KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 21

21 12 2016

Into the 20s, guys.  Five days left – and we start the final countdown to Christmas with a mystery.  I pulled out an old-school-looking bottle of Stronachie 18 Year Small Batch Release and thought:  “Cool, another lesser-known distillery find.”  Then I saw the A.D. Rattray logo, last seen in Day 14 with the independent bottler’s Cask Islay release, and thought:  “Cool, this must be like their Distillery Label series”, similar to fellow independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail’s collaborative set of releases with smaller producers tasted in Day 8 and Day 16.  Then I saw the tiny notation in the top right corner: “Distilled at Benrinnes Distillery”.  Um, what?  That’s one label headliner too many.


Here’s the story.  Stronachie IS a lesser-known distillery…but it’s lesser-known because it was mothballed in 1928 and destroyed in 1930.  It was first built in the 1890s in a (questionably chosen, in hindsight) remote, nearly inaccessible mountain location that required the construction of a 5-mile private railway just to get the spirit to a transportation route.  The initial distributor of Stronachie was actually a relative of A.D Rattray, and in the early 2000s, consumed by curiosity about the distillery, Rattray’s present owner bought at auction a bottle of Stronachie that was distilled a century prior, in 1904, one of only 4 bottles left in the world.  After tasting it (props to them for actually opening it), Rattray then embarked on a project to try to re-create the historic distillery’s flavour profile using spirit from a similarly situated high-altitude producer.  It’s one part honourable and one part creepy, like going from trying to commune with your dead aunt via seance to building your own effigy of her for your living room, but it is certainly bold and unique, two things I don’t get to say enough about the whisky world.

Benrinnes is another distillery that often does its work anonymously, not often receiving the single malt attention, which makes me feel sort of bad that it’s getting this particular star treatment as a sort of tribute cover band for another producer that’s been closed for 88 years and a pile of rubble for 86.  Its faux-Stronachie 18 Year was aged in a combination of ex-Bourbon and ex-Sherry casks (which is becoming the main maturation theme of Whisky Advent 2016) and smelled as pleasantly old-fashioned as it was probably supposed to, mixing saltwater taffy, unsweetened licorice, smoke and bitter orange.  Smouldering and long-acting on the palate, its flavours are almost on delayed release, starting spicy and peppery but then blooming into vast florals, citrus fruits, hickory, creme brulee and candied ginger.  In spite of that it never gets away from itself, staying straight-laced and minding its manners, like the quiet distillery up on the mountain that’s now nothing but a ghost, kept alive through loving tribute.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 12

12 12 2016

Nearly halfway through Whisky Advent, team; hang in there.  At this stage in the calendar, the whiskies inside the little cardboard doors, like all of us, get inexorably older.  Tonight’s 18 Year Glengoyne Single Malt is the oldest whisky to date, narrowly beating out Day 1’s boss Tomatin 17 Year.  It’s also another “Glen” whisky to add to calendar lore, joining (at least) Day 10’s Glenmorangie, Glenfarclas, personal favourite Glendronach and Glenglassaugh on the ever-growing list.  Glengoyne is located in the Highlands, a half hour out from Glasgow, has been around for almost 200 years, and prepares all its whiskies according to its six guiding principles:

  1. No Peat – All whiskies are unpeated, in part because there’s no peat in the soils around the distillery and in part because they don’t believe in “hiding” flavour or cask impurities behind peat (note to all Islay distillers:  these are their words, not mine).
  2. Slow Stills – Glengoyne repeatedly announces that they use the slowest distillation process in all of Scotland to coax complex flavours out of their whiskies.
  3. Sherry Casks – Sigh.  I will give the distillery credit for commitment, however, as they recently solved a potential supply problem by taking over their own barrel production at the forest stage.  They cut down the oaks, have them air-dried for THREE YEARS, send them to Jerez to be filled with sherry and then route them to Glasgow.
  4. Careful Maturation – All barrels are aged in temperature-controlled conditions and without overcrowding.
  5. No Added Colour – Part of the reason for air-drying the barrels for so long is that they’re ready and eager to suck up the sherry they’re then filled with, which after oxidative aging (in Oloroso’s case) can darken considerably, leaving the wood prepped for natural colour transfer to the whisky.  No caramel colour needed.
  6. Tradition – Because six principles sound better than five, I guess?  The sixth principle is that Glengoyle always follows its founding principles…but presumably they would still do this if this wasn’t its own standalone principle.  Not so sure I buy Principle 6.


