Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Sibling Rivalry: a review Weller Antique 107

Sibling rivalries are nothing new. These family tensions are a common theme in film, literature, and in music. In The Godfather II, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) shares a powerful sibling rivalry moment with his jealous brother, uttering the classic line "I know it was you, Fredo. You broke my heart!". Fyodor Dostoevsky used sibling rivalry, as only a XIX century Russian author could, as a motif to show us all the shades of human nature's good and evil aspects in his classic The Brothers Karamazov (even if you only read the chapter "The Grand Inquisitor", it's worth your time). In music, the drama need not be fictionalized. Oasis brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher used to fight frequently and publicly. There are tales, some of them documented, of booze and cocaine-fueled bickering, onstage assaults with a tambourine (really!), Liam smashing Noel's guitars, and Noel delivering what is perhaps the greatest insult of all time: "He (ed. Liam) is like a man with a fork in a world of soup". Liam's best response was calling Noel a "potato" in several caustic tweets.  Sometimes it's brothers and sisters fighting, a dynamic that was most aptly explained by Groundskeeper Willie.

How does this relate to whiskey?

I'd seen Weller Antique 107 referred to as the much vaunted Weller 12's "little brother" but I was hesitant about getting a bottle of the former at first. You see, I have a bottle of Weller 12 that's still well over 3/4 full (7/8ths full maybe?) after about a year. A nice way to put it is that I really don't care for the Weller 12 so far. A less tactful indivivual, like say Liam Gallagher, might say that Weller 12 tastes like overhyped, overpriced Buckley's cough syrup, sans the cough suppression, but I am kind, so I won't say that. However, some wise people convinced me to try Weller Antique 107 and I'm glad they did. I believe this wheater is 7 years old, though the bottle bears no age statement.

What's Poor man's Pappy?


When buying a wheated bourbon bearing the Weller name, the phrase "Poor man's Pappy" will inevitably come up. Pappy Van Winkle is one of the most expensive, most hyped bourbon brands (maybe THE most hyped) in existence. Without getting into too many crazy details, Buffalo Trace distillery owns the Weller and Pappy Van Winkle brands. Both are made from Buffalo Trace's wheated bourbon mashbill. Van Winkle used to be made at the Stitzel-Weller distillery, but that distillery is no more, and I'm fairly certain most of the original Stitzel-Weller stocks are gone, or they only go into the 23 Year Old Pappy Van Winkle bottlings. I've tried many of the online iterations of combining Weller 12 and Weller Antique 107 in a voodoo-inspired alchemy, but I always found that the Weller Antique 107 tasted bettter on its own than it did mixed in any combination or ratio with its off-putting brother. As the Soup Nazi would say: "No Pappy for you!"

Tasting notes


  • Nose (undiluted): toffee, floral vanilla, oak spices, icing sugar
  • Palate (undiluted): rich and oily mouthfeel, very little “burning” despite the 53.5% abv, sugar cookies with vanilla icing, cherries, Macintosh apples with cinnamon
  • Finish: long and warming, salted caramel, toasted oak, and a bit of Barrel char.

Water mutes the toffee and apple notes a bit, but brings out the barrel char and a slight waxiness. Good both ways, but water is not needed. I preferred it neat. The texture of this whiskey is fantastic. I enjoyed it so much that I purchased 2 backup bottles and I am actively seeking more.

Weller Antique 107 is perfectly balanced and its flavours are flawlessly integrated. I like the Weller 12 as much as Liam Gallagher likes his brother Noel, which is to say not at all. But the Weller Antique 107 is awesome stuff. In this sibling rivalry, there is no contest as far as I'm concerned. Highly recommended.

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!

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

That Smell: a review Glen Garioch 1999

Whisky tasting is a multi-sensory experience. Our senses of taste and smell each have their own receptor organs, yet they are intimately connected. Food doesn't "taste right" when you have a head cold, because you're only tasting the food, rather than experiencing the combination of flavours and odours. But what happens when something is "off" altogether? Are flavours still enjoyable if they're accompanied by unpleasant odours? Would Gal Gadot still turn heads if she smelled like your dad's old hockey bag from the 1970s? Would Matthew McConaughey still be considered attractive if he smelled like he fell into the Bog of Eternal Stench?

Is everything alright, alright, alright?
My sample of Glen Garioch 1999 was provided by a friend who warned me that my first tasting would probably be "sulphury", but that if I gave the second half of the sample some time, the sulphur would dissipate. For those who don't know, some sherry-matured whiskies can be "sulphur-tainted". How does this happen? Well, here's the short version:

Sherry used to be shipped to the UK in oak casks. These transport casks, once emptied, were then used by whisky distilleries to mature or finish whiskies, imbuing them with a fruity, raisin and date, sherry-driven character. In the late 1980s (or early 1990s), however, Spanish export regulations outlawed the use of transport casks and Sherry had to be bottled in Spain before being exported. While this doesn't seem problematic on the surface, there have been unforeseen consequences to these changes. Sherry casks bound for Scotland are sometimes treated with sulphur candles to kill bacteria and to prevent microbial growth. A noble goal, to be sure, but some casks then become "infected" with sulphur, impregnating the whisky that fills these casks with aromas of burnt matches, rotten eggs, or burning rubber. Not pleasant. But things get more complex, since some people can't detect these sulphur compounds at all. This isn't because they aren't "experienced" enough, but rather because of genetics. So while some people (including yours truly) are sensitive to sulphur, others insist it's not even a thing. To make matters worse, some marketing folks insist it's "just a different flavour" or an intentional "spice". Oy vey!

So how was this offering from Glen Garioch? Did the reek dissipate? Was it that bad?

Glen "how do you pronounce that?" Garioch


From their website:

One of the oldest operating distilleries in Scotland [ed. aren't they all?]– and its most easterly – Glen Garioch (pronounced Geery in the ancient Doric dialect still spoken in these parts) has been making its mighty malt in the quaint and historic market town of Oldmeldrum, near Aberdeen in North East Scotland, ever since 1797.


Glen Garioch 1999 (14 years old)
Batch no 30
56.3 % abv
Sample bottled Oct 16, 2018

So I took my friend's advice and divvied up the tastings, about a month apart.

First tasting (January 16, 2019):

Nose (undiluted): oranges, light brown sugar, golden raisins, oak, spent match (sulphur?) that dissipates a wee bit with a good rest in the glass, and then a mint and balsamic vinegar aroma appears
Palate (undiluted): medium bodied, gentler than the 56.3% abv would suggest, milk chocolate covered raisins, yielding to a bright grapey note with a bit more oak
Finish: medium length, light toffee, wine gums (without the gag-inducing texture of gummies), oak lingering, and a hint of lemons at the tail end.

Second tasting (February 11, 2019) with 1 teaspoon of water added:

Nose: raisins, mint, balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, walnuts. The sulphur (spent match, a bit of rubber/eraser) is not as pronounced as before, but it's still there. I feel as though given enough time, the sulphur might disappear altogether, but who knows?
Palate: medium bodied, very gently arrival, oak, brown sugar, raisins, milk chocolate. The bright grape note is diminished significantly with water.
Finish: medium length, more oak, a slight waxiness, some lemons, black pepper, a herbal note at the end, rosemary or sage maybe?

This whisky feels "muted" with and without water. Maybe it's me, or maybe this is simply a subtle, nuanced malt. The lingering sulphur would make me wary of purchasing a bottle, but those who don't detect sulphur as strongly would probably enjoy it. The herbal notes on the finish are drying and very interesting. But since I am sensitive to sulphur aromas, there's just no getting around its presence. That's not to say I don't appreciate my friend donating this sample. That's part of the fun of developing a "whisky network"; you have a chance to try before you buy. If you've never noticed aromas of spent matches, burnt rubber, or rotten eggs in your whisky, you may not be sensitive to sulphur compounds. This is not a flaw in your system, it's all genetics. Some people don't perceive these odours very strongly, and some don't perceive them at all. Unfortunately, I perceive these notes clearly, and there's just no getting around that. Try before you buy.

