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.

Ch_7_Pic_23_timeline

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!).

IMG_4220.JPG

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.

Advertisements




KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 16

16 12 2017

Two important beliefs that help make up my worldview are:  (1) Rum is delicious.  (2) Things soaked or aged in rum invariably taste better.  As such, I’ve wondered why there’s a relative dearth of rum cask whiskies out there, at least in comparison to the Bourbon Barrels and the (continual eternal string of) Oloroso Sherry Casks out there.  Thankfully, tonight, The Balvenie comes to the rescue…well, sort of, at least.  This is the first ever Balvenie calendar whisky that I’ve come across in 4 years, and it’s into the We’re Getting Serious portion of Advent, clocking in at $107 for a full-sized bottle.  It sells its rum influence hard, naming itself the “Caribbean Cask” and trumpeting that it is “Extra Matured In Rum Casks” (yes, “extra-matured” makes a second 2017 calendar appearance); a more careful review both brings that into some question and turns The Balvenie into a modern-day rum runner.

IMG_7239

Why is the rum gone?

This is stated to be a 14 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky.  The Balvenie’s website states that this whisky was first aged in traditional American oak whisky casks for…14 years before being transferred to Caribbean rum casks for finishing.  I’m no math expert, but obviously the time spent in rum could not be measured in years given the variables before us.  But the actual brevity of the entire marketing core of this whisky is forgiven by the best cask story I’ve come across in 4 years of calendars.  Most whiskies aged in other booze casks obtain used barrels from wine or spirit producers for their new use in whisky maturation.  Instead of obtaining used rum casks (which surely exist), however, The Balvenie opted to take their own American oak casks and FILL THEM UP WITH RUM (a West Indies blend of their own selection), only to then empty out the rum and fill the drained casks back up with the whisky for a brief aging interlude.  The ideal, and completely true, epilogue of the story:  The Balvenie then RE-SOLD the rum at a profit because now it too was extra-matured.

The resulting sort-of-rum-aged concoction is a rich amber colour that certainly suggests extended maturation, and a resplendently rummy nose that makes me feel bad I questioned its Caribbean bona fides above:  cinnamon buns, nutmeg, gingerbread, pumpkin and honey create a combination I could keep smelling for a long time.  Languid yet spicy on the tongue, it prickles the palate with a cedary tangy bite, all the while unfolding confectionary charms in a carefree, leisurely manner.  White chocolate, peach, mocha, treacle and hot sand aren’t quite as rum-influenced as the aromas, but they are no less delicious.  It’s basically impossible to drink this whisky and be unhappy.





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 17

17 12 2015

Two value hits in a row!  With the last week of whisky on the horizon, the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is heating up.  Tonight’s bottle is a bit of an oddity, as you don’t see a whole lot of 14 Year Single Malts on the market:  if it doesn’t end in 5 or 10 and isn’t divisible by 3, it isn’t usually a whisky age designation.  This is particularly intriguing because the distillery, Tomatin, also has 12 year AND 15 Year malts on the market.  But 14 it is, and it also has another characteristic that doesn’t show up a ton:  Port cask aging.  More of this please, whisky.  Technically speaking, the Tomatin was only finished in Port casks, spending the last 18 months of its maturation in Port pipes after a lengthy initial aging period in bourbon casks, but I am on board regardless.  Three excellent bits of trivia about Tomatin:  1.  It has the best website cover picture of any distillery in Scotland.  Just go to tomatin.com and see.  I’ll wait.  See?  Worth it, right?  2.  Its name means “Hill of the Juniper Bush”, because juniper is one wood that gives off no smoke while burning, making it a top choice for secret distillers back in the 15th century, when whisky production was illegal but Tomatin’s spiritual predecessors in the area did it anyway.  3.  Due to its relatively isolated location in the Highland mountains, 80% of Tomatin’s employees live at houses built at the distillery!  That’s a new one.

FullSizeRender-196

Other than riveting trivia, the thing that caught my attention the most about this Tomatin was its incredible dark bronze colour, very clearly influenced by its year and a half braise in Port barrels.  There was instant orange zest, peach iced tea and nectarine on the nose, filled in with sunbaked earth, hot grill and coconut, like an aromatic summer vacation.  However, the texture on this 14 Year was the true story, rich and round and smooth and mouth-filling, like melted caramel.  As soon as you swallow you just want to hold it in your mouth again (an excellent recipe for drinking a lot of scotch too quickly, by the way).  The orange-y citrus notes persist on the palate, along with an interesting rootiness (like burdock, if you’ve had it, or fresh carrots), nutmeg and cinnamon spice, butter tart, chocolate almonds and a twinge of herbaceousness on the finish.  I would be very happy with this for $87, its KWM sticker price.  Considering I wasn’t a massive fan of last calendar’s Tomatin, this is a highly impressive comeback.








%d bloggers like this: