Monthly Archives: November 2013

Recent Downtime

Hello, all.

Just a quick note of apology for all of the recent downtime on ATW.  If you’re reading this, obviously the site is up and running, but unfortunately it’s been a very hit and miss couple of weeks, as many of you are aware.

I’m not gonna get into the details (suffice it to say it is/was out of my hands), but let’s just cross our fingers the worst of it is behind us.  I have loads of reviews waiting for publication, but I’ll spread them over the coming days.

Thanks for your patience and for all of the kind words in support.  It IS appreciated.



GlenDronach 15 y.o. Tawny Port Finish Review

GlenDronach 15 y.o. Tawny Port FinishTP4

46% abv

Score:  81/100


This GlenDronach Tawny Port Finish is not so much a good whisky as it is an interesting one.  

GlenDronach is a Speyside distillery known and revered for the stunning depths of its sherried malts.  Its accolades are many and well-earned, and its trajectory is only on the upswing since the owners (BenRiach) began investing plenty of time, attention and money to bring the distillery back from a five year silence in the late ’90s and early ’00s.  For that, of course, we’re eternally grateful. 

Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of this distillery.  It’s a profile perfectly suited to my proclivity for bold flavours and flawless use of sherry maturation.  Of course there is the occasional dud of a cask with hints of sulphur, but for a distillery so heavily reliant on these barrels, they are surprisingly few and far between.  Marry that standard of excellence with a spate of beautiful older single cask releases in recent years and I find myself in sherry heaven. 

So…having said all of that…to see a GlenDronach release floundering under the weight of this experimental ‘finish’ is somewhat disappointing.  At the risk of offending the purists, at the heart of the matter sherry and port are not dissimilar.  They are both brandy-fortified wines.  The actual ins and outs of regional regulation requirements, maturation processes, fermentation, etc absolutely make these two beverages unique, however I’d be hard-pressed to always be able to identify a port-finished whisky vs a sherry-finished whisky. 

I suppose what I’m driving at is simply an articulate way to voice the following question:  is this whisky’s profile defined primarily by the 15 year old malt itself, or by the finishing period in port pipes?  I ask this in light of one particular fact: that port should be sweeter than sherry, by nature, and this whisky is not nearly as sweet as I’d expect in even the most basic of unfinished GlenDronach releases. 

Just my two cents, folks (and not even worth that).  Either way…not a bad dram, just missing the soaring highs I’ve come to expect from one of the most exciting distilleries out there.

Nose:  Maltier than I’d expect in a 15 year old GlenDronach.  Where are the big fruits?  Some dark breads here and maybe a touch yeasty.  Whole unground nutmeg seeds (milder than the pungent ground spice).  Raisin and caramel.  Fine dark chocolate.  There’s simply not enough going on here.  Kinda disappointing, really.  Expected a lot more fruit.

Palate:  Malty bread notes.  Currants.  Lots of spice.  Maybe some bitter grapefruit.  Citrus pith…with none of the sweet accompaniments.  Some woods and bold red wine notes at the back.  Behind the coffee aroma, that is.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Ballantine’s 17 y.o. Review

Ballantine’s 17 y.o.061

43% abv

Score:  89/100


Fuck.  Seriously.  Can’t tell you how disappointed I am that I can’t come in here with both guns blazing – Yosemite Sam style – and raise a hella pile o’ ruckus.  I desperately wanted to lambaste a certain whisky writer who decried this 17 year old blend as ‘world whisky of the year’ a couple years back.

Let me be explicitly clear:  this is certainly no whisky of the year.  Having said that, I’d be less than honest if I didn’t confess outright that this is a really good blend.  I’d almost guess malt over blend, to be honest.  There are some fabulously clean and pristine sweet/candy/fruit notes that suggest components much older than 17 years too.  I’m not certain as to the bottling date for this particular edition I have, but perhaps it pre-dates the ongoing whisky boom by a few years, in coming from a time when there was enough mature whisky available to the blenders that it was in fact possible to find whisky older than the age statement buried in the vatting.

Either way…just speculation.

