Monthly Archives: March 2014

Glenmorangie Finealta Review

Glenmorangie Finealta239

46% abv

Score:  88/100


Glenmorangie are fairly reknowned for experimentation and creativity.  Interestingly enough though, through all of their artful concoctions, they don’t often fiddle around with peat.  This ‘Private Edition’ release, Finealta, is as exception to that unwritten rule.

Call it a mental block, if you will, but my mind immediately leaps to Ardmore or BenRiach when I think of mainland peated whiskies.  Certainly not to Glenmorangie.  However, whether through lightning in a bottle or adeptness at practice, Glenmorangie have managed to craft a rather remarkable dram.  Great mix of sweet and savoury here.  I imagine this is what it would be like to nose Glenmorangie 18 next to someone drinking lapsang souchong tea beneath the breeze-driven puffs from a smokestack.  Or somehting to that effect.

Either way, the mix of cask play and a very atypical profile for this Highland distillery make for a fun ride, and one of the most immediately endearing and interesting Glenmo’s in quite some while.  Like far too many great drams of late though…sadly, this is also a limited edition expression.  If you can find one, grab it if for no other reasons than seeing the morphology this light and estery spirit is capable of.  Chameleonic, really.

Nose:  Earthy with some salty play-dough.  More peat than expected, but not huge by any means.  Leather and horse blankets.  Slightly ashy.  Orange and pear.  Rather more farmy than expected.  Cinnamon and mint.  The peat influence is massive by no means, but pleasantly over-arching.

Palate:  Ashy and smoky again.  All of those farmy notes coming through here too.  Flinty and mineral-rich.  Peppery.  Wet rock.  Some wine notes.  Lemon rind with orange influence.  Like a drying tea in terms of effect, if not flavour.  Decent, if not quite synchronized, connection between nose and palate.

Thoughts:  Neat, if unexpected nose.  A quirky offering that outshone most other Glenmorangie releases in a recent expansive tasting we held locally.  Definitely a top three pick from the men of Tain.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Deanston Virgin Oak Review

Deanston Virgin Oak016

46.3% abv

Score:  78/100


It was bound to happen.  If for no other reason than that I have no moral qualms with receiving samples for review.  So long as the reviewer is utterly transparent about it and the resultant review is not so obviously biased as to call into question anyone’s integrity or motivations…so be it.

A few weeks back I was contacted by a representative for the good folks at Burn Stewart.  The email was polite, articulate and not even remotely as ‘staged’ as most of the whisky-related email I usually get flooded with, asking me if I’d care to call them on the heels of their latest award in order to speak with ‘so-and-so’, or please post ‘this’ or if I want to hear more about ‘that’.  In other words…this email was refreshingly straight forward and literate, and I have to add that this tack was hugely appreciated.  In return I agreed to sample and share a few words on the Deanston Virgin Oak, though I cautioned that “I’m always happy to try new whiskies, with all of the usual caveats that I have to write them up as I feel they deserve (good, bad or indifferent) and that I have to cite that it was an industry-provided sample.” (exact words)  The reply I got was as cordial as the first contact.  A week or so later I had a sample in hand.  For the sake of disclosure, let me add that this was a 700ml sample (read: full bottle). 

Anyway…let’s get into it…

I approached this malt with mixed feelings.  On the one hand…I was excited to try something new from the stables of Burn Stewart, and Deanston was certainly that (think I’ve only tried one other).  On the other hand…I’m generally not a fan of virgin oak-matured whisky.  I tend to find it often unbalanced, leaning too heavily on spice and vanilla, at the expense of complexity and all the benefits that time generally instills.  Virgin oak casks are very lively.  It’s very easy to over-oak even at a young age.

I’m happy to say we haven’t overcooked this one.  In fact we may have gone too far in the other direction.  I think this one could have happily simmered away a little longer…albeit perhaps shifted into a slightly less active barrel.  This is a very clean and estery spirit that has a world of potential.  It’s just not fully realized in what I assume here is a rather youthful drink (the inherent dangers of NAS bottlings are that I’m always gonna assume the worst and trust to my senses to guide me).  Off the cork it’s a little rough, but given a few minutes in the glass it opens up nicely and some of the more volatile elements dissipate, leaving more fruit and soft baking notes.  Again…so much potential. 

Over the past couple of weeks it has been softening a bit in the bottle as it oxidizes, but I can tell it won’t be enough to take it up any more than a point or two.  I’ll keep ya posted.

Oh yeah…one final note:  Un-chill filtered and bottled over 46%…nice.  Very nice.  We like what Burn Stewart are doing.

Nose:  Too young.  Slightly feinty.  Crème brulee.  White bread.  Cinnamon.  Ginger.  Pepper and dust.  A little bit of orange and lemon.  Oaky, yes…but clean cereals too.  Both creamy and tangy.  So many pleasant notes, but they haven’t had quite enough time to fully realize.  Throw this whisky in a refill hoggy for a few more years and I imagine we’d get something special.

Palate:  A lot of cereal and woody notes.  Very young-ish and spirit-y.  Peppery and still kinda bite-y.  Some grassy notes coming through.  More vanilla.  Soft pudding (tapioca? vanilla?).  Pleasant enough really.  Not there yet, but you can definitely see quality inherent in this one.

Thoughts:  Like an under-ripe banana, this one wasn’t quite ready to be picked yet.  Not nearly as bourbon-esque as I’d feared either, which is a good thing.

Now that I’ve firmly scored myself out of further industry-provided samples…let’s keep moving on.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Talisker 35 y.o. Review

Talisker 35 y.o.038

54.6% abv

Score:  94/100


Here it is.  The well-respected patriarch of the Talisker family.  You may have read others waxing poetically about this one elsewhere online, and they were absolutely justified in doing so.  There’s simply no two ways about it…this is utterly spectacular whisky.

Talisker, much like many of the Diageo brands, has maintained a rather limited range of  expressions for several years now, and even those select few variants that did hit the shelves were often not destined for all markets.  Here in Canada, for example, we’ve been privy only to the 10 y.o. and the Distiller’s Edition.  I’ve had to go south to the US for the 18 year, and the 57° North – up until about two months ago – forget it.  Fingers are still crossed for the Port Ruighe and Storm.

As you may have read here, an opportunity recently arose to taste a brilliant range of very special older Talisker expressions.  These bottles were sourced from far and wide, put aside over the years and uncorked only when the proper occasion arose.  Needless to say, a whisky such as this 35 year old is one that definitely deserves an occasion.  This is a very special dram.  And to the gent who poured it for me…thank you, sir.

Diageo managed only 3,090 bottles from this mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks.  The spirit was born in 1977, and bottled in 2012.  So…’70s distillate from a mix of casks…at great age and hefty strength.  What would that lead you to expect?  Personally, I was looking for a whisky with a touch of mellowed peat and smoke, emerging tropicals and a faded peppery note that more often than not defines Talisker.  Interestingly enough, what I got was exactly that.  But the stunning balance and clarity of delivery was the true surprise.  A once in a lifetime whisky.

(Tasting notes from a previous session, wherein this was one of 9 great Talisker releases)

Nose:  Absolutely redolent of fruit.  Like Five Alive fruit juice.  Citrus notes…almost tropical.  Pears in syrup.  A touch of pineapple.  Mild pepper (that Talisker fingerprint is well-faded by this age though).  The sexiest of restrained smoke.  White chocolate.  A beautiful ‘old whisky’ note that almost defies description.  Some mild farmy notes.  And yes…peat.

Palate:  A lot of fruit again.  Some melons this time as well.  Citrus.  The arrival is creamy, but vibrant and tangy with some orange and milk chocolate right up front.  Ginger and pepper prickle and lead into the peat and pepper we expect.  Smoother than silk though.  Absolutely beautiful.

Thoughts:  This is simply magic.  The nose is absolutely ‘to die for’ and the palate is austere, refined and sublime.  One of the all time great whiskies, not just from Talisker, but from any distillery.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Big Peat Cask Strength Review

Big Peat Cask Strength008

57.1% abv

Score:  85/100


I’d initially planned to post this in December, when the subject matter would have been a little more topical, but…as always…other stuff always seemed to take precedent.

Our good friend ‘Peat’ has had a makeover as Santa Clause for the packaging of this cask strength version of our beloved Big Peat from Douglas Laing.  This expression is colloquially referred to as ‘Big Peat Santa’ around here, and event now is readily available if you’re on the hunt.  You won’t have to hunt hard either.  This whisky is instantly recognizable for its graphics, if not its flavour profile this time ’round.

