Monthly Archives: August 2019

Convalmore 36 y.o. Review

The 28 year old official bottling of Convalmore from 2005 was, if not a knockout in the traditional sense, definitely one of my personal favorites. Its simple and elegant, yet bold, approach to a very naked and traditional style won me over big time. It did the same for others I know, as well. I seem to recall Dave Broom had a particular fondness for it. Though I see eye to eye with Dave’s views less and less as the days go on (though, having shared beers with him, I can attest he is a lovely man whom I’d love to hang with more frequently), I do have to say I’m riding shotgun with him on that particular dram. If memory serves, the 32 year old was really quite fine as well. So let’s dig into the 36 year old now. All three of these OBs are, of course, Diageo releases.

Convalmore’s last spirit ran through the safe in 1985. The buildings are still intact, but the equipment is long gone. It’s malts like this that make us mourn these closed distilleries with a tear in our eye.

58% abv (Wonder what this was racked at, in order to still be sitting at 58% after nearly four decades.) Distilled in ’77; bottled in ’13. Only 2,680 bottles.

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: Great attack! Wow. Almost savoury. Extremely well-composed. Perfectly matured, clean ex-bourbon style. Crème brulee with a sprinkling of pepper. Crème caramel. Almost apple pie-like too. Lightly toasted almond. Saw-burnt wood (like when your tool gets bound up mid cut). Biscuit tones. Honey. Gentle fruit notes, nudging into tropical territory, though hard to pinpoint specific fruits. Most of the sweetness, though, is just clean, fresh orchard fruit tones.

Palate: Amazing arrival. Uber juicy. Slightly tart and furniture polish-y. Apple crumble this time, complete with that cunchy, crusty, awesome toastiness. Brioche. Deeper fruits now, much deeper. They’re starting to fight the wood by this point, and just barely winning. Bottled at the perfect time.

Finish: Fantastic slow fade. A perfect flavor marriage of all that came before it. Dies a slow death.

Thoughts: Beautiful old dram. Leaves me wanting another glass. And another. And another.


Balvenie 12 y.o. DoubleWood Review

A rather iconic, but very much ho-hum malt, in this chap’s ‘umble opinion. I don’t mean that as a sleight. Honestly, I don’t. I just mean that DoubleWood is a supermarket single malt if ever there was one. Available at discounted rates in Costcos and Superstores, taking up prime real estate in every neighbourhood ma and pa liquor store, and almost guaranteed to be available in any fine spirit retailer. It’s everywhere. And that makes sense, since DoubleWood is sort of the flagship of the Balvenie range.

Straight outta the gates…I like it just fine. But it’s Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, in a way. Bland and inoffensive, but perfectly constructed and definitely drinkable. (Not to mention…it will probably make you feel better when you’re down!) I’m just not buying it. There are way more interesting whiskies out there.

Now, if I were as shallow as a certain fellow reviewer out there who many of us know – and was willing to award points for packaging(!) – this would definitely score an extra notch or two, ’cause let’s face it: Balvenie bottles look great. Clean, clear and classy. But…come on: that is utter nonsense. The whisky in the bottle is what counts, and that’s ultimately all that counts. The rest is just set dressing (and in some cases, lipstick on a pig). And as for the concept of ‘double wood’? Where do I start? Ex-American oak into ex-sherry wood. Not exactly innovative. I guess it all comes down to who brands things first, and who markets the concept to the widest audience.

Anyway, let’s wrap it up: safe, pleasant, pretty enough. Also, thin and rather easy to forget.

Oh, and 40% abv? Ugh! Come on, guys and gals. You’re better than that. All we’re asking is 46%.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Oh, so honeyed. Like honey poured over fresh fruit and eaten off a wooden spoon. A fresh floral top note. Gooseberry and orange marmalade. A touch of raspberry. Fresh plump raisin. Hot cross buns, or maybe warm brioche or something. Decent mid-palate spices. Led by pepper and ginger.

