Spirited Matters https://spiritedmatters.com One man's excuse... Wed, 24 Feb 2021 08:05:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.6.2 168003762 Waterford Gristers – a tale of terroir https://spiritedmatters.com/2021/02/waterford-gristers-a-tale-of-terroir/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2021/02/waterford-gristers-a-tale-of-terroir/#respond Wed, 24 Feb 2021 08:05:00 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7882 Continue reading "Waterford Gristers – a tale of terroir"

Here’s a guest piece from Lee ‘Connas’ Connor – the Distilled Consultant, who you may know from his work with The Whisky Lounge and Scotch Malt Whisky Society – looking into the wonders of Waterford Distillery.

There can be no doubt that when Mark Reynier announced his return to distilling at Waterford, the whisky community was braced for a veritable wave of provenance-centred propaganda. And who can blame him, given his huge success in the regeneration of Bruichladdich Distillery and their ongoing obsessive commitment (even post-Reynier) to transparency in their whisky making process? From a purely commercial point of view, he would be a fool to tweak his trademark outspoken and irreverent image at this point.

What we were perhaps not expecting was the gaping abyss between how Bruichladdich and Waterford make whisky. Yes, it is what is in the bottle that counts, but you would be hard pushed to find two more contrasting single malt distilleries.

Compare and contrast…

The picturesque Bruichladdich is on Islay, nestled on the road to Port Charlotte and overlooking Lochindaal. It has highly recognisable whitewashed walls and aquamarine livery. Their emphasis is on the traditional whisky-making craft born out of the well-established skills of their local community. It is arguably reflected by the famous “Bruichladdich Computer”: a chalkboard in the mill house which the staff update periodically by hand.

Waterford, however, is a vastly different proposition.

Situated at Gratton Quay to the west of Ireland’s oldest city, the first point worth noting is that Waterford is not pretty. Forget picture-perfect, postcard-worthy scenes framed on the walls of local guesthouses, this is a factory – a brutal and echoing hall of mirrors in stainless steel, designed with a clear and direct purpose: brewing beer, specifically, Guinness. 

Beer to whisky, the hard way

Diageo invested €40 million in the brewery in 2004 and as you would imagine, it is a state-of-the-art facility. A bastion of efficiency and precision fed by three springs, and capable of storing 350 tons of barley – enough for three and a half weeks of production. Up until 2013 the original staff were still learning how to the operate brand-new, tailor-made equipment. Then, out of the blue, Diageo decided to consolidate operations at an expanded facility in St. James’ Gate in Dublin, and mothballed the site.

A year later, after being shown around the facility by Ned Gahan and Paul McCusker – both brewery employees who have since returned to the distillery – Reynier’s “Renegade Spirits” purchased the site. It cost €7.2 million and they put aside a further budget of €2.4 million to convert it into a distillery.

Mark Reynier, CEO
Ned Gahan, head distiller
Paul McCusker, distillery manager

The distillery is based around the philosophy of producing a terroir-driven, fully traceable spirit. The team focus on flavour divergence produced by individual barley harvests of individual strains from individual farms.

So how does the distillery enable this? The short answer is ‘technology’.

Engage warp drive

Before even considering the equipment used to actually make the whisky, a huge part of the traceability element of what Waterford are looking to achieve is down to bespoke software that was developed in-house.

It incorporates a comprehensive track-and-trace facility (imagine that!) which reports on at least 8000 data points for each individual-harvest run of barley: weather stations report on ongoing conditions at each farm; and apparatus feeds back fermentation temperatures and times, and warehouse temperature conditions. On top of all that, they record a breakdown of the casks in the final vatting of finished whiskies before bottling. In short, Waterford logs a bewildering amount of information, all accounted for in acute detail.

The machinery is also on another level. It is all specially engineered with precision automation, capable of conversing with each other to adjust and improve production.

They are well-prepared for potential expansion with fifteen fermentation vessels – only four of which are currently used – and a glycol refrigeration plant to allow accurate temperature control. There is even a self-cleaning system which can run in tandem with production without interfering with whisky making at all.

Neil Conway, Waterford’s head of production gives some detail on the potential for output: “We actually have a column still in the background that we don’t even use. Guinness used it to strip their concentrate for export all over the world. If we wanted to become a 5-million-litre distillery, we would just need to refurbish with some new copper, and we’d be able to accommodate that without a problem.”


Perhaps the most standout juxtaposition that Waterford offers in the way of production is their potentially unique pairing of a Meura Hydromill and mash filter.

In the Hydromill, temperature-controlled milling takes place underwater between two tungsten plates, producing an evenly hydrated mash solution. Once milled, it is transferred to a conversion vessel, eradicating the need to combine grist and brewing water separately.

The whole of the milling run is then passed through a mash filter. This separates and compresses the wort through a series of 42 pneumatic plates, automating the removal of spent grains altogether. It ‘squeezes out’ the wort as opposed to percolating multiple waters through one set of grains in a mash tun.

The result is greater efficiency and control over distillery processes, and greater likelihood that the desired clear wort will be achieved.

The Human Touch

It would be easy to be fooled into thinking that Waterford’s whisky is made by some kind of industrial robot incapable of free thought and empathy. However, the human element is essential.

Neil explains: “Each batch of malted barley that comes into us is from one farm and one harvest. [The grain] is different sizes, it grows in different terroir. We do adjust parameters: I have eight brews for each batch that comes in, so I have to focus on each of the brews to ensure we’re getting maximum flavour and yield from each subsequent spirit run.

“Our fermentation time is a minimum of 120 hours, which allows some malolactic fermentation. Farms can be different – we have organic, bio-dynamic and heritage barley varieties that react differently during fermentation so times will be adjusted accordingly.

“We have density and temperature meters on the stills, so we have full visibility on our software in the background. But each run is different depending on the farm we’re using. So, our distillers’ will nose and taste until they are familiar with all of our separate batches. And when they feel it’s right, they make the spirit cut.”

Everything old is new again

Almost paradoxically, the newest addition to Waterford was commissioned in 1968: the copper pot stills stills.

They stand where a pasteurisation unit was once housed. Originally, they were used at now-closed Inverleven distillery and arrived via Bruichladdich. Their output is controlled though a traditional spirit safe, with a manual lever control. Quite simply, this means that not a single drop is captured without the say-so of the individual distiller.

The resulting 40,000 litres of new make from each batch is then split into 50% first-fill American-oak casks, 20% Virgin American-oak casks, 15% premium French casks and 15% ‘Vin Doux Naturel’ casks for maturation.


