KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 21

21 12 2017

Our 21st day of whisky; our 6th Glen, giving us a Glen percentage of 28.6%.  Not too shabby.  If you’re counting at home, it’s been:  Dailuaine-Glenlivet (Day 1 – sort of a cheater Glen), Glentauchers (Day 8), Glenmorangie (Day 9), Glenfiddich (Day 10), Glenglassaugh (Day 15), and now today’s Glengoyne, a Highland distillery whose 18 Year Single Malt graced last year’s calendar on Day 12.  I wasn’t much of a fan back then, but for tonight’s 15 Year I am much more enthused.  Glengoyne got its start illegally, distilling scotch surreptitiously in the 1820s for tax avoidance purposes before deciding to go legit a decade later.  Around that time, they signed the contract of the (19th) century, lining up a 99-year lease for the pure spring water of the adjacent burn for the measly sum of £8!!  That would be £5,000 or so in today’s currency, but still – that’s a century of water.  They have obviously retained their colourful spirit (no pun intended) into modern times:  in 2004 they rented a pirate ship and landed in the harbour at the Islay Whisky Festival with a hold full of unpeated whisky, just to be contrarian.  You almost have to like them just for that.


The Glengoyne 15 Year is a gorgeous shimmering amber colour and comes out firing with an aromatic barrage of burnt orange peel, clove, all-spice, carrot cake and tennis balls, immediately announcing itself as more forward and somehow more developed than its 18 Year sibling from last year.  Perhaps it’s the first-fill Bourbon barrel aging before the Glengoyne mandatory sherry cask finish on this bottle, but whatever the reason, it hits the tongue loaded with sweet comfort food flavour, a rich and warm blend of Cabane à Sucre (frozen maple), treacle, butter tarts, Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Golden Grahams.  The decade and a half in barrel left this mellow and loaded with confectionary depth, making it a joyous breeze to drink and a stellar value at $77.  Four more days!!

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 15

15 12 2017

By my count this is “Glen” whisky #5 (well, 4 1/2) in 15 days of 2017 Advent, after Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie, Glentauchers and Dailuaine-Glenlivet all the day back on Day 1.  But the more important number for this particular Glen, Highlands’ Glenglassaugh, is three.  The distillery was founded in 1875, but like so many others it was mothballed in the 1980s (1986 to be exact), only to be near-miraculously purchased and re-opened 22 years later in 2008 (then purchased again by BenRiach in 2013, but that’s not part of this story).  I had never heard of Glenglassaugh back in 2014, when on December 7th I opened the KWM Advent Calendar door and discovered the very first whisky it had released after opening its doors again, aptly named the Revival.  The next year, on December 8th, 2015, we were treated to the SECOND ever whisky from the new Glenglassaugh, the Evolution.  And now we arrive to today, December 7+8 = 15th, and back to the number three:  today’s Glenglassaugh Torfa is the third new whisky to come out of the distillery’s doors.  The difference with this one is that it’s peated — according to the label, RICHLY Peated, although at 20 ppm (less than half of The English Smokey’s 45, which itself wasn’t over the top) it might be exaggerating things a bit.


The rather odd name of the whisky, Torfa, is a nod to its burnt-moss-imbued nature, as it is an old Norse word for peat (turf).  It is an orangey golden colour and certainly exhibits some of its namesake on the nose, beaming out the shoe leather, moss and marsh bog aromas associated with peat, but measuring those with a honeyed sweetness and a lingering grassiness…despite its “Richly Peated” boast, it doesn’t come close to overwhelming.  Coming closer is the flamethrower of a palate that takes no prisoners at 50% abv, even with added water, but behind the alcoholic rage lies more careful peat balance, the smokiness never bullying the other notes of apple crisp, sandpaper, tangerine, black pepper and fallen leaves.  But the telltale slithery griminess shows up on both the attack and the finish, bookending a fun and fascinating dram.  Here’s to a fourth and fifth and many more, Glenglassaugh.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 13

13 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

Today we take a trip to the Scottish Highlands to visit Balblair Distillery, care of independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail’s “The MacPhail’s Collection”.  Located on the coast of the Dornoch Firth (which is almost due north of Inverness in the very northern part of mainland Scotland), Balblair was established by John Ross in 1790.  Interestingly, the original distillery was located half a mile from its current location and was moved in 1895 to take advantage of the Highland Railway.  As is the case with so many distilleries in Scotland, it was mothballed in 1911 and the last whisky being released in 1932.  The distillery continued to provide a valuable service when the army commandeered the buildings during World War II.

After the War, Robert James “Bertie” Cummings purchased the distillery in 1948 for £48,000 with production resuming the following year.  As a lawyer from Calgary, I’m tickled by the fact that Cummings was a solicitor from Banff – the original one in Scotland, not the one in the Rocky Mountains.  In 1970, Cummings sold Balblair to Hiram Walker, which later became Allied Distillers, which owns over 100 distilleries.  It is now owned by Inver House Distillers, which purchased it in 1996 (and which has a regional headquarters in Airdrie – the original one in Scotland, not the one north of Calgary).

IMG_4145For many years, Balblair has released its whisky as vintage offerings, with each one released based on the year it was distilled rather than with an age statement on the bottle.  As today’s bottle does not come direct from the distillery, we see a more conventional (for whisky) age statement of 10 years on the bottle.  The whisky was aged in refill bourbon casks and bottled at 43%.

Before today I had never tried Balblair and I genuinely enjoyed this whisky.  My first thought upon bringing the glass to my nose was that it smelled “dry”.  Not dry as one would describe the sweetness (or lack thereof) in wine, but rather dry as in the absence of moisture.  While I was able to pick out smells of unripe pear – you know the kind when you cut it and get mad at yourself because it’s not ready to eat yet – the predominant scent was that of cut grass.  Not green fresh-cut grass, but rather dried grass being raked after a couple of days after being mowed.  The palate delivered sweetness that was not evident (to me) on the nose.  I was able to taste candied orange, shortbread and something toasted.  It was reserved, but had a pleasant burn that I was not expecting based on its 43% bottling.  The Balblair 10 Year Old didn’t do anything crazy, but it didn’t have to.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 12

12 12 2017

It’s been a frenetic start to Advent, both in terms of the 22 posts that have graced this blog over the past 11 days and in terms of the kaleidoscope of countries and new whisky experiences to which Kensington Wine Market has treated us so far.  Maybe at this point, at the halfway mark of the calendar, we can stop and take a breath and revel in a dose of familiarity before launching ourselves again into the unknown.  Enter the safest low-cost whisky you can buy when you’re stuck somewhere out of town and the only accessible shop is Superstore:  Tullibardine.  I have had the same “hey, this is actually pretty good!” reaction to many a suspiciously cheap Tullibardine scotch and have come to the conclusion that they can deliver on a budget far better than most in the spirit world.  You will often come across a “1488” logo on the distillery’s packaging, and their website hints at their illustrious history…sort of.  It turns out their site was previously a brewery in the 15th century that King James IV once visited, which is impressive, but for the fact that the distillery had nothing to do with the brewery and wasn’t a thing until 1947.  The website does not discuss the intervening 450 years in detail.


Take a breath.

Through its entire whisky lineup, Tullibardine only uses first-fill casks (barrels that were only previously used once before, so the interior toasting and wood grain is still receptive to liquid contact) for maximum flavour transference.  This Sovereign bottling is the foundation of the portfolio, a Highland Single Malt matured only in first-fill Bourbon casks, at $65 probably the price baseline for a proper single malt scotch.  It is a grainy pale gold colour and comes across somewhat aromatically muted, its baked apple, banana Runts, grass and honey aromas slightly shy and stunted.  Bourbon’s characteristic sweetness wakes it up on the first sip, however. launching flavours of vanilla bean and creme brûlée laced with char and toasted marshmallow skin, those scorched-barrel notes echoing into a smoky finish.  This is not a dynamic whisky, but it is easily an enjoyable weeknight sip, which is all it has to be to justify this price tag.

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 2016: Day 23

23 12 2016

GlenDronach!  Peated!  I’m always fascinated by peated expressions of traditionally non-peated whiskies (which encompass almost all whiskies distilled anywhere other than the Islay region of Scotland), particularly when the whisky in question is one with which I am otherwise very familiar.  My old calendar friend GlenDronach, as recently covered in Day 18, is an Advent stalwart, having shown up (quite successfully) four previous times in the last three years; those prior releases unveiled the bulk of GlenDronach’s core range, but all of them are entirely unpeated, making tonight’s further core entry a category of its own for the distillery.  GlenDronach decided to release a Peated expression fairly recently as a nod to how the distillery used to make whisky back in the 19th century, although since its founding in 1826 it’s been a sort of rocky road until recently.  Stop me if you’ve seen this kind of Scottish distillery timeline before:  sold 1830, sold 1920 (to the son of the founder of Glenfidditch), sold 1962, mothballed 1996-2002 (not that long ago!!), taken over 2005 (by Chivas), taken over 2008 (by BenRiach, who makes some pretty awesome whisky in its own right and has presided over a highly impressive GlenDronach resurgence in the past 8 years), taken over (along with BenRiach) earlier this year (although so far the same folks have been left in charge).  No job security in whisky-making.


The peating in GlenDronach’s first ever (modern-day) peated offering is done…pleasantly?  Is that a thing?  The peat effect is definitely noticeable, but far from in-your-face, adding aromatic traces of lantern oil, sweet compost, old leather and moss to GlenDronach’s stone fruit and florals, which are otherwise not lost or mellowed in maturation in this younger non-age-designated malt.  The palate is similar, part oily and part sweet, either adding perfumed refinement to the peat’s underlying funk or adding some necessary grime to an otherwise potentially too-pristine Highland whisky, depending on how you look at it.  The result is a little bit of everything:  pistachio pudding, suede jackets, distress flares, car exhaust, marmalade, apple crisp…I could keep going.  What a value at $83.  Can’t wait to see what Christmas Eve has in store!

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 22

22 12 2016

I have started to think of Glenfarclas as the official mascot scotch (mascotch?) of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, after 2014’s special Christmas Eve 40 Year and 2015’s Christmas Eve redux 25 Year, not to mention two other entries in calendars past.  I was sort of wondering if we’d see a third straight December 24th whisky from the distillery, but I also suspected we were starting to run out of super-old Glenfarclas releases to slot in that esteemed end-of-calendar spot.  Well, it got Day 22 this year, with the notably younger $95 15 Year Single Malt – still a respectable position if not an exalted one.  Glenfarclas is one of the few pre-20th century distilleries not to be shut down or sold to a gigantic beverage empire in modern times, owned by the Grant family since 1865 when patriarch John Grant bought it for just shy of £512.  That sounds astoundingly cheap even in 1865 money, and it is:  it equates to around £59,000 today, or around $98,000 CAD.  Nice buy, John.  We are now six generations of Grants (all of whom have been named either John or George) into the family’s stewardship of Glenfarclas, which is known for producing one of the classic examples of Speyside whisky out of the region’s largest stills.


To obtain the legal designation of “scotch whisky”, a spirit has to (1) be aged in oak casks (2) which are no larger than 700L (3) for at least three years (4) in Scotland.  Glenfarclas uses both plain new oak casks (which we haven’t heard much of in this year’s calendar) and ex-Sherry casks (with which we have been bombarded by this year’s calendar, and by the whisky industry in general), and it is definitely known for its emphatic use of the latter.  The 15 Year is a glimmering dark amber colour reflective of its barrel time and has a few different aromatic identities:  confectionary (butterscotch chips, and nougat, like the inside of a Three Musketeers bar), nutty (almonds, oatmeal), herbaceous (corn husks, grass).  Bold and fiery as soon as it touches the tongue, this is not messing around, slinging toast and spice, banana Runts, mandarin orange, Americano, char and vegetal flavours with authority and powering into a lacquered finish.  It is punchy and powerfully concentrated, coming across like a cask strength whisky despite its 46% abv.  Mammoth scotch.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 20

20 12 2016

As we near the finish line of 2016 Whisky Advent, we’re coming a bit full circle, back to the distillery (if not the bottler) that brought us Day 1.  We started off Advent with Gordon & MacPhail’s take on a Tomatin whisky, and tonight we let the distillery speak for itself, continuing the calendar’s now-three-year streak of Tomatin releases, after 2014’s blasé 18 Year on Day 12 and 2015’s awesome Port-aged 14 Year on Day 17.  The difference between those bottles and this one is twofold:  this one is cask strength, as the largest capitalized letters on the front label tell you, and it also has no age designation whatsoever, suggesting that it’s probably too young to market as a number.  The $73 price tag would go along with that theory.  (Incidentally, if you’re a whisky spendthrift, you should probably focus your scotch dollars on cask strength whiskies — you get the same volume of whisky at up to 50% higher alcohol, without a price premium in many cases, and when you pour yourself a serving you have to add water to it, something the distillery does itself to get its non-cask strength releases down to 40% or 46%.  In other words, you often pay the same price for post-dilution bottles as for pre-dilution bottles which you then dilute yourself, giving you way more whisky concentrate for your money at cask strength.)


This bottle’s packaging is an exercise in earnest oxymorons:  lilting italic script informs you that this whisky represents “The Softer Side of the Highlands”, immediately below the double-sized block letters stating “CASK STRENGTH” and immediately above the 57.5% abv listing.  I could describe this whisky in many different ways and it would not end up on the softer side of anything.

This is Tomatin’s first cask strength bottling in its core range of whiskies and saw (an unknown amount of) time in a combination of Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry casks before being bottled.  It was a fairly eye-catching dark golden wheat colour for a bottle coy about its age, yet unlike most whiskies which are aromatically the sum of its parts, this one just smelled like the parts, like barley and barrel and fermentation:  malt, grain, yeast, spice, salt, seawater.  You then completely forget about that, and everything else, once this Tomatin hits your tongue and your brain starts bubbling like it’s on a griddle.  The whisky is massive, overwhelmingly lush and nearly gelatinous in texture, to the point where it almost doesn’t even feel like a liquid.  A strange mixture of honey, baby oil, firewood, shortbread, spackle, flaxseed and rye bread, it is a raging beast of decidedly cautious flavours, a meek monster.  On an oddly bitter yet sweet-tinged finish, it leaves me with no other concluding thought than:  this is just so weird.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 18

18 12 2016

PSA:  I am told that not everybody will be receiving the same whisky in their calendars tonight.  Some, like me, will end up with the intended calendar whisky, the GlenDronach 8 Year The Hielan Single Malt, but due to unexpected shipping issues, there wasn’t enough of it available when the calendar had to be finalized, so the remaining calendars were filled with BenRiach’s 10 Year Curiositas, the Day 16 whisky from 2015.  The shipping problems have now been rectified and the full supply of The Hielan has now arrived in town, so if you ended up with the Curiositas, you can come by KWM anytime and pick up a complementary mini-bottle of The Hielan as a bonus 26th Day whisky – they have a list of everyone affected.  Now back your regularly scheduled whisky programming.

One more week!  It is Day 18 and there are only seven more days until Christmas and until the end of another string of marathon blogging.  Man was I happy to open the calendar today and see a GlenDronach starting back at me – I was starting to wonder if one was going to be included in Whisky Advent this year, or if KWM felt that two straight years of utter calendar dominance from this distillery was enough and that somebody else deserved a fair shake.  My top whisky from the 2014 calendar was the unspeakably excellent GlenDronach Parliament 21 Year, which is close to my favourite scotch ever; my top whisky from 2015 was the nearly-as-good GlenDronach Revival 15 Year, which officially crowned this producer as the only atomic superpower of the Whisky Advent scene.  This year it may be a bit much to ask for GlenDronach to complete the trifecta, as its representative for 2016 was the $64 8 Year The Hielan, the youngest and most entry-level whisky in its core lineup.  But if I was going to believe in miracles from anybody…


It’s hard to believe this scotch is less than a decade old; by eye, it looks like one of the older whiskies in the calendar, coming out of the bottle a gorgeous deep orange-gold.  Whatever they did with the mixture of bourbon and sherry casks to mature this worked fast, and its magic extended aromatically as well, creating a symphony of oxidative notes streaked with citrus, toffee and Caramilk bars and marzipan and lemon peel that weaved together beautifully.  But The Hielan was a little forward and impetuous on the palate, its flavours a touch jumpy and its alcohol slightly jagged without the benefit of time to settle in.  Burnt sugar, carrot cake, butter tart and tonic water were cut short by sandpaper and a streak of woody tannin, although still carried a hint of the resonance of GlenDronachs past.  This doesn’t quite carry the same level of majesty as its predecessors, but it’s on its way somewhere, and the smell alone is well worth the sub-$65 price tag.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 17

17 12 2016

Balblair!  Immediately recognizable thanks to its awesome squat flask-shaped bottle (complete with etching, even in the mini version) and standout modern labels, these guys have their branding right on point.  This is the third Balblair whisky to grace the pages of the Advent Calendar (and the third one I’ve had an obscenely hard time getting out of the calendar), after 2015’s lead-off Day 1 and denouement Day 22.  The distillery’s path to the present was a windy and interesting one, reflective of how difficult it must have been to be a whisky producing facility in the 20th Century:  founded 1790, sold 1894, moved 1895, mothballed 1911, run totally dry 1934, OCCUPIED BY THE ARMY 1939, sold 1948 (to a lawyer from Banff, no less, though presumably the one in Scotland), sold 1970, sold 1996.  Thankfully it’s stayed steady for the last 20 years, and in 2007 it made the decision that has become its rallying cry in the marketplace:  to produce and release only vintage-dated whiskies.  I don’t mean “10 Year”, “12 Year”, “18 Year”, etc.; I mean 1990, 2003, and tonight’s 2005.  The difference is that the former age designation only indicates the youngest whisky in what can be a blend of multiple different production years (what in wine would be called “non-vintage”), whereas Balblair’s choice commits them to only using whisky distilled in a single specific year in every bottling, which is proudly displayed on the front label.  Is that better?  Not necessarily, but it’s different, and the whisky world needs some different.


This bottle was distilled in 2005 and just bottled this year, making it an 11 year-old dram.  It was happily matured in ex-bourbon casks (w00t – sherry break), which explained its ludicrously friendly nose, overflowing with maple and brown sugar, crushed pecans, cinnamon sticks, nectarines and smoke.  I’ve noted that many whiskies in this year’s calendar start quieter aromatically but then are more exuberant to taste; well, this one is the opposite, not shutting down but taking on more sour lemon and bitters flavours, leathery tinges and chemical/petroleum notes (almost like Vaseline) on the tongue to go with the still-present vanilla and butterscotch sweetness.  Like a nice guy made more complex by a darker side – I like it.

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.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 10

10 12 2016

Day 10 of Advent calls for a 10 Year whisky, and the KWM calendar delivers, albeit an in on-the-nose-obvious sort of way.  Yes, like a reformed indie band, we’re going mainstream tonight with the almost-ubiquitous Glenmorangie 10 Year, one of the first of the widely produced “Glen” whiskies (Glenlivet, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas, Glenrothes, etc.) to hit the Whisky Advent Calendar since I’ve been buying it.  However, even larger brands provide an opportunity for learning and appreciation, and the Glenmorangie is no different.  Case in point:  (1) Learning – I have been pronouncing “Glenmorangie” wrong all these years.  The emphasis is on the second syllable, not the third:  Glen-MOR-an-gie, rhyming with “orangey”, as opposed to Glen-mor-AN-gie.  Oops.  (2) Appreciation – The GlenMORangie 10 Year has one of the most artful, and without question the tallest, mini-bottle I’ve ever seen come out of the calendar, with its height perhaps an echo of Glenmorangie’s stills, which are the tallest in Scotland.  The bottle is also an exact replica of its normal-scale bottle, an act of mimicry with which many distilleries don’t even bother but which shows an impressive attention to detail.  Packaging matters!!


Like every distillery that’s been around for over 150 years, Glenmorangie has gone through its ups and downs.  Even it was not exempt from the 20th century suffering experienced by scotch distilleries, ending up mothballed once in the 1930s and again in the 1940s.  But you may not be surprised to learn that it came through it all OK, upping its means of production from two stills to 12, becoming the top selling single malt in all of Scotland, being purchased by global luxury giant Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) and eventually capturing over 5% of the entire world market share in single malt whisky.  I would call that a success story.  The 10 Year, also known as the Glenmorangie Original, is the entry into the brand’s core line and is a remarkable bargain at $68.  It is somewhat reticent at first with its apple cinnamon Cheerios, lemon peel, celery stalk and spice aromas, but oh so smooth and lithe on the tongue, weightlessly coating every single tastebud and lingering on an extended finish.  Vanilla bean, lemon meringue pie (curd, meringue and crust), poached pear and brown sugar reflect the whisky’s ex-Bourbon maturation treatment and result in a scotch that’s easily approachable for a wide audience.  Like an ex-cool veteran chart-topper, it’s a mainstay for a reason.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 3

3 12 2016

As far as widely available, broadly distributed supermarket whiskies (intended non-pejoratively) go, Macallan has always been near the top of the list for me.  It’s often a gateway drug into single malt whisky, as its flavour profile tends to be approachable and mellow, pleasurably neutral.  This may be the first time a Macallan whisky has graced the KWM calendar, and the vanguard Advent mini-bottle is…nothing much like the above description of the distillery’s standard profile at all.  It’s from Macallan’s 1824 Series line of whiskies, which all have two things in common:  (1) they were aged for some period of time in 100% Oloroso sherry casks (sigh), and (2) nobody knows what that period of time is, because the bottle doesn’t say.  Unlike most whiskies on the market, this one has no aging designation on it at all, and the various scotches in the 1824 Series only hint at aging time through a series of ever-deepening colour names:  Gold, Amber, Sienna, Ruby.  This is the Gold version, about which Macallan’s website reveals hilariously little other than the fact that it is “a whisky to treasure”.  Try harder, Macallan.


Great looking bottle/box.  What’s missing from the label?

One thing Macallan does not seem to be trying to do is pull one over on anyone here:  the deep burnished golden colour of this whisky suggests that the lack of any age statement isn’t any indication of maturation shortcuts, and the $80 price tag is not one that would cry out for a ton of time in barrel in any event.  The sherry cask evil empire does its thing on the nose of this whisky, a funky/briny swirl of seawater, oyster shells and kelp hiding submerged hints of peach and orange.  Thankfully (for me at least) the palate is much more open and outgoing:  rich, round and pleasantly oily, it first comes across as a dead ringer for a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, then adding malt, honeycomb, coconut oil and crystallized ginger, leaving only a trace of that sherried salt for the finish.  A much more assertive, forward and daring endeavour than the standard Macallan lineup; not my favourite set of flavours, but an easy value for the price.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 1

1 12 2016

All right, team:  let’s do this.  Another blogging year has come and gone, another December has arrived, and another 25 straight days of whisky blogging madness stands before me.  I will not break, although I will occasionally wonder what the hell I’m doing.  To set the stage, for those of you new to this year-end PnP tradition:  every year the indomitable Andrew Ferguson, the owner of Kensington Wine Market and (for my money) Calgary’s primary whisky authority, meticulously sources and compiles 25 mini-bottles of premium whisky that go into the shop’s annual Whisky Advent Calendar.  Two years ago I got such a Calendar as a present and decided to write up each whisky inside on a daily basis.  Last year I decided I probably couldn’t leave well enough alone and did it again.  This year I resigned myself to the fact that I’m a slave to precedent, and here we are.  Note that these mini-whisky bottles were NOT provided as samples for review purposes; I bought the calendar to support Andrew’s great work and am doing these reviews because I am clearly slightly deranged.


Bring it, 2016.

Day 1 of 2016 Whisky Advent was an instant flashback to many different days of 2015 Whisky Advent; the all-too-familiar beige and brown labelling of Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice series haunted my dreams on many a December night last year.  Day 4, Day 10, Day 18 and Day 20 of the 2015 calendar were dedicated to Connoisseurs Choice whiskies (and yes, I know there’s an apostrophe missing in that possessive, and yes, it bothers me, but I didn’t name the whisky line, so blame Scotland).  That may sound repetitive, until you find out that there are ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FOUR DIFFERENT WHISKIES in the Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice line.  174!!  And that’s only one of G&M’s many, many ranges!  They are (obviously) one of Scotland’s largest independent whisky bottlers, purchasing barrels of whisky from a plethora of distilleries and bottling them itself.  The Connoisseurs Choice sub-label is largely intended to showcase distilleries that would not otherwise ever see the light of day as a single malt and would instead be stuffed into anonymous blends…but this one might be the exception to that rule.


This particular bottling is a 17 year-old expression from the Tomatin Distillery, which most certainly sees the light of day under its own name as one of the largest and best-known distilleries in all of Scotland.  (It’s also the first distillery in Scotland to be wholly owned by a Japanese company, which is not as surprising as it might seem given the latter country’s massive jump into premium whisky.)  Distilled in 1997 and bottled in 2014, this G&M expression starts off Advent with a bang thanks to a set of aromas as exuberant as a pent-up Golden Retriever:  sassafras, honey, cream soda, banana Runts, cinnamon sticks.  Smooth, lush and nutty, it unfolds repeatedly on the tongue, continuing to expand and unfurl every time you think it’s done, exploding with gobs of marzipan and almond rocca, maple syrup, pina colada, marshmallow, reams of spice and toasty wood.  As you might expect after the above slew of candied notes, this is absolutely delicious, thrilling and hedonistic if not overly intellectual.  It is also not fooling around with its $180 full-bottle retail price tag, the first time I can remember that KWM Whisky Advent has gone posh to start off Day 1.  I like the approach.  24 days to go!

Whisky Review: Aberfeldy 16 Year

10 03 2016

[This bottle was provided as a sample for review purposes.]

If you’re John Dewar & Sons, whisky arm of the global Bacardi empire and well-known large blend label, and you’re sitting on five hitherto unheralded but longstanding Scotch whisky distilleries waiting their turn in the single malt spotlight, how do you introduce them into a crowded, conservative, brand-dominated marketplace?  How do you leverage their old-school authenticity and stores of matured stock in a spirit category largely controlled by blends and Glens?  You turn their relative anonymity into mystery and you pique curiosity, like this:

Tell me that isn’t marketing mastery.  I actually heard about this project before I was sent a bottle and wanted to give these whiskies a try on sheer force of good branding alone, which is not exactly a forte of the staid Scotch whisky scene.  Then when I got the chance to give these malts a try, the deal was that not one bottle but two would go out:  one addressed to me, from John Dewar & Sons, and one addressed to a person of my choice, from me.  Genius.  I was hugely pumped about this distillery I had never previously heard of before the bottles even landed.


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