Monthly Archives: August 2015

Top Ten Value Malts (With A Couple Caveats)

Just ’cause you asked…

Now…I know I’m gonna get lambasted for posting NAS malts here, but the question was related to bang for your buck malts and, as this is a retrospective sorta listing, it would be disingenuous to play politics here.  As I did with the last Top Ten, I simply sorted through my offline spreadsheet of scored whiskies and did a descending sort.  From there I peeled out all limited releases – be they long gone vintages, single casks, special releases, etc – and left just standard readily available expressions (albeit some are batch releases, as stated below in notes).  The list would have been bullshit if I left out the NAS malts.  It wouldn’t have answered the question.  That being said…sometimes you have to hurt the ones you love and I still say I’d buy an age-stated malt with a slightly lower score than support any corporate entity that expects my blind allegiance to their marketing department.

Enough from the soapbox already, right?  For those looking to find some good value malts at affordable prices (I suppose that is all relative, aye?), here are my top ten so far…

No limited releases, or stuff I know was only special in one batch or so, were considered for this list (i.e. Airigh Nam Beist, the Port Charlotte PCs, etc)

1  Talisker 18 (45.8% abv)     (93/100)

– Arguably the best standard 18 year old malt I’ve tried.  And tried again.  And again.  The perfect balancing act of soft fruits and very mild peat.  Revisited this stuff just two days back and yep…still shines bright.  Hard to find nowadays, but worth seeking out.  Note: Talisker 18 is not available in Canada for some reason.  The bottles I’ve tried so far (and have put aside for rainy days) are all older releases.  Hopefully the newer editions are as rock solid as these ones.

2  Ardbeg Corryvreckan (57.1% abv)     (92.5/100)

084– A malt that suffers very little from batch variation as far as I’ve seen.  When people speak of the might of Ardbeg this is the kind of whisky they’re referring to.  Massive and bombastic.  The smoke and maritime notes combine to perfect effect.  Like nearly drowning in the ocean, then drying out by a beach bonfire.  Always a treat to engage a bottle of this malt, especially when you can introduce someone to Ardbeg with it.

3  Kavalan Solist Sherry (59.4% abv*)     (92.5/100)

20121102_193444– A wildly inconsistent series by Taiwan’s Kavalan distillery.  I have tried the Solist Sherry at a score of as low as 75 or so and recently finished a bottle that would have outshone even this one I’m referencing here that came in at 92.5.  I would suggest trying before you buy wherever possible, but when Kavalan is firing on all cylinders it is a beaut!  Never ceases to amaze what these guys are able to accomplish in their short periods of maturation.  Semi-tropical conditions work wonders on this spirit.  (Score shown is for cask #S060710026)

4  Ardbeg Uigeadail (54.2% abv)     (92.5/100)

Mar102012 070– Neck and neck with the Corryvreckan, and typically depending on my mood as to which I prefer on any given day.  But while the Corry has been quite consistent throughout its batches, this one has seen a marked shift in terms of profile over the years.  Here’s the thing, though: it may be different now, but I don’t see any decline.  One of the most successful marriages of heavy peat and sherry ever bottled.  I’d argue this, moreso than the Ten, is the true face of the brand.  A classic.

5  Amrut Intermediate Sherry (57.1% abv)     (92/100)

jhfjfjhjlhg 061– Amrut may have built its name on the Fusion (and Jim Murray’s somewhat ridiculous score given to it for that matter), but the distillery’s Intermediate Sherry and Portonova are bigger, better malts in my opinion.  The intermediate sherry is a stunning whisky.  Earlier batches were a little better, but all I’ve tried have been great.  The exotic spices, creamy chocolate and jammy fruits are to die for.  Young whisky has no business tasting this good.

6  Amrut Portonova (62.1% abv)     (92/100)

– I’d be hard pressed to tell you which I prefer (this or the Intermediate Sherry), as both are stunning in their own right.  Additionally, both bring such mouth-wateringly fruity and concentrated jam-like notes to the fore while backing them with subtle and singular nuances particular to Amrut I simply can’t choose.  The distillery’s ‘make’ works well with the influence of these well-seasoned barrels.  The hot climes of Bangalore really allow those casks to breathe.

