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!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December 2010 Tasting

Once again, there was tremendous interest in our December 3rd tasting. Due to a little bit of burnout and scheduling conflicts, we missed a tasting in November. In the new year, I think I will keep the tastings to once every 2 months, I think we'll have more consistent interest and is will be a little less work for me over what will be a busy time. If we somehow end up with an accumulation of bottles, well, maybe we'll organize a little something to take care of the "problem."

Big cheers to Dara for hosting, Max for procurement (again, this time at the LCBO), and to Laurent for his tenth and final scotch club. One of our founding members will be taking a position in Paris (congrats!) and will be sorely missed; we sent him away with a taste of the only Canadian single malt and a couple of Speysides (his favourite region).

Attending: Me, Max, Laurent, Derek, Allard, Dara, Kevin, Norm, Ian M, Joe, Jesse, Stevens, Dave C

Glen Breton Rare 10 (Nova Scotia, Canada)
It was only a matter of time before we got around to tasting Canada's only single malt whisky; the fact that Dave C had a bottle laying around and it was appropriate to send someone out of the country with it convinced us that it was time.

Nose: Strong bite, but complex - herbal, floral and almost perfume-like aromas over honey.
Palate: Smooth and a touch sweet, maybe a little ginger. A bit lacking, but completely unique as far as anything I've ever tasted.
Finish: Woody, but not unpleasantly so. Herbal/floral character returns.
Overall: A unique whisky with interesting character; if it reminds me of anything, it would be the P&M from Corsica. Worth trying, but more on a novelty basis. 8/10.

Mortlach 13 (Speyside)
An old friend of mine (and Max & Norm) brought a bottle of the 16 over a couple years ago, and we found it to be fantastic. Max was all over this when I gave him the shortlist of whiskies for this month. This one was bottled exlcusively for the LCBO, so it was nice to have a taste of this rare whisky.

Nose: Some heavy alcohol and esters over a nice grain background, hints of vanilla.
Palate: Smooth arrival and soft mouthfeel. Sweet with malts and a touch herbal.
Finish: A little wood coming through before some serious alcohol takes over. Lacks subtlety.
Overall: A little water did wonders to this in my opinion (though not Laurent's). Once it clouded up a little, the malts got bigger and sweeter, the wood was longer and richer. Went from a solid 8 to an 8.5-9/10.

Glenrothes 1985 (Speyside; 2005 bottling)
The Glenrothes is coveted by blenders and single malt lovers alike, it has a smooth character and is aged mostly in sherry casks. I was pretty excited for this bottle, the taste of the Select Reserve I had at the Black Watch tasting had whet my appetite for their single malt.

Nose: Smooth and rich. Big sherry notes, a bit nutty.
Palate: Fantastic arrival. Berries and grapes over a nutty background. Sweet, smooth and wonderful.
Finish: Beautiful. Archetypal Speyside. Nothing dry, smooth to the point of almost lacking character.
Overall: Maybe not as fat and juicy as the Glenfarclas 25, but a fantastic showing. Classic Speyside quality. 9-9.5/10

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

October 2010 Tasting

Our October meeting was held on the 22nd, once again hosted by stalwarts Max and Pat, whose apartment is rapidly becoming more or less our home. Thanks so much for the hospitality, guys. A big cheers to Mark, who enjoyed his tenth tasting tonight and his 32nd whisky with the club.

Max also distinguished himself once again in procurement, picking up three whiskies in Calgary that all looked pretty fantastic. Some big Highlands and Islays, all bottled at cask strength around 55%. Without a full roster of guys, some ended the evening somewhat worse for the wear. Bad enough that the tasting notes got a bit lost for about a month... Still, a great tasting overall with big, ballsy whiskies. And some experimental habanero cheese that burned the crap out of all of our tongues as well...

Attending: Me, Max, Mark, Laurent, Derek, Allard, Norm, IanM, Pat, Dave C

Edradour 16 (Highland)
Probably Scotland's smallest distillery, Edradour has only 2 employees and distills about 90 000 litres per year. I'd never tried anything from this distillery before, something that happens to me less and less these days. I wasn't sure what to expect, but had been recommended this distillery by a cute waitress once, and so had high hopes.

Nose: A bit spicy. Some wood, great berry and cherry-type flavours.
Palate: First sip is lovely, but it starts to get rough - some good toffee and subtle wine notes are washed out by a big mess of alcohol, ester, and ketone.
Finish: Woody, a bit of acetone. Some nice flavours, but big alcohol feel doesn't make it flow too smoothly.
Overall: Mediocre at best. The worst part is that the first sip or two actually taste fantastic, and things quickly go awry. Probably would have been a similar story with the waitress. 8/10

Springbank 16 Oloroso Finish (Highland)
Another distillery I hadn't encountered, Springbank is a family-run establishment and the last surviving still of Campbeltown. This bottling was exclusive to Kensington Wine Market, they bought the contents of an Oloroso cask and had it bottled and shipped over. Another cask strength with no chill filtering.

Nose: A little Bowmore character over some big wine notes. Huge sherry, maybe some spice in the back?
Palate: Great wine and and malt flavours: fat and rich. Touch of smoke and phenol towards end. Just fantastic.
Finish: Some Bowmore phenol here, too. Big and juicy.
Overall: What a great sherry-finished whisky should be - almost succulent. Great complexity and balance with some peat bubbling through all those great sherry flavours. 9/10

Bowmore Tempest (10-year-old, Islay)
An Islay that has escaped the tastings so far, Max and I were looking forward to this as we're big fans of the 12-year-old. This is also a rare bottle, with only one shop in Canada selling it. We're not likely to tire very soon of Max's Calgary visits.

Nose: Big toffee and a little citrus over Bowmore's signature (Murray calls it "Fisherman's Friend") aroma.
Palate: Amazing mouthfeel. Thick, rich and oily. Big toffee before the signature distillery flavours take over. Near-perfection marred by a touch of acetone towards the end.
Finish: A little raw, but complex and satisfying. Lingering toffee, iodine and phenol laid over subtle oakiness.
Overall: A great expression from one of my favourite distilleries. Huge character, incredible arrival, really just a fantastic whisky altogether. Between 9 and 9.5/10