Category Archives: Whisky Features

Feature Interview – Andrew Ferguson

Calgary’s Andrew Ferguson is an interesting guy.  Truly.

This year marks his tenth anniversary as the ‘Scotch Guy’ at Kensington Wine Market.  In that time he has managed to expand the whisky selection from an initial tableau of 60 expressions to upwards of 300 bottles.  And while quantity tells part of the tale, quality tells the rest, as KWM’s selection is really second to none in the city.  New malts are always en route, often exclusive to the shop, and often sell out rather quickly.

Andrew has made a point of keeping his friends close (and in the case of the Maltmonster…his enemies closer) and it is this engagement with us schmoes that has made him not only the premier whisky retailer in Canada, but also a great guy to call a friend.  Case in point is his dilligence in involving customers in tastings of cask samples to aid in cask selection.  KWM regularly purchases and bottles exclusive casks from some of the world’s greatest distillers.

In February of 2007 Andrew launched the Calgary Chapter of the Companions of the Quaich with an inaugural dinner at Buchanan’s Chop House.  This little enterprise now boasts a membership of some of Calgary’s most entertaining and interesting individuals, and events never fail to be anything less than memorable (and chock full of perfect blackmail moments).

The following year, 2008, Andrew started Ferguson’s Whisky Tours.  A couple times a year he leads a handful of enthusiasts across the pond to tour some of Scotland’s best distilleries.  These tours are not your ordinary whisky jaunts.  Andrew’s industry connections and personal passion have led to some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for those who sign up.

Of course, someone with their finger held so tightly to the pulse of the blood of Scotland is bound to be recognized by the industry at some point.  Indeed, April 2011, the Keepers of the Quaich opened their arms to Andrew and toasted him with a dram of anCnoc 16 for his inauguration.

Here’s an opportunity to listen to a guy that has managed to turn his passions into a career.  Not many of us can say that.

 

 

ATW:  First things first…everyone starts somewhere.  What was the catalyst that got you interested in whisky, and at what point did it become more than just an interest? 

AF:  A friend in University got me hooked with a bottle of Lagavulin 16 Year. I didn’t know at the time what I liked about it, I just liked it. So I started buying the odd bottle in University when I had the sheckles, and I recall Bowmore, Bunnahabhain and Lagavulin being my favourites. I started at Kensington Wine Market in 2001, with the intention of just sticking around for a few months until I could get back on my feet and then get a real job. I’d been away travelling and had shut down a painting business I was not enjoying. As it turned out, I was able to create my own career here with the support of an understanding boss. As clichéd as it may sound, it was a very natural and organic process and I never really saw it coming. It just happened!

 

ATW:  You’ve managed to turn a passion into a career.  Something not a lot of people can say.  How did this development come about?

AF:  It really happened of its own volition. I had never started out with a plan to be a Scotch expert, and even in the early years while I was getting my feet and growing my reputation I never really intended to stay the course. I planned to go back to school, get a business degree and land a real job. I envisioned working at a desk somewhere that would allow me to moonlight and sell whisky. But I love the job I have, and it continued to grow in terms of expectations, opportunities and responsibilities; it’s been impossible to let go of it. By far the most rewarding thing about the job is the relationships and friendships which have grown out of it. This is a big part of what has kept me so attached to this place.

 

ATW:  Tell me a little history about Ferguson’s Whisky Tours.  What led to you setting up this enterprise? 

AF:  It started out as a way to cover the cost of my trip to Scotland and also a way to share my experiences with others. I first made a pilgrimage to Scotland in 2006 and fell in love with the country, and even more so with Scotch whisky. I spent the better part of three weeks visiting as many distilleries as I could, wrote a travel blog and immersed myself in the experience. It was a wonderful trip, but lonely as well. I had people from distilleries to welcome and host me, and take me for dinner, but it was a relatively solitary experience. When I started talking with my employer about going back in 2008, she suggested I take a group with me of some of my customers. Around the same time a few of these people had expressed interest in and were encouraging me to put together a tour. I took my first group in 2008, and it was an incredible experience and a huge hit. Some of my fondest memories are from that trip. The next year in 2009 I split it off as a side business and started organizing and guiding trips. It has really taken a life of its own from there and I am currently in the process of building a new website. Both my trips in May are full and I have a lot of people inquiring about trips this fall.

 

ATW:  Can you share a few of the bigger successes, personal highlights and maybe humorous mishaps in launching Ferguson’s Whisky Tours?

AF:  There have been so many highlights that it would seem hard to select a few, let alone one. Tasting the White Bowmore in the Number 1 Vaults at Bowmore certainly would be near the top. We were the first people outside the company to taste the follow up to the Black Bowmore. Jackie Thompson at Ardbeg opening the mill and getting covered with flour is another memorable moment. She was guiding another group and I in May 2011, and was telling a story of the time a group asked her to open the mill and how her black outfit had been covered in flour! I had to remind her that it was my fault… There have been some other funny moments like stone I drove over on Arran which cracked our vans oil pan, the time I awoke sleep walking in the hallway of my Edinburgh hotel and the time one of my guest ran along the side of the slow moving van in the rain to enjoy a cigarette (he tripped over a road construction sign). But the funniest moment had to be the German singing an a capella song in English that he had written about his trip to Bowmore. It wasn’t so much that his song was funny, but he was one of 40 of the most motley crew of Germans imaginable (he was by far the most straight laced), and the buildup to this song was something out of a British sitcom. It was one of those you had to be there moments, I was trying so hard not to laugh that I started crying and had to step outside and just let it out. The next day as we were walking up the malting floor stairs at the distiller we saw the Canadian flag being raised while the German flag was lying in a crumpled heap on the ground. It all came flooding back! They turned out to be good guys, but the scenario was so bizarre,.

Did the Malt Monster ask this question? Ask him why he turned down a glass of the 10th Release Port Ellen in Craigellachie? That’s a good story too!

 

ATW:  Though I imagine each time out is a unique endeavor, what can a guest on one of your tours reasonably expect to experience?

AF:  Each tour is unique, and obviously the whiskies change with time. Basically they can expect to get the best tour and tasting the distilleries, or independent bottlers are willing to offer, excellent food, interesting company and generally a great time. I pride myself on putting on the kind of tour I’d want to be a part of. Small, focused on whisky, but ready to have a good time. I look after all the details from the time the guest is picked up in Edinburgh or Glasgow on the Sunday morning until the tour concludes on Saturday night with a dinner at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh. Along the way they will see the best whiskies and distilleries the region has to offer (I currently do three tours: Islay, Speyside and one which covers the Orkneys and Nothern Highlands) as well as the most important points of interest. I also where possible try to leave enough time for at least one round of golf, weather permitting. In 2013 I am hoping to offer my first Japanese whisky tour.

 

ATW:  It is unarguable that the mass appeal of whisky has broadened over the past few years.  The reputation Scotch has had as an ‘old boys’ drink has been somewhat eradicated by a slew of interest from the younger spheres, a greater balance in the sexes and aggressive marketing to a younger demographic.  This is all bound to affect the output from the distilleries, in terms of flavor profile, volume, cost and overall quality. Do you see this working for or against the intrinsic quality of good whisky?

AF:  Interesting question. The biggest driver right now is the growth in the BRIC countries: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Distilleries, especially the bigger ones are falling all over themselves to increase production to take advantage of the rapidly expanding markets, especially in the East. While some of the smaller placers are catering whiskies to appeal to certain demographics the bigger players are only concerned with one thing, getting as big a piece of the new markets as they can. And the consequences are already been seen, stock shortages in existing markets and price increases. This leaves me with several concerns: firstly, that quality will suffer, especially from the bigger producers as their production increases; secondly, that rapid and large price increases, especially among the older and rarer expressions, will shift consumer interest to other products; thirdly, that the industry is expanding so rapidly that it is creating yet another bubble (like those of the late 1890’s and late 1970’s) which will eventually pop. The last of these concerns me the most. 

 

ATW:  When you encounter someone in the shop (link to KWM) who is new to whisky how do you generally determine where to lead them and help them make their purchase?

AF:  I have a couple of go to whiskies for the neophyte, like the Arran 10 or the Glenmorangie Original. The key is to start them off with something soft but flavorful. First impressions are very important, you don’t want to ruin whisky for them so in my mind the key is to start with something easy to appreciate. Generally we’ll offer them a sample to see if they like it, and based on their response I’ll generally know which direction to take them. What’s really interesting is giving a tasting with a group of beginners, people who’ve never tried or enjoyed whisky. Taking them through a flight of six whiskies I find that if you start with the lighter softer ones and build into progressively stronger tasting whiskies almost everyone will be able to enjoy peated and cask strength whiskies. What I take away from this is that the manner in which you present them to people, and the order, is just as important as the strength and flavour.

 

ATW:  One of Kensington Wine Market’s (link to KWM) greatest features, I hear repeatedly, is that there is always the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’.  The open bottles in the shop are of all ages and price points.  How do you make it financially viable to open so many whiskies, and do you see the return in what the average shopper takes home?

AF:  This is one of our competitive advantages, and I certainly don’t want to give away all of our secrets. We do pride ourselves on having open bottles of most of our whiskies available for customers to sample. This started out organically and has really taken on a life of its own. I conduct most of my own tastings, rather than relying on agents, suppliers and brand ambassadors to do them for me. I don’t think there are many stores where this is the case. This means the heels, the partially full leftover whiskies stay in the shop, making them available for customers to sample them. Eight years ago when we first started offering samples I might have had a dozen whiskies available for sampling at any given time. It really caught on with our customers and word spread. As business grew we were able to offer more tastings which meant more heels.

The bottles we have  open are a reflection of the tastings we offer, which range from $35 introductory tastings to my Ancient Malts Tastings which cost $200-300/person and many others in between. The Ancient Malts are to the best of my knowledge unrivaled in Canada, featuring whiskies like: The Macallan 50 Year Lallique, Black Bowmore 1964, Gold Bowmore 1964, Auchentoshan 1957 50 Year (both casks) and the Gordon & MacPhail Generations Glenlivet 1940 70 Year (tied for the world’s oldest whisky) to name just a few. In late March of this year we offered an Ancient Malts Tasting featuring seven 40 year old whiskies. I don’t know any other business which is doing this.

Being able to sample a whisky, at $50, $100, $200, $500 or $22,000/bottle, before you buy it gives the customer the confidence that they are making the right decision. Especially if it is my recommendation.

 

ATW:  Something you’ve driven hard through KWM (link) is the importance of having exclusivity of product and purchasing your own casks.  This is obviously a brilliant tool in helping overcome competitors and chains that may be able to undercut a smaller store by way of volume purchasing.  Can you share a bit about what determines your cask selections and what goes into obtaining a portfolio of exclusive bottlings?

AF:  The Alberta liquor industry is a relatively even playing field, at least in theory, all stores have to be given the same price on every product regardless of volume. We believe our  prices are fair, and in line with our major competitors. Exclusives and single cask purchases build interest and mark us out as whisky specialists. We are especially careful about how we choose our casks, because we want our customers to be confident that we will always sell them whiskies of superior quality and interest. Ultimately I will make the final decision when selecting a cask, but I try to involve others in the process whom I recognize as having good palates. At the end of  the day we select our own private bottlings, and this above all else guarantees quality.

In addition to our private bottlings we do aggressively go after obtaining exclusive distribution of certain whiskies. Our customers like variety, and this is one way we are able to provide it to them. The exclusive opportunities come from hard work and relationship building. Whether it is with our customers, suppliers or the producers, relationship is everything. 

 

ATW:  What is the most personally rewarding aspect of being in the position you are in, as regards the running of the club, the tours, the shop, etc?

AF:  Without a doubt the friendships which have grown out of the business: customers, agents and brand ambassadors. I count many of these people among my closest and most trusted friends. There is a thriving whisky subculture, and I love being one of the cogs around which it turns in Calgary and Canada.

 

ATW:  Being on the frontlines, and watching the evolution of the whisky Industry, what trends do you see consumers moving towards?  Away from?

AF:  More and more women are getting interested in whisky, though I think there is still a lot of room to educate, grow and serve this demographic. As far as customers shifts I see two divergent trends: firstly, a growth in collecting and secondly, a shift away from brand loyalty. The first, collecting is still on the up, with the major brands leading the way. Some of them I fear are pushing the collectability too far, with the risk they will slay the Golden Goose. But it is the second trend which interests me more. Customers at this end of the spectrum are increasingly less brand loyal and more focused on quality than age or price. Cask strength, unchillfiltered, single cask and naturally coloured whiskies are the future. Whiskies bottled at 40 and 43% with added caramel colouring are the past and rapidly losing market share to the others. Some companies site tradition, fear of alienating customers and cost as reasons to continue these practices, but I don’t buy them. I think they are assuming the consumers aren’t educated in these regards, and that may be the case now but it’s changing. They should be looking to the next generation of whisky drinkers, not just the current ones. Customers are becoming better and better educated, and those distilleries that recognize this trend and respond to it will do better than the others in the long run.

 

ATW:  Which distilleries do you see making the greatest inroads with the consumer right now, and in what ways?

AF:  Small and independent distilleries are the hottest products right now. Firstly, because they have largely bought into the single cask, non chillfiltered, no added  colouring and cask strength trends while the larger companies have not. And secondly, because they are more creative and willing to experiment. There are some bigger players which have started to move in these directions, but they are the exception. Most large players are focused on gaining market share in new markets rather than growing and developing their existing markets. This may pay off for them globally, but it will cost them market share in their existing markets; and already is. Of the smaller players I think Glendronach and BenRiach are the two most dynamic right now. Some of their single cask offerings are spectacular, but also limited. Springbank has long been ahead of the curve on all four fronts, and is still doing well, though it concerns me that they seem to be a distillery with a lack of ambition. They seem to be comfortable with who they are and what they’re doing but have little desire to build on that. I love how the distillery is small, traditional and family owned, and that it is such a big part of the local community. It also makes great whisky, I’d just like to see them take that concept are grow it. They used to be a real leader, and I’d like to see them return to that perch. They have so much potential…

 

ATW:  With so much of your livelihood tied up in whisky, is it still possible to simply sit down and enjoy a dram?  What are a couple favorite ‘downtime’ drams for you?

AF:  Working in an industry where I am exposed to alcohol on a daily basis, it would surprise people to learn how seldom I drink at home. I love micro brewed beer, and good wine, but my drink of choice is still single malt Scotch whisky. When I do have a dram or two, my favourites are generally Bowmore, Ardbeg and Port Ellen. In the last year though I’ve really developed a taste for sherryed Speyside whiskies like Glenfarclas and Glendronach. My preference is generally for cask strength, sherry cask and peated whiskies.

 

ATW:  What is your favorite whisky experience to date?  What is on the bucket list to top it?

AF:  Opening the Macallan Lallique 50 Year live on CBC radio and tasting it blind for the first time was a big moment. It was by a factor of 10 the most expensive bottle I had ever opened and the genesis of much of what has followed over the last 5 years. My second was the sampling of the White Bowmore 1964 in the No.1 Vaults Warehouse at Bowmore on Islay during my first group whisky tour in 2008. We were the first people outside the company to have the opportunity to sample the whisky, and to do so in the holy of holies. It was an experience I will never forget.

As for my bucket list, I would like to eventually visit every distillery in Scotland, of which there are a little over 100.To date I’ve been to 70 or so. I am also looking forward to touring the whisky distilleries of Japan.

 

ATW:  Final question…is there any sort of protocol you have in place for dealing with problem customers?  Like say, some dirty Irish folk from Edmonchuk?

AF:  Patience, lots and lots of patience.

 

– ATW

Would You Rather Spend The Night With A Bunch Of 18 Year Olds Or One 32 Year old?

Awkward is having your wife catch you with a sassy 18 year old.  Domestic nuclear winter is having her come home and find you messing around with nine 18 year olds at the same time.  Not that anyone would want to be in that situation.  Errr…ummm…

Ok, ok…listen up, boys.  They may be pretty…they may smell good…they may taste good…and they may not even be ‘out of your league’…but no 18 year old will ever give you what a stunning 32 year old can.  I promise.

Though usually I’d give you a few paragraphs of preamble before jumping in to the nitty gritty, this time let’s leave it up to the imagination…

Let me tell you a little about how this one goes.  First there was a fair-haired lass from Speyside…

 

Glenfiddich 18

43% abv

Nose:  Heather and gooey honey.  Big ol’ baskets of fruit and armfuls of flowers.  Creamy vanilla ice cream, drizzled in creme caramel.  Red apple.  Berries in cream.  Pancakes and syrup.  Oaky, but young and vibrant for 18 years.

Palate:  Smooth and unchallengingly sweet.  Creamy vanillins dance with dried fruit and crunchy apple.  Lovely really.  Almost refreshing.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She’s familiar and you can’t help but sneak a second peek.  Cute and red-apple-rosy-cheeked.  Probably dated the quarterback.  Do you have a chance?  Maybe.  Is she worth it?  Hmmmm…time will tell.

 

GlenDronach 18

46% abv 

Nose:  Heavy sherry, rich and sweet…could only be Oloroso.  Cherry and cocoa.  Cinnamon and gingerbread.  Vanilla.  Slight yeastiness.  Fruitcake, mild cigar leaf and deep plumminess.

Palate:  Slight bitterness, almost tannic.  Heavy raisin bread and rummy fruitcake.  Drying.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Bubbly and fresh, but…there’s a little more of a dark side here.  This is not vanilla sex.  This is jeans and cardigans by day…handcuffs by night.  There’s a sensibility and maturity here that tells you no one will ever know about this dark side but you.

 

 

Macallan 18

43% abv

Nose:  Rich and chewy sherry…but very soft.  Nutmeg and cream.  Muted cherry.  Toffee.  Heather.  Nearly faultless nose.

Palate:  Mildest of dried fruit.  Caramel.  Warm melted chocolate.  Oak.  Lasts none too long, but a beautiful top note and denouement.  Man…what exceptional balance.

Thoughts & Impressions:  This one is a princess.  She’s not in your bed ‘cause she wants to be.  She’s there ‘cause she’s slumming and looking for an experience.  Don’t get too settled…don’t fall in love.  You can’t afford the upkeep on this one.

 

Highland Park 18

43% abv

Nose:  Creamy honey and rich peat smoke.  Dusty, spicy vanilla.  Mild cigar.  Rich sweet butter.  A bouquet of soft fruit and barely seen floral notes.  Hint of dill.

Palate:  The delivery is unbelievably smooth and calculated. Rich wood smoke teases, then mellows out with sweet caramel notes

Thoughts & Impressions:  Messy-haired and ready for a pillow fight.  She’s not leaving till sun-up.  And that’s not ‘cause she wants to sleep.

 

 

Bunnahabhain 18

46.3% abv 

Nose:  Smoke and sherry.  Ashy peat.  Pear and sweet banana cream.  Some sort of orchard fruit.  Honey and vanilla.  Stunning interplay at work here.

Palate:  Gooey, chewy malt full of smoke.  Sherried honey oak and a complex tapestry of spritely fruits.   This is maturity and youthful zest in perfect harmony.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Just a down-home small town girl that everyone underestimates.  The thing is…she’s bloody brilliant at everything she does and no one who meets her can resist her.  This is a keeper, if only you were looking to settle down.

 

Talisker 18

45.8% abv 

Nose:  Yeah, baby…there’s the Talisker pepper!  Salt.  A peaty backbone.  Cinnamon and ginger.  Some kinda soft orange fruit.  Toblerone.  Warm leather.  An absolute classic on the nose alone.

Palate:  Pepper.  Surprisingly sweet and fruity.  Swirling ribbons of smoke.  Peat.  Faint notes of old sherry.  Such a phenomenal linger smoked green apple.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Yow!  She’s a spicy one.  Blonde and bold.  Fiery-tempered.  Full of personality.  Highly possible she’s also the love of your life.

 

 

Longrow 18

46% abv

Nose:  Prickly and peppery.  Hint o’ mint maybe.  Smoke and caramel.  Licorice.  Some salt and thick cream over blueberries.  Wee bit o’ peat, but not near what I’d generally expect from a Longrow.

Palate:  There’s the peat I expected on the nose.  Comes through with some spiced apples and smoke.  Lindt chocolate with chili.  Long, long finish.

Thoughts & Impressions:  The dark-haired younger sister of your girlfriend.  Sassier and miles more charming.  No, you’re not wrong…she is trying to seduce you.

 

Caol Ila 18

43% abv 

Nose:  Slightly ‘green’.  Honeydew melon.  Aloe.  Mild citrus.  Fruits are starting to come forward.  Salt.  Very light smoke.

Palate:  A little more smoke than on the nose.  Great green fruit delivery.  Lovely and uplifting.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She comes from the biggest house on the street.  Her parents have lots of money and drive brilliant cars. She’s the one everyone wants but are afraid to approach.  Shame, really.  She’s also a sweetheart, and easy to love.

 

 

Laphroaig 18

48% abv 

Nose:  Orange and chocolate.  Cedar.  Fruity.  Heavy vanilla and black licorice flavored jujubes.  Pear drops.  Sambuca and fruit bowl with dominant bananas.

Palate:  Poached and caramelized white fruits.  Floral smoke.  Some dark chocolate and Werther’s Originals.  Drying with tobacco and clean smoke.

Thoughts & Impressions:  This is a mysterious one.  Redolent of exotic and foreign perfumes.  Dark and alluring.  This is the Dashiel Hammett heroine seen through a haze in a dark and smoky bar.  You love her.  But can you handle her?

 

 

But…

After a romp like that I promise you you’ll still be left wondering ‘what if?’  And further, that empty feeling won’t be sated until you finally spend a little time with the one that should have had your attention all along…

 

Springbank 32

46% abv

Nose:  Smoke and wax.  Coconut milk and soft pineapple juice.  Marmalade.  Vanilla and oak.  Some tame spices.  Becomes fruitier and fruitier over time.

Palate:  There’s the maturity.  Waxy…smoky and oaky.  Dried fruit…apricot maybe.  Creosote.  Gorgeous, gorgeous oak.

Thoughts & Impressions:  She’s what you’ve waited for.  Vibrant and sweet.  The older she gets, the more you love her.  Age has taken all of her best and given it just a little more brilliance by imparting a mature knowing.

 

barry's place pics 014

How can you possibly top her?  Simple…you can’t.  I’ll take my beautiful 32 year old over any 18 year old…any day.

Happy birthday, babe.  Love you.  Always have.

 

– Tasting notes and write-up:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt (except Caol Ila, courtesy of Pat)

SMWS Canada Pt 3 – Tasting The Drams

So…we’ve had a bit of a chinwag about the SMWS.  You know their dirty secrets and you’re aware of their dirty people.

Now let’s talk a little about how it all works.  First things first.  You want to buy the malts…you gotta be a member.  No exceptions.  If you want to taste the whiskies before committing, well…that’s another story.  Check out the schedule for the First Friday tastings through Kensington Wine Market.  Once a month members can taste all of the whiskies in the new Outturn for $35.  Non-members can attend for $45.  Decent dramming (all at cask strength, remember!) for a fair price.

Now you’re probably wondering what ‘Outturn’ means.  This refers to both the release of a small handful of new whiskies and the number of bottles of each expression released.  Example…”this months ‘Outturn’ features seven new malts” or “the ‘Outturn’ on this new 123.07 is 779 bottles”.  Clear as mud?  Good.

And the ‘123.07’…easy.  The ‘123’ refers to a certain distillery, while the ’07’ refers to the number of casks the SMWS has bought from said distillery.  In this case, this would be the 7th cask that the Society has purchased from Glensomethingorother.

As mentioned earlier on, I can’t tell you what these bottlings are.  Instead…have some fun with it.  Go to the SWMS site and read the notes for each expression.  Follow the clues provided therein.  Let there be a little mystery.

 

Alright already.  Enough chit chat, right?  You wanna know what the whiskies are like, right?  Let’s dive in.  I’m thirsty!

 

     A4 – “Soft, Spicy, Rich and Intense”

     Outturn:  434 Bottles    

     22 y.o.    

     47% abv

Nose:  Rum-like.  Old and mature.  Latex.  Orange Rind.  Prune.  Fennel.  Hints of bourbon.  Green apple.  Little bit of anise.  Steak rub or BBQ sauce.

Palate:  Spicy and hot.  Licorice and cherry eucalyptus.  Apple finish…though somewhat medicinal.

Thoughts & Impressions:  An Armagnac.  Something a little different.  Not quite my thing, but Deah Lawd, is this unique!

 

     17.32 – “Boiled Sweets and Grapefruit Peel”

     Outturn:  214 Bottles    

     9 y.o.    

     56.2% abv

 

Nose:  Honey.  Heather.  Vanilla.  Malts and a touch of feints.  Dusty cask.  Lemon.  Very light really.

Palate:  Barley.  Some tartness.  Lemon.  White wine notes…Sauvignon Blanc, perhaps.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Young and just waiting to come into its own.  Don’t get me wrong…not bad now, but in a few years…would be great.

 

     123.07 – “Unusual and Highly Enjoyable”

     Outturn:  779 Bottles    

     10 y.o.    

     59.6% abv

 

Nose:  Malty.  Beef bouillion…OXO.  Thick veins of caramel.  Deep dark wine.  Brine.  Brown sugar.  Rye bread.

Palate:  Tannic wine notes and malt beef.  Fades to barleys.

Thoughts & Impressions:  First thoughts were this could only be one of two distilleries, but…nope…I was dead wrong.  Figured for sure a Mortlach or Springbank.

 

     37.50 – “Pizza in a Sweetie Shop”

     Outturn:  263 Bottles    

     12 y.o.    

     54.5% abv

 

Nose:  Sweet and floral.  Like a soapery (Ivory?).  Creamy and sugary.  Zesty.  Basil…oregano…Italian seasoning?  Very clean.

Palate:  Young, sharp and clean.  Zesty spices.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Now here we gots us sumpin’ alive and just…  Thought the name was a little quirky until getting nose deep.  It is pizza-ish!

 

     76.83 – “Cocktails After Rugby”

     Outturn:  605 Bottles    

     15 y.o.    

     57.1% abv 

 

Nose:  Feints and malt.  Mint.  Vanilla, cream and caramel.  Peanuts.  Ginger.

Palate:  Creamy.  Vanilla.  Caramel corn.  Kinda spicy.  Maybe a little orange.  Good balance for a flavor profile.

Thoughts & Impressions:  The nose…s’ok.  The palate…s’almost awesome.

 

     36.49 – “A Country Kitchen Garden”

     Outturn:  278 Bottles    

     21 y.o.    

     52.4% abv

 

Nose:  Fairly up-front and dusty grains.  Floral.  Mild spices.  Perhaps a hint of butter tart.  Lemon.  Light…very light.  Lowland-ish.

Palate:  Barleys and mild spiced bread.  Faint apple cinnamon.  Age is deceptive here.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Light and lovely aperitif dram.  But having said that…pretty sure this would be more than alright at pretty much any time o’ day.

 

     35.61 – “Just So-ooh Nice”

     Outturn:  213 Bottles    

     21 y.o.    

     60.4% abv

 

Nose:  Sugar cookies.  Rich, thick and creamy.  Spiced baking and treacle.  Cherry jujube.  Syrupy.  Pepper bite.  Waxy cherry note (Did this come from an ex-Maker’s Mark cask?)

Palate:  Bourbon.  Dolce de Lecce.  Syrupy, candy, waxy notes carry through to palate.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Best o’ the bunch.  Highly possible I have a little bit of a crush on this l’il sweetie.  Seconds?  Yes, please.

 

     127.20 – “Invigorating, Eye-Watering, Breath-Catching”

     Outturn:  202 Bottles    

     8 y.o.    

     64.2% abv 

 

Nose:  Farmy.  Peat and iodine.  Burnt out fires.  Creamy and buttery.  Smells like a wine influence.  Young and aggressive.  Fruits?  Bahahaha, don’t be ridiculous.  Well…maybe citrus.  Any other  notes?  Who knows.

Palate:  Unmistakable.  Deep peat and iodine.  Dry ashy smoke.  Banana?  Maybe.  Odd…peated banana.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Holy mule kick!  Ya likes ‘em young?  Ya likes ‘em peaty?  Ya likes this one!  Hard to imagine any other distillery producing a malt like this.

 

-Tasting notes and write-up:  Curt

– Images:  SMWS Canada

SMWS Canada Pt 2 – An Interview With The Founders

In Part 1 on the SMWS Canada feature, we talked about the ‘what’ and the ‘why’.  Now lets discuss ‘who’.

While I’d like to tell you it is two fine upstanding old gents in tweed coats and a tendency to use the phrase ‘hmmm, yes…rawther’ to punctuate their thoughts, nothing could be further from the truth.  C’mon, you stodgy old buggers.  Scotch ain’t the old boys’ drink it once was.

Here in the Great White North, our champions of the green-bottled single cask are a husband-wife team of young, enthusiastic anoraks, who love to socialize, laugh and bring their passion to the masses.  After years of rumour regarding the SMWS‘s migration to Canadian shores, we finally have this duo to thank.

So…in the absence of this refined pair, who better to lead the charge than two deep, dark and mysterious serious-minded individuals who would never be caught dead in a compromising photo*, Rob and Kelly Carpenter.

I’ll let them speak for themselves…

 

Co-Founders of the Canadian branch of the SMWS, Kelly and Rob Carpenter

ATW:  Who are Rob and Kelly Carpenter?

Calgary-based husband and wife and recreational whisky enthusiasts with full-time day jobs who have been lucky enough to turn a hobby into a great side business.

 

ATW:  How did you two find yourselves immersed in the world of whisky?  What was the catalyst?

The catalyst was having the good fortune to live in Edinburgh, Scotland for a year.  Kelly was always a fan of whisky as she grew up in a house where it was her parents’ drink of choice, but Rob didn’t get into it until we attended a whisky tasting during our first month in Scotland.  That’s when he finally saw the light.

 

ATW:  What led to such a passionate interest in the SMWS and to the initiative to bring it to Canada?

A fellow Canadian, and classmate of Rob’s at the University of Edinburgh, Sam Simmons, took us to the Members’ Room of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Leith one night.  Called “The Vaults,” it’s known as the spiritual home of The SMWS; it’s a fabulous old building with great high ceilings and dark wood and big comfy leather chairs where members (and guests of members) can settle in for a dram (or several), some good food and great fellowship.  As fantastic as that room is, though, it was of course the whiskies that really got our attention.  We couldn’t believe the quality and variety and wanted to try as many as possible! As we sat there that first night, with Sam waxing philosophical about how he’d love to bring the Society to Canada, Rob’s wheels were already turning on how to do that!  Unlike Sam, who is still in the UK (and is now global brand ambassador for The Balvenie), we returned to Canada after our year in Edinburgh and immediately started bending the ear of the Managing Director at “HQ” to bring The Society to Canada.

 

ATW:  I imagine there were some pretty substantial logistics obstacles in the process.  Can you share any big ups and downs regarding setup and launch?

We’ve had all kinds of issues, just as any small business faces when starting up. Developing a website, setting ourselves up as liquor agents, then figuring out how to ship product, how to format the marketing materials, etc. Of course, this business has a strong regulatory aspect to it as well, and we’ve had to work with the regulators in each province a fair bit, but on the whole the regulators have been very helpful. It’s been a lot of work but the response from the members makes it all worth it.

 

ATW:  The Western incarnation of the SMWS is obviously of a slightly different make-up and caliber than in the UK.  How are you finding reception here in Canada?  Does it differ drastically from your experiences in Scotland?

We’ve found people extremely receptive. As in the UK, they love the variety The Society offers and the uniformly great quality of the bottlings. It’s a lot of fun introducing a Society bottling to someone who’s never tried it before and seeing their eyes go big and hearing ‘that’s amazing!’

 

ATW:  Is Canada getting a fair shake at all casks that the global SMWS is seeing?  Do you two have a say in what makes it here?

From our perspective Canada is absolutely being treated fairly in cask allocation. The Society’s headquarters is very good at ensuring all branches have an equal crack at rare and unique casks. HQ has been very supportive of the Canadian branch.

 

ATW:  What can you explain about the SMWS cask selection process?

The Society in Edinburgh has a variety of sources for its casks so it gets samples on a regular basis. If the samples are deemed to be of acceptable quality they are forwarded to the Tasting Panel to be put through a rigorous grading system. The Tasting Panel consists of whisky enthusiasts, Society ambassadors, writers, poets, etc.  and they actively participate in offering their impressions of the nose, palate, finish, etc., both without and with water. The Chair madly records all the comments being tossed around, and if the sample gets a passing grade (only about 50% of casks the Tasting Panel tries are passed) the Chair then crafts the musings of the Panel into the curious tasting notes that Society members see on the bottles and in Outturn (the monthly listing of new releases).

 

ATW:  Any thoughts to one day opening up a Calgary Club House for SMWS members?  In the meantime, I hear tell that it is generally acceptable for members to converge on your place for cigars and drams.  Is that right?

We’d love to be able to have a venue in Calgary and other Canadian cities at some point in the future where members can enjoy fantastic Society drams in great settings. That, however, is a long term vision and for now we are content with ensuring members get great variety every month and introducing The Society to as many people as we can.  As for converging on our place, the door is always open, but we have a fierce security guard who may not be as welcoming as we would be.

 

ATW:  What are a few of the more spectacular bottles you’ve come across?  Any real duds?

Actually, we’ve still got some bottles that we brought back from Scotland before we launched the Canadian branch that we’re afraid to open because we remember them as spectacular when we tried them in Edinburgh, and as we’ve said before about Society bottles, once they’re gone, they’re gone!  We like to tell people that The Society bottles two types of single malt whisky: fantastic whiskies and interesting whiskies. We’ve never found a dud; The Society maintains consistently great quality in its bottlings. Of course, there will always be some that members like more than others, but it would be boring if we all liked the same thing. In the end, The Society is really about satisfying the never ending curiosity of single malt enthusiasts for new and unique offerings.

 

 

ATW:  Which distilleries have you been particularly impressed with in the SMWS bottlings?

Bottles from Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Glen Scotia are consistently outstanding, but again, there’s never a dud and it always boils down to individual tastes and preferences.

 

ATW:  As the SMWS gets on its feet in Canada, is there an inherent difficulty in determining quantities of each expression to order?  Has stock and availability been an issue up to this point?

When we started we had no idea how people in Canada were going to respond. As a membership organization, The Society is a very unique concept, and we didn’t know if people would balk when told that they could only buy the bottlings if they were members. So we were cautious about how much stock we ordered initially. But the response has been very positive. Unfortunately, as a result we’ve had some challenges with stock availability which the members have had to be patient with, and we thank them for that. We’re now starting to see more stock come into the country. But the fact remains that these are always single cask releases and they will therefore never be of unlimited quantity; once they’re gone, they’re gone forever.

 

ATW:  Are you happy with the reception to the society in Canada?  Any future initiatives?

Thrilled!  Our expectations and projections of where we’d be six months in have been hugely exceeded.  It must be noted, however, that we wouldn’t be anywhere close to where we find ourselves today were it not for the tireless effort , enthusiasm and support of Calgary’s Kensington Wine Market and in particular their whisky buyer, Andrew Ferguson.  A huge supporter of this crazy endeavor since the beginning, Andrew’s whisky knowledge and clientele is arguably second-to-none in Canada.  It’s been primarily thanks to his huge following that we’ve garnered the interest we have.

Future initiatives include expanding into other provinces so that our members outside of Alberta can find Society bottles on the shelves of liquor stores in their own provinces.  It’s a slow process, full of red-tape, but we are now planning to launch in BC in the fall and we are currently in talks with the LCBO to try to ensure that Ontario residents can access Society bottlings as well.

 

ATW:  Any last thoughts?

It’s time for a dram…or two.

 

ATW:  Finally…tell us your best lawyer joke…

Lawyers aren’t funny (however, it’s imperative that wives of lawyers have a sense of humour).

 

Thanks, Rob and Kelly.

*if you ever get the opportunity to share a dram with Maltmonster, ask him to see the photo of Kelly on his phone.  😉

Watch for Part 3, tasting notes on eight different SMWS casks, coming soon.  Slainte!

 

– ATW

SMWS Canada Pt 1 – Rhymes With Orange?

      

 

Dispatch 1 from #7:

Mystique.  Something that is sadly lacking in far too much of our day-to-day existence.  How ‘bout some alchemy?  Astronomy?  Mythology?  Conspiracy?  Anything, really.  Just something to spice things up a bit.

A few months back, October of 2011 to be precise, saw the launch of Canada’s branch of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, heretofore referred to as the SMWS.  While none too overtly underground or bound to incite the loonies to pull out their foil caps, the best kept secrets of the SMWS will only ever be revealed to members.  Fortunately…the ranks are still open to new folk becoming initiates.

 

 

First things first…what is the SMWS?  Put simply…the ultimate proponent of single cask single malt Scotch whiskies.  Small batch bottlings, naked and glorious.  Unchill-filtered, un-colored and barrel meets bottle without the addition of water.  Brilliant.

All of this is not to say that the SMWS is (or isn’t) the best independent bottler out there.  That is a conversation for another day.  Nonetheless, it is a staggering organization that seems to have (or have had) access to casks from every distillery conceivable.  If you are a malt anorak that lives and dies by the unique print each whisky boasts, there is arguably no other bottler than can provide you with the breadth that the SMWS can.

The history of this organization is not mine to share here.  This little feature serves only to spread the gospel about the Canadian branch.  Wiki is your friend, folks, but note…like all great mysteries…there may be more here than meets the eye.

And while there are no secret handshakes, no ritual initiations, no Stonecutter’s anthems, no degrees, and sadly no skull to drink from (c’mon…admit it…that would be cool!), there is still a bit of society secrecy and elitism.  SMWS bottles are only available to society members.  No degree of envy or desire will land you one of these beautiful green bottles without having the passkey (ahem…your membership number).

But further, to add an element of mystery and secrecy, each bottle is identified only by a number, a title as esoteric and ephemeral as a Tom Robbins quote and some over-the-top tasting notes.  Oh yeah…and these tasting notes will usually feature some obscure hint to lead you in the right direction if you care to play private dick and try to suss out the source distillery on your own.  The teasers are often along the lines of ‘this distillery’s cast-iron mash-tun is painted bright red’ or ‘the distillery was built in 1779’.

 

 

The two passionate (errr…eccentric) individuals you’d have to thank (or blame) are Calgary couple, Rob and Kelly Carpenter.  Watch for SMWS Pt 2 in the coming days…an interview with these two dram-swillers.  If the opportunity arises, do please put a bug in their ear about launching a Calgary SMWS clubhouse.  Rob…Kelly…your acolytes are waiting.

And finally…

What rhymes with orange?  Right.  Nothing.  And what rhymes with the names of most Scottish distilleries?  Even less.  In keeping with the SMWS code of conduct I, of course, won’t tell you any of the distilleries by name, but I had full intentions of playing a little rhyming game to drop a few hints with my future tasting notes, but hey…what the hell rhymes with Auchentoshan, Allt-a-Bhainne or Cragganmore?  Seriously?

Having said this…SMWS Pt 3 will be a feature tasting with a handful of specially selected malts.  Your clues to solving this?  None.  Even I no longer recall what is in the bottles.  You’ll have a number, some tasting notes and my unsolicited opinions.  Just an opportunity to see some of the uniqueness available by the bottle.

When we’ve made our way through Pts 1, 2 and 3, if you should find yourself intrigued, pop on by Kensington Wine Market here in Calgary and have a little tete-a-tete with Andrew Ferguson.  Andrew has partnered up with Rob and Kelly as the retail front for this little venture.  I’m sure he’ll be happy to collect your hard-earned dollars, reward you with the keys to the vaults and send you off happier in the fight against sobriety.  Following the SMWS posts throughout the duration of this week, Mr. Ferguson himself with be the honored guest in another ATW interview.  Stay tuned.

#7…out.

 

– Chatter:  Curt

– Photos:  Curt

Kilchoman – A Chance Encounter With Winter In Canada

KILCHOMAN ———– A CHANCE ENCOUNTER WITH WINTER IN CANADA

 

The Calgary winter has been pushing hard since early November 2011, so on February 8, 2012 we, a motley collection of seven like-minded whisky drudges, took off our snow shoes and mad trapper hats and sat down together to push back. Clint, Curt, Jay R, Jay W, Maltmonster, Pat and Calgary’s Napoleon, a self-acclaimed whisky expert, turned our interest and thirst toward eight different bottlings of Kilchoman. In doing so managed to ignore winter (at least until the next morning). With the help of the collective, Curt and I decided to post our tasting notes together in a joint effort and Pat did the honors of the photos.

For the benefit of the great unwashed, the Kilchoman Rockside Farm distillery was born in 2005 on the rocky, peaty Island of Islay and is the first new distillery built on Islay in 124 years. Kilchoman currently malts about 30% of their own barley which is grown on their own farm. The total yearly production is around 100,000 liters of the good stuff. The main source of Bourbon barrels is from Buffalo Trace Distillery, Kentucky and Oloroso Sherry butts from Miguel Martin of Jerez, Spain. “Kil” in Gaelic means church and Kil-choman takes its name from a small Kil-t wearing settlement less than a kil-ometre away.

In an age where bigger is supposed to better (Roseisle) and contracting out specialized tasks like malting, cooperage, bottling and farming seems to make better business sense, it’s nice to see distilleries like Kilchoman with a real desire to reverse this trend and take on a grass roots approach to full control whisky making.

We couldn’t help to think with all the governmental red tape, the huge financial burden, the startup headaches and the never ending learning curve why then would any sane person want to build a whisky distillery from the ground up? Not that we don’t love you for it. Well whilst we were drinking and enjoying our whisky we came up with a list with 16 possible reasons:

 

1) A David and Goliath Condition – The desire to bring the corporate giant, Diageo, to its knees.

2) Final item on the fanatical Scotch hobbyist list:  own a distillery.

3) Suffer from Jim Murray Syndrome – The need to receive praise from somebody you don’t respect (similar to Stockholm syndrome).

4) The voices compelled me…but we’re fine now.

5) Communication problem – Not fully understanding what your wife is saying.  “I don’t care, you can do whatever the f#@k you want” really wasn’t permission to start a new distillery.

6) Malt-O-Maniac – Overcome with irresistible need to work with barley.

7) Malt-O-Freak – Obsessed with stopping barley from germinating.

8) Some extra strand in the English DNA that reads “Must rule over something Scottish”.

9) If God is watching us, the least we can do is be entertaining.

10) An ideal founded after a night of heavy scotch drinking and bragging to friends “If I owned a distillery I would do it sooooo much better”.

11) Nesting instinct – Just wanting to secure a large supply of whisky at a reasonable price for you and your unreasonable friends.

12) Trying to get over your Coulrophobia – By surrounding yourself with government clowns.

13) A long family business history with the need to be first, best or really, really different.

14) Tired of Listening to Andrew Symington of Edradour claims of being the only neat little distillery in Scotchland.

15) Failed badly with the vows of Chastity, Obedience and Silence …which only left Poverty.

16) Woke up in a field on the Rockside Farm the morning after a night of heavy drinking at the Islay Festival with a sheep in one arm and real bad case of Whisnesia (only remembering you really liked whisky & sheep but couldn’t remember where home was).

 

KILCHOMAN RANGE TASTING AND A BATTLE OF THE CASKS

 

#1 Inaugural 2005 – 2009 1st Release 46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 5 months in oloroso butts

#2 Autumn 2009 2nd Release 46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and one cask of 3 years refill bourbon finished 3 months in oloroso butts

#3 Spring 2010 3rd Release 46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 3.5 months in oloroso butts

#4 100 % Islay 2011 Inaugural Limited Release 50 % ABV1st fill bourbon and refill bourbon with 100% Islay barley

#5 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary , Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon # 119 May 30 , 2007 – July 21 , 2010 61.9 % ABV

#6 Binny’s Beverage Depot – Chicago, Illinois Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon # 182 July 4, 2007 – August 26, 2010 61.1 % ABV

#7 The Whisky Shop – San Francisco, California Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon # 204 July 18, 2007 – August 26, 2010 60.9 % ABV

#8 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary, Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Sherry # 322 November 15, 2006 – September 13, 2011 60.0 % ABV

 

 

#1 Inaugural 2005 – 2009 1st Release

46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 5 months in oloroso butts

 

CURT

Nose: Licorice. Iodine. Citrus zest. Salt. Raw smoke and earthy peat. Capers. Bonfire and maple bacon.

Palate: Smoky and salty. Sharp and young, but balanced with some sweetness. Cracked pepper.

Finish: Granny Smith apple. Warm and long lasting.

Thoughts: Enjoyable as hell. Better than almost all of the young whiskies (under 5 y.o., that is) I’ve tried.

 

MALTMONSTER

NOSE: Smoky medicinal hit. Lemons & pears. Clamato juice and gin botanicals.

TASTE: Earthy.  Liquid smoky.  Licorice, tart lemon and green apples.

FINISH: Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT: What a fantastic whisky to start with. Really has me in awe of just how good a three year old whisky can be.

 

 

#2 Autumn 2009 2nd Release

46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and one cask of 3 years refill bourbon finished 3 months in oloroso butts

 

CURT

Nose: Creme caramel. Soft pear. Vanilla. Smoke. Spearmint.

Palate: Smoke and mature beyond its years. Soft white fruit. Woody and fishy.

Finish: Firey, but somewhat short-lived, like a fireworks explosion.

Thoughts: Slightly softer and more rounded corners (creamier) than the Inaugural.

 

MALTMONSTER

NOSE: Little more depth and softer smoke than the Inaugural. Vanilla and oranges. Aged cheddar cheese.

TASTE: Whip cream.  Mild smoke.  Sweet & sour candy lemon drops.

FINISH: Medium to long.  Little bitter and warm.

ASSESSMENT: You would think this would be very similar to the Inaugural given the age, but yet they are very different. Maybe the stock varies because of the learning curve in starting up a distillery?

 

 

#3 Spring 2010 3rd Release

46 % ABV 3 years 1st fill bourbon and finished 3.5 months in oloroso butts

 

CURT

Nose: Smoked salmon. Lemon juice. Herbal and grassy. Mussels in white wine. Kerosene.

Palate: Fishy. Hoisin. Syrupy pear. Hot.

Finish: Still quite fishy and feisty. Wriggling on the hook.

Thoughts: Good drink and quirky as hell. Just different enough to be charming.

 

MALTMONSTER

NOSE: Low tide (yes I used to live on the coast) and things that come with that.  Winey.  Lemons.

TASTE: Smoked Salmon.  Sweet peat.  Pears and toffee.

FINISH: Medium to long.  Warm and slightly oily.

ASSESSMENT: This is almost between the Inaugural and the Autumn 2009 release.  This is my 2nd favorite of the first three releases and Inaugural is my favorite of the three.

 

 

#4 100 % Islay 2011 Inaugural Limited Release

50 % ABV 1st fill bourbon and refill bourbon with 100% Islay barley

 

CURT

Nose: Spirity and grainy. Seems VERY young. Oaky. Notes of new make. Waxy and somewhat plastic. Smoky, but not overpoweringly so.

Palate: Hot and virgin (and not in the good way). NOT sweet. Over-salted. Peat is aggressive.

Finish: Yep.

Thoughts: The least enjoyable Kilchoman I’ve experienced to date. Though I like the others, this…I wouldn’t buy.

 

MALTMONSTER

NOSE: Iodine and malty. New make feinty. Green apples and floral.

TASTE: New make.  Vanilla.  Lightly peated.  Jammy.

FINISH: Medium.  Briny and very hot.

ASSESSMENT: Had huge expectations for this, really enjoyed the first three malts but this was a bit of a letdown. It either needs some sherry finishing or a little more time in the cask.

 

 

#5 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary, Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon #119

May 30 , 2007 – July 21 , 2010 61.9 % ABV

 

CURT

Nose: Creamy and rich. Spicy. Herbal. Sultana. Eucalyptus (some suggested Vicks Vapo-rub?). Bubble-gummy.

Palate: Firey and smoke-heavy. Anise. Zest and brine.

Finish: Pleasant slow fade. Hefty smoke left behind with fruit skin tartness.

Thoughts: Good cask selection. One of the faves of the eve.

 

MALTMONSTER

NOSE: Lemons and ripe cherries. Mild to strong peat smoke. Eucalyptus. West coast oysters.

TASTE: Mild peat smoke.  Vanilla and red apples. Pepper.

FINISH: Medium to long. Like the smooth fading finish.

ASSESSMENT: Battle of the Bourbon 2005 3 year old single casks starts here and me likes!

 

 

#6 Binny’s Beverage Depot – Chicago, Illinois Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon #182

July 4, 2007 – August 26, 2010 61.1 % ABV

 

CURT

Nose: Dill. Mellower than the KWM cask and in contrast seems almost flat. Hints of grainy new-make. Smoke and youthful peat nip.

Palate: Wax and cherry. Underdeveloped. Old chocolate. Meaty and malty.

Finish: Nothing to dislike, but nothing to mourn when it fades either.

Thoughts: Would probably be a LOT better with another half dozen years in wood, but I question the cask here. Seems kinda dud-ish.

 

MALTMONSTER

NOSE: Assertive smoke.  Aged cheese.  Apples and pears.

TASTE: Mint and lemons. Little pepper and licorice.

FINISH: Medium to long with a sharp tang to it.

ASSESSMENT: Poor showing to the KWM single cask.

 

 

#7 The Whisky Shop – San Francisco, California Single Cask 1st fill Bourbon #204

July 18, 2007 – August 26, 2010 60.9 % ABV

 

CURT

Nose: Dusty. Wood shavings. Rich wet smoke. Fishy. Vanilla. Lemon.

Palate: Hot and spicy Asian sauce of some sort.

Finish: A hickory like smoke and apple. Long and warming.

Thoughts: Really liked this one. Certainly one of the best of the night.

 

MALTMONSTER

NOSE: Charcoal and fire starter. Major citrus and bubble gum.

TASTE: Mild peat smoke.  Honey.  Cheddar cheese. Tobacco.

FINISH: Medium to long.  Earthy dry finish.

ASSESSMENT: My 2nd favorite single cask and very close to the KWM for number one. It’s amazing to me that all three of these single casks could be so different.

 

 

#8 Kensington Wine Market – Calgary, Alberta Single Cask 1st fill Sherry #322

November 15, 2006 – September 13, 2011 60.0 % ABV

 

CURT

Nose: Dry fruit. Burnt caramel. BBQ sauce. New carpet. Barley still cuts with its youth. Butter tarts.

Palate: Buttery and sweet, but smoky as hell.

Finish: Lovely. Sweet and smoky toasted oak.

Thoughts: Another young gem. Calgary’s KWM had two of the better Kilchomans on offer this eve.

 

MALTMONSTER

NOSE: Mellow briny smoke. Cherries and oranges. Leather and earthy.

TASTE: Creamy chewy jam. Black licorice and raisins.

FINISH: Long and gets warmer at the end.

ASSESSMENT: The only ‘all sherry’ cask we had in the lineup, and it is brilliant.  My second overall favorite of the night next to the Inaugural 2005, release which was #1 pick as overall favorite of the night .

 

 

I remember being part of the B-team to help chose this cask for KWM back on August 16, 2011. We were given only two 2006 Sherry samples to chose from cask #322 & cask #323. Sample #322 was stunning and sample #323 was very less than stunning (varnish) and ended up at being bottled for Whisky Live Paris and receiving a rating of 78 from Serge on Whisky Fun. Again it’s odd that two young casks could be so different.

 

Much thanks to Anthony Wills for coming to Calgary in October 2011 and leading us in a wonderful tasting including the new 5 year old first fill bourbon, which was fantastic. Sorry we didn’t get to talk much in Victoria but look forward to seeing you here again next year .

 

– Maltmonster

– Photos:  Pat

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

“Maltmonster, I’m sorry for showing up late as a result of locking my keys in the vehicle at the Olympic Park Shell gas station. Life is tough; It’s even tougher if you’re stupid.

As I was late I didn’t get a chance to rate & taste all the whiskies and as I trust your opinion more than my own, please rate these whiskies for me.

Out of anybody in the whisky industry, I hold the you in the highest esteem. Maltmonster, you are a true guiding light, a credit to the noble Irish and without question have the best taste in whisky in the world.

 

Calgary’s Napoleon

Self-acclaimed whisky expert, Quaker, sheep shagger, whisky monger, whisky writer and proud bearer of the MHLV yellow tie”

Ardbeg – One Wicked Lineup

An Evening With The Collective Running Through A Vertical Of Ardbeg

 

It’s a rare thing that I am at a loss for words. In fact, I’m sure a few people who know me would like it to be a slightly more frequent occurrence. Like most passionate (Insane? Obsessive?) souls I have very strong opinions. I find that the more passionate the individual, the more they think people should listen to them. Having said that…I searched hard to find something to say about this tasting that I thought anyone would care to listen to.

This gathering happened months back, and I have been sitting on these tasting notes ever since. I simply could not come up with an angle for this one. There was the inevitable ‘attack the prophet’ (he who writes the bible) spin…the ‘fellate all things in the green bottle’ tack (can’t hide bias here…I love Ardbeg)…the ‘bog beast’ approach…etc etc.

In the end though, I concede and have settled for…

A few of us got together to taste some Ardbeg. We came…we drank…we were conquered. It was simply bigger than all of our might combined.

The notes below are, as usual when we do these group tastings, cobbled together from the collective wisdom of the crew. Some poetic. Some insightful. Some just crude and crass. This refers to both the gang gathered and the jottings below.

With no further ado…Ardbeg.

 

 

Ardbeg Blasda

40% abv

Nose: Big lemon and lime. Anise. Salty and mildly peppery. Slightly spirity (new-make-ish). Pepper skins. Stewing tomatoes and malt. Distant campfire. Vanilla.

Palate: Thin and fairly weak…for an Ardbeg anyway. Black licorice. Zero finish. Decent mid-note.

Thoughts & Comments: Light and refreshing. By no means a bad whisky, it was the least favorite of the night. Watered down for an Ardbeg.  Truly the lightweight from this distillery full of heavyweights.

Ranking: 9th

 

Ardbeg 17

40% abv

Nose: Herbal. Light vanilla. Red rock candy (strawberry? Cherry?). Aged wood shavings. Strawberry marshmallow. Mild smoke. Grassy. Cream soda. Bread. Amaretto. Grenadine/maraschino.

Palate: Char. Tangy. Fairly light with a short finish.

Thoughts & Comments: Delicate, sweet and mature. Muted phenols.  Again…atypical of Ardbeg’s usual bombast, but still  lovely.

Ranking: 5th

 

Ardbeg Airigh Nam Beist

46% abv

Nose: Vanilla ice cream. Toasted marshmallow. Salt and iodine. Licorice. Beachside campfire. Mild caramel. Citrus and tar. Lemon sweets. Sherry tannins.

Palate: Sweet and creamy. Peat and brine.

Thoughts & Comments: Needs a little time to properly open. “Great punctuation.”  Sadly missed.  If you come across this one gathering dust in some shop somewhere…snap it up.

Ranking: 4th

 

Ardbeg Ten

46% abv

Nose: Big deep smoke. Creosote. Citrus and brine. Seaweed. Capers. Vanilla. Tar. Anise. Wet bandaid.

Palate: Bit of a bite. Smoke, ash and licorice on delivery. Peat. Long, strong finish. Prosciutto (?)

Thoughts & Comments: For such a great dram…a fairly weak showing in a lineup this strong. Aggressive. “Rubber hits the road”. “Lots of kissing, but no closure”.

Ranking: 8th

 

 

Ardbeg 1977

46% abv

Nose: Fruit with cream. Bordering on tropical. Melon…maybe peach. Chocolate. Vanilla. Distant echoes of peat. Grains are noticeable. Slight paint or rubber latex note. Cadbury’s chocolate oranges. Butterscotch. Aged and balanced smoke. Sherry oranges.

Palate: Bright. Great mouthfeel. Fruit and mild peat. Lingering and ‘yummy’.

Thoughts & Comments: …Oh man, the fruits. Bloody spectacular. Far and away the favorite of all. ABV does it justice. “Not of this earth.”  “No words are good enough.”

Ranking: 1st

 

Ardbeg Corryvreckan

57.1% abv

Nose: Grainy. Smoke and sea brine. Peat. Zest. Smoked fish. Cookfire. BBQ sauce. Anise. Approachable.

Palate: Big arrival. Peppery.

Thoughts & Comments: Good bourbon/sherry balance. Needs some sushi on the side. “Taste is better than the nose.” (but of course the nose is to die for too).  “Like mating with a wrestler…Chyna perhaps.”

Ranking: 2nd

 

Ardbeg Uigeadail

54.2% abv

Nose: Leather and smoke. Chocolate. Smoked meat in BBQ sauce. Figgy. Orange and cherry. Sweet creamy caramel. Salt and iodine. Tea. Pungent and a little medicinal…yet creamy. Whisper of sherry.

Palate: Hint of black cherry on delivery. Salty and sweet.

Thoughts & Comments: Good food whisky.

Ranking: 6th

 

Ardbeg Alligator

52.1% abv

Nose: Soot and ash. Chilis. Very salty. Vinegary BBQ sauce. Vanilla bean. Pepper (refined…Talisker-ish). Licorice. Orange and cherry. Spearmint.

Palate: Orange. Chocolate. Salty. Peaty finish. Campfire. Long and chewy.

Thoughts & Comments: Assertive, but yielding. Lots of depth and volume. Cold weather dram. Another that would be well-paired with food.

Ranking: 3rd

 

Ardbeg Supernova SN2010

60.1% abv

Nose: Chocolate, Sharp and citric. Smoky and peaty. Young and biting. BBQ. Iodine. Hockey card bubblegum. Fresh and minty. Lemongrass. Ash and coal tar.

Palate: Liquid smoke. Numbing. Chunky and intense.

Thoughts & Comments: Taste is the dividing line (nose belies the strength here). “Like licking a homeless guy.” “My teeth are melting”.

Ranking: 7th

 

 

Apologies to those of The Collective who so generously gave their time for this on, only to have me dally on getting the piece posted.

 

– ATW

A Chat With Whiskyfun’s Serge Valentin

A hunt through the whisky blogosphere is likely to yield unlimited results when you’re on the hunt for reviews.  Indeed whisky writers/reviewers are a dime a dozen.  Good ones, however, are a rare commodity, and to be cherished.  I use the word ‘good’ here not simply to refer to one’s verbosity or word palette, but more to what one has to offer.

Unquestionably the best out there is Serge Valentin.  His Whiskyfun has become my staple breakfast, after work snack and before bed nightcap.  The site is simply awesome and an absolute Mecca for whisky lovers.  At the time of this writing, Whiskyfun holds just shy of 8,000 tasting notes.  I need to say that again…8,000 tasting notes.

Imagine for a moment that you had access to 8,000 drams.  Would you have the motivation and passion to share your aquired knowledge and experiences by way of individual reviews?  Would you be able to dust them with humor and humility in order to make them accessible to all?  Would you do it all with a frank openness and endearing lack of pretention?  Hmmm…I wonder.

Serge was immediately receptive to the idea of a chat with ATW.  For this, but more importantly, for all that the man has contributed to drammers around the world…we raise a glass in salute.

 

Slainte!

 

 

First things first…how would you describe Serge Valentin?

An Alsatian guy (i.e. French but slightly German and Swiss as well) who’s got many passions and foolishly decided to launch an amateur online whisky tasting diary ten years ago and then write in printed magazines, while he may have had better things to do.

 

Second…how would you describe Whiskyfun?  (C’mon…you’re an advertising guy…I’m interested in the slant you’d put on it)

I’d say it’s become mainly a large (some say the largest) database of independent and truly non-commercial whisky tasting notes by one single guy – but in fact, it’s always been a lame excuse for posting about another passion of mine: jazz and music in general. I know mixing topics is very bad on the Web but that never stopped me 😉

 

I say this in all sincerity (and with no disrespect intended to others), Whiskyfun is the best whisky-related site on the net.  Being in somewhat of a leading position as you are, do you still look to other whisky websites?  If so, which do feel offer the most and why?

Well, that’s all very kind but probably untrue – aren’t you being a tad too polite? But indeed I read other whisky websites. The Malt Maniacs’ of course, as well as our members’ private efforts (dramming, whiskycast, whisky emporium, Canadian whisky, Ralfy, malt madness or whisky intelligence to name but a few, they’re all so different, which is great) or other blogs that offer true content, either educational (about the distilleries, whisky history, technical aspects and such) or blogs that deliver interesting opinions and points of view, even, or maybe because I sometimes don’t agree with them.

 

You’re a passionate guy when it comes to your drams.  This shows in the frequency of updates to Whiskyfun, but even moreso in the quality of those posts.  Is it easy for you to maintain that degree of commitment and enthusiasm or do you go through cycles of waning interest (however short)?

Oh yes, I’m not always high ;-). But I use a trick: I taste and write whenever I’m in the mood for that, and don’t when I’m not. I ‘work’ with a lot of what we used to call ‘marble’ when I was a publisher, in another life. At least two weeks’ worth! I’ve got quite a few pre-edited tasting notes that have been written months ago, and some may never see the light.

 

Your dedication to the subject, enormous archive of tasting notes and seemingly unlimited reach when it comes to sourcing out incredible samples have put you in a very unique position as a point of reference.  Have you considering publishing anything as an alternative to the Whisky Bible?

No thanks! I’ve written books but not about whisky and indeed, I’ve got quite a few propositions, but I always felt that the genuine whisky writers out there such as Dave Broom, Charlie Maclean or Martine Nouet – not to mention Michael Jackson – and a few others such as Davin de Kergommeaux and his terrific new book about Canadian whisky were so good that publishing any scribblings by yours truly would be a very stupid thing to do (excuse me). It would also be a way of selling what I do, which is a no-no at Whiskyfun Towers. Having said that, were I to do that one day – and that won’t happen before I retire – that would be in French, because I’m aware of the fact that my English is much too far from ‘print’ quality.

 

There is a certain amount of influence that comes from being a public voice, especially one with knowledge and coming from a place of judgment (let’s face it…that’s what reviews are).  This influence can be a very good thing or a very bad thing.  In your opinion, are distillers afraid of a bad Jim Murray rating, and if so how do you think he has changed the industry?

Ah, Parkerisation in whisky… No ideas… Some may like to think so but I doubt it. Whisky isn’t wine and worldwide sales of books, even the leaders, or circulations of magazines are really tiny. The Whisky Bible, according to their own Facebook page, has sold ‘a quarter of a million copies in the seven years since it’s first incarnation’. Let’s assume this wasn’t made up (why would it?), that makes for 250K/7=36,000 copies per year on average, while Parker sells millions every year. Or think Hugh Johnson, he’s sold more than 10 million copies of his Pocket Wine Book alone. What’s more, you can change the style of one wine almost overnight to please one expert (such as Robert Parker Jr.), you can’t do that with whisky unless you’re into quick finishings, or by doing wee tweakings such as drop caramel colouring or chill filtration. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered one whisky that was made to please one expert. There’s no Robert Parker in whisky – and if there ever was any, he was Michael Jackson. Also because there’s much less speculation in whisky (so far) and, above all, no sales ‘en primeur’ (again, so far… gosh, maybe I shouldn’t give bad ideas to the distillers).

 

Your output is incredibly prolific.  How do manage to schedule your ‘malt moments’ around the rest of life?  On a weekly average, how much time do you dedicate to whisky?

As I sometimes say, an average Westerner spends around four hours a day watching stupid TV shows. Imagine what you can do with four hours a day. But if we’re talking about the time I need to taste, write and edit WF’s tasting notes, that would be around six or seven hours a week, sometimes a little more. The only thing that’s tricky is not to have to drive after a tasting session. Not that I’m drunk but if you ever have to blow into a breathaliser after just 1cl of cask strength Ardbeg, you’re in jail and presto. Or you’ll have to drink two litres of water…

 

I’ve seen answers before, but for the sake of completeness in this piece, I gotta ask…where do you source your vast samples from?  How big is the sample library at the moment?

I buy some bottles, I buy some samples and I get quite a lot of samples from retailers, distillers or simply good friends. The sample library?… Four figures – not talking about whiskies I’ve already tried. I need that because I always compare my whiskies and never taste them ‘on their own’, so, if I ever get a new Glenallachie in the mail, for example, I need to have at least one or two other Glenallachies already in my library. The nearest, the better (ages, vintages, cask types…) I do not believe in tasting ‘ex-nihilo’, I always need to compare whiskies or nuances just wouldn’t come out, at least not in the same proportions.

 

That last one ties in to another question.  I imagine many of what you review are indeed samples, but you manage to provide bottle shots for everything.  Do you actually have all of these old and rare bottles at your disposal and being opened regularly?

Sadly – or rather happily – not. Not all of them, at least. I’ve got unwritten or virtual deals with many retailers, they can use my notes and scores, I can use their pictures. Many are friends anyway. I also use private databases of pictures (not available to the public) that some friends have built, or I shoot bottles at fairs or shops. What’s more, I only post wee snapshots of labels just to give an idea of how a bottle looks like, I don’t think ever use a picture as is.

 

Speaking of old and rare…why do think  there is such a disconnect between whiskies made in the sixties and the seventies to those we are drinking today?  Enormous exotic fruits, like those found in older Bowmore, Benriach and Springbank seem to be conspicuously absent in latter day malts.

Good question again. I think there are many factors, some related to the makes, some related to bottle ageing, some related to commercial aspects. At random, direct firing, true sherry casks, larger selection of casks to choose from (because the market for malts was so smaller), worm condensers, different yeasts, slower fermentation, use of paxarette, no or very little fresh/ first fill American oak… And, above all, bottle ageing. Although the general public thinks that a spirit is inert once it’s confined in its bottle, I think it’s not. No top is never 100% airtight. The whisky keeps ageing, getting mellower, and I believe the phenols really change over time. All the good people who distil fruit eau-de-vie, for example, know that you shouldn’t open a bottle before it’s five, and some say even ten. Why would eau-de-vie change, and not whisky? Granted, a whisky was already matured in wood, but it does keep changing in glass, at a much slower pace. Many old glories were young and rough when bottled, and became stunningly complex after twenty, thirty or even forty years in glass. Hard to prove because you cannot quite compare them – or you’d need a time warp machine – but when you talk to older guys, including whisky people, they’ll tell you (sometimes after a few drams). All that means that some of today’s whiskies will be stellar when our children will inherit them ;-). I’d also add that in the old days, almost all the malt whiskies were made for blending purposes, so the distillers were tweaking their recipes depending on what the blenders were asking for. More fruits? More fruits! Some of these old casks are now reaching us via the independent bottlers or via the distillers themselves who bought them back from the blenders’ or indies, and what we’re sometimes tasting, I believe, is not a distillery’s general style, but a malt that was made after some blenders’ specs. Good examples are the older ex-Seagram peated Speysiders, for example. Or, hey, Brora!

 

Photo: © Olivier Thébault

 

You come across as a relatively unassuming fellow.  Are there any topics in whisky chatter that make you want to get up on your soapbox and be a little more nasty?

You know, I try to keep anything whisky fun. Otherwise, yeah, some very lousy attempts at premiumising very average whiskies using 20th century stunts (what I sometimes call the cognacqisation of whisky), or widespread commercialism, especially in social media which is fast becoming a kind of very noisy and frankly smelly souk. Or anonymous, obsessive know-it-alls here and there who keep spreading half-truths and plain lies about whisky. To be honest, I may have to include myself in the lot – but at least I’m not anonymous ;-).

 

What is the one amazing whisky experience you’ve had that you would love to live over again?

There were several and it’s always the same situation. Good friends, a rare old bottle of whisky that none of us have ever tried yet… And pop!

 

If your evening plans were comprised of the perfect malt, the perfect book and the perfect background music…what would they be and what would tie them together?

Well, the problem is that I don’t believe the evening is the perfect time for a perfect malt. Our senses are tired… For example, I never do my tastings at night. Also, I never taste whisky while listening to music. Sounds odd, I know, but the influence is too big on me, I’d end up writing about the bass line while thinking I’m commenting on the whisky’s… err, tempo. Having said that, I’d go for an old Willet bourbon while listening to R.L. Burnside and reading some of Tennessee Williams’ short stories. Or Duke Ellington with Macallan, Coltrane with Clynelish, Hendrix with Lagavulin, Bill Evans with an old Bowmore, Slipknot with Ardbeg (I’m joking!)…

 

Finally…any plans to venture over to our great white North for any of the Canadian festivals (i.e. the Victoria Whisky Festival)?

Oh yes, Victoria is on my to-do list since a few years already. It’s just that the beginning of the year is always quite hectic business-wise, but I’ll manage, I’ll manage!

 

Any last thoughts to share?

Let’s keep it fun; whisky’s no serious matters (unless you have to make a living out of it, or if you down way too much of it).

 

 

Sincere thanks to Serge Valentin. 

 

– ATW

 

GLENFARCLAS AND A TASTING WITH GEORGE GRANT

GLENFARCLAS AND A TASTING WITH GEORGE GRANT

 

Potato / Potahto,  Kidding / Kidnapping,  Tomato / Tomahto…let’s not split hairs.  I believe these words basically mean the same thing.  Which is why on the night of January 26, 2012 we, the gang of four, planned and executed a warm welcoming abduction of Mr. George Grant in order to further our preoccupation of Single Malt Scotch whisky.  Normally we would never consider such a high profile person, but based on a careless double dare by one of the gang of four the decision to move forward was an easy one.  Mr. Grant came to Calgary, Alberta on January 25, 2012 to host the 7th annual Robbie Burns supper for the Kensington Wine Market.  His mistake, or should I say our opportunity, came the following night.  Believing that, since he was not in Edmonton, Alberta, he was safe…obviously he thought wrong.  We seized the opportunity, along with Mr. Grant, and headed out of town for a tasting.

Now not to worry…we are not obsessive fanatical Star Trek fans that go around quoting characters from different episodes or lounge around and debate the merits of each of the series.  We are in fact keen professional fans of the single malt, that can quote different whisky writers while we lounge around and debate the merits of each distillery.  Needless to say, being under the control of professional whisky fans, Mr. Grant was indeed very safe…so long as he cooperated with us.

For the benefit of the great unwashed, the Glenfarclas distillery was founded in 1836 and is located in Banffshire, which sits in the heart of Speyside.  The Gaelic translation of Glenfarclas means “Valley of the green grass”.  The Glenfarclas distillery has been owned by the Grant family since 1865 (excluding 1896-1899, Pattison & Co owned 50 %).

Like any really good tasting, we require good whisky, so we arranged an exchange of sorts to achieve these goals.  The cost of liberation this night would be very high indeed.  The following was a list of whiskies that we liberated and tasted.

 

 

GLENFARCLAS RANGE TASTING :

#1                       21 Year Old  43% ABV

#2                       25 Year Old  43% ABV

#3                       30 Year Old 43% ABV

#4                       40 Year Old 46% ABV     (Voted #4 whisky tasted)

#5                       40 Year Old 43% ABV  Millennium Edition (aka Treasure Island)     (Voted #2 whisky tasted)

#6                       175 Anniversary Edition 43% ABV

#7                       175 Anniversary Chairman’s Reserve 46% ABV     (Voted #1 whisky tasted)

#8                       1974 / 2005 31 Year Old 57.4% ABV (sourced from the US)     (Voted #3 whisky tasted)

#9                       1967 / 2006 39 Year Old 58.7% ABV Family Cask # 5118 First Series

 

 

#1           21 Year Old  43 % ABV

NOSE:  Minty, stewed fruits.  Delicate vanilla-infused with gentle smoke.

TASTE:  Mellow sherried fruits and spice.  Toffee, chocolate and almonds.

FINISH:  No sharp edges, very drinkable.  Medium to long smooth finish.

ASSESSMENT:  George stated that this was his favorite of the age range and that the vatting on this malt is 60 %  1st & 2nd fill Sherry casks along with 40% old refill Bourbon casks.

 

#2           25 Year Old  43 % ABV

NOSE:  More intense sherry tannins and spice than the 21.  Oranges and light tropical fruit.  A little more smoke than the 21 but still subtle.

TASTE:  Sweet and winey.  Ripe dark cherries and chocolate.

FINISH:  Spicy.  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  George informed us that no peat was used to dry the barley and the light smoky notes are imparted from just the natural toasting or drying of the barley.

 

#3           30 Year Old 43 % ABV

NOSE:  More complex than the 21 & 25 with deeper sherry spice notes, melons and apples.

TASTE:  Coffee and dark chocolate.  Sherry spice.  Burnt brown sugar.

FINISH:  Slight harshness.  Medium finish.

ASSESSMENT:  This was my favorite of the stated age range.  Seemed so much more complex than the rest.

 

#4           40 Year Old 46 % ABV

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries. Roasted coffee and cigar tobacco.

TASTE:  Raspberry jam.  Over-ripe raisins and prunes.  Toffee.  Chewy liqueur.

FINISH:  Lots of layers of favor to enjoy.  Robust and long finish.

ASSESSMENT:  George told us that the 1st batch of the 40 year old consisted of 23 casks, of which 22 were 1st fill sherry and 1 refill sherry.  The age of the casks were 21 casks 40 years old and two casks from 1968.

 

 

#5           40 Year Old 43 % ABV  Millennium Edition (locally known as Treasure Island)

NOSE:  Wow, what a nose.  Tropical fruit, coconut, vanilla.  So good.

TASTE:  Milk chocolate.  Mild spices.  Sweet & creamy.  Lots-o-fruit.  Sublime hint of smoke.

FINISH:  This is a brilliant whisky and is in my top ten of (top ten just means ‘very high’ on the list, as I have said top ten over 43 times now)  whiskies enjoyed.  What a finish…long, flawless and lingering.

ASSESSMENT:  George admitted the perverse enjoyment he received from watching people trying to open this most difficult and unique case.  We were also informed this was a cask that had been sold by Glenfarclas to Signatory and was purchased back.  The number of bottles released was 600, but George informed us that it was only 590 (sounds a little like a cover up from somebody that likes this whisky a lot).

 

 

#6           175 Anniversary Edition 43 % ABV 2011 Limited Edition

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries.  Dark roasted coffee.  Little floral.

TASTE:  Pepper and winey notes.  Raisins and dark chocolate.

FINISH:  Medium finish.  Bit bitter.  Might have been better at a higher ABV.  Grant said “yes, but that would have meant less bottles and a higher price.”

ASSESSMENT:  George said this vatting was made up from 3 casks per decade from 6 different decades (1950 – 2000), for a total of 18 casks.  Only one cask was bourbon, which was a 2nd fill from 1952, and all the other casks were sherry.

 

#7           175 Anniversary Chairman’s Reserve 46 % ABV  2011 limited Edition of 1296 Bottles

NOSE:  Oh my, this is good.  Sweet sherry.  Dead ripe blackberries, oranges and almonds.

TASTE:  Ever so elegant for a vatting of old sixties sherry casks.  Rum cake.  Milk chocolate.  Prunes.  Creamy caramel.

FINISH:  Long and sensuous.

ASSESSMENT:  Oh my my, oh hell yes…this is really good.  Different good from the Millennium…more intense sherry.  This is another for the top ten (44) whiskies I’ve tasted.  This is a vatting of four casks from the sixties.  George couldn’t remember if the oldest was 1963 or 1964 (Being a distillery owner doesn’t automatically mean you can hold your liquor like the Irish), as this was his 7th drink and his memory was now being tested.

 

#8           1974 / 2005 31 Year Old 57.4 % ABV (sourced from the US)

NOSE:  Oranges.  The most peated unpeated Glenfarclas I’ve nosed.  Leather and tobacco.

TASTE:  Thick chewy sherry.  Raisins and prunes.  Dark chocolate.

FINISH:  Long and intense.

ASSESSMENT:  This was a vatting of three casks:  one 1st fill and one 2nd fill sherry along with an older fill bourbon.

 

#9           1967 / 2006 39 Year Old 58.7 % ABV Family Cask # 5118 First Series

NOSE:  Raspberry jam meets marmalade.  Coffee and cinnamon.

TASTE:  Oranges.  Rich chewy port.  Dark chocolate.  Little whiff of smoke.

FINISH:  Rich.  A bit tart and long.

ASSESSMENT:  Why 1967?  Because it’s the 100 year anniversary of the greatest country in the world, Canada (also the birth year of Pamela Anderson, Canada’s largest export to the world).

 

 

Much thanks to Mr. Grant for allowing us to take him away from his busy schedule (funny nobody seemed to miss him) to share a few private stories along with some great whiskies with us.  Really sorry about how sticky the duct tape was, but I’m sure the hair will grow back.

 

– Maltmonster 

A.D. Rattray – A Little Something Different

 

So…

An Irishman, An Australian and a couple of Canadians walk into a bar…

No, wait.  That’s not right.  They walked into my house and proceeded to turn it into a bar.  No different than most nights, though the accents were decidedly cooler on this occasion.

The ever-changing nature of The Collective morphed again this eve to accommodate a mate who works hard delivering the goods to we whisky-soaked many.  Jonathan Bray, previously mentioned on ATW as the Canadian Aussie in a kilt, popped by for a night of cask strength dramming and Cuban Cigar-ing.  Everything that happened afterwards…I’ll blame solely on the influence of the contents in his traveling bag of wonders.  Mary Poppins has nothing on the nifties Jonathan pulled from his magic bag.

To be honest though, this is a tough one to write up.  This was initially a semi-official visit to dig into some of Jonathan’s products, get to the heart of A.D. Rattray and put together this piece for All Things Whisky.  As often happens, the end result was a little different than what was initially envisaged.  Why?  Well…put simply…Jonathan’s a good guy.  After a while it simply became more a matter of mates enjoying each other’s company than a ‘feature for the site’ type deal.  All the better really.

Having said that.  Let’s not get too far into the weeds here.  I’ll share a few details with you about ADR, then we’ll get straight to the tasting notes.  That was the fun bit anyway.  A group of gents (and I use that term VERY loosely) sitting around beating the hell out their noses and their livers.  My ideal night in other words.

 

photo courtesy of Pat at Stand Still Photography

 

A.D. Rattray was founded in 1868 by a couple of fellows known as Andrew Dewar and William Rattray. Though their enterprises were varied, the one we whisky geeks care about was their involvement in blending and selling whisky.  For just over 50 years Dewar and Rattray worked the whisky gospel throughout the Southwest of Scotland, but sadly…all good things must come to an end.  In the tougher times of the early 1900s, the business was sold to whisky broker, William Walker.  Throughout his life and tenure at the top of the company, Walker worked hard to expand the company.

Now, back in the hands of the family (no…not ‘The Family’), a fourth generation descendant, Mr. Tim Morrison, formerly of Morrison Bowmore, has revived the company and is firmly in control at the helm.  Times have changed for ADR however.  For the better.  Nowadays the primary focus is on independent bottling.  Not only so, but much to the delight of the purists out there, the Cask Colection portfolio showcases Scotch malt as it should be; cask strength and unchill-filtered.  Much of what the company releases is pulled from Tim’s personal stock.  Other goods are sourced and purchased from distilleries based on a strict adherence to quality.

Globally, ADR has released anywhere from 30 to 40 expressions each year, and are now beginning to make inroads into new markets such as China.  On the Canadian front, we’ve seen about 60 to 70 releases in the nearly six years Purple Valley Imports has been importing from them.  Locally, we are generally seeing about 8 new expressions each year, of which some could be exclusive to particular stores.  Happy hunting, folks.

 

A couple of personal thoughts…

Independent bottlings can be very hit or miss.  Expecting to see the ‘typical’ distillery characteristics that we find in Original Bottlings (or ‘OBs’) is probably not the best approach.  Never forget that those releases are comprised of oodles of casks married together.  Any bumps or inconsistencies in the spirit can be ironed out or buried through vatting.  Independent bottlers, such as ADR, tend to release single cask editions, wherein nothing has been changed from the day it was pulled from the cask.  These expressions will often be VERY different from standard distillery releases.

I should also mention that, as with any other company releasing whisky, the product is only as good as the people at the top.  Independent bottlers need buyers with great noses to source their stores.  The logical conclusion is that there are some indies that are simply at a level higher than others.

What does this mean for us as consumers?  Well…caveat emptor.  Do your homework.

In closing…

All I can do is give my two cents and hope that constant readers who know where my loyalties lie take it to heart…A.D. Rattray releases some damn fine drams.

 

Slainte!

 

Forgive me…let’s add a note to Tim by way of a P.S. here:  “Tim…any Port Ellen?”

 

photo courtesy of Pat at Stand Still Photography

 

Tasting notes below are primarily mine, but I have taken the liberty of tossing in some thoughts the collective had as well, as they shouted out what they were nosing in these drams.  Unless, of course, I thought they were right out to lunch (which does occasionally happen).  So…what we end up with is a sort of group tasting notes.

 

Strathclyde 37 year old

Cask # 010722 (173 bottles)  Distilled 10.10.1969.  Bottled 06.03.2007.

54.4%

Notes:  Lowland Single Grain Whisky.

Nose:  Huge bourbon notes.  Mild cinnamon loaf.  Mild white fruit…pear and apple perhaps?  Wispy vanilla.  Chocolate.  Spiced stewing fruit.  Minty and slightly woody.  Hard candy caramel.

Palate:  Apple.  Chocolate.  Toasted grain.  Caramelized sugars.  Mouthcoating, but tart at the back end.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Softened slightly through age, but grains are still sharp enough to cut.  The bourbon influence is bold and beefy.

 

Glenlivet 17 year old

Cask # 13641 (248 Bottles)  Distilled 12.06.1989.  Bottled 20.10.2006.

60.0% abv

Notes:  Speyside.  Bourbon Cask.

Nose:  Tart fruit (apple?).  Blueberries n’ cream.  Peach and apricot.  Fresh tobacco leaf.  Wort.  Cracked peppercorns.  Lavender.  Cherry liqueur.  Slight nuttiness.

Palate:  Peppery fruit and oaky tones.  Fat threads of bourbon sweetness.  Surprisingly dry fruits.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Nifty l’il ‘Livet.  Not my favorite of the eve, but a tasty treat to be sure.

 

Strathmill 17 year old

Cask # 1288 (249 Bottles)  Distilled 25.03.1991.  Bottled 07.07.2008

60.0% abv

Notes:  Speyside.  Hogshead/Fresh Claret.  9 month claret cask finish.

Nose:  Deep…deep complexity.  Dusty.  Baking bread.  Floral.  Stewed fruit.  Hard red berries.  White chocolate.  Worty and yeasty.  MacIntosh toffee.  Allspice.  Mild dill pickle.  Stewed tomato.

Palate:  Malty grains.  Christmas baking spices.  Rich and salty tomato.  Dill pickle carries to the palate.  Very dry, tart and tannic.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Man, is this a whirlwind of scents and flavors.  Enjoyed the hell out of this one, not only for drinkability but also for the challenge of working through its complexity.

 

photo courtesy of Pat at Stand Still Photography

 

Macallan 17 year old

Cask # 2819 (256 Bottles)  Distilled 23.02.1989.  Bottled 15.05.2006.

58.4% abv

Notes:  Speyside.

Nose:  Tropical fruits.  Mild nutmeg.  Orange zest.  Sweet dried fruit.  Rising bread dough.  Fattest, sweetest raisin.  Shortbread.

Palate:  Chocolate (which does not really appear on the nose).  Mild ginger.  All of the typical spiced sherry notes.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Sweet and charming.  Nose outshines the palate.

 

Bowmore 14 year old

Cask # 2056 (573 Bottles)  Distilled 15.07.1991.  Bottled 15.05.2006.

57.8% abv

Notes:  Islay.  Sherry Cask.

Nose:  Rubbery smoke.  Fishy and oily.  Peat and smoke.  Tarry.  Medicinal and industrial.  Dry mint.  Fruit candy.

Palate:  Hefty smoke.  Drying and tart.  Lingering smoked rubber.  Large and in charge.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Great nose, though not typical for a young Bowmore.  More reminiscent of older, more fruit-laden and tropical Bowmore bottling.  Love this whisky.

 

Laphroaig 18 year old

Cask # 2244 (265 Bottles)  Distilled 29.03.1990.  Bottled 06.10.2008.

55.0% abv

Notes:  1st Fill Hogshead.

Nose:  Malty.  Dusty grain.  Soft peat and dry smoke.  Salt water taffy.  Caramel and vanilla.

Palate:  Smoky and salty.  Surprisingly fruity compared to the nose.  Grains, wood and anise.  Big and lasting.  Dries to tart puckered fruit.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Would not be able to guess the distillery.  Great dram, really…but not necessarily great for an 18 year old Laphroaig.

 

Glen Mhor 26 year old (1982?)

Cask Sample (~276 bottles)

50.8% abv

Notes:  Unbottled for this market.  Heavy in particulate and charcoal

Nose:  Creamy as hell.  Oranges and cherry.  Vanilla bean.  Watermelon.  Char/smoke.  Grassy and viney green herbal notes.  Blueberry.  Toasted marshmallow.  Moist unsmoked cigar.

Palate:  Grassy.  Dry smoke.  Bitter dark chocolate.  Vegetal.

Thoughts & Impressions:  (comment pending)

 

Tomatin 20 year old

Cask Sample (~216 bottles)

55.5% abv

Notes:  Unbottled for this market.  Heavy in particulate and charcoal.

Nose:  Raisin.  Dark chocolate.  Caramel and nut.  Cream.  Black cherry.  Smoky tendrils.  Butter cream.

Palate:  Waxy oak notes.  Smoky and meaty.  Fruits are strong, but dried and spiced.  Dries the roof of the mouth with sticky sweet caramel.

Thoughts & Impressions:  Fruity and engaging.  Shame this wasn’t bottled for our market.

 

photo courtesy of Pat at Stand Still Photography

 

New this season from ADR:

Cooley Irish Single Malt –  1999

Macallan 1991

Aberlour 1996

Miltonduff 1980

Bunnahabhain 1991

Cragganmore 1993

Glenallachie 1994

Glencadam 1990

Dalmore 1999

 

Keep your eyes peeled for some fun new stuff out there.

 

Special thanks to Pat at Stand Still Photography.  The best photographer I know.

 

– Sweet Drams…ATW.