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 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!!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 20

20 12 2017

Tyler and I have repeatedly lauded the 2017 version of the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar for its diversity and novelty, for giving new whiskies and new brands who have never before graced the inside of a decorative Christmas countdown box an opportunity to shine.  Tonight’s whisky is – not an example of that.  If there is one label that is a common denominator of every Whisky Advent Calendar I’ve drank my way through, it is most definitely the Connoisseurs Choice line from massive independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail, as seen on Day 5 this year and in at least a half dozen other incarnations in calendars past.  Day 10 of 2015 featured an 18 Year malt from a G&M CC bottling of a relatively obscure distillery called Auchroisk, and tonight we get its younger brother, an 11 Year distilled in 2005 and bottled in 2016 under a highly questionable scrubs-green label colour scheme.  Auchroisk is not often seen bottled under its own name but is generally known to produce fruitier whiskies due to its use of taller, slender-necked stills, which tend to result in a lighter spirit during distillation.

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Totally not sold on the hospital green colour scheme for this CC label.

The 2005 bottling doesn’t appear at all on the comprehensive Gordon & MacPhail website (which shows over 150 different Connoisseurs Choice whiskies), but it appears to have been matured in American hogsheads and retails for around $100 (it’s also not on KWM’s website, making it doubly difficult to research).  It is a friendly Labrador Retriever of a scotch from the get-go, immediately presenting with easy and appealing aromas of bananas foster, cinnamon, rum raisin cake, honey and celery root/lemongrass.  Fresh, rich and floral on the palate, it melds peach and cantaloupe fruit with honeycomb and vanilla bean creaminess, not overly expansive or complex but pleasantly direct and unabashedly charming.  A worthy CC dram, though hopefully the last we’ll see of G&M until 2018.





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 16

16 12 2017

Two important beliefs that help make up my worldview are:  (1) Rum is delicious.  (2) Things soaked or aged in rum invariably taste better.  As such, I’ve wondered why there’s a relative dearth of rum cask whiskies out there, at least in comparison to the Bourbon Barrels and the (continual eternal string of) Oloroso Sherry Casks out there.  Thankfully, tonight, The Balvenie comes to the rescue…well, sort of, at least.  This is the first ever Balvenie calendar whisky that I’ve come across in 4 years, and it’s into the We’re Getting Serious portion of Advent, clocking in at $107 for a full-sized bottle.  It sells its rum influence hard, naming itself the “Caribbean Cask” and trumpeting that it is “Extra Matured In Rum Casks” (yes, “extra-matured” makes a second 2017 calendar appearance); a more careful review both brings that into some question and turns The Balvenie into a modern-day rum runner.

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Why is the rum gone?

This is stated to be a 14 Year Single Malt Scotch Whisky.  The Balvenie’s website states that this whisky was first aged in traditional American oak whisky casks for…14 years before being transferred to Caribbean rum casks for finishing.  I’m no math expert, but obviously the time spent in rum could not be measured in years given the variables before us.  But the actual brevity of the entire marketing core of this whisky is forgiven by the best cask story I’ve come across in 4 years of calendars.  Most whiskies aged in other booze casks obtain used barrels from wine or spirit producers for their new use in whisky maturation.  Instead of obtaining used rum casks (which surely exist), however, The Balvenie opted to take their own American oak casks and FILL THEM UP WITH RUM (a West Indies blend of their own selection), only to then empty out the rum and fill the drained casks back up with the whisky for a brief aging interlude.  The ideal, and completely true, epilogue of the story:  The Balvenie then RE-SOLD the rum at a profit because now it too was extra-matured.

The resulting sort-of-rum-aged concoction is a rich amber colour that certainly suggests extended maturation, and a resplendently rummy nose that makes me feel bad I questioned its Caribbean bona fides above:  cinnamon buns, nutmeg, gingerbread, pumpkin and honey create a combination I could keep smelling for a long time.  Languid yet spicy on the tongue, it prickles the palate with a cedary tangy bite, all the while unfolding confectionary charms in a carefree, leisurely manner.  White chocolate, peach, mocha, treacle and hot sand aren’t quite as rum-influenced as the aromas, but they are no less delicious.  It’s basically impossible to drink this whisky and be unhappy.





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: 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.








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