Whisky Squad #33 – Raw Spirit (aka the 2nd Birthday)

How time flies. A mere two years ago I was an occasional drunk who sometimes wrote things up on his blog, who then bumped into Andy and Jason of WhiskySquad at a couple of booze events, leading to my attendance of almost every one of their sessions. These days I’m a professional drunk who still only sometimes writes stuff on his blog, but WhiskySquad has gone from strength to strength. Up to at least two tastings a month and at least three iterations into their website, tickets still sell out quickly and, as a crowning achievement, they’ve even had me along to present an evening. After last year’s shindig there was a standard to be lived up to, so the big guns were rolled out for birthday number two – a matured whisky and new spirit pairing.

Yes, after two years of schmoozing the assembled masses of the whisky industry Andy and Jason managed to lever a number of sample bottles of new make spirit out of the hands of the distilleries for a bit of a special evening – tasting blind, as usual, whiskies and the new make spirits that they started out as.

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Whisky Live(ish) #1 – SMWS and Bistro du Vin

This week has been ‘hard’. By ‘hard’ I mean that my normal ‘work’ has been supplemented by even more events than usual, culminating in the 2-day fungasm (fungasm might be going too far, I will admit) that was Whisky Live London 2011. I was at there under the auspices of work and I have at least one blog post bubbling in the back of my brain to be decanted onto the TWE blog, but I also did Other Things around the time which seem to fit better over here.

First up – a preview tasting of whiskies with the folks from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society.

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Whisky Squad #30 – The Management Presents

Hello. I’m in Scotland, surrounded by snow and equipped with inadequate footwear, a combination of facts that should make post(s) later this week a beacon for schadenfreude tinged enjoyment. Anyways, as whisky distilleries treat weekends in February with appropriate level of contempt (they’re working but don’t open for tourists, as there are only four of us here who want to come and visit, and we’re all sleeping, going to the pub and bemoaning our inadequate footwear) today is a day for writing things, in this case a quick note (edit: quick was the intention, however it didn’t happen) about Whisky Squad #30 – The Management presents.

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Whisky Squad #24 – Movember!

The year hasn’t ended yet and here it is – a blog post about the most recent Whisky Squad tasting. It’s even (unless plans go awry, in which case I’ll delete this sentence making these parentheses entirely pointless) before the next Squad meeting, the Christmas dinner on the 8th of December, so this officially makes me a good boy again.

Anyways, the second tasting of November was deliberately pushed towards the end of the month as it was in honour of Movember, and the extra couple of weeks meant that there were some moustaches on display, unlike during the Smoking Section tasting where MoSista Charly‘s stick on lip warmer was the only thing worthy of the name ‘Mo’. Anyways, we gathered upstairs at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society with bottles donated from a variety of sponsors and all the proceeds going straight to the Whisky4Movember fund raising efforts. Unfortunately we had some generous sponsors and even excluding the emergency bottle I had in my bag, just in case any of the whiskies didn’t arrive, we had eight drams to get through. It’s a hard life…

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Whisky Squad #19 – Grain and Grape

Another month and another chance to show my dedication to the cause that is Whisky Squad. We were in The Gunmakers as usual but my head was partly elsewhere – it was IPA day. I’m a big fan of beer and IPA day sprang up quite quickly and quietly, thus clashing with Whisky Squad – nothing should happen on the first Thursday of the month apart from The Squad, this I decree. Anyway, I focused on the whisky and missed out on the rather epic looking IPA Day dinner at the Dean Swift, although I will be making a pilgrimage there to sample their wares soon enough.

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Whisky Tasting Club #1 – Regions of Scotland

In a way I’ve copied one of my booze related goals from recently elevated Malt Maniac Keith Wood – to try as many whiskies from as many distilleries as I can. I may have started along that route before I saw Keith’s website but it’s an admirable goal that I’m pleased to be sharing. Along with my visits to the SMWS to try weird single cask bottlings and my attendance of The Whisky Exchange and Whisky Squad tastings I was rather pleased to see that Dominic Roskrow‘s whisky tasting club had branched out from Norwich to the online world and fired up TheWhiskyTastingClub.co.uk.

