Whisky Advent 2017

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I’ve been waiting for months (11 to be precise) to dive into Secret Spirits’ fourth edition of the Whisky Advent Calendar. This year is bound to be exciting as I’m off to explore 25 different expressions of whisky including those from 10 independent bottlers. 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. Onto the whisky!

Day 1 – Tamdhu 18yo

Distillery: Tamdhu bottled by The Old Malt Cask
Cask Type: Refill Hogshead
Cask #: HL11956
Region: Speyside
Age: 18 years
ABV: 50.0%
Nose: Honey, citrus, makes me think of crumble for some reason.
Palate: Creamy honey coats my tongue. A sweet, almost sharp, lemon citrus follows.
Finish: It fades slowly with zesty notes dancing through the end.
Overall: The way it envelopes your tongue gives you time to discover and enjoy the flavours. As I said, one of my first impressions was of a crumble so maybe that would be a good dessert pairing….

Day 2 – Spice King Batch Strength

Distillery: Unknown, bottled by Wemyss Malts
Cask Type: Bourbon/Sherry
Cask #: N/A
Region: Speyside
Age: NAS
ABV: 48%
Nose: Smoky, orange spice, do I detect salted caramel toffee? My brain is making a connection to those Terry’s Dark Chocolate Orange balls you smash on the counter.
Palate: A big spicy orange note that’s flavoured wonderfully by the sherry and bourbon casks. As the whisky develops, it heats up bringing the smoke and saltiness.
Finish: The slow (almost oily) fade lets you enjoy the flavours and really hang onto the spice.
Overall: This one is so well-named and an absolute treat to explore! Two-thirds of the dram disappeared in short order and I had to slow down. What can I say other than, Wemyss Malts, you did it again! Last year’s Applewood Bake by Wemyss Malts was a runaway favourite in my house and this one may find its way into my whisky cabinet.

Day 3 – MacDuff 7yo

Distillery: MacDuff, bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Bourbon/Sherry
Cask #: 701263
Region: Speyside
Age: 7 years
ABV: 58%
Nose: Chocolate and creamy vanilla with sweet notes. After adding a bit of water it reminds me of a banana split.
Palate: This is quite hot at 58% and needs a few drops of water to open it up. On first taste I get vanilla and rich, milk chocolate. A wee bit of water and notes of banana cream come out to play.
Finish: The main flavours of the whisky fade fairly quickly but vanilla bean lingers closer to the end and it leaves a nice warmth in my chest.
Overall: For a young whisky, this is quite good. Jonathan Bray used the word “freshness” which I think is a great way to describe it. I was chatting with a friend, Micki, the other day about how whisky doesn’t need to be old to be good; A.D. Rattray and MacDuff prove it.

Day 4 – Dalaruan Classic

Distillery: Inspired by Dalaruan, bottled by The Lost Distillery Company
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: N/A
Region: Various (Dalaruan was in Campbeltown)
Age: NAS
ABV: 43%
Nose: Peaches and cream, hints of vanilla and spice, subtle curls of smoke.
Palate: Right away, a mix of spices and a creamy feel on my tongue. As the whisky spreads out, the taste of peaches and cream shows up with an undercurrent of smoke and salt.
Finish: The smokiness and salt take centre stage and introduce a bit of heat late in the finish. When it’s almost completely faded away, the smoke lingers and my tongue feels a bit oily.
Overall: Really like how this one develops; it’s almost like it has a separate start, middle, and end with the spice and smoke woven throughout.

Day 5 – Caol Ila 8 yo

Distillery: Caol Ila, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Refill Bourbon
Cask #: SS007
Region: Islay
Age: 8 years
ABV: 59.8%
Nose: A powerful smoke that carries salty-sweet notes.
Palate: The oily quality coats your tongue. Sweet smoke accompanied by what I’ll call the Iodine of Islay. And then there’s the warmth that reaches all the way down to your toes.
Finish: The smoke and salt linger for a wonderfully long time. My tongue almost has this waxy quality a few minutes after it’s gone.
Overall: From my nose to my toes, this one is a knockout. It’s incredibly well-balanced for being 59.8% (my inside voice is saying, “holy shit, how is this 59.8% and not burning a hole in me?”). I have a long-standing love for Caol Ila and this one keeps the fire alive. Well done, Secret Spirits; well done indeed!

