KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 16

16 12 2016

I’m learning.  I half-pulled tonight’s mini-bottle out of its cardboard home, saw the uber-Scottish name of a distillery I had never previously seen or heard of, and immediately hunted for the tiny Gordon & MacPhail logo tucked discreetly on the bottom of the label.  Another Distillery Label G&M Whisky?  You betcha.  On Day 8 it was the gleefully Scottish Miltonduff that got its quasi-day in the sun, and 8 days later it’s the equally blue-and-white Glenburgie 10 Year Single Malt (another Glen for the roster!) that has its turn.  As mentioned a week or so ago, the Distillery Label series is Gordon & MacPhail’s collaborative effort with a series of lesser-known distilleries to bottle a whisky that’s as close as possible to the producer’s own release through the invisible hand of G&M’s independent bottling empire.  The effort goes right down to the packaging, which is made to look like it came right from the distillery’s own marketing department; you almost need a magnifying glass on these mini-bottles to see that Gordon & MacPhail had anything to do with them.

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Glenburgie is a Speyside-based distiller and yet another scotch producer that’s mainly used as feedstock for the Ballantine’s blend (a trait it shares with the last Distillery Label, Miltonduff, each of whom deserve a better fate).  This bottle was matured in multiple types of sherry casks and threw off some impressive depth of colour for a 10 Year whisky.  It began fairly understated, a careful combo of fruit, spice and herbaceous aromas:  peach iced tea, pepper, wood grain, celery root.  Then things ramped up on the palate, mostly thanks to the Glenburgie’s honeyed and almost waxy texture, mouth-coating even at 40% abv and bolstering more intense flavours of sweet orange Lifesavers, almond brittle, celery and peanut butter (together), sultana crackers and anise.  I don’t think this is a scotch I’m going to remember in two whisky days, but it’s definitely an enjoyable weeknight whisky.  It and Miltonduff are two peas in a pod that way; I could probably do without a third one in 8 more days, but we shall see.

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KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 10

10 12 2016

Day 10 of Advent calls for a 10 Year whisky, and the KWM calendar delivers, albeit an in on-the-nose-obvious sort of way.  Yes, like a reformed indie band, we’re going mainstream tonight with the almost-ubiquitous Glenmorangie 10 Year, one of the first of the widely produced “Glen” whiskies (Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, Glenrothes, etc.) to hit the Whisky Advent Calendar since I’ve been buying it.  However, even larger brands provide an opportunity for learning and appreciation, and the Glenmorangie is no different.  Case in point:  (1) Learning – I have been pronouncing “Glenmorangie” wrong all these years.  The emphasis is on the second syllable, not the third:  Glen-MOR-an-gie, rhyming with “orangey”, as opposed to Glen-mor-AN-gie.  Oops.  (2) Appreciation – The GlenMORangie 10 Year has one of the most artful, and without question the tallest, mini-bottle I’ve ever seen come out of the calendar, with its height perhaps an echo of Glenmorangie’s stills, which are the tallest in Scotland.  The bottle is also an exact replica of its normal-scale bottle, an act of mimicry with which many distilleries don’t even bother but which shows an impressive attention to detail.  Packaging matters!!

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Like every distillery that’s been around for over 150 years, Glenmorangie has gone through its ups and downs.  Even it was not exempt from the 20th century suffering experienced by scotch distilleries, ending up mothballed once in the 1930s and again in the 1940s.  But you may not be surprised to learn that it came through it all OK, upping its means of production from two stills to 12, becoming the top selling single malt in all of Scotland, being purchased by global luxury giant Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) and eventually capturing over 5% of the entire world market share in single malt whisky.  I would call that a success story.  The 10 Year, also known as the Glenmorangie Original, is the entry into the brand’s core line and is a remarkable bargain at $68.  It is somewhat reticent at first with its apple cinnamon Cheerios, lemon peel, celery stalk and spice aromas, but oh so smooth and lithe on the tongue, weightlessly coating every single tastebud and lingering on an extended finish.  Vanilla bean, lemon meringue pie (curd, meringue and crust), poached pear and brown sugar reflect the whisky’s ex-Bourbon maturation treatment and result in a scotch that’s easily approachable for a wide audience.  Like an ex-cool veteran chart-topper, it’s a mainstay for a reason.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 9

9 12 2016

Woooo!!  Bring on the internationals!  One of my favourite Whisky Advent Calendar days is the first day a non-Scottish whisky (or in this case, whiskey) shows up; not that I have anything against scotch, of course, but I do enjoy the variety and fresh perspective that some of the interloper whisky nations bring to the table.  This particular nation didn’t have to interlope far — it’s an hour’s flight from Scotland to Ireland — but Irish whiskey still has its own distinct personality above and beyond its divergent spelling of what’s in the bottle.  There are fewer regulations surrounding whiskey in Ireland, but one thing that is generally required is triple distillation of the spirit, which results in a purer, cleaner, smoother whiskey, albeit perhaps at the expense of the character or flavour of the underlying grain that remains in the impurities.  Tonight’s Irish whiskey standard-bearer is a KWM calendar newcomer, Hyde distillery, whose website features the most fantastic graphic of the overall distillation process:

Wow.  It may be a traditional process, but it’s far from a simple one.  This 10 Year Presidents Cask Single Malt is not fooling around in the price department for a product of Ireland ($110) but sees its contents subject to two separate maturations after its triple-distillation, first a decade in small (200L), flame-charred, first-fill Bourbon casks from Kentucky selected for maximum flavour extraction, and then an additional 10 months of finishing in Oloroso sherry casks…which it turns out cost TEN TIMES MORE than Bourbon casks do!  An Oloroso cask is around 800 Euros, while a Bourbon cask is only around 80 Euros.  I know which way I would go if I was a distillery, particularly given my general antipathy towards sherried flavours, but whisky isn’t always an economically savvy pursuit.

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The Hyde 10 Year obviously made the most of its dual maturation, as it was one of the most eye-catching of all calendar whiskies to date, a gorgeous amber gold.  It is confectionary and delectable on the nose, warm vanilla and maple aromas mixed with black licorice and Coffee Crisp, Bourbon casks doing their thing.  Simultaneously lush yet sleek, the Hyde has an attractive roundness to its angel food cake, toasted pecan, bananas foster and burnt orange flavours without any corresponding heaviness, finishing feathery and bright and never weighing the palate down.  It is deft and almost delicate but without losing any power because of it.  A great effort from an unheralded whisky country.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 8

8 12 2016

Through 8 days of Whisky Advent, it’s Gordon & MacPhail 3, All Other Whiskies In The World 5.  You may remember Gordon & MacPhail from seven days and three days ago; they are basically everywhere.  However, I will forgive the repetition in this case because (1) this is NOT a Connoisseurs Choice whisky and is from the separate Distillery Label series, which is as close as an independent bottler like G&M can get to releasing a whisky as if the distiller itself bottled it, and (2) the distillery in question is named Miltonduff, which might be the Scottish-ist word I’ve ever seen.  You hear “Miltonduff” out of context and you know it’s either a whisky distillery or a Braveheart extra.  Of course, you almost never hear “Miltonduff” at all, because the distillery doesn’t often get a turn in the spotlight, mainly reduced to being a core component of the Ballantine’s blend (with which I am all too familiar thanks to some law school whisky-regret purchases).  This bottle, inexpensive at $80, may be the closest thing to a distillery release of Miltonduff we ever see in our neck of the woods.

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And it’s…fine.  Paler and less forward in colour, it also smells somewhat muted, delivering bold aromas like peaches and cream and carrot cake (with icing) laced with breezy florals, but all in a subtle, sepia-toned kind of way.  It is bigger on the palate, but not necessarily brighter, meandering and expansive, casually melding creme brûlée, honey and applesauce with graham crackers and a slight celeriac vegetal tinge, not in any hurry to get anywhere.  Mellow and chill, it is pleasant but likely not memorable; if I was writing a wine review I’d call it “quaffable”, but I don’t want to think about the personal health consequences of quaffing scotch.  To the next.





