Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Have just tried ... Double Barrel (Ardbeg/Glenrothes) from Douglas Laing & Co

Two casks, one whisky
The Double Barrel are a recently released series of vatted malt whiskies from the Glasgow based independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co. A vatted malt is one that contains two or more single malt whiskies and nothing else. The principal behind the series is to mix two contrasting styles of whisky together, usually one in the smoky, peaty style and the other in the ex-sherry cask style. Douglas Laing & Co select only one cask of each and then vatted these together. As a result bottles are limited and should cost between £35-£45, depending on where you find it. We have previously reviewed another in the Double Barrel series that combines smoky Laphroaig and sherry casked Macallan - click here to read.

Distillery information
This version of Double Barrel consists of two nine years old single malts - Ardbeg and Glenrothes. Ardbeg is a distillery on the western Scottish island of Islay (pronounced eye-la) and they produce some of the peatiest, smokiest whiskies in the world. Islay is the home of the smoky style of whisky and Ardbeg was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall. The current owners are drinks company Moet Hennessey and the distillery has a capacity of approximately one million litres per year. 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 5.5 million litres per year. Despite its size, Glenrothes remains fairly unknown as the Edrington Group, the current owners, use a majority of the whisky produced in their flagship blends of Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. Their single malts are usually matured in sherry casks.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this version of Double Barrel is light golden, almost lemony. The nose feels sweet and fresh with plenty of soft peat present (think of damp moss and earth). Once you get beyond this initial smokiness, there are other subtle aromas that come through - vanilla, cereal grains, yeast, butterscotch and some zingy citrus (imagine lemons especially). The palate is light and fresh with peaty smokiness again as the prominent feature. This feels more ashy than earthy though and is reminiscent of coal embers or smoke. The effect is to make the palate instantly drier and slightly more astringent than the sweeter nose suggested. Sweeter characters start to come through with time and these balance the dryness well - these include honey, vanilla, cereal grains and nuts (think of almonds). The finish is again quite dry and astringent, this time with a distinct grainy and herbal edge (imagine dried grasses, hay or straw). The overall feeling is of freshness and the dryness/astringency is surprisingly pleasant and leaves your mouth watering and wanting to try more.

What's the verdict?
This Ardbeg/Glenrothes Double Barrel is an interesting whisky and makes more of an impression than the previous Laphroaig/Macallan version that we have tried. The whisky does seem to suffer from a similar problem though, with the smokier Islay whisky suffocating the softer sweeter Speysider. However, this is a pleasant and easy drinking whisky that will satisfy the peaty whisky fans and the uninitiated alike, as it has balance and complexity combined with a decent but not frightening level of peat smoke. Well worth a try.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Happy Birthday to us!

birthday cakeWe are two years old
Today marks the anniversary of the day that we decide to first start blogging about whisky. Whisky For Everyone was born on March 30 2008, when one of us convinced the other one to finally start writing up tasting notes and whisky reviews.

Now two years later, we have published nearly 350 articles, developed a website with more detailed whisky and distillery information, gained an ever expanding list of industry contacts and friends, continue to receive thousands of visitors from all around the globe each month and have 1100 followers on Twitter! We often wonder 'how did that all happen?' and thank everyone who has read, commented and interacted with us over the last two years.

Why Whisky For Everyone?
The basic principal of Whisky For Everyone remains the same as the day we started - to write and explain about whisky and the world of whisky in simple language, so that everyone who is interested can understand. It is particularly aimed at the beginner and this is relevant as we were both beginners two years ago. When we were trying to learn about whisky, there were not as many blogs and websites as there are now. We found some excellent sites, but most seemed to be aimed at the connoisseur or assume that you had some knowledge, maybe marking whiskies out of 100.

These felt like they had no relevance to us at that point, as we knew little about whisky, how to taste it or what styles we liked. Therefore, we decided to write something ourselves that compared the flavours of whisky to other things and combine this with some basic distillery information and facts within the notes. Naturally our writing style and knowledge have evolved but everything is still done with the above in mind.

whisky for everyone birthday prizesWin prizes!
To celebrate our second birthday, we have a prize to give away to one reader. However, you have to work for it slightly! We have a 20cl bottle of Talisker whisky, a special 10cl sample of a forthcoming whisky in our 'mystery dram' series (this will be published soon), plus a couple of other small goodies to give away. All you have to do is suggest a single article or regular feature that you would like to see on Whisky For Everyone. We are getting independent judges to choose the best and most interesting idea. Our judges include Chris Maclean, author of soft drink blog Drink Station and manager of The Whisky Shop branch in London and Tom Driver, the man who designed the Whisky For Everyone logo. So, get your thinking caps on and add your idea via the 'comments' section below. We will announce the winner after Easter and look forward to seeing your ideas and suggestions.

We are now off to have a celebratory birthday dram! Cheers ...

Karen & Matt

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Have just tried ... Glenmorangie LaSanta, Nectar D'Or & Quinta Ruban

Scotland’s favourite single malt
The name of Glenmorangie is one of the most famous in the world of whisky. The distillery is located in the Highland town of Tain and is approximately 40 miles (65km) north of Inverness. Their single malts whiskies are multi award winning and are consistently in the top three for world sales. Glenmorangie Original is also the best selling single malt in Scotland.

The distillery was founded in 1843 by William Matheson. It is one of Scotland’s largest whisky distilleries with an increased annual production capacity of six million litres, following the addition of two new stills recently. The stills at Glenmorangie are the tallest in Scotland at 5 metres (16.5 feet) high and make the still house resembles a cathedral. They are all exact replicas of the original stills that were purchased from a gin distillery in London in 1843.

We have more information and history about Glenmorangie in its distillery profile page on our website,

Glenmorangie's Extra Matured range
Approximately two years ago, the current owners of Glenmorangie (drinks giant Moet Hennessey) decided to revamp their range. Out went the limited edition cask finish range to be replaced by the Extra Matured range. These would become a permanent feature in the core range and contain three whiskies - the LaSanta, Nectar D'Or and Quinta Ruban. All three are initially matured in American oak ex-bourbon casks before being transferred to other types of cask in order to give each one a differing flavour profile. The LaSanta is transferred to Oloroso sherry casks and the name means 'warmth and passion' in Gaelic. In the case of the Nectar D'Or, the whisky is part matured in Sauternes dessert wine casks from France (Nectar D'Or translates as 'golden liquid' from French - a local affectionate name that Sauternes wines are often given). The Quinta Ruban is matured in Port casks and the name is taken from the Portuguese word quintas, which are the vineyards where grapes for Port production are grown.

glenmorangie lasantaOur LaSanta tasting notes
The colour of LaSanta is golden amber and the nose is very promising. There is plenty of honey and caramel initially and these are followed up by a lovely combination of aromas - woody oak (reminiscent of old dusty furniture), dried fruits (think of sultanas and dried orange peel especially), sweet toffee and spicy cloves. On the palate, this feels full bodied, viscous and velvety. The honey and caramel are again initially prominent, before combining well with other rich elements such as dried fruits (imagine brandy soaked raisins and orange peel), warm woody spices (such as cinnamon and nutmeg), nuts (think of hazelnuts and almonds and oak. The whisky seems less sweet than the nose suggests. The finish is long, sweet and fruity (combine the caramel, dried fruit and spice elements from before) with a distinct woody, almost earthy note appearing at the end.

glenmorangie nectar d'orOur Nectar D'Or tasting notes
The colour of Nectar D'Or is bright gold and the nose feels indulgent and sumptuous. It is packed with sweet honey, vanilla and cereal grains. There is also a lovely combination of floral honeysuckle, dried grasses, woody coconut and these are complimented by a slight bitter citrus edge (think of grapefruit). The palate is soft, smooth and silky with a medium body. It feels rich and sweet and has a well balanced mix of characteristics - honey, vanilla, coconut, cereal grains, new oak (think of fresh sawdust), dried grasses, plump sultanas and warm spice (imagine ginger). The finish is shorter than that of LaSanta but is sweet, delicate and fresh with a delightful subtle complexity and a touch of ginger and cinnamon to compliment the honey, citrus and vanilla.

glenmorangie quinta rubanOur Quinta Ruban tasting notes
Quinta Ruban has an amber colour with a distinct red tint. The nose is dominated by dark dried fruit (think of raisins) and spices (imagine a combination of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves). This is sweet and rich with some orange zest, damp wood and hints of milk chocolate coming through also. The overall feeling is reminiscent of fruit cake. On the palate, this whisky has a medium body and is rich and mouth coating. It feels even sweeter and fruitier than the nose suggests and is packed with burnt sugar and dried fruit notes (those raisins again). In addition, there is an orangey zing and plenty of cinnamon spice, plus hints of stewed fruits (think of pears in red wine), butterscotch, and milk chocolate or cocoa. The finish is surprisingly short, considering richness of nose and palate but has an excellent combination of orange zest, wood spice and fruit.

What's the verdict?
Glenmorangie have done a very good job with the Extra Matured range. each whisky has its own character and could appeal to different drinkers. The LaSanta is very nice and definitely one for a late evening, after dinner or in colder weather - it is a warming and succulent dram that offers a comforting 'hug in a glass'. The Nectar D'Or is more sublime and luxurious that feels more summery and fresh - this is a whisky that you sip and savour, then sip and savour some more. The Quinta Ruban is equally as enjoyable but feels a bit like the complicated 'grown up' sibling of the three - the other two have simpler, more defined flavour profiles. Quinta Ruban grows on you with every sip, becoming very moreish and has deep complexity that holds your interest. They are all top quality whiskies but if we had to choose then Karen's favourite is Quinta Ruban and Matt's is Nectar D'Or.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Have just tried ... Four Roses Small Batch

four roses small batchOne of seven
Four Roses is an American whiskey distillery that is located in the town of Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. The state of Kentucky is the famous home of the American whiskey industry with seven distilleries currently operating. The other six include some famous names and are Bernheim, Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Wild Turkey and Woodford Reserve. These produce numerous brands of whiskey and bourbon.

Japanese owners
Four Roses is currently owned by the Kirin Brewery Company from Japan and is one of Kentucky's largest distilleries, producing almost eight million litres of whiskey a year. Much of this is released under the Four Roses name, although as with many of the American distilleries they also release whiskies and bourbons under different names. These all use different traditional recipes during production and are derived from closed distilleries. The most well known example made at Four Roses is Bulleit bourbon. For further information on American whiskies and bourbons, then check out the American page on our website -

Details of the whiskey
This Small Batch forms part of Four Roses' core range which also include the best selling Yellow Label and a Single Barrel release. As the name suggest, this whiskey is released in small quantities and each batch is rumoured to consist of just four casks that are married together. The whiskey included is aged for between six and eight years and contains some of the highest rye grain content of any bourbon (about 40%). Small Batch is bottled at an alcoholic strength of 45% ABV and should cost £25-30 a bottle from selected specialist liquor retailers.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Small Batch is a deep golden amber and the nose is expressive and fragrant. There are prominent aromas of vanilla, coconut, slightly bitter cereal grains (imagine something like a rye bread) and oranges (think of candied peel or marmalade), with some more subtle wood spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg) and nuts (especially almonds) present in the background. On the palate, these characteristics are milder and softer than the nose suggests. The vanilla, cereal grains and the almond-like nuttiness lend the palate a creamy, mouth coating feeling and these are backed by a lovely combination of coconut, honey, cinnamon and nutmeg spice and bitter oranges. The finish is again soft with some initial sweetness before turning drier and spicier (that cinnamon again), with some distinct bitter cereal grains (think of the husks) and toasted almond notes at the forefront. The addition of water brings out more honey and some previously undetected toffee, while taking the edge off the woody spice notes.

What's the verdict?
Small batches of American whiskies are relatively hard to find and we have not tasted many. This makes it difficult to compare this whiskey with anything. All we can say is that this is a very good and highly enjoyable drink and that others that we will try in the future have a lot to live up to! Four Roses Small Batch offers a lovely, expressive and balanced dram that also represents great value for money (try getting a small batch Scottish release for a similar age, by comparison).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Have just tried ... Hedonism from Compass Box

hedonism from compass boxAn award winning whisky maker
Compass Box is a boutique independent whisky producer that was founded in 2000 by John Glaser and is based in west London and Edinburgh. Their ethos is to buy whisky from a small number of distilleries and then craft them together into their own unique whiskies. The range includes single grain whiskies such as this Hedonism, vatted malts, blended whiskies and other occasional releases. All are produced and released in small batches, often using only two single malts to create a unique product with a catchy name. By doing their own blending and vatting, Compass Box have less restrictions than other traditional independent bottlers and as a result, is a former winner of the prestigious Whisky Magazine's Innovator of the Year.

For further information on Compass Box and other independent bottling companies, then visit their page on our website

What is in Hedonism?
Hedonism is produced in small batches and this current batch (labeled H29MMIX) was launched in September 2009. It is made using 100% grain whisky, therefore no single malt whisky is present in the vatting. Bottlings of grain whiskies are rare these days, as most grain whisky is used to produce blended whiskies. Previous batches of Hedonism have won the 'Best Grain Whisky' category at the prestigious World Whisky Awards in 2008 and 2009. This H29MMIX batch is made up of whiskies from the grain distilleries at Cambus, Cameron Bridge and Carsebridge, with the youngest whisky being 14 years of age and the oldest being 29. Cambus and Carsebridge are both closed distilleries, having been taken out of service in 1993 and 1983 respectively, and Cameron Bridge produces a massive 30 million litres of spirit per year and is the home of Gordon's gin. All are matured in ex-bourbon casks and the final mix of Hedonism is bottled at 43% ABV.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this whisky is light and golden, almost straw-like. The nose is fragrant and has a lovely fresh feeling to it. There are plenty of sweet vanilla and cereal grain aromas (think of the grain husks or oatmeal) and these are joined by other notes - oak, coconut and honey. On the palate, this feels creamy and warm and is dripping with sweet honey (imagine honeycomb) and vanilla pods. These characteristics combine very well with some gristy cereal grains, nuts (think of almonds and coconuts), toffee, warm spices (especially reminiscent of ginger and nutmeg) and a hint of dried grass (imagine hay or straw). The combination of these creates a very good balance, flavour profile and feeling in the mouth. The finish switches things around - it begins with more sweetness (honey, vanilla, sweet cereals) before turning drier and slightly bitter (think of oak, grain husks and nutmeg). This bittersweet quality of the finish counteracts the sweetness found on the nose and palate perfectly.

