Friday, October 31, 2008

New releases ... Diageo cask strength special releases 2008

Diageo, the multi national drinks company, have just released their latest cask strength range and Whisky For Everyone were lucky enough to get an invite to the official launch and tasting that was held at Diageo's headquarters in London. The idea behind these annual releases is to showcase special stock that they are holding from their existing and closed distilleries. All are limited in numbers and some are highly collectable and desirable. They will only be able to be purchased from specialist retailers.

caol ila 8 years oldCaol Ila unpeated 8 years old
This whisky is only produced for a very short time each year at Caol Ila distillery on the island of Islay. Normally, Caol Ila produce some of the smokiest whiskies in the world but this one is unpeated, young and fresh. This is bottled at a very high strength (64.2% ABV), is limited to only 5500 bottles and should cost between £40-45. The nose is full of crisp fruit (imagine green apples and pears), some citrus (like lemon zest), vanilla and malted barley. A gorgeous floral note (think of heather) emerges when water is added. The palate is intense yet light and creamy in the mouth with sweet vanilla and malted barley prominent. There is also some fruity citrusness going on (that zest again) and maybe a hint of saltiness. The finish is shortish and dry but full of flavour with that floral note coming through. This is an excellent whisky that is light, crisp and refreshing yet very complex. One of my three favourites of the night.

glen elgin 16 years old Glen Elgin 16 years old
Glen Elgin is one of Diageo's lesser known distilleries and the release from this Speyside distillery is the largest in the collection, with just under 10,000 bottles. It is bottled at 58.5% ABV and should cost between £50-60. The whisky has been matured in sherry casks and this shows in the colour and nose. The colour is dark amber and the nose is full of dried fruit (think of raisins and sultanas) and candied peel (imagine orange zest) with some butterscotch and vanilla. These translate on to the palate with loads of dried fruit and sweet vanilla. There is also a slightly acidic citrus note (orange zest again). These are joined by some sweet cereal grains and a hint of spice (think of nutmeg). The finish is medium and quite nutty (imagine almonds) with a bitter element coming through at the very end with some warm spices (nutmeg again). This is fairly pleasant but has too much sherry cask influence for my taste, making it slightly too bitter and woody. It is like drinking a strong version of a sherry.

linkwood red wine finishThe Linkwood 26 year old range
There are three very limited releases from this Speyside distillery. Each has had 12 years of maturation in a bourbon cask and then 14 years in either port, rum or red wine casks. Each expression has a release of only 1250 bottles and should cost around £130-150 each. The bottles are 50cl and were specially commissioned by an award winning designer. The port finish is bottled at 56.9% ABV and is almost crimson in colour. It has a rich and fruity nose that has red fruit as the predominant characteristic (think of blackcurrants, red grapes and blackberries). The palate is pretty sweet with that red fruit taking over, although some vanilla and an interesting citrus note (imagine orange zest) battle their way through. The finish in contrast is quite dry, bitter and tart. The rum finish is golden in colour and bottled at 54.5% ABV. There is a pleasant mix of notes on the nose, with citrus (think of orange zest), caramel, cereal grains and honey present. This is very sweet on the palate, almost sickly sweet. There are lots of sweet vanilla, those cereal grains again and some sugary cane sweetness. These notes follow through to the finish, which is fairly long but gets quite dry and bitter towards the end. The red wine expression is finished in a Burgundy wine cask and has a dark golden red colour. The nose hits you with loads of red fruit (imagine redcurrants, blackcurrants, blackberries and red grapes). There is lots of red wine character on the palate with the red fruit prominent. Some vanilla and butterscotch fight their way through but the over riding flavour is that of red wine. This dries your mouth and the finish is fairly long but very mouth drying and tannic. For me, these three expressions were disappointing. Linkwood is known as producing a light, aromatic spirit but here the distillery character has been completely overtaken and masked by the three finishes.

brora 25 years oldBrora 25 years old
Whisky from this closed highland distillery is becoming harder and harder to find. This bottling was distilled in 1983, the last year of production at Brora. Only 3000 bottles have been released and the strength is 56.3% ABV. A bottle should cost between £170-200. The nose is quite light with some smokiness (imagine wood ash), some citrus (think of lemon zest), dried fruits (like sultanas or raisins) and some nuttiness (imagine almonds). Upon adding water, the nose becomes more floral (think of heather) and salty (imagine seaweed or a sea breeze). On the palate, this is again light with a complex mixture of sweet vanilla, that citrus note from the nose, some malted barley and a salty tang. There is some smokiness but it is more subtle and earthier than the nose. The finish is reasonably long but quite dry with a bitter twist at the end. More smokiness and saltiness comes through than on the palate. This is good but left me slightly disappointed as it didn't quite seem to live up to the hype that Brora whiskies have.

port ellen 29 years oldPort Ellen 29 years old
Another bottling from a closed distillery, this time from Port Ellen on the island of Islay. The distillery stopped production in the early 1980s, although the maltings there still provided malted barley for some of the island's other distilleries. Stocks of Port Ellen are rare, especially at this age, and this is bottled at 55.3% ABV and limited to 6500 bottles. The cost should be between £180-200 per bottle. The colour is deep amber and the nose is elegant and rich. There is a sumptuous mix of sweet dried fruits (sultanas, i think), warm spices (think of nutmeg or cinammon), some saltiness (like sea air) and smoke (imagine coal fire smoke). On the palate, this is quite light and more subtle than many Islay malts. All the elements from the nose are present with the addition of a more peppery spiciness. The marriage of the coal smoke and salty brine-like flavours is really good. The finish is long and warm with that smoke and saltiness prominent, with licquorice and cinammon notes interestingly coming through at the end, especially when water is added. This is pretty good stuff and needs to be snapped up before it all runs out!

talisker 25 years oldTalisker 25 and 30 years old
There are two releases from Talisker, the only distillery on the western island of Skye. Whilst the Talisker 10 years old is one of the best selling single malts in the world, whiskies of this age from the distillery are much rarer. The 25 years old was distilled in 1983 and has a release of 6700 bottles. It is bottled at 54.2% ABV and should cost between £130-150. The nose is surprisingly soft with some pepperiness (imagine black peppercorns), some saltiness (think of seaweed), caramel and a meaty smokiness (sounds weird but it instantly reminded me of smoky bacon crisps!). On the palate, this is pleasantly oily and quite thick. It is rich with some peppery smoke, some fruitiness (imagine dried fruit like sultanas), a hint of salt (think of brine) and an interesting iodine bitterness. The finish is long, warming and spicy (something like ginger?) with a more earthy smokiness. The 30 years old is gentler and more subtle than the 25. It is distilled in 1978 and is bottled at 49.5% ABV. There are only 3000 bottles released and one should cost between £200-230. The nose is very fresh for a whisky of this age and is a complex mix of dried fruit (think of Christmas pudding), saltiness (imagine seaweed) and subtle spicy smokiness (think of black pepper and nutmeg). This is thinner on the palate than the 25 with delicate sweetness marrying well with light smoke (imagine wood ash/embers), that salty element (think of brine) and the dried fruits (although these are less prominent than on the nose). The finish is long and quite herbal (menthol, maybe?) with some honey sweetness and just a whiff of smoke. Both of these whiskies are of excellent quality. If i had to choose one, it would be the 30 years old as it has so many subtle flavours and was different to any Talisker that i have tried before. One of my top three for the night.

lagavulin 12 years oldLagavulin 12 years old
This release from the iconic Lagavulin distillery on the island of Islay is one of the cheapest of the collection. At between £50-60, this is a real bargain. The colour is a gorgeous deep amber and the nose is full on. This has an intense nose full of peaty, earthy smokiness (reminded me of wood embers/ash) and this is joined by a lovely mix of caramel/toffee, some saltiness and a citrus element (imagine lemon zest). On the palate, this is full bodied with that smokiness marrying perfectly with some sweet barley, saltiness (think of brine), caramel and something nutty. With water, the whisky opens up to become even more smoky and salty with a pepperiness coming through. The finish is long and intense with that earthy, peaty smoke fading slowly. This is an excellent whisky and was probably my favourite of the evening.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Have just tried ... Talisker 10 years old

talisker 10 years oldTalisker is the only distillery on the island of Skye, which lays off the north west Highland coast. The distillery is owned by drinks giant Diageo and they have given the brand a lot of promotion, resulting in sales rising by 40% in the last three years. Talisker is an iconic Scottish whisky and continually wins prizes around the world, culminating in their 18 years old winning 'Best Single Malt' at The World Whisky Awards in 2007. The distillery was founded in 1830 at a remote location on the island and it is still tricky to get to today. That doesn't stop people getting there though and Talisker is one of the most visited distilleries in Scotland. Some of the whisky produced goes towards Diageo's famous Johnnie Walker blended whisky range but most is released as single malts. The core range is small but excellent and contains this 10 years old, the 18 years old and a 'Distiller's Edition' that is finished in Amoroso sherry casks. A 25 years old and a 30 years old are also released as limited editions. Independent bottlings are rare and when they are released the bottlers are not allowed to name it Talisker under a 'gentleman's agreement'. Two of the most popular independent bottlings are called 'Tactical Director's' and 'Isle of Skye'.

Talisker has a mid level of smokiness (22ppm) and this comes through on the nose. The peatiness is there but it has a fiery and spicy edge to it. There is also a hint of dried fruit, a citrusy tang and a whiff of salty sea air. On the palate, this instantly explodes in your mouth with a mixture of that fiery spicy smoke (think of black peppercorns), caramel and sweet malted barley. It feels full bodied and that hint of saltiness from the nose is present also. The finish is long with a perfect mix of peaty smoke and peppery spiciness (those black peppercorns again). Talisker is a classic whisky. The pepperiness gives it a unique quality and flavour among Scottish whiskies. It is readily available in supermarkets and independent shops alike, and can cost anywhere between £28-35 a bottle. A whisky that just has to be tried.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Have just tried ... Glenkinchie 12 years old

glenkinchie 12 years oldGlenkinchie is the nearest distillery to Edinburgh. It is currently owned by multi national drinks company Diageo and is the lowland region's representitive in their 'Classic Malts' range. The distillery is located 15 miles from Scotland's capital city and it's visitor centre is one of the most visited. Glenkinchie has thrived while so many other lowland distilleries have been closed or mothballed, due mainly the proximity to Edinburgh and Diageo's involvement and promotions. Whilst, Glenkinchie is not one of the most well known distilleries in Scotland, the whisky produced there is held in high regard and some is used in the blending of Diageo's world famous Johnnie Walker range. The single malt range is small, consisting of a 10 years old, this 12 years old and a 'Distiller's Edition' that is finished in an Amontillado sherry cask. There is also a limited release of a 20 years old. Independent bottlings are very rare.

The colour is rich and golden and the nose is aromatic. The two prominent notes are something floral (like heather) and a toasted nuttiness (like almonds). These are joined by some vanilla and a citrus note (imagine lemon zest). On the palate, this is light, smooth and creamy. The vanilla and zestiness is present and these marry well with some gorgeous honey, brown sugar and heather notes. The feeling is buttery in the mouth and is heavier than most lowland whiskies that I have tasted to date. They are generally lighter and fresher than this. The finish is slightly dry and short with just a hint of aniseed at the end. This is an enjoyable whisky and would be good as an aperitif or to introduce someone to a good whisky. It should cost between £25-30 from all independent shops and some larger supermarkets.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

In the whisky cupboard ... Tamnavulin 12 years old

tamnavulin 12 years old labelTamnavulin is a little known distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland. The distillery at Tamnavulin ('mill on the hill' in Gaelic) was opened in 1966, making it one of Scotland's youngest distilleries. It was built to deal with the increased demand for blending whisky but fell on hard times and was closed in 1995. Drinks company Whyte & Mackay took over the distillery and re-opened it in 2007. The distillery has a large capacity of 4 million litres a year and is situated in the famous Livet Glen. It has two more famous neighbours in the glen - Tomintoul and Glenlivet - and is the only distillery that is actually on the banks of the River Livet. Bottlings from Tamnavulin are restricted by the recent lack of production. There is currently only this one distillery release of 12 years old and independent bottlings are available but few and far between.

