Aug 262013

The Dram Initiative #003 – The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Logo (2)

Event date:  August 20th, 2013


I went into this one already a member of the SMWS.  I also went in knowing I liked many of the expressions I had tried so far.  Further…I already had some idea as to how the event would go down.

What I didn’t anticipate going in, however, was just how much I would enjoy this evening.  Honestly.

Earlier this day, as I was preparing for the event, I said something to my wife along the lines of being ‘pretty excited’ about this one.  It’s not often I get to sit down to a flight of malts blindly, in which most (or all) are new to me.  Especially in the context of the DI, where I am always involved in pulling together line-ups for the Collective.  Sometimes it’s nice to be the puppet, and not always the puppetmaster (said with benovolent glee).

This was definitely a night with a few surprises in store. 


The SMWS, for those not in the know, is the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a private whisky club whose members get exclusive rights to buy the society’s bottles, first crack at attending society events, a killer start-up kit and, if abroad…may visit the infamous UK clubhouses (hitting The Vaults is on my whisky ‘to-do’ list).

The Society is home-based out of the UK, and boasts a tasting panel responsible for selecting and bottling single casks from 129 different single malt distilleries, nearly a dozen grain distilleries and others such as Armagnacs, rums and more.  Each release is numbered and cleverly (read: abstractly) named, but the distillery itself is never mentioned on the bottle itself.  Tack on some rather…errrr…over the top tasting notes, and…voila!  The rationale here is that the whiskies should speak for themselves, and not allow any preconceptions to cloud the judgment of the buyer.  Fair ‘nough.

A couple of years back, friends of ours, Rob and Kelly Carpenter, took the plunge and committed to launching the Canadian arm of the SMWS right here in Calgary.  After some intial hurdles were bested (procurement of rights, set-up of agency, retail outlet confirmation, etc) the society launched to a rather phenomenal public embrace.  In year two now, membership numbers simply keep growing.  All you have to do is hit up one of the First Friday tastings to see why.


I had approached Rob and Kelly many months back about coming out and sharing a bit about the SMWS (and maybe a dram or eight of their sexy single malts).  I figured that the Society’s novel approach, utterly unique take on whisky culture and high test presentation perfectly aligned with the Dram Initiative’s ethos of independence and strength…quality and curiosity. 

There’s also one other simple factor here at play which shouldn’t be overlooked.  Inside, we’re all like kids.  We like surprise and mystery. 

Kelly, being the enthusiast that she is, immediately committed to an evening with the club.  We settled on a date and the rest is now (a week later) a piece of DI lore. 


 The reception to both the Society and the whiskies was much better than even I could have anticipated.   I figured we’d have a few keeners who would get right behind what the SMWS was, and I’m happy to say this was exactly the case.

The laughs throughout the evening came easily, both in relation to the names of some of the bottles and, even moreso, in relation to Rob and Kelly’s experiences and presentation itself.   Now laughs are one thing, but an appreciation and an admission to quality is another.  Interestingly enough…one member commented that it was his favorite flight of whiskies we’ve tried since the very first event.   Considering some of the malts we’ve tried to date, that is saying something.

Several left the hall speaking of joining, and i know at least one committed on the spot.  Neat stuff.


Extra special thanks to Rob and Kelly, who did an excellent job in pulling together a fun and informative tasting.  There were a couple of neat twists to the selections…some age…some youth…a variety of cask influences and some neat tales to go along with them.  I think the members really enjoyed this one.  Scratch that. I know the members enjoyed this one.

Now…what say we have a closer peek at the whiskies themselves?  In keeping with the club’s ideology, I’ll refrain from naming distilleries here.  Have a read…


5.35 “Laundry In The Bakery”

54.7% abv          12 y.o.            2nd fill hogshead, ex-bourbon          Outturn:  195 bottles

Nose:  Some light bread-like, mildly spiced baking notes.  Orange and peach.  Cinnamon.  Apple.  Sorta ‘flour-y’.  Hot cross buns.  Some floral notes.  Orange creamsicle.

Palate:  Peppery.  Cinnamon.  Some very clean oak.  Almost a ‘toasted’ note here.  Sweet fruit gum.

Thoughts:  Very light.  Very clean.  Very drinkable.  I immediately knew the distillery, but was way off on age.  This seems older than a 12 year old whisky.


48.31 “Honey & Flowers In A Knicker Drawer”

53.1% abv          23 y.o.          2nd fill sherry butt          Outturn:  262 bottles

Nose:  Some paint.  Peanuts and pencil shavings.  Florals and yeasty dough.  Strawberry and creamy caramel.  A fair bit of chocolate.

Palate:  Good cocoa.  Somewhat tannic.  Neat honey nougat notes, similar to the hard bits in Toblerone bars.  Slightly smoky (clean wood smoke).

Thoughts:  Very nice drink, serves up at a perfect age for this profile.  Would happily sit down to a bottle of this with mates.


G2.2 “A Vaudeville Act”

53.6% abv          35 y.o.          Refill barrel          Outturn:  139 bottles

Nose:  Wow.  Odd one here.  Like an aged rum almost.  Caramel corn.  Dust.  Paint/glue.  Hint of cherry.  Marshmallow.  Very bourbon-ish.  Slightly smoky.  Strange nose at first, but it definitely grew on me.

Palate:  Sweet bourbon flavours.  Bold oak and big fruity notes.  Vanilla.  This tastes like a bourbon aged in a rum cask.

Thoughts:  This one kicked a bit at first, but after a few minutes in the glass, some of those more surprising notes dissipated and left a rather sassy drink.  I know a couple of people around me names this older grain whisky as their favorite of the night.


35.75 “Victorian Walled Garden In Las Vegas”

57.9% abv          17 y.o.          Designer hogshead, toasted and seasoned          Outturn:  206 bottles

Nose:  Dark caramel and cherry.  Some sharp ‘green’ vegetal notes and barley.  Cinnamon hearts.  Again…sorta bourbon-ish.  Big spice profile.  Tobacco.  Grassy.  Smells of a good toffee/fudge/chocolate shop (I’m thinking of those in Banff, Alberta right now).

Palate:  Chocolate.  Marmalade.  Chilis.  Zesty and fizzy.  Bourbon-like here too.

Thoughts:  Some very interesting individual nuances that coalesced nicely.  Still not sure what a ‘designer hogshead, toasted and seasoned’ is, but hey…it works. 


71.37 “As assignation In A Boudoir”

57.9% abv          14 y.o.          Refill sherry gorda          Outturn:  699 bottles

Nose:  Creamy.  Milky caramels and toffee.  Maybe akin to the softer Werther’s.  Freshly churned butter.  Vanilla.  Some sulphur for sure.

Palate:  Chocolate.  Sulphur.  Tannins.  Green apple and plum skins.  Some prune or fig.  Dandelion-like bitterness.  Maybe a bit of leather.

Thoughts:  Somewhat polarizing dram, this.  The sulphur was the dividing factor here.  A little water added took those ‘struck match’ notes down a notch, but never really got rid of ’em.  I took a little exception to this one, but I think any of the others were quite keen.


3.188 “The Camping Trip”

58.8% abv          14 y.o.          Refill sherry butt          Outturn:  616 bottles

Nose:  Farmy notes.  Dark moist soil.  Rubber and charcoal.  Wet rock.  Smoke, peat and iodine.  Still quite some vibrant barley notes.  Chocolate.  Burnt marshmallow.  Wet leather.  Very salty smelling.

Palate:  Dirt and dust.  Bitter chocolate.  Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.  Salt licorice.  Burnt rubber.  Sweet and tangy peat and rich sweet smoke.

Thoughts:  Awwww, yeah!  Here we go.  A few eyes in the room lit up over this one.  Mine included.  I’m with Kelly on some of these peat and sherry sweet monsters.  Hell yeah!


3.189 “Echoes Of Bonfires & Funfairs”

58.4% abv          14 y.o.          Refill sherry butt          Outturn:  607 bottles

Nose:  Sweet and spicy.  Stewed tomato.  Sunflower seed.  Salted grapefruit.  Peat and smoke.  Prickly greens.  Seafood-y.  Some dark fruits, but rather unrecognizable.

Palate:  Chocolate.  Smoke.  Citrus.  Some raisin.  A bit of Granny Smith apple tartness.  Sharp and iodine-rich.  Quite farmy.

Thoughts:  Sister caks to the one above.  Fun little bit of compare and contrast here.  Very different, but equally enjoyable.  These two are the kind of drams to sit down with when you have unlimited time and no interruptions.


