Tuesday, 27 December 2011

The Day After The Night Before... Greenwich Hospital Porter

Today I made the compulsory post-Christmas march into town armed only with my wallet and a sturdy leather bag. There was only one purpose to my mission – to raid the supermarkets of their discounted festive foodstuffs. A solitary day after Boxing Day and Marks & Spencer’s is transformed into an Aladdin’s Cave of smoked salmon, turkey crowns, duck pate, Stilton and knock-off Buck’s Fizz. With a suitably empty freezer you could live off Christmas food for another month for the price of a single week’s food shop; apart from the obvious drawbacks of turning your liver into Fois Gras, being riddled with gout and pushing your belly beyond the final stud on your belt and into extra-orbital space. This aside it is incredibly satisfying to know that the rich and delicious food you are stuffing in and around your mouth is a third of the price it was three days ago.

Whilst I was eyeing up half-price gammon joints and weighing up the cost against a juggernaut of a salmon terrine, my eyes fell upon an interesting specimen hidden amongst a confusion of Cava and pre-mixed Champagne cocktails. This specimen was a bottle of Greenwich Hospital Porter aged in Islay whisky barrels for four months. A London Porter from the guys at the Meantime Brewing Company is always a treat, but to have some whisky cask influence is always special. A few months ago I tried a glass of their epic Grog. This special release was a combination of eleven malts and one hop variety, aged in Islay whisky casks and bottled at a steamy strength. Aside from the fun of ordering a pint of Grog over the bar, the beer was sensational. So I was excited to try the Hospital Porter.

Greenwich Hospital Porter
6% - Aged in Islay whisky barrels – Brewed at the Meantime Brewery
Nose: Fairly oaky with rich malt notes and Brazil nuts, underneath is a faint suggestion of peat.
Palate: Light body with oak and charcoal notes with.
Finish: Apricot, dry malt and roast chestnuts.
Overall: Not the most spectacular porter I’ve tried but enjoyable nonetheless. There is a curious ashy quality and a fine nuttiness but I would have enjoyed more body and length.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas! (and a Dalmore Cigar Malt)

Merry Christmas from me and Mrs Peatreek!
Well it’s finally Christmas, marking the end of the busiest two weeks of my working life. So I was well in the need for some Compass Box Hedonism chased with a glass of Last Vatted Grain and some Port in front of the film epic that is Matilda to put me in the festive spirit. This morning Buck’s Fizz was the order of the day with a bottle of 2000 Chateau Lanessan with venison Christmas lunch. The drink will continue to flow with Blackwood’s 60% Gin, 2009 Meursault from Frederic Magnien, then Port and an angelic host of Christmas whiskies.

Choosing a whisky for Christmas is always a challenge but this year there is a clear winner. After years of scepticism of the Dalmore range I am finally discovering their grandiose charms. The 15 Year Old revealed a fantastic finish to me, the 18 Year Old a chocolate smothered palate and the King Alexander the most sensuous nose. However it is the latest release that has topped them all (and it contains no E150a!) this is the Dalmore Cigar Malt, the replacement to the Gran Reserva and an eye-opening dram.

Dalmore Cigar Malt
44% - No Age Statement – Distillery Bottled
Nose: Hoyo de Monterrey cedar cigar box notes with classic Dalmore toffee, rich red fruits, port, leather and a mustiness I associate with old attics.
Palate: Fairly light body with toast and tobacco spice notes.
Finish: Tobacco leaf, rich but with a soft sherried conclusion.
Overall: An aptly named whisky, apparently the ideal cigar pairing is with a Partagas Series P No. 2 although I’d argue a cigar of that calibre would overwhelm the lighter notes of this whisky, but then I don’t smoke, so the allure of cigars is somewhat lost on me. Merry Christmas everyone, Slainte!

Monday, 19 December 2011

My Lucky Day... Glenlivet 40 Year Old

There are some days at work that certainly pay off. Especially if you are offered a dram of forty year old whisky to brighten your day. Today I was as lucky when Joel and Neil from that there Cask-Strength blog rocked up with a bottle of forty year old single cask Glenlivet. I have always maintained a scepticism about old age whisky that although it can be excellent it does propagate the myth that whisky is exclusive to the privileged, when bottles such as the Longrow C.V. and Aberlour A'Bunadh scream otherwise. Politics aside, some forty plus whiskies are rather damn good, and the whisky I was being offered was thoroughly top notch. Cheers guys!

Glenlivet 40 Year Old Atlantic
41.6% - 40 Years Old - Distillery Bottled 16/09/2005 - Sherry Cask
Nose: Ginger provides a warm welcome coupled with tropical fruits notably pineapple and dried mango. With time a herbacious nature reveals itself with rosemary, mint, anise and a drop of pine resin.
Palate: A fantastical burst of spice; cardamon, ginger, cloves and vanilla mingling like spice merchants on the taste buds.
Finish: Menthol, oak, cream and spiced cake dough entwine in an excellently long finish.
Overall: So incredibly fresh. Unlike any forty year old I've tried before yet with a complexity that hammers home its venerable age. This is a masterclass in old age whisky.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Peatreek Whisky Mince Pies

Ready to go in the oven.
Despite being snowed under at work, like a Glenfiddich Cask in 2010, I have found time to embark on a little experiment. My theory was that whisky is an ideal accompaniment to any Christmas cuisine, then I hypothesised that mince pies may be an excellent example of this. Mincemeat has brandy or rum stirred through it so why not whisky?

The base of my mincemeat was Bramley apples, medium cider and soft dark brown sugar. Then enhanced with some lemon zest and juice, almonds, raisins, currents, and a spice combination. Once this had stewed and cooled I stirred through a generous dose of whisky. The choice of whisky was a no-brainer, only the Compass Box Spice Tree would do. Its cardamon, clove, nutmeg and cinnamon flavour profile would perfectly harmonise with the mincemeat.

The first lesson I learnt was that although the mincemeat tasted fantastic (I apologise for the vanity, but it really did), it didn't taste overly whiskyfied. Maybe the Spice Tree complimented the mincemeat too well? So my next move was to make whisky butter. Now I make rum butter (one part butter, one part light brown sugar, a little Nutmeg and complete saturation with rum) to go with Frei Kirk. Frei Kirk is a Scottish Christmas pudding from a recipe passed down through my Dad's side of the family. The recipe is a secret so I am forbidden to divulge it here, although please feel free to drop by my flat on Christmas day for a taste. So my plan was to substitute the rum for the Spice Tree and by jingo did it work. I separated the lids from the (cooked) mince pies and spread the whisky butter over the mincemeat before replacing the lid. What I was left with was a mince pie with a distinct whisky flavour that didn't overpower the mincemeat but added more depth and warmth to a Christmas staple.

I am now thinking of stirring whisky through the pastry instead of water, maybe some Bowmore Tempest (Batch 3), who knows?

Peatreek Whisky Mince Pies & Butter
ABV Unknown - No Age Statement - Baked at Peatreek HQ
Nose: Pastry
Palate: Stewed apple, spice, sweet butter and Scotch Blended Malt Whisky.
Finish: Moreish!
Overall: The start of further whisky-food-combinations.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Stormy Weather - Springbank Cask Strength

There's been a fair amount of tempestuous weather recently with 100mph winds, cold spells and lashings of rain. It seems that after a mild autumn, winter has finally launched its icy claws upon us. Personally I love stormy weather because, like being on a mountain, it reminds us of the raw power of nature. That we are sitting on a small rock in an angry universe with the odds stacked against us. Plus there's nothing like being stuck inside whilst the elements batter the walls like a Viking berserker on amphetamine.

I was going to suggest a warm and satisfying whisky to drink whilst the weather kicks off like a two-year old on E150a, but then I decided to review a whisky that is as stormy as the weather. This whisky is the Springbank 12 Year Old Cask Strength, a whisky with more teeth than the Jabberwocky and the ferocity of the European perception of David Cameron.

Springbank Cask Strength
58.5% - 12 Years Old - Distillery Bottling
Nose: A rusty old tug boat leaking engine oil and spewing smoke, pulling into a busy harbour of maritime aromas. With water some of those grapey Springbank notes appear.
Palate: The calm eye of the storm with heather, herbs and caramel.
Finish: Thick heavy smoke, positively industrial. Massive and long (ahem).
Overall: This whisky is a storm of industrial aromas, it harks back to Cambeltown's glory days and the Industrial Revolution. Part of me thinks I shouldn't like it but I'd be lying if I said so. Beware, this whisky takes no prisoners.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

One To Calm The Nerves... Caol Ila 18 Year Old

There was a panic in my girlfriend's eyes like I had never seen before, I could understand her manic frustration perfectly. We had been pounding the cold dark streets of the Isle of the Dogs on a desperate mission to find a most important temporal artefact. As we muscled our way into every shop we passed, we tore down the aisles not hesitating to put back the items we had thrown off the shelves in our frantic search. As each shop became a venue of disappointment, as the shadows grew longer and as the wind became more piercing, we began to take on the hunched dribbling shapes of incensed maniacs. Our search was becoming a forlorn hope, a quest without its Holy Grail, a maze without an exit. Then, without warning, a beam of light struck us, and as we shielded our eyes from its brilliance we could just make out a name... Tesco. Inside this humble bazaar we would find our goal amongst its trinkets and delectables. Here we found our salvation. Here we found the last available Advent Calenders on the Isle of the Dogs on the third of December. Three days into the month and every calender this side of Poplar had sold out. We were left with a Mars calender for myself and a Pixar Cars 2 calender for Ellen (she's never seen the film). We could return home clinging to our wares exhausted, happy - adventurous.

After all that stress it was time for a whisky and what better whisky to settle back and crack three windows of Mars chocolate with than a Caol Ila 18 year old?

Caol Ila 18 Year Old
43% - Distillery Bottling
Nose: Gusty Highland sea shore with smoking ship's beams cut with kiwi and passion fruit and a splash of cream. Finished with a wallop of peat.
Palate: Sizeable peat influence with a light but sea salty body powdered with white pepper.
Finish: Peat and pepper with parma violets and some herbal action, good length.
Overall: A well made peated whisky, if a little uninspiring. Tasty but not eye-opening.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Growing Up... Kilchoman 100% Islay

I came to a strange realisation recently that I had crossed 'the line'. I was entering the grey and dangerous world of adulthood, I was growing up. Computer games hold little charm, I find certain comedy routines to be tired and unoriginal, and I struggle to see the point of Quentin Tarantino. Then I thought about it, was I becoming more and more immature? I can't deny that I enjoy animated kids films, the Incredibles and Toy Story are undeniably movie greats, and I did spontaneously buy a Lego set when walking around Canary Wharf the other day. Then it dawned on me, growing up isn't about rejecting the spontaneity and vibrancy of youth and it isn't about becoming entrenched, reactionary and right-wing. It is the selection of the best of both worlds through the well polished lens of experience (i.e. Lego is fun, Tarantino is overrated). We make decisions based on our experiences to maximise our overall pleasure (apologies for the Utilitarianism), ergo growing up should be about maximising pleasure... probably.

When thinking about growing up. It dawned on me that I used to almost exclusively drink heavily peated whiskies but more and more I shy away from them. Although I still enjoy peaty beasts I rarely seek them out. Today I tried a peated whisky that was so satisfyingly peaty that it brought me back to those early years drinking Islay whiskies as if they were an antidote to the Lowland and Speyside whiskies I was trying to get my head round. The whisky was the latest release from the guys at Kilchoman, the 100% Islay bottling. The concept being that the whisky is entirely produced on the Island from the barley to the bottling, and it demonstrates excellent interaction with the peat. This is a whisky that, like me, is growing up.

Kilchoman 100% Islay
50% - No Age Statement
Nose: Mounds of hay smoke, soft and warming with gentle iodine notes. Underneath there is the suggestion of mascerated red fruit and a hint of citrus.
Palate: Warm smoky charcoal, a grassy quality I associate with Kilchoman and a meaty mouth-coatingly oily texture.
Finish: Slow but builds into a campfire in your stomach with autumnal fruits following.
Overall: Exceptional balance, there is plenty of Islay peat here. It is a central flavour but it doesn't exceed its limits at any point. Another example of how great this distillery is and how brilliant it will continue to be.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Rediscovering The Classics: Talisker 10 Year Old

Some readers of this blog may have noticed that there haven't been many posts this week. Unfortunately I have been taken sick. Drinking, and even the thought of drinking, has been far from my mind. My greatest affliction is an unwillingness to seek help, I come from the school of thought that insists all illness is just a sniffle and people should just 'man-up' and get on with life. The extremity of this became apparent to my girlfriend when I took a fortnight to go to the doctor's when I went down with a rather nasty case of tonsillitis. It wasn't until I realised my tonsils had turned black and were leaking pus did I surrender and took my 'cold' to the doctor. The most horrid part of any illness is the point at which you can't face a drink. Whisky may cure a cold but stomach infections, tonsillitis and chicken pox lay outside of its glorious remit. So having not tried anything new this week I thought I'd talk about the single malt that started it all...

I've drunk whisky for quite a long time, beginning with Drambuie before progressing to Famous Grouse. However the first single malt I tried was the almighty Talisker 10 Year Old. One of my Dad's favourites, it was an introduction to a whole new level of whisky drinking. For years Talisker was my absolute favourite to the extent that my friend Rob and I took a day to train and bus hop to Skye then hike nine miles to the nearest pub for a Talisker 18 Year Old. Talisker was my earliest benchmark for judging whisky. It has a ferocity coupled with flavours that for me define whisky. Although I now appreciate many different whiskies for their different complexities I still have a soft spot for my old favourite. Here's to Talisker!

Talisker 10 Year Old
45.8% - Distillery Bottling
Nose: That trademark black and white pepper with kippers, melon and apple following, closed with ashy coal smoke.
Palate: The smoke continues straight on to the palate with a vanilla sweetness and peaty pepper.
Finish: Malty, long and spicy with waves of gentle smoke.
Overall: A classic malt indeed, excellent with haggis, perfect all year round. I find it pleasing that no matter how many whiskies I try, I still enjoy a good Talisker. Slainte.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

It's Not All Doom And Gloom... Benriach 1995

What can I say, it's all going to the dogs with general strikes, double dip recessions and public sector cuts deeper than the Pacific Trench that have taken a machete to the arm of Christmas spirit. For the time of year that is supposed to be all good cheer it is looking glummer than a clown at a funeral. The Office of Budget Responsibility is not at all enthused about George Osborne's autumn budget and the OECD is prophecising another recession, which (and forgive the complexity of the following statement) we could do without. I am now convinced its only a matter of time before we hear that Rudolph's got collick, Santa's been assassinated and Christmas Trees contain asbestos.

My response is that we all need to buck up and smile. Aside from drowning our sorrows in a sea of austerity we should recklessly indulge in all things glutinous and excessive. Buy our way out of a recession with mince pies, pointless gadgets and turkeys that go beyond huge and are simply grotesque. Then we should all waste what little savings we have left on lavish holidays abroad. Here ends my magnanimous solution to the global economic crisis.

To get you in the mood for hideously expensive holidays in the tropics I have provided tasting notes for a tropical whisky to get you in the spirit. The whisky in question is the 1995 single cask Benriach aged in PX casks for 16 years, great stuff. See you on the otherside of the downturn!

Benriach 1995
58.3% - 16 Years Old - Cask 7164 - Bottle 670/695
Nose: Banana initially with orange juice from concentrate. Next tropical melon and pineapple fruits arrive with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.
Palate: Fizzy cola sweets and teaspoons of cinnamon.
Finish: Lots of malt and spice, long and minty culminating with botanically brewed cola.
Overall: A fantastic unpeated Benriach. Such a variety of flavours packed in, excellently long finish, a refreshing change to Christmas cake PX cask flavours. Well worth a try!

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Change Is In The Air: The Last Vatted Malt

Drink fuelled fun with friends at Uni...
one of the hardest things to let go of!
All good things come to an end, or so they say. Maybe it's because if we have too much of a good thing it loses its edge and fades into the dismal grey background of the dreaded norm. Or maybe they seem better in the utopia of nostalgia. Either way, what has gone before, or that which is no more, has a habit of seeming greater in hindsight than maybe it was in reality. I am a big advocate of change. If it ain't broke, break it and change it. The world would be a hideously boring and flaccid place otherwise.

Language changes too, old words leave and new words join our vocabulary each year. Who uses 'fallociloquence' (a deceitful speech) these days except in reference to the mutterings of News International executives before Parliamentary Committees; or 'schismarch' (a founder of a schism)? Language changes - and this brings me on to vatted/blended malt whisky. As of the 23rd November 2011, whisky that is a blend of two or more single malt whiskies can no longer be called 'vatted whisky' and must be called 'blended malt whisky'. The Scotch Malt Whisky Association argue that 'vatted' is too archaic a word to be understood by the public. Others argue that 'blended malt' and 'blended grain' sound too similar to 'blended scotch whisky'. I have to say in this instance I agree with SWA's decision, if not for the same reasons. I think there should be a catch-all term for blended malt/vatted malt/pure malt, and I think it does the public a disservice to imply that the difference between blended malt/blended grain/blended is too confusing to be understood, as suggesting the word 'vatted' is beyond them also. What I will say is that I spend as much time explaining what a single malt is as I do explaining blends and blended malt. Things change and 'blended malt' will one day be a term as part and parcel of whisky as 'vatted malt' was. Still, it's an excuse for those rebels at Compass Box to release another excellent bottling!

The Last Vatted Malt
53.7% - Bottled by Compass Box
Nose: Smoke with seabreeze and fishing port scents of menthol, iodine and, with time, toffee.
Palate: Soft smoke giving way to golden syrup and medicinal quality.
Finish: Peppery with sweet phenolic smoke and a hint of stewed strawberries, a little short perhaps.
Overall: A great marriage of peat and sherry cask. Those gutsy Caol Ila flavours rampage about followed by the stroke of sherry. Farewell vatted malt whisky.

Friday, 25 November 2011

The Full Monty... The Laddie 10

Nudity is a bizarre concept. On one level it is fragile, vulerable and open. On another it is knobbly, gangly and bloody funny. Nudity in art becomes a representation of the human form, of our animalistic desires and of being laid bare for judgement by God. Going starkers in public is simply hilarious. There is nothing like watching people streak across sporting grounds being chased by clumsy men in fluorescent jackets until the inevitable rugby tackle and pile-on.

I think, particularly in Britain, the embarrassment and self-awareness about nudity makes the juxtaposition of the beauty of it and its comic potential all the more evident. More disturbing perhaps is the insatiable desire of our society to consume near-naked images of 'perfect' bodies on billboards, in magazines and on the TV, yet still possess an innate fear of being seen naked ourselves. I would argue that this is an issue that needs addressing and one I agree with Gok Wan on.

The only place where nudity seems to be commonplace is men's showers. Due to a broken boiler I have had to shower at the gym recently. The gym in question has doors for its showers yet men still shower with the door open and sit around texting stark-bollock-naked afterwards. This is a scenario where I don't quite understand nudity - if there is a door use it. I completely understand if there is no door, but if there is, use it.

Lately I got the chance to try the new ten year old Bruichladdich, the Laddie 10. This Bruichladdich is unpeated and unlike most Bruichladdich, it isn't finished in an array of casks and hasn't had anything 'progessive' done to it. It is essentially a naked Bruichladdich. It is also my favourite Bruichladdich to date. The full monty...

Laddie 10
46% - 10 Years Old - Bottled by Bruichladdich
Nose: At first cheddar, weirdly enough, followed by nuts, melon and lemon. With time; kiwi, heather and white pepper announce themselves in a very eclectic nose.
Palate: Light, creamy and fruity with wheat cereal notes that I get in the Organic bottling.
Finish: Fairly spicy with good length. A solid end to an interesting and well constructed malt.
Overall: It's great to see a Bruichladdich that not only represents the work of the distillery since 2001, but also showcases how fantastic it can be without tassels and adornments. I hope this is the direction the distillery goes down because it offers a very rewarding, tackle-out, future.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Counting Down The Days... Glendronach 1989

If you watch a great film you immediately have high hopes for the sequel. I remember waiting for each Lord of the Rings release, each X-Men release and each Star Wars release; frothing at the mouth like a bunny in a laboratory for each one of them; and like most kids my age I looked forward to each Harry Potter book like the Second Coming. There is nothing like the excitement of anticipation. The consequence of this is obviously the disappointment of the poor sequel. The Matrix Reloaded's of this world. The ones where your heart sinks, your smile droops and your hand deftly pens a death threat to the director... or not.

What sequels do is immerse you in a saga, the wait and knee-shaking, night-before-Christmas, excitement that comes with the nail-biting waiting are as much a part of the experience as the sequel itself. Christmas would be beyond awful if there wasn't the tinsel-be-laden, mince pie be-decked lead-up that works us all into a wide-eyed consumerist-cum-consumptionist frenzy; and so it is with whisky. Like everyone else I pander to each Ardbeg release and each Diageo special release like a diligent puppy to an abusive master, but this is what makes whisky fun. Then last year I was introduced to Glendronach, indeed for the very first time, via the almighty 1989 release and from whence my love of the 'Dronach was born. Needless to say I looked forward to this year's release...

I was a massive fan of last year's Glendronach 1989, in fact it was the whisky that got me into Glendronach. So when I realised I would be tasting this year's release my excited anticipation went into overdrive. I had really enjoyed all the other releases this year but the 1989 had more significance. Having tried it I was not to be disappointed, in fact I would argue it was the most interesting and different of all the releases I have tried (the 1992 has sadly eluded me).

Glendronach 1989
54.1% - 21 Years Old - PX Cask - Cask 2917 - Bottle 40/618
Nose: Dense dark chocolate but with a contrasting floral side on a bed of roasted coffee beans, orange fondant and sultanas.
Palate: Coffee galore with that orange fondant returning and a suggestion of brown sugar. Holds the alcohol well.
Finish: Brazil nut is the catechism here, clean and long.
Overall: Great balance, an amalgamation of intriguing flavours and that 'Dronach moreish-ness that is completely irresistible. A welcome sequel for my money.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Bad Things Come In T's... Tullibardine 1992

Bad things by all accounts come in threes, or so I am reliably informed. Hitler, Stalin and Mussolini were knocking around at the same time. There's the evil green threesome that is broccoli, courgettes and Brussels sprouts (forgive my childishness); and there were three members of the band Busted. Not that I'm implying that Busted were in any way as bad as the aforementioned dictators - the vegetables, however, definitely are. I contest superstitious sayings such as bad things come in threes and the toast always lands butter side down as conjecture and a willingness to substantiate superstition with coincidence and ignorance of all conflicting evidence. Despite my dislike of such sayings I am as much a victim of their baseless assumptions as anyone else. I don't like the number 13, I will dive towards anything that remotely resembles wood the moment someone screams, 'touch wood' and I have some time for the archaic view in the whisky world that whiskies beginning with the letter T (with the exception of Talisker) tend to be pretty awful. I have tried to steer clear of negative reviews as I don't find them constructive and as a rule I detest pessimism. However, when I sampled a Tullibardine recently, I had to pass some comment, although I will remain open to other bottlings.

Tullibardine 1992
53.8% - 18 Years Old - Cask 15022 - John Black 5 Bottling - Sherry Cask
Nose: A heady nose with fresh orange, vanilla and light red fruits with a very distinct and pungent smell of Bourbon that I would not associate with an aged sherried whisky.
Palate: A creamy sour mash palate that was sickly and a little too bitter, with no overall complexity.
Finish: Caramel, that's it, thankfully short.
Overall: I could have sworn I was drinking Bourbon, this was not what I was expecting from a sherried whisky at all, not a pleasant surprise. I'd have been better off opening a bottle of Four Roses, at least I wouldn't have poured the glass down the sink. Woefully inadequate.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Winter Is Coming... Glenrothes 1985 and Aberlour A'Bunadh Batch 36

Me with the snow lady
As I step out my flat I am confronted with a slight chill. A chill that has long been covered with unseasonably mild and balmy weather. The sky is grey and misty, the day is getting shorter and Christmas is perpetuating itself across the land. It appears winter is here. With that I nip back inside to grab my summer jacket (I seem to always be a season behind in both fashion and temperature). Winter is a very exciting time for all drinkers out there, alcoholic or not. Winter promises hot chocolate, mulled cider and wine, dark beers, warming lemony concoctions, cognac, champagne celebrations, large meals with copious amounts of wine, and of course whisky. Furthermore with all the food and celebrations to come this seasons drinking needs military planning. Christmas for example is a challenge of cost and quantity. I have to start the day with Buck's Fizz, G&T before the meal, white wine (I'm resisting Corton Blanc with great difficulty) with the starter, and red with the main (I'm considering investing in a hideously excessive double magnum). There needs to be whisky or cognac after and the day must close with a bottle of port. Boxing Day is another challenge; perhaps beer? Sherry? Pub anyone? Even before Christmas there is mulled wine to make, German Christmas markets with their alcoholic wares to sample and much more. This is why I am an advocate of planning my season's drinking well in advance.

This of course brings me on to whisky. Undoubtedly in the next few months I will blog a lot about Christmas and whisky but there is one important decision to be made now, and that is the whisky I'll turn to when I just want a quick drink. I have nailed this down to two options. The Glenrothes 1985 and the Aberlour A'Bunadh. The attraction of these two whiskies is that being sherry cask they have warming wintry notes that perfectly match the season. The question is which one?

Glenrothes 1985
43% - Distilled 21/7/85 - Bottled 31/5/05 - 20 Years Old
Nose: Raisins and a hint of dark chocolate leading a rich and satisfying burnt Christmas cake character that lends a rich and intense twist to this dram.
Palate: Thick, burnt raisins replace the Christmas cake here, with a little dried banana lingering at the back.
Finish: Sweet almost bourbon like with kiwi fruits at first then lots of port and chocolate!
Overall: A Christmassy malt indeed, the presence of port, chocolate and Christmas cake is promising indeed. This is my second Glenrothes, and a vast improvement on a disappointing Rattray bottling I'd tried previously.

Aberlour A'Bunadh Batch 36
60.1% - No Age Statement - Oloroso Cask
Nose: A vinous edge almost cognac-like, there is stewing mincemeat beneath sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg, then at the back there is a sherried chocolate ganache.
Palate: Syrupy and spicy, Christmas pudding and intense dried fruits.
Finish: Bitter dark chocolate, a hot flash of Oloroso culminating with orange rind and demerara sugar.
Overall: Such a great sherry cask whisky at a fantastic price. Although high in alcohol (that I enjoy) it could also take plenty of water (almost itself again) if a softer drink is required. Furthermore I have a cold and can't smell a thing, this says a lot about the intensity of this whisky. This has to be the winner purely on price points alone. The Glenrothes is great, phenomenal even, but for a day-to-day whisky the A'Bunadh is much more versatile. A fantastic pair of whiskies!

Monday, 14 November 2011

Can you figure it out? ...As We Get It 8 Year Old

I've always liked the idea of detective work, not in a News of the World tap-your-phone-kinda-way, but in a Sherlock Holmesian deductive style. I quite like how logic and attention to detail can unearth a story hidden behind finger prints, mysterious notes and a mad dog on a moor. There is an inherent romance in the power of mind and reason over seemingly disparate evidence that when pieced together solves a heinous mystery. In the same way I've always enjoyed reading studies relating to the evolution of man. How with a few bones and a couple of rocks paleontogolists and anthropologists can discern where we came from, when we came from and how we came from being apes picking each others scalps to being literate beasts capable of making fine oak-aged spirits that in large quantities send us back so many thousands of years to being chimps in the mud again.

There has been a fun development in Scottish whisky in recent years. This is the bottling of single malt whiskies under brand rather than distillery names, Smokehead jumps to mind here. The idea is that the distillery remains a mystery to the consumer, this of course invites speculation as to which distillery produced which mystery bottling. Recently I tried one of Ian Macleod's 8 year old Islay As We Get It bottlings, and had a shot at identifying the distillery behind the mystery. My guess was Ardbeg, although with only a small glass to taste from I could easily be wrong. It wasn't as maritime as Laphroaig, Bowmore or Caol Ila, and too old to be Kilchoman. Bunnahabhain and Bruichladdich were definitely not the distilleries and Lagavulin just seemed unlikely. So with its densely peaty character and lack of maritime seaweed, my guess is Ardbeg, but I am happy to be corrected!

As We Get It
58.4% ABV - 8 Years Old - Bottled by Ian Macleod
Nose: Cloves crash into the sinuses first followed by the gentle caress of toffee which in turn is followed by a sweet peatness that warns of the storm to come.
Palate: Spicy with strong peat, there is a touch of medicinal orange that is needed to cure a hot palate.
Finish: Coal smoke at first, if a tad bitter, with a long nutty conclusion.
Overall: I quite enjoyed this dram, it had some flavours that intrigued, others that battered and ones that soothed. Great stuff indeed!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Short But Sweet: Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition

The other day I tried a whisky I didn't expect to enjoy, that left me pleasantly surprised. The whisky was the Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition. The reason I didn't have high hopes was that although I can appreciate Lowland whiskies, my tastes are certainly for the more intense flavours of the Northern distilleries. However the Amontillado sherry cask finish gave the Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition another level of flavour without making the whisky clumsy. In essence this is a whisky where the cask finish compliments and supports the spirit without dominating or cloaking it. Slainte!

Glenkinchie Distiller's Edition
43% - 14 Years Old - Amontillado Cask Finish
Nose: Rosé and rose bouquet with parma violet and Skittles sweets in an elegant and charming aroma.
Palate: Light mouthfeel, floral with delicate fruitcake notes and a touch of sherry.
Finish: Stewed fruits galore with the sherry finish closing the show.
Overall: Lovely balance with clearly defined flavours, I particularly enjoyed the rosé and rose combo on the nose.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

You Love It Or You Hate It... Ola Dhub Special 12 Reserve

Do you love it or hate it?
Marmite grabbed the catchy yet alienating slogan, 'you either love it or hate it'. Quite a good slogan to sell a product a lot of people clearly don't like. At first I thought why alienate those who clearly detest your product, why not try and soft sell them the black spread by broadcasting mouthwatering pictures of marmite and food combinations? (Marmite in bolognese is my favourite, it adds a really meaty undertone that lends this classic dish a bit of a punch). Interestingly I have found Marmite's iconic slogan to be wrong. I positively hated Marmite when I was growing up, the thought of putting the damned spread on anything was morally abhorrent to me - worse even than peanut butter. Then in Uni my girlfriend introduced me to crumpets lathered in butter and Marmite, and I... the unbeliever... believed! From that point on I am a firm advocate of the yeast extract. I've even tried the Theakston's brewery special edition which brings me round to the point of this post. The other day I tried a bottle of whisky-aged (very convenient for a whisky blog) ale - the Ola Dhub. The best word I can think to describe the aroma and flavour is Marmite, so I am very happy I can now appreciate the enormity of this beer that is aged in Highland Park 12 casks. You'll love it...

Ola Dhub Special 12 Reserve
8% ABV - Brewed at Harviestoun - Bottle No. 06391
Nose: Intense Marmite leading to Oxo Cubes and thick beef gravy notes. The complexity of this beer is enhanced with notes of cocoa, ginger, smoke and a faintest hint of honey (Highland Park 12 influence?).
Palate: Marmite but creamy, soft and sweet but with a meaty, malt-forward backbone.
Finish: The Oxo Cubes return with malt and milk chocolate.
Overall: Dark, thick and well-balanced. What a beer! If you like your dark malty ales you will not be disappointed. This has truly bowled me over.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Let The Battle Commence... Aberlour 12 Year & Cadenhead’s Aberlour 21 Year

Well it was inevitably going to happen; this blog-post is my first bourbon versus sherry wood comparison. For the uninitiated, whisky is matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years. The majority of a whisky’s flavour and its entire colour come from the time in the cask. The more you immerse yourself in the world of whisky the more different types of cask you will hear about; from Madeira to Amarone, from hogsheads to puncheons – there are a lot. However two types of cask are most widely used to apply flavour to a whisky. The first are ex-bourbon barrels from the United States, these give vanilla flavours to a whisky and the other are sherry barrels from Spain that can give an array of flavours but dried fruits and spices are classic examples. Originally sherry casks were the dominant cask type as they were more accessible than bourbon casks, but with better transport links bourbon has overtaken sherry in the race to supply the Scottish whisky industry. I have been told that a bourbon cask is about the fifth of the price of a sherry cask, hence why they now dominate the industry (although a revival of the sherry cask is well underway). In fact, George Grant of Glenfarclas told an audience of a tasting I was at that the sherry industry now exists solely to provide barrels for the whisky industry, as in this day-and-age fewer people are drinking sherry. Commonly a combination of each cask is used to get the right balance of flavour. Today I will be reviewing a sherry cask and a bourbon cask and comparing the two.

Aberlour 12 Year Old
48% - Predominately Sherry Cask – Exclusive French Bottling
Nose: Toffee and red apple (toffee apple?) with rich spices tingling.
Palate: Rich and dry with raisins, cinnamon and that recurring toffee flavour.
Finish: Slight off-wood I sometimes get with sherry cask whiskies, but rescued with ample amounts of wood spice.
Overall: A good whisky, classic sherry flavours, a little uncomplex but would be a good whisky to have if you don’t want to consider it too deeply.

Cadenhead’s Aberlour 21 Year Old
57.5% - Bottled by Cadenhead’s – Bourbon Hogshead – 282 Bottles Produced
Nose: A buttery’s worth of butter, spiced with nutmeg and vanilla, with hints of that classic Aberlour red apple.
Palate: Creamy with all that butter from the nose, heavy on the vanilla and spice.
Finish: Long but hot thanks to the high ABV, tobacco concludes this boisterous dram.
Overall: The rich butter and vanilla qualities offset with the spice lead to an intriguing and questioning whisky. The 12 year old was pleasant but this whisky is the winner. Probably the biggest unpeated bourbon cask whisky I’ve tried.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Bad Reputation: Blended Malts... Compass Box Eleuthera and Wemyss Peat Chimney

Myth’s and fabrications can make or break reputations. Many a celebrity has been thrown into the lion’s pit of paparazzi exposure and tabloid conjecture that has quashed their careers like the Resistance on Alderaan. It only takes a slight turn of phrase to turn an innocent comment into an insult that strikes the very core of human morality and creates a reputation feeding frenzy that keeps the tabloid beast sated for several months. As soon as a reputation is tarnished it becomes very difficult to scrub it clean - no amount of Brasso is going to help Matthew Kelly reclaim his former fame. The other approach of course is to revel in it, as the indomitable Russell Brand does, so that any misbehaviour can be turned into a ladder to the stars.

Reputation is central to the perception of a whisky; it can win a whisky great favour and allow them to charge increasingly high prices off the back of it. Or, conversely, it can lead to a long hard crawl back to recognition and acceptance. Beyond brand awareness reputation also affects the perception of types of whisky. No other type of whisky has received such a panning as Scottish blends and blended malt. Consistently, and I argue - wrongly, blends (and blended malts) are seen as an inferior product to the more expensive and purer single malts. This myth that blends are somehow a cop-out version of the ‘better’ single malts is in urgent need of reversal. Thankfully a small number of blending companies are trying to overturn the wash of apathy and demonstrate to the world that blended can be better.

When talking about modern blends and blended malts, one company always jumps to mind. That company is of course Compass Box, who I jump at any chance to review. Compass Box are beginning an enlightenment in the world of blended whisky. Their Spice Tree and Hedonism bottlings in particular are testament to the work they have done to show blended can mean better. Alongside Compass Box there is another company doing superb work. This company is that of Wemyss Malts. Their philosophy is that the world’s best wines are all blends so why shouldn’t this apply to whisky? It wasn’t until the other weekend when I finally got to try one of the Wemyss range (and I was very impressed, as you will see) that I have to agree with them. Why shouldn’t a whisky be better than the sum of its parts? The same weekend my dad and I visited a small beer and whisky shop in Ludlow (Shropshire) and, to our luck, we found a Compass Box bottling that as far as I am aware is no longer available. After purchasing a bottle and a fair few beers, we went home to try this elusive blended malt, as well as the Wemyss Malt my dad had purchased previously.

Compass Box Eleuthera
46% - Scotch Blended Malt
Nose: At first peppery reminding me instantly of Talisker. This leads to a soft blend of wood smoke and peat complimented with gooseberry and brine, with time pleasant banana notes introduce themselves subtlety.
Palate: There is a grainy texture I associate with the Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix with honey and red fruits (notably strawberry and raspberry) served on a smoky palette.
Finish: Peaty with salt and fennel concluding with a shot of coffee.
Overall: Why is this whisky no longer made? This for me was an instant go to whisky which unfortunately it can never be. There is peat present without being excessive, pepper without being hot, and green fruit balanced with red. Just excellent.

Wemyss Peat Chimney
40% - 8 Years Old – Scotch Blended Malt
Nose: A fantastic combination of iodine peat smoke and Christmas pudding, or maritime sherry if I can coin the term. This combination that often doesn’t work melds excellently in this blended malt.
Palate: Peat and pepper hold the ground here; the palate is beautifully light and is completely un-cloying.
Finish: A burst of spice topped with clean peat, fresh and to the point.
Overall: Exceptionally pleasant, clear but not overpowering peat, this dram has a bite but doesn’t shake. I have to try Wemyss’ Spice King and Hive soon!

Friday, 4 November 2011

Grant's Twitter Tasting

Last Wednesday evening I was in a hurry. My heart was pounding and my adrenaline soaring as I crashed down the escalators at Tottenham Court Road, knocking tourists and business people to the floor in my mental haste. I tore through the ticket barriers, sidestepped a police officer and leaped onto my train. As soon as the train pulled into my home station I threw myself out of the doors almost bludgeoning an innocent bystander with my bag and I scattered down the stairs executing a combat roll at the bottom purely for style. You may ask why I was making this Jason Bourne-eske effort to get home. The reason for this mad-dash rush was that I was meant to be participating in a Twitter Tasting courtesy of The Whisky Wire and Grant’s Whisky but thanks to an emergency I was leaving work an hour later than planned. While I was on the train I stewed in silence as I realised the world was against me taking part in Twitter Tastings. Last time my computer wouldn’t play cricket so I had to strap two Blackberry’s together and this time I was running late, I think next time I will be staying at home, rigging a Moon Mission array of computers up in my flat and won’t answer the phone until every whisky has been tasted and tweeted. Anyway… Thankfully my girlfriend had Twitter up and running as soon as I got in and had my whisky poured ready so I only missed the first half and was able to jump straight in and taste the eighteen and twenty-five year old Grant’s blends. I was in for quite a treat as these whiskies were well worth a sprint home. For the sake of continuity I will write my notes in the order I should have tasted them starting with the Ale Cask then moving from the twelve to the eighteen to the twenty-five year old. Thanks to everyone who took part and to Steve at The Whisky Wire and Ludo of Grant’s Whisky!

Grant’s Ale Cask Finish 
40% - No Age Statement – Scotch Blend 
Nose: There is the instant suggestion of the influence of hops creating a cereal forward nose with sponge cake and honeyed cream. With time a grassy quality emerges becoming more and more gorse like.
Palate: Creamy with malt biscuit flavours with a bitterness I would associate with beer. Usually this would put me off a whisky but I thought it played nicely with its cask finish.
Finish: A little sharp but refreshing and malty.
Overall: This is the first ale cask finish I have ever tried and I like new approaches. The whisky didn’t have much depth but compensated with it’s beery character.

Grant’s 12 Year Old 
40% - Scotch Blend 
Nose: Heavy on the cinnamon with plenty of vanilla and a hint of lemon curd. Most interestingly there is a charcoal element that is quite intriguing.
Palate: Very light and delicate with wood spice and an earthy quality that draws on the charcoal notes from the nose.
Finish: Brief with notes of spice and vanilla pods.
Overall: Great nose with lots going on, this blend really requires a longer finish to gain the favour it should deserve.

Grant’s 18 Year Old 
40% - Scotch Blend – Port Cask Finish 
Nose: Port leaps out of the glass first with rich cake notes smothered in marzipan and candied orange peel. With time conifer forest notes appear with a hint of peat.
Palate: Very earthy, with rich fruitcake and warming peat adding depth and a satisfying aftertaste.
Finish: Spice and jam go hand in hand here in what I like to call a chutney finish.
Overall: So much more going on here than in the previous two whiskies. The port finish gives the nose delicious fortified wine notes, and the palate is beautifully rich and luxurious. A blend done good!

Grant’s 25 Year Old 
40% - Scotch Blend – Rare malts and early Girvan in the mix. 
Nose: Peaches and ginger in a soft but spicy tango followed by rich brandy sauce and Christmas pudding. The Whisky Review noted cola sweets and I have to heartily agree here.
Palate: A creamy palate once again here but with plain chocolate stirred through. This leads to pulpy dried fruits, notably dates and prunes with an alcoholic cherry flavour following.
Finish: Long and spicy with almonds sprinkled over. Beyond this there is coffee and an essence of wood smoke.
Overall: Packed with interesting flavours that compliment and enhance one another, complexity is the word here. I couldn’t decide between this and the eighteen year old… although in hindsight it had to be the twenty-five, it makes me want to pour another glass.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Enter The Dragon: A Taste of Wales - Penderyn and Danzy Jones

Last weekend I took the laborious journey from London back to my homeland of Shropshire. If there is one failing of National Rail it is not providing me with direct (Virgin Pendolino) trains from major cities to my hometown in the rural borderland of the English Marches. I don't quite understand why National Rail hasn't addressed this pertinent issue with the haste and efficiency I associate with this British Institution, but it remains a gripe I cannot put to rest. Anyway... taking the train back after a year away from country pubs, farm food and fresh air was refreshing to say the least, more so because if I associate one of many things with going home, it is the flow of decent drink. From Vouvrey to Rose Port, from Llangollen ale to my local Station Bitter, I was in for some excellent drinkage. More so because my dad brought me up drinking whisky, so of course it was inevitable that he would crack open some interesting looking bottles this weekend, as you will see in this week's blogposts.

It seems fitting, having grown up on the English side of the Welsh border, that on my return I sample some of the alcoholic delights of Wales, a country that has an excellent culinary record and as I was to realise, some great drinks as well. The first is from the (relatively) new distillery of Penderyn and the second is a Welsh whisky liqueur.

Penderyn is a single malt I've been aware of for some time, but can't actually remember trying apart from maybe in a local pub after multiple pints had ruined my palate. So I was interested to try this Welsh whisky. Furthermore I also got to have a healthy glass of Brecon Gin that is also distilled at Penderyn. This juniper-led gin had a fantastic celery character that gave it a freshness that I would love to apply to a cocktail in the future. It was more delicate than other gins I drink and not at all cloying. See future blogs for gin reviews. Back to the whisky.

46% - No Age Statement - Madeira Cask
Nose: Vanilla and toffee followed by red fruits, predominately raspberry. There is a cereal quality that comes to the fore with time in the glass and a hint of cinder toffee.
Palate: Vanilla and cereal hold the ground here with a biscuity edge.
Finish: Spirity but sweet with gooseberry overtones.
Overall: Considering this is still a fairly young whisky it has a fair amount going on. I particularly liked the biscuit flavours and gooseberry finish. I'm excited to try their other expressions, notably the sherry wood finish.

The Welsh whisky liqueur I mentioned earlier was that of Danzy Jones. My experience of whisky liqueurs is fairly limited. When I was younger I regularly mixed Famous Grouse and Drambuie into Rusty Nails, I have tried (and spat out) Atholl Brose, and was surprised by the Compass Box whisky infusion that is Orangerie. So I don't have much to go on, but Danzy Jones had a lot more going for it than other whisky liqueurs I have tried.

Danzy Jones
32% - No Age Statement - Welsh Whisky Liqueur
Nose: There was a linoleum quality matched with chlorine with a thick base of stewed damsens and rich mincemeat (the mincepie kind).
Palate: Sweet mincemeat and rum butter in a very Christmassy flavour profile.
Finish: Burnt Christmas cake, intense if fairly swift.
Overall: The best whisky liqueur I have tried, my associations with it would make it a great Christmas whisky, maybe one to wash down a mincepie with, Wales has done it again!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Happy Halloween...

Birthday Bonanza - Highland Park 1990

Mmm... cake...
As a kid, birthdays were about the amount and size of presents; the spread of crisps, cakes and cocktail sausages on the table; and the abundance of music based party games. I think finally I have grown out of this mentality. I say I have outgrown these childish pleasures but on my last birthday, despite beginning the day with smoked salmon and going to the pub I still found great delight in opening a present to find a brand spanking new Lego Creationary game. The game is essentially Pictionary with Lego, this (alongside the satirical War On Terror boardgame) is one of my favourite games of all time. Even after years of suppressing any desire to muck around with a Lego set, my natural talent for putting blocks together came back in a fantastical reawakening.

My Lego laser cannon
However, despite spending quite a long time playing with Lego, I did find some time to act my age. I went to the brilliant Bree Louise pub near London Euston to indulge in a proper portion (Definition: more than I could eat) of bangers and mash (my pub favourite), a selection of their exceptional beers and of course a glass of whisky. The whisky selection was fairly impressive with a good number of interesting malts scattered around the pub classics. I chose the Highland Park 1990. This is an export-market whisky that I hadn't yet seen, and knowing the accessible nature of Highland Park I was quick to buy a glass. Cap the day off with a large dinner, wine and the film Leon, the day retained some grown-up sensibility... Then I built a Lego laser.

Highland Park 1990
40% - 20 Years Old
Nose: Clover honey and fresh cut grass create a fresh nose with a touch of salt, smoke, nutmeg and citrus providing interest.
Palate: Lindisfarne mead struck me first with a slight herbal and lemony character coming through. The body was pleasantly light without being insubstantial. Perfect for after a pile of sausages and mash!
Finish: Clean and herbal with light peat smoke rounding off this supple whisky.
Overall: Very good at what it does, clean cut flavours, light and relaxing. It doesn't ask much from the drinker and is ideal for when you want to enjoy a malt without wading through intense flavour combinations. I'd certainly consider buying a bottle.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Lost Distilleries Chapter 4: Port Ellen 1978 and Port Ellen 1982

Ellen & I drinking an altogether
different beverage... bubble tea
There is one whisky above all that I would consider the Elysium of all whisky. I am not being at all original in saying this, but Port Ellen remains the whisky I hold in highest regard. I can only defend this pandering to the old and rare through how I was introduced to this finest of malts.

A little while back when I was still fairly new to whisky I was stood in my kitchen cooking a tasty treat. Then in walks my girlfriend Ellen (no prize for guessing the whisky she had bought) grinning, holding something behind her back. She then produced a miniature bottle of Port Ellen. Now at this point I should have dropped to my knees and kissed the ground she walked on, for this was my first ever Port Ellen. Perhaps not unfortunately, my whisky knowledge was fairly limited. I was aware that Port Ellen was an expensive and well-liked malt but I did not realise how rare and brilliant it is. So a little while later I poured myself a glass and happily enjoyed it. I loved it, its flavour profile and weight instantly appealed to me. Yum...

Of course now I realise how ignorantly I consumed this Port Ellen. However I think the fact that I loved this whisky so much without realising its value says a lot about the actual quality of this superb dram. Since then I have also tried the latest Diageo Special Release and was once again bowled over. This peated whisky is, for me, a fantastic expression of how smoke and body can harmonise perfectly with one another.

Port Ellen 1982
43% - 28 Years Old - Bottled in 2010 by Gordon & Macphail - Refill Sherry Butt
Nose: Linoleum struck me first with floral iodine notes complimented with a smoky, salty and seaweed scent combo.
Palate: Supple mouthfeel (light with some texture), the peat smoke swirls on a coastal grapey saltiness with a touch of sulphur (in no way a criticism).
Finish: Seabreeze with a burst of tropical fruits that hold on for a long time to come.
Overall: Light, saline and smoky; everything I want in a whisky. The peat doesn't overpower nor is it too light, excellent balance, why is this distillery closed?!

Port Ellen 1978
53.9% - 32 Years Old - 2,988 Numbered Bottles
Nose: I get that maritime linoleum character again with peat intricately woven in. The nose is gentle and sweet with soft vanilla and toffee notes becoming almonds over time.
Palate: Light and fruity, like soft fruitcake with a touch of honey and a hint of salt.
Finish: Pepper and smoke cling on to begin with, followed by light pine.
Overall: A great distillery edition, the sweet fruitiness surprised me as I was expecting the more coastal quality of my previous contact with Port Ellen. However the balance of flavour and smoke remained with that light mouthfeel being retained. More please!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Lost Distilleries Chapter 1 Part 2: Brora 32 Year Old

There are two names that dominate discussion on old and rare whisky: Port Ellen and Brora. The former I will discuss tomorrow but it is Brora I want to address today. What is special about both of these whiskies is that they were closed not because they were producing bad whisky but because of the economic environment of the time. So what we are left with are two excellent whiskies, aged to perfection and with no more to ever be produced. This is a recipe for expensive whisky, and usually I am quite critical of expensive whisky. I believe for a whisky to push the £150 barrier, it has to be able to justify itself. However with Port Ellen and Brora I can't even pretend they are unnecessarily expensive, they are top notch whisky, they aren't lavishly packaged and they are old (i.e. Warehouse costs). Worst of all, with depleting stocks they are soon to be extinct and this is very sad indeed.

Brora, for me, is a connoisseur's whisky. It has layers of flavour, some may not be to everyone's taste, but for anyone who wants to sit and consider a dram - this is the one. When I found out I was going to get to try this intricate malt again I was of course excited. In fact that's an understatement, I was whipping myself into an ecstatic frenzy of excitement, frothing at the mouth like a cappuccino machine, hallucinating glencairn glasses on the Tube, etc. Of course through all this anticipation, I thought it was going to taste similar to last year's release... I was very wrong. Last year's release had a tobacco and chlorine dominated nose, a smoky and peppery palate and a sherry forward finish (see here for this review). This Brora was very different, and I have to say... better. I have a preference for coastal malts and as soon as I tried this year's release I was immediately taken back to sampling Clynelish and Springbanks - whiskies I rate very highly. This Brora is a dram for drinking, not analysing to death. It is what a whisky should be, and I hate that it's collectable.

Brora 32 Year Old
54.7% - 1,404 Individually Numbered Bottles
Nose: Coastal, reminds me of Clynelish and Springbank. Grape arrives first providing vitality and vibrancy. Next, smooth waves of oak smoke and a sprinkling of salt giving a mineral backdrop to this whisky. Finally sherbet lemon gives a sweeter character that mellows the nose into a cohesive whole.
Palate: I got a slight medicinal character (maritime?). The saltiness returns giving it a drying mouthfeel. The grape notes are still present but become more spicy and dense.
Finish: Infinitely long, mint holds the fort from here with smoke and a touch of pepper. Incredible.
Overall: Where last year's release may have had more complexity, this year's is carefully woven and satisfying, with the peat working more elegantly with the spirit. The aromas and flavours make me want to drink it and enjoy it. For me this is the mark of the best whiskies. Deserved of its high regard.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Diageo Special Releases 2011: Lagavulin 12 Year Old

It's always a pleasure when a younger whisky outstrides its older brothers. The Longrow C.V. jumps to mind as a whisky that outshines all but the glorious 18 year old Longrow. I think younger whiskies have a vibrancy about them that is as desirable in a whisky as the rounding of old age. Furthermore it is important that younger whisky is held in as deep regard as older whisky because it offers a more affordable and often more exciting product than highly aged whisky. The distilleries at Kilchoman and Kilkerran are setting benchmark for young whiskies that can do this. Both offer complexity in youth that many whiskies struggle to achieve in old age. This is why the Lagavulin 12 year old is one of my winners of the Diageo Special Release class of 2011. It has so much more going on than the 16 year old and has none of the failings of the Distiller's Edition. It is a perfectly balanced smoky dram.

Lagavulin 12 Year Old
57.5% - Refill American Oak Casks
Nose: There is a classic peatiness immediately present that promises a satisfying drink. Next there are hay fields, fresh citris notes and raspberry with a touch of mincemeat. There is also a leathery quality that gives this malt a robustness I enjoy in a whisky.
Palate: Raspberry cut with herbs and sweet meat smoked over a wood fire.
Finish: Those leathery notes return couples with olive oil and great length. Smoke stays until the end with a minerally character.
Overall: Such a drinkable dram (like the Caol Ila Unpeated 12 Year Old) I could drink this all night. There is excellent balance of smoke and other intrinsic flavours. Fantastic at cask strength, Lagavulin should be proud of this one!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Diageo Special Releases - Caol Ila Unpeated 1990

This is the first of the Diageo special releases that swept me off my feet this year. I tried my first Rosebank that I rated highly, my first Port Dundas that opened up the gates of grain whisky and anyone who read yesterday's review would have seen my opinion on the unimpressive Knockando. However, it was the Caol Ila that was the first that truly impressed me this year. For a while now I have seen the range of unpeated Caol Ilas, however having never tried them I had no opinion on them. Recently I tried the incredible Ardbeg Blasda, a lightly peated Ardbeg that was a beautiful demonstration of the complexity behind the smoky veil of peat so I was very excited to try a Caol Ila that was entirely unpeated...

Caol Ila 1999
64% - 12 Years Old - Unpeated
Nose: So distinctly Islay without being peated. Chlorine without phenol, citrus fruits notably lime. Also with green apple extract and green grapes with a hint of nectarine.
Palate: Fresh green fruits with vanilla essence, creamy and mouth-wateringly drinkable.
Finish: Creamy with chocolate notes, becomes soft and elegant with water.
Overall: Despite no peating, this 'Highland' style malt is clearly Islay born. Drinkable with layers of earthy Islay flavour. A champion of this year's Special Releases.