Feb 282017
 

Amrut Naarangi111

50% abv

Score:  87/100

 

Naarangi – Hindi for ‘orange’.  This one just as easily have been called ‘Amrut cheekily skates up to the edge of the rules, flashes a bare ass at the powers that be, then skates away laughing’.  But then again…what rules does Amrut have to follow?  Short answer: None but those they make for themselves, which essentially means satisfying their own moral compass and innate sense of curiosity.  Ok, ok…and that would have been a hell of a stupid name for a whisky.  But you get the point, yeah?

As you know, under the regulations laid out by the SWA (Starchy Withered Assholes, if I’ve heard the acronym spelled out correctly), Scotch malt whisky can contain nothing more than water, yeast and barley (oh, yeah…and seemingly as much of that nasty over-bitter artificial coloring you may wish to add).  No infusions, no creative barrel play, no true innovation.  Sometimes this is a good thing.  We whisky codgers are nothing if not suckers for the purity of tradition.  Having said that, how does the category ever advance if the forward-thinkers are forced to work in hobbles and shackles?  Quite a balancing act, I’d say.  And one which I’ve not really attained my own philosophically enlightened vantage for yet.

Anyway…though not bound to the sacred tenets like the great producers in Celtic-land, Amrut has chosen to play it square.  They did not infuse the whisky with orange (like another Maverick whisky maker did in the not too distant past), instead they infused the sherry that previously lived in the cask with orange.  Ergo, when the barrel was dumped the residual oils and flavors from the peels would be left clinging as tightly to the staves as Trump supporters to a gun law.  When Amrut new make spirit was splashed inside these wooden beds for the long sleep (well…not too long in the case of Bangalore’s unforgiving climate) the effect was obviously immediate and massive.  This is a heck of a unique dram, and really is only a hop, skip and a jump from a liqueur.

Nose:  Huge orange and spice notes.  Citrus oils.  The fruits are very lively on this one, both juicy, over-the-top ripe ones and dry oily figgy ones.  Some chocolate.  Immediately recognizable as Amrut, in spite of the tomfoolery.  A slight pastry or dough note.  Vanilla.

Palate:   The palate is a little disappointing compared to the vibrancy of the nose.  Lots of candies and fruit notes, and actually maybe a little too sweet.  And also a little sharp and woody.  Lots of spice again.  Caramelized sugars.  Orange oil.  Syrupy.  Almost liqueur-like in both flavour and texture.

Thoughts:  Liked it a lot.  Not quite love, but sometimes it’s nice just to be ‘in like’.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:51 pm
Feb 172017
 

Lagavulin 1966 50 y.o. Cask #55207-lag-09-img_3386

?% abv

Score:  91/100

 

I got back from Islay about four and a half months ago now.  Initial plans for the website were to offer up a full travel blog sort of thing like I’d done a couple times before.  After all, things change and every experience is different, especially as traveling companions go (and boy, was it interesting this time!).  Since settling back home, however, I’ve rethought my game plan.

I think I’m just gonna publish a handful (or more) of the more unique experiences, reviews and stories.  Like I said in a previous post, I’m gonna start using this site more as a blog, and not just a review factory.  I think it may be a bit more conducive to chat too.

Anyway, here’s the scoop:  A friend of mine, who I now consider one of my best mates, put everything on hold to fly over from Dubai to join our wee misfit crew of drammers and dreamers.  He moved meetings, dealt with a hell of a travel schedule and came out to become an absolutely integral part of our little collective.  I’m sure you all know the lad I’m talking about.  His name is Tabarak Razvi, the Malt Activist.

But we’ll come back to that in a future post.  Right now I want to share some notes on a whisky and an experience that  was beyond bucket list.  On one of our later days on this trip (after the damaged wrist, the broken phone, the incessant cold, the rain days, and all) we visited Lagavulin for an hour or two in the warehouse with the inimitable Iain MacArthur.  We sipped through 12, 14, 23, and 34 year old cask samples in the dunnage next to the distillery.  We also tried the 2016 Jazz fest release, then snuck out back to navigate the ruins of Dunyvaig castle with a 200 ml of Lag 16 and drams of the 2006 12 y.o.  Sounds rad, yeah?  Wait, it gets better.

After the masses had disappeared, and we had slipped and slid our way down the crumbling battlements of the old castle and returned to the distillery grounds, we bumped into Iain again.  A little gentle persuasion, and he led us back to the warehouse with glasses in hand.  He poured generously (a little too generously) from a tiny quarter cask marked #552 and the year 1966 stamped on the barrel head.  Fifty years.  Let that sink in for a moment.  After the most sincere thanks we could offer to one of the most amazing men on the island, we ran back up the hill, glasses sloshing to hop the bus back to Bowmore.  Five guys…a public bus…the bouncy and bumpy high road to Bowmore…and fifty year old Lagavulin in our glasses.  Yep.

Tab recounted the tale here for your reading pleasure.  He and I both had small samples to bring home with us, so you can compare and contrast tasting notes.  While he chose not to score this esoteric experience, I’m throwing a number at it.  Is it high?  Maybe just a touch.  But it’s my party and I’ll sigh if I want to.

Nose:  Noses soooooo young.  This must have been a fourth fill barrel.  Faint smoke.  Citrus.  Just the weakest hints of honeydew melon and pineapple.  Firm white cheese (cave-aged Gruyere?).  Very minerally…or something like clay.  In ways smells almost like new make.  In other ways…smells very, very old.  Irreconcilable, really.  Notes of dunnage and old books.  Briny and oceanic, to be sure.  Iodine and medicinal notes.  A slight farminess.  Faint tea notes.

Palate:  Much more smoke than expected.  Huge sweetness.  Almost minty.  Green candy notes.  Lime.  Some tangy fruit (maybe pineapple again, though not very ‘tropical’).  Peat (there it is!) and dry old tea.  More oak here than on the nose (though still less oaky than expected).  Faint fennel.  Smoked seafood and shells.  This is an enormously oily dram.  Some licorice at the back end.

Thoughts:  Unmistakably Lagavulin.  So, yeah…it’s overcooked.  So what?  Too oaky and not the best of barrels, but this is still exceptional whisky.  The experience behind it definitely adds to the score for me, but it’s nigh impossible to disassociate the two.  Just the fact that it’s still here?  Yeah…’nough said, I think.

 

 – Images & Words:  Curt

 

 

 Posted by at 9:17 am
Feb 172017
 

Morning, friends.

Just wanted to offer up a sincere thanks to those who still check in regularly waiting for updates.  I’m still here.  All is well.  For an unemployed guy, I’m anything but sedentary.  Time is not really on my side lately, though.  It’s not so much the time to write (I’ll get to that in a moment), as it is the time to sit down and do a proper tasting session.

As many of you are likely aware, I published a short story last month.  There was a bigger project in the works even then.  I’ve finally given myself over to it completely, and within the next week or two should finish the first draft of my first novel.  A much darker bit of writing than the last.

In the short term, I’ll have a review going up here within the hour.  Hang tight.

For those that have asked, the first is available here (US) and here (Canada).  And to those that have read, commented, offered their thoughts…thank you.

Cheers.

 Posted by at 8:54 am
Feb 072017
 

Macallan has just released a new 12 year old, flying in the face of the unrelenting negativity that has plagued the 1825 color-led series.  Bowmore has just released a new age-stated range for Travel Retail.  Neato.  Usually Travel Retail is the launch pad for all sorts of NASty stuff.  Ardbeg hit us with a 21 y.o. last year.  Several ambassadors and distillers who have visited our local whisky club and our parade of festivals have said they will stick with age-statements, barring an oddball here and there.  Refreshing.

Is this maybe a response to the chorus of voices that have rung out from Serge, Ralfy, Tab, myself, Dom and untold others?  I’m honestly not sure.  And far from confident enough to make an assertion like that, but I can say that many of the industry folks with whom I’ve spoken are well aware of consumer opinion and do, in fact, read the blogs and such.

As I’ve said, I think the industry is setting itself up for another crash.  Global markets are not what they were forecast to be (China never delivered on ‘promise’, France seems to be on the wane, North America is moving to rye and bourbon, etc), and the economy – as heavily-reliant on fossil fuels as it is – has been in the tanks for a long time now.  Factor in the uncertainty of NAFTA, Brexit and the over-sized Oompa Loompa with the combover down south and, well…things are shaky.  Whisky makers jumped on the last decade’s rampant demand and resorted with logical (if maybe shortsighted) actions: ramp up!  We’ve already seen some (Diageo) pull back on some planned initiatives.  It looks to be an interesting decade.  If we can keep our skin in the game, that is.

Keep fighting, Jedis.  There will come a time in the not too distant future when things will be better.  I feel it.

