Monthly Archives: June 2013

The Ultimate Ardbeg Experience – Double Barrel

Ardbeg Double Barrel

The sky has been bruised and tortured for days now.  The clouds are still leaking and the wind is tussling with pretty much everything it can catch…and winning.  This deluge has been on and off for days now, but it seems the fiercest of it all may now be in the rear view mirror.  We in Calgary hope so anyway.   

I started putting this piece together over a week ago, but the floods and other concerns have, quite rightly, taken precedence.  While I, and most of the local people I know and love, are safe and didn’t suffer much in the way of loss, I do know others who did.  I, and all associated with ATW, wish you well and offer any help that can be provided.  You know where to find us.

Let me share a few words now about a rather spectacular event that took place not long before the floods swept through.  I’m simply going to pick up where I left off…

I’m sitting at a computer with the lower half of my body damp and, in all likelihood, dripping on the carpet under my desk.  Hey…there’s only so much an upside-down inside-out umbrella can do to keep your head dry, let alone your lower regions.  It’s very early.  And dark.

In short…a near spot-on model of Scottish weather.  What better ambiance to share a few words on an event that went down only days ago, also on a rather bleak and rainswept eve?  Though I’d initially hoped to get this written in the day or two immediately following, life got in the way, as it often does.  Either way…step in and dry off.  Let’s have a dram of Ardbeg and chat.


While I may have missed this year’s June 1st Ardbeg Day festivities (again…life), there’s simply no way they could have come close to measuring up to what has been dubbed ‘The Ultimate Ardbeg Experience’.  On June 14th, at the Southern Alberta Pioneer’s Building, Calgary’s Kensington Wine Market put on a once in a lifetime tasting.  For the legions of local acolytes, and several from afar, this was an evening not to be missed.

The line-up was centered around opening the legendary Ardbeg Double; An over-the-top ornately extravagant guncase housing two different bottles of vintage 1974 Ardbeg.  And, of course, a few extras we’ll get to in a bit.


As each of the attendees arrived, we were pulled aside for a quick photo op with Kensington Wine Market‘s Andrew Ferguson and Ardbeg Brand Ambassador, Ruaraidh MacIntyre.  Preserving this one for the ages, I suppose.  And perhaps rightfully so.  I know of no other tasting in the world that has popped the top on the Double Barrel.

The room was laid out beautifully.  Ardbeg goodies everywhere against the rustic backdrop of a sort of ‘hunting lodge’-esque hall.  Very suited to the occasion, and when one considers the ambience of the darkened skies and onset of the rain, the overall experience was sublime.  A few of us hung topside for a while snapping pictures of the room and the bottles themselves before joining the rest of the guests who had made their way to the lower hall for a bit of an informal pre-event cocktail hour.

There were tangy Ardbeg Ten caesars and drams of Galileo on offer for those who wanted a bit of a warm up, and of course we all did.  For those gasping at the idea of burying their beloved Ardbeg in Clamato juice and spices, rest assured that this really does work.  I’m a purist with whisky, if ever there was one, and still I’ll happily sip on one of these salty, smoky cocktails when offered.  One was enough though, before the Galileo seemed a better fit for the evening.


Downstairs, in the less kitschy lower hall, the party was in full swing.  Familiar faces all around and a lot of reunions of sorts.  Nice to see so many good people gathered and sharing a laugh.  Some of the usual suspects I hadn’t seen in months, or longer, and these sorts of events make me wonder why we wait for formality before gathering.

Aside from a quick pass by the serving station, I didn’t get too close to the food.  It looked great…it smelled great…but I can’t attest any further, unfortunately.  This eve was all about the drink, so it was a conscious effort at palate preservation.


Social hour is always great, but it’s also a bit of a waiting game.  The flight upstairs was a stunning one and anticipation high, so when the call came we made our way back upstairs to claim a seat with no second reminder needed.

The evening started off with Scott Westgard from Charton Hobbs providing a brief introduction and thank you to all for coming out.  He then took a moment to speak of Andrew’s accomplishments on behalf of Ardbeg (and more) and to present him with a plaque commemorating the one year anniversary of the Calgary Ardbeg Embassy, something that is quite a point of pride for both Andrew and KWM, I believe, and rightly so.

Andrew took a few moments to share a few words on the generosity of both Kensington and Charton Hobbs in helping to subsidize this event before gracefully ducking the spotlight and handing over the reins to the evening’s host extraordinaire, Ruaraidh MacIntyre.


I’m not sure Ardbeg (or LVMH, perhaps I should say) could have a better ambassador than Ruaraidh.  He’s mere months removed from Scotland; grew up on Islay; and has generations of familial ties to the Ardbeg distillery.  On top of these blood qualifications, Ruaraidh is passionate about both the island and the whisky.  His humour and comfortable delivery are the perfect medium for bringing to life what Islay is really all about.  Ruaraidh entertained with touching anecdotes, hilarious tales and heartfelt pride.  Great speaker with great subject matter.  For an audience…it doesn’t get better.


I mentioned earlier that the line-up for this tasting was tip-top.  That may have been understating matters.  The flight was seven malts deep, from peat monsters to delicate old stunners.  How best to structure a flight like this is something I deal with frequently between personal tastings and Dram Initiative events.  You always want to save the best and most aged gems as the closing treat, but when it comes to peat…the younger ones that come before can easily beat the hell out your senses before getting to the true showcase.  Tough call.

Anyway…here’s how it all went down…

Uigeadail – Starting with a beefcake such as the Uigeadail before moving into the subtleties inherent in older whiskies was a bit of a concern for me, but it all worked out.  I was initially afraid of blowing out the tastebuds before the big show so I only took wee sips from this and the following dram.

Corryvreckan – Again…another big boy.  Small sips.  Came back to this one at the end of the night.  Had to save the receptors for what was to follow.

17 – Having just killed off my own 17, it was a treat to revisit, and wow, was this a stunner.  Big batch variance from the 17 I had just finished.  This one was rich in sweet subtle tropicals and incredible depths of complexity.  Some malts in here much older than 17, I think, and if I had to venture a guess I’d say this was one of the earlier 17s released.  Spectacular, and one that created quite a buzz this night.

1977 – An all-time favorite of mine, and one I couldn’t see being dethroned as the best of the Ardbeg releases.  Until tonight, that is.  This 1977 was brought along from Victoria by Lawrence Graham.  You’d likely know Lawrence as the gent behind The Victoria Whisky Festival and Whisky Intelligence, among many other whisky endeavours.  Thanks, Lawrence.  This really was a treat.

Ardbog – This was the evening’s closer, and followed on the heels of the Double Barrel bottles.  Unfortunately, the glasses for this dram were slightly compromised, and by the time we came round to this one, the whisky had fallen apart and was a murky mess with a funky flavor.  Perhaps a little soap residue or something.  Oh well.


Conversation at the tables was fun and relaxed, with everyone happy to share in the making of memories and spend a little time getting to know their neighbour.  Guests had come from afar for what was truly a world-class event.  Andrew managed to pull in folks from Montreal, San Francisco, Victoria and more.

Anyway…I think we’ve laid enough of the bedrock.  Let’s talk about the reason we were all here.  Ardbeg Double Barrel.


The Double Barrel is sort of an iconic thing of lore in the Ardbeg spheres.  For those that may have visited the distillery, this would be the elaborately packaged ‘gun case’ you would have seen locked away with the diver’s helmet behind the glass enclosure.  The case features two different bottles of vintage 1974 Ardbeg, eight engraved silver cups, an oak pen, and a couple of leather-stitched books.  All presented in the aforementioned hand-crafted leather gun case.

The sticker you’d have seen in the shop at Ardbeg…£10,000.  For anyone who may have nabbed one of the four that made its way to Canada…just over $15,000.

So…with no further ado, I’m going to share my tasting notes here, but no scores.  An event like this is not the environment to properly assess a whisky.  Even tasting notes should probably be taken with a grain of salt, but here goes…


Ardbeg Double Barrel Cask #1745151

49% abv

Nose:  Tropical-like fruit notes, with vibrant peach and tangerine at the forefront.  Jelly candy…somewhat like a red cherry ju-jube.  Creamy milk chocolate.  Licorice.  Touch of iodine.  The smoke is only an afterthought here.  Crisp cookie notes.  Creamy caramel and smooth subtle vanilla.  Smooth and complex spice profile.

Palate:  Smoke and peat are a little more pronounced now.  Finally.  Some salt licorice.  Slightly fishy note.  Salty dough.  Smoke and licorice grow, then ebb into echoes of fried tropical fruits and very pleasant vanilla oak.

Thoughts:  This one followed on the heels of several good drams, including a great bottling of the 17 and directly after my favorite Ardbeg, the 1977.  I hate to admit it, but that ’77 has now been dethroned as my favorite Ardbeg to date.  This cask is stunning.  An absolute diamond.


…and now…the second bottle…


Ardbeg Double Barrel Cask #3151157

47.7% abv

Nose:  More chocolate here than on #1745.  Still tropical, but slightly less…technicolor, if you will.  This is made up for by a darker, more mysterious air to this one.  Dark European bread dough.  Smoked oyster and maybe a little smoked fish as well.  Doughy and carrying some beautifully balanced spices.  Butter tarts, Andrew mentioned, and was dead-on accurate.  Slightly more pokey and peppery.

Palate:  A little more peat here than on the previous cask.  Smoke and dark chocolate.  Some coffee notes (strong…espresso-like) and high content dark chocolate.  Licorice.  Salty and briny.  Much more in the style of contemporary Ardbeg.

Thoughts:  Deeper and darker than cask #1745, but not necessarily better for it.  Very complimentary though.



Definitely a slight preference for the first of the two, cask #1745.

Though I can’t share scores here, these are both certainly in the 93-95ish range (give or take).  Especially the former.  What I wouldn’t give to sit down again with these two and do a proper session.

Whisky is meant to be shared among friends.  It’s meant to make memories with.    This night 30 or 40 friends got together over a dram (or maybe it was eight) and made a helluva pile of memories.

An extra special thanks to Andrew and Kensington Wine Market.  Andrew has wanted to turn this into a reality for the better part of four years now, and I truly don’t believe anyone but he could have actually followed through and made this happen.