Palate: Oak and honey lead the charge. Slightly out of balance, I think. Berry fruit leather. More of those raisin notes. And firmly malty. Very dry cinnamon stick. A little too drying for my liking, almost tea-like.

Finish: Rather tannic and wearing the influence of the sherry quite prominently. Surprisingly lengthy for a 40%er.

Thoughts: Not bad. Far too thin, though.


SMWS 65.2 Imperial Review

The Imperial distillery was a rather late casualty in the whisky world. It had an ‘on again, off again’ production cycle for most of its life and suffered sporadic (but lengthy!) periods of closure throughout much of the 20th century. The distillery managed to survive the worst rash of closures in the tumultuous early 1980s, but was eventually mothballed in 1985. Production resumed in 1991 – largely for fillings – but only for a few years, before the distillery was shuttered for the last time in 1998. The buildings stood intact until 2013, when they were razed to make way for the new Dalmunach distillery on the same site. A sort of phoenix act, I guess. That’s the quick and dirty for you. Well, not all the dirty. This particular whisky is pretty filthy in its own right. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense.

Did you check the abv on the bottle shot below? 70.2%. Seventy-point-two! To quote the great Billy Connolly, “Jesus suffering f*ck!” If I’m being dead honest, sipping this 11 year old neat is kinda like licking a flaming pool of angry bullet ants. I don’t generally add water to my whisky (generally, I said, before I get lynched here), but this whisky almost screams for it. Otherwise, the anesthetizing effect will simply kill your ability to suss out nuance.

Distilled in 1979 and bottled in 1991 for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Matured in first fill Fino. I never would have guessed that in a million years. Maybe the sherry is simply obliterated by the peat and scorching strength.

Final word on Imperial: while this is another of the oh-so-coveted closed distilleries, it’s definitely no collector’s darling yet. Give it time though. People will be scrounging for Imperial at some point. Buy while the prices are still sane.

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: Liqueur-soaked angel food cake. Chamois leather. Light smoke tied to some earthy notes. Herbal and ghrassy. Old ju-jubes. Apple slices in canola oil. Chocolate. A bit of a sweaty funk. Fino? Where?

Palate: The cereal shines through nicely here. More of those chocolate notes. A wee bit of peat. Orange oils. Dusty almond flour. Salty play-dough. Again, if there’s sherry influence here it is absolutely buried.

Finish: Long, of course. Takes a while for the initial heat to subside. Ebbing notes of cereal, peat and fruit skin. No wine.

Thoughts: I did drink this neat*, but holy hell…water is requisite here.


* One of the very few things I agree with the Fedora-sporting fella on: If I’m reviewing whisky, it has to be done neat. No two people will ever add exactly the same amount of water, so how can we compare apples to apples if we’re not tasting straight from the bottle?

Rare Ayrshire 1975 (Signatory Cask No: 555) Review

Yet another bit of absolute malt insanity. These are the sorts of whiskies I live for.

If you know your barley juice quite well, you may know that Ayrshire is another name for the infamous Lowlander, Ladyburn. With less than ten years production, Ladyburn is one of the scarcest malts in the whiskysphere. It’s also another of those uber-singular whiskies that was produced at a distillery within a distillery. There were a few of these anomalous set-ups, of course, but we’ll save the ramblings on the others for future days, lest we drag on too long here, only to spoil the narrative later. Ladyburn was produced within the Girvan distillery between 1966 and 1975. So, as you can tell by the photo below (or just by reading the review title), this particular ex-bourbon barrel was filled in the last year of the distillery’s existence. It was one of (at least) a couple of sister casks released by Signatory in 2007. Cool stuff, aye?

Enough preamble, though. Let’s jump into some tasting notes. That’s why we’re here, after all.

