Friday, July 31, 2009

New releases ... Laphroaig 18 years old

laphroaig 18 years oldLaphroaig (pronounced la-froyg) is one of the most famous distilleries in the world and is located on the western island of Islay. The distillery was founded in 1815 and has been the best selling smoky malt worldwide for the last six years. Laphroaig is currently owned by Beam Global, who are one of the world's largest spirits companies, and has a capacity of around 2.5 million litres a year. At Laphroaig they produce some of the peatiest smoky whiskies in the world and this is achieved by drying the malted barley over a peat fuelled fire for a longer period than at most distilleries - 18 hours. Over this time much of the acrid smoke gets absorbed into the barley grains and this gets carried through the whole distillation process.

The core range from the distillery consists of two 10 year olds (one of which is cask strength), this 18 years old, a 25 years old and a quarter cask (which is matured in smaller casks). This 18 years old has recently replaced a 15 years old in the range and has just been released in the UK. Other limited edition distillery bottlings are released occasionally but are normally extremely pricy. Laphroaig is also popular with independent bottling companies and readily available.

The colour of this Laphroaig 18 years old is a rich golden yellow and the nose is fresh and clean with an instant hit of pungent aromatic smoke. This smokiness is earthy (imagine damp moss and dry peat) and balances with other elements such as vanilla, a briny saltiness and a touch of honey. On the palate, it is robust and powerful. It offers early sugary sweetness that combines the vanilla and honey from the nose again, as well as malty cereal grains and a nice slightly spicy woodiness. This is balanced almost perfectly by the smokiness (less earthy and more like charcoal or burning embers/ash this time), some more saltiness (think of brine) and a bitter twist (imagine iodine). The finish is lovely and very long with a bittersweet mix of vanilla, honey, warm spices (think of a hint of ginger) and a pronounced bitter smokiness (now reminding us of creosote fence paint).

The Laphroaig 18 years old is excellent and is a welcome and complimentary addition to Laphroiag’s core range of whisky. It is bottled at 48% ABV which allows the whisky to express itself fully. It has a tough job to replace the classic and popular 15 years old (one of our favourite drams ever) but it copes well. A bottle should cost around £65 from selected specialist whisky retailers.

* The image in this post is temporary and will be replaced with a regular image shortly.*

The mystery dram revealed

mystery dram bottleThank you to everyone who read and left comments about the ‘mystery dram’ post from earlier in the week. We can now reveal that the ‘mystery dram’ in question was the new Laphroaig 18 years old. A special thanks must go to John Campbell, the master distiller at Laphroaig, who kindly sent us the sample. The full review will be posted very shortly.

Well done to all of those that guessed correctly – Oliver Klimek, Jeff the ScotchHobbyist, Ruben @ Whisky News and Chandalf. A couple of others were close but not quite correct. It looks like it was too easy this time, so we will have to make it more difficult when we do the next ‘mystery dram’!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Have just tried ... Pittyvaich 12 years old 'Flora & Fauna'

pittyvaich 12 years old 'flora & fauna'Pittyvaich (pronounced pitty-vek) is a little known and closed distillery that used to be located in the town of Dufftown - the heart of Scotland's Speyside whisky region. It has one of the most short lived histories of any distillery. Pittyvaich was founded by Arthur Bell & Sons in 1974 to produce whisky for their popular Bell's range of blends. It later became part of United Distillers (which in turn later became Diageo) and they had numerous other distilleries that did a similar job to Pittyvaich. They decided to close it down and the last whisky flowed from the stills in 1993. Since then, it has been used to distil Gordon's gin for a short period in the late 1990s and also as a training facility for Diageo employees. The equipment was sold off to Clynelish distillery in 2002 and Pittyvaich was demolished and consigned to history.

Pittyvaich whisky is hard to find, even in specialist whisky retailers, and is becoming harder as time goes by and stocks diminish. Diageo still own most of the remaining casks and release this 12 years old single malt as part of their 'Flora & Fauna' range. This range showcases whisky from some of the lesser known distilleries in their portfolio. Pittyvaich is even harder to get from independent bottlers but some are available especially from Douglas Laing & Co and Gordon & MacPhail.

The colour of this 12 years old is a dark amber with a reddish brown tint, indicating a heavy sherry cask influence. The nose confirms this and is rich and sweet with heaps of dried fruit (think of raisins and sultanas), exaggerated malty cereal grains and caramel. It is highly aromatic with an interesting citrus note (imagine candied orange peel or marmalade) and is a touch reminiscent of a Cognac or Armagnac. On the palate there is again an obviously high influence of sherry cask. The rich sweet maltiness from the nose is battling with powerful dried fruit (those raisins, sultanas and candied orange peel again), a sugary sweetness (more like treacle than caramel this time) and woody spices (think of cinnamon bark or nutmeg). Underneath there are some darker, more bitter notes (imagine dark chocolate and espresso coffee). The finish is surprisingly short but intensely spicy (think of cinnamon again) and quite dry and woody. There is also a hit of raw alcohol, which is a bit unpleasant, but this is soothed a little by the other sherry cask characteristics.

Pittyvaich 12 years old is a strange one. It has all the lovely characteristics that you associate and enjoy from a sherry cask but they are too concentrated and exaggerated, which throws the whole whisky out of balance. The whisky is pleasant enough and it is worth trying if you get the chance, so that you can tick off a rare distillery and taste an example of too much sherry cask influence (for my taste anyway). If you can find a bottle, this should cost £55-60.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Have just tried ... Bladnoch 16 years old 'Old Malt Cask' from Douglas Laing & Co

bladnoch 16 years old 'old malt cask'Bladnoch is Scotland's most southerly whisky distillery. It is located in the lowlands region, close to the town of Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway. The distillery stands on the banks of the River Bladnoch and is also one of Scotland's smallest with a current production capacity of just 100,000 litres per year. Bladnoch was founded in 1817 and has had a chequered history, especially during the 20th century when it suffered significant periods of closure between 1905-1911, 1937-1956 and most recently 1993-2000. A variety of market reasons have contributed to these closures but the main one is the remote location of the distillery.

Bladnoch has been owned by some real industry heavyweights during its history and it is currently one of the few distilleries to be independently owned in Scotland. The current owner is Raymond Armstrong, who rescued the distillery from extinction in 1995. Due to a legal wrangle, he could not restart distilling until 2000 and since then he has been producing whisky but with restrictions in place. The range of Bladnoch whisky on the market is a bit messy with some being released by previous owners Diageo (in their Flora & Fauna range), some by independent bottling companies as well as the relatively new range released by Armstrong's company. These whiskies are bottled at 6 years of age and they have experimented with different cask finishes and also made the first ever peated Bladnoch.

This release is from the Glasgow based independent bottling company Douglas Laing & Co and forms part of their Old Malt Cask range. This range consists of single casks bottlings at 50% ABV and this is one of just 295 bottles and costs roughly £60. The colour is a pale lemon yellow and the nose is light and fresh. The predominant aroma is that of grass (think of dried grass or hay though) with some subtle sweet vanilla, honey and cereal notes coming through. On the palate, this is again light with initial sweet, almost sugary, vanilla and toffee elements giving way to the grassiness, honey and cereal grains from the nose. There is also a zingy zesty note (think of lemon zest) and an interesting hint of something floral (reminding me most of honeysuckle flowers). The overall effect is refreshing and palate cleansing. The finish switches direction by being quite bitter (that dried grass again) and drying in the mouth. This is accompanied by an alcoholic fiery burn (imagine peppercorns or chilli) but this is not really a negative as it balances the sweetness experienced earlier well. A touch of water nullified this but also flattened out the whole dram. Perfect and refreshing for a hot day ... if we ever get one soon.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A mystery dram ... but what is it?

the mystery dram ... what is it?We have just received a sample of a newly released whisky at Whisky For Everyone and thought that we would do something a little different with it. Below is a review with tasting notes of this 'mystery dram' and we thought it would be fun if we asked you to try and guess what this whisky is! This can be done by clicking on the 'comments' section at the bottom of this post, following the instructions and leaving us your guess/answer. There are a few clues in there to help (hopefully).

The answer will be revealed on Friday when we will post a full review. This will incorporate these tasting notes and also include distillery history and facts as well as information about the whisky in question. There are no prizes for guessing correctly but correct answers will be mentioned in the final article, so please leave your name! If you like this idea, then also let us know and we will do this again next time we receive a 'mystery dram'.

The colour is a rich golden yellow and the nose is fresh and clean with an instant hit of pungent aromatic smoke. This smokiness is earthy (imagine damp moss and dry peat) and balances with other elements such as vanilla, a briny saltiness and a touch of honey. On the palate, the 'mystery dram' is robust and powerful. It offers early sugary sweetness that combines the vanilla and honey from the nose again, as well as malty cereal grains. This is balanced almost perfectly by the smokiness (less earthy and more like charcoal or burning embers/ash this time), some more saltiness (think of brine) and a bitter twist (imagine iodine). The finish is lovely and very long with a bittersweet mix of vanilla, honey, warm spices (think of a hint of ginger) and a pronounced bitter smokiness (now reminding us of creosote fence paint). The 'mystery dram' is excellent and is a welcome and complimentary addition to the producer's range of whisky. It is bottled at 48% ABV which allows the whisky to express itself fully.

So, what do you think the 'mystery dram' is? Find out on Friday ...

Have just tried (Spanish edition) ... DYC Pure Malt

dyc pure malt bottleOn our trip to Spain last year, we had our first taste of some Spanish whisky. We tasted the regular DYC blend, which costs around €8 a bottle and has a large cult following. This time we decided to track some more down and found this Pure Malt, which is DYC's only single malt whisky release and also another blend with an eight year old age statement which will be reviewed shortly. Many people do not even realise that Spain has a whisky industry (including us before we discovered DYC last year!) but it makes sense when you learn that Spain is the fourth largest consumer of whisky in the world, behind only France, the USA and the UK.

DYC is the abbreviated company name of Destilerias y Crianza del whisky, which opened Spain's first whisky distillery in 1959. The distillery is located in the town of Palazuelos de Eresma in the Castilla y Leon region to the north west of Madrid. It is a massive distillery complex that has the capacity to produce 20 million litres of spirit per year (this is double the capacity of Scotland's biggest whisky distillery at Glenfiddich). DYC is now owned by the multi national drinks company Beam Global and they make other alcoholic spirits under license at the distillery. The whisky is marketed to be low budget and is popular in Spain as it is much cheaper than the imported Scottish, Irish or American whiskies. It is designed to be mixed with non alcoholic beverages or ice and to be easy drinking in the hot weather.

This Pure Malt is bottled at 40% ABV and has no age stated on the label or packaging. The colour is golden yellow and the nose is light and fresh with an interesting mix of characteristics. There is an initial hit of obvious malted barley and vanilla that is then followed by something herbal (think of dried grasses or hay), some fruit (the best we could think of was a combination of unripe plums and melon) and a hint of some toffee or fudge. Some raw spirit is present, indicating that this whisky may be quite young, but this diffuses the longer that it sits in the glass. The palate is light again with a strange structure. It begins with no flavour! After a delayed time of a few seconds, the whisky then explodes in your mouth with a blast of herbal bitterness (that dried grass or hay again) and spicy white pepper. Despite this note sounding great, it is actually quite enjoyable. This fades and lets the sweet vanilla, cereal, green fruit and toffee notes from the nose through. Before you can even think about it, the finish has gone with just an alcoholic burn and a touch of honey left to remind you that you have actually just drunk something. This is slightly disappointing.

This DYC Pure Malt is a very pleasant and easy drinking whisky that improves with time in the glass. It has elements of a Scottish Lowland malt but also has a number of distinct individual characteristics that make it unlike any other whisky that we have tried for a long time. This would be perfect with a mixer or ice on a warm day, which is exactly what it is designed for. Pure Malt is more limited than the regular DYC blend and is only available in selected stores in Spain. A bottle should cost around €15, which is a bargain price for this decent whisky.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Explain about ... Additives in whisky

You may be wondering what additives could possibly be in whisky? However, it is rare to buy a whisky exactly as it has left the cask in the distillery warehouse. This form of the whisky is called ‘cask strength’ and refers to the natural state and strength of the spirit, which is usually between 50-60% ABV depending on age (the ABV drops as a whisky gets older). More can be read about this in our Explain about … Cask strength article. The sales of cask strength whiskies are growing rapidly and more distilleries and bottlers are releasing whisky in this form but it still remains a niche market. However, whisky companies deploy a number of techniques to make their product more appealing to their mass market consumers.

Water
The process of adding water to the cask strength whisky is called 'cutting'. This is done so as to bring the alcoholic strength down to a more palatable ‘standard’ level. Basically, they dilute it. This new level is usually 40% (the legal minimum for which something can be called whisky) or 43% ABV. The water used is generally from the same source (usually spring water) that a distillery will use during the whisky distillation process, although this is not always the case. By doing this, the producers can consistently control the alcohol level of the whisky and don’t have to change their labels with every release, as different casks of the same age will have subtly different strengths.

Caramel
The use of caramel when bottling whisky is a traditional process that is still commonly used today. Caramel (the flavouring E150, not actual caramel made from burnt sugar) is added in order to make the whisky look darker and therefore give the perception that the whisky may be older than it is (and in the consumers eyes, be better than it is!). The caramel is added prior to bottling in tiny amounts and this helps the bottler to consistently control the appearance of their whisky. The amounts added are small and do not generally alter the whisky’s flavour, unless added in highly excessive quantities. This is done for purely cosmetic reasons and if caramel has been added, it must be legally labelled as such (although this can be done in a slightly cloak and dagger way by using the German for ‘with caramel’ which is ‘mit farbstoff’). An extreme example of the addition of caramel is the black whisky CĂș Dhub, although others are done much more subtly than this.

Chill filtering
Not an additive but a removal! This is the process where substances that are seen as undesirable in whisky are removed. These substances are the naturally occurring fatty acids and oils that make a whisky go cloudy when cooled, mixed with water or with ice. This is seen as an undesirable side effect by many consumers, so the producers will filter these substances out prior to bottling. This is done by chilling the whisky down to a low temperature so that these natural acids and oils solidify and then passing the whiskt through a series of metal mesh filters, with these are separated. For further information on the chill filtering process, please read our article Explain about … Chill filtering.

In summary, with each of these processes the distillers and manufacturers are giving the majority of consumers what they want from a whisky – a lower ‘easy drinking’ alcohol strength, a darker colour and/or no cloudiness. They are reacting to customer perceptions of what is good or bad. Is it too strong? The darker the colour, the better? Cloudiness in whisky is bad, right? It gives them additional control when they mix different casks over a period of time for different releases of the same whisky. As each cask will have subtle differences, the distillers and bottlers employ some or all of these tactics to maintain a consistent level of quality in their whisky and leaves the consumer knowing what to expect each time. Therefore, each time you buy a bottle of a certain whisky it should look and taste the same, whether you bought it last year, this year or will buy it in two years time. The distillers and bottlers claim that none of these processes alter or detract from the original flavours of the whisky, but others argue that they must do. However, that is a whole new debate …

Friday, July 24, 2009

Have just tried (Spanish edition) ... Cardhu 12 years old

cardhu 12 years oldOn our recent trip to Spain, we just had to try Cardhu. In a land where the blended whisky is king, Cardhu 12 years old is the single malt of choice and outsells any others by a large amount. The brand is hard to find in the UK, despite being in the world's top 10 for single malt sales, as the majority of the whisky released is exported to southern Europe. Spain is its main market and it is also popular in France, Greece, Italy and Portugal. The distillery is currently owned by drinks giant Diageo and only 30% of the whisky produced at Cardhu (around 2 million litres per year) is released as a single malt. The other 70% contributes as a major ingredient for Diageo's famous Johnnie Walker range of blended whiskies.

Cardhu means ‘black rock’ in Gaelic and is located in the heart of the Speyside region, close to the village of Knockando. The distillery was founded in 1824 by farmers John and Helen Cumming. Previous to this, they were famous in the local area for illegally producing a particularly potent whisky and this was sold from the farm’s kitchen window. Once legalised, their whisky was sold as Cardow, from which today's name is derived. The distillery remained in the Cumming family until 1893, when it was sold to blender John Walker and Cardhu has been involved in the Johnnie Walker blended range that he invented ever since.

The colour of this Cardhu 12 years old is golden amber and the nose is robust and has an interesting combination of aromas. There is lots of sweet caramel and vanilla with some honey (imagine honeycomb biscuit), citrus (think of lemon zest) and something herbal (imagine dried grasses or hay) creeping in underneath. On the palate, this is lighter and fresher than the nose suggests with the caramel element becoming more sugary and the honey and citrus notes particularly prominent. There is also some nuttiness and a grainy cereal note that comes through. The finish is disappointingly short and is gone in an instant, however this is refreshing and palate cleansing - perfect for hot climates.

Upon adding water, this became very refreshing and easier to drink. There is a pleasant combination of sweet vanilla, caramel and zingy citrus. It would also be good with ice, in a cocktail or in a long drink with soda water and a slice of lemon as this would compliment its characteristics well. This must be why it is so popular in warmer countries. When drunk straight it is just a bit flat and one dimensional. A bottle should cost about £35-40 from specialist retailers in the UK or for around €25 from anywhere that sells alcohol in Spain.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Have just tried (Spanish edition) ... Dimple 15 years old

dimple 15 years oldDimple is one of the world's most popular aged blended whiskies. Most blends do not carry any age statement but when they do it indicates the youngest whisky that is present in the blend. Therefore, the youngest whisky here is 15 years of age and the blend includes over 30 different single malt and grain whiskies in total, some of which are much older. The main single malts included in Dimple are Glenkinchie and Linkwood.

Dimple was first released in 1890 by Haig's. The company's founder was John Haig, who opened Scotland's first grain distillery - Cameron Bridge - near the town of Dunfermline in Fife in 1824. He produced high quality grain whiskies that were to later become widely used within the blending industry. As the popularity of blended whisky grew during the 1880s, Haig was persuaded by his son (also called John!) to develop their own blend and the first form of Dimple was born. The distinctive three sided bottle was introduced in 1893 and this original design remains in use today. It is a classic piece of opulent late Victorian design and resembles a half deflated rugby or American football surrounded with gold wire cord.

The Dimple brand name is now owned and marketed by drinks giant Diageo, although Haig's still produce the whisky. It is the fourth biggest selling aged blend in the world and its main markets are southern Europe (especially Spain, where we tried it, and Greece), Germany, south east Asia (especially Korea), the USA (where it is known as Dimple Pinch) and Mexico. Versions at 12 and 18 years of age are also released, although these are more limited.

Dimple has a colour of dark amber and the nose is full of sherry cask influence - especially dried fruits (think of raisins, sultanas and candied peel) and warm woody spices (like cinnamon and nutmeg). On the palate this feels rich, creamy and buttery. There is a slightly unpleasant alcoholic burn to begin with but this dies away slowly to reveal some rich, sweet caramel and some woody oaky vanilla. Some honey and warm spices (especially cinnamon) are also present and these add to the rich feeling. The finish is fruity (that dried fruit again) with an interesting woody bitter note and is shorter than expected for something of this richness and sweetness. We decided to add some water as it was a hot day and this certainly helped Dimple become more refreshing and palatable. More sugary caramel, honey and fresh rather than dried fruit came out (the combination reminded us of toffee apples). The feeling was that it would also handle ice well, although we did not try this. As Dimple 15 years old is an aged blend then it costs more than regular blended whiskies, retailing for £35-40 a bottle in the UK.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Have just tried (Spanish edition) ... Vat 69

vat 69 bottlesVat 69 is a blended whisky that was first produced in 1882 by a man called William Sanderson. He owned a whisky liqueur company in Leith, Edinburgh and decided to branch out in to the area of blended whiskies in 1880, which was a time when the blended whisky sales were booming in Scotland. As the story goes, Sanderson decided to produce 100 casks of blended whisky, each with its own style and subtle difference. He then assembled a panel of judges comprising of friends, family, business associates and reknowned master blenders, asking them to taste and mark each one. The whisky from cask number 69 received the highest score, so the name Vat 69 was born. Sanderson started the production in 1882.

The blend contains a complex mix of 40 different single malts and grain whiskies and the exact combination remains a closely guided secret. This has evolved over the years from Sanderson's original blend that was built heavily around the two distilleries that he owned - Glen Garioch (pronounced glen-gear-ee) for its single malt and North British for its grain whisky content. The Vat 69 brand is now owned by drinks giant Diageo, with most stock exported from the UK. Its main markets around the world are Spain, Greece, Venezuela and Australia. Vat 69 is also popular in India, where it has regularly featured in Bollywood movies since the 1950s which has fuelled its sales there massively.

The colour is light with a brownish tinge and the nose is slightly rough but then improves slightly with time. It is full of different cereal grains (think of malted barley, corn and maize) and sugary caramel, with a distinct fake fruit sweetness (imagine peardrop sweets - this is a classic indication that some young whisky is present in the blend). Not a great start but as stated it does improve with some vanilla coming through. On the palate, this feels medium to light bodied and slightly buttery in the mouth. Again, there are lots of cereal notes (almost too much as it gives a touch of herbal bitterness to the whisky) and that sweet sugary caramel. The finish has very little length and is sweet (almost sickly), then turns bitter and woody before leaving a raw alcoholic burn in your mouth and throat.

Vat 69 lacks any real complexity and clearly contains some young whiskies. While this keeps the production costs and subsequent retail costs down, it does add a slightly unpleasant edge to the blend when drunk neat. Having said that, it was better with a mixer and gave the required impact to the drink. It would also be good with ice, as the extra coldness would take away some of the spirity alcohol. Both of these make it perfect for warm weather climates, so it is easy to see why Vat 69 is so popular in the countries listed above. This exported version that we tried on our recent trip to Spain is different to the UK version, which has a slightly higher percentage of single malts involved. In the UK a bottle should cost between £15-20, although it is much cheaper in Spain where our bottle cost €9!

So, where have we been?

benicassim music festival 2009 logoWe have received some comments asking why we have not added any new entries for the last two weeks or so. Well, we have been on our annual holiday/pilgrimage to Spain and the Benicassim music festival. This year's festival highlights included Oasis, Glasvegas, Fangoria, Maximo Park, Franz Ferdinand, 2manydjs, White Lies, Friendly Fires and Pete Doherty. It also produced an unprecidented set of freak biblical weather events that included a sandstorm, a blazing bushfire and one of the strongest gales ever experienced! This resulted in the majority of Friday night's bill being cancelled, including Kings of Leon :(

Anyway, we survived to tell the tale and while in Spain, we decided to try some of the whiskies that are popular in the country. The Spanish consume a massive 20 million litres of whisky a year and this puts them in fourth place in the world consumption chart, behind only France, America and the UK. The biggest selling whisky (by a long way) is J&B Rare and this blend is found everywhere. We tried this prior to our trip - click here to see our review. Blended whiskies are very popular and dominate the market. Over the next few days we will be adding the tasting reviews and findings from our trip and these will include blends, single malts and even some Spanish whisky. Stay tuned, we are back!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Have just tried ... Bruichladdich 12 years old

bruichladdich 12 years oldBruichladdich (pronounced brook-laddie) is the most westerly distillery in Scotland that is currently releasing single malt whiskies. It is located on the the western peninsula of the famous whisky island of Islay and sits on the shores of Loch Indaal. Islay is the traditional home of the world's smoky whiskies but the Bruichladdich distillery style is in contrast to these, being lighter, fresher and generally with little or no peatiness. The distillery was originally founded in 1881 and was built using stones from the local beach. It was also one of the first buildings in the UK to be built using concrete! Bruichladdich means 'the brae (hillside) by the shore' in Gaelic.

Bruichladdich is one of Scotland's most innovative distilleries and one of very few that remain independently owned. Since being taken over by a group of four entrepreneurs in 2000, Bruichladdich has been very experimental with its whisky production and release programme. They are reknowned for maturing their whisky in non traditional wine and dessert wine casks. By experimenting, Bruichladdich's aim is to try and introduce new people to whisky and their innovative range is extensive and they are always updating it with new releases. In contrast to this, the new owners renovated the distillery to its former glory and decided to maintain the traditional whisky making machinery and techniques. There are no computers used for production and it is one of the most traditional and historical distilleries in Scotland.

This 12 years old forms part of the regular core range and can be found in specialist whisky retailers for £30-35 a bottle. The colour is straw like with a golden tint and the nose is fresh and light. There are some lovely notes present that make your mouth water at the prospect of tasting the whisky - sweet cereal grains, vanilla, fresh citrus (think of oranges or tangerines) and just a hint of freshly cut grass. On the palate, this is bursting with interesting refreshing flavours that combine to give a good balance to the whisky. Up front there is plenty of wood (imagine oak) and sugary caramel, followed by that orangey citrus note from the nose. There is also a more tropical fruity note (think of pineapple and mango), as well as some honey, vanilla and malted barley. It is sharp and tangy with a light freshness. The finish is short and clean and begins with that sugary caramel again before turning drier and more oaky right at the end. This again creates good balance and interest.

Bruichladdich 12 years old is an enjoyable whisky that is light, fresh and tangy. This would make it good as an introduction whisky for a beginner as it has complexity but is easy drinking and rounded. It would also mean that it would be great on a hot day, when its sharp refreshing nature would be perfect.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Have just tried ... The Famous Grouse

famous grouse bottlesThe Famous Grouse is the UK's biggest selling whisky. It is a blend that is made up of single malts from the Glenrothes, Glenturret, Highland Park and Macallan distilleries and some grain whisky. The four distilleries are all owned by the Edrington Group and the success of the blend can be traced back to the 1960s, when whisky sales boomed. In 1980, The Famous Grouse finally overtook Bell's, its long term rival, to gain first place for UK sales and has never looked back. It has maintained first place ever since although the rivalry means that figures are always close. The Famous Grouse accounts for 15% of all blended whisky sales in the UK, which is its primary market.

The Famous Grouse was created by a company called Matthew Gloag & Son. The company was set up in 1800 by Matthew Gloag in the town of Perth and was originally a wine merchant and importer. They supplied wine to Queen Victoria whenever she stayed at Balmoral Castle, as well as other wealthy clients. In 1860, Matthew's son William took over and started buying whiskies from various distilleries around Scotland and blending them, as was the trend at the time. The popularity of his blends grew and in 1896, his son (also called Matthew) launched The Grouse, which later became The Famous Grouse. The name was given so as to attract the sporting type of gentleman who frequented the Highlands in the late Victorian era to go shooting, hunting and fishing. The iconic grouse logo was a pencil drawing by Matthew's daughter and a version of this original drawing is still used on the label today.

The colour is a light amber and the nose is youthful with some caramel, dried fruits (think of raisins or sultanas), woody oaky vanilla and some yeast. There is also plenty of raw spirit, especially at the very beginning, although this fades the longer the whisky is in the glass. Despite the initial spirity quality, the nose is quite light and delicate. On the palate this is slightly richer than the nose suggests with lots of sugary caramel and toffee up front. This is followed by some creamy vanilla, dried fruits (especially raisins), some cereal grains and just a whiff of earthy smoke. Unfortunately, the raw youthful spirit is never far away and it is exposed in a short, crisp finish that offers little else and is therefore slightly disappointing.

The Famous Grouse can get bad press from some whisky afficiandos but it is easy to see why it is so popular and outsells everything else in the UK. It has enough interesting characteristics yet remains uncomplicated and easy drinking. Having never tried it and having only read various contrasting reports, it gave me a pleasant surprise and was certainly better than expected. The Famous Grouse is widely available in nearly all pubs, bars, convenience stores and supermarkets throughout the UK and should cost £13-17 a bottle, which is a decent price for a solid, if unspectacular, whisky.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Have just tried ... Littlemill 19 years old 'Old & Rare' from Douglas Laing & Co

littlemill 19 years old 'old & rare'Littlemill was a distillery located in the Lowlands region of Scotland, situated to the north west of Glasgow between the towns of Clydebank and Dumbarton. Production ceased at the distillery in 1992 and a majority of the buildings have since been demolished. Had it still been in operation today, Littlemill would have been Scotland's oldest distillery. It was founded in 1772, three years before the current oldest at Glenturret started production, although records show that a distillery was operating on the site as early as the 1750s. The common Lowland practice of triple distillation was followed until 1930, when they switched to double distillation.

The stock of Littlemill is declining, as no new whisky has been produced for 17 years. As a result Littlemill whisky is hard to find and is becoming rarer as time passes. The majority of what is left is owned by the Loch Lomond Distillery Company, who release a 12 years old, and a number of the independent bottling companies. Buying independent bottlings remains the best way to try a Littlemill whisky as Loch Lomond only sporadically release limited numbers of the 12 years old. It can occasionally be bottled as Dunglas or Dumback (a smoky version) but both are exceptionally rare and very expensive.

This 19 years old is released by the Glasgow based independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co and forms part of their 'Old & Rare' premium range of whiskies. Just a single cask has been released resulting in only 333 bottles and the price is just over £100 for a bottle. The colour is golden and the nose has all the classic notes of quality bourbon cask maturation - lots of vanilla, oaky wood and sweet coconut (reminding me of a Bounty bar). There is also plenty of grainy cereals present and some yeast (think of a robust grainy style of bread). On the palate, this is again very grainy with lots of vanilla and coconut. Something quite sweet and sugary comes through (imagine butterscotch), as does a herbal grassy note (think of dried grasses or hay). The slight bitterness of this herbal note balances the overall sweetness of the other elements. The finish is long and pleasant with a similar combination of bitter grassiness and sweet cereal grains. As the alcohol level is 55.4% ABV, some water was added and this made the whisky lighter and fresher with a more floral nose (think of honeysuckle) and a citrus note present on the palate (imagine orange zest).

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Have just tried ... Glencadam 15 years old

glencadam 15 years oldGlencadam is a little known distillery that is located in the eastern Highlands. It was built in the town of Brechin, which lies between Dundee and Aberdeen, in 1825 and is the last remaining distillery in what was once a thriving whisky producing area. It has a reknowned history of producing and supplying whisky to some of Scotland's biggest blending houses. Historically, Glencadam has formed an important part of top selling blends such as Ballantine's and Teacher's and today is the cornerstone of the Angus Dundee blended range of whisky.

Angus Dundee Distillers took over the distillery and reopened it in 2003. It had been closed by the previous owners in 2000, but everything was kept intact so that production could restart immediately whenever required (this is called 'mothballing'). Angus Dundee soon had Glencadam running back at full capacity (approx. 1.4 million litres per year) and built a blending centre on the part of the site in 2006.

This 15 years old is currently the only one distillery bottling of single malt whisky from Glencadam and was first released in 2005. There are a number of independent bottling releases and these are growing in number and popularity. The nose is very aromatic with lots of interesting characteristics - a heap of vanilla, oaky woodiness (think of fresh sawdust) and warm spices (cinnamon especially) mixing with a distinct nuttiness (imagine a creamy nut like an almond) and fizzy sherbet sweets (sounds odd I know, but its the nearest thing we could think of). On the palate, this is very malty with lots of sweet cereal grains present. It is medium bodied and soft with a reduced spiciness (cinnamon again) and woodiness from the nose. Other elements present themselves, notably some coconut, toffee and a citrus tang (think of lemons). It is pleasant but slightly disappointing and flat compared to the robust nose. The finish is punchy and short. There is a lot of woodiness (almost bitter and reminded me of tree resin or sap) and leaves a warm burn in your mouth and throat that is extremely drying.

This is a slightly strange one as we found ourselves wanting to like it more than we did. The reason is that the interesting, pungent and complex nose fails to convert favourably to the palate and feels flat, before teasing you with that punchy dry finish. Despite this, it is still a decent enjoyable dram but could be very good if it had a bit more going on in your mouth. Glencadam 15 years old is relatively hard to find, normally reserved for the shelves of specialist whisky retailers. A bottle is £35-40.

News ... whisky tasting on 29 July

the whisky shop, london branchThe London branch of The Whisky Shop chain has just announced a new whisky tasting entitled 'Summer Whiskies'. The event will be held at the shop (7 Queen's Head Passage, London EC4M 7DY. Nearest tube is St. Paul's) on the evening of Wednesday 29 July, starting at 6.30pm. The cost will be £32.50 a head and places are limited, so booking in advance is essential.

The aim of the evening is to demonstrate the versatility of whisky as a summer drink either taken neat, with water or ice or as part of a cocktail. A majority of people have the perception that whisky is just a winter drink but we aim to show otherwise. During the evening, the subjects of how whisky is made, the history of whisky and how to taste whisky will also be covered before trying some fine single malts.
History and interesting facts of the featured distilleries form part of the tasting, as does a selection of light snacks, which lead us to talk about food and whisky matching. The branch is also available for private corporate tastings on request.

Book your place NOW
Contact Matt or Chris on 020-73295117 or london@thewhiskyshop.net

the whisky shop logo

Sunday, July 5, 2009

In the whisky cupboard ... Gentleman Jack

gentleman jack bottleIn order to celebrate the 4th of July, American Independence Day, yesterday we decided that it was time to open one of the American whiskies that we have in our whisky cupboard. Gentleman Jack is a whiskey released by the world famous Jack Daniel's distillery that can be found in the town of Lynchburg in the state of Tennessee. It was established in 1866 by a man named Jack Daniel and the distillery remained in Jack's family until 1956 when it was sold to a Kentucky based distilling company called Brown Forman, who remain as the current owners.

Tennessee whiskey is different from bourbon, which is produced in the state of Kentucky. The ingredients are the same but Tennessee whiskey is filtered through charcoal prior to maturation. Jack Daniel pioneered this process. It is lengthy (taking up to 10 days per batch) as the whiskey is dripped through the charcoal, which by law must come from the sugar maple tree. This is done so as to remove unwanted impurities from the distillation process and make the final whiskey cleaner and smoother.

Gentleman Jack is different from the regular Jack Daniel's No.7 as it is filtered twice through the maple charcoal - once before maturation and once after. It is also slightly older at release, being around 5 years of age. Jack Daniel had experimented with double and even triple filtration of his whiskey but the practice was not started commercially until 1988, when Gentleman Jack first went into full scale production. It is a unique whiskey as no other in the world follows this double filtration process.

The colour is a dark golden amber and the nose is aromatic and welcoming. There is a lot of vanilla and also some oaky wood (think of coconut especially). Some other interesting sweeter notes come through well - a distinct sugary aroma (imagine nougat or cream soda), some dried fruits (think of tropical fruits like mango and pineapple, as well as candied orange peel) and some caramel. Something else is also present on the nose that took us a while to pin down (the nearest we got was an aroma something like a waxy furniture polish). On the palate this is light and very smooth, with much more woodiness than on the nose. It has a lovely creamy vanilla quality that is backed up with the complex combination of those dried tropical fruits, candied peel, caramel and something slightly bitter and nutty. It lacks the sweetness that the nose suggests and becomes very dry during its long, lingering finish. An oaky, slightly bitter woodiness and the dried orange peel are the predominant notes.

Gentleman Jack is a good, enjoyable American whiskey that has considerably more structure and complexity than its more famous relative, the Jack Daniel's N0.7. Gentleman Jack is found primarily in the travel retail/Duty Free sector around the world and this is where we purchased our bottle. It cost about £17 for a litre, once converted from the local currency. It can also be found in a few selected whisky retailers in the UK, but prices are higher at £35-40. We say that Gentleman Jack is well worth buying next time that you are travelling.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Have just tried ... Clan Denny vatted malts

The Clan Denny range is released by the Glasgow based independent bottling company Douglas Laing & Co. The name is used for their ranges of single grain whiskies and a series of vatted malts. The origin of the Clan Denny name is a little hazy although Douglas Laing tell the story of a Taiwanese businessman who wanted a blended whisky to be made by them and named after himself. His name was Dennis and his suggestion was MacDennis, which Douglas Laing deemed to be too cheesy so changed it to Clan Dennis. Over time this has been adapted to Clan Denny.

The vatted malt part of the Clan Denny range includes these two whiskies - one in the Speyside style and one in the Islay style. A vatted malt is a whisky that consists of two or more single malt whiskies added together. The major difference between a vatted malt and a blended whisky is that vatted malts only contain single malt whiskies, whereas blends contain a mixture of single malts and grain whisky. Both bottlings retail at £30-35 for a 750ml bottle.

Clan Denny 'Speyside'
This vatted malt contains single malt whiskies from four Speyside distilleries - Dufftown, Glendullan, Linkwood and Mortlach. All four are common in other vatted malts and blends and Speyside is known for its soft, rounded and easy drinking whiskies. The colour is pale gold and the nose is fresh. The obvious note is strong oaky vanilla but behind this is something citrus (think of lemon zest), a hint of dried fruit (sultanas especially), yeast and fresh green fruit (imagine pears and apples). On the palate, this feels thin and spirity with those pears and apples present again (this is a classic sign that some pretty young whisky is included in the vatting process). The vanilla and oakiness again overpower everything, although the other elements from the nose are there but subdued, making it quite one dimensional. The ABV is 46% and with the addition of water it becomes sweeter (think of honey) and slightly more pleasant. The finish is dry (beyond dry if that is possible) and woody but thankfully short. Not my favourite ever dram, to be honest.

Clan Denny 'Islay'
The Islay vatted malt consists of single malts from five of the distilleries on the famous whisky producing island - Ardbeg, Bowmore, Bunnahabhain, Caol Ila and Laphroaig. Islay is well known for the production of heavy, smoky, peaty whiskies. The colour of this is darker and more amber (as can be seen on the photo above). The nose is also more appetising with an obvious yet pleasant hit of earthy, peaty smoke. This is backed up by a sweet cereal note (think of barley grains), some vanilla and a whiff of salty sea air. On the palate, this is packed with smokiness that starts off being damp, earthy and mossy and turns quite spicy and hot (think of chilli or peppercorns). It has a distinct salty tang that makes your mouth water and feels creamy and full bodied. There is again some vanilla and cereals and these are joined by a bitter phenolic (almost like antiseptic) note right at the end. With water, the smoke becomes more like coal smoke and the whole dram is much lighter. The finish is long, salty and very smoky, with the peatiness taking ages to fade to nothing. Definately the better out of the two whiskies.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Have just tried ... AnCnoc 16 years old

ancnoc 16 years oldAnCnoc is a single malt whisky produced at the Knockdhu (pronounced Knock-doo) distillery in the Speyside region. The name of AnCnoc (pronounced a-knock) was created in 1993. The current owners, Inver House Distillers, felt that the name of Knockdhu was getting easily confused with another Speyside distillery, Knockando. They took the decision to rename the whisky produced at Knockdhu (which translates as 'black hill' in Gaelic) and it was changed to AnCnoc (simply 'the hill' in Gaelic), so as to avoid any confusion. The brand has recently been revamped with the new modern graphic packaging and advertising pushing sales up. The idea being to attract a younger crowd to their single malts.

The Knockdhu distillery was opened in 1893 and is relatively small, currently producing around 900,000 litres of whisky per year. It is located near to the town of Huntly on the south eastern side of Speyside. It is very close to the 'border' of Speyside and the Highlands, so is sometimes classed as a Highland whisky. The distillery is one of the few remaining that are run using traditional methods, rather than computers and mechanical processes. The core range has a 12 years old, this 16 years old and some more limited vintage releases (currently a 1975 and a 1994). Independent bottlings are rare but will be generally named as Knockdhu.

This AnCnoc 16 years old is pale lemon in colour with an aromatic nose. The nose has a fresh feeling with vanilla and citrus (imagine lemon zest) being the main components. Underneath these is a floral note (think of honeysuckle), something vegetal and a hint of liquorice (the combination of these last two reminding us of fresh fennel). On the palate, this is crisp and very light (much lighter than the more complex nose suggested). Unfortunately, the first thing you get on your taste buds is raw spirit but this soon dies away to give a pleasant mixture of vanilla oakiness, citrus (more like orange this time), that green vegetable/liquorice note (fennel, definately now) and a hint of something minty or eucalyptus. The finish is short and dry leaving your mouth watering and wanting a glass of water. Vanilla is dominant again with a slightly unpleasant and bitter woody note hanging around the longest.

This is a strange whisky. It offers a lovely and fresh nose but lacks the same level of complexity and depth on the palate. It feels light and thin in your mouth and the spirity nature of the palate and the finish cannot be ignored. Despite this, the whisky is quite enjoyable and refreshing and would be good on a warm day or in a cocktail (which is one of the ways that Inver House market the range). At £40-45 a bottle it has a lot of competition from more well known and established whiskies. The feeling is that it lacks the complexity of these competitors, some of which are cheaper, and therefore will struggle to stand up strongly against them.