129.2 “Humbugs In A Horse’s Nose-Bag”

61.6% abv          4 y.o.          1st Fill barrel, ex-bourbon          Outturn:  250 bottles

Nose:  Young.  I know this distillery.  I know it well.  Soem neat vanilla notes not tempered by the fiery young peat.  White pepper.  Smoke.  New leather.  Big notes of cola with fresh-squeezed lemon or lime.

Palate:  Licorice.  Smoked orange and burnt lemon rind.  A little more fruit here.  Hay and leather.  Green apple.  Seet peats.

Thoughts:  This and the first were easy ones to peg.  The others…not so much.  The youngest malt of the night was also my favorite.  There may not be sophistication here yet from Islay’s youngest distillery, but there sure as hell is quality.  Loved this one.


Thanks again, to Rob and Kelly, for coming out and spend a great evening with us.  Cheers!

For those that may be interested, see Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market, or visit the SMWS Canada site.

Until next…


– Words & Tasting Notes:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt



 Posted by at 8:14 am
Aug 172013

Laphroaig 15 y.o.lrgob_15yo

43% abv

Score:  91.5/100


Tasting a whisky like this is an exercise in heartbreak.  Forgive my overt sentimentality towards anything Islay, but irrespective of any personal biases, this really is a rather simple and beautiful whisky.  I’m blown away that the decision was made to remove this from the range.  While we did, of course, gain the spectacular 18 year old as a trade-off, I can think of no reason not to continue bottling some of the mature spirit at 15 years.  It’s quite evidently a sweet spot for Laphroaig.

First things first…

This whisky went the way of the dodo in mid 2008.  That was back when the current whisky bubble was still expanding, but had yet to reach the frightening state of inflation it’s currently at.  The importance of noting this lies in understanding that there would have been a lot less demand on mature stocks at the distillery, thereby allowing for more flexibility in selecting casks to marry in order to build a whisky like this.  In 2013, I’m 99% certain that a 15 year old malt is exactly that, whereas a few years back I’m betting the distiller had casks of all sorts of vintages at his disposal; the only restriction being that the youngest cask in the mix was not less than 15 years and a day.  Put simply…there are casks vatted in this bottling that are older than 15 years.

Laphroaig 15 was a fairly polarizing whisky when it was available.  I’m wondering now if that didn’t have more to do with the peat-o-philes out there being underwhelmed with the lack of ferocity in the phenols here.  If you’re expected that typical Laphroaig earthy, medicinal smokefest…forget it.  This is so much more.  But also, so much more restrained.

All in all…a fine whisky I really enjoyed.  No wonder Prince Charlie loves this stuff.  Said to be his favorite malt, I can only imagine he has more than a few bottles still squirrelled away.  Good sir, when one day you read this (and of course you will) perhaps you’d be so kind as to share a bottle with a friendly Canadian.  😉

A subtle and refined Laphroaig.  Austere and sublime.

Nose:  Very nice fruits.  A little peach and pear lingering behind a light gauze of smoke.  Vanilla cupcake, dusted with the fairest bit of nutmeg.  A touch of orange and maybe sweet pink grapefruit with sugar.  A gum-like note.  May be a little sherry influence, but I’m not certain.  Some salty/briny seawash notes.  Creamy vanilla.  The smoke is there, of course, but very restrained for a Laphroaig.  The toned down elegance here reminds me of the subtleties Ardbeg 17 is built on.

Palate:  A little drier now.  Some grassy notes and a left turn into some rather surprising white wine notes (Sauvignon blanc).  Chocolate.  Some smokiness and apple.  Generally I’d prefer a little more firepower in terms of abv, but 43% works just fine here.  Better nose than palate.

Thanks to our mate, Dan, for sharing this long gone gem with a small crew of the great unwashed at my place.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  The Whisky Exchange

 Posted by at 10:38 am
Aug 162013

An absolutely once-in-a-lifetime tasting opportunity through our friend, Andrew Ferguson.  If you’ve ever been to one of Andrew’s events, you’ll know he pulls out all the stops.  I expect this will be no less than his magnum opus.  Limited to 26 lucky individuals.  If you’re interested…contact Andrew ASAP.

