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.

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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!!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.








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