Monthly Archives: July 2019

Bruichladdich Black Art 6.1 Review

Black Art was always Jim McEwan’s baby. If you’ve ever been privy to one of his Bruichladdich tastings, you’d know he prizes this expression dearly. Said tastings also usually involved a recitation of a story involving Heidi Klum, but we’ll leave that one for Jim’s telling. The crux of the tale, though, is that the Black Art recipe is really not meant for mortal eyes. Everything about its mad design is hush hush, as the alchemy behind its creation was supposedly Jim’s most dearly held secret, meant for him and him alone. Until he took Laddie’s current head distiller, Adam Hannett, under his wing, that is. Now, a few years removed from Jim’s Bruichladdich exeunt, the Black Art magic lives on under Adam’s watchful eye.

So, what is the BA secret? Lemme see how best I can relate this (in typical cheeky fashion, of course)…

Can you imagine spending decades of your life working your way through the degrees of some Dan Brown Templar-esque secret society; pouring countless amounts of tithe money into the organization; sacrificing any precept of self-gratification through secret-slipping…and finally, finally, getting to the root of it all. Finally reaching that apex moment of great revelation only to discover it’s little more than…the Caramilk Secret? That’s kinda what we have here. I know we’re supposed to be wowed by this esoteric bit of alchemical concocting, but honestly…Bruichladdich’s Black Art is really just a cuvee of various wine casks. Yep. That’s the big secret. So be it. But hey…At least the packaging is cool.

And to be fair, in the typical Bruichladdich drive for transparency, we are given both vintage and age statement here. 1990 distillate, 26 years old. Of course, there could be older spirit in here, but it almost certainly wouldn’t be by much.

This is edition 6.1. And unlike the decimal series used for Octomore, the BA releases are limited to the .1’s. Ergo, this is the sixth version of Black Art we’ve seen, and the second version released since Jim McEwan moved on. Jim’s protege, Adam, is a talented dude, no two ways about it. He’s also got a little of the McEwan showman in him. But the spiel means nothing if the juice he’s barking about ain’t got the bite to back it up. And Black Art definitely has bite. While Jim’s creations (the large majority of them, anyway) tended to be all about bombast and boldness, there seems to be a little more nuance to Adam’s approach. In short, he might have a slightly more subtle palate than Jim. Easy, now…I said more subtle; I didn’t speak qualitatively on either distiller. I’m a junkie for Bruichladdich. You guys know that. I love both these cats.

But Black Art? Meh. Not my cup of wine-soaked whisky, if I’m being honest.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Always so jammy and sweet on the nose. But there is a faint hint of struck match too. Peppered berries. Raspberries in milk chocolate. A bit of artificial florality. Strawberry shortcake. The toasted (maybe crisped) top of a crème brulee. The fruit and spice are in nice harmony. And there is a neat old dusty, dunnage note buried in there too. It’s just the dissonance of too much wine that is like the squeal of an out of tune violin in an otherwise pleasant orchestral arrangement.

Palate: Sweet arrival, then wham! There’s the wine. A lot of fruit happening here. And less tannic than expected; in fact, it stays rather mouthwatering. That would be those bush berry flavours again (mostly raspberry again…what kind of wine casking was this?!) A brief hint of cedar (almost humidor-esque). Some more spice and some herb (cracked pepper and maybe a whiff of fennel). This is the softer side of the Laddie wine work, but it’s still too heavy for me.

Finish: Altogether too much of that weird, sour wine tang. And it takes way too long to fade. A little bit of green grape and oak at the end. Maybe some lychee.

Thoughts: These whiskies are lost on me. I appreciate some of the individual notes (especially those that scream of age!), but the whole is a bit of a cacophony for me.

80/100 (I concede it’s not awful, but it’s just not for me. 80 seems fair)

Heading Home

And soon I shall return again, to Islay’s gentle shore
And see across the tide waves wide, the bright lights of Bowmore
Or wander through Bruichladdich, as night begins to fall
And see the moonlit beam on lovely Lochindaal

 – Iain Simpson (The Lights of Lochindaal)

We’re about two months from go time for the 2019 Calgary tour contingent. This will be the fourth group I’ve taken over in the last eight years (that doesn’t include solo jaunts). And the requests keep rolling in. There are two potential journeys back to the homeland in 2020 coming to fruition as we speak.

But let’s concentrate on the matters at hand. Namely, the trip looming just over the horizon. I’ll try to do a little better this time at keeping you apprised of how things are coming together, how they unfold, and how it all wraps up. It was all ‘great guns’ with trip updates for the first couple journeys, but man…growing up sucks. My time is less and less my own as the days go on. I’m 41 now and feeling every day of my years. Finding daylight hours for jottings like these seems to be getting tougher and tougher. But if these are the worst of our problems, so be it.

