Monthly Archives: April 2016

An Update

Apologies for the infrequency of updates in recent days.  Bit of a challenging time.  Lost someone dear to me this morning after a lengthy struggle.  I’d be lying if I said this hasn’t occupied much of my mind space over the past couple months.  An upcoming surgery has kept me preoccupied, and as of last week I find myself in career transition mode.  A lot of stress and uncertainty leading up to this have been a greater distraction than I care to admit.

In short…head hasn’t been in the game.  But we’ll fix that.  Ever onwards.

Thanks for support and many warm comments.

More soon.


– Curt

Port Ellen (Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask) Cask #3915 24 y.o. Review

Port Ellen (Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask) Cask #3915 24 y.o.IMG_1452

50% abv

Score:  88/100


On the eve of an unprecedented Dram Initiative Port Ellen tasting (well…couple eves away actually) I thought it would be apropos to post a few notes on one of the expressions we’ll be sharing with 80 of our closest mates.

As this one is from nearly a decade ago now, we’ll not get too longwinded.  With an outturn of only 476 bottles, chances are not too many will have had an opportunity to try this Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask selection.  That being said…we preserve these things for posterity and to add to the written lore of Port Ellen.  The more details captured now, the better the record in years to come.  That’s sort of the way I look at these jottings anyway.

Slightly atypical of Port Ellen, but not too far off the path, this one still retains the signature fragility and citric tarry-ness, but instead of a background of soft fruits starting to make their presence known through age, this one rests more on the phenolic encumbrances of all things Islay.  Namely…seashores, smoke in the air, medicinal nuance and the remnants of fire.  Oh yeah…and a hefty noseful of warm rubber welly boots.

Not a top tier PE, but a lovely dram irrespective and certainly a treat to try.

Nose:  Lemon.  Rubber, tar and ash.  A touch of creosote.  Medicinal top notes.  Smoke and earthy notes.  Pepper.  White chocolate.  Not a lot in the way of fruits.  Oceanic.  Dust (as in in old books).  Wet rocks.  Barley is easily detectable.  Peat and smoke.

Palate:  Whoa.  Much more smoke now.  Dry and ashy.  Still rubber.  Now licorice.  Some dry, bitter citrus zest.  Oak.  Lemon on charred scallops.  Underripe green apple.  A little emergent fruit now.  Peaty, earthiness.  Smoke grows and lingers, almost like toasted wood.

Thoughts:  Fruity notes do eventually emerge, but this is not a fruity dram.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

Ardbeg Perpetuum Review

Ardbeg PerpetuumIMG_1428

47.4% abv

Score:  89/100


Ardbeg really takes a drubbing these days.  Seems to be everyone’s favorite whipping boy.  Now, I can hear the collective groans out there and know the immediate reaction will be something akin to ‘awwww…poor Ardbeg…fleecing us with NAS expressions and making a fortune once or twice a year with so-called limited releases’.  The sentiment seems to be along the lines of feeling sorry for the Kardashians for not having any privacy.

Here’s the thing: I hate – as much as, or more than, most whisky lovers – this constant barrage of shitty NAS malts that are flooding the market, but the simple fact of the matter is that Ardbeg consistently releases bloody great expressions.  Even those that don’t take the highest place on the platform are still miles better than most new whiskies hitting the shelves.  Additionally, the prices, while frustrating over the past few years, are suddenly not far out of line with most other new releases.  Not that that is justification, mind, but it is acknowledging that in this case at least the devil we know is consistent in terms of quality, while the others are suspect (at best).

The cynics out there will lambaste me for this one.  So be it.  I’m practically past the point of giving a f*ck.  Anything positive I say about NAS expressions is seen as treasonous to the campaign against this initiative.  I get it.  Unfortunately my own morality when it comes to being honest supercedes any sort of agenda.  Bloggers are constantly under scrutiny regarding their morality.  I’d like to think I still have mine in tact.  So let’s say it here and now, in hopes of deflecting some of the questions that will inevitably come afterwards:

This is an appeal to the folks at LVMH/Ardbeg:
Please start putting age statements on these expressions.
It is known and accepted that Ardbeg is generally served up fairly young.
That’s why we like it.  Peat works well in youth.
Wear that number proudly.
I’ll buy.  We’ll buy.

There.  PSA over.  Let’s get on with it.

Seems I may have liked this one more than some reviewers out there.  Granted while I have been fortunate enough to try it a few times through others and at tasting events and festivals, and was given a sample not long ago, I do not have a bottle kicking around to work through and note the evolution over time.

Perpetuum was released in 2015 to commemorate the distillery’s 200th anniversary.  I think most of us had our fingers crossed for a relaunch of the 17 to mark this special occasion (and unbelievable milestone!), but alas…it wasn’t meant to be (yet?).  We do know that Ardbeg is now able to warehouse more than they are releasing, so hopefully team green is building up to some sort of healthy surplus of mature malt.  Time will tell, I suppose, but my fingers remain crossed for a more advanced age-stated addition to the core range.  At the time of writing, word has trickled down of a new Ardbeg 21 on the horizon.  I can only imagine the cost and limited availability.

Perpetuum.  Infinity.  Or perpetuity, to be a little more precise.  Gotta hand it to the marketing team here.  There is always a clever spin at play.  My own slightly more cynical point of view falls a little closer to Sage Serge’s thoughts, though, if I’m to be honest.  But let’s let the whisky speak for itself.

BTW…I cannae recall the ages of malts that went into this vatting, but I think it was a marriage of 7 to 13 year old Ardbeg.

And did I mention how much I detest this being yet another NAS expression from Ardbeg?

Nose:  Soft candied fruits.  Lime.  Ash and smoke.  Soft doughy notes, indicative of a bit of aged malt in the mix.  A little bit of pear and a little bit of lime.  Maybe green melon.  Vanilla softens things here.  Still sooty, charry and all that.  Y’know…Ardbeggian.  But muted.

Palate:  Now some licorice.  Smoke.  Earthy peat, but also very approachable for a dram from Islay’s heaviest of heavyweights.  Wet charred wood.  Salty and tingly.  I love how soft and hard this is at the same time.  A yin and yang malt for certain.  Green apple skins.  Citrus, of course.  Charred scallop.

Thoughts:  Ardbeg back on top.  Nice to see some decently mature spirit in the mix softening things up.


– Images & Words:  Curt

Kavalan Solist Bourbon Cask #B100811025A Review

Kavalan Solist Bourbon Cask #B100811025AIMG_1423

58.6% abv

Score:  90/100


This is the 13th release I’ve tried from the Solist series.  Solist, if you’ve not been acquainted, is the cask strength, single cask range from Taiwan’s Kavalan distillery.  As with any single cask releases, we’re bound to find a mix of diamonds and coal.  I’ve tried a few of these young malts that soared well into the 90s (in my opinion anyway), and I’ve also tried a couple sulphured sherried ones that were almost grotesque caricatures.  Typically though, I’ve found the sherry cask matured Solist usually outshines the ex-bourbon.  But we’re not looking at the sherried version today.

This release, tasted with the Liquorature club a few months back, was a very pleasant surprise.  It’s big on tangy fruits and leans much more toward the sweet camp than the spices that have dominated some of the other editions I’ve tried.  The distillery’s sub-tropical setting allows for a lot of oak expansion – molecular spread in the barrels, if you will – permitting the spirit to pull from deep within the tight oak grain.  Hence the reason these malts mature so quickly, and with such big flavour.

On the plus side of things…this is hell of a whisky, mature beyond it’s short life in wood (maybe 5 years?).  On the down side…no age statement.  C’mon, Kavalan.  We know it’s young.  How ’bout telling us just how young?

Typical of these cask strength limited runs, this one came out at a shockingly low outturn.  Hefty angel’s share in this warm environment.  Only 187 bottles hit the markets after all was said and done.

Nose:  Sweet and fruity.  Soft caramel notes (surprising for a nearly 60%er).  Like all Kavalan, smells mature beyond its years.  Gummy candies.  Maybe some Roman Nougat.  Toasted marchmallow.  Red Dino-sours.  Gorgeous soft spices.  More on nutmeg than cinnamon.  Definitely a big bourbon influence from either some lively wood or just a very humid environment leading to cask breathing.

Palate:  A huge amount of fruit again.  Red fruits, juicy and sweet.  Loving the sweet barley notes that shine through.  Bigger spice here now.  Like sugar cookies on steroids.  More bourbon notes, by way of cinnamon and synthetic cherry.  Loud oaky background.  Oily.  Great long finish.

Thoughts:  Unquestionably a 90 point malt.  Absolutely mouthwatering.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

Why Honest Inquiry Matters More Now Than Ever

Less than two years ago I was buying Aberlour a’bunadh for about $75 a bottle. Now…no less than $107.  Lagavulin 12 sold for about $120 back then.  I can’t grab it for less than $160 in most places now.  Highland Park 18?  Give or take a $30-$40 a bottle increase of late.  Talisker 25 landed here about a year and a half ago at $225 or so.  That same edition has been jacked up to over $400 in most local shops.  Perhaps the most egregious example though is Glenfarclas 40 year old.  Bottles here were retailing between $400 and $500.  Now?  $1,100.  Same malt.  Same packaging.  And not even an attempt to convince consumers that there is a rationale behind the 220% increase during this time period.

Ok. The dollar is weak, some say.  Not that weak.  Barrels are in short supply and costing waaaaaay more.  Nuh uh.  Many from within the industry have spoken and written about this.  Especially in regard to bourbon barrels.  Rubbish.  Producers can’t keep up to demand.  Nope.  Not even remotely true.  I’ve spoken to many folk in production roles who say they are producing in surplus right now to ensure no future shortage of mature stocks.  Ah, but mature casks have been decimated, right.  Yes, probably.  I’ll concede that.  So it could be fairly assumed we’d see a bit of an uptick in prices for older malts.  After all, scarcity often determines market, aye?  But how does this explain the soaring price of young malts and non-age stated expressions?  If you’ve been drinking whisky for a while – and know your stuff – your senses will absolutely and unquestionably attest to the fact that the malt in the bottle is young, young, young.  You can’t hide that.  The sticker prices we’re seeing though, are not out of line for what would have graced whiskies reaching the two decade mark just a couple dozen months back.  Boiled down, this effectively means that many drinkers are priced out of older malts that were previously affordable to them, and are now being stretched even for what were, generally speaking, ‘entry level’ expressions.

So, knowing this, as we do, why are we not speaking up more? Why are we not writing articles and sending in notes to whisky publications?  Why are we not asking questions of the ambassadors at the festivals or via social media?  Are we that afraid of questioning an authority that seems to have no qualms about totalitarian pricing schemes?  When we have questioned them in the past about other related issues such as NAS, we were haughtily put in our place or blacklisted.  Ok, so be it.  Dissent is never accepted with open arms.  But think of it this way:  a few months back the world went mad when the price of cauliflower jumped from $2.99 to $7.99 a head.  Same with celery.  The news reported it daily.  Facebook and other social media was a seething hotbed of indignation.  And now?  Hey…I had $2.99 cauliflower for dinner last night.  Not kidding.  If the furor hadn’t gained traction I’d bet we would still be paying those prices even if there were some sort of agricultural recovery from whatever shortage or plight there had been.

The reality is that the less that is said in the public sphere, the easier it is for the brands to continue policies of escalation. Malt lovers have become the epitome of ‘bloody, but unbowed’.  No matter what prices are thrown at us we seem to be unwilling to buckle and say ‘I can’t afford this’, or even more importantly in terms of making a case, ‘I won’t afford this’.  Why not?  Pride?  Are we trying to impress someone(s) by continuing in the face of outright gouging?  Or are we simply so enamoured and in love with either the spirit or the cool cache that comes with it that we refuse to knuckle under or bite the hand that feeds?

It’s been said before in the debate against NAS malts, the way to truly make a dent in this madness is to hit ‘em where it hurts. In the pocketbook.  Vote with your dollar, in other words.  I get it, but let’s be realistic.  That only goes so far when the bottles keep disappearing from the shelves irrespective of a devoted few boycotting or simply disengaging from the madness.  And why are they still selling?  As I hinted at above, I think there are some folks out there that are simply keeping up with the Joneses and overreaching their financial stations.  Hey, I’m guilty.  I’ve done it.  I also think there will always be non-whisky folk that ignorantly purchase bottles as gifts based on retailer’s suggestions or prestige name recognition.  And finally…there will probably now always be those out there who see a perceived opportunity to turn their whisky buying into some sort of investment.  They buy with an eye to the horizon for future values, not realizing (or willfully pretending otherwise) that they’re buying at the top of the bubble (or near it) and any profit made will be slim indeed.  Showing up too late to the party, in other words.

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m simply speculating.  I’ll be the first to admit that the logic of this current state eludes me.  Even more confusing is that it seems to escape the understanding of every knowledgeable whisky drinker I know, and yet it keeps getting worse and worse.  Anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) should have some idea as to how I see this one playing out.  The takers keep taking ‘til the rest of us have nothing left to give.  Things only bend so far before they break.  At that point the whole ruddy thing collapses.  And then we’re back to mourning a new round of lost distilleries.

So what do we do? It’s simple, I think.  Unfortunately it won’t make you any friends.  The answer is that we start speaking up and asking questions.  With honesty and intent.  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Youtube, forums, comment sections, direct emails, face to face conversations…whatever tools and platforms you have.  It’s time to start asking the tough questions of the owners and brands…’why are we paying the prices we’re paying?’  And when inevitably you get the infuriatingly condescending and dismissive response from some notorious reactionary such as Nick Morgan, be ready to walk away from the brand that can’t tell you why their pricing schemes are built to exclude you.  It seems they don’t want you anyway if the cost is beyond your means.  Let’s acknowledge it for what it is.  Hey, I recognize that a Ferrari is not in my budget, but I have to admit that I love the hell out of my F-150.  From the driver’s seat I can look down at the guy in his Ferrari that is racing to the next red light, where we’ll again be side by side.  Life is full of checks and balances.  Just sayin’.

So here I’m asking you to start throwing some questions around a bit. Start being a little bit louder.  Do it with respect, but do it.  You’re only going to make it better for all of us.


 – CurtVendetta

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2015 Review

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2015IMG_1410

46% abv

Score:  86.5/100


Let’s do one in honour and memoriam of a very fine man.  Just days ago John McLellan, Kilchoman’s distillery manager and native Ileach, lost his battle with cancer.  I had spoken with owner Anthony Wills just five or six months back at a local festival here and was told that John was not well, but they were hoping to see him back again as soon as possible.  Those that met John will know what a loss this is to the whisky world.  A kind man with a really big heart and warm smile.  Seeing his signature on this bottle is reminder of the fleeting nature of our time here.  Rest easy, John.  Thanks for all.

With that said, let’s keep it short and sweet in regard to the bottle at hand.  We’ve drunk plenty of Machir Bay in our time.  In fact, even going so far as to review it here a wee while back.  So let’s see how things hang together for the sake of consistency.  Also assuming this is still about a five year old malt, give or take a little on either side.

Coming into this one I’d expect nothing but a scrappy young thing with big billowy smoke and an almost aggressive edge.  That’s perfectly in my wheelhouse though.  And that’s exactly what we get here.  Peated Islay whiskies work well at young ages, as we’ve discussed here before.

My wife came home with this bottle for me a couple days back.  She’s sweet that way.  I’m currently in early planning stages for my next trip over to Islay this September, so perhaps it was the constant mentions of peat mecca that had her feeling generous.  Who knows.  Either way, timing is everything.  Fun to revisit this one.

Nose:  Young, feisty, farmy peat.  A cola-like sweetness.  Smoky and briny.  Citrus, salt and pepper.  But with all these ‘sharp’ notes it’s still somehow soft.  A touch of rubber and new make spirit.  Not too nuanced and complex yet, but it will be in time.

Palate:  A very faint touch of peach.  A lot smoke.  Ash.  Anise.  Burnt apple pie.  Pepper.  Dirt.  Tastes of the new make, but that’s ok here.  The Kilchoman new make is nice indeed.  Easy drinking youth.

Thoughts:  An absolutely beautiful strapping young malt.  And unquestionably Kilchoman.  Great testament to the ways in which young whisky can be brilliant.


 – Images & Words:  Curt