Thursday, December 30, 2010
A new range
This 10 years old forms part of a revamped range of single malt whiskies that were released by Angus Dundee in mid 2010. It joins a 15 and a 21 years old in the core range and these are to be supplemented by additional limited releases, of which the current two are the 12 years old Portwood (finished in Port casks, unsurprisingly!) and the 14 years old Sherry Finish. All of the new range are to be bottled at a 46% ABV, which is a higher strength than previous bottlings from Glencadam, and are not chill filtered. For an explanation of chill filtration - click here for our 'Explain About ...' post. This 10 years old is available in specialist whisky and liquor retailers and should cost £30-35 a bottle.
Our tasting notes
The colour of this Glencadam 10 years old is a light yellow gold and the nose is light and fresh, yet intense. There are a number of very pleasant and fragrant aromas that are present - predominantly vanilla, honey and cereal grains. With time, further notes of dried grass (think of hay), crisp green fruit (especially pear and apple) and oak (imagine pencil shavings or sawdust) start to come through and develop. After approximately five minutes in the glass a distinct note of custard powder is evident. The palate, like the nose, is simple but very well constructed and full of strong characteristics. The whisky is fresh, vibrant and makes your mouth water with an initial note of striking lemon zest. Then some sweeter flavours appear, such as the pleasant honey, vanilla and green fruits from the nose. Again, further notes develop with time - some shortbread, malty cereal grains and zingy, tangy sherbet. The finish is also tangy with plenty of initial vanilla and honey giving a good sweetness. However, it then becomes much drier and woodier with oak and ginger spice coming through.
What's the verdict?
This Glencadam 10 years old is a lovely whisky that exhibits characteristics classic ex-bourbon cask maturation. It's lightness, freshness and vibrancy would make it ideal as an aperitif dram or in hot weather. Glencadam has always been said to be an under rated distillery, but the classical nature of the whisky should gain it plenty of new fans and we can't wait to now try the other whiskies from the new range. A delightful dram.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Glenrothes is one of the largest Scotch whisky distilleries in the Speyside region of Scotland. It is located within the town of Rothes and has a capacity of approximately 5.5 million litres per year. The distillery was founded in 1878 by Stuart & Co. and since the early 1990s has been owned by Berry Brothers & Rudd, the famous London wine and spirits merchants. They signed up to distribute Glenrothes as a single malt whisky, in return for the use of the whisky in their popular Cutty Sark blended whisky range. They introduced the current vintage system for Glenrothes single malt whisky and in 1999 were joined by the Edrington Group in partnership. The range and popularity of the Glenrothes single malts continues to grow under this ownership and the distillery still provides the signature whisky for the Cutty Sark range.
The prize for the Glenrothes Whisky Makers competition offers a fantastic opportunity for the four lucky winners. Each winner will stay for the week at Rothes House, a former parish residence belonging to the church, where they will be hosted by the legendary Ronnie Cox, the Global Brand Director of Glenrothes, and Gordon Motion, the Glenrothes Malt Master. The whisky making experience will cover everything from testing the local water quality, through to the milling, mashing, fermentation and distillation processes, before finally trying their arm at cask making in the on site cooperage and studying maturing casks and selecting some for bottling. In addition, other activities will be undertaken such as fishing, dining and walking in the beautiful local area.
This competition offers a real 'dream come true' experience and entering is simple, so why not have a go before the end of January? We wish you good luck.
Friday, December 17, 2010
However, with most PR and marketing departments winding down for the Christmas and New Year festive season, news and information have been in short supply this week. As a result, we have decided put Inbox in to hibernation for a couple of weeks until things pick up again. We are planning the next Inbox for Friday January 14 2010 (news permitting!).
We would also like to take this opportunity to publicly congratulate two friends and supporters of Whisky for Everyone since our early days - Keith Wood and Oliver Klimek - who this week became members of the elite group of Malt Maniacs. The Maniacs are a small group comprising members, who are all whisky fans and/or journalists, from all around the globe and their website is a 'must read' for all whisky drinkers - visit www.maltmaniacs.org for more details. We eagerly await the first contributions of Keith (who runs the incredibly detailed Whisky Emporium website) and Oliver (who writes the excellent dramming.com whisky website) to the Malt Maniacs. Check out both of their great sites if you haven't already.
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Bowmore distillery is located on the western Scottish island of Islay, which is famous for producing the smoky, peaty style of whisky. It was founded in 1779 by John Simpson - this makes it the oldest of the eight distilleries currently operating on the island and one of the oldest in Scotland (only Glenturret in the Highlands is older, having started production in 1775). It is located on the shores of the large inland sea loch of Loch Indaal and the name of Bowmore translates as 'sea rock' from Gaelic. The distillery in currently owned by Morrison Bowmore, a subsidiary of the Japanese company Suntory, who also own the other Scottish distilleries at Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch. Bowmore has an annual production capacity of two million litres and is one of the biggest selling single malt whisky brands in the smoky, peaty style.
Details of Bowmore Tempest
The Tempest is a small batch bottling and it is planned that a new batch is released approximately twice a year – Batch 1 (of which our sample is from) was released in early 2010, with Batch 2 coming in mid 2010 and the next batch penciled in for release in early 2011. Batch 1 was matured exclusively is specially selected first fill ex-bourbon casks and a small amount of these were mixed together to create the final whisky. It is bottled at 10 years of age and has an alcoholic strength of 55.3% ABV. Both Batch 1 and 2 retailed in specialist whisky stores for around the £40-45 mark. We thank Cara Laing of Morrison Bowmore for our sample of Tempest and for her time spent talking about the bottling with us.
Our tasting notes
The colour of the Tempest is vibrant gold and the nose is a wonderful combination of sweet and smoky aromas. The sweetness has elements of caramel, butterscotch, marshmallow, malty cereals and dark dried fruit (think of raisins especially) to it, while the smokiness is a mix of a bonfire and damp, earthy moss. There are also hints of vanilla, dried orange peel and a woody spiciness that becomes more vibrant with time in the glass. On the palate, this feels instantly creamy and rich with a prominent sweet butterscotch note hitting first. Then come more savoury notes of the mossy smoke, wood spice and a hint of salt. Further sweetness is introduced as other characteristics develop – some vanilla, honey, toffee – but these are balanced by the smokiness, spiciness and tangy citrus (more like orange zest this time). The finish is very long and particularly smoky, with a distinctly bitter hit of iodine adding further complexity to the many other notes present from the palate.
What's the verdict?
This Bowmore Tempest is an exceptionally good whisky that is way too easy to drink! It is very accessible and this is demonstrated by comments from two people that we have shared a dram of it with. The first is just starting to try ‘proper’ whiskies (as he describes it!) and said that it was the best whisky that he had ever tasted. The other, who doesn’t like the smoky style of whisky, confessed that he really enjoyed it and that it was the sort of smoky whisky that could make him change his mind. This is one of our favourite whiskies of the year - we highly recommending finding a bottle and parting with your hard earned cash. We can’t wait to see what the next release of Tempest will be like …
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Bushmills’ whiskies are all triple distilled in the traditional Irish way and the core range is a mixture of single malts and blends - the 10 years old and 16 years old are single malts, with the Original and Black Bush being blends. These are occasionally joined by special limited releases, such as this 21 years old. The 21 years old is an annual bottling, which was first released in 2001, and this year's release is limited to just 6,000 bottles. About a third will be allocated to the USA market, with the remainder shared between France, Ireland, the UK and the rest of Europe.
This 2010 release has spent its first 19 years maturing in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, before being transferred for the last two years in to ex-Madeira casks. It is positioned at the top of the Bushmills range, both in price (recommended price is £120) and age. We were delighted to be invited to the UK launch, held at the Waxy O'Connor's pub in central London, where the Bushmills Master Blender Helen Mulholland opened bottle number 0001 of the 6000 for the assembled crowd to taste.
Our tasting notes
This 21 years old 2010 release is bottled at 40% ABV and the colour is golden amber. The nose is fresh and fruity, with plenty of dried fruits immediately present (think of raisins, sultanas and apricot). These are backed up by distinct malty cereal notes, some toffee and caramel aromas, and then something nutty (imagine toasted almonds) and some baking spices (especially cinnamon and nutmeg). On the palate, this whiskey feels incredibly soft and pleasantly coats the inside of your mouth. There are notes of distinct, almost sugary, sweetness (think of toffee and caramel again) and plenty of malted cereals, reminiscent of a robust biscuit like an oatcake. Then come some of the other characteristics from the nose - the dried fruits (especially raisins), toasted almonds and baking/woody spices. The overall combination of notes reminded us of Christmas pudding or rich fruit cake. A hint of dark chocolate develops right at the end. The finish is again initially sweet with that chocolate note coming through more prominently, before becoming incredibly spicy and drier - think of those woody baking spices again (cinnamon and nutmeg) plus a hint of clove.
What's the verdict?
This Bushmills offers a lovely dram of whiskey that gives a good mix of sweetness and spices. The aromas on the nose and flavours that come through on the palate are particularly good, with an interesting and excellent complexity. The finish is not quite to the same standard but still enjoyable, although it may be too spicy for some. Overall, this version of the 21 years old is a deliciously rich and pleasant whiskey that is well worth trying, if you get the chance.
At the same event, we had the opportunity to speak with Helen Mulholland - the Master Blender at Bushmills. We thank Helen for the time that she spent with us, on what was a busy evening for her. To read about what she had to say about Bushmills distillery and its whiskey - click here.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Alex James and Athenaeum – new cheese and whisky menu
A new whisky and cheese menu has been created at a central London hotel. It has been created by former Blur guitarist and now cheese maker Alex James (pictured, in centre) and two staff at the Anthenaeum hotel in Piccadilly, London – David Marshall, the hotel’s Head Chef (pictured, on left) and Angelo Gobbi (pictured, on right), the hotel’s Whisky Sommelier (yes, they have a whisky sommelier!). The Athenaeum ‘s whisky bar contains a range of over 270 whiskies and the menu can be sampled either there or in the comfort of your room.
The menu includes such combinations as Chivas Regal 12 years old served with Westcombe Cheddar and Gentleman Jack from Jack Daniel’s with Suffolk Gold. Alex James comments, “the range of flavours spanned by first class cheese and whisky is so vast that matching them can be quite a tricky business. Sometimes it's the most unlikely combinations that produce the most spectacular results”. In addition, James has created a whisky infused cheese, named Athenaeum, which will be exclusively sold at the hotel.
Glendronach – best score in the Malt Maniac Awards
The results for the annual Malt Maniac Awards have been published earlier this week and the whisky industry has been taking in the results. The Malt Maniacs are a group of whisky connoisseurs that are spread around the world and 11 of the ‘Maniacs’ took part in this year’s judging process, which included a whopping 262 whiskies entered! The highest scoring whisky was the Gold Medal winning Glendronach 1972, which is matured in an ex-Oloroso sherry cask (cask number 700, to be exact!). Regional Sales Director Alistair Walker was delighted: “To be awarded first place ahead of another 261 fine whiskies is a wonderful achievement". Glendronach also celebrated a Silver Medal for their Grandeur 31 years old bottling and a Bronze for the 18 years old Allardice from their core range. The full list of medal winners can be found on the Malt Maniacs website - click here for the results page.
Jameson – tops 3 million for sales
The owners of the famous Irish whiskey brand has announced that it has just broken through the three million bottles barrier for annual sales for the first time ever. These figures are for the year between November 2009 and October 2010 and consolidate Jameson’s standing as the world’s best selling Irish whiskey, by far. Jameson is made at the Midleton distillery in County Cork and the brand is owned by multi-national drinks giant Pernod Ricard. The published figures represent a total 9% growth in world sales with certain markets showing particularly decent increases – the USA was +24%, Russia +8% and both France and South Africa were +7%. Alex Ricard, the Irish CEO of Pernod Ricard, comments “we are delighted with the progress of Jameson globally. Almost 230 years since the Jameson Distillery was founded, this is a huge achievement for the brand. It is the passion of the people behind the Jameson brand that is one of the greatest reasons for our success”.
Thursday, December 9, 2010
Bushmills is named after, and located in, the quiet town of Bushmills on the County Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. The distillery is located remarkably close to the famous Giant’s Causeway which is one of Ireland’s most well-known tourist attractions. Bushmills holds the oldest distillery license in Ireland (since 1608). A remarkable fact that the new packaging was created to celebrate, along with the distillery’s trademark pot still.
As we rarely get the opportunity to chat with a renowned Master Blender, and certainly not in the cosy depths of a central London bar with a glass of her whiskey in hand, we decided to grab a few minutes of her time to ask a question or two.
“How did Helen gain the prestigious title of Master Blender?”
In a similar way to all good Master Blenders, Helen worked her way into the position through years of hard work and dedication. She began working with Bushmills in the lab on a student placement that lasted 6 months. After this relatively short time, she headed off to complete her Master’s degree after which time she returned back to Bushmills. After Diageo acquired Bushmills in 2005 the role of blender was created, and with a number of years having learnt the trade of whiskey making inside and out, Helen was chosen as the woman for the job.
“What makes Bushmills so special for Helen?”
Without a second thought Helen replied “Bushmills is a place that is alive and breathing.” She clarified this by saying that every part of the whiskey making process happens on site, including bottling. They are also in the rare position of having their own Cooper on site. She feels that the team that works so hard to make the whiskey is one large family and that the malts produced feel like their children. As each malt is made and matured using natural ingredients and elements, this allows the magic of personality to form. Unrepeatable combinations of grain, water, yeast, wood for the cask, and the local climate in the warehouse, allows each cask of whiskey to develop its own unique character.
