Monday, December 22, 2008

Have just tried ... Highland Park 18, 25, 30 and 40 years old

Highland Park was established in 1798 and is one of the oldest and best known distilleries in Scotland. Taking its name from the High Park spring which supplies water to the distillery, It is currently owned by the Edrington Group. Highland Park is the most northern distillery currently operating in Scotland, being located near the town of Kirkwall on the Orkney Islands. There are only two distilleries on the Orkneys (Scapa being the other). Highland Park is regarded by whisky drinkers as a great all-rounder and that makes it one of the best selling whiskies worldwide. It is also a major constituent in Edrington's leading blend, the Famous Grouse which is one of the best selling blended whiskies in the UK. Recently, the guys from Highland Park visited the London branch of The Whisky Shop for a special tasting evening where the older expressions from their core range were available to try.

highland park 18 years old18 years old
The nose of this is fabulous and full of dried fruit (think of sultanas), honey, sweet heather and soft peaty earthiness. On the palate, the fruit and honey are predominant and it is incredibly smooth. The smokiness is there but it does not overpower the whisky as can be the case in some of the Islay malts. The smokiness is floral (imagine heather) and light. There is also a slight saltiness (think of brine or sea air), a distinct nuttiness and some warm spices (like ginger and cinnamon or nutmeg). The combination of all these elements gives a gloriously rich, well balanced and rounded whisky. The finish is long and warm with smokiness and spiciness. This is the whisky that started my interest in whiskies and having not tried this for a long time it didn't disappoint and reconfirmed my memories. A bottle should cost between £55-60. Not a bad start to the evening!

highland park 25 years old25 years old
The colour is a darker amber than the 18 years old and the nose has less of the floral smokiness. The smokiness is still there but in the background. There is honey, some oak and vanilla, dark dried fruits (think of raisins) and a citrus note (imagine lemon zest). On the palate, the heathery, earthy smoke mingles beautifully with the creamy honey, the sherry cask fruitiness and sweet oakiness. There is also a nutty quality present which reminded me of almonds. The finish is much drier than the palate with the citrus note coming through with lots of toffee or butterscotch (i couldn't decide!). This is a complex whisky that is extremely well balanced and enjoyable. One of the best that i have tried to date. It should cost anywhere between £120-140 per bottle.

highland park 30 years old30 years old
The colour is a rich amber and the nose has more woodiness than the previous two that we had tried. There is a whiff of that sweet heathery peatiness and this is joined by some aromatic spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg) and something slightly bitter (like a high cocoa dark chocolate, i think). The palate is sweeter than expected with a hit of toffee and butterscotch, followed by that bitter chocolate, the floral earthiness and some citrus (oranges). The finish is also quite sweet and subtle with the smokiness coming to the fore. This seems less complex than the 25 years old but is still an pretty decent whisky and very enjoyable. A bottle should cost between £180-200.

highland park 40 years old40 years old
Now for the star of the evening. Bottles of this 40 years old whisky are rare and sell for between £800-900, so the chance to try some is not to be turned down! The colour is not as dark as you would maybe expect for a whisky of this age, due to the use of refill casks (meaning that whisky has previously been matured in the cask, so therefore the wood will have less influence on the spirit). This is important as 40 years in a fresher, newer cask would impart too much wood influence and adversely effect the flavours. The nose is delicate and aromatic with some gorgeous honey, toffee, warm spices (imagine nutmeg) and some bitter dark chocolate. The hint of sweet peat smoke that marries with these elements, means that you can happily sit with your nose in the glass and inhale for a long time without getting bored. On the palate, this is liquid gold. the first thing to get the tastebuds is a creamy, thick sweetness that has elements of burnt sugar and toffee. Then comes a tart fruitiness (reminding me of stewed fruit), followed by a subtle, sweet and floral peatiness and a citric tang (think of orange zest). The smokiness really comes out in the finish, which is long, fruity and impressive. A truly fantastic whisky that simply has to be tasted (if you can afford it!).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Have just tried ... Glenglassaugh 1984 Armagnac cask

Planet of the Grapes is a boutique wine shop located in New Oxford Street in central London. While they specialise in bringing small independent wine producers and vineyards products to a wider audience, they also do the same with selected spirits. At a recent wine tasting at the shop, an opportunity arose to try their single cask bottling of Glenglassaugh. The distillery is located on the edge of the Speyside region, close to the small town of Portsoy, approximately 50 miles to the northwest of Aberdeen. Glenglassaugh was originally opened in 1875 and had a reasonably turbulent history littered with closures and re-openings until its stills fell silent for the final time in 1986. Even during production periods, it was difficult to find any bottlings from the distillery as its primary function was to produce whisky to go into famous blended whiskies like the Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. However, following over 20 years of mothballing (the procedure where a distillery remains intact and ready to go again, but not producing), Glenglassaugh was taken off the hands of the Edrington Group by a Dutch company called Scaent. They have completely refurbished the site and production restarted in November 2008. The distillery was re-opened by the MP Alex Salmond, the first minister of Scotland.

Planet of the Grapes have purchased just a single cask of this rare whisky and only have a few bottles left. It has been matured in an Armagnac cask, which is one of the more unusual casks for maturing whisky. The colour is a dark chocolate brown, indicating a lot of influence from the wood. The nose is rich and fruity with lots of dried fruit (think of raisins, sultanas and candied peel). On the palate, the whisky is very smooth, feeling creamy and extremely rich. That dried fruit is everywhere, especially orange candied peel and this is joined by some honey, a distinct nuttiness (walnuts, i think) and some spicy ginger. As this is bottled at cask strength (52.4% abv), i added a splash of water and this exaggerated the dried fruitiness especially. The finish was warming and long but maybe a bit bitter for my taste. It was interesting to try this but while it was a good experiment, my personal feeling was that the strength of flavour from the wood was too much and masked the whisky character. It was overpowered by the armagnac characteristics and the length of time in that cask made the finish very woody and bitter. The result is that it feels like you are drinking a stronger than usual Armagnac. If you would like a bottle, then you need to hurry down to Planet of the Grapes. A bottle will cost you £60.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Have just tried ... Bowmore 12 years old

bowmore 12 years oldBowmore is located on the western island of Islay, which is the home of smoky whisky. The distillery is the oldest in operation on Islay and one of the oldest in Scotland, having started production in 1779. It is situated in the village of Bowmore (which translates as 'sea rock' from Gaelic), on the picturesque shores of Loch Indaal. Bowmore is one of the most famous whiskies in the world and the number of different releases is extensive. the core range consists of this 12 years old, a 15 years old 'darkest' and an 18 years old. These are joined by more limited releases from time to time, including some very old and rare whiskies such as the White Bowmore (43 years old!) which has just been made available for around £2500 . independent bottlings are also fairly common. The current owners, Morrison Bowmore (who in turn are owned by Japanese distiller Suntory), have also established another range of whiskies that are available exclusively for travel retail/ duty free. The strategy has led to Bowmore becoming one of the top brands worldwide, within that sector of the market.

This 12 years old is the cornerstone of the range and is one of the best selling whiskies in the UK and the world. The colour is a golden amber and the nose is different to a number of the other heavier islay malts. There is smokiness and peat but it is light and fresh with some butterscotch, some saltiness (imagine brine) and a floral note evident (think of lavender maybe?). The whisky is smooth and kind to your palate with lots of vanilla present, some oakiness, that salty note and a lovely sweetness coming from the malted barley. The smokiness come through afterwards and has an earthy quality, but reminded me most of dying embers/ ash in a fireplace. The finish is dry, salty and reasonably long but not as long as heavier Islay malts. The balance between the lower level of smokiness and the influence of the casks is very good and while this is not the most complex whisky, it is an excellent all rounder that would be a good choice to introduce someone to smoky whiskies. Its quality is reflected in the fact that this 12 years old consistently wins awards around the globe, most recently picking up The Whisky Shop's 'Single Malt of the Year 2008'. A bottle should cost £25-30 and is readily available.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Have just tried ... Hakushu 12 years old

hakushu 12 years oldHakushu is a Japanese whisky and the distillery was opened in 1973. It is located in a nature reserve on the slopes of Mount Kaikomagatake, which lies to the northwest of Tokyo. The location is reflected in the name as Hakushu means 'forest distillery' in Japanese. A second distillery was built next to the original in 1981, making Hakushu one of the largest malt whisky distilleries in the world with an incredible 24 pot stills. The new distillery was named Hakushu East and the older was renamed Hakushu West. Both were run side by side for a number of years before the owners, Suntory, decided to close Hakushu West. All whisky is now produced at Hakushu East, which has a capacity of 3 million litres per year. The whisky is matured mostly in bourbon casks but some spends time in sherry and Japanese oak casks. Hakushu also filter their whisky after maturation through bamboo charcoal, creating a unique character within the spirit. They are the only Japanese distillery to practice this technique.

The colour is light and lemony with an interesting nose. It is light and fresh with some crisp green fruit (think of pears and apples), some gorgeous vanilla, something floral (reminding me of honey suckle) and just a whiff of smokiness (imagine wood ash). This feels thicker on the palate than the nose suggests and is quite creamy with all elements from the nose combining well. There is also something herbal and grassy, as well as a warm spicy note (ginger, I think). The finish is quite dry, crisp and light with the warm spice, that hint of smoke and a nutty (think of almonds) quality coming through. A bottle of this should cost between £45-50 and it is well worth it. This whisky has lots to offer with a decent nose being followed up with a sumptuous crisp palate that combines all the elements very well. This is high quality malt and a great example of Japanese whisky.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Have just tried ... Benromach Organic

benromach organic labelBenromach is the smallest working distillery in Speyside and is located to the north of the town of Forres. Infact, with it's current production level of only 200,000 litres, Benromach is one of the smallest in Scotland with only two people employed to produce their spirit. The distillery was founded in 1898 with the current owners being the independent bottling company Gordon & MacPhail. They took over Benromach in 1993 and the distillery was reopened by Prince Charles, following 10 years of mothballing by the previous owners (mothballing is the term used for the process where production is stopped at a distillery, but all the equipment remains intact and ready to go again). Gordon & Macphail launched an innovative programme of whisky production including different wine cask finishing, heavily peating some of their malt (a very usual practice for a Speyside distillery) and producing the world's first truly organic whisky. The organic whisky is certified as such by The Soil Association and involves using organically grown Scottish barley and yeast, pure local spring water and untreated and unused American oak casks. They are not allowed to use casks that have previously carried another spirit (such as bourbon or sherry as all other distilleries use) to be classed as organic.

The result of their innovation was the release of this organic whisky for the first time in 2006 and it remains the only one on the market at this current time. Other distilleries have now produced organic whisky to meet the consumer demand but these are still too young to be released. This whisky is roughly seven years old and the colour is golden brown with a nose is more reminiscent of an American bourbon than a Scottish malt. The nose is loaded with oak, vanilla and coconut and these form the basis of the palate also. more subtle notes start to come through on the palate, including some butterscotch, some dried fruit (think of sultanas and candied peel) and sweet malted barley. The finish is long, smooth and rich with the vanilla, coconut and dried fruit slowly fading. This is a very good whisky and it has laid down a tough marker for the other organic whiskies that will soon be on the market. It is quite bourbon-like, but this is no bad thing and is due to the use of the fresh wood used in the maturation. Well worth a try, especially at the bargain price (well, for an organic product anyway!) of £30-35 per bottle.

Friday, November 7, 2008

In the whisky cupboard ... Mackmyra Preludium 04

mackmyra preludium 04Mackmyra is a distillery based around 170km north of Stockholm, near to the town of Gävle in Sweden. The Swedes love their whisky and Mackmyra was the brainchild of a group of friends, who decided to set up a new whisky distillery. It started on a small scale in 1999 and was upgraded in 2002 and full production started. Their first official release was released in Sweden in June 2008 and sold out in hours. Prior to this they have released a series of limited edition preludes (around 4000 bottles of each), starting with the Preludium 01 in 2006. Within this series, they have experimented by using different casks and methods in order to produce highly innovative and interesting whiskies using local ingredients. The distillery's reputation is growing fast and everything sells out quickly.

This is the fourth in the Preludium series and is a young whisky of around four years of age. It has been matured in a combination of bourbon cask, then a fresh Swedish oak cask and then a champagne wine cask. The colour is light and quite grassy (like hay). The nose has a gorgeous freshness to it, with a mixture of sweet vanilla and crisp fresh fruit (think of green apples and white grapes). On the palate, there is a definate white wine element that is fresh, crisp and quite dry (similar to the champagne that had formerly in one of the casks). This mixes with that vanilla and fresh green fruit and is fairly light, refreshing and zingy in the mouth. The finish is quite long and very enjoyable. This is very well balanced, enjoyable and quite complex for such a young whisky. The alcohol level is quite high (around 50% ABV) but you don't notice this at any time, unlike in other young whiskies. The experimentation with different casks is innovative and has produced whiskies that taste and feel different to traditional malts. This Preludium shows great promise and it will be very interesting to see how Mackmyra whiskies progress over time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Have just tried ... Glenlivet Nadurra

glenlivet nadurraGlenlivet is one of the most famous names in the world of whisky and is one of the largest distilleries in Scotland. Located in the Speyside region, close to the town of Ballindalloch in the Livet Glen, it has an annual production capacity of nearly 6 million litres. The distillery is currently owned by drinks giant Pernod Ricard and their influence, since taking over in 2001, has seen Glenlivet become one of the best selling single malts in the world. Glenlivet was opened in 1824 in what were previously farm buildings and continues to take it's water from the nearby River Livet today. The visitor's centre next to the distillery is one of the most visited in Scotland and continues to win awards. The range of whisky released as single malt is extensive, including 12, 15, 18 and 25 years old plus older releases and different cask finishes.

The 'Nadurra' has been released in a number of guises and this one is 16 years old, cask strength (48% ABV) and un-chillfiltered. The nose has a mixture of fresh fruit (think of crisp green pears and apples), something floral and aromatic (reminding me of honeysuckle), vanilla, some toasted nuts (hazelnuts, i think) and some spices (think of nutmeg and cinammon). On the palate, the Nadurra is quite dry, oaky and fresh. It is also delicate and light, but complex. Elements from the nose are present, especially the fresh pears and apples, the nuttiness and the vanilla oakiness. These are joined by something that reminded me of stoned or tropical fruits (think of apricot, peach, pineapple and banana). Upon adding water, the palate instantly becomes more floral (that honeysuckle again). The finish is short and refreshing. This is a very good whisky that would be a good choice to introduce someone to cask strength whisky. This version is available in travel duty free outlets worldwide, with another stronger version available in the UK in some leading supermarkets and independent retailers.

Friday, October 31, 2008

New releases ... Diageo cask strength special releases 2008

Diageo, the multi national drinks company, have just released their latest cask strength range and Whisky For Everyone were lucky enough to get an invite to the official launch and tasting that was held at Diageo's headquarters in London. The idea behind these annual releases is to showcase special stock that they are holding from their existing and closed distilleries. All are limited in numbers and some are highly collectable and desirable. They will only be able to be purchased from specialist retailers.

caol ila 8 years oldCaol Ila unpeated 8 years old
This whisky is only produced for a very short time each year at Caol Ila distillery on the island of Islay. Normally, Caol Ila produce some of the smokiest whiskies in the world but this one is unpeated, young and fresh. This is bottled at a very high strength (64.2% ABV), is limited to only 5500 bottles and should cost between £40-45. The nose is full of crisp fruit (imagine green apples and pears), some citrus (like lemon zest), vanilla and malted barley. A gorgeous floral note (think of heather) emerges when water is added. The palate is intense yet light and creamy in the mouth with sweet vanilla and malted barley prominent. There is also some fruity citrusness going on (that zest again) and maybe a hint of saltiness. The finish is shortish and dry but full of flavour with that floral note coming through. This is an excellent whisky that is light, crisp and refreshing yet very complex. One of my three favourites of the night.

glen elgin 16 years old Glen Elgin 16 years old
Glen Elgin is one of Diageo's lesser known distilleries and the release from this Speyside distillery is the largest in the collection, with just under 10,000 bottles. It is bottled at 58.5% ABV and should cost between £50-60. The whisky has been matured in sherry casks and this shows in the colour and nose. The colour is dark amber and the nose is full of dried fruit (think of raisins and sultanas) and candied peel (imagine orange zest) with some butterscotch and vanilla. These translate on to the palate with loads of dried fruit and sweet vanilla. There is also a slightly acidic citrus note (orange zest again). These are joined by some sweet cereal grains and a hint of spice (think of nutmeg). The finish is medium and quite nutty (imagine almonds) with a bitter element coming through at the very end with some warm spices (nutmeg again). This is fairly pleasant but has too much sherry cask influence for my taste, making it slightly too bitter and woody. It is like drinking a strong version of a sherry.

linkwood red wine finishThe Linkwood 26 year old range
There are three very limited releases from this Speyside distillery. Each has had 12 years of maturation in a bourbon cask and then 14 years in either port, rum or red wine casks. Each expression has a release of only 1250 bottles and should cost around £130-150 each. The bottles are 50cl and were specially commissioned by an award winning designer. The port finish is bottled at 56.9% ABV and is almost crimson in colour. It has a rich and fruity nose that has red fruit as the predominant characteristic (think of blackcurrants, red grapes and blackberries). The palate is pretty sweet with that red fruit taking over, although some vanilla and an interesting citrus note (imagine orange zest) battle their way through. The finish in contrast is quite dry, bitter and tart. The rum finish is golden in colour and bottled at 54.5% ABV. There is a pleasant mix of notes on the nose, with citrus (think of orange zest), caramel, cereal grains and honey present. This is very sweet on the palate, almost sickly sweet. There are lots of sweet vanilla, those cereal grains again and some sugary cane sweetness. These notes follow through to the finish, which is fairly long but gets quite dry and bitter towards the end. The red wine expression is finished in a Burgundy wine cask and has a dark golden red colour. The nose hits you with loads of red fruit (imagine redcurrants, blackcurrants, blackberries and red grapes). There is lots of red wine character on the palate with the red fruit prominent. Some vanilla and butterscotch fight their way through but the over riding flavour is that of red wine. This dries your mouth and the finish is fairly long but very mouth drying and tannic. For me, these three expressions were disappointing. Linkwood is known as producing a light, aromatic spirit but here the distillery character has been completely overtaken and masked by the three finishes.

brora 25 years oldBrora 25 years old
Whisky from this closed highland distillery is becoming harder and harder to find. This bottling was distilled in 1983, the last year of production at Brora. Only 3000 bottles have been released and the strength is 56.3% ABV. A bottle should cost between £170-200. The nose is quite light with some smokiness (imagine wood ash), some citrus (think of lemon zest), dried fruits (like sultanas or raisins) and some nuttiness (imagine almonds). Upon adding water, the nose becomes more floral (think of heather) and salty (imagine seaweed or a sea breeze). On the palate, this is again light with a complex mixture of sweet vanilla, that citrus note from the nose, some malted barley and a salty tang. There is some smokiness but it is more subtle and earthier than the nose. The finish is reasonably long but quite dry with a bitter twist at the end. More smokiness and saltiness comes through than on the palate. This is good but left me slightly disappointed as it didn't quite seem to live up to the hype that Brora whiskies have.

port ellen 29 years oldPort Ellen 29 years old
Another bottling from a closed distillery, this time from Port Ellen on the island of Islay. The distillery stopped production in the early 1980s, although the maltings there still provided malted barley for some of the island's other distilleries. Stocks of Port Ellen are rare, especially at this age, and this is bottled at 55.3% ABV and limited to 6500 bottles. The cost should be between £180-200 per bottle. The colour is deep amber and the nose is elegant and rich. There is a sumptuous mix of sweet dried fruits (sultanas, i think), warm spices (think of nutmeg or cinammon), some saltiness (like sea air) and smoke (imagine coal fire smoke). On the palate, this is quite light and more subtle than many Islay malts. All the elements from the nose are present with the addition of a more peppery spiciness. The marriage of the coal smoke and salty brine-like flavours is really good. The finish is long and warm with that smoke and saltiness prominent, with licquorice and cinammon notes interestingly coming through at the end, especially when water is added. This is pretty good stuff and needs to be snapped up before it all runs out!

talisker 25 years oldTalisker 25 and 30 years old
There are two releases from Talisker, the only distillery on the western island of Skye. Whilst the Talisker 10 years old is one of the best selling single malts in the world, whiskies of this age from the distillery are much rarer. The 25 years old was distilled in 1983 and has a release of 6700 bottles. It is bottled at 54.2% ABV and should cost between £130-150. The nose is surprisingly soft with some pepperiness (imagine black peppercorns), some saltiness (think of seaweed), caramel and a meaty smokiness (sounds weird but it instantly reminded me of smoky bacon crisps!). On the palate, this is pleasantly oily and quite thick. It is rich with some peppery smoke, some fruitiness (imagine dried fruit like sultanas), a hint of salt (think of brine) and an interesting iodine bitterness. The finish is long, warming and spicy (something like ginger?) with a more earthy smokiness. The 30 years old is gentler and more subtle than the 25. It is distilled in 1978 and is bottled at 49.5% ABV. There are only 3000 bottles released and one should cost between £200-230. The nose is very fresh for a whisky of this age and is a complex mix of dried fruit (think of Christmas pudding), saltiness (imagine seaweed) and subtle spicy smokiness (think of black pepper and nutmeg). This is thinner on the palate than the 25 with delicate sweetness marrying well with light smoke (imagine wood ash/embers), that salty element (think of brine) and the dried fruits (although these are less prominent than on the nose). The finish is long and quite herbal (menthol, maybe?) with some honey sweetness and just a whiff of smoke. Both of these whiskies are of excellent quality. If i had to choose one, it would be the 30 years old as it has so many subtle flavours and was different to any Talisker that i have tried before. One of my top three for the night.

lagavulin 12 years oldLagavulin 12 years old
This release from the iconic Lagavulin distillery on the island of Islay is one of the cheapest of the collection. At between £50-60, this is a real bargain. The colour is a gorgeous deep amber and the nose is full on. This has an intense nose full of peaty, earthy smokiness (reminded me of wood embers/ash) and this is joined by a lovely mix of caramel/toffee, some saltiness and a citrus element (imagine lemon zest). On the palate, this is full bodied with that smokiness marrying perfectly with some sweet barley, saltiness (think of brine), caramel and something nutty. With water, the whisky opens up to become even more smoky and salty with a pepperiness coming through. The finish is long and intense with that earthy, peaty smoke fading slowly. This is an excellent whisky and was probably my favourite of the evening.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Have just tried ... Talisker 10 years old

talisker 10 years oldTalisker is the only distillery on the island of Skye, which lays off the north west Highland coast. The distillery is owned by drinks giant Diageo and they have given the brand a lot of promotion, resulting in sales rising by 40% in the last three years. Talisker is an iconic Scottish whisky and continually wins prizes around the world, culminating in their 18 years old winning 'Best Single Malt' at The World Whisky Awards in 2007. The distillery was founded in 1830 at a remote location on the island and it is still tricky to get to today. That doesn't stop people getting there though and Talisker is one of the most visited distilleries in Scotland. Some of the whisky produced goes towards Diageo's famous Johnnie Walker blended whisky range but most is released as single malts. The core range is small but excellent and contains this 10 years old, the 18 years old and a 'Distiller's Edition' that is finished in Amoroso sherry casks. A 25 years old and a 30 years old are also released as limited editions. Independent bottlings are rare and when they are released the bottlers are not allowed to name it Talisker under a 'gentleman's agreement'. Two of the most popular independent bottlings are called 'Tactical Director's' and 'Isle of Skye'.

Talisker has a mid level of smokiness (22ppm) and this comes through on the nose. The peatiness is there but it has a fiery and spicy edge to it. There is also a hint of dried fruit, a citrusy tang and a whiff of salty sea air. On the palate, this instantly explodes in your mouth with a mixture of that fiery spicy smoke (think of black peppercorns), caramel and sweet malted barley. It feels full bodied and that hint of saltiness from the nose is present also. The finish is long with a perfect mix of peaty smoke and peppery spiciness (those black peppercorns again). Talisker is a classic whisky. The pepperiness gives it a unique quality and flavour among Scottish whiskies. It is readily available in supermarkets and independent shops alike, and can cost anywhere between £28-35 a bottle. A whisky that just has to be tried.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Have just tried ... Glenkinchie 12 years old

glenkinchie 12 years oldGlenkinchie is the nearest distillery to Edinburgh. It is currently owned by multi national drinks company Diageo and is the lowland region's representitive in their 'Classic Malts' range. The distillery is located 15 miles from Scotland's capital city and it's visitor centre is one of the most visited. Glenkinchie has thrived while so many other lowland distilleries have been closed or mothballed, due mainly the proximity to Edinburgh and Diageo's involvement and promotions. Whilst, Glenkinchie is not one of the most well known distilleries in Scotland, the whisky produced there is held in high regard and some is used in the blending of Diageo's world famous Johnnie Walker range. The single malt range is small, consisting of a 10 years old, this 12 years old and a 'Distiller's Edition' that is finished in an Amontillado sherry cask. There is also a limited release of a 20 years old. Independent bottlings are very rare.

The colour is rich and golden and the nose is aromatic. The two prominent notes are something floral (like heather) and a toasted nuttiness (like almonds). These are joined by some vanilla and a citrus note (imagine lemon zest). On the palate, this is light, smooth and creamy. The vanilla and zestiness is present and these marry well with some gorgeous honey, brown sugar and heather notes. The feeling is buttery in the mouth and is heavier than most lowland whiskies that I have tasted to date. They are generally lighter and fresher than this. The finish is slightly dry and short with just a hint of aniseed at the end. This is an enjoyable whisky and would be good as an aperitif or to introduce someone to a good whisky. It should cost between £25-30 from all independent shops and some larger supermarkets.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In the whisky cupboard ... Tamnavulin 12 years old

tamnavulin 12 years old labelTamnavulin is a little known distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. The distillery at Tamnavulin ('mill on the hill' in Gaelic) was opened in 1966, making it one of Scotland's youngest distilleries. It was built to deal with the increased demand for blending whisky but fell on hard times and was closed in 1995. Drinks company Whyte & Mackay took over the distillery and re-opened it in 2007. The distillery has a large capacity of 4 million litres a year and is situated in the famous Livet Glen. It has two more famous neighbours in the glen - Tomintoul and Glenlivet - and is the only distillery that is actually on the banks of the River Livet. Bottlings from Tamnavulin are restricted by the recent lack of production. There is currently only this one distillery release of 12 years old and independent bottlings are available but few and far between.

The colour is pale and lemony and the nose is fresh and simple yet aromatic. There is some gorgeous vanilla, lots of malted barley and something grassy and herbal (imagine hay or straw). On the palate, this is very light, smooth and refreshing with those vanilla, barley and herbal notes present again. These are joined by some other fresh fruit elements (think of white grapes especially) and a citrusy zing (imagine lemon zest). The finish is short, light and quite dry with just a hint of earthiness right at the end. This is a light and refreshing whisky that is quite basic yet extremely enjoyable. It would be great as an aperitif whisky or to introduce someone to whisky. This is hard to find and is limited to just a few specialist retailers and should cost between £30-35 a bottle.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Have just tried ... St. Magdalene 'Old Malt Cask' 24 years old from Douglas Laing

st magdalene distillerySt. Magdalene was a lowland distillery that closed in 1983. It was located in the town of Linlithgow, which lies between Edinburgh and Stirling (whisky distilled at St. Magdalene was occasionally also released under the name of 'Linlithgow'). Despite closing 25 years ago, the buildings still exist and have been sympathetically renovated into apartments. The distillery originally opened in 1795 and was one of Scotland's oldest until it's closure. It was regarded as having one of the most perfect locations in Scotland for both production and transportation links, being situated very close to some of the main barley growing areas, the main road to Edinburgh and the Union canal. The distillery took it's water from the canal and even had it's own railway station and goods sidings at one point. St. Magdalene and Linlithgow whiskies are now extremely rare and will eventually run out, and are highly sought after by drinkers and collectors alike. The majority of the remaining stock is owned by drinks giant, Diageo who occasionally release bottlings. The rest of the stock is held by independent bottling companies, such as this one which is released by Douglas Laing & Co. as part of their 'Old Malt Cask' range.

This one is aged 24 years and is very fresh on the nose. There is a lovely clean grassy note (imagine freshly cut grass) and some nuttiness (almonds, i think), vanilla and butterscotch. The palate is very refreshing with lots of fresh, juicy fruit (think of white grapes, crisp green apples and pears), sweet malted barley, that vanilla and grassiness from the nose and some honey and spices (imagine nutmeg or cinammon). The finish is light and short with the fruitiness and spices prominent. It is a very good and refreshing whisky, despite getting slightly bitter right at the end of the finish. A bottle will cost around £100 from specialist retailers only. Well worth trying before everything from this distillery finally disappears.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New releases ... Ardbeg Blasda

ardbeg blasdaArdbeg Blasda is one of the most eagerly anticipated new releases of 2008. When news spread that this famous Islay distillery were planning to release a mildly peated whisky, much interest was created. Ardbeg is traditionally one of the most peaty and smoky whiskies in the world and has a phenol level in the malted barley of around 55ppm (phenols are produced when peat is burnt and these are absorbed into the malted barley as it is drying). 'Blasda' means 'delicious and tasty' in Gaelic and has been released at only 8ppm in order to show the other distillery characteristics in Ardbeg's spirit. It is a limited release (there will only be 1800 bottles available in the UK) and is packaged in a black box and clear bottle rather than the traditional Ardbeg dark green box and bottle. Retail price should be around £40 a bottle.

There is no age stated and the colour is light and straw-like. On the nose, this is still quite smoky and peaty but it is lighter and fresher than normally expected from an Islay malt. There is some malty sweetness present with a hint of salty sea air. On the palate, the smokiness is lighter and quite herbal and grassy. This lightness allows the other flavours to come through. That lovely malty sweetness (imagine a sweet style of bread) from the nose is there and is joined by something fruity (dried fruits, i think), citrusy (think of lemons) and floral (can't put my finger on what it is though...). That salty tang from before is also there. The finish is fairly long, with the smoke, sweet grains and saltiness all combining extremely well. This is a really good whisky with all the elements contributing to a great all round, light and enjoyable drink. The other Ardbeg characteristics are allowed their own place in the spotlight and marry very well with the more subtle smokiness. This would be a good whisky to give to someone who thought that they didn't like smoky Islay whiskies.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Have just tried ... Benriach 21 years old 'Authenticus'

benriach authenticusBenriach is an innovative distillery based in the heart of the Speyside region, near to the town of Elgin. Benriach is independently owned and release a traditional Speyside style core range. However, this core range is joined by another range of whiskies that are finished in different wine casks or are made with peated malt or both. Both practices, especially using peated malt, are unusual practices for a Speyside distillery and the current owners decided to do them in order to attract new customers to their whiskies. The current trend for smoky whisky has seen other distilleries starting to produce but Benriach had the foresight to do this, making this 21 years old by far the oldest non-Islay peated malt on the market. It is a release that is limited to only 4800 bottles and should cost around £55-60.

The nose is very promising and is full of subtle smokiness. The peat combines with some gorgeous honey, vanilla and crisp green fruits (think of fresh pears and apples). On the palate, the peat and smoke are much more prominent (imagine a dry smokiness, like a bonfire) and the initial hit to your tastebuds is a combination of this smoke and a citrus blast (think of lemon zest). Other flavours then start to develop. The honey and vanilla from the nose come through and are joined by some sweet dried fruits (sultanas, i think) and some warm spices (imagine nutmeg and cinammon). The finish is very long, peaty, sweet, spicy and enjoyable. This is an excellent whisky and is a great example of how smokiness can work with a lighter spirit, such as benriach. The combination of the peat smoke and rich sweet fruitiness is a real winner.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New releases ... Glenkeir Treasures cask strength range

glenkier treasuresThe Glenkeir Treasures are a range of whiskies that are exclusive to and independently bottled by The Whisky Shop, the UK's biggest whisky retail chain. The Whisky Shop has 13 stores located in England and Scotland and a regular range of Glenkeir Treasures are available in each shop. These are whiskies that have been selected to cover all whisky tastes and they are actually bottled in the store and can be purchased in different sized bottles. However, this new cask strength range is extremely limited as only one cask of each of the four whiskies has been selected and chosen for release. All are highly desirable and they won't be around for long, so get to a shop or order from their website quickly!!
Macallan 17 years old
This release from this famous Speyside distillery has only 144 bottles. The nose is lovely and full of vanilla and warm spices (think of nutmeg and cinammon). There is also some crisp fresh fruit (imagine green pears and apples). On the palate, this is deliciously sweet, smooth and velvety. Again, there is vanilla, a fresh fruitiness and those warm spices. These are joined by some richer dried fruit (think of sultanas) and just a hint of liquorice. Adding water releases even more of these flavours as this is a cask strength whisky (57.7% ABV). The finish is long, rich and pleasantly spicy. (£69.99 a bottle).

Laphroaig 16 years old
Again, only 144 bottles released and this Laphroaig is bottled at 56.9% ABV. Laphroaig is one of the most famous distilleries in the world and is located on the island of Islay. The nose is wonderfully peaty and smoky. The smokiness reminded me of cured meat or smoky bacon crisps! There is a sweetness as well, that has a malty cereal aroma. This is rich, thick and almost a little bit oily on the palate. That meaty smokiness and sweet grainy character are present again, and are joined by some vanilla, an interesting saltiness (imagine brine) and the classic iodine bitterness of Laphroaig. The finish is long and full of sweet smoke and saltiness. (£74.99 a bottle).

Glen Albyn 29 years old
This northern Highland distillery closed in 1983, so stock is rare and getting rarer. There are only 208 bottles released, so this represents a real bargain for £99.99 a bottle. The nose is light and pleasant with vanilla, something nutty (almonds, i think) and a herbal note (reminding me of dried grasses). There is also an earthy note and something a bit musty, although these clear away upon adding water. On the palate, this is light yet complex with a lovely mixture of vanilla, nuts (think of toasted almonds), dried fruits (imagine sultanas and candied peel), butterscotch and a hint of spice (nutmeg or cinammon, I can't decide). The finish is fairly short but with a spicy sweetness. This is a light, refreshing whisky that is full of flavour and very enjoyable. Probably, my pick of the four.

Glenlivet 30 years old
Old whiskies from this Speyside giant are expensive, so this one is real bargain at £129.99 a bottle. There are only 162 bottles of this and the nose starts off quite dusty and musty (imagine an old book). However, after a few minutes this slightly unpleasant character passes and is replaced with lots of fruity sweetness (think of sultanas and candied peel) and vanilla. It really is very promising. On the palate, there is butterscotch, vanilla, dried fruit and some warm spices (nutmeg and cinammon). Adding water brings out more of the spices and butterscotch. It feel think in the mouth. The finish is long, rich, sweet and spicy. This whisky is very good, especially after adding a drop of water and has a great balance once that initial dustiness has gone.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Have just tried ... Bushmills Original

bushmills originalBushmills has the oldest distillery licence in the world, dating back to 1608. This licence was granted by King James I and the distillery has just celebrated it's 400th anniversary. Bushmills is owned by drinks giant Diageo and is based in a town of the same name in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. King James I loved Bushmill's whisky so much that he had it imported from Ireland and even sold some of his own land to fund part of the distillery expansion! In addition to being the oldest distillery in Ireland and one of the oldest in the world, Bushmills also has the longest continually used logo. In 1784, the pot still logo was introduced in order to celebrate the formal registering of the distillery and this is still in use today, almost 225 years later. Their whiskies are all triple distilled in the traditional Irish way and the core range is a mixture of single malts and blends - a 10 years old, this 'Original' and 'Black Bush'. These are occasionally supplimented by special limited releases, such as the 400th anniversary celebration blend, '1608'. Sales of the Bushmills range had hit rock bottom before Diageo took over in 2005 but now sales are constantly growing, following a sustained promotional campaign. The distillery is once again running at full capacity (approx. 3 million litres per year) to meet current demand.

This whisky is a blend of single malt and Irish grain whisky and has no stated age, suggesting that some young whisky has been used. The nose is quite fresh and crisp with a herbal note (think of freshly cut grass) and some fruitiness (imagine fresh green apples and ripe peaches). A whiff of raw, young spirit gives the nose a slightly unpleasant metallic edge. This translates on to the palate, with other flavours fighting against it. This whisky has lots of cereal/ grainy based sweetness and vanilla, with a lovely fruity quality (reminding me of peaches or apricots). The finish is short and dry with just a hint of nuts and woody spice (think of nutmeg). The Original should cost around £15-20 per bottle and is good value. There is some young spirit present that gives the whisky that metallic edge but otherwise it is light, crisp, simple and pretty good. It is refreshing and would be a good one to introduce someone to whisky with.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Have just tried ... Bunnahabhain 12 years old

bunnahabhain 12 years oldBunnahabhain (which is pronounced boo-na-ha-ven) is located in the north of the island of Islay, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. The distillery was built in a remote spot due to the quality of the local water source and the village of Bunnahabhain was born as a result. Production began in 1881 and the distillery has had difficult history at times, with numerous owners and three periods of closure (during the 1930s, 1980s and most recently between 1999 and 2002). The current owners are a group called Burn Stewart Distillers and the distillery can produce 2.5 million litres per year. Much of this goes towards the popular Islay blend called Black Bottle, although this is changing as Bunnahabhain's own popularity grows. Bunnahabhain is the lightest of the Islay whiskies with extremely low levels of peat influence in the malted barley (around 1-2ppm) compared to nearly all the other Islay distilleries. Islay is famous for it smoky and peaty whisky and Bunnahabhain is very much the black sheep of the family. The core range has only three whiskies - this 12 years old and two more limited releases, an 18 years old and a 25 years old. Independent bottlings are readily available.

The nose has a lovely fresh sweetness to it, with vanilla and caramel coming through. These are joined by a distinctive saltiness (imagine seaweed or sea air) and this is common in whiskies that are matured by the sea, as Bunnahabhain is. Over time, the porous wood of the casks breathes in the salty sea air and this is transferred to the whisky. On the palate, this is gentle and smooth with lots of malty sweetness and dried fruitiness (imagine sultanas). That saltiness is present, giving the whisky a briny quality, which sounds unappetising but is actually refreshing. There is also something nutty and herbal. The finish is quite short and refreshing with an interesting herbal bitterness. This is completely different from any other whisky from Islay and is worth a try. It should cost between £25-30 a bottle.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Have just tried ... the Laphroaig 10 year olds

Laphroaig (pronounced la-froyg) is one of the most famous distilleries in the world. Located on the island of Islay, this iconic distillery was founded in 1815 and has been the best selling smoky malt worldwide for the last six years. As a result, much less Laphroaig whisky now goes to blending, although some does go towards Islay Mist and Ballantine's. The distillery is currently owned by Jim Beam Global, who are the fourth largest spirits company in the world, and it is running at full capacity (around 2.5 million litres a year) in order to meet the current demand. Laphroaig is one of the few distilleries left that have their own floor maltings (this is a traditional room where the barley is left to shoot, releasing the natural sugars that later get turned to alcohol). The malted barley is then dried by a peat fuelled fire for 18 hours and this gives Laphroaig it's intense and smoky flavours. The malt is around 55ppm (phenols per million). the whisky is then matured in bourbon casks from the Maker's Mark distillery in Kentucky, America.

Prince Charles issued a royal warrant to the distillery in 1993 as it was one of his favourite whiskies and as a result they can display the Prince of Wales crest on their bottles. The core range consists of two 10 year olds (one of which is cask strength), a 15 years old, a 25 years old and a quarter cask (which is matured in smaller casks). Other limited bottlings are released occasionally but are normally pricy. Independent bottlings are readily available and represent good value. Here are the two 10 year olds.

laphroaig 10 years oldLaphroaig 10 years old
This is one of the most widely available and best selling whiskies in the world. It sells more than any other single bottle of Islay whisky and is a whisky icon with it's green bottle and black and white simple label and tube. This is bottled at 40% ABV and is golden amber in colour. The nose just blows you away. No other drink in the world has the type of smoky characteristics that the Islay malts have and this is a classic example. This is full of rich, sweet peaty smoke (imagine green moss and earth) and these are mixed with a salty note (that reminded me of seaweed or sea air). The palate is rich as well with that intense smokiness (a bit more like a bonfire now) and saltiness revealing more sweetness underneath (think of honey and caramel). It is so intense that it has an almost antiseptic quality on your tongue (this is caused by the high phenol levels in the malted barley) and there is a bitterness right at the end (like iodine). Both of these are classic Laphroaig characteristics. The finish is long with that smoke, peat, earth and bitterness lingering on and on. This is a great example of an Islay whisky, although they are not to everyone's taste. This should cost anywhere between £20-30 depending on how lucky you are.

laphroaig 10 years old cask strengthLaphroaig 10 years old cask strength
This is the even more intense sibling of the 10 years old. Bottled at 55.7% ABV, this whisky consistently wins worldwide awards but is less popular due to it's strength. The nose is very earthy and peaty (think of damp moss) and the smokiness reminds of the embers of a bonfire. There is a medicinal note (imagine antiseptic) that joins a salty seaside character. This sounds a strange mixture but they marry together very well. However, this style of whisky is an acquired taste. This attacks your palate with a sensuary overload. There is sweet vanilla and malted barley, honey, caramel and dried fruit (like sultanas) all of which battle with the luscious and intense smoky and peaty flavours. Upon adding water, these mellow slightly and allow a salty note and something bitter through, that reminded me of tobacco leaves. The finish is very long, savoury, complex and very smoky and earthy. This whisky is definately not for the faint hearted! A bottle should cost £40-45.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Great places to drink whisky ... The Red Lion & Sun, London

the red lion and sun, highgate The Red Lion & Sun pub can be found in Highgate village in north London. Highgate village is a leafy suburb that has been swallowed up by London sprawling outwards, but still retains a unique character and charm. It was an excellent surprise on a recent visit there to discover that the Red Lion & Sun has had a major revamp. Previously a dusty old place serving up warm real ales with funny names and microwaved food, the place has now been sympathetically modernised. Part of this modernisation includes introducing the residents of Highgate to one of the larger selections of whiskies that we have seen in a pub. There is a whisky menu with around 25 different Scottish malts, about a dozen bourbons, 6 or 7 Japanese whiskies and various others from around the world, all of which are decently priced. The staff are passionate about whisky and they also run a whisky club and tastings (you can sign up for this at info@theredlionandsun.com). We decided to try a few different things that we had not had before.

Glenlivet 12 years old
Glenlivet is one of the most popular whiskies in the world. The distillery is located in Speyside and they produce a light and easy drinking spirit. This 12 years old is light but quite complex and refreshing with lots of fruit and floral notes on the nose and palate. There are apples and pears (a classic Speyside characteristic), some citrus (imagine lemon zest), lots of malted barley and cereals and a distinctive heather element. The finish is light, crisp, dry and good!

Aberlour A'bunadh
Another Speyside distillery, Aberlour is less well known in the UK but very popular in mainland Europe especially France and Spain. Famous for their use of sherry casks for maturation, the A'bunadh (pronounced a-boona) has a massive sherry cask influence and is released as cask strength (over 60% ABV in this case). They release limited batches of this every so often with each batch being slightly different. This is rich and creamy with loads of intense dried fruit, butterscotch, concerntrated citrus flavours (think of orange marmalade) and honey. Adding some water takes away the strength of the alcohol and reveals a gorgeous spiciness (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). The finish is long, creamy, rich and spicy. Lovely.

W. L. Weller Special Reserve
The Weller distillery closed in 1991. This American bourbon is now made at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky using the traditional recipe and grain mix. This special reserve is released at seven years of age and is light and refreshing. The nose and palate are full of woodiness and vanilla. There is a very nice creaminess in the mouth with a note of honey coming through with something spicy at the end (think of cinnamon and nutmeg again). The finish is crisp with lots of wood and sweet vanilla with an interesting bitterness, that reminded me of a dark chocolate or black coffee. Very drinkable but you would really have to like that woody taste to enjoy it fully.

Nikka 'Straight from the barrel'
This Japanese whisky is cask strength vatting made up of whisky from Nikka's two distilleries - Miyagikyo and Yoichi. It is rich with strong elements of vanilla and fresh fruits (imagine apples and pears). There is also something nutty (reminding me of hazelnuts and almonds, i think), some caramel/butterscotch and just a hint of some smokiness. The finish is sweet, spicy (think of something warm like ginger) and refreshing.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Have just tried ... Highland Park 12 years old

highland park 12 years oldHighland Park is one of the oldest and best known distilleries in Scotland, having been established in 1798. It is currently owned by the Edrington Group. Highland Park is the most northern distillery currently operating in Scotland, being located near the town of Kirkwall on the Orkney islands. There are only two distilleries on the Orkneys with Scapa being the other. Highland Park is regarded by whisky drinkers as a great all-rounder and the core range is extensive, covering different ages. This all adds up to make it one of the best selling whiskies worldwide. It is also a major constituent in Edrington's leading blend, the Famous Grouse which is one of the best selling blended whiskies in the UK. At Highland Park, they produce some of their own peated malt barley with a reasonably high phenol level of around 40ppm. This is then mixed with malted barley from Edrington's other distillery at Tamdhu, which has no peat influence at all. This creates a spirit which is smoky but not to the degree of the majority of Islay whiskies. It is therefore more subtle and approachable and is a good distillery to try if you don't like too much smoky flavour.

This 12 years old continues to win worldwide awards right, left and centre. The colour is golden and the nose is very promising. There is a gorgeous mix of dried fruits (sultanas and candied peel, i think), some sweet malted barley, a distinct floral note (imagine heather) which are all underpinned with a subtle fragrant smokiness that is different from the stronger, heavier smoke that you get with most Islay malts (this reminded me of a bonfire). On the palate, this is smooth and silky with a honey-like sweetness joining the malted barley from the nose. It is creamy with some vanilla, something spicy and woody (think of nutmeg) and a hint of saltiness. Again, this great marriage of flavours is complimented perfectly by a heathery smokiness. The finish is long, elegant, smoky and very smooth. This well regarded whisky is a real winner with a perfect balance between all the characteristics. It is readily available in most shops and should cost between £25-30. It is a great product for that price.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Have just tried ... AnCnoc 12 years old

ancnoc 12 years oldThe name of AnCnoc (pronounced an-knock) was created in 1993. The current owners, Inver House distillers, felt that the whisky produced at their Knockdhu distillery was easily confused with another Speyside distillery, Knockando. So they took the decision to rename the whisky produced at Knockdhu (this means 'black hill' in Gaelic) as AnCnoc ('the hill' in Gaelic), so as to avoid this confusion. The Knockdhu distillery was opened in 1893 and currently produces around 900,000 litres of whisky per year. It is located near to the town of Huntly in Speyside, although it is very close to the 'border' of Speyside, so can sometimes be classed as a Highland whisky. The distillery is one of the few to be traditionally run, with a reliance on human judgement rather than computers and mechanical processes. The core range has this 12 years old and a 16 years old along with some vintage releases (currently a 1975 and a 1994). Independent bottlings are rare and generally will be named as Knockdhu.

This 12 years old has a golden amber colour and the nose smells promising with a fairly rich mixture of honey, vanilla, dried fruit (think of sultanas) and zingy citrus notes (imagine lemon zest). However, this early promise doesn't come through on the palate. It feels thin and very light with some dried fruitiness (sultanas again) and that citrus element. There is an underlying bitterness that appears almost instantly, that left me disappointed. The finish is crisp and short but with that bitterness again. Overall, a bit of let down following the promise of the nose, bordering on unpleasant because of that bitter note. However, as with all of these notes, it is a matter of taste and this should cost between £20-25 a bottle.

Have just tried ... Singleton of Dufftown

singleton of dufftownThe Dufftown distillery is located in the town of Dufftown (unsurprisingly!), in the heart of Speyside. The town has the largest concerntration of distilleries in Scotland, with seven officially within it's borders (Dufftown, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie, Mortlach and Glendullan plus Pittyvaich, which has closed). The distillery is owned by drinks giant Diageo and is their largest, with a capacity of four million litres per year. Hardly any of this amount is released as single malt, as a massive 98% goes towards Diageo's range of blended whiskies. Bell's, which is the UK's second best selling whisky, takes away the lion's share of this. Diageo release only two single malts from the distillery - a 15 years old that forms part of their 'flora & fauna' range and this 12 years old that is named 'the Singleton'. Independent bottlings are extremely rare. 'the Singleton' is one of the brands currently being heavily promoted by Diageo and as a result, it is becoming available in more retailers.

The nose is rich with vanilla and a woodiness (think of sawdust). There is also an interesting yeasty note (imagine fresh dough) and something nutty (almonds, I think). It is fairly rich on the palate with that nuttiness and vanilla appearing again. These are joined by some dried fruits (think of raisins and sultanas) and the yeasty quality from the nose has become more biscuit like (this may sound weird but it reminded me of digestive biscuits). The finish is quite short and refreshing. This is a decent, solid whisky that is good but quite basic and one dimensional. It has a good balance and would be an excellent choice to introduce someone to whisky. This should cost between £30-35 a bottle.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Have just tried ... Tullibardine 15 years old 'Editor's Choice'

tullibardine 15 years oldThis bottling was selected for release by the editor of The Whisky Magazine. It was distilled in February 1992 and bottled in October 2007 to celebrate the Whisky Live 2007 event in Glasgow. The Tullibardine distillery is located in the southern Highlands, just north of Stirling, and is a one of Scotland's younger distilleries having opened in 1949. It is currently owned by an independent company called the Tullibardine Distillery Limited, who took the distillery over in 2003. Before this takeover, Tullibardine had been mothballed for nearly nine years having been shut down by the previous owners. Mothballing is the process where a distillery ceases production but everything remains intact, ready to start up again. The distillery capacity is 2.5 million litres per year and all current stock that is being released is from the pre-mothballing period. Tullibardine is quite unknown in the UK (only 10% of stock is sold here) but it is much more popular abroad and is exported to nearly 50 countries. The core range is small and independent bottlings are pretty much non-existent.

On the nose, this 15 years old is light and malty, with some vanilla and nuttiness (imagine almonds or marzipan) coming through. However, there is also an overpowering blast of raw alcoholic spirit that gives your nose hairs something to think about! This rawness hits you on the palate and only after some time do other flavours battle their way through. There is some malted barley sweetness, some woody vanilla, maybe a blob of honey and some citrus (lemon zest, I think). There is also an unpleasant underlying bitterness, that reminded me of when you bite a grape seed. The finish is crisp, short, pretty dry and overly spirity. As this is a cask strength whisky, I tried it later with some water added and this did negate some of the raw spirit sensations on the nose, palate and finish but unfortunately, not that bitterness. It is much more pleasant with water and would be good as a light pre-dinner drink. This is only available in a limited number of independent retailers and there are only 230 bottles in this particular release. It should be about £50 a bottle.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Explain about ... Japanese whisky

japanese flagJapan is the third largest producer of whisky in the world, behind Scotland and America. Interest is currently high in Japanese whiskies as a couple of them (the Yoichi 20 years old and the Suntory Hibiki 17 years old blend) have recently won some high profile world whisky awards. This increase in popularity has opened up the world of Japanese whisky to a wider audience that previously many did not realise existed. In comparison to Scotland, Ireland or America, the industry is relatively new. The first distillery started production in 1923 (Yamazaki) with most of the others not opening or starting to distil whisky until a boom period in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The early innovators travelled to Scotland to learn the traditional techniques for whisky production and then brought them back to Japan. This included buying most of their equipment, malted barley and maturation casks from Scotland. During this peak, some distilleries that had been distilling sake were switched to start producing whisky in order to meet demand. The large sake companies then sold these distilleries to other companies interested in distilling whisky and expanding the product.

Following a subsequent decline in popularity of whisky in Japan at the end of the 1980s, a number of distilleries closed down. This decline was caused by a combination of factors, mainly a change in Japanese alcohol taxation law and the increasing availability and cheaper prices of imported whisky from Scotland, Ireland and America. There are currently only seven working distilleries in Japan - Hakushu and Yamazaki (both owned by Suntory), Miyagikyo and Yoichi (owned by Nikka, an offshoot of the Asahi brewery company), Fuji-Gotemba and Karuizawa (owned by the Kirin brewery company) and Eigashima (owned by Eigashima Shuzo). Now, Japanese whisky is back on the up and coming to the attention of a worldwide audience for the first time. Demand is high and the first new whisky distillery since 1973, will be opened next year. Each distillery has it's own style and method for distilling and maturing whisky, so generalising is hard but here goes ...

* The whisky is normally distilled twice, as in Scotland, using pot stills.

* Malted barley is mainly imported from Scotland, some of it peated. American oak/ bourbon casks are also imported from Scotland and America, as are sherry casks from Spain. Some whisky is matured in Japanese oak (called mizunara) that gives different flavours and characteristics.

* The flavours and characteristics are most similar to whiskies from the Highland and Speyside regions of Scotland but tend to be fresher, cleaner and less malty.

* The Japanese climate is more similar to the states of Kentucky and Tennessee in America, than those of Scotland or Ireland. This means that the summers are much warmer while the winters are reasonably similar, making the extremes of temperature that the whisky experiences during maturation much greater.

* Due to the different temperatures and climate, the whisky will mature at a faster rate than in Scotland or Ireland. As in America, the whisky shows more wood influence as a result.

* By using a bit of Japanese innovation, each distillery can produce a broader range of flavours and styles in their whisky. They achieve this by having different shapes of stills, using different types of yeast for fermentation, using mixes of barley and other grains and experimenting with cask maturation.

* Japanese whisky companies do not share each others stocks of whisky when producing a blend, unlike in Scotland or Ireland. Therefore, blends will only consist of whisky produced at a maximum of two distilleries.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Have just tried ... Yamazaki 10 years old

yamazaki 10 years oldYamazaki was the first whisky distillery to open in Japan. The idea of distilling whisky was the brainchild of the president of the local province and production began in 1924. The location of Yamazaki was chosen because of three elements. 1) it lies between the major cities of Osaka and Kyoto which had very good transport links, 2) the reknowned quality of the local water, which is among the purest in Japan and 3) the fact that three local rivers converge where the distillery is built. The temperature of each river is slightly different and this creates a naturally humid foggy condition, that it was felt would be ideal for maturing whisky. Originally, whisky casks would be imported from Scotland or sherry casks from Spain in order to mature the whisky. This was an expensive practice so Yamazaki started to experiment by using local wood to build their own casks. these were made from mizunara or 'Japanese oak' that gave the whisky a unique flavour that proved popular. However, this wood was more prone to leaking during maturation so use of mizunara was severely reduced. Now at Yamazaki, they have reverted to using mizunara casks for some of the maturation as they realised it gave their whisky a unique 'oriental' flavour. This whisky is then combined with whisky matured in bourbon or sherry casks. The core Yamazaki range consists of this 10 years old, a 12 years old and an 18 years old. Other ages are released in very limited amounts but are extremely expensive and sought after.

The colour is light and golden with a gorgeous fresh nose. The fragrance of the wood is great with lots of vanilla and honey there. This is then followed by fresh fruit (imagine pears and apples) and a hint of citrus (reminding me of orange peel). On the palate, the whisky is light and refreshing with the complex combination of elements from the nose coming together, especially the pears and vanilla (imagine a pear and custard danish pastry). These are joined by some spiciness (cinnamon and a hint of cloves, I think) and a marmalade type citrus sweetness. The finish is medium to long with those spices and a nice bit of honey prominent. This is a very good and enjoyable whisky that is light and refreshing, yet complex. Priced between £25-30, it is good value and a great alternative to Scottish or Irish whiskies of the same age.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Have just tried ... The new Auchentoshan range

the auchentoshan range Auchentoshan is a Lowlands distillery and is the nearest one to Glasgow, being located just to the north of the city. The distillery was opened in 1823 and is the only one in Scotland to continually practice triple distillation of their spirit. Other Scottish distilleries occasionally do this (for example, Springbank release Hazelburn which is triple distilled but they only produce it for one month of the year). Triple distillation produces a smoother, lighter spirit that many people find easier to drink and the process is more commonly associated with Irish whiskey. Why are Auchentoshan the only place to triple distil? During the Irish potato famine in the early 1800s, immigrants came over to the Glasgow area to escape bringing the process with them and maybe introducing the idea to the distillery owners. Now, Auchentoshan is owned by Morrison Bowmore and produces 1.75 million litres per year. A new visitor centre has just been opened and has been voted one of the best in Scotland. It is also one of the most visited, helped by it's close proxity to Glasgow. As a continuation of this rebranding, the range of whiskies have been revamped and repackaged. This new core range has been out for a couple of months, so it seemed about time to try!

The Classic
A bottle of this should cost between £20-25 and the whisky is released with no stated age. This usually indicates that it may be a young whisky and as a result the distillery doesn’t put the age on the label. This is quite smooth for a young whisky (they can normally feel harsh as the alcohol hasn’t had time to mellow and marry with the other flavours). It is rich and creamy with lots of vanilla and coconut present (classic characteristics of bourbon cask maturation). The whisky also has a pleasant malty flavour that mixes with an interesting citrus note (imagine lemon or lime zest). Very nice stuff, good value and would be great as an aperitif.

12 years old
This has lots of sherry cask influence from the beginning. It is extremely fruity (think of raisins and candied peel – both classic sherry cask characteristics) with heaps of sweet vanilla, citrus (orange zest, I think) and spices (hints of cinnamon, ginger and something antiseptic, like cloves). Quite a long and dry finish that is packed with dried fruits and a bit of spice. Retails for £25-30.

Three Wood
Maturation in three different types of wood casks (bourbon then Oloroso sherry then Pedro Ximenez sherry) gives this whisky it’s name and makes it a dark, intense beast. Again, there is no age stated. There is lots of influence from the casks with a mix of buttery caramel, nuts (hazelnuts, I think), treacle/burnt sugar, dried fruit (raisins and candied orange peel/marmalade) and dark fruits (imagine blackberries or currants) coming through. Very intense with almost too much wood influence, that gives an unpleasant bitterness especially on the finish. Should cost £35-40 and is very much one for after dinner.

18 years old
Another intense one with loads of sherry cask influence that almost counteracts the lightness and smoothness that is created by triple distillation. Very fruity (that dried fruit again) and nutty (almonds, I think), this has other elements of sweet barley, caramel, honey and citrus (reminding me of orange zest) present. A big, long finish that coats the inside of your mouth and is quite well balanced. Would be great as an after dinner drink and costs around £50 per bottle.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Have just tried ... Arran 10 years old

The Arran distillery is one of the newest distilleries in Scotland. It was opened by an independent group called the Isle of Arran Distillers Limited in 1993 and production began in 1995. Their idea was to use traditional production methods rather than modern day alternatives and to experiment with their spirit by maturing some of it in different wine casks from around Europe. The isle of Arran is sandwiched between the west Highland coast and the Campbeltown peninsula and the distillery is the first to operate on the island for over 150 years. The distillery is one of Scotland's smallest (producing around 750,000 litres per year) and is located just outside Lochranza, a village that gives it's name to a blended whisky that Arran produce. The core range reflects their small capacity and consists of this 10 years old, a cask strength version (called 100 proof) and an un-chillfiltered version.

The colour is light and the nose is crisp. There is a citrus note that comes first (imagine lemon zest), then gorgeous fresh fruit (made me think of crisp green apples) and then some sweet malted barley. This mix seems unusual but is interesting and just makes you want to taste it! This is light and refreshing on the palate but there are lots of elements jostling for attention. The citrus and malty notes from the nose are there, as well as a woodiness (vanilla), something spicy (reminding me of nutmeg or cinammon) and an interesting yeast characteristic that comes through at the end. This yeastiness gives the whisky a beautiful creaminess. The finish is short, refreshing and slightly dry with the spiciness and maltiness prominent. Arran whisky is becoming more widely available, but is still mostly only available in specialist retailers. This is a decent whisky, being light and very refreshing yet extremely complex.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Explain about ... How to taste whisky

a whisky snifterThe art of tasting whisky is much simpler than you think. You can read so many reviews and tasting notes than refer to a whisky having the flavour of sherbert, dark chocolate or burnt rubber, but how do you learn to pick up such extreme characteristics? The answer is to build up experiences of tasting different things that are unrelated to whisky and taking a ‘taste snapshot’ of the characteristics of that flavour. The more that you do this, the better and more precise your whisky tasting will become. Another key is that whisky is unlike most other spirits in that the true character comes through after some time, so it is important not to drink it too quickly. It is important to remember that taste is a personal thing and that there are no right or wrong answers.

1. The glass
The type of glass that you use will help your cause. Don't worry about it being made out of crystal or anything like that - the shape is the most important thing. By using one that has a wide base and a narrower opening, this will channel and concentrate the aromas of the whisky towards your nose. This type of glass is called a snifter, but a similar shaped wine or brandy glass would work just as well. Glasses such as tumblers should be avoided for tasting purposes, as the aromas dissipate too quickly and should be used for drinking the whisky on it’s own or with ice.

2. The nose
This is the sensation and aroma that you pick up from the whisky before tasting it. Important characteristics can be found and can indicate what the whisky will taste like. Pour a reasonable amount into the glass and swirl the whisky around for a short time, so as to allow oxygen to get to the liquid and evaporation to begin. This is important as the whisky has been trapped in a cask or a bottle for all of it’s life until this point and needs a little time to express itself and start to show it’s true characteristics. Take a note of the colour while you are waiting for these couple of minutes. Put your nose to the glass and breathe in, letting the aromas circulate around your nostrils. Repeat this three or four times and think about what the aromas remind you of – are they light, fresh, heavy, rich, fruity, floral, spicy, smoky etc? Try to predict what the taste of the whisky will be like.

3. The palate
The flavour of the whisky on your palate is the most rewarding and enjoyable part of the whole process! The most thing is not to drink the whisky too fast (like a shot of tequila or similar spirit) and to savour it in your mouth so as to get the maximum flavour and benefit. Different parts of your tongue and mouth respond to different flavours and stimuli so pass the whisky over all areas of your mouth to gain maximum effect. Upon swallowing, there will be an alcoholic burn (which is one of the main things that puts a lot of people off drinking whisky) but it is important to let this pass as it is now that any whisky will reveal it’s true characteristics. Try to identify obvious flavours that are present and repeat, trying to identify something new each time. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers and everyone’s taste buds are different so don’t worry if you get a flavour that someone else doesn’t or vice versa.

4. The finish
This is the after taste that comes once you have swallowed the whisky. Some people say that the complexity of the finish in whisky is what differentiates it from all other spirits. Once you get passed the alcoholic burn, then numerous flavours can reveal themselves, some of which can be extremely subtle. The list can be extensive but again try an relate the flavours and sensations to things that you have tasted in the past. Also, ask yourself whether the flavours remain for a short, medium or long time. This is called the length of finish.

5. Should i add water or ice?
A common question and one that only you can answer. It’s all down to personal taste. Always try it in it’s natural state first and then add water as this can release further flavours and complexity, especially in higher alcohol level or cask strength whiskies. Try to think of it as the same as if you tried to drink orange squash/ cordial without diluting it. It is far more pleasant with water in some cases and how much water you add is up to you, dependent on your taste. Ice is different. this drops the temperature of the whisky and inhibits the characteristics from coming out. For more information on this, please visit (Explain about ... Adding water or ice).

Have just tried ... Balblair Vintage 1997

balblair 1997Balblair is one of Scotland's oldest distilleries. It was opened in 1790 and only Glenturret, Bowmore and Strathisla have been operating longer. This northern Highland distillery is located on the shores of the Dornoch Firth, in the village of Ederton and is reasonably small, producing around 1.3 million litres per year. The majority of the whisky produced goes in to the popular blend Hankey Bannister, with only about 10% being released as Balblair single malt. This amount is changing though as Balblair becomes more recognised and the latest range continues to add to the numerous worldwide awards that it has recently won. The core range is released as vintages, rather than the more common age statement in numbers of years - there is an evergrowing range including a 1965, 1975, 1978, 1978, 1979, this 1989, 1997, 1990 and a 2000. Independent bottlings are available but stocks vary from year to year.

The 1997 is a gorgeous golden honey colour with a succulent nose that is jammed full of dried fruits (think of sultanas and candied citrus peel), vanilla, spices (imagine nutmeg and cinnamon - a classic characteristic of bourbon cask maturation) and some tropical fruit (again dried, think of pineapple and mango). On the palate, these elements are joined by more dried fruit/ candied citrus peel (reminding me of orange marmalade), some fresh stone fruits (something like peaches or apricots) and more sweet vanilla. That nutmeg spiciness from the nose is prominent. The finish is long and creamy with a citrusy tang and the sultana, vanilla and spice notes coming to the fore. This is a very good whisky, especially for the price (around £30 a bottle). It has complexity but is also very approachable so would be a good choice for a beginner or a whisky sceptic.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Have just tried ... Balmenach 1975 'Connoisseurs Choice' from Gordon & Macphail

balmenach distilleryBalmenach is a Speyside distillery. Originally opened in 1824, the distillery was closed in 1993 by Diageo, who were the owners at the time. Following five years of mothballing (the process where a distillery is taken out of action but kept intact), it was taken over and reopened by current owners, Inver House. The distillery is one of the most traditional in Scotland and they maintain many of the original production methods using some of the original distillery equipment. Whisky from Balmenach is rare and generally only available in specialist retailers. This is due to the distillery's relatively small production capacity (around 1.5 million litres per year) and the fact that the majority of stock goes to fulfill blending contracts (Balmenach is one of the key whiskies that goes into the Ballantine's blend, which is extremely popular in the UK and mainland Europe). There are currently no distillery releases (although one at 10 years old is expected next year) and independent bottlings are few and far between. This is bottled at 32 years old and it forms part of Gordon & Macphail's 'Connoisseurs Choice' range, selling for around £60 per bottle.

The colour is very dark, almost chocolatey brown and the nose is expressive. It is very woody with lots of vegetal notes (think of grass and hay). There is an earthy mustiness and something acrid (like sugar or rubber burning). These characteristics are common in whiskies that have been aged for a significant length of time as they have had so much contact with the wood in the cask. On the palate, this is think and feels almost oily. There is lots of dried fruitiness (imagine raisins, sultanas and candied peel) but there is also a bitterness (like a good dark chocolate) and it is very drying in the mouth. This is due to the high number of tannins picked up from the wooden cask, which again can be a characteristic of high aged whiskies. The finish is long but again bitter, grassy and very woody (it reminded me of drinking a strong black coffee). This whisky was OK but left me slightly disappointed, as there is a preconception that the older a whisky is then the better it is. This left me feeling that it was almost too old and had been left in the cask too long, making it too bitter and woody for my taste. very interesting to try though.