Four Roses – two mashbills, five yeasts, ten whiskeys

Four Roses

Every year, a new part of the distillation process or an ingredient seems to be ‘the most important bit’. Sometimes it’s the grain, sometimes it’s the water, sometimes it’s the stills, but almost every year the geekier whisky fans start talking about yeast – one of the key flavour creators in the whisky making process. And when it comes to yeast, there’s one distiller who does more than most – Four Roses.
Continue reading “Four Roses – two mashbills, five yeasts, ten whiskeys”

What’s a Distiller When it’s at Home?


[In which I talk about American distilling related issues that I probably don’t know enough about]

In the US, until recent times, there weren’t all that many distilleries making whiskey. A history of Prohibition and draconian state liquor laws mean that not only did they start from a low base number in the 1930s but an increase in the number wasn’t particularly easy. Throw in a decline in the popularity of whiskey in the 1980s and 90s, leading to distillery closures and conglomeration, and you have a market that was ripe for the recent craft distilling boom. However, craft distilling is still in its infancy (or at least toddling years) in the USA and the ‘old’ system of whiskey production is still predominant. It’s a system that doesn’t necessarily link brands to the distilleries where their whiskey is made.

Continue reading “What’s a Distiller When it’s at Home?”

Whisky Squad #44 – Bang for your buck

Christmas and New Year are approaching. I know this because I’ve received the ‘prepare for the PAIN’ email at work, warning us of the propensity of people to purchase boozes towards the end of the year and the commensurate increase in the amount of work that us booze slinging retailers will see as it approaches. However, we’ve also noticed this at Whisky Squad and to help in the selection of some more thrifty purchases for the festive season we brought in m’colleague Tim Forbes of TWE to go through a range of more affordable, ‘bang for your buck’ purchases.

Rumours that the session was once going to be called “Timmy Wimmy’s Nifty Thrifty Whisky for Chrissy” are entirely true. It was vetoed quite early on by Mr Forbes, as he has a modicum of pride left in his body. I will, however, be referring to my younger brother as Timmy Wimmy for the rest of the year to ensure balance.

Continue reading “Whisky Squad #44 – Bang for your buck”

Whisky Squad #18 – American Independents

Keeping up with Whisky Squad meetings has been more difficult than usual recently, what with there being one every two weeks since the beginning of June. (Un)fortunately I’ve had an intervention of life and work, much of which was taken up with 5 days of drinking different boozes each day last week, filling all of my waking hours with Stuff and giving me no time to witter about the latest episode in the world of The Squad. However, after a few calming episodes of Babylon 5 (in which Bruce Boxleitner looks uncannily like my father, making me double take at almost every scene) and a glass of absinthe (of which more in a later post – I need to write about something other than whisky soon) my notebook has fallen open to the right page, photos have moved from camera to iPhoto and soothing musics are playing from my computer speakers. It is time to do a bit of ‘writing’.

Continue reading “Whisky Squad #18 – American Independents”

Whisky Hub #1 at Albannach

Along with the more usual ‘proper’ tastings there seems to have been the start of a movement recently towards less formal gatherings. With the likes of Whisky Squad, and maybe soon my own regular whisky club at The Alma, popping up to quite frenetic take up (in the case of ‘The Squad’ anyway – tickets for the next session disappeared in 20 minutes) it’s good to see more people trying out the idea. Coming along to this last month, although I’m finally getting round to writing it up a week before the next meeting, was Albannach on Leicester Square with their Whisky Hub.

The idea is quite simple – a small group of people each bring along a bottle of whisk(e)y that they like and then share it with the group and tell everyone why they like it. There’s also some nibbles, kindly provided by Albannach, and the regular sort of banter when you get a group of whisk(e)y lovers in a room together. The first meeting was a bit slewed towards people from the booze industry, with me as the only non-professional drinker in the room – Cat and Ivo from Albannach, Will Lowe from Bibendum, James Hill from Diageo Select Brands and one of his friends, a barman (maybe manager? I was drinking) from (I think, remember the drinking) Sheffield. The plan was simple – go round the table, revealing your bottle and saying as much or as little about it as you wanted.

We started off with Will, who had brought along a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon. Four Roses are a whiskey maker that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while, ever since I did a tasting of their range (on their own and in cocktails) at Callooh Callay last year. Will met Jim Rutledge, Four Roses master distiller, a little while back and soaked up a chunk of information about them from him. They do a regular range of 3 whiskies – Four Roses Bourbon (aka Yellow Label), Small Batch and Single Barrel. Along with the regular bourbon distilling tricks of maturing the whiskies in different parts of the warehouse (often in large stacks that leave largish temperature differences between the top and bottom rows, helping to alter the maturation between barrels – Four Roses don’t generally go up much, stopping at about 3 barrels high, iirc) they produce the varying flavours in their whiskies by making a variety of different spirits from different grain recipes and using different yeasts. In total they have 2 different mashbills (ratios of corn, rye and other grains) and 5 different yeasts for a combination of 10 different spirits (which Whisky Magazine has described this month in a useful section that I’ll be pulling out to keep) which are blended together in different ratios to make the three whiskies of the regular range as well as other special bottlings. The Yellow Label uses all 10 recipes, the small batch 4 of them and the single barrel only one, depending on which barrel is chosen. The Small Batch ends up with 27.5% rye in its makeup, with the rest being corn (in order for a whiskey to be called Bourbon it has to have at least 51% corn) which gives a chunk of rye spiciness as well as the more well known corn sweetness. On the nose it had butter and biscuits, coconut, vanilla, salty caramel and sugared violets. To taste it had an underlying sourness with menthol, grainy sweetness and a sugary woody finish. A good start to a rather eclectic evening.

Next we turned to James, who opened his mystical whisky ambassador bag and pulled out the Glen Spey 21 Year Old (2010). This is part of Diageo’s special releases range, where they put out (comparatively) small batches of high quality whisky from some of their distilleries each year. This one was part of a 10 cask batch of about 6000 bottles, with the casks being american oak but formerly containing sherry rather than, as is more common, bourbon. A large part of the flavours that we get from bourbon and sherry barrels are not from the previous inhabitant but from the nature of the wood – american oak has a close grain and european oak a wider one, leading to different wood/spirit interaction as temperature changes move the maturing whisky in and out of the wood. The fluid previously in the barrels does also add its own touch, so american oak sherry butts are an interesting combination of maturation aids. On the nose this had coconut and vanilla (as one would expect from american oak), candle wax and, as a nod to the sherry, maraschino cherries and an undertone of beefiness (Bovril?). To taste it was quite citrusy, accompanied by sweet caramel, minty menthol and some drying tannins towards the end. Water added sponge cake to the nose and unbundled the taste, revealing toffee, prickly woody custard, big woody spice and a hint of sherry trifle.

I stepped in at this point and unveiled my contribution – Hammer Head, the 20 year old(ish) Czech whisky that I wrote about last year. I wanted to take along something that I was pretty much certain most people wouldn’t have tried before and that noone else would have brought, and this very much fulfilled my criteria. It seemed to go down well, with everyone being quite shocked that it was as nice as it was.

We then moved on to Ivo, Albannach’s whisky manager. He’d chosen the Mortlach 16 Year Old Flora and Fauna Edition. The Flora and Fauna bottlings (as I’ve mentioned before) are a range introduced by United Distillers (now part of Diageo) in the 90s to showcase some of their distilleries that didn’t normally produce single malts. While many of the range are no longer produced some still are, including this sherried dram showing off the traditional Mortlach characteristics. On the nose it had maple syrup, mint, slightly mulchy grass and sharp sherry fruit. To taste it was rich with caramel, smokey wood, polished wooden floors and a lightly floral note. Water brought out lavender, brittle toffee and more spicy sweetness. I rather like Mortlach and this one will be the one I turn to once I can’t get my currently favoured Boisdales bottling.

Next up was Cat, who had chosen The English Whisky Company’s Chapter 9, one of their first bottlings legally allowed to be called whisky, the first to be produced by their own distiller and the first peated English whisky. The distillery’s outside of Thetford in Norfolk and was put together by the Nelstrop family, farmers who owned some land near the river Thet. They built a new distillery from scratch and brought in consultant distiller Ian Henderson, formerly of Laphroaig, to start them up and also train up former Greene King brewer David Fitt to take over when Ian moved on. As the only whisky distillery operating in England they’ve also sensibly decided to jump on the tourist market and have a visitors centre at the heart of the distillery which, along with releases of their maturing spirit as Chapters 1-5, helped fund the distillery during the initial three years before any of their produce could be called whisky. I’ve got an unopened bottle of the Chapter 9 in my whisky cupboard so I was quite keen to have a taste without having to crack mine open. On the nose it was initially obviously young, with grain, sweet peat, wood smoke, citrus, cream sponge cake, bananas and creamy new make spirit. At first I thought it smelled quite boring, but it gained complexity and ‘age’ as it sat in the glass oxidising. To taste it was sweet with gravel, lime floor cleaner, pine and a sweet wet peat finish. Water brought out egg custard on the nose and more sweetness to the taste, although accompanied by the aforementioned floor cleaner. This isn’t one I’m going to jump on immediately, but I’ll be happy to open it if it doesn’t rise in price on the collectors market – it’s not sold out yet months after release, so I’m expecting that I’ll be drinking it rather than using it as a deposit on a house…

Last was James’s mate, whose name I have shamefully forgotten (especially as we discussed the uniqueness of his name for quite a while before he ran off with Mr Hill to assault the bar at The Dorchester). He’d chosen a whisky from James’s magic bag – Lagavulin 1994 Pedro Ximinez Finish Distiller’s Edition. The Distiller’s Editions are Diageo’s ‘finished’ whiskies, with each of the spirits sitting in a different cask for the end of their maturation to pick up some extra flavours. In the case of Lagavulin they’ve used PX casks and it seems to be lauded as the best of the range (and the prices for previous years’ releases demonstrate that). I think this one was the ’94, based on it being the most recent release and most likely to have been in James’s bag, and it was rather nice. On the nose there was sweet salted caramel and a big smokiness that slowly faded as it sat in the glass. To taste it was again sweet, and very easy to drink, with smoke, a hint of citrus and a little bit of syrupy PX. Water lightened the smoke revealing a bit of wet wood and some muddy peat. Not overly complicated but rich, smoky and sweet.

James then dipped into his bag again and brought out a non-Diageo whisky, independently bottled and from a distillery they don’t own – Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask Bunnahabhain XXXIV. Bottled for The Wine Shop in Leek in Staffordshire, a shop that sells much more whisky than its name suggests, it was distilled in 1997 which was (according to their site) a year of experimentation at the distillery, where they switched their normal unpeated production to peated for the whole year. These days they distill peated spirit for a few weeks at the end of the season, but the glut of casks in ’97 allowed a lot more experimentation with maturation. This whisky sat in a sherry hogshead for 12 years and was bottled in 2009 at 54.3%. On the nose it was salty with light smoke, gravel and boiled sweets. To taste it was big and orangey in the middle, surrounded by mud and stone. It was quite spiky and water calmed it down, bringing out more sweetness and stony minerality as well as ‘smoked golden syrup’.

A good start to the Whisky Hub with a nice range of interesting whiskies and some interesting chat about whisky and the state of the universe. The next meeting is next week (hopefully it’ll take me less time to write it up this time) and the plan seems to be to put on one every month. Albannach are restricting numbers so that it’s possible to try all the whiskies and still walk out of the restaurant, but if you’re interested please drop me a mail and I’ll pass your details on for when they hopefully expand things further.

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon
Bourbon whiskey, 45%. ~£25 from Master of Malt

Glen Spey 12 Year Old (2010)
Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 50.4%. ~£130 from Master of Malt

Hammer Head
20 year old Czech single malt whisky, 40.7%. ~£30 from World of Whiskies

Mortlach 16 Flora and Fauna
Speyside single malt Scotch whisky, 43%. ~£40 from Master of Malt

English Whisky Company Chapter 9
Single malt English whisky, 46%. ~£40 from Master of Malt

Lagavulin 1994 Pedro Ximinez Finish Distiller’s Edition
Islay single malt Scotch whisky, 43%. ~£55 from Master of Malt

Queen of the Moorlands Rare Cask Bunnahabhain XXXIV
Islay single cask single malt Scotch whisky, 53.2%. ~£60 from The Wine Shop

No pictures due to a combination of camera fail and being too busy nattering. And drinking…

Camino – Puerto del Canario

High on my list of boozes to learn about at the moment is the oft-maligned ‘granny’ drink that is sherry. I’m a bit of a fan, knocking back at least one bottle of amontillado at Christmas and having grown up in a household where abstinence was enforced before 6pm with the understanding that sherry didn’t count as drinking. I heard rumours earlier this year of a sherry bar near Kings Cross and eventually discovered the location of Pepito and Camino, the restaurant that it’s attached to. I’ve still not made it over to visit and was rather pleased to be contacted by their PR people and offered a chance to be taught about sherry with an intake of new staff. Unfortunately this didn’t line-up with the world of the corporate wage slave (my world) and I resigned myself to not seeing behind the scenes. However, the staff training wasn’t just for a regular intake but for a new restaurant and shortly after opening I was invited along with the regular crew of London food and drink bloggers to have a wander round the new location – Puerto del Canario…or Canary Wharf as you may know it.

Situated right by Westferry pier on the former site of a Jamie’s bar it’s a restaurant of two halves – eating and drinking. Half of the restaurant is set up for sit down dining, the other with tall tables for more casual drinking with food. I think the same menu is served in both halves of the restaurant and it’s all spanish food, with a variety of sizes from small tapas dishes to main meals. I got to try some at the end of the evening and was very impressed – I’ll be coming back for certain, especially as it gives me an excuse to get the boat from London Bridge. I like boats. However, I was there to find out about the drinks.

Tio Pepe Palomino FinoWhile they aren’t Pepito, they do still have range of sherries with at least one entry in each of the major categories. We started the evening with some Tio Pepe Fino Palomino. Camino work closely with Gonzalez Byass and this is one of their key sherry brands. Served chilled it was light on the nose, but there was a hint of grass with some honey hiding behind it. To taste it was much dryer than the nose suggested, with green grass, yeast and dry grapes. Those flavours ended suddenly with a hint of sweetness and the whole lot was capped with a woody finish. I’m not a fan of dryer sherries, but this was quite nice, if not really my kind of thing.

Solera 1847 Oloroso DulceTo stick with the sherries for now, at the end of our meal we were presented with a choice of digestif. After a small amount of sweet talking I got to try both. I started with a Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce. On the nose it had the pressed raisin sweetness of a darker sweet sherry as well a whiff of vanilla sponge cake. To taste it had cinnamon in with the raisins and a hint of apple, all sitting on top of a light yeastiness. I quite like sweeter sherry and this has definitely added oloroso to my ‘investigate’ list. The other dessert choice was a Moscatel (that I know nothing more about other than that). It was floral on the nose with light honey and a cloying perfumed floor cleaner astrigency. To taste the honey was dominant with the floral note hanging around and making the whole lot a bit intense and cloying. Not really one for me – a bit too much and more overpowering than the moscatel I have tried in the past.

Val de SIlViñas del Vero Pinot NoirTorre IsiloThe bar does of course have much more than just sherry. Along with the food we were served a selection of spanish wine, starting with a 2007 Val de Sil Godello – a wine made in Galicia in north-western spain. My notes are annoyingly light now that I’ve looked into the grape a bit more (as I’d not heard of or tried it before) and read simply ‘Sweet sugariness. Hint of lemon’. I’ve only more recently started getting into white wine and this is on the list of things to try again. From there we quickly moved on to reds, with a Viñas del Vero Pinot Noir 2008 as the first. On the nose it had a underlying bloody meatiness with a hint of salt and sour cherry. To taste it was piney to start with strawberries in the middle and a lightly sour finish with sweetness down the side of the tongue. We then moved on to a Cillar de Silos Torre Isilo, made with Ribera del Duero grapes. It had pine, almonds, redcurrants, dry card and sour cherry on the nose. To taste it had both sweet and sour cherries, a clove spiciness, some vanilla and a tannic woody finish. Rather pleasant.

Before I got to the eating stage of the evening I had a chat with a lady at the bar. She poured me a glass of 2009 Verd Albera (a rather nice peachy and lemony white wine) and after I did my normal waxing lyrical about spirits and cocktails she revealed that she was in charge of training the bar staff in the restaurant group and helped design the bars. The main design work is done by Interbar and currently (as of October 2010) the Camino Puerto del Canario bar is their flagship production – lots of fridges keeping wine at the right temperature (16°C for red, 6-7°C for white according to our tour), ice wells for chilling bottles and putting in drinks, and a general air of sensible lay out. After some further chatting about the wonders of whisky and cocktails (not what I expected in a Spanish bar and restaurant) I was presented with a whiskey sour. It was made with Four Roses small batch bourbon (which is a nice bourbon that I still need to grab a bottle of) and had a splash of Angostura bitters added for some spiciness, a twist I may have to try in the ones I make at home from now on.


The last beverage type to taste was their beer. They have the regular range of cold fizzy yellow Spanish beer (as well as, according to the menu, at least one Spanish dark beer), but one in particular caught my eye – Inedit, a beer designed in collaboration between Estrella and Feran Adrià. Adrià is the owner and genius/madman behind El Bulli, a 3 star Michelin restaurant that often tops World’s Best Restaurant lists (and that I very much want to go to, but with only 8000 diners per year and over 2 million booking requests [places issued via a lottery] I doubt I will any time soon, especially as next year looks to be the last season that it will be around) and along with St Heston of Bray one of my food heroes. Estrella approached him asking for helping in designing a beer to go with food and Inedit is the result of their work. On the nose it has wheaty coriander and a light sweetness. To taste it has a burst of malty sweetness, with flowers and a hint of citrus that stops dead and is followed by dryness. It’s quite strange how quickly the flavour stops, but it seems almost perfect for food and claims to be ‘the first beer to be designed to accompany food’ (a lofty claim that I can’t deny with evidence but am sure others can) – a burst of beer flavour followed by a hole that is almost marked ‘insert food here’. Tastewise it’s quite similar to Hoegaarden, but slightly lighter and much clearer in appearance. It’s not that available in the UK, appearing in Utobeer and other specialist beer shops but Camino is the only restaurant I know serving it.

Camino is most definitely on my list of places to visit again. I’m not a big fan of the layout bar side, with no general seating and the potential to become a noisy echo chamber as soon as it starts to fill, but their drinks menu is good and while similar it’s nicer than the other Canary Wharf drinking dens I’ve visited – it’ll be full of suits in no time… The restaurant was really good, an excellent addition to the crowded Canary Wharf scene and the easy access from the river (along with the accompanying view) is rather nice. To complete my need for sherry knowledge I still need to visit Pepito (and Camino: Cruz del Rey – they love the spanish names), but Camino: Puerto del Canario has filled the gap for now.

Tio Pepe Fino Palomino
Fino sherry. £3.50 for 100ml from Camino. £9.99 per bottle from Majestic.

Solera 1847 Oloroso Dulce
Oloroso sherry. £10.99 per bottle from Ocado.

Val de Sil 2007
Godello white wine. £32 per bottle from Camino

Viñas del Vero Pinot Noir 2008
Pinot noirred wine. £24.50 per bottle from Camino.

Cillar de Silo Torre Isilo 2006
Ribera del Duero red wine. £59 per bottle from Camino.

Celler Marti Fabra Verd Albera 2009
Mocatel, Garnacha, Empordà white wine. £20 per bottle from Camino

Spanish lager by Estrella and Feran Adrià. 4.8%.

Many thanks to Krista Booker from Neon for finally finding an event I could come along to (and trying to push as many new boozes my way as she could through the evening), Andrew Sinclair from Gonzalez Byass for listening to me witter about how little I knew about sherry and cava, Richard Bigg, former wandering barman, now Camino boss and all round nice chap, and to the staff at Camino, who were smiley and helpful all night despite being confronted by 30+ freeloading bloggers.

I was wined and dined for the evening at Camino’s expense and they gave us all a rather nice goody bag (I ate the cheese from it on the way home). They even put me on a boat for a bit, which was nice. I will be happily paying my own money to go again though and I wouldn’t do that if they weren’t actually good.