Category Archives: Whisky Tastings

Bruichladdich – Legacy




What does LEGACY mean as its applies to this series of whiskies tasted?  We, the gang of four (almost the gang of three, after a heated debate over scoring) set out to answer this question.  Tempers were stemmed after one of the gang of four reminded us that burying a body in the ground might prove to be difficult after one’s been drinking.

The Legacy here is in the stock of whisky laid down prior to the distillery being mothballed in 1994.  And in the stillmen who worked there before the production went silent.  Stillmen like Neil MacTaggart, who started at Bruichladdich in 1970; Duncan McGillivray in 1974 (sorry for breaking your sod cutter/lifter back in 2008); and Duncan MacFadyen in 1989, who came back in 2001 to continue production.  The Legacy is also in the rich history, starting with the brothers William, John and Robert Harvey who built the distillery in 1881, up on the bank near the shores of Loch Indaal and named it as such.

I believe that the distillery workers and the owners of Bruichladdich, past and present, collectively set out to make the FINEST SPIRIT that could be made, as they draw great pride (also daily drams) from their jobs.  This legacy quote from Woodrow Wilson summarizes how I feel about whisky making:  “You are not here merely to make a living.  You are here to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, and with a FINER SPIRIT of hope and achievement.  You are here to enrich the world.  You impoverish yourself if you forget this errand”.

What is the future of Bruichladdich and the continued  legacy of this great establishment?  It is no secret that Andrew Grey is no longer working for the distillery, rumors of a sale persist, an unwelcome recession has hurt cash flow, along with delaying plans to start up a second distillery at Port Charlotte and criticism still abounds over the amount of expressions on the market.  But people come and go, every distillery sells sooner or later, the economy will rebound and having a greater choice in your whisky section is always a good thing.  If the current ownership were to sell (PLEASE, JUST NOT TO DIAGEO!!!) the legacy left behind by Andrew Grey, Jim McEwan (please never stick your finger in my whisky glass again), Mark Reynier, Simon Coughlin and the other thirty plus owners and employees, would be tasted for years to come and all the innovation and hard work would be realized by both the future owners and by us, the whisky drudges and judges.



LEGACY #1   –   36 YEAR OLD  40.6% ABV BOTTLED 2002 BOTTLE #896

NOSE:  Honey, butter, floral, fruity.

TASTE:  Cinnamon, raspberry/strawberry.  Very sweet.

FINISH:  Medium to long.  Tad briny.

ASSESSMENT:  Nice and pleasant to drink.

RATED:  #5 of the six Legacy series and #8 overall


LEGACY #2   –  37 YEAR OLD 41.8% ABV BOTTLED 2003 BOTTLE #972 OF 1500

NOSE:  Punchy peach.  Grassy.

TASTE:  Sweet, nutty.

FINISH:  Medium, little dry.

ASSESSMENT:  Worn down by age.  I think I can taste Jim McEwan’s finger in this one.

RATED:  #6 of the Legacy series and #9 overall.


LEGACY #3  –   35 YEAR OLD 40.7% ABV BOTTLED 2004 BOTTLE #206 OF 1572

NOSE:  Butterscotch, very creamy.  Fruity.

TASTE:  Almost tropical.  Chewy.

FINISH:  Great long smooth finish.

ASSESSMENT:  Reminds me of eating fresh strawberries with clotted cream at Wimbledon.

RATED:  #1 of the Legacy series and #3 overall.


LEGACY #4  –    32 YEAR OLD 47.5% ABV BOTTLED 2005 BOTTLE #129 OF 820

NOSE:  Apples & raisins.  Spices.

TASTE:  Honey. Botanicals.  The sweet honey coats your tongue.

FINISH:  Long and warming.

ASSESSMENT:  Like drinking liquid gold.  Similar to the 1970.

RATED:  #4 of the legacy series and #6 overall.


LEGACY #5   –   33 YEAR OLD 40.9% ABV BOTTLED 2006 BOTTLE # 993 OF 1690

NOSE:  Oaky.  Caramel and almonds .  Apricots.

TASTE:  Very demure.  Sweet.  Licorice.

FINISH:  Creamy.  Medium.

ASSESSMENT:  Not a bad expression of an older Bruichladdich.

RATED:  #3 of the legacy series and  #5 overall.


LEGACY #6   –   34 YEAR OLD 41.0% ABV BOTTLED 2007 BOTTLE #170 OF 1704

NOSE:  Light and dark fruits.  Honey and mint.

TASTE:  Cream.  Cherries and cinnamon.

FINISH:  Medium and very light.

ASSESSMENT:  Completely lip-smacking.

RATED:  #2 of the legacy series and #4 overall.




NOSE:  Candied cherries.  Floral and some honey.

TASTE:  Vanilla, milk chocolate.  Raisins.

FINISH:  Long.  Little dry.  Fades gently at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  What a great drink.  Could drink this all day long.

RATED:  #1 of the DNA series and #2 overall.


DNA #2  –   32 YEAR OLD 47.4% ABV DISTILLED 1977 BOTTLED 2009 BOTTLE # 385 OF 844

NOSE:  Musty.  Spearmint.  Butterscotch.

TASTE:  Licorice.  Chocolate.  Nutty.

FINISH:  Crisp and long.

ASSESSMENT:  Nice drink to savor.

RATED:  #2 of the DNA series and #7 overall.


40 YEAR OLD  43.1% ABV  DISTILLED OCTOBER 24 , 1964 BOTTLED 2004  BOTTLE #230 OF 550

NOSE:  Minty fresh bourbon.  Farmy.  Ripe melons.

TASTE:  Tropical and much more.  Creamy.

FINISH:  Long and enjoyable.  Bit briny at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Number one favorite of the night.  Best expression of Bruichladdich I have ever tasted.

RATED:  #1 overall.



*Please, Bruichladdich, buy back as many privately owned casks as you can find, to bottle more of the 40 year!

