Old Pulteney redux

One of the great things about booze blogging is the lovely people I’ve met, from the London based whisky gang to the overseas posse who I speak to through a combination of blog comments, emails and twitter. One of them is Lucas of the Edinburgh Whisky Blog. He’s been doing some online PR stuff for Inver House for a little while, and through him I’ve got a taste of some Hankey Bannister and anCnoc as well as a spot on a Balblair twitter tasting, but due to the vagaries of my annoyingly full schedule I’ve missed out on their most recent online gatherings – especially galling was my missing an Old Pulteney one.

I tried Pulteney for the first time in a while last year at a tasting put on by The Whisky Exchange and remembered how much I liked it, even if I found the quick ramping up in price with age slightly off putting, and have had a couple of bottles of the regular 12 year old pass through my door since. However, I’d not returned to the wider range until I picked up a bottle of WK499 in the duty free shop on my way to Porto in February and have been meaning to revisit them when I got a chance. As such I was rather pleased when Lucas pinged me a mail asking if I wanted to come along to a bloggers tasting at the new Boisdale’s bar that opened last week in Canary Wharf.

I wrote a pile about Old Pulteney last time, so I won’t dig into that again here, but instead will go straight on to the whisky.

Old Pulteney 12First up was the solid centre of the range, Old Pulteney 12 year old. This is their best selling whisky, putting out ~600k cases per year split half/half between the UK and the export market. On the nose it’s briney with gingery spice and a punch of booze. There’s also lemon, sweet nail varnish, grain and a hint of something that was on the edge of parma violets. To taste it was much softer than the rather up front nose suggested, with butter, sponge cake, sweet cream, light lemony citrus, sour fruit chews, and a mineral and damp wood finish. Water added an icing sugar sweetness and more sour fruit, as well as some tannins into the finish.

Old Pulteney 17We then moved on to the Old Pulteney 17 year old. Rather than just bottle the 12 year old recipe a little bit later the folk at Pulteney have instead opted to change each of the entries in their line-up to give a whisky with a different idea, although all coming from the same new make spirit. The 17 year old is made up of less first fill casks than the 12, giving it a lighter colour as well as body. On the nose there was vanilla, dried apple rings, sweet butter, cold butter icing, sweet lemons and toffee apples. To taste it had a syrupy sweetness to start, cut with woody spices and citrus – sweet lemon flesh and bitter lemon rind. It was sweetly buttery and had a bitter woody finish that faded to soft wood. Water added a bit more of a sherbet fizz and moved the finish from bitter to sour, with a sweet woody burn sitting on the chest.

Old Pulteney 21Next up was the Old Pulteney 21 year old. This one has some more sherry wood in the make up (although Pulteney only mature about 10% of their whisky in ex-sherry casks) and as soon as noses went into glasses there was a call of ‘Shreddies’ from Joel Caskstrength and Ben from Master of Malt. Lucas chipped in with Happy Cola Haribo, brandy butter and ripe bananas. I saw were they were coming from but got more juicy raisin, butter and rich meatiness underneath it all. There were also the citrus notes that carried through the other whiskies, in this case more like the smell left on your fingers after squeezing a lemon wedge. To taste there was some unripe red grape, syrup sweetness, lemon cake and a hint of struck match sulphur on the woody finish. Water brought out more lemon on the nose and killed some of the sweetness, bringing in more soured fruit.

We next tried the Old Pulteney 30 year old. This was released in 2009 and took the 17 year old’s approach to wood, with predominantly 2nd and 3rd fill casks used to mature the whisky. On the nose there was crisp red apple skin, salty butter, polished wood, green veg, gravel and foam bananas. To taste the vegetal nature came through as a hint of nettles, with sour fruit and sweet fake fruit. As it sat in the glass it got sweeter, with ripe bananas sitting around into the finish. Water brought out more sweetness and vanilla (plain cupcakes?) but killed the depth of flavour quite quickly, although it did add some fruit stone bitterness to cut the sweet finish.

