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.

KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2016: Day 1

1 12 2016

All right, team:  let’s do this.  Another blogging year has come and gone, another December has arrived, and another 25 straight days of whisky blogging madness stands before me.  I will not break, although I will occasionally wonder what the hell I’m doing.  To set the stage, for those of you new to this year-end PnP tradition:  every year the indomitable Andrew Ferguson, the owner of Kensington Wine Market and (for my money) Calgary’s primary whisky authority, meticulously sources and compiles 25 mini-bottles of premium whisky that go into the shop’s annual Whisky Advent Calendar.  Two years ago I got such a Calendar as a present and decided to write up each whisky inside on a daily basis.  Last year I decided I probably couldn’t leave well enough alone and did it again.  This year I resigned myself to the fact that I’m a slave to precedent, and here we are.  Note that these mini-whisky bottles were NOT provided as samples for review purposes; I bought the calendar to support Andrew’s great work and am doing these reviews because I am clearly slightly deranged.


Bring it, 2016.

Day 1 of 2016 Whisky Advent was an instant flashback to many different days of 2015 Whisky Advent; the all-too-familiar beige and brown labelling of Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice series haunted my dreams on many a December night last year.  Day 4, Day 10, Day 18 and Day 20 of the 2015 calendar were dedicated to Connoisseurs Choice whiskies (and yes, I know there’s an apostrophe missing in that possessive, and yes, it bothers me, but I didn’t name the whisky line, so blame Scotland).  That may sound repetitive, until you find out that there are ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY-FOUR DIFFERENT WHISKIES in the Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice line.  174!!  And that’s only one of G&M’s many, many ranges!  They are (obviously) one of Scotland’s largest independent whisky bottlers, purchasing barrels of whisky from a plethora of distilleries and bottling them itself.  The Connoisseurs Choice sub-label is largely intended to showcase distilleries that would not otherwise ever see the light of day as a single malt and would instead be stuffed into anonymous blends…but this one might be the exception to that rule.


This particular bottling is a 17 year-old expression from the Tomatin Distillery, which most certainly sees the light of day under its own name as one of the largest and best-known distilleries in all of Scotland.  (It’s also the first distillery in Scotland to be wholly owned by a Japanese company, which is not as surprising as it might seem given the latter country’s massive jump into premium whisky.)  Distilled in 1997 and bottled in 2014, this G&M expression starts off Advent with a bang thanks to a set of aromas as exuberant as a pent-up Golden Retriever:  sassafras, honey, cream soda, banana Runts, cinnamon sticks.  Smooth, lush and nutty, it unfolds repeatedly on the tongue, continuing to expand and unfurl every time you think it’s done, exploding with gobs of marzipan and almond rocca, maple syrup, pina colada, marshmallow, reams of spice and toasty wood.  As you might expect after the above slew of candied notes, this is absolutely delicious, thrilling and hedonistic if not overly intellectual.  It is also not fooling around with its $180 full-bottle retail price tag, the first time I can remember that KWM Whisky Advent has gone posh to start off Day 1.  I like the approach.  24 days to go!

Whisky Advent Calendar 2015: Day 17

17 12 2015

Two value hits in a row!  With the last week of whisky on the horizon, the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar is heating up.  Tonight’s bottle is a bit of an oddity, as you don’t see a whole lot of 14 Year Single Malts on the market:  if it doesn’t end in 5 or 10 and isn’t divisible by 3, it isn’t usually a whisky age designation.  This is particularly intriguing because the distillery, Tomatin, also has 12 year AND 15 Year malts on the market.  But 14 it is, and it also has another characteristic that doesn’t show up a ton:  Port cask aging.  More of this please, whisky.  Technically speaking, the Tomatin was only finished in Port casks, spending the last 18 months of its maturation in Port pipes after a lengthy initial aging period in bourbon casks, but I am on board regardless.  Three excellent bits of trivia about Tomatin:  1.  It has the best website cover picture of any distillery in Scotland.  Just go to and see.  I’ll wait.  See?  Worth it, right?  2.  Its name means “Hill of the Juniper Bush”, because juniper is one wood that gives off no smoke while burning, making it a top choice for secret distillers back in the 15th century, when whisky production was illegal but Tomatin’s spiritual predecessors in the area did it anyway.  3.  Due to its relatively isolated location in the Highland mountains, 80% of Tomatin’s employees live at houses built at the distillery!  That’s a new one.


Other than riveting trivia, the thing that caught my attention the most about this Tomatin was its incredible dark bronze colour, very clearly influenced by its year and a half braise in Port barrels.  There was instant orange zest, peach iced tea and nectarine on the nose, filled in with sunbaked earth, hot grill and coconut, like an aromatic summer vacation.  However, the texture on this 14 Year was the true story, rich and round and smooth and mouth-filling, like melted caramel.  As soon as you swallow you just want to hold it in your mouth again (an excellent recipe for drinking a lot of scotch too quickly, by the way).  The orange-y citrus notes persist on the palate, along with an interesting rootiness (like burdock, if you’ve had it, or fresh carrots), nutmeg and cinnamon spice, butter tart, chocolate almonds and a twinge of herbaceousness on the finish.  I would be very happy with this for $87, its KWM sticker price.  Considering I wasn’t a massive fan of last calendar’s Tomatin, this is a highly impressive comeback.

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 19

19 12 2014

With a scant five days left until the last calendar door swings open, we’re setting a new age record today with a whisky whose name is about as hilariously British as they come:  The Antiquary 21 Year Rare Old Blend.  (And Scotland:  you voted to stay in the UK, so you can’t get mad at me when I say “British”.)  The Antiquary is a sub-label of the Tomatin distillery which was featured here back on Day 12 — if you start researching scotch you’ll realize just how much a seeming multiplicity of brands and labels are consolidated under a very limited number of owners.

Did Jane Austen come up with this name?

Did Jane Austen come up with this name?

“Rare Old Blend” is an accurate description for this calendar, as I believe this is is just the 4th blend out of 18 scotch whiskies so far; it’s a single malt world out there in terms of consumer demand, although high-quality blends are probably the place to look for near-equal character and complexity at a way better price.  This 21 year old blend comes in at $115, extremely reasonable for a whisky of that age.  It’s a mixture of whiskies from all over Scotland, primarily Speyside and Highland but with a “splash” of Islay and Lowland scotch thrown in.  Campbeltown apparently failed to make the cut. 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!

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