But let me give you the rundown. I think we’ll keep it to first names here, in the event any of the lads prefer to maintain some semblance of their anonymity. Something tells me that’s a non-issue with these blokes, but y’never know (especially as the stories begin to come to light, aye?) This crew? Scott: a gent who came across with me once before (2012), Kent: an old friend (old, as in long-time, not age), Dave (ditto, also one of my football mates), Devin (a man with one of the most laidback personalities I’ve encountered in some time; in other words…a prefect travel companion), and Doug (a sandbaggin’ sonuvagun that has forgotten more about whisky than most people will ever learn). With a collective like this, it’s gon’ be a time, b’y!

We’re heading across in a few separate groups before meeting up in Glasgow for a wee bit debauchery, a tour of Auchentoshan, then the wee hop across to that hunk of Hebridean heaven: Islay. We’ll knock around the island for a few days, ford the great waters back to the Mull of Kintyre for a couple days in Campbeltown, then head back to Glasgow to see our mates at the Bon and the Pot Still.

Cannae wait.

And the details shall be yours as they unfold. Planning notes, trip updates, on-location images and details (I think!), and post-trip recollections. Perhaps we can even sucker some of the others into contributing some thoughts here.

Watch this space.


A New Category

I’ve added a new category on the left side of the page, and called it ‘Silent Stills’. From here on out (and retroactively, as time permits), I will tag all of the closed distillery notes to it. This is the stuff that really lights me up. Not to mention, I will have plenty of reviews of some truly special closed distillery bottlings in the coming days.

Killyloch 36 y.o. Review

Yes. For real. Killyloch. One of the most scarce single malt whiskies in the world. This 36 year old official bottling was a vatting of the last half dozen proprietary casks of Killyloch in the world. If you’re unfamiliar with the name (and yes, most of us are), Killyloch was produced at the Moffat complex in Airdrie. It was one of three single malts and a grain that were produced on site. The malts were Glen Flagler, Killyloch and Islebrae. The grain was Garnheath. All four are long gone now, of course, but Killyloch became the earliest casualty of the complex, when its stills – having only been christened in 1965 – were decommissioned just a few years later and absorbed by Glen Flagler. (Sounds a little like the Malt Mill / Lagavulin saga, aye?) In all, I’d guess there were maybe 6 or 8 years of production.

It’s a shame the abv on this 36 year old is a meager 40%, but the bottle actually says this is natural cask strength – and to be fair, it is quite decently oily – so let’s just assume honesty and transparency are to be taken at face value. And the whisky? Man…what can I say? This is the true definition of liquid history. It’s a relic, for sure. Tasting it nowadays is anachronistic to the point I kinda feel like I’ve stepped into an episode of the Twilight Zone. Fantastic stuff, and spectacularly special to be able to try. Now, if only there were a drop of Islebrae to be found…

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Orange, peach and tangerine. Very fruity. Bourbon notes are strong here behind the rich, tropical notes. Cherry. Old dead wax. Polished church pews and other antique-y notes. A slight peatiness. White dough. White chocolate. A deep vein of spice running through the whole. Citrus oils.

Palate: Very soft arrival. Spicy, to the point of being almost rye-like. And yet, still sorta bourbon-esque too. A little peat (but soft). Lemon cream pie. Lemon Drops. A bit of licorice. Some marzipan. And more of those soft orange peachy tones.

Finish: Longer than expected. Lovely and creamy. Reminds of a creamsicle.

Thoughts: Stunned silence.

91/100 (could likely add an extra point or so just for the sheer enormity of what we’re tasting).

Ardbeg Drum Review

I wanted to love this. I really did. As soon as they announced this year’s Ardbeg Day release was going to be rum cask-matured I immediately went into mental damage control. It’s okay. Relax. It might still be good. You don’t much like wine casks, but Grooves was good, right? Rum, though? Really? And that name. I’ve mentioned the concept of jumping the shark before, and maybe this is finally it.

A few years ago, Diageo’s Nick Morgan made some ridiculous comment that fired up the cognoscenti. He was coming out in defense of NAS whiskies (or if you can read between the lines: being the human shield for the fatcats at Diageo HQ) and said something along the lines of running out of numbers for age statements. Silly, of course, but I’m hoping that the idea of ‘running out of’ anything is maybe a little more applicable on the NAS side of things. Especially as relates to Ardbeg, one of my most beloved of distilleries. Maybe they’ll run out of silly concepts, and go back to numbers. Can you imagine the buzz for a proper age-stated range of Ardbeg? I mean, a regular core range of 10, 17, 21 and 25 or something? That I could get behind.

Drum…well…not so much.

Is it bad? No. Not actively. Is it good? Meh. S’okay. Not much more. I find it oddly thin and lacking the swagger that Ardbeg usually has in spades. Anyway…

46% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Very young-ish. Smoky as hell, but…lacking the expected…I dunno…Ardbeg-iness? Licorice. Bicycle tires. Overripe banana. Caremalized pineapple sugars. Banana cream pie. A little Coke with lime. A bit of eucalyptus chest rub. Smells kinda like someone polished up a pair of Wellies. In all…meh. Underripe and out of balance.

Palate: Again…missing that Ardbeg character. Hot, youthful and spirity. Black wine gums. Sweet barley sugar notes. Sensens. More rummy rubber tones. Lemon. Plastic. Brackish water. Not bad; just not exciting either. It’s almost hard to find the real Ardbeg in there.

Finish: Long, as with all Ardbeg, but yet still somehow thin. Like a longheld reedy note in a symphony when you’re expected a tuba. Leaves behind fruit skins, licorice, toothpicks and a little bit of that plastic character.

Thoughts: You lost me on this one, Ardbeg. For the first time in memory, I’ve not bought bottles for myself. Can we please just have a regularly available, fairly priced 17 year old again? Please?

79/100 (and that might be being a tad generous, if I’m being honest.)


My name is Curt. And I have a problem.

It’s not a deal nor a test nor a love of something fated.

It’s the fact that I work in the whisky world. Most of you are probably aware I spend most of my waking hours at Kensington Wine Market in Calgary. KWM is sorta like the Malt Mecca of Canada. Twice now the store has been runner-up for World Whisky Retailer of the year. Yup. We’re just that good. And humble.

I’m telling you this (or maybe just reiterating this, if it’s something you already knew) to give you some idea as to where I’ve been and what’s happened to the site over the last year or so. (Hint: nothing. Nothing has happened here). The simple truth is that I was finding it hard to balance my work responsibilities with my prime directive: honesty. Let me show you what I mean…

One evening many, many months back I wrote a couple reviews for the site. One was a rather positive review for a malt I liked. The other…maybe not so positive. The whisky in question was sulphury and…well…flawed. I published one. I went to publish the second and sorta pumped the brakes. We have loads of this stuff left on the shelves. If I talk shit about it, who’s going to buy it? Then I thought, just wait until it sells out, then publish. But that theory comes with its own problems. I could just see someone at some point calling me out: if you knew it was shit, why did you let me buy it? 

I struggled with this until just a few days ago. Then I decided, too bad. This site has been around for a long time. Ten years. It deserves better than to die a slow, whimpering death, relegated to the periphery of online whisky lore, while daily visits continue to drop. So…I had a sit-down with Andrew. Andrew “Scotchguy” Ferguson, that is. I’m sure you know him from his monolithic online presence, if not as the owner of KWM. I told him where I was at with it, and he was in absolute agreement: get ‘er back up and running.

And the thing about negative reviews? Well…two things, actually: 1) Caveat emptor. Buyer beware. What I write here (in terms of reviews, anyway) is one man’s opinion, and in no way an attempt to push opinion as fact. Almost every online retailer out there now has a review system on their site. I often read user reviews, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with them, or base my own purchasing on them. And 2) At any given time, probably 75% of what we sell in-store is open for tasting. If I feel a whisky is not great, I simply don’t suggest it to customers. If they want it, however, and can try before buying? Hey…they’ve bought based on their own tastes, and I respect that. Especially if they are bucking the trend and going against the tide. There’s a deep-seated honesty in forging your own path and ignoring the din of voices all shouting in chorus.

Additionally…I will still be reviewing store-exclusive casks from time to time. We do a lot of these. Fair warning: these scores will almost certainly be uniformly high. Is this a conflict of interest? No. Not in my opinion, anyway. I’ve helped select these barrels for purchase, based on empirical evidence (i.e. my own tasting experience with them) and knowing that they were good. Sometimes great, even. Would I stand behind a purchase worth tens of thousands of dollars if I didn’t think the whisky was good? Of course not. And again…you can always come in and try for yourself. Our track record for selling entire barrels in record time is legendary. That, in my mind, speaks volumes about the level of quality we insist upon.

In short…we’re back, baby.

ATW will look a bit different going forward. Not sure what that means yet, but we’ll figure it out together. I do know that reviews will look a bit different. The content will be similar, but the format may be tweaked a little. Gotta keep it fresh for myself too, aye? And, at the same time, try to keep to a framework that people know and recognize. A few more inside jokes, a bucketload of non sequiturs, and some occasionally surreal ramblings will likely be par for the course too. Oh, and perhaps the odd diatribe.

I’m kinda hoping to recruit a few guest writers into the fold. There are several reasons for this, but it mostly comes down to injecting new life into the site and sharing the workload. As of now – until I find my ‘Angus’, anyway – reviews will all still be mine. I sorta feel like this is the only way to maintain consistency. You guys have learned to understand my palate, if not necessarily trust it. It would be disingenuous to let someone else start scoring whisky here until I am positive their tastes nearly mirror my own.

I’ll be leading another crew back to Scotland in a couple months, too. Six of us in total. It promises to be an absolute blast, so you can almost certainly expect some jottings on that l’il endeavor as well. Hopefully some stories, a handful of reviews and some random musings. We’ll see what shakes out.

Also, the sinDicate Single Malt Society is going great guns. Coolest whisky club around. I’m really proud of this one. The Dram Initiative was great, but sin is next level. And cheeky as f*ck, to boot. Which is, of course, my MO. We’ll share a bit more about that in coming days too, including some notes on the club’s first cask purchase. Exciting stuff.

Anyway…it’s good to be back. I’ve missed you guys and gals.

 – Curt

Port Ellen 22 y.o. (Rare Malts)

An absolutely iconic bottling from perhaps the most monolithic of closed distilleries. This 22 year old Rare Malts bottling (the earlier incarnation of Diageo’s official releases) is a towering example of what the Port Ellen distillery was capable of running off its stills in the late ’70s. Not to mention…1978 was a spectacular vintage (wink wink!).

These are the sort of drams we dream about. The kind that render preconceptions moot and make us recalibrate our systems for measuring quality (as subjective as that is, of course*). One simply can’t drink something like this and remain fundamentally unchanged. It is the sort of whisky that changes what we understand about what we understand, if that makes any since. The reasons are multifold. First, this is a volatile-compound-driven whisky. That means that the foremost flavor contributor is peat, and peat, by nature, is a volatile and changing component. It does not remain constant. In fact, it degrades. Those phenolic compounds we know and love will fade drastically given enough time in the barrel. Second, this was distilled in the late 1970s, a time when processes were different, yeast and barley strains were different, wood policies were not nearly so rigidly-enforced, etc. Third, this was produced at a time when demand was a mere fraction of what it is today, ergo vatting casks would have been a very different exercise. Fourth, the malt hit glass around the turn of the millennium. It has been sitting in a bottle for almost 20 years. Oxidizing. Let that sink in for a moment. For those that believe that maturation stops at bottling, think again. The whole concept of Old Bottle Effect (OBE) probably now has enough evidence out there to support the fact that it is indeed a reality. Cork breathes. Breathing, of course, is not just exhaling, but inhaling as well. The neck level of this bottle (and a substantial proportion of older bottles, for that matter) tells us that this whisky has been slowly evaporating over the years. So what fills that void in the bottle? (Because we all know nature abhors a vacuum, aye?) Oxygen. Exactly. And that is bound to change the whisky.

Where I’m going with this is, this is not contemporary peated whisky. It is a relic. A beautiful antique. Something from a bygone age, that, in all likelihood, will never be replicated. And it is utterly stunning.

The ‘Rare Malt’ appellation doesn’t even begin to describe this one nowadays.

60.5% abv.

Sincere thanks to my mate Brett Tanaka for the opportunity to taste this. The range of bottles he’s been opening for what we’ll call ‘The Brett Sessions’ are simply beyond comprehension. And I am beyond humbled to be able to partake. I’ll be reviewing dozens of them in the coming weeks/months.

*Let’s not delve into Pirsig asides on the Metaphysics of Quality, my contrarian friends. And I know there are a few of you out there.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Peat and smoke, as you’d expect, and a fair amount, too. All of that expected oceanic brininess and iconic PE tarry character is in full effect here. Citrus (lemon, primarily). Notes of iodine and ammonia. Seared scallops and oyster liquor. Fuel (kerosene maybe? Not quite?). Fennel and tarragon. Salt licorice. Like sitting on the beach near the maltings, for those that have ever experienced that. Or like the morning air in the village of Bowmore when the breeze is blowing in off Loch Indaal.

Palate: Bombastic and fantastic. Smoky and salty, with threads of dark, oily vanilla. Herbaceous notes of green tea. Grapefruit and lime. Super fruity behind all the smoke. Some orange and melon. There is something almost ‘burnt tropical’ about it too. Slick and dark and wonderful.

Finish: Exquisitely long and throbbing (easy now, kids). Kinda seafoody.  Kinda lemony.

Thoughts: This is a knockout dram. Unquestionably one of the all time greats, and one of the best expressions of Port Ellen I’ve ever tasted.

93.5/100 (But is that enough???)


You hear that rumbling? Like a great old engine awakened from a long slumber? Me too. I think it’s time. The monster has awoken.

You ready to do this all over again, friends?