Category Archives: Not Great

Strathisla 12 Yr Old

After a rather lengthy hiatus from my blog, it’s time to get back in the saddle. My graduate courses, coaching a Pee Wee AA hockey team (To a league championship and a provincial bronze medal, mind you!), not mention the job that actually pays the bills and family responsibilities… Let’s just say that something had to give for a while and it was my whisky blog that took a backseat.  

This does not mean, however, that I haven’t been making time to drink whisky! I’ve been keeping notes and I will try to get personal reviews complete for a few drams I’ve been sitting on. Today, I’m celebrating the start of the Easter break with one of those drops, the Strathisla 12 Year Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky. 

This is the first Strathisla I have purchased. According to the carton notes, it is the oldest working distillery in the highlands of Scotland, but all I really want to know is if it’s any damned good?  This whisky is bottled at 40% abv and cost me about $45 CDN. 


To the Eye

This whisky is a beautiful golden colour and a swirl of my glass produces thick, moderately stubborn legs. 

In the Nose

Not quite the quintessential Speyside nose, maybe a bit more interesting, actually. There’s fruit, yes, but it’s slightly more citrusy than the typical orchard fruits of a Speyside. There is also a herbal note but, instead of the usual grassiness, the Strathisla 12 offers a more floral character. Vanilla, cardamom and sweet, toasted malt round out the main aromas. 

On the Tongue

Malty, that’s the first thought the crosses my mind. And the thick, creamy mouthfeel is the second. There is a raisiny sherried note, along with some baking spices and a hint of apple sauce. (I guess that counts as some of those orchard fruits I was expecting.) a bit of caramel but the main thing I notice on the back is a bitter astringency. It’s not altogether unpleasant but it’s not altogether delicious either. That bitterness lingers into the otherwise short finish, although a meaty umami quality does develop.

Final Thoughts

The Strathisla 12 is a whisky that kind of leaves me feeling like I got what I paid for… which is rarely a good thing. The nose had me intrigued every time I poured a dram but that buildup as never fulfilled by the rest of the experience, which was disappointing. For me, this is a rather single-note single malt, with too much bitterness for the limited flavour it has to offer. For only about $10 more, there are several far superior whiskies to enjoy. 

A Wee Dram… Kirin Fuji Sanroku Tarujuku 50 Whisky

While on a joint-family vacation in the Okanagan for a week, my buddy Richard and I both had the unsurprising yet brilliant idea to bring a whisky to share. Surprisingly, however, neither of us selected a scotch or a Canadian whisky. I chose to bring Booker’s Bourbon, while my friend brought a bottle of Kirin Japanese whisky. Japanese whiskies are quite rare in the bottle shops where I live, and I’ve never seen Kirin before, but Richard had just recently returned from spending a year in his wife’s homeland of South Korea and had visited some of her relatives in Japan. Smart guy that he is, of course he grabbed something I wouldn’t have had a chance to try before. The information on the bottle was written almost entirely in Japanese characters, except for “Non-chill Filtered”, so we couldn’t figure out much except that this whisky is bottled at 50% abv. 

My poor photography skills don’t show the true pale-straw colour of this dram. The nose was somehow vaguely familiar and I immediately identified it as a blended whisky by the distinct grainy-floral aroma that also offered a little vanilla and some orchard fruits. A bourbon-like character arrives after the dram breaths a bit. On the palate, Kirin whisky once again seemed familiar, reminding me a bit of a Johnny Walker Green Label… maybe… but perhaps just the Red Label. It’s pleasant enough, and quite easy-drinking, but not at all complex – some green apples, a hint of caramel and maybe a little oaky vanillins on the back end. Once again, slightly bourbony, so I expect American oak is involved in casking. The finish was short but fairly smooth, with a bit more oak and a slight twist of orange zest. I’m glad to have had the opportunity to give Kirin a try, even though it was somewhat uninspiring. 

Glenfiddich 12

Considering they proclaims themselves as the world’s best selling single malt, it’s kind of surprising that I haven’t had more spaces in my cabinet occupied by the Glenfiddich 12… Especially earlier on in my dramming journey! This is not to say that I haven’t enjoyed my share of this malt at various times. (It is, after all, pretty much guaranteed to be on a bar shelf, even in the absence of any other scotch brands.) 

Glenfiddich 12 is bottled at 40% abv. This particular bottle was a Christmas gift from a colleague, so I won’t be posting a price.

I made a mess of the collar when opening the bottle… makes for a messy pic!

To the Eye

Gold – almost honey but not particularly deep or rich looking. You know how, when you swirl a dram, there will often be the suggestion of other tones and streaks of colour? Well there’s none of that here… And it’s kind of bugging me, to be honest! 

In the Nose

Hmm, not a lot going on now, either. Softly sweet with some kind of  indiscernible fruit at the front. Vanilla and maybe a little bit of oak. Believe me, I tried hard on multiple occasions to tease out more aromas than that, but this is about all I could come up with!

On the Tongue

Oak. It’s unusual for barrel wood to be the first flavour encountered, especially in such a young spirit but, you know what, it’s not an altogether bad thing. This oakiness is soft and clean and, although I can’t believe this was the intended profile, I find it quite nice to enjoy that woody flavour so clearly. Now, if only there was more to this… malty sweetness, a hint of burnt sugar and maybe a touch of orange peel… but that can’t be right, can it? The finish is short, with few pencil shavings sticking around for a fleeting moment before leaving me with nothing but drying, puckering sensation of alcohol. 

Final Thoughts

If you read my blog with any regularity, you probably have at least two things about me figured out: first, I enjoy most whiskies – I usually find something to like about the vast majority of drams – and, second, I base my reviews on multiple tastings – usually three or more. So it’s not like I was just having a bad day!

Here’s the lowdown – Glenfiddich 12 tastes NOTHING like what I remember. At no point in any of my tastings did I get any of those over-the-top pear and green grass flavours that I used to associate with this dram. I have no idea what has changed but there’s not much going on in this whisky  and, while I was still able to find something redeeming about it, this was one of the least interesting scotch experiences I’ve had in a loooong time!

Ballentine’s Finest

I’ve had a few of the Ballentine’s whiskies in my day, including the 18 and 21 year old blends, but none of them ever really grabbed my attention. Ballentine’s Finest is the flagship expression and one that I remember my father-in-law often having around before I helped him on his way toward single malt snobbery. I don’t think I have ever bought this whisky for myself but this particular bottle was a Christmas-time gesture from the family of one of the hockey players I coach. I’m certainly not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and I was impressed that they had gone out of their way to find out my preference for the uisge beatha. This dram is bottled at 40% abv. 

To the Eye

Pale gold with flashes of brighter yellow. Skinny legs rapidly drop down the sides of my glass. 

In the Nose

Surprisingly… almost non-existent. For a second I thought that perhaps an Ardbeg I’d enjoyed a couple nights earlier might have fried my olfactory senses! Ballentines has very very little offer on the nose. It smells whisky-ish but everything is so faint and subtle that I really can’t pick out any individual aromas. The empty glass was always full of caramel and vanilla but shouldn’t a full glass possess the superior nose?

On the Tongue

Quite smooth but a rather single-note profile. During each tasting session, I chewed and chewed on this one but wasn’t able to tease much out for my tasting notes… Slightly sweet, a little vanilla, a little oak, maybe a hint of charcoal.  The finish is medium short, a bit longer than I expected, actually, with a slow smoulder of alcohol and a few lingering baking spices. 

Final Thoughts

Ballentine’s Finest is not an undrinkable whisky but it is the least scotch-like scotch I have ever had – it actually reminds me more of a mass-produced, run of the mill rye mixer. This whisky tastes more like the ones I was drinking 15-20  years ago and I can see it working better with a splash of soda or ginger ale in a rocks glass than it does neat from a Glencairn. But that’s not why I buy scotch, so the only way another bottle of this dram ends up in my cabinet is if I get another one as a gift. 

Glenglassaugh Revival

A few weeks ago, after a busy day of last-minute Christmas shopping for the kids, I rewarded myself with a stop at one of those new bottle shops that is more like a supermarket than a boutique. I quite like my smaller, but really quite well stocked, local shops but, when I’m up in the city, I do like to check out some of these stores too… Some of them have incredible scotch aisles!

While perusing, I couldn’t help but eavesdrop with some amusement as an obvious newbie scotch drinker was having quite the conversation about his palate preferences with the staffer working the whisky section. As he struggled to ask about particular bottles while see-sawing back and forth about the two drams he really enjoyed- Octomore and Glenlivet. (Can you can imagine two less-similar drops!) It forced me to reflect upon those days when I was just starting to really become fascinated with whisky. It was/is hard to describe why it’s so damned good and, yeah, there are lots of VERY different styles and flavours, most of which have something excellent to offer. And hey, you’ve got to start somewhere – I applaud the gentleman for trying to educate himself. Anyway, it was actually the whisky-aisle attendant whose comments really caught my attention, since he seemed very familiar with many, many malts and very knowledgeable, as well. When I heard him point out the Glenglassaugh Revival as “the best $67 scotch” he has ever had, I thought, What the hell, let’s give it a go!

After the newbie had settled upon his next malt to tackle, I approached the shop staffer to give me the goods on the Revival.  According to him, the Glenglassaugh distillery is just outside of the Speyside region so, although it must use the more general “Highland” designation, it is distinctly Spey in character. Through many delightful-sounding specifics, I was told to expect a bold sherry character and an extremely well-rounded dram. He also claimed that this NAS whisky is composed with a significant ratio of 8 and 12 year whiskies. This dram is bottled at 46%abv and cost me $67 CDN, plus tax.

To the Eye

The carton notes state this whisky is non chill filtered and of natural colour. Assuming that’s true, I’m well impressed by the rich golden-coppery hue that I see in my glass. With NAS whiskies, I expect young stocks to result in ta rather pale spirit… Or assume caramel colouring has been added. (I suppose “Natural Colour” could just mean artificial agents have been added to create a more natural-looking drop.)

In the Nose

A definite wine-like aroma greets my first sniff, making me wonder about the casting regimen used for this whisky. Bits of black pepper and a new-make sour milk and spicy-sweetness. Obvious sherry notes and, as the glass breaths, caramel-toffee aromas become more assertive, along with some fresh cut wood. Perhaps hints of cherries and marshmallows. I’m not really finding a Spey-like character, as the typical Spey characteristics of orchard fruits and green grass seem non-existent.

(By the time I got to my third/fourth tasting sessions the growing headroom in the bottle seemed to have mellowed and improved some of the less pleasant aromas a little bit.)

On the Tongue

Young, young, young! Really, that’s the best summary I can offer. Early sweetness quickly gives way to a peppery, bitter-astringency eventually makes way for some sponge toffee flavours that were hinted at on the nose. Unfortunately that sour milk note is also showing up although it’s changed a bit into something more like, if memory serves, baby formula(?). A little oak on the exit, leading to a short finish of chocolate caramels that I wish would linger a while longer.

Final Thoughts

This is one of those whiskies that seems to be slowly growing on me and I wonder if I’ll really enjoy it by the time I’m working on the bottom half of the bottle. For the time being, however, the Glenglassaugh Revival has not yet showed me enough that I’d consider buying it again. I can’t help but think that the gentleman at the liquor store literally meant this his favourite whisky that costs exactly $67 dollars… I mean, there probably aren’t many malts falling in that narrow of a range! In my opinion, however, there are many whiskies that cost roughly the same or less that I far prefer over this one. I guess this is just more evidence of the differences between individual palates and a good reminder that one person’s opinion of a dram should not necessarily play as too big a factor on whether or not you try it yourself!

Jameson Irish Whiskey

Yeah, I’ve had a few Irish drams. Tullamore Dew, Jameson, Tyrconnell… most of the them were experienced on various March 17s, I think. Needless to say, I’m not nearly as familiar with the Irish style as I am with some of the others. What I do know, is that Irish whiskeys often combine grain and malt spirits and that they are often triple distilled. (Because of my affinity towards Auchentoshan, this fact could bode well for me!)

This particular bottle has me looking forward to renewing acquaintances. It was a gift from a colleague who thought I deserved a bit of a pick-me-up. I’ve always said, gifts are great but gifts of whisk(e)y are the best. Jameson Irish Whiskey is bottled at 40% abv. 

To the Eye

This whiskey displays as a bright golden drop, with flashes of lighter yellow. Stubborn, slender legs.

In the Nose

The first thing that jumps out at me is a salty, slightly smoky note, similar to some kind of smoked cheese.   The other dominant aroma is hard to explain, but I’m reminded of an overused pencil eraser. The are a couple of other smells that reveal themselves with effort, including baked biscuits and a hint of something soapy and perhaps a smidge of vanilla. Not at all complex. 

On the Tongue

This whiskey has a surprisingly thick mouthfeel that coats my tongue with woody flavours – I can’t shake the impression of cedar, even though that doesn’t seem to make much sense. That soapy character I noticed on the nose is once again present. There is a slight alcohol astringency present, which leaves my tongue tingling and, although I usually don’t care for that kind of experience, I kind of like it right now.  The finish is short, leaving subtle trails of oaky tannins and some spicy peppermint, along with a touch of citrus sweetness but it all fades away very quickly. 

On a whim, I added a couple drops of water but I didn’t find that it noticeably change the profile. 

Final Thoughts

This is one of my shorter reviews but, then again, this whiskey is pretty straight-forward. There’s really nothing wrong with this dram, and it actually came across as rather refreshing, but it lacks the depth of character that single malt drinkers become accustomed to. I have no doubt that I will again find myself with a Jameson in my hand…and probably a green-coloured Harp or Kilkenny in the other hand! 

Buffalo Trace Bourbon

Well here we go again… Bourbon review #2.

I can be a bit of a single malt snob from time to time but I do try to avoid pigeon-holing myself into the belief that one particular “genre” of whisky is the hands-down king of the hill.  Good whisk(e)y can be found all over the place, so why limit yourself from experiencing some good drams? While I’m admittedly still awfully naive when it comes to bourbon, I have recently been trying to expand my repertoire and, as expected, the more I explore America’s favourite whiskey, the more I appreciate it.

Buffalo Trace provides a lengthy story on the rear label, written in both English and French for distribution in Canada, but not a lot of the info pertains to the make-up or flavour profile of the whisky. Apparently, Smooth, confident and fiercely independent – these are the the tastes of Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky… Uh, okay…? Well, I guess this will be a new flavour experience for me. Maybe I should be excited – I’ve never tasted confidence or independence before!

This whiskey is bottled at 45% abv and can be bought for about $45 here in Alberta.


To the Eye

I really like the colour of bourbon. Buffalo Trace is deep liquid gold in a glass, with streaks of orange and copper flashing in the light. The big, droopy legs on the sides of my glencairn are rather impressive.

In the Nose

Oak and sweet, grainy corn are predominant, along with some cinnamon and a few other baking spices. Vanilla is another main player, as well as sticky caramel toffee. As my dram breaths a bit, I get some impressions of coriander, lemon zest and I think even a little bit of milk chocolate. It’s a good glass to sit with for a while!

On the Tongue

Well, the nose on this whiskey writes a few cheques that the flavour just can’t cash… The first thing I taste is alcohol, which is not at all what I hope for in a whisky. Alcohol should be the vehicle that delivers flavour, not the predominant flavour in and of itself. And, let’s face it, 90 proof is not that high in alcohol.

Oak tannins and table pepper – you know, not the freshly cracked stuff – are other main players to be found in this whiskey. With a little effort, I also find the unexpected flavour of canned corn, complete with a twinge of metallic aftertaste. Corn syrup provides sweetness and there’s some vanilla on the exit, but it’s a bit flat and single-noted. I rarely do this, but my glass is begging for a piece of ice…

A small ice cube really opens up this whiskey as vanillins and honeysuckle burst onto the breezes. As the ice melts, the flavour also improves quite a bit as that stale black pepper transforms into jalapeño chilies. A slight hint of bittersweet chocolate also emerges alongside some toasty, sweet kettle corn. I don’t care for the mouthfeel that the added water creates, though, and the finish remains rather short and dominated by a bitter alcohol astringency.

Final Thoughts

Meh… This whiskey doesn’t really speak to me. I know that the great whisky guru, Jim Murray, touts Buffalo Trace as one of the world’s best, so perhaps I just don’t fully understand bourbon yet. (I really wanted to like this dram, especially after discovering Four Roses Single Barrel!) For me, though, Buffalo Trace doesn’t feature enough flavour to really challenge the alcohol for centre stage. I don’t often mix my whiskies but this one seems best suited to some old fashioneds and buckaroos.