Sunday, 2 March 2014

Whisky Discovery takes the Discovery Road

International whisky writer and 'new world whiskies' specialist Dominic Roskrow has put his money where is mouth is and has launched his own New World Whisky range. 

We've met Dom a couple of times, I think the first time was when he was doing his epic Compass Box Whisky tasting with John Glaser hitting eight Whisky Shops from Inverness to Brighton in just 24 hours, and of course we've bumped into him at several whisky shows, but I really got to meet him at last years Birmingham Whisky Club Show where Dom was fronting the Craft Distiller's Alliance stand (he's the founder and director) introducing me to a hint of what was to come? Dom had brought whiskies from Australia, New Zealand (including the now infamous DoubleWood 10 Year Old) France and Sweden. His enthusiasm for World Whiskies was infectious then and that was reinforced by his masterclass later in the afternoon.

Discovery Road is the name for a new range of whiskies from across the world, specially chosen by Dom, who has spent the last eight years visiting distilleries from outside traditional areas and has built up a vast font of knowledge on the subject and with an enviable contacts list of distillers and distillery owners as far afield as the South Island of New Zealand and the frozen plains of Northern Sweden. 

Now, with a growing interest among the whisky-drinking public for new and exciting tastes, as well as for unusual stories from the world of whisky with their own heritage and provenance, Dom has decided to call upon his contacts to take world whisky to its next stage, and he has ambitious aims - to effectively create a new whisky category known as 'New World Whisky

"There are only two ways you can make whisky," he says. "You can try and do it like Scotland does, and you will almost certainly fail. Or you can dare to be different, make a whisky which reflects your heritage and culture, and adopt local customs, grains and production methods to produce a whisky that is unique. 

That's how I see the best New World Whisky - it is in a  different category to Scotch or Bourbon and comparing it to those categories is as relevant as comparing Aussie Rules footie to Soccer or American Football. It's not better, not worse, just different." 

Dom launched the first four whiskies at the end of last year; Two single malts from England (a very limited cask strength version of the standard expression) and two from Dutch distillers Zuidam, a rye and a single malt. He has also secured casks from India, Taiwan, France, New Zealand and Sweden. Each whisky will be bottled at 46% abv, will be limited to under 300 bottles (there are just 215 bottles of the English malt) and will be packaged in a stylish premium bottle.  

We were fortunate to receive samples of three of the range and here are our thoughts:   

Whisky Discovery #670

Discovery Road 'Smile' (46% abv)
Dutch Single Rye Whisky
£65.57 available only from Master of Malt
This is a seven year old 100% Rye Whisky from Dutch distillers Zuidam Distillers. The Dutch distillery was founded in 1975 by Fred van Zuidam, the initial idea being to start a small distillery producing exclusive products. It all began with just one small copper still in a 300 square meter distillery. It was along hard beginning and it took Fred van Zuidam over 10 years to create the reputation of being the finest distillery in the Netherlands.

These days both sons Patrick and Gilbert run the distillery under the watchful eyes of their parents. With Patrick caring for the distillery and production and Gilbert looking after the customers. They run a state of the art distillery of 3600 square meters with 4 brand new copper stills, over 1000 oak barrels,  four production lines and a modern tank storage.

Dominic's notes: This mixes spicy rye notes with a distinctive coconut start, delicious toffee and milk chocolate. Think Bounty Bar dipped in chill. There's also soft peach and apricot fruits and a red liquorice core.

So What Did We Think?
Kat Says: Nose:  This has a drier aroma to it, like dried twigs and lichen. It also has a lighter and more floral note when compared with Courage. Has a sweeter aroma, full of vanilla, with plenty of lemon rind & zest. With a little time, a whipped cream note develops, turning into the smell of a moist lemon drizzle cake. 

Taste:  None of the creaminess or sweetness comes through at all for me, instead it beings with the taste of cinnamon powder; a slight dry dusty feel, followed by plenty of caraway/fennel seeds. The only thing that comes through that resembles the nose is the lemon zest, which comes through after the spices. Some sweetness then appears but quickly fades, giving way to some dry wood notes. To me tasted like I was eating a pencil, not bad but not tasty either.

I've picked up pencil shaving notes before but always in the nose, not from the palate. The taste is distinctive of anyone who had chewed on pencils when they were younger (or maybe still do now?) whilst day dreaming; that taste of cedar wood and whatever type of paint they use to coat the outside of the pencil.

Finish:  The sweetness returns here and stays for noticeably longer than it did in the palate. This is followed by lemon rinds and leaves a zesty tingle to the end. A long lingering finish. 

Conclusion:  I liked the nose of this one very much but did not like the stark contrast in the palate, but by the end it won be back again. I’m on the fence about whether I like this dram, I don’t instantly like but think it’s interesting. Probably one that I should give a second chance to, tasting it over several drams, cause I think it might surprise me the second time around. 

Again after I did my tasting notes (I always do my tasting notes blind so as to not get sucked in by any marketing), I found out at this is a matured rye whisky. Perhaps this is why I find it interesting as my rye whisky experience is limited, and not flavours I’m familiar with. 

Dave Says: I've been getting into my Rye Whiskies recently and this arrived at Whisky Discovery HQ right in the middle of the Canadian Whisky event DavinTT2. It was the Dutch and German settlers that took rye whisky to Canada which is now synonymous with Canadian Whisky.

The nose, as I've come to expect with rye whisky, opens up with those dusty grain notes before the coconut takes over, sweet and creamy vanilla and caramel follows and although I didn't read Dominic's notes until after writing my first drafts can easily see where he finds the Bounty Bar notes. Fresh cut lumber follows, softwood, a resin rich pine and a sweet menthol note too.

The palate has a sweet creamy mouth coating with that spicy rye kick and fresh ginger, but as soon as it settles down I was reminded of Fry's Chocolate Creams and the coconut comes through on the palate too.

One of my absolute favourite discoveries with rye whiskies is the smelling the empty glass the following morning. Whereas some single malts smell woody or musty, and sherry cask whiskies often smell or rich dark chocolate, rye whiskies tend to smell fresh and still has those sweet spicy rye notes sweet with a hint of liquorice and certainly raises a smile.

Whisky Discovery #686

Discovery Road 'Four Lions' Cask Strength (58% abv)
English Single Malt Whisky
£72.70 available only from Master of Malt
Four Lions was chosen from four fifty litre casks from maturing stock at The English Whisky Company's St Georges Distillery in Norfolk. These casks were carefully selected by Dominic, St George's distiller David Fitt and Whisky Tasting Club members Tony Bagnall and Pat Barrow.

Also available but not tasted here is the standard 'Four Lions' bottled at 46% abv at £58.42 and only available from Master of Malt

Dominic's notes: This is a single malt with a distinctive spicy and earthy taste, some tropical fruits and citrus, and hints of menthol.  

We were very fortunate and were sent a sample of the Cask Strength version of this release, A very limited edition with just 45 bottles available, each signed and numbered.

So What Did We Think?
Kat Says: Nose:  Instantly I was hit with loads of soft fruits – ripe strawberries, slightly sharp raspberries, and blueberries. More fruit comes in the form of cantaloupe melons, followed by fresh whipped cream, and the smell of crunchy short crust pastry. Suddenly the smell of a lovely fresh fruit and cream tart comes into my mind.

Taste:  To my delight, the soft fruit flavours continue providing a sweet yet sharp fresh taste. The creamy notes also come through; carrying the same cream tart flavours. It has a nice medium body to this, not too fresh and light but not heavy either. Vanilla notes and Manuka honey starts to come through, making me think there’s probably some sherry casks influence in there. 

Finish:  The soft fruits are replaced with darker dried fruit flavours here – dates and raisins mainly, followed by a long white peppery finish. 

Conclusion:  I instantly love this dram. At first I thought it might have been something from the Swedish distillery Mackmyra, as it was similar to their Jaktlycka Special 05 release, because it had similar flavour profiles. I was happy to find out that this fine dram came from a distillery close to home turf, the English Whisky Company. 

Dave Says: The English Whisky Company St George's Distillery in Roundham, Norfolk was the first distillery I visited. The stills first ran in December 2006 when 29 barrels were filled and it has been going from strength to strength since. This is very obviously a young whisky as the oldest whisky available from St. Georges would be just seven years old, but it's spirit matures a little faster in the warmer climate of Norfolk

Nose: A summery fresh aroma greets you with green grassy meadows, sappy pine wood, fresh mint and menthol. The tropical fruits come a little later; papaya with lime juice and melon

Palate: Sweet and spicy with peppery pears and crisp green apples, we're my instant tasting notes on first sip, but there is a great deal more going on in this cask strength release. With a little time the sweetness has a honey softness about it and the initial sharp fruit notes also soften with an abundance ripe fruit.

The empty glass the following morning has rich toffee notes and a slight earthiness to it.

Whisky Discovery #688

Discovery Road 'Courage' (46% abv)
Dutch Single Malt Whisky
£72.70 available only from Master of Malt
This is another Dutch Whisky from Zuidam Distillers, and this 14 Year Old Single Malt has been matured in a first fill Oloroso sherry butt.

Dominic's notes: This is a big beastie of a sherried whisky, with liqueur-like berry flavours, dark chocolate, coffee liqueur, dates, dark cherry and Christmas spices.

So What Did We Think?
Kat Says: Nose:  Very fruity - pears and apples mainly, and with cereal notes that's similar to corn flakes. All reminding me of warm sunny days in early Autumn/harvest time. 

Taste:  Not as sweet as the nose made out to be. Firstly the corn flake flavour comes through, followed by a short moment of sweetness as if someone has just added a pinch of demerara sugar into my glass, then the bold spiciness of clove oil punches through, giving a velvety/lightly oiled texture. 

Finish:  Abundance of lemon and lime zest, with some bitterness to balance out the zest, and a candle wax flavour stayed to the end. Overall a lingering finish with a med-dry mouth feel. 

Conclusion:  Not a bad dram but for me I would like more of the fruity flavours to come through from the nose into the palate. After I had done my tasting notes, I was surprised to read that it was matured in Oloroso sherry casks for the last 4 years of it maturation, so it’s interesting that I didn’t get more fruit flavours through in the palate. 

Dave says: I really loved the nose of this Dutch single malt. Fabulous sherry notes like a well aged Oloroso; English walnuts, so fresh that the shells are still soft, ripe figs and Medjool dates. There is just a touch of that 'struck match' here but it quickly disappears once the glass is uncovered.

I'm one who loves a struck match note, being very fond of playing with matches as a kid (not very PC I know, but I grew up where we were allowed to play freely, including playing with fireworks on an almost daily basis, and no one was hurt!) There are great notes of dark cherry and chocolate reminding me of a 'Black Forest Gateaux' with perhaps a hint of blackberry and earthy bramble bracken. Returning to the glass after tasting I started finding a sweet aniseed-licorice note, you know the ones, the blue or pink Licorice Allsorts covered in the tiny balls.

The sherry influence dominates the palate too, but it would do, wouldn't it? It was a first fill cask so the wood would have been saturated with matured Oloroso. Although initially sweet, the tannins kick in and dry the mouth for a brief moment before returning to being sweet and chewy like a thick red wine, There's an aromatic tobacco quality in here for me with rich woody Christmas spices of cloves and cinnamon too. The Black Forest Gateaux returns on the palate with its rich dark chocolate and dark cherry which stay right through to the long finish along with the dry tannins and a little must wood. Very satisfying indeed!

Returning to the glass the following morning (covered overnight) and the chocolate notes have intensified but fade quickly leaving a musty damp wood note.

And finally
An impressive selection of whiskies for Dominic's first release of 'New World Whiskies' and I love the names selected. Which one did Dominic name first? did the 'Smile' come about while thinking up 'Dutch Courage' or the thought of the 'four lions' sitting, sipping English Whisky cask samples.

While Kat preferred the English single malt 'Four Lions' my favourite was definitely the sherry matured Dutch single malt 'Courage' although I really loved the Dutch rye whisky 'Smile', which was Kat's least favoured of the three, but that would probably be to not being as familiar to rye whisky.

All four are available from Master of Malt, although with the limited release I doubt they'll be there for too long.

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