KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 23

23 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

As all good things must end, so too does my tenure as guest blogger for Pop & Pour and this year’s KWM Whisky Advent Calendar.  It has been an absolute pleasure and I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring these eight (as of today) whiskies with me.  My final whisky of this calendar, the Gordon & MacPhail’s Collection Highland Park 8 Years Old, ties back to a number of the previous seven I have written up in a number of ways.  First, as with my first write up on Day 5 (the Caol Ila) and Day 13 (the Balblair), this whisky comes to us from independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail (the Balblair was also part of the MacPhail’s Collection).  Second, including today, exactly half of the whisky that I pulled from the Whisky Advent Calendar come from a Scottish island.

Highland Park Distillery is located on one of the Orkney Islands, a collection of over seventy islands north of mainland Scotland (only twenty of which are inhabited).  The Orkneys were conquered by Vikings from Norway in the late 800s and were a staging ground for their raiding efforts in Britain, and they did not become part of Scotland officially again until 1472.  Located where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, the islands are exposed to such severe weather that no trees grow there.

The main island of the archipelago is fittingly called The Mainland and it is in the burgh of Kirkwall on The Mainland that Highland Park is located.  The distillery smokes its barley over 9000 year-old peat cut from Hobbister Moor (and has done so for over 220 years).   Their newest kiln is over 100 years old!  Highland Park embraces the islands’ Viking heritage and its founder, Magnus Eunson, was a direct Viking descendant and sounds like he could have a show on the History Network as well.  By day, Magnus was a mild-mannered butcher and church officer, but by night he was a smuggler who set up an illicit still at High Park.  The Highland Park distillery claims 1798 as its official date of foundation, but that was merely the year that Magnus was finally caught – whisky was being distilled at High Park before that.  Highland Park’s Viking heritage can also be seen in many of its bottlings, including Valkyrie, Voyage of the Raven, Thor, Freya and Loki – the latter three being part of the Valhalla Collection with phenomenal wood packaging.

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The Highland Park 8 Years Old is a pale straw in the glass and is bottled at a restrained 43%.  The nose smells of malt, apple, vanilla, as well as peat and brine which call back to the whisky’s island birthplace.  The palate is a wonderful combination of leather, wood, smoke, sea salt, pepper and a bit of honey.  For only 8 years of age, this whisky has a remarkable depth and I could definitely see myself drinking it on a longship on the way to sack a coastal English monastery.  Skol!

Merry Christmas everyone!

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KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 22

22 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

For those of you that have been following along at home as Peter and I have explored each of the whiskies thus far in the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, you will note that there has been a wide variety of offerings from a number of different countries.  It is a testament to the hard work of Andrew Ferguson and Kensington Wine Market that there have been no duplicate producers…that is, until tonight.  It was with a sense of excitement and trepidation that I reached through the little cardboard door and found a familiar cylindrical container.  Glenfiddich.  Again.  Of all of the whisky that I have tried this Advent season, it was the Glenfiddich 15 that has most disappointed.  As I said back on Day 10, that is not to say that it is a bad whisky, I just think it tries too hard to appeal to too many people and sacrifices character for such mass appeal.

Just as one must seek out the opinions or views of those with whom they disagree in order to grow intellectually, so too must one be willing to try all kinds of whisky in order to grow as an uisgeophile.  I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to purchase a bottle of Glenfiddich, so I looked forward to sampling a new offering.  Today’s whisky is the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old Small Batch Reserve, which is the most aged whisky I’ve tried from the distillery.

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This Glenfiddich 18 was aged in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks and American oak and each batch is individually numbered (apparently only on full-sized bottles, as the 40 ml sampler doesn’t have a number).  In doing some research on how this whisky was made, Glenfiddich once again uses the word “consistency” in its marketing.  Sigh.

The colour was a golden colour in the glass with a fascinating ring around the outside that looked almost clear.  The nose was much more pronounced than the 15 Year I tried a couple of weeks ago.  The sherry cask influence comes through clearly on the nose, with dried fruit taking centre stage along with oatmeal raisin cookie, cinnamon, vanilla, sawdust and a spritz of citrus.  I needn’t have been so concerned about the looming spectre of “consistency”, as the flavour was actually quite enjoyable.  The palate was brighter than expected, with flavours of vanilla, orange, pear and baking spices.  Despite being bottled at the same 40% as the 15 Year Old Solera, this whisky has a nice slow burn to follow the bright palate, which was unexpected but appreciated.  Overall, this whisky certainly exceeded my (admittedly tempered) expectations and I’m glad of the opportunity to try it.