This 18 Year embodiment of the 6(ish) principles clocks in at $130 and a surprisingly low 43% abv – in the current whisky world, 46% seems to be the new 40%.  I spent a few minutes smelling this whisky trying to pull more out of a somewhat muted nose, which on paper comes across as impressive – toffee, candied pumpkin, fig, baked apple, leather, sandpaper – but which has the volume turned down to 4, making you have to work for it.  I was not prepared for the fiery alcoholic jolt that leads off the palate, especially at 43%, which makes the whisky start off sharp and sort of sour and mandates a generous dose of water to even it out.  Rhubarb, marmalade, matchsticks, burnt toast and pepper gradually emerge out of the booze, trailing into a lean, papery finish.  This tastes almost spiky or prickly, the opposite of what you’d expect of something that’s mellowed (in climate-managed spacious conditions, no less) for the better part of two decades.  With all apologies to Glengoyne, this was decidedly not my favourite; hopefully tomorrow’s halfway point will start steering us towards home on a slightly happier note.

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 23

23 12 2014

Three posts in less than 24 hours?  I’m officially on Christmas holidays, so why not?  Kensington Wine Market’s Whisky Advent Calendar advertises on the box that one of the included whiskies is more than 40 years old; I haven’t seen it yet and it wasn’t behind door #23 tonight, so I know what awaits on Christmas Eve!  Unfortunately, the penultimate whisky in the calendar is nowhere near as exciting, and it kills any buzz that might have been built up by the incredible GlenDronach Parliament yesterday.  Not that it’s horrible or anything; it just…is.  It’s a Day 6 whisky instead of a Day 23 whisky.

Not necessarily the way to bring it home.

Not necessarily the way to bring it home.

“It” is the Auchentoshan 18 Year Single Malt, matured entirely in American oak bourbon casks.  This is Auchentoshan’s second appearance on the calendar, having previously underwhelmed with the triple-distilled, triple-matured 3 Wood on three-saturated Day 3.  The 18 Year isn’t going to make me run out and buy Auchentoshan anytime soon, but I will say that they have the absolute best website of any scotch producer I’ve come across this month.  Check out their stellar graphic (scroll down) explaining the ins and outs behind their unique triple distillation process (they are the only scotch producer to triple distill full-time) – that’s more info on distillation than my WSET textbook had.  Good stuff. 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 12

12 12 2014

Well, I am officially halfway through the Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar, and half of my whisky drinking experience so far has been through the lens of the Oloroso sherry cask.  I didn’t even have to research whether tonight’s whisky made it 6 out of 12, as the Tomatin 18 Year Highland Single Malt advertised on its mini-label that it was finished in what seems to be every distiller’s container of choice.  Turns out the scotch only spent the last 2.5 out of its 18 years in Oloroso, with the previous 15.5 ex-bourbon casks, but that’s not enough to allay my wrath.  I am done with you, Oloroso.  Stop being an aging vessel.



The Tomatin 18 retails for $115, quite a reasonable price for such an old single malt, but I can’t quite get behind it.  The nose is slightly sour-tinged, mealy, malty and briny, with a weird sweat and cigarettes aroma lurking behind a chemically/vegetally citrus, Pine Sol-esque note.  There is some bold spice and hickory on the palate, with the sherry influence shining through loud and clear in the secondary flavours of parchment, old library, dried blood and salt.  The finish is surprisingly pleasant, with lingering cinnamon hearts and fresh bread lurking long after you swallow, but it doesn’t quite redeem what came before.  It might just be my mood, my preference for something different at the end of a big week, my annoyance at being Oloroso-ed again, but I’d put this one in the bottom quartile of the 12 to date.  Fully expecting a rock star tomorrow!

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 9

9 12 2014

A series of firsts in today’s KWM Advent Calendar offering:  first whisky over $100 for a full bottle ($118); first whisky over 16 years of barrel age (18 Year); first whisky aged in Oloroso sherry casks…no, just kidding, it seems that EVERY whisky nowadays ages in Oloroso sherry casks.  It’s just the cool thing to do.  If I owned a distillery I’d age all my whisky in Amontillado sherry casks just to be a rebel.  The GlenDronach Allardice (named after the founder of the distillery) 18 Year Highland Single Malt at least commits fully to the trendy Oloroso path by aging 100% in Oloroso sherry casks for the entirety of the scotch’s aging period — none of this wishy-washy “finishing” stuff.  As a result, it does not mess around with nutty, mealy, maple-y oxidized sherry flavour, but dives in headfirst.

If I hear the word "Oloroso" again this Advent I'm going to scream.

If I hear the word “Oloroso” again this Advent I’m going to scream.

The first thing to note is the colour of this whisky, which almost looks like oversteeped tea as opposed to barrel-aged spirit.  Then the Oloroso aromatic brigade starts, carrying with it a series of grimy kernel- and nut-inspired flavours that would make a barroom floor proud:  salt, stale beer, peanut shells, cold coffee, pretzels.  Things get malty and lively on the palate, all ginger ale, coffee beans, fig, cloves and dark chocolate, leading into a finish that’s a dead ringer for a cappuccino.  Yes, I know that’s weird.  Maybe it’s just Oloroso cask fatigue, but nothing about this whisky really moved me, although I can appreciate the additional complexity and flavour commitment that goes along with the extended aging process.  Sorry GlenDronach:  wrong year, wrong calendar.

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