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.

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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.

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Photo credit:  http://hydewhiskey.ie/the-wood/.  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!!

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KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 3

3 12 2017

English whisky!!!  One of the very few improvement suggestions that I’ve had for Whisky Advent Calendars of years past was a slightly heavier global focus, now that world powers like Japan and Taiwan and India are starting to flex their muscles in the whisky arena with impressive results.  I did not previously include England in this category of nations knocking on Scotland’s door, nor did I even know that English whisky was a thing, but The English Whisky Company is here to make it one.  Just established in the latter part of 2006, featuring the new and sparkly St. George’s Distillery in Norfolk, England (which has as many bells and whistles and bistros and gift shops as any Napa winery), the English Whisky Co. produced England’s first single malt whisky in over a century a few years later and remains one of only a handful of active distilleries in the whole country.  Part of the impetus behind the founding of the venture was that Norfolk is a world premier region for barley (who knew those existed) whose crops were often shipped over to Scotland for use in scotch production; since whisky is basically malted barley, yeast and water and Norfolk had all of these things, they ultimately just decided to keep their barley and distill it at home.

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The most troublesome part of English whisky’s entry onto the global scene is that it wrecks the heretofore super-handy how-to-spell-“whisk(e)y” heuristic that I’ve repeated many times on this site:  if the country making the spirit has an E in it (e.g. Ireland), spell its product “whiskey” with an E, but if it doesn’t have an E in it (e.g. Scotland, Japan), spell it “whisky” without the E.  Well, thanks England:  this English Single Malt Whisky puts a big kibosh on that mnemonic.  The funniest thing about this is that they spell the name of this particular peated bottling “Smokey”, with an E, likely just to rub it in.

The Smokey is infiltrated with 45 ppm of peat phenols, which is tangible but not insane on the scale of peated whiskies.  It is pale and watery-looking and has all of the grimy industrial aromas that often attend when burned peat moss embeds itself into liquid:  old rags, mechanic’s shop, turpentine, baseball gloves, floating over wild grasses and canned pear.  The surprisingly viscous texture, round and warm, envelops you in smoothness, making the whisky come across much larger than its 43% abv.  It tastes sweet, to the point where I’m seriously mulling over the use of Splenda as a tasting note, attacking in confection with vanilla bean and icing sugar and cinnamon before the billows of smoke and diesel and moss roll in.  Welcome (back) to the single malt whiskey world, England — it’s good to have you.





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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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!!





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.

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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!








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