 

– C

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Feb 072017
 

You don’t honestly expect the empire – errr, industry – to sit quietly by while we take shots at the subterfuge they build around the product, do?  All through life we are told that we should question the status quo.  Accept nothing at face value.  Ask the hard questions.  Never has this been more relevant than in this age of billionaire orange men running superpowers.

The flipside is, though, that the more you question, the more you dissent.  And the more you dissent, the more it becomes an us versus them game.  They collect paycheques for doing (and saying) what they do (and say).  We’re just ‘intemperate and ill-informed’ and driven by ‘hotheaded ignorance’.  Sometimes even ‘‘expert’ bloggers or social media superheroes’.  Notice ‘expert’ was already cheekily given quotation marks by the condescending tool who said it.

Anyway…unless they result to the name-calling crap (as above and below), let’s keep it above the board.  While disingenuous, to say the least, at the end of the day they are real people with real families and real feelings.  (Though there’s one character I’m not so sure about)  Don’t give up the fight, but do it at a level that continues to highlight the deception and let time validate the right.

This goes for the big guys at the top, but also applies all the way down to the small, small, small so-called ‘Intelligent’ ones who can’t even handle a dissenting opinion without reaching for the ‘block’ button on their Twitter accounts.

Because lord knows we’d hate to be fall in with the ‘many self-promoting, opinionated and vocal experts; (with) sadly, so little expertise.’

 

– C

 Posted by at 10:23 am
Feb 072017
 

This may sound like the musings of a miser, but…

Rumours persist that this enormous round thing that has been scaring the hell out of us all (a Death Star?) – and by that I mean this whisky bubble – is heading inevitably towards the big explosion.

Distilleries in Scotland are producing at an unprecedented clip.  Casks are being rolled into warehouses with the uniformity of stormtroopers.  In some cases, barrels are being filled at higher abv than what has become the standard 63.5% casking strength simply to accommodate more alcohol in the warehouses.  And behind it all, more warehouses are being constructed to house the vastness of production.  That doesn’t even touch the new distilleries in varying stages of planning, permitting and construction that are set to perpetuate the flood.

And that is just Scotland.

Ireland, Canada and the US are teeming with both micro and macro-scale projects.  Bourbon and rye are on the rise, so logically production increases follow.  Taiwan’s Kavalan is doubling from 4.5 mlpa to 9 mlpa (million liters per annum).  Japan is producing at a sprint to try to close the mature stock gaps they’re facing.  And ‘world whiskies’ (oh, how I hate that term) are on the rise in ways we’ve never seen.

Not to mention…every time I attend a fest or chat with my whisky geek mates someone inevitably mentions the dream of starting up a distillery.

I hate to see anyone fail, especially at something that involves a lot of passion, time and money, but I can’t help but think we’re heading straight for the next whisky loch.  Remember what happened in the eighties?  I hate to say it, but that is exactly what is needed to fix the state of whisky pricing and bullish marketing standards.

The rebels have fought hard, but now it’s time for someone to blow the reactor.

 

 Posted by at 9:52 am
Feb 072017
 

Ugh.  Just bounced from one cold right into another.  Sinuses are throbbing.  Feel like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck.  No tastings for a bit.  I do have a couple of fun ones in the wings though.  I think we’ll start with a 50 year old Lagavulin.

Incidentally, is this a blog or is this a blog?  Time to start treating it as one.

 Posted by at 7:14 am
Jan 222017
 

Laphroaig 25 y.o. Cask Strength (2008)img_4049

50.9% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

No two ways about it.  I’ve been a pretty lucky soul.  This is another one of those spectacular drams I’ve been fortunate enough to try year upon year.  I think to date I’ve tried the ’08, ’09, ’11, ’13 and ’14 versions of this quarter century cask strengther, as well as the more restrained (though still lovely) 43%er that came years back.  All were great (even that latter lightweight).  Some were exceptional.

This was tasted as part of that recent G4 event I wrote up a couple weeks back.  In almost any other range this would have been the showstopper malt tp close it all down with.  In this case, however, it sat middle of the pack.  What I’m trying to say is maybe take that 91.5 with a grain of salt.  Tasted in a different range it may have notched an extra point or so.

Pretty obvious what you’re getting with a dram like this.  Old, faint peat and only hints of the smoke and iodine that so characterize younger Laphroaigs.  The fruits are emergent and the sweetness has been ratcheted up.  Oak is an outlier.  Kinda like an unpresuming frame around a gorgeous work of art.

