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.


Read the rest of this entry »

Scotch Malt Whisky Society – Queen Street

SMWS Queen Street SampleRoom


One of the perks of a Scotch Malt Whisky Society membership is that members-only bars and lounges in the UK (and elsewhere) become open to you. That was hardly on my mind when I joined, but if you do happen to travel to Edinburgh or London as a member it’s a nice little benefit you should try to take advantage of.


Not having an abundance of time on this brief trip I decided to forego The Vaults, the grandly-named original Society HQ, in favour of the newer location on Queen Street. Unlike the slightly further-afield Vaults in Leith, Queen Street is right in Edinburgh’s busy city center where you’re more likely to find yourself as a tourist.


Read the rest of this entry »

Trip Report: Edradour Distillery

To Edradour


Recently, I was lucky enough to have a couple of days in Scotland at the end of a family visit to the UK. Based in Edinburgh, we had a day to explore the city and a day for a trip beyond. Initially I really wanted to return to Speyside, or else head up to Balblair north of Inverness; but both of those are  just too far to be comfortable for a day trip, especially if you have a 7pm table booked at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society HQ!


Luckily you have a few closer options for distillery visits when staying in Edinburgh. Just south of the city is Glenkinchie; you could hop over to Glasgow and visit Auchentoshan; or you could do what we did and head up to Pitlochry at the entrance to the Highlands, where you’ll find not one but two distilleries within a mile of each other – Blair Atholl and Edradour. Knowing Blair Atholl is a Diageo-owned distillery, I was more interested in the tour at Edradour.


Read the rest of this entry »

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

Victoria Whisky Festival 2013, Part 2

Victoria Sunset


I’ve never got on very well with January. It’s right after the holidays, and you know all the fun is over for another year and it’s time to go back to work. The weather’s usually crap, and will be for months yet. There are no F1 races until March! Luckily the Victoria Whisky Festival came along a few years ago and rescued the whole month. It’s an event I look forward to all year, and the only danger now is that I hype it up for myself to be something it can’t possibly live up to. And yet amazingly that never happens and it’s a total blast time after time.


This year was especially nice as the weather cooperated magnificently (as you can see from the shot above), making the walks around Victoria harbour much more pleasant than I remember in previous winters. Clement weather makes the ferry ride a lot more scenic too, which is good as that’s the only affordable way to get to the island (float planes are nice if your boss is paying).


Read the rest of this entry »

Victoria Whisky Festival 2013, Part 1 – The Bowmore Masterclass with Iain McCallum

Bowmore Whiskies


It seems like a bit of a missed opportunity that the Victoria Whisky Festival doesn’t sell merchandise. If they did, I’m guessing the biggest seller would be a T-shirt saying “I survived the VWF”. If you sign up for a Friday grand tasting, a few Saturday masterclasses and then hit up the main event on the Saturday evening, the weekend can become your very own alcoholic ultra-marathon. This is saying nothing of the famous after-parties which can extend the days into the early hours if you find the right bar!


Normally I’d write about the events I attended in order, but I’ll break with my tradition this time (one year is a tradition, right?). For my first article I wanted to write about not only my favourite class of the festival, but probably my favourite class I’ve attended anywhere.


Read the rest of this entry »

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.


Read the rest of this entry »

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.


Read the rest of this entry »

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?


Read the rest of this entry »

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!


Read the rest of this entry »