7  Lagavulin 16 (43% abv)     (92/100)

– I keep reading about Lagavulin 16 suffering from decline and in some sort of tailspin, but as a guy who nearly always has a bottle of this mainstay open I gotta say – much like with the Uigeadail – there may be a some slight change from time to time, but by no means have I seen this one falter.  I know Serge of Whiskyfun mentioned a while back that he feels the same as I do.  Not that we’re looking for vailidation, mind.  Truly a quintessential malt.

8  Aberlour a’bunadh (59.7% abv*)     (92/100)

– I struggled mightily to include this one, but in the end early biases won out.  As did hopes that we’ll see a slight upturn again someday.  This is an expression renowned for batch variance, and that’s part of the reason we love it.  However, it can and does swing from highest of highest to…well…just ok.  I don’t think I’ve found an outright bad a’bunadh, but I have been disappointed on occasion.  (*The score I’m showing here was from Batch 28, in case you were curious.)  We’re seeing a creeping of price on this one, so be careful where you buy, but generally even the worst a’bunadh is better than most of its contemporaries in terms of price point.

9  Bowmore Laimrig (54.4% abv*)     (91.5/100)

015– One of my absolute favorite malts of recent years.  I admit I do have some personal bias from lingering memories of a Feis Ile edition tried on Islay, but make no mistake this is a killer malt.  Huge sherry and middling peat.  Such a beautiful combination of sweet and smoky.  Again, this is a very jammy malt; thick and oily and one that lingers for a long time after tasting.  This is Bowmore’s phoenix malt in my eyes.  (*Score shown is for Batch 1)

10  Laphroaig 18 (48% abv)     (91.5/100)

– This is quite possibly the new ‘classic’ 18 year old on the market, outshining Highland Park’s 18 by miles and really only seeing competition from Talisker 18 or Caol Ila 18 (older editions, that is, and incidentally also not available in Canada).  Laphroaig gets really pretty with age.  The peat fades and the soft fruity notes that step forward are breathtaking.  Up until recently we could get this for about $90.  I think it’s about $110 now, but still a relative bargain for a malt like this.

…and finally… I really wanted to give Bunnahabhain 18 an honorable mention.  It should have been included here, but the most recent bottle I tried (and am still sipping from) has a very predominant sulphuric thread through it.  A deal-breaker, for sure.  Unfortunately this is not the first time I’ve found it in Bunna 18.  When you get a clean batch though…wow.  One of my favorite 18s of all time.

There you have it.  Contestable and debatable.  I’d love to hear your own thoughts on the subject.  Feel free to put your own top ten in the comments below.


– Curt

An Incredibly Pretentious And Undoubtedly Jaded Top 10

A few weeks back I had an email sent my way asking if I had ever posted my top five or ten whiskies, or if there was a way to search the site for this information.  The question was intriguing enough to send me back to the matrix I keep of all malts tried (or those I can recall anyway).  From there a quick sort on ‘scores’ brought the cream to the top and it was just a matter of throwing a few words and pictures together.  All of the whiskies below have been reviewed here on ATW at one time or another, and the photos are all rehashed, but really this is nothing more than a ‘greatest hits’ collection, right?  We don’t really expect new material when we buy a compilation album, do we?

Having said that, let’s dive in.  And remember…I’m not saying these are the best whiskies in the world; just my favorites so far.

Here they are, in order:

1     Black Bowmore 1964 42 y.o. (40.5% abv)     (97/100) barry's place pics 129– This is such in utterly incomparable whisky.  The closest analogy I can draw (and have drawn) is to a smoked glass of Five Alive.  The tropical notes here are mindboggling.  The sour, sweet, smoky combination is to die for.

2     Ardbeg Double Barrel Cask #1745 (49.0% abv)     (95/100) – This one pips cask #3151 (#3 on the list) by a just a smidge.  Its light and delicate nature is so paradoxical for an Ardbeg that its anomalous nature makes it unforgettable.  Again…rather tropical.

