Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Explain about ... Peat
The peat smoke produced contains chemicals called phenols and it is these phenols that the malted barley absorbs during this process. The level of phenols are controlled by the amount of smoke produced, the type of peat used (most of the time it is local to the distillery or cut on their own property) and the length of time that the barley is exposed to the smoke. This is one reason why different distilleries have different characteristics in their whisky. Once finished, the malt is taken away for mashing and the phenol level is measured (this level is known as the ppm - parts per million). A distillery will always have the same ppm for their malt and this value is also measured in the final spirit, although some is lost during distillation so the ppm is always lower at the end.
The ppm figure most commonly used is that of the malt. All whisky has some smokiness but in most the ppm value is so low (eg. 1-5 ppm) that it is virtually undetectable. In smokier whiskies, it is easier to detect these levels as the ppm increases. Here are some examples of ppm values of some distilleries (the approximate ppm of the malt is in brackets in increasing value),
Bunnahabhain (1-2), Bruichladdich (3-4), Springbank (7-8), Benromach (8), Ardmore (10-15), Highland Park (20), Bowmore (20-25), Talisker (25-30), Caol Ila (30-35), Ledaig (35), Lagavulin (35-40), Port Charlotte (40), Laphroaig (40-43), Ardbeg (55), Longrow (55).
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Have just tried ... Longmorn 1992 from Signatory Vintage
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Have just tried ... Speyburn 10 years old
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Have just tried ... Port Charlotte 2002 'Royal Mile Whiskies exclusive'
The colour is very pale, like straw and the nose blows you away. It is packed with heavy smokiness (imagine a bonfire), damp moss, vanilla and something vegetal (reminded me of fresh leaves). On the palate, the smoke is very full on and quite overpowering but there are other flavours coming through. There is sweetness mixed with a spiciness (like cracked black pepper) and a distinct salty character. The finish is quite long with that smokiness and saltiness hanging around for a decent time. This is very good and smooth considering it is a very young whisky. To be honest, I found the smokiness a bit overpowering but once you got beyond that there were some other very interesting characteristics. This whisky can only be bought at Royal Mile Whiskies and retails for £29.99.
Explain about ... Differences between Scottish and Irish whiskies
1. The spellingThis has been the basis of many arguments - the Scots spell it whisky and the Irish spell it whiskey, with an 'e'. It is not known why this is. Whiskey with the 'e' is also used when referring to American whiskeys. This 'e' was taken to the United States by Irish immigrants during the 1700s.
2. The distillation process
It is here that one of the main differences occurs. Generally, Scottish whisky is distilled twice and Irish whiskey is distilled three times (there are exceptions to the rule, in both cases). Distilling three times produces a lighter, purer and smoother spirit with higher ABV strength.
3. The stills
The size and shape of the stills used in the distillation process are different. In Ireland, pot stills are frequently used. These are short, fat, large stills with a round base that produce softer and more rounded spirits. In Scotland, distilleries use a wide variety of shapes and size of still and this gives wider diversity (see Explain about ... How whisky is made).
4. The use of peat
In Scotland it is common to use peat to dry the malted barley so that it is ready for milling and mashing. The type of peat used and the length of time the barley is drying in the peat smoke will influence the flavour in the final spirit. This gives Scottish whisky is fullness and traditional smokiness. In Ireland, they use wood in this process and this makes the spirit less smoky and lighter but again, there are exceptions. (for example, Connemara use peat and produce a very smoky range of whiskeys).
5. The use of grains
The Scots use malted barley in most whisky that is produced, however this is not the case in Ireland. They also use malted barley, but may mix other grains in with it. Traditionally Ireland has had a poorer economy than Scotland and barley is expensive to buy. Therefore, it is cheaper to use other grain to produce whiskey. This grain whiskey lends itself to blending and historically it has been used to make cheap blends.
6. The distilleries
The oldest registered distillery in Ireland is Bushmills, which has been in production since 1608. In Scotland, the oldest one opened in 1772 (Littlemill, which has now closed down). Glenturret is the oldest current distillery in operation, opening in 1775. In Scotland there are currently over 80 distilleries in production but in Ireland there are only three. These three are the result of smaller distilleries joining together. At each distillery they adher to the traditional recipes and techniques from each of the original distilleries. This gives the resulting whiskies their own individual characteristics. The three distilleries are Bushmills, Midleton (which produce Jameson's, Powers, Paddy, Tullamore Dew and Midleton) and Cooley (Connemara, Kilbeggan, Locke's and Tyrconnell).
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Have just tried ... Glenfiddich 12 years old 'Toasted Oak Reserve'
The result is a very nice whisky that has a nutty aroma (almonds and toasted pinenuts) with some interesting spiciness (cinnamon and nutmeg). I also found some zesty citrus sweetness (think of candied orange peel), stone fruit (fresh peaches or apricots) and heaps of vanilla. On the palate there are the flavours of toasted nuts, sweet caramel, those spices from the nose and vanilla. There was also something that reminded me of digestive biscuits. The finish was quite short, which was slightly disappointing. This is a good, very easy drinking whisky. It is very interesting and complex with layers of flavour. I was pleasantly surprised by it as some people have an argument that Glenfiddich and other large brands like it are boring due to their mass production. My argument would be that if something is good and you enjoy drinking it then it doesn't matter if it is popular. This whisky proves this point.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Have just tried ...Auchroisk 10 years old 'Flora & Fauna'
Friday, April 18, 2008
New releases ... Ledaig 10 years old
The colour is very light and the nose has a lot of perfume. It is a mix of a slight fake meaty smokiness (reminding me of smoky bacon crisps) and damp wet moss and earth. There was something slightly unpleasant and musty in there, but I'm not quite sure what. It is more pleasant on the palate with lots of sweet smokiness (think of pipe tobacco smoke) combined with a fresh vegetal, grassy flavour. This contrasts the meatiness that is present on the nose. However, there is a hint of something acrid, like burnt sugar, in there also. The finish is short and not very complex for a smoky whisky. I have to be honest and say that I was slightly disappointed by this new release. I am not sure about how well it will stand up against other smoky whiskies that will be in the same £25-30 price bracket (ie - Ardbeg 10 years old, Laphroaig 10 years old and Bowmore 12 years old).
Monday, April 14, 2008
Have just tried ... Rosebank 12 years old 'Flora & Fauna'
New releases ... Balvenie 12 years old 'Signature'
Have just tried ... Bunnahabhain 1997 heavily peated cask strength from Signatory Vintage
Have just tried ... Miltonduff 8 years old 'Battlehill' from Duncan Taylor
Have just tried ... Mortlach 1988 cask strength from Signatory Vintage
Friday, April 11, 2008
Have just tried ... Linkwood 1990 from Signatory Vintage
Thursday, April 10, 2008
In the whisky cupboard ... The Wine Society 'Exhibition' 21 years old Islay malt
Some Islay whiskies can have a very full on meaty flavour, but this was surprising and refreshing to the palate. The finish is very enjoyable and long. All the elements linger around for ages, with maybe a slight bitterness coming in right at the end. This whisky is a very good example of how smoky whisky can become rounded and mellower with age and I think even people who don't like the really smoky whisky flavours, would enjoy this. It can only be purchased from The Wine Society website and the price of £30 for a 21 year old whisky, is a bargain. I would be pleased to get another bottle as a present!
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
New releases ... Longrow CV
The nose is pungent, smoky and earthy (something like sweet charcoal smoke). When tasted, there is an initial crispness that hits your mouth that reminded me of cider/apples. However, the smokiness hits almost straight way. This didn't overpower the other flavours, in fact more developed. I got some vanilla, a hint of coconut, some menthol and pine needles. This pine element sounds strange, but it was there in the finish and reminded me of disinfectant. This spoiled what was otherwise a pleasant whisky. It is decent value, being priced around £30. I would try it if you find very smoky whiskies too much, as the smokiness is there but is more subtle and allows other interesting flavours through.
In the whisky cupboard ... Old Pulteney 1994 Sauternes wood finish 'Private Collection' from Gordon & Macphail
The dark yellow colour is amazing as is the nose which is rich, sweet and intense, filled with the smell of dried fruit (raisins, apricots and pears). When you taste, it feels buttery, creamy and thick in your mouth with all the previously mentioned dried fruit, orange peel and some salty flavours hitting you palate. Saltiness is a common characteristic of Old Pulteney and whisky like this is sometimes referred to as having a 'maritime' feel. This occurs when the distillery is located close to the sea and the casks absorb some of the sea air during maturation. The finish is long, rich and fruity. The marriage of all of this gives an intense experience, which some may find too sweet, rich or overpowering. However, these are the exact reasons that we like it, as the influence of the sweet dessert wine cask gives a whisky unlike anything else that we have tasted to date.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Explain about ... Scottish pronounciation
Allt-a-bhainne (olt-a-vane), Auchentoshan (ocken-toshun), Auchroisk (ar-thrusk), Balvenie (bal-vaynee), Bruichladdich (brook-laddie), Bunnahabhain (boo-na-harvun), Caol Ila (kool-eela), Caperdonich (kappa-doe-nick), Cardhu (kar-doo), Clynelish (kline-leesh), Craigellachie (craig-ella-key), Dailuaine (dal-yewan), Edradour (edra-dower), Glen Garioch (glen-geery), Glenallachie (glen-alla-key,) Glenfiddich (glen-fiddick), Glenglassaugh (glen-glassoff), Glenmorangie (glen-morrun-jee), Glenugie (glen-oojee), Lagavulin (laga-voolin), Laphroaig (la-froyg), Ledaig (lay-chuck), Pittyvaich (pitty-vek), Poit Dhubh (posh-doo), Strathisla (strath-eye-la), Tamdhu (tam-doo), Tamnavulin (tamna-voolin), Te Bheag (chay-vek), Teaninich (teen-inik), Tomintoul (tom-in-towel), Tullibardine (tully-bar-dee).
Friday, April 4, 2008
Have just tried ... Compass Box 'The Peat Monster'
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Explain About ... Independent Bottling Companies
The independent bottling sector can be confusing but very rewarding once understood. It was an area of the whisky industry that we had no knowledge of prior to the start of our whisky journey. We did not know that such things even existed, but quickly discovered that they are an important part of the whisky world.
Many indie bottlers have historically grown from whisky brokering roots where they would buy casks from all over Scotland and then sell them on to other whisky companies or blending houses. This is still a massive part of the industry but the world's thirst for whisky has meant that many companies can diversify and sell product directly to the public through their own channels.
Independent bottling companies expand the whisky market greatly by making a larger selection of products available. These companies usually follow one of two tracks - they buy part-matured casks from the distilleries or send empty casks to a distillery to be filled. Then continue the maturation before carefully choosing when to bottle and release them to the public.
The result is a product that has all the original distillery character but that is also unique. It may be released at a different age or from a different cask type to that of the original distillery's whiskies. The independent bottler has used their experience to create and new product and diversity for the consumer.
An independent bottler may also finish the spirit in a different cask to that of the original distillery, therefore creating a unique whisky. Sometimes, the independent bottlers will only buy a single cask from a distillery, therefore leading to a very limited quantity of final bottles. Generally, these bottlings offer good value by being priced similarly or cheaper than the original distillery bottlings and it is an excellent way to try different or rarer whisky.
Normally indie bottlings are released at their natural cask strength and are non-chill filtered and of natural colour. Many times they will be just a single cask or a very small batch of two or three casks - This means there is a finite amount of spirit and therefore finite number of bottles. When it's gone, it's gone, Many offer good value for money compared to distillery own or branded releases and offer an excellent way to sample and try different, rare or older whiskies
The majority of distilleries will be named on the independent bottlings along with the age or year of distillation, plus other key information. This can included maturation or finishing cask type, the number of bottles available, ABV strength etc. However, there are a few distilleries that insist they are not named for independent bottlings. In these cases the bottles will carry another name - for example, Glenfarclas is one such distillery and goes under various guises including Speyside's Finest.
Names of good independent bottling companies to look out for include Adelphi, A. D. Rattray, Cadenhead's, Compass Box, Douglas Laing & Co, Gordon & Macphail, Hunter Laing, Scotch Malt Whisky Society, Signatory Vintage and That Boutique-y Whisky Company. Generally they can only be found via specialist whisky retailers, many of whom also run their own independent bottling schemes for their customers. Good examples include Abbey Whisky, The Green Welly Stop and The Whisky Exchange.
* Please note / this post has been updated from the original - September 2020.
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Explain about ... Cask strength whisky
Here's a little known whisky secret ... An easy way to find out if a whisky is cask strength or not, is by shaking it in the bottle. If the bubbles disappear almost instantly, then the whisky has an alcohol level below 50% and is not cask strength. However, if the bubbles take longer to disappear, then the whisky is over 50% and cask strength.