Friday, 21 November 2014

Òrach Slie & Glenfarclas 15

Another half and half post, this time featuring a beer I got sent in return for writing some recommendations for Nottingham pubs on the Harviestoun Blog.

Òrach Slie is the barrel-aged version of Harviestoun's 'Schiehallion' lager, the first Harviestoun beer I ever tried - many years ago. Not only that but it's aged in Glenfarclas whisky barrels, Glenfarclas being a distillery that happens to be one of my favourites. I went for the 15 year old to see if it made a good half-and-half pairing, since it was one of the ones out of Glenfarclas' core range that I'd not tried in the past.

The nose of the Òrach Slie is dominated by the malt, I didn't get much of the whisky/sherry notes to start with, but that malt nose was great, with a lovely spice to it. The nose on the Glenfarclas 15 was classic Glenfarclas, all you'd expect in terms of those big sherry notes; dried fruit, caramel and buttery toffee along with a marzipan sweetness.

On the palate the Òrach Slie is impeccably smooth, the whisky seeming to contribute more to the texture at first than the flavour.  It's initially light but with a weighty finish as the whisky influence comes through, giving it a luxurious sweetness. I suspect the casks weren't as heavily sherry-influenced as they were for the whisky. In this case the beer is embraced and caressed rather than given a hefty kick it often is with the big imperial stouts that are whisky barrel aged. It's different, and very pleasant.

The Glenfarclas 15 on the palate has lots of marzipan and burnt toffee flavours, then the finish reveals more juicy prunes and nutty, cashew notes. that contrast nicely with the relative lightness of the Òrach Slie, that's despite it being a 6% beer. I think as a pairing the Glenfarclas 10 might well have worked better, with it being that bit lighter, but the contrast was enjoyable.

The Òrach Slie is available from the Harviestoun web shop for £17.50 for a pack of three. There are some great Glenfarclas 15 year old (70cl bottle) packs around with a miniature of the 21 and the 25 for about £55 - a fantastic choice if you're looking for a Christmas whisky.

Lastly many thanks to the folks at Harviestoun for the beer - slàinte!

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Brewdog 'Russian Doll'

This was a pack of experimental beers from BrewDog. The idea is that the beers share the basics recipe but the abv is ramped up as you go through the range, starting at 4%, going to 6, 8 then finishing on 10% with the barley wine.

From their website: 'The range of flavours and aromas present in Russian Doll come from the same malt bill, the same four hop varieties and identical water and yeast.'

Russian Doll Pale Ale: As you'd expect colour-wise. It had Punk's characteristic 'dusty' note and while the hops came through on the nose I didn't pick up so much on the palate. It was decent and refreshing but perhaps a bit too dry/lacking fruit.

Russian Doll IPA:This was a bit more orange in colour, quite a bit deeper. On the nose it wasn't massively different to the PA, but where the PA fell a bit short on the palate this one delivered, there was a alot more punch. The dryness was off-set with a burst of orange and tropical fruit. Altogether a much more rounded beer.

Russian Doll Double IPA: Similar to the IPA in appearance, much more pronounced on the nose, the hops were more overt and once I had a sip it really hit those grapefruit pithy notes I'd expect from a US-style IPA. I'm not usually a huge DIPA fan but this was great, the dry 'Russian Doll' character that runs through the first three of these beers sits nicely against the juicy mouth-watering fruit.

Russian Doll Barley Wine: This was very different to the first three. It was a lot darker, sweeter and viscous. There were liquorice and burnt toffee notes that I hadn't picked up from the previous three. Barley wine isn't something that I've drunk enough of to say if this is a particularly good example but I quite enjoyed it - although it's one I might have appreciated more in a third of a pint measure rather than a 33cl bottle!

All in all an interesting little experiment. Say what you like about BrewDog they're not afraid to go for the beer geek market (and long may that continue) but even putting that aside these were good beers without being ridiculously priced.

Bought straight from the BrewDog shop, starting at £10 for the pack.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Islay Ales & Bruichladdich

If you're going to go for a whisky and beer pairing what better than beer from the world's most renowned whisky island? Well as far as Islay's most famously distinctive offerings are concerned it doesn't really follow. Much as I love beer and whisky to accompany one another it doesn't necessarily follow that peaty whisky works - I find the peat overpowers beer so I usually enjoy a peaty dram as a stand alone (Bowmore Laimrig is the current peaty tipple of choice). So when I was wondering what to try and match my Islay Ales brace with Bruichladdich was the distillery I turned to; a distillery that offers a range of whiskies across the peating levels scale. I went for the 'Laddie Classic' Scottish Barley unpeated expression - one that I really enjoyed at a Bruichladdich tasting a while back.

First up was the 'Saligo Ale' which unfortunately was, I think, a bit past its best. It was still lively and smelled fine but there was a a sourness in the finish which didn't work on its own let alone with the honeyed sweetness of the whisky. The 'Single Malt' Ale was more like it; it was all about that malt, the yeast and hops taking a back seat to the point where it was almost like crunching malt in your teeth. There was a brief play on some peachy fruit on the palate and a chalky finish but it all came across as background accompaniment to that big maltiness which unfortunately renders it a little one-dimensional. As a pairing with the whisky I think the contrast was almost a bit too much; either the whisky was too sweet or the beer a bit too dry - nothing against either on their own but a bit too much of a clash to be as harmonious as some I've had in the past.

Perhaps not the most successful half and half pairing I've done, but since it seems that barrel-aged beers are popular at the moment I'll hopefully get to have a bit of a play around with more and set the record straight soon!

Both Islay Ales (Saligo at 4.8% & Single Malt Ale at 5%, both 50cl) came from Ales by Mail for £3.05 & £3.14 respectively. A quick google for the Bruichladdich and you can pick it up for less than £42, it's bottled at 50% abv.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Trio from The Glenlivet

It's a good thing to revisit some classic whiskies every now and again. With new and exciting editions coming out seemingly daily it's easy to forget what some of the big names that started it all have a lot to offer, it's just that they just might not shout so loudly. The Glenlivet is massive in single malt terms. It's the second biggest seller in the world with an eye on the 10 million (12 bottle) case in a year sales figure that only the mighty Glenfiddich has ever surpassed. OK, it's wee drams compared to its big blended brothers, Ballantine's and Chivas, but it's certainly one that most whisky lovers will have tried at some point. 

This is a flight of three from their core range; the 12, 15 'French Oak Reserve' and the 18. The latter I have covered briefly before on this blog as part of a write-up of a Pernod-Ricard Scotch tasting, but like I say it's always nice to give whiskies a bit of a retaste and a rethink. Whisky's the world's most complex spirit and so if someone's taken the care to mature it for 18 years I suppose it's not a bad idea to spend a bit of time with it at the far end!

Glenlivet 12 

Floral and honeyed, with red apple. On the palate the barley comes more to the fore, and it has an unexpectedly dry core. The finish has a slightly bitter edge which detracts a little from the gorgeous nose which for me it the whisky's strength. Still, a good Speyside all-rounder. 

Glenlivet 15 'French Oak Reserve'

On the nose there's a lot more spice, although that apply note is still there, just maybe baked into a crumble with lashings of brown sugar and cinnamon. The extra maturation seems to integrate the dryness of the palate more with the finish - it's less unexpected, seeming to flow a bit more smoothly. That said it's not a massive leap in complexity, just a little more mellow and content with itself. 40% abv.

Glenlivet 18

By eighteen years old I think the whisky's really asserted itself - the apple crumble is there but it's as if the traditional, somewhat staid, recipe has been taken on by a modern TV chef with a kitchen full of crazy gadgets and ingredients. There's more of everything - dried fruits complement the staples, and the spice wrestles its way from nose to finish, changing all the way. This time the finish loses that bitterness, settling on a more generous, sweeter if still dry, and somewhat moreish note. 43% abv.

Whiskies like these are the tip of a scotch whisky iceberg, They're the most visible of the luxury, single malt category, and so in a way it's reassuring that they are of such obvious quality - if nothing else it's a reminder of what the others have to do to keep up the standard - but also, to quote Morpheus, they hint as to 'how deep the rabbit hole goes.'

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Three Discontinued Balvenies

Since I've neglected Whisky Wednesday for a while I thought I'd hit back with a trio of official bottlings (not that you get many unofficial ones) from Balvenie, all of which are now discontinued.

The 15 Single Barrel has a new incarnation as a Sherry cask Single Barrel, but there are still a few of the old Bourbon Cask expressions knocking about. The other two I'm not so sure, the Peated Cask is definitely getting very scarce, and there is a new Single Barrel 12 (all bourbon cask) that is roughly the replacement for the Signature in the core range.

Balvenie 12 'Signature'

Three casks; olorosso sherry, first fill and refill bourbon. It took a while after pouring to show its aromas; hints of vanilla and a bit of honey but somewhat reclusive! On both the nose and the palate the bourbon casks are more influential than the sherry. It's an easy-going dram, but then so is the Doublewood, which this is not as pleasant as since it seemed to have a bitter note that I've never picked up in the Doublewood. For me that bitterness is a bit off-putting. In a commercial bottling like this it's unlikely to be feints, and in a 12 year old whisky it's unlikely to be over-oaking, but there is a theory that because it's bottled at 40% the water has broken down oils leaving notes that aren't that desirable. This seems to be quite plausible although it makes me wonder why this doesn't happen in the Doublewood 12.

Balvenie 'Single Barrel' 15

Just the one bourbon cask for this one, each cask producing a 350 bottle run. This really does what I expected the Signature to do, with none of that unpleasant bitterness. On the nose it's like a fresh vanilla slice (icing sugar, custard) leading to honey sweetness on the palate. It's the good elements of the previous expression but taken to a new level by getting rid of the bad. I'd say this one will be missed from the range, but having tasted the new 12 year old single barrel I think that will fill the gap nicely - as a fresh bourbon cask, easy-drinking summery whisky I think it's hard to beat at the moment. I've yet to try the new 15, but I'm looking forward to doing so. Bottled at 47.8%.

Balvenie 'Peated Cask' 17

This one's genetic make-up is rather more complicated. It's not a peated whisky as such, but a non-peated whisky matured in a cask that has previously had peated whisky in it. While for previous 'peated cask' expressions they used casks that had contained Islay whisky, the casks for this were used to house a Balvenie created with peated malt from their own floor maltings. Around 60% of this whisky was made in this way and that was married with whisky from new oak casks.

Initially on the nose the peat overpowers the usual Balvenie attributes but after standing for a while the first dairy notes I got faded to be replaced by something a lot more interesting and pleasant! On the palate it really shines; it's floral, with orange blossom and incense notes combining with Balvenie's characteristic vanilla sweetness (presumable accentuated by the new oak) to balance the ashy dryness of the cask influence. This one is about as far away as you can get from being along the conventional Balvenie lines as you can get, but some of the distillery character does shine through, and it makes for one of the most challenging expressions I've tried from a distillery I enjoy, but often find their whiskies almost a bit too easy! I wonder what happened to that whisky that seasoned the casks? Bottled at 43%.