Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Don't Miss THIS !!! A review of a mystery whisky

Have you heard of FOMO? It's short for "fear of missing out". It's a fairly modern term usually applied to anxiety arising from excessive social media usage. We see what others are doing, living their #bestlife on Instagram, and we feel like we're missing out. If your Instagram is full of people spending their time on wild cliff-diving, parasailing, parkour-ing vacations, hitting Breckenridge Brewery for $2 Avalanche Ales in Breckenridge, Colorado, while you're on more of a #staycation with your kids, you might feel left out. But have no fear, brochacho, despite your fears, social media isn't real life. It's more of a highlight reel, right?
Are you going to hit "Breck" this weekend, brah?

And besides, do you really want to spend your 40s YOLO'ing the most "extreme adventures" as though you're still 23? Do you want to be mistaken for a member of Mumford & Sons? Do you really want to sip craft distilled, triple-hopped IPAs to the exclusion of everything else save the occasional Pabst Blue Ribbon (consumed ironically, of course) ? Maybe a small dose of excitement is good enough. Like staying up past 10pm on a school night every now and then.

Whisky FOMO


The whisky-verse also conjures up a bunch of FOMO. Recently, THE Macallan opened a new distillery and celebrated by releasing THE Macallan Genesis, an exclusive bottling for opening day. Local police had to close the roads as the traffic was insane and people were selling their spots in line. Hours after people had paid an absurd amount of money (approximately £495 or $840 CAD), for what was likely "a bottle of disappointment" (in my uninformed opinion), THE Macallan Genesis was being "flipped" online for 5 times the price people paid at the distillery. A bottle of THE Macallan Genesis was recently sold at auction for 10 times the original price. Madness. Now I don't want to imply that this is exclusive to THE Macallan. Distilleries sell "special edition" whiskies all the time, hoping to extract a few more dollars from their brand faithful. Unfortunately, many (if not most) "special edition" releases are a dumping ground for whisky that doesn't make the cut for a brand's core range. Sure, they'll talk about "specially selected" casks for special releases, but that doesn't mean they're good casks, now does it? Before you dismiss me as a condescending cynic, I'll admit I'm not above this type of marketing manipulation.
Caol Ila 18 was only available in the GTA
I go nuts for Laphroaig's Cairdeas releases, Caol Ila's "Unpeated" Cask Strength releases, and Lagavulin's Distillers Edition and 12 Year Old Cask Strength releases. I can't always secure a bottle of these whiskies, but I'm often fortunate enough to find at least a sample or two. Caol Ila's Unpeated 18 Year Old Cask Strength was only available in Ontario for about 3 seconds, and only in Toronto area stores. There's a big surprise. Like Iago in Aladdin (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried), I think I'm going to have a heart attack and die from that surprise (yes, that's sarcasm). Luckily, a good friend provided me with a sample. However, he didn't tell me what it was. The following review was done blind (i.e. I didn't know what I was tasting).

Tasting notes


Nose (undiluted): lemon, honey, brine, floral, a hint of peat?, something funky (vegetal) I can’t quite identify (dry leaves maybe?), apple skins
Palate (undiluted): hot, spiky arrival, honey, a bit of a mineral note, pepper, ripe banana
Finish: long and lingering, peppery, a slight chalkiness, a vegetal note lingers and a lovely green apple note appears at the tail end.

With water, there’s a slightly herbal note that appears on the nose, almost like menthol or rosemary perhaps. There’s also more brine, like sea water washing over a rocky shore (I swear I’m not trying to be pretentious). With a bit of resting time, the nose takes on a meaty aroma, like salted ham (prosciutto?). Water doesn't tame the arrival on the palate at all. The salty meaty notes remain, but the ripe banana takes over quickly and  is more pronounced. The finish isn’t as chalky, and the green apple note is more evident, appearing sooner and lasting longer. I prefer this with a bit of water (1/2 teaspoon).

My thought process when I was trying to solve the mystery


I’m thinking this is an ex-bourbon cask because it has ripe banana notes lacks the raisins/walnuts/cinnamon notes I associate with ex-Sherry casks. I’d guess Caol Ila Unpeated Cask Strength, either the 18 year old or maybe the 15 year old. The lingering green apple on the finish, as well as the light peat (even though it’s “unpeated”) are what point me to that guess. But I could be totally wrong.

Final thoughts after confirming the whisky’s identity:

Caol Ila 18 Year Old Unpeated (59.8% ABV)

  • I have yet to meet a Caol Ila I didn’t enjoy. OBs, IBs, peated, unpeated. I like it all.
  • The unpeated Caol Ila still retains a hint of peat. Maybe it’s like campfire smell; it’s impossible to get rid of...
  • I would love to find a bottle of this stuff.

So while I was very happy to secure a sample of this stuff, I still have a lingering sadness over not getting a whole bottle. Not exactly FOMO, but SORO maybe (Sadness Over Running Out). If you can find a bottle of Caol Ila 18 Year Old Unpeated, I highly recommend you buy it. If you don't like it, I'll take it off your hands.

Rating: 4.5/5 moustaches (91/100 points)

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 !!

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:


1 moustache: No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: This stuff is not in my wheelhouse. Very bad whisky. Not recommended 51-60 points
2 moustaches: Best suited to mixing, not great neat. Try before you buy this one. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable, if somewhat mediocre, neat or on the rocks. Try before you buy. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail. Usually recommended. 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper, possibly outstanding in a cocktail. Recommended. 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. A "must try" whisky. 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. A "must have" whisky. 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, 21 November 2018

Have Peat Will Travel: a review of Laphroaig PX Cask

Despite the insanity you find in the comments section of literally any online article, the Internet is a wonderful place. Visit enough whisky-themed sites (Connosr, Instagram, Facebook, reddit, Distiller) and you can find all kinds of people willing to share opinions, advice, and even whisky samples. It is helpful to build  and nurture this network, especially in Ontario, where there is a marked lack of good whisky bars. With the price of whisky being what it is in Ontario, most of us want to try whiskies before buying them. If we can't try them, we can at least get some useful feedback from those who have tried the whiskies we're thinking about buying.
On my whisky journey I’ve received far more than I’ve returned "out into the whisky-verse", but I’m trying to balance out the karmic equation as best I can. I enjoy sharing my whisky with others so the relationship isn't completely one-sided. As Chris Traeger from Parks & Recreation might say, a well-connected whisky network is literally the best way to sample things you might not ordinarily find or think of trying. This particular sample came my way from a Facebook friend and fellow Laphroaigophile who has been very generous with his whisky and helped me acquire several hard to get (for me) bottles. I remain in his debt. I believe Laphroaig PX is a travel retail exclusive, but I could be wrong. 

Laproaig PX Cask? Travel Retail?


"Travel retail exclusive" generally means a whisky is only available in duty free shops at airports and border crossings. These whiskies are real hit and miss propositions as the whisky's quality is often suspect and the asking prices for these whiskies aren't always great. So it's a good idea to sample a travel retail exclusive before you buy it. Any Laphroaig offering arouses my curiosity, as I have yet to meet one I didn't like.

PX is short for Pedro Ximenez. As in sweet, sweet sherry. PX-seasoned casks are not used as often as Oloroso sherry seasoned casks as the former are impart more sweetness than the latter. Laphroaig PX Cask is triple matured, meaning it gets an initial maturation in 200 litre ex-bourbon (Maker's Mark) casks, then about 10 months in 125 litre Quarter Casks (fashioned from ex-bourbon casks), and then a final maturation in large European Pedro Ximenez-seasoned ex-sherry casks.


Tasting notes


  • Nose(undiluted): damp peat, dark fruit (raisins, dates), a hint of cinnamon, some iodine, brine, and the medicinal/antiseptic note that Laphroaig is known for.
  • Palate (undiluted): very soft, rounded, I'm shocked that this is 48% ABV, quite fruity, almost sticky with dates, less smoke than I expect from Laphroaig, subtle coffee notes
  • Finish: medium length, malty, oat cakes, somewhat medicinal with a touch of smoke and dates lingering

With water, there's a mineral note that comes out on the nose, like pencil lead. The fruit becomes a bit brighter, with lemons joining the raisins and dates. The palate and finish are almost unchanged with water, there is a slight re-ordering of the flavours, with the smoke being a bit more prominent, but otherwise it stays the same. Add water or don't, it doesn't seem to change much.

This feels like a “summer Laphroaig”, almost like what Select could have been, had they bottled it at a more respectable strength. It’s a bit fruitier and not quite as smoky and medicinal as I want it to be, but it’s a pleasing sipper nonetheless. I won’t try to hunt down a bottle, nor will I reach into my whisky network to source one, but I would certainly purchase one if I came across it at a reasonable price. It's also a bottle I'd be glad to give or receive as a gift. An all-around enjoyable malt. Recommended.


Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches (86/100 points)


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 !!

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

1 moustache: No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: This stuff is not in my wheelhouse. Very bad whisky. Not recommended 51-60 points
2 moustaches: Best suited to mixing, not great neat. Try before you buy this one. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable, if somewhat mediocre, neat or on the rocks. Try before you buy. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail. Usually recommended. 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper, possibly outstanding in a cocktail. Recommended. 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. A "must try" whisky. 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. A "must have" whisky. 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, 14 November 2018

A Star is (re)Born: a review of Tomatin 12 Year Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.
Oscar Wilde

Style is a funny thing. Bell-bottoms, leggings, mullets, moustaches, actors, and even musicians ride waves of popularity and suffer through doldrums. Frank Sinatra lived through a career slump from 1946 to 1952. John Travolta was an idol in the 1970s but few would argue that the 1980s were kind to him. Travolta wasn't officially "back" until his performance along side the amazing Uma Thurman in Tarantino's 1994 hit Pulp Fiction. Whisky is no different. Some distilleries maintain their popularity, such as Glenfiddich or The Macallan, while others experience boom and bust cycles.
Tomatin distillery once produced more malt whisky than any other distillery in Scotland, yet you rarely see it mentioned on whisky appreciation websites, Facebook pages, Instagram, and blogs. So what's Tomatin all about? Are they due for a Travolta-like renaissance?

Tomatin distillery: the cheat sheet


Tomatin distillery is located just South of Inverness. It's almost a Speyside distillery, but remains classified as a Highland distillery. What's the difference? Very little these days. Regional designations are less important than they used to be. I mean, technically all Speyside whiskies are Highland whiskies, though not all Highland whiskies are Speyside whiskies. Got that? In the late 1980s, Tomatin was the largest malt whisky producer in Scotland. Production has been scaled back since the 1990s, but they still produce about 2.5 million litres of spirit per year. Although about 80% of their whisky goes into blends, Tomatin's parent company, Takara Shuzo, has been investing more time, energy, and resources into marketing Tomatin as a stand-alone single malt whisky. Fun fact: there was a shortage of skilled labour in the area when the distillery was built, so houses were built onsite. About eighty per cent of Tomatin's employees still live in these distillery houses. According to a marketing blurb on their website: 

WORKING AT TOMATIN IS MORE THAN JUST A JOB FOR OUR EMPLOYEES; IT IS A WAY OF LIFE. THIS IN TURN  IS REFLECTED IN THE QUALITY OF WHISKY PRODUCED; EVERY BOTTLE OF WHISKY WE MAKE IS DISTILLED WITH PRIDE.

Heck, this might even be one of those "great marketing pitch that happens to be true" moments. Let's see what the whisky says.

Tasting notes


This 12 Year Old sample is my first ever taste of Tomatin. It's a mix of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. The bottle says "finished" in sherry casks, but who knows what that means? Finished for how long? 2 years? 10 Minutes? Somewhere in between? Well, let's see what this is all about.
  • Nose (undiluted): Lovely! Quite surprising given my complete lack of expectations. definitely a dry Oloroso sherry note, red licorice (cherry NIBS), almonds, a bit of vanilla, some hints of oak and barrel char, very reminiscent of Glendronach 12 (a malt whisky I appreciate more with each tasting).
  • Palate (undiluted): medium bodied, more red fruit, baked apples, more nuttiness
  • Finish: short to medium length, vanilla, coconut, pears, a bit of barley sugar, hazelnuts, more oak

This was an easy drinking sample, so I didn't see the point in adding water. It's bottled at 43% ABV, and any lowering it further is unnecessary. Tomatin 12 isn't ├╝ber-complex, but it's more interesting than just about every entry-level offering I've tried. I'm pleasantly surprised and impressed by this malt. At $59 per bottle in Ontario, I'll definitely be purchasing a full bottle. Although perhaps I shouldn't be proclaiming my new found affection for Tomatin too loudly. The last time I did that, with Benromach 10, the LCBO jacked up the price to the tune of an extra $20 per bottle. Truth be told, I don't think it had anything to do with me. I doubt I have that much influence.

Entry-level is often code for "inexpensive, ordinary, and boring", but it doesn't need to be this way. Tomatin 12 is a high quality single malt that won't break the bank. I've often heard Glendronach 12 refered to as a "poor man's Macallan 12", although I prefer Glendronach to Macallan regardless of price. Tomatin 12 might be considered a "poor man's Glendronach 12" in some quarters, but I feel this is an unfair characterization. Take price out of the equation altogether and Tomatin 12 remains a solid, dependable, lightly-sherried single malt worthy of your time and appreciation. This sample was a real moment of discovery for me, not unlike an entire generation who (re)discovered Frank Sinatra after 1953 or John Travolta in 1994. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches (86/100 points)

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 !!


Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

1 moustache: No flavour, just alcohol. Any whisky rated this poorly is to be avoided. 0-50 points
1.5 moustaches: This stuff is not in my wheelhouse. Very bad whisky. Not recommended 51-60 points
2 moustaches: Best suited to mixing, not great neat. Try before you buy this one. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if mediocre neat or on the rocks. Try before you buy. 71-76 points
3 moustaches: Versatile whisky, above average quality. Good neat or in a cocktail. Usually recommended. 77-82 points
3.5 moustaches: Good quality sipper, possibly outstanding in a cocktail. Recommended. 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. A "must try" whisky. 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. A "must have" whisky. 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