Harviestoun Ola Dubh – #EBBC13

Harviestoun

I’ve written a little bit about Harviestoun, and specifically their whisky cask aged Ola Dubh, before, but as head brewer Stuart Cail presented a session covering the beer in much more detail at The European Beer Bloggers Conference it seemed rude not to follow up my previous post with some information from the source. With cask ageing very much now in evidence across many of the young craft breweries, it’s interesting to see what a more traditional brewer has done with the idea, and the impact that they’ve had across the British brewing scene.

Continue reading “Harviestoun Ola Dubh – #EBBC13”

#HPTT – Highland Park Twitter Tasting

It’s been a while since I’ve been officially involved in a Twitter whisky tasting. I gatecrashed Steve Rush‘s last one, thanks to a few random minis of Cooley whiskey I had knocking around, but I’ve stayed away from them to let other people get involved – one of the things that makes a Twitter tasting useful is new people seeing what’s going on, and almost everyone I know on Twitter is either already involved or bored by my twittering about booze. My resolve was, however, cracked when Steve announced that his next tasting would be of the Highland Park range.

Continue reading “#HPTT – Highland Park Twitter Tasting”

Highland Park Orcadian Vintages – 1971 and 1976

I don’t get sent many samples of whisky, especially now that I work for a whisky retailer, so I was very pleased to get a parcel before Christmas containing something a little bit more special than the average whisky – a pair of drams from Highland Park’s Orcadian Vintages range.

I encountered these for the first time back in October while helping out at The Whisky Show, as Gerry Tosh, HP’s Global Marketing Manager, was down from Orkney to run a masterclass tasting through the three whiskies that were in the range at the time, along with two new whiskies that were to be released shortly after the show – the whiskies I was just sent, the 1971 and 1976. I helped set up the class, poured some of the whiskies (including the ’71 and ’76 which were transported in plastic sample bottles as the proper bottles weren’t ready at the time) and was then promptly called away to do something else, so missed out on tasting them. That has now been remedied.

Continue reading “Highland Park Orcadian Vintages – 1971 and 1976”

Quick Tastings

Despite having a backlog of posts to publish for the first time since starting the blog (a couple embargoed for various reasons [Hurry up and post the results of the last Whisky Lounge tasting run, Eddie…]) I thought I’d better catch up on a few bits and pieces I’ve not written up yet, so another (hopefully now more regular) quick tastings post:

Ballards Odd CoupleBallards Odd Couple (8.9%, Harvest Ale) – One of my Christmas present beers, picked up by my Dad from The Beer Essentials in Horsham as part of a bag of interesting looking bottles. I’ve keeping this one as I’ve rather liked previous things I’ve got from Ballards and a sunny evening on the day the clocks go forward felt like a good time to open it. It poured a deep red with no head and minimal fizz, looking more like a young tawny port than a beer, deep reddy brown and starting to lose its translucency. On the nose it was big and savoury, and my notes say simply ‘Cherries and Bovril’. To taste it started with a big sour fruit and meandered through green hops, more meaty Bovril (definitely Bovril rather than Marmite) and finished with a bit of fresh juicy cherry with a hint of sour unripeness.

Marks & Spencer Wiltshire Rum Beer (5%, Best Bitter with added Caribbean Rum) – I got this one as a swap for a bottle of Monsieur Rock and I think that my swapping buddy got the better deal. This is a blend of Wadworth 6X and rum, upping the normal 4.3% strength of the beer to 5% and adding a bit of rum related flavour – it’s regular bottled 6x, a dry medium bodied best bitter, with a hint of extra sweetness in the middle and a bit of raisin and fruit cake on the finish. Not my favourite and not as sweet as I was hoping – half of this went into the beef stew I’ve cooking and I added a couple of extra shakes of Lea & Perrins after tasting the beer. To add a bit of spice to the rest of the glass of beer I poured in a shot of Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, which further filled out the dry gap in the middle of the taste, adding a chunk of raisin, accentuated the maltiness of the beer and lengthened the finish to be a lingering mix of malt and sweet rum. There’s definitely a place for ‘grogging’ rum with beer, but you need a bit more than Wadworth added to make it special, in my opinion. However, I’ve heard that the laws about mixing spirits and beer are on the strict side, so I suspect that might have had something to do with Wadworth’s reticence as well.

