Malt Messenger No. 44
Dear Malt Messenger Subscribers,
A very Happy New Year to you all! I hope the holidays treated you well, and that you are rested, rejuvenated and brimming with optimism for the coming year.
I’m looking forward in 2011, to some great new whiskies, interesting tastings and some fun whisky tours. On the whisky front we have two new casks on the way from the Isle of Arran distillery. It was so difficult choosing between the two best cask samples—one bourbon and one sherry—that we simply decided to go with both! These whiskies will be formally launched at Scots Wha Hae, our Robbie Burns Supper, on January 26th , and will be available for purchase in late February or March. With a forecast price between $85-90 these will be our most reasonably priced private bottlings to date.
Speaking of our Burns Supper, we are back for our 6th straight year in 2011. For the third year in a row we will be back at Fort Calgary, which has been an excellent venue for us. The room is beautiful, the food excellent and the service first rate. “Scots Wha Hae” incorporates the traditional elements of the Burns Supper, poetry, song, highland dance, bagpipes and haggis, and blends into it a tasting of six whiskies from a feature distillery. This year our guest distillery is Arran and its brand ambassador Andrew Hogan our special guest. More information can be found on our Burns Supper below.
After a break in 2010, my whisky tours are back on the agenda beginning in May 2011. Speyside and the Southern Highlands (May 15th-21st) is already full, but the Islay and the Southwest Coast (May 8th– 14th) my most jam packed trip has plenty of room. I will be posting dates for my fall tours later in late February or early March. If you would like some more info on my whisky tours checkout: www.fergusonswhiskytours.com..
There are plenty of exciting new whiskies on the way this year, but before we can even start thinking about those, there are some whiskies which came in late in 2010 that we need to get caught up on first. There is Ballentine 17 Year Old (Jim Murray’s 2011 World Whisky of the Year), the Amrut Intermediate Sherry, some exciting new whiskies from Compass Box (Hedonism Maximus, Peat Monster Reserve, Flaming Heart and Double Single), Glenglassaugh Manager’s Legacy 1974 and 1986, Forty Creek Confederation Oak and Signatory Dufftwon 1984 26 Year to name just a few!
Finally, I have a few New Year’s resolutions I’ve made that I hope will make the Malt Messenger more useful and more enjoyable. Firstly, I resolve to continue sending it out when I have something important to say or when I’ve been inspired by the whisky muse. The most rewarding compliments I have had about the Malt Messenger over the years have remarked on the genuine love and enthusiasm which comes across when I’m writing about whisky. Secondly, I resolve to not make the Malt Messenger more formulaic. Let’s face it, that just not my style. Anyone who’s ever seen my workspace can attest to that. The Malt Messenger will continue to vary in length and composition according to how much I have to write about, how inspired I am and what kind of time is available to write it. In short I resolve to continue giving you all, what so many of you have told me you’ve enjoyed over the past five years.
So curl up by the fire with your malt of choice and dig in. I hope you enjoy the first Malt Messenger of 2011!
PS-Don’t forget you can follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/scotch_guy , I promise I will eventually getting around to sending out tweets again soon!
IN THIS ISSUE:
- Scots Wha Hae! – Our 6th Annual Robbie Burns Supper
- New Tastings Added
- A Tale of Two Dufftown’s
- Distillery in Focus – Glenglassaugh
- New Whiskies From Compass Box
- Collector’s Pick for December
- Collector’s Pick for January
- Kilkerran “Work in Progress” #1 vs. #2
- Forty Creek Confederation Oak
- Whisky 101 – Part I – What is Whisky?
- Ballantine’s 17 Year – World Whisky of the Year?
SCOTS WHA HAE! – Our 6th Annual Robbie Burns Supper at Fort Calgary – Wed Jan 26th 7PM – $99
Please note the deadline for registration is Tuesday January 25th at 3PM. With the first 80 tickets nearly sold we’ve just added another 40!
Our Robbie Burns Supper has grown from a humble event with just 20 participants—and one clueless host: yours truly—to one of the most respected in the city. We take a traditional Burns Supper and blend in a tasting of single malt Scotch whisky. Every year we feature one distillery, and invite their brand ambassador to attend as our special guest. This year we are pleased to present the Isle of Arran distillery, and its man, Andrew Hogan. Andrew’s a brave man, like Jamie Mackenzie of Bowmore distillery last year he has agreed to address the haggis, the evening’s most important ritual.
Isle of Arran is one of Scotland’s youngest distilleries, but in its 15 years of operation it has earned a strong reputation. The distillery produces soft, smooth whiskies with signature grassy-honey notes. We’ll sample 8 whiskies from Arran distillery including two barrels being bottled exclusively for Kensington Wine Market:
- Robert Burns Single Malt
- Arran 10 Year
- Arran 14 Year
- Arran Moscatel
- Arran Sauternes
- Arran Amarone
- Arran KWM Bourbon Cask
- Arran KWM Sherry Cask
In addition to the whiskies there will be a traditional three course meal prepared by Fort Calgary, highland dancing from the Springbank School of Highland Dance, poetry, piping courtesy of Mary Ann Houston who is with us for her 5th year, song and great camaraderie. And of course Terry Lauder, who’s been with us since the start, will be there again this year to delight and entertain. The evening is light-hearted and fun, whether in a group, as a couple, or single you’ll have a great time. If you’ve never been to a Kensington Wine Market Burns Supper, come see what you’ve been missing!
