Friday, October 30, 2009

Have just tried (Speyside edition) ... Birnie Moss

birnie mossBirnie Moss is a single malt whisky that is released by the Benriach distillery. Benriach is an innovative distillery based in the central Speyside region, to the south of the city of Elgin. It is one of Scotland's few independently owned whisky distilleries having been taken over by the Benriach Distillery Company in 2004. They have also acquired Glendronach, another Speyside distillery, in 2008. Benriach distillery was originally founded in 1897 and has a current production capacity of 2.5 million litres per year.

Benriach release a traditional Speyside style core range that are predominantly matured in ex-bourbon casks. However, they also release another ever expanding range of whiskies that are finished in different wine casks or are made with peated malt or, in some cases, both. These two practices, especially using peated malt, are unusual for a Speyside distillery. Other Speyside or Highland distilleries are starting to produce smoky whisky but Benriach's previous owners had the foresight to start doing this in the mid 1970s and now the Benriach Distillery Company are continuing the tradition. They distil peaty spirit for roughly one month of the year and then switch production to their regular non peated spirit.

Birnie Moss is part of this peaty tradition and represents the first peated whisky that has been produced and released by the Benriach Distillery Company. They release other peaty whiskies, namely the Curiositas 10 years old, the Authenticas 21 years old and the wine cask finished range, but these are all made up from old stock that they discovered in the warehouse when they took over. Birnie Moss was first released this Summer and is approximately four years of age, has a peating level of 35ppm (phenols per million, the scale for measuring the amount of peat absorbed into malted barley) and is bottled at 48% ABV. A bottle should cost £27-30 from specialist whisky retailers.

The colour is very pale and straw-like. The nose is potent with an initial hit of pungent sweet peat smoke (think of damp moss and earth) and then vanilla, some citrus (imagine lemon zest) and crisp fresh green fruit (pears, apples and perhaps a hint of melon). On the palate, the young alcohol is quite prickly although this soon dies away with the smoke becoming the predominant feature. The whisky feels light, spicy and vibrant - the smokiness seems a bit more like coal smoke here, rather than earthy or mossy. Through this smoke other elements battle to get noticed - that lovely vanilla is there again, as is the citrus and green fruits. There is also a distinct sweet malty cereal note and some more fruit, although this is more tropical in nature and is reminiscent of dried mango or apricot. The finish is sweet, smoky and a touch fiery (think of the heat from a red chilli). The addition of water tames the young alcohol and flattens the smokiness a little. This allows more sweet vanilla, cereals and fruit notes to come through. A decent dram that shows much potential while not being the finished article. Worth a try but it will be interesting to see how subsequent older versions of Birnie Moss will mature.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Distillery visit - Aberlour

aberlour distilleryAberlour is a Speyside whisky distillery that is located in the village of Aberlour, which sits on the banks of the River Spey. It was founded in 1826 by James Gordon and is currently owned by Chivas Brothers, part of the larger Pernod Ricard beverage group. In 1879, the distillery was almost completed destroyed by fire and it was re-built on a different site by a local wealthy grain merchant called James Fleming. He moved sites to take advantage of an abundant fresh water supply at the other end of the village’s main street. Fleming had further massive influences on the town by financing the building of town hall (which carries his name), a cottage hospital, a school, the installation of electric street lamps and a bridge across the River Spey.

Aberlour is currently one of the best selling single malts in the world and is mainly known for its use of sherry casks during maturation. It sits comfortably within the world’s top ten for volume of sales (7th place in 2008) and is the best selling single malt whisky in France. Aberlour is also popular in the UK and southern Europe. The core range consists of a 10, 12, 16 and 18 years old and these are joined approximately once a year by a cask strength single batch whisky named A’bunadh (pronounced a-boona). A’bunadh translates as 'origin' from Gaelic and the whisky in this series is believed to be the closest in style to the whisky produced at Aberlour in the late 1800s. The 26th batch has just been released.

Our tour of Aberlour began in the visitor’s shop, which is positioned at the entrance of the distillery and must have previously been a gatehouse. We are led down the main driveway to an outbuilding that has been converted in to a boardroom. Here, our guide called Dennis begins a 15 minute story of the history of whisky in which he cleverly incorporated the history and story of the Aberlour distillery. He brought the story right up to the modern day and we were most impressed by the way that one distillery was put in to the context of the entire whisky industry. The tour continued in an entrance area of the distillery where displays, exhibits and Dennis filled us in with other interesting moments of local history and gave an explanation of the three basic ingredients used in the whisky making process (water, barley and yeast). He also threw in a couple of what we were soon to realise were his customary one liners!

washback room at aberlour distilleryDennis then led us through to the milling area and then on to the mash tun and washback room. Aberlour has one mash tun and six washbacks, all made from stainless steel. Here, Dennis explained the mashing process and we all got to see this in action before we moved on to an explanation of fermentation and the adding of yeast, intermingled with a couple more one liners and anecdotes (some of which were actually quite funny!). Everyone saw the fermentation happening and it was good to see this process at different stages in the different washback tanks. At each point of the tour it is worth noting that detailed explanation boards had been placed that summarised what was being said. This was a nice touch.

stillroom at aberlour distilleryThe tour was then taken in to the stillroom and it was noticeably much warmer in here. Aberlour has four stills - two wash and two spirit stills - and these produce over four million litres of spirit per year. The set up of the stills is slightly unusual here as the two wash stills are paired together but the two spirit stills are positioned at either end, rather than next to each other. We also learnt about the industry standard of marking anything (piping, door clamps etc) relating to the wash still in red and anything relating to the spirit still in blue. The process of double distillation was explained, as was how the spirit safe worked.

Finally, we came to the warehouse where Dennis talked about the different styles of wood that they use for their casks at Aberlour. These are predominantly sherry casks but they do also use a decent number of bourbon casks. We then had the sampling session in this part of the warehouse and the notes for this are below. The tour offers great value for money as you get to taste six drams at the end, including a sample of the new make spirit and a couple of single cask whiskies (one matured in a sherry cask and one from a bourbon). It later turned out that these two single cask whiskies were for sale and that you could bottle and label them yourselves! You have to pay of cause (slightly pricy at £60, we thought) but it was exceptionally good and enjoyable whisky, so we just had to do it! This tour was excellent with the jovial Dennis explaining everything in an entertaining and informative way. He also made sure that everyone was involved and understanding what was happening as we went along. This made the tour great for beginners and connoisseurs alike. We thank Dennis for his hospitality on the day and Phil Huckle of Pernod Ricard for arranging the tour for us.

whisky samples at aberlour distilleryTasting notes
Aberlour new make spirit - this had been distilled on the previous day and had an alcoholic strength of 69.5% ABV. The spirit is crystal clear with a clean crisp nose that is full of fresh green fruit (think of pears and apples). On the palate, these are joined by some sweet cereal notes and a punchy spiciness that is reminiscent of the heat produced by a red chilli. With water, the sweet fruit and grains really shine through with the spiciness dulling down a touch. It was great to get the opportunity to try the new make unaged spirit, as this rarely happens on tours.

Aberlour 14 years old bourbon cask - this is a first filled cask and was one of the two that you could fill to a bottle yourself. This cask strength whisky (63.1% ABV) has lovely sweet vanilla and butterscotch aromas on the nose. On the palate, this feels rich and creamy in the mouth with lots of vanilla and butterscotch again but also some coconut and other nuttiness (think of hazelnuts). The finish was quite dry and fresh. Adding water bought out the coconut particularly.

Aberlour 15 years old sherry cask - a lovely dram and the one that we filled to a bottle ourselves. This is 56.4% ABV and dark amber brown in colour. The nose is rich and full of dried fruit (imagine raisins), spices and dark chocolate. This richness is transferred to the palate, where it feels creamy and thick in your mouth. The combination of dried fruit, spices (think of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg) and wood is lovely and is balanced by the slightly bitter chocolate element. The finish is long, woody and dry. The addition of water brings out the chocolate even more and just a hint of coffee?

Aberlour 10 years old - the distillery's flagship single malt and the one that recently kicked Glenfiddich off the number one spot in France. This is bottled at 40% ABV and the colour is amber. The nose combines caramel, butterscotch and dried fruit aromas with a touch of spice. The palate is sugary (think of that caramel again) and has lots of dried fruits (imagine sultanas and raisins), some cereal notes and that touch of spice again (think of cinnamon). The finish starts sweetly before turning dry and refreshingly woody. A lovely soft dram.

Aberlour 16 years old - this whisky is made up of 50% bourbon cask matured whisky and 50% sherry cask, which are then married together and matured for the last six months in sherry casks. The colour is dark amber and the nose is full of dried fruit (think of sultanas and raisins), wood and distinct citrus (imagine orange zest especially). On the palate, this feels viscous and creamy with elements of vanilla, dried fruit, spice (cinnamon and nutmeg with maybe a touch of clove?), citrus oil (especially orange again) and something waxy (like furniture polish or polished wood). The finish is long, sweet and full of honey, wood and fruity notes.

Aberlour A'bunadh Batch 25 - the final whisky in the dramathon. This batch was bottled at 60.4% ABV and it feels like it! The colour is a dark reddish amber and the nose is packed with expressive dried fruits (think of raisins and candied peel), sugary caramel and toffee, fresh fruit (especially green apples) and spicy woody aromas (imagine cinnamon bark). The palate combines all of these with some woody and peppery notes joining in. It feels thick, viscous and creamy. The finish sucks away that sweetness and is pleasantly dry and woody. With water, the sweetness, especially the caramel and toffee, are exaggerated.

Tour details
Entry - £10 per person/ Tour duration - 2 hour 30 mins/ No. of drams - 6/ No. of people on tour - 14 / Further details -

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In the whisky cupboard ... Benromach 10 years old

benromach 10 years old with the river spey in the backgroundBenromach is the smallest working distillery in the Speyside region and is located to the north of the town of Forres. Infact, Benromach is one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland and only two people are employed to produce their spirit. The current annual production capacity is just 200,000 litres per year, although they can accommodate over double that capacity. The distillery was founded in 1898 under the name of Forres distillery. It became known as Benromach in 1919 and the current owners are Gordon & MacPhail, the independent bottling company based in nearby Elgin.

Gordon & MacPhail took control of Benromach in 1993 and they renovated the distillery as it had been mothballed for the previous 10 years 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). The distillery was re-opened by Prince Charles in 1998 and shortly afterwards Gordon & MacPhail embarked on an innovative programme of whisky production. This included different wine casks for finishing, heavily peating some of their malted barley (this is an usual practice for a Speyside distillery) and producing the world's first truly organic Scottish single malt whisky.

This 10 years old is a new release that only hit the shelves at the start of October 2009. It marks a milestone for Gordon & MacPhail as it is the first Benromach whisky that they have released with an age statement since they took over the distillery. The final whisky is made up of 80% bourbon cask matured whisky and 20% sherry cask matured, which are then married together and matured for the final year in sherry casks. We purchased our bottle on our recent trip to Speyside, when we visited the Gordon & MacPhail shop in Elgin. It will only be available in specialist whisky retailers and was at a special introductory price of £25 a bottle. The regular price will be around £30.

This Benromach 10 years old is golden in colour and has a surprisingly smoky nose. First comes some vanilla and toffee aromas before these give way to an earthy peatiness (think of damp moss or earth). These elements combine well and there is also some dried fruits (imagine sultanas) and something reminiscent of dried grasses. On the palate, this whisky is rich, full bodied and quite creamy with an initial hit of sweet malty cereal grains and vanilla. Then comes that smokiness again, although it is a bit more ashy/ember-like now. This remains a very pleasant surprise as smokiness is rare in Speyside whiskies. The cereal, vanilla and smoke mix perfectly with some further dried fruits (add some tropical dried fruits, like mango, to the sultanas here), buttery toffee and a hint of the dried grassiness. This feels thick in your mouth and is smooth and very well balanced. The finish is reasonably long with the creamy vanilla and sweet smokiness prominent.

Benromach is a very good new release and is one of our favourites of the year to date. It offers rich, classic Speyside characteristics but with the smoky twist. Having said that, the smokiness is not too overpowering and compliments everything else. A lovely dram and good value for £30 a bottle and even better value for £25!

Gordon & MacPhail whisky shop, Elgin

gordon & macphail whisky shop, elginGordon & MacPhail are a company based in the heart of the city of Elgin in the Speyside whisky region of Scotland. They continue to operate from their original premises that were constructed when the company was set up by James Gordon and John Alexander MacPhail in 1895. The company started off by bottling whisky for the numerous local distilleries and also did some blending and vatting. The business grew rapidly and they were soon joined by John Urquhart, whose family still own and manage the company today.

Gordon & MacPhail are one of the largest independent bottling companies in Scotland, with over 300 own label bottlings in their current catalogue. The whiskies are selected from most of the distilleries around Scotland and released in their 'Connoisseur's Choice' range. They also release a cask strength range and the 'Private Collection', a range of very limited edition whiskies. Gordon & MacPhail are different to most other independent bottlers as they get distilleries to fill new make spirit directly to their own supplied casks rather than buying ready filled and aged casks. They also own the local Elgin based Benromach distillery, which they purchased in 1993, renovated and then reopened in 1998.

interior of gordon & macphail whisky shopOn our recent visit to the Speyside region, we stayed in Elgin and we just had to visit Gordon & MacPhail's legendary whisky shop that continues to draw whisky drinkers and visitors from around the world. The store is located on South Street and is split in to three main sections. As you walk in there is a well stocked wine section to your left and a food store to the right that stocks a selection of traditional and contemporary Scottish produce. This stretches back to a large delicatessen counter that houses a wide array of local meat, cheese and other produce.