Afterthought: I’ve quite happily finished a bottle of Caol Ila with two friends in a single evening. A bottle of this would take us back into that dangerous territory, much to our enjoyment of that night. Less so for the next day.

Day 6 – Glenallachie 8yo

Distillery: Glenallachie, bottled by Samaroli
Cask Type: American Oak Hogshead
Cask #: 900331
Region: Speyside
Age: 8 years
ABV: 43%
Nose: Pears, cinnamon, and golden raisins. If I nose just inside the edge of the glass, I get traces of cotton candy (hat tip to Jonathan, I couldn’t figure out what it was).
Palate: The creaminess of this whisky coats my tongue in baked pears, cinnamon, and a note of chili.
Finish: As the flavours fade, the spicy note of the chili heats up and finds its way to the different corners of my mouth.
Overall: I sat with this whisky for a good half hour, nosing and tasting. There’s a lot of subtlety to it that needs time for your senses to explore and discover and I’m happy I did.

Day 7 – “The Malt” 12yo

Distillery: Various, bottled by Ainneamh
Cask Type: Sherry
Cask #: N/A
Region: Various
Age: NAS
ABV: 40%
Nose: Dark cherries, sweetness from the sherry cask. @obiscott mentioned a dusty note and I completely agree.
Palate: As it spreads across my tongue, I taste dark fruits, sherry, and get a blast of tanginess that gives way to peat and earthy/woody notes.
Finish: The whisky mellows and then unexpectedly shifts to a tingly bitterness with salty notes later in the finish. That changeup at the end is super cool.
Overall: This is a really nice whisky that takes you on a bit of an adventure. Jonathan believes this has a strong influence of Islay with a good mix of Speyside and, I agree, those regions are definitely at play here.

Day 8 – Fettercairn 11yo

Distillery: Fettercairn, bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: 107725
Region: Highlands
Age: 11 years
ABV: 53.2%
Nose: It reminds me of those green sour apple candies. Also, flakes of coconut waft inside my glass.
Palate: Green apples, a hint of caramel, and a surprising acidity on the tip of my tongue.
Finish: As it fades, tropical fruits come into the foreground and I find the acidity really picks up.
Overall: On first sip, I found it a bit hot (not unexpected given its 53.2% ABV) but I sat with the whisky for a while to explore which is what brought me the notes above. When I did add a few drops of water, it mellowed and there was a woody/nutty note in the taste. I think I prefer it at 53.2% ABV because the flavours seem to be more pronounced.

Day 9 – The Hive Batch Strength

Distillery: Unknown, bottled by Wemyss Malts
Cask Type: Bourbon/Sherry
Cask #: N/A
Region: Unknown
Age: NAS
ABV: 54.5%
Nose: Honey and orange. I keep going back to nose around and enjoy.
Palate: Oh wow! It’s fresh and light on my tongue and delivers wonderful honey, orange, and spices. It tingles but doesn’t burn which is unexpected given the 54.5% ABV.
Finish: The honey and orange wrap themselves around my tongue and fade away slowly. The tingles pick up near the end and the spices linger.
Overall: Incredible. Love the vibrancy of the nose and richness of the flavours. Wemyss does phenomenal things with whisky (and hits the naming on the head, to boot). I could have sat nosing and tasting this for hours – alas, the whisky ran out.

Day 10 – Jericho Archivist

Distillery: Inspired by Jericho, bottled by The Lost Distillery Company
Cask Type: Sherry
Cask #: N/A
Region: Speyside
Age: NAS
ABV: 46%
Nose: Dark berries (I think blueberry or blackberry) with sugar sprinkled on top.
Palate: Honey coats my tongue with ginger notes and sherry flavours.
Finish: It’s a long and slow fade where spices come alive and the berries re-emerge.
Overall: The flavours make this a nice dram to end the weekend. From the nose and colour, I was expecting something a little more robust. I’m not disappointed, though, I would happily come back for more.

Day 11 – Samaroli Islay

Distillery: Unknown, bottled by Samaroli
Cask Type: American Oak Hogshead
Cask #: 97
Region: Islay
Age: NAS
ABV: 43%
Nose: Smoke and salt, characteristic of Islay, with a bit of sweetness.
Palate: The flavours almost want you to ease into this whisky as opposed to being right in your face. There are sweet iodine notes (if that’s a thing) overlaid by a very nice peatiness that sits lightly on your tongue.
Finish: The slow dissolve of flavours gives way to warmth in my chest and leaves citrus flitting across my tongue which has now been coated in a very thin oil.
Overall: Somehow Samaroli have found a way to bottle a whisky that makes me think of an oceanside campfire where fresh-cut wood is crackling away and the sea air fills your nose. This is a great whisky; the softened notes of salt and peat with the undertone of sweetness is fantastic.

Day 12 – Undisclosed Speyside 19yo

Distillery: Unknown, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: 184
Region: Speyside
Age: 19 years
ABV: 63.4%
Nose: Honey initially. With a kiss of water, I’m treated to delicious lemon and vanilla notes.
Palate: Without water all I taste is burning. A wee bit of water and now we’re getting somewhere. Picking up where the nose leaves off, there are sweet lemony notes bathed in honey with a splash of vanilla.
Finish: It tingles a bit in the finish as the flavours gently fade away and leaves me with a bit of an oily feeling across my tongue.
Overall: I asked my wife, Dana, about this one and she emphatically answered, “GOOD!” While not really a scent or flavour, I agree it is very, very good. This whisky is incredibly smooth (once you give it a bit of water) and really shows off the layers and subtleties of flavours. Well crafted by this distiller and a nice bottling by Secret Spirits!

13 – Shetland Reel Batch 3

Distillery: Various, bottled by Shetland Reel
Cask Type: N/A
Cask #: N/A
Region: Various
Age: NAS
ABV: 46%
Nose: Smoky right off the bat with an undercurrent of salty pears.
Palate: Salty peat with orchard fruits (I’m thinking apples or pears) playing throughout. Initially it’s very smooth and then shifts gears to bring some (almost spicy) heat.
Finish: As the heat fades away, I’m left with an oily residue on my tongue and lingering hints of smoke and salt.
Overall: I nosed around and tasted this, made some notes, and then came back to it again after a few minutes of just sitting out in the open. On second and third go round, I found the smoke had a richer quality, there was more bite in the saltiness, and the fade lasted longer. The more I sit with it, the more I like it.

14 – Glen Elgin 21yo

Distillery: Glen Elgin, bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Bourbon Hogshead
Cask #: 3203
Region: Speyside
Age: 21 years
ABV: 52.9%
Nose: Sweet apple and hints of cinnamon and vanilla. With water, I get a damp earthy aroma showing up and even a few floral notes.
Palate: A bit hot at first due to the higher ABV but sits light on my tongue. There’s a sweetness and notes that make me think of brown sugar and cinnamon. A hint of nutmeg as I sit with it. With a bit of water, spicy ginger and peppery notes emerge in a big way! I was not expecting that, let me tell you.
Finish: The sugary cinnamon goodness wraps my tongue and the whisky springs some spicy notes as it fades slowly. Adding the water and the spicy ginger and pepper sticks around for longer on the edges of my tongue.
Overall: Wow, does this whisky have layers! I’m trying to go slow but all I do is go back to explore more. This one may have to find its way into a future tasting (if I can still find a bottle) because I’d love to hear the thoughts and impressions from around a table.

15 – Peat Chimney Batch Strength

Distillery: Various, bottled by Wemyss Malts
Cask Type: Bourbon/Sherry
Cask #: N/A
Region: Various
Age: NAS
ABV: 57%
Nose: Sweet and salty peat. A kiss of water and I sense apple.
Palate: Whoa, this is quite something. A rich, smooth smokiness that unveils apple and (I think) a vinegary note. With a bit of water, the salty peat has a much more dominant presence and a peppery quality is introduced. It’s not oily and sits nicely on my tongue.
Finish: Slow dissolve to smoke and salted caramel apple. The peppery notes really linger once I added some water.
Overall: Smoother than I expected at 57% ABV. I suspect Wemyss sourced whiskies from Islay and Speyside to make this. The whisky really opens up and you get to go exploring when you add a little water. I quite enjoy the salty, peaty whiskies and this one is no exception.

16 – Lossit Classic

Distillery: Inspired by Lossit, bottled by The Lost Distillery Company
Cask Type: N/A
Cask #: N/A
Region: Various
Age: NAS
ABV: 43%
Nose: Smoky milk chocolate.
Palate: Rich chocolate with an earthy note underneath. The smoke isn’t as present as I expected based on the nose.
Finish: It’s a slow, warming fade with something near the end that makes me think of red chili dark chocolate. After that’s gone away, my tongue has an earthy taste lingering about.
Overall: Quite a bit different than most of the other whiskies I’ve tasted and I find it quite interesting that notes of chocolate appear alongside earthy ones. This one was fun to experience and, like Jonathan Bray said, it would be one to ease a person into Islay without scaring them off.

17 – MacDuff Sherry 19yo

Distillery: MacDuff, bottled by Samaroli
Cask Type: Sherry Butt
Cask #: 5869
Region: Speyside
Age: 19 years
ABV: 43%
Nose: Wonderful sherry notes amidst a citrus zest. There is a faint savoury note that I get almost at the edge of the glass.
Palate: Sherry is right up front with a thin thread of sulphur. Sweet finds a partner with savoury and even sneaks some spice (pepper?) into the mix.
Finish: Slow fade that leaves my tongue oily with the sweet and savoury notes playing back and forth.
Overall: I kept coming back to nose and taste and really let the whisky develop. Each time I came back there was something more to discover. “Fascinating,” as Mr. Spock would say.

18 – Glenrothes 19 yo

Distillery: Glenrothes, bottled by Secret Spirits
Cask Type: Bourbon
Cask #: 261
Region: Speyside
Age: 19 years
ABV: 55.6%
Nose: Honey drizzled over pears, a hint of lemon citrus. With water, I smell walnuts and brandy.
Palate: Brandied pears with cinnamon and vanilla. Water amplifies what was already there and brings those walnuty notes onto my palate.
Finish: This disappears quite quickly and leaves bits of honey in the back corners of my mouth. The finish is extended with water and that honey makes itself known after the other flavours fade away.
Overall: Absolutely wonderful. Needed a bit of water to get me there but 55.6% ABV gave me a lot of room to navigate. It’s light with lots to discover and, if I worked for Weymss, I’d call this one “Christmas Cheer.”

19 – Williamson 5yo

Distillery: Williamson (Laphroaig), bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Sherry
Cask #: 130
Region: Islay
Age: 5 years
ABV: 61%
Nose: Salted pork and (of all things) blue cheese. An almost medicinal note wafting around in there. A bit of water brings the pork and cheese much more to the foreground.
Palate: Peaty medicine mixed with bits of pink rubber eraser. Water opens this to let you have more of the peat, a touch of sweetness from the sherry cask, and takes the edge off the rubber eraser.
Finish: Leaving the rubber behind, the medicinal notes soften, the peat lingers, and I’m left with a warmth in my chest.
Overall: This one surprised the hell out of me. The nose was so much different compared to the taste (the pink eraser blew my mind). At 61% ABV, it’s incredibly well-balanced and a kiss of water really brought this scotch to life for me. I could see spending some good time to explore a bottle with a small group of friends.

20 – Exclusive Malts Cameronbridge 25yo

Distillery: Cameronbridge, bottled by Creative Whisky Company
Cask Type: Refill Sherry Butt
Cask #: 93574
Region: Lowland
Age: 25 years
ABV: 52.9%
Nose: Honey and sweetness with toasted grain cereals.
Palate: Rich, tongue-coating goodness with the characteristic single grain note. There’s also a note in here that reminds me of coconut rum.
Finish: It heats up in the finish and the flavours linger as it coats my throat in honey and warmth.
Overall: This is basically candy in a bottle. I’ve been fortunate to have once enjoyed a bottle of Cameronbridge 33 year old 1974 (Jim McEwan’s Celtic Heartlands) and this whisky takes me back there. I absolutely loved this dram. The nose drew me in instantly and the taste and finish have me wishing for a bottomless whisky glass.

21 – Glen Keith 20yo

Distillery: Glen Keith, bottled by The Old Malt Cask
Cask Type: Sherry Butt
Cask #: HL13359
Region: Speyside
Age: 20 years
ABV: 50%
Nose: Floral and gentle toffee notes.
Palate: Much more robust than the nose would have you believe! There’s a spicy bitterness that is offset by dark fruit (cherry perhaps?) and some nice heat as it spreads out to the corners of my mouth.
Finish: The spice picks up a bit in the finish and the whisky fades with dark fruit mixing with dark chocolate notes.
Overall: This whisky is like a bait and switch but in a great way. I was so happy to discover the big taste and layered finish. A few drops of water elevates the flavours and helps the whisky linger a while longer. Delicious!

22 – Samaroli Spey 21yo

Distillery: Tormore and Alt A Bhainne, bottled by Samaroli
Cask Type: Unknown
Cask #: Unknown
Region: Speyside
Age: 21 years
ABV: 45%
Nose: Light florals and honey.
Palate: A few tingles on my tongue as I get honey and hints of spice.
Finish: The honey and spices fade fairly quickly.
Overall: Since there’s no label, I’m not sure if my bottle was actually Samaroli Spey 21. I read Jonathan’s tasting notes and I didn’t get vanilla or lavender on the nose, “After Eight” mint or chocolate on the palate, nor dark chocolate and spice in the finish. I have a bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) now that I’ve compared notes. Not to worry, the promise of tomorrow is another whisky!

23 – Tormore 21yo

Distillery: Tormore, bottled by Single Cask Nation
Cask Type: 2nd Fill Bourbon Barrel
Cask #: 14211G
Region: Speyside
Age: 21 years
ABV: 49%
Nose: Floral, peach, and a hint of creamy oatmeal.
Palate: Oily citrus with peppery notes, a zest of lemon and undertones of the oatmeal I smelled up front. This is a big surprise given the soft (almost delicate) nose. A kiss of water opens this up and lets the citrus and pepper dance around on my tongue.
Finish: The citrus notes fade quickly while the pepper lingers a long time and really lights things up. My tongue has a thin coat of oil and warmth is spreading throughout my throat and chest.
Overall: This is the second whisky to fake me out with the nose! I’m a big fan of whisky that gives you lots to explore and this one didn’t let me down. It’s been a good number of minutes since I finished the dram and I’m still getting sparks of pepper!

24 – Tamnavulin 29yo

Distillery: Tamnavulin, bottled by A.D. Rattray
Cask Type: Bourbon Hogshead
Cask #: 10026
Region: Speyside
Age: 29 years
ABV: 49.4%
Nose: Apples and cinnamon and something from an herbal tea.
Palate: Spices (cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg come to mind) and pears. A bit of heat but incredibly smooth and well-balanced given the higher ABV.
Finish: The spices heat up a bit and apple returns. It’s warm and makes me quite happy.
Overall: Wonderful for a quiet Christmas Eve (now that the kids are in bed). I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the fruit and spice from this whisky. (P.S. In case you haven’t been following his guest blog, the pic is a hat tip to Scotch Trooper)

25 – Invergordon 30yo

Distillery: Invergordon, bottled by Samaroli
Cask Type: Sherry Hogshead
Cask #: 901551
Region: Highlands
Age: 30 years
ABV: 45%
Nose: Plenty of spices and a sweet note that makes me think of coconut.
Palate: Rich, creamy coconut along with tropical fruit and spices. The more I sit with it the more it opens up.
Finish: So smooth as the spice, fruit, and coconut fade away.
Overall: The way it opens up over time is a treat and the creaminess of this whisky is fantastic to enjoy the flavours. I’m quite content as I look out the window to bright sunshine and blistering cold (a true Alberta winter day).

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.


  • Scott Gillespie

    Came to see your thoughts on our Advent drama which are fun – but like and am intrigued also by your other posts. Serendipity is a cool thing.

      • Scott

        A question for you. In the booklet Ainneamh Says about their releases “ every release is limited to just one very special cask carefully aged in our warehouse….”. So how do we end up with a blended whisky? Doesn’t make one bit of difference to me but just wondered whether what I am missing. Thoughts?

        • Matt Edwards

          Great question! To make a blend, Ainneamh would have sourced whiskies from various distilleries. Those whiskies may have been newly distilled or had been aging for a while in a warehouse. In our case with “The Malt,” those whiskies would have been combined by Ainneamh in a sherry cask and – based on the comment in the booklet and the age statement on the bottle – put it in their warehouse to age until all the whisky inside that cask was at least 12 years old.

          So either Ainneamh bought all new whiskies, blended them, and aged that single cask for 12 years; or they bought whiskies of different ages, blended them, and aged the cask until the youngest whisky in the blend turned 12. Does that make sense?

          • Scott

            Yes makes sense – I suspect that was the only way to get a both a single cask label but yet still be a blend. Until now i had not encountered (or didn’t realize I had) the notion of a blend being further aged and then bottled as a single cask. I guess I had always assumed a single cask bottling meant that it was a single distillation of a whisky and therefore always a Single Malt. So here we have a single cask but that cask is a blended whisky because it is made up of whisky from different areas/distilleries/regions…. got it!


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