Monthly Archives: January 2013

Isle Of Arran The Devil’s Punchbowl Review

Isle Of Arran The Devil’s Punchbowl055

52.3% abv

Score:  87.5/100


When I was kid growing up, I recall hitting up the fountain pop stations in corner stores and restaurants and mixing all of the flavors together.  We called this vile concoction ‘swamp water’.  That same principle seems to be at play here for the Devil’s Punchbowl.  And I gotta admit…I embrace it with the same juvenile gleeful delight.

This bubbling cauldron of hellish delight was brewed up by marrying 24 casks distilled between 1996 and 2006 (13 sherry…11 of mixed ex-bourbon and peated malt, if rumour is to be believed.  With, of course, a little eye of newt).  The results are…predictably unpredictable, of course.

And ahhh…the marketing.  This is 1 of 6,660 bottles.  Clever.  How can you not score an extra point for that(*)?

Nose:  Slightly burnt caramel.  Mild organic peaty notes.  Orange and fudge.  Ginger chocolate.  Pear and dry tart sherry notes.  Quite creamy.  A bit of smoke, but understated.  The peat is subdued as well, I should add.

Palate:  A little more peat, heat and smoke here.  Again…caramel.  Maybe cocoa.  Citrus and some puckering red/purple fruit notes.  Kinda wine-ish.  Tart n’ Tinys candies.  Crabapple notes and oak threads towards the back.

(*) I do not say that in sincerity.  The hard and fast on ATW in regards to scoring is completely based on content.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 y.o. Review

Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 y.o.022

43% abv

Score:  83.5/100


I’m often a cynic with expressions like this, wondering how much rum influence we’ll see on the whisky.  Pondering whether or not it is just marketing.  Here, however, is a whisky absolutely emblazoned with the tattoo of sugar cane juice.

Weird mix, this.  And to be honest, I’m not sure how many malts could carry this off.  The heavy sherry woodiness of the Balvenie however, would seem to be a fairly solid vehicle for delivery in this case.

In simplest terms:  A sherried Speysider meets the relatively bold and synthetic flavors of a cheap rum (almost like a Bacardi Limon or something).  Love to know whose casks these were prior to their putting down roots in the warehouses at Balvenie.

Nose:  Some odd hints of pepper and pineapple.  Eucalyptus and pine.  Rum-raisin, brown sugar and apple.  Sharp citrus and orange marmalade.  A little bit of vanilla…and yeah…there’s a little bit of rum in there.  Coffee and toffee.

Palate:  Tobacco and spice.  Orange, pineapple and lemon.  Sprite or 7-Up (lemonade, for our friends in the UK).  Sharp burnt-sugar rummy notes.  toothpicks.  Pith and a bit of mint again.

Neat.  But not really my cup of tea (or whisky).


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Highland Park 12 y.o. Review

Highland Park 12 y.o.

43% abv

Score:  86.5/100


This is where it begins in the Highland Park range.  A young – but not too young – malty, peaty, smoky, heathery, honeyed dram that bears all the hallmarks of this windswept Orkadian distillery’s profile.

Oops.  Did I just give you all of the tasting notes in the first sentence?  Not quite, but those are most definitely the core of this dram.

From the Northern fringes of Scotland hails one of the greatest single malt whisky distilleries in production.  Highland Park is a distillery built on, and intent on retaining, its traditional practices.

I found, as do most others, I believe, that the single greatest attribute (among many) of Highland Park is the astonishing balance they have created in juggling the softer, sweeter nuances of sherry…the organic essence of peat and smoke…and the malty old school face of whisky from ages past.  This is great harmony.

You’ll read it all over any HP review…heather and honey and smoke and peat.  Hate to be predictable, but yep…

Notes of peat and smoke are bold, but not over-powering.  There is a nice build of sherried dry fruit, tobacco and oak, with notes of honey, leather and salt.  Orange sauce.  Hints of sour plum and the whole picture rounds off nicely with a creamy caramel finish and wisps of smoke.  Fade is vaguely tannic woods and honeyed fruit.

Really a great 12 year old, but if you’re looking to find Highland Park at its apex…try a little older.  All of the pieces are here, even at this young age, but the refinement hasn’t been fully realized.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

BenRiach Solstice 15 y.o. Review

BenRiach Solstice 15 y.o.

50% abv

Score:  89.5/100


Wow…what an odd whisky.  Heavily peated and port finished.  Two pieces thrown together that might seem a little incongruous as a concept, but when viewed as a whole…works quite well.  Kinda like a centaur.  Or a liger.

BenRiach has been dabbling (well…more than dabbling) with peated releases for a while now, so no surprise there.  The real shocker here is how deep the rivulet of iodine is, and how enormous the farmy influence is.  Bold strokes.  Not for the faint of heart.

Nose:  Tannic and salty, rich in iodine.  Peat meets sweet.  Something like a smoky fruit fudge combination (yeah…WTF?!).  Wet smoke and alcohol soaked fruit (cherries perhaps).  Kinda farmy.  Oil and deep meat smoke.  Seems maybe a couple of years older than it is.

Palate:  Juicy and chewy.  Beautiful lush fruit delivery backed by waves of smoke.  Iodine and peat (band-aid-ish).  While it may not be to everyone’s liking, the melding of port and peat is quite complete.

Seems sort of like a novelty, but one I heartily embrace.  Wish I’d put aside more than one.  At least I do indeed still have that one to enjoy with my heathen mates then the sun aligns this June.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Bowmore 12 y.o. Review

Bowmore 12 y.o.004

40% abv

Overall:  84.5/100


This is one of the entry level Bowmore releases.  While there are one or two slightly less expensive variants (Legend, Surf, etc) the quality in the bottle is reflective of the lower digits following the dollar sign (or pound…or euro).  If it’s your first time tackling this distillery’s output…start here, not at one of the lesser siblings.

Those fearing the primal brawny lash and bold palate associated with big peaty Islay malts may rest assured that Bowmore 12 is a much more approachable dram.  There is an odd amalgamation of Islay and not Islay in the bottle here.  Sure, there is a bit of a medicinal edge and some peatiness, and some tarry meaty notes but these are much restrained here and held in check in favor of an emphasis on sweet smoke, salt and citrus.


Nose:  The smoke here is tame and savoury-sweet. If you’ve ever cooked with Liquid Smoke you’ll have an idea as to the nose of this whisky.  Temper that with a citric (zest and pithiness) peat tang, briny Islay seabreeze and a slight iodine dressing. Some shaved chocolate.  Smoked oyster with lemon juice.  This is about as close as I can get to what you’ll pick up on the nose.

Palate:  This isn’t a big whisky (maybe it would be at a higher abv).  In fact the arrival is so silky smooth that it is almost disappointing.  Credit where credit is due though…it is distinct from the other Islay malts and it is quite tasty. Smoke…lemon…chocolate…some earthy, vegetal salty notes from the peat.  A few odd sharper notes throw the balance off just towards the end though.

All in all…quite a decent whisky. I like it. Great for a mildly stormy night. Save the Supernova for the first real snowstorm of the year.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Lagavulin 2010 Distillery Only Bottling Review

Lagavulin 2010 Distillery Only Bottlingbarry's place pics 063

52.5% abv

Score:  92.5/100


A couple years back, while vacationing and touring distilleries on Islay, I happened to luck into one of those wee windows where there just happened to be a couple of rare little treats available exclusively through some of the distilleries’ shops.

Both of the active Diageo distilleries on the island, Caol Ila and Lagavulin, happened to have nifty limited run treats for those who ventured to these beautiful Hebridean shores.

