Ballechin 10yo

A short while ago I paid a visit to the Edradour distillery, and while there my girlfriend was very generous and got me a bottle of their Ballechin 10yo, and that is what I’ve been sipping at over the last few nights. Now I have previously reviewed the Edradour 10yo, the standard malt that is produced by this tiny distillery, the Ballechin that I will be reviewing today is the peated version that they produce.

They call it Ballechin in order to differentiate their peated production from their non-peated – most distilleries that produce both peated and un-peated malt will do this, i.e. Tobermory and Ledaig, Bruichladdich and Port Charlotte – and so by giving it a different name it avoids confusion for the customer. The name Ballechin comes from a nearby distillery which used to produce a peated whisky which closed around 100 years ago now. The barley used in order to produce this peated expression is peated to a staggering 50ppm, which is very high, though a lot of this is lost through production and so it is nowhere near as smoky tasting as you might think.

I can happily say that the Ballechin is presented at 46% ABV, is natural colour and Unchillfiltered, so immediate brownie points there, well done to them! So, let’s get tasting.

Nose

The first thing that comes across on the nose here is smoke, I’m not going to beat about the bush, it is a pretty heavily peated dram. Though there is more to this than just smoke, it’s a very characterful, herbal smoke, think burning herbs; coriander, thyme and basil tossed onto an open flame. There is also a lot of green, earthy notes which come through, like damp grass as well as burning green leaves and turf, it’s kind of like when you are burning garden waste and you just chuck everything onto the fire that you want to get rid of, a very earthy-green bonfire. There is also a very heavy, malty character to it and an almost meaty note. Behind the smoke there is a definite sweetness, a rich and thick wild flower honey as well as a vanilla custard-like sweetness, accompanied by crushed peppercorns and chillies.

Palate

The meaty character from the nose again comes through in the palate, in the form of honey roast ham, specifically overcooked ham that’s slightly burnt. Again there is a strong note of damp, freshly cut grass like a ham joint that’s been roasted on a bed of lawn trimmings, drizzled in honey – an unusual tasting note, I know. There is also a very savoury malty character, which oddly has a slightly salty feel to it, perhaps dry roasted and salted nuts. The palate has quite a bitter and acidic feel to it, not dissimilar from fresh grapefruit juice, but it’s a lot more acidic. A sulphury note also comes through on the palate, likely as a result of their use of worm tubs, which again accentuates the meaty, malty character of this whisky. There is once again a lot of spice coming through, mostly pepper and chillies again, with the slightest sprinkling of vanilla too. There is not much sweetness to this dram; it’s a very savoury whisky.

Finish

The finish has got a decent length to it – likely as a result of the higher bottling strength – medium-long and very drying, with a dominating malty character. The finish continues on from the palate, with lots of earthy and green flavours. Again burning garden/farm-like scents, lots of herby-ness and white pepper.

There are a few things that I love about this dram, at the same time there are a few aspects that I’m just a bit underwhelmed by. Firstly, I love the way this dram feels, it feels like a very old fashioned and traditional sort of whisky, like it would have been made in the distant past. This is to me what whisky would have been like when it was made by the local farmer in his illicit distilling operation in his back shed; a spirit driven whisky that’s a bit rough around the edges with a good blasting of peat smoke and a big punch of spirit. This offers a great alternative to the classic Islay malts for a fairly decent price; it easily blows the NAS Islay whiskies out of the water. This said I feel like the whisky feels younger than it is, for being 10 years old there isn’t a discernible amount of cask influence here, it is a very spirit driven whisky. It could be as a result of this lack of influence but it does feel like it is missing something, its missing that extra dimension which would lift the complexities of this dram.

All in all, if you like your peated whiskies then it makes a good alternative to the usual Islay/peated Highland drams, for me though I find that the Edradour 10yo (at a similar price) is probably the superior of the two, despite this one being Unchillfiltered etc. that’s just personal taste though, I am a bit of a sucker for sherried drams! That said I would still happily drink both any day.

Sláinte

Gary

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Auchentoshan Distillery Cask #934

As some of you may remember not too long ago I stopped by the Auchentoshan Distillery for a tour – you can see my review of the tour here – and while there I relieved them of a bottle of their current distillery cask. In my write up of the tour I mentioned that I would do a review of their distillery cask, and being the honest gent that I am I keep my promises – especially when those promises include whisky!

The particular cask in question is cask #934, and it is a first fill Oloroso Butt. Filled on the 23rd of September 2004 it was bottled from the cask on the day of my visit, the 20th of May 2016, so it’s about eleven and a half years old. It’s bottled at natural cask strength, 59.6%, and is natural colour and Unchillfiltered. The colour of this dram is incredible; it’s so dark and promising and just screams sherry monster at you before you even begin – usually I wouldn’t even comment on the colour of whiskies due to the amount of caramel colouring most companies use nowadays, but being straight from the cask it’s all natural. So now that all the cask info is out of the way let’s get down to the good bit, the drinking!

