Thursday, 31 May 2012

English Whisky Co. Twitter Tasting

This was my third Tweet Tasting hosted by Steve Rush of @TheWhiskyWire, and this time I shared the drams with daughter Kat for her first experience of one:

All of the tweet tasters had been sent a very impressive parcel of four very securely packaged samples with just a simply numbered label on the front to identify them. We had been sent an information sheet to give some very basic details of what was within each bottle, but very little else.

The four numbered tasting samples in front of my bottle of Chapter 6
I had visited the home of the English Whisky Co. Ltd, St. Georges Distillery, earlier this year, so had a little experience of what this distillery has been producing. I tasted the three core expressions at the distillery and came away with my own bottle of Chapter 6, then earlier this month we met Andrew Nelstrop at the Midlands Fest and sampled the excellent Diamond Jubilee limited edition. I was really looking forward to this event.

With eight glasses laid out alongside the four samples, a glass of water and straw for dropping water into the drams, and a bottle of water for rinising the palate between expressions we were ready in good time, so much so I thought we out to 'warm' our palates up with a drop of Chapter 6 beforehand.

#EWCTT we're all ready to go!
Twitter was set-up with two screens on the PC, my iPad was also on Twitter and Kat was tweeting on her phone we were ready to go. All we knew about each dram was the following:
  • #EWCTT Sample Number 1: Drawn directly from cask and reduced to 46% abv
  • #EWCTT Sample Number 2: Drawn directly from cask and reduced to 46% abv
  • #EWCTT Sample Number 3: Taken from a bottling run at 46% abv
  • #EWCTT Sample Number 4: Drawn directly from cask and at cask strength of 61.7% abv
Steve Rush, and David Fitt, chief distiller at The English Whisky Company, then started proceedings promptly at 1900 and we opened our first sample:

Whisky Discovery #140

We found out after we had made our observations that this was from a five year old , ex Jim Beam bourbon cask and reduced to 46% abv. Only 100 bottle so this had been released from the distillery, so we were one of the few who have tasted it.

I found this needed a little time in the glass as it had a very dry and dusty start, but after a while it started to open up with a little sweetness starting to come through on the nose, eventually I started to get some grassy and cereal notes and dusty pears, it was a much drier nose that the Chapter 6 I had a longside it. Then I started to pick out some fresh green oak.

It had a smooth and creamy mouth feel to it, with sweet vanilla and a peppery spicy edge. While tasting the nose was getting sweeter, and beginning to become positively floral. The finish left my mouth feeling very dry, just like I had eaten too many nuts!

Whisky Discovery #141

Again we had to make all of our observations before we found out that that this was a new expression being developed for the duty free and US markets. Made from 3 year old, primarily first fill ex-bourbon casks along with some 4 year old low level peated whisky which had been matured in Burgundy red wine casks.

Having had the whisky sitting in the glas a while it was ready to nose immediately, and I instantly picked out some faint wood smoke, light fish oil, light soy sauce, and lime tang which is followed by sweet vanilla, it was quite similar on the palate to the first sample, but sweeter and less nutty. With a drop of water I got new leather on the nose, the finish was shorter, less peppery but as similar dry nuttiness and a creamy vanilla at the back of my throat.

Not until we had all made our assumptions did David let us know that this was a sample of the current Chapter 13. It was peaty, but I didn't think it was as peaty as the Chapter 13 I remembered from the distillery tour, but then I have been drinking a number of heavily peated whiskies recently which may have affected my senses!

My first reaction was that this was just like the Chapter 9, the less peated expression. A lovely peated nose, with a little rubbery tyre shop, there was a faint, salty air to it, like the inside of a wooden yacht in a small fishing harbour, with tarred hemp ropes in a locker. I loved it! With a drop of water I picked out the Frazzles that someone mentioned.

Whisky Discovery #142

We were all caught out with this one. We were expecting a sherry cask, but later found out that this was a four and a half year old heavily peated whisky that had been matured ina Sauternes wine cask, we already knew it was at cask strength. It was magnificent and the highlight of for most of the tweeters on the night. It was the first tome anyone outside of the distillery had tasted it and so this was an additional bonus and a huge honour.

I immediately thought of sweet Sherry on the nose, but I also found a subtle sweet fragrant pipe smoke, and guessed that there may have been some peated spirit in it. I was also finding some rice wine vinegar but we couldn't remember what it's called so I sent Kat into the kitchen to check, it was Shoasing that we both were thinking of. On the palate I found this to be like a rich meaty massala curry, spicy but not hot, rich, creamy and full bodied, it was absolutely delicious

As per previous Tweet Tastings there was a great deal of tweeting going on and to see what happened search on the #EWCTT on twitter for the full story!

Yet another great experience and another highlight of my whisky journey, and registering another three new ‘discoveries’ A massive THANK YOU to Steve Rush at @TheWhiskyWire and David Fitt, chief distiller at @englishwhisky

For more information see: and

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Whisky Discovery #139

Mackmyra First Edition (46.1% abv OB)
Swedish Single Malt
Circa £40.00 70cl
My first Swedish whisky - Mackmyra First Edition
The final dram of my first Skype tasting (we could only manage five of the ten drams during our two hour tasting) and the whisky I was most looking forward to.

Mackmyra Whisky is from a Swedish whisky distillery founded in 1999 by eight classmates from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. The new distillery is situated at the old Mackmyra Bruk facilities, in buildings that have been declared landmarks, and therefore only a minimum of additions and reconstructions to the buildings have been done.

During the days of the pilot distillery, more than 150 different recipes were tried, with variations made in barley sorts, smoke fuel, and yeast brands. The product from this time, some 3,000 liters, is now stored in about 50 barrels in a small cool warehouse. The barrels typically range in size from 30 to 100 liters, although they vary in size, the smallest contains less than 2 liters. The materials of the barrels also vary, as the majority are made from fresh Swedish oak, some are remade bourbon barrels and a few are used sherry barrels. The commercial distillery went on stream in October 2002.

Around 5% amount of the spirit for the First Edition is matured in 100 litre casks which allow a very fast maturation. These new Swedish oak casks, made ​​of oak that was planted on Visingsö to be used to build warships 160 years ago. The majority of the spirit is matured in first-fill bourbon casks. The casks are stored in Bodas mining stocks, 50 feet into the bedrock.

The First Edition has been bottled at 46.1% abv and is naturally coloured and non chill-filtered.

So what did I think?

Well it certainly exceeded my expectations, and for me was the highlight of the three new experiences of the evening. A light golden colour in the glass, the nose is delisiously fruity with apples and pears. There are citrus notes and sweet honey, toffee, vanilla and a spiciness that might be coming from the Swedish Oak? In the mouth it is light and soft, fruity with the sweet honey and a light oaky spice to it. The finish is fairly short, light and sweet. I will have to seek out more of this, and if I never had a reason to visit Stockholm before I have now.

Whisky Discovery #138

Bruichladdich 10 Year Old / The Laddie Ten (46% abv OB)
Islay Single Malt
Circa £38.00 70cl
Skype Tasting #4, Bruichladdich 10 Year Old 'The Laddie 10'
For the fouth dram of our Skype tasting I chose this 10 year old from the Islay distillery of Bruichladdich. This was my first taste of anything from this distillery that I have heard of, but know so little about, so decided I ought to do a little research online.

Bruichladdich was built in 1881 by the Harvey brothers, on the shore of Loch Indaal, on the Rinns of Islay, the westernmost part of the island. At the time, the distillery was a state-of-the-art design unlike Islay's older distilleries, which had developed from old farm buildings. It was built from stone from the sea shore and has a very efficient layout, built around a large, spacious courtyard.

The uniquely tall and narrow-necked stills were chosen to produce a very pure and original spirit, the opposite of the styles produced by the older farm distilleries. Over the years it subsequently changed owners several times as a result of corporate take-overs and rationalisation of the industry, narrowly avoiding closure until 1994, when it was shut down as being 'surplus to requirements'.

The distillery was subsequently purchased by a group of private investors led by Mark Reynier on 19 December 2000. Jim McEwan, who had worked at Bowmore Distillery since the age of 15, was hired as production director. Between January and May 2001 the whole distillery was dismantled and reassembled, with the original Victorian décor and equipment retained. Having escaped modernisation, most of the original Harvey machinery is still in use today.

 The ‘Laddie’, as it is affectionately known, is often considered to be the fruitiest, most inventive Islay malt and, indeed, there has been some contention as to whether it has truly attained Islay-status. Bruichladdich countered this with the introduction of the Port Charlotte range and later with the 2008-released Octomore, the world’s most heavily peated whisky with a phenol content of 131ppm.

The Bruichladdich distillery is one of eight distilleries on the island, and until the recent opening of Kilchoman farm distillery, was the only independent one, and the Laddie 10 is said to be the most important release in the history of the distillery since re-opening in 2001. The spirit was malted from only Scottish barley, was cask filled at 70% abv and laid down to sleep for ten years on their loch-side warehouses, and as they proudly say, a true beginning of a new era.

So what did I think?

The Laddie 10 is bottled at 46% abv and is naturally coloured and non chill-filtered. It has a lovely clear golden colour and the nose is delisiously soft and floral, with vanilla creams oozing out of the grassy, sweet barley sugar notes. There's fruit too, melons and a citrus zing. On the palate the sweet barley and vanilla is first, but then there is a malty oakiness to it too. I found the finish quite short and sweet, with a light peppery zing to it.

Overall I was impressed with this light fruity malt, and it wasn't what I was expecting knowing that it was an Islay. I was expecting some peaty smoke, but there's non of that here. You won't miss this in the shops as the packaging is very distinctive with its bright baby blue tube. I think I must get a bottle of this little piece of history in the making.

Whisky Discovery #137

Hazelburn 12 Year Old (46% abv OB)
Cambeltown Single Malt
Circa £46.00 70cl
A Skype Tasting - Hazelburn 12 Year Old
This was a result of a sample swap with another whisky enthusiast through Twitter. I've made some really great friends on Twitter, a few I have met at the whisky shows we've attended, but this was the first time I've swapped samples.

We each chose five drams from each others shelf and bottled up the miniatures and sent them off first class post. Then one evening we arranged a Skype call to run through some of the samples. We started our Skype meeting with a drop of The English Whisky Co Ltd Chapter 6, and this Hazelburn was dram No.2 of the evening.
Hazelburn is a fairly new to the range of whiskies produced at Springbank, and gains it's light, delicate character through being distilled three times in the distillery's old copper stills. It's made with unpeated barley, making the spirit light, fruity and very subtle.

Hazelburn is named after one of the old Campbeltown distilleries. Most of the distillery buildings are apparently still standing, though the distillery is long defunct.

First distilled in 1997, Hazelburn was first released as an 8 year old in 2005 and was so successful that all 6,000 bottles sold out within a matter of weeks. The 12 year old was released in 2009, and that was later followed by the CV.

So what did I think?

The Hazelburn 12 year old is matured in sherry casks and comes naturally coloured and non chill filtered. It has a lovely bronze colour and the nose is incredibly rich, the influence of the sherry being immediately apparent. There is a slight vanilla sweetness, and a herbal woody, oaken note too. On the palate it was very smooth, probably due to the triple distillation, a nutty sweetness, medicinal herbs, and a light peppery spice. The medium length finish starts with the peppery spice which is followed by a fruity sweetness shrouded in light smoke and a feint salty note at the very end.

I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of Hazelburn, and we followed this dram with some Springbank CV which paired beautifully with this Hazelburn.

Monday, 28 May 2012

First trip to the SMWS London

A well stocked bar, in numerical order of course, awaits visitors to the SMWS
I joined the Single Malt Whisky Society earlier this year at The Whisky Lounge Midland Fest in Stratford upon Avon. I think it had been on the cards since first meeting John McCheyne at Whisky Live in March.

The first (and only, so far) opportunity to visit the London headquarters of the SMWS came up on a lovely warm May afternoon after Kat and I had visited the London International Wine and Spirits Show in the London Excel. After having a quick run around the show, meeting the lovely Alwynne Gwilt (@themisswhisky) and tasting a couple of delightful Glen Moray single malts, (Whisky Discovery #131 & Whisky Discovery #132) we headed across the city to Greville Street to meet up with John McCheyne. The London branch of the SMWS is right opposite Farringdon Station, very easy to get in and out for us – Bedford First Capital Connect straight link. simples! Nowhere could seem further away from pure air and splashing highland burns than Hatton Garden, London.

19 Greville Street, London is a classic Victorian building, refurbished in a light and contemporary style to make members feel at home. Nestled in the heart of the City. It's ideally placed to mix business with pleasure.

Kat, having studied the 'whisky menu' is tweeting her first choice

When we arrived we were met by both Joe McGirr (@SMWSLondon) and John (@SMWSambassador) and started off our introduction to the with a cold beer while inspecting the 'whisky menu'. 

Arriving at just after four o'clock on a Thursday afternoon meant that we almost had the place to ourselves until members started arriving for an after work drink. Being situated directly above the Bleeding Heart Restuarant, and not having eaten properly all day we decided to take advantage of not moving from our seats and order our dinner, which was duly brought up to the lounge, a sensible arrangement for quality dining within.

We caught up with Sam MacDonald (@DramForSam) and Joel Eastman (@dramologist) who were both working that evening, although Joel has since moved on from here (although still tweeting whisky!

We sampled three drams during the early evening, three new experiences and all very worthy of new whisky discoveries.

Whisky Discovery #134

SMWS 50.47 18 Year Old Bladnoch
SMWS 50.47 Sweetly Appealing and Refreshing (57.2% abv)
Lowland Single Malt Whisky

Our first dram in the stylish London Headquarters of the SMWS was this 18 year old from the Bladnoch Distillery was distilled in October 1992, and matured in anex-bourbon hogshead, yielding just 262 bottles at 57.2% abv

The label read:
The nose offered sharp, citric fruits (lemon, green apple, gooseberry, green Jolly Ranchers), then dusty cereal and biscuit notes (shortbread, hob-nobs, dough); eventually sweetening to vanilla, barley sugars, honey and milk chocolate. The palate was sweetly appealing but refreshing at the same time – sherbet lemons, refreshers and dark chocolate. The reduced nose turned to lemon meringue pie, straw, ciabatta dough and sourdough pretzels, before bouncing back to the previous character. The palate had fruity, energizing, summertime fizz – eventually developing Gewürztraminer, mango, passion-fruit and lychee – definitely improving with time. The distillery was closed in 1993 but reopened in private hands in 2000.

Drinking tip: To celebrate or evoke the summer

Whisky Discovery #135

SMWS 35.66 Laundry in a Bakers Shop (59.5% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky

Our second dram was this wonderful Glen Moray, quite a fitting dram after the two Glen Moray's we'd tasted at the London International Wine and Spirits Show earlier.

This ten year old was distilled on 11th December 2001, matured in a first fill barrel yielding 253 bottles at 59.5% 

I didn't take any notes of this bottle and my photgraphy skills are so poor that I'm unable to read the label from that either! This was released as part of the May out-turn, but was only available as part of a pair or other special grouping, and was not able to be purchased on it's own.

Whisky Discovery #136

Marshmallows in a Duffle Bag
SMWS 64.36 (Mannochmore)

SMWS 64.36 Marshmallows in a Duffle Bag (60.3% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky

For our final dram before heading back up to Bedfordshire we chose this offering from the decription alone! I later found out that this was from the Mannochmore Distillery, one I'd never heard of before which needed some investigation when I got home.

A distillery originally built by John Haig to supply malt whisky for the Haig blends, is now owned by Diagio. There are very few releases under the Mannochmore name although I found a 12 Year Old listed, and it released the Loch Dhu Single Malt (the black malt whisky), but there are a number of independent bottlings listed.

This seven year old was distilled on 26th May 2004, matured in a first fill barrel yielding 257 bottles at 60.3% 

The label read:
On the nose, photocopy paper, paint and wood shavings gave way to jammy dodgers, buttery creamy Victoria sponge, icing sugar, banana loaf and ‘marshmallows in a duffle bag’ – also flowers, tea, vanilla, cedar, mint and eucalyptus. The palate was undoubtedly sweet (red spangles, dark marmalade, strawberry jam, vanilla cream) but with a tongue-nipping cardamom and chilli kick. The nose turned fruitier with water – rhubarb crumble, plum compote, gooseberry fool, peach and bergamot, while the reduced palate softened up and smoothed down to pleasant tart fruitiness and gentle pink rose soap. The distillery name apparently means ‘place of the holy man’

Drinking tip: With afternoon tea

A window of interesting cask samples! Can't wait for my next trip

Whisky Discovery #132

Glen Moray 10 Year Old Chardonnay Cask (40% abv, OB, Bottled 2012, 70cl)
Speyside Single Malt
Circa £25.00 70cl
Chardonnay Cask
Ten Years in Chardonnay Casks
Following the very enjoyable 'Classic' expression, Iain Allan, Visitor Centre Manager at the Glen Moray Distillery, poured as a dram or two of this recently released expression at the London International Wine and Spirits Fair at Excel London, 

Iain went on to explain that this 10 year old Glen Moray has been matured for its entire ageing period in Chardonnay casks. I initially misheard and thought that it had been finished in Chardonnay casks, but Iain confirmed that it had been fully matured in them. There are a number of other 'experimental' casks coming of age and Iain told us that we should look out for a couple of other wine cask releases, most notably an eight year old single 'Chenin Blanc' wine cask, and a 14 year old Portwood - unfortunately there wasn't any on the stand, and I haven't seen any to date either. 

I haven't been able to find any 'official' tasting notes, and this expression isn't listed on their website which doesn't appear to have been updated for a couple of years at least. The bottle and tube carry limited notes which state "The full maturation in Chardonnay casks create distinctive fruity butterscotch flavours and as the whisky mellows, slighty toasted notes develop

So what did I think?

We were really blown away with this whisky, and I was really pleased to receive a bottle of this for my birthday not long after the show, so have had plenty of time to get to know the whisky since.

The Chardonnay elements are clearly noticeable when uncorking the bottle, very 'winey' just for a second or two before the fruity butterscotch vanilla notes take over. The nose is oozing vanillas. It reminds me of butterscotch flavoured 'Angel Delight', something I haven't eaten since the children were little. It's sweet and creamy; Cornish ice cream, the fruit comes in by way of lots of sweet white grapes, then a biscuity malt, reminiscent of 'malted milk' and 'custard cream' biscuits.

On the palate the sweetness comes through with velvety and creamy softness that coats your mouth. The fruitiness of crisp green apples, crunch conference pears and the bunches of white grapes plus the sweetness of butterscotch and honey from the nose are also delivered upfront. The long finish however turns drier, black tea tannins, and spicier with more woodiness and a touch of white pepper, which brings balance to the overall experience and stop the whisky feeling too sweet. This is another light and refreshing 'summery' dram, is dangerously drinkable and at around £25 a bottle is another 'bang for your buck' whisky.

Whisky Discovery #131

Glen Moray Classic NAS (40% abv, OB, Bottled 2012, 70cl)
Speyside Single Malt
Circa £20.00 70cl
Glen Moray Classic
Glen Moray Classic - the core expression of the range
I've often looked at the Glen Moray 'Classic' sitting on the supermarket shelves, often at a very reasonable price, but knowing nothing of them, and to be fair, never had it been recommended, I've always overlooked them and have either picked up something else at a knock down priced, or simply moved on.

Glen Moray is a classic Speyside single malt whisky previously owned by Glenmorangie and  now owned by the French company La Martiniquaise. We first tasted this at the London International Wine and Spirits Fair at Excel London held in May. We got the chance to meet and discuss whisky with both the Distillery Manager Graham Couell and Visitor Centre Manager Iain Allan on the only stand in a plethora of wine stands that was offering whisky that day. (Knowing that we would be moving on to the SMWS London afterwards, thought it would be best not to mix our grape and grain!)

We were really impressed with this core expression and have kicked myself for not picking up a bottle of this before. Iain told us that it was a marriage of three, five and seven year old casks, all ex bourbon barrels sourced from North America to mature Glen Moray and these produce a whisky with rich and spicy characteristics. 

Official Tasting Notes

Colour: Light gold.
Nose: At full strength, the aroma is fragrant and lightly drying with warming malty notes. The first impression is of butterscotch and shortbread with fresh herbal/grassy notes. Lemon curd and meringue are discovered in the background. With water, malt and spices combine to reveal oatmeal with a hint of freshly ground black pepper. Lemongrass, tea-tree oil and heather aromatics give the whisky a fragrance throughout.
Taste: The mouthfeel is lightly spiced with a warming and gently mouth watering effect. Malty toffee sweetness is present throughout with blackcurrants and a fragrant citrus lemongrass tang.
Finish: Shortbread, fresh herbal notes (lemongrass) and the sweet spiciness of ginger marmalade.

So what did I think?

As I mentioned earlier, I was suitably impressed and pleasantly surprised for such a budget whisky that is often found on the supermarket shelf for well under £20. The nose is light and fresh initially with a bold maltiness underpinning. There are grassy notes, light floral notes and even a little fruitiness. On the palate it's gentle with lemon sponge, butterscotch toffee and a more bitter citrus tang and some oak spice, while the finish is quite short but tangy and spicy. As a 'bang for your buck' dram it nails it for a light refreshing Speysider

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Whisky Discovery #129

SMWS 104.14 (50.6% abv, Single Cask)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Club bottling, not for general sale
The second celebratory dram upon my new membership 
John McCheyne pulled this bottle out from under the counter, this was his choice of dram to celebrate my new membership. Unfortunately my tasting notes had gone 'wayward' by this time of the afternoon, and I had no idea how special this whisky was until I got home and investigated on the SMWS site.

This whisky was distilled in June 1974. I was still living in Mauritius and about to return to the UK after two glorious years growing up out there. But being distilled in 1974 is just one small part of this story. Distillery #104 is listed as Glen Criag, a closed distillery, that never actually existed - at least not as a separate set of buildings. 

Glencraig was the name of the whisky that was distilled in two special 'Lomond Stills' at the Glenburgie distillery between 1956 and 1981. So after being distilled in June 1974 this spirit was laid down in a refill ex-bourbon barrel for 36 years, yielding just 179 bottles at 50.6% abv. The following notes came straight from the label:

'An angel fallen to earth' 

There is no tasting note for this whisky because our pathetic scribblings could not do it justice. In any case the Panel were dumb-struck (unlikely as that may seem) – this whisky closed down the logical, language side of the brain in favour of the more primitive pleasure receptors – mainly grunts of contentment. Some whiskies deserve revered silence; besides which, the Panel are sitting waiting like beady-eyed crows, hoping that no-one else will buy this Lomond still production from the distillery at Alves. 

Drinking tip: While reading Norman MacCaig's 1974 poem

Whisky Discovery #128

SMWS 29.115 Candy floss in a fairground (55.8% abv)
Islay Cask Strength Single Malt
Club bottling, not for general sale
The first of my membership celebratory drams

Towards the end of the show we moved back to the SMWS stand - I had decided that I should join the Single Malt Whisky Society and needed to do it at the show to take advantage of the special offer.

So dram No.24 of the afternoon was in celebration of my new membership, I love a peaty whisky, and this was my request.

'Candy Floss in a Fairground'

My notes had gone a little 'wayward' by this time of the day and have limited legible writing to recall so can only post the information available on the label and on the SMWS (sorry!)

This Islay malt was distilled in November 1989 at the Laphroaig Distillery and laid down in a refill ex sherry butt, 22 years later when bottled, yielded 617 bottles at 55.8% abv

The nose was savoury (lamb, gammon, smoked sausage) with definite tobacco (Players Navy Cut), peanut M&M’s, Stollen, banana loaf, raisins, cumin and jasmine. The taste suggested a sea-soaked collie being hair-dried! We also found roasted, salted peanut shells, vanilla, big smoke (smoked mussels?), nettles and ginger cake. The reduced nose evoked hurricane lamps in a loft, while the previous savoury experience became black pudding, haggis and soy sauce. At last, some sweetness came to the palate (candy floss in a fairground, peaches in syrup) along with gunpowder, fruit tea, geraniums and laurel flowers. The distillery produces Prince Charles’ favourite dram

Drinking tip: After paddling in the sea or while drying your hair - well I never got the chance to do that, just a healthy dram at the SMWS stand in The Shakespeare Centre! 

Whisky Discovery #123

Berry Bros. & Rudd Inchgower 1982 (54.5% abv IB Bottled 2011 70cl)
Speyside Single Cask Malt Whisky
No longer available
Dram #17 of The Whisky Lounge Midland Fest at Stratford upon Avon
For my final dram on the Berry Bros and Rudd stand Rocky poured me a dram of this 29 year old Inchgower single cask single malt whisky, distilled in 1982 and bottled in 2011 at cask strength.

Another 'first' offering from a new distillery in my journey. Inchgower lies close to the town of Buckie on the Speyside coast. The whisky displays a salty, assertive flavour uncharacteristic of the region. The body is smooth, sweet and malty and the finish dry, delivering the final saltiness.

Inchgower distillery was built in 1871 close to the fishing village of Buckie. The distillery went bankrupt in 1936 but was bought by the Town Council for the princely sum of £1600 and subsequently sold to a large distiller at a handsome profit in 1938. Only one percent of Inchgower produced is bottled as a Single Malt, the rest is destined for blended Scotch Whisky, most notably Bell's.

Again no legible notes available from me (must try harder!)

So from the bottle label:

Creamy and perfumy, the nose gives subtle notes of dusty jute and gingerbread with pears in soured cream. The sinewy palate builds with oaky intensity to deliver brazil nuts, gooseberries and fizzing citrus. Rather an idiosyncratic Malt, this finishes leaving one very satisfied is somewhat beguiled by its rare complexity.

Whisky Discovery #122

Berry Bros. & Rudd Speyside Reserve NAS (46% abv IB Bottled 2011 70cl)
Blended Malt Scotch Whisky
circa £35.00 70cl
Speyside Reserve
Dram No.16 of the Midlands Whisky Fest at Stratford upon Avon
Following the Girvan Single Grain, Rocky suggested I should try their Speyside Reserve, a blended malt whisky containing malts from three distilleries, none of which I had come across to date; Mortlach, Glentauchers and Miltonduff. Again my notes were 'sketchy' so only the label notes for this

So from the bottle label:

Citrus, honey and nuts abound with toasted oak aromas, all building progressively on the palate with creamy malt and rich fruitiness. A sublime elegant finish helps to capture the very essence of Speyside.

Whisky Discovery #121

Berry Bros. & Rudd Girvan 1989 22 Year Old (46%, IB, Bottled 2011)
Single Grain Scotch Whisky
circa £54.00 70cl

Girvan 1989

Dram number 15 of The Whisky Lounge Midlands Fest found me at The Berry Brothers & Rudd stand where I met Rocky. I asked where should I start and this 22 year old from a 1989 single cask, single grain whisky was poured for me.

The Girvan distillery, situated on the south west coast of Scotland opened in 1963 on the former site of a munitions factory. For a few years the single malt, Ladyburn, now very rare, was produced at the complex. One of the most noticeable structures in the town of Girvan is the distinctive clock-tower, Auld Stumpy which was built during the 1700's.

I remember driving past the distillery regularly during the week we stayed in the area on a family holiday a few years back. Unfortunately I hadn't started drinking whisky then, so only registered it, and thought nothing more of it. We had a great weeks holiday in the Girvan area, before driving up to the Isle of Skye for our second week.

My notes at this stage of the show were just about registering the stand I was at and basic bottle details, with perhaps a note or two of relevant information from the brand representative that I thought interesting, or some basic taste descriptors. Just a star alongside this one, which means I was enjoying it!

So from the bottle label:

This whisky has pronounced fragrance for a grain spirit. It is fruity with vanilla and custard creams. The palate is surprisingly full and oily with waves of coffee cream, spice and juicy lime. To finish there is a satisfying warm spicy pickle.

Whisky Discovery #118

Lagavulin 12 Year Old (57.5% abv, OB Bottled 2011 70cl)
Islay Single Malt
circa £70.00 70cl

The Lagavulin 12 Year Old
For our final dram of th 'Magnificent Seven' master class at the Whisky Lounge Midlands Fest, Colin Dunn had chosen this Lagavulin 12 year old.

Of the great homes of malt whisky the greatest is surely Islay, home even today to seven active malt distilleries. As early as 1742, there were perhaps ten illicit stills operating at Lagavulin. In 1816 local farmer and distiller John Johnston founded the first legal distillery, within view of Dunyvaig Castle, once the stronghold of the Lords of the Isles.

A year later Archibald Campbell founded a second, which seems later to have traded under the name Ardmore. After Johnston's death the two were united.

Above all, Islay means peat. Miles and miles of peat bog in the west of the island provide the raw material whose influence so characterises the south eastern Islay malts, of which Lagavulin is perhaps best known. The rich peaty water of Lagavulin runs down the brown burn to the distillery from the Solan Lochs in the hills above the distillery. The barley used to distil Lagavulin is malted at nearby Port Ellen and has a strong peat "reek" - it has perhaps twenty times as much exposure to peat smoke as a typical Speyside such as Cragganmore. Fermentation of the barley is a slow process, too. Between 55 and 75 hours are taken for the full peat-rich flavour of the locally-malted barley to come through.

Long fermentation, long distillation and long maturation together ensure that Lagavulin develops all of its long, rich, peaty character. It’s is a spirit that likes to take its time. The definitive Islay malt demands nothing less.

The four stills at Lagavulin, two of them pear-shaped in the style inherited from Malt Mill, take this peaty wort and give it all the time and care it deserves. Following the original practice, Lagavulin receives the slowest distillation of any Islay malt - around five hours for the first distillation and more than nine hours for the second. This long distillation is often said to give Lagavulin the characteristic roundness and soft, mellow edges.

So what did I think?

I have tasted two Lagavulin expressions before, the delicious Lagavulin 16, (I received a bottle of this for my birthday last year) and at the Whisky Live event in March I tasted the rich Distillers Edition, both of these have left lasting impressions on me, both are spectacular drams and seem to suit my palate perfectly. My shelf should always have some Lagavulin on it.

I had heard many good things about the limited edition 12 year old and it did not disappoint. The 12 Year Old is an annual special release from the distillery, and this cask strength expression was bottled last year. I also managed to get some of this 'nectar' to take home with me and enjoy at my leisure before finishing these notes.

This bottle has an awesome nose with sweet scented wood-smoky bonfire, sweet toffee, smoked cheeses, milk chocolate digestive biscuits with wave after wave of the sweet scented wood smoke wafting gently from the glass, just delicious!

It explodes in the mouth with intense smoky peat with spicy black pepper yet with a perfectly balanced sweetness and a sweet chestnut nuttiness that is just as delicious as the nose. There is a long peppery finish with each mouthfull,with a salty edge throughout and the whole sensation gets sweeter as it fades. I really loved it and it was my the highlight dram of the show.

Whisky Discovery #117

Cragganmore Distillers Edition 1997 (40% abv, OB Bottled 2010 70cl)
Speyside Single Malt
circa £45.00 70cl

The Distillers Edition Cragganmore, a 12 year old finished in Port pipes
Alongside the Oban Distillers Edition, we were comparing this Cragganmore variant against it in the Magnificent Seven master class. I have briefly tasted the standard expression earlier on in my journey, but this 12 year old has been finished in port pipes.

Cragganmore’s Speyside home is guarded by a striking wrought iron gate spelling its name, which was taken from the nearby hill whose greenstone built the distillery, Craggan Mor.

The Cragganmore Distillery was founded in 1869 by John Smith, who is said to have been the most experienced distiller of his day. He had been manager of Macallan, Glenlivet and Wishaw distilleries, and was lease-holder of Glenfarclas Distillery when he persuaded his landlord, Sir George Macpherson-Grant, to lease him the land to build a new distillery at Ballindalloch beside the Strathspey railway line.

In fact, Cragganmore was the first distillery to be deliberately sited to take advantage of the railway line and a private siding was built to accommodate distillery traffic. John Smith was a great railway enthusiast, but since he weighed 22 stones (140kg) and was too wide to enter a railway carriage, he was obliged to travel in the Guard’s van.

He died in 1886 leaving the business to his son Gordon, who largely rebuilt the distillery in 1901. So it exists in the form we know today, though in keeping with tradition, the two pairs of flat-top stills (designed by John Smith himself), have been preserved throughout.

Barley is naturally a major crop, and the presence of Scotland's fastest flowing river - together with peat from the uplands to the south - was the reason original Cragganmore owner 'Big' John Smith felt that it would be the perfect place for the perfect distillery.

So what did I think?

Again I was fortunate in that I managed to salvage the remains of the tasting bottle at the end of the master class, and so have had some quality time with a dram or two of this. It really is splendid stuff and very drinkable.

It has a wonderful sweet rich Port nose, with vanilla creams, rich fruit, plums and raisins, sweet toffees, and a faint smoke, like scented pipe smoke, it really is delicious. On the palate the rich fruity flavours continue and oranges appear with the cherry. Smooth and wonderfully complex, the Port wine and honey notes giving way to some white pepper on the middle of the tongue. The finish is long, very long. With a toffee sweetness to begin with then a slightly drying smoky end to it.

I have really enjoyed this and so pleased I managed to retain a good sample to bring home and saviour. There was a good amount in the bottle at first, but I shared it with two fellow master class attendees, filling a hip flask up for one guy and pouring a sample bottle for my daughter to take home.

I have heard some good things about the distillers editions for Diageo and both the Oban and Cragganmore were excellent examples of the Master Distillers skills in making something slightly different than normal. This was the fourth Distillers Edition I've tasted in my journey to date, having already tried the excellent Clynelish and mouthwatering Lagavulin. Just the Dalwhinnie and Talisker to go then? Please can I have some more?

Whisky Discovery #116

Oban Distillers Edition 1996 (43% abv, OB, Bottled 2010 70cl)
Highland Single Malt Whisky
Circa £50.00 70cl

The Oban Distillers Edition
alongside the Singleton  15 Year Old
For our fourth dram of the Magnificent 7, Colin Dunn had chosen this 1996 Distillers Edition from Oban. I have had a bottle of their 14 year old in the past which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Oban is the frontier between the West Highlands and the Islands; the meeting place between land and sea. A perfect, sheltered harbour makes it the principal seaport for the Isles and the capital of the West Highlands.

It has a mild, temperate climate, warmed by the Gulf Stream and washed (too often, some might say) by the soft rain that often falls hereabouts. This misty, maritime character, with a background of heather and peat, is probably echoed in the malt whisky produced there.

Oban is also one of the oldest licensed distilleries in Scotland. In effect, the town grew up around the distillery and since its foundation in 1794 it has played a crucial role in local life.

The tiny lantern-shaped copper pot stills are among the smallest in Scotland; their rich, fruity malt is then slowly condensed in wooden worm tubs that sit outside among the rooftops, before being aged in oak casks for at least 14 years.

This Distillers Edition expression undergoes a second (or ‘double’) maturation in casks that have previously held Montilla Fino sherry casks - a clean, gentle dry sherry which often has olive notes and almond and was a 1996 vintage.

So what did I think?

We were nosing and tasting this up against another Distillers Edition from Cragganmore, and I've tried both the Clynelish and Lagavulin editions earlier in my journey. Because of the secondary maturation in quality wine, sherry or part casks (depending upon Master Distiller, or instructions from Diageo) these tend to be seriously complex whiskies, and this was no exception.

A lovely orange zesty nose and plenty of sweet fruit, grapes complemented by saltiness from an ocean spray and chewy, roasty caramel malt, and perhaps a touch of smoke too. Rich and full as you would expect from sherry finished whisky, with rich fruit and the saltiness of an ocean spray and a malty biscuit finish to it. This one has been bottled at 43% abv, and I would be more than happy to have this on my shelf.

Whisky Discovery #115

Singleton of Dufftown 15 Year Old (40% abv, OB, Bottled 2012 70cl)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Circa £40.00 70cl

The Singleton of Dufftown 15 Year Old

This was the third dram of 'The Magnificent 7' master class session with Colin Dunn at The Whisky Lounge Midlands Fest. I must admit, I was surprised to see this as part of the magnificent seven line up. With the huge range of single malts available from Diageo there are many more I would have chosen over this, however, I was looking forward to seeing how it compared against the other expressions in the range. I tried the 12 year old early on in my journey and found little to' write home' about. Then at Whisky Live in London earlier this year I tasted the 18 year old expression, which was so much better. Only the 12 year old is usually widely available in the UK, I've seen the 15 year old on the usual on-line retailers, and my local Cambridge Wine Merchants in Ampthill also have a bottle of it on their shelves. 

There has been a fair amount of publicity for the 12 year old expression in the UK, especially on Facebook where they have been giving miniatures away to their followers and asking them to vote if is their favourite whisky. I sent of for one recently (I was hoping for either a 15 or 18 year old sample) and when the 12 year old arrived, gave it to my daughter to see how it was for her. Singleton is also being promoted on Diageo's website, with the voting tally is prominently displayed on the main page. Then, I was on holiday in Tenerife last month and there was a wall of Singleton whisky in the airport duty free shop showcasing all three expressions. Diageo have been busy promoting this brand, certainly in Spain.

So what did I think?

Strangely enough (and who'd have guessed it?) It seems to sit nicely in between the 12 and the 18 year old. The spirit and maturation wood is the same throughout, using  a mixture of European and American oak casks, and so the flavour profiles are all very similar. Personally I wouldn't pick up a bottle of 12 year old again, I tried hard to find something in it, but all I could really say was 'nice bottle' (and I mean that as I kept mine, it's used daily as our water carafe!)

The 15 year old is so much better than the 12 year old It is incredible what the extra three years in the casks have done for the lacklustre 12 year old. Although not quite as good as the 18 year old, it has a very fragrant nose; 

Colin told us that it always reminds him of fig rolls and I could see where he was coming from, but there was also a coconut and chocolate bouquet to it too, like a dark chocolate Bounty bar.

The bottle was left to my daughter during the tasting session (well Colin came and placed it on the table in front of us, and it fell into my bag before we left) so had the opportunity to revisit this at WDHQ. With longer in the glass, the fig roll biscuits are far more prominent, and also a creamy butterscotch aroma, but still the dark chocolate and coconut was there, as I said, very fragrant. 

On the palate the sweetness continues, quite smooth with vanilla cream. The finish was much longer than I was expecting, initially a light peppery finish which remains while a sweetness develops at the back of the mouth. All said it is quite a drinkable whisky, with lot more going for it than the 12 year old, however I don't think I will be looking to add this to my shelf in any great hurry and I think they need to reconsider the abv of both the 15 and 18 year olds

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Whisky Discovery #114

Talisker 57° North NAS (57.8% abv, OB Bottled 2012 70cl)
Island Single Malt Whisky
Circa £50.00 70cl
Talisker 57ºN alongside Caol Ila 12 Year Old
The second dram of the Magnificent Seven Master Class at The Whisky Lounge Midlands Fest at Stratford upon Avon. Colin Dun, Diageo Ambassador Supremo had us comparing the nose of the Cardhu 12 year old to this to demonstrate the differences between different whiskies, but after we had finished the Cardhu, we moved onto this 'no age statement' from Talisker. Made for a range of ages of three years and older, all of the distilled spirit has been matured in first fill American oak casks. Talisker is produced in the Isle of Skye, and this expression is named after the distillerys' latitudinal position. 

I was really looking forward to tasting this, as I love the Talisker I have tasted to date. I bought my myself a bottle of their 10 year old a while back now, and was fortunate to taste both their 25 Year Old and 30 Year Old expressions at the Whisky Live show in London

So what did I think?
Initially a mossy, musty wood on the nose - although by no means unpleasant. There were hints of seaweed and vanilla and a light smokiness that I really like. Eventually I was getting the creamy toffee sweetness through it. In the mouth it was intense and smoky - lovely! Sweet initially with the signature spicy pepperiness at the end. It was being described as having a chilli fiery heat, but Kat and I looked at each other and said that they have never tasted any of Mum's hot Thai food, and so probably couldn't really appreciate what hot chillies really feel like!   A splendid dram and certainly affordable and one that will need to grace my whisky shelf before too long, it's on my wish list and with a birthday coming up soon (subtle hint family members!)

Whisky Discovery #113

Cardhu 12 Year Old (40%abv, OB Bottled 2012 70cl)
Speyside Single Malt
Circa £30.00 70cl

Cardhu 12 Year Old
This was the first whisky tasted in the first Master Class event I have been too. Colin Dunn, Diageo Ambassador supremo took us through 'The Magnificent Seven' during the recent Whisky Lounge Fest event in Stratford upon Avon.

The Cardhu Distillery, previously called Cardow, is said to be one of the best located distilleries in Speyside, being located high on the hills on the north side of the Spey Valley with extensive views to the south. Originally founded by husband and wife John and Helen Cumming, by the time they bought a license for his Cardhu distillery in 1824, they had already been producing illicit whisky for 13 years.

Legend has it that whenever the Excise officers passed by, Helen would disguise the mashing and fermenting as bread-making. Then, while the officers drank the tea she made for them, she would fly a red flag from the barn to warn their neighbours that revenue men were around.

This distillery remained in family hands and the quality of their malt was highly regarded and became essential to John Walker & Sons, (yes, The Johnnie Walker) that it was the first distillery that they bought in 1893. Nowadays 95% of the malt produced at Cardhu goes into the production of Johnnie Walker Black Label. the worlds most popular blended Scotch whisky

You don't often see this on sale in the UK, certainly I haven't seen it on the supermarket shelves, Colin told us that it is extremely popular in Spain. Presented in an elegant short square decanter with a beechwood stopper and said to be pretty typical of a Speyside malt.

So What did I think?

I managed to pick up the remainder of the bottle from this master class and had the luxury of revisiting this at home, but reviewing the notes I scribbled down during the day I was getting some coconut on the nose, it was fruity in the way soft pears are, and some liquorice. We spent a good time with this first malt of the session. We nosed it and tasted it neat, then we added a drop of water, which turned it smooth and creamy. Colin told us that, in his opinion, this whisky was great with shortbread. I love shortbread (who doesn't?) and I think I would enjoy this with shortbread too. When I revisited this at home I started to get the chocolate on the nose, and gently cooked pears. It's sweet malty flavours reminded me of my Mum's flapjacks - not the ones she overcooked that would break you teeth, but the soft ones that melted in my mouth. Another very pleasant discovery.

Whisky Discovery #112

Amrut Single Malt Whisky Cask Strength (61.8% abv OB, Bottled 2012 70cl)
Indian Single Malt Whisky
Circa £45.00 70cl
The cask strength version of Amrut's core expression
Amrut whisky, distilled in Bangalore, is also nicknamed the 'Garden City' for its gardens and parks and was once called a pensioner's paradise. Located on the Deccan Plateau in the south-eastern part of Karnataka, Bangalore is India's third most populous city and although home to the Amrut distillery, is also now known as the Silicon Valley of India because of its position as the nation's leading IT exporter.

So after finishing their core expression, Ashok poured me a healthy dram of the cask strength version, and with a beaming smile said, you should really notice the difference in this:

So what did I think?

Wow! Initially a little sweet, which quickly changes to a spicy peppery note, this natural cask strength release from the Amrut distillery was awarded 93.5 points by Jim Murray.

A lovely golden, almost bronze colour producing thick legs sliding down the side of my Glencairn after swirling it for a while. Glorious bourbon notes with rich barley and caramel sweetness which is followed by that peppery spice, there's leather and even fresh sawdust. Quite tart initially on the pallate, perhaps the high abv, but an orangey marmalade citrus, which mellows out to a creamy sweetness, quite fruity with a touch of smoke, before the peppery spices return. This really is rather good, I was very impressed.

I had to leave the Amrut stand after this second expression sampled as the masterclass I had booked was about to start, but I would be returning to complete my Amrut discovery before the show ended. (I seemed to have missed photographing this bottle so have 'borrowed' this picture from the Amrut website)

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Whisky Discovery #111

Amrut Indian Single Malt Whisky (46% abv OB, Bottled 2012 70cl)
Indian Single Malt Whisky
Circa £30.00 70cl

The core expression from Amrut Indian Single Malt Whisky
I was really keen to try some Indian whisky after just missing out at the London Whisky Fest, so made my way towards their stand early in the show, and reintroduced myself to the Icons of Whisky, Whisky Ambassador of the Year, Ashok Chokalingam

The history of Amrut Distilleries is as old as the history of independent India itself, and started in 1948 under the name Amrut Laboratories. From its beginning as single bottling unit catering primarily to the Canteen Stores of the Ministry of Defence and to local customers in and around Bangalore, Amrut Distilleries has now grown into a notable whisky producer after launching it's first single malt in 2004, in Glasgow of all places!

Today Amrut single malt whiskies are available in all the major countries in Western Europe, Scandinavia, three provinces in Canada, United States and is further expanding.

Amrut is made from selected Indian malted barley grown in Punjab and Rajasthan, the northwest frontier states of India. In Punjab, the waters from the great Himalayas flow through the river Sutlej and irrigate the land under the Bhakra Nangal Dam scheme. The cold winters and fiery summers create a unique quality of grain, rich in flavour. Malting takes place at maltsters in Jaipur and Delhi according to the standards laid down by Amrut.

The malted barley is then transported to the south of India to the distillery in Bangalore where it is carefully mashed and distilled in small batches. The spirit is then matured in imported oak barrels for over three years in their unique tropical conditions, all warehoused at the distillery

I asked Ashok  to take me on an Amrut journey and he suggested I started with their core expression, Amrut Indian Single Malt Whisky, bottled at a respectable 46%, this whisky has been matured in a mixture of New American Oak and ex-bourbon before bottling, without chill-filtration and naturally coloured.

So what did I think?

It didn't take me long to realise that Amrut is very serious about making their whisky. This core expression has a beautiful aroma; with intense barley and grain with honey and toffee sweetness, bourbon liquorice notes, and perhaps, even a little sweet citrus.

The tastes is both fruity and spicy, and has a sweetness to it, which made it a wonderful all-round tasting experience, going down very easily!

The taste doesn't linger too long though, but certainly long enough to enjoy the experience, and yes I wanted another dram, however, Ashok had something already up his sleeve and said; "Wait until you try the cask strength version of this" I must get some Indian whisky for my shelf soon.