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KCM Spirit Reviews

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Review 209: Bunnahabhain 12 Year

Review 209
Bunnahabhain 12 Year: 46.3% abv

Background: The KCM crew has covered most of the distilleries on Islay, but we’ve left out a few. Doing our full due diligence, a personal favorite on the list is Bunnahabhain. The name is a little bit more intimidating looking than it is to say, as is the case with many Scotch distilleries. Bunnahabhain was founded in 1881, and reflects a much milder expression of Islay than Laphroaig and Ardbeg do. The 12 year Bunnahabhain competes on the same level as a Bruichladdich 12 Year would, at a reasonable price. Very recently, Bunnahabhain switched from a 40% abv to a 46.3% abv expression, also explicitly stating that the whisky is non-chill filtered. This makes the reasonably priced 12 Year old whisky an appealing offering.


Nose: Although Bunnahabhain doesn’t give you many details regarding this whisky, you get the instant gratification of malt and sherry on the nose. There is a definite feeling of coastal saltiness and seaweed that starts off. Sweet fruits and oak spices lay over the top of the nose, but in general the nose is actually light and lacking in complexity. The spiciness is rather light and hard to depict, but the sherry comes through very clearly.

Arrival: Right on the arrival, the hypothesis is confirmed. There is a very strong instance of sweet, succulent sherry notes. It is a beautiful, enjoyable arrival, giving you the clean, wonderful malt taste that you’d expect out of something like anCnoc. There is definite caramel in the arrival, which raisons and slight spices. At the end of the arrival, a little bit of seaweed and salt comes into play.

Body: The body takes over from here, grabbing the reigns and giving you the spicy side of this whisky. The sherry is no less prevalent here, nor is the barley presence. The caramel is very big in the body.

Finish: The finish retains the big notes from before, primarily maltiness and sherry. That being said, it also introduces a slightly smoky campfire bitterness, almost indistinguishable, as well as giving the intense spiciness you’d hope for. There is some vegetal aftertaste in the finish, with a brilliant earthy flavor coating the tongue. There is still tons of caramel, in addition to a sharp saltiness and alcohol heat. There is a slightly leathery character to the finish as well.

With Water

Nose: The nose after adding water picks up some soft vegetal tones, dials down the sherry notes, and pushes forward the salty essence of the whisky. This Bunnahabhain becomes slightly more floral after adding water. There is some sweet cherry juice layering on top of the nose.

Arrival: The arrival becomes more balanced. The salt and spice notes are beautifully laid out now. There is a much more characterful graininess in the arrival now, representing a less fresh malt flavor, and a more mature oaky flavor. The spiciness in the arrival is really good at grabbing your attention, with a good white pepper and allspice flavor that tends to set this apart from other sweeter malts.

Body: The body brings forth some pleasant oaky notes after adding water. The vegetal notes are much more prevalent in the body now, with a more vanilla-driven oak flavor pushing into the finish. Grenadine becoming noticeable on the palate, and clove spiciness is present in the body now.

Finish:  The finish is becoming more reminiscent of a bourbon-aged whisky than a sherry-aged whisky, with some rich fruit notes reminding us that there is still something retained from before. The finish isn’t terribly long, but it does provide some complexity and a good balance of different flavors. There is some vanilla bean and fresh grain flavor that is coming through as well.

Final Comments: This might not be what you’d categorize as your traditional Islay malt, as it is lacking some of those key features (ungodly amounts of peat flavor). That being said, it is still an enjoyable Scotch and a good price. This whisky does a good job of representing a completely different side of Islay without losing some of the Islay essence. No, it doesn’t burn off your eyebrows with huge peat, but it is presented at 46%, natural color, and it is non-chill filtered, not to mention just tasting damn good. The complexity won’t knock your socks off by any stretch of the imagination, but after a few drops of water, the balance is worth appreciating. Can we tell you that this is a sherried whisky? After trying the Bruichladdich 12 Year 2nd Edition, no we can’t. But it sure tastes like it, and we’d by this over a Macallan 12 any day.
Why you’d buy it: A good value-per-dollar Islay with a different attitude that won’t break your bank.
Why you wouldn’t: You are a peat purist and believe every bottle of whisky that leaves Islay should be filled with peat moss.

Score:  8.5/10

Friday, April 4, 2014

Review 208: Mount Gay Extra Old

Review 208
Mount Gay Extra Old Rum: 43% abv

Background:  KCM has done multiple reviews on Mount Gay Rum, a Barbados distillery which tends to produce great value-per-dollar rums for the masses. Although Mount Gay Eclipse isn’t your sipping rum, the brand is still reputable. So what happens when you go up in the range? Mount Gay Extra Old is the middle range rum that offers a little bit more quality for a few more dollars. Interestingly, Mount Gay is a double pot still distilled rum, aged in ex-American whiskey white oak barrels. The Extra Old, in particular, is a blend of 8 to 15 year old rums. Extra Old is proofed modestly, as most rums are, but it is a slight improvement from the standard offering. Let’s look at if this premium bottle warrants a premium price.


Nose: The nose shows off a more clearly balanced rum aroma than you would find in other bottlings. A mixture of fragrant floral notes, strong maple, and a prevalent molasses make this a beautiful nose. Vanilla bean and banana also add mellow soft notes to the scent. There is a light spiciness to the rum, but it is mostly lost to the sweetness. Ripe apple, strawberry, and a slight pomegranate all add to the complexity of the nose, which continues to be a very pleasant experience.

Arrival:  The arrival struggles to pull out a lot of flavor. The molasses comes out strong the arrival, with a small hint of caramel and apple as well. The arrival contains slight spiciness, and a little bit of oakiness, but fails to make it noticeable. There is also a little bit of cookie dough flavor in the arrival as well.

Body: The body really takes on notes of apple and caramel, as well as vanilla and doses of cinnamon and nutmeg. The spice blend in the body is very intriguing and enjoyable, coupled with a nice, balanced sweetness. This is where this rum truly becomes enjoyable. The confectionary notes from the arrival carry into the body as well.

Finish: The age in the rum starts to show a little more in the finish, with ripe fruit notes, thick oak flavor, and a complex balance. The ripe banana comes through very heavy in the finish, with ginger and cardamom being immediately noticeable as well. There is no shortage of vanilla, with a little bit of a confectionary flavor as well. The finish provides a slightly sugarcane-like vegetal note, contributing sweetness and slight bitterness.

Final Comments: This is a fantastic statement by Mount Gay. It does balance the sweetness of a rum with some subtle complexity you would hope for. I would speculate that an extra 3% would throw this over the top in terms of flavor, but it still does a great job of differentiating the brand’s range. This is a great sipping rum, and for the reasonable price it offers, we would encourage this one. That beings said, it doesn’t offer all of the complexity we would want, but it doesn’t necessarily need to. The biggest accolade this rum has is the level of balance it has. Worth a try.
Why you’d buy it: This is a good rum for a good price, and you’re looking for a sipper.
Why you wouldn’t: You are severely anti-gay, and the thought of buying a gay rum makes your bible cringe.

Score:  9.0/10

Friday, March 28, 2014

Review 207: Ardmore Traditional Cask

Review 207
Ardmore Traditional Cask: 46% abv

Background: Ardmore is an interesting Highland Single Malt whisky. It does a lot of things to set itself apart. Ardmore started in 1898 by William Teacher’s son, in an attempt to bolster stocks for the Teacher’s Highland Cream blended Scotch. Interestingly, Ardmore is still the key single malt in Teacher’s. The “Traditional Cask” Ardmore is a very reasonably priced NAS whisky, but it also tries to contend with the Islay malts by calling itself a peated whisky. Some purists might raise the nose to the statement, but don’t get too indignant before you try this one. Aged in quarter casks, it is fair to say that this is not an old whisky, but it does get bottled at a nice 46%. The question we’re always asking ourselves is: should this whisky be on my shelf?


