Feb 152018
 

Compass Box Phenomenology

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

Held to impossible standards, maybe.  Such is the esteem John Glaser has written himself into.  Even the least of the Compass Box releases stands head and shoulders taller than any comparable whiskies on the market.  Glaser has done amazing things for the world of blending, especially as it relates to the world of blended malts.

A visit to the Compass Box website tells us that “phenomenology is a school of thought in psychology that focuses on phenomena or the experiences we get from our senses.”  Okay.  Leave no stone unturned in your search for intelligent and intellectual marketing.  This has always been a forte of the company that has brought us the Lost Blend, Enlightenment and Hedonism.  Tie that to packaging that shames nearly everyone else in the industry (excepting maybe Ardbeg) and whiskies that consistently hit harmonious heights that others merely gawk at and it’s no wonder Compass Box is such an industry darling.

In keeping with their stance on transparency in whisky, the good folks at CB have kindly jotted down the recipe for Phenomenology for us (on their website, of course, because to do so directly on the bottle itself is obviously such an overt threat to the dinosaurs in the SWA that we need to find workarounds to share the info).  Quite a concoction, this.  One you’d never peg blind, I’d wager.  72% Glenlossie, 24% Tamdhu, 2% Highland Park, 1% Talisker and 0.5% Caol Ila.  The latter three contributors – making up just 3.5% of the cumulative volume – bring so little heft to the final product that smoke is nothing but a suggestion.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most folks thought that was nothing more than barrel char notes.  I did.

So what do we think?  Well…it’s great, of course.  I’d expect no less.  Unfortunately it’s also almost forgettable.  Beautifully constructed, but just not enough personality to differentiate itself.  It’s like the models that grace the pages of the fashion magazines in your local grocery.  They’re all lovely, but they’re also interchangeable, nameless and soon forgotten.

Nose:  Clean grains.  Soft fruits.  Pear and underripe pineapple.  Fruit flan.  Vanilla.  Heavy cream.  White chocolate.  Just a hint of eucalyptus.  Syrup-heavy fruit cocktail.  A whiff of smoke somewhere in the far reaches.

Palate:  Firm, oaky backbone.  Crunchy apple and pear.  A touch of pineapple again, caramelized.  Lychee fruit.  Oily vanilla.  Lemon.  Alcohol-soaked angel food cake.  Decent finish that fades mostly on fruit and a slightly woody note.

Thoughts:  Quite lovely, all in.  Just maybe lacking a little of that oomph we expect from Mr. Glaser.  Especially at the $220 mark.  Left me wanting more.  Happy to drink it, but doubt I’d buy it at this price.  Compass Box aficionados should be well-pleased, though, I’d think.

 

 – Image and words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:36 am
Feb 042018
 

Loch Dhu 10 y.o.

40% abvv

Score:  55/100

 

Loch Dhu.  ‘Black lake’ in Gaelic.  Arguably the most infamous malt in history.  Note that I said ‘infamous’, not ‘famous’.

If you don’t know Loch Dhu, take a moment to Google.  You’ll likely find a few interesting things.  First: the Loch Dhu site, full of blather and useless sales pitches.  Second: the endless written word of well-warranted criticism.  And third: a bit of history surrounding this franken-malt and its genesis at Speyside’s Mannochmore distillery.

We could turn this review into a bit of a history lesson on the Mannochmore distillery, but nah.  Let’s just revel in the black filth that the good folks at Mannochmore voluntarily elected to inflict on the malt world.  I say ‘good folks’ but if you’ve had a taste of this stuff, and are anything like me, you’re probably going to question the applicability of such an appellation.  No one, in a spirit of benevolence, offers this to the masses without insisting upon a signature at the bottom of a waiver the length of War And Peace.

If you’re still not following where I’m leading here, let me spell it out.  Loch Dhu is A-W-F-U-L.  Truly and unquestionably awful.  Like, quite possibly the worst single malt I’ve ever tasted.

