Saturday, 21 November 2020

Cult Classics: heavy hitters from Glendronach

He made more money as a leader, but had more
fun as a follower

Glendronach has inspired a cult following in the last ten years or so. I've known about it for at least twenty years, but not because I'm some hipster who's "ahead of the curve" or who "knew it before it was cool". No, my Glendronach story is much simpler. My wife's grandfather always has a bottle of Glendronach 12 Year Old at his place and I'm one of the few people who drinks scotch with him. The first time I drank scotch with him, I had never heard of Glendronach, nor had anyone else I knew. Now I'm not much for cults, neither as a leader nor as a follower, but log on to any Facebook whisky group and you're sure to come across Glendronach acolytes. But fear not, they're generally pretty cool people.


Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 7 (57.9% abv)


Neat from a Glencairn Glass


  • Nose: dates, plums, dark chocolate at first, then a floral note that I don't normally associate with Glendronach, violets maybe. A longer rest reveals a bit of tobacco, caramel, and some dried cranberries. An even longer rest in the glass brings forward a bit of vanilla. Nobody tell Serge Valentin.
  • Palate: rich arrival, warming with tons of caramel, cloves, a bit of nuttiness (walnuts?), dark cherries.
  • Finish: long and lingering, plenty of spice (cloves, black pepper and nutmeg), tobacco returning, caramel, some dark cherries, with oak lingering.
  • With water: I went against my instinct and added just a few drops of water. The floral aroma all but disappeared as dates, figs, and brown sugar rushed to the fore. I didn't find it hot or sharp at bottling strength yet it doesn't feel washed out by the addition of water either. If I had a full bottle, I might even try it with a big ice sphere. I think it could handle it.
  • Score: 8/10 This is fantastic whisky. I always expect to enjoy Glendronach, and they haven't let me down yet. You'd think that with high expectations there's the risk of disappointment, but this dram really delivers.

Special thanks to John MacPherson for the sample.

Glendronach Cask Strength Batch 4 (54.7% abv)


I'm not normally one for noticing colour or commenting on colour, but the Batch 4 seems darker than the Batch 7. I only mention it because as far as I know, Glendronach doesn't ever use caramel colouring (E150a).

Neat from a Glencairn glass

  • Nose: the dark sticky fruits I expected are there (dates, figs) along with caramel and oak spices, but there's a prominent bright and fruity aroma as well (cherries, dried cranberries). There's a floral note here too, albeit brighter than in the Batch 7. I'm no botanist so I won't hazard a guess here.
  • Palate: rich on arrival with caramel, tobacco, dates, cloves
  • Finish: long, sweet, some caramel, dark chocolate, dates, sultanas, cherries lingering.
  • Score: 7/10 This is a very good Glendronach, but not quite a great one to me. Don't get me wrong; at the right price, I'd buy a bottle of this for sure. If you like brightness in your sherried whiskies this might be more up your alley. The Batch 7 has more spice and tobacco along side the dark fruits, and that's a better match to my preferences.
Thanks to my friend Tony for the sample.

When any "limited" releases are labeled by batch, there's a general feeling that early batches will always surpass later batches. That hasn't been my experience here. It should come as no surprise, since some things get better with time and experience. Season 4 of The Office was more enjoyable than Season 1. That's not an indictment of Season 1, but "Dinner Party" is one of the best episodes of all time. Also, Pam and Jim officially start dating in Season 4 and that's pretty much the greatest love story of all time. I will not be taking questions.

SCORING BREAKDOWN

  • 1/10 – Really bad. "Drain pour" bad. I've only tasted two whiskies this bad.
  • 2/10 – I hope to avoid ever drinking this again. I'd use this for shots if I had to drink it.
  • 3/10 – This is either not great or astonishingly dull. Either way, I won't buy a bottle. I might accept a free glass if you offered me one. Maybe.
  • 4/10 – Sub-par. Not awful, but more bad (or disappointing) than good.
  • 5/10 – Average. Certainly not a bad whisky, but not one I want to stock all the time. 
  • 6/10 – Above average. Worth a glass now and then, maybe worth buying if the price is right.
  • 7/10 – Very good. Worth stocking regularly if the price is below $100 (Canadian dollars, Ontario prices)
  • 8/10 – Excellent. Something I never want to be without. If it’s under $100 you shouldn’t think twice.
  • 9/10 – Exceptional stuff. The missing mark is probably because I'm shallow and pedantic.
  • 10/10 – Mind-bending, life-changing stuff. Whisky has no business being this good. An absolute must-taste. To expect more would be soulless and churlish.

Tuesday, 17 November 2020

All In the Family: a review of three Irish Whiskeys

Irish whiskey is enjoying a renaissance. According to a recent Forbes article, "Over the last five years, Irish Whiskey has grown 13.4% in compound annual growth, with analysts predicting the growth to continue surging." That's great news for whiskey fans.  Irish whiskey was once the world's most popular spirit. However, a long period of decline from the late 19th century and early 20th century damaged the industry nearly destroyed the Irish whiskey industry altogether. In the late 1800s, Ireland boasted at least 28 (legal) distilleries but by 1966 this number had fallen to just two: Bushmills and the Old Midleton Distillery. There were a lot of complex and interconnected reasons for the decline of Irish whiskey's popularity, but I'll keep it short and blame the Americans and the English. RELAX, I'm kidding, sort of. Prohibition in the U.S.A. curtailed Irish whiskey's second biggest export market.  The Anglo-Irish trade war (1932-1938) cut off Irish whiskey exports to Britain and all Commonwealth countries. Yadda, yadda, yadda, since the 1990s, Irish whiskey has been booming again and we're all benefitting. There are approximately 32 active distilleries in Ireland as of this writing with many more planned or under construction. With that preamble out of the way, here are three Irish whiskeys I recently tasted.

Knappogue Castle 12 Year (40% abv)


This is an older (circa 2010-2013) bottling of Knappogue Castle. I'm unable to confirm whether it was sourced from Bushmills or Cooley. The bottle says "triple distilled" so I'm thinking Bushmills, but who knows. This is bottled at 40% abv (boo ! hiss !) but the label declares that no caramel colouring was added (huzzah !!). 

Neat from a Glencairn

  • Nose: cream, vanilla, honey, citrus (orange zest), apples, orange blossom
  • Palate: light bodied, creamy, honey, graham crackers
  • Finish: medium length, slight oakiness, vanilla, a bit of spice, and an faint odd note at the tail end that I can't quite identify. It's a little metallic and a little sulphuric (think onions, but not really strong ones) which is odd because this is 100% ex-bourbon maturation. Nevertheless, this is a perfectly fine whiskey, just don't expect anything radically different from what you imagine when someone says "Irish Single Malt". For $25 less, you could get Bushmills 10 Year, which is every bit as good as this one, in my opinion.
  • Score : 5/10


Connemara Peated (40% abv)


From what I can find online, Connemara is owned by Beam Suntory and is part of the Kilbeggan brand portfolio, er, I mean the Kilbeggan Family. I believe this batch whence came this sample was distilled at the Cooley distillery rather than the Kilbeggan distillery, but who knows? The Kilbeggan distillery has been active since 2007-2008 so perhaps production of Connemara has been moved there. Then again, Beam Suntory also owns the Cooley distillery so maybe not.

Neat from a Highland whisky glass

  • Nose: earthy, lightly smoky, caramel sweetness underneath, floral, apples, a hint of red fruits
  • Palate: light bodied, earthy, slightly nutty
  • Finish: short, some peat returning, some weak lapsang souchong tea, caramel apples, a bit vegetal. Interesting. Too bad it’s bottled at such a low abv. It would be interesting to try it the Cask Strength version. Depending on the price, I’d probably buy a bottle of Connemara. It would be a great introduction to peated whiskies for a guest who’s not quite “down with the smoke” yet. 
  • Score: 6/10


Writers Tears Copper Pot (40% abv)


Writers Tears is the brainchild of Bernard and Rosemary Walsh. The couple founded Walsh Whiskey in 1999 and have two brands in their portfolio: The Irishman and Writers Tears. There are a variety of releases under each "brand": The Irishman features single malts as well as blends that use more single malt than single pot still (I think it's a 70/30 single malt/single pot still ratio), whereas Writers Tears blends use more single pot still than single malt (70/30 single pot still/single malt ratio). 


Neat from a Highland whisky glass

  • Nose: apples, honey, vanilla, a bit of oak, a hint of honeydew melon that I often find in Irish whiskey, and a touch of fruity olive oil. Lovely.
  • Palate: surprisingly rich for 40% abv, buttery texture,  honey, vanilla, cinnamon, gingerbread, cloves, apples, oak
  • Finish: medium length, with a bit of oak spice, vanilla, a touch of ginger, some honey and a hint of a savoury, oily note, like flaxseed oil or maybe fruity olive oil. I like this whiskey a lot more than I thought I would. This is what blended whiskey should be. There's no cheap "filler" grain whiskey aged in umpteenth-fill casks. There's malt whiskey, single pot still whiskey, and that's it. It's terrific and I doubt this will be my last bottle of Writers Tears. I got my bottle on sale for $45 and quite frankly you'd be hard-pressed to find anything this good at that price point in Ontario.
  • Score: 7/10 

