Apple peelings with a fresh squeeze of orange. A bit of a minty-ness going on. Caramelized ginger. Cherry cordials. Like what I imagine smoldering cedar might taste like. Big sherry, but not top-heavy. Lindt dark chili chocolate.

Finish: Long and exactly as you’d expect: ebbing notes of oak and drying sherry. Leaves a bit of a dry-mouthedness. Last flavours are green apple skins and charred white fish. Beautiful finish.

Thoughts: Very coastal. Rich and decadent. Dirty and oily. Love it. A great variant in the range. But I must confess…I love Machir Bay a little bit more.

88/100

 Posted by at 4:18 pm
Sep 092019
 

Sherry fiends…here you go. This one should be right up your alley. This is what old sherried whisky should be: thick, rich, gooey, complex and multi-faceted. There was a time when this sort of flavor was what I expected from sherry-matured malts. Unfortunately, those days seem to be largely behind us.

Most of what’s hitting the tastebuds nowadays is an anemic facsimile of this beloved old style. The words ‘sherry-seasoned’ have begun to ring as a death-knell for a lot of malts in the eyes of most of my whisky mates. They simply look the other way for decent drams when they see these syllables strung together. There are, of course, great drams out there that fall under this appellation, but the real problem is that they’re being sold at the same sort of price point that old school proper sherry bombs used to sell at. Y’know…the ones matured in gorgeous, ancient bodega butts. The savvy among you will likely immediately see the issue here. The industry always told us that the higher prices levied against sherried whiskies (compared to their bourbon casked cousins) was justified by the price of sherry butts (ten times the price, they’d say!*). So why is that the case now then, when most of what we are seeing are just seasoned hogsheads? Hmmmm.

Anyway…

Glengoyne. The older the expression, the more proper sherry influence. The younger expressions are a mix of bourbon and sherry. Those beyond the 18 are exclusively sherry. The 21…s’ok. The 25, though? Wow. On a rainy day like today I can 100% say that I could happily sip this all evening while the storm rages on outside my window. Beautiful stuff.

And love, love, love the 48% bottling strength.

*A rubbish idea. The cask itself may work out to about ten times the purchase price, but it also holds two and a half times what a bourbon barrel does, so it’s far from a ten to one kinda comparison.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Bucketloads of sherry (for those from eastern Canada: that would a be a ‘shit ton’ in your dialect). Sultanas and figs. Cuban Lunch bars slammed headlong into Eat-More bars. Mincemeat tarts. Lots of nutmeg. Lots of mulling spices. Burnt berry compote. Eucalyptus. Licorice. Treacle toffee. Sticky toffee pudding. Morello cherry. Moist cigar leaf.

Palate: Good, rich, old school sherry. Dumpy and delicious. Great arrival, great structure. Old woods and a bit of furniture polish. Orange oil and rich marmalade. Jammy fruits. Dark chocolate. Spicy fruit cake. Toasted whole grain bread. Coffee liqueur. A decent nuttiness too, bringing a bit of dryness.

Finish: Long, deep and dark. Melted cocoa and some herbal notes. Late tannins. Black tea.

Thoughts: Just some good ol’ well-aged, Oloroso-soaked whisky. Brilliant expression from Glengoyne.

90/100

 Posted by at 1:57 pm
Sep 062019
 

I’m a planner. Can’t help it. It’s good to be on top of things when other people’s hopes and plans and money are on the line. If it’s just me flying solo, I couldn’t really give two shits about being organized; when things go off the rails, that’s just another opportunity to make adventure. The best stories come from those sorts of goings-on. But organizing doesn’t always go as planned. Especially with a lot of moving parts. Let me explain…

Early talk of this trip began in 2018. A high-level tentative ‘budget’ was pulled together and quoted to the lads. All seemed on the up and up, and then…well…the calendar year ticked over, and a whole lot of prices went up. Not ideal when you’re trying to honor your word as to costs, right? I wiggled and wrangled and tweaked and adjusted and managed to keep it very much in the ballpark. The ongoing debacle in the UK sorta helped in regards to the pound-to-dollar conversion rates. Thank God. In the end, it all worked out, but I may have added a few more grey hairs to the lid along the way. Such is.

Moral of the story? Book early. But not too early.

Moving on…

Where do we find ourselves now? Three weeks ’til the big show. Dave and Kent are heading out in separate solo jaunts, extending their time over and knocking off some personal agenda stuff (and yes…I imagine there will be a distillery or two visited as well). Dev and Doug take off on the 26th, squaring away some auction stuff before heading for Leith. These four cats will be hooking up at SMWS HQ in order to make a run at drinking the vaults dry. I’m just hoping one of ’em scoops up a bottle of some sexy Islay malt to mule across to the Island of Dreams and share with the rest of us.

