Jul 292015

9 Port EllenPort Ellen 25 y.o. Cask #4176 (Douglas Laing OMC)

54.7% abv

Score:  92/100


I tried this one for the first time about a week and a half ago.  Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to sit down with it twice more.  In the first two instances I was in the company of good friends (and many other fine malts).  In the last instance I was alone while taking notes.  This more dedicated time only served to reinforce what initial impressions told me: this is a spectacular example of Port Ellen.  Probably one of my all time favorites, to be honest.

This expression, a 25 year old, bottled by the Laing Brothers in 2008 (long before the company division), is almost like a time machine for me; immediately bringing back memories of the oceanic breezes, chimney smoke, farm life and maritime trappings of life on Islay.  If you’ve ever awakened to the early morning breezes on the island you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  If you haven’t, I’m not sure why you’re reading here and not searching Expedia for airfare deals.

There are a few Port Ellen expressions I’ve tried that not only hint at the sensory experience of being on Islay, but actually serve to mimic it.  Whiskies that so encapsulate the smells of the island’s villages they seem almost transportive in their abilities to transcend distance.  This is one.  They’re few and far between, but when found the impact is immensely powerful and evocative.  Elegant and sophisticated.  One for the ages.

This cask was selected by, and bottled for, Kensington Wine Market here in Calgary back in 2008.  Unfortunately that means it’s now but a memory.  Great cask selection, guys.  This one is a showstopper.

Nose:  Sweet, soft fruit notes.  A touch of lime and maybe honeydew.  Subtle peat and a very elegant smokiness.  Vanilla and cream.  Seaside breezes and wet shores.  A great gristiness here, like freshly milled barley.  Biscuits.  Salty dough or pie shells.  Faint dry leather.

Palate:  Oh, man, what an arrival.  So much harmony and complexity, and so much sweeter than expected.  Salt and pepper.  Licorice.  Peat and smoke, as we’d expect.  A touch of honey.  A squeeze of citrus.  Like chewing soft grains of barley.  Still creamy, bit with a nice lime counterpoint.  Some apple.

Thoughts:  An almost perfect realization of Port Ellen.  Exceptionally harmonious.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 9:19 am
Jul 152015

(File under ‘First World Problems’)

A Malt Lover’s Inbox Issues: The Curmudgeonly Moanings Of A Jaded Old Bastard

I realize this may come across a bit like the grumpy old man on the corner yelling at the neighbourhood kids to ‘keep off the lawn’, but there’s a little more to it than just being miserable. Bear with me.

Bloggers in the wider whisky world have a hard enough time staking a claim to respectability without opening the door to yet another questionable practice. So, speaking only for myself, but on a subject that is hopefully near to the hearts of many fellow (amateur) whisky writers, let me wade in on gently, so as to make as few waves as possible.

I could have just continued stomping around here, cave man style, grumbling under my breath and taking my frustrations out on the poor soul at the liquor store trying to pour the latest mangled, honey-flavoured-concoction-in-a-disposable-plastic-cup down my throat, but I figured maybe a more constructive outlet (or at least an outlet that only targets an appropriate audience) might be here on ATW. That’s what a blog is for, right? Sort of an ‘it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to’ thing.

It boils down to one central tenet: I do not want to help you brand ambassadors sell your whisky. It is not my job. And I do not appreciate the ways in which you’ve been going about it lately, filling my inbox with mind-bogglingly assuming sales pitches that don’t even ask if I’m interested in publishing your spiel, before closing with a ‘let me know if you need more for your post’ signature.  Why would you think this is a tactful approach?  Oh yeah…and have you ever actually read my site?  What would make you think I am willing to regurgitate press releases?

Now here’s the deal…I don’t mind the email sent from sites I’ve signed up for. Part of the Ardbeg Committee? Of course I am. Friend of Laphroaig? Yup. Guardian of the Glenlivet? Absolutely. On the flipside, however, I’m pretty damn certain I never signed up for email from these Franken-whisky, cocktail-slingin’ blend houses and such.

Ok, ok, settle down, you say. Breathe deep and suck it up, buttercup. It’s just email. Click ‘delete’ and the problem goes away (at least untuil the next time). The thing is…until you’ve read some of the pushy-toned notes and assuming positions that get sent my way, you have no idea. Typically it goes something like this: Here’s our new product…here are a few recipes we’ve concocted that oh-so-cleverly use said new product…here are some hi-res images for you to use on your site…please let us know if you need more information for your (obviously imminent) post about our product…end transmission.

The lines between industry and consumer are so blurred right now, and lead to so much cynicism in the circles of knowledgeable whisky folk, that following this path seems like the last thing any blogger should engage in.  But I’ll stop there.  It’s not up to me to tell anyone how to run their site.  I’ll stick to saying I don’t want that to be my M.O. around here.  It boils down to perception (and some indignation, which we’ll get to in a moment).

I don’t have a lot of interest in those websites that are nothing more than press release aggregators. Quite frankly, it makes them look like industry shills. I can’t help but question intentions when I see this practice, irrespective of how much I like the individuals behind the sites. I simply have to question their motivations and their impartiality. Especially when it comes time to debate any sort of issue with them that comes back to consumer vs producer mentalities.

This very concept of blurred lines between the seemingly independent voices and the industry proper is one of the things that led to whisky demi-deity, Johannes Van Den Huevel, hanging ‘em up and retiring from the Malt Maniacs. Is it just me that thinks it’s a real shame when the founder has to step aside due to his creation becoming distorted? Granted this was one of a few reasons he gracefully bowed aside, but it was an important one.