Wait.  What?  Is this the Big Peat we’ve been singing the praises of for a few years now?  Not really, I’m afraid.  The differences are not simply in the horsepower and nuance either, but are woven throughout the DNA of the whisky.  I hate to say it, but this is not even recognizable under the same name as its weaker strength brother.  But maybe it’s all in how you view it.  Maybe I should look at this one differently.  Maybe it’s supposed to be more a variation on a theme than a full strength realization. 

It’s a rare occasion when I’ll take the lower strength dram when there is a beefier offering at hand.  Call it ‘flavour greed’, not alcoholism, if you don’t mind.  Which brings us back to why I’d opt for the standard edition over this…the flavour is simply richer in the mainstay release.

The color this time is as gentle as white wine.  The smoke, though still big, is thinner…less billowy.  The whisky seems less oily and textured.  Where I could pick up on echoes of Port Ellen in the regular bottling, it is absolutely lost in here.  The notes of maturity that surprised in the other bottling are here replaced by younger, underdeveloped tones. 

Don’t get me wrong.  This is still a good dram.  It’s just not nearly as good as what you can find in regular Big Peat.

Nose:  Almond.  Iodine.  Salt and pepper.  Peat.  Smoke.  More chocolate.  More fruit here than on the standard edition.  Orange.  Mixed fruit juices.  Sunflower seeds.  Rubber…like bicycle tires.  Maybe a touch of cola.  Lacks the immediate charm of the original versions at 46%.  Boasts a few feinty notes too, from either very young whisky or a poor middle cut, I’d guess.

Palate:  Smoky and peaty.  Wow…this is a big, fiery young dram.  Some prickly chilis.  Lime.  Pepper, salt and very fresh lively ginger.  Coffee and bitter dark chocolate.  Citrus again.  Very naked actually.  Devolves into wood splinters, dry cocoa, apple skins.

Thoughts:  Still a good dram, but nowhere near the ‘take you by surprise’ charm of the regular edition.  If you’re a fan of the youthful flaming peat bogs, and you love ’em big and pointy as hell (and a l’il bit young), this is your dram.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Big Peat Review

Big Peat031

46% abv

Score:  89.5/100


Let’s talk about marketing savvy.  Big Peat.  A blended malt (vatted malt, damn it!) built from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen.  Hmmm…can you imagine just what exactly the ratios of each of those component malts are in this snazzy l’il dram?  Maybe something along the lines of 85% Caol Ila, 10% Bowmore, 4.95% Ardbeg and 0.05% Port Ellen.  Just a guess. 

My skepticism regarding the addition of Port Ellen is one I imagine to be shared by many out there.  Let’s face it…even the lowest quality casks of Port Ellen are fetching disgusting sums.  Do you really think any company (in this case Douglas Laing) is going to just vat away something that can net hundreds per bottle?  Not so sure.  Either way, this four ingredient recipe is enough to make even the most jaded Islay-phile light up like a little kid at Christmas time.

Big Peat is a unique offering from Douglas Laing, and one which speaks volumes about the blender’s art.  Having four such distinct voices come together in this kind of harmony is magic.   Big kudos to whomever owns the nose that pulled this all together.

And as for ‘Big Peat’ himself…that grizzled and windswept old bastard on the label and I…we’re pretty tight.  We’ve spent several great nights together, including one magical evening in Islay’s best whisky bar, just off Loch Indaal.  A bro-mance made in heaven (or at least Islay). 

All joking aside, don’t be fooled by the rather less than serious packaging.  The cartoon-ery hides a sophistication and quality that are impressive. 

Nose:  The nose alone kinda blows away the early cynicism I may have had.  There are definite Caol Ila notes, but there really ARE notes of mid-20s-ish Port Ellen.  Reminiscent of some of the Douglas Laing OMC expressions in particular.  Maybe I was wrong.  Ardbeg…yeah, I think I’m getting that.  Bowmore…not so sure I’m picking up any notes of Bowmore.  Citrus, smoke and rubber.  Ash.  Salt and pepper.  Soil.  Peat.  A touch of leather.  Briny.  Some chocolate.  A touch of natural caramel.  Iodine.  Faint Lapsang Souchong tea.  Great balance.

Palate:  Citric and smoky.  Like cask strength Caol Ila, with a little more roundness.  Great arrival.  Much peppery punch.  Salt licorice.  Touch of lime zest.  Just vaguely farmy…or maybe just hay.

Thoughts:  Incredibly well integrated.  Incredibly well made.  This is a helluva dram for the price.  If you cannae afford the big guns from Islay in their single malt incarnations…grab a bottle of Big Peat.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

The Dram Initiative #008 – Glenfarclas with George Grant

The Dram Initiative #008 – Glenfarclas With George Grant

January 23rd, 2014


In what has arguably been the club’s biggest coup to date, we somehow managed to convince Glenfarclas’s George Grant that we were a legit organization and that coming out wouldn’t be a complete waste of his time.  Sucker.  In order to keep up this illusion once we had him on site, we commenced pouring pints of Guinness down his throat while we stealthily sucked back the wonderful barley juice bearing his name.

Ok…so it didn’t go down quite like that (but not far off either), but some things have to be held as intellectual property of the Dram Initiative.  What happens at whisky club stays at whisky club.  Or something like that.


In all seriousness though, George was one of the key figures we’d been hoping to bring out to club since its very inception.  Several of us had seen his presentations before and knew what a blast it was to sit in the audience as he worked his magic.  The idea of being able to bring him out to a roomful of fellow whisky geeks (face it, guys and gals, that’s what we are) was one we’d been mulling over for a while.  It was simply a matter of how.  Seeing as one of our members had previously kidnapped him, it seemed a more…errr…diplomatic approach would probably be in order this time.

I’d initially approached George at the Willow Park ‘Whisky In The Warehouse’ festival a few months back, asking if it would be something he’d be into.  His immediate reply?  ‘Talk to her,’ as he cocked a thumb at Pacific Wines and Spirits’ Michelle Sharpe.  Michelle was kind enough to swap cards with me and agreed to see what she could do.

Fast forward a couple of months and…voila!…from out of nothing, something.


Get a big name speaker and y’gotta pull together some big whiskies, right?  That’s the way we approached it anyway, and indeed we managed to round up a very extensive – and impressive, if I do say so, myself – range of Glenfarclas expressions for this event.  We wanted to keep it primarily to the core expressions this time ’round, in hopes that a little further down the line we could bring George back for a round two of single casks, store exclusives, Family Casks and other variants in the range.

Even so…walking through the Glenfarclas core range is no small feat.  We kicked things off at the 8 year mark and strolled all the way up to the 40 (and then went a little beyond, as we tend to do at these friendly l’il gatherings).  A couple of these releases are no longer available via standard retail around here, so it was a bit of a treat for the members and guests in attendance to get to work their way through such a thorough age-statement series.


The flight for the evening was as follows:

Glenfarclas 8 y.o.

Glenfarclas 10 y.o.

Glenfarclas 12 y.o.

Glenfarclas 15 y.o.

Glenfarclas 17 y.o.

Glenfarclas 21 y.o.

Glenfarclas 25 y.o.

Glenfarclas 30 y.o.

Glenfarclas 40 y.o.

Glenfarclas 175 Anniversary Edition


Great whiskies are one thing, of course, but paired up with a speaker who boasts an incredibly deep backstory full of hilarity and hijinks is the recipe for a very memorable evening.  Sore cheeks, wet eyes and stomach cramps don’t always have to be indicative of misery.  In this case all were the result of a couple hours spent in laughter and comraderie.  The photo below pretty much encapsulates the general mood of the evening.


This event was a sold out affair, of course.  Pretty sure we could have filled even more seats, but hey…there’s only so far you can stretch a bottle, right?  Membership in the DI has grown to the point where seats will be at a premium going forward.  Each event has been incredibly well-recieved, driving demand higher and higher.  A flattering scenario, to say the least.  It makes for some interesting management decisions, but there are way worse problems to have than how many great people you can get in a room and share a dram with, right?  Or should I say share 10 drams with?

All in all, another great night.  I think the club membership is starting to get a clear picture of where we’re taking them.  The destination is not something we’re ready to reveal as yet, but man…it’s been a hell of a ride already.