NEW TASTINGS ADDED
To meet demand, we have added an addition “Classic Malts” and “Rare Malts” tasting, the description and dates follow below:
- Classic Malts II – Monday February 28th – Back to basics, “Classic Malts” is our introduction to the world of Scottish single malt whisky: its regions, history and taste profiles. – $35.00
- Rare Malts II – Friday March 11th – Only the oldest and rarest whiskies need apply! Taste whiskies that have been matured more than 20 years in oak, and are from closed distilleries or are exceptionally rare! – $75.00
A TALE OF TWO DUFFTOWN’S
We’ve had a very heavily sherried bottling of Dufftown in store for the last couple of months. It was a sherry monster with notes of burnt fruits and a trace of sulphur (full tasting note to follow below). I reordered it for Christmas, but instead of getting more of the same serendipity intervened. We received a different bottling of Dufftown from the same producer, distilled and filled into sherry casks on the same day, the only difference is that one of them is a first fill sherry cask, and the other a refill. I describe this as serendipitous because it was only by chance that we had two different bottles of whisky from the same distillery which we can compare with each other for the purposes of satisfying ones curiosity. Here we have a classic example of the difference between first fill and re-fill sherry!
Dufftown is one of Scotland’s more overlooked distilleries, not because it is in bad nick, but because it is an almost unknown quantity. There was until recently only one official bottling, and more than 97% of the distillery’s production continues to be used for blending, mainly in Bell’s. The distillery was until the launch of Roseisle a few years back the largest of Diageo’s 27 distilleries. Dufftown was the 7th distillery built in the town for which it was named. While other Dufftown single malts have gone on to great fame like Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Mortlach it continues to live in their shadows. But we have two interesting and very different bottlings of Dufftown which can help shed a little light on this little know distillery. Both of these Signatory bottlings are exclusive to KWM.
- Signatory Dufftown 1984 26 Year – Distilled: 09/01/1984 – Bottled: 12/04/2010 – Age 26 Years – Refill Sherry Butt – Cask #79 – 311 bottles – 55.0% – My Tasting Note: Nose: biscuity, fruit flan, graham wafers and honey, some rich sherry notes, buttery oak, malted milk candy bar and traces of sauternes; Palate: lovely soft sweet sherry notes, a dollop of sweet spices like cinnamon, ginger and cardamom and rich toasted oak which fades to soft leather and damp tobacco; there is sweet Christmas cake and some burnt fruits too; Finish: vanilla extract, more fruit flan, honey and soft sherry with some lingering tobacco; Comment: this is the more elegant and complex of the two. – $209.99
- Signatory Dufftown 1984 25 Year – Distilled: 09/01/1984 – Bottled: 14/09/2009 – Age 25 Years – First Fill Sherry Butt – Cask # 80 – 455 bottles – 57.5% – My Tasting Note: Nose: big, dark and chocolaty (dark), old saddle leather, a pleasing trace of burnt matches, and big, bold sherry notes; Palate: big and chewy, the sherry is lush and full throttle, some sweet and sour fruits with a bold layer of sulphur, firm earthy tannins and more leather; as the bottle develops the sulphur fades and spices and fruit come to the fore; Finish: sweet, spicy and fruity with fruit chocolate and earthy leather; Comment: this one is for the sherry bomb fan and is the more full bodied whisky of the two. $209.99
DISTILLERY IN FOCUS GLENGLASSAUGH
Glenglassaugh distillery was founded between 1873 and 1875 on the Morray Firth between the towns of Portsoy and Cullen. The distillery’s early history is a little like passages from Genesis in the Bible with so and so begetting so and so, distillery closures, reopening and the like. The real story begins in 1957-59 when the current distillery took its form. It reopened in 1960 and all the whisky we know of as Glenglassaugh was produced between this date and 1986 when the distillery closed again. The early to mid eighties were a difficult time in the world of whisky, a glut of production in the 1970’s provoked a spate of closures.
Few official bottlings of Glenglassaugh have been released. In 2005 a 22 year old was launched by then owners the Edrington group. In 2006 19, 38 and 44 year old bottlings were produced in very limited quantities. Then in 2008 Scaent Group of the Netherlands purchased the distillery for an astounding £5,000,000.00. What made the purchase price all the more surprising was the fact that the deal included only 400 casks of maturing whisky. The new owners would have to make do with this until their new make was old enough to sell and market as whisky. The distillery’s core range which was quickly launched in 2008 consisted of 21, 30 and 40 year old whiskies; certainly the oldest core range ever launched. And further the distillery required more than a million pounds in refurbishment and upgrades just to get operational.
