Monthly Archives: April 2012

Caol Ila vs. The Collective – A True David and Goliath Tale*

(*In honour of Maltmonster and his ongoing crusade against the Empire.)

Caol Ila

Everyone wants to knock down the big guy.

With this mentality, and armed with metaphorical slingshot and an overly curious palate, the B-Team (part of the Collective) drew together in an attempt to bring down the mighty Goliath (Diageo).  This was not because we necessarily believed we could do it (let’s face it…Caol Ila is a damn fine drink, and we were tackling a damn fine lineup of OBs*), but we had to take a shot at laying out the big beast with a few well chosen words of disparagement if we could.

At this point I’ll take creative license and once more borrow a turn of phrase from revolutionary extraordinaire, Commandante Guevara:  “Little Davids strike hard and deep”.  On this night we were little Davids.  We went toe-to-toe with Goliath.  We held strong under the enormous might of the malt.  And fell.

The best laid plans of mice and men and all that though.

I take small comfort in knowing that:

a) As far as Goliaths go, there are none bigger than Diageo.

b) I already knew and loved Caol Ila.  (This was like getting beaten by your hero.  No real shame.)


c) We had a bloody great night of mates and drinks.

Sadly though, for those keeping score…

Goliath one…little Davids…zip.


One final sad bit of irony (kind of like an exoneration after the execution):  To ice this evening’s delicious little peat cake, we finished with a dram of Port Ellen 6th Release.  Yep…the distillery that DCL (Diageo) closed in order to keep Caol Ila flowing for use in blending purposes.  Hands down the winner of the night.  Sigh.  RIP Port Ellen.  RIP.


*(Original Bottlings)



Caol Ila Unpeated 10 y.o.

65.8% abv

Nose:  Completely unlike a single malt.  All thought this could have been a grain whisky.  Heavy rye notes.  Creamy.  Coconut and chocolate.  Slightly floral.  Hint of eucalyptus.

Palate:  Hot and biting (what did you expect at nearly 66%?).  Shimmering grains and a little fruit to tease.  Oaky.  Surprisingly rich and pleasant.

Finish:  Long and blazing.  Grapey.

Thoughts:  Decent balance.  Seems older than its years.


Caol Ila 12 y.o.

43% abv

Nose:  Wow.  What the hell?!  I love this dram, but holy feints, Batman!  Malty and iodine heavy.  Band-aids.  Peat and wet smoke.  Citrus.  Rubbery.  Smoked oysters.

Palate:  Subdued.  Peaty and sweet.  Smoked wood chips.

Finish:  Billows of smoke and young peat.  Tingly green apple skin and anise.  Looooooooooooong.

Thoughts:  In ordinary circumstances an exceptional malt for daily doses of smoke and peat, but in this line-up…left in the dust.  (But don’t worry, baby…I still love you!)


Caol Ila 18 y.o.

43% abv

Nose:  Some pleasant ‘green’ notes (not sure…just clean and pleasant).  Honeydew melon.  Mild citrus.  Aloe.  Fruity.  Salty.  The smoke has faded immensely by this age and the feintiness of the 12 y.o. is gone.

Palate:  Green fruit delivery.  Hint of smoke that was not prevalent on the nose.

Finish:  Light, fresh…and sadly…fleeting.  Not a long one, but dynamic and sweet.

Thoughts:  Absolutely the most pleasant surprise of the night.  Great dram.  If I was told it was 25 years old, I’d believe it.



Caol Ila 1996 Distiller’s Edition

43% abv

Nose:  BBQ sauce!  Chocolate and dark roast coffee bean.  Lemon and toasted woods.  Sweet and kinda winey.

Palate:  Smoke and iodine. Char.  Wine notes at first, but soon obliterated by smoke and tar.

Finish:  Tangy and lively.  Smoke…apple skins…sweetness.

Thoughts:  Tasty….closer to recent Ardbegs than Caol Ilas (Think Alligator).  Seems a wee bit bigger than 43% too.


Caol Ila 25 y.o.

58.4% abv

Nose:  Smooth chocolate and vanilla.  Melon and cherry.  Mature oak.  Mild pepper.  Distant smoke.

Palate:  Tart and almost hoppy.  Smoky and weedy.  Strong dark chocolate in the background.  And the arrival…absolutely teeth-smashing!

Finish:  Heat and sharpness all the way through, and even at the back end, despite its 25 runs through the seasons.  A long, long eve with this one.

Thoughts:  Huge disconnect between nose and palate.  Makes for a ruddy unbalanced go.  Still a great drink however.  The nose though…wow.



Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength

61.6% abv

Nose:  Smooooooooooth.  Buttery.  Smoky as the fires of hell.  Farmy and iodone heavy.  Citric.  Chocolate.  Cola with lime.  Wet leaves.

Palate:  Cocoa.  Mesquite.

Finish:  From here to eternity.  Peat and smoke this massive don’t vacate the premises until the morning after.  Thankfully.

Thoughts:  F*cking brilliant, and exactly as young peat should be dished up:  strong and bold.  Not unlike a natural Octomore (though slightly less muscle-y).


Caol Ila (A.D. Rattray) 22 y.o.

Willow Park Exclusive

57.7% abv

Nose:  Oh, yes!  Wow what a nose.  Eucalyptus and fruit.  Smoky and chocolate-rich.  Some nice baking spices too.  Somehow still mellow and showing very restrained peat.

Palate:  Smooth.  Waxy.  Choco and fruity.  Oak at just the right age.  Delicious and spectacular.  The perfect linger.  A date that stays through all the good bits but doesn’t overstay the welcome.