Also, to Moet Hennessy and Charton Hobbs…a bow.  Merci.


– Words & Tasting Notes:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

Ardbeg Ardbog Review

Ardbeg Ardbog027

52.1% abv

Score:  89/100


That very same uncontainable impatience and excitement we all had as children in the lead-up to Christmas is the very same bit of childish glee I experience as we approach the release day of each new Ardbeg expression.  And much like Christmas, while some are better than others, these Ardbeg releases never seem to disappoint.  Just think back to some of the past few years’ releases:  Airigh Nam Beist, Supernova, Rollercoaster, Alligator, Corryvreckan and so on.  And while I do know a few detractors who were less than over-the-moon about Blasda or Galileo, I dare ya…try those malts blindly and tell me they still don’t stand head and shoulders above 80-90% of what’s currently on the market in this age/price range.

No two ways about it.  Ardbeg is a finely oiled machine.  Kinda like the Beatles in their heyday, pumping out hit after hit.  Soak it up while you can, folks, is all I caution.  They say all good things must come to an end, and so I play the ant, not the grasshopper, squirreling away my stores while the sun shines, for I fear that bleak and dreary winter.  Hopefully our current state of fortune never dries up on us, but I will continue to plan (read: hoard) accordingly.

I’ll use my soapbox here to speak frankly:  Ardbeg has done a bloody masterful job to date in assuaging any concerns over quality slippage or supply falling short.  I don’t want to push my luck but let’s cross our fingers for twofold reasons.  One…that our cupboards ever overflow with the green and black; and two…that the distillery is holding back some maturing stock.  Who wouldn’t love to see a new Ardbeg 17 hit the market?  Or maybe even an Ardbeg 18?  Lest I get too caught up here in dream and fancy, let’s get back on topic.

Last year’s Ardbeg Day release, brilliantly and insightfully titled ‘Ardbeg Day’ (hint o’ sarcasm), was quite a stunner.  I loved that dram.  Heavy on the phenolic and ashy side while still bearing a sweetness and balance that only this distillery seems to consistently hit across all of their expressions.  So…how then do you follow up a release that won accolades and adoration across the whisky sippin’ world?  Why, you release another wee snarling beastie of a dram that roars in at cask strength and shows a bit of innovation to boot.  Ardbog is a vatting of 10 year old Ardbegs matured in bourbon casks and Manzanilla casks.  A first for the distillery.  While not as radical as the afore-mentioned Galileo, this is still Ardbeg having a bit of fun and exercising their muscle.

All that remains then to is to ask if it works.  And the answer is ‘yes’.  While still not on par with last year’s Ardbeg Day, this is definitely another special release from Islay’s undisputed champ.

Limited run (though how limited, I can’t seem to find answers for).  Stock up now or forever hold your peace.

Nose:  Smoke and hot rubber.  Something akin to bicycle tire.  Some neat fruits.  Is there such thing as Ardbeg jam?  Iodine (almost like farmyard urine).  A small dab of ultra dark chocolate.  A few drops of espresso.  Black Wine Gums.  Heavy salt.  Seems almost like the Alligator, but further finished (though not necessarily better for it, to be honest).  Some very tongue-curling deep red/purple jammy fruit notes…not far off from fruit leather.

Palate:  Here’s the smoking rubber again up front.  Then into a vaguely raspberry note.  Then into that Ardbeg familiarity:  vanilla, citrus, licorice and big smoke.  Shaved ginger.  Granny Smith apple flavors add a drying tartness to the back end.  A neat balancing act between smoky, salty, licorice notes on one side and sweeter sherry-influenced fruit on the other.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Nikka Yoichi 1991 Single Cask Review

Nikka Yoichi 1991 Single Cask

Cask # 129651

63% abv

Score:  91/100


Neat things from the Land Of The Rising Sun.  Really neat.

This single cask bottling is a 20 y.o. 1991 vintage from Nikka’s Yoichi distillery.  Yoichi is situated on Hokkaido, Japan’s second largest and northernmost of the four principal islands.

A little about the island of Hokkaido itself before we get on to the malt in the bottle.  Hokkaido is as near as you’ll come to a Japanese sister island to Scotland.  It’s size is comparable, population in the same ballpark and climate…well…not too far off apparently.  The Yoichi distillery, being relatively coastal, benefits from a similar influence as the more seaward facing Scottish distilleries.  If you’re a believer in terroir and ambient influence, a mere sip of this malt should likely speak volumes in backing your argument.  Further, the land provides a peat-like substrate which is used in kilning the barley in order to imbibe that smoky profile we all know and love.

The Nikka website refers to the malt produced at Yoichi as ‘rich, peaty and masculine’.  Hmm…interesting.  In this day and age of broadstroke appeal and equality erasing all boundaries, somewhat of an odd marketing angle to embrace.  I’ll say no more on that subject, but I will go on record and say that I’ve now tried a couple of different whiskies from this distillery, both single malt and blends, and the results rolling off their stills are top notch.  Apparently Yoichi bottlings have also hammered some Scottish malts in blind tastings and won several world awards.  Whisky is a world stage, friends, and personally I love all of the options now available at our globetrotting palates and noses.

