KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 24

24 12 2017

First of all:  Merry Christmas Eve everyone!  Thanks for following along down this long and windy Whisky Advent road — it’s been a thrill to discover and discuss these incredible whiskies along with you!  Second of all:  UGGGGHHHHHH.  I had thought that I might be able to skate through the 2017 calendar without encountering my nemesis distillery, the one I admire in so many ways but can’t quite wrap my head around hedonistically, the one featured in FIVE prior hopeful but ultimately unhappy PnP whisky reviews from calendars past.  I had thought that by reaching the prestige cardboard door #24 I would be officially safe.  I was wrong.  Kilchoman is BACK.

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Advent cannot escape.

To be clear, this is probably very good news for most calendar drinkers, and certainly most whisky connoisseurs.  Kilchoman is a fascinating new distillery, the first that has opened its doors on Islay in over a century (during which time a great deal many of them shut down or were bulldozed), and one of the only ones that plants and farms its own grains (as noted with respect to Vancouver Island’s Shelter Point and its identical approach on Day 11).  This particular bottling of Kilchoman is also a special, exclusive one:  retailing for $200, it is a KWM-selected 25th Anniversary Single Cask, and also the first 10 Year Kilchoman for sale anywhere in Canada (not a huge surprise, since the producer is only 12 years old).  Only 212 full-size bottles — and obviously 380-odd tiny sample bottles — were made out of Kilchoman Cask 255 of 2007, matured in ex-Bourbon barrels and clocking in at 56.6% abv.  I would be more hopeful were it not for the fact that this is the third straight Advent Calendar with a Kilchoman Single Cask in it, and no prior one has turned me around (see here, here, here, here and here if you’re a masochist).

The Kilchoman 10 Year KWM Single Cask is a strange aromatic mix of the refined and the rugged, peaches and cream on top of oily peat, a delicacy in a longshoreman’s vessel.  Tar, pitch, pepper and dank undergrowth roil around, with some of Bourbon’s friendly maple and vanilla trying to peek through.  That off-putting (to me) cheesy Parmesan-rind funk that I’ve come to associate with Kilchoman is the first thing that hits on the tongue, followed by heavy briny peat, scorched apple, iodine, liniment, charcoal and grime; anise and melted plastic predominate the finish.  The complexity is all there, the flavours impressively layered, and any Kilchoman fan will likely find this their finest hour.  It still just misses me, unfortunately.  It’s not you, Kilchoman, it’s me.

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KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 19

19 12 2016

To say that things are heating up in the last week of Advent would be a massive understatement.  Yesterday we hit upon my favourite calendar whisky distiller in GlenDronach, and today we meet up with the only other producer that has managed to reach similar Advent highs, Taiwan’s Kavalan, which took second AND third place in last year’s calendar for me and which seems to do nothing but produce show-stopping whiskies in what on its face seems like one of the least likely locations on Earth.  But here’s the secret:  Taiwan is much, much hotter year-round than Scotland is, and massively more humid.  So?  So when you’re freshly distilled whisky spirit, sitting in a barrel and waiting for maturation magic to happen, those climatic conditions make the aging dance between cask and liquid go into hyperdrive, accelerating evaporation (which speeds up oxidation) and allowing the wood grain to penetrate into and flavour the whisky much more quickly.  The result:  a distillery that’s barely 10 years old with products on the shelf that you would taste blind and swear they’ve been aging for well over 20.  In the whisky world, you can’t ask for a better and more distinct advantage than that.

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This is a particularly interesting bottling because it is ALMOST, but not quite, identical to the Kavalan from Day 5 of 2015.  Like this one, that was also an ex-Bourbon cask bottling, but it was a cask-strength offering (like most of Kavalan’s lineup), whereas this is the first Kavalan whisky I’ve had that isn’t, bottled at 46% to give Kavalan a sort of “entry-level” whisky in its lineup.  Those words are in scare quotes because the bottle still costs $140, but I am here to tell you that it’s worth it.  It was bottled in mid-2015 (at 11:16 a.m., according to the hyper-specific back label info) and likely only spent a few years in Bourbon barrels, but the Taiwan time warp effect made it deep and rich and gold in the glass, albeit more yellow than amber.  It smells like the most delicious confection you could ever come up with:  part toasted marshmallow and vanilla bean, part wafer cookie and whipped cream, with some Corn Pops and hickory on the edges for good measure.  It then beams out the most outrageously tropical set of fruit flavours I have seen in a whisky.  Cantaloupe?  OK.  But guava?  Papaya?  WATERMELON?  What is happening??  Coconut flakes and Rice Krispie squares round out an absurdly delicious six-days-till-Christmas whisky:  exotic and playful, complex but oh so hedonistic.  I sense another podium finish, Kavalan.





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 21

21 12 2015

Aaaaaaaghh.  That was my admitted reaction when I opened the door to Day 21, one of four whiskies left in this year’s calendar before the Christmas Day finale from the Single Malt Whisky Society, and came face to face with Kilchoman again.  These last few days before the finish line in the 2014 calendar were home to some real zingers, including my favourite whisky of last year (and one of my favourites ever), the GlenDronach Parliament; to see this coveted calendar spot taken up by a distillery I can’t quite bring myself around to like was a bit painful.  Now, to be clear, as discussed on Day 11 when Kilchoman showed up the first time in 2015:  they are a very highly regarded distillery with a super cool story (the farm-to-table equivalent of the scotch world, Islay’s first new distillery in forever), and I have whisky-savvy friends that go nuts for them, so there’s nothing wrong with them whatsoever, but they just don’t match my taste for whatever reason.  However, if I decipher the label correctly, there seems to be some reason for excitement with this particular bottling, which may only be available in the singular place from which I got the calendar.  The tiny Kilchoman bottle features an even tinier Kensington Wine Market logo right on the official label, which I’m guessing means that this was from a cask purchased by and bottled for the store only.  (Further research just undertaken confirms the theory – cool!)  This Single Cask whisky is from a bourbon barrel identified only as cask #440, from the year 2010.  That means we’re dealing with, at most, a 5 Year malt, one of the youngest whiskies in the whole calendar.

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The KWM Single Cask was bottled at cask strength (meaning that no water was added to it to dilute it and reduce the alcohol to a standard 40%, 43% or 46% level).  In this case that means the scotch is at a mind-melting 60.4% abv, meaning that adding water is imperative to this one unless you’re using it for sterilizing wounds.  This ultra-special Calgary-only version of Kilchoman smelled like, well, Kilchoman, a must-be-from-Islay combination of moccasins, smoky peat, solvent, tennis balls, kelp, orange zest and melted cheese.  A little more fruit shone through on the palate, banana and cantaloupe, but the Islay grime still carried the day, with tons of old shoe leather, burnt tires and exhaust, maltiness and toast, with a glycerol-laden viscosity from the elevated alcohol and a sweet smoothness on the finish – the bourbon cask coming through at last.  This was certainly my favourite Kilchoman that I’ve had so far, although also the most expensive at $140, making it one of the pricier 5 year-old scotches on the shelf.  There is certainly a lot going on here for a spirit a half a decade old, but I still can’t say it’s my thing.  I feel legitimately bad about it, Kilchoman.





Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 5

5 12 2015

I have to head out of town overnight so I’m posting early, which means that I may be one of the first to alert you that Day 5 of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is a showstopper.  When it was first announced that this year’s calendar would contain an offering from Taiwan, I knew that could (literally) only mean one thing:  Kavalan, the first and only distillery in this small Asian nation.  Kavalan has only been around for 10 years, since 2005, but in that short span of time it has basically set the whisky world on fire and danced on the smouldering ruins, culminating in this year’s announcement that its Vinho Barrique malt (which I own and is spectacular) had been named the world’s best single malt whisky by the World Whisky Awards.  How can a distillery that just hit the decade mark be churning out world elite scotches so quickly?  (Remember, single malt whiskies have to be distilled solely by their producer.)  Don’t top whiskies usually need a long time to mature and develop their complex flavours?  Not in Taiwan.  Like the roasting hot Bourbon aging warehouses in Kentucky on warp speed, Kavalan gets extreme flavour transference and development during maturation in record time due to the heat and humidity almost always prevalent in the country, which speeds up both water evaporation and the reaction between spirit and barrel wood, resulting in concentrated, deeply coloured, layered whiskies after only a few years.  That sounds too good to be true for the distillery, but it’s real.  You have to taste it to believe it.

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This is a cask-strength (54% abv) rendition of the Kavalan ex-Bourbon Oak Single Malt Whisky.  I have to start by noting that the (stunning) packaging tube for this whisky identifies its colour as “Cattle egret”.  Cow heron!  I would have said “deep golden”, but sure.  You almost have to add water to drink this dram pleasurably, lest it otherwise Novocaine your entire tongue and eradicate your stomach lining.  This is one of those whiskies you can smell all day, due less to incredible complexity than to an immediate and easy, almost languid appeal:  brown sugar, white flowers, honey, Amaretto, fresh peach, kettle corn.  You feel like you should be floating down the Mississippi on a raft in the summer sniffing it.  That emotion only elevates when you taste it, as the unabashed sweetness from the bourbon barrels lend instant pleasure to the downright delicious flavours of coconut, baked apple, Corn Pops, vanilla bean and what I’ll call “caramel macchiato”, part burnt sugar, part creamy steamed milk, part roasted coffee.  This is pure joy in a (cask-strength) bottle.  We’re treading into premium territory now in the $140 range, but damned if you don’t get premium results for the price tag.  This is just achingly good.








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