The colour is pale and lemony and the nose is fresh and simple yet aromatic. There is some gorgeous vanilla, lots of malted barley and something grassy and herbal (imagine hay or straw). On the palate, this is very light, smooth and refreshing with those vanilla, barley and herbal notes present again. These are joined by some other fresh fruit elements (think of white grapes especially) and a citrusy zing (imagine lemon zest). The finish is short, light and quite dry with just a hint of earthiness right at the end. This is a light and refreshing whisky that is quite basic yet extremely enjoyable. It would be great as an aperitif whisky or to introduce someone to whisky. This is hard to find and is limited to just a few specialist retailers and should cost between £30-35 a bottle.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Have just tried ... St. Magdalene 'Old Malt Cask' 24 years old from Douglas Laing

st magdalene distillerySt. Magdalene was a lowland distillery that closed in 1983. It was located in the town of Linlithgow, which lies between Edinburgh and Stirling (whisky distilled at St. Magdalene was occasionally also released under the name of 'Linlithgow'). Despite closing 25 years ago, the buildings still exist and have been sympathetically renovated into apartments. The distillery originally opened in 1795 and was one of Scotland's oldest until it's closure. It was regarded as having one of the most perfect locations in Scotland for both production and transportation links, being situated very close to some of the main barley growing areas, the main road to Edinburgh and the Union canal. The distillery took it's water from the canal and even had it's own railway station and goods sidings at one point. St. Magdalene and Linlithgow whiskies are now extremely rare and will eventually run out, and are highly sought after by drinkers and collectors alike. The majority of the remaining stock is owned by drinks giant, Diageo who occasionally release bottlings. The rest of the stock is held by independent bottling companies, such as this one which is released by Douglas Laing & Co. as part of their 'Old Malt Cask' range.

This one is aged 24 years and is very fresh on the nose. There is a lovely clean grassy note (imagine freshly cut grass) and some nuttiness (almonds, i think), vanilla and butterscotch. The palate is very refreshing with lots of fresh, juicy fruit (think of white grapes, crisp green apples and pears), sweet malted barley, that vanilla and grassiness from the nose and some honey and spices (imagine nutmeg or cinammon). The finish is light and short with the fruitiness and spices prominent. It is a very good and refreshing whisky, despite getting slightly bitter right at the end of the finish. A bottle will cost around £100 from specialist retailers only. Well worth trying before everything from this distillery finally disappears.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New releases ... Ardbeg Blasda

ardbeg blasdaArdbeg Blasda is one of the most eagerly anticipated new releases of 2008. When news spread that this famous Islay distillery were planning to release a mildly peated whisky, much interest was created. Ardbeg is traditionally one of the most peaty and smoky whiskies in the world and has a phenol level in the malted barley of around 55ppm (phenols are produced when peat is burnt and these are absorbed into the malted barley as it is drying). 'Blasda' means 'delicious and tasty' in Gaelic and has been released at only 8ppm in order to show the other distillery characteristics in Ardbeg's spirit. It is a limited release (there will only be 1800 bottles available in the UK) and is packaged in a black box and clear bottle rather than the traditional Ardbeg dark green box and bottle. Retail price should be around £40 a bottle.

There is no age stated and the colour is light and straw-like. On the nose, this is still quite smoky and peaty but it is lighter and fresher than normally expected from an Islay malt. There is some malty sweetness present with a hint of salty sea air. On the palate, the smokiness is lighter and quite herbal and grassy. This lightness allows the other flavours to come through. That lovely malty sweetness (imagine a sweet style of bread) from the nose is there and is joined by something fruity (dried fruits, i think), citrusy (think of lemons) and floral (can't put my finger on what it is though...). That salty tang from before is also there. The finish is fairly long, with the smoke, sweet grains and saltiness all combining extremely well. This is a really good whisky with all the elements contributing to a great all round, light and enjoyable drink. The other Ardbeg characteristics are allowed their own place in the spotlight and marry very well with the more subtle smokiness. This would be a good whisky to give to someone who thought that they didn't like smoky Islay whiskies.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Have just tried ... Benriach 21 years old 'Authenticus'

benriach authenticusBenriach is an innovative distillery based in the heart of the Speyside region, near to the town of Elgin. Benriach is independently owned and release a traditional Speyside style core range. However, this core range is joined by another range of whiskies that are finished in different wine casks or are made with peated malt or both. Both practices, especially using peated malt, are unusual practices for a Speyside distillery and the current owners decided to do them in order to attract new customers to their whiskies. The current trend for smoky whisky has seen other distilleries starting to produce but Benriach had the foresight to do this, making this 21 years old by far the oldest non-Islay peated malt on the market. It is a release that is limited to only 4800 bottles and should cost around £55-60.