While you may expect a Master Blender would say something similar to this, Helen’s eyes light up when she talks about the team that work with her and the whiskies they produce so you quickly realise this is a woman who is proud and passionate about her job and the distilleries heritage.
“How would Helen describe the whiskey to beginners?”
Helen believes that Bushmills makes whiskies for people to enjoy – a range of whiskey that is very approachable and offers something for everyone. A sentiment that we heartily embrace. Bushmills produce a range of whiskies that apologetically aim a diverse audience while maintaining the characteristic fruity smoothness that comes with triple distillation. Their various whiskies respond well with the infinite ways that people chose to enjoy their whiskey - straight, with water, with ice, with a mixer, and more. Helen chose to prove this point in a rather unexpected manner by handing us each a glass of frozen (yes frozen!) Bushmills 10 year old single malt. This was not what either of us has anticipated. What an experience though. Freezing cold, the whiskey took on a completely different personality. It became noticeably more viscous and mouth-coating, sweet but not cloying, and took on an enhanced note of honey, something akin to a really impressive liqueur. In short, we both found it absolutely delicious and refreshing.
"Does Helen have any cool facts about Bushmills?"
Both are us are big geeks when it comes to bits of trivia that are not widely known, so we had the perfect opportunity to find a few pub quiz style facts about Bushmills. Helen was happy to provide. Bushmills is one of the most visited distilleries in the UK with over 100,000 visitors per year. We guessed this most likely has something to do with the distillery's close proximity to the famous Giants Causeway that 'links' Ireland to Scotland in folklore. We didn't realise just how close. The distillery, in fact, shares a boundary with the World Heritage (UNESCO) Site within which the Giant' Causeway is located. Not bad facts at all.
We really must thank Helen for the time she spent with us and her genuine passion for Bushmills distillery and its whiskies. We had a thoroughly inspiring and enjoyable evening.
If you are planning a trip to visit Bushmills and witness Helen's hardwork in action, arrange a tour with the distillery (www.bushmills.com/Visit) but do make sure you visit the Giant's Causeway (whc.unesco.org) while you are there.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Connemara is a Irish whiskey produced at the Cooley distillery. It is located on the County Louth coast, roughly half way between Belfast and Dublin and is one of only three whiskey distilleries that are currently operating in Ireland - Bushmills and Midleton being the other two. Cooley was founded in 1987 by John Teeling and his idea was to resurrect some of Ireland's oldest whiskey recipes and traditions that had become extinct during more difficult times. He converted an old vodka distillery and Cooley has since won over 100 awards worldwide, including the title of European Distillery of the Year at the recent prestigious International Wine & Spirits Competition awards.
A range of famous names
At Cooley they produce whiskey using traditional recipes, each with a different mixtures of barley and other grains. Their range includes some famous Irish whiskey names such as Greenore, Kilbeggan, Locke's, Michael Collins, Millar's and Tyrconnell. Around 95% of all the whiskey produced at Cooley is exported, with the UK, mainland Europe and South Africa being the current main markets. Connemara is the only peated Irish whiskey that is in regular production. Other Irish smoky whiskies are occasionally released but are rare. Connemara, which is names after the original site of the Connemara distillery on the west coast of Ireland near Galway, and its old traditional recipe had disappeared into history before being resurrected by John Teeling.
Details of Turf Mór
The first expression of the modern Connemara was launched in 1996 and this Turf Mór forms the second part of Connemara's Small Batch Collection, a series of limited edition whiskies that will released at regular intervals - the first release was the Sherry Finish from last year. The Turf Mór is the peatiest Connemara released to date with a high peat level of over 50PPM (PPM is the scale of measurement for peat/phenol levels in whisky and means Phenol Parts per Million). For further information on this and the influence of peat in whisky - visit our website. Regular Connemara is around 20-25PPM and this new expression puts it close to the peat levels of famous smoky whiskies, such as Ardbeg and Laphroaig. The Turf Mór is bottled at its natural cask strength of 58.2% ABV and retails for £40-45 from specialist retailers.
Our tasting notes
The colour of Turf Mór is pale lemon gold and the nose is expressive and lively. There are plenty of fresh, tangy and vibrant notes fighting for attention - obvious burnt rubber smokiness immediately with honey, fresh green apples, vanilla, malty cereal grains, lemon juice and a whiff of salt joining later. The high alcohol level also comes through and gives the nose a proper kick. On the palate, this is again tangy and fresh, making your mouth water almost instantly. The smokiness is reminiscent of burnt cereals now and this dominates to begin with, before fading to reveal some lovely redeeming sweet characteristics (which can be lacking in young, peaty whiskies) - honey and vanilla especially. The maltiness is also present and has a biscuit-like feeling to it. Hints of pear, apple, spicy clove and a hint of salty brine complete a wonderfully complex and vibrant palate. The finish is wonderfully long with the smokiness now having a more obvious earthy, peaty quality. However rather than being drying, the finish remains tangy and mouthwatering with a delicious, balanced honey sweetness which is tempered by some citrus and salty notes. It just goes on and on and on ....
What's the verdict?
This is a delicious and very positive dram. So often, young peaty whiskies can give you a less pleasant and negative experience. Turf Mór is a whiskey that makes it very obvious as to how Cooley distillery are so successful and continue to win major awards. The excellent balance, combination and contrast of aromas and flavours - the acrid burnt peat, the sweet vanilla and honey, the tangy lemon and salt - make this a dram to savour. If you like the peaty, smoky style of whiskies, then you simply have to try this one - it's a cracker!
Sunday, December 5, 2010
The John Walker is a new premium whisky that has been created by Diageo, the owners of the Johnnie Walker brand, in order to celebrate the life of the brand's founder John Walker. This new whisky sits at the very top of the Johnnie Walker range, above the famous Blue Label and the King George V bottlings, and is aimed at the buyer of high end Cognac. It has been blended from just nine specially selected casks and these casks are a mixture of single malt and grain whiskies, with some being of a high age and others coming from distilleries that are now closed. The identities of the distilleries are not revealed but the result of the blending has meant that only 330 bottles are available. As a further result of the rarity of the bottling and of some of the whiskies included, the price tag is high at £2,000 a bottle.
Highly skilled workmanship
The John Walker is available in the Duty Free and travel retail sector in selected airports around the world, plus exclusively in the UK in the famous department store of Harrods. The whisky's packaging is highly designed with many details that have been hand crafted by experts in their fields - the bottle is a hand-blown, polished and engraved crystal decanter from the Baccarat crystal house in France, the bottle also has a 24 carat gold plated neck collar and comes encased in a wooden lacquered casket with a rare cream leather interior. Each casket takes over 60 hours to produce apparently. The question with many expensive or old whiskies is, are you paying for this skilled workmanship or is the whisky worthy of the price tag alone? Or both? We were lucky enough to try a small sample recently, so here goes ...
Our tasting notes
The strength of The John Walker is 43% ABV and the colour is golden amber. The nose is initially understated but it becomes more expressive with time in the glass. There is a distinct aroma of robust malty cereal grains to begin with and this is backed up by plenty of more subtle aromas, which give a pleasant depth and complexity - surprisingly tangy orange zest, vanilla, honey, dried fruits (think of sultanas and raisins), oatcakes, caramel, waxy furniture polish and a whiff of slightly sulphuric smokiness. On the palate, this John Walker has a lovely silky smooth richness and surprisingly bolder than the nose suggested. Again, the malty cereal notes are the first flavours to appear. Then comes additional sweeteness driven by notes of vanilla, honey and dried fruit. The sweetness is tempered by drier and spicier characteristics, including further cereals, that tangy orange zest from the nose, plenty of wood spice (imagine sandalwood and cinnamon) and an increasing hint of bonfire-like smokiness. The finish is pleasant with initial sweetness, before turning dry with plenty of those wood spices and bittersweet grains. However, it is disappointingly short - just as you are enjoying and assessing the complexity, it disappears without trace.
What's the verdict?
The John Walker is a lovely and clearly well made whisky, that has decent depth and complexity of aroma and flavour. In fact, the nose and palate are very pleasant and drinkable, before that disappointingly short finish. Would we pay £2000 for a bottle? - no, probably not. If we had that money then it would buy us a lot of equally good, if not better, bottles of whisky. However, that is not the point of The John Walker - it is a premium purchase, a status symbol, an aspirational purchase, a collector's item (delete as appropriate). When considering this, it definitely fits the bill - it looks the part, it tastes the part and is a very good whisky. Try it if you can!
Friday, December 3, 2010
Glenfiddich - iPhone app launched
The famous Speyside distillery owned by William Grant & Sons has announced the launch of the Glenfiddich application (or app for short) for the iPhone. The app attempts to bring the Glenfiddich whisky experience to beginners and connoisseurs alike and contains a number of interesting features. These include the Dram Directory (a list of selected bars and pubs in the UK that serve Glenfiddich - it tells you the closest one to your current location), Glenfiddich Distilled (lists of facts about all aspects of Glenfiddich, including history, production, products, Glenfiddich Explorers and video clips) and Malt Mastermind (a multiple choice quiz that helps brush up your Glenfiddich knowledge). The app can be downloaded for free from the App Store. We have downloaded it - it looks good and is very informative (plus the quiz is fun, if not annoyingly tricky in places!)
Jura - new photographic competition
The Jura distillery, owned by Whyte & Mackay, have announced the launch of Wish You Were Here - an online photographic competition in which they ask for your images of the world's most inspiring places. They have teamed up with VisitScotland as part of a new initiative to get people to visit Scotland and sample some of its speciality foods and drink. The prize is for three lucky winners (one from the UK, one from Europe and one from the USA) and includes a week long stay on the isle of Jura with all travel arrangement paid, a VIP tour of the Jura distillery, an Olympus digital camera and a two day photography masterclass by Jim Richardson from The National Geographic. The competition runs until 21 January 2011 and for details of how to enter, go to www.isleofjura.com/wishyouwerehere.
Scotch Malt Whisky Society - hotel partnership expanded
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and hotel chain Hotel du Vin have announced an expansion of their collaboration to a further nine hotels. The collaboration was originally started in January of this year and involved three hotels with the chain. This initial trial meant that the Society's members and whisky enthusiasts could enjoy a range of their whiskies in these three hotels and it has proved so popular amongst guests that they are rolling it out to the whole hotel chain. In addition to the SMWS whiskies being behind the bar, guests will get the chance to match whiskies with their restaurant meals and there will also be bespoke whisky tastings at each venue. For further information, go to www.smws.com or www.hotelduvin.com.
Thursday, December 2, 2010
The Whisky Round Table is the brainchild of Jason Johnston-Yellin, who is the author of the 'must read' whisky blog Guid Scotch Drink. His idea was to gather together 12 whisky bloggers from around the world and get them to discuss a whisky topic once a month. The hosting of The Round Table is passed around the 12 members, with each host setting the question for each month. The November edition is the sixth offering and the hosting half way point for The Round Table and the subjects have been wide and varied to date. Links to the first six Whisky Round Table articles can be found by clicking here.
The hosts for January are the two Mikes and Dean from Whisky Party - one of our favourite whisky blogs. Watch this space for further news on that ....
The Tweeddale Blend is a whisky created by Stonedean Limited. The company was established by Alasdair Day, who is currently the director, in January 2009 and his aim was to resurrect an old blended whisky recipe that was last produced over 70 years ago. This was named The Tweeddale Blend and was produced by Alasdair's great grandfather, Richard Day. He owned a licensed grocery shop in Duke Street, Edinburgh from the early 1920s but the recipe for the blend dates back even further - back to the 1820s when the previous owners, J&A Davidson, followed the trend of the day and started producing their own range of blended whiskies.
Upon gaining ownership of the shop and the whisky brand, Richard Day carried on production until the outbreak of World War II. It was not to be produced again until Alasdair came in to the possession of a family heirloom - a book containing the recipe for The Tweeddale Blend. This included the names of the single malts and grain whiskies involved, the type of casks that they were matured in and the quantities of each. Inspired by this, Alasdair set about recreating The Tweeddale Blend as closely as possible to how his great grandfather had produced it.
High single malt content
The sample that we tried is from the first batch of The Tweeddale Blend, which contains just 1,252 bottles. Another batch will hit the marketplace in the early part of next year and it will again follow the same traditional blend recipe of Alasdair's great grandfather. The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret but it is known that the Tweeddale has a single malt content of 50%, with the other 50% being grain whisky. This single malt percentage is high compared to other blends, which will generally contain anything between 10-40% as single malt. All of the whiskies included in the blend have a minimum age of 10 years. The Tweeddale Blend is bottled at 46% ABV and can be purchased from selected specialist retailers - a list of these can be found on Stonedean's website www.stonedean.co.uk.
Our tasting notes
The colour of The Tweeddale Blend is bright golden yellow and the nose is pleasant but slightly understated with subtle notes vying for attention. These include noticeable aromas of toffee, sultanas, stewed apples, honey, vanilla and malty cereal grains. The initial understatement subsides with time in the glass, as the sweeter notes in particular come more to the fore. On the palate, this is distinctly malty and packed with cereals grain character to begin with. These notes are quickly joined by some lovely sweet elements including soft dried fruits (think of sultanas, dates and prunes), honey, toffee and vanilla. These sweet elements become more prominent on the palate with time, becoming pleasantly sugary by the time the whisky is swallowed. Two final flavours are detectable, but as nothing more than a hint - some nuts and bonfire smoke. The finish is decently long and is the palate in reverse. It begins with the sweet honey, sultana and toffee notes becoming slightly drier as the cereals come through. A final hint of woody spice (imagine nutmeg) adds to the interesting, almost bittersweet nature of the finish.