This 31 year old Ayrshire is a bit of a mishmash. It hits some very cool high notes, but they’re kind of outliers in a whole that seems a bit murky. And not just murky, but also sort of befuddled. It’s a malt that really has no cohesion, but has an intrinsic niftiness that keeps pulling me back in. Hard to explain. At its heart, though, its a whisky that matters more for just being here than for what it actually is. It ain’t pretty, but it in its own way it is actually sort of beautiful.

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.

47.7% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Doughy, with a slight cheesy note. Salty dough, actually. And kinda footy, to boot (bad pun, I know). Nutty and putty-like. Faint peat with some muddled fruit mixed in for good measure. Damp burlap. Real apple juice. Cold coffee grounds. But the nuttiness is omnipresent.

Palate: Very hot and woody. Anise. Bitter chocolate. Walnut paste. Maybe some almond. Buckley’s cough syrup. Earthy and organic dried peat notes (as if it’s only just been lit). Cereal. Drywall mud.

Finish: Quite tannic. Mostly apple skins.

Thoughts: Overall? Quite challenging. Points could go up or down by a couple depending on time of day and how sentimental I’m feeling about these spectacular closed distillery bottlings.


Lagavulin 9 y.o. Game of Thrones Edition Review

Yep. I hate to say it, but we still have yet to fully emerge from this age of ‘style over substance’. An entire range of (rather boring) entry level malts from the mighty Diageo hyped up by the runaway success of the monolithic Game of Thrones franchise. Marketing BS at its apex. All I can say? Blech. The concept, I mean. Not necessarily the whiskies. Maybe it’s simply wishful thinking on my part, but I do believe we’re starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Age statements are making a comeback (including from the rather confrontation Macallan family), prices are seeing small true-ups (looking at you, Mortlach) and less goofy-named releases are bogging down headlines on the whisky wire. Fingers crossed that sanity is finally prevailing.

But this GoT Laga? Well…what can I say? It is unquestionably a part of the overarching dough-headedness, but at the same time, it is at least being offered a) at a fair price; b) at a decent abv; and c) with an age statement. I guess we’ll cut a little slack here, aye?

This isn’t bad whisky. In fact, bad whisky is a relative scarcity from Islay’s Rolls Royce of distilleries. And we should all know by now that peated malts are quite tasty when they’re served up this young and hot, right? Yup. But I can’t say I’m in love with the casks chosen for this vatting. I get a bit romantic for Lagavulin. Can’t help it. I love the history behind it and the tales of resilience that backstop some of these archaic and beloved distilleries. But even a profound bias in favor of the producer isn’t enough to make me want to actually buy one of these. It takes a bit more than the crushing weight of the marketing machine’s wheels to make me part with my shekels these days.

But…credit where credit is due: they did at least give it to us at 46%. Well done, Diageo. (But how sweet would it be if they opted to up the bottling strength of the iconic 16 y.o. to 46% as well? Sigh. A dream. A very lovely dream.)

Tasting Notes

Nose: Sweet, malty gristy notes. Damp Band-Aids. Smoke (but not too pungent). Lime. A faint suggestion of pineapple. Honeydew. Green jelly beans. Pepper and powdered ginger. Starfruit. A nice briny-ness. Iodine. Decent spices and some minerality behind what feels like an almost artificial fruit sweetness.

Palate: Surprisingly prickly arrival. Very sweet, right up front, but immediately darkens into shades of black licorice and tar. Some more of those malty notes follow and weave throughout. Dirty, oily smoke. Brioche. Fresh smoked oysters. More citrus and some vanilla. Popsicle sticks. Ultimately, though…it seems kinda flat.

Finish: Slightly tannic, but just slightly. And surprisingly, a bit like heavy cream stirred into lemon curd. Then under ripe pear skins and oak. Reminds me of chewing on peated malt. Slightly ashy at the tail end. Decent mid length linger.

Thoughts: Much more impressive (and expressive!) nose than palate. Drinkable. Hard to love, though.