So how does this stuff end up to be the color of the tar?  Twice charred casks, so the story goes.  Uh, okay.  Yeah, that and a few gallons of E150a perhaps.  And you wanna tell me artificial coloring doesn’t impact flavor?  Riiiiight.  Let’s go with that.

Betcha expected me to go against the grain and try to find something nice to say, right?  Nope.  Fug that.

This score can likely be taken with a grain of salt.  I may have been overly generous.

Nose:  Burnt…something.  Over-stewed jam.  Leather on a hotplate.  Espresso.  Hoisin sauce.  Old dead flowers.  Maybe a hint of earthiness (is that peat?).  Savoury mince.  Over-rummed fruitcake.  Bitter tea.

Palate:  Bitter.  And sweet.  But not bittersweet.  And quite savoury.  Some sort of tart jam on burnt toast.  Cold espresso.  Something sort of weedy.  Black licorice.  Burnt demerara sugar.  and heavy molasses.  Some sort of offensive, unpalatable cough syrup (Buckley’s maybe?).  Sen Sens on the finish.

Thoughts:  There are one or two pleasant notes.  Shame there are dozens of unpleasant ones.  I expect this is the drink they hand you at the gates of hell before checking in for the long haul.  Hard to believe its only 40% abv.  Feels like a dumptruck of nitroglycerine being poured down my throat.  Shudder.

 

– Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 2:47 pm
Dec 102017
 

Hey, friends.

Before I get too much grief for not spreading the whisky gospel here as frequently as I should, rest assured…I haven’t gone anywhere just yet.

I’ve been doing a lot with whisky and a lot with writing.  Just not writing about whisky.  I’ve been captaining a handful of whisky events here in Calgary (sharing the spoken word, and not just the written), and I’ve been rather buried in trying to knock off the last stretch of my second novel.  Almost there.

A few of you were kind enough to track down my first published foray, “Sadie”, and shared some great feedback.  Thank you for that.  Appreciated more than you know.  Breaking into the writing world is harder than you can imagine.

Earlier this year I finished my first actual novel.  It’s a dark one.  I can’t lie.  Gritty.  Nasty.  Think early Stephen King and you probably have an idea as to the vibe of seventies-homage horror I was aiming for.  All polished up, of course,  with a bit of contemporary stylings.  If you’re interested, “Darker Things” is available on Amazon here (US) and here (Canada).  E-readers only, at the moment, but hard copies will be available soon.  Early reviews have been great (and flattering), but every review/rating helps.  If you do elect to follow me down this dark path, please, please, PLEASE leave some Amazon/Goodreads feedback.

Have also started a new blog for this venture.  Feel free to pop by in its infancy.  www.darkerthoughts.com

Thanks a million.

More whisky to come.  Soon.

 Posted by at 9:08 am
Nov 262017
 

Head To Head – Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release vs General Release

 

A bit later than I expected getting to this.  Such is.  I’ve learned to stop caring about any sort of schedule for this site, self-imposed or externally-nudged.  And you good folks have been infinitely patient and supportive.  Appreciate that.  More than you know.

As with any Ardbeg release that hits the shelves in both Committee and general release, the immediate question is one of quality comparison.  How does the more readily available (and affordable) standard version hold up to the higher strength, alternately-packaged and premium-priced ‘members only’ edition?

In this case?  Quite well, actually.  As you’d expect, the Committee bottling is a better dram.  In all respects.  It’s deeper, richer and brings to the fore some notes that are either muted or non-existent in the general release.  But that’s not to say the general release isn’t a great dram.  It is.  I think Dark Cove was meant to be an Uigeadail-esque Ardbeg, redolent of heavy sherry and deep peat, dark in tone and color.  It succeeds on all fronts, but I think more interesting than this comparison would be a proper H2H of Dark Cove vs Uigeadail.  Perhaps we’ll have to do that one too.  All in the name of science, right?