MoM Drams

Master of Malt Highland Park 13 year old Single Cask (57%, single cask Highland single malt Scotch whisky) – One of a pair of Drinks by the Dram that I got as an unexpected present from the folk at MoM at Christmas, this has been sitting on my tasting shelf amongst the last batch of drams that I bought from them and got forgotten until I did a bit of tidying this afternoon. This one is a bit on the light side for a 13 year old, looking a bit like a medium white wine, but has a much more oomph in the nose – peat, fruit cake, lightly roasted meat, butter and a bit of straw. To taste it’s sweet and sour, starting with a burst of sweet grapes and hard candy but quickly turning to sour grapes, tannins and caramel, with a finish of mulchy floral peat and sweet wood. At 57% it’s a bit prickly and a couple of drops of water killed the burn and revealed candied lemons and floor polish in amongst the initial sweetness, and lengthened the finish.

Master of Malt Caol Ila 30 year old Single Cask (57.4%, single cask Islay single malt Scotch whisky) – the second of the Christmas drams and one that’s kept its strength over the years of maturation (I suspect they filled the cask a bit stronger than usual), also picking up a bit more colour than the Highland Park. On the nose it had lightly muddy peat smoke underneath creamy vanilla, bananas and nail polish. To taste it was big and fruity to start, with green apples and light raisin sweetness before rolling through a very strange middle of menthol, sour liquorice root, liquorice pastilles and “tannic hot tarmac” (the sensation and flavour you get as you walk past some workmen laying a new road and breathe in), and finishing with stony peat coupled with a touch of barely ripe grape. A couple of drops of water helped this one come together a bit, with the sweetness mixing with the menthol and liquorice to give a big old-school sweet shop middle, but keeping the long peaty mineral finish. I’m really not sure about this one (although I suspect I like it a lot), but it’s rather interesting.

This post has been brought to you by occasional breaks to go and chop, fry and stir bits of a beef stew, and Nerf Herder’s self-titled and ‘How to Meet Girls’ albums. I never saw them headline a gig, but they are amongst the finest support band I’ve ever seen. Here’s their tribute to Van Halen. Many thanks to the lovely folk at Master of Malt for pinging me the pair of drams – much appreciated.

The World’s Most Collectible Whiskies at Whisky Live

As I don’t think I’ve written about whisky enough recently (sarchasm) I thought I’d put something down on paper/the screen/the interwebnets about Whisky Live London 2011. I’ve been almost entirely fail-y when it has come to writing about whisky shows in the past, mainly as a day of walking around pouring whisky down my neck does lead to incoherence (as my nice performance at the nice Connosr‘s nice WhiskyPod this year demonstrated nicely), but this time I also booked up a ticket to a tasting of The World’s Most Collectible Whiskies with Whisky Magazine’s auction king Jonny McCormick and sitting down helped my pen write slightly more legibly.

Whisky Live London - World's Most Collectible Whiskies
Yes, the Signet glass is empty. I only noticed after taking the picture and pinched a glass of it from one of the empty spots on my table. There were a surprising number of empty spots.

Jonny writes for Whisky Magazine mainly about whisky collecting and auctions, looking after their whisky auction price tracking ‘WM Index’, and brought that expertise to selecting five whiskies that either are already rising in price or could be the auction stars of the future. First on the mat was Highland Park St Magnus, the second entry in their Earl Magnus series of limited bottlings, named for distillery founder Magnus Eunson’s namesake, Earl Magnus of Orkney. The first in the series, the eponymous Earl Magnus, was limited to 6000 bottles, this one to 12000 and the final one, Earl Haakon (named for Magnus’s cousin), to 3000, showing some tricksiness from a company who know that investors like them. The St Magnus comes in at 55% ABV and on the nose had punchy sherry fruit, mulchy peat, almonds and marzipan, and a hint of farmyard mixed in with a meatiness that spread from the nose down to the back of the mouth. To taste there was sweet overripe fruit, sour citrus, sour wood, quite a bit of boozy heat and a lighter flavour than I expected from the quite forthright nose, although mainly the heat of the booze overpowered everything. It could take quite a bit of water, as you’d expect, bringing out spiky wood, sour Fruit Salad chews, spicy lemons and still more boozy heat. I kept dropping in bits of water from time to time as the tasting went on, which eventually tamed it into a flavoursome dram with a buttery mouth feel. The Earl Magnus has already done rather well value-wise, with its release price of £85 leading to a fast sellout and a rapid rise in value to £250-£300 in shops today. The larger release of the St Magnus suggests that it won’t reach the heady heights of the first bottle, but will be a key part of sets of all three bottles in the future, so grabbing one now if you have the Earl Magnus is a no-brainer. You might have to fight for a bottle of the Earl Haakon, but that’s all part of the fun of collecting whisky…I hear.

