Wednesday, 15 August 2018

The Confidence of Youth: a review of Lagavulin 8 Year Old

Ve git too soon oldt, undt too late schmart

With age comes maturity and wisdom, right? Youth is wasted on the young, and all that. The young are often stereotyped as bold to the point of recklessness, brash, and confident to the point of arrogance. The movie Cold Mountain is full of contrast between young and old, and also full of parallels to Homer's Odyssey. Charles Frazer's novel is wide in scope and the film adaptation is one of the few instances where the movie adaptation doesn't disappoint. The cinematography is breathtaking and the cast is brilliant, especially Renée Zellweger and Ray Winstone.
Ray Winstone is amazing as Captain Teague.

(Spoiler alert) Unlike the greek epic it references, Cold Mountain ends tragically with the hero, Inman (Jude Law), dying. Before the gunfight which proves fatal to both men, the exchange between Inman and Bosie goes like this:

  • Inman : Come out of there.
  • Bosie : No, sir. Here's fine.
  • Inman : I'll just have to shoot the horse from under you.
  • Bosie : Shoot her. She's not mine. You riding Mr. Teague's animal?
  • Inman : I am.
  • Bosie : He dead?
  • Inman : I hope so. Look, how old are you? Give me your gun and ride home, I'm done fighting. I'm sick of it.
  • Bosie : I give you my gun and you'll shoot me dead.
  • Inman : I will not shoot you, but nor am I walking down that mountain looking over my shoulder for you.
  • Bosie : That's what you call a conundrum. I tell you what I've got on my side.
  • Inman : What have you got on your side?
  • Bosie : The confidence of youth.

An impetuous youth spoils the fairy tale ending but the movie (and the novel) remains one of my favourites. Popular culture is also rife with (usually irrational) condescension directed at the young. Millenials are portrayed as lazy, selfish, and entitled. Not to be outdone, the young often take to social media and offer a hilarious riposte or two.

Like this one

Or this one

Lagavulin 8 Year Old 200th Anniversary Edition

Lagavulin celebrated the 200th anniversary of the distillery (legally) opening back in 2016 by releasing an 8 year old single malt whisky. Not a $5000.00 bottle of rare 37 year old whisky, but a relatively affordable 8 year old. "But isn't that too young?" you ask. Well the reason for the eight year old bottling, according to a marketing story which must be true because I read it on the Internet, is that British historian Alfred Barnard visited the Lagavulin the distillery in the 1880s and wrote about an 'exceptionally fine' eight-year-old from the distillery.

Lagavulin 8 is bottled at 48% ABV. It's a nice touch. The bottle whence came the sample I'm reviewing was opened November 17, 2016, it was gassed after each use, then decanted into a smaller bottle May 20, 2017, and the sample poured for me on April 18, 2018. There seems to be mixed information on added colour and chill-filtration. There are no statements about it on the box, but the 48% ABV usually (though not always) means a whisky hasn't been chill-filtered and Ralfy seems convinced that this is bottled at natural colour.

  • Nose (undiluted): tarry ropes, wood smoke and brine, quite vegetal (seaweed), surprisingly fruity with lemons and limes coming through, a hint of caramelized sugar with a bit of eucalyptus at the tail end. Very pleasant nose.
  • Palate (undiluted): richer than expected, not at all "hot" for 48% ABV, toffee leads the way but is bowled over by peat smoke, then black pepper with some fruity notes (peaches and apricots), developing cereal notes (barley) near the end.
  • Finish: fairly long, candied ginger and floral honey at first, then a bit sour and fruity, green apples, green (white) grapes and charred lemons, with the wood smoke returning and lingering. Fantastic.

With water added the nose becomes much brighter. Iodine, brine, and the charred lemons take the lead. The smoke is still there, however, as it won't yield easily.  The nose develops more sweetness with water, and the eucalyptus all but disappears. Ten minutes after adding water, a sweetened black tea aroma is present. Water doesn't negatively affect the arrival on the palate either, but it does bring the pepper notes to the forefront. A bit of hot and sweet together. The order of flavours on the finish changes a bit with water added. Campfire ash leads the way, but is overtaken by peaches and apricots drizzled with honey. Smoky, fruity and sweet. An absolute treat with or without water.