Yoichi 1991:

Nose:  Surprisingly smoky.  A slight ashy-ness meets peat and dark damp soil.  Kinda Laphroaig-ish actually.  Some orange and lemon with vanilla.  Tire rubber.  Pastry dough.  Syrupy.  Lovely lose.  I could happily get lost in the eddies here for quite some time.

Palate:  Huge arrival (but at 63% what else would we expect?)!  Hot and spicy.  Not quite as nice on the tastebuds as it is on the nose, but still quite sublime.  Chocolate.  Peaty and earthy.  Pears in syrup.  Very viscous (a quality I adore!).  Licorice at the back end.  Long finish, and all positive.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Karuizawa Noh Whisky Multi-Vintages #1 Review

Karuizawa Noh Whisky Multi-Vintages #1068

59.1% abv

Score:  91.5/100


Snugged in the shadowy climes of Mount Asama, Japan’s most active volcano, sits the Karuizawa distillery, just a stone’s throw west of the town of…yep…Karuizawa.  Sadly, since the year 2000, the distillery has lain dormant, yet the occasional releases still finding their way to the marketplace, often leads to speculation that it’s tiny little operation could one day start up again.  Indeed, in the years following the 2000 mothballing there were moves that indicated this very well could be the case, but alas…never to full fruition.  Now…with only a couple hundred remaining casks…it would seem the legacy of Karuizawa has finally come to a close.

The distillery was founded in 1955, with new make spirit first flowing the following year.  For 45 years this little distillery-that-could pumped out its own unique malt whisky.  It should be noted though, in consideration of those who may not fully comprehend the rationale behind the rather exorbitant prices  Karuizawa commands, that the distillery’s peak capacity was a mere 150,000 litres per annum.  As you can imagine, low output + closed distillery = scarcity and demand.  C’est la vie, so long as the distillate supports the hype.  In the case of Karuizawa…it does.

This multi-vintage release is composed of four different casks (both bourbon and sherry butts) distilled between 1981 and 1984.  For the whisky nerds among you (and yes…I count myself one) those cask numbers are as follows:  #6405, #4973, #8184, #6437.  Bottling in 2011 suggests this whisky is at minimum 27 years old with a couple older vintages added for some deeper dimension.  Neato.

Time’s a’tickin’, so let’s get diggin’ in…

Nose:  Wow…is this strong!  Somewhat smoky and briny.  Chocolate.  Orange and cherry.  Iodine.  Sticky toffee pudding.  Spicy and hot.  Leather.  Much, much dark overripe fruit.  Slightly jammy.  Borders on notes of tropical fruits.

Palate:  Thick and chewy.  Smoky and sweet.  Jam-like again with some licorice and cinnamon-spiced dough.  Some very interesting fruit notes are a highlight.  Hits some salty and farmy bits along the way.  Again…almost tropical.  Palate actually outshines the nose here, which is a bit of a rare treat.

This is case in point as to why the collectors go apeshit for this distillery.  Great stuff.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend Review

Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blendbanner-artistsblend

43% abv

Score:  89/100


Here I go backpedaling again.  Hate to admit it, but it does happen from time to time.

I remember being slightly underwhelmed with this one on my first go at it.  Not sure why.  Must have been an off day or something.  To be honest with you, at the time I was somewhat confused as to why this was getting all of the accolades it was.  Perhaps I should have had a little more faith in what Mr. John Glaser does in his Compass Box kingdom.  And that…this first impression judgmentalism…is why we try to have multiple runs at a dram before forming an opinion or stating one for the record.  Finally…these many days later…I’ll go on record and say this is a really fine whisky.  Well put together.  Tasty as hell.

Now…quality of the drink itself aside, let me tell you why I love this whisky:

Compass Box has positioned itself as THE artisan blender.  The company’s alchemy borders on legend already, and no matter the medium – blended malt, blended grain, blended whisky – we’ve seen top notch whiskies reach first the shelves and then our glasses.  This artisanal approach has changed the face of the market to a fair degree, and while these whiskies have been released at rather affordable price points, it is here with the GKS, that Glaser is bringing his show to the great masses of the unwashed.  This is now the most affordable of the entire Compass Box range, but there is no dip in quality.  That, my friends, is not only quite incredible, but extremely admirable.

There are a lot of reasons why this whisky works as well as it does: higher malt content, older grain components, good wood policy, higher abv, no chill-filtration, no added colors, and on & on.  Attention to detail is everything, and as you can see, we’ve just ticked a lot of boxes that speak volumes about Glaser’s bent for quality and high standards.  I haven’t adored all of the CB releases (but most), but I can’t conceive of what it would take to make me swear off allegiance to this company.

Many thanks to Compass Box for upholding the standards that many of us hold dear.

Nose:  Light and fresh.  Very atypical of the homogeneity I normally associate with most younger blends.  This is lovely.  Floral and oaky notes.  Closer to a Lowland malt than blended whisky.  Some pepper and cucumber.  Vanilla and mildly fruity scented candle.  Dust…or maybe dirt floor.  A harmony of notes that remind of strolling through large vegetable gardens.  Great balance and composition.