We were there for the whisky though and the whisky section of the shop is tucked away in the back left hand corner. It is an absolute treasure trove of whisky with over 700 different ones jammed on to the shelves and in stock at any one time. At the heart of the stock is their own Gordon & MacPhail bottlings that are available in full or miniature size, some of which are available for tasting. The rest covers almost every distillery that you can think of, whether it be open or closed. The range is the biggest that we have ever seen in a shop and covers everything from the big household names and everyday whiskies to highly rare and collectable bottlings. It takes ages just to look at what is on the shelves and there is not enough hours in the day to digest it all. They also showcase the whiskies from their Benromach distillery - whilst at the shop we had the chance to sample the new Benromach 10 years old, which we will write a full review for shortly, and it was so good that we ended up buying a bottle. For further information on Gordon & MacPhail's shop and bottlings, then go to their informative website at

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Have just tried (Speyside edition) ... Mortlach 16 years old

mortlach 16 years oldThe Mortlach distillery is in the heart of the Speyside region of Scotland. It is located in the whisky town of Dufftown and was the first of the famous seven distilleries in the town, having been founded in 1823. Mortlach remained the only distillery in Dufftown until Glenfiddich was built over 60 years later. The current owners are Diageo and the distillery has an annual production capacity of three million litres. Mortlach whisky has traditionally been popular with the blending companies and today the majority goes towards Diageo's famous Johnnie Walker blended range. Mortlach is considered to be the 'heart of Johnnie Walker' and as a result little is left to be released as single malt.

This 16 years old single malt is sporadically released as and when stock levels dictate. It forms part of Diageo's Flora & Fauna range, which showcases single malts from some of the lesser known distilleries in their portfolio. The 16 years old is occasionally joined by limited edition special releases, although Mortlach is popular with the independent bottling companies.

Mortlach is well reknowned for its use of quality sherry casks during maturation but also for its robust, rich spirit. This combination is what makes it so desirable to blending companies. The spirit is produced in one of the most idiosyncratic stillrooms in Scotland - it houses six stills but each is a different shape and size, having been installed at different times during the distillery's history. One of the stills, named 'Wee Witchie', is particularly unique in that it is a short, fat, odd shape and the spirit gets distilled three times through it. This is compared to the regular double distillation that takes place in the majority of Scotland and the other stills at Mortlach.

The colour of this 16 years old is a dark golden brown and the nose is packed with rich sherry cask influenced aromas. There is an immediate hit of sugary, almost burnt, caramel and through this comes dried fruit (think of raisins and candied orange peel especially), a warm spiciness (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg) and hints of dark chocolate and espresso coffee. On the palate, this is rich, full bodied and viscous, coating the inside of your mouth. It is heavy and intense with sherry cask influence - lots of the dried fruit, spices and those darker chocolate and coffee notes - but these are joined by a dark and sugary element (think of black treacle), some malted barley, as well as a hint of something meaty and savoury (this may sound weird but the nearest reference that we could think of was gravy). The finish is long with the dried fruits and treacle elements particularly prominent. An interesting slight whiff of coal smoke also appears close to the end.

This is one robust and intense dram that is extremely complex, dark and enjoyable. It may not be to everyone's taste as it does have a heavy sherry cask influence but it is easy to see why Mortlach is considered the backbone to so many top blended whiskies. As mentioned earlier, this 16 years old is released sporadically so if you see a bottle then grab it! It will be found in specialist whisky retailers only for approximately £45-50 a bottle. Beautiful stuff.

Have just tried (Speyside edition) ... Cragganmore 12 years old

cragganmore 12 years oldCragganmore is a distillery that is located close to the village of Ballindalloch in the heart of Scotland's Speyside whisky region. The distillery was founded in 1869 by John Smith, who owned two other local distilleries - the now defunct Ballindalloch and Glenfarclas. It is currently owned by drinks giant Diageo and has an annual production capacity of 1.5 million litres. Cragganmore has long been sought after by blenders and today supplies large amounts of whisky for the hugely popular Old Parr and White Horse blends.

Cragganmore is best known as being the representative whisky of the Speyside region in Diageo's Classic Malts series. The series showcases six distilleries, one from each of Scotland's whisky producing regions, that Diageo feel best represent the classical flavours and style of whisky from each of those regions. The other five are Dalwhinnie (central Highlands), Glenkinchie (Lowlands), Lagavulin (Islay), Oban (west Highlands) and Talisker (Islands). Being part of the Classic Malt series has helped boost sales and awareness of Cragganmore, with approximately 350,000 bottles sold each year. The core range consists of this 12 years old and the more limited Distiller's Edition, which is part matured in Port casks. These are occasionally joined by older versions and independent bottlings are relatively hard to find.

The colour of this 12 years old is pale gold and the nose is soft and inviting. There is a subtle mixture of aromas - sweet vanilla, some honey, dried fruits (think of pears and apricots) and dried grasses. On the palate, this is velvety and smooth with some sweet vanilla and malty cereal grains up front and then the honey, dried pears, apricots and grassiness from the nose comes through. Other subtle notes are detectable, such as a nuttiness (imagine hazelnuts), a sweet buttery biscuit-like character that is reminiscent of shortbread and a hint of citrus (think of orange zest or oil especially). The finish is fairly short with a lovely buttery sweetness (imagine that shortbread again) and some creamy vanilla and oaky wood. This 12 years old is a lovely balanced whisky that combines all of the classical bourbon cask matured Speyside whisky characteristics. It is easy drinking and smooth and would be a perfect dram to offer a beginner or someone who thinks that they don't like whisky. This is not the most complex or over complicated whisky but that is what makes it good, enjoyable and popular. Cragganmore can be found in specialist whisky retailers and a bottle of 12 years old should cost £30-35.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Distillery visit - Glen Moray

glen moray distilleryGlen Moray is a distillery that is located in the Speyside region of Scotland, sitting on the outskirts of the town of Elgin and the banks of the River Lossie. The distillery started life as a brewery that was founded in 1828 and was converted to become the Glen Moray whisky distillery in 1897. It is currently owned by French drinks company La Martiniquaise, who took control in 2008 after buying the distillery from Moet Hennessey. They use the whisky made and matured at Glen Moray for a number of their own blended and vatted whiskies that are particularly popular in France, namely Label 5 and Glen Turner, as well as an expanding range of single malts. The main market for Glen Moray single malts is the UK, where it lies in fourth place for total sales last year, behind only Glenfiddich, Glenmorangie and Glenlivet.

The tour begins in the Visitor Centre and we are welcomed by our guide Emma. The first stop is the milling room where the three whisky making ingredients (barley, water and yeast) are explained, followed by how the barley is malted and then milled to the correct specification. This section is hands on as you can touch and smell barley from before and after malting, as well as the milled grist. It is then off to the mash tun, where the grist is added to warm water in order to extract the soluble natural sugars. We get to see this process in action before moving on to the washback room, where the yeast is added. Glen Moray has one mash tun and five washbacks. Each washback contains liquid at different stages of the fermentation cycle and it is interesting to see and compare the differences.

stills at glen moray distilleryThe tour continues in to the stillroom and this is the only area where we are instructed not to take photos (the photo to the left is of the stills but is taken from the stillroom doorway, in case you were wondering!). There are four stills - two wash and two spirit stills - and these operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They produce 2.1 million litres of spirit each year and this flows through the spirit safe. Emma explained the different types of alcohol that are produced during the distillation process, how they are separated in the spirit safe and how each is used. An interesting point is that you get to see the bottom of the stills (as pictured), which is something rarely seen on other tours or photos. It gives an idea of the scale and full size of the stills. The bases are covered in metal sheeting that protect the still by contracting and expanding with the heat.

perspex ended barrels at glen moray distilleryAfter seeing the cask filling area, we move to the warehouse. Here it is explained how important the environment and constant temperature is for maturing whisky (thick stone walls, earth floor, low ceilings), the different types of casks used and the evaporation of the spirit over time (called the 'angel's share). They have a great way of showing the 'angel's share' by having two perspex ended casks set up so that you can see how much has has evaporated in the two years since they have been filled (pictured left). The casks are both ex-bourbon but the one on the left has been charred and the other is non charred to show how this can influence the colour. This is very innovative and we have never seen this before on a distillery tour. Glen Moray use mostly ex-bourbon casks and their 10 warehouses hold around 65,000 maturing casks.

Finally, we are returned to the Visitor Centre to sample some of Glen Moray's whiskies. The brief tasting notes for these are below. The Visitor Centre has a gift shop selling all styles of Glen Moray merchandise and a cafe serving refreshments. This tour is excellent and would be perfect for beginners, as the whole whisky making process is explained from start to finish in a clear, interactive and concise way. The distillery feels intimate and welcoming. Our guide Emma was friendly, informative and attentive, both during the tour and the whisky tasting afterwards.

glen moray bottlesTasting notes
Glen Moray Classic - This whisky is popular in the UK, USA and Europe and is roughly eight years old. It has a pale lemon colour and a fresh, vibrant nose that has elements of sweet vanilla, cereal grains and dried grasses. On the palate, this is light, crisp and refreshing with some butterscotch and a citrus zing (imagine lemon zest) added to the elements of the nose. The finish is short, sweet and enjoyable. This would be ideal as an aperitif or on a hot day.

Glen Moray 12 years old - This is richer, sweeter and more rounded than the Classic. There is a cereal maltiness on the nose that is joined by vanilla and toffee notes. On the palate, it feels richer and more viscous with a warm spiciness (think of ginger) and a juicy fruitiness combining with the elements from the nose. The finish is of medium length with the toffee and cereals particularly prominent. A good, easy going and balanced dram.

Glen Moray 16 years old - Unlike the Classic and 12 years old, this has a small part of sherry cask maturation in addition to the bourbon. The colour is a golden amber and the nose is hotter, drier and spicier than the 12 years old. On the palate, this is sweet with lots of cereal grain, toffee and caramel. The spiciness from the nose is present (think of cinnamon and nutmeg), as is some dried fruit and a hint of something darker and bitter (imagine dark chocolate). The finish is long and enjoyable with just a whiff of peat smoke coming through.

Glen Moray 8 years old Red Wine Cask  - This bottling was released for WhiskyLive in Glasgow in September 2009 and is from a single French red wine cask. It is bottled at 59.7% ABV and only 270 bottles are available. The colour is amber with a reddish tinge and the nose is full of red fruit, demerara sugar and spice (think of nutmeg and clove). These are replicated on the palate which is rich, sweet and viscous. A bitter rich element comes through that is reminiscent of coffee beans or chocolate. A long, fruity finish rounds off a very good dram.

Tour details
Entry - £3 per person/ Tour duration - 1 hour 15 mins/ No. of drams - 4/ No. of people on tour - 2 (us! well it was 9.30am)/ Further details -

Whisky For Everyone's visit to Speyside

The last week or so at Whisky For Everyone may have seemed a quiet one with regards to the number of posts that we have written. However, the reality is a different story as we have been in Scotland travelling around the gorgeous Speyside region. Over the next couple of weeks, we plan to share the experiences and stories of our trip, so keep checking for regular updates!

benromach distilleryWe had an action packed few days in Speyside and visited a number of distilleries. Our aim was to visit those that we knew little about or had not sampled their whiskies. We wanted to cover different sizes, popularity and types of tour. These ranged from the hugely corporate Macallan to Benriach, which is not open to the public, and others that fell in between the two. The whisky making process follows the same path and uses the same ingredients across Scotland but it was interesting to observe the subtle differences in each distillery and also how the customer experience differed on each tour.

stillroom at benriach distilleryAs part of the trip we also searched for shops, bars and other interesting places to drink and buy whisky, so we will be writing up our findings and recommendations. Finally and of cause, we sampled, bought and drank plenty of top quality whisky! We will be posting our tasting notes of these over the coming weeks and they include some classic Speyside single malts that we had never tasted and some lesser known ones too.

We hope that you enjoy the distillery, bar, shop and whisky reviews from our trip to Speyside and we also plan to include lots of the photos that we took along the way.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Have just tried ... Whyte & Mackay 40 years old

whyte and mackay 40 years oldWhyte & Mackay is one of the world's best known whisky companies. It was founded in Glasgow in 1844 by whisky merchants James Whyte and Charles Mackay and by the late 19th century their popularity was growing rapidly. Whyte and Mackay's first blended whisky, named 'Special', had been a great success upon its release in the UK and this success spread around the globe with the expansion of the Victorian Empire. Whyte & Mackay are currently owned by the Indian beverage company United Breweries Group, after they purchased the distilleries and brands in May 2007.

The current Whyte & Mackay portfolio includes four whisky distilleries - Dalmore, Fettercairn, Jura and Tamnavulin - as well as the Whyte & Mackay blended whisky range, which includes a modern version of the original 'Special' and aged blends at 13, 19, 22, 30 and 40 years of age. They also own the Glayva whisky liqueur and Vladivar vodka brands. Whyte & Mackay currently export single malts or blended whiskies to almost every country in the world.

We were lucky enough to try this 40 years old Whyte & Mackay blend at a recent event - we thank Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay's legendary Master Blender, for this sample as you don't often get the chance to taste whiskies of this age. Richard created this blend to commemorate the service that John McIlraith gave to Whyte & Mackay. He worked for the company for 70 years and worked as a blender, then a salesman before working his way up to Managing Director. It is the oldest blended whisky to be released by the company. Richard has used a high single malt content in this blend (70% with the other 30% being grain whisky) and they were distilled in June 1966. There are only 1000 bottles released, each at 45% ABV and all personally signed by Richard. The price, if you can still find a bottle, should be around £550.

The colour is a dark, rich amber brown and the nose is fragrant, intense and complex. There is an immediate hit of malty cereal grains and this is quickly joined by dark luscious dried fruit (think of raisins and candied orange peel especially), sweet butterscotch, some wood spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg) and something woody and waxy that is reminiscent of a wax furniture polish. On the palate, this whisky is rich, sweet and velvety. There is again a lot of dried fruit (the orange zest is particularly prominent) and sweetness (this is more like caramel this time). These are combined with other more subtle notes - spices (think of cinnamon, nutmeg and just a touch of ginger), toasted oats, nuts (imagine hazelnuts), dark wood and a hint of liquorice and clove. The finish is rich, complex and mellow and the whisky is very easy to drink and enjoyable. Thanks to Richard again for the opportunity to sample this 40 years old - it is a lovely, deeply complex and well balanced whisky.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Have just tried ... Hazelburn 12 years old

hazelburn 12 years oldHazelburn is a single malt whisky that is made by the Springbank distillery. It is located on the Campbeltown peninsula on the west Highland coast. Springbank is one of only three distilleries left in an area of Scotland that 200 years ago supported over 30 distilleries (Glen Scotia and Glengyle are the others). Springbank is small with a production capacity of only 750,000 litres per year, but their whiskies are highly regarded around the world. It has been owned by the same family, the Mitchell's, since it was founded in 1828 and this makes Springbank the oldest distillery in Scotland that has been continually owned by the same family.

Springbank is the only distillery in Scotland to regularly produce three different single malt whiskies - Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn - using three different production methods. The production is split between the three throughout the year with roughly 80% of the time going to Springbank, 10% to Longrow and 10% to Hazelburn. Springbank is made in the lightly peated style, Longrow is heavily peated and Hazelburn is unpeated.

Hazelburn whisky was first distilled in 1997, with the first release in 2005 as an 8 year old single malt. It is distilled three times and is one of the only Scottish whiskies to experience a full third distillation. Only a limited number of bottles are released each year. Hazelburn is available as an 8 year old (now on its 4th release) and this 12 years old, which was first released in August 2009 and is limited to 3900 bottles. Hazelburn is named after one of the long defunct Campbeltown distilleries, as is Longrow.

The colour of this Hazelburn 12 years old is an intense dark burnt amber, showing that the whisky has been matured in some serious sherry casks. The nose is highly aromatic and packed with the common characteristics associated with sherry cask maturation - plenty of dried fruits (think of raisins and candied orange peel), sweet caramel, nuts (especially something like walnut) and spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). However, there are also some darker, more bitter notes on this complex nose - dark chocolate, damp wood, roasted coffee beans and just a hint of smoke, although this is slightly sulphuric and tobacco-like. On the palate, this is rich, dense and creamy with many of the elements of the nose carried through. There is sweetness coming from the dried fruit/citrus peel (there is an orange marmalade feel), caramel and nutty influences and these are balanced by the darker bitter notes such as the chocolate, coffee and spices (ginger is particularly prominent). The finish is long with lots of caramel sweetness followed by drier woody and spicy (especially nutmeg) notes.

The Hazelburn 12 years old is an interesting, intense and complex whisky. It is an enjoyable dram but the intensity of the sherry cask influence may be too much for some palates and is in danger of overpowering what is undoubtedly a lovely, creamy triple distilled spirit. It will be interesting to see how the future releases of Hazelburn are to be matured and what they will taste like. A bottle of this first release will be found in specialist whisky retailers for £45-50.

In the whisky cupboard ... Powers Gold Label

powers gold labelPowers Gold Label is one of Ireland's best selling whiskies. It sells approximately 2.5 million bottles per year and the brand has a rich heritage in Irish distilling history. The original distillery was founded in 1791 by James Power and was located in Dublin. James' son John later joined as distillery manager and in 1809 the name was changed to John Power & Son. Powers were one of the industry's pioneers by being one of the first distilleries to follow the traditional Irish practice of triple distillation. They were also one of the first in the world to begin selling their whiskey in single bottles to customers, rather than by the cask. This began in 1866 and the current gold label used on the bottle is a replica of the original label. The distillery remained in the Power family until 1966.

Nowadays, Powers whiskey is made at the Midleton distillery, which is located in the southern part of Ireland in County Cork. Midleton was founded in 1975 following the joining of the Cork Distillers Company, John Jameson & Son and John Power & Son in the late 1960s. This group was called the Irish Distillers Group. They built the new distillery, which is now the largest in Ireland and one of the largest in Europe with an annual capacity of 19 million litres. Some of the most famous names in the Irish whiskey industry are made at Midleton, all to their original traditional recipes. These include Jameson, Midleton Rare, Paddy, Powers, Redbreast and Tullamore Dew.

The colour is golden yellow with a lovely nose that is delicate and light. It is sweet with a combination of aromas including cereal grains, vanilla and caramel. There is also a slightly floral note that is reminiscent of honeysuckle. On the palate, this feels light bodied yet soft and creamy. There is a distinct and slightly bitter grainy character to begin with and this is joined by some sweeter elements such as vanilla, caramel, butterscotch and nuts (especially hazelnuts and almonds). Finally, something herbal appears (imagine dried grasses or hay) and this gives a good balance. The finish is short but smooth, sweet and warming with the grassiness, vanilla and cereal grain notes particularly prominent. The whiskey is not the most complex but is extremely well balanced, enjoyable and very easy drinking!

This Powers Gold Label is a lovely example of an Irish whiskey and it is easy to see why it is so popular and well regarded. Sadly, it is now exported from Ireland a lot less than it has previously been and can be hard to find, even in the UK. We were lucky and found our bottle in a local food convenience store and it is places such as this that will be holding some old stock and not realise what they have! A bottle should cost £15-20, which offers great value for such a decent whiskey.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Have just tried ... Diageo Special Releases 2009

Diageo, the world's leading premium drinks company, have just released their latest cask strength single malt whisky range. 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 Special Release series began in 2001 and the bottlings are selected annually. The idea is to showcase special stock that they are holding from their existing and closed Scottish distilleries. This years selection is made up of nine single malt scotch whiskies and all are limited in numbers and are highly collectable and desirable as a result. They will only be able to be purchased from specialist retailers and in selected markets around the world.

benrinnes 23 years old special releaseBenrinnes 23 years old
Single malt whiskies from this Speyside distillery are rare things, so we were very interested to try this. The distillery is located close to the town of Aberlour and most of the annual 2.5 million litres of whisky produced there is used in Diageo's popular Johnnie Walker blended range. The colour is dark amber with an expressive nose. There is lots of caramel sweetness with plenty of dried fruits (especially raisins, sultanas and prunes). This is back up by some more bitter notes (think of a dark chocolate or espresso coffee) and a slight whiff of sulphuric smoke (imagine a just struck matchstick head). On the palate, this feels thick and rich, coating the inside of the mouth. The caramel, dried fruits and dark bitter elements from the nose are present and are joined by some other notes - spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg), something savoury (this is slightly meaty/leathery) and dark treacle. When water is added, the matchstick sulphur appears also. The finish is long and begins sweet before becoming dry, woody and spicy (cinnamon again).
Details - 58.8% ABV/sherry cask/6000 bottles/RRP £150

brora 30 years old special releaseBrora 30 years old
The Brora distillery on the north eastern Highland coast was closed in 1983 and whisky from it are becoming increasingly hard to find as remaining stocks dwindle. This has a golden colour and a sweet smoky nose. The sweetness is reminiscent of cereal grains and butterscotch, backed up by some woody smoke (imagine an ashy bonfire) and a touch of saltiness. On the palate, this feels oily and viscous with the cereals, butterscotch, ashy smoke and saltiness (think of brine) combining with elements of vanilla, nuts (imagine roasted almonds) and a tang of citrus (especially lemon zest) that pleasantly cuts through everything. A drop of water brings out the smoke and nuttiness further. The finish is long, woody, smoky with that nuttiness coming through well again. An excellent and beautifully balanced dram.
Details - 53.2% ABV/bourbon cask/2958 bottles/RRP £230

caol ila umpeated 10 years old special releaseCaol Ila Unpeated 10 years old
Caol Ila is a distillery that is located on the western island of Islay and is well reknowned for its peaty, smoky style of whisky. However, for just a few weeks of each year this unpeated style of whisky is produced and previous releases of it have proved extremely popular. This whisky is pale lemon gold in colour and has a fresh intense nose. There is vanilla combined with an abundance of fresh green fruits (especially pears, apple and melon). The high strength of alcohol is evident and some water softens this, bringing through something floral (think of honeysuckle) and a distinct tang of citrus (imagine lemon zest). On the palate, this is light but zingy with a grassy note and a hint of saltiness joining the fresh fruit and vanilla. Water refreshes the whisky and again brings through the floral and citrus notes as in the nose. The finish is relatively short, crisp and sweet. A very interesting whisky.
Details - 65.8% ABV/bourbon cask/6000 bottles/£48

lagavulin 12 years old special releaseLagavulin 12 years old
This release from the iconic Lagavulin distillery on the western island of Islay is one of the cheapest of the collection, with a recommended retail price of under £60. The colour is a gorgeous deep amber and the nose is intense. This is full of peaty, earthy smokiness (reminiscent of wood embers and ash) and this is joined by a lovely mix of caramel, vanilla, 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 (imagine hazelnuts). With water, the whisky opens up to become even more smoky and salty with a distinct pepperiness coming through. The water also brings out a fruity element that is reminiscent of tinned fruit (pears especially). The finish is long, drying and intense with that earthy, peaty smoke fading slowly. An excellent and complex whisky that is a real bargain for the price.
Details - 59.9% ABV/bourbon cask/very small quantities - number of bottles not specified/£57

mannochmore 18 years old special releaseMannochmore 18 years old
Mannochmore was built in 1971 and this modern distillery is located in the Speyside region, close to the town of Elgin. Single malt whiskies are rarely released from Mannochmore, with most being used for Diageo's popular Haig's Dimple range of blended whisky. This whisky is amber in colour and the nose begins as understated before opening up. Firstly comes some dried fruits (think of sultanas and candied peel) and vanilla, then some caramel and something slightly musty and earthy (but not unpleasant). On the palate, the whisky is light and fresh with the dried fruitiness and vanilla prominent again. The palate develops in a similar way to the nose with some caramel, nuts (imagine toasted almonds), spices (ginger especially) and a hint of something bitter (reminiscent of dark chocolate or cocoa). The finish is long, dry and spicy with the ginger particularly evident. An interesting whisky from a distillery that we have never tried before.
Details - 54.9% ABV/part bourbon, part sherry cask, part new oak cask/2604 bottles/£105

pittyvaich 20 years old special releasePittyvaich 20 years old
The whisky from this former Speyside distillery is very rare and this is due to the fact that Pittyvaich (pronounced pitty-vek) was closed down in 1993. It has since been demolished and stocks are running low so the opportunity to try one of their whiskies of this age was not to be missed. This bottling has also been matured in a bourbon cask rather than their traditional sherry casks. The colour is a pale gold and the nose has a fresh grassy feel to it. There is plenty of vanilla, some subtle spices (think of ginger and nutmeg) and something nutty (reminiscent of toasted almonds). The freshness is carried through to the palate, where the grassiness (imagine freshly cut grass) mingles with sweet cereal grains crisp green fruit (like pears and apples). There is a distinct nuttiness again and a slightly surprising salty tang. The finish is short but enjoyable. This is a lovely dram from an under rated distillery and is well worth trying before its stocks run out.
Details - 57.5% ABV/bourbon cask/6000 bottles/£115

port ellen 30 years old special releasePort Ellen 30 years old
Another whisky from a closed distillery. The legendary Port Ellen was located on the western island of Islay and closed for the last time in 1983. The stocks of its whiskies are becoming very scarce and are held in high regard by whisky drinkers and collectors alike. The colour of this 30 years old is golden with a tinge of brown. The nose is elegant with a sumptuous mix of sweet dried fruits (think of sultanas), warm spices (reminiscent of nutmeg and cinnamon), some saltiness (like sea air) and smoke (imagine coal fire smoke). On the palate, this is quite light and more subtle than many other Islay malts but still very expressive. 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 gorgeous. The finish is long and warm with the smoke and saltiness prominent, with some interesting liquorice and cinnamon notes coming through at the end, especially when water is added.
Details - 57.7% ABV/bourbon cask/5916 bottles/£200

talisker 25 years old special releaseTalisker 25 years old
Talisker is the only distillery on the western island of Skye. The Talisker 10 years old is one of the best selling single malts in the world but whiskies of this age from the distillery are much harder to find. The colour is a golden amber and the whisky clings to the glass as your take in the aromas. The nose is surprisingly soft and mellow with a distinct spiciness (imagine black peppercorns), some saltiness (think of seaweed especially), caramel and a meaty, almost leathery smokiness. On the palate, this is pleasantly oily and feels thick, coating the inside of the mouth. It is rich with some peppery smoke, some fruitiness (imagine sultanas and dried apple), a hint of salt (think of brine) and an interesting iodine bitterness. Very easy drinking, even at the cask strength, but is worth trying with water as this brings out some sweet citrus notes (especially orange peel). The finish is long, warming and spicy (ginger maybe?) with a more earthy peppery smokiness. Lovely stuff!
Details - 54.8% ABV/part bourbon, part sherry cask mix/5862 bottles/£150

talisker 30 years old special releaseTalisker 30 years old
This 30 years old is the second whisky in the new series from the iconic distillery on the isle of Skye. It is gentler and more subtle than the 25 years old. The nose is very fresh for a whisky of this age and has a complex mix of dried fruit (sultanas and candied orange peel especially), saltiness (imagine seaweed) and subtle spicy smokiness (think of black pepper and nutmeg). There is also some fresh toffee and a touch of earthiness. This feels thinner on the palate than the 25 with a sumptuous vanilla sweetness combining well with delicate light smoke (imagine wood ash/embers), a salty element (brine again) and dried fruits notes (although these are less prominent than on the nose). Like the 25 years old, this drinks very well at the natural strength, although adding a touch of water does bring out some sweet earthiness (reminiscent of damp moss). The finish is long with some honey and dried fruit sweetness with just a whiff of smoke and spice. Wow - this is one exceptional and complex whisky.
Details - 53.1% ABV/part bourbon, part sherry cask mix/3000 bottles/£215

Whisky For Everyone's 'whisky of the night' - Boy, this is a tough call as Diageo have really excelled themselves with this years selections. It was very interesting to sample whiskies from some of their lesser known Speyside distilleries and some of the premium whiskies from the closed distilleries but ultimately the short list consists of the two Taliskers, the Lagavulin 12 years old and the Caol Ila Unpeated 10 years old. Each are great whiskies but if we had to choose one it would be the Talisker 30 years old. It is simply fantastic.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

In conversation with ... Richard Paterson, Whyte & Mackay Master Blender

richard paterson pouring us a dramLast week we had the pleasure of meeting Richard Paterson at an event that was about matching Scotch whisky and Indian food in London. It was a busy evening that included some television filming, tasting some excellent whisky and food combinations and general fun. In between all of that, we had the opportunity to sit down and talk to Richard for a few minutes and chat about a number of subjects.

Richard Paterson is one of the legendary figures in the world whisky industry. He is Master Blender for the Whyte & Mackay company, who are one of Scotland's leading producers and distributors of whisky - they own a number of Scottish single malt distilleries including Dalmore and Jura, as well as releasing their popular range of blended whiskies. He became the Master Blender at Whyte & Mackay at the age of 26, making him one of Scotland's youngest. Richard is now not just the Master Blender but also a global ambassador for the Whyte & Mackay brand, Scotland and whisky in general! In addition, Richard writes an excellent and informative blog called The Master Blender and he can be followed on social networking site Twitter under the name @the_nose.

Richard began by explaining about his role and the Whyte & Mackay brand. Whyte & Mackay currently export whisky to near every country in the world and their current focus is on the new markets and economies that are opening up (eg. India, Taiwan, China and South America - all of which he has visited recently). In these markets, Richard has found that consumers are desperate to learn about whisky and he feels that his job is to explain the basics in simple terms. Common subjects include the difference between single malt whiskies and blends, breaking down peoples perceptions of whisky and instructing how to nose and taste whisky correctly. Richard said that he must "make whisky come alive" and try to get consumers to see whisky for what it really is by using their senses. In hot climates, people struggle to imagine the cold, damp locations of the distilleries where whisky is made and he has to convey this so that they take the most from the whisky and the experience.

Richard then went on to describe the way that he selects casks for blending and the slightly unconventional age statements on the Whyte & Mackay range of blended whiskies. He stated that his years of experience have now led to him automatically knowing what casks will produce good whisky. For example, he regularly visits Spain to select sherry casks from a number of bodegas and chooses them by the type of wood and by simply tasting the sherry that has been maturing in them. Whyte & Mackay currently have many types of wood cask developing, with some only suitable for single malt releases and others specifically for blending.

The Whyte & Mackay blended range have a number of releases at unconventional ages (eg. 13, 19 and 22 years old). Richard explained that this was because himself and the company believe in releasing whisky when it is ready and that this may not be at the conventional ages such as 10, 12, 18 or 21 years of age. He used the Whyte & Mackay 19 years old blend as an example - here he selects whiskies with a range of ages, of which the youngest is 18 years old. This blend has 25 component parts including a high percentage of Highland single malts, some Speyside single malts to soften the blend and grain whisky, mostly from the Invergordon grain distillery. The whiskies are blended and then left to marry and settle together for a further year. This results in the youngest whisky now being 19 years old, hence the age statement on the bottle.

Finally, the subject of the food and whisky matching was discussed. Richard spoke generally to begin with when he stressed the importance of taking your time. Firstly, take some food and wait a short time before taking some whisky in to your mouth. This will re-invigorate the flavours of the food and then wait again before taking some more whisky. The result is the full effect of the food and whisky, as your mouth has become used to the alcohol with the first taste of whisky. He then went on to speak about Indian food and whisky specifically and explained that both elements should compliment each other with one not overpowering the other. He is always looking for perfect combinations and said that the spiciness of the savoury Indian food served and the sweetness of the desserts would perfectly match the richness, subtle spiciness and sweetness of his Whyte & Mackay whiskies.

The conversation had to end as Richard had to go and film but we thank him for the time that he gave us. He is a charismatic character who has an infectious enthusiasm for the Whyte & Mackay brand and whisky in general. If you have ever met him or ever get to meet him, you will know or see for yourselves! It was an education and as Richard says in his own words "when you stop learning, you are finished!" We couldn't agree more!

Monday, October 12, 2009

News ... Diageo Cask Strength Special Releases 2009

diageo special releases 2009 line upDiageo have just released the line up for the 2009 Special Releases series. The series was first released in 2001 and features exclusive limited edition bottlings of whiskies from Diageo's portfolio of 28 Scottish distilleries. The series covers an array of different styles, flavours and ages. We at Whisky For Everyone are getting the opportunity to sample the nine whiskies that will shortly be released in the 2009 series. This is happening tomorrow night (Tuesday) and we plan to give more details about the new series and fully review each whisky in a blog post that should appear on Wednesday at some point.

In the mean time, here is a little teaser - the basic details of the Diageo Special Releases 2009 line up with basic details regarding region/strength/cask used/limited number of bottles available and the UK RRP (recommended retail price). They look an interesting selection and we are looking forward to trying them. This series also seems more attractively priced than the recent first selection from Diageo's Manager's Choice range.

Benrinnes 23 years old
Speyside region/58.8% ABV strength/sherry cask/6000 bottles/£150 per bottle

Brora 30 years old
North Highlands - closed distillery/53.2% ABV/bourbon cask/2958 bottles/£230

Caol Ila Unpeated 10 years old
Islay/65.8% ABV/bourbon cask/6000 bottles/£48

Lagavulin 12 years old
Islay/59.9% ABV/bourbon cask/very small quantities - number of bottles not specified/£57

Mannochmore 18 years old
Speyside/54.9% ABV/part bourbon, part sherry cask mix/2604 bottles/£105

Pittyvaich 20 years old
Speyside - closed distillery/57.5% ABV/bourbon cask/6000 bottles/£115

Port Ellen 30 years old
Islay - closed distillery/57.7% ABV/bourbon cask/5916 bottles/£200

Talisker 25 years old
Isle of Skye/54.8% ABV/part bourbon, part sherry cask mix/5862 bottles/£150

Talisker 30 years old
Isle of Skye/53.1% ABV/part bourbon, part sherry cask mix/3000 bottles/£215

Friday, October 9, 2009

Scotch whisky and Indian food - a match made in heaven?

The matching of whisky with food is certainly not a new idea (just ask anyone from one of the major whisky producing countries!) but the subject has been well covered recently in the various related blogs, websites and magazines that we follow. Many people have the perception that the two should or can only be enjoyed seperately, unlike other drinks such as wine. With an increasing amount of people writing about, cooking with and combining the flavours of food and whisky, we felt that it was necessary to try it for ourselves.

contemporary indian street food by vivek singhWe were lucky enough to sample this experience when we were invited to The Cinnamon Club, which is located in central London close to Westminster Abbey. The Cinnamon Club offers contemporary cuisine that takes traditional Indian cooking techniques and ingredients and combines them with European inspired ideas and designs plus high quality local produce. The evening was hosted by Richard Paterson, the legendary Master Distiller from Whyte & Mackay and Vivek Singh, the Executive Chef of The Cinnamon Club restuarant. The event was being filmed for UK and Indian based television channels and was an introduction to the idea of matching two of India's great passions - food and whisky - for the upcoming religious festival of Diwali. We were even interviewed about our thoughts on the evening and this will broadcast as part of the show, so you may see us make our TV debut very soon!

richard paterson and vivek singhRichard used the Whyte & Mackay blended whisky range during the event and Vivek had prepared a selection of small Indian street snacks, both savoury and sweet. They began by explaining the basics behind the idea of matching food and whisky from their points of view. Both agreed that the principle was to create harmony so that the food did not overpower the whisky and vice versa. The two elements should compliment each other with neither the food or the whisky burning your palate. Therefore, Vivek's food was not too spicy and Richard selected whiskies that had an alcohol strength of no higher than 45% ABV.

whyte & mackay whisky in a glassThe savoury dishes that Vivek had prepared were tasted and matched first. Chicken tikka was paired with Whyte & Mackay 22 years old and the smoky, charred flavours that the chicken had picked up from the tandoor oven were complimented well by the sweet and spicy palate of the whisky. Then beetroot mini fritters and an onion salad were paired with the younger Whyte & Mackay 13 years old. The spicier nature of the two dishes were noted by Richard as being balanced by the delicate softness and sweetness present in the whisky.

