Thursday, 21 March 2013

Whisky Discovery #350

Bunnahabhain 23 Year Old Abbey Whisky (44% abv, IB, D.1989)
Islay Single Cask Malt Whisky
Circa £79.95 70cl Only available from Abbey Whisky

This is the second release from 'The Rare Casks' series by Abbey Whisky, and follows on from their first release, a 17 Year Old Caperdonich

I was very fortunate to be sent a sample of this magnificent Bunnahabhain, a 23 Year Old single cask, single malt Scotch whisky. This limited edition release was distilled in 1989 and left to rest for 23 years in a refill bourbon barrel before being bottled in 2013 with only 96 bottles filled, in its natural form, at full cask strength, without chill filtering or colour additives.

The 'The Rare Casks' is an exceptional range of limited edition single malt whiskies bottled exclusively by Abbey Whisky, and each release will be available in very limited quantities.

So What Did I Think?
The dram that arrived at Whisky Discovery HQ
The colour of pale gold, the nose opens up with pears, before turning decidedly tropical. A touch of pineapple, but not the fresh cut pineapple itself, but more the aroma of the skin once it's been sliced off. There's mango and lime juice with some linseed oil too

It fresh, fruity, zesty even, but very gentle. The nose continues with aromas of  vanilla, and floral,  notes, delicate blossom, sweet scented jasmine and peach blossom.

On the palate there's a lovely peat reek along with a tender sweetness edged with a citrus tang. The floral note from the nose is more orange blossom now. 

A soft pepper spice gently fades leaving that very tender peak reek and a light saltiness to remind you that this cask matured in a maritime environment.

Overall this is a very gentle Bunnahabhain, exceedingly drinkable and while the nose and palate are very delicate, there is so much enjoyment from the dram I had. It is absolutely delicious!

Want one? You really had better be quick as there are only 96 bottles available from this first release For more information see Abbey Whisky Bunnahabhain 23

Many thanks to Abbey Whisky for considering me to taste this rare whisky. For more information visit their website:

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Whisky Discovery #348

Balcones True Blue 100 NAS (50% abv)
Texan Corn Whisky
Circa £68.00 70cl
Three Blue Corn Whiskies from Balcones
True Blue 100 is the final dram of our first Balcones Whisky Mission. This is the latest release from Balcones, introduced last year (2012) and is a 100 proof roasted blue corn whisky, a sibling of Baby Blue, but with deeper wood notes.

True Blue 100 is made from the same select barrels of our blue corn whisky that have always gone in to their True Blue Cask Strength, diluted down to 100 proof.

Since the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, '100 proof' has long stood for quality and authenticity. True Blue 100 carries on that tradition. 100% of the whisky in this bottle was born, raised, and bottled at Balcones-from mash to glass.

More approachable than full cask-strength whisky, True Blue 100 retains the depth and complexity of over-proof spirits with the softer edges, supple textures and fuller fruitiness that slight dilution can bring. Rich notes of honeyed citrus, stone fruit and cinnamon and a rich, roasted corn palate.

So What Did We Think?

I'm starting to really enjoy the blue corn whisky from Balcones, this being the fourth tasted over the last week or so. Proprietor and distiller Chip Tate is featured in the latest edition of Whisky Advocate where he explains the careful sourcing required to ensure the authenticity of the Hopi Indian-derived blue corn, as much of the blue corn on the market tends to be white starchy grain dyed blue. The blue corn Balcones is using is a waxy corn type, not a starchy type.

Chip goes on to divulge the difficulties associated with working with real blue corn. The corn needs to be roasted first, which posed the first problem due to the scale of the Balcones operation. Maltsters don't like the blue corn due to the oil content, and so working with a roaster was the first challenge to overcome. The oily waxiness of the blue corn creates a grittier mash which in turn needs a longer fermentation in order to achieve the best of it's oil based flavours.

True Blue 100 has an amazingly rich autumn leaves colour, all natural I hasten to add. The nose has a rich and creamy toffee aroma with sweet vanilla custard notes. There's some ginger spice (no not Geri Halliwell) and some nutty notes that go on to develop into a coffee grounds note. There's some soft fruit too, ripe mango and soft yellow plums.

The palate was not as sweet as the nose suggested it would be. Quite woody with a charred wood note too. There's a slight mustiness of old leather, a black breakfast tea, and roasted corn notes, before turning a little sweeter with some dark fruit notes. Spicy chili pepper slowly builds then oak tannins start dry the mouth leaving a light saltiness.

So our first foray into Texan distilled spirits, seven new discoveries, four of which have been made using blue corn. Of the seven tasted, I still maintain the True Blue Cask Strength to be my favourite, and I'm looking forward to revisiting all four of these blue corn whiskies again this weekend, head to head, when we'll be heading down to meet up with  Chip and Balcones at Whisky Live London on 22nd and 23rd March.

Many thanks to Johanne McInnis (@Whiskylassie) of The Perfect Whisky Match for sending samples and providing the bottle photographs

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Whisky Discovery #347

Balcones Rumble Cask Reserve NAS (58.4% abv)
Texan distilled spirit
Not available in the UK yet
So onto our penultimate dram of our Balcones Whisky Mission, Spirit Number six is 'Rumble Cask Reserve' first launched in November 2011. This is a real bonus as I doubt many will get to taste this limited release. 

Chip explains "While making the rounds of tasting our barrels, I discovered a cache of older Rumble casks that had been all but forgotten. The spirit inside was remarkable - rich, delicious, and unique. I carefully mingled the best of these barrels to create Rumble Cask Reserve.  The result is so special I think it deserves to be preserved in its natural state - unfiltered and at full barrel proof. Each Rumble Cask Reserve bottling is very small and is meant to express different facets of this unique spirit. I hope you enjoy the differences between each bottling of this Texas innovation as much as you enjoy the spirit inside the bottle."

If you read my earlier post on Balcones Rumble, you'll have read that this is a 'one-of-a-kind' Texas spirit made from the finest local wildflower honey, mission figs, turbinado sugar and natural Texas Hill Country spring water all aged in small oak barrels. 

So What Did We Think?

The colour of this is rich and dark and with a very similar profile to the Rumble tasted alongside it. There are similar notes in both but the Cask Reserve Rumble has the flavours more accentuated, it tastes and feels different, slightly richer and more special.

The nose opens quite astringent at first, probably due to the higher abv, but it quickly settles down once the initial burn has evaporated off. The new leather note from Rumble has aged. The nose is still oozing with sweet honey, but there's more depth to it now, darker, richer, treacle-like with more of an aged Demerara rum note. The tobacco notes are richer too, more pipe tobacco than hand rolling tobacco. Yet underneath these rich and dark notes there appears to be some sharper fresher notes, zesty almost.

Left in the glass the nose evolves and becomes a little smoky, like a damp wood fire. Rich aniseed notes develop, as does smell of a tarpaulin, and old musty canvas tarpaulin or tent from boy scout camping trips

The palate is smoother than the Rumble, the slightly tart note has gone and, initially much sweeter and more like the aged Demerara rum we experienced a little while back. Spicy oak quickly coats the mouth and builds to a chilli-heat like burn before settling back to the sweeter notes, slightly smoky with lovely rich liquorice note and some richer fruit, like a baked pear with burnt sugar on top.

The finish is long and lingering, cloves come to mind, and there's a sweet yet earthy charred wood note that slowly fades as the tannins dry the mouth

Look out for Chip and Balcones at Whisky Live London on 22nd and 23rd March and if there's some Rumble Cask Reserve out for tasting, you really would be silly to pass on this, it is a great experience.

Many thanks to Johanne McInnis (@Whiskylassie) of The Perfect Whisky Match for sending samples and providing the bottle photographs

Monday, 18 March 2013

Whisky Discovery #346

Balcones #1 Texas Single Malt NAS (52.7% abv)
Texan Single Malt Whisky
Circa £75.00 70cl
Continuing our Balcones Whisky Mission we reach number five and their first Single Malt Whisky, aptly named 'No.1', first released in July 2011.  A unique style of malt whisky, Texan style! Made from malted Golden Promise barley imported from the UK and made in the traditional way it would have been in Scotland right up through to the distillation process. The difference being the maturation; Balcones cask selection and management alongside the Texan climatic conditions.

So What Did We Think?

Kat: Just like the Baby Blue, this whisky needs time to develop in the glass. It’s bold at 53 % abv so for me I like it with a splash of water to mellow things out. This whisky is very smooth already but with a runny syrup consistency, by watering this down its freer flowing and has a really nice silkiness to it. So after taking my time over a few hours to sample this whisky, here is what I've found. 

Nose:  Dark chilli chocolate (the chilli note is more of that of dried cayenne chilli powder with its slightly smoky aroma but without the heat), cream corn (perhaps a bit of power of suggestion creeping in here), over ripe bananas, Demerara sugar, and baby powder. In the empty glass, dry woody notes appear like the smell of tree bark. 

Taste:  Very sweet with the same taste and consistency as runny honey, very smooth velvety, and some malty notes. To balance this out all out there are bitter citrus acidity notes from grapefruit

Finish:  It is long and lingering one. First the sweetness hits you but this gets replaced in a few seconds (I’d say by the time you count to 3 elephants it’s done) with the bitter citrus grapefruit that stays until the end. I enjoyed it but personally I enjoyed the Baby Blue more. 
Dave: What I have noticed during the tasting of the Balcones range so far is the amazing depth of colour these whiskies (and distilled spirits) have. Bearing in mind that these distilled spirits can be no older than five years old as the distillery was only founded in 2008, the rich tarnished copper colour of this single malt is exceptional and considering no colouring has been added must be a testament to the careful cask selection and management

The nose starts off quite brash, almost spicy probably due to the alcohol vapours escaping quickly from this young whisky, before settling down to be rich, sweet and creamy with notes of fragrant vanilla, fruit comes by way of soft pearsmaltloaf, sweet honey, buttered granary toast and some fresh cut green hardwood. With time both liquorice and aniseed can be teased out too. In my opinion it is hard to beat a buttered granary toast note, and this is my favourite from this whisky.

The palate starts with a short spicy blast and the notes of liquorice that took a while to tease out on the nose are fairly up front on the palate. It comes across as quite malty with a maple syrup, light honey sweetness. The maple syrup, light honey sweetness is joined with butterscotch popcorn and some white pepper on the long finish which ends up quite drying.

Another interesting whisky from this new distillery, a single malt in the Scottish style but with a Texan edge. Balcones will be at Whisky Live London 2013 next weekend (22nd & 23rd March) and this is one to add to your list if you've not tried it before. Come and say hello to us too as Kat and I will be on the Balcones stand all afternoon on Saturday.

Many thanks to Johanne McInnis (@Whiskylassie) of The Perfect Whisky Match and Emily Harris (@emilymayfox) of Mayfox Communications for samples and photographs

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Whisky Discovery #345

Balcones Brimstone NAS (53% abv)
Texan Corn Whisky
Circa £65.00 75cl
The Balcones Whisky Mission part four brings me to purification through fire - a Texan oak fire that is, with Brimstone

Brimstone was launched in May 2011 and rather than using Scottish peat smoke, this 'one of a kind whisky' is smoked with sun-baked Texas scrub oak using Balcones own secret process. The result is a whisky full of fresh youthful corn and light fruit notes married with a bold smokiness.

Whether you like smoky whiskies, or just have a penchant for big, new flavours  Brimstone is sure to be memorable pour. Aromas of masa (a corn dough), Texan camp-fire and powdered sugar tempered with an almost salty goodness. Bold yet balanced, Brimstone is yet another Texas first from Balcones. Brimstone is the world's first wood smoked whisky ... a Texan camp-fire in a bottle.

This is another of Balcones corn whiskies made from roasted Atole, the Hopi blue corn meal. In all there are currently four Balcones whiskies using this corn, Baby Blue, True Blue Cask Strength, True Blue 100 and this Brimstone.

Brimstone was one of the whiskies being talked about after last years Whisky Live London, there was a great deal of interest on Twitter after the show, but unfortunately Kat and I didn't stop at Chip's stand. The buzz around Brimstone repeated itself after The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show last October too and again we missed it. One comment I do recall from the twitter exchanges was that this needed to be one of the later whiskies you should taste, i.e. don't start your show with this one as the flavours are very powerful and it has an incredibly long finish.

So What Did We Think?
Kat: Like the other two I've tasted, Brimstone still retains a smooth silky quality. This is a smoky whisky but of the charred wood variety. This too was a high ABV, however I didn't feel the need to add any water to this. Here’s what I thought.

Nose:  Initially it made me think that it’s been finish in a rum cask as I got a strong sweet aroma of Demerara sugar and bitter sweet notes from molasses. This was followed by an aroma of fresh bread that’s at room temperature (not the same smell as bread hot out of the oven), then by a strong charred oak aroma and bitter tannins. Vanilla notes starts to come through towards the back, for me this was exactly like the smell of Nielsen- Massey vanilla extract that I had in my cupboard. There was also a buttery note. 

Taste:  Bitter sweet caramel, charred wood smoke (not overpowering, I found it more subtle than what I was expecting), sweet espresso coffee, cream crackers, there’s a floral note like orange blossoms or manuka blossoms, and lastly some bitter notes from green plants but I couldn't identify specifically what.  

Finish:  I found it to leave a very dry mouth feel, and very short in terms of the other flavours doesn't linger, just ends abruptly, only leaving the bitter sweetness behind. For me I would have liked the other flavours to linger for a lot longer as they were truly delicious
Dave: The nose opens up with a sweet sticky BBQ sauce, and then adds the roasted meats, like the smell of a hog roast. The corn meal shows it's hand with some roasted rustic corn notes, and there are some salty notes to go along with the buttery sweet Demerara sugar. Spice comes along through roasted chilli peppers, that sweet spiciness that sometimes takes your breath away when concentrated. Leave it a little while in the glass and it evolves with rubber notes, tarmac and hot bitumen, which while odd sounding in a tasting note, it is strangely alluring.

This starts sweet on the palate then slowly builds up to a spicy crescendo before settling back to sweet burnt toffee, rich dark marmalade, the thick-cut type my Dad would make using Demerara sugar, and some meaty BBQ flavours. There's a slight hint of fragrant smoke and a rubber inner tube too.

This has an insanely long finish that I'm sure I woke up tasting the following morning! Chilli heat leads the way, with some mint and smoky BBQ sauce, the rubber notes remain there throughout for me and there's a rich liquorice note too which fades leaving a drying wood smoke smouldering like that of a dying garden bonfire, slightly herbal and charcoal, it's this note that I'm fairly certain I woke up with the following morning.

My overall verdict is I love it! I love the smoky corn notes in this, however just as a peaty Islay whisky, this is not something you should start your whisky tasting evening with, unless you will be following it with another Brimstone! My favourite of our Balcones Mission so far is still True Blue Cask Strength, but still have three to taste following this.

Now I know Chip will be at Whisky Live London next weekend (22nd & 23rd March) and I'm fairly certain that this will be one of the whiskies being presented. You really must try this, but I wouldn't recommend you start your day with this one unless you want everything you taste afterwards to be dominated by this scrub oak smoked delight! Kat and I will be helping out at Balcones on the Saturday so come across and say hello to us too!

Many thanks to Johanne McInnis (@Whiskylassie) of The Perfect Whisky Match and Emily Harris (@emilymayfox) of Mayfox Communications for samples and photographs

Whisky Discovery #349

Bushmills Black Bush NAS (40% abv)
Irish Whiskey
Circa £25.00 70cl

This is the 'Flash Mob Blog Post' from Whisky Discovery! Let me explain:

There is a great whisky community on Twitter with enthusiasts based all over the globe, exchanging tweets, tasting notes and even whisky samples. In the New Year a Facebook page was created for whisky bloggers and membership has grown to almost one hundred of us now. The idea for this first came from our Facebook group, and I'll let Canadian blogger, Johanne McInnis (@Whiskylassie) from "The Perfect Whisky Match" (who has since taken the lead in initiating a number new 'projects on our Facebook page) tell you how it all came about:

Johanne says: "After a fellow blogger started our Facebook group, I found myself going on there quite often.  It has been great networking with lots of good reads. At one point someone asked a question like:  What do you do to keep your blogs fresh or new? I remembered a blog from last fall where I had sent some Canadian whisky samples to Dave Worthington of Whisky Discovery and how I thought it was fun how Dave, myself and Jean Francois (@jfpilon) all wrote about it together. (you can find that post here)  So, I shared that idea with the people from the Facebook group. 

I started a new post saying something like, this has worked for us and increased readership (something like that…) and the next thing I knew we had over 30 people saying, hey I’d love to do that too!  So the idea came to me rather quickly.  In a world where you often can watch Flash mobs on You Tube, why wouldn't we do the same on Twitter?   

With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner and one of their whiskies readily available just about anywhere (truly a global whisky), I thought, I'm going to throw this out there:  

A GLOBAL FLASH MOB REVIEW of one whisky, using social media.  The next thing I knew it was a go.  With 25 people spanning from Israel to California, the MOB BLOG as it’s come to be known was born… and will be taking place on St. Patrick’s day at 4:00pm GMT.

My First Bushmills:

Bushmills is widely regarded at the worlds oldest whiskey distillery, being officially registered in 1784. However a licence for whiskey distilling was issued to Sir Thomas Phillips by James I in 1608 which is the date embossed on every bottle of theirs. Although there is no direct evidence that the licence was issued to a distillery named Bushmills, it was issued to the district that the distillery lies, in County Antrim in Northern Ireland.

The Bushmills Black Bush is a blended Irish Whiskey and is said to contain around 80% single malts blended with grain whiskey all of which has been triple distilled before being matured in Oloroso sherry casks for up to seven years

So What Did I Think?

For me the nose opened up with a milk chocolate note the instant you pour it into your glass, but this quickly dissipated to give me lots of pear notes, Comice pears to be precise, and there's even a little candied lemon peel too. Sweet sherry notes follow, then spicy fruit cake and some light honey too. There's a grain element of 'green' barley or wheat, not quite ready to harvest, so the grains are still soft and chewy. 

The Comice pears lead the palate too, with a very smooth delivery, honey soothing the gentle spice that warms, before slipping back to gentle sweetness with some glacé cherries and finishes with some tannins, and a little bitter pith like note.

This is not a complex blend but it is so very drinkable, very reasonably priced and widely available. Great idea Johanne and good choice of whiskey too. I've noticed they have a range of single malts that look interesting and one of them is definitely on my '101' list. So let me raise my glass to all the whisky bloggers taking part in this Flash Mob Blog Post. Sláinte mhaith and Happy Saint Patrick's Day to you all!

The full list of all the blogs taking part in this Flash Mob Blog Post are now linked below, take some 'time out' preferably with a glass of Bushmills Black Bush and enjoy. We'd be happy to hear what you think too:
  1. V-Log: Mark's Whisky Ramblings from Mark Dermul (Belgium)
  2. Review: Connosr from Mark Dermul (Belgium)
  3. Blog: Best Shot Whisky Reviews from Jan van den Ende (Brazil)
  4. Blog: Miss Whisky from Aylwynne Gwilt (UK)
  5. Blog: Whisky Israel from Gal Granov (Israel)
  6. Blog: Freaky Whisky from Frank J Plamondon (Canada)
  7. Blog: The Perfect Whisky Match from Joshua Feldman (USA Guest blogger)
  8. Blog: A Dram Good Time from William Gemmell (USA)
  9. Blog: What Tastes Good from Susannah Barton-Skiver (USA)
  10. Blog: GJR's Whisky Blog from Gert-Jan de Ruiter (The Netherlands)
  11. Blog: The Whisky Guy Blog from Rob Gard (USA)
  12. Blog: A Measure of Whisky from Dave Smith (Canada)
  13. Blog: The Malt Desk from Claus Rasmussen (Denmark)
  14. Blog: A Wardrobe of Whisky from Miguel Angel Blanch (Spain)
  15. Blog: Tom's Whisky Reviews from Tom Thomson (UK)
  16. V-Log: Whisky Wednesday from Joe Ellis (UK)
  17. Blog: It's Just the Booze Dancing from Angelo Veneziano (USA)
  18. Blog: Malt Fascination from Sjoerd de Hann (Netherlands)
  19. Blog: Whisky Girl from Femke Tijtsma Sijtsma (The Netherlands)
  20. Blog: Chemistry of the Cocktail from Jordan Devereaux (USA)
  21. Blog: Whisky Plus from Jean Francois Pilon (Canada)
  22. Blog: The Perfect Whisky Match from Graham McKinney (Canada)
  23. Blog: joshZie's Whisky Review from Josh Zollweg (USA)
  24. Blog: The Casks from Peter Lemon (USA)
  25. Blog: Malt Imposter from Malt Imposter (USA)

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Whisky Discovery #323

Balcones True Blue NAS (60.1% abv)
Texan Corn Whisky
Circa £68.00 75cl
So moving onto No.3 of my Balcones Whisky Mission with True Blue. This was the third distilled spirit from the Texan distillery, first released in June 2010. 

Following on from their first whisky, Baby Blue, this too is a unique corn whisky made from roasted Atole, a Hopi blue corn meal. Chip Tate explains “We use this rich and nutty corn to produce a whisky that we hope will bring something new to the corn whisky tradition."

Artisan Whisky

Balcones is authentic craft whisky, unless you're doing it yourself in your garage, you couldn't get much more authentic. It has not been chill-filtered, coloured or otherwise unnecessarily tampered with to ensure that its full aroma and flavour are preserved. As a result, you may notice a slight haze or sediment in the bottle - signs of the rich oils and esters that have not been removed so that your whisky can be enjoyed as it was intended to be.

All of the Balcones range of distilled spirits are hand-crafted small batch spirits, made by passionate whisky makers in the distillery they built themselves. They hand write the batch number and individually stamp the Balcones' wax seal on each bottle.

Balcones whisky is mashed, fermented and distilled at  their distillery. They never resell whisky from other distilleries or source aged whisky barrels for blending under the Balcones label.

So What Did We Think?

The nose starts quite spicy, but this settles down quickly to become rich and creamy toffee like on the nose, with lots going on underneath. with hints of dark chocolate, vanilla pods, steamed sweetcorn which reminded me of  the sweetcorn we enjoyed along the side of the road in Mexico last summer (probably from a very similar corn to what has been used) There's a Brazil nut nuttiness to it and the coffee notes of when I rinse my cafetiere out at the end of the day, when the grounds have been sitting in the bottom of the pot.

One of the corn stalls we stopped at
This is quite sweet on entry, I wasn't expecting that with the high alcohol content, but it is remarkably smooth and really didn't need any water adding. The rich creamy toffee note that dominated the nose is here on the palate too, but there's a lovely spiced orange note, along with some green oak wood, vanilla and a baked pear with cinnamon flavour that is really pleasing. There's also a light salty tang.

The spiced orange remains on the finish with some white pepper and the oak tannins start drying the mouth feel at the very end, drawing me back for more.

This is a lovely drop of drammage and my favourite of the mission so far. Interestingly nosing the empty glass the following morning reveals rich clove and cinnamon notes from the the residue, which seems to have drawn moisture from the air, turning it cloudy. 

This is available in the UK and has been added to 'Dad's Whisky Wish List' for 2013. 

Many thanks to Johanne McInnis (@Whiskylassie) of The Perfect Whisky Match for sending samples and providing the bottle photographs

Friday, 15 March 2013

Whisky Discovery #322

Balcones Rumble NAS (Distilled Spirit 47% abv)
Texan distilled spirit
Not available in the UK yet
Get ready to Rumble!
Running in the order Chip developed them, next up on this Balcones Whisky Mission comes Rumble, which although is not a whisky, was first introduced at the same time as Baby Blue in September 2009.

Balcones Rumble is a one-of-a-kind Texas spirit made from the finest local wildflower honey, mission figs, turbinado sugar and natural Texas Hill Country spring water and aged to perfection in small oak barrels. Rumble defies categorisation, both in ingredients as well as the final product. It has elements reminiscent of tequila, scotch, young cognac and rum.

So What Did I Think?

Wow! This is really interesting and when first poured in the glass has a new leather nose to it. This quickly settles to be oozing with sweet honey and soft fruits; peaches and yellow plums. There are floral notes of nasturtiums and pelargoniums (what we used to incorrectly call geraniums when we were kids). There’s even a hint of mint and some hand-rolling tobacco too.

The palate opens up with a slightly sour or tart grapefruit like note which wakens the taste buds while the liquid gently softens with more honey and fruit by way of dates this time. The hint of mint from the nose is more prominent in the mouth. The tart grapefruit note is not as pronounced on the second sip as though the initial hit readied the taste buds for what was to come. There’s some herbal notes too, a slight fennel/ aniseed like taste.

The new leather note that opened the nose returns on the lingering finish, with white pepper, rye like spice, the mint remains throughout and then much later an oily taste, what I initially thought as diesel like and even slightly metallic, which although sounds wrong, is strangely not! However popping a couple of brazil nuts into my mouth the following evening, I quickly realised that it was a brazil nut taste I was getting - not the taste of the nut itself, but the taste of the dark brown skin of the nut, that was more like the taste I was getting.

This distilled spirit has elements, just as Chip described, of many traditional distilled spirits, and aged (Añejo) Tequila, A Scotch whisky or indeed a rum, and is very refreshing. I wonder if this will be coming to the UK sometime soon? Look out for Chip and Balcones at Whisky Live London on 22nd and 23rd March and if there's some Rumble out for tasting, you really should!

Many thanks to Johanne McInnis (@Whiskylassie) of The Perfect Whisky Match for sending samples

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Whisky Discovery #321

Balcones Baby Blue NAS (46% abv)
Texan Corn Whisky
Circa £55.00 75cl
Corn Whisky
This is the first blog post of a series of seven distilled spirits from the Balcones Distillery. I said distilled spirit as opposed to whisky (or whiskey) as although five of the range we will taste are whiskies (which is of course a distilled spirit) the other two are not. All seven of these review samples were originally shared by Johanne McInnis of The Perfect Whisky Match blog, and additionally we've also had samples sent by other whisky friends as well as Balcones UK PR company Mayfox Communications

We first heard about Balcones last March when we attended our first ever whisky show, Whisky Live London. We were actually sitting next to founder and renowned craft distiller Chip Tate in the coffee shop opposite the entrance on that Saturday morning. We were whisky 'newbies' attending our first show, and knew very little about whisky then.

Chip founded Balcones (pronounced bal-conies) in 2008 and distils in Waco, Texas. Within the US craft whisky industry, Chip’s name is synonymous with expertise, innovation and precision, having produced some of the most highly acclaimed artisanal whiskies to come out of the US over the last four years.

From a young age, Chip has been fascinated with the experimentation of natural ingredients and brewing, initially encouraged through his mother’s culinary skills at home. After years of curiosity and a natural affiliation with physics and technical machinery, Chip trained as a brewer and has worked as both a professional brewer and brewing consultant around the US, before moving into distilling spirits.

Chip Tate
Chip sitting in front of  his hand built stills
Upon founding Balcones in March 2008, that summer, went to train as a distiller under Jim McEwan of Bruichladdich on Islay. Following this intense training period, he and his two Balcones distillers returned to Waco to hand build the working distillery from scratch: from metal sheeting and copper, to old stainless steel vessels bought on eBay, they literally built the distillery from the bottom up. As a result, today Balcones is the only distillery in the US that is hand built by the distillers themselves.

In September 2009, Chip released his first spirit and first Texas whisky on the market since prohibition: Baby Blue, made from roasted Hopi Blue Corn, as well as Rumble, a unique Texas spirit distilled from fermented Texas wildflower honey, mission figs, and demerara sugar.

Balcones have gone on to release five further distillates and all seven will be tasted and reviewed over the next couple of days leading up to our next visit to Whisky Live 2013 on Friday 22nd March

For first taste of Balcones we started with Chip’s first whisky released from the new Texan distillery; Baby Blue, the first whisky to be distilled (legally) in the state since prohibition.

Baby Blue is a unique corn whisky made from atole, a roasted blue corn meal. Corn whisky isn't new, and common to American whisky making tradition, however Balcones are the only distillery to date to use a blue corn.  

Kat: When eaten blue corn tastes nuttier and more glutinous than yellow corn. Blue corn tortilla chips are probably the easiest product to buy here in the UK if you wanted to try eating some blue corn, but generally not widely available, which is a shame for two reasons; firstly it’s a pretty purple/blue colour and secondly it’s a just truly delicious. 

So What Did We Think?

Kat: I had to leave this in the glass for about 5 minutes before the full range of aromas revealed itself. There’s a sweetness with a hint of slight tart green apples which made me immediately think of toffee candy apples. There’s some oak, more green oak for me, and the smell of my home made banana bread

I will try my best here to describe the smell of my home made banana bread; You have to imagine that it’s just been made, so hot out of the oven and just waiting to cool down on a wire rack. The smell is a bit malty, with hints of dried ginger, cinnamon, and of course ripe bananas. It fills my flat with a warming welcoming smell and puts smiles on friends’ faces when they have a slice. The aromas of this give me the same feelings, almost comforting. 

Corn WhiskyThe palate opens with the sweetness of caramel, compared with the aroma, the taste is more of slight burnt caramel. There’s a hint of nice bitterness to offset the sweetness that I found to be a bit like orange pith. There’s some oak that appears towards the middle but over taken by a Brazil nut like taste. Lastly there’s a touch of a floral bouquet. 

That orange pith stays leads the finish, a fresh chilli heat follows and ends with a sweet caramel taste to the end. A long lingering finish that slowly fades. 

Dave said: This has a fabulous sweet butter toffee nose at first, but as Kat said, just wait for a little while for the nose to develop and you will be rewarded. The sweetness continues with honey before some spicy rye type notes appear which turns more malty with time. The malt develops towards a fruity bread dough or something that reminded me of my Mum's sultana cake mix, and I could smell buttered popcorn too. Eventually vanilla makes an appearance

It tastes young and spicy though not quite as sweet as the nose was suggesting. There's a pithy bitterness and herbal tea like notes, along with green oak wood before the spicy build up with chilli heat which leads to the long spicy finish balanced with sweetness but the oak tannins leave the mouth feeling dry, yet mouth-watering at the same time.

Our first taste of Texas distilled spirit, and I think you can safely say we have been impressed with what we have tasted. Chip will be exhibiting again at this years Whisky Live London (22-23 March)and we're really looking forward to meeting him properly this time. Look out for us there too as we'll be hanging out with Chip on the Saturday.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Glenfiddich Distillery Experience

Last week I was invited to the launch of the Glenfiddich Distillery Experience, a new tasting tool for their global ambassadors that will allow them to take guests on a very personal guided tasting tour of the distillery in Dufftown, Scotland. Created by acclaimed design agency Purple Creative, it is an innovative virtual journey, filmed from the point of view of a visitor, allowing guests to experience the magic of the distillery from anywhere in the world.  

The event was held at The Moving Picture Company in London's Soho, and I used up my last half day of annual leave so I had time to get home and take the train down to St Pancras station and take a slow walk down to the venue. Yes, I walked from St Pancras! Google maps said it should take me around 30 minutes, and they were pretty accurate. I took the Tube back afterwards and it took roughly the same time 'door to door'

Global Ambassador Ian Millar introduced the invited few (I think I was the token blogger) to The Glenfiddich Distillery Experience, a virtual distillery tour, that takes you through the whisky making process from the mash house, to the marrying before bottling and encompasses many of the other warehouses and processes at the distillery through a clever interactive map of the distillery.
The main screen and interactive map of the 'virtual distillery tour'
The Glenfiddich team approached design agency Purple Creative to bring this idea to life in what is claimed to be the world’s first virtual whisky distillery tour. The Glenfiddich Distillery Experience is a virtual journey, filmed from the point of view of a visitor to the distillery. Ambassadors can talk their guests through the production while clicking on the different areas of the distillery, taking people into the mash house, still house, cooperage and warehouses, revealing videos of filmed footage which very cleverly blends from an animation into real footage, following the staff at the distillery as they go about their work.
Seamless transition from animation to video - very clever!
Each whisky tasting can be tailored to suit, and our presentation had a flight of five Glenfiddich distilled spirits which were tasted as we reached certain points in our virtual tour. 

With the introductions over Ian launched into our tour and we started at the Mash House. Milled malted barley (grist) is shipped into the distillery for the start of the process, the mashing. As we are taken into the interactive map, the animated sequence seamlessly evolves into the video as we follow one of the staff into the building and through to the 'Mash Tuns' and onto the fermentation 'Wash Backs' where the first identifiable pear flavour, the signature note of the Glenfiddich 12 Year Old is created leads us nicely into our first dram of the evening:
The flight of Glenfiddich distilled spirits
Whisky Discovery #10

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old (40% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Circa £20 –£30

It was one of the early whiskies in my journey and I'd forgotten how fresh and fruity this whisky is. With delicious floral notes, crisp pears, malt and honey on the nose it's light and easy to drink, being very smooth with sweet floral flavours and gentle spice on the palate. This is one of the world's best selling single malts, the famous green triangular bottle has become a fixture in just about every bar on the globe. This is the whisky that probably pioneered the entire single malt category that we know today. 
A still from the Still House!
The next stage of the story is the distillation of the wash and the interactive map leads us into the Still House. Following the same pattern of animation evolving into video, Ian introduced us to another staff member as he walks us through the stills, explaining the process in as much, or little detail, as required. We're shown the 'Low Wines' still and 'Spirit' still, how the process works, and it is at this point we are given the chance to nose/taste the 'new make spirit' as if it had just been taken from the Spirit Safe.

Whisky Discovery #343

Glenfiddich New Make Spirit (circa 70% abv)
Speyside Distilled Spirit
Money can't buy Dram #1

If you want to know about whisky I believe it is essential that new make must be experienced. It's not for the faint hearted though as normally new make is around 70% abv, and Ian suggested that we simply dipped our finger into it and then touch our tongue, I wanted a little more and so nosed and tasted it properly (and drained my dram) - all in the name of my voyage of discovery. Nosing this, very carefully you can pick out the dusty barley husks from a harvest crop and a pear juice concentrate, thick and sweet. The high alcohol content makes it difficult  to taste without burning the taste buds clean off the tongue, so again carefully sipping there's a delicious sweetness with a citrus edge underlying.

From the Still House we were led to the Cooperage and then onto Warehouse 6 where we learnt about the training required to become a cooper, the casks used at Glenfiddich, and the marrying process while being introduced to the Glenfiddich 18 Year Old
There is a great video of the cask being put together when you visit the Cooperage

Glenfiddich 18 Year Old (40% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Circa £40 –£45

The 18 Year Old is a fabulous dram, and one that has been on my shelf since early on in my journey. With rich flavours of baked apples and cinnamon, the 18 year old is married in oak tuns for at least three months in small individually numbered batches of less than 150 casks, having previously matured for 18 years.

After leaving warehouse 6 we were taken into Warehouse 8, where the solera vat is housed, which led us perfectly onto our next dram, the Glendfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Vat
The unique Solera Vat

Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Solera Vat (40% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Circa £35 –£40

I love the Solera Vat! Unique to scotch whisky, the Glenfiddich solera vat marries together whiskies matured in three types of casks. The vat is kept at least half full all times and creates a wonderfully rich complex single malt with delicious notes of heather honey and sweet dates. If you're not sure what a solera vat is, I go to some lengths to explain it in the blog post for the 15 Year Old

Leaving the solera we made our way to the archive, where the story of Glenfiddich was retold and we were introduced to our final dram, simply named retro on our tasting slate, this was specially created for this tasting session and based upon the Glenfiddich Straight Malt 8 Year Old, the malt that made history. Created in 1963 by Sandy Gordon, great grandson of the distillery's founder, it was the first whisky to be sold as a single malt in it's own right, creating the entire category we know today.

Whisky Discovery #344

Glenfiddich 'Retro' (circa 40% abv)
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
Money can't buy Dram #2

My ears pricked up on hearing about this creation based on the 1963 Straight Malt. Being a child of '63 I would be very interested in having a bottle of this, but unfortunately it had been created specially for this event and never to be made again according to Ian, but what was that the say? Never say never....

The nose was rich with sherry notes, dates, figs and rich toffee. It had a smooth and sweet entry on the palate before a quick burst of spice, plenty of cloves in this. The finish had notes of wood and leather. My final question of the evening was 'is there any more?' So while everyone was enjoying cocktails, I was 'mine sweeping' the spare drams of retro. Well I won't get a second chance will I?

Ian Millar went on to say "The Glenfiddich Distillery Experience is without doubt the most valuable tool our Ambassadors have ever had. It engages audiences, and provides an insight into our production processes that no verbal explanation could ever hope to achieve"

It certainly is a very clever tool, it won't ever beat going to the distillery to experience all of the sights, sounds and smells, but if you're the other side of the world, and get the chance to partake in a tasting with a Glenfiddich Ambassador, it's pretty darn close!