The bottle I have in hand (as seen in photo above) is much older than the edition said writer led us to believe was the intoxicating tears of Dionysus.  If there is in fact a WWOTY-worthy release of the Ballantine’s 17, I hate to say it, but this is not it.  I’d love to get my hands on that particular edition, but I’m sure the shelves were wiped clean within hours of the press release.  You’ll notice though, there aren’t a lot of folks out there waxing rhapsodically about how amazing that B17 was from a couple years back.  Hmmmm.  Interesting. 

Finally, I’d like to add that logic (and god knows mine is skewed) tells me that older versions of most any whisky would likely be better for the very reasons listed above, but, of course, with whisky y’never really know.

What it boils down to is that I’ll not go on the offensive here to the degree I initially thought I would, but I am certainly on record doubting the validity of ANY blend earning whisky of the year honors.  Malt snobbery?  Perhaps.  I prefer to call it ‘reality’. 

Nose:  Sweet pears in sugary syrup.  Pink bubblegum notes.  Sugar cookies and biscuits.  Buttery maple syrup.  A little bit of orange.  Clean grains.  Almost Lowland pure and light.  Most distant hint of smoke.

Palate:  Straw and grass.  Anise, ginger and cinnamon.  Reminds a little of a stunning 2007 Jameson Rarest Vintage I tried.  Not quite as exceptional, but some very similar notes.  Also reminds a tick of Ardbeg’s Serendipity from a few years back.

I have a bit left of this one.  Would love to share and solicit some other opinions.  Anyone? 


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

The Naked Grouse Review

The Naked Grouse417

40% abv

Score:  88/100


Ummm.  Yeah.  Not sure what just happened here, but I’m dumbfounded.  This is not a bad Grouse.  It’s not an ok Grouse, nor even a decent Grouse.  This is really, really tasty stuff.

Being honest here.  I generally like this brand less than a good hard kick in the junk.  OK…it’s maybe not that bad, but it’s still certainly far from a hot commodity in my place.  Like most blended whiskies, Grouse is one I have tried oodles of times (yes…that is a proper measure, about as accurate as my interpretation of ‘dram’), in various incarnations, and almost always found to be somewhat repellant (the exception so far being the 12 year old blended malt). 

I like being able to put down my sword and shield for a moment and embrace this one, instead of the continued sparring with the FG brand.  Goes to show you that blanket statements (i.e. ‘Grouse sux’) are the tool of idjits (and yes…I use ’em) and simpletons.

Joking aside, this is a good dram.  If what I’ve read is correct, there is a higher proportion of both Macallan (carrying its sweet high quality sherry influence) and Highland Park (bringing some heft and a slightly malty, smoky edge) here than in the standard offering.  The Naked Grouse is being positioned as a slightly more ‘premium’ blend.  I’m behind it wholeheartedly.  Certainly not your average young blend.  In fact…I think I’ma put a couple of these aside for rainier days.

Nose:  Malty caramel.  Raisin scones.  Buttery, with some nice dried fruits (figs and apricots).  Plum and milk chocolate.  Spiced nuts.  Vanilla.  Just a faint fanning of smoke.  Finally in a Grouse I’m getting those notes of Macallan that should have been front and center in all other editions.

Palate:  Sherried tartness meets sherried sweetness.  Neato.  Almost like a neutered (40%? c’mon) sherry bomb.  Grape juice.  Spices are well-balanced.  As unbelievable as this may seem…there are hints of watermelon.  And a little cantaloupe.  Beautiful accents.  Grape, oak, chocolate and apple.  One of the better blended whiskies I’ve ever tasted.  Lovely stuff.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 36) Review

Aberlour a’bunadh (Batch 36)002

60.1% abv

Score:  88/100


Aberlour a’bunadh is consistently listed in whisky lovers’ ‘top ten’ lists (which are more often that not comprised of twenty or thirty whiskies), so it’s not surprising I get a lot of requests to review more of the batch releases of this expression.

The simple fact of the matter is that this is damn good whisky, and fairly consistent in terms of quality, if not exact flavour profile.  Batch variation is substantial with this dram, and if I’m to be dead honest, that’s a good thing.  Keeps it interesting and shows that there is still some blender’s art happening here, and that these aren’t simply being batched to recipe-like homogeneity.  There’s something intrinsically pure about these releases that wins me over.

