The Year’s Best Kickstarter

So I’m involved in doing this kickstarter thing, where myself, and Liz Grzyb, and Talie Helene, are seeking to raise at least $2,500 to publish the 6th volume of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror.

I could say a bunch of stuff here, and probably will in a later post. Until then, if you have a moment, check it out:

Whisky tasting: Bowmore Small Batch

Bowmore. I’ve talked about this distillery before. Great town, a cafe serving the best black pudding known to humanity, a cute round kirk. A distillery that, when it’s not good (Bowmore Legend), makes me want to burn the whole town down.

On a whim, I picked up a bottle of the 12yo, and have been enjoying it quite a bit (will write it up at some point). Last year at Whisky Live I recall tasting the Small Batch, and liking it, but anyone can tell you, sometimes things get a little blurred at Whisky Live.

So, figuring I may have been remembering things right, I bought a bottle. It ticks all the boxes that would make a whisky snob run the other way (no age statement, 40% ABV, pobably chill filtered, probably with added colour, RRP <$70), but where’s the fun if not in winding up hipsters?

For the tasting, I’m even forgoing the Glencairn for a Bowmore promotional glass — it still tulips a little but could be considered a closer relative of the dreaded tumbler.

Colour: I don’t usually note a dram’s colour, given it could be because of anything really, but will make an exception here. The Small Batch is a beautiful golden colour, somewhere between straw and pathology sample, but I like it.

Nose: It’s Bowmore on the nose; a little smoke, some seaweed (but not too much), black pepper, vanilla, a little honey, maybe some toffee too.

Taste: It’s a little jumbled, lots of things going on, so it’s like malt-and-toffee-and-citrus-and-honey-and-vanilla-and-pepper. It’s good, if possibly a little sharp, and maybe lacking a little body.

Finish: Pleasant, if a little dry, and not exceptionally long. There’s a hint of smoke at the end, and possibly a bit of spice, ginger and maybe nutmeg. A wave of orange appears when I exhale, and is gone.

And with a drop of water…

Nose: maybe a hint of licorice? A little sweeter, maybe boiled sweets in the mix?

Taste: Did I only add a drop? It’s now more cohesive, but less going on. Malt, honey and a hint of spice, but not firing on all cylinders. It has lost the sharp edge though. Quite smooth.

Finish: A smooth and delicate hint of the sea, maybe in the dryness. The orange wave has gone.

And the official notes :

On the eye warm gold.

Breathe in vanilla fudge, sea air and peat smoke, balanced beautifully by honeycomb and cinnamon spice.

Sip mouth-watering citrus, gentle saltiness and vanilla with flakes of coconut.

Savour the wispy smoke, bourbon vanilla and lime finish.

I’m not spotting the coconut, but an impressed at how much I’m in agreement with the official notes. Maybe I’m getting the hang of this.

Overall it’s a good dram. Not as good as the 12yo, but not at all unpleasant. I’d go for skipping the water. A solid sipper.

Whisky tasting: Oban 14yo

What I know about Oban I could probably fit on one hand. I’m lead to believe that the correct pronunciation is closer to “o-bin”. The distillery is apparently right in the middle of town (a town I’ve been through, but didn’t see the distillery). Oban is owned by Diageo. There’s also a big-ass essay written on the bottle in small blue cursive that I can barely read sober — ain’t no drunk gonna read it.

So other than to note that this review sample is taken from the bottom of a bottle I cracked about 5 weeks ago, there’s not a lot of baggage attached to this dram.

So here goes…

Nose: there’s a hint of brine, and a little bit of citrus, but the deep malt notes are really dominating here. And they are deep, wave after wave.

Taste: hints of dark honey, a brief touch of cinnamon, quite full bodied without feeling oily. Rich toffee – but not too sweet.

Finish: quite long, with notes of medium dark chocolate, maybe a hint of coffee, maybe a toasty oak touch, but this is by no means smoky or peaty.

And with a drop of water…

Nose: I want to say there’s a hint of orange peel, but it’s probably closer to oak. I think the wood is more pronounced now. It’s a little more briny too.

Taste: It tastes a bit lighter, like milk chocolate, no where near the heavy dram it was, with more cinnamon, maybe mace. It’s quite surprising — we’re talking a single drop of water in about 20mL and the difference this time is pronounced.

Finish: is lighter, maybe a hint of citrus, but definitely milk chocolate.

And for the official tasting notes:

Rich sweetness and fruits – oranges, lemons and pears, with sea-salt and peaty smokiness.
A full, rich, almost oily malt.
Mouth-filling late autumn fruits – dried figs and honey-sweet spices; followed by a smoky malty dryness.
Long, smooth-sweet finish with oak-wood, dryness and a grain of salt.

So overall I got close to what they were hoping for — actually I’m pretty amazed at how close some of my words were to theirs (I didn’t cheat, either!).

Overall I liked the richer, un-watered Oban. It’s rich, deep, malty. Not very smoky at all, and not my favourite malt, but one I’m happy to have drunk. For the right price I’d possibly replace this bottle once it’s gone, but given my stash is lacking some staples right now (Caol Ila, Clynelish, Bowmore Darkest) this won’t be my first choice grab.

If you like rich, not too complex, not smoky but with a hint of the sea, try Oban 14yo. Or, like the tasting notes, you can take my recommendation with a pinch of salt.

Whisky Tasting: Caol Ila 2014 Distillers Edition

This was bought as a 100mL bottle split, as a result don’t have the original label to refer to. So apologies if the Distillers Edition needs an apostrophe.

Caol Ila is a fairly new love, only in the last couple of years have I got to know this other Islay dram, I think initially through some stunning SMWS selections. Since then I’ve had both the standard 12 and a couple of the unpeated, as well as SMWS offerings, and am impressed by what this distiller offers.

It’s probably an under-appreciated, less fashionable Islay, not that owners Diageo seem to mind. Their singlemalts are only a small part of their huge production. At the same time it challenges all the talk of storage location, as barely a drop of Caol Ila is stored on Islay, and none bottled or barrelled there. Once distilled, large tanker trucks take the spirit to somewhere between Glasgow and Edinburghto barrel and store.

Regardless of the process of creation, Caol Ila is still a fine dram.

Nose: A lot of Islay, almost Lagavulin in it’s seaweedy oily iodineness. A little pepper, maybe a touch of brine, and the peat.

Taste: Smoke and pepper, some oil, some peat, and possibly a sweet note in there. A good full body but could use an extra punch in the flavour.

Finish: Not as long as I’d expected, fades quickly into just a hint of smoke. Hardly the big Islay the nose promised.

To me, it’s not the full oily punch the standard delivers.

And with a drop of water…

Nose: more smoke and pepper, less oil, a little sharper.

Taste: More pepper and spice, sharper and thinner (and it was a solitary drop of water into at least 20 mL).

Finish: shorter.

That drop of water certainly hasn’t worked for me. It’s added an almost Talisker sharpness, but without the oil or the brine. Sadly either with or without, I couldn’t find the wonderful Caol Ila citrus notes in this dram.

And the official tasting notes

Nose Wonderfully concentrated and clean, peaty, medicinal, with rich fruit, spicy and fragrant.
Palate Sweet maltiness strike first, then overwhelmed by peat smoke, intense, crisp flavours, and cinnamon spice.
Finish Long, rounded, robust and multi-layered.

Not my favourite Caol Ila. It’s a decent dram, a nice whisky but for me this distillery has a lot more to offer. If this is the only Caol Ila you’ve tried, don’t fear the others.

Whisky Tasting: Swiss Highland Single Malt Whisky Classic

It is one of life’s fortunes to be surprised. A whisky loving colleague, during a recent trip to Switzerland, was astounded to find the Swiss made whisky, too. A very generous whisky loving colleague, he gifted me a sample. And now I’m sharing the tasting experience with you.

Switzerland: makers of fine chocolate, and ferociously useful pocket knives; hoarders of wealth and looted treasure. Not known as makers of whisky, they are new kids on the block as it’s only been a few years they’ve legally been able to distill from staple foods like barley. And they are catching up: Bruichladdich legend Jim McEwan has taken Rugen Distillery under his wing; and Jim Murray gave their Swiss Highland Single Malt Whisky Classic a 95 in his 2012 Whisky Bible.

So is it up to the hype? As a long-time hype buster I’m willing to give it a go. I will say that the colour is an amazing gold, stunning.

Nose: Lots of green fresh maltiness, a little chemically, a whiff of alcohol stronger than expected for a 46% dram. Some vanilla, almost a hint of a rye whiskey.

Taste: Smooth and light, not floral light but a sweet light caramel. Some vanilla, hints of coffee, and malty goodness ridding along. Maybe some sweet orange.

Finish: Sweet, and lingering. Not big and long, but very pleasant.

And with a drop of water…

Nose: dials the alcohol right down. Maybe less of the green, and a touch more vanilla.

Taste: Lighter.

Finish: Sweet, fades away quickly and beautifully.

And the official tasting notes.

