Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Bowmore - Magic Happens on the Darkest Nights

Paul Young and his
hot chocolates
The rain lashed down as we waited solemnly outside the dilapidated house, a poe-faced woman ticked our names off a guarded list then swung the knocker at the hefty door. We paused with bated breath until the door creaked open and we were welcomed into a less ominous interior with a warming cocktail (fig syrup and Bowmore Darkest garnished with raisins). As canapes of venison and others of smoked salmon all served on crisp bruchetta were passed around Dickie, the owner of this Dickensian property, welcomed us and regaled us with stories of ghosts and the Isle of Islay. Without further ado our chaperone hurried us upstairs and tea cups thrust into our tepid hands.

The atmosphere warmed as the terrific Paul Young of that there Paul A Young Fine Chocolates served the best and most luxurious hot chocolate I have ever tasted with a Bowmore truffle to match! Time was of the essence and we hurried downstairs for more stories from Bowmore, sadly a true resident of Islay would only offer a full bottle of whisky to a guest which meant that half-full bottle remained half-full. Next we dashed to the top floor for a glance at the night sky then across to the bedroom of the women in the attic who, through a display of sheet scrunching and nervous twitches, recited a poem of Smoky the cat, Bowmore's mysterious feline resident.

A little disturbed we were passed elderflower drinks to settle us before we trooped down into the cellar, into a replica of Bowmore's famous No. 1 Vault for the final phase of the evening. A tasting of the bourbon-cask Bowmore 12, a refreshing dram with a pleasant touch of peat, and the evening's headline act, the Bowmore Darkest, a warming smoky malt perfect for windswept moors or rain lashed streets. So here's to Bowmore, Islay's oldest distillery and a marvellous host!

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Eagle Has Landed - The Arran Eagle

Dan Dare, star
of the Eagle comics
There is currently a slew of new releases hitting the drinks market and this is naturally very exciting. Blackwood's are releasing the 2008 vintage of their excellent Shetland gin. The cask finish connoisseurs at Glenmorangie have released the Sassacaia cask-finished Artein (more on this soon); and the guys at Kilchoman have the 2006 Vintage on the market boasting a substantial five years of ageing. New releases always incur a fair deal of hype followed by satisfied approval or fist-shaking, vengeful disappointment. So as I try the new release from the Island distiller's of Arran I prepare my self for the best and the worst.

The Eagle unsurprisingly boasts a flamboyant painting of the bird of prey on its display tube. There is something about the iconography of the eagle that is quite exciting, it conjures images of Roman legions, mountainous wilderness and for vintage comic afficianados, the epic Dan Dare stories. So just from the packaging I am getting a little giddy with excitement, I am un-apologetically a sucker for branding. It is always a deeply satisfying moment when you tease off the foil cap and pop the cork and you are greeted by the aroma of what is clearly a great whisky. My experience with Arran is limited to one short vertical tasting, this whisky reminds me of Arran's excellence.

Arran Eagle
46% - Distilled 1999 - Bottled 2012
Nose: At first there is plain chocolate followed by cinnamon and dry stem ginger cut with a healthy dose of vanilla seeds. With time baked apple and a hint of gooseberry showcase the fruitiness this malt has to offer.
Palate: Green apple with the sweetness of pear dressed with cream and sharpened with a pleasing bitterness at the back of the mouth.
Finish: Chocolate again with spiced apple. I can't quite describe how long the finish on this whisky is without being sycophantic... superb.
Overall: A busy aroma followed with a Glenfiddich-eske flavour profile topped with a sturdy finish. The Eagle is a showcase of the excellent spirit flowing out of Arran at the moment. This is a new distillery reaching maturity with excellence.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Leap Year - Enter The Kracken

So today is a fairly uncommon day. It's not every year that in Gregorian calender tradition we add an extra day to the year, thanks to Mr Julius 'I came, I saw, I conquered' Caesar. Every 29th February unmarried men the world over bury their heads in the ground for fear of the marriage-starved gaze of their girlfriends, who for one day every four years become a dazed engagement-proposing zombie. On this day a small quantity of the population also celebrate their birthdays, enjoying extended youth through the division by four.

Noah inspecting his new home
With all this rarity knocking around I have also indulged in a rare extravagance. I, with Mrs Peatreek, have purchased a hamster. This idea was formulated by my pet starved girlfriend adopting the wide-eyed pleading, as seen by the wedding-gown starved girls mentioned above, for something small and cute. As much as I'd love a dog I can't afford one and I have refused to accept any other pet. However, finally, I cracked and in a wave of excited mania Ellen purchased everything under the sun you would need to own a hamster... including a name. So all that was left was to choose a hamster to fill a cage... and a name. For all my reluctance it took barely a minute. After a couple of hamsters whored themselves before the glass screen it was a little man with an inquisitive face that caught my eye. This was Noah, the hamster, the hero, the legend. With that we packed him off back to the flat where he is currently indulging in a running wheel and some carrot.

So to conclude this rare blog, I'm going to finish with a rare review. I don't review spiced rum as a matter of principle. I like to taste spirits and wine that are untainted by additives, including spices. However, this spiced rum has caught my eye for a while and with its excellent branding luring me in, I couldn't resist. Packaged in a Victorian-style flagon I give you the Kracken!

40% - Black Spiced Rum - Caribbean Origin
Nose: Obviously spicy; cinnamon, clove, nutmeg. Followed with muscavado sugar and heaps of vanilla. There is also a Pepsi element for the Sailor Jerry fans.
Palate: Burnt caramel, vanilla intermingle with cloves and ginger in an exceptionally soft palate.
Finish: Vanilla, cinnamon and lime. Very tropical and very Caribbean.
Overall: A good spiced rum. The flavours I enjoyed, but the caramel/vanilla element lingered longer than was pleasantly required. I would have liked some Kracken-eske edge personally, hint hint more alcohol less E150a.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Chuck vs. Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

Lately I have become obsessed with the gratifyingly superb U.S. comedy, 'Chuck'. For the uninitiated Chuck follows the life of a computer repair guy named - you guessed it - Chuck, after he manages to upload all the C.I.A.'s secrets into his head. Over five series he battles numerous hitmen, secret organisations and the constant danger this creates for his friends and family as he clumsily completes mission after mission. Besides balancing intrigue, action and hilarity it also boasts an array of celebrity appearances from Carrie-Anne Moss (of Matrix fame) through to a side-spitting performance from the almighty Timothy Dalton (of James Bond fame naturally). This is the pinnacle of what I like to call relaxation TV. Now I should probably be drinking Johnnie Waller Black Label whilst watching this gripping programme, as it features regularly in the hands of the stoic John Casey. However I think that a relaxing programme that keeps your eyes fixed on the screen requires a whisky of equal merit. This is why I recommend the Glenfarclas 15 year old. It is rich and easy-drinking whilst maintaining a suitable complexity to keep you pouring another glass. So for Chuck I give you:

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old
46% - Distillery Bottling
Nose: Raisins and tobacco on a rich bed of halved black grapes.
Palate: Rich and sherried with red and dried fruits. Next burnt black pepper provides a slightly smoked character to this dense dram.
Finish: Fairly vinous with plenty of black currants. The slight peating gives cedar cigar box notes over a lengthy finish.
Overall: A good stand-up dram in its price category. It balances its sherried character with a hint of peat that gives the Glenfarclas 15 a much needed minerality.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Grape and Grain... Innis & Gunn Whisky Cask

I may have mentioned this previously, but I have been in a massive chardonnay phase since Christmas and I have been exploring the delights of this most versatile of grapes ever since then. I particularly like big creamy wines that have been left on their lees, and I'm even quite partial to oaked chardonnays. Where I didn't expect this exploration into this grape to lead was to beer and to an extent whisky. I recently tried a bottling from one of my most loved breweries. This Scottish brewery is that of Innis & Gunn, who specialise in oak aged beer. Their rum cask bottling is sublime, and their standard bottling is very versatile when it comes to food pairing. So when I was sent a bottle of a whisky-cask aged Innis & Gunn beer I was very excited. When I got round to trying this beer I was overwhelmed by one very distinct, creamy, flavour profile, particularly on the palate - chardonnay, albeit malty. Since then I've been excited to get this tasting note out, enjoy!

Innis & Gunn Oak Aged Beer
7.1% - 18 Year Old Scotch Barrels
Nose: Malty, with a zesty cocktail of lemon, lime and orange peel, leading to sweet toffee notes.
Palate: A malty yet creamy chardonnay of a palate. Later toffee and fruity malt arrive with a coastal whisky rush sweetened with whisky fudge.
Finish: Elegant, citric and immensely creamy.
Overall: Innis & Gunn has done it again. Truly great, the creamy chardonnay notes lend this beer something above and beyond the norm. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Glenfiddich: A Masterclass

Glenfiddich Distillery
I am a huge fan of Glenfiddich. Yes, they are the world's best selling single malt whisky. Yes, they are available in pretty much every pub, supermarket and off-licence from Scunthorpe through to Kensington. And yes, they are available worldwide. BUT! I argue. They are vastly misrepresented because of this proliferation. After being introduced to whisky by drinking Talisker and Laphroaig with my Dad, I drank Glenfiddich with mates in a variety of pubs. My point? I drink such a wide range of whiskies now, but it wouldn't be without the Glenfiddich 12 year old that I could have begun to afford to do this.

Stage One. Glenfiddich 12 year old with friends in rural pubs in sleepy but largely drunk Shropshire. Stage Two. I'm nineteen in a whisky bar in Edinburgh with limited funds and I try my first highly aged whisky. It's the Glenfiddich 30 year old; I begin to appreciate 'fine' whisky. Stage Three. I work in the whisky trade I sample the Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix... life is perfect. Glenfiddich for all its availability remains for me a motorway to whisky appreciation. So, yes, I will continue to drink whiskies from small, exciting distilleries. Yes, I will continue to drink obscure cask-strength bottlings. And, yes, I will continue to drink Glenfiddich because it represents two important facets of whiskies. One, it is accessible and affordable which invites new acolytes into our glorious world. Two, as demonstrated with bottlings like the Age of Discovery and the Snow Phoenix, it's rather damn good.

A selection of the stills
at Glenfiddich
Glenfiddich is a rather large distillery, boasting twenty-eight stills of three different shapes. It is still family owned which is something of a triumph for the world's number one single malt. To cap it off the family's blend, the renowned Grant's, is the third largest blend in the world. Despite all of this there is ingenuity within the company, demonstrated with the superb Solera Vat and Rich Oak bottlings. The first using the Spanish/Portugese system that means the vat is always left at least half full (potentially some whisky from the first dosage is still in there; fast forward fifteen years...); the latter uses virgin American and Spanish oak for excellent results. So yes we've all tried an array of delights from casks from Islay to Japan but where would we be without that Glenfiddich 12 year old in that pub smelling discreetly of cabbage and pumping power ballads out of the jukebox; I'd argue not here. Not in a world of singe casks and a whsky boom. So here's to Glenfiddich - the beginning!

I was lucky... quite a while back. Steve Rush of that there Whisky Wire invited me to a Twitter Twasting to try not one.. not two.. not even three.. but four Glenfiddich whiskies. I was happy to join, but curse my luck I had to host another tasting elsewhere and could not participate. Still, I am armed with the whiskies so a tasting is well in order! To top off my good luck, Jamie Milne of that there Glenfiddich kindly invited me to my Almer Mater's big brother, Boisdale of Canary Wharf, to taste a few more of this Speyside distillery's delights. So here follows a lot of tasting notes...

Firstly the Twitter Tasting samples:

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old
40% - Distillery Bottled
Nose: Nutty caramel at first, becoming vinous with stewed pears to compliment. With time a gooseberry element appears.
Palate: Soft and sweet with a slight bite. Biscuit and spice pleasantly massage the palate.
Finish: Malty with oaky vanilla and spice.
Overall: This is a whisky that has so much going for it, and is as great a Scotch for beginners as it is for the veteran wanting a relaxing dram.

Glenfiddich Solera Vat
40% - 15 Years Old - Distillery Bottled
Nose: Orange rind, raisins and currants, vanilla pods, mixed spice. After this Christmas cake fanfare there are pleasing notes of cider.
Palate: A burst of spice and fruitcake, very sweet, very rich. Then I get a suggestion of smoke?
Finish: Gentle oak, Christmas cake dough, stewed apples and dark brown sugar. A long finish becoming creamy and spicier with time.
Overall: I think this long tasting note says it all, a great whisky. Plus the use of the Solera system promises plenty for the future!

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old
40% - Distillery Bottled
Nose: Chocolate cake topped with fudge, on a bed of stewed pears scattered with mincemeat.
Palate: Rich Christmas pudding notes followed with plain chocolate and ground coffee. Finally some of that pear from the nose spins in.
Finish: Very gentle but lengthy with light spice, cinnamon maybe.
Overall: This whisky is more elegant than the above and arguably more refined. A pleasing dram that presents its age nicely but not as exciting as the Solera Vat.

Glenfiddich Age of Discovery
40% - 19 Years Old - Madeira Casks
Nose: In the nicest possible way; cheap dark chocolate. Then there is a storm of nutmeg, stewing Bramley apples metamorphing into Granny Smith's, and a dusting of cinnamon.
Palate: Intense rich stewed fruits with a fair dollop of wood spice. On top of this there is orange zest and essence of a sweet shop.
Finish: Chocolatey, with light fleshy fruit and in time sour sweets provide a fantastic encore.
Overall: A really interesting whisky here, I don't usually appreciate Madeira finishes, but the Age of Discovery demonstrates their use excellently. If I was nitpicking I'd argue for a higher ABV to give this great whisky more weight, but I quite like that Glenfiddich flys the bottle-strength flag proudly!

And the ones Jamie Milne kindly allowed me to try:

Glenfiddich Rich Oak
40% - 14 Years Old - Virgin American and Spanish Oak
Nose: Clear new oak influence, fresh orange juice and peel, leading to dominant vanilla and dried apple. With time - oat cake notes develop.
Palate: Very creamy, focussing on vanilla and lime zest flavours; with the oak perpetuating throughout.
Finish: Masses of oak here, with tempting hazelnut nuances on top.
Overall: The new make spirit really comes through. This dram is evidently oaky but the virgin wood influence never destroys the balance of the palate.

Glenfiddich Distillery Edition
51% - 15 Years Old
Nose: Grapes and gooseberries join a floral nose with strong yet clean vanilla notes.
Palate: Ginger and black pepper immersed in blackberries.
Finish: Ashy at first but followed by blackcurrant jelly and dried berry fruits.
Overall: The unusually high ABV is excellently disguised. This whisky tastes very different from the distillery norm but is very good for it.

Glenfiddich Gran Reserva
40% - 21 Years Old - Rum Cask
Nose: Banana with light heathery floral notes doused in brown sugar and heaps of figs and dates.
Palate: Fruity and peppery; with lime highlights and hints of anise and spearmint.
Finish: Citrus limes notes dominate with cardamon spice and a distinct fruitiness.
Overall: Intriguing; this Glenfiddich offers something different again, like the Distillery Edition. This whisky adds something once again to the Glenfiidich range.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Hammer of the Gods - Highland Park Thor

Against the mountainous backdrop, behind the din of thunder and curtain of lightning, stands a figure. At first it is hard to discern whether it is man or beast, but a red beard grizzled with blood, and a stoic stature of a warrior mark this being human if in form only. The wind howls and the storm rages as this giant begins to swing a mighty warhammer about his ironclad head, laughing with a mania that strikes fear in even the most veteran of soldiers. He slowly advances, each footfall carefully planted, centre of gravity low. Then as the hammer reaches the apex of its whirl, it pauses in suspended animation as lightning forks around it, before it comes crashing towards you. Hammer-time. You have just met Thor.

Zeus, Poseidon, Jupiter, Mars, Anubis, Osiris are all deitic names that conjure up instant images of godly figures. The branding of these gods is so proficient that even after hundreds, if not thousands, of years after the demise of the societies that spawned them we all still know the myths that created them. For all of these gods and goddesses, none has such a violent and manic portrayal as the Viking god, Thor; the scourge of giants and mountains. This lusty berserker of a god with his faithful hammer, Mjolnir , is renowned in both myth and film as being something of a boozy mad man, the kind of guy who would bop a foe on the head before asking pertinent questions. Furthermore, his legend is so prevalent, that we even have a weekday named after him and now, a whisky...

What I like about Highland Park is that they are great at tying stories in with their whisky. The Earl Magnus series of the last few years was a romp through Orcadian history. The initial release was the Earl Magnus bottling that detailed the history of the Earl of the Orkney islands. Next came the Saint Magnus bottling that referenced Magnus' canonisation. Finally there was the Earl Haakon bottling (complete with black packaging) that told of Magnus' Viking cousin who murdered him for control of the Orkneys. All of this gives a whisky a bit more drama and character that I think makes drinking the damned stuff a lot more interesting. Highland Park's latest series is that of Valhalla. There will be four releases, each defined by a Viking god (I'm guessing Odin and Loki will turn up in the mix). I have to say, that expense aside, I am quite excited. The Thor bottle (blue, chipped-effect glass) is entombed in a wooden longship design case that lends a Nordic majesty to this rather fine dram. So let us raise our flagons of mead with a hearty roar and salute Thor - the god of war (Rhyme; thor-oughly intended).

Highland Park Thor
52.1% - 16 Years Old
Nose: Fruity red apples, orange, blackberry and a whiff of smoke. Then the is pepper and warm spice, notably nutmeg and cinnamon. With time green apple, fruit-loaf and orange zest become apparent.
Palate: Initially masses of smoke and pepper then red fruit and stewed citrus notes. With water the palate becomes sweeter particularly on the tip of the tongue. More smoke and brine arrives later with a sherbert quality to boot.
Finish: A beach bonfire, ashy, almost abrasive. Next there is boiled sweets and a bit more brine.
Overall: The Orcadian landscape in a glass. Thor has been well represented. For me the nose and palate were so different that it really intrigued me. Truly phenomenal stuff!