Saturday, 26 November 2011

Book Review 101 Whiskies

101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die
Ian Buxton
Published September 2010
This was the book that really injected some real pace into my whisky journey. When I set off almost a year before buying this book, I had in my mind that I would be looking to buy Scottish single malts, discounting blends, bourbons and whiskies from other countries, I knew very little about whisky at the time but was rapidly running out of whiskies to buy as I was only looking at my local supermarket, and with twenty five 'whisky discoveries' under my belt needed some urgent help.

I didn't have a Twitter account nor a blog, just a 'liquid log' put together as a MS Word document and was wondering where I should go next. I thought to myself there must be a 101 list out there somewhere, a list of whiskies that I should be pursuing and searched the web and came up trumps when I found this book.

Ian Buxton has selected 101 'everyman' whiskies, and as Ian says quite clearly in his introduction, this is not an awards list, there are no points awarded, it's not a list of the best whiskies in the world, it's a guide to 101 whiskies that whisky enthusiasts should seek out and try.

There are no obscure single casks bottlings listed, and most, if not all of the whiskies listed should be available today, some three years after first publication. Ian set out choosing this 101 with goals of being generally available, albeit you may have to search a little further than your supermarket shelves. They must be affordable, there are a few whiskies listed that were retailing above £100, but I think the average (at the time of printing) was around £57 a bottle.

Ian has worked in the Whisky Industry for more than 20 years and so is well qualified to select 101 whiskies for us to consider. Everything is laid out in alphabetical order, it's not a top 101 list and although more than half of those listed are Scottish single malts, there are blended whiskies and whiskies from further afield introducing whiskies from Canada, Ireland, India, Japan, Sweden and the USA to me.

When I first read through this book I was pleased to find that of the twenty five I had already bought or tasted, nine appeared in this book. 

Each whisky listed fills a double page spread, with a full colour picture of the whisky to the left, along with some basic information; producer, distillery, availability and price guide. On the right hand page Ian lays out a brief description of the whisky, its producer, and some background information on its history, and why it has been included in the book. Ian follows this with some simple tasting notes. honest and understandable notes on his thoughts for each whisky.

This book became my guide when I came to a point in my journey where I was struggling to find out where I went next. I still refer to it today, and my copy is filled with small 'post-it' notes reminding me of when and where I tasted each whisky.

It has introduced me to blended whisky, and more importantly introduced me to the whole world of whisky. There is no doubt in my mind that this book has been a key foundation stone to my whisky journey, and I thank Ian Buxton for putting this book together. (and I have thanked him when I met him at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show last year).

Ian released a second edition in 2012, 101 World Whiskies to Try Before You Die expanding the horizons for the whisky enthusiast further still and you can find out what I thought about that here.

So how am I doing with this 101 list? At time of writing 60 down and I still have 41 to find. (May 2013)

Assistance Required !

With an ever increasing thirst for knowledge I decided I needed to find a guide, an almanac, to help steer me along this journey.

I wanted to find out more about Jim Murray, who decided that the Old Pulteney 21 YO was the whisky of the year. I wanted to find a guide that would open new avenues of discovery.
After much searching I went for Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2012 and for a bit of fun Ian Buxton’s “101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die”
Both books include single malts, blended whisky, bourbons and other worldwide whiskies that can only enhance this journey I have decided to undertake.
 I was really pleased to find out that my journey to date included no less than nine listed in the 101. 
I like this book, as it is not an awards list, there are no scores listed, and is certainly not just a list of the best whiskies in the world. As Ian states; “It is simply a guide to 101 whiskies that enthusiasts must seek out and try” I don’t have to buy a bottle of each, but will use it to help with my ‘wishlist’. I was also pleased that even some of my original wishlist were included. 
It has certainly expanded my horizon as I am keen to try some of the blends, bourbons and other world whiskies.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Whisky Discovery #25

Old Pulteney 12 Year Old (40% abv, OB, Bottled +/- 2011 70cl)

Highland Single Malt Whisky
Circa £22

November's official bottle
I read on the BBC website that the Old Pulteney 21 YO had won the Jim Murray Scotch Whisky of the year, and seeing the 12 YO expression on the shelves at the local supermarket on offer for just £22.00, I thought it would be a prime candidate for the official November addition to my journey.

Established in 1826, The Pulteney Distillery found in the heart of ‘Pulteneytown’, the town created to house fishersmen during Wick’s ‘herring boom’. The most northerly distillery on the Scottish mainland, the spirit crafted here is a distillation of this unique location. Matured wholly in air-dried, hand-selected ex-bourbon casks, the Old Pulteney 12 YO is the definitive expression in the Old Pulteney family.

Traditionally crafted using techniques that other distillers have long abandoned, this winner of numerous gold medals at the most prestigious international competitions is a high water-mark of quality spirits.

March 15th 2012

Reading back through some of my earlier postings I thought that I really must revisit some of the whiskys remaining on my shelf and review in a little more detail:

Matured wholly in air-dried, hand-selected ex-bourbon and sherry casks for at least 12 years this Old Pulteney was a Double Gold winner at the 2006 San Francisco World Spirits Competition

Colour: Old Gold, however this is ‘modified’ with caramel.

Body: Quite light as the legs run quickly back into the glass, but a little oily too.

Nose: I find the nose quite light in the glass initially, it definitely needs some time. It is quite crisp and dry but with a hint of briney sea air at first. Once it starts to open up there is an aromatic herbal flowery tone, with even some light grassy notes, and after a little longer the sweet caramel is eventually teased out. It is a quite agreeable nose.

Palate: There seems to be an citrus note initially which this quickly turns malty and then floral honeyed sweetness comes through, but then a twist at the end with a hint of aniseed to the salty tang. It really is quite pleasant

Finish: The finish is quite short with malty oak and spices, before the salty tang is all that remains

So what did I think

I remember being immediately impressed with this whisky when I first opened back in November and even recommended it to a friend of mine who was looking for some Christmas whisky, and he too enjoyed it. Perhaps it might have benefitted from being bottled at 46%, but this is an entry level whisky at a very good price, and it’s definitely a good introduction to Scotland’s most northerly mainland distillery. I’m looking forward to trying their 17 and 21 year olds later.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Whisky Discovery #24

The Balvenie 17 Year Old ‘Peated Cask’ (43% abv, OB, Bottled 2011)

Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Circa £80


One of the other Balvenie malts tasted during the evening at the V&A for The Balvenie 40 Year Old launch.

This cracking peated cask Balvenie was first released in 2010. It was aged traditionally to begin with, before a finish in casks that previously held peated whisky.

In 2001, a heavily peated batch of barley was distilled at The Balvenie Distillery and was allowed to mature until The Balvenie Malt Master, David Stewart, decided it was time to rejuvenate the maturation process and so the whisky was transferred to newly prepared traditional casks.

The casks that had originally held the peated liquid had taken on much of its character and so David decided to experiment by filling them with 17 year old Balvenie for a short period. The result was an intensely peaty whisky. Marrying this liquid with 17 year old Balvenie finished in new American oak casks produced The Balvenie Peated Cask, a complex single malt that is rich and spicy with layers of smokiness.

The result is well balanced and not overpowering, and this will certainly be on my wish list.

Whisky Discovery #23

The Balvenie 15 Year Old ‘Single Barrel’ (47.8% abv, OB, Bottled 2011)

Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Circa £48

One of the other Balvenie malts tasted during the evening at the V&A for The Balvenie 40 Year Old launch.

The Balvenie Single Barrel is a 15 year old single malt which is drawn from a single traditional oak whisky cask of a single distillation. 

Whilst each cask is subtly different, The Balvenie Malt Master selects only those casks which have the essential characteristics of The Balvenie Single Barrel, particularly honey, vanilla and oaky notes. Each bottling forms a limited edition of no more than 350 hand-numbered bottles - so each bottle is unique and unrepeatable.An individual numbered 15 year old from selected single ex-bourbon casks from the Balvenie distillery, this is a single malt both fruity and honeyed with an excellent finish.

Nose: Delicate sweetness one expects from Balvenie. Honey and dried mixed peel.
Palate: Husky sweetness. Barley lies on a bed of juicy ripe fruit.
Finish: Climaxes with barley and bourbon spiciness peaking most spectacularly.

Whisky Discovery #22

The Balvenie 12 Year Old ‘ Signature’ Batch No. 4 (40% abv, OB, Bottled 2011)

Speyside Single Malt Whisky

Circa £25-30

A November bonus bottle
The ‘Brucie bonus bottle’ from the lovely Balvenie people at the end of our evening in The V&A Museum.
The Balvenie Signature Aged 12 Years is a classic marriage of The Balvenie matured in the three most traditional cask types, first fill bourbon, refill bourbon and sherry. Produced in small, numbered batches, each cask used is hand selected by Malt Master David Stewart to ensure he achieves Signature’s unique character of honey, spice and subtle oak and each batch is allowed time to harmonise in a traditional marrying tun. David Stewart crafted The Balvenie Signature to mark his 45th year in the whisky industry and 2011 saw the release of Batch 4.
NOSE: Rich and complex with honey, citrus fruits and vanilla oak notes.
TASTE: Rich and honeyed with a hint of sherry fruitiness. A spiciness of cinnamon and nutmeg and a subtle oakiness develop with time.
FINISH: Warm and lingering.

Whisky Discovery #21

The Balvenie 40 Year Old Batch No. 2 (48.5%, OB, Bottled 2011)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky


The Balvenie 40 - 2nd release
Those wonderful people at Balvenie called me up to inform me that I had won a pair of tickets to sample their new limited release of a special 40 year single malt.
You don’t turn down opportunities like this, as they don’t come along to often. The event was being held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
I invited friend Colin Johnson to the event, who almost bit my arm off at the opportunity. On arrival we were treated as VIPs as most of the other guests were from the trade.
We were able to sample a good deal of The Balvenie range of single malts, well certainly everything that had been set up for sampling!
We tasted their 12 YO Doublewood, 12 YO Signature, 15 YO Single Cask, 17 YO Peated Cask and of course their 21 YO Port Wood. Then the 40 YO was brought out. Only 150 bottles produced in this limited edition bottling, 80 for the UK market and 70 for the rest of the world. With a retail price set at £2,500 per bottle, two were opened for our pleasure.
And oh what a pleasure it was ! We must have spent a good five minutes exploring the nose, it might have been longer and certainly needed to be – it was awesome ! Then the taste – again out of this world ! I would have to re-evaluate all my previous tastings to get things back into some perspective. So much going on in their and the finish – again spectacular. There was only one glass each (although it was a generous measure) and unless the jackpot comes up, way out of my price range, but it was a wonderful experience. To end the evening we were each presented with a bottle from their entry level malts, Colin came away with a bottle of Doublewood and for me The Signature. Thank you Balvenie !