Whisky Advent 2016

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It’s that time of the year again, with the night’s drawing in and the temperatures dropping, it can only mean one thing. Yes, it’s almost Christmas, and the best thing of all that happens at this time of year? It’s not the presents of the gluttonous amounts of food and drink we enjoy, it’s the new whisky advent calendar by the chaps over at Drinks by the Dram!

I have always wanted to try one of these calendars ever since I first saw them on the shelves but never got round to treating myself to one. 24 3cl bottles, each containing whiskies from all across the world, ranging from 50 year old Scotch (!) to award winning whiskies from Asian and everything in between. So you can imagine my excitement when I came home from work to find out that my wonderful girlfriend had treated me to one of these! – Much better than your bog standard chocolate advent calendars I’m sure you’ll agree.

For the next 24 days I will be working my way through this calendar and writing my thoughts on each whisky here. I wish you all a very merry advent, though I doubt you will be as merry as me! Scroll down to the bottom to see the previous advent whiskies.

Day 24: The Half-Century Blend, Batch 1, Aged over 50 years – The Blended Whisky Company

blended-whisky-co-half-century

It’s Christmas Eve, and only a few hours now until a fat man in a red suit break into our homes, ransacks the place and eats all of our food. It’s also, sadly, the last day of the Drinks by the Dram whisky advent calendar. It’s been an amazing whisky fuelled December which I have to thank my girlfriend for, for getting me this calendar, and I would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been following my advent series. We have enjoyed some classic drams and some far flung new discoveries from the world over, all expertly chosen by the chaps at Drinks by the Dram. For our last dram they have chosen what promises to be a sumptuous little tipple. We started off on day one with a blend from The Blended Whisky Company, and we are finishing off with them too, this time with their Half-Century Blend. A blend made up of whiskies that are 50 years old, and older! Wow! Launched in the latter half of this year (2016) this blend is a very limited release at only 768 bottles! I’m very much looking forward to this if their Lost Distilleries Blend (Day 1) is anything to go by. 45.5% ABV. £600!

Nose:

There is some really intense and old feeling American oak characteristics to this dram on the nose. Big creamy vanilla custard upfront on the nose, accompanied by toffee apples. It’s big and bold, as you would probably expect being 50years+ old. Plenty of sweetness coming through with highland toffee bars, country fudge and maple syrup. Joined by fruity aromas of apples again, dried orange peel and a slight strawberry like note. Vanilla is certainly dominant as far as spices go but there is also a touch of cinnamon and nutmeg coming through. Coconut appears as does a subtle banana note, almost like a banana sundae made with coconut ice-cream. With some time a milky coffee aroma develops as does Terry’s chocolate orange and something not dissimilar from cola cubes. This is incredibly fresh and vibrant in the nose for something that is over 50 years old!

Palate:

Huge arrival with salted caramel and again those toffee apples from the nose. The alcohol shows a bit more here, though the nose was so soft, adding a slight acetone/pear drop like taste. Through the development this just becomes an intense and tropical fruit salad with dried pineapple cubes, mango, papaya, apples, passion fruit and a slight note of kiwi, there is so much going on here. As the fruit attack begins to die back more of the cask begins to push through with a plethora of spice with heaps of vanilla and again cinnamon, as well as some fizzy peppery spice. A rich and earthy oak woodiness appears as the whisky begins to show some of its age, as the subtlest hint of cask char comes through.

Finish:

The finish is led by a sweet golden syrup sponge pudding which is accompanied by a lot of the fruitiness from the palate with papaya and pineapple dominating. The white pepper fizz keeps on going from the palate carrying through the finish with the wood spice, mainly ginger here, and tannins.

I said in the review for The Blended Whisky Companies ‘Lost Distilleries Blend’ on day one ‘this is the best blended whisky have ever tried’. Well, I think I have just changed my mind with this one. Never even mind blends; this is one of the best whiskies I have ever tried! It’s amazing how fresh and vibrant this dram has remained after all those years sleeping in those casks, and the complexities it has developed are staggering. This blend has been put together so well. What a way to finish the #WhiskyAdvent!

Thank you again to my partner Elaine for buying me this calendar, it’s been incredible. And to Drinks by the Dram for such an excellent and varied selection. I don’t envy them that job with so many quality drams to choose from! Thank you everyone who has been following along with this short series, I do hope you have enjoyed.

I hope everyone has an excellent Christmas, and may all your DRAMS come true!

Sláinte

Gary

 

Day 23: Highland Park 12yo

highland-park-12

Day 23, the penultimate dram, and we have in our hands a true classic Scotch. It is the Highland Park 12yo. This has been a long standing favourite dram of mine, it just ticks all of the boxes; sweet, spice, oak, smoke, fruit, it is just a joy to drink. Highland Park, if you didn’t know, comes from the island of Orkney, way up the north of Scotland, and is actually Scotland’s most northerly distillery. It is also one of the oldest, being founded back in 1798, and has a proud Viking/Norse heritage as is shown on many of their bottlings. They are also one of the few distilleries that still malt barley one site, all be it a small proportion, malting in the region of around 20% of requirement themselves. They use locally cut Orcadian peat for their malting’s, giving their whiskies a more woody/heathery-peat smoke character, giving it a more unique flavour. 40% ABV. £25-30.

Nose:

Instantly with Highland Park you are met by that gorgeously aromatic Orcadian peat smoke. It’s such a delicate and light smoke character that it is more like a wood smoke, or burning heather. There is also a lot of sweetness with the smoke, with heather honey, toffee penny sweets and a slight acetone/pear drop like smell. Highland Park use quite a lot of Sherry casks for their maturation too, and it comes through here also with big juicy sultanas and dried mixed peel. Delicate spice also comes through on the nose with a lovely soft peppery spice, and a flash of lemon oil.

Palate:

On the palate there is a huge whack of cereal, heavily toasted barley, which is mixed in with a nice runny honey sweetness. This big cereal note gradually fades away as more spicy-sweet wood spice comes through the development with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. The sweet peat is ever present, mixing well with the other flavours of this complex dram, as other characters via for attention, with more dried fruits coming through. Raisins and again sultanas emerge, joined by a twist of lemon peel which adds a lovely citric tang to the palate.

Finish:

The finish is medium in length and is led by that sweet peat character again, with delicate heathery-wood smoke, runny honey and again more dried fruits. A sweet juicy burst at the last leaves you wanting to go back in for another sip.

Let’s be honest here, you really can’t go wrong with Highland Park 12. It is, in my opinion, the best all round whisky. It has something for everyone whether you like the sweeter, fruitier or smokier drams this has a little bit of everything. If you are a whisky drinker it is a hard one not to enjoy, but if you’re not then it is a great starting dram. I always have a bottle of this on my shelf and for usually around £25 it is hard to say much bad against this dram.

 

Day 22: Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon

buffalo-trace

For our third from last dram we are again heading back over the pond to the states once more, and again to Kentucky. For day 22 of our advent we shall be enjoying another Bourbon, our second of the advent, the Buffalo Trace Kentucky Straight Bourbon. Buffalo Trace distillery was founded in 1857 and today stands as one of the oldest in America. More than this though it is one of just a few that continued its production during the years of the American prohibition, legally, for as they put it ‘medicinal purposes’. The name of the distillery comes from the days when wild Buffalo marauded across the great plains of America, leaving in their wake wide trodden down paths, known as traces. It is these traces that were followed by early explorers and settlers as they cross America into the Wild West. One such trace, known as the ‘Great Buffalo Trace’ crossed the Kentucky River, just north of modern day Frankfurt. And at this location, as a result of the pure water and the rich fertile land distilling soon followed. 40% ABV. £25.

Nose:

I actually have a bottle of this open just now so I’m getting somewhat accustomed to this one, and it is pretty good stuff, a lot of those classic Bourbon characters here. Sweet creamed corn comes first, accompanied by toasted corn bread. Plenty of vibrant woody spice here too, heaps of rich vanilla and a lots of cinnamon too, as well as a very slight liquorice/star anise note. A good amount of sweetness comes through as well thanks to the fresher oak with brown sugar, salted caramel and burnt toffee sauce. There is also an almost molasses/rum like aroma, that sweet spicy character you get with rums. And at the last a note that is sort of like a strawberry tart.

Palate:

It is big, thick and waxy on the palate with a gorgeously creamy mouth feel. It’s not as sweet as it is on the nose but it does still come through, again with brown sugar and a slightly burnt toffee note. Its not very big on those fruity characters for me, possibly some dried apple rings and a hint of dried cranberries. Then the spice comes through again, the vanilla is still there but is more like vanilla ice-cream, so is the cinnamon and a hint of ginger. Its considerably woodier feeling on the palate with a nice oaky kick through the development bringing a nice bitter quality.

Finish:

The finish is relatively short; the vanilla is ever present and is the other spice. The woodiness carries through with some tannic sweet oak and a slight touch of cask char, as well as a soft note that is a little bit tequila-esque.

Buffalo Trace isn’t the most complex of Bourbons, I won’t lie about that, but what it is is a very approachable and easy drinking one. As well as that it is very accessible, you can walk into most large supermarkets here and get it which is great, you don’t see Bourbons all that often on the shop shelves in Scotland. All this prices used for this series have been from Master of Malt, and they sell this for £25 though you can get it for less, I think I paid around £18 for my bottle. If you want to get into drinking Bourbons then this is the sort of thing I would recommend. It’s easy to find, easy to drink and very inexpensive for what it is.

 

Day 21: Macallan 12yo Double Cask

macallan-12-double-cask

Just four drams left now as we approach the end of the Christmas advent, and what a great December it has been with all of these fine whiskies. Today’s comes from arguably the most famous of all Scottish distilleries, the Macallan. The sample that we will be enjoying today is of their new 12yo Double cask bottling. Macallan took a lot of stick when they dropped all of their age statements and launched their range of NAS bottlings. And to be honest I thought that they weren’t too bad, but the problem was that they weren’t of the same standard of what they were replacing and the prices were rather high! The distillery is currently undergoing a massive rebuilding which, when completed, will see Macallan producing circa 15 Million litres of spirit per year! If you haven’t seen the plans then you are in for a surprise when you see them. They aren’t going for the picturesque classic distillery look with the stonework and the brick chimneys and Pagoda; they are instead taking a leaf out of the Hobbit. It’s a huge plant that will be part buried under ground, giving it the look of a massive Hobbit house; it’s certainly ‘different’, I quite like it though. The 12yo Double cask we are trying today is matured in a combination of both American and European oak sherry casks (i.e. no Bourbon casks have been used here). 40% ABV. £45-50.

Nose:

This has a busy and fruity-sweet nose. The first thing that comes across is apples, toffee apples, as well as some raisin and a slight citrus peel note. There is a nice gentle note of malt which is joined by nuts and spice. There is a huge note here of Pecan pie for me, it’s absolutely lovely. There is also a salted caramel sauce with rum and raisin ice-cream, and a soft note of milky chocolate here too, more like chocolate milk. In the back of the nose there is also a slight menthol note, perhaps spearmint tea. It’s not as sherried as other Macallan’s I’ve tried but I think that may be for the best. It is a softer, more delicate sherry nose as opposed to a sherry monster.

Palate:

It is slightly bitterer than it was on the nose, but there are a lot of similarities coming through. Lots of those classic dried fruit notes that you would associate with Sherry maturation; big fat juicy Maryland raisins, currants, mixed peel, all these good things. The toffee apple is again prominent for me as is that pecan-like nuttiness. It’s a bit spicier on the palate compared to the nose too with cinnamon and ginger. The salted caramel also comes through again, and a bit of runny honey. I have to say I haven’t been as wowed by the palate as I was expecting to be. I think that bottling this at 40% might have been a mistake as it does feel slightly watered down to taste.

Finish:

The dried fruits carry right the way through, starting from the nose and they are still going strong into the finish with those Maryland raisins and sultanas. Plenty of sweet spice too with vanilla and a touch of cinnamon again, and again runny honey.

I am very glad to see Macallan starting to bring back some age statement products, hopefully this will be a start for the rest of the industry to follow, but we will see. I know that age is only a number but I like knowing what I’m paying for! It is a nice Christmassy feeling dram, with all that sherry maturation and a good amount of sweetness. I would love to try this bottled at a slightly higher strength so the flavours are carried through into the palate, as it does feel just a tad too watered down, it’s still pretty good though, and you can’t not love a Macallan.

 

Day 20: Fettercairn Fasque

fettercairn

Where has December gone? I feel like I blinked and it just flew past me, presents still to buy, and even more still to wrap. Likewise I could say for this whisky advent calendar, after today I will only have 4 drams left! Though I’m sure Drinks by the Dram have got a few aces hidden up their sleeves still. The dram that we have today may not be an ace, but it is certainly a face card, bearing the royal symbol of Scotland, the Unicorn. Scotland is one of those places that we just do whatever we like because we can, taking a mythical creature as our national animal is a great example of this. It is, of course, Fettercairn for today’s dram, their ‘Fasque’ bottling. Fettercairn is an eastern highland malt distillery, located near the town of the same name, which roughly translates as ‘the foot of the mountain’ – it is situated just below the Grampian Mountains. It was founded in 1824 by Alexander Ramsay, the then owner of the Fasque estate, on which the distillery is built – hence the name of this bottling we will be trying today. A curiosity of Fettercairn is their Spirit stills, which feature a unique water cooling system on the neck. This cooling system decreases the temperature of the stills and so would lead to more spirit reflux. Leading to a lighter character of spirit. 42% ABV. £35.

Nose:

There is a lovely cask balance on the nose here, a nice array of aromas from both Bourbon and Sherry casks mixing together well. Apple which has been doused in honey and cinnamon before baking is the main note that comes across on the nose for me. A good amount of fruitiness is present with that apple, some raisins, honeydew melon and a touch of lemon. Spice here too with again the cinnamon, a touch of ginger and white pepper. There is a note here which is similar to the smell of being in a dunnage warehouse too, that sort of musky and damp sweet wood smell. As well as a milk chocolate digestive at the back of the nose.

Palate:

A lively arrival with that baked apple again coming through strongly as well as juicy sultanas and mixed peel. This fruitiness is almost immediately dulled down by a big punch of malt, which is rife with cinnamon and allspice. As some of the malt begins to fade off more sweetness comes through with creamy vanilla, butterscotch flavoured angel delight and hard toffees. A slight milk chocolateyness begins to appear as it did on the nose which again brings out chocolate digestive biscuits, and a milky cup of strongly brewed tea.

Finish:

The finish carries on from the palate, the tea and chocolate biscuits lingering in the palate, as well as a good helping of sweet wood spice and tannins. There are also flashes of dried apple rings and sultanas, and a slight wisp of smoke at the very last.

I must say, I really quite enjoyed this. I’ve only tried Fettercairn once before this I believe and this is infinitely better than I remember it being. The balance between the different cask types is superb and helps the whisky carry through the complexities of both. This is a great autumnal feeling dram and I have a few relatives who I think would enjoy this quite a bit, as I have. For around £35 I think this is pretty good for an NAS and I may have to get one to enjoy over the festive period.

 

Day 19: English Whisky Co. 5yo, Batch 1 – That Boutique-y Whisky Company

english-whisky-co-5yo

After a fleeting visit back to Scotland for yesterday’s dram we are packing our cases again and jetting off to far flung foreign country for dram number 19. All the way to England – yes, English whisky – to try the English Whisky Companies 5yo malt whisky, bottled by That Boutique-y Whisky Company, and this being their first batch of this. The English Whisky Companies’ distillery, known as St George’s Distillery, is in Roudham, Norfolk. Construction started early in 2006 and by December that same year they had already begun production. I can’t say I’ve ever had an English whisky before, it is quite a new thing, but I will try anything once. They are quite experimental in their production too, producing both peated and unpeated spirit and using a range of cask types. Anyway, a bit about That Boutique-y Whisky Company (TBWC), they are and independent bottler of small batches of single malts, grains and bourbons, and also have produced a few of their own blended malts and blends. TBWC have won several awards, and for good reason, since they started bottling in 2012. They are probably best known for their cultish graphic-novel-style labels, which are certainly different from the norm with whisky, this bottling for examples features an illustration of St George fighting a dragon! 49.5% ABV. £40 (50cl). Limited to only 964 bottles.

Nose:

It quite young and fiery on the nose initially with hot pepper and chilli spice, due in part to the higher alcohol too. As your nose becomes accustomed to the alcohol there are mostly savoury aromas that emerge first, with a rice cakes and a musky/fatty almond butter. While on the line of almonds, this is actually pretty nutty too, the almonds are there but there is also roasted cashews and loads of peanuts here for me. There is also a nice malt smelling shortbread in there with some sweetness in the form of a sticky syrup pudding with a splodge of custard on top. A touch of water opens this up quite significantly bringing a fruitier character with orange flavoured jelly as well as toffee apples, and loads more spice with cinnamon and a herby coriander like note.

Palate:

A mellow yet sweet arrival, which becomes quite hot fairly quickly with chillies again coming through. A good touch of cereal brings oatcakes into the palate and a touch of fruitiness in stewed apples. There is also a soft layer of peat smoke through the development. The palate improved dramatically with water also bringing again more fruits and spice into the equation. The apples become much more apparent as does a note of white grape. Cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg also appear bringing a lot more warmth from flavour as opposed to alcohol. The flavours sort of mingle together through the development creating an eves pudding type taste, which has been cooked over a peat fire. The dash of water makes the smoke a much bolder and more robust flavour on the palate.

Finish:

The finish I would say would be medium, it wasn’t as long as I would have expected given the alcoholic percentage, though it is a younger bottling. Cinnamon and caramelised sugar hang in the finish with sweet wood and the peat smoke. After the finish has died off you are left with a warming aftertaste of smoke which lingers, though it is a very delicate smoke, unlike what you would get with a peated Scotch.

Well. My first ever English whisky. To be honest I fairly enjoyed this. I won’t be rushing out any time soon to be buying a bottle I don’t think, but it was a nice change from what I’m used to drinking. I think in a few years, once their stocks have aged for a little longer, this will be a really good whisky. For a 5 year old this is still pretty good, it’s better than a lot of younger whiskies that I have had, I’m interested to see how this develops with time. And also how the market for English whisky develops, I wish them luck.

 

Day 18: Oban Little Bay

oban-little-bay

The 18th of December, only one week now until Christmas, it’s probably time to start that last minute shopping and brave the mayhem that is Christmas. To procrastinate some more first though, we have another dram to enjoy today. Today’s advent dram is from the Oban distillery, in the western highlands of Scotland, it is the ‘Little Bay’. Oban is one of Diageo’s Classic Malts, and so it is fairly well known, usually bottled as a 14yo. This bottling we have today was originally a travel retail bottling but last year it graduated and became part of their core range. In old Scots Oban translates as ‘Little Bay’, so this is the Little Bay release by Little Bay…very imaginative by the Diageo team! From what I have found out it seems that this NAS bottling is comprised of whiskies matured in 3 cask types. Ex-European Sherry Butts, Refill American Oak Barrels with new ends (virgin oak ends) and refill Hogsheads. After this maturation it is then married in smaller casks – unspecified – in order to let the different cask flavours come together and also impart more cask influence from these smaller casks. 43% ABV. £50.

Nose:

The first thing that comes forward on the nose here for me is an appley sweetness, its sweeter than just apples though, more like apple sauce or apple jam…if that’s a thing. A slight waxy note comes with it, mildly reminiscent of beeswax candles, and peanut butter. Spice is present on the nose too with vanilla, and a touch of cloves and nutmeg, all underlined by a maritime saline note. With time more citrus notes come through with candied orange and mixed dried peel as well as a soft oak character. Towards the back of the nose a weak coffee aroma comes forward as well as creamy fudge and a wisp of smoke.

Palate:

The palate has a big strong arrival with bags of sweetness. Golden syrup, runny honey and sugared almonds burst in the mouth joined by a slight salty note. Again that sweet apple sauce is present. Loads of spice comes in through the development with vanilla again, a slight touch of nutmeg and pink pepper. There is also an almost perfumey taste, kind of like lemongrass, which is also accompanied by orange zest. The wood influence begins to show more in the later stages of the development with stronger wood spice and tannins, as well as a slight saline tingle in the mouth.

Finish:

For me I find the finish fairly short, I would say medium but I think that would be generous. The hot wood spice controls the finish here with a briny note carrying through it. There is also more of the honey from the palate and a touch of lemon oil. The finish is almost like a very woody hot toddy for me.

I must say that for a Diageo NAS this is a pretty good one. I think the variety of casks used, and the influence of smaller casks too, has led to the development of what is quite a complex little dram. £50 may be a touch on the expensive side in my opinion but it is a very enjoyable dram. Well with the end of Dram number 18 that means that there are only 6 drams left to enjoy, but going by the standard of what Drinks by the Dram have selected so far I’m sure we are in for a very tasty week!

 

Day 17: Kavalan Concertmaster, Port Cask Finish

kavalan

After a string of Scotch whiskies this past week we are now heading overseas again, this time all the way to Taiwan! Dram number 17 of our advent brings us to the Kavalan distillery, another whisky which I have never tried before but have wanted to for some time. It is surprising that Taiwan is only really just beginning to venture into the whisky making process as for some time now they have been a major consumer of Scotch whisky, especially malt. Kavalan was only built in 2005, and was the first to be built there, and only started producing on the 11th of March 2006! So this will mean that what they bottle will be of a younger age. This said though, Taiwan, due to geographical location, has a subtropical climate. The warmer and more humid the environment for maturation then the faster the spirit will mature, so though it will be younger it has had a more ‘active’ maturation period. The particular Kavalan we have today is the Concertmaster Port Cask Finish. This bottling comprises of whiskies which have been matured for an initial period in American oak casks before being finished in a range of different types of Port casks, including Ruby and Tawny Port. 40% ABV. £55-60.

Nose:

This has got a nice balance on the nose between sweet and savoury. Initially on the nose there are some musky, wood-type smells, with tobacco leaf, damp wood and a feint leathery note, before the sweetness from the wood and Port pushes through with vigour. Rich black grapes, demerara sugar, raisins and lychees battle with the savoury smells leading to a lively bouquet, all of which is tightly wrapped up in a dousing of sweet Port. There is also a fatty nut-like smell; I’m thinking almond butter as well as a touch of malt and oak cakes. The Port is really quite dominant on the nose, bringing a good amount of sweetness with it, but a dunnage-warehouse-like aroma keeps the sweetness in check nicely. There is also a strange note which reminds me of strawberries dipped in balsamic vinegar glace – an interesting tasting note but if you have tried it before then you’ll know what I’m on about here.

Palate:

Loads of fruity sweetness hits you straight away on the palate, raisins, red grapes, mixed berry jam (black currant and strawberry) and of course a very generous pour of port coming through. Sweet spice tries to keep pace with the onslaught of fruitiness with vanilla and ginger, and also a note of white pepper which fizzes in the mouth, lovely. The peppery ‘fizz’ grows in intensity through the development as more woodiness begins to come through. This is like some of strange cross over between sangria and mulled wine…but made with Port and whisky.

Finish:

The peppery fizz continues on into the finish, which is medium in length, as does the wood and the plethora of fruity goodness. A touch of cereal comes through again in the finish with those oatcakes once again, and a slight saline touch down the sides of the tongue.

I’ve been wanting try Kavalan for some time and I have finally now had some. I am fairly impressed I must say. For a whisky that is going to be pretty young (I couldn’t find any age information for this) there has been a lot going on in those casks. If this was a Scotch whisky I would probably have put it at around 15 years old. This is likely the result of the increased maturation time in the warmer climate. I think the Port has maybe been a touch too dominant here but I like my Port so I won’t be complaining too loudly. I think the price of it may be a bit on the high side, but it is still a solid dram!

 

Day 16: Glenfarclas 21yo

glenfarclas-21

Day 16 and Drinks by the Dram are really starting to turn up that ‘Christmassy feeling’ in these drams, with another sherry matured behemoth. Today we opened our calendar doors to find a lovely wee sample of the Glenfarclas 21yo. If you have been following the blog for a while then you will likely know that I am quite partial to a sherry monster, and Glenfarclas has always been one of those go-to distilleries in order to get my fix. Since I first tried their 10yo a few years ago there has always been an expression of Glenfarclas of some sort on my shelf. I actually visited the distillery a few months back in the second part of my Speyside Road Trip, and though I visited six distilleries on that trip this one really stood out for me. Glenfarclas is one of the few distilleries today in Scotland to still be held privately, being owned by the Grant family since John Grant bought it back in 1865, for a princely sum of £511.19s. It has changed a lot since then, but they have kept a lot of the traditions and practices that you don’t see too much anymore, such as maturing onsite in traditional dunnage warehousing, and directly firing their stills. It is a lovely place to visit, set under the imposing mass of Benrinnes, and definitely recommended. Anyway, let’s get down to the sampling of the 21yo. 43% ABV. £85-90.

Nose:

Mmm hmm, instantly met with that sweet sherry goodness you associate with Glenfarclas, this particular bottling isn’t as strongly sherried as some of their other expressions but it is still a strong presence. Lots of rich fruitiness comes to the front with raisins, stewed apples, dates and candied orange peel, all doused in a generous pour of Oloroso sherry. Fragrant toasted barley jumps out of that glass as does a feint touch of ginger, an a touch of treacle. Then on the back of the nose you are left enjoying a nice piece of milk chocolate with a cup of strong tea.

Palate:

A big malty cereal kick to start of the palate which is joined in time by more fruitiness, mainly orange type notes for me with dried orange slices and orange zest. Then a gentle wave of sherry passes through the palate bringing an amount of dried fruit and delicate spice before sweet oak begins to take hold of the palate as the whisky shows its age. Nutmeg and toasted almonds mingle amongst the wood tannins as a bitter fresh cranberry-like note appears. This is a big but well-rounded dram in the palate and feels so silky and luxurious to drink.

Finish:

The malt is again ever-present, that sweet and fragrant toasted malt, as is a lot of the wood character which came through on the palate with rich sherry-oak tannins. There is touch of ginger again and more nutmeg and a handful of raisins and mixed peel. The finish is medium in length and leaves you wanting to go back for a second, and third, and fourth sip.

Another solid addition to the Glenfarclas range, it’s big, sherried, and malty. I do own a bottle of this, I picked it up when I visited the distillery, I haven’t opened it yet but I’m sure when all the relatives descend for Christmas its life expectancy will decrease significantly! It’s one of those classic Christmassy drams that you just sit down with and relax after consuming a gluttonous amount of food. What I love about Glenfarclas is that because they have such a large and aged range of stock in their warehouses you can get really old and complex drams for exceptionally good prices. Take this for example, a 21yo single malt for only £85, great value, and a great dram!

 

Day 15: Glengoyne 12yo

glengoyne-12

The 15th of December is now upon us, only 10 days left until Christmas! The Christmas shopping is ridiculously far behind schedule but fortunately we have another dram here to soothe the panic that is gradually setting in as the days count down. We are back to malt whisky today, after yesterday’s delicious 25yo Invergordon single grain, with a 12 year old bottling from Glengoyne. Glengoyne is a distillery that straddles the highland-lowland line, with its warehousing below and its distillery above, it is classified as a highland distillery, however, up until the 1970’s it was in fact considered a lowland malt. The name, Glengoyne, is derived from ‘Glen Guin’, the glen of the wild geese, though prior to 1905 it was known as ‘Burnfoot’, relating to its position at the foot of the Blairgar burn. I have had several Glengoyne’s before, including their 15yo which I have reviewed previously, though I don’t believe I have had their 12yo expression before. Glengoyne are generally known for sherry cask maturation though their younger bottling’s, such as this, are made up of a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. 43% ABV. £35-40.

Nose:

The classic Glengoyne character is apples, and this expression is no exception. It is not as prominent as it is in many of their other bottling’s but it is here none the less. It comes across to me as more of a cider-like apple smell, like fermenting apples almost; like Scrumpy Jacks cider. There is a big amount of fruit here with the apple being joined by bruised pears, oranges and lemon flavoured sweets. It’s fairly sweet also with notes of toffee and honey syrup. A nice hit of cereal comes through, reminiscent of whole wheat toast, joined by desiccated coconut, flaked almonds and some nutmeg in the background.

Palate:

An amazingly sweet and fruity arrival, this just explodes in the mouth. Instantly we are again met with apples, baked red apples now, and juicy Maryland raisins. These fruity characters mingle with loads of sweetness in the form of runny honey and sticky toffee sauce; this is some very sweet and lively whisky! Far more of the sherry character is coming through on the palate with a nice kick of spice driving the development with pepper, ground cloves and vanilla. Some sweet toasted malt comes through, as does the coconut from the nose. This is a lovely lip-smackingly juicy dram on the palate and is very full of flavour.

Finish:

The sweet-fruity character just stays with you from the start, leading to a very juicy and mouth-watering finish. Raisins and sultanas dominate here with dried apple rings hanging in there. A gentle white pepper spice carries through the finish as does a feint touch of oak.

This is another great expression from Glengoyne, I have had many of their bottling’s before but this was my first experience with the 12yo. I think they have absolutely nailed the balance between the sherry and bourbon casks, plenty of sweetness and citrus from the bourbon casks matched well by the dried fruits and spice from the sherry. For £35-40 you really can’t go wrong with this one. With day 15 of the #WhiskyAdvent done that means there are only 9 drams left to enjoy, I don’t know what I’ll do with myself when this is all over!

 

Day 14: Invergordon 25yo Single Grain, That Boutique-y Whisky Company

invergordon-25

The 14th day of this #WhiskyAdvent sees a delightful and old Single Grain whisky hiding behind the door. It is from the Invergordon distillery, bottled by ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’ at an age of 25 years! Invergordon is a sizeable grain distillery, located In Invergordon – about 30 or so miles north of Inverness – and is owned by Whyte and MacKay (Emperador). We have touched on Grain whisky previously with the Girvan Grain tweet tasting, but grain distilleries are not the picturesque, Pagoda topped beauties that we associate with malt whisky. Grain distilleries are massive industrial plants designed for efficiency and output. To give you an idea of this scale, Invergordon is capable of putting out in excess of 38 Million litres of alcohol per year! – and this is fairly small compared to other grain distilleries! Bottlings of single grain whiskies are fairly rare, though in recent years they have been becoming more common, and it’s a shame because many of them are of very high quality – with the exception of a certain ‘club’ whisky from Diageo. The sample we have today as I mentioned is bottled by ‘That Boutique-y Whisky Company’, and this is their 9th batch of this, limited to only 1,093 bottles (50cl). 49.8% ABV. £50.

Nose:

Immediately on the nose you are met with a lovely, velvety vanilla note, like a thick and creamy vanilla custard. There is a lot of sweetness upfront with toffee, fudge and Caramac bars, as well as white chocolate buttons. Rich runny honey is joined by fresh red apples and a touch of cinnamon giving a nice autumnal feel to this dram. There is some woody character there but for 25 years in the casks this so so light. There is vanilla, some cinnamon, a light hint of oak and a feint suggestion of cask char, joined by a fresh and fruit espresso coffee. All rounded off by a note which puts me in mind of toffee popcorn. I can’t wait to taste this!

Palate:

Fizzy lemon sherbet hits you first on the palate, as well as Caramel snack a’ jack (it’s like a caramel flavoured rice cake-thing). There is a lot more cask influence coming through on the palate, more tannins, a slight vegetal oak note as well as an ashy/cask char flavour. Bitter cooking apples and bruised pears come through the ashy flavour, as does a note of cinder toffee, black pepper and a touch more cinnamon. Sweet cereal notes come through, I’d probably say corn, as well as more citric fruits and again the custard like note from the nose, all creating a Tarte au Citron type flavour. This whisky is remarkably fresh feeling for being so old.

Finish:

A great balance of the intense sweetness and the oaky wood notes. Golden syrup and toffee apples linger in the palate with the oak and the cask char leaving a warm flavoursome finish, with a touch of lemon rind and pepper in there too. It is fairly short for being so high in alcohol but it is intense and exciting.

I am getting rather partial to a good single grain whisky these days. I think Diageo releasing their ‘Haig’s’ hasn’t done much to help people’s perception of this type of whisky. Grain whisky has a lot to offer, both flavour wise and for the price of it, and it deserves a lot more respect than being thought of as filler for a blend or that they all taste like Haig Club. What I like most about single grain whiskies is that it can give you a hugely enjoyable cask driven experience, and not break the bank. You can pick up a bottle of this, a 25yo single grain, for around £50! It’s an absolute steal, you would pay 3 times as much, if not a lot more, for a malt whisky of the same age, and this offers just as much complexity and enjoyment.

 

Day 13: Balvenie Double Wood, 12yo

balvenie-12

Day 13 of our #WhiskyAdvent takes us back to a very popular dram, a favourite of many, the Balvenie. The Balvenie distillery sits right in the heart of Speyside, in Dufftown, only a stone’s throw away from its slightly older brother, Glenfiddich – also owned by the same company, Williams Grant and Sons. Balvenie is a distillery that prides itself on ‘doing everything in-house’. They grow their own barley – albeit a tiny amount of what they use – and also malt onsite using traditional floor malting’s – again only a small amount, around 10-15% of requirement. In addition to this they also employ their own coppersmiths, coopers and even have a bottling line onsite! The Balvenie that we will be enjoying today is their 12yo Double wood expression. The Double Wood is comprised of whiskies which have spent an initial maturation period in ex-Bourbon casks before undergoing a secondary maturation, or finishing period, in first fill ex-Sherry Butts. 40% ABV. £35.

Nose:

Upfront on the nose we are met by a nice sweet malty character which is entangled in a web of fruitiness. We have dried orange slices, sultanas and currants, as well as ripe plums. Chocolate is also quite prevalent on the nose, like hot chocolate powder/cocoa powder. A decent amount of rich heather honey is present with golden syrup. Along the lines of syrup there is also a note that reminds me of the sweet syrup that comes with tinned peaches.

Palate:

This has a very big and luxurious mouth feel to it. To me again that note of tinned peach syrup comes through with some honey, before the sweetness is tamed by the wood influence. Far more spice on the palate than on the nose, sweet vanilla, a touch of pepper and some dried ginger. A nice woody kick comes into play through the development bringing an enjoyable bitterness to the mouth with rich tannins, drying wood and the slightest hint of cask char. Then thrown in at the end is a bag of mixed fruit and nuts with sultanas again, raisins and flaked almonds.

Finish:

For being bottled at 40% the finish is fairly lengthy. It is driven by warming wood spice, ginger and white pepper, and rich oak, and carries a trace of honey right the way through it. It is pleasant and warming and delightfully sweet.

I haven’t had a Balvenie in quite some time, and it is nice to revisit the classics every now and again. To me the Balvenie 12yo Double Wood represents the benchmark for what a finished whisky should be, both the cask types are easily discernible in the dram and it is not too dominated by either of them. This is a very well balanced and put together malt and for £35 I don’t have much I could say against it. It is just so drinkable and easy to enjoy.

 

Day 12: Tomatin 14yo, Port Wood Finish

tomatin-14-pw

Half way through the advent and isn’t this a turn up for the books, it’s the Tomatin 14yo Port wood, probably my favourite whisky discovery of 2016! (Very well selected Drinks by the Dram, I approve!) Tomatin itself has been becoming one of my favourite drams over the past few years and when I tried this Port wood finished expression at a whisky tasting a few months back I instantly fell in love with it. If you haven’t heard of Tomatin then what rock have you been living under? They have taken several major awards recently and for good reason too, so get yourself some of this fine Highland malt and enjoy. Anyway, as I was saying, the dram we have here I first tried at a Tomatin tasting a few months back hosted by Graham Eunson, their master distiller. This Port Wood expression, as Graham told us, has been finished in Tawny Port casks – which previously held Port for around 30 years! – for between 1.5 and 2 years, this imparts a lovely sweet wineyness to the whisky and makes for a very interesting dram! 46% ABV. £50-55.

Nose:

This is an incredibly rich and spicy whisky, with a lot going on. On the nose we are instantly met with a plethora of fruits, there are prunes, raisins, red berries and a rich grapey-winey goodness. Accompanying the fruits are some sweeter notes including highland toffee bars, earthy Manuka honey and a light note of liquorice. This is followed by heaps of spice, with mixed ground pepper, vanilla and a touch of nutmeg. With time a lot of the notes begin to merge together and it puts me in mind of a toasted sultana loaf, which is slathered in butter, served with a good strong pot of English breakfast tea. Delicious!

Palate:

There is a lot more grapeyness to the palate. Initially white grape juice, which changes into big juicy Maryland raisins before we are left with a nice tannic grape note, it is kind of like when you are eating grapes and you just keep the skin of the grape in your mouth and chew on it, it’s bitter-sweet. As well as the flavours derived from the port though there is also a good amount of flavour from the wood. The spice again comes through quite strongly with white pepper and vanilla and a fair amount of drying oak. Some malt comes through as well with some nuts in tow, walnuts for me, and a note of dark chocolate with chilli in there.

Finish:

The chocolatey spice carries on through the finish, again chilli and dark chocolate pair up nicely, joined again by the ground pepper and a good amount of bitter-sweet oak. The tea from the nose begins to come through again as well as a handful of raisins and currants.

I love this whisky, I love the Port character that is in here, I like that it isn’t too overpowered by it though, it still has a lot of Tomatin’s character. It is just an all-round great dram. I think what makes me like this so much, even more than just that it is a great whisky, is the fact that I got taste and discuss it with the man who made the stuff! If Santa brings me a bottle of this at the end of my whisky advent I would be a very happy chappy indeed!

 

Day 11: Evan Williams Bourbon, Extra Aged

evan-williams-extra-aged

For the 11th day of our whisky advent we are taking a trip over the pond to enjoy a whiskey from the States, Kentucky to be more accurate. For the 11th day we have our first Bourbon whiskey, it is an Evan Williams Bourbon, extra aged. Evan Williams, part of Heaven Hill Distillers, is a name synonymous with the Bourbon industry which has been developing rapidly in popularity in the previous years. Founded back in 1783 Evan Williams is said to have been the first ‘commercial’ distillery in Kentucky, though it has been producing far less than continuously since then with prohibition etc. We haven’t covered Bourbon much before on the blog – something which shall be rectified come the New Year – though I am getting increasingly interested in and enjoying the stuff. Generally you will find that Bourbons don’t come with aged statements, some do, but most don’t. One thing we can tell as to age though is that if the bottle state ‘Straight Bourbon’ on the label then the contents has to be a minimum of 4 years old (generally bottled between 4 and 8 years), such as this sample we have here. This ‘extra aged’ dram we have here is more commonly seen on the shelves as black label and is the entry level bottling. 43% ABV. £25.

Nose:

This is a classic Bourbon on the nose, lots of sweet vanilla notes coming from the new casks. There is a good amount of spice present here with nutmeg and cinnamon, and a slight liquorice/aniseed type note. There is also loads of sweetness with bags and bags of brown sugar, maple syrup and sticky caramel sauce. With time in the glass there is sweet oaky sawdust and a slight hint of cask char, and a lovely fruity apple-like note, with toasted almonds.

Palate:

One of the things that I like most about Bourbons is the thick and luxurious mouth feel that you get; it has this lovely waxy bite to it. On the palate we are met with a nice toffee apple sweetness as well as a big punch of sweet cask character with rich tannins, sweet vanilla and again a touch of cask char. More citrus fruit is present on the palate with flamed orange peel and lemon zest as well as a generous helping of nutty goodness, pecan nuts. There is also a lingering floral note which I can’t quite place my finger of but I really like it.

Finish:

Fairly long in length, and driven by sweet oak again and rich wood spice. The vanilla is just present from start to finish as is the brown sugar/caramel note. Cinnamon sticks and lemon zest just linger for an age after everything else has faded away.

I do love a good Bourbon. I’m not going to compare this to anything else that we have had on this advent journey so far as though they are all whiskies but Bourbon is just a totally different drink. I have been getting more and more into Bourbons over the past year or so, and I have had this one before, but like Scotch and other whisky types there are many to try. This one I have had before and I must say it is actually pretty good, it is very good value for money. It isn’t the most complex of Bourbons but it is a fantastic starting point in setting out on the ‘American (whiskey) adventure’. If any of you have never had any Bourbons before I would recommend doing so as they can often be very enjoyable and relatively inexpensive to buy.

 

Day 10: Teeling Whiskey Single Malt

teeling-single-malt

The 10th of December is here, that means only 15 days until Christmas, whether that fills you with joy or trepidation is probably directly linked to how prepared you are to face this year’s festive season. Either way, this means it’s time to open another door on the whisky advent calendar and see what joys are hiding behind. Today our dram is some Teeling Whiskey single malt, a nice wee dram all the way from Ireland. Teeling are an Irish family with long founded roots in the whiskey industry, going back to 1782 when Walter Teeling opened a distillery in Dublin, which like many Irish distilleries closed over the ages. Things have changed a lot since then, as has the fortunes of the Irish whiskey industry which is seeing a massive resurgence. Teeling whiskey was founded in 2012 as an independent bottler, and in 2015 they opened the Teeling distillery in Dublin. The sample we have today – obviously not from the Teeling distillery – is an Irish single malt (triple distilled) created from five wine cask finished whiskeys (Sherry, Port, Madeira, White Burgundy and Cabernet Sauvignon casks), and offers to be a delightfully fruity number which I am looking forward to. 46% ABV. £40-45.

Nose:

Lots of soft fruits are present on the nose here with white grapes/grape juice, yellow plums and melon, in fact it’s like a melon salad. There is sweet honey dew melon and fruitier galia melon too. There is a surprising amount of malt on the nose for something which has been triple distilled. Lemon oil is also prominent as well as sticky toffee sauce and a hint of milk chocolate and a slight menthol note in the background. It is fairly white wine-like for me which is surprising when there is also port and sherry being used in here. This is very interesting and multi-layered on the nose.

Palate:

It’s a little bit fizzy on the palate with more citrus fruits coming through, possibly lemon sherbet, and lemon rind. A huge amount more spice on that palate compared to the nose, white pepper is quite strong here as well as fiery hot ginger and a dash of cinnamon. Rich oak tannins make for a lip-smacking development with some dried fruits, sultanas and a touch vanilla and a note similar to dried cranberries comes through. I find it a little bit astringent and bitter on the palate, so far it has been a dram of two tales. The nose is intensely fruity whereas the palate is intensely spicy.

Finish:

The finish continues on from the palate with more of the tannic wood influence and an impressive amount of spice. Some honey comes into play to sweeten off the finish a bit which is all to the good. The finish is fairly long with a lingering pepper-spice feeling that just sits in your mouth.

Well this dram was a big surprise. The nose was wondrous with all of the melon and soft fruits but the palate was like a completely different whiskey, so intense and spicy. I wish I had a bigger sample of this so I could sit down and get to understand it better. This is a cracking NAS bottling, I feel that £45 may be a bit on the pricey side but if I see it on offer I think I would be very tempted to get this!

 

Day 9: Old Perth, Sherry Cask Blended Malt – Morrison & MacKay

old-perth

Day 9, one day less until Christmas. I should probably start my Christmas shopping now but with so many delectable advent drams to enjoy there is just no time! Today’s dram is something that I haven’t come across before; it is the ‘Old Perth’ sherry cask blended malt, from Morrison and MacKay (Carn Mor Whiskies). This is a blend that has been made from malt whisky matured in sherry casks, a combination of Butts, Puncheons and Hogsheads. It is named after the city of Perth as this once was a whisky capital of the highlands, with many world renowned blends starting here including Dewars (hence the picture – there is method in the madness) and the Famous Grouse. Sadly though with Erdington’s recent relocation to Glasgow, Perth’s whisky lineage has now come to an end, it is sad, but I shall toast this ending with a dram of Old Perth. 43% ABV. £30.

Nose:

This is an intensely rich dram, with a very busy nose. The first thing that comes to mind here are raisins steeped in strong black tea, like you would do if you were making a fruit cake. It’s quite chocolatey too, milk chocolate to start with but it does become darker the more time you spend nosing it. There are also some fresh ‘woodier’ notes, with saw dust, fresh straw and toasted malt as well as some lightly charred oak. That black tea note I mentioned earlier is quite strong, but the fruitiness is making me think more along the lines of an iced tea, maybe peach iced tea (?), and there is something here that puts me in mind of rhubarb and custard sweets too. So far I am liking this quite a lot!

Palate:

A sweet and fruity arrival, with stewed plums and raisins, and again a tannic tea-like note. More spice is present on the palate with cinnamon and cloves, possibly a touch of pink pepper too. Rich brown/demerara sugar mix with the alcohol and spice forming an ‘old-fashioned’ cocktail-like note – I’m taking a proper old fashioned here, keep your orange juice and whatever else, just whisky, sugar and bitters. Like the nose chocolate is again present, and again it starts off as milk chocolate before getting darker and darker and more bitter, as more wood comes into play.

Finish:

Soft, subtle sherry is hidden under heaps of wood and spice here, a slight hit of chilli and ginger on the finish gives a gentle, hot spice feel in the mouth. There is an enjoyably bitter wood note which mingles in the mouth with dark chocolate and dried fruit. The finish is fairly long for being bottled at 43% I’m pretty impressed with that.

Out of the 9 drams enjoyed so far in this whisky advent I think that this has impressed me the most. By that I’m not saying that this is my favourite, I couldn’t possibly pick only one, it’s just that for £30 this whisky has a remarkable amount of depth and character to it. This is a great wee bottling, as I said when I reviewed Douglas Laing’s ‘Rock Oyster’ a few days ago, blended malts are great value for money, and this just backs that up further.

 

Day 8: Lagavulin 16yo

lagavulin-16

Day 8 of the whisky advent, a third of the way through now, and things are again getting a bit smoky. For dram number 8 we are heading back to Islay to try some Lagavulin, 16yo. Lagavulin is quite a striking distillery; set right on the coast of the Lagavulin bay with its white washed walls makes it quite a dominant feature in the landscape. Most Islay distilleries have this close connection with the sea as they used to rely heavily on it for transport, hence why they are built so close to it – with the exception of the new Kilchoman distillery. But this coastal position also has an impact on the character of the whisky, giving a salty and briny character to many of Islay’s malts. If any of you have ever seen the film ‘The Angel’s Share’ then you might recall the cask auctioned off was from the ‘Malt Mill’ distillery. This distillery used to exist, until around 1962 ish, and it did so within the grounds of the Lagavulin distillery. It was founded in 1908 by the well-known whisky baron Sir Peter Mackie, who was an agent for Laphroaig until a falling out, so he tried to replicate the style of Laphroaig in order to steal away their business. His plan was a failure but it is still a nice wee story, us Scots don’t hold grudges at all… 43% ABV. £45-50.

Nose:

To me Lagavulin is one of the peatiest of all the Islay whiskies. What I mean by that is that it really smells of burning peat where as others from Islay have a different ‘style’ of peat, more reminiscent of burning leaves and seaweed for example. Lagavulin has a very heavy and earthy smelling vegetal peat smoke on the nose, wonderful. Trying to push its way through smoke and medicinal Iodine are notes of sherry, with raisins, cloves and mixed peel. There is also a certain meaty character to it, like when you forget that you’ve left a gammon joint in the oven and it starts to catch and smoke a little. After a while in the glass some of the smoke dissipates and more coastal aromas come through with salty maritime spice and sea spray, as well as a slight note of orange, digestive biscuits and over brewed tea.

Palate:

The first thing you get with this on the palate is a surprising amount of sweetness and nowhere near as much smoke as you would have expected. More sweetness from the casks comes through on the palate again with that note of sherry and mild spice but there is also runny honey, vanilla, and icing sugar too. A bit of white pepper and chilli lead a lively development where more fruits come over with more citrus fruits, possibly even a touch of pineapple. All wrapped in a shroud of thick yet delicate salty, medicinal peat smoke.

Finish:

The smoke turns more salty and bitter in the finish, and becomes a bit ashier too, as more woody oak comes through. The sweetness from the casks drifts away as the bitterness and salt take hold. The citrus is still present, flamed orange peels, and more malt comes into play here too.

I do enjoy a nice smoky dram every now and again and today was just one of those days. I like Lagavulin but I would have to say that it’s not one on my favourite peated drams, still excellent stuff though. I find it just lacks that extra ‘je ne sais quoi’ in the palate and especially the finish for my taste. As far as peated drams go though this is ridiculously drinkable and will always have a space on my shelf.

 

Day 7: Dalmore 12yo

dalmore-12

After four excellent non-age statement bottling’s we are back to a dram that has one for day number seven, a 12yo, from the Dalmore distillery. Dalmore was founded in 1839 and is situated in Alness, north of Inverness. If you have ever had a bottle of Dalmore before then you will know that the bottle is adorned by a 12-pointed stag, or ‘Royal’ stag. This emblem was adopted by the distillery in 1886 and recollects the fact that the ancestors of Dalmore’s founders rescued King Alexander III from being gored by a stag in 1263, how very Game of Thrones! The 12yo Dalmore that we have here has been matured for an initial 9 years in ex-Bourbon barrels, before then being divided for a finishing period. The first half will remain in these Bourbon casks while the second will be transferred into Matusalem Oloroso Sherry casks (which are exclusive to Dalmore) for the final 3 years of maturation, before everything is brought together before bottling. 40% ABV. £40.

Nose:

I’ve always loved the nose of a Dalmore 12yo; it is a busy sherried dram. Sweet sherry is the first thing you get, backed up by a good amount of spice, cinnamon sticks mainly but also some nutmeg and a slight suggestion of anise. Sweet malt and sherried wood mingle with dried orange and mixed peel, as well as stewed/pureed apples. Its puts me in mind of apple flavoured pop tarts. I’ve never described a whisky as smelling of ‘Christmas cake’ as it is such an ambiguous tasting note, nor am I going to start, but this is not too far from one my grans festive creations! With time a bit more sweet nuttiness comes through with sticky golden syrup, sugared almonds and marzipan.

Palate:

The palate opens with sweet malt and drying tannic wood. The sherry comes through more with the second taste but it is quite subtle, with bitter lemon rind and orange peel, possibly marmalade. The palate, to me at least, doesn’t live up to the nose – granted it is a hard act to follow – it lets this dram down quite a bit. The bitterness is fairly dominant but there are flashes of spice, espresso coffee and milk chocolate.

Finish:

The finish is short-medium in length and a bit more flavour comes through after the palate which is good, a plethora of citrus fruits, dark chocolate and again rich woodiness.

As I said, I’ve always loved the nose of a Dalmore, as far as sherried drams go I’d say the nose is up there with the best for a standard bottling, but the palate just falls a little bit short for my liking. I would love so much to see how different this dram would be presented at a higher strength, but alas the accountants always seem to win these days. I’ve not had a Dalmore in quite some time and this was a great reintroduction, dram 7 of the #WhiskyAdvent enjoyed!

 

Day 6: Rock Oyster – Douglas Laing

rock-oyster

Now this is a dram I am much more familiar with! Day 6 of the whisky advent and we have been enjoying a sample of Douglas Laing’s ‘Rock Oyster’. This bottling joined their ‘Remarkable Malts’ range of blended malts about 2 years ago now and it is a great maritime dram, as the name might suggest. For making this blend Douglas Laing have taken malt whiskies from many of Scotland’s island distilleries including distilleries located on Orkney, Jura, Arran and Islay and blended them together to create this. This bottling is actually a personal favourite of mine; though my bottle unfortunately ran dry a while back, so I can’t wait to taste this again. 46.8% ABV. £35-40.

Nose:

Ah Rock Oyster, how I have missed thee. Everything about this dram just screams coastal, there is salty sea spray, seaweed, maritime spice, fresh, clean sea air and a slight smoked fish-like aroma. It is just lovely. There is also a fair amount of peat smoke present; not a huge amount but it is a definite presence, as well as toffee apples and pears. All of the classic Rock Oyster characters are there, but it is a wee bit meatier than I remember it; there is a note which makes me think of eating a bacon sandwich by the sea… still a cracking maritime nose though. There is also a note with Rock Oyster that I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on and I may have just got it. Sour cream and chive flavour Pringles, you heard it here first folks, the weirdest tasting note of the year!

Palate:

The smoke is much more present on the palate; it starts off light and builds in power through the development. This salty peat is also joined by green apples, a big hit of malt and icing sugar, as well as creamy vanilla. Different spice interchanges with the peat leading to a busy palate with flashes of white and black pepper, ginger and cinnamon.

Finish:

The finish has lingering sweet and salty peat smoke as well as tannic oak and sea spray. A toffee sweetness goes with this stopping the finish from being too dominated by this smoky influence.

Day 6 done and dusted, a quarter of the way through the advent already! You don’t see blended malts on the market all that much and I think it’s quite a shame because you can get so many complexities for a very reasonable price. Rock Oyster here is certainly one of my favourites but there are many out there and they represent great value for money. If you haven’t tried Rock Oyster before then I would definitely recommend it, it is just wonderful, as is the cask strength variant of it. I’ll be sad when I wake up on Christmas and I don’t have a new wee dram to enjoy.

 

Day 5: Mackmyra Svensk Ek

mackmyra

Day number 5 and isn’t this a turn up for the books, a Swedish single malt! I have known for some time that there has been some good whisky being produced in Sweden but I’ve never had the opportunity to try any until now, so I’m looking forward to this. Mackmyra, when it was founded in 1999, was the only distillery in Sweden, there was never a tradition of producing whisky. A lot has changed since then, both for Mackmyra whom have received several awards, and for Sweden’s whisky industry which is growing rapidly. The sample we have today is from Mackmyras ‘Svensk Ek’ bottling, which translates as Swedish Oak. Some of the casks used for maturing this whisky are new Swedish oak casks, cut from trees from the island of Visingsö, which were originally planted hundreds of years ago for ship building; maturation of whisky is a far better use I reckon, the remainder have been used previously in America for Bourbon. 46.1% ABV. £45.

Nose:

Straight away on the nose this is a big whisky. The first thing that comes through is a variety of fresh herbal aromas, rosemary, thyme and a hug handful of freshly cut peppermint, there is quite a strong menthol note with this one. There is also a fair amount of acidity with pine needles, pine sap and rich cedar wood. Sweet fruits cut through the wood and the mint bringing over ripe bananas and lemon oil and a smell which puts me in mind of orange flavoured Starburst sweets. This is big, fresh and busy on the nose! With time in the glass some more Bourbon-like aromas push through, likely due to the Swedish oak portion of maturation with toffees, vanilla, hot dried ginger and a gentle hint of nutmeg.

Palate:

The rich sappy wood is the first thing that jumps forward on the palate with citrus fruits in tow, orange peel and again lemon oil. Cinder toffee and fresh vanilla pod come through behind this with again some fresh mint, nowhere near as dominant as on the nose. Before more Bourbon-like characters again push through. There is also a note here of damn sawdust/newspaper, not in an unpleasant way, which I can’t say I’ve come across before. This is a really interesting style of whisky.

Finish:

Again pine wood leads the way with this dram with more herbs and spices, thyme, ginger and cardamom. As well as the classic Bourbon styled finish, with mushed up bananas. The finish is quite mellow but there are still a lot of flavours here, they are just quite delicate and subdued.

This was an unusual one for me; it’s not like anything I’ve tried before but in a good way, a very good way. If this is what Swedish whisky is like then I am well and truly up for it! I’ve never known a whisky to be so full of fresh herbs before, particularly mint, but it was a pleasant and refreshing change. Day 5 down and a great new discovery thanks to the guys at Drinks by the Dram.

 

Day 4: Wolfburn Single Malt

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Day number 4 and we are treated to a young and spritely drop of Wolfburn single malt. Wolfburn is now the most northerly distillery on the Scottish mainland, knocking Pulteney off of their podium when they started producing in January 2013. The distillery takes its name from the nearby water source, and is built only a stone’s throw away from the original Wolfburn distillery which closed around 160 years ago. Now if you are any good at maths then you will be able to work out that this malt has literally only just become whisky, being just over 3 years old, so it will likely be quite spirit driven but should give a great indication of what we can expect from them in the future. For this bottling a portion of the malt has been matured in smaller quarter casks, increasing the amount of wood-spirit interaction, which have previously held peated malt from Islay so I’m interested to try this. 46% ABV. £45

Nose:

For me this is quite earthy and slightly coastal on the nose. Initially there is an earthy, damp autumnal morning aroma, like when you’re walking through a forest on a damp autumn day. There is also a saline coastal aroma with a splash of sea spray and maritime spice. It’s quite fresh on the nose. There is also an earthy-sweet Manuka honey as well as heather, bruised apples, a touch of cinnamon and hazelnuts.

Palate:

The palate is surprisingly thick and creamy for its young age. Again apples are coming through, stewed apples this time, and pears. After the initial fruity sweetness it becomes quite bitter with some oak and lemon rind and more character from the grains with a nice gristy-malt taste. There is a slight smoky character to it too for me, like burning heather, and then, it could be because I’ve read about their maturation but I’m sure there is a wee bit of peat smoke there too.

Finish:

The finish carries on straight from the palate with rich aged oak and a touch of smoke, and a slight coffee-like bitterness. It is fairly short but is pleasant and leaves you wanting more.

Another day, another dram. I did quite enjoy my wee sample of Wolfburn. The nose is exquisite, it’s so fruity and fresh and coastal, it’s very clean. The finish did die off slightly sooner than I would have liked but like I said it leaves you wanting to go back for another sip. I think with a bit longer in the cask and a bit more influence this dram will be stunning, though I must say that for 3 years old, it’s done a lot of growing up in its short maturation. I am looking forward to trying Wolfburn again in a few years to see how it develops with age as I see a lot of things I like in this young dram.

Day 3: Kilchoman Machir Bay

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Day 3 of the whisky advent and things are turning a bit smoky with this wee gem from Kilchoman distillery on Islay. Kilchoman is the youngest of the distilleries on Islay, being founded in 2005, the first to be built on the island for over 124 years, though there are a few planned to be built in the coming years. With an annual output of around 120,000 litres this small production farm distillery has already achieved great things, and it is only just beginning. This sample of Kilchoman is of Machir Bay, named after a famous bay on Islay of the same name, and this is their flagship bottling. This bottling comprises of whisky that is around 5/6 years old that has been matured in a combination of former bourbon barrels and Oloroso Sherry butts. 46% ABV. £40.

Nose:

This is my first ever time trying Kilchoman and for a young whisky on the nose I am very impressed. The first thing that comes across here is peat, a nice vegetal and coastal peat aroma, it’s fairly grassy. As the peat fades off citrus fruits come to the front with lemon rind and grapefruits joined by golden delicious apples. Then just at the back of the nose slightly smoked bacon and white pepper.

Palate:

Wow, the smoke is much more prominent on the palate, and it is much sweeter too. There is an intense sweet peat taste which I don’t think I have come across before, and I like it! The taste of smoke from a damp garden bonfire of leaves and twigs mixes with icing sugar and vanilla in the mouth, joined by tannic woodiness and flamed orange peel. The Oloroso is a bit more forth coming here; I didn’t get much of it on the nose, with raisins, a slight dash of cinnamon and some nuttiness, toasted almonds.

Finish:

The finish is quite mellow and sweet but is fairly long lasting. The sweet peat continues through to the finish, as does a note which reminds me of a Rob Roy cocktail, it could be sweet Vermouth, possibly?! I’m not sure but it is very enjoyable. As well as a twist of orange peel and a good amount of spice; vanilla and again white pepper.

Well, day 3 done, I’m really happy to have finally tried some of Kilchoman’s make, I don’t know how it has taken me this long. I think the main reason I haven’t tried any yet is simply the cost of it, it is fairly expensive for its age. The peat smoke does have a fantastic sweet character to it which I love. I think after having finally tried some I will most likely be looking to get some of this on my shelf, it’s a classic Islay malt, but unique from all of them.

 

Day 2: Glenfiddich 15yo Solera Reserve

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Day 2 and it is the Glenfiddich 15yo Solera Reserve. This is an interesting bottling from possibly the best known distillery in Scotland. This bottling comprises of Glenfiddich’s that have been matured in former Bourbon barrels, Sherry butts and virgin oak casks. After this maturation the three styles have then been blended together before being left to marry in Solera Vats, hence the name Solera Reserve. Solera is a system used for wine and Sherries, amongst other liquids, for aging their products, while at the same time fractionally blending it with younger stock, basically by continuing to top the vats up as opposed to draining them completely it ensures a more consistent product. 40% ABV. £35.

Nose:

Well this dram is certainly full of festive cheer with all of those aromas we associate with Christmas. Sweet sherry, cinnamon, stewed apples and clove studded oranges, and fried Clootie dumpling – if you don’t know what this is it is sort of like a Christmas cake that has been boiled in a cloth or ‘Cloot’ but with a lot more fat and sugar in it, a nice healthy Scottish Christmas tradition. With time in the glass more freshness from the bourbon and virgin oak casks comes through with vanilla, demerara sugar and pears.

Palate:

The palate is more dominated by the virgin oak and bourbon casks, with vanilla, black pepper and melted milk chocolate. It’s pretty spicy on the palate, with drying oak too. The sherry comes back after a time with raisins, dried orange slices and lots of hot and spicy ground ginger.

Finish:

The intense spice from the palate carries through the finish with more sweet drying oak and just the slightest lick of smoke. The finish is fairly short but for being bottled at 40% ABV it is rather good.

Day 2 over and another fine dram enjoyed. Glenfiddich is one of my go to whiskies; it’s not overly complex but is very drinkable. This one is another good addition to their range and has a lot of complexities to it due to all the casks and processing that has happened here. This is a great wintery whisky with loads of fruit and even more spice and for £35 is great value too!

 

Day 1: The Lost Distilleries Blend, Batch 8 – The Blended Whisky Company

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The lost distilleries blend is just that, it is a blend created from Scotch distilleries that are now sadly closed down. The Blended Whisky Company have skilfully taken malt and grain whiskies from these closed distilleries and blended them together to create this, their eighth batch of the Lost Distilleries Blend. Comprising of rare and desirable malt whiskies from the Caperdonich, Rosebank, Imperial, Mosstowie, Glen Mhor, Glenisla, Glenlochy, Port Ellen and Brora distilleries as well as grain whisky from Port Dundas, you can imagine this is a very sought after blend, especially when this batch was a release of only 668 bottles! I feel very privileged to be able to try this. 53.1% ABV. RRP £350.

Nose:

Wow, this is ridiculously well balanced and put together. It’s quite biscuity and malty upfront on the nose, sort of like digestive biscuits, with seasoned oak and tobacco leaf; it feels like an old whisky on the nose. After a few moments in the glass more fruitiness comes forward with dried orange peel, orange oil, white grapes and an almost tropical papaya-like aroma. This with a generous dollop of vanilla custard, cinnamon and a wisp of smoke.

Palate:

This is very thick and creamy on the palate, and is so palatable for over 50% alcohol, with more fragrant barley notes, rich milk chocolate, thick caramel and lots of woody vanilla spice. It’s reminding me of those McVities chocolate caramel digestive biscuits. Dried orange slices and cloves come through with dried mango and a slight saline note. Before rich oak tannins, espresso coffee and that wisp of smoke take hold of the palate.

Finish:

Bitter-sweet oak, butterscotch and a hint of coffee  and some dried ginger carry what is a medium length finish, it wasn’t as long as I had expected, all peering through a shroud of delicate smoke.

Okay, I’m just going to come out and say this. This is the best blended whisky I have ever had. It is just so complex and full of flavour; the balance that they have achieved in this is staggering. Unfortunately I don’t have £350 to spare but if I did I would buy this in a heartbeat, it’s that good. Day 1 of the whisky advent calendar of to a flyer!

Sláinte

Gary

 

Walsh Whiskey Tweet Tasting

I was invited to take part in another whisky – or in this case whiskey – tweet tasting recently, but was unable to take part due to a last minute change of plans. I tried the usual suspects to see if they would like to take part but no one was free. Seeing as how I had the samples, and I said to the chaps at Walsh Whiskey that I would let them know what I thought, I thought I might as well to a wee tasting myself.

The tweet tasting included four samples supplied by Walsh Whiskey Distillery, if you have never heard of Walsh Whiskey then you may have heard of some of their bottlings, namely the Irishman and Writers Tears which have won several awards over recent years. They are an Irish company which only recently started producing their own whiskey, but they also have a range of blends, single malts and Pot Still bottlings that they sell while waiting on their own stuff maturing.

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The tasting pack came with a folder including some distillery information and some information behind the whiskeys that we would be trying on the evening. The samples were as follows:

  • Pot Still New Make Spirit – 75.5% ABV
  • The Irishman 43% ABV
  • Writers Tears Copper Pot 40% ABV
  • Writers Tears Red Head 46% ABV

I tried to not look at my twitter feed before I had my wee sampling session as I like going into things blind and not be led by what others found in the drams, hopefully I’m not too far off the mark, so let’s get to it!

Pot Still New Make -75.5% ABV:

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In Ireland there are 3 main types of whisky produced. The first two, malt and grain whiskey, are quite common, the third is a little bit different and this is known as single pot still whiskey. Single pot still whiskey, as it sounds, is produced in a single pot still, the same style as those used for malt whiskey. The difference here though is that the mash bill will comprise of both malted and unmalted barley. This sample has come from the Pot still side of production at the Walsh distillery.

Nose

This is a very sweet and fruity character of new make, and very light as well, as a result of the triple distillation. The big thing that comes through on the nose here for me is apples and fresh berries – mostly brambles (black berries) for me – with a light suggestion of malt, and a lot of sugary sweetness. With time, baked apples, yoghurt coated raisins and bruised pears. There is remarkably little alcohol on the nose for how strong it is.

Palate

Well. There is the alcohol, and a strange bitterness too through the development. On the palate there isn’t much to discuss, there is a bitter-sweet grassy note, again a touch of apple and thats about it. New make is always a strange thing to try; I’ve never been a big fan of drinking it. It is always very fruity and sweet on the nose, almost sickly sweet. Then on the palate it has a big blast of alcohol and the flavours are more driven by the grains used. There is good reason they lock this stuff away in a cask for years on end, it’s drinkable, but not overly palatable.

The Irishman 12yo single malt – 43% ABV:

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The Irishman is a single malt – back on familiar ground – that has been triple distilled and then matured in 1st fill Bourbon casks, meaning they have been used previously for the maturation of Bourbon in America and this is the first time that they have been used for the maturation of Irish whiskey. Being matured solely in first fill casks and being triple distilled I’m expecting some big cask influence to come through here.

Nose

It’s quite unusual on the nose this one. The first thing that comes across to me is green apples, but not fresh apples, it’s almost like a synthetic green apple sweet taste. This is accompanied with rich oak, demerara sugar, a sprinkle of cinnamon, vanilla and some coconut too, and strangely enough I think I can get strawberries here too. You can tell straight away that fresher casks have been used here as there are quite a few Bourbon-like characters coming through.

Palate

Wow, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here, I hate using the word smooth in relation to whiskey but this just is, it is so smooth and light on the palate, its lovely. A good amount of spice comes through on the palate; there is some white pepper, nutmeg and again a slight sprinkling of cinnamon. Nuts are fairly prominent here too with coconut again and a fatty almond-like taste too, all with a good pasting of golden syrup over the top.

Writer Tears, Copper Pot – 40% ABV:

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Copper pot is a blended Irish whiskey comprising of around 60% malt whiskey and 40% Pot still whiskey, no grain whiskey is used in this blend. All the content has been triple distilled and has again been matured in former Bourbon casks. This blend is sort of a remastering of an old recipe, known as the ‘Champagne of Irish Whiskey’, which is said to have been enjoyed by many writers in its day. It is said that they enjoyed drinking this so much that when they cried their tears would be Whiskey – alcoholics!

Nose

Like with what we have tried so far again apples are quite prominent, red apples this time. Plenty of sweetness too here with a lovely milk chocolateyness, salted caramel and a creamy vanilla custard. There are lots of fruits present too with nectarines, strawberry jam and kiwi fruit, as well as a pear cider-like smell. All finished off with milky porridge with drizzly honey on top.

Palate

More spice is present here with vanilla, ground dried ginger and cracked white pepper. The apples again come through with over ripe pears and dried orange. It is also quite woody on the palate with bitter tannins and a fair amount of drying woodiness, which is joined by the slightest touch of cask char through the development and bitter dark chocolate.

Writers Tears, Red Head – 46% ABV:

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The final dram of what has been an excellent selection thus far. The Red Head is so named as it has been matured solely in Oloroso sherry casks, though to my eyes it isn’t hugely darker than the other samples so I’m assuming it must be mostly refill sherry casks. Like the others this has also all been triple distilled but this one is again a single malt and not a blend like the Copper Pot.

Nose

It is definitely refill casks that they have used here and I think it’s is just as well, the light character of Irish whiskey would be completely dominated by the use of first fill sherry casks resulting in you basically getting sherry, the fact that they have used refill casks means that it still actually tastes like whiskey as opposed to sherry, which personally, is what I want my whiskey to taste of! There is a gentle aroma of fruity Oloroso sherry with raisins, mixed peel and walnuts, as well as a nice sherry cask spiciness with ginger, cinnamon and cloves. There is a big note of pear drops to start with which over time merges with the other aromas creating a strange carrot cake-like nose.

Palate

The spice from the casks is much more robust here with a fiery ginger mouth feel accompanied by cinnamon sticks and crushed cardamom pods, as well as a drying sherry oak wood character. Dried fruits and mixed peel come through with baked apple pie and rum and raisin ice cream. The development becomes quite tannic but is lifted by a honey character which rides through to the finish.

Well. That was a lovely wee tasting. I wish so much that I had been able to take part in the actual tweet tasting as I’m sure it would have been a great night and it is interesting comparing notes with others. I must say a massive thank you to Steve Rush from the Whisky Wire and the good folk at Walsh Whiskey for providing the samples, and also apologise for not being able to take part in the night. I will definitely enjoy what’s left of these samples and may have to look into getting a bottle of the Writers Tears Red Head, my definite favourite of the four.

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Sláinte

Gary

Wemyss Malts Tweet Tasting

On Wednesday, the 9th of November, I was invited to take part in a Wemyss Malts Tweet Tasting, hosted by Steve Rush of The Whisky Wire. If you have never heard of a tweet tasting before then it is exactly as it sounds, you get sent out samples then at a certain time on a certain date you savour the delicious drams and tweet live your thoughts with others who are partaking. On the night in question I was also joined by Richard from the Edradynate whisky club, a repayment if you will as he and Hugh let me join them on a previous tasting which they had been selected for, as well as him being a fine chap indeed.

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On the night we were given the opportunity to try three of Wemyss’ new Batch Strength blended malt bottlings, all ranging between 54.5% and 57%ABV, as well as a premixed Rob Roy cocktail. The blended malts that we would be sampling were all launched just last month and are all limited edition, to just 6000 bottles of each. Each of these blends will use signature malts, from all across Scotland, which are used to define their main flavour’s and aromas, which lead to the names they are given i.e. Hive, Peat Chimney.

The Blended malts that we were given to sample were as follows:

Wemyss Malts The Hive (54.5%ABV)

Wemyss Malts Spice King (56%ABV)

Wemyss Malts The Peat Chimney (57%ABV)

All of which were proudly labelled as Unchillfiltered and natural colour, absolutely smashing!

I was getting rather nervous as the tasting approached and my samples still hadn’t arrived in the mail, I think a lot of people were in the same boat here, bloody couriers. Then, finally, about 5 hours before the tasting was meant to begin there was a knock on the door. Low and behold it was my samples, the relief and excitement was amazing. A sleek brown cardboard box with a trio of blended malt delights and an intriguing cocktail, and not a moment too soon!

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As 7pm arrived, samples ready to be cracked open, it was time to get stuck into some whisky! So here is how the night went, and my thoughts on each blend.

The Hive Batch Strength:

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Nose

It becomes apparent straight away as to why they have called this one hive, immediately on the nose you are met with a rich and earthy Manuka honey and loads of waxiness. The hive has an almost savoury nose; there is sweet beeswax candles, fatty smelling almond butter and savoury rice cakes. With time more sweetness comes through with salted caramel, mixed peel and a light suggestion of marmalade and suet dumplings.

Palate

The palate is just totally different from the nose. There is so much more richness and spice pushing its way through, backed up by a good dose of alcohol. The hive is very lively on the palate with nags of woody spice, especially nutmeg, milk chocolate and a touch of salt.

Spice King Batch Strength:

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Nose

For me the nose had a lot of similarities to the Hive, that fatty, waxy aroma was still present, again with honey, a touch of peat smoke and a bit spicier too. Both of these first two drams had a lot of similarities and put me very much in mind of Clynelish. The nose is quite maritime with sea spray, spice, caramel, burning heather and digestive biscuits. It’s very exciting!

Palate

The Spice King is very big on the palate; the smoke that was really soft on the nose is much more prominent now. Vegetal/earthy peat, white chocolate and bitter lemon rind, with time and a dash of water more fruitiness and nuttiness comes through with sultanas and diced walnuts.

Peat Chimney Batch Strength:

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Nose

As the name may suggest, yes, this is peaty, but its not overly smoky smelling. It smells of damp, vegetal, smouldering peat, damp grass and like the others quite coastal and mineral rich too. After smoke time in the glass it becomes a bit meatier too with smoked gammon/pork crackling.

Palate

The palate is hugely drying and also a bit fizzy; there is a big blast of smoke, like burning leaves, and heaps of chilli too. The meatiness from the nose also comes through on the palate but to me I was more like meat flavouring, it reminded me a lot of McCoy’s flame grilled steak crisps – if you have never had them then get them tried! – it’s a very odd tasting note I know. And a bit of icing sugar dusted over the top too to tame the smoke.

Rob Roy:

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This was a very divisive part of the evening, the whisky ‘purists’ were somewhat offended but as always with whisky drink it how you like it, be that neat, with water, ice or even in a fantastic cocktail such as this. I am quite a fan of a good Rob Roy and so I was looking forward to this. It wasn’t like a Rob Roy that I had ever had before, firstly because it was made using peated whisky, their Peat Chimney, and also had sherry and cherry bitters in it!

The recipe was as follows:

50ml Wemyss Malts Peat Chimney – Batch Strength

30ml Sweet Vermouth

10ml PX Sherry

10ml Demerara Syrup

Dash of Cherry Bitters

I would definitely recommend trying this cocktail, or others, as cocktails are a great way to enjoy whisky, and can bring a whole new dimension to what is a great spirit.

And with that, the night was over, the highlight for me was definitely the Spice King and everything else a very close second. Thank you so much to Wemyss Malts for providing the drams for the night and to Steve Rush at The Whisky Wire for hosting. Also to Richard for his company and for drinking half my samples…

Sláinte

Gary

Tomatin Tasting at The Royal Mile Whisky Shop

I have always been a big advocate of Tomatin, everything of theirs that I have tried has been of great quality and very characterful, though I have tried much less of their range than I would like. So when my good friends Richard and Hugh of the Edradynate Whisky Club informed me that they had a ticket going spare for a Tomatin tasting at the Royal Mile Whisky shop how could I possibly refuse?

The tasting was held at the Royal Mile Whisky shop in Edinburgh, funnily enough on the royal mile – who would have guessed – and was hosted by Tomatins current Master Distiller, Graham Eunson. I always enjoy going to tastings when you get someone who knows the ins and outs of the distillery and production and know their product inside out instead of just repeating some marketing bumf, and the chance to enjoy some fine drams of Tomatin with the man who makes it was a real treat!

As soon as we arrived at the shop we were handed a dram of the Tomatin 12yo, an excellent ‘entry level’ bottling with loads of character for its age, to get our palates going while we waited on everyone else arriving. We arrived about 10 minutes before the tasting was set to begin so we savoured our sample and wandered around the shop looking at the countless bottles of whisky and chatting away.

Once everyone arrived and Graham introduced himself and gave us a bit of his story we got down to the tasting. The first whisky of the night was the Tomatin 12yo, which we had been enjoying while waiting on everyone else arriving. Graham generously topped up our glasses so that we had something to nose while he took us through our first of the drams on offer that night, which I was very grateful for, I’m not in the habit of turning down extra whisky and I certainly don’t plan on starting! The 12yo is a lovely introduction to the style of whisky you get from Tomatin. There is lots of fruitiness, mainly green fruits with apples and pear, and also a good amount of nuttiness, followed by a lovely buttery, cereal character. It feels like a very traditional and old fashioned style of whisky which I personally really enjoy.

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Dram number two for the evening was a real highlight for me, it was the Tomatin 14yo. This whisky has been finished for between 1.5 to 2 years in Tawny Port casks, which had previous held Port for around 30 years! This is an incredibly rich and spicy whisky, with a lot going on. On the nose there are prunes, liquorice, red berries and earthy Manuka honey followed by heaps of spice, toffee and winey goodness on the palate.

After having tried these two core range expressions we then moved on to something a little more unique. The third and fourth whiskies of the night were two single cask bottlings of Tomatin, both of which are actually exclusive to the Royal Mile Whisky shop. The first single cask bottling was an 11yo Tomatin aged in a 1st fill Barrel. This one was right up my street with a heady mix of banana, coconut and vanilla, it was like a very boozy banana sundae, very boozy at a respectable 56.2%ABV.

The second of the Royal Mile Whisky exclusives was a 19yo 1997 vintage Tomatin which had been matured in a Refill Sherry Hogshead, a very unusual cask type in the industry today. Limited to just 178 bottles and presented at 58.2%ABV this whisky is amazing! There is a huge tannic grapyness upfront on the nose accompanied by cloves, black pepper, dark chocolate and just the slightest whiff of smoke. With a few drops of water much of the fruit pushes past the spice and the alcohol, bringing more of those dried fruit notes that you would associate with sherry cask maturation.

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After having sampled two very good single cask whiskies we went back to the core range for what would be our fifth dram of the night. Dram number five took us to the peated side of Tomatin with their Cù Bòcan, and this was actually my first time trying this expression. I can’t for the life of me understand why it has taken me this long to find this bottling, I’ve heard really good thing about the Cù Bòcan and I can see why. The smoke is very light on the nose joined by aromas of citrus peel, vanilla and good drizzle of honey. On the palate the peat smoke is far more intense and is accompanied by pepper, caramel and again citrus.

With that the ‘official’ part of the tasting was over but Graham, being the fine gent that he is, had an ace up his sleeve. He produced an unbranded bottle with just a sticker on it and began going round pouring measures of it. This was a very different style of whisky indeed; it wasn’t like anything I had ever nosed before. It was like a very intense and fresh fruit salad with strawberries, kiwis, gooseberries and nectarines, carried by a dousing of runny honey and white chocolate. Graham said that this whisky was at around 45-46%ABV which I found hard to believe. He then let us know that what we were in fact tasting was a 1976 vintage Tomatin matured in a refill Hogshead, drawn straight from the cask the day previous! A 40yo single cask Tomatin! Just wow, and unfortunately this one was not for sale, though that is probably a good thing after having tried it I would be far too tempted.

I was very torn on my favourite dram of the night, the last one obviously a highlight, I really loved the 14yo with that strong Port cask influence but the 11yo single barrel was very good indeed. In the end I decided to get myself a bottle of the single cask as they were the same price, with my tasting discount it came to only £40, an absolute steal for an 11yo single cask whisky! I plan on cracking it open very soon and I will be sure to do a review of it when I do.

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I’d like to thank Richard and Hugh for the ticket, Richard especially for being the designated driver – I hope he enjoys his samples when he gets round to it – and Royal Mile Whiskies for hosting yet another great tasting. A massive thank you also to Graham from Tomatin for his excellent presentation and for providing such good whisky for the night, especially that 76’ vintage, wow!

Sláinte

Gary

Speyside Road Trip 2016 – Part 5

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This is the final part of my Speyside Road Trip, the earlier parts can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

And so begins the final part of my Speyside Road Trip, my final day up in Speyside before returning home. I wasn’t going to get too disheartened though as it may have been my last day but I knew it was going to be the best. The agenda for the day included a sluggishly slow packing of our things and leaving the yurt before hitting the road, we had two stops planned for our journey back through Speyside on the way home. The first scheduled stop was the Speyside cooperage, the second was my beloved Aberlour distillery.

After we had eventually got all of our stuff packed and into the car we hit the road once again, this was the day I had been most looking forward to and I clearly showed, I was just sat shaking in my seat with excitement. The half hour drive was painfully long; it lasted far longer than it did on the way up. By the time we reached the cooperage I burst out of the door and skipped like an idiot up to the visitor centre, eager to see the master craftsmen at work.

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The Speyside Cooperage tour started with a short 10/15 minute 4D film which was very interesting, showing the process from acorn to tree to cask and everything in-between. After the film we were taken up to a viewing platform above the cooperage by our tour guide Philip, who was previously employed in production, maturation and coopering at Glenrothes for 36 years! The cooperage employs 16 coopers at present, and they get paid per cask! It is immensely hard work that they are doing, and each will make around 20 casks per day, they make it look so effortless. In your average year Philip said the cooperage will churn out between 90,000 and 100,000 casks!

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After standing, mesmerised, watching the coopers work for 15mins or so we then went to have a go at assembling a mini cask ourselves, it was very frustrating, but with a lot of help from my partner we got there eventually – I’ll be a master cooper one day! Out of all the experiences in Speyside I would probably have to say this was definitely one of the highlights, it is a very interesting tour and well worth the stop. Thanks again to Andy, the Amateur Drammer, for recommending a visit here.

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After our tour at the cooperage and a bit of lunch we then went the short drive to Aberlour, the star of the trip, I couldn’t wait. The gatehouse at Aberlour is such an iconic and picturesque building that it is possibly one of the most attractive visitor centres in Scotland.

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Our tour was with Donna and she gave a very in-depth and informative tour, with a lot of personality behind it which was good to hear. She gave arguably the best tour of the trip. I found the history behind the distillery very fascinating, and how it helped to shape Aberlour, the town around the distillery. One of the first things that became apparent while walking around the distillery was the lack of staff. The production is heavily automated nowadays at the distillery and the whole process can be controlled from one of four computers in the production area. A highlight of the tour was getting to taste the fresh wash prior to distillation. I must say, it was actually really nice; I’m certainly not planning on drinking it any time soon as it would literally go right through you but it did taste quite good.

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The best part of the Aberlour tour was the tasting, we were each given a tasting flight of five whiskies and a sample of their new make spirit. The tasting included two Aberlour cask strength batches, both from batches AB16, one was a 13yo first fill barrel, the second was a 16yo Olorosso sherry monster, and it was so intense. As well as these the tasting also included some of their standard bottlings, the 10, 16 and the most recent batch of A’bunadh, 54. Now I am always a fan of a big sherry cask monster but I must say for me the 13yo Bourbon barrel matured Aberlour was probably my favourite from the selection.

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Unfortunately for my partner she had to drive us home so we got some samples bottles to take them home in, which she generously donated to me, I will most certainly be reliving that tasting at some point in the near future.

Tasting over and our thanks given to Donna for the great tour it was time to head for the car, and the long drive home. I couldn’t believe how quickly the long weekend of whisky madness had past; it was time to get back to reality. As we passed again the magnificent sight that is Tormore I couldn’t help but crack a smile.

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It had been an amazing few days away and I knew it certainly wouldn’t be my last visit up there! Until next time my Speyside friends…

Sláinte

Gary

Speyside Road Trip 2016 – Part 3

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This is part three of my Speyside road trip, the first and second parts can be found here… Part 1, Part 2.

For our weekend in Elgin we were staying in a yurt – a fancy tent with some wooden walls – as we had decided to try our hands at ‘glamping’ whatever the heck that is. It was actually very nice and if you are planning on going away for a weekend I would definitely recommend trying to find some to stay in, it’s a lovely experience – preferable a yurt near some distilleries of course. The only downside to the yurt was that it was absolutely freezing first thing in the morning. So being the manly man I am I got up early and light a fire and reviewed the plans for the day ahead. I was excited about the second day of the trip as this was the day we were visiting Benromach and Glen Moray, two excellent distilleries.

Once we were ready and the fire had died out we hopped in the car, now stinking of wood smoke, and went the short drive to Forres, only about 10 miles or so, to the Benromach distillery. This distillery has an interesting and at times sad past but now is doing well under the ownership of Gordon and MacPhail. The white washed exterior and the red brick chimney make for a very pretty distillery, and the visitor centre is very nice too, well worth the visit if you are in the area. With the exception of Aberlour this was probably the distillery I was most looking forward to.

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Our tour guide for our visit was Annabelle; she had only been at the distillery for around 5 months but clearly had a passion for whisky as it came across in her tour. We were told that Benromach used to malt on site but in order to up their output this is now done elsewhere, as is the case with most. After the malt intake and the mill we were shown upstairs to see the rest of the production, which was all literally in one room. It is a very small but well-designed space, full of gleaming new equipment and old recycled parts from other distilleries. In the filling store they have a small black board where the check off the amounts of casks that they fill. In 2015 the distillery filled 1,528 casks, up until my visit they had already filled 1,135 this year so they are aiming to fill between 1,600 and 1,700 this year. They currently are producing in the region of 200,000lpa, and are working on an expansion and employing an extra stillman – bringing production staff to just 4 – they will be looking to be producing around 400,000lpa within the next few years.

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It had been a fair while since I had tried Benromach and the tasting with the tour didn’t disappoint. We tried the Benromach 10yo and their organic as well, which is their unpeated version made solely from organic crops and matured in virgin oak casks for around 5/6 years, and it is really very nice! I was very tempted to treat myself to a bottle of the Benromach 35yo but in the end I decided to stick with the 10 and the organic. After our great stop at Benromach we hit the road again to Glen Moray.

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We reached Glen Moray just after a tour had went out, we weren’t to bothered though as we were pretty starving so we had a very nice wee lunch in the café while we waited for the tour. Our tour guide was Olivia and she informed us that we could take pictures inside of the production, fantastic! The tour started under the immense malt bins, 18 of then holding over 1,000 tonnes between them! Most of the tour featured the old production equipment. Having just undergone a huge expansion, almost doubling their capacity, the production was now in a separate part of the distillery, though they hope to use the old areas again in the near future to again increase production to around 9,000,000lpa. The warehousing at Glen Moray was one of the best experiences I have had in a distillery. They have a range of different cask types maturing which you are able to nose yourself, ranging from the classic bourbon and sherry to cognac and wine casks. A personal favourite for me was a gorgeous Burgundy Barrique, filled in 2007 – wouldn’t mind a bottle of that!

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After the tour and tasting we also got to try their current self-fill, it was a thistly-cross cider cask finished Glen Moray, which was an 8yo if I remember correctly. It was alright; I had seen this on twitter a few weeks previous and was intrigued as to see what effect, if any, a cider finish would have. I don’t feel it really made much difference in the end; I feel that cider isn’t dominant enough of a drink to alter the cask to affect the whisky, it was certainly drinkable though.

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We finished our scheduled plans for the day a bit earlier than we were expecting so we decided to do a bit of local sight-seeing. We went to see Duffus castle, an old ruin built on a man-made mound of earth which collapsed due to subsidence. It’s a really interesting sight; I would definitely recommend a visit and a wander around the old castle if you are in the area. After this we headed back to our yurt, another day very well spent.

The road trip continues in Part 4.

Sláinte

Gary

 

Speyside Road Trip 2016 – Part 2

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This is part two of my Speyside road trip, the first part can be found here – Part one

After what felt like an eternity it was time to start our journey up to Speyside. The day was crisp and filled with sunshine, the excitement in my partner was palpable as we packed the last of our stuff into the car, clearly as excited as I was as I skipped about the car, serving up facts about the distilleries we were visiting that day.

Car packed, house locked up, I jumped into the car and off we went, the dynamic duo on tour again, like some weird alcohol obsessed spin off from Batman and Robin. We got off to a flyer, travelling the first 150 meters in no time at all before being blocked off on the only road down from the house by some idiot picking up a skip, fantastic! Fast forward 10/15 minutes and he finally manages to get the skip on his truck and get out of our way, and the journey recommences…arse!

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The stunning Tormore distillery

Another two hours or so of driving and we had arrived in Speyside, met by the stunning sight that is Tormore distillery I knew we were almost at our destination, then a short while later we were met by a gleaming sign on the winding country road ‘Cragganmore Distillery’. We arrive just in time, no thanks to the guy with the skip, literally crashing in the door about 3 minutes before the tour is scheduled to go out. Our guide for the tour was Rebecca who took us through the process, showing us the gorgeous copper roofed mashtun at Cragganmore, their shining stills and their unusual rectangular worm tubs. We were doing the expressions tour, with this one you get more whisky that with the others – it was a happy accident, I promise – and it is certainly worth the extra money as you get to sample three expressions of Cragganmore, one of which is a 1999 single cask whisky which is not for sale! It was a real treat and a delightful tasting.

Fortunately as I had driven the first part of the journey my partner was up for the second leg, allowing me to sample the Cragganmore’s until my heart was content. Once finished up there and said our good byes to the staff we hit the road again to our next stop. We didn’t have too long of a drive, only ten minutes or so, before we pulled up at Glenfarclas. When we headed into the visitor centre we thought we had gone through some sort of time warp, it felt like we had stepped through the door and gone back to the 70’s.

Our tour was with Matthew who was absolutely fantastic. It was a very thorough and informative tour, start to finish, he did a great job. The production at Glenfarclas was really good to see, the mashtun was simply immense (16.5 tonnes), the largest on Speyside and the stills were a beautiful array of colours from dull copper all the way through to dark mahogany. Glenfarclas is one of the few distilleries today in Scotland to still have directly fired stills i.e. an open flame providing the heating, it was interesting to see how they were bricked in to accommodate this. As we headed out to the warehousing the imposing mass of Benrinnes stood proud above the rows of dunnage warehouses. It was a breath taking sight, especially seeing as how it was gloriously sunny – we don’t get that sort of weather very often here in Scotland! The warehouse of any distillery is always the star of the show if they are maturing on site. The smells are just the best part of the tour, and Glenfarclas’ was no exception, especially with all the sherry maturation that they do, just wow!

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Tour over we headed back to the centre for our tasters, the Glenfarclas 10yo and 15yo, which were lovely and intensely sherried as you may have guessed. I enjoyed the 15yo so much I decided to relieve them of a bottle, and then decided that I fancied a 21yo too after getting a taster of it. Bottles bought and my wallet a bit lighter we headed back to the car for the drive up to Elgin. It was a great wee drive, it was like distillery bingo, every few hundred yards you can see another one with the pagoda style roofs and the tall brickwork chimneys.

Once we arrived at our accommodation in Elgin we unpacked then sat down with a wee dram of the Glenfarclas 15yo, as we discussed a day well spent – by that I men I talked my partners ears of about the distilleries. Relaxing back with a dram in hand I couldn’t wait for day two of our Speyside trip, a visit to Benromach and Glen Moray, I knew this was going to be a great few days!

The road trip continues in Part 3.

Sláinte

Gary