Time will tell whether the Scaent Group’s investment will pay off, or whether the price for the distillery was too dear. In the short term we have some excellent distillery edition bottlings of whisky to sample and enjoy. One interesting note on those whiskies before we get to the tasting notes: it seems the distillery had some questionable advice when it came to marketing its core range. Even though the distillery’s first three whiskies were 24, 31 and 41 years old the marketing gurus felt they would have better prospects if they were sold as 21, 30 and 40 year olds. They won’t be taking this advice any longer. The new 26 year old is 26 years old!
Kensington Wine Market stocks and or has access to the following Glenglassaugh bottlings:
- Glenglassaugh Spirit Drink – New make spirit at 50% – 500ml – My Tasting Note: floral and fruity, raspberry vinaigrette, creamy-aloe-like vegetal notes, soft and grassy; Palate: malty, soft, sweet, more floral tones, raspberry jam and marmalade, somewhat vodka-like with soft oils; Finish: grassy with faint honey notes; Comment: interesting to be able to try the raw spirit, but too expensive. – $47.99
- Glenglassaugh Spirit Drink That Blushes… – New make spirit matured 6 months in “rare” California red wine casks. Just don’t call it whisky!” – 50% – 500ml – My Tasting Note: Nose: earthy with red berry fruits and green grassy malt; Palate: lusher than expected, soft and earthy, juicy wine notes, more grassy malt with gin-like tones; Finish: warming and earthy with more grass; Comments: I think this is a brave idea, but far too expensive to make it anything more than a curiosity. – $47.99
- Glenglassaugh 21 Year – Sadly this whisky is no longer available. Although the bottle declares the whisky to be 21 years old it is actually 24. – 21 Year – 46% – My Tasting Notes: Nose: lovely elegant sherry notes, chocolate “turtles”, candied nuts, moist brown sugar, maple syrup on Belgian waffles and pecan pie; Palate: warm and rich with sweet-spicy-buttery sherry notes that smother the palate with delicate flavours; there is a minty element; the spice keeps the sweet notes under control—perhaps a little too much; there are many layers including Christmas cake, toffee cake in fresh cream and black liquorice; Finish: soft and gently sherried with a tinge of something bitter like coffee that fades; it is long pleasant and coating; Comment: elegant, lots of layers but a there is too much of a stiff upper lip here, I want a little more from the sherry (bourbon notes were more prominent when I tasted this whisky again after the 26 year)! – $256.49
- Glenglassaugh 26 Year – Replaces the 21 Year Old. – My Tasting Note: Nose: shyer than the 21, fig bars, marzipan, savoury, highland toffee and chocolate fudge; Palate: a lot richer than I was expecting and very lively with bold sherry notes, very sweet, creamy and just spicy enough to hold it all together; not as soft as the 21 year, but more complex and layered, my mouth is wavering between drying out and salivating; this is an exceptionally drinkable whisky with big sherry notes; Finish: a little perfumed, and showing a faint whiff of sulphur the finish is drying with lovely rich sherry notes. Comment: Jim Murray is off his rocker… there is little wrong with this dram, the nose was a little weak and the sherry notes may have been a little top heavy but it is a great drink! – $256.49
- Glenglassaugh 30 Year – Actually 31 years old. My Tasting Notes: Nose: toffee and caramel to start; the nose is shier than the 21 year; there are vanilla and custard notes, as well as orange citrus and some grassy malt; green apple and other white fruits emerge as the nose opens up; Palate: big citrus and loads of spice (burnt ginger and clove); lemon and lime citrus notes along with orange peel and grassy oils; the palate is very green and vegetal, there is some vanilla and toasty/creamy bourbon notes; there is some unripened green apple and heather honey too; Finish: long drying and grassy with traces of something sweet more citrus; Comments: a good whisky, but a little light and under-gunned compared to the 26 year old. $683.99
- Glenglassaugh 40 Year – Actually 41 years old. My Tasting Note: Nose: massively rich, damp tobacco, stewed fruits, moist toffee cake, tropical fruits (mango and papaya), medium-dark chocolate, and soft dark sherry notes; Palate: dark coffee notes and firm earthy tannins on the first pass; the dry oloroso sherry notes dominate the palate, but the second sip is more fruity and lush with the same moist toffee cake found on the nose and the same tropical fruits though they are more restrained, the third sip is soft with gentle oils and waves of complexity, there is spice aplenty with burnt ginger and clove; one final pass reveals dates, raisins, plums and other dark fruits; Finish: the finish is long and drying with lingering notes of coffee, Oloroso sherry, dark fruits and cigar smoke; Comments: this is a fine example of a good older whisky, on the verge of being over the hill: too old, bitter and oaky. It has extracted the best of what the oak has to offer and been bottled not a moment too soon. Though not in the company of the Macallan 50 Year Lallique or Black Bowmore 1964 42 Year it is an excellent older whisky and a rare one at that! $2528.99
- Glenglassaugh Manager’s Legacy 1986 – Limited release of 500 bottles. KWM has 1/6 left. – 45.3% – Sherry Butt – My Tasting Note: Nose: candied nuts, Christmas cake, spicy sherry oak, almond paste, marzipan and treacle; Palate: very soft and fruity with a thick oily body, becomes more fruity and creamy as the slightly bitter sherry notes begin to fade into chewy candied fruit; there is some toasted oak, but it is soft; my mouth is watering in anticipation of more; Finish: long, dark and rich, a sherry bomb; Comments: a great single cask bottling, something we won’t see a lot of from a distillery which started out with 400 mature casks.
- Glenglassaugh Manager’s Legacy 1974 – Limited release of only 200 bottles. Sadly KWM has already sold out of it! – Bourbon Cask – 52.9% – My Tasting Note: soft, fresh cream, fall grass, crème brule, dusty malt, coconut shavings and peaches and cream; Palate: very sweet, creamy, honey in fresh cream with caramelized strawberries, some liquorice and warm brown sugar; Finish: incredibly long and soft with fresh cream, honey and toasted coconut crisps; Comment: an exceptionally elegant whisky, wish I had another couple dozen bottles!
The Kensington Wine Market has access to all of the Glenglassaugh whiskies with the exception of the 21 year old and the 1974 Manager’s Dram; these have sold out. There is only one bottle left of the 1986 manager’s dram.
NEW WHISKIES FROM COMPASS BOX
Compass Box’s John Glasser is arguably Scotland most interesting and innovative blender. He has taken the small batch, non-chillfiltered, no colouring added approach of the most innovative single malt distilleries and applied those lessons and others to the Blended Scotch whisky categories. Since the explosion of interest and selection of single malts, the blended categories have come to appear boring and stale; Compass Box is making blended whisky cool and fun again!
More than 10 years ago John Glasser was working for Johnnie Walker as a blender. He had an idea for the company which he felt could add to the portfolio. He wanted to establish a branch of the company which would make small batch hand crafted blends. They weren’t interested, so he set out on his own. John’s whiskies are creative, innovative and different. His house style can be summed up in one word, elegant. Over the last two years I have gone from feeling indifferent to the blended categories, and Compass Box included, to a true believer. The Spice Tree was the first one to really catch my attention, and now we have four more worth consideration:
- Compass Box Flaming Heart – Is the official 10th Anniversary Bottling. Only 4186 bottles have been produced, with about 144 having found their way to Alberta. Without even marketing it, we’ve sold 22 of our initial 24 bottles. More are on the way. The Flaming Heart retails for $96.99 It received excellent score from both John Hansel and Jim Murray. I’ve included them below along with my own tasting note:
- Malt Advocate: 95pts John Hansel – “A marriage of three different single malts, aged in American and French oak. This whisky shows the advantage of marrying whiskies from more than one distillery (when properly done). Vibrant, with a complex array of fruit (orchard fruit, sultana), sweetness (light toffee, marzipan, honeyed malt), spice (creamy vanilla, mocha, warming pepper), smoke (tar, smoked olive, coal), and lesser notes of toasted almond and beach pebbles. More smoke and tar on the palate than the nose, yet always in balance. Well played! (Editor’s Choice)”
- Whisky Bible: 95.5% Jim Murray – “The Canto range was, I admit, a huge over oaked disappointment. This, though, fully underlines Compass Box’s ability to come up with something approaching genius. This is a whisky that will be remembered by anyone who drinks it for the rest of their lives as just about the perfect study of full-bodied balance and sophistication. And that is not cheap hyperbole.”
- My Tasting Note: Nose: dusty, some peat, very savoury (like a New York steak covered in sautéed mushrooms), sweet vanilla and ginger linger in the background, mulled and stewed fruits add to the complexity; Palate: at once smokier, sweeter and spicier than I was expecting; the palate is weighty and thick with the peat quickly taking control, there is rich sweet vanilla and round earthy peat, chocolate and stewed fruits provide the backdrop with the salty smoke showing late; overall rich, soft and very smooth with the signature Compass Box elegance; Finish: long with salty smoke and oily earthy peat; Comments: fans of Ardbeg, Bowmore, Laphroaig and Port Ellen will love this one, and how cool is the packaging!”
- Compass Box Double Single – This is a unique expression of Compass Box, also released to celebrate their 10th Anniversary. It is called the Double Single because it is composed of one single malt and one single grain whisky. The single malt is 18 year old Glen Elgin and the single grain is 21 year old Port Dundas, in a ratio of 76:24. Only 876 bottles have been released of which KWM is expecting only 12. The label features two very happy looking frogs. $159.99
- From Compass Box: “What if we were to match perfectly one single malt whisky with one single grain whisky in just the right proportions? That is, what if we were to make a blended Scotch whisky with only two components, only two single whiskies rather than many? What if we were to make… a ‘double single’? This is the question our friends Duncan Elphick and Tatsuya Minagawa of the Highlander Inn on Speyside asked us in 2003, resulting in our first limited release bottling of The Double Single. For our 10th anniversary year, we’ve decided to bring it back. The whiskies we’ve chosen this time: an 18 year-old malt whisky distilled at Glen Elgin distillery (76 percent) and a 21 year-old grain whisky distilled at Port Dundas (24 percent), both aged in American oak (Glen Elgin was refill, the Dundas was first fill). The combination yields a full, soft palate of flavours reminiscent of pear fruit, maltiness, vanilla and creme brulee. This whisky is a testament to the virtues of combining grain whisky with malt whisky, a testament to the virtues of blended Scotch whisky. The grain whisky creates a lovely, soft, sweet pillow on which the malt whisky flavours luxuriate. This is just as great blended Scotch whisky should be.”
- My Tasting Note: Nose: very fresh and creamy, coconut macaroons and coconut breaded shrimp, something minty and softly vegetal, soft vanilla and graham wafers, toasted oak with light spices; Palate: very sweet and soft with a big malt footprint, vanilla and coconut cream abounds and comes in soft undulating waves; the grain adds a layer of silky oils which compliment the rich bourbon notes which range from toasted oak to white chocolate; there is a firm backbone of clean spice underpinning the whole thing as well as some burnt citrus; Finish: warming and clean, sweet drying oak and vanilla with hints of mandarin orange; Comments: elegant is the only appropriate descriptor; Johnnie Walker Blue you’ve been bested!
- Compass Box Peat Monster Reserve – Only 5,300 magnums (1.5L) bottles of this whisky have been bottled, and for the time being but 24 have come to Canada, all of them to the Kensington Wine Market. When Compass Box launched the original Peat Monster more than 5 years ago it was as the name implied, a peaty beast. In the years since we’ve seen the likes of Port Charlotte, Octomore, the Big Peat, Supernova and more, all of which make the Peat Monster seem tame. This special bottling has combined whiskies from Caol Ila, Ardmore and Clynelish. In the words of its creator it is “even peatier, smokier, richer and higher strength than the classic version”. Exclusive to KWM – $154.99
- Whisky Bible: “Nose: comfortable, thickish smoke and a dusting of peppers: complex and well balanced; Taste:silky soft malt oils cleverly disguise the big punchy peat which is to follow; lovely touch of golden syrup here and there, but mainly towards the delivery; Finish: smoky sweetened mocha; Balance: at times a bit of a Sweet Monster… beautiful stuff!” 48.9% – 92pts
- Compass Box Hedonism Maxximus – Hedonism Maximus is a Blended Grain Scotch whisky created by blending select casks of 42 year old Invergordon with a smaller quantities of 29 year old Cameronbridge. Cameronbridge is interestingly Scotland oldest continuously operating distillery! The constituent parts, distilled in 1965 and 1979 respectively were matured in first fill American Oak bourbon barrels. It is deeper, sweeter and richer than the original Hedonism bottling hence the designation of “Maximus”. The whisky’s label is an homage to one of the Scotch industry’s long lost brands, Andrew Usher & Co.s “Old Vatted Glenlivet Whisky”. The label was inspired by an advertisement from OVGW from 1905 found in the National Archive of Scotland. Only 1500 bottles were produced, with but 24 coming to Canada, all of them to the Kensington Wine Market. – Exclusive to KWM – $259.99
- Whisky Bible: “Nose: the kind of aroma your nose was invented for: lots of rich bourbon swirls, with butterscotch, liquorice and chocolate-covered honeycomb arriving—big time!—on cue…; oh, and a few gooseberries and greengages tossed in for an extra dimension: it just doesn’t get any better… Taste: the oak is a bit top heavy on arrival, but lush malt cushions its impact to a degree; still juicy tongue-teasing; Finish: retains its overtly bourbon character to the end with massively chewy oak extract, but always enough sweetness in reserve to cope; Balance: Bourbon Maximus…”
COLLECTOR’S PICK FOR DECEMBER – Amrut Intermediate Sherry – $114.99
Only 90 or so bottles of this very limited release from the Amrut distillery have made it to Alberta, and of the dozen that the Kensington Wine Market acquired we have but 5 left! This whisky is limited to 1 bottle per customer out of fairness. It has been bottled at a cask strength of 57.1%. My tasting note follows below after Jim Murray’s which explains the origin of this whisky. Me thinks he may have had something to do with it…
“Amrut Intermediate Sherry – 96.5pts Jim Murray – “Nose: instead of the usual biscuit aroma, we now get moist cake. And my word: is it fruity and spicy!! Love the freshly waxed oak floor, too. Brain-explodingly complex and multi-layered with one of the most intriguing sherry-style-bourbon-style marriages on the market; Taste: cracking delivery and entirely unique in form. The structure is decidedly oak-based, but acts as no more than a skeleton from which the juicy sultana and spices drape. Salivating, too, as the barley kicks in powerfully. But the liquorice-orangey-honeycomb bourbon theme quietly shapes the flavour profile; the spices pulse and glow; Finish: quite a chunk of natural caramel quietens the more exuberant characteristics, long and elegant; Balance: how do you three freshly emptied oloroso butts from Jerez to Bangalore without the casks spoiling, and not use sulphur? Answer: empty two cases of Amrut cask strength whisky into each of the butts before shipping them. Not a single off note. No bitterness whatsoever. And the fruit is left to impart its extraordinary riches on a malt also matured in American oak. Amrut is spoiling us again. 57.1%” – Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2011
My Tasting Notes: Nose: good depth, sweet candied fruits, papaya and mango, vanilla milkshake, mixed berry jam, ginger snaps, molasses and caramel aplenty; there is fresh green grassy character; Palate: lots of spice, cinnamon, clove and ginger, sweet sherry notes, firm but not overpowering oak warms the palate; the whisky has a nice weight to it, silky oils stroke the back of my palate while the spice (or the alcohol) leaves it pleasantly tingling; vanilla custard and boiled cream show up late to represent the early Bourbon maturation of this whisky; Finish: drying with more spice and pleasant oak notes; Comments: very good, and very drinkable; the cask strength is nowhere near as overbearing as it is on some of the other Amruts; overall a very pleasant sherried whisky!
COLLECTOR’S PICK FOR JANUARY – Amrut Kadhambam – $115.99
Only 234 bottles of the Kadhambam have been produced, with but 30 or so coming to Canada. Kadhambam is a Tamil word for “combination” or “mixture”, appropriate given that this whisky was matured in a mix of Oloroso sherry, rum and Bangalore brandy casks. The bottles are hand numbered, and filled at a strength of 50%. Kensington Wine Market has acquired 6 bottles, two of which have already sold. We are crossing our fingers for another case, my tasting note follows below:
My Tasting Note: Nose: sweet honey, grassy elements, dusty and a little shy, especially compared to the Intermediate Sherry; as it opens up it becomes minty and floral with soft vanilla notes emerging, Demerara sugar shows late; Palate: starts out light but develops quickly becoming sweet and creamy with gentle spices; the second sip is a little earthy but the sweetness builds with silky oils coating the palate; Demerara sugar, fresh cut grass and toasty American oak develop later but the spice continues to linger; vanilla seems to dominate the later stages; Finish: long drying and sweet with spices, green grass and smoky oak; Comments: this is definitely a lighter whisky than the Intermediate Sherry, but makes up for that in greater complexity. I love sherry, but think this is the better of the two!
Kilkerran “Work in Progress” #1 vs. #2
Kilkerran is the name given to whisky distilled at Glengyle Distillery (2004) in Cambeltown. The distillery is the first new one to open in Scotland this millennium, and is the first new distillery in Cambeltown in more than 120 years. The distilleries origins go back much further than 2004, it was originally opened in 1872 by William Mitchell. At one time Cambeltown boasted more than 30 distilleries, and was the whisky capital of Scotland. However the whisky boom which spurred the growth of the Campbeltown whisky bubble eventually went bust and the distillery closed in 1925. In the years following the closure the buildings were used alternatively as a farmers’ cooperative and even as a shooting range. The buildings were acquired Hedley Wright, owner of the Springbank distillery and great great nephew of William Wright, in 2000.
The buildings at Glengyle were badly in need of repair, one of the buildings having served unofficially as a home to the towns pigeons for many years. The old equipment having long since been removed a new kit was in order to begin making whisky again. Stills were brought in from the closed Ben Nevis distillery and reworked to suits the needs and specifications of Glengyle. The malt mill is also gently used, formerly of Craigillachie distillery it was surplus to that distillery’s needs after its expansion. The mash tun and four wooden washbacks were all installed new.
Hint: The second one is darker!
As there is a blended malt under the name Glengyle, the single malt from Glengyle distillery cannot therefore be referred to as Glengyle single malt. The distillery has decided to call the whisky Kilkerran, after the church of St. Kieran which can be seen through a window in a wall on the distillery grounds. This view is now the distillery’s logo, proudly displayed on each bottle. In 2007 a first limited release of Kilkerran 3 year old was launched. A more widely distributed Kilkerran “Work in Progress” was bottled in 2009. This is one of the two Kilkerran’s tasted below. Kensington Wine Market has bought the last 6 bottles of it in the province to display next to the new “Kilkerran Work in Progress” #2 also tasted below.
- Kilkerran Work in Progress #1 – 46% / 5 Year / No Cask Types Specified (Suspect Ex-Bourbon) – Nose: young and a bit spirity, lots of dusty oak and malt, freshly cut grapefruit, very grassy with soft sweet vanilla hanging on against the sour citrus notes; there are also hints of honey, new Christmas tree and something vaguely smoky; Palate: lots of vanilla, clean smoke and traces of salt; the palate is creamy and sweet with vanilla and heather honey, but there is also something more vegetal and brackish which adds depth; Finish: long and smooth with vanilla and salty smoke. – ONLY 7 Bottles Left! – $69.99
- Kilkerran Work in Progress #2 – 46% / 6 Year / 50% Fresh Bourbon, 25% Fresh Sherry and 25% Refill Bourbon – Nose: creamy and buttery with floral tones, it too is dusty, but the vanilla is shoving the sour citrus notes of the 1st bottling to the side; it is less intense than the nose on the first bottling, but more balanced, opening more with time; Palate: it immediately feels thicker with more mouth-feel, soft vanilla and white chocolate make their presence known first, the smoke is still present though it is soft and there is something green and vegetal; this is a maritime malt through and through with the Campbeltown sea salt adding balance to big toasted oak; Finish: long, drying and mouth-watering with more dusty malt. – $69.99
FORTY CREEK CONFEDERATION OAK – $65.49
“One of the finest Canadian whiskies I have ever tasted!” is how John Hansel starts out his review of the latest limited release from Forty Creek. Forty Creek has in very short order become one of Canada’s finest whisky producers. Its whisky maker John Hall is on the cover of Malt Advocate Magazine this month.
