Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Malt Mission 2008 #325

Grant's 18yo
Blended Scotch Whisky

40% abv

£ $ ? can't find a price

The last in a series of blended whiskies I have been running on Dr.
Whisky and I have been reassured that blends do not deserve the bad reputation they currently have. Folks who know Dr. Whisky know that he loves blends, their flavour, diversity, and history. Sure, the hundreds of 3 year old no age statement blends branded as Clan ____ and Glen _____ and Royal _____ have tarnished this reputation, but I hope the past few posts have redeemed the category for readers. A blend is often bad, but that is not the nature of the beast. It cannot be said that blends are worse than single malts. As I have said before, the best whiskies I have tried have probably been single malts, but the WORST whiskies I have tried had definitely been single malts. This Grant's Rare Old 18yo is finished in port casks, sort of a marrying period for the blend.

When Pattison's blending house went bankrupt in 1898 it brought down many distilleries and distilling companies with it. The "Pattison Crash" as it came to be known (see THIS for all Dr. Whisky posts that mention this monumental moment in whisky history) left many expecting the end of the whisky industry. William Grant saw an opportunity. He had built to distilleries at that point, Glenfiddich ain 1887 and Balvenie in 1892, and by the end of the century has had started his own blending house and grew into exporting with the help of his son and son-in-law, John and Charles. Charles, famously determined, made his first sale after 181 calls; his second after his 503rd. Meanwhile, John began exporting to The Hudson Bay Company of Canada. Today, Grant's blended whisky is sold in over 180 countries but this particular marque is really hard to find. Unfortunately.

For more info on William Grant and Sons and their whiskies enjoyed thus far on the mission, click HERE.

Thanks to the WG&S folks for getting this for me and to JB for travelling to the US with it.


Grain whisky leads with a sweet breadiness, vanilla wafers, and a deep and provocative oakiness. The malt whiskies are heavy, oily, salty, very Highland in style (Scapa, Dalmore, Clynelish, even Cragganmore from Speyside) and some papaya or tropical fruitiness that lifts the malt density. Meringue, bubblegum, suntan lotion, damp cutting boards, metal like guitar strings, toffee, lime... the aroma is among the most complex I have encountered.

Whoa, different direction. Malt leads with more of an Islay oiliness now, smoke and tar, prunes, woody and aged. Chewy and full, like decadent chocolate brownies, slightly savage and satisfying like grabbing the ass of someone you love and have longed for. Incredibly long oaky finish with heavy grain notes like rye bread, tobacco smoke, and the freshness of cedar. Flavours linger. And linger.


Years ago, Dave Broom wrote the following words about this dram, "So thick and honeyed you could paint it on your lover's body." Brilliant note, and not wholly inaccurate. This is a delicious drop rich with complexity and, as DB implies, sensually smooth.

Avoid ice. I feel the need to say this as the few countries lucky enough to have this bottling in their markets probably drink all Scotch on the rocks or in mizuwari. AVOID ICE. This is blending that should be celebrated and appreciated as a constant reminder that this incredible art, this incalculable skill, is what initially brought the world of whisky to a world of whisky drinkers. We are still here, if you'll have us... we bow in your presence.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Malt Mission 2008 #324

Buchanan's 18yo
Blended Scotch Whisky

40% abv

$80 (USD)

Usually the question is "how much is this whisky?" or "how much is that whisky here?", but in the case of Buchanan's 18yo, the question in my experience has been "WHERE is this whisky?" Upon moving from the UK to America I learned that on the back of the latin population's love of Buchanan's in many of their home countries in South America, we get the good fortune of its presence in the USA. And the people rejoiced.

For more on James Buchanan and to see all whiskies in this family of blends had on the mission, click HERE. Now if I could just get my hands on some of that Red Seal.


Sweet and fleshy like a baby's skin. Lots of tropical fruit like mangos and an aromatic earthiness that is sweet like tobacco but dirty like mud. Creamy, evocative and provocative.

Luscious and creamy, peat and burnt sugar, toast and honey, bananas, stewed carrots, and brown rice. Wonderful balance and very hard to resist refilling the glass.


A perfectly round ball of flavour that is neither too much this nor too much that but ticks all boxes of sweet, sour, salty, and smoky. Upon reflection, my favourite element is the outright lack of overt oakiness until way late in the finish when old perfumy grandfather clock woodiness makes an appearance.

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

Malt Mission 2008 #323

Johnnie Walker Gold Scotch Whisky
Johnnie Walker Gold 18yo
Blended Scotch Whisky
40% abv

$75 (USD)

The last of the Johnnie Walker colour hierarchy for me to taste formally on the mission. I promise the delay was not intentional as I had plenty of opportunities to drink the stuff (and man, did I), but not until very recently did I have the chance to taste it in the controlled environment of Dr. Whisky's lab in the controlled method of the Malt Mission.