Finish:  All good.  Drying.  Typical Islay green apple ebb on this one.

Thoughts:  Best nose of the night.  Islay with age is nearing heaven.


So….weighing in:  A tie between 22 and 18.  25 just behind.  An honourable mention to the 10 y.o. Unpeated.



Thanks to all for your contributions, be they malts, pics, laughs or insight.  This is why we do this.  One of the most enjoyable (and surprising) tastings I can remember.  Cheers to ya!



(Tasting Notes:  Curt…with a line or two from The Collective)

(Photos:  Pat at

The Whisky Pilgrimage…Episode 7 – Speyside Selection #1 – Glenfiddich 15

Hi again.

After three months spent exploring a whisky profile that I know well it’s time to move into unfamiliar territory.

If you’re new to the Pilgrimage and don’t know what I’m talking about, or it has just been a while and you need a quick recap, here are the rules of the game.

Every month I pick up a new bottle of whisky. To give the Pilgrimage some structure and set up some good comparisons the year is divided into 4 “seasons”. For each season I have budgeted roughly $150.

  • Winter (Jan-Mar): Sherry
    • Aberlour 10: $32
    • Macallan 12: $55
    • Glendronach 15: $72
  • Spring (Apr-Jun): Speyside
  • Summer (Jul-Sep): Blends
  • Winter (Oct-Dec): Peated

My hope was that by building in some rules and limitations I’d be creating an environment that fosters appreciation for even the most humble drams. So far I’d say it has been a success. If you need convincing read the earlier posts…and heck, play along at home! I’d be interested to hear if anybody is giving some of the selections a try, or if any of the Pilgrimage concepts have inspired you to think about things from a slightly different angle.

Moving onward. Speyside.


Why Speyside? 

Speyside is a prolific whisky producing region, home to some of the best recognized distillers in the world. Glenfiddich, Glenlivit, Glen Glen Glen…it’s a Scottish take on the Bubba Gump riff. I’d be willing to bet that in the vast majority of cases the 1st single malt a person tries is from Speyside. It’s perfectly nice accessible whisky…and I just can’t get my head wrapped around it.

In my personal experience the bold flavours delivered via special cask maturation (sherry, wine barrel, etc) and peating take a little while to get used to. After an initial breaking-in period, these bold face-blasting styles become sought-after favourites. By comparison the subtle bourbon-cask numbers come across as uninspired and frankly…a little dull.

I’ve dabbled in Speyside but have become discouraged and scrambled back to my safe zone every time. Picking out the notes and understanding what’s in the glass require time and patience…neither of which I have in abundance.

Or rather….had.

Because for the next 3 months, like it or not I’m committed to staying in Speyside. Time to challenge my existing ways of thinking and learn some new tricks. Are these truly dull whiskies, or will I learn to appreciate the subtle charms of Speyside?

Speyside Selection #1 – Glenfiddich 15

If you review the Sherry selections, you’ll note my appreciation for the mellowing and additional development that come from aging. So when shopping for my first selection Glenfiddich 15 caught my eye for a number of reasons:

  • The distinctive “buck” tins – Glenfiddich is a very well recognized brand, and when I looked at this, I realized that I knew very little about the whisky
  • 15 years – same age as the Glendronach that I really enjoyed from the prior month
  • This isn’t sherry-cask pricing anymore – I picked this one up for $47.99 – $25 less than the Glendronach 15. Good deal!

The Glenfiddich 15 is produced using the Solera vatting technique. More information on this method can be found on this site or Lance’s excellent writings on In this case a variety of Glenfiddich casks are used in the Solera vat. My poor research is evident in the fact that some sherry casks find there way in, something I would have known had I read the back of the bottle more carefully than I did the price tag. I acknowledge it’s a bit of a cheat on my part, but I don’t think they’ve gone too heavy on the sherry and as such I don’t think it is overpowering the baseline “essence” of Glenfiddich.

First impressions? It’s very nice stuff! It doesn’t have the same “oomph” as the sherry finished whiskies but makes up for that with some really nice flavours in a light, fragrant delivery.


Yet to come…

  • I’m definitely looking forward to giving Glenfiddich 15 a shot vs. the Glendronach 15 to see how they stack up against one another
  • Earlier in the pilgrimage I attempted an Aberlour 10 marinated steak. Yikes…I’m just about ready to post up a whisky-based food experience that did turn out well.
  • I have an embarrassing retraction to make. A few posts back I boldly stated that I would start producing proper tasting notes. Well, I am what I am…and as much as I thought that tasting notes would be the “right thing to do”, it just feels forced and wrong. In retrospect, I must admit that I got a little too wound up on the “try something new” ethic of the pilgrimage and as a result, lost sight of my ultimate goal here: having fun. My heart just isn’t in it and I don’t think that any of you need to suffer through the tasting note equivalent of “it was a dark and stormy night…”.


Thanks again for reading – all comments and feedback appreciated!


Kilchoman – A Chance Encounter With Winter In Canada



The Calgary winter has been pushing hard since early November 2011, so on February 8, 2012 we, a motley collection of seven like-minded whisky drudges, took off our snow shoes and mad trapper hats and sat down together to push back. Clint, Curt, Jay R, Jay W, Maltmonster, Pat and Calgary’s Napoleon, a self-acclaimed whisky expert, turned our interest and thirst toward eight different bottlings of Kilchoman. In doing so managed to ignore winter (at least until the next morning). With the help of the collective, Curt and I decided to post our tasting notes together in a joint effort and Pat did the honors of the photos.