There isn't a lot of "low end depth" to this whisky. It is smoky, but also very bright, sweet, and fruity whereas Laphroaig Quarter Cask has a much deeper flavour but lacks the high end brightness of Lagavulin 8. I think an equal mix of the two might make the perfect young Islay whisky, yet Lagavulin 8 remains fantastic on its own. Although it is only eight years old, Lagavulin 8 isn't brash or immature. It offers up an Odyssean journey with a happy ending (unlike Cold Mountain). Highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches

May the winds of Fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea
May it always be the other guy
Who says: "This drink's on me"

Slainte !!!

Scoring may be interpreted as:

1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, though can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 88-90 points
4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

The Rule of Three: a review of Laphroaig Triple Wood

Omne trium perfectum

You've undoubtedly heard the old slogan "all things come in threes". It may be confirmation bias, but our world is replete with examples of this adage:
  • The Three Musketeers, the 1844 novel by Alexandre Dumas
  • Veni, vidi, vici, (I came, I saw, I conquered), a popular slogan attributed to Julius Caesar
  • Larry, Curly, and Moe, (The Three Stooges), the famous comedy team 
Trying peated whisky for the first time, Curly?
Without delving too deeply into the metaphysical woods, many religions also have the rule of three as a part of their beliefs and symbols. Some pagans and wiccans believe in the Rule of Three (whatever energy a person puts out into the world, positive or negative, will be returned to that person threefold), Catholics have the Holy Trinity, the three theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity), the Vikings had the Horn Triskelion and the Valknut, and there are countless other examples.

I'm not much of a believer in magic, but three seems to work as a rhetorical device as well. Think of the American Declaration of Independence's three "inalienable rights": Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness, or perhaps the less inspiring phrase from Canada's founding document, the British North America Act, which describes the Canadian Parliament's lawmaking authority as providing: Peace, Order, and Good Government. Every form of advertising uses our fascination with the number three to their advantage:
  • A Mars bar a day helps you work, rest, and play
  • Just Do It.
  • The Few. The Proud. The Marines.
So it should come as no surprise that whisky marketing has jumped on this bandwagon as well. Canadian Club labels its nine year old whisky as "Triple Aged", Bushmills Irish Whiskey makes liberal use of the fact that their single malt is "Triple Distilled", and Laphroaig's  core lineup features an expression called Triple Wood. So what's it all about?

The Power of Three

Triple Wood is an extension of Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Like Quarter Cask, Triple Wood is matured for 5-11 years in ex-bourbon American oak casks from Maker's Mark (200 litres) and is then transferred to smaller (125 litre) American oak Quarter Casks for about 8 to 9 months. Triple Wood then adds another maturation, this one done in sherry-seasoned European Oak. Triple Wood is matured for one year in first fill Oloroso sherry butts and two years in refill sherry butts (approximately 475 litres). So using my superior math skills, I can deduce that Triple Wood is a vatting of whiskies that are 8-14 years old, with most probably being 10-11 years old. That last part is just a guess.

  • Nose (undiluted): deep earthy peat, campfire smoke, fruitiness (plums and apricots), nuttiness, and sweet vanilla sitting on top. There’s far less iodine (seaweed) and brine than you’d expect from Laphroaig but it’s there in the background. Terrific nose.
  • Palate (undiluted): very rich arrival, it feels very creamy and rounded with no perceptible alcohol burn, surprisingly soft for 48% ABV, more fruity plums, raisins and figs with vanilla, brine, and peat smoke returning.
  • Finish: very long, somewhat drying. Cigar ash giving way to vanilla, then a sweet meatiness; think smoked ribs with sweet barbecue sauce.

With water, the iodine rushes forward and imposes itself alongside a menthol note. Much less fruity flavour with water added as well; instead there’s more ashy peat, vanilla and brine. The meatiness is not quite as present with water added. I prefer this one neat, though it is still pleasant with water added. There was little to no alcohol burn, so adding water is unnecessary. It's worth noting that Laphroaig Triple Wood is bottled at natural colour. That's right, there's no "fake tan" from any added E150a (caramel colouring) in this whisky. It's a lovely gold colour which comes entirely from the casks. It's a step in the right direction. You can check out Laphroaig's distillery manager, John Campbell, talking about Triple Wood here if you want more information, or if you just want to hear someone with a Scottish accent talking about Laphroaig.

Final Thoughts

It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of Laphroaig. I've never tried one I didn't like, though I like some more than others. The Laphroaig 10 Year Old Cask Strength is my all-time favourite and I'm disappointed it isn't available in Ontario because it's fantastic. Laphroaig Triple Wood isn't that far behind, though. It's balanced, it's complex, and all the flavours are in terrific harmony. I think I prefer Triple Wood to the standard 43% ABV bottling of Laphroaig 10 Year Old. Very highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5/5 moustaches

May the winds of fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle see,
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"

Slainte !

Scoring may be interpreted as:

  • 1 moustache: vodka. No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
  • 1.5 moustaches: Flavoured whisky. This stuff is not in my wheelhouse, or I find it to be really bad mixing whisky. 51-60 points
  • 2 moustaches: best suited to mixing, though can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
  • 2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable neat or on the rocks. 71-76 points
  • 3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail 77-82 points
  • 3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper. Outstanding in a cocktail. 83-87 points
  • 4 moustaches: Terrific sipping whisky. A personal favourite. There's a good chance I want this whisky on hand at all times. 88-90 points
  • 4.5 moustaches: Top quality sipping whisky. These are special occasion sippers for me. They're at the top of my favourites list. 91-94 points
  • 5 moustaches: Life-changing whisky. Any whisky I rate this highly has fundamentally changed the way I think about whisky. 95-100 points

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Magical Mystery Tour: A Review of Amrut Single Malt Bourbon Cask

The Magical Mystery Tour is hoping to take you away

If you ask someone to name a country they associate with whisky, they'll likely name Scotland or the United States. If they're a bit more knowledgeable or enthusiastic about whisky, they might say Ireland, Canada, or Japan. How many people would identify India as an amazing whisky-producing nation? Probably not many. It's understandable; Scotland and the United States have terrific marketing for their whiskies. Single malt scotch and bourbon have scores of loyal followers, Facebook groups and Instagram accounts dedicated to them. If you ask people in North America what they associate with India, most will probably allude to Bollywood, spicy cuisine, bright clothing, Gandhi, or Hinduism. For most North Americans, India is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as mysterious or exotic. But India is a burgeoning economic power. It is the world's sixth-largest economy by nominal GDP and the third-largest by purchasing power parity. It is also home to some of the most interesting single malt whisky on the market today. Want to know more? Hop on the bus.
Roll up for the Mystery Tour !

Elixir of Life

John Hansell, editor of the American magazine Whisky Advocate, wrote that "India's Amrut distillery changed the way many think of Indian whisky – that it was, in the past, just cheap Scotch whisky blended with who knows what and sold as Indian whisky. Amrut is making whisky, and it's very good". Pretty high praise. The company was founded in 1948, but didn't release any single malt whisky until 2004. Maturation in the Indian climate greatly affects the final product. The liquid lost to evaporation during maturation, the "Angels' share" in popular parlance, is higher in India (11–12% per year) than in Scotland, where the annual evaporative loss is about 1% to 2%. The master blender at Amrut Distilleries has estimated that one year of barrel-ageing in India is equal to three years of ageing in Scotland. Now I'm not sure if it's exactly that simple, but you get the idea. So seeing an almost 5 year old Indian whisky shouldn't put you off. Maturation is affected by a combination of factors: time in the barrel, interaction between the liquid, the wood, and the environment.

