Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Have just tried ... Glen Scotia 15 years old 'Old Malt Cask' from Douglas Laing & Co

glen scotia 15 years old 'old malt cask'Glen Scotia (pronounced glen sco-sha) is one of Scotland's smallest and least known whisky distilleries. It has an annual operating capacity of only 750,000 litres and is one of only three remaining distilleries in operation in the region of Campbeltown. The other two are Springbank and Glengyle (which only opened in 2004), both of which are owned by the Mitchell family. The Campbeltown peninsula is located on the west Highland coast, roughly lying between Glasgow and the western isles. Glen Scotia is a cramped distillery and can be found on the main street of the town of Campbeltown. It was founded in 1832 and is the only distillery in Scotland to have stills made from steel alloy rather than copper.

The Campbeltown region once sustained over 30 distilleries and was a major force in whisky production. However, it was hit harder than the other regions during difficult times due to the remoteness of its location and the resulting transportation problems. To a certain degree Glen Scotia lives in the shadow of it's bigger and more famous neighbour, Springbank. It is currently owned by The Loch Lomond Distillery Company and they release only two regular single malt bottlings - a 12 years old and a rarer 17 years old. Both are hard to find, even in specialist whisky retailers. The most accessable way to try Glen Scotia is through the number of independent bottlings that are available on the market, such as this 15 years old that is released through the Glasgow based Douglas Laing & Co as part of their 'Old Malt Cask' range.

The colour is a gorgeous dark amber and the nose is lovely and aromatic. It has an interesting and sumptuous mix of dried fruit (think of raisins especially) and warm spices (imagine cinnamon) from its sherry cask maturation that are then combining with a light, earthy smokiness (think of damp soil and moss). On the palate, that smokiness is at the forefront but then dies away gradually to reveal more subtle sweet notes - cereal grains, honey, dried fruits and caramel. The spiciness from the nose seems a bit hotter though (more reminiscent of ginger and peppercorns). Despite the numerous sweet elements, this whisky does not feel too sweet as the mossy smokiness and a final, slightly metallic note balance it out well. The finish is long and becomes fairly dry with the smoke finally fading to nothing. That slight metallic note (can only be described as quite tinny) hangs around also and is the only negative element present, although it is the last thing you taste so it stays in your memory. This is a shame.

This is a good whisky and would be a great choice to introduce someone to smoky whisky, as it is lightly peated. The sherry cask maturation has worked very well here and compliments that level of smokiness almost perfectly. It would also go well with a mild style of cigar. A bottle will cost £55-60 from specialist whisky retailers and is a good example of what good quality can be found if you explore some of Scotland's lesser known distilleries.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Have just tried ... Glendronach 12 years old

glendronach 12 years old bottleGlendronach is a little known distillery that is located in the south eastern tip of the Speyside region of Scotland. It lies close to the town of Huntly and was founded in 1826. Glendronach later became an important part of the William Teacher & Sons empire, with most of the whisky being used within the popular Teacher's blended whisky 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.

Glendronach has recently been given a new lease of life, following a period of closure. During 2008, 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 this 12 years old and a limited edition 33 years old. They have added a 15 and an 18 years old to fill the gap in the range and these were released in the UK aprroximately two months ago. The plan is to increase the popularity and availability of Glendronach whisky and capitalise on the world's current trend for quality single malts.

This 12 years old is double matured in two types of cask - partly in sherry casks then bourbon quarter casks, which are a quarter of the size of a regular cask and give up to 30% more contact between the wood and the whisky. This allows more influence from the cask to be imparted into the spirit. The colour is amber with a sumptuous nose that is full of dark dried fruits (think of raisins, sultanas and dried candied peel) combining with vanilla and caramel. On the palate, this gives an initial sharp burst of sugar (imagine brown sugar) and then becomes fruity (that dried fruit again), spicy (think of cinnamon especially), nutty (imagine a slight bitter nut like a walnut) and has a touch of concentrated citrus (think of candied orange peel/marmalade). Further sweetness comes from the malted barley. It all combines very well and is balanced but maybe slightly lighter than you would expected from such rich characteristics. The finish is long, warming and enjoyable.

This Glendronach is a lovely whisky that is easy drinking and very approachable but that has good balance and complexity. This would make it great as an introduction for someone to the world of sweeter sherry cask influenced whiskies. This under rated distillery is worth trying as an interesting alternative to the more well known producers of this style such as Macallan or Glenfarclas. A bottle should cost £25-30 from independent whisky retailers.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Have just tried ... Tomintoul 16 years old

tomintoul 16 years oldTomintoul (pronounced tom-in-towel) is one of Scotland's younger distilleries and was opened in 1964. It is located in the famous Livet glen, close to the village of Ballindalloch, on the southern edge of the Speyside region. It is reasonably large and produces around 3 million litres per year. Tomintoul is the second highest distillery in Scotland at 286 metres (808 feet) above sea level and regularly suffers poor weather and cold temperatures as a result. The distillery is frequently cut off by heavy snowfall during winter. Dalwhinnie in the central Highlands is the highest at 326 metres (1075 feet). The current owners are Angus Dundee Distillers, and most of the whisky produced there is allocated to blending contracts.

Tomintoul is little know to the wider audience but is well reknowned for their use of quality sherry casks for maturation. Its popularity is increasing and the single malt core range is expanding to reflect this. The range consists of a 10 years old , a new 12 years old matured in Oloroso sherry casks, this 16 years old and a 27 years old. There are also two peated versions, which are unusual for a Speyside distillery, called 'Old Ballantruan' (very smoky and just discontinued) and 'Peaty Tang' (much lighter, fresher smoke). The main market for Tomintoul single malt is mainland Europe.

The colour is a rich golden amber and the nose is appetising. There is an immediate dried fruit hit (imagine raisins and sultanas) with some woody spices (think of nutmeg and cinnamon). These are classic signs that a whisky has been matured in a sherry cask for at least some of its life. Following on is a reasonably intense citrus note (think of dried orange peel or marmalade), an interesting nuttiness (imagine almonds) and just a whiff of raw spirit that catches your nose hairs. On the palate, this is feels thinner than the richness that the nose was suggesting. It is quite rich and has a slight buttery feel that balances the sweetness of the dried fruit, vanilla and citrus notes from the nose (this reminded me of butterscotch). There is also a maltiness from the barley, some vanilla, some more harsh raw spirit that burns your throat a bit and a woodiness that increases with time. The finish is reasonable, fruity and still quite spirity, with the malty note coming through prominently, as does some spice (nutmeg or cinammon again). The overall feeling is pretty dry and woody (think of damp wood).

Tomintoul 16 years old is slightly disappointing. For something of this age we were expecting more richness, sweetness and a fuller body. The presence of that raw spirity feeling should also not be there at this age and is more common in young whisky. It is still a reasonably decent dram and should cost you around £30-35 for a bottle, which is not too bad for a 16 years old. It is a creative alternative to other similar but more well known whiskies of this sherried style, such as Balvenie, Glenfarclas or Macallan.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Have just tried ... Jim Beam White Label

jim beam white label bottlesJim Beam is the biggest selling bourbon brand in the world and sits comfortably in the global top 10 for total spirit sales. The current distillery was built at the end of the Prohibition period in 1933. It is located in the town of Clermont, Kentucky. The state of Kentucky is the home to America's bourbon industry.

The Beam family have a longer whisky heritage, with their first distillery dating back to 1795. This was founded in Washington County, Kentucky by a German immigrant called Jacob Boehm (his surname later became Americanised to Beam). The distillery is currently run by the sixth generation of his family. The Beam empire has grown massively and Beam Global are now one of the biggest drinks companies in the world, holding a vast array of worldwide brands in their portfolio.

The current range of bourbons include this highly popular flagship White Label (approximately 3-4 years old and 40% ABV), the Black Label (8 years old and 43% ABV) and the Small Batch (a combination of just a few selected casks of differing ages). On our recent trip to Australia, we discovered that Jim Beam is extremely popular there and outsells all other whiskies by a huge margin. The range in Australia includes pre-mixed cans of Beam & Coke and some bars had this mix on tap and sold it in pints!

This White Label is golden in colour, with a nose packed with vanilla, oak and sweet cereal grains. More sweetness comes through later (imagine honey and caramel), as does an interesting floral note that is difficult to define (honeysuckle is possibly the nearest or maybe orange blossom). On the palate, the vanilla and oakiness are prominent and this feels light and warming in your mouth. The warmth is quite spicy (think of ginger and cinnamon or nutmeg), with a lovely mellow sweetness (those grains and honey again) and an interesting yeasty note (imagine rye bread). A distinct waxy note comes through - it sounds strange but it reminded me of beeswax or furniture polish. The finish is long with the sweetness becoming drier and very oaky. The warm spices really come through as does a citrus note (imagine candied orange peel).

White Label is a decent and enjoyable bourbon, that has a highly perfumed nose but is lighter on your palate than the nose suggests. This would make it ideal for mixing or putting in cocktails as some of its individual character will shine through. Saying that, its lightness on the palate makes it refreshing and it has enough interest to drink neat or with ice. For this reason, it would be a good bourbon for beginners to get them started in the world of bourbons. This is also widely available and should cost £15-20 for a bottle.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Have just tried ... Canadian Club

Canadian Club is a blended whisky that is made by the Hiram Walker distillery. This is located in the city of Windsor in the Canadian province of Ontario and lies close to the shores of Lake Erie and the American border. Hiram Walker is named after its founder, who set up Canada's first legal whisky distillery on the same site as the current buildings in 1858.

Walker and his family quickly established a good reputation for their whisky and it became extremely popular among the wealthy classes and in gentlemans clubs in late 19th century Canada and the northern states of America. It became known as 'club whisky' and the current recipe was launched in 1884 and became known as Canadian Club in 1889. It was highly sought after because it was aged, as it is now, for six years which was rare in those days when most whisky or bourbon was aged for a year, if you were lucky.

Canadian Club is a blend of rye, malted barley and corn whiskies that are mixed with a neutral base spirit. It is made in a different way to traditional Scottish or Irish blended whiskies, in which the whiskies are matured and then blended and bottled. Canadian Club is blended when the whiskies are fresh off the still and then matured for six years in a combination of new oak and ex bourbon casks. This process is unique in the whisky industry. The current brand name is owned by giant drinks company Beam Global. Canadian Club is the best selling whisky in Canada and the biggest selling Canadian whisky around the world by some distance. Other Canadian whiskies are extremely hard to find outside of Canada but Canadian Club is available in over 150 countries.

The colour is golden and the nose takes time to reveal itself. Initially there is lots of spirit (reminded us of surgical spirit), then after 2-3 minutes more notes start to come through, although they are still somewhat understated. It becomes fresher and softer than before with some vanilla, sweet cereal grains and a hint of woody spice (think of nutmeg). On the palate, this is light, smooth and slightly creamy with a pleasant combination of caramel (imagine slightly burnt sugar), a hint of something oily (think of linseed oil, maybe?), some nuttiness (imagine walnuts) and the vanilla, grains and nutmeg from the nose. The finish quite long, clean and fresh with a pleasant and gentle dry grainy bitterness.

It is easy to see why Canadian Club is popular around the world as it offers something unique but not obscure or too complex for most palates. It is light, fresh, smooth and very easy to drink. The whisky is commonly used, as indeed are most blends, as a mixer or in cocktail. Canadian Club is available from larger supermarkets and independent spirits retailers in the UK and should cost around £20 a bottle.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Have just tried ... J&B Rare

j&b rare bottleJ&B Rare is the second best selling blended whisky in the world. It lies behind the Johnnie Walker Red Label by some distance but still accounts for around 6% of all worldwide whisky sales. It is a complex blend of 42 different whiskies, primarily single malts from the Speyside region of Scotland and premium grain whiskies. The whiskies are of differing ages and the Rare blend was created in the 1930s for the American market that was craving top quality whisky following years of Prohibition. The USA remains one of the top markets for J&B Rare and its is also popular in south east Asia and southern Europe - especially Spain (which is the top market in the world), France and Portugal.

J&B is named after the company Justerini & Brooks. Giancomo Justerini, from Bologna in Italy, came over to London in 1749 and set up a wine shop and importing business with a business partner called George Johnson. Justerini returned to Italy in 1760 and Johnson continued to run the business under Justerini's name. In 1831, Johnson's grandson sold up to Alfred Brooks, who kept the name while adding his - so Justerini & Brooks Ltd was born. Brooks pioneered the idea of buying Scottish whisky and blending it outside of Scotland, making Justerini & Brooks the first London based spirits firm to create their own blend in the late 19th century. This was called J&B Club. Justerini & Brooks have been issued with consecutive Royal Warrants by the last nine reigning monarchs, starting with George III who issued the first one to Giancomo Justurini himself. They remain as one of the Royal households top wine and spirits suppliers. The J&B Rare brand is currently owned by drinks company Diageo.

The colour is pale lemon yellow and the nose is light yet fragrant. There is an initial yeasty/malty element that is then joined by fresh green fruit (imagine pears and apples), vanilla and honey. These disappear quite quickly after pouring to reveal a more sugary caramel note. On the palate this is light and fresh with a sugary sweetness (think of icing sugar) hitting straight away. This fades to give a pleasant mix of vanilla, honey (imagine a runny honey like acacia), some citrus (think of lemon juice) and some woody spice (like cinnamon). A nuttiness comes through right at the end (reminding us of almonds). The finish is light, basic and very short (borderline non existent!), although the sweetness is replaced with a drying woodiness and your throat is left with a stinging hot sensation from the alcohol.

J&B Rare is a basic, light and refreshing whisky that cleanses your palate. For this reason, it is easy to see why it is popular in warm climates. The strong initial elements on the nose and palate make it ideal for mixing or cocktails (which is the area of the market that it is primarily marketed at), although it would also be good with a couple of ice cubes on a boiling hot day. It is hard to believe that there are 42 whiskies blended together in this but the blending has been done with subtlety and this represents good value at £15-20 a bottle.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Explain about ... How whisky is made

The principals for the distillation of whisky have changed little over the last 200 years. Just three basic ingredients are needed - water, barley and yeast. Technology now aids production at most distilleries, but traditionally there are five stages to the process - malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation and maturation. Understanding the whisky making process shows how the highly skilled distillers can influence the final flavour of the spirit at every stage.

Step 1 - Malting
the malting floor at springbank distilleryBarley contains starch and it is this starch which needs to be converted into soluble sugars to make alcohol. To begin this process, the barley must germinate and this is called 'malting'. Each distiller has their own preference about the type of barley they buy, but they need a type that produce high yields of sugar when fermented. The barley is soaked for 2-3 days and then spread on the floor of a building called a malting house (like the one at Springbank distillery above). It is turned regularly to maintain a constant temperature. When the barley has started to shoot, the germination is stopped by drying it in a kiln. Traditionally peat is used to power the kiln and it is at this point where the type of peat used and length of drying in the thick peat smoke can influence the flavour of the final spirit. The barley is now called 'malt' and this is ground down in a mill, with any husks and other debris being removed. This finely ground malt is now called 'grist'.

Step 2 - Mashing
Hot water is now added to the grist. The water is normally from a pure, reliable, local source. The character of this water can influence the final spirit as it can contain minerals from passing over or though granite, peat or other types of rock. Most distilleries use soft water. This mixture is put into a large vessel called a mash tun and stirred for several hours. During this process, the sugars in the malt dissolve and these are drawn off through a large seive at the bottom of the mash tun. This liquid is now called 'wort'. This process is normally carried out three times with the water temperature being increased each time. Only wort from the first two times is used. The third lot is put back into the next batch of new grist. Any residue, called 'graff', is collected and used in the production of farm feed.

Step 3 - Fermentation
The wort is cooled and passed into large tanks called washbacks. These are traditionally made of oak wood, but now a number of distilleries use stainless steel. Here the yeast is added and the fermentation begins. The yeast turns the sugars that are present in the liquid into alcohol. As with the choice of barley and water, the distiller will carefully select the type of yeast that they use and it can also have an effect on the final flavour of the spirit. The fermentation is stopped after about two days. The liquid at this stage is called 'wash' and is low strength (between 5-10% ABV) and is very much like a beer or ale. You could actually make beer from the liquid at this point, but the difference with whisky is that the liquid is now distilled rather than brewed.

Step 4 - Distillation
the stillroom at glenmorangie distilleryIn Scotland, the wash is traditionally distilled twice. In Ireland, it is distilled three times although there are exceptions in both countries. Here, we will follow the Scottish double distillation process. The stills are made from copper and consist of a bowl shape at the bottom that rises up to the neck at the top. All are the same in principal, but a different shape will give a different flavour to the final spirit. Taller stills with longer necks will give finer, lighter spirits while shorter, fatter stills will produce a fuller, richer spirit.

Firstly, the wash enters the wash still and is heated (this can be by coal, gas or steam). The liquid vaporises and rises up the still until it reaches the neck, where it condenses. This liquid is called 'low wines'. The low wines are passed to the second still, called the spirit still. Any residue from the wash still is collected and used to manufacture farm feed. In the spirit still, the alcohol produced is split into three. The alcohols from the beginning of the distillation (called 'foreshots') are very high in alcohol level and very pungent. Alcohols from the end (called 'feints') are weak but also pungent. It is only the alcohol from the middle or 'heart' of the distillation that is used and this is skillfully removed by a stillman. The foreshots and feints are then mixed with the next batch of low wines and re-distilled. The heart is the spirit that is then taken to be matured and that will become whisky.

Step 5 - Maturation
The spirit is put into oak casks and stored. The most common types of oak casks are those that have previously been used in the American bourbon and Spanish sherry industries or those that have been used to mature whisky before. The spirit must mature in casks for a minimum of three years before it is legally allowed to be called whisky. During maturation, the flavours of the spirit combine with compounds and natural oils in the wood cask and this gives the whisky it's own characteristic flavour and aroma.

Wood is porous, so over time it will breathe in air from the surrounding environment in which it is stored. This will also give the whisky some unique characteristics. If the distillery storage facilities are next to the sea, on an island or in the middle of the highlands then the air quality, temperature and humidity will be different and influence the end product. During each year of maturation about 2% of the spirit is lost through natural evaporation. This is called the 'angel's share' and explains why older whiskies are less readily available and more expensive to buy. There is simply less whisky in the cask to bottle.

Bruichladdich, a distillery on the island of Islay, have webcams that allow you to see each of these processes as they are happening. Go to http://www.bruichladdich.com/web_cam.htm and watch their whisky being produced live.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New releases ... Glenmorangie Sonnalta

glenmorangie sonnalta bottleGlenmorangie is a distillery located in the northern Highlands, close to the town of Tain on the Dornoch Firth estuary. The distillery and its brand name are world famous and they produce some of the globe's biggest selling whiskies there. The distillery was opened in 1843 and is now owned by multi national drinks giant, Moet Hennessy. Glenmorangie is one of Scotland's largest whisky distilleries, producing 4 million litres per year, and has the tallest set of stills in Scotland with each one standing over 5 metres (16.5 feet) tall. This height also means that only the purest and lightest spirit reaches the condenser and get collected for maturation.

Glenmorangie has a large core range of whisky. The Sonnalta (which means 'generous' or 'liberal' in Gaelic) is the first in a series of special releases that will be exclusively sold in the Duty Free/travel retail sector. The series is named 'Private Expressions' and this whisky has been matured in bourbon casks for 10 years and then transferred to Pedro Ximinez sherry casks for a further year. Pedro Ximinez is a very sweet grape variety that originated on the Canary Islands and was bought over to Jerez on the mainland of Spain by a man called Pedro Ximinez in the 16th century. He went on to produce a very sweet, dark and sticky style of sherry that is still made today. Sonnalta was released approximately two months ago, initially in South East Asia (which is where we picked up our bottle), and is now available in Duty Free stores around the world. A bottle should cost around £70 for a litre, dependant on the local exchange rate.

The colour is a lovely rich golden brown and the nose is fantastic. It is delicate with a combination of caramel-like sweetness, dried fruits (think of raisins and candied orange peel) and something dark (imagine high cocoa chocolate and espresso coffee). Vanilla is there also, as is some sweet malted barley. On the palate this explodes on your tongue and is full bodied, viscous and creamy. An intense pleasant sugary burst hits the front of your tongue and dies slowly to reveal the elements from the nose. It has a great mixture of vanilla, caramel (think of dark brown sugar), dried fruits (some apricot this time as well), a distinct nuttiness (imagine coconut), slightly bitter dark chocolate and coffee and, strange as it may sound, a tropical fruit element (something like mango or papaya). This tropical note carries on in the lengthy finish, which is just as intensely sweet, complex and fruity as the nose and palate. Some cinnamon spice comes through towards the end.

Sonnalta is a top quality whisky. There is so much going on and fighting for your attention on the nose, palate and finish yet it remains balanced. It has the feeling of a good dessert wine and would be great to have as an after dinner drink and sit with it long into the night. The initial sugary sweetness may not be to everyone's taste but a drop of water opens Sonnalta up well, taking it to an even higher level in my opinion. This is a real 'try before you die' whisky. Fantastic stuff.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

New releases ... Glendronach 18 years old

Glendronach is a distillery that is located in the south eastern tip of the Speyside region of Scotland, close to the town of Huntly. It was founded in 1826 and later became part of the William Teacher & Sons empire, with most of the whisky being used for the popular Teacher's blended range. Glendronach has also been owned by other large companies during its history, most notably Allied Domecq and Pernod Ricard. The distillery is relatively small with an annual capacity of 1.4 million litres. Glendronach was also the last distillery to use coal to heat its stills. The use of this traditional method died when their stills were converted to steam heating in 2005.

Glendronach has been recently reborn following a period of closure. During 2008, the distillery was taken over by The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd who are the independent owners of another Speyside distillery (Benriach, unsurprisingly!). The decision was immediately taken to expand the range of Glendronach whisky that previously contained just a 12 years old and a limited edition 33 years old. They have added a 15 and this 18 years old to fill the large gap in the range and these were released in the UK about two months ago. The plan is to increase the popularity and availability of Glendronach whisky and the claim is that a 'sleeping giant is back!'

This 18 years old has been exclusively matured in Oloroso sherry casks and the influence can be seen in the colour, which is dark amber with a brown/red tinge. This is sweet and malty on the nose with a lot of sherry cask influence - dried fruitiness (think of sultanas and peel especially), sweet malted barley, warm spices (imagine nutmeg and cinnamon) and some woodiness. Many people describe these characteristics as reminding them of fruit or Christmas cake and that is a classic sign of sherry cask maturatation. The palate was thinner than the richness of the nose suggests. The dried fruit and malted barley combined well to give a pleasant whisky that has a decent level of sweetness. Other elements present include some sugary caramel, those warm spices again and a distinct nuttiness (think of walnuts) that gives a slight bitterness to balance the other sweetness. The finish is quite short, woody, dry and slightly bitter with some candied peel coming through (orange especially).

This is a good whisky and a decent example of sherry cask maturation. The age gives extra complexity that can be lacking in younger whiskies. It is currently only available in the UK and can be found in specialist whisky retailers for around £50-55 a bottle. Only time will tell us if that giant has woken up!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New releases ... Hibiki 12 years old

hibiki 12 years old bottleThe Hibiki are a series of blended whiskies from the Japanese company Suntory. They rose to prominence in 2008 when the 30 years old version won the 'Best Blended Whisky' category at the World Whisky Awards - the first time that a Japanese whisky had won such a prestigious prize. Suntory own two whisky distilleries in Japan - Yamazaki (Japan's oldest founded in 1923) and Hakushu, which was founded during the 1970s. The Hibiki are blends of single malts and grain whisky from these two distilleries and are released with minimum ages of 17 and 30 years. The 12 years old is a new addition to the range and has just been released in Europe, with London staged the official launch. Hibiki means 'harmony' in Japanese.

The first thing to note with the Hibiki series is the extraordinary bottle. It is a great mix of a whisky decanter and 1970s retro design. The 17 and 30 years old in the series are multi award winning whiskies so the 12 years old has a lot to live up to! Both are dark with sherry cask influence, but this is much lighter and fresher. The colour is a golden amber and the nose is very promising. It is fragrant with a fruitiness that is fresh rather than dried fruit (think of stone fruits like cherries and plums). There is vanilla and sweetness (think of honey) prominent also, with a hint of a peppery spiciness (imagine ground white pepper). The palate is refreshing, cleansing and mellow with lots of those fresh juicy fruit notes present (especially the plums) and these are underpinned by a soft barley sweetness. It has a crisp, short finish with that peppery spice coming through. It makes your mouth water and makes you want to drink some more!

The Hibiki 12 years old is a promising and very smooth whisky that we later discovered was partly matured in a Japanese plum liqueur cask (the liqueur is called Umeshu). This explains that fresh plumy fruitiness that is present. It would be a great one to introduce someone to whisky as it is light, refreshing and has interesting, almost unique, characteristics. This is available in specialist whisky retailers and some Japanese supermarkets and should cost £45-50 for bottle.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Have just tried ... Monkey Shoulder

monkey shoulder bottlesMonkey Shoulder is a vatted whisky from William Grant & Sons. A vatted whisky is one that contains only single malts, compared to a blend which contains grain whisky as well. Monkey Shoulder contains whisky from each of Grant's three Speyside distilleries - Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. The three monkeys on the bottle represent these three distilleries. Whilst Glenfiddich and Balvenie are both world famous, few have heard of or know much about Kininvie as they do not release any whisky under the distillery name. Kininvie was built in the early 1990s next door to Balvenie, with the function of producing whisky to be used in the popular Grant's blended whisky range. The idea being that this would then free up more Glenfiddich and Balvenie to be released as single malts, in order to meet demand. Kininvie is now the major contributing whisky to Monkey Shoulder.

The term 'Monkey Shoulder' refers to an affliction that used to strike down distillery workers in the past. Balvenie is one of the few remaining distilleries to have its own malting floor and here the barley is left for a number of days to germinate, turning the starch in the barley to sugar which in turn gets turned into alcohol in the mashing process. To ensure an even germination, the barley has to be turned regularly by hand and the repetition of doing this over many years led the distillery workers to develop a 'Monkey Shoulder' (a historical version of repetitive strain injury!).

The colour is golden amber and the nose is light with vanilla, honey, some crisp fresh fruit (think of pears) and a hint of spice (imagine nutmeg) all present. These elements are carried through to the palate, where they blend really well together. It feels creamy and buttery in your mouth with heaps of vanilla being joined by a lovely malted barley sweetness flavours. There is some oaky woodiness, some honey and a hint of citrus (orange especially) combining also. The finish is fairly long, smooth and creamy again with the vanilla and warm spice (nutmeg again) coming to the fore. This is an extremely enjoyable and easy drinking whisky and certainly one of the best blended or vatted whiskies that we have tried to date. It is a cross between the richer, sweeter Balvenie style and the lighter, fresher Glenfiddich.

Monkey Shoulder has been designed and is marketed at the younger whisky drinker and the bar trade, who are encouraged to drink it with a mixer or as part of a cocktail. A bottle should cost you between £20-25. The website is also very good (www.monkeyshoulder.com) and if you try the whisky and like it, then you can even join the Monkey Shoulder Appreciation Society there!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The search for interesting whisk(e)y cocktails begins with Lynchburg Lemonade

We're on a mission this summer to try to find some interesting and different whisk(e)y cocktails. We will try some old favourites as well as hopefully managing to find some new ones. Whisk(e)y is beginning to be marketed internationally as a more flexible cocktail ingredient and we are keen to see what is coming out of this trend.

Starting with an old favourite, and a regular on the cocktail list of many bars worldwide - Lynchburg Lemonade. It is named after Lynchburg, a city in the American state of Tennessee, home of the Jack Daniel's distillery.

In Spring 2006, the drink's creator, Tony Mason, filed a lawsuit in the Madison County Circuit Court against Jack Daniel's Distillery claiming, among other things, "that the defendants had misappropriated his formula, or recipe, for a beverage known as Lynchburg Lemonade". He sought compensatory and punitive damages of $13,276,335. After approximately four days of testimony, the jury found in his favour, however, the trial court refused to give Mason's requested compensation leaving him instead to walk away with the lesser amount of one dollar.

Lynchburg Lemonade
1 part Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey
1 part triple sec
1 part sours mix
squeeze of lime juice

Shake all ingredients together with ice. Strain into a glass over fresh ice, top with lemonade then garnish with a slice of lemon and a maraschino cherry.

This is quite a sweet cocktail and the whiskey is by no means over powering. It would be a good cocktail to get a non-whiskey fan interested and really does suit a lovely sunny summery day.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Have just tried ... Edradour 10 years old

edradour 10 years old bottle Edradour is Scotland's smallest single malt whisky distillery and produces just 90,000 litres of whisky each year. It is located in the central Highlands, close to the town of Pitlochry, and is owned by the independent bottling company Signatory Vintage, who took control in 2002. The name of Edradour is thought to derive from the Gaelic 'Edred dobhar' meaning 'the stream of King Edred'.

Edradour is housed in its original farm buildings and little has changed since it was founded in 1825. Everything at Edradour is small with all the distilling equipment (a mash tun, two washbacks and a pair of oddly shaped stills) crammed into one room. All processes use traditional methods with no automation and much of the equipment is made from wood. The pair of stills are also the smallest size permitted for commercial distilling by the Customs & Excise department.

The picturesque farm buildings and the 'smallest' tag help the distillery to be one of Scotland's most visited, attracting approximately 100,000 tourists per year. The single malt core range is small and based around this 10 years old, with more limited expressions also available as cask strength or with experimental cask finishes. Edradour has a cult following around the world and many say that you either love it or hate it.

The colour is a dull gold and the nose is pungent, with a combination of dried fruits (think of sultanas), some sweetness (imagine slightly burnt caramel) and nuts (especially almonds). There is also a slightly odd aroma that took us ages to try and pin down - the closest we got was match heads that have just been struck. On the palate, this feels thick and oily (almost syrupy) with some interesting elements coming together. There is a sort of malty, grainy yeastiness that gives a creamy flavour and feel, with the dried fruits, nuttiness and sweetness from the nose (a bit more like honey this time) battling with a pronounced smokiness. This has a similar sulphuric quality as the match heads but is more prominent than on the nose and more reminiscent of coal burning. The finish is long with the coal smoke fading away to give dried fruits again and a touch of woody spice (think of nutmeg).

Edradour 10 years old is a very interesting whisky. It has a slightly odd mixture of characteristics that suggest maturation in both bourbon and sherry casks at some point and the feeling is that they are conflicting with each other. The result is a whisky that is unique but that doesn't seem at ease with itself or quite correctly balanced in some way. We have not previously tried anything like Edradour and its uniqueness must come from the care taken to make it and the small size of the stills and batches of whisky produced. A bottle will cost £30-35 from specialist whisky retailers or through Signatory Vintage.

In the whisky cupboard ... Ardbeg 10 years old

ardbeg 10 years old bottleThe Ardbeg distillery is situated on the western Scottish island of Islay. It was founded in 1815 and they produce some of the smokiest whiskies in the world there. Ardbeg has been closed down on a couple of occasions only to be reopened by new owners. The last closure was in July 1996 and production restarted in June 1997 following a takeover by Glenmorangie PLC, who were in turn taken over by drinks giant Moet Hennessy, who remain the current owners.

Although they produce only a million litres of whisky a year, Ardbeg have numerous distillery bottlings within their core range as well as regular limited edition special releases. It is also popular with independently bottling companies and buying these is a good way of getting older Ardbeg whiskies. This 10 years old is renowned as being a smoky classic and the distillery has a cult following of fans around the globe.

The colour is a gorgeous golden brown and the nose is fantastic and pungent. It is very smoky and full of sweet peaty aromas (think of damp moss). Mixed with this is a more sugary sweetness (imagine butterscotch), some vanilla and a distinct saltiness. The palate is creamy and full bodied with an abundance of smokiness (more like charcoal or burning ashes this time). The sweetness from the nose is also present (reminiscent of barley grains) along with the vanilla again, something herbal (think of moss again), some warm spices (imagine ginger or red chilli) and a salty tang. The finish is rich, long, smoky and enjoyable. The smokiness is very earthy with an antiseptic note that can be present in whiskies with high phenol levels (see explain about ... peat). The malty sweetness comes through before turning quite dry and woody right at the end.

This is a fantastic whisky that is extremely well balanced and complex, with all the elements complimenting each other perfectly. It can be found in larger supermarkets and independent retailers for between £30-35. Ardbeg 10 years old is a 'must have' bottle for any whisky collection or for anyone who love seriously smoky whiskies. Its great!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Have just tried ... Jack Daniel's Old No.7

jack daniel's old no.7 bottlesJack Daniel's is one of the most famous American whiskies and brand names in the world. The distillery can be found close to the town of Lynchburg in the state of Tennessee. It was established in 1866 by Jack Daniel and during his lifetime he grew his brand rapidly, which helped Tennessee whiskey become a major player in the American distilling industry. The distillery remained in Jack's family until 1956 when it was sold to Brown Forman, a Kentucky distilling company.

Tennessee whiskey is different from bourbon, which is produced in the state of Kentucky. The ingredients are the same but Tennessee whiskey is filtered through charcoal prior to maturation. This process is lengthy (taking up to 10 days per batch) as the whiskey is dripped throught the charcoal, which by law must come from the sugar maple tree.

The state of Tennessee is a 'dry' state. This means that the sale of alcohol is prohibited, although there are a few small areas where it is allowed. The state once had a proud whiskey heritage but now only two distilleries remain - Jack Daniel's and George Dickel. The industry was savaged by Prohibition between 1920-1933 as everything to do with whiskey production and consumption was banned. Tennessee governors decided to form its own rules as it was a deeply religious state. A form of Prohibition was imposed in 1910, a decade before it happened nationally, and distillation did not become legal again in the state until 1938 - 5 years after national Prohibition finished.

The Old No.7 forms the foundation upon which the Jack Daniel's fortune is built. It is available worldwide and is one of the top selling American whiskies. The origin of the name is unclear as Jack Daniel took the explanation with him to his grave. The colour is a bright amber and the nose is fresh and packed with vanilla and coconut. These are backed up by a sweetness (think of maple syrup), some citrus (orange especially) and a hint of burnt charred smoke (maybe from the charcoal?). The palate has an initial impactful sweetness (imagine sugary caramel), then hits you with vanilla and finally it becomes very woody. This bitterness is actually quite pleasant and balances the sweetness. The finish is dry with some burnt sugar and toasted nuts (coconut again) present.

Jack Daniel's Old No.7 suffers from a poor reputation and for this reason people tend to turn their noses up at it. This reputation comes as it is considered as a mass produced whiskey for mixing. Jack Daniel's and coke is one of the world's favourite drinks, which helps with its popularity. Can that many people be wrong? The argument is this - just because something is popular or mass produced or both, doesn't mean that it cannot be good also. Surely, something has to be good to achieve good sales to the greater worldwide audience. This whiskey does lend itself to be drunk with a mixer or in a cocktail as it gives you powerful flavours up front and is enjoyable but fairly simple after that. The sweetness of coke, for example, balances perfectly the dry and slightly bitter quality that Old No.7 has. It would be good as an occasionally dram on its own, although people may want more complexity. Old No.7 is widely available around the world and a bottle should cost around £15-20.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Have just tried ... Glenmorangie Original

glenmorangie originalGlenmorangie is one of the most famous distilleries and biggest selling brand names in the world. It is located next to the Dornoch Firth estuary in the north eastern Highlands, close to the small town of Tain. The distillery opened in 1843 and was previously a brewery. It is now owned by multi national drinks giant, Moet Hennessy. Glenmorangie is one of Scotland's largest whisky distilleries, producing 4 million litres per year, and has the tallest set of stills in Scotland with each one standing over 5 metres (16.5 feet) tall. These were bought from a gin distillery in London, which explains why they are different to other traditional whisky stills. This height also means that only the purest and lightest spirit reaches the condenser and gets collected for maturation.

Glenmorangie is one of the few distilleries that use hard water during production (this water bubbles up from a natural spring near to the distillery) and this combined with the lighter spirit gives it distinctive characteristics. The range is extensive and covers different ages and cask finishes including sherry, port and Sauternes. The distillery tour is also excellent and we can recommend it from our last visit there. This Original is the second best selling single malt whisky in the UK (behind Glenfiddich 12 years old) and is the fifth best seller in the world.

The colour is pale golden lemon yellow and the nose is quite understated and subtle. There is oaky vanilla, honey and something spicy and woody present (think of nutmeg). On the palate, the Original is light and fresh with an initial interesting citrus kick (imagine lemons) that is joined by more vanilla and honey, something nutty (think of hazelnuts and coconut especially) and spices (feeling warmer this time, like ginger). The finish is relatively short and dry with a hint of woody bitterness that threatens to tilt the whisky off balance. The nose and palate remind me more of the lighter style of whiskies from the Lowlands and this must be to do with the light spirit produced by those tall stills. The finish is more like a traditional Highland whisky.

This is a classic example of a quality bourbon cask matured whisky. It is a light and refreshing single malt that is delicate, soft and uncomplicated. These factors are what makes it popular in the mass whisky market. The other factors are the competitive price (a bottle should cost £20-30) and the wide availabilty (it is safe to say that almost any shop that sells alcohol will sell Glenmorangie Original).

Monday, June 8, 2009

Have just tried ... Glenfiddich 12 years old

glenfiddich 12 years oldGlenfiddich is the most famous whisky distillery and single malt brand in the world. The distillery is located in Glen Fiddich, a valley on the outskirts of the town of Dufftown in the Speyside region of Scotland. The name means 'valley of the deer' in Gaelic - this reference explains the origin of Glenfiddich's famous stag logo. Glenfiddich was founded in 1886, with production starting in 1887, by William Grant and his family. The Grant family maintain ownership today and the success of their whiskies have made Glenfiddich the biggest distillery in Scotland. The annual production is a massive 10 million litres with 29 stills and 45 maturation warehouses, its own cooperage and bottling plant (very few distilleries have these facilities remaining).

Glenfiddich was the modern day pioneer of single malt whisky. They were the first distillery to consistently bring single malts to the international market in the early 1960s. They were also the first single malt to be sold in a travel retail shop at an airport in 1963, the first to open a visitor centre to the public in 1969 and the first single malt to sell over 500,000 cases of whisky in a calendar year. Following these early successes, other distilleries followed their strategies but Glenfiddich had already taken huge steps towards cornering the market. It can be argued that without this innovation in the 1960s, the modern single malt market would not be what it is. Now, Glenfiddich is sold in nearly 200 countries and accounts for nearly 35% of all single malt sales in the world!

The core range is extensive with different age statements joined by limited editions and duty free retail exclusives. This 12 years old forms the cornerstone of Glenfiddich's worldwide success and domination, being the most purchased single malt whisky around the globe. The colour is golden and it has a fresh, appealing nose. There is lots of vanilla and that is joined by some cooked fruit (imagine pears and apples). It reminded me of an apple Danish pastry. Underneath is an oaky warmth and something nutty (think of coconut especially). On the palate this 12 years old is light and refreshing with an initial hit of sugary sweetness (imagine honey), followed by crisp juicy fresh green fruit (apples especially this time) and vanilla. The finish is pleasant and fairly long with some spiciness (think of nutmeg and cinnamon) and slightly bitter woody oakiness.

This Glenfiddich 12 years old is a pretty simple whisky but is very good, refreshing and easy drinking. It is easy to see why it has such a broad appeal around the world as it is very balanced, has a nice level of sweetness and is reasonably priced (a bottle can be found in most shops everywhere for £20-30). Despite its huge sales figures, it remains under rated within the whisky world. It almost becomes a victim of this success, as people think that it is mass produced and therefore of lower quality. However, as with anything that sells massive amounts in any retail field, its quality is what has got it to that position in the first place. If this whisky were made by a smaller cult distillery then I am certain that people would rave about this single malt.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Have just tried ... Cú Dhub black whisky

cu dhub black whiskyCú Dhub (pronounced coo-doo) is currently the only black single malt whisky on the market. The whisky is made by the small independently owned Speyside distillery, which lies at the most southern tip of the Speyside region near to the famous ski town of Aviemore. Once the whisky has been matured for approximately five years, it is transported to a Danish company who make it into a black whisky (this is done by adding large amounts of caramel) and then bottling it. Cú Dhub is extremely popular in Denmark and other parts of Scandanavia.

Black whisky was traditionally popular in late Victorian Scotland but died out and remained extinct until the mid 1990s. The Mannochmore distillery started producing the now legendary black whisky Loch Dhu and released this between 1995 and 2005. It is highly sought after by collectors and very rare and expensive. Now, only Cú Dhub remains as an example of this old traditional style of whisky.

Cú Dhub means ‘black dog’ in Gaelic. The name comes from an ancient legend about a pack of black hounds from hell that rampaged through the local Forest of Gaick and used to steal the souls of anyone they encountered, before killing them.

The colour is not ‘black’ but a very dark chocolate brown (think of cola). The nose is a mixture of sweetness and alcohol (imagine nail varnish). It has an odd and slightly unpleasant aroma that mixes molasses (think of burnt brown sugar), yeast extract (hard to pin down but imagine marmite) and aniseed. On the palate, there is an initial sharp sugary sweetness (imagine caramel) followed by more dark molasses, malt extract, some liquorice and something bitter (like a dark chocolate). It is thin in the mouth and feels like drinking a watered down alcoholic treacle. The finish is short and unpleasant with no character of flavour other than that of young burning alcohol. The only thing that hangs around is the brown colour on the inside of the glass.

My memory from when we first tried this, in a remote hotel in the middle of the Highlands, was that it wasn’t too bad. However, judgement may have been impaired by a number of other drams and the odd beer or two before we sampled it all those years ago! It is clearly a young whisky, the addition of the large amount of caramel has done it no favours and it appears more of a novelty than a serious single malt. There is not much positive to say about Cú Dhub, so we’ll leave it there. A bottle will cost around £25 from selected retailers.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Have just tried ... Glengoyne 10 years old

glengoyne 10 years oldGlengoyne is a distillery in the southern Highlands. It lies about half an hours drive north of Glasgow and is close to the famous Loch Lomond. The distillery was founded in 1833 under its original name of Burnfoot and produces around one million litres of whisky per year. Glengoyne is one of Scotland's most traditional distilleries and is owned by Ian Macleod Distillers. They also produce a small range of rum, gin and vodka there. This 10 years old forms part of the core range, which also includes a 12 years old at cask strength, a 17 and a 21 years old plus some interesting occasional limited releases. A 40 years old will shortly be released for the first time in the distillery's history.

Glengoyne lies on the 'Highland line' (this is an imaginary line that divides the Highland whisky production region from the Lowland region). This line follows the course of a main road and actually runs through the facilities. The distillery lies on the Highland side to the north of the line, with the warehouses being on the Lowland side. It is debated regularly if Glengoyne is technically a Highland or a Lowland whisky, depending on your view about whether the distillation or the storage has more influence on the character. Most people class is as a Highland malt.

The colour is light and straw like. On the nose there is an immediate lovely hit of vanilla, with a delicate mix of fresh fruit (think of crisp apples and pears) and nuts (imagine almonds) coming through. The palate is delicate and refreshing, with the apples, pears and vanilla being joined by some sweet malty cereal grains, something herbal (think of fresh green grass) and just a hint of aniseed right at the end. It feels light and thin in the mouth and has an enjoyable crisp freshness. The finish is quite short, clean and pleasant. This 10 years old is a very enjoyable, light and refreshing whisky that is more reminiscent of the lighter Lowland style whiskies than the heavier Highland malts. It would be a great choice to introduce someone to whisky or to drink on a warm day during summer. This is available in larger supermarkets and independent retailers for between £25-30. The full range can be found at www.glengoyne.com. A superb and quite under rated whisky.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Explain about ... The influence of wood on whisky

whisky casksMany types of wood have been used to make whisky casks during the history of the industry. Now, by law they now must be constructed of oak. Oak is selected for its toughness yet is easy for the cooper (the people who make casks) to work with, has tight grain that prevents leaking, is porous that allows oxygen in and out of the cask and it can be bent by heat without splitting.

Wood (and especially oak) is full of naturally occurring oils called vanillins. These oils are drawn out of the cask by the spirit during maturation and they add to the whisky’s flavour profile. So if all whisky is matured in oak casks, how can they all be different when tasted? The character of the distillery, the ingredients used, the size and shape of the stills and its location are all important but the major factor is the type of oak cask used for maturation. Between 60-80% of a whisky's flavour can come from the cask. There are three main types of wood used by the whisky industry.

European oak (Latin name Quercus robur)
This type of oak has traditionally been used to mature whisky in Scotland and Ireland for nearly two centuries. Until the 1860s, oak from England and Scotland had been used to mature whisky but these casks were particularly prone to leaking. Russian oak was then imported that was stronger and less porous but this was expensive. When the Spanish started sending their sherry over to the UK in the 1860s, the casks used for maturation and transportation were made from Spanish oak. They had similar properties to Russian oak but were much cheaper. This oak is traditionally grown in the Galicia region of northern Spain and although the sherry industry has declined since the 1970s, Spanish oak is still commonly used and sought after. This is despite the price of a sherry cask currently costing nearly 10 times as much as a bourbon American oak cask.

The other type of European oak commonly used in modern whisky maturation is French oak. This is traditionally made into casks for the wine industry and these are mostly used by distilleries to give a different ‘finish’ to their whiskies.

Flavour key words - sherry, dried fruits - sultanas, raisins, candied peel, spices - cinnamon, nutmeg, wood, caramel, orange, Christmas cake.

American oak (Quercus alba)
This has been used in the whisky industry since the end of the Second World War. At that time, the Cooper's Union and lawyers formulated the law that stipulated that all American whiskey had to be matured in new wooden casks. This was done to boost the coopering industry that had collapsed during Prohibition in the 1920s and 30s. As a result, there was a massive increase in the number of casks available. The American bourbon whiskey industry slowly recovered from Prohibition and the Scots and Irish began using their casks for maturation. This was due to the good availability and price of bourbon casks compared to the more traditional sherry casks, whose numbers were declining and becoming more expensive.

American oak is seen as perfect for whisky cask construction as the trees are fast growing with tall straight trunks, giving good quality wood and high levels of vanillins. The size of cask produced (known as an ASB - American Standard Barrel) is also considered to mature whiskey at the optimum rate as there is the perfect ratio between the amount of liquid and the surface area of the inside of the cask. The result of this is that nearly 90% of all the world's whisky is now matured in American oak bourbon casks.

Flavour key words - vanilla, honey, nuts - coconut, almonds, hazelnuts, butterscotch, fudge, spices - ginger.

Japanese oak (Quercus mongolica)
Also known as mizunara oak, this type of wood is used in the Japanese whisky industry. Mizunara has been used since the 1930s and gives the whisky a unique set of flavours. The wood has extremely high levels of vanillins but is soft and very porous, making the casks made from mizunara oak very prone to leaking and easily damaged. As a result, the practice of maturing whisky was modified in order to reduce these factors. Now most Japanese whisky is matured in either bourbon or sherry casks and then transferred to mizunara casks to gain its flavoursome characteristics.

Flavour key words - vanilla, honey, floral - blossom, fresh fruit - pears, apples, spice - nutmeg, cloves, wood.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Have just tried ... Rosebank 19 years old 'Old Malt Cask' from Douglas Laing & Co

rosebank 19 years old 'old malt cask'Rosebank is a distillery that was found in the Lowlands whisky region of Scotland, between the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. The distillery has been closed since 1993, although most of the buildings remain intact and rumours regularly circulate that the current owners, Diageo, will eventually re-open Rosebank for production. Currently, part of the distillery is a restuarant, its car park and a housing development. The stocks of Rosebank whisky are decreasing with time and with this the desirability and prices are increasing. Rosebank is well reknowned within the whisky world and has a cult following of drinkers and collectors alike.

The distillery was originally founded in 1840, although distillation was illegally taking place on the same site as far back as the 1790s. Rosebank operated the triple distillation method (where the spirit gets passed through the stills three times) that was traditionally used in the Lowlands. This is compared to double distillation that occurs in the rest of Scotland. This practice has largely died out and only Auchentoshan of the surviving Lowland distilleries produce whisky that is triple distilled. Rosebank was also affectionately known as 'The Queen of the Lowlands' within the whisky industry.

This bottling is released at 19 years of age by the Glasgow based independent bottling company Douglas Laing & Co. Independent bottlings are one of the best ways to buy Rosebank as Diageo sporadically release the whiskies themselves - usually at 12 and 25 years old. The colour is a pale lemon yellow and the nose is enticing and aromatic with a lovely mix of vanilla, sweet honey, grasses (think of dried hay) and lemons. On the palate, this is creamy and full of that vanilla and honey with a sugary burst at the very beginning (imagine icing or icing sugar). The feeling in the mouth is fresh and delicate with the herbal grassiness and zingy citrus from the nose coming through. With water (this is bottled at 50% ABV so thought I would try it), the nose and palate both become more floral (think of honeysuckle flowers) and scented like a feminine perfume. The finish is short but crisp and refreshing and leaves your mouth watering and wanting more!

This Rosebank is an excellent whisky and the best Rosebank that has been tasted to date. The age has given a great complexity and balance. It is also one of the best whiskies from an independent bottling company that has been tasted. The bottles are limited (just 444 in this batch) but are well worth searching out and buying. It should cost £80 from selected whisky retailers. Truly fantastic stuff.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Have just tried ... White Horse

white horse blended whiskyWhite Horse is an award winning blended scotch whisky. It was first produced by James Logan Mackie in 1861 while he was the owner of the Lagavulin distillery on the island of Islay. The name was taken from one of Mackie's favourite hotels - the White Horse Cellar Inn in Edinburgh - and the logo is a copy of the hotel's old pub sign. The current White Horse brand is owned by drinks giant Diageo and their promotional and distribution power has propelled the whisky in to the world's top 10 for blended scotch sales.

White Horse is made from a blend of 60% grain whisky and 40% single malt whisky. Lagavulin is at the heart of the blend, as it has been since Mackie first produced it, but other notable distilleries included are Caol Ila, Craigellachie, Glen Elgin, Linkwood and Talisker. Another interesting fact is that in 1924 White Horse became the first whisky ever to be bottled with a screw top cap instead of a cork.

The colour is a golden yellow and the nose is fresh and promising. There are some initial sweet cereal grain and caramel notes followed by some fresh green fruit (think of apples) and vanilla. After this comes a whiff of earthy, peaty smoke. The combination gives a feeling of warmth. On the palate, that initial sweetness is present again but is more sugary (think of burnt sugar and honey) this time. There is again lots of vanilla and the smokiness is more prominent (imagine damp moss and wet earth). It is quite lively and vibrant, which suggests some younger whisky is present in the blend and an interesting herbal note (think of dried grasses) comes through at the end. The finish is reasonably pleasant and refreshing but short, with the overall sweetness being overtaken by the herbal grassy note, a salty tang and earthy peat.

This whisky is pleasant and would be great with a mixer or in a whisky cocktail, as it has elements of interest but lacks any real complexity. Having said that, it is refreshing, palate cleansing and reasonably enjoyable when drunk on its own. It was slightly less smoky than expected considering it has three heavy weight smoky whiskies - Caol Ila, Lagavulin and Talisker - in it. White Horse is widely available around the world, with a bottle costing between £15-20 in the UK.

In the whisky cupboard ... Arran Sassacaia

arran wine finishThe Arran distillery is one of the newest single malt whisky distilleries in Scotland. It was founded by an independent group called the Isle of Arran Distillers Limited in 1993 and production began in 1995. The distillery is located on the isle of Arran, near to the village of Lochranza, and became the first legal distillery on the island since the 1840s. The island lies between the Campbeltown peninsula and the west Highland coast. The Isle of Arran Distillers Limited decided to employ traditional whisky production methods rather than modern day mechanised alternatives and Arran is one of Scotland's smallest distilleries as a result, producing just 750,000 litres per year. to experiment with their spirit by maturing some of it in different wine casks from around Europe.

Arran is a very innovative distillery but their core range reflects the small production capacity and the length of its young history. This consists of a 10 years old, a 12 years old, a cask strength version (called 100 proof) and an un-chillfiltered version. In addition to this, they have started experimenting with maturation in different European wine casks and these are released periodically as limited editions. This bottling has been matured for eight years in a bourbon cask, then for a further eight months in a Sassacaia wine barrique casks. Sassacaia is a full bodied and expensive Italian red wine from Tuscany that is made from high quality Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

This whisky has a gorgeous amber colour that has a distinct crimson red tinge to it. The nose has a lovely sweetness that is full of caramel and forest fruits (think of blackcurrant, blackberry and red cherry). On the palate, this sweetness hits immediately and is almost sugary in the mouth but this quickly goes and is replaced by a lot of tannin, making your gums go dry. There are lots of rich fruit characters but these are different from most that are normally associated with whisky and this must be due to the wine cask used at the end of maturation. The flavours are very concentrated with lots of plums, cherries, currants and berries (reminding me of jam or preseved fruit rather than fresh fruit). There is also some vanilla, caramel, an earthy, slightly musty note and a hint of spiciness (imagine nutmeg or cinnamon). The finish is long and fruity but with an over riding tannic dryness that gives it an unpleasant and disappointing bitter woody feeling.

This whisky is bottled at 55% ABV, so some water was added and this took the edge off the tannins and dryness, with the fruit becoming a bit more juicy and the whole whisky becoming slightly more balanced and rounded. With only 5,750 bottles released of this Sassacaia wine finish, it will only be available at specialist whisky retailers for a short period. A bottle should cost around £40, which is not too bad for a limited release and especially good if you consider that a bottle of Sassacaia wine rarely goes for under £80 and the casks are very expensive.