Monthly Archives: September 2013

McClelland’s Islay Review

McClelland’s Islay033

40% abv

Score:  68/100


Hi there, Mr. Young-And-Feisty-B**more.  You’re not hiding behind that thin disguise.  We know who you are.  The whole charade is much like an accomplished author writing under a pseudonym in order to publish trashy romance novels on the side

I assume (rightly or wrongly) that the idea behind this whisky, and the others in the McClelland’s line, is to provide an affordable entry level single malt to the market, but one which can be churned out quickly and subject to nearly no scrutiny, due to its lack of any age statement or overt lineage declaration.  Not a bad idea really.  And there’s no denying others have succeeded using a very similar tack.

But here’s where I take exception to what is, in all concession, a rather noble and clever concept:  An entry level malt has to be enjoyable, otherwise it’s not only an ‘entry’, it’s also an ‘exit’.  If any of the expressions in the McClelland’s range were among the gateway malts I tasted as I was cutting my teeth, it’s highly possible I would have turned tail and run for a beer.  No kiddin’.

Put simply:  These are not good whiskies.  They’re actually not even average whiskies, if I’m to be dead honest.  They’re too young…too feinty…probably built from the distillery’s lesser casks not selected for better vattings…and I hate to say it, but poorly put together.

The sad irony with McClelland’s Islay (ignoring the rest of the range for a moment in favor of the one we’re actually reviewing) is that peat usually works very well when young.  That’s simply not the case here.  Again I’ll come back to the top-heavy feinty notes which throw this whisky into an off-kilter weeble.

In my local Canadian market this retails for about $35.  I recommend saving your allowance for an extra week or two and opting for a proper B**more.  Even the entry level B**more 12 year old will more than do the trick.

Nose:  Peat and smoke, of course.  And some farmy aromas.  Yeasty.  Alcohol/vodka notes and an untamed feinty-ness.  Barley and Realemon concentrate.  A candied sugary note…kinda overly sweet.  A little bit of currant and licorice.  Candy apple.

Palate:  Ouch.  Gave me a shiver (and not in the good way).  Like chewing malted barley.  Sharp alcohol bite…very astringent.  Tart (bitter, actually) fruit skins, more citrus and burnt coffee.  Needs many more years of hibernation before this would be properly drinkable.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Glenfarclas 21 y.o. Review

Glenfarclas 21 club 081

43% abv

Score:  84/100


I keep asking myself if I’m missing something with this whisky.  A trusted mate of mine swears by it…I love most of what comes out of Glenfarclas, arguably one of Speyside’s(*) finest distilleries…the age at which this is bottled is a sweet spot for many whiskies…the price is great.  But at the end of the day it hurts me to give this one nothing more then a passing grade.

Credit where credit is due, however, this is a much better ‘noser’ than ‘sipper’.  The nose has some of those shimmering ephemeral qualities I so adore in mature whisky, and some of the individual nuances are a ‘coat-of-many-colors’ brilliant tapestry, coming together to provide a striking whole.  Sadly, it sort of all unravels as it spreads across the tongue.  The arrival is ok, but it quickly fizzles and leaves me almost confused.  Another sip…nope…same thing.  I’m now down to the last dram of the bottle and my impression hasn’t changed in the slightest.  As you can see, I’m nothing if not persistent.  😉  All in the name of good research.

Oh well.  They can’t all be exceptional.  As I said, I love Glenfarclas.  Almost unconditionally.  I’ll simply go elsewhere in the range to get my fill.

Nose:  Milk and white chocolate mousse.  A nice dusting of cinnamon.  Scones, sugar cookies and mild ginger snaps.  A few floral (perfume-y?) notes and fruitcake, heavy in almond paste.  Just an echo of old dunnage warehouse.  Comes together nicely. 

Palate:  For the love of all that Glenfarclas does right, I can’t wrap my head around the 43% here.  Seems far too light a delivery for such an old-school heavy style malt.  Black currant and jam.  Salt toffee.  Kinda malty.  Immediately turns to barley and all the sweetness falls off.  There’s simply nothing left to sweeten up the dry grains.  Not a fan of the finish.  It’s odd (and maybe it’s just me), but much like the recent batches of the 15, it almost seems to hit a fishy note at the back end.  Like a cedar-grilled salmon or something.

