Drinks By The Dram “Whisky Explorer” Advent Calendar 2021

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I realise some of you may be reluctant to admit it but Christmas is coming. There’s simply no getting away from it. Yet again, the time has come for the internet to batter you into submission with enough festive-themed advertising to last until summer.

As a blogger, content-creator, influencer (whatever the trendy term is these days – what’s wrong with writer?!) I am sadly not immune to such things. Sometimes, nice companies want to send me something so that I can share my experiences with you and hopefully persuade some of you to buy one for yourself. Something like that happened this month. The fine folks at Atom Brands sent me a lovely Advent Calendar full of whisky samples.

Naturally, I wouldn’t feel right recommending a product if I hadn’t tried it out for myself but that would mean opening the calendar early. I was always told such behaviour would result in bad luck. Doesn’t an angel lose its wings or something? Maybe a reindeer’s nose loses its shine? Or does an elf lose its little pointy ears? Actually, if it’s the little bastard that comes to sit on my shelf and perform all kinds of crazy antics every December I’m not necessarily against the removal of body parts.

It’s decided then. I’ll pop it open. However, I don’t want to give too many spoilers for anyone considering buying their own calendar, so I’ll choose four doors at random to give an idea of what you can expect. A sneak preview, if you will. See below for tasting notes on the drams behind the doors.

*Full disclosure: I was sent the Advent Calendar free of charge. As always I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the drams and the value for money the Calendar represents.

**This article contains Affiliate links. This means I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after clicking on the link.

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That Boutique-y Whisky Company World Whisky Blend

Google’s random number generator decided that my first port of call should be door number 17. Hiding inside was a 3cl sample of That Boutique-y Whisky Company’s World Whisky Blend. Now, as it happens, I’ve reviewed this dram before but who am I to argue with the Gods of fate? If nothing else, revisiting a whisky a few months down the line can prove to be quite interesting. Will my opinion have changed?

Speaking of interesting, the World Whisky Blend is quite a cool little product. As the name would suggest, the blend contains whiskies from all over the world. Namely, from Scotland, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, USA, Switzerland, Netherlands, Taiwan, India, Italy, Germany, France, Japan and Finland. Apparently it was also designed to be mixed seven different ways. For the purposes of this article, however, I’ll be drinking it neat or with water only.

It’s bottled at 41.6% and a 70cl bottle will set you back around £30.

Smell: Malt and grist. Hay. Lemon and fresh apples. Freshly baked bread. Some prickly wood spice… Cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg… Vanilla. Scottish tablet.

Taste: Honey. Ginger biscuits. Cinnamon. Barley sugars. Apple and pear. Grapes. Vanilla. Creamy caramel. Fresh oak.

Thoughts: As mentioned above, I’ve reviewed this dram before but I deliberately haven’t read my tasting notes for it because I think it will be interesting to see if my experience differs this time around. I seem to remember liking it though and I still think it’s a nice little dram.

It’s got nice weight on the palate, despite only being 41.6% and there’s decent depth of flavour, even if none of those flavours are particularly unusual. As a slight criticism, perhaps it feels a little bit safe? One would imagine the act of combining different whiskies from all over the world could result in some weird and wonderful results but this whisky is perfectly enjoyable without being all that exciting. But then, it does only cost £30 per bottle. At that price, I’d say it’s a pretty solid buy.

Tell you what, it would be really fun to see a full range developed with this as the entry-level offering. As you move up the range, things could get more interesting and more “out there”. Go on Atom Brands, make it happen!

If you would like to read my original review you can do so here

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West Cork Distillers Glengarriff Series Bog Oak Charred Cask Finish

Behind door number 20 was this rather intriguing little dram. It’s a triple distilled single malt Irish whiskey that was matured in sherry casks and then finished in bog oak charred casks from the boglands of Glengarriff.

Now, admittedly this whiskey is a new one on me but I confess to being a wee bit confused. Allow me to elaborate. A quick browse brought me to the official label of the bottle. On the back it says “Bog Oak from Glengarriff is burned using traditional bellowing techniques to char virgin oak casks”. Maybe I’m being thick but does that mean the bog oak is used as fuel to char the inside of virgin oak casks or that the casks themselves are made from bog oak?

It’s a bit like the name of the whiskey implies one thing, while the back label suggests something else. If the bog oak is merely being used as fuel for the fire that chars the casks, what is it adding? How does that impact the flavour? It almost feels like the marketing bumf is deliberately vague on the whole thing.

A full bottle of this whiskey will set you back around £35.

Smell: Lots of oak. Honey. Even a touch of agave syrup. Malt. Sawdust. Oatcakes. Caramel. Lemon curd. Lime juice. Pickled jalapenos. Wisps of wood smoke throughout.

Taste: It’s got a nice bold arrival. Honey and malt. Caramel. Toffee. Some soft spice at the back of the tongue and a dry, woody finish. A splash of water released a little bit of smoke, particularly on the finish. To be honest though, I think I preferred the dram neat. It seemed to lose some of its weight when diluted.

Thoughts: I enjoyed this one. Whatever the story is with the bog oak, there’s a pleasant smokiness to the whiskey that differs from the pungent peat reek of Scotch. It adds a layer of complexity to what was an already interesting spirit. I would be quite happy with a bottle of this for £35 and it makes for an excellent addition to the calendar.

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Yushan Signature Bourbon Cask

Door 10 next. Inside is a single malt whisky named after the highest mountain in Taiwan. The product of Nantou Distillery, the spirit was aged in a bourbon cask for an unspecified number of years and bottled at 46% alcohol by volume.

A 70cl bottle retails for around £55.

Smell: Vanilla cream. Honey. Peppery spice. Fresh oak. Beyond that there’s some fresh ginger, a touch of orange zest and lemongrass.

Taste: At first there seems a surprising amount of oak. There’s also caramel and vanilla. Some cinnamon and brown sugar. Peppery spice on the finish.

Thoughts: I was looking forward to trying this one but to be honest, I found it lacking a little in personality. It’s not bad but it isn’t great either and certainly isn’t particularly exciting. Hard to describe the spirit character because it all felt a little oak heavy to me. It’s not even bourbon influence as such, just wood.

Water opened it up a little and allowed some fruity notes to peek through but sadly I still felt a little let down. Whisky by numbers. I wouldn’t refuse a dram but I think I would possibly expect a bit more from a £55 bottle of whisky.

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Loch Lomond Peated Single Grain Scotch Whisky

Finishing on another whisky I’ve already reviewed, door 19 contained one of the most peculiar drams I’ve come across in recent months. Loch Lomond is an incredibly flexible distillery with a whole array of different stills that can be used to create various styles of whisky. Only at Loch Lomond would someone ask the question “what happens if we make a single malt in a Coffey still?”.

According to the SWA, this product can’t be called a single malt. To be a single malt, it must have been distilled in a pot still. Nevertheless, the ingredients and processes prior to distilling are exactly the same. Loch Lomond have been bottling some of this spirit for a while now but they rather surprised a few people with a peated version earlier this year.

Bottled at 46%. A full bottle will cost you around £27.

Like the World Whisky Blend, I have reviewed this dram already and it wasn’t all that long ago. However, I haven’t tasted it since I wrote the review and haven’t read back over my notes so let’s see if my experience has changed.

Smell: Malty nose with honey and caramel. Lots of cereal. Vanilla. Wee touch of citrus. Peppery spice and soft peat smoke.

Taste: Arrives with rather surprising weight on the palate. Like the nose, there’s lots of honey and cereals. There’s vanilla and even a little touch of blackcurrant. There’s caramel too, and peat smoke, obviously. The peat is quite light though. Sort of, airy. Perhaps lacking some of the bass notes you’d find in a peated malt. It’s rather fully flavoured though. The soft peat lingers on the palate with a little touch of liquorice.

Thoughts: This is interesting. When I last tasted this I thought it was a cool idea that hadn’t quite been executed to its full potential. I have to say, however, I’m enjoying it a lot more, this time around.

When I first encountered the dram I found the nose in particular to be a little bit raw and spirity. That’s not the effect this time at all. It seems much more balanced with better cask impact and therefore, more maturity.

I’m pleased that they bottled at 46% because I dread to think what would have happened to the texture had it been chill-filtered. Fortunately, that isn’t a concern. I’m quite happy to have enjoyed this one. I found it little more than a curiosity first time around – something that might spark a conversation when fellow whisky nerds come to visit. Now, I begin to wonder if it might be a dram I enjoy drinking on its own terms.

Of course, there is the small possibility that this sample comes from a different batch than that in my own bottle but given the small time frame I don’t think so. It’s probably more likely that it’s another example of my own humanity. We each experience things in different ways at different times. What tastes good one day may not come across so well another time. That’s just the way it is and it’s one of the things that makes whisky so exciting. Context is everything. The place, the time, the situation, the company, your physical and emotional state. Even what you had to eat that day. It all plays a part.

UPDATE: Curiosity got the better of me and I dragged my own bottle out of the cabinet to taste alongside the advent calendar sample. On the palate they were very similar but the nose was very different. Either we’re looking at different batches or the sample has been influenced by oxidation or something whilst being re-bottled. Whatever the case, it’s an improvement.

If you would like to read my original review of this Loch Lomond visit here

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Conclusions

Given that I’ve only opened four doors, I may be a little premature in drawing the following conclusion but this calendar strikes me as one that would suit the more curious whisky drinker. If you’re looking for 24 classic single malts, this isn’t for you but if you’re willing to try new things and cherish a little creativity then you might do well to get on board.

I wouldn’t say the drams were of particularly outstanding quality but they were good, interesting whiskies and not the sort of thing you get to try every day. That could make this calendar a great buy for those who like to explore. Likewise, none of the whiskies came from particularly expensive bottlings but the calendar price of £100 works out around £4 per dram. That’s pretty reasonable. Bear in mind, it’s also a handy way of trying before buying. Your new favourite every day drinker might be waiting to be discovered behind one of those little doors.

To purchase the calendar featured in this article visit here

To browse the full selection of Advent Calendars available at Master Of Malt click here

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