COLOUR Sunny gold
BODY A soft start and very easy on the tongue   
NOSE A good nose with sweet vinous notes of sherry and hints of malty caramel. The fruitiness of apricot and peach can also be detected, together with notes of honey.
PALATE The complex aroma of the nose is confirmed on the palate. Slightly woody, dry flavours are combined with vanilla and caramel to create a wonderful interplay and an impressive balance. This whisky makes its mark with a long aromatic finish.

It’s light and gorgeous, hints of Rye and Irish whiskies. If it was available for under $100-$150 AUD a bottle it’d be a steal. However it seems that they only make around 3,000 bottles a year, and no one in Australia seems to import it, I suspect it’d retail for a whole lot more if it can be found at all.

Is it up to the hype? It’s good. Worth checking out should the opportunity arise. If you like lighter whiskies, keep an eye out.

Whisky Revisited: Laphroaig Triple Wood

I started this thinking I hadn’t reviewed this dram, but a quick scan of headings tells me I have. So I thought I’d revisit it, without looking back at what I said last time. It’s a tricky thing, Laphroaig, I love it in all of its many forms, but I’m not sure I can tell all of them apart. Maybe I should test that at a tasting some time, see if I can.

Nose: It smells like Laphroaig, sweet, smoky, iodine, peaty, oily, the sea.

Taste: Lots of smoke, hints of dark cocoa, toffee, oily smoky peaty goodness.

Finish: long, rum and raisin chocolate,

Now I’ll see what I said last time…. mostly the same, less fruit up front perhaps, no pepper. Good to see my palate is generally consistent. Last time I said it seemed dialled down from the stronger Laphroaigs, but this time around I’m just getting different, a decent kick of flavour. Maybe not my favourite Laphroaig, but a decent dram.




Whisky tasting: Bowmore Black Rock

I’ve talked about my love-hate deal with Bowmore, so I won’t repeat that. Instead I’ll go off on a travel retail rant. The Black Rock is one of the 3 or 4 “travel retail exclusives” that Bowmore do. I’ve had two of them, the White Sands and this one, and the White Sands is the only onen in the range carrying an age statement. So there’s two black marks against this one before the bottle is even open, in these days where NAS and TR are frowned upon.

I’ve had a couple of naff TR drams (no names but they were definitely below the standard normally delivered) so I was a little hesitant to start with this one. But start I did.

Nose: rounded, caramel, malt, vanilla, spice, maybe cinnamon, orange peel, a hint of peat smoke.

Taste: lots of chewy malt up front, dark chocolate, orange, cardamom, salted caramel, demerera sugar, a little smoke coming in over the top but not overpowering.

Finish: decent length, toffee, smoky malt and a hint of the sea.

And with a drop of water.

Nose: More dark chocolate and spice, a profound opening event. Less citrus, more toffee.

Taste: Coffee and spice over the top, and pepper.

Finish: All the above, maybe less salt and some milk chocolate.

The official tasting notes:

On the eye dark amber

Breathe in smoke infused with raisins, pepper, warm cocoa beans and burnt orange

Sip rich sherry and peat smoke followed by blackcurrant treacle toffee and cinnamon spice

Savour beautifully balanced peat smoke and sea salt

It’s good stuff. It maybe NAS, TR, chill filtered and only 40%, but I’m happy to recommend it.

Whisky Tasting: Arran Amarone Cask Finish

I’m about to break all the rules of whisky tasting. Well maybe not all the rules, probably only the one, but it’s a fairly big one.

I’ve never had Arran before this. Not to the best of my memory. I’m launching straight into the distillery with one of its wood finishes, without any idea what the base malt is, and I’m going to blog it. Record for posterity my thoughts of this whisky are, and maybe it’ll even be your first exposure to Arran. If it sucks, I may never have Arran again (unlikely for two reasons: one, I’ve already tried this and the spoiler is that it’s quite nice; two, I bought this with another bottle of the regular Arran, so if I own it I should at least try it).

If I was to put a brave face on this, I could say that this is an ideal situation, a chance to taste the wood finish without any baggage, without having to look for what the malt would otherwise be. That’s probably a cop out though.

I should also add that I don’t know what an amarone is.

Nose: sherry but not quite, softer fresher fruits, black grapes rather than sultanas. A vague hint of dark chocolate, but only vague.

Taste: well balanced with the alcohol, toffee, malt, dry dark chocolate. Maybe a dry port flavour too.

Finish: Long enough. More toffee, caramel, more sultanas.

And with a drop of water.

Nose: more fruit on the nose, possibly plums.

Taste: Salty, more of what I’d think an “island” character is.

Finish: shorter, still very pleasant, maybe a lingering hint of spice.

Overall it’s quite a fantastic dram. Great balance, easy drinking, very smooth with great flavour. Not the most complex, but has a lot of guts ad enough around the edges to be very interesting.

I still don’t know what an amarone is.

The official tasting notes say

Nose: Poached pears and honey followed by toasted almonds and a subtle touch of cranberry. With water a coffee note appears together with chocolate orange and mellow butterscotch

Palate: Dark chocolate, cherry and Turkish delights are evident as are stewed fruits and toffee. Muscular notes of dark plum wrestle with bitter-sweet apricots and a hint of cinnamon

Finish: A well-balanced combination of the finesse of The Arran Malt and the restrained fruit and oak from the Amarone casks. Concentrated and elegant this malt delivers on all levels

One final note: Arran is possibly the isle of definitive articles. The full title of this dram is The Arran Malt The Amarone Cask Finish.

Whisky Tasting: Bowmore Tempest Batch 3

It’s been a while between drinks. Well, not really, but a while between tasting notes. Kicking off a new run with the Bowmore Tempest, Batch 3. I have a love/hate deal with Bowmore, they produce some wonderful drams in the Darkest, White Sands and Black Gold. The Small Batch is fine for what it is. The Legend is legendary in all the wrong ways: an unbalanced thin smoky drop that shouldn’t be called whisky; the 12 is a similarly single note affair,  and it’s not a good note. Reaching for a strange Bowmore is a gamble for me, it could be a real treasure.

Nose: citrus, hints of an ocean breeze, light peat, sweetness.

Taste: Cocoa malt, salted caramel, smooth smoke,  hints of cardamom and spice.

Finish: Long and smooth, a little peat, a lot of chocolate, a little toffee.

In the name of science I’ll add a drop of water.

Nose: More toffee, same ocean.

Taste: more citrus and spice, maybe pepper and ginger?

Finish: Maybe a little shorter, but it’s cask strength so it could be a trick of the palate.

It’s a strong dram, but well balanced at cask strength. It’s a Bowmore with a lot of depth, and I like it this way.

The official tasting notes here say:

Tempest Batch No. 3 – 55.6% ABV

On the eye bright, golden summer barley.

Breathe in Seville orange zest with Islay peat smoke.

Sip initally dry but giving way to reveal orange blossom and an atlantic sea-salt tang.

Savour lingering warming peat.

It’s a fine dram, but don’t buy it all, I may want another bottle. A good Bowmore is a fine thing.

Whisky Tasting: Midleton Very Rare 2014

A dram for St Patrick’s Day, from one of Jameson’s less well-known labels. Appropriately, I first stumbled across this in Dublin, ordering it in the hotel bar without comprehending what I was getting (at 16.50 euro a dram, I just equated it to Perth hotel prices). I was immediately blown away, and had to bring a bottle home with me. My impression then, and on subsequent samplings, is that it’s that good. So tonight I’m going to make some notes as I sip away.

Nose: rich floral malty goodness. A bouquet of honey and spring flowers, vanilla and toffee. I could keep my nose in here all day.

Taste: sweet honey goodness, lots of vanilla and toffee, but not overwhelming. Maybe a hint of dark orange chocolate, light citrus, caramel. Smooth, very light and smooth.

Finish: Lingering hints of chocolate, malt, vanilla. Not long but a fair length, though it does mean I’m reaching for the glass again quite soon.

It almost pains me to add a drop of water but for science I do these things…

Nose: richer toffee and caramel. The flowers are pushed right back but light sherry flavours come to the fore. Reminiscent of the Glenfiddich 15yo Solera, but a little more lightly honeyed.

Taste: Malty, jarrah honey, citrus hints. Not better, nor noticibly worse, just differently emphasised.

Finish: Seems to pull up a little shorter, a hint more malty.

My call here: skip the water.

I couldn’t find any certifiably official tasting notes, but there are some at

Aroma – Rich, with vanilla sweetness on a layer of oak char from the influence of American white oak ex-Bourbon barrels. A soft floral note introduces the sweet spice of cinnamon, green pepper, and garden mint. Beautifully rounded with hints of green apple and banana. 

Taste – Full, with the sweet spice of vanilla, cinnamon, and liquorice and the flinty note of barley grains. Ripe fruit combines with the charred oak, adding to the complexity. 

Finish – Sweet spicy flavours that linger, fading slowly to leave the last word with the barley.

And I get a lot of this — I thought I’d picked up a little smokiness but dismissed it as being a little out of character with the rest.

Overall this is one of the good ones, well worth every 9+/10 review and for around $250 AUD it’s well worth it. There’s an inch left in my bottle, and I’m looking to save pennies to replace it. A word of warning: I’ve been told that there’s variation from year to year, so what goes for the 2014 may not apply to others.