Jan 30, 2014

Collingwood 21yo Canadian Rye...

Collingwood 21yo (40.0%): Last night I decided to pick something fancy to taste from #DavinTT2 sample basket: It is a mouthwatering 21 year old Collingwood Rye. Collingwood released this expression last fall for select markets in Canada and US only. The whisky is distilled from an all malted rye mash at Canadian Mist distillery in Collingwood, Ontario. What it makes it fancy is the unique finishing process rather than its age: After it's initial maturation the casks got married together and the vat went through another year of finishing in barrels containing toasted maple wood staves. Sounds incredibly ravishing... Color: Dark amber, wildflower honey. Nose: Warm German rye bread, hardwood shavings, prunes and roasted chestnuts. Nutmeg, garam masala and cloves. Early morning walk on a hot summer day: dried grass, dry clay soil and gorse bushes in the wind. So many layers of goodness... Complex and very enjoyable. Palate: Chestnut honey over toasted rye flakes. Dried dates, Greek baklava and chocolate covered salted caramel drops. Vanilla, crystallized ginger, maple syrup and orange zest jam. Every sip starts with toasted crispness and then continues with creamy and syrupy sweet notes. Finish: Long with maple candy, cinnamon and hard wood notes. Overall: Simply gorgeous... Damn, I wish I tasted this before..! I don't think that I have any chance to find a bottle now but wouldn't hurt to start to look for one... A complicated, multi-layered, amazingly well balanced and at the same time extremely and therefore also dangerously easy drinking dram. Another beautiful example to all the craft distillers out there how patience can be rewarded with such a high prize in whisky making. One of the best rye whiskies I sampled within a year. If you see one on the shelves don't think twice...

Jan 28, 2014

Canadian Club 100 Proof...

Canadian Club 100 Proof (50.0%): Third sample from #DavinTT2 Canadian Whisky prize basket is a Canadian Club expression you don't see around very often. So far I know the juice in the bottle is the same whisky as in the standard bottling which is six years old but with higher abv. I've never been a fan of the regular Canadian Club but I am looking forward to taste the 100 proof version. Color: Yellow gold. Nose: Acetone, tongue oil and Cinnabons. (and I really don't like Cinnabons...) Lime zest and newly polished front panel of an old car. Adding a few drops of water calmed its harshness a little bit and brought some roasted almonds and beef stew aromas to the nose. Palate: Pretty rough and oily. Rubbing alcohol, grape jelly and cinnamon powder. After allowing alcohol evaporate a few minutes faint almond extract and clove notes evolve. Finish: Longer than I would expect but mostly with alcohol burn at the back of your tongue and cheap, sweet corn syrup. Overall: I am not exactly sure if high proof added any new interesting aromas or flavors on the regular Canadian Club. It definitely has more heat on the tongue but still tastes like a budget Canadian whisky from 90's. I am aware that it is very hard to argue with its price tag under $20 but even then I would probably choose something else within that price category. Long story short: If you are looking for a Canadian Whisky to sip you should probably avoid this one. There are so many others to give a try to.

Jan 26, 2014

Masterson's 10yo Straight Barley Whiskey...

Masterson's 10yo Straight Barley Whiskey (46.0%): This is the second sample bottle I picked from #DavinTT2 Canadian Whisky prize basket. The whisky is distilled by Alberta Distillers and bottled and distributed by Sonoma, California based company 35 Maple Street. Although wine is their main line of business they do have a decent line of spirits including rye, wheat, barley whiskeys, gin and rum as well. This is actually the explanation of the American way spelling of "whiskey" on the label instead of Canadian way without an "e", in case you were wondering about. The batch yielded 12,800 bottles and is distilled from un-malted barley only. I never tasted a whisk(e)y before with a mash bill like this. I don't even know what to expect... After spending some time online I realized that people either loved it or hated it. Let's taste it then... Color: Pale yellow, chardonnay. Nose: Pine needles, green spruce wood and rosemary. Damp black garden soil and resin. Quite interesting and unusual. Adding water surfaces some sweet notes: bubblegum, dried strawberries, star anise and Twizzlers. Palate: Grassy, herbal, earthy and piney. Wet hay, bubblegum and powdered ginger. Caraway seeds and soy sauce. A few drops of water made it even more piney and greener: pallets of drying tobacco, busy wood mill where they plane lumber all day long. Finish: Pretty long with white pepper corns, hay dust and pine cones. Overall: I can totally see why some people didn't like it. It's definitely something you wouldn't expect from a barley whiskey. Actually it's nice how it shows the huge difference between all malted and all un-malted mash bills. So unusual but also interesting at the same time. It tastes almost like an aged grain jenever or maybe even like an aquavit. Also it's hard to believe that the spirit spent ten years in the barrel. The palate is so aggressive and young. The casks must have been second or third fill. If somebody told me that they put some spruce wood chips in the barrels I would buy it... So, it is an overall confusing whiskey. If you are up for a challenge you cannot find a better one. I enjoyed the ride but is it enough to justify the price tag around $65? I don't think so...

Jan 24, 2014

Glenmorangie Taghta...

Glenmorangie Taghta (46.0%): Taghta is the winning expression of Glenmorangie's "Cask Masters" campaign. Last year Glenmorangie approached over 40,000 whisky enthusiasts all over the world asking their help to craft their newest expression. First they voted between three different wood finishes: Cask A finished in Grand Cru Burgundy casks, Cask B finished in Grand Cru Bordeaux casks and Cask C finished in Manzanilla casks. Cask C won. In Stage 2, people voted on the name of the whisky, electing Taghta, Gaelic for "chosen". Then in stage 3 the design of the packaging got voted for. Fans decided to go with a darker color palate with orange highlights. Nowadays we are in Stage 4..! You can upload an image to inspire the photography of the campaign. Visit the "Cask Masters" website for more info... Taghta will be released officially in September 2014. Color: Clover honey, medium amber. Nose: Marzipan, vanilla cup cake and eucalyptus drops. Moist fruit cake, strawberry shortcake, orange zest jam and hint of acetone. A few drops of water added shredded fresh mint leaves and whole cloves. Palate: Warming and fizzy on the tongue... Dried Turkish apricots, lavender and rose petals. Eucalyptus honey, quince jam, grape jelly and Greek baklava. Do you remember the blankets at your grandmother's house? They always smelled funky but they definitely were the warmest things ever on you when you were cuddled on their old sofa on a snowy night and watching TV... Finish: Long with sweet spices: clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and star anise. Overall: Nice winter whisky... It is not an expression to puzzle you but simply to comfort you. I can totally imagine myself in front of a fireplace with a cigar and a glass of this beauty. It reminded me a little bit the long time gone lovely Sonnalta PX. Thanks to Glenmorangie and David Blackmore for the sample...

Jan 21, 2014

Blend Project #12 Black Bottle...

Black Bottle (40.0%): Black Bottle used to be one of my favorite budget blends... Honestly I still think that it is unbeatable with the price tag of $17.99. I reviewed it back in November 2010 with other whiskies in the same category under the title Sipping Cheap but this whisky definitely deserves to be reviewed more in depth for the Blend Project. It is another expression by Burn Stewart Distillers who also blends Scottish Leader I reviewed almost a week ago. Actually they came up with a new hip bottle design last Fall but I didn't see it on shelves in US yet. This is probably one of the last old school cute chubby bottles you can find around. I don't exactly know if the recipe has changed with the new packaging but I will try as soon as I can put my hands on one. We already knew that the whisky contained Islay malts but the label makes it clear that the blend contains Highland, Speyside and Lowland malt and grain whiskies as well. Let's see if it is still the best bang for the buck... Color: Yellow gold, light amber. Nose: Sigg water bottle, bartlett pears and winter ocean spray. Young grain whisky, nori, and subtle peat aromas accumulating in time. It gets sweeter with tutti frutti cake, green gummy bears and buttermilk candy.  Palate: Again grain whisky is leading with nice creamy texture, soot and fireplace smoke. Dandelion leaves, kumquat zest and cardamon. Peat is forming again with time but definitely not aggressive despite its reputation. Adding a few drops made the texture thinner but pushed the peat notes up a notch. Finish: Medium long with ash, cracked black pepper corns and green wood. Overall: It tastes younger than I remember and with heavier grain whisky influence but still very enjoyable. Another great budget blend from Burn Stewart Distillers. On the other hand we are talking about $17.99..! I wouldn't dare to complain anything about it. One of the best bargains of the whisky world but is it a better choice than the White Horse for peat freaks? I am not quite sure... I should think about it a little more. We have more whiskies waiting to be reviewed for the Blend Project before I start to think about the top five anyway.