Sincere thanks to both George and Michelle, who came through big time and were an absolute pleasure to hang out with.  Can’t wait to see you both again very soon.  Think we can up the ante?



– Words:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

Totally Talisker Tasting

Totally Talisker Tasting

On May 23rd of 1905 a young right fielder by the name of Archibald Wright “Moonlight” Graham was called up from the minors to report to the New York Giants.  He rode the bench watching the action until the 29th of June in the same year when, in the bottom of the 8th inning, he was sent out to play deep right, replacing outfielder George Browne.  He closed out the game without having touched the ball or swung a bat, and sadly…that 1 1/2 innings would be the entire extent of Graham’s baseball career.

If this story sounds suspiciously familiar, it’s because it is the very tale that W.P. Kinsella immortalized in his beautiful pastoral ‘Shoeless Joe’ and later became the basis for the blockbuster film ‘Field Of Dreams’.

As the story goes (and this is truth; a great tale of life being better than fiction), Graham went on to become a small town doctor in Chisholm, Minnesota, ultimately affecting the lives of countless people and in the process ultimately becoming a much beloved figure.

Graham never regretted his chosen path in life, but it’s important to note that before the fates stepped in and gently nudged him in this direction, he did step up to the plate when his chance came.  And he did make the most of what was offered.

On the 8th of March, 2014 the major league ‘Gang Of Four’ organized a home run tasting of rare and beautiful Talisker OBs.  Unfortunately the team were down one man, effectively making them a ‘Gang Of Three’.  With their own missing ‘George Browne’, if you will, they had to call up another ‘Moonlight Graham’ of sorts.  That ‘Moonlight Graham’ was yours truly.




My inning and a half in the majors was as memorable as you can imagine.  The company was great…the malts were unforgettable…and the laughs came easy.  All in all, a great event with the G4 (minus one, plus a half). 

The tasting notes below are primarily my own, but when you’re in a roomful of educated whisky enthusiasts nosing and tasting together, with everyone chipping in their notes and suggestions, you’re bound to be influenced.  Not only influenced, but helped along.  So let’s just say that these notes are very healthily propped up by the noses and palates of my three unnamed compadres.

For those interested in a little more detail, I’ll be posting proper individual reviews, with scores, of each of these whiskies in the coming days.  With no further ado…


Talisker 20 y.o. 2003

1982/2003     58.8% abv     12,000 bottles     Refill bourbon casks

Nose:  Whoa!  What have we here?  Brora?  Longrow?  Nope.  It is indeed Talisker, but wow, what a variant.  Peppery and farmy.  Some smoke and peat, to be sure.  Notes of eucalyptus and spruce.  Damp hay.  Crabapple tartness.  Salt black licorice.  Lots of spice.  Salted caramel.

Palate:  Earthy and peaty.  Pepper and licorice.  Very salty.  Notes of damp hay and sour apple.  Almost a wine-like note towards the back end as well.  Finishes with long and pleasant oak overtones.

Thoughts:  Very Brora-like.  Surprising as hell.  There was some concern about the quality of cork that came out of this one, but if this is a flawed bottle (and I’m not sayin’ it is), I’m ok with this kind of blemish.  Way better nose than palate, I should add.


Talisker 25 y.o. 2005

57.2% abv     15,600 bottles     Refill American and European oak

Nose:  Very creamy.  Whiffs of smoke and subdued peat.  Some neat ‘toasted’ notes as well.  Maybe peach.  Soft cream pie.  Pear and pepper.  Lemon and salt.  Mature notes of old books and such.

Palate:  The arrival and early delivery are creamy as hell.  Crème brûlée-ish almost.  Pepper and peat.  Fruit syrup.  Salt and licorice.  Some seriously amped peppered pear and apple notes.  Very big and alive.

Thoughts:  Great dialogue between the nose and palate.  Exceptional ‘young’ old Talisker.



Talisker 25 y.o. 2008

54.2% abv     6,708 bottles     Refill American and European oak

Nose:  Pepper.  Briny seaside notes.  Smoked oysters in oil.  And a touch of smoke, in general.  Grassy and herbal.  Chocolate and honey…kinda like a Toblerone, I guess.  Honeydew melon and cantaloupe.  Citrus.  Graham cracker crust.  Paint/latex.

