Well…another Year Come And Gone. Let’s hope all of us have both taken something away from it and made our mark upon it.
It was an interesting whisky year for yours truly. While I neither traveled abroad in search of that elusive ‘grail’ dram, nor got to taste any really special new Port Ellens (both hallmarks of a great year), I did manage to mine a hefty lode of whisky moments (and bottles) that will linger for years and years.
2013 saw the milestone launch of The Dram Initiative, a new whisky club here in Calgary doing things just a little bit differently (and, I like to think, quite spectacularly). This little enterprise is being helmed by me, Maltmonster and a couple other great whisky mates. I’m rather proud of the efforts put forth and the results achieved already. Some great personal memories were made with whisky world ‘celebs’ Dave Broom, Davin de Kergommeaux, Wille Tait, Anthony Wills, James Robertson, Jim McEwan and others. But to be honest…most of the truly special memories were private little affairs with close friends and good bottles.
Memorable events attended include all of the afore-mentioned Dram Initiative club nights, the Willow Park Whisky Fest, Andrew Ferguson’s epic Ardbeg Double Barrel tasting, Bruichladdich with Jim McEwan at Willow Park (always a treat to see him) and a couple of great private tastings at my place and friends’ homes. To all involved…thank you.
Now…let’s talk about some of the year’s most memorable drams. Just so we’re on the same page, I’m not calling these ‘best of the year’, nor am I offering up any sort of ‘award’. These whiskies are simply the malts that resonated with me; ones I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.
Amrut Greedy Angels – Man, what a shitstorm this one caused here on ATW when I posted my notes and thoughts on it. The argument centering around not whether or not the whisky was great (which it was), but whether or not Amrut had done the ethical thing in releasing this (they did). All drama aside, this was one of the bright spots in an already bright year for my personal tasting opportunities. Knockout whisky. Huge kudos to our friends in India. Special shout out to Ashok Chokalingam, Amrut’s global ambassador for coming out in the face of some less than pleasant words being bandied, and responding like the gentleman he is.
Ardbeg Double Barrel – These two 1974 Arbegs (casks 1745 and 3151) were tasted at the Southern Alberta Pioneer Hall with a great group of folks, and all due to the guiding forces of Andrew Ferguson at KWM and the fine folks of Charton Hobbs. The whole evening was simply magic. One of those memories that will burn brighter and brighter as the years roll by. As for the whiskies themselves…best Ardbeg I’ve ever tasted. And that is saying something, considering the esteem I hold this distillery in. Achingly perfect whiskies.
Compass Box The Last Vatted Malt – Tasted right near the back end of the year. This was a surprise that came right out of left field. My good mate, J Wheelock, was kind enough to share a couple ounces of this celestial spirit. I literally sat back stunned when I first nosed and tasted it. An absolutely brilliant concoction by Mr. John Glaser. Good friends doeth good deeds for good friends, and Mr. Wheelock just earned himself oodles of brownie points on the karmic wheel for his generosity of ‘spirit’ here. Thanks, brother.
BenRiach 1983 – Tried a couple of great BenRiach 1983s this year; one exclusive to Kensington Wine Market and another that was part of the distillery’s annual run of releases. Almost a toss-up as to which one was a better dram, but let’s just say I’d be happy with a glassful of either. The little beauty shown below is not the KWM exclusive. I believe there may still be some of this one left on the shelf, if you care to go pay a visit to Andrew in downtown Calgary.
BenRomach Kensington Wine Market Single Casks #126 and #246 – Speaking of Andrew…here’s another pair of gems from his shop of wonders. This may seem like an odd selection, being as they were only 8 and 9 year old whiskies respectively, but Man…they came out of left field for me and knocked me out with how great they both were. I’ve since sent several people I know down to KWM to nab bottles of their own. Very impressive drams from a distillery I’ve not really tried anything too memorable from in the past. To all who were involved in cask selection…well done.
Brora 30 y.o. Old & Rare Platinum – Dear god, but this is a brilliant dram. Bottled farmyard. If it weren’t for the Ardbeg mentioned above, this may very well have been my personal favorite whisky of the year. Price makes this rather prohibitive, but a single taste is enough to make anyone rethink their spending ceiling. With Brora getting scarcer and scarcer on the ground, this was a great encounter.
Tullibardine 1965 – Not one of my top whiskies, by any means, but the mix of setting and surprise factor were enough to elevate this one up a couple notches. Deep and redolent of gorgeous fruits…some tropicals…and an advanced state of maturity all aligned to make this a real winner. This was followed by a ’62 Tulli which simply couldn’t compete wit the depth of this old beaut.
Jura 1976 – I have a bit of a soft spot for Jura. This is a distillery that I used to actually turtle away from. Having said that, I’ve watched the malt get better and better over the past few years. Now it’s sort of that underdog I can’t help but root for. If they continue on their current trajectory the sky is the limit for Jura (and yes, cynics, this will take a while yet, but they will get there). Either way…this 1976 was a truly special whisky. Having the opportunity to pop it (and many, many other Juras) in the company of ‘Wee’ Willie Tait…priceless.
A.D. Rattray Tamdhu 42 y.o. – A bottle bought by a mate of mine, Lance (he of The Lone Caner fame), for an evening of discussion over ‘Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn’, this one knocked the socks off a few of us. Wow, what a whisky! I think the surprise factor helped it notch an extra point or two, but it truly is remarkable. Especially at the price point it was retailing for. Sadly…gone before I could scoop one, though I dearly wish I had managed to put one aside, if for no other reason than the sentimentality associated with a good night with good friends. Sigh.
Lagavulin 21 – While now akin to buying gold bricks, this special release was just that. Remarkable really. The previous edition earned almost universal raves, which is contrary to what a couple local mates think of it (apparently a bit of sulphur aboard?). Either way, this was a damn fine dram from Islay’s most refined of distilleries. Man, what sweet harmony of sweet and smoke. Divine. Oh yeah…and disgustingly overpriced. Oh well.
So many more great ones I could list, but we’ll leave it at that and let the reviews here on ATW speak to the others. Hopefully 2014 brings much more of the same.
To all my mates who shared drams with me (both mine and theirs)…Slainte. It’s not the same game without you. Thanks for being who you are. To those I’ve yet to clink glasses with…believe me when I say I look forward to the first opportunity to do so. To those of you who just pop in for a bit of light reading…many thanks. Your comments are a great reward for any time invested. They more than make it worthwhile.
All the best to all for a beautiful, and dram-filled, 2014!
– Words and pics: Curt