Remember the excitement leading up to Xmas day? Popping open those doors on your advent calendar and enjoying a choclate-y treat a day as you marched on through December to the beat of the Little Drummer Boy? It was a magical time.
As you get older, the excitement wanes. Sure, it is fun to relive it through your kids, but it’s not quite the same is it?
That has all changed thanks to the folks at Drinks By The Dram! These clever little elves have been bringing some spirits back into the silly season with their spirits-filled advent calendars for 4 years now and have grown their range for 2015 to include 14 – yes, FOURTEEN – different advent calendars for your drinking pleasure!
The Whisky Calendar (2015 Edition) – £149.95; Premium Whisky Calendar – £249.95; Old & Rare Whisky Advent Calendar – £999.95; Bourbon Advent Calendar – £139.95; Ginvent Calendar – £114.95; Botanical Ginvent Calendar – £124.95; Rum Advent Calendar – £149.95; Cognac Advent Calendar – £149.95; Tequila Advent Calendar – £149.95; Mezcal Advent Calendar – £149.95; Armagnac Advent Calendar – £149.95; Absinthe Advent Calendar – £149.95;
Naga Chilli Vodka Escalation Calendar – £99.95; Vodka Advent Calendar – £99.95.
Looking at the Whisky Advent Calendar, it works out to around £6.25 a dram which isn’t too bad when you consider there’s a 50 year old Scotch in there too amongst others! The full list of whiskies that form part of the event calendar is available on the product page, but I’m choosing to remain in the dark and experience the joy of the unknown as I open each door on the calendar.
Keep coming back every day through December to see which whisky I’ve uncovered and tasted for the day…
Day 1 – Glenfarclas 25 year old, 43% abv
Now this is what I call a solid start to the festive season! The ‘Farclas 25 is sherried dram, but not a sherry bomb like the luscious Glenfarclas 40. Fruits like pears and apricots, some orange peel, a hint of pecans, sticky toffee pudding and the oak is more present than it’s younger siblings, but doesn’t overpower the rest. A rather pleasing way to kick off the advent calendar. Well done chaps!
Day 2 – Yoichi (No Age Statement), 43% abv
In mid-2015 Nikka announced that they would be dropping the current age statement Yoichi and Miyagiko ranges and replacing them with NAS versions over the next year or so. If, like me, you love your Japanese whiskies you might want to stock up on the 10, 12, 15 and 20 year old expressions while you can still find them!
On to the Yoichi NAS. Grain, yellow fruits, citrus, honey and coal dust. A picture of strolling through a mulchy-mossy, pine-scented fruit orchard springs to mind as weird as that sounds. A decent whisky. Looking forward to day 3…
Day 3 – Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend, 43% abv
Aah, Compass Box! I love their whiskies and the blending skills of John Glaser – he is an alchemist of note! Back in the middle ages, if anyone was likely to turn lead into gold, I would have put my money on John. The only expression I don’t like out of all the Compass Box whiskies I’ve tasted is Orangerie. I don’t like orange-flavoured whiskies and chocolates. That aside, let’s look at the very affordable, very quaffable GKS Artist’s Blend.
With it’s high malt content (54% malt, 46% grain), natural colour and no chill-filtration, we’re starting off well! Creamy vanilla, soft fruits, some lemon (think lemon cream biscuits) and wood spices like cinnamon and ginger. The grain comes through on the palate but works along side the fruit and citrus. A nice pleasing finish. A very enjoyable blend. Next!
Day 4 – Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon 12 Year Old, 47% abv
A sharp, astringent nose right after the pour. Give this bad boy some time to settle in the glass and you’re rewarded with caramel, vanilla and oak spices. Sweet initially, but drys quickly, with a prickling on the sides of the tongue (something I associate with the rye). All the notes picked up on the nose are tasted on the palate, with some ripe banana thrown in the mix. Long finish, and as the tingling on the tongue dies down the oak comes to the fore along with some bitterness.
3 countries represented so far in 4 days! I’m enjoying this journey a lot.
Day 5 – The Dalmore 15 Year Old, 40% abv
Toffee, toffee and more toffee! Almond Nougat. Thin texture on the tongue. Shortbread, more nutty goodness. The toffee is less present on the palate. Not a very complicated dram, but nice to sip on whilst watching the lights twinkle on the Christmas tree.
Day 6 – Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014 Release, 46% abv
Sweet peat, a ton of smoke with a salty ocean spray. Absolutely light on its feet on the tongue! Dancing around with lemon drops, white chocolate, white pepper and exotic fruits. This just screams “MORE!!!” Brilliant, absolutely brilliant! My favourite so far by far!
Day 7 – Glen Scotia Double Cask, 46% abv
We don’t get to see much Glen Scotia here in South Africa, so this is a treat. The double cask refers to the whisky having spent time maturing in first fill bourbon casks, followed by some time spent in Pedro Ximenez sherry casks – no indication as to how much time though… Brown sugar going straight into a toffee/fudge combo, laced with crisp fruit and some wood spice. Relatively full-bodied on the palate – smoke and oak mix with vanilla and a kind of mocha-coffee vibe. Not unpleasant, but the elements seem a bit disconnected. Will have to try it again some day. Good to try a different Campbeltown whisky!
Day 8 – The Balvenie Single Barrel Sherry Cask 15 Year Old, 47.8% abv
No cask number, so we can’t track it down to a specific 650-bottle batch, which is a pity. A great addition to a Christmas line-up with all it’s almond and pecan nuttiness, dried fruits – prunes, raisins, apples – and lovely nutmeg and cinnamon spices, along with a touch of Christmas cake and a healthy dollop of toffee pudding. If only I was in the northern hemisphere, then I could enjoy this sitting next to a roaring fire. Instead, I have a fan on full blast as I taste this in 30C+ weather.
Day 9 – Tullamore D.E.W. 12 Year Old Special Reserve, 40% abv
Ah! Now this is a familiar whiskey. I won’t rehash my tasting notes from 2 weeks ago, instead I’ll point you to my review of the Tullamore D.E.W. 12yo. My review was for a 43% ABV variant, whereas this one is a mere 40%. The extra 3% does make a small difference. I still don’t know why all whiskies are 43% and above. Oh, yeah, the beancounters… 😉
Day 10 – Monkey Shoulder, 40% abv
The product of blending three William Grant & Sons malts – Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and Kininvie. It’s been a while since I last tasted Monkey Shoulder, but nothing seems to have changed. It’s an inoffensive dram, very accessible, but not very exciting. Sweet, creamy flavours that don’t quite materialize into something memorable. In a similar price bracket, I’d pick Day 3’s Compass Box Great King Street Artist’s Blend over this. And so the journey continues… Here’s hoping Day 11 delivers a worthy dram.
Day 11 – Arran – Batch 4, That Boutique-y Whisky Company, 52% abv
The heaviest hitter so far in the calendar when it comes to strength, the Arran weighs in at a hefty 52% ABV. And you definitely notice it if you attempt this whisky without a small splash of water. Once the water is added, the alchohol burn disappears and the flavours come out to play. Very reminiscent of biting down into a Chelsea bun – you’ve got the raisins, sweet vanilla and cinnamon spices. As a kid I always fished the raisins out of my Chelsea buns as my folks told me they were dead ticks – it still haunts me to this day! 🙂
Be careful when adding water to this dram though – too much and you’ll push it over the edge – a fine balance is needed to keep it in the zone where the orange peel, lime zest and papaya make an appearance along with a spicy zing. That one went down nicely – I think I’ll have to hunt down some more Arran in the near future.
Day 12 – Caol Ila 12 Year Old, 43% abv
Caol Ila is one of those distilleries that I fell in love with early on in my whisky journey. Picture walking through a coastal forest, a bush fire has been doused by a passing squall. The decaying vegetation, mixed in with smoldering, smoking logs, as a salty breeze blows in from the sea. The mouth-feel is delightfully oily and viscous. Sweet notes, laced with seaweed and some iodine, compliment the light smoke and maritime notes. A fantastic “entry-level” dram! Time for me to open my bottle of Caol Ila Natural Cask Strength methinks!
Day 13 – GlenDronach 12 Year Old, 43% abv
A simple sherried whisky, as one would expect from Glendronach, not as complicated or layered as some their other expressions. Give it a bit of time in the glass to open up. Demarara sugar, sweet red plums, tobacco leaves, nuts and spices. A bit of chocolate on the palate, a decent body. Not a bad place to start if you’re new to Glendronach, but they do have better, tastier releases.