For the benefit of the great unwashed, the Kilchoman Rockside Farm distillery was born in 2005 on the rocky, peaty Island of Islay and is the first new distillery built on Islay in 124 years. Kilchoman currently malts about 30% of their own barley which is grown on their own farm. The total yearly production is around 100,000 liters of the good stuff. The main source of Bourbon barrels is from Buffalo Trace Distillery, Kentucky and Oloroso Sherry butts from Miguel Martin of Jerez, Spain. “Kil” in Gaelic means church and Kil-choman takes its name from a small Kil-t wearing settlement less than a kil-ometre away.

In an age where bigger is supposed to better (Roseisle) and contracting out specialized tasks like malting, cooperage, bottling and farming seems to make better business sense, it’s nice to see distilleries like Kilchoman with a real desire to reverse this trend and take on a grass roots approach to full control whisky making.

We couldn’t help to think with all the governmental red tape, the huge financial burden, the startup headaches and the never ending learning curve why then would any sane person want to build a whisky distillery from the ground up? Not that we don’t love you for it. Well whilst we were drinking and enjoying our whisky we came up with a list with 16 possible reasons:


1) A David and Goliath Condition – The desire to bring the corporate giant, Diageo, to its knees.

2) Final item on the fanatical Scotch hobbyist list:  own a distillery.

3) Suffer from Jim Murray Syndrome – The need to receive praise from somebody you don’t respect (similar to Stockholm syndrome).

4) The voices compelled me…but we’re fine now.

5) Communication problem – Not fully understanding what your wife is saying.  “I don’t care, you can do whatever the f#@k you want” really wasn’t permission to start a new distillery.

6) Malt-O-Maniac – Overcome with irresistible need to work with barley.

7) Malt-O-Freak – Obsessed with stopping barley from germinating.

8) Some extra strand in the English DNA that reads “Must rule over something Scottish”.

9) If God is watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining.

10) An ideal founded after a night of heavy scotch drinking and bragging to friends “If I owned a distillery I would do it sooooo much better”.

11) Nesting instinct – Just wanting to secure a large supply of whisky at a reasonable price for you and your unreasonable friends.

12) Trying to get over your Coulrophobia – By surrounding yourself with government clowns.

13) A long family business history with the need to be first, best or really, really different.

14) Tired of Listening to Andrew Symington of Edradour claims of being the only neat little distillery in Scotchland.

15) Failed badly with the vows of Chastity, Obedience and Silence …which only left Poverty.

16) Woke up in a field on the Rockside Farm the morning after a night of heavy drinking at the Islay Festival with a sheep in one arm and real bad case of Whisnesia (only remembering you really liked whisky & sheep but couldn’t remember where home was).




#1 Inaugural 2005 – 2009 1st Release 46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 5 months in oloroso butts

#2 Autumn 2009 2nd Release 46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and one cask of 3 years refill bourbon finished 3 months in oloroso butts

#3 Spring 2010 3rd Release 46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 3.5 months in oloroso butts

#4 100 % Islay 2011 Inaugural Limited Release 50 % ABV1st fill bourbon and refill bourbon with 100% Islay barley

#5 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary , Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon # 119 May 30 , 2007 – July 21 , 2010 61.9 % ABV

#6 Binny’s Beverage Depot – Chicago, Illinois Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon # 182 July 4, 2007 – August 26, 2010 61.1 % ABV

#7 The Whisky Shop – San Francisco, California Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon # 204 July 18, 2007 – August 26, 2010 60.9 % ABV

#8 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary, Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Sherry # 322 November 15, 2006 – September 13, 2011 60.0 % ABV



#1 Inaugural 2005 – 2009 1st Release

46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 5 months in oloroso butts



Nose: Licorice. Iodine. Citrus zest. Salt. Raw smoke and earthy peat. Capers. Bonfire and maple bacon.

Palate: Smoky and salty. Sharp and young, but balanced with some sweetness. Cracked pepper.

Finish: Granny Smith apple. Warm and long lasting.

Thoughts: Enjoyable as hell. Better than almost all of the young whiskies (under 5 y.o., that is) I’ve tried.



NOSE: Smoky medicinal hit. Lemons & pears. Clamato juice and gin botanicals.

TASTE: Earthy.  Liquid smoky.  Licorice, tart lemon and green apples.

FINISH: Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT: What a fantastic whisky to start with. Really has me in awe of just how good a three year old whisky can be.



#2 Autumn 2009 2nd Release

46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and one cask of 3 years refill bourbon finished 3 months in oloroso butts



Nose: Creme caramel. Soft pear. Vanilla. Smoke. Spearmint.

Palate: Smoke and mature beyond its years. Soft white fruit. Woody and fishy.

Finish: Firey, but somewhat short-lived, like a fireworks explosion.

Thoughts: Slightly softer and more rounded corners (creamier) than the Inaugural.



NOSE: Little more depth and softer smoke than the Inaugural. Vanilla and oranges. Aged cheddar cheese.

TASTE: Whip cream.  Mild smoke.  Sweet & sour candy lemon drops.

FINISH: Medium to long.  Little bitter and warm.

ASSESSMENT: You would think this would be very similar to the Inaugural given the age, but yet they are very different. Maybe the stock varies because of the learning curve in starting up a distillery?



#3 Spring 2010 3rd Release

46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 3.5 months in oloroso butts



Nose: Smoked salmon. Lemon juice. Herbal and grassy. Mussels in white wine. Kerosene.

Palate: Fishy. Hoisin. Syrupy pear. Hot.

Finish: Still quite fishy and feisty. Wriggling on the hook.

Thoughts: Good drink and quirky as hell. Just different enough to be charming.