Alright.  So, that’s a gem of an old Leapfrog.  Easy to share kind words, as one would likely suspect.  Up next on the radar: Select and Lore.  Sharpen your knives, guys and dolls.  Things are about to get ugly.

Nose:  Roman nougat candy.  Very soft peat and just whiffs of smoke.  Lime (both sweet and tart).  White pepper.  Notes of ripe melon.  Chewy candies.  Plenty of orange.  Soft chocolate.  Faint hints of rubber.  Anise.

Palate:  Juicy and mouthwatering arrival.  Very creamy and lush.  Licorice right off the bat.  Yeah, there a peaty smoky edge here, but not overly large.  Sour fruit.  Fresh cracked pepper.  Soft spice notes.  Anise or fennel.  And…yeah…more licorice.

Thoughts:  Top tier malt

*Thanks to the kind anonymous benefactor for this one.

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:06 am
Jan 012017
 

G4.  The new world order.  Forget the G7.  For those truly interested in understanding the new shining path to global harmony in governance, concentration of intellectual and financial wealth and suppression of Irish attempts at gaining traction in the distillation race, look no further.  Illuminati-like in their spheres of silence (but also, probably, in their spheres of influence), this clandestine collective holds meetings in an underground lair, impervious to outsiders (and direct sunlight), but well-stocked in survivalist essentials (ahem…mature single malt, that is).

The Gang of Four, or G4, has maybe slightly different aspirations than the G7.  Well…most members, anyway.  One dodgy representative of a Celtic island nation may be more inclined to lead the next global revolution than others, but for the most part all intentions are not only benevolent, but altruistic.  All I’ll add to that is ‘never trust a Leprechaun’, especially one with a long memory and the means to an end.

Though the role of the G4 – much like the G7 – remains somewhat controversial and shrouded in secrecy, unsubstantiated rumours persist that member nations may be involved in directly or indirectly funding the IMF (International Malt Federation), subsidizing small revolutionary, tobacco-growing islands, and contributing to the preservation of cultural relevance in the land of the unicorn.  Further, and perhaps more conspiratorial in nature, it is said they are looking to initiate a global cultural renaissance centered around ritual consumption of the blood of Scotland.

The G4, in recent years, has become a slightly amorphous entity.  One ‘member nation’ transitioned its governing office to warmer western climes, so unfortunately now is rarely able to attend G4 meetings.  The remaining three entities have subsequently enacted a policy of inclusion, which allows for smaller developing nations to attend summits and share their voices, if not, in point of fact, paying in proper G4 dues.

The agenda for December’s meeting – as much as can be shared in the public sector anyway – was management of natural resources in the Hebrides.  Namely, decaying vegetative matter, barley crops and fresh water lochs.  Representation for this meeting was expanded to include subject matter experts from Scotland, the Ukraine and France, whose relevant experience in the field was deemed pertinent to the discussion at hand.  Perhaps it would be apropos to mention here that asset management in the Hebrides is of paramount importance to the continued existence of the G4.  In fact, several attendees happen to be lairds of parcels of fertile land in the vicinity of the Kildalton region.

The following ‘minutes’ were recorded during said December council meeting.  Portions have been excised, censored, redacted and sanitized for public consumption.  Notes are largely my own, with input, collusion and validation from G4 delegates.  Fault me for any notable shortcomings; credit them for honesty (to a fault) and artistic flair.  A note to attending delegates: feel free to share further thoughts below if you see fit, as I didn’t collect notes for all.

Thanks to host nations, Ireland and England (with a bit of Scotland) for procurement and dissemination of sample materials.

Laphroaig 10 y.o. (2008) 40% abv – Fruitier than the newer 10s.  Medicinal.  Iodine.  Citrus.  Orange.  Vanilla.  Salty.  Caramel.  Licorice.  Peat.  Oaky.  Salty.  Salt and pepper.  Industrial.

Laphroaig 15 y.o. 200th Anniversary (2015) 43% abv – Fruity.  Orange.  Doughy.  Peat.  Salty pastry.  Damp earth.  Green ju-jubes.  Chilis.  Peppers.  Licorice.  Tarry.  Oakier.  Sen sens.  Slightly bitter.  Medicinal.

Laphroaig Cairdeas 200th Anniversary (2015) 51.5% abv – More old school.  Farmy.  Cereal.  Peat and smoke.  Vanilla.  Dry smoke.  Black licorice.  Leather.  Orange.  Licorice on the palate.  Chilis.  Mint.  Black ju-jubes.  Grains.  Grassy.  Herbal.  Long finish.

Laphroaig 18 y.o. (2009) 48% abv – Fruity.  Orange.  Citrus.  Farmy and earthy.  Chocolate.  Anise.  Iodine.  Peat.  Oak.  Pepper.  Lime zest.

Laphroaig 25 y.o. (2008) 50.9% abv – Roman nougat.  Soft peat.  Lime.  Pepper.  Melon.  Chewy candies.  Orange.  Chocolate.  Rubber.  Licorice.  Juicy.  Mouthwatering.  Creamy.  Sour fruits.  Spice.  Anise.  Lots of licorice.

Laphroaig 30 y.o. (2007) 43% abv – A real fruit bomb.  Tropical.  Pineapple.  Latex.  Caramel.  Peat is very faint.  Red and orange ju-jubes.  Very sweet.  All fruits.  Faintest anise.  Chewy.  Mouthwatering.  Vanilla.  Sweet chewy fruits.   Chocolate (white and milk).

Laphroaig 40 y.o. (2001) 42.4% abv – Another fruit bomb.  Referred to as ‘Hiroshima of fruit bombs’.  Orange and tangerine.  Grilled pineapple.  Cherry.  Spice.  Everything is faint and very stunning.  Very dessert-like.  Fruit salad delivery.  Creamy.  More spice on the palate.  Custard.  Slightly oaky.  Peat.  Smoke.  Eucalyptus.  All are echoes.

Laphroaig 32 y.o. (2015) 46.6% abv – Massively fruity.  Jammy.  Cinnamon.  Tobacco.  Peat is lively for 32 years.  Earthy.  Licorice.  Oily.  Leathery.  Peat.  Grapefruit pith.  Spice-heavy.  Licorice on the palate too.  And cinnamon again.  Rubber and tar.

Laphroaig 27 y.o. (2007) 57.4% abv – A sherry bomb.  Orange and orange zest.  Jam.  Cherry.  Raspberry.  Chocolate.  Dark stone fruit.  Mint.  Heavily-oiled leather.  Very faint peat.  Licorice.  Hoisin.  Very savoury.  More chocolate on the palate.  Spice.  Dried fruit.  Christmas cake.  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Figgy.  Oily.  More licorice on the palate.

 

 – Images & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 11:20 am
Dec 272016
 

Laphroaig 32 y.o.img_4046

46.6% abv

Score:  91.5/100

 

A sherry-matured Leapfrog that landed in Calgary sometime in 2016 (though elsewhere in 2015, the year of the distillery’s bicentennial).  Before going any further…yes, this was hellishly expensive, and no…I did not buy a bottle for myself.  This one was tasted with the G4 (an infamous little conclave even more exclusive and secretive than the Illuminati, I hear) a few weeks back at an exceptional tasting which I am now only hours from sharing details about.

As to this one, well…you can’t honestly expect me to say bad things about a 32 year malt from one of my top three distilleries, can you?  Ain’t gonna happen.  This is an exceptional dram.  It’s the other kind of sweet this time.  Not the vanilla-rich, bourbon-delivered soft fruits we usually find in old Laphroaig, and that come from American oak, but the spicy, jammy, dark fruit sweetness from European sherry wood.  This is a different sort of look on Laphroaig, especially for this age.  (Though it doesn’t hold a candle to the viscous, syrupy 27 year old we’ll discuss in coming days)

While I’m sure opportunities to sample this one are few and far between, if the occasion does arise, don’t be too stingy to pay for the event or dram.  The whole bottle…well, that’s a different story.

Nose:  Massively fruity and jammy.  Rich in cinnamon and other baking spices.  Notes of tobacco.  The peat is vibrant and at the core of this one, somewhat surprising at 32 years.  Very earthy, by nature.  Some black licorice or anise.  Like oiled leather.

Palate:  More peat now.  And smoke.  Grapefruit pith (a favorite note).  Seems quite spice-heavy, without being top heavy.  Again some licorice.  Cinnamon.  Rubber notes and tar.  Long finish.  Gorgeous all the way through.

Thoughts:  Well…what can we say?  Amazing.  The only disappointments are the price tag, limited number of bottles and scarce opportunities to enjoy it.  But let’s be grateful we did.  (Should note:  I do generally prefer the more naked Laphroaigs)

*Thanks to a G4 member for letting this one happen.  Appreciate it.

 

 – Image & words:  Curt

 Posted by at 10:01 am