As a rule with a’bunadh, one can expect a thick and monolithic sherry monster, redolent in spices, dried fruits and sweetness.  Usually some leather and tobacco as well.  I’ll try to continue knocking out a few more batches here on the site with a bit more regularity in order to show the nuances between releases.  To date…Batch 28 holds a spot in my heart as a favorite.  That was the only release I squirrelled away a couple extra of.  This is a whisky that I simply can’t imagine anyone not appreciating.  More faithful than ol’ Trigger, this is one of my sidekicks.

Batch 36 here, while not my favorite a’bunadh, is still certainly a great dram and better than almost anything in its price range.

By the way…I do take exception to the ignorance on the label (which you can see in the picture above), referring to ‘single cask’.  These batches are in no way ‘single cask’.  Oh well.  Nitpicking now.

Nose:  Rummy raisin and chocolate. Jam covered straw and hay.  Cinnamon raisin toast and bread dough.  Dried fruits, of course, but also some macerated berry notes…with pepper.  Creamy sherry and a touch of eucalyptus.  Light florals too.  Nice clean casks.  Nary a bad butt to be found in this vatting.

Palate:  Thick and syrupy.  Cough syrup too.  Nice fruit notes of plum, blackberry and…dunno…something bold and jammy.  Fudge with black cherry in it.  A little bit of pear or apple skin.  Huge mouthfeel.  Thick and chewy as hell.  Awesome, awesome mouthful of whisky.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Dalmore Ceti 30 y.o. Review

Dalmore Ceti 30 y.o.Ceti

45% abv

Score:  90/100


Paterson really likes his malts bold and uncompromising.  Big sherries…long finishes…a lot of cask play.  All well and good, I suppose, but personally I’d love to see a few slightly more naked Dalmores.  I’m curious as hell to see whether or not this spirit would age gracefully in a simple bourbon cask.

Anyway…here’s another sassy old (read: pricey) Dalmore, served up after 30 long years of slumber.  To be a little more accurate: this whisky spent its first twenty-three years in ex-bourbon barrels before being re-racked into Oloroso sherry butts for an additional seven.  That’s a pretty thick icing on a 23 year year old cake.  Since seven years is a little too long to refer to as ‘finishing’, I’m actually ok with calling it a ‘double-matured’ whisky.

Now let’s pretend for a few moments – just as friends over drams – that this bottle wasn’t priced only for the rawk stars, athletes and CEOs of this world, and simply speak to the details, merits or faults, be they as they may. 

This is Dalmore Ceti, apparently so named for the Kappa1 Ceti star in the Cetus constellation.   Kappa1 Ceti is approximately 30 light years from earth (hence cribbing the name for this 30 year old malt), and is thought to be a candidate that may host terrestial planets.  Awesome.  That will, of course, do us a world of good when we exhaust our resources on this third stone from the sun, and migrate that wee convenient puddle jump of 30 freaking light years!  (I should note…that is also approximately the same length of time that will have to elapse before my wife lets me buy a bottle of this whisky.  Sorry…couldn’t resist.) 

Interesting (if inane and rather esoteric) naming convention aside…I quite like this one.  Dalmore with age and I…we get along alright, I guess.  Younger Dalmore?  For the most part I can take it or leave it, but when the spirit is left to mellow and hibernate for a few extra years, well…there’s no denying some great whiskies are sleeping on in the Dalmore warehouses.

A solid four-figure bottle, this, and limited to 1000.

Do note…I’m going to mention several tropical(ish) fruits in my tasting notes, but this is not what I would consider a ‘tropical fruit’ profile.  If not for the Oloroso re-racking perhaps it would be more in that range.

Nose:  Orange zest, apricot and tangerine.  Florals and mild nutmeg.  Cigar or pipe tobacco.  Furniture polish.  Rye bread and saltines.  Some wine-y grape notes.

Palate:  Spicy arrival.  Oranges in behind.  Tobacco notes and chewing on leather.  Sweet green grapes and a lot of dried tannic fruits as well.  Odd, but pleasant sour candy notes.  Some dried potpourri and grass.  Hmmm…a little dry and almost, almost over-oaked, I think.  If not over-oaked, well…a little too much oak influence.  Splitting hairs, maybe, but different enough.  Still very nice though.  Towards the back there are some lovely peach overtones.

Thanks to my mate, J Wheelock for the taster of this one.  Neato.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Dalmore