Palate:  Great arrival.  Peaty, peppery and perfectly Talisker.  Granny smith apple and lemon juice.  Some licorice.  Nice firm oak notes.  This one is a stayer.  Hangs around for eons.

Thoughts:  Another absolutely great Talisker, but I prefer the ’05 edition to this ’08.  Now just need to try any in between…


Talisker 27 y.o. 1985

1985/2013     56.1% abv     3,000 bottles     Refill American oak

Nose:  Creamy caramel, with some beautiful fruits.  Primarily of the orange-ish tropical variety.  Roman Nougat candy.  Pepper.  Brine and shellfish.  Those beautiful old wax/paint/latex notes that define great old whiskies.  Orange and other citrus notes.  Wood smoke.  Mild peat.  A faint touch of rubber at the back end as it develops.

Palate:  Some rather farmy notes.  Coffee with dark chocolate.  Orange and lemon.  Salt and pepper, as we’d expect.  Not just pepper though, but some chili as well.  Peat.  Not quite as fruity as the nose promises, but

Thoughts:  A beautiful old gem.  A mate couldn’t get over how ‘Maritime’ this was, and indeed it says so right on the bottle.  I can’t help but agree.  This is a great age for Talisker.



Talisker 30 y.o. 2009

53.1% abv     3,000 bottles     Refill American and European oak

Nose:  Peaches.  Buckets of peaches.  Smoke, but very soft.  Chocolate of three kinds: white, dark and milk.  Pepper, of course…this is Talisker, after all.  Salt.  This is very soft and restrained on the peat notes.  Great fruits here.  Kinda like canned fruit cocktail, cherries n’ all.

Palate:  Starts off creamy, but dries out fairly quickly.  Never hits the depths of tannic dry-mouth, but definitely leaves the sides of the mouth a little puckered.  Much salt and pepper.  The fruits are still here.  Melon and some borderline tropical notes.  The peach is less prevalent, but still there and very pleasant.

Thoughts:  A beautiful old salty dog of a Talisker.  Not quite as great as the 2010 edition, but hey…we’re talking single point differences.  In short…exceptional.


Talisker 30 y.o. 2010

57.3% abv     2,958 bottles     Ex-bourbon and ex-sherry refill casks

Nose:  Soft white fruits.  A heaping helping of peaches.  Fruit cocktail.  Just a hint of strawberry.  Beyond the fruits there are notes of smoke, peat and pepper, of course.  Latex and wax and old book aromas show the age of this one.  More soft fruits.  Clean white fluor-y notes.  Beautiful light spices.  Rather soft and friendly.  Love it.

Palate:  Wow…what a delivery.  All the promises made by the nose are kept by the palate.  Dark cacao and white chocolate bring an initial softness.  Then we move into pepper, ginger and chili.  Citrus and mild licorice notes.  Salty toffee.  Oak and fresh hay.

Thoughts:  Incredible harmony.  One of the top three Talisker I’ve ever met.


Talisker 35 y.o. 2012

1977/2012     54.6% abv     3,090 bottles     Refill ex-bourbon American oak and ex-sherry European oak casks

Nose:  Absolutely redolent of fruit.  Like Five Alive fruit juice.  Citrus notes…almost tropical.  Pears in syrup.  A touch of pineapple.  Mild pepper (that Talisker fingerprint is well-faded by this age though).  The sexiest of restrained smoke.  White chocolate.  A beautiful ‘old whisky’ note that almost defies description.  Some mild farmy notes.  And yes…peat.

Palate:  A lot of fruit again.  Some melons this time as well.  Citrus.  The arrival is creamy, but vibrant and tangy with some orange and milk chocolate right up front.  Ginger and pepper prickle and lead into the peat and pepper we expect.  Smoother than silk though.  Absolutely beautiful.

Thoughts:  This is simply magic.  The nose is absolutely ‘to die for’ and the palate is austere, refined and sublime.  One of the all time great whiskies, not just from Talisker, but from any distillery.


Talisker 20 y.o. 2002

1981/2002     62% abv     9,000 bottles     Sherry casks

Nose:  Crème caramel.  Pepper and mocha.  Smoke.  Sweet and syrupy.  Salted caramel.  A neat barbecue note, from the sweetness of the sherry mingling with the peppery peat.  Touch of rubber.  Dark rich fruits (cherry, blackberry, etc) in dark chocolate.  Peaty and smoky.  Some lemon and salt too.

Palate:  Oily and viscous.  Barbecue notes again.  Red ju-jubes.  Charred honey ham skin.  Peat, pepper, smoke and salt.  A lot of vibrant red fruits.  The delivery is like velvet.  There is no way I’d ever peg this as boasting an abv of 62%.  Gorgeous drink with a looooooooong finish.

Thoughts:  Amazing.  Stunning really.  Right in my wheelhouse.  If only this were still readily available.  I’d be doing my utmost to stock up.  This is a ‘wow’ whisky.


Talisker 57° North 2013

57% abv     Refill American oak

Thoughts:  This was thrown in at the end, simply because someone wanted to try it.  Sadly, I can’t put scores or tasting notes here on this last one.  We realized too late that it was grossly out of its league in this hall of fame company.  I’m sure it was likely a good drink, but…until I taste it in relative stead, I simply can’t speak to it.  I’ll come back to this one at some point in the future.


Sincere thanks to the G4 for the invite to this one.  I know they prefer to maintain their anonymity, and I will repect that, but suffice it to say they are all true gentlemen.  Cheers for a memorable occasion, gents! 


– Words:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Review

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban221

46% abv

Score:  83/100


Quinta Ruban is the port finished variant in the Glenmorangie core range.  For this lovely pink-hued l’il honey, Dr. Bill Lumsden and co. have taken their 10 year old Glenmorangie and re-casked it into port pipes for a couple extra years.  This additional step serves to knock back some of the creamy vanilla and orange notes a step or two and brings forth a rather bold, albeit very ‘manufactured’, fruitiness.

As always, the big question with whiskies like this is whether or not the extra maturation actually enhances the drink or if well enough should have been left alone.  I’m a bit of a purist at heart, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have 1) an insatiable sense of curiosity and 2) an open mind if it actually works.  In point of fact Quinta Ruban does work if you like bold sweetness.  It’s a well put together dram with a fairly singular profile.  Having said that…it really doesn’t work for me.

I can’t help but think that maybe 6 months or so is really all that is needed to sweeten this up a tick instead of letting it stew for two full cycles ’round the sun.  Glenmorangie, in its more naked state, is a light and pure whisky, owing much to the incredible degree of reflux in their towering stills, so why weigh it down with the heavy cloakings of fortified wine?  Six months would have been an enhancement, much like a simple diamond necklace against the throat of a beautiful woman.  Two years is more like the gaudy tonnage of gold rope chains ’round the neck of Mr. T.  Hope this makes some sort of sense.  Elegance through restraint.

I concede it’s always fun to try the variants, but at the end of the day…I’ll take the Glenmorangie Original 10 y.o. over this bad boy any day of the week.  Quinta Ruban gets passing grades, but not a lot more.

Nose:  Cinnamon.  Jam or jelly, sugared fruit notes.  Orange…maybe blood orange.  Shortbread.  Passion fruit with lemon.  Almost a cotton candy note in here.  Very fruity, but in a synthetic fruit kinda way.  Danishes with jammy fruit filling.  Butter cream.  Maybe raspberry coulis.  Some florals as well.

Palate:  Not as overtly pleasant as the nose, but quite alright.  Very sweet, but it dries out the inner cheeks and back of the tongue in relatively short order.  Quite wine rich.  Kinda plummy.  A touch of ginger.

Thoughts:  All in all, a little too sweet for my liking, but that doesn’t mean a bad dram.  Contrarily, it’s nice enough and would likely be a good gateway drink between the world of wines and the world of spirits.  Ultimately though – if you’re considering a bottle from the extra-matured Glenmorangie range – stick with the Nectar D’Or.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Glenmorangie LaSanta Review

Glenmorangie LaSanta 217

46% abv

Score:  76/100


It’s a good thing and a bad thing that whisky has to be made in batches.  On the one hand, it does mean there is inevitable variation.  On the other hand, it means there is a chance for redemption after tasting a dram that falls far from the mark.

Unfortunately this is just such a one.