Details (from Andrew’s site, Ferguson Whisky Tours):


Bowmore on the Rockies

November 1st – 3rd 2013 – Banff Alberta

Bowmore Distillery

This event won’t come as a complete surprise to everyone. I’ve been bouncing ideas off the wall for years and just a few weeks ago one finally stuck. When Bowmore launched the Black Bowmore 1964 42 Year about 4 years ago, they indicated they would be following it with White and Gold expressions. The Black was stunning; we poured it at two separate tastings, and sold close to 30 bottles of the stuff. The White was sampled in the No. 1 vaults at Bowmore and the Gold opened for a KWM event didn’t disappoint either. All the while I had a vision to put on an Epic once in a lifetime tasting of the trilogy that would draw people to it from across Canada and around the world. A sit down in store tasting or whisky dinner wouldn’t do, this range of whiskies is worth nearly $40,000.00 at auction, this would have to be a weekend extravaganza.


For about the last 2 ½ years ideas have been batted around with the good people at Bowmore and their local representatives at Lifford. Whiskies were horded and what was initially just a Trilogy tasting turned into a Trilogy +2. In the wake of the 1964 Trilogy, Bowmore released the 1964 Fino, so we set one of those aside. Around that time I managed to put my hands on one of the original Black Bowmores, the 1995 bottling. Well the time has come; these whiskies aren’t going to sit idle any longer, we’re going to open them all at a never to be repeated event November 1st and 2nd 2013.


Bowmore on the Rockies will be held in Alberta’s scenic resort town of Banff Friday November 1st and Saturday the 2nd 2013, hosted by myself along with Jamie MacKenzie (Director of Sales the Americas) and Iain Macallum (Master of Malt) of Morrison Bowmore. The price for the weekend includes 2 nights of accommodation at the Rimrock Hotel, 4 tastings, 2 dinners, a breakfast, lunch and tickets to the Banff Film Festival. A Bowmore Dinner will be held on the Friday night at a prestigious restaurant in Banff, followed by VIP seating at a dueling pianos bar. Saturday will feature Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch tastings, tickets to some Banff Film Festival screenings and the climactic Bowmore Trilogy +2 Dinner at the Rimrock. This once in a lifetime tasting is limited to just 26 participants.



Bowmore on the Rockies Nov 1-3 2013 – $1350 +GST

(for a single occupant for a standard room)


  • 2 nights accommodation at the Rimrock Hotel in Banff
  • 2 breakfasts
  • 2 dinners
  • 1 lunch
  • 4 tastings including the climactic sampling of the Bowmore 1964 Trilogy + 2

      – Bowmore Black 1964 21 Year (1995 bottling)
      – Bowmore Gold 1964 44 Year
      – Bowmore White 1964 43 Year
      – Bowmore Black 1964 42 Year
      – Bowmore Fino Cask 1964 46 Year


    • Space is limited to 26 whisky drinking participants.
    • Room upgrades are available on request.
    • Couples or guests sharing a room with another participant can save up to $400 on the second ticket.
    • A limited number of companion spots for spouses/partners who will not be drinking whisky, but will be attending the dinners are available at an add on price of $500 +GST. This includes wine.
    • Payment can be made by cheque made out to Ferguson Whisky Tours, or through PayPal on request.
    • Registration is non-refundable.

    Book Online 

    Twitter: #BowmoreOnTheRockies

 Posted by at 9:22 am
Aug 152013

Glenfarclas 105 20 y.o.105 20

60% abv

Score:  91.5/100


The younger standard Glenfarclas 105, which I’m certain many of you have tried, succeeds primarily because of the youthful exuberance of its bold and unrestrained sherry.  Oftentimes though, you’ll find that younger whiskies still haven’t ironed out all their kinks.  While I certainly can’t say that that is the case with the afore-mentioned Glenfarclas 105, I can say that once you’ve tried that bold flavour profile it’s hard not to wonder what the whisky would be like with a few more years of maturation behind it.

Fortunately, the Grant family have allowed us that opportunity, in releasing the Glenfarclas 105 20 year old.  The same massive 60% abv…the same sexy dark hues, but in striking new packaging and with an entirely new market niche.  So…let’s have a look at what another 10-15 years in the cask does to this heavyweight sherried charmer.

Short answer…a lot.  This is a vastly different dram from the standard bottling.  The differences are a little deeper than simple variations on a theme too.  The younger edition is vibrant and lush, while this one bears a lot more dark, dry and monolithic heft.  Very much individual entities, both.  While immediately notably different, it took me a good while to wrap my head around this one and decide what exactly it was that worked here vs what worked on the younger 105.  Needless to say, it was an enjoyable session of nosing/tasting.

In the end…I’ll give the extra marks to this one.

