Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 17

17 12 2014

Ask and ye shall receive.  I was lagging a bit yesterday, coming off two uninspiring calendar whiskies in a row, when I formally wished for better things to come today.  BAM – Bowmore 18 Year Single Malt, thank you very much.  This is Bowmore’s second appearance in the calendar, having previously impressed me quite a bit with their 15 Year offering The Darkest back on Day 8.  The 18 Year is the graduate level version of its predecessor whisky, retailing for $114 and worth every cent of that price.  This specific age of scotch has only been available from Bowmore since 2007, when it replaced the bizarrely prime-number-matured 17 Year in the distiller’s collection.  I find it amusing that Bowmore has been around for 235 years (it’s Islay’s oldest distillery, having opened in 1779) but didn’t have an 18 Year in their lineup until I was 27.

Talk about a whisky rebound.  Wow.

Talk about a whisky rebound. Wow.

I admit I was slightly nervous to try this whisky when I was price-checking it and saw one shop commenting that it tasted like “salty kippers and coal smoke”.  Mmmm.  Luckily my tasting experience evoked less fish.  First, the deep, coppery amber colour on the 18 is a beautiful thing to behold – it’s probably the best-looking scotch I’ve had so far.  Second, as with the Bowmore 15, even though this is an Islay whisky, the peat levels are fully in control and perfectly balanced with the other flavours:  I definitely got some potent smoke and mossiness on the nose, but it melded seamlessly with sweeter, bolder aromas, marmalade and pineapple and caramel.  And it got even better once I had a taste. Read the rest of this entry »

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 16

16 12 2014

On Day 16 of this Advent quest, I will admit that I’m getting a bit of whisky fatigue.  I still appreciate the little bottles and the flavour complexity and the chance to learn more about the various distilleries, and I feel like I’m starting to get better at picking out hints left behind by various production and aging choices, but my sense of wonder is starting to come up a bit short.  My first note about my first sniff of tonight’s whisky was simply:  “Sherry NOOOOOOO!!” — and sure enough, the Gordon & Macphail bottling of Mortlach 15 Year Speyside Single Malt scotch was aged in refill sherry casks.  I need a bit of an Oloroso vacation.

Just bask in that box.  You can't look away.

Just bask in that box. You can’t look away.

But enough negativity.  Obviously the greatest part about the Mortlach distillery is that it sounds like a Tolkien villain.  Excellent (and evil) name choice.  Coming up close behind in terms of awesome is the hyper-cool tartan box this whisky came in; all whiskies should have their own tartans.  Gordon & Macphail are well-known bottlers, previously seen back in Day 1 of this calendar, who pair up with distilleries and allow for a wider range of releases to hit the market; G&M has over 300 single malt bottlings on the market right now.  This Mortlach was distilled exactly 2.5 times (I’m not sure what half a distillation looks like…do they just turn the still off halfway through?) and retails for a slightly pricy $95. Read the rest of this entry »

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 15

15 12 2014

Two cool factoids about the producer of tonight’s daily Advent whisky:  (1) it is the first new distillery on the isle of Islay in 120 years, having opened its doors in 2005, and (2) it is a farm distillery, meaning that it actually grows and harvests some of the barley that it then malts, ferments, distills and matures into scotch.  Very cool on both fronts, and hopefully the start of a trend of some newer names in Scotland’s whisky field (ideally not starting with “Glen”).  The distillery in question is Kilchoman, and the feature whisky is their workhorse label Machir Bay, a blend that is bottled once per year using the distillery’s own whisky reserves, such that the components of the blend get older with time as the distillery does.  Machir Bay used to be a blend of 3 and 5 year scotches, but it’s now up to 5 and 6 years.  Interestingly, despite being a mixture of different whiskies, this bottle can still be called a “single malt”, as the “single” in this designation refers to the fact that all of the whisky comes from a single distillery as opposed to a single batch or year.

By FAR the hardest bottle to get out of the calendar yet.  Damn box.

By FAR the hardest bottle to get out of the calendar yet. Damn box.

The Machir Bay was initially matured in first-fill bourbon barrels, but then transferred to my most dreaded of aging vessels, Oloroso sherry casks, for finishing — that makes at least 8 out of 15 whiskies in this calendar so far that have had the Oloroso treatment.  This one is by far the weirdest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 14

14 12 2014

Two straight weeks of blogging and drinking the hard stuff – I’m so caught up in this calendar that I barely noticed Christmas is a week and a half away.  What am I going to do without 50 mL of whisky before bed every night?  Ten more days!

Lovely scotch; worst label of the 14 to date by far.

Lovely scotch; worst label of the 14 to date by far.

The KWM Whisky Advent Calendar seemed to be gradually scaling upward as the days went along, both in terms of the pedigree and age of the whisky and in terms of the bottle price, but tonight represents a bit of a reset on both fronts.  The showcase whisky is probably both the youngest and the cheapest single malt of the bunch so far:  the Benromach 10 Year Single Malt scotch from Speyside, clocking in at a mere $68 for a full bottle.  This whisky aged for 9 of its 10 years in 80% bourbon and 20% sherry hogshead casks before being finished in its final year in – wait for it – first fill Oloroso sherry casks.  Sigh.  Benromach has the interesting distinction of being the smallest distillery in Speyside, which is basically the core region of scotch production. Read the rest of this entry »

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 13

13 12 2014

I have a Christmas party to attend tonight, so for the first time this Advent it’s afternoon whisky time!  Today’s whisky closes the loop on the scotch-producing regions of Scotland:  we’ve already had whiskies from 4 of the 5 regions (Speyside, Highland, Lowland, Islay), and this one hails from the lone remaining region, Campbeltown, a peninsula found on Scotland’s southwest coast.  This used to be a high-production area for scotch, but it has gradually fallen from prominence, to the point now where only three distilleries remain:  Springbank, Glengyle and Glen Scotia.  Springbank is by far the best known of the three and produces whiskies under three different labels, one of which is today’s feature scotch.  The Hazelburn Campbeltown 12 Year Single Malt is unpeated and triple-distilled, a production method common in Irish whiskies but rarely seen in scotch.  It spends its aging time in sherry casks (unclear whether they’re Oloroso or not, so I can’t get righteously indignant) and retails for $98.

I need some feedback on this one - have you had it?  What do you think?

I need some feedback on this one – have you had it? What do you think?

I can’t decide whether I like this whisky or not.  On the one hand, it has a beautiful straw-golden colour and a sense of individuality that sets it apart from the other drams in the calendar.  On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to handle its 46% alcohol as well as most of the other whiskies, coming across slightly fiery and harsh at the edges and remaining steadfastly gut-warming on the finish.  The nose, though restrained, has a bit of everything, from spice, celery and copper to apple juice, sulphur and dried grass.  Each sip is initially predominated by alcohol, roasted oak and mesquite, but somewhere in the midpalate more interesting notes of anise, dried citrus, coffee and honey emerge.  I hate to leave a post ambivalent about anything, but I really don’t know how I feel about this scotch, other than happy to add some Campbeltown to my repertoire.  Until tomorrow!

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 12

12 12 2014

Well, I am officially halfway through the Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar, and half of my whisky drinking experience so far has been through the lens of the Oloroso sherry cask.  I didn’t even have to research whether tonight’s whisky made it 6 out of 12, as the Tomatin 18 Year Highland Single Malt advertised on its mini-label that it was finished in what seems to be every distiller’s container of choice.  Turns out the scotch only spent the last 2.5 out of its 18 years in Oloroso, with the previous 15.5 ex-bourbon casks, but that’s not enough to allay my wrath.  I am done with you, Oloroso.  Stop being an aging vessel.



The Tomatin 18 retails for $115, quite a reasonable price for such an old single malt, but I can’t quite get behind it.  The nose is slightly sour-tinged, mealy, malty and briny, with a weird sweat and cigarettes aroma lurking behind a chemically/vegetally citrus, Pine Sol-esque note.  There is some bold spice and hickory on the palate, with the sherry influence shining through loud and clear in the secondary flavours of parchment, old library, dried blood and salt.  The finish is surprisingly pleasant, with lingering cinnamon hearts and fresh bread lurking long after you swallow, but it doesn’t quite redeem what came before.  It might just be my mood, my preference for something different at the end of a big week, my annoyance at being Oloroso-ed again, but I’d put this one in the bottom quartile of the 12 to date.  Fully expecting a rock star tomorrow!

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 11

11 12 2014

Two more firsts today:  first whisky to crack the 20 Year plateau (at 20 years exactly) and first repeat distillery (Speyside’s BenRiach).  Behind door #11 on my Advent Calendar was BenRiach’s 20 Year Single Malt scotch, which looked stylistically identical from the outside to the BenRiach 16 I had back on Day 2.  But the extra 4 years of aging had a monumental impact on the elder whisky’s colour, which was one of the darkest to date, a phenomenal deep amber.

Clear your mind.  Have a scotch.  This scotch.

Clear your mind. Have a scotch. This scotch.

Maybe it’s due to my fatigue level, or to my body’s overreaction to the desperate stress relief of a stiff drink after hauling two small children around a packed Zoolights tonight, but I went instantly visual upon smelling this scotch, mentally transported to vast golden wheat fields under a spotless blue sky, a realm of endless space.  I am keenly aware that that particular vista doesn’t scream “Scotland”, but this whisky has a mellowness and calmness to it that makes me think of the prairies.  And it doesn’t taste half bad either:  lots of spice to lend some zest to the more languid flavours of beeswax, golden apple, vanilla, wood and char.  There’s a quiet power in it that you can sense in the long, honeyed, slightly malty finish.  All in all, a great little dram with the stuff to back up its $110ish price tag.  Halfway point tomorrow!


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