Calgary Wine Life: Taylor Fladgate 1966 Single Harvest Port Release

17 02 2016

There are tastings and there are TASTINGS; this one deserves capitalization.  To celebrate the impending release of Taylor Fladgate’s 1966 Single Harvest Port to the Alberta market (coming next month to a store near you!), this 50 year-old wine was opened up at a special release event this afternoon along with its older siblings the 1964 and 1965.  153 combined years of Port later, I had a good day.

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By way of quick refresher, Port is a fortified wine made from (usually) a blend of grapes grown in the Douro region in northern Portugal.  The grapes are crushed and at first fermented just like dry table wine, but halfway through the fermentation, when there is still considerable sugar left in the grape juice that has yet to be converted to alcohol, the juice is spiked with 70% abv grape brandy, which kills the yeast, stops the fermentation and (obviously) increases the alcohol level of the now-finished wine, resulting in a sweet, fruity, 20-ish% abv Port.  All Port is made in this way, but how each Port ends up looking, smelling and tasting after you open the bottle depends largely on how it is matured.

Ruby Ports, blends from multiple vintages made for early consumption, get a couple of years of barrel age and are bottled young and fruity.  Vintage Ports, single-year wines released only in top years, get a similar barrel treatment but are so dense and concentrated that they are intended to age for years or decades in bottle before they are opened.  Tawny Ports, also multi-year blends, are aged oxidatively in barrels until they are ready for release, with air exposure leading to their brownish colour, mellow texture and nutty, caramel-y flavours. The Port Wine Institute only allows Tawny Ports to be bottled with an age designation of 10, 20, 30 or 40 Years, with the number denoting the average age of the wines in the blend.

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When a Tawny Port is made from grapes of a single year’s harvest, it is known as a Colheita, a single vintage Tawny.  “Colheita” (pronounced “Kohl-YAY-tah”) is the Portuguese word for “harvest”, and to obtain this designation, any one-year Tawny must be aged at least 7 years in barrel before bottling.  Taylor Fladgate, thanks to a fortuitous acquisition of another Port house with significant back-vintage reserves, started a program three years ago for the annual release of a special Very Old Single Harvest (Colheita) Port on its 50th anniversary.  In 2014 they released the 1964 Colheita, followed by the 1965 in 2015 and now this year’s 1966.  If you know anybody celebrating a 50th birthday or anniversary in 2016, I know what you can get them. Read the rest of this entry »





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 25

25 12 2015

Merry Christmas everybody!!  I do not mind telling you that I will not be blogging tomorrow.  Or the day after.  Or the day after.  My calendar odyssey ends tonight with a special super-sized offering from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a group that buys single casks from renowned distillers, bottles them itself and sells them only to subscribed members, giving each bottling a unique name and number.  Christmas Day’s 100 mL bottle was from Society Single Cask No. 3.160 and was titled “Islay beach scene”; all I know about it is that it was aged for 10 years and is a highly potent 59.9% abv, making it (I believe) the booziest whisky in the calendar, just in time for the holidays [ed. note: not quite true, as it turns out, as Day 21’s Kilchoman KWM Cask clawed over the 60% abv mark].  The label also provides some handy, if overly poetic, tasting notes to guide your drinking experience:  this whisky is supposed to smell like “pork chops and lemony prawns on a beach barbecue, then hints of buttery mint” and taste like “burnt heather and barbecued meats with fruit”.  I did not get the pork chops, although I did quite enjoy the aromas on this whisky, which started out very clean for Islay, sea spray, breezy peat and mineral notes, before sneaking in the diesel oil and woodsmoke we were all expecting.  The peat is richly balanced and far from dominating on the palate, which actually did remind me a bit of BBQed meat, or at least a brisket smokehouse, along with sweet honey, oyster shells and canned pear.  With a dash of water, this SMWS offering holds together and restrains its monstrous alcohol exceptionally well — a strong finish to what I feel was a substantially better Advent Calendar this time around.  I only was really missing one thing in the 2015 calendar:  something from Japan.  Maybe next year?

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I rolled through the Day 25 whisky so that I could end my string of calendar posts with my personal KWM Whisky Advent award-winners, my favourite bottles from the past month.  Here we go:

  • Best Value Dram:  BenRiach 10 Year (Day 16) — How this bottle only costs $64 is a complete mystery, but I would highly recommend that you grab it before somebody changes their mind.  Incredible balance and complexity for a scotch this young and inexpensive, from a distillery that keeps churning out winners.
  • 3rd Place (Tied):  Kavalan Sherry Cask (Day 23) and Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice 2003 Caol Ila (Day 18) — Kavalan is nothing short of a revelation in the whisky world to me, and everything I’ve ever tried of theirs has been just prime quality.  With a whopping 4 Connoisseurs Choice bottlings in the calendar, G&M stood a good chance of scooping a podium finish, and their deft handling of Caol Ila took them to the promised land.
  • 2nd Place:  Kavalan ex-Bourbon Cask (Day 5) — Call me predictable, but I don’t care.  I couldn’t get this bottle out of my head for days after tasting it.  The Kavalan Sherry was deeper, darker and more complex, but the ex-Bourbon hit on an emotional level and delivered amazing purity and a nose to be savoured for days.
  • 1st Place:  GlenDronach Revival 15 Year (Day 7) — Can you believe it?  For the second year in a row, a scotch from the GlenDronach distillery takes the heralded Pop & Pour Whisky Advent Calendar crown.  A worthy successor to its big brother Parliament from last year’s calendar, the Revival packed an unbelievable flavour punch in its teenaged frame and was simply one of the most abjectly delicious things I have ever tasted.  It is a no-brainer purchase if you ever come across it.

A quick thanks to Kensington Wine Market and its owner/whisky guru Andrew Ferguson for another year of hard work and brilliant sourcing to create a 25-day whisky experience like no other.  It cannot be easy to find that kind of array of quality 50 mL bottles year over year, and in some instances Andrew’s dedication took him directly to the distilleries themselves to have the mini-bottles made just for this calendar; the effort certainly shows through and the result is remarkable.  Same time next year?





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 16

16 12 2015

BenRiach!  Finally!  After dominating last year’s Advent calendar with a whopping trio of entries (the 16 Year, the 20 Year, and the hilariously named 17 Year Septendicim), BR had been conspicuously absent from the 2015 edition, but I was happy to see it back, with a bottling younger than any of the 2014s:  the 10 Year Peated Single Malt Curiositas (they can’t stay away from the Latin, apparently).  The showy name is accurate, however, as a peated malt from the Speyside region of Scotland is certainly a curiosity, to the point of being a near-oxymoron; you almost never see a Speyside scotch make use of peat-kilned malted barley.  Not that this stops BenRiach, which has FIVE such peated whiskies in its lineup!  BenRiach may have the craziest history of any distillery I’ve come across:  it was opened in 1898 but mothballed just 2 years later, and it stayed non-operational as a distiller for SIXTY-FIVE YEARS before re-opening in 1965.  Even then, it didn’t bottle and sell whisky under its own brand name, instead providing its product to other distillers and blends.  It wasn’t sold as a standalone bland until 1994…and then it was promptly mothballed AGAIN in 2002.  In 2004 it was sold (for not the first time) to a group of individual entrepreneurs led by scotch industry vet Billy Walker, after which, 106 years after initially opening, it first hit its stride, and it’s never looked back.  Scotch is nuts sometimes.

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The Curiositas is not fooling around with its peat content, which you can smell as soon as the screw cap seal cracks.  BenRiach’s website notes the “wonderful overtones of peat reek” on its 10 Year – mmm.  Cigar box, tanned leather, burnt grass and new football smell puts a measured weight on the intensity of said reek, but there’s no doubting its volume.  But there’s more than just peat on the palate, a sweet, spicy and mossy symphony with smooth smoke, chocolate orange, candied ginger and suede flavours, a lovely balance of peat-induced and other notes.  This is an impressively complex dram for a 10 Year, and just an obscene value for $64, a price that made me do a complete double-take.  If you don’t mind a bit of smokiness, this is an absolute can’t-lose proposition.  It’s even cheaper than The Maritime Malt!  Value whisky squared.








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