3     Ardbeg Double Barrel Cask #3151 (47.7% abv)     (95/100) 130– The darker femme fatale version of the previously mentioned malt.  This one shines through the dark with richer, more sherry-influenced nuances.  Seems a little less delicate than its sister cask, but that’s splitting hairs.

4     Ardbeg 1977     (46.0% abv)     (94.5/100) – Until a fortuitous meeting with the two Ardbeg listed above on a dark stormy night this was the holy grail of Ardbeg releases for me.  Fruity and smoky, complex and almost beyond compare, this one is still a favorite and has some great memories associated with it.  Wish I could get my hands on more.

5     Brora 35 y.o. 2013     (49.9% abv)     (94.5/100) 110– Brora continues to climb the ladder of favorite malts for me.  I’ve not yet met one I didn’t like, but this one leaves the others in its wake.  I went in with high expectations, but even they weren’t high enough to meet this towering beauty.  This is a sophisticated whisky that is immediately alluring, but deserves a lot of time to work out the intricacies.

6     Mortlach Generations 70 y.o.  Gordon & McPhail      (46.1% abv)     (94.5/100) – One of the world’s oldest whiskies.  I was fortunate enough to try both the 70 year old Mortlach and Glenlivet, but it was the Mortlach with its creaking notes of ancient books, wax and fuel that won me over.  Mindboggling that this one survived to this age in the barrel.

7     Amrut Greedy Angels     (50.0% abv)     (94/100) – Some may attribute personal bias here, but I fell hard for this one.  Really hard.  This was the first edition, offered up at eight years old, but nosing and tasting like a malt probably two decades older than that.  The amount of intrigue and magic Amrut managed to capture at such a young age (relative to Scotch, that is) is simply brilliant.

8     GlenDronach 1972 Cask #711     (49.8% abv)     (94/100) – I like this one the first time I tried it.  On all subsequent meetings I loved it.  Deep, deep resonant sherry, rich in dark stone fruits, notes of tropicalia and spice by the bucket.  This is a syrupy, meditative dram.  The team of elite Calgarians that selected this cask deserve endless accolades.  This is the heights of GlenDronach.

9     Talisker 35 y.o. 2012     (54.6% abv)     (94/100) 038– Tasted due to the generosity of one very kind – and very anonymous – individual, who managed to pull together an incredible night of Talisker for a very privileged few.  This is an absolutely incomparable malt.  Peat meets sweet meets seabreeze and pepper.  Amazingly deep and probably not to be matched by this distillery again.

10     Talisker 20 y.o. 2002     (62.0% abv)     (94/100) 049– Tasted at the same time as the afore-mentioned Talisker 35, this one is much younger, but bottles at a time when there were perhaps older barrels thrown in the mix.  ‘Cause let’s face it…a twenty year old should not taste this good.  Brilliant, brilliant whisky that shows a playful young heat to go with notes of maturity beyond its years.  The 62% abv is misleading.  This was an easy drinker.  An incredible whisky, to be sure.

Unfortunately, yes…I do realize this list reads like malt porn.  Anyone hoping the top ten would include a few everyday affordable malts…well…sorry ’bout that.

Feel free to drop a line or two below sharing some of your favorites malts from throughout the years.  I’m looking forward to hearing what lights you up.


 – Curt

SMWS 29.109 “Oak And Smoke Intensity” Review

SMWS 29.109 “Oak And Smoke Intensity”063

59.2% abv

Score: 92/100


From the Islay distillery closest to the wee fishing village of Port Ellen.  This is a 20 year old SMWS single cask release from a refill sherry butt.  No dead wood here, though.  This must have been one of the liveliest and sexiest of sherry casks ever.  The barrel influence is massive and the fruity depths plumbed here are leagues deeper than we usually see in any of the distillery released expressions of Laph—-g.

This is the kind of whisky I actively seek out: intense, brooding, thick and all-encompassing.  This perfect balance of peat and sherry is difficult to achieve, but when the balance is struck there’s simply nothing comparable.  I could go on for a while, but there’s really no point.  Utterly magic.