Jan 19, 2014

London Pub Crawl...

So, you are in London for whatever reason... You have a long list of "things to do": Tate Modern, British Museum, Buckingham Palace, dinner at St. John Bread and Wine, maybe seeing a show in the West End and a lot of shopping. Are you done for the day? Are you tired? Thirsty? Sure you are... Now it's time to slow down and take it easy a little bit. You are in a city filled with amazing old pubs hidden in the alleys. Most of them are more like institutions rather than simple watering holes. None of them are boring if you are in the right mood and all of them deserve a little attention after you walk in. Walk to the counter order a fresh, flat, malty ale hand pulled from the cask and/or maybe a glass of whisky. Choose a corner for yourself and start to look around. You will start to note all the little details: writings, photographs, drawings, prints and sometimes an odd lighting fixture or a wooden gargoyle. Small but particular oddities from decades ago telling you all the history of the pub you are in. 

I definitely didn't have the chance to visit all of them. I did work hard to do my best over the years though, and I have some favorites. Again what makes them special is the time you spend in them. Sometimes with your buddies, sometimes all alone, sometimes late at night just before the last call, sometimes early in the morning breakfast time. It's addictive... Once you start you won't be able to stop and next time, before you leave to London, you will find yourself making a list of pubs to visit.

A friend of mine once told me that everybody has to have their own "Top Five London Pubs" list. He believed that it was a very important document to be shared with friends. So, here is mine to share:

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (145 Fleet Street, City of London EC4A 2BU)

Rebuilt right after the Great Fire of London of 1666 and more or less unchanged since. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has a network of small rooms in a basement connected to each other, forming a labyrinth of cellars. The floor is covered with saw dust and the rooms are dark anytime of the day. You can sit at the tables where Charles Dickens and Dr. Samuel Johnson used to like to sit or find a spot next to the fireplace. They carry their own label of spirits including a blended Scotch Whisky and aged Rum at the bar, as well as all the seasonal Samuel Smith expressions, including their ciders, on tab. Definitely an adventure to visit.

The Cockpit
The Cockpit (7 St. Andrews Hill, Blacfriars EC4V 5BY)

At first sight there wasn't anything special that caught the eye about this joint at the corner of a beautiful old building, but after spending a few nights in there I started to like it very much. It was our neighborhood pub for the entire month of June 2012, after all. Situated in the middle of the financial district of London but a little bit off the beaten path, The Cockpit dates all the way back to the 16th century. It is pretty nice to see that the pub didn't get affected by the new hip vibe that took over more or less the entire neighborhood in the last ten years. Its interiors are like a scene from a BBC show about post war London. Since cockfighting is not one of the attractions anymore it is usually quite in there and filled with elder customers, but it is a great place to sit down in peace and enjoy your drink. Watching a soccer game with the regulars on the projection screen is quite amazing though...

Right when the river walk in Hammersmith leads you to a narrow path, the entrance of The Dove appears from nowhere. Once you squeeze in through the tiny door and the bar behind, it is a very pleasant surprise to discover the small terrace with its absolutely gorgeous view overlooking the River Thames. The food is amazingly good and if you are lucky to score a table on the terrace on a summer afternoon, believe me the life cannot get better. The bar has been frequented by Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison and many others. Perfect pit stop if you are in the area taking a walk or on your way to Craven Cottage to watch Fulham Football Club on their own turf.

Blue Anchor
Blue Anchor (13 Lower Mall, Hammersmith W6 9DJ)

Situated not more than a mile away from The Dove, Blue Anchor is the more social alternative in the area. With all its tables outside of the pub right where the crowded North Bank walk of the Thames starts (or finishes), the pub is literally in the center of all the excitement, especially during summer months. It is a rowing pub in nature actually - mostly because it is located right in the middle of the Oxford - Cambridge Boat Race Track. You can find beautiful old rowing artifacts, prints and newspaper articles on the walls if you choose to be inside. It has a totally different feel to blend in with the crowd on a summer night outside. It almost feels like you are not in the city but in a small coastal British town.

The Black Friar (174 Queen Victoria Street, Blackfriars EC4V 4EG)

Now there is nothing hidden about this pub. It is right across the street from the newly renovated Blackfriars Tube Station where Queen Victoria Street meets Blackfriars Bridge Road, always crowded and has a pretty straightforward not so exciting food menu. But once you walk in... Oh, boy! The place is an Art Nouveau landmark! It was built right at the beginning of the 20th century and decorated with beautiful wall details, wood carvings, stained glass, stylized furniture and lighting fixtures. It looks more like a museum than a pub. Totally worth to visit and discover this unique pub.

I have to say that no visit to London is complete without a decent pub crawl..! Please share your own "Top Five" with me. I need a new list for my next visit...

View from North Bank walk of the River Thames, Hammersmith

[edited by Teresa Hartmann]

*Originally written for and posted at The Alcohol Professor on January 13th, 2014.

Jan 17, 2014

Blend Project #11 House of Lords...

House of Lords (40.0%): House of Lords is blended by William Whiteley & Co. There wasn't any detailed info I could reach online: no website, no reviews, only a few online retailers carrying the whisky. All I could find was that the blend used to have Edradour malts back in the days but according to Master of Malt now it contains mostly whisky sourced from Isle of Arran Distillery. Pretty interesting, kind of a mystery dram... Color: Clear and light amber. Nose: Glossy celebrity gossip magazines you can find just before you check out in your neighborhood supermarket. Brown sugar, furniture polish and tung oil. Cheap sultana cookies, cold pear compote and the way the streets would smell like after heavy rain. Palate: Young malt whisky, lemon juice and ripe quince slices. Roasted unsalted almonds, a little sea salt and baked apples. Finish: Longer than I expected with young alcohol burn, dry grass and clay soil. Overall: I didn't get serious offensive notes from this whisky but I don't think I will remember anything tomorrow either. I wouldn't refuse it when offered but also wouldn't order if I have other options. To be honest it tasted a little like a cheaper and younger version of Bailie Nicol Jarvie blend. Grassy, citrusy, young and vibrant. A little summery, cheap and would pair pretty good with a pint of blonde ale. Like I said, don't refuse it when offered but not worth to buy a bottle... Thanks to Stephen Mathis for the sample.

Jan 15, 2014

Forty Creek John's Private Cask No.1...

DavinTT2 samples #1
Forty Creek John's Private Cask No.1 (40.0%): Throughout the month of December we had the most amazing Canadian Whisky live twitter tasting and the scavenger hunt (codename: #DavinTT2) based on Davin de Kergommeaux's book "Canadian Whisky - The Portable Expert" moderated by Johanne McInnis and Graham MacKenney of Whisky Lassie . It was tremendous fun from the beginning to the end and believe or not I was lucky enough to win the big prize among many other respected and brilliant whisky bloggers and enthusiasts: Yay..! So, last weekend my unbelievably cool prize basket arrived with 16 rare Canadian whisky samples..! (Actually two of them are not whiskies [yet] but I will talk about it when I review them...) Anyway, I am so excited to taste and review every single of those samples in coming months. Let's start also to index and label them for future references: "DavinTT2 samples #1" it is...

