Category Archives: Whisky Tastings

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.






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.




#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 

BenRiach Range Tasting – BFB

BenRiach Range Tasting



What is a BFB?

Well…it’s an overnight whisky event for couples only.  Usually half the couples drink whisky and the other half drink some other less satisfying alcoholic beverage.  We tolerate the non-whisky drinkers only because we can hijack the evening for our purposes and have a completely guilt free whisky tasting with GOOD friends (a friend is someone who will help you move…a GOOD friend is someone who will help you move a dead body).  The only problem is, sometimes the conversation gets side tracked away from whisky, but a slight pause in the discussion and a really loud voice can usually rail a derailed conversation back to whisky, after all,  if it’s not about whisky & cigars, is it really worth talking about?  BFB stands for ‘Bed for Breakfast’, which means whoever hosts the event supplies the beds and whoever doesn’t supply the beds, has to prepare breakfast.  We have hosted many of these events in the past and are always surprised at what great cooks whisky drinkers are, especially when whisky is one of the ingredients!

BenRiach, for the benefit of the great unwashed, means “The Hill of the Red Deer”.  The distillery is located in the beautiful Spey Valley and was created in 1898.  Unfortunately, it only produced whisky for two years before succumbing to a whisky crash and was mothballed (sounds a little like Diageo corporate planning).  However, the malting floors continued to be operated and supplied the neighboring distillery, Longmorn, with malted barley from which they produced a product called Longben or long-been which has long been making Longmorn better.  In 1965, after a sale, the distillery was almost completely rebuilt and whisky production started up again.  In 1972 peat was added to the drying of the barley to satisfy the smoky blends at the time and screw over the peat workers union on Islay.   1999 was the end of the floor malting operations at BenRiach which have helped to shape the shoulders of many a hunchback for last 101 years.  In 2002, the distillery was again mothballed until 2004, when it was resold to the current ownership and production started again.

In 2010, Alistair Walker came to Calgary and after a grand tasting (and before passing out) he made a bold offer to us all to come to BenRiach for a visit and try a sample from one of the two remaining 1966 casks.  In 2011, a small group of VIP’s from Calgary showed up to be drammed with 1966 only to be denied by a kind, but stern, gatekeeper and Distillery Manager, Mad Max Stewart Buchannan.  The day was saved when a compromise was made and it was agreed that we could try everything else.  We started by trying over 30 samples (I kid you not) in an effort to choose another cask for the KWM.  We were then treated to the ‘soon to be released’ Batch 8, 2011 Limited Releases …..  I don’t remember much after that.


This Benriach Range tasting was designed to highlight the different influences from Bourbon, Sherry, Port and Madeira and to also try some lightly peated to heavily peated non-Islay whiskies, but more importantly, it was about good friends and great whisky!




#1          1971 – April , 2011       Cask #1947  Hogshead  49.8 % ABV  Bottle #47 of 229

#2          1972 – July , 2011       Cask #802  Hogshead  40.1 % ABV Bottle #147 of 169

#3          1978 – June , 2006       Cask #1596  Hogshead  54.0 % ABV Bottle #83 of 201

#4          1994 – Sept , 2009       Cask #4810  Madeira Finish  57.1 % ABV Bottle #153 of 250 for KWM

#5          1977 – July , 2010       Cask #1033  Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish  52.2 % ABV Bottle #185 of 331

#6          1975 – August , 2007       Cask #4451  Port Pipe  53.7 Bottle #479 of 707

#7          1984 – July , 2010       Cask #4052  Tawny Port Finish – Peated  51.7 % ABV Bottle #116 of 265

#8          15 Year old – Solstice       Heavily Peated & Finished in Tawny Port Pipes  50 % ABV



#1      1971 – April , 2011       Cask # 1947 Hogshead  49.8 % ABV  Bottle # 47 of 229

NOSE:  Tons-O-Fruit.  Watermelon, oranges, pineapple, it just keeps going.  Eucalyptus.  Refreshing.

TASTE:  More fruit, but more tropical.  Milk chocolate.  Fresh bourbon vanilla.  Bit of tannins.

FINISH:  Medium.  Very dry.

ASSESSMENT:  Benriach 1971 you are my fire , the one desire  believe when I say I want it that way and by the gallon ( 4 liter ) size .

Group rated #1 whisky for the night with the most number one votes .



#2      1972 – July , 2011       Cask # 802    Hogshead  40.1 % ABV Bottle # 147 of 169

NOSE:  Oranges, pears and melons.  Marshmallow sweet.  Almonds.  Stunning.

TASTE:  Very floral.  Creamy vanilla bean.  Caramel milk chocolate and  fruits again.

FINISH:  Medium and a little more.  Bit drying

ASSESSMENT:  This whisky has it, yeah baby, it’s got it, BenRiach I’m your fan, I’m your devotee, at your desire.

Group rated #2 whisky tasted .





#3      1978 – June , 2006       Cask # 1596  Hogshead  54.0 % ABV Bottle # 83 of 201

NOSE:  The sugar train stops here, uber sweet.  Pears and apricots.

TASTE:  Coffee.  Dark chocolate.  Trace of peat smoke.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Nice and warming.  Almost bitter.

ASSESSMENT:  It’s such a good vibration, it’s such a sweet sensation.

Group rated #4 whisky tasted



#4      1994 – Sept , 2009       Cask # 4810   Madeira Finish  57.1 % ABV Bottle # 153 of 250  Bottled for KWM

NOSE:  Sweet fruit syrupy, almost like a liqueur.  Burnt sugar with vanilla bean.

TASTE:  Sugar & spice and all things nice.  Black licorice that coats the tongue and deep stewed fruits.

FINISH:  Long and spicy.

ASSESSMENT:  Just tasting this step by step, ooh baby,  gonna get to you whisky, step by step.  Many layers and much depth to this one.

Group rated #3 whisky tasted (I rated this #4 , only because the potentate at KWM didn’t go with my choice of sample when choosing the cask and I happen to be very petty).



#5      1977 – July , 2010       Cask # 1033   Pedro Ximinez Sherry Finish  52.2 % ABV Bottle # 185 of 331

NOSE:  Oranges and cherries.  Rich coffee and cigar notes.

TASTE:  Major dill.  Toffee, raisins, dark fruits and nutty.

FINISH:  Medium.  Lingering and sweet.

ASSESSMENT:  You’re all I ever wanted, you’re all I ever needed, yeah!  Excellent sherry cask.  Wow, this one really shows just how good a sherry finish BenRiach can be.



#6      1975 – August , 2007       Cask # 4451   Port Pipe  53.7  % ABV Bottle # 479 of 707

NOSE:  Big citrus.  Grapefruit, cherries and little smoke.

TASTE:  At odds with the nose, very unbalanced.  Pepper, thick overpowering clove sweet.

FINISH:  Medium and fades fast (not fast enough).

ASSESSMENT:  Ok, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want, I want balance in a whisky.



#7       1984 – July , 2010       Cask # 4052   Tawny Port Finish – Peated  51.7 % ABV Bottle # 116 of 265

NOSE:  Stewed fruits.  Assertive peat but pleasant.  Some mint.  Little musty.

TASTE:  Peat & Pepper.  Floral, honey and coffee.

FINISH:  Long and a bit drying.

ASSESSMENT:  Don’t go chasing finishes.  Please stick to the basics and the barrels that you’re used to.



#8       15 Year old – Solstice       Heavily Peated & Finished in Tawny Port Pipes  50 % ABV

NOSE:  Bam…..cherry jam.  Intense non-medicinal peat.  Spicy aroma found only in a Bolivar cigar.  Little farmy.

TASTE:  Prevailing peat.  Cloves, raisin and figs.  Vanilla in the back.

FINISH:  Long and chewy.  Not your mother’s BenRiach.  Balanced.  Depends if like a Port Peat drink, then yes, if not don’t walk away, run away!

ASSESSMENT:  With the world in love with peat, I know that it’s time for a change, but when that change comes will you still feel the same about Benriach.


– Maltmonster



A.D. Rattray – A Little Something Different



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.




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.


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.


You can slag the world economy, you can slag the Irish for being such great lovers, hell…you can even slag Edmontonians just for being Edmontonians but what you can’t do, if you’re a serious malt fan, is slag the Lag!

For the benefit of the great unwashed, Lagavulin is pronounced “Lagga-no-foolin” and means “hollow by the mill” in Gaelic.  The legal Lagavulin distillery was born in 1816 on the rugged sea sprayed Scottish Island of Islay, which is famous for its peated whiskies and local drivers who wave at anything that moves on or near the road.  Oh yeah, the distillery is owned by Diageo, you may remember them as the corporation that killed the Port Ellen distillery.

A secret, which is not well known, is that Lagavulin lies on what is called ‘the Peatline’, along with its neighbors of Laphroaig and Ardbeg.  This Peatline is a naturally occurring powerful source of phenol denature protein similar to the Rosa line (or Ley line) under the Rosslyn Chapel with its pulsating telluric energy.  It is said that standing on top of the Peatline and tasting whisky can put most people into a state of enlightenment.  I myself have trembled under this phenolic power while tasting whiskies at all these distilleries.  I have also wept and trembled while visiting a whisky shop called Loch Fyne Whiskies in Inverary, which happens to lie on a direct line starting in Laphroaig through Lagavulin, Ardbeg and then ending up under the whisky store of Loch Fyne.

You can laugh at the theory of a flat earth, you can scoff at the existence of the Loch Ness monster and you can jeer at Jim Murray for his outlandish picks for Whisky of the Year, but………………you can’t deny the Power of the Peat.  It’s real, it dominates and once consumed, you fall under its sway like a fanatical irrational teen at Justin Bieber concert.  Phenolic levels may be measured in PPM parts per millions, but when it comes to Lagavulin, PPM really stands for Peat Power Magnified!


Once again the gang of four sat down on a mild winter’s night, consumed and fell under the influence of the Lagavulin PPM, cheerfully giving up some tasting notes.




NOSE:  Light peat on the nose.  Oranges and eucalyptus.

TASTE:  This is where the rubber hits the road.  The peat shows up in all its glory.  Black liquorice and dark chocolate.  Iodine.

FINISH:  Long.  Lots of rich tannins at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  This is a classy drink.  A standard in the world of single malt.



NOSE:  Farmy.  Coal-tar.  Vanilla and lemon-pepper.

TASTE:  Very balanced peat.  Apples.  Briny.

FINISH:  Long and warm, very warm.  Somewhat drying.

ASSESSMENT:  Good morning sunshine, this is your wakeup call!



NOSE:  Wow, did not expect this.  Oranges & cherries.  Honey.  Minty.  Green apples.

TASTE:  Complex fruits.  Gentle smoke.  Vanilla.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Fades ever so gracefully.

ASSESSMENT:  Given the ABV % this delicious drink must be 20-25 years plus.  This is a must get for a FLF.


25 YEAR OLD BOTTLED 2002 57.2 % ABV BOTTLE # 7387 OF 9,000 BOTTLES

NOSE:  Sweet fruits really jumps at you.  Vanilla.  Leather and lite smoke.

TASTE:  Very thick mouth feel, coats your tongue with cherry syrup sweetness.  Jammy.  Marshmallows and cooked ham.

FINISH:  Very, very long.

ASSESSMENT:  Not sure what to make of this dram, I don’t love it or hate it, maybe I will go with clearly ambiguous and vaguely indeterminate.


30 YEAR OLD 1976 BOTTLED 2006 52.6 % ABV BOTTLE # 586 OF 2,340 BOTTLES

NOSE:  Bam, sensational.  Sweet candy.  Peaches.  Tropical fruit and aged smoke.

TASTE:  Great mouth feel.  Lemons, grapefruit and lite spices.  Creamy caramel.

FINISH:  Lovely.  Lingering.

ASSESSMENT:  Tastes like more, in fact, after the tasting I had more, much more!




# 1 – 30 Year Old

# 2 – 2010 Distillery Bottling, surprise of the night, in the good way

# 3 & # 4 tied 16 Year Old & 25 Year Old, although the Maltmonster found the 16 Year Old better

# 5 – 12 Year Old, last but still loved






NOSE:  Sweet cherries.  Wet charcoal and malty.

TASTE:  Bottled smoke.   Creamy vanilla.  Odd sweetness.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Bit briny at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Bordering on some sulphur notes.



NOSE:  Oranges and cherries.  Almonds and caramel.

TASTE:  Big sherry tannins.  Light peat.  Dark chocolate and coffee.  Bourbon sweetness.

FINISH:  Long with tannins and drying towards the end.

ASSESSMENT:  This is a 20 year old DE, and I think it may have received some additional love in the sherry cask, as most of the other DE are only 16 year old versions.


21 YEAR OLD 1985 BOTTLED 2007 56.5 % ABV BOTTLE # 6012 OF 6,642 BOTTLES

NOSE:  Peat smoke.  Sulphur…….YES SULPHUR!  All of us got it!  Melons and light fruit.

TASTE:  Creamy.  Black liquorice. Ccoffee and some lemon.

FINISH:  Long, smooth and complex.

ASSESSMENT:  You know what burns me?  Matches.  The sulphur is not ruinous, but come on, some of the extremely high ratings by others on this malt may be unwarranted.




# 1 – 1980 Distillers Edition

# 2 – 21 Year Old, surprise of the night, but in the bad way

# 3 – 1986 Distillers Edition



– I’m Maltmonster, and I approved the drinking of these great whiskies.

The Essence Of Islay – Big Peat



According to legend, 1,500 years ago the Irish once created the perfect whiskey, but when drank, the intoxicating qualities caused thousands to see paradise.  But alas, paradise on earth was not meant to be for the chosen Irish and the perfect whiskey was lost to the sands of time.  But It’s more likely the damn Vikings or angry Swedes stole the perfect whiskey, like they stole Canada’s Olympic 1994 Gold medal in hockey.

I believe that the Laing’s, owners of Douglas Laing, were born with a superior olfactory sense and a dark sense of humor.  Armed with this superior sense of smell, they have been on a quest to recreate the world’s finest whisky.  At some point the Laing’s realized that they must vat the Port Ellen scent with those other Islay malts to make the ultimate whisky; one which will make them be worshipped as gods forever.  Much like Victor Frankenstein’s desire to create life and in a way cheat death, Big Peat is alive with the pure essence, or the embodiment, of Islay.

Big Peat is a vatting of Islay single malt scotch, but it’s more than that.  It’s also a convoluted story of murder in the death of the Port Ellen distillery; high french fashion with Louis Ardbeg Vuitton; corporate greed with drink giant, Diageo – Caol Ila; and the lost in translation Eastern Asia intrigue with Sumo Suntory Bowmore.

Douglas Laing advertises Big Peat is a shovel full of Islay malts.  How big is a shovel full of Islay malt you ask?  Well, it’s just big enough to fill the hole in the heart of many peat freaks .


Big Peat and all it is made of.


BIG PEAT Batch #1   46% ABV

NOSE:  Very nice balanced peat.  Pepper.  Lemons.  Black liquorice.  Low tide.

TASTE:  Creamy caramel and green apples.

FINISH:  Long and lightly warming.

ASSESSMENT:  Well done, well done.  The definition of a good Islay whisky.



BIG PEAT – SANTA EDITION Natural Cask Strength 57.8 % ABV

NOSE:  Medicinal peat.  Farmy.  Pepper and orange marmalade.

TASTE:  Mint and liquorice.  Wee bitter and briny.

FINISH:  Elegant and long.

ASSESSMENT:  Normally I really love the cask strength, but I believe this tastes better at 46%.  Maybe a Viking (Norwegian, not Swedish Viking) bottling with a windblown helmet at 50% next, just a suggestion.


– As always , your humble drudge , Maltmonster


(On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, a 4.5 Liter bottle of Big Peat whisky…On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love said to me, “Where the f#@k have you been for the last 3 days?”)

The Cure For What Ails Ye

All right, hill people!

Come forth and claim your rightful accolades.  From the Appalachian moonshiners to the Scottish excise-dodgers, we raise a glass in salutation to the tenacity of those who have fought through the ages, allowing the spirit to flow and soothe the souls of savages.

Through the years countless examples of clever folk (from toothless backwooders to the heads of organized crime) have found ways to duck the heavy hand of the law in a noble crusade to bring alcohol to the working man (and woman).  Arguably the worst hit region was America, where prohibition blotted out reason from 1920 through 1933.  Al Capone did his piece, smuggling Canadian Club whisky across the line from Ontario into Michigan.  Granny Clampett did her bit as well, passing around her jug of “Roomatiz Medicine”.  Most importantly though, at least to us scotch whisky snobs, Ian Hunter, owner of Laphroaig in the 1920s, did his part.  Legend has it, Mr. Hunter passed US authorities samples of his enormously iodine-laden and peaty Laphroaig, and due to its medicinal qualities, was able to elude the net of prohibition.  If rumor speaks any truth, apparently Laphroaig was actually even attainable by prescription.

Hmmmm…<cough cough> Feel a bit of a cold coming on.

One final note:  In recent years, Laphroaig has pioneered a move to quarter-cask maturation.  These quarter casks, as the name suggests, are smaller than standard whisky barrels.  Ideal for…yep, you guessed it…smuggling.  Many, many moons ago, a beast of burden would be laden with quarter cask on either haunch and used to move spirit discreetly and easily (well…maybe not so easily if you were the horse or mule).  In recent years, this quarter cask idea has proven ridiculously profitable and utterly successful in creating bold and charming malts.

So…glasses high to our friends at Laphroaig, who, since 1815, have worked to keep the chill off my bones…the cough from my throat and sobriety at a respectable distance.  Slainte!


Without further ado, a few members of The Collective gathered to pay homage to the might bog beast…




Laphroaig Quarter Cask – 48% abv

Nose:  Playfully youthful.  Smoky and raw.  Briny and citric.  Sharp and prickly.  Earthy and woody.  Anise.  Sweet peated barley.

Palate:  Dry earthy peat.  Baker’s chocolate.  Smoke and dirt.

Finish:  Drying and earthy with burnt wood.  Lingering and large.

Assessment:  One of the best young whiskies on the market.  Absolutely epitomizes the Laphroaig profile.


Laphroaig 10 y.o. – 43% abv

Nose:  Green apple.  Smoked peach.  Grains.  Weed-like pungency.  Jolly Ranchers.  Fruity soap.  Crab apple jelly.  Seaside froth.  Tarry.

Palate:  More Jolly Ranchers candy, but stale and short of the fruit promised on the nose.  Thick barley and green grass.

Finish:  Mouthcoatingly oily and dense.  Surprising for 43%.

Assessment:  Much better than the old 40%’er, but still falls just a hair short in a stable full of brilliant expressions.




Laphroaig 10 y.o. Cask Strength – 58.7% abv

Nose:  Smoke.  Brine.  Crème brulee.  Cacao.  Pink chewing gum.  Honey and white chocolate.  Mild spice.  Cured meat.  Charcoal ash.  Floral minty tones and a hint of pickle.

Palate:  Green grass.  Kippers and anise.

Finish:  Very drying with tobacco and clean smoke.

Assessment:  Yes!  Chock full of nifty notes and nuances, surprisingly none of which are buried by peat or alcohol.


Laphroaig 18 y.o. – 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 Worther’s Originals.

Finish:  Drying with tobacco and clean smoke.

Assessment:  Mild and overwhelmed by the others in this range.  When not stacked up against scorching young peat, cask strength aggression or the untouchable austere beauty of the 30 year old, this is a phenomenal dram.  Sadly…it was nearly lost tonight.


Laphroaig 18 y.o. SMWS 29.72 “Not Pink and Fluffy”– 54.5% abv

Nose:  Buttery.  Sharp sherry.  Nut.  Syrupy.  Maple smoked bacon.  Fishy.  Red berry fruits.  Dried tobacco.  Fruit leather.

Palate:  Treacle and bacon.  Cigar smoke.  Nutty and leathery notes with more fruit leather.

Finish:  Bacon.  Caramelized brown sugar.  Brine and cigar leaf.

Assessment:  Just moving towards subtle maturity.  A very unique and atypical cask.  The dominant ‘breakfast’ notes in this one are almost a caricature.  Neat…not bad…not a favorite.


Laphroaig 25 y.o. Cask Strength – 51% abv

Nose:  Smoke.  Licorice.  Pepper.  Iodine.  Lime.  Orange.  Chocolate and caramel.  Dry hay.  Green and weedy.  Cream toffee.  Soft melon fruits.  Fishy.  Vanilla cream-filled chocolates.  Coconut rum and canned pineapple.

Palate:  White chocolate and macadamia nut cookies.  Dark chunky peat.  Hard dark chocolate.  Spotted dick and honey.  Fleeting glimpse of red licorice as it first crosses the palate.

Finish:  Honeyed and creamy.  Lingering melon.

Assessment:  Oh my.  This is it.


Laphroaig 30 y.o. – 43% abv

Nose:  Peach and melon.  Tar and rubber.  Citrus.  Blueberry.  Fruit compote.  Cask dust and wood influence.  Waxy.  Cherry.  Wisps of smoke…but much mellowed.  Cream and maple syrup.

Palate:  Creamy and fruity.  Burnt fruits.  Warm scones and homemade butter.  Soft and oily.  Dried apricots and other fruits.

Finish:  Drying with more fruits and honeyed melon.

Assessment:  Swirling depths of flavor.  Keeps changing in a myriad of fruits and complexities.   One could get lost in this one.  Best of the bunch and absolutely exudes sexy maturity.


Tasting notes courtesy of the Collective.


Until next,



Bowmore, which is pronounced…………..Bowmore.  It doesn’t get much easier to pronounce than this one, which, even to this day, I’m still being corrected on pronouncing the rest of the Islay distilleries.  The distillery was built in 1779, which makes it the oldest working distillery on Islay, and given the 24/7 malting floors operating most of the year, I believe the hardest working distillery on Islay.  Also given the charming people that work there, it has to be in the running for the friendliest distillery on Islay.  The two Spirit and two Wash Stills are bright copper kettles which convert waste heat into heating for the public swimming pools (built in a former Bowmore warehouse) rumor has it that this was done to stop the distillery workers from swimming (or bathing) in the Washbacks.

Bow-more in English means ‘kinky-extra’ or contrarily translated means ‘extra-kinky’.  If your kinky leanings are towards extra or more than average flavor, then this whisky should be your perverse tipple of choice.  After all, Bowmore can offer it all, from sweet creamy vanilla bourbon, ripe tropical fruit cocktail, wild Islay sea sprayed peat and exquisite floral fragrances like raindrops on roses.  These are a few of my favorite things, and when I’m feeling sad I simply pour a dram of Bowmore and then I don’t feel so bad.

Both of these vatted ex-bourbon oak cask limited release whiskies have served a better than 28 year sentence in the dark cold sea salt mines of vault number one and only let out for good flavor.  Not the big fruit bombs of the sixties and seventies, but the hills are alive with the aroma of flowers, with fragrances that have drifted for a thousand years.  Don’t attempt to drink these malts if you suffer from hay fever or *rum disease (*similar to Lyme disease, but only affects rum drinkers).


Bowmore 1981 and 1982

Bowmore Limited Release Distilled 1981 – Bottled 2010 49.6 % ABV 402 Bottles

NOSE:  Ginger ale.  Vanilla.  Potpouri of different floral scents.  Farmy smoky notes.
TASTE:  Oranges and cherries.  Caramel and milk chocolate.
FINISH:  Medium to long.
ASSESSMENT:  Extreme to the max.  Sweet, floral, and no…not the FWP found in some nineties versions, but an enjoyable unmatched floral experience.  My personal favorite of the two releases.
Bowmore Limited Release Distilled 1982 – Bottled 2011 47.3 % ABV 501 Bottles

(Advance sample provided by Andrew Ferguson, KWM)

NOSE:  Spicy floral.  Light and citrus fruits.  Crisp apple strudel.  Vanilla with a small smoky bacon note.
TASTE:  Extreme floral.  Caramel.  Raspberries.  Almond chocolate.
FINISH:  Medium.  Beautiful creamy finish.
ASSESSMENT:  Not as floral, but in the same league of extraordinary bourbon casks as the 1981.


Because of the special floral nature of these two whiskies I was given to create a Haiku poem:





As always, Maltmonster

Port Ellen – A Dirty Little Secret



Various incarnations of Port Ellen


In the snowy month of May, 2011 (remember, this is Canada), I was lucky enough to go back to Scotch Land with a small tour group.  I posed as a hard drinking tourist from Canada with a simple mission: drink as many free drams as offered (over 200), ascertain the total remaining casks of Port Ellen held in trust for me and return to Canada without breaking any bottles in my two suitcases.

Success comes in many forms, but always with consequence.  I was both baptized and enlightened in the lake of single malt that is Speyside, but succumbed to a bad case of liver quiver.  My suitcases proved to be liquid tight, but my Visa seemed to be somehow diminished from the constant friction of use.  The main purpose of uncovering the remaining stocks of Port Ellen was met with only modest success but came at a high cost of fallen friends.  Nothing quite prepares you for the sight of facing your comrades (No last names, Richard, Peter, Andrew and his son) in the morning following the prior day’s itinerary, starting with a morning of whisky sampling, followed by a whisky and lunch pairing, afternoon of whisky sampling, aperitif pre-dinner sharpener whisky, whisky and dinner pairing, after dinner dessert whisky and capped off by a long night of whisky bar scrambling.

Port Ellen Distillery, for the benefit of the great unwashed, was built in 1825, temporarily closed between 1929 and 1966, and then operated up to its demise in 1983.  Diageo, or UDV at the time, decided that Caol Ila was better than Port Ellen and Port Ellen was surplus to demand, so went about converting the distillery into a permanent malting facility, which it remains today.

With Gordon & MacPhail, Diageo and Douglas Laing unwilling to disclose their remaining stock of Port Ellen casks, one will just have to take a shot in the dark at their remaining cask inventory.  The following is a profession BBBG* of the remaining casks of Port Ellen held in Scotland:

1 – Cadenhead.  Asked on the Royal Mile and was told they have none left.

2 – Single Malt Whisky Association.  Edinburgh (yes both locations).  Was told that they have no casks .

3 – Signatory.  During the tour they were more than happy to tell us and even allowed us to take a pictures in their warehouse of their last 2 casks.

4 – All the others (which include Dewar Rattray , Adelphi , Coopers Choice , Duncan Taylor and so on) …………………… BBBG* 4 casks.

5– Gordon & MacPhail (Michael Urquhart).  Asked twice, once on a tour of Benromach, again at a tasting in Gordon & MacPhail offices.  Both times, politely denied.  There was a posting on the internet back in 1995 which suggested that after visiting Gordon & MacPhail’s warehouses, they were told the stocks held by Gordon & MacPhail were diminishing rapidly and Gordon & MacPhail were going to start rationing their remaining Port Ellen inventory.  Given Gordon & MacPhail’s ongoing hoarding ability in being able to put 70 year old casks of single malts on the markets, earns them the number three spot in available casks in the whisky world with an BBBG* 20 casks.

6 – Diageo (The largest drink company on the planet.  At least they can’t advertise the universe (Johnnie Rocket Whisky?)) Diageo has been very secretive and heavy handed about their stocks of Port Ellen.  Just remember, Diageo once had a street named after them, but they had to change the name because nobody crosses Diageo and lives.  There was a posting on the internet claiming to have seen the hidden treasure of remaining casks in a first person vision of 80 casks in May of 2005.  Even though the stated amounts of 80 casks in 2005 (80 casks x 250 bottles per cask is 20,000) have long been used up.  Between 2006 and 2010, 25,368 bottles have been released from their annual releases, another 220 bottles from their 2008 Feis Ile single cask along with an undisclosed amount included in their Johnnie Walker Blue Label special releases.

But here’s the rub…we all know the greatest trick that Diageo (Diablo) ever played was convincing the world that Port Ellen was in short supply.  Given that Diageo is usually short sited in most of what they do, Diageo having more casks than Douglas Laing would mean they would be smarter than Douglas Laing, which I would never concede.  So I would BBBG* their remaining inventory at 40 casks which would be approximately 9,000 to 10,000 bottles, of which I believe they will release in a declining amount over the next five years (2011 to 2015).  I would think their remaining casks to be from 1978 & 1979, which would be consistence with their other releases.

I believe they held onto 1978 & 1979 stocks as they were the oldest stock they had left that didn’t already go to blending, plus they had much invested in time and money in quality bourbon casks.  Diageo most likely sold the 1982 and 1983 stock cheaply to the independents, given the overabundance of whisky on the market at the time.  The 1980 & 1981, the missing stock years, which were just or arriving at the three year minimum legal limit for scotch whisky, were probably put into the Diageo peated blends, like JW Black & JW Blue, never to be seen again, and only appreciated if you happen to come across an older bottle from the mid to late eighties.

7 – Douglas Laing (The upstarts of independents, according to Gordon & MacPhail).  Seems to have more remaining stock of Port Ellen than Diageo and all the independents combined, and if managed carefully will last for generations (with deep pockets) to come.  This foresight of buying so many casks of Port Ellen, I believe, can be attributed to Fred Douglas Laing Senior and his love for Port Ellen, although at the time of purchase it was most likely to be a smoky component to one of their blends and not a single malt.

Port Ellen is a jewel in the crown of the Douglas Laing inventory, and Old Malt Cask at 50 % ABV in a Sherry cask is a personal favorite of mine.  On the third floor of Douglas House on Lynedoch Crescent we had the good fortune of trying numerous samples of Port Ellen (along with other single malts), in hopes of bringing yet another cask to Calgary.  Our host for the visit was Lorraine and when I popped the question (how many casks are in the Douglas Laing inventory?), the response was “ee…er…ee…er…ee…”, which I interpreted from Scottish to Canadian as, “if I told you, I’ve have to kill you, eh, you hoser”.

Douglas Laing and sister companies et al., have been releasing Port Ellen in most of their ranges, from Old & Rare Platinum (dump the burnt pine wood boxes with the bad glue jobs), Old Malt Cask (please no more low neck bottles), Provenance, Douglas of Drumlanrig, Premier Barrel ceramic decanter (please put better cork / caps in these bottles and pack them better), Old Malt Cask Advance samples and let’s not forget Big Peat, with a small shovelful of Port Ellen per bottle in a blend of scotch malts.  I would BBBG* their remaining stock to 81 casks, which is double Diageo plus one.  I would think most of their remaining stock to be from 1982 & 1983, but they would also have some older stock in reserve for their Platinum line.


In summary I BBBG* the total remaining inventory of casks (not current bottles on the shelf) and PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I’M WRONG, to be 147 casks, or approximately 40,000 bottles, given some of the remaining casks from Douglas Laing are probably larger Sherry Butts.

To honor this forever lost distillery (more of an excuse to drink), I sat down with Curt, Jay and Pat of All Things Whisky and we enjoyed five different bottlings of Port Ellen.  Curt and I decided to post our tasting notes together on this venture.


Port Ellen Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 1982


PORT ELLEN Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 1982 – 2003

40% ABV 21 Years Old



NOSE:  Citrus bites first.  Peat and smoke, wood smoke (not quite as bold as a mesquite or hickory, but very pronounced nevertheless).  Herbal.  Grassy.  Soft vanilla.

PALATE:  Waxy.  Thin burnt notes.  Smoked fruit skins.  Smoke hangs on and dries out nicely.

THOUGHTS:  Palate doesn’t quite deliver what the nose hints at.  Thin in terms of flavor and mouth feel.  Still a great drink, but heartbreaking it saw so much water added.  Fourth favorite of the night.



NOSE:  Bud-lite smoke.  Farmy.  Lemons and a hint of orange.

TASTE:  Sweet and salty are battling it out on the taste buds.  Grapefruit rules.

FINISH:  Medium…maybe a bit more.

ASSESSMENT:  No need to add water to a drowning drink.  Port Ellen needs to be at a higher ABV to work well.  Fourth favorite of the night.


Port Ellen Diageo 6th Annual Release


PORT ELLEN Diageo 6th Annual Release 1978 – 2006

54.2% ABV 27 Years Old, Bottle # 3251 of 4560 Bottles



NOSE:  Creamy toffee/caramel.  Lemon Polish/Lemon Pledge.  Brine.  Salted Greens.  Fruit Cocktail (mélange of maraschino cherry, pear, orange, peach…all mild and dilute).  Smoke and peat.

PALATE:  Peppery Licorice.  Tar and iodine.  Peat.  Fades into Granny Smith Apple.  Long and smoky finish.

THOUGHTS:  Best nose of the night.  This is exactly what I think of when I think PE.  Love it.  Best PE of the night, hands down.



NOSE:  Floor polish.  Smoked kippers.  Lemon pepper.  Low tide and vanilla.

TASTE:  Musty.  Black liquorice.  Iodine.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Fades quickly.

ASSESSMENT:  Not just any Port in a storm of independents, what I would describe as typical and predictable Port Ellen style.  Second favorite of the night (sucker for balanced sherry).


Port Ellen OMC 26 Years Old Rum Finished


PORT ELLEN Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask December 1979 – November 2006

50% ABV 26 Years Old Rum Finished, Cask # 3081 of 342 Bottles



NOSE:  Rubber Bands.  Glue.  Oily and fishy (think canned sardines).  Aged rum.  Mild smoke and citric tanginess.

PALATE:  Rum almost disappears on the tongue.  Tarry and rubbery.  Cooked greens.  Lemon pepper.  Long finish that shows almost no sign of the rum influence.  Odd.

THOUGHTS:  WTF?!  Palate is much better than the nose.  Nose is almost off-putting.  Does get a little more relaxed with time to open.  Unrecognizable to me as a PE.  Hard to dissect with the rubbery notes from the rum running interference.  Least favorite of the night.



NOSE:  Wet cardboard and fishy chum delight.  This is where the rubber hits the road.  Floral.  Aarrrrrr!  This is sickly sweet.  Might improve mixing (drowning) with coke.

TASTE:  Much better than the nose.  Citrus, kiwi and burnt butter.

FINISH:  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  Pirate Jack & Parrot Pete can’t save the nose on this malt.  Will send the remnants of this bottle to Edmonton for recycling.  It’s said that they are a dirty people and will drink anything.


Port Ellen OMC 1983


PORT ELLEN Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask March 1983 – February 2006

50% ABV 22 Years Old Refill Sherry Butt, Cask # 2116 of 660 Bottles



NOSE:  Very subdued peat at first.  Malty.  Rye bread.  Smoke.  Dusty dried fruit.  Chocolate.  Citrus.  Seaside.

PALATE:  Dried fruits seem more vibrant here…almost like fresh fruit.  Smoky and long.  Pleasantly drying

THOUGHTS:  Third favorite of the night.  Great dram and quite PE-ish with a slight malty twist.



NOSE:  Farmy.  Smoked oysters.  Oranges & cherries.  Toffee.

TASTE:  Sweet at first getting bitter at the end.  Milk chocolate.  Bit minty and blackberry jam.

FINISH:  Strangely warm at the start, fading quickly.  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  Good example of a sherry butt PE from DL.  Third favorite of the night.


Port Ellen Signatory 1982


PORT ELLEN Signatory Vintage November 11 , 1982 – December 20 , 2007

57 % ABV 25 Years Old, Cask 2847 Bottle # 111 of 417 Bottles



NOSE:  Chewy and rich.  Burnt notes.  Zest (Citrus…not soap).  Tobacco leaf.  Wet rocks.  Dark fudge.  Smoke and peat.

PALATE:  Chocolate.  Cereal notes.  Muted anise.  Warm spicy arrival.  Mouth coating, thick and oily.

THOUGHTS:  Great balance.  Points for best arrival of the night.  Nice mix of peat and sherry.  Second favorite of the night.



NOSE:  Nice aged peat smoke.  Cherries.  Oranges.  Leather.  Caramel.

TASTE:  Lemon.  Pepper.  Liquorice.  Fruity.  Marzipan.

FINISH:  Long and lingering.

ASSESSMENT:  Smoke on the water, fire in the sky, this is my favorite of the night.  Perfect balance of Sherry and Islay malt.


Although I don’t generally cry when I drink single malts unless I’ve accidently spilled some, I always seem to tear up when I’m drinking Port Ellen, and pause to remember this poem from Lord Byron:

So we’ll go no more a-roving

So late into the night,

Though the heart still be as loving,

And the moon still be as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,

And the soul outwears the breast,

And the heart must pause to breathe,

And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,

And the day returns too soon,

Yet we’ll go no more a-roving

By the light of the moon.


– As always, tender, Maltmonster

– Photos:  Pat (

(BBBG* – Best Bloody Brilliant Guesstimation)

Compass Box – The Building of an Empire

Compass Box – The Building of an Empire


The Compass Box empire, like many others throughout history, has been built upon the bedrock of ideas bigger than those its competition.  And like any empire keen on expansion and growth, it has smashed boundaries and razed the old infrastructures to the ground.  This type of forward-thinking and innovation is the stuff most often met with extreme resistance at first, and often made lore in years to come.  Generally a movement such as this is led by an individual of character and charisma.  (I hasten to add, he/she is sadly often martyred!  Thankfully we live in slightly more…forgiving…times.)

As emperor of this young empire, John Glaser now finds himself lording over legions from the far-flung regions of Scotland.  He has taken these small holdings and merged and bent them to his benevolent will.  Fortunately, after a few bitter early battles, John’s vision has been met with not only acceptance, but accolade.

Upon the backs and genius of distillers from all corners of Scotland, Glaser has risen with a new force of daring and might.  This young empire shows no sign of slowing its forward march and progression through the ages.

In honor…ATW takes a brief survey of some of the breeds that make up the Compass Box empire:


Photo courtesy of Pat


Asyla – 40%

Nose:  Oak, and vanilla.  Lilac, heather and honey.  Orange.

Palate:  Silky delivery of vanilla and firm grains.  Light fresh fruit.

Finish:  It is the woods that linger.  …But not overly long

Assessment:  Mild and beautifully balanced.  Hints of a very mild and aged Laphroaig (?!?  I know!).  While exceptional and unique, still epitomizes Scotch whisky.  Great beginner’s malt.  Would make an excellent aperatif dram as well.


Photo courtesy of Pat


Oak Cross – 43%

Nose:  Touch of spice.  Mild and homey sweetness.  Toasted grain.  Strong vanilla bean and lavender.  Citrus rind.

Palate:  Depth of wood notes and oak-infused flavors.  A touch of dry tartness.

Finish:  Sweet, but still spicy.  Dries toward the back.

Assessment:  Any day…any time.  Nowhere near the best of the bunch, but that only speaks to the quality of the others…not any lack in this expression.


Photo courtesy of Pat


The Spice Tree – 46%

Nose:  Wham!  This is brilliant!  Clove.  Spiced cranberry.  Caramel.  Warm and worn-in leather.  Bold and creamy and nearly perfect.

Palate:  Hint of malted barley.  Fruit skins and toffee.  Cinnamon spiced apples.

Finish:  Apple skin and sucking on a cinnamon stick.

Assessment:  Best of the Compass Box line-up.  Primarily from Clynelish, they say.  This has more in common with Brora than contemporary expressions of Clynelish.  Sexy…sexy…sexy!


Photo courtesy of Pat


The Peat Monster – 46%

Nose:  Sharp tangy Islay bog.  Deep salty smoke and peat.  Iodine and seawater.  Malty.  Lime and kiwi freshness.  Young mashtun notes.  Touch of vanilla snaking through.  Like smoldering vegetation.

Palate:  Smoke, iodine and fruit skins.  Rich and oily.

Finish:  Lingering smoke, tartness and…yeah…smoke.

Assessment:  Seems feisty and young, though apparently all malts within are 10-16 years.  A little sharp.  Not quite my idea of perfect balance, but great nevertheless and very well-made.  An improvement on the Peat Monster of old.


Photo courtesy of Pat


Flaming Heart – 48.9%

Nose:  Pungent peat (but not Islay peat at the heart…most certainly from the Ardmore).  Tangy.  Floral and vegetal.  Slight peppery bite.  Hint of pear.  Coastal and tarry (Caol Ila, anyone?).  Slightly bread-like and yeasty.  Grains and malt.

Palate:  Malty.  Smoky.  Nutty.  Peaty.  Delivers briny oakiness.

Finish:  Vanilla and dry wood dominate the finish.  Yes…with fading smoke.

Assessment:  Good, but…I hoped for a wee bit more.  Thankfully…I still have a fresh bottle set aside for rainy days.


Hedonism Maximus – 46%

Nose:  Rich in sweet toffee grain.  Almost rye-like.  Sweet bourbon.  Fresh orange intensity.  Lightly buttered baking.  Creamy.  Mild nutmeg and cinnamon.  Strata of vanilla.

Palate:  Bourbon-like delivery.  Buttered caramel and oak.  Sweet and chewy like crunching down on freshly picked grain.

Finish:  Drying and fruity.  Subtly…manipulatively…charms its way into staying for a while.

Assessment:  Lovely.  Nose is exceptional.  Palate…quite good.  Would have loved to try this side-by-side with the other Hedonism.  This is aged grain as it is meant to be presented.  Brilliant.


Photo courtesy of Pat


– All notes:  Curt