Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Bowmore - Magic Happens on the Darkest Nights

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

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

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

Monday, 19 March 2012

The Eagle Has Landed - The Arran Eagle

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

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

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

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Leap Year - Enter The Kracken

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

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

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

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

Monday, 27 February 2012

Chuck vs. Glenfarclas 15 Year Old

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

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

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Grape and Grain... Innis & Gunn Whisky Cask

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

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

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Glenfiddich: A Masterclass

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

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

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

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

Firstly the Twitter Tasting samples:

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

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

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

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

And the ones Jamie Milne kindly allowed me to try:

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

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

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

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Hammer of the Gods - Highland Park Thor

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Case for Bottle Strength Whisky

I can remember what originally attracted me to the brutish power of cask strength whiskies. It is exact same impulse that made me discover absinthe and even the same feeling that made me drink whisky in the first place. It is a vainglorious combination of the childish notion that the stronger the alcohol I imbibe, the more hairs that will join the disparate collection on my chest; indeed if I had pursued this policy after Uni I’m sure I would not only have a chest, but also a back to match even the scrawniest gorilla. The other facet of this combination is a desire to know what whisky at high strength tastes like; it is similar to climbing taller and taller mountains – I need to know what it’s like at the top. So armed with this alcoholic notion in mind I plunged into the world of cask strength whiskies. At first it was an exciting voyage of discovery, I can still remember my first cask strength Laphroaig like it was yesterday, it was a beautiful oxymoron that I can only liken to your first kiss followed by a punch to the face. However over time I have begun to question the growing proliferation of high strength whiskies. More and more we are seeing whiskies bottled at cask strength and fewer cruising in at a mild 46%. What concerns me is that in our quest to experience whisky in its truest form we are neglecting the art of bottling whisky at a palatable strength. I enjoy the subtle dropping of water to lower the strength whilst pretending I am a master blender as much as any whisky fan, but in doing so I am cheapening the skill of said master blender. For example Talisker 10 Year Old surfs in at 45.8% and the Fifty-Seven Degrees North at… well 57% for a very good reason; they taste best at those strengths. Naturally I am not arguing that the whisky world should forgo cask strength whiskies entirely. Indeed I wouldn’t even reduce the amount of cask strength bottlings out there but I would like to argue that some whiskies are hindered rather than enhanced by high ABV values. For example many Scottish Lowland whiskies are so light in flavour they are easily overpowered by the alcoholic content. Conversely, last year’s Auchentoshan Bordeaux Cask surprisingly integrated a whopping 58% into its flavour profile quite nicely, demonstrating how alcohol content can enhance the tasting experience. Another example would be the Diageo Special Releases 2011; for me the Knockando 25 Year Old would have benefitted from being cask strength whereas I thought the Port Dundas 20 Year Old would not have been harmed by dropping its ABV so as not to drown its syrupy texture in ethanol. What I am harping on about is that although, irrevocably, my chest and indeed my dwindling masculinity requires cask strength whisky like a plague victim needs a vaccine, whisky doesn’t necessarily have the same requirements. So pass me a Glenfiddich Solera Reserve and toast Bottle Strength whisky. Slainte!

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Banish the January Blues with Auchentoshan 1975

Well January was a blow to motivation. As clouds rolled over London, as Christmas cheer turned into New Year gloom, and as the economy shrunk like wool in a hot wash; it has been immensely difficult to summon the boundless enthusiasm for the delights of whisky. For the last month I have been indulging in wine (principally chardonnay), beer and cocktails. All the whisky I have been drinking has been standard release, supermarket, pub fare that is less likely to excite the whisky enthusiast. Then finally there was a whisky to shake me out of this dire hole - this vacuum of barrel aged malt barley aged spirit. This whisky was the almighty 1975 Auchentoshan. A 35 year old dream of a dram that makes you sit bolt upright and shout, "Now this is whisky!" As you may know I don't stand by the 'older is better' motto, but by God! Ladies and Gentleman I give you...

Auchentoshan 1975
46.9% - 35 Years Old - Distillery Bottled
Nose: Green melon and lemon flavoured boiled sweets, next there is tumeric and mango chutney. Sesame seeds, tree sap and vanilla complete this full-nose.
Palate: Spicy, namely lime pickle. There is green tea and herbal oak notes as well.
Finish: A burst of lemon followed with walnut and mango, later a woody presence announces itself.
Overall: An incredible whisky boasting curry spice notes and a lengthy finish. As much as I reject aged whisky it's always great to taste a whisky as complex and intriguing as this impressive Lowland.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Rediscovering The Classics: Lagavulin 16 Year Old

Tonight's review is of another classic; the stoic Lagavulin 16 year old. I have to confess I am no expert on Lagavulin. Aside from it being peated and coming from the south of Islay - I know very little about this Diageo owned distillery. Furthermore I've always avoided trying them. Trapped between its showy brothers at Laphroaig and Ardbeg, it always seemed like the clich├ęd middle child offering nothing more than a sturdy uninspiring malt. As usual I am very very wrong. Lagavulin offers balance, restraint and a refined spirit. Qualities often drowned out by large peaty gestures at Laphroaig and Ardbeg. The Lagavulin 12 year old may be a balls-out offering, and the Distiller's Edition may be a tad confused, but the 16 year old brings complexity to the table. So with apologies to Lagavulin for my previous ignorance, I give you the 16 year old...

Lagavulin 16 Year Old
43% - Distillery Bottling
Nose: Peat and barbecue smoke with a gristy accompaniment. Then there is kiwi fruit with something orangey beneath.
Palate: Big peat with a thick texture yet refined and larconic.
Finish: The peat has died away to embers and with time baked green apple emerges.
Overall: Absolute classic, excellent structure and balance. The Lagavulin 16 year old isn't about slapping you in the face with a peat shovel it is about restraint and pace, and it is a very hard drink to put down. Slainte!

Monday, 23 January 2012

Freezing In Camden... Tactical Nuclear Penguin
I'm sitting in a brand new pub in North London's Camden Town, sipping at an aptly named pint of Zeitgeist. Zeitgeist is the phenomenal black lager from Scottish punk brewers Brewdog - and it is in their new pub in which I sit. I'd only recently read about this new drinking establishment and being a massive fan of their hoppy produce I had to have a peek. The pub is simple with lots of zesty wood and metal and a row of taps emblazoned with the Brewdog logo. In fact the branding is incredible, from pint glasses through to the generous beer menu the place just screams Equity for Punks. Furthermore the food menu was put together by a Masterchef winner, they offer free pints in exchange for board games and they sell the strongest beer known to mankind. Naturally I reacquainted myself with most of the range; from the 5am Saint through to the outstanding Punk IPA (that I recommend wholeheartedly). At the end of the night there was only one beer left that needed to be drunk. Now the Sink The Bismarck bottling was sold out, but Brewdog's first high alcohol beer was good to go. This malt menace was the cartoony Tactical Nuclear Penguin. This beer is frozen three times and the ice (water has a higher freezing point than alcohol) is scooped off, leaving a beer with a higher alcohol content. Served in a charming glass this was a ballsy end to punktastic evening. I only need to try the food now...

Tactical Nuclear Penguin
32% - Brewed by Brewdog - High Alcohol Beer
Nose: Toffee and heavy malt aromas dominate to begin with but with big, rich, fruity sherry notes banging through later.
Palate: Incredibly thick, almost sugary, with a pungent woodyness shoring up a heavy but velvety beer.
Finish: So long, with burnt toffee followed by that fruity sherry character from the nose.
Overall: I could only drink one of these in one session due to the hugely rich flavour. However in terms of complexity it was fantastic; like a beefy oxidised sherry. This is a brilliant beer to have if a whisky before closing time doesn't appeal. Rock on!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Grape and Grain... Auchentoshan 1999 Bordeaux Cask

"We want the finest wines available to humanity.
And we want them here, and we want them now!"

Wine is a curious drink. It can be as grubby as a street urchin or as opulent as Marie-Antonette. It can drown the sorrows of the unthinking majority and it can tickle the cockles of the most inquisitive palate. It is delicious, up itself, austere, cheap, expensive, creamy, acidic, tantalising, charmless and ultimately moreish. There is nothing more relaxing than pulling a cork on a bottle of wine or sipping a Meursault with some intriguingly stinky cheese. What wine fails to offer is a user-friendliness. Wine is about status. If you drink Jacob's Creek a mob of sommeliers will chase you into the church yard and throw bottles at you until you collapse, broken and bruised, begging to be lectured on the delights of Ponet Canet or Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc. Likewise if you drink the finest vino the world can offer you may be perceived as lacking empathy, having more money than is clinically good for you, and deserving of a good slap around your gout-ridden jowls. All of this is WRONG! Wine should be a pleasure, beyond judgement, it should excite at any level and not require a hedge fund to afford. Of course it is whisky that shows us the way. Whisky is friendly, relatively easy to wrap your head around and has tasty delights from the bottom of the scale up to the top. So tonight I want to review a wine cask finished whisky to encourage wine over to the good side. 

I am a big fan of wine cask finishes. Last year's Springbank 12 year old Claret Wood was excellent and the Dalmore Castle Leod had something to it. I find red wine finishes give a great red fruit character to whiskies without the intensity of sherry or port cask aging, or the varying quality of madeira finishes. Tonight's whisky was released in tandem with the creme brulee delights of the Auchentoshan Valinch. This Auchentoshan like the Valinch is cask-strength but boasts a fantastic Bordeaux cask finish.

Auchentoshan 1999 Bordeaux Cask
58% - 11 Years Old - 2011 Release
Nose: A freshly opened packet of wine gums arrived first with hints of rose water. Then comes a jammy and nutty quality reminiscent of the new-make spirit, followed with a vinous sherryness.
Palate: Nutty tawny port, tannic with dried fruit flavours.
Finish: Rye bread initially but then a dry charcoal bitterness.
Overall: An incredible whisky. The nose is jam-packed with complimentary aromas, the palate is rich without being cloying and the ABV adds a much needed weight to an Auchentoshan. Simply superb!

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Shipwrecked with Poit Dhubh 12 Year Old

The slow and horrific realisation that you have made a mistake is deeply unpleasant. It begins in the pit of your stomach and turns into a fireball of dread before travelling upwards. It spreads out down your arms in a cold shudder and constricts your chest and then your throat. Finally your eyes bulge as your brain explodes. This is what I imagine the Captain of the Costa Concordia felt like when he heard the terrible crunch, as the rocks tore along the hull of his cruise ship. This sinking feeling aside, it is the mother of all mistakes. The cost involved is immense, the insurance underwriters are all going into cardiac arrest, governments will get involved and the press is enjoying a titanic extravaganza.

So, today I suggest a medicine for this feeling and that medicine is the Poit Dhubh 12 Year Old. Pronounced 'potch ghoo' and meaning 'black pot' or an illicit still, it is a blended malt whisky from the Isle of Skye. The guys making it are also planning to open Skye's second distillery, joining the already incredible Talisker. So without further ado...

Poit Dhubh 12 Year Old
43% - Blended Malt Whisky
Nose: A thick sweet combination of toffee and peatbog with malty orange foundations. Finally there is the smell of sea surf rolling over a stony beach.
Palate: Maritime with salty grape flavours but with caramel lending this whisky a very sweet character.
Finish: Malt biscuits and the faintest whiff of smoke; notable length.
Overall: A great blended malt from a company that have much promise for the future. I'm excited to try Skye's second single malt whisky!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Rediscovering The Classics: Laphroaig 10 Year Old

Gin cocktails at Evil Eye
Tonight's review is of an absolute classic. This whisky is self-defining, iconic and unique. What I like most about this whisky is that it gives me a feeling that can only be given by a few things. I get the feeling every time I travel to York. I love York; it has the perfect combination of historic architecture, excellent pubs and nostalgic value. It is like the feeling of coming home when I get Bangers and Mash at the Lendal Cellars or a pint of Yorkshire Terrier at the... er... Yorkshire Terrier. A trip to Jorvic and the Cathedral before a cocktail at Evil Eye Lounge and a browse of the beer selection at The Bottle on Stonegate makes for a very happy Angus.

I get the same feeling everytime I climb the Berwin hills behind Llanrhaeadr Waterfall back home. The spray off the falls and the rugged terrain are reminiscent of a time before man etched his face on the Earth. Like York there is a feeling that everywhere should be like this and everything will be alright. It is a feeling that in unclouded by worry or unnecessary detail, a feeling about enjoying the moment.

Tonight's whisky is the unapologetic Laphroaig 10 Year Old. Every time I drink this whisky I am filled with a feeling of calm. Laphroaig isn't a whisky trying hard to impress, it is a whisky that forces the drinker to come to it on its own terms. Its Marmite attitude can make it unapproachable for some drinkers but as soon as you come to terms with its balls-out confidence it becomes the most rewarding of all whiskies. I think it is unarguable to say that Laphroaig is a whisky hero. When I drink it I don't worry about how it is made. I don't care about cask selection or the slightly troubling small print 'mit Farbstoff' (with colouring). I couldn't give a damn about ABV or PPM, when I drink the Laphroaig 10 it is about coming home to what whisky is really about - the greatest drink on the planet. So without any further ado here's my tasting note to add to the legions of others shouting its praise. Slainte!

Laphroaig 10 Year Old
40% - Distillery Bottled
Nose: An island harbour protected behind the stormwall; the sea laps at a peaty shoreline. Amongst this intense maritime character there is a sweet citric character that plays with the earthy peat.
Palate: Peat bog followed with peat smoke. There is a marshmallow sweetness and a nutty undercurrent that provides flavour beyond simple peat notes.
Finish: Almost beer like with hops and gentle smoke. Lastly there is a fire that remains in the belly seething like Smurg on his treasure.
Overall: Such a characterful nose followed by a playful palate. The finish has the fire all good whiskies have burning underneath. The Laphroaig 10 is a masterclass in character development. Time for a second glass!

Friday, 6 January 2012

Too Young? Caol Ila Unpeated 8 Year Old

Age restrictions either plague or prop up our society. The age you can legally drive, vote, drink, smoke, have sex, get married or buy fireworks is always hotly debated and I'd argue they are debated with good reason. To define a cut-off point where one is prohibited or enabled is always difficult. Everything from the average maturity through to the social and personal development of the age group has to be taken into account before they can be enabled to legally do something that in many respects has potential to harm. Personal opinion aside; it is easy to see why six year olds aren't allowed to purchase rockets and matches, it makes sense, it would be dangerous to anyone within twenty feet of the child (and also the pyromaniac of a child). Where it becomes difficult is when you decide at what point someone can legally drink and legally drive, which should come first, the intoxicant or the tonne of speeding metal? Or when people should be allowed to vote? Teenagers can be more politically engaged than many adults but then at what age are they deemed (as a whole) to be able to rationally decide who rule the country, thirteen, eighteen, thirty? We pin the moral heart of our country on age restrictions - in the eighties Die Hard was rated 18 whilst later on Saving Private Ryan a 15. Attitudes change, maybe there should there be flexibility, but flexibility is damned difficult to enforce. Common sense is a cop-out for illogical rationale and complete liberalisation allows for self-regulation which can sometimes be taken too far. So age restrictions exist for a reason but they will never appease everyone. A nice inconclusive conclusion there.

When applied to whisky it is equally inconclusive. Every whisky drinker can argue over whether a whisky is young or old enough. To be fair its part of the fun of the drink. I'm a huge advocate of the school of thought that young whiskies can be incredible and offer value for money that older whiskies can't. However for as many awful aged whiskies I try, there are as many young. Of course you can't generalise, each whisky is individual. Despite this, I was sadly disappointed when I recently tried the Caol Ila Unpeated 8 Year Old.

Caol Ila Unpeated 8 Year Old
64.2% - Bottled 2008
Nose: An estery cocktail of diced pears in apple juice spiced with vanilla and cardamon.
Palate: Vanilla and mounds of wood spice with espresso notes to the back of the mouth.
Finish: Dry oak and hints of wormwood, short.
Overall: Very woody with not enough going on to intrigue. For me this is excessively strong at 64.2%, I feel the alcohol is there to disguise an unflattering youth. I loved the 12 year old release of 2011 and was disappointed that this release didn't compare. However whisky would be boring if they were all great, so come back tomorrow for an all time classic!

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Surprise! Surprise! Tomintoul 21 Year Old

Well yesterday I surprised myself. There I was strolling out my flat without a care in the world and a whistle bursting from between my lips when something very bizarre happened. As if I had no control over my legs or my autonomy I found my body dragging me towards the gym. As the portal to doom approached I started scratching and grasping the walls in desperation and to no avail, to stop my damned legs from carrying me into the depressing church of grotesque muscle gain. It is as if the treadmills, bikes and rowing machines are part of some Orwellian thought-experiment to force us out of the great outdoors and into air-conditioned torture chambers of beat-centric music and lactic acid build-up. Despite my feeble attempt to avoid poorly simulated outdoor activities I was soon handcuffed by my own hands to a pull-up bar and working up a sweat against my will. Then when I woke up this morning thinking that it was all just a bad dream, a figment of my imagination, it happened again...

I don't quite know why I went to the gym, it certainly wasn't a new year's resolution. My best guess is that my body has some automatic system in place to prevent me from killing myself through excess (the same process occasionally makes me eat fruit). Maybe the heavy alcoholic intake of December kick-started this safety system or maybe my mind wanted my body prepared for climbing Mount Olympus in April. I don't know. However I do know I needed a nice surprise to counteract my body's betrayal. So today's whisky is the Tomintoul 21 Year Old, a whisky I didn't have high hopes for and was pleasantly surprised by.

Tomintoul 21 Year Old
40% - Distillery Bottled
Nose: A weird combination of walnuts, pear drops and aniseed that works against all odds.
Palate: Lemon meringue pie laced with essence of anise.
Finish: Soft with tasty lemon drizzle cake flavours.
Overall: Intriguing nose but light and lemony from thereon in. A relatively simple whisky but so drinkable and two fingers to the bland Tomintouls of yesteryear. Slainte!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Seeing in the New Year with Balvenie Single Barrel

Happy New Year! I kicked the year off in Newcastle, celebrating with copious amounts of Strongbow (please don't judge) and champagne, and although the Mayan people predicted 2012 would bring the Apocalypse, the most dangerous event I observed was drunk Geordies setting fire to trees with multiple Chinese lanterns and setting off fireworks out of their hands. Incredibly dangerous - but we're still here.

Regardless of our impending Mayan doom, I have a good feeling about 2012. Partially because, against the odds, we survived 2011's 'Rapture' and also because there is an awful lot of whisky to be made, tasted, drunk, written about, sold and drunk some more. So quite frankly I don't have time for Armageddon or any other distractions. But in case the storms ravishing the United Kingdom do cause the planet to collapse in on itself, here's a whisky classic to get you through it. See you on the other side!

Balvenie Single Barrel
47.8% - 15 Years Old - Cask 7134 - Bottle 43
Nose: Pear drops and cox apples create a sweet and fruity nose with water melon providing some refreshment.
Palate: Soft texture with pear and tropical fruit there is also a porky element that works pleasantly with the apple flavours.
Finish: Vanilla and bark becoming more sappy towards the end.
Overall: A great whisky. Lively and fruity with some more interesting notes woven in. Finally the finish is woody without being too dry or stale. Delicious is the word here. Slainte!