KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 25

25 12 2017

Merry Christmas!  I am NOT blogging tomorrow.

49 different reviews, covering two totally different types of drinks and written by 4 different people, have now been posted on this site in the month of December.  It has been the most Herculean effort in the history of Pop & Pour and I’m unabashedly thrilled to be at the other end of it, but as these things always are, it has also been rewarding without measure.  It’s been a new experience to blog with others and share this space with alternate viewpoints and different frames of tasting reference, but to also be able to share what goes into getting something down on paper and then up on the site has felt like a weight off my shoulders, and when those other authors contribute as consistently and impressively as Tyler Derksen has, the burden lifts even further.  Massive thanks to Tyler for a killer blogging debut.

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Our Christmas reward.

I usually round off the KWM Whisky Advent experience with two things:  a heartfelt kudos to Andrew Ferguson and the Kensington Wine Market team for somehow making this remain fresh and interesting year after year, and the list of my top whiskies of the calendar.  I emphasize the first even more than usual this year, because the breadth and diversity of whiskies in 2017 surpassed any previous year I’ve tasted through, lacking only (IMO) something from Japan to round out the lineup – maybe next year?  I may de-emphasize the second this time around, because my whisky podium for this calendar ended up decidedly weird.  But I’m sticking with it, because that’s what you do with traditions.  Here goes.

  • Best Value Dram:  Glengoyne 15 Year (Day 21) — An utterly delicious 15 Year Single Malt Scotch, from a distillery that once invaded Islay as a marketing ploy, for $77?  In.
  • Honourable Mention:  Gordon & MacPhail Connoisseurs Choice 2004 Caol Ila (Day 5) — Tyler gave the most props to this out of his lineup of whiskies, and Caol Ila is one of both of our favourite distilleries, somehow managing to balance Islay peat and surrounding flavour just right time and again.
  • Honourable Mention 2:  Ardbeg Corryvreckan (Day 18) — Look.  I may have been in an apocalyptic mood while drinking this whisky; it may also be that this whisky inevitably puts anyone drinking it in an apocalyptic mood.  Ardbeg is decidedly not my thing, but a week later I can objectively recognize that this was the most layered, Ardbeg-est Ardbeg I have come across.  I will never buy it.
  • 3rd Place:  Cadenhead’s Dailuaine-Glenlivet 12 Year (Day 1) — This was as rugged and rustic as a lumberjack living on the beach, but there was something gripping and honest about it that I still remember 24 days later.
  • 2nd Place:  Hyde 1938 No. 6 Black Label Special Reserve (Day 6) — The best Irish whiskey I’ve ever had?  Almost assuredly.  Hyde keeps impressing calendar after calendar, and this was the most complex and noteworthy thing I’ve had from them.
  • 1st Place:  Shelter Point Artisanal Single Malt Whisky (Day 11) — OK, I’m seriously not trying to make this a Whisky Bible/Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye thing, and I’m not sure I would say that, if I blind-tasted all 24 calendar whiskies side-by-side, I would rate this as objectively the best one.  BUT:  without a shadow of a doubt, it incinerated my expectations far more than anything else I tasted in December, possibly in all of 2017.  Since Day 11 ended, I have gone back to KWM to buy more Shelter Point because it opened my eyes to the promise of Canadian whisky to such a degree.  And that is why it is my winner for 2017.

If you vehemently disagree with the above, just remember that I have no real qualification or standing to be evaluating whiskies.  Let me know what your top 3 was for #KWMWhiskyAdvent 2017! Read the rest of this entry »

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KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 23

23 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

As all good things must end, so too does my tenure as guest blogger for Pop & Pour and this year’s KWM Whisky Advent Calendar.  It has been an absolute pleasure and I hope you’ve enjoyed exploring these eight (as of today) whiskies with me.  My final whisky of this calendar, the Gordon & MacPhail’s Collection Highland Park 8 Years Old, ties back to a number of the previous seven I have written up in a number of ways.  First, as with my first write up on Day 5 (the Caol Ila) and Day 13 (the Balblair), this whisky comes to us from independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail (the Balblair was also part of the MacPhail’s Collection).  Second, including today, exactly half of the whisky that I pulled from the Whisky Advent Calendar come from a Scottish island.

Highland Park Distillery is located on one of the Orkney Islands, a collection of over seventy islands north of mainland Scotland (only twenty of which are inhabited).  The Orkneys were conquered by Vikings from Norway in the late 800s and were a staging ground for their raiding efforts in Britain, and they did not become part of Scotland officially again until 1472.  Located where the North Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, the islands are exposed to such severe weather that no trees grow there.

The main island of the archipelago is fittingly called The Mainland and it is in the burgh of Kirkwall on The Mainland that Highland Park is located.  The distillery smokes its barley over 9000 year-old peat cut from Hobbister Moor (and has done so for over 220 years).   Their newest kiln is over 100 years old!  Highland Park embraces the islands’ Viking heritage and its founder, Magnus Eunson, was a direct Viking descendant and sounds like he could have a show on the History Network as well.  By day, Magnus was a mild-mannered butcher and church officer, but by night he was a smuggler who set up an illicit still at High Park.  The Highland Park distillery claims 1798 as its official date of foundation, but that was merely the year that Magnus was finally caught – whisky was being distilled at High Park before that.  Highland Park’s Viking heritage can also be seen in many of its bottlings, including Valkyrie, Voyage of the Raven, Thor, Freya and Loki – the latter three being part of the Valhalla Collection with phenomenal wood packaging.

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The Highland Park 8 Years Old is a pale straw in the glass and is bottled at a restrained 43%.  The nose smells of malt, apple, vanilla, as well as peat and brine which call back to the whisky’s island birthplace.  The palate is a wonderful combination of leather, wood, smoke, sea salt, pepper and a bit of honey.  For only 8 years of age, this whisky has a remarkable depth and I could definitely see myself drinking it on a longship on the way to sack a coastal English monastery.  Skol!