Nose:  A lot of chocolate.  Much deeper and darker than its younger stable mate.  Cinnamon and old leather.  Some surprising floral notes.  More sulphur than I’m used to seeing on a Glenfarclas, though still not a lot.  The fruits (deep purples and reds…a la plum, raspberry, strawberry, prune) are buried beneath a roof of dark chocolate.  A deep inhalation is needed to really set ’em free.  After a while, when the sulphur note fades (and it does fade, if not quite disappearing), the nose is incredibly mature and sophisticated.  Distant waft of latex.  Cigar.

Palate:  Touch of sulphur again.  Very mouthcoatingly jammy; almost like a smear of mixed red berry jam and sticky toffee pudding across the roof and sides of the mouth.  This is so heavy it’s practically pulling the corners of my mouth down.  If only all malts had this texture.  Orange and raisin.  The palatal equivalent of dunnage warehouse aroma.

Took a while to score this one.  I would highly suggest a good ten minutes in the glass with the occasional swirl before giving this serious consideration.

Have I mentioned how much I love this distillery?


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Glenfarclas

 Posted by at 12:59 pm
Aug 152013

Glenfarclas 105004

60% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Glenfarclas 105 was one of the first whiskies I ever shared notes for years ago when I first starting nattering online about whisky and such.  Much like looking back at your awkward teenage years, there’s an element of ‘oh dear gawd, really?’ when I looked back at the review and notes.

Also…it was an older batch from years back, so why not revisit, right?

Though it’s not very widely trumpeted, batch variation (let’s call it that, even though these aren’t really touted as ‘batch’ releases or anything) in the Glenfarclas 105 is as much a reality as it is the industry’s other true young sherried heavyweight, Aberlour a’bunadh.  It’s simply the nature of the game, and I’m ok with it.  Let’s allow these things to evolve.  Our insistence on consistency (with the exception of an insistence on consistent quality) is the reason we ended up with chill filtration, caramel colouring and homogenous blending practices.  Malt whisky is about strength of character, not conformity and subtlety.  Forget fitting in.

Glenfarclas is a Speyside distillery that enjoys unusually high esteem amongst those in the whisky spheres.  The long line of Georges and a John who have run this family-led operation through the generations have done an exceptional job of crafting a line of whiskies that have garnered them global accolades.  And rightfully so.  Traditional, quality and independence are all values held in esteem by the Grant family.

The ‘105’ in question here is actually in reference to the old British proofing system.  Whereas now this 60%’er would be considered 120 proof, under the old Brit way it was 105 proof.  Clear as mud?

This NAS (No Age Statement) release is a startlingly beautiful whisky.  Not my favorite, but exceptionally composed and one to be mulled over with plenty of time and good company.

For a unique tasting experience, try doing a horizontal tasting with this, the Aberlour a’bunadh and the Macallan Cask Strength.  That should fill your youthful sherry quotient for the year.

Nose:  The smell of empty, but wet wine barrels or sherry butts.  Fudge and milk chocolate give an overall éclair-like aroma.  Caramel pudding.  Berry puree.  Raisin and currants.  Espresso.  Pipe tobacco.  Cinnamon and sweet barley notes.  Strawberry rhubarb pie (sweet and tart).  Hint of marmalade.  Thick moist rummy fruitcake.  Touch Bovril or Beef Oxo.

Palate:  Somewhat leathery (odd, I know…sorta meaty, really).  Pepper over mincemeat.  Rum.  Cough syrup and coffee.  Eucalyptus.  Touch of hot rubber.  Wow, is this big.  Aenesthetizing.  Love it.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 6:40 am
Aug 142013

Glen Grant 1970 (Duncan Taylor)018 (2)

48.5% abv

Score:  89/100


I’m starting to think that older Glen Grants are like Vanilla ice cream.  Always fairly pleasant, but sort of lacking the pizazz of, say…a Rocky Road or Tin Roof Sundae.  Maybe a better analogy is the ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride’ motif. 

Let’s distill that one final step further (pun intended) and say that the older Glen Grants I’ve tried to date are rather mundane.  When you start tiptoeing back through the decades in terms of whisky vintages, those rarified older malts become rather frighteningly pricey.  I don’t necessarily have an issue with this, so long as the stuff in the bottle is akin to drinking angel’s tears and freshly-squeezed moonbeams. 

Glen Grant is one of the world’s best selling malts, and the distillery’s annual output of close to six million litres is staggering.  Obviously the whisky is good when it’s been massaged a bit, but that’s in a fit-for-purpose type scenario (i.e. many barrels vatted for single malts or the whisky being used for blending).  So how does the spirit hold up as a single cask (or small batch) bottling released by a third party?  In this situation there is almost no opportunity to hide any potential blemishes.  Barring something catastrophic happening, the company (Duncan Taylor, in this case) is almost obliged to release the stuff, and not take the multi-thousand pound loss.  Herein lies the danger in independent bottling. 

But as to the whisky at hand…

This is a fine old Glen Grant by Duncan Taylor.  Make no mistake.  It’s fruity and mature, pleasant and infinitely drinkable.  It’s simply not, however, what I need in return for an investment of 40 years and several hundreds of dollars.  Perhaps if you consider the cost as the price of admission to step back in time and taste a bit of history…fine.  Otherwise…

Nose:  Creamy.  Latex paint.  Some pineapple and soft orange fruits…but not really tropical.  Spice mix is the best part of this.  Cherry and cinnamon.  Touch of eucalyptus.  Right at the edge of being overcooked.  Hmmm…a few toes hanging over the edge actually.

Palate:  Nice arrival on spiced fruit and tasty oak.  Very nice fruits then changes direction quickly.  A little sharp…maybe too much wood.  A vague hint of smoke.

I’ve heard so, but I’m beginning to wonder if there is such thing as a stunning older Glen Grant.  Very much an example of older is not always better.

Thanks to my mate, Vikash, for the opportunity to sip at this one a couple of times now.  Cheers!


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 1:05 pm
Aug 142013

Longmorn 16 y.o.002

48% abv

Score:  87.5/100


Longmorn.  Not a distillery from which we see a lot of original bottlings.  In fact, I’m not certain I’ve seen anything other than the 16 year old available here in Canada.  Being a part of the Pernod Ricard portfolio – and knowing that much of the distillery’s production winds up in blended whisky – has me immediately looking to Chivas as the logical explanation for this dearth of Longmorn releases.

Makes a sort of sense, I suppose.  A very solid single malt as a cornerstone for one of the world’s more recognizable blend names.  That’s just good math.  Shame though, as I always opine in these wee editorials (erm…diatribes?), that more of this whisky doesn’t hit the shelves furiously waving the banner for single malts.  Oh well.

The Longmorn distillery rests in Speyside, on the road between Rothes and Elgin.  Its rather unassuming profile boasts no real surprises, aside from exceptional quality, and this whisky sits very confortably in what I’d call a fairly ‘typical’ Speyside camp.

The distillery’s name, Longmorn, apparently comes from the Gaelic ‘Lhanmorgund’, and means ‘place of the holy man’, so named for St Marnan (or Marnoch), an early missionary canonized for carrying the gospel to this part of Scotland, and to whom a nearby chapel is dedicated.  The church was called Lann Marnoch, which, over time became Longmorn.  Linguistic morphology.  Gotta love it.  The distillery is said to be constructed at this historic site, with the warehouses in particular possibly situated in the very location of the former chapel and one-time pilgrimage site.

And this, my friends, is why I love Scotch whisky.  The history is palpable and beyond interesting.

Now how ’bout some tasting notes?

Nose:  A bit of jam.  Almond paste and a little caramel.  Meringue.  Cinnamon and pepper.  A little green grape.  Some very smooth notes of custard, tapioca or banana creme.  Faint florals.

Palate:  Some florals and jam again.  Peppery and spicy.  Like a slightly amped up Strathisla.  Gala apple and raisins.  Walnuts.  Touch of Fuzzy Peaches candy.  Barley only really shows up at the end. 

To be completely honest, at first I thought this to be a slightly forced and contrived malt.  The natural harmonies and sweet, unblemished profile not unlike an auto-tuned pop star’s infallibility.  On reflection however, I think this is simply a very well constructed dram.  48% and non chill filtered?  Speaks volumes to the triumph of execution over greed.  I’ve quite come ’round to this one. 


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:44 am
Aug 132013

The Dram Initiative Logo (2)

Upcoming Events


The line-ups just keep getting better and better for Calgary’s newest and fastest growing whisky club.  Many thanks to those attending and showing keen interest.  But additionally…enormous thanks to those presenters and sponsors bringing their A-game time and again.  We appreciate your efforts, and look forward to years of good times together.

We are now at the point of having events lined up well into 2014.  I’ll keep it a little under wraps for now, just in case we opt to shift things up (as we often do in order to accommodate guest speakers), but I will take this opportunity to share a few words on some upcoming club events.