Nose

This whisky has a very big nose, immediately there is a huge scent of very sweet raisins and dates, followed shortly by a hit of spirit. For being bottled at 59.6% ABV it’s remarkably gentle on the nose. This dram demands time to sit and nose because there is just so much going on. After the raisins there is a strong note of treacle joined by fresh roasted coffee beans, dark chocolate – really dark and fruity chocolate. With time it opens up and more fruit battles its way through, mainly dark fruits such as cherries, raisins and rich berries, with a note of sweet sherry running through it. This is certainly a contender for one of the best nosing sherried drams I have ever tried!

Palate

The palate is nowhere near as intense as the nose – though that nose is a very hard act to follow! There is a strong, almost fizzy, wood note that runs through the palate, it’s really tannic and drying. Think well-seasoned oak that has been steeped in sherry, and over-brewed breakfast tea. Lots of alcohol present here too, though that is to be expected for it being bottled at cask strength. With a few drops of water more of the aromas from the nose begin to come through in the palate. This whisky is thick with sticky sweet treacle and dark chocolate. There is also candied orange and again dark fruits, with a heavy dose of sherry running accompanying it.

Finish

The finish is long and warming, with raisins soaked in treacle. Again dark chocolate and freshly ground coffee. There is also wood spices finally beginning to come through in the finish, which leave a nice lashing of cinnamon and ginger on the tongue as the flavours fade away. All in all the finish is dark and intense as this dram has been from start to finish.

If you are ever in the Glasgow area and have a spare few hours then I would definitely recommend taking a trip over to Auchentoshan, if not for the tour then just to get a try of this whisky. It is a really excellently matured sherry cask monster, with a lot to offer for the price of it.

Sláinte

Gary

Girvan Grain & Ancient Reserves Tweet Tasting

I was very fortunate a few days ago to get the chance to participate in my first whisky Tweet Tasting, hosted by Steve Rush from the Whisky Wire. For those unfamiliar with the concept of a tweet tasting it is pretty self-explanatory, you sample several whiskies and you tweet your thoughts on that particular dram, discussing it with other tasters via twitter. I was lucky enough to get to take part in this as a result of my friends Hugh and Richard at the Edradynate Whisky Club – check them out here: Edradynate Whisky Club – who very generously offered to share their samples with me, which I can’t thank them enough for. The particular tweet tasting that we participated in included some aged Girvan grain whiskies and Ancient Reserve blends.

Girvan is Grain distillery that is situated on the Ayrshire coast, and has been pumping out grain whiskies for filling William Grant & Sons blends since 1963, with only a very small amount of this exceptionally good grain being bottled as a single grain. Ancient Reserves is a part of the William Grant & Sons banner, bottling old, rare and unique whiskies.

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The samples arrived about a week before the event, and it looked like a very good offering indeed. This samples that were sent out for the tasting were as follows:

  • A non-age statement Girvan Grain whisky ‘Proof Strength’ at 51.7% ABV.
  • A 25yo Girvan single grain.
  • Ancient Reserves Ghosted Reserve 21yo blended Scotch whisky.
  • Ancient Reserves Ghosted Reserve 26yo blended malt.

The first two were both grain whiskies from Girvan and the final two, the Ghosted Reserves, are blends made up from distilleries that are no longer in production. Very exciting stuff!

Finally the night arrived, we had all of the samples and glasses set out and watched the clock as time slowed to a halt, counting down the minutes until it was time to crack them open. Then finally that fateful tweet appeared on our newsfeeds “Lets kick things off with our first dram”, excited didn’t even come close as we cracked the seal on that first sample bottle.

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Dram #1 for the evening was the Girvan grain patent still Proof Strength, non-age statement, 51.7% ABV. Matured solely in American oak casks – £75 a bottle.

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Nose – the Proof Strength on the nose, as probably could have been guessed by the strength, has a big whack of spirit, lots of sweetness too. Initial thoughts included a boozy vanilla fudge, floral sweetness, followed by pear drops and lemon peel. With time, and a splash of water, this dram opens up hugely. It becomes much fruitier and sweeter with suggestions of toffee apples and caramelised pears.

Palate – like with the nose there is a big punch of spirit, the palate is much spicier than the nose with chillies, white pepper and tannic sweetness. There is a lot of woody nutmeg, vanilla and a caramel sweetness which gets quite bitter and woody through the development.

Dram #2, the Girvan grain patent still 25yo, at 42% ABV. As with the Proof strength this was matured entirely in American oak casks and so lots of sweet vanillas and toffees are to be expected – £250 a bottle!

25yo

Nose – just wow, the nose on this whisky is incredible, there are a lot of different aromas and complexities which have been developed through the years that it has spent in the cask. Initially seasoned oak comes to the front, with damp leather, sweet vanilla and a slight fizzy citric note. There is also a note which, to me, reminds me slightly of cream soda. I could have kept nosing this whisky for hours, but I had to move on to the palate, and there were more whiskies to be sampled.

Palate – the palate was very different from the nose, it was nowhere near as sweet. It’s soft, velvety and rich. The first thing that came to mind was rum and raisin ice-cream, as well as a rich oaky sweetness and tonnes of toffee.

Dram #3 was the first of the Ancient Reserve samples on offer; it was their Rare Cask Ghosted Reserve 21yo blended scotch, 42% ABV. This blend is made up solely from distilleries that are no longer in production, including Inverleven, Ladyburn and Dumbarton, it was a real treat to get the chance to try this whisky – £99 per bottle.

21yo

Nose- this blend had a very interesting nose, big alcohol hit and a smell not dissimilar to airfix glue, as well as pears and toffee. With time I found that this opens up immensely and becomes much fruitier. Sweet caramel, orange flavoured boiled sweets and a suggestion of black cherries.

Palate – it feels like an old whisky on the palate, loads of seasoned oak and tannic woodiness, vanilla and possibly a slight dusting of cinnamon, with coconut shavings. Very good dram and a superior quality of blend!

Dram #4, unfortunately the last of the evening, the 26yo rare cask Ghosted Reserve blended malt, bottled at 42% ABV. Again this blend is made up from whiskies only from closed distilleries, including Inverleven and Ladyburn – a whopping £375 a bottle!

26yo

Nose – the first thing that came across to me with the final whisky was that there was a slight saline/briny note, and to be honest it was actually quite refreshing after all of the sweetness thus far. It was very fruity as well; it was like having a fruit salad by the sea. With time the nose becomes a lot more dessert-like with apple crumble and strawberry tarts, with a hint of cask char in the background.

Palate – I found the palate fairly bitter, bitter sappy wood with some tannic spices; vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, and possibly even ginger. There was a small amount of toffee coming through, and a pretty short and sweet finish.

Then, as always with a whisky tasting, it was over too quickly. I had a fantastic night and I was so grateful to get the chance to try such rare whiskies. For myself and the Edradynate Whisky Club the 25yo Girvan grain was probably the winner, it was such a lovely and complex grain whisky. That said the price for a bottle was pretty steep. I think the real winner for me was the 21yo Ghosted Reserve blend. It is probably the best blended whisky I have ever tasted, and the story behind it and what goes into making it makes it an absolute privilege to try, at £99 it definitely is worth the money.

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I would like to again thank Steve Rush and the Whisky Wire for hosting the event and Girvan Grain and Ancient Reserves for providing such excellent samples! Also a huge thank you to Hugh and Richard at the Edradynate Whisky Club for allowing me to try some of their samples, it was very generous and I can’t thank them enough.

I really hope that I get selected to participate in another tweet tasting in the future as it was great fun, but until then…

Sláinte

Gary

 

Edradour Distillery Tour

I recently paid a little visit to what is very possibly the most quaint and picturesque distillery in Scotland, Edradour. The small cluster of white washed buildings with the Edradour burn running between them is just such a lovely place to visit, especially on the gloriously sunny day that it was. It feels so old fashioned and traditional that you can’t help but smile when you visit.

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I was once again joined by my girlfriend, and I again was the designated driver – a theme seems to be developing here – She seems to be getting a pretty good deal out of things, I’m starting to get worried for my whisky collection… As we wound our way through the hills above Pitlochry it felt more like we were on holiday than in the heart of Scotland, as a Scot I would describe that day an absolute ‘scorcher’! We arrived at the distillery about 10 minutes before the next tour was going out so we got our tickets and had a little wander about before it began.

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Our guide for the day was Heather, and she was very funny. We first went up to the old Maltings for a taste of the whisky – great way to start – where we were given a sample of either the Edradour 10yo or their whisky liqueur, as well as a try of their Ballechin, the peated version. We were shown a short video while we enjoyed out tastes as Heather went round and talked about the whiskies. We were also given a bag for our nosing glasses as we got to take it home which was a nice bonus. After this we were told about the malting’s and shown the old kiln.

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From there they took us up to the warehouse – an interesting way to take a tour; malting, maturation, then production, but I wasn’t complaining. On the way up to the warehouse we passed some construction works, which is where they are working on their expansion/second distillery, which was interesting to see. This, when complete, should double their production capacity and add significantly to their maturation capabilities. As a whisky lover nothing beats the atmosphere of being in a dunnage warehouse, it’s just incredible. I also noted several casks from other distilleries, Signatory (Edradour’s owners) being an independent bottler it was to be expected, including a cask from Mortlach filled in 1991, which I was half tempted to attempt rolling out to the car.

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After wandering amongst the casks for a time we then headed into the production area, or rather squeezed in, I always knew Edradour was tiny, but I didn’t expect that I would be able to take their entire production home in the back seat of my car! Their pot stills are very beautifully shaped the wash still being of a plain design and the spirit a boil-ball, both cooled by worm tubs. It was really good seeing the worm tubs in action.

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Another curiosity was seeing their Morton refrigeration unit, which is used for cooling the wort prior to filling the washback’s for fermentation. Installed in 1934 it is the last one remaining in the whisky industry today and it was a real privilege to see. They have two washback’s on site, both made from Douglas fir, which we passed after the distillation. The tour was good, thorough and informative, if not a bit disjointed, but that is mainly due to the layout of the distillery.

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Heather did a great job, especially considering the size of the tour we were on in the tiny distillery. Once back at the shop she talked a bit more about the range and the Signatory bottlings. I already knew I was going to get some of the Ballechin, and was very tempted by several of the Signatory bottlings, including a 20yo Imperial. I managed to restrain myself however and just left with the one bottle – which my partner actually treated me to, she’s awfully nice – the Ballechin 10yo, which I hope to review soon.

Thanks again to Heather and all the staff at Edradour for a great day out, and wish you all the best. I’m sure I will be back in the future for another visit…and maybe that bottle of Imperial!

Sláinte

Gary

Bowmore 12yo

For the past wee while I’ve been craving whiskies with more of a phenolic character, from the lightly peated to the absolute – blow your face off – peat monsters and so reflecting this my latest review will be of a peated whisky, who would have guessed that! This week I’ve mostly been enjoying what is a true Islay classic, it’s the Bowmore, 12yo.

Bowmore is the oldest distillery on Islay, and one of the oldest in Scotland for that matter, having been founded well over 200 years ago in 1779! Bowmore is owned by Morrison Bowmore Distillers, who also own Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch (Glen Geery), and since 1994 have been a subsidiary of Beam Suntory when they were bought over. Bowmore is one of very few distilleries that still malt barley onsite in the traditional floor malting method, which is very commendable, producing around 30% of their requirement (the remainder coming from Simpsons of Berwick). Their Barley is peated to around 25ppm, meaning that it is a smoky dram but nowhere near as peated as the likes of Laphraoig etc. and the other bonfire-like whiskies. Bowmore also boast to own the oldest maturation warehouse in Scotland, the legendary No. 1 Vault, which is also the only maturation shed located below sea level! Anyway, before we have a fact overload I’m going to dive into the tasting.

Nose

Initially there is a lot of spice on the nose, especially pepper, which shortly fades into the background as the classic Bowmore character comes through. It’s a very fragrant, perfumed smoke, with lots of citrus running through it. I’ve always loved the character of the smoke that they get at Bowmore, a light citrus smoke, which is decidedly spice. As well as this there is honey, golden syrup and vanilla sweetness backed up by lemon peel and a note of fresh pears. It’s also very floral with time, with a bouquet of heather and lavender – possibly Parma violet sweets.

Palate

The palate is thick and creamy and is dominated by opulent woody spices, and a tang of bitter lemon. What I like about Bowmore is that it is not so heavily peated so that all you can taste is smoke, the cask flavours are still able to shine through instead of being obscured by a screen of smoke. There is a heavy, malty character on the palate that is not present on the nose, as well as this there is a bigger suggestion of fruit, namely dried mango and again pears. Overall it is quite sweet and malty, wrapped up in a haze of that fantastically perfumed smoke.

Finish

Sweet vanilla fudge and caramel come to the fore, backed up by a heavy malty character. The finish is fairly short but sweet, with a drying salty influence. In addition to this the sweet, floral-citric smoke is still present as it has been from the start and it’s just fantastic.

I really like the style of dram that they have been able to achieve at Bowmore, I like that it covers all the bases for a peated whisky. There is a big smoke character but at the same time it is not so dominant that is obliterates all of the other flavours and aromas within the drink. I think that this makes it a better peated whisky than most that are out there because the complexities from the process and maturation are still able to shine through. The main thing I could say that is bad about the 12yo Bowmore is that the finish is fairly short and watery, if it had a higher ABV of 43% or more (it is bottled at 40%) then it would hugely improve the finish. That said I do really like the Bowmore, and look forward to polishing off the rest of this bottle, and the older bottling’s I plan on reviewing soon.

The 12yo comes in at around £35 generally and is a good evening whisky, just sitting down after a meal and savouring the smoky subtleties. It’s also a good dram to give to you friends who don’t like that smoky character, because the peat is fairly light and fragrant it’s a good starting point on the phenolic journey.

Sláinte

Gary