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.

Beginners Whisky Tasting at The Alma

So, Thursday has been and gone and my pre-Burn’s Night whisky tasting at The Alma has gone with it. It was a rather enjoyable evening and I thank those who came along to listen to me witter about whisky. Well, drink whisky while I wittered noisily in the background at least. As promised to those who came along, and as a record of what you missed (take that as a positive or negative as you will) for everyone else, here’s a sanitised version of my notes, without quite so many spelling mistakes and unused stage directions.

Alma lineup

Whisky #1 was Ballantines 17 year old, recently rated by Jim Murray as the highest scoring whisky for 2011 in his yearly Whisky Bible
with 97.5 points. Ballantines the company started out like many blenders as shop, opening in 1827, and by the mid 1860s had started blending whiskies for their customers. The brand was acquired Pernod Ricard in 2005 and isn’t all that well known in the UK. However, they are big around the world and increasingly so in the UK, with their premium blends (such as the 17) appearing more often as they get praised.

On the nose I got PVA glue, pear, unripe green grapes and sherry dipped sponge cake (a combination of vanilla, acetone + biscuits). It had a very tight palate, with an initial sweetness moving quickly to dry wood and a lingering grainy finish. It was buttery without an oily mouth feel and had sharp apples, cedar/teak/old cabinets, sour apple sweets and a little bit of lime. Water brought out some vanilla, bitter dark chocolate and lemon peel.

Whisky #2 was a Signatory Bladnoch 1993 16 year old. This comes from the most southerly distillery in Scotland, situated near Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway in the south west of Scotland – latitude-wise it’s just south of both Newcastle and Carlisle. The distillery opened in 1817, closed in 1949, reopened in 1957, closed in the 1990’s and then reopened again in 2000. This whisky was distilled in 1993, before the last close, and is in a similar but different style to current production, which started being standardly bottled as an 8 year old in 2009.

This whisky comes from independent bottler Signatory, founded in 1988 as simply a bottler and expanding into distillery ownership in 2002 with the purchase of the distillery with maybe the smallest stills in Scotland – Edradour. According the internets, the name Signatory came from a plan to produce whiskies with a label signed by a celebrity, but they sold out their first bottling before they organised the signature and abandoned the idea while keeping the name.

On the nose it had light vanilla, unsweetened pineapple, cut grass and a touch of woodiness. To taste it was light with some sweetness, coconut, linseed oil and floral notes. Water added in some more grassiness and more vanilla.

Whisky #3 was Glenfarclas 15 year old. Despite this being the distillery I have visited most often, thanks to yearly visits to Scotland and it being one of the closest distilleries to where we stayed, I’ve not tried the 15 year old until recently. Glenfarclas was founded in 1836 but has been run by the Grant family (not to be confused with the other Grant family, the ones who own Glenfiddich and Balvenie) since 1865. They normally use a chunk of sherry wood in the maturation of their whiskies and this one is no exception – on the nose there’s rich dried fruit, hints of pedro ximinez, dark rum and cognac. To taste it has more of the dried fruit and raisins, dried orange peel and rich fruit cake in between. Water rolls out more sweetness and adds even more thick richness.

Whisky #4 was Clynelish 14 year old. I wasn’t sure about including this one, as it’s a distillery that’s not quite so well known and there are many more Highland whiskies I could have chosen. However, in the end I went for it because I really like it – it was my Christmas whisky this year and it’s in my hipflask. I’m rather pleased I did, as it seemed to be rather liked by the tasting group as well (and tales of its almost permanent special offer status at Waitrose didn’t hurt). The distillery is in Brora, up the east coast of Scotland from the Dornoch Firth, about 1/2 the way to John O’Groats. It’s the second distillery to be built in Brora and operated as Clynelish 2 from its building in 1967 until the older distillery was renamed from Clynelish to Brora in the 1970s. Brora closed in 1983 and the remaining stock is in much demand, but with a minimum age of 27 years (that being how long it was since spirit was last produced there) it’s getting rarer and closer to the point where it will be going bad in the barrel rather than continuing to add good flavour.

