Author Archives: antihero7

Highland Park Cask Strength Release No. 2 Review

I remember falling hard for Highland Park years ago. One of my best mates was the brand ambassador at the time I was courting HP (or maybe it was courting me?), and I vividly recall attending events he hosted and feeling like there was something kinda special about this distillery. Between his ability to evocatively express what I was picking up in the glass and his profound gift for marrying fact, history, and humor, I was probably the proverbial fish in a barrel. In fact, I know I was.

That doesn’t change the fact that Highland Park was, on the whole, releasing some pretty damn good malts. And quite regularly, at that. I think we can be confident they still have great casks in those storied warehouses, but I’m just not certain where they’re ending up these days. The core HP range is weaker than I can ever remember it being, the branding is a constant source of mockery for many folks (come on, guys, the Viking thing is played out), and the higher age statement releases have been stratospherically positioned, ergo pricing out many of the old vanguard. I hate to say it, but when it comes to Highland Park, there’s not a lot to be excited about these days. So this should be better, aye?

Well, not exactly. I can’t lie though, I’m surprised it took ’em this long to release a young cask strength expression.

Now…rumour* has it that this is 12-13 years old. Ummm…if you say so. It sure doesn’t drink like a dozen years. Is there 12 year old in it? Maybe. But this is no rounded and balanced dram. Blind, I’d guess more like 7 or 8. Probably to some folks’ liking, but I’ll pass on anything but a free dram.

Release No. 2. Sherry seasoned European & American oak casks. 63.9% abv

*Rumour = Whiskybase commentary

Tasting Notes

Nose: Mediocre, youthful, Highland Park. A fair few off notes, that do sort of softemn with a bit of time. Overripe fruits. Toasted marshmallow. Sour and maybe a tick puke-y. Heavy, boozy caramel. Palate: Burny, boozy, and the peat profile is slightly…burnt. A bit of decay. Slightly cloying and wine-y. A lot of spice and figgy notes. Not tooooo hot, all things considered. Drinks big, but not blindingly so. But definitely not ‘of age’, in my opinion. I think this is an experiment in hiding youth through active (seasoned?) casks and high abv. Finish: Not a great finish. A lot of time in the glass helps this one a lot, though. 76/100

Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength Batch 013 Review

For the first time, Laphroaig 10 Cask Strength has made its way to Canada. We’ve been kicking and screaming for this stuff for years, but our pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Until now. But before you get excited and start thinking the levee has broken and we’ll soon be aflood in a lake of Leapfrog, think again. The volume of liquid we’re getting here seems to be akin to what you’d trap in a solar still in a Saharan survival situation. But I’m not going to moan on. Instead, I’ll be grateful for having tasted it and to be able to share a few notes that may help someone make an informed dram decision at some point.

I’ve tried a bunch of these batches over the years, though usually carried back from the distillery. If I’m being honest, I never leave Islay without a bottle or two in my bag, and to this day, I’ve not found a batch I didn’t like nor a bottle of it I didn’t mourn when it died. Batch 013 is no exception. Truly an elegant powerhouse. Like watching Shrek execute a pirouette. But in addition to all of the expected hallmarks of this expression, there seems to be a heavier farmyard-y note than usual. And that, friends, is right up my alley. So, yeah…it’s pretty much everything it’s cracked up to be.

Shame on you, Beam Suntory, for not having this here sooner and in greater quantity.

Batch 013. Bottled January 2021. Ex-Bourbon Barrels. 57.9% abv.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Farmyard. Iodine. Goopy tar. Cracked black peppercorns. All sorts o’ meds. Orange peel. A touch of mango as it opens. Lime. And lime candies. Smells a bit sherried, despite the declaration of being all ex-bourbon. Wet, almost rotty, hay. Cigar tobacco. Epoisse (fromage). Coke meets Root Beer meets Dr. Pepper. A bit of ‘stank’ here…in all the right ways. Palate: Rather dry arrival, then wham!…explodes in smoked and spicy juicy fruits. Candied fennel. Surprisingly firm malt behind it. Marmalade and a thread of black cherry. Salted fish. Horehound candy. Burnt pineapple. Finish: Long and stretchy as taffee. Apples soaked in wine (yes, there’s almost a slight wine-iness to the back end). Some sort of dental paste/putty. Finishes a bit dry. Great development. 89/100

Glen Grant 15 y.o. Batch Strength Review

I was recently approached by some of our local representation for Glen Grant. They wanted to send me a bottle of the new Batch Strength 15 year old. The implication is that I’d help share the word. I think you know me by now, I’ve never really warmed to the idea of collecting freebies. That’s not why I do this. But I had an idea. An idea that would allow the good folks who reached out to me (and do note, they were lovely) to get some honest feedback, and also allow a bunch of my mates to try a dram of a malt I know none (or few) had ever tried. And I think…I may continue this idea if more offers come in.

I accepted, with thanks, and shortly thereafter a package arrived with my name on it. First off: Love the branding. The colors pop. I know it’s not very traditional or austere, but it’s got a bit of…gumption.

So…I took the bottle into work a couple weeks back and poured a round of drams for my coworkers. Blind. I repeat, blind. All I asked was that they’d share a few thoughts as they drammed. No one had any info to work with, other than seeing the color in their glass. The rest was all sensory evaluation and rough scoring. We circled up and I began jotting down everyone’s ballpark scores and rough hollered-out tasting notes. I did the exact same thing a couple nights later with the Unkindness Collective guys, as the first dram in an evening of inebriated philosophizing (or something). I’ve bundled up all those collected notes and compiled an aggregate score based on these awesome and uber-cooperative ten individual folks’ input.

Before we get there, however, I just want to take a sec to offer up a thought for the folks at Glen Grant: Tweak this little promo package thingy you send out if you want to continue offering samples to those of us who speak about the whisky industry. The whole package seems a little…out of touch. I don’t understand the two ice cube trays that were included. Nor the logic behind sending out a bottle with Jim Murray’s endorsement stickered to the front label, in light of a rather inflammatory situation that has recently been brought to the public’s eye. Actually, not so recently, and that’s part of the problem. By nature, a bottling like this (especially with a name like “Batch Strength”) is obviously geared toward a slightly more discerning whisky drinker. Yet these two missteps make it suspect that you actually understand your target demographic. Speaking as a very passionate whisky lad: It’s hard to be passionate about a brand that obviously doesn’t hold the same that same passion. Or isn’t projecting it well, anyway. There. That’s my gripe. And that was a lot of passion.

But at the end of the day, we’re here to talk whisky, and Glen Grant in particular. I’m glad I got a try at this one. And if I’m being honest, I didn’t even know it had hit our market. My bad. It’s a decent whisky overall, but nothing that cuts an identifiable profile. I’ll probably have another dram or two, then pass the heel off to a mate. If any of my local friends care to have a go before that happens…drop me a message and I’ll pass off a sample. Whisky is meant to be shared, as the team at Glen Grant generously showed us. Thanks Team GG, on behalf of all who shared from this bottle, and will share from this bottle.

Anyway…here are the gang’s collected notes, shouted out answers, and a few of my own notes. This should give a fairly rounded profile that probably paints a more accurate picture than I could alone.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Ginger. Poached pear. Big ex-bourbon influence. Red berries and cream. Reminds of Auchentoshan Valinch, without the massive orange note. Lightly-toasted almond. Malty. Creamy. Fruity. Peppercorn. Honeyed white fruits. Banana? Fresh. Green apple. Reminds of Glenrothes. Palate: Creamy. Clean. Distillate-driven, as opposed to cask-driven. Doesn’t drink hot. Sweet. Young. Reminds of the Glenlivet Nadurra 16. Warm. Toasted wood. Cereal and grain. Finish: Short. Some others said long. Lime peel. Apple cider. Aggregate Score: 82/100

Kick off your shoes…

Stay a while. You’ll settle in, I’m sure. After a bit of a struggle, we’ve gotten to where we needed to be. The site has been moved, and now we (I) begin the process of sweeping out the corners and fancying up the place a bit. Close your eyes. Imagine a bit of a back alley speakeasy. Deep chairs and cozy corners. Good drams and better chat.

Make yourself at home. Things’ll be a bit different around here. Thanks for sticking around during the downtime.

The Real Whisky Bible

Seems the fedora’d one’s name is back in the news. Sigh. I guess when your brand has become tired and obsolete, there’s little left to do but fight for relevance and continue to holler old man things into the void. Rage, rage against the dying of the light, and all that, I suppose.

But let’s not give him any more print space than we already have. Instead, let’s tip the spotlight to both the only whisky book I need year upon year, and to the man who largely helps carry the frontline whisky presenters upon his shoulders, Ingvar Ronde.

The 2022 edition of the Malt Whisky Yearbook has just hit our shelves and is, as expected, flying off them just as quickly.

The MWYB is the bible so many of us in the industry use when cobbling together our metadata for presentations; for quick on-the-spot fact-checking; and for shoring up the foundations of knowledge we use daily in conversations with our whisky pals. But if you think this is an industry-only tome, you’re sadly mistaken. This is a guidebook, available to all, that helps level the playing field. In just a couple hundred brilliantly conceived pages, you should be able to find enough facts and wisdom to provide an unshakeable bedrock for…wait for it…all things whisky.

The book (which to me is an evolving entity) is chock-a-block with brilliant nuggets of distillery specs, timelines, bits of historicity, insider info, and essays dedicated to some of the industry’s most topical subjects from the past year or so. And let’s face it, this is a burgeoning whisky world and there are a lot of folks out there craving accurate and relevant information in easily digestible nuggets. With Scotchwhisky.com now sadly defunct (though still online, thank god!), the MWYB is truly the only one-stop-shop for the most up-to-date distillery news and updates.

I was fortunate enough to do a bit of a collaboration with Ian Buxton in the 2017 edition. Well…collaboration may be a bit of a stretch, I suppose. Ian reached out to me to provide some insight and context on something we’d been hammering away at here on ATW for some time. He then turned it into a great piece on the state of whisky prices and our own inherent biases. I am, of course, condensing the matter to but a line here, but the article was indeed a gooder. Well worth the read, if I do say so myself.

But even before that, Ingvar was great to me and to you, friends, in saying he liked this site and the dialogue that unfolds here, especially the comments. ATW has been in his Websites to Watch list for years now, even when it suffered silent seasons and periods of neglect. For that I’m grateful. And his kind words have been a testament that still leaves me chuffed, I must admit.

Forgot the other book. Make this your annual bible purchase. Trust me.

Thanks, Ingvar. On behalf of us malters, thank you.

And, pssst…I’m still hunting for ’07, ’09, and ’11, friends. If anyone has any leads, please pass them on.

Glenfarclas 185th Anniversary Review

I knew this release was coming, but it wasn’t really one I was really anticipating. Let’s face it…this was not going to be in the same sort of league as the rather legendary 175th Anniversary release which was said to have included casks from as far back as the 1950s.

Having said that, I adore Glenfarclas. I think y’all know that by now. It’s just that this 185th Anniversary release was bound to be younger, bound to be rooted squarely in the more contemporary school of malts. In other words, I’m dancing around one of those ‘back in my day’ type of stories.

But even if that is the case, let’s just say that it’s good to be back in Ballindalloch. Even if only in a virtual and vicarious sense.

I’ve probably been a wee bit snobby and concentrated a tick more heavily on the Family Casks and older expressions from Glenfarclas in recent years than I should have, often to the unintentional neglect of the core range. Said range is ticking along just fine, I might add; it’s just that, well, those low ABVs, George. I know bumping ’em all to 46% is not in the cards (and would absolutely shitcan that cracker of a tale about your grandfather’s initiative to hold the 15year old to a higher proof), but reaching for the sub-46s can be an exercise in willful delusion sometimes. Love the flavors, hate the anemic texture. Anyway, rest easy. This suiting tribute to 185 years of Glenfarclas is a worthy addition to the larder.

Congrats to our friends at Glenfarclas. I’d normally say, ‘can’t wait to see what the future brings’, but so long as you’re chugging away being you, it sorta feels like all is right in the malt-o-sphere.

46% abv. 6,000 bottles. Not a heavyweight, by any means, but robust and oily, and perfectly comfortable on the palate.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Wow. Kinda…dare I say…old school-ish, in terms of sherry profile. Old barrel. Creme caramel and raspberry reduction. Lightly peppered white dough. MacIntosh apple. Raisin butter tarts. Musty purple grape. Caramel Macchiato. A bit mince-y.
Linseed. Antique wood.

Palate: Absolutely, infinitely, unquestionably Glenfarclas. Almost certainly the legacy of those direct-fired wash stills, which always give a lightly sharp burnt note on the palate (especially the finish). Old toothy Armagnac. Orange peel. Fennel. Slightly root-y. A hint of mulled cider. Dry cinnamon buns. Some rather bitter, dark fruit notes. Edging into those tangy, tropicals I love.

Finish: Quite herbal, actually, once the fruit notes back down. Dandelion. Burnt grain. Pleasant, if tannic. And longish.

Thoughts: Clean, flawless sherry casks and almost the Platonic form of Glenfarclas. Others seem to be finding a few more vibrant fruits than I am, but I’m okay with the more integrated melange I’m getting.

88/100

New Toy

‘Cause there’s more to life than malts…

So. I decided I needed a Telecaster. That’s how the story begins.

When I recently told a mate that I needed a Tele, he asked “besides wanting one, which I totally get, what makes you think you need one?” My reply: “guitar people don’t differentiate between want and need.” To which he immediately shot back: “As soon as I hit send I recognized it was a dumb question.”

Fender Telecaster American Ultra Luxe

I can’t lie: I was on the hunt for something with Classic Tele vibes. You know, three saddle bridge, block body, vintage tuners, 50s pickups, etc. I played a couple and found nothing that really grabbed me. Then the gent at the shop showed me this Fender American Ultra Luxe.

Let me just say it: this thing is an illusion. It looks entirely retro (excepting the aforementioned saddles), but make no mistake, is one badass modern machine. Stainless steel frets, six saddle bridge, compound radius neck (10″-14″), locking tuners, tapered neck heel for comfortable access to the higher frets, S-1 switch in the volume knob to run the single coils in series for a bigger Humbucker sound, noiseless pickups, contoured back makes it a great couch guitar (something Teles have never been). Truly a stunning piece of work.

But anyone can a guitar based on impressive-sounding specs, aye? What it really comes down to is a) feel and b) tone. I’d argue a) is more important. You can always change out electronics, hardware, etc, but you can’t (easily) change the way it feels in your hand. This thing is built for speed and comfort. It’s unquestionably one of the best necks I’ve ever played. And yes…it has all the snap, snarl, quack and twang you’d want in a tele. She’s a beast. And I love ‘er.

I shouldn’t have picked it up. I did look at the price tag before even lifting it off the wall. And still, I picked it up. I’ll not be so gauche as to mention price, but suffice to say, it wasn’t what I was hoping to spend. I went looking to drop about $650. Oops.

Cadenhead 7 Stars Blended Scotch Whisky Review

If it says Cadenhead, Campbeltown, Springbank, or in any way references the goings-on around the Kintyre peninsula, you know it’s bound to be stirring the masses a bit. The zombie-like singular focus on all things Springbank has hit fever pitch in the whisky community and, if I didn’t love the stuff so much myself, I’d have been at the jumping-off point about two years ago. But, of course, that’s like quitting after you’ve been fired, if you get my drift.

Truth-telling: when I was last in the Cadenhead warehouses for a cask tasting, I can’t lie, it was a pretty underwhelming experience with some pretty mediocre whiskies.* So, the question is, was there enough solid stock in those dusty ol’ halls to put together a rock star blend? Only one way to find out. Let’s see what Hedley and co. are offering up this time ’round…

You can expect a dirty old-school-styled blend in some ways, but with a slightly modern dressing. It seems to be pretty heavy on malt and has a rather lumbering sherry influence. Makes sense as, after blending, this was finished in Oloroso. And I think we can acknowledge that the Springbank family has a pretty identifiable style of sherry casking. If Gordon & MacPhail has the coursers in sherry casks, then the J&A Mitchell & Company certainly have the Clydesdales.

*But trust me, the whiskies we had in the Springbank warehouses (or on the Springbank tour, anyway) more than made up for it.

46% abv

Tasting Notes

Nose: Funky, waxy, deep and dirty, Cold coffee grounds in an old filter. Definitely a bit of that dunnage-y, earthy Campbeltown character. Slightly smoky (oh, so faint). Figs and candied nuts (sounds almost Dickensian, doesn’t it?). Almonds. Biscuits. Baked, spiced apple. Mulling spices and boiling raisins. Wet lumber. Noses like a malt, to be honest.

Palate: A lot of dried fruits. Some overripe cherry and that rather new-ish style of dumpy, heavy (and oh, so cocoa-powder-dry), nutty sherry (anyone else miss the tropical old jammy sherry of old?) So this is a blend, is it? Really? First sips don’t really suggest that. Notes of gingerbread and boozy tiramisu, doused in over-oxidized Oloroso. Some more raisins. Ok…a bit of grainy silkiness peeking through now. Neat, but heavy.

Finish: Long and deep. Expected nothing less. Apple peelings. Slight touch of maraschino. A bit grippy.

Thoughts: I’m rather keen on this one. And the packaging too. Smartly, wickedly retro.

84.5/100

Ardbeg Scorch Committee (2021) Notes

I (and many like me, I think) had high expectations for Scorch as some sort of a second coming of Alligator. These were perhaps unfairly lofty preconceived notions, but let’s not pretend that isn’t the exact image that the marketing department wanted us to be smacking our chops to. I mean, ‘heavily charred casks’ was pretty much all that most of us needed to hear, aye? Let’s face it, it’s not like Ardbeg needs to generate any more interest than they already garner. But, hey…it’s tough to brake the hype train once it’s left the shed.

Whiskybase reports that this was matured in refill Alligator casks. I hadn’t read that upon release (shame on me), but seeing as Scorch comes a decade after Alligator, I suppose it all makes sense. Having said that…these barrels, assuming they once held Alligator, were obviously still active as hell. Make no mistake, Scorch is a big, big whisky. Hard to imagine that the Arbeggy folk won’t be pleased with this one.

But is it Alligator 2? That’s the real question, innit? Put simply: nah, not really. But I’m more than happy with Scorch 1.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Black current. Chocolate. Loads of fruit. Almond. Ammonia. Insect repellent (or bug spray, if we ain’t fancyin’ it up). Ginger beer. Veterinary horse salve. Charred scallops and smoked oysters. Melted Wellies. Dragon’s breath. Grilled lime. True Ardbeg.

Palate: Chocolate ganache. Ginger. Loads of a dry coal-like smokiness. Licorice or maybe horehound candy. Black licorice ice cream, even. Pine. Like licking a salted tarry rope. Lime and lime pith. Dry and ashy.

Finish: Spices carry through. Some clay. More black licorice. Lapsang souchong. Long and evolving.

Thoughts: Cool whisky. This is one that will be highly coveted in the years to come. Wish I had more than a single bottle.

Score: 90/100

The Best Laid Plans

Sigh. I sort of feel like the cartoon character that lights the fuse on some big cauldron-bellied cannon and waits for the inevitable ka-boom, only to have the damn thing blow up in my face long after the expected blast should have happened. Such is. As Lennon said, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That’s all well and good, I suppose, but that doesn’t mean we should just sit around and wait for the other shoe to drop. So, to quote Andy Dufresne, I suppose it’s time to “get busy living or get busy dying.”

Without too much elaboration, ATW was to have become a bit of a Collective. A few of the malt cognoscenti were to have come on board here, creating a bit of a whisky think tank and forum for critical discussion. A few things conspired to make that well-nigh impossible. As I said, such is.

The idea isn’t dead – indeed, there may be guest posts from time to time or something of that ilk – but for now I guess we’ll go back to tried and true. In other words, you’re stuck with the one-man-band. So let’s get back to what we know. Hopefully we can pull up readership a bit.

And fair warning, just to stir a little spice into the stew, I may occasionally drop a few words on other things that light me up: music, guitars, art, watches, writing, family, cigars, who knows?

Sorry we couldn’t bring it to fruition for you, but hopefully you’re interested in walking a little further down the path together anyway.

Peace and love.