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.

A Trio of Nikka Pure Malts – Red, Black and White

This is an article that I’ve been half sitting on for a while – I’ve had the bottles on the side for the best part of a year and have been meaning to get round to writing some tasting notes (and even open one of them). So finally I’ve got round to cracking the seal on the final one while investigating a Japanese entry for a tasting that I might be running sometime soon. While I decided in the end that a different Nikka whisky would grace my tasting line-up (the excellent From the Barrel which I need to buy more of now after an extending sampling over the last week or so) this trio is definitely worth a look – Nikka Pure Malt Red, Black and White.

Nikka Pure Malt range

Nikka is one of the two big names in Japanese whisky and was started by Masataka Taketsuru, the original master distiller of Suntory and thus probably the first whisky distiller in Japan, in 1934. These days they are owned by Asahi and consist of not only the original Yoichi distillery, in the town of the same name on the northern island of Hokkaido, but also Miyagikyo in Sendai, north east of Tokyo, and the Ben Nevis distillery in Scotland. They produce a wide range of whiskies but as with much of the industry produce mainly blended whisky. These Pure Malts would be described as Blended Malts under SWA regulations and consist of a variety of single malt whiskies blended together. Each of the three whiskies takes a different flavour profile and builds it from whiskies from Yoichi and Miyagikyo, although I did hear rumours (that I’ve not been able to verify) that the white also contained some peaty Scottish malt.

As with many of Nikka’s whisky the presentation is very important, with the bottles being very pretty and coming in plain cardboard boxes that wouldn’t look out of place on the shelves of Muji. The bottles are smaller than the usual 70cl at 50cl, which makes them both affordable and a bit pricier than they at first seem. One thing is certain, when they are finished the bottles aren’t going in the recycling as I already have ideas of what tasty booze experiments they’ll be filled with next.

The red is the one I didn’t buy a full bottle of – I’d heard from friends that it was their least favourite and decided to grab a sample of it from Master of Malt before jumping in for a full bottle. After a taste I’m quite pleased I didn’t, as it’s my least favourite of the three. I did go into my first taste of it with a bit of bias as after my initial opening of the sample bottle it was rather…how to say this…pissy. However, that smell drifted off very quickly and I detected no further off smells. On the nose it had violets, bbq pork, sweet butter, spicy fruit and some apple and pear – almost a hint of unspiced apple pie. To taste it was very drying and tannic, with cardboard, hints of sour grap and a sugary woody finish. Water didn’t help that much, bringing out more bitter wood but softening that with vanilla, and the finish lost some of its sweetness but gained more woody cardboard. All in all too tannic and woody for me.

The black reminded me more of the From the Barrel, which is a grain/malt blend rather than a pure malt, and was the other whisky in contention to fill the Japanese spot on my tasting list. On the nose it had lemon Turkish Delight, red wine gums (although my notes say ‘more pink than red’), pine and petrol. The taste had sour fruit, salty butter, sherberty Refreshers, golden syrup, violets and prickly dry wood leading to a tannic woody finish with a hint of wood smoke. Water brought out more sourness on the nose, added more fruitiness to the middle, and vanilla and wet wood to the finish. It’s sweet and sour with some interesting complexity, and one that I suspect will make its way out of the cupboard when I run out of From the Barrel.

The final bottle in the range is the white – the smoky one. I suspect it’s just a rumour but I can see why people thought it might have a drop of Islay whisky in here, although it would have only been a drop. On the nose there was light wood smoke covering sweet alcohols, with some muddy sherry, sugared flowers and crunchy apples. To taste there was more smoke and astringent polished wood, celery salt (I think…that’s the closest I can get to the vegetal saltiness that I got on a couple of sips), the crunchy apples from the nose (Granny Smiths), unripe white grapes, a hint of minty menthol and a finish of peaty smoke intertwined with fragrant wood. It was quite prickly with alcohol, despite its 43%, and water combined the disparate flavours creating a tasty mess of smoke, sweetness, flowers and tannic fruitiness. It still had some of the alcoholic burn, but ended lightly smoky with the woody end remaining. Interesting, but with my current tastes leaning away from smoke it’s not one for me at the moment.

Three interesting and quite different whiskies – one I really liked, one that was nice and one that wasn’t for me. Nikka seems to currently be the more interesting of the two big distillers, although that could be a subconscious prejudice against the larger seeming Suntory, but in the main it just goes to show that Japan really is a place to keep an eye on.

Update: It seems my research was a bit on the rubbish side and a couple of googles this morning pointed me in the right direction – there is a chunk of Islay whisky in the white. After a quick look at the excellent Nonjatta it seems that the white is Islay/Yoichi, Black mainly Yoichi and Red mainly Miyagikyo.

Nikka Pure Malt Red
Japanese Blended Malt Whisky, 43%. ~£30 from Master of Malt.

Nika Pure Malt Black
Japanese Blended Malt Whisky, 43%. ~£30 from Master of Malt.

Nikka Pure Malt White
Japanese Blended Malt Whisky, 43%. ~£30 from Master of Malt.

Guest post on Master of Malt

Well. Pretty much as the title says – I did a guest post over on the Master of Malt blog. They sent me a bottle of whisky and some bitters (I now have two bottles of their bitters…) and asked me to come up with a Christmassy cocktail. I didn’t use quite as many bits of equipment or FIRE! as CaskStrength.net‘s Neil Ridley, who did the post before mine, but I think I can safely say that neither Neil, Joshua Hatton (who’s up next) or any of the others in the series will have come up with as dodgy a name as Mull of Apple-Tyre. It was late, I had a deadline, stop looking at me like that.

From:

00-Ingredients

To:

11b-Serve Poncily

With only a shake and the balancing of an overly large cinnamon stick. Yes, that is the same cinnamon stick that I used to stir my hot buttered rum. I am frugal.

And thus ends my whisky ‘deluge’. More of a spilled half empty bucket, but there will of course be more to come.

Quick Tastings – Whisky round-up

As I have a surprisingly small amount of whisky on the horizon and used the phrase ‘Whisky Deluge’ at the beginning of last week I thought I’d better fulfill the unspoken promise therein and stick up some more about whisky. It’s also Burns Night this evening, which means that by Whisky Blogger Law I have to post something and use the phrase “Sláinte Mhath!” I’ve had some Master of Malt drams come through in the last few months, as it seems a waste of postage costs not to stick a few onto the end of an order from them, and I’ve had a few bottles appear in my cupboard by other means, so here are the ones I grabbed notes about:

Jura 10 year old – I won this as part of the Jura website’s weekly pub quiz. I’ve knocked back a fair bit of Jura in my time, but don’t think I’d ever tried the regular 10 year old. On the nose it had caramel, a hint of wet peat smoke, vanilla, apples, floor polish and an underlying meatiness (chicken?). To taste there was toast, sweet wood, pine, vanilla cream, pepper, rhubarb and lime skin, wrapped up with a dry wood finish. Water added more vanilla, more sour wood, more woody spice and white pepper on the finish.

Zuidam 5 year old Dutch ryeZuidam 5 Year Old Dutch Rye – I grabbed this in my first batch of drams and it sat around for a while before I got round to trying it. Zuidam are a Dutch distiller who started in 1975 and they make genever, gin and liqueurs along with their whisky. This is a whisky made predominantly with rye, unlike Scotch’s barley and bourbon’s corn, and from my experience of US rye I was expecting something spicier than a bourbon.On the nose it was very bourbony, with some sweet spicy pear underneath and a floral note on top. To taste it started very sweet, with more pears, squishy sultanas and oats. Water expanded the vanilla sweetness, bringing out milk chocolate, sweet wood and more sultanas – maybe a touch of rum and raisin fudge? It can take a good slug of water and calms to a very sweet dram.

Campbeltown Loch 30 Year Old – regular Campbeltown Loch is an inexpensive blended whisky put together by J&A, the owners of Springbank. This one is a rather more special bottling, with all the whiskies coming in at at least 30 years old – something that appealed to my Springbank and Longrow loving tastebuds. On the nose it was florally sweet with a sour edge – rose water, turkish delight, linseed oil, sour grapes and the air around a brewery on malting day (beefy maltiness) all made an appearance as well. To taste it had a syrupy sweetness to start (strawberries and apples), quickly disappearing behind a layer of wood caramel and fading to a warm dry woody finish. Water brought out some vanilla sweetness in the beginning, with underlying spicy wood. The finish was bolstered with a chunk of custardy vanilla and raisins.

Edradour Port MaturedEdradour 2003 Port Cask Matured – I’ve not tried much from Edradour but I quite like their ‘we have the smallest stills in Scotland’ claim, so have been meaning to for a while. I chose this one due to a hole in my whisky tasting knowledge when it comes to port cask finished whisky. The cask had definitely had some of an effect on this, with the whisky sitting rather pink in the glass. On the nose it had candy floss, refreshers, bubblegum and hint of spicy wood. To taste there was linseed oil, sweet wood, sherbet lemons, and a bitter wood finish with sherbet ‘sparkles’. It tasted stronger than its 46%. Water revealed a hint of creamy vanilla on the nose and much more on the taste – pine, light custard, perfumed raisins, foam strawberries, milk chocolate, smoky struck matches and a hint of citrus leading into the still woody finish.

Chichibu Double Matured New Born Cask No.446 – Chichibu is one of the newer additions to the rapidly ramping up Japanese whisky industry, opening in 2008. As such none of the spirit produced is quite whisky yet, and this sample was matured for about 2 years, first in a bourbon cask before being moved to a new american oak barrel to finish (hence the Double Matured moniker). On the nose it had pine floor cleaner, lemons, cola bottles, foam shrimps, bananas, creamy vanilla and damp wood. To taste it was very hot, with spicy wood and creme patissier. Water calmed it down (it was bottled at 61.3%) and the woodiness became very perfumed, with lots of sweet fruit down the sides of the tongue (red rope liquorice?), liquorice root and a fragrant but astringent woody end. Creamy but with a sour edge from the wood. This was very interesting and has added Chichibu to my ‘try whenever possible’ list.

Jura 10 Year Old
Single malt Jura Scotch whisky, 40%. ~£25 from Master of Malt.

Zuidam 5 Year Old Dutch Rye
Dutch rye whiskey, 40%. ~£60 from Master of Malt.

Edradour Port Cask Matured
Single malt Highland Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£40 from Master of Malt.

Campbeltown Loch 30 Year Old
Blended Scotch whisky, 40%. Out of stock, but was about £45 from Master of Malt.

Chichibu Double Matured New Born Cask No.446
Japanese grain spirit, 61.3%. Out of stock, but was about £60 from Master of Malt.

Whisky Squad #9 – The Christmas Party

As the year draws to a close the season of Christmas parties is upon us. I missed my office Christmas party for the last Whisky Squad (the unblogged #8a, which involved BYOB, chocolate and some impressive drunkenness – Jason managed to write something down and then read it back again, the latter part of which isn’t quite possible from my notes) and have somehow managed to avoid any others until last week when The Squad grabbed the back room of The Gunmakers.

Whisky Squid

The plan was ‘simple’ – there’d be more seats than usual, there’d be a three course Christmas meal from The Gunmaker’s rather excellent kitchen and Whisky Guy Darren would choose some whiskies to accompany the meal. Things veered away from simple when it was also announced that there would be a whisky quiz, knocked up by Darren and Whisky Squad founder Andy. There was even mention of prizes…

SMWS 93.40Anyways, Darren matched up one whisky per course, choosing a dram that would work with each of the three choices available. First up, although tasted blind as is usual, was The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s 93.40 – Clay and Pork Sausages,  a ten year old from Glen Scotia in Campbelltown bottled at 61.9% from a refill bourbon cask. On the nose there was roast pork and apples, salt, woody smoke and caramel sweetness. To taste there was sweet coal smoke, salt and pepper, and lemons. Water brought out the appleiness, vanilla from the cask, sour wood and more lemons. This was matched with tomato and red pepper soup, smoked salmon and crayfish roulade, and wild boar pate and worked quite well with them all – the smoky saltiness combined with some meatiness backed up the soup and pate, and cut through the creaminess of the roulade.

Berry's Ledaig 2005Next up was the Berry Brothers and Rudd Ledaig 2005, bottled at a shockingly (after tasting it) young 4 years. It came from a sherry cask and was a rather spicy 62.7%. This one is sold out everywhere and appeared on our list thanks to Darren finding a bottle hidden in his house. I tried it on a visit to BBR after Whisky Squad #7 and was quite impressed, but had assumed that I’d not be able to try it again, so was quite pleased to have this chance. Along with everyone saying it was great at the time the chaps at Caskstrength.net gave it the top prize in their BiG (Best in Glass) awards this month, beating a Glenfarclas 10 times its age. On the nose it had smoke, custard, salt, marmalade and meaty bbq sauce. To taste it had coal, tar, a sweet rich fruity burst and a finish of coal dust. Water calmed it down, bringing out leather and more sherried fruit, while diminishing the smoke. This was matched with roast turkey, lamb shanks, baked whiting and butternut squash pie. I can’t speak for anything but the lamb, but it went well, the rather big flavours of the whisky happily stood up to the heaviness of the meat.

Glengoyne English Merchants' ChoiceGoing with dessert we had The English Merchant’s Choice 13 Year Old Glengoyne. This is a single cask whisky chosen as the second of the Glengloyne Merchant’s Choice selection, coming after the Scots version. It was selected by a group of English whisky sellers, including Darren’s boss at Master of Malt, Ben Ellefsen (there’s more about it on the Glengoyne blog). On the nose it had dark rum and nail varnish and the taste continued that with some heavy bitter wood and rubber, all with a demerara sugariness underneath. Water revealed some bitter orange rind along with the rich rumminess. Despite my love of sherried whisky, this one was a bit much for my liking – too much wood swamping the rich sweet fruit. This was matched with Christmas pudding, mince pies and some cheese, all of which went well. The richness of the whisky matched up with the fruit of both the pies and pudding, and cut through the fat of the cheese (even making me appreciate a blue cheese for the first time ever).

Octave Cameron BridgeAs a post dinner dram Darren unveiled The Octave 31 Year Old Cameron Bridge, a single cask grain whisky bottled by Duncan Taylor from a first fill bourbon cask at 54.6%. On the nose this one had a thin sweetness, with raisins, acetone and citrus syrup. To taste it had spicy, but controlled, wood, vanilla pods and a short finish of sugary wood. Water brought out more vanilla and cream, revealing school dinner custard, grape jam and a spicy woody finish. This was my favourite of the night, showing me that the bits of well aged grain whisky that I like are common between sherry and bourbon casks and thus due to the nature of the spirit rather than the wood it’s aged in. Unfortunately with only 70 bottles released I suspect I won’t be finding any more.

Now we come to the quiz. Composed of three rounds, a picture round and two of written questions and answers, it was marked out of 50 and was rather tough. I lucked out and had Rob and Rocky from Berry Brothers on my table (their experience was offset by our team size of 3 compared to everone else’s of 5, was our claim) and we quite convincingly won with a score of 40. We picked up some miniatures of whisky as well as accusations of cheating – the peril of having Darren (writer of round one) on our table as well (although being good and not taking part in the quiz). Anyways, winners!

So, Whisky Squad continues from strength to strength, with January’s session already sold out, but keep an eye on the website for February’s meeting.

SMWS 93.40 – Clay and Pork Sausages
Campbelltown single cask single malt Scotch whisky, 61.9%. Sold out, was £42.20 at the SMWS.

Berry Brothers and Rudd Ledaig 2005
Highland single cask single malt Scotch whisky, 62.7%. Sold out.

Glengoyne English Merchant’s Choice
Highland single cask single malt Scotch whisky, 54.1%. ~£100 at Master of Malt.

The Octave – Cameron Bridge 31 year old
Single cask single grain whisky, 54.6%. Sold out, was ~£75 at 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

Whisky4Movember

movember

To be perfectly honest I blame the Australians. It could have been any number of of countries in the southern hemisphere, but in the end it was the Aussies that have set things up ready for a month of pain for me: it is almost time for Movember. Started years back somewhere in the heat blasted antipodean wasteland, Movember is a charity movement dedicated to the cultivation of top lip facial hair during the month of November. As is usual with the charidee the participants approach everyone they see and demand sponsorship for their silly activities, this time the growing of a moustache and no other facial hair (unless it can be considered part of a moustache style). This post is that demand.

I’ve had a beard, which includes as part of its makeup a moustache, for coming on ten years. Over time bits of the beard have been removed and regrown (currently the whole lot is in full bloom due to an effort to make my Movember transformation all the more shocking) but the two constants have been chinny bit and moustache. The thing about Movember is that in order to grow a mo’ (an abbreviation for ‘tache that I’ve not heard outside of Movember) you need to not have one to start with, otherwise its more ‘cultivating an already existing hedge’, so I’m looking at Movember from a slightly different place than many of the participants. In short, I’m going to have a shave.

And this is where my Australian blaming comes to the fore – what kind of sadistic people would export a charity event that will lead inexorably to the exposing of my usually fur insulated face to the perils of a London winter? Our southern hemisphere summer experiencing far flung former colonial chums.

So, sponsoring me is sponsoring a three-in-one holy trinity of stupid activities:

  1. Growing a moustache, like all the other Mo’ Bros (sistahs can join in with stick-on ‘taches if they wish)
  2. Being clean shaven for the first time in almost a decade, and remaining that way (apart from the ‘tache) for a month
  3. Exposing my poor delicate face to the ravages of biting winds

Movember supports men’s health charities, especially focusing on prostate cancer in the UK (one of those fun men’s problems that we generally keep quiet about, even though we moan loudly about the potential of getting a cold), so you could count this as enlightened self interest, what with me being a man and slowly encroaching upon the ages where the probabilities of experiencing many of the health problems in question rises, but you should all sponsor me anyway.

PrintMy “Mo Space” is where you can go to sponsor me and keep an eye on my ‘tache growing progress through the month. I’m part of a team called Whisky 4 Movember, organised by Whisky Guy Darren Rook and featuring members of Whisky Squad, and we are also going to be doing some whisky related charity shenanigans during the month – there’s a potential for for a fun run (with whisky in hand) as well as some tastings and special Movember bottlings from Master of Malt (here are last year’s – I’ve seen the labels for this year’s and they’re rather nifty). I’ll update here as soon as I hear any details.

Anyways, sponsor me, relish my humiliation and do a bit for charity.

Whisky Squad #4 – Islay Malts

It’s incredible how important one’s sense of smell is when tasting things. I have, of course, heard from numerous people (including my anosmic mate John) about how taste is predominantly smell, with the tongue painting in wide strokes while the nose adds the detail, so it was rather annoying to discover the actual extent to which my own sense of taste is reliant on my nose on the same day as I finally made it along to a Whisky Squad tasting.

Whisky squad #4

The Whisky Squad is a monthly meetup set up by Andy of Good Drinks Etc and Jason B. Standing to be more informal than most of the tastings out in the wild, with a focus on learning, talking about whisky in a small group and generally having a good time. With assistance from Darren, The Whisky Guy, as whisky expert (a title he veraciously denies, despite working for Master of Malt and having hours of whisky related anecdotes to roll out at the drop of a segue) and moustache wearer extraordinaire, they take over the upstairs room at The Gunmakers (thanks to Jeff the easily bribed with whisky landlord) on the first Thursday of each month to taste through a bunch of whiskies focused around a theme. This month’s was Islay, Andy having just returned from a weekend up there and thus laden with bottles.

Islay is one of the most concentrated areas of whisky production in the world, with 8 distilleries dotted around the 240 square miles of the island floating just off of the Kintyre peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Famed for their peaty whiskies it’s a bit of a whisky connoiseurs paradise, with each of the distilleries a short drive from each other and each offering something quite different.

I wandered along certain that my worst day of hayfever in about ten years wouldn’t hinder the tasting of pungent island malts. However, within seconds of the first dram being placed in front of me my worst fears were realised – I could smell nothing at all. Even the strongest snort did nothing but hurt the back of my nose as the physical reaction to the alcohol remained, but no twitch of sensory cells to inform me of what I was sniffing. Luckily, Andy acted as my seeing nose dog, pinging me tasting notes, and I grabbed a couple of samples to take home and try later on.

MoM Islay 12First up was a sample from Master of Malt to keep us going while Andy and Darren kicked off the evening with some talk of Islay and the makings of whisky. The Master of Malt 12 Year Old Islay is a blend of malts from the island and is peated to about 15ppm. On the nose it has bitter-sweet peat, a touch of sweet wood oil and digestive biscuits. To taste the peat is more subdued and joined with a hint of woodsmoke and wet cardboard. There’s a bump of malty sweetness in the middle, with a touch of orangey citrus, before a it trails off into a subdued, short caramel orange finish. Water brings out some vanilla sweetness to fight against the wood smoke, adding a prickly damp bonfire edge to the taste. It’s smoky and peaty, with a hint of citrus and some sweetness – a classic example of what is thought of as a ‘typical islay malt’, even if such a statement doesn’t really mean anything, as the whiskies to follow will demonstrate.

MoM Bowmore 26As a special treat before we started the tasting proper was a very small amount of Master of Malt Bowmore 26 Year old, accompanied by a parma violet. Unfortunately I didn’t get anything off the glass other than a burnt nose, but it was quite obvious to everyone else why a parma violet had accompanied it – it has a distinct sweet violet smell sitting in amongst the other flavours of a sweet shop.

The whiskies that are put on for the tasting, excluding random samples and donations, are tasted blind, with paper wrapped around the bottles to obscure labels and details, in an attempt to remove prejudices and prejudging of the flavours. Unfortunately for me I recognise the bottle shapes of most Islay distilleries, but having no sense of smell this was my main way of trying to work out what everyone was drinking before the big reveal.

Bunnahabhain 18Next up was a bottle that I didn’t recognise, the Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old. The Bunnahabhain (bunna-har-ven) distilleryis unique amongst those of the island in that its standard expression is pretty much unpeated , coming in at 1-2ppm. They do, however, produce a good quantity of peated spirit but other than for special bottlings this generally goes to other companies for blends, including Black Bottle which it makes up a significant component of. Andy had picked this up at the distillery, along with an armful of leaflets, maps, tasting note cards and other assorted propaganda, and had really liked it due to it being so different to the peat heavy assortment that he tried up until then. From everyone else’s tasting notes it had cheap chocolate brownies, honey and sherry trifle on the nose and was dry and woody to taste, with a salty buttery finish.

To follow this we moved on to the Bruichladdich Peat, a whisky that was difficult to tell from the bottle shape alone due to the distillery’s habit of doing so many releases – it was suggested around the room that it’s almost as if whenever Jim McEwan, the production manager, has a crazy idea they drop what they’re doing and make a batch of it. The Peat is a back to basics version of Bruichladdich – peated to ~35ppm, matured in bourbon casks for an unspecified amount of time and bottled without any of the finishes that have become their trademark in recent times. The notes I have for this are that it combines peat and wood smoke on the nose, with a nice balance of the two combined with some sweetness and dry vanilla wood to taste. One that I want to revisit, as I’ve been a fan of all the ‘Laddies I’ve tried so far.

This one brought up a point for discussion – the difference between peat and smoke. As peat is introduced into the malt by way of smoke people often assume that the two flavours are the same, but there is a distinct difference. In addition to peatiness there is also smokiness in the flavours introduced by the barrel used for maturation and this is a different kind of smoke to that introduced by the peat. Generally the peat will bring in more medicinal flavours, such as the TCP-like tang that Laphroaig is known for, or a sweet smoke, such as with Bowmore, whereas the wood will bring in more campfire tastes and smells. As ever, the various different bits of the whisky making process, from water to finishing, all have their effect on the finished product, all working together to produce interesting flavours.

After this I threw my contribution to the evening into the ring – the remains of my young Kilchoman sample, which Darren identified as having been in wood for 6 months. Kilchoman have recently produced their first 3 year old bottlings to quite a lot of acclaim (I have a bottle of an upcoming Royal Mile Whisky single cask bottling reserved, as recommended by Jason, which I’m very much looking forward to) and their new spirit is a great indicator of how Islay whiskies mature in the barrel. I usually describe this as tasting like ‘cattle feed and death’, but with a bit more delicacy it has lots of malty grain with sweet peat and a hint of woodiness that isn’t particularly developed in this young sample.

Caol Ila 10 unpeatedAfter that interlude we got back on to chosen whiskies with a Caol Ila 10 year old ‘Unpeated’ expression. Strangely for an evening of Islay malts half of the whiskies we tried weren’t heavily peated, with this one having little or no peat in at all, rather than the usual ~15ppm that the distillery uses. I grabbed a dram of this to take home, Caol Ila being a whisky that I’ve been intrigued by in the past (with a cask strength Tokaji finish being one of the most orangey whiskies I’ve ever tasted). On the nose there’s candy floss, a wisp of smoke and something almost toffee appley. To taste it has dry prickly wood, orange juice concentrate (a flavour that I’ve found to be especially strong in the Caol Ila’s I’ve tried) and sweet wood smoke. It’s cask strength, at 65.8%, so can happily take some water which opens the nose to add more oil and sweaty socks and a slab of sweetness to the taste, along with some coal dust, bitter oak, sweet butter and orchard fruitiness. A fearsome dram neat, but one that mellows nicely with water.

The citrus nature of many of the Islay whiskies seems a bit strange, but Darren explained it as coming from the saltiness inherent on being matured on the island. The salt interacts with the wood of the barrels creating citrus-like flavouring compounds which are picked up by the wood, thus introducing not only briney notes into the whisky but also the lemon and orange flavours that are often present.

Lagavulin 2010 Distillery OnlyNext was the last of the night, which by a process of elimination was the distillery only edition that Andy had promised us – Lagavulin Distillery Only 2010. This is a cask strength bottling that you can, as the name suggests, only get from the distillery. 6000 bottles were produced and it was released in time for this year’s Feis Ile. Along with the limited nature of the bottling it’s also quite special as it was finished in port casks. On the nose it’s pure Lagavulin, with seaweed, brine, a background of sweet peat and a hint of meatiness. To taste it’s spicy, with the port wood very obvious at the back of the mouth. It has seafood risotto, seawater, caramel covered twigs and a mixed spice tail. A drop of water takes the edge off of the prickle, bringing out big sugary sweetness, revealing the background woody savouriness and adding a chunk of smoky sweetness, like burned sugar. This is a really rather special dram and one that it’s worth going to the distillery to grab.

An interesting array of whiskies, with only 2 of the 4 actually being particularly peaty, showing just how big a range Islay actually produces. The guys know how to run an evening and having finished the tasting the conversation continued in the Gunmaker’s bar until the pub closed. I’m signed up for the next one (and am even missing a day of the GBBF to make sure I can go) which should be an evening of summer whiskies with Diageo’s Colin Dunn, who led the Talisker tasting I went to last year, which promises to be an event – putting Colin in a small room strikes me as a recipe for enthusiasm overload, in a good way.

Master of Malt 12 Year Old Islay
Islay Blended Malt Whisky, 40%. £34.95 from Master of Malt

Master of Malt 26 Year Old Bowmore
Single cask Islay malt whisky, 53.4%. £99.95 from Master of Malt

Bunnahabhain 18 Year Old
Islay Single Malt Whisky, 43%. £48.95 from Master of Malt

Bruichladdich Peat
No age statement Islay Single Malt Whisky, 46%. £31.95 from Master of Malt

Caol Ila 10 Year Old ‘Unpeated’ 2009
Islay single cask single malt whisky, 65.8%. £51.95 from Master of Malt.

Lagavulin 2010 ‘Distillery Only’
Port wood finished Islay single malt whisky, 52.5%. Only available from the distillery – £70 for one or two for £130.

If you want to come along to a Whisky Squad tasting then keep an eye on their website and sign up when they announce the next event. The group is small (~15) and it’s first come first served, so you need to be quick. They do run a waiting list so it’s worth letting them know even if they have run out of spots.

Drinks by the Dram – Greenore 15 Year Old

Ever since the Cooley tasting I attended at Whisky Lounge I’ve been keeping an eye out for a chance to try more of their whiskies. So, when I spied the Greenore 15 Year OId while clicking through the Drinks by the Dram list for my first order I couldn’t really say no.

Greenore 15

It’s the longer matured version of the Cooley Irish single grain whiskey, the only of its type commercially available. I rather liked the 8 year old version, picking up a bottle while at Whisky Lounge London, and was intrigued by what some extra time in the barrel would bring.

On the nose it has caramel sweetness with an undercurrent of astringent graininess, a hint of grassy field and some pear. To taste it has even more caramel, with some woody vanilla and a savoury twist on the finish, with a rubbing of butter. It’s got a load of spice on the tongue which, along with finish, gives a sweet pastry taste. It’s quite delicate so doesn’t like lots of water, but a few drops brings out the pears from the nose as well as some tannic wood bitterness, while softening the caramel to a more general mouth coating sweetness. The butteriness still sits at the back of the throat and accompanies a spicy, woody finish.

Engage poetic license: Like walking through a corn field in the evening while eating a slice of pear pie.

An advancement on the regular 8 year old Greenore, with more of everything but continuing on the same theme. Again, even though it’s quite delicate (although more robust than the younger version) I think it would work well with ice, becoming like a light but interesting bourbon. My experiments with the standard edition seem to suggest that some of the astringency (a common feature among the grains I’ve tasted) is softened a chunk by the ice, but the sweetness and more robust flavours still come through, as long as you don’t try and drown a glacier in it.

Drinks by the Dram

I don’t really buy whisky online. Generally I like to talk at people, so buying a bottle is normally an excuse to go and annoy the folk at one of the whisky shops in London, with me asking questions, making shakily backed up pronouncements and being corrected in pronunciation of distillery names and general misapprehensions about whisky and the world in general. However, being someone who wants to try every whisky that there is (no matter what – I have a miniature of Famous Grouse above my monitor waiting for an opportune moment), my wallet and I were rather pleased to find that Masters of Malt are now selling 30ml samples of whisky and other spirits as Drinks by the Dram.

Drinks by the dram
They’re very pretty

There’s a bunch of stuff on there, cheaper by the oversized shot than you’ll get in a bar and also including vodka, rum and brandy. So, my initial foray (comments on which will appear on here in time) included: Greenore 15 (an older version of my favourite at the Cooley tasting at Whisky Lounge), Nikka Pure Malt Red (to go with my Black and the White that I intend to buy, having had it recommended a bunch), Mackmyra First Edition (Swedish whisky), Zuidam Rye (dutch whisky), Port Durant tempranillo cask aged Guyanian rum (no comment needed), a 19 year old Mortlach (because Mortlach is lovely and normally more than I want to spend on a bottle) and some Bruichladdich Octomore (the world’s peatiest whisky, with this one being finished in Petrus casks…mad).

There are a bunch of other companies doing the same thing but these guys are based down the road in Tunbridge Wells, so for my carbon footprint, food mile aware brain (ignoring the Guyanian imports and everything else that I do) it makes sense. As does the overnight delivery…

Drinks by the Dram
Whisk(e)y, vodka, rum and brandy in individual 30ml servings from Master of Malt
From £1.75 (Cabin Hill bourbon) to £41.95 (1954 Glenfarclas) at the time of writing, with things appearing and disappearing all the time.