Forty Creek John's Private Cask No.1 is a blend of rye, corn & barley whiskies. Let me give you a short explanation about John Hall's unique approach to blending if you are not familiar with it: All the whiskies at Forty Creek Distillery are distilled and aged as single grain whiskies. They are blended after their maturation to create the final expressions just before bottling. 9,000 bottles are released under John's Private Cask No.1 label. Probably we are talking about "casks" instead of one cask... I remember the raving reviews when it was released almost two and a half years ago but I didn't have a chance to taste it before. Cannot wait to experience it by myself. Color: Dark reddish amber with distinctive legs. Nose: First wave hits with rye aromas only. Sweet spices which can make you drool right away even if you are nosing it only: Ground ginger, cloves and nutmeg. Fresh and juicy Turkish figs, red grapes and prunes. After allowing it air a while corn and barley follow: corn bread, coconut cookies dough and shortbread. Everything is enveloped with fresh dark hardwood shavings. A few drops of water add beautiful earthy notes: wet garden soil and an early morning forest walk after a rainy night. Palate: Rich, thick and creamy mouthfeel... Creme caramel, Portuguese custard cups and candied ginger. Butterscotch and a little fire place smoke: the way your sweater would smell like after a romantic night in front of the fire place. Candied orange zest and rose petal jam. Water makes it loose its creaminess but adds more sweet doughy and and a little bit of acetone notes. Finish: Not aggressive but very long. A nice long farewell with subtle white pepper, salted pink grapefruit and fresh ginger. Overall: Now I understand what the fuss was about: This whisky is delicious indeed..! I wish I could find a bottle to purchase now but probably it's impossible. I will sip this wee sample today as long as I can instead. Kudos to John Hall again. Cannot wait for his new blends...

my gorgeous Canadian prize basket..!

Jan 13, 2014

Blend Project #10 Scottish Leader...

Scottish Leader (40.0%): Tire-Bouchon's blend project was on idle mode for some time and I was in desperate need for a serious nudge to get it back on its feet. And the help arrived this weekend... The one and only Stephen Mathis who is one of the ingenious brains behind the brilliant whisky blog Malt Impostor showed up in Boston with a bag of wee bottles he brought all the way from Scotland specially for the blend project..! Apparently throughout the summer he was sweeping off the bottom shelves across the ocean for me. Unbelievably cool... First bottle I pull out of the bag is Scottish Leader. Scottish Leader is a whisky blended by Burn Stewart Distillers who also releases Black Bottle. Since they have Tobermory (Ledaig), Deanston and Bunnahabhain distilleries in their portfolio it wouldn't be wrong to assume that Scottish Leader also contains malts from those distilleries. I actually remember very well how popular was this blend on Islay. I spent so many nights in The Ardview Inn in Port Ellen in front of the fire place killing a bottle of "Leader" with the locals easily within hours. Let's remember how it tasted like... Color: Polished copper, light amber. Nose: Cardboard boxes, old hardcover books in a second-hand bookstore, tobacco leaves and acetone. Surprise appearance of peat after adding a few drops of water. Lemon scented dish soap, touch of fresh peach and marzipan aromas. Like almost every bottom shelf blend it gets better with time. Just allow the young alcohol evaporate a little. Palate: Nice texture. Peat I got from the nose shows up as dusty soot and ash on the palate. Young grain whisky, pecan brittles and roasted hazelnuts. Lemon zest and caramel drops. Finish: Pretty quick with burnt caramel notes. Overall: Exactly like I remember, a great budget blend and I think I still like it! It delivers everything imaginable for the amount of the price paid. Great companion for a pint of beer... If I was asked to take a wild guess to name the dominant malt in the blend I probably would bet on Deanston. It's not an easy find in US but if you can find one, the price tag on the bottle shouldn't be more than $23 - $25. A very strong contender for the top prize of our blend project. Thanks again to Stephen Mathis for the sample.

The Ardview Inn, Port Ellen - Islay

Jan 11, 2014

Miracle of Zenne Valley...

casks at Drei Fonteinen brewery
Brettanomyces: The name of the little creature who is responsible of the miracle happening in the valley of the RiverZenne (Senne) over and over every year... It sneaks into the attics of the breweries under the tiled roofs finding its way to the cooling ships filled with a cooked mix of grain to start the unique and marvelous spontaneous fermentation of Lambic beer. For centuries fermentation was believed to be a miracle by itself, God’s reward for his faithful believers. Even the German Purity Law of 1516 didn’t mention yeast as one of the ingredients in beer. Along with the rest of the world, the brewers in the Zenne Valley didn’t have a clue how fermentation started. It was just happening…

Lambic and Geuze beers have been always one of my favorite brews. Not only because of their sour, layered and complex taste, but also because of how their taste profiles change drastically within miles in the valley, with different types of casks used and with different length of maturation.

cellars at Oud Beersel brewery
Although the historic records list that the traditional grain ratio of Lambic beer is supposed to be 6/16 wheat and 10/16 barley, nowadays most brewers use a ratio of 40/60. After the wort (grain mixed with water) is cooked for almost four hours, which is way longer than in normal brewing processes, it is allowed to cool down in stainless steel cooling ships to allow the yeast to do its job. Because of the nature of open air cooling, the brewing season is limited from Fall to Spring. Temperatures more than 18C-20C (65F-68F) result in acidity in taste and, more importantly, can cause infections. The fun part starts after the barrels are filled with the cooled wort. Wild yeast starts to work immediately and can be witnessed by observing the overflow of white foam around the bung at the top of the barrel. At that level bungs are not tightly sealed to allow the foam to flow out to protect the barrel and allow more oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. It settles down in about two weeks and the barrels are sealed. The brew continues to ferment in the casks for up to ten months, going through different fermenting phases that are all closely monitored. After that, the beer is ready to be consumed as Lambic or to be blended as Geuze.

Blending Geuze is a relatively new process. It all started with bottled beer taking over the world at the very end of the 19th century. Beer in bottles was easy to transport and reached consumers who couldn’t afford to buy bulk beer in casks. On top of everything, imported bottled German beer was less sour and had a good head. To be able to survive in this new market, some Lambic brewers started to bottle their beers using the Champagne method. They basically bottled older Lambic beers with much younger ones still containing sugar to allow a secondary fermentation in the bottle. The result was sweeter and had a great head: a new type of beer was born. Like in the whisky industry, the beer world suddenly discovered the art of blending.

After WWII, a new type of blending started by mixing, actually, non-Lambic beer and pure carbon dioxide with blends of Lambic beers to make them even sweeter and with more head. A distinction had to be made between these two different blending methods to protect the authenticity: Traditional Geuze started to be labeled as “Old Geuze” and the new less pure method kept the term “Geuze”.
Leuven Town Hall
The best way to learn and enjoy more Lambic/Geuze brews is to take a trip to the valley of River Zenne. We made our pilgrimage last August. It was a five day trip and we chose the city of Leuven as our base. Leuven is a pretty Flemish city east of Brussels. It is an old college town, famous for its sidewalk cafes, serious cycling culture, and as the home of Stella Artois brewery. Our first visit was to Oud Beersel brewery. Oud Beersel was founded in 1882 on the outskirts of the little town Beersel but mothballed in 2002. Fortunately it was saved by two young beer enthusiasts, Gert Christiaens and Roland De Bus, who simply didn’t want to see their favorite beer gone forever. The brewery re-opened in 2005 and in 2007 when Roland had to leave due to family reasons, Gert decided to continue all by himself. The tour was good and the tasting that followed was very casual and informative. Their Oude Geuze is a wonder, by the way.

tasting at Oud Beersel brewery

Second stop was Drie Fonteinen brewery, which has been owned by the same family since 1953. We were very lucky to meet the master brewer Armand Debelder and his wife. Armand gave us the long tour, told us the history of the brewery and explained every single step of the process at an amazing level of detail. I have to say I learned more about Lambic and Geuze there in two hours than anywhere else. It is always inspiring to see somebody so passionate about what he does. And Drei Fonteinen Oud Geuze is one of the best beers I ever tasted.
Armand Debelder is pouring samples directly from the cask
De Fiere Margriet
A big chunk of the rest of our time in Leuven was spent at De Fiere Margriet (located right behind St. Peter’s Church) which is definitely one of the best beer bars in Belgium, along with Kulminator in Antwerp and Chez Moeder Lambic in Brussels. Their inventory is endless and they are open very early in the morning. So, needless to say, many mornings our day started right there. To be honest, that joint might be easily a reason by itself to visit Leuven.

