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.