On Friday, Sept 27th, Scotty and I will hop the big silver bird and light out for Glasgow, via Amsterdam. We’ll set down at about 10:00 am, hook up our rental car and make tracks for Arran. We’ll be late arrivals to the distillery (nearly 4 pm!), but hope to suck in as much as we can. Take that how you will. We’ll overnight it on the island, then catch an early morning ferry back to the mainland. Once we make landfall in Androssan we’ll be booting it back to Glasgow to hook up with all the other chaps so we can be at Auchentoshan for 2:30 pm. Apres ca…le Bon Accord! Or the Pot Still. Or some other place to eat, drink and be merry.

The following morning will be an early one. Our flight to Islay is scheduled to lift off at 8:00 am, setting us down on a little slice of heaven at 8:45. I have a driver booked for the entire duration of our Islay stay. Hughie Currie is a beautiful soul who always brings a smile to my face. I can’t imagine a trip over without him being involved. The next five days will be a slow, but very deliberate, marinating period for our livers. Nothing like gallons of peated malt to season a man up right, aye? We’ll lay waste to all nine distilleries on the island throughout the day times, then spend our eves carousing in the atmosphere of some of my favorite pubs and whisky bars in the world. Of course, staying at the Ardbeg Seaview Cottages for a portion of the trip means some late nights spent out behind the distillery, sitting on the craggy coastline and watching the waves roll in.

When we finally bid (a temporary) farewell to Islay, we’ll be heading for Campbeltown, via the Port Ellen ferry across to Kennacraig, then hopping a bus down to the tip of the peninsula. Two nights and three days in Campbeltown will be plenty of time to see Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank distilleries. We’ll wrap it up with a sick tasting in the Cadenhead warehouses before scooting off to the airport to catch a 5:30 pm flight back to Glasgow. One last pub night in the big city, then we’ll have to be up at the crack of…who am I kidding? We may as well not even sleep. I think we have to be up at 3:00 am or something for the return flight to Calgary.

And I can’t lie: I’m exhausted just thinking about those first couple days back home. Our livers will be petrified little prunes and our pores will be nothing more than wee off-gassing vents to dispel some of the bog reek we’ll be emanating. But I live for this shit. And I’ve said it before: these journeys feel like going home.

I could fill you in on the exact details of all these distillery bookings, but I think I’d rather save that for recapping what actually goes down, as opposed to what is planned. There will be much more to come. Stay tunes, friends…

 Posted by at 2:04 pm
Sep 042019
 

This style of malt has huge appeal for me. I may have used this analogy before in some other context, but a whisky like this is a coelacanth. In other words, a Lazarus. A dead style, come to life again long after we thought we’d kissed it goodbye. That analogy applies both to the distillery and the style. Benromach was Gordon & MacPhail’s first foray into distilling and distillery ownership, while the style is sadly anachronistic in this day and age.*

When G&M reopened Benromach in 1999, after a near 16 year closure, their aim was to produce a 1950s style Speyside malt. You know what that means, aye? Bingo! Peat. It’s a different dimension added to a familiar style, and one that works extremely well against such a rich and robust spirit.

If what I’ve read is correct, Benromach is peating to about 12 ppm. Not high, by today’s metrics, but substantial enough that phenol-phobes will definitely be turning a nose up at this one. Irrespective of the actual numbers, the smoke is an omnipresent entity, weaving its way through all other nuances and flavour notes. And for my tastebuds…it works beautifully. Is the 10 a knock-out? Nah, of course, not. But it is really, really good. And as close to a knockout as you can get at this age and price.

I also want to add that the more mature malts under the new ‘romach regime are already showing signs of being something very special. This is the sort of whisky I want to drink at about thirty years of age or so. I think that’s where it will really shine.

Shame about the 43% bottling strength, but we’ve already harped on G&M’s propensity for these ‘no man’s land’ abv’s, so let’s move on.

43% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: A light smokiness, as we’d expect, knowing what we do about Benromach. Oil lamps. Unbaked pastry shells. Wind over hay fields (I know, I know…settle down, Auden). Warm suede and polish. Orange marmalade and orange juice. Berry compote. Toasted almond.

Palate: Gentle earthy, peaty notes, with threads of clean smoke and toasted oak. Warm leather (horse saddle? And no…I’ve not licked saddles). More orange, vibrant and lovely. Citrus pith and rind. Dusty wood. Hints of corn (think dried stalks, unbuttered popcorn, etc). Vaguely nutty.

Finish: Mid length. Slightly tannic at the back end. All pleasant.

Thoughts: Any day, any time. Adore this style. And not just this style; I adore this dram. One of the best 10 year olds on the market.

89/100

*Yes, I’m aware Ardmore is much in the same camp, though they’ve been consistent about it for a very, very long time, and in this guy’s humble opinion, lack the multifaceted profile.

 Posted by at 2:51 pm