Palate:  Again…not blend typical.  Dark vanilla notes into clean toothpick.  Gala apple flesh (sans the tang of apple skin).  Digestive cookies.  Touch of florals.  Easy drinker to be sure.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Compass Box

Glen Spey 21 y.o. Review

Glen Spey 21 y.o.024

50.4% abv

Score:  89.5/100


Here’s another one of Diageo’s special releases.  While most of the company’s output is rather color-by-numbers, these occasional treats restore your faith in the multi-bajillion dollar enterprise’s ability to play by the game’s new rules: cask strength and unadulterated whisky for the purists.  Of course…the price tag can often be as big and bold as the alcohol in the bottle, but hey…I’d rather pay for quality than end up with a less expensive, but shittier dram.  You?

Either way…your odds of tracking down any other Glen Spey Distillery Bottlings (or even this one) are slim to none.  Case in point: this 2010 expression was from a limited run of only 5,844 bottles.  Nearly the entire output of this Rothes, Speyside distillery goes into blends; J&B in particular.  Shame, really, as I’ve noted before.  Why we don’t get more opportunities at these drams simply confounds me.  By all means, keep burying most of the output in blends if you like, but there is huge potential to make good money in the higher end markets by releasing these more obscure distilleries as single malts.  Anyway…not sure yet how well the younger distillate would hold up to scrutiny, but this 21 year old is impressive and frighteningly drinkable.

This Glen Spey was first sampled at a mate’s house one eve over a wonderful dinner party.  It was warmly received by the three gents sipping, and absolutely warranted a closer look.  I initially chalked up an 89/100, but upon a second visit, and a bit of ribbing and persuasion by my afore-mentioned friend, I was talked into an extra half point here.  Yes, it’s warranted, but I can’t go higher.  Very nice whisky with very broad appeal.  Well done, Diageo.  <restrained golf clap>

One last thought…this is apparently from American Oak casks that once held sherry.  Hmmm…not much sherry influence that I’m noting here.  Dead wood or second/third fill?  Dunno.  Works a treat though.

Nose:  Peach cobbler.  A light dusting of old cinnamon and cocoa powder.  Vanilla sponge cake.  Marmalade on white bread.  Bird’s custard.  Mild notes of butter tart.  Marzipan.  A touch of clean pleasant latex paint.  Very soft and gentle.

Palate:  Faint peachy notes with apple and vanilla.  This is very fruity, but the fruits are nearly unidentifiable as individual nuances.  Soft baking notes and smooth as hell.  A summer dram, if ever there was one.

Thanks, Vikash.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (Batch WT-03RB) Review

Wild Turkey Rare Breed (Batch WT-03RB)009

54.1% abv

Score:  90/100


I was 17 years old.  Underage in my favorite bar in BC (ahem…yes, mum…sorry).  The end of the night, when already shitsplat drunk, was always the time a few mates and I would sidle up to the wood and toss back shots of Wild Turkey.  Never a good idea to end the party by slamming shots, but in hindsight…that would likely be the explanation for many a crippling hangover.

Anyway…the mind does funny things.  To this day, just the name ‘Wild Turkey’ sends a shiver down my spine.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  This was the case up until about three weeks back when I, and a few of The Collective, snugged up with a bottle of Wild Turkey Rare Breed.  Any personal apprehension was smashed to bits upon first nosing.  Bloody hell.  A roomful of people sat back in stunned not-so-silence.  What the hell was this?!  The near unanimity in favorable reception was marred only by one lone dissenter who simply can’t wrap his senses around the sweetness of bourbon.

Apparently the Rare Breed is built from 6-, 8- and 12 year old bourbons.  With Kentucky’s clime contributing to a very fast maturation, this rather aged juice is old beyond its years.  As you’d expect at this stage, the flavour integration is incredible and tighter than the Southern Belles in the first few rows of a Georgia Baptist Revival church.  Possibly almost as sweet too.

As mentioned before, Bourbon is not my drink.  Every now and again a craving, but otherwise I usually go for something created far from the Americas.  In this case though, after tasting, I had to go out and buy a bottle.  This is a helluva whiskey.  Can’t stress this enough…this is beyond most bourbons you’re likely to try.  And at a local sticker of a mere ~$45?  How can you go wrong?

Nose:  Vanilla and wax.  Dill pickle.  Very strong and bold spice profile.  Sandalwood (cinnamon, in particular) and Lush soaps.  Both dusty sweet corn and dry popcorn.  Creamy cocoa.  Huge mint and eucalyptus notes from the virgin oak influence.  Some almost sherry notes.  Fiery pepper and chilis.  This is actually a one-in-a-million nose, and definitely one of the best bourbons I’ve sniffed at.

Palate:  Pepper and chilis again.  Dill and enormous spices.  Boiled greens.  Again…dusty corn notes.  Kinda like corn meets dunnage.  Crisp and tight.  Mint notes carry to palate as well.  The nose and the palate are nicely connected here.  These tastebuds are well pleased.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Alberta Floods

My city is drowning and a lot of people are hurting right now.  Keep them in your thoughts and, where you can, please offer help.

