Monday, 8 June 2015

Three Ships Whisky

The James Sedgwick Distillery in South African sunshine
The James Sedgwick Distillery has a long history in South Africa, being founded in 1886 when Captain James Sedgwick, captain of the clipper 'Undine' purchased the distillery that would go on to become the oldest on the African continent. Set in the picturesque region of Wellington, about 45 minutes drive from Cape Town, best known for the spectacular Bainskloof Pass, and an economy centred on agriculture such as wine, table grapes, deciduous fruit and a brandy industry. The James Sedgwick Distillery is now owned by the Distell Group Ltd after the merger between Stellenbosh Farmer's Winery and Distillers Corporation in 2000. The company produces a huge range of wines and spirits including the popular cream liqueur Amarula Cream.

The whisky distillery produces both malt and grain whiskies on the same site and handles the entire whisky making process – from milling the raw ingredients through to maturation and blending. Our latest copy of The Malt Whisky Yearbook informs us that the distillery has undergone major expansion recently and is now equipped with one still with two columns for their grain whisky production, two pot stills for their malt whisky production, two mash tuns and 23 stainless steel washbacks. 
23 Stainless Steel Washbacks are hiding in here

Malt whisky is only produced during the winter months , just two months of the year in July and August. Fermentation is approximately 72 hours yielding a wash for distilling in the copper pot stills of circa 9% abv. Grain whisky is produced for nine months (one month of the year is for annual maintenance) and the wash is continuously fed into the column still which results in a lightly flavoured spirit of 94.3% abv which is reduced to around the industry standard of 65% before being filled into oak casks.

With more than 150,000 casks of whisky in maturation any given time, the James Sedgwick Distillery has been the home of South African Whisky since 1990, but the Three Ships story starts some thirteen years earlier.

The Three Ships brand of South Africa was launched in 1977, the brainchild of Irish marketing guru Francis Naughton. It couldn't be called a whisky at that time as the initial product was a blend of South African Grain spirit and Scotch malt whisky, but in 1981, when the South African grain had been matured for three years, Three Ships Whisky was born. It was certainly a bold and pioneering move to create a South African whisky to compete against the iconic Scotch Whisky blends that were available at that time, especially when the spirit of choice was still Brandy.
Distillery Manager - Andy Watts

We first met their sixth and current Distillery Manager Andy Watts at Whisky Live London a couple of years ago and we've kept in touch via Twitter and email ever since. We bumped into him again at this years show and asked him how he came to be involved with Three Ships Whisky, as well as why we weren't able to find it in the UK yet.

Andy's involvement started when he was appointed as the Spirits Blending Manager for the Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW). At that time they were still receiving Scotch Malt Whisky in bulk and blending it with their own grain whisky, distilled at the Robertson & Buxton (R&B) distillery.

A technical relationship had been established with Morrison Bowmore Distillers and Andy had been volunteered to be sent to their distilleries to learn from them with the aim of improving the quality of South African whisky going forward. Andy was promptly packed off to Scotland and spent the next four years regularly travelling back and forward with extended experience working at all three of their distilleries, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and Islay's Bowmore which was then under the leadership of now legendary, Jim McEwan.
The Still Room at The James Sedgwick Distillery

Following a trip to Scotland in 1989, Andy was tasked with closing down operations at the R&B Distillery in Stellenbosch and move the business across to the James Sedewick Distillery, which up until then had been a brandy distillery. By 1991 the transfer was complete and Andy was given the Managers role at the James Sedgwick Distillery holding total responsibility for all whisky related activity excluding bottling.

It wasn't and easy start though, Andy had inherited stocks of both South African malt and grain which were a bit 'hit and miss'. There had been no 'wood policy' back then and Andy had been given all of the casks nobody else wanted. He had red wine casks, brandy barrels and some very old American whiskey barrels, blending was still a major challenge!. However, Andy remained positive and began a program of change, making small enhancements to their processes and equipment, and the quality of the new make spirit started improving.

During Andy's last spell with Morrison Bowmore he spent time on Islay and fell in love with the island, the people and their whiskies and returned to South Africa wanting to make his own peaty blend. Allowing some South African grain whisky to age a further two years, and purchasing five year old Bowmore malt whiskies in bulk, he created the Three Ships 5 Year Old Premium Select. However, when Suntory took over Morrison Bowmore in 1994, the bulk purchases were no longer an option and Andy had to find replacement components in order to continue the range.

Andy had already set up their own malt program, importing British barley each year, peated to his specifications for the different styles of malt whisky produced. Over the years he has been slowly replacing the Scottish malt content of the of the blends with South African malt whisky, but there still is a slight Scottish component to both the Select and 5 Year Old Premium Select, probably a marketing decision with a nod to the history of the brand.
The James Sedgwick Distillery sure looks a great place to work

When Distell was formed following the merger, quality improved significantly; a wood procurement policy was put in place, controls on fermentation were completely revamped (a necessity due to their high ambient temperatures) and in 2009 completely revamped and installed new equipment throughout the distillery for the next step in their young whisky making history. It is no coincidence that since the mid 2000’s and after all of the the major improvements had started making their impact on the maturing spirit that the international awards started to come.

Although the malted barley is imported, it is where the product is distilled and matured which gives it its origin, and Andy tells us that they have some amazing work in the maturation warehouses just waiting for the chance to be released to the market. The Three Ships Single Malt, released in 2003, Bourbon Cask Finish, released in 2005 and Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky are 100% South African. All of the new releases going forward will also be 100% South African and there are some exciting things on the horizon which includes the re-launch of the 10 Year Old Single Malt in September this year.

Andy is now into his 24th year in charge of the distillery and blending and says that it's been an amazing journey with no two years being the same. Whilst Andy is in the twilight of his career, South African whisky is only at the dawn of theirs.

Dave first came across South African Whisky at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show in 2012 where a bottle of their limited edition 10 Year Old Single Malt was on the table. It's the only time we've seen it and stocks have long since sold out. Searching for South African whisky online in the UK only brings up Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky, their 5 Year Old single grain release that has eluded us to date! Over the last ten years sales of their whiskies has more than doubled with about 97% of these sales within South Africa itself, but is this about to change? We were recently given a miniature pack containing one of each of their current range allowing us to make these discoveries.
Whisky Discovery #184

Three Ships 10 Year Old 43% abv
South African Single Malt Whisky
circa £50.00 70cl a while back
The 10 Year Old I tried at TWE Whisky Show 2012 - Why did I miss that Bain's?
South Africa's first single malt whisky was another pioneering first for The James Sedgwick Distillery. First launched in 2003 as a limited release, it wasn't until autumn 2010 that the next batch was released. It sold out quickly and a further 8,000 bottles were released in October 2011 and a fourth batch followed in in December 2012. These three releases commemorated the pioneering voyages of Bartholomew Diaz, Vasco da Gama and Jan van Riebeeck in a special collectors' series. 

Dave 'discovered' this at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show in 2012, it was his first dram of the day and initially noted 'light and floral'. Looking at the release information it was likely that this was from their third batch from October 2011 unless early release bottles of batch 4 were at the show. The photo taken that day doesn't show the release information, but the tin packaging that it came with featured the ship of the pioneering voyager. He certainly wishes he'd bought a bottle then!

The chaps at Master of Malt gave these notes:
Nose: Sweet honey up front on a fresh nose. Almond notes give way to sticky toffee pudding.
Palate: Spicy and mouth-coating. Vanilla and hints of greengages.
Finish: Fairly long and warming with plenty of lingering oak.

Stop Press! Dave found a bottle of their first 10 Year Old release in London at the weekend and it has been safely stowed in the WDHQ Whisky Vault - we'll bring it out one day soon I'm sure!

Whisky Discovery #1263

Three Ships Select 43% abv
Blended Whisky
Not widely available in the UK yet
Three Ships Select is where it all started, a three year old blend of malt and grain whiskies, first introduced in distilled in both pot and column stills that have been left to mature for a minimum of 3 years. It still contains a 'token' amount Scottish malt whisky. If you search carefully you should be able to find this in the UK for around £30 a bottle delivered, however it's not widely available. In South Africa this retails at circa R120-R135 which equates to around £7.50 for a 750ml bottle. Astounding value!

So What Did We Think?
Kat says (a lot more than Dave): The nose begins with a sweet salty savoury note reminding me of Serrano ham. Not overly sweet on the nose, very subtle. There’s also a hint of floral and spicy notes, as to the exact notes, I can’t quite put my finger on. Overall a great balance of sweet, spicy, and dryness but with a noticeable crisp clean quality.

Taste:  The sweetness hits you first, compared with the nose it’s sweeter than anticipated but not overly sweet. Sweetness comprises of dried fruits – specifically dates, raisins, sultanas, later turning into something more refined sugars - specifically demerara sugar. The texture is that of light syrup. Next spice notes come through mainly of cinnamon. The dry crisp and clean feel to this dram continues from the nose, resembling that of a Fino or Manzanilla sherry. Subtle floral notes are also present. Towards the end a toasted nut quality appears with the sweetness returning, reminding me of peanut brittle or sesame brittle.

Finish: Spicy with hints of dryness, and a lovely toasted oak note which lingers.

Dave says: I found this quite oily in the glass, with a floral, yet spicy nose. On the palate it was both sweet and spicy with fruity barley sugars. The empty glass the following morning gave rich barley sugar notes. I obviously didn't go into the depths Kat went into, however I was very much enjoying this very sippable blend.

Whisky Discovery #1264

Three Ships 5 Year Old Premium Select 43% abv
Blended Whisky
Not widely available in the UK yet
First introduced in 1991 following Andy's Islay adventure, it was named the World's Best Blended Whisky in 2012. This too contains a token amount of Scottish single malt.

In South Africa this retails at circa R135-R150 which equates to around £8.00 for a 750ml bottle. More astounding value!

So What Did We Think?
Kat says: (far more than Dave!) The nose of this also begins with a similar sweet savoury note, this time more of caramelised BBQ meat with gentle cold wood smoke coming through.  I feel there’s enough Peat here to keep the Peat heads happy and will still be acceptable to non-Peat heads who occasionally fancies a hint of smoke to get that extra roundedness and depth to their dram. Floral spices then starts to come through – black pepper and cloves. All of this reminding me of black pepper covered salami.

Taste:  Sweeter than the previous dram, plenty of clear runny honey here and dried fruits – specifically of figs and sultanas. Again very well balanced with distinctive wood charcoal smokiness, spicy floral black pepper, as well as a hint of floral notes, again can’t quite put my finger on the exact note. Whole coriander seeds maybe?

Finish: Spiciness lingers throughout, dry and smoky yet retaining those sweet notes. Really reminds me of the overcooked dried out bits of glazed honeyed BBQ ribs.

Dave says: Another easy sipping blend with a little added interest with the peated malt in the make-up. This is no smoky beast, but it does show itself towards the end. It's fresh and fruity initially with some warming spices along with the hints of peat smoke.

Whisky Discovery #1265

Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish 43% abv
Blended Whisky
Not widely available in the UK yet
First introduced in 2005, Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish is the first 100% South African blended whisky, with the malt and grain components distilled in both pot and column stills and then all matured at The James Sedgwick Distillery with a three year initial maturation followed by six months marrying in first fill bourbon casks.

In South Africa this retails at circa R155 which equates to around £8.50 for a 750ml bottle. Bazinga!

So What Did We Think?
Kat says: A little different from the two previous drams, this begins with a sweet sour and savoury note to the nose. Next you get spicy floral notes of freshly milled Rainbow peppercorn mix. Now, unlike the other two drams, there are lots of creamy vanilla notes that you expect from Bourbon casks, starts to really shine through. Reminding me of vanilla Pana Cotta without the heavy cream feel, as to balance this out, the crisp clean notes and hint of dryness is again present.

Taste:  Lots of demerara sugar and hints of bitterness like that of muscovado sugar. It’s also slightly smoky and savoury, with some dried fruit notes, all a bit like mixed dried fruits with warm toasted walnuts. Towards the end bitter sweet notes are more noticeable – specifically dark chocolate covered coffee beans. Throughout there’s a spicy back note of cinnamon.

Finish: Roasted sugar covered walnuts with the same dryness at the end like the other drams.

Dave says: This disappeared much quicker than I was expecting it too. Lots of creamy vanilla as I was expecting, but with some black pepper and cinnamon spices - another easy drinking blend and a true spirit of South Africa!

Whisky Discovery #1267

Three Ships 10 Year Old 2015 Cask Sample 66.4% abv
South African Single Malt Whisky
Patiently waiting for news of this release!
At Whisky Live London in March, Andy slipped us a sample of his latest 'work in progress', the next release of their limited edition 10 Year Old. The success of the first release took the distillery by complete surprise and there was no stock for single malt bottlings as the production all went into their blends. It wasn't until 2005 that planning for future releases was started and this should be the first release from this forethought.

The 'Angels Share' in South Africa is around 4 to 5% a year which is over double that of Scottish single malts. At 5% loss after 10 years 40% of the original spirit laid down has been lost to the Angels, but due to the warm dry South African climate, the Angels sip more water than alcohol and the alcohol content actually increases over the period. This cask sample was at a whopping 66.4% abv but the final release will be a quirky 46.4%.

With such a high loss through evaporation, the casks are are re-vatted after a period of time under Customs and excise supervision.

So What Did We Think?
Kat says: Because of the very high ABV, I’ve had to add a good slug of water to this dram. The others have had no water added.

Initially there are lots of fresh apples and pears on the nose. Next darker notes start to come through. Notes of damp wood, black and white pepper also present similar to the other drams but a lot spicier, fresh chili heat is there too, with the fruitiness it’s reminiscent of Habanero chilies, however might not be detectable depending on how much water you add. Lastly towards the end there are dry straw notes, citrus zest, cinnamon, and cloves.

Taste:  Completely different beast to the nose. It’s full on high impact flavours. Beings with some sweetness – dark honey, chili spice, as well as those cinnamon and clove notes (leaning more the clove end for me). Next toasted oak/wood notes then starts to come through, turning into a mahogany note, with some bitter dark chocolate and dark dried fruits – dates and prunes. Similar to the drams before the dram doesn’t feel heavy even though there are plenty of richer darker notes, and all of the flavours are still fairly balanced after ageing.

Finish:  Toasted oak/mahogany notes, dark chocolate, cloves and cinnamon, and dark fruit notes lingers.

Dave says: Initial nosing revealed a citrus burst with lime tangerine and sherbet lemons. With water creamy vanilla notes develop

This was quite challenging to sip at cask strength, but very enjoyable with water added, I probably took it to below 50% and closer to it's final bottling strength and it came across as a perfect summer dram, very refreshing! This has a long lingering finish with sweetened limes

Kat's verdict: All three blended whiskies are very well balanced drams, showing great balance between sweet and savoury notes whilst still having a crisp clean feel. I was surprised to find that when I compared my tasting note to the official tasting notes on their website, they were pretty similar for all three drams. This doesn’t often happen so a nice surprise.

For those that don’t know I always write my tasting note without reading official tasting notes from the distillery or any marketing material, as I don’t want this to have any influence on my tasting notes.

I love all four but if I had to rank them in order of which one I liked most it will have to go Select, Bourbon Cask,and 10 Year Old leaving the Premium Select last. Personally the Select could easily become a session dram as it is really easy drinking. I really like that the crisp dry feel leaves the palate feeling clean. Can also see this going great with many different foods, and from what I’ve writing, leaving me yearning for a BBQ.

Dave's Verdict: If you're travelling to South Africa on your holidays, or business, make sure you bring back your full quota of South African Whisky, and bring one back for me too please! I found a bottle of the 10 Year Old halfway through writing this post and had to have it. Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky is next on my list!

When are we going to see more South African Whisky in the UK?

Slàinte! Dave and Kat

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Havana Club Iconica Collection

Last Monday evening Dave took part in the Havana Club Rum Tweet Tasting and enjoyed four premium rums from their Icónica Collection. The rum is 100% Cuban, made from all natural Cuban ingredients, and overseen by six Masters blenders, or Maestro Roneros as they are called Cuban.

Cuban Rum
Cuba has become known as the "Isle of Rum", due to a combination of world-famous sugar cane (first introduced by Christopher Columbus in 1493), a favourable Caribbean climate, fertile soil, and the unique know-how of Cuban "Maestro Roneros" (master rum-makers). Sailors, swashbucklers and locals liked to use this exceptional sugarcane to make fermented nectar and "tafia" (an early type of rum).

Quality improved drastically in the 1800s with the introduction of copper stills and the first attempts at ageing. Pedro Diago, known now as the father of Cuban rum, can be thanked for this. He had the idea of storing the "aguardientes", or eaux-de-vie, in pots and burying them in the ground. The second half of the 19th century saw the production of a lighter and more refined rum, known as "Ron Superior".

This was developed on the instructions of the Spanish Crown, which wanted a more delicate rum that could "satisfy the court and the elite of the Empire". El Ron Superior is the father of today’s Cuban rum: light, smooth, delicate, crisp and exceptional straight or in cocktails. Its popularity was such that by 1860 there were more than 1,000 distilleries in Cuba.
Havana Club
The distillery was founded by José Arechabala in Santa Cruz del Norte in Cuba in 1878, however the Havana Club brand was first introduced in 1934, and was sold worldwide. Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the brand was nationalised by the government. Sales to the US ceased and the Arechabala family emigrated to Spain before finally moving to America, after his company was nationalised, In 1994, the company was owned by a fifty-fifty partnership between the Cuban government and the drinks giant Pernod Ricard.

Havana Club has become synonymous with Cuba. It’s the leading Cuban rum in Cuba, and fifth-largest rum brand in the world. Havana Club has kept alive the art of añejamiento: the art of distilling, ageing and blending premium rums. Its strongest markets include France, and Germany, and it is also bottled in India, the world's second-largest rum market.

Havana Club’s rums have and the range is made up of a few standard bottlings which are essentially mixing rums, as well as the seven year-old, which is intended for sipping. In November 2006 the ‘ultra-premium’ Máximo Extra Añejo was first released. 

At the launch, Havana Club’s Maestro Ronero said “There will never be a rum that better expresses the Cuban rum culture”

It's been a while since I was last sipping rum, so was really looking forward to tasting these premium expressions. The evening started with:

Rum Discovery #4

Havana Club Selección de Maestros (45% abv)
Cuban Rum
circa £50.00 70cl
The new edition of Havana Club's very popular Cuban Barrel Proof, Selección de Maestros is bottled at the higher strength of 45% abv.

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Woody, oiled cedar? Resin, liquorice toffees and burnt sugar initially. Fruity, with a dark citrus note, BBQ'd lemons? There's a slight mustiness too, earthy, damp with woody spices. Nutmeg and Cassia are the spices I'm picking up, along with the nutty notes of Brazil nuts and Pecans - very nutty

Taste: An initial sweet burst of Chocolate Orange, rich and dark, followed by coffee beans, hints of cigar tobacco too. Spices follow and then a hint of smoke, finishing sweet again with citrus twist before turning dry. Love it!

Rum Discovery #5

Havana Club Añejo 15 Años (40% abv)
Cuban Rum
circa £125.00 70cl
This 15 year old is created by 'repeatedly' blending the rums and aguardientes and maturing them in old oak barrels. Havana Club's Primer Maestro Ronero, Don José Navarro, describes this as "Cuban rum's great classic".

Legally for Cuban rum the age of the youngest rum in the blend is displayed (as with Scotch) Although the minimum age is 15 years old, I was told that it's a blend of rums from 15 to 35 years old

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Richer, yet lighter toffee notes. Again spices of nutmeg and cassia. Brazil nuts too. Chocolate comes later along with the dried fruits. Another lovely nose. 

Very easy to sip: Chocolate, rich and dad, coffee beans and treacle. Not as earthy as the first one. Spices follow. This is gentle, smooth and creamy and so sippable! There's dried fruits, figs and raisins. Tobacco later and a hint of vanilla essence too

Rum Discovery #6

Havana Club Unión (40% abv)
Cuban Rum
circa £250.00 70cl
Next up we tasted the newest rum in the Icónica Collection, Havana Club Unión is available in specific liquor stores in Cuba and 20 other countries. I think we were among the very few to have tried this in the UK

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Antique wood notes alongside a sweet cough syrup note, cherry perhaps? Also finding some lemon

Taste: High cocoa content chocolate, 'trade mark' Brazil nuts, although woodier, Brazil nut shells? There's a dusting of pepper too and finishes with a musty wood note with cigar tobacco.

Rum Discovery #7

Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo (40% abv)
Cuban Rum
circa £1,200.00 50cl
The Havana Club Máximo is an Extra Añejo rum made from a decidedly illustrious blend of rare, old rums taken from their extensive reserves, crafted by the skilled hands of Maestro Ronero, Don José Navarro. An extraordinary Cuban rum for the cognoscenti and connoisseurs. Of course, a rum of this stature comes presented impeccably, in a handmade crystal decanter alongside crystal stopper with the Giraldilla etched upon it.

Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo isn’t widely available, but can be purchased via specialist spirits retailers and online

So What Did I Think?
Nose: There's a slight smokiness to this, charred wood too, while coconut tries to sneak through rich toffee.

It's surprisingly fruity on the palate, lots of dried fruits, figs dates and raisins. It's sweeter than the nose suggested too. This really is something special - I could sit and sip this all evening if only my disposable income levels would allow!

OK, so these are not your ordinary 'everyday' rums, they are all a little special with the starting price at around £50 a bottle. The Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo works out around £60/shot based on the bottle price - expect to pay an awful lot more than that at a bar! The Havana Club Selección de Maestros is certainly within my budget and it's something I'd like to revisit again soon, and although I would love to spend more time with them all, it's highly unlikely due to current UK prices.

I'm looking forward to hearing what Kat has to say about these, as I saved half of each of the samples received for her.

Salud! Dave

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Whisky Discovery #1147

Douglas Laing's 'Rock Oyster' NAS 46.8% abv
Blended (or 'vatted') Malt
Circa £38.00 70cl

Joining Douglas Laing's family of 'vatted' malts at the beginning of 2015, Rock Oyster pays homage the sea, created using the finest maritime Malts including those distilled on the Islands of Jura, Islay, Arran and Orkney. 

Sitting alongside their other core regionally themed vatted malts – Big Peat from Islay, Scallywag from Speyside and Timorous Beastie from the Highlands - Rock Oyster is a small batch bottling at 46.8% abv without colouring or chill-filtration. As typical with this range, much attention has been spent creating the packaging which features a bespoke illustration of both an oyster, and a nautical scene, while telling it's story.

Managing Director Fred Laing say: “Rock Oyster showcases the archetypal Island character of gentle peat-smoke, vanilla’d honey and salt. If I could select just one dram to transport the Whisky enthusiast to the Islands of Scotland, it would be this one. 

So What Did We Think?
Following on from the recent additions of Scallywag and Timorous Beastie, Rock Oyster certainly looks the part in it's bespoke packaging, and a line up of all four would look great on the shelf! We've taken our bottle down to the Bedford Whisky Club and it has been very well received there, and we've only seen positive reviews for this on social media. 

Kat says: I was instantly transported to rock pools on the beach, and weekends visiting my Grandparents down at Portsmouth and Southampton docks. It just smells of pure brisk sea air, sun, salty sea spray, seaweed, damp ropes, and wet oak docks. Left for about 5 minutes in the glass, the sweeter notes makes its way through – for me fresh conference pears and seared scallops, along with a dry dusty soot notes. 

Fresh ginger cuts its way through, balancing the sea notes and sweetness, lifting the dram. Tasting begins with soft honey sweetness, followed by a touch of oak note, leading gently into a delicate soft peat note that’s more of cold soot or cold smoke. There are two spices that really come through here, black cardamoms and star anise. There is definitely an earthier note on the palate than the nose, and the iodine/seaweed note doesn’t come through here for me. The finish is long and lingering – earthy, dry soot and spices.

Dave Says: We both wrote our notes completely separately but upon receiving Kat's notes to write this post feel she'd covered all of mine too! My notebook is full of one word descriptors that Kat has tied together nicely with memories. 

I find this soft, sweet, with smoke, salt and ripe grain. I also found hints of aniseed and Bassets 'liquorice allsorts'. Returning to it again recently it's fresh and lively definitely bringing memories of beach walks and salty rock pools. On the palate it comes across as young and feisty, but a little richer than expected. The salty sea breeze leads, but there's a spicy black pepper note too. The peat smoke follows, but it's gentle rather than 'in your face' leaving charcoal notes and hints of vanilla and sweet green grapes, before finishing peppery and a little drying leaving that maritime saltiness, with the empty glass the following morning yielding sweet toffee and charcoal.
Verdict: A very balanced dram, we loved that the peat notes are not over powering but still noticeable, giving the dram a delicate smokiness and still let the sweetness shine. Kat was surprised to find this dram was light and delicate, as she was expecting this to be heavier. A fantastic dram and certainly fitting in the 'bang for your buck' category. We can’t recommend this enough for anyone who prefers their peat on the lighter side and with some soft sweetness, and those who like a long finish.

Slàinte! Dave and Kat

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Whisky Discovery #1277

SMWS 3.243 'Dark, Smouldering Flamenco Gypsy' 57.1% abv
Single Cask Single Islay Malt
Price £80.00 (members price)
I haven't made my pilgrimage to Islay yet, it's something I really must get round to soon. It was an Islay malt that started me off on this path I decided to travel along, but I don't think it's going to happen this year unfortunately.

Every year, in the last week of May The Islay festival of Feis Ile is held. It's origins date back to 1984 when the first Gaelic Drama Festival took place, In the early days it was more of a traditional music festival and it wasn't until 1990 that the first ever whisky tasting took place. The islands distilleries started getting more involved in 2000 and introduced their special Open Days and ultimately their Special Feis Ile releases.

The Feis Ile is the charitable organisation from which this now huge Festival of Music & Malt has evolved. The Island population triples during the week of the Festival which means it's no longer something you can simply turn up to, forward planning is essential nowadays with many making their plans a year in advance.

This years Feis Ile runs from Friday 22nd May until Saturday 30th May and if you're thinking about making plans for 2016 the dates are Friday 20th - Saturday 28th May. You can find out more details at the Islay Festival Feis Ile website

This year The Scotch Malt Whisky Society will be, for the first time in their history, will too be hosting an open day on Friday 22nd May, when Islay House becomes their home for the day and in celebration they're releasing a their own limited edition Islay Festival bottling, and it will be available to members and non-members alike.

If you're not a member of the SMWS then you might not be aware of their bottling and labeling specifications. Every release comes in the same green society bottle and labeling never refers to a distillery directly, with every release bearing a pair of numbers separated by a decimal point. The first number referring to the distillery, and the second referring to the cask number that the society has bottled from this distillery, i.e. 3.1 would be the first cask ever bottled from distillery No.3

Each release has a quirky name which is put together from the notes of a tasting panel, as are the tasting notes printed on the label. Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy's notes read as follows:

Wow - so much on the noise - sherry, tarry wood, clean smoke, dates, figs, roasted chestnuts, Christmas spices, egg custard, maple syrup-glazed pork ribs and HP sauce on bacon rolls. The palate was substantial - liquorice, treacle toffee, coffee and chocolate, with caramelised onions and Demerara-smothered, clove studded ham over embers. The reduced nose suggested spiced prunes, Branston pickle, fig rolls, treacle tart, duck in plum sauce and warm welly boots by a drying bonfire. The reduced palate's smoke and sherry combination gave us interest and pleasure - the toffee and oloroso, toasted almonds and barbecued meats gave it a dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy personality.

It goes on to give this drinking tip: Between dances at a Spanish barbecue party

SMWS 3.243 is from the Bowmore Distillery that has spent 17 years maturing in a refill ex-sherry butt before being bottled at 57.1%. Sherry butts have a capacity of 500 litres, and allowing for 2% Angels Share over the 17 years I'm calculating that there will only be around 500 bottles available

So what Did I Think?
I've tasted a number of superb Society sherried Bowmore's and this certainly does not disappoint. After typing out their notes while writing this post and comparing them to mine, I can say I agree wholeheartedly with them! My notes as below are exceedingly similar.

Lovely sherry notes immediately on the nose, woody, nutty and the peated spirit giving notes of tarred parcel paper alongside a sweet alluring smoke. Barbecue sauce features heavily as the nose develops and there's that sweet meatiness to it; roast duck in Hoisin sauce (honestly, I never read the 'official' notes until after I'd finished writing mine!) A drop of water brings out the sherry fruits and Christmas cake notes I was expecting to find. 

Superb! and I'm hoping I can get my hands on one from the London HQ later this month fingers crossed.

Many thanks to the society for thinking of me and sending me this sample. If you want more information on the SMWS's Islay trip, visit

Sláinte! Dave

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Charity Whisky Tasting

Earlier this year we were asked if we would hold a Charity Whisky Tasting for the Walking Warriors, a newly formed team in the Relay For Life Aylesbury, a Cancer Research UK Charity.

Last July their newly formed team helped raise £6k during the 24 hour walk around Aylesbury Rugby Club, coming third, out of 33 teams, in the final team standings, and on the day won the Spirit of Relay 2014 team award.

After the event was out of the way it was time for the team to come up with ideas to raise money for Cancer Research UK over the next year (the next Aylesbury Race for Life is scheduled for July 4th 2015). One of the Walking Warriors was a good friend of Dave's and during their time working together, Dave had introduced Steve to whisky, and with his new found early interest in whisky an idea popped into his head.

With a busy schedule at the beginning of the year we settled for Friday 24th April so we could get everything together and thanks to the support from some of our friends in the Scotch whisky world, we managed to arrange a formal six dram line up with raffle and auction prizes, as well as holding back a special something for the finale dram.

The Walking Warriors organised the venue and food with Aylesbury College's Harding's Restaurant, a fully commercial establishment and headed up by a professional team.
All set up and ready to go
It was the first time we had enough glasses to lay out a full compliment for each of the tasters and we'd printed out tasting mats alongside the usual information we'd ordinarily provide. The set-up looked impressive thanks to the team at Harding's Restaurant who'd laid out the tables ready for us.
Tasting mats too!
After the initial drinks, food was served in the adjacent dining area before the tasters took their places and we started our whisky tasting. We had set up for twenty tasters; with both new and established whisky drinkers we hoped we had something to please everyone! 
We had malted barley, new make spirit and a piece of oak stave too!
Whilst we weren't able to cover all of the Scotch Whisky regions we did have an impressive line-up of single malts, and started the tasting with an Auchentoshan 12 representing the Lowland Region. 

Next, we visited two distinctly different Highland single malts from Aberfeldy and Tomatin before another two distinctly different Speyside single malts from Craigellachie and The Glenlivet. Our final whisky of the tasting came from Highland Park representing the Islands while we discussed the other regions.

Favourites were quickly established and additional drams poured while we answered questions. We had a very special finale dram from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a 25 Year Old Glen Grant, 9.84 Playing 'Sea Battle' in the Garden' which  everybody agreed was the highlight of the evening.
A very special treat to close the tasting
At the end of the tasting we auctioned off all the heels raising additional funds before finishing with a raffle that included bottles of whisky and glasses kindly donated from Glen Moray and Glen Garioch.

The end result? 

£517 raised for Cancer Research UK and a few new whisky converts! If you want to find out more information about the Walking Warriors check out their Relay for Life Team Page where you too can donate!
Whisky related raffle prizes too!

Sláinte! Dave 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Genever Discovery #1

Zuidam Zeer Oude Genever 5 Year Old 38% abv
Dutch Genever - Single Barrel
circa £28.00 50cl
Last night I tried my first ever Genever thanks to lovely friends Ansgar and Thomas from Dutch whisky blog Whisky Speller 

Whilst I am familiar with Dutch distillers Zuidam, famed for their Millstone range of single malts, I'd never tasted a Genever before. The Zuidam family have over fifty years of distilling experience and all of their products are hand crafted, so I was already expecting good things!

Genever is the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which Gin is said to have evolved. Traditional jenever is still very popular in the Netherlands and Belgium and European Union regulations specify that only liquor made in these two countries, two French provinces and two German federal states can use the name jenever/genever/genièvre.

Zuidam Genever is distilled from the finest selection of Malted Barley, Rye and Corn. The grains used for the Zuidam Genevers are milled by traditional windmills. In using windmills for milling their malted barley the distillery helps preserve the important Dutch heritage of the world famous windmills. Even more importantly the traditional millstones of the windmills slowly grind the malted barley into flour. This traditional way of milling causes almost no increase in the temperature of the grain and thus helps preserve the wonderful aroma’s.

After the milling the mashing begins by adding hot water to the corn, rye and malted barley. The hot water triggers the enzymes to convert the starch from the grain into sugars. The process takes about 8 hours per batch and afterwards the resulting Mash is cooled to 20° Celsius and pumped to the fermentation tank.

In the fermentation tank the fermentation takes place in small batches at a very low temperature to give these genevers its fruity flavours. The fermentation takes about 5 days. This is much longer than is customary but is Zuidam say it's essential to allow for the delicate flavours to form.

At the end of this 5 day fermentation the resulting mash is distilled three times in handcrafted copper pot stills before the distillate is clean and fruity enough for their Genevers. Part of this new spirit is then distilled again over a secret mixture of botanicals (among others, Juniper, Liquorice root, Aniseed). Then everything is blended together before putting it into the barrels.

After the careful distillation the Genever is aged in small barrels. Zuidam use new barrels of American White Oak as well as barrels that have previously held Bourbon or Olorosso Sherry. The reason why their Genever ages rather quickly is that they use new or young barrels and they are stored in a warm and dry warehouse. The downside is that the evaporation losses are rather high and typically the “Angels Share” is between 4% and 5% per year.

This 'Old' Genever is a 5 Year Old Single Barrel chosen from casks that have been aged for a minimum of 60 months, and each release is bottled from one carefully selected cask and it is not blended with other casks. 

So What Did I Think?
This immediately reminded me of Canadian Whisky, it was the rye I'm sure (and I have developed a real love of rye whisky). I was expecting to find the botanicals to be too over powering for me, but it wasn't like that at all, the five year maturation in quality wood has ensure a remarkable balance of flavours with rich vanilla and toffee flavours complementing the rye spiciness. This is eminently quaffable! 

More good news as I've seen it's available at The Whisky Exchange (thanks for the main photo!)

Huge thanks to +Thomas Speller+Ansgar Speller and their whisky blog +Whisky Speller Make sure you're following them on Twitter too! @thomas_speller @ansgarspeller  @WhiskySpeller

Sláinte! Dave

Whisky Discovery #1151

Glenmorangie Tùsail NAS 46%abv
Highland Single Malt
circa £75.00 70cl
Every year since 2010, Glenmorangie have released a new expression from their Private Edition collection, and Glenmorangie Tùsail is the 2015 release, following on in the footsteps of Sonnalta, Finealta, Artein, Ealanta and last years Companta.

Whilst previous releases have focussed on the casks used in the maturation (Sonnalta - Pedro Ximenez , Finealta - ex-sherry and American oak, Artein - Sassicaia, Ealanta - virgin oak, Companta - red wine) Tùsail is all about the grain drawing on the unique taste of Maris Otter barley, a rare quality grain that was almost lost to the world. But there was more to this story than just the grain selected. Glenmornagie's floor maltings were closed in 1980 but Dr. Bill Lumsden has traditionally floor malted the barley for this release.

Maris Otter Barley
Maris Otter was originally bred in 1960s England, near Cambridge, at a site on Maris Lane, the street after which the barley was named. Maris Otter’s flavour was initially sought after by the craft-brewing industry. But the variety’s popularity began to wane in the 1970s as tastes in beer changed and farmers switched to barley with higher yields. By the late 1980s, uncertified seed and cross-pollination had put Maris Otter at risk of extinction. This greatly alarmed some in the brewing industry, who still depended on its unique flavour to produce their cask-conditioned ales. Reacting to these concerns, two English seed merchants formed a partnership to rejuvenate the variety, and in 1992, began a programme to build the stocks back to an acceptable standard. 

With Kat's interest in craft beer, she decided she would do some research and found that the revival of the Maris Otter grain is predominately down to a barley merchant Robin Appel of Robin Appel Ltd. His entrepreneurial spirit could see a demand Many breweries valued this barley over other varieties because it gave superior flavours, and breweries were prepared to pay a higher price for the crop. In the '90s the majority of barley that was grown was spring harvested barley, so growing winter harvesting barley like Maris Otter showed to be bucking the trend at the time. Robin’s vision was obviously very convincing as everything has paid off. Today Maris Otter is going strong with many beers produced with the barley winning awards year after year. 

Kat contacted Robin Appel and to her surprise and delight, he replied to her email! Below is his reply giving us a brief history of barley:

‘Dear Kat,

Thank-you for getting in touch. Of course I can go on talking about Maris Otter forever, but the Media Pack which you have accessed on our website captures the main points.

I have been involved in saving and promoting the variety since 1990, and in 2001 purchased Warminster Maltings in Wiltshire, Britain’s oldest working maltings, to ensure Maris Otter could still be malted traditionally, by hand, on floors. With the maltings came the ‘preface’ to the Maris Otter story: E.S.Beaven, proprietor of the maltings at the beginning of the 20th century, was also a self taught plant breeder, who bred the first genetically true variety of barley in the world, in 1905. He crossed a Swedish variety called Plumage, with an Irish variety called Archer, and for the very first time produced a variety of barley, nay cereals, that was “uniform, distinct and stable”. Beaven named it Plumage Archer, and it was a massive breakthrough, and confined the ‘landrace’ cereal varieties, that had presided forever, to history.

The Plant Breeding Institute at Cambridge (Dr GDH Bell) picked up on Beaven’s work, and crossed Plumage Archer with Kenia to produce Proctor in 1953, and then crossed Proctor with Pioneer to produce Maris Otter in 1965.

So you see I have managed to round up the heritage of modern barley varieties – we have one grower still growing Plumage Archer – and in the wake of Maris Otter’s success, we are now expanding Plumage Archer production for the Whiskey market. Should we be trying to revive Proctor? I do not think so, because Maris Otter is really a Mk 2 Proctor. I can say this with confidence, because I joined the barley trade in 1963 when Proctor ruled. There were two strains – Spring Proctor and Winter Proctor, and the latter was regarded by the brewing industry as the ‘creme de la creme’. Maris Otter is, in my book, a more robust version of Winter Proctor!

So there is a few more snippets of information for you. Regards,

Robin Appel.’

So What Did We Think?

Kat Says: The nose begins with a delicate floral note which develops into a vibrant freshness, aromas becoming creamier, vanilla notes starts to come through together with a strong toasted cereal notes. With some time in the glass toasted cereal notes resembles that of seasoned oak on a hot day and the smell of oatcakes. Some dusty hot ash aroma can also be detected. 

Tasting I first noticed the dryness; this quickly goes being replaced with a hint of clear runny honey and plenty of lemon zest. The sweetness is diluted so not very sweet and it is nicely balanced by the lemon zest note. After this plenty of spices come through – for me its mace and fresh ginger. Then I got a bitter sweet note – molasses maybe, but quickly goes away making way for lashings of juicy fruit flavours to come through (more white fruits than red fruits), mainly white grapes and sultanas for me. A spicy dry finish that’s short lived with lingering bitter sweetness. 

Verdict: Compared with my memory of last year’s Private Edition release Companta, Tùsail is polar opposite. My memories of Companta were dark, rich, and full of dark fruit flavours, whereas Tùsail is very much light, fresh, and spicy.

Dave Says: The colour emulates golden fields of ripened barley on a glorious sunny day, and on pouring barley water flavours were my initial thoughts. once settled these give way to notes of sweet summer fruits; peaches and apricots. It certainly comes across as very rich and creamy. There's notes of fresh lumber too, sawn softwood and later a hint of that Glenmorangie soft orange notes coming through, almost blossom like in fragrance.

That creamy orange juice note comes across to the fore on the palate as does the softwood lumber notes. Tasting floral and fragrant there's a gentle sweetness which is balanced by a spicy build up while vanilla flavours richen with toffee notes which in turn evolves into milk chocolate. The spices build finishing with a peppery 'zing' and fresh ginger. The empty glass the following morning yielding notes of chocolate digestive biscuits (other chocolate covered malty biscuits are available)

Verdict: Personally, I loved it! The barley story interested me immensely and the rich creamy, yet almost rustic flavours drew me in completely!
A wee dram of Glenmorangie Tùsail
We would like to thank Glenmorangie for providing us with tasting samples, and to Robin Appel for his passion and help with our research.

Sláinte! Kat and Dave

Some further reading on Maris Otter Barley

After I read through other whisky bloggers reviews of Tùsail, many commented that they are not sure if they could taste the impact Maris Otter had on the flavour and aroma profiles of the whisky. I was wondering the same thing, so wanted to find out if I can find a description of the flavour profiles of Maris Otter and use this as a benchmark to compare my tasting notes against. I knew I tasted beers made from Maris Otter before but couldn't remember what they tasted like or what brewery they were from, just that the name rang a bell and knew I came across it before on beer bottle labels. 

My research came up trumps, when I found that Robin Appel had commissioned the Brewing Research Institute to conduct two separate studies (2006 and 2007) to identify the flavour profiles of Maris Otter. It seems that within the craft brewing circles there was similar debates on whether the variety of barley used made any difference to flavour of the end product. The results of the two studies (which I've read included blind tastings of beers from the different malts) concluded that the flavour ranges were “very clean, crisp, with biscuit and grain notes”. Comparing this to my tasting note I came to the conclusion that the flavours of Maris Otter does seem to come through in the dram. 

The only other whisky that I can find that’s known to be made with Maris Otter is the ultra-premium Hicks & Healey Cornish whisky which was jointly produced by St Austell Brewery and Healey’s Cyder Farm in Cornwall. This whisky is certainly on my list to try if given the opportunity!

This year sees Maris Otter celebrate 50 years of being in production and there are many beer related events around the country to celebrate this anniversary. To find out more about the 50 year anniversary campaign check out the Maris Otter Facebook page and follow their Twitter account: @marisotter50.

Sláinte! Kat 

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Whisky Discovery #1143

GlenDronach 20 Year Old Abbey Whisky Exclusive 54.8% abv
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
£97.95 70cl only from Abbey Whisky
Following on from the resounding success of their GlenDronach single cask 33, Abbey Whisky decided it was high time that they released another exclusive. I think the very thought of tasting and re-tasting another series of cask samples in order to determine the right cask for this release was also one of the contributing factors...#justsaying

Cask No. 3400 was distilled in 1994 spending 20 years in a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask before being bottled last year at 54.8% abv, just 672 bottles were released.

So What Did I Think?
As a regular Sherry drinker I was expecting BIG things from this whisky. Twenty years in a Pedro Ximenez cask will make some significant changes to the maturing spirit which is immediately apparent on pouring the deep mahogany coloured spirit.

I love nosing sherry and the rich Pedro Ximenez flavours I was expecting come across well; Blackcurrants, sweet and sticky. Blackberries, Black Forest Gateaux complete with the black cherries - It truly has a most decadent aromas that I could quite happily sit and nose all night. Adding water tames it a little, releasing some nuttier notes.

Tasting is punchy initially, with the high abv adding to the typical sherry monster tactics of smacking you in the chops. There's no subtleness here! A burnt toffee sweetness plays alongside natural liquorice root with just the hint of tar coming through. All the cliché 'dried fruits' are here, amplified and concentrated over ripe figs and sultanas. This takes water surprisingly well which for a sherry cask, allowing tropical spices like cloves to come through and a herbal element of fresh fennel too. The finish is very dry, oak tannins although just a touch sweeter with water. The empty glass the following morning yields lots of rich malty chocolate with just a hint of mint.
Whisky Discovery
Verdict: if you love your Sherry Monsters you will love this! Many thanks to Abbey Whisky for sharing this teaser for me to enjoy and tell you about. For further information I suggest you check out their web pages here as you won't be able to buy it anywhere else!

Sláinte! Dave

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Whisky Discovery #1162

Invergordon 1988 'Caribbean Crème' Wemyss Malts (46%)

Single Cask Single Grain Whisky
Circa £85.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
Wemyss Malts release a batch of single cask whiskies around three or four times a year. Last July they released their first single grain, a 1988 Invergordon 'Lemon Cheesecake'. I remember being blown away and it was a resounding sucess and all 220 bottles seemed to disappear in an instance. Then in September they released a second 1988 Invergordon, 'Vintage Strawberry Punnet'. 242 bottles were released this time and once again they were snapped up.

I was too slow for this third release too! Another single cask 1988 Invergordon, but only 171 bottles available this time, so almost as rare as the proverbial hens teeth!

Named 'Caribbean Crème' it won't take you long to release what my tasting notes will comprise of.

So What Did I Think?
Good grain Whisky needs just two things; Good wood, and time, plenty of time ordinarily. Fortunately the wood in the case of Caribbean Crème has given those wonderful coconut flavours that always excite me, and by maturing for at least 25 years, sufficient time has been given for the whisky to take on these flavours.

Bright gold in colour, the initial notes of acetone or nail varnish the coconut creme notes come out to lure you into a tropical paradise. It's been a long time since I was a boat builder but know the smell of nail varnish too well with a teenage daughter at home! I digress, remember the Bounty Bar and Fry's Chocolate Delight adverts? Well that's where this was taking me. 

Woody notes follow, but still within the tropical theme and the coconut dominates the pencil box, pencil shavings notes. I've lived abroad in tropical climes for a number of years and know well the aromas of worked coconut timber and this reminded me of those times.

The first sip opens dry and spicy, but this quickly evolves into the creamy coconut and vanilla notes I was expecting, and secretly longing for! Coconut Ice and waves of vanilla, and although there is a sweetness to this, a sourness of unripe fruit balances the taste profile. The wood notes come through, again initially as pencil shavings, which evolve to pine cones later, and finishing dry and spicy while maintaining a tropical hardwood note. Those tropical hardwood notes are the dominant notes in the empty glass the following morning along with just a hint of mint.

Verdict: Another excellent Invergordon cask from the Wemyss Vaults and when you compare this to other more recent single grain releases, exceptional value for money.

Many thanks to Wemyss Malts for providing me with this delicious teaser of their latest single grain release. For more details I suggest to pay their website a visit and certainly sign up for news of their next release.

Sláinte! Dave

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Chivas - The Art of Blending

Chivas Regal 12 and 18 Year Old, Whisky Discoveries 506 and 663 respectively
Recently the whisky fairy spread her wings to Bedfordshire. It was the first time we had seen a whisky event in Bedford advertised that hadn't been organised by Whisky Discovery, and for non-city folks who live in a whisky drought area, this was amazing news!

Rachel MacDonald
We were part of a 22 strong group of whisky lovers we have never met before, sat around a long table in the Library room of d’Pary’s Hotel, waiting for Rachel MacDonald, the recently recruited Chivas brand ambassador, to talk us through the Art of Blending. 

Dave wasn't supposed to be with me as he was due to be in London at an event launching a new release, but due to work commitments ended up in Wolverhampton that afternoon and wasn't able to get into London in time. Fortunately I had an extra ticket due to my friend pulling out last minute, so all worked out well in the end. Dave was still a little late home for this home town event and we were one of the last to arrive, however everyone was relaxed as all had been greeted with whisky sour cocktail featuring Chivas Regal 12 Year Old

d'Parys Hotel
If you ever find your way into Bedford, d’Pary’s Hotel is situated within a 5 – 10 minute walk from the town centre. The hotel is a wonderful Victorian building which was completely renovated to a very high standard last year. At present I would have to say it’s one of the most beautifully decorated placed in Bedford that has manage to perfectly combined class, sophistication with homely comforts. I'd certainly recommend a visit if you are in this neck of the woods. 

Here's a link to a video of the newly refurbished d’Pary’s Hotel from February last year.

Blending School
Whisky sours on arrival
Before we started, and while we were sipping our cocktails and introducing ourselves to each other, we were presented with a blending kit and 5 different whiskies which we were to use to make our blends. Four of the bottles were plainly labelled: Highland, Lowland, Islay, and Grain. Then there was the Strathisla 12 year old representing Speyside. Both Chivas and Strathisla are owned by Pernod Richard, with Strathisla being one of the whiskies that goes into the Chivas blend. I remember Rachel advising us that the Chivas blend consisted of circa 30 different whiskies and that Strathisla was the key Single Malt in the 12 Year Old Chivas and Longmorn in the 18 Year Old

Strathisla 12 Year Old
The Strathisla 12 Year Old - the heart of Chivas Regal 12 Year Old
On a side note, The Strathisla 12 Year Old (Whisky Discovery #840) is a great whisky in its own right and we'd recommend you try this whisky at the next opportunity you get. It’s gentle on the pocket too at circa £30 per 70cl bottle. I took some notes this time and wrote: Smooth creamy honey and caramel notes which reminded me of the Werther's Originals sweets.

The Lesson Begins
Whilst we were told that all of the whiskies were 12 Years Old, we weren't told any of the distillery names of the malts we were using although started guessing them amongst ourselves. There aren't too many Lowland whiskies available these days, so it was either Auchentoshan or Glenkinchie, our money was on the former but no one was paying out. In our minds the Islay was a choice of three, Laphroaig, Caol Ila or a peated Bunnahabhain and our money was on the Caol Ila, but again Rachel was saying nothing and refused to play our game!
Nothing given away on these labels (spot the deliberate mistake!)
We were then given instructions on the recommended quantities of each whisky that should go into our blend, and the hard task of tasting each whisky before we started blending them. I must admit I was free styling, the only thing I remember Rachel saying was it required at least 50% of grain whisky. My aim was something smooth, vanilla/honey notes, full bodied and spicy so my logic was to go heavier on the Highland and Strathisla. My blend consisted of the following (loosely measured) which needed to total 250ml which was a very generous sample to take home.
  • 50 ml Grain whisky
  • 75 ml Speyside (Strathisla)
  • 45 ml Lowland Whisky
  • 75 ml Highland Whisky
  • 5 ml Islay Whisky
I named it 'Spice Delight' and it came out similar to what I had hoped for but am currently waiting for the blend to mature, letting everything, well blend together! 
My blending laboratory at d'Parys. I can do science me!
Dave, having been on a few of these blending classes over the years had decided his percentages before even committing whisky to the blending beaker. He's an engineer by trade an all his numbers have got to a). add up to the right answer exactly. and b). be easily achievable with the equipment to hand! He created his recipe and then measured out his blend, precisely, only stopping to sip once it had all been assembled. To be fair Rachel did come along after the prizes had been awarded and said that it really was quite good, but I bet she says that to all the guys! 
  • 120 ml Grain Whisky
  • 60 ml Speyside (Strathisla)
  • 30 ml Lowland
  • 30 ml Highland
  • 10 ml Islay
Rachel tasted the blends that met the strict criteria of the percentage ranges for each of the whiskies in the blend, all five needed to be used in the creation and not all followed this instruction. Sadly my blend did not meet these requirements because frankly I don’t always follow orders! On the other hand, Dave being Dave, had read the instructions to the letter but either didn't meet all the criteria or sat down out of the taste judging. He'd also simply labelled his bottled 'Dave'.
Meet 'Dave' or should it have been 'Dave's not here man!'
There were two prizes awarded on the evening, a bottle of the Chivas 18 Year Old for the best tasting blend and a bottle of Chivas 12 Year Old for the best named blend, both judged by Rachel . There were some great names created, but the winning blend name went to 'The Dram Buster'. The evening was finished by everyone getting to sample the Chivas 12 and 18 Year Old blend, with the room split roughly 50/50 on which one they preferred. 
The winning name 'The Dram Busters' walked away with a bottle of 12 Year Old Chivas
It was a cracking evening so if you see one advertised in your town secure your place! Rachel was a fabulous host and managed to keep everyone engaged throughout the evening. We'll be revealing our blends at the next Bedford Whisky Club night which is on Thursday 5th February, for everyone to judge. (Check out the 'Meetup Page' here). We're going head to head, winner takes all! I'm prepared for a Marmite moment.

More photos can be found on our Facebook page here: Chivas Blending School

Sláinte! Kat