Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Blogger to Blender...

A little while back I let my arrogance get the better of me. I foolishly thought that blending whisky must be easy and could be done in an afternoon. Buoyed up with thoughts of being the next Richard Paterson I set about my vain work. The concept was simple, make a blend combining the flavour profiles of three of my favourite (apologies for the f-word) distilleries: Talisker, Highland Park and Springbank. I set up my tools; an array of pipettes, Glencairns and some tongue stretches to get my palate loosened up. Having never attempted blending whisky before and caught up in the excitement of the moment I didn’t really think through the intricacies of making a blend, my foresight went as far as to record quantities used (that I later lost) and to include a grain whisky, as a blend would of course be a combination of both single malts and grain whisky. What I hadn’t considered was firstly that most bottles of whiskies are already an optimum blend of different casks, secondly that alcohol is a volatile substance and therefore some whiskies would not combine and thirdly that blends are usually allowed time to vat to become a whole. Okay, technically there was a fourth element I had completely forgotten in my fervour to become the next blending giant and that is that I don’t know what I’m doing. Having forgotten all of this I set about my task.

For all of my glaringly obvious mistakes I did have myself a very fun afternoon. I used Cameron Brig and another single grain whisky for the grain element of my blend then I went in heavy on the Talisker 10 year old. After tasting it later it became apparent that I should have held back on the Talisker as it clashed the most with the other flavours. I waded on adding equal quantities of the Springbank 15 year old and the Highland Park 12 year old. This is when it started to go wrong. In an effort to combat the increasingly bitter flavour the blend was taking on I began adding a variety of different malts to balance out the flavour, including Glenfarclas 30 year old and MacAllan 12 year old. The idea behind the Glenfarclas was to add some age and depth to the blend, whereas the MacAllan was supposed to soften out the bitterness; instead it overpowered the constituent parts. In a moment of inspiration I added Longrow C.V. that actually married quite nicely giving the blend a touch of smoke and I reckon complimented the Springbank quite well. After adding a few more bits and bobs and tinkering with the quantities I was forced to admit defeat. Dr. Jekyll had morphed into Mr. Hyde. So below I provide the tasting notes for my humbling blending attempt.

Peatreek Blend 1.0
Blend – No Age Statement
Nose: The nose was surprisingly wholesome and was the only part of the blend that actually worked. A lovely maltiness arrives first with waves of sea breeze and light fruits, with apple wood smoke drifting behind. Underneath is a touch of caramel and vanilla that plays quite nicely with the malty foreground. This blend has a nose of two parts: Coastal malt and sherried Speyside.
Palate: Bitter, Talisker dominated and fought a bloody battle with a squabbling opposing army. Truly horrid.
Finish: The bitterness now comes in waves, reminding me of my own idiocy. On the other hand a slight toffee-ness allows for a brief respite.
Overall: A sharp learning curve and a lot of fun. This is by no means my last attempt and next time I will bear in mind what I forgot this time. I will probably use single cask whiskies so that I am working with purer ingredients. I won’t be quite so selfish as to include all of my top whiskies and next time I will let it marry for a time to give the flavours a chance to settle in. Watch this space for future updates…

The Prince or the Pauper? Dalmore King Alexander III

Monarchy is something that divides people. There are those who see the divine appointment of a despot as a sword in the side of the people; a system of oppression and feudal poverty to be overthrown by a popular (and smelly) movement of the peasants ahem… people. To others monarchy is something magical, they see it as a world of chivalry, glamour and Prince Harry’s glorious red cheeks. Whatever your views are on monarchy it is hard to get away from the connotations of knights in armour and gallant kings riding into battle or pulling swords out of standing stones. If anything the ideas of monarchy are an escape from reality, an escape to a world of wealth and adventure, and this is exciting. Furthermore the tales of damsels in distress and dragons with heartburn become part of the rich tapestry of our history, albeit mythical.

The whisky world is also rife with the tales of kings, notably the Highland Park Earl Magnus series, which traces the story of Earl Magnus and his canonization followed by his murder at the hands of his dastardly cousin Earl Haakon the bloodthirsty Viking. Another whisky that has royal pedigree is the Dalmore, in particular the King Alexander III bottling, and it’s story is quite impressive. In 1263 an ancestor of the Mackenzie Clan saved Alexander III from being gored to death by a mighty stag with a single arrow. It was because of this courageous act that the Mackenzie’s were given permission to use the stag’s head on their coat of arms forever more. In turn, the Mackenzie’s affiliation with the Dalmore has led to the stag’s head adorning their sturdy bottles. However the question is, how regal are their whiskies? Well the King Alexander III expression certainly has a lot to say for itself having been matured in six types of wood: Wine, Madeira, Bourbon, Marsala and Port, plus two types of Sherry wood. In addition, it comes in suitably ornate packaging, so does it live up to its ancestry?

King Alexander III 
40% - No Age Statement – Dalmore
Nose: Incredibly rich stewed red berries, spiced rum, classic Dalmore orange, dark chocolate, and a hint of pinot noir.
Palate: Very spicy with nutmeg and cinnamon, orange zest and Christmas cake, with a surprisingly light mouth feel.
Finish: Oak is clearly present on the finish but having been matured in six types of wood is this surprising? The finish is also fairly creamy with a liqueur quality and a tannic vinous edge, with pepper playing out to the end.
Overall: A regal malt indeed. However I found the nose to be more majestic than the light palate, which I found disappointing. It wasn’t that the palate was in any way poor just light in comparison to the big spicy nose, like the nose is the prince and the palate the pauper. A whisky for further consideration certainly.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Battle of the Sexes: Ardbeg Uigeadail

Me contemplating Uigedail
There's only one way to end a night spent drinking great quantities in great company, and that is to continue drinking great quantities in great company and then finish with an impromptu whisky tasting competition. We had everything we needed: Two Glencairn glasses, a bottle of whisky and three people, two to taste, one to adjudicate. The tasters would be myself and my girlfriend, Ellen (apparently competition is our thing). The judge would be my friend Rob, who we deemed impartial enough fulfil this crucial role. I should say he was impartial in that his urge to embarrass me should equal out any loyalty to me over Ellen... Oh and he has a fantastic knowledge of whisky so was in a perfect position to judge our notes. The whisky would be the behemoth that is the Ardbeg Uigeadail. A caskstrength Ardbeg named after the loch that feeds this reputable Islay distillery. It consistently gets rave reviews and seemed like a great whisky to finish the night with.

Ellen posing
We took our places, whisky poured, pencils sharpened, and not without some trepidation. The tasting took place in silence, a lot was at stake here. Firstly I don't particularly enjoy losing and secondly I take some pride in teaching Ellen to taste whisky, so was looking for a close win. Eventually our notes were complete and in turn we read them out to Rob who sat magnanimously with a tumbler of Uigeadail waiting to judge. Here are our notes:

Nose: A salted caramel, heavy smoke with hints of the leathery, metallic tang you get with a new car.
Palate: Smooth, with the flavour of Nori (the seaweed that wraps sushi) intertwined with the smoke.
Finish: The smoke increased on the finish, with a definite sweetness present and undertones of a light spice, perhaps cumin and coriander.

And here are mine:
Ardbeg Uigeadail
54.2% - No Age Statement
Nose: Oak smoke galore with a strong combination of grapefruit and butterfudge. Past this heavyweight combo there is heather, stewed cherries and marshmallow with a charcoal character closing the nose.
Palate: Chlorine jumps to the fore followed by grapes and raisins. There is an underlying toffee sweetness and an essence of an alcoholic trifle.
Finish: A burst of creamy toffee chased by smokey embers. With that heather from the nose transforming into damp peaty undergrowth.
Overall: A massively smokey, take no prisoners whisky. As delicate and complex as it is immense. Deserving of the plaudits it has gathered. A clear winner of a dram.

Our judge
Rob spent much time considering our notes. He loved Ellen's new car metaphor and, like me, was shocked I missed out on the spiciness Ellen got on the finish. After even more umm-ing and ahh-ing he made his decision and awarded me the prize of champion for my identification of the citrus notes. For me this was more of a joint victory. I am pleased with my win, but I am happier that Ellen could now taste a whisky and make accurate notes. It's not every lad who can convince his girlfriend to enjoy whisky also... Although this does mean next time I will be much more competitive. I can't be beaten a girl now can I?

Friday, 26 August 2011

Glenfiddich - The Guilty Pleasure

We all have guilty pleasures. Some are quite standard such as liking the X-Factor, the Spice Girls and Lambrini. Whereas others are down-right weird, like making a culinary cocktail of baked beans, pickle and spray-on cheese. Guilty pleasures are those secrets we keep to ourselves and it is this secrecy that makes the object of our pleasure all the more delicious. They are something that clashes with the image we project to others. They are dark, dirty and dangerous. Yet somehow, no matter how much we may try to ignore them, to strive to watch BBC4 and not E4, they always come back to haunt us, and we crumble before them. I have a few, and I cannot forgive myself for them. They include Waterloo Road, Ronan Keating and Glenfiddich. Waterloo Road just captivates me with its plot holes and poor story planning. I can’t help but enjoy Ronan Keating’s songs, and as much as I want to reject Glenfiddich’s big brand image, I can’t help it, I love this accessible pub whisky. So when I got the chance to taste the limited release of the Snow Phoenix I was very excited indeed.

The Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix has a story I quite like, and if you have read my Shackleton Whisky review you will know by now that I am partial to a good story. These whiskies could easily be described as gimmicky or simply a marketing ploy, and don't get me wrong I am well aware that these whiskies are largely a sales push. But I don't think that has to be a negative point. A story gives the whisky a sense of place and time. It helps make the whisky more than just a drink. The key is to match a good story with a good whisky. Having tried the Shackleton again, the glow has worn off somewhat. So when I tried the Snow Phoenix I was much more wary. So anyway back to the story...

In January 2010 after extremely heavy snowfall, the roof of a warehouse at Glenfiddich collapsed showering the casks waiting in sombre maturation in snow and ice, leaving a phoenix shaped (although I think angel-like) hole in the roof. Glenfiddich, not one to miss an opportunity, bottled a selection of the casks (aged between thirteen and thirty years) to create the Snow Phoenix, a commemoration of an event in Glenfiddich's rich history that could have been a disaster. I genuinely love this whisky and find it incredibly hard to stop drinking.

Glenfiddich Snow Phoenix
47.6% - No Age Statement (13-30 years) - Bottled 2010
Nose: Toffee and pear instantly grapple with the nose with cherries and dry sherry lend a more complex charm, offset wit soft notes of cox apples and rosewater.
Palate: A busy mix of blackcurrants, caramel and apple with an underlying spiciness. Full-bodied and mouth coating it has an almost grainy dry texture that is somewhat moreish.
Finish: Apple pie with cream drizzled on top that doesn't rush to end.
Overall: Weirdly reminds me of the Shackleton despite their obvious differences, maybe it's the snow-laden story of the two. An absolutely brilliant whisky, I think I may be too smitten to offer a more impartial summary. Normal service resumed next time!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Of Moors and Mountains - The Bowmore Tempest

Me with long hair and a map
I'm squinting at a map with the wind launching itself like an RPG at my jacket and the rain machine-gunning my head, my kit and a bloke with borderline hypothermia sitting on a rock a few feet away. My mate comes running out of the mountain mist with a status report of the terrain ahead. We were having to run ahead of the dense fog to try and get our bearings and to get off this mountain and get the casualty to safety. For some, this may not seem like a whole barrel of laughs, but for me handling the outdoors is as fun as whisky. Stumbling across ridges, potholing, kayaking and climbing are my idea of a good time. Furthermore they largely result in drinking in great pubs serving fantastic beer and an array of whiskies. This is partly the reason why I associate the smell of whiskies with an environment before I have to scribble out my tasting notes and write something involving fruit and toffee rather than "the nose of Crib Goch in the rain", otherwise no one would be able to interpret them. I think the main reason I associate whisky with the outdoors is that my first tour of some of Scotland's distilleries was with a heavy backpack and public transport. This trip also taught me it is sadistic to attempt to reach the majority of distilleries by public transport. Indeed I would rather attempt to outrun a tiger with an empty stomach and a healthy dose of rabies than try and get to certain distilleries by bus again. Despite this and the midgies, one of my best memories was lugging six and a half stone of kit, nine miles in two hours to get back from Talisker to where there was a pub and a small square of
The Leeds Uni Caving Soc. int' pub
moderately un-boggy ground to pitch our tent for the night. My friend and I stumbled into the pub throwing our bags down and rather stupidly asking, "Do you serve Talisker?" Before ordering a dram each of the Talisker 18 year old to recover with. No whisky has ever tasted as good, nor has any combination of curry super noodles and pork scratchings (we were running rather low on supplies). So this is the reason, along with my obsession with the outdoors, why I associate whisky with mountains and fresh air, and being trapped in London any reminder of moors and mountains is gladly welcomed.

Bowmore Tempest
56% - 10 Years Old - Second Release
Nose: Chlorine and sea breeze jump to the fore followed by sea spray against the cliff face. A powerful nose.
Palate: Intense smoke, peat bog and maritime flavours.
Finish: Campfire smoke is the word here with an unusual hint of kiwi.
Overall: Stormy is the word, a whisky that would be best appreciated in a tent being hit by gale force winds as you crouch inside planning the next day's adventure. Top Bowmore!

Monday, 22 August 2011

On Second Thought... Mortlach 16yrs

Olives, The Office and quite surprisingly gin, are all things I tried initially and wasn't completely won over by. They didn't offend me in anyway, indeed it would be quite a spectacle to see an offensive olive - but they didn't instantly bowl me over and make me scream out in jubilation. They didn't seem to be a missing component from my otherwise satisfactory life. To side track; Irn Bru is something that I had never tried until recently, and now I cannot imagine what sick and twisted world I was living in without it. However, I could have gone on living having never tried olives, The Office or gin again, and died happily not knowing what joy they could bring. What I am rather cackhandedly beating at, is that these things required a second try. I now positively adore olives putting them in any meal they can feasibly go with or clash with. I crease up in mirth during any awkward moment in The Office and I drink gin with a religious tenacity. So from all of this I should of course learn to try things at least twice before I give up on them. So the other day I gave the Flora & Fauna Mortlach 16 year old bottling another go. Mortlach as a rule fails to wow me so it took some audaciousness to prioritise this dram over others I perhaps feel would more imminently impress me. Nevertheless I gave it another shot. I'm not sure if it was because the bottle had been open a little longer, or the company I was with at the time or if it was a genuine change of opinion, but this time I was much, much more impressed and who knows maybe Mortlach is a drink that could rival other whiskies I would more readily jump to...

