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 2017: Day 18

18 12 2017

The world has ceased to be.  Welcome to oblivion.

That is some approximation of what I felt when I cracked tonight’s calendar door after this particular day and saw Ardbeg Corryvreckan staring me back in the face.  Between and early and constantly stressful workday and other obligations, I was ready for a friendly Labrador retriever of an Irish whiskey or something fun from some other new wacky whisky nation.  Instead I got the Mordor of Scotch whisky, from the producer most commonly associated with near-merciless peat levels in its bottlings.  Before levels of peating in whisky became something people tried to top each other at for no reason (looking at you, Octomore and Supernova, the latter of which is, to no one’s surprise, an Ardbeg), this distillery was probably known as THE foremost purveyor of peat, with most of its offerings featuring 55 ppm of peat phenols, the highest in the calendar to date.

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Nothing means anything.

This particular bottle of Ardbeg, the weirdly named (they’re all weirdly named) Corryvreckan, gets its moniker from a famous whirlpool located just north of the Scottish island of Islay from which this derives.  Even this whisky’s NAME is sliding off into the abyss on the label (welcome to oblivion), in honour of both the marine landmark and my current mood.  Before this gets too depressing, I should point out that the Corryvreckan is actually one seriously decorated whisky:  it was named World’s Best Single Malt (!!) at the World Whisky Awards in 2010 and has received a swath of other critical accolades.  A quick Google search results in much gushing about this French oak-matured monster, which retails for a relatively tame $120 given the buzz around it.

This is like drinking a junkyard:  my first aromatic notes were old rubber hoses, car tires, motor oil, shoe polish, kerosene and leather on fire, plus this weird melting-plastic offgas vibe at the start of every sniff that hammers home the whisky’s identity.  Ardbeg is rugged, fiercely peated, fiercely Islay whisky, and the Corryvreckan shies away from none of that.  There is a sweetness to the back of the palate, an apple cobbler and poached pear pleasantry, but that’s then almost immediately sacked and pillaged by industrial malaise and every conceivable sensory experience arising out of an old factory falling apart while still operating, with a finish like eating still-red fire pit ashes.  Welcome to oblivion.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 17

17 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

I smile every time I pull a whisky from the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar because, well, whisky.  That said, I must say that my smile was a bit bigger today, as after trying some new whiskys over the last few posts, I am returning somewhere familiar – Islay.  Today’s scotch is the 12 Years Old from Bunnahabhain (pronounced boo-na-hah-venn).  The distillery dates back to 1881 and its name is Gaelic meaning “mouth of the river”.  The river in question is the Margadale and it will make a reappearance below.  Bunnahabhain is the northernmost of Islay’s distilleries and is located a few minutes north of Caol Ila, which made an appearance on Day 5.

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Bunnahabhain’s website takes a remarkably honest approach.  Rather than suggesting that its whisky is better because of the use of superior ingredients, it acknowledges that all whisky production begins essentially the same way.  In the case of Bunnahabhain, especially as it compares to other Islay distilleries, it is all about location, location, location.  Many of the other distilleries on Islay create their spirit using spring water that has wound its way through the island’s signature peat bogs.  Bunnahabhain, on the other hand, sources water from the Margadale, which flows through sandstone rocks and results in a spirit that is cleaner in its characteristics.  Also, unlike its Islay brethren, Bunnahabhain does not heavily peat its malt, creating a scotch that does not have the mossy, smoky characteristics for which the island is known.

At this time, I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to my Dad.  My parents and I went to Scotland in 2008 and spent five glorious days on Islay, during which time I took advantage of the opportunity to taste many of the peaty scotches that I love. It seems that an affinity for peat is not genetic as my Dad does not enjoy peaty scotch in the slightest, and so while he was able to enjoy Islay’s incredible beauty, he only took an academic interest in the distilleries we visited.  That all changed after we left our Caol Ila tour.  We were exploring the coast with no particular destination in mind and came upon Bunnahabhain, which neither of us had heard of.  Not ones to turn down the potential to try some free scotch, we went in.  It was a revelation for my Dad (and for me too) as we discovered a phenomenal Islay scotch that didn’t have the distinctive Islay peat flavour.  From that day forward Bunnahabhain has been one of my Dad’s favourite whiskies and we have enjoyed many a dram together.

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They say that it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important.  I don’t know who “they” are, but they are very wise.

The Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old was launched in 2010, is bottled at a comfortable 46.3% and is a deep golden colour in the glass.  The nose has a wonderful maltiness along with readily apparent sherried notes.  As if being unable to completely hide its Islay heritage, there is a slight note of smoke meandering through the nose, but it comes across more like wood smoke rather than the earthy peat smoke of other Islay scotch.  On the palate, the scotch is sweet with vanilla and further sherry notes.  There is also a wood flavour of some kind (I’m a lawyer, not an arborist) along with a hint of smoke to round things out and add further depth.  Again, the smoke is more like campfire/wood smoke and far less pronounced than one would expect from an Islay scotch.  If you’re not familiar with Bunnahabhain, I recommend rectifying that.  It appeals to those peat-averse like my Dad, but there is also something familiar for Islay aficionados and certainly justifies its price-point ($75 at KWM).  Trying something new is always fun, but sometimes its great to curl up with a glass that is familiar and comforting, which is what I got to do tonight.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 5

5 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

As a reader of Pop & Pour from its inception, and a lucky participant in many tastings written up here, it is a thrill to be a guest-writer this Advent season.  While I am a big fan of wine, scotch is my first love when it comes to alcoholic beverages and it was a with enthusiasm that I accepted the opportunity to assist in writing up the whisky offerings in this year’s Kensington Wine Market’s Whisky Advent Calendar. I will certainly do my best to try to keep my personal biases out of these reviews; however, today is an unfortunate day for such an attempt, as the whisky du jour is the Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice bottling of 2004 Caol Ila.  Caol Ila (pronounced “cull-eela”) comes from the island of Islay, my favourite scotch region – so much so that I may have named my daughter after the island due to my love of the scotches produced there.

The Caol Ila distillery is located on the northeast coast of Islay overlooking the Sound of Islay, for which the distillery was named.  From the distillery one can look across the sound and see the island of Jura close by.  The distillery was founded in 1846 and is now part of the global spirit powerhouse Diageo.  Although Caol Ila makes remarkable single malt scotch, much of its significant production is used for blending, including in Johnny Walker.

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Today’s whisky is the younger (but more aged) sibling of the Connoisseurs Choice 2003 Caol Ila from the 2015 KWM Whisky Advent Calendar.  Judging by those tasting notes, however, this bottle is quite different.  The whisky was aged in first and refill bourbon barrels and is a light golden colour in the glass, characteristic of Caol Ila which is typically lighter in colour than many of its Islay cousins.  On the nose, the 2004 Caol Ila has the characteristic Islay peat, pronounced but not overpowering.  Mixing with the peat are aromas of fresh baked bread, caramel, banana and a subtle citrus note.  On the palate, the smoky peat remains well-balanced and does not obscure flavours of orchard fruit, vanilla, banana and baking spice with a hint of citrus zest lightening things up.  The finish is long and surprisingly it is the baking spices, not the peat, that stick with you.  I have yet to try a Caol Ila that I did not enjoy, and this offering is no different.  An auspicious start to my blogging career!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 14

14 12 2016

Back-to-back Islay for the first time in Advent 2016, but this particular bottling is shrouded in mystery!  Day 14’s dram marked the biggest unknown for me coming out of the calendar to date, with a label that looked like a film noir movie poster and that did not contain any immediately identifying marks or distillery names, only the opaque moniker “Cask Islay”.  Cask Islay from where?  Whose casks?  A closer look revealed that this was a scotch released by independent bottler A.D. Rattray that intentionally does not reveal the distillery that made it — but we know that there’s only one and that this isn’t a blend, as it still states itself to be a single malt.  Rattray’s website advises that for each batch of Cask Islay, they hand-select a few casks (5 to 10 at most) from the stealth distiller; these are then matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks for somewhere less than 10 years before bottling.  KWM’s rumour is that the black box producer of this whisky is Laphroaig, but no one’s talking.  The benefit that you get from all the secrecy is that the bottle only costs $75, a massive value play if the quality is there.

fullsizerender-507And it is, in spades, if you’re a fan of the Islay style of peated whisky.  The Cask Islay contains 35 ppm of peat phenols, chemicals released in the smoke of burning peat moss used in the distillery’s kilns while drying malted barley which are absorbed by the barley itself.  35 ppm is not overly high as far as peated scotch goes; the peat bombs that push the issue can get all the way up to 200 ppm (at which point they basically taste like solid charcoal).  But even the lower figure is enough to establish peaty dominance in the Cask Islay’s nose, all oily smoke, seawater brine, clamshells, beach fire pits, iodine and (weirdly) Comet cleaning powder.  Happily, it is more personable to taste than to smell, adding warm peach cobbler and baked apple fruitiness to the swirling peat mass of shoe polish, diesel, sulphur and topsoil, finishing hearty and rich.  This is a great fireside malt, although it would certainly not make a good pick for a whisky neophyte’s scotch initiation.  Frankly a spectacular buy for any Islay lover at this price point.  I’m in.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 13

13 12 2016

We have now crested the summit of the 2016 Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent calendar and are starting the long trek down the other side, and I don’t mind telling you all that I’m a little bit wiped.  Call it the pre-holiday doldrums, the end-of-year blues, the 13-days-blogging-in-a-row sanity implosion, whatever you like.  One or more members of my family has been continuously sick, on a rolling or parallel basis, for the better part of two months — nothing serious, just enough to make me question any and all extracurricular activities and hobbies.  As a reward for persevering through 50% of whisky Advent despite the biohazard zone that is my household, and particularly for powering through a less-than-likeable Day 12, I was hoping to open the window on Day 13 and pull out a nice little OH COME ON.

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I will not rehash my Kilchoman woes, covered off extensively in Day 2.  Suffice to say that it is a really cool new distillery on Islay that’s doing amazing things and that many people deeply enjoy, but that I just can’t bring myself to like despite multiple head-against-wall efforts.  I wish it nothing but success, but it was the last thing I wanted to see today.  However, there was some intrigue that snuck through my malaise with this particular bottling, especially thanks to the mini KWM logo proudly displayed on the front label, and in part also thanks to the almost-shocking 57.5% abv it recorded.  Yes, tonight’s Kilchoman is a Single Cask bottling (Cask 446/2011 to be exact) that Kensington Wine Market purchased and bottled exclusively for the store, which is admittedly awesome, as is the PX (Pedro Ximenez, the grape used for sweet dessert-based sherry) cask finish on the whisky.  While last night’s 18 Year was the oldest whisky in the calendar, this may well be the youngest, distilled in July 2011 and bottled just shy of five years later (and also only five months ago!) in July 2016.

I certainly got more of a sense of Islay on this Kilchoman than the others in calendars past and present, huge whiffs of bacon and sausage grease, rusty cast-iron pots, motor oil and seaweed, but that pervasive off-putting Parmesan cheese funk that has become unfortunately synonymous with the distillery for me was still there, lingering in the background.  This is as explosively fiery and alcoholic as you might expect for something that’s almost two-thirds pure spirit and absolutely requires water to soften and open, but once it’s hydrated it’s laced with butterscotch and molasses sweetness (thanks PX!) to go along with more transportive memory-based flavours:  freshly polished old leather boots, your favourite armchair with a wet dog on it, a log cabin in the woods with the fireplace crackling.  Concentrated and long-lasting, it leaves traces of oily peat lingering on the tongue for well over a minute after you swallow.  It’s still not my cup of tea, but I will say this:  best Kilchoman yet.  Maybe this is the ray of hope for the rest of December.  Bring on the next 12 days.





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 7

7 12 2016

Oh snap.  Let’s get greasy.  Ardbeg is in the house.  When a distillery can scarcely be described without the use of the word “notorious” (in this case, for its well-known bone-crushing use of peat, like most other Islay distilleries but times ten), you know you’re in for some fun.  And when you can’t pronounce the name of the whisky even before you down its cask-strength madness (54.2%, the first bottle out of the 40s to date), all the more so.  It turns out Ardbeg’s Uigeadail, named for the lake that acts as the distillery’s water source, is pronounced “OOG-a-dal”, a suitable caveman name for a pretty caveman whisky.  That’s not necessarily a put-down — this is a $110 bottle, and one that Ardbeg’s 120,000-person-strong fan club voted their favourite out of the distillery’s whole lineup — but more a recognition that this sherried expression of Islay’s most ferocious peat bomb gets to something primal.

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It starts before your nose even gets close to the glass.  The massive alcohol content is apparent from the glass-coating syrupy way the Oog comes out of the bottle, shining sullenly like burnished gold.  The aromas are unsurprisingly filled with nostril-tinging peat, which lingers in the sinuses with a slight alcoholic burn after the other smells fade away:  dirty rags, kerosene, mechanic shop floor, moss, burnt cinnamon and spice.  Even with a fair dollop of water, this is still rich and lush and radiating power, honeyed maple-bacon sweetness offering a beat of relief before the oily smoke and swampy peat flavours, charcoal briquettes and skidding tires, ashtrays and latex gloves, take over and run wild.  Oog is not a whisky that sounds good when reduced to flavour descriptors, but it does hit you on an emotional as well as an intellectual level, something I don’t always get with scotch, as much as I enjoy it.  There is some bass and some soul to this liquid fire and brimstone, an oozy gravitas that I can’t help but admire.








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