What's the verdict?
This is a whisky that makes you throw any preconceptions that you may have about blends being an inferior product to single malt out of the window. It is very pleasant, positively full flavoured and firm in flavour, while being soft and easy drinking - it doesn't have the harshness or youth that can affect some blended whiskies. The blend has clearly been well constructed using good single malts and grain whiskies and these qualities show through in the final dram. We think that Alasdair has done his great grandfather proud.
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The Bruichladdich distillery (pronounced brook-laddie) is located on the Scottish island of Islay in the west Hebrides. The traditional Bruichladdich distillery style is in contrast to the smoky style of whisky for which Islay is famous - it is lighter, fresher and generally with little or no peatiness. The distillery was originally founded in 1881 by Barnett Harvey and sits on the shores of Loch Indaal - it was built using stones from the local beach and was one of the first buildings in the UK to be constructed using concrete! The current owners are the Bruichladdich Distillery Company. They are an independent consortium of four businessmen and they took over in 2000. It is a small distillery with an annual production capacity of just 700,000 litres and Bruichladdich translates from Gaelic as 'the brae (hillside) by the shore'.
Examples of truly organic whiskies are hard to find - Benromach Organic single malt and the blended Highland Harvest are the two most readily available to the UK market. Here, Bruichladdich - the self proclaimed 'Progressive Hebridean Distillers' - have given a full scale release to their organic single malt whisky. This follows on from a limited edition organic release in 2009, which proved popular and won much acclaim. This new version will retail at £35-40 in specialist retailers and has an alcohol strength of 46% ABV. The whisky contains organic barley from three different Scottish farms and is certified as 'organic' by the Biodynamic Agricultural Association. It has been matured in a combination of fresh oak and ex-bourbon casks and has been created from a selection of different ages by Bruichladdich's Master Distiller Jim McEwan.
Our tasting notes
The colour of Bruichladdich Organic is a pale lemon yellow and the nose is youthful, fresh and vibrant. There is a lovely, appetising combination of aromas - firstly there are malty cereals, then juicy fresh green fruits (think of pears and apples) and vanilla, then something reminiscent of dried grass (or straw) and finally a hint of honey and some distinct almond notes. On the palate, this is light, delicate and again fresh. It has an immediate zesty (think of lemons) and mouthwatering quality that makes you want to have more. Through this comes prominent notes of vanilla, robust cereals and dried grass. These are followed by more subtle characteristics - some sweet honey, the fresh green fruits (especially pear - this is verging on peardrops now) and just the merest hint of some wood spice (imagine cinnamon). The finish is short, which is slightly disappointing. However, it is lively and crams plenty in to a short period of time - there is sweetness (vanilla, honey and a hint of icing sugar) to begin with, before turning drier with the malty cereals and dried grassy notes dominating. Finally, the flavours disappear to leave the burn of youthful alcohol in the mouth.
What's the verdict?
This is a refreshing and delicate whisky, where the quality of the barley used in production and the casking used in maturation shine through. It would make an excellent aperitif dram. The whisky is on the lighter side and may not be to everyone's taste, but should definitely be tried if you have the chance. Any distillery looking to produce and release an organic whisky should look at this Bruichladdich for quality and use it as a benchmark. In our opinion, it is one of the better new releases of 2010.
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The Jura distillery is located on the isle of Jura, which lies off the west coast of Scotland next to the famous whisky island of Islay. The distillery was founded in 1810 by Archibald Campbell and was originally called the Small Isles distillery - named after the numerous small islands located in Craighouse Bay, which the distillery overlooks. It was closed for a long period between 1901 and 1960, at which point it was rebuilt and re-named as Jura by Charles Mackinlay & Co. Production restarted in 1963. The distillery has an annual production capacity of two million litres, which is reasonably large when considering its remoteness and the small population of the island (currently only 220 people). In fact, Jura translates as 'deer island' from the old Nordic language (in ancient times the island was invaded by Nordic warriors) and the deer out number people by a staggering ratio of 20:1.
Limited edition and special casks
The current owners of Jura are Whyte & Mackay, which is in turn owned by the Indian drinks company United Spirits. They use the whisky produced at Jura in their popular range of blended whiskies. However, they are putting more in to promoting Jura as a single malt whisky and sales have improved greatly. The current range consists of a 10, 16, 18 and 21 years old in a non-smoky style plus the mildly smoky Superstition and the very smoky Prophecy. There are other older or limited releases from time to time, such as this 21 years old, which has been specially selected to celebrate the distillery's 200th anniversary. This whisky has been finished in ex-sherry casks from the famous sherry bodegas of Gonzalez Byass, which date back to 1963 - the year that whisky production restarted at Jura. It is limited to just 1200 bottles, has a strength of 44% ABV and should cost around £90-100 from specialist retailers.
Our tasting notes
The colour of this 21 years old is golden amber and the nose seems initially sweet and malty. Distinct aromas of cereal grains are quickly joined by those of dark dried fruits (think of raisins, prunes and candied orange peel) and caramel. With time some more subtle aromas begin to come through - vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and something nutty (hard to pinpoint, but most reminiscent of walnuts). On the palate, this feels silky and rich and coats the inside of the mouth. There are plenty of caramel notes to begin with and with time, these turn slightly more towards burnt sugar. The notes of malty cereal and dried fruits from the nose develop well, with a particular emphasis on the candied orange peel. In fact, the combination with the increasing nutmeg and cinnamon notes are reminiscent of spiced oranges. The palate becomes increasingly dry and a slightly sulphuric coal smoke notes appears right at the end - this may sound unpleasant but adds much needed balance to the other much sweeter notes, especially the caramel. The finish is pleasant but surprisingly short, given the richness of the whisky. The dried fruits and caramel again play a big part before the spices, burnt sugar and malty grain notes finish things off.
What's the verdict?
This 200th Anniversary bottling is a pleasant and rich whisky that is very easy drinking. A mention must be made of the excellent packaging (which can be seen in the image, above) - the bottle stands on its own plinth, next to a rolled certificate of authenticity signed by Jura's Distillery Willie Cochrane (this doubles as an invite to visit the distillery), with a section that clips over the top and contains an old black and white photo of the distillery. The combination of its limited number, decent quality and innovative packaging make it a good choice as a present for a whisky lover, if your budget is around £90-100!
Monday, November 29, 2010
Kilkerran is a single malt whisky that is made at the Glengyle distillery. Glengyle is located in the town of Campbeltown, on the west Highland coast of Scotland. The distillery was founded by William Mitchell, who was co-owner with his brother John at the nearby Springbank distillery, in 1872. Glengyle’s history was relatively short and it closed down due to financial problems in 1925. It did not reopen until 2000, when Hedley Smith, the chairman of J&A Mitchell and Co. Ltd - the owners of Springbank, founded the Mitchell's Glengyle Ltd. Their aim was to completely refurbish the derelict buildings, restarting whisky production and attempt to kick-start the Campbeltown whisky industry. The first spirit was distilled in April 2004.