Last on the mat for the evening was a special treat – Old Pulteney 40 year old. This was extra specially special as pretty much noone could have had a chance to taste it as it was only racked a week earlier, made up of three sherry hogsheads and an ex-bourbon cask from 1968. The sample bottle that Lucas brought with him was at 53.4% but they predict that this will have dropped to 52.5% by the time it’s bottled later this year. On the nose I got the nettle vegetal notes from the 30 year old, randomly expanded while talking to Joel to be ‘foraged plant matter’, as well as sweet cocoa, buttery marzipan, thick red fruit, red wine, sweet orange marmalade, floury red apples and a touch of sour cherry. To taste the orange came to the fore, with hints of Fry’s Orange Cream leading to a buttery wood and Seville orange finish. In between there was leather, tobacco boxes and green veg. They’re still finalising the packaging, which Lucas wouldn’t even give us a hint about, but the release should be ‘imminent’. It won’t be cheap but it’s definitely worth a try.

Having worked our way through a stack of cheese (it seems I do like blue cheese now, which is a Good Thing) we repaired to the newly opened Boisdale bar to admire their impressive whisky selection (claimed to be 1000 different bottles) and try out their cigar sampling room (sitting in a legal loophole that allows the ‘sampling’ of cigars indoors), looked after by the award winning cigar sommelier I met briefly at the Victoria branch during last year’s Caskstrength The Glenlivet tasting. A rather nice night out and I suspect that some more tasting notes for the WK499 in my cupboard and the mystery sample pressed into my hand by Lucas as I left may be forthcoming… (mystery because I forgot what he said it was. I had been drinking)

Thanks to Lucas and Cathy from Inver House for inviting me along. Despite my best attempts I think I still owe Lucas a beer…

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

Tasting Glenlivet with Phil Huckle and the chaps from Caskstrength

One thing I didn’t realise when I started this blog and have started to find over the last year is that there are lovely people out in the world of booze blogging. Thanks to my rather specific focus on the world of whisky (it’s only half my posts…I do try to do other things) I’ve mainly bumped into folk from that area and one of the best known (currently number 5 on Google for Whisky Blog) are Neil and Joel of Caskstrength. I’ve been reading their blog for a while, ever since the folk at the SMWS were shocked that someone who lived on the internets as much as I wasn’t doing so already, and their informal, metaphor and pun laced prose is a breath of fresh air compared to the rather staid world of obsessively long posts that me and my ilk inhabit. Anyways, enough flattery, they’ve already invited me to something: After meeting up with both halves of the Caskstrength gang at the SMWS new list tasting last month I was asked along to the first official tasting of their own – trying a range of whiskies from The Glenlivet with brand ambassador Phil Huckle at Boisdale.

I’ve met Phil a few times before, at Chivas Regal and Aberlour tastings, due to his job as the Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard whisky brand ambassador in the UK, and he had got together with Neil and Joel to plan an evening exploring The Glenlivet’s range, touching on some of the less well known expressions as well as a couple of those that pop up in the supermarket. The Glenlivet is currently the second biggest whisky in the world, sitting behind Glenfiddich, and has been around for rather a long time. In 1823 there were over 200 illegal distilleries operating in the Glenlivet valley in Speyside – isolated and hilly it was the perfect location to hide from the excise men, with lookouts able to see any incoming trouble and warn the stillmen, who’d pack up and hide their stills until the officials had moved on. Illegal distilling was very much the norm, as high taxes meant that it wasn’t financially viable to distill in anything but ridiculously large quantities. However, the illegal whiskies were known for their quality, with even King George asking for a dram during his 1822 visit to Scotland, and eventually the British government relented and lowered the taxes in 1823. In 1824 George Smith, the founder of The Glenlivet, went legal, despite the danger of violence from the illegal distillers, which led to him wearing pistols at all times and arson attacks on the fledgling distillery. His spirit, however, became popular and other distillers started using the name of the valley as part of their names – there were at one point 27 different Glenlivet whiskies (including Macallan Glenlivet, Longmorn Glenlivet and Aberlour Glenlivet) and Andrew Usher, one of the fathers of whisky blending who at one point was buying the entire output of The Glenlivet, bottlled his blend as OVG – Original Vatted Glenlivet. In 1884 The Glenlivet went to court to claim the name and won, hence the obssessive use of the word The in front of every mention of the distillery so far, an affectation that I may not be as careful with from here on in. These days Glenlivet is part of the Pernod Ricard group and its whisky is no longer used in the production of their blends – the entire output, including that of the recently opened new wing, now goes to single malt production.

The Glenlivet

I’ve been wary of The Glenlivet in the past, thinking of it as the dusty bottle next to the dusty bottle of Glenfiddich on the back bar of the pub, but after a bottle landed in my lap after a focus group (from a company trying to pitch for an update to the Glenlivet website) I found that I quite liked the regular 12 year old. I’ve tried a couple of the others since, but not in nice vertical tasting or with my notebook to hand, so I was quite keen to see what they had to offer. First on the list was a variation on their standard bottling – The Glenlivet 12 year old First Fill. Rather than using the usual mix of various casks this one, available only in travel retail, uses solely first fill american oak barrels for maturation. On the nose there was banana, pineapple, cinnamon and custardy apples. To taste it was lightly creamy to start, a bit of Glenlivet trademark, moving on to woody spice, honeyed apples and then a biscuity, woody end. Water enhanced the woods astringency, adding some tropical fruit (maybe mango?) as well as sweet cream. The finish was quite fruity, with a mashup of orchard fruit and wood lingering for a little bit. It’s not that different from the regular 12 year old, from my fading memory of it, but has more of the traditional american oak flavours (tropical fruit, vanilla, light spices) than I remember in the standard bottling.

We then moved on to The Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak Reserve. This is made by taking the regular 15 year old Glenlivet (that I assume is a mixture of different wood types) and mixing it half-half with some 15 year old that has been finished in new Limousin oak for a few months. Limousin is the wood used to make Cognac and wine barrels in France and is known for its tannic nature and high quality, and the barrels are brand new oak allowing the whisky to get the maximum influence from the wood that it can. It was quite coppery in colour and the nose had salty butter, apples, woody spice and heavy brown sugar. Someone in the room shouted out ‘organic solvents’ and I could see what they meant, with a hint of sweet alcohols wafting from the glass. To taste it had a ginger and hazelnut center, surrounded by burned orange peel and spicy wood after a thinly sweet and creamy start. Water brought out more of the trademark cream, with dried strawberries, raisins and a vanilla biscuitiness. From around the table we cobbled together ‘Like salty raisins sauteed in brandy butter’ and ‘a bit like Lidl garibaldi biscuits’…

Next was the Nadurra Triumph. The original release of Nadurra was my first experience with Glenlivet that I remember, with a bottle being picked up in duty free on special offer, and the only thing I remember about it was that I didn’t like it. This is a special edition, using spirit that was produced solely with Triumph barley, the strain they used before switching to the current choice of Optic and Oxbridge, distilled in 1991 and bottled in 2010. Nadurra means natural and this one is bottled without chill filtering or colouring at a stronger than usual 48%. There was a mixture of wood used in the maturation, with at least some European oak complimenting the American casks. On the nose it was citrusy, with lemons, Seville orange and bitter pith, and creamy with a hint of tutti-frutti ice cream. To taste it was big and fruity, with a touch of leathery wood and little bit of banana. The assessment at our end of the table compared it to a Christmassy orange studded with cloves. Water brought out cream and bitterness, dried fruit, woody spice, nutshells and added to the heat of the finish. An interesting dram and definitely more to my taste than the regular Nadurra was when I last tried it.

Fourth on the mat was The Glenlivet 18 year old. This one was noticeably darker than the other whiskies we’d drunk so far and it wasn’t much of a surprise to hear that it contains about 20% of spirit that is matured in former sherry casks. On the nose it had dark chocolate, glacé cherries, rich fruit, the expected cream and biscuits. There were also suggestions of cherry blossom and creme brulée, the latter marrying the cream, dark notes, biscuity vanilla and sugary sweetness together nicely. To taste it was thick, with lots of cream running on to sweet fruits (cherry & stewed apple) and orange peel, and then astringent wood which became dry on the finish. It didn’t take much water and didn’t change all that much, bringing out more sweet vanilla from the creaminess. This was the whisky from the regular range that I was most looking forward to tasting, as I’ve heard that I might like it. It’s got the right amount of sherry for my current taste and is also going for surprisingly low prices in Waitrose at the moment, despite being reasonably priced usually. This one might appear in the cupboard by Christmas.

The last whisky placed in front of us, for now, was The Glenlivet 25 year old. Deep reddy brown, this whisky is finished for 2 years in oloroso sherry casks and is the oldest and most expensive in the regular range. On the nose there was sherry fruit, wood spice, crisp fino and fruity oloroso sherry, buttery wheat and maple syrup. To taste it was silky in the mouth, with cinnamon, sweet burned butter, marzipan and a touch of linseed oil. From around the table came ‘flat Dr Pepper’ and ‘sweet cured bacon’. A drop of water brought out more fruit and some savoury wood, as well as cream and red grape jam. A word needs to be said about the packaging of this bottling – justifying its £175 price tag it comes in a special display box, complete with metal slide on the front to keep it shut. While impressive, the general opinion from around the room was that it did look a bit like a (very well made) school woodworking project…

Founder's ReserveAt this point the answer to our wondering about the empty, question marked space on the tasting mat was revealed as The Glenlivet 1824 Founder’s Reserve was rolled in. Only available from the distillery there were only 1824 bottles of this 21 year old whisky produced, commemorating the opening of the new production wing at the distillery in June this year. It was made up from 10 casks, 2 first fill sherry and 8 bourbon, and poured a deep bronze. On the nose it had cocoa powder, chocolate orange, pineapple, mango, raisins, sweet red grapes, minerally smoke and butter. To taste it had a load of spicy Christmas cake – bitter orange, walnut and figs – as well as mint and more creamy butter. A drop of water brought out more sweetness, more spice, cinnamon toffee and bananas, but I wouldn’t want to add too much. Again, this one comes in a nice box, this time with a sliding presentation section and tasteful burned in branding. Very pretty and also rather tasty, although only available at the distillery (if there’s any left).

After the tasting broke up I ended up on Boisdale’s cigar terrace with a dram of their own bottling of Mortlach, famed as they are for their independent bottlings and cigar selection (the guy running the terrace that night was Victor Ferreira, 2010 UK Cigar Sommelier of the year), and had a chat with Phil Huckle about the hard life of being a whisky ambassador. Despite the heaters it was a snowy evening and what I thought to be cigar ash blowing across my field of vision turned out to be snow, sneaking around the side of the awning and pinging horizontally across the terrace – a fitting end to an interesting evening.

I’ve been examining my whisky prejudices in recent times and while my dislike of Glenfiddich’s whisky still stands (and is due to not liking it rather than just not liking them for being market leaders) my opinions on Glenlivet have changed over the last year. While it’s not my favourite whisky it’s definitely one that I won’t stay away from and while I might have a bottle of the 18 year old before this year is out I suspect the occasional bottle of the 12 will also make its way through my house over the next.

The Glenlivet 12 Year Old First Fill
12 year old Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 40%. ~£30 from World of Whiskies for 1 litre. Travel retail only.

The Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve
15 year old Speyside single malt Scotchwhisky, 40%. ~£30 from Master of Malt.

The Glenlivet Nadurra Triumph
19 year old Speyside single malt Scotchwhisky, 48%. ~£50 from The Whisky Exchange.

The Glenlivet 18 Year Old
18 year old Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 43%. ~£35 from Master of Malt (although it’s about £30 in Waitrose for Christmas).

The Glenlivet XXV
25 year old Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 43%. ~£175 from Master of Malt.

The Glenlivet 1824 Founder’s Reserve
21 year old cask strength Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 55.6%. ~£250 only available from the distillery

Many thanks to Joel and Neil at Caskstrength for inviting me, and to Phil Huckle for talking toot with me until closing time and passing over a couple of drams of the 21 year old. The tasting was free for everyone and we all got a rather shiny goody bag to take home with us. You should all go and read Neil and Joel’s blog, it’s rather good. They even wrote about this tasting way before I did…