To any local faithful readers who are not yet a part of the ranks…there are few remaining spots in the club membership, but they are fast filling.  When we are full, it will be a waitlist scenario.  Trust me…membership has perks.

Back to the point…

I’m pleased to announce a few more of the industry’s giants coming out to share their knowledge, experiences and personality…


August 20th, 2013 – SMWS with Rob and Kelly Carpenter

Whisky is more than a drink.  It’s a journey, an experience and a catalyst for making memories and stories.  The SMWS is a perfect vehicle for this more cerebral way of embracing the dram.  I have no idea what SMWS Canada co-founders, Rob and Kelly plan to present this eve, but I guarantee you’re set to meet two very passionate and knowledgeable folks, and sip some great whiskies along the way that they will have handpicked especially for this event.

Thanks to Rob and Kelly for their efforts here  in the city, and for coming out to share this eve.


September 23rd, 2013 – Jura with Willie Tait

Sponsored by Authentic Wines & Spirits

The Dram Initiative will be welcoming Jura’s Willie Tait for an evening of candid chat and some great whiskies.  At one point Willie was the Jura Distillery Manager and, I believe, Master Distiller, but now holds the positions of Master Distiller and Brand Ambassador.  Either way…an engaging and charismatic individual who earns rave reviews for his events.

Willie has a wealth of experience to his credit, including work at Bruichladdich, Tullibardine, Fettercairn, Tamnavulin, Whyte & Mackay, on and on.  I will promise…this is an evening NOT to be missed.

The whisky line-up for this event will be cemented in the coming days, but as always, will include some brilliant drams. 

Many thanks to J Wheelock and his team at Authentic Wines & Spirits for their help in making this a reality when it didn’t seem it could be.   


November 5th, 2013 – Triple Header…Michael Urquhart, Anthony Wills and James Robertson

Sponsored by Gold Medal Marketing

Here’s the granddaddy of all events.  We have managed to secure three incredible guest speakers and a helluva whisky line-up.  This evening will be a more open event, not strictly limited to club members (though they will have first chance at the limited seats).  Half of all event dues will be donated to the Calgary Food Bank, and on behalf of The Dram Initiative Iwould ask that you please being what you can in non-perishable food items.  Time to give back a little.

I won’t get into biographical details here on the following three individuals, in favour of saving it all for this event, but as you know, they are all industry giants, and any opportunity to hear them speak should be embraced. 

The evening is set to shape up as follows:

Guest Speaker 1:  Michael Urquhart, Joint Managing Director on behalf of Gordon & MacPhail, Independent Bottler and Benromach Distillery. 


1.  Gordon & MacPhail Tamdhu 40 Year Old 1971 – 2011 43% ABV

2.  Gordon & MacPhail Dallas Dhu  33 Year Old 1979 – 2012 43% ABV

3.  Benromach 9 Year Old 2004 – 2013 60.4% ABV KWM Cask First Fill Bourbon Barrel Cask # 246

4.  Benromach 42 Year Old 1969 – 2011 42.6% ABV Refill Sherry Hogshead from Casks # 2006 & 2008


Guest Speaker 2:  James Robertson, International Sales Manager, Tullibardine Distillery 


5.  Tullibardine Sovereign NAS 43% ABV Matured 1st Fill Bourbon Casks

6.  Tullibardine 40 Year Old Single Cask 1965 – 2005 48.3% ABV Hogshead Cask # 949


Guest Speaker 3:  Anthony Wills, Founder and Managing Director, Kilchoman Distillery 


7.   Kilchoman Inaugural Release 2005 – 2009 46 %   ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and 5 months in Oloroso

8.   Kilchoman Loch Gorm 5 Years Old 46% ABV Sherry Cask (Butts/ Hogshead) Matured

Special thanks to Andy Dunn (whom you will hopefully all meet on this special night) of Gold Medal Marketing for his support of the DI for this event.  Andy stepped up huge for us on this one and we are incredibly grateful.  Thanks, Andy. 


December 4th, 2013 – Year End Wrap Up / Christmas Party

Early details are coming together now, but this will most likely be some sort of heels party and potluck deal.  Spouses and significant others are not only welcomed, but encouraged, as are all of our special guest speakers from throughout the course of the year (and their others as well).  A portion of proceeds will again be directed to charity, though there are also early talks of having the club embrace the Adopt-A-Family deal as well.  Club members will receive additional details closer to the event itself, but please save the date.

