Monthly Archives: March 2011

Irish Reparation


Breaking news today from a Hollywood insider that Michael Moore may be buying the screen rights to a story on the Irish claim to Auchentoshan.  This unnamed Hollywood insider is quoted as saying “this is a story that will rock the very foundations of the Scottish Whisky Association”.

It’s been long suspected that Auchentoshan and surrounding area were part of Ireland and, in fact, still are.  It’s also been said that the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) has had a history of bullying, suppression, possible buggery and much more (Glen Breton as example).  Other non-credible unnamed sources have clearly stated that Dan Brown may be considering writing this sure-to-be-best-selling novel.

To back up the Irish claim to the distillery, the following are the facts and they are undisputed:

1)      500 AD  Irish Missionaries return from the Mediterranean region with the knowledge of distillation.

2)      590-600 AD  An Irish monk named Mirren, now referred to as Saint Mirren, founded a religious order on the future site of Paisley Abbey very near Auchentoshan.  His mission was to save and educate the Scottish heathens in the ways of life and double distillation.

3)      1245 AD  The Irish Priory on the site of an old Celtic church founded by Saint Mirren was upgraded to an Abbey, which it remains to this day, the Paisley Abbey.

4)      1516 AD  Paisley Abbey, to increase revenues, allows the land where Auchentoshan stands today to be used for unlicensed double distilling.  The Irish still retain the secret of triple distillation.

5)      March 17, 1817 AD  John Bullock & Co. takes control of the land and in 1823 builds a licensed distillery named Duntocher.  Duntocher translated (Dun / Tair) from Irish Gaeilge to English means closed fort of the wretched, or prison.  Convicted Irish Criminals, called Cons, were conscripted from a town named Leap in County Cork.  These short-statured people were referred to as ‘the Cons from Leap’, or simply as ‘Leaprecons’.   These Leaprecons, with exceptional long life spans (due to drinking triple distilled whisky) and knowledge of the secret art of triple distillation, were forced to work in the production of whisky.

6)      1830 AD  A group of Scottish distillers form with a mandate to; control whisky production, learn the secret art of triple distillation and move the Irish out.  This group would later be called SWA.  This dark period in time is called the ‘Great Purge’.

7)      Friday June 13, 1834 AD  John Bullock & Co., under great pressure from the SWA, was forced to dispose of the Duntocher Distillery to Alexander Filshie, a member of the SWA.  The Irish prisoners are dealt with and the Distillery is quickly renamed Auchentoshan.  Auchentoshan translated (Acht / Tost / Am) from Irish Gaeilge to English means ‘the act of silence over time’.  Most Leaprecons buried their valuables and fled for their lives.  Rumors say that what few Leaprecons survived the time of the great purge ended up in Campbeltown, captured and forced by the locals to apply their secret art of triple distillation at Springbank.

8)      1940 AD  A team of archeologists digging in the corner of the field at Auchentoshan uncover metal pots containing very valuable items, some say treasure.  Before the removal process could begin the site was supposedly bombed by the German Luftwaffe.  No witnesses can testify to this event, other than hearing loud explosions at night and seeing what could have been SWA employees leaving town.  The site of this archeological dig is now under water and serves as the cooling plant for the Distillery.

9)      2008 AD  The distillery sold a three sided water container with the word ‘distillation’ on all three sides misspelled with the word ‘distellation’.  As we all know, Latin was the preferred language of the Irish monks, and ‘distell’ in Latin means to tell god.  We understand the author of the misspelled word may work at the Abbey and may be trying to right the injustice done to the Leaprecons and bring to light the possible bad deeds of the SWA.

As a testament to the fallen Leaprecons, we honor them on Saint Patrick’s Day with a tasting of four different expressions of (Irish) Auchentoshan.

A couple o' fine ol' Auchentoshans


50 YEAR OLD APRIL 15, 1957 – JULY 17, 2007 49.1 % ABV BOTTLE # 45 OF 144

132 GALLONS OF NEW SPIRIT FILLED AT 68 % ABV IN AN OLOROSO CASK #480 AND MATURED IN WAREHOUSE NUMBER THREE (thank you to Andrew Ferguson at KWM for the wee sample)

NOSE:  Floral.   Marzipan, slight hint of cheese and raisins.

TASTE:  Chewy butterscotch, oranges and pecans.

FINISH:  Medium.  Tart and lingering.

ASSESSMENT:  Its ok…but for fifty it’s just not nifty.  Sure the old who are not strong do not whither, but they don’t taste any better.


50 YEAR OLD APRIL 15, 1957 – DECEMBER 12, 2007 46.8 % ABV BOTTLE # 157 OF 171

132 GALLONS OF NEW SPIRIT FILLED AT 68 % ABV IN AN OLOROSO CASK #479 AND MATURED IN WAREHOUSE NUMBER THREE (thank you to Andrew Ferguson at KWM for the ample sample)

NOSE:  Toffee and eucalyptus are battling it out at the start, giving way to cherries and some ripe oranges.

TASTE:  Little tart at the beginning then it totally transforms to creamy butterscotch.  WOW!  Chocolate, melons, citrus fruits and a little black liquorice.

FINISH:  long and warming at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Much lighter in color than cask # 480 .Taste this, and be henceforth among the gods thyself, (Thanks Milton) it’s that good

Auchentoshan 1976



NOSE:  Toffee, honeydew melon, cherries and menthol.

TASTE:  Butterscotch overload.  Chocolate and marmalade jam.

FINISH:  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  What an outstanding cask. The light triple distilled spirits pick up almost a sherry type influence from the wood interaction. Was told back in 2006 that they only purchased half the cask. Hard to believe they still have some bottles left in 2011.

Auchentoshan 1978



NOSE:  Kentucky bourbon sweet.  Bit of varnish, cherries and oranges.

TASTE:  Spice, almonds and oily buttery notes at the back end.

FINISH:  Medium.  Drying.

ASSESSMENT:  This really has a new bourbon favor to it.  Let the Bourbon take hold and find yourself floating like a leaf down the Cahulawassee River whilst the genetically compromised hill people gently serenade you with Banjo music from the surrounding hills.


What does the world want as reparation?  Well…first they want the Scottish Whisky Association to formally thank the Irish for sharing and teaching them the art of distillation.  Second…they want a formal apology to Glen Breton for taking them to court and wasting their valuable time and money.  Lastly…we would have the use of the Diageo (Head of the SWA) corporate jet for a week to allow the ATW Associates & Friends to visit Scotland and pay homage to the fallen Leaprecons.




          – Maltmonster

Feature Interview – Mark Reynier of Bruichladdich

It is quite possible that Bruichladdich is my favorite distillery.  Though not the force behind my absolute favorite malts, they are responsible for many – and I mean many – that I absolutely adore.   The diversity of spirit produced and expansive cask selection allows for a palette (not to be confused with palate) of broad and stunning spectrum.  Armed with an arsenal of tools (great stills, brilliant wood and exceptionally clean spirit) and an unmatched artistic flare, Bruichladdich has managed to carve out an impressive niche and done so in the purest of fashions.  The distillery drives the local economy and community in way that puts the industry giants to shame (a topic I intentionally steered clear of in this chat).  They bottle at 46% or higher, never chill-filter and continually push the boundaries in searching for the next creative outlet.  And all of this has all been accomplished in a fiercely independent and uniquely Islay manner.

Several months back I spent an hour or so with Mark Reynier, managing director, in his office at the distillery.  We spoke of his path to ownership of the distillery, life on Islay, expressions en route (at the time Mark was writing up the latest Organic notes), reporting in the industry and much, much more.  Since that time Mark and I have shared a few email chats and his opinions and thoughts have always been something I look forward to. 

Undoubtedly one of my favorite industry personalities,

Mark Reynier:

Bruichladdich's Mark Reynier

ATW:  Your trials leading to the purchase Bruichladdich are not secret, but do have more of an impact coming from the source.  Can you share some of the history that led you to Bruichladdich?

MR:  Check out this film made by Crowsnest Films which I think captures it all pretty well:


ATW:  You take exception to the currently accepted translation of ‘Bruichladdich’.  When last we spoke you gave a much more romantic translation and spoke to how it reflects more closely the character of the distillery and whisky.  What is your take on the true meaning of ‘Bruichladdich’?

MR:  Bruichladdich is listed as one of the fifty most unpronounceable names in Scotland (Scottish Miscellany).

Most Hebridean names derived from either the Gaelic, Norse or Anglicised equivalents denoting a precise geographical location.  Bruichladdich is derived from two Gaelic words brudhach and chladdich.  Brudhach a Chladdaich.  It is usually translated as meaning ‘brae by the shore’.

‘Brae’ is a Lowland Scots word derived from the Old Norse, breiðr, meaning a broad hillside, or ‘a gentle slope to the sea’.  Since names were originally given as specific location markers for navigation, neither meaning is pertinent to this location.

There is a steep bank at Bruichladdich, a raised beach of post-glacial marine deposits; trouble is that it runs for 8 miles along the north side of Lochindaal and so is not terribly precise as a locator, like saying ‘1st Avenue and 1st to 60th street’.

The confusion perhaps comes from Brudhach or bruthach.  According to Dwelly’s 1901 dictionary, is a rather general term in steepness from an ascent, hill-side, brae, to a steep acclivity, and precipice.  Chladach or cladach means a shore, beach, coast, or more specifically, a stony beach.  Interestingly, though obsolete by 1901, it also means a lee shore, a dangerous coast for sailing ships in a prevailing wind.

This specific part of Lochindaal in front of the distillery, is shallow and peppered with exposed rocks up to 50 metres offshore rather than ubiquitous sand of the loch.  With only a metre of tide to cover it, this is a deceptive and dangerous piece of the loch in the prevailing wind to ships either landing or at anchor – even today.  In the days of sail, a lee shore with sharp rocks waiting for an unsuspecting ship would indeed be worthy of specifying it’s location.

We can be  fairly sure that  Brudhach refers to the the raised beach, but specifically ‘a Chladdaich’, at the place of the dangerous rocky shore: Steep Bank at the Rocky Lee Shore would seem a more useful and accurate, if not so romantic, translation.

Brudhach, pronounced ‘brew-ac(h)k’ – with the ‘ack’ heavily aspirated and  Chladdich, here on Islay, is a softer ‘kladd-ie’.  So we get ‘brew-ahk-ah-kladd-ie’, which with the ending of the first word and the beginning of the second, eliding over time became ‘brew-ah-kladdie’, or ‘brook-laddie’ as it became in the nineteenth century.

A view of the distillery from the shores of the loch.


ATW:  Your history in the wine spheres have given you a profoundly unique approach to whisky maturation and finishing.  What do you feel has been the most successful marriage of Bruichladdich whisky and wine cask to date?