Nature makes us all small, and the small need to stick together to be big.

Kevan Yaets crawls out the back window of his pick up truck with his cat Momo as flood waters sweep him downstream and submerge the cab in High River, Alberta on June 20, 2013 after the Highwood River overflowed its banks. Hundreds of people have been evacuated with volunteers and emergency crews helping to aid stranded residents.

– Curt


Benriach/BenRiach: The Little ‘r’ Big ‘R’ Tasting

Benriach/BenRiach: The Little ‘r’ Big ‘R’ Tasting

On May 28, 2013, the Dram Initiative sat down to a range tasting featuring BenRiach whiskies.  The tasting was hosted by the ever engaging and knowledgeable, J Wheelock, of Authentic Wine & Spirit Merchants.  This was the second range tasting of the Dram Initiative, Calgary’s newest and most progressive avant-garde whisky club for whiskey swingers that are willing to experiment with all things whisky.

BenRiach, for the benefit of the great unwashed, means “The Hill of the Red Deer”.  The distillery is located near Elgin in the beautiful Spey Valley and was built in 1898 by John Duff.  Unfortunately, the distillery only produced whisky for two years before succumbing to the Patterson whisky crash of 1900, and was mothballed. However, the malting floors continued in operation and supplied the neighboring distillery, Longmorn, with malted barley.  In 1965, after the sale of the distillery to The Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd, the distillery was almost completely rebuilt and whisky production started up again.  The distillery was sold again in 1977 to Seagram and then again to Chivas in 2001, who almost immediately closed it in 2002.  In 2004, the distillery was sold to Billy Walker along with two other partners, Geoff Bell and Wayne Kieswetter, who started up production again.

This tasting was designed to pick the top single cask from 1983 – 1986 Bourbon barrel/hogsheads, from the four currently available in the city of Calgary.  The second goal was to highlight the influences on the whisky from Sherry, Port and Madeira and lightly peated and heavily peated malted barley.  The third goal was to speculate on the need to capitalize the ‘R’ after one hundred and six years.  So, whilst we were drinking, enjoying and voting on our whisky, we came up with a top ten reasons why:

Top Ten Reasons For The Capital ‘R’ In BenRiach:

10)  ‘BR’ stands for two chess pieces, the Bishop and the Rook, in honor of Joseph Henry Blackburne, a brilliant British chess player who dominated the game during the latter part of the 19th century. He was nicknamed “The Black Death”, and occasionally became violent when he drank whisky (rumored to be Benriach) during his chess games.

9)  Inspired by Bruichladdich and their complete disregard for convention, BenRiach has capitalized the ‘R’ for Rad or Radical, to point out all the radical types of whiskies being served up by the Rad new owners for public enjoyment.

8)  ‘BR’ means …………. Best Regards. In trying to become a polite company, it was thought that this change could make BenRiach come across more cultured.

7)  Capital ‘R’ in front of a word makes it special, therefore if the distillery is special, it goes without saying that the people who make the whisky must be special too.

6)  Anything associated with the British Royalty helps sell (you can also charge more for it) ………….. So the thinking was to capitalize the ‘B’ & ‘R’ to stand for British Royal, thereby giving the name a sense of entitlement.

5)  ‘B’ and ‘R’ are the initials of the legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, a star home run hitter before the age of steroids for both the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.  He was also the only player in history to credit his athletic prowess to a steady regimen of cigars, women and of course ……… whisky (rumored to be Benriach).

4)  The name was changed in honor of Billy Walker and his secret love for country music and in particular, a band called B&R, which are short for Big Kenny and John Rich.  In 2004, the same year in which Benriach was acquired, the band put out his all-time favorite song, “Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy”.

3)  The capital ‘R’ was for Alistair Walker and his favorite book growing up which was ABC by Dr. Seuss.  His favorite part of the book was “BIG R little r” in which “a one Rosy Robin Ross was going riding on her red rhinoceros”.

2)  Major confusion between the Marketing and Finance departments with the mixed up thought, that by capitalizing the ‘R’ it would solve any potential problem for under-capitalization.

1)  The capital ‘R’ stands for “Resolution” which was made in 2004 by the owners, to stay out of the pub and not to buy another distillery. This resolution was broken in 2008 with the purchase Glendronach now the GlenDronach distillery, and Capital ‘D’ was for “Don’t do it again”.  This “Don’t do it again” was promptly broken, yet again, in 2013 with the acquisition of the Glenglassaugh distillery, soon to be the GlenGlassaugh distillery, with the Capital ‘G’ most likely standing for “God” as in “Oh God, I can’t believe they lent us the money to do it again”.




#1 AWS 1986 – August 2012 Cask # 5458 Bourbon Barrel 50.5 % ABV 217 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled by Authentic Wine & Spirit Merchants Alberta by J Wheelock.

Locally known as “Wheelock’s Wicked Whisky”.

NOSE:  Sweet ripe oranges & cherries, cinnamon, banana & apples. Raisins and some yeasty notes.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel sauce, green apples, liquorice.

FINISH:  Long and little tart at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Nice all around dram, my second favorite of the tasting.