Elements of Islay BW7 Review

One of those reviews I parked a while back. Time to let ‘er fly…

We have Sukhinder Singh, the fine gent behind The Whisky Exchange, to thank for this nifty little range of malts. The Elements of Islay series is a bit goofy and irreverent on the surface, but make no mistake, these are serious drams where it counts. And where it counts is in the glass, of course. But hey, what can I say…I prefer a little austerity in packaging over quirky attempts to stand out from the herd. Maybe that’s just me. Either way, Sukhinder is probably one of the most knowledgeable and devoted whisky folks out there, so why would we expect anything less from him than expressions offered up small batch, cask strength, non-chill-filtered and uncolored? Easy answer: We wouldn’t.

In the Elements range, each brand has its own code that roughly translates to the distillery it represents. Bw=Bowmore, Ar=Ardbeg, Lp=Laphroaig, etc. And each distillery code is appended with a number that signifies the particular batch. Not too far off what the SMWS has been doing for a few decades now, when you think about it.

So, yes…this one is a Bowmore. A monster of a Bowmore, at that. Kinda Jekyll and Hyde-like, in a way. It’s massive, tingly and uber-rich in deep jammy sherry notes, macerated fruit, old potpourri, but it also comes bearing a nasty symbiotic co-host: sulphur. Sigh. Yup. And not only sulphur but also a slightly moist cardboardy note that hints at TCA (cork taint). In a somewhat paradoxical way of explaining, this malt is both lively and bright…and dead and muted. Tough to reconcile. And, if I’m being totally honest, I really don’t understand how whiskies like this get bottled. This kind of sulphur is a flaw. Period.

It has only been over the last couple years that these Elements expressions have made their way into Canada, hence my being a little late to the party on the review front (not to mention I sat on this review for the last year or so). And though I can’t be too kind to this particular release, I should note here that all of the other expressions that I’ve tried from Elements have definitely been worth having a run at.  Having said that, I’ll go on record as saying Bw7 is maybe one to avoid blowing your dough on.  ‘Less you like the smell of struck matches, that is.

53.2% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Blech. Sulphur. Sulphur and what almost seems like cork taint. Putty. Muted jam. Slightly weedy. Kinda like a Laimrig gone wrong. Old marzipan. Some floral tones too. In spite of these…less that flattering notes, this one is actually not awful, but it’s also not a great malt. With time it softens a bit, but doesn’t ever really get better.

Palate: Better than the nose lets on, but barely. Arrives okay, then immediately becomes flat. Dull almond notes. Cardboard or damp paper. Some salt licorice.  Brine. Rubber. Smoke, of course. Pulled pork with a very generic sauce. Some more fruit, but it’s all muddy and muffled.

Finish: Better than expected. Long and rather fruity. The matchsticks, fortunately, are largely forgotten.

Thoughts: A lot of wasted potential here. I know these are small batch vattings, but it seems like a bad butt ended up in here. Should have been left out.


Coleburn 1981 Gordon & MacPhail (2015) Review

I don’t even know if this is disputable anymore: Gordon & MacPhail have the greatest warehouses in Scotland. I think at some point we all just have to concede it. There are loads of brilliant independent bottlers all ’round the world – some, I’d argue, I even prefer to G&M when all factors are taken into account – but no one, I repeat, no one, has the depth and breadth of utterly mindboggling stocks that Gordon & MacPhail have been able to sock away throughout the decades. Especially when it comes to beautiful old Speyside malts.