The Forty Creek Confederation Oak is the fourth and largest of the distillery’s limited releases. It is a small batch Canadian whisky finished in casks made from Canadian oak trees found growing 40km from the distillery. Based on the size of their trunks the whisky maker John Hall believes the trees are around 150 years old, meaning that they were taking root around the time of Canadian Confederation; hence the whisky’s name. Only mature trees were selectively harvested leaving the rest to continue growing, perhaps one-day they too will give life to whisky! The Canadian oak trees are the same species as the American white oak trees used in casks for maturing bourbon, but the cooler conditions and shorter growing season give the Canadian oak a distinctive character.
We tasted it in the store shortly after it came in, and it wasn’t disappointing. My colleague Thomas said it best: “This beats the heck out of any $65 bourbon!”
My Tasting Note: Nose: lots of rye on the nose, along with soft vanilla, sweet corn and gentle earthy spices; something on the nose reminds me of those new Chocolaty Mint Girl Guides cookies; layers of honey , sour malt and dusty grains; Palate: really sweet with loads of spice, huge sour rye with thick oils, lush layers of vanilla, big orange and light maple syrup; there is a strong nutty component too with hints of walnut and macadamia; the spices are here too, but not as strong as on the nose; Finish: long and coating with fading walnut, vanilla and coconut cream cake!
Overall this is very impressive, and one of the best Canadian whiskies I’ve ever tasted. It is balanced, deep and very complex. A bottle of this could disappear very quickly… 16,800 bottles have been produced, but given John Hansel’s review (see below) and the growth of the Forty Creek brand in the US it won’t last long. 180 bottles are currently available in Alberta. At $65.49 a bottle you would be foolish not to give it a go!
John Hansel’s Tasting Note: “Forty Creek Confederation Oak Reserve, 40%, $70
One of the finest Canadian whiskies I have ever tasted. Creamy and seamless from beginning to end. Gently sweet, with orange creamsicle, marzipan, sultana, praline, maple syrup, and a hint of coconut macaroon. Forty Creek whiskies have always been very good, but none have ever had the right stuff to reach classic status. Until now, that is. An outstanding, very distinctive whisky! Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 95”
WHISKY 101 Part I – What is Whisky?
Over the next year I hope to include an educational component to the Malt Messenger, and where better to start, than at the beginning.
Whisky is the oak matured spirit made of distilled fermented grains. Whisky’s base component is grain, whether it be corn, wheat, rye and barley or a mix thereof. The type or mix of grains used will impact the style and flavour of the spirit you produce. Whisky must be aged 2 (North America) to 3 (the rest of the world) years in oak casks before it legally can be called whisky, and must be bottled at no less than 40%.
Scotch Whisky by definition can only come from Scotland. Distilleries in many countries make Scotch like whiskies—whether single malt or blend, peated or not—but they cannot legally be called Scotch whisky. A single malt distilled in Canada is a Candian Single Malt as one from Japan would be a Japanese single malt, and not a Canadian or Japanese Scotch. In short any whisky in Scotland can be called Scotch, and all those from outside cannot. The Scots make 5 different types of whisky, and these can get confusing:
1. Single Malt: a whisky made from fermented barley distilled at only one distillery.
2. Single Grain: a whisky made from wheat or corn distilled at only one distillery.
3. Blended Malt: a whisky composed of two or more single malts from different distilleries.
4. Blended Grain: a whisky composed of grain whisky from two or more distilleries.
5. Blended : a whisky made by blending malt and grain whiskies together.
Irish Whiskey can only be made in Ireland, but I’m guessing you’ve guessed that already. Irish whisky is similar but different from Scotch whisky, and if you think I’m talking about “peat” you’re barking up the wrong tree. Most Irish whiskies were lightly to moderately peated until 50-60 years ago, and there are peated Irish whiskies being made today. The first major difference is that most Irish whiskies are blends made at the huge Midleton distillery in the Republic of Ireland. Ireland’s whisky has followed a different path from Scotlands, mainly for geopolitical and economic reasons we won’t get into here. Whereas Scotland has well more than 100 distilleries, Ireland (including the Republic and North) has just 4; this is the second difference. The third major difference is that the Irish typically use a mix of malted and un-malted barley in their mashbill.
Canadian Whisky is not rye, nor event largely made from it as most Canadians have been lead to believe. The “rye and coke” is next to beer Canada’s signature drink, and yet it contains very little rye! Most major Canadian whiskies are made predominantly from corn with but the slightest addition of rye for flavouring. Straight rye whisk(e)y is actually far more commonly made in the United States than Canada, with Alberta Premium being the only true regularly available rye produced in Canada. This is probably for the best. Most Canadian whisky is mixed with coke or ginger ale to mask its flavour, real rye whisky is too strong for coke or ginger ale which themselves gets masked! Canadian distilleries also make Scotch-like single malts and Canadian whiskies consisting of a mix of malted barley, corn and rye.
