Dec 312012

2012 is drawing to a close, and many sites are beginning their top-however-many lists. The Hippie has drawn up a list of his favourite drams of the year on ATW, the Rum Howler has got his lists of top rums and whiskies he’s tried, film critics will put out their top ten lists as usual, and here I’ll join in and review how the year went from Liquorature’s perspective, including – of course! – my own discoveries of the year and my own take as a reviewer of rums.

The Club


Liquorature, sadly, lost two of its original members, the erstwhile and aged “Mr. A-is-A” and the incisive and polemic Clint, who both took stock of their lives and made the tough call that they simply weren’t able to contribute or involve themselves as much as they would have liked, and withdrew. Coming at a time when the Benevolent-Dictator-for-Life-cum-Hippie was beginning to get antsy about the relaxed attitude of the crew becoming too prevalent, we made some organizational changes and issued Golden Tickets to two new members – Lorenzo “Il Magnifico” Lecce who had so impressed us with his solo contribution to the “1Q84” discussion (as well as his never-to-be-forgotten late-evening intoxicated kip on the washing machine), and Stuart Hunter, the curmudgeonly, avuncular elder statesman of music who has the aged-rock-god-turned-to-seed demeanour (I mean that in a a good way) which we felt would add an interesting perspective to our literary perambulations.

The Club continues to evolve. Guests remained a regular, if not consistent, fixture, with my friend Tolik, Maltmonster and Il Magnifico being pleasant additions to the mix. This year we settled down and issued formal ukases on the timing, food and drinks each person was, at a minimum, obligated to provide for the cash donated: for drinks, no cheap crap, one unopened rum and one unopened whisky (plus whatever heels the host deems appropriate), and no big splash on the food over and beyond making sure everyone has something to nibble on that doesn’t run out. To some extent, I was given a pass because in my case there’s always a full dinner spread and always more rums than whiskies (take that, maltsters)…though I’ll be the first to concede the sheer originality of others like the Ginger Buddha and Clint, who always have a theme to the evening that is unique and fun to deal with, like the Zombie Shootout for “Cell” and the Godfather restaurant recreation scene we had had before.

Curt continues to do the write ups on the Liquorature get togethers – perhaps because, as of this writing, he’s the only one to actually have attended all of them – as well as pursuing his misguided love of whiskies both here and on ATW, our more focussed sister site. With some exceptions, and quite a bit of backlog, I’ve taken on the not-so-onerous task of writing all the book reviews and, of course, spoken to the rums at some length. To my surprise, the three most hit upon pages on Liquorature are the old Glenfiddich 12 review, the Tanduay 12, and … Tintin in Tibet, a loving and nostalgic review I put up in a passing moment.


The selection of our literature picks this year was impressive and illustrates some of the breadth of what we have managed to dissect. Granted, not all of them are world beaters – we do, however, believe that pulp fiction and fruity best-sellers can absolutely mix it up with the Booker prize contenders.  I haven’t written all the book summaries and reviews yet (more shame to me), but eventually they’ll all be on the site.


For what it’s worth (and fellow members, feel free to weigh in) my own overwhelming favourite this year was Pat’s October selection of “Mercy Among the Children”, a deep, dark, rich, atmospheric tale of family, hypocrisy, revenge, misunderstanding, love and loss that moved me as few books ever have. A close second was, without a doubt, “1Q84”, surely one of the most peculiar books I’ve ever read, one that I should have put down in a heartbeat…and yet could not.

“Ways of Sunlight” was our first collection of short stories and one of the sparser-than-usual attendances, but a good night for all that….I seem to recall we tried some fourteen rums that night. “Cell” marked a return of Stephen King to the lineup, and I was really happy to see “Pillars” make an appearance, since (all false modesty aside), I introduced Curt to this years ago, he to all his friends, and it has become a favourite ever since.

Classics look ready to make a strong showing in the new year, with “Moby Dick” and “Huckleberry Finn” already in the pipeline, so 2013 seems set to be a fascinating year from the perspective of literature. It’s hard to comprehend that we’ve been at this for nearly fifty cycles already, and we remain committed and interested and seek to outdo each previous evening with a better one (how we will ever top the Godfather Easter egg is beyond me).


The primus inter pares of all my varied interests. During 2012 I gamely struggled to hold my own in the face of the irredeemably stubborn obstinacy of my fellow Liquorites who insist on giving pride of place to the obscure Scottish drink. Added to that was my day job, my family, photography and other priorities, which led to 2012 seeing less than fifty new rum reviews. Aside from the division of my available time, part of the problem is undoubtedly my writing style, which tends to the lengthy and relates to my desire to tell as complete a story about each rum as I can, adding to that whatever ruminations (no pun intended) cross my mind as I write, and making each more an essay than a review…hopefully a unique one. This is a style that takes real effort and thought and time, and works for me both as a writer and a reviewer; but is, alas, too long for some (most, I would gather), with all the attendant disinterest it creates in people who prefer a McNugget-level synopsis as they stand, i-phone in hand, at a liquor store somewhere wondering what to buy. The important thing is that I enjoy it and it holds my interest – a more abbreviated style would be easier, I could churn out more reviews…but not nearly as much fun.

My tastes have gradually changed (I hesitate to say “improved”) to appreciate higher proof rums — I’m coming to the stated opinion that 40% is a really pronounced limiting factor for top quality rums of any kind. The Panamonte XXV, the Plantation XO 20th Anniversary and many others, would have benefited greatly from having the extra oomph of a few additional proof points.  Of course, the two rums that took this to ridiculous extremes were the beefcake SMWS Longpond 81.2% and the Stroh 80 both of which I sneakily kinda enjoyed in spite of their rage.

Another point of development for me is that I have quietly dispensed with three almost unconsciously held assumptions I realized I was harbouring: (a) that older rums are always better than younger ones (they often are, but not every time); (b) younger rums or cheap blends are only for mixing (often true, but certainly not every time) and (c) expensive is equivalent to quality (it often is, but, nope, not always). As I taste more and more rums and go back and forth between the earlier rums and the later ones and cross taste them in my spare time, I appreciate the subtleties that in many cases I missed the first time around, and learn to admire the artistry some makers bring to even their youngest creation. In order to chart my development, I leave my scores the way they were when I wrote them, but  I’m thinking of doing a”revisit reviews” of the older ones from 2009/10 which were shorter and not as intense as later work. As a point of interest, I review every rum neat – whether it makes a good cocktail or not is not part of my review process, though I usually mix myself one to test stuff I don’t like, on the assumption that it might fail as a sipping spirit, but not necessarily as a cocktail.

I’m also learning to appreciate the lighter bodies and complex profiles of agricoles and French-island rums more than when I started, and my discovery this year was undoubtedly the Courcelles 1972 58% which the co-manager of the Rum Depot in Berlin trotted out from his private stash and allowed me to share. I still hate the scoring mechanism, which for me results in rums scoring mostly between fifty and seventy, and I dread coming up with something new and having to go back over a hundred rums and recalibrating. However, at least it’s consistent. But readers should always be warned that it’s the words that tell the tale, not the score.  Oh yeah, I dropped the chart of the rum profiles…it was useful for a while, but didn’t see it adding any real value so I just shrugged and did away with it.

Kensington Wine Market in Calgary continues to hold two Rum tastings a year, which I faithfully attend and write about in a probably futile effort to raise the profile of the spirit in my obstinately whisky-loving area. A high point for me this year was undoubtedly the cracking of the 58 Year Old Longpond, which snarkily showed the Appleton 50 the door (the latter will be on show for the February 8th 2013 Tasting at KWM). Andrew, the co-owner, maintains his generous habit of alerting me to new and interesting rums coming through the door, even if I can’t afford them all. And though I am aware that in his eyes rum simply doesn’t class with whisky (hence his online moniker which I continually gripe about), he treats me with the courtesy due any autistic, rum-loving mutt who may growl at any moment.

The rums tasted that stood out this year (equivalent to ATW’s “Drams of the Year” post)

What is evident from this brief listing is that I’m deliberately moving away from the “one size fits all” commercial rums that we can find almost anywhere, towards costlier, rarer, more unique rums that are edging me to an average price of close to a hundred bucks per bottle (yes, with very rare exceptions and to the horror of my wife, I buy everything I review – the exceptions are my friends’ samples which *they* buy). My choices are becoming more finicky, and I seek out older and obscure offerings for the same reason I write the way I do…because it’s more interesting that way, and because there are enough reviews of the commonly available rums out there (does anyone really need me to put up a tenth review of the Mount Gay XO except as a site-hits driver?). This is not to say I don’t look at, say, a Myer’s Planter’s Punch…I just don’t do it as often (though I always will), or as assiduously – it would undoubtedly be cheaper, though, wouldn’t it? To my mind, a person who likes Old Sam’s won’t care in the slightest what I write about it (if he even looks for a review), but anyone seeking to check out the Rum Nation Jamaica 25 Year old probably will, before he drops close to two hundred bucks on it.


Summing up, it’s been a slower than expected year for reviews, but both the Hippie with his 2013 Islay tour and myself with the trip to Germany, made discoveries beyond price. The Liquorature meetings are fixtures and high points of our gentlemanly social lives, and look to continue far into the future. And as we bring 2012 to a close, I must say that 2013 promises to be a year full of new books, new spirits, new friends and more rambunctious get-togethers than ever before.

All the very best to all of you who have had the patience to read this far, and have a great New Year.


 Posted by at 10:22 am
Dec 222010

Greetings lads and lasses, pirates and caners…

Check it out.  Our verbose amigo, Surujbally, has branched out a little to great effect.  Click here to visit the Rum Connection and read his review of a single cask from Rattray…Caroni.

Well done, sir.

 Posted by at 9:56 am
Jul 212010

…Or do you?

Do you have a snazzy backlit set of glass shelving?  A gorgeous deep mahogany bar?  A dusty cupboard above the fridge?

I have 45 bottles right now.  Some I am nearly done and hoping to get rid of soon, but others will always be stand-bys.  I don’t really see myself being content with much smaller of a selection than I have. 

That being said, I am looking for the perfect way to display my scotch selection/collection. 

Care to share some thoughts on how you display yours now, or how you would like to?

Jul 202010

Though we all love those 18 year old malts…cask strength monsters…and bold pricey Ardbegs…it is fairly reasonable to assume that it is a little byond most of us to kick the hell out of one of those bottles on a daily basis.  Ahem…not that we’d be daily sippers or anything though, right? 

So, while we await a bottle of the mysterious McCutcheon’s to become a reality on our bar (come on, folks…what’s the reference here?), we must settle for something a little less refined.  My aristocracy has bounds. 

That bottle, that daily dram, for me is Highland Park 12. 

Not very original, I know, but originality for the sake of originality is something I have foregone since high school (maybe university).  This is simply the most palate-pleasing whisky for all moods and cravings. 

The important things to consider are 1) price and 2) drinkability.

So what are your ‘go-to’ bottles?

Jul 092010

As you may have read here (or listened to, if you are one of the Liquorature core) Lance and I have occasional volleys regarding our views on reviews.  Topics include, but are not limited to:  subjectivity, assignation of a numerical rating, format, etc.  One of the topics that has cropped up a few times is my lack of reviews for those truly awful whiskies out there.

The observation itself is valid.  A quick perusal of the whisky reviews here will attest to exactly Lance’s point.

So…should my integrity be doubted?  Should be nosing/tasting abilities be questioned?  Should a high degree of skepticism be employed when reading these reviews?

Short answer…absolutely.  These reviews ARE subjective.  They are comprised entirely of my personal evaluation and will continue to be so.  You, as a reader, should always question what is put in front of you.

So, why are the reviews seemingly universally high?  Simple, really.  Whisky is expensive.  I, and we, buy it to enjoy it.  A low end rum may only gouge you for $15-$20, while a low end single malt will still cost somewhere in the low $30’s.  Of course, we all pad our cabinets with a few of those buffer bottles that help preserve the good stuff (or to offer guests you just…don’t…like), but the secret is to find those affordable bottles that are actually really good so we never have to drink rotgut.  More on this in a future post.

The moral however is that we in the whisky world are spoiled by choice.  There are thousands of exceptional malts on the market (and more to come as the world stage is being shared with many new distilleries in far-flung corners of the globe).  When shelling out our hard-earned ATM-dispensed food stamps should we buy a clunker just for the novelty of writing a review of an inferior product?  I don’t care about creating a bell curve based on my reviews, so this becomes incidental to me.

Lance’s point hits home more on his side of the fence.  Being a rummie, he is at the mercy of the liquor outlets and their prejudices.  A tour of almost any outlet will show a vastly more expansive Scotch whisky section than rum selection.  It is quite feasible for our resident caner (and his newfound disciples – notably Robert and Bauer) to exhaust the choices rather quickly.  Lance has, in exasperation, mentioned this challenge many times.  We whisky anoraks on the other hand are still overwhelmed by the available choices and future prospects.

This brings me back to the point.  I have not found many bad whiskies yet, because there are too many good (or at least promising) ones to try.  I tend to have an idea (through other reviews, distillery history, local industry resources and whisky forums) as to the quality of what I am buying before presenting plastic.  Further, many of the whiskies reviewed are from tastings, where an ambassador is highly unlikely to present anything less than the best of his/her line, or are Liquorature club selections.  The Liquorature selections are always chosen with a view to impress, not shock.

Alas, fear not…for I have tried some really…not good drams.  I will not mention names here as future reviews will cover them when I am brave enough to re-pop those corks.  Anyone who says there is no such thing as a bad whisky is lying to you.  Fortunately for us though…there aren’t that many.  Relatively speaking

A final note…

I recently picked up the latest edition of Michael Jackson’s Malt Whisky Companion.  The introduction to this edition speaks to the character as well as the integrity and expertise of this sorely missed whisky legend.  It mentions Michael’s adherence to the ‘if you can’t say anything nice…’ idiom.  While I do not necessarily agree to this philosophy, I will admit I do not go out of my way to review what I feel is an inferior product.

Thoughts, folks?

 Posted by at 8:19 am
Jul 072010

Lads n’ lassies of the swillin’ sort,

There was a similar post here a while back asking what was on your wish list.  Here I want to simplify that, as your wishlist, if anything like mine, is just that…wishes.  Some on my list are far beyond these shallow pockets.  For now anyway.

So instead I ask…what is your next bottle going to be?  Why?

 Posted by at 12:43 pm
Feb 242010

Keep your Wednesdays open for a while fellas.  Your calendars are about to fill up.  All details are direct from the Willow Park Events Program.

Wednesday, March 10th – The Rum Doctor with Michael Delevante  $20.00

“The magnificent Appleton Estate Jamaica rums are of a unique style, produced only in Jamaica and only at Appleton.  For over 250 years, generations of our rum experts have been handcrafting rums of exceptional quality, and at Appleton Estate the production of our rum is an art.  Like the brandies of Cognac or the single malts of Scotland, the process is controlled at every step;  from the selection of the varieties of sugar cane grown at the estate, the special nature culture of yeast used in fermentation, the unique distillation and blending methods, to the bottling of the rum.

Enjoy the finest rum in the world.  Cheers!”

Wednesday, March 17th – Jameson Irish Whiskey St. Paddy’s Celebration  $20.00

“John Molloy, Jameson Brand Ambassador for Canada, invites you to an evening of all things Irish.  Jameson Irish whiskey and March 17th go hand in hand, and on this evening we will explore what Jameson has to offer including Jameson 18 Year Old, Jameson Gold, and Jameson Vintage Reserve.”

Wednesday, March 24th – New Scotch Releases With Andy Dunn  $20.00

“The whisky market in Calgary is alive and vibrant in 2010!!  Join Andy Dunn from Gold Medal Marketing Inc. and taste the new offerings from Springbank, Benromach, and Tullibardine distilleries.”

Wednesday, April 28th – Rum Around The World  $20.00

“Join Michael Biggatini for an evening of rum tastes and folklore.  Discover stories behind some old favorites and learn what is new and exciting in the market place.  Find how to mix a great rum cocktail and when it is de rigueur to serve it straight up.  Michael will offer sage advice on great rum and food pairings and suggestions on what bottles are a must for your collection.”

Wednesday, May 5th – Highland Park  $20.00

“Highland Park, established in 1798, is one of two distilleries in the Orkney Islands, just North of mainland Scotland.  This technical tasting event will cover the broad strokes of the history and geography as well as the intricate details of the production process from birth to bottling.  Join J.  Wheelock, Brand Ambassador for Western Canada, for an informative session about what has been hailed as “The greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whisky”.