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 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 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 4

4 12 2016

Usually I crave new finds and tasting experiences in these calendars, but today I was pleased to open the little cardboard door and find a familiar face.  BenRiach distillery has been sort of my anti-Kilchoman through 2.2 years of KWM Whisky Advent:  this will be my fifth whisky pulled out of a calendar, and all of the previous four (2014’s trio from Day 2, Day 11 and Day 21 and 2015’s Day 16) have easily exceeded expectations.  Like many distilleries that stumbled their way through the 20th century, BenRiach’s origin story is so crazy that it’s almost unbelievable it’s still around.  It first started producing back in 1898, but a near-immediate industry crash led to it being shuttered a scant two years later, in 1900…and it stayed closed for another SIXTY-FIVE YEARS before coming out of mothballs.  That is some kind of business model.  Most distilleries nowadays are being consolidated under the umbrellas of a few giant global beverage companies, but BenRiach skewed the other way in 2004, purchased from Seagrams by three individual entrepreneurs after another stint in mothballs in 2002.  Thankfully it has stayed open since, and is churning out some beauties.


BenRiach: quickly becoming my Old Faithful. A going concern for 118 years, but closed for over half that time.

Tonight’s BenRiach is the 12 Year from the distillery’s Wood Finishes collection, which highlights the effect of different types of aging vessels on the glorious liquid inside.  It is an eye-catching amber colour, very deep for a 12 Year (which, according to the KWM website, may be because it’s secretly a fair bit older than that).  The BenRiach 12 Year is the Sherry Cask expression, which shows itself in the sea breeze aromas lightly lingering over friendlier notes of coffee, salted caramel, clove, tangerine and Cabane a Sucre; the added approachability and sweetness associated with these smells as compared to sherry casks past comes from the partial use of dessert wine Pedro Ximenez sherry casks alongside the more rote Oloroso sherry casks.  It makes a massive difference.  The palate is rich yet focused, full of maple and fruitcake, chocolate-covered cherries and raisin, chalk and peach iced tea, all rolling up into a sweetly drying finish.  The whisky ramps up and crescendoes quickly on the tongue, then slooooooowly glides back down over at least a minute, letting you enjoy the lingering ride.  Beautiful work for $80, and another check mark in BenRiach’s PnP column.  16% done!!

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.

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 16

16 12 2014

On Day 16 of this Advent quest, I will admit that I’m getting a bit of whisky fatigue.  I still appreciate the little bottles and the flavour complexity and the chance to learn more about the various distilleries, and I feel like I’m starting to get better at picking out hints left behind by various production and aging choices, but my sense of wonder is starting to come up a bit short.  My first note about my first sniff of tonight’s whisky was simply:  “Sherry NOOOOOOO!!” — and sure enough, the Gordon & Macphail bottling of Mortlach 15 Year Speyside Single Malt scotch was aged in refill sherry casks.  I need a bit of an Oloroso vacation.

Just bask in that box.  You can't look away.

Just bask in that box. You can’t look away.

But enough negativity.  Obviously the greatest part about the Mortlach distillery is that it sounds like a Tolkien villain.  Excellent (and evil) name choice.  Coming up close behind in terms of awesome is the hyper-cool tartan box this whisky came in; all whiskies should have their own tartans.  Gordon & Macphail are well-known bottlers, previously seen back in Day 1 of this calendar, who pair up with distilleries and allow for a wider range of releases to hit the market; G&M has over 300 single malt bottlings on the market right now.  This Mortlach was distilled exactly 2.5 times (I’m not sure what half a distillation looks like…do they just turn the still off halfway through?) and retails for a slightly pricy $95. Read the rest of this entry »

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