Monthly Archives: January 2020

Millburn 25 y.o. Rare Malts Review

Lord t’underin’ Jaysus, b’y, what a dram!

And what’s this? Our first Millburn on ATW? Not all that surprising, I suppose. Even our mate Serge Valentin of Whiskyfun fame has only managed to wrap his paws around a couple dozen examples of spirit from this long lost distillery. Fear not, though: I have one more sample in the wings that I’ll try get to soon, while this one is still fresh in my memory. To be fair…these things are nearly as rare as Trump truths. And we all know…well…never mind.

Millburn. The distillery that once was, is no more, but now, according to Brian Townsend’s fantastic book ‘Scotch Missed’, is a steakhouse that goes by the name of ‘The Auld Distillery’. A better fate, he argues (and rightfully so), than that of most lost distilleries in Scotland. Shameless plug for Townsend (which benefits me not at all): buy this book. It’s a brilliant wee read. Probably no more than 200 pages, but crammed with enough knowledge to sate even the fiercest malt historian.

This utterly fantastic expression of 25 year old Millburn came from Diageo’s brilliant Rare Malts line. I came in not knowing what to expect and found myself utterly blown back by this one. If you get a chance, do not hesitate. Though I imagine those chances are pretty damn hard to come by nowadays. At least affordably.

61.9% abv. Distilled in 1975, bottled in 2001.

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: Fruits and chocolate. Pineapple…fresh, grilled, juiced, whatever! Melted honey. Fruit salad. Sandalwood. Melon, orange and more. Man…so much cool fruitiness! Chocolate covered almonds. A slight earthiness. And a very gnarly yogurt note. Beyond unique. Beyond incredible.

Palate: Oy…a very hot arrival. Chocolate (milk!). Smoke. Cherry and orange. Yogurt covered Fun Fruits (anyone else remember those ’80s lunchbox snacks?). Lindt milk chocolate. Oh, so fruity. Nice toasty malt notes. The wood is singing loud and clear.

Finish: Long and fruity. Goes on a wee bit longer than forever.

Thoughts: Whiskybase has this at 89.40, based on 122 ratings. To clarify…122 people are wrong. Simply unforgettable.


Pittyvaich 25 y.o. Review

Not a single tasting note on here for Pittyvaich? Pffft. In fairness, we’ve only had our grubby little paws on three of them locally, but that’s no excuse for delinquency in sharing the word on those we have tried. The goal is, after all, trying to maintain a broad horizontal swath of distillery notes for those who want to hear a bit about all of it. Not to mention…with an expression such as this – the Diageo special release from 2015 – there will undoubtedly be more folks interested than there would be for one of the OMC single casks or something.

Pittyvaich was founded in 1975, and produced for a mere 18 or so years, before being shuttered in 1993 and ultimately razed in 2002. It was a purpose-built distillery, meant to supply malt for the Bells blends. The distillery (and brand) changed hands in the mid-1980s, finding a new home in the ever expansive stables of, you guesses it, Diageo. The distillery (more an addendum to the Dufftown distillery than a true matter-of-fact distillery) somehow managed to fend off the mad rash of early ’80s closures, which sort of suggests that maybe Diageo was unwilling to concede that such a young and probably still immaculate facility should be surrendered less than a decade after what was almost certainly a substantial investment of capital to get it off the ground. By 1993, however, the writing was on the wall for Pittyvaich (and Rosebank, for that matter). The doors closed and stayed closed.

Fast forward a few years and the DRFSR at Diablo HQ saw the windfall potential in feathering out the remaining stocks from another lost distillery to the whisky cognoscenti. Albeit at greatly inflated prices from what this rather innocuous style of malt would have sold for in more sane and sober times. Such is. We whisky history buffs are always going to shell out a bit extra to taste the spirit of a bygone age, aren’t we?

Ultimately, though, this is a so-so malt from what was almost certainly just a so-so distillery. That’s my two cents, anyhow. 131 people on Whiskybase were more generous with their scores than I. Goes to show, this is all just one guy’s opinion, aye?

49.9% abv. Distilled in 1989, bottled in 2015. Refill Bourbon Hogsheads. 5,922 Bottles

Tasting Notes

Nose: Immediately one to only fall ‘in like’ with. Damp hay, with some notes of green tea. Herbaceous. Popcorn. Bittersweet chocolate. Clean malt. White flour and cereal tones. Some soft, almost unidentifiable fruits. Heavy cream on popsicles. Cedar.

Palate: Wine gums. Rather firm oak. Some odd sort of dental note (reminds of being in a dental clinic). More of those tea notes. Vanilla. Chardonnay. Ginger and white pepper. Grape skin tannins. Somewhat drying.

Finish: A little tired and lazy, if I’m being honest. A bit flat with no real standout notes that carry on.

Thoughts: I like it just fine, but wouldn’t go so far as to say I love it.


Glen Albyn 26 y.o. Rare Malts Review

Oh, man. What a spectacular surprise. This Rare Malts Glen Albyn was tasted as part of a spectacular range of expressions from closed distilleries and, I can’t lie, it wasn’t even remotely on my radar as one of the ones to look out for. It ended up being one of my favorites of the night.

Glen Albyn has become as scarce as sober uncles at backwoods barbecues these days. This is largely due to the fact that the distillery never really enjoyed much in the way of prestige and, in fact, there have only ever been a couple of official bottlings released. When you then consider the distillery was made redundant in 1983 as part of Diageo’s clean-up and downsizing, well…it’s not to hard to see why we’ve only had our hands on a few releases.

And if I’m being honest? This is the only one that has wowed me.

54.8% abv. Distilled in 1975, bottled in 2002. 6,000 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: Smoke and char. Awww, hell yeah. This is right in my wheelhouse. Tangy fruit. Some great lime notes. Ammonia. Mocha. Savoury BBQ notes. Jolly Ranchers. More chocolate. Coal smoke. Some sort of insect repellent. A hint of Old Spice (yup…that Old Spice). Hardwood glue. Burnt plastic. Indian rubber ball. Mineral notes. Grilled tomato. Almost a grilled cheese (or cheese toastie) sort of funk. Brilliantly integrated, despite the disparate list of aromas.

Palate: Kerosene and burning leaves. Pepper. Bitter chocolate. Really fuel-ish, in such a profoundly cool way. An absolutely ancient style of malt. Melon rind. grapefruit and tangerine.

Finish: Kinda drying, actually. And bitters out a but in the end (grapefruit-like). All pleasant. And very long.

Thoughts: Splendid. Keen. Neato. Love it.


Glenmorangie Allta Review

Another in Glenmorangie’s Private Editions range. The 10th, I believe. And this is one I’ve been infinitely curious about ever since hearing about it. Yeast is, after all, the new frontier. In this chap’s humble opinion anyway.

Allta is Glenmo’s attempt at producing a single malt built on a beer made from their own strain of wild yeast. Said yeast apparently propagates uncontrolled on their Cadboll barley. Neato. So, the question is…why is yeast so exciting? Well…think about it. some of the most incredibly complex and interesting beers are built on a bedrock of ambient yeast. Consider the great Belgian lambics, for example. Now take this to its logical conclusion: whisky is distilled beer, left to age for prolonged spell of time. Wouldn’t it just make sense that the more interesting the yeast play, the more interesting the end product?

For someone geeky (like me, like many of you), this little project means a deviation from the norm. Most distilleries are tied (at the moment anyway) to Mauri and Kerry as their primary strains. A mix of M and MX, depending on the desired life span of the wee bacteria and the desired speed at which they sink their teeth into all those fermentable sugars. And a few distillers are, I believe, still using a bit of brewers yeast, as well. Kudos to Glenmorangie for steering the ship in a different direction on this one. Hopefully a sign of things to come in the industry. (Although Dr. Bill Lumsden’s education was intrinsically linked to yeast, so who knows if others wil have the same vested interest.)

51.2% abv. 1st and 2nd fill ex-bourbon.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Orange and almond. Vanilla. A little porridge-y. Maybe a little boozy too. Honeyed and floral. A slightly pine-y note. And citric. The pine and citrus together make it a touch sharp. Cinnamon. Lemon poppyseed muffins. Quince jelly.

Palate: A strange syrupy sweetness. Caramelized nuts. Very estery (those artificial banana notes that seem to be intrinsically tied to brewers yeast). Quite spicy. And again…boozy. The new make spirit is still showing through somehow. More lemon. Slightly dough-y (doughnut dough). Sauvignon blanc. Not unpleasant, but not something I’d go back for seconds of.

Finish: A bit of purple grape. And grape skin. A fleeting glimpse of mandarin (pith and all).

Thoughts: Meh. I waver between bored indifference and disappointment. I wanted to get excited about someone finally pursuing yeast as the volatile wee catalyst it really is, but this…well…this didn’t really work. I should note that 10 or 15 minutes in the glass does wonders for the nose. Sadly not so much for the palate. 


Inverleven 30 y.o. 1967 Cask No. 3824 (The Bottlers) Review

Perhaps the most nomadic pot stills in the UK. Inverleven was a malt distillery secreted amidst the complexities of the Dumbarton grain complex in the Lowlands, just a hop, skip and a jump from both Glasgow and the Highlands ‘border’. It fell silent in depressive early ’80s, was mothballed in 1985, and finally decommissioned for good in 1991.

When the clever (and frugal!) folks at Bruichladdich learned of the distillery’s pending demolition, they sent a team – spearheaded by engineering specialist extraordinaire, Duncan MacGillivray – to loot the distillery of anything worth taking. That turned out to be nearly everything. Including the both wash and spirit stills, along with an old Lomond still. It took a canny sense of what was and wasn’t possible (in fact, they knocked out a wall to get at the goods!), but in the end, Team Teal made off like ruddy bandits. The Lomond is now pumping out the Botanist gin. The wash still ended up sitting courtyard, behind the iconic ‘Laddie barrels, as nothing more than decorative display. The spirit still went into storage.

After the Remy takeover of Bruichladdich, and subsequent ousting of (re)founder Mark Reynier, the stills eventually made their way over to Ireland, where they are now bubbling away the beer and low wine at Mark’s latest endeavor: Waterford.

Whew. Moving on.

I don’t know much about The Bottlers (or TB, as they’re also known), but if you check ’em out on Whiskybase, they have a heck of a run of bottlings, almost all scoring very high. And some incredibly cool distilleries too.

And Inverleven itself? Well…the malt is scarce, though not unattainable. I’ve only ever tasted two or three, myself, but they were good. And I will hunt more.

53.2% abv. Distilled in 1967, bottled in 1997.

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: Spicy and citric. Slightly stew-y. Salty pastry dough. Some salted dark chocolate. A vague smokiness woven throughout. Notes of orange and orange juice. And a decently robust malt profile.

Palate: Hot and a little sharper than expected. Smoky and carrying a bit of a rubber note. Almost…but maybe not quite…acrid. Strong orange zest. Dark chocolate. Something like Terry’s Chocolate Oranges. And…for my Canuck friends…sour cream Timbits.

Finish: Smoky, with that stew note again. Toasted oak. Fruit skins with some dryness.

Thoughts: No gamechanger, but a very cool dram nevertheless.


Ben Wyvis 1968 31 y.o. Cask #686 (Signatory) Review

Some malts leave you at once speechless and tripping over your tongue. You know…the ones where you find yourself gobsmacked simply at the opportunity to try them (yes…fortunately that does still happen, even this deep into the game) and stuttering to make sense of what you’re tasting. This Ben Wyvis is just such a one.

The distillery was one of the shorter lived in Scotland, shuttering with resounding finality in 1977 after a mere dozen years of production. Releases are nearly non-existent, somewhat controversial (a misleading offering by Invergordon under the Ben Wyvis name), and not particularly held in the highest of esteem. None of which matters, though. These sorts of drams are the reason Scotch whisky has stoked the fire in my belly for all these long years.

I think it goes without saying that this is a piece of liquid history. And if you’re not in the know…the Ben Wyvis stills (and much of the other equipment) were scooped up by Hedley Wright for a song and carted off to Campbeltown to be used in the rebirth of the Glengyle distillery. You know that funky and delicious young Kilkerran you love? Yep…that spirit bubbled away in the Ben Wyvis stills.

50.1% abv. 84 bottles. Distilled in 1968 and bottled in 2000.

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: Antique-y, in a way. Or at least a near-extinct style of malt. Char and dunnage. A decently lively cask. Some tangy fruits. Also some strangely spiced fruits. Old books and a spice cabinet long neglected and gone to stale and fading. A bit of an odd funk that’s stubborn and elusive when it comes to tasting notes. Vegetal, maybe? Sticky candied walnuts. A slight licorice-y note in there too. Buried in there are some rather neat fruit tones too.