As always (and going forward), if I choose to assert my opinion on something that seems like a ‘pitch’ to you (i.e. a festival announcement, a book or glassware review, an event notification, etc) rest assured it’s because I elected to do so of my own volition, not because of some bulk mail-out asking me to do a brand’s marketing work for them. Want me to do your sales and marketing for you? Send me an offer letter and a contract. It better be in the six figures and for a brand I support, otherwise please don’t bother.

Anyway…what it boils down to is an open letter to the industry:


Dear ambassadors,

Please do not ask me to help sell your product for you. I will not publish your press releases. And if you have something to send me, please do so in a slightly less assuming and authoritative manner.

I do hope your product sells.  Truly.  And I do wish you the best.  But kindly note that this kind of ground-level-blitz advertising stuff will not be done through All Things Whisky. Ever.

The best you can hope for is that I try your product, like it and share some kind words on All Things Whisky. That does, of course, rest on the assumption that the product is worth spending money on. And no, please do not offer samples. Thanks anyway.

Best of luck,

All Things Whisky



 Posted by at 12:08 pm
Jul 092015

BenRiach 12 y.o. Sherry Matured085

46% abv

Score:  87/100


Single cask releases from BenRiach will always be the heartsblood of this distillery in my eyes, but it’s truly impressive how consistently enjoyable even the standard expressions are.  This 12 year old – an age that generally doesn’t excite me beyond the realms of Islay malts – performs like a budding rock star.  Yes, it’s a little shy when held up against some of the other BenRiach expressions we’ve tried to date (dozens), but still puts on a hell of a show.

I’m a huge fan of naked BenRiach – there’s just something about the distillery’s fruity spirit matured in bourbon barrels that works for me – but trying it all wrapped up in a clean sherry blanket is a real treat.  Interestingly enough, this one bears all the hallmarks of one of our favorite NAS malts, a’bunadh.  But, shhhhhh…we’ll not deign to discuss NAS here for now.  Instead, suffice it to say that this one ticks all the flavour boxes, if not necessarily the desire for the pure, unadulterated whomp! of cask strength offerings.  So be it.  Still a tasty drink in an approachable tax bracket.

Nose:  Jammy and sweet.  Almost a red licorice.  Spicy.  Very spicy.  Like sharp cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.  Great berry and stone fruit aromas.  Lavender and white chocolate.  Soft and smells infinitely sippable.  Something about this one hearkens back to gramma’s kitchen.

Palate:  Cinnamon sticks and big juicy sherry notes.  Jams and jellies.  Candies and dried fruits.  Crunchy MacIntosh apples and a squeeze of very fresh orange.  Juicy and tangy.

Thoughts:  Very clean sherry.  Nice barrels in this one.  Not far off an a’bunadh, as I said, but obviously about 15% less punching power.  Maybe like an a’bunadh meets a Balvenie, if you can wrap your head around that one.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 7:47 am
Jul 072015

Bruichladdich 12 y.o. (Second Edition)087

46% abv

Score:  85.5/100


I’m happy to say my friends and I did our part a few years back, drinking our way through many of the earlier Laddie releases and ensuring the distillery kept the cash flow strong.  It’s only now I rue the lack of foresight that might have had us squirrelling away a few of these old releases for future years and tastings.  Fortunately I came across a couple bottles of this mid-2000s 12 year old expression recently, and for a very decent price.  This ‘Second Edition’ would have been from about five years after the distillery’s 2001 restart, therefore built entirely on stock produced before the McEwan/Reynier era.  In other words…most likely very different juice than the teal tin brings us nowadays.

Not sure if any of you are like me, but I find I’ve started to mark the passage of time through my whisky collection and recollections.  The speed at which it rolls by is rather alarming when we look back at something like this malt and realize it hit the shelves nearly ten years ago now.  Obviously a lot has happened in the Bruichladdich camp in that time, but a lot has gone down in my personal life as well.  It’s arguable that this coastal Islay distillery is the one brand that has been most consistently present for me through it all.  As I write this, I have tried at least 73 different Bruichladdich expressions.  And when held up against the lot, this one holds its own quite well, boasting much more character than most 12 year olds currently on the market.

There is a recognizable Laddie DNA here, despite the different lineage, but this is not a whisky I can really see the current team producing.  Hard to put a finger on just what is different, but I’d bet dimes to dollars that this one was a recasking of spirit from dead wood into something more active for its last few years*, and also that there is something in here a little older than 12.  Not much older most likely, but maybe some 15 or so.  Speculation aside, it’s neat to try a piece of history that speaks to the days before the Laddie machine really stepped it up into high gear.

(*We do know that when Jim McEwan and the gang took over the distillery they spelled out a bunch of barrels they were unhappy with and recasked much of the inherited maturing spirit.)

Nose:  Slightly prickly.  Nice sweet barley notes.  A touch of dust and dunnage.  Lemon, orange and honey.  Something reminds of old books and old furniture.  A very different character than contemporary Laddie, but not better or worse.  Less on the butyric side, to be sure.  Gets softer and fruitier the longer it breathes (which brings a creamier edge too).  Maybe a drop of pear juice.  A slight floral overtone.

Palate:  Spicier arrival than expected.  Like a cinnamon and ginger dusted fruit salad.  A fleeting taste of banana cream pie.  Still citric.  Big grains and woods here too.  More coastal on the palate than the nose hints at.  By that trait, it is decidedly Laddie.  Definitely has some nip to it.  A lot of personality for a 12 year old.  Leaves behind apple and toothpicks.

Thoughts:  Enjoyable as hell, beyond simply being a nostalgia act.  An easy drinker, if not a showstopper.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

 Posted by at 8:29 am