To score or not to score? That is the question.

Many a fine (and not so fine) word have been written on the scoring of whiskies; from the how to score whiskies, through which whisky scoring scale is best to use and all the way through to why you should (or should not) score whiskies. So why add my 2 cents to the mix?The Smoky Drams whsiky score spread

This graph shows the spread of all the whiskies I have tasted so far across my scoring bands.

Well it may not be a milestone to many, but I recent reviewed my 50th whisky and in doing so also looked back at the previous 49 that I reviewed before them. I could tell from the reviews which ones I enjoyed more than others, but I could not see definitively which ones I truly enjoyed the most (from all those that I really seemed to like). I had to keep going back to my score sheet that I keep on my whiskies to do that (I do enjoy my numbers and it helps to keep me organised and to make my own buying decisions). So I decided to also add my scores to my reviews – plain and simple, right? Not quite so, read on.

My scoring philosophy (scale to use and why) was also largely influenced by some other whisky legends that I follow, namely Serge Valentin, Oliver Klimek and Dave Broom:

  1. I too feel that scores should always be used in combination with the notes and never as a pure standalone reference.
  2. My score (and review) is my own personal opinion that reflects my tastes, which whisky I particularly enjoyed and my personality – so as I really enjoy powerfully peaty whiskies, these would tend to be scored higher by me (though I try not to be too biased).
  3. I use the 100 point scale as it allows me, if forced to choose (desert dram, only one of the two for the rest of your life etc), to show which one I would choose. I had this particular problem (and funnily enough still have it) between the Laphroaig 10 and the Ardbeg 10, as I immensely enjoy both drams, but in the end the Laphroaig pips the Ardbeg by 1 point (for me).
  4. Most of my whiskies were tasted at least twice before reviewing and scoring them. Also there were times where a flight tasting contained whiskies that I have had before and know fairly well, so I could use them as a benchmark to rate the other whiskies against.

My dilemma_The Smoky Dram

So now that that has all been said and done, what does my whisky score mean to me? I usually go through 2 stages when scoring a whisky. The first is to put it into one of the broad bands below:

0 Reserved for the mythical whisky that I would not even give to people who drink their whisky with coke!
1 – 49 Flawed, not drinkable to almost not drinkable
50 – 79 Moderate flaws but for the most part drinkable
80 – 99 Very few flaws to exceptional. Highly drinkable
100 Reserved for that mythical “perfect” whisky – which I hope to never find (I am enjoying the journey too much!)

Then upon subsequent sips and tastings I refine it into one of the finer scales points below before settling on it’s final score:

0: Reserved for the mythical whisky that I would not even give to people who drink their whisky with coke!
1-24: Very heavily flawed, abhorrent and undrinkable.
25-49: Still very flawed and very hard to swallow.
50-59 Has some big flaw but almost a bearable drink.
60-69 Some minor flaws but kind of drinkable.
70-74: On or two moderate flaws, drinkable but nothing to get too excited about.
75-79: Drinkable and good, but plain and quite uninteresting.
80-84 Getting to the good stuff, pleasant and drinkable.
85-89 Very good, satisfying and recommendable.
90-94: Stunning, beautiful and excellent. Must try.
95-99: Unequivocally stunning and exceptional.
100 Reserved for that mythical “perfect” whisky – which I hope to never find (I am enjoying the journey too much!)

My reviews (and scores) make it easier for me to remember the finer details of the whiskies I have tasted, which become an almost necessity the more whiskies you taste. A final note, to stress once again, is that all my reviews are based on my own experiences and tastes as I travel on my whisky journey.

So what are your thoughts on the scoring of whiskies?


The Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

The Smoky Dram’s 12 Whiskies of Christmas – 2014

Smoky Dram_12 Whiskies of Christmas_Arnold Photography

Now for the second year running (hey seems like this may just become an annual ‘thing’ that I do) I present, not the 12 days of Christmas, but rather ‘The Smoky Dram’s 12 whiskies of Christmas’ to offer my selection of 12 drams that could be enjoyed this festive season. This may be either as a present for a family member or friend, or most importantly, a present for yourself. Feel free to pass this one to a friend or family member if there is something that you would like in your stocking this year.

As usual, my list is made up of whiskies across price categories, ages, regions and ABV strengths. So hopefully there is something suitable for everyone on the list below and also all of these whiskies are available in South Africa. Your best bet though, for getting your hands on one of the whiskies and if you are in the Johannesburg region, is to visit the WhiskyBrother shop in Hyde Park. If none of the below appeals to you I am certain that they will be able to help you find a dram to your liking. Another alternative, if you like to travel out the city, is to visit Wild About Whisky in Dullstroom. Here you can sample a huge selection of whiskies, including the ones below, to see which one is your favourite.

So without a further ado, here for 2014 are:Smoky Dram_12 Whiskies of Christmas_Banner

Less than R350

  1. Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish (43% ABV) – R200
  2. Famous Grouse The Black Grouse (43% ABV) – R220

R350 to R600

  1. Tomatin 12 year old (43% ABV) – R390
  2. Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select (43.2% ABV) – R440
  3. Highland Park 12 year old (43% ABV) – R490
  4. Nikka Pure Malt – Black (43% ABV) – R560
  5. Teeling Small Batch (46% ABV) – R590

R600 to R1000

  1. Talisker 10 year old (45.8% ABV) – R640
  2. Glenfarclas 105 10 year old Cask Strength (60% ABV) – R810
  3. Bowmore Darkest 15 year old (43% ABV) – R960

Greater than R1000

  1. Kavalan Soloist Sherry Cask Strength (57.8% ABV) – R1700
  2. Octomore Edition 6.1(57% ABV) – R1700

I have been fortunate enough to of have tried (and enjoyed) all of the above whiskies and can say that they are all very fine drams. All that is left to say is that I wish all a festive, peaceful and happy time over the holidays.

Sláinte and Happy Holidays’ to all!
The Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

Why whisky and flux capacitors do not mix


Oh, wait. I am getting my movies mixed up. GREAT SCOTT(ish whisky)! The time circuits must have malfunctioned! I blame my absence from my blog on flux capacitor malfunction.

Flux Capacitor_The Smoky Dram

There I was, happily traipsing through time looking for those now-hard-to-get-bottles (Ardbeg Supernova 2014 Edition anyone?) when they are not so hard to get, when trying to get home to my own time I ran out of plutonium 252! Needlessly I could not generate the needed 1.21 gigawatts of electricity to power the flux capacitor.

Lucky for me I still had a nip or two of Octomore 6.1 in my trusty hip flask. Surely the 167ppm would be more than powerful enough to kick the flux capacitor into action? Well I found out that it did not, just as my stainless steel encased ox-wagon was about to hit 88 miles per hour (or 141.6 km/h for those who have not seen the trilogy yet), and as you can see below I fell just short of my timeline.

Time Circuits_Flux Capacitor_The Smoky Dram

So it took just little longer than expected to get back to my own time again (again), maybe one should not program the time circuits after a nip or three from the hip flask? So now that I am back, hopefully with no more temporal excursion anomalies, some things to look forward to on The Smoky Dram blog:

  • The first SA tweet tasting with Marc of WhiskyBrother (@WhiskyBrother) and WhiskyBrother store (@WhiskyBroShop).
  • Other twitter tastings and events I have been privileged to be part of
  • More musings, more whisky news (mostly via my twitter feed –  @TheSmokyDram) and even more reviews!

So until then, happy dramming! 

The Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

Celebrating a couple of ones

Why a celebrations of ones? Well instead of the usual my blog is 1 year old, I decided to wait a little while longer, so I could celebrate my blog being 1 year, 1 month, 1 week and 1 day old! Hence the:

The Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

My first posts were on the reasons for another South African whisky blog, my first review (the stunning Laphroaig 10yo) and the news that a South African whisky, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, won the award for the World’s Best Grain Whisky in the 2013 World Whisky Awards. Together with my blog I also joined the #WhiskyFabric on Twitter with my @TheSmokyDram handle.

Some of my milestones and statistics were: 

  • 50 blog posts (this one being the 50th!)
  • 37 blog followers
  • 30 reviews done (so far, more to come)
  • 1525 Twitter posts
  • 383 Twitter followers
  • 4 Tweet tastings (including the first one for South Africa)
  • 180 whiskies tasted

Some of my highlights from my first “official” year on my whisky journey were: 

What an amazing ride it has been so far. I am looking forward to the next leg(s) of this journey.


The Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

The Smoky Dram’s 12 whiskies of Christmas


As we gear up for that wonderful time with family and friends, some of us are either dropping very subtle and not so subtle hints as to which whiskies’ would be most appreciated as a Christmas gift, or we are the ones looking for a drammable present for someone. Below I present, not the 12 days of Christmas, but rather ‘The Smoky Dram’s 12 whiskies of Christmas’ to offer my selection of 12 drams that could be enjoyed this festive season.

My list is made up of whiskies across price categories, ages, regions and ABV strengths. So hopefully there is something suitable for everyone? Also all of these whiskies are available in South Africa (if our allocation has not already sold out on some of them). Your best bet for getting your hands on one of the whiskies on the list, if you are in the Johannesburg region, is to visit Marc at his WhiskyBrother shop in Hyde Park. If none of the below appeals to you I am positive that Marc will be able to help you find a dram to your liking.

Smoky Dram_12 Whiskies of Christmas_Arnold Photography

So without a further ado, here are the Smoky Dram’s 12 whiskies of Christmas:

Less than R350
1. Three Ships 5 year old (43% ABV) – R145
2. Bain’s Cape mountain whisky (43% ABV) – R220

R350 to R600
3. Evan Williams Single Barrel (43.3% ABV) – R370
4. Nikka from the Barrel (51.4% ABV) – R450
5. Big Peat (46% ABV) – R460
6. Kilchoman Machir Bay 2012 (46% ABV) – R540

R600 to R1000
7. Springbank 12 year old Cask Strength (58.5% ABV) – R680
8. Redbreast 15 year old (46% ABV) – R790
9. GlenDronach Allardice 18 year old (46% ABV) – R940
10. Laphroaig 18 year old (48% ABV) – R980

Greater than R1000
11. BenRiach Authenticus 21 year old (46% ABV) – R1800
12. Glenglassaugh 25 year old (45.3% ABV) – R2900

I have been fortunate enough to of have enjoyed all of the above whiskies and can honestly say that they are all very fine drams. But just for in case you would also like to get a little something extra as a stocking filler, my suggestions would be:

Malt Whisky Companion by Michael Jackson (updated by D.Roskrow, G.D.Smith and W.C.Meyers) – R280
Whisky, The Definitive World Guide by Michael Jackson – R440

Glencairn Glass – R130 for a two-pack or R380 for a six-pack

All that is left to say is that I wish all a festive and happy time over the holidays and hope that the only smokiness is from the dram in your hand and not from the cooking in the kitchen!

Sláinte and Happy Holidays’ to all!

The Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

My 100th Whisky tasted

I recently reached a whisky milestone, my 100th whisky tasted. This prompted two things. The first was naturally “I need to try and taste something special or different for my 100th”. Enter Marc of WhiskyBrother who said that he would provide me with a blind sample of something special for my 100th whisky. The only clue I was given was the ABV. You can follow Marc (@WhiskyBrother) and myself (@TheSmokyDram) on twitter tomorrow for my notes on what I think it is and the reveal from WhiskyBrother  as to what is actually is. My guess and what it is most likely to be continents apart.

Secondly, it got me looking back on my whisky journey so far. It has not been a very long one as it has only been four and a half months since my first blog post ‘Another SA whisky blog‘ and my first review ‘Laphroaig 10yo’, both of which were posted on March 24, 2013. However, my official tasting journey started just over a year ago, according to the first entry in my now (in)famous red moleskin whisky tasting notebook. This was when I attended a ‘Misty Isles’ tasting on the 19th June 2012 and where I tasted 4 whiskies; Jura Superstition, Highland park 12Yo, a Talisker 10Yo and a Laphroaig Quarter Cask.

So here’s to my 100th and to a very long whisky journey still to come.

Update: So my 100th was revealed by Marc to be none other than the Glenglassaugh 25 Year Old, which was bottled for the Whisky Academy.

Glenglassaugh 25yo_Smoky Dram

It is a vintage cask of Glenglassaugh specially selected by Jonathan Miles for the Whisky Academy. It was distilled in 1986, before the distillery was mothballed, selected and bottled in 2011.


The Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

Ardbog day with WhiskyBrother and Ardbeg

A bit late, but better late than never, is my write-up on the Ardbeg day tasting held by WhiskyBrother.  This was an event that sold out very quickly, especially once one read which Ardbeg whiskies we would be tasting, as it would be a vertical tasting of six Ardbegs’. The venue for the gathering of us Ardbeggians for this auspicious event was the Pimento bistro in Illovo.

Welcoming us to the event was Marc Pendlebury, the “Chief Ardbeggian Officer” for the evening, who was looking very spiffy in his Ardbog day t-shirt. You were greeted with an Ardbeg 10YO as a welcome drink and as you wound your way to a seat, you were greeted to the sight of a chained up Ardbeg 10YO, the whiskies for the tasting and all the empty glasses lined up and waiting to receive the ‘water of life’.

Ardbeg_Smoky Dram_WhiskyBrother_Arnold Photography_1

The whiskies in our tasting line up were:

  • Blasda – 40% ABV
  • Still Young – 56.2% ABV
  • Almost There – 54.1% ABV
  • Galileo – 49% ABV
  • Corryvreckan – 57.1% ABV
  • Supernova 2010 – 60.1% ABV

Ardbeg_Smoky Dram_WhiskyBrother_Arnold Photography_2

But first they had to be poured into the eagerly waiting glasses. This sacred duty fell to Chief Ardbeggian Officer Marc to fulfil and to ensure that each Ardbeggian got their fair share.

Ardbeg_Smoky Dram_WhiskyBrother_Arnold Photography_3

Once all poured and distributed the tasting began, with Marc leading the tasting and sharing with us anecdotes, stories and the history of Ardbeg. Soon the room was filled with the usual murmurs and mutterings of a tasting, which naturally steadily increased in volume as each dram was tasted and savoured.

Once all whiskies were tasted, relished, discussed and appreciated some more it was time for us to reveal which ones we enjoyed the most and which particular one was our favourite (for the evening at least). This was an almost impossible task for me as I thought they were all good and that each one had its own set of characteristics and peculiarities that made them interesting and delicious.

Anyway, after much deliberation I felt that my top Ardbeg, from the line up for that evening, was the Corryvreckan. It was very closely (extremely closely actually) followed by the Supernova 2010, and then by the Almost There and the Galileo.

Ardbeg_Smoky Dram_WhiskyBrother_Arnold Photography_4

This really was an excellent evening with special tasting that I believe to be a once in a lifetime opportunity for most of us (it certainly was for me). A huge thank you to Marc of WhiskyBrother for arranging and putting together such a wonderful and extraordinary tasting of Ardbeg.

So here’s to Ardbeg Day 2014 in South Africa. May it be even bigger, better and bolder!


The Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

The Smoky Dram is still alive

You may have noticed a lack of updates on the blog recently; in fact the last update was 14th June! This was due to me been laid low by some illness, even after going to the doctors 3 times before finally getting better. Then add to that a set of sick 5 months old twins, with the mother also being sick, and you can imagine it was not a nice last month or so for the Smoky Dram household.

But that is now in the past and onwards and upwards I say. Some things to look forward to on The Smoky Dram blog:

  • Next review
  • SA Ardbog day with WhiskyBrother
  • I reach my 100th whisky tasted with a blind sample. Thanks to Marc of @WhiskyBrother for the blind sample. Follow me on twitter (@TheSmokyDram) for my notes on what I think it is and the reveal from WhiskyBrother as to what is actually is.
  • More musings, more whisky news (mostly via my twitter feed) and even more reviews!

So until then, happy dramming!

EdwardThe Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

Whisky and chocolate pairing

I have always been intrigued by the idea of pairing various foods with selected drinks, be it spirits or wine. One of the pairings that has been on to top of my to-try list was a chocolate and whisky pairing.

Then lo and behold Marc from WhiskyBrother Shop, together with chocolatier Lara Sklaar of Fine & Raw Chocolate, held a whisky and chocolate pairing tasting on 7th May 2013.

What an interesting and enjoyable experience it was. Lara explained how her chocolate making process works using the artisan low heat technique and the importance of quality ingredients (the raw cacao is imported from Ecuador). Marc then continued on to explain how they went about choosing which whisky to pair with which chocolate for the tasting. It was a trial and error approach (though an enjoyable one I am sure) they used; by tasting the chocolates with various whiskies and selecting the combinations where they felt the chocolate added something to the whisky (and vice versa). For the pairings to work they would need to complement each other, amplify certain flavour profiles and even highlight other flavours otherwise missed by not combining the two.

Whisky and chocolate_The Smoky Dram

We were then ready to move onto the whisky and chocolate pairing tasting, after one last topic was covered; how to taste chocolate and whisky together. The following was advised:

  • Take a sip of whisky and move it around inside your mouth to coat all areas of your tongue.
  • Swallow the whisky (I mean you should also properly taste the whisky right?) ;P
  • Wait a short while before taking a piece of the paired chocolate and allow the chocolate to melt and let you experience the flavours of the chocolate and whisky together.
  • Then, while still having some of that lovely melted chocolate in your mouth, take in some more whisky and swirl it over the chocolate. This should lead to greater concentration and sometimes the development of some surprising and fascinating flavours.

Right, onto the paired tasting!

1 – First up was the BenRiach 21YO Authenticus whisky (peated and with 46% ABV) paired with the 78% Ecuador chocolate (pure raw chocolate with a touch of blue agave nectar).

The whisky had a lovely spicy and clean peaty nose with stewed fruits and custard in the background. There was a beautiful richness on the palate with oak wood and dark chocolate fruit & nut bar. It had a long warm finish with mellow spices all way to end.

When combined with the 78% Ecuador chocolate, the chocolate brings out more of a sweet earthiness in the whisky for me, while enhancing the spicy character in both the chocolate (a bitter spiciness) and the whisky (more of a wood spice).  The chocolate seems to add a good length of taste to the experience.


2 – The second pairing of the evening was The Macallan 10YO (43% ABV) together with the 75% cold pressed virgin coconut oil wrapped in 83% cacao chocolate.

Here the whisky had more of the stewed fruits and heather fields on the nose with only a subtle spiciness to it. The palate was soft, smooth and well balanced that had malt, wood and fruit on it. The finish was fairly lingering with hints of oak and spice on the whole tongue.

I found it really interesting and pleasant how these two combined and played together. The blending of the chocolate and the whisky brought out a lovely spicy sweetness in one’s mouth. The usual bitter taste that one gets from a dark chocolate with a high cacao percentage is superbly balanced out by the sweetness from the whisky. They made a delightful combination.


3 – The final pairing was between the GlenFarclas 105 Cask Strength (60% ABV) and the chilli bon bon (a dark raw chocolate bar with a thin line of chilli bonbon truffle running down the inside center).

The final whisky was a deep and complex one with dark Wilson toffee, wet oak wood, hints of pear & apples with pecan nut slice on the nose. It has a lovely full bodied palate that has a deep rich spiciness, sherried fruit cake and woody smokiness to it. With a finish that is dry and bursting that leaves a spicy tingle that lingers and coats your tongue.

The combination of the two brings out a more pronounced spiciness in both the chocolate and the whisky. As weird as it may sound, I found that the paired chocolate made the whisky a bit sweeter on the palate, bringing out more of that pecan nut slice I was getting. On the other side I found the chocolate to be even hotter, with the chilli even more pronounced. The finish of the combination lasted for a very long time.


Surprisingly my favourite pairing of the evening was The Macallan 10YO together with the 75% cold pressed virgin coconut oil wrapped in 83% cacao chocolate. I say surprising as I usual prefer the cask strength styled whiskies. In this instance, since it was a tasting to exploring the pairing and not the individual whisky, I just felt that the combination of the two was the most enjoyable for me that evening.

Whisky and chocolate_The Smoky Dram

One of the attributes of raw chocolate is not only is it delicate, but they melt easier and quicker than ‘normal’ chocolate. I saw this by just picking up a piece having my fingertips covered in melted chocolate and a few scant seconds later. Another property is that the chocolate seems to be coarser and grainier when compared to ‘normal’ chocolate.

Both of these makes for a wonderful texture and feel of the chocolate in one’s mouth and especially on one’s tongue. I feel this also helps to spread the combined tasted with the whisky all over your mouth so that you can fully get and appreciate the various flavours.

Besides the three chocolates that were used in the pairing above, Fine & Raw Chocolate also has other chocolates on its offering. See their website for details on this and how to get your hand on this gorgeously fine and raw chocolates.

Marc also collaborated with Lara to produce a small range of chocolates that have whisky as part of their makeup. These are available from the WhiskyBrother store, if they are not already sold out.

Thanks to Marc and Lara for an interesting and delicious event.


The Smoky Dram Whisky Blog

Meeting Andy Watts – Master Distiller at The James Sedgwick Distillery

On 25th April 2013 the WhiskyBrother shop played host to Andy Watts, Master Distiller and distillery manager of The James Sedwick Distillery. The distillery produces two brands of award winning whisky: the Three Ships range and the Bain’s Cape Mountain single grain whisky.

Andy Watts 3_Three Ships_Whisky_Smoky Dram_Arnold Photography

Both brands have done very well the last two years in the annual World Whisky Awards by Whisky Magazine. In 2012 the Three Ships 5YO was awarded the World’s Best Blended Whisky and most recently, in 2013, Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky was awarded the World’s Best Grain Whisky.

Andy started off by giving some background to the distillery and his story of how he got involved in whisky making (see the bullet point information at the bottom of this post). He also answered all of the many questions that got asked of him during his talk. Andy moreover spoke of some of the greening plans they have planned for the distillery.

We then moved on to the tasting (which I suspect is why most of us were there). Andy started us off on the Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, then the Three Ships Select, followed by Three Ships 5YO (which Andy likes  to end off an evening meal with, usually accompanied by a blue cheese board), then the Three Ships Bourbon Cask and finishing off the tasting with the Three Ships 10YO single malt. With each one he lead us through the various flavours and notes that he got on them. Andy Watts 1_Three Ships_Whisky_Smoky Dram_Arnold Photography Andy Watts 2_Three Ships_Whisky_Smoky Dram_Arnold Photography










Thanks to Andy for his time, patience (there were many questions) and most of all sharing his knowledge, stories and whiskies with us. He obliged the whisky geeks that were there (such as myself) and signed bottles of his whisky for us. It was a memorable moment for me to meet one of the true whisky legends in our time. 

Andy Watts 4_Three Ships_Whisky_Smoky Dram_Arnold Photography Also thanks to Marc for hosting us and Marcel for getting Andy there on time and ensuring that we were all well behaved. It was also good to finally meet and put faces to my fellow SA whisky bloggers and tweeters – @thedramdog, @fr1day and @jfdreyer

Some Andy Watts information:

  • Only the sixth manager at The James Sedgwick Distillery since it was established in 1886.
  • Originally chose the life of a professional cricketer with Derbyshire CCC.
  • Got involved in the spirits blending side of the then Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery (SFW).
  • Did a 6 month technical exchange in Scotland with Morrison Bowmore Distillers (Bowmore, Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch)

Some James Sedwick Distillery information:

  • The distillery was bought in 1886 by J. Sedgwick & Co.
  • Is named after pioneer James Sedgwick, captain of the clipper “Undine.
  • Was named 2011’s Whisky Brand Innovator of the Year by Whisky Magazine.
  • Home to the first South African single malt whisky, in 2003 – the Three Ships 10YO
    • Also home to South Africa’s first single grain whisky, in 2009 – the Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky
    • Has more than 70 000 casks of whisky in maturation any given time.
    • Since The James Sedgwick Distillery was established there have only been six managers at the distillery:
      • 1886 – 1922: Mr. WT Stephen
      • 1922 – 1940: Mr. SA Hahn
      • 1940 – 1955: Mr. RA Uys
      • 1955 – 1967: Mr. J Burger
      • 1967 – 1991: Mr. H Louw
      • 1991 – present: Mr. A Watts