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.