Whisky Advent 2018

Edmonton (Alberta) has an enthusiastic whisky scene that seems to have really grown in profile over the past few years (hat tip to the folks at the Edmonton Scotch Club for playing a big part in that). It’s given many people (myself included) the opportunity to connect with other whisky enthusiasts and share our passion for the aqua vitae. Looking back over the year, I’ve sampled a lot of whisky at tastings and other events and I can’t believe it’s already time to crack open the 5th Edition of Secret Spirits’ Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar. As always, Jonathan Bray publishes his tasting notes over at singlemalting.com so please head over there to see what he has to say about each one. Also, you can check out Instagram and Twitter for many more impressions of each day’s bottle. With that, here we go!

Day 1 – MacDuff Aged 14 Years

Distillery: MacDuff, bottled by Single Cask Nation
Cask Type: Refill Sherry
Cask #: 900026
Region: Highland
Age: 14 years
ABV: 57%
Nose: Fresh, sweet, ever so subtle florals.
Palate: Sweet, tingly, coats my tongue with honey and floral notes.
Finish: Warm, sweet, and tingly. A kiss of water brings some light fruits and (I think) a bit of saltiness to a longer finish.
Overall: This is surprisingly light for cask strength (I’m genuinely impressed when a whisky over 50% doesn’t burn my face off). The honey and fruits that carry into the warm, long finish are terrific.

Day 2 – Wooden (Treacle) Chest

Distillery: Unknown, bottled by Wemyss Malts
Cask Type: Sherry
Cask #: Unknown
Region: Highland
Age: NAS
ABV: 46%
Nose: Plum, sweet toffee or brown sugar notes
Palate: Cinnamon, raisins, and nuttiness that is smooth on your tongue.
Finish: Medium-length finish with the sweetness of raisins/plums and really shows off the influence of the sherry cask.
Overall: I just sampled Treacle Chest at a recent tasting and thought this bottle seemed familiar. Then I read Jonathan’s notes and discovered it was, in fact, the Treacle Chest – no wonder! A great whisky to explore and spend time with, proving (again) that there are blends on par with single malts.

Day 3 – Auchnagie Classic

Distillery: Unknown, bottled by The Lost Distillery Company
Cask Type: Unknown
Cask #: Unknown
Region: Unknown
Age: NAS
ABV: 43%
Nose: Whisps of smoke on sea air, light banana cream.
Palate: Salty smoke and a bit peppery, an oddly pleasing medicinal taste amidst the banana from the nose.
Finish: This really gets going in the finish. It kicks up the pepperiness and warmly lingers for quite a while.
Overall: Light, easy to drink, and it’s caught my interest as I keep going back to nose and taste, trying to pull out as much as I can.

Day 4 – Glen Moray Aged 9 years

Distillery: Glen Moray, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: 5764
Region: Speyside
Age: 9 years
ABV: 58.2%
Nose: Hint of straw, vanilla cream.
Palate: Deliciously creamy and light for 58%, vanilla with a zest of lemon.
Finish: Wonderfully satisfying and warm with a lift of sweetness.
Overall: Lovely. I’d open a bottle of this alongside a dessert, maybe bread pudding.

Day 5 – Craigellachie Aged 12 years

Distillery: Craigellachie, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Hogshead
Cask #: 900674
Region: Speyside
Age: 12 years
ABV: 61.6%
Nose: Florals, tropical fruit, and a kiss of citrus.
Palate: Wow, this is hot at 61.6% and it’s hard to really dig into initially. Honey maybe? With a wee bit of water, I taste pears and a nutty note in the background. Something else that I can’t put my finger on.
Finish: The high alcohol keeps this whisky around for a long time. As the pear fades, I’m left with a smooth sweetness.
Overall: Water definitely helps open this one up and let’s you explore.

Day 6 – Regional Series Islay

Distillery: Laphraoig, bottled by Creative Whisky Company
Cask Type: Refill Sherry
Cask #: Unknown
Region: Islay
Age: NAS
ABV: 50%
Nose: Salty peat and smoke, sweetness that makes me think of dark chocolate.
Palate: Sweet peat, medicinal, and iodine. A bit oily as it coats my tongue and then a whoosh of spicy notes.
Finish: Long, smooth, and warm. If a whisky could wrap you in a big hug, this one would be hugging me for five minutes. As everything fades, I can still taste the salt and peat.
Overall: Tremendous! After a few lighter ones in the calendar, this is a leap head-first into a “meaty” whisky. Before I knew it was Laphraoig, I thought it may be Lagavulin. Either way, this one is tops in my books.

Day 7 – Breath of Speyside Aged 11 years

Distillery: (Teaspooned) Glenfarclas, bottled by Adelphi
Cask Type: Sherry
Cask #: Unknown
Region: Speyside
Age: 11 years
ABV: 57.8%
Nose: Toffee, peaches, and plums.
Palate: Tingly at 57.8%. Peaches and plums with brown sugar crumble. Spices of cloves and nutmeg.
Finish: Medium-length finish. Sweetness, tannins, and (surprisingly) dry.
Overall: Needs a kiss of water to bring out the flavours. From there on, a wonderfully rich whisky to sip and dig into.

Day 8 – Balmenach Aged 13 years

Distillery: Balmenach, bottled by The Old Malt Cask
Cask Type: Refill Bourbon
Cask #: HL14727
Region: Speyside
Age: 13 years
ABV: 50%
Nose: Apple, vanilla, and ginger.
Palate: Coats my tongue in deliciousness. Baked apples with vanilla bean ice cream.
Finish: Touch of the tingles and an emergence of spice. Ginger right near the end.
Overall: A delicate whisky with unexpected complexity and depth of flavours.

Day 9 – Glen Moray Aged 10 Years

Distillery: Glen Moray, bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Bourbon Barrel
Cask #: 5677
Region: Speyside
Age: 10 years
ABV: 55.7%
Nose: Lemon, custard, (pears maybe?).
Palate: A bit too hot, with water I get honey drizzled over lemon-zested custard.
Finish: The lemon fades and spices come out to join sweet notes for a long finish.
Overall: The high alcohol needed water for me to get into this one (though not too much or you lose some of the flavours). I found this a bit sharp and, in comparison to the Secret Spirits bottling, not as creamy or light.

Day 10 – Royal Brackla Aged 11 Years

Distillery: Royal Brackla, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: 31878
Region: Highland
Age: 11 years
ABV: 57%
Nose: Makes me think of Pinot Grigio wine. Butterscotch. Some weird underlying note that I can’t place.
Palate: Too hot for me so some water is required to explore. Waxy taste with earthy notes. Something here reminds me of tobacco.
Finish: Heat fades, nutty and earthy notes come to the fore. A sweet or floral note late in the finish.
Overall: This one’s a bit of an odd duck of a whisky. It seems to wander all over the place from nose to finish.

Day 11 – Delicious (Vanilla) Burst

Distillery: Unknown, bottled by Wemyss Malts
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: Unknown
Region: Speyside
Age: NAS
ABV: 46%
Nose: Vanilla, light caramel sauce drizzled over ice cream, a note that makes me think of cotton.
Palate: Smooth and creamy, vanilla and then pepper followed by freshly cut grass or hay.
Finish: As the flavours fade, I’m left with a dry taste in my mouth. A bit of pepper and then an earthy/grassy note deep in the finish.
Overall: I love discovering the flavours that come with Weymss Malts bottlings. This one is a light, lovely whisky that delights the senses and pleases the palate.

Day 12 – Stratheden Classic

Distillery: Inspired by Stratheden, bottled by The Lost Distillery Company
Cask Type: (Apparently) Bourbon
Cask #: Unknown
Region: N/A (though Stratheden was in the Lowlands)
Age: NAS
ABV: 43%
Nose: Peat, wisp of salty air, very light apricot (or maybe orange?).
Palate: Not too heavy on your tongue, slightly bitter featuring dried fruits (apricot or orange peel) followed by earthy notes.
Finish: The fruit fades in this medium finish to leave behind salt and a bitter note. Deeper into the finish, some peatiness comes through.
Overall: This was fun to sit with and root around. The more I went back the more I was able to pick out what I was tasting and experience the flavours ebb and flow.

Day 13 – Auchinderom Peat

Distillery: Glenglassaugh, bottled by The Malt Whisky Company
Cask Type: Sauterne Cask
Cask #: 007
Region: Highland
Age: 7 Years
ABV: 58.6%
Nose: Peat right up front, a wonderful hint of burning pine and timber that makes me think of ski trips in the Rockies, a sweetness that my brain translates to burnt orange.
Palate: Smooth for such a high ABV; coats my tongue in notes of peat, smoke, and wood; a taste of salty sea air and that sweetness from the nose.
Finish: Long and warm, the peat and salty notes hang on forever.
Overall: If I had to pick a favourite so far, this may be it. A kiss of water lets all these flavours free and overwhelms me with how good it is.

Day 14 – Knockdhu Aged 9 Years

Distillery: Knockdhu, bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Bourbon Hogshead
Cask #: 700305
Region: Highland
Age: 9 years
ABV: 59%
Nose: Apple, peppermint, the faintest whiff of butterscotch.
Palate: Lots of tingles from the high ABV. A dash of water and it’s smooth and creamy on the palate. I’m tasting apple tart with salted caramel, spices and pepper, and something tucked way in the back that’s almost medicinal (makes me think of cough syrup).
Finish: The pepperiness kicks up quite a bit and dashes of salt play across my tongue. The higher ABV brings a long, tingly finish that leave my tongue coated.
Overall: Water is needed for me to explore this one. The finish is very dramatic given the seemingly calmer notes in the nose and palate.

Day 15 – Caol Ila Aged 8 years

Distillery: Coal Ila, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: SS006
Region: Islay
Age: 8 years
ABV: 59.5%
Nose: Candied fruit, smoke, and marine air. Water really brings out those peaty, earthy tones.
Palate: Incredibly smooth (esp at 59.5%). Sweet and smoky, notes from the seaside. A few drops of water and I’m loving the peat.
Finish: Warm and tingly fade that trails sweet smoke and peat. Adding water brings a fiery heat to the finish.
Overall: I love Caol Ila and this one is no exception. There’s a brilliant balance of smoke, peat, and heat. Bring a drop or two of water to really unwrap this whisky.

Day 16 – Garden (Nectar) Grove

Distillery: Unknown, bottled by Wemyss Malts
Cask Type: Bourbon, finished in Madeira
Cask #: Unknown
Region: Highland
Age: NAS
ABV: 46%
Nose: Honey, florals, and orange zest. A bit of macadamia nut (thanks Jonathan for putting a name to what I couldn’t).
Palate: Peaches explode across my tongue. Sweet orange and notes of flowers in full bloom.
Finish: Red berries in the finish with notes that remind me of port.
Overall: Quite different than ones I’ve tasted from Wemyss Malts! The nose leads you in one direction and the flavours take you in another (I’ll guess due to the influence of the Madeira cask).

Day 17 – Glentauchers Aged 10 Years

Distillery: Glentauchers, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: 900122
Region: Speyside
Age: 10 years
ABV: 62.9%
Nose: A fruit tornado of apples, pears, and green grapes. With a touch of water, a metallic note that reminds me of the canned fruit salad from when I was a kid. Is that pineapple?
Palate: Not as fiery as I expected; still needs a few drops of water. Smooth, tingly creaminess of vanilla and fruit from the nose.
Finish: A spike of tingles that warm my mouth and throat. The sweet creaminess hangs on for quite a while and caps everything off.
Overall: Despite the huge ABV, you don’t need to add a lot of water to get into this whisky. My favourite part is when the heat calms down and I get to bask in the creamy finish.

Day 18 – Glenallachie Aged 9 Years

Distillery: Glenallachie, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: 900537
Region: Speyside
Age: 9 years
ABV: 65.6%
Nose: Savoury notes, makes me think of steak and mushroom pie with a golden pastry crust and side of strong cheese. There’s something sweet in there….
Palate: Despite its strength, it sits nicely on my tongue (not the face-melting burn I was expecting) and I can taste a sweetness of apricots. Water shows off peppery and earthy flavours and the apricots really come into focus.
Finish: The sweetness gives way to an incredible burst of notes that are spicy, peppery, and savoury. Water softens the finish and the whisky ever-so-slowly fades away.
Overall: I played around to find the right amount of water to get the most out of this whisky. Without water it’s quite hot, though you still can tease out some great flavours. Too much water and the notes are muddied and squished together. I have no idea what ABV I’ve taken it to but I’m thoroughly enjoying the intricacies of this whisky.

Day 19 – Williamson (Laphraoig) Aged 13 Years

Distillery: Laphraoig, bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: 800123
Region: Islay
Age: 13 years
ABV: 57.3%
Nose: A massive nose of medicinal notes. A wheelbarrow full of peat, earth, and smoke.
Palate: Wow, what a palate! My tongue is coated in peat, iodine, smoke, burnt rubber, and tobacco. The notes ebb and flow as it all swirls around.
Finish: Peat and iodine and the burnt rubber comes to the foreground with some heat. With a drop of water the finish changes to bring a hint of sweetness and the heat seems to intensify. And it hangs on… and on… and on… and on!
Overall: This one’s a monster of an Islay whisky and I can’t believe this is so smooth for being 57.3%. I went back for more and, to my profound disappointment, discovered my glass and the bottle empty. Amazing stuff.

Day 20 – Stones of Stenness Orkney Aged 18 Years

Distillery: Highland Park, bottled by Single Cask Nation
Cask Type: Refill Sherry
Cask #: 75
Region: Island
Age: 18 years
ABV: 54.9%
Nose: Dark cherry, orange zest, earthy tones.
Palate: Very tingly! Orange and spices (cloves in particular) coming in hot. The earthiness continues with a mix of peat and savoury notes. A drop of water and mulled red wine comes to mind as the whisky spreads out and coats my tongue. On my last taste I got dry port.
Finish: The finish brings sweetness to the fading flavours.
Overall: My first taste left me needing to go back and do some more searching; it seems my tongue needed to be warmed up before I could really pick them all out. Too bad the bottle is so small!

Day 21 – Inchgower Aged 21 Years

Distillery: Inchgower, bottled by The Old Malt Cask
Cask Type: Sherry Butt
Cask #: HL14253
Region: Speyside
Age: 21 years
ABV: 50%
Nose: A soft grassy note, sweet sherry, candied fruit.
Palate: Right at the front I get something that reminds me of hot chocolate with marshmallows. As I explore, it’s light and sweet on the tongue with orange and a few tingles.
Finish: Some cinnamon and spiciness in the finish with a stronger chocolate note later on.
Overall: Wow is this ever smooth and delicious! I added a drop of water to see how it affected what I could nose and taste and I think you actually lose some of the qualities of the whisky by adding water.

Day 22 – Towiemore Archivist

Distillery: Inspired by Towiemore, bottled by The Lost Distillery Company
Cask Type: Unknown
Cask #: Unknown
Region: N/A (although Towiemore was in Speyside)
Age: NAS
ABV: 46%
Nose: Lots of sherry influence here with sweet, creamy honey. As it opens up, a really nice coffee note.
Palate: Creamy and smooth, wraps my tongue in honey and sherry notes. Makes me think of apricot jam.
Finish: A sprinkling of cloves over the apricot jam. Some orange shows up as the flavours fade. A bit of earthiness deep in the finish.
Overall: Absolutely delicious and a wonderful experience. Picking my top three whiskies this year is getting tougher every day!

Day 23 – North British Aged 30 Years

Distillery: North British, bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Sherry Butt
Cask #: 24767
Region: Lowlands
Age: 30 years
ABV: 56.7%
Nose: Dark cherry, orange rind, fresh hay; a drop of water and I get toffee.
Palate: Smooth and creamy at first then a bit tingly, there’s something here of herbs, plus orange marmalade and toffee.
Finish: A bit earthy in the finish as the flavours slowly coast away. There’s a distinctive note that I find in many single grain whiskies that comes into play, and I get these flicks of toffee.
Overall: Unbelievably smooth and full of flavour. A kiss of water and it opens up beautifully. Love how the layers and notes work perfectly from nose to finish.

Day 24 – Inchmurrin Aged 21 Years

Distillery: Inchmurrin, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Sherry Hogshead
Cask #: 407
Region: Highland
Age: 21 years
ABV: 45.2%
Nose: Earthy notes with hay, a nutty quality with a faint sweetness of apple.
Palate: A bit grassy that leads to sweetness of apple pie and nutty notes.
Finish: Spices and cloves as the earthiness returns in a medium-length finish.
Overall: The nose is very inviting and I want to spend lots of time exploring this one. It’s very smooth and I’d like to try it at cask strength to see how much more those flavours punch.

Day 25 – Glen Grant Aged 30 Years

Distillery: Glen Grant, bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Sherry Butt
Cask #: 9173
Region: Speyside
Age: 30 years
ABV: 55.1%
Nose: Wood, spices, very soft leather.
Palate: It’s creamy and coats my tongue. Spices, leather-bound books, and an old wood desk.
Finish: A small spicy note and dried fruits as it takes a long while for the flavours to fade away.
Overall: Absolutely wonderful. The perfect setting would be to enjoy this by a fire on Christmas morning. So I did.

A very Merry Christmas to all this year! May you always have food on your table, a roof overhead, and the light of love in your life.

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