But every great hero has his (or her) Achilles heel, no? For G&M, that has almost always been their propensity for high prices in return for criminally low bottling strengths. The high prices are easier to justify, in my mind anyway, as the quality is almost universally high (excepting some questionable wine-casking decisions). The low bottling strength? No pulling punches here: it’s greed. You can dress it up however you want, but at the end of the day it’s still lipstick on a pig. They’re stretching stocks. I’ve heard comments along the line of ‘we determined this was optimal drinking strength’, but that is – forgive me – bullshit. No one who is buying these sorts of great old ’60s, ’70s and ’80s whisky has ever preferred a chill-filtered 40% or 43%er to an oily, fully intact, 46% or cask strength offering. Read that last sentence again. Bold words, I know, but I stand behind them. Even if consumers opt to drink it at a lower strength, I can almost guarantee they’d prefer it was bottled at a higher proof so they could add their own water. You can always add water. You can’t add back the texture that you’ve been robbed of at 40% or so. It seems especially criminal with beautiful old drams like the one we’re discussing. Cutting it with water is simply dumbing it down.

Anyway, before this becomes an essay, let’s discuss Coleburn, another casualty of the downturn that gutted so much of the industry in the 1980s. Expressions of Coleburn are scarce, they’re dear and they’re really, really cool whiskies to try if the occasion arises. Unfortunately, it doesn’t very often anymore. So, instead we pause and take our time when a dram like this crosses our path. It took 34 long years to make, after all. The least we can do is let the clock stop for an hour or so while we enjoy it.

Last thought: Let’s just be grateful that this particular release was bottled at 46% abv. Maybe not left completely intact, but I can accept 46%.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A bowl of melons and papaya on a freshly polished sideboard. Old cigar box. Faded pressed flowers. Orange and dark chocolate. Waxed hardwood. Oily, dried tropical fruits. That truly singular antique-y style of G&M sherry wood. Scottish tablet. I could go on. And on. And on.

Palate: Very syrupy on the tongue. Velvety even. Tropical fruits meet freshly cut figs. Old and oaky. Mouthwatering, yet slightly tannic. Orange oil. Mango. Loads of grapefruit. Candied green walnut and griottines (boozy cherries). Brioche.

Finish: Long and warming. Barley and oak, as it should be.

Thoughts:  This is the sort of dram I could give up all others for. Beautiful.



As much as I’ve kept a fairly public persona for the last decade or so, I do relish my privacy. There aren’t a lot of pictures or videos of me out there, and I prefer it that way. But the point has been made – here and elsewhere – that too many people hide behind anonymity, especially when they say anything polarizing. I get it. Sometimes an online persona isn’t really a viable option, especially when the subject matter being debated may cast a shadow over one’s professional life. The flipside is (in my opinion, anyway), if you are going to throw your voice out to the public, then step up and own it. There are too many chickenshit keyboard commandos lobbing grenades with no concept of repercussion. I miss the days of consequence. Action/reaction. Throw a lunch, expect one in return. So…consider this a reintroduction. There are always new readers, and there are probably a lot of old school readers who’ve never met me face to face, despite the amount of online interaction we’ve shared.

In short…I’m Curt. I like whisky. And writing.

I’ve been writing about whisky for over a decade now. I’ve led countless tastings (both public and private), presented for large groups, contributed to publications, and traveled for what I love. I’ve created successful whisky clubs, bought private barrels and led several distillery tours over to Scotland. I have a lot of single malt whisky here. Like…several hundred bottles. I don’t collect, however; I just squirrel away bottles when the price/opportunity is right. They’ll all get opened at some point. Or traded. Or given away. I don’t flip bottles, nor do I much like the secondary market. I get it, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

My blood is mostly Scottish (with a bit of English; y’know…neo-Germanic all the way back). Scotland is home away from home for me. I love Islay and the whiskies that are made there. I adore Brora and Port Ellen. Springbank and Clynelish and Glenfarclas are perennial favorites that are never in short supply around here. I also kinda think that every distillery in Scotland has brilliant barrels sleeping away in their warehouses. Whether or not they are ever given their day in the sun is another matter. It all comes down to how they’re used, right? And if I have my druthers…unpeated second or third fill ex-bourbon at 30-40 years. That’s my jam.

I have a beautiful wife and two beautiful daughters. I work in the whisky world, but this blog is on my own time (and my own dime), so updates are as frequent or infrequent as life dictates. As Lennon said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

This is me.