MR:  The 125 bottling.  1970 vintage in “selection de grains nobles” casks from Olivier Zind Humbrecht, the famous biodynamic wine grower from Alsace.  They had contained Pinot gris grapes from the Clos Jebsal vineyard, late-picked for über sweetness.  The “magic casks”, as Olivier calls them, were made by Dominic Laurent in Burgundy.  The quality of the oak casks was simply exceptional.  Combined with the richness of the wine and the vanilla of the spirit it was sensational.  It is a profound bottling, a landmark I would go so far as to say, though some people just did not get it: the whisky either scored 99% or 70% – there was nothing in between.  We have learnt an enormous amount.  Jim is a cooper by trade, from the age of 15, and I was a wine merchant trawling the cellars and vineyards of France from the age of 18.  Together that makes a powerful combination.  I have been able to introduce types of oak that Jim had only dreamed about.  His unparralleled, hands-on knowledge of whisky and wood means that we have been able to achieve some extraordinary results.  You wait till you see the follow on to Octomore Orpheus, the Ocotmore 4:2, released this autumn… Boy – a real mindXXXX!  Of course the loudest critics at the outset, industry players, have to a man made miraculous Damascene conversions.  But for us this work that takes place on a daily basis is no marketing wheeze, dreamt up by some PR department in London, Paris, Tokyo or New York; it is inquisitiveness.  Besides, we reckon a mix of oaks is more interesting but that’s for another time.


ATW:  I can only assume with your experimental nature that the Renegade rum line, and the forthcoming gin (which is exceptional!), are your ideas.  What triggered the decision for an Islay whisky distillery to branch out in these directions, and can we expect more innovations beyond whisky?

MR:  There are many similarities between the rum and Scotch whisky industries.  They are, after all, pretty much owned by the same players.  In my view, the rum industry is in an even more parlous state than the Scotch whisky was when I started to get involved.

Unlike rhum agricole, British rum has always been a by-product of sugar manufacture; it was generally blended away with other rums.  Its success was consequently inextricably linked to the that of sugar and commerce. But most of the Caribbean single estate distilleries, many created in the seventeenth century, have now disappeared leaving a small number of mega-plants.  This situation was created, more or less, by fatal cocktail of post-colonial independence, capitalist amalgamation, and socialist nationalisation.

The odd barrel of these defunct distilleries’ rums still exist, bottling them naturally like our single malts – single estate rum – wasn’t therefore exactly rocket science.  We wanted to demonstrate the individuality rather than conformity.  As well as honouring these estates, we were curious.  There is a dearth of knowledge out there apart from the mega brands.

The same big guys dominate the rum industry as they do whisky: volume is king – the rum equivalent of blended whisky.  I fear the reality is, sadly, that what we have is a last-gasp, end of an era thing. There are, though, one or two small estates doing well, but when you see the old derelict distilleries lying there in ivy-covered ruins it is a damming, desolate sight.  And remember, the single malt category, a tiresome, fiddly sector for those big players, very nearly did not happen at all.  It may be just too late for authentic, single estate rum.  We’ll see.

Botanist gin came about because we are curious about distilling.  For us it is not a question of merely pushing buttons, we like to test our distilling skills, we are intrigued.  With Trestaraig and X4 we have explored triple and quadruple distillation, so with a Lomond still that we had liberated from Inverleven in 2003, we were wondering how to use it. It was an experimental still, the first of its kind and now the last.  

'Ugly Betty', the old Lomond still Reynier speaks of, used to produce Bruichladdich gin.


ATW:  Bruichladdich has released a couple of organic expressions to date.  Do you believe the Organic was a success in terms of both flavor profile and as a viable product to move forward with? 

MR:  Yes.  The first was a very limited, flag-in-the-sand bottling at high strength from the 2003 vintage.  The second, perhaps more representative, is a full scale bottling at 46%.  It has extraordinary definition and intensity which some will get, others won’t.  Scottish organic barley now represents almost 50% of our requirements (depending on harvest) with the other 50% + coming from Islay itself.  It is a definitive, unparalleled, tangible proof of our desire to rediscover traceability, authenticity and provenance all of which, we feel, have been surrendered for conformity.  We are going to distil some 100 tons of biodynamically grown barley, as far as we are aware this über organic barley has never been used for whisky.


ATW:  At some point in the future to you intend to malt at least a portion of your barley (be it organic or otherwise) on site?

MR:  Possibly, but it is not a priority as it is unlikely to add quality.  Malting is a very precise art which in my view is best left to the experts – and we have a very good relationship with Bairds who bend over backwards to help us with the 26 different farms’s barley that we use, keeping each separate from field to fermentation.

Malting is fine to play about with on a small scale – and we do – but with 2,200 tons (almost 50% organic) it is different. Sure, some play at it for the tourists, but I am unaware of anyone that malts that volume themselves on site for their own use.  We have looked at it, done a little ourselves, and it is certainly something that we could consider in the future; but it would be an economic consideration primarily – all or nothing – not an emotive one.


ATW:  Bruichladdich’s flood of expressions is one of the things that has made collectors and connoisseurs both groan and drool.  On the one hand, there are countless new expressions to try.  On the other, there are countless new expressions to buy.  How do you respond to criticism regarding claims there are simply too many expressions?

MR:  No one is forcing anyone to buy them.


ATW:  I guess the follow-up question would logically be about a core range.  Though your independent, small batch style doesn’t necessarily lend itself well to the idea of a consistent core line-up, are there thoughts of establishing a more traditional ‘age statement’ type structure at some point or is the goal to get people bought in to the “spirit” of BL as opposed to specific standardized products?

MR:  The distillery was shut between 1994 and 2001 – apart from a period in 1998 – and the older stocks erratic in both ages and volumes.  And with a cost price of December 2000. This influenced our sales strategy which was based, basically, on the independent bottler format – small volume, limited editions.  As we approach our 10 years, our own stocks are coming on line, and we have been able to evolve that strategy which we have been doing over the last three or four years. Our portfolio is now based around 10 specific Bruichladdich subsets from work that we have been doing over this period, each with its own intrinsic raison d’être:

Rocks, Classic, 10, Organic, Islay Grown (out in 2011), 18, Black Art, Infinity, PC, Octomore

As well as the first team line-up there will be one or two special, limited editions like PC 9 &10, Octomore 4, and 4:2, DNA, Micro Provenanace, and of course the odd intriguing vintage or two…

There are, for example, a brace of web and shop-only bottlings we are finalising to celebrate our 10 years of opening the distillery which coincides with our exciting new web site on 31st March.


ATW:  The Bruichladdich approach has resulted in an interesting and eclectic collection of whiskies…I have to assume that with this level of experimentation there has been many surprises along the way.  Any huge surprises (or humorous mishaps) you’d care to share with the readers?

MR:  The 125 bottling – grab it if you can find one – sort of encapsulated what we have been doing; for some whisky producers on the Ford production programme, the ‘any colour you like as long as it is black’ brigade, it is abhorrent to have any more than one single distillery bottling; that was how it was when we started – now even the most staid of distilleries has three or four bottlings on the go.  What is wrong with variety?  Choice?

We are not navel gazing, we want to attract new consumers to single malt rather than the died-in-the-wool ‘traditionalist’ (shall we politely say) that complain we have too many syllables let alone bottlings. Our bottlings are unashamedly aimed at sophisticated consumers, wine drinkers, the unblinkered, the inquisitive of mind, those prepared to try real things, to learn, enjoy to savour the flavour.  They want to to know the Scotch was made with Scottish barley, that Islay single malt was made – from barley to barrel to bottle – from Islay barley.  Bruichladdich consumers want integrity, provenance, authenticity.

Humorous mishap? An enormously fat woman falling through the first floor of a warehouse – between the joists no less – almost on top of a freaked-out warehouse worker beneath; unfortunately she was a health and safety officer on holiday.


ATW:  Can you speak to the working relationship you and Jim McEwan have?  Obviously you are both individuals with well-developed noses / palates, and I would assume strong opinions.  

MR:  Culturally, and age, you could not get two more different people if you tried: one a metropolitan, small company, privately-educated, wine trade, English upbringing, pragmatic, Catholic, rugby fan; the other an islander, large company, protestant, whisky industry, Rangers supporting, superstitious Celt.  I first met Jim in 1989 outside Bowmore and remember being amazed at the enthusiasm of the man who I recall being even more enthusiastic about his love of whisky than I am about wine.  The next time we met face to face was a decade later in a solicitor’s office in Glasgow on the even of the purchase of the distillery.  I would not deny that it has been challenging at times – that tension would not be there if one didn’t care – and after all, we have absolutely nothing in common.  Nothing, that is, except passion, pride, enthusiasm, eagerness, daring, tasting ability, determination, imagination, inquisitiveness, vision… It took time to understand each other but thanks to my mother being half Scottish (my heart probably rather than my head) and the French and Viking blood of my father it helps.


ATW:  Is there any talk of restarting the Bruichladdich Academy again?

MR:  No.  Too much hassle.  We wanted to do it properly, give people the true experience rather than some dumbed-down, vacuous PR exercise.  It was fun do do but the simple reality was that it was too draining, too invasive on everyone – and we have enough on our plate as it is.


ATW:  Can you update us on the status of the New Port Charlotte Distillery?

MR:  We have the planning permission but were held up by the environmental permissions.  But since we finally received those, a year of monitoring river levels and flow rates etc… the economy has fallen out of bed and with that uncertainty we feel it would be unwise to proceed with this project, at this time, and compromise what we already have.  


ATW:  …and finally (from a couple of us)…

If a distillery owner was turning 50, say next year, would they not want to vat a special malt for that occasion, and if so would they not want loyal fans in Calgary to share a bottle?

MR:  I do not know to whom you refer.


Thanks, Mark.  Your time and effort are appreciated.

Watch ATW in the near future for a review of Willow Park’s (Calgary) exclusive Bruichladdich manzanilla 12 year old and a feature on Bruichladdich’s distillery manager, Allan Logan.

Also ‘Laddie on ATW:

An interview with Jim McEwan, Bruichladdich’s master distiller.

The Port Charlotte lineup in a vertical tasting (PC5-PC8).

…and several reviews under ‘Reviews’ on the right side of the page.

The Subversive’s Guide To Sherry Bomb Defusing & Disposal

–  BOMB –


It occurred to me while on page 124,754 of my personal manifesto that the world would be a better place if more people were disposing of bombs.  It was Che Guevara that said “Deje el mundo cambiarle y usted puede cambiar mundo”, which has inspired me through my experiences to help change the world for the better.

There are two schools of thought on defusing a sherry bomb.  The old school approach is to cut the foil around the bottle between the neck and the cork, which would allow you to remove the foil around the cork and leave the foil on the bottle.  The down side to this is you can cut your finger slicing around the neck.

The approach I like is to take the knife and cut up the side of the bottle, away from your body and remove the foil from both the bottle and the cork.  This will allow you to see the cork and see if there are any problems occurring.  Also for the benefit of the rum drinkers out there you won’t cut your lip swilling from the bottle using this method.

As for bomb disposal, I think the phrase “many hands or mouths make light work” would apply here.  So gather your friends, pour a large dram, repeat your favorite toast  (“I drink to your health when I’m with you, I drink to your health when I’m alone, I drink to your health so often, I’m starting to worry about my own!”)  and do a world of good and start disposing.

Tullibardine 1966

August, 2008.  49.9% ABV.  Cask # 3509.  Bottle 29 of 246.  Bottled for WP – Calgary.

NOSE:  Toffee, raisins and chocolate.

TASTE:  Very silky, not the usually spice parade.  Stewed fruits, maybe a bit jammy and some sweet port.

FINISH:  Very smooth and long.

ASSESSMENT:  Not a hint of sulfur and quite mellow for an older sherry cask. Very different from the 1966 world edition which had way more spice

1966 Tullibardine

Longmorn 1973

April 30, 1973 – May 26, 2006.  Bottled by Gordon & MacPhail.  54 % ABV.  Cask # 3650.

