Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The Uber-Geek's Top Five: Whiskies for Winter

In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer
Albert Camus

"Winter is coming." If you're a Game of Thrones fan, and I am, it's impossible to forget those words. There's a good chance you're hearing them pronounced by Ned Stark, portrayed by the perpetually dying (onscreen anyway) Sean Bean. Or maybe you hear them coming from the brooding know-nothing Jon Snow (Kit Harrington). Winter tests our resolve and sometimes our sanity, but it reminds us of the cyclical nature of life just as mullets and legwarmers remind us of the cyclical nature of fashion. So which whiskies are ideal for reflection and getting through a cold January night? Which whisky is the perfect companion to a binge-watching session of The Office, Parks & Recreation, Game of Thrones, or any other series?

5. Weller Antique 107


This wheated bourbon is a rich, vanilla-laden treat. Think of it as the whiskey equivalent of Christmas sugar cookies with vanilla frosting. It's big and warming, clocking in at a respectable 53.5% abv (hence the "107"), and Weller Antique 107 is eminently affordable here in Ontario. Bonus points: it's more readily available than the vaunted Weller 12 year old. Weller Antique 107 also tastes much better than Weller 12, in my opinion. I have a bottle of Weller 12 that's been open for the better part of a year, and it's still more than 3/4 full. The Weller Antique 107 doesn't last nearly as long at my place. It's great in a cocktail, on the rocks, or neat (my preference), so you'll probably want to keep a few extras on hand.

4. Laphroaig Quarter Cask


How you'll feel the first time you try Laphroaig Quarter Cask.
A big, bold single malt that's sure to warm you up. There's enough peat and woodsmoke in this Laphroaig to heat Castle Grayskull during an extended siege. The use of quarter casks (a quarter of the size of a sherry butt, hence "quarter cask") make this dram rich and very oaky. The smaller cask size (125 litres, compared to 500 litres for sherry butts, and 200 litres for ex-bourbon casks) leads to an increased wood contact with the spirit. Laphroaig Quarter Cask is a bit younger than Laphroaig's flagship ten year expression (Quarter Cask is a vatting of 5 to 11 year old whiskies) but don't let this put you off. Many whiskies, especially heavily peated whiskies, do quite well at a younger age. Not even Skeletor's freeze-ray device stands a chance against this smoke-show. Under the deep, earthy peat and smoke, expect some lovely vanilla, dark chocolate, and some dark roast coffee on the finish. Perfect for sipping while you're hanging out in The Sorceress' Den, learning various spells.

3. Wiser's 35 Year Old


If Laphroaig Quarter Cask evokes the spirit of a stark place like Winterfell (pun intended) or Castle Grayskull, Wiser's 35 Year Old conjures images of pondering over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore. If you're feeling weak and weary, put on your warm slippers, cozy up in your leather armchair, put another log on the fire and tuck into a pour of this sweet, creamy, spicy, and perfectly balanced whisky. You may even be inspired to write a verse or two:

“Whisky!” said I, “thing of beauty!— distilled, in pot or column!
Whether blender sent, or whether fortune bade me thus to pour,
Blended yet much vaunted, now my Glencairn glass enchanted—
On my lips by flavour haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there more in store?—tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Ask the blender “Livermore.”

Ok, so I'm no poet. This masterpiece of blending features column-distilled corn whisky aged in ex-bourbon barrels, column and pot-still rye whisky aged in charred virgin oak barrels. As is the case with many Canadian whiskies, these components were all aged separately. Canadian law requires Canadian whisky to be aged for a minimum of  3 years, but this one spent 35 years "napping" before being blended and bottled at 50 % abv. It's impossible to find fault with this whisky. Tell me, can blended whisky get any better? Quoth the master blender, "nevermore".

2. Ardbeg Corryvreckan


The more astute among you may have noticed the trend in favour of high-test whiskies on this list. Bully for you. Winter isn't the time for delicate flavours. A winter whisky needs to let you know you're alive. Ardbeg Corryvreckan brings to mind Samwise Gamgee's oft-spoken quote about wizards being "subtle and quick to anger". Now there's nothing sublte about the big smoke and pepper that hits the nose as soon as you open a bottle of Corryvreckan, but the first sip is rich and oily, almost meaty, and you might be fooled into thinking it's gentle, mellow, and playful for a second, like Gandalf setting off fireworks for the Hobbit children...But that seductive texture is followed by freshly-cracked pepper, cinnamon and anise notes. The thick smoke and peat which ensue are as intense as Gandalf's anger as he shouts "YOU SHALL NOT PASS!!". But after the fire and fury, there is a gentle side to this malt; after the bold smoke and spice of the palate, there's a subtle cherry note, as well as some chocolate on the finish, like Gandalf calming down and resuming a conciliatory tone after losing his temper with Bilbo Baggins. Yes, if Gandalf the Grey were a whisky, he'd likely be Ardbeg Corryvreckan. And what better way to warm up during a winter storm than with the whisky equivalent of the servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor?

1. Bruichladdich Octomore 8.3


Any Octomore could fit the bill of a winter whisky, but Octomore Edition 8.3 is the Darth Vader of Octomores. The Octomore line is produced by Bruichladdich and is renowned for being some of the most intensely peated whisky in existence. For those who don't know, peat is used to fuel the fires that dry the barley. These peat fires impart phenolic compounds which are responsible for that earthy, smoky flavour that you'll either love or hate. Peat is measured in Phenol Parts per Million (ppm). For comparison's sake,  Highland Park peats their barley to about 20 ppm, Lagavulin measures about 35 ppm, Laphroaig comes in at around 40 ppm, and Ardbeg peats to about 55 ppm. Octomore 8.3 is peated to 309 ppm. That's not a typo. That's a Force-choke level of peat and smoke. Oh, and Octomore 8.3 is also bottled at 61.2 % abv. But of course, peat readings don't tell the whole story. After the peated malt is distilled and aged, not all of that peat and smoke remains. Nevertheless, the first sips of this Octomore will shake you to your core, as though you have failed Darth Vader for the last time, à la Admiral Ozzel. But use your training well, young Padawan, and like Luke Skywalker, you will sense the deeper regions of Octomore's soul. There is some fruitiness and nuttiness beneath the fury. There's brown sugar, plums, and maybe something tropical. It's not for the faint of heart, but if there is a whisky can release you from winter's icy grip, it's Octomore. Most impressive.

So there you have it; my Top Five picks for whiskies to help you survive January in Canada. We've hit temperatures well below -30 degrees (Celsius, hoser) and there's still this thing called February just around the corner. Buckle up, folks. The way things are going, we might as well be living in a rebel base on Hoth. Hopefully these whiskies keep you warm enough so you don't have to cut open (and sleep in) your Tauntaun to survive.


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, 24 January 2019

Family Ties: a review of Kilkerran 12 Year Old

Growing up in the 1980s there was no shortage of family-friendly sitcoms, replete with catch phrases oddball neighbours, and quirky family dynamics. Who's the Boss? gave us Tony Danza's famous "Ay-oh! Oh-ay!", Family Matters gave us über-geek Steve Urkel, and Family Ties introduced us to the zany inter-generational clash between young conservative and Reagan-acolyte Alex P. Keaton and his hippie parents, Steve and Elyse. Family Ties did tap into a shifting social dynamic. Young people coming of age in the 1980s were rejecting their parents' liberal, socially-conscious politics and embracing the laissez-faire conservatism that came to define Reaganomics. While Alex's schemes and divergences from his family's values was intended to paint him as an unsympathetic antagonist, Michael J. Fox managed to make the character nuanced and likeable. Heck, how could you not like a guy who made three amazing movies featuring time travel in a sweet Delorean? Things aren't always black and white, whether we're talking feel-good family television, or malt whisky. While it's easy to dismiss the old TGIF line-up as 1980s fluff, there was sometimes more to them than we're comfortable giving them credit for. Families have fought for as long as they've existed, and the phenomenon is not limited to NBC/ABC/CBS.

Family Feud


Glengyle distillery was founded by William Mitchell, son of Archibald Mitchell, the founder of Springbank distillery. William ran Springbank with his brother John until the two got in a quarrel over who's sheep produced the best wool, the best haggis, or tasted better when roasted with garlic and rosemary or something like that. William Mitchell’s Glengyle Distillery began distilling in 1872 with Wiliam as the sole proprietor. Like many Campbeltown distilleries, Glengyle suffered during the economic downturn at the beginning of the 20th century. It was sold, closed, and reopened many times throughout the 20th century. In November 2000, 75 years after Glengyle had last produced spirit, it was announced that the buildings had been bought by a new company, Mitchell’s Glengyle Limited, headed by Mr Hedley Wright, chairman of J&A Mitchell and Co Ltd, and great-great nephew of William Mitchell, original founder of Glengyle. Yes, that's the same J&A Mitchell and Co. that owns Springbank. So there are still family ties between the two distilleries (see what I did there?).

Tasting notes


  • Nose (undiluted): Green apples, pears, fresh cut flowers, candied ginger, salted caramel, a little vegetal funk (Peat?) in the background, just a hint of smoke developing
  • Palate (Undiluted): richer than expected, a bit waxy, ripe pears, a touch of smoke, a bit of orange zest
  • Finish: medium length, a touch of nuttiness, hazelnuts maybe, then milk chocolate, yielding to a little minerality (slightly chalky), charred lemons, a touch of pepper and ginger lingering, ending on a light vanilla and meringue note.

With water, there's less waxiness, but a bit more smoke coming through. However the flavours aren't as clear with water added. This is definitely better neat. The bottle has changed over time, with the waxiness fading and the smoke becoming more prominent. If I buy another bottle (quite likely), I believe I'll use Private Preserve (an inert gas that keeps oxygen away from the whisky), as I really liked that waxy component. The first 1/3 of the bottle, I probably would have rated 89-90 points, and after a few months of air exposure I still like it, but not as much as before, maybe 87 points. So I'll split the difference here. Either way, this is a wonderful example of a balanced Campbeltown whisky. Hopefully this represents a reconciliation between Springbank and Glengyle. I'd hate to have to pick a side in a renewed rivalry. Recommended.

Rating : 4 moustaches (88/100 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"

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:


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, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if somewhat mediocre 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. 87-90 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

Monday, 14 January 2019

Living the Dream: a review of Dead Rabbit Irish Whiskey

You have to celebrate small victories. Doing what amounts to free marketing for the whisk(e)y industry, which is what "whisky blogging" really is, can seem like a silly hobby to some, but it is a labour of love for me. There's a surprising amount of work that goes into a silly little blog like this one, and it's nice to get a bit of "extra" enjoyment out of it. Awhile back I was contacted by Pam, who asked if I would be interested in sampling and reviewing The Dead Rabbit, a new blended Irish Whiskey. Free whiskey? Yes please! Of course, many of my friends voiced concerns that this might compromise the objectivity of my review, but by disclosing this fact to everyone reading I feel as though I'm being transparent. No Jedi mind tricks here. I'm not being paid for my views, and I'm as unapologetically honest as Dr. House.


The Dead Rabbit


Not the Dead Rabbits I'm talking about
The Dead Rabbit is the result of a collaboration between Dublin Liberties distillery and the owners of New York's Dead Rabbit Saloon. I'm not sure if Liam Neeson or Leonardo DiCaprio were involved in the creation of this whiskey. Probably not. The Dead Rabbit is bottled at a very respectable 44% abv. Pam was kind enough to answer all my questions about The Dead Rabbit's DNA, as it were. So, here's what I know about The Dead Rabbit :
  • a mix of Malt and Grain in the ratio of 30% Malt and 70% Grain.
  • The Malt Component: is 100% Malted Barley and put through Pot Stills
  • The Grain Component: is a mix of Barley and Maize (corn) through Continuous Distillation Column Stills
  • Fermentation times are typically between 58-66 hours.
  • Maturated for 5 years in ex-Bourbon Casks and then finished in 1/2 Size Virgin American Oak.
This Dead Rabbit looks far tastier

The 1/2 size Virgin American Oak casks are what many companies commonly refer to as Quarter Casks. They're generally about 100-125 litres, half the size of typical bourbon casks (about 200 litres), and a quarter of the size of typical sherry butts (about 475-500 litres).

Tasting Notes

  • Nose (undiluted): very oak forward, plenty of sweet malty notes, and lots of vanilla and toffee punching through, spices like cinnamon and cardamom, perhaps a touch of green apple in the background
  • Palate (undiluted): gentle arrival, then getting very bourbon-esque and a bit punchy (in a good way), loads of toasted oak, cinnamon, and vanilla
  • Finish: medium length, honey, oak, vanilla, a bit of buttery croissant flavour near the end, which is pleasantly drying.
With water and a bit of time, the nose becomes apple pie! Lots of baked honeycrisp apples (I'm not trying to be pretentious, I promise), cinnamon and some rich, dark toffee. The palate loses some punch with water, and the finish is a bit less oaky. So adding water is going to be a personal choice; the nose is better with water, but the palate and finish are better neat. Of course, it may be time and not water that changed the nose. Although this was a 50 ml sample, I tried it twice, 25 ml at a time, about 2 weeks apart.

This is an unapologetic, oak-forward whiskey. I can see The Dead Rabbit polarizing whiskey drinkers. If you're looking for a sherry-bomb or something soft and fruit-forward, this isn't the whiskey you're looking for. But if you're looking for a whiskey that tastes...like whiskey, this may be for you. I enjoy this type of flavour profile. The Dead Rabbit is oak-driven without making you feel like you're gnawing on a table. The pleasant, drying finish is exactly what I want in this type of whiskey. The Dead Rabbit is great on its own, but I can also picture a bottle of this whiskey on my table at a Saint Patrick's day gathering, poured into rocks tumblers and sipped - responsibly, of course - alongside a pint of Guinness or Kilkenny. Recommended.

Rating: 3.5/5 moustaches (84/100 points)


May the saddest day of your future be no worse
Than the happiest day of your past.

Ratings may be interpreted as follows:

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, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if somewhat mediocre 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. 87-90 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

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Whisky In the Nude: Glenlivet Nadurra First Fill FF0716

Single malt whisky is a real chameleon. Its final character is affected by fermentation time, distillation cuts, the size and shape of the pot still, the angle of the lyne arm, the use of worm tubs vs shell-and-tube condensers, and maturation time. Malt whisky can be peated to a variety of ppm levels. It can be finished (or matured entirely) in a variety of cask types; red wine, port, sherry, white wine, madeira wine, rum casks, and it can be matured in a variety of cask sizes. Malt whisky can be bottled at a wide variety of abv percentages, so long as it is at least 40% abv. Each variable, as well as some I haven't listed, affects the taste and texture of the final product. Awhile back, I asked members of a Facebook group what their favourite 100% ex-bourbon cask, unpeated, cask strength single malt was. I wanted to taste a "naked" single malt whisky as a basis for future comparisons.
There's no limit to what Willie can do.
Much like country music was once described as "three chords and the truth", an unsherried, unpeated single malt would give me an idea of how a "true" malt whisky tastes. And there's a lot you can do with "three chords and the truth"; just ask the inimitable Willie Nelson. Now obviously the distillery of origin will also affect the character of the malt, but at some point, I had to make some choices. Glenlivet's Nadurra First Fill was mentioned several times. Unfortunately, this one doesn't carry an age statement, but it is 100% ex-bourbon, it is unpeated, and it is presented at cask strength without chill-filtration or added colour.

Tasting notes


This Glenlivet Nadurra is from Batch FF0716, and is bottled at 59.1 % ABV. If I had to guess, and it's just a guess, I'd say that this Nadurra contains whisky that is 7 to 10 years old.

  • Nose (undiluted): honey, oak, honeydew melon, green apples, surprisingly mild nose for something bottled at 59.1%
  • Palate (undiluted): oak, floral honey, a bit of pepper, a hint of vanilla, icing sugar, melon, banana
  • Finish: medium length, warming, classic Glenlivet amped up, malted barley, toffee, hazelnuts, banana chips, a hint of milk chocolate
Adding water emphasizes the icing sugar, hazelnuts and dried banana chips. The chocolate note is also more prominent with water added. Chocolate-covered banana chips? Yes, please! This one packs a wallop, so don't be afraid to add a teaspoon of water, or more. I think I prefer it with a little water, and it's even good with (dare I say it?) ice. This whisky won't necessarily excite everyone, but it is classic Glenlivet. They definitely have a "signature" profile and it is displayed perfectly here.

I'm not sure that this is a whisky I'd reach for all the time, but there's a time and place for every whisky, just like there's a time and place for every type of music. I love Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Melissa Etheridge, Guns N Roses, and Bruce Springsteen, but I don't want to listen to any of them all the time. Glenlivet Nadurra First Fill is an excellent whisky to introduce someone to the taste of "true" malt whisky. Recommended.

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



May you taste the sweetest pleasures that fortune ere bestowed,
and may all your friends remember all the favors you are owed


Ratings may be interpreted as follows:


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, not great neat, though it can be sipped in a pinch. 61-70 points
2.5 moustaches: Respectable mixing whisky. Acceptable if somewhat mediocre 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. 87-90 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