Tuesday, August 2, 2011

20th and Final Tasting...

So I've been dreading making this post, as it represents the end of an era, the end of scotch club as we've known it. Number 20, the last with the current format. With many members that have moved on in their careers, and many more about to make serious changes (including me & Max), we decided to end our Scotch Club on high note.

It's been an excellent 2 years, at times a little frantic and draining but incredibly fun, educational, and drunken. 20 events and 58 different whiskies (kinda 20.5 and 60, but who's counting?), and a slew of really amazing people to share really amazing whisky with. One of the things that has impressed me the most is the calibre of person we get to enjoy our whisky with. Everyone we've been sharing drams with - even (perhaps especially) the 1-timers like Barry, Bill, Kieran, Mood, Murph and Peter - has been an excellent drinking and conversation companion, and it's been a pile of fun learning so much about whisky with all of you.

That said, Scotch Club will continue in some format, as it seems I will be in Montreal for a couple more months. Come September or October, we'll see a tasting in some form or another.

I'd like to thank Max for being my partner in crime over all 20 events, helping me to build the club and procuring so much fine whisky over the duration, not to mention hosting so many "meetings." The only positive thing I have to say about you having to leave is that maybe now I'll get to go to the SAQ like a crazy pimp and blow $300 more often. So fun.

Equally, the two of us want to thank everyone that's come over the years, and especially our most faithful regulars:
Derek (Founding Member, 16 clubs attended)
Mark (15, not a single half-share there)
Allard (15, nor here)
Dara (Founding Member, 15, Host of Honour beside Max & Pat)
Ian M (Loyalty Award - 13/15 clubs attended since his first invite)
Stevens (12, nice kilt at Christmas 2009 btw)
Kevin (11)
Joe (11)
Norm (Founding Member, 10)
Laurent (10)
Jesse (10)

Honourable Mentions to Pat (9, thanks for hosting!), Nick (8), Rich (5), Kamran (4, pimp venue man!), Mitch (4), Ardeshir (3), Dave C (3) and IanB (2; and he hosted one of those!).

* * *

So how was the whisky? Well, Max and I picked out 3 of our all-time favourites from the history of scotch club. Predictably, they were all Islays. Less predictably, not one was over 10 years old! Even more, they're all cask-strength whiskies that pack a serious punch. We hadn't even spent the whole budget yet, so we decided there was only one thing to do - add another 4 people and another bottle.

I can't repeat the notes, I think they got erased merely by being in the same room as 16 men drinking 4 bottles of whisky with an average alcohol content somewhere north of 55%. It was a seriously amazing lineup of whiskies and men drinking, and it was great to share that last event and those whiskies with so many quality fellers. A big cheers to Ian B for last-minute hosting detail; and a wee cheers to Jason for squeaking into his 5th club.

Attending: Me, Max, Derek, Mark, Allard, Dara, IanM, Stevens, Joe, Nick, Jason, Mitch, IanB, Kieran, Murph,

Ardbeg Corryvreckan - I've lost the notes for this whisky before. Co-incidence? It's a shame, because this tasting confirmed my memory of it being a 9.5+ on a 10-scale. Not terribly complex, but pleasingly so and extremely well-balanced between sweet malt, salt air, big phenol and maybe some citrus. Absolutely divine.

Port Charlotte 6 - Simply can't say enough great things about this whisky. Stunningly good - big and juicy like some of the better Speysides with the soaring peat smoke of a classic Islay. What a distillation that was, and I'm glad to have partaken in 5 bottles of it at various ages with the club.

Bowmore Tempest 2010 - As fantastic as remembered. Such an amazing arrival, big, thick and syrupy with that signature Bowmore aroma. Really quite spectacular and cemented its place among the best of the 58 different whiskies we did with the club.

Caol Ila 9 Burgundy finish - No notes to present on this. While not the magnificent specimen that the 14-year-old Cognac finish was, still a perfectably acceptable whisky and a new record for high-test alcohol somewhere around 68%. A little longer in the barrel would have let the angels have a greater share and made it a little better without the addition of water, which washed out some great flavours. Good but not great.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

June 2011 Tasting

Our nineteenth whisky club was held the 17th of June at Kamran's place (thanks, buddy!), we chilled in a great rooftop patio and remained pretty civil and restrained thanks to sharing the space with a number of strangers. They were a good influence on us, and the classy environment helped.

On offer were a couple Highlands playing at being Speysiders alongside a big, stonking Islay all well-procured by Max (who else?). Cheers to Norm on finally reaching #10, and to Derek who hit #15 and shockingly passed Mark for most clubs attended apart from myself and Max. There's some 1/2-shares in there, but we'll not judge you.

Attending: Me, Max, Derek, Allard, Dara, Norm, Stevens, Pat, Nick, Mitch, Rich, Kamran, Stevens.

Glendronach 15 Jiminez (Highland)
A huge part of the Teacher’s blend, Glendronach has a long history of making rich, sherry-finished malts. This was another exclusive to KWM, and Max said he absolutely HAD to grab a bottle after sampling this one. I had enjoyed their 12-year-old offering on a previous occasion, and was looking forward to something even a little more sherried.

Nose: Extremely rich, huge dried fruit aroma with hints of chocolate and toffee.
Palate: More dark fruit and wine; extremely well-balanced with perfect wood. What a cask that was.
Finish: Big chocolate and toffee notes surge before the wood takes over. Only place you even think about noticing the cask strength, and it's beautiful.
Overall: Smooth, sweet and sultry. The chocolate-coated candy of scotch whisky. This was a spectacular cask and really something quite special. A far better Speyside than most of Speyside can do.Slightly over the 9/10 mark.

Tullibardine 22 1987 Gold Medal Edition (Highland)
A relatively modern distillery new to us, transformed from a brewery in the 1940s by a well-known distillery architect. Mothballed through most of the 1990s, Tullibardine was brought back to life in 2003 and has been going steady ever since. This expression has spent a solid 22 years (!) in a sherry cask, and a huge cask strength at 58.4%.

Nose: Raisins, grapes over strong woody tones. Cask strength tingles pretty nicely (breathing helps).
Palate: A bit sharp up front, some air cures that. Huge sherry, a bit of toffee, sugary goodness all through it.
Finish: Woody, big sherry, but sharp. The water dulls it, but also the wonderful wood aroma.
Overall: A damn fine whisky and another example of an amazing barrel. Unfortunately overshadowed by the Glandronach; which did many of the same things, only better. Just under a 9/10.

Laphroiag 18 (Islay)
Laphroaig is known for their fiercely peated and smoked whisky, and is generally held up as a shining example of the Islay style. While there are Islay distilleries I prefer, this one does fine. The 18 recently hit the market to replace their 15-year-old, though Stevens will tell you this is an inadequate replacement. 48%.

Nose: Gristy malt, less smoke than phenol. Beauty.
Palate: Barley sweetness up front, really quite smooth for a Laphroiag. And then we get the big phenolic peat we expected.
Finish: Almost all phenolic peat and a little iodine. Smooth woody hints with a surprising juicy sweetness.
Overall: Great whisky, but not in any danger of cracking my top-10, or 25 for that matter. A decent expression but is it really that much better than the 1/4-cask? Solidly between 8.5 and 9/10.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

May 2011 Tasting

Again with the delayed postings; this time because the May notes were lost (again), I knew they were in my apartment somewhere but apparently had more important things to do than look under the bed and come up with them. A record two months late, but better than never I suppose.

Our May tasting took place chez Dara, on the 20th (I think), and he is thanked for hosting a great club. It was great to finally have Claude down for a tasting, and were pretty pleased to help him get a bottle of Springbank off his hands we'd enjoyed tremendously at one of his charity tastings a couple months before. Big cheers to Max for procuring the other 2 bottles; to Jesse and Stevens on tasting #10; and a wee one for Rich on #5.

Attending: Me, Max, Derek, Mark, Dara, Ian M, Kevin, Jesse, Stevens, Rich, Kamran, Ian B, Kamran, Nicolas.

Springbank 12 Claret Finish (Highland - Campbelltown)
Many of us had sampled this a couple months before, and found it to be a great offering from the last of the Campbelltown distillers. We'd done a 16-year-old Oloroso finish back in October and quite enjoyed it. This expression spends 7 years in refill bourbon, 3 years in fresh-fill Claret, and finally 2 years in re-charred casks. I was pretty happy to give the guys a taste of what was probably the best of Claude's 10-whisky charity extravaganza.

Nose: Serious wine & vanilla. Sure smells like a cask strength - lots of sweet alcohol notes.
Palate: Grapey and sweet up-front over big vanilla and malt. Sweet, beautiful, complex and balanced.
Finish: Very dry, with a touch of smoke. Incredible balance with the wood. Great whisky.
Overall: Some of the best wood I've encountered in whisky. A whole pile of exciting flavours having a bloody great party where everyone gets along and there's no belligerent drunk causing everyone else problems. A solid 9/10, maybe a bit better.

Arran Malt Machrie Moor (Highland - Island)
One of Scotland’s younger distilleries, Isle of Arran is recently established and prides itself on an uncompromising “no peat, no caramel, no chill-filtering” operation. This is their first bottling of a lightly (14 ppm) peated malt they’ve been producing since 2004, and is also limited to a 9000-bottle release.

Nose: Peaty with a touch of malt. Really smooth.
Palate: Smooth arrival but a little watery up front. Lacks body. Strange little ketone peak just before the finish.
Finish: Woody and a little sharp. Decent peat, but nothing too overwhelming.
Overall: A pretty underwhelming scotch, altogther. I've had their 10-year-old on a number of occasions, and quite enjoyed it. This is nothing like it; and Arran should probably leave the peat alone for now. Barely rates 8/10.

Caol Ila 25 (Islay)
One of the club's perennial favourites, we've done 3 expressions of this already: the 12-year-old,
the Distiller's Edition, and a 14-year-old cognac finish. All have been rated very highly by club members, and at least two of those are on my top-10 of all-time. Fair to say there was a good amount of anticipation for this bottle.

Nose: Rich, dark fruit, some peat and earth as well. Some sharp alcohol notes as well.
Palate: Heavy arrival is beautiful. Slick and oily, loads of big wood flavour, less of the signature oily, tarry peat flavours than I expected (and look forward to).
Finish: Very woody, a little bit of peat rising and trying to make itself heard. Cask strength alcohol content intrudes here, but water kills a lot of that beautiful oily arrival.
Overall: A good whisky, but a disappointment nonetheless. As so often happens with some of our older and more expensive whiskies, I feel the wood has overwhelmed the spirit a little and younger expressions deliver better balance of wood with the whisky itslef. Maybe I wanted too much... 8.5/10.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

April 2011 Tasting

Very late putting up this post; it's been a tough month but it looks as if the worst of it is probably behind me now. Fortunately, I am managing to put it up before the May tasting... considering I just finished talking to Max about our June purchasing I feel like summer is halfway gone already and we're not even really into May yet.

Our April scotch club broke tradition and took place on Saturday the 16th; many liked this better than Friday evening but we do imbibe on the grace of our hosts, and we thank Max and Pat once again for their generously taking up these duties. A hearty welcome to Bill, an old hand at scotch but new to the club (and apologies to Kim). Cheers out to Kevin on his 10th and possibly final tasting; Joe on his tenth and probably not final; and to me and Max for tasting our 50th whisky with the club.

Attending: Me, Max, Derek, Allard, IanM, Kevin, Joe, Jesse, Stevens, Pat, Nick, Bill

Ardmore Traditional Cask (Speyside, no age statement)
My first sampling from Ardmore, it is getting more and more difficult for us to find distilleries we haven't gone through yet. It claims itself to be a peated Speyside whisky, which are rare enough (even if we had one last month), and is aged in a smaller "traditional" cask like the Laphroiag 1/4-cask.

Nose: Balanced, with rich vanilla, some fruitiness and a hint of caramel.
Palate: A little grape, a little caramel, a little peat. Good balance and complexity, but not great.
Finish: Gets a little woody and bitter, but good overall.
Overall: Wasn't expecting much, and that's exactly what I got. Like dating a girl that you don't really see anything bad about, but you keep hoping you're going to dinner with her cuter and more interesting friends. 8/10.

Macallan 18 (Speyside)
Goodness, two Speysides in one tasting?! You'd think that Max and I fell asleep at the wheel while planning this one, but the price of MacAllan 18 in Illinois was too good to pass up. This is considered one of the classic - if not the archetypal - Speyside whiskies. For good reason, as we discovered.

Nose: Big grape notes, vanilla wood without the raw oak. Smooth, subtle and wondrous; possibly the best nose I've ever encountered.
Palate: Smooth as silk, maybe smoother. Full of subtle vanilla, cream, oak... wow. Wow.
Finish: Rich and fruity, rising wood flavour. Best oak I've ever encountered in whisky. Fantastic complexity and balance.
Overall: It's easy to see why this whisky is held in such high esteem. If I could have a gas mask pump this aroma at my nose 24/7, I'd die happy. Hell, I'd live happy, too. 9.5/10.

Kilchoman KWM Exclusive (Islay, no age statement)
Another offering from the farm distillery of Kilchoman, a little different from the one we had in January. This is a cask strength version, straight out of a single barrel bought by our friends at the Kensington Wine Market in Calgary and being sold in this exclusive offering. We knew this was going to be a little young and raw, but I don't think we quite realized how strong "cask strength" was going to be for a roughly 3-year-old whisky...

Nose: Peat smoke, pure and simple. Smouldering. Wow. Smooth for the age and alcohol content.
Palate: Very simple. Honey up front followed by HUGE peat. Not complex; decent balance and quite beautiful but completely uncompromising.
Finish: A little raw, but not so bad for a 3- or 4-year-old. Nice lingering sweetness and more big peat flavour.
Overall: Like a good-looking girl that benches 250: beautiful and strong, but not for the faint of heart. 9/10 if you LOVE peat; 8/10 if you don't.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 2011 Tasting

One of the dangers of not spitting out your 6 ounces of scotch after tasting it is that you tend to get a little drunk. You might get drunk enough to, for example, pass out or break a glass. Or even lose the tasting notes. Anything can happen. Frankly I'm surprised it hasn't happened before; and a damn shame it is because we tasted some real crackers in February: Ardbeg Supernova, Ardbeg Corryvreckan, and the Glenmorangie 18. The Corryvreckan was defintely the star of the evening, monstrous character and staggering complexity. Fantastic whisky, a 9.5 or 10 for sure.

The March 25th tasting finally knocked off a whisky that had again been haunting Max: the Glen Isla 29. Ably hosted by Dara, we ended up with a spectacular lineup and all the whiskies were hits. Cheers to Max and Mark for procurement, Dara for hosting, Stevens for pouring (haven't had a blind tasting for a while), and Ian M on Scotch Club #10 (of the last 11). Less so for Nick on #5 of 15.

Attending: Me, Max, Mark, Derek, Allard, Dara, IanM, Norm, Joe, Jesse, Stevens, Nick, Rich, Camran, Mitch

The Peat Monster (Compass Box, no age statement)
I tried this at the Black Watch tasting back in September and was pretty impressed. American John Glaser has some highly unorthodox ideas about whisky and it makes the Compass Box lines pretty unique. It's a real shame you can't get this in Quebec, because the $65 price tag at the LCBO makes this a pretty good deal. Definitely worth trying if you like the Islays.

Nose: Slightly herbal on the huge peat aroma, some gristy malt and vanilla.
Palate: A little young and sharp up front. A nice, subtle roasted sugar base under the big Laphroaig-type flavours - strongly herbal, medicinal and obviously enormous peaty goodness.
Finish: Bittersweet malt and big chewy phenol. Yum.
Overall: Not a complex whisky, but a damned fine one. I can't decide if it needs more time in the barrel or less, but it feels like it could develop further and lose a bit of the raw alcohol notes up front. 8.5/10

Caol Ila 14 Cognac Finish(Islay; Gordon & MacPhail)
I know - cognac finish?! Never heard of such a beast. That's why when Max saw it in Illinois, we agreed to put it first on the list. Caol Ila is probably my favourite distillery, and so getting hold of this bottle was, well, just magic. An absolute steal at US$80 and the clear favourite of the night.

Nose: Unique. Beautiful combination of smoke and a fruity, juicy malt sweetness.
Palate: Sweet, juicy malt, big fruity wine notes overtop of the expected Caol Ila tarry, earthy peat flavours. Great balance, fat and sweet and smoky all at once.
Finish: Still fat and juicy and magnificent. Smooth finish, with pleasant lingering peat and a rising oakiness. Beautiful.
Overall: We've gone wrong with private bottlings before (Old Malt Cask Highland Park 23, for example) and I figured this bottle would be either stunningly magnificent or completely horrific. Fortunately, it was the former. The most complex offering I've had from Caol Ila, and really a unique and fantastic whisky. 9.5/10.

Glen Isla 29 (Speyside; Signatory)
Another private bottling, this whisky is a peated number from Speysiders Glen Keith distilled back in the 1970s. Apparently a number of Speyside distilleries experimented with "the dark side," making some peated whiskies for a time. Apparently they didn't get what they wanted out of these experiments, as the practice didn't continue long. A little piece of whisky history bought at an amazing discount price because it lacked the box (US$220; would have been $600 in the sleeve). Both the oldest and most expensive whisky we've sampled to date.

Nose: Soft caramel and pear. Some ketone notes that fortunately evaporate quickly. Roasted malt and just a mere trace of phenol.
Palate: Smooth as silk. Sweet and a bit woody over subtle malt and hints of smoke. Deep and complex, with new stuff in every sip.
Finish: Pleasant oakiness with lasting phenol. A little ester or ketone present, but doesn't ruin it.
Overall: As with some other whiskies we've had, the price is more for the unique and novel nature of the whisky and the age statement. Although a good whisky, and fun to think we've had some of the last of this whisky on the planet, not worth $220 (let alone $600!). 9/10

Saturday, January 15, 2011

January 2011 Tasting: Islay Night

Now, regular attendees might argue that we've had Islay nights before, and even that Max and I heavily bias our procurement that way. They wouldn't be entirely wrong, but I will point out that our last tasting didn't have any Islay at all. Perhaps our January 14th effort was partly to catch up on that, and we tackled 3 whiskies from different Islay distilleries. It proved very popular, and we had a solid 14 people out. Stevens distinguished himself by doing his second round of 3 in about 3 minutes; and the Bakish boys for doing their last two in just over twice that. Max distinguished himself by having one of the fastest checkouts from Trudeau Airport ever, and arriving to scotch club within about 20 minutes of his flight from Pearson touching down.

Big cheers to Max & Pat for hosting, and again to Max for procurement. I remembered to congratulate Allard on Scotch Club #10, but didn't realize until I did the tally for this post that it was also #10 for Derek as well, sorry buddy! Also thanks to Erin for the great baking once again.

Attending: Me, Max, Mark, Allard, Derek, Dara, Kevin, Norm, IanM, Joe, Jesse, Pat, Stevens, Nick

Kilchoman Summer 2010
Islay's newest distillery, or at least the first new distillery opened in some 124 years. They are a farm-based operation that grows their own barley and does their own floor maltings, and seem to really pride themselves on their traditional techniques. Only the fourth release from the distillery, we weren't really sure what to expect from such a young and untested whisky. It turned out to be the second-favourite of the night, more or less square in the middle between the others.

Nose: Good phenol over fruit, solid smoke, and maybe a little bourbon.
Palate: Smooth arrival. Fruity up front and prominent cereal notes and then some big phenol comes to the fore.
Finish: A little raw and young, but great phenol and lingering wood are quite pleasant.
Overall: Good whisky, but not great. Still a little raw and not very high on the complexity charts. Then again, this whisky is only 3 years old and I'm more than a little intrigued to see what will be coming out of those casks over the coming years. 8.5/10

Bunnahabhain 18
Known as Islay's mildest distillery, they use lightly peated fires to roast their barley and very pure spring water for a spirit with far less smoky, phenolic character than the rest of the island's distillery. We thought it would be a good idea to use this to break up what might be overwhelming levels of peat for some, and I was eager to sample one of those rare Islay distilleries I haven't tried yet!

Nose: Sherried fruit, creamy notes. Tiny hint of smoke under all that.
Palate: Smooth, almost watery arrival. Sweet and juicy, with fruit and spice before rising oakiness and a hint of peat smoke.
Finish: Several cord of wood seem to packed into that wee dram, with a hint of smoke underneath all that lumber. A little raw for its age, to be sure...
Overall: Far from a fantastic dram, and certainly no bargain. Very Speyside-like in character, but a rather mediocre one. 8/10 at best.

Port Charlotte 8
Having done the 6-year old, and the 7-year old twice, everyone in the room apart from Nick was really looking forward to this one, and it was narrowly the favourite of the night. A perennial scotch club favourite, we've been lucky enough to chart the development of the original 2001 distillation through 3 years of aging. Have to say I'm really looking forward to whenever the next distillation hits the market and to watching this spirit over the coming years and even decades...

Nose: Sharp, the bourbon really jumps out. Big peat and some unexpected (but not unwelcome) vanilla.
Palate: Arrival is a little sharp like the nose. The roasted malt sugar background soothes it just as the peat and phenol go for a romp. Great balance.
Finish: A lot more oak than previous editions. Great juicy sweetness giving way to lingering phenolic smoke. Long as all hell, complex, and extremely satisfying.
Overall: Most of us found that the 6 was better than the 7, and those better than the 8. Not that this isn't a great whisky, but they've set some rather unreasonable expectations for me with previous bottlings. 9/10.

Friday, December 10, 2010

2010 in review

I set out this year with the goal of holding a dozen tastings, and managed to come very close - merely one short, including the co-ed tasting I ran in August. Big thanks to all the guys who helped out (especially Max) and everyone that participated - 22 different scotch club attendees, and another 15 or so from the co-ed tasting! It couldn't be done without you.

With well-over 60 whiskies tasted this year between scotch club and "private research," I've learned a lot. I research notes pretty seriously before our tastings, and give the guys a write-up on each distillery. It's been a pleasure, and a whole lot of fun, and has given me a pretty good working knowledge of a number of whiskies. I'm going to share the most important things I've learned from the whiskies I've tasted in the past 12 months.

Best whisky: Port Charlotte 6. This is best thing I've drank this year and possibly my favourite of all-time. The only thing that might beat it is the Caol Ila 18 I had with my brother about 5 years ago. Do not pass up a chance at that bottling, because it's hard to say what the next will taste like as it will be done at a different distillery (see below).
Honourable mention: Ardbeg Uigeadail. If I hadn't tried the PC6, this would be the top for sure.

Best Distillery: Bruichladdich. I am amazed to be saying this, as my brother and I tried the 10-year-old about 3 years ago and we hated that bottle. I never hated a bottle of scotch before, or since. However, Max brought back some strange bottling unique to Alberta, which was fantastic. They distilled the Port Charlotte 6 and 7 that are both amazing. And we hit the Octomore, which was absolutely brilliant as well. I figure Jim McEwan must be doing something right!
Honourable mention: Bowmore. Such consistency, and the Tempest this year was brilliant.

Best Value: The Black Grouse. Unavailable here in Quebec, this beautiful bottle runs a mere $33 in Ontario (and less for a litre if you're passing through duty-free). Without knowing, many people would probably think this was quite an expensive single malt, from the Highlands or possibly Islay. It's complex, sweet, slightly smoky and smooth; a complete package.
Honourable mention: Redbreast 12. Damned fine whiskey at $43 for the bottle.

For The Ladies: Cragganmore Distiller's Edition. This was a huge hit at the co-ed tasting I ran, especially among the novice scotch drinkers. If they don't have a taste for the wonders distilled on Islay, then you won't go wrong with this one.
Honourable mention: Ardbeg Uigeadail. For the ladies that have acquired the taste.

Most Disappointing: Alberta Premium 5. With the rave reviews from Jim Murray, maybe I let my expectations run too high. Not a good whisky unless you're planning to mix it with some ginger ale.
Not-so-honourable mention: Old Malt Cask Highland Park 23. Again, maybe I let my expectations run a little too wild...

Worst Value: Glenlivet 21. An expensive bottle with elaborate packaging hiding a mediocre whisky.
Not-so-honourable mention: That Highland Park 23... it wasn't cheap!

Most anticipated for 2011: Well, given the list that Max and I compiled on his trip to Calgary over the holidays, there's a lot of great things to look forward to! Two things that top my list of whiskies that have just recently become available have to be the Port Charlotte 8, which should be just fabulous given the showings of of the 6- and 7-year olds; and the first bottling of Kilchoman, a brand-new Islay distillery established in only 2005. Both will feature in tastings either this month or possibly February.

Slainte and best wishes for 2011!