Nose: Syrupy and jammy.  Plums and grapes.  Ash and notes of smoke, with a strong peaty undercurrent.  Licorice.  Lanolin.  More rich, dark fruits and chocolate.  A clean thin stroke of oak and vanilla.  Like a cup of lapsang souchong tea, smelled from across a vast room.  Well-oiled leather and spiced nuts.  In short…stunning.

Palate:  Rich and oily.  Mouthcoating doesn’t even begin to describe this one.  Big, smoky and ashy delivery.  Licorice and black cherry.  Cough syrup.  Dark and earthy notes.  Bittersweet chocolate and espresso.  Drying, but only after a mouthwatering arrival.  Enormous and instantly enamoring.  Man…that cloud of smoke builds again at the back end.

Thoughts:  Love this malt.  One of my all time favorites, and truly majestic.  Sadly, I’m now down to the last 1/3 or 1/4.  Something this beautiful wasn’t meant to last, I suppose.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt


GlenDronach 18 y.o. Marsala Cask Finish Review

GlenDronach 18 y.o. Marsala Cask Finish275

46% abv

Score:  85/100


GlenDronach in all its incarnations is a personal favorite brand of mine.  They always keep it exciting and their adherence to a top notch wood policy keeps me loyal and spending money.  I’ve found a few oddball single casks that weren’t quite firing on all cylinders (for me, at least), but they were unquestionably the exception, not the rule.  Day in, day out the team at GlenDronach puts out great whisky.

While the distillery’s output is typically rather heavily sherried, here we have an 18 year old malt that spent its twilight days in Marsala wine casks.  I’m not certain as to the length of finishing period, but the impact is huge.  The whisky itself is a shimmering gold/orange/pink colour in the bottle (the likes of which I’ve only ever seen in one or two other malts) and the drink itself is syrupy, bold and fruity.  It’s exactly what should be expected: mature and elegant Highland whisky with a big burst of mouthwatering – then subsequently drying – wine fruitiness.

And does it work?  Yes.  But it’s a close one.  The wine is a little too big, to be honest, but like a spinning top or a Weeble, its off kilter quirkiness is enough to keep me engaged, as opposed to turning away.  I like this one.  More for the nose than the palate, but nevertheless I do like it.

Nose:  Big fruity, wine-y nose.  Spicy, rich wood notes. Orange zest (and juice!) and maraschino.  Some custard and vanilla.  Banana peel.  A slight nuttiness.  Ginger, mild cinnamon and a dash of pepper.  A faint floral soap breeze blows across the top of it all.  All in all…rather delicate and rather appealing.

Palate:  All the wine promised on the nose makes an appearance here.  Brace for it.  A moment or two in it puckers the back edges of the tongue.  Lots of syrupy fruit.  Now ginger again and truckloads of spice.  Wet oak.  Like cognac over poached fruit.  Walnut and almond.  Leaves behind fruits skins at the back end.  A little heavy on the wine, but not so top heavy that it falls over.

Thoughts:  Not too harmonious, really, but there is something that works about it all nevertheless.  I really, really like the nose, and sorta kinda like the palate.

* Thanks to our mate, J Wheelock, for bringing this one by not too long ago and generously pouring for a crowd of unsavoury sorts.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Brora 25 y.o. (2008) Review

Brora 25 y.o. (2008) Closed Distilleries Photos 017

56.3% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Brora has become my own personal rabbit hole.  My red pill, if you will.  I was lost to it completely upon first taste (an almost incomparable 2005 30 y.o.), and have continued to fall end over end with each subsequent expression I’ve tried.

Malts like this remind me of the double helix of a DNA strand, intricately weaving together the nuance of spirit itself with the complexity of historical context.  Those two pieces become inseparable in whiskies like this and are an intrinsic part of what makes them unforgettable.  It’s arguably part of the rationale used in justification of pricing schemes and collectability.  Let’s face it, Scotch is a drink built on history and tradition.  And Brora has an infinitely fascinating story.  Let’s not get too deep into it here, but do head over to our friend Serge’s Whiskyfun site to learn a bit more about Brora’s backstory.  Well worth the effort.

For now though, quick and dirty must suffice: Brora was a Highland distillery that last flowed in 1983.  It has subsequently been partially dismantled and now languishes dead in the shadows (literally) of the Clynelish distillery, its sister/replacement/pseudo-doppelganger/what have you.  The last remaining drops of Brora have crept further and further away from the laymen’s tax bracket, but nearer and dearer to our hearts.  Ergo we end up with a bunch of sentimentalists dying to try the malt, but an ever-decreasing chance of that happening.  Sad times indeed.

Is this the best Brora I’ve ever had?  Nah.  It’s exceptionally good, but we’re talking degrees of greatness now.  Like trying to pick the greatest quarterback of all time (Tom Brady) from a field of other great QBs, then looking back in prespective to see all of the hundreds of thousands of never-rans that can’t even compete at that big league level.  Make sense?

This 2008 Diageo official release was limited to just 3,000 bottles.  I feel blessed to have drunk my share.  And a little guilty ’cause I probably drank a few others’ shares as well.

Nose:  Great nose, built on fruits and more earthy, organic notes.  Peat, yes, but faint and very secondary to the dominant profile.  Pistachio, marzipan and cream.  Apple and orange and lemon.  Wet rock, grass and damp barley.  A light floral note and wisps of smoke.  Closer to Clynelish than the older, peatier Brora I lean toward.  Very multi-dimensional.

Palate:  Way bigger on the palate than the nose.  Oily and thick.  Waxy and flinty.  More smoke and peat here.  A nice toast/char note.  Also a dry nuttiness that reminds at once of almond and oaky Chardonnay.  Caramel apple and lemon.  Popsicle sticks or tooth picks.  Quite drying.  Leaves behind notes of old cask, herbal tea and green apple.

Thoughts:  Not in the same league as the 30s or 35s, but special nonetheless.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Dram Initiative #023 – Silent Stills: Closed Distilleries

Dram Initiative #23 – Silent Stills: Closed Distilleries

July 18th, 2015


Wow.  Eighteen bottles from nine closed distilleries, seventy-six necro-drinkers, six hundred eighty four Glencairn glasses and plenty of Irish insight. All this assembled for one purpose: to drink what was and is no more. If you were lucky enough to be in attendance you can say you drank liquid history.


The evening’s tasting was held in the upper whisky hall of the Marda Loop Community Centre. On tap for the event were whiskies from Banff, Dallas Dhu, Rosebank, Glen Mhor, Pittyvaich, Littlemill, St. Magdalene, Brora and Port Ellen. All these distilleries had one thing in common; they lacked a safe word from their directors or a savior like Jim Murray.


Calgarians weren’t exclusive to this event. Like the biblical plagues of old, swarms of unwashed clockwork orange Edmontonian Droogs rode the QE2 Highway from hell into Calgary prior to the tasting. They came at us from the high Northlands, near the Arctic Circle, fixed on the idea of corrupting our innocence and consuming all the whisky in Calgary. It has been said that they hate us cause they ain’t us. Regardless, we Calgarians showed them grace, tolerance and compassion in allowing them to join our tasting … although I am very glad we had security at the door.

Also in attendance was Andrew Ferguson, better known as the legend of Kensington Wine Market; Dave Breakenridge, Associate News Editor of the upscale & prominent sunshine girl newspaper; along with Rob & Kelly Carpenter, the founders of the Scotch Malt Whisky Association Canada, an association that promotes single cask AGE STATED whiskey and other alcoholic beverages less important than whisky.


Our spirit guide and orator for the evening was none other than the Dram’s own president and whisky dominatrix, Curt Robinson. With a slide show and carefully scripted address, Curt whipped open the doors to each of these long scuttled distilleries just long enough to give us a peek at the rich history which once existed.

It would be fair to say that all the malts were enjoyed, save one sherry bomb, and a few, like the Banff, Brora and Port Ellen, stood out. Detailed tasting notes will follow once Curt has had time to imbibe the samples saved. All the whiskies presented carried an AGE STATEMENT with an average age around 24 years. The fading echo of these nine single malts was consumed in the following order:

1)  Rosebank 12 y.o. (Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask) Refill Hogshead Ref #1564
March 1993 – June 2005     50% abv     332 Bottles
Born 1840     Final Production 1993     Property redeveloped 2002

2)  Littlemill 21 y.o. (A.D. Rattray) Bourbon Hogshead Cask #560
April 4, 1991 – May 28, 2012     50.6% abv     290 Bottles
Born 1772*     Final Production 1994     Destroyed by fire 2004
(*Bushmills was founded in 1608)

3)  Saint Magdalene / Linlithgow 24 y.o. (Murray McDavid Mission Gold) Bourbon, Port Finish
1982 – 2006     58.3% abv     446 Bottles
Born 1798     Final Production 1983     Property redeveloped

4)  Pittyvaich 15 y.o. (Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask) Refill Hogshead Ref #2390
October 1990 – January 2006     50% abv     340 Bottles                               
Born 1974     Final Production 1993     Demolished 2002

5)  Banff 32 y.o. (Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask) Refill Hogshead Ref# 3521
March 1974 – April 2007     47.8% abv     272 Bottles                                              
Born 1863     Final Production 1983     Destroyed by fire 1991

6)  Dallas Dhu 32 y.o. (Gordon & MacPhail) 
1979 – 2012     43% abv                                                                                                                                                     
Born 1898     Final Production 1983     License to distill withdrawn 1992     Turned into a museum

7)  Glen Mhor 27 y.o. (The Cooper’s Choice) Hogshead Cask#1350
1982 – 2009     46% abv     345 Bottles                                                                                                                         
Born 1894     Final Production 1983     Demolished 1986

8)  Brora 25 y.o. (Diageo) 
2008     56.3%     3,000 Bottles                                                                                                                                
Born 1819     Final Production 1983     Dismantled

9)  Port Ellen 25 y.o. (Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask) Sherry Cask #4176 KWM
February 1983 – July 2008     54.7% abv     210 Bottles                    
Born 1825     Final Production 1983     Converted into a malting facility


Sadly these distilleries were all victims of over production during the seventies and eighties leaving Scotland drowning in excess production. Unfortunately, single malts weren’t as popular as they are today resulting in most of the stock being put into blends with little left over for today’s single malt drinker.

To heighten the evening’s drinking pleasure the Closed Distilleries whiskies were enjoyed with the Closed Distilleries soundtrack which included such songs as, CLOSING Time – Semisonic / CLOSE To You – The Carpenters / CLOSER To The Heart – Rush / Don’t Stand So CLOSE To Me – The Police / CLOSER – Nine Inch Nails / CLOSE To You – New Kids On The Block / CLOSER – Kings Of Leon / Get CLOSER – Linda Ronstadt / So CLOSE – Matthew Good. The soundtrack was available for purchase in the lobby after the event.


As a ‘thank you’ to committee members and volunteers who stayed behind to help clean up after the liquidated whisky jamboree, a bottle of Japanese whisky from the closed Hanyu distillery, SMWS 131.2 with the AGE clearly STATED at 13 years old, was swigged, glugged and knocked back, leaving only the green Irish skeleton of a once desired outturned bottle and the unchaste cleaners wanting more.

Shout out to Curt for countless hours dedicated to researching, coordinating and speaking to this tasting.  Stephen King couldn’t have done a better job speaking on behalf of these dead distilleries, many thanks!


Also, cheers to the Dram’s full patch and prospect committee members for the hard work in making this tasting happen. Although this was probably our most ambitious event to date it was just another in a line of award winning tastings with more to come. All Dram tasting events are intended to help raise awareness of how good AGE STATED whiskies can be.

Final thoughts and some closing words ………… Let’s hope that the producers of whisky learn from history, so that future whisky drinkers aren’t as lucky as we were.



Your Humble Drudge,

– Maltmonster

– Photos: Pat Carroll

One Million Thanks

Wow.  ATW just hit one million views.  That means one million visits by people here solely for whisky chat (and endless drivel, offensive blatherings and inane diatribes).  Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your thoughts along the way.  It’s much appreciated, and a huge part of what keeps me sane.  Slainte!

One Million

– Curt