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Month: February 2015

Off to Scotland for a wee dram or two!! | Blog # 62

So after almost a decade since my only visit to the home of all things Scotchy, my wife Cindy and I are about to embark on a “seek and secure” mission for the second edition Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar.

As you would have read in Blog #60, my first night in Scotland was something special. I have actually tried to work another trip into my schedule many times since then without any luck. Given how many cases of whisky I have sold in the past decade it’s amazing that 10 years have passed before heading back to the originating source for so much great whisky.

So on the eve of what should be an epic trip that will become the focus of my next 2 or 3 blogs I think it’s worth dipping into another notable bottle from my collection.

A.D. Rattray as many of you know was really what got me started down this path that has become a major focus for my life. So something old and unique was the thought I had when I dipped into the whisky cupboard to see what I could find.

A.D. Rattray 1969 Strathclyde Single Grain – 37 Years Old – Distilled on the 10th October 1969 and bottled on the 3rd of June 2007.

This was the first Single Grain whisky I had ever tasted let alone sold. Founded in 1927 The Strathclyde Distillery is a Lowlands distillery (as are most grain distilleries). Situated in Glasgow Strathclyde is now owned by Pernod Ricard and finds its way predominantly into the Chivas Brothers blends.

Tasted in a Glencairn whisky glass (the sort with the clean top edge as opposed to the less expensive option with the rounded lip).

Cask Number: 010722 – Ex Bourbon Barrel – 173 Bottles only.

Bottled at the cask strength of 54.4%

Colour: Tarnished Gold

Nose: Mercy me but that’s a fabulous nose. Tropical fruit – ripe papaya, coconut – hints of the 12 year old St Nicholas Abbey Rum from Barbados, toffee coated coffee beans, Dirty Banana.

Palate: Still hefty at 54.4% even after 37 years, firm oak but not overpowering, dried fruit platter, banana crisps, Macadamia, rich mouth feel and a touch tingly.

Finish: Certainly a lot going on here and freshens up on the finish with some lighter fruit character coming through with some coconut cream smoothing it all out.

Water: Lifts the fruit, freshly dipped caramel apple on the nose and really softens down the zesty tingle of cask strength into a more even palate. Again almost a tale of two whiskies with and without H2O. Delicious either way but today my preference would be straight up.

Single Grain is a rarity to find as only a precious few barrels are kept in the back corner of the warehouse to get to be 3 decades +. These are almost without question released by independent bottling companies like A.D. Rattray.

Personally I love older Single Grain whiskies. Grain whisky in general is certainly less complex than Malt however when it sits around for a few decades or more it definitely steps up to the plate.

Interesting to note that consumer interest in Single Grain has increased a lot since this A.D. Rattray Strathclyde came out almost 7 years ago. The 25 year old Girvan from Blog #46, that was the sole Single Grain in the 1st edition calendar, was the first whisky to sell out to retailers looking for the limited number of 700ml bottles available.

There is a very unlikely chance that any of these bottles of Strathclyde would still be on shelves in Alberta at this point. I do want to use this tasting though to maybe get you thinking more about trying some older Single Grains.

If you have had some experience with Single Grain let me know in the comments. I would love to get some feedback.

Over the next few weeks I will be regaling you with our whisky adventures in Scotland with A.D. Rattray, Wemyss Malts and the Malt Whisky Company and then in Italy with Samaroli.

Until then it’s up, up and away for now.


Ever scored 100? | Blog # 61

There are many ways you can score 100. Perhaps that math test you aced at school or that perfect art project that stood out from your peers and earned you the perfect score.

There are loads of wines that have received the coveted 100 from both Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate and have gone on to be massively sought after in the market at extremely high prices. My most memorable “100” was batting for almost 3 hours against the Edmonton Masters at Victoria park in 2010, eventually dismissed LBW for exactly 100 runs. (for obscure cricket references some Googling may be required for clarification).

That same year I was given a bottle of Amrut 100 by their international brand ambassador Ashok Chokalingham. A treasured possession, I rarely bring it out, however as promised this delicious whisky is one of my Winter Series reviews promised way back in Blog number #27.

There are very few whisky writers that use the 100 point system and as yet there have been no “perfect” whiskies for consumers to go crazy over. So why did Amrut seemingly give themselves 100 for this extremely rare bottling?

Firstly each bottle was exactly 100cl or 1 litre. Bottled at 57.1% which equates to the old British Proof of 100. After aging in ex-bourbon casks the whisky was poured into hand crafted 100 litre virgin oak barrels for a further period of fast aging. Given the conditions at 3000 feet above sea level in Bangalore and the small 100 litre barrels the impact on the whisky was immense. The additional touch was to only release 100 bottles into any given market. The expression I have is batch number 1.

Utilizing Scottish Peated Barley sourced from Inverness, the single malt could have ended up as the Amrut 46% or Cask Strength Peated versions we have seen in Canada. However, the very best casks were siphoned off to be turned into this amazing expression. One of the fantastic aspects of Amrut is the ability to age whisky extremely fast and so try all sorts of fun variations with amazing results.

Tasted in a Speigelau whisky tumbler.
Colour: Rich pale ale red with golden hues.
Nose: Sweet and savory like maple glazed smoky bacon. Enticing nose for 57+ percent and not at all nostril searing as you might expect from a whisky packing such high alcohol.
Palate: Soft enveloping peaty tones underpined by sweet hickory smoke and just a touch of high cocoa dark baking chocolate.
Finish: perfect marriage of that soft peat and smoke outlines a steady concentration of burnt toffee and dark fruit cake.
Water: Brings the peat to the surface and is like salty and sweet beef jerky – the kind you buy from the service station on a long road trip. Super soft on the palate with the extra alcohol completely balanced. Far more delicate now toning down the smoke and peat and allowing softer fruits to take over. Almost like drinking two completely different whiskies. Which one would be up to my mood on the day with perhaps a slight tendency to add the wee splash.

This is another fantastic experiment from Amrut that paid of handsomely. Such an amazing climate, elevation and skill combination to be able to produce whiskies of this complexity in such a short time.

If you get the chance to grab any of the further editions of Amrut 100 I would jump at it quick. This belongs in every whisky lovers collection.

I’m down below what even marbles will help with now so might have to knock it off this year.

Thanks Ashok for this treasured bottle I will always cherish the time I spent championing Amrut and the amazing whiskies this distillery produces.


I’ve Lost My Marbles! | Blog # 60

Ever tried something really special? Perhaps it was the setting, or the company or the quality of the dram itself. A combination of all three could make it one of those cherished memories to last a lifetime.

So it was with my first night ever spent in Scotland. A whisky newbie at the time I arrived with my wife Cindy in Edinburgh to be greeted at the airport by a young and passionate James Cowan who was the brand ambassador for A.D. Rattray.

After a delightful dinner down by the waterfront and Cindy tucked away in our lovely B&B room it was time for James and I to head out to some whisky haunts.

I could regale you all with the details of the entire evening, however my focus is on one particular dram. Our last stop for the night was at the trendy nightclub Tiger Lily. Scanning the back bar for an interesting dram we spied a 1973 Auchentoshan. Distilled on the 14th of March 1973 it was bottled on the 8th of July 2005 a mere two months before my visit. Coming from a single Sherry Butt and bottled at a cask strength of 55.5% it was a very unique offering.
We decided to split the dram as it was 25 pounds for one ounce.

The bartender grabbed a tumbler and filled it to the brim with ice and was about to pour our lonely ounce when James and I in unison cried out “no ice”. With disaster averted it was poured into a clean tumbler and passed across the bar.

Auchentoshan Distillery Scotland Auchentoshan Distillery Scotland

Auchentoshan, a lowland distillery that triple distills its Single Malt is very much stylised as a fresh grassy and floral dram that is perfect for breakfast or anytime you want to savour the delicate side of whisky.
This sherried cask of Auchentoshan is another beast altogether.

Tasted for the purposes of this blog again in the comfort of my dining room using a Reidel whisky glass.

Colour: Violin bow resin with burnt red highlights.

Nose: Soft expensive sherry and sweet dried figs with caramel fudge, more dried fruits emerge, apricot, prune and marmalade. Sticky Toffee Pudding.

Palate: Rich palate filling and expansive. Deep backed leather chair with mahogany inlay, dried fruit in abundance and a backbone of semi-sweet to dry sherry. Lasting finish of aromatic suptle citrus potpouri. All of this at over 55% wow. This is a sherried whisky lovers dream.

Water: A burst of caramelized bitter orange takes over and extends the finish even more.
For a 32 year old whisky that started life so delicately this was a fantastic sherry barrel/s to still have so much fruit and balance.

It was an impressive dram to end the night on way back almost 10 years ago. I thought of course that I would never taste it again until back in Calgary later the next year I stumbled across a bottle at Varsity Wine Merchants. I had never spent even close to the $750 price tag on this whisky a decade ago so after a little haggling I became a beaming happy buyer lovingly cradling it my arms. Money well spent.

The fun part of this is that the bottle I had in Scotland was a 700ml and quite often with a limited bottling you don’t see it in any other size. The bottle I picked up in Canada was part of the release that went to the US and was a 750ml version. Amazing that something so limited would be split into different bottle formats. Awesome!

So why the marbles? For a dram of this magnitude in both dollars and deliciousness I only seldom crack it to pour for the odd occasion. As air gets at it over the years it does oxidize and lose its fruit and complexity. To stave off father time I replace the whisky with marbles keeping the precious liquid right at the top of the bottle neck. This keeps the amount of air to an absolute minimum and allows for the full enjoyment for many years to come. I would highly recommend this losing of your marbles for any special drams that you want to keep going for years and years.


James later went on to work for Benriach in the far east and currently works for Sazerac in Europe as their brand ambassador. Thanks James for that first night in Scotland, it will never be forgotten.

Jonathan & James at the Stronachie Distillery ruins.

Write in and comment on one of your most memorable whisky experiences.