As you can imagine, in this day and age where there seems to be a premium levied on all things Islay, these extremely limited releases never last long on the shelves.  I instantly fell in love with the Lagavulin release, but was slightly underwhelmed by the Caol Ila.  Needless to say, my suitcase was one bottle of Lag heavier when I came back to Canada.  In retrospect I wish I had nabbed two or three.

I haven’t met a soul who has tried this one that hasn’t adored it.  This is Lagavulin with both class and ooomph.  Awesome stuff.

Nose:  Damn, is this assertive.  Vinegar and iodine.  Farmy with a gorgeous peat reek.  Sherry notes.  BBQish.  Spicy tobacco…a la strong cigar.  Cherry.

Palate:  Smoke.  Strongly peaty and medicinal.  Fruit notes wafting through the curtain of smoke.  Little hint of mint over lamb.  Sharp wet tarry notes meet a thick syrupy sherry sweetness.

There’s some age here.  How old?  Who knows.  I’m thinking though, that has might be a couple years on from the standard 16 year old flagship.  There is a beautiful harmony and complexity in the meld of peat and sweet (apparently PX).

Still haven’t cracked this bottle yet.  One day the right occasion will call.  Those fortunate enough to be around at that point will be tasked with helping me lay this Lagavulin to rest.  And it will be a good day.


-Reviewed by:  Curt

-Photo:  Curt

Linlithgow 1982 (Signatory) Review

Linlithgow 1982 (Signatory)040

63.1% abv

Score:  92.5/100


Sadly long absolete, Diageo’s St. Magdalene – or ‘Linlithgow’, as it is also known – was yet another casualty of the great distillery kill-off in 1983.

The names Linlithgow and St. Magdalene have been used interchangeably through the years, though the true name of the distillery is the latter.  Linlithgow is, in fact, the name of the town in the Lowlands in which the distillery lives (lived).

There’s a bit of an interesting story here with St. Magdalene.  A tale involving longevity, lepers and illicit distillation.  Go digging a bit if that sort of history fascinates you.  And history it will most likely remain.  After the ’83 mothballing, the site was converted for tenancy.  The odds of any sort of revival here are next to none.

This particular Signatory release is a 28 year old single malt pulled from a wine-treated butt.

Nose:  Chocolate.  Old magazines.  Dark chocolate and cherry.  Tootsie Rolls.  Some nice fruitiness emblazoned with mint.

Palate:  An Amrut-like zest and spice on delivery.  Hot and beastly (63.1% at 28 years!?!).  Chocolate.  Profile is that of an older whisky…the bite however, is that of a young dram.  Nice borderline tropical notes.

I really like this one.  Not sure what level extant stocks are at now, nearly 30 years after demolition, but methinks it may be time to hunt for further expressions from this long lost distillery.

(* Thanks to Andrew Ferguson of Kensington Wine Market for this sample)


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Teaninich 1973 (Berry’s Own) Review

Teaninich 1973 (Berry’s Own)044

50.6% abv

Score:  91.5/100


Teaninich is another of the distilleries in Diageo’s stable, which has not really had the opportunity to shine in its own right.  This is simply due to how very few casks find their way to the consumer in the form of single malts.

With an annual production capacity of about 4,000,000 liters, it is slightly heartbreaking to learn that nearly all of the distillery’s malt ends up as blend fodder for the Johnnie Walker line.  Now…I’m as big a fan as any of JW (excepting the ghastly Red Label), but I would take a bottle of Teaninich anyday over nearly any Johnnie Walker I’ve tried.

This 1973 is a great example of what this distillery’s potential really is.  Big thanks to Berry Brothers for releasing this expression for our sipping pleasure.

Nose:  Latex paint.  Peach cobbler.  Strawberries and cream.  Sweet sugar cookies and marzipan.  Saltines (Premium Plus crackers).  Like a fresh outdoor walk through the woods.

Palate:  Big punchy peach delivery.  Juicy as hell.  Vanilla and orange.  Macaroons (chocolate and coconut).

Hopefully the folks at Diageo will find it in their generous and altruistic hearts (bahahahaha!) to let us have some future opportunities at this brand.  Nice whisky, this.

(*Thanks to Andrew Ferguson at Kensington Wine Market for this sample.)


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Bruichladdich Black Art 2.2 Review

Bruichladdich Black Art 2.2


Score:  84.5/100


This one is another ‘Laddie oddball.  Master Distiller Jim McEwan likes to play it close to the chest with his Black Art releases and not let on exactly what is going on here, but I’m thinking it may be a bit of an orgy of wine casks (maybe a little port or sherry too?).  A sort of ‘throw your keys in the bowl and see what happens’ sort of event.

Esoteric imagery and hints of midnight conjuring aside, what we ultimately end up with is a fairly mature (21 years) Bruichladdich that has spent some time in some quirky casks.  The distillate itself is from the bygone era of the distillery, prior to its’ mothballing in ’94, however we know that Jim and co. did a bunch of recasking when they took over.  We also know they like to play mad scientist in their restless pursuit of new ways to integrate whisky and wood.  In the end…this is whisky born not by the hand of the current ‘Laddie team, but certainly concocted and modified to suit their purposes.

Nose:  Concentrated grape and bold tangy wine (bordering on sour).  A little floral…a little bittersweet berry.  Fresh steeped tea.  Sharp dried fruit and buckets of spice.  I think (pretty sure) there’s a bit o’ sulphurous blasphemy tainting things a wee bit here.  Not overbearing…not spoiling…just there.  And to be completely honest, there is such an odd mishmash of wine-drenched weirdness going on here that I simply don’t know how to unknot it.  I’m not saying it’s not good…it may just be a little confused.

Palate:  Again…grape-y and wine-y.  Pink citrus.  Macerated berry.  Hints of burnt match.  Some lovely heat.  Spiced barley.

Points added for creativity.  Points deducted for an over-indulgence of wine and a lack of coherency.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Lagavulin 21 y.o. Review

Lagavulin 21 y.o. (2012)017

52% abv

Score:  93/100


Following on the heels of the near-unanimously praised Lagavulin 21 from 2007, Diageo has rolled out a new edition of this milestone malt.  While the earlier edition swept up accolades faster than the street cleaners in Vegas do the Copperfield act with those little clicking porn cards, there seems to be a slightly slower stampede to embrace this one.  In fact, one very trusted palate I know swears the old 21 was a sulphured mess.  I’ve yet to try, but after sampling this version…I desperately want a chance at it to compare, if nothing else.

Let’s discuss the elephant in the room.  $Price$.  I hate to jump aboard the Diageo-bashing wagon, but…seems this ride is going my way.  Perhaps the fact that the production run of this Lag 21 was less than half of that of the 2007 release is a driver for the absolutely fucking ridiculous Diageo pricing scheme here.  (Take note, folks in the high offices at Diageo…you should be ashamed of yourselves).  This is the most atrocious gouging I have seen (excepting perhaps the Dalmore tomfoolery of late…and perhaps the Glenmorangie Pride), so let’s give a healthy ‘thank gawd’ that at least the malt in the bottle is damn good.

How good?  Well…really, really good, to be honest.

Nose:  Prunes and eucalyptus.  Iodine.  Briny notes.  Capers and lemon and oysters.  Some sort of cleaning product.  Some jammy fruit and ju-jube.  Tobacco and dry smoke.   Damp earth.

Palate:  Juicy…smoky…fruity and thick.  Pepper.  Sweet, but meaty.  Again…the chewy, Ju-jube like candy.  Peach skin.

To be totally clear…this is a bloody good whisky, but at $850 a bottle for a 21 year old it damn well better be.  Even more impressive on a second visit.  Lovely, sweet and rewarding.

(Note: Score is reflective of the quality in the bottle, irrespective of investment concerns)


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt