Standouts from the 2019 Victoria Whisky Festival

The Victoria Whisky Festival has come and gone for another year, and thankfully my post-festival cold has finally moved on as well… so now it’s time to reflect on some of the standouts from the 2 grand tastings, 4 master classes and VIP/consumer tastings that combined for a whopping 76 whiskies sampled over the course of the festival…

Here’s a couple of the whiskies that really stood out for me:

Bunnhabhain 2005 Palo Cortado 10 Year Old.
Matured in refill barrels until 2015 then finished in Palo Cortado sherry casks. 624 bottles. 55.5%. Distillery Exclusive.

NOSE: sherry funk, brown sugar, dried fruits, oak, lots of elegant old wood and mellow spices, tobacco, licorice, smoke

PALATE: lovely creamy mouth feel, lots of oak and wood, some BBQ’ed meats, a bit of salt brine, sultana raisins,

FINISH: long and quite spicy and dry, starts off kind of hot and spicy with intriguing savoury notes then mellows to raisins and brown sugar and butter tarts.

OVERALL: Complex. Layered. Spicy. Elegant. Delicious. 90 points.

Highland Park. The Dark. 17 year old.
Matured in first fill European Oak sherry casks. 52.9%ABV. $380 (+taxes) at BC Liquor stores.

NOSE: lots of sherry influences – dried fruits, spices, fruitcake, that delicious savoury-sweet sherry funkiness, raisins, plus generous whiffs of oak and wood smoke

PALATE: loads of cinnamon and nutmeg and other spices, then dried fruits and dusty earth notes, toasted almonds, very creamy mouthfeel and loads of oiliness and delicious hints of acrid driftwood smoke

FINISH: long, smooth and elegant. It starts smooth, layers on the spices, then finishes gently warm and just keeps lingering on… it’s like that moment when the embers of the night’s fire are dying and you cling to every last flicker of light and every hint of warmth until it’s all gone out and the full cold and dark descend on you… just brilliant stuff.

OVERALL: The high ABV and oily mouth feel pair beautifully with the sherry influences and the full-bodied character of the spirit. It’s beautifully balanced and quite possibly the most perfect dram for sipping around a beach fire here on the West Coast that I’ve found yet. But that price just breaks your heart… 94 points.

Knockdhu Distillery. anCnoc Peat Heart Batch 1.
Matured in ex-bourbon barrels for at least 10 years. 46%ABV. Approx $140 (all taxes in) at the Strath Liquor Store.

NOSE: initially noses like a delicate highland spirit with all kinds of heather and floral notes but then this delicious peat note shows up, but it’s not the briny, iodine maritime peat you’re expecting… this is drier and spicier and much more floral with hints of heather and sunshine. Salted toffee. Florals. Smoke.

PALATE: peat, florals, gently warming spices, caramel sweetness. It’s paradoxically creamy and delicate at the same time and underneath it all there’s that delicious peat that keeps making its way to the front.

FINISH: the peat notes fairly quickly give way to delicious floral and dried fruit and pastry sweet notes but then those give way too leaving memories of smoke and heather meadows.

OVERALL: a delicate, delicious whisky with that eponymous peat heart beating underneath it all and playing delicious counterpoint to the delicate florals, fruits and sweetness. Delicious stuff. 90 points.

Laphroaig Lore. A variety of spirits ranging in age from 7 to 21 years matured in a combination of 5 different casks (including sherry and quarter casks) highlighting three key flavour profiles. 46%ABV. $221 (including all taxes) at the Strath Liquor Store.

NOSE: lots of mineral (granite, limestone) notes, seaweed, salt spray, cinnamon, hearts, hints of trash-fire smoke from the lot next door, medicinal peat notes of iodine and bandages

PALATE: it starts like a glass of gently sweetened water – almost like hummingbird nectar, then the smoke and peat kick in and then the sherry elements show up and it’s all dried fruit and spice and sweetness from there on…

FINISH: most of the sweetness, spice and smoke fade away pretty quickly but there’s this long, lingering briny salty note that just keeps going

OVERALL: This whisky is perfectly named… with the strong mineral notes and generous smoke and peat character, it’s like sitting in front of a blazing fire in some dank seaside cave while a wizened old seer tells you the secret lore of the clan… Brilliant stuff! 90 points.

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