(*) Yes, yes…’Highlands’ on the bottle, but  this is from the heart of Speyside.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Ardbeg 1977 Review

Ardbeg 1977017

46% abv

Score:  94.5/100


I had held off in putting pen to paper on this one for quite some time.  A couple of years, in fact.  The simple truth is that those reviews for that small select handful of whiskies that are simply stratospherically better than all others out there are much harder to write up.  Much harder to express in sentiments that won’t come across as nothing more than gushing praise and salivation.

It’s no small secret that Ardbeg is my favourite distillery, and up until recently, when I was able to taste both 1974s from the Ardbeg Double Barrel release, this 1977 was arguably the greatest Ardbeg I’d yet encountered.  That should tell you something as to its inherent quality.  This one was a sort of a ‘where do we go from here?’ type thing.  Once I’ve laid down the word on this one, I had wondered, is everything else a mere shadow?  Maybe something akin to Plato’s forms?  Well…here’s hoping not.  And I like to think the Double Barrel releases from this Hebridean distillery are proof positive that that perfect dram…that holy grail of malt whisky…is as elusive as ever.

A certain whisky writer once opined in his sermons that 1974 and 1977 were special years for Ardbeg.  While I may not agree with everything he says (or even much of it, to be honest) he was dead-on accurate in this case.  Those looking for the snarling ferocity of recent Ardbeg cask strength giants need to approach this one with a completely different mindset, or simply look elsewhere.  This is no Beastie, nor Supernova, nor ferocious ‘Gator.  This is class, elegance and refinement.

Further…this is a sublime example of beautifully aged peat, vibrant fruity notes and almost unfathomably excellent composition.  The balance struck here is simply magic.

Nose: Fruit with cream. Bordering on tropical. Melon…maybe peach. Chocolate. Vanilla and old cinnamon. Distant echoes of peat. Grains are noticeable, but sweet and bearing a faint fields-o’-barley nostalgia. There’s a gorgeous mild paint or rubber latex note here that you only find in well-matured casks.  Cadbury’s chocolate.  Oranges and other sweet orange fruits. Butterscotch. Aged and balanced smoke. Some more citrus.

Palate: Bright, very bright, with an absolutely great mouthfeel.  And oh, man…the fruits!  A lot of orange, and a mix that borders, again, on tropical.  Mild peat and a building wall of smoke.  Some smooth chocolate.  Lingering and delicious.

ABV does it justice, at a respectable 46%, but man…to have this at cask strength…


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

A Couple Of Benromach Single Cask Releases For KWM

 KWM Exclusive Benromach 2004 & 2005

A few months back, our mate Andrew Ferguson put out a call to a few of the faithful.  He had in hand a few cask samples of younger Benromach, and an eye to picking the next Kensington Wine Market exclusive.  Over the course of an evening’s tasting, the gang came up with not just one winner, but a couple of them that seemed to be a cut above the rest.  In the end, with a little nudging, Andrew opted to purchase both of these casks.  

Can’t say we’re not spoiled here in Calgary. 

Benromach is a Speyside distillery, owned and operated by Gordon & MacPhail.  G&M, in case it is triggering some sort of tickle in the back of your mind, is known first and foremost as one of the industry’s leading independent bottlers.  The acquisition of the Benromach distillery, which had been sitting in a state of suspended animnation for years, took place in 1993.   This distillery is one of the few phoenix acts now risen from the ashes of the rash of distillery closures in 1983.  The first official Benromach releases under G&M arrived in 2004, and despite an output of less than 150,000 litres of new make spirit per annum, the brand is growing.  Might have something to do with the fact that the juice is surprisingly good.

KWM Benromach Casks (2)

So now…let’s have a go at these two single casks Andrew bought…


Benromach 2004 Cask #246 Kensington Wine Market ExclusiveBenromach 2004 (2)

60.4% abv     First Fill Bourbon Barrel     9 y.o.     258 Bottles

Nose:  Vanilla cream with a light dusting of cinnamon.  Orange sherbet.  Sweet bread dough.  Caramelized crème brûlée notes.  Faint, but very clean, toasted/smoky note.  Very light fruits.  Maybe pear or melon or something.

