Monthly Archives: February 2018

Arran James MacTaggart 10th Anniversary Edition Review

Arran James MacTaggart 10th Anniversary Edition

54.2% abv

Score:  87/100


Just a couple weeks back I walked the club through a range of ten single cask Arran releases that were all bottled exclusively for Kensington Wine Market.  Ten cask strength beauties ranging from seven years to two full decades of age.  Nary a bad drop in the lot.  I was already a fan of this wee island distillery, but this event cemented things to an even greater degree.

At it’s core it comes down to three basic elements:  1) Arran has a clean and estery base spirit coming off the stills that is cut just right.  2) The brand’s wood policy is excellent.  3) The talents at pulling together barrels for vatting are immense.  The sum of these pieces is a beautifully cohesive whole.  And what it ultimately leaves us is a rich portfolio of Arran malts that are always fun to sit down to and rarely leave me anything but impressed.

This particular expression just hit our shelves in Calgary a couple weeks back.  It’s a ten year old malt, composed as an homage to Master Distiller James MacTaggart, who’s been plying his craft at Arran in this coveted role for…yep…ten years.  A nice little tribute to a gent who I understand is an absolute gen of a human.  Nice to see these things in our jaded age.

As for the malt…clean and lovely.  Broadly appealing, I’d imagine and infinitely drinkable.  Almost a ‘session malt’ in my humble opinion, if maybe a tad too sweet for my own personal tastes.  But, hey…that’s just me.  My own personal leanings shouldn’t color what, ultimately, should be as objective a review as we can fathom.  The whisky is well-composed and without a trace of off-key notes.  Well worth a tip.  And the price is right for a cask strength beastie like this: ~$115.

Nose:  Clean and custardy.  White chocolate and sprinkles of ginger.  Poached pear.  Orange and cherry.  Cinnamon.  A slight popcorn note (maybe just the strong influence of ex-bourbon barrels bringing a corn-iness?).  Beignets with a dusting of powdered sugar.  Toasted oats.  White tea.  In short…soft fruits and soft white baking aromas.

Palate:  Orange.  Clean oak notes.  A lot of bourbon influence seeping through here.  I can only assume some very active barrels in the mix.  Plenty of spice.  Ginger and chili.  Some pepper.  Lots of syrupy sweetness.  Underripe Bartlett pears on the finish.

Thoughts:  Clean and easy-drinking.  Uber-sweet.  The ice wine of malt whisky (or should that appellation be reserved for Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or?)


 – Image & words:  Curt

Lagavulin 12 y.o. (2015) Review

Lagavulin 12 y.o. (2015)

56.8% abv

Score:  90.5/100


Just realized how few of the Lag 12 CS releases we’ve actually looked at here on ATW and kinda feeling a bit of shame right now.  This is definitely a release worth following year upon year.  Buying it, however, has gotten harder and harder.  Not for lack of availability, but because of sky high pricing locally.  Over the past couple of years we’ve gone from about $120 up to nearly $180.  Ouch.

But old man grumblings aside (“back in my day, we could buy Lagavulin 12 for…”) this is a really good malt.  Some of the 12s have seemed a little thin in recent years, almost one-trick-ponies in a sense.  This 2015 limited release, however, has a little more to it than initially meets the eye.  It needs a bit of time to develop in the glass, but allowing the clock to tick away long enough for the fruits and soft vanilla notes to come forth is well worth it.

I know there has been mention for a couple years now of declining quality of Lagavulin (especially as it relates to the 16 year old), but as I’ve said before, I haven’t really bought into that camp.  The 12 year old annual outturn merits a slightly different narrative, however, in that is batch-released and maybe isn’t targeted for the same sort of consistency the 16 is.  Ergo, a bit of a game of chance with each successive release.  So be it.  The quality is fairly consistently high, if not consistent in exact profile.

This is the most recent of the 12s I’ve tried.  Now let’s see if I can’t get my hands on the more recent ones (and maybe a couple older ones too).

Nose:  Warm rubber.  Dry earth.  Wet smoke.  Oily vanilla.  Red, black and green ju-jubes.  Citrus.  Brine.  A whiff of red berries.  A touch of orange zest.  Key lime pie.  An over-torched crème brulee.

Palate:  Over-toasted notes.  Salt licorice.  Oversteeped Lapsang Souchong tea.  Fisherman’s Friend cough drops.  Boiled greens.  Lemon.  Rather herbaceous as it develops.  Granny Smith apple skins.  Cinnamon-flavoured tooth picks.  Earthy peat and waves of smoke go without saying.

Thoughts:  Juicier than expected.  Multi-dimensional.  Nice smashing together of fruit and phenols.


 – Image and words:  Curt

Compass Box Phenomenology Review

Compass Box Phenomenology

46% abv

Score:  88.5/100


Held to impossible standards, maybe.  Such is the esteem John Glaser has written himself into.  Even the least of the Compass Box releases stands head and shoulders taller than any comparable whiskies on the market.  Glaser has done amazing things for the world of blending, especially as it relates to the world of blended malts.

A visit to the Compass Box website tells us that “phenomenology is a school of thought in psychology that focuses on phenomena or the experiences we get from our senses.”  Okay.  Leave no stone unturned in your search for intelligent and intellectual marketing.  This has always been a forte of the company that has brought us the Lost Blend, Enlightenment and Hedonism.  Tie that to packaging that shames nearly everyone else in the industry (excepting maybe Ardbeg) and whiskies that consistently hit harmonious heights that others merely gawk at and it’s no wonder Compass Box is such an industry darling.

In keeping with their stance on transparency in whisky, the good folks at CB have kindly jotted down the recipe for Phenomenology for us (on their website, of course, because to do so directly on the bottle itself is obviously such an overt threat to the dinosaurs in the SWA that we need to find workarounds to share the info).  Quite a concoction, this.  One you’d never peg blind, I’d wager.  72% Glenlossie, 24% Tamdhu, 2% Highland Park, 1% Talisker and 0.5% Caol Ila.  The latter three contributors – making up just 3.5% of the cumulative volume – bring so little heft to the final product that smoke is nothing but a suggestion.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most folks thought that was nothing more than barrel char notes.  I did.

So what do we think?  Well…it’s great, of course.  I’d expect no less.  Unfortunately it’s also almost forgettable.  Beautifully constructed, but just not enough personality to differentiate itself.  It’s like the models that grace the pages of the fashion magazines in your local grocery.  They’re all lovely, but they’re also interchangeable, nameless and soon forgotten.

Nose:  Clean grains.  Soft fruits.  Pear and underripe pineapple.  Fruit flan.  Vanilla.  Heavy cream.  White chocolate.  Just a hint of eucalyptus.  Syrup-heavy fruit cocktail.  A whiff of smoke somewhere in the far reaches.

Palate:  Firm, oaky backbone.  Crunchy apple and pear.  A touch of pineapple again, caramelized.  Lychee fruit.  Oily vanilla.  Lemon.  Alcohol-soaked angel food cake.  Decent finish that fades mostly on fruit and a slightly woody note.

Thoughts:  Quite lovely, all in.  Just maybe lacking a little of that oomph we expect from Mr. Glaser.  Especially at the $220 mark.  Left me wanting more.  Happy to drink it, but doubt I’d buy it at this price.  Compass Box aficionados should be well-pleased, though, I’d think.


 – Image and words:  Curt

Loch Dhu 10 y.o. Review

Loch Dhu 10 y.o.

40% abvv

Score:  55/100


Loch Dhu.  ‘Black lake’ in Gaelic.  Arguably the most infamous malt in history.  Note that I said ‘infamous’, not ‘famous’.

If you don’t know Loch Dhu, take a moment to Google.  You’ll likely find a few interesting things.  First: the Loch Dhu site, full of blather and useless sales pitches.  Second: the endless written word of well-warranted criticism.  And third: a bit of history surrounding this franken-malt and its genesis at Speyside’s Mannochmore distillery.

We could turn this review into a bit of a history lesson on the Mannochmore distillery, but nah.  Let’s just revel in the black filth that the good folks at Mannochmore voluntarily elected to inflict on the malt world.  I say ‘good folks’ but if you’ve had a taste of this stuff, and are anything like me, you’re probably going to question the applicability of such an appellation.  No one, in a spirit of benevolence, offers this to the masses without insisting upon a signature at the bottom of a waiver the length of War And Peace.

If you’re still not following where I’m leading here, let me spell it out.  Loch Dhu is A-W-F-U-L.  Truly and unquestionably awful.  Like, quite possibly the worst single malt I’ve ever tasted.

So how does this stuff end up to be the color of the tar?  Twice charred casks, so the story goes.  Uh, okay.  Yeah, that and a few gallons of E150a perhaps.  And you wanna tell me artificial coloring doesn’t impact flavor?  Riiiiight.  Let’s go with that.

Betcha expected me to go against the grain and try to find something nice to say, right?  Nope.  Fug that.

This score can likely be taken with a grain of salt.  I may have been overly generous.

Nose:  Burnt…something.  Over-stewed jam.  Leather on a hotplate.  Espresso.  Hoisin sauce.  Old dead flowers.  Maybe a hint of earthiness (is that peat?).  Savoury mince.  Over-rummed fruitcake.  Bitter tea.

Palate:  Bitter.  And sweet.  But not bittersweet.  And quite savoury.  Some sort of tart jam on burnt toast.  Cold espresso.  Something sort of weedy.  Black licorice.  Burnt demerara sugar.  and heavy molasses.  Some sort of offensive, unpalatable cough syrup (Buckley’s maybe?).  Sen Sens on the finish.

Thoughts:  There are one or two pleasant notes.  Shame there are dozens of unpleasant ones.  I expect this is the drink they hand you at the gates of hell before checking in for the long haul.  Hard to believe its only 40% abv.  Feels like a dumptruck of nitroglycerine being poured down my throat.  Shudder.


– Image & words:  Curt