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!