For example. I’m working my way through a 1992 19-year old, straight from the cask bottling from the 2012 SA Whisky Live Festival which is simply glorious! So I think I may be judging it’s younger sibling a bit too critically. It’s just that the single cask is just so damn good. In fact, it’s one of the whiskies I’ll be drinking on Christmas day.
Day 14 – Isle of Jura Superstition, 43% abv
I think the marketing team had a heavy hand in the creation of Superstition – a marriage of whiskies aged between 13 and 21 years, of which 13% is heavily-peated. With that kind of ration, you end up with a lightly peated dram that is peppery, sweet, slight smoke and sherry notes and a bit woody. Enjoyable.
Day 15 – Fettercairn Fior, 42% abv
My first Fettercairn! I’ve heard mixed reviews about whiskies from this distillery, but the Fior shows some promise. When speaking about the Compass Box GKS from Day 3, I said I didn’t like orange-flavoured anything other than actual oranges. Well, I might have to reconsider that… Take an orange peel, stud it with a cloves, grate some dark chocolate over it and dip it briefly into a peat bog before setting fire to it, then dunk it into a vat of toffee and dust with some cinnamon. Yeah, that kind of covers it! 🙂
Day 16 – The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood, 40% abv
The Balvenie 12yo will always be a dessert whisky for me. Picture Xmas day: You’ve finished eating the gammon, have pulled the crackers and are about to put your feet up for an afternoon kip. But, before you do, you pour yourself a nice dram of Balvenie, avoiding the gut-busting array of trifle, Christmas cake, ice cream and choccies that would do nothing to help your already “full figure”.
The Balvenie is like Peach Melba in a glass – the twelve year old delivers creamy vanilla, honey and peaches, as well as some red fruits dancing in the background. Honey, nuts and a light dusting of cinnamon round it out. Dram done, feet up!
Day 17 – Mackmyra Brukswhisky, 41.4% abv
Mackmyra, another distillery I fell in love with years back when Angela D’Orazio (Mackmyra’s Master Blender & “Chief Nose Officer”) came over to SA in 2011 for Whisky Live. A few months later I took part in a great Mackmyra Twitter tasting where the infamous Lars the Bear made an appearance.
Brukswhisky is a beautiful, light whisky from Mackmyra – a rapier compared to the smokey broadsword that is Svensk Rök. Loosely translated, Brukswhisky can be translated to “everyday whisky”. And that is exactly what you have here – pine needles, citrus, vanilla and berries. So delicate it dissolves on the tongue – that’s a compliment not a critique. I picture drinking this whilst sitting on the edge of a lake, eating some prosciutto-wrapped melon, as the first whispers of spring arrive. Go buy yourself a bottle of this now.
Day 18 – The Girvan Patent Still Proof Strength, 57.1% abv
On the nose it’s almost like a fruity, new make spirit. On the palate, crisp apple and lemon drops, slightly grassy and herbaceous. Also a small amount of honey and vanilla. Even with it’s high ABV, the Girvan was relatively smooth without adding any water. I won’t be rushing out to buy a bottle, but I would like to taste more from the Girvan stable.
Drinking this brought back some fond memories of the Girvans I tried in 2013 with Ludo Ducrocq in the blending room at the Glenfiddich distillery – a 69.9% distilled in 1977 and a 63.7% distilled in 1973. What an experience! The dodgy photo below will give you an idea of what it was like.
Day 19 – The Lost Distilleries Blend, Batch 6, 49.3% abv
Seeing the words “Lost Distilleries” on the label as I pulled this dram out of the advent calendar got me a little excited. A chance to taste some spirit from distilleries no longer with us? What a pleasure! Hopping on to the interweb to get more details, I found the following synopsis at Master of Malt:
Batch 6 features malt whiskies from Mosstowie, Port Ellen, Glenisla, Imperial, Caperdonich, Glen Mhor and Brora, and grain whiskies from Port Dundas.
Hell yeah!! Let’s dive right in… Nose not great – mostly alcohol, but on the palate the flavours just unfolded. I was trying to chase down flavour profiles from the different distilleries and pinpoint them, but just as I though I was getting close it’d take me down a different path.
I have to apologise, but I was so caught up in just enjoying this whisky that I didn’t take detailed tasting notes. But it was a real treat. In hindsight, I should have left it in the glass for longer so as to let the nose develop – especially as I’m never likely to try this blend again as only 534 bottles were produced. But there are more batches, so maybe I’ll get lucky!
Day 20 – Isle Of Jura Elixir, 12 Year Old, 40% abv
The second dram in the calendar from the Isle of Jura, the Elixir just doesn’t excite me too much. Some spices, coffee-flavoured fudge, some citrus and dried fruit. The 40% ABV is a let down. Bump up the alcohol strength and it may give it a fighting chance. Ah well, so far only this and the Dalmore 15 have let me down.
Day 21 – Dalwhinnie Winter’s Gold, 43% abv
When it’s suggested that you throw your bottle in the freezer and drink and drink a partially frozen syrup, I can’t help but feel that the folks at Diageo are taking the piss and trying to market and sell something that you wouldn’t touch with a barge pole at room temps. So, what did I do? I drank it at room temperature, which in Joburg this summer, meant it was at about 24C at 10pm! 🙂
Lemon cream biscuits and toffee apples (green), some cinnamon wood spice and a thin trickle of honey. This Dalwhinnie doesn’t need any gimmicks to enjoy it. A very pleasant, light dram that I could see myself sipping on as the sun sets in the African bush.
Day 22 – Teeling Small Batch Irish Whiskey, 46% abv
A great blast from the past for me! I tasted the Teeling Small Batch back in the first quarter of 2013, shortly after it was released – in fact, I think I may have been the first person in South Africa to get a bottle! Sent to me by Jack Teeling himself no less – I’m not name-dropping or anything 😉
Sweet, fruity and spicy just like I remember it, with that creamy mouthfeel. The heat from the alcohol still kicks in a bit at the end, detracting from the overall experience, but I said it two and a half years ago and I’ll say it again… a good “session whisky”.
Day 23 – Glenfiddich 18 Year Old, 40% abv
Hello old friend! I’m used to the 43% ABV expression we get here in SA, but the whisky remains the same: the sherry plays a minor role next to the apricot, plum, peach and apple baked pudding, stirred into runny toffee with a spoon carved from an old oak. A bit of a flowery description, but that goes with the floral notes picked up on the nose. Not a fierce warrior like some of the other drams in the calendar, the Glenfiddich 18 is more like a trusted advisor – a dram you can count on.
Day 24 – Invergordon 50 Year Old, 1964 Cask 2, Xtra Old Particular from Douglas Laing, 43% abv
The festive folks at MoM wanted to end the advent calendar on a high note, and that they did with the Invergordon 50 year old single grain whisky bottled by Douglas Laing. Yes, FIFTY years old! The nose on this beauty… how I wish I could share it with you! A wonderfully deep, layered sweetness resplendent with creamy vanilla, berries and cinnamon. The floral notes (rose petals?) intertwine with gentle wood spices – surprisingly restrained for something that’s been in a cask for 50 years – and a hint of milk chocolate.
The palate doesn’t match the nose however. The whisky has a great mouthfeel: nice and thick (think of the texture of milk), but not viscous. The milk chocolate is joined by some white chocolate and more vanilla, but the promise on the nose is not fulfilled on the tongue. Still, it’s a great way to end off the year!
My top 5 drams from the 2015 Whisky Advent Calendar by Master of Malt
All whiskies are made equal, just some are more equal than others… The five listed below stood out for me and range from the affordable to the expensive but all taste damn fine and would be a worthy addition to your whisky cabinet. The links below will take you straight to the relevant product page on the Master of Malt website.
- 1. The Lost Distilleries Blend Batch 6, The Blended Whisky Company
- 2. Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014 Release
- 3. Invergordon 50 Year Old, 1964 Cask 2, Douglas Laing
- 4. Arran Batch 4, That Boutique-y Whisky Company
- 5. Mackmyra Brukswhisky
Twenty four days, twenty four drams and over 3000 words written – this was a great ride! Thanks again to Master of Malt and Drinks By The Dram for the opportunity to taste my way through some great whiskies this December and for rekindling my childlike enjoyment of the festive season.
Sláinte and Merry Xmas all!