Monthly Archives: May 2016

SMWS 33.70 “Keith Richards Meets Socrates” Review

IMG_2086SMWS 33.70 “Keith Richards Meets Socrates”

57.3% abv

Score:  74/100


It’s 12:15 am.  May 29th, 2016.  It is now the day after Ardbeg Day.  Or perhaps I should say Ardbeg Night, as they’ve elected to brand it this year.  Over the past few days I’ve been fortunate enough to taste both the Committee and general releases of this year’s bottling, ‘Dark Cove’.  Unfortunately, however, I have no samples of either to review at this time, nor had I opportunity to set pen to paper and capture thoughts when I did try them.  Oh well.  I’m sure I’ll get another chance at some point.  In the meantime I figured I’d go one better this eve, and – sticking to the theme – tackle four indie Ardbegs from the SMWS (Scotch Malt Whisky Society, that is).

I’ll be posting tasting notes for all of them in very short order, but let’s kick it all off with the earliest of the bunch.  This 33.70 was a cask from several years back now.  1998 to be a little more precise.  It was born of a sherry gorda that yielded 848 bottles (I know!  Whopping outturn!), and bottled as a 10 year old.  And I must admit that the name alone had me excited to try this one.

Unfortunately, high expectations and distillery fanboyism has led to disappointment as devastating as a wee boat smashed to kindling on a rocky cape.  I came in expecting to sail high on this one (rich, dark natural colour, high strength, relatively mature age and from earlier (read: better) years) but my hopes were immediately tempered.  Reality is a harsh mistress sometimes.  This decader is heavy and cloying in thick caramel (which is bad enough) and nothing – not even herculean phenolic might – can completely temper the sulphuric undertones.  Put as simply as possible:  This was a real dud barrel.  Such is the nature of the single cask game, I suppose.  Disappointing nevertheless.

Nose:  Syrupy, heavily sherried nose.  Damp horse blanket.  Almost a vague hint of sulphur.  Too much caramel.  Ok…definitely sulphur.  Something reminds of young(ish) port here.  Savoury stewed fruits (even a little tomato).  Stale ashtrays.  Wax crayons.  Poor quality Roman Nougat.  Smoke.  Organic, mineral notes.

Palate:  Ash.  Smoke.  Immediately drying.  Bitter chocolate.  More ash and tar.  Salt licorice.  Cooked greens.  Oversteeped lapsang souchong tea.  Caramel apple.  Slightly syrupy.  Very dry finish.  And yeah…hints of burnt matchsticks.

Thoughts:  Not my kind of Ardbeg.  At all.  Granted I am grossly intolerant of sulphur, but still.  I had such high hopes too.  This is just…no.  Let’s move on.


– Images & Words:  Curt

Laphroaig 15 y.o. 200th Anniversary Review

Laphroaig 15 y.o. 200th AnniversaryIMG_1406

43% abv

Score:  90/100


While the old Laphroaig 15 always seemed to take such a drubbing in its day, it’s quite interesting to see the esteem in which it is held today.  Be it a rose-colored glasses scenario or a don’t-know-what-you’ve-got-’til-it’s-gone sort of thing, either way, we’ve seen quite an about face in terms of how that malt is revered.

When it was revealed that Laphroaig would ring in its 200th anniversary with a re-release of the 15 year old a collective cheer resonated throughout the whisky world.  Unfortunately that news was sort of shackled to the revelation that we’d be waving goodbye to the beloved 18 year old.  To make matters worse it came to light that the 15 too would only be available for a short while and in limited quantity (72,000, I believe).  It would seem we’re destined to have nothing consistent in the Laphroaig age-stated range beyond a 10 year old.  Truly an unfortunate situation, as Laphroaig is a malt that tends to mature very well.

I haven’t been able to try the two 15s (older and newer) side by side as yet, but I can say that the differences are both unquestionably perceptible and not at all a bad thing.  Both malts are surprisingly gentle and subtle, but the newer expression bears bigger smoke and less soft fruit.  While certainly no new school phenol bomb, this 200th anniversary edition is rather reminiscent of older Laphroaig expressions (read: pre-market explosion releases arguably harbouring older casks in the vattings).  And while less fruity than the earlier runs, this one does bring a wealth of sweetness not seen in contemporary Laphroaig (excepting the stunning 2015 Cairdeas).

Personally, I think I prefer the earlier editions for their subtleties and complexities, but this one really is a beauty.  Glad I grabbed a couple when the opportunity was available.

Nose:  Very vibrant; moreso than I’d expected from this low of an abv.  Soft fruits, earthy peat and a clean breath of eucalyptus.  Green mint leaf candies.  Lime and melon.  Maybe a little grapefruit.  Smells like rain on the beach.  Medicinal and notes of damp paper.  Definitely more assertive than the old 15.

Palate:  Much bigger here.  Bombastic smoke.  Tar.  Charred seafood.  Lime juice.  Toasted marshmallow.  More citrus zest.  A touch of fennel.  Mineral and medicinal notes.  Drinks a little bigger than the rather anemic 43% would suggest, fortunately.  Some candy sweet notes.  Vanilla and peat.

Thoughts:  Great whisky.  Laphroaig killed it this year with their two bicentennial releases, though the Cairdeas definitely pips this one.  Would have been a knockout at cask strength.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

Nikka From The Barrel Review

Nikka From The BarrelIMG_1385

51.4% abv

Score:  88/100


Sadly it would seem that Japanese age-stated whisky is becoming even more scarce than its Scottish brethren.  We’ll be a little more lenient in this case, as Nikka From The Barrel is actually a blend, in spite of what your senses may lead you to believe.

I meant to get to this review a couple years back, actually, as a few bottles of this one have been dust-gathering in my basement ‘whisky warehouse’.  Something always seemed to come first.  Now, being couch-bound and only three days out of surgery, I figured it was maybe time to hit up a few of the outliers in the collection.  Perhaps we’ll hit the Red, Black and White series too.  We’ll see.

As to this one…

Well, like I said…no age statement.  Japan is dealing simultaneously with serious overdemand and vastly understuffed warehouses.  If this was Scotland I would suggest it had to do with poor foresight, but I don’t think anyone realistically could have foreseen the rise of Japanese malts to the world stage (or even blends, for that matter!).  I’ve read a few whisky wordsmiths suggest they raised early cautions, but 5, 6, 7 years ago is not the sort of early caution that alleviates pressures on a spirit that relies on the advancement of years for development of flavour profile.

Does this mean we’re more forgiving of Japanese NAS whiskies than Scotland’s sleight of hand?  Nah, not really.  Japan relies less on historical governance and adherence to legislated restrictions than does Scotland, ergo less need to cowtow to the party line.  Tell us it is young and delicious, share the age on the bottle and concede the cask make-up.  Let’s face it…it’s not like the SWA will come a-knocking on those eastern shores.  Unfortunately, the reality is that Japan has sort of positioned itself as the legitimate heir to the Scottish empire, inheriting (if unofficially) its standards, conventions and, in a way, exists almost like a Platonic ‘form’.  Good luck shedding that skin now.  Am I getting too deep here?  perhaps.  So let’s move on.

Long and short of it is that this 500 ml bottle of 51.4% blended whisky is a hell of a drink.  Bold and rich, balanced and nuanced.  Much to like here.  And though I don’t know the current pricing, this one was about $55 Canadian when I grabbed it a couple years back.  Not bad at all.

Nose:  Definitely noses like a Japanese whisky.  Chocolate, soft balanced spices and poached fruit.  Some savoury mince notes.  Pepper, raspberry and blackberry.  Notes of spiced dough.  Lovely nose.  I would guess malt, not blend.

Palate:  Arrives with spice and clean oak.  Second sips are softer.  Fruits and milk chocolate, like a Cadbury Fruit & Nut bar.  Tea and tart fruit juice.  Apple.  Orange and cinnamon.  Very rich and heavy in dried fruits.  Which we love.  Spicy and savoury.  Big whisky, this.

Thoughts:  This one benefitted from a fair bit of breathing time in the bottle.  Not that it was rough off the cork, but the time spent mellowing was well-invested.


 – Image and words:  Curt

Port Ellen (Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask) Cask #3887 27 y.o. Review

Port Ellen (Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask) Cask #3887 27 y.o.IMG_1483

50% abv

Score:  89/100


These little forays into Port Ellen nostalgia are about to become a lot more scarce than they have been in the past.  I think I may have three or four more malts from this closed little piece of heaven to review in the next…well…whenever, but after that the well ’round here is really running dry.  I do know of an opportunity or two in the future that may change this, but serendipity has to be on my side.  Crossing my fingers.

Anyway…this one was tasted (again) at a recent Dram Initiative event I hosted.  If you’re not ‘in the know’, the Dram Initiative is our local whisky club, named for that esoteric little conclave from Lost.  We like wordplay, and definitely like the more cerebral aspects of modern civilization (such as programming that actually had script and plot, as opposed to halfwit celebutantes and Jersey shore inbreds).  But I digress.  Suffice to say, the club put on one hell of an event for the 80 plus members in attendance.  Eight Port Ellens spread over a couple hours of history, sentiment and shared opinion.  This 27 year old indie from the Laing brothers was the second last of the eve, and, incidentally, the second favorite of the masses.

It’s a quintessential Port Ellen as far as I’m concerned.  Very typical of the distillery’s profile, and very much on ethat helps perpetuate the PE mystique.  I’ve said it many times before (but not sure whether or not I’ve done so here on the site): Port Ellen is a whisky that matures well.  Late 20s are a great (I’d argue optimal) age for this distillery.

Nose:  Citrus, and quite a bit at that (lemon and lime this time).  Vanilla.  Salt water.  Slightly herbal (hints of green tea).  Biscuity, with some nice fruit notes (orange and berry).  Chocolate.  Freshly milled grains (seems ‘dry’ and dusty).  Expected peaty, smoky notes are an afterthought.

Palate:  Very typical Port Ellen profile.  Great arrival.  Delicate.  Citric.  Quite oily.  Tastes of subtle white scone or biscuit.  Tart fruit notes.  Smoky and peaty.  Granny Smith apple skins.  Toothpicks.  Leaves behind salt licorice.

Thoughts:  Right in my wheelhouse.  A great outing from Port Ellen that wears its years well.


 – Images & Words:  Curt