#2 CWS 1985 – September 2012 Cask # 531 Bourbon Barrel 49.9 % ABV 189 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled for Co-op Wines Spirits, Alberta.

NOSE:  Smoke and leather. Some floral notes and apricots jam. Like an old Armagnac.

TASTE:  Light smoke and tobacco. Nutty, sour oranges and lots of black liquorice.

FINISH:  Long and warm.

ASSESSMENT:  Odd to get that much smoke from a non-peated whisky, must come from the floor malting somehow.


#3 CSN 1984 – August 2012 Cask # 1114 Hogshead 56.1 % ABV 198 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled for CSN Wine & Spirits, Calgary, Alberta.

NOSE:  Ripe sweet honeydew melon, creamy vanilla, flora and waxy.

TASTE:  Butterscotch overload, spices, pears, raisins and almonds.

FINISH:  Long with some nutty liquorice right at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Interesting, lovely balanced dram.


#4 KWM 1983 – September 2012 Cask # 298 Hogshead 44.2 % ABV 233 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled For Kensington Wine Market, Calgary, Alberta.

NOSE:  Pineapple expresses, ripe melons, maple syrup. Five alive fruit salad.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel, coconut milk, sweet ripe fruits.

FINISH:  Medium to long, caramel finish.

ASSESSMENT:  This is a tropical shit storm of fruit. If you like a fruity dram, this is the one for you.



After tasting the first four drams blind, the Dram Initiative club members voted by a show of unwashed hands, which showed their inclination in the following order:

Win           Kensington Wine Market 1983 cask # 298

Place         Centre Street North 1984 cask # 1114

Show        Authentic Wine & Spirits 1986 cask # 5458

4th             Co-op Wines Spirits 1985 cask # 531


#5 KWM 1994 – September 2009 Cask #4810 Madeira Finish Hogshead 57.1 % ABV 250 Bottles

Single Cask Release Bottled For Kensington Wine Market, Calgary, Alberta.

NOSE:  Sweet fruit syrupy, almost like a liqueur. Burnt sugar with vanilla bean.

TASTE:  Sugar & spice and all things nice. Black licorice that coats the tongue and stewed fruits.

FINISH:  Long and spicy.

ASSESSMENT:  Many layers and much depth to this one.


#6 1977 – July 2010 Cask #1033 Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish Hogshead 52.2 % ABV 331 Bottles

2010 Annual Limited Release Batch 7.

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries. Caramel, rich coffee and cigar notes.

TASTE:  Major dill. Toffee, raisins, dark fruits and nutty.

FINISH:  Medium. Lingering and sweet.

ASSESSMENT:  Excellent sherry cask. Wow, this one really shows just how good a sherry finish BenRiach can be.


#7 1975 – August 2007 Cask #4451 Lightly Peated Port Pipe 53.7 % ABV 707 Bottles

2007 Annual Limited Release Batch 4.

NOSE:  Smokey coke & rum. Citrus and sweet cherries with a little pineapple.

TASTE:  Thick overpowering clove sweet, spices and oily liquorice.

FINISH:  Medium and fades fast.

ASSESSMENT:  You really need to love rum to like this one.


#8 1984 – July 2010 Cask #4052 Tawny Port Finish Peated Hogshead 51.7 % ABV 265 Bottles

2010 Annual Limited Release Batch 7.

NOSE:  Assertive smoke, but pleasant. Stewed fruits and cream.

TASTE:  Minty smoke & pepper. Oranges, a little floral and some coffee notes.

FINISH:  Long and a bit drying.

ASSESSMENT:  I like this one the more I drink it.


Thanks to J Wheelock for hosting the Dramned.  You complete us.

Congratulations to BenRiach for starting up the malting floors again, (sorry to the next generations of hunchbacks) we know it’s expensive, but whisky drinkers do take notice and appreciate the effort.

What’s next for the owners of Benriach?  Well, according to the rules of distillery monopoly, if they buy one more distillery, they can start building a new larger mega distillery!


– Your humble Drudge, Maltmonster

Dram Initiative #002 – BenRiach w/ J Wheelock

The Dram Initiative Meeting #002 – May 28, 2013Logo (2)

BenRiach Range Tasting w/ J Wheelock


Sincere apologies to my companions in the club for my delinquency in getting this posted in a timely manner.  I owe you better than that. 

So…let’s share a few words with the world as to just what we’ve got going on of late in the world of the DI.

A little bit of elbow grease…a lot of passion.  That’s the way most great things in life come to fruition, isn’t it?  The Dram Initiative is no different.  The initial ideas?  No problem.  That part came together rather easily.  The logistics?  Well…that’s the stuff we’re still working through.  It’s amazing how well we’re ironing out any bumps and salving the teething pains.  And I have to be forthright here.  Our members (all 24 right now) have stepped up and supported this project in spades.  From showing up early for set-up…to lingering for tear-down.  From timely event payments…to enthusiastic participation.  From sober insight…to…ummm…less than sober comeraderie.  This is people coming together to make something cool.  We respect that and appreciate it.

From myself and the committee to all members…I thank ya.  We’ve come out of the gates strong, and I can promise you…there is much, much more coming. 

