Review: Bruichladdich Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley

Octomore 6.3 Islay Barley


Famous for being the whisky with the highest peat concentration in the world, Bruichladdich’s Octomore series reaches edition 6.3 with this 2015 release. The USP of this particular whisky is that all of the barley used to make it was grown at the local Octomore farm that gives the series its name. Not only that, but a small label on the bottle even states the specific field it was grown in; now that’s dedication to provenance.


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Review: “Distilling Rob” by Rob Gard

Distilling Rob


“Distilling Rob” is a new book from whisky writer, Twitter personality and man-about-LA Rob Gard. I love whisky writing and I enjoy Rob’s blog, so when I saw the book project pop up on Kickstarter it was an easy sale for me.


A lot of people don’t like or trust Kickstarter, which I can understand after the public implosion of some large and lauded projects, but for me that’s like saying you’ll never shop at Sears again because your new TV didn’t work. It comes down to critically rooting out the best and most-likely-to-succeed projects; Caveat Backor or something like that.


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Bushmills Black Bush Review

Bushmills Black Bush

Ireland has long been believed to be the probable birthplace of whiskey, despite those upstart Scots stealing the limelight these days. And appropriately, the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim is claimed to be the oldest licensed distillery in the world, said license having been granted by King James I in 1608 (though the distillery wasn’t actually registered until 1784, so that seems like it may be a nice bit of blarney!).


The location of the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

The location of the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim, Northern Ireland

In common with many other distilleries, Bushmills has had a bit of a chequered past, suffering through lengthy periods of silence during the 19th century. After changing hands a few times in the last several decades though (most recently going to Diageo), it happily seems to be on a significant upswing these days.


As well as boosting output, quality seems to be heading in the same upward direction. My personal experience with their whiskies is limited, but a colleague brought us a bottle of their sherry-cask matured 12-year-old single malt from the distillery for a Scotch Club meeting recently and I enjoyed it quite a bit, the soft sherry tones suiting the light, aromatic spirit. The local liquor store sells a bottle of 21-year-old, tempting apart from the somewhat eye-watering price of $185.


But we’re not here for that today! At almost the opposite end of the Bushmills price spectrum lies the Black Bush, a gentle blended whiskey priced for the mass market. Even here in BC it’s only $38 for 750ml, which feels like something of a miracle with our local tax-gouging liquor board in control. Of course, that’s 60% higher than the UK price.


(Dammit, I promised myself no more complaining about local prices!

Only kidding, of course I didn’t. What else would I have to write about if I put a stop to that?)


The Black Bush is a blend of Bushmills’ single malt, triple-distilled of course, and externally-sourced grain whiskey, in a proportion of 80% malt and 20% grain. It’s unusual for a value-priced blended whiskey in that it’s partially matured in Oloroso sherry casks, lending it a decidedly fruity character (though not, I suspect, its dark amber colour; nowhere does it claim “no added colouring” and so I remain suspicious). This page claims that the expression has been around in one form or another since 1934 and that the name is due to the distinctive black label; if that’s true then presumably “the black Bushmills” got shortened to “Black Bush” somewhere along the way. There doesn’t seem to be an official story so I’ll just go with that!


Bush LightThe colour, artificial or not, is very attractive and gives a good first impression in the glass. Nosing, the positive mood is continued; dried fruit, candied orange peel, brown sugar, maybe a touch of red apple all come across on a pleasant gentle alcohol base. It’s only when tasting that things fall down a few notches. First off, I find the mouth feel and the general taste and overall impact on the palate to be quite watery – I’d love to try this at a higher alcohol strength to enhance both. Even 43% would be an improvement. The promise of the nose doesn’t fully translate to the mouth, with muted reflections of the hoped-for fruit being all that comes through for me.


I’ll admit to not being the world’s biggest fan of blended whiskey in general, and so even the 20% of grain spirit in the Black Bush is too much for my liking. Give me my “rough” single malts any day! The softening effect of the grain further undermines the fruity character and dilutes the flavour. And despite the overall gentleness of the whiskey, the finish is short, bitter and a little metallic.


Despite my complaints, I have to say that as an overall value proposition I don’t think the Black Bush is too bad. I certainly can’t think of any Scottish or Irish whiskey around the same price point I’d pick over it. Personally I’d rather spend a little more and get a good single malt, but if you’re looking for a blended whiskey with a little sherry influence at the lowest possible price, the Black Bush might just be your dram.


(I’d like to say thank you to Johanne McInnis, the irrepressible WhiskyLassie, for setting up this flash mob project and inviting us all to be a part of it! Three cheers, Johanne. You can find the excellent whisky blog Johanne runs in conjunction with her husband Graham at

Glenfarclas 2002 Family Cask (Willow Park Exclusive) and Sullivan’s Cove Bourbon-Cask

Glenfarclas Family Cask 2002

I had the chance last night to try a couple of single-cask whiskies from very different parts of the world courtesy of a traveling friend. I highly recommend keeping whisky-loving friends around by the way, it often pays off!


The first was a Glenfarclas Family Cask, distilled in 2002 and bottled this year as a ten-year-old at a nice cask strength of 60.6%, exclusive to the Willow Park liquor store in Calgary. The idea was to try it against the 105 20-year-old I reviewed last time to compare and contrast. Well, we did that, and the two whiskies couldn’t be more different! I suppose it’s a good illustration of the role the cask plays in transforming the distillery’s spirit into different whiskies.


The first thing I noticed when nosing the 2002 was the massive maltiness that flowed out of the glass. I’m pretty sure I’ve tried new make that wasn’t as malty as this. It gives the whisky an incredible freshness and vitality and it seems younger than its 10 years.


Now, I have no idea how this whisky was matured; there’s no information on the bottle as to the cask type, but being Glenfarclas you’d probably expect it to be a sherry butt. The cherrywood colouring would seem to lend some credence to that theory, but on the nose and the palate I got much more in the way of the classic signals of ex-bourbon maturation. Honey, lemon, fresh pear were the dominant flavours – this is nothing like the standard house style. Their website does suggest they use around 1/3 bourbon casks and 2/3 sherry butts, so it’s entirely possible that’s the case here.


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Review: Glenfarclas 105 Aged 20 Years

Glenfarclas Aged 20 Years


I was first introduced to Glenfarclas in a way that I suspect – no, I know – has forever shaped my feelings for the distillery. Sitting by myself at the bar in a pub in Aberlour, just a couple of miles down the road from the stills that produced it, I picked a Glenfarclas 15-year-old at random from the whisky list in front of me. A few seconds later, my eyes widened as I experienced the deep, rich fruit of this Speyside stunner for the first time. It was a moment I’m not likely to forget; discovering an absolute joy of a spirit right next door to where it’s made has to rank alongside the happiest of the many memorable moments my whisky journey has provided.


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Heading South – George T Stagg 2012 Review

George T Stagg


I’m setting the bar rather high for the first bourbon whiskey I’m reviewing with this article. I thought about perhaps starting with some of the more commonplace bourbons I own, each carefully chosen for my small collection, none of them being any flyweight in the taste department themselves; but why write about the undercard when you can cover the main event?


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The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

SMWS 2-81


Being an emotional sort, in October 2011 I found myself overwhelmed with jealousy; jealousy aimed toward the good people of Alberta, of all things. Why would this happen? Well, the Canadian launch of the venerable Scotch Malt Whisky Society took place in Calgary that month, and due to Canada’s amazingly progressive and liberal alcohol laws (engage your sarcasm detectors please) the exclusive single-cask whiskies they deal in remained locked down to that fortunate province.


So what’s to get so excited about? The society was founded almost 30 years ago in 1983 as a new way to bring single-cask, cask-strength single malts (and the odd grain whisky) to its members. Bottled directly from the cask with no chill filtering and no colouring, the committee selects high-quality and often unusual examples of a distillery’s output. To avoid the preconceptions that arise from recognized brand names, they have a “secret” numbering scheme designed to allow the whiskies to be approached without the baggage you and I might have surrounding the distilleries. With time, you might be able to memorize the list, and if you’re anything like me you’ll quickly pick out favourite names and remember those, but I can attest to the fact that at least for a relative SMWS novice the approach works as intended. Each whisky is given a creative name and some whimsical tasting notes to convey the character and, to enhance the mystery, each is bottled in a very dark green glass bottle to disguise the colour and further discourage any pre-judgement. It’s all very cloak-and-dagger!


