Thursday, 29 September 2011

Rediscovering The Classics: Oban 14 Year Old

I had a minor revelation the other day. In my eternal quest to sample as many different whiskies that I possibly can I have forgotten that some of the all time classics have their own charm that is often blown out of proportion by expensive marketing campaigns. The thing about these whiskies is that some of them are really rather good, it's just a case of working out which ones.

One such whisky is the West coast malt that is Oban. This is a whisky I had completely forgotten about but thanks to a piece of trivia imparted to me, I rediscovered it. So what is this little fact you ask me? The other week I was speaking to a friend of the graphic designer who created Oban's packaging, when he pointed out his friend had drawn a man walking a dog on top of the cliff in the background on the cardboard tube packaging. Yet when you look at the bottle label the dog is no where to be seen and the man is peering over the cliff trying to find him. It was this canine tragedy that opened my eyes to this coastal whisky again and I had to have some.

Oban 14 Year Old
Nose: Brine defines this seaside malt with cedar and mascerated fermenting berries following.
Palate: Light oily mouthfeel with a clean sweetness washing over the tongue.
Finish: That saline briny quality again with a vague fruitiness from a little sherry presence perhaps?
Overall: This dram has a light mouth coating aspect and is certainly an accessible whisky. It didn't have the complexity I really desired and didn't possess any panache. A stand-up whisky but nothing to get excited about.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Limited and Glorious: Hedonism Maximus

There is something charming about limited editions. They represent that which is low yield, excellent and desirable. Limited releases and editions offer a peek into an exclusive world inhabited by the privileged and fortunate. What I like about whisky is that limited editions and releases are not always priced excessively highly. Some like the Lagavulin 12 year old and the stunner that is Aberlour's A'bunadh are not only good value for money but thanks to being batch released not too difficult to source. Other bottlings such as the drinkable Snow Phoenix from Speyside distillers Glenfiddich was very limited but not overly expensive. This isn't to say all limited release whiskies are inexpensive and available or what would be the point? But whisky unlike many other luxury products is one where at any price bracket you can experience some exclusivity if you look hard enough.

The joy of limited editions is knowing that you are a member of a clique who have tried the whisky and that in years to come the whisky will be mostly extinct. The icing on the cake is that limited editions are often of a higher quality, although this is arguable. Recently, I got to try a limited release I thought I had missed the chance to try. Better still I had only just become re-acquainted with its standard release brother the Compass Box Hedonism. The whisky I was lucky enough to be offered was the limited release Hedonism Maximus. A blended grain whisky of superb quality and old age (I was told minimum of 37 years). Here is what I thought of both the standard and the limited release:

43% - Blended Grain Whisky - Bottled by Compass Box
Nose: Coconut and a slight almondy character complimented with vanilla and a medicinality.
Palate: Light but very rich with toffee and syrupy vanilla sweetness.
Finish: Fairly hot with a clear spiciness.
Overall: An example in how grain whisky can excel, perfect dessert whisky or digestif.

Hedonism Maximus
46% - 37 Year Old - Blended Grain Whisky - Bottled by Compass Box
Nose: Roses arrive first tailed by a sweet sugary syrup with raspberry colis.
Palate: Light with that sweet richness of the standard release enhanced with summer fruits cutting through the swirling sweetness.
Finish: Intense vanilla holding its own for a good time to come.
Overall: I really enjoy the standard release Hedonism, but the Maximus leaps ahead with its rose, raspberry and summer fruits combination that lend it a complexity that makes this syrupy dram stand out from its peers.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Tonight's blog is a little different. For a change I'm going to review a beer. The beer in question hails from my homeland in the West Midlands - Shropshire. It is a county that easily slips into obscurity despite its rich history of war with the Welsh and its few prestigious alumni including war poet Wilfred Owen, evolutionary scientist Charles Darwin and Peep Show writer Jesse Armstrong. Despite all of this and its beautiful scenery, no-one really knows all that much about it. This is a shame as it is from this rural province that my favourite beer is brewed. The beer in question is the Station Bitter from the Stonehouse Brewery that is located outside the Marches market town of Oswestry. I am fully aware that I am a little biased when it comes to promoting this ale. It is only readily available locally and this causes me great pain as I sit here in London, typing this. I associate this beer with country pubs, banter and most of all a land where a pint costs less that a fiver. Fanatical upselling aside this beer has won multiple awards including the SIBA Wales & West 2011 silver award for Standard Bitter and bronze for Bottled Beer. Enough nostalgia - here's my review:

Copyright: Mike-in-the-Pub
Station Bitter
3.9% - Brewed at Stonehouse Brewery - Malt & Hops (unspecified)
Appearance: Amber coloured with gently receding head.
Nose: Leathery malt provides undertones of nuts followed by green fruit notably apples and pear with a slight raspberry quality. Perhaps a little meaty gravy on closer inspection.
Palate: Light and creamy yet full-bodied with an acidic edge creating a crisp bitterness amidst its fruity flavours.
Finish: Soft, rich and fruity.
Overall: Excellent balance between malt and hops. This is a bitter for drinking, maybe not as complex as some but great beer garden fare. Occasional beer reviews to follow in the future.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Lesson Learnt: Nikka All Malt

A quick lesson today: Don't judge a book by its cover. For months I have avoided Nikka's All Malt with a vengeance. The combination of plain packaging, low price and uninspiring name repulsed me, and then of course I tried it. No surprise here; it was actually very good. I'm still getting to grips with how it is made but as far as I understand it, it is made entirely of blended malt whisky from Yoichi and Miyagikyo except some has been distilled in a Coffey still (traditionally used for grain whisky) rather than the classic pot still. However it is made it is highly enjoyable and is a point-and-case example of why a whisky shouldn't be judged by it name, price or packaging.

All Malt
40% - 100% malt/blend - Bottled by Nikka
Nose: Mounds of toffee and fudge on top of a cinnamon bun with soft spices dusting this sugary mess.
Palate: Vanilla and mocha are imminently available but strawberry ice lolly commands the stage with highlights of fromage frais.
Finish: Espresso closes this full-flavoured dram with Demerara sugar lingering on.
Overall: I was very surprised by how delicious this whisky was. Lots of clearly defined flavours packed into one whisky. A bargain!

Friday, 23 September 2011

The PC8 - The Gorgonzola of the Whisky World

Sometimes I say, think, raise attention to, something only I can see. No matter how much I insist and argue other people adamantly disagree with me and tell me I am uttering utter heresy for even daring to make such observations. I like to think I am a twenty-first century Galileo but in truth I am most likely just misguided. However it is very difficult to let such things go because they always stay imprisoned in my head waiting for somebody else to realise the truth behind my revelations.

Recently I ran a peated whisky tasting and I concluded the night with the peat troll that is Bruichladdich's PC8. I made a claim that aside from the intense peatreek there was a very real stink of cheese about it. This resulted in sneers and jibes as my tasting notes were ridiculed and thrown to the lions. I should say my audience were actually very pleasant and enthusiastic and were wholly polite in their calm and measured destruction of my final tasting note. Yet no matter how much I insisted no-one agreed with me. Maybe I should treat this as a lesson and learn to understand my nose can be wrong, or... I could stubbornly put my notes up here.

Port Charlotte PC8
60.5% - 8 Years Old - Bottled by Bruichladdich
Nose: Reams of thick peat rising like a noxious fug off the surface of the whisky with gargantuan notes of gorgonzola and smoked cheddar creating an earthy cheesy quality with later notes of sawdust.
Palate: Thick peat again followed by burnt sugar and caramel lending this dram a sweet undertone.
Finish: Peaty with a chemical solution of chlorine and salt. Shorter than I expected but powerful.
Overall: Well I get cheese even if no-one else does. This is truly a peat-ridden whisky to satisfy even the most hardcore of peatfreaks. My only criticisms would be the finish could have endured longer and there was an overall lack of complexity. Still, smoked cheese anyone?

Thursday, 22 September 2011

The Whisky Wire's Compass Box Twasting

A little while back I received a message from Steve Rush of The Whisky Wire asking if I would be at all interested in participating in a Twitter tasting or more concisely put, a ‘Twasting’. For me this was a no-brainer. All the more so because the whiskies that would be tantalizing our taste-buds would be the ever excellent Compass Box whiskies that I have enthused about before. I eagerly replied to accept my invitation and a few weeks later I received my three precious samples. The first, Compass Boxes new offering - the Great King Street Artist’s Blend, then the stylistic Spice Tree and finally the effervescent Peat Monster. I stored them away carefully for their grand opening on Wednesday 21st September. On Wednesday evening a minor disaster struck. My girlfriend’s laptop that I had been borrowing spectacularly crashed and left me without the internet access I required to participate. Thankfully not deterred I found a solution. With cunning, I strapped two Blackberry’s together, each with Twitter access and with these and my samples I was ready to roll. On one screen I had a feed running for the evening’s hashtag: #CBtwasting, and on the other my own live feed that I could update. As 8pm approached Steve began the countdown, I had my drams poured and my fingers itching to type. Then the clock struck eight and the tweets began to roll. At first I was worried that the sheer number of tweets would cause confusion and make it difficult to keep up, but my fears were quickly put to rest. It became a great game of tasting, writing a note, commenting on fellow Twasters’ own notes and retweeting everything I agreed with. The hour and a half it took passed quickly. Each whisky receiving what seemed short at the time thanks to my immersion in the Twitterverse approximately thirty minutes. So what can I say about them? Well, firstly it was hard to choose a favourite. I am a huge fan of all three, the GKS for me is an excellent aperitif whisky, the history of the original Spice Tree being banned appeals to me greatly, and the Peat Monster is a fantastic smoky blended malt. The second thing I would say is that all of them demonstrate brilliantly the potential of blended whisky. I would happily exchange a Compass Box offering for a single malt whisky any day, here’s to hoping other blenders catch the zeitgeist. As my fingers are still tired from bashing Blackberry buttons let’s jump to my notes, and do keep an eye on The Whisky Wire for any future events he runs, I can promise fun and dram related shenanigans will make for a very fun evening.

Great King Street Artist’s Blend
43% - No Age Statement – Blended Whisky
Nose: For me marshmallows and banana dominate or foam banana as was kindly suggested to me during the Twasting. I also got lemon and syrupy fruit.
Palate: Quite light but with substantial mouth-feel, bananas and cream and citrus fruits.
Finish: Butter icing lasting a surprisingly long time.
Overall: As mentioned a great aperitif and a great go to whisky if you want to settle back and relax with a dram.

Spice Tree
46% - No Age Statement – Blended Malt
Nose: Apples and mulling spices in a mulled cider kind of style with icing sugar on a second sniff.
Palate: SPICE! Is the active word here: Cardamon, cloves, cinnamon, cumin with a vanilla sweetness lurking behind.
Finish: Chewy and spicy clinging on for a long while after. Utterly satisfying.
Overall: Spice and sweetness complimenting each other perfectly, does what it says on the tin.
Peat Monster
46% - No Age Statement – Blended Malt
Nose: Warm embers, soft seaweed notes, gammon and grassy ashes.
Palate: A meaty maritime palate thanks to the presence of Laphroaig. Raspberry and tropical fruits in amidst a creamy quality swiftly follow.
Finish: Salty with a seaweed character but not at all overpowering, allowing the flavours to hold and intermingle pleasantly.
Overall: Excellent, smoky whisky, not harsh or abrupt a whisky to savour and a suitable end to my first Twasting!

Thanks to Steve at The Whisky Wire, Compass Box and all involved for a fantastic evening. See my 'blogs I like' page to follow Steve.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

One Of A Kind... The Glendronach Single Casks 1994

I love the unique and the different. I like things that are one-of-a-kind that don't run with the pack. I think this comes from an inward fear of being "normal"; the fact that most of our lives follow a fairly standard pattern terrifies me. Therefore anything that breaks this mass-produced lineage is appealing to me. One of the reasons whisky appealed to me when I was younger (aside from its fearsome flavour) was that it wasn't the poison of the masses. I think most stuff that says something different is worth a listen, and I can say my film, television, music and book tastes have been much improved as a result.

This naturally brings me back to whisky. The interesting and unique is a fairly common occurrence in the whisky world. Every single whisky claims to be different from the next. Many distilleries claim to be the 'oldest' (usually suffixed with a minor difference e.g. In relevent region) or the the 'only' (usually suffixed with a minor difference e.g. Family run). So being different isn't something as unusual in the world of whisky. However there is one aspect of whisky that will always be interesting beyond marketing mirages, and that is the phenomena of single cask whiskies. Undeniably every single cask imparts a slightly different flavour on the whisky to the next cask, hence why standard releases tend to be a blend of multiple casks. But when you sample a single cask you know you are trying something unique. There is one distillery, that I have written of before that does a particularly fine selection of single cask whiskies, and that is Glendronach. Today's review is a comparison of two single cask Glendronach's distilled in 1994 and their differences are striking.

Glendronach 1994
58.5% - 14 Year Old - Oloroso Puncheon - Bottled 2009
Nose: Demerra sugar, toffee, butterscotch dominate, but becomes more herbal with water added.
Palate: Creamy with mounds of milk chocolate and viscous stewed fruit in particular raspberry and strawberry in a red fruit compote.
Finish: Sherry wood, more chocolate and roast peaces becoming fresh peaches with water.
Overall: Punchy with a long finish, rich and oily but with a slight off-woody character when left in the glass too long.

Glendronach 1994
60.1% - 17 Year Old - Oloroso Butt - Bottled 2011
Nose: Much softer than the 14 year, with fudge over toffee and a gentle kiwi character plays with orange blossom and a striking aroma of curry spice and notes of saffron with water.
Palate: Spicy, chocolate orange and Christmas pudding rolling around in brandy sauce.
Finish: Curry spice returns; notably garam massala, tumeric and chili toward the end of this long complex finish.
Overall: I preferred this 17 year to the 14 year mainly for its lack of off-wood notes and abundance of curry spice and chocolate. A very well made whisky showcasing what Glendronach do best. I should also mention each whisky was very different in colour. The 14 year was golden whereas the 17 was a rich brown. Food for thought there... Hopefully more casks to follow!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Lake Placid... The Ardbeg Alligator

"Row row row your boat gently down the stream, if you see an Islay-gator don't forget to scream. Arghh!"

This is how I remember the nursery rhyme going... I think. Today's review has no unnecessary story precluding the stuff about the whisky. The Alligator is a story in itself. The basic background information you need to know is that Ardbeg charred ex-Bourbon casks to the maximum, leaving an alligator skin-like effect on the inside of the barrels and the result is a massive, hold that thought... MASSIVE whisky. To put that into context; aside from my good self I have seen two other people sample the Alligator, all three of us took a sip and went "Oh!?" Followed swiftly by, "Arghh!" as the finish took hold. The Alligator is aptly named: The nose is massive and meaty although softer than I expected leading me into a false sense of security, the palate took me by surprise, then the finish pulled me under the surface to a dark demise.

For me the Alligator has a sentimental value. It is the first whisky I have waited anxiously for and it was reading blogs about it months ago that inspired me to begin the one you are reading currently. Needless to say I was excited to finally get hold of this snappy (pun intended) whisky. Besides my sentimentality I was also excited to battle this Alligator because if there is one thing I like about whisky it is experimentation, so to try a whisky from an experiment that aggressively chars casks was always going to be a winner for me. But enough of this tittle-tattle; the whisky... [cue Jaws theme tune]

Ardbeg Alligator
51.2% - No Age Statement
Nose: A marshmallow smokiness I associate with Ardbeg quickly muscled out of the way by pounds of smoked bacon. As the dram opens up vanilla, bubble gum and soft fruits emerge with a smell I associate with sandy beaches. Finally a charcoal element crowds in reminding us of this reptile's Islay heritage.
Palate: Very rich with a snap of lollipop fruitiness, creamy with with white chocolate mixed in. Throughout all of this peat lurks in the background, stalking its prey...
Finish: Arghh! This is where the Alligator keeps its teeth, massive chimneys of smoke, an earthy quality that crashes in waves and remains for a very very long time. I woke up 6 hours later still tasting peat smoke.
Overall: A whisky to dwarf all whiskies. I don't remember the Supernova being this punchy, although like the Supernova the Alligator has perfect balance and an incredibly long finish. A big meaty barbecue of a dram. Now to watch some Crocodile Dundee!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Youth has no age: Kilkerran Release 3

The new and exciting is a phrase that offers more hype and hyperbole than a story about Katie Price's silicon-to-flesh ratio in the, ever meaningful tabloid, the Sun. It is easy to jump on a bandwagon of exuberant journalism and Internet ecstasy whenever anything new is unleashed upon a world chomping at the bit for something fresher than yesterday's news to derive entertainment and short-term satisfaction from. The consequence is a world motivated by the imminent and short-term. Conversely, the backlash is the cynicism and borderline eroticism of the past. Too often are the good old days referenced, when men were men, women were women and horses were cars. We tend to find comfort in the past and excitement in the future, and for me this leads to an aggravating paradox. I love the idea of rolling fields and old man's pubs but I simultaneously love busy cities and high concept bars.

In the whisky world it is a dilemma I face virtually daily. On the one hand I have ancient whiskies often from distilleries long gone and on the other I have a host of new distilleries and distilling practices offering a step into the future. The balance is hard to maintain, I've had my fair share of over-aged drudge and I've had enough "experimental" drams to turn me into a new-age Michael Jackson (pop-star not critic). So it gives me great pleasure when I find something new that reflects what has gone before. This dram is the latest release from Glengyle, the Kilkerran Release 3. A young whisky that offers something fresh and rewarding with flashbacks to a regional style - the new and old mashed perfectly together.

Kilkerran Release 3
46% - No Age Statement - Bottled at Glengyle
Nose: Gorse puncturing a heathery landscape. Hot cross buns, cardemon and a particular honeyed sweetness follow with salty popcorn and seafood keeping pace behind. Finally gooseberries provide a refreshing vibrancy to a packed nose.
Palate: Spicy, smooth, silky, creamy. A buttery sweetness coats the mouth lightly begging for the next sip.
Finish: A biscuity finish with a coastal quality. A touch of oak is present that doesn't appeal to me greatly but then I never take to oak easilly.
Overall: Spot on, a saltiness and lightness brings me back to the regional style, but its outdoorsy vibrancy keeps me intrigued. A whisky for drinking readily.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Proof reading: Springbank 100 and Glenfarclas 105 Proof

My source of true happiness
I am someone who enjoys a certain robust-ness (if I can coin the word) about life. I've always trekked, climbed and crawled through the Great Outdoors, I like hearty rustic meals and I drink whisky (cue nodding approval). Of course, this is not to say I don't enjoy the finer things in life, like fine cuisine; wines of the Loire valley; and newsnight, but nothing brings me home like rain; bangers and mash; and a glass of cask-strength whisky. The immediate assumption that can and maybe should be made is that I am over-compensating. A scrawny lad inclined towards trivia and unable to drive testosterone enhancing cars needs something to bolster his faltering masculinity. Hanging from ropes and swigging Scotch might seem like a pathetic attempt at a fetish lifestyle, but it is my hook. The thing I hang my somewhat bookish and overly-curious lifestyle on. The thing is if you tell someone over a massive pub lunch that you throw your life to the hands of Fate as a hobby whilst simultaneously chucking back Scotch like the tomorrow you implore you will never experience you can just about compensate for a failure to understand what Manchester United is.

The problem with this mindset is that I become more and more inclined to do stupid things for the sake of respect from men who can place a spherical object at the back of a net, whilst drinking stronger and stronger whisky whenever possible to show off my liver's ab muscles. The day when I finally combine the two could be quite interesting. So... what is it about cask-strength whiskies that appeal so much aside from their testosterone enhancing properties? Well for me they add weight to a whisky, if you drink a cask strength whisky you tend to know about it. The flavour hammers you like a mallet made of lead. Better still that higher ABV pulls the flavour through with a rabid intensity. But I think what is most appealing is attempting to identify flavours through a haze of spirit. Today's review is the Springbank 100 proof and the Glenfarclas 105 proof. Two 10 year old cask strength whiskies offering very different things. Now pass the toad-in-the-hole and that kayak.

Springbank 100 Proof
57% - 10 Years Old
Nose: Butterscotch and marzipan accompany the rhubarb and grape I get from all Springbank whiskies, with a dash of dried apricot and a whiff of tobacco to finish.
Palate: Dried apricots, peat and spice layer on top of burnt toffee notes.
Finish: Robust and going down fighting, a hot mix of toffee and smoked chili.
Overall: This whisky tastes like Springbank invaded. Every thing I could want from Springbank with a fierce heat to match. Now I just need to get some of the 12 year cask strength...

Glenfarclas 105 Proof
60% - 10 Year Old
Nose: Elderflower and caramel give way to chocolate raison and then to fruit bowl notes with an organic freshness present throughout.
Palate: Very alcoholic, honey and malt with a clear sherry presence, takes to water very well.
Finish: A blend of sherry and mead, becoming silky when water is added bringing out lemony notes.
Overall: Big, fresh and fruity, I think this high ABC beast actually benefits from plenty of water, does my manhood hang in the balance because of this dastardly confession?

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Tangoed... Four Roses Single Barrel

I have long been searching for orange things from the United States of America aside from Sunny Delight, the Hoff's face and the OC. It has taken me many years and now I have found it. The orange zest notes I get from rye whiskey are the way forward. As I have previously mentioned I struggle with American whiskey. Not because I think it is anyway bad but purely because the flavour disagrees with me in quantities larger than half a glass. So when I discovered rye whiskey I was very pleased indeed. Rye whiskey has a flavour I enjoy very much and I have our cross-Atlantic cousins to thank. In my quest to try more and more of these whiskies I have had to rely on samples kindly donated to me from fellow whisky fans. There was one whiskey that I was very curious to try and that was the Four Roses, then last Saturday the whiskey presented itself to me in a small sample bottle, and here are my thoughts:

Four Roses Single Barrel
50% - No Age Statement - Kentucky Bourbon
Nose: A tango of satsuma and tangerine, orange zest and those classic rye notes coming through.
Palate: Cumin, fresh squeezed orange juice, nice and creamy.
Finish: Orange cream liqueur, sweet and light.
Overall: A fantastic rye whiskey showing me the way forward, now to get my hands on some more Four Roses bottlings!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

A dram to please all drammers... Highland Park and Hakushu 12 Year Old

Well, it was going to happen eventually. A review of a Highland Park. For me Highland Park is a masterclass in whisky making. They hit the all the right places virtually all the time. The Highland Park 12 year old is an incredibly accessible dram, it gives you a bit of everything but not so much as to spoil other whiskies for you. It has been described as the 'all-rounder' whisky and with good reason. It isn't too smoky, too fruity, too sweet, too strong, too weak - it is simply delicious. If I wanted to recommend a whisky that wouldn't blinker the subject's future whisky taste it would be the Highland Park, it defines good whisky but doesn't boast.

So with all that in mind, there must be other whiskies that do that. The MacAllan 18 year old is often tooted as a great, although for me it states the minimum a whisky should be rather than the maximum. I think the Dalwhinnie 15 year old is a fantastic introductory whisky for those with a more cautious palate. Or there is my Dad's approach to whisky, "This is Laphroaig, drink it 'til you like it." I think this explains my eternal struggle with Speyside and ease with the peat smoke. So, there is one whisky that for me hits all the right notes albeit differently from the Highland Park 12 and that is from the other side of the world. This whisky, and I believe this is my first Japanese review, is the Hakushu 12 year old. Despite tasting very different to the Highland Park this co-12 year old demonstrates exactly how whisky should taste. It may not be an eye-opener but it tastes like whisky should, great and with structure. Now here's the comparison:

Highland Park 12 Year Old
Nose: Honey and pear waltz in together through a trial of light smoke, onto a grassy dance floor edged with heather.
Palate: A silky mix of stewed pears, smoke and ripe fruits with a pleasing sweetness.
Finish: Banana, and that recurring smoke and Autumnal breeze with a hint of spice.
Overall: As I have already said, everything but none too much, an accessible whisky you don't have to be ashamed of. Recommend at will!

Hakushu 12 Year Old
Nose: Initially floral with sawdust from a pine workshop arriving next, followed by sticky toffee and citrus undertones.
Palate: Smooth and dominated by toffee, with other confectionary adding bulk to this full-flavoured whisky.
Finish: Marmalade at first but becoming creamier towards the finish, also fairly punchy.
Overall: A 12 year old whisky standing triumphant; strong with full mouth-filling flavours. An execution in whisky making and perfect structure.

Monday, 5 September 2011

What Women REALLY Want... Inverleven 1991 (pt.2)

After reading my blog post yesterday, my girlfriend Ellen has written a retaliation...

Drinking wine in a box on moving day
I have always enjoyed the company of blokes. I am proud to call myself a tomboy, and am forever suspicious of girls that look like they might be eyeing up my position as token female in the friendship group. So living with me had to be a dream come true didn’t it? After months of anticipation, moving day came, and Angus and I filled our tiny flat with boxes, and our heads with ideas for an effortlessly cool ‘professional couples pad’. As the weeks went on, it started to happen. I was turning into a woman, or more specifically – my mother. The honeymoon period came to an abrupt halt as piles of dirty boxers began to line the floor like an obscure carpet, the washing up piled out of the sink and my borderline OCD love of neatness was bombarded with clutter and cluelessness. So this is what it’s like to be a man?

Milking my girly-
ness with a rose on
Suddenly my need to buy dresses and do-up my hair become more important than I ever dreamed. We’re not students anymore! I scream at my ever-suffering boyfriend who is avoiding a day of cleaning whilst simultaneously trying to pick off the nail varnish I forced upon him the night before. Almost all of our hard-earned money is going on the rent and bills to this little abode, so it is important that it looks good at all times for potential guests. They will walk in and be blown away by our chic and sophisticated décor, our eclectic mix of literature on the bookshelves and the endless gadgets in our kitchen. Either that or they’ll be blown away by the impressive amount of empty bottles of alcohol yet to be recycled by my “better” half.

When I was a teenager I would have denied that I could ever turn into my mother, but now it’s started I see no reason for it to stop. Every woman loves a project, and Angus is mine. Perhaps the better I get at whisky tasting, the better he will get at cleaning and tidying. The uphill struggle starts here…

Inverleven 1991
40% - Bottled in 2010 by Gordon & MacPhail
Nose: Slightly dry and musty, like lingering hair spray. Apple and kiwi add a sweet, if slightly watered down quality.
Palate: Light and refreshing. Quite creamy and sweet – Campino’s spring to mind (the strawberry and cream sweets).
Finish: A tang that coats my mouth for some time, although the light fruitiness is lost early on. There is a slight bitterness that comes through at the end, which reminds me of a cup of tea with too little milk in. (Angus tells me this could be the tannins!)
Overall: A light and easy to drink whisky that could easily substitute a pot of tea for those days when all you need is a stiff drink. The Inverleven 1991 would be most welcome in a bubble bath with a good book, whilst I contemplate my next tactic in mission ‘tidy boyfriend’!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

What Women Want... Inverleven 1991

Living with girls is always a challenge, scratch that, it’s a war. That’s why I didn’t write: ‘Living with the fairer sex,’ because that implies there is balance. Those of us who abide with them will know that it is a battle hard fought. I have drawn my battle lines carefully: I have a one-cushion-on-the-sofa-only policy; I have set fire to two throws; and I have a blanket ban on pink bed sheets (no pun intended). However these trenches that I have dug have easily been flanked, I have had discussions on the technical differences between a cushion and a pillow, skirmishes on the distinction between a throw and a quilt and I have engaged in heavy artillery fire over the similarity of pink and magenta. Furthermore there is a calculated campaign of psychological warfare being launched simultaneously. I start to doubt myself, is the smell of beer, dust and trench foot really better than flowers and cleanliness? I tell myself it is yet I still put the loo seat down.

This is not to suggest that the war is lost, I have made noticeable gains. Notably at the Battle of Tea-Pot Pass (I refuse to drink tea, it all tastes like stale water, even if my girlfriend has two dozen boxes of so-called different flavours) and again victory at the Fall of the Vindaloo Embargo. Of course I have been to the UN over these human rights atrocities and over the others; such as being forced to put things back in their place at gunpoint (okay not gunpoint but her eye was twitching) and worst of all being coerced into the ‘girly day’ where my face was plastered with a clay-and-pumice mask, and my nails varnished.

So where does this leave me? With one final bastion. Whisky remains the source of my power it is with whisky that I can fortify my troops, while drinking it plan my advances and I have even got my girlfriend drinking it. Whisky represents the dugout from which I will launch my retaliation. Except for one problem, I have found a whisky that is taking on the characteristics of the bath bombs that fall about my position… and I like it.

Inverleven 1991
40% - Bottled in 2010 by Gordon & MacPhail
Nose: Heather and flowers combine with caramel and summer fruits to create a potpourri essence with further notes of biscuit and lavender and a touch of orange.
Palate: Intense parma violet sweets with a light mouth feel and just a smidgeon of sherry.
Finish: A burst of red fruits with that parma violet character coming through again and maybe a touch too short?
Overall: A very floral Lowland whisky from a closed distillery. The nose was fascinating reminding me of floral heather in the summertime and the flavour was immensely drinkable. If the battle of the sexes is leading us here then I am willing to admit defeat. I might even get Ellen to review this whisky tomorrow (although bizarrely she likes big smoky whiskies defying any notion of effeminate drams).


Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Subjectivity of Tasting… Glendronach Revival

Do you see faces or a glass?
Subjectivity is something that makes the world a more vivid and vibrant place. It is a force that drives discussion and debate and forms the context of the world we live in. A concept both flawed and personal, we wouldn't be human if we didn't form our own opinion of the world around us. For me, the most interesting facet of subjectivity is our perception of what we sense. Green Blob Theory is something that sums this up quite nicely: How do we know what you see as a dog and we both call a dog, doesn't look like a green blob if you looked through my eyes. Or put more simply, is what we both call orange the same colour?

I think this is very interesting and after some thought I came to the realisation that I could test this. Writing tasting notes for alcohol demonstrates it quite nicely. The reason for this is because what we taste in whisky and wine are esters and acids that form the flavour profile. For example, if you taste lemon in a dram then it is probably the citric acid content of the drink that is giving you that flavour. Of course tasting high alcohol beverages isn't as clean cut as that. There are so many chemicals knocking around in a glass of whisky that it is quite difficult to differentiate between them. This is the reason why tasting notes can differ so much. Some flavours are obvious; an Ardbeg tastes smoky to everyone, except those with the most warped palates, because of its high phenol content. So in essence, tasting notes become buzzwords that remind us of a particular flavour. Some aren't particularly pleasant, cat's piss is a common one for some sauvignon blancs, and it isn't even a critical tasting note. Conventions do occur, this is why you'll see similarities across tasting notes until you get occasions such as a conversation I had recently when one person got a complex leathery quality and the other (me) got car tyre.

So back to my test…

On hearing that the irrepressible Robert Manning who judged my tasting competition a few blogs back (see here), had tried the Glendronach 15 year old a couple of nights back, I went out to get a sample for myself. We then both wrote our tasting notes down ready for comparison. The idea being to see what similarities and differences there would be. Clearly there isn't much experimental control going on here but for the sake of whimsy we persevered. Here are our notes, starting with my own:

Glendronach Revival
46% - 15 Years Old - Sherry Cask 
Nose: A fruit driven nose of raisins and sultanas with raspberry and blackcurrants. Cabernet sauvignon is also present giving this woody whisky a stern backdrop.
Palate: The sherry wood is very apparent with dark fruits, dry leaves and a hint of ash adding to the Revival's rich intensity.
Finish: Port is the flavour that jumps to mind with that cabernet sauvignon appearing again with a dose of red currants.
Overall: Richer and more overpowering than the 'Dronach 12 year old. Maybe a touch too much wood for my liking although I'd say that is personal preference only. A masterclass in whisky making.

Nose: Dry sherry, and the bitter sweet aroma of cherries and summer fruits complimented by a biscuit-like maltiness.
Palate: Fruit cake, dried fruits with fresh citrus undertones and sweet toffee abide alongside a small hint of oak.
Finish: Fresh summer fruits and chewy toffee accompanied by a crescendo of malty liveliness.
Overall: Unlike any other whiskey in my tasting arsenal to date. Probably the smoothest dram I've had in a long while. Very fruity and sweet with a nice malty flavour. Christmas cake is the analogy of choice when describing this particularly morish dram.

Us camping above Dalwhinnie
with a cigar (midgie repellent!)
So in conclusion you can see some obvious differences: I got dry fruits whereas Rob got summer fruits on the nose; and on the palate I got that very dry woody quality whereas Rob was gathering citrus undertones and lots of toffee. Despite this there are some clear similarities; the dried fruits I got on the nose appear on Rob’s palate. Also, those summer fruits that keep recurring for Rob do pop up in mine in the form of raspberries and red currants. The unambiguous sherry presence was identified by the pair of us. What is most interesting is that Rob got a much sweeter flavour profile than mine. For me there are a few interesting factors that can be deduced from this. Firstly, the similarities didn’t necessarily occur to us at the same time, where one of us got a note on the nose the other would get it on the palate. Secondly, the sweet to dry ratio of the tasting notes clearly is subject to individual perception. Although I would say I was comparing quite to the 12 year old, which is sweeter still, so maybe this explains part of the difference. Finally, what is most interesting for me is the different language we both use to describe the whisky. Rob and I discovered whisky together so I assumed we would have picked up the same buzzwords for the same flavours, this clearly wasn’t the case. Then again perhaps all that is important is that we both enjoyed it. The Glendronach 15 year old is a fantastic whisky as indeed all the Glendronachs are. So, where to go from here? Clearly one whisky isn’t enough to draw absolute conclusions from so in the interests of science I have posted Rob a Glendronach 18 year old, so watch this space for the next chapter of this experiment! I would also be interested if anyone has any conflicting tasting notes and welcome them to comment below.