Next we turned to the Dalmore 1981 Matusalem. Matured for 22 years in american oak before being recasked for 6 months to finish in 30 year old Gonzalez Byass Matusalem Oloroso sherry butts, this is part of Dalmore’s increasingly silly range of premium whiskies, although very much at the lower end. It currently seems to be selling at about £400 a bottle in travel retail, a further exclusivity that should help it in the future at auction. On the nose it had oxidised tawny port, dry wood, red grapes and candied lemons. To taste it was quite sweet with sappy wood and twigs – “like licking the inside of a sugar tree” my notes helpfully add – and stone-in stewed fruit (hints of almonds and cherry stone along with the big fruitiness). Water brought out some more sweetness and the wood softened into creamy vanilla, although leaving a bit behind for a long sweetly woody finish. Dalmore seem to be building their range around collectors, with the world’s most expensive whisky (sold in a normal bottle rather than one of a kind Lalique decanter, that is), Trinitas, leading the way with it’s silly £100,000 price tag. Dalmore is currently sitting just outside of the top 10 of the Whisky Magazine index’s auction movers and shakers, but that may well change over the years thanks to their special releases.

Third was the Glenmorangie Signet, an interesting dram produced using some chocolate malt (dark roasted rather than actually involving chocolate) based spirit as well as some older whisky from the original Glenmorangie maltings. On the nose it was soft with sweet orange, lime leaves, rich sweet malt and golden syrup. Behind the richness there was a distinctly leafy vegetal note. To taste it had sweet dark chocolate, some gravelly minerality and a leafy nettle finish – “Mossy chocolate paving stones” says my notebook. Water added more sweetness, turning the dark chocolate towards milk chocolate, and added some sweet chocolate malt (hints of milk stout) to the leafy finish. A very interesting flavour which I’m still not sure I’m a massive fan of, but one I will be trying again to make sure. Maybe several times. Along with the interesting liquid in the bottle Glenmorangie, recently a distillery who have been upgrading packaging all over the place, have created a rather fancy bottle, with the glass darkening from bottom to top and having a large silvered cap on top – something that will help the value in future, especially as many people seem to have opened their bottles due to the reports of how good it is. A whisky to buy two bottles of – one to drink and one to hide for a rainy day.

Next was the Bowmore 21 year old Port Cask, one of a number of peated port casks that were on show at Whisky Live (despite being recommended it by a number of people I missed out on trying the impressive sounding Benriach Solstice – one for the follow-up list). Another travel retail exclusive, this one is made up of whisky distilled on March 10th 1988 and kept for all of its 21 years in port casks. On the nose it was lightly peaty with big dry red wine, plum jam and glacé cherries. To taste it started with flowery air freshener, moved through a meatily spiced middle with lipsticky wax to a stony peat end. The overpowering air freshener flavour that I got up front pretty much ruined it for me and water didn’t improve it, adding in more waxiness and spicy sweetness but leaving the cloying start. Not one for me, although appreciated around the room. Bowmores are currently riding high in the WM Index, both by sales volume and price per bottle, with old bottlings, such as the Black Bowmores, being spoken of in hushed tones and going for thousands of pounds at auction – their continuing range of premium bottlings will hopefully help them to keep up this momentum.

The final whisky of the tasting was Macallan Oscuro, part of their 1824 range of travel retail exclusive whiskies and made up of spirit distilled between 1987 and 1997. On the nose it had raisins, milk chocolate, a touch of struck match, buttered toast, marzipan and shortbread. To taste it was thick and sweet with cinnamon custard and a caramel wood finish. Water brought out more sugar, raisin cordial (not that I’ve tried raisin cordial, but it’s what I imagine non-alcoholic PX to taste like) and butter. My favourite of the night, with my current whisky sweet tooth being firmly satisfied. It’s currently rather pricy, at about £500 a bottle, but Macallans have a lot of success at auction and it might be a nice place to invest, if you don’t drink it. Macallan sits at the top of both Whisky Magazines’s price and volume indices, in part due to the large number of bottlings that their long history has produced, with vintages back to the beginning of the 20th century sitting behind the counter in the distillery shop ready for sale. With an almost constant barrage of interesting bottlings across the price spectrum it looks like they’ll be pretty much permanent fixtures of the auction market.

