Saturday, 31 March 2012

Whisky Discovery #69

Highland Park Thor 16 Year Old (52.1% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Island Single Malt Whisky
Circa £115 70cl

A wee Mighty Thor Tweet Tasting
Thor is the first release in the Highland Park Valhalla Collection and like its namesake, shares many of the legendary Norse god’s larger-than-life characteristics. 

So who is Thor?
The eldest son of Odin and Frigg, Thor is the god of thunder and war. Tall and strong, with a red beard, Thor is an idealised warrior and uses a mighty hammer as his weapon, which when thrown returns back to him, like a boomerang. Married to the golden-haired goddess Sif, Thor dies in a mighty battle with the evil serpent Jörmungandr. Thursday is named after Thor (Thor’s day)

The most renowned of all the Norse gods, Thor was the protector of Asgard and was feared by his enemies and other gods alike. His powerful hammer, Mjolnir, which has depicted on the bottle, was said to create a thunderous and terrifying sound when used in battle; legend has it that Thor’s handiwork can be witnessed first hand on Orkney.

Distilled where sea turns to ocean, Highland Park Thor is a meeting point of nature’s forces, resulting in a perfect marriage of classic fragrant Highland Park smoke, balanced with a beguiling inner complexity and natural strength. Aged for 16 years and b ottled at a robust 52.1% ABV this limited edition whisky comes housed in a unique wooden frame, which echoes the fearsome contours of a traditional Viking long ship Thor is limited to 23,000 bottles worldwide.

Favourite tweet during the Thor tasting came from @jasonbstanding: "I always mix up Asgard and Asda. Shouldn't. There are no heroes in Asda, fallen or otherwise"

So what did I think?

Colour: Rich amber

Nose: Fresh and zesty, especially after the 25 and 30 year old which I would have expected. Aromatic smoke, pungent fresh ginger, antique copper, stewed plums, and golden syrup. With water, earthy notes emerge, like a garden after a heavy rain shower.

Palate: Initially dry, with Jamaican ginger cake then vanilla, some fruit, peach and mango with a spiciness underlying

Finish: A sweet peppery finish that was very enjoyable.

This was a very enjoyable dram to finish off with, but I think this may have been geared more towards the collector. The packaging for the limited edition bottling is stunning, but for the price tag I could get a bottle of each of the 15 and 18 year old expressions.

Whisky Discovery #68

Highland Park 30 Year Old (48.1% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Island Single Malt Whisky
Circa £200 70cl

Tweet Tasting HP30
Until the launch of the 40 year old, this was the flagship variant of the Highland Park range and first released in April 2005. By its very nature, this whisky is only available in limited quantities. It is, however, worth seeking out as the ultimate expression of the distillery’s character. 

Highland Park 30 Year Old merits time and attention. It has spent 30 years maturing so treat it with respect; you’ll discover the characteristic fudge sweetness together with complex aromatic spices and dark chocolate orange. It has a drying finish, leaving a gentle smoky flavour and a mildly salty aftertaste – the result of 30 years ageing in the Orkney sea spray.

This whisky is a winner of many awards including a Platinum award from the Chicago Beverage Testing Institute.

My favourite tweet during the HP30 tasting came from @LRWhisky: who tweeted "Earth, peat, fire, smoke, dark sherried fruits. A bear hug of a dram!"

So what did I think?

Colour: Similar to the 25, and a dark ruddy golden, clear and bright

Nose: Very rich, 
Thick cut marmalade and polished wood (mature oak) then the sherry comes through.chocolate, fudge  Spicy dried fruit, less vanilla but more citrus. Some floral notes develop with the hint of honey.

Palate: Full, rich burst of flavour; soft honey; nutty toffee The palate is warm and rich. Notes of winter spice and sherried raisins, hints of mixed peels and honey sweetness. There's a little rum note somewhere in the mix too.

Finish: Rich, long and surprisingly sweet initially, eventually trailing to a salty tang at the end

Way beyond my current budget constraints, but a worthy dram none the less.

Whisky Discovery #67

Highland Park 25 Year Old (48.1% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Island Single Malt Whisky
Circa £135 70cl

Tweet Tasting HP25
First released in 1998, Highland Park 25 Years Old is a phenomenal whisky; it has a rich amber glow and an unmistakable taste of smokiness and heather honey with, as you would expect from Highland Park, a hint of peat.

The lowest strength of the Highland Park 25 olds, this bottling is amongst their finest, with as much balance as a blindfolded tightrope walker on dental floss. Lovely heather honey character. The full side bottle comes in a hinged presentation box

The remarkable complexity of this whisky is due in part to the fact that half of it is matured in first fill Sherry casks. These are very expensive and generally used sparingly in the industry. However, they impart maximum flavour; Highland Park 25 Year Old proves it.

Another popular dram from the evenings tweet tasting and some wonderful descriptive narrative from some of the tasters, my particular favourite of the evening "wandering through a pine tree forest after a rain, eating a honeyed plum in the sun & smoking a cigar" from @themisswhisky

So what did I think?

Colour: Dark ruddy golden, clear and bright, and natural colour

Nose: Very rich and more pungent that the earlier 12 and 18 year olds. Smokey vanilla bourbon notes, old polished wood, more thick honey and nutty toffee. I started getting a light whiff of a quality pipe smoke towards the end.

Palate: The palate is full with a rich burst of flavour; soft honey; nutty toffee. Again I added a drop of water from my straw and the vanilla of the bourbon casks came out immediately.

Finish: Rich, warm and surprisingly sweet, yet gently smoky that goes on and on.

A lovely whisky, slightly above my normal price range but certainly worth considering if I'm feeling a little flush! The HP25 won the best empty glass nose during the evening for me too.

Whisky Discovery #66

Highland Park 18 Year Old (43% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Island Single Malt Whisky
Circa £58 70cl

Tweet Tasting HP18
First released in 1997, Highland Park immediately found favour with whisky writers and enthusiasts all over the world. It is a perfectly balanced single malt with a toffee sweetness and a mouthwateringly smokey finish.

It was awarded the ultimate accolade in 2005 and again in 2009, when US spirits writer F. Paul Pacult named it "Best Spirit in the World". He states; "After 25 years' experience, it fits my profile of what makes a perfect whisky, which is to say it's totally in harmony, there are no rough edges and everything is melded together brilliantly." 

This expression definitely figured as a particular favourite of the Tweet Tasters being listed as a malt to give anyone who say they don't like whisky and another stated that it was one of their all time favourites, so I was really looking forward to this. My favourite quote regarding the HP18 came from @galg who tweeted to me "@WhiskyDiscovery hey Dave, first time 18. What a moment. cherish this. your life will not be the same."

So what did I think? 

Colour: A burnished gold, clear and bright (and natural so I was informed)

Nose: Soft dried fruit, butter shortbread, with rich sherry, mature oak, and a light aromatic smoke. I added a droplet of water from the straw which immediately released the floral notes - stunning!

Palate: Rich yet very smooth, heather honey sweetness and some sharp peat notes and a little spice.

Finish: Soft, round and long with a light smokey aftertaste

Wow! The Highland Park 18 Year Old is one of four Highland Park's listed in Ian Buxton's great book, 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. This is definitely a quality dram and I think it was my favourite of the evening's tastings.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Highland Park Twitter Tasting

Last night I took part in my first ever Tweet Tasting

I started using Twitter at the beginning of the year mainly as a tool to find out about what is going on in the whisky world. I have since made a number of new friends who too are on whisky journeys and have their own blogs, or are in the whisky business.

After registering for the event I was really excited when I received a message telling me I had been selected for this event. I tuned in to the last event and saw that the tasters had been sent miniatures through the post, then at the scheduled time the host asked the members to open, nose and taste the expressions while tweeting their thoughts.

So upon finding out I had been picked I waited patiently to see what we would be sent to me. Eventually a DHL parcel delivery arrived at my door about one week prior to the event. I excitedly open the boxed to find out what we would taste.

Sadly HP15 didn't make it to the Whisky-Discovery den
The very generous package contained a boxed miniature set containing a bottle of their 12, 15, 18, 25 and 30 year old single malts. Unfortunately the bottles had moved during transit and the Highland Park 15 year old sample had smashed spilling it’s content which the box readily soaked up (it smelt really great too!). However the remaining four bottles were intact albeit with small shards of glass from the broken bottle, as was the presentation box, so all of this had to be discarded.

Also within the package  and separately wrapped was a great little pocket note book to write your tasting notes in, a Highland Park tie/;lapel pin and a sample bottle of their recently released ‘Thor’  the first from their Valhalla range.

The event was hosted by @TheWhiskyWire and @HighlandPark and started promptly at seven, although it looked as if most of the crew had been sitting on line waiting for the event to start, posting tweets stating they were ready and photos of their bottles ready to go.

In order to follow the action we all had to make sure we were following each other and to use the hashtag #HPTT within each tweet. I thought I would be clever and have two screens, setting up my PC to read all tweets with the #HPTT tag and using my iPad to write my tweets.

I had set out five clean nosing glasses for the five expressions, a large glass of spring water to refresh my palate between the tastings and a straw to drop water into the whisky if required (yes I once was a boy scout a long time ago!)

The tasting samples and separate glasses
Even with all this preparation it was still hard work trying to keep up with it all as the two hosts whisked us through the expressions, starting with the 12 Year Old and running through the range before finishing with the mighty Thor.

The tweets came in thick and fast and it was difficult to read everything that was being tweeted, whilst at the same time as trying to sample the whisky, collect and write my thoughts, as well as answer questions fielded to me, but I think I managed to stumble through it all without making too many errors. I had to rewrite a number of tweets after noticing that I had omitted the #HPTT but don’t think anyone noticed.

It was apparent that some of the tasters had done this before as there was some amusing banter alongside the tasting notes, and it all came to a close around nine thirty.

What a great experience and another highlight of my whisky journey, and registering another four ‘discoveries’ after starting with a refresher of Highland Park 12

The dram list for the evening
A massive THANK YOU to Steve Rush at @TheWhiskyWire and Daryl Haldane, Global Brand Advocate at @HighlandPark

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Whisky Discovery #65

Penderyn Peated NAS (46% abv OB Bottled Jan 2012)
Welsh Single Malt Whisky
Circa £38.00 70cl

Peated Penderyn
The final and my 21st dram of the Whisky Live London Show that I only just managed to get in my glass as 'last pour' of the day had been called.

A peated Welsh whisky? Penderyn have done everything a little different to Scotch whisky, and their peated release is follows this trait. However, releasing a peated variant of their whisky wasn't planned for and came purely by accident.

The peat comes solely from the cask the whisky matured in. The casks ordered were originally specified not to have held any peated whisky in it beforehand, but unfortunately a couple of casks slipped into their delivery and hence an occasional peated version was accidently matured. However it went down well and now is part of their core range, albeit in a lower volume with around 5,000 bottles released annually.

At premium strength (46% vol) the sweet aromatic smoke of Penderyn Peated single malt whisky is immediately obvious but soon vanilla, green apples and refreshing citrus notes mingle to give an array of gentle flavours that challenge even the most sophisticated palate. A medium finish with residues of smoke and vanilla that leaves the palate thirsting for more.

Official Tasting Notes

Palate: At premium strength (46% vol) the sweet aromatic smoke is immediately obvious but soon vanilla, green apples and refreshing citrus notes mingle to give an array of gentle flavours that challenge even the most sophisticated palate.

Finish: A medium finish with residues of smoke and vanilla

So what did I think?

I was very fortunate to obtain the remnants of one of the pouring bottles at the end of the show, it too fell off the table and into my bag while Penderyn were clearing the tables (Thanks again Penderyn!) So had some time to really get to know this at home

Nose: It's no Islay but there is a light smoky whiff, grassy, citrus, apples and vanilla and that jelly bean kind of sweetness that I'm starting to notice from younger whiskies

Palate: Sweet and light. Green fruits, apples, kiwifruit, and citrus fruits. There is a light vanilla touch there too, and the peated influence is more noticeable than on the nose.

Finish: Short, fades quite quickly. Gentle peppery spiciness with a vanilla edge

Bottled at a respectable 46% abv, naturally coloured and non chill-filtered, it is quite different to the other peated whiskies I have tried so far. It comes across as a young whisky, and while quite enjoyable to drink, it was my least favourite of the three Penderyns tasted. That maybe because I may have been expecting it to pack more of a peaty punch in an Islay manner.

Whisky Discovery #64

Penderyn Sherrywood NAS (46% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Welsh Single Malt Whisky
Circa £36.00 70cl

Penderyn Sherrywood
As the end of the show was imminent we stayed with Penderyn to the end and so atter finishing their Madeira we moved on to the Sherrywood, and Dram No.20 of the afternoon was poured.

Whilst most Scottish and Irish distilleries would use a conventional two or three pot still system, the technology developed at Penderyn allows an extremely clean "flavourful" spirit to be produced from a single still.

Each morning the unique copper pot still is charged with the malted barley wash. As the steam heats the liquid it starts to bubble and the vapour rises into a copper column above the still. The column has a number of perforated plates and the vapour will condense on the first plate before being returned to the still.

As the process continues the vapour will reach the second plate and so on, before evaporating and falling back to the still, each step leaving the spirit smoother, softer and more refined. Eventually the spirit is drawn from the seventh plate on the second column and piped to their spirit safe where it lands, literally drop by drop, over the course of the day.

As mentioned previously just one barrel of whisky is produced a day, but in order to fill that barrel the new spirit (at 92% abv it has the highest strength of any malt whisky) is combined with water from the Penderyn Distillery’s natural spring, located underneath the distillery, reducing it to 63.4% abv - their cask strength.

This spirit is then filled into casks for maturation. Penderyn use Buffalo Trace bourbon casks for the first part of the maturation and then finished in Oloroso Sherry casks.

At premium strength (46% vol) Penderyn Sherrywood single malt whisky yields rich dark fruits and caramels from dry Oloroso sherry casks which intermingle with green apples, hazelnuts and hints of sugared almonds. The nose is quickly reminded of Penderyn whiskies' classic freshness. The taste begins with remarkable sweetness that gives way for a moment to a refreshing dryness in the mid palate. Caramels and sultanas persist into a long finish.

So What do I think?

Unfortunately I never managed to fit one of these bottles in my bag, but did write some notes down:

Colour: Burnished gold

Nose: Softness and lightness at first, then opening up with fruits and sweetness, finally revealing a rich sponge cake, honey, and citrus, got that 'jelly bean' aroma too.

Palate: Oloroso sherry oak influence is prominent but not overpowering. Rich fruits and cherried Christmas cake nutty bitternes and even a little chocolate

Finish: Nice finish, sweet with almonds

I really enjoyed this, rich and sweet but still lively and smooth, wish I managed to squeeze one of these into my bag too, out of the three Penderyn's tasted I think this one was my favourite.

Whisky Discovery #63

Penderyn Madeira Finish NAS (46% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Welsh Single Malt Whisky
Circa £30.00 70cl

Penderyn Madeira Finish

For my 18th dram of the afternoon we moved quickly across to the Penderyn stand to find out more about Welsh whisky. The afternoon was coming to a close and this would be the last stand we visited during the show.

Penderyn would be the second closest distillery to me, and so due for a visit in the very near future. I'm hoping to get over to them sometime in May. I have heard some good things about the Welsh whisky, and had recent read @themisswhisky's blog post after she visited the distillery. In addition another Twitter friend @I_Fusgus had also recently visited, and was surprised by a number of differences from the usual distillery tours he had done.

The first major difference being that they do not have a mash tun nor do they have any washbacks. Most distilleries buy their malted barley nowadays and there are very few floor maltings these days. So the first stage of making whisky is to produce a high-quality malted barley wash which, in the case of Penderyn is supplied by expert Welsh brewers S. A. Brain & Co. in Cardiff. S. A. Brain was founded in 1882 and has a long tradition of brewing as Wales's premier private brewery business. Penderyn receive their malted barley wash to a strict specification at 8% alcohol by volume. It is produced using only the finest barley grain which imparts a light and fruity flavour to the wash.

The second major difference being they distil their our barley wash in a unique copper still. The whisky still at Penderyn is unlike any other: a single copper pot still producing a flavourful spirit of extraordinary strength and purity. This still was invented exclusively for them by Dr David Faraday, descendent of the ground-breaking Victorian scientist, Sir Michael Faraday.

At 92% alcohol by volume our new spirit has the highest strength of any malt whisky (or wysgi) and with just one barrel produced every day, it is also exceptionally rare.

The technical innovation of this still produces not only a barley spirit of great complexity, depth and finesse, but also removes almost all of the undesirable chemical compounds which a conventional two or three pot system cannot.

This single malt Welsh whisky defines their ‘house style of whiskies’ being distilled in their unique copper pot still, matured in bourbon barrels, finished in rich Madeira wine casks and bottled at premium strength. This single malt whisky is smooth, light in character and softly golden in colour.

At premium strength (46% vol) Penderyn single malt whisky has an exceptionally balanced taste with an aroma of cream toffee and fleetingly of fresh new leather. Then, as the initial sensations fade, the finishing notes of tropical fruits, raisins and vanilla emerge strongly and are long lasting.

So what did I think?

I was fortunate enough to obtain the remnants of one of the pouring bottles at the end of the show, it fell off the table and into my bag - honest guv. (Thank you Penderyn!)

Colour: Soft golden

Nose: Initially honey and herbal fennal "cut grass" notes and those tangy strawberry sweets my kids used to like, some barley sugar and creamy toffee. Delightfully perfumed

Palate: Smooth and light. The honey sweetness gets joined by spices and pepper. Both the vanilla and the sherry raisins balancing the flavours nicely.

Finish: Same grassy notes from the beginning, and vanilla from the bourbon cask.

I liked it, it was young and fresh. Overall, a drinkable, tasty dram with a subtle attraction.

Whisky Discovery #62

SMWS 33.115 'Man That's Braw' 11 Year Old (55.4% abv, Single Cask)
Islay Single Malt Whisky
Club bottling, not for general sale

Dram No.18 at at the Whisky Live London Show was enjoyed at the Single Malt Whisky Society Stand (SMWS). 

John McCheyne had told me to come over and say hello during the show, and when we arrived he asked me what my preference was. After telling him I was rather fond of Islay whiskies he popped back to the stand and produced this bottle for us to sample.

John told us that it was an Islay from The Ardbeg Distillery. 

The SMWS don't publicise the distillery, although it is easy to find out from a number of websites. Each distillery is given a number which is the first part of the bottle code, and the second part is the cask number, i.e. this whisky was from the 115th cask they had bottled from the 33rd distillery.

The label read 'Man That's braw!' and was distilled on 31 August 1999 and aged for 11 years in a refill ex-sherry butt , and bottled at cask strength, yeilding 578 bottles.

The bottle label read: The nose was beautifully balanced; varnish, paint, leather, light ash, coal, coarse bread, minty toffee, smoked sugar puffs and shellfish bisque against barbecued pork ribs and char sui pork fried rice. The first comment provoked by the palate was ‘Man, that’s braw!’ – sweet tar, ash, ham and pineapple pizza, leather and pipe tobacco smoke. The reduced nose was a brilliant combination of crispy seaweed, charred red peppers and meringues or spun sugar with strawberry and lemon sorbet. The palate had salty caramel, limes squeezed over oysters and sweet prawns cooked on salt – amazingly rewarding. The last distillery along the Kildalton road.

Drinking tip: While watching the sun go down near a lighthouse

No pictures taken unfortunately, and I was unable to find any photos on line either. It was a very much an Ardbeg and a cracking dram, but there wasn't any more available. You can find out more about the SMWS at their website:

Whisky Discovery #61

Four Roses Bourbon Small Batch (45% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Circa £25 70cl

Tasted at Whisky Live London 2012 this dram immediately followed their standard 'Yellow Label' entry level bourbon. We were told that four original and limited Bourbons were selected by the Master Distiller at the peak of maturation to create the small batch bourbon. It was first introduced in 2006 and was only available in Kentucky until its launch in the UK in June 2007.

Four Roses is the only Bourbon Distillery that combines 5 proprietary yeast strains with two separate mashbills to produce ten distinct Bourbon Recipes, each with their own unique character, spiciness, and rich fruity flavors. All ten of these recipes are gently aged undisturbed in new white oak barrels in their one-of-a-kind single story rack warehouses.

All ten recipes are expertly married together to create Four Roses Yellow, four are married for  this Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon and only one is hand selected for Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon.

Nose: Spicy, rich, mellow, fruity, hints of sweet oak & caramel.
Palate: Creamy, mellow, rich, spicy, well-balanced, moderately sweet.
Finish: Soft and smooth

This is definitely one I need to add to my ever growing wish list!

Whisky Discovery #60

Four Roses Bourbon Yellow Label (40% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Circa £20.00 70cl
I added a bottle to my journey and enjoyed it in the sunshine!
I've heard lots of good things about Four Roses Bourbon and so was really keen to sample some of their wares at Whisky Live London 2012. It was dram #16 of my afternoon.

I think there are a number of stories of how Four Roses got it's name, but I was told it began when Paul Jones Junior, the founder of Four Roses Bourbon, became smitten by the beauty of a Southern belle. It is said that he sent a proposal to her, and she replied that if her answer were "Yes," she would wear a corsage of roses on her gown to the upcoming grand ball. Paul Jones waited for her answer excitedly on that night of the grand ball…when she arrived in her beautiful gown, she wore a corsage of four red roses.

He later named his Bourbon "Four Roses" as a symbol of his devout passion for the lovely belle.

So what did I think?
I was immediately impressed by this entry level bourbon at the show, and eventually got to add a bottle to my shelf. The colour is a light copper bronze which looks great in the sunlight. I love the nose of this bourbon, it's fruity with hints of both apples and pears and there are some wonderful spring blossom aromas, spices, caramel and honey.

It's smooth and a little oily in the mouth, and on the palate, caramel, spicy vanilla, fruity, the pear being more prominent than the apples on the nose, almonds, and orange zest.

The finish is quite short, honey sweetness, but with a drying nuttiness at the end. 

I really like this entry level bourbon, and it was my first taste of Kentucky Straight Bourbon too! It is great value and can often be found discounted in some UK supermarkets. It's also listed in Ian Buxton's new book 101 World Whiskies to Try Before You Die so I stand in some very good company!

Whisky Discovery #55

Dalmore 12 Year Old (40% abv OB Bottled 2012) 
Highland Single Malt Whisky
Circa £30 70cl  

The stunning looking Dalmore 12 Year Old
Launched in late 2008 to replace the previous 12 year old, this single malt from the Dalmore distillery is a toasty, coffee-rich dram with beautifully spice notes and a thick mouthfeel. Very rich for a 12 year old. 

The Dalmore’s unique still house is home to four unique idiosyncratic ‘flat top’ wash stills and four ‘cold water jacket’ spirit stills, each of which varies in shape and size. This unusual arrangement of stills delivers a different run, fill and batch and as such the Dalmore’s stillmen play a vital role in ensuring the base spirit is both robust and complex.

The ‘house’ style of The Dalmore – orange marmalade, coffee, chocolate, sweet vanilla and spice - is brought about by its maturation in hand selected first fill bourbon barrels from Kentucky and aged sherry casks. All casks are hand selected by the Master Distiller and as The Dalmore is the only distillery permitted to source Matusalem sherry from Gonzalez Byass, its style truly inimitable.

After its maturation in American bourbon and Spanish sherry casks, the whisky is brought together by The Dalmore’s third generation Master Distiller, Richard Paterson, and left to harmonise in upstanding sherry butts.

Matured for 12 years and judicious selection and the precise balance of American white oak and Oloroso sherry wood, delivers a most vibrant expression – robust yet elegant, with an aftertaste of brilliant complexity.

So what did I think
I tasted this immediately after the Cigar Malt Reserve and was immediately impressed with the smooth luxuriousness of this whisky. Deep, golden mahogany in colour and with orange marmalade and aromatic spices roasting coffee beans and an oily buttery nuttiness on the nose. Rich and luxurious on the palate with sharp citrus balanced by the sweet vanilla. The Dalmore house style orange marmalade and milk chocolate was evident and I really enjoyed this, even preferred it to the Cigar Malt Reserve. Perhaps it had prepared me for the Dalmore house style? I know I will have to go back for more of this, and certainly will be wanting to try the15 year old.

(Thanks to Whyte&Mackay for supplying the photograph as I was not organised enough to take my own photos)

Whisky Discovery #54

Dalmore Cigar Malt NAS (44% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Highland Single Malt Whisky
Circa £65 70cl

Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve
Dalmore might just be the most legendary distillery in the world when it comes to creating stunning whisky with real provenance. Even the distillery itself looks incredible apparantly, as it overlooks the Cromarthy Firth - an estuary from whose banks rise impressive slopes specked with green thicket and wooded copse.

The classic 12 and 15 year old have long been a mainstay for lovers of rich highland whisky, and the master blender, Richard Patterson, is one of the industry’s best loved celebrities. As well as working at Dalmore, Richard blends for Isle of Jura as well as Whyte and Mackay. Not one to shy from experimentation, he makes use of varying barley strains and age old vintages, which he blends with all the talent of a modern day alchemist.

Dalmore was founded by Alexander Matheson in 1839 and now stands as Whyte and Mackay’s largest distillery as well as being the flagship for the brand. With four pairs of stills, Dalmore has a capacity of 4.2 million litres per annum operates at near capacity, but still retains its quality and character.

The house style is undeniably one of rich, full-bodied whisky, with orange, chocolate and coffee flavours and Dalmore whisky is regularly enjoyed as a post dinner digestif.

The Dalmore Cigar Malt Reserve benefits from a judicious selection of 10 - 15 year old stocks drawn from casks of three types: American white oak ex-bourbon casks, 30 year old Matusalem oloroso sherry casks from Gonazlez Byass and premier cru Cabernet Sauvignon wine barriques.

Bottled at 44% alcohol by volume, the body, structure and character of this extraordinary expression is the perfect complement to a fine cigar

So what did I think?

I'll need to revisit Dalmore again soon as this wee dram at the Whisky Live London Show was not quite enough to get to know it properly as I felt there is a lot more to find in this malt than I managed to note down at the time. I'm not a smoker, but I really enjoyed this, my first taste of Dalmore. With rich red fruits, vanilla and cinnamon on the nose, it really was smooth and delicious on the palate with vanilla ice cream with toffee, marmalade and tropical fruits, the orange zest stayed with me to the end.

(Thanks to Whyte&Mackay for supplying the photograph as I was not organised enough to take my own photos)

Whisky Discovery #53

Isle of Jura Prophecy NAS (46% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Island Single Malt Whisky
Circa £45.00 70cl 

Isle of Jura Prophecy
The second of the two Jura drams enjoyed at the Whyte and Mackay stand at Whisky Live London

Isle of Jura's 'profoundly peated' Prophecy bottlings are released in small batches and are drier, stronger and smokier than the standard peated Superstition being bottled at a reasonable 46% abv

The 'story' behind this malt being called Prophecy lies in an old island tale: In the early 1700’s the Campbells of Jura evicted a wise old seer.

Bristling with resentment, she prophesised that the last Campbell to leave the island would be one-eyed with his belongings carried in a cart drawn by a lone white horse.

Over time the story became legend and the prophecy drifted from memory. Until 1938, when Charles Campbell, blind in one eye from the Great War, fell on hard times and led his white horse to the old pier for the last time.

Prophecy is heavily peated with fresh cinnamon and spicy sea spray. Bottled in a traditional style without chill filtration to deliver an authentic taste of 1938. Flavours of peat smoke, fresh cinnamon and spicy sea spray with tarry bonfire notes give way to hints of soft liquorice and nutmeg.

So What did I think?

I love a peaty whisky so was looking forward to tasting this. It is a rich amber gold in colour, and on the nose I was instantly satisfied with the Islay like tarry bonfire smoke with it's liquorice and almost medicinal notes coming through.

Crafted from a selection of fine and rare aged Jura single malt whiskies with different peat levels and peat styles, it is finished off by a 1989 Oloroso sherry butt from Gonzalez Byass. It’s non-chill-filtered but the rich amber gold colour comes from the addition of caramel.

On the palate it starts off slightly sweet with fruity notes but soon gets drier and spicier with white pepper. The peat is more intense on the palate and there is a good deal of smoke.

The finish is quite short, dry smoke, liquorice and pepper

This whisky is definitely worth adding to my wish list, and I look forward to having a bottle of this on my shelf soon.

Whisky Discovery #52

Isle of Jura 16 Year Old (40% abv OB, Bottled 2012)
Island Single Malt Whisky
Circa £45.00 70cl
The Diurach's Own 16 Year Old

The first of the two Jura drams tasted on the Whyte & Mackay stand at Whisky Live London.

Nurtured for sixteen long years, this is said to be the whisky of choice for the people of Jura. It’s a subtle malt, unassuming, understated yet intriguing. Qualities often attributed to the Diurachs themselves. Understandably, the islanders are drawn to it above all others. To honour this unique bond, the symbol of the Diurachs adorns each and every pack.

This 16 year old from the Isle of Jura was a bronze medal winner at the 2004 International Wine and Spirits Competition and also Gold Best in Class at the 2010 IWSC Awards.

So What did I think?

It was rich and full-bodied with hints of Pinewood sap, citrus fruits, marmalade, toffee, fruit scones on the nose.

In the mouth it was smooth, rounded and mellow, yet rich and luscious. Sweet, dry and dusty mouthfeel with melons and marzipan

With a shortish finish, initially sweet, a hint of scented pipe smoke and dry nuttiness. I liked this a lot and went back for seconds of this, and another one added to my wish list.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Whisky Discovery #49

Talisker 30 Year Old (53.1%abv, OB, Bottled 2011 70cl)
Island Single Malt Whisky

Circa £250 70cl 

Talsiker 25 and 30 Year Olds
The fifth dram of the day, and still in The Friends of Classic Malts Lounge was poured by Diageo Ambassador, Colin Dunn. We were finding it difficult to pull ourselves away from the fine selection of whiskies available, and the very comfortable surroundings of the Drum Room.

The Talsiker 30 Year Old is a limited edition, and the oldest expression released to date. A natural cask strength single malt whisky each batch will be slightly different from batch to batch, but always from American Oak and European Oak refill casks, and each release is limited to less than 3,000 individually numbered bottles.

The Distillers Notes are below:

Colour: Gold, with little beading

Description: A mild-mannered, more mature Talisker, still with plenty of personality and unmistakable character. Can Talisker be subtle? This one is. It’s an elegant, scented malt that is simple in structure with all its basic elements easily accessible.
Nose: The softly muted character of age. Mild and unusually fruity (citrus), fading quickly into lush seaweed with charred sticks - as with a spent fire, in which the charcoal and peat embers barely glow. Soon becoming soft and very slightly waxy or creamy, like fudge. Just a drop of water freshens things, bringing up drying wooden fish boxes and a return of the tangy fruit (tart plums). Then it all drifts away into charred old wood.

Palate: Drinks well at full strength and has a pleasant, teeth-coating texture. The smoke is immediate and dry with creamy oak. Almond milk and light, sweet stone fruits emerge, joined by a trace of salt, as with peat moss in the rain or seaweed. Adding a little water brings up a pleasant smooth texture. It’s now quite sweet to start but less so overall, with some salt and a trace of cloves.

Finish: Long and gently warming, with salty seaweed in the lingering maritime aftertaste and just a white pepper tingle on the tongue in place of that chilli pepper ‘catch’.

So what did I think?

Well again, I like to think I could immediately tell it was a Talisker. Reading through my scribbled notes taken that afternoon I wrote that this had the most amazing nose with a salty tang, and a sweetness that was just delicious and a finish with a peaty afterglow. Again it was comfortable to drink at cask strength and well balanced between sweetness and saltines, but at around £250 a bottle I'm afraid that this will be out of my price range for a while yet, but given the opportunity to taste this again, I'm grabbing it!

Whisky Discovery #48

The Singleton of Dufftown 18 Year Old (40% abv OB Bottled 2012)
Speyside Single Malt 
Circa £65 1 ltr

Dram number 4 at Whisky Live was also taken in The Friends of Classic Malts Lounge. I must admit tried this dram with some apprehension. I bought a bottle of their 12 year old expression a while back (Whisky Discovery #12) and although I found nothing wrong with it, it didn't really grab my attention so I wasn't really expecting a great deal from this 18 year old expression.

I haven't seen this 18 year old for sale anywhere, and Internet searches have only shown duty free bottles for available. Perhaps this will be released into the UK market later this year, and if this is the case it will be worth seeking out.

So what did I think?

The Singleton 18 Year Old
The same distinctive pale blue oversized hip flask bottle is used, but the whisky is so much better that the 12 year old, at last something to write home about! Perhaps it would be better if it had been released at 46%, but this malt has plenty of flavour.

Nose: Soft, warming and lusciously fruity, lots of flavour, vanilla sweetness, toffee apples, butterscotch.

Palate: smooth and Creamy, vanilla sweetness, rich juicy fruits

Finish: Long and spicy, definite apricot tang in there too

This dram really was a pleasant surprise, so very easy to drink and very enjoyable. There were lots of good things being said about this whisky, and some people went back for seconds and thirds rather than trying something different. Perhaps I ought to give the 15 Year Old a look out after this.

Whisky Discovery #47

Port Dundas 20 Year Old (57.4% abv Distilled 1990)
Single Grain Whisky
Circa £150 70cl

Port Dundas Single Grain
For my third dram of Whisky Live I went for something a little different. I have never had a Single Grain Whisky and I hadn't heard of Port Dundas.

A limited edition, natural cask strength Single Grain Scotch Whisky, From Port Dundas, a historic and now closed grain distillery in Glasgow.

Very rare as a single grain bottling at any age and a first ever 100% grain release in the Classic Malts special releases as well as the first ever official bottling at this age. Liquid from three different casks - distilled in 1990, aged three years in refill, then in equal parts aged for 17 more years in Ex-sherry, new European Oak Charred and first fill ex-Bourbon American Oak. Incredibly rare and unrepeatable; very collectable with just 1,920 individually numbered bottles worldwide my dram came from bottle number 1383

From the bottler:

Description: Rich, dense and seemingly impenetrable: an unusual and hugely challenging whisky whose very elegant complexities are only fully revealed by adding water. Like a fine, aged rum dancing with an elegant, oily Riesling.

Appearance: Deep polished chestnut. Fine beading

Nose: Mild, drying nose-feel.Vinous, with traces of cherry (kirsch-filled dark chocolates), well-worn leather and pencil shavings. Opens slowly, revealing woody, spicy aromas (black tea, molasses, dates and linseed oil) then delicate sweet notes of ripe banana, chocolate and vanilla cream. Finally turns fresh, resinous, herbal. Beautifully coherent with water, which lifts the wood-notes (fresh-cut sappy pine), until it becomes the inside of an old school desk (and all its contents) fusing with vanilla ice cream.

Body: Dense, liqueur-like

Palate: Initially languorous; varnish, linseed oil. A smooth, rich texture and a sweet taste, growing into a compelling, layered, waxy, nuttiness (brazils, walnuts). Poppy-seed? Silky smooth with water and altogether more rounded; the texture smooth, the taste sweet. The wood cuts through; sandalwood (pencil box), white pepper and hints of vanilla.

Finish: Glorious, lingering and complex. Simultaneously drying yet coating, with notes of liquorice, aniseed and burnt sugar and oak-wood in the aftertaste. With water: beautifully smooth, long and rounded, with velvety tannins.

So what did I think?
I wrote down rich, dark sweet rum, toffee caramel, sherry and spices. I'm glad I tried this and being so very special I'm tempted to put a bottle of this on the shelf.

Whisky Discovery #46

Talisker 25 Year Old (54.8% abv OB Bottled 2009)
Island Single Malt Whisky
Circa £150 70cl

The second dram of the day taken in The Friends of Classic Malts Lounge and was poured by the top man himself, Donald Colville. With a fine choice to choose from sitting on top of a mantle shelf I thought carefully to chose something that would not be dominated by the earlier Lagavulin.
The impressive line up in the Friends of Classic Malts Lounge
The Talsiker 25 Year Old is a limited edition, natural cask strength single malt whisky each batch will be slightly different from batch to batch, but always from American Oak and European Oak refill casks, and each release is limited to circa 6,000 individually numbered bottles.

The Distillers Notes are below:

Colour: Pale amber. Good beading, attractive viscosity.

Nose: Mellow, with little prickle. Juicy and sweet, with a trace of smoke and pencil boxes behind. Soon opens out to heathery, earthy peat. After that, fruit: fresh-baked apple cake, banana, quince. Finally, salt: seaweed and ocean. Ever-changing, becoming more delicate in time. Water raises orange peel and brings in more maritime notes to balance the sweet fruitiness – warm sand, dry seaweed.

Body: Medium. Silky smooth.

Palate: Fine Talisker character; not as powerfully peppery as younger expressions, drinking well at natural strength. Sweet, with some salt. Coats the lips, never mind the tongue. Begins with soft, sweet apple sponge in custard, then a drier crisper character emerges on the middle of the tongue. Builds in power (and heat) as the inevitable pepperiness comes forward. Yet also continues sweet, returning to its unctuous beginnings. Adding water smoothes the texture and merges the flavours. Again starts sweetly, with balancing acidity overall and plenty of salt.

Finish: Medium to long. Lulls you into a sense of security, then pounces. Warming, with both pepper and, unexpectedly, peppermint.

So what did I think?

Well I like to think I could immediately tell it was a Talisker. Again I've only ever tried their 10 Year Old previously, but there was the underlying Talisker character but it was so silky smooth to taste. I certainly got the maritime notes on the nose, as well as sweet fruitiness. It was comfortable to drink at cask strength and well balanced between sweetness and saltiness.

Whisky Discovery #45

Lagavulin Distiller’s Edition (43% abv OB Bottled 1994)
Islay Single Malt Whisky
Circa £60 70cl

This was my first dram of Whisky Live London. I’ve only tasted the Lagavulin 16 in my short whisky journey, but it is already one of my favourites, and so I must have been naturally drawn to this as I entered the exhibition.

The Distillery notes are below:

Each Distillers Edition expression undergoes a second (or ‘double’) maturation in casks that have previously held a fortified wine. A really distinctive and distinguished dram, full of peat while the Pedro Ximinez sherry wood naturally has a big say; A more mellow Lagavulin, not quite as deep or intensely flavoured as the 16 year old.

Appearance : Golden Treacle

Nose : Intense peat and vanilla. A raisin sweetness checks the smoke. Iodine-edged peat and crisp, roasty malt. Satisfying and enticing.

Body : Full and rich.

Palate : Sweet and luscious; a clear, grassy malt, then the peat attacks, smoke filling the mouth. A very salty tang at one point; the middle offers coffee and vanilla with a glimmer of fruit.

Finish : Incredibly long, even for Islay. Fruit, peat and long-lasting oak. Very chewable and “more-ish”.

I didn't get a chance to take a photo of the bottle as before I had even finished my dram I was being whisked upstairs to the Friends of Classic Malts Lounge, however it certainly was a great start to my day. I agree with just about all of the notes above,I thoroughly enjoyed it and will be looking to get a bottle of this in the future.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Whisky Live London 2012

Yesterday I attended my first Whisky Show

Whisky Live London is one of the world’s premier whisky tasting shows and was held at the stunning Honourable Artillery Company. The historic 18th Century mansion is set in a six acre garden just a stone's throw from Moorgate in the heart of the City of London.

My Daughter Kat and I took the train into the city and made our way across to City Lane. We arrived a little early, so sat across the road sipping coffee while waiting for the show to begin. We had bought full day tickets which allowed us to access from midday so we were one of the first to enter the show.

Upon collecting our entrance badges, catalogue and glass we were immediately overwhelmed by the choice in front of us. Not knowing where to start we moved towards the Classic Malts stand and asked to try a Lagavulin Distillers Edition. Asked if we were Classic Malt members I replied that I was and that it was one of the first whisky clubs I joined when starting my journey.

We were then immediately whisked upstairs to the Classic Malts members lounge to meet Donald Colville, the Global Scotch Whisky Ambassador for Diageo and sampled an impressive array of specially selected single malts.

Donald Colville, Classic Malts Global Scotch Whisky Ambassador

Kat enjoying the Classic Malts Lounge
We sat in the imposing 'Drum Room' overlooking the beautiful manicured playing fields in front of the mansion while sipping some spectacular drams and discussing whisky with Donald and his team and other members of Classic Malts club. We were each presented with a Talisker hip flask and although we were only supposed to try three different whiskies, we managed to sample everything they had open.

The all inclusive entrance fee to Whisky Live meant that drams were 'bought' by vouchers as part of the catalogue. Within the whisky vouchers was a food voucher which entitled us to a two course lunch in the magnificent Long Room.

After lunch we descended back into the main exhibition and started to work our way around the stands, stopping first at the Whyte & Mackay stand and sampling a number of their drams from the Jura and Dalmore distilleries. It was here we met Master Blender Richard Paterson, also known as 'The Nose'. There are two things to remember when you meet Richard though: If you drink the whisky too quickly, he'll slap you. and if he sees you holding a whisky tasting glass the wrong way, he'll kill you! 

Richard was the perfect gentleman though, and gave my daughter a signed copy of his book 'Goodness Nose'. Perhaps if she wasn't there, he might have slapped me, but the glass was empty here!

Richard Paterson, aka' The Nose'

We ventured further around the exhibition trying whiskies from Japan's Nikka distilleries, Old Pulteney, Glenlivet and Four Roses Bourbon.

We also met an on-line friend from Israel who was on a brief visit to the UK, and had just returned from Islay and Jura. Gal Granov is the founder and editor of WhiskyIsrael ( It was great to be able to meet Gal and I hope that he has had a great trip.

John McCheyne at The SMWS stand

Another Twitter friend tweeted that I should visit him at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society stand, so we made our way over to find John McCheyne, a society ammbassador who poured us a lovely dram from the Ardbeg distillery.

With time now starting to run out we made quickly to the Penderyn stand to find out a little about Welsh Whisky. We met Siân who introduced the brand to us, and poured a number of drams for us to try.

Wales is a great rugby nation and had recently won the 6 Nations tournament with a Grand Slam victory. Siân not only knew about her whisky but was also a passionate Welsh rugby supporter. My family are all great rugby fans and we agreed Wales played some of the most exciting rugby during the recent World Cup in New Zealand and I would have liked to have seen them in the final, but they certainly deserved their Grand Slam victory this year.

'Last Pour' was called while we were finishing our drams and my first Whisky Live show was finished. The five hours that we were there had gone so very quickly. We met some wonderful people, tasted some superb whisky all in beautiful surroundings. To top it all we had the best weather of the year so far.

Will I be going back next year - you bet! I never managed to get around half of the stands and know I missed a lot of good whisky. However I did sample and note down 21 different drams during the day. I don't think I would have been able to stand too many more should the day had been longer, but next time I will go armed with a list of new drams to sample!

The Whisky Live London 2012 Dram List

Friday, 23 March 2012

New Contact Card

Check out my new contact card!

Chris Woodhall of Cambridge Wine Merchants in Ampthill mentioned I should consider having a card so he could put other whisky drinkers in touch with my blog if they were interested. 

I thought this was a great idea and also thought a card to give out to new contacts at whisky events would be a useful.Whisky

I've used Ethan at Kallkwik in Hemel Hempstead a couple of times in the past for business and sent him an idea on Friday. On the Monday I had the first proof to check out, by first thing Tuesday morning I had agreed the design, and the cards were delivered on Wednesday afternoon. Fantastic service and a great design too!

You can find Ethan at I have only had great service and value from Ethan and his team.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

My new spiritual home!

Having now been through most of the standard malts available in the local supermarkets I have started looking further afield.

I have bought some bottles on-line recently as most of the old off-licences seem to have disappeared, so I’m really pleased to have found Ampthill’s branch of Cambridge Wine Merchants who have an impressive array of whisky stacked on their shelves.

Cambridge Wine, Ampthill
Cambridge Wine Merchants in Ampthill
Ampthill is a busy Georgian Market town just South of Bedford and not that far away from me at all. The shop is over 300 years old and has a huge range of wines and champagnes, probably one of the best champagne selections outside of London, so I was informed. Recognising the recent demand for quality whisky they have started stocking a range of single malts that you won’t find in your supermarket.

They currently have something in the region of 90 different malts in stock and have plans to increase their range. The stock is always changing, but they probably have the best range of malts in Bedfordshire. In addition to stocking distillery bottlings they have a good selection of Signatory bottlings and even have their own bottling. When I visited the had just taken delivery of some new additions; Spring Bank CV and 10 Year Old as well as many Signatory editions - Fettercairn 1996, Highland Park 1991, Ben Nevis 1993, Auchentoshan 1997. There was also the full Glenmorangie range on display.

The wall of whisky in Ampthill
After chatting for a while I decided to take a bottle of their own ‘Sound of Islay’, a single cask picked from the Bunnahabhain distillary, yielding just 580 bottles.

The shop is owned by Chris Woodhall who has an expert team around him, who he enthusiastically introduced me to. They are all WSET qualified with loads of wine industry experience:

Jordan has more years in the wine industry than he cares to remember and started out in Oddbins in the good old days, when there were only a handful of shops. He went on to open many of their most successful shops including Milton Keynes and top London stores. Needless to say, his wine and spirits knowledge is second to none. Champagne is his favourite tipple and he’s been lucky enough to visit some of the top houses in France.  

Eze is the newest member of the team and originally from Argentina but now lives in Ampthill with his English wife, Vicky. All the staff here are WSET educated and Eze has passed his Advanced exam as well as having a degree in food technology. Before starting work at the shop Eze worked for the IWC (International Wine Challenge) and did some mystery shopping. Once he even ‘mystery shopped’ Cambridge Wine Merchants! 

Jane, who when she’s not working at the shop, project manages the local Vineyard at Old Warden with BRCC and Shuttleworth College. They produced their first vintage in 2010 and they regularly sell out in the shop. She loves wine and regularly holidays in the wine regions of France and has visited many vineyards there as well as touring around Scottish distilleries in an attempt to find her perfect Whisky.

Nick used to own the wine Merchants on Dunstable Street, Ampthill until he sold the business in 1993. He has maintained a keen interest in wine and is very knowledgeable indeed. Italy is his specialist subject and if he’s working in the shop expect to be pointed in that direction.

Chris, the owner, has always had an interest in wine and has visited many wine regions around the world in France, Australia, New Zealand and very recently South Africa. He approached Cambridge Wine Merchants in 2009 to ask if they'd be interested in opening a shop in Ampthill - the rest, as they say, is history. After many months planning and doing Wine & Spirits Trust exams to advanced level, they opened to immediate success. Chris says “I really enjoy working in the shop and meeting the people of Ampthill and the surrounding area. Nothing pleases me more than introducing someone to a new wine and seeing the excitement in their face when they discover they love it.”

They also offer a Wholesale service to pubs and restaurants as well as offering bulk discounts, free glass loan and a generous ‘sale or return’ policy for weddings, parties and other events. 

You can find them at 12 Church Street, Ampthill, Bedfordshire MK45 2EH,
Telephone:      01525 405929 / 0775 274 3513

I would like to point out that I have no connections with Cambridge Wine Merchants, other than being a paying customer. I have not asked for nor have received any payment for writing this blog post. I have written it because I support local businesses where justified, I love having this shop on my doorstep, and I want them to maintain a great whisky selection as I'm not a huge wine drinker!