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!