KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 9

9 12 2017

After a hectic first week and a bit of whisky, where every other day introduced a bottle from a new country (I’m still processing The Netherlands two days later, and I didn’t even write it up!) and every scotch was seemingly snatched from the jaws of obscurity, maybe it’s nice to sort of resettle and catch our collective breath with a Glen- that everyone recognizes (sorry, Glentauchers).  Glenmorangie is the first single malt experience of many fledgling whisky drinkers, and is very widely sold, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try to push the envelope every so often.  I got a firsthand experience of that phenomenon a while back with their floor-malted Tusail, a dynamite dram, and they try to take a step out of the ordinary here as well with their extra-maturation expression Quinta Ruban.  As far as I can tell, “extra-maturation” is just a fancy way of saying “aging something in one thing, then moving it to another thing”, but Glenmorangie has built a whole range out of this relocation, starting off whiskies in ex-Bourbon cask and then transferring them for the final stage of aging to a variety of other types of vessels.  The 12 Year Quinta Ruban gets to spend the last two years of its pre-bottle life in Ruby Port casks, and according to the Glenmorangie site it was the first malt whisky ever to do so.  It almost surely gets its name from this practice:  Quinta = a wine estate in Portugal, and Ruban is close enough to ruby that I’m not even firing up Google Translate to look into it further.


First things first:  this is one sweet-looking mini-bottle of scotch.  I like the mini-bottles that retain the same sense of proportion as the full-sized bottles, and this one nails those little details.  The Quinta Ruban may be the orangest scotch I have ever seen, thanks to the staining impact of the used Ruby Port barrels.  The nose is spicy and fiery, all pepper, smoke, clove, all-spice and briquettes, forcing you to dig for the orchard fruit beneath.  It is big, rich and brawny, with an accompanying alcoholic burn (even with water added) amping up burly flavours of maple, mandarin orange, cast iron, sandpaper and chestnuts.  Its price is also extra-matured at $92, but I won’t be the one who discourages the big houses in the world of scotch from diversifying their approaches.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 2

2 12 2017

I am loving the confusion-inducing no-frame-of-reference newcomers in the 2017 KWM Calendar.  I am almost certain that this is the second offering in a row that has not even seen a sister bottling or other distant relative in any prior calendar:  the Deanston 12 Year Highland Single Malt rang exactly zero bells for me, although I did note that you could not ask for much more of a presentation contrast as compared to yesterday.  Some graphic designer actually worked on this bottle, and Deanston’s website is so slick that you instantly figure this must be another one-off distillery recently subsumed by a massive beverage giant.  And you would be right.


As a distillery, Deanston is only a half-century old (and 8 of those years were spent not operating, so they may not count), but the distillery gets its history from its structure, a legendary shuttered cotton mill built in 1785.  After the mill closed in 1965, the distillery used its skeleton to start up business, releasing its very first single malt nine years later in 1974…and then ceasing production eight years after that.  The mill probably had a better track record.  In 1990, Deanston’s sold to a distilling conglomerate that is now part of the Distell Group, a South African-based giant which owns many many many alcoholic things (including the ubiquitous Obikwa and Two Oceans wine brands, among dozens more).  Not quite an old mill story anymore.

Deanston’s 12 Year offering is a beautiful deep amber colour after marinating in ex-bourbon casks.  The normal bourbon-induced sweet vanilla aromatic bounty doesn’t fully show up on the nose though, replaced by salt licks and a grainy mealiness, lightened by honey and flowers and sharpened by oolong tea.  Just like yesterday’s Cadenhead’s 12 Year, this one is gritty and biting on the tongue, almost even tannic, filled with cedar shavings and dust circling around frozen peach, burnt angel food cake, topsoil and butterscotch.  It has a similar blue-collar feel to the Cadenhead’s (or, more accurately, the Dailuaine-Glenlivet bottled by Cadenhead’s), but it’s nowhere near as evocative.  Not a disappointment for its $70 retail price tag, but not an overreacher either.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 1

1 12 2017

Aaaaaand we’re back.  I am almost flabbergasted to say that this is the FOURTH straight year I will be live-blogging through Whisky Advent, all thanks to the near-superhuman efforts of Andrew Ferguson and the Kensington Wine Market, whose Whisky Advent Calendar has quickly gone from quirky daily education and liver damage to can’t-miss holiday imbibing and has sucked me further into the world of whisky than I could have expected.  By the end of Advent there will be over 100 whisky reviews on Pop & Pour, which is not something I had envisioned when the site first started up, but an experience I will never forget (especially on Advent Day 17 when I’m ready to die).  One big change this year is that I’m sadistic enough to have also acquired a Wine Advent Calendar this year (which you’ll hear much more about in a couple of hours) and will thus be calling on expert whisky assistance to help me traverse the Advent trail:  frequent PnP tasting collaborator and awesome spirit aficionado Tyler Derksen will be contributing his first whisky reviews on the site over the course of these 25 days.  Give him a Twitter follow so as not to miss his posts!


Take 4.  Bring it.

After opening 74-odd little cardboard doors and drinking 74-odd KWM calendar whiskies, you wouldn’t think there would be much room left for surprise, let alone confusion, but tonight there was plenty of both.  The first thing I saw on the whisky label was “Campbeltown”, a once-happening but now nearly abandoned distilling region (something I know due to Past Calendar Knowledge) currently home to only 3 distilleries.  The thing is, the names on this label were none of those three.  It turns out, as far as I can tell, that this is a release from an independent bottler called WM Cadenhead’s, who acquires pre-made whisky from distilleries and releases it under its own branding, a common Scottish practice.  The bottler is based in Campbeltown; the distillery from which the whisky came, not so much.  It is the extraordinarily unknown Dailuaine-Glenlivet Distillery in Speyside, founded back in 1853 and now, like so many others, part of the Diageo empire.  Despite its significant annual production, it doesn’t even have its own website and only the tiniest fraction of its creations get released under the D-G label — most of it ends up as part of the Johnnie Walker blend.  I’m not sure how Cadenhead’s got this, but it may be as much a peek behind the Dailuaine curtain as we ever get.


First impressions:  this is 55.9% alcohol.  Welcome to Advent.  It is an almost eerily pale straw colour, and even with water added it still emits crusty cheese-rind and dried shoe polish aromas layered over hard toffee candy and smacks of salt sea air.  As you might expect of something of this concentration, it is both explosively fiery and pleasantly gut-warming, starting almost gritty but leaving glowing embers of contentment after you swallow.  It reminds me of an old abandoned log cabin on the beach, powered by kerosene, with bear pelt rugs and traces of fish skins lingering, matchsticks and Neo Citran.  It’s rustic, rough around the edges, but full of soul, and the more I had the more I enjoyed.  But again, 55.9%.  Onward!

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 15

15 12 2016

A couple days ago I whined excessively in my daily whisky write-up that my family had gone through a particularly horrible run of consecutive sickness that was making the blog feel like a bit of a grind.  In the two days since, my son has gotten the flu and my wife has gotten a sinus infection for the fourth time in the last two months.  Far from dreading Whisky Advent anymore, I’m now starting to think it’s the only thing keeping me healthy, so let’s keep it going.

One fairly consistent theme of this year’s calendar posts has been me railing against the relative lack of originality employed by most distilleries in selecting their maturation vessels.  Like wineries and their coin flip of French vs. American oak, distilleries seem to make their choice dichotomous as well:  bourbon cask or sherry cask.  However, since (unlike wine) whisky gets many of its flavours not from the vessel itself but from what was previously aged in it, this opens up so many avenues of alchemy for distillers to coax new expressions out of the same duly processed malted barley.  Most appear either oblivious or uninterested in the challenge, but one distillery that has embraced the multiplicity of available aging options with élan is tonight’s calendar star:  the Arran distillery, named after the tiny round Isle of Arran sandwiched between the western shores of mainland Scotland and the peninsula housing the whisky region of Campbeltown, both due east of Islay.

fullsizerender-508Arran is a traditional distillery with modern foresight, which releases a wide array of scotches aged in practically everything possible — current highlights include a Sauternes cask, a Port barrel and (!!!) an Amarone cask bottling.  I love it.  If you’re so inclined, you can also BUY YOUR OWN CASK OF SCOTCH and then come visit it while they mature it for you.  I’m not even kidding.  £1,850 for 200L of ex-Bourbon glory – who’s in with me?  Of course, now that I’ve raved about how cool Arran is, I have to report that tonight’s whisky, from the 5th batch release of their 12 Year Cask Strength Single Malt limited edition, is aged in the boring-est ever combo of first-fill sherry butts, refill sherry hogsheads and first-fill bourbon barrels.  At 52.9% and only $80, though, it’s a lot of scotch for the money.  It smelled exactly like a cereal I’d eaten as a kid but had to Google search to remember the name of (Corn Bran, it turns out), mixed with cantaloupe, barley, corn husks and spice, but then ramped up on the palate and tasted like something out of a Christmas catalogue:  Bailey’s and eggnog, gingerbread, canned peaches, whipped cream and coconut milk.  Super friendly for a cask-strength whisky, it brought the fun and the charm in spades even if it wasn’t an intellectual heavyweight.  Time to buy a cask.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 4

4 12 2016

Usually I crave new finds and tasting experiences in these calendars, but today I was pleased to open the little cardboard door and find a familiar face.  BenRiach distillery has been sort of my anti-Kilchoman through 2.2 years of KWM Whisky Advent:  this will be my fifth whisky pulled out of a calendar, and all of the previous four (2014’s trio from Day 2, Day 11 and Day 21 and 2015’s Day 16) have easily exceeded expectations.  Like many distilleries that stumbled their way through the 20th century, BenRiach’s origin story is so crazy that it’s almost unbelievable it’s still around.  It first started producing back in 1898, but a near-immediate industry crash led to it being shuttered a scant two years later, in 1900…and it stayed closed for another SIXTY-FIVE YEARS before coming out of mothballs.  That is some kind of business model.  Most distilleries nowadays are being consolidated under the umbrellas of a few giant global beverage companies, but BenRiach skewed the other way in 2004, purchased from Seagrams by three individual entrepreneurs after another stint in mothballs in 2002.  Thankfully it has stayed open since, and is churning out some beauties.


BenRiach: quickly becoming my Old Faithful. A going concern for 118 years, but closed for over half that time.

Tonight’s BenRiach is the 12 Year from the distillery’s Wood Finishes collection, which highlights the effect of different types of aging vessels on the glorious liquid inside.  It is an eye-catching amber colour, very deep for a 12 Year (which, according to the KWM website, may be because it’s secretly a fair bit older than that).  The BenRiach 12 Year is the Sherry Cask expression, which shows itself in the sea breeze aromas lightly lingering over friendlier notes of coffee, salted caramel, clove, tangerine and Cabane a Sucre; the added approachability and sweetness associated with these smells as compared to sherry casks past comes from the partial use of dessert wine Pedro Ximenez sherry casks alongside the more rote Oloroso sherry casks.  It makes a massive difference.  The palate is rich yet focused, full of maple and fruitcake, chocolate-covered cherries and raisin, chalk and peach iced tea, all rolling up into a sweetly drying finish.  The whisky ramps up and crescendoes quickly on the tongue, then slooooooowly glides back down over at least a minute, letting you enjoy the lingering ride.  Beautiful work for $80, and another check mark in BenRiach’s PnP column.  16% done!!

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 15

15 12 2015

Only 10 days and 2 statutory holidays until I get to stop writing about whisky on a continual basis!  We have reached the 60% mark of whisky Advent, and what better way to celebrate than to crack something that looks and sounds like it would be at home being cracked on the streets of a little Scottish town:  Old Pulteney 12 Year Single Malt, possibly better known as The Maritime Malt.  Nestled in the coastal town of Wick (“once known as the herring capital of Europe”) on the very northeastern tip of Scotland, this is the most northerly distillery on the mainland, in the far reaches of the Highlands.  Old Pulteney was established back in 1826 and is known, at least to itself, for producing whiskies that have a whiff of the sea about them.


The colour of old sap, the Old Pulteney 12 Year had a baffling series of aromas given that it was matured in ex-bourbon casks, which usually impart sweet flavours.  Not so much:  this whisky smelled funky, grimy, cheesy and salty, like the inside of an old boat (not the whiff of the sea I was expecting, let’s just say).  Casting about (damn it, maritime metaphors!) for aroma descriptors, I settled in my notes for “locker room, Sharpie, bouncy balls, Cheetos bag, pretzels”, so do with that what you will.  There was a surprising and immediate alcohol burn on the first sip despite the whisky being diluted to the usual minimum 40% abv, and some harshness remained in the spirit even after I (begrudgingly) added water.  It tasted more along expected scotch lines, but its lemon and grilled pear fruit was surrounded by hot rocks/sauna, hickory bark and shoe leather, and it was almost tannic in its textural dustiness.  I summed up my thinking by writing:  “This is cheap, right?”  Yes it is:  at $65, possibly the cheapest single malt in the calendar.  This all sounds predominantly negative, but I didn’t have that bad a drinking experience with this scotch; I just felt that it lacked some of the finesse and style of the other malts.  It’s a blue-collar fishing village dram…what else from The Maritime Malt?

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 3

3 12 2015

Third day of the calendar, second whisky I have never heard of, first blended malt.  You may remember from yesterday that a single malt scotch means one whose component spirits have been distilled in a single distillery; it may therefore not come as a surprise to learn that blended whiskies are those whose component spirits hail from different distilleries and are blended together.  Blended malt whiskies are blends whose components are entirely whiskies made from malted barley as opposed to other grains and are generally seen (not always rightly) as superior to “blended whiskies”, which can be a mix of malt and grain whisky.  Phew.  Some producers, like tonight’s, don’t make their own spirits at all, but instead act sort of like wine negociants, sourcing whiskies made from various distilleries and then using them to create and bottle their own custom blends.  As whiskies seem to transfer and flow across producers much more often in the scotch world than in the wine world, this is neither a bad nor an uncommon idea, and many of these blending specialists create killer drams at highly reasonable prices.  A bottle of the Wemyss (pronounced “Weems”) Malts The Hive 12 Year Blended Malt Scotch Whisky will set you back $77 at KWM; not too shabby for a scotch of that age.


Wemyss Malts have a trio of blended malts in their profile which they have set up to meet three different flavour profiles:  Spicy, Peaty, and Honeyed.  Guess which one The Hive is meant to represent?  The bee on the label pretty much says it all.  Yes, this is the Honeyed Malt, made from a variety of malts from Speyside, and apart from a questionable dalliance with sherry casks (who tastes sherry and thinks “honey”?), it accomplishes its flavour mission fairly well.  It is a gorgeously dark, burnished amber colour and smells immediately of honeycomb (natch, though I swear I wrote that note before reading about the whole Honeyed Malt thing), salt lick, Brie cheese (thanks, sherry) and cedar, with a hint of leafiness on the fringes.  Despite being by far the lowest abv whisky in the calendar so far at 40% the alcohol flares almost immediately on the palate, somewhat obscuring the viscous, almost oily texture and sweet flavours of the scotch; I’m not sure why it can’t keep itself in check better or if the balance is off somehow.  Once you get past the boozy heat there’s a pleasing confectionary array of maple, butterscotch ripple, cream soda and, yes, honey, with layers of celery salt, mesquite and tree bark lurking underneath.  It’s unquestionably tasty, but due to its inability to successfully harness the lowest alcohol level you will commonly see in a whisky, I have to think it’s a bit of a step down in quality from the last two days.  Rocking label though.

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 4

4 12 2014

I had to work late tonight and just got home, so this will be a short one even for this abridged series of posts, but I wasn’t about to let Whisky Advent get derailed that quickly.  Tonight’s (well-deserved) post-work whisky is the Edradour Caledonia, a special 12 year old Highland single malt whisky aged in Oloroso Sherry casks (which are apparently obscenely popular in the whisky world) which was hand-selected by Scottish folk legend Dougie MacLean (who I admit I’ve never heard of) and named after his song Caledonia (which I admit I’ve never heard).  It was supposed to be a one-off release, but everyone liked it so much that Edradour kept it going.  I particularly like it for the fact that a 50 mL bottle of whisky gets its own mini cardboard tube.  It’s the little things.

Day 4.   You should see Dougie MacLean's picture on the back of this tube.

Day 4. You should see Dougie MacLean’s picture on the back of this tube.

This one was deep bronze in colour but fairly muted on the nose, apple juice and linament and not a ton else.  The slightly higher degree of alcohol — 46%, as compared to 43% in the last three whiskies in this holiday lineup — makes itself known as soon as you take a sip and thickens the texture of the whisky, warming the flavours of golden raisins, figs, caramel and charcoal.  It’s big and pleasant and fruity, but not overly complex as far as single malts go; definitely enjoyable after a 12+ billable hour day, but not necessarily a bottle for which I’d line up to pay its $85 retail price.  Still goes down easy right now though.  8 minute review complete!  See you tomorrow!

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