NOSE:  Coffee, sweet notes and some subtle fruit.

TASTE:  Apples and oranges.  Fruit cake with a little cinnamon and some marzipan.

FINISH:  Long and heavy.  Warming at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Bam, green eggs and ham…this is a great first fill sherry bomb.  Right in the middle between the silky Tullibarine and the spicy Glenrothes.

G&M Longmorn 1973

Glenrothes 1979

1979 – 2006  56.6 % ABV  Cask # 13459 bottle # 246 of 492

NOSE:  Sharp hot spice, and yes some sulphur notes in the mix.  Raisins and dark chocolate with some bananas at the back end.

TASTE:  Robust and chewy.  Liquorice, raspberry jam.

FINISH:  Intense to say the least.  Long and warming.

ASSESSMENT:  First things first,rant…get rid of the packaging (not the bottles, love the holy hand grenade thing): heavy, sharp wood edges; bottles fall out; hard to store; almost impossible to get out of the cardboard box.  I mean really…who designed this?  Some rum lover or a single malt sadist?

This is a single glass per night after dinner drink.  Maybe a little long in the cask but still good…but you need to love scary sherry to drink this.

Glenrothes 1979

Dust On The Bottle

From Alberta Venture:


by Meribeth Deen | Photography by Darrell Lecorre

WHISKY A GO GO: Habit and Cascade Room bar co-owner Nick Devine promotes Alberta rye to his clientele

Vancouver’s Habit Lounge might be the last place you’d ever expect to find a bottle of Alberta Whisky.

Located just north of the intersection of Main Street and Broadway, which marks both the city’s geographic centre and its cultural heart and soul, the bar (and its next door neighbour, the Cascade Room) is a popular destination for the scores of mustachioed, plaid-clad men and vintage-dress-wearing women who populate the area. While the Royal Canadian Legion hall across the street might seem like a more appropriate venue for a glass of Alberta’s finest, it’s at Habit where the whisky, along with other Canadian whiskies, gets top billing.

Habit’s cocktail menu includes a section dedicated exclusively to Canadian whisky, featuring 21 of the country’s best. At the top of that list is Alberta Premium, which Nick Devine, a bartender and co-owner of both Habit and the Cascade Room, describes as “a good little whisky.” Devine says scotch snobs won’t touch a Canadian whisky, and when customers do ask for one, it’ll be a Canadian Club or, on occasion, a Forty Creek. But if a customer asks for a rye and ginger or a manhattan, she will get a taste of Alberta Premium, the house whisky.

Devine is English and says he didn’t know much at all about Canadian whisky before deciding to make them a focus at his bars. “In the U.K., Canadian whisky is considered smooth, light and entry-level. That’s the stigma. Alberta Premium’s a bit different,” he says. That difference sets it apart from most other Canadian whiskies, which are rye whiskies in name but, in fact, have only a touch of rye blended in for flavour toward the end of the distilling process.

Alberta Premium is made from 100 per cent rye grain. “The rye makes it bolder, gives it more bite,” Devine says. “It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.”

It’s also a stark departure from the traditional Canadian approach to making whisky. When the Loyalists came north, they brought with them the American tradition of using rye to make whisky. A century or so later, that tradition took a turn. Canada’s most successful distillers of whisky – Hiram Walker and Samuel Bronfman – started blending their products with corn and barley to mellow the flavour. Canadian Club and Crown Royal found widespread appeal through this mellowing, but lost the respect of serious drinkers of scotch and whisky.

Alberta Premium’s “bite” is slowly bringing renewed credibility to Canadian whisky.The bargain-priced product, which retails in Alberta liquor stores for just over $20 for a 750-millilitre bottle, was declared the “Best Canadian Whisky” by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible for four years running, between 2006 and 2009. Murray, a renowned British whisky writer and three-time winner of the Glenfiddich Whisky Writer of the Year award, tastes and evaluates some 3,000 whiskies from around the world every year, ranking each on its nose, palate, finish and balance. Despite the fact that Alberta Premium lost its first-place status in 2010, Murray is quick to recall why it won four years in a row. “It stands out for its vividness, a precise degree of sweetness against the rye. It has an unbelievable intensity. It’s one of the most charming whiskies around.”

Murray is an exuberant supporter of Canadian whisky and is highly critical of Canadians – and Albertans – for not drinking it. He’s also critical of the Canadian industry for doing such a bad job of promoting its product. “The Canadian whisky industry has so much potential; distillers just have to believe in themselves a little,” he says. “And Alberta Premium is the perfect example – 25-year-old bottles were sold for $25! It should have been priced at $125 a bottle – it’s a world-class whisky. By pricing it so low, the distillery is sending people the wrong message.”

The director of operations for Alberta Distillers, Rob Tuer, says there are two reasons why Alberta Premium is priced so inexpensively. The first is that it’s cheap to produce.

“We use rye grown in the Prairie provinces,” he says. “Rye is cheaper than corn, and because it’s local, we don’t have to pay for transportation.” But there’s also a branding strategy of sorts at play. Alberta Distillers has been producing Alberta Premium whisky for more than 50 years, and as a rye whisky at a low price, it held a certain appeal for Alberta’s hard-working cowboy culture of old. Albert Premium continues to chase the so-called “cowboy market” by sponsoring rodeos in small communities in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ontario. “We want to focus on support from the grassroots,” says James Monaghan, assistant brand manager for Alberta Premium. “And our pricing is geared towards maintaining loyalty in that market.”

The distillery where Alberta Premium is made is the oldest of its kind in Western Canada and is still situated on its original 40-acre property in central Calgary. It was founded by George Conrad Reifel, who came from a family of determined German braumeisters. The family established numerous breweries with varying degrees of success in Vancouver and on Vancouver Island between arriving in 1896 and 1917, when the Prohibition Act banned the sale and consumption of alcohol in Canada. After closing down their Canadian businesses, Reifel and his father moved to Japan, where they learned to make malt from rice and established the Anglo-Japanese Brewing Company.

The Japanese venture was successful, and George Reifel returned to Vancouver. The circumstances that led to his partnership with Alberta oil tycoon Frank McMahon and the establishment of Alberta Distillers in 1946 are unclear. The Reifel family sold the business to National Distillers sometime around 1970. A decade later, National Distillers sold the company to Jim Beam, now Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc., owned by Fortune Brands. Alberta Distillers, which also produces Alberta Springs, Canadian Gold, Canadian Spirit and Tangle Ridge ryes, sells approximately 600,000 cases of spirits each year. But it barely registers as part of a company representing many bigger and far more recognizable products, including spirits like Jim Beam and Canadian Club and big names in golf like Titleist, Foot Joy and Pinnacle.

In contrast, High River’s Highwood Distillers might just be the “grassroots” product that Alberta Premium aspires to be. Started as a public company in 1974, the distillery was privatized in 2002 and doubled in size after purchasing Potter’s Distiller in British Columbia in 2005. Highwood wants to keep growing, though, and has attempted to win over vodka drinkers by producing a clear whisky called White Owl. Priced between $35 and $45 a bottle, White Owl illustrates Highwood’s desire to break into the market in Quebec and Ontario, where liquor stores and the customers that populate them tend to favour more expensive products.

The strategy behind Highwood’s White Owl Whisky reflects the direction the Canadian whisky market as whole is heading. It may not be expanding – total sales for Canadian whisky have dropped from 3.7 million cases in 2006 to 3.4 million in 2010 – but it is diversifying, with new boutique distilleries popping up across the country. Like

Alberta Premium’s claim as the only 100 per cent rye whisky and White Owl’s distinction as the only clear whisky, there are a host of competitors with claims of their own. Forty Creek, which emerged out of the Kittling Ridge Winery in Grimsby, Ontario, and first entered the market with a 10-year-old whisky in 2002, can claim to be the only whisky that uses Canadian wood casks in the distilling process.

Even Wiser’s, the venerable producer of familiar products like Wiser’s Deluxe and Wiser’s Special Blend, is trying to set itself apart from the crowd. In celebration of its 150th anniversary, the Ontario distiller created Red Letter in 2007, a one-time bottling that is the only non-chill-filtered whisky made in Canada. The one-off creation, priced at $150 per
750 millilitre bottle, even managed to steal Jim Murray’s designation of best Canadian whisky from Alberta Premium in 2010.

It may have missed out on a fifth straight award but Alberta Premium continues to trundle along all the same. In 2010 Alberta Distillers sold 205,518 cases of Alberta Premium, which placed it sixth among Canadian whiskies. Meanwhile, it ranked a respectable seventh out of 22 brands of Canadian whisky sold in Ontario’s government-run liquor stores. At Calgary’s Kensington Wine Market, scotch expert Andrew Ferguson describes Alberta Premium as a “good seller.” However, he doesn’t attribute those sales to any particular brand identity or strategy on the part of the company that makes it. “It’s like an orphan,” he says, and adds, “Whoever makes Alberta Premium didn’t seem to do anything when they were winning accolades from Jim Murray. They probably didn’t know what to do with that.”

Ferguson may be right. It’s also possible that Beam Wine and Spirits isn’t interested in pushing a product that pushes itself without any help from money spent on advertising. As a domestic product, Beam doesn’t need to worry about Alberta Premium competing with the other whisky brand they own and in which they’ve invested effective advertising dollars: Canadian Club. Canadian Club also has Don Draper on its side; consistent exposure on the hit TV series Mad Men will ensure the brand comes to mind for drinkers who might not know much else about whisky. And Canadian Club, unlike Alberta Premium, is distributed internationally.

Jim Murray says he’s sure that Alberta Premium will be at the top of his list of Canadian whiskies again – and it will probably happen soon. “Its sharpness has just waned a bit,” he says. “That happens sometimes. It could be due to strength of sun on the rye on a particular summer or a slight change in the wood casks.” In the meantime, Murray will continue to take bottles of Alberta Premium back to the U.K. from his visits to Canada, and he’ll continue to serve it to guests in his home. With Jim Murray’s endorsement, and the support of Fortune Brands, Alberta Premium is not going anywhere. In the end, though, that might be its biggest problem of all.

Original page here.

Malt Messenger No. 45‏

Malt Messenger No. 45 – The Rum Issue

Dear Malt Messenger Subscribers,

I hope you are enjoying this authentically Canadian winter. I’ve done my best to take it in stride as I’m sure most of you have too. I’ve had a couple of great days of skiing and the heater in my truck is finally fixed, so I no longer need to bundle up for even short drives. I bundled up for the Winter Classic too, a couple of weekends back. That’s an experience I won’t soon forget, the game and its related excitement were great, but if it weren’t for the small flask of single malt I had on me I’m not sure how I would have survived the cold.

I was in Victoria for the Whisky Festival last month, which is without doubt the most impressive in Canada. And don’t just take my word for it, most of the Brand Ambassadors will tell you the same, many of them calling it one of the top 5 in the world. It’s an excellent show, drawing representatives from all over the world of whisky, who put on a slew of first rate Master Classes. One of the people I met up with in Victoria is Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast. Mark produces a weekly podcast featuring news and interviews from the world of whisky. The podcast and his whisky reviews can be found on his website or on his free app for the iPod and iPhone. Mark interviewed me in a segment that he included in podcast 302 a couple of weeks ago; you can hear that podcast by following this link:

While on the subject of interview I also made an appearance of CBC Radio back in January as part of the Calgary Eyeopener’s annual Robbie Burns Day celebrations. The interview can be heard at: The 2011 Robbie Burns Dinner was a huge success, and the featured whiskies from the Isle of Arran Distillery very well received. The whiskies sampled included two casks which have been selected by and bottled for the Kensington Wine Market. Unable to choose between two exceptional casks, one bourbon and one sherry, we bottled both! I’ve provided a write-up on our Arran’s below, including tasting notes and how you can go about pre-ordering one of the bottlings, or both!