If anybody wants to learn more about Lambic and Geuze beers “Geuze & Kriek” by Jef Van den Steen is an excellent book that inspired and encouraged me to plan my trip to Leuven almost a year ago.

[edited by Teresa Hartmann]

[special thanks to our friend Pieter Bruelemans for pointing us to the direction of Leuven]

*Originally written for and posted at The Alcohol Professor on January 7th, 2014.

Jan 7, 2014

Ardbeg Supernova (2009 release)...

Ardbeg Supernova (2009 release) (58.9%): A long time ago on an island far far away there were two master distillers working day and night in their dark labs to create the peatiest whisky ever known to mankind while listening to the waves pounding the stone walls of their distilleries. Some even said that they made a pact with the Devil... Hundreds of whisky lovers lost their senses of taste and smell as a result of their experiments but they simply didn't stop until finally the scientists proved that it was physically impossible to break the four digit ppm barrier in malting process. Eventually they had to give up their hopes but started another hopeless quest instead: They would leave their island and sail to the promised land to find the holy cask made from the single oak tree of the garden of Eden. Nobody has heard about them after... Some say you can still hear the cries of peat-freaks at those distilleries late at night begging for mercy.

Sorry, I got a little carried away... Back to reality: So, like I said first Supernova release was one of the spearheads in this "who is the peatiest?" battle back in 2009. I have to admit that I felt in love with this dram immediately after I tasted it back in the day. I purchased a bottle right away when it was actually (believe or not) possible to score one. Shortly after its release it was sold out and disappeared from the surface of the earth. I kept mine in my whisky cabinet uncorked since then like the holy grail. But recently after seeing the bottle on a couple websites with outrageous price tags I thought it's time to pop it open and enjoy. And at the new year's eve we did so... It is bottled at 58.9% abv. and there is no age statement on the bottle. Let's see if it still tastes as good as I remember: Color: Yellow gold, hay like. Nose: Good Gracious! It smells exactly the day I walked in Ardbeg Distillery's still room. All memories got triggered. Iodine tincture, band aid and sweet chalky soot. After you get over the phenolic punch in your face you eventually start to get some lemon sugar cookie dough, vanilla pod scrapings and marzipan. A splash of water release beautiful grassy aromas: Freshly watered grass in your backyard, green wood shavings and also wet beach sand. I can nose this dram for hours, flawless... Palate: Suspiciously drinkable at a strength of 58.9% abv. but very mute with mostly lemon and orange zest. Adding a few drops of water brings damp black garden soil, barbecue coal and lightly roasted espresso beans. Some chewed cigar butt, rubber band balls and maybe jonquils as well. Dried cranberries or dried red cherries would probably taste like this if they were put on a barbecue grill and forgotten there. Finish: Endless... Tar, ash and black pepper. Overall: A dream come true for every peat-head without a doubt. Like every young and heavily peated whisky the nose is multiple times more enjoyable than the palate though. I personally enjoyed very much to see the Ardbeg spirit stripped to its bones again nevertheless. Not very sophisticated but bold, vibrant and keep you on your toes. Would be a great outdoor dram in your flask for a long winter hike. It made me remember (and miss) my visit to Islay and old Ardbeg expressions like Still Young, Almost There and Renaissance (sighs...). This dram is definitely a journey and a good one...

Ardbeg Distillery - November'09

Jan 5, 2014

Tomatin Decades...