Good malt, this.  Happy to have a few of each put away for future sessions.

 

Ardbeg Dark Cove (2016)

46.5% abv

Score:  88.5/100

Nose:  Deep and rich.  Dark fruits.  Pepper.  Fisherman’s friend.  Moist tobacco.  Fruit leather.  Wet ashy notes.
A touch of raspberry.  Fennel.  Smoked ham.  Clay-like and minerally.  Warm, melty caramel aromas.

Palate:  Horse blankets (no, I’ve never licked horse blankets, but the smell of ’em is the taste here).  Peat and smoke.
Gooey, jammy notes.  A tobacco linger.  Hot ginger.  Pepper.  Brine.  Seared scallops.  Dark chocolate.  Medicinal / Band-Aid notes.

Thoughts:  Not as good as Uigeadail, the other big sherried Ardbeg to which this is often compared.  But…still good, of course.

 

Ardbeg Dark Cove Committee Release (2016)

55% abv

Score:  90/100

Nose:  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Peat.  Licorice.  Iodine.  A new pouch of loose tobacco.  Damp earth, wood and moist dunnage.  Wet ash.  Very savoury.  Smoked ham and all sorts of BBQ notes.  Dark, dark oily vanilla here.  A mash-up of red, green and black Ju-jubes.  Big dark caramel notes.  Hoisin.

Palate:  Gooey, sticky malt.  Smoky and peppery.  Burnt shellfish.  So much bigger of a delivery here than the standard release.  The oiliness is heavenly.  Rich fruity notes.  More vanilla.  Smoked fruits.  A fresh bag of dried fruits.  Licorice.  So thick and tarry.  Wow.

Thoughts:  Flawless?  Nope.  But exactly what I wanted it to be.  Really like this one.  So much more than just the regular release at a higher strength.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:29 am
Oct 292017
 

Ardbeg Ten (2015)

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100

 

Re-reviews haven’t really been a thing here on ATW, but the times they are a changin’ and the subject of decline is one that comes up time and again, so…let’s revisit an old favorite and a bottle that’s always open around here.

No need to spend a lot of time talking about this one.  We all know it.  And let’s face it…I do spend a lot of time on Ardbeg here.  MJ had his Macallan, Serge has his Brora, I have my Ardbeg (and PE).  We write about what we love.  (Ano…I do not consider myself to be in such illustrious company, just drawing a parallel).

I do want to say, though, that I don’t buy into the recent rumblings that An Oa will boot this from the core range.  That would be suicide.  This brand has proven time and time again that they’re nothing if not a few steps ahead.  The last thing they’re gonna do is go entirely NAS.

Oh yeah…and they’re producing at an incredible clip, with long range plans for distillery expansion.  Surprised it took so long.  Anyway…notes:

Nose:  Razor sharp and incredibly clean.  Big smoke and very organic peat notes.  Citrus (lemon and lime).  Salt water.  Vanilla.  A little orange and pear.  A nice peppery bite.  Jolly Ranchers.  Shellfish drizzled in whisky.  Ginger and more pepper.

Palate:  Peaty arrival.  Assertive lemon notes.  Pepper.  Chocolate (white and dark).  Lime and a touch of orange oil.  Love that peppery, licorice-heavy back end.  Apple peelings on the finish.

Thoughts:  As good as ever.  Arguably still the best 10 year old on the market.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:04 am
Oct 192017
 

Gord Downie has been the voice of my life for as long as I remember.  His words are the stories that play in my mind.  His music is the soundtrack that plays through my memories and colours every aspect of my life.  If there was ever any secret narrator linking together the milestones and meaningful moments of my life, it was Gord.

My heart hurts right now.  A lot.  I feel like I lost a friend.  A close friend.  One who was always there for me and always able to make the worst days a little bit better.

There’s so much more I want to say but, for once, I’m lost for words.

You’re missed, Gord.  Already.  And you always will be.  Thanks for everything.

Love and peace.

Gord Downie

1964 – 2017

“…armed with will and determination, and grace, too.”

 Posted by at 7:17 pm
Oct 152017
 

Ardbeg An Oa

46.6% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Here we go.  New Ardbeg time.  Always an exciting thing for this guy, as you know.  In this case it was quite a fortuitous set of circumstances that led to my tasting this one.  Just so happened An Oa was released on the very day I, and a few mates, visited the distillery a wee while back.  Serendipity?  Perhaps.  But late at night…after a few drams of Ardbeg…deep in my semi-delusional mental meanderings…I like to pretend they released it when they did just to commemorate my visit.

Errr…right.  Anyway…

I should confess that we drank an awful lot of this stuff on the island, and I’ve been sitting on this sample for several weeks now, so it’s simply a matter of delinquency that we’ve not gotten this posted earlier.  Hey, life is busy.  What can I say?  Either way…what say we finally get to it, yeah?

So…obviously I had very early firsthand opinions about this one, and usually my first impressions are pretty spot on with what my end impressions are.  But it’s been rather interesting to read what the wider whisky world is shouting about An Oa.  If you’ve been following along you’ll likely know that most early word is quite positive.  That is somewhat surprising, in and of itself, cause let’s face it…everyone loves to hate on Ardbeg.  To be fair to An Oa, it actually is quite decent (as is all Ardbeg, if we’re actually being honest with ourselves), but I still can’t help but find myself slightly disappointed.

I like An Oa.  Really, I do.  It’s a decent entry level Ardbeg.  The flavours are decent (young, but decent) and the whole idea of balance that the release is predicated upon is commendable.  But wait…is this really an entry level malt?  Really?  In terms of flavour profile and undisguisable youth…absolutely.  In terms of price?  Well…locally, at least, this one seems to have been positioned between the Ten and Uigeadail.  I was under the impression that this was to be the new entry level Ardbeg.  Seeing as how I can still scoop up the Ten for well under $70 in some locations ’round here, and that An Oa will retail at ~$100, I’m obviously out of sync with things.  Would love to hear something official that speaks to this.  Anyway…tasting notes…

Nose:  Noses young.  Smoke and rubber.  Custard.  A hint of banana.  Lemon.  Salt licorice.  Warm rubber.  Lime and chilis.  Straw.  Ginger.  Eucalyptus.  Soft, creamy sherry notes.  Vanilla-rich oaky bottom line.  Pleasant, but lacking.  More creamy and custard-y than the Ten (and not really better for it).

Palate:  Yep…tastes young.  Oak, vanilla.  Peat.  Loads of licorice.  Sen Sens.  Citrus zest (oily and rich).  Some of the mid-palate fruits are nice.  Orange in particular.  A lot of Granny Smith apple at the back end.

Thoughts:  Yes, it’s good.  Of course it is.  But I think we’ll stick with the Ten, to be honest.  This is too soft for an Ardbeg.  Oh…and cute marketing campaign, I should add.  As always.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 12:53 pm
Oct 122017
 

So…Port Ellen, Brora and Rosebank.  Wow.  I’m in shock.

I knew Port Ellen was coming at some point.  Brora and PE announced the same day?  And Rosebank right after?  This is the second coming of the holy trinity.  I’m stunned.  Almost speechless.

I have some pretty strong opinions about this, but I’m not quite ready to articulate.  Suffice it to say I am tickled pink and not sharing the cynicism others are.  How ’bout you skeptical buggers that keep me on my toes?  Thoughts?

 

– C

 Posted by at 8:44 pm
Oct 122017
 

No. 1 Vaults of Bowmore

No trip to Islay could possibly be complete without a visit to Bowmore.  I’m not speaking about the village, though the distillery is nestled right along the coastline of the beautiful little settlement, but of the distillery that has perched on this hallowed ground since at least 1779.  It is Islay’s oldest distillery and one of the oldest in Scotland.  Of course, that all rests on the presumption that you buy into the marketing hype.  As we know, we only have to look as far as Bushmills a few dozen miles across the water to recognize that a claim of longevity does not necessarily make it so.  The records from these times are maddeningly vague.  Especially for a malt geek.

But let’s not spend too much time on the whos and wheres and whens of history.  The point here is simply to share a bit about a place that has become synonymous with the legendary malts from this iconic Islay distillery.  The birthplace of drams like the Gold, White and Black Bowmore (in each of its iterations) and several stunning examples of whiskies from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.  Y’know…before the low road led us to that bumpy stretch of time wherein the distillery was more renowned for its lavender and lilac influence than the deep, tropical fruits that helped define what the world’s greatest whiskies really were.

A visit to the No. 1 Vaults is only possible through the highest ended Bowmore tours.  You’ll pay for the privilege, but you’ll also experience something few others will.  The warehouse sits down at the water’s edge where the waves kiss the walls and share their oceanic influence with every ebb and flow and gust of sea-sprayed wind.  Inside the walls are moldy and spongy, dank with black growth fed by the fumes of aging barrels.  The ceilings are low…the aisles are narrow and the smells are…well…let’s just say you need to experience it for yourself.

There is an element of disillusion that comes into play though nowadays.  A stroll through the casks slumbering herein shows that the warehouse is home to malt not much older than its teen years.  Unless, of course, the best of the best is squirrelled away in the darkest and dankest of nooks and crannies.  Who knows?  I think we all like to imagine this mecca teeming with stunning casks stenciled with distillation dates from the ’60s and ’70s.  Alas…none that I saw.

I visited the distillery in September of both 2016 and 2017.  The 1998 bourbon barrel (Cask #514) below was there both times, and stunning in each of its tastings (at 18 and 19 years of age respectively).  The sherry butt that we contrasted with in 2016 was an absolute fireworks show.  Deep and rich, redolent of jammy fruit and just the right amount of smoke.  The kind of malt I could have seen developing into a new incarnation of the Black Bowmore in another 25 years or so.  Sadly, that butt was peeled out for bottling sometime between visits and has now been replaced by the one fro which I’m sharing notes here (Cask #2071).  This latter is a stunner too, but not in the same league.

To be honest, I was just fortunate to be there in back to back years.  If you can make the journey over, do so.  And if you get to taste these barrels as they evolve, please share your thoughts.

Slainte.

Bowmore 1998 19 y.o. Cask #514 (Bourbon Barrel)

ABV:  unknown

Score:  92/100

Nose:  An absolute soft fruit bomb.  Peat as an afterthought here, really.  Pear.  Vanilla.  Creamy custard.  Soft sugar cookies.  Roman nougat.  Crème brulee.  Soft spices, moving on medium.  Apple.

Palate:  Easy white fruits again.  Soft threads of vanilla and syrupy fruit cocktail.  Orange and cherry notes are bold and forefront.  Soft oak.  White cake.  Scones.

Thoughts:  Stunning bourbon barrel.  Again…if left for a few more years…wow.  Of course, the price would have been reflective, but I shudder to imagine what this could have been, considering what it already is.

Bowmore 2002 15 y.o. Cask #2071 (Sherry Butt)

ABV:  unknown

Score:  92/100

Nose:  Big, bold sherry meets peat a la Laimrig or Devils Cask.  Hints of eucalyptus.  Licorice.  Rich jammy fruits.  Faint coffee notes.  Dark chocolate (and maybe milk chocolate too).  Cherry cordial.  Dunnage warehouses (of course).  Minerally.  Salty.

Palate:  Creamy fruit notes (jammy, but think fresh cream on top of it).  Compote or coulis.  Sweet smokiness and a very appealing oiliness.  Chocolate.  More jams.  Dried fruits.  A hint of tea.

Thoughts:  Brilliant barrel.  Not as brilliant as the last, but still exceptional.  This one plays to everything I love about Bowmore.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:54 am