GlenDronach and BenRiach Chicago Tasting Events

February 6-7, 2018, 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm

Come join the Axis of Whisky in Chicago at the upcoming The GlenDronach and BenRiach tasting events! Tastings will be led by Global Whisky Ambassador Stewart Buchanan, accompanied by Chicago local ambassador Max Heinemann.

On February 6 from 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm, The GlenDronach, renowned as a master of sherry cask maturation and distinguished for true Highland style single malt scotch whiskies, will host “Original By Design,” a tasting event at globally-inspired upscale cocktail lounge Arbella in River North downtown.

Guests will take part in an immersive evening featuring scheduled seatings where they’ll learn about the brand’s heritage as of one Scotland’s oldest distilleries, and taste a variety of expressions–including the new limited edition release–that showcase The GlenDronach’s rich experience of sublime depth, balanced complexity and long-lasting finish.

Click to RSVP for Feb. 6


The next evening, February 7 from 7:00 pm – 9:30 pm, the unconventional, Speyside single malt scotch whisky BenRiach will host “See Both Sides,” a celebration of the brand’s dual distilling heritage at The Barrelhouse Flat in Lincoln Park.

During small seated tastings, the event will educate guests on the brand’s unique flavors and new limited edition release, showcasing many elements that make BenRiach known as versatile daring and innovative, and pushing the boundaries of malt alchemy like no other.

Click to RSVP for Feb. 7


Join us on February 6 and 7!

Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend Review

Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend – Producer: Compass Box. Distillers: Cameronbridge, Benrinnes, Laphroaig, Clynelish, Miltonduff, undisclosed Highland distiller. ABV: 43%. Blend:66% malt, 34% grain. Price: $30-35.

I don’t buy whisky by the case, but if I did, this one would tempt me.

The Great King Street blended whiskies from Compass Box are the perfect encapsulation of everything I love about the blender. They combine quality, distinctiveness, and value in a way that virtually no one else in the business can.

The Artist’s Blend is the more delicate, honeyed, Speyside-oriented of the two. (Check out my very enthusiastic review of that one too.) The Glasgow Blend takes its name from the historical preference of Glaswegians–a robust clan themselves–for more robust whiskies. Accordingly, this blend is equally strong on the peat and the sherry.

With customary transparency, Compass Box discloses the exact percentages of the components in the Glasgow Blend. The core is 35% grain whisky from Cameronbridge and 34% malt from Benrinnes. They’re topped with a generous helping (17%) of Laphroaig, and splashes of Clynelish, Miltonduff, and an undisclosed Highland malt.

The nose lets you know you’re in for something good. The peat gets up close and personal right away. There are canned peaches, strawberry jam, and coconut custard pie. A certain waxiness from the grain component. Strong cedar, shading toward mesquite.

The palate has a Bowmore-esque mix of strawberry and watermelon with very distinct peat. Behind that, grilled peach, pear, raspberry, cinnamon, and ginger.

The finish is a pleasant ramp down from the palate. Long and drying, with blackberry and lingering campfire embers.

All that for under $40? Man. Since it’s a blend, you’ll hear loose talk about rocks and soda. For me, the Glasgow Blend is too good to mix.

Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Compass Box whisky online from Mash + Grape

Glenmorangie Tarlogan Review

Glenmorangie Tarlogan – Distiller: Glenmorangie. Region: Highlands. ABV: 43%. No age statement. Price: $110.

And just like that, we’re into December. A month of joy, togetherness, and the first McDram family trip to Scotland. And it couldn’t come any sooner, as I’m down to the last dregs of my favorite whisky of 2017, the Glenmorangie Tarlogan.

Initially launched as part of the distillery’s travel retail market (which means I can only get it while traveling in that neck of the woods), the Glenmorangie Tarlogan is matured in a combination of virgin oak and ex-bourbon casks.

Given that it’s a no-age-statement whisky and bottled at only 43% ABV, skepticism at the high price tag is understandable. And to be honest, there are moments when I question my whisky judgment. But when I saw Brendan McCarron, GlenMo’s head of maturing whisky stocks, this past summer, he said his own favorite GlenMo of the year was the Tarlogan. When Dr. Bill’s heir apparent gives it that kind of stamp, I know I’m on to something.

To paraphrase the Sex Pistols, never mind the bollocks, here comes the review. There’s a lovely, creamy vanilla full on the nose, but so much more. A delicate caramel slow tangoes with honied almonds and a bit of marzipan. It’s the rare nose that has me dying to dive in.

The palate has chocolate and honey, which brings to mind the best Cadbury bars. There’s also spice and a peppery nutmeg, along with splashes of cinnamon.

Then there’s the finish. Dark cherry gelato, rich walnuts, and a lovely buttery caramel. I mean, thank the whisky gods I’m going back to the old country soon, because I can still taste the remnants.

I’m not usually one to pay more than a Ben Franklin for a whisky, but in a few weeks, I’ll gladly hand over the cash for another bottle of this gem. Happy Christmas, and cheers, friends! – TM

Barrell Rye Batch 2 Review

Barrell Rye Batch 2 – Producer: Barrell Craft Spirits. ABV: 58.75%. Age: 5 years. Price: $70-80.

The holidays are all about spending time with friends and family. This year, I was thrilled to welcome Barrell Craft Spirits‘ Rye Batch 2 to the celebration.

This latest offering from one of our favorite producers makes a big departure from its usual sources–and everyone’s. The batch blends the usual MGP-sourced rye with a highly unusual 5-year-old rye distilled in…wait for it…Poland.

Why Poland? Barrell founder Joe Beatrice told Baldo in a recent call: “I like American malted ryes, but they can be too cloying, too sweet. Rye grain in Poland has very different characteristics: it has all the rye flavors I like, but it’s not sweet.”

For the Barrell Rye Batch 2, then, he decided to blend what’s almost certainly America’s first transatlantic rye.

Like all of Barrell’s offerings, this one is cask strength, in this case 58.75% ABV. Fresh out of the bottle, it offers a delightful nose, where rye spice and rich caramel play atop a bed of corn fritters. The palate is fiery and heavy with rye grain, along with smoked ham, roasted yams, and a toffee note.

But this baby, good as it is at full strength, sings with a splash of water. Dominican cigar, used bookstore paper, and light orange emerge on the nose. The palate opens completely, offering candied orange, a bite of pine, smoked ham hock, and delicate milk chocolate, along with, yes, a subtle rye spice flair. My only complaint is that the finish was more abrupt than I would have liked, with or without water.

But overall, I’m beyond happy that this boy is here for the holidays. I’m wishing all of you a magical holiday season. Cheers, friends! – TM

The company graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Old Pulteney Navigator Review

Old Pulteney Navigator – Distiller: Old Pulteney. Region: Highlands. ABV: 46%.  No age statement. Price: $45-50.

I have emotional responses to certain whiskies that go deep. I can’t have a dram of the Lagavulin 16 and not remember the night before we had to put our Yellow Lab down. I see Macallan and I flash back to my wedding, where Mrs. McDram’s father had stashed bottles of the Macallan 10 all around the reception room. And there’s been one on my mind a great deal as we prepare to take our kids to Scotland for the first time.

In 2002, I was in Edinburgh on a rainy, wind-torn day. I’d climbed all over Arthur’s Seat. I descended into the encroaching dark, soaked, knowing that I’d feel my exertions the next day and that I needed a good dram to start the recovery process. I hauled myself into the White Lion and asked for a whisky. The bartender pulled out a bottle of Old Pulteney and poured a healthy dram. It’s been love ever since.

The Old Pulteney is a Highland malt from the remote town of Wick. In the distillery’s earliest days, the town was inaccessible by land, and the barley had to be brought in by sea. The “Maritime Malt” still retains that characteristic hint of brine. I’m always thrilled to see what the distillery will next create.

Welcome the Old Pulteney Navigator, the distillery’s latest core expression. It’s matured primarily in first-fill ex-bourbon casks, but also incorporates first-fill ex-Oloroso sherry casks. It’s non-chill filtered and bottled at 46% ABV.

The nose recalls a Midwestern fall harvest. Honeycrisp apple, pear, and the tang of a good breeze off Lake Michigan. Very slight Cadbury chocolate on the back. The apple in the palate shifts from fresh to caramelized, atop a roasted pork loin. Very faint pine swirls around a more pronounced dark chocolate, along with tufts of oak and sherry fruits. The finish lingers, bringing the apple-pear-chocolate combination back in full for a lovely encore.

Too soon to tell whether this will be my favorite OP, but it’s absolutely in the conversation. What OP expressions do you all enjoy, and if you’ve tried the Navigator, where do you rank it? – TM

A company representative graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Compass Box Asyla Review

Compass Box Asyla. Producer – Compass Box. Distillers: Cameronbridge, Glen Elgin, Linkwood, Teaninich. ABV: 40%. No age statement. Blend: 50% malt, 50% grain. Price: $60.

Friends, you all know of my love for the end-of-bin sales. The treasures unearthed there find a comfortable, if often short-lived, life on the shelves of Castle McDram.

So when I saw Compass Box’s Asyla at a roughly a third off, I grabbed it and ran. After paying for it, of course. I’m a huge Compass Box fan and I was really looking forward to this one. A 50-50 malt-grain blend, containing a heavy proportion of Linkwood and Teaninich malt aged in first-fill ex-bourbon casks? I mean, hell, count me in.

But this one left me empty. The slightly acrid nose has pear, mulch, malt, and vanilla. The palate is sadly underwhelming. Bananas slap flaccidly at the malt, which paws lazily around the pear and fainting lime. There is barely a finish to speak of, more a disappointing drift of thin, weak flavors that echo the palate.

Don’t judge Compass Box by this one, though. This is a rare misfire in a mostly stunning lineup. Their Peat Monster and Great King Street are knockouts, and Baldo counts the 2015 Compass Box Flaming Heart as one of his top drams of all time.

All in all, the Compass Box Asyla only served to reinforce my belief that if you don’t try a producer’s less successful attempts, you’ll never know what’s truly sublime. Here’s to better days and better drinks ahead, friends! – TM

Musings, Booze, Reviews