What's the verdict?
There are only 4410 bottles will be available in this latest batch of Hedonism and they can be found for around £50 a bottle at specialist alcohol retailers or through Compass Box's own website. This is a lovely example of a quality grain whisky and if you have never tried one before, then it is worth tracking down and trying. Some may say that it is a bit on the pricey side but you have to consider the age of the whiskies included (14-29 years old). Would a blended whisky with single malts of these ages cost the same? Yes ... and a bit more probably. Hedonism offers a simple yet very enjoyable, fresh and cleansing dram that would be perfect as an aperitif or on a warm day.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Have just tried ... Yamazaki 18 years old

yamazaki 18 years oldJapan's oldest whisky producer
The story of the Yamazaki distillery is essentially the story of the whisky industry in Japan. Yamazaki is the country’s oldest and first whisky distillery. Shinjiro Torri was the Japanese whisky industry's pioneer and founder. His idea was to found a distillery and corner the potential market for whisky sales in Japan in 1923. The distillery is located in the rural village of Yamazaki, which lies between the cities of Osaka and Kyoto. The current distillery has a capacity of seven million litres per year, making it one of the largest whisky distilleries in the world and beating most in Scotland. It also has the busiest visitor centre of all Japanese distilleries and this includes a bar that contains over 120 different Yamazaki whiskies of differing ages and cask types!

The birth of Suntory
Shinjiro Torri's Kotobukiya Company funded the building of Yamazaki and production started in 1924. Masetaka Taketsuru, who was Torri's protégé and the man who had visited Scotland to learn production techniques and traditions, was appointed as distillery manager. Kotobukiya changed its name to Suntory in 1929, with the new name being derived from Torri-san, the Japanese title of Shinjiro Torri. The first whisky, a blend of their single malt and grain whiskies, was released in 1932. Interestingly, this blend also included some imported single malt from Scotland. Shortly afterwards, Taketsuru left to start Yoichi, which started production in 1934. The first purely single malt whisky from Yamazaki (the 12 years old) was not released until 1984 and was followed by this 18 years old in 1994. The core range also currently includes the popular 10 years old and these are joined by occasional limited releases.

For further information and history of Yamazaki and other Japanese distilleries, please visit the Japanese section of our website -

Our tasting notes
The Yamazaki 18 years old has started to pick up awards around the world in the last two years and should cost approximately £70 a bottle. This whisky has been matured in a complex mixture of casks including ex-bourbon, ex-sherry and Japanese mizunara oak. The colour is deep amber and the nose is rich, expressive and very tempting. It is full of dried fruits (imagine raisins, sultanas and dried apple), burnt dark sugar/caramel, malty cereal grains and an almost overwhelming but very pleasant citrus note (think of candied peel or orange marmalade). On the palate, the richness is joined by more sweetness than the nose suggests and has a complex mix of notes - distinctive citrus peel (oranges again), dried fruits (sultanas especially), lots of cereal grain, vanilla, caramel, oak and woody spiciness (this is quite bark-like, think of cinnamon). The finish is long, soft and enjoyable with the orange citrus notes, caramel and grains particularly prominent. There is maybe just a hint of some peat smoke in the background also and this seems slightly musty and mossy.

What's the verdict?
Yamazaki 18 years old is a top quality dram. We have sampled it on a number of occasions now, and it seems to be better than we remembered each time. The whisky demonstrates the interesting products that are currently coming out of Japan and it is easy to see why this continues wins multiple awards. The balance between sweetness, richness and spiciness is very good and creates an excellent, complex dram that allows you to discover new aromas and flavours each time you drink some.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Our Top 10 whisky websites

Whisky for Everyone Top 10The number of whisky blogs and websites on the internet has risen massively over the last couple of years and each one contributes to a lively and vibrant whisky community online. The beauty of this online community is that there is enough room for everyone's voice, their style of site and their opinions. The fact that each website is written and programmed by different people, in different styles and with differing opinions is what makes the community so interesting.

Blogs can offer immediacy and short sound bites of information, whereas the benefit of a website is that it can offer more in depth information and be used more as a permanent reference resource. To this end, we started our website – - about a year ago as an extension of our blog. This has allowed us to share much more information than is viable on a blog post, covering subjects such as whisky basics, detailed distillery profiles and interesting facts and figures. If you haven’t visited it already, then please click the link above and let us know what you think.

Here, we have decided to champion some of the best whisky websites that we have discovered since we first joined the community less than two years ago. We have made many friends and acquaintances along the way and this Top 10 is a tribute to each one's work. It would be unfair to rank these, as each offers something unique and which you may prefer is ultimately up to you, so we have listed them in alphabetical order. Recently, we produced a similar list of our favourite whisky blogs – to view this list, click here.

ardbeg logoArdbeg
Almost every whisky brand, distillery and independent bottling company have a website these days and while most are functional and ‘do the job’, there are few that truly stand out. Ardbeg is one of these and has taken the genre of the ‘distillery website’ to a different level. They combine innovative graphics, plenty of customer interaction and informative text in a stylised and impressive website. The ‘style’ of the website is carried through to their equally innovative marketing material. The site also includes a shop that allows you to buy Ardbeg whisky and other associated products. The only down side is that the site tends to crash dramatically when large numbers of people go on it at the same time to try and buy a limited edition release! Other well branded websites include Monkey Shoulder and Smokehead.

aspiring gentleman logoAspiring Gentleman
This is a cracking site that is not just about whisky, but all things for the ‘aspiring gentleman’. Whisky plays a major part on the site, with regular reviews, detailed tasting notes and relevant talking points and news. Cigars play the other major part on the site and there are excellent reviews and tasting notes of the products. However, these whisky and cigar articles are placed alongside others covering all manner of subjects such as cigarettes, tailoring, shaving, beer, other drinks and spirits, etiquette, male grooming and accessories. All articles are extremely well written and make easy reading for beginners to these subjects. We have learnt a lot, especially from the cigar reviews. There is also a store section that allows you to purchase related items, including a decent range of whisky books.

connosr logoConnosr
This is a whisky social networking site that allows you to post and compare whisky reviews with other users. The site is the brainchild of Jean-Luc and Pierre Thiebaut - two whisky enthusiasts and web designers, who decided to combine their day job and hobby in order to create Connosr. There is not another site like Connosr that is purely led by its readers and contributors and it is a valuable source of information and opinion. In addition to posting your own whisky reviews, it allows you to speak with other users, rate whiskies using a star system, create your own whisky wish list, cabinet and history and much more. Connosr has been going for just over a year and is extremely popular, with over 3000 members already. Another more traditional style of forum worthy of a mention is WhiskyWhiskyWhisky.

malt maniacs logoMalt Maniacs
Where to start? Put in simple terms, Malt Maniacs is one of the most comprehensive and informative whisky websites and resources around. It is also one of the oldest whisky sites, having been started in 1997. As a result, there is a vast back catalogue of articles, tasting notes and reviews of over 10,000 whiskies! Malt Maniacs is unusual as it has contributions from a select group of ‘friends’ who are located all around the world. These include a number of the whisky glitterati, such as Charles Maclean, Dave Broom, Mark Gillespie, Ulf Buxrud and Serge Valentin (in fact, Serge’s popular blog Whisky Fun started life as an offshoot to Malt Maniacs and contains regularly updated tasting notes). The founder, Johannes van den Heuval also writes his own side project called Malt Madness, which focuses on whisky news and distillery information.

royal mile whiskies logoRoyal Mile Whiskies
Royal Mile Whiskies is a retailer who have two stores – on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile (unsurprisingly!) and in London – and they have an excellent website, from which you can purchase the wide range of products that they stock. It is not for that reason that the website has been included in this Top 10, but because it is also one of the biggest resources for finding whisky tasting notes, distillery information and industry news that is available. This site has become one of our first ports of call for us when we look for any whisky related information and is where we have learnt so much. It is especially good and user friendly for the beginner, explaining things in layman’s language. Other good retailer sites that offer plenty of information are Gordon & MacPhail and La Maison du Whisky. logoScotch
This website markets itself as ‘the definitive online guide to whisky’ and in our view, it is not far wrong. The site contains a vast amount of information on all aspects of whisky. The distillery information profile pages are a particular highlight as they supply concise bullet pointed info and facts. These are split in to general information, distillery history, images, comments and available bottlings. The format is very easy to read and user friendly. In addition, numerous other sections are laid out in a similar way. These include information on different whiskies (single malts, blends and grain), whisky retailers and bars around the world, independent bottling companies, whisky history and manufacturing techniques and food/cocktail ideas. An excellent resource and a great site for beginners.

single malt tv logoSingle Malt TV
Single Malt TV is a channel devoted to the world of whisky. The concept was formed in 2006 and it soon grabbed the interest of both whisky connoisseurs and beginners alike. The channel is internet based and operates with 24 hour programming. It was also the first channel (internet, terrestrial or satellite) to be shot exclusively in the Hi-Definition format. Single Malt TV contains everything from full length feature programmes to snippets of clips lasting less than a minute. It covers all manner of subjects to do with the world of whisky – tasting reviews, distillery visits and profiles, food and whisky matching/recipes, interviews with interesting and relevant characters from within the industry and basics guides to whisky production. Well worth a visit and before you know it, you will have been watching for hours!

whisky cast logoWhisky Cast
This is one of the pioneers of the whisky podcast. Whisky Cast was started in November 2005 by journalist Mark Gillespie, when he decided to create and use the podcast as a tool for his own whisky education. The show is produced once a week and can be downloaded from the Whisky Cast site or iTunes. There are currently over 240 editions of Whisky Cast and they are all available in an extensive back catalogue. The podcasts include whisky hot topics, interviews with influential people within the industry, whisky tastings and notes, news, forthcoming events around the world and competitions. There are also archives of photographs and whisky tasting reviews/ratings, as well as a shop stocked with a selection of items including whisky books, glasses and hipflasks.

whisky emporium logoWhisky Emporium
The Whisky Emporium is an excellent website that is run by Keith Wood in Germany. The self-proclaimed ‘Bavarian exile’ has constructed one of the finest whisky resource sites around and it is packed with information. The main body of the site is the Tasting Notes section, where Keith combines distillery information with the tasting notes of any of that distillery’s whisky that he has sampled. The distillery/tasting list is extensive and you can find yourself reading through the well written notes and then wondering where your time has gone (we speak from experience!). There are other sections worth mentioning such as Dram-atics (Keith’s personal whisky blog), information on collecting and tasting whisky and a shop where you can buy 5cl samples from Keith’s collection.

whisky sites directory logoWhisky Sites Directory
This is a simple yet effective site that offers links to numerous other whisky websites and blogs. The directory gives links to many of the whisky distillery and brand websites, with many of the Scottish, Irish, American and Japanese brands being placed alongside some lesser known producers from around the globe. There are also links to the multitude of whisky information websites and whisky blogs that are available on the web. As we say, it’s a simple site but one that is easy to use and concise, providing a valuable resource for whisky enthusiasts and beginners alike.

Please note - all logos and images are taken from the original sites.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Five whiskies for St. Patrick's Day

Today is St. Patrick's Day, the national day of Ireland. We thought it fitting that we should put together a post featuring some of our favourite Irish whiskies that we have tasted to date. The tradition of having a dram of whiskey with a pint of Guinness is one that will be followed by millions across the globe this evening. The most popular Irish whiskies by volume of sales are Jameson and Bushmills and plenty of drams of these will be sunk tonight. We have reviewed these but we thought we should champion some of the excellent but maybe lesser known Irish whiskies that will go well with a pint of the black stuff. Enjoy!

connemara peated single maltConnemara Single Malt
Connemara is produced at the Cooley distillery in County Louth - a distillery located roughly half way between Dublin and Belfast. Connemara is the only Irish whisky that is regularly produced in the peaty style and Cooley follow the original recipe from the old Connemara distillery that was located on the western Galway coast. The colour is light gold and the nose is has aromas of heather, honey, vanilla and soft earthy peat smoke. On the palate, there is more honey and vanilla, nuts (think of almonds), malty cereals and woody oak. The smokiness seems stronger and has an earthy, mossy edge to it. The smoke is prominent on the finish that mixes sweet honey and vanilla with drier, spicier oak and cinnamon notes. A lovely dram that combines the softness of an Irish whiskey with the more robust smoky notes of a Scottish island whisky.

greenore 8 years oldGreenore 8 years old
This is a limited batch single grain whiskey that is made at the Cooley distillery in County Louth. Greenore is unique as it is the only Irish grain whiskey that is regularly released. Grain whiskies contain no barley but are made from a mixture of other grains. The colour is vibrant gold and the nose has cereal, honey and oaky coconut aromas. On the palate, this is smooth and sweet with lots of distinct cereal grains (think of the more bitter husks especially) vanilla, honey, almonds and warm spices (think of ginger and nutmeg). This is very full bodied, creamy and melts in your mouth. The finish is warm and honeyed with plenty of enjoyable bitter cereal notes and a good dry woodiness at the end. If you have never sampled grain whiskey before, then try this one as it is an excellent example.

paddy old irish whiskeyPaddy Old Irish
This whiskey is named after the legendary whisky salesman Paddy Flaherty and is currently made at the Midleton distillery in County Cork. The colour is pale golden yellow and the nose is aromatic and clean. There is fresh vanilla, malted cereals, honey, nuts (think of almonds and hazelnuts), oak and grass notes (imagine dried grasses or hay). On the palate, this is mild, soft and light with mellow malted barley, vanilla, honey, sweet coconut, toffee, more grassiness (dried hay again), toasted nuts (almonds especially) and woody spice (think of cinnamon). The finish is soft, sweet and very malty and grainy. An easy drinking and uncomplicated dram. To read our full review of Paddy - click here.

powers gold labelPower's Gold Label
One of Ireland's most popular and oldest whiskies (it was first produced in 1791). Power's is currently made at the Midleton distillery in County Cork. The colour is golden yellow with a delicate, light nose. It is sweet with a combination of aromas - cereal grains, vanilla, caramel and a floral honeysuckle note. On the palate, this feels light, soft and creamy. There is a distinct, slightly bitter grainy character that is joined by sweeter elements such as vanilla, caramel, butterscotch and nuts (especially hazelnuts and almonds). A herbal note appears (imagine dried grass) and gives a good balance. The finish is short but smooth, sweet and warming with grassiness, vanilla and cereal notes. The whiskey is not the most complex but is extremely well balanced and enjoyable. To read our full review of Power's - click here.

redbreast 12 years oldRedbreast 12 years old
This is a pure pot still whiskey produced at the Midleton distillery. Pot stills are frequently used in Ireland and these are short, fat, large stills that produce softer and more rounded spirits. The spirit is further softened by being distilled three times, instead of twice in Scotland. Redbreast has a golden, slightly amber colour and the nose is light and fresh with some vanilla, honey and fruitiness (like fresh apples and pears). On the palate, these notes are prominent and are joined by dried fruit (imagine raisins and sultanas), ginger and a bit of spiciness (think of cinnamon, nutmeg and black pepper) right at the end. It is creamy and rich but very fresh. The finish is long, complex and very well balanced. A top dram - this is one of our favourite Irish whiskies.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Have just tried ... Glen Garioch 1990 Vintage

glen garioch 1990 vintageScotland's most easterly
Glen Garioch (pronounced glen-geery) was founded in 1797 by Thomas Simpson. This makes it one of Scotland's oldest whisky distilleries that is still in operation. Glenturret is the oldest having been opened in 1775. The original name was Glengarioch (the Garioch being a fertile strip of local farmland that is well known for producing top quality barley) before changing to Glen Garioch in the 1930s. It is located in Oldmeldrum, a small town in the Highlands, which is close to Aberdeen. The distillery is Scotland's most easterly and has an annual production capacity of approximately one million litres.

A change of style
Glen Garioch is currently owned by Morrison Bowmore, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese company Suntory. They took control in 1994 and one year later, they decided to temporarily close the distillery (this is called mothballing - the process where a distillery is closed but all the equipment remains intact and ready to go again, when required). Until then, Glen Garioch had produced a lightly peated style of whisky but when it reopened in 1997, Suntory decided to stop this practice and go for a non peaty style. The range of whisky is small and has just been completely revamped. The Founder's Reserve and a 12 years old form the main part of the range and these are joined by two vintage expressions, 1978 and this 1990 (both of which are in the previous lightly peated style). These were only released in Autumn 2009.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this 1990 Vintage is golden and the nose is sweet and rich. There are plenty of caramel, honey and cereal notes initially and these are backed up by further aromas of woody spices (think of cinnamon and nutmeg), dark dried fruits (imagine raisins and prunes) and some soft peat smoke. There is also something darker lurking in the background that is reminiscent of a high percentage chocolate and ground coffee. On the palate, this is soft yet sweet and the full bodied nature coats your mouth. The sweetness is very honey-like. The characteristics from the nose are all present - caramel (although this is more like treacle/molasses now), cereal grains (this has a more bread/yeasty/biscuit quality than before), wood spices, dried fruits and the subtle, soft peat smoke (imagine damp moss or earth). In addition, there are hints of nuts (think of almonds), vanilla and eucalyptus/menthol. The finish is very sweet, fruity and full of caramel - it's rich with some nice subtle smokiness, becoming spicy (that cinnamon and nutmeg again) and drier (imagine oak wood) at the very end. The addition of water gives it a more creamy, buttery feel but with much less of the interesting wood spice and cereal notes.

What's the verdict?
This 1990 Vintage is bottled in small batches (this one was bottled in 2009, making it 19 years old), at cask strength (54.6% ABV) and will be available through specialist retailers for around £65-70. It is a lovely and rich dram that offers a lot of complex characteristics, plus the pleasant surprise of that soft peaty smoke. The whisky is very sweet but well balanced and is enjoyable and easy to drink, even at its cask strength. A good whisky from an under rated distillery.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

New releases ... Benriach 18 years old Moscatel Finish

benriach 18 years old moscatel finishOne of the few independents
Benriach (pronounced ben-ree-ack) is a distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland and is located approximately 3 miles to the south of the city of Elgin. The distillery was founded in 1897 by John Duff & Co and its early history was very short lived – Benriach was closed in 1903 and not reopened until 1965. It was closed again in 2002 and mothballed (a procedure where a distillery is taken out of operation but left intact and ready to go, when required). In 2004, an independent group named the Benriach Distillery Company took over the distillery and all of its maturing stock. This group was headed by Billy Walker, a former director of Burn Stewart Distillers. This makes Benriach one of the few distilleries in Scotland that is currently independently owned. The distillery has a production capacity of 2.8 million litres per year, with most being released as single malts.

A centre for innovation
Benriach has one of the most innovative ranges of any Scottish distillery - the expansive regular range is matured in ex-bourbon casks, with an additional range of different casks finished whiskies and two smoky ones (they make peaty whisky at Benriach for roughly three weeks every year, which is an unusual practice for a Speyside distillery). This 18 years old is one of two new limited edition whiskies that have just been released – this one has been matured for 15 years in a bourbon cask and then three years in a Moscatel wine cask. Moscatel is a sweet fortified wine that is most commonly produced in Portugal or Spain. The other new release has been matured for the same times but using a Gaja Barolo red wine cask in place of the Moscatel. Both releases are limited to just 3600 bottles, are 46% ABV in strength and should cost £50-55 each. To read our review of the Gaja Barolo cask version - click here.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Benriach Moscatel finish is golden brown and the nose is vibrant, fresh and expressive. There is a lovely blend of aromas that are present - caramel, crumbly brown sugar, vanilla, cereals, stewed fruits (think of pears and apples), sultanas and cinnamon spice. The overall feeling is reminiscent of an apple/pear crumble dessert. On the palate, this whisky is velvety, buttery and soft with plenty of dried fruits prominent (imagine sultanas, prunes and dates). There is rich, sweet caramel and this again has that crumbly brown sugar element to it. Other notes include stewed fruit (especially apple), honey, wood spices (more prominent than on the nose - think of cinnamon and nutmeg), toasted almonds and a hint of cocoa. The finish is rich and elegant with the caramel/honeyed sweetness turning drier, woodier and spicier towards the end (imagine a combination of oak, cereal husks and those warm wood spices again). The addition of water flattens out the intensity of the sweetness and makes the whisky drier and more grain-like in flavour, with an interesting dried grass note appearing.

What's the verdict?
This is another lovely and well made whisky from the Benriach distillery. The sympathetic use of the Moscatel cask is demonstrated well as it adds interest and another, sweeter dimension to the whisky. It is rich, soft and balanced and would be ideal as a good after-dinner dram to sit, sip and linger with. One of the best new whiskies of the year to date and although we prefer the Gaja Barolo finish, it is a tough call. The finishing of whisky in wine casks is a current big trend in the trade and it is seems a pity that not all of them are of the quality of these two new Benriach's.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Have just tried ... Bell's 8 years old

bell's 8 years oldHumble beginnings
Bell's is a blended whisky and has been the UK's biggest selling whisky since the 1970s. The availability of Bell's is widespread and it can be found in every pub, bar, supermarket and corner shop in the land. It represents a massive success story that started in a convenience store in the Scottish town of Perth. In 1825, Arthur Bell was a shopkeeper and he started experimenting by mixing different single malts together, believing that by doing so he would please more palates. Coupled with the boom in the whisky blending industry at the time, Bell's whisky started to gain many fans. Arthur's sons, Arthur Kinmond Bell and Robert Duff Bell joined the expanding empire and Arthur Bell & Sons was born. By the early 1900s, they were buying or building their own distilleries in order to fuel the increasing demand for the Bell's blended whisky.

The UK's number one
The Bell's brand is currently owned by Diageo, one of the world's largest drinks corporations. Bell's became the UK's best selling whisky in 1978 and has held that spot ever since, despite increasingly close competition from The Famous Grouse range. In 2008, a staggering 18.7% of all whisky purchased in the UK was Bell's *. Bell's is bottled at 40% ABV and should cost around £15 a bottle (although it can be found as low as £10 when on promotion at supermarkets).

What's in it?
The blend contains a complex mix of 40 different single malt and grain whiskies and these have been matured for a minimum of eight years in oak casks (the age stated on a blended whisky such as this one, is the age of the youngest whisky that is included in the blend). Single malt whisky from the Blair Athol distillery forms the core of the blend and it is there that you can visit the Bell's Whisky Experience. Blair Athol is located in the town of Pitlochry in the central Highlands. Other single malts known to be included are from Dufftown and Inchgower distilleries in the Speyside region, Glenkinchie from the Lowlands and Caol Ila from the western isle of Islay.

Our tasting notes
Bell's has a golden colour with a touch of amber and the nose that is initially a little harsh, before settling down slightly. The nose begins with a whiff of alcohol spirit and some distinct cereal grain (think of the husks especially) and grassy notes (imagine dried grasses or hay). After come some softer aromas - caramel, sweet brown sugar, dried fruits (think of sultanas and apple) and a hint of ashy bonfire smoke. On the palate, the whisky feels thin and watery and that initial alcohol spirit is present again and offers a warm burn. Once this dies, the softer notes are allowed to express themselves - this is very grainy (imagine those cereal husks again and maybe oatmeal) and very grassy (those dried grasses and hay again) to begin with before some caramel, toffee, honey, nuts (think of almonds), dried fruits (sultanas especially) and soft smoke come through. The finish is on the short side and starts with the sweet cereals, dried fruit and caramel, before becoming very dry and woody at the end. Again, these characteristics are backed up with some obvious alcohol spirit.

What's the verdict?
When you consider that it contains 40 different whiskies, then it seems, surprisingly, to lack the expected complexity. In fact, this is quite a simple, safe and easy to drink whisky - this is therefore what makes it so popular and appealing to a large diverse range of palates (Arthur Bell was right!), especially when adding in the price factor. Bell's is primarily marketed as a mixer and it would be good at that job by supplying sweetness and that obvious alcoholic kick to a long drink or cocktail. As far a being a sipping whisky is concerned, this is pleasant enough but lacks the complexity to hold your interest for more than a couple of mouthfuls.

* Source - Euromonitor International Report 2009

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Have just tried ... Glendronach 15 years old

glendronach 15 years oldFormerly a Teacher's pet
Glendronach is a distillery that is located close to the town of Huntly, at the south eastern tip of the Speyside whisky region in Scotland. The distillery was founded in 1826 by James Allardes and later went on to become an important part of the William Teacher & Sons empire. By the 1960s, most of the whisky produced at Glendronach was being used within the popular Teacher's blended range. The distillery is relatively small with an annual capacity of 1.4 million litres and was the last distillery to use coal fires to heat its stills. The use of this traditional heating method died out when Glendronach's stills were converted to steam heating in 2005.

New independent owners
In 2008, Glendronach was given a new lease of life, following a period of closure. The distillery was taken over an independent company called The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd, who are the innovative owners of another Speyside distillery at Benriach. They immediately made a decision to expand the range of Glendronach whisky that previously contained just a 12 years old and a limited edition 33 years old. They found sufficient maturing stock to add this 15 years old and an 18 years old to the range and these were released in mid 2009. Their plan is to increase the popularity and availability of Glendronach and capitalise on the world's current trend for quality single malts, especially the sherry cask matured whiskies for which Glendronach is renowned.

Our tasting notes
The subtitle of this 15 years old is Revival to commemorate the re-opening of the distillery in 2008 and it is bottled at 46% ABV. It has been matured in Oloroso sherry casks and should cost £40-45 a bottle from specialist whisky and spirit retailers. The colour is a deep golden amber and the nose is rich and full of character. There is plenty of dark dried fruits to begin with (think of raisins, prunes and add in some candied orange peel) and this is backed up with notes of prominent caramel (or maybe toffee?), some wood spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg), an aroma of waxy furniture polish, hints of espresso coffee and milk chocolate and a tiny whiff of sulphur (think of a match head that has just been struck). The palate is full bodied, rich and rounded with many of the characteristics from the nose present - dried fruit (the candied orange is especially prominent), caramel (this is a little more like manufactured honeycomb - that stuff that you can buy at fairgrounds or sweet shops), wood spice, hints of chocolate and coffee - plus some honey and toasted almond notes. The finish is decent but shorter than expected, considering the richness. It also becomes increasingly woody and very dry.

What's the verdict?
Glendronach 15 years old is a good example of a higher aged sherry cask matured whisky. It is rich, full bodied and packed with character, although we found the finish slightly disappointing after the lovely nose and palate that it had presented. This would be a good after dinner dram or one to have with a cigar and is worth a try if you like other drinks such as darker brandies or rums. This Revival also offers decent value for money.

Have just tried ... Oak Cross from Compass Box

oak cross from compass boxA whisky innovator
Compass Box is a boutique independent whisky producer that was founded in 2000 by John Glaser. The company has offices in west London and Edinburgh. Their ethos is to buy whisky from a small number of distilleries and then craft them into their own unique whiskies. The range includes single grain whiskies, vatted malts, blended whiskies and occasional other releases, such as the recently re-released Orangerie, a whisky infused with orange zest. All are produced and released in small batches, often using only two single malts to create a unique product with a catchy name. By doing their own blending and vatting, Compass Box have less restrictions than other traditional independent bottlers and as a result, is a former winner of the prestigious Whisky Magazine's Innovator of the Year.

Three malts, two casks, one whisky
This Oak Cross forms part of Compass Box's core range and is produced in small batches. Three single malts are included in the whisky - Teaninich from the town of Alness, Clynelish from Brora (both towns are on the north eastern coast of the Highlands to the north of Inverness) and a mystery Speysider (the only thing they reveal is that it is from the village of Carron, so get your detective hats on...). These whiskies are all aged between 10 and 12 years and they have been matured in a combination of American oak and French oak casks. Oak Cross is bottled at 43% ABV and should cost around £30 from specialist whisky and spirit retailers or Compass Box's own website. We thank Chris Maybin from Compass Box for supplying us with this sample.

Our tasting notes
The colour of Oak Cross is golden yellow and the nose is fresh and vibrant. There is plenty going on and the balance makes the nose very tempting. First comes obvious vanilla, honey, cereal grains and oak (think of fresh sawdust) and these notes are joined by more subtle ones - dried fruits (think of sultanas and apricots), some zingy citrus (imagine lemon zest) and woody spices (especially cinnamon). On the palate, this is sweet and creamy, with lots happening again. There is a lovely and balanced combination of flavour elements present - vanilla, coconut, honey, nuts (think of almonds), some dried grass, cereal grains, zesty lemon, rich spices (imagine a mix of ginger, nutmeg and cloves) and some dried fruits in the background (those sultanas and apricots again). The finish begins sweetly with plenty of vanilla and cereals, before turning drier, woodier and spicier (that oaky sawdust and nutmeg are particularly prominent).

What's the verdict?
Compass Box has come up trumps with Oak Cross - it is a wonderful and lovely whisky. It is soft and smooth on the palate, very easy drinking and well balanced, yet is remarkably complex and remains fresh and vibrant. There have clearly been some excellent casks used for the maturation of each of the whiskies included in Oak Cross and the result is this award winning whisky. It also offers an excellent quality to price ratio. Oak Cross is the sort of whisky that you could give to a beginner or something who thinks that they don't like whisky and they will thank you for doing it and for introducing them to the good stuff!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Explain about ...Cigars and whisky

A marriage made in heaven?
The association between whisky and cigars has a long history and is one that remains strong. Many people enjoy a dram of whisky with a cigar as an evening pastime, as part of a celebration or just for enjoyment. We recently had the opportunity to learn more about cigars at a beginner’s class operated by Hunters & Frankau, the UK’s leading independent importer for Cuban cigars.

Hunters & Frankau
have been trading since 1790 and you can learn more about them and their range at As we knew nothing about cigars before the class, we decided to write this post to show some basics that were learnt and will help us understand more. We hope this helps if you find yourselves in a similar position to us! We will concentrate on the Cuban cigar industry, although tobacco is grown and many of the same practices are followed in other countries around the world. Here goes ... it's a long one!

map of cubaWhy Cuba?
Cuba is regarded by many as the spiritual home of cigar production and is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest cigars. It is home to some of the world’s best known cigar brands such as Romeo y Julieta, Montechristo and Cohiba. Cuba is a Caribbean island that lies between the southern tip of Florida, USA and the island of Jamaica. Cuba’s climate and fertile soil gives it ideal conditions for growing tobacco plants and the island has a rich heritage connected with tobacco. When Christopher Columbus landed on Cuba in 1492, he was greeted by the natives and was offered cohibas (the Spanish word for cigar) and tobacco plants as gifts. It is believed that the cohibas formed part of the island’s ceremonial festivals. Columbus cannot have realised the immense effect that his ‘discovery’ would have on the world!

tobacco plantsThe tobacco plant
Tobacco plants have large flat leaves and in the cigar industry these leaves are graded. The plant is split in to three sections – the leaves at the base are called volado, the leaves in the centre are seco and the leaves at the top are ligero. Each type of leaf has its own properties and is used in different parts of the cigar and cigar making process. It is believed that all of the native tobacco plants on Cuba are directly descended from the plants that were around when Columbus arrived over 500 years ago. The Cuban Black Tobacco (Latin name tabaco negro cubano) was a wild plant before it was first farmed and cultivated in the 16th century. It is grown in defined regions (similar to the ‘denomination of origin’ system in wine – ie: Champagne, Chianti, Rioja etc), and each has an exceptional soil and micro-climate to produce high quality tobacco. These are called the Vegas Finas de Primera and there are four –

*Vuelta Abajo (on the far western tip of Cuba and regarded as producing the best tobacco in the world)
*Semi Vuelta (still on the western peninsula but further inland)
*Partido (further east and the closest region to Havana, Cuba’s capital)
*Vuelta Arriba (this is split in to two areas – one in Central Cuba called Remedios, which is the oldest growing area in Cuba and one on the eastern peninsula called Oriente).

Different types of cigars
There are two methods of making a cigar – by machine or by hand. The machine made cigars are named mecanizado in Cuba and the hand made cigars or totalmente a mano, fall in to two categories – tripa larga and tripa corta. The tripa larga are known as long filler cigars in English and are made from complete tobacco leaves. Tripa corta cigars are also known as short fillers and are made using chopped tobacco leaves or picadura in Spanish.

The anatomy of a cigar
A cigar is made up of three parts – the filler, the binder and the wrapper. Each part uses leaves from the different parts of the tobacco plant to fulfill different functions. The filler forms the main body of the cigar and is made using a combination of the three classification of leaf from the tobacco plant – the volado, seco and ligero. These give the cigar its main flavour profile. The volado leaves from the base of the plant are mild in flavour, the seco leaves from the middle are more flavoursome and the ligero leaves from the top have the most intense flavour. This is due to the ligero undergoing more photosynthesis and being younger and fresher than the lower leaves on the plant. It results in the ligero having more sweetness and a darker colour than the volado and seco when they are dried.

The blend of the three filler leaves is then secured with a binder leaf. This holds them together and these binder leaves are taken from the top part of the plant, but undergo a slightly different treatment to the filler ligero leaves. The final part is the wrapper leaf, which contributes little flavour but is secured tightly in order to present the cigar in the best way. These wrapper leaves are grown in a different way and produce the most expensive tobacco. They are grown for a majority of the time under a muslin cover and this filters the sunlight and traps heat, allowing the leaves to grow larger and finer. By contrast, the leaves for the filler and binder leaves are grown in the open and under direct sunlight. In summary, five leaves are used to produce a cigar – three fillers for flavour, one binder for structure and one wrapper for presentation.

tobacco curing barnHow cigars are made by hand?
Once fully grown, the tobacco leaves are harvested and graded depending on their role in the final cigar. The leaves are harvested in stages, with the base leaves being taken first and the others being taken over the following 30 days, finishing with the youngest top leaves of the plant. The leaves are taken to a casas de tabaco or curing barn and are hung in pairs on large racks. This removes moisture, with the leaves turn golden brown over time. The wrapper leaves take around 25 days for this to occur. The binder and filler leaves are given about twice as long.

The leaves are then placed in piles and undergo natural fermentation (similar to a garden compost heap), removing many impurities. The ligero filler leaves and wrapper leaves take around 30 days for this to happen, with the seco and volado filler leaves and the binding leaves taking 25 days. Following this, the leaves are sorted by size, texture and colour before the filler and binder leaves undergo a second fermentation stage. The times vary with the volado and binders having a further 45 days, the seco around 60 and the ligero having up to 90.

They are then gathered in to bundles and wrapped in hessian to be aged. These bales are called pacas. The volado are aged for a minimum of nine months, seco for 12-18 months and ligero for two years. The wrapper leaves do not undergo a second fermentation but are packed in similar bales after the sorting process. These bales are called tercios and are made from the bark of palm trees. wrapper leaves are aged for a minimum of six months.

Before the cigar is made, the leaves must be moistened, checked for classification and stripped of their stems. The leaves are then passed to a ligador or master blender, who constructs the complex blend for the brand of cigar that is to be made. The exact ratios of each type of leaf that goes in to the blend is a closely guarded secret that only the ligador knows. The blend of leaves is then passed to the torcedores, the highly skilled craftsmen and women who hand roll the cigars (torcedoras for the ladies!).

torcedora rolling tobaccoFirstly, in the production of tripa larga (long filler) cigars the binder leaves are laid out and the whole filler leaves are folded and aligned to allow the passage of smoke to travel along the length of the finished cigar. The most flavoursome ligero leaves are placed in the centre and are then wrapped in seco and then volado leaves on the outside. It is also constructed so that the intensity of flavour will increase as the cigar is smoked. These filler leaves are then tightly rolled using the binder leaves to ensure that they are compressed evenly along the length of the cigar.

The dimensions follow strict guidelines for length, girth and weight. After 30 minutes in a wooden mould, the tocedor then applies the delicate wrapper leaf by stretching and straightening the leaf to ensure a perfect tension and appearance. Finally, a small piece of tobacco leaf is used to cap the head (the end that goes in your mouth) of the cigar, is cut off before smoking, and the other end is guillotined to size. A torcedor can produce 100-150 cigars a day. The completed cigars are then sent to be labeled, tested for quality, sorted and boxed.

The production of tripa corta (short filler) cigars is similar but they use the trimmings/parts of leaves left from the leaves used in tripa larga production, rather than the whole leaves. The bunch of trimmings is rolled tightly using a flexible mat and then the binder and wrapper leaves are applied in the regular way. In machine made cigars the three leaves are in much smaller pieces and are specifically blended. They are then tightly packed together and bound with a binder leaf and finished with a wrapper leaf by the machine.

cigar size chartDifferent sizes
Cigars come in all shapes and sizes and there are over 70 just from Cuba alone. The length ranges from four inches (100mm) to 9 inches (230mm), although most are between 5 and 7 inches. The other important measurement is the diameter or girth. This is measured by a system called the 'ring gauge' and this is measured in fractions of an inch (64ths of an inch to be exact!). The common range is between 23 (ie - 23/64ths of an inch or 9.1mm) and 52 (52/64ths of an inch or 20.6mm), although cigars are produced that are smaller and larger than this.

The length, diameter and shape of a cigar will effect the final taste and experience - a big, fat, long cigar will burn slower, be richer and softer in flavour and give cooler smoke to the palate whereas a thinner, shorter cigar will burn more quickly, give sharper flavours and hotter smoke on the palate. Each size has its own name or vitola, although it can get very confusing as a) the name given in the factory is different to the name that goes on sale and b) each factory has a different name for the same size of cigar.

Cigar and whisky matching
As stated at the beginning, the marriage of cigars and whisky is historical. Rumour has it that it all began during the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s, when the British and Spanish were fighting to defeat the French - the British supplying the whisky from Scotland and the Spanish bringing their love of cigars from Cuba, which was part of their expanding empire. The trend has continued as the British moved from traditional pipe tobacco to cigars and then took the practice of combining whisky and cigars around the globe with the spread of the British Empire.

The most important thing to consider when matching whisky with a cigar (or indeed anything else - cheese, desserts etc) is to not have one that overpowers the other. A balance is needed so that one compliments the flavours and aromas of the other and vice versa. For example - a robust cigar matched with a light, fresh whisky would completely cover the subtle, vibrant notes in the whisky. Likewise, a very peaty whisky matched with a milder, creamier cigar would do the same. Generally, most cigars would seem to go well with a sherry cask matured whisky (these have extra sweetness and fruitiness that can deal with the strength of the tobacco) or a lightly peated/smoky whisky (these exhibit a similar strength of smoky flavour to the cigar). A more robust strong cigar would need a heavier, smokier whisky to combat its higher levels of aromas and flavour. Considering these factors when buying whisky and cigars will help, as will the advice of the people in the stores where you choose to buy them.

Check out the experts
We are new to the world of cigars and have tried to lay down some of the basics in this article. As we have found, once you dip your 'beginners' toe in to the water then you discover a lot more beneath the surface. The cigar industry can seem quite daunting from the outside but this is no different from the world of whisky, where a little basic knowledge can get you a long way. As in the whisky world, there are many people out there writing about and reviewing cigars. We have discovered numerous excellent blogs and sites, so check out some of these for much more information and expertise than we can offer - Cigar Jack, World of Cigars, Cigar Chick, CigarFox, Tobacconist University, Cigars4Women and our personal favourites Cigarblog and Cigar Inspector. In addition, our friends at the excellent WHISKYhost blog offer regular whisky and cigar matchings, including good combinations and tasting notes.

* Please note that all images used in this article have been taken from Google images.

Monday, March 8, 2010

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

A best selling distillery
Laphroaig is one of the best known whisky distilleries in the world. The name is derived from the Gaelic for 'beautiful hollow by the broad bay' and is also one of the hardest distillery names to pronounce correctly! (all together now - la-froyg) The distillery is located on the island of Islay, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. Laphroaig and Islay are renowned for producing very smoky, peaty flavoured whisky and Laphroaig's 10 years old is the best selling smoky whisky in the world. The distillery was founded in 1810 by two brothers, Alexander and Donald Johnson, and is currently owned by drinks corporation Beam Global. It has an annual production capacity of 2.9 million litres and they produce some of the smokiest whiskies in the world there.

Who are Douglas Laing & Co?
This Laphroaig whisky is bottled by Douglas Laing and Co - a Glasgow based independent bottling company that was set up by Frederick Douglas Laing in 1948. They are one of the largest independent bottlers in Scotland and is currently run by Frederick's two sons, Stewart and Fred Junior. The distilleries fill directly to Douglas Laing’s own casks and these are then matured and released or blended at the appropriate time. Douglas Laing have three main ranges of whisky which contain over 200 different bottlings at any one time. These are named Provenance, Old Malt Cask and Old & Rare. This Laphroaig is part of the current Old Malt Cask range (these are bottled from single casks and at 50% ABV) and has been matured in a sherry cask for 16 years, is one of only 691 bottles and should cost around £75 a bottle.

Our tasting notes
This whisky has a golden colour with a hint of amber and the nose is vibrant, expressive and very enticing. An initial sweet caramel note is joined by dried fruits (sultanas especially), toasted nuts (imagine almonds) and some earthy smokiness (think of damp moss). This smokiness increases and becomes more phenolic and bitter (imagine tar or creosote - that's the stuff that you paint your garden fence with) and this counteracts the sweeter elements well. On the palate, this again starts sweetly before gaining a more bitter edge. There are plenty of notes present - caramel, cereals, honey and dried fruits (think of sultanas and raisins) on the sweeter side and burnt sugar, iodine, tar, peat smoke and spices (imagine nutmeg, peppercorns and chilli) on the more bitter side. The balance is completed by a distinct salty, briny note. The finish is very long, sweet and smoky. The smokiness is again reminiscent of tar and this is joined by woody oak and some spicy chilli heat. Sweeter notes include the caramel and mossy peat. With the addition of water, more grassiness and toffee-like sweetness comes out but the peaty smoke and spiciness are flattened.

What's the verdict?
This Laphroaig is very good. Having said that, the nose is fantastic, complex and expressive but while the palate and finish are lovely, they don't quite live up to that nose. This is being picky and it is one to add to your shopping list if you love your peaty, smoky whiskies. Single cask and higher strength Laphroaig's are rare and mainly the domain of the independent bottling companies such as Douglas Laing, so this feels like a real treat. If you don't like smoky whiskies then you should probably avoid it - however, if curiosity gets the better of you then you could try this in order to sample a good example of the smoky style.