Tomatin Decades (46.0%): My 42nd birthday dram for this year! So appropriate... Thanks to Joe Howell and Teresa Hartmann for pointing me to the right direction when I was looking for a special bottle. Decades is created to celebrate the master distiller and brand ambassador Douglas Campbell's 50th year at Tomatin. The whisky is a vat of several casks from each decade selected by Campbell himself: A unique 1967 refill sherry hogshead, 1976 oloroso sherry butts, 1984 refill sherry hogsheads and first fill ex-bourbon barrels from 1990 and 2005. I first had the chance to taste this dram at Whisky Fest New York 2011 when it was first released. Actually Mr. Campbell himself poured me some that night and I remember that it was my favorite dram of the event. Later our paths crossed a couple more times with Decades but I never could spend quality time with it. Now finally at a snowy weekend night after the holidays I have the bottle in front of me. Let's talk about it in depth this time... Color: Light amber, oak aged chardonnay. Nose: Spearmint flavored toothpaste, butter pecan ice cream and lemon meringue pie. French brioche just taken out of the oven; warm and a slice of butter melting on it. Blackberries, honeydew, blue Gatorade and apricot danish. Palate: I was expecting a fruitier palate after what I got from the nose but it is closer to the vegetal side: Fresh mint leaves and dandelion leaves. Anjou pears and papaya. Cinnamon dusting, dried strawberries, brown sugar and butter custard. Finish: Not long but warming and old school. Wood chips, salted grapefruit, burnt sugar flan and salted almonds. Overall: Well balanced, smooth and creamy. Simply a "damn good whisky", nothing more or less. It tastes like a whisky from 70's. Well done Mr. Campbell... I am not going to hide that Tomatin is one of my favorite underdogs among Scotch distilleries with Bladnoch and Ben Nevis but this expression definitely doesn't need any push from me. Get a bottle while you still have a chance to find one around...

Jan 3, 2014

The Balvenie 12yo Doublewood...

The Balvenie 12yo Doublewood (43.0%): What a beautiful morning to wake up to! Cambridge is covered with snow and looks absolutely stunning again. Last night when I was watching my street getting buried in snow inch by inch through my living room window with temperatures going down as low as 0°F (-17°C) I decided to visit some old wintery drams from my whisky cabinet. I know that this review should be taken care of many many bottles ago but for some reason it didn't happen. So, Doublewood it is... I always thought of Doublewood as being the charismatic young member of The Balvenie family: It has been on the streets for quite a while, always had a good reputation around, works hard for the family, survived the bad and good days and influenced a lot of youngsters in the hood. The whisky is aged first in American oak ex-bourbon casks and then transferred to first fill European oak Oloroso sherry casks. The bottle I will be sampling from is a 200ml. duty free expression. Color: Dark amber, nice polished copper. Nose: Orange zest and strawberry jam, eucalyptus drops and rose flavored Turkish delight. Rubber bands, strawberry scented pencil eraser, soft baked molasses clove cookies and mango flavored Jarritos soda... Palate: Actually I cannot say that less is going on the palate but definitely less intense and somehow more subtle than the nose: heather honey, cherry vanilla ice cream and creamy milk chocolate bar. Light cinnamon dusting, baklava honey syrup, Caribbean rum and a whiff of peat. It has a pretty thin mouthfeel. Adding a few drops of water dampens the nose but definitely improves the palate. It adds beautiful sweet middle eastern spices like cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and also floral notes. Finish: Medium long with roasted malted barley nuttiness and fast fading sweet spices. Overall: Despite its slightly thin texture Doublewood is a bang for your buck. There is absolutely nothing to complain about this whisky from the nose to the finish. It's a honeyed floral goodness... I have to say that I enjoyed the nose much more than the palate though. After tasting Monkey Shoulder recently it is also quite nice to see how David Stewart shaped the backbone of the youngest member of the family from The Balvenie. As you would expect this wee bottle was all gone last night in front of the TV under my blanket with the last episodes of The Tudors's first season... Happy belated new year to everybody! Stay warm!