Palate: Plum (neat!). Some smoke and a bit of cask char (is it maybe lightly peated?) Black current. Burnt pastry. Pepper and ginger. Under ripe guava. Someone mentioned dirty water or something of that ilk.

Finish: Gristy. Quite long. A bit tannic.

Thoughts: Quite difficult to unravel, actually. Or maybe it’s just that the notes are some that I either can’t pinpoint or haven’t yet met. Either way…no masterpiece, to be sure, but one fuck of a cool malt to try. I may be overscoring a tick. But maybe not. I really don’t know.

85/100 (ish)

Aberfeldy 1993 24 y.o. Batch 18/009 (Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice)

I caused a wee bit of a ruckus ’round here when, not too long ago, I mentioned how much I loved this malt. There was a bit of “Jesus, he’s finally lost the plot, aye?” I must concede, I probably would have thought the same about me if you’d told me an Aberfeldy would be this coveted, but bear with me a moment.

Just over a year ago now, on the eve of our annual Christmas party, I poured out about a half a bottle of this stuff for the last dozen or so malt-swillin’ stragglers. I handed out glasses and listened with barely subdued glee to a rising chorus of “holy shit!” and “What is this?”. So…before you consider me certifiable (which I may well be, but not necessarily for my opinions on this malt), do understand that I definitely do not stand alone on this one. Gordon & MacPhail are well known for their rather…ummm…anally retentive approach to managing their own malt casking. But whisky such as this 24 year old Highlander is a perfect case study in just why they do it. There is simply no other brand or bottler in the world that succeeds so consistently at capturing those ancient, antique-y notes in their whiskies. And thank God they do; this is one of my absolute favorite flavor profiles. Utterly spectacular.

58.7% abv. 586 bottles from a first fill sherry puncheon.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Man. What a dinosaur. Antique-y and singular. Some old school fuel notes (tight charred oak tones that sort of hint at kerosene or coal smoke or something). Very old Armagnac. Polished wood. Chocolate. Espresso. Demerara. Ancient sherry. Flambeed banana, where maybe the alcohol isn’t entirely burnt off. Old leather armchairs. Rich hardwoods. All the mixed smells of Black Magic Dark Chocolate, but dusted in ash and wafted with smoke. I could go on and on and on…

Palate: Licorice. Chocolate. Like chewing sticks of charred oak. Malt. Bitter orange zest. Figs and dates. Bitter grapefruit pith and guava. Good old Armagnac and even older Jamaican rum. Charred tropical fruit. Marmite. Very oily.

Finish: Like a Cuban cigar with Armagnac. Dark chocolate, high cacao. A tad waxy and a bit dirty. Looong.

Thoughts: What can I say? I adore it.

92/100 (That’s as objective as I can be, but I might love it a bit more than that even, if I’m being honest. But let’s stick to a fair score.)

Rosebank 20 y.o. Rare Malts Review

How ’bout some Rosebank? I’ve been delinquent here when it comes to arguably the most iconic of Lowland single malts. In fact, I think there are only two reviews posted thus far. Fear not. I have a few more to come.

Diageo’s Rare Malts series is held in very high esteem. Rightfully so. The distilleries represented are revered and coveted, and the expressions themselves are, generally speaking, near-forms in terms of representing their respective brands. Not only that…they’re also offered up about as naked and natural as can be, and at blindingly high abvs. This Rosebank was tasted as the last malt in a ridiculous closed distillery tasting and was big enough to cut through all that came before. Not bad for a triple distilled Lowlander, aye?

62.3% 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.

Tasting Notes

Nose: White chocolate. Lemon. More lemon. And some more lemon. Orange. Furniture polish. Slightly floral. This could maybe be a light style of malt if it weren’t for the blistering abv. Herbal. Some cinnamon and dry dunnage-y notes. Fresh cut apples, drizzled in lemon juice. A little boozy.

Palate: Huge! Bigger than that even. Lemon again, as we’d expect. Prickly. Wood spice. Ginger and apple. Oily vanilla bean. A touch of potpourri. Good firm oak; very clean. Chocolate, both white and milk.

