Monday, 29 April 2013

Glory of the Grain Tweet Tasting

April's Tweet Tasting from The Whisky Wire gave us four Grain Whiskies from Arkwrights (@whiskyandwines). The four grain samples were all sent blind and so we only knew what we had been drinking once we had posted our tasting notes.

Arkwrights is a specialist independent whisky retailer based in the Wiltshire town of Highworth and owned and run by Ken and Fran Thomas. They have an extensive range of over 900 whiskies, available to buy via the website or from the shop itself to try. 

So what is Grain Whisky?
Grain whisky is made from any un-malted cereal grains. In the past these were typically wheat and sometimes oats and rye. Today maize (corn) is widely used. A small amount of malted barley is added to provide the enzymes which convert the starch in the grains into sugar.

Grain whisky has been made in Scotland since at least the 15th century, originally made to use up cereals which were not required as food and to create nutritious winter feed for cattle from the husks and spent grains. It was originally made in pot stills, just as malt whisky is made today. 

In the late 1820s a new style of still was invented by Robert Stein and later perfected by Aeneas Coffey, a former Inspector of Excise in Dublin. This new Coffey Still was capable of producing  a high strength pure spirit, and since the still could be operated continuously, rather than batch by batch (as in pot still distillation), it was cheaper.

Although such Coffey or Patent stills were expensive to install, grain distillers soon adopted them. Whisky made in a Coffey still has less pronounced flavour than that made in a pot still and this made it very desirable for blending, since it lightened and sweetened the heavy malts of the mid 1800s.

Today there are just six grain whisky distilleries in Scotland: Cameronbridge, Girvan, Invergordon, North British, Strathclyde and Starlaw. Together these six produce around six times the amount of malt whisky every year. 

Only three of these grain distilleries bottle single grain whiskies; Cameron Bridge, Black Barrel (from Girvan) and Invergordon. You can also find bottlings from the now closed Port Dundas distillery (2009) and the Loch Lomond Distillery, a malt whisky distillery, also has a small patent still.

Without a clue what we were going to be tasting we kicked off proceedings at 7pm under the #GrainWhisky hashtag.
All set for the blind 'Glory of the Grain' Tweet Tasting
Whisky Discovery #334

Cameron Brig NAS (40% abv)
Pure Single Grain Whisky
£24.99 from Arkwrights

Our first Grain of the evening was Cameron Brig Pure Single Grain. The Cameron Bridge Distillery was acquired it in 1824 by John Haig who's cousin, Robert Stein, created the first ever distillery to produce grain whisky using a patent still. The malt whisky production using pot stills ceased in 1929 to concentrate on grain whisky production. Now owned by Diageo who after a £9 million investment, the Distillery re-opened in 2000 giving the distillery the capacity to produce 30M litres of spirits annually

Cameron Brig Single Grain Whisky is listed in Ian Buxton's 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die. 

This single grain isn't great on presentation and comes unboxed, but is a superb representation of a single grain whisky. For those that know it, it has a big following.

So What Did We Think?

Kat: Nose:  Delicate floral scent, pencil shavings, unsalted popcorn, Battenberg cake, and some chalk. Overall very delicate.

Taste:  Gomme Sugar syrup but without the tick syrup quality, instead with same silkiness. Some Citrus and some cereal qualities, bit like corn flakes but not over so. Again same as the nose, not of the flavours are very punchy here, to use same description I’ve used previous, delicate.

Finish: Very subtle bitterness, with some citrus oil, and the pencil shavings picked up on the nose comes through here as the last note in the finish.

Dave: I first tasted this at the Birmingham Whisky Festival earlier this year, it had been on my list since finding it in Ian Buxton's 101 Whiskies To Try Before You Die. I didn't take any notes last time, so pleased to have the opportunity to sit down a saviour it this time

The nose seemed quite shy initially, and I tweeted that it reminded me of a cereal packet being opened, like opening a new packet of cornflakes. There were faint notes of vanilla, bourbon, and I was getting a light aniseed note. After a little while on second nosing it was dusty grains and firm peaches with some light spicy notes underlying. Overall the nose is quite fragrant, but needs a little time to breathe, that said, all the notes are very gentle.

Again it's soft and gentle on the palate with thin honey, candied citrus, gentle bourbon notes, a little wood and I was getting a light fennel note too. The finish seemed to have a good length to it with some gentle spices. It came across as quite dry leaving my mouth feeling like I'd chewed a hazelnut.

Verdict: A pleasant enough dram, but not going to set the world on fire. At just £25 a bottle it's an inexpensive introduction to single grain whisky.

So what did the others think?
@LRWhisky: Massive wood and beeswax. Very creamy - could almost be from a dairy
@TWLJoe: Reminds me of a small old toffee tin that's been emptied of toffee and since been used for rolling backy
@steveprentice: On the palate it's soft and sweet, with the grain nature taking a while to come through when held on the tongue.
@whiskyrepublic: Palate - Rum fudge slowly melting into vanilla ice-cream
@TheWhiskyBoys: Taste, a little warmth, Thornton special toffee, does not need H2O light liquorice  sweet mild ginger, this is really nice

Whisky Discovery #406

Greenore 8 Year Old (40% abv)
Irish Single Grain Grain Whiskey
£36.99 from Arkwrights

Our second Single Grain of the evening came from Ireland and a Greenore 8 Year Old from The Cooley Distillery. This attractively bottled limited edition (5000 bottles) eight year old single grain whiskey was placed in bourbon casks in 1997 and bottled 2006 at 40%.

Greenore is a completely unique Irish whiskey, as the only expression of an Irish Single Grain whiskey in the world. 

The Cooley Distillery is the only independent distillery in Ireland and is nestled in the foothills of the Cooley Mountains in Co. Louth. Both patent and pot stills are used at Cooley, and they produce both malt and grain whiskey, reinvigorating old famous brands such as Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell while also creating new brands, like Connemara Peated Single Malt and this Greenore Single Grain Irish whiskey.

So What Did We Think?

Kat: Nose:  Instant hit on the initial nosing of brand new plimsolls (had big rubber hit for me). Then I hope I don’t lose a lot of people with the rest of the tasting notes. Think damp shed. For me it’s a damp shed with the smell of dust and dirt, and the smell of oil rusty tins of oil paints. The nose is not off putting but I have to admit not my favourite.

Taste:  Woody, bit oily similar to mild olive oil, warming spiciness from white pepper, musk, and for anyone who knows what Chinese saw tooth coriander is, it’s got a hint of that throw in. 

Finish:  Mildly sweet, short with hints of cereals like cornflakes. 

Dave: Would you believe it? This is another of the whiskies listed in Ian Buxton's 101 Whiskies, though this one is listed in the second 101 World Whiskies book, but still another tick in the box for me!

The nose on this came across as sweeter than the first one with notes of aged rum. With a little while a clean rubber note comes across, I said clean rubber in my tweet, I meant white rubber as opposed to black tyre or inner tube.Kat's new plimsolls is a good descriptor now I'm sitting at a second session . With a little time some faint bourbon notes start to evolve, with lots of vanilla and a little musty wood underlying. These later notes start to mask the rubber note I was picking up earlier.

The aged rum notes come across to the palate too, almost Demerara like. This is sweet and creamy with a light dusting of pepper. The bourbon notes come through too and I really enjoyed the taste of this one. The finish is quite short, again quite dry, gently fading with sweetness, ginger and a hint of lemongrass.

Verdict: I really liked this Irish Single Grain Whiskey and can see why Ian deemed this suitable to be included in his 101 series.

So what did the others think?
@LRWhisky: Sour cherry, vanilla and sweet on the nose
@whiskyrepublic: More pungent than the Brig, recently varnished orange, marzipan, sweet, slightly musty, hints of vanilla
@BeckyPaskin: Lovely tropical notes, ripe bananas, whiff of must
@TWLJoe: Light and sweet on the palate some nice citrussy notes and some bourbonesque qualities, although not nearly as intense
@dramologist: Now tasting with water & it is much richer: mangos, banana and honey. And a new sheet of cardboard from the stationery
@TheWhiskyBoys: This might even pass as a mid range Bourbon

Whisky Discovery #407

Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky NAS (45% abv)
Japanese Single Grain Whisky
£39.99 from Arkwrights

Dram No.3 of the evening was this Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky from Japan.

The Coffey still is named after its inventor Aeneas Coffey. In 1830, the French-born Irishman perfects this technique, which would become widely adopted by the Scots for the production of blends, allowing them to surpass Ireland as a whisky producing nation.

The distillation process is continuous, whereas the pot stills which are used in single malt production require two separate distillations. Nikka runs two Coffey stills within the Miyagikyo distillery for the elaboration of its grain whiskies. Imported from Scotland in 1963, these old stills yield a very round distillate, with a distinct character that defines Nikka’s signature blends

So What Did We Think?

Kat: Nose: Very complex and a lot more punchy aromas compared with the previous two. Frangipani, linseed oil, dried berries – cranberry in particular, cream cheese frosting, tinned peaches in syrup, and finally rum and raisin ice cream.I particularly like the nose of this one the best out of these four.

Taste:  Black Darjeeling tea (has that tannin bitter taste), dry hay, roasted coffee bean, sherry trifle, and hint dry wood similar to pencil shavings.

Finish: Left with dry mouth feel with a woody taste.

Dave: Again this has that quality aged rum note on the nose which comes across with sweet spicy stewed fruits, vanilla essence, richer bourbon notes, with treacle, Demerara sugar, raisins and dates

This is really easy drinking and slips down effortlessly. It's sweet and creamy with light bourbon notes and really did give you that vanilla cream over rum and raisin ice-cream experience! The finish came across as quite short, dry and a light salty note too.

Verdict: I really enjoyed this single grain from Japan, so very easy to drink.

So what did the others think?
@dramologist: Much woodier now. maple syrup, ginger, peach, orange, vanilla. Brown sugar after a while
@whiskywardrobe: Spices, and candies and disolvent and corn, and honey and more of all of them again. Lovely
@rodbodtoo: Smells older, more of the rum thing going on (for me rum aromas = old OLD whiskies)
@BeckyPaskin: Gorgeous spicy notes, stewed apples for me
@TheWhiskyBoys: Sherry filled plump raisins, cooked soft fruits topped with vanilla ice cream
@galg: This palate is HUGE.. sweet and thick with Demerara sugar, dates, rum, chocolate, fudge, rich cake with sultanas with rum

Whisky Discovery #408

Clan Denny Invergordon 1966 45 Year Old (47.1% abv)
SIngle Grain Whisky
£134.00 from Arkwrights

Our finale dram was bound to be something really special and we were treated to this Invergordon 1966. A 45 year old expression of a single grain whisky from the Clan Denny range of whiskies. 

It was matured in Bourbon Barrel number HH7254 and bottled at 47.1% abv.

Established in 1961 by Invergordon Distillers Ltd. The Distillery is on the shore of the Cromarty Firth north of Inverness, it was commissioned in 1959 to create employment in the area, following the departure of the Royal Navy.

The distillery is now owned by Whyte & Mackay group since 1993 and part of Kyndal Spirits Ltd.

So What Did We Think?

Kat: Nose:  Initially nosing got sour milk but luckily this opens up to much nicer aromas with air, and a drop of water. Sweet taste of honey dew melon starts to come out, there’s some meaty quality to it like good quality mature raw steak, and balsamic vinegar. I have to thank my fellow participants for the last note as I couldn’t quite put my fingers on.

Taste:  Rich dried fruits, really good fruit cake, caramel, prune juice, taste of the smell of damp mulch (bit earthy), and some smoky characters which reminded me of chipotle chillies.

Finish:  Peppery, gently smoky so not over powering, and leaves a dry mouth feel.

Dave: The nose opens with a dusty quality and a 'struck match' note. There are hints of  a much higher alcohol content than stated with the acetone notes. With a little air, remember this has 'sleeping' for forty five years, it settles down to give rich vanilla bourbon, well seasoned wood, some musty notes, and a charred wood smoky note.

The palate opens with a slightly sour note but this settles down and slowly sweetens, not a sickly sweetness, more of a saccharin type. A spicy kick starts to evolve, menthol like and there is a slight rubber note. A drop of water changes this and rich bourbon qualities come to the fore. This had the longest finish of the four and yet again a very dry finish, but this has an intense chilli heat on the swallow, although this doesn't last too long.

So what did the others think?
@TheWhiskyBoys: Quite gentle on the nose, toasted coconut, rich and fruity, newly dug garden border, candy floss sweetness
@dramologist: There is a dusting of icing sugar on this. The full-bodied palate is woody and earthy, with just a little vegetal note
@rodbodtoo: That deceptively smoky note which comes from a long time in barrel 
@JayDieNL: Wauw! Lot going on on the taste! Dry, wood, bourbon, sherry, chocolate, raisins
@TheWhiskyWire: Subtle puffetts of smoke & I mean subtle, with a finishing flairette of menthol

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

Yet another great experience and another highlight of our whisky journey, with three new discoveries for me, and it was the first time Kat had tasted any of these. Tweet Tastings really are a great way to taste whisky.

A massive THANK YOU to Steve Rush at @TheWhiskyWire, and to Ken and Fran from Arkwrights @WhiskyandWines for the generous samples, for making sure we all got our drams and of course the tweet tasters.

This events tweet tasters were:
@TheWhiskyWire @WhiskyDiscovery @LRWhisky @WorldWhiskyDay @rodbodtoo @ifotou @steveprentice @dramologist @mattveira @PresleyKa @TheWhiskyBoys @kizzsmyth @whiskyrepublic @BeckyPaskin @PMaitlando @rickfurzer @TWLJoe @whiskywardrobe @galg @JayDieNL

For more information see: and and if you want to experience what we tasted, Ken and Fran have put this same set of grain whiskies together for you, and only available from Arkwrights Whisky and Wines

1 comment:

Gal Granov said...

good write-up mate. a class A event.