Thursday, November 27, 2008

Have just tried ... Bowmore 12 years old

bowmore 12 years oldBowmore is located on the western island of Islay, which is the home of smoky whisky. The distillery is the oldest in operation on Islay and one of the oldest in Scotland, having started production in 1779. It is situated in the village of Bowmore (which translates as 'sea rock' from Gaelic), on the picturesque shores of Loch Indaal. Bowmore is one of the most famous whiskies in the world and the number of different releases is extensive. the core range consists of this 12 years old, a 15 years old 'darkest' and an 18 years old. These are joined by more limited releases from time to time, including some very old and rare whiskies such as the White Bowmore (43 years old!) which has just been made available for around £2500 . independent bottlings are also fairly common. The current owners, Morrison Bowmore (who in turn are owned by Japanese distiller Suntory), have also established another range of whiskies that are available exclusively for travel retail/ duty free. The strategy has led to Bowmore becoming one of the top brands worldwide, within that sector of the market.

This 12 years old is the cornerstone of the range and is one of the best selling whiskies in the UK and the world. The colour is a golden amber and the nose is different to a number of the other heavier islay malts. There is smokiness and peat but it is light and fresh with some butterscotch, some saltiness (imagine brine) and a floral note evident (think of lavender maybe?). The whisky is smooth and kind to your palate with lots of vanilla present, some oakiness, that salty note and a lovely sweetness coming from the malted barley. The smokiness come through afterwards and has an earthy quality, but reminded me most of dying embers/ ash in a fireplace. The finish is dry, salty and reasonably long but not as long as heavier Islay malts. The balance between the lower level of smokiness and the influence of the casks is very good and while this is not the most complex whisky, it is an excellent all rounder that would be a good choice to introduce someone to smoky whiskies. Its quality is reflected in the fact that this 12 years old consistently wins awards around the globe, most recently picking up The Whisky Shop's 'Single Malt of the Year 2008'. A bottle should cost £25-30 and is readily available.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Have just tried ... Hakushu 12 years old

hakushu 12 years oldHakushu is a Japanese whisky and the distillery was opened in 1973. It is located in a nature reserve on the slopes of Mount Kaikomagatake, which lies to the northwest of Tokyo. The location is reflected in the name as Hakushu means 'forest distillery' in Japanese. A second distillery was built next to the original in 1981, making Hakushu one of the largest malt whisky distilleries in the world with an incredible 24 pot stills. The new distillery was named Hakushu East and the older was renamed Hakushu West. Both were run side by side for a number of years before the owners, Suntory, decided to close Hakushu West. All whisky is now produced at Hakushu East, which has a capacity of 3 million litres per year. The whisky is matured mostly in bourbon casks but some spends time in sherry and Japanese oak casks. Hakushu also filter their whisky after maturation through bamboo charcoal, creating a unique character within the spirit. They are the only Japanese distillery to practice this technique.

The colour is light and lemony with an interesting nose. It is light and fresh with some crisp green fruit (think of pears and apples), some gorgeous vanilla, something floral (reminding me of honey suckle) and just a whiff of smokiness (imagine wood ash). This feels thicker on the palate than the nose suggests and is quite creamy with all elements from the nose combining well. There is also something herbal and grassy, as well as a warm spicy note (ginger, I think). The finish is quite dry, crisp and light with the warm spice, that hint of smoke and a nutty (think of almonds) quality coming through. A bottle of this should cost between £45-50 and it is well worth it. This whisky has lots to offer with a decent nose being followed up with a sumptuous crisp palate that combines all the elements very well. This is high quality malt and a great example of Japanese whisky.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Have just tried ... Benromach Organic

benromach organic labelBenromach is the smallest working distillery in Speyside and is located to the north of the town of Forres. Infact, with it's current production level of only 200,000 litres, Benromach is one of the smallest in Scotland with only two people employed to produce their spirit. The distillery was founded in 1898 with the current owners being the independent bottling company Gordon & MacPhail. They took over Benromach in 1993 and the distillery was reopened by Prince Charles, following 10 years of mothballing by the previous owners (mothballing is the term used for the process where production is stopped at a distillery, but all the equipment remains intact and ready to go again). Gordon & Macphail launched an innovative programme of whisky production including different wine cask finishing, heavily peating some of their malt (a very usual practice for a Speyside distillery) and producing the world's first truly organic whisky. The organic whisky is certified as such by The Soil Association and involves using organically grown Scottish barley and yeast, pure local spring water and untreated and unused American oak casks. They are not allowed to use casks that have previously carried another spirit (such as bourbon or sherry as all other distilleries use) to be classed as organic.

The result of their innovation was the release of this organic whisky for the first time in 2006 and it remains the only one on the market at this current time. Other distilleries have now produced organic whisky to meet the consumer demand but these are still too young to be released. This whisky is roughly seven years old and the colour is golden brown with a nose is more reminiscent of an American bourbon than a Scottish malt. The nose is loaded with oak, vanilla and coconut and these form the basis of the palate also. more subtle notes start to come through on the palate, including some butterscotch, some dried fruit (think of sultanas and candied peel) and sweet malted barley. The finish is long, smooth and rich with the vanilla, coconut and dried fruit slowly fading. This is a very good whisky and it has laid down a tough marker for the other organic whiskies that will soon be on the market. It is quite bourbon-like, but this is no bad thing and is due to the use of the fresh wood used in the maturation. Well worth a try, especially at the bargain price (well, for an organic product anyway!) of £30-35 per bottle.

Friday, November 7, 2008

In the whisky cupboard ... Mackmyra Preludium 04

mackmyra preludium 04Mackmyra is a distillery based around 170km north of Stockholm, near to the town of Gävle in Sweden. The Swedes love their whisky and Mackmyra was the brainchild of a group of friends, who decided to set up a new whisky distillery. It started on a small scale in 1999 and was upgraded in 2002 and full production started. Their first official release was released in Sweden in June 2008 and sold out in hours. Prior to this they have released a series of limited edition preludes (around 4000 bottles of each), starting with the Preludium 01 in 2006. Within this series, they have experimented by using different casks and methods in order to produce highly innovative and interesting whiskies using local ingredients. The distillery's reputation is growing fast and everything sells out quickly.

This is the fourth in the Preludium series and is a young whisky of around four years of age. It has been matured in a combination of bourbon cask, then a fresh Swedish oak cask and then a champagne wine cask. The colour is light and quite grassy (like hay). The nose has a gorgeous freshness to it, with a mixture of sweet vanilla and crisp fresh fruit (think of green apples and white grapes). On the palate, there is a definate white wine element that is fresh, crisp and quite dry (similar to the champagne that had formerly in one of the casks). This mixes with that vanilla and fresh green fruit and is fairly light, refreshing and zingy in the mouth. The finish is quite long and very enjoyable. This is very well balanced, enjoyable and quite complex for such a young whisky. The alcohol level is quite high (around 50% ABV) but you don't notice this at any time, unlike in other young whiskies. The experimentation with different casks is innovative and has produced whiskies that taste and feel different to traditional malts. This Preludium shows great promise and it will be very interesting to see how Mackmyra whiskies progress over time.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Have just tried ... Glenlivet Nadurra

glenlivet nadurraGlenlivet is one of the most famous names in the world of whisky and is one of the largest distilleries in Scotland. Located in the Speyside region, close to the town of Ballindalloch in the Livet Glen, it has an annual production capacity of nearly 6 million litres. The distillery is currently owned by drinks giant Pernod Ricard and their influence, since taking over in 2001, has seen Glenlivet become one of the best selling single malts in the world. Glenlivet was opened in 1824 in what were previously farm buildings and continues to take it's water from the nearby River Livet today. The visitor's centre next to the distillery is one of the most visited in Scotland and continues to win awards. The range of whisky released as single malt is extensive, including 12, 15, 18 and 25 years old plus older releases and different cask finishes.

The 'Nadurra' has been released in a number of guises and this one is 16 years old, cask strength (48% ABV) and un-chillfiltered. The nose has a mixture of fresh fruit (think of crisp green pears and apples), something floral and aromatic (reminding me of honeysuckle), vanilla, some toasted nuts (hazelnuts, i think) and some spices (think of nutmeg and cinammon). On the palate, the Nadurra is quite dry, oaky and fresh. It is also delicate and light, but complex. Elements from the nose are present, especially the fresh pears and apples, the nuttiness and the vanilla oakiness. These are joined by something that reminded me of stoned or tropical fruits (think of apricot, peach, pineapple and banana). Upon adding water, the palate instantly becomes more floral (that honeysuckle again). The finish is short and refreshing. This is a very good whisky that would be a good choice to introduce someone to cask strength whisky. This version is available in travel duty free outlets worldwide, with another stronger version available in the UK in some leading supermarkets and independent retailers.