On the nose this had wax (as is traditional with Clynelish whiskies), brine, sweaty boiled sweets, a hint of meaty smoke (burning beef?), creamy vanilla and some leather. To taste it was initially sweet turning to sour wood by the finish. It had vanilla, mint, menthol, unripe red grapes and tannic wood to finish. Water added some more sweet and sourness and a touch of sherbert – a bit like Refresher chews.

Whisky #5 was Lagavulin 16 year old. Distilled on the south coast of Islay, a concentrated whisky production area with 8 distilleries squeezed into 240 square miles of island just off the west coast of Scotland near the Kintyre peninsula. It has distilleries to either side, with Ardbeg to the east and Laphroaig to the west, all three of them known for producing heavily peated whiskies, which is the style of most of the distilleries on the island.

On the nose this has coal and campfires with sweetness hiding underneath. To taste it has a big smokiness, sweet mulchy peat, rich dried fruit and spicy fruit cake. Water rolls back some of the smoke bringing out more fruitcake and and vanilla. A big one to finish and a nice contrast to the almost smoke-free others.

I also brought out some new make spirit. It was Glenglassaugh Clearac, which is unpeated spirit that’s watered down to 50% before being bottled and sold – not quite the 70%ish spirit that comes straight out of the still. It’s quite sweet to smell, with caramel and lemons, and simply flavoured, with citrus sweetness and cereal notes. It shows quite nicely how much the wood maturation of whisky adds to the flavour.

Anyways, that was it. I was quite pleased with the whiskies – they contrasted nicely and gave a nice overview of the range of flavour available, which was the point of the tasting. There was only one person that really needed to be converted to liking whisky – Kirsty, who organised the tasting. She wasn’t quite a total convert but did acknowledge that there was a chance that she might find a whisky that she likes, which I’ll take as a victory.

Ballantines 17 Year Old
Blended Scotch whisky, 43%. ~£30 from Master of Malt.

Signatory Bladnoch 1993 16 Year Old
Single malt Lowland Scotch whisky, 43%. ~£35 from Master of Malt.

Glenfarclas 15 Year Old
Single malt Speyside Scotch whisky, 43%. ~£35 from Master of Malt.

Clynelish 14 Year Old
Single malt Highland Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£30 from Master of Malt.

Lagavulin 16 Year Old
Single malt Islay Scotch whisky, 43%. ~£40 from Master of Malt.

Glenglassaugh Clearac
“Spirit drink”, 50%. ~£15 per 20cl bottle from The Whisky Exchange.

Many thanks to Kirsty from The Alma for inviting me along and to Darren at Master of Malt for making sure that I got the whisky in time, even offering to bring it up to London from Tunbridge Wells for me if the post let me down

Whisky Tasting Club #1 – Regions of Scotland

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

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

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

Whisky Tasting Club - Box 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whisky deluge warning and Billy does a whisky tasting

It seems that the next week or so is going to be a bit of a whisky focused one here on my blog (“In what way is this different to usual?” I hear you ask). Part of the excuse I’m using for that is that it’s Burns Night in a couple of weeks time, but the real reasons are twofold:

  1. I seem to have a lot of whisky in the house
  2. I’m off to drink whisky elsewhere a bunch of times in the near future
  3. I’m running a whisky tasting next week

The tasting is to be held on Thursday January 20th at The Alma in Islington as part of their week long run up to Burns Night. I’m going to be running a group through 5 whiskies and talking my normal range of obsessive toot from about 7.30pm. Tickets are available at £15 a head from the pub, although as it’s ‘way over there’ you can drop them a mail or call to book. It’s a general beginner’s tasting  so there will be some whisky to drink and discussion to be had. Let me know if you’re coming along so I can work out if I need to wear a disguise or not.

Whisky Squad #10 – Wee Speyside Beauties

The year has turned and time for another whisky squad has rolled around. This month, in a departure to the norm, we relocated from The Gunmakers to sample some more whiskies from Berry Brothers and Rudd, the eponymous Berry’s Own Selection, this time in the cellars beneath their shop at Number 3 St James’s Street. Due to Epic Camera Failage! (I forgot to charge it) I ended up with only a few rather noisy pictures courtesy of my iPhone but Mr Standing, Whisky Squad co-founder and probable boxing champion if he put his mind to it, has put up a flickr set with a few more piccies of the lovely location in.

Berry Brothers and Rudd
Upstairs, downstairs

While The Gunmakers has history (named for the nearby site where Hiram Maxim’s machine gun, the first of its kind, was manufactured as it is) Berrys have been selling continuously from their shop since 1698 and despite The Blitz hitting surrounding buildings quite heavily it is still made of a lot of original material. The floor in the main shop floor may be a bit on the wonky side, thanks to the settling of the foundations over the last 300 years, and the floor boards near the door may only be a few years old due to being replaced after the break in, but walking into the shop does almost feel like walking into a museum. In the back left corner there is a small room where Rob Whitehead, returning as our whisky guide for the evening, spends most of his time looking after Berry Brothers’ spirits selection, but most of their business remains selling wine. While most of the stock is no longer under the shop the cellars aren’t going to waste, having been refurbished and turned into a selection of vaulted venue spaces, one of which Rob led us down into for our tasting.

The plan for the evening was the same as usual, despite the change in location, and the focus was to be whiskies from Speyside. As it’s the largest, by number of distilleries, area of whisky production in Scotland, with the number of different styles of whisky that suggests, Rob decided to narrow the selection and work (mainly) with whiskies matured in refill bourbon hogsheads. Along with the four whiskies we were to taste he also put two glasses in the middle of the table with an attached challenge – whoever identified the difference in age between the two glasses would win a prize. More on that later…

BoS AberlourFirst up was a lightly coloured dram with an interesting waxy nose of apples, foam strawberries and green wood. To taste it was oily with vanilla, acetone, a caramel sweetness in the middle and hazelnuts to finish. Water brought out candy canes, spicy apple pie and some balsamic vinegar. In an effort to help with guessing Rob let us know that the distillery name didn’t begin with G or B, removing all the Glens and most of the other distilleries. However, even with this help and Whisky Guy Darren reeling through distilleries at a rate of knots we didn’t guess – it was a 1989 Aberlour, bottled after 15 years at 46% (as most BoS whiskies are – they are single cask but are diluted down to that strength if they haven’t already dropped below it). This is a bit different to regular Aberlour (which is well known for its use of sherry casks in maturation) and was a pleasant start to the evening.

BoS LinkwoodThe next whisky was a bit darker and before I got my nose in the glass it was announced that it smelled of “Swimming Pools”. I didn’t get the chloriney smell that others did, but I did get nail varnish, sweet & fruity air freshener, non-soapy pot pourri, rose water turkish delight, gin botanicals, candle wax, shortbread and ginger nut biscuits. The nose was fantastic and the taste didn’t quite live up to it. It had a slowly building gingeriness, reminding the table of Thai food, leading to an icing sugar powdery sweetness at the end. On the way there was rhubarb and butterscotch, married up with a pleasant sourness underneath. Water brought out more butteriness, spongecake and violets. Interesting, but one that I liked the nose of much more than the taste. The cover came off to reveal that it was a 1985 Linkwood bottled in 2006 at 21 years old. Linkwood doesn’t get out much as a single malt, with about 98% of production going into blends (mainly Diageo’s), but as it is sold for blending the independent bottlers can occasionally get their hands on casks like this one.

BoS DailuaineThe next bottle appeared and the whisky was yet again slightly darker. On the nose it had floor polish, a hint of salt and mincemeat, and a dark savouriness sitting under it all – the phrase “umami on the nose” was mentioned, causing me rather too much amusement (umami being specifically a taste rather than a scent, and all that) but made a lot of sense. To taste it had ozone (posh swimming pools…), sweet and sour fruit, and a vegetal tang leading a crisp sweetness and mix of green and old wood at the end. Its tannic taste and hints of vegetable added a tea-like feel to the flavour. Water tamed some of the dryness and added in some sweet butter. Again we had no correct guesses and the bottle was revealed to be 1971 Dailuaine bottled in 2005 at 31 years old. Dailuaine is another blending distillery that doesn’t make its way out into the single malt world very often and as this bottling divided the room I can see why. The savouriness didn’t appeal to everyone but I rather liked it. I’ve tried one or two other bottlings at the SMWS and will continue to keep an eye out.

