December is upon us once again and I’m excited to dive into the Sixth Edition of the Secret Spirits Whisky Advent Calendar. The story of how this year’s calendar came about is certainly a bit different than the normal production and involved making just enough for those supporting their Indiegogo campaign.
Day 1 – Auchentoshan 17
Auchentoshan (bottled by Secret Spirits) ~ 54.4% ~ 17 years ~ 1st Fill Oloroso Sherry cask ~ Cask #12184 ~ Lowlands
Nose: Dark fruit and brown sugar, cherry cola (hat tip to Jonathan for that note). Water adds a bit of grassiness and brings out that dark fruit.
Palate: Some tingles off the top, sweetness from the sherry cask, and that cola note is hidden in the back. The whisky gains some heat with a few drops of water and makes it coat my tongue rather than dance across it.
Finish: Dry sherry notes and dark cherries in the finish, and I got a grassy note showing up after the drops of water.
Overall: A nice welcome back for this year’s advent calendar and a great expression of Auchentoshan by Secret Spirits.
Day 2 – Tomintoul 13 year old
Tomintoul (bottled by A.D. Rattray) ~ 60% ~ 13 years ~ Sherry Butt ~ Cask #11 ~ Speyside
Nose: Sweet sherry notes right up front, cinnamon, cream, and red berries.
Palate: Sweetness from the sherry with a freshness that reminds me of green apple. It’s creamy on my tongue with a hint of strawberries.
Finish: Heats up in the finish. As it cools down the sweetness and cream fade away into woody and nutty notes that stick around for a good while.
Overall: I can’t believe how smooth this is at 60%. A dash of water lets you get into the layers to discover the strawberry, cream, and nuttiness of this whisky.
Day 3 – Towiemore Classic
Inspired by Towiemore (bottled by The Lost Distillery) ~ 43% ~ NAS ~ Bourbon and Sherry Casks ~ Various Regions
Nose: Baked apricots and peaches, dried banana slices, a slight hint of burnt pie crust.
Palate: Peaches with a drizzling of cream, deliciously sweet and smooth across my tongue.
Finish: It finishes with some sharp spiciness and then the sweetness gently fades away leaving a warmth in my chest.
Overall: It’s got some umph for 43% and I appreciate the warmth it leaves me with. I picture sitting down for my mother-in-law’s dessert of brandied peaches, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, and this whisky close at hand. Yum!
Day 4 – Burnside 7 Year Old
Burnside (Teaspooned Balvenie) bottled by Secret Spirits ~ 46.1% ~ 7 years ~ Sherry ~ Speyside
Nose: Cinnamon and notes that make me think of orange-zested dark chocolate.
Palate: Lovely and smooth with the chocolate orange coming to the foreground and a hint of bitterness lurking.
Finish: A bit of heat as it finishes with those sweet sherry notes lingering.
Overall: This is such a bright and inviting whisky that hits all the right notes. It’s a good thing I don’t have a full bottle or I’d be in a heap of trouble!
Day 5 – Ledaig 10 year old
Ledaig (bottled by Secret Spirits) ~ 46.1% ~ 10 years ~ Bourbon ~ Cask 70099 ~ Island
Nose: Smoke and earth, a hint of something metallic, and it makes me think of the sweet and salty dry rub I use to smoke ribs in the summer.
Palate: Some tingles with the first sip. It’s a bit oily as it coats my tongue and the palate is filled with delicious earth notes wreathed in smoke. The sweet and saltiness is right in there from the nose.
Finish: It gets saltier in the finish with an almost iodine quality. On the edges of my tongue I get a rubber note. And later on there’s a sour note that reminds me of kettle sour beer.
Overall: I’m a peat fan through-and-through, often because there’s a “meatiness” to these whiskies and lots to explore. This Ledaig is one of those I’m loving to dig into.
Day 6 – Dream to Dram
Kingsbarns (by the Wemyss Family) ~ 46% ~ NAS ~ Bourbon and Portuguese Wine ~ Cask #KBL1003/1 ~ Lowland
Nose: Bananas, herbal notes, and a kiss of vanilla.
Palate: A bit sharp initially, then into notes of toffee and fruit, and something that makes me think of banana cream pie.
Finish: Spiciness in the finish and then I get to enjoy those fruit notes a bit longer.
Overall: Wemyss Malts has always been a tremendous independent bottler and it’s exciting to see the Wemyss Family establish the Kingsbarns distillery. This was a wonderfully light and fruity expression and I’m already looking forward to more from Kingsbarns!
Day 7 – Scallywag
Blend by Douglas Laing ~ 46% ~ NAS ~ Sherry and Bourbon ~ Speyside
Nose: Sweet notes of toffee and sherry, apples and pears.
Palate: The fruits follow onto the palate and I get notes of almost sugary candy. A bit of oak coming through accompanied by some earthiness.
Finish: A touch of heat and then nuttiness and spice as it all gently fades away.
Overall: Goodness, what a well-crafted whisky that superbly draws from distilleries across Speyside!
Day 8 – Benrinnes 10 year old
Benrinnes (bottled by Secret Spirits) ~ 56.1% ~ 10 years ~ 1st Fill Oloroso ~ Cask #303872 ~ Speyside
Nose: Dark fruit wrapped in dark chocolate. Hints of leather and books in an old library.
Palate: Wow, at 56.1% this is incredibly balanced. Soft notes of wood and nuts with the fruit and chocolate. A dash of water opens this up to really let you get into those flavours.
Finish: A bit dry into the finish and I’m getting oak or tannins. The dash of water brings some spiciness and then the oak and tannins really hang on. And what surprises me is how the dryness seems to get stronger the more you taste.
Overall: A nice little whisky from Benrinnes. It’s surprisingly easy to drink at 56% and that kiss of water opens it up just enough to really dig in.
Day 9 – Orkney 10 year
Orkney (bottled by Claxton’s Spirits) ~ 63% ~ 10 years ~ Bourbon Hogshead ~ Cask #1836-008A ~ Island
Nose: Fresh hay, some earthy notes, sweet corn – how is this 63%?
Palate: Citrus, lemon, something that almost tastes like corn smoking on the grill.
Finish: The sweetness lingers and smoky, earthy notes wrap a bow around everything.
Overall: Wow! First off, 63% is blowing my mind. And second, this is an absolutely amazing dram from Orkney (*cough* Highland Park *cough*) and I love it!
Day 10 – Big Peat
Blend by Douglas Laing ~ 46% ~ NAS ~ Islay
Nose: Smoke and peat, coffee and iodine. A note that Dana says reminds her of a musty barn.
Palate: This is called Big Peat for a reason! Oily smoke, peat, with a bit of spice thrown in alongside toasted nuts.
Finish: As the peat and smoke fade, I get salt and grass. And deeper into the finish, there’s a mustiness I was picking up in the nose.
Overall: A stupendous blend from Coal Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg, and Port Ellen that happily simply smacks you around with all the peat and smoke. Well done, Douglas Laing!
Day 11 – Dufftown 11 year old
Dufftown (bottled by Secret Spirits) ~ 55.4% ~ 11 years ~ 1st Fill Oloroso ~ Cask #700435A ~ Speyside
Nose: Dark berries – I’m picking up blackberry and blueberry. Notes of rich syrup.
Palate: Big sherry note right off the top, dates, and spices. A bit dry as it settles into my palate.
Finish: It gets drier as it finishes. The sherry, fruit, and spices linger for a while and leave a warmth in my throat.
Overall: There’s a lot of sherry influence here. I haven’t decided if it’s too much or not – I’m leaning not. I really liked getting into the fruits and spices and wouldn’t change the 55.4%.
Day 12 – Lord Elcho
Blend by Wemyss Malts ~ 40% ~ NAS ~ Mixed: 60% single grain, 40% single malt ~ Cask #WVM1028/6 ~ Various
Nose: Sweetness of apples and red grapes. Some soft herbals.
Palate: Immediately I get crisp apples and spices. Caramel develops over time with a touch of nuttiness.
Finish: The spiciness really, really, really hangs on in this long finish. As it fades, the caramel and nuttiness waft back in.
Overall: This is a deliciously fresh and crisp dram that I’d reach for first thing in the morning to get me going. I wasn’t sure based on the nose but now, having sat with it, I’m liking it more and more.
Day 13 – Arran 21 year old
Arran (bottled by Douglas Laing) ~ 52% ~ 21 years ~ Refill Barrel ~ Cask #12357 ~ Island
Nose: Light, delicate, and fresh. Honeysuckle and soft caramel.
Palate: Soft on the palate with some tingles from the higher alcohol. Peaches and cream, oranges, all wrapped in layers of velvet.
Finish: Wonderfully warm where the fruits linger forever. A bit of a tinny note emerges late into the finish.
Overall: A tremendously delicious and delicate whisky. It really develops the more you sip on it.
Day 14 – Miltonduff 10 year old
Miltonduff (bottled by A.D. Rattray) ~ 60.9% ~ 10 years ~ Bourbon ~ Cask #701221 ~ Speyside
Nose: Sweet, citrus, vanilla, and toffee.
Palate: Creamy and soft notes of banana, fudge, and vanilla. A hint of citrus.
Finish: The citrus comes into play as it finishes and I get warmth as the flavours fade.
Overall: Incredibly delicious at 60%. I added some water and a woody/nutty note showed up in the nose, the citrus has greater prominence on the palate with some woody notes, and the finish really gets a boost – lasting longer and warming more. Hard to decide if I prefer it watered or not. Again, delicious either way.
Day 15 – Lossit Archivist
Blend by The Lost Distillery Company ~ 46% ~ NAS ~ Various casks ~ Various regions
Nose: Smoke, seaside, sweet note of apples, hint of pink eraser shavings.
Palate: It coats my tongue in smoke and earthy peat, a bit of burnt eraser on the tip of my tongue, oily and saltiness to wrap it all in a bow.
Finish: An exquisitely long fade that showcases the smoke, peat, and seaside. Deeper into the finish I get that sweet apple note from the nose.
Overall: Wow wow wow. I could see myself curling up in a comfy chair, a glass and bottle of this whisky on a side table, a smouldering fire nearby, and a book in my hand (or maybe a movie playing since I’d be unable to read at some point).
Day 16 – Ardmore 9 year old
Ardmore (bottled by Secret Spirits) ~ 61.3% ~ 9 years ~ Ex-Laphraoig ~ Cask #709328 ~ Highland
Nose: Gentle peat and smoke, rich honey.
Palate: Earth, peat, honey, and floral notes. Brown sugar or caramel with more earthy notes.
Finish: As the long finish draws out, I get a medicinal note characteristic of Laphraoig. A bit of saltiness as I smack my tongue.
Overall: I love all the different things I’m seeing from whisky bottlers these days. This one is another great expression from Secret Spirits and I keep going back to my glass for more.
Day 17 – Watermelon Wedge
North British (bottled by Wemyss Malts) ~ 46% ~ 10 years ~ Barrel ~ Cask #WVM264 ~ Lowland
Nose: Tropical notes (hint of pineapple) and watermelon (which reminds me of Bubblicious Watermelon gum). A touch of fresh grain and strawberry that reminds me of the strawberry ice cream I ate as a kid.
Palate: Buttery corn, tingles of red cinnamon candies, some nuttiness, and ripe melon.
Finish: The fresh grain note is back, the corn takes center stage, and the melon lingers.
Overall: Wemyss always does interesting things with their bottlings and this whisky is no exception. The name and the nose match, but I was not expecting that big presence of corn on the palate at all!
Day 18 – MacDuff 14 year old
MacDuff bottled by Claxton’s ~ 55.9% ~ 14 years ~ Sherry Butt ~ Cask #1835-900032 ~ Speyside
Nose: Sweetness from the sherry, salty tobacco, a touch of red grapes, and black tea or coffee beans (my brain can’t decide which).
Palate: Lemon, orange, raisins, earthy flavours that make me think of coffee in the mountains. It gets buttery and I get some tingling spices.
Finish: A dry finish with a grassy note, some bitter spice (cloves perhaps?), and saltiness.
Overall: Holy moly, a drop of water really opens this up and amplifies the flavours! I much prefer it with the water and loved sitting with this one to explore it all.
Day 19 – Dalmore 12 year old
Dalmore bottled by Secret Spirits ~ 57.2% ~ 12 years ~ 1st Fill Oloroso ~ Cask #702099A ~ Highland
Nose: Caramel and brown sugar. (Kiss of Water) orange, dark fruit (like plums), vanilla spice cake, a wee hint of nuttiness.
Palate: Butterscotch. (KoW) orange zest, coffee, lots of spices.
Finish: Lots of tingles. (KoW) more orange, a bit of that plum from the nose, a hint of cinnamon.
Overall: This one needed water for me – just too hot for my palate. Once I was able to open it up, it was really nice to explore. I picture this dram beside a piece of spice cake with white vanilla glaze drizzled on top.
Day 20 – Caol Ila 7 year old
Caol Ila bottled by Secret Spirits ~ 55.5% ~ 7 years ~ 1st fill Oloroso ~ Cask #1710 ~ Islay
Nose: Oily peat, salty sea air, sweet smoke, caramelized cloves with a touch of water.
Palate: Not as oily as I expected! Medicinal and salt, peat and damp earth, a bit of a metallic tinge with dark berries.
Finish: Sweetness really shines through in the finish as I’m left with a salty warm peat and wonderful Christmas spices.
Overall: A seriously incredible dram here! I’m loving the layers of smoke, peat, salt, and sweetness. The touch of water takes it over the top.
Day 21 – Gardener’s Biscuit Break
Linkwood bottled by Wemyss Malts ~ 46% ~ 18 years ~ Butt ~ Cask #WVM326 ~ Speyside
Nose: Florals and sweet, golden raisins.
Palate: Very delicate and creamy on my tongue. Apples and pears, a tea biscuit lightly drizzled in honey.
Finish: A soft, creamy fade that flits notes of spice across my tongue.
Overall: Really like how delicate this is, it makes you slow down and sleuth out the flavours and complexities. I find it quite relaxing, actually – something you‘d reach for once you’ve found some quiet after a long day.
Day 22 – Deanston 10 year old
Deanston bottled by Secret Spirits ~ 65% ~ 10 years ~ 1st Fill Oloroso ~ Cask #900038 ~ Highland
Nose: Chocolate orange, candied ginger, a hint of custard and brandy. A kiss of water (KoW) and I get plums.
Palate: Plums, chocolate orange, spices. That KoW makes the palate creamy, unlocks the woody notes, and kicks up the orange.
Finish: A bit woody with spices. The chocolate orange sticks around longer with the KoW and sweet, dry sherry notes come out to play.
Overall: These well-balanced higher ABV whiskies always delight and surprise. A few drops of water puts it in the right zone for me and I’d pour a dram of this beside a brandied orange and peach dessert.
Day 23 – Glen Spey 21 year old
Glen Spey bottled by A.D. Rattray ~ 59.2% ~ 21 years ~ Sherry Butt ~ Cask #5980 ~ Speyside
Nose: Wildflowers, honey, a wee bit of caramel. Dana says, “this totally smells like church.”
Palate: Oak and dry, woody notes. Dark fruit and spices. It then gets much spicier as we go – almost like the chili spice that you’d find infused in chocolate.
Finish: As the spices fade, a dry and sweet sherry influence comes into this lingering finish.
Overall: I had to add some water to this after the first sip to bring more of the notes into play. Once I did, the flavours are much more tangible and the whisky leaves me warm through my chest.
Day 24 – Strawberry Fondant Icing
Invergordon bottled by Wemyss Malts ~ 46% ~ 29 years ~ Sherry Butt ~ Cask #WVM286 ~ Highland
Nose: Strawberries, cereal notes, sugar cookies.
Palate: Smooth and wonderfully sweet like fondant. I get cherries and almond extract-infused whipping cream. Plus the cereal notes from the nose.
Finish: A slow fade of the delicate and delicious flavours.
Overall: Wemyss always comes up with the best names for their expressions. I’m a big fan of single grain whiskies and this Invergordon does not disappoint! It tastes like dessert.
Day 25 – Luxury Damson Jam
Bunnahabhain ~ 46% ~ 30 years ~ Puncheon ~ Cask #WVM330 ~ Islay
Nose: Dark fruit jam, a sour note, old wood, a wisp of seaside.
Palate: Spices, some heat, really get the dark fruits now. A wee bit of peat, soft smoke, and salt.
Finish: The fruit and spices linger, subtle woody notes in the end.
Overall: This develops really nicely the more I sip on it. A brilliant expression from Wemyss and brilliant way to end this year’s whisky advent calendar.