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Review: Glenfiddich Age of Discovery II – Bourbon Cask

Glenfiddich Age of Discovery IIInternational travel, often exciting in itself, has an extra kick for me since I got seriously into whisky.  A resident of one continent with family on another, I usually fly a few times a year and it’s a great opportunity to avail myself of some duty-free bottles.


The duty-free whisky marketplace is an interesting one. Many brands sell “travel exclusives”, products you can (allegedly) only find in those fancy, well-lit, perfume-strewn shrines to consumerism littering our airports. Work your way past the gold-foil-wrapped chocolates, the Italian handbags and the pushy aftershave salesmen and you’ll often find a huge variety of tax-free single malts, blends and bourbons, a reasonable portion of which can’t be found outside of international departure lounges.


I must admit, I’m not entirely sure why travel exclusive lines exist. Is it done to raise the desirability of a whisky by limiting availability? Or could it be acting as a test market for a new line to gauge marketability before releasing it to the world at large? Whatever the reason, I confess that I have viewed the market with a bit of skepticism – if this stuff is that good, why can’t I walk down to my local shop and pick up another bottle?


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Review: Adelphi Linkwood 1984

Adelphi Linkwood 1984 One of the (many) things I love about whisky is the great profusion of choice we have, at this particular special moment in time. As you already know if you’re a devotee, the whisky market is in a kind of a golden age; more and more people are falling under its spell, and so sales are climbing and the range of whiskies available has probably never been greater.


Standard distillery bottlings are where most people start with whisky; they’re widely available, often affordable and generally of consistent high quality. However some (not all, but many) make concessions to the mass-market; they’ll chill-filter a whisky to avoid some unsightly clouding, or add caramel to make the spirit a more appealing colour for the store shelf. The spirit may be watered down to a set alcohol strength. In addition, without exception these standard bottlings are blended from many different casks to maintain a consistent flavour profile. This is essential for a distillery’s main product lines which the consumer can pick up from month to month, and year to year, and be assured that his whisky will taste just like that last bottle they loved. However the romantic notion of tasting a spirit “straight from the warehouse” is lost, or at least obscured, by all of these processes.


Luckily for the consumer looking for a more “pure” experience, alternatives do exist. Independent bottlers have an entirely different marketing strategy to the distillers; rather than keeping a bottling consistent over time, they commonly make their market in quality and novelty. A typical independent will buy a cask from a distillery, after which they may refill the maturing spirit into their own wood or simply let time take its course with the original cask. But the best part of the process happens before they bottle it, and that is often – nothing! Nothing added to the whisky for colouring or to reduce the natural strength; no chill filtering; no blending. (I imagine the whisky is still put through a coarse filter to stop you finding little chunks of wood, charcoal and who knows what else in it; it’s just not CHILL-filtered).


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Review: Laphroaig PX

Laphroaig PX

Famously Prince Charles’ favourite tipple, Laphroaig likes to describe themselves as “the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies”. For once there might be something to an advertising claim, though you’ll note that their marketing department doesn’t mention the character of the flavour. It seems that as many people will warn you away from a Laphroaig dram as will urge you to try it, such is the divisive effect of the industrial-strength medicinal smokiness they deliver.


Put me in the second camp; I’m a fan. I’ll admit that I don’t typically lunge for the Laphroaig bottle at the beginning of the night, but later, towards the end, it’s often the perfect way to close things out. The magnificent 18-year-old is the most exotic of their expressions that I’ve been lucky enough to try so far, but it’s exceptional; the extra age takes off some of the rougher edges and adds more complexity to the punch-you-in-the-face maritime character of the 10-year-old.


When I first heard that there would be a bottling of a Laphroaig finished in Pedro Ximenez casks, my ears perked up. As a rule, I love an Islay whisky finished in sherry butts; it never did Lagavulin any harm and adds that amazing depth to Ardbeg’s epic Uigeadail. (A side note on Lagavulin – after doing a bit of research I couldn’t find anything that says definitively that the 16-year-old is a blend of bourbon and sherry casks, but it’s what my palate tells me and although it’s frequently and often hilariously wrong, I trust it this time). To me, the fruity, woody influence goes stunningly well with the peat and salt of a good Islay.


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