KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 20

20 12 2017

Tyler and I have repeatedly lauded the 2017 version of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar for its diversity and novelty, for giving new whiskies and new brands who have never before graced the inside of a decorative Christmas countdown box an opportunity to shine.  Tonight’s whisky is – not an example of that.  If there is one label that is a common denominator of every Whisky Advent Calendar I’ve drank my way through, it is most definitely the Connoisseurs Choice line from massive independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail, as seen on Day 5 this year and in at least a half dozen other incarnations in calendars past.  Day 10 of 2015 featured an 18 Year malt from a G&M CC bottling of a relatively obscure distillery called Auchroisk, and tonight we get its younger brother, an 11 Year distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2016 under a highly questionable scrubs-green label colour scheme.  Auchroisk is not often seen bottled under its own name but is generally known to produce fruitier whiskies due to its use of taller, slender-necked stills, which tend to result in a lighter spirit during distillation.


Totally not sold on the hospital green colour scheme for this CC label.

The 2005 bottling doesn’t appear at all on the comprehensive Gordon & MacPhail website (which shows over 150 different Connoisseurs Choice whiskies), but it appears to have been matured in American hogsheads and retails for around $100 (it’s also not on KWM’s website, making it doubly difficult to research).  It is a friendly Labrador Retriever of a scotch from the get-go, immediately presenting with easy and appealing aromas of bananas foster, cinnamon, rum raisin cake, honey and celery root/lemongrass.  Fresh, rich and floral on the palate, it melds peach and cantaloupe fruit with honeycomb and vanilla bean creaminess, not overly expansive or complex but pleasantly direct and unabashedly charming.  A worthy CC dram, though hopefully the last we’ll see of G&M until 2018.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 24

24 12 2016

Merry Christmas Eve, everybody!  Hopefully by now the stockings have been hung and the parents can start turning their attention to more important things, like booze.  Back in my first year of KWM Whisky Advent, the December 24th bottle was the end of the line and thus the one everyone waited for the whole month.  This year we get an extra bonus whisky tomorrow, but it’s a special Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling and is double-miniature-sized, leaving tonight the final standard-format calendar bottle. And it delivers, at least in packaging (every scotch should be sold in a bright tartan box) and age designation (distilled 25 years ago in 1991!).  It is yet another Gordon & MacPhail offering, but from a heretofore unseen line:  The MacPhail’s Collection, a small range from a select line of distilleries (7 in all at the moment).  One of them is Glen Scotia, an ancient distillery located at the tip of the Campbeltown peninsula in southwest Scotland.  Campbeltown isn’t a huge scotch area, known mainly for Springbank and its sister distilleries, so it’s no massive surprise that this is the first whisky from the region we’ve seen in Advent 2016.  One of Glen Scotia’s claims to fame, other than being sold a trillion times and failing in the early 20th century like basically every other whisky producer, is that it’s haunted by the ghost of a prior owner, who drowned himself in Campbeltown Loch after losing everything he had in a bad business deal (hopefully not the purchase of the distillery itself, but you can’t rule that out).


The full title of this bottle is The MacPhail’s Collection 1991 Single Campbeltown Malt Scotch Whisky from Glen Scotia Distillery, but unlike every other whisky so far in 2016 Whisky Advent, there is no other information about it anywhere.  It is only for sale at KWM in mini-bottle format (for $24, suggesting that it would be a $300+ full-sized bottle) and not otherwise available; it is not mentioned on the Gordon & MacPhail site; and it is not available for sale at any online shops I could find, even in the UK, except in miniature form.  Weird.  It’s not as dark as you might think for a 25 year old whisky (although it may not be a 25 Year whisky for age designation purposes if it was bottled a while ago, as age labelling is based on time from distillation to bottling) but carries a pure, malty nose of golden raisin, plum, fresh pear, sourdough bread and trail mix, with a hint of fitting Christmas fruitcake.  However, it then takes a left turn and goes surprisingly sharp, rubbery and industrial, filling the mouth with not-altogether-enjoyable tastes of tennis balls, permanent marker, elastic bands and shoe treads; these factory-floor notes and the whisky’s spiky alcohol combine to nearly overwhelm spicy underlying notes of rock salt, caraway and fennel.  Interesting?  Yes.  Pleasant?  Not entirely.  See you at the 2016 calendar finale, and at Christmas!!

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 20

20 12 2015

We’re getting close to being able to call this the #GandMCCWhiskyAdvent calendar:  tonight is the FOURTH offering from independent bottler Gordon & Macphail’s Connoisseurs Choice portfolio to come out of the 2015 KWM calendar, after Day 4’s Ledaig 1999, Day 10’s Auchroisk 1996, and just two days ago, Day 18’s Caol Ila 2003.  Thankfully G&M has sufficient options in its insanely huge lineup of whiskies not to have to repeat a distillery, so Day 20’s Connoisseurs Choice has a brand new origin, the Inchgower Distillery…which I can confirm I’ve never heard of before tonight.  This is because almost nothing it makes is bottled under its own name:  less than 1% of its production is labelled and sold as an Inchgower malt, with the bulk of its whisky being routed for major blends like Bell’s, Johnny Walker and White Horse.  Inchgower was somewhat optimistically founded as “The Great Distillery of Inchgower” in 1871, but it won’t surprise you if you’ve been reading along this season that it was liquidated in 1903, sold in 1936, sold again in 1938 and sold at least once more in the 1980s.  It was apparently near-impossible to keep a distillery open and belonging to its original owner in the 20th century.  Inchgower is now part of the Diageo empire, and Gordon & Macphail are one of the very few independent bottlings showcasing it on its own.


G&M are famous for their absolutely impeccable wood cask selection and whisky maturation program (a massive focus since they don’t make the spirit themselves), to the point where they have an entire separate website devoted only to their cask matching program, which is actually found at  You can’t make this stuff up.  They chose refill sherry casks for this Inchgower, a vintage whisky distilled in 2000 and bottled in 2014; the re-used nature of the casks definitely tones any sherried notes way down in the scotch, to the point where the type of barrel didn’t really stand out at all for me.  In fact, not much stood out, in a good or bad way:  the Inchgower had a grassy, stalky, cream soda- and maple-tinged but otherwise very quiet nose, to the point where I got out my Vinturi Spirit aerator to see if it could coax something more out of it.  Post hyper-decant, the aromas may have come across as rounder, but they were still subtle and subdued.  Things brightened up somewhat on the palate, a more energetic mixture of honeycomb, pancakes, whipped cream and vanilla bean, without the vegetal edge I had been smelling.  All in all, though, a pretty straightforward whisky, with a mouth-drying finish.  After some of the incredible values we saw last week sub-$90, I’d be pretty choked to shell out $108 for this unless I was a true whisky connoisseur (maybe the G&M range name is onto something) seeking out a solo Inchgower effort.  That would be some serious scotch dedication.

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 18

18 12 2015

It is exactly one week until Christmas.  Seven more days, team.  Seven more whiskies, after this one.  Hang in there.  My mild-to-medium annoyance at opening the Day 18 window and pulling out yet another Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice bottling (the third of the calendar, after Day 4 and Day 10) turned to instant excitement once I saw the name of the featured distillery on the bottle:  Caol Ila, one of my favourites, and one of the best Islay distilleries at managing that delicate but critical balance of peat influence within a whisky’s flavour profile.  Having talked about Connoisseurs Choice twice now, I will avoid repeating (three-peating) myself and talk about Caol Ila instead.  Its name is pronounced “cull-eela”, meaning that I actually was almost saying it right before looking it up, a name that means “Sound of Islay” (referring to the body of water of the same name, not an actual sound, although that would be cooler).  Owned by global spirit behemoth Diageo, Caol Ila is, surprisingly to me, by far Islay’s biggest distillery, churning out more than double the production of the other distilleries on the island.  Much of this whisky is designated for use in blends — like the 2014 calendar’s super-awesome Big Peat, which champions its Caol Ila content on its label — but a smaller percentage of it is bottled in the distillery’s name, either under its own label or by independent bottlers like this.


This particular bottle of Caol Ila is from a single vintage, 2003, and was bottled this year, making it a 12 Year malt.  It is classic Islay on the nose, a combination of rawhide, old catcher’s mitt, seaweed, liniment and salty sea air, but in a way that smells far nicer than that sounds, using those aromas in the most comfortable way possible.  The depth of flavour and sheer intensity of both the peat-induced and the other notes is just remarkable.  The peatiness has layers, descending from briny/herbal at first to campfire and ash down to something more dank, like tar and pitch.  This ominous progression somehow doesn’t interfere with the development of equally potent notes of peanut brittle, celery sticks, ginger, oiled leather, poached pear, shoe polish…I could go on.  There’s a lot happening in this whisky, especially at only a dozen years of age.  For me it’s one of the best of the calendar so far without question.  I actually wrote at the end of my tasting notes:  “If this is under $100 it’s a screaming deal.”  Well, guess what?  It’s $99.99.  Scream away.

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 10

10 12 2015

My immediate thought upon pulling out tonight’s whisky was:  “Again?”  Hadn’t I just seen this bottle before?  Well, yes and no.  Day 4 featured another scotch from independent bottler Gordon & Macphail’s Connoisseurs Choice range, the 1999 Ledaig.  Tonight’s bottle, six days and five whiskies later, featuring a slightly differently shaded but otherwise identical label, was the 1996 Auchroisk, at 18 years the oldest whisky of the calendar to date (quick tangent: the age figure on a whisky denotes its period of maturation and ends at bottling, so this whisky, bottled in 2014, is an 18-year rather than a 19-year in whisky-speak).  As this is a totally different scotch from a totally different distillery and region (the Ledaig was from the Isle of Mull, while the Auchroisk is from Speyside), I suppose I have no grounds to have felt a twinge of disappointment at seeing the familiar label come out of the box, but I think I would try to keep any and all similar bottlings as far apart from each other in the Advent order as possible.  That said, don’t think the presence of both the Ledaig and the Auchroisk in the Connoisseurs Choice lineup makes them kindred spirits or anything; the Gordon & Macphail website lists 152 different CC whiskies, so it’s not exactly an exclusive club.


Auchroisk (actually pronounced “oth-rusk”) was built rather recently in distillery terms, in 1974, and is found in the northeast of Speyside, which itself is in the northern part of Scotland.  This bottle states that whiskies from Speyside “are known as the ‘Premier Cru’ of Single Malt Scotch”, which I have literally never heard anyone say, and which might well cause a revolt in the other regions, but who am I to doubt a label slogan?  The ’96 oth-rusk was a pale watery lemon colour and went through an instant metamorphosis on each sip from nose to palate.  It smelled flowery, like potpourri, and soapy, like Thrills gum, with clear vegetal notes, sharp salinity and a lingering Brie cheese aroma (the latter two of which made me write down:  “sherry casks?”  Answer:  yes.).  But it was much more approachable, comforting and pleasurable once you tasted it, sweet and spicy, balancing cornbread, orange and tangerine fruit flavours with charred oak, smoke and pepper, but finishing deft and pure rather than bitter.  I can’t decide if the two-faced nature of the whisky made it more interesting or more annoying or both, but at $140 even that uncertainty is a problem.  Quite happy to have it in 50 mL form, however.  40% done the spirit blogging marathon!

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 4

4 12 2015

It’s times like this that I sympathize with people who think whisky is confusing.  The full title of tonight’s scotch is:  Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice 1999 Ledaig (from Tobermory Distillery) Single Malt Scotch Whisky.  Good luck with that.  Let’s unpack.  Remember when I said yesterday that whisky from any particular distillery in Scotland gets around and how some companies act as negociants sourcing pre-made whisky from elsewhere and then bottling it themselves?  The Ubermensch version of those companies are the independent bottlers, whisky brokers extraordinaire, who release from dozens to hundreds of different whiskies under their own labels, but who (unlike the artisan blenders like Wemyss from yesterday) also provide the details of the source distillery on the label.  So you might be able to get a 12 Year malt from a certain distillery’s own label but then also get a 12 Year malt from that same distillery under an independent bottler’s label.  It’s weird.  Gordon & Macphail is one of the pre-eminent independent bottlers of scotch whisky, with over 300 single malts in its lineup, and its Connoisseurs Choice portfolio is an array of rare single malt whiskies from various distilleries, many of which would not otherwise offer a single malt expression.  This particular bottle comes from the lesser-known Ledaig distillery, which changed its name to Tobermory Distillery a few decades back.  So the label name above reads [Independent Bottler] [Portfolio Name] [Vintage Date] [Old Distillery Name] [Current Distillery Name] Single Malt Scotch Whisky.  Good thing it’s tasty.


This is the first unabashedly peaty scotch in the calendar, to the point where you might think it comes from the peat haven of Islay, but Tobermory is in fact located on another island just north called the Isle of Mull (which I’m secretly hoping is where mulled wine comes from).  The label just says “Islands”, possibly because the Isle of Mull isn’t trendy enough to get its own mention.  The Ledaig was a disarmingly pale greenish colour that displayed no visual hints of the power to come.  However, the first sniff brought an immediate blast of peat-induced scents:  mechanic’s shop, diesel oil, catcher’s mitt, shoe polish, funk, but also hints of sweet tropical fruit that kept the whisky from coming across as harsh or dirty.  The taste was both beautiful and old school; charred, smoky and medicinal, reminiscent of cigars and old leather armchairs, but also bright and spicy, with candied pineapple, crystallized ginger and Bananas Foster.  There’s almost some furriness to the texture too (from the wood tannin of the aging barrels, I would guess), which adds to the whole sensory experience.  The priciest whisky to date at $120, it’s worth every penny.  Currently in the calendar pole position, without question.

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