Friday, 21 November 2014

Òrach Slie & Glenfarclas 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Brewdog 'Russian Doll'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Islay Ales & Bruichladdich

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Trio from The Glenlivet

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

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

Glenlivet 12 

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

Glenlivet 15 'French Oak Reserve'

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

Glenlivet 18

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

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

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Three Discontinued Balvenies

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

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

Balvenie 12 'Signature'

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

Balvenie 'Single Barrel' 15

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

Balvenie 'Peated Cask' 17

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

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

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Los Muertos Brewing Co. Pair

I'll admit to being drawn in by Los Muertos' packaging here, I think those skulls revived the teenage metal fan a bit. Was I just suckered because of something that shares a thematic link to Entombed? Well, maybe, but if that was the only case then I was certainly more encouraged by seeing the brewery featuring over on Phil's blog than I was from previous excursions into Mexican beer territory.

First up was the 4.8% 'Queen of the Night' Pale Ale, which was actually more orange in colour, almost like a blood orange. It didn't have a lot of aroma, although on the palate it had a good pithyness although I felt it would have benefited from being crisper. Decent enough, but I suspect it lost something in the journey across the Atlantic.

The 6.8%  'Dead On Arrival' IPA on the other hand seemed, rather ironically, to have survived a bit better. It was more aromatic, and with all you'd expect form an American style IPA, bags of tropical fruit and grapefruit hoppy bite. Very tasty indeed.

So one beer that really seemed to last the journey and one that didn't so much. Still, always good to see something more innovative happening than persuading idiots connoisseurs to stick fruit in the top of something because otherwise it tastes of nothing 'that's what they do in Mexico'.

They cam, I think, courtesy of Ales by Mail, although I forgot to note down how much I paid for them.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Nottingham Pubs

The folks over at Harviestoun recently asked me to write a guest post for them about my five favourite pubs in Nottingham

Now I’m sure there are all sorts of blog posts around about drinking in Nottingham. I suppose like most UK cities it has a rich brewing history, and there are loads of great pubs. A quick look at a copy of the Good Beer Guide (even if it’s the one copy I own dating from 1993) points you toward some pubs that have been regular haunts for visitors for a very long time. Now my recommendations are no sleight on those pubs that are something of a ‘must visit’ for visitors to Nottingham, but having lived here on and off for more years than I care to think about, there are some places that I would (and did) recommend that are maybe a little more off the beaten track. They are places that I drink when I go out to pubs now, having lived in Nottingham, and even at times lived in its pubs, for a large chunk of my adult life. These pubs are also entirely biased to where I have worked and played since I have lived here so apologies to some fine boozers that are not in my part of the city. It’s all personal, so go and have a read, hopefully enjoy it, and make other recommendations!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

William Grant & Sons 'Rare Cask Reserves'

This was a trio of (over) 25 year old whiskies selected for The Whisky Shop by a mixed team of staff and customers with guidance from Brian Kinsman; William Grant & Sons' Malt Master. They're all blends, but of different types of whisky, the results being a blended scotch, a blended grain and a blended malt.*

I tried these both with and without water. I also read through the master blender's notes beforehand to try and put them in a logical order, although I did retrace my steps. The idea was to try to pick up as much as I could from each whisky.

Batch No: 1/052500 - Blended Grain Scotch Whisky (47% abv)

Nose: As I usually get from grain whiskies, particularly older ones, there's decidedly more secondary notes and very little primary fruit. That said, amongst the vanilla and oak there's hints of burnt orange and cereals that are revealed a bit more once water is added, even if they're a little lost in the initial nose.
Palate: It's more powerful that I'd have thought from the nose. The sweetness is more muted too. Medium bodied, with lots of spicy nutmeg and cinnamon. Water allows more of the mixed peel to come through but this is by no means a fruity whisky, it's all about those grains playing off each other.
Finish: There's buttered wholemeal toast and a lingering oak spiciness.
Conclusion: It took a while to open up and for me get into it but there's no doubting the complexity and the quality here. It's certainly got more character at 25 years than I've encountered in some single grain whiskies at an older age - maybe a tick in the 'for' column for blending?

Batch No: 1/062501 - Blended Scotch Whisky (47% abv)

Nose: Again there's a lot of cask-created aromas on the nose; cigar-box and vanilla, with more depth to the oxidised, almost rancio notes than in the first dram.
Palate: For me this really blooms when water is added; once there's a drop of water in there that somewhat brutal cask influence is mellowed out a little and the flavours seem to spread out. I got more spices, along with hazelnut and dry coconut - the American oak influence really kicks in.
Finish: There's a touch of wood-smoke and a bit of a dry, harsh note to the finish, although that harsh note disappeared once I re-tasted with water.
Conclusion: There's a bit more going on here than in the blended grain but I think that it almost becomes a bit out of balance because of that. Still an interesting dram but not as enjoyable as the first.

