Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 21

21 12 2014

Last night I delicately expressed some annoyance at the third appearance of a distillery (Springbank) in a 24-day Advent calendar.  Consider that foreshadowing for tonight, when it happened again.  At least the Springbank whiskies were split between three different sub-labels, but tonight’s whisky completed a one-label BenRiach trilogy:  first there was BenRiach 16 back on Day 2, then there was BenRiach 20 on Day 11, and now there’s the hilariously named BenRiach Septendecim, a 17 Year Single Malt from Speyside.  “Septendecim” is Latin for “17” and continues a calendar tradition of whiskies being given extraordinarily wordy and complex names for no particular reason.  It certainly got my attention.

Everything looks more impressive in Latin.

Everything looks more impressive in Latin.

The coolest thing about the Septendecim (which feels like it should be written in capital letters at all times – SEPTENDECIM!!) is that its a (heavily) peated whisky from Scotland’s Speyside region, an area that is almost never known for peat.  The other two BenRiachs in the calendar are much more typical Speyside, light and sweet and clean as a whistle.  This one is flat out dirty:  you can smell the peat even as you’re pouring the first glass.  It also has my eternal gratitude for not letting a single drop of whisky touch a sherry cask — this is all ex-Bourbon barrels all the way.  Finally. Read the rest of this entry »





Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 20

20 12 2014

Well, whisky friends (and long-suffering wine readers who are just dying for Advent to be over – hang in there), we’ve reached Day 20 of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar.  Only 4 more whiskies left until Christmas, which means we’re on the home stretch, gaining momentum to go out with a bang…right?  Maybe not so fast.  When I opened tonight’s calendar window and saw a familiar black cardboard box staring back at me, my thoughts could entirely be summed up with:  “Again?”

Not the little black box again.  (Sorry Campbeltown.)

Not the little black box again. (Sorry Campbeltown.)

Yep, it’s scotch #3 from the Springbank distillery in Campbeltown, completing the collector’s set of whiskies from the producer’s 3 sub-labels:  first came the Hazelburn 12 on Day 13, then came the Springbank 10 two freaking days ago, and now we get the Longrow N.V. Peated Single Malt, a whisky with no age designation at all (meaning that at least a chunk of it was made from quite young malts).  If you’re wondering how many whiskies from one producer is too many in a 24-day calendar, the answer is 3.  The Longrow retails for $64 and is a solid value for that price, but I can’t see myself coming back to it. Read the rest of this entry »





Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 19

19 12 2014

With a scant five days left until the last calendar door swings open, we’re setting a new age record today with a whisky whose name is about as hilariously British as they come:  The Antiquary 21 Year Rare Old Blend.  (And Scotland:  you voted to stay in the UK, so you can’t get mad at me when I say “British”.)  The Antiquary is a sub-label of the Tomatin distillery which was featured here back on Day 12 — if you start researching scotch you’ll realize just how much a seeming multiplicity of brands and labels are consolidated under a very limited number of owners.

Did Jane Austen come up with this name?

Did Jane Austen come up with this name?

“Rare Old Blend” is an accurate description for this calendar, as I believe this is is just the 4th blend out of 18 scotch whiskies so far; it’s a single malt world out there in terms of consumer demand, although high-quality blends are probably the place to look for near-equal character and complexity at a way better price.  This 21 year old blend comes in at $115, extremely reasonable for a whisky of that age.  It’s a mixture of whiskies from all over Scotland, primarily Speyside and Highland but with a “splash” of Islay and Lowland scotch thrown in.  Campbeltown apparently failed to make the cut. Read the rest of this entry »





Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 18

18 12 2014

Deja vu all over again?  I did a bit of a double take as I pulled the black box surrounding this whisky out of the calendar tonight.  Day 18 of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is located right beside Day 13, and Day 13 was home to an identical little black box, belonging to Springbank distillery’s Hazelburn 12 Year Single Malt.  Tonight’s neighbour box decided to forego the sister label and stick to the heart of the core brand, containing Springbank’s “benchmark whisky” (as KWM puts it), the 10 Year Single Malt.  As you already know if you tuned in 5 days ago, Springbank is interesting because it’s one of only three distilleries left in the scotch region of Campbeltown, and by far the best known of the three.  The Hazelburn label’s distinguishing features was that it was unpeated and triple-distilled; I don’t think either of those factors apply to the Springbank 10, which seemed to me to contain a bit of peat and which does not feature the hyper-literal three stills on its label like its sibling does.

Should sister labels look identical in the package?  My vote is "no".

Should sister labels look identical in the package? My vote is “no”.

My big issue with the Hazelburn was that I came out of it not really knowing how I was supposed to feel about it.  It’s a little bit easier to align myself with the Springbank, which seems to have more of a confident identity to it, although the two whiskies are quite alike in many ways in terms of smell and taste.  I wrote the tasting notes below for the Springbank 10 without going back and re-reading my Hazelburn writeup first — go back and cross-compare and the similarities will jump right out at you. Read the rest of this entry »





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 »








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