SCORING BREAKDOWN

  • 1/10 – Really bad. "Drain pour" bad. I've only tasted two whiskies this bad.
  • 2/10 – I hope to avoid ever drinking this again. I'd use this for shots if I had to drink it.
  • 3/10 – This is either not great or astonishingly dull. Either way, I won't buy a bottle. I might accept a free glass if you offered me one. Maybe.
  • 4/10 – Sub-par. Not awful, but more bad (or disappointing) than good.
  • 5/10 – Average. Certainly not a bad whisky, but not one I want to stock all the time. 
  • 6/10 – Above average. Worth a glass now and then, maybe worth buying if the price is right.
  • 7/10 – Very good. Worth stocking regularly if the price is below $100 (Canadian dollars, Ontario prices)
  • 8/10 – Excellent. Something I never want to be without. If it’s under $100 you shouldn’t think twice.
  • 9/10 – Exceptional stuff. The missing mark is probably because I'm shallow and pedantic.
  • 10/10 – Mind-bending, life-changing stuff. Whisky has no business being this good. An absolute must-taste. To expect more would be soulless and churlish.


Wednesday, 4 November 2020

Gods grant me strength...or give me whiskey

Me watching election coverage these days

I used to have a much stronger stomach for political craziness. I eagerly followed the craziness of the 2000 election, hanging chads and all. I watched in amazement at the "Yes, we can" victory of 2008. Gods, I was strong then ! The 2020 U.S. election promised to be one for the ages but it was just too wild and unpredictable, so on election night, I sampled some big, bold American whiskeys to calm my nerves. I got to choose what I wanted though, no electoral colleges needed, thank The Father.

Old Forester 1920 Prohibition (57.5% abv)


Old Forester is a Brown-Forman brand. The bourbon is distilled at the Brown-Forman Shively Distillery. No age statement is given and the mashbill consists of 72% Corn, 18% Rye, and 10% Malted Barley. It was available for a brief period at the LCBO for about $75 per bottle. I didn't buy a bottle, but was fortunate enough to get a sample from a friend.

Neat from a Glencairn


  • Nose: vanilla, caramel, barrel char, cherries, brown sugar, a bit of wood varnish
  • Palate: rich arrival, a bit hot, barrel char, black pepper, brown sugar, some banana, a touch of cherries
  • Finish: long, lingering, creamy, but not overly sweet, caramel corn, vanilla, a touch of smoke
  • Thoughts: interesting stuff. I don’t often get smoke from bourbons, but there’s definitely a little smoke on the finish here. I'm not sure if I'd pay $75 for a full bottle of this, but I wouldn't rule it out altogether.
  • Score: 6/10

Jack Daniel's Barrel Proof Single Barrel (67.95% abv)



Jack Daniel's is an interesting case study. Just about everyone has a Jack & Coke (aka a "Lemmy") story. Jack Daniel's is the world's best selling whiskey brand. HOWEVER, many "experts", some of whom have been drinking whiskey quite seriously for many weeks while doing their research at Google University, have decided that Jack Daniel's isn't worthy of their refined palates. Lucky for me, I'm neither a professional, a connoisseur, or an expert. I just like whiskey. I like the standard Old No.7 just fine and I was also happy to get a sample of this Barrel Proof Single Barrel from my friend Tony. Now for some specifics: the bottle whence came this sample was from SAQ (Quebec) profile #2, Barrel 18-9850 from L-1, Rick #9. To my knowledge Jack Daniel's uses the same mashbill for all their Tennessee Whiskey; 80% corn, 12% malted barley, and 8% rye. 

Neat from a Glencairn

  • Nose: classic JD banana and toffee, a bit of wood varnish, walnuts, vanilla, brown sugar
  • Palate: big bold arrival, walnut oil, banana, oaky, vanilla
  • Finish: long and lingering, slightly pulling oak tannins, more walnut and banana
  • Thoughts: this is JD on steroids and I’m really digging it. It’s not the most complex whiskey I’ve ever had but I really enjoy it. Adding water actually tones down the banana a bit and allows the walnut and vanilla to come forward. This is much nuttier than most other JD offerings and I really like that about this whiskey.
  • Score: 7/10

WhistlePig 10 Year Straight Rye (50% abv)



According to their website WhistlePig began with the purchase of a farm in 2007. After a few years of "deep consideration and personal reflection we committed ourselves to crafting the world’s finest and most interesting Rye Whiskeys." No, I'm not going to rant on marketing stories here. WhistlePig should be commended for not referring to any "great-great grandpappy's secret recipe", but rather being transparent about their process. WhistlePig teamed up with Master Distiller Dave Pickerell, bought rye whisky from Alberta that "was being profoundly misused". This 10 Year Straight Rye is a 100% rye whiskey which was sourced from Alberta Distillers and then re-casked and aged in Vermont. It is first aged in new American oak and finished in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels.

Thanks to my friend Hal for the sample

Neat from a Glencairn

  • Nose: surprisingly soft, vanilla, gentle baking spices (cloves, allspice, cinnamon), oak, a bit of ginger, caramel. With time in the glass, the floral vanilla notes dominate.
  • Palate: slightly hot arrival, green and vegetal initially, with some black pepper, cinnamon, and a bit of caramel
  • Finish: medium length, the green and vegetal note refuses to go away, there's some cinnamon and black pepper with a bit more oak and vanilla.
  • Thoughts: a decent whiskey to be sure, but nothing that moves my spirit. The “green” notes are a bit odd. To be completely honest I find them a little off-putting. I'm glad I waited for a sample before dropping $100 on a full bottle. I might grab a bottle if it were $50, you know, to keep around as an oddity but at $100 it's a hard no from me. I can see how this bottle might appeal to some, but it's not really my preferred style of rye whiskey. I like my ryes to be spicy with a little bit of toffee sweetness.
  • Score: 5/10

SCORING BREAKDOWN

  • 1/10 – Really bad. "Drain pour" bad. I've only tasted two whiskies this bad.
  • 2/10 – I hope to avoid ever drinking this again. I'd use this for shots if I had to drink it.
  • 3/10 – This is either not great or astonishingly dull. Either way, I won't buy a bottle. I might accept a free glass if you offered me one. Maybe.
  • 4/10 – Sub-par. Not awful, but more bad (or disappointing) than good.
  • 5/10 – Average. Certainly not a bad whisky, but not one I want to stock all the time. 
  • 6/10 – Above average. Worth a glass now and then, maybe worth buying if the price is right.
  • 7/10 – Very good. Worth stocking regularly if the price is below $100
  • 8/10 – Excellent. Something I never want to be without. If it’s under $100 you shouldn’t think twice.
  • 9/10 – Exceptional stuff. The missing mark is probably because I'm shallow and pedantic.
  • 10/10 – Mind-bending, life-changing stuff. Whisky has no business being this good. An absolute must-taste. To expect more would be soulless and churlish.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Scoring Woes: AGAIN !!???

I have an ongoing battle with scoring whisky. It's a tricky exercise that often borders on futility. Or at least that's how it feels. Few reviewers use the entire spectrum of scoring. Many reviewers insist that they're "hard to please" and rarely score anything higher than 85, yet these same reviewers rarely rate anything lower than 70, so it's really about a 15 point scale. Others rate everything 85-95 points, so their scale is effectively 10 points. I've fallen into this same trap, ergo, I've decided to steal adapt the scoring sytem used by the excellent website malt.com going forward. This will allow me to use the full spectrum of scoring to more fully reflect how I feel about a whisky. And yes, I plan on using the full spectrum of scoring. This 10 point scale doesn't translate to a 100 point scale. A whisky scoring a 5/10 would NOT be a 50/100 point whisky. Think of the 10 point scale as more of an "enjoyment guide". If you really want to see my scores on a 100 point scale, check out www.connosr.com where I review under the username @odysseusunbound. Here's my adapted reference guide:


  • 1/10 – Really bad. "Drain pour" bad. I've only tasted two whiskies this bad.
  • 2/10 – I hope to avoid ever drinking this again. I'd use this for shots if I had to drink it.
  • 3/10 – This is either not great or astonishingly dull. Either way, I won't buy a bottle. I might accept a free glass if you offered me one. Maybe.
  • 4/10 – Sub-par. Not awful, but more bad (or disappointing) than good.
  • 5/10 – Average. Certainly not a bad whisky, but not one I want to stock all the time. 
  • 6/10 – Above average. Worth a glass now and then, maybe worth buying if the price is right.
  • 7/10 – Very good. Worth stocking regularly if the price is below $100
  • 8/10 – Excellent. Something I never want to be without. If it’s under $100 you shouldn’t think twice.
  • 9/10 – Exceptional stuff. The missing mark is probably because I'm shallow and pedantic.
  • 10/10 – Mind-bending, life-changing stuff. Whisky has no business being this good. An absolute must-taste. To expect more would be soulless and churlish.