Finally, there are some great rums available in Alberta right now, and I thought it was about time to give them a little love on the Malt Messenger. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this Malt Messenger “the Rum Issue”, the bulk of my news still relates to single malts, but it’s the most attention that’s ever been paid to a topic other than single malts.

All this and much more in the 45th Malt Messenger, I hope you enjoy it.


Andrew Ferguson

PS-You can follow me on twitter at , and yes I am trying to make more regular contributions!


In This Issue


1.       KWM Arran Casks Coming Soon – Pre-order and Save 5-7%

2.       Makers Mark 46

3.       Spring Whisky Tours Update

4.       Victoria Whisky Festival In Perspective

5.       Special Rates for the Universal Whisky Experience in Las Vegas

6.       This Just In: 5 Limited Release BenRiachs

7.       Four New Glendronach Vintages Due Any Day

8.       Rum Roundup!

9.       Collector’s Pick for February – Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve

10.   Tasting Notes On Two New Old Malt Cask Exclusives: Rosebank 20 and Port Ellen 27

11.   Whisky 101 Part II – What is a Single Malt Whisky?

12.   New Whiskies

13.   Coming Soon

14.   Tastings




Kensington Wine Market approached the Isle of Arran distillery to purchase a cask this fall, with the intention of launching it at our annual Burns Supper. KWM bottles a couple of casks of whisky every year, usually choosing the barrel from a selection of 6 samples with the assistance of some handpicked customers. The tasting usually ferrets out a clear favourite, but this time we found ourselves torn between an exceptional bourbon barrel and a superb sherry cask.

I wasn’t sure what to do, I had set out with the intention of bottling a Bourbon cask Arran which I feel generally best compliments the distillery’s raw spirit, but as good as the Bourbon Cask bottling was, and it was great, the sherry cask was excellent too! So we did what any rational person would do, we decided to bottle both, and I am ever glad we did. Our Kensington Arran bottlings will be coming in at around $85 a bottle; by far our most reasonably priced bottling yet!

The whiskies were officially launched at our Robbie Burns Supper on January 26th with special guest, Isle of Arran Brand Ambassador Andrew Hogan. In addition to sampling a range of whiskies from the Isle of Arran distillery, participants were the first to sample our bottled casks. Both casks were extremely well received and we had strong pre-orders for both whiskies. In that light I wanted to extend the offer to readership of the Malt Messenger. If you pre-order one of our Arran’s I will extend to you a 5% discount. If you order one or more of both I’ll give you a 7% discount!

Both whiskies are from single casks, bottled at their natural cask strengths without any artificial colouring. Each of the bottles will be individually numbered. My tasting notes for the two casks are as follows:

  1. Arran KWM Bourbon Barrel – Distilled July 9th, 1999 – Bottled January 19th 2011 – 11 Years – 57.4% – 199 individually numbered bottles – $84.99
  2. Arran KWM Sherry Hogshead – Distilled April 2nd 1998 – Bottled January 19th 2011 – 12 Years – 55.3% – 282 individually numbered bottles – $84.99


MAKER’S MARK 46 – $61.99

Maker’s Mark Bourbon has been made the same way since its introduction in 1958. Its creator, Bill Samuels, Sr., took a typical Bourbon mash, and used red winter wheat in place of rye. Pure clean iron free water comes from a natural spring located on the distilleries grounds. A mashbill composed of yellow corn, red winter wheat and a small amount of naturally malted barley combine to give Markers Mark a soft mellow character.

The Makers Mark 46  takes the regular recipe, which is typically aged 6-7 years and then takes it up a notch. Borrowing an idea from John Glasser of Compass Box, they have inserted new French oak staves into the casks to give the whisky an added kick of vanilla and spices. Here is how the company describes the process:

1)      Fully matured Maker’s Mark is removed from its barrel. Top hoops are removed from the barrel, and the barrel head is pulled.

2)      Ten wooden seared staves are then affixed to the inside of that barrel.

3)      Searing the staves caramelizes the sugars in the wood, adding a unique flavor that finishes on the front of the tongue.

4)      The fully matured Maker’s Mark is then put back in the barrel and aged several more months. When it tastes exactly right, Maker’s 46 is removed from the barrel, bottled, corked and dipped.

The result is a pretty interesting Bourbon. I had a chance to try it at the Victoria Whisky Festival, but then I sampled a number of things that weekend so I’ll leave it to John Hansel of Malt Advocate to fill you in on the details:

“This is original “red wax” Maker’s Mark that received additional aging in barrels containing internal “seared” French oak staves. The original Maker’s Mark, being a wheated bourbon (instead of rye, which is typically used), is rather mellow and easy-to-drink. The French oak staves in “46” add firm, complex dry spices (led by warming cinnamon, followed by nutmeg and clove), herb (a suggestion of Green Chartreuse, perhaps?), and some polished leather “grip”, which dovetails well with Maker’s trademark layered sweetness (caramel, vanilla, a hint of honey). I’m also picking up some dried fruit in the background. The seared oak stave influence is somewhat aggressive, but never to the point of being excessive.” – 90pts John Hansell, Malt Advocate

My Tasting Note: Nose: sweet corn and soft wheat oils, cognac-like notes, vanilla extract, citric fruit juices and notes of brown sugar and agave nectar which develop later; Palate: soft and smooth, loads of sweet-gentle-toasted oak; there is an initial prickle from the alcohol (which is 47%), but this disappears quickly in the first sip; Maker’s Mark’s signature soft winter wheat adds elegance to the palate, the spices are very delicate, coming from the French oak rather than the rye as in most bourbons, without the more common bitter and clove notes; there is a base of vanilla from the American oak, but is always second fiddle to the French oak influenced sweet-spice notes;  Finish: smooth and fresh with creamy bourbon, grassy wheat and faded spices; Comments: the step up from the good standard Maker’s Mark is definitely worth the extra 15 bucks!



My May whisky tours are going ahead as planned. The second, Speyside and the Southern Highlands, is full. The first Islay and the Southwest Coast still has some room, but time is running out if you want to join in on the trip. The absolute latest I need to know if you would like to take part in the tour is the end of March. You can contact me by e-mail if you have any questions, , or you can visit my website: The trip cost will be about $2500.00, not including airfare. Here is an idea of what you might expect on the Islay tour:

Sunday May 8th – The group assembles and departs from Glasgow in the morning.

  • We visit the home of Robert Burns in Alloway.
  • We make our way to the Isle of Arran to tour the distillery and spend the night on the island.

Monday May 9th – We make our way to Campbeltown

  • VIP Tour and Tasting of Springbank and Glengyle Distilleries
  • Tour of Glen Scotia Distillery
  • Night is spent in Campbeltown.

Tuesday May 10th – We make our way to the island of Islay.

  • VIP Tour and Tastings at Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig
  • We spend the next three nights in Bowmore.

Wednesday May 11th

  • VIP Tour Bruichladdich
  • Optional Golf Game

Thursday May 12th

  • Tour Isle of Jura Distillery
  • VIP Tour Bowmore Distillery

Friday May 13th

  • Tour Kilchoman
  • Tour Caol Ila
  • Return by Ferry to the Mainland

Saturday May 14th

  • Tour Auchentoshan Distillery
  • Scotch Malt Whisky Society Dinner in Edinburgh

*Exact details to be confirmed.



I had a wonderful time out in Victoria the weekend of the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of January at the 6th Annual Victoria Whisky Festival. The Festival is put on by a group of whisky enthusiast in Victoria BC, with all the proceeds going to local charities. The festival’s full time volunteer organiser is Lawrence Graham who is a key person in Victoria’s whisky circles. Lawrence presides over a couple of whisky clubs, produces a whisky blog (which publishes each and every Malt Messenger on its site) and is one of but a couple “Malt Maniacs” in Canada. The show is easily the best put on in Canada, not for its large festival tasting which lacks some of the selection of Alberta whisky festivals, but for the Master Classes put on by distilleries and personalities from the world of whisky. This year I attended both as a participant and a presenter.

On the Friday night I attended an excellent Master Class with John Glasser of Compass Box. Rather than just put on a tasting John gave all of those attending the opportunity to blend their own whisky. After tasting the Asyla, Spice Tree and Peat Monster to give us reference points we moved on to sample 5 blending components: 20 year old 1991 Cameronbridge grain whisky, Clynelish from a rejuvenated first fill bourbon barrel, a cask strength version of Compass Box’s Spice Tree, Ardmore (a heavily peated Speysider) and Caol Ila. After a bit of experimentation I set off to produce and bottle (100ml) my own blend consisting of 50% Caol Ila and 20% Ardmore to give it a peaty backbone. I was looking for something like the Compass Box Flaming Heart, but wanted to put my own twist on it. Adding  10% of the Spice Tree for character and 20% of the Cameronbridge for its silky sweet Bourbon notes did the trick! I haven’t had this much fun at a whisky tasting before, and hope to be able to bring an experience like this to Calgary.

Saturday was a busy day, I gave two Master Classes, the first of which was on the effects of aging, called “Better With Age?” I demonstrated how whiskies as young as three years can be very pleasant and that more time in oak didn’t always make for a better whisky. The tasting also showcased to whiskies aged more than 40 years, one of which had a depth and complexity not possible in younger whiskies and another which I felt was over the hill. The second Master Class was for Springbank distillery who were not able to attend the event. I poured whiskies in all three of Springbank’s styles: Hazelburn, Springbank and Longrow, as well as Kilkerran Work in Progress #1 from Glengyle distillery.

After the Springbank tasting I was invited to a Private Canadian Whisky tasting with Davin de Kergomeaux, a sommelier, a certified “Malt Maniac” and producer of the blog: Davin brought along 3 rare Canadian whiskies from his own collection, including a bottling of Crown Royal from the 1960’s, a rare Rye called Lot 40 and a straight Canadian Rye bottled in the US in small batches called Whistle Pig. For me it was the corn which stood out in the Crown Royal bottling, with floral notes and buttered corn on the cob.  The Crown Royal of today is nothing like that of the 1960’s distilled at the Waterloo distillery. The Lot 40 was a revelation, and something I would love to have in my own collection. Made from both malted and un-malted rye it was very peppery and spicy with floral and honey notes. The Whistle Pig is a real interesting story, distilled in Canada it is bottled on a small farm in the US. Produced from 100% un-malted rye it was very sweet with juicy fruits and big spice notes. The tasting was a revelation about how good Canadian whisky is and how underappreciated and misunderstood it can be. There was a fourth very impressive whisky in the tasting, the Wiser’s Legacy which I will discuss in greater detail below. The festival tasting followed the Master Class on the Saturday night, and there were some memorable whiskies, but the weekends highlights and the biggest reasons to attend the Victoria Whisky Festival, are the Master Classes.

