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

A Twitter tasting – Balblair Vintages 2000 and 1989

I like Twitter (capital letter required). I’m @cowfish over there and talk a lot of rubbish for most of the day – one of the bonuses of being a computer programmer is the constant connection to the internet which works with my tiny attention span to allow me to context switch back and forth between the Twitter-verse’s stream of consciousness ramblings and whatever code is currently filling up my screen. One of the things that I like about it is that people are often trying new things, with trial and error being the common method of getting those things right, slowly iterating from failure to success. Happily it was at the latter end of the scale that a tasting I ‘went’ to ended up – an online tasting of Balblair’s 2000 and 1989 vintages.

Balblair setup

I’ve been involved with various online events using only twitter as the communication medium and they’ve been a bit of a mixed bag – filtering relevant messages for a large event becomes a chore for both attendees and others who are following the Twitter streams of the attendees who don’t care (Twitter is a broadcast to all medium – those who choose to receive a user’s utterances must filter them themselves if they don’t want to see everything), and a small event ends up with too little interaction and not enough spread across Twitter (as getting the details of the tasting out to those who aren’t directly involved is part of the reason why Twitter events are so effective from a PR point of view). Anyways, suffice to say that Lucas from The Edinburgh Whisky Blog managed to balance the size well, creating a group of tasters spread far and wide both geographically and in groups of followers on Twitter.

Balblair is now part of the Inver House group (the same guys who own Old Pulteney) but has been running since 1790. Sat on the Dornoch Firth in the Scottish highlands, along the coast from Glenmorangie, it was family run operation from opening until 1970 at which point it was sold on to Allied Distillers, being further sold on to Inver House in 1996. I first heard about them in 2008 during (as with so many whiskies) an interview with Mark Gillespie on WhiskyCast (Episode 170), when distillery manager John MacDonald talked about their newly revamped range – switching from age statemented expressions to vintages. I was intrigued by John’s talk of banana flavours in their 1989 vintage and after a bit of searching managed to find a bottle – I don’t remember much about it apart from finding it quite banana-y and being impressed by the packaging. They’ve not changed much since, bringing out new vintages but continuing to put them in pretty bottles and boxes, and I’ve been meaning to try more than just the 1989 so I was rather pleased to be able to join in the tasting.

Balblair '00The plan for the evening was simple – take the two samples that we’d each been sent, pour them, drink them and tweet about them. Added to that mix we had a Twitter host to lead us through the tasting, the previously mentioned John MacDonald. At 7pm Scottish time John announced the first pour – the Balblair 2000. This is the first release of this whisky, bottled earlier this year at 10 years old after maturing in a 2nd fill ex-bourbon cask. It was very pale, a light gold that I took issue with Whisky Emporium‘s Keith Wood describing as ‘Light straw in midday sunshine’ – that would be much darker than this I reckon. The nose changed a lot as it sat in the glass, with an initial waxiness fading away to reveal lots of fruity flavours – pineapple, apple and rhubarb & custard sweets. To taste it was fresh and light, but had an underlying woody caramel base with sweet vanilla cream, dark chocolate and slightly unripe grapes on top. It was spiced up with a hint of pepper and as it developed in the glass picked up a coppery tint – excellently described by Colin Campbell (aka TheScotsDreamer) as being like old coins. It finished quite woody – my notes describe it as ‘a bit too twiggy’. A drop of water, as it didn’t take much more before becoming washed out, brought out more astrigency – stronger vanilla backed with acetone, more heat and a thinner alcohol flavour. This was paired with some bigger creaminess at the back of the mouth, with thick custard coming through. The finish lost a lot of the wood, with a bit of minty menthol joining some spicy woody fruit.

Balblair '89After 20 minutes of tweeting John called for a move onto dram number 2 – the Balblair 1989. This is the second edition of this whisky, matured in 2nd fill bourbon and bottled from 37 casks this year rather than in 2008 like the one I tried previously, clocking in now at 21 years old. This also poured very light (no caramel colouring is to be found in either of these whiskies to hide their natural paleness, for which I applaud the distillery) although closer to Keith’s ‘light straw’ from earlier. On the nose there was a hint of ripe banana and an acetoney smell that faded quickly after pouring. This was joined by vanilla, unripe mangos, lemons and something I referred to as ‘cakey bread/bready cake’. To taste it was quite rich and rounded, or at least more than its light colouring would suggest (further evidence that whisky colour tells you little more than how light passes through it) with some smoky leather, more bananas, lemons and milk chocolate. There was more fruit, with lemons and pineapple, and it finished interestingly with sweet vanilla cream and tobacco. Water brought out more creaminess and mixed up the citrus and fruit into one big sweet & sour mess wrapped up in leather. It remained fruity with a lightly tannic tickle down the side of the tongue, and a hint of sawdust and pencil shavings on the finish.

On the side there was a competition running, with John’s favourite tasting note of the evening winning a bottle of the 1989. My slightly over the top suggestions of ‘Crushed rhubarb and custard sweets rolled in sweet scented candlewax and left to melt in the sun’ and ‘Ripe bananas squashed on a hot leather carseat’ for the 2000 and 1989 respectively didn’t get too far (other than a couple of retweets and a ‘Ew’ from Scott Spolverino, aka @InWithBacchus), with the bottle being won by a description of the 1989 being like ‘Earl Grey tea infused with pineapples’ from Dramming‘s Oliver Klimek.

All in all it worked rather well, with the a few people piping up and asking me how they could get involved next time and the discussion being friendly and akin to being in a large room full of people shouting at each other, but in a controlled manner. I grabbed a transcript of the whole tasting and have put it up if you want to follow through and see what we all said.

Balblair 2000
Highland single malt Scotch whisky. 10 years old. 43%. ~£30.75 from The Whisky Exchange

Balblair 1989
Highland single malt Scotch whisky. 21 years old. 43%. ~£40 from Master of Malt (although it may be the first edition)

Many thanks to Lucas of The Edinburgh Whisky Blog and Balblair for sending me over the samples, and getting me involved.

Glen Flagler Pure Malt

One of the things that’s great about being a Twitter obsessive, as I admittedly am, is that there are many people from the world of whisky out there chatting away. Earlier on this year my path crossed with that of Keith Wood (@whiskyemporium), who I saw asking some techy questions about twitter one morning while clicking through a search looking for whisky tweeters. A quick exchange of non-whisky related banter led to a chat about whisky and a bit of website crosslinking. Since then I’ve been a regular reader of his site and was rather pleased to be on a list of competition winners recently, bagging myself a sample of Glen Flagler Pure Malt from Keith’s collection in celebration of his 500th online tasting note – ta muchly, sir.

Glen FlaglerHe initially posted up a picture on twitter and asked us what we thought of it, which led me to do a bit of digging about the name on the internet where the story is confused – this is what I’ve extracted from the sites that seemed to tally together.

Glen Flagler is a relatively new and very short lived brand in the whisky world, appearing sometime after 1965 when Inver House built a new distillery as part of a complex in Moffat, converting an old paper mill to spirit production purposes. There were two pairs of pot stills producing three different malts, Glen Flagler (a lightly peated but heavier than usual lowland), Islebrae (a peated version of Glen Flagler made in the same pair of stills that doesn’t seem to have been released as a single malt) and Killyloch (a traditionally lowland style whisky), as well as continuous stills producing Garnheath grain whisky and neutral spirit. The vast majority of the malt went into Inver House’s blends, with small amounts of Killyloch and Glen Flagler also bottled in their own right. The site grew with warehouses, a cooperage, bottling plant, maltings (the largest in Europe at one time) and blending facilities. However, Islebrae and Killyloch disappeared by the mid-70s and Glen Flagler was killed in 1985/6 with the closure and dismantling of the distillery. Some of the site’s facilities still remain, but the majority has now been dismantled. In total a lifetime of only 20 years, less than the age of some of the whiskies that have been released under the Glen Flagler banner.

However, the name of Glen Flagler lived on. Inver House had a management buy out and became an independent company with rights to the Glen Flagler name. As such it became one of their brands and was attached to a pure/vatted malt whisky (now officially called a Blended Malt Whisky – a whisky made of a blend of various single malts from different distilleries, but still only containing malt whisky) – Glen Flagler Special Reserve Pure Malt. This still appears from time to time and is not particularly expensive – the bottles I found online seem to come in at under €50. However, single malt Glen Flagler (and Killyloch) is a very different thing – there’s basically none of it left. In the mid 90s independent bottler Signatory found a few remaining casks of both and produced limited edition bottlings which now change hands for the prices you’d expect for the last bottles from a 25 year dead distillery – it looks like they even came with a miniature of the whisky in addition to the main bottle so that you could have a taste of your rather pricy investment as well as just looking at it. in 2003 Inver House themselves did a 30 year old release, Glen Flagler 1973 which comes in at about £600 per bottle, but is beaten by the 36 year old Killyloch 1967 released at the same time, which comes in at just over £1000.

The label on the bottle Keith has doesn’t match up with the Inver House Glen Flaglers that I’ve found online, listing the producer as Mason & Summers and giving the Moffat Distillery’s post code as their address. Mason & Summers are now Mason & Summers Alcobev and were acquired by an Indian company in the early 2000s to push whisky brands in India, but this was produced before the sale when, I assume, they were still exporting whisky around the world. This bottle is, as Keith pointed out from the neck label, an Italian import and with the postcode on the bottle I assume this is an Inver House bottling that was distributed by Mason & Summers overseas.

Glen FlaglerIn the end we’re not sure what this whisky actually is, just like with most blends. It’s got the Glen Flagler name on the bottle but we have no idea whether it has anything inside that was produced by the distillery.

So, more importantly – what’s the whisky like? On the nose there was some sweet vanilla and maybe a touch of acetone (fake bananas and custard?), with blackjacks and fruit salads, a hint of mulchy grass and a bit of burned wood. To taste it was initially sweet but had a slab of tannic wood in the middle, with a prickly mouth feel and centrepiece of sour liquorice. The finish was dry and woody but with a hint of sweetness. A bit of water changed things with more vanilla on the nose, and the taste became custardy with the sour streak running through the middle. The finish kept some of its dry wood but added custard with spiced fruit. Quite nice, but maybe too much of that drying wood sensation for my liking at the moment. Both Keith and Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast, another of the sample recipients and producer of one of my favourite weekly podcasts, reckoned it should have been bottled a bit stronger and drinksLink reckoned it lacked a bit of punch, but I think it’s fine where it is and preferred it with a slug of water to take the edge off the tannins and bring out the custardy vanilla.

Flavour-wise it fits the profile of the traditional Glen Flagler produced between the 60s and 80s, but we’ll probably never know which whiskies went into the blend in the bottle. However, I salute the blenders of Inver House and their efforts to recreate the flavours of their short lived whisky in blended malt form.

Keith’s tasting notes can be found on his site. Mark’s can be heard during the “What I’ve been tasting this week” department on WhiskyCast 275. DrinksLink’s article is up on their site. Many thanks to Keith for the sample and also the bottle picture above.