Palate:  Now a little barley up front.  Orange again, but with a little lemon too.  A nice soft light fruitiness again is lit up by a slow-building spice.  There’s a quick bit of cocoa at the front, but it’s fleeting.  Very clean, but long, linger.

Thoughts:  One of the more successful young non-peated whiskies I’ve found.  Not far off the recent Auchentoshan Valinch 2011 release in terms of overall profile.  Great cask selection.

Score:  89/100



Benromach 2005 (2)Benromach 2005 Cask #126 Kensington Wine Market Exclusive

60.4% abv     First Fill Bourbon Barrel     8 y.o.     245 Bottles

Nose:  Lightly peated.  An especially pleasing chocolate top note.  A little bit of BBQ sauce.  Touch of char.  Just a wee little bit of wood and dirt…natural and pleasing.  The peated malt shows through nicely.  Quite smoky.

Palate:  Chocolate covered cherry right up front.  Into peaty earthy notes and farmy grains.  Much smoke.  More oak on this one than its sibling.  A little marmalade, but otherwise not a lot of fruit here.  Having said that…it’s not really missed either.  Wait…a slight (oh so slight) banana note right at the back.

Thoughts:  Says ‘lightly peated’, but there is more of that smoky heft than I thought there would be.  M0re earthy and elemental than the 2004.  Again…a well chosen reaping.  Great age for this one.  Vibrant and young.

Score:  89/100



Overall thoughts:  Altogether different malts, but about equal in terms of overall quality.  No need to split hairs when it comes to scoring these young Speysiders either.  89 points apiece will do, I think.  The nose on the 2004 is just a touch better, while the palate on the 2005 wins out.  Finally…at just over $80 a bottle…a steal, while they last.


– Words & Tasting Notes:  Curt

– Photos:  Andrew Ferguson

Compass Box Flaming Heart Review

Compass Box Flaming Heart

Limited third edition.  4,186 bottles.  September 2010.

48.9% abv

Score:  89.5/100


I wrote up notes for this one a long time back, and either a) the whisky has substantially evolved, b) I was way off on the multiple occasions I tasted and took notes c) I’m now better/worse at what I do.  Either way…there’s not a lot of consistency between what I’m picking up now and what I got out of this one ‘back in the day’.

To be clear…these notes are for the 10th anniversary release of Flaming Heart.  While I’d like to get my hands on another one of this particular edition (sadly…I have none left now), this makes me want to dive into a more recent bottling to see what sort of evolution this one has gone through.

The Compass Box website says this one combines “Highland, Islay and Island single malts, aged in a combination of American and French oak casks, to create a smoky-sweet flavour profile like no other Scottish malt whisky.”  Yep…definitely smoky-sweet.  While I can’t say this one immediately jumps out from the pack as something astonishingly unique, I can say that it absolutely does exemplify high quality and a very profound and intimate understanding of the blender’s craft.  To clarify that statement…this is not a single malt whisky.  Rather, it is a blended malt.  However, I much prefer the old nomenclature of ‘vatted malt’, so in deference to John Glaser’s cheekiness, from here on out I’ll call it a vatted malt, SWA (ahem…primarily Diageo blokes, if rumour holds true…or at least being led by Diageo blokes) be damned.  (Anyway…for a little fun, spend some time reading up on the Compass Box Last Vatted Malt tale.  There’s even a wee video of the actual bottling of the LVM onYoutube.)

Pushing whisky politics aside for a bit (though if any whisky maker has dealt with more than its share of bureacracy it would have to be Compass Box), let’s check out the whisky itself.

Nose:  Just a touch of peach.  Some orange and a hint of pear.  Yes, there’s a bit of peat and smoke, but it’s very clean and crisp.  A slight peppery bite.  Slightly lemon biscuity.  I can still get the malted barley.  The smoke is well checked here.

Palate:  Big orange note.  A fair bit of vanilla.  Some perfume-y notes (very pleasant).  A whiff of smoke.  Nice grain/oak balance.  This is an incredibly smooth easy drinker.

I was off the mark last time.  Thankfully it was unscored notes I published, but wow…humbling.  Again…hats off to John and his team.  Another winner from Compass Box.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Pat Carroll