This is all well and good. But what does it mean? Has ‘Project Terroir’ been a success? What’s next?

The term ‘terroir’ stirs a plethora of passionate responses in the whisky industry. In recent history, maintaining a distillery style has been the priority. Producers take great effort to override any idiosyncratic characteristics held in the barley in order to deliver a trademark spirit. Where the barley was planted and how it was grown is of no concern, as long as it has the component requirements to fulfil its task.

Waterford are arguably applying significantly more energy (not to mention, money) than necessary, to expose individual points of difference in the raw materials within the whisky-making process. To the point where every bottle arrives with a code which gives access to a ridiculous amount of on-line information on the journey the barley has taken to get there, and which, they fully admit, few people will even look up. At the very least, they are supplying substantial evidence for their case.

Same old, same old…

After all, although they are using cutting edge equipment and state of the art analysis. What Neil and his team are doing is using the same processes to celebrate the fact that their raw materials are not consistent, and each batch has unique qualities which they are choosing to highlight. Therefore, why would you expect homogeneity in their product?

And thus far, homogenous it most certainly is not. At the time of writing, the web is atingle with discussions on counterpoints in flavour between the various releases, each of which consist of whisky that can be actively traced to one specific farm. Which brings another potential hurdle: if what is in the bottle is forever changing, why would the whisky buying public dedicate a portion of their hard-earned budget to the purchase of Waterford’s whisky?

Neil clarifies: “Terroir is to understand the raw material makes a difference to the flavour of the spirit that goes into the cask.

“When Ned puts a Single Farm bottling together, what we’re doing is introducing people to the individual characteristics of one farm. Our ultimate aim is to then produce a ‘cuvée’, which is layer upon layer of different complexities from multiple different farms, and cask types. In the words of Mark himself ‘A mind-f**k of a Whisky!'”

Read more about Waterford’s terroir research >

The future – Waterford and beyond

As awareness improves, perhaps we need to think about redefining how we view, assess, and, ultimately, discuss making whisky. If any lesson can be taken from the transparency employed at Waterford, it is that there is more than one way to use a distillery to make whisky. Clearly, it would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that – for better or worse – since the ‘dark times’ of the 1980s the whisky market has been built in no small way on a foundation of consistency in its output. However, there is growing consciousness around creativity and the ability to use the distillery as a colour palette for originality, as opposed to a paint-by-numbers kit. Surely, there can be room for both?

What is worth noting is that contained in all of the bluster and excitement around what they are doing at Waterford, a priceless and debatably even irreplaceable ingredient has been created at the distillery.

A story.

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The Negroni Variations: Boulevardier https://spiritedmatters.com/2021/02/boulevardier-negroni-variations/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2021/02/boulevardier-negroni-variations/#respond Mon, 22 Feb 2021 22:25:40 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7896 Continue reading "The Negroni Variations: Boulevardier"

There are waves in the drinks world. Ideas that roll around and smash together to create rolling peaks where everyone seems to talk about the same thing for a short time. I really like negronis, and having seen a bunch of mentions of them and the negroni family over the past week, I better jump on before my metaphor breaks. Negroni variation #1: the Boulevardier.


I blame Stanley Tucci. This time last year, we were all getting used to lockdown and trying to order fancy drinks from whatever establishment would fling them in our direction. The negroni was too simple – just three bottles, equal measures, in a glass, with some ice. We wanted something only a professional could make. Something we couldn’t make on our own.

Then Stanley Tucci made a negroni.

It’s not a good negroni. In some ways, it’s not even a negroni. Use vodka if you don’t like gin? Shake it? Serve it up? In a coupe?

He is a monster.

However, he’s a monster with strangely popular forearms and a disregard for anyone’s comments on his negroni. He liked it and his Instagram account is now loaded with more cocktail videos, all horrifically popular. Well played, Stanley Tucci.

Now, almost a year later, we’re back to having the prospect of bars opening again dangled in front of us, but we’re also back to making whatever drinks we can make at home, at home. You may not have all the things you need to make a negroni, but why not play with it and make something you can make, and might like even better? Be more Stanley.

What’s a negroni?

I’ve written about negronis before. I even recorded a video about them in response to Mr Tucci’s abomination. But that was almost a year ago. One of the things that has revived the concept of playing with negronis recently is this video from Lewis Hayes of Merchant House.

He might tell us off at first for going off plan, but then he jumps in and tells us to play around with the drink.

Double up the gin. Switch out gin for soda and make an Americano. Switch in rum, Tequila, mezcal. No rules.

But recently, my go to is the variant he talks about the most – The Boulevardier.

What’s a Boulevardier?

While it’s my standard negroni variation, recently I was kicked into drinking more of them by Richard Godwin’s the Spirits newsletter.

40ml bourbon
25ml Italian vermouth
25ml Campari

Stir everything in an old-fashioned glass with lots of ice, ideally, one massive cube. Garnish with an orange or lemon zest twist!

THE Boulevardier is what you get when a Manhattan beds a Negroni. It has the rugged bourbon heft of the former and the continental sophistication of the latter. An Übercocktail! 

Richard Godwin – the Spirits #18: The Boulevardier

I’ve never really though too much about the drink – I just threw equal measures of bourbon, vermouth and Campari into a glass, topped it up with ice, stirred it with my finger, and poured it down my neck. But as Mr Godwin says: up the bourbon – it’s a bit syrupy otherwise, and more bourbon is rarely a problem.

After watching Lewis’s negroni video, I upped the gin in my negroni to a 2:1:1 ratio, and my next Boulevardier followed in a similar fashion. I now have a new old favourite to drink while preparing dinner. It worked on Saturday, it worked this evening, and I suspect it will work tomorrow. If there’s any bourbon left…

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Ben Bracken 16 Year Old and Lagavulin 16 Year Old – are they siblings? https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/12/ben-bracken-16-lagavulin-16/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/12/ben-bracken-16-lagavulin-16/#respond Sun, 06 Dec 2020 14:27:17 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7858 Continue reading "Ben Bracken 16 Year Old and Lagavulin 16 Year Old – are they siblings?"

It’s almost Christmas and that means it’s time to be on the look out for booze bargains. On the whisky front, there is a lot of discussion about one particular deal – a good whisky, at a good price, with a hidden origin: Lidl Ben Bracken 16 Year Old. But could it secretly be Lagavulin 16 Year Old?

What’s a Ben Bracken?

The big discounters – Aldi and Lidl, especially – are both well known for having decent drinks selections. Lidl’s whiskies are concentrated on the Ben Bracken range, which are put together behind the scenes by Whyte & Mackay.

The Whyte & Mackay connection often leads online commentators to suggest that the whisky is from the company’s distilleries – Dalmore, Tamnavulin, Fettercairn, Invergordon and Jura. This is isn’t necessarily the case, and probably isn’t in most cases. W&M are a long-established blending company, with stocks of whisky from distilleries across Scotland, obtained through swaps, filling contracts and purchases.

Basically, all we can say for sure origin-wise is that Ben Bracken is from Scotland.

What’s Ben Bracken 16 Year Old?

Ben Bracken 16 Year Old

The Christmas 2020 splash from Lidl is Ben Bracken 16 Year Old. It’s a 16-year-old single malt whisky from Islay that costs £34.99.

As Whyte & Mackay own no Islay distilleries, we can’t turn to a simplistic guess of what it is, so need to do some minor sleuthing. First, what does it taste like?

Nose: Lime zest and sweet, gravelly smoke. Singed pink shrimp sweets, sea-spray-dampened tarred rope and smouldering pine needles. Fruity notes hide underneath, with hints of apple, pear and pineapple poking out through the tar.

Palate: Much softer on the palate, with a rich, thick and oily texture – almost syrupy. It’s darker and richer than the nose, with milk chocolate, long-stewed apple sauce, more creamily textured, buttery apple purée and a grind of black pepper.

Finish: Dark damp oak, tar and polished oak.

It’s a good whisky, especially for the price. It is coloured to death and chill-filtered, but that’s not a particular issue unless you are a whisky purist. If you are buying £35 whisky from Lidl, then that’s probably not you.

It could be you?

Now we know what it tastes like, which distillery might it be? Fortunately, there are only nine distilleries on Islay, and only three that it really could be:

Ardnahoe don’t have whisky yet, Bruichladdich haven’t sold any whisky to other people since they reopened, Ardbeg haven’t for a while, Kilchoman also keep all their whisky for themselves, and it doesn’t taste like Laphroaig or Bowmore.

That leaves Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila and Lagavulin.

Most anonymous Islay whisky comes from Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila, and my immediate assumption on hearing that Ben Bracken 16 Year Old existed was that it was from one of the two. However, Lagavulin seems to be one of the favourite suggestions in online whisky geek circles. Its 16-year-old a perennial favourite – it was even the final entry in my whisky advent calendar a few years back – and finding it for cheap is an appealing idea.

Is it a Lagavulin 16 Year Old?

Releasing an anonymous Islay using Lagavulin stock – one of the most sought after Islay makes – doesn’t seem to make sense. However, if Whyte & Mackay has a load of it and didn’t need it for other projects, this would be a perfect place to ‘get rid of it’:

  • bottling it for Lidl makes more sense than losing it in one of Whyte & Mackay’s blends
  • the company doesn’t have an outlet to sell a Lagavulin single malt. There is Whisky Works, blender Gregg Glass’s label, but the outturns on that are small, and doing a UK-wide Lidl release suggests that there were (are?) a good few casks
  • Whyte & Mackay almost certainly wouldn’t be allowed to sell the whisky under the name Lagavulin, either as a bottled product or in cask to other bottlers and brokers. Diageo (and its predecessors) know how to write supply contracts.

I got involved in the ‘What is Ben Bracken 16 Year Old?’ debate thanks to whisky blogger and vlogger – and colossal Star Wars geek – Jon Webb of Scotch and Sci-Fi. Here’s what he thought:

He was rather taken with the potential for it to be Lagavulin 16 Year Old. So much so that he not only invoked me in the video, but also sent me a pair of blind samples to try. While I guessed which one was which, they were much closer than I expected.

Here’s what I got from his Lagavulin:

Nose: Baked apples and smouldering oak chips. The smoke is soft and well integrated. Toffee and caramel notes come in behind along with developing green grass and eucalyptus. Tarry rope and bung cloth appears with some time in the glass.

Palate: Soft and sweet, with polished oak, smoky apples and tarry notes. Some char notes build along with peat smoke and spicy oak. Dried fruit – sultanas and apricots – sit at the back.

Finish: Creamy apples, lime zest, charred oak, mint choc chip and lingering aniseed.

So, is it Lagavulin 16?

Ben Bracken 16 is definitely not just a straight rebottling of Lagavulin 16 – it’s fresher and zestier, without as much of the trademark Laga 16 weight. However, there are enough commonalities that I can see why people think it could be from the same distillery.

To break Betteridge’s Law of Headlines, I’m not going to say that it’s not Lagavulin. I’m not convinced that it is Lagavulin, but I am more open to the suggestion now I’ve tried them head to head.

In the end, Ben Bracken 16 is a decent dram, and I now have bottle of my own. I’d recommend not worrying about what it is and just get stuck in – it’s nice.

(I reckon it’s Caol Ila)

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Dràm Mòr Glen Garioch 2011, Glenrothes 2009 and Benriach 2008 https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/dram-mor-glen-garioch-glenrothes-benriach/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/dram-mor-glen-garioch-glenrothes-benriach/#respond Mon, 15 Jun 2020 12:42:27 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7830 Continue reading "Dràm Mòr Glen Garioch 2011, Glenrothes 2009 and Benriach 2008"

This past couple of years have seen lots of new independent bottlers hitting the scene. With industry veterans from Italy and groups of mates from St Albans all joining in the race to find and bottle great whiskies, the new independents are a varied crowd. Surprisingly, one of the places without as many newbies is Scotland, so it’s nice to see Dràm Mòr stretching out from its Dumbarton home to expand into the world of bottling its own whiskies.

Big Dram

Dràm Mòr has been around for a while in one guise or another, and if you’ve been to a whisky show somewhere in mainland Europe recently, then you’ve almost certainly met one half of the husband and wife team behind the company – Kenny Macdonald’s quite noticeable, even at a distance: he’s a big chap who’s invariably wearing a kilt. He’s a mainstay of European whisky festivals, pouring drams for a variety of distilleries from around Scotland and the rest of the world.

Viktorija and Kenny Macdonald

The other half is Viktorija Macdonald, who has been working in the whisky world for ages, both front of house and behind the scenes. Between them, they’ve been doing export, distribution and brokering, but have now taken the plunge into the world of independent bottling, and are working with their own whisky.

The first set of bottlings has recently launched and Kenny and Viktorija even managed to get in a whisky festival before lockdown came in. I didn’t get a chance to try the whiskies then – the show was in Ghent on the weekend of my birthday and I was in the pub in London – but Viktorija sent me down some samples to keep me going.

Dràm Mòr Glen Garioch 2011 8 Years Old Cask #2698

Dram Mor Glen Garioch 2011 8 Years Old Cask #2698

Bottled from a single bourbon hogshead at 58.4%. 240 bottles. ~£50.

Nose: Stewed orchard fruit, buttery pastry and a handful of marshmallows – Fluff-topped apple tarts? Sharper apple skin and crunchy barley sugar notes develop, along with butter lemon pith and peel.

Palate: A burst of Dolly-Mixture sweetness is balanced by sharp apple and rich butter toffee. Bitter apple pip and barrel char notes sits at the back. Travel sweets and apple Jolly ranchers build, along with grassy notes.

Finish: Peel and char notes face to leave of alcohol heat.

A punchy dram with a lot of youthful character – it’s got heat, but it’s got fruity spirit untempered by the cask. Its a solid young Glen Garioch.

Dràm Mòr Glenrothes 2009 10 Year Old Cask #5280

Dram Mor Glenrothes 2009 10 Year Old Cask #5280

Not much info on the wood, but it looks and tastes like ex-bourbon-matured whisky finished in a sherry cask. 348 bottles. ~£60.

Nose: Fruity caramel, rhubarb and custard sweets, Fox’s Glacier fruits and malted milk biscuits. Butterscotch and sherbert lemons follow, with a touch of buttermint and spiced shortbread.

Palate: Spiced sponge cake and raisin jam lead – hello sherry cask. The mint is now choc chips and the butterscotch is Daim bars. Dark leathery notes emerge from the depth, with juicy raisins, mixed spice and a cinnamon tingle.

Finish: Dark and spicy: buttery chocolate-dipped spiced shortbread and black liquorice.

This one surprised me – the nose hinted at sherry, but the palate dove head-first into sherry-cask character. Dark, fruity and unforgiving.

Dràm Mòr Benriach 2008 11 Year Old Cask #196

Dram Mor Benriach 2008 11 Year Old Cask #196

Ex-bourbon for 9 years and then a 2-year finish in oloroso. 87 bottles. ~£80

Nose: Funky orange peel – clove-studden pomanders left by a radiator for a bit too long – pond weed, raisins and fig. Malt and fruit loaf buttered with funky cultured butter develop, along with pine-needle-covered forest floors, nearby ponds and damp bark.

Palate: Big, rich and sweet – a brown-sugar-and-raisin punch to the frontal lobe. Barrel-char notes balance things out and spice runs through the middle: nutmeg and allspice with a hit of hot cinnamon. Dates, liquorice and freshly cracked black pepper develop

Finish: Dark brown sugar, cinnamon fireballs, char and tar. Hot spice and liquorice linger.

This is a divisive dram: I do not like it, but I know a load of folks who will. It’s got a sulphury tang to it and along with the brutal sherry-cask punch – it steam-rollered my palate. However, if you like silly sherry casks and don’t mind a bit of ‘struck match’ then jump on this. You’re a monster.

You can find links to buy all three of the above on the Dràm Mòr website.

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Laphroaig Càirdeas 2020 Port & Wine Casks https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/laphroaig-cairdeas-port-wine/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/laphroaig-cairdeas-port-wine/#respond Mon, 08 Jun 2020 13:46:10 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7802 Continue reading "Laphroaig Càirdeas 2020 Port & Wine Casks"

While this year’s Islay Festival of Malt and Music – Fèis Ìle – has been rather different to other years thanks to the joys of the global pandemic, some things have stayed the same – a load of special whiskies have been released. Most distilleries keep their festival releases for visitors of the island, but a couple regularly send theirs a bit further afield. One of those is a whisky that I grab every year and have become an obsessive collector of, despite not always liking the dram: Laphroaig’s release. This year’s is one that wears its ‘Billy won’t like this’ credentials on its sleeve, but as ever, I’ll give it a go – Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine Casks 2020: Port & Wine Casks.

Care Chase?

Back in 2008, Laphroaig decided to fully embrace its fan club – the Friends of Laphroaig – and launched Càirdeas – pronounced a bit like ‘care chase’ – as a yearly bottling to celebrate its existence. Uncoincidentally, its name is gaelic for ‘friendship’ and it’s launched at Fèis Ìle every year, the time when they get more Friends visiting than at any other time of year.

However, bucking the trend of other distilleries on the island, it’s not specifically a festival bottling. It’s the yearly Friends release, and as such it makes its way slowly around the world, available from the Laphroaig webshop as well as popping up in some markets they can’t ship to.

There’s been an array of releases over the years, each showing off the distillery’s focus of the moment. While they started out with more interesting vattings of casks, they have become a little more pedestrian in recent years, focusing on fan favourites and finishes. This year’s release is one of the latter.

A Brief History of Laphroaig Càirdeas

Laphroaig panorama
2008Laphroaig CàirdeasQuarter casks finished in first-fill bourbon plus a pair of sherry butts
2009Laphroaig Càirdeas 12yoEx-Maker’s Mark casks
2010Laphroaig Càirdeas Master Edition50% ex-bourbon hogsheads (11yo), 50% first-fill ex-bourbon (15, 17 and 19yo)
2011Laphroaig Càirdeas Ileach EditionDunnage-matured, first-fill ex-Maker’s Mark casks, 8yo.
2012Laphroaig Càirdeas Origin50% casks of the 2008 Cairdeas left to mature for a further four years, 50% 7yo fully matured in quarter casks
2013Laphroaig Càirdeas Port Wood EditionBourbon matured finished in port casks
2014Laphroaig Càirdeas Bottled 2014First-fill bourbon finished in Amontillado sherry hogsheads
2015Laphroaig Càirdeas 200th Anniversary Edition100% barley floor-malted at Laphroaig, matured in ex-bourbon casks
2016Laphroaig Càirdeas Madeira CaskEx-bourbon finished in Madeira casks
2017Laphroaig Càirdeas Cask Strength Quarter CaskUndiluted bottling of Laphroaig Quarter Cask
2018Laphroaig Càirdeas Fino CaskFirst-fill bourbon finished in Fino sherry casks
2019Laphroaig Càirdeas Cask Strength Triple WoodUndiluted bottling of Laphroaig Triple Wood
2020Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine CasksEx-bourbon and second-refill ruby port casks, married and finished in ex-red wine casks.

Ruby port…and red, red wine?

Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine

My general lack of fondness for both port and red-wine casks is well known. They are blunt tools, often not wielded with the finesse they require, creating overly jammy drams packed with over-the-top sponge-cake notes. A whisky combining both of them in a single bottling is one that I am wary of. However, when I do like red-wine- or port-matured whisky, I really like it, so…

Colour: I don’t usually comment on a whisky’s colour, but this one deserves a mention: it’s pink. A distinctively rosy hue showing off its winey provenance.

Nose: Rich and creamy toffee, with a touch of light beery coulis and, of course, a kick of tarry, medicinal Laphroaig smoke: TCP, burning pine, old ropes and bandages. Minty dark chocolate develops. Ashy smoke hides at the back with fudgy sweetness, and a touch of bitter lemon pith and peel.

Palate: Thick and oily in texture with a delay before impact. Slick and syrupy at first without much going on and then: boom. Peat, lemon and sour berries. A big whack of burning pine rolls through the middle, followed by dark chocolate and a touch of singed raisin. The fudge sweetness and tar from the nose sit underneath, with hints of cherries and fruit cake.

Finish: Mint, menthol and anise lead to tar-covered sponge cake.

Give me a little time, let me clear out my mind

Laphroaig Càirdeas Port & Wine is a port- and/or red-wine-matured whisky that I like.

I’m as shocked as you.

For me, this not only works but shows other whisky makers how to use often overly influential casks without swamping the spirit. There are several parts to this:

  • using second-refill port casks, which are going to give less cask influence than a first-fill
  • vatting that whisky with ex-bourbon-matured spirit before finishing
  • careful finishing to add character without overtaking the underlying whisky
  • Laphroaig is a ballsy spirit that can take a punchy cask.

The red-wine cask has added some sweet sponge-cake and fudgy character, along with a touch of berry fruit. The underlying whisky has a core of toffee-forward Laphroaig with some sticky cherry – the thing that I find often gets too much in many port-matured drams – without going too far. In the end, it’s all balanced, with Laphroaig’s distillery character taking centre stage.

It’s a dram that has pleasingly confounded my expectations. It’s a bit sweet and might dip a bit far into the wine-cask cakiness for some, but it works for me. And it’s pink. One day I’ll get enough bottles do a pink whisky tasting…

As I write, Laphroaig Càirdeas Port and Wine is still available from the Laphroaig webshop for Friends of Laphroaig. It’s €102.37 plus delivery.

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Mackmyra Grönt Te https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/mackmyra-gront-te-green-tea/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/06/mackmyra-gront-te-green-tea/#respond Wed, 03 Jun 2020 06:45:00 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7791 Continue reading "Mackmyra Grönt Te"

When it comes to the wider world of whisky, there are a few names that have risen to the top. Some are the oldest whisky makers in their part of the planet, some have well-known people, and others make weird and wonderful things. Mackmyra is rare in that it does all of the above: it’s the first Swedish whisky distillery, headed by master blender Angela d’Orazio, who is famed for creating craziness. Just like this latest release: a dram that is about as unnaturally composed as you can get, but still feels perfectly appropriate for the distillery – Mackmyra Grönt Te, Green Tea.

Tea time

Green tea and whisky are more common bedfellows than many people in the west think. While this side of the world is used to whisky mixed with ginger ale, lemonade, soda water and even Coke, over in Asia they see nothing strange about mixing whisky with cold green tea.

But how do you get green tea flavour into a whisky without turning it into something that is no longer whisky? Fortunately, Mackmyra master blender Angela d’Orazio is the right kind of crazy to work this kind of thing out.

All the tea in Japan

Angela started out with four different types of Japanese tea, chosen with the help of one of the only specialists in Sweden, Yuko Ono.

Read more about the collab on the Mackmyra blog >

  • Yame Sencha – classic Japanese whole-leaf tea from Yame on Kyushu, Japan’s third largest island. The area is well known for tea growing, with nearby Kagoshima being a powerhouse of production and Yame known for producing especially good teas.
  • Yame Gyokuro – more from Yame, but this time a sencha-style tea which is grown under shade for three or four weeks before harvest, creating a sweeter and more aromatic leaf. It’s one of Japan’s highest grades of tea.
  • Kaoribo Hojicha – a tea which is roasted rather than steamed, like other Japanese teas. Specifically, this one seems to be a combination of a small amount of roasted sencha along with a lot of roasted kukicha – stems, twigs and stalks. I’m a fan of this kind of tea, and it’s a rich, nutty and smoky experience quite unlike regular green tea.
  • Yame Matcha Shinobi – again from Yame, this is matcha, the other main style of tea in Japan as opposed to sencha. This is tea that you might know from tea ceremonies. It’s grown with some shading before picking, like gyokuro, but the leaves are flattened to dry, unlike sencha. This makes them a bit crumbly, so the veins are removed and the leaves slowly ground to create a flavoursome green powder.

So they have tea, but how do you get the flavour into the whisky? Obvious: season a cask with it. But how do you get the flavour into the cask? With sherry, of course…

A matcha made in Jerez?

Firstly, they steeped the teas in neutral spirit to create four infusions. Then they filtered out the leaves and mixed the resulting tinctures with oloroso sherry.

The sherry-and-tea mixture was used to season new casks for two months before they were emptied and refilled with 7-year-old Mackmyra – a vatting of first-fill Swedish oak, first-fill ex-bourbon and first-fill sherry-cask matured whisky* – for a 19 month finish.


Mackmyra Grönt Te

The resulting whisky just looks like whisky, as you’d hope. It’s not green. It’s golden. Like whisky. But what does it taste like?

Nose: At first it has Mackmyra’s signature cream and fruit character, but the fruit keeps building and overtakes the rest: apple-and-pear purée to start, with sweet orange and lemon not far behind. There’s a flash of leafy green herb in the middle before grainy biscuits roll in: digestives, shortbread and fruity Garibaldi.

Palate: Grain and cream up front, with a bit of green apple sharpness – very Mackmyra. There’s some char at the back, and the middle is soft, squishy and muddled: vanilla cream, spring flowers, a touch of hand soap, pine needles, sappy twigs and ginger.

Finish: A burst of soapiness quickly fades to leave ginger biscuits and freshly scraped vanilla pods.


I’m not entirely sure what to make of Mackmyra Grönt Te. The nose is excellent, happily fusing the distillery’s balanced grain-and-fruit character with a touch of something herbal, while amping up the fruit. However, the palate just feels a bit confused: the fruit is dialled back, the herbal notes are piney, and while there are floral notes, they tip over into soapiness.

I’d be intrigued to see if there are more Grön Te casks in the Mackmyra warehouses and would like to know the plans for them. As a first iteration, this is pretty good if slightly confused. I hope there’s a second batch.

* The product sheet says ‘new and first-fill oloroso’, which makes me wonder what they mean by a ‘new oloroso’ cask.

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Hernö Pnk Btl Gin – a pink bottle of gin not a pink gin https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/herno-pnk-btl-not-pink-gin/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/herno-pnk-btl-not-pink-gin/#respond Tue, 21 Apr 2020 08:48:20 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7766 Continue reading "Hernö Pnk Btl Gin – a pink bottle of gin not a pink gin"

It’s a strange time for gin. It’s more popular than ever, with new bottles and distilleries appearing on a weekly basis. However, as the world of gin expands, so does experimentation within the category. New techniques, new flavours and new styles are all emerging, pushing against the legal definition of gin. As you’d expect, there’s a lot of discussion by gin makers and fans over whether this is a good or bad thing, and the latest shots to be fired have come from Sweden with the launch of Hernö Pink Btl Gin.

The legal bit

EU regulation defines gin as:

(a) Gin is a juniper-flavoured spirit drink produced by flavouring ethyl alcohol of agricultural origin with juniper berries (Juniperus communis L.).

(b) The minimum alcoholic strength by volume of gin shall be 37,5 %.

(c) Only flavouring substances or flavouring preparations or both shall be used for the production of gin so that the taste is predominantly that of juniper.

(d) The term ‘gin’ may be supplemented by the term ‘dry’ if it does not contain added sweetening exceeding 0,1 grams of sweetening products per litre of the final product, expressed as invert sugar.

REGULATION (EU) 2019/787 OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL of 17 April 2019 on the definition, description, presentation and labelling of spirit drinks, the use of the names of spirit drinks in the presentation and labelling of other foodstuffs, the protection of geographical indications for spirit drinks, the use of ethyl alcohol and distillates of agricultural origin in alcoholic beverages, and repealing Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 Annex I, Paragraph 20

The important bit for us is paragraph c), which can be roughly translated as ‘you can’t call it gin if it doesn’t taste of juniper’. Something which has been an increasingly large issue in the world of gin, with new releases adding in fantastic new flavours, but not necessarily embracing the juniper-forward character the regulations call for.

How now Hernö?

Herno Pink Btl Gin Letter

Hernö master distiller Jon Hillgren really loves gin. It’s the first thing he said in the letter that accompanied my bottle of Hernö Pink Btl gin, and it’s been evident since his first gin appeared at the end of 2012.

That said, he’s not above playing about with it himself. Hernö has cask-aged versions and a blackcurrant-infused release available, but they are still focused on gin – the casks used are made from juniper wood and the blackcurrant liqueur is marketed as a spirit drink rather than a gin, the unsexy legal term for something that doesn’t quite fall into any of the other specific categories.

What is Pink Gin anyway?

Hernö’s latest release is Jon’s reaction to the current spate of gins that are moving away from the traditional (and legally required) gin-forward character. It’s also poking fun at one of the most obvious signs of the new wave of gins – pinkness.

A Pink Gin is a simple cocktail of gin and bitters, but a wave of strawberry-, rhubarb- and random-berry-infused drinks of various natures have appeared on the market, trumpeting their ginny origins. It’s starting to become unclear exactly what gin is, and Hernö Pink Btl Gin is Jon’s comment on the situation, in liquid form.

Hernö Pink Btl Gin

Firstly, Hernö Pink Btl gin isn’t pink, but its label is. The gin inside the bottle isn’t a particularly classic gin, with a selection of non-traditional botanicals and a two-part production process: juniper, coriander and strawberries were steeped in diluted wheat spirit at about 60ºC for 18 hours before rose petals, cassia, black pepper, lemon peel and vanilla were added and it was distilled.

That said, Jon jacked up the juniper content to make sure that no one mistook this for what it was – a statement about gin and juniper.

Nose: Juniper, and a lot of it. Zingy and citrusy with a bit of candied lemon, and some developing spice – ground coriander and a touch of cinnamon. A touch of sweetness balanced by green leaves.

Palate: Surprisingly soft to start, with candied citrus getting sharper before a whack of freshly smashed juniper. The juniper stays spicy, with a chunk of ginger nut biscuit and spiced cake joined by waxy petals and a touch of fruit.

Finish: Green leaves with an undercurrent of buttery spice.


Unsurprisingly, Hernö Pink Btl Gin has quite a lot of juniper character. It pulls together what I think of as juniper’s two sides – zingy citrus and rich spice. The spice is a big backbone and the fruity, floral notes sit gently on top. It’s well balanced and rather tasty.

The bottle has a few recipe suggestions, so I started with a pink gin: 60ml gin with a couple of dashes of Angostura bitters, stirred with ice. It was exactly as you’d expect: the Pink Btl Gin with the spice dialled up, which definitely worked.

It also has a G&T suggestion, switching my normal 3:1 tonic:gin ratio for a 2:1. While I usually find 2:1 a bit too ginny, here it worked, with the spice softening out the booziness.

Then again, I drink Schweppes tonic, so I’m a G&T pervert and your mileage may vary.

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Aberfeldy 20 Year Old Exceptional Cask Virtual Tasting https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/aberfeldy-20-exceptional-cask-virtual-tasting/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/aberfeldy-20-exceptional-cask-virtual-tasting/#respond Sun, 12 Apr 2020 08:21:56 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7771 Continue reading "Aberfeldy 20 Year Old Exceptional Cask Virtual Tasting"

With the world on lockdown, it’s difficult to get together to drink booze. However, while we might be siloed and self-isolating, that’s not stopping us drinking in company. During the past three weeks, I’ve been ‘out’ drinking with friends more than I have in the past three months, all from the comfort of my own flat – the virtual tasting is very much a thing.

To celebrate Easter, Dewar’s single malt ambassador Georgie Bell dragged together a random band of whisky fans, colleagues and her parents on Zoom to try one of the latest distillery-only bottlings from the distilleries she looks after – Aberfeldy 20 Year Old Exceptional Cask.

Aberfeldy 12 Year Old

One whisky does not a tasting make, so we kicked off with Aberfeldy 12. It’s a mixture of first-fill bourbon, first-fill sherry, refill and recharred casks. It’s also a dram I’ve not tried in a while.

Nose: Floral and fruity, with travel sweets, candied flower petals and red apples. Musky honey and toffee notes develop. Soft spice sits at the back, with a touch of green banana, creamed coconut and sultana.

Palate: Very soft and creamy, with a touch of apple peel quickly swamped by toffee. The spice is very soft with a touch of honey. Fruit notes build: stewed apple and sultanas with a dusting of nutmeg.

Finish: Heather honey and green apples.

A big kick of orchard fruit backed up by the honey and toffee that I more normally associate with Aberfeldy. This surprised me, as I don’t remember it being quite so fruity. Eminently drinkable, with well-balanced fruit and sweetness.

Aberfeldy 20 Year Old

The main event. This was matured for 16 years in ex-bourbon casks, before reracking for a final four years in a single first-fill oloroso sherry butt. It was distilled on 27 April 1998 and bottled on 11 July 2019. The cask yielded 618 bottles at 54.1%. We drank bottles 203 and 204.

Nose: Rich sherry-cask dried fruit with a contrasting apple sauce note – red and green apples stewed down to a sweet and sour sauce. A touch of polished oak, incense and stewed orange with honey follow. The citrus continues to build, with orange pomanders and dried orange peel.

Palate: Big spice and rich milk chocolate lead, with the orange from the nose quickly catching up. Glacé cherries and dark, dusty oak develop, along with even more chocolate, cinnamon heat and fruity travel sweets. Bitter liquorice pastilles, charred oak and a touch of blackcurrant hide underneath.

Finish: Raisins, cherries and sultanas with a bit of chocolate – Rocky Road with a liquorice edge. That fades to leave char and fruit cake, and lingering toffee apples.


I’ve had some Aberfeldys where the distillery character has been entirely driven off by sherry, and many of them were very nice. However, this 20-year-old Exceptional Cask is much more my style of whisky – there’s still some Aberfeldy in here, with apple and honey notes carefully balanced against a decent and not-too-active sherry cask.

A very good dram, although it feels a little pricy at £250. Aberfeldy 21 Year Old (my usual favourite of the distillery’s range) comes in at around half the price and despite this one’s extra strength and complexity, I’m not sure it quite justifies a doubling. If you want to grab one and can’t get to the distillery (which at the moment goes without saying), you can buy online – Aberfeldy 20yo Exceptional Cask.

However, the surprise for me was Aberfeldy 12 Year Old. It’s one I’ve overlooked and a whisky I will now be popping into tastings when I need something with a bit of orchard fruit and honey. An unexpected winner.

Thanks to Georgie Bell, and whisky-liberator and Aberfeldy visitor centre boss Jonno Wilson for sorting the tasting. And to Georgie’s parents, just in general.

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Redbreast 27 Year Old – the oldest ongoing Irish whiskey https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/redbreast-27-oldest-ongoing-irish-whiskey/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/04/redbreast-27-oldest-ongoing-irish-whiskey/#respond Mon, 06 Apr 2020 08:51:04 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7749 Continue reading "Redbreast 27 Year Old – the oldest ongoing Irish whiskey"

Redbreast is the biggest name in a small niche – pure pot still Irish whiskey. It led the charge as the category was rebuilt into the flagship of Irish whiskey for the booze connoisseur, and it has had more attention lavished on it than Irish Distillers’ other brands. So if you’re looking to break the final taboo of Irish whiskey – price – what better range of whiskeys to choose to do it with? Introducing Redbreast 27 Year Old, the oldest and most expensive ongoing whiskey in the Irish Distillers stable.

Pot Still: in ye olden dayes

Adam, Neil and I – Adam and Neil have not aged; I definitely have

Jameson was the first Irish whiskey I tried, and I continued to drink it throughout my university days. Redbreast was, however, the second, poured for me by my otherwise non-whisky-drinking flatmate Neil. He told me it was peaty. I agreed. Neither of us knew what that word meant. We were very wrong. We’ve both learned now.

Pot Still is a style of whiskey very much from Ireland. Created when the English started taxing malt, it’s traditionally a mix of malted barley, and tax-beating unmalted barley and other grains.

However, it began to disappear when the Irish whiskey industry collapsed in the middle of the 20th century. In 1961 three of the remaining distillers – Jameson, Powers and Cork distillers merged to form Irish Distillers, and closed all but one of their distilleries – Midleton. They soldiered on as the industry further contracted, one of the last whiskey makers still distilling.

Jameson had been making Redbreast for brand-owner Gilbey’s since the beginning, and Irish Distillers continued to do so, despite having stopped selling whiskey to other companies in 1970.

In 1985, Irish Distillers finally cut off the supply, and Redbreast disappeared, leaving just Green Spot as the single remaining pot still whiskey available, and then only to folks in the know.

Redbreast: the rebirth

It wasn’t gone for long. In 1986, Irish Distillers bought the brand from Gilbey’s and relaunched Redbreast in 1991 as one of its own whiskeys.

By 2005, the Irish whiskey market had recovered enough to support a second bottling, and Redbreast 15 Year Old was released, initially to celebrate La Maison du Whisky’s 50th birthday.

Over the next few years, Irish whiskey’s popularity began to soar, and in 2011 Irish Distillers launched Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength. They followed it with Redbreast 21 Year Old in 2013, and the limited-edition Redbreast Mano a Lamh – ‘hand in hand’ in a combination of Spanish and Irish – in 2015. The popularity of this even more sherried Redbreast inspired Redbreast Lustau, which dropped in 2016, matured in bourbon and sherry casks and finished for a year in Lustau sherry casks.

Limited-edition 32-year-old and 20-year-old whiskeys – the Dream Casks – followed in 2018 and 2019 respectively, leading us to the present day, and the latest release.

Redbreast 27 Year Old

The line running through all of the Redbreast releases from the late 1800s onwards is sherry maturation. However, Irish Distillers and its predecessors have been looking beyond bourbon and sherry for more than a century, and the company has stocks of wine casks filled with pot-still spirit hiding in its warehouses.

To make Redbreast 27 Year Old, blenders Billy Leighton and Dave McCabe combined first-fill and refill bourbon casks, first-fill Oloroso and ruby-port-seasoned casks. The port casks come from Tanoaria Palaçoulo – aka Tacopal – the family-owned cooperage that Irish Distillers have been sourcing their port casks from for the past 30 years.

Nose: Red, purple and orange jelly babies, sweet and fruity with a touch of the tropical. The fruit sharpens slightly as underripe mango and papaya develop, joined by a spoon of scooped out passion fruit innard. A hint of spicy grain rolls through the middle followed by rich, dark fruit cake.

Palate: Thich, rich, oily and intense. A compressed ball of tropical-fruit jelly surrounded by flashed apple, pear, gummi bear and jelly baby. Gentle spice builds, followed by a hint of mint and menthol. Vanilla toffees hide out at the back with a handful of tarragon.

Finish: Tropical fruit and toffee fade to leave a tingle of menthol.


I’ll happily admit that I didn’t have high hopes for this whiskey. In the main, I find wine casks to be a blunt instrument when used to mature whisky, and while port is one of the lesser evils, it’s still rare that I find a port-matured dram that I like.

I really like this one.

The port hasn’t been laid on thick, and the bourbon casks in the mix give the whiskey the fruity, old-Irish-whiskey character that I’m looking for in something that’s been aged this long. The port and sherry casks add another dimension without swamping the spirit. For me, this is what blending is all about – layering and combining flavours to give a balanced whiskey that isn’t dominated by one component.

Price-wise, €495 might at first seem quite steep. However, it’s not far off the going rate for the rare but still relatively common single-cask Irish single malts of a similar age, and this is positively wizened when it comes to regularly available pot-still whiskey. While it’s definitely expensive, it looks to be priced appropriately and, from what I’ve heard from Irish whiskey fans online, is selling well.

The Future

Unfortunately, I think this is a sign that the age of comparative innocence is now over for Irish whiskey. With JJ Corry’s The Chosen clocking in at £6,000 at retail, the Redbreast Dream Casks pulling in thousands at auction, and indie-bottled 1990s’ Irish single malt starting at around the £500 mark, the days of Irish whiskey always being affordable are gone.

A €495 ongoing bottling in the Irish Distillers range is evidence that Irish whiskey’s challenge to the dominance of Scotch single malt at the pricier end of the whisky spectrum continues, and it looks like Redbreast is leading the way.

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The Mash Tun, Tokyo https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/03/the-mash-tun-tokyo/ https://spiritedmatters.com/2020/03/the-mash-tun-tokyo/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2020 08:05:29 +0000 http://spiritedmatters.com/?p=7713 Continue reading "The Mash Tun, Tokyo"

Tokyo is full of great bars and their reputation for whisky is second to none – if you want to drink interesting, then its the city for you. I only had time to visit one whisky bar during my trip to Tokyo, but, fortunately, the choice wasn’t difficult. Among the city’s bars, there’s one that has stood the test of time and is a must-visit for any whisky fan – The Mash Tun.

The Mash Tun Tokyo

Hidden down a side street near Meguro station, The Mash Tun is on the first floor of a block that you might walk past if you’re not used to Tokyo’s bars. I wasn’t, and walked straight past when I visited. An easy way to know that you’re in the right place is the saltire hung in the window – this is a bar which doesn’t hide what it’s about: Scotch whisky.

The Bar

The Mash Tun isn’t a very big place. There’s a table, some boxes of bottles, the bar itself, and very little else. But that’s all it needs, apart from whisky.

The bar at The Mash Tun Tokyo

Owner Toru Suzuki has a lot of whisky. Enough that he’s run out of space on the shelves, and it the collection has escaped to cover the bar as well. With a focus of independent bottlings, it’s almost impossible not to find something new that you want to try.

Overwhelmed by choice, I asked Suzuki-san to recommend me some bottlings that had been done specially for the bar – he picked me three.

Craigellachie 1990 26 Year Old from The Whiskyfind

Craigallachie 1990 bottled for The Mash Tun Tokyo
Distilled 1990, bottled 2016 by The Whiskyfind. Cask #5401. 26yo. 287 bottles. 50.1% ABV.

Bottled for The Mash Tun by The Whiskyfind, a Taiwanese bottler whose whisky doesn’t get much further than Hong Kong.

Nose: Fruity and meaty. Gooseberries with a hint of gas hob, custard tarts and baked apples, Cadbury’s fingers of fudge, and a hint of spicy oak. Grapefruit and butterscotch follow with a hint of sour CO2 fizziness.

Palate: Soft and creamy in texture. Cake spice leads, with milky coffee, orange and grapefruit peels, and liquorice following. It’s lighter than expected from the nose, with polished at the back, and pineapple sponge draped with tinned peach in the middle.

Finish: Brown sugar leads to fruity toffee, apples and liquorice. The sweetness fades to leave fruit.

Cragganmore 1989 27 Year Old for The Mash Tun and Club Qing

Cragganmore 1989 bottled for The Mash Tun Tokyo and Club Qing
Distilled 1989. 27yo. 160 bottles. 48.7% ABV.

A join bottling with Hong Kong whisky bar Club Qing, featuring the cats of The Mash Tun’s Toru Suzuki and Club Qing’s Aaraon Chan – Ribbon and Bubee.

Nose: Freshly polished boots, forest floors and raisins. Brown sugar and lardy cake build, with fruit following: apples, unripe pears, bitter oranges and sweet mandarins. Baked bean hints follow with a touch of struck match. Apple pie notes build.

Palate: Creamy and apple-y – baked and freshly sliced. Butter toffee and caramel build, with liquorice touches and increasing tropical fruit: pineapple and papaya. Caramel covered apples (on a stick) are joined by Trio bars (from the 1980s), and Cadbury’s Fruit & Nut without the nuts but with blackcurrants.

Finish: Hints of orange and raisin are covered with chocolate. That all fades away to leave fruit and polished oak.

Williamson 2005 14 Year Old: There You Are!

Williamson 2005 bottled for The Mash Tun Tokyo
Distilled 2005, bottled 2019 by The Whisky Find. Hogshead #800103. 14yo. 174 bottles. 51.5% ABV.

Williamson is the name given to a teaspooned whisky from Laphroaig – this is strictly speaking a blended malt, but it’s almost certainly almost entirely Laphroaig. It has an excellent label, combining Hong Kong trams with the obligatory cats.

Nose: Meaty, medicinal and minerally. The meatiness slowly rolls back to reveal fruit – generically tropical – with a touch of freshly painted creosote. Gravelly notes build, raked on a driveway leading to the ocean. Nose clearing menthol pushes through the middle, along with a scoop of black tar. As the nose acclimatises to the smoke, sweet apple and pineapple cubes grow, although hidden under a coat of tar and bobbly liquorice allsorts.

Palate: Soft and surprisingly easy-drinking after the intensity of the nose, and unmistakeably ‘Williamson’ – thankyou Bessie. Strong ash and TCP notes are swamped by orchard fruit and a touch of the tropical. Menthol notes waft about – a tub of Vicks Vaporub sits open in the wings. Pine and pineapple push in, but the tar creeps in around the back along with a stack of sticks of liquorice.

Finish: Sweet and leafy, with apples and menthol slowly dying away to reveal damp and earthy peat smoke.

Should I visit The Mash Tun, Tokyo?

Yes. Simple as that.

Other bars may have rarer or more expensive whiskies, but The Mash Tun combines a great selection, great atmosphere, great customers – you’ll always find someone interesting talk to at the bar – and an excellent host. If you’re in Tokyo, go – Suzuki-san will find you something interesting to drink.

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