The weekend concluded with a small, by invite only whisky dinner at The Mark, a very small intimate dining room in the Hotel Grand Pacific. The evening’s guest of honour was Andrew Gray of Bruichladdich, and he lead us through a tasting of seven whiskies: Links Vancouver, 16 Year Old Cuvee A, 18 Year Old 1st Edition, Golder Still, 18 Year Old Kosher Wine Finish and DNA 2nd Edition 32 Year, and Black Arts II. The highlights were without doubt the DNA II and the Golder Still. The Black Arts II was far better than I had expected, and worth a try, but still nothing close to the Legendary Blacker Still. Speaking of the Blacker Still, we had a chance to enjoy that one too! A fellow Calgarian, and favourite customer of the Kensington Wine Market, Dr. Jane Cameron saw fit to donate a bottle of Blacker Still from her own collection to the night’s tasting. Revisiting this whisky was the perfect way to cap the dinner and the Victoria Whisky Festival weekend.

The Victoria Whisky Festival is truly is the finest whisky festival in Canada, and in the words of many of the presenters, among the best in the world.  This is a testament to the work done by Lawrence Graham and all the other volunteers.  I hope to be invited out again next year.

Tickets go on sale early in November, and sell out in a matter of hours. Nothing is up yet for 2012, but I’m sure it will be soon. Visit for more details.



I am heading down to a really interesting looking whisky festival in Las Vegas this March. On the 18th and 19th of March the Wynn Encore resort will be playing host to the world’s first Super Premium whisky festival.  The show’s aim is to bring together producers, brand ambassadors, specialists, collectors and whisky aficionados to sample some of the rarest and most exclusive whiskies in the world. The show consists of a festival tasting on the Friday night, as well as some “events” included in the entry fee. These “special events” include everything from a Gordon & MacPhail tasting which promises the launch of “very old and very rare Single Malt Scotch Whisky”, a Whisky and Cigar pairing, Whisky and Chocolate and a Women and Whisky seminar. Saturday there are a slew of Master Classes from the likes of Dalmore, Bowmore, Glenfiddich, Macallan, Glenmorangie, Glendronach-BenRiach, Highland Park, Ardbeg and more, each with the opportunity to sample some very rare and precious whiskies. I am very excited about what looks like a very exclusive whisky tasting event.

As with most things in life, the Nth Whisky Show isn’t free, in fact it’s quite pricey, but there is also a lot on offer!  A ticket for the event will set you back $525, though this does include one Super-pour of a whisky valued at more than $300 a glass (see the web link below for more details). It also includes free cigar samples, a gourmet dinner and pre-reception, as well as free entry, subject to space, to Friday’s special events. The Saturday Master Classes run $55 a piece but look really appealing, with the opportunity to sample whisky like the Bowmore 40, Dalmore 40 and some unbelievable Glenfarclas bottlings. The shows organiser and visionary Mahesh Patel is offering a special %15 discount to readers of the Malt Messenger and customers of the Kensington Wine Market on the entry fee, as well as one free Master Class with each ticket. To take advantage of this special offer please contact me by e-mail for the access codes: Also the Encore resort is offering special rates on its rooms to event registrants, but these rates won’t last long! For more info on the Nth Whisky Show 2011 visit:


5 Limited Release BenRiachs

Five single cask BenRiach bottlings have just landed in Canada this year, all of them restricted to a single case of six bottles. All five cases have come to the Kensington Wine Market, and most of these bottles have in already sold out in but 2 days. Unfortunately it takes time to write the Malt Messenger…

I have had the pleasure of trying four of the five bottlings courtesy of a couple customers. I was able to write a tasting note on the 1977 and 1978 vintages thanks to Peter (last name withheld to protect the innocent). Bryan, the bar tender at Divino on 8th Avenue gave me a taste of the 1976 and 1984 before he took them to work. (Incidentally Divino’s whisky bar, while small, is one of the best in the city, with a range of really interesting whiskies.)  I hope we will continue to see more of these limited releases moving forward, here’s hoping. These whiskies are all limited to 1 bottle per customer. Here are the details on the five different vintages and their availability at the time of writing:

  1. BenRiach 1991 19 Year – Virgin Oak Finish – $135.99 – 54.9% – Distillery Tasting Note: Nose: Vanilla beans and butterscotch with oven baked toasted oat biscuits. Palate: Hot buttered toast with hazelnut butter, Incredible dried nut characteristics with a spicy kick. – 2 Bottles Left – $135.99
  2. BenRiach 1984 25 Year – Tawny Port Finish – $182.99 – 54.1% – My Tasting Note: oak cakes, soft-thick-earthy-peat, dark chocolate, toasted almonds and Oreo cookies; Palate: surprisingly malty after such a long time in the cask, juicy-peaty-malt so thick it feels like you have to chew it, the peaty-oils are gentle, and complimented by the chocolate and grape notes lent to the whisky by the port pipe; sweet vanilla notes shine through the avalanche of peated malt; Finish: bone dry with semi-sweet chocolate; Comments: this one took a full hour to open up in the glass, but boy was it worth the wait!  – 2 Bottles Left – $182.99
  3. BenRiach 1978 32 Year – Tokaji Finish – $271.99 – 50.4% – MY Tasting Note: loads of juicy ripe fruit and nut, very orangey with butter and marmalade on toast; burnt brown sugar and spicy toasted oak; Palate: round and fruity, big notes of white fruits from ripe to poached, candied orange peel, thick spice and dark chocolate, it is incredibly sweet and rich with brown sugar and Christmas spice; Finish: long, toasty and sweet with crisp oak and prickling spice. – SOLD OUT – $271.99
  4. BenRiach 1977 33 Year – Pedro Ximenez Finish – $290.99 – 52.2% – My Tasting Note: Nose: coffee bean, liquorice extract and anise, nutty sherry, the thickest caramel, ripe strawberries and chocolate; Palate: it hints at rich sweet notes, but the darker ones take over with notes of something smoky, with leather and tobacco notes developing late; Finish long and dark with espresso, brown sugar and burnt fruit. Comment: needs time to open! – SOLD OUT – $290.99
  5. BenRiach 1976 33 Year – Hogshead Cask – $290.99 – 53.2% – My Tasting Note: Nose: huge honey notes, honeycomb, peanut butter brittle, floral tones and vanilla ice cream; Palate: more honey notes, tropical fruit punch, graham wafers, marzipan, coconut shrimp and silky soft vanilla oils; Finish: long drying and very toasty with more sweet honey notes, and traces of floral notes and tropical fruits; Comments: I can see why they didn’t finish this one, thank God!  – 1 Bottle Left – $290.99



Four different vintages of Glendronach are due over the next week or two and they are exclusive to the Kensington Wine Market in Canada. We are receiving just 6 to 12 bottles of each vintage: two different bottlings from 1990 and one each from 1991 and 1996. Out of fairness to our customers they will be strictly limited to 1 bottle of each vintage per person. The vintage releases of Glendronach are described below:

  1. Glendronach 1990 Cask 3068 – 20 Years – 52.6% – Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon – Distillery Tasting Note: Nose: Ripe raisins and dates envolope the mouth and this integrates wonderfully with allspice and dense Pedro Ximinez notes. Palate: Creamy and smooth but with huge intense sherry characteristics. Dark chocolate sauce and sweet cinnamon and clove attributes. – $179.99 – ONLY 12 BOTTLES AVAILABLE!
  2. Glendronach 1990 Cask 3059 – 20 Years – 54.9% – Pedro Ximenez Sherry Puncheon – Distillery Tasting Note: Nose: Intense Pedro Ximinez aroma at the beginning followed up by ripe berry fruits with brambles and ripe plums. Palate: Fantastic ripe berry fruits and rich cocoa elements. The chocolate element intensifies with pronounced fresh sugar syrup on the mid palate. – $179.99 – ONLY 6 BOTTLES AVAILABLE!
  3. Glendronach 1991 Cask 2512 – 18 Years – 51.9% – Oloroso Sherry Butt – Distillery Tasting Note: Nose: Hazelnuts, walnuts and almonds create depth with a rich sweet Oloroso backbone. Palate: Bold sherry notes react in perfect harmony with chocolate fruit and nut torte. Toffee-apple elements impart a fresh fruity element to the mix. Delightful.  – $149.99 – ONLY 12 BOTTLES AVAILABLE!
  4. Glendronach 1996 Cask 202 –  14 Years – 58.3% – Oloroso Sherry Butt – Distillery Tasting Note: Nose: Super-ripe morrelo cherries and stewed plums combine with spiced raisins and allspice. Palate: Chewy and rich. Sweet plum pudding and chocolate coated raisins with an elegant sherry finish.  – $134.99 – ONLY 6 BOTTLES AVAILABLE!



We’ve seen a distinct growth in the interest paid to premium rums over the last couple of years, and have done our best to satisfy the needs of Calgary rum connoisseurs. We can’t lay claim to having the largest selection of rum in town, currently we stock about 40 different varieties, but we can proudly lay claim to one of the best premium rum collections in the country. You won’t find the latest coconut, passion fruit or bargain (read cheaply produced) rums here, but you will find exceptional sipping rums from the Amrut Old Port to the Gordon & MacPhail Longpond 1941 58 year old.

There is neither the time nor the space to write a history of rum for this Malt Messenger, and similarly I do not have the ability to do justice to the topic of “how rum is made”. I hope you will settle for a description and tasting notes on 22 of the most interesting rums we stock:

1)      Amrut Old Port Rum – This little Indian rum is probably the best bargain in the store. It is produced by the same distillery that makes Amrut single malt. The price is so reasonable you wouldn’t hesitate to mix it, but the palate is so smooth and complex you don’t need to. – $26.46

2)      Appleton Estate Legacy – The Appleton Estate Legacy is crafted for rums of up to 30 years of age. Nose: toasted oak, spice and sugar cane with hints of citrus; Palate: very smooth with lots of oak, slightly sweet and oily; Finish: a slight spiciness and lots more oak. – $96.49

3)      Cadenhead Classic Green Label – This is an independently bottled rum from Scotland, but distilled in Guyana?, Jamaica? or Cuba? There seems to be a lot of disagreement on this issue. The bottle only indicates it is from the Caribbean, matured in oak and bottled at 50% without colouring or chill filtering. This rum always reminds me of Christmas with its strong notes of molasses, orange and spice so thick you could cut it with a knife. – $69.99

4)      Cadenhead 12 Year Demerara Laphroaig Cask – Surely the only peated rum in the world! This one came about by accident, with Demerara rum having been filled into barrels which had previously been used to mature Laphroaig single malt. Laphroaig has a very unique taste profile, even among Islay single malt whiskies, with a very salty-medicinal-smoky character. Caramelized and sweet on the one hand this rum is also peaty and medicinal. Islay whisky drinker’s rejoice, this smoky, peaty rum is right up your alley… – $83.99

5)      Cadenhead 8 Yr Panama Rum – I tried this little non-chill filtered rum well over a year ago, and remember it being quite chewy. The only tasting note I can now find is in German, so for all of you who sprechen sie duetche: Farbe: Leuchtendes Bernstein. Duft: Geben Sie diesem Rum etwas Zeit im Glas. Duft nach Karamell, Kokosnussmilch, etwas Lakritze. Geschmack: Komplexe cremige Süsse, sehr sanft, trocken. Nachklang: Unglaublich lange – sehr delikat.

6)      Clement VSOP – Martinique is a former French colony, officially designated an “overseas department”, meaning that it is still a part of France, but with roughly the same autonomy as the city of Paris. French colonial rums were typically made from cane juice or sugar cane extract, and are often more subtle and cognac like than the molasses driven rums of the English and Spanish Caribbean.  This rum has been matured 3 years in recharged Bourbon barrels, and one in ex-cognac casks. Rhum Clement is produced and bottled on the estate. Peppery, sweet and silky with cocoa & honey. – $51.99

7)      Clement XO – Is also referred to as the Top Vintage Cuvee. Rhum Clement is one of the few rums in the world to claim a terroir for its sugar cane, which is grown in a unique microclimate of volcanic soil on a single estate. Like the great wine producers of Bordeaux, Cognac or Champagne, Rhum Clement’s rums show the influence of weather, soil and geography. Rhum Clement is produced and bottled on the estate. The XO is superb I first tried it months ago, but lost my notes. Never the less its shows charcoal with maple and Demerara sugar and dried fruit on the palate. It is incredibly smooth, and very complex. – $124.49

8)      Cruzan Single Barrel 12 Year – We’ve carried a few of the Cruzan rums over the years, but this one caught our eye, being from a single barrel. The single barrel is made from a blend of rums aged up to 12 years of age. After blending the rum is re-casked and filled into new oak barrels to further matureand marry for at least six months, but up to a year. From this point on each barrel is bottled individually, meaning that there should be considerable variation from batch to batch. This rum typically shows notes of toffee, spice and dried fruit. – $40.49

9)      El Dorado 12 Year – El Dorado is the name given to a family of rums produced by Demerara Distillers of British Guyana. It was formed from merger of the last remaining rum producers in the country. Guyana has been producing rum for more than 350 years. By the 1800’s there were over 300 sugar estates, each with its own still(s). Port Mourant (Est. 1732) was the choice of the British Royal Navy in its early years, and when on to produce one of the most recognizable rum brands of the 1800’s OVD or Old Vatter Demerara. The El Dorado range is produced by blending rums produced at three unique stills: the unique wooden coffey still from the old Enmore sugar factory; the world’s last remaining wooden pot still for Port Mourant Estate; and the French savalle still from Uitvlught (pronounced “eye-flute”) Estate. All three stills are housed under one roof today on the Diamond Estate. The 12 Year is full of dark sugar and spice, lush toffee and citrus notes over powered towards the end by a big surge of caramel. The 12 year age refered to on the bottle is the age of the youngest rum in the blend. – $47.99

10)   El Dorado 15 Year – Tasting Note Adapted From : “You can taste the oak imparted by the barrels the components of the blend were aged in, but amazingly, they never overtake the whole blend…” “… You can separate out well balanced hints of caramel, molasses, burnt sugar, wound around with the faintest hint of cinnamon and vanilla, and the barest trace of orange peel.  There is just enough sweet for me to appreciate depth and body, and just little enough to pronounce its age.  In fairness, it’s a phenomenally well-balanced drink over all – it can go well neat, on ice or even as a mixer.” – Lance Surujbally – $57.49

11)   El Dorado 21 Year – Is a bit of an enigma when compare to the 15 and 25 year olds, both of which are considerably sweeter. The 21 year old is a considerable jump in price from the 15, but worth every penny, it is smooth, rich and complex. I once poured it blind for my whisky club, and not one of them could tell it was a rum, most of them thought it was a sherried Speyside whisky. To me this is a testament to the maturation, and the character derived from the unusual stills. Once again I will borrow from Lance Surujbally of “Good stuff this. At 40% it is like caramel velvet going down…” “…Very very smooth, hardly any bite on the way down. And a long finish, where those sweet highlights come out and almost, but not quite, overpower all the other spices.” – $92.99

12)   El Dorado 25 Year – This is perhaps the rarest rum currently available in Alberta, next to the 58 year old Jamaican one (see G&M Longpond 1941 below). The rum was distilled in a single vintage, 1980, and has been bottled after maturing 25 years. Kensington Wine Market’s initial allocation was of only 6 bottles, of which we have 2 left. I have no word on whether we’ll get any more. My Tasting Note: Nose: initially it is very dusty/musty, like entering a earthen floor warehouse; it become more chocolatey with candied fruits and notes of Christmas cake, warmed brown sugar, vanilla extract and firm oak round out the nose; Palate: incredibly sweet, massively so… not since the Ron Zacapa 23 Year have I sampled such a sweet rum, and even then I’d have to try them side by side to say which is sweeter; aged Christmas cake, port wine, assorted chocolates and the softest caramelized fruits you can imagine; there is incredible depth to this rum, with notes of Pedro Ximenez, maple syrup and Beaver Tails; this is decadent, and a dessert in itself, it is as though concentrated Coca-Cola syrup  has already been added to the rum; Finish: drying and toasty with hints of the sweet complex layers that just surged over my palate like a storm surge! Comments: at close to $300 this rum isn’t for everyone, but it is infinitely better value and quality than the Santa Teresa Bicentenario which will set you back even more. $297.99

13)   El Dorado Single Barrel EHP (Enmore) – The label EHP was applied to rums distilled at the distillery attached to the Enmore Sugar factory which was founded by Edward Henry Porter nearly 200 years ago. This rum is produced by the only wooden Coffee still in the world. Of the three single barrels this one is sweetest and shows the most molasses. – $94.99

14)   El Dorado Single Barrel PM (Port Mourant) – PM is the marquee given to identify rums that originated from the Port Mourant Sugar Factory which, founded in 1732, was one of the oldest Estates in the world. Rums from Port Mourant were for a long time part of the British Royal Navy’s traditions. Demerara Distillers has preserved the last of Port Mourant wooden copper pot stills, which continues to be used to this day. This is the spiciest of the three single barrel El Dorados. – $94.99

15)   El Dorado Single Barrel ICBU (Uitvlught) – ICBU is the mark used to identify whisky which originated from the distillery attached to the Uitvlugt Sugar Factory which was founded on the West Bank of the Demerara River. Traditionally fermented and distilled in a French Savalle Still which has been relocated to the Diamond Estate where Demerara Distillers produces all its rums today. This is the most complex of the rums and if sales speak to anything it shows, the first case sold day 1! – $94.99

16)   English Harbour 1981 25 Year – Like the El Dorado this rum can stake a claim to being from a single vintage. This rum is from a batch of but 5712 bottles produced by the Antigua distillery, on the island of the same name. My Tasting Note: Nose: waves of ripe, stewed and candied fruits, treacle sauce abounds, as do notes of damp tobacco and moist cedar; Palate: I am struck immediately by how subtle and balanced the rum is, first being struck by orange peel, soft caramel and molasses which lead into some clean smoke; spices emerge more prominently on my second sip, as do traces of vanilla, crème brule and stewed fruits; Finish: long but soft, with more molasses, deft vanilla and fading stewed fruits. Comments: very well balanced and well structured; the lover of fine spirits will find much to admire here! $195.99

17)   G&M Longpond 1941 58 Year – This is surely the oldest bottled rum in the world, I am certainly not aware of any older! It was produced at the now closed Longpond distillery in Jamaica. The whisky is a curiosity because it was produced during the Second World War. Sometime afterwards it was transported to the UK where it came into the possession of Gordon & MacPhail (whisky merchants). This probably explains the advanced age of this rum, in the heat of the Caribbean it would have evaporated from the cask much more quickly than it did Scotland. My Tasting Note: Nose: I’m not sure there is a better word than unusual to sum up the nose; a bold combination of spearmint, linseed oil, marmalade and Nutella; the nose is thick, sweet and concentrated! After it begins to settle down it becomes more jammy and fruity with raspberries, and even some leafy smoke; Palate: first impressions is sweet, then oily, then floral, a touch bitter, then even sweeter with thick spearmint notes and soft thick vanilla, there are some leafy notes, hints of tobacco and even a hint of smoke; Finish: enormously drying, more spearmint and finally some trace of molasses with soar milk; Comments: after 58 years in oak it’s not surprising that this rum is unusual. What’s remarkable is that they have a rum of this age at all. I’ve never heard of a rum this age before, and as such my recommendation is that it is a must have for any serious rum connoisseur. If this was a Macallan it would be more $20,000.00 a bottle!

18)   Legendario Elixir – Legendario is a bit of an enigma, probably because it is produced in Havana, Cuba. There is very little information about it on the internet, and most of what is available is in Spanish. The elixir is a 7 year old Cuban rum, fortified by the addition of a small amount of grape extract. It is very sweet, and if you get on the bottle and thus your hands very sticky. This should probably be classified as a liqueur, but regulations are not that strict with rums. – $37.49

19)   Legendario 9 Year – This is rather new to the market, a 9 year old rum produced by Legendario in Cuba. My Tasting Note: Nose: rum raisin and fruit cake with orange marmalade; Palate: is soft and smooth with more orangey fruit, and a soft bed of not-too-sweet molasses; Finish: drying and salty with tangy molasses notes; Comments: this is a versatile rum which could go either way with respect to sipping or mixing!

20)   Santa Teresa Bicentenario – A very rare blend of rums up to 80 years of age which is married for 15 years before bottling. Only 1000 bottles of Bicentenario are released per year, and only 24 of them have come to Canada! My Tasting Note: Nose: elegant and restrained I find it a little eggy of the start, reminiscent of good home-made eggnog; honey, brown sugar and anise slowly develop for the patient enough to wait them out; Palate: the palate is light and sweet, with more egg-noggy notes, there are hints of the sweetness that would once have dominated this old rum, but it has mellowed over time into something which could easily be confused with a fine cognac; molasses and brown sugar lazily waltz around as if waiting for someone to pick them up; the oak doesn’t start to develop until 3-4 sips in; Finish: light drying and sweet. – $339.49

21)   St. Nicholas Abbey 10 Year – The owners of St. Nicholas are blending small batch rums until those produced by their distillery are of sufficient age to be bottled. This is a rum blended from a number of Barbadian rums. Only 150 bottles have come into Alberta! My Tasting Note: Nose: is honeyed and floral with molasses and nutty caramel notes; Palate: very soft and smooth, soft vanilla oils rain down on the palate, oak resin adds a layer of depth, to vanilla extract, old oak barrels, toffee apple and rum raisin; Finish: long, drying and oaky with sweet fading oils; Comment: a very soft, smooth rum with an elegant touch. – $145.99

22)   Zaya Gran Reserva – This used to be produced in Guatemala, but now says product of Trinidad on it. But why not said made or distilled in Trinidad? I’ve heard rumour it is still distilled in Guatemala but bottled in Trinidad. No matter it is still a very interesting rum. Aged 12 years in Bourbon and ex-whisky(?) barrels it is a very sweet rum with notes of coffee and chocolate, similar to the legendary Ron Zacapa. – $70.99



  1. OMC Rosebank 20 Year – 50% – Single Refill Hogshead – DL Reference 6396 – 232 Bottles – My Tasting Note: Nose: fresh, floral and creamy with white fruits; gentle vanilla cream, dew moistened flower petals, pan seared pear and apple crumble; Palate: creamy and soft with big notes of toasted oak and surging vanilla; poached and seared white fruits are augmented by light floral oils; there are grassy herbal tones too; Finish: drying and light with wore grassy herbal notes, firm toasted oak and traces of sweet vanilla. – $189.99 – Only 12 Bottles – Exclusive to KWM
  2. OMC Port Ellen 27 Year –  50% – Single Refill Hogshead – DL Reference 6588 – 225 Bottles – My Tasting Note: Nose: dry biscuity peat, lush backdrop of soft vanilla, bread dough, green grass and savoury herbs; there is salt and smoke too, but it has faded with time; Palate: creamier than I expected with an Ardbegian quality to it; the palate also has elements of chewy malt, vanilla custard, the same savoury herbs found on the nose and soft thick oily peat that reminds me of the Ardbeg malt bunds served at Glenmorangie House; Finish: long and savoury with clean smoke, gentle herbs and delicate peaty oils that leave a pleasant film on your palate; late lingering notes of cigar smoke finish it off; Comments: I haven’t come across a lot of Port Ellen’s that I don’t like, just some that are a lot better than others. This one is very drinkable, it is not the best Port Ellen I’ve ever had, but it is a pleasant drink which will please the palate of any Islay drinker. It is a fine example of a Port Ellen matured in American oak Bourbon barrels. – $349.99 – Only 12 Bottles – Exclusive to KWM


COLLECTOR’S PICK FOR FEBRUARY – Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve – $358.99

Royal Lochnagar distillery is special for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is one of only three distilleries to ever be given the prefix or suffix “Royal” (the others being Royal Brackla and Glenury Royal, the latter of which is now closed). Lochnagar was given a Royal Warrant after Queen Victoria’s visit in 1848. She could see the Lochnagar distillery from her window, and it remained her favourite whisky for the rest of her life. Secondly, the distillery is the smallest in Diageo’s portfolio of close to 30 distilleries.

