Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Whisky Discovery #1147

Douglas Laing's 'Rock Oyster' NAS 46.8% abv
Blended (or 'vatted') Malt
Circa £38.00 70cl

Joining Douglas Laing's family of 'vatted' malts at the beginning of 2015, Rock Oyster pays homage the sea, created using the finest maritime Malts including those distilled on the Islands of Jura, Islay, Arran and Orkney. 

Sitting alongside their other core regionally themed vatted malts – Big Peat from Islay, Scallywag from Speyside and Timorous Beastie from the Highlands - Rock Oyster is a small batch bottling at 46.8% abv without colouring or chill-filtration. As typical with this range, much attention has been spent creating the packaging which features a bespoke illustration of both an oyster, and a nautical scene, while telling it's story.

Managing Director Fred Laing say: “Rock Oyster showcases the archetypal Island character of gentle peat-smoke, vanilla’d honey and salt. If I could select just one dram to transport the Whisky enthusiast to the Islands of Scotland, it would be this one. 

So What Did We Think?
Following on from the recent additions of Scallywag and Timorous Beastie, Rock Oyster certainly looks the part in it's bespoke packaging, and a line up of all four would look great on the shelf! We've taken our bottle down to the Bedford Whisky Club and it has been very well received there, and we've only seen positive reviews for this on social media. 

Kat says: I was instantly transported to rock pools on the beach, and weekends visiting my Grandparents down at Portsmouth and Southampton docks. It just smells of pure brisk sea air, sun, salty sea spray, seaweed, damp ropes, and wet oak docks. Left for about 5 minutes in the glass, the sweeter notes makes its way through – for me fresh conference pears and seared scallops, along with a dry dusty soot notes. 

Fresh ginger cuts its way through, balancing the sea notes and sweetness, lifting the dram. Tasting begins with soft honey sweetness, followed by a touch of oak note, leading gently into a delicate soft peat note that’s more of cold soot or cold smoke. There are two spices that really come through here, black cardamoms and star anise. There is definitely an earthier note on the palate than the nose, and the iodine/seaweed note doesn’t come through here for me. The finish is long and lingering – earthy, dry soot and spices.

Dave Says: We both wrote our notes completely separately but upon receiving Kat's notes to write this post feel she'd covered all of mine too! My notebook is full of one word descriptors that Kat has tied together nicely with memories. 

I find this soft, sweet, with smoke, salt and ripe grain. I also found hints of aniseed and Bassets 'liquorice allsorts'. Returning to it again recently it's fresh and lively definitely bringing memories of beach walks and salty rock pools. On the palate it comes across as young and feisty, but a little richer than expected. The salty sea breeze leads, but there's a spicy black pepper note too. The peat smoke follows, but it's gentle rather than 'in your face' leaving charcoal notes and hints of vanilla and sweet green grapes, before finishing peppery and a little drying leaving that maritime saltiness, with the empty glass the following morning yielding sweet toffee and charcoal.
Verdict: A very balanced dram, we loved that the peat notes are not over powering but still noticeable, giving the dram a delicate smokiness and still let the sweetness shine. Kat was surprised to find this dram was light and delicate, as she was expecting this to be heavier. A fantastic dram and certainly fitting in the 'bang for your buck' category. We can’t recommend this enough for anyone who prefers their peat on the lighter side and with some soft sweetness, and those who like a long finish.

Slàinte! Dave and Kat

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Whisky Discovery #1277

SMWS 3.243 'Dark, Smouldering Flamenco Gypsy' 57.1% abv
Single Cask Single Islay Malt
Price £80.00 (members price)
I haven't made my pilgrimage to Islay yet, it's something I really must get round to soon. It was an Islay malt that started me off on this path I decided to travel along, but I don't think it's going to happen this year unfortunately.

Every year, in the last week of May The Islay festival of Feis Ile is held. It's origins date back to 1984 when the first Gaelic Drama Festival took place, In the early days it was more of a traditional music festival and it wasn't until 1990 that the first ever whisky tasting took place. The islands distilleries started getting more involved in 2000 and introduced their special Open Days and ultimately their Special Feis Ile releases.

The Feis Ile is the charitable organisation from which this now huge Festival of Music & Malt has evolved. The Island population triples during the week of the Festival which means it's no longer something you can simply turn up to, forward planning is essential nowadays with many making their plans a year in advance.

This years Feis Ile runs from Friday 22nd May until Saturday 30th May and if you're thinking about making plans for 2016 the dates are Friday 20th - Saturday 28th May. You can find out more details at the Islay Festival Feis Ile website

This year The Scotch Malt Whisky Society will be, for the first time in their history, will too be hosting an open day on Friday 22nd May, when Islay House becomes their home for the day and in celebration they're releasing a their own limited edition Islay Festival bottling, and it will be available to members and non-members alike.

If you're not a member of the SMWS then you might not be aware of their bottling and labeling specifications. Every release comes in the same green society bottle and labeling never refers to a distillery directly, with every release bearing a pair of numbers separated by a decimal point. The first number referring to the distillery, and the second referring to the cask number that the society has bottled from this distillery, i.e. 3.1 would be the first cask ever bottled from distillery No.3

Each release has a quirky name which is put together from the notes of a tasting panel, as are the tasting notes printed on the label. Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy's notes read as follows:

Wow - so much on the noise - sherry, tarry wood, clean smoke, dates, figs, roasted chestnuts, Christmas spices, egg custard, maple syrup-glazed pork ribs and HP sauce on bacon rolls. The palate was substantial - liquorice, treacle toffee, coffee and chocolate, with caramelised onions and Demerara-smothered, clove studded ham over embers. The reduced nose suggested spiced prunes, Branston pickle, fig rolls, treacle tart, duck in plum sauce and warm welly boots by a drying bonfire. The reduced palate's smoke and sherry combination gave us interest and pleasure - the toffee and oloroso, toasted almonds and barbecued meats gave it a dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy personality.

It goes on to give this drinking tip: Between dances at a Spanish barbecue party

SMWS 3.243 is from the Bowmore Distillery that has spent 17 years maturing in a refill ex-sherry butt before being bottled at 57.1%. Sherry butts have a capacity of 500 litres, and allowing for 2% Angels Share over the 17 years I'm calculating that there will only be around 500 bottles available

So what Did I Think?
I've tasted a number of superb Society sherried Bowmore's and this certainly does not disappoint. After typing out their notes while writing this post and comparing them to mine, I can say I agree wholeheartedly with them! My notes as below are exceedingly similar.

Lovely sherry notes immediately on the nose, woody, nutty and the peated spirit giving notes of tarred parcel paper alongside a sweet alluring smoke. Barbecue sauce features heavily as the nose develops and there's that sweet meatiness to it; roast duck in Hoisin sauce (honestly, I never read the 'official' notes until after I'd finished writing mine!) A drop of water brings out the sherry fruits and Christmas cake notes I was expecting to find. 

Superb! and I'm hoping I can get my hands on one from the London HQ later this month fingers crossed.

Many thanks to the society for thinking of me and sending me this sample. If you want more information on the SMWS's Islay trip, visit www.IslayHouse.co.uk

Sláinte! Dave

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Charity Whisky Tasting

Earlier this year we were asked if we would hold a Charity Whisky Tasting for the Walking Warriors, a newly formed team in the Relay For Life Aylesbury, a Cancer Research UK Charity.

Last July their newly formed team helped raise £6k during the 24 hour walk around Aylesbury Rugby Club, coming third, out of 33 teams, in the final team standings, and on the day won the Spirit of Relay 2014 team award.

After the event was out of the way it was time for the team to come up with ideas to raise money for Cancer Research UK over the next year (the next Aylesbury Race for Life is scheduled for July 4th 2015). One of the Walking Warriors was a good friend of Dave's and during their time working together, Dave had introduced Steve to whisky, and with his new found early interest in whisky an idea popped into his head.

With a busy schedule at the beginning of the year we settled for Friday 24th April so we could get everything together and thanks to the support from some of our friends in the Scotch whisky world, we managed to arrange a formal six dram line up with raffle and auction prizes, as well as holding back a special something for the finale dram.

The Walking Warriors organised the venue and food with Aylesbury College's Harding's Restaurant, a fully commercial establishment and headed up by a professional team.
All set up and ready to go
It was the first time we had enough glasses to lay out a full compliment for each of the tasters and we'd printed out tasting mats alongside the usual information we'd ordinarily provide. The set-up looked impressive thanks to the team at Harding's Restaurant who'd laid out the tables ready for us.
Tasting mats too!
After the initial drinks, food was served in the adjacent dining area before the tasters took their places and we started our whisky tasting. We had set up for twenty tasters; with both new and established whisky drinkers we hoped we had something to please everyone! 
We had malted barley, new make spirit and a piece of oak stave too!
Whilst we weren't able to cover all of the Scotch Whisky regions we did have an impressive line-up of single malts, and started the tasting with an Auchentoshan 12 representing the Lowland Region. 

Next, we visited two distinctly different Highland single malts from Aberfeldy and Tomatin before another two distinctly different Speyside single malts from Craigellachie and The Glenlivet. Our final whisky of the tasting came from Highland Park representing the Islands while we discussed the other regions.

Favourites were quickly established and additional drams poured while we answered questions. We had a very special finale dram from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a 25 Year Old Glen Grant, 9.84 Playing 'Sea Battle' in the Garden' which  everybody agreed was the highlight of the evening.
A very special treat to close the tasting
At the end of the tasting we auctioned off all the heels raising additional funds before finishing with a raffle that included bottles of whisky and glasses kindly donated from Glen Moray and Glen Garioch.

The end result? 

£517 raised for Cancer Research UK and a few new whisky converts! If you want to find out more information about the Walking Warriors check out their Relay for Life Team Page where you too can donate!
Whisky related raffle prizes too!

Sláinte! Dave