Local historical site
This Kilkerran Work in Progress 2 is only the second official single malt whisky released by Glengyle and is bottled at six years of age with a strength of 46% ABV. The first Work in Progress was released in 2009 and won much praise. The Work in Progress will be a series of whiskies released once a year and will chart the development of Glengyle’s Kilkerran whisky between the ages of five and twelve years. The name of ‘Kilkerran’ is derived from the Gaelic 'Caenn Loch Cille Chiarain' (which translates as 'head of the loch of Saint Kerran'). This was a site that Saint Kerran had travelled to in the Middle Ages and set up a religious group, which is where the town of Campbeltown now stands.
Our tasting notes
The colour of Work in Progress 2 is a light gold with a hint of brown. The nose is fresh and full of vibrant aromas - robust cereal grains come first and remain prominent throughout, with dried grasses (imagine straw), honey and vanilla notes coming through. There is also a zesty lemon tang and a whiff of floral honeysuckle. It is a promising beginning. On the palate, this is creamy and pleasantly coats the inside of the mouth. Again, the robust and distinctive cereal notes kick things off and they have a lovely gristy, oaty character. This gives a bittersweet edge which is complimented by some sweetness (think of honey and vanilla notes) and some fresh fruity notes (imagine the lemon zest again plus some green apples). There is also a pinch of pepper spice and increasing dryness with the dried grassy notes from the nose coming through strongly. This dryness and the peppery nature get carried through to the finish, which is of decent length for a young, fresh whisky. A dash of sugary honey sweetness hits the end of your tongue right at the end.
What's the verdict?
This is a very interesting and expressive whisky that seems a little older than it is. It shows amazing potential and is clearly well made and matured in quality casks. Kilkerran is showing plenty of character and it will be interesting to see how it develops as the Work in Progress series progresses with age. As it stands, 'part two' is delicious, creamy and equally as enjoyable as 'part one'. If you get the chance to try it, either by buying it (a bottle should be £30-35 from specialist whisky retailers) or by sampling it at a whisky show, then do so. We thank Iain Scott of Springbank for the chance to try this lovely dram.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Last Christmas, we wrote an article that tried to help with a few suggestions and things to think about when purchasing whisky as a present. Now, we have re-written and updated this article with further suggestions and new whisky releases. Naturally, the points can be used to buy whisky at any time of the year and not just at Christmas!
What do I need to consider?
It is a common misconception that you as a shopper need to know lots about whisky in order to buy something other than the big popular brands. This is not true. How much you know about whisky is actually not important at all - what has to be considered is what you think you the gift's recipient would like or prefer. If you are not sure, then think what other things and flavours that the person receiving the gift usually enjoys. This can be other spirits, wine, food etc - do they enjoy strong, rich flavours or something lighter and fresher? Do they drink white spirits like gin and vodka or sweeter, heavier ones like dark rum or Cognac? This will give you some clues. It may be that you know a whisky that the recipient of your present likes and you can ask for help in selecting something similar. Also think about if you want a famous brand/distillery or something a bit less well known.
How much do I want to spend?
Your budget is an important consideration. Set an upper limit - any salesman worth their salt will try and get you to spend more but stick to it! Single malt whiskies start around £25 for a 70cl bottle and most will be under or around £50. Blended whiskies can start for as little as £10 (sometimes even less if it is a supermarket own brand). Of course, there are whiskies that can fit any budget, from the cheap and cheerful to those costing hundreds and even thousands of pounds! If you only have a small budget, then you could buy a half sized bottle or a pack of miniatures - many of the companies release special gift packs at Christmas time. You can even buy a single miniature if you just need a stocking filler.
What are my shopping choices?
There are a few options - specialist whisky retailers, supermarkets, liquor stores and the internet. Specialist retailers, such as The Whisky Shop chain (the London branch is pictured, left) offer a wider range of whiskies and will have knowledgeable staff that can explain the differences and advise you to make the correct decision. These shops can be daunting but if you go in having considered the first two points, then they will be able to recommend you some great choices. They will also generally have some bottles of whisky open that you can sample and this can help you make a better decision.
Supermarkets are different in that they sell the products but staff may not know a great deal about them, especially as many have cut back on specialist wine and spirit staff in the recession. The distilleries marketing departments help you here, as many of them now print basic tasting notes on their packaging and this will give you an idea if you like the sound of it or not. The range will be tighter, although many chains will expand their whisky ranges and offer decent discounts around the festive period.
Liquor stores can vary from the knowledgeable to those that stock whisky but don't know much about it. Knowledgeable stores can be up there in the specialist retail league but the others can still offer some real hidden gems and great bargains, as they may not know what they have (ie - a rare whisky marked at a ridiculously low price). The trick is to pop in for cheaper beer or wine and have a nose around, then do a little research on the bottles you have spied.
With the internet there are many places to buy whisky - some are online specialists, while others are websites of the specialist whisky retailers or supermarkets - and many of these print helpful tasting notes on each page, with some giving more information, customer reviews and distillery facts to help you make your choice.
If you consider each of the above points before shopping it will make your life, and that of the shop assistant, easier. We are now going to give some suggestions considering each of the points. Most of the whiskies recommended have been reviewed by us and more detailed tasting notes can be reached by clicking on the name of the whisky. We have split the whiskies in to the four main categories to cover the wide scope of flavours and tastes that could be encountered. Naturally, this is not definitive, as there are many nuances of flavour within each category ... but we hope it helps! We have set a budget of £30-35, as this is the most common price point for gift purchases of whisky.
Light and fresh
This can be described as light, clean, delicate, fresh and crisp so look out for these words on packaging. Key flavour characters may be vanilla, cereal grains, nuts, grassiness (fresh or dried) and floral. Famous examples of this style are the Glenfiddich 12 years old, Glenmorangie Original and Glenlivet 12 years old. You could go for one of these as they are all very good and are some of the best selling whiskies in the world but what if you want something different. There are some very under rated whiskies in this category and ones worth considering included Glen Grant, Speyburn and Glengoyne which all release good 10 year olds. Also, there are the Benriach 12 years old (pictured, above) and AnCnoc 12 years old. For something slightly different, try the Japanese single malt Yamazaki 10 years old.
Rich and sweet
These whiskies are much fuller bodied, sweeter and richer than the previous category. They can be described as thick and creamy and have key flavour words such as caramel, dried fruits and citrus peel, spicy and toffee. The Macallan 10 years old is the best selling and most well known brand of this style of whisky. There are many others worth considering including the Dalmore 12 years old (pictured, left), Glenrothes Select Reserve and Glenfarclas 10 years old, which are reasonably common. The Tomintoul 10 years old and Glendronach 12 years old are harder to find but worth tracking down. If you are wanting something non-Scottish then look towards something like the Bushmills Black Bush or a bourbon such as Bulleit Bourbon or Maker's Mark. Most bourbons would actually fall in to this category, as would the popular Tennessee whiskey Jack Daniel's.
A little bit smoky and peaty
This category is relatively small compared to the others. Generally, they are more robust but not always and have some of the peaty, earthy, smoky flavour and aroma but not as much as the next category. They tend to be from the islands around Scotland, but not always. The most well known examples of this style are the Talisker 10 years old, Highland Park 12 years old and Bowmore 12 years old. Other examples worth checking out include Ledaig 10 years old and Jura Superstition. Some whiskies have just the slightest hint of smoke and many people enjoy these as it is not too overpowering - Clynelish 14 years old, Springbank 10 years old, Tomintoul Peaty Tang and Glenfiddich Caoran Reserve 12 years old.
Very smoky and peaty
These are the big, heavy whiskies that are normally from the western Scottish island of Islay (although, again not always!). These will be labelled as rich, peaty, robust, fiery, earthy and smoky. If you see the word 'Islay' on an own brand supermarket whisky then 99.9 times out of 100, it will be in this style. The most famous and best selling brand of this style of whisky is the Laphroaig 10 years old. Laphroaig release another whisky in this £30-35 price bracket that is also very good and this is called Quarter Cask (pictured, left). Other quality whiskies to look for in this smoky style include Ardbeg 10 years old, Caol Ila 12 years old and Smokehead. If you want something smoky but not from Islay, then try the Benriach 10 years old 'Curiositas' from Speyside, Ardmore Traditional Cask from the Highlands or Longrow CV from Campbeltown.
Please note > the present image at the top of this post is taken from www.bargainshopper.com.au.
Glengoyne - wins a top prize
The distillery, owned by Ian MacLeod Distillers, has won the gold medal in the Scottish Field Whisky Challenge for its 21 years old release. The Challenge was launched in 2001 and has quickly become one of the most prestigious and highly anticipated awards in the whisky industry. This year's judges included Darren Leitch of The Whisky Shop chain, Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne Whiskies, Keir Sword of Royal Mile Whiskies and Tatsuya Minagawa of The Highland Inn. The Glengoyne 21 years old is 100% matured in ex-sherry casks and Alan Wardrop, UK sales manager at Ian Macleod Distillers, commented: "It is a real honour to be so highly commended by a team of such well-respected judges. It really is testimony to Glengoyne’s craftsmanship and heritage passed down over the generations".
Masters of Malt - win a year's supply of whisky
The online retailer has launched their new 'Golden Dram' competition in which five lucky winners will each receive a year's supply of whisky. The competition celebrates the release of Master of Malt's new dram sets - these consist of 24 different tasting sample sets, with each including five labeled samples. Sets available include the 'Super Peaty', 'Regions of Scotland' and 'Old and Rare Malts'. The 'Golden Dram' tickets have been hidden in five random tasting sets and if you find one before the end of November then you will win a free Gold Membership, worth £499.95. Gold members receive a year's supply of whisky, with 10 drams every month. For further information and to order your tasting sets, visit www.mastersofmalt.com.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
We recently visited the Knockdhu distillery and were delighted to be shown around by Gordon Bruce, the Distillery Manager. For more information on the distillery and to read about our visit - click here. At the end of the tour, Gordon took us through some of the AnCnoc single malt range and the tasting notes for these can be found below. Our thanks go to Gordon for his knowledge, insight and hospitality, which made our visit so memorable.
Only around 15% of the whisky produced and matured at Knockdhu is then bottled as single malt, although this figure is increasing as AnCnoc becomes more recognised and popular. The main markets for AnCnoc are Germany, Sweden, the UK and the USA. The rest is used in a wide variety of blended whiskies. The core range consists of the 10 and 16 year olds and these are supplemented by limited edition releases which carry a vintage statement showing the year they were distilled. Independent bottlings are rare and will generally be released under the Knockdhu name.
Knockdhu new make
This new make spirit had only been distilled on the previous day and had an alcoholic strength of 69% ABV. The chance to try new make spirit is a rare one and is interesting as it gives big clues about the characteristics that you will find in the final bottled whiskies. This was a clear liquid with a very fresh nose that was fruity (think of green pears and apples) and peppery. These were also present on the palate and were joined by hints of honey, vanilla essence and lemon zest. It feels slightly oily in the mouth and the hot pepper spice returns for a crisp finish.
AnCnoc 12 years old
This whisky is the cornerstone of the AnCnoc single malt range. It has a golden colour and the nose smells very promising with a pleasant mixture of honey, vanilla, a hint of dried fruit (think of sultanas) and zingy citrus notes (imagine lemon zest). On the palate, this feels thin and is light and fresh with some dried fruitiness (sultanas again), vanilla, honey and that citrus element. These are joined by notes of distinct cereal grains and dried grasses, which add an underlying dryness that tempers the earlier sweetness well. The finish is crisp, refreshing if not a little short. This is easy drinking and would be great as an aperitif but may be a bit light for some palates.
AnCnoc 16 years old
This is the only single malt in the AnCnoc range that is 100% ex-bourbon cask matured. All of the others have differing percentage mixes of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks. This is pale lemon in colour with a fresh, aromatic nose - vanilla, cereals and crisp green apple notes are prominent with some citrusy lemon zest, coconut and fresh grass notes joining in. with time a linen-like aroma comes through. On the palate, this is crisp and lighter than the nose suggests with a pleasant mixture of vanilla oakiness, citrus, coconut, grasses and some spiciness (imagine ginger and cinnamon). The finish is short and drying with the vanilla and spices dominating. A lovely, refreshing whisky that was much better than we remembered.
AnCnoc 1995 vintage
This whisky was a very limited edition that was only put in to the German and Russian markets. Gordon fished this one out from his 'special' cupboard, so the chance to try it was easily taken! The colour is golden amber and the nose is distinctly fruity (think of sultanas and raisins). There is also plenty of fudge, vanilla and oak aromas, plus hints of honey and cinnamon spice. More of the sweet fudge and vanilla notes come through on the palate, although this turns slightly bitter and more reminiscent of burnt sugar with time. It feels creamier than most of the other AnCnoc's in the mouth, with the dried fruits and pleasant spice again present. The finish is of good length and is decently dry and oaky.
AnCnoc 1994 vintage
The colour is of this limited edition whisky golden with a hint of amber tone. The 1994 is the latest vintage release in the core range of AnCnoc, following on from a 1993 one. The nose is expressive and obviously sweet to begin with - initial honey and sultana notes are joined by a prominent cereal grain note plus something nutty (think of almonds) and grassy (imagine dry hay or straw). The palate reflects the characteristics of the nose well, although the cereals become more dominant with time. The finish is equally as grainy with an interesting mix of honey, vanilla and some dry wood spices (especially cinnamon). A good and easy drinking dram that offers something sweeter to the AnCnoc range.
AnCnoc 1975 vintage
The oldest AnCnoc single malt that is currently on the market. This whisky is a very different beast to any of the others that we tried. The colour is a dark golden amber and the nose is packed with interesting and intense aromas - vanilla, ginger, candied peel, cinnamon, cereals and orange oil. On the palate, this feels rich and full bodied with an intense woody spice (the cinnamon and ginger again) giving way and incorporating delicious notes of vanilla, cereal grains, coconut and orange. A hint of cocoa powder comes through right at the end. The intensity is fantastic but may be too much for some, so we tried it with a few drops of water - it remains very good with the orange note becoming even stronger and the spiciness dying slightly. The finish is dry and oaky. A great dram.
The address of the distillery is given as Knock, near Huntly. As we discovered, addresses can sometimes be misleading! We skirted around the edge of the town of Huntly and headed off the main road in search of the village of Knock and therefore, the distillery. Over half an hour of driving passed as we drove down increasingly narrow roads in to the impending gloom of dusk and a developing fog. The two main questions being that "we must be there soon, mustn't we?" and "where the hell is this place?" The answer turned out to be that the village of Knock and its distillery are in the middle of nowhere, certainly not 'near' Huntly! The village has just a few houses plus the distillery and it sits at the bottom of an imposing black hill, which gives Knockdhu its name. The first impression was of a stunning location.
Our tour was taken by Gordon Bruce, the Distillery Manager of Knockdhu (pictured, left). Gordon has worked his way up through the ranks, having started as a mash-man at Pulteney distillery back in 1986 and has come to Knockdhu via Balblair. He has held the position of Distillery Manager at 'The Knock', as he affectionately calls it, since 2006. We discover that he lives with his family in one of the few houses in the tiny village of Knock, is on call at the distillery 24/7 and that his two dogs frequent the distillery regularly - the comment being that "they are more photogenic than anyone else who works here!" Sadly, they were not there on the day of our visit.
Knockdhu is not open to the public, so the chance to have a look around was to be a real treat. Despite this, Gordon commented that he has never turned any visitor away in his four years as Distillery Manager and has always found the time for himself or another member of staff to show them around. We begin with a short walk to the back of the distillery and pass two piles of rubble (pictured, left). Gordon explains that these are the remains of two of Knockdhu's five warehouses, which collapsed under the weight of heavy snow last winter. They managed to save most of the maturing whisky but he gets visibly emotional as he describes the loss of 18 casks - the roof caved in and the side walls were pulled down as a result, smashing the casks. This damage equated to £150,000 worth of whisky and included casks from 1989 to 2009.
The tour begins with a rare treat - a trip to see the distillery's old kiln and the chance to go inside it! Nowadays, most distilleries do not produce their own malted barley, so the malting floors and kilns are redundant. The kiln at a distillery is housed in the pagoda structure (Knockdhu's is pictured, below left) and these charismatic buildings give a distillery some photographic charm, but little else these days. Knockdhu's pagoda and kiln hasn't been used for around 40 years.
We firstly take a look at the large oven before moving upstairs, where Gordon opens a small doorway and beckons Matt, who happens to be first on the scene, inside. Faced with blackness and a fear of heights, Matt is reluctant - only for Gordon to reassure him with the words, "trust me, I'm a distiller!" before patting him on the back to coax him in! Once inside, we are standing on the mesh floor where the grains once sat with the kiln oven directly below us. The inside of the structure (pictured, above centre) is in some disrepair but plans are in place to renovate it. Gordon tells us that with a bit of work the kiln and its pagoda could function again, as everything including the triangular vent (viewed from directly below, above right) is operational. This was a totally unique experience and was put in to perspective when we were told that the room we had stood in could hold 25 tonnes of malted barley at a time.
After a brief visit to the milling room, which includes a Porteus mill from 1964 and a state-of-the-art grain filtering machine, we move on to the mash room. This room is is dominated by the huge circular stainless steel mash tun, where the malted barley is mixed with warm water to dissolve the soluble sugars from the grain. This water is added in three stages, with each stage at a higher temperature - this helps to ensure that the maximum amount of sugars are extracted from the barley. The three temperatures at Knockdhu are approximately 63°C, then 72°C and finally 82°C. This mash tun is new, having been installed in the summer of 2009, and boasts a striking domed copper top which replicates that of their previous mash tuns. We get to see the second water being added here.
Next up is the room where the fermentation takes place. This houses six large wooden tanks, known as washbacks. Here they take the sugary liquid from the mash tun (called wort) and add yeast to create alcohol. Each washback holds 21,500 litres of wort and to this they add 100 litres of liquid distillers yeast. The final product is called 'wash' and this has an alcohol level of around 8% ABV - the equivalent to a strong beer. It is interesting to hear that Gordon finds this the most interesting part of the whole whisky making process. The reason is that it is the one part that is hardest to control as you are relying on nature to do the job for you. In contrast everything else can be controlled by the workers - milling, mashing, distilling etc. We take the opportunity to try the 'wash', which is reminiscent of a malty, fruity ale.
It is only after Gordon's comments above on the fermentation and his emphasis on the skill of the distillery workers, that something becomes obviously apparent. This 'something' is confirmed in the still house - Knockdhu has no computers operating any stage of its whisky making process. Computers are now commonplace in many distilleries and control all aspects of production, so to see a distillery that is totally reliant on the traditional skills of its workers is unusual and refreshing. One of our group points this out and Gordon shows us the only 'computer' in the distillery ... a calculator!
The still room at Knockdhu is on the small side but feels much less cramped than those at Balblair and Pulteney. Here the stills (pictured, left) have more room and have flatter than normal bases, in comparison to many distilleries that have more bulbous ones. This forces the alcohol vapours to travel up tall narrow neck of the stills and helps to ultimately produce the light, fresh style of spirit that Knockdhu is well regarded for. The vapours then move along the horizontal lyne arms and out through the side wall of the still room in to a worm tub. Worm tubs are large tanks of cold water through which a spiraled copper pipe passes and this condenses the alcohol vapour back to a liquid spirit. Few distilleries still have worm tubs these days, preferring condensing units. Knockdhu is unique in the Scottish whisky industry as it is the only one to have both stills connected to the same worm tub. Sadly, it was dark by this point so we could not go up and see the coiled piping and water inside the worm tub properly.
The darkness and ever increasing fog prevented us from having a look in one of the remaining warehouses but Gordon then took us back to the offices, where he took us through a tasting of some of the whiskies bottled under the AnCnoc name. The brief tasting notes for these whiskies will follow shortly in a separate post. A massive thanks goes to Gordon for his time, insight, information and hospitality on our visit. We highly recommend a visit to this fascinating traditional whisky distillery and remember, you will never be turned away ...