Batch No: 1/042501 - Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (47% abv)

Nose: Although this was the most aggressive of the three on the nose it was no Islay bruiser. I got cinder toffee (or these even), caramel and vanilla.
Palate: Lots of flavour, if all a bit jumbled up again without water. This whisky does really gets the taste-buds excited though. Once water is added there's a bit more harmony to the palate; sweet toffee providing excellent contrast to powerful spicy dried fruit.
Finish: This is the first time I detected an Islay influence, when taken without water there's a hint of peat on the end there, although that dissipated with the addition of water.
Conclusion: I thought this had the greatest depth of flavour of the three whiskies; it was the one for me that really had a little spark that made me want to dive back in and try more.

I'm not sure my meagre tasting notes do these whiskies justice. The rarity that brings about a £250 price tag means they're in serious whisky territory, but they also seem so experimental, or at very least unconventionally branded, that they're aimed at the serious whisky geek. Because of those factors it's difficult to say whether the price is justified, but they were fascinating to try. There are more details on how the whiskies were put together in The Whisky Shop's magazine 'Whiskeria'.

* See definitions for those categories here.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A selection from Arran

These samples from Arran found their way to me courtesy of Steve over at Beers I've Known. It's always interesting to try a selection of different whiskies form one single distillery, it gives you an idea of what it is the distillers are aiming for in terms of a unique profile and character for the distillery as a whole rather than for one individual whisky. I was at a Balvenie tasting the other week and it was fascinating how six very different whiskies can retain a similarity that sets them apart as Balvenie. Two of these are whiskies I've tried before but again it's interesting to re-visit whiskies; aged spirits in general are so complex that I think they can offer something different every time. It's also the first time that I've sat down and done a proper tasting note for any of them, and only my second Arran review on this blog (you can read some thoughts on the Arran 10 here).

The Arran Malt - 12 Year Old Cask Strength, 53.9%.

Grassy, oaky nose with a bit of toffee in there after it had time to open up. I felt it needed a drop of water to bring out the barley sugar flavours. It does fall a bit short in complexity, but I think as an easy-going summer dram it's good if unspectacular.

The Arran Malt - 14 Year Old, 46%

Not as powerful on the nose as the 12, as you might expect given its lower abv, but it's got a bit more complexity; there's more vanilla to the oak, and a sweet sugar dusting. For me this had a great balance of zingy citrus fruit and smooth bourbon-influenced sweetness. This is an excellent dram; there's a lot going on on a vibrant palate (stone fruit and cashews) and the finish is just drying enough to make it moreish

The Arran Malt - The Millennium Casks, 53.4%

A more perfumed nose this time, with orange blossom and more stone fruit. Again after the whisky had stood for a while the toffee and vanilla came out a bit more. Didn't need water so much as the 12, it had a lot more of the character of the 14, with big juicy peach being the dominant flavour, but backed up nicely with nougat and salted caramel notes.

None of these whiskies are chill filtered. Arran continue to impress, they're making a good solid range of fruity whiskies - perfect drams for lazy summer afternoons.

Thanks very much to Steve for the whisky. The Beoir unfortunately didn't survive the journey.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Gypsy Inc: Tipsy Gypsy & Pale Trail

A couple of beers I picked up from BrewDog when I put an order in a while back that really impressed me. From what I can see Gypsy Inc. are not so much a brewery as such but beers brewed by a collective of brewers. The project itself is headed up by Mikkeller but I think these particular beers are brewed at BrewDog.

A lot of time I find that modern beers seem to be a bit alcohol heavy. I'm a huge fan of big hoppy IPAs and Imperial Stouts but sometimes I think that some brewers are guilty of ramping up the abv to give the beer a kick rather than letting the flavours do the talking. I'm sure it also helps that there is more of a premium for higher abv beers which means that it can be more cost-effective to use more expensive, flavour enhancing, ingredients on them. Both of these came in at below 5% (4.7% to be exact) but were packed with flavour, making them perfect for a mid-week summer evening.

Tipsy Gypsy: Lots of peach and passion fruit on the palate, and with a prickly grapefruit hop-bite on the finish that invites you back for more. Definitely a very quaffable beer.

Pale Trail: This was rather more conventional American style Pale Ale, there was a lot more citrus on this one but the passion fruit was there again. Mellow, with enough of a hop kick to keep things interesting.

All in all a couple of excellent little beers!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Compass Box: Hedonism & The General

The other week I had the pleasure of being at a tasting hosted by Chris Maybin of Compass Box Whiskies. I did a brief write up for The Whisky Shop's blog that you can have a read of here. If I get a chance I'll do a more in-depth review of some of the whiskies I tried at the tasting but here's something for the interim. The other week got to try a couple of Compass Box whiskies that I'd not tried before courtesy of a colleague, so here are a few notes on those.

Hedonism (43%) 

Sweet cream soda on the nose; in some ways like a bourbon only softer, mellowed out with white chocolate. On the palate there's sweet cake mix and an abundance of creamy vanilla. The finish is quite light, as you would probably expect from grain whisky, but the vanilla continues in a rather more spicy incarnation. 

Overall a really pleasant dram - I might find the vanilla a bit much after a while and find myself craving some variation, but it's certainly a great summery whisky, if not as complex as the Great King Street that I tried for the first time up in Scotland last year.   

The General (53.4%)

On the nose I got a heavily burnt note, almost like charred meat. This mellowed a little after the whisky had sat for a while, becoming a bit more 'regular whisky' aroma, the oak showing a little more. There's vanilla but not like with the hedonism, this time it's smoky and the spice is up far more than the sweetness in the mix. The palate is dominated by oak, oak and more oak, but some of the spiciness comes through again, with a chunk of dried orange. In the finish it shows its quality, it's extremely long with tantalising fruit coming through that spiced, charred oak.

This was a whisky I couldn't make my mind up about. Like I say there is no denying its quality but it was so different I found it hard to get my head round, and so I have to applaud Compass Box for making challenging, interesting whisky!

Thanks to Michael for sharing the samples.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

BrewDog 'IPA Is Dead' 2014

This year I was a bit quicker getting hold of BrewDog's 'IPA Is Dead' series (if a bit slow turning my notes into a blog post!)

For those of you who are unaware of it, and at the risk of re-hashing what I've already written about it, 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.

The four different hops used for the 2014 incarnation were Amarillo, Comet, Exp 366 and Kohatu.

Amarillo: This one starts off with that familiar Punk/Jaipur earthy hit. Lots of pithy grapefruit and a moreish finish. As it opened up that grapefruit came even more to the fore. For me the best of the bunch, one I'd happily go back to.

Comet: This one I got more tangerine flavours, and probably a better balance of fruit and hop hit than the Amarillo, but a bit lacking in fruit and a bit sweet for me, making it the weakest of the four offerings.

Exp 366: A touch paler than the others, this was more grassy and vegetal, and a bit mellower than the others. An interesting brew, could definitely be a hop that would add complexity, I think it will have a future.

Kohatu: This was hops for hop heads I think, being all about that hoppy bite. Unfortunately the bite seemed to throw it out of balance a bit, it didn't have enough of anything else to back it up. Still a great wake up call beer!

All in all a great range of beers. The only one I wasn't over impressed with was the Comet. That said, although they were enjoyable I'm not sure if beers at 7.2% aren't a bit too powerful to showcase the difference between the hops. Obviously the theme is IPA but it might be better to bring that abv down. Not sure 'American Style Pale Ale is Dead' has the same ring to it though.

All four were 33cl and 7.2% abv. The packs start at £9.50 from the BrewDog shop.

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

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Old Malt Cask Auchentoshan 10

Here's a whisky that might well have seen better days. It's hard to tell from the photo (I couldn't get my camera or my phone to look at the bottle rather than the background) but the fill level is about half way up the gold part at the top of the level. It may well have had ten years lovingly looked after in a barrel but unfortunately that love wasn't quite followed up by being lovingly enjoyed!

Still, whisky's a pretty robust liquid so I thought I'd give it a go...

It was a pale gold colour, and on the nose there was very little fruit, but a pleasant waxy, grassy aroma, with notes of wallpaper paste. I'll admit that doesn't sound too pleasant but actually was a lot better than it sounds! That fresh grassiness continued on to the palate, and the waxiness meant it came across ass very smooth. I'd be very surprised if the evaporation from the bottle had left it at the 50% abv stated on the bottle. Yes, Auchentoshan is usually a very gentle whisky but this definitely didn't feel anywhere near 50%! It was only on the finish where a touch of fruit came back, there was a lemony hint there along with a refreshing, minty note. All in all despite the ravages of time it was a really pleasant summery dram.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Two SMWS Samples - Glenkinchie & Caol Ila

Here's a couple of samples I found when I was sorting through the back of the drinks cupboard the other day. One is a 19 year old from Glenkinchie and the other a 15 year old from Caol Ila, both independent (ish*) bottlings from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

22.27 'Turkish Delights' 52%

Gold in colour, berries and stewed fruit on the nose; cherry crumble and a touch of banana. As it opened up the bourbon (refil hogshead) cask took over and I got more toffee and vanilla. It was soft on the palate even at cask strength, I certainly don't think it needed water. Good whisky although I would have expected more complexity at 19 years, I suppose with it being a lowland big brash flavours aren't to be expected. I am happy to report that I couldn't pick much Turkish Delight up on the nose or the palate - can't say I'm a fan!

53.112 'Sluggable - gluggable' 54.8%

Pale gold. There's ashy smoke on the nose, it's dry and woody but not much more. On the palate the peat influences take a bit of a back seat; there's a touch of honey but mostly savoury, almost meaty  notes. Water brought out more 'Caol Ila like' lemon, along with a minerally, chalky flavour. Not really my cup of tea but an interesting dram nevertheless.

Back in March it was a superb 14 year old sherry-cask unpeated Caol Ila (released in 2011) that I was drinking to celebrate my second daughter being born. It seemed appropriate for an Isla.

* I'm not sure if being part of the same company as Glenmorangie and Ardbeg still means SMWS bottlings are 'independent' but they're certainly something other than official distillery releases.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Glenglassaugh 'Evolution'

This was another distillery first for me. Glenglassaugh is a distillery that I had high hopes for once I knew that they'd been taken over by the guys from Benriach. I think Benriach are one of the quiet greats of Speyside, and they're not even my favourite distillery in the company portfolio, my love of sherry casks means this can't be ignored.

It's a pale yellow colour. On the nose its a fascinating mix of fresh fruit (melon), and waxy, sweet, mild vanilla. On the palate it's got lots of sherberty fresh fruit, but this time it's more banana and green apple. This particular sample was at cask (57.2%) strength, subsequent releases have been  at 50%, and I could see why. It was only once I'd added water that the lemony finish became apparent, and I felt at this very young age it was a bit too spirity at full cask strength - a drop of water turned it into a very pleasant, light, summery whisky. If this is setting the standard for the 'new' distillery then I am looking forward to more!

Thanks go to Michael for the sample. I like the way that there is now a lassie* to sit alongside the 'Laddie' on the world's whisky shelves - just a little symmetry that allows me to make more sense of the world.

* Apparently it's pronounced glen-glassy.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Spring Drinking

Well we've had a couple of false starts but slowly, surely, Summer is getting closer and closer, and if you're anything like me an evening's drinking habits change tack a little. Whilst I'm still drifting into cold evening fare (the other week I was drinking a bottle of Harviestoun's Old Engine Oil 'Old Engineer's Reserve') I generally find myself moving toward the hoppy end of the beer spectrum and away from dark warming brews. Stouts from the cellar give way to IPA from the fridge, currently heavily supplemented by a big beer order from BrewDog - if you're looking for big, hoppy, flavours I don't think you can go too far wrong.

Is there a whisky equivalent? When I head for the cabinet in search of a dram as the summer comes on I go less for the peaty end of things - there's something about the bonfire notes of a dram like Argbeg Uigedail or the Bunnahabhain 11 I wrote about the other week that seem to exude warmth. Similarly big, rich sherry-cask aged whiskies can be a bit heavy come the summer (unless you're talking Glenfarclas 105 with an ice cube - heresy maybe, but summer heaven). That's not to say I don't think whisky can be a summer drink, I'd go for it any time of year. Much as I enjoy a gin & tonic I prefer one as an aperitif rather than something to while away a contemplative hour or so of a late evening.

It's decision time then. What to add to the cabinet for a late spring whisky? Speyside is a natural destination for something sweet, lighter and more summer-friendly, but there are other light, delicate drams out there. I've particularly enjoyed Bunnahabhain 12 recently, it seems to be a much more complex dram than I remember (might be my palate, might be the fact that since 2010 they eschew chill filtration). Balblair's 1997 offering is also in the running for my first bottle for the summer; another sweet, easy-drinker that I've been impressed with recently (Inverhouse are obviously gearing their production to my palate*). Others in the running are Glen Garioch Virgin Oak and Bruichladdich Classic Scottish Barley.

If anyone has any recommendations feel free to pass them on, in the mean time I'll carry on musing and attacking that stash of IPA I think.

* OK, probably not!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Douglas of Drumlanrig Craigellachie 12

This was a Douglas Laing bottling from December 2011. You don't see a lot of single malt from Craigellachie, it being one of Bacardi's malt sources for the Dewar's blends, and while to date (under the current owners as opposed to Diageo before them) there has only been one official release, it's one that seems rightly popular with independent bottlers.

The first Craigellachie I tried was one form Hunter Laing (the 'new' company formed after Douglas Laing split last year) at eighteen years old. In the flight of six I tried that evening, it was vying with a Dailuaine 21 for top spot for me; edging out such big names as Highland Park and Laphroaig at a similar price. This one came with a rather more affordable price tag and so I snapped it up at the time.

On the nose it reminded me of mince pies at Christmas, made with rich brandy-soaked mincemeat. The spice continues on the palate, it really sets the tongue and mouth tingling. Almond and hazelnut are balanced out with lively blood orange and brown sugar. On the finish the sherry takes over and the sweetness moves into a more tannic dryness.

All in all a great whisky that reinforces how well Craigellachie can take to sherry casks, still showing its own character despite the big cask influence. I shall look forward to more in the future!


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Bowmore 'Laimrig' 15

Bowmore is a distillery that I was quite late in getting to like. I find it interesting how tastes can change; when I first started drinking malt whisky back in pub-running days Talisker was the peaty dram I tended to go for and I wasn't too enthused by Bowmore. A couple of years back I tried Bowmore 12 for the first time in a while and was more impressed than I had been with Talisker of late. Then I had the chance to try the 15 year old 'Darkest' and Bowmore well and truly won me over. This is the 2014 release of a full-on cask-strength version of a whisky that is one of my favourites, and I think it's fair to say, especially after missing out on last year's Devil's Cask offering, that I was quite excited about getting my tastebuds round this one.

On the nose there are seaweed and salty bonfire notes squaring up to the rich red fruit and chocolate from the sherry cask. On the palate the sherry seems to have won out, there's lots of dried fruit; rum-soaked raisins, cocoa and nuts, it's not until the finish that the woody smoky flavours come back with a pepper-laced vengeance. This is a superb whisky, an unashamedly big bruiser, and even at 54.4% I didn't feel like it needed calming down with water. I did cut it a little just to see how it was, and while the flavours were perhaps a little easier to pinpoint I thought it worked better without the façade of subtlety. It's gone up to eleven.

Will I miss out on this year's Devil's Cask? I suppose it's got a lot to live up to having tried this, but I've started taking the necessary precautions: I've painted pentagrams on the walls and I've put the like of this on heavy rotation*. If I miss out again I think I'll break out the final invocation... \m/

To be resumed around October.

* To be fair it has been for over a quarter of a century! RIP Jeff.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Bruichladdich 'Black Art' 1990

In the last decade or so (on and off) I've been selling whisky, Bruichladdich have been probably the most frustrating distillery, with new editions seeming to arrive on shelves almost every time I've taken a couple of days off. However, from a whisky lover's perspective I think what they do is great, if perhaps a little difficult to keep track of. That's not to say I've always got on with their whiskies, I haven't, but some whiskies seem to be more of a product of a marketing department than a distillery and I think that Bruichladdich offer more than that; a human side that for me is an essential part of a great drink, be it whisky, beer, wine or whatever you choose to while away your evenings.

Much as I'd like to say that it is, this fourth edition of the Black Art is not the sort of whisky I get to try every day. The other week I was fortunate to be at a tasting hosted by Joanne Brown, the Brand Ambassador for Bruichladdich. She was on her way to the Midlands Whisky Festival but kindly popped to Nottingham on the way to show off the core Bruichladdich range to a group of whisky fans. It's a pretty special whisky, constructed from stock that's at least 23 years old, from way back when Whyte & Mackay were the owners of the distillery. The whiskies were selected, moved into different casks, and blended by Jim McEwan, using a mix of the myriad of different oak types that Bruichalddich have experimented with over the years to a formula that only he knows. All very well and good of course, but how does it all come out as a finished article?

When I first tried it I was nosing this for a long time, I just loved the rich berry fruit (mainly strawberry, but some sweet grape) that came off it, suggesting a red wine (maybe port) cask was in its make-up at some point. Once past that initial berry hit it became a bit more like its stablemates, with the honey and vanilla notes I pick up from the Classic 'Scottish Barley' edition I'd tasted earlier coming through. As you hold it in your mouth I got notes I associate with sherry casks; dried fruit and nuts, then leading on to an oaky finish.

Its bottling at a cask strength of 49.2% means you can play around adding a little water, which I didn't think was necessarily needed (it's that mellow at 23 years) but nevertheless brought out more of the sweeter elements; the berry fruit and the marzipan. Overall for me it's a stunning whisky. I know that experimentation with various casks gets maligned at times but for me when it's done properly it can add layer after layer of complexity - and in this case it does. I certainly don't feel my meagre tasting notes do it justice, but then words are rarely a substitute for drinking the best around!

Just as a post-script, I didn't ask what the text on the box meant. I'm guessing it's Latin and it seems to translate as 'Not to deceive, nor himself be deceived.' Or words to that effect. If you've got a better idea feel free to let me know!

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Hakushu & Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve

I mentioned here the other week that I was looking forward to getting an opportunity to try Suntory's new 'Distiller's Reserve' expressions from Yamazaki and Hakushu and so I thought I'd follow up with a review. It was interesting to compare them to the 12 year old bottlings that I reviewed here back in December 2012 to the new expressions.

If you read whisky blogs regularly you'll know there's a lot of controversy surrounding non-age-statement (NAS) whiskies at the moment. The main criticism seems to be a complaint that we as whisky drinkers are being sold something which doesn't have the kind of provenance you expect from a drink that commands the price whisky can, and that in turn devalues whisky as a whole. In the end the riposte to that from whisky producers is usually 'try the whisky before you judge', and in the end whisky will only really suffer if corners are cut and we are flooded with sub-standard NAS products that we are expected to pay crazy money for. I've certainly not tried so many bad NAS whiskies that I've been put off yet so I think I was prepared to give these a fair go.

Are they any good? Well, they come in cheaper than their stable-mates with an age statement, and I think that is important. Japanese whisky is in great demand, and these therefore become the new entry-level, and they do the job superbly well, showing a very Japanese character and style. I actually preferred them to the 12 year old expressions, probably because they are that bit less subtle. While I enjoy the 12 year old expressions they are not something I would go out and buy necessarily since I generally go for something with a bit more power.

One of the reasons NAS whiskies are being released all over the place is because of a general shortage of aged whisky. If a raft of age-statement whiskies are replaced or augmented by whiskies at an appropriate price of a quality like this, then there is nothing to worry about. Is that a big if? Well we'll see in time. The flip side is of course that if whisky companies don't maintain the standard then there's likely to be a great deal of whisky sitting around in 10-15 years time when everyone's lost faith and moved on to something else.

Tasting Notes

Hakushu Distiller's Reserve

Pale gold. On the nose it's quite grassy and citrussy, there's grapefruit there and lighter honeydew melon. On the palate the citrus continues, this time with a bit more lemon and lemongrass. The gentle peat gives it a refreshing, almost minty, lift and comes through more on the finish which is much drier than the palate.

Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve

Slightly darker in colour than the Hakushu. There's red grapes and berry fruit on the nose, and a hint of the influence from the Mizunara casks in cedar and incense notes. The palate shows more of the American oak influence, with a hint of tannin and some dry coconut. Again, like the Hakushu, the finish is dry, although for me without that herbal note from the peat it could probably benefit from a little more sweetness.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Balvenie 'Doublewood' 17

This is another one that I first got to try due to someone else's generosity, which I subsequently grabbed for myself... This is one that rather indulgently filled the gap left my the Balvenie Caribbean Cask, a personal favourite.

When people ask me about the Doublewood 17 I usually describe it as being like a whisky version of Galaxy chocolate, it's all about the smooth, creamy sweetness. That works for me as a short description but it's a lot more complex than that - as I think you would expect from an expensive whisky compared to a chocolate bar!

On the nose there's honey and brown sugar, and on the palate it moves on to vanilla and an array of cocoa influenced flavours; the full spectrum (if that's the term for chocolate) from white to high percentage cocoa dark chocolate. There are also all the sherried notes you'd expect  in there; spicy dried fruit and almond.

It has a lot more depth and complexity than the hugely popular Doublewood 12, and while the 12 is a smooth easy drinker the 17 is that much smoother. If I can use a rather random analogy - if you've ever seen a golf green on television in standard definition then switched over to the HD version you see all of the imperfections not picked up before; the 17 kind of highlights where the 12 falls short. The problem is of course that when you go back to the 'standard definition' 12, you'll know what you're missing.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

A Pair of Flying Dogs

A couple of Flying Dog beers I've meant to get round to drinking up and writing up for  while...

Wildeman 'Farmhouse' IPA. I think the implication is that it's somewhere between a Saison and an IPA. Sweet tropical fruit (passion fruit) and oranges on the nose. On the palate the bitterness immediately grips the sides of the tongue then quickly lets go, leaving you wondering if it was all in the mind. Do you go back for more, get it to do it to you again? Or do you dwell on the clean grapefruit finish? This is superb, one of the best IPAs I've had in a while, nothing throws it out of balance; strong IPA flavours but balanced out by a Saison's deft complexity. A dangerous, deceptive 7.5 %. £2.90 (33cl) from Trembling Madness.

'Raging Bitch' Belgian Style IPA. This is a little darker that the Wildeman, pouring more of an amber colour. It's sweeter and less hop-forward on the nose. Although there's more influence from the yeast there's still a big hit of hops - it may be created in a Belgian style but it's still a big American IPA at its core. IN contrast to the Wildeman the hops come through a bit more on the finish and for me it doesn't wear its abv so well - at 8.3% it's got a bit too much alcohol sweetness which knocks it a little out of balance. That said it's only in comparison to the Wildeman; the Raging Bitch is still a very good beer, but if I were to choose one to have again it would be the Wildeman. £3.75 from (I think) The Flipping Good Beer Shop.

I don't really drink much American beer. Whilst I know there are some great beers being brought over I generally find I can get something equally good for a lot less money from one of the huge number of great breweries in the UK. Every now and again though it's good to have something from some of the breweries that set a standard for big, juicy hop-forward IPA, and these two are hard to beat. That and, as I've probably mentioned before, I'm a sucker for Ralph Steadman's labels.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Hibiki 'Mizunara'

This was sent to me by Tatsuya Minagawa, the brand ambassador for Suntory whiskies in the UK and all round whisky guru. It's a whisky that comes from the Suntory labs rather than being a commercial release. It is used at tastings to illustrate what a whisky matured in Japanese Oak, or Quercus Mongolica, tastes like.

In Japan there is no history of different distillers blending their own whiskies with that from other companies like in Scotland. The blender's art in Japan takes on a rather different form, with distilleries making large number of different styles of whisky as 'ingredients' both to blends and single malts. Yamazaki, as I've mentioned previously, make sixty or more different malts in order to give their single malts the complexity they are looking for. The 'Mizunara' is one of those ingredients, and it's one that apparently has to be used quite sparingly since it can easily overpower some of the other, more delicate, flavours.

It's quite a deep colour, as you would expect from a new oak cask. If you didn't know it was Mizunara aged,  it's dark enough that you might mistake it for sherry cask aged. On the nose I got burnt toffee and wood, but something more delicate comes thought with a bit of time in glass; a floral spice. On the palate it's all about the sandalwood but it also keeps throwing out different aromas as you give it a bit of a swirl round the mouth, there's a wisp of smoke and juicy clementines. It's got huge flavour but it's also mellow, the finish is sweet and fruity, I got orange and toffee lingering for on the tongue.

As to why it's not released as is? Well I'm not sure it ties in with the 'mild, sweet and elegant' mantra of the Suntory portfolio, but nevertheless it's a great whisky. Certainly I would say if you get a chance to try the Yamazaki single cask Mizunara you should jump at it, because this is superb.

Thanks to Tatsuya for the sample, I'm very much looking forward to trying the new Yamazaki and Hakushu Distiller's Reserves later on this month.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

BrewDog 'Brixton Porter'

This was one of BrewDog's 2013 'prototypes'; a group of beers which are trialled before one of them goes into general production. This is the one that made the cut and so (if I understand correctly) it will pop up from time to time in their range of occasional brews. The 2012 prototype run led to the Libertine IPA, a beer that I really enjoyed so I was looking forward to the latest winner.

It pours black with a milk-chocolate coloured head. Great aromas; nutty coffee and chocolate. There's a lovely smoky character to it, and the medium body combined with low abv (compared to the big imperial stouts & porters) keeps it dry, with a hop hit seeming to cleanse the palate nicely. Sessionable indeed. On the palate there's rich but not overly bitter coffee. The dryness made it a bit different to the (also very enjoyable) Fuller's London Porter I had in the pub recently. I think it's good to have these sort of variations on general beer styles.

Much as I like BrewDog's beers in general, their often hefty abv means that a lot of them don't like me. Now I'm more in the 'needing babysitters to go out once in a blue moon' rather than the 'out most nights' time of life, a 5% beer is probably as rock and roll as it gets for me if I want more than the one. Now, if we could just do something about those small bottles to save me old back. Having to get up to go to the fridge becomes a bit of a mission at a certain point in life don't you know?

5% abv, from £1.95 for a 33cl bottle from the BrewDog shop.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

'Old Malt Cask' Bunnahabhain 11

What with being busy with work and having a new baby I've been neglecting the blog of late. I do get to try plenty of new and exciting whiskies so I am going to endeavour to rectify this with some whisky reviews. With a nod to Joe over at Whisky Wednesday (whose reviews you really should check out if you're into whisky) I'll post them on a Wednesday, and so here's the first...

This was an independent bottling of Bunnahabhain from Hunter Laing, bottled from a sherry butt at 50% abv for their Old Malt Cask range.

On the nose there's lots of the sherry notes you'd expect; raisins and figs, but also a kipper-smokiness. On the palate that sweetness comes through a bit more with toffee apple and more dried fruit, but with a youthful citrus (lemon) spritz to keep it form getting bogged down with all those fruit cake notes. The finish is mellow, the sweetness gives way to a dryness that entices you back for more of that sherry-soaked fruit. Multi faceted, and most enjoyable, it's a dram I've really enjoyed lingering over while watching a film of a winter evening.

For me it had some of the qualities of Ardbeg Uigedail, a definite winter favourite for me, but with the peat brought down to a more mellow level. I really enjoyed it, as I have many of the OMC range, and so expect more to be popping up here of a Wednesday.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Glenfarclas 40

This was a completely unexpected treat, brought into work by a customer so that we could have a try. As I've mentioned before I'm a big Glenfarclas fan so I didn't need to be asked twice!

On the nose it started off very similar to younger versions of Glenfarclas; lots of almond and fruit cake, but as I let it breathe a bit it really opened up and showed a lot more depth of character; toffee, nutmeg and vanilla. The palate has layer upon layer; there's rum and raisin ice-cream, barley and juicy sultanas but still there's still some fresh orange in there. The oak is still not the overpowering element it might be on the finish, which is long, mellow and moreish.

At a time when whisky companies seem to be running out of aged stock left right and centre it's great to try a really old whisky that has maintained the vibrancy of youth so well, definitely matured rather than simply grown old.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Bristol Beer Factory West Coast Red & Glenlivet 16 'Nadurra'

After a long haul at work and rushing up and down the country for Christmas, New Year's Eve was a bit of a blessing, and a relaxing evening of watching films with the missus kicked off with a personal favourite in the form of Bristol Beer Factory's Southville Hop. I'd also managed to acquire a bottle of BBF's West Coast Red that they'd aged in Glenlivet barrels, thus giving me an opportunity to drink whisky alongside my beer, something that's definitely a favourite pastime when I don't have to work so much! On that note, The Kernel's Export India Porter was terrific alongside a dram of Mortlach 16.

The Nadurra (it means 'Natural') is a cask-strength version of Glenlivet that I first tried back in March at a tasting hosted by Phil Huckle. Phil recently made another visit to Nottingham which meant I got to taste a couple of excellent new Aberlour expressions in the 18 and the non chill-filtered 12, but the Nadurra also featured once again in the line-up, and a most welcome return it was too. West Coast Red is full of lots of fresh red fruit. I'm guessing it's all about good hop selection for this one but they've done a great job of making a hoppy beer without the usual tropical and citrus flavours and more sweet strawberry. Glenlivet is usually fruity and the Nadurra is no exception, and at cask strength the red apple flavours are strong and mouth-watering. Once the whisky is thrown into the mix with the beer it's like a fresh fruit salad, but with a lovely creaminess to it all, like raspberry meringue with white chocolate shavings on top - all very delicious!

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Mortlach 16: Goodbye to an Old Friend

Back in the days when I was first discovering my own tastes in whisky beyond 'I like whisky', Mortlach 'Flora & Fauna' 16 was a revelation to me. It's one of the first whiskies I tried that really stuck in the mind as identifying a distinct style that I preferred - full-bodied, rich, sherry cask aged - and I've always gone back to the sherry monsters when given half a chance. However, continued rumours about the demise of the Flora & Fauna range have proved to be true, at least for this one, and so it's a fond farewell to this particular expression in the form of a a re-visit, perhaps for the last time.

It's a deep mahogany dram. Unsurprisingly there's lots of sherry on the nose, and there's a hint of sulphur to it too, something that's often divisive but I like it. It reminds me of Worthington White Shield and I think it complements the light smoky notes well. On the palate it starts gently; juicy sultanas coming in first, then making way for more spicy notes, with the sulphur coming through as a burnt toast and a mineral, firework taste. The finish is long and woody flitting between pepper, pencils and ginger cake. Overall a fabulously complex, primal whisky. I just hope that those in charge of these things don't feel that it's time to tame the 'Beast of Speyside' because if there isn't to be another bust cycle for whisky then I hope those with a point of difference to the greater majority can survive and not end up closed or homogenised.

If you see any of this about at a reasonable price, grab it while it's still reasonable. If you're looking for a good alternative then the Blair Athol 12 is still around, as are some big sherry-influenced drams from the likes of Glenfarclas, Glendronach and Aberlour.

If Ian Buxton is right, and the 'entry level', non age-statement expression of the new Mortlach range is pitched at a similar price level to Johnnie Walker Platinum, a good 50% more than most were selling the 16 for, then I don't think I'll be buying it until I've had a chance to give it a try it and be convinced. I'd certainly jump at the chance to get to a Mortlach tasting though, and given they've appointed a specific brand ambassador in Georgie Bell then with a bit of luck that will be on the cards. I have tried some great whiskies recently without an an age statement - notably Morrison Bowmore's newish Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch virgin oak aged expressions - but I can't really see why a regular, NAS whisky would command such a hefty price tag. I suppose it remains to be seen if it's worth it, but, while I like it, I don't think Talisker Storm is worth the jump up in price from the regular 10yo, or indeed the Johnnie Walker Double Black from the regular 12. We'll have to wait and see.