NOSE: Low tide (yes I used to live on the coast) and things that come with that.  Winey.  Lemons.

TASTE: Smoked Salmon.  Sweet peat.  Pears and toffee.

FINISH: Medium to long.  Warm and slightly oily.

ASSESSMENT: This is almost between the Inaugural and the Autumn 2009 release.  This is my 2nd favorite of the first three releases and Inaugural is my favorite of the three.



#4 100 % Islay 2011 Inaugural Limited Release

50 % ABV 1st fill bourbon and refill bourbon with 100% Islay barley



Nose: Spirity and grainy. Seems VERY young. Oaky. Notes of new make. Waxy and somewhat plastic. Smoky, but not overpoweringly so.

Palate: Hot and virgin (and not in the good way). NOT sweet. Over-salted. Peat is aggressive.

Finish: Yep.

Thoughts: The least enjoyable Kilchoman I’ve experienced to date. Though I like the others, this…I wouldn’t buy.



NOSE: Iodine and malty. New make feinty. Green apples and floral.

TASTE: New make.  Vanilla.  Lightly peated.  Jammy.

FINISH: Medium.  Briny and very hot.

ASSESSMENT: Had huge expectations for this, really enjoyed the first three malts but this was a bit of a letdown. It either needs some sherry finishing or a little more time in the cask.



#5 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary, Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon #119

May 30 , 2007 – July 21 , 2010 61.9 % ABV



Nose: Creamy and rich. Spicy. Herbal. Sultana. Eucalyptus (some suggested Vicks Vapo-rub?). Bubble-gummy.

Palate: Firey and smoke-heavy. Anise. Zest and brine.

Finish: Pleasant slow fade. Hefty smoke left behind with fruit skin tartness.

Thoughts: Good cask selection. One of the faves of the eve.



NOSE: Lemons and ripe cherries. Mild to strong peat smoke. Eucalyptus. West coast oysters.

TASTE: Mild peat smoke.  Vanilla and red apples. Pepper.

FINISH: Medium to long. Like the smooth fading finish.

ASSESSMENT: Battle of the Bourbon 2005 3 year old single casks starts here and me likes!



#6 Binny’s Beverage Depot – Chicago, Illinois Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon #182

July 4, 2007 – August 26, 2010 61.1 % ABV



Nose: Dill. Mellower than the KWM cask and in contrast seems almost flat. Hints of grainy new-make. Smoke and youthful peat nip.

Palate: Wax and cherry. Underdeveloped. Old chocolate. Meaty and malty.

Finish: Nothing to dislike, but nothing to mourn when it fades either.

Thoughts: Would probably be a LOT better with another half dozen years in wood, but I question the cask here. Seems kinda dud-ish.



NOSE: Assertive smoke.  Aged cheese.  Apples and pears.

TASTE: Mint and lemons. Little pepper and licorice.

FINISH: Medium to long with a sharp tang to it.

ASSESSMENT: Poor showing to the KWM single cask.



#7 The Whisky Shop – San Francisco, California Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon #204

July 18, 2007 – August 26, 2010 60.9 % ABV



Nose: Dusty. Wood shavings. Rich wet smoke. Fishy. Vanilla. Lemon.

Palate: Hot and spicy Asian sauce of some sort.

Finish: A hickory like smoke and apple. Long and warming.

Thoughts: Really liked this one. Certainly one of the best of the night.



NOSE: Charcoal and fire starter. Major citrus and bubble gum.

TASTE: Mild peat smoke.  Honey.  Cheddar cheese. Tobacco.

FINISH: Medium to long.  Earthy dry finish.

ASSESSMENT: My 2nd favorite single cask and very close to the KWM for number one. It’s amazing to me that all three of these single casks could be so different.



#8 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary, Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Sherry #322

November 15, 2006 – September 13, 2011 60.0 % ABV



Nose: Dry fruit. Burnt caramel. BBQ sauce. New carpet. Barley still cuts with its youth. Butter tarts.

Palate: Buttery and sweet, but smoky as hell.

Finish: Lovely. Sweet and smoky toasted oak.

Thoughts: Another young gem. Calgary’s KWM had two of the better Kilchomans on offer this eve.



NOSE: Mellow briny smoke. Cherries and oranges. Leather and earthy.

TASTE: Creamy chewy jam. Black licorice and raisins.

FINISH: Long and gets warmer at the end.

ASSESSMENT: The only ‘all sherry’ cask we had in the lineup, and it is brilliant.  My second overall favorite of the night next to the Inaugural 2005, release which was #1 pick as overall favorite of the night .



I remember being part of the B-team to help chose this cask for KWM back on August 16, 2011. We were given only two 2006 Sherry samples to chose from cask #322 & cask #323. Sample #322 was stunning and sample #323 was very less than stunning (varnish) and ended up at being bottled for Whisky Live Paris and receiving a rating of 78 from Serge on Whisky Fun. Again it’s odd that two young casks could be so different.


Much thanks to Anthony Wills for coming to Calgary in October 2011 and leading us in a wonderful tasting including the new 5 year old first fill bourbon, which was fantastic. Sorry we didn’t get to talk much in Victoria but look forward to seeing you here again next year .


– Maltmonster

– Photos:  Pat



“Maltmonster, I’m sorry for showing up late as a result of locking my keys in the vehicle at the Olympic Park Shell gas station. Life is tough; It’s even tougher if you’re stupid.

As I was late I didn’t get a chance to rate & taste all the whiskies and as I trust your opinion more than my own, please rate these whiskies for me.

Out of anybody in the whisky industry, I hold the you in the highest esteem. Maltmonster, you are a true guiding light, a credit to the noble Irish and without question have the best taste in whisky in the world.


Calgary’s Napoleon

Self-acclaimed whisky expert, Quaker, sheep shagger, whisky monger, whisky writer and proud bearer of the MHLV yellow tie”

Ardbeg – One Wicked Lineup

An Evening With The Collective Running Through A Vertical Of Ardbeg


It’s a rare thing that I am at a loss for words. In fact, I’m sure a few people who know me would like it to be a slightly more frequent occurrence. Like most passionate (Insane? Obsessive?) souls I have very strong opinions. I find that the more passionate the individual, the more they think people should listen to them. Having said that…I searched hard to find something to say about this tasting that I thought anyone would care to listen to.

This gathering happened months back, and I have been sitting on these tasting notes ever since. I simply could not come up with an angle for this one. There was the inevitable ‘attack the prophet’ (he who writes the bible) spin…the ‘fellate all things in the green bottle’ tack (can’t hide bias here…I love Ardbeg)…the ‘bog beast’ approach…etc etc.

In the end though, I concede and have settled for…

A few of us got together to taste some Ardbeg. We came…we drank…we were conquered. It was simply bigger than all of our might combined.

The notes below are, as usual when we do these group tastings, cobbled together from the collective wisdom of the crew. Some poetic. Some insightful. Some just crude and crass. This refers to both the gang gathered and the jottings below.

With no further ado…Ardbeg.



Ardbeg Blasda

40% abv

Nose: Big lemon and lime. Anise. Salty and mildly peppery. Slightly spirity (new-make-ish). Pepper skins. Stewing tomatoes and malt. Distant campfire. Vanilla.

Palate: Thin and fairly weak…for an Ardbeg anyway. Black licorice. Zero finish. Decent mid-note.

Thoughts & Comments: Light and refreshing. By no means a bad whisky, it was the least favorite of the night. Watered down for an Ardbeg.  Truly the lightweight from this distillery full of heavyweights.

Ranking: 9th


Ardbeg 17

40% abv

Nose: Herbal. Light vanilla. Red rock candy (strawberry? Cherry?). Aged wood shavings. Strawberry marshmallow. Mild smoke. Grassy. Cream soda. Bread. Amaretto. Grenadine/maraschino.

Palate: Char. Tangy. Fairly light with a short finish.

Thoughts & Comments: Delicate, sweet and mature. Muted phenols.  Again…atypical of Ardbeg’s usual bombast, but still  lovely.

Ranking: 5th


Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist

46% abv

Nose: Vanilla ice cream. Toasted marshmallow. Salt and iodine. Licorice. Beachside campfire. Mild caramel. Citrus and tar. Lemon sweets. Sherry tannins.

Palate: Sweet and creamy. Peat and brine.

Thoughts & Comments: Needs a little time to properly open. “Great punctuation.”  Sadly missed.  If you come across this one gathering dust in some shop somewhere…snap it up.

Ranking: 4th


Ardbeg Ten

46% abv

Nose: Big deep smoke. Creosote. Citrus and brine. Seaweed. Capers. Vanilla. Tar. Anise. Wet bandaid.

Palate: Bit of a bite. Smoke, ash and licorice on delivery. Peat. Long, strong finish. Prosciutto (?)

Thoughts & Comments: For such a great dram…a fairly weak showing in a lineup this strong. Aggressive. “Rubber hits the road”. “Lots of kissing, but no closure”.

Ranking: 8th



Ardbeg 1977

46% abv

Nose: Fruit with cream. Bordering on tropical. Melon…maybe peach. Chocolate. Vanilla. Distant echoes of peat. Grains are noticeable. Slight paint or rubber latex note. Cadbury’s chocolate oranges. Butterscotch. Aged and balanced smoke. Sherry oranges.

Palate: Bright. Great mouthfeel. Fruit and mild peat. Lingering and ‘yummy’.

Thoughts & Comments: …Oh man, the fruits. Bloody spectacular. Far and away the favorite of all. ABV does it justice. “Not of this earth.”  “No words are good enough.”

Ranking: 1st


Ardbeg Corryvreckan

57.1% abv

Nose: Grainy. Smoke and sea brine. Peat. Zest. Smoked fish. Cookfire. BBQ sauce. Anise. Approachable.

Palate: Big arrival. Peppery.

Thoughts & Comments: Good bourbon/sherry balance. Needs some sushi on the side. “Taste is better than the nose.” (but of course the nose is to die for too).  “Like mating with a wrestler…Chyna perhaps.”

Ranking: 2nd


Ardbeg Uigeadail

54.2% abv

Nose: Leather and smoke. Chocolate. Smoked meat in BBQ sauce. Figgy. Orange and cherry. Sweet creamy caramel. Salt and iodine. Tea. Pungent and a little medicinal…yet creamy. Whisper of sherry.

Palate: Hint of black cherry on delivery. Salty and sweet.

Thoughts & Comments: Good food whisky.

Ranking: 6th


Ardbeg Alligator

52.1% abv

Nose: Soot and ash. Chilis. Very salty. Vinegary BBQ sauce. Vanilla bean. Pepper (refined…Talisker-ish). Licorice. Orange and cherry. Spearmint.

Palate: Orange. Chocolate. Salty. Peaty finish. Campfire. Long and chewy.

Thoughts & Comments: Assertive, but yielding. Lots of depth and volume. Cold weather dram. Another that would be well-paired with food.

Ranking: 3rd


Ardbeg Supernova SN2010

60.1% abv

Nose: Chocolate, Sharp and citric. Smoky and peaty. Young and biting. BBQ. Iodine. Hockey card bubblegum. Fresh and minty. Lemongrass. Ash and coal tar.

