Sunday, 10 May 2015

Whisky Discovery #1277

SMWS 3.243 'Dark, Smouldering Flamenco Gypsy' 57.1% abv

Single Cask Single Islay Malt
Price T.B.A
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

Black Bottle Whisky

Whisky DIscovery
I first came across Black Bottle when reading Ian Buxton's book '101 whiskies to try before you die' and decided to look out for a bottle of it for the shelf. I eventually found it when one of my local supermarkets started stocking it occasionally. Not long after I bought it there was a complete re-branding from owners Burn Stewart Distillers

I thought it would be interesting to taste the two blends alongside each other and looked to see if I could get a sample of it. Somerset Whisky blogger Steve Prentice came to my rescue and during the internet chatter I also managed to secure a sample, from self confessed Bowmore addict Gavin Thomson, of the long discontinued 10 Year Old blend which was also mentioned, and praised in Ian Buxton's book. But before my notes let me educate you with a brief history.

A brief History 
Black Bottle's history starts in 1879 when Aberdonian tea blenders Gordon Graham and Co. decided to try their hand at blending whisky. At the time Aberdeen was a thriving port and tea from Sri Lanka (Ceylon back then) and China were prized commodities. Three bothers, Gordon, David and Charles Graham had established themselves as tea importers and blenders in the heart of Aberdeen's commercial quarters, and tea was still their staple business until 1881 when they decided to concentrate their efforts solely on whisky blending, moving to new offices and building two bonded warehouses. The eldest brother, and original blender of the whisky, Gordon passed away in 1889 and control of the company was passed onto David.
Whisky Discovery
George Graham & Co's first bonded warehouse in Regent Street in Aberdeen
The whisky was originally named after the German made black bottle in which the whisky was sold, but on the outbreak of The Great War in 1914 this obviously had to change, and a green bottle was used. David Graham died in 1919 and the business was left to the youngest brother, Charles Innes Graham, the salesman who had become known as 'The Whiskyman' from his time travelling from town to town-supplying Black Bottle from his car. 

Charles Innes died in 1926, and the profitable business was left to wife Ann Jane Graham who assumed control. Because there was no natural male heir to the business Ann persuaded her nephew Graham Horne to change his name by deed pole to Graham Charles Innis Graham following the death of his mother. 

By the mid 20th century, the Black Bottle brand was becoming highly lucrative, but in 1951 disaster struck when the Market Street offices were completely destroyed by fire and the original recipes, company records and historical paper work were lost. The company remained in family hands until 1959 but after a couple of different owners, the brand was acquired by Highland Distillers in 1995 who started a program of investment, introducing modern Islay malts into the blend, launching three expressions that stated clearly it was a blend made up of a proportion of malt whisky from every distillery on Islay.
  • The Original Blend NAS (no age statement) whiskies contained in this expression were thought to be at least seven years old.
  • Black Bottle 10 Year Old, launched in 1998, the glass bottle was wrapped with black plastic. (discontinued in 2010)
  • Black Bottle 15 Year Old, again the glass bottle was wrapped with black plastic, long discontinued
With the two exclusive expressions discontinued only the 'Original Blend' remained.
Whisky Discovery
In September 2013, current owners Burn Stewart relaunched the brand returning to its original 1879 roots, including the black glass that gave the blend its name and channelling the vintage bottle trend. With less of a focus on malts from Islay, and to be reminiscent of its 1879 recipe having floral and oak aromas and a fruit, smoke, honey and nutmeg flavour.

Burn Stewart master distiller Ian MacMillan stated “The challenge was to develop a liquid that was more in line with the original character of Black Bottle while maintaining all of the quality for which the brand is renowned. I wanted to reintroduce a richness to balance the smokiness of the blend and in turn allow each component to contribute to the overall flavour.”

MacMillan added that the expression moves away from the peatiness of Islay, which became a more prominent note in Black Bottle recipes over the years, and instead channels more Speyside flavours. He noted that “Black Bottle lost itself in Islay” and said the distillery realised there was a need for the Scotch to “return its North East roots.” The expression is stored in a bottle inspired by the long-lost Graham’s Brothers black glass bottle dating back to 1906.

Whisky Discovery #634

Black Bottle 'Original Blend' 2012 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
No longer available
Whisky Discovery
The 'Original Blend' was around until the end of 2013
This is the bottle I bought and the one listed in Ian Buxton's book. The bottle is of green glass and of the traditional lantern type pot still type neck. I saw this going for as little as £11 a bottle in Tesco one Christmas but could easily be picked up for around £15-18 a bottle even after the launch of the new release. I suspect it's all gone now though. The 'blurb' on the back of the box states that it's a blend of Islay single malts blended with Highland, Lowland and Speyside malts and grain whisky.

So What Did I Think?
Colour: Bright golden, I suspect naturally coloured as looks quite light and I haven't been able to find any small print in German on either the packaging or the bottle
Nose: I must admit I was expecting a great deal more peat from this when I first opened it, boldly stating that . It is there to be discovered, but the soft grains seem to dominate the flavours. Later I was finding sappy wood notes alongside a maritime air and a pinch of salt
Taste: Soft woody notes, pencil shavings, alongside some tinned fruit although the flavours are dulled slightly by a syrup sweetness as opposed to fresh. It's quite thin on the palate, but easy drinking. Wood spice comes though as it drys the mouth and a little sweet scented smoke comes through at the end, finishing dry. The following morning the peat rally shows its hand leaving an earthiness in the glass.

Whisky Discovery #983

Black Bottle 2013 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
circa £20.00 70 cl
Whisky Discovery
The new Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky launched September 2013
This is the recently re- launched Black Bottle and the new look really does come across well. I like the style and black coloured glass, although not handy if you're monitoring levels. If this is your tipple I'd recommend a kan-ban stocking system so you always have one in the cupboard when it unexpectedly runs out!

So What Did I Think?
Colour: This seems to be orange like when compared to the other two, suggesting that colouring has been used
Nose: This immediately came across as very sweet on the nose, brown sugar, caramel, toffee. There's something more savoury under but it seems to being masked by the sweetness. Later peppery notes develop not too dissimilar to Tequila. Eventually some faint wisps of sweet smoke can be teased out from it.
Taste: Although initially feeling quite creamy it seems to turn thin quickly. With the exceedingly sweet nose I was expecting this same sweetness on the palate which it delivers albeit with a peppery zing appearing towards the end and turning dry with a pithy bitterness. The peat showed itself in the empty glass the following morning with it's earthiness alongside hints of chocolate.

Whisky Discovery #984

Black Bottle 10 Year Old 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
No longer available
Whisky Discovery
The bottle on the 10 Year Old expression was wrapped in black plastic
I'm really pleased that I managed to get a hold of a sample of this to taste. I've not seen either the 10 year of or 15 Year Old come up on the auction sites very often, but then why would you? It was a reasonably price blended Scotch that was meant to be drunk. The packaging states that the heart of this blend is made entirely from Islay malts from each of the island's seven distilleries blended together with grain whiskies.

So What Did I Think?
Colour: Dark golden, but having seen the packaging up close know that this is coloured
Nose: Rich and woody with some dark fruits; black cherry and dark skinned plums, all slightly over ripe. It's not as 'Islay' as I was expecting, but there is a gentle peat smoke note, like that of a dying embers, that just manages to make it's way through the hardwood and fruit. 
Taste: It's rich and woody on the palate and the fruit comes across well too, nicely balanced. The smoke comes through as wood smoke rather than peat, and the finish a good length and a nice balance of the three main flavours, fruit, wood and smoke.. The empty glass the following morning yields rich chocolate notes over a peaty earthiness.

Well the 10 Year Old wins hands down for me, no question about it, however how close any of these expressions are to the original Black Bottle is anyone's guess! All the records and original recipes were lost in the fire in 1951.

What has been done with the new blend should appeal to new whisky drinkers, certainly the updated packaging looks so much more modern, although in a 'retro' style, to the original blend that I'm still drinking. Taste wise I'm not sure which appeals to me more now. At the time of tasting all three alongside each other I was swayed by the latest reincarnation although my notes went on about a sweetness I don't usually enjoy. Recently I've been enjoying sipping my old style Black Bottle, so will probably pick up one of the newer ones to retry alongside each other before I reach the end of this one!

Many thanks to @steveprentice and @LoveBowmore for the samples for this post

Sláinte! Dave

Whisky Discovery

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Midlands Whisky VI

Whisky Discovery
We're counting down the sleeps until this show!
You may have realised by now that we love Whisky Shows. We tend to visit between six and eight a year, and if we could afford the time and cost we would visit a lot more! In fact spending our time travelling the World's Whisky Shows would be an ideal past time, however we both have bills to pay!
The Midlands Whisky Festival run by Nickolls and Perks has become one of our firm favourites. The people of Stourbridge love their whisky, mind you it's not just locals that fill Stourbridge's Victorian Town Hall at each Whisky Festival, we've met whisky enthusiasts from all over the country at their festivals.

Nickolls and Perks Stourbridge corner shop
Nickolls and Perks are the UK's oldest provincial wine and spirits merchant and they've been proudly independent since 1797. They held their first Midlands Whisky Festival back in 2010, initially an annual event held on the last Saturday of September, they introduced a Spring Festival three years ago and their next event will be held on the last weekend of March, that's Friday 27th and Saturday 28th March! You can book your tickets here: Tickets

Whilst the Saturday show ordinarily opens at midday for ticket holders the are a limited number of 'VIP' tickets which allow access from 1045 which not only gives you an extra 'Dream Dram' token, but more importantly to the serious whisky fan, unrivalled access to the Brand Ambassadors and shop for a full hour and a quarter in a relaxed unhurried atmosphere whilst canapés are served. Once again in addition to the VIP ticket, a 'Devotee' ticket was available which not only gave all the VIP advantages but a selection of Dream Drams samples to take home too! 

We've attended all but the very first show and this will be their seventh event. Each time they are getting bigger and better, and this time they have announced a special Friday evening session alongside the usual Saturday show. Tickets are available for each session individually, and there are special deals for the full weekend. 

We often hear complaints that there simply isn't enough time to visit every stand. Nickolls and Perks have listened and have introduced this new format and we're told that the Friday session, running from 6:00pm until 9:00pm, will have a slightly different feel too it with some added attractions

If you've read any of our previous show reports (and each of the other four show reports can be found on this blog) you'll know that it involves a bit of a train trek from Whisky Discovery HQ to Stourbridge. It's not really difficult, but it is a full day out! 

You can see our previous Show reports here:
You can find out further information from their website here: Midlands Whisky Festival and while your booking your tickets let me tell you about our trip to Midlands Whisky VI last September.

Midlands Whisky Festival VI
Whilst we love visiting Whisky Festivals to discover new whiskies, meeting friends who share our passion is the icing on the whisky cake. Whisky has always been about the people, from those with the skills and passion to make the spirit to those that you look forward to sharing a dram or three with, and with each show we visit, we come away with new friends added to the list. We've been writing our Whisky Discovery blog for a little over three years now, attending our first ever event in April 2012 and it's immensely satisfying meeting people who read our posts and look out for us at these shows, just to say hello, and sometimes to tell us they love what we do!

We arrived in Stourbridge early which not only allowed us to take full advantage of our premium ticket, but also to grab breakfast and visit the Nickolls and Perks Whisky Emporium before heading over to the Town Hall for the start of the show. As soon as we arrived we headed straight over to catch up with Director of Sales and key organiser David Gardner to find out what was new this time. There were more Premium and Devotee tickets available this time and so to appease all, two Masterclasses were available, but you could only attend one of them. David had organised it so that we'd be able to cover both with a seat in each. 

Our first dram of the day was from The Balvenie where The Miss Whisky was in-charge, we chose their First Fill Single Cask 12 year Old, a perfect ‘breakfast dram’ and great way to start the day! As it was a new cask, it was a new Whisky Discovery to record. In addition to the 12 Year Old Single Barrel Alwynne also had the 17 Year Old Double Wood and the 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask on offer.
Kat with Scott and Alwynne
We also caught up with Scott Thompson at the Balvenie stand. It was his first trip to The Midlands Whisky Festival and he was very pleased with his Devotee pack although a little disappointed that he wasn't on the Diageo Special Release Masterclass with Colin Dunn. We've been on many a Colin Dunn Masterclass, and as it was Scott's first show we thought that he really must see him in action so we swapped our ticket (so Kat and I would go to the Macallan class together) To say he was pleased with this arrangement would be an understatement!

I left Kat upstairs while I dashed downstairs and my second stop was to say good morning to The Macallan Brand Ambassador Joy Elliot, where my second Whisky Discovery was made with The Macallan 18 Year Old Sherry Oak. It was at The Macallan stand that I met Mark from The Malt Review for the first time, it was his first trip to The Midlands Whisky Festival too
Mark from The Malt Review and Joy Elliot from The Macallan
With two ‘Dream Dram’ tokens in my pocket I decided that one of them should be used to sample the Springbank 21 Year Old. I’d heard great things about the Springbank 21 Year Old and it didn't disappoint! It was my third of the morning and another new Whisky Discovery. 

I went for a ‘wander’ while sipping my Springbank 21 year Old and ended up at the Morrison Bowmore stand where I spotted the Auchentoshan American Oak. I remember seeing this during my trip to Auchentoshan in July and seeing as I was coming to the end of my Springbank it would have been rude not to.

After having had a quick look around the stands I decided my attention should be spent at the Springbank Stand and decided to run through the range starting with their 10 Year Old to refresh my palate as it was a recent Whisky Discovery, The 10 was followed my the excellent 12 year Old Cask Strength where I decided that this alongside their 15 Year Old are 'must haves' for my shelf. The 12 CS was followed by the 18 Year Old which too is another fine dram.
Whisky Discovery
A belly full of Springbank
With a belly full of Springbank I headed back upstairs to find Kat who was with Glen Grant/Wild Turkey. I've had very little exposure to the Glen Grant range of single malts so took the opportunity to try the two that were on offer, the no-age statement ‘Major’s Reserve’ and their 10 Year Old. I wasn't ready for a Bourbon quite yet, but wanted to spend my second ‘Dream Dram’ token.

We decided that we should try the Glenmorangie Signet, a new Whisky Discovery for the both of us, but I wanted Kat to also try their fabulous 25 Year Old. I first tried this at the London International Wine Fair with Dave Broome (name dropper!) and I insisted that Kat should try it – she agreed with me – it’s fabulous! 
Whisky Discovery
A brace of 'Dream Drams' from Glenmorangie
Our Macallan Masterclass with Joy Elliot was due to start at 1330 but was running a tad late, however it was all worth waiting for! Six Macallan expressions with four new Whisky Discoveries. 

We started our Masterclass with the Fine Oak 15 Year Old – sadly no longer available in the UK but can be found on the continent. The 15 Year Old Fine Oak was followed by one of my favourites from the 1824 Series, Sienna. The 1824 Range was launched at Midlands Whisky III back in April 2013! 

After reacquainting ourselves with Sienna, the Fine Oak 18 Year Old was next in the line-up, and another from the 1824 Series, Ruby followed. Next came the Estate Reserve, a Travel Retail Exclusive, again from the 1824 Series, and another memorable dram. The final dram from our Macallan Masterclass was their 25 Year Old which was simply stunning! 
Whisky Discovery
The Macallan Masterclass Line up
After the Masterclass and some lunch I wanted to head back to the Springbank Stand and try their Longrow’s I started with their 11 Year Old ‘Red’. I was fairly certain I’d tried this before and on checking the Liquid Log found that I had indeed, way back in the Springbank Masterclass of Midlands Whisky II!  The Longrow was a new Whisky Discovery though, this NAS whisky replaced the Longrow CV. 

With the afternoon zipping along nicely I thought it was time to check out the Bourbons I saw earlier (and Kat had already told me about) and my palate needed a change so I headed back upstairs to find Wild Turkey and took the last dram out of this bottle of their 101, following that up with the 81. Both were a welcome break from the malts, but I preferred the 101 for sipping.
Whisky Discovery
A brace of Wild Turkeys
The over-running Macallan Masterclass meant we missed the Mortlach mini-masterclass with Colin Dunn - he was presenting the 'Old and Rare', which by all accounts is neither, however I needed to have some Mortlach in my life that afternoon. I had spotted this 13 Year Old from the Hunter Laing’s ‘Old Malt Cask’ range and made this my next dram.

Last pours were announced at 1630 and the hard-working stallholders started packing their wares up and emptying their bottles. My last ‘real’ dram was a Johnnie Walker ‘Odyssey’, but the final drink of the show was this ‘Smoky Cokey’ from Colin Dunn – Lagavulin 16 Year Old and coke. I know it sounds so wrong, but was a refreshing end to a fabulous show, we even caught Jon from Living Room Whisky nosing his Smoky Cokey!

And so another great Whisky Show was over and it was time to make our way home, and following our footsteps from the last Midlands Whisky Festival, we stopped of in the City Centre to grab some dinner before heading to the station and arrived safely home after around 14 hours from when we left that morning!

The next Midlands Whisky Festival is on Friday 27th/Saturday 28th March and tickets are selling fast! You can find out more information here: Midland Whisky Festival
Get your tickets early!
We met a great number of people at the show and they're all definitely worth following if your on Twitter: @Ardbaggie @Nickolls_Perks @midlandswhisky @LRWhisky @themisswhisky @ColinDunnWhisky @thejoyofwhisky @MyWhiskyGuide @MaltReview @SCOTTDOGG11

If we met and I've missed you off of this list please let me know and I'll update the list!

The full dram list included 17 new Whisky Discoveries, 6 revisits and one Smoky Cokey, and you can see all of the photos in our Facebook Album here
  • WD#1003 The Balvenie 12 Year Old Single Cask
  • WD#1004 The Macallan 18 Year Old Sherry Cask
  • WD#1005 Springbank 21 Year Old
  • WD#1006 Auchentoshan American Oak NAS
  • WD#963 Springbank 10 Year Old
  • WD#1007 Springbank 12 Year Old Cask Strength
  • WD#1008 Springbank 18 Year Old
  • WD#1009 Glen Grant Majors Reserve
  • WD#1010 Glen Grant 10 Year Old
  • WD#1011 Glenmorangie Signet
  • WD#438 Glenmorangie 25 Year Old
The Macallan Materclass with Joy Elliot
back to the Show
  • WD#173 Longrow Red 11 Year Old
  • WD#1016 Longrow NAS
  • WD#1017 Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon
  • WD#1018 Wild Turkey 81 Bourbon
  • WD#1019 Mortlach Old Malt Cask
  • WD#563 Johnnie Walker Odyssey, and it was all washed down with a Smoky Cokey!
Whisky Discovery
A Smoky Cokey!
Sláinte! Dave