Blue Hanger 4th ReleaseLast of the night was a dark whisky with a pile of sherry cask on the nose and Rob admitted that this was the one where he had departed from his ‘refill bourbon hogshead’ plan. On the nose it had hot gravel, dark fruit, deep savoury notes, hints of sugary rum, struck matches and wet undergrowth. To taste it had dry spicy wood up front, with a slab of vanilla, fine sawdust in the middle and a long finish of preserved fruit. Water brought out more depth, with liquorice and caraway, and butter and vanilla. There were no ideas around the table at all for this one and it turned out that was with some justification – it was Berry Brothers’ blended malt Blue Hanger, this being the previous 4th release. They’re on to the 5th release now but this version is made up of about 50% heavily sherried whisky from Mortlach, matured for about 17 years in two sherry butts, with some 33 year old Glen Elgin and 16 year old (I think) Glenlivet to make it up to 3500 bottles. Blue Hanger has been around for a while, named after William Hanger, the 3rd Lord Coleraine, who was nicknamed “Blue Hanger” and died in 1814. The Blue Hanger comes from the days when whisky was sold in bottles that the customer would bring in to be filled from casks in the shop – they had three barrels: a smoky whisky, a sherried whisky and one where the dregs of the barrels were married before refilling. The ‘dregs’ barrel thus picked up a combination of smoky and sherried whisky, mainly the sherried as it sold in much larger quantities, and as it was constantly topped up it had bits of a variety of older whiskies in. A bottle of original Blue Hanger was found a few years back and after tasting it Doug McIvor, Berry Brothers’s whisky king, put together the first new limited release and has been working on it with each batch. It was rather nice.

After the four main whiskies of the tasting all eyes turned to the mystery drams in the middle of the table. From colour alone we could tell that one was new make (being entirely clear helps with that) and thus Darren correctly guessed that we were looking at Glenrothes – BBR own Glenrothes which makes it significantly easier to get new make spirit. On the nose the new make had buttery grain, cereal and a hint of cream. To taste it had lemon, grass, and apples and pears to finish. I rather liked it, which is dangerous when you’re drinking something that is 68.8% abv. The other dram was a solid bronzey gold and obviously a chunk older. On the nose it was sweet with biscuits and a touch of citrus – maybe lemon shortbread? To taste it was buttery with spicy wood and a plimsolly rubberiness hiding behind. There was only a drop to share between the table and it became apparent why on the reveal.

Glenrothes SampleGlenrothes 1975

The second whisky was a 1975 Glenrothes bottled in 2006 and long sold out at Berrys. Known as an excellent whisky it’s not been easily obtainable for years and we got the last from Rob’s stashed tasting bottle.

Talisker 20Noone guessed the 31 years difference but there was a 30 and a 32, and the guessers very kindly decided to let everyone try their prize before dividing it up – a bottle of a very much long gone and rather pricey Talisker 20 year old that Rob happened to find knocking around in his increasingly enviable tasting cupboard. On the nose it had rubber tires and balloons, spicy fruit and muddy river banks. To taste it had marzipan dust, butter, spiky smoke, struck match sulphur, ketchup and violets. Water brought out more of the sulphur note (hated by many but liked by me) and fluffy powdered sugar. It was an impressive dram, especially after the almost entirely peat free evening we’d had, and one that I’m happy to have had a taste of.

Next month’s session (the mysteriously named Bottle of Britain) is already sold out, but keep an eye on the site as March’s will be up soon enough. Looking ahead to the future, there will be a group (well, at least three of us) going to Maltstock in The Netherlands in September under the Whisky Squad banner. Let us know if you’re coming along…


Berry’s Own Selection 1989 Aberlour
Single cask Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. No longer available, but was ~£50

Berry’s Own Selection 1985 Linkwood
Single cask Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. No longer available, but was ~£45

Berry’s Own Selection 1974 Dailuaine
Single cask Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. No longer available, but was ~£70

Blue Hanger 4th Release
Blended Scotch malt whisky, 45.6%. ~£60 at Berry Brothers and Rudd

Glenrothes 1975
Single cask single malt Speyside Scotch whisky, 43%. Available for ~£385 from Master of Malt

Talisker 20
Skye single malt Scotch whisky, 62%. ~£510 from The Whisky Exchange

Quick Tastings

I was rather restrained over the Christmas period, with the combined fun of being on-call at work and spending most of my time asleep getting in the way of the drinkathon that normally accompanies the time. However, I did get to try a bunch of boozes and rather than go into my normally excessive levels of detail I thought I’d slip back into my old Quick Tastings post style, something that I seem to have forgotten to do in recent times.

(Yes, this is a tissue thin excuse for not being bothered to write my normal levels of obsessiveness, but give me a break, I’m still tired from all the sleeping)

Eurotrash 2BrewDog Eurotrash: picked up at the same time as my recent lot of Punk X, this is one of BrewDog’s prototypes that I hope appears more widely. It had the traditional BrewDog muddy hoppiness on the nose, but with an underlying sweetness that I wasn’t expecting. To taste it had a nice chunk of hops but was very much more a fully flavoured continental style beer – hints of Leffe and other big malty golden beers from the other side of the channel. It wasn’t quite as big as those beers, but was nicely balanced between hop bitterness and malty sweetness – one I’d like to get some more of.

Dark Island Special ReserveOrkney Dark Island Special Reserve 2009 – I picked this up for Christmas 2009 but forgot I had it and have had it sat on the side ever since waiting for an occasion to crack it open. I went for it on Christmas day this year and was very pleased I did – it was rather special. It poured very thick and dark, pretty much opaque even when held up to my brightest lamp. On the nose it was heavy, with Marmite, slightly squishy apples and warm orange peel. To taste it was clinging with defanged Worcester sauce (not quite so astringent or salty, but still big and fruity with a meaty umami behind that), braised red cabbage with apples and vinegar, and a finishing mineral note. It had notes of my favourite heavy beers of the year, combining the strange fruitiness of Gale’s Prize Old Ale with the chocolate notes of Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout and the bitter richness of Kernel London Porter. I just wish I’d bought two bottles…

Clynelish 14 Year OldClynelish 14 Year Old – picked up from Waitrose as my Christmas whisky this didn’t get much of a look-in on the day itself, although it has become my new favourite hipflask whisky now that I’ve run out of Longrow Cask Strength (which I need to find some more of). As is usual at Christmas it was sillily priced at £25 (I also picked up some The Glenlivet 18 and Aberlour A’bunadh batch 31 a few days later for similar prices – no more whisky buying for me for now) and is definitely worth more than that. On the nose it has the traditional Clynelish waxiness, with brine, sweaty boiled sweets, creamy vanilla, leather and a touch of meaty smoke – my note says ‘burning beef?’. To taste it’s initially sweet turning to sour wood by the finish. There’s vanilla, mint, menthol and sour sugar to start, and unripe red grapes and tannic wood to finish. Water adds more sweet and sour fruit to the start as well as a prickle of white pepper. Again, my slightly drunken notes add ‘more lemony if you burp’. I’m pleased with this bottle and it’s on my list of things that I should always have in the house.

Boisdale MortlachBoisdales Mortlach – this is one I tried after the The Glenlivet tasting with Caskstrength, which I found to be rather pleasant. On a random wander into The Vintage House I saw a row of bottles of it hiding in their rather excellent independent bottlings selection and for £37 couldn’t really say no. On further inspection I noticed a familiar name on the back of the bottle – Berry Brothers and Rudd’s Doug McIvor, as they selected and bottled this for Boisdales. It’s the colour of golden syrup and the nose continues that feel with salted caramels backed up with a hint of smoke, shiny polished wood and lemons. To taste it has a big sweet caramel with raisins, cinnamon and allspice, balanced by unripe grapes and wood polish. The finish is short with sour wood and a hint of smoke. Water doesn’t change much, bringing out a little more sweetness and lengthening the finish. Easy drinking and very tasty, I suspect some more of this maybe sitting at the back of my cupboard soon waiting for next Christmas.

Hankey BannisterHankey Bannister 12 Year Old – part of a Christmas care parcel from Lucasz over at the Edinburgh Whisky blog on behalf of Inver House. This is part of a range of blended whiskies that are now distributed by Inver House, although not all that easy to find in the UK, that stretch back to 1757, when Hankey Bannister & Co was founded in London to provide drinks to the locals. The 12 year old is the second in their range, with their Original sitting beneath it and 21 and 40 year olds above it. I’ve had a look and can’t find it easily available on the web in the UK (although TWE have the 40 year old available for £360 per bottle…), but it pops up abroad and in duty free from time to time. On the nose the 12 year old had acetone, pear drops, muddy smoke, apples, vanilla and a underlying meatiness. To taste it was quite delicate, starting with a quick burst of pine and moving through tannic dryness to fruity sweetness and a light creaminess. The finish was quite light and long with sweet wood and digestive biscuits. Water didn’t reduce the flavour very much and brought out more red fruit fruitiness and creaminess. It has the nose of a blend and is easy to drink like a blend but doesn’t have a heavy graininess like you get with some blends. Not stunning, but not bad.

anCnoc 16 Year old – anCnoc (with crazy capitalisation) is the brand name that is now being used by the Knockdhu distillery, also owned by Inver House, to distinguish it from similarly named Knockando. On the nose it has pink foam shrimps, refreshers and vanilla, with a slightly sweaty salty note behind the sweetness. To taste it was astringently woody with fizzy sherbert and woody vanilla leading to a sugary woody finish. It could take a good chunk of water bringing out sour Skittles, more creamy vanilla and a big sweet and sour fruitiness. I wasn’t a fan of this neat, but water brought out the some balancing sweet and sour fruit that I rather liked.

Anyways, welcome to the new year and here’s to twelve months of interesting imbibing.

Many thanks to Lucas and Inver House for my Christmas parcel. There were also a couple of Old Pulteney samples, but as I’ve written about those before and there’s a Twitter tasting coming up soon I’ve left them to one side for now.

BrewDog Euro Trash
Prototype golden ale/blonde beer, 4.1%. Not generally available.

Orkney Dark Island Special Reserve 2009
Orcadian dark ale, 10%. Not generally available.

Clynelish 14 Year Old
Highland single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£30 from Master of Malt

Boisdales Mortlach 1991 (17 years old)
Speyside single cask single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£37 from The Vintage House

Hankey Bannister 12 Year Old
Blended scotch whisky, 40%. ~£25 from Loch Fyne Whiskies

anCnoc 16 year old
Single malt Scotch whisky, 46%. ~£40 from Master of Malt

BrewDog Punk IPA vs Punk X

BrewDog seem to be calming down a bit. They’ve started doing more keg beer (rather than denouncing it as passé, although they don’t serve it in their bar), have one bar open and another two on the way, and seem to be concentrating on getting their beer brewed rather than trying to annoy some Germans. They’re still experimenting, as the bottles of Eurotrash I have on the side will attest, but one thing they’ve been doing is looking at their core range, especially the beer that started them off – Punk IPA.

It was the first of their beers I tried, given away free at the February 2009 Twestival in London, and I rather like it, but things have moved on a bit since Martin and James opened their brewery – a couple of years of experience and recruiting means that not only do the bosses know more about making beer but they also have a team of people to work with when making new beer. As such they’ve had a reexamination of Punk IPA and brewed a new version, currently nicknamed Punk X.

Punk and Punk X
Can you tell which is which?

I first tried the new beer in November at The Rake, where they did an evening with both on tap and asked for our opinions on which was better. A little while later some popped up in their online shop (and there’s still some left by the looks of things) and I grabbed a few bottles for reasons of ‘research’.

Punk IPA is an in your face beer. That’s its reason for existence, to be big and punchy as a calling card for BrewDog, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, again I assume as intended, it’s not a beer that everyone likes – I got to try a lot of it at the Twestival due to people having a sip, not liking it and then handing their bottle to me. When released it was very hoppy for a British beer and while hops are appearing in much greater concentration more recently (due to increasing numbers of hoppy US beers making their way over here, as well as BrewDog’s influence and the general cycling through of popular beer styles) Punk IPA is still up there. It’s not particularly balanced, with a big muddy hop swamping the nose and dominating the flavour. Behind that there’s an okay maltiness but as I’ve drunk more hoppy beers I’ve slowly gone off Punk. That’s not to say I don’t like it – it’s a nice beer on keg and cask, with a nice hop bitterness, and I usually have a few bottles of it in the fridge, but many of BrewDog’s other beers are nicer, as you’d expect due to it being their first.

Punk X is an altogether different beast, despite coming from almost the same ingredients (from what I’ve seen they’ve added a malt and changed the way they hop the beer, although using the same hops just at different times and in larger amounts). The bottles I have are slightly hazy and it pours a bit livelier than the Punk (although I suspect this is just due to it being closer to the experimental stage) but even on the nose it’s very different. There’s a lot more green hops on the nose, smelling like you’ve just rubbed a bundle of leafy hops between your hands – resiny and pungent. To taste a lot of that disappears, with the hops sitting quietly at the back of things. Up front is a lighter, more elegant beer, with some gooseberry-like fruit, apples, blossom and a pleasant dryness leading to the gently grassy finish. On tap it was, from my hazy memory, even more floral and fruity without quite so much of the overt hoppiness, and better than the bottles I have at the moment – something I suspect is due to it still being a changing prototype. The tap version was very much something I could see being a regular beer, but the bottle version I have at the moment is a bit less mainstream, with enough of the pungent hops in there to turn away regular drinkers. It’s interesting though, and has made me realise that I need to learn more about beer making yet again – this beer has even more hops in than the regular Punk IPA but the bitterness has been lowered from 68 to 45 IBUs. There’s more info on the differences between the beers in James’s post about the tasting at The Rake.

One of BrewDog’s ideas is to replace Punk IPA with Punk X, with the tastings they’re doing generally ending with everyone being asked to choose which one they’d want to be Punk IPA in the future, and after a couple of pints at The Rake I quite happily chose the Punk X – that version really was rather special. However, thinking on it in a more sober state of mind I reckon that’d be foolish. They’re very different beers and while I think Punk IPA could do with some refinement I don’t think Punk X is its replacement. I don’t want the Punk X to go away (and have already bought a few more bottles from the shop) but reckon that with a little bit of BrewDog’s brand magic they could have another beer on their books.

Punk IPA
Scottish IPA, 6%. ~£1.50 per 330ml bottle at the BrewDog shop

Punk X
Prototype Scottish IPA, 5.6%. ~£1.30 per 330ml at the BrewDog shop (while stocks last)

Butter washed whisky

While I have a fondness for doing random booze related experiments (some of which I should probably get round to writing up) I have generally avoided whisky.  Partly this is because using almost flavourless vodka to extract flavours from things is easier, but it’s also because I generally don’t have suitable whisky in the house – for suitable read ‘cheap’ and ‘unremarkable’. Cheap because I don’t want to waste good whisky on an unsuccessful experiment and unremarkable because whisky varies so much in flavour that finding a suitable one to mix up with things, whether it’s cocktails or infusions, is Hard. However, a while back Whisky Guy Darren told me of one that was pretty much certain to appeal to me and worth a punt as my first whisky experiment – Butter Washed Whisky.

IMGP6340

The recipe for this one is theoretically quite simple – melt some butter, pour it into some whisky, leave it for a bit and filter out the remaining solids. It’s not quite so simple in reality though. After adding the butter I shook up my jar to emulsify the mix and left it to settle. When it looked like it wasn’t going to settle any more I put it in the fridge to chill and the next morning scooped out the now solid layer of butter on top before pouring the remaining liquid through some coffee filters. This produced a gloriously golden liquid, much more yellow than the original whisky – Grants Ale Cask Reserve (the whisky that kicked off the creation of Innis & Gunn) – and completely clear.

I used about 50g of butter for 200ml of whisky and had a good amount of it settle out, so I suspect that I could use a bit less. However, I will probably still use the same amount next time as the butter was infused with the flavour of whisky and mixed with a bit of sugar made a rather tasty alternative to brandy butter to accompany my Christmas mince pies.

IMGP6436On the nose it was really buttery, matching the spiciness of the whisky to make a rich spongecakey mix. It goes a similar way with the taste, with any sharp edges to the whisky rounded off by the buttery flavour, more sweetness coming though and woodiness on the finish softened. While quite nice on its own it’s not quite something that I’d drink neat – it still has a roughness to it that I’m not fond of. However, I’ve been playing around with apple juice as a mixer for whisky and found that it worked rather well here – 3 parts apple juice to 2 parts butter washed whisky combined the butter and spice of the whisky with the appliness of the juice to produce something rather like apple pie in a glass.

Whisky experiment #1 – success!

Grants Ale Cask Reserve
Blended scotch whisky, 40%. ~£15 from Master of Malt.