Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Whisky Discovery #1143

GlenDronach 20 Year Old Abbey Whisky Exclusive 54.8% abv
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
£97.95 70cl only from Abbey Whisky
Following on from the resounding success of their GlenDronach single cask 33, Abbey Whisky decided it was high time that they released another exclusive. I think the very thought of tasting and re-tasting another series of cask samples in order to determine the right cask for this release was also one of the contributing factors...#justsaying

Cask No. 3400 was distilled in 1994 spending 20 years in a Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask before being bottled last year at 54.8% abv, just 672 bottles were released.

So What Did I Think?
As a regular Sherry drinker I was expecting BIG things from this whisky. Twenty years in a Pedro Ximenez cask will make some significant changes to the maturing spirit which is immediately apparent on pouring the deep mahogany coloured spirit.

I love nosing sherry and the rich Pedro Ximenez flavours I was expecting come across well; Blackcurrants, sweet and sticky. Blackberries, Black Forest Gateaux complete with the black cherries - It truly has a most decadent aromas that I could quite happily sit and nose all night. Adding water tames it a little, releasing some nuttier notes.

Tasting is punchy initially, with the high abv adding to the typical sherry monster tactics of smacking you in the chops. There's no subtleness here! A burnt toffee sweetness plays alongside natural liquorice root with just the hint of tar coming through. All the cliché 'dried fruits' are here, amplified and concentrated over ripe figs and sultanas. This takes water surprisingly well which for a sherry cask, allowing tropical spices like cloves to come through and a herbal element of fresh fennel too. The finish is very dry, oak tannins although just a touch sweeter with water. The empty glass the following morning yields lots of rich malty chocolate with just a hint of mint.
Whisky Discovery
Verdict: if you love your Sherry Monsters you will love this! Many thanks to Abbey Whisky for sharing this teaser for me to enjoy and tell you about. For further information I suggest you check out their web pages here as you won't be able to buy it anywhere else!

Sláinte! Dave

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Whisky Discovery #1162

Invergordon 1988 'Caribbean Crème' Wemyss Malts (46%)

Single Cask Single Grain Whisky
Circa £85.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
Wemyss Malts release a batch of single cask whiskies around three or four times a year. Last July they released their first single grain, a 1988 Invergordon 'Lemon Cheesecake'. I remember being blown away and it was a resounding sucess and all 220 bottles seemed to disappear in an instance. Then in September they released a second 1988 Invergordon, 'Vintage Strawberry Punnet'. 242 bottles were released this time and once again they were snapped up.

I was too slow for this third release too! Another single cask 1988 Invergordon, but only 171 bottles available this time, so almost as rare as the proverbial hens teeth!

Named 'Caribbean Crème' it won't take you long to release what my tasting notes will comprise of.

So What Did I Think?
Good grain Whisky needs just two things; Good wood, and time, plenty of time ordinarily. Fortunately the wood in the case of Caribbean Crème has given those wonderful coconut flavours that always excite me, and by maturing for at least 25 years, sufficient time has been given for the whisky to take on these flavours.

Bright gold in colour, the initial notes of acetone or nail varnish the coconut creme notes come out to lure you into a tropical paradise. It's been a long time since I was a boat builder but know the smell of nail varnish too well with a teenage daughter at home! I digress, remember the Bounty Bar and Fry's Chocolate Delight adverts? Well that's where this was taking me. 

Woody notes follow, but still within the tropical theme and the coconut dominates the pencil box, pencil shavings notes. I've lived abroad in tropical climes for a number of years and know well the aromas of worked coconut timber and this reminded me of those times.

The first sip opens dry and spicy, but this quickly evolves into the creamy coconut and vanilla notes I was expecting, and secretly longing for! Coconut Ice and waves of vanilla, and although there is a sweetness to this, a sourness of unripe fruit balances the taste profile. The wood notes come through, again initially as pencil shavings, which evolve to pine cones later, and finishing dry and spicy while maintaining a tropical hardwood note. Those tropical hardwood notes are the dominant notes in the empty glass the following morning along with just a hint of mint.

Verdict: Another excellent Invergordon cask from the Wemyss Vaults and when you compare this to other more recent single grain releases, exceptional value for money.

Many thanks to Wemyss Malts for providing me with this delicious teaser of their latest single grain release. For more details I suggest to pay their website a visit and certainly sign up for news of their next release.

Sláinte! Dave

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Chivas - The Art of Blending

Chivas Regal 12 and 18 Year Old, Whisky Discoveries 506 and 663 respectively
Recently the whisky fairy spread her wings to Bedfordshire. It was the first time we had seen a whisky event in Bedford advertised that hadn't been organised by Whisky Discovery, and for non-city folks who live in a whisky drought area, this was amazing news!

Rachel MacDonald
We were part of a 22 strong group of whisky lovers we have never met before, sat around a long table in the Library room of d’Pary’s Hotel, waiting for Rachel MacDonald, the recently recruited Chivas brand ambassador, to talk us through the Art of Blending. 

Dave wasn't supposed to be with me as he was due to be in London at an event launching a new release, but due to work commitments ended up in Wolverhampton that afternoon and wasn't able to get into London in time. Fortunately I had an extra ticket due to my friend pulling out last minute, so all worked out well in the end. Dave was still a little late home for this home town event and we were one of the last to arrive, however everyone was relaxed as all had been greeted with whisky sour cocktail featuring Chivas Regal 12 Year Old

d'Parys Hotel
If you ever find your way into Bedford, d’Pary’s Hotel is situated within a 5 – 10 minute walk from the town centre. The hotel is a wonderful Victorian building which was completely renovated to a very high standard last year. At present I would have to say it’s one of the most beautifully decorated placed in Bedford that has manage to perfectly combined class, sophistication with homely comforts. I'd certainly recommend a visit if you are in this neck of the woods. 

Here's a link to a video of the newly refurbished d’Pary’s Hotel from February last year.

Blending School
Whisky sours on arrival
Before we started, and while we were sipping our cocktails and introducing ourselves to each other, we were presented with a blending kit and 5 different whiskies which we were to use to make our blends. Four of the bottles were plainly labelled: Highland, Lowland, Islay, and Grain. Then there was the Strathisla 12 year old representing Speyside. Both Chivas and Strathisla are owned by Pernod Richard, with Strathisla being one of the whiskies that goes into the Chivas blend. I remember Rachel advising us that the Chivas blend consisted of circa 30 different whiskies and that Strathisla was the key Single Malt in the 12 Year Old Chivas and Longmorn in the 18 Year Old

Strathisla 12 Year Old
The Strathisla 12 Year Old - the heart of Chivas Regal 12 Year Old
On a side note, The Strathisla 12 Year Old (Whisky Discovery #840) is a great whisky in its own right and we'd recommend you try this whisky at the next opportunity you get. It’s gentle on the pocket too at circa £30 per 70cl bottle. I took some notes this time and wrote: Smooth creamy honey and caramel notes which reminded me of the Werther's Originals sweets.

The Lesson Begins
Whilst we were told that all of the whiskies were 12 Years Old, we weren't told any of the distillery names of the malts we were using although started guessing them amongst ourselves. There aren't too many Lowland whiskies available these days, so it was either Auchentoshan or Glenkinchie, our money was on the former but no one was paying out. In our minds the Islay was a choice of three, Laphroaig, Caol Ila or a peated Bunnahabhain and our money was on the Caol Ila, but again Rachel was saying nothing and refused to play our game!
Nothing given away on these labels (spot the deliberate mistake!)
We were then given instructions on the recommended quantities of each whisky that should go into our blend, and the hard task of tasting each whisky before we started blending them. I must admit I was free styling, the only thing I remember Rachel saying was it required at least 50% of grain whisky. My aim was something smooth, vanilla/honey notes, full bodied and spicy so my logic was to go heavier on the Highland and Strathisla. My blend consisted of the following (loosely measured) which needed to total 250ml which was a very generous sample to take home.
  • 50 ml Grain whisky
  • 75 ml Speyside (Strathisla)
  • 45 ml Lowland Whisky
  • 75 ml Highland Whisky
  • 5 ml Islay Whisky
I named it 'Spice Delight' and it came out similar to what I had hoped for but am currently waiting for the blend to mature, letting everything, well blend together! 
My blending laboratory at d'Parys. I can do science me!
Dave, having been on a few of these blending classes over the years had decided his percentages before even committing whisky to the blending beaker. He's an engineer by trade an all his numbers have got to a). add up to the right answer exactly. and b). be easily achievable with the equipment to hand! He created his recipe and then measured out his blend, precisely, only stopping to sip once it had all been assembled. To be fair Rachel did come along after the prizes had been awarded and said that it really was quite good, but I bet she says that to all the guys! 
  • 120 ml Grain Whisky
  • 60 ml Speyside (Strathisla)
  • 30 ml Lowland
  • 30 ml Highland
  • 10 ml Islay
Rachel tasted the blends that met the strict criteria of the percentage ranges for each of the whiskies in the blend, all five needed to be used in the creation and not all followed this instruction. Sadly my blend did not meet these requirements because frankly I don’t always follow orders! On the other hand, Dave being Dave, had read the instructions to the letter but either didn't meet all the criteria or sat down out of the taste judging. He'd also simply labelled his bottled 'Dave'.
Meet 'Dave' or should it have been 'Dave's not here man!'
There were two prizes awarded on the evening, a bottle of the Chivas 18 Year Old for the best tasting blend and a bottle of Chivas 12 Year Old for the best named blend, both judged by Rachel . There were some great names created, but the winning blend name went to 'The Dram Buster'. The evening was finished by everyone getting to sample the Chivas 12 and 18 Year Old blend, with the room split roughly 50/50 on which one they preferred. 
The winning name 'The Dram Busters' walked away with a bottle of 12 Year Old Chivas
It was a cracking evening so if you see one advertised in your town secure your place! Rachel was a fabulous host and managed to keep everyone engaged throughout the evening. We'll be revealing our blends at the next Bedford Whisky Club night which is on Thursday 5th February, for everyone to judge. (Check out the 'Meetup Page' here). We're going head to head, winner takes all! I'm prepared for a Marmite moment.

More photos can be found on our Facebook page here: Chivas Blending School

Sláinte! Kat

Black Bottle Whisky

Whisky DIscovery
I first came across Black Bottle when reading Ian Buxton's book '101 whiskies to try before you die' and decided to look out for a bottle of it for the shelf. I eventually found it when one of my local supermarkets started stocking it occasionally. Not long after I bought it there was a complete re-branding from owners Burn Stewart Distillers

I thought it would be interesting to taste the two blends alongside each other and looked to see if I could get a sample of it. Somerset Whisky blogger Steve Prentice came to my rescue and during the internet chatter I also managed to secure a sample, from self confessed Bowmore addict Gavin Thomson, of the long discontinued 10 Year Old blend which was also mentioned, and praised in Ian Buxton's book. But before my notes let me educate you with a brief history.

A brief History 
Black Bottle's history starts in 1879 when Aberdonian tea blenders Gordon Graham and Co. decided to try their hand at blending whisky. At the time Aberdeen was a thriving port and tea from Sri Lanka (Ceylon back then) and China were prized commodities. Three bothers, Gordon, David and Charles Graham had established themselves as tea importers and blenders in the heart of Aberdeen's commercial quarters, and tea was still their staple business until 1881 when they decided to concentrate their efforts solely on whisky blending, moving to new offices and building two bonded warehouses. The eldest brother, and original blender of the whisky, Gordon passed away in 1889 and control of the company was passed onto David.
Whisky Discovery
George Graham & Co's first bonded warehouse in Regent Street in Aberdeen
The whisky was originally named after the German made black bottle in which the whisky was sold, but on the outbreak of The Great War in 1914 this obviously had to change, and a green bottle was used. David Graham died in 1919 and the business was left to the youngest brother, Charles Innes Graham, the salesman who had become known as 'The Whiskyman' from his time travelling from town to town-supplying Black Bottle from his car. 

Charles Innes died in 1926, and the profitable business was left to wife Ann Jane Graham who assumed control. Because there was no natural male heir to the business Ann persuaded her nephew Graham Horne to change his name by deed pole to Graham Charles Innis Graham following the death of his mother. 

By the mid 20th century, the Black Bottle brand was becoming highly lucrative, but in 1951 disaster struck when the Market Street offices were completely destroyed by fire and the original recipes, company records and historical paper work were lost. The company remained in family hands until 1959 but after a couple of different owners, the brand was acquired by Highland Distillers in 1995 who started a program of investment, introducing modern Islay malts into the blend, launching three expressions that stated clearly it was a blend made up of a proportion of malt whisky from every distillery on Islay.
  • The Original Blend NAS (no age statement) whiskies contained in this expression were thought to be at least seven years old.
  • Black Bottle 10 Year Old, launched in 1998, the glass bottle was wrapped with black plastic. (discontinued in 2010)
  • Black Bottle 15 Year Old, again the glass bottle was wrapped with black plastic, long discontinued
With the two exclusive expressions discontinued only the 'Original Blend' remained.
Whisky Discovery
In September 2013, current owners Burn Stewart relaunched the brand returning to its original 1879 roots, including the black glass that gave the blend its name and channelling the vintage bottle trend. With less of a focus on malts from Islay, and to be reminiscent of its 1879 recipe having floral and oak aromas and a fruit, smoke, honey and nutmeg flavour.

Burn Stewart master distiller Ian MacMillan stated “The challenge was to develop a liquid that was more in line with the original character of Black Bottle while maintaining all of the quality for which the brand is renowned. I wanted to reintroduce a richness to balance the smokiness of the blend and in turn allow each component to contribute to the overall flavour.”

MacMillan added that the expression moves away from the peatiness of Islay, which became a more prominent note in Black Bottle recipes over the years, and instead channels more Speyside flavours. He noted that “Black Bottle lost itself in Islay” and said the distillery realised there was a need for the Scotch to “return its North East roots.” The expression is stored in a bottle inspired by the long-lost Graham’s Brothers black glass bottle dating back to 1906.

Whisky Discovery #634

Black Bottle 'Original Blend' 2012 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
No longer available
Whisky Discovery
The 'Original Blend' was around until the end of 2013
This is the bottle I bought and the one listed in Ian Buxton's book. The bottle is of green glass and of the traditional lantern type pot still type neck. I saw this going for as little as £11 a bottle in Tesco one Christmas but could easily be picked up for around £15-18 a bottle even after the launch of the new release. I suspect it's all gone now though. The 'blurb' on the back of the box states that it's a blend of Islay single malts blended with Highland, Lowland and Speyside malts and grain whisky.

So What Did I Think?
Colour: Bright golden, I suspect naturally coloured as looks quite light and I haven't been able to find any small print in German on either the packaging or the bottle
Nose: I must admit I was expecting a great deal more peat from this when I first opened it, boldly stating that . It is there to be discovered, but the soft grains seem to dominate the flavours. Later I was finding sappy wood notes alongside a maritime air and a pinch of salt
Taste: Soft woody notes, pencil shavings, alongside some tinned fruit although the flavours are dulled slightly by a syrup sweetness as opposed to fresh. It's quite thin on the palate, but easy drinking. Wood spice comes though as it drys the mouth and a little sweet scented smoke comes through at the end, finishing dry. The following morning the peat rally shows its hand leaving an earthiness in the glass.

Whisky Discovery #983

Black Bottle 2013 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
circa £20.00 70 cl
Whisky Discovery
The new Black Bottle Blended Scotch Whisky launched September 2013
This is the recently re- launched Black Bottle and the new look really does come across well. I like the style and black coloured glass, although not handy if you're monitoring levels. If this is your tipple I'd recommend a kan-ban stocking system so you always have one in the cupboard when it unexpectedly runs out!

So What Did I Think?
Colour: This seems to be orange like when compared to the other two, suggesting that colouring has been used
Nose: This immediately came across as very sweet on the nose, brown sugar, caramel, toffee. There's something more savoury under but it seems to being masked by the sweetness. Later peppery notes develop not too dissimilar to Tequila. Eventually some faint wisps of sweet smoke can be teased out from it.
Taste: Although initially feeling quite creamy it seems to turn thin quickly. With the exceedingly sweet nose I was expecting this same sweetness on the palate which it delivers albeit with a peppery zing appearing towards the end and turning dry with a pithy bitterness. The peat showed itself in the empty glass the following morning with it's earthiness alongside hints of chocolate.

Whisky Discovery #984

Black Bottle 10 Year Old 40% abv
Blended Scotch Whisky
No longer available
Whisky Discovery
The bottle on the 10 Year Old expression was wrapped in black plastic
I'm really pleased that I managed to get a hold of a sample of this to taste. I've not seen either the 10 year of or 15 Year Old come up on the auction sites very often, but then why would you? It was a reasonably price blended Scotch that was meant to be drunk. The packaging states that the heart of this blend is made entirely from Islay malts from each of the island's seven distilleries blended together with grain whiskies.

So What Did I Think?
Colour: Dark golden, but having seen the packaging up close know that this is coloured
Nose: Rich and woody with some dark fruits; black cherry and dark skinned plums, all slightly over ripe. It's not as 'Islay' as I was expecting, but there is a gentle peat smoke note, like that of a dying embers, that just manages to make it's way through the hardwood and fruit. 
Taste: It's rich and woody on the palate and the fruit comes across well too, nicely balanced. The smoke comes through as wood smoke rather than peat, and the finish a good length and a nice balance of the three main flavours, fruit, wood and smoke.. The empty glass the following morning yields rich chocolate notes over a peaty earthiness.

Well the 10 Year Old wins hands down for me, no question about it, however how close any of these expressions are to the original Black Bottle is anyone's guess! All the records and original recipes were lost in the fire in 1951.

What has been done with the new blend should appeal to new whisky drinkers, certainly the updated packaging looks so much more modern, although in a 'retro' style, to the original blend that I'm still drinking. Taste wise I'm not sure which appeals to me more now. At the time of tasting all three alongside each other I was swayed by the latest reincarnation although my notes went on about a sweetness I don't usually enjoy. Recently I've been enjoying sipping my old style Black Bottle, so will probably pick up one of the newer ones to retry alongside each other before I reach the end of this one!

Many thanks to @steveprentice and @LoveBowmore for the samples for this post

Sláinte! Dave

Whisky Discovery