The nose is very promising and is full of subtle smokiness. The peat combines with some gorgeous honey, vanilla and crisp green fruits (think of fresh pears and apples). On the palate, the peat and smoke are much more prominent (imagine a dry smokiness, like a bonfire) and the initial hit to your tastebuds is a combination of this smoke and a citrus blast (think of lemon zest). Other flavours then start to develop. The honey and vanilla from the nose come through and are joined by some sweet dried fruits (sultanas, i think) and some warm spices (imagine nutmeg and cinammon). The finish is very long, peaty, sweet, spicy and enjoyable. This is an excellent whisky and is a great example of how smokiness can work with a lighter spirit, such as benriach. The combination of the peat smoke and rich sweet fruitiness is a real winner.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New releases ... Glenkeir Treasures cask strength range

glenkier treasuresThe Glenkeir Treasures are a range of whiskies that are exclusive to and independently bottled by The Whisky Shop, the UK's biggest whisky retail chain. The Whisky Shop has 13 stores located in England and Scotland and a regular range of Glenkeir Treasures are available in each shop. These are whiskies that have been selected to cover all whisky tastes and they are actually bottled in the store and can be purchased in different sized bottles. However, this new cask strength range is extremely limited as only one cask of each of the four whiskies has been selected and chosen for release. All are highly desirable and they won't be around for long, so get to a shop or order from their website quickly!!
Macallan 17 years old
This release from this famous Speyside distillery has only 144 bottles. The nose is lovely and full of vanilla and warm spices (think of nutmeg and cinammon). There is also some crisp fresh fruit (imagine green pears and apples). On the palate, this is deliciously sweet, smooth and velvety. Again, there is vanilla, a fresh fruitiness and those warm spices. These are joined by some richer dried fruit (think of sultanas) and just a hint of liquorice. Adding water releases even more of these flavours as this is a cask strength whisky (57.7% ABV). The finish is long, rich and pleasantly spicy. (£69.99 a bottle).

Laphroaig 16 years old
Again, only 144 bottles released and this Laphroaig is bottled at 56.9% ABV. Laphroaig is one of the most famous distilleries in the world and is located on the island of Islay. The nose is wonderfully peaty and smoky. The smokiness reminded me of cured meat or smoky bacon crisps! There is a sweetness as well, that has a malty cereal aroma. This is rich, thick and almost a little bit oily on the palate. That meaty smokiness and sweet grainy character are present again, and are joined by some vanilla, an interesting saltiness (imagine brine) and the classic iodine bitterness of Laphroaig. The finish is long and full of sweet smoke and saltiness. (£74.99 a bottle).

Glen Albyn 29 years old
This northern Highland distillery closed in 1983, so stock is rare and getting rarer. There are only 208 bottles released, so this represents a real bargain for £99.99 a bottle. The nose is light and pleasant with vanilla, something nutty (almonds, i think) and a herbal note (reminding me of dried grasses). There is also an earthy note and something a bit musty, although these clear away upon adding water. On the palate, this is light yet complex with a lovely mixture of vanilla, nuts (think of toasted almonds), dried fruits (imagine sultanas and candied peel), butterscotch and a hint of spice (nutmeg or cinammon, I can't decide). The finish is fairly short but with a spicy sweetness. This is a light, refreshing whisky that is full of flavour and very enjoyable. Probably, my pick of the four.

Glenlivet 30 years old
Old whiskies from this Speyside giant are expensive, so this one is real bargain at £129.99 a bottle. There are only 162 bottles of this and the nose starts off quite dusty and musty (imagine an old book). However, after a few minutes this slightly unpleasant character passes and is replaced with lots of fruity sweetness (think of sultanas and candied peel) and vanilla. It really is very promising. On the palate, there is butterscotch, vanilla, dried fruit and some warm spices (nutmeg and cinammon). Adding water brings out more of the spices and butterscotch. It feel think in the mouth. The finish is long, rich, sweet and spicy. This whisky is very good, especially after adding a drop of water and has a great balance once that initial dustiness has gone.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Have just tried ... Bushmills Original

bushmills originalBushmills has the oldest distillery licence in the world, dating back to 1608. This licence was granted by King James I and the distillery has just celebrated it's 400th anniversary. Bushmills is owned by drinks giant Diageo and is based in a town of the same name in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. King James I loved Bushmill's whisky so much that he had it imported from Ireland and even sold some of his own land to fund part of the distillery expansion! In addition to being the oldest distillery in Ireland and one of the oldest in the world, Bushmills also has the longest continually used logo. In 1784, the pot still logo was introduced in order to celebrate the formal registering of the distillery and this is still in use today, almost 225 years later. Their whiskies are all triple distilled in the traditional Irish way and the core range is a mixture of single malts and blends - a 10 years old, this 'Original' and 'Black Bush'. These are occasionally supplimented by special limited releases, such as the 400th anniversary celebration blend, '1608'. Sales of the Bushmills range had hit rock bottom before Diageo took over in 2005 but now sales are constantly growing, following a sustained promotional campaign. The distillery is once again running at full capacity (approx. 3 million litres per year) to meet current demand.

This whisky is a blend of single malt and Irish grain whisky and has no stated age, suggesting that some young whisky has been used. The nose is quite fresh and crisp with a herbal note (think of freshly cut grass) and some fruitiness (imagine fresh green apples and ripe peaches). A whiff of raw, young spirit gives the nose a slightly unpleasant metallic edge. This translates on to the palate, with other flavours fighting against it. This whisky has lots of cereal/ grainy based sweetness and vanilla, with a lovely fruity quality (reminding me of peaches or apricots). The finish is short and dry with just a hint of nuts and woody spice (think of nutmeg). The Original should cost around £15-20 per bottle and is good value. There is some young spirit present that gives the whisky that metallic edge but otherwise it is light, crisp, simple and pretty good. It is refreshing and would be a good one to introduce someone to whisky with.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Have just tried ... Bunnahabhain 12 years old

bunnahabhain 12 years oldBunnahabhain (which is pronounced boo-na-ha-ven) is located in the north of the island of Islay, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. The distillery was built in a remote spot due to the quality of the local water source and the village of Bunnahabhain was born as a result. Production began in 1881 and the distillery has had difficult history at times, with numerous owners and three periods of closure (during the 1930s, 1980s and most recently between 1999 and 2002). The current owners are a group called Burn Stewart Distillers and the distillery can produce 2.5 million litres per year. Much of this goes towards the popular Islay blend called Black Bottle, although this is changing as Bunnahabhain's own popularity grows. Bunnahabhain is the lightest of the Islay whiskies with extremely low levels of peat influence in the malted barley (around 1-2ppm) compared to nearly all the other Islay distilleries. Islay is famous for it smoky and peaty whisky and Bunnahabhain is very much the black sheep of the family. The core range has only three whiskies - this 12 years old and two more limited releases, an 18 years old and a 25 years old. Independent bottlings are readily available.

The nose has a lovely fresh sweetness to it, with vanilla and caramel coming through. These are joined by a distinctive saltiness (imagine seaweed or sea air) and this is common in whiskies that are matured by the sea, as Bunnahabhain is. Over time, the porous wood of the casks breathes in the salty sea air and this is transferred to the whisky. On the palate, this is gentle and smooth with lots of malty sweetness and dried fruitiness (imagine sultanas). That saltiness is present, giving the whisky a briny quality, which sounds unappetising but is actually refreshing. There is also something nutty and herbal. The finish is quite short and refreshing with an interesting herbal bitterness. This is completely different from any other whisky from Islay and is worth a try. It should cost between £25-30 a bottle.