At some point in the future, for the benefit of anyone outside our jurisdiction, but with similar designs, I will put up a feature piece on setting up a whisky club.  It will be an opportunity to share a bit on what we’ve done…how we’ve succeeded…where we’ve struggled…etc.  For any that are curious…hopefully we can help.

Anyway…let’s talk about this night. 



In the early days of the DI, as the committee was working through plans and such, one of the first distilleries we most wanted to cover/present was BenRiach.  This is a distillery that has been raising its profile (and stocks!) confidently and classily over the past couple of years.  I’ve said it before…their young whiskies are good.  Their old whiskies are great.


It just so happens that a good mate of mine, Mr. J Wheelock, made a shift a wee while back from one company to another.  Personally, I think it was a trade-up.  He now works for Authentic Wine and Spirits here in Calgary.  Just a part of his portfolio is based around that brown spirit we know and love so well, Scotch whisky.  Among the brands he represents now – Jura, GlenDronach, W&M, Dalmore, Compass Box – is the one we just spoke of: BenRiach.  A personal favorite.


When I approached J about coming out to speak to the club about about a few of his high end malts and personal hijinks, he immediately stepped up to the plate.  The truth of the matter though is that stepping up to the plate is only half of it.  The other half is knocking it out of the park.  Fortunately, my bias and affinity for my friend wasn’t the only factor confirming that that is exactly what happened.  The members’ feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  No surprise there.  The man is damn good at what he does.  He knows his stuff…has passion…and it shows.


The evening was full of great history and detail on BenRiach, shared knowledge and much back-and-forth on the drams we were tasting and some well-chosen anecdotes and tales from J’s years in the inner circles of the industry.  He had the crowd warm and laughing frequently. 

Between a great flight of malts…good atmosphere…great presentation…and a sense of accomplishment, the committee members were well pleased with the way the night went down.  The smiles on members faces spoke volumes as to their concensus.  If we walked out of the first gathering feeling elated, I think we were positively soaring after this one.  All the peices seemed to come together nicely.  Membership keeps growing, the whiskies are top notch, the company is excellent and the sky is the limit

On to the malts…

This eve was built, not around the core range from BenRiach, but on a bunch of sassy mature single cask releases from the distillery.  All available in the Alberta market either currently or in the none-too-distant past.  I Know the first few, at least, are still out there and available for good prices.  Scoop ’em from their respective stores (listed below in the malt details) before you no longer can.

The first four we tackled as a ‘battle of the casks’, much as we did in the DI #001 meeting for Tullibardine.  After we’d slurped our way through the first four drams of the eve, we took a moment or two to weigh in on the best of the bunch.  I’ll save the grand reveal, and Maltmonster’s tasting notes for the next feature piece here on ATW, which I will try to get posted either later this eve or tomorrow.  Suffice to say…this is a good bit of fun and gets everyone interacting. 

The next four malts of the eve were extremely varied.  Old and sweet, middling and peaty, port and madeira influenced, etc.  I love this sort of range.  It shows the inherent quality of the spirit, but also its flexibility and malleability.  Probably most importantly though…it shows us that the distillery is not resting on laurels.  They’re experimenting…innovating…making it exciting to be a whisky drinker.


Specs on the evening’s libations:

Authentic Wine & Spirits     1986 – August 2012     Cask #5458

Bourbon Barrel     50.5% abv     Single Cask Release Bottled For Authentic Wine & Spirits, Alberta


Co-op     1985 – September 2012     Cask #531

Bourbon Barrel     49.9% abv     Single Cask Release Bottled For Co-op Wine & Spirits, Alberta


CSN     1984 – August 2012     Cask #1114  

Hogshead     56.1% abv     Single Cask Release Bottled For CSN Wine & Spirits, Calgary, Alberta


KWM    1983 – September 2012     Cask #298

Hogshead     44.2% abv     Single Cask Release Bottled For Kensington Wine Market, Calgary, Alberta


KWM     1994 – September 2009     Cask #4810

Madeira Finish Hogshead     57.1% abv     Single Cask Release Bottled For Kensington Wine Market, Calgary, Alberta


1977 – July 2010     Cask #1033

Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish Hogshead     52.2% abv     2010 Annual Limited Release Batch 7


1975 – August 2007     Cask #4451

Lightly Peated Port Pipe     53.7% abv     2007 Annual Limited Release Batch 4


1984 – July 2010     Cask #4052

Tawny Port Finish Peated Hogshead     51.7% abv     2010 Annual Limited Release Batch 7



Though many of the gang in attendance this eve may have been a little naive to just what this distillery is capable of when they walked in…they certainly weren’t when they walked out.  The opportunity to try a range like this is quite possibly a once in a lifetime for some.  Fortunately, for those in the club, we like smashing limitations like that. 

A great evening full of big laughs, good friends and great drinks.

Many thanks to all who helped us put this together (you know who you are), but most importantly…thanks to J Wheelock.  Look forward to having you back to share some insight into Jura.  And ‘Dronach.  And Compass Box.  And…

To any out there interested in joining The Dram Initiative.  Drop a line.  You know where to find us.  Membership is limited though.  When we reach our upper limit, it will be a waitlist scenario.



– Words:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt