Thursday, 21 August 2014

Book Review: MacLean's Miscellany of Whisky

A few months ago I tweeted a request for recommended books to read. This one wasn't on anyone's list but in my search for the books that were mentioned it kept popping up and so when I found it on Ebay for a song (less than a pint of Guinness, delivered) it certainly seemed worth the punt.

This is not a new book by any means and it may even be out of print. My copy says it was first published in 2004, long before I started my whisky journey. However, I really wish someone had told me about this book earlier.

Here is my review of MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky, by Charles MacLean. 

I had of course heard of Charles MacLean when I bought this book, by then I was well into my third year of the journey when I picked it up. I knew that he was involved with Wemyss Malts, and also was enjoying the status of movie star following the release of the excellent film by Ken Loach 'Angels Share'. Then while I was about halfway through the book I got the opportunity to meet Charles at a press launch in London just before The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show last October.

I've really enjoyed reading this book, my only gripe being the size, as it is comparable to an A6 notebook but twice the thickness. It made it a little unyielding for my fat fingers! I'm not going to moan about the poetry in the book because I never 'got' it when I was a lad. I still don't care for it much now. I know to some of you that might seem blasphemous and while I would never ridicule a poet, it’s just not my thing. I did at least try to read the excerpts from Robert Burns, honest, but don't let this put you off reading this book as there are loads in it that will both educate and entertain especially if you are a newbie in the world of Whisky like me.

As Charles states in his introduction, a miscellany is defined as “a mixture of writings on different subjects, or by different authors.” This is neither, but it is a mixture of topics broadly related to the subject of Scotch Whisky intertwined with some of his favourite quotations about the same subject.
In this book, he has poured a lifetime's love and knowledge of Scotch whisky giving the reader a sound foundation in what is needed to know and appreciate about Scotland's most generous gift to the world and arguably the world's finest spirit.

Twenty chapters takes you through a short history about Whisky. Starting with its definition and origin of what we know whisky to be today as well as a quick look at the the other major whisky makers (at the time of writing) Ireland, America, Canada and Japan.

If you ever wanted to find out about 'proof' it’s all explained in this book (if you were born after 1980 you may be wondering what I'm talking about). The entire process is explained from water to barley varieties, albeit that time again has moved on and current strains will certainly be different since the original publication date, but the history is there. If you are just starting your whisky journey this is a great little book that answers so many questions. The chapters are wide ranging but are easily digested. The reader can pick up, delve into at any point and there is no need to read it in chronological order.

As I mentioned earlier I've really enjoyed reading this and I'm glad it is part of my whisky shelf. I will continue to pick it up to re-read chapters from time to time, and will even have another bash at trying to enjoy the poetry!

If it's not in your Whisky Library now, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy quickly!

Sláinte! Dave.
A word of thanks also to @whiskylassie for proofreading this post and correcting a few things for me.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Midlands Whisky Festival V

One of our favourite Whisky shows run by independent Wine Merchants Nickolls & Perks takes place in Stourbridge Town Hall in September and The next Midlands Whisky Festival is on Saturday 27th September 2014

Originally planned as an annual show held on the last Saturday in September, an additional show was added in April 2013 due to demand. Dave has been to every Midlands Whisky Festival apart from the very first, which took place during the very first year of his Whisky Discovery journey and before he'd even realised such Whisky show existed! You can see our previous Show reports here:

Midlands Whisky V
Whilst Kat hasn't always managed to make it to the Midlands Whisky Festival with Dave, she was able to accompany him on their most recent trip at the end of March. It is a bit of a trek from Bedford involving two taxi rides, eight trains and two short walks for the return journey, but certainly possible to do within a day trip even if a little exhausting!

The show has evolved bigger and better each year, and it got off to a great start. Recent improvements to the Town Hall over the winter months since the September 2013 Show meant finding the new entrance to the town hall, which now encompasses the new shopping centre and library, and is completely covered meaning if the weather is a little unsettled, queuing to get in under cover is another added bonus. Fortunately the weather on this Saturday in March was glorious

Whilst the show ordinarily opens at midday for ticket holders the are a limited number of VIP tickets which allow access from 1045 which not only gives you an extra 'Dream Dram' token, but more importantly to serious whisky fan, unrivalled access to the Brand Ambassadors and shop for a full hour and a quarter, in a relaxed unhurried atmosphere whilst canapés are served. This year in addition to the VIP ticket, a 'Devotee' ticket was available which not only gave all the VIP advantages but a sample of every Dream Dram to take home too! Both VIP and Devotee ticket holders are also treated to an exclusive Masterclass which starts at midday when the show doors open to the remaining ticket holders

Our first stop in Stourbridge was to go straight to the Nickolls and Perks Shop as it's always worth a browse when you're up that way, and because we had a very early start we had a good forty five minutes to peruse the shelves to see what might tempt us. We also bumped into a few of the #whiskyfabric from Twitter, some we'd met before like good friends Jon and Mike from Living Room Whisky, but also great to meet new faces @MikeJack1976 and @NickDaBird

Having spent the previous weekend at London's Whisky Live, it was impressive to note the number of exhibitors at the Midlands Whisky Festival V, with an additional room opened upstairs. Notable absentees from Whisky Live London were definitely in attendance at The Midlands Whisky Festival; Talisker, Highland Park, Jameson, Glenfiddich, Laphroaig, Glenmorangie, The Glenlivet, Arberlour Bowmore and Jura to name just a few!
An impressive Exhibitor List
With our VIP tickets in hand we headed for the new entrance for the 1045 start and made our way upstairs to say hello to the man who holds the key to all of the Masterclasses, @Ardbaggie, half Ardbeg and half West Bromwich Albion FC, it is @Ardbaggie who determines if you may enter the Masterclass room! With pleasantries exchanged we headed off to the new upstairs room and spotted Colin Dunn of Diageo who had a couple of great Dream Drams on offer.

I've found it's always best to study the Dream Dram list as soon as you can, and then make sure these are the first drams you try, or certainly very early on in the show. Leave it too late and your plate will probably be well past its best to take any real notice of what you've just enjoyed, or worse still the Dream Dram is nothing but an empty bottle.

We started with the Johnnie Walker King George V release, one that eluded me at the last Midlands Whisky Festival (did not heed the advice I'd just written above) which was followed by a Brora 35 Year Old - both of these whiskies needed time to sit down to ponder over, and fortunately there were indeed leather armchairs in this hall to do just that. Colin also had a couple of 'extras' under that table and I followed those two Dream Drams with a drop of the Talisker 1985 vintage which was just wonderful.
Our second Dream Dram of the day - just fabulous!
Scott Laing from Hunter Laing whiskies was our next port of call where we stopped for a quick catch up having last met at The Whisky Exchange Show back in October 2013. I went for a single grain and chose the 36 Year Old Strathclyde from their Sovereign release.

The first Masterclass was for the VIP ticket holders and was hosted by Duncan Ralph of Duncan Taylor Whiskies and we were treated to a five dram line up, starting with their Black Bull 12 Year Old Blended Scotch, a 50/50 malt to grain ratio bottled at 50% abv. It was a new Whisky Discovery for Kat but Dave had tried this before at a blind Whisky tasting. You can read what he thought about that here. We then went on to taste four of the Duncan Taylor single cask releases, three from their 'Dimensions Series' Dailuaine, Glen Grant and Bruichladdich and an 18 Year Old Mortlach from their Octave Series. Our favourite from the five was the Glen Grant 18 Year Old.
The exclusive Duncan Taylor Single Cask Masterclass
After the Masterclass I rushed back to see Colin Dunn to see if he had any more of the Talisker 1985, firstly because Kat didn't manage to try this and secondly a good friend had replied to my tweet posted and was desperate to try this! I was just too late, it had all gone, but Colin did have a drop of the Oban 21 to pour me in consolation!

We also bumped into Kirsty and Stewart from @Whiskycorner who had travelled all the way from Edinburgh to visit this show and must have been the furthest travelled guest that day! We'd met Kirsty and Stewart at the previous weekend'd Whisky Live London for the first time.

We headed downstairs after the class and caught up with Lukasz Dynowiak from The Edinburgh Whisky Blog who was busy talking all things Balbalir, Old Pulteney and anCnoc we quenched our malt thirst with a drop of the magnificent anCnoc 22 Year Old. We also bumped into another new face with a first meeting of @MyWhiskyGuide

Dave headed off to the Douglas Laing stand afterwards hoping to find the Clan Denny Port Dundas he found at the last Midlands Whisky Show. Unfortunately there was no Port Dundas on hand, but he did stop to sample another old single grain by way of a 21 Year Old Cameronbridge from 1990

We also caught up with Phil Huckle at the Pernod Ricard stand where there was a line up from Aberlour and The Glenlivet on offer before heading off to find some lunch. It was during our chatting and lunching that we missed one of the Masterclasses that we really wanted to attend, The Miss Whisky's Chocolate and Whisky one. It was a full house and by all accounts was a great session too. while we have known Alwynne from almost the very start of our journey, well certainly since we were allowed out in public, Dave has never seen her in action. (and I'll have no smutty remarks here please!)

We did make it to Lukasz's Balblair Masterclass though. Four Balblair vintages were in the line up alongside two Old Pulteney releases. although there were no new Whisky Discoveries to be had, it's always interesting to watch friends hosting a Masterclass as we're always looking to learn.
The Balblair/Old Pulteney Masterclass Line up
We started with the recent 2003 Vintage, one that featured in our Whisky Tasting we held in March, before moving onto the 1997, 1990 and 1983 Vintages, the latter of the two being new Whisky Discoveries at the previous weekends Whisky Live London Show. We then moved onto the Old Pulteney 21 Year Old finishing off with their fabulous 1990 Vintage.

Time was once again moving faster than we were anticipating and with last pours at 1630 looming we rushed off to speak to people we'd missed previously and stopped off to say our farewells to Scott Laing while sipping their delightful 26 Year Old Glenturret. Dave had tasted this previously, but wanted Kat to experience it. Then as last pours were announced managed to squeeze in a good measure of Glengoyne 21 Year Old to wrap up the show and say our goodbyes.

And so another great Whisky Show was over and it was time to make our way home, however the journey home was brightened up with the company of The Miss Whisky who coincidentally was not only booked on the same train as us from Birmingham, but also in the same carriage - how spooky was that! We stopped of in the City Centre to grab some dinner before heading to the station and arrived safely home after around 14 hours from when we left that morning!

The next Midlands Whisky Festival is on Saturday 27th September and tickets are selling fast! You can find out more information here: Midland Whisky Festival September 2014 

We met a great number of people at the show and they're all definitely worth following if your on Twitter: @Ardbaggie @Nickolls_Perks @Midlandswhisky @LRWhisky @themisswhisky @NickDaBird @MikeJack1976 @Whiskycorner @KirstyClarke29 @ StewartCraigon @MyWhiskyGuide @ChrisWebb1984 @Double_Clicks @PTwhiskypenguin

If we met and I've missed you off of this list please let me know and I'll update it!
Kat and me with @Double_Clicks and @ChrisWebb1984 #Whiskyfabric
For more photos check out our Facebook page!

The full dram list as follows:
Whisky Discovery #754 Johnnie Walker King George V
Whisky Discovery #755 Brora 35 Year Old (2013 Release)
Whisky Discovery #756 Talsiker 1985
Whisky Discovery #757 Strathclyde 1977 a Hunter Laing 'Sovereign' release 36 Year Old

Duncan Taylor Masterclass with Duncan Ralph
Whisky Discovery #227 Black Bull 12 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky
Whisky Discovery #758 Dailuaine 1998 15 Year Old Dimensions Series
Whisky Discovery #759 Glen Grant 18 Year Old Dimensions Series
Whisky Discovery #760 Motlach 18 Year Old Dimensions Series
Whisky Discovery #761 Bruichladdich 20 Year Old Octave Series

back into the show
Whisky Discovery #762 Oban 21 Year Old
Whisky Discovery #383 AnCnoc 22 Year Old
Whisky Discovery #762 Cameronbridge 1990 a Douglas Laing 'Clan Denny' release 21 Year Old

Balbalir Masterclass with Lukasz Dynowiak
Whisky Discovery #747 Balblair 2003 Vintage
Whisky Discovery #272 Blablair 1997 Vintage
Whisky Discovery #748 Balblair 1990 Vintage
Whisky Discovery #751 Balblair 1983 Vintage
Whisky Discovery #58 Old Pulteny 21 Year Old
Whisky Discovery #638 Old Pulteney 1990 Vintage

back into the show
Whisky Discovery #690 Glenturret 26 Year Old from Hunter Laing
Whisky Discovery #388 Glengoyne 21 Year Old

Sunday, 17 August 2014

My Passion for Sherry

Forgive me brethren (whiskyfabric), it has been over three months since I last blogged......

Three months!!!? Where the hell have I been?

To be honest I really don't know where the time has gone, but I had 'lost my mojo' at the beginning of my absence, in terms of writing, and once I'd stopped, it has been incredibly difficult to recover the pace I was once setting. I guess I was burning the candle from both ends and something eventually had to give, Unfortunately it was the writing that has suffered. Then, just when I start to get my mojo back, my computer starts playing up. If you follow me on Twitter you'll already be aware of the hopeless internet connection I suffer, but losing the ability to blog was something I wasn't prepared for!

So how do I get this blog back on track? Well for now, I'm using a program that I can pick up anywhere to write to, but using my phone or old ipad mostly, and then I'll copy and past when I can access a computer to post the piece until I can get a new computer installed.

But for the subject of this post, I thought I'd tell you about my recent hunger for Sherry. This has only come about through my passion for Whisky. As part of my continuous professional development (CPD in CV speak) I wanted to investigate sherry to experience the flavours that's imparted to sherry cask matured Whisky. 
There are some very attractive sherry bottle labels around
I knew nothing about sherry and really didn't know where to start. My experience of sherry would probably be similar to most, a bottle would come out at Christmas time, and my Mother and Grandmother would have an occasional glass of Harvey's Bristol Cream over the holiday period and then it would disappear back into the cupboard for another year. My curiosity never went any further than acknowledging this ritual, although I'm fairly certain that I would have tried this when I was much younger.

We used to eat out at an Italian restaurant on a Saturday evening when I was working in the Far East. At the end of the meal the owner would bring out a chilled sweet Thai sherry alongside some almond biscotti, it was always a nice end to the evening.

So after remembering my sherry history it was back to my new quest. It seemed that many whiskies were stating that they had been matured or finished in Oloroso casks so that's where I thought would be a good place to start, and bought a bottle of it, while I searched the Internet for further information about Sherry.
I've always wanted to have a go with a venencia and recently got the opportunity - one is on my shopping list!
So what is Sherry?

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes, Palimono grapes mostly (and yes I've started reading up grape varieties too) grown in Andalusa. It's also an Anglicized name of the town Jerez (Xeres) where sherry is protected, just like Scotch Whisky is.

Spanish producers have registered the names Jerez / Xérès / Sherry and will prosecute producers of similar fortified wines from other places using the same name. 

From my first bottle of Oloroso I went onto to buy a bottle of Fino (as I once was lucky to taste a fabulous Bowmore 1964 Fino cask) and then Manzanilla and Amontillado was on my shopping list as I declared Sundays to be reserved for Sherry, well at least until the evening when I would be looking to return to a glass of whisky!

I learned quickly that sherry is not as sweet as I was expecting, apart from a few types of Sherry and of course the sweetened or Cream Sherries that my Grandmother would have enjoyed. No, most sherries are quite dry, despite having glorious sweet noses. I also learned that Sherry was meant to be drunk alongside food, hence the Spanish Tapas bars

Sherry doesn't really keep well once opened either so it's best to buy smaller bottles if you're drinking on your own, don't rush out and but a flagon of dry sherry unless you're entertaining a large group of friends! My earliest sherry purchases came from the Wine Society. If you enjoy a glass of wine and you're not a member, you really need to ask yourself why! If you live within striking distance of Stevenage where their members shop and tasting room is located then you really need your head examining if you're not considering membership! It's one of my favourite places to visit on a Saturday morning. There are always a selection of new wines and sherries to taste, a huge selection of wines and knowledgeable staff to guide you. They also have a good range of sherries!

I also started picking up bottles in our local supermarkets, both Tesco and Marks and Spencer stock smaller bottles which are perfect for a couple of weekends enjoyment. Unlike whisky they don't keep well once opened, so I tend to only open one at a time and don't open another until I've finished the last.

Some of my picks so far

Fino: Crisp, dry, yeasty, nutty and tangy, fino is the freshest and most delicate of sherry styles, an bottled at around 15% abv. Fino is aged in barrels and protected from oxygen during its development by the flor or film of yeast. Fino, like most sherries is a versatile food companion, and like a white wine, should be drunk chilled.
Sherry Reviews
I've tried a few Fino's and have had a couple of bottles of The Society's as well as one from Tesco's Finest Range however the Sanchez Romate has been my favourite so far
Manzanilla: This is an especially light variety of a Fino Sherry made in the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda rather than in the cities of Jerez or Puerto de Santa Maria and because the more humid environment in the bodegas here encourages a thicker flor layer, these wines are typically lighter and even fresher than fino, often with a distinctive salty tang 

Like Fino it needs to be served chilled and drunk fresh so always buy from a shop or online retailer that has a good turnover of bottles There's also an extended aged version or has been partially oxidised, called Manzanilla Pasado that has a richer, nuttier flavour
Sherry Reviews
The Manzanilla Pasada from M&S was lovely but my latest find from La Guita has been very nice
For food pairings with Fino and Manzanilla I recommend taking a look at Fiona Beckett's 'Matching food and Wine' site here:

Amontillado is a variety of Sherry that is first aged under flor but which is then exposed to oxygen, producing a sherry that is darker than a Fino but lighter than an Oloroso. Naturally dry, they are sometimes sold lightly to medium sweetened but these can no longer be labelled as Amontillado. Amontillado is an amber-coloured sherry that is nutty and complex, with a long finish. It is fortified to around 17.5 ° alcohol to protect it during its development, and because it has been aged oxidatively does tend to last for longer once opened. I've kept smaller bottles at room temperature, but have chilled the litre bottles from The Wine Society. I love the nutty flavours of an Amontillado so keen to explore others.
Sherry Reviews
Again bottles from The Wine Society and Tesco's Finest Range have been sampled and enjoyed
Palo Cortado is a variety of Sherry that is initially aged like an Amontillado, typically for three or four years, but which subsequently develops a character closer to an Oloroso. This either happens by accident when the flor dies, or commonly the flor is killed by fortification or filtration.

The label on the back of this bottle from Cayetano Del Pino states: This is an excellent example of the rare Palo Cortado style. It is an elegant wine with an intense nutty aroma and an attractive roundness on the palate, an impressive length of flavour from long ageing in butts.
Sherry Reviews
This Palo Cortado has been one of my favourites so far and I've had a number of bottles and keep one in hand, just in case!
For food pairings for Amontillado and Palo Cortado I recommend taking a look at Fiona Beckett's 'Matching food and Wine' site again here: 

Oloroso ('scented' in Spanish) is a variety of Sherry aged oxidatively for a longer time than a Fino or Amontillado, producing a darker and richer wine. With alcohol levels between 18 and 20% abv Olorosos are the most alcoholic Sherries. Like Amontillado, naturally dry, they are often also sold in sweetened versions called Cream Sherry. As with Amontillado "Sweet Oloroso", "Rich Oloroso" and "Oloroso Dulce" are prohibited terms now.

My first bottle came from The Wine Society and it was a bottle of their Viejo Oloroso Dulce, a term no longer appropriate and no longer available! I've also bought a bottle or two of Tesco Finest range (for a while they were selling these at under £5 a bottle) and more recently one from Marks and Spencer. I love the rich nutty flavours and can see how some of these traits pass through to Oloroso cask matured whisky.
Sherry Reviews
I love the rich nose from an Oloroso and will be popping back to M&S for another of this one
Matusalem is made by enrichment of a dry Oloroso sherry with 25% Pedro Ximenez, followed by additional ageing in its own solera, and is produced in very small quantities compared to the other sherries. This is so rich and opulent in feel but not quite as sweet as the nose would suggest. I bought this Matusalem because I remembered Dalmore have used Matusalem casks to mature their whiskies, notably The Dalmore Cigar Malt, King Alexander etc. It was also going for a song in Costco one Christmas, less than £15 for a thirty year old sherry seemed like the bargain of the season. It was only a small bottle but so incredibly complex, both nose and palate are awash with notes of a walnut syrup (if there is such a thing) dates, raisins, figs, candied orange peel and pudding spices. I've just bought a another bottle.
Sherry Reviews
Just purchased another bottle of this recently - decadent!
Pedro Ximenez or PX is made from air-dried Pedro Ximenez grapes, with fermentation stopped early by the addition of spirit. I first thought this would be too sweet for me, but bought a bottle from Marks and Spencer that seemed to be calling my name. It is deliciously sweet and for me, full of blackcurrants and prune syrup! I enjoy it as it is or chilled and have even poured a glass over my fried banana and ice cream dessert. Currently we have a bottle of English Whisky's PX open
Sherry Reviews
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised with PX and will be buying more of this!
Cream sherries are more commercial products that have been sweetened by the addition of Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez, they are quite different to the 'single malt' sherries but are still worth investigating, especially if you have a sweet tooth!

What's next for me? Well a trip to Jerez is definitely something I'm dying to do and must be in my plans for 2015. I also want to get myself a Venencia so I can hone my sherry pouring skills  at home. I will of course continue to pick up bottles of sherry on my shopping trips, always looking for something new. If you have any suggestions for me, please don't hesitate to let me know!

So what are you waiting for? As a whisky drinker you have a moral duty to drink sherry!