The Mystery of Amrut Bourbon Cask

This Amrut Single Malt, matured in an ex-bourbon cask, was an LCBO exclusive. It is the product of a single Cask (numbered 3443). A friend was kind enough to gift me a sample, but he didn't tell me what it was. He simply told me to contact him with my tasting notes and some guesses as to what I thought this whisky might be. This proved to be a fun experience and one I hope to repeat again someday. My tasting notes were based solely on my senses and not on what I thought I should taste, based on a label.

The bottle was opened Dec 9, 2017, it was gassed after each use (a product called Private Preserve limits oxidation), and the bottle was 1/2 full when sample was poured April 20th, 2018.

Nose (undiluted): no discernable peat at all, dates, raisins, nuttiness (walnuts), dark cherries, definitely seems like a Sherry Cask-matured whisky, a bit of dark chocolate, oak notes, brown sugar appearing after a few minutes.
Palate (undiluted): a bit hot on arrival, definitely feels like higher ABV, yet still rich and mouth coating, a bit brighter than I expected from the nose, honey, a little nutmeg, cinnamon, sharp black pepper, and a touch of orange zest, and a vague floral note.
Finish: medium length, cherries, toasted oak, walnuts, honey lingering

With water: nose brightens up a bit, more floral, a hint of citrus (orange?), with walnuts still very present along side the cherries, palate becomes fruitier and the spices are still present, though not as biting, much like Christmas cake. This is terrific whisky.

I was shocked when I found out that this was NOT an ex-sherry cask matured whisky. This leads me to think that there is a natural fruitiness in Amrut's distillate. Whisky writers love to argue about whether or not terroir is a thing when it comes to whisky, but I won't bore you with that here. It is worth noting that Amrut's ex-bourbon Single Cask single malt is distilled from Indian barley so maybe there's something to the "provenance affects flavour" argument.  It is bottled at 60% ABV, so it is a belter of a whisky, but there aren't any bitter "spirity" notes to be found. My guesses were that this was a Macallan Cask Strength or an Aberlour A'Bunadh. I had heard about Amrut Portonova, and I guessed that this might be it, but my friend assures me the Portonova is quite different, though just as good. This was my first Indian Single Malt experience, but I can guarantee it won't be my last. If you come across one of these Single Cask offerings from Amrut, I highly recommend you pick one or two up. Absolutely fantastic.

Rating: 4.5/5 moustaches

May the winds of fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea.
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"

Slainte !

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Fit For A King? A review of Bushmills Red Bush

Field trip to County Antrim anyone?
Irish whiskey is enjoying a well-deserved resurgence. In the late 19th century, Ireland's whiskey reigned supreme. The first half of the 20th century was not so kind and for awhile only two distilleries remained; Midleton distillery in Cork and Bushmills distillery in Antrim. Bushmills claims to be the oldest distillery in Ireland,  as licence was granted to Sir Thomas Phillips by King James I to distil whiskey in 1608, a full three years before the King James Bible was published. Say what you will about Ol' Jimmy, he had his priorities straight. Most websites state that the actual Bushmills distillery was built in 1784, meaning the Kilbeggan Distillery in Kilbeggan, County Westmeath, can claim the title of the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland (Kilbeggan has been licensed and distilling since 1757 not counting the "silent" period between 1954 and 2007). Bushmills, for their part, claim that their distillery is oldest, stating: "Bushmills – oldest because it is the best, not best because it is oldest.” I don't know whose claim is true, and since I can't go to Ireland to do any extensive, uhm, "field research", I'll just have to deal with uncertainty. Such is life.

Bushmills Red Bush

Red Bush is the latest blended whiskey offering from Bushmills. I'm quite fond of their sherry cask-matured Black Bush so I was eager to try their ex-bourbon cask offering. I'm not sure how the taste of Red Bush compares to Bushmills Original, as I haven't had the latter in a long time. The Bushmills website was less than helpful, as it featured liberal use of the word SMOOTH to describe the taste of Red Bush. I'm not sure if smooth is a tasting note, as it seemingly refers to the whiskey's lack of perceived "burn". However the "burn" can also be abated by holding whiskey in your mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. Bonus points: you taste the whiskey much better this way as well. Like Bushmills Black Bush, the Red Bush whiskey contains a higher proportion of Bushmills' triple distilled single malt than the Original does, but the malt component is aged in ex-bourbon casks instead of the aforementioned ex-sherry casks.

Tasting notes

Nose (undiluted): vanilla, icing sugar, toasted oak, no spirity aromas of acetone (nail polish remover) that sometimes appear in non age-stated (i.e. young) blended whiskies.
Palate (undiluted): light-bodied, but not thin or watery, cereal sweetness, red apple skins, more vanilla, a bit of barrel char, and a vague nuttiness; pecans, maybe.
Finish: short to medium length, with more cereal and vanilla notes, and a touch of maple syrup lingering at the end.

Adding water tones down some of the vanilla and oak notes. Red Bush becomes more like maple walnut (or maple pecan) ice cream with water added. It doesn't thin out as much as I expected it to. Heck, it's even good on the rocks. Sacrilege, I know. I feel like this whisky might be an ideal candidate for introducing people to sipping whisky without mixers. If I didn't know better, I'd think this was a young-ish (5-7 years old) Single Malt whisky. Red Bush won't change your perception of whiskey, but it may change what you expect from a whiskey that's just a shade above 30 bucks here in Ontario. I'm not sure if this is what King James had in mind when granting a license to Sir Thomas Phillips, or if the King drank aquavitae at all but Bushmills Red Bush manages to be accessible and easy drinking without being boring.  Recommended.

Rating: 3/5 moustaches
The light music of whiskey falling into a glass—an agreeable interlude.
James Joyce


Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Polite Canadian: A review of Canadian Club 100 % Rye

Canadians have a reputation for being nice. Too nice. Milquetoast. Reserved. Polite. Even our protests are polite, if you believe the internet. Of course to anyone living here, we know that things are a little different, especially if you're at a hockey game. We're ruthless. We're crazy. The gloves come off and we'll do anything to win. And that's just the fans. I'm sure Valeri Kharlamov wouldn't call Bobby Clarke "too nice". Slava Kozlov would absolutely NOT call Scott Stevens "polite". I've done my best to debunk the same myths as they relate to Canadian whisky in previous posts, as have many other, more talented and well-known writers, yet the myths persist. Canadian whisky is often portrayed as mild, overly sweet, and bland, more akin to a stay-at-home defenseman in the mold of Dan Hamhuis rather than the flashy high risk, high reward style of P.K. Subban. Canadian whiskies are challenging the stereotypes.
I refuse to post a picture of PK in a Predators jersey
Many, such as Lot 40 12 Year Old Cask Strength, are garnering world-wide attention for their Subbanesque boldness. Open-minded people are giving Canadian whiskies some serious consideration these days. Canadian whisky is slowly but surely earing the respect it deserves, much like PK Subban finally earning some respect now that he's (sadly) left the Montreal Canadiens.

Chairman's Select 100% Rye

Canadian Club is one of the most popular brands of Canadian whisky. Heck, it was featured prominently in AMC's Mad Men as Don Draper's whisky of choice. Canadian Club Chairman's Select 100% Rye is something different though. Chairman's Select is awkwardly marketed as "the Single Malt of Canadian Whisky" despite the fact that it isn't made from malted barley at all, and despite the fact that there are Canadian distilleries that actually produce single malt whisky. Why the choice of those particular words? I'd venture to guess that, like the guys from Sterling Cooper, the marketing department at Canadian Club knows their target market. In my humble opinion, this whisky isn't aimed at the experienced connoisseur, but rather at the person who normally drinks CC & ginger and wants to try out some "sipping whisky". The bottle of Chairman's Select even comes in a tube reminiscent of many single malt scotches. So does this whisky fit the bill?

Tasting notes

  • Nose (undiluted): rye spice, freshly cut wood, cinnamon, toffee, black pepper
  • Palate (undiluted): soft arrival, a bit thin, lots of toffee sweetness, some vegetal rye, a bit of clove
  • Finish: short to medium length, more oak, cloves, cinnamon, and toffee

Water doesn't add anything to this whisky; it just thins everything out. A large ice sphere tones down a bit of the sweetness, but the rye spice still feels like it's in the backround. All the component flavours are good, I’d just like the volume turned up. The Chairman’s Select is a good whisky: it has the potential to be a great whisky. I'd love to see this bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV) or even at cask strength. Allow me to re-iterate: I don't think the people at Canadian Club are targeting the "sipping whisky" enthusiast or aficionado with this whisky. It's a respectable mixer and a good introduction to a 100% rye whisky. This isn't the flashy P.K. Subban of Canadian whisky; it's more of like the Canadian whisky equivalent of Adam Foote. It's not necessarily the star of the team (or liquor cabinet) but it can be useful in many situations. If you're new to sipping whisky or to rye in general, this whisky is a good introduction. If you're a more experienced whisky drinker, I recommend you try before you buy. You may find this one a bit too nice.

Rating: 3/5 moustaches

May the winds of fortune sail you,
May you sail a gentle sea.
May it always be the other guy
Who says "This drink's on me"

Slainte !

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Relief Or Regret? A review of Forty Creek Confederation Oak

They say the number one killer of old people is retirement. People got a job to do, they tend to live a little bit longer so they can do it. I've always figured that warriors and their enemies share the same relationship. So, now that you're not gonna have to face your enemy no more on the battlefield, which "R" you filled with? Relief … or regret?
Budd from Kill Bill: Volume 2

I love Quentin Tarantino's movies, especially the Kill Bill films. Tarantino's scripts always feature quirky, entertaining dialogue, interesting characters and just the right amount of retro-chic nods to the great films of the past. In the Kill Bill tandem, Tarantino pays homage to the great martial arts movies, and to a lesser degree the spaghetti westerns, of the 1970s. Budd's "relief or regret" line of questioning may have been directed at Elle Driver (aptly portrayed by Daryl Hannah) but a viewer might have asked Tarantino the same question after the movies were released. I'd bet he felt relief, since both movies turned out brilliantly, at least in this writer's opinion. 
The Bride's Kill List

I feel the same, admittedly milder, anxiety whenever I try a new expression from any of my favourite distilleries. I hope I'll enjoy the whisky, but a part of me always fears I'll feel regret at buying what my favourite whisky vlogger (that's Ralfy, in case you didn't know) calls "a bottle of disappointment". Luckily, I have enough friends that I get to sample many whiskies before deciding whether or not to splurge on a bottle.

I've written about Forty Creek before, so there's no need to re-hash its history here. Their whisky is consistently excellent, and the Copper Pot Reserve is one I often use to introduce people to Canadian sipping whisky. Forty Creek's Confederation Oak is a bit of a different animal though. The whisky was finished in virgin Canadian Oak which was cut from trees growing about 64 kilometres (40 miles) from the distillery. According to founder John K. Hall, Canadian Oak is heavier and more dense than American Oak leading to more pronounced vanillins and wood tones. So does using Canadian Oak lead to relief (and enjoyment) or regret (and disappointment)?

Tasting notes

This sample is from the original Lot 1867, was opened in September 2015, was gassed after each use, and was 2/3 full when the sample was poured April 18 2018.

  • Nose (undiluted): brown sugar, vanilla, plums, figs,  oak spice (cloves, nutmeg, rye spice), some nuttiness, and maple developing with time. Very complex nose.
  • Palate (undiluted): rich, medium-bodied, orange peels, walnuts, vanilla frosting, rye
  • Finish: medium length, maple sugar, pepper, with some tart currants lingering

With water, there’s a rush of vanilla on the nose followed by maple sugar and oak notes. On the palate there’s more fruitiness, oranges and apricots. The finish doesn’t change much with water, but the currant note is replaced by a slight bitterness at the tail end. This is definitely better without water.

The nose of this whisky is absolutely phenomenal. The flavour and finish are very good, but the aromas are the stars of this show. I can't help but wonder how this would taste if it were bottled at a slightly higher proof. Even a 43% ABV bottling would, in my humble opinion, give this whisky a bit more bite to balance out its velvety sweetness. I think this whisky might earn a perfect score from me (whatever that's worth) if it were bottled at around 48% ABV. Nitpicking aside, I would not hesitate to purchase a bottle of this whisky. And I have no problem recommending it to anyone who enjoys rich, sweet Canadian whisky with a more prominent oak presence. So, being an avid fan of Forty Creek, I can honestly say the "R" I feel after sipping this whisky is relief. I'm glad Confederation Oak did not let me down. Of course, I also feel some regret at only having enjoyed a single 30 ml sample. That may be something I address in the near future. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4/5 moustaches

May the winds of fortune sail you, 
may you sail a gentle sea, 
may it always be the other guy who says
"This drink's on me."

Slainte !

Thursday, 5 July 2018

A Friendly Dram: Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley

Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief. 

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Whisky is evocative. Sipping a whisky, or even thinking about a whisky you've enjoyed inevitably leads you to form certain associations. When I think of Lagavulin 16 Year Old, I think of Nick Offerman sitting in a leather armchair by a fireplace, looking stolidly into the camera. Jack Daniel's Old No.7 immediately brings Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister to mind. I can't look at a bottle of Bushmills without thinking of James Joyce's Ulysses.
Marketing types know this and they bank on it. Telling someone "This whisky tastes good. It tastes like good whisky." would undoubtedly be a marketing disaster, like something out of the brilliant Ricky Gervais film The Invention of Lying. But if your website includes notes on character, colour, nose, palate, finish and mood, maybe you're on to something. Hold on, mood? Yes, Bruichladdich describes their Classic Laddie's mood as:

Conviviality! Relaxed, enjoying the spirit in the glass and the laughter from tales often told but never tired of hearing.

I've wanted to try this particular Bruichladdich (you can say "Brook-laddie" or listen to Brian Cox's pronunciation here) for a long time but I've been reluctant to pull the trigger without trying it first. I tend to like Islay scotches, but this one is unpeated, so I hadn't taken the plunge. Luckily, a friend opened a bottle of the Classic Laddie Scottish Barley this past weekend and I got to sample it. This whisky was sipped outside on a hot summer day and it feels like the appropriate setting for the Classic Laddie.

Tasting Notes

There's a good Laddie.

  • Nose (undiluted): Very floral (daisies? violets?), briny, a bit of lemon, and some earthy notes despite the fact that this is unpeated
  • Palate (undiluted): medium bodied, creamy mouthfeel, not all that hot for a whisky bottled at 50% ABV, a bit darker in flavour than I expected, with brown sugar, nuttiness, malty with a bit of fruitiness at the tail end, white grapes perhaps.
  • Finish: medium length with the brine returning, a little mint note, it was (dare I say it?)"refreshing".

With water, there were more fruity notes coming through, mostly lemon and cherries on the nose and some green apples and a bit of honeydew melon on the palate. The nutty notes are there with and without water. I would call it walnut, but it didn't have the slightly bitter, drying feel that walnuts sometimes have. Walnuts without their skins, maybe? Forgive me if that sounds über-pretentious.

This feels like a summer whisky. Maybe it's the marketing schtick or the turquoise bottle, but it's definitely reminiscent of the seaside. It also feels like a whisky you want to sip with friends. It's not super complex, but it is not bland mixing whisky either. It's certainly no surprise that this is a young whisky (most of what went into this particular vatting is 7-8 years old according to the bottling code/website information) but it's a young whisky that's well-balanced. Everything is nicely integrated. Bonus points to Bruichladdich for bottling at a respectable strength (50% ABV) and extra bonus points for bottling at a natural colour, no E150a thank you very much. Having tried The Classic Laddie, I will probably buy a bottle sometime in the future. It's not a game-changer, but it's a very friendly whisky. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches

Everything in moderation, including moderation.
Oscar Wilde


Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Be Careful What You Wish For: a review of Monkey Shoulder Blended Malt

I've been a fan of The Simpsons for as long as I can remember. The animated sitcom has always been witty, biting, and insightful. The writers strike a balance between satirical social commentary and comic absurdity only made possible in a cartoon setting. The early seasons focused mostly on Bart's shenanigans, probably because the troublemaker is based on creator Matt Groening. However, my favourite episodes have always been the Homer-centric ones. And I'm not alone. Around Season 3 or 4, The Simpsons episodes increasingly featured Homer's (mis)adventures as central plot points. Despite being named for the Greek poet and Groening's father, Homer is a depiction (a mostly unflattering one) of the typical American man. He is lazy, reckless, impulsive, and woefully ignorant. Yet for all his foolishness, Homer's unwavering loyalty to his family makes him impossible to hate. Unless you're Frank Grimes.

Homer's hilarious impulsivity is exemplified in the first vignette of the Treehouse of Horror II episode. In it, Lisa, Bart, and Homer eat too much Hallowe'en candy and each has a nightmare. In Lisa's nightmare, Homer purchases a monkey's paw that grants the one holding it four wishes. After the three first wishes go awry, Homer wishes for a turkey sandwich. It's only after discovering that the turkey in the sandwich is a little dry that Homer has an outburst, cursing the monkey paw and throwing it out the window. Be careful what you wish for, Homer.

Monkeying Around

Blended malt scotch whisky is an interesting case study. Single malt scotch whisky is the product of a single distillery (hence the "single") made from 100% malted barley (hence the "malt"). Whereas blended scotch contains grain whisky (i.e. whisky made from other grains, such as corn or wheat), blended malt scotch whisky is made from 100% malted barley, just like single malt. The only difference between blended malt and single malt is the sourcing from different distilleries. Blended malt, a mix of different single malt scotches, supposedly allows for greater flexibility and a more complex flavour profile.

But what does Monkey Shoulder mean?

The name of this whisky is a nod to the men who used to turn the malted barley by hand. Many developed a repetitive strain injury in one shoulder, and the condition was dubbed "Monkey Shoulder".  This blended malt, the product of William Grant & Sons is a mix of three single malts; Kininvie, Glenfiddich, and Balvenie.
The folks at William Grant have also said that other single malts from undisclosed distilleries may find their way into the mix from time to time, but the KGB whiskies, as they're known, are consistent. Personally, I'd love to see some kind of amusing "In Soviet Russia" meme featuring Monkey Shoulder, but alas, I haven't found any yet. Nor have I found the exact proportion of each component whisky in the final mix, and I've never tried Kininvie as a stand-alone single malt, so I won't attempt to do any detective work here. Monkey Shoulder bears no age statement, so we can only assume it's at least 3 years old, which is the minimum required aging period for whisky in Scotland.

Tasting Notes

Nose (undiluted): honey, vanilla, fuzzy peach candies, floral notes
Palate (undiluted): hot arrival for a whisky bottled at only 43% ABV, somewhat creamy mouthfeel, barley nuttiness, a bit of vanilla and orange peels
Finish: fairly short, with more vanilla and some coconut notes

Adding water tones down the heat, but also drowns out the fruitiness, leaving only honey and barley flavours. There's a bit of oak on the finish with water, but not much else. So adding water (or ice) to this whisky is a bit of a trade-off. To be fair, the folks at William Grant market Monkey Shoulder as a mixing/cocktail whisky and it may work better as a mixer than as a sipping whisky.

Monkey Shoulder is a befuddling case study. It is a good quality (if somewhat mediocre) whisky, but not a great neat sipper. This is not a reproach, as the company plasters the Monkey Shoulder website with cocktail recipes. The quirk may be specific to Ontario: the pricing quirk. Monkey Shoulder sells for about $65 CAD, making it more expensive than many sipping whiskies. As such, I wouldn't really recommend it unless you can buy it for less money in a different jurisdiction. For $65 or less, I would rather buy J.P. Wiser's Dissertation, Glenfiddich 12 Year Old, Glenlivet 12 Year Old, or Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Your experience may differ, and if you live in a market where Monkey Shoulder is more reasonably priced, it's a good whisky for "background" enjoyment. Try before you buy.

Rating: 2.5/5 moustaches

Whisky is liquid Sunshine
George Bernard Shaw

Slainte !