I do find it hilarious to see new (and old, for that matter) whisky websites tasting and rating whiskies they tried at a distillery, or outside at Feis Isle, after 3 glasses of wine at their uncle's place for dinner, or after 15 other malts at DrunkFEST Chicago, or... Not exactly fair, nor representative of the true flavours of the whisky. Sure, no matter how or when you drink the stuff your impressions will be wholly subjective and by no means absolute (hate to disappoint some of you aspiring MJs and misguided JMs), but at least attempt to have some semblance of control otherwise your authority is nullified immediately and your notes are of no use to anyone but yourself. Maltsterbating, I suppose. By this I mean that WHEN and IN WHAT TYPE OF GLASS are probably the only elements of tasting, of being impressed upon by a malt whisky, that you can control. Without some consistency in the tasting ritual, ESPECIALLY if you are going to have the arrogance to criticise and rate and give scores, you are doing nothing more than jerking off into the toilet. Useless.

Some surfing alerted me to the presence of much misinformation about Johnnie Walker Gold so let me verify that this is a BLENDED whisky: it is made up of 15 or more single malt whiskies mixed with grain whiskies. This does not make it "better" or "worse", it is just different than a single malt or a blended malt whisky. Although the Walker's were grocers in Kilmarnock from 1820, it was in the 1850s that they became whisky blenders and today the name Johnny Walker is synonomous with quality blended Scotch whisky.

For more info and for all Johnnie Walker's had on the mission, click HERE.


Spicy, sweet, winey, and smoky. Red grapes and orange oil, honey and malt, some licorice and stewed cloves. Lots going on in a really co-dependent style.

Soft but full flavours flow across the tongue with sweet smokiness, honey, and some mango and papaya. Gentle but immensely rich.


Talisker elements of smoke, salt and pepper, creamy and honeyed elements of Clynelish, with plenty of speyside fruitiness like Linkwood and/or Glen Elgin. Really delicious, harmonious, and classy blending.

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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Christmas Picks 2008

Ladies and Laddies, at your request, the second installment of Dr. Whisky's top whisky, and whisky-related picks for Christmas. Not necessarily cheap whisky nor a lot of Christmas whiskey, but a few things worth every penny and things that would make good gifts for those whisky nerds in your life.


The Whisky Exchange
Ardbeg Uigeadail £38.50
Bunnahabhain 25yo £145
Clynelish Distillers Edition £35
Elements of Islay Set £100

Talisker 25 £87

Royal Mile Whiskies
Ardmore Traditional £23
Kilchoman Connoisseurs Pack £20
Royal Island 17yo £25

Royal Island 30yo £55
Glenfarclas 25yo £82.95

For Scotch Lovers.com
Talisker Sampler Pack (20cl bottles of 10, 18, and Distillers Edition) $50
Tomatin 25yo $125
The Balvenie 17yo $135


Social Christmas Gifts

Joining the Scotch Malt Whisky Society is worthwhile for any malt drinker and would make a wonderful gift that keeps on giving as newletters, bottling lists, and tasting event listings arrive by mail year round. In the UK, there are members rooms in Edinburgh [Leith Vaults (mentioned in a past Dr. Whisky post HERE) and Queen St.] and London (Greville St.) and they are absolutely stunning venues and great spots to entertain guests... or just yourself.

In the USA, the SMWSA is equally wonderful but operates slightly differently. You still reveive mail and have access to an exclusive list of soctiety bottlings, but it is much more a network of friends, bottles, and events that come to you! Twice a year, the SMWSA tours the country hitting larger cities with the best consumer whisky fairs in the country. They never oversell tickets so there is always room to move, good food to eat, and the Shayne family and friends do such a great job (and are such wonderful people), paying membership to be invited to their tasting events is worth every single penny.

And their new bottle design is absolutely stunning. Nice work, guys!

Readable Christmas Whisky Gifts

The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2009: Another edition of the annual must-have from Ingvar Ronde, a book full of enough basics to educate the new whisky enthusiast, enough info entertain the casual whisky drinker, and enough detail to satisfy the real whisky nerds among us. As usual, the book includes detailed bios on all operating (and many closed) distilleries, stats and commentary on the year that was, info on websites (including this one), and an absolutely brilliant section of articles with contributions from Charles Maclean, Ian Buxton, Walter Schobert, Dominic Roskrow, David Stirk, Gavin D. Smith. This easy to transport and easy to read softcover is part magazine, part book, part distillery guide, part industry report and ALL amazing reading with brilliant new additions every year. No other book but the Malt Whisky Yearbook travels with me everywhere my malt mission takes me, and there is good reason for that.

Richard Paterson (and Gavin D. Smith's) Goodness Nose is a brand new book that has been in the works for longer than you can imagine. The subtitle, "The Passionate Revelations of a Scotch Whisky Master Blender" is pretty accurate and shamelessly embraces the confident but charming tone of Richard himself that permeates every page. Paterson is a third generation blender whose knack for recounting our shared cultural history, weaving it with the history of Scotch whisky, and draping it with his insightful wit is unmatched, either in his presentations or in the pages of this carefully crafted book. My own interest in blended whisky gets nourished with this book as few but Paterson can offer parallel insight into its history and craft. And he is not one to hold back.

Robin Laing's The Whisky River (or HERE):
Laing's well-written guide to Willie Nelson... just kidding. This is an intentionally and incidentally poetic guide to the distilleries of Speyside told in a way only Laing can, with song and spirit on every page. A delight to read.

Charlie Maclean's Whisky Tales or Maclean's Miscellany of Whisky (hardback and softcover available): Two books from one of the world's greatest whisky scholars that are absolute fun to read cover to cover or one section at a time. Unique books in the world of whisky lit: no tasting notes or chronological histories... just the best stories and factual tidbits told by a brilliant writer with an obvious passion for his topic.

and, of course, for the real fact nut

Misako Udo's The Scottish Malt Whisky Distilleries(hardback also available): The life, times, still size and phenolic content of every (legal?) malt distillery to have existed in Scotland. Amazing attention to detail with the new addition of brief distillery summaries.

Drinkable Christmas Whisky Gifts

The malts above are all well-suited for Xmas and are just a selection of the various offers at each outlet made by yours truly with Christmas in mind.

A good Christmas whisky should be pleasant to drink for both
new and experienced whisky drinkers. An added bonus is if they have some rich, winter-warming spice, dried fruit, etc.
(Buy one bottle of sherry this year, too. As whisky lovers, we need to support the Spanish sherry industry!)
So here are a nice round SEVEN recommended Christmas Whiskies, irrespective of price, but hopefully there is something for everyone's budget (and nothing that demands hiring a detective to find):

Grant's Family Reserve

Johnnie Walker 12yo Black Label
The Balvenie 17yo Rum Cask
Glengoyne 17yo
Bunnahabhain 25yo
Glenfarclas 30yo
Glenmorangie Signet

Hope this has been of use. If you have any whisky questions, do not hesitate to contact Dr. Whisky for a prescription.
In the UK? Check out Joel and Neil's top whisky Xmas gifts at CASKSTRENGTH.NET
In DC? Check out ScotchChix for their update of cheap whisky in the US Capitol.
Beyond the world of whisky, check out Camper English's ALCADEMICS gift picks.

Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Malt Mission 2008 #322

Cutty Sark 15yo
Blended Scotch Whisky
40% abv


$71.35 (CAD)

Like many age statement blends, Cutty Sark 15 year old is a whisky that certainly has a higher profile and availability in certain niche markets than in others. Whisky nerds like Maltakias have probably seen this ad before.

For more history on the brand and to see all Cutty Sarks had on the Malt Mission, click HERE.


Incredibly apple-y. Apple crisp, brown sugar, cinnamon. Creamy, sweet, and spicy.

Super smooth, pleasant and juicy with apples, dry white wine, and maple syrup. Sticky with oak and generally juicy sweet.


Yum! An absolutely delicious Speyside-style blend with only the faintest smoke to whisk through the orchards of flavour.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Malt Mission 2008 #321

Black and White
Blended Scotch Whisky
40% abv

$24 (USD)
$27.95 (CAD)

Been a while since Dr. Whisky has had a blended whisky week here on the mission, so let's start one now. Absurd that I keep measuring in weeks of five malt missions considering I have rarely posted more than twice per week since June 2008. Whatever. The formula works.

In the mid 1880s, James Buchanan started a London blending business selling whisky in distinctive black bottles with white labels. The official name was The Buchanan Blend of Fine Old Scotch Whiskies and was eventually popularised by the name his customers had given it, Black & White. The brand name Black & White was registered in 1905 and the famous coupling of a white west highland terrier and black Scottish terrier began being used to advertise the product.
Over the next decade the blend found its way into homes, bars, clubs, and theatres and became the exclusive supplier to the House of Commons.

Buchanan built Glentauchers distillery (with W.P. Lowrie) to ensure a supply of good malt for the blend. Dalwhinnie has traditionally been a constituent part over the years as well and Buchanan at oen time owned now closed distilleries Convalmore and Port Ellen. The brand joined with Dewars before joining with John Walker and Sons and then Distillers Company Limited (DCL), a partnership known at the time as "The Big Amalgamation."

Today, Black and White still sells well in mainly export markets (although it was recently reintroduced to the UK market) and is affectionately remembered for its clever adverts and marketing items, most of which are highly treasured by collectors. The LCBO website indicates "PRODUCT DISCONTINUED". With this old reliable blend gone from LCBO shelves, I wonder what Companion of the Quaich-er Michael Riley will put in its place? So much for CanCon, too... James Buchanan was born in Ontario in 1849.


Soft and vanilla-ed like ice cream, the kind where "cream" actually appears in the ingredients. Unripe kiwis, light citrus, and a little celery salt.

Immediately sweet, and slightly smoky, salty even, then a bit souring, some pepper and oak.


Definitive standard blend. Predominantly sweet without much else to compete. Balanced, simple, and generally innoffensive.

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