Merry Christmas everyone!





KWM Whisky Advent Calendar 2017: Day 22

22 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

For those of you that have been following along at home as Peter and I have explored each of the whiskies thus far in the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar, you will note that there has been a wide variety of offerings from a number of different countries.  It is a testament to the hard work of Andrew Ferguson and Kensington Wine Market that there have been no duplicate producers…that is, until tonight.  It was with a sense of excitement and trepidation that I reached through the little cardboard door and found a familiar cylindrical container.  Glenfiddich.  Again.  Of all of the whisky that I have tried this Advent season, it was the Glenfiddich 15 that has most disappointed.  As I said back on Day 10, that is not to say that it is a bad whisky, I just think it tries too hard to appeal to too many people and sacrifices character for such mass appeal.

Just as one must seek out the opinions or views of those with whom they disagree in order to grow intellectually, so too must one be willing to try all kinds of whisky in order to grow as an uisgeophile.  I wouldn’t normally go out of my way to purchase a bottle of Glenfiddich, so I looked forward to sampling a new offering.  Today’s whisky is the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old Small Batch Reserve, which is the most aged whisky I’ve tried from the distillery.

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This Glenfiddich 18 was aged in Spanish Oloroso sherry casks and American oak and each batch is individually numbered (apparently only on full-sized bottles, as the 40 ml sampler doesn’t have a number).  In doing some research on how this whisky was made, Glenfiddich once again uses the word “consistency” in its marketing.  Sigh.

The colour was a golden colour in the glass with a fascinating ring around the outside that looked almost clear.  The nose was much more pronounced than the 15 Year I tried a couple of weeks ago.  The sherry cask influence comes through clearly on the nose, with dried fruit taking centre stage along with oatmeal raisin cookie, cinnamon, vanilla, sawdust and a spritz of citrus.  I needn’t have been so concerned about the looming spectre of “consistency”, as the flavour was actually quite enjoyable.  The palate was brighter than expected, with flavours of vanilla, orange, pear and baking spices.  Despite being bottled at the same 40% as the 15 Year Old Solera, this whisky has a nice slow burn to follow the bright palate, which was unexpected but appreciated.  Overall, this whisky certainly exceeded my (admittedly tempered) expectations and I’m glad of the opportunity to try it.

 





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 17

17 12 2017

By Tyler Derksen

I smile every time I pull a whisky from the KWM Whisky Advent Calendar because, well, whisky.  That said, I must say that my smile was a bit bigger today, as after trying some new whiskys over the last few posts, I am returning somewhere familiar – Islay.  Today’s scotch is the 12 Years Old from Bunnahabhain (pronounced boo-na-hah-venn).  The distillery dates back to 1881 and its name is Gaelic meaning “mouth of the river”.  The river in question is the Margadale and it will make a reappearance below.  Bunnahabhain is the northernmost of Islay’s distilleries and is located a few minutes north of Caol Ila, which made an appearance on Day 5.

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Bunnahabhain’s website takes a remarkably honest approach.  Rather than suggesting that its whisky is better because of the use of superior ingredients, it acknowledges that all whisky production begins essentially the same way.  In the case of Bunnahabhain, especially as it compares to other Islay distilleries, it is all about location, location, location.  Many of the other distilleries on Islay create their spirit using spring water that has wound its way through the island’s signature peat bogs.  Bunnahabhain, on the other hand, sources water from the Margadale, which flows through sandstone rocks and results in a spirit that is cleaner in its characteristics.  Also, unlike its Islay brethren, Bunnahabhain does not heavily peat its malt, creating a scotch that does not have the mossy, smoky characteristics for which the island is known.

At this time, I’d like to take a moment to give a shout out to my Dad.  My parents and I went to Scotland in 2008 and spent five glorious days on Islay, during which time I took advantage of the opportunity to taste many of the peaty scotches that I love. It seems that an affinity for peat is not genetic as my Dad does not enjoy peaty scotch in the slightest, and so while he was able to enjoy Islay’s incredible beauty, he only took an academic interest in the distilleries we visited.  That all changed after we left our Caol Ila tour.  We were exploring the coast with no particular destination in mind and came upon Bunnahabhain, which neither of us had heard of.  Not ones to turn down the potential to try some free scotch, we went in.  It was a revelation for my Dad (and for me too) as we discovered a phenomenal Islay scotch that didn’t have the distinctive Islay peat flavour.  From that day forward Bunnahabhain has been one of my Dad’s favourite whiskies and we have enjoyed many a dram together.

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They say that it’s the journey and not the destination that’s important.  I don’t know who “they” are, but they are very wise.

The Bunnahabhain 12 Years Old was launched in 2010, is bottled at a comfortable 46.3% and is a deep golden colour in the glass.  The nose has a wonderful maltiness along with readily apparent sherried notes.  As if being unable to completely hide its Islay heritage, there is a slight note of smoke meandering through the nose, but it comes across more like wood smoke rather than the earthy peat smoke of other Islay scotch.  On the palate, the scotch is sweet with vanilla and further sherry notes.  There is also a wood flavour of some kind (I’m a lawyer, not an arborist) along with a hint of smoke to round things out and add further depth.  Again, the smoke is more like campfire/wood smoke and far less pronounced than one would expect from an Islay scotch.  If you’re not familiar with Bunnahabhain, I recommend rectifying that.  It appeals to those peat-averse like my Dad, but there is also something familiar for Islay aficionados and certainly justifies its price-point ($75 at KWM).  Trying something new is always fun, but sometimes its great to curl up with a glass that is familiar and comforting, which is what I got to do tonight.








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