It seems that whenever  it comes to Bruichladdich, for every action there is an equal and opposite criticism, more so than any other Distillery.


– Maltmonster

Maker’s Mark – The Charm of a Southern Belle

The Charm of a Southern Belle

Deep in the heart of Kentucky, on the banks of Hardin’s Creek, there rests a tiny little burg called Loretto.  Aside from downhome charm and quaint Southern beauty, this Marion County ‘city’ offers the world something equally full of heart and character.

That something is Maker’s Mark bourbon.

At once steeped in tradition and forging new paths, the Maker’s distillery is a veritable treasure in the American whiskey scene.  The distillery has been producing in its current incarnation since 1954, though under other guises production on site began as early as 1805.

The bourbon we know today is one of premium prestige and affordable approachability.

Maker’s characteristic sweetness, heft (45%) and spice have made it a household name globally, while the bourbon’s unique mashbill (70% corn, 16% red winter wheat and 14% malted barley) allows us a drink that sparkles like a gem in the formidable gold setting that comprises the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

The classy addition of the red wax dipped neck makes this a bourbon sans compare.

One final personal bias I have to add…any bourbon known as a ‘whisky’ and not a ‘whiskey’, for some inexplicable reason, also scores an extra point or two from this guy.



Maker’s Mark – New Make Spirit

Details:  Clear as a virgin’s conscience.  ABV unknown.  AKA ‘white dog’ as American new-make spirit.

Nose:  Big raw grains and orchard fruit.  Mild waxy notes.  Somewhat plastic.  Foot-like and alcoholic.  Lacks the rich fruity dessert notes of mature Maker’s, but the shadow is there.

Palate:  Cherry lip balm and grain liquor.  Raw and footy.  Definitely needs wood influence.  The potential is barely recognizable (again…just hints).  Finish is primarily corn.

Verdict:  A little aggressive.  Not in terms of alcoholic bite or anything, but in a somewhat cloying foot odor that is hard to get around.  The spice, vanilla and fruit that so characterizes Maker’s Mark is obviously not here yet due to the lack of wood influence.  There is something almost plastic-like in this ‘just off the still’ juice.  Not for the faint-hearted.


Maker's Mark Original Red Seal


Maker’s Mark – Original Red Seal

Details:  Aged between 6 and 7 ½ years.  Rich honeyed-amber color.

Nose:  Honeyed fruit.  Corn and oak.  Rich cherry spice and creamy dessert notes.  Hint of toffee and vanilla.  Mild Cacao.  Wax (think lip balm).  Just a hint, fleeting, of something sharp and green.

Palate:  Oak carries vanilla and spices.  Hint of mint.  Honeyed grains and cherry.  Finish is corn/grain and oaked cherry.

Verdict:  Biggest fruity notes of all.  Deep and mysterious.  Charming as hell.  The fruit marries oh so well with the spice and wood and the vanilla tempers everything beautifully.  A must have in any whisky cabinet, methinks.


Maker's Mark 46


Maker’s Mark – 46

Details:  Starts off as standard mature Maker’s Mark aged 6 to 7 ½ years.  Seared oak staves are inserted into the cask to add a caramelized sugar depth before the cask is resealed to mature for a few months longer.  The ‘46’ refers to the batch experiment that finally ‘made the cut’ so to speak.

Nose:  Wax (lypsyl).  More caramel and vanilla than standard Maker’s, and a touch less fruit.  Healthy hint of maple.  Fruity, but less cherry than I would expect from this distillery.  Dusty corn.  Vanilla and a mild nutmeg.

Palate:  Spiced corn and youthful fruit.  Fades into throbbing popcorn and fruit-tinged finish.  Oak holds on a little too.

Verdict:  Beautiful variant on the Maker’s Mark standard.  Better?  In terms of composition…perhaps a touch.  In terms of enjoyment…hmmm…tough call.  More mature and mellow anyway.  Even a few more months in wood in the Kentucky clime allows for a more mature spirit.


Southern Beauty


– Notes:  Curt

          – Photos:  Pat (




Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

Over many a quaint and curious whiskies of forgotten lore,

While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,

As of someone gently rapping, rapping at my liquor cabinet door.

“‘Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my liquor cabinet door

Only this, the famous Black Bowmore.”



To honor the famous Black Bowmore we gathered together again, the infamous gang of four, to taste this thing of lore.

Some of us have tried the Black Bowmore, along with the White Bowmore and the Gold Bowmore, but never have any of us tried all three together in a vertical tasting.  We also had a chance, due to one generous sole in our infamous gang of four, to try some older, and equally as good, Bowmore.

So on a wet and dreary night in June we banded together to taste and ponder a few Bowmore and nothing more…



NOSE: Oranges and burnt toast.  Marzipan.  Fudge.

TASTE: Peat.  Little fruit.  Briny and creamy.

FINISH: Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT: Great expression of a younger Bowmore that was outstanding.  Only wish the younger Bowmore of today could be as good.



NOSE: Big old fat juicy peach.  Strawberries and Cherries.  Honey.

TASTE: Peach & cream in harmony.  Buttery.  Little mint.

FINISH: Medium.  Wee bit a salt at the very end.

ASSESSMENT: Little peat or brine at this age.



NOSE: Light tropical fruit.  Coffee and dark chocolate.  Bit floral.

TASTE: Toffee.  Licorice.  Infused dark fruits.  Pomegranates.

FINISH: Medium to long.  Fades away nicely.

ASSESSMENT: Rich and complex drink.



NOSE: Tropical fruit, but less than the 25.  Oranges, cherries, melons and apples.  Oaky and maybe a bit of charcoal.

TASTE: Cherries and sherry cask imparted spice.  Marzipan.  Mint and dark chocolate.

FINISH: Medium to long.  Brine arrives at the end.

ASSESSMENT: What a great bottle and great expression of a fruity Bowmore.  I remember they had a hard time selling these for less than $200 in Calgary back in 2002, If I had only bought more.


34 YEAR OLD 1971 51% ABV  BOTTLE # 761 OF 960

NOSE: Earthy.  Coffee beans.  Tobacco and dark chocolate.

TASTE: Nutmeg.  Spicy sherry notes.

FINISH: Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT: Probably mixed one bad cask with a good one or two to hide it.


37 YEAR OLD  1968 43.3% ABV  BOTTLE # 683 OF 708

NOSE: Tropical fruit explosion!  Grapefruit & orange.  Minty sweet Bourbon.

TASTE: Again you get pleasantly assaulted by the tropical fruit.  Bananas.  Little spice and Briny.

FINISH: Long.  Absolutely no peat.  Fades nicely with a little salt at the end.

ASSESSMENT: Nose is in the Black Bowmore range.  Incredible whisky, was not prepared for how good this was.


42 YEAR OLD 1964 40.5% ABV  BOTTLE # 668 OF 827 BLACK BOWMORE

NOSE: Fruit bomb!  If you can think of the fruit, you can find it in this five alive fruit cocktail.  Milk chocolate.  Coffee bean.
Minty and little vanilla.

TASTE: Oranges & cherries.  Dark chocolate.  Licorice.

FINISH: Long and fades nicely with the memory of the nose.

ASSESSMENT: They state it was a vatting of Oloroso casks from 1964, but methinks that there is a possibility that maybe a bourbon cask was dumped into the sherry cask, as there is some sweet hints of vanilla.  The wow factor maybe in order here. What a nose.  This whisky could bring any rum child to instant conversion into a whisky man or woman.



NOSE: Tropical fruits, but much more subtle.  Floral.  Winey notes.  Little oaky.

TASTE: Overwhelming amount of fruits.  Vanilla.  Oaky and dry.

FINISH: Long.  Very smooth and enjoyable.

ASSESSMENT: Past its prime.  Would have been better to bottle this a few years earlier.


44 YEAR OLD 1964 42.4% ABV BOTTLE # 156 OF 701 GOLD BOWMORE ,

NOSE: Melons, cherries and oranges.  Vanilla.  Touch of smoke.

TASTE: Complex.  Nutmeg and sharp ginger.

FINISH: Medium to long.  Brine shows up at the very end.

ASSESSMENT: Rich full nose.  The most balanced of the three (Black, White and Gold) releases.


The number one rated whisky of the night was the Black Bowmore, the second (was also the first choice of some of the gang) was the 37 year old from 1968, followed by the Gold, then the White and 30 year old.

I know the Black Bowmore was meant to be drank, but I can’t help feeling sad, that once the cork is open you are obligated to finish the bottle within a reasonable period of time, and after this bottle is drained of its contents, the Black Bowmore shall be Nevermore …………….. (Good thing we have a spare bottle)


– Nothing More, Maltmonster

Springbank In Springbank


1911 – 2011



SPRINGBANK –18 (2009), 18 (2010), 21, 25, 32, 40 SIGNATORY


Legend has it that a Scotsman from Cambeltown, named Willy Hardy, a tarry-fingered lad wanting to escape persecution from the law, after a misunderstanding involving whisky ownership, is responsible for the community name of Springbank in Alberta, Canada.  Rumors told of Willy having a severe case of Kleptomania, and when it got bad he would be forced to take something for it.  Eluding the Scottish law, Willy immigrated to Canada in 1911.  After learning to speak English he settled aboot the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, between Banff and Calgary.  Lonely for his hometown, he decided to name his homestead in Canada ‘Springbank’ after the distillery that gave him so much pleasure and the motivation to move here.

Springbank has flourished since that time and is now a thriving community in which I call home.  To honor the legend of Willy we decided to have a range tasting of Springbank whiskies and celebrate this most important of anniversaries.

SPRINGBANK  18 YEAR OLD    OB    46% ABV.    Release 2009

NOSE: Cotton candy, fruit, cream and mild smoke.

TASTE: Candied apples, cream.

FINISH: Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT: This has been a much anticipated malt, which is to lead us back to the 21year old.  Please Springbank never run out of 21 ever again…or least in my life time.  Rated # 6 of six tasted

SPRINGBANK    18 YEAR OLD    OB    46% ABV.    Release 2010

NOSE: Citrus lemon & lime.  More floral than the first but not as much smoke.

TASTE: Bubblegum, spice and some liquorice.

FINISH: Medium. This finish seems to fade quite quickly.

ASSESSMENT: Not as good as the 2009 release (Don’t make us beat up Peter Currie when next he is in town).  Need to kick it up for the road back to the 21 year old. Rated # 5 of six tasted.

SPRINGBANK    21 YEAR OLD    OB    46% ABV.  Limited to 2,400 Bottles.

NOSE: Brown sugar, all fruits, cinnamon, milk chocolate.  Tender smoke.

TASTE: Citrus, mangos, cloves and other spices.

FINISH: Rich and warming, long, lip smacking.

ASSESSMENT: The royal flush of single malts.  Very complex and balanced.  This is the reason I drink single malts and not that cane juice.  Rated #1 of six tasted.


NOSE: Citrus fruits, vanilla and more than a little oaky.

TASTE: Nutmeg and raisins.

FINISH: Medium to long and fades nicely.

ASSESSMENT: Bit of a let down after the 21, not as complex but is still a great malt. Rated # 4 of six tasted.


NOSE: Very sharp varnish note dominates the nose.  After working this one we find coconut, lavender.

TASTE: Sweet, whip cream, fruits and little oily.

FINISH: Medium to long, lightly warming.

ASSESSMENT: The taste in this case is better than the nose but is still a very exceptional malt.  Rated #3 of six tasted.

SPRINGBANK (Signatory) 40 YEAR OLD     54.4% ABV.    1969 – 2009,

Single Sherry butt, cask # 263    356 Bottles.

NOSE: Exotic fruits, coconut, spice and all things nice.

TASTE: Burnt sugar, fruit explosion.

FINISH: Rich and warm.  Long and lingering.

ASSESSMENT: You really can find all the fruits in this malt.  Age has mellowed and enriched this whisky nicely.  Rating #2 of six tasted.

SPRINGBANK – LONGROW   18 YEAR OLD    OB    46% ABV.    2008 Release    Limited to 2,280 Bottles

NOSE: Infused smoke, apples and pears, caramel.

TASTE: Pepper, raisins, cigar humidor, liquorice.

FINISH: Long and zesty.

ASSESSMENT: Not rating this one with the other Springbanks as this needs to be rated against other Longrow or other peated malts.  Is another great product from the stills of Springbank.  Great to drink now, can’t wait until this hits 21 years as well.

– Maltmonster


“All of life is a dispute over taste and tasting” (Nietzsche)

Irish Reparation


Breaking news today from a Hollywood insider that Michael Moore may be buying the screen rights to a story on the Irish claim to Auchentoshan.  This unnamed Hollywood insider is quoted as saying “this is a story that will rock the very foundations of the Scottish Whisky Association”.

It’s been long suspected that Auchentoshan and surrounding area were part of Ireland and, in fact, still are.  It’s also been said that the Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) has had a history of bullying, suppression, possible buggery and much more (Glen Breton as example).  Other non-credible unnamed sources have clearly stated that Dan Brown may be considering writing this sure-to-be-best-selling novel.

To back up the Irish claim to the distillery, the following are the facts and they are undisputed:

1)      500 AD  Irish Missionaries return from the Mediterranean region with the knowledge of distillation.

2)      590-600 AD  An Irish monk named Mirren, now referred to as Saint Mirren, founded a religious order on the future site of Paisley Abbey very near Auchentoshan.  His mission was to save and educate the Scottish heathens in the ways of life and double distillation.

3)      1245 AD  The Irish Priory on the site of an old Celtic church founded by Saint Mirren was upgraded to an Abbey, which it remains to this day, the Paisley Abbey.

4)      1516 AD  Paisley Abbey, to increase revenues, allows the land where Auchentoshan stands today to be used for unlicensed double distilling.  The Irish still retain the secret of triple distillation.

5)      March 17, 1817 AD  John Bullock & Co. takes control of the land and in 1823 builds a licensed distillery named Duntocher.  Duntocher translated (Dun / Tair) from Irish Gaeilge to English means closed fort of the wretched, or prison.  Convicted Irish Criminals, called Cons, were conscripted from a town named Leap in County Cork.  These short-statured people were referred to as ‘the Cons from Leap’, or simply as ‘Leaprecons’.   These Leaprecons, with exceptional long life spans (due to drinking triple distilled whisky) and knowledge of the secret art of triple distillation, were forced to work in the production of whisky.

6)      1830 AD  A group of Scottish distillers form with a mandate to; control whisky production, learn the secret art of triple distillation and move the Irish out.  This group would later be called SWA.  This dark period in time is called the ‘Great Purge’.

7)      Friday June 13, 1834 AD  John Bullock & Co., under great pressure from the SWA, was forced to dispose of the Duntocher Distillery to Alexander Filshie, a member of the SWA.  The Irish prisoners are dealt with and the Distillery is quickly renamed Auchentoshan.  Auchentoshan translated (Acht / Tost / Am) from Irish Gaeilge to English means ‘the act of silence over time’.  Most Leaprecons buried their valuables and fled for their lives.  Rumors say that what few Leaprecons survived the time of the great purge ended up in Campbeltown, captured and forced by the locals to apply their secret art of triple distillation at Springbank.

8)      1940 AD  A team of archeologists digging in the corner of the field at Auchentoshan uncover metal pots containing very valuable items, some say treasure.  Before the removal process could begin the site was supposedly bombed by the German Luftwaffe.  No witnesses can testify to this event, other than hearing loud explosions at night and seeing what could have been SWA employees leaving town.  The site of this archeological dig is now under water and serves as the cooling plant for the Distillery.

9)      2008 AD  The distillery sold a three sided water container with the word ‘distillation’ on all three sides misspelled with the word ‘distellation’.  As we all know, Latin was the preferred language of the Irish monks, and ‘distell’ in Latin means to tell god.  We understand the author of the misspelled word may work at the Abbey and may be trying to right the injustice done to the Leaprecons and bring to light the possible bad deeds of the SWA.

As a testament to the fallen Leaprecons, we honor them on Saint Patrick’s Day with a tasting of four different expressions of (Irish) Auchentoshan.

A couple o' fine ol' Auchentoshans


50 YEAR OLD APRIL 15, 1957 – JULY 17, 2007 49.1 % ABV BOTTLE # 45 OF 144

132 GALLONS OF NEW SPIRIT FILLED AT 68 % ABV IN AN OLOROSO CASK #480 AND MATURED IN WAREHOUSE NUMBER THREE (thank you to Andrew Ferguson at KWM for the wee sample)

NOSE:  Floral.   Marzipan, slight hint of cheese and raisins.

TASTE:  Chewy butterscotch, oranges and pecans.

FINISH:  Medium.  Tart and lingering.

ASSESSMENT:  Its ok…but for fifty it’s just not nifty.  Sure the old who are not strong do not whither, but they don’t taste any better.


50 YEAR OLD APRIL 15, 1957 – DECEMBER 12, 2007 46.8 % ABV BOTTLE # 157 OF 171

132 GALLONS OF NEW SPIRIT FILLED AT 68 % ABV IN AN OLOROSO CASK #479 AND MATURED IN WAREHOUSE NUMBER THREE (thank you to Andrew Ferguson at KWM for the ample sample)

NOSE:  Toffee and eucalyptus are battling it out at the start, giving way to cherries and some ripe oranges.

TASTE:  Little tart at the beginning then it totally transforms to creamy butterscotch.  WOW!  Chocolate, melons, citrus fruits and a little black liquorice.

FINISH:  long and warming at the end.

ASSESSMENT:  Much lighter in color than cask # 480 .Taste this, and be henceforth among the gods thyself, (Thanks Milton) it’s that good

Auchentoshan 1976



NOSE:  Toffee, honeydew melon, cherries and menthol.

TASTE:  Butterscotch overload.  Chocolate and marmalade jam.

FINISH:  Medium to long.

ASSESSMENT:  What an outstanding cask. The light triple distilled spirits pick up almost a sherry type influence from the wood interaction. Was told back in 2006 that they only purchased half the cask. Hard to believe they still have some bottles left in 2011.

Auchentoshan 1978



NOSE:  Kentucky bourbon sweet.  Bit of varnish, cherries and oranges.

TASTE:  Spice, almonds and oily buttery notes at the back end.

FINISH:  Medium.  Drying.

ASSESSMENT:  This really has a new bourbon favor to it.  Let the Bourbon take hold and find yourself floating like a leaf down the Cahulawassee River whilst the genetically compromised hill people gently serenade you with Banjo music from the surrounding hills.


What does the world want as reparation?  Well…first they want the Scottish Whisky Association to formally thank the Irish for sharing and teaching them the art of distillation.  Second…they want a formal apology to Glen Breton for taking them to court and wasting their valuable time and money.  Lastly…we would have the use of the Diageo (Head of the SWA) corporate jet for a week to allow the ATW Associates & Friends to visit Scotland and pay homage to the fallen Leaprecons.




          – Maltmonster

Port Charlotte – PC5, PC6, PC7 and PC8

Port Charlotte

“It was Jim’s idea,” says Mark Reynier, CEO of Bruichladdich.  Mark is referring to the initiative to resurrect the distillery in Port Charlotte.  With the closure of the Inverleven Distillery in 2003, Master Distiller Jim McEwan saw an opportunity to purchase the existing equipment before demolition.  A team led by Bruichladdich’s General Manager, Duncan McGillivray, ventured to Dumbarton and dismantled the distillation equipment, bolt-by-bolt, and shipped it by barge back to Islay.

Though plans to put Islay’s ninth distillery into production have unfortunately met with delay, for all intents and purposes, this project is still a ‘go’.

For those not in the know, Port Charlotte is destined to be Islay’s next destillery. Pieces are coming together, and it is only a matter of time until whisky flows from the stills in the village of Port Charlotte. From 1829 through 1929 the Lochindaal Distillery produced a peated malt whose resonance lingered long enough to lead to Bruichladdich’s plans of renaissance.  The buildings in Port Charlotte are still in tact from a time when the heavy hand of prohibition led to the Lochindaal Distillery being mothballed, however the last known bottling from this distillery was opened and drunk in 1963.

At the time of writing (2011) there is an indefinite hiatus in terms of rebuilding this highly anticipated addition to Islay’s stable of malt producing giants, however, irrespective of this, Bruichladdich has been producing a heavily-peated spirit under the Port Charlotte moniker for a nearly a decade now.  Eventually, plans are to shift this production to what will be Islay’s newest phoenix…Port Charlotte.

Though we’ll likely never know what the original malt tasted like, the new Port Charlotte is an instant classic.  It is a whisky that is simply unmistakeable.  The releases to date are all are young, biting, citric, and carry that hallmark Bruichladdich buttery character. They are all smoky and peaty, with a phenolic character that seems contrary to the declared 40ppm peating level.  The heft here makes me think this is a conservative number.  Each also delivers a wonderful anesthetic feeling after a couple sips of each (not surprising at this high of abv).

Forgive me for not being able to source a bottle of PCMV (the latest Port Charlotte multivintage vatting, and sadly not available in Canada as yet), but in the meantime…here are the ‘Big 4’:

Port Charlotte PC5, PC6, PC7 and PC8

Port Charlotte PC5 Evolution

Bourbon and sherry casks 63.5% 40PPM 5 y.o. 6,000 bottles

Nose:  Black licorice.  Peat and smoke.  Thistly and green with a touch of new make fruit.

Palate:  Prickly on arrival.  Caramel, sharp greens, tarry.  New make peaks through a little.

Finish:  Green apple and waves of smoke.

Balance:  Young and sharp, but surprisingly already showing strong suggestions of what it will become.

Impressions:  A little Caol Ila-ish, believe it or not.  Somewhat fruiter and a little drier than the others in the lineup.  Hasn’t quite mellowed with that caramely butteriness typical of the others.  Not nearly as balanced as the others, but extremely charming in that ‘dirty girl next door’ kinda way.

Port Charlotte PC6 Cuairt-Beatha

Bourbon and Madeira casks 61.6% 40PPM 6 y.o. 18,000 bottles

Nose:  Bucketloads of peat and smoke.  Butterscotch.  Hints of dust.  Sharp and salty.  Characteristic Bruichladdich butteriness.

Palate:  Swirling smoke.  Tar and anise.  Caramel.  Citrus zest

Finish:  Neverending.  Hints of oak here.

Balance:  Deep.  Sooooo deep.

Impressions:  My favorite of the bunch. The nose, especially, is in a league of its own. Bold, unique, sexy. I adore this whisky.

The Port Charlotte Lineup

Port Charlotte PC7 Sin An Doigh Ileach

American Oak Finish 61% 40PPM 7 y.o. 24,000 bottles

Nose:  Sharp smoldering peat and smoke.  Pungent woodiness.  Enormous caramel sweetness.  Freshly picked garden herbs.  Cola and citrus.

Palate:  Dense smoke.  Touch of dill.  Mouthcoating.

Finish:  Everlasting, but what would you expect? At this ABV and this heavily peated these flavors ain’t going anywhere.

Balance:  A little more ‘in-your-face’ than the other two. But I likes…I likes a lot. I concede you’ll likely get a better balance out of the PC6 and PC8.

Impressions:  Seems most aggressive of the bunch.  Not sure why.  Tried this on multiple occasions against the others, and even had concurrence from fellow tasters.  Utterly delicious though.

Port Charlotte PC8 Ar Duthchas

Bourbon and Madeira casks 60.5% 40PPM 8 y.o. 30,000 bottles

Nose:  What else? Peat and smoke.  Amplified clean cucumber and hints of dill.  Toffee.  Cola.  Citrus zest.  Hint of chocolate.

Palate:  Fruitier delivery.  Slightly (and I mean ‘slightly’) easier smoke.  Sweeter and more caramel.  Citrus.

Finish:  Ssssssssssmoky and woody.  Fruitier finish lingers.  Green apple.

Balance:  Most balanced so far, but I miss the jagged tors of the earlier releases.

Impressions:  A little more complex, but I prefer the more youthful bite. Saying this is my least favorite of the three is really not giving this its fair due, as it is still one hell of a dram.

Dissecting these gorgeous monsters is hard. You first have to disassociate the alcoholic burn and peat/smoke components. If you can do that, you’ll still be hard-pressed to find individual characteristics. This is essentially the same whisky at different ages, with different finishes. Logically, they would be fairly similar.  The obvious solution would be to add water, but as said before…as soon as we start adding water it becomes hard to know that you’re tasting the same strength as anyone else out there.  This sort of negates the review.

My personal opinion is that it’s more logical to simply weigh degrees of flavor and aroma balance and decide which one fits your palate best.

The wait for Port Charlotte’s rebirth is like the wait for ‘Chinese Democracy’, but we’ll be here with glasses raised to Bruichladdich when it becomes reality.

Macallan Tasting – December 1st, 2010

Note:  This event took place on the 1st of December, 2010.

Laughs were easy tonight.  The audience, 102 strong, was there to have a good time and J. Wheelock’s casual demeanor helped to make a relatively formal event feel both comfortable and familiar.  A gift he has.  I mentioned similar thoughts regarding J’s approach in a review of a tasting he put on for Highland Park last year.  Edrington has an ace in the hole here with someone whose skill is matched only by the sincerity of his passions for what he presents.

J Wheelock at work

This particular event, much like the last, was a case where class won out.  The visuals, those of both Willow Park and Edrington, were warm, dark and cozy.  The ambience was set from the moment of arrival.  Everyone was greeted at the entrance with a glass of the Famous Grouse on ice and instructed to mix with bottles of ginger beer on the tables to create what they had deemed “the Ginger Grouse”.  Not bad.  Not particularly my thing though.  Regardless of preference and palate, it was a great welcome.

The presentation began with some history on the distillery, region and malts, and was peppered with humorous anecdotes and shared personal experience.  These are the pieces that come together to make these sorts of tastings worth attending (of couse, the whisky doesn’t hurt either, I suppose).  Many enthusiasts will never step foot on Scotland’s shores, let alone be allowed into the inner sanctum of some of the distilleries, so these insider insights are both entertaining and enlightening.  

As the presentation unfolded we began to work our way through the lineup of malts that had been laid out for us.  Quite a range, really, and one that afforded a good look at the varied portfolio of the Macallan.  A few brief notes (several of these will be reviewed in the coming days) to give you an idea:

The evening's fare...a nice range of the Macallan


Macallan Sherry Oak 12 y.o. – Slightly oaky.  Sharp purple fruit and honey.  Sherry brings a touch of baking spice. Caramel apple.  Peppery grape/raisin on the palate.  Thin feel.

Macallan Fine Oak 15 y.o. – Typically Speyside-ish.  Tangy fruit, vanilla, fresh greens and smoked wood.  More floral and woody on the palate than the nose.  Somewhat weak in the delivery.

Macallan Sherry Oak 18 y.o. – Complex maturity.  Toffee with cinnamon and sherry.  Oak is an anchor.  Smoked apple skins.  Spices creep to the front on the palate.  Figs and cloves.  Best Macallan I have tasted to date.

Macallan Fine Oak 21 y.o. – Quite peppy and fruity.  Sweet caramel and vanilla.  Mixed tropical fruits.  Big citrus notes.  Nice arrival that builds to a head of creamy orange fruit and sugars.  It is the peppery woods that linger.  My wife referred to it as quite wintery fresh (my words, not hers).

Macallan Fine Oak 25 y.o. – Stunningly sweet toffee notes.  Mild and mature fruit.  Mildly floral with a hint of pepper.  Touch of peach and sugary biscuit.  Hint of smoke on the palate with a bit of an apple bite in the finish.  Almost bitter.  Much better nose than palate.  Great nose, in fact.

Macallan Fine Oak 30 y.o. – Mature and dignified.  Beautifully balanced fruit and caramel.  Again…dry apple finish.  While good…age does not win out here though.  The 18 year old is better.

Gotta be honest.  I have made no small secret of my uncertainty regarding Macallan.  It was never an issue of not liking the whiskies…more like being underwhelmed with what I had tried.  Did this tasting alleviate that?  Well…yes and no.  We tried some great whiskies, the 18 in particular being quite spectacular.  We also tried a couple that were beyond what most in attendance would pay for a bottle.  Both tasty and rewarding.

However…I have to stand behind the conviction that Macallan’s price point is simply too high.  The 12 year old is nearly $80 and the 18 year old hovers around $175.00.  At the end of the day I promise you can find better malts for less.  Does this make these bad whiskies?  Come on…of course not.  Quite the contrary.  I simply expect more for less, and can’t think of another brand out there that is pricey across the range as the Macallan.  I’ve said before though…value is subjective, and obviously many others out there see things in a vastly different light than I. 

Back to the evening…

To close out an already great night, J. asked everyone to take home the Macallan tumblers that had been placed in front of each setting.  A nice token and one which Edrington has done at both events I have attended. 

Nosing techniques and explaining the flavor map.

This tasting was nifty for me.  For the first (but hopefully not last) time my wife actually attended with me.  Can’t think of anything that could have made the night better. 

This will certainly not be the last event I attend put on by the Edrington group.  A great tasting.  Look forward to the next.

Feature Tasting – Octomore vs Ardbeg Supernova

ATW’s good-hearted foot soldier and trained palate extraordinaire Maltmonster takes us on a head-to-head battle between the world’s peatiest drams…Bruichladdich’s Octomore and Ardbeg’s Supernova.  This particular collision is between the first release of Octomore (1.1) and Ardbeg’s latest incarnation of Supernova (SN2010).

At some point in the future I’ll put up my own notes for how these stack up.

Anyway…back to the here and now…





Bog People also known as peat freaks, marsh mutants, peatophiles and phenol fanatics exist all around us. They hold normal jobs, eat normal food and they live just like normals, except they have a dirty dark secret.  They are addicted to layers of decaying vegetation called “peat”.  They roast their peat over barley, which they turn into alcohol in order to speed the delivery to their brains.  Most normals have no ideal as to the scope of the problem or the ability to recognize an infected person.

As a self acclaimed expert with months of experience I have no problem in identifying the people of the bog.  Four easy clues to identifying people who suck the bog juice are as follows;

1)  Language.  It’s a dead give away.  They use words like medicinal, tar, iodine, smoky, creosote, bonfire, diesel, reek. Learn these words and know the first warning signs.

2)  Visual.  Look around the house for bottles with  names like Authenticus, Ardbeg, Bowmore, Brora, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila, Laphroaig, Port Ellen.  Be careful here, they are a tricky bunch and have been known to hide, or as they refer to it “stash”, their bottles.  Check the basement, attic and the garage.  They have also been known in extreme cases to hide their bottles at the neighbor’s.

3)  Leader.  Yes I said leader.  They follow and pay homage to the prophet named James Murray.  Again look around the house for books, and in particular look for a bible which bares the prophet’s name.  At the mere mention of the prophet’s name most bog people will stop whatever they are doing and immediately start chanting “Ardbeg whisky of the year, Ardbeg whisky of the year, Ardbeg whisky of the year”.  Know their leader and it could save your life.

4)  Promised land.  As strong as the need for some birds to head south for the winter, so is the desire for each Bog person to visit their promised land.  Their mystical home land is called “Islay”, which is an island off the coast of Scotland very close to Ireland.  They feel compelled to visit this island at least once in their lifetime.  Anytime the name of the mystical homeland is mentioned their eyes glaze over, drool falls from the mouth and they babble names of distilleries located on this mystical island.

Other warning signs of peat freaks in your midst may be breath smelling of a campfire, saved websites of distilleries on Islay, wills stating their bodies are to be interred on Islay.

Two commonly preferred whiskies drank by bog people are:


60.1 % ABV.      OVER 100 PPM

NOSE:  Strong smoke, farmy.  Lemon and pepper.

TASTE:  Salty, liquorice, some fruit.  Very chewy.

FINISH:  Long and warming.  Little dry.

ASSESSMENT:  Not as assertive as the Octomore and way more balanced with favor.

Ardbeg SN2010


63.5% ABV.   131 PPM

NOSE:  Creosote, Bolivar cigar, smoked oysters…hell maybe a smoked kitchen sink.

TASTE:  Intense smoke, salty and some young vanilla.

FINISH:  Powerful, robust and long.

ASSESSMENT:  Like the taste you get after breaking a bottle on the road and then spending the next hour licking it up.

Bruichladdich Octomore 1.1


Never, never use pepper spray on a peat head as they only enjoy this as additional favoring.  Also never use a stun gun on them as the many years of exposure to peat has left their senses so dull as to render the stun useless.  Never approach a large group of peat heads as they can be very dangerous.  I heard from a creditable Hollywood source that George Romero wrote Dawn Of The Dead after visiting some peat freaks on Islay.                         

If you find yourself trapped with a peat freak please remember the following:  Burn some smoky incense or light a fire which will serve to calm them; tell them you have to go to the store to pick some smoked oysters or smoked salmon to pair with their brew; Once outside phone the police, they are very adept in dealing with these deviants.

– MM

Tale Of Two 25 Year Old Laphroaigs

Shouldn’t 25 year old siblings taste the same?  After all they were born and raised ( we hope ) on Islay.  They both share Spanish and American heritage.  They both have a yellow gold hue appearance, round bodies and have the same smokey nose .

The nature vs. nurture debate is one of the oldest issues in Whisky (the other is did the Irish invent Whiskey).  The debate centers on the contributions of materials (Nature) such as cereals, yeasts, wood and Production Methods (nurture) such as cut, still variation, storage methods.

Well let’s taste them and see what we can discern about these two 25 year old siblings.


NOSE: Aged smoke, winey, almonds and soft apples & pears

TASTE: Sweet ripe nectarines.  Raisins

FINISH: Medium and a bit more

ASSESSMENT: Nice Laphroaig even without the big robust smoke.  Could use with a little more % of alcohol

Laphroaig at 25 years.


NOSE: Lively smoke but more medicinal than the 40 %.  Light bubble-gum and pears

TASTE: Smooth sweet tropical fruit.  Creamy caramel.  Stunning

FINISH:  long. A little harsh in the middle then warm at the end

ASSESSMENT: Liked the taste far better than the nose.  Nice dram

Although they shared many similar traits, they really tasted different. Was it the wood influence (first / second / third fill casks)? Maybe the blender vatted older Laphroaig with the 25 year old casks or more bourbon casks in one. Maybe one was matured on Islay and one was matured on the mainland.

I say vive la difference.  Without some difference by unknown factors or change in the process our endless quest to find the perfect dram would cease. After all it’s all about the journey.


Port Ellen

Port Ellen.

The Holy Grail of Islay Malt for many.  The Port Ellen distillery was mothballed in 1983, and subsequently demolished.  The site is still home to the maltings (which supply malt to all of the Islay disilleries), but sadly the whisky that was produced prior to 1983 is all there will ever be.  These whiskies, especially the cask-strength Diageo bottlings, are highly sought after, collectable and obviously quite drinkable.

Our own incomparable Maltmonster, generous of time and spirit (both the drinkable kind and the inner sort), offered to supply some insider details from a little tasting he and a couple others put together.  I know envy is one of the seven deadly sins, but hey…may as well tack it on the list I’m already chaulking up.

Here is how it all came together.  I know of no other comprehensive review of all PEs like this, so my sincerest thanks to MM and the poor souls who got dragged along on this ride.  Withour further ado…




May contain scenes that rum drinkers find offensive. Intended for a malt audience only

May also contain content or scenes of debauchery, alcohol consumption and bad humor

Diageo’s Port Ellen 1 through 9.

Playing the Lennon / McCartney song Revolution 9 backwards it became suddenly clear that Charles Manson had it all wrong .The message that the Beatles were sending was to drink Trop Nelle and the number nine used repeatedly through the song meant consume nine different bottles

After convincing my friends of the true meaning of the message we undertook a grail like quest to acquire the needed malt. We a small but determine group of Diageo bashing Port Ellen loving maltsters managed to buy the 5th, 6th , 8th  and 9th release locally. The 7th release was acquired from New York .The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th releases were acquired out of the wilds of Scotland.

So on a cold and snowy night in December we gathered together again, the infamous gang of four. Named after our failed attempt to take over control of Diageo in 2008. We now know which seemed to be obvious to others that owning whisky is not considered the type of stock that entitles you to vote at share holders meetings

The bottles are listed from one to nine, but tasted from nine to one as we felt that the older ones would have less of a peat influence on our nose and palates. We rated the PE as we drank them, comparing to the previous drams and so on. So at the bottom of each of the tasting notes is the combined average rating of the gang of four (1 being the best and 9 being the least favorite of the night) any ties were broken by the Maltmonsters vote

Heaven is indeed a place on earth.

Port Ellen # 1 Annual Release 1979 – 2001 22 Years Old 56.2 % ABV. Limited 6,000 Bottles

NOSE: Soft apple, musty and mild smoke

TASTE: Bubble gum, sweet, liquorice

FINISH: Long and lingering a little oaky at the end

ASSESSMENT: Good all around expression of PE. Good depth


Port Ellen # 2 Annual Release 1978 – 2002 24 Years Old 59.35 % ABV. Limited 12,000 Bottles

NOSE: Candied apples, iodine and tar

TASTE: Sweet and at bit winey with some milk chocolate

FINISH: Very long, a bit salty at the end

ASSESSMENT: The most intense creosote like of the group. Very robust


Port Ellen # 3 Annual Release 1979 – 2003 24 Years Old 57.3 % ABV. Limited 9,000 Bottles

NOSE: Fresh fruit, cut grass and little iodine

TASTE: Sweet, chewy and salty almost briney

FINISH: Medium to long

ASSESSMENT: Not an unpleasant expression just lacks some refinement


Port Ellen # 4 Annual Release 1978 – 2004 25 Years Old 56.2 % ABV. Limited 5,100 Bottles

NOSE: Sweet succulent oranges. Citrus delight. Fresh lawn clippings. Beautiful smoke

TASTE: Ripe fruit. Liquorice root and velvet smooth

FINISH: Long, lingering and warm

ASSESSMENT: I like this one a lot. Well balanced and complex


Port Ellen # 5 Annual Release 1979 – 2005 25 Years Old 57.4 % ABV. Limited 5,280 Bottles

NOSE: Floral, lavender, apples and pears. Subtle smoke

TASTE: Sweet, infused lemon .Vibrant on the tongue

FINISH: Long finish. Starts dry and ends up sweet. Little oaky

ASSESSMENT: The most balanced of the PE tasted. Refreshing to drink .Stunning


Port Ellen # 6 Annual Release 1978 – 2006 27 Years Old 54.2 % ABV. Limited 4,560 Bottles

NOSE: Floor polish, fishy and citrus notes

TASTE: Black liquorice, earthy

FINISH: Medium to long

ASSESSMENT: A little dull and plain . To astringent.


Port Ellen # 7 Annual Release 1979 – 2007 28 Years Old 53.8 % ABV. Limited 5,274 Bottles

NOSE: Cloves, lemon and sea-weed

TASTE: Honey to salty all in one waive

FINISH: Short to medium

ASSESSMENT: The taste really died on the vine. The least complex of the bunch


Port Ellen # 8 Annual Release 1978 – 2008 29 Years Old 55.3 % ABV. Limited 6,618 Bottles

NOSE: Lemon, nutty, bit of sulphur and a little oily

TASTE: Cinnamon, milk chocolate and pepper

FINISH: Very long and ending bone dry

ASSESSMENT: Have tasted this one numerous times and enjoyed each time .Seems not a favorite of the writers but this crews loves it. Well rounded and multilayered


Port Ellen # 9 Annual Release 1979 – 2009 30 Years Old 57.7 % ABV. Limited 5,916 Bottles

NOSE: Eucalyptus, floral, spruce needles

TASTE: sweet, light smoke early

FINISH: Medium to long

ASSESSMENT: The most elegant of the nine tried. Very pleasant malt to drink


Special thanks to the members of the gang of four for making this tasting happen (Extra special thanks to the unnamed person that supplied most of the malt). We will be having a do over once we located and secured a bottle of the 10th release.

Port Ellen 1 through 9.

“Just remember age doesn’t always bring wisdom, sometimes age comes alone.”

Thanks, MM.