 





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 19

19 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

One of the things that I love the most about whisky (other than drinking it) is that researching the many and varied distilleries always teaches me something new.  For example, did you know that Arran is an island in Scotland?  I didn’t.  I probably should have, but it was news to me.  The Isle of Arran is located in the Firth of Clyde and, eyeballing it on a map, appears to be slightly smaller than Islay, which is located due west of Arran and is separate by the Kintyre Peninsula, a skinny peninsula extending south off of mainland Scotland.  This is most pertinent news as today’s whisky comes from this very Isle:  the Arran 14 Year Old.

The Isle of Arran Distillers is a relative newcomer to the scotch scene in comparison to many other distilleries in Scotland.  Having been established in 1995, it is the only distillery located on the island.  This was not always the case, as back in the 1800s there were many smaller producers, but they could not compete in an era that valued quantity over quality.  I think that the Arran website puts it best when it says:  “Back in the 1800s there were many small stills to be found across the island.  Not all of them were legal, but all made superlative spirit.”  The Arran distillery is located at the north end of the island and opened its first cask of whisky on July 25, 1998.  Fun fact – the cask was opened that day by actor Ewan McGregor.  In fairness to Arran, The Phantom Menace wouldn’t come out until the following year so I guess it’s OK.

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Taken from the Arran Distillers website to prove that I didn’t make that last part up.

While the distillery releases a large range of product (I have seen bottles aged in various types of wine, bourbon and sherry), apparently all are produced using only Scottish barley (chiefly Optic and Oxbridge) and fermented in washbacks crafted from Oregon pine (I don’t know why they chose Oregon pine over a pine that is native to Scotland, but I’d love to find out).  The water for the spirit is drawn from nearby Loch na Davie which arrives in the lake after traveling through granite and peat and which Arran Distillers claims is the purest in all of Scotland.  I haven’t seen any peer-reviewed scientific studies to back them up, so I’ll assume it’s true (although I have some lingering doubts if it travels through peat).  If any of you really love Arran, you should know that you can actually buy a cask and they will mature it for you (there are even some options as to what type of barrel you want it aged in!).

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Today’s offering from Arran is the Arran 14 Year Old.  It was aged in first fill Sherry and Bourbon casks and is bottled at 46%.  I would describe the colour in the glass as a pale gold; however, Arran clearly has more paint swatches available and poetically describes the colour as “sunset copper”.  The nose is fruity, with smells of orange zest, cantaloupe and apricot abounding.  Hints of toffee and honey round it out.  The palate is bright, sweet and slightly floral with tastes of apple, citrus and perhaps a bit of sea salt.  The finish is long and takes on a bit of a spice characteristic, kind of like very mellow anise.  If a glass of Ardbeg is perfect for reading in a dark cabin next to a fire (or an apocalyptic wasteland if you’re Peter), the Arran 14 Year Old would be ideal for watching a sunset on a beach after a warm clear day.  KWM has the bottle listed for $79.99 if you’re interested in trying it rather than just reading about it.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 17

17 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

I smile every time I pull a whisky from the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar because, well, whisky.  That said, I must say that my smile was a bit bigger today, as after trying some new whiskys over the last few posts, I am returning somewhere familiar – Islay.  Today’s scotch is the 12 Years Old from Bunnahabhain (pronounced boo-na-hah-venn).  The distillery dates back to 1881 and its name is Gaelic meaning “mouth of the river”.  The river in question is the Margadale and it will make a reappearance below.  Bunnahabhain is the northernmost of Islay’s distilleries and is located a few minutes north of Caol Ila, which made an appearance on Day 5.

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Bunnahabhain’s website takes a remarkably honest approach.  Rather than suggesting that its whisky is better because of the use of superior ingredients, it acknowledges that all whisky production begins essentially the same way.  In the case of Bunnahabhain, especially as it compares to other Islay distilleries, it is all about location, location, location.  Many of the other distilleries on Islay create their spirit using spring water that has wound its way through the island’s signature peat bogs.  Bunnahabhain, on the other hand, sources water from the Margadale, which flows through sandstone rocks and results in a spirit that is cleaner in its characteristics.  Also, unlike its Islay brethren, Bunnahabhain does not heavily peat its malt, creating a scotch that does not have the mossy, smoky characteristics for which the island is known.

At this time, I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to my Dad.  My parents and I went to Scotland in 2008 and spent five glorious days on Islay, during which time I took advantage of the opportunity to taste many of the peaty scotches that I love. It seems that an affinity for peat is not genetic as my Dad does not enjoy peaty scotch in the slightest, and so while he was able to enjoy Islay’s incredible beauty, he only took an academic interest in the distilleries we visited.  That all changed after we left our Caol Ila tour.  We were exploring the coast with no particular destination in mind and came upon Bunnahabhain, which neither of us had heard of.  Not ones to turn down the potential to try some free scotch, we went in.  It was a revelation for my Dad (and for me too) as we discovered a phenomenal Islay scotch that didn’t have the distinctive Islay peat flavour.  From that day forward Bunnahabhain has been one of my Dad’s favourite whiskies and we have enjoyed many a dram together.

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They say that it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important.  I don’t know who “they” are, but they are very wise.

The Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old was launched in 2010, is bottled at a comfortable 46.3% and is a deep golden colour in the glass.  The nose has a wonderful maltiness along with readily apparent sherried notes.  As if being unable to completely hide its Islay heritage, there is a slight note of smoke meandering through the nose, but it comes across more like wood smoke rather than the earthy peat smoke of other Islay scotch.  On the palate, the scotch is sweet with vanilla and further sherry notes.  There is also a wood flavour of some kind (I’m a lawyer, not an arborist) along with a hint of smoke to round things out and add further depth.  Again, the smoke is more like campfire/wood smoke and far less pronounced than one would expect from an Islay scotch.  If you’re not familiar with Bunnahabhain, I recommend rectifying that.  It appeals to those peat-averse like my Dad, but there is also something familiar for Islay aficionados and certainly justifies its price-point ($75 at KWM).  Trying something new is always fun, but sometimes its great to curl up with a glass that is familiar and comforting, which is what I got to do tonight.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 13

13 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

Today we take a trip to the Scottish Highlands to visit Balblair Distillery, care of independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail’s “The MacPhail’s Collection”.  Located on the coast of the Dornoch Firth (which is almost due north of Inverness in the very northern part of mainland Scotland), Balblair was established by John Ross in 1790.  Interestingly, the original distillery was located half a mile from its current location and was moved in 1895 to take advantage of the Highland Railway.  As is the case with so many distilleries in Scotland, it was mothballed in 1911 and the last whisky being released in 1932.  The distillery continued to provide a valuable service when the army commandeered the buildings during World War II.

After the War, Robert James “Bertie” Cummings purchased the distillery in 1948 for £48,000 with production resuming the following year.  As a lawyer from Calgary, I’m tickled by the fact that Cummings was a solicitor from Banff – the original one in Scotland, not the one in the Rocky Mountains.  In 1970, Cummings sold Balblair to Hiram Walker, which later became Allied Distillers, which owns over 100 distilleries.  It is now owned by Inver House Distillers, which purchased it in 1996 (and which has a regional headquarters in Airdrie – the original one in Scotland, not the one north of Calgary).

IMG_4145For many years, Balblair has released its whisky as vintage offerings, with each one released based on the year it was distilled rather than with an age statement on the bottle.  As today’s bottle does not come direct from the distillery, we see a more conventional (for whisky) age statement of 10 years on the bottle.  The whisky was aged in refill bourbon casks and bottled at 43%.

Before today I had never tried Balblair and I genuinely enjoyed this whisky.  My first thought upon bringing the glass to my nose was that it smelled “dry”.  Not dry as one would describe the sweetness (or lack thereof) in wine, but rather dry as in the absence of moisture.  While I was able to pick out smells of unripe pear – you know the kind when you cut it and get mad at yourself because it’s not ready to eat yet – the predominant scent was that of cut grass.  Not green fresh-cut grass, but rather dried grass being raked after a couple of days after being mowed.  The palate delivered sweetness that was not evident (to me) on the nose.  I was able to taste candied orange, shortbread and something toasted.  It was reserved, but had a pleasant burn that I was not expecting based on its 43% bottling.  The Balblair 10 Year Old didn’t do anything crazy, but it didn’t have to.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 10

10 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

Day 10 brings us a 15-year Glenfiddich.  Glenfiddich was founded near Dufftown, in the heart of Speyside, by William Grant in 1886 when he began building the distillery with the help of his nine children (no wonder he needed a drink).  The name “Glenfiddich” is Gaelic for “Valley of the Deer”, which explains the deer on all of the distillery’s labeling.  Glenfiddich remains in the family and the descendants of William Grant still run it 130 years later.  The distillery has a significant production and accounts for a significant percentage of the single malt whisky sold worldwide.  The whisky is stored and matured on site in one of 43 warehouses, which have a capacity of 800,000 casks!

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Ok, so here’s the thing.  I’m not a huge fan of Glenfiddich. I’ll get that out of the way now.  That’s fine, as not everyone likes peated whisky the way I do.  That does mean, however, that I don’t typically seek out whisky from Glenfiddich when trying something new.  As a result, I was interested to see how this 15 Year Old Solera would compare to the more commonly served 12 Year Old.  The process for producing the 15 Year Old Solera seems quite involved.  The spirit is initially matured in European, American and New American Oak before being put into Glenfiddich’s custom-made Solera vat (built in 1998 by the distillery’s fifth Malt Master, David Stewart).  After aging in the Solera vat, it is then finished in Portuguese oak tuns.

The website for Glenfiddich indicates that the Solera vat is never emptied more than half way before new casks are added, which they tout as a means of achieving consistency in flavour.  When I hear consistency or uniformity of flavour, I become hesitant, as I find that whisky produced with that as a goal tends to have far less character.  That doesn’t make them bad, just uninteresting (at least to me).  C’mon, half the fun is barrel variation.

The nose on this whisky was, unfortunately, difficult to discern, with the intensity muted (potentially as a result of being bottled at 40%).  Hints of apple and spice slowly find their way through a nose that is certainly richer than the Glenfiddich I have had previously.  The palate is similarly muted (again, perhaps because of the 40%) and does not have a burn of any kind.  It is smooth and inoffensive, with flavours of dried fruit, baking spices and honey.  The finish is almost non-existent with the lingering flavour remaining only describable as “generic Speyside”.  One of the great things about whisky is that there is a dram for every palate and a palate for every dram.  This one doesn’t do it for me, but hey, that’s why there are 25 different ones in the calendar.  See you all in a few days!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 7

7 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

One of the true joys of opening a new day on the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is that you never know what you’re going to get (insert Forrest Gump joke here).  In all seriousness, Andrew Ferguson of KWM does a phenomenal job of sourcing interesting whisky from Scotland and abroad (something Peter rightfully lauded yesterday).  Even with all this in mind, I was thoroughly surprised to pull out today’s bottle and see that it is from the Netherlands!  That’s right folks: Dutch whisky.

Zuidam Distillers is a family-owned and -run distillery which makes gin, Genever (a traditional Dutch juniper liquor from which gin evolved), liqueurs and even rum in addition to its Millstone Whisky, with recipes created by father and son duo Fred and Patrick van Zuidam.  The distillery was started by Fred in 1975 and began as a very small operation, with a space of only 300 square meters and one copper still.  The business grew slowly, but now boasts of a 3600 square meter distillery and four new copper stills.  Zuidam, however, remains true to its Dutch roots and uses windmills to mill its malted barley.

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I love the little rubber stopper instead of a screw-top.

Today’s bottle was less than forthcoming in terms of detail, so I had to do some digging (which would have been far easier if I could read Dutch).  From what I can tell, this whisky appears to have been aged for three years in Oloroso sherry casks (OK, that last part I got from the bottle) which I believe were constructed of American oak.

The colour of the whisky is a stunning deep gold, looking almost like honey in the glass.  The influence of the sherry is evident on the nose, with scents of dried fruit, hazelnut, vanilla, old paper (think opening a 15-20 year old paperback book) and honey dominating.  The palate is bold and the flavours teased by the nose are certainly realized, along with oatmeal cookie and nutmeg.  Although the whisky is a pretty standard 46%, it can seem stronger and slightly viscous if tasted without water.  That said, I found that adding water dulled the palate, with the trade-off not being quite worth it.  If adding water, use very little.  The finish is dry with a hint of something almost rubbery.

Before today, if you had asked me to name whisky-producing countries, I’m not sure I would have come up with the Netherlands, but I will now.  This offering appears to be one of a number in Zuidam’s Millstone line of whisky, many of which are available at Kensington Wine Market (this one is $83) and I’d certainly be interested in trying more Dutch whisky to see how it compares.








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