Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Douglas of Drumlanrig Clynelish 15

This is one of two independent bottlings of Clynelish that I've got at the moment, both at 15 years old. I've always thought that Clynelish is one of the most under-rated whiskies from Diageo's stable, despite its 'Classic Malt' status. It's strange that Dalwhinnie overshadows it when Clynelish seems so much more of a genuine Highlander (at least in terms of flavour profile, I guess there's no competition in terms of altitude!) Still, if it being under-rated means that the indy bottlers get more of it then that's fine by me.

Apologies for my photo which surprisingly manages to be even worse than my usual efforts. Despite appearances I hadn't drank half the bottle when I took it though, me and a mate are doing a whisky-share, going halves on bottles after a somewhat protracted decision-making process. It means that two of us contribute to the tasting note - more of a text-tasting than a tweet-tasting.

On to the whisky... On the nose there's almond/marzipan and candied citrus peel. On the palate it's fresh and grassy and there's woody spice (ginger) and tobacco. Additional notes (via SMS) suggested marmalade, lemon, wood, cherries and burnt citrus. With a drop of water (this is a 50% abv whisky and I thought it came across a bit spirity on the nose because of that) the sweeter spice notes came more to the fore. This is a good, proper Highland dram; not shy, but certainly not too shouty - long may Clynelish's profile remain firmly at the level it is!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Pulteney Pair

Old Pulteney 12 is a whisky I've never been that bothered about. A former colleague of mine used to like it so I did give it a try years ago through work but it didn't leave much of an impression. When I tried it again more recently I have to say the earth once again resolutely failed to move for me. Nothing wrong with it, just not particularly my thing... Then I got to try the Old Pulteney 21. This is one that Jim Murray gave Scotch of the year to in his 2012 bible, and while I often disagree entirely with his assessments, this time he and I were on the same wavelength - it's great; subtle yet superbly complex. So that left me with the 17 of the (affordable) core range to have a go at, the casting vote. I wasn't really bold enough to leap in and buy the 17 though, after all it might be more like its younger sibling than its older, and so I've bagged a set of two halves, which gives me a chance to re-assess the 12 year old that's also rated highly by Jim Murray, putting him in the illustrious company of at least one ex-Oddbins manager (I'm sure he's honoured). The other consideration was that while a quick tasting sample is a great way of introduction to a whisky, unless you get to spend time with it in comfort and quiet contemplation I think you can never really get to know it. Maybe the introductory expression would reward some care and attention.

Old Pulteney 12

On the nose there's a whiff of the fairground, as if you're carrying a great big candy floss and you wander past a toffee apple stand. It really benefited from sitting for a while and opening up, which is something that I'm finding helps as I'm trying to get into more subtle whiskies like this (not all the time though, clearly). On the palate there's lots of fresh, vibrant fruit, pomegranate and banana in particular, at the fore. It's only really the finish that I feel lets it down, there's just not much more than a tease of salt and ginger then it's gone. There's also a certain brackish feel to it along the sides of the tongue that I'm not really too keen on. Other than that I'm really glad I've given the 12 a chance, it's definitely moved on from how I remember it being; all brine and not enough flavour to back it up.

Old Pulteney 17

This expression uses second refill bourbon casks rather than the first refill ones used for the 12, the idea being that that the longer maturation doesn't end up in a spirit that's been overpowered by the wood. Once again there's fruit on the nose but this time it's mellower, like apple crumble, and there's a fuller barley aroma and more secondary notes of vanilla and fudge. On the palate there's still a tangy salty note only this time there's more going on so it doesn't dominate so much as in the 12. It's on the finish that it really leaps ahead of its younger sibling though, the finish is great; complex rich sweetness with none of the brackish notes I've always found with the 12. An altogether more rounded dram.

Just as a final note on the 21. I was asked recently what the best luxury whisky I've tried this year is and despite brilliant indy bottlings of of The Macallan and Imperial which I was really impressed with, I think I'd have to go for the Old Pulteney 21 on the grounds that the sheer complexity of it meant that every mouthful threw a whole new batch of amazing flavours at you. There might be more to come on that one if I feel I can do it justice.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

BrewDog IPA Is Dead 2013

This is the first chance I've had to have a go at one of BrewDog's 'IPA Is Dead' series. I think I'm right in saying that they are an annual release and I've read about them before but it wasn't until I bagged this set in York a few months back that I'd been able to get my hands on some.

I guess the idea is simple. One beer recipe, a hop-forward one, naturally, but with four different hops used to highlight any different character they offer. While I've had a fair few single-hop beers I've not had them alongside one another so I thought I'd line them all up and go for the whole beer-geek feast and compare them - even if I did use wine tasting glasses!

The four different hops used were Dana, El Dorado, Goldings and Waimea. Rather than repeat myself they all had some characteristics in common; a dustiness that I always think of when I have Jaipur or Punk IPA.

Dana: I felt this one lacked a bit of 'zip,' not enough citrus liveliness to excite the palate like a good IPA should always do. Apologies for lurching into wine tasting terms but it felt a bit flabby, like a white wine which is lacking a little refreshing acidity. Still, very drinkable, with lots of mango fruitiness.

El Dorado: More mango, but this time a bit more citrus in the form of pink grapefruit. A bit sweet for my liking but it definitely upped the ante in terms of more IPA 'bite' than the Dana.

Goldings: More malt to the fore and all the better for it (that said, it's all relative!) Sweet blood orange and better grapefruit pithiness add up to a beer of real depth and complexity. For me the best of the bunch.

Waimea: An extra helping of the 'dusty' nose, but with peaches this time on the palate. Possibly the most balanced of the four, but it did make me wonder if balance is really what you look for in an American-style IPA, isn't it all about the hops?

All in all a really enjoyable set of beers and given the chance I'll certainly give the next lot a go. Funnily enough the last single-hopped beer I remember having was an El Dorado but as someone who really knows shamefully little about brewing I could see why the Goldings hops get used so often!

All four were 33cl and 6.7% abv. The pack was around £15 (I think) from Trembling Madness.

If anyone else tried these let me know what you thought -  if you did a blog post on them post a link!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Mellow Jack?

A few weeks back we had a bit of a staff masterclass at work featuring Jack Daniel's. I managed to miss it because I was on the way to Scotland. I also managed to miss a very similar event for the shops I'd been in all day up in Edinburgh, because I was on the train back down south. Ah well...

Anyway, a couple of samples were left for me to try to demonstrate development of Jack Daniel's whiskey through its famous charcoal mellowing process. Jack Daniel's all goes through '10 feet of hard sugar maple charcoal' before maturing in barrels and becoming whiskey.

These two are not quite new-make JD since it's cut down to 40%, and I'd imagine it's not matured at that strength. In Scotland the industry standard is 63.5% abv. In the USA whiskey is introduced to the cask at no higher than 125 proof (62.5% abv, see here) but as I understand it in practice it does go into casks at a lower strength than that, but not as low as 40%. Buffalo Trace, for example, generally introduce their wheated bourbons to cask at 57%/114 (American) Proof, something they've recently experimented with to make sure it's the optimium level.

I should also add that this is not a commercial release, it's not for sale at all and clearly states so on the bottle. The commercial release of these 'not whisky yet' whiskies is something I struggle to make my mind up about. I'm all in favour of things coming out that help us all to understand what we drink but when I see 50cl (ie. a sizeable amount of spirit) for more than bottles of decent quality single malt then something doesn't quite sit right. But that's for another post I think; there are some interesting thoughts on commercial releases of 'new-make' spirit over at the Edinburgh Whisky Blog.

Now I wouldn't really describe myself as a Jack fan, but in terms of readily available whiskies around the world, I'd say it's up there. I'd certainly take it over a cheap blended Scotch or for that matter an Indian 'whisky' which is, well, nothing of the sort. So what do these two taste like?

Jack Daniel's Unmatured - Before Mellowing.

The first impression is that it's kind of like you've walked into a sweet shop, there's a load of sweet corn there with a dusting of icing sugar and sugared water - you may get the impression I'm going with a sweet theme here on the nose. On the palate there's not much going on, some oily sweetness and some patisserie baked notes,but it comes across a bit like a rather directionless vodka. There's no finish to speak of unless a vague (and not particularly pleasant) lingering of the sweet corn flavours count. I know some people use these sort of raw spirits as a cocktail ingredient and I suppose it could work like that, it's really not meant to be a drink as such so it's unfair to suggest that it should be one - it's certainly not unpleasant just rather forgettable!

Jack Daniel's Unmatured - After Mellowing.

At first on the nose it's not hugely different, and if anything it's even more so, but I've run out of sweet metaphors so feel free to fill in your own. It seemed slightly more viscous in the glass, and once it had opened up the harsher sweet corn notes are not so pronounced as in the first sample. On the palate it's immediately more like whiskey, I think it's a bit of an exaggeration to suggest that  'it is absent the grainy character of the white-labelled before-mellowing whiskey,'* it is Jack Daniels's after all, but it certainly pulls the flavours together more, and comes across as much smoother, even if it does add another layer of sweetness!

All in all it was interesting to try these two samples, you can certainly see that the mellowing does have an effect, although part of me does wonder if that extra sweetness might be at least as appealing as the smoothness.

* The blurb on the side of the bottle.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Glenfarclas 105

A while back I was musing as to why I hadn't ever got round to trying this one. I then got to try it at a tasting and, at the risk of spoiling the surprise, it was every bit as good as I thought it might be, so I went halves with a friend on a half bottle to enjoy at my leisure.*

My photo doesn't do it any justice at all, although it's probably not helped by divvying up half the contents. It's a deeply polished mahogany colour, as intriguing as the oloroso sherry barrels that so heavily influence it. On the nose there's a fair kick from the alcohol but get past that and you're into familiar boozy raisin and sultana territory. On the palate it's almost clich├ęd 'liquid Christmas cake' but really, who cares when it does it so well? It's like slating Barcelona for 'just scoring more goals than the opposition'. It doesn't half deliver, a sort of 'go direct to sherried whisky, do not pass go, do not collect £200'.  It has plenty of weight, but its youth (it's 10 years old) means it also keeps vibrant rather than wallowing in the sherry. Whilst I'd be intrigued to try the (4 times more expensive) 20 year old version I've no idea if that could carry it off as well.

I've tried a few of the regular Glenfarclas range now, and for me this one and the 2003 Whisky Shop exclusive represent the best of the range in terms of bang for your buck. Highly recommended!

* I admit my enjoyment is not really a surprise, its appearance in this blog doing more than suggest I enjoyed it!