Saturday, 29 December 2012

Doctor's Orders

Having escaped work a bit early yesterday I finally got a chance to pop into my new local, it having opened on Sunday. Doctor's Orders is Nottingham's first Micro-Pub, and the name came about because it used to be Carrington Pharmacy (which has now moved a few doors closer to town). This also explains the 'prescriptions' window through which you can have a look at the beer stillage. Room being at a premium there's no bar, it's just a matter of grabbing yourself a table and ordering your beer, and don't be expecting much other than beer or cider or you'll be disappointed. It's cask only, and all that straight from the barrels you can see on the (rather posh spring-tilted*) racks. No hand-pulls, no frills - anywhere!

I had a half of Lincoln Green 'Marion' Pale Ale, which was in damn good condition. The beer range looked decent, if not hugely adventurous - it'll be interesting to see how they develop the range they do. It was also nice to be able to have a look at the 'soon to appear' beers - there's a chalkboard as well as printed beer menus.

All in all, and despite it being a fleeting visit, I was really impressed. It's certainly a good place to have within five minutes walk of my house, especially since the fact they don't do food means that me and the dog will be welcomed providing we behave ourselves. As far as I remember they're open 12-2 and 5.30-12 daily. It's a bit of a trek out of the city if you are visiting Nottingham, it being a good mile away from any of the 'must visit' city pubs, but it's a great addition to the (very) local beer scene.

* I was a bit jealous; none of the weekly chock-combat against 18 gallon casks we used to have in the pub I ran.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Kernel India Brown Ale

Just to wish all my readers a Merry Christmas. I hope you're both well...

This was supposed to be a post for #seasonstweetings twitter tasting, as set up (over a week ago now) by the irrepressible Phil over at Beersay. My crazy busy December meant I failed completely to get any seasonal beers in, but when you have to make do with The Kernel it's hardly a sacrifice! In fact, had I not already done my Golden Pints for this year, it may well have been a contender for a mention somewhere.

It all starts with a gorgeous creamy chocolate aroma with the faintest touch of hazelnuts and pine/citrus (orange) hops. It's a soft, thick luxurious duvet of a beer, scarily drinkable and rarely has 33cl seemed such a small portion! There's milk chocolate in there but the nuttiness balances out the sweetness, and that's what this beer represents to me - complexity and balance.

Marvelous. Happy Christmas everybody!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Sazerac Rye

This Sazerac Rye Whiskey, along with quite a few that got delivered to The Whisky Shop at the time, is from the sprawling 149 acre Buffalo Trace distillery. I don't really have a problem with distilleries making lots of different whiskies under different names but sometimes I am a little suspicious as to motives. It happens a lot less under the aegis of single malt whisky, which I think is one of its big appeals, although there are plenty of distilleries that many might think are completely independent of one another which are in fact owned by one parent company. Given the recent takeover of United Spirits Diageo must now own half of Scotland, but at the other end of the scale the provenance of whiskies such as these that are once again being sold under the name Glen Marnoch at Aldi is something of a mystery. Given this situation it's interesting to have a read of this blog post which attempts to detail ownership of American distilleries and brand names.

Back to Buffalo Trace though, and I don't think provenance is an issue, although finding information about other whiskies than the flagship brand is somewhat frustrating. It was fascinating to have a chat today with one of their company ambassadors, Chris Hoy, who was both knowledgeable and forthcoming about how their different whiskies are made - to the point where he was giving out A4 size glossy brochures that go into quite some detail about how each of four different recipes of 'White Dog' become known as first one whiskey and then another as they go through the ageing process, in almost exactly the same way as a scotch from one distillery ends up bottled as a 10, 12 or whatever age. The Sazerac that I bought the other week is the first of the rye expressions, aged for 8-12 years. This makes it the baby brother of Jim Murray's 2013 whisky of the year; the Thomas H Handy - selected from casks at 12-15 years.

As you'd expect from a whisky matured in Kentucky's heat, even at a relatively youthful (in scotch terms)  8-12 years it's got a lot of character from the barrel - there's lots of vanilla oakiness and spice on the nose, along with demerara sugar. On the palate I got cloves and coffee and the finish has burnt toast and a sour kick that tempers that sweetness of the toffee on the palate, giving it dusty cocoa notes. All in all a great introduction to a whole new style of whisky for me, and one I fully intend to re-visit.

Many thanks to Chris for some great reading and research material, and even better conversation. I will hopefully get a more Bourbon-focussed Buffalo Trace post up if I get a chance to try more when I'm not quite so tied up with work.


I should have done this before but I've been a bit busy. In the piece above I suggested the Sazerac whiskies were older than they actually are. This was because of some incorrect information in the brochure I got - see the 'distillery matrix below.

On checking the technical specifications for the Thomas H Handy I realised it's a lot younger than I had been lead to believe. It's six years old, as is the 'Baby Saz.' Thanks to Florin below for pointing out the error.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Horses and Hops

I had a couple of decent beers the other evening. One I picked up recently from the newly opened Flipping Good Beer Shop, and another I'd had stashed in the cellar for a few months and came across it while I was having a bit of a sort out (if you horde beer/wine/whisky like I do you know exactly what I mean.)

First up was the Sadler's Hop Bomb. I probably served it a bit cold, because there wasn't much on the nose at first, maybe a touch of elderflower but if I'm really honest, it didn't hang around long enough to warm up and allow me to savour the aromas - it's far too quaffable for that! It's 5% abv; strong I suppose, if you like your beer at a more 'sessionable' strength, but quite low for a modern IPA and I thought it was all the better for that; it's less about the sweet tropical fruit than vibrant fresh apricot and white grape flavours, all leading to a gentle sherbet finish rather than harsh bitterness.

5% abv. £2.65 (33cl) from The Flipping Good Beer Shop.

The other was the Welbeck Abbey Brewery Dark Horse, not one that is part of their core range - I think I'm right in saying it's a seasonal/experimental brew from earlier in the year.

There's lots of well-done toast on the nose along with a touch of red and dark fruit. On the palate it is plummy and rich, but keeps its balance rather than descending into a heaviness that its 4.8% abv couldn't support. There's marmite flavours and a lovely sweet hint that comes through on the finish. It would be a hard one to put into a style category - is it a dark ale, a hoppy mild or a lighter Black IPA? When it tastes this good, I for one don't really care!

4.8% abv. £2.60 (50cl) from Hops in a Bottle.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The 'Golden Pint' Awards 2012

It's that 'reflective' time of year again. Organised by Mark Dredge and Andy over at Beer Reviews, have a look at Mark's site if you want to know what it's all about but it should all be pretty self-explanatory!
  1. Best UK Draught Beer: Thornbridge 'Kipling.'
  2. Best UK Bottled or Canned Beer: Hardknott 'Queboid.' A close call with several others, but I picked this and the Brasserie d'Achouffe for number four because they switched me on to a style I've not really been a massive fan of before.
  3. Best Overseas Draught Beer: Duchesse de Bourgogne. Although I only had a bit of a taste, its balsamic loveliness really sticks in the mind.
  4. Best Overseas Bottled or Canned Beer: Brasserie d’Achouffe 'Houblon Chouffe
  5. Best Overall Beer:  I think it has to be the Brasserie d’Achouffe 'Houblon Chouffe' - I absolutely loved it!
  6. Best Pumpclip or Label: I might be biased because the beer's so good (it was a contender for number 2) but I love the elegance of Harviestoun's 'Ola Dubh' Highland Park aged range.
  7. Best UK Brewery: Williams Brothers, because I can't remember having a beer from them that I haven't enjoyed - they're experimental but don't compromise consistency.
  8. Best Overseas Brewery: Although here aren't many I've had more than one beer from Nils Oscar's beers seem to be consistently good.
  9. Pub/Bar of the Year: The Kean's Head in Nottingham. Yes, I'm biased because it's the pub company I used to work for and it's run by a friend of mine, but even on Friday and Saturday nights in town it's a nice little oasis of calm amid the madness.
  10. Beer Festival of the Year: The Sheffield Tap. Well, it's the closest I got to a beer festival (for shame) but life's hectic. Although I didn't get there, and so I'm judging by amazing sounding write-ups, the Indy-Man Beer-Convention is the one I'd most like to get to in 2013, finances permitting.
  11. Supermarket of the Year: I might plead the fifth on this one. Nobody really deserves any recommendation. Nottingham's Waitrose rarely has anything they advertise as a chain, and their 'deals' are perplexing at best. I've left beers at the counter too often when it turns out 'it's not those, it's the ones next to them that are on offer.' Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt was a lame effort this year, mostly average beers which they hardly bothered to promote. The only positive thing about supermarkets for me is the bakery they've opened at the Lidl near me. Go independent!
  12. Independent Retailer of the Year: Hops in a Bottle in Mansfield; friendly, and clearly run by beer fans for beer fans.
  13. On-line Retailer of the Year: Beer Ritz. A considered selection rather than trying to stock everything for everything's sake. Easily navigable website and speedy service. 
  14. Best Beer Book or Magazine: Michael Jackson's Beer Companion. Why would you need anything else?
  15. Best Beer Blog or Website: Boak and Bailey. Informative and entertaining!
  16. Best Beer Twitterer: Simon H Johnson. Same as last year, same reasons as last year, and this year I got to meet the man beneath the merkin!
  17. Best On-line Brewery presence: Durham Brewery, in the form of Elly Bell, although Broughton deserve a mention for sending me beer when I win their Tuesday Trivia Twitter quiz - I'm entirely open to bribery!
  18. Food and Beer Pairing of the Year: Williams' 'Cock O' the Walk' as part of a Burns' Supper, even if the whisky sauce was the star!
  19. In 2013 I'd most like to: Get to a CAMRGB Twissup and meet some of the guys I chat to on Twitter!
  20. Open Category: BrewDog. Some superb beers, although there is the occasional slip-up! and they opened a bar in Nottingham. Kudos.
Cheers, all the best beverages for 2013.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Flipping Good Beer Shop

I'm a bit behind with this one, but given Nottingham's fairly laid back approach to the whole craft beer thing, it's probably quite appropriate...

We've got a new specialist beer shop. It's out in Gedling and it's a retail arm of the Flipside Brewery. Gedling might be a bit out of the way but what is most definitely a big bonus is that there is a (free) car park directly opposite. Given we sometimes go out that way as a family to walk the dog down by the river I'm sure I'll be much more easily persuaded to do so on my days off now I know that on the way home I can pick up a few cheeky bevvies from a rather interesting selection. I might even get a chance to browse a bit more at my leisure if I'm not fighting to control my daughter who seemed at least as interested as I was in the beer selection, even if she's a little less capable of looking with her eyes rather than both hands!

Pictured is my first (I'm sure of many) haul. I'll probably post some tasting notes to let people know what I think when I get a chance. My wife picked, and drank, the Flipside 'Dusty Penny' and enjoyed it - the other ones I've yet to crack open.

Their shop-specific website is in a bit of a work-in-progress state at the time of writing, but you can check it out here. Good luck to the folks at The Flipping Good Beer Shop, I hope it works out well for you!

Morrison Bowmore Tasting

This week we were treated to a visit from Gordon Dundas, the European Brand Ambassador for Morrison Bowmore Distillers, owners of Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and, unsurprisingly, Bowmore distilleries. This meant that Gordon was armed with quite a formidable array of very different whiskies to entertain the thirsty masses of Nottingham.

First up was a pair of offerings from Glen Garioch, the 12 year old and a '95 vintage. The Highlands covers a wide range of styles, making it rather different to pin down. Is there really a genuine Highland style when the soft sweetness and fresh fruit of Glengoyne is bracketed in with the pepper, power and peat of Talisker? Well, if you were going for a traditional Highland style whisky then Glen Garioch is one that you should try; it's all about the creaminess and spiciness - more power than a Spey, but more restraint than the Islands. The two whiskies we tried were from two quite different points in Glen Garioch's history, the 12 from after the '95-'97 mothballing and the '95 the last of the gently peated pre-mothballing era. The 12 is double cask (bourbon/sherry) matured, although the bourbon is by far the largest component, giving it a luscious vanilla nose which is a little deceptive when you get into a surprisingly full-bodied palate brimming with sweet, ripe pear and a hint of toffee. On the finish the spice really kicks in, especially if you are tasting it at its bottled strength of 48% - with a little water the creaminess and fresh fruit is more to the fore. The '95 cask-strength, 100% first-fill American oak was all about that spiciness; white pepper complementing the vanilla-spiced nose, corn and coconut flavours. At 55.3% it's almost scarily palatable even without a drop of water. For me it's the spice that makes these two whiskies. Although there was some peat used pre-mothballing you can see why it was dropped, the whisky doesn't really need that to have plenty of character.

By way of contrast with the Glen Garioch, Gordon then produced a big sherried dram in the form of Auchentoshan 'Three Wood.' This is a personal favourite, one I used to sell lots of back in my Oddbins days, one of my best customers being myself! The Auchentoshan is the last Lowland distillery that is still triple-distilling its spirit, and as a result that spirit is very light, meaning that it will be able to pick up more of the character of the wood it's placed in. It began as a mistake, a whisky that had been in a bourbon cask, then finished in an Oloroso sherry cask was accidentally put into a Pedro-Ximinez sherry cask, but the results were fantastic. It's a mouth-coating, complex, sweet, dessert whisky, jam-packed with golden syrup, toffee, butterscotch and dried fruit. If you're after a whisky to savour after Christmas dinner or with a slice of whisky-fed fruit cake, this has to make the short list.

Last up were three expressions from Bowmore, Islay's oldest distillery, in the form of their 12, 15 and 10 year old cask strength whiskies. While the 'big smokies' of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg let loose the power of peat, Bowmore's approach is more about balance. They keep the peating at a regular strength and let the casks have their say too; in the case of the 15 year old 'Darkest' those casks have an awful lot to say - the two I took a picture of were the 10 year old 'Tempest' and the Darkest. You can see what a difference three years in a sherry barrel can make to a whisky's colour! As a double-distilled peaty base spirit it contrasts markedly with the Three Wood, and even with the 12 year old expression being a marriage of American and European oak casks that character really comes through in the smoky nose, accompanied by what I put in my notes as a hint of something medicinal, like unwrapping a fresh bandage. On the palate the briny maritime influence comes through, and on the finish there's a sweet, dairy, almost buttery quality - it's definitely very smooth. The 15 is a different animal, Gordon broke out a plate of dark chocolate and got us to melt some in the mouth to accompany the whisky. It's another rich, after-dinner whisky, the characteristic Islay smokiness almost overpowered by three years in a sherry cask, but like the chocolate it contrasts sweetness with a dry finish. For me this was the revelation of the evening. Often I find peat and sherry to be an ill-fitting partnership, but for me this really worked because the smoke hides behind the richness, only revealing itself in the umami finish. The 10 year old 'Tempest' is a small batch bourbon cask-only dram, each edition coming out in batches of 1,000 cases compared to the 180, 000 a year case output for the 12. This is more conventionally Islay, the relative youth and cask-strength allowing the peat to shine. It's vibrant and citrussy, with characteristic saltiness and pepper in the finish.

Thank you very much to Morrison Bowmore, and in particular to Gordon for an excellent and informative evening. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Suntory Whiskies: Tasting notes

I thought I'd put the tasting notes as a separate blog post for those who are interested rather than run it in with the (probably far more interesting) things that I actually got told by Tatsuya, the man who really knows his stuff!

Yamazaki 12

On the nose I found it very floral, with vanilla, butterscotch and a touch of caramel. Others suggested tinned pineapple too. Once you taste the whisky the cedar and sandalwood aromas really envelop you, it's got a dry, oaky bite at the sides of the tongue and lashings of sweet allspice. If it is the Japanese Oak that gives it the floral notes and the bite you can see why they have to use it sparingly or it would become overpowering.

Hakushu 12

On the nose it's got more noticeable bourbon cask notes, lots of coconut and green fruit; under-ripe melon and granny-smith apple peel. It does have some of Hakushu's heavily peated whisky in the blend, but at such a low level that I struggled to pick it up, - more Bunnahabhain than Bruichladdich even - although it does add to that complexity in an ethereal sort of way.

Yamazaki 18

This seemed to be more familiar to me as someone who is used to (and a fan of) big sherried scotch. There's an almost kirsch-like note to the nose, it's big and rich with lots of fudge and dried fruit. On the palate that familiar sandalwood note comes through once you pass the sherry hit, and there's a lovely subtle powdery chocolate finish. It's clearly the big brother to the 12, trying them alongside one another revealed the same Mizunara bite.

Hibiki 12

Light on the nose, I got fresh ginger and honey. The palate provoked a rather prolonged discussion about Pez sweets - not an easy thing to explain to someone who'd never heard of them, but it seemed to fit the profile.

Hibiki 18

On the nose I got marzipan and tropical fruit. It's not as big and rich as the Yamazaki 18, but it does have a high malt content and is very much a luxurious blend. The grain content seems to give it a touch of vanilla which complements the marmalade and what Tatsuru described as 'Belgian Waffle ' flavours; syrup and honey. After we'd tasted this one Tatsuru told us that this it is the 12 year old blend that is a newer addition to the range, and it doesn't sit as nicely alongside its big brother as the Yamazaki 12 does alongside the 18. Not to say that they are not both good whiskies, but they are almost too different to carry the same name - in order to give the 12 more complexity they use plum liqueur casks to finish the whisky, which they don't need to do with the elder statesman.

I'm not sure these whiskies are necessarily for everyone, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. There is such a trend towards big, bold flavours that sometimes it's nice to see subtlety given pride of place. 'Mild, delicate, sweet and elegant.' Indeed, and thanks again.

All available from The Whisky Shop generally and here in Nottingham! Shameless work plug, but if they weren't available at the shop I work in then I wouldn't have got the chance to try them!

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Suntory Whisky Tasting

This was a real treat. I had tried some Japanese whiskies before but it was a few years ago in a bar a friend was running, and I didn't really have a chance to do in-depth tasting notes - although it was nice to get an initial feel for them. My over-riding memory was the light, floral style, which seemed to strike a familiar chord when the first whiskies were poured and Suntory's whisky ideal was described as 'subtle, refined and complex', a mantra returned to throughout the presentation. I'll post a write-up in two parts, first up to talk a little bit about the whiskies' points of difference, and then some tasting notes.

First up was the Yamazaki 12 along with a little history of Suntory, its founder, Torii Shinjiro, and the Longmorn and Hazelburn trained man he recruited to start whisky distillation in Japan; Masataka Taketsuru. On a technical note, the Yamazaki distillery operates two mash tuns (one stainless steel, one wooden), six pairs of differently-shaped stills and uses five different sorts of cask. Multiply all that together and you can end up with sixty different whiskies from the one distillery. If it's complexity you're after, then that is certainly a way to get it.

Next was the Hakushu 12, from Yamazaki's sister distillery, which was at peak production the largest single malt distillery in the world. Unlike at Yamazaki they don't use any Mizunara, or Japanese oak, for maturation of the Hakushu. A few years ago Michael Jackson suggested that Japanese whisky didn't really have its own separate identity as yet,1 but it could be argued that the judicious use of the Mizunara really is starting to separate Japanese whisky from its Scottish roots and traditions. As I understand it it is the addition of a small component aged in casks made from the tight-grained, slow-growing Mizunara that imparts the floral and sandalwood notes to the other whiskies in this tasting.

Next came the Yamazaki 18, a whisky with a rather large reputation! Yamazaki is one of the most decorated distilleries in the world, having won competitions wherever you care to look, and this whisky in particular is a previous winner of many a global spirits competition.

The final pair of whiskies were two Suntory blends, Hibiki 12 and 17. Unlike in Scotland there are no real business relationships between whisky companies in Japan, and so to make a blend, with all the implications of consistency that that implies, is correspondingly more difficult. Unless, of course, you have access to the multitude of whiskies that the blenders at Suntory do for Hibiki - hence why this can be a 100% Suntory blend. The grain component comes from a third Suntory-owned distillery located near to the Yamazaki distillery; Chita.

Lastly, many thanks to Tatsuya Minagawa of Suntory whisky for visiting us in Nottingham and hosting a great evening; fun, flavoursome and informative! I'll post some tasting notes on the whiskies when I get a chance.

1. Michael Jackson, Whisky - The Definitive World Guide, DK, London, 2005

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

BrewDog 'Libertine' Black IPA

The blog is taking a bit of a back seat at the moment. Anyone who has worked in pubs, or retail generally, in the run-up to Christmas, will have a reasonable idea of why. It can be a lot of fun, and this week I've got my fifth extracurricular tasting in less than a month too. It is also most definitely tiring, especially as the 'research'* has continued apace, honing my knowledge so that when I do get to put fingers to keyboard my palate is at match fitness.

Libertine Black IPA is one that's popped up on this blog before; I had it on tap not long after it came out, and was keen to re-visit it in bottle. I'm sure enough has been written about whether Black IPA is a 'legitimate' beer style, so I won't unearth that particular debate, apart from to say that I think most beer drinkers know what they expect from it now it's been part of our vocabulary for a while.

On to the beer. On the nose there's the same dusty rough edge that I associate with Punk and Jaipur, but less of the tropical fruit, it being countered with cocoa and chocolate. There's also lots of black cherry which continues on to the palate. The hops make it really moreish, surprisingly quaffable for something weighing in at 7% - I'm guessing the malt used to turn it from being a regular IPA also take away some of the mouth-puckering bitterness you sometimes find. All the dark fruit is wrapped up in bitter chocolate cake flavours, almost liqueur-chocolate-ish, but without the sweetness. I'm really glad this has become part of BrewDog's core range, I thought it was great!

Tonight, the research continues in the form of a Japanese whisky tasting, courtesy of Suntory, the guys behind this amazing collection as illustrated by Pete over on his blog.

7.2% abv. £3.46 (33cl) from Beer Ritz.

* I'm sure I enjoyed the Black Rocks, but it was my birthday, and while I'm quite proud to say I didn't over-analyse it at the time, that pride is somewhat tempered by the knowledge that I probably couldn't have done even if I wanted to...

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Oakham Citra

I put this one off for ages, and now I'm struggling to work out quite why, because I'm pretty sure it's something I'd pick up again. I think it was partly because Oakham JHB used to be around a lot in the pubs I frequented (not least because I lived in one) and, while it was brilliant at the time, I became tired of it, even if that was more of a fault of its pale (sorry) imitators than JHB itself.

There's bags of grapefruit-led citrus fruit on the nose, tempered with enough tropical fruit to keep the attacking edge off but not so much as to stop it being refreshing. The palate's all about the juicy fruit from the hops; the grapefruit is back with a touch of soapiness, although far from being so much as to be off-putting, and again there's support from tropical fruit, all without it careering off into over-sweet passion fruit territory. It's all really clean and fresh, no wallowing about in cloying sweetness for this beer, it just merrily leads you into grabbing the next one.

4.2% abv. £2.07 (50cl) from Waitrose.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Thornbridge 'Saint Petersburg' Imperial Stout

I couldn't let this one go past without singing its praises. What a winter beer, and not the tacky tinsel variety, there are no badly scrawled doodles of Father Christmas in a compromising situation with a reindeer, it's just the sort of beer that makes you feel cocooned away, protected from all that cold November darkness. Magnificent. Probably to the point where it'd make you feel great in the height of summer too.

On the nose there's lots of chocolate maltiness, with a hint of dried and dark fruits lurking behind; raisins ans plums. It's almost like a savoury version of a fruit and nut bar. Full body hardly does it justice, it's almost chewy. There's more dark chocolate on the palate and on the finish it's all rounded off beautifully with cleansing bitter coffee.

Cosier than a 15 tog duvet. Embrace the dark...

7.4% abv. £3.10 (50cl) from Hops in a Bottle.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Saint Aubin Rhum Agricole

Rhum? What's the matter, spell-checker not working? Trying to sound like Stewie from family guy? I'll have some rHum with my cool wHip please.

OK, so, lame jokes aside. Rhum Agricole is different to rum in that it is made not from molasses but from sugar cane juice, and generally comes from French-owned islands of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Réunion as well as Mauritius; which is where St. Aubin is from. Distillation seems to owe something to the French influence over the area, in single column stills similar to those in Armagnac. A low-strength distillate suggests there should be a good amount of character left in there after the process, but let's see.

It's clear as you'd expect a light rum to be, and it's only once you get your nose in there that the difference becomes apparent. It's no shrinking violet of a light spirit, no rum that could easily be confused with a vodka. If you were to confuse it with anything it's more like a tequila it's that vegetal. There's some floral notes there and what I can only imagine is the aroma of cane juice. On the palate it's off-dry and there is a spirity burn, with estery banana lurking in the background. It's a rough and ready style of spirit and I ended up putting a little more water in just to break out the flavours a little.

In conclusion I can only suggest it's a pretty good example of its type because it really has that point of difference to conventional molasses based rum. I went back after trying this and tried it alongside a sample of Bacardi and it was near enough impossible to pick up any flavours from the Bacardi, all I got was its sweetness, the rhum is that powerful - if lacking in subtlety. A fully deserved extra letter I suppose!

The whisky exchange are selling it for £27.25 for a 50cl for a bottle. 

Monday, 5 November 2012

Isle of Skye 'Old Worthy' Scottish Pale Ale

Nick at Old Worthy brewery sent me a bottle of this, as he did lots of people who write beer blogs, so there are plenty of excellent reviews out there. I felt like doing something a little different, and so with a nod to Nick's distilling history I thought that combining the new brew with an established local giant might be a bit of fun, if not particularly original (since I did a similar thing the other week, and even if the malt is actually from Jim Beam's Ardmore distillery rather than Talisker). If you're interested in some of my thoughts on Talisker have a look at my other blog; it's an old favourite and even before I'd popped open the Old Worthy I was most grateful that I had come up with an excuse to renew old acquaintances.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty bit of the tasting note, and at the risk of rushing to a conclusion, a quick heads-up; if you've never tried Old Worthy then you should if you get the chance. It is a beer with a genuine point of difference, the use of peated malt, that goes far beyond employing a marketing department to tell you that that's the case. OK, that's not to say you'll like it but you never know until you try it! I was interested in finding out how the peat worked with the more conventional 'beer' flavours because I tend to find peatier whiskies overpower or clash with many beers when I drink them together. On the nose I didn't pick much of the peat up, but I don't think that's particularly a bad thing, it quickly took away any doubts I had as to whether the beer flavours and aromas could some through rather than it ending up tasting like a watered-down Islay. All of the peat came through on the palate, but without the maritime or iodine notes that you get with some peated malts, which can be off-putting in conjunction with a beer. This meant it contrasted brilliantly with the sweeter malt of the Talisker; the whisky dances with rather than accosts the beer, there are elements they share and things they disagree on, but it's a great partnership. This is a really well thought-out beer, at no point was I thinking 'it's just using peated malt as a novelty' they've made sure, probably through judicious use of honey and wheat, that it retains its balance.

Nick wants this beer to adorn the jerseys of the Scotland rugby team. I'll look forward to seeing it on there, albeit in those brief seconds before those jerseys are engulfed by the red tide at the Millennium. Good luck with the beer and thanks for sending me a sample.


Talisker 10

A colleague of mine has been writing for a while about whiskies that are, in a way, ubiquitous but forgotten. I won't got into too much detail because you can have a look for yourself over at The W-Club blog, but it's an interesting point and I think it applies across many drinks blogs. The beers, wines, whiskies that originally flicked the switch in your mind when you went from thinking 'this tastes OK, it tastes like beer' (or insert beverage of your choice) to 'Wow! THIS is what it can do, THIS is why people rave about it.' often end up forgotten. I think we're all guilty of it, and while comments such as those made by Jamie Goode are perfectly valid, there are an awful lot of in different products on the market, it's easy to forget that without them many people would never start drinking those drinks we love in the first place. It's also why derogatory comments after articles like this excellent one from Fiona Beckett in last week's Observer, someone who has to write about drinks her readers can get hold of, are so galling.

Whiskies like the 'standard bottlings' (hardly a ringing endorsement in itself) from big companies like Glenfiddich and Glenmorangie are met with comments like 'it's OK for a pub malt' and seasoned drinkers forget that it was impeccably made whiskies like these that really switched them onto malts in the first place. For me, Diageo's Talisker was that malt and, credit where credit is due, I have Nick at the Old Worthy brewery up there on Skye for giving me an excuse to re-visit an old friend - I wanted to try it in tandem with their peated Skye beer. It wasn't without trepidation; when people ask me what my favourite whisky is Talisker is up there on the list but in the quest to try something new and interesting I haven't had it in a long time. Would my tastes have changed?

It's clear and bright, amber coloured and the addition of a little water shows some of the oils present in the whisky. On the nose it's clean and pronounced, the malt is noticeable , backed up with smoke, spices and a little toffee. On the palate there is a hefty alcohol kick, but because of the intensity of the flavours and the body the whole package works out well. The phenolic peat comes through a lot more on the palate along with (rather appropriately for today) bonfire smokiness, biscuity malt and some charred oak notes. The finish lingers, a gentle, re-assuring dry-oak caress after the initial power, lulling you into a false sense of security before the next mouthful.

My tastes may have changed, and I'm admittedly on the other side of some magnificent whiskies so I'm less likely to get as blown away as I was years ago, but this is still a magnificent powerful whisky. I love it when peat plays as part of an orchestra of flavours rather than soloing, and this is one of the better examples of it doing this. Hello old friend, glad to have you back.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Thornbridge 'Wild Swan'

So there's me getting myself ready for winter; I have seductive visions of viscous imperial stouts and single malts that have the bonfire reek my clothes used to pick up from helping my grandad with fires in his back garden when I was little. Then what happens? Well, the small Waitrose in Nottingham starts to stock, and discount, Thornbridge Jaipur and White Swan - the latter being one I don't remember having tried previously. This served as a timely reminder that there are no rules; good beer can be enjoyed at any time of year, and, well, it had to be done really - so here's to the summer?

It pours very pale. It's described on the bottle as a 'white-gold pale ale' which I'm not about to argue with. The head was fluffy, light and long-lasting. On the nose it's all grassy hops. There's none of the tropical fruit you get in Jaipur or Punk. Using a wine analogy it's a lot more like a Sancerre to Jaipur's Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc; it has a mineral, flinty edge while retaining the clean citrus fruit from the hops. Once past the initial hop-hit the malt comes through with crystal clarity, it took me right back to getting my nose into a handful at the brewery in the summer.

This was a beer I expected I'd be indifferent about but it really does pack an immense amount of flavour into a low-ish alcohol beer. It's well worth picking up if you want something you can enjoy without getting your head into a fog that's perhaps more appropriate for a weekend!

3.5% abv. £2.09 for 50cl in Waitrose. It's also on a four for three deal at the moment.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Arran & Arran

Well if you're going to enjoy a whisky with a beer, is there an easier way to come up with a combination than picking a brewery and a distillery that are neighbours?

I've done a stand-alone tasting note for the Arran whisky over on my wines and spirits blog. The beer pours a deep mahogany colour but the head disappears really quickly. On the nose it's all about the luxurious malt, with hints of burnt toffee. On the palate it has impressive body for such a low abv (3.9%) which I think is helped by a  backbone of yeasty umami and hazelnut flavours which holds everything together. If there is a shortcoming (and it's entirely a matter of opinion if it is one) in the whisky it's that it's a bit underpowered in the malt delivery, and as part of a combination the beer probably highlighted that, but it's certainly a pleasant enough combination.

It strikes me from the two beers I've tried so far that Arran are a brewery that are stringent in their attention to detail. They may not be producing the sort of beers that are going to cause shock waves on ratings websites but they are really good, solid beers nonetheless.

£3.50 from The Whisky Shop*, and you're saving a red squirrel if you buy it!

* The usual disclaimer, I work at the Whisky Shop so I bought this at work.

Isle of Arran 10 Year Old

I tried this as both as a follow-up to my not-too-successful blended whisky tasting, and as an accompaniment to a beer from Arran brewery. There's a post to come over on my beer blog about the beer and whisky combination, but this was just a quick systematic tasting I did beforehand.

It's clear (prior to the addition of water) bright and pale gold in colour. On the nose there's toffee and caramel, along with some gentle dried fig notes. On the palate the alcohol is really well-integrated despite its 46% abv. It's a fresh and uplifting dram, with a touch of citrus and light dried fruit; there's a bit of lemon and sultana in there. Occasionally I got a waft of something a little more polishy but it wasn't enough to be off-putting. The malt complements the vanilla nicely giving it good balance, and the finish is smooth and clean.

I have to say I'm very glad it's not chill-filtered, as a delicate malt it's easy to see how it could be ruined by chill-filtering. This is the sort of whisky that The Famous Grouse hints at being, and I still don't quite see why, if you want a light, approachable whisky, this wouldn't be your first choice over something like a light blend, it's just got so much more going for it without being overpowering or harsh in any way. I guess the price of malt whisky is prohibitive to some, but for me they're certainly worth the extra outlay.

A quick google search put this at around £32 for a 70cl bottle, although that's excluding delivery.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Blended Whisky Tasting

I don't drink, and indeed never really have drunk, blended whiskies. Not really knowing anything at all about whiskies, single malts seemed to me to be a natural starting point; one whisky, from one crop, from one distillery has a certain beautiful simplicity to me. When I worked for Oddbins it was trying different whiskies while trying to learn about the different regions that got me into exploration of the flavours that the distillers could coax from the raw materials. Neither have I tried enough whiskies to feel like I am in danger of running out at any point. I therefore find it intriguing when luminaries such as Jim Murray sing the praises of blends, indeed Ballantine's 17 was his scotch whisky of the year for 2013 in his recently published Whisky Bible. It does make me wonder if I've just missed out a stage in my enjoyment of whisky. After all, even single malts are generally blends of different casks, so blending is all part of the art and creativity of the industry.

I tasted these three different blended whiskies while practising for my WSET Spirits exam but rather than bore anyone with lengthy tasting notes I thought I'd just go through what I see as the stylistic differences.

The Famous Grouse was first up. I picked it more because of a good write up from Jim Murray that its status as one of the UK's best-selling whiskies; to see if I can pick out the qualities that lead to him giving it some 89 points in the Whisky Bible. I have to admit I struggled. I think I'll have to try it alongside another scotch blend, but there seemed to be very little character. The nose was grainy, with the vanilla oak coming through. On the palate there's some grassy freshness, and I suppose if you were dedicated to whisky to the point where you wanted one as an apéritif, this would be one choice.

The Jameson has more toffee and caramel on the nose, and again on the palate. It comes across as sweeter, but it's equally light in body and character, which complements the grassy, grainy palate. Again this gets a massive 95 points in the Whisky Bible but I was struggling to see why; in fact if anything the finish was worse than the Famous Grouse, the caramel leaving something of an artificial taste in the mouth.

Last up, Jack Daniel's ubiquitous No.7. Saviour of supermarket blends? Well, actually I thought it was better than the other two. The nose had more to it, showing multi-faceted rather than one-dimensional oak character; coconut, and maple, rather than simple vanilla. On the palate there's still some grassiness, this is still light if you're used to single malts, but there's more maple and notes of smoke from the char. The finish has almost gone before it starts. It's rough round the edges but it's hard to argue that there's anything unpleasant going on there. 87 points and, for me, the best of the bunch.

I don't think I'll be changing my whisky drinking habits on the back of this particular tasting, but, as ever, the flavour quest continues, and it was certainly interesting to re-visit and re-assess rather than holding to long-held opinions on these whiskies!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Adnams 'Southwold Winter IPA'

I love winter; long evenings staying cosy in the house with a good film, a good beer and a good whisky. Ideally I'd go for an imperial stout with a whisky to match, but Adnams' idea of a Winter IPA sounds like a rather excellent concept too. When I worked in a London Oddbins next to a video shop we used to try and come up with wine and film combinations, asking people what film they'd rented and trying to recommend an ideal wine. I might branch out and try for a triple combination, the ultimate whisky and film accompaniment to a beer - I'm sure I can put the research in for this one.

Back to the beer. It poured cloudy, I'm not sure if that was my fault but I'm rarely particularly picky about clarity. I loved the brilliant orange colour though. There's a slight soapiness on the nose, but it was potentially a bit cold when I first poured it - a good film beer has to last the length of a film after all. There was plenty of rindy-orange flavours, like mixed peel, and a spicy, perfumed finish. All good, but for me a little understated. I'd love to try a more powerfully-hopped version!

There was a bit of a danger of expecting too much from this one, as my little self-indulgent opening paragraph suggests. It is, after all, a beer brewed for a supermarket chain so is it fair to expect something so different as I had in mind? Perhaps, but thinking more objectively this is a great beer for the money, and it might well lead to more adventurous offerings in the future. A beer like this with a more powerful spice kick like the Otley O-Garden would be fantastic. The whisky was a SMWS Glen Moray and the film was Se7en. Good for a starter but as the nights really draw in I'll be looking for my whisky to have more sherry, smoke or even chocolate orange flavours - like the Ben Nevis from the Glenkeir range - Christmas in a glass.*

6.7% abv. Expect to pay around £2 (50cl), sorry, lost the receipt. Marks & Spencer exclusive.

* A bit of a work plug but it's a delicious whisky!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

SMWS '35.58' Glen Moray

When I've had Glen Moray whisky in the past (admittedly a more 'standard' bottling) I've found it a bit weak, almost too light, even allowing for the fact that it is hardly distilled as a heavyweight. This one is an ex-bourbon and refill hogshead expression, matured over 26 years, and so it promises to be a little more complex!

It's pale for such an old whisky, pouring a delicate gold colour, but I'm guessing it would have been all too easy for such a lighter style, whisky to get overpowered by the oak so that's no bad thing.

The nose is all butterscotch and toffee, backed up with exotic spices and honeyed notes reminiscent of a good Sauternes, perhaps with a touch of fino sherry. On the palate it is sensually smooth and malty, showing its 26 years in a cask in the form of a mellow warming rather than a spirity burn. The sweet dairy flavours echo the nose, there's lots of fudge there, but the grassy, floral flavours and the dry, oaky, vanilla-spice keep it form becoming too sweet. In the finish the whisky finally succumbs to the oak, the finish is drying and more-ish.

Even at cask strength this is only 41% abv. I hope the angels enjoyed it. I like a little more weight to my whisky, but that is entirely personal taste rather than a reflection on this, because it really is excellent.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Williams Brothers 'Prodigal Son'

Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt seemed to me to come and go with barely a whimper. I'm not sure if there were simply far too many exciting things happening for it to register, in the form of IndyMan and DeMolen, or whether it was a lack of quality entrants, lack of publicity or maybe I've just been too busy with other things to 'catch the vibe' so to speak.

It's something that I still think is worth supporting but it might not carry on that way. Tucking the new beers in a seasonal aisle along with Halloween hats and Christmas crackers seems crazy to me - OK the beers might not be part of the permanent range but they're neither are they naturally associated with a holiday. The stock also has to be there; there's no point in allowing an entrant if they don't have the beers to go where they're required and you end up with some of last year's beer coming back into the competition.

On the positive side, beers like the Prodigal Son from Williams and the Harviestoun Wild Hop Gold are bold, experimental, and really make the competition. Even aside from skunked clear bottles and re-entries, too many were, for me, indicative of a section of the beer market that is content to put 'traditional' on their labels and hope the beer sells, possibly as a 'genuine local' product - lots of soapiness and very little thought. Prodigal Son is nothing like this, it's the best I've had although I've not tried everything I got hold of - I've yet to try the winner so maybe there is time for redemption yet. Prodigal Son is a lovely, juicy, mouth-watering drop, the aroma reminded me of leafy blackcurrant and it's got a herbal, medicinal quality with a lovely ginger spiciness in the finish. There's character right across the nose, palate and finish; always a sign of quality.

Nottingham CAMRA's beer festival is on at Nottingham Castle this weekend. Due to having to commit myself to other things I'm not able to go, which is disappointing because it is a great all-round festival; but with over 1000 different beers there it seems that even for someone with an interest there is a lot of mediocre beer out there to get past before you get to the really stellar performers. My list out of the 500 or so breweries that I was really keen to sample something from only ran to a dozen or so that I'd not tried before. In an ideal world it would be great to try everything once , but with so much choice (and a limited supply of cash and 'constitution') you have to be picky, and not all 'real ales' are are created equal, any more than all beers are.

Prodigal Son is 4.1% abv and was in a 3 for £4 deal in Sainsbury's.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Otley 'O-Garden'

I'm not really a massive wheat beer fan. Schneider-weisse is an old favourite but too many I've had have had too little flavour to really capture my interest. However, I've wanted to try some of Otley's beers for ages, and so I picked this up when I saw it, the choice being this or the porter. Well, or isn't strictly true, as I'm sure most beer geeks can appreciate. I took both.

So a brewery I'd heard many great things about making a style of beer that usually leaves me pretty non-plussed - which would win out? This was a beer of two halves really, on first pouring it was clear, and the aromas gently came out, caressing the nose rather than delivering a full on assault. On the palate? Well, earlier on in the day I'd had a sample of a fifteen year old Ben Nevis whisky, which had a beautiful tangy yet sweet orange flavour. When I tried this, it was like the whisky had come back to haunt me. When I poured the second half of the beer the sediment came out more, and as it warmed those initially subtle aromas really came to the fore. The fruit provides enough character to keep the beer interesting, without it ending up like some sort of sickly fruit beer. The whole package is deliciously mouth-watering, and the touch of spice in the finish invites you back for more. It was a revelation, the best wheat beer I remember having tried. If this is what Otley can do with a beer style I'm not particularly a fan of, I'm definitely going to have to get hold of some more!

4.8% abv. £2.60 from wherever it was in Pembrokeshire I picked it up!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Lajita Mezcal Reposado

One of the more amusing aspects of working in the drinks industry for so long is the number of stories that you get to hear that have been passed around, often I'm sure while the passers were under the influence. These stories are told, forgotten, exaggerated and manipulated, and sometimes take on a momentum that is way beyond stopping. Drinks themselves are often the victims of all kinds of myths; you name a drink and someone will tell you something 'everyone knows' about it that is generally far more exotic than the truth.

'Have you ever eaten the worm from a bottle of tequila? It's hallucinogenic!' Given that university students are back in university student union bars up and down the country this week, I'm sure this is one that'll get some vociferous airing. Like the best of them, it's not true on more than one account. The worm is actually a moth larva, it doesn't have any hallucinogenic properties, and if you find one in a bottle of tequila then you've been had - it's mezcal - and not even mezcal has to have the larva in there. Tequila is a sort of mezcal that is distilled under much tighter laws governing area of production and agave variety. Only sotol, another form of mezcal, is as tightly controlled in terms of raw ingredients.

Despite this being a 'reposado' rather than an 'anejo' version of the spirit it has had five years of ageing, a lot more than the rather more delicate Patrón Tequila I reviewed in my last blog entry. I suppose the theory is that the more robust country cousin of tequila can cope with the oak a little better. Let's see.

It's bright, pale gold in colour, with wee floaty bits that I wasn't too keen on getting in my glass - I'm assuming they're bits of moth larva. It's noticeably matured, with loads of barbecue smoke on the nose. There's a little earthiness a and some sweet oak too. On the palate it's dry, with well-integrated alcohol, and the smoke returns with a vengeance, it's a bit like I'd imagine licking a piece of charcoal to be! There's more oak in the form of tobacco and cigar-box flavours, but it's hard to detect any agave character in there. In what is hardly a radical departure, the finish is long and, err, smoky. So therein lies the problem in assessing the quality. They've done a good job in integrating the alcohol and making a smooth spirit but tn the process it's become too one dimensional. Islay whiskies can have as much smoky character, but they always have something to back it up, to counterbalance and add complexity; this unfortunately doesn't. Five years maturation seems too long for this one!

40% abv. £23.45 (70cl) from Master of Malt.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Patrón Tequila

I've got three different expressions of tequila to try, all from Patrón, the self-styled super-premium tequila producers.

First up was the Patrón silver, the un-aged version. There are gentle earthy aromas but these are swiftly overtaken by fresh and vibrant citrus; tangerine, and I got a hint of sweetness, perhaps butterscotch aroma. On the palate it's dry, with only a very slight alcohol burn. The agave flavours are noticeable but they are really fresh, backed up with lemon and a touch of almond. Overall a good, light, pure spirit without  any harshness or feinty notes.

Next, the reposado, or rested version (aged for a couple of months). It pours a pale gold colour with green hints. On the nose there's citrus again; lemon, with a hint of woodsmoke and vegetal agave aromas. It's dry on the palate but the agave flavours are backed up with vanilla sweetness, lime and a lifted orange blossom finish. The short ageing process has allowed the alcohol to integrate into the spirit, giving it a superb balance of sweet oak and savoury vegetal flavours.

Finally the anejo, fully aged over a year. I didn't get much oak on the nose, but it has contributed in a toffee hint, with the vanilla and smoke that I found in the reposado. On the palate it is very dry from the oak influence, the alcohol is well-integrated but I found it to be a little too drying - there's lots of sawdust and oak flavour and the coconut and smokiness dominates the fruit a little, although it does make for a very mellow spirit.

In short (no pun intended), if you think tequila is a rough spirit that only deserves to be fired down with salt and lemon this is the tequila to try to disavow you of that impression. For me the reposado was the best of the three, getting the right balance without allowing the oak to provide character without dominating what is quite a light spirit - although it might just be because I'm not a massive fan of oak flavours in the raw.

All three are 40% abv. Patrón silver is selling for £43.49 at The Whisky Exchange, the reposado for just a pound more and the anejo for £49.49.

Arran Brewery 'Sunset' Ale

I got this from the new(ish) Whisky Shop in Nottingham, where I've just started working.* I assumed at the time that the Brewery had a tie-in with the distillery (hence its arrival at a whisky shop) but that doesn't seem to be the case.

The Sunset pours a light amber colour. It's a little perfumed and soapy on the nose, and generally quite restrained. When you dive in though it's like a comforting malty blanket. It's biscuity, but there is just enough bite from the hops to tease you and keep it interesting. It's one of the smoothest beers I've had in a a long time, impeccably balanced with s lightly spicy finish. Many of the more traditional style lowish alcohol micro-brewed beers I've had recently have been a little rough around the edges, sometimes the malt seems to jar a bit rather than being integrated, but the Sunset has none of these issues. Arran have recently won awards with SIBA, the International Beer Challenge and at the World Beer Awards. On the evidence of this they are well deserved, and I look forward to trying the rest of the range.

Arran look like being a brewery we'll be hearing a lot form in the future, they've got big expansion plans which will be funded off the back of a share offer (see this article from the Scottish Herald in June c/o the SIBA website). It'll be interesting to see how they market that in the light of BrewDog's similar scheme. Here's wishing them luck.

4.4% abv. The only downside to the beer is that at £3.50 for a 50cl bottle it does seem a bit pricy, although it's easy to see where your money goes!

* Hopefully this doesn't make me any less objective about the beer!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Fuller's 'Bengal Lancer' IPA

Big breweries are much maligned in beer blogs and the like, but just because a brewery is big doesn't mean it can't make interesting beer, even if far too often they don't. White Shield; 'from the makers of Carling' as the advertising slogan doesn't run,  is perhaps the most extreme example of this, but Fuller's seem to me to be one of the bigger British breweries that offer something special. Having lived most of my life north of Watford Gap it's not a brewery I'm actually that familiar with, but what beers of theirs I have tried have put many operations that espouse the virtues of their small size and flexibility as as asset to shame.

It seems to be a recurring theme of mine that when I try new IPAs I'm actually looking more for how the malt supports the hops flavours and gives the beer structure and backbone. For me far too many beers use hops rather too indiscriminately, almost forgetting that beer is a complex drink, not just a sort of one-dimensional strong hop cordial. There's plenty of leafy hop aroma, all backed up with smoky spices and that all-important biscuity malt spine. If I were to be critical, I found that there was a little too much sweetness, but I realise that's just my taste rather than a fault with the beer, some people will like it more because of that.

Celebrity endorsed, and (rather curiously) made for the Swedish market, but don't let that put you off. 5.3% abv. £1.99 from Ocado.

PS: Apparently it's vegan too, no nasty fish bits required!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Brecon 'Special Reserve' Gin

This is the other sample of Penderyn's 'other spirits' that I picked up form Wales over the summer. With more distilleries springing up over the UK seemingly every week there is a huge number of new gins hitting the market. With whisky taking such a long time to reach a level where it can even be called whisky, gin and vodka allow a faster return on an investment. Of course there is the danger that they become a route to a quick buck, an afterthought rather than something to be proud of. This is definitely not the case with Penderyn, but I am getting ahead of myself.

The gin! It's bright, clear and water-white, as you would expect. It's really fresh and floral on the nose, beautifully clean-smelling. Along with the juniper there is a citrus sweetness - tangerine aromas abound. With the addition of a touch of water the sweet fruit comes through all the more.

On the palate it's just off-dry, with smoothly integrated alcohol. The botanicals give it a bit of body, it's not so light as the vodka. There are spices as well as the citrus popping up again, from reading up on it after tasting they use orange and lemon peel, cinnamon and nutmeg, which lends it a subtle sweetness to back up the fragrant spice. I think this is a cracking gin for the price if you're a fan of a lighter style. It's not a big bruiser like some of the super-premium ones can be, there is a gentle subtlety to the use of the botanicals, and I think it's all the better for it.

40% abv. £19.80 (70cl) direct from Penderyn.

If you are a gin drinker and would like to know more about the new releases as they come out I'd highly recommend a read of The Gin Blog - no prizes for guessing what that's about.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Brecon Five Vodka

I picked this one up when I was down in Wales over the summer, knowing I'd have to stock up on the weird and wonderful before my spirits exam in November. I'm a big fan of Pendreryn whisky, so it was interesting to find out what they do with a couple of different spirits (I got the gin too).

Vodka's always a difficult one to pin down for me, but this was an excellent example of a light, delicate vodka. On the nose there's a faint whiff of smoke from somewhere, along with pleasant grainy and flour notes. It's dry, with well-integrated alcohol; which for me is always crucial, any burn and they've not done their job properly. The light to medium body complements the delicate floral and grain flavours. Everything being light means everything balances out rather nicely, right up to the clean cereal-textured finish.

If it were me I'd have allowed a little more character to come through, but then I'm not particularly a vodka drinker - it's very good, but as a recreational drink I'll stick to its big brother I think.

40% abv. £29.03 direct from Penderynn, although I picked up the miniature from Celtic Vision in Narberth, which is to all outward appearances a camera shop - see here for a bit of an explanation.

Harviestoun 'Wild Hop Gold'

This wasn't quite the first of the Sainsbury's 2012 Great British Beer Hunt beers that I tried but it was the first one that was both drinkable and not simply one of last year's entries that had been put back in the competition. Normally I wouldn't usually buy beer in clear glass for obvious reasons, but I fell foul of the 3 for £4 deal and the first bottle I had from the collection was light-struck; serves me right really.

Moving on to more positive things; Harviestoun's Wild Hop IPA was one of the highlights of last year's competition for me, and so I was looking forward to this one. On the nose it's really floral, bursting with elderflower and orange blossom aromas. What it really reminded me of was an Alsace Gewürztraminer; fruity and dry, but with loads of aromatic floral character with pink grapefruit and spices on the palate. I think this is a well-made beer but it's so different I found it a bit overpowering - I really think it would have been much better with food. Having said that this competition should be about trying different things, and just because it's not necessarily to my tastes doesn't mean it's not a good beer. I would definitely encourage people to give it a try, it's that bold in favour that might just be that it's one of those love it/hate it kind of beers.

I was at a wedding over the weekend and I got talking to someone about bold fruit flavours in new world wines popping up in some beers, and making people realise that beer really can be more interesting than just a bland commercial lager. The disappointing thing was I'd had Thai curry for dinner earlier; I should have had it with that, it would have been a brilliant match.

4.4% abv. It's part of Sainsbury's Great British Beer Hunt range for 2012. I found it in the seasonal food rather than the beer section, priced at 3 for £4 or (I think) £1.89.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Nils Oscar 'Kalasöl'

Due to life being rather busy at the moment this isn't so much a blog post as a quick tasting note - I had this bottle from Nils Oscar the other day and really enjoyed it - so here it is!

It pours a dark, burnt red. On the nose there's a touch of malt, and a metallic, almost ferrous aroma, which sounds unpleasant but actually works. There's an oiliness to the texture and the whole brew feels satisfyingly weighty, as befits the name; Kalasöl apparently means 'feast beer' which makes perfect sense in the abundance of rich malts. On the palate there's caramel and chocolate, counterbalanced with dried peel, toasty notes and nuttiness. Overall it's a really complex beer; difficult to pin down but very drinkable. This is one that's go down great with fresh pretzels and a heart-attack inducing cheese dip; it's that time of year.

5.2% abv. £2.16 from Beer Ritz. (33cl)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Wray & Nephew Overproof White Rum

Last time I sat my WSET spirits exam I got this one thrown at me. Painful as it is to admit, I had had it before, although not so much as part of a tasting session as an end of night chaser in the pub I used to run. I didn't recognise it and the crazy aromas and flavours completely threw me off track - hence my 'revenge tasting'!

It pours clear and bright, as you'd expect from a white rum. There's no louching but there is a noticeable oiliness on addition of water, and there are strong legs for a white spirit. On the nose it's clean, without anything noticeably picked up from any ageing. The aromas are of dried banana and candle-wax tempered with a touch of lime. It's not as sweet as you might expect a rum to be, the alcohol is quite well integrated for such a strong (63%) spirit, although I did only taste it with water. The flavours are unsurprisingly intense, there's a load of molasses, with lime, cashew and more a banana. Perhaps a little too much of the waxiness and solvent-like paint flavours for me though.

Overall it's a decent quality rum, although I wonder if going for the extra alcohol as left it tasting a bit feinty to put it into the realms of real quality.

Expect to pay about £25 or so for a 70cl bottle.

Democracy In Action?

When the beer duty escalator petition hit the one hundred thousand mark the other day, some people were justifiably happy about it. Others were a little more cautious. I feel that it is now that the campaign ought to be stepped up. If you agree then it's probably a good idea to see if you can encourage your MP to get on board, in the hope that if the debate happens it will be worthy of the term and not something that is read to an empty House. It's a bit ambitious to suggest it will turn into a three line whip issue, but hopefully if enough noise is made some people might pay attention.

When I wrote to my MP (via email) I quoted from his April newsletter, something I blogged about not long after.

We need to keep an eye on how the beer duty system is structured, so that it does not advantage the mass production end over the bespoke and higher quality smaller brewers who we need to support as much as possible.

By way of a follow-up, I'll quote from the letter he sent me that I received today:

I certainly think we need to keep an eye on how the beer duty system is structured, so that it does not advantage mass production and supermarket-loss leading over bespoke and higher quality smaller brewers who we need to support as much as possible.

Rather more encouraging was:

I'll continue to press the Government to look at ways of supporting the brewing industry and community pubs, including addressing the Beer Duty Escalator. 
Make of that what you will. I'd be interested to hear what other MPs have to say on the issue if anyone else has been in touch.

PS: The escalator image came from the Summer Wine Brewery's Blog (well, originally somewhere else but the link on that post isn't working) who had a bit of bad news this morning in the form of someone breaking into and trashing the brewery. If you get a chance, have one of their beers this week. It's bad enough the government making things difficult without things like that happening. I wish them all the best with getting things sorted!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Meantime IPA

75cl bottles of beer, a truly fantastic idea. They're great for sharing, and in the case of both the Punk IPA I had the other week (which I am pleased to say was back in tip-top form) and this one, they're even better to share with someone who wasn't that keen and so let me drink it.

For me Meantime brewery are ticking all the boxes. They're making good, well-packaged beer, which is widely available. I love reading about the weird, the wonderful, the eye-wateringly expensive, and the hard-to-find, but unfortunately that's often as close as I get. However it's reassuring to know that even in those monuments to mediocrity, the British supermarkets; decent, flavourful beer is getting a look in.

The IPA pours a coppery-orange colour. On the nose the Meantime IPA's fruit was restrained at first; grassy nuances of tropical and citrus fruit were there, but I served it pretty cold which I think subdued things a little. The punch came on the palate in the form of an explosion of pithy bitterness. For me some IPA can end up with so much forward tropical fruit that they end up being a bit cloying, more like pop than beer - or maybe Um Bongo? This has far more complexity, the biscuity malt doesn't just feel like an afterthought, although taking away some of the sweetness does seem to make it moreish and disguise the alcohol. Ah well, that's what Friday evenings in front of the rugby are for.

7.4% abv (75cl). I got this from Sainsbury's, I think I paid about £5.50 for it.

SMWS '93.34' Glen Scotia

This is one of the last three whiskies I got from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society before I had to let my membership elapse. As all SMWS bottlings are, it is from a single cask, and bottled at cask strength (55.1% abv. in this case). I'm a big fan of west coast whiskies as a style; Oban, Talisker and particularly, Springbank are some of my favourite 'standard' single malts. Glen Scotia is often somewhat unfairly forgotten as the smaller of the two remaining distilleries in the now sadly almost non-existent Campbeltown region.

The pack of three I got were all quite old sherry-cask matured whiskies, this one having been matured for sixteen years in a refill butt. The sixteen years have allowed the spirit to mellow, at least on the nose, which is all rich chocolate and caramel. On the palate though, the conventional 'age as a mellower' wisdom is thrown right out of the window. It really demonstrates the difference between a sherry finish and prolonged contact - it's less of a touch of sweetness than a full on bonfire effect, the lovely west-coast smokiness is still there but the sherry is no idle passenger, it really drives the toffee and dried fruit flavours forward, a sort of iron hand in a velvet glove.

This was the first of 176 bottles, and, as always, when it's gone it's gone forever, but I'm looking forward to seeking out whiskies like this as the winter nights draw in, with a bit of luck accompanied by some imperial stout and a good film.

A colleague told me about this video of Brian Cox (the actor not the the Professor) demonstrating how to pronounce, and indeed drink, malt whiskies. I can't embed the whole thing since I could only find it on You Tube in its separate parts but it's well worth a listen even if your pronunciation is pretty good. The best bit though is undoubtedly him trying his favourite; Lagavulin.

Enjoy. I am pretty sure Brian did. Sláinte.