Rating: 2.5 moustaches (76/100 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 !

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Mixed Signals: Signal Hill Canadian Whisky

Maintaining objectivity is difficult. Humans are not good at it. Confirmation bias affects us all. According to Psychology Today:

Once we have formed a view, we embrace information that confirms that view while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it. Confirmation bias suggests that we don’t perceive circumstances objectively. We pick out those bits of data that make us feel good because they confirm our prejudices. 

You can see confirmation bias firsthand by discussing politics, religion, or literally anything on the internet. Those who agree with us are intelligent (obviously) while those who disagree with us are ignorant morons (d'uh!). But if we don't adjust for our own biases, we can become blinded to certain truths. Thus it's always preferable to keep an active mind. It's a good idea to re-examine our beliefs and even ask ourselves "What would it take for me to change my mind about (insert any topic here)?"
Who DOESN'T love a Venn diagram?

Canadian whisky is a growing category. Sales are climbing and people are noticing that Canada can produce more than just mild mixers for your rye and ginger (not that there's anything wrong with those). But many remain skeptical, dismissing any and all Canadian whiskies. This is also confirmation bias at work. I wonder how many fans of American Straight Rye might appreciate something like Lot 40 if they tasted it without knowing what it was? I wonder what it would take to change someone's mind where Canadian whisky is concerned.

Is Signal Hill a whisky that's up to the task? I was happy to receive a free 750ml bottle of Signal Hill. Maybe I’ve “made it” as a blogger. Of course, once I publish my review, I may never get free whisky again. Oh well, I have to be honest. Signal Hill is a whisky sourced from Ontario, and if I had to guess, I’d say it’s from the Hiram Walker distillery, using the Canadian Club “stocks”. So here’s what I know about this whisky:

Signal Hill

Here's what Signal Hill's representatives sent me regarding their whisky.

1. Crafted in St. John’s, Newfoundland – within sight of the historic Signal Hill 
2. Blended with the pristine waters of Newfoundland, Canada
3. 3-cask aging process for a deep amber colour and complex flavour: White Oak Casks, Bourbon Casks and Canadian Whisky Casks
4. Aged in a variable climate to deliver richness
5. Non-chill filtered for a fuller mouthfeel and smoother finish
6. The contemporary bottle compliments the non-traditional whisky
7. 95% corn, 5% barley
8. Blended in small batches

Tasting notes

  • Nose (undiluted): strong solvent aroma at first, after a few minutes there’s  rich caramel and cream aromas, reminiscent of Werther's Original hard candies, toasted oak, cola, and a bit of rye spice in the background.
  • Palate (undiluted): rich arrival, surprisingly mouth-coating for something bottled at 40% abv, floral honey, figs, orange zest, a touch of cinnamon
  • Finish: medium length, more honey, rye spice, flat cola, ending on a slightly bitter (but still pleasing) orange zest note 
  • Balance: it’s not super-complex, but it’s fairly well-integrated.
Adding water emphasizes the slight bitter note on the finish. But this is not an "off" vodka-esque note nor is it an acetone or spirity bitterness. It's akin to adding a dash of orange bitters to your whisky. I think this would make Signal Hill good in a Manhattan or even a whisky sour. The whisky is fairly well-balanced and is good on its own as a digestif. Its biggest asset is the texture and flavour on the palate. I don’t know if the rich texture comes from the lack of chill-filtration or because it’s almost exclusively corn whisky. Maybe it’s both. It may be my biases and beliefs speaking here, but I doubt Signal Hill will change the way people perceive Canadian whisky. It’s well made, easy to drink, but I wouldn’t classify it as bold, spicy, or call it a radical departure from the familiar. If you're already a fan of Canadian Club, you'll probably like Signal Hill, as there are similarities here. If Canadian whisky isn't your thing, this one may not convince you. Try before you buy.

Rating: 3/5 moustaches (80/100 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: 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

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Lagavulin 16 Year Old Single Malt Scotch

I love the post-apocalyptic genre, in film as well as in literature. I've written about it before (here). Of course, many movies, video games, and novels do a poor job of it, but every now and then a few get it right. Cormac McCarthy's excellent novel The Road comes to mind. While it wasn't exactly post-apocalytpic, I adored 1998's underrated end-of-the-world flick Last Night (starring the always excellent Sandra Oh). Even zombie flicks can be well-done, as Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later showed. One of my favourite scenes is the grocery store scene (found here). While stocking up on whisky, Brendan Gleeson affirms, "you can't just take any old crap" and proceeds to extol the virtues of Lagavulin 16 Year Old. Now you don't see the full label, but the box with the lion crest makes it obvious, as does Gleeson's description "single malt, aged 16 years, takes out the fire but leaves the warmth". That last bit is printed right on Lagavulin 16's label. And if you were running from some rage zombies, you'd definitely want to stock up on Lagavulin, in case things went from bad to worse.

An Islay Icon


Iain has worked at Lagavulin longer than I've been alive
Every whisky wants to be regarded as "iconic" but how many truly fit the bill? Whether we like to admit it or not, marketing stories are important and they work. Bourbons love to proclaim their connection (real or manufactured) to the American spirit of independence. (Never mind the fact that 8 distilleries produce the vast majority of all bourbon on the market). Scotch whisky distilleries love to incorporate Gaelic names as well as references to defying English tax-collectors by engaging in illicit distilling.  Lagavulin 16 Year Old doesn't have to make these claims, as far as I'm concerned. Their tagline could be "This is Lagavulin. It tastes fantastic. You should buy it." and I doubt its sales would suffer. Lagavulin 16 is Ron Swanson's whisky of choice. Heck, I can imagine Swanson pronouncing my tagline in his signature deadpan. It would work, I'm sure of it. Not surprisingly, Lagavulin 16 is also the whisky of choice for Swanson's real life alter-ego, Nick "my beard can beat up your beard" Offerman. Iain McArthur has worked at the Lagavulin distillery for over 45 years, and he's still passionate about the whisky. If there's a better endorsement of quality out there, I haven't seen it. Of course, McArthur might receive "bonuses" from Diageo for his interviews and video appearances, but the man seems utterly incapable of pretense (in true Scottish fashion) so I don't doubt his sincerity. Nick Offerman even partnered up with Diageo for a series of videos featuring Lagavulin (and a few other Diageo-owned malts). If you've never tried Lagavulin, I recommend you try it at a bar or pub first, as its bold flavours aren't for everyone.

Tasting notes


  • Nose (undiluted): deep wood smoke, a bit of iodine/seaweed, fresh tobacco, tar
  • Palate (undiluted): rich arrival despite the lower abv (43%), silky mouth-feel, peat, a bit of tar, a slight toffee sweetness
  • Finish: long, with tobacco smoke reminiscent of a cigar, a bit of cinnamon, and a eucalyptus note at the tail end that brings everything together beautifully.
With water....who am I kidding? I don't add water to this whisky. I just can't do it. It's classic and wonderful exactly as it is. Yes, I wish it was bottled a tad stronger, say 46%-48% abv. Yes, I wish Diageo would save the E150a (caramel colouring) for budget blended whisky and leave it out of my single malts altogether. But these are relatively minor quibbles. Lagavulin 16 just hits the spot. While batch variations exist, I've been fortunate. Every bottle of Lagavulin 16 I've owned has been exceptional. The bottle of Lagavulin 16 currently residing in my whisky cabinet was a gift from some very thoughtful people, so this particular Lagavulin is even more heart-warming than others I've had. I fully admit to being biased, so it's difficult to even feign objectivity where this whisky is concerned. It's an all-time favourite of mine. If you want to really dive headlong into the world of peat and smoke, I highly recommend Lagavulin 16 year old.

Rating: 4.5/5 moustaches (92/100 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: 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