Nose: There is no question that this Highland malt means business. If you think this can’t shred with the Islay single malts, you’re sorely mistaken. The first sniff from this glass will greet you with a powerful, thick smoke. It smells a lot like smoked meats and burning fall leaves. The smoke is mossy and earthy, but a little bit different than your traditional Islay peat smell. Along with the smoke, there is a strong vanilla, malt, and some great dark fruit notes in here. There is a subtlety of burning cigar tobacco in the nose as well. There is some allspice and strong oakiness that starts to come out of the nose as well. The nose is very dense and ashy.

Arrival: The arrival starts off with a unique tartness, malt sourness, and some interesting fruitiness. The vanilla and oak are very dominant in the beginning, and there is almost a jammy fruit flavor up front. The arrival is quick, but blasts out the introduction to this single malt effectively. There is a slight, subtle smokiness to the arrival. The smoke basically acts as a good prelude of the whisky to come.

Body: The body is very ashy, with a lot of dense flavor to boot. Dry spices jump into the game as well, bringing out black peppercorn and cloves. More smokiness comes out of the whisky here, but it is still modestly subdued. There is some cinnamon and apple present in the body.

Finish: The finish is where the whisky starts to bring out the peat the most. There is a fresh tobacco flavor, with some woodiness and vanilla coming out as well. The maltiness presides over the entire event, but the fruitiness dies off. There is a large cinnamon aftertaste in the finish that becomes noticeable after a few sips. Although the Ardmore doesn’t take on the most complex finish, it finishes strong and thick.

With Water

Nose: As the whisky gets water, it does not contribute much more to the nose. It is still extremely dense and smoky on the nose. The intensity of the smoke to the whisky is still very prominent.

Arrival: After adding water, the arrival  is very malty and vanilla-dominant. The wood notes are still very dominant in this whisky, which shows off the intensity of the quarter cask.

Body: The body is downplayed a lot after the water was added (it was probably a little too much water). Overall, this acts as a bridge between the arrival and the finish. It is slightly vegetal, and mostly smoky.

Finish:  The vanilla and peat are really on display in the finish. That being said, after adding water the whisky finishes a little cleaner with just a little hint of bitterness that wasn’t present before. It is a botanical-like flavor that is coming out more. The vegetal notes from the body start to become prevalent in the finish as well. There is also just a tad of maple-syrupy aftertaste.

Final Comments: This whisky is a very similar story to Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve in terms of value per dollar. The whisky is good on its own accord, but when you see the price and presentation, it is a hard one to pass up. This isn’t necessarily a personal favorite, but I would NEVER turn down a glass of this. If you buy this thinking it will be an Islay whisky from the Highlands, you are sorely mistaken. In fact, why would you want that? This offers a much different experience for a much better price. The KCM recommendation is get at least one bottle of this. In terms of the whisky’s flavor? It is a gorgeously earthy, smoky, tobacco forward malt with some interesting contrasting flavors to it. It does not have the complexity to really make everybody happy, but I’m willing to look over that.
Why you’d buy it: You understand economics and good taste.
Why you wouldn’t: You are an avid Islay peat-head

Score:  8.5/10

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Friday, March 14, 2014

Review 206: Highland Park Loki 15 Year

Review 206
Highland Park Loki 15 Year: 48.7% abv

Background: This is a pretty special review for the KCM crew here. This is the first time we’re reviewing a truly limited edition bottling, albeit this is limited edition in the sense that there was a bottle of whisky that came before it and one that’ll come after it, and they’ll be presented the same, but they’ll be different…somehow. So you might call this a “vintage release without the vintage”. Highland Park Loki is part of their Valhalla collection. The whisky is at least 15 Years old, and bottled at almost 49%, which is a nice thing considering how much you pay for the whisky. Highland Park spends their time telling you about Loki in Norse mythology and how it relates to the whisky, but I’m not going to do that. What I’ll do is tell you how this is a 15 Year whisky at $275 a bottle. Obviously you’ll be wondering, why would I pay that kind of money for such a young whisky?


Nose: The Highland Park Loki starts off in the nose with a battle between a huge fruitiness and a coastal saltiness. The fruitiness is consistent of HP classic orange marmalade, citrus, green grapes, blueberry, dark cherry and other tropical fruits like bananas. There is a complex oak and malt, coupled with creamy vanilla and custard. This whisky also brings out spicy notes of chai tea, clove and allspice. The whisky also has a profound, deep floral smell to it. In additional, cinnamon apple contributes to a smell of both spiciness and sweet fruitiness. There is a very green, earthly aroma that presents itself in the nose as well. It is almost a mossy type aroma that comes through.
Arrival: There is a lot of malt in the arrival, along with a tart cherry sweetness. Plenty of oak can be found in the arrival, along with a substantial amount of spiciness. The whisky is pretty coastal in the arrival, with a slight amount of saltiness and tropical fruits as well. There is a lot of spiciness in the arrival, with mild black pepper, cinnamon, allspice, and gingerbread coming through.

Body: The body is very strongly herbal, with a  large amount of cilantro and mint coming through, along with an earthy presence as well. There is a strong maltiness, along with green apple, lime citrus, green melon, and body.

Finish: The finish contains the same amount of herbal presence as the rest of the whisky, including the mint and cilantro seen before. There is a lot more of an herbal quality to the finish than in the body. There is also a leathery quality to the whisky in the finish, that would be associated with a much older whisky. The finish is absolutely medicinal, and contains a bitter green tea flavor as well. There is a small amount of malt that fades off with the finish.

With Water

Nose: The herbal and citrus notes are very dominant after adding water. The whisky starts off with a much more potent nose. There is a change of balance, as some of the vanilla sweetness gets lost, and is replaced with an increase in bitter floral notes and coastal saltiness. There is a little bit of graham cracker in the nose as well now.

Arrival: The arrival stills contains some beautiful spiciness, along with some maltiness and herbal notes. The arrival is more mild than before.

Body: The body becomes intensely more herbal than before adding water, with bold flavors. There is also more maltiness, with the sweetness from the whisky becoming more dormant. There is a vanilla wafer flavor that comes through in the body as well now. There is a good amount of woodiness in the body, that bleeds into the finish.

Finish:  The finish is woody, with some old notes of leather and wood polish. It still is hugely herbal. There is a high dominance of woodiness in the finish that seems more prevalent than before adding water.

Final Comments: Wow…this is a whisky which raises the bar. This is complex, balanced, unique, and all around a beautiful statement by Highland Park. The KCM crew believes this whisky has some older whiskies in it by its taste profile, and it contributes to a more mature, complex flavor than you would expect from a 15 Year.  Now, let’s be clear. I’m not going to spend the next few minutes telling you about how this whisky is worth $275, because it really isn’t. The reason it isn’t is because for $200 less you could buy something of marginally worse quality and still have an undoubtedly fantastic whisky. So this bottle is for people who have the money to spend; and if you do, this HP will not disappoint. If you were going to buy a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label, this would be a better alternative and you wouldn’t look like an ass.
Why you’d buy it: You have a lot of money and want something you can appreciate and use to decorate your mantle.
Why you wouldn’t: You’re like most people and don’t want to spend almost $300 on a consumable bottle of liquid that actually does more to dehydrate you than offer sustenance.

Score:  10/10

Friday, March 7, 2014

Review 205: anCnoc 16 Year

Review 205
anCnoc 16 Year: 46% abv

Background: In Review 167, we raved about the affordably reasonable anCnoc 12 Year, and how it made a case as the new staple whisky in your cabinet. Next in line in the anCnoc range is their 16 Year. KCM views this whisky as part of a dying breed, which is why this review is so important to us. At a very reasonable price of about $65 and being 16 Years old, not to mention being 46%, non chill-filtered and natural color, this whisky is truly a phenomenal offering. It is a Bourbon-barrel aged single malt from Heaven. We are wondering if whiskies like this will even exist in the next 5 years. Distilleries are driving up prices and tearing the age statements off of their whiskies for more preferable NAS ambiguity. It starts as limited releases with whimsical names, but distilleries like Macallan have taken it a step further, replacing their standard range with these mysterious no-age whiskies. anCnoc should be praised for offering a Scotch like this. Next step is to review what makes this whisky such a gem.


Nose: The nose on this whisky is undoubtedly fresh and crisp. There is a similar, beautiful maltiness in the aroma as is present in the 12 Year. That being said, the 16 Year is much more coastal, with a prominent salty seaweed smell layering into the whisky. Interestingly, you can also find a sweet, honeydew and watermelon fruitiness in this whisky, mixed in with some clove and cumin spiciness. Additionally, dry wheat and marzipan also complement the slurry of smells present in this Scotch. The nose is well diversified, complex, and dense. It displays a wide spectrum of aromas that evoke images of tropical paradise.

Arrival: The arrival starts light and soft, portraying a subtle vanilla bean and malt flavor. A slight spiciness will creep into the flavor as the whisky opens up. There is a creamy, buttery flavor in the arrival, with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg coming through later. There is slight fruitiness, with succulent apples and sweet melon that carries into the body. After a few sips, a more salty, peppery flavor becomes pronounced.

Body: The body takes on a blend of salty coastal character and a sweet, fruity flavor. The maltiness is lost in the body and the whisky takes a more bitter, vegetal personality. There is a sound dosage of spices that comes through in the body, with warm cinnamon and cloves.

Finish: The finish ends with a mixture of spices, saltiness, and sweet fruits. It balances well with all of these characteristics, and none seem to over-dominate. The 46% is most pronounced here. The melon character is more prevalent here than in the body, but seems to battle with a peppery, dry finish. There is a dry malty, oak-like character in the finish, with hot spices layering on top. There is an ashy, oak char flavor that works its way into the whisky pretty successfully after a few sips as well.

With Water

Nose: After adding some water, the nose brings out a more custard-like, fruit-yogurt smell, while letting the intense spiciness get a little more bold. There is a little more harsh grain in the whisky at this point as well. Some of the vanilla is pulling through now as well. The whisky is still pleasantly balanced, but the nose seems more harsh now, with a bit more tart sourness in the fruit flavors.

Arrival: There is a much more bold malt flavor in the arrival now, which suits the anCnoc character very well. There is still some spice, and the melon has backed off in the arrival.

Body: The body shows off some beautiful lime flavor (maybe like a key lime pie?), but not in an uncomfortably tart way. This plays along with the gorgeous malty flavor.

Finish: The coastal flavor in the whisky is really coming out now, with the intense spiciness backing off. Between the melon and tart fruits and the sea salt flavors, the balance of this whisky is more enjoyable and the alcohol less noticeable. There is a little bit of smoke that plays into the finish, but it isn’t horribly dominant. It is also a fairly herbal, vegetal finish, containing some fresh mint and parsley. 

Final Comments: This is another wallop of a whisky from anCnoc. There is really an enjoyable, complex whisky with a great spectrum of flavors. It also provides a substantial amount of contrast from the 12 Year. If you get the opportunity to try this, we would recommend it. On the other side of the coin, this can be an intense whisky if you aren’t used to the high content. Again, it is a shame that we feel like teenage whiskies at an affordable price and going extinct, when stuff like this is affordable and amazing. Hopefully we are wrong in that projection, but while this is still available, find it and love it.
Why you’d buy it: You like a good well-rounded Highland malt
Why you wouldn’t: You are willing to go for an Old Pulteney 17 Year

Score:  9.25/10