The sweet dishes - ladoo (a sweet chickpea ball) and kulfi (a frozen reduced buffalo milk dessert covered in crushed pistachio nuts) - were combined with the Whyte & Mackay 30 years old blended whisky. This is the whisky that this week has won the Best Blended Whisky section at the prestigious International Spirits Challenge. The whisky has rich caramel, dried fruit (think of raisins and candied peel especially) and woody spice aromas that carry through on to the palate and combine with toffee and further spice (almost like cloves, but couldn't quite place it). The combination, especially with the delicious kulfi was great with the characteristics from the whisky bringing out the subtle grassy notes in the dessert.

The evening was an eye opening experience. As a result, we have decided that we will pursue and write about other genres of food being matched with whisky in the future. The combinations between the superb Whyte & Mackay whiskies presented by Richard Paterson and Vivek Singh's fantastic and tasty food worked very well. So, next time you are eating Indian food or other spicy food, why not try a whisky instead of beer or wine?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Have just tried ... Bushmills 10 years old

Bushmills has the oldest distillery license in the world and dates back to 1608. The distillery is named after the town of Bushmills and is located close to the northern County Antrim coast in Northern Ireland, just two miles from the famous Giant’s Causeway. It is currently owned by drinks giant Diageo. In addition to being the oldest licensed distillery in Ireland and 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, 225 years later.

Bushmills’ whiskies are all triple distilled in the traditional Irish way and the core range is a mixture of single malts and blends - this 10 years old is a single malt, with the 'Original' and 'Black Bush' being blends. These are occasionally joined by special limited releases. Sales of the Bushmills range had plummeted 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 (approximately three million litres per year) to meet current demand.

The colour is golden with a slight amber tint. The nose is clean and fresh with a combination of interesting aromas - a lot of vanilla and cereal grains mixed with a distinct nuttiness (think of almonds and coconuts especially), some grassiness (imagine dried grasses or hay) and a hint of dried fruits and spice (think of sultanas and nutmeg). On the palate, this is smooth, clean and delicate with a creamy, almost soapy feeling in the mouth. It is very malty (those cereal grains again) and full of lovely vanilla and the almond/coconut nuttiness from the nose. This is in addition to another sweet element (think of toffee or butterscotch) and this is balanced with a herbal note (that dried grass again) and some woody spice (imagine nutmeg and cinnamon). The finish is of reasonable length, soft and bittersweet. It begins sweetly with vanilla and a hint of sherry cask influenced dried fruits (especially sultanas and candied lemon peel) before turning drier with the oaky woodiness and herbal grassiness prominent.

This 10 years old single malt is a lovely dram that combines its delicate nature with depth and complexity. It would be a great choice as an introduction to Irish whiskey. This Bushmills is becoming more widely available and can be found in larger supermarkets and specialist spirits retailers in the UK for between £25-30 a bottle.

The mystery dram revealed

mystery dramThank you to everyone who read and left comments about our third ‘mystery dram’ challenge that we set earlier in the week. We can now reveal that the ‘mystery dram’ in question this time was the Bushmills 10 years old. The full review of the Bushmills 10 years old will be posted shortly with some further distillery information and facts about the whisky.

We are trying to make the 'mystery dram' more challenging, as nearly everyone guessed correctly on our first one (the new Laphroaig 18 years old). This was followed by two correct answers for the second (Highland Park 18 years old). Only two readers got the correct answer for this third 'mystery dram' so maybe we need to throw in a couple more clues next time! Others were close but no cigar and some ignored the 'its not from Scotland' clue all together! Well done to Gal Granov and Yves Cosentino for working out it was Bushmills 10 years old.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

In the whisky cupboard ... Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 15 years old

pappy van winkle's family reserveVan Winkle is one of the most famous names in the American bourbon whiskey industry. The Van Winkle family have been involved since 1893 when Julian Van Winkle, nicknamed Pappy by family and friends, began working as a salesman for the W. L. Weller & Sons bourbon company. He eventually purchased the Weller distillery and renamed it as the Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery. Pappy remained in control until his death at the age of 91 in 1965. Control was passed to his son, Julian Jr, and later to his son, Julian III, who remains in charge with the assistance of his son, Preston.

Van Winkle whiskey has been made at the Buffalo Trace distillery since 2002. They follow the traditional Van Winkle family recipe that have been handed down through the generations. Buffalo Trace is the most northern distillery in the famous whiskey producing state of Kentucky. The name originates from the 'Great Buffalo Trace', an ancient path (or trace) used by migrating buffalo - this stretches across North America and along the banks of the Kentucky River. The early settlers followed this path and set up a community in the late 1700s and Buffalo Trace has been operating on the same site since 1812.

All Van Winkle whiskey is made using a unique recipe using corn, wheat and barley (compared to the more widely used bourbon recipe of corn, rye and barley). The Family Reserve range is a selection of older whiskies - this 15 years old, a 20 and a 23 years old and a 13 years old rye whiskey. It is rare to find older bourbons compared to Scottish or Irish whiskies of the same age. This is because the climate is more humid in America than in Scotland and Ireland, so the maturation process is faster. They are also matured in new fresh casks by law and more intense natural oils are drawn from these casks. This 15 years old is bottled at 53.5% ABV (107 proof) and will cost around £65 a bottle in the UK from specialist retailers.

This Family Reserve 15 years old is dark orange amber in colour with a gorgeously intense nose. There is a lot of vanilla and oak, with some distinct sweetness (think of golden syrup or caramel) and nuttiness (imagine almonds and coconut). A vivid scent of oranges comes through (think of candied peel), as does a waxy furniture polish aroma (sounds strange but its true!). On the palate this is rich, velvety and smooth with a heap of woody oak and vanilla up front. Through this comes a lovely combination of spices (think of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg), dried intense citrus (imagine that candied orange peel again or marmalade), roasted nuts (almonds, especially), just a hint of liquorice and something slightly dark and bitter (think of a dark powdered cocoa). The finish is long and spicy with the warm wood spices especially prominent (nutmeg and cinnamon). Even though this whiskey is very balanced, we decided to add water due to the alcoholic strength - this made it sweeter (imagine more caramel and honey coming through) and fruitier (imagine some sultanas joining the orange and cinnamon from before). An excellent example of a bourbon whiskey.

Monday, October 5, 2009

News ... Dalmore Sirius release

dalmore sirius bottle with 'friend'Dalmore distillery has today announced the launch of one of its most prized whiskies - the Sirius. Dalmore is located in the northern Highland of Alness, which lies on the Cromarty Firth and close to the famous Black Isle. It was established in 1839 and is currently owned by Whyte & Mackay, a branch of United Spirits. Dalmore is translated as 'big meadow' from Gaelic and this refers to the fertile farmland that is located in the local area. The distillery has a current production capacity of approximately four million litres per year and has some of the oldest stills in Scotland, one of which dates back to 1874.

Sirius is an exceptionally rare, exceptionally old and exceptionally expensive bottle of whisky. There are only 12 bottles being released and this will be in a specially designed crystal decanter. The whisky was distilled in 1951 and only bottled recently and will retail for a whopping £10,000 a bottle! It is bottled from a single cask at its natural cask strength of 45% ABV and is only available by contacting Dalmore directly or in World Duty Free stores at selected airports in France, Taiwan, the UK and the USA. Sirius is named after the brightest star that is visible