American Whiskey is not Bourbon, though Bourbon is American whisky. Bourbon is an interesting style of whisky for two reasons. Firstly, by law Bourbon must be matured in a new oak barrel. A very powerful coopers union and lumber lobby had a law passed in Congress forcing whisky makers to use a new oak barrel each and every time. This new oak has a lot to give the whisky very quickly, and as a result the whisky is usually very sweet with lots of creamy vanilla. Secondly Bourbon is composed of a mixed mash bill, legally at least 51% corn, but also containing wheat, rye and barley. Straight rye, wheat and single malt whiskies are also made in the US.
There are many other countries which make whisky, but these are categorically speaking the key ones. The Japanese make single malts and blends largely in the Scottish style. India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of whisky, but most it is very low quality and made from molasses (which we would call rum here). One of their single malt distilleries, Amrut, is however well respected around the world.
NEXT ISSUE – WHISKY 101 Part II – How is Whisky Made
BALLANTINE’S 17 YEAR – World Whisky of the Year?
Another year, another Whisky Bible; the 2011 issue is the 8th edition of what has become the most comprehensive and detailed whisky buying guide in the world. Jim Murray’s reviews may not necessarily make or break a whisky, but they certainly don’t hurt when their generous. Every year around November when the Bible comes out I start getting requests for some of the top scoring whiskies. This year was exceptional because Mr. Murray’s pick for the number one whisky in the world, though Scotch, was not a single malt but a blend. This was an apparently news-worthy event, the most well known living whisky writer in the world had picked a blend over a single malt.. Some enthusiastic PR types got on the phone and convinced a number of newspapers in Canada that this was a newsworthy story and retailers, myself included, scrambled to find a case to put on the shelf to take advantage of the excitement and sales.
Ballantine’s 17 Year was launched with very little fanfare sometime between a year and two years ago. I can’t recall exactly when, because I, like most of the single malt drinking public was more concerned about what new single malts were available. I never brought it in, and neither apparently did almost any retailers in Alberta. In fact, after as little as 3 cases sold in close to a year the product was withdrawn from the Alberta market, and the product slated to return to the distributor. But then the 2011 Whisky Bible came out with Ballantine’s 17 Year on top and retailers—KWM included—lapped it up. Only there’s a little wrinkle in the story; it would seem there are different versions of Ballantine’s 17 Year; Jim Murray alludes to this himself in the preamble to the 2011 award winners, and there is no way of distinguishing which batch is which. Some of the whiskies come in different coloured boxes, and even if they don’t there are certainly multiple batches. And from batch to batch like any other blend or single malt for that matter there will be variation.
I’ve tried Ballantine’s 17 Year over the last few years and it is a very pleasant whisky, as are its even older incarnations; but it never occurred to me that I was drinking the best whisky in the world. When and how do you arrive at that decision? I’ve tried some stunning whiskies over the years and I’d be stumped, I find it hard to list my Top 5 without leaving something out. It’s unlikely that I’ve tried the same batch Jim Murray thinks produced the best whisky in the world, and I’m sure it’s a fine whisky! But whether you agree with Jim Murray or not is beside the point; his reviews—like my own—are the opinions of one man. What you do with those opinions is up to you. I have one customer whom I’m very fond of, who once told me he looks for the whiskies Jim Murray trashes in his bible. “If he doesn’t like it” he said, “then I know it must be good!” My advice, be your own critic and decide for yourself!
“Nose: deft grain and honey plus teasing salty peat; ultra high quality with bourbon and pear drops offering the thrust; a near unbelievable integration with gooseberry juice offering a touch of sharpness muted by watered golden syrup; Taste: immediately mouthwatering with maltier tones clambering over the graceful cocoa-enriched grain; the degrees of sweetness are varied but near perfection; just hints of smoke here and there; Finish: lashings of vanilla and cocoa on the fade; drier with a faint spicey, vaguely smoky buzz; has become longer with more recent bottlings with the most subtle oiliness imaginable; Balance: now only slightly less weighty than of old. After a change of style direction it has a comfortably reverted back to its sophisticated, mildly erotic old self. One of the most beautiful, complex and stunningly structured whiskies ever created, Truly the epitome of great Scotch. To the extent that for the last year, I have simply been unable to find a better whisky anywhere in the world.” 97.5pts Jim Murray, Whisky Bible 2011
KWM managed to purchase 12 bottles, at the time of writing there are 3 left. We hope to get more. $87.99
If you have any whisky questions or comments concerning The Malt Messenger please contact me by e-mail, phone, or drop by the store. Feel free to forward me any whisky news you feel should be included in a future issue of The Malt Messenger; it might just get included.
All of the products mentioned in THE MALT MESSENGER can be purchased in store, over the phone or from our website at www.kensingtonwinemarket.com.. All prices quoted in the Malt Messenger are subject to change!
Thanks for reading the Malt Messenger!
1257 Kensington Rd. NW
Calgary, AB, Canada