Palate: Liquid smoke. Numbing. Chunky and intense.

Thoughts & Comments: Taste is the dividing line (nose belies the strength here). “Like licking a homeless guy.” “My teeth are melting”.

Ranking: 7th



Apologies to those of The Collective who so generously gave their time for this on, only to have me dally on getting the piece posted.



A Chat With Whiskyfun’s Serge Valentin

A hunt through the whisky blogosphere is likely to yield unlimited results when you’re on the hunt for reviews.  Indeed whisky writers/reviewers are a dime a dozen.  Good ones, however, are a rare commodity, and to be cherished.  I use the word ‘good’ here not simply to refer to one’s verbosity or word palette, but more to what one has to offer.

Unquestionably the best out there is Serge Valentin.  His Whiskyfun has become my staple breakfast, after work snack and before bed nightcap.  The site is simply awesome and an absolute Mecca for whisky lovers.  At the time of this writing, Whiskyfun holds just shy of 8,000 tasting notes.  I need to say that again…8,000 tasting notes.

Imagine for a moment that you had access to 8,000 drams.  Would you have the motivation and passion to share your aquired knowledge and experiences by way of individual reviews?  Would you be able to dust them with humor and humility in order to make them accessible to all?  Would you do it all with a frank openness and endearing lack of pretention?  Hmmm…I wonder.

Serge was immediately receptive to the idea of a chat with ATW.  For this, but more importantly, for all that the man has contributed to drammers around the world…we raise a glass in salute.





First things first…how would you describe Serge Valentin?

An Alsatian guy (i.e. French but slightly German and Swiss as well) who’s got many passions and foolishly decided to launch an amateur online whisky tasting diary ten years ago and then write in printed magazines, while he may have had better things to do.


Second…how would you describe Whiskyfun?  (C’mon…you’re an advertising guy…I’m interested in the slant you’d put on it)

I’d say it’s become mainly a large (some say the largest) database of independent and truly non-commercial whisky tasting notes by one single guy – but in fact, it’s always been a lame excuse for posting about another passion of mine: jazz and music in general. I know mixing topics is very bad on the Web but that never stopped me 😉


I say this in all sincerity (and with no disrespect intended to others), Whiskyfun is the best whisky-related site on the net.  Being in somewhat of a leading position as you are, do you still look to other whisky websites?  If so, which do feel offer the most and why?

Well, that’s all very kind but probably untrue – aren’t you being a tad too polite? But indeed I read other whisky websites. The Malt Maniacs’ of course, as well as our members’ private efforts (dramming, whiskycast, whisky emporium, Canadian whisky, Ralfy, malt madness or whisky intelligence to name but a few, they’re all so different, which is great) or other blogs that offer true content, either educational (about the distilleries, whisky history, technical aspects and such) or blogs that deliver interesting opinions and points of view, even, or maybe because I sometimes don’t agree with them.


You’re a passionate guy when it comes to your drams.  This shows in the frequency of updates to Whiskyfun, but even moreso in the quality of those posts.  Is it easy for you to maintain that degree of commitment and enthusiasm or do you go through cycles of waning interest (however short)?

Oh yes, I’m not always high ;-). But I use a trick: I taste and write whenever I’m in the mood for that, and don’t when I’m not. I ‘work’ with a lot of what we used to call ‘marble’ when I was a publisher, in another life. At least two weeks’ worth! I’ve got quite a few pre-edited tasting notes that have been written months ago, and some may never see the light.


Your dedication to the subject, enormous archive of tasting notes and seemingly unlimited reach when it comes to sourcing out incredible samples have put you in a very unique position as a point of reference.  Have you considering publishing anything as an alternative to the Whisky Bible?

No thanks! I’ve written books but not about whisky and indeed, I’ve got quite a few propositions, but I always felt that the genuine whisky writers out there such as Dave Broom, Charlie Maclean or Martine Nouet – not to mention Michael Jackson – and a few others such as Davin de Kergommeaux and his terrific new book about Canadian whisky were so good that publishing any scribblings by yours truly would be a very stupid thing to do (excuse me). It would also be a way of selling what I do, which is a no-no at Whiskyfun Towers. Having said that, were I to do that one day – and that won’t happen before I retire – that would be in French, because I’m aware of the fact that my English is much too far from ‘print’ quality.


There is a certain amount of influence that comes from being a public voice, especially one with knowledge and coming from a place of judgment (let’s face it…that’s what reviews are).  This influence can be a very good thing or a very bad thing.  In your opinion, are distillers afraid of a bad Jim Murray rating, and if so how do you think he has changed the industry?

Ah, Parkerisation in whisky… No ideas… Some may like to think so but I doubt it. Whisky isn’t wine and worldwide sales of books, even the leaders, or circulations of magazines are really tiny. The Whisky Bible, according to their own Facebook page, has sold ‘a quarter of a million copies in the seven years since it’s first incarnation’. Let’s assume this wasn’t made up (why would it?), that makes for 250K/7=36,000 copies per year on average, while Parker sells millions every year. Or think Hugh Johnson, he’s sold more than 10 million copies of his Pocket Wine Book alone. What’s more, you can change the style of one wine almost overnight to please one expert (such as Robert Parker Jr.), you can’t do that with whisky unless you’re into quick finishings, or by doing wee tweakings such as drop caramel colouring or chill filtration. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one whisky that was made to please one expert. There’s no Robert Parker in whisky – and if there ever was any, he was Michael Jackson. Also because there’s much less speculation in whisky (so far) and, above all, no sales ‘en primeur’ (again, so far… gosh, maybe I shouldn’t give bad ideas to the distillers).


Your output is incredibly prolific.  How do manage to schedule your ‘malt moments’ around the rest of life?  On a weekly average, how much time do you dedicate to whisky?

As I sometimes say, an average Westerner spends around four hours a day watching stupid TV shows. Imagine what you can do with four hours a day. But if we’re talking about the time I need to taste, write and edit WF’s tasting notes, that would be around six or seven hours a week, sometimes a little more. The only thing that’s tricky is not to have to drive after a tasting session. Not that I’m drunk but if you ever have to blow into a breathaliser after just 1cl of cask strength Ardbeg, you’re in jail and presto. Or you’ll have to drink two litres of water…


I’ve seen answers before, but for the sake of completeness in this piece, I gotta ask…where do you source your vast samples from?  How big is the sample library at the moment?

I buy some bottles, I buy some samples and I get quite a lot of samples from retailers, distillers or simply good friends. The sample library?… Four figures – not talking about whiskies I’ve already tried. I need that because I always compare my whiskies and never taste them ‘on their own’, so, if I ever get a new Glenallachie in the mail, for example, I need to have at least one or two other Glenallachies already in my library. The nearest, the better (ages, vintages, cask types…) I do not believe in tasting ‘ex-nihilo’, I always need to compare whiskies or nuances just wouldn’t come out, at least not in the same proportions.


That last one ties in to another question.  I imagine many of what you review are indeed samples, but you manage to provide bottle shots for everything.  Do you actually have all of these old and rare bottles at your disposal and being opened regularly?

Sadly – or rather happily – not. Not all of them, at least. I’ve got unwritten or virtual deals with many retailers, they can use my notes and scores, I can use their pictures. Many are friends anyway. I also use private databases of pictures (not available to the public) that some friends have built, or I shoot bottles at fairs or shops. What’s more, I only post wee snapshots of labels just to give an idea of how a bottle looks like, I don’t think ever use a picture as is.


Speaking of old and rare…why do think  there is such a disconnect between whiskies made in the sixties and the seventies to those we are drinking today?  Enormous exotic fruits, like those found in older Bowmore, Benriach and Springbank seem to be conspicuously absent in latter day malts.

Good question again. I think there are many factors, some related to the makes, some related to bottle ageing, some related to commercial aspects. At random, direct firing, true sherry casks, larger selection of casks to choose from (because the market for malts was so smaller), worm condensers, different yeasts, slower fermentation, use of paxarette, no or very little fresh/ first fill American oak… And, above all, bottle ageing. Although the general public thinks that a spirit is inert once it’s confined in its bottle, I think it’s not. No top is never 100% airtight. The whisky keeps ageing, getting mellower, and I believe the phenols really change over time. All the good people who distil fruit eau-de-vie, for example, know that you shouldn’t open a bottle before it’s five, and some say even ten. Why would eau-de-vie change, and not whisky? Granted, a whisky was already matured in wood, but it does keep changing in glass, at a much slower pace. Many old glories were young and rough when bottled, and became stunningly complex after twenty, thirty or even forty years in glass. Hard to prove because you cannot quite compare them – or you’d need a time warp machine – but when you talk to older guys, including whisky people, they’ll tell you (sometimes after a few drams). All that means that some of today’s whiskies will be stellar when our children will inherit them ;-). I’d also add that in the old days, almost all the malt whiskies were made for blending purposes, so the distillers were tweaking their recipes depending on what the blenders were asking for. More fruits? More fruits! Some of these old casks are now reaching us via the independent bottlers or via the distillers themselves who bought them back from the blenders’ or indies, and what we’re sometimes tasting, I believe, is not a distillery’s general style, but a malt that was made after some blenders’ specs. Good examples are the older ex-Seagram peated Speysiders, for example. Or, hey, Brora!


Photo: © Olivier Thébault


You come across as a relatively unassuming fellow.  Are there any topics in whisky chatter that make you want to get up on your soapbox and be a little more nasty?

You know, I try to keep anything whisky fun. Otherwise, yeah, some very lousy attempts at premiumising very average whiskies using 20th century stunts (what I sometimes call the cognacqisation of whisky), or widespread commercialism, especially in social media which is fast becoming a kind of very noisy and frankly smelly souk. Or anonymous, obsessive know-it-alls here and there who keep spreading half-truths and plain lies about whisky. To be honest, I may have to include myself in the lot – but at least I’m not anonymous ;-).


What is the one amazing whisky experience you’ve had that you would love to live over again?

There were several and it’s always the same situation. Good friends, a rare old bottle of whisky that none of us have ever tried yet… And pop!


If your evening plans were comprised of the perfect malt, the perfect book and the perfect background music…what would they be and what would tie them together?

Well, the problem is that I don’t believe the evening is the perfect time for a perfect malt. Our senses are tired… For example, I never do my tastings at night. Also, I never taste whisky while listening to music. Sounds odd, I know, but the influence is too big on me, I’d end up writing about the bass line while thinking I’m commenting on the whisky’s… err, tempo. Having said that, I’d go for an old Willet bourbon while listening to R.L. Burnside and reading some of Tennessee Williams’ short stories. Or Duke Ellington with Macallan, Coltrane with Clynelish, Hendrix with Lagavulin, Bill Evans with an old Bowmore, Slipknot with Ardbeg (I’m joking!)…


Finally…any plans to venture over to our great white North for any of the Canadian festivals (i.e. the Victoria Whisky Festival)?

Oh yes, Victoria is on my to-do list since a few years already. It’s just that the beginning of the year is always quite hectic business-wise, but I’ll manage, I’ll manage!


Any last thoughts to share?

Let’s keep it fun; whisky’s no serious matters (unless you have to make a living out of it, or if you down way too much of it).



Sincere thanks to Serge Valentin. 




The Whisky Pilgrimage…Episode 6 – Sherry Matured Selection #3 – Glendronach 15

Hi everyone,

Once again, an entire calendar month has drifted by and I’ve struggled to get this written and out the door. There were a number of circumstances that came into play – illness, computer crash, career change – and while I am a good soldier and carried on with the drams I simply did not get around to this. All is well though and I aim to get a little more snappy with the posts.
Let’s begin with Selection #3
March was the final month for sherry finished whiskies, and I wanted to build upward in age over the course of the 3 months. Keeping in mind that I have roughly $150 for 3 bottles, here’s where I was at near the end of February:
  • Aberlour 10: $33
  • Macallan 12: $55
  • Which leaves about $62 for Selection number 3
As per the last post, I decided that it would not be too much of a cheat to spend a little extra on sherry finished whisky, as I’m bound to be able to make it up down the road. Knowing this, I went out and purchased a bottle of the Glendronach 15 for $72.
Glendronach was an easy decision. I am a fan of the 12 and if I wasn’t going out of my way to try whiskies I am not as familiar with, I would have purchased it instead of the Macallan 12. I was gifted a bottle of a 24 year old single cask (Willow Park Wine & Spirits – may be long gone for all I know) and that is without doubt one of the very finest bottles to sit on my shelf. Curt has given the 15 good reviews so I thought that this would be a good fit for me given the reasonable price at age and my affinity for this distillery.
15 years, aged in Oloroso Sherry Casks, and bottled at 46%…it ticks all of the right boxes. Glendronach 15 has proven to be an excellent choice. This is a very rich, sweet, weighty dram. The nose on it is excellent. At 15 years, you start to lose some of the sharp edge that you get off of a younger nose. I suppose this is one of the benefits of maturity. The flavours are more developed than the younger whiskies, and the finish is very smooth. I’m very pleased with the purchase.
How did the sherry finished whiskies stack up against one another?
  • Aberlour 10 v. Macallan 12: throughout the past few months, I’ve done some side-by-side tastings. These two whiskies are very different from one another. Macallan has that intense purity of spirit characteristic…when stacked against something cozy like Aberlour, I don’t find that I appreciate the razor sharp definition of the Macallan. I was really surprised by this. It’s a bit of a Betty Cooper / Veronica Lodge scenario. Just like Veronica, on paper the Macallan makes a lot of sense. In practice, it is just a little too sharp on the edges for my tastes. On the other hand, the Aberlour may not be all that glamorous…but like Betty it’s got a lot of soul, and it doesn’t have any significant designs on your pocketbook.
  • Aberlour 10 v. Macallan 12 v. Glendronach 15: Having tried all three of these side by side on several occasions, hands down the Glendronach 15 is the best of the bunch. It should not come as a surprise given the additional maturation (50% longer than the Aberlour!), but what caught be by surprise most about this was just how much of a gap I put between these whiskies. The Glendronach is simply superior to the other two. The Aberlour still put in a decent enough showing, but the 3-way battle royale did nothing to help Macallan 12’s case.
  • Final conclusion: Of the three whiskies selected, the Glendronach 15 is the best and I would suggest that it’s actually a pretty decent value for the dollar. Aberlour 10 is a great bargain and I am sure that I will continue to pick it up. Macallan 12 was my least favourite, and in my opinion, it’s pretty difficult to justify the price tag on this one as compared to what you get for about $15 more for the Glendronach 15. Macallan does have its merits and is by no means bad, it’s just not to my taste. If you haven’t tried it, I would really recommend giving it a shot at a tasting or at a pub before committing to a purchase that may not be the best value for your dollar.
Overall, how is the pilgrimage working out?
  • I am learning a lot: By regularly re-visiting the same whiskies – or family of whiskies – I’ve learned quite a bit about each bottle that comes through. In the past, I’ve either blasted through the bottle before learning much or have kept a miserly clutch on a few wee drops and in doing so lose track of my opinions,  instead of just enjoying what I have and moving on. This approach forces me to try and try again, so I feel like I’m getting the very most out of what I buy
  • Comparisons Matter: When it comes down to it, if you enjoy whisky, you can enjoy just about ANY whisky. It is only when you have a couple of options you can bounce between (be it in the same sitting, or the next day, etc) that you really start to be able to pick out the unique elements of the dram that you’re drinking. It takes unique skills, experience, and focus to be able to study a whisky standalone…going forward I plan to make a point of having some variety on hand so that I can get the most out of my drams.
  • The budget is pretty reasonable: I have not been perfect in terms of measuring & a strict week-by-week schedule, yet I am in no danger of running out of whisky. From these 3 bottles I have a slight heel of Aberlour 10 remaining (which I should really just put to bed…keeping for experimentation though), about 1/4 of the Macallan 12 left, and about 1/2 of the Glendronach 15. The cupboard is starting to get a little cluttered, particularly with the addition of Speyside/Highland Selection #1 (more on this next week). I think that knowing that something new is coming each month is helping me to keep a sensible pace. I’m enjoying having a plan & sticking to it, and as I’ve hoped, putting these parameters into place has helped to appreciate what I have.
So, that is it for Sherry Finished Whisky – onward to Speyside, a whisky producing region that for whatever reason I have neglected in the past. I’ve picked up Selection #1, and look forward to sharing in the very near future (honest!)