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Kensington Wine Market's 2023 Whisky Calendar UBER EDITION Day 6 - Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey

Posted on December 6, 2023

by Evan

Today marks a first for the Uber Edition of the 2023 KWM Whisky Calendar. A few firsts actually. For one, this is our first Irish Whiskey in the lineup. And this is also the first bottle in the Calendar with no age statement. That’s right: while the five drams before this were stated to be at least 25 years old, chances are there is younger whisky in this bottle. Will that make a difference and impact how we perceive it? Only time will tell!

The Midleton Very Rare is one of the most highly regarded whiskies available that does not come with an age statement. Many consider it to be one of the best Irish Whiskies available, and it comes from a company known for making great Irish Whiskey. That company is Irish Distillers, which is owned by Pernod Ricard. Irish Distillers is responsible for many notable Irish Whiskey brands including Jamesons, Green/Yellow/Blue Spot, Powers, and one of my favourites: Redbreast.

Since its first release in 1984, the venerable Midleton Very Rare has been a blend of pot still and grain whisky that is produced at the new Midleton Distillery in East Cork. The releases of Very Rare are usually aged in ex-Bourbon casks, giving it a somewhat different twist than the more sherry-driven Redbreast Irish Whiskey range.

As an annual release, Midleton Very Rare can have a lot of batch variation. Some prefer certain vintages over others. I have not tasted enough of the range to weigh in on that personally, but I am looking forward to tasting this one. Here is what the company behind the Very Rare has to say about the 2023 Release:

“Since 1984, each Master Distiller of Midleton Very Rare uses their eye for detail, their passion for quality whiskey and their exemplary skill to create the pinnacle of Irish whiskey—our special vintage release.

The latest chapter of this renowned collection is adorned with the signature of our Master Distiller, Kevin O’Gorman. After months of exploration, O’Gorman crafted a balanced blend of rare and hand-selected single pot still and single grain Irish whiskeys from Midleton’s exclusive inventory to create this truly special release.

Matured in lightly charred ex-bourbon American oak barrels, the Midleton Very Rare 2023 Vintage Release delights with decadent flavours and a tantalising aroma. The aroma, taste and finish of this whiskey will enliven the palates of those new to this collection while taking the seasoned whiskey collector on a journey through an exciting exploration of taste.”

Let’s dive in!

Midleton Very Rare - 2023 Release - 40% ABV

Evan’s Tasting Note

Nose: Vanilla candles, paraffin wax, white grape juice, pear slices, pineapple, coconut water, tumeric/curry powder, green peppers, fresh grain, and recently cut oak staves.

Palate: Waxy and chalky...

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Kensington Wine Market's 2023 Whisky Calendar UBER EDITION Day 5 - Port Askaig 28 Year Old Islay Single Malt

Posted on December 5, 2023

by Evan

We are heading to Islay for Day Five’s dram in the UBER Edition of our 2023 KWM Whisky Calendar. Today, we taste the Port Askaig 28 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch.

For many of us who have made the pilgrimage to Islay, Port Askaig is where we the ferry landing where we disembarked from the CalMac Ferry and went off to explore the rest of the island. Port Askaig is on the east coast, on the Sound of Islay. East of the Town and about 1 KM across the Sound is the Isle of Jura. Distillery-wise, Caol Ila is closest to the town and ferry landing and is about a five-minute drive to the North. The Ardnahoe Distillery and Bunnahabhain Distillery to the north are also within seven and twelve minutes by car, respectively. While the Port has been used for hundreds of years as on of the main berths between Islay and Jura as well as the Scottish Mainland, the town at the port itself only consists of a handful of houses, a hotel, a gas station, and a shop or two.

Named after the village of Port Askaig itself, the Port Askaig Islay Single Malt label is owned by Elixir Distillers. The company also owns a few other brands you may have heard of, including The Elements Of Islay, The Single Malts Of Scotland, The Whisky Trail, and The Black Tot Rum brand. Over the past few years, Elixir has been quietly expanding and looking towards a bigger future. The Tormore Distillery in Speyside was purchased from Pernod Ricard in 2022, and there is an Islay distillery currently being built as well. The planned Portintruan Distillery will reside on the island between Port Ellen and Laphroaig.

The main range of the Port Askaig lineup consists of an 8-Year-Old and the 100 Proof. Limited runs of older whisky are sometimes available as well, including a 25-Year-Old, the 28-Year-Old we are tasting today, and a 45-Year-Old. Though Port Askaig it is a line of mystery Islay single malts and the source of each batch of Port Askaig is not usually disclosed, much of the whiskies bottled under the label are reputed to come from the Caol Ila distillery. That doesn’t mean they are all Caol Ila, though. Other distilleries that have possibly been bottled under the Port Askaig name include Bunnahabhain and Laphroaig.

This 28 Year Old Port Askaig is actually of unknown provenance. Elixir Distillers purchases a batch of casks that were labelled “Islay Single Malt”, with no distillery name attached. Oliver Chilton of Elixir – who does most of the cask selection for Elixir’s various whisky lineups - has mentioned that this parcel of casks has a similarity to Laphroaig Single Malt around the same age he has tasted.

Regardless of whether this is Caol Ila, Bunnahabhain, Laphroaig, or something else: what matters is what we think of it. Shall we give it a go?

Port Askaig 28 Year Old Islay Single Malt Scotch

Bottled at 45.8%,...

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Kensington Wine Market's 2023 Whisky Calendar UBER EDITION Day 4 - Boutique-y 10th Birthday Millstone - 25 Year Old

Posted on December 4, 2023

by Evan

Today’s dram in our UBER Edition of the 2023 KWM Whisky Calendar presents a fortunate collision between two very intriguing whisky companies. One, the whisky maker – is Millstone Distillery of the Netherlands. The other is the independent bottler, those fun and crazy folks from That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Together, they have given us That Boutique-y Whisky Company Millstone 25 Year Old, which was bottled to celebrate Boutique-y's 10th Anniversary. 

Let’s talk about Millstone first. 

The Zuidam Distillery was founded in 1975 in Baarle Nassau, which lies in the southern Netherlands near the border it shares with Belgium The Founder, Fred van Zuidam, had accumulated two decades of previous experience in spirits production before deciding to make a go of it on his own. Under his care, the distillery started by making a line of premium liqueurs using natural ingredients, from grain to fruit to herbs and spices used. This methodology continues to this day, as Zuidam spirits are made with no artificial colouring or flavouring. This goes for all of their products, be it their Cassis Liqueur (which is delicious by the way), Apple Flavoured Gin, Dutch Courage Old Tom Gin, Premium Genever, or Single Malt Whiskies and Rye Whiskies. Millstone whiskies, and beyond that with the Zuidam line of spirits and liqueurs, can be hard to keep up with. 
Zuidam's first experiments in whisky-making started in 1994, and regular whisky production commenced four years later in 1998. Even then, the Zuidam family showed patience, not releasing their first single malt whisky commercially until 2007. The first bottling was a 5-year-old. It was also the first release to use the Millstone name, which was a reference to the use of Dutch Windmills to stone-mill the malted barley. Nowadays, the use of windmills is no longer enough to supply all the grist needed. 
Fred’s son Patrick van Zuidam is now in charge of whisky and spirit production at the family distillery, and under his influence, the distillery’s line of whisky has stretched into a variety of different styles and grains, including Rye as well as three-grain and five-grain blends. On the single malt whisky side of things, the distillery uses long fermentation times as well as a Belgian Brewer’s Yeast for the fermentation itself. Patrick has a deep fondness for good quality sherry casks and has invested serious amounts of time and finances to obtain them. If you have ever had any two-decade-old Millstone Single Malt Whisky from a sherry cask, you will see how well his devotion pays off for us whisky drinkers. 

Now, onto That Boutique-y Whisky Company. 

I have talked about That Boutique-y Whisky Company in prior Whisky Calendar blog posts a few times now. The company has been around for ...

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KWM 2023 Whisky Calendar Blog Day 6 - Compass Box Orchard House

Posted on December 6, 2023

by Evan

Here is a list of staff that work at Kensington Wine Market, current as I write this:

The Ghost of Hunter’s Past

Full-time, part-time, and seasonal: These are the people that currently make Kensington Wine Market what it is.  Time may go by and the names may change, but like any company, KWM is only as good as the people that do the work and would not exist if they weren’t there.

I don’t have many heroes, but within the whisky world, there are a few people I look up to. I feel very lucky to be in a position where I have met many of them thanks to tastings and a bit of travel. I feel even more fortunate to work directly with some of them on a daily basis. Sure, you wouldn’t know that all of these people work with us based on our usually out-of-date staff profile page, but that is because KWM is far too democratic and not authoritarian enough to insist that they write up a staff profile. Regardless of that, I am proud to work with all of them, and I hope that they are just as proud to work at Kensington Wine Market as I am.

Now that I have ostracised some of our staff, what was my point again?

For years and years, Compass Box was John Glaser to me. The company’s innovations, releases, and successes wrested entirely on his shoulders and could not have been done by anyone else. John revolutionized what I thought of as Blended Scotch, taking what was mostly a watered-down and bland category meant for bar rails and mass consumption and elevating it to an art form and premium whisky experience.

Here is an allegory for you: at the core of any Blended Scotch are its key ingredients. These are the ties that bind the rest of the components together, and without them, the parts that combine to make something greater than the sum of the parts involved would not matter. The core of any blend is like John Glaser of Compass Box or Andrew Ferguson of Kensington Wine Market: If they are not there, would the company be the same entity that it is today?

Compass Box Orchard House was first launched in 2021, and speaking hyperbolically, it was the sole reason life returned to normal after Covid. It is shocking and revolutionary for a whisky to taste this light, and fruity, and also be peated. It is a multifaceted whisky with depth and dimension.

Compass Box’s blending prowess is not limited to John Glaser, and his fellow blenders might be even more talented than he is. That is not a slight to John Glaser. The most talented people know how to surround themselves wi...

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KWM 2023 Whisky Calendar Blog Day 5 - Amrut 9 Year KWM Port Pipe

Posted on December 5, 2023

by Evan

Day Five in the 2023 KWM Whisky Calendar marks our first trek outside of Scotchland, and we are heading all the way to India with this bottle of Amrut 9-Year-Old KWM Port Pipe 4660!

While Amrut Distillery was established in 1948, the company's single malt whisky did not launch outside of India until 2002. Originally called Amrut Laboratories, the company’s first alcohol brand was a brandy called Silver- Cup, which launched in 1949 and is still released today, though it is not imported to Canada. The company became known for its rum as well, some of which we do see in Canada including Amrut Two Indies Rum and Old Port Rum.

Amrut first delved into whisky production as we know it in 1982 with distillations from barley and malted grain. The resulting “whisky” was aged for 18 months and blended with sugarcane alcohol to create MaQintosh Premium Whisky.

Okay, full stop here. If you are somewhat familiar with the whisky-making processes and regulations of countries like Scotland, Ireland, Canada, the United States, Japan, and many other countries, there are a few things in the prior chunk of text that won’t make a lot of sense:

You can release whisky after only 18 months of maturation?!?

Other than the United States, the countries I mentioned all generally follow the three-year rule. ie: Spirt must be aged for three years in oak/wood vessels before it can be considered ‘whisky’.

You can use alcohol made from sugarcane in a product and still call it whisky?!?

Every country has its own ideas on what can be blended into whisky. Some allow colouring or flavouring, but the general rule is that whisky has to be made from distilled grain products, not sugar.
Within India, alcohol made from sugarcane and molasses is often blended or used in whisky produced and consumed domestically. This style is tremendously popular and is a large part of the reason that the country consumes more “whisky” than any other.

I talked about this in a blog post for the 2022 KWM Whisky Calendar as well. That post was for another Indian Single Malt Whisky - the Paul John Select PX Cask Finish. 

Do not all of this worry you and cause paranoia about the whisky we are about to taste. This Amrut Single Malt Whisky is indeed a Single Malt Whisky, made from 100% malted barley using pot stills. Just like they do in Scotland. In fact, Scotland was the location first used to test market Amrut Single Malt whisky before it was launched officially in Europe in 2004. Interestingly enough, the company's single malt whisky did not see a domestic release in its home region of Bangalore until nearly six years later.

Much like the 1976 Judgement of Paris put Napa Valley wine on the m...

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