They have various whisky tastings sets that you can buy, but I decided to go for the thing that attracted me to them in the first place – regular sets sent out to you on a monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly basis. I went for the bi-monthly sets (as I have only one liver and too many things to drink in London as it is) and set up a standing order to kick them £28 every couple of months (£25 + £2.95 P&P for 5x50l samples). After a couple of mails back and forth I heard my first set was being sent out (back at the beginning of November in the middle of Dominic’s run through whisky dinner – the real one is coming up soon) and they arrived a few days later. One of the reasons I like the idea of a tasting by post is that it meant I could stretch the drams out over a few nights, and could also leave them for a few weeks to fit in with my rather boozy autumn. I’ve finally got round to writing this up just as my second set appeared in the post.

Along with sending out the tasting boxes they have a forum on their site for everyone to share their tasting notes, as well as the usual whisky chat, which will hopefully fill in the gap that not necessarily being around others drinking the whiskies leaves – I can’t wave my arms around and mumble about whisky on the internet, so it’s a bonus for everyone. I will hopefully have a copy of Dominic’s book appearing early next year as a thankyou for signing up for the regular sets and there are tales of bonus drams making their way out as well – I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

Whisky Tasting Club - Box 1

This first set is an introduction to the whisky regions of Scotland and I was quite pleased to see that I’d only tasted two of the provided whiskies before, and one of those was one I very much wanted to try again. I went with the traditional light-heavy ordering and started off the lowland of the box – Bladnoch ‘Beltie’ 8 Year old. Named for the Belted Galloway cow on the label, a rare breed from the area around the distillery, it’s bottled at 55%. On the nose it had hint of farmyard – silage and mulching grass, which faded as it sat in the glass to be replaced by vanilla, linseed oil, candle wax, apples, foam strawberries, a hint of cinnamon and digestive biscuits. To taste it had big woody start and finish, with liquorice root at the end. A big booze hit was joined by pine & mint and a little bit of fruitiness in the middle – apple pies and unsweetened buttery mince meat, although unsweetened. It could take quite a bit of water, softening the flavours into black forest gateau, although the bitter liquorice remains at the end. The finish had some longering pear and apple. There was a surprising amount to the whisky, especially for an 8 year old, but it was maybe a little bit woody on the taste for my liking. The nose was excellent, however, and I’d almost be tempted to buy a dram for the smell alone.

Next I went for the Speyside – Linkwood ‘Flora and Fauna’ 12 year old. Bottled at 43% this is part of a range of whiskies released originally in the 90s by United Distillers (who are now part of Diageo) to show off the range of whisky styles in Scotland. It seems they weren’t one-off releases as some of them are still available for a reasonable cost, including this one – one of the only distillery bottlings of Linkwood available (although they are much loved by independents). On the nose an initially pungent mulchy grain quickly floated off to reveal fruit and grain underneath – barley and granny smith apples with a hint of Refresher chews. The taste was very light and thin, initially sweet and creamy with a hint of stewed and crunchy apples moving on to a more woody middle with vanilla and wood spice. It finished with a mix of barley and sharp apples. Water nrought out more spice on the nose and more sour fruit to taste, with hints of grapes and some sugary sweetness on the finish.
This was fine but nothing earth shattering and maybe a little light in flavour for my liking, although I liked it much more on my second tasting (finishing the other half of the 50ml sample when I started writing this blog entry).

I then moved on to the island contribution –  Arran 14 year old. Bottled at 46% this is the latest regular bottling to be released from the distillery – as they were founded in 1996 it’s obvious to see why it hasn’t appeared before. On the nose it had sweet pears, grass, lemons and brine. To taste it had the traditional Arran burst of icing sugar followed by wood polish, prickly spice, chocolate orange and vanilla. Water added some more sugary sweetness, an unexpected savoury note, floral overtones (orange blossom?) and a touch of minty menthol. I like Arran whiskies and this is the one that I wanted to try again, having only tried a drop at Whisky Live Glasgow a few weeks after the bottled it. This is definitely an evolution of their previous whiskies and one that I’m tempted to buy a bottle of. It’s still not a patch on the SMWS single cask bottlings that I tried a year or so ago – those are still some of my favourite whiskies of all time.

Next was the highland whisky – Balblair 2000. I tried this as part of the Twitter tasting I did last year and didn’t get much different from it this time. On the nose it had pineapple, vanilla, a hint of meaty anis, and rhubarb and custard sweets. To taste it had caramel with sweet vanilla, dark chocolate, just unripe vine fruits and a hint of pepper. I didn’t get the coppery note that we found last time so much this time, but I did still find a bit of dry twigginess in the finish. Water brought out more vanilla but also more astringent alcohol on the nose. The taste changed quite a bit, with more heat, more thin alcohols and more big wood, with thick custard at the back of the mouth.

The final whisky of the evening was the one from Islay – Port Charlotte An Turas Mor (The Great Journey). Part of Bruichladdich’s heavily peated range named for the long closed Port Charlotte distillery, this is the newer reasonably priced expression, as earlier releases have fetched a bit of a premium from the ‘Laddich lovers and also been bottled a lot stronger. On the nose there was initially a hit of baby sick, but this faded after pouring into sweet peat and muddy grass. There was also coal smoke, sweet oranges and tangerines. The taste was first dominated by big coal smoke fading away to be replaced by sweet fruit, lemon, and a dry woody end. Water adds some sweetness and a lot more citrus – the smoke is still there but hangs around out at the end rather than up front with some dusty coal powering it.

A nice first box, full of slightly more interesting drams than you’ll often find in a regular region sampling whisky flight. My next box is whiskies of the world, which I hope to get on to slightly faster than this one.

Bladnoch 8 year old – Belted Galloway bottling
Lowland single malt Scotch whisky, 55%. ~£35 at Master of Malt.

Linkwood 12 year old – Flora and Fauna
Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 43%. ~£40 at Master of Malt.

Arran 14 year old
Island single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£40 from The Whisky Exchange.

Balblair 2000
Highland single malt Scotch whisky, 43%.~£30 from The Whisky Exchange.

Port Charlotte An Turas Mor
Islay single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£35 from The Whisky Exchange.

Arran Tasting with The Whisky Lounge

The name of The Whisky Lounge seems a bit of a misnomer – rather than a loungey bar somewhere it mainly seems to be a guy called Eddie. He organises events up and down the country based, around tasting whisky and having a good time. I went along to his show in London this year, at which everyone seemed to know him and he knew almost all of them, and it was rather good. So, having stuck my name on the mailing list I waited for his next London event, which came up rather fortuitously – a tasting of the range of the Arran distillery‘s whiskies, led by Céline Têtu. I’d spoken briefly to Céline at The Whisky Lounge London event, Arran being the first stand I went to, and was rather taken by her excellent scots/french accent so was keen to wander along to hear more and also learn about one of my favourite distilleries.

Arran is an island that I visited a few times as a child – popping over on the ferry (and on The Waverley at least once) when up in Scotland visiting people in Ayr. I don’t remember much about it apart from always asking if we could back every time we visited. When I joined the SMWS a few years back I saw that they had some bottlings from Arran and rather liking the style bought most of them until recently. I also picked up one of the distillery bottlings – the limited edition Peacock – and rather liked that as well, all of which has led me towards wanting to try more of their whiskies.

The Arran distillery is quite young, having been built from scratch at Lochranza in the north of the island in 1995, and is currently the island’s only distillery. The Isle of Arran itself is in a rather unique location, sitting between the mainland and the peninsula of Kintyre, home of Campbeltown whiskies, experiencing a relatively constant and mild climate thanks to the influence of the Gulf Stream. This helps in the maturation of the whisky, with the constant temperature increasing the effect of time, with Arran whisky often passing as older than it is (as I discovered with one of my SMWS bottlings – 5 years old, the colour of Irn Bru and tasting as rich as something two to three times its age).

It’s quite difficult for new single malt focused distilleries to pay for themselves to start with, with 3 years before you can call your spirit whisky and generally 10 years before you can start putting a ‘regular’ bottling on the shelves. To help augment the income from limited young bottlings (such as the SMWS ones that I tried, as well as ones from other independent bottlers) they built a visitors centre, opened by The Queen, and have become part of the tourist trail on the island. As a thankyou to Her Majesty they gave a couple of casks to Princes William and Harry which they’ve been looking after ever since, as seen in this video from back in April:

The distillery turns 15 years old this week and to celebrate they are having an open day on July 3rd with various events during the day, a ceilidh in the evening, a special whisky cask aged beer from the rather good local Arran Brewery, 3 single cask bottlings from 1995 and a generally available special edition bottling, but more about that later.

The distillery uses barley that is malted offsite and farmed on the east coast of Scotland between Dundee and Montrose. They experimented with using local barley but it didn’t work particularly well, leading to their initial importing of pre-ground unpeated malt from the mainland. Having decided that they needed more control over the grinding of the barley a mill and silo were built on site in 2007, allowing less frequent deliveries and grinding on the premises.

Their stills are quite squat, with long, thin, tall necks stretching up 3-4m to a right angled lyne arm, giving a light and fruity spirit. Eddie had managed to get some new make to try and there were a few glasses dotted around the tables. On the nose it was sweet with mulchy grain, hay, sweet malt and a hint of sugary fruit – maybe pineapple. To taste it was very buttery in mouthfeel, with lots of sweet cereals.

Arran tasting mat

The first whisky to taste of the night was the Arran 10 year old. A mix of about 80% oloroso sherry cask matured whisky and 20% bourbon, this is the latest iteration of their ‘standard’ malt, first produced in 2006 and taking over from the 8 year old which had been the standard until then. Since the first release they have slowly changed the proportions of bourbon and sherry oak, starting with 100% bourbon and potentially moving to a 100% sherry in the near future. It’s bottled at 46%, and, as with all of the distillery’s whiskies, has no added colouring and is not chill filtered. On the nose it has candle wax, salt, milk chocolate, raisins and some lemon sherbert. To taste it has polished oak floors, woody spice, a touch of dried fruit and a dry woody finish. Water opens it up a bit with sweet honey, big tannic winey wood, a hint of chocolate and a spicy finish.

Next up was one of their Icons of Arran bottlings – The Rowan Tree, the follow-up to the Peacock that I have in the cupboard. It’s named for the local profusion of Rowan trees, not a particularly common species in Scotland, more often being found in Scandinavia. It’s bottled at 46% as well and made up of whisky from a batch of 10 second fill sherry butts, producing about 6000 bottles of which 600 are allocated for sale in the UK. On the nose it’s slightly briny with spice and dried fruit. To taste it has black pepper, cumin and a touch of curry, as well as raisins and a dry spicy finish. Left in the glass for a bit some flavours of grass and stones started to emerge. With water more wood popped out and the fruit turned to candy, with sticky boiled sweets behind the oak.

Third of the evening was one of their cask finishes – The Arran Madeira Finish. This is bottled at 50% and consists of whisky matured for 8 years and then finished for 10 months in madeira casks. This is part of a limited run of 6300 bottles, but the cask finishes they tried was so popular that they’ve decided to compliment the growing Arran range with 3 of them as regular bottlings – Port, Sauternes and Amarone (a wine that I’d not heard of, made using partially dried grapes to concentrate the flavour). This one was quite spicy on the nose with dried and tropical fruit (pineapple, apple syrup/maybe mango). To taste it had a dry sweetness to start, quickly becoming fruity and syrupy before tailing off into a spicy wood finish. Water brought out more syrup on the nose, and added more wood and a touch of milk chocolate to the taste.

Being so young a distillery it’s quite difficult to have a wide range of whiskies at traditional ages. They will shortly be releasing their oldest regular production whisky – a 14 year old which we couldn’t try as it was still in the cask finishing its maturation. This will lead to the standard range of whiskies being the 10 and 14 year olds as well as the three cask finishes mentioned above. In addition to the single malts they also do a cream liqueur, Arran Gold, and a pair of blends, Robert Burns and Lochranza, the latter of which has been on my ‘to try’ list for a bit. In a few more years they will have an 18 to round out the age selection, but from there who knows what they might do.

In the meantime they’ve already been continuing their experimentation and the fourth whisky we tried was very much in that line – The Arran Pomerol Finish. Pomerol is an area in France near to Bordeaux known for producing expensive wine, making this an interesting finish both for the quality of the previous occupant of the barrel (a wine from Château La Conseillante) as well being a red wine finish, not particularly common due to it being hard to produce one that works well. This one is bottled at 50% and has a pinkish tinge that is surprising for having only been in the wine cask for 6 months. Again this is finished after 8 years in oak, split 50/50 between bourbon and sherry and married together before being put in the wine barrels. On the nose it is quite meaty with lots of heavy red wine woodiness. To taste it has a thick sweetness with more meaty wininess, hints of icing sugar, spice and a touch of lemon, rounding off to a woody finish. Water brings in more sweet vanilla and fruit but also more sour wood. Left in the glass for a while it opens up further with more sherry sweetness and red wine heaviness coming through. A bit of a divider this, with most of the room really not liking it. I was more on the dislike side, although as it developed in the glass it grew on me.

Arran 15th AnniversaryNext to taste was a bit of a treat – The Arran 15th Anniversary Bottling. This one is being specially produced for this week’s birthday, with 5640 bottles going on sale very shortly (although only 500 of them staying in the UK) – Céline had only had a couple of tastes of this before, showing quite how new it is. It’s from a batch of 1999 distilled spirit, matured in oloroso casks for 8-9 years and then finished for 2 years in Amontillado casks, my favourite kind of sherry. On the nose it’s quite savoury, with sherry wood mixing with a slight brininess to give rich salted caramel. To taste it’s thick and syrupy, with red grapes, spicy wood and a chunk of tannin, rolling towards a buttery apple finish. With water there’s more wine fruit and buttery biscuits, and the wood is tamed although still sits spicily in the finish. A tasty whisky and a nice celebration of the first 15 years of production.

The last whisky of the night was a bit of a curveball – The Peated Arran. Having made a point of letting us know that Arran produced unpeated spirit, Céline went on to explain what this dram was all about. It was first produced in 2004 and came about due to an accidental delivery of barley peated to about 14ppm rather than the distillery’s regular unpeated order. Rather than send it back they decided to have a go at making whisky with it, producing 5 casks. It was rather popular and as such the distillery now produce a few casks of peated spirit a year, having now upped the peat levels from the initial mistake to about 20-25ppm. They make them as the last batches each year before closing down for summer maintenance, giving a chance to clean any residual peatiness out of the workings before starting again in autumn with their regular unpeated spirit. This bottling was one of 253 bottles from a 2005 distillation from barley at about 14 ppm, matured in first fill bourbon casks and bottled in 2009 at 57.7%. On the nose it has a light smokiness laying on a background of grassy fields. To taste it was rich with some sweet peatiness as well as sweet oranges and golden syrup. Water brought out the more vegetal notes from the nose, with a some grass appearing, accompanying oily butter and some sweet mulch. It took water well, tasting younger as the water knocked out some of the peat, adding more cereal and mulchy grass. Being a younger whisky the peat overpowered the wood influence, making it taste quite a lot peatier than the 14ppm suggested.

Annoyingly I can’t make it up to distillery this weekend for the party, but it’s definitely on my list next time I’m on the right side of Scotland. Equally annoying is that the whisky doesn’t quite live up to the spectacular single cask bottlings I’ve had over the last couple of years – they’re all rather good, with the Rowan Tree and Madeira Finish coming in as my favourites of the evening, but none quite as rich and complex as the ones that I’ve found at the SMWS. That won’t stop me picking up more Arran in the future, distillery bottlings as well as single casks, as they are also very reasonably priced, with the most expensive whisky of the evening coming in at under £70 and most bottlings being around £30-£50. Excellent value for such good whisky.

Arran 10 year old
Scottish Island Single Malt whisky, 46%. ~£30

Arran Rowan Tree
Scottish Island Single Malt whisky, 46%. ~£35

Arran Madeira Cask Finish
Scottish Island Single Malt whisky, 50%. ~£40

Arran Pomerol Cask Finish
Scottish Island Single Malt whisky, 50%. ~£45

Arran 15th Anniversary Bottling
Scottish Island Single Malt whisky, 54.6%. Available soon

Arran 2005 Peated
Scottish Island Single Malt whisky, 57.7%. ~£45 (limited availability)

Eddie of The Whisky Lounge is Eddie Ludlow and he is in the process of putting together this Autumn’s event calendar. Keep an eye on his website for details.

Master of Malt have a good range of Arran whiskies, although they don’t have the peated. Eddie might have a couple of bottles of that, although I suspect they’re for personal consumption, but The Whisky Exchange have a few which they are more likely to sell you.

Christmas Booze Roundup 2009

Christmas is traditionally a time of over indulgence and I am far from being someone who wants to buck tradition (any excuse). There may have been turkey, pies, bologneses and casseroles over the festive period, but much more importantly there has been booze. Here’s what I’ve been drinking:

Beer

My friend Mr Utobeer came through for me again, after an unplanned drop-in while wandering around Borough Market with Mondoagogo a few days before Christmas, and added to my bottle of Orkney Dark Island Special Reserve (left until after Christmas so as to be shared with people who love nice beer more than my family). Other than some bottles grabbed as a present for someone (as my order from Brewdog hasn’t been sent yet as they haven’t yet brewed one part of it – a bottle of the second batch of Tactical Nuclear Penguin) I also grabbed, and have since drunk:

Harviestoun Ola Dubh Special 40 Reserve: I tried the 16 a few weeks back and discovered at the same time that they now did a beer matured in a 30 year old Highland Park cask. Then I went to the SMWS last week and was informed that they also do a 40, which they had a couple of bottles of at obscene prices. Then I found one at Utobeer for the scary price of £7.60. The verdict – much like with the 16 year old it wasn’t all that impressive. It was a marked difference from the younger barrelled beers, with more of a woody whiskiness than before, but still not worth the cost in my opinion. A really nice heavy dark beer still.

Brewdog Paradox: Isle of Arran: They may not have sent me my beer yet, but I still like the Brewdog chaps. And their beer. This, to continue a theme, is another whisky cask matured beer (Innis & Gunn have a lot to answer for) and one that I’ve tried before. I rather like the Arran distillery, producing some of my favourite SMWS whiskies as they have, and I really liked my last bottle of this that I tried. This one was slightly disappointing – not so influenced by the wood as the last one, but still a really good dark ale with more fruit and less vanilla than the Ola Dubh.

Home BrewMy Mate Nick’s Homebrew: Mr Martin, cow-orker and ginger bearded buddy extraordinaire, has recently started brewing and after discussing what he was doing to make his beer presented me with one of his first batch of bottles. I left it to settle for a while and then cracked it open on Christmas Eve. It was rather lively, needing several glasses to pour out into without overflowing with meringue-like head, and in true bottle conditioned fashion was quite sedimenty at the bottom, requiring some care in the pouring. It was very very dark and quite sweet – a definite hint of black treacle without quite so much of its burnt taste. I suffered none of the ill effects that homebrew is famed for and I also rather enjoyed it. The fluffiness and sweetness suggests that maybe it was bottled a bit early but it wasn’t the worse for it. I look forward to brew number 2. Hopefully I’ll get some more…please?

Wine

Realising a few days before Christmas that you have visiting wine loving parents and no suitable bottles on the shelf was a mild concern, as I’m a very lazy man who doesn’t like carrying things back from the supermarket. The nice folks at Naked Wines jumped in to save me with guaranteed Christmas Eve delivery if I ordered by 5pm the day before – I ordered at 4:45. The next afternoon the slightly harassed looking delivery man turned up, dumped my wine and ran away quickly – I think there were a few people who had the same idea as me. Anyways, combined with a few bottles contributed by my visitors I definitely have enough wine now, although still only 3 spare slots on the wine rack.

Milani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Naked Wine, Italy): My first out of the box and grabbed to match a spaghetti bolognese. I quite like Montepulciano and this was slightly disappointing – quite rough, although it did soften as it aired, without as much fruit as I hoped. However, a couple of glasses went in to the bolognese sauce and the rest of it went down quite nicely with dinner.

Vicien Syrah 2007 (Naked Wine, Argentina): Rolled into service when the first bottle from my case ran out prematurely, this was really quite good. A nice full Syrah with a good amount of fruit that got better as it breathed. I stoppered it and finished it the next day and it was still very drinkable.

Howcroft Estate Limestone Coast Merlot 2006 (Tesco, Australia): Grabbed from my step-dad’s wine rack due to the word ‘turkey’ being in the ‘goes with’ list on the back, this was a nice light Merlot, full enough to battle with the dark turkey meat as well as not being too strong as to drown out the (admittedly dry) white meat.

Hardy’s Varietal Range Shiraz 2008 (Sainsbury?, Australia): Another donation from the visitors, this one isn’t quite done yet, opened to provide some lubrication for dinner part 2 – the christmas pud (delayed until evening to allow some digestion of lunch to occur). It definitely needed some time to breathe, having a harsh edge, but it quickly softened (especially when poured through my newly acquired wine aerater [thankyou Dave’nLet] which worked much better than we had imagined) and was a nice, spicy, fruity wine, complimenting the pud better than expected.

Whisk(e)y

I’ve had a Christmas uncharacteristically light on whisky, despite a trip to Milroy’s a couple of days beforehand. I stopped by to try and pick up a bottle of rye to make the Manhattans that my mum had demanded via SMS (she had already bought cocktail cherries specially) and found that they were out of everything but a £180 per bottle Rittenhouse. I turned that down and got upsold when I tried to buy a 70cl bottle of Buffalo Trace, coming away with a 1.75l bottle (with free julep cup). I also grabbed a bottle of 15 year old Glencadam, having liked the SMWS bottling I picked up a couple of weeks back. The Trace is a solid bourbon, smooth enough to go either in cocktails or be drunk on the rocks (something that I’ve done a bit too much of since picking it up). The Glencadam is interesting – similar to the production Arran whisky in a way that I didn’t expect, with a fizzy icing sugar start, but also with a thick wedge of rubbery niceness running through the middle. It seems that I subconsciously do know my taste in whisky and Arran and Glencadam slot into it.

I used Glenfiddich instead of brandy to ignite the Christmas pud – the fact that I consider Glenfiddich to be cooking whisky when not too long ago it was one of the best whiskies that you could expect someone to have on their shelf has been commented on. It is cooking whisky…


Anyways, a vaguely restrained christmas that should continue to be restrained through new year – I’m on call on New Year’s Eve and don’t feel like lugging multiple bottles of whisky down to Shoreham-by-Sea (where I’m going for a party), but I’m sure someone else will look after my boozey needs…

Music and a Peacock

Technology has inexorably moved on since the last time I took the time to run my cd collection through a computer, and with my recent purchase of a shiny new machine I decided that the time has come to start the CD ripping dance again. I’m a couple of weeks into the rather mammoth task and have hit on a pile of singles, something that I generally avoid these days (what with my limited storage space due to having too many CD singles…), and a couple popped up as relevant.

I’ll skip over the currently processing disc, Oasis’s Cigarettes and Alcohol (the opening half of my first band’s first set, accompanied by The Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar), and proceed directly to the slightly more random track – Last of the Big Time Drinkers, by Stereophonics. There was once a time when Kelly Jones didn’t wear a silly hat on stage and the band didn’t strut quite so much, and back then they had a fantastically raw sound with a stage presence that suggested that bigger things were just down the road. The song doesn’t really glorify drinking, more point out the glorious lifestyle of the late night drinker who has pride in his work, but fewer brain cells after the weekend is done. It’s also rather a good tune. The live version on my More Life in a Tramps Vest EP is a top performance, but all I could find online was a bunch of covers and a Glastonbury performance from when hats started appearing. It’s still a good’un though:

Accompanied (responsibly) by:
Arran – The Peacock
Single Malt Scotch Whisky
12 years old (distilled 1996, bottled 2009)
1 of 6000 bottles
Limited availability (I got mine from Royal Mile Whiskies in London)

A fairly light dram compared to some of the more fruitcakey whiskies coming from their SMWS bottlings, but not overly delicate. Icing sugar and fruit to start followed by honey, vanilla and a hint of banana on the finish. There’s also a bit of the malty saltiness that I enjoy in their single casks, although it’s nicely rolled in with the rest of the flavours. A more refined version of their regular 10yr old and worth a try.