Much more to come, friends.

Slainte Mhath! 


 Posted by at 10:10 am
Aug 122013


So…after tackling some malts from the Fine Oak range and the Sherry Oak range – not to mention a brief detour to check out the new 1824 series – let’s move on into a few of the more ‘out there’ Macallans.  Think Duty Free, foreign market, one-offs, etc.  If and when you get the opportunity to try any of these, do not necessarily expect to recognize many of these as typical of the Macallan profile.  There’s a familiarity, sure, but these are by no means typical of the core range (or what used to be the core range, for that matter). 

As with the FO and SO features, let’s start here with notes on the Macallan New Make spirit.  Sort of a benchmark, if you will:  


Macallan New Make

Notes:  63% abv.  Crystal clear.

Nose:  Slight nuttiness.  Malty.  Fresh bitter fruit.  Rubbery acetone.  Metallic note somewhere in there.  Oh yeah…and some cereals.

Palate:  Fire water.  With a bit o’ citrus.  Estery.  Please put this waxy young thing into the rock tumbler (ahem…a fine sherry bucket) and knock those edges off.

Thoughts:  Unrecognizable as a Macallan really.  Shows you what the distillery’s wood policy really means.  Cool as hell to see this as a new make.


Macallan 12 Elegancia

Notes:  40% abv.  Fino and Oloroso casks.  1L for Duty Free.

Nose:  Malty and caramel sweet.  Sugary sherry and a bit of marzipan.  Toasted Marshmallow.  Yeasty rye bread.  Darkest roasted grains.  Peppery spice.

Palate:  Malty and not nearly as sweet as I’d expect from Oloroso influence.  Bit of an oaky nibble.  Some wine-ish notes.

Thoughts:  Maltier than I expected for something called ‘Elegancia’.  Slightly disappointing, but bad by no means.


Macallan 1851 Inspiration

Notes:  43.3% abv.

Nose:  Malt.  Kinda dank and dusty.  Citrus and leather.  Fruit and nut.  Clove and potpouri.

Palate:  Wham!  Thar’s that old school charm.  Made the hair on my wife’s arms stand up.  Grains are large.  As is the malty charm.

Thoughts:  Completely out of sync within the Macallan range.  This is not a comment regarding quality…simply an observation.  Good?  Meh.  Drinkable?  Absoloodle!  Weird?  F*ckin’ right!


Macallan ‘Whisky Maker’s Edition’

Notes:  42.8% abv.

Nose:  Vaguely yeasty and faintly malty.  Creamy and caramely.  Almond.  A heft of spice and smooooooooth chocolate.  Sweet…sweet…sweet!  Almost red licorice sweet.  Without knowing yet…this must be Oloroso.  And perhaps a smidge of florals in the background.

Palate:  Oaky…fruity…spicy.  Exactly what I’d expect.  Oh…and did I mention sweet?

Thoughts:  A whisky that just can’t quite deliver to the palate what the nose promises.  Comes out closer to a Balvenie than a Mac.  Odd, I know.  Not bad at all though.  I could happily revisit this one a time or three.


So, what’s next?  Think we’ll move on into the Macallan Travel Series.  Stay tuned…


– Words & Tasting Notes:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt


 Posted by at 7:31 am
Aug 122013

The Dram Initiative #003 – The Scotch Malt Whisky Society Logo (2)

Event date:  August 20th, 2013


Ok.  Now with notes behind on us on last month’s event, it’s time to start leaking details on August 20th’s event.

Good friends of ours, Rob and Kelly Carpenter, will be coming through to share the secrets (or as many as they are at liberty to share) of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, or SMWS.  These fine folk are the founders of the Canadian branch of the Society, and are as passionate about whisky as you’re ever likely to find.

Expect another run at a wide range of distilleries, but with a bit of a twist to it.  I’ll leave a little mystery here, but suffice it to say all will be revealed.  Well…maybe not all.

In a recent conversation with the Carpenters, Rob used the word ‘Machiavellian’.  If that doesn’t give you some sort of insight into the inner trappings of the evening in store (and the sort of company being kept)…well…don’t say I didn’t warn you.

There are still a few spots remaining in the club.  If you’re local to Calgary, and think this may be your thing, do drop a line.  There is an option to come out in a try-it-and-see capacity.

Members…see you soon.


 Posted by at 6:58 am