Finish: What a clean, long and beautiful finish. Ends on citrus peel and tongue depressers. Maybe a wee bit of apple.

Thoughts: One of my all time favorite Rosebanks. A beauty in all its facets. This is the reason for Rosebank’s reputation.


Bunnahabhain XXV Review

Can’t believe I’ve never reviewed this one. ‘Specially seeing as how yer boy is an unapologetic Bunna fan.

At an earlier sinDicate Single Malt Society tasting we elected to get a wee bit cheeky and pulled together a ‘barely legal’-themed night; all 18s. One of the 18s we chose for the line-up was an earlier bottle of Bunna 18. As you probably know, it’s a rather decadent dram. Turns out it was also my wife’s favorite of the night. So…many moons later, it just seemed apropos to open a bottle of something a little bigger, a little bolder and a heck of lot more expensive than that 18, on a night when it was just her and I.

Fun to revisit this one. Not much more to say, really. It’s sort of a perennial classic. Old, wizened and as luxuriantly aware of its own girth and swagger as it needs to be. Love it. And as an aside…the distillery turns 140 years old next year. If Distell’s recent investment (a pretty heaping sum) is any indication, there looks to be another 140 ahead. Hope so. Even if Maltmonster doesn’t so much.

46.3% abv.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Nutty Oloroso. Sticky dried fruits and equally sticky toffee pudding (like my mate Dave makes!). Syrupy and heavy. Thick, thick, thick smoky honey. Slight menthol. Cherry liquor. Malty. Chocolate. Ovaltine, maybe. A banana and Nutella sandwich. Dunnage. Just the faintest whiff of far off peat. Maybe a memory of gunpowder (yass, yass…the faintest wee bit of sulphur).

Palate: Dried fruits. Loads of sherry. Candied nuts. Chocolate. Figs and sultanas. Cinnamon Toast Crunch. A wee bit of smoke. Damp wood. A little bit weedy too. Butter tarts with slightly overdone pastry. Marmalade. Candied orange peel in dark chocolate. That Islay salinity is here on the palate, moreso than on the nose.

Finish: Long and almost droopy, it’s so heavy. Very much on green berries and jimmy fruits, before the wood takes over and leaves a hint of toasty cask.

Thoughts: A lovely old school style of malt that I admit being a little sentimental for. Not a flawless outing, nor a preferred style necessarily, but this one is more than just the sum of its parts.


Brora 35 y.o. 2014 Review

For all our access to rare drams, unique bottlings and bespoke casks, there’s one glaring shortfall in Alberta’s access to whisky: Brora. I literally can’t think of more than ten or twelve expressions that have hit our shelves. We’ve landed a few of the Diageo Annual Releases, a DL O&R Platinum 30 y.o., and maybe a G&M or two. I know we should be grateful for what we do get, but when it’s your favorite distillery that can be a hard pill to swallow. Enough whining. Moving on.

This is quintessential Brora. I know other vintages are more coveted, but that doesn’t necessarily lesson the impact of stunners like this 1978. It has all the hallmarks of what makes the distillery monolithically iconic, but it’s also all very much more subdued than I expected. Is that the vintage? Or the age? Who knows? And who cares, actually? The reality is…this is a beauty and I want more.

And did I mention that this is birth year Brora for me? 😉

48.6% abv. Sadly, only 2,964 Bottles.

And once again…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: Peat and that celestial Brora waxiness. Somewhere between spent candles and honeycomb here. Green tea. Gorgeous peach tones. Salty dough and a bit of minerality. Slightly oceanic, actually. Some orange. Some melon. Some very soft, creamy pineapple. And still more fruit. Chamois leather. Soft smoke. Peach pie and peach tea. Old candy. Stunning really.

Palate: More of that peach. Smoke and wax carry all the way through, as we’d expect with good Brora. Rather coastal. Seashells. A bit of chocolate. Perfect pastry. Honey again. Putty and clay. Just vaguely floral. Some orange fruit notes. Rich, rounded and oily.

Finish: Exceptional long slow ebb (that’s the beauty of such a heavily oily dram!). Earthy and slightly smoky. Thankfully that peach note lingers too.

Thoughts: Absolutely beautiful, but we knew this one would be, even before we cracked it open. Reputation casts a long shadow.