Mortlach 16 Years Old
43% - Flora & Fauna (Diageo Range)
Nose: Vimto surprisingly annouced itself first followed, rather pleasingly, by dried apricot that became a part of a fruity sherried character. On a second pass a floral dimension morphed into fresh apricots.
Palate: Stewed plums and plenty of spice give this whisky the body it needs to satisfy.
Finish: Classic sherried whisky here: wood and dried fruits. A fitting conclusion.
Overall: The apricot character was not something I had noticed the first time I tried this whisky, but it is what has made me reconsider Mortlach. Expect a bourbon-finished Mortlach review soon by way of comparison.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

English Summer Rain - Snow Grouse

Our rather wet summer holiday
in the British Isles
There is something quintessentially British about commenting on the weather. It permeates all conversation. You can be discussing the ins and outs of post-modern thought and still get round to that awfully horrid twenty minutes of rain last Tuesday. Furthermore it is profoundly British to complain about the weather during the summer. We could have weeks of sunshine but it will be the downpour at the end that we remember. Unfortunately, I remember the good weather all too well. In fact I have a very accurate memory of sitting at work listening to the air conditioning stuttering to a wheezing halt as the task of cooling a room reaching solar temperatures became all too much for it as it had the temperature control equivalent of a cardiac arrest. As I sat there mopping a torrent of sweat from my scalding brow, I craved everything from water to an ice bath, and had I been aware of it, I would probably have begged for a chilled whisky. Except I know better and know that outside of a cocktail that would never work. Famous Grouse, of course, disagree. They have produced what they have, very originally, christened the Snow Grouse. The concept is a grain whisky that you chill before you serve. Despite being all too aware of the novelty value that this whisky would of course have, I was very cautious. Nevertheless I had to try it and wasn't completely disappointed. It offered a very spirity drink that was refreshing but I thought could have offered more. I would like to have seen some extreme louche effect from non-chill filtration and some more complexity and, although I think that it offered a new approach to whisky, I just feel that if Compass Box had done it I would be much more impressed.

Snow Grouse
40% - No Age Statement - Bottled by Famous Grouse
Nose: Medicinal here with notes of wet paint. I also got the TCP I never get but everyone else does from Laphroaig. Finally this smelled more of vodka than whisky.
Palate: Very creamy with a solvent edge.
Finish: Creamy again with sultanas and bananas.
Overall: A novelty most definitely but fun for it. Interesting but I wouldn't buy a bottle. Goes well with scones surprisingly.

Friday, 19 August 2011

A Rye Smile - Sazerac Rye

American and Irish whiskey have always been a struggle for me. Initially out of an ill-informed prejudice born out of an ignorance of the Redbreasts and Van Winkle's out there and too much focus on the Jameson's and Jack Daniels of the world. Both Jameson's and Jack Daniels almost ruined whiskey for me. However the second problem I face is that however much I may appreciate the whiskey, I find the flavour of both Irish and American to be too sickly for me and even half a glass makes my stomach tighten. So for me American and Irish whiskey will always have to be a rare pleasure enjoyed in moderation, but this is not to say I will give up on them. Today's review is of the charming Sazerac Rye whiskey. This, like the Redbreast 12 year old, made me rethink whiskey and I would go as far to say that I could happily manage two thirds of a glass of this fine rye whiskey.

Sazerac Rye
45% - No Age Statement
Nose: Old fashioned English marmalade dominates the nose with marzipan and barley sugar playing the underscore.
Palate: Plenty of citrus fruits, in particular satsuma, with a gentle almond quality.
Finish: Very dry with notes of herbal remedies.
Overall: A lively, vibrant and spicy rye whiskey that will put a smile on your face!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

What whisky turns your head? Laphroaig Quarter Cask and Arran Amarone Cask Finish

We all get that subconscious desire to turn our heads when we catch something out of the corner of our eye when we are shopping. For some it is the cut of a dress, for others it is the tabloid red of a 'sale' sign, and for others it is a shop in the midst of a riot. There is always something we have a material weakness for. A weakness that operates from our peripheral vision and forces our eyes to turn and our wallets to shed weight like a celebrity on Strictly. I have a few myself: Winegums, HMV sales, coleslaw and of course... Whisky!

So what is it that turns our heads when we are staring at a shelf of whiskies? This is a question I always ask myself, often the answer is fairly simple. For example, when I discovered cask strength whiskies it was the ABV that pulled my eyes to the bottle like a liquid magnet, likewise the old sherry finish whisky has turned my head a few times, but for me, it is something original that makes me look at a bottle and think, 'I need to drink that', and believe something is missing from my life until I do. The thing is, finding something original, or to be more precise, original and worth investing time and money in, can be quite difficult. Two whiskies jump to mind that have done this for me since I started taking the nectar of life. One is very well known the other perhaps less so, but it isn't ambiguity that attracts me to whisky, its weirdness. The first is the Laphroaig Quarter Cask. Aged in smaller casks, the whisky inside gets much more contact with the wood and hence ages faster (in a way). This simple idea really appealed to me when I first started drinking whisky and to this day I still think it is the best jump in quality for the smallest price gain you can get in the whisky world. The other whisky is the Arran Amarone finish. I did a vertical tasting of the Arran range and it was the Amarone that made me think, 'this is different', and that is no criticism of Arran's other malts that I also enjoy immensely. So the question is what whiskies turn your head?

Laphroaig Quarter Cask
48% - No Age Statement
Nose: All that medicinality and seaweed you'd usually associate with Laphroaig but with a fantastic scent of rum truffle, nuts and a slight flame of sulphur.
Palate: This is a strong mix of flavours: chili, seaweed, salt and tar. Not for the faint hearted!
Finish: Cigar smoke creates a fug here with a gentle, sweet miasma of cola floating behind, and such a long finish for such a well priced whisky.
Overall: Powerful flavours here, everything a Laphroaig should be: mean, unrelenting and uninterested in your opinion. A great whisky at amazing value.

Arran Amarone Cask Finish
50% - No Age Statement
Nose: This is incredibly potent and quite literal. It smells like chocolate and raisins with a slight afterthought of cherries. Very intriguing.
Palate: Fairly sweet with those notes from the nose carrying through, in particular that chocolatey flavour.
Finish: Smooth unsurprisingly with its sweetness, with a fruitiness adding complexity.
Overall: A cask finish that really works with the whisky, creating strong obvious flavours. A match made in heaven.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Have your cake and eat it too - Auchentoshan Valinch

There is a dilemma that grabs us all whether we be outgoing or introverted, big or small, rich or poor, animal, vegetable or mineral. We all at some point have to choose between two desserts. I am by nature a very impulsive person and in no way do I look far enough into the future when making decisions. I couldn't count the amount of times I have had to do a week's food shop on £10 because I have decided that I should try multiple new beers or take a holiday that I can't afford. I would like to say that this is out of some carpe diem worldview or out of an unashamed consumerist appetite but I would be lying. Like many or even most people I would like to have my cake and eat it - and then a slice of yours.

So we've all been faced with the option of two puddings and have had to choose between them be they cake, ice cream or pannacotta. For me, the decision between a coffee cake and a quality victoria sponge is the worst I could be forced to make. Then I was presented with a mind-blowing compromise, and it comes served up in a Glencairn glass. The whisky is the Auchentoshan Valinch, a new bourbon matured release that is bottled at cask-strength and named after the pipette used to draw whisky out of the cask. This reinvisioning of the Auchentoshan Classic has a lot going for it. Oh and I forgot to mention… it tastes of two desserts.

Auchentoshan Valinch
57.5% - No Age Statement - Ex-Bourbon Cask
Nose: Creme brulee is the first desert to arrive in abundant quantities followed by our second, the subtle, yet thoroughly present lemon meringue pie. Finally there is a nutty quality with hints of ginger and cinnamon biscuits.
Palate: Very bourbon influenced here with a citric element that rises towards the roof of the mouth.
Finish: Clean, the high ABV is very real here and cuts to a lingering nutty woodiness.
Overall: Warms the stomach and combines two desserts on the nose. An excellent aperitif whisky.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Lost Distilleries Chapter 1: Brora

Rarity comes in many forms: Anne Widdecombe’s sex appeal, the skeletons still in Ryan Giggs' closet and Boris Johnson’s self-awareness. Rarity in whisky is often synonymous with collecting, a divisive trait among whisky lovers. To collect or to taste, that is the question? The compromise of course is both but - alas, few of us can afford such a luxury. My approach has been to collect tastings. I try to add as many new whiskies to my collection of tasting notes and this way at least I don't have to invest in a cellar. Even better for me is that there are more whiskies than I could possibly taste. The Benriachs, Longmorns and Tullibardines still elude me, as do many others. Hence it has become my noble quest to taste as much of the whisky that this planet can provide for me. However, I couldn't just set about this quest, this mission, this journey without adequate preparation and planning. There have to be priorities. Some whiskies knocking around today may not be in ten, fifteen, twenty years and at least if they are, they are going to be rather pricey and probably locked and bolted in someone's vault. Although I am sure I am capable of an Ocean's 11-style heist to free such whiskies from the dastardly collectors, I have neither the will nor the want.

Brora Distillery
So my priorities are the whiskies of the Lost Distilleries. These distilleries fall into a tragic chapter of the Scottish whisky saga. In the eighties thanks to the damn economy (déjà vu anyone?), many distilleries had to be closed. The reason was often because the distillery didn't contribute to a major blend or didn't have the tourist appeal of another (Rosebank being a good example here). So this led to perfectly good or dare I say it perfect whisky falling out of production. Port Ellen, Rosebank and Brora are just a few examples of these. Of course 30 years down the line, some of the better whiskies have aged rather nicely and have become very popular indeed, hence their rarity. Brora is the one that became my initial target, as I had already tasted Port Ellen thanks to my girlfriend's vain fixation with her namesake. Then came the day that I had the opportunity to help host a fine and rare tasting, and top of the list was Brora - and I would not be disappointed.

Brora 30 Year Old
54.3% - Bottled 2010 - Distillery Release

Nose: Tobacco and chlorine intermingle first with light peat following. Caramel and treacle then take to the stage with phenol dancing in the background. Next raspberry and fruit compote enter stage left with an encore of nettle.
Palate: The smoky embers of a beach-side fire provides structure whilst there are layers of flavour including white pepper, roasted peaches held together with a slight acidity.
Finish: Soft and creamy with dry sherry wood and peach. The finish continues in waves, softness then fruit comfit recurring.
Overall: An enthusiast’s malt, complex and intriguing. Rare and collectable it may be, but this is a whisky for drinking. Now where are the dregs of that bottle?

Thursday, 11 August 2011

The Calm After The Storm - Glendronach 12 Year

It's been a surreal few days here in London with all the disorder, panic and mayhem. The night was full of the sound of more sirens than usual, the news coverage was feverish, and the politicians had to go back to school early. Of course the pertinent but predictable questions will now be asked. Why did this happen? (The answer isn't political apparently although surely the question is?) Could the police have done more? And what would the News of World have had to say about it? The news coverage was a juxtaposition of 'Broken Britain', I use that term loosely, and the 'Big Society' where people came together to rebuild communities. Twitter became a weapon of the rioters and a tool of the Cleanup Wombles. And now as things start to calm and the analysis sets in, it seems only fitting that we should have a whisky whilst we wait out the repetitious cawing of the press to finish as the heads start to roll.

The whisky I have chosen is one I always enjoy and always forget why I enjoy it. It is from the great Highland distillery of Glendronach. For me it is an armchair whisky. The kind you can sit back with and relax. It fills you up and warms you. Something a little calmer than the past few days.

Glendronach 12 Year Old
43% - Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso Cask matured
Nose: Autumn fruits is certainly the word here, dried apples and bananas follow closely behind with roasted peaches lending a gentle presence.
Palate: The fruity quality keeps coming again and again with a sweetness and a creamy mouthfeel.
Finish: Actual sherry here with trifle to boot. The finish is thick, creamy and long, the reason why I love this whisky so much.
Overall: The nose and flavour are all top standard here, but it is the finish that makes me drop my jaw in awe. Please try the 12 year or any of their other bottlings, all are worth a dram!

(And for your entertainment...

Monday, 8 August 2011

Casks Down Under - Sullivan’s Cove

I stare into the massive pair of eyes as I slowly chew on my bacon. This is the weirdest breakfast I have ever had. I lean back to take in the equally massive pair of fluffy ears and swallow. A very weird breakfast indeed. There is nothing more surreal than watching koalas laze about while you're munching on your sausage, bacon and eggs. What my studying of these eucalyptus-masticating beasts over breakfast led me to realise was that they are fairly pointless animals. They barely move and if they do it’s only a couple of feet to a branch of fresh leaves, and that's their lot in life. Move, eat, sleep... On reflection there's something quite human about that. Existential musings aside, if there was one thing I needed to ease me into a day of looking at bizarre mammals with pouches, bizarre mammals with beaks and bizarre mammals that lay eggs, it was a whisky. But I was a long way from home and a long way from a good Scotch. It is only now with hindsight that I should have realised that the Aussies, in all their enthusiasm for wine and beer, would clearly make whisky. It would be a lot longer after this trip that I would finally get my hands on some Australian whisky but finally, I did. The whisky I managed to procure comes from that island off Australia’s south coast that is home to those destructive little devils immortalised in the cartoon Taz. The whisky was Sullivan’s Cove double cask; a combination of both bourbon and port casks and the resulting whisky is like nothing I’ve tried before.

Sullivan’s Cove Double Cask
40% - No Age Statement - Tasmanian Distillery – Port and Bourbon Matured
Nose: Wood and batter announce themselves first followed by pepper and hazel and cashew nuts, with a faint aroma of botanical gardens.
Palate: Creamy with a high presence of wood.
Finish: The batter returns with fresh yeast.
Overall: Clearly a young whisky. There is something about it that shows promise, although some tweaking may be necessary to bring out its full potential. I’d like to try some of their other releases and maybe some other Australian whiskies if only to see if there is a general style. There is however something there, I just wish I could put my finger on it. One's thing is for certain I think the angel's share has become the koala's!

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The Glen Ord 25 - Look Sharpe

Big rock anthems, scaling mountains, pepperoni pizza and any time Sean Bean hits someone in a movie, are moments in my life where I regress to being a thirteen year old and want to scream, ‘Hell Yeah!’ I imagine it’s the same feeling stockbroker’s get when they hit the big one, or what base jumpers have plummeting towards oblivion, or what politicians had when they finally got one over News International. It is that welling up of adrenaline in the chest and the perhaps not profound realisation that life should always be dominated with this ‘Hell Yeah’ sensation, it drives people to think, to hell with the desk job, buy a campervan and ‘experience’ the world.

The Bean in 'Sharpe'
The Glen Ord 25 year old gives me this same feeling. It is a massive cask-strength whisky that screams ‘hell yeah!’ it is unpretentious in it’s size and grandeur. It overwhelms the sinuses, it Rugby tackles the tongue and it roars down the oesophagus like a dragon after a thieving hobbit. I wouldn’t describe it as a clever whisky; indeed I wouldn’t describe rock anthems or pepperoni pizza as being a thinking person’s cup of tea. However, the Glen Ord 25 overpowers silly thoughts of subtlety, complexity and elegance, and sometimes that isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes we need to spontaneously get up rip off our shirts and air guitar like there’s no tomorrow or anybody watching. Sometimes we need a whisky that keeps us grounded and reminds us what a whisky should be - big, strong and fun - kind of like Sean Bean. Man crushes aside this is a whisky to cap off a meaty barbeque, when the beers have led conversation to less refined topics and you want to finish on a rush. Slainte!

Glen Ord 25 Year Old
58.3% - Bottled 2004
Nose: Intense thanks to the high ABV, orange peel and ginger stomp around with rum butter and nutmeg calling from the sidelines. Candle tallow whips up a smoky fug that gives the Ord a more rounded character.
Palate: Orange and chewy with a good malty kick of power.
Finish: Long, stomach warming, throat burning and deeply satisfying.
Overall: Incredible body, positively obese. Rip-roaringly good.

Friday, 5 August 2011

A Lesson in Age - Bunnahabhain 31 Year

There is something decidedly aspirational about age. When I ran around the playground on my first day of school I thought that the 11 year olds in the final year looked positively glorious in their twilight years. Wisdom and experience seem to exude from them like a halo of knowledge. They appeared to sweat a canny ability to interpret the world with an oracle-like divinity. When I reached senior school the 16 year olds became my idols. I was only eleven, what could I understand of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. These acne scarred veterans of the GCSE campaign were prophets of the word on the street, of that mystical 'cool'. I turned sixteen then eighteen and so on always aspiring to be older, always seeing the greener grass on the other side. Until I realised with age comes more worry and uncertainty, so I thought to hell with it, I'm happy as I am. However this pursuit of age is as applicable to whisky as it is to life. The debate roars on the quality of aged whisky. Are we chasing the flavour or the heritage? In a number of blind tastings I have damned many highly aged whiskies to my shock and horror. So maybe things don't improve with age as much as I'd like? I have however found one whisky that I think benefits enormously from long ageing, not that I think younger expressions are poor by any means, and that is the Bunnahabhain.

Bunnahabhain 31 Year Old
47.9% - Bottled by Single & Single - Sherry Cask
Nose: Rich orange citrus opens the symphony with sweet vanilla harmonising perfectly. Light brown sugar arrives at the chorus with a touch of dry Somerset cider.
Palate: Full is the word here, that 47.9% ABV really gives this aged whisky the force it requires to drive through a brass section of dried fruits.
Finish: The finish is long with a cadence of Demerara sugar and treacle that play out for hours.
Overall: A bloody brilliant whisky. Layers of flavour and complexity coupled with a lesson in balance, structure and length. In a word - perfect.

Get it here.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Less is More? Ardbeg Blasda

I’ve been known to have a certain scepticism of the phrase ‘less is more’. It seems somewhat contradictory, an oxymoron of epic proportions. How can less of something good be better than a larger serving? I know it’s somewhat greedy and selfishly gluttonous of me to be drawn towards bigger rather than smaller portions. Perhaps, I should blame the consumerist nature of the Western world for my egotistical cravings for the extra and the additional. Maybe, I should adopt the more chaste life of a hermit, immersing myself in meditation and a strict diet of grubs and carrot juice? Of course, this being a whisky blog, it took a whisky to show me the way.

This whisky was the Ardbeg Blasda. Having been brought up drinking big smoky whiskies from a moderately young age courtesy of my dad. I’ve always had trouble with most Speyside and Lowland whiskies. So when I read that the Blasda was a less peated Ardbeg (only 8ppm) I was nervous. Like most whisky fanatics I have enormous respect for all of Ardbeg’s output, but the idea of a lighter dusting of peat made me a little nervous, and if I’m honest, a little ill. However, after getting my hands on a bottle I was taught a very important lesson. Less can be more. No longer would I be piling my plate to the ceiling at buffets, no longer would I be cranking my stereo up to eleven and no longer would I judge the quality of a whisky on it’s ppm value alone. For I had been shown the way.

Ardbeg Blasda
40% - No Age Statement
Nose: Apple arrives first with a robust organic smell of bark and floral heather to match. Then comes the cherry lending another fruity dimension to an already full aroma. Finally chocolate éclairs pull up to have a sweet affair with the Blasda’s, finely balanced, lightly peated quality.
Palate: Willow smoke is instantly present with subtle fruits and vanilla. A herbal presence works with the fruit to create a flavour reminiscent of Refresher sweets.
Finish: Vanilla concludes this dram, as it slips calmly down, and slowly falls asleep.
Overall: A real lesson in the virtues of lightly peating a whisky. The Blasda is beautifully pale in colour but retains so much flavour. Ardbeg, as ever, have hit the spot.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

The F-Word - Longrow C.V and Springbank 15 Years

In starting a new blog I felt that I should refrain from using the word 'favourite' and all its connotations of single-mindedness and rejection of the new and exciting. So in keeping with Obama's spirit of change, I will attempt to avoid using the f-word. However I find with whisky, as in music records, I have drams that become short time favourites. The whiskies that you discover then tell everyone who is interested, everyone who isn't and anyone packed uncomfortably close to you on the tube about.

I have a couple currently that I have been using unreasonable force to get people drinking. These whiskies hail from a distilling region, that for reasons I cannot fathom, I've never really explored. This region, and I apologise for my ignorance, is that of Campbeltown, on that long thin peninsula off the West coast of Scotland. Fortunately, I've had plenty of opportunity recently to try the Campbeltown malts. Many have stood out but there are two that I think are the most drinkable; in a: 'I want to relax with a whisky, I may finish the bottle I may not, but by God I won't be disturbed. For these whiskies are sublime' kind of way. These two are the Longrow C.V. and the Springbank 15 year old. I was lucky enough to do a vertical tasting of the smoky Longrow malts and I loved them all, and you can expect complete tasting notes for all of them soon. However it was the C.V. that really turned my head therefore gets first dibs. With the Springbank I thought it had near perfect balance and became an instant dram to canvas to the unwitting around me. Here's what I thought:

Longrow C.V
46% - No Age Statement - Bottled by Springbank
Nose: Salt and a leathery smokyness come to the fore in a maritime combination I like to describe as a Harbourmaster's Jacket.
Palate: Light and sweet, a great contrast to the nose.
Finish: That salty smokiness returns from the nose providing a deeply satisfying ending.
Overall: I love the entire range of Longrow but the C.V. stands out as it combines a great quality whisky with fantastic value.

Springbank 15 years old
Nose: Grape and rhubarb dominate the nose in unison, with light smoke providing backbone and structure.
Palate: The grape returns with a dry and forgiving mouthfeel.
Finish: A long, silken, returning finish begging you to have another!
Overall: Delicious and unobtrusive with a balance of flavour and weight that all whiskies should aspire to, a region defining malt.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Down the rabbit hole... Orangerie

I’ve had some weird meals in my time, including, and this is by no means an exhaustive list: undercooked student fare, ostrich, camel, crocodile, by way of fire ants, scorpions and pig’s small intestine. However a trip to the Sanderson Hotel provided another meal to my gag inducing collection. For a modest £25, I got to sample their bizarre Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea, which would seem to be inspired by Mr Heston Blumenthal for its ingenuity and kaleidoscopic weirdness. Starting on ice cream lollies with popping candy surprise, I sipped at the ‘Drink Me’ bottle, which changes flavour from apple pie, to lemon curd to toffee. I had a lollypop of which one side was cold the other hot, and I observed a spectacular Jasmine tea that looked like an alien sea plant rather than tea. So I thought, has there ever been a whisky that has ever truly shocked me. Then one burst into my mind like a hare with a stopwatch out of a hole to Wonderland.

40% - No Age Statement - Compass Box
Nose: Mulled oranges, tangerine and Satsuma, with a sweet liqueur essence.
Palate: Dry! On the nose I was expecting a sweet orange juice whisky liqueur. But what I got was a light whisky flavoured like orange peel and spice.
Finish: Almost tannic, puckering the mouth, with the orange becoming a fine mist.
Overall: Absolutely surprising. The syrupy sweetness associated with whisky liqueurs was nowhere to be found. An enjoyable drink but weird, very weird!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Out with the old, in with the new? Glenfarclas 1961 Family Cask and Great King Street: Artist’s Blend

My monoprint of my
ever suffering girlfriend.
Last weekend I braved the caterpillar slow trawl along the Southbank in the Thameside heat, dressed in shirt and tie, to experience the extravaganza that is the Vintage Show at the Royal Festival Hall; a hotpot of style, fashion and bad hair. After braving a queue for my determined girlfriend to get made up 1950s stylee (we managed two hours before she gave up), we experienced a myriad of decades under one roof. From 40s Lindy Hop to a 80s warehouse rave with dry ice and strobe lighting in ecstatic abundance. From Emin inspired monoprinting to ration-era upcycling. However amongst this fashion show come jumble sale, ‘we’re in a recession lets turn this jacket into a bag’ excitement, I began to question myself. Is there too much concentration on the retro, the old school and the past, and does this apply to whisky?

We all find comfort in the certainty of the past and revel in nostalgia. That’s what makes old whisky great. It isn’t just the depth of flavour that a 30, 40 year whisky can have, it’s the knowledge that it has sat slowly minding its own business whilst the world has changed and rocketed about it. One such whisky I had the pleasure of tasting, courtesy of the ever entertaining and interesting George Grant of Glenfarclas, is the 1961 Glenfarclas Family Cask. Bottled in 2010 this 49 year old whisky was immense, and all the better for knowing it had seen out the Cold War, the Winter of Discontent and 90s breakdown rap. Here’s what I thought:

Glenfarclas 1961 Family Cask:
46% - Bottled 2010
Nose: Rich dried fruit notes balanced with the presence of sherry wood with overtones of varnish and a cherry/oak hybrid.
Palate: Full and oaky, but perhaps a tad tired from the time spent in the barrel.
Finish: Long with that classic sherry presence emerging again, but also a little shorter than I expected for such an aged whisky.
Overall: Despite being ever so slightly over oaked, this is an incredible whisky. Big in flavour, beautiful mahogany in colour and steeped in history, this is a whisky that deserves respect for its age alone if not for it massive punchy flavour.

However. This is not to say that there isn’t too much emphasis placed on highly aged whisky, and too much on the old and pure. Compass Box have released their inaugural blend of their new Artisan Range: Great King Street, named after the location of their Edinburgh premises. It aims to provide something that will attract new people to whisky and having tried it I can see why.

Great King Street: Artist’s Blend:
43% - No Age Statement - Bottled by Compass Box
Nose: Banana and marshmallows create a soft aroma that is borne upwards with a citric twang of lemon that insures that this whisky has plenty to offer.
Palate: Very light with bananas doused in single cream with a touch of lemon zest.
Finish: Unsurprisingly with its soft attributes and lightness on the tongue it has a fairly short but not abrupt finish but in no way is this a criticism.
Overall: Light remaining the word here, this is a whisky that has potential to entice new people into the haven of whiskydom, but regardless of this I may still get a bottle as it has something pleasantly enjoyable about it that is unpretentious and new. A whisky that looks forward can only be a good thing for fans of the spirit, and Compass Box, as always, are blazing a trail for us all to follow.