KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 7

7 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

One of the true joys of opening a new day on the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is that you never know what you’re going to get (insert Forrest Gump joke here).  In all seriousness, Andrew Ferguson of KWM does a phenomenal job of sourcing interesting whisky from Scotland and abroad (something Peter rightfully lauded yesterday).  Even with all this in mind, I was thoroughly surprised to pull out today’s bottle and see that it is from the Netherlands!  That’s right folks: Dutch whisky.

Zuidam Distillers is a family-owned and -run distillery which makes gin, Genever (a traditional Dutch juniper liquor from which gin evolved), liqueurs and even rum in addition to its Millstone Whisky, with recipes created by father and son duo Fred and Patrick van Zuidam.  The distillery was started by Fred in 1975 and began as a very small operation, with a space of only 300 square meters and one copper still.  The business grew slowly, but now boasts of a 3600 square meter distillery and four new copper stills.  Zuidam, however, remains true to its Dutch roots and uses windmills to mill its malted barley.


I love the little rubber stopper instead of a screw-top.

Today’s bottle was less than forthcoming in terms of detail, so I had to do some digging (which would have been far easier if I could read Dutch).  From what I can tell, this whisky appears to have been aged for three years in Oloroso sherry casks (OK, that last part I got from the bottle) which I believe were constructed of American oak.

The colour of the whisky is a stunning deep gold, looking almost like honey in the glass.  The influence of the sherry is evident on the nose, with scents of dried fruit, hazelnut, vanilla, old paper (think opening a 15-20 year old paperback book) and honey dominating.  The palate is bold and the flavours teased by the nose are certainly realized, along with oatmeal cookie and nutmeg.  Although the whisky is a pretty standard 46%, it can seem stronger and slightly viscous if tasted without water.  That said, I found that adding water dulled the palate, with the trade-off not being quite worth it.  If adding water, use very little.  The finish is dry with a hint of something almost rubbery.

Before today, if you had asked me to name whisky-producing countries, I’m not sure I would have come up with the Netherlands, but I will now.  This offering appears to be one of a number in Zuidam’s Millstone line of whisky, many of which are available at Kensington Wine Market (this one is $83) and I’d certainly be interested in trying more Dutch whisky to see how it compares.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 6

6 12 2017

No. 6 for Day #6 — I will give everyone involved the benefit of the doubt and assume that was cleverly intentional.  I was ultra-pumped to pull the extended-name Hyde 1938 No. 6 Sherry Cask Finish Black Label Special Reserve Irish Whiskey (phew) out of the calendar tonight, for two reasons:  (1) after I have (politely) campaigned for years to get more global representation in the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, 2017 has seen FOUR different countries come out of cardboard box doors in six days; and (2) I absolutely adored the Hyde whiskey from the 2016 calendar, which almost made my top 3 overall from that year.


Like that bottle (and all of Hyde’s lineup), this one sees time in two different kinds of barrels, starting out in bourbon casks before finishing in my nemesis, Oloroso sherry barrels, which lend salty kernel-y complexity to whiskies but also drive me to the point of near-insanity in their ubiquity.  Hyde’s mantra is “It’s all about the wood!” (actual promoted hashtag:  #itsallaboutthewood), which I would readily make fun of were it not for the fact that their website contains the best discussion of the details and effects of wooden barrel maturation I’ve ever seen.  When you walk the talk, I will grant you your double entendre slogan.


Photo credit:  They take wood seriously.

Hyde Irish Whiskey is named after Ireland’s first president, Douglas Hyde, and this “1938” bottling is a tribute to his inauguration year, despite having nothing else at all to do with that calendar year.  It’s a special small release (only 5,000 bottles made, as well as at least 384 mini-Advent bottles) that intriguingly combines an 8 year-old grain whiskey with an 18 YEAR single malt whiskey to make a punching-above-its-weight power blend.  The result smells equally sweet and herbal, part honey and vanilla, part lemongrass and fresh leaves, part nutmeg and eucalyptus and creme caramel.  Fruit shows up in spades as soon as the whiskey hits your tongue, buoyant cantaloupe, kiwi and honeydew, backed by seaweed, Dixie Cup spoons and that same lingering trace of minty greenness.  This is really, really impressive, much more layered than your standard expectation of Irish whiskey and a steal at an $80ish retail price.  Keep the Irish coming!!

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.

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 23

23 12 2015

Well, I’m officially on Christmas holidays from work…but not from this blog or my daily whisky spirit quest, which is now three days away from completion.  So close.  The Whisky Advent Calendar usually finishes with a flourish, and tonight did not disappoint in that regard, as we returned to Taiwan and a producer that’s quickly becoming a podium distillery for me, the world-renowned Kavalan.  Taiwan’s only distillery first showed up in the calendar on Day 5 with its superb cask strength ex-Bourbon bottling, a whisky so good that my father-in-law promptly (and quite properly) went out and grabbed the last bottle in the province after trying it.  That whisky was a pale transparent gold in colour.  This one, not so much.  Same cask strength series, same base spirit, likely a similar aging period (that is:  not that long a one, as Taiwan’s heat and humidity supercharges the maturation period and allows for maximum barrel character transfer in a minimal time window), but different aging vessels, as we go from Bourbon’s brightness to the colourful depths of Oloroso Sherry casks.  Oloroso is an oxidative style of sherry where the wine is aged with full exposure to oxygen for many years, giving it a deep tawny colour like fresh coffee, and that hue obviously sticks with the barrels, because tonight’s Kavalan cask strength (54%) Sherry Oak Single Malt was easily the darkest whisky yet, an amazing shadowy bronze.  It’s clearly darker than yesterday’s Balblair 1990, and that one aged in oak for 24 years; Kavalan’s only been in existence for 10, and I bet this malt only saw barrel for half that or less.  How crazy is that??


This whisky smells EXACTLY like fresh pancakes and maple syrup, almost to the extent that I don’t want to write another aroma note about it.  It’s eerie.  If I must expand, I would go with French Toast Crunch (Cinnamon Toast Crunch’s lesser-known cousin, which also smells like pancakes and maple syrup), cinnamon twists, cabane a sucre, raisins and mincemeat.  You will not be surprised after looking at this that it was hearty and warming on the palate, with mind-warping depth of flavour for a whisky so young.  There was a purity to it, like tasting French press coffee as compared to office coffeemaker coffee (particularly since it actually did taste like coffee), with warm accompanying notes like marzipan, salted caramel and walnuts mixed with toasty oak, elastic bands, fruitcake and suntan lotion.  The finish was extended and all Oloroso – deep, rich and sherried.  I would call this a value for $160, even though stylistically I may prefer the ex-Bourbon slightly; the margin between the two is razor thin for me.  Kavalan just can’t lose.

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 7

7 12 2015

Fresh off a tasting of 13 Austrian and other Gruner Veltliners in 2 hours, I am doing an alcoholic 180 and re-centering on scotch, at least far enough to get 400 words out.  Ah, the trials and tribulations of a booze geek.  I believe tonight’s Advent scotch marks the first time that the 2015 Kensington Wine Market Advent Calendar has repeated distillers from the 2014 Advent Calendar.  Last year featured two different whiskies from the GlenDronach distillery:  the 18 Year Allardice, which I didn’t like too much, and the 21 Year Parliament, which was my favourite whisky of the whole calendar and which I promptly went out and bought after Christmas.  (You should too – it’s obscenely good.)  This is the younger brother of those two, the 15 Year Revival, and its relative youth is reflected in its sticker price, an impressively affordable $102.  GlenDronach is a Highland distillery that has been owned by BenRiach since 2008 and is known, at least according to itself on its website, for richly sherried malts.  You may or may not remember this from last year, but the 2014 calendar was so overloaded with Oloroso sherry cask-aged whiskies that it almost drove me to violence and left me with a massive case of Oloroso fatigue (until the Parliament came along and all was forgiven).  I think this is the first Oloroso-aged whisky of 2015; one a week is fine, so consider the allotment filled for Week 1.


This might be the most singularly delicious whisky I have ever tasted.  It’s not necessarily the most complex (although it does still have layers to it), but it is just so, so fantastically tasty, like every treat you love in the holidays packed together.  It is an incredible deep burnt amber colour — an Oloroso trait — and just radiates sweet treacle, gingerbread, cabane a sucre, brown sugar and clove, all Christmas baking all the time.  Weighty and soft on the palate, with alcohol that gently warms instead of obliterates, it rounds out the alluring flavour parade with orange zest, nectarine, toffee and coffee beans added to the warm embrace of sweet caramel glory.  There is just no reason not to buy this scotch; I want more right now.  KWM, save me some!

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 22

22 12 2014

With a scant two days left in Advent after this, I feel like we’re finally hitting our stride scotch name-wise.  Three days ago I drank The Antiquary.  Yesterday I feasted on the gladiatorial glory of SEPTENDECIM!!!  And tonight it’s back to aristocratic class with GlenDronach’s 21 Year Highland single malt, simply called Parliament.  If you’re not going Latin, go governmental – I approve.  I hope GlenDronach has a Senate, Cabinet and Supreme Court in the lineup somewhere.

Just look at that colour.  #nofilter

Just look at that colour. #nofilter

This is the second GlenDronach whisky in the KWM Advent Calendar, following up Day 9’s disappointing (and disappointingly named) Allardice.  Believe me, after tonight, all is forgiven.  This is a top 3 calendar whisky for sure, maybe even higher.  It’s sherry-based and I don’t even care.  It’s fantastic.  And at $130, it is an absurdly smoking deal.  If any of you are my Secret Santa this year, I know what you can get me.  (Quick tip:  add a bit of water to your dram – at 48%, it’s a little much to have on its own.) Read the rest of this entry »

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 15

15 12 2014

Two cool factoids about the producer of tonight’s daily Advent whisky:  (1) it is the first new distillery on the isle of Islay in 120 years, having opened its doors in 2005, and (2) it is a farm distillery, meaning that it actually grows and harvests some of the barley that it then malts, ferments, distills and matures into scotch.  Very cool on both fronts, and hopefully the start of a trend of some newer names in Scotland’s whisky field (ideally not starting with “Glen”).  The distillery in question is Kilchoman, and the feature whisky is their workhorse label Machir Bay, a blend that is bottled once per year using the distillery’s own whisky reserves, such that the components of the blend get older with time as the distillery does.  Machir Bay used to be a blend of 3 and 5 year scotches, but it’s now up to 5 and 6 years.  Interestingly, despite being a mixture of different whiskies, this bottle can still be called a “single malt”, as the “single” in this designation refers to the fact that all of the whisky comes from a single distillery as opposed to a single batch or year.

By FAR the hardest bottle to get out of the calendar yet.  Damn box.

By FAR the hardest bottle to get out of the calendar yet. Damn box.

The Machir Bay was initially matured in first-fill bourbon barrels, but then transferred to my most dreaded of aging vessels, Oloroso sherry casks, for finishing — that makes at least 8 out of 15 whiskies in this calendar so far that have had the Oloroso treatment.  This one is by far the weirdest.

Read the rest of this entry »

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 14

14 12 2014

Two straight weeks of blogging and drinking the hard stuff – I’m so caught up in this calendar that I barely noticed Christmas is a week and a half away.  What am I going to do without 50 mL of whisky before bed every night?  Ten more days!

Lovely scotch; worst label of the 14 to date by far.

Lovely scotch; worst label of the 14 to date by far.

The KWM Whisky Advent Calendar seemed to be gradually scaling upward as the days went along, both in terms of the pedigree and age of the whisky and in terms of the bottle price, but tonight represents a bit of a reset on both fronts.  The showcase whisky is probably both the youngest and the cheapest single malt of the bunch so far:  the Benromach 10 Year Single Malt scotch from Speyside, clocking in at a mere $68 for a full bottle.  This whisky aged for 9 of its 10 years in 80% bourbon and 20% sherry hogshead casks before being finished in its final year in – wait for it – first fill Oloroso sherry casks.  Sigh.  Benromach has the interesting distinction of being the smallest distillery in Speyside, which is basically the core region of scotch production. Read the rest of this entry »

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 12

12 12 2014

Well, I am officially halfway through the Kensington Wine Market Whisky Advent Calendar, and half of my whisky drinking experience so far has been through the lens of the Oloroso sherry cask.  I didn’t even have to research whether tonight’s whisky made it 6 out of 12, as the Tomatin 18 Year Highland Single Malt advertised on its mini-label that it was finished in what seems to be every distiller’s container of choice.  Turns out the scotch only spent the last 2.5 out of its 18 years in Oloroso, with the previous 15.5 ex-bourbon casks, but that’s not enough to allay my wrath.  I am done with you, Oloroso.  Stop being an aging vessel.



The Tomatin 18 retails for $115, quite a reasonable price for such an old single malt, but I can’t quite get behind it.  The nose is slightly sour-tinged, mealy, malty and briny, with a weird sweat and cigarettes aroma lurking behind a chemically/vegetally citrus, Pine Sol-esque note.  There is some bold spice and hickory on the palate, with the sherry influence shining through loud and clear in the secondary flavours of parchment, old library, dried blood and salt.  The finish is surprisingly pleasant, with lingering cinnamon hearts and fresh bread lurking long after you swallow, but it doesn’t quite redeem what came before.  It might just be my mood, my preference for something different at the end of a big week, my annoyance at being Oloroso-ed again, but I’d put this one in the bottom quartile of the 12 to date.  Fully expecting a rock star tomorrow!

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 9

9 12 2014

A series of firsts in today’s KWM Advent Calendar offering:  first whisky over $100 for a full bottle ($118); first whisky over 16 years of barrel age (18 Year); first whisky aged in Oloroso sherry casks…no, just kidding, it seems that EVERY whisky nowadays ages in Oloroso sherry casks.  It’s just the cool thing to do.  If I owned a distillery I’d age all my whisky in Amontillado sherry casks just to be a rebel.  The GlenDronach Allardice (named after the founder of the distillery) 18 Year Highland Single Malt at least commits fully to the trendy Oloroso path by aging 100% in Oloroso sherry casks for the entirety of the scotch’s aging period — none of this wishy-washy “finishing” stuff.  As a result, it does not mess around with nutty, mealy, maple-y oxidized sherry flavour, but dives in headfirst.

If I hear the word "Oloroso" again this Advent I'm going to scream.

If I hear the word “Oloroso” again this Advent I’m going to scream.

The first thing to note is the colour of this whisky, which almost looks like oversteeped tea as opposed to barrel-aged spirit.  Then the Oloroso aromatic brigade starts, carrying with it a series of grimy kernel- and nut-inspired flavours that would make a barroom floor proud:  salt, stale beer, peanut shells, cold coffee, pretzels.  Things get malty and lively on the palate, all ginger ale, coffee beans, fig, cloves and dark chocolate, leading into a finish that’s a dead ringer for a cappuccino.  Yes, I know that’s weird.  Maybe it’s just Oloroso cask fatigue, but nothing about this whisky really moved me, although I can appreciate the additional complexity and flavour commitment that goes along with the extended aging process.  Sorry GlenDronach:  wrong year, wrong calendar.

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 8

8 12 2014

Week two begins!  Tonight’s whisky is the first single malt on the Advent docket from Islay, even though it’s the second time we’ve run into this distillery on our mini-alcoholic Christmas tour of Scotland.  Bowmore was a component of the multi-distillery blend in Day 5’s excellent Big Peat; now it’s on its own on Day 8, which showcases its 15 Year “Darkest” Single Malt.  This is, rather insanely, the 4th out of 8 Advent whiskies to date that has spent some time aging in Oloroso sherry casks.  This surge of barrel popularity makes sense when you think of the long, slow, oxidative process that goes into making dark, treacly Olorosos, a procedure that would leave plenty of colour and flavour imbued into the barrels ready to pass along to the next thing that filled them.  This Bowmore spent the last 3 of its 15 years in Oloroso casks (largely for the colour enhancement which gave the Darkest its name), with the prior dozen in a mixture of bourbon and (other) sherry casks.

Quick - guess which barrels?

Quick – guess which barrels?

I believe this is the most expensive scotch of the bunch so far, although it’s still comfortably under triple digits retail at $88.  I was a massive fan of the Darkest:  its deep bronze colour lived up to its title, and its nose was impeccably balanced between the dirtier, grimier Islay scents of moss, tar, rubber and oil and warmer, prettier notes of baked apple, cinnamon and incense.  Once you took a sip the symphony of flavours was amplified to include celery, saddle leather, moccasins and iron, but nothing ever stood out as overpowering, and everything was tied seamlessly together with the soft kiss of oak and even a hint of tannin on the finish.  If it wasn’t for my joy over the whimsy and constituent elements of Big Peat, this might have been my new favourite of the calendar, but a silver medal position this far into the race isn’t bad.  Internal probability when I first got this calendar that I’d be ranking Islay whiskies 1-2 after 8 days:  0%.

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