I’m not really a whisky investor, buying to drink as I do, but vaguely inspired by the tasting I did take advantage of the Friends of Laphroaig “It’s your birthday!” discount offer (another reason to sign up to the FoL) to pick up a couple of bottles of their 12 year old cask strength batch 2, one to drink and one to keep, as it was a nice low-cost way of having a punt at the whisky collecting game. The sold out batch 1 has already increased in price by 50% (to about £40 a bottle) so we shall see…

The thing that most surprised me when discussing collecting with Phil Huckle of Pernod Ricard after the The Glenlivet tasting I went to last year was the emphasis on distillery bottlings – in general independents won’t go up in price to anywhere near the extent that original distillery bottlings will. His advice on the night was simple – buy independents to drink, buy distillery to keep. While my lack of cupboard space is currently beating my love of hoarding things, my love of drinking whisky will continue to keep the collecting bug away. For now. I hope.

Highland Park St Magnus
Highland single malt Scotch whisky, 55%. ~£85 from The Whisky Exchange.

Dalmore 1981 Matusalem
Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 44%. ~£400 from World of Whiskies (travel retail exclusive).

Glenmorangie Signet
Highland single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£110 from Master of Malt.

Bowmore 21 year old Port Cask
Islay single malt vintage Scotch whisky, 51.5%. ~£150 from World of Whiskies (travel retail exclusive).

Macallan Oscuro
Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 46.5%. ~£400 from World of Whiskies (travel retail exclusive).

Signet image courtesy of Master of Malt

Whisky Squad #8 – Movember

September flew by a bit for me and shortly after I finished writing up last month’s Whisky Squad another one appeared on the horizon. In honour of the fluffy top lips of a chunk of The Squad this session’s theme was Movember. Whisky Gandalf Darren, the man behind Whisky4Movember and random chap for Master of Malt, had done some looking around and brought us four moustache related whiskies to try.

IMG_0427First up was one half of Master of Malt’s special edition pair of Movember bottlings for 2010. Selected by Darren, bottled by Masgter of Malt and featuring five different labels per expression, each honouring one of the well known moustached chaps of the whisky industry – Richard Paterson, Dave Broom, Charlie MacLean, Serge Valentin and Marcin Miller. This first bottle was the Mo’land, a single cask lowland whisky, and our featured moustache was that of Richard Paterson who I’ve bumped into a few times over the summer. Richard is an especially appropriate candidate for honouring on the bottle as not only has he survived cancer but also removed his rather famous moustache for Movember. The whisky had a light nose with bees wax, butter, malt syrup and boiled sweets. To taste it started with a syrup sweetness which rolled through surprisingly rich polished wooden floors to a sweetly woody finish. Water brought out more butter and woody spice, with vanilla and a hint of fruit. A light and easy drinking dram that might entice whisky novices in as well as keeping me happy.

IMG_0433We moved on to another moustachioed bottle, this time last year’s Master of Malt Movember bottling – M’Orkney. As a spooned malt from Orkney, mainly consisting of the more well known of the distilleries on the islands, it’s not that much of a mystery where the spirit came from. ‘Spooning’ is a brand protection practise where a distiller will add a spoon of another distillery’s whisky to a cask when they sell it. This doesn’t affect the flavour of the whisky, a spoon is very small in comparison to a cask, but it makes the whisky legally a blended malt and prevents the buyer, and whoever the whisky is eventually sold on to, from bottling the whisky and selling it under the original distiller’s name. Certain distillers are well known for blocking bottlings in this fashion, with Glenfiddich and Balvenie (both owned by William Grant & Sons) being two of the more famous. The addition of a drop of Scapa to a cask of Highland Park (let’s just say…) hasn’t made much of a dent in the M’Orkney, with a nose of stony peat, sweet smoke, super sour candy balls and a pinch of salt coming through. To taste it’s sweet with a controlled dryness. There was wood ash, peppery spice, a citrus tang and a prickly finish. Water softened the prickle and brought out more lemon and vanilla. Annoyingly this one is sold out or I’d be grabbing one for my cupboard.

IMG_0437Next up was one of Richard Paterson’s whiskies – the Dalmore 15. A classic highland distillery, just down the road from Glenmorangie, Dalmore’s been in the news recently with the release of their newest whisky – The Trinitas. Named for the fact that there are just three bottles available it has taken the record for world’s most expensive whisky, at £100,000 for 70cl. Two of the three bottles are spoken for, one having gone to a private collector and one to Sukhinder Singh from The Whisky Exchange, but the other is still available from TWE, so If you’re interested you can give them a call. It looks to be a record that may not stand for long as Macallan’s ‘Cire Perdue’ decanter of 64 year old whisky has almost finished its trip around the world and will shortly be auctioned off in aid of Charity: Water – with 10cl samples going for over $40000 it looks like the whisky (with its rather special Lalique decanter) might break the Trinitas’s record. The rather more affordable Dalmore 15 is a rich deep red (although the colour is helped on its way with some added spirit caramel) with chocolate, cherry, shreddies and dry wood on the nose. To taste the cherries become glacé and are joined by almonds, ginger, orange and sweet spices – a bit like a rich cherry bakewell at Christmas. A bit of water, as it can’t take much before losing the richness, adds vanilla, more sweetness and some delicate dried fruit.

Smo'keyWe then moved back to Movember whiskies, picking up the second of this year’s MoM bottlings – Smo’key. This was one was adorned with the face of Dave Broom. Dave is a well known drinks writer, especially known for his writing about whisky, which has appeared in pretty much every whisky publication under the sun, and also in a number of books, including his latest – The World Atlas of Whisky (which may shortly appearing on my shelf next to my World Atlas of Wine from the same series). The Smo’key is a blended malt like the Mo’land, but this time going for the opposite end of the flavour scale, featuring whiskies from Islay. On the nose there wasn’t all that much, with sweet mulchy peat and a touch of stone dust. The taste had much more, with sweet grassy peat, butter, sweet and sour oranges, a hint of coal and a vegetal back palate leading to a prickly finish. Water brought out more of the nose’s stoniness with some coal smoke. There was also more fruitiness and the butter gained some fat, making the mouthfeel creamy. Darren doesn’t know what whiskies went into the bottle, but after some discussion around the room it was thought that there was definitely some Caol Ila in there, cut with some lighter Blasda-like Ardbeg as well as a whole lot more.

IMG_0440Our fifth whisky of the night, breaking the rule (as seems to have happen at most Whisky Squads) that we only taste four whiskies, was Smokehead Extra Black. Smokehead is a range of bottlings by Ian MacLeod of whisky from an unnamed Islay distillery (it’s [almost certainly] Ardbeg). Along with the regular bottling and this 18 year old Extra Black they also used to do an Extra Rare, which I have a cloth bag covered bottle of in my whisky cupboard. Smokehead has been a great supporter of Movember this year, supplying whisky to a variety of the events celebrating the month, hence a bottle appearing at our table. On the nose it was sweet and lightly smokey, with a thin and nicely astringent smoke rather than a choking cloud. To taste it had a sweet start with TCP, tar, damp peat and wet smoke in the middle, and a sweet smokey finish. A bit of water brought oranges and a hint of lemon as well as a thick vanilla caramel.

My Mo’ (I hate that term) continues to grow, as do those of the other Whisky4Movember team members. To support our ‘tachey efforts you can sponsor us over on the Movember site, throw Richard Paterson some cash instead/as well or buy one of the Movember bottlings from Master of Malt – £8 of the £34.95 selling price will go to charity.

Movember Smokey bottle set

Another whisky squad done and another one scheduled. At the time of writing there are still a couple of places left at the Squad Christmas dinner – a three course meal from The Gunmaker’s seasonal menu with some matched whiskies and the usual random banter. Book soon or be disappointed.

Master of Malt Mo’land
Blended lowland Scotch malt whisky. 40%. £34.95 at Master of Malt

Master of Malt M’Orkney
Spooned Orcadian malt whisky. 40%. Sold out

Dalmore 15
Highland single malt Scotch whisky. 40%. ~£40 at Master of Malt

Master of Malt Smo’key
Blended Islay Scotch malt whisky. 40%. £34.95 at Master of Malt

Smokehead 18 Year Old Extra Black
Islay single malt Scotch whisky. 46%. ~£85 at Master of Malt

Highland Park 1997 Vintage

I don’t do much travelling outside of the UK and this means that I generally miss out on the delights of the duty free shopairport travel retail centre. Despite not having an interesting outgoing selection on my recent trip to Hungary, due to flying from rather-uninterestingly-stocked Luton, there was a little more joy in Budapest airport. I ignored the not-available-in-the-UK Ballantine’s (as I’d already picked up a bottle from an off license) and picked up a travel retail exclusive bottle of Highland Park 1997 Vintage.

Highland Park 1997 Vintage

In the past I’ve got on rather well with Highland Park, both their regular production bottlings and the occasional excellent dram from a single cask SMWS bottling (including the bottle that I took to my dad’s wedding), but I’ve never actually had a bottle of my own at home. I decided that this was something that needed to change and, after a bit of a phone based googleing to help me choose between this and the (disappointing according to reviews) 16 year old, grabbed the 1997 vintage before scurrying for my EasyJet sky bus home.

Highland Park is one of two distilleries in the Orkney islands and beats the other, Scapa, to being the most northern Scottish distillery by a mere half mile. They’ve been around since 1798 and since I’ve been aware of them I’ve heard very little but praise. Their style is generally rich and full bodied with a bit of peat, as they malt some of their own barley using locally cut peat and then mix that with unpeated malt from the mainland.

This one was distilled in 1997 and bottled in 2009, making it the same age as their regular 12 year old expression, before being released just to the travel retail market. On the nose it has a hint of the sea as well as grass, butter, chewy toffees, woody spice and a touch of bbq sauce. To taste it was a bit lighter than I expected with dry smoky sawdust, sour fruit, tannic edges and a line of custard down the middle. It started off quite sugary and faded to a dry woody finish with a lingering warmth. A drop of water made things a bit more interesting and another couple made things even better. The nose got more custardy, maybe with a hint of marmelade stirred through it. The strength of flavour remained in the taste, but the sawdust turned into vanilla, maybe making it too custardy (a statement that I thought I’d never utter, coming as I do from a family where the protrusion of any part of a pudding above the surface of custard when eating dessert is a sign that more custard was required). Along with that some more fruit came out, a bit like a sour Refresher chew, and a some piney wood.

It was really not what I expected, especially as it’s quite a while since I’ve tried a distillery bottling of Highland Park and my memory of previous ones is hazy. I was rather put off by the initial lip-smackingly dry wood finish but a good amount of water really changed it into something quite tasty. My increasingly typically flowery final tasting note reads:

It is a bit like sucking on a custard covered wooden stave – even when the tasty custard has gone you still have a good quality piece of wood to chew.

Highland Park 1997 Vintage
12 year old orcadian single malt whisky, 40%. ~€45 only in selected European travel retail

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…

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16 Special Reserve

Being a whisky fan as well as a lover of scottish beer (of which there are increasingly more and more good examples of) this jumped out when I heard it was appearing – a Harviestoun beer matured in casks that had previously held Highland Park whisky. The SMWS got a few bottles in for general consumption, as I missed out on a ticket for their tasting, but they only had the “basic” Special Reserve 12, matured in casks that had held 12 year old whisky. Finally, after hints of the existence of the older casked beers (and an offer to negotiate for the sale of a couple of bottles from one of the lovely barmen at The Draft House) I found some at Utobeer this weekend and grabbed one – the Harviestoun Old Dubh 16 Special Reserve:

Ola Dubh

I may have grinned a lot on the way home as I’d picked it up for only £4, a chunk less than I thought I’d pay for the most exclusive of their releases, and managed to hold off on its sampling for a couple of days. The beer that they mature in the barrels is similar to the Harviestoun Old Engine Oil (Ola Dubh is allegedly scots for Black Oil), a thick black beer that lives up to its name, and it comes out the other end of the process with a definite change. There’s not the big I WAS MATURED IN A WHISKY BARREL kick that you get from Innis & Gunn, but there is definitely a sweetening influence over the flavour of the Old Engine Oil.

The beer is thick and dark with a malty sweetness and slight smokiness. It’s strong, at 8%, but doesn’t taste it, slipping down worryingly easy, but it has that strong bottled beer catch at the back of your throat. The head in the picture is a bit deceptive as the beer is only slightly fizzy, with a stout like bubble, and quite silky in the mouth. Overall though it doesn’t do much more than the 12 year cask matured version, which from memory I think tasted very much like this. It’s quite a tasty beer, but not one that I’d go out of my way for over the 12 year or a regular Old Engine Oil.

However, on checking the round-the-bottle-neck booklet it seems that my guesses on the editions of the beer were wrong – they offer a 12, 16 and 18 (although the website suggests the 18 has been discontinued in favour of a 30, which has been added to the watchlist). The omission of the 14 fooled me into thinking I had the highest cask age beer, but it seems that there is at least one further for me to find. Never mind, it’s quite an enjoyable search.

Harviestoun Ola Dubh 16 Special Reserve
Dark ale matured in Highland Park whisky casks. 8%
Limited availability. I got mine at Utobeer in Borough Market