The predecessor of Lochnagar distillery, Glen Feardan is founded on the north bank of the River Dee in 1823 by James Robertson. Three years later the distillery is burnt down by competitors. Robertson establishes a new distillery near the mountain, Lochnagar. In 1841 the distillery is again burnt down.  Four years later John Begg establishes a distillery on the south bank of the River Dee, it is called New Lochnagar. The distillery was built less than a mile from Balmoral Castle, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.

The distillery only producesthree official bottlings, a 12 year old which is not sold in Canada, the Distillers Edition and the Selected Reserve. The Selected Reserve is usually a vatting of half European oak ex-sherry casks and half American oak ex-Bourbon casks. The bottling has no official age statement though it is believed to be composed of whiskies matured to between 18 and 20 years of age on average. The Selected Reserve is not bottled every year. This edition of the Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve was bottled and released in 2008. It is limited to 4,700 bottles filled at 43%. The whisky has been in Alberta for a couple of years, but I resisted bringing it into the Kensington Wine Market until we could get it to a more reasonable price. We have been able to do so, and are now selling for fully $100 less than we would have had we brought it in on arrival.

87pts Malt Advocate Magazine: “So nice to see this whisky available here in the U.S. again. A more mature, more sherried expression of the standard Royal Lochnagar. Rich, silky, and sweet, with molasses, nutty toffee, old demerara pot still rum, caramelized fig, marmalade, and juicy oak. More subtle notes of honeyed ginger, coffee grounds, and tobacco leaf add complexity. A soothing post-prandial dram. “

My Tasting Note: Nose: soft and candied, Christmas spices, elegant sherry notes, like walking into a French bakery with fresh croissants, pain au chocolate and other rich assorted confectionary having just been removed from the oven; Palate: soft, rich and sweet with crisp spice; the palate is thick with caramel and molasses, there are notes of burnt fruit along with some dark sherry; the palate is sherry driven with only the faintest traces of American oak and vanilla, but all the while it is very soft; Finish: sweet, drying and spicy with smooth gentle oak; Comments: Royal Lochnagar is a relatively obscure single malt on this side of the Atlantic. I’ve only seen one independent bottling here in the 8 years I’ve been at the Kensigton Wine Market. This aged premium version by that criteria is rare indeed. It is a pleasant, complex, easy drinking whisky. My only criticism is that Diageo has yet to see the light and start bottling its whiskies at 46% or higher!


WHISKY 101 PART II – What is Single Malt Whisky?

If you’ll recall in the last instalment I outlined what exactly whisky is. In review, whisk(e)y is a spirit distilled spirit made from fermented grains (corn, wheat, rye or barley) which has matured 2-3 years (depending on the Country) in oak barrels with a strength of no less than 40%. But what is a single malt whisky?

Before we go any further it is worth noting that single malt and Scotch are not synonymous terms. “Scotch” refers to any whisky made in Scotland, but not all Scotch whiskies are single malts and not all single malts are Scotch. Single malt whiskies have been made in Scotland and Ireland for centuries. Japan got on board in the 1920’s and in the last couple of decades in the 20th and early 21st centuries single malt distilleries have been popping up the world over. From Cape Breton to Sweden, Spain to Thailand, India to Wales and the USA to Pakistan (yes even Pakistan) single malt whiskies are now being distilled the world-over, but you can’t call them Scotch!

The term single malt has two segments, the word “single” and the word “malt”. Single, when used in reference to a malt whisky indicates that the whisky was made at a single distillery. Malt is a reference to the style of whisky, one which has been made from malted barley. Barley is a particularly hearty grain, storing the energy it will employ to grow a future plant in the form of starch. The seed first must convert the starch to sugar before it can use that energy to grow a plant. Similarly, with respect to the production of whisky, the yeast needs enzymes in the barley to convert the starch to sugar before it can start producing alcohol. This process is called malting, and will be discussed in the next instalment of Whisky 101.



1)      OMC Port Ellen 27 Year – Exclusive to KWM. Only 12 bottles available. For more information on this whisky, see above. –  $349.99

2)      OMC Rosebank 20 Year – Exclusive to KWM. Only 12 bottles available. For more information on this whisky, see above. – $189.99

3)      OMC Mortlach 12 Year – 50% – Single Sherry Butt – 330 Total Bottles – Smooth and oaky with sweet spicy fruits, cherry coke, cinnamon, cardamom and clove. – Exclusive to KWM. Only 12 bottles available. DL Reference # 6074. $109.99

4)      Glenrothes 1988 – 43% – 20 Years – European and American Oak – “Rich candied orange peel  and fruit compote.” –  $99.99

5)      Hazelburn 12 Year 2nd Edition – 46% – Sherry Casks – “Malty, fruity and elegant. A very well balanced and rounded dram with hints of oak, figs and nuts. – $97.99

6)      Glenlivet Nadurra – 57.7% – American Oak – “Smooth and silky with the sweetness of soft fruits and honeyed flowers balanced by a dry, oak finish of considerable length with notes of ginger and hazelnuts.” – $77.99

7)      Royal Lochnagar Selected Reserve – 43% – European and American Oak – For more information and see above. – $358.99

8)      Bruichladdich Black Arts II – 49.7%21 Year –  As if Bruichladdich didn’t have enough of an identity problem to begin with, this just complicates things. Allegedly from a secret mix of casks known only to Jim Murray, with no doubt a high proportion of wine casks. I had chance to sample it in Victoria and will put my tasting note up on the website just as soon as I find it. – $140.99

9)      Bruichladdich Sherry Classic – 46% – Matured in Bourbon and Finished in Sherry – 91pts Jim Murray: “a barley-grape-see-saw which moves effortlessly, into a dry winey middle; the malt when apparent appears youthful and lithe”. –  $59.99

10)   Bruichladdich 16Year Cuvee F Pomerol – $46% – Bourbon Matured, Chateau Lafleur Finished – “Taste: barley tries to make a brief statement before the microphone is snatched away by bristling fruit; the mouthfeel is a bit like a dissolving sugar candy; Finish: some oak gets a word in, but can barely make itself heard against the barley.” – 135.99$73.49

11)   Ardmore Traditional – Peated Highland single malt whisky finished in Quarter casks. I will publish my own tasting note in the next issue. “Full, smooth.Peat smoke and earthy richness, tempered by subtle sweetness.” 88.5pts Jim Murray. – $43.99

12)   BenRiach 1991 – Exclusive to KWM. Only 6 bottles available. For more info see above. – $135.99

13)   BenRiach 1984 – Exclusive to KWM. Only 6 bottles available. For more info see above. –  $182.99

14)   BenRiach 1978 – Exclusive to KWM. Only 6 bottles available. For more info see above. –  $271.99

15)   BenRiach 1977 – Exclusive to KWM. Only 6 bottles available. For more info see above. –  $290.99

16)   BenRiach 1976 – Exclusive to KWM. Only 6 bottles available. For more info see above. –  $290.99

17)      Penderyn Peated – 46% – 1st Batch created when they accidentally matured Penderyn in peated casks. They received good reviews so they have recreated the mistake… My Tasting Note: Nose: reminds me of tequila, lush vanilla, sea breeze and steamed mussels, very green and vegetal; Palate: big creamy vanilla, white chocolate, kale, soft of clean smoke, and more vegetal grassy notes; Finish: grassy with clean smoke. –  $119.99



Coming Soon

1)      Arran 1999 KWM Bourbon Cask – Our own exclusive single cask of Bourbon matured Arran. Pre-order it and save 5%, pre-order both it and our Sherry cask and save 7%. For more info see above. – $84.99

2)      Arran 1998 KWM Sherry Cask – Our own exclusive single cask of Sherry matured Arran. Pre-order it and save 5%, pre-order it and the Bourbon cask and save 7%. For more info see above. – $84.99

3)      Arran Machrie Moor – The first release of peated Arran will soon be available. It is called Machrie Moor after the stone circles on the islands west coast. It has been getting good reviews and won’t last long. Only 90 bottles are coming into Alberta, and KWM is getting 60. – $77.99

4)      Glendronach 1990 Cask 3068 – For more info on the Glendronach single cask bottlings see above.

5)      Glendronach 1990 Cask 3059 – For more info on the Glendronach single cask bottlings see above.

6)      Glendronach 1991 Cask 2512 – For more info on the Glendronach single cask bottlings see above.

7)      Glendronach 1996 Cask 202 – For more info on the Glendronach single cask bottlings see above.

8)      Highland Park St. Magnus – The second bottling in a new series from Orkney’s most iconic distillery. – $TBA

9)      Glenmorangie Sonalta PX – 96.5pts Jim Murray – Pedro Ximenez finished Glenmorangie. This will be exclusive to KWM. – $TBA

10)   G&M Connoisseurs Choice Glen Keith 1968 – Exclusive to KWM. 40 year old Glen Keith, bottled at 46%! Only 30 bottles coming in to Canada. – $TBA





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 All prices quoted in the Malt Messenger are subject to change!


Thanks for reading the Malt Messenger!




Andrew Ferguson
KWM Scotchguy

1257 Kensington Rd. NW
Calgary, AB, Canada
T2N 3P8

Feature Interview – Ralfy interviews…Ralfy!

One of the most fascinating pieces I have read in years is an interview with Tom Waits done by…Tom Waits!  The ever-charismatic Waits knocked one after another out of the park and had me both in awe and stitches through the whole article.  I think it is something unique in that the interviewee is finally able to say what they want to say and not be confined to call and response.  It opens up all sorts of doors that wouldn’t necessarily be opened.

 Most of us know Ralfy by now.  Being the affable chap that he is, Ralfy embraced this one head on and immediately agreed to share some insight.  And this is why we love him.

I won’t bother with a big lead in, as you either know him already, or will once you’ve read his piece.

Ralfy Interview with Ralfy

February 2011



Ralfy:  Hello there, ralfy

Ralfy:  … Hello, malt-mate !


Ralfy:  What’s up?

Ralfy:  … Just checking over my latest recording, which happens to be WhiskyReview 183 – Caol Ila 30yo MacKillop’s Choice, an Independent bottling of thirty year old single malt at £90 ($143 Can:) … an affordable old malt for it’s age and worth the effort!

The emphasis with the Vlog (video-blog) is to advise anyone uncertain of what to expect from old whiskies, and how to get the best out of the smell and flavour.

I am also drinking a strong cup of coffee and will shortly smoke a lovely Nicaraguan cigar out in the garden potting shed so as not to upset my dear old mum with the smoke-smell … bliss!


Ralfy:  The Vlogs tend to be your speciality … why’s that ?

Ralfy:  … Well, I started two years ago with a conventional blog-format which I made ‘different’ by being flippant and humorous about the Whisky Industry marketing flannel and other stuff.  There are so many whisky related blogs that have appeared over the last few years so that to get noticed you have to provide something original and informative, or anything at all in the way of content which will potentially attract an audience.

I had the time to set things up then due to a shoulder injury keeping me off work for three months, and it was early on during this convalescence that my brother suggested I buy a video-cam and “do something”.

Having checked what was already on-line, It seemed to me that my completely irrational obsession with Scotch Whisky and the many years of non-methodical smelling and tasting had provided me with an approach to talking about whisky which was unorthodox and potentially entertaining.

A ‘Vlog’ was recorded in my back room (thereafter called the Artisan Studio) and after four (flustered) takes, I was reasonably happy with the results.

It was posted on YouTube and less than two years later and with thirty six hours of recordings now showing, over a million viewings have taken place. … Excellent !


Ralfy:  What’s the reason for the Vlogs success then ?

Ralfy:  … An informal, simple, unpretentious, irreverent, humorous, eccentric, disorganised chat which passes across my experience to encourage viewers in choosing, enjoying and thinking about whisky and other spirits.


Ralfy:  And what will we see over the next few years with your ‘stuff’ ?

Ralfy:  … More of the same, moderated, adjusted and enhanced by viewers feed-back and comments.  That’s one of the things about the internet format, it’s still new and fresh, anyone, and I do mean anybody at all … with originality and a knack for presenting their topic of choice can very quickly get noticed and gather an audience, all with a minimal outlay of cash and without the expense of publishing books, a professional reputation or T.V. contract.

With traditional media like radio, magazines and television, professional presentations are created at increasing expense which then go out to a large, but geographically restricted and potentially passive audience where people will generally experience the event once if they’re interested, … then it’s gone, either into archives or onto dentist waiting room tables.

The internet blogger can rattle off a short presentation in minutes with no editing, no expense, no script, no make-up, no ‘meetings’, no managers, no hassle … and soon after, can upload onto the internet for an interested, inquisitive, ‘waiting’ International audience who after reading or listening or watching (as many times as they want, whenever and wherever they want) then have an opportunity to comment, approve, criticise, add some content and generally interact.

The whole style of on-line commentary can be as unorthodox and unconventional as you want to make it and it does help to be as ‘different’ to traditional styles as possible, so I tend include all my bloopers, stumbles, mistakes and other mini-disasters whilst recording so long as the affable opinions and knowledge are passed across to the viewer who will hopefully be entertained as much as informed.

Hard at work in the Bothy


Ralfy:  Significant stuff ralfy … What do the Whisky Industry think of this situation then?

Ralfy:  … The older, traditional ‘executives’ (if they notice) are bemused and probably mildly irritated, but not too fussed so long as the standard Blended Scotch volume-sales grow in China and Russia … that’s where the main cash is.

The younger Industry professionals are generally more aware and comfortable with it because (luckily for the Industry) it is clear that the biggest majority of on-liners are sympathetic and enthusiastic, with no real Trolls (bad-guy internet’rs) spoiling things with a CrapWhiskyList ( it will happen eventually! )

Recently, the Industry big-guns have extended hospitality and other sweeteners to successful whisky-bloggers in order to build relationships and this is a good thing, not just to acknowledge, but reward commentators who have spent time and effort on their Sites.  All the commentators are different in personality which adds a refreshing variety to the ‘mix’.

The hospitality is an option though, and any long-term commentator is wise to keep a certain distance from Industry Reps: as it is now clear that we are at the stage where readers and viewers are alert and sensitive to marketing-spin loaded blogging.


Ralfy:  A bit of conflict between producers and customers with the internet the field of action then?

Ralfy:  … Conventional marketing schemes have been focused recently towards Internet bloggers with attempts to offer bottles of whisky for ‘approval’, (I refuse the offers by the way! ) but significantly, the orthodox marketing message can very quickly get scrunched-up, re-jigged and lost completely due to the interpretative skills of internet’rs, both bloggers and audience.

I think at this stage everyone can see just how influential the Internet will continue to be as regards the successful promotion of any product and I am pleased to see that some producers are slowly responding to repeated and much discussed demands by whisky drinkers on-line for authentic craft-presented (no added colour, chill-filtering and 46%vol:) bottlings of Malts. (e.g. the Real Whisky Campaign which has still to find it’s big moment! )

Quite simply, a small number of reputable commentators (like Serge @ whiskyfun and John @ whatdoesjohnknow) will steer the attitudes and expectations of the far greater numbers of whisky-inquisitive customers Globally.

My own view is that the all drinks Industries should review their standards carefully.

We are after all willing to pay more money for true quality Spirits than mediocre standard blended whisky because we value the intrinsic smell and flavour and quality has value in economically tough times.

If the quality is not present, sales are lost, then reputation is diminished.

The internet has been the most important arena for whisky-fans to resist the dumbing down and ‘blanding’ of whiskies which the Industry have intermittently been accused of trying to achieve in the pursuit of greater profit margins.

– Just ask them about substantial investment in genetic modification of barley and even oak!

– Just ask about marketing consultants advising that creating a poorer quality product empowers the value of aggressive marketing messages!

– Just ask about “inactive cask” tolerance levels!

To some ‘Career Executives’ in the Industry, smell and flavour costs money, and costs must always be cut cut cut! for their bonus bonus bonus …. the deficit can be patched up later with enhanced marketing budgets!  People who actually know about production have their influence marginalised in decision making.

I think you can tell that this pisses me off!

That’s why I am a fan of the small Distillers though they to can have their shortcomings.


Ralfy:  Well, tell us why you’re increasingly a fan of the small Distillers (dispute some shortcomings)!

Ralfy:  … Small Distilleries the World over are the custodians of the traditional contemporary culture of production of alcoholic spirits, whether Whisky, Whiskey, Gin, Rum, Tequila … or whatever!

Large multi-national producers are by their very nature committed to huge volume and mass production as part of their survival and monopoly.

Nothing wrong with that you understand, but for me, something important gets lost …. Identity!

For example …the only part of Talisker which relates to Skye is it’s production as a raw spirit.

The only part of Springbank that relates to Campbeltown is … absolutely everything!

The small Distillers have by default a social commitment offering proportionally greater jobs per cost of production, community focus, tourism in remote areas, social interaction, uniqueness … and an enhanced personal product benefiting from local grain, hands-on production and a lack of over-rewarded top-heavy bureaucracy and ingrained politics which features in muti-nationals.

Importantly, the Big Distillers can buy the attention of on-liners with helicopter rides, large measures of old whisky. meals and other flattering stuff! … and in doing so comfortably keep themselves ‘in the frame’.

Small Distillers cannot afford this so easily and so I am increasingly featuring smaller and Independent Distillery whiskies in my Vlogs as a core feature of the ralfy-identity.

Viewers will notice that location Vlogs often feature small Distilleries and the characters who work in them and also other related services like Coopering and retail shops.

An important part of my personality as a commentator is an informal interaction with small Distilleries which works well because they are more than happy to open up the facilities which are great places to record many, if not all aspects of production.


Ralfy:  …And do they pay you like they do the professionals ?

Ralfy:  … No, I don’t even generally accept samples through the Post as this implies a commitment to review favourably despite providers’ assurances to the contrary.

In buying the bottles I review, I review the same whisky people buy and not a vetted small samples which the Distillers (for very legitimate reasons) ensure are the best version to promote their sales.

A perfectly understandable system which generally works for the Industry, but I avoid samples.

My costs (fuel, travel, food, buying bottles to review etc.) come from on-line linked advertising. I receive no payment from the Whisky Distillers. … it keeps things fresh that way! … and more fun too!


Ralfy:  So what do you see happening in the future ?

Ralfy:  … Chinese Whisky of good quality.  (Sooner rather than later)

Polish oak matured Vodka.

More World Whiskies from some very exotic places … hello Greenland!

Better quality matured and sipping Tequilas, Rums and even that Cinderella of Spirits, Cachaca.

Many Distilleries going into receivership and/or bought out.

Small Distilleries getting more noticed.

More internet sales of Spirits.

The internet increasingly influential in everything.

New hybrid Spirits.

Educational Drink Cruises as a holiday option.

Several new Spirit drinks never seen before like Rainforest Spirit and plant-Infused whiskies.

Marketing Departments going more ‘softly’ with messaging and more communities-interaction.

New grain-combo whiskies.

A Canadian Whisky renaissance.

Better Russian Vodka.

Scotland showing more self-respect to itself due to economic pressures, social unrest and unemployment problems.

The Isle of Man building it’s first proper Whisky Distillery.

… that’s enough predictions for now.


Ralfy:  Any advice for whisky-fans ?

Ralfy:  … Enjoy every drop from the bottles, but don’t drop the bottles.

Pick friends carefully, then share your Whisky generously.

Get your ‘system’ organised on the internet for working out where the best whiskies are and how much they cost !

Don’t suffer too much bullshit from anyone about anything.

Make time for silence in your life.

Smell and sip … slow, slow, slow !


Ralfy:  And finally ralfy, tell us about the Canadian Connection at

Ralfy:  … There’s three !

… Firstly, it was the decision by the Scotch Whisky Association to spend a fortune in cash trying to prevent Glen Ora Distillery, Nova Scotia, Canada from using the word GLEN in its’ presentation of the Glen Breton Single Malt Canadian Whisky.

It was my personal sense of being deeply insulted and witnessing Scotland suffering offence with this ‘business’ decision that specifically instigated the first ever Vlog at WhiskyReviews (now review number 2)

Scottish culture, heritage and blood infuses Canada through generations and Scotland is very much a part of the fabric of this big Country.

… I cannot believe that any self-respecting Scotsman would have taken the litigious action of the Scotch Whisky Association.

… Another Canadian Connection has been the excellent hospitality of the organisers and people at the Victoria Whisky Festival in 2010 where I both recorded Vlogs and presented a masterclass ( a bit unorthodox, but it was popular! ) and despite offers from around the World, Victoria remains the only appearance of ralfy outside of Scotland at a Whisky Festival and this situation is likely to remain for quite a few years yet.

… The final Canadian Connection is (apart from having relatives in Canada) is my awareness that of all the Countries around the World, Canada has the best position in being able to re-invent it’s Whisky Industry with many exciting happenings going on including the use of Canadian oak for maturation, the refining of skills in multigrain distillation and the appearance of something genuinely new to the world of Spirits.  Check Davin’s excellent website for Canadian-stuff !


Ralfy:  Thanks, Ralfy !

Ralfy:  You’re welcome.

Ralfy raises a glass

Y’see what I mean?  Thanks again, Ralfy.  Canada looks forward to having you back.


          – ATW