Lasanta is ten year old Glenmorangie that has been finished (“extra-matured”, in their parlance) in Spanish Oloroso sherry butts.  Generally speaking, this works quite well for the distillery.  Most of their ‘bourbon meets sherry’ marriages are rather decent.  In fact I’ve quite enjoyed this particular expression of Glenmorangie several times over the years.   Sadly…this most recent batch doesn’t even come close to living up to the reputation.  This bottle of Lasanta was opened as part of an extensive line-up of Glenmorangie for our whisky club, and even the ambassador at the front of the room noted it was ‘off’.  That ‘off’ note, I hate to say it, is sulphur.

While I can – to a degree – overlook a touch of sulphur, I have to agree with Jim Murray on this one (and that in itself is a frightening thing): sulphur is a flaw.  It is not simply another note in the whisky.  It is a defect in the maturation process through poor barrel selection.  I certainly don’t agree there are as many tainted casks as he suggests, but when I do find one…well…nine times out of ten I’ll not be finishing my dram.

Now for the good news: I’ve tried likely a half dozen bottles of Lasanta over the years, and never had a dud like this.  Let’s hope the next batch is back up to par.  (I’d expect maybe an 85 or 86 or so in terms of average score)

Nose:  Oh dear.  Sulphur-spoiled.  A fair bit of spice (cinnamon, damp cloves and pepper).  Putty.  Bread dough.  Burnt caramel and stretchy toffee.  Raisin.  Orange and sweet red chewy candies.  Touch of clove and dried apricot.  There is a fair bit of ripe fruit behind that sulphuric influence.  Suisse mocha.

Palate:  Tart and wine-heavy.  Tight, dry l’il black currants.  Spice.  A bit of that sulphur burns the tongue here too.  Somewhat bittering, to be honest.  Don’t really want to drink anymore to suss out further flavours.  Sorry.

Thoughts:  This could have been great.  Not sure if they thought they could bury a bad cask or three in this vatting or what the deal was, but…no dice.  This is definitely flawed, unfortunately, as I don’t recall any notes of brimstone on previous batches.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Kavalan Podium Review

Kavalan Podium027

46% abv

Score:  87.5/100


First things first…I’m almost as big a fan of Taiwan’s Kavalan as I am of Amrut or Karuizawa.  Let’s all face up to it together…there are some rather spectacular whiskies come out of the far corners of the world.  Asia, in particular.  I’ve shared notes on some of the big cask strength Kavalans from the Solist range, so how ’bout we look at one of the more wallet-friendly expressions now?

This is Kavalan Podium.  The Kavalan site mentions American oak casks mixed with their own refill casks.  Not sure what those refill casks had held previously, but there is certainly some sort of wine/sherry influence at work here.  That guesswork is a bit of what is rubbing a couple mates of mine the wrong way.  Kavalan play their cards closer to the chest than Doc Holliday at a Faro table.  Finding out anything related to these whiskies is difficult, to say the least, and occasionally an exercise in futility.  Interestingly enough…I’ve heard that even a trip to the distillery does not really do much more in the way of illumination.  Oh well.  We can be a little more forgiving here with our world whiskies, I suppose, as these drams aren’t being governed under the strict protocol of the SWA.

Irrespective of what we know or don’t know about these whiskies from Taiwan, if you simply let your senses be your guide you’ll find out the only truly important thing that need be discerned: is it good stuff?  And for the most part…the answer is yes.

Nose:  Lychee nuts.  Some borderline tropical notes.  Cadbury Fruit And Nut bar.  Cinnamon and ginger snaps.  Gummy candy.  Some floral and soapy  notes.  Maybe a whiff of smoke.  Orange rind.  Maybe a hint of cherry.  Slightly wine-y.  Little bit of pepper.  Finally…some almost barbecue notes.

Palate:  Nice initial arrival.  Some chocolate and wine again.  Some ginger.  Pepper.  Not a lot of the tropical influence that is hinted at on the nose.  Grapes and nuts.  Best way I could describe this is ‘peppered green grape skins, sprinkled in pepper and drizzled in sherry’.  Touch of leather.  Kinda bitters out a bit, but not detrimentally so.  Very drinkable, all told.

Thoughts:  These lighter Kavalan releases can’t hold a candle to the ethereal beauty of the Solist editions.  They’re nice drams, of course, but once you’ve had the big’uns, there’s just no going back.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt