KWM Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 9

9 12 2017

After a hectic first week and a bit of whisky, where every other day introduced a bottle from a new country (I’m still processing The Netherlands two days later, and I didn’t even write it up!) and every scotch was seemingly snatched from the jaws of obscurity, maybe it’s nice to sort of resettle and catch our collective breath with a Glen- that everyone recognizes (sorry, Glentauchers).  Glenmorangie is the first single malt experience of many fledgling whisky drinkers, and is very widely sold, but that doesn’t mean they don’t try to push the envelope every so often.  I got a firsthand experience of that phenomenon a while back with their floor-malted Tusail, a dynamite dram, and they try to take a step out of the ordinary here as well with their extra-maturation expression Quinta Ruban.  As far as I can tell, “extra-maturation” is just a fancy way of saying “aging something in one thing, then moving it to another thing”, but Glenmorangie has built a whole range out of this relocation, starting off whiskies in ex-Bourbon cask and then transferring them for the final stage of aging to a variety of other types of vessels.  The 12 Year Quinta Ruban gets to spend the last two years of its pre-bottle life in Ruby Port casks, and according to the Glenmorangie site it was the first malt whisky ever to do so.  It almost surely gets its name from this practice:  Quinta = a wine estate in Portugal, and Ruban is close enough to ruby that I’m not even firing up Google Translate to look into it further.

IMG_7149

First things first:  this is one sweet-looking mini-bottle of scotch.  I like the mini-bottles that retain the same sense of proportion as the full-sized bottles, and this one nails those little details.  The Quinta Ruban may be the orangest scotch I have ever seen, thanks to the staining impact of the used Ruby Port barrels.  The nose is spicy and fiery, all pepper, smoke, clove, all-spice and briquettes, forcing you to dig for the orchard fruit beneath.  It is big, rich and brawny, with an accompanying alcoholic burn (even with water added) amping up burly flavours of maple, mandarin orange, cast iron, sandpaper and chestnuts.  Its price is also extra-matured at $92, but I won’t be the one who discourages the big houses in the world of scotch from diversifying their approaches.

Advertisements




KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 8

8 12 2017

The unofficial theme of the scotches (that is, Scotland-derived whiskies) from the 2017 calendar so far is giving unsung heroes their moments in the spotlight.  Like at least two other scotches in the 7 days before it — the two that led off Advent this year — this bottle comes from a little-known obscure distillery (in this case, Glentauchers in Speyside) whose substantial production forms the workhorse component of much-better-known blended whiskies (in this case, Ballantine’s) but who almost never gets to release a single malt under its own banner.  Glentauchers was founded in 1897, managed to produce until 1985 before being mothballed for 7 years, was then acquired by Chivas Brothers and has been churning out blend backbones ever since.  Its fleeting solo appearance comes courtesy of independent bottler extraordinaire Gordon & MacPhail, which has a whole range of Distillery Labels that sees them release a hidden-treasure distillery’s whisky under the distillery’s own logo and branding – very cool.  It is not my first Advent encounter with this range:  in fact, my very first KWM Whisky Advent Calendar bottle EVER was a Distillery Label bottling from the Linkwood distillery, followed shortly in the 2014 calendar by another DL bottling from Mortlach.  Neither of those, however, were 20-year malts.  This one is.

IMG_7145

Distilled in 1996 and then aged in sherry casks before being bottled last year in 2016, the Glentauchers has had plenty of time to mature and develop flavours, and it shows in a sweeping nose of carrot cake, wheat fields, tangerine, lemongrass and marzipan, as holidays-ready a set of smells as I can recall.  Luxurious and pure, it spreads out slowly, taking its time to unfurl before hitting on a distinctly prominent Amaretto note about halfway through the midpalate, a double-take hallmark flavour that just continues to emphasize itself even (especially?) after you swallow.  It’s so remarkably vivid.  Wild.  If I had to try to pull out other flavours:  Sap?  Cinnamon toast?  Banana bread?  Nope, forget it, it’s Amaretto all the way.  One of the most fun offerings in the calendar thus far without question.





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.

IMG_4100

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 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.

IMG_7110

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 2017: Day 1

1 12 2017

Aaaaaand we’re back.  I am almost flabbergasted to say that this is the FOURTH straight year I will be live-blogging through Whisky Advent, all thanks to the near-superhuman efforts of Andrew Ferguson and the Kensington Wine Market, whose Whisky Advent Calendar has quickly gone from quirky daily education and liver damage to can’t-miss holiday imbibing and has sucked me further into the world of whisky than I could have expected.  By the end of Advent there will be over 100 whisky reviews on Pop & Pour, which is not something I had envisioned when the site first started up, but an experience I will never forget (especially on Advent Day 17 when I’m ready to die).  One big change this year is that I’m sadistic enough to have also acquired a Wine Advent Calendar this year (which you’ll hear much more about in a couple of hours) and will thus be calling on expert whisky assistance to help me traverse the Advent trail:  frequent PnP tasting collaborator and awesome spirit aficionado Tyler Derksen will be contributing his first whisky reviews on the site over the course of these 25 days.  Give him a Twitter follow so as not to miss his posts!

IMG_7101

Take 4.  Bring it.

After opening 74-odd little cardboard doors and drinking 74-odd KWM calendar whiskies, you wouldn’t think there would be much room left for surprise, let alone confusion, but tonight there was plenty of both.  The first thing I saw on the whisky label was “Campbeltown”, a once-happening but now nearly abandoned distilling region (something I know due to Past Calendar Knowledge) currently home to only 3 distilleries.  The thing is, the names on this label were none of those three.  It turns out, as far as I can tell, that this is a release from an independent bottler called WM Cadenhead’s, who acquires pre-made whisky from distilleries and releases it under its own branding, a common Scottish practice.  The bottler is based in Campbeltown; the distillery from which the whisky came, not so much.  It is the extraordinarily unknown Dailuaine-Glenlivet Distillery in Speyside, founded back in 1853 and now, like so many others, part of the Diageo empire.  Despite its significant annual production, it doesn’t even have its own website and only the tiniest fraction of its creations get released under the D-G label — most of it ends up as part of the Johnnie Walker blend.  I’m not sure how Cadenhead’s got this, but it may be as much a peek behind the Dailuaine curtain as we ever get.

IMG_7102

First impressions:  this is 55.9% alcohol.  Welcome to Advent.  It is an almost eerily pale straw colour, and even with water added it still emits crusty cheese-rind and dried shoe polish aromas layered over hard toffee candy and smacks of salt sea air.  As you might expect of something of this concentration, it is both explosively fiery and pleasantly gut-warming, starting almost gritty but leaving glowing embers of contentment after you swallow.  It reminds me of an old abandoned log cabin on the beach, powered by kerosene, with bear pelt rugs and traces of fish skins lingering, matchsticks and Neo Citran.  It’s rustic, rough around the edges, but full of soul, and the more I had the more I enjoyed.  But again, 55.9%.  Onward!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 25

25 12 2016

Well, another Christmas is in the books, another Advent officially over, and another Whisky Advent Calendar now sadly, mercifully empty.  Over the past 3 Decembers I have written 74 different whisky reviews on 74 consecutive Advent days, expanding my whisky knowledge and probably seriously irritating all of the blog’s wine readers in the process, and while I’m not sad the mandatory daily reporting experience is over for another 12 months, I always look back on this calendar and appreciate all the work that must have gone into it.  Andrew Ferguson and the Kensington Wine Market do yeoman’s work every year to source a whole new set of never-used miniature whiskies so that every Whisky Advent experience can be fresh and interesting; it must be extraordinarily demanding and tiring, but every year it pays off.  Well done.

fullsizerender-519

I’d be curious to know what your favourite bottles were in the 2016 calendar and how closely they line up with my list of Whisky Advent award-winners, the creme de la creme of this year’s Advent for me:

  • Best Value Dram:  BenRiach 12 Year (Day 4) — BenRiach is starting to own this spot, as its 10 Year won this same award last year.  $80 may be stretching the value whisky category to its limit, but this bottle delivered magic for that price and tasted like it cost well into the three digits, so I’m sticking to it.
  • Honourable Mention:  Hyde 10 Year Irish Whiskey (Day 9) — I loved this bottle and had it on the podium until the very end of deliberations.  Probably the best Irish whiskey I’ve ever tasted, and one that shows just how much potential that category has.
  • 3rd Place:  Ardbeg Uigeadail (Day 7) — Can I look you in the eye and say that this tastes “good”, by any traditional description?  No.  But it has depth and soul and identity, and it draws you in and leaves its mark on you, which is both rare and worthy of recognition.
  • 2nd Place:  Kavalan ex-Bourbon (Day 19) — Predictable, perhaps, but no less deserving.  An absolutely beautiful dram giving a glimpse into how Asia may soon be rising to the pole position in the whisky world.
  • 1st Place:  Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice Tomatin 1997 (Day 1) — Since when does the very first whisky in the calendar end up being the best?  It may be a bit anticlimactic on Day 25, but I liked the choice to start strong back then and I like it now.  This was absolutely the most enjoyable whisky of the month, with sneaky quality to back it up, made most evident by its amazing length and flavour development.  Amazing stuff.

Not sure why the first 10 days of the calendar seemed to dominate this year (last year’s picks were from all over the place), but these conclusions in retrospect match what I’ve felt contemporaneously while opening the calendar each day – a great start, a bit of a momentum lag in the middle third of Advent, and a recovery heading into the finish.  Thankfully the calendar ends on a high (and large) note, with a double-sized cask-strength monster offering from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS), who obviously understood that what we needed most after 24 days of Whisky Advent was a stiff drink.

fullsizerender-518

The SMWS is like an independent bottler crossed with a subscription whisky club:  they buy hand-picked single casks of whisky from a variety of top distillers, bottle them under their own labels (always with eye-catchingly descriptive names) and then sell them only to their own members at club-level prices.  If you’re not a SMWS subscriber, the only way you may be able to taste these whiskies is through this very calendar, so bring it on.  This year’s Christmas whisky is Society Single Cask No. 41.78, “Poker Night Whisky”, bottled at an abjectly terrifying 60.4% in an attempt to murder us all.  It has been aged for 11 years, but I know nothing else about it, not even the area in Scotland where it was made.  I can confirm that it smells incredible, however, a near-tropical mixture of cantaloupe, watermelon, sweet peas and honey.  If you don’t add water to this your throat will likely implode, but once you do you’ll be able to look beyond the alcoholic hellfire and notice the layers of lime zest, bakers’ chocolate, burnt orange and cinnamon, laid over dirtier notes of topsoil and sweat.  The finish is a little raspy, but if you were 61% alcohol you’d be a little raspy too.

Merry Christmas to all, thank you so much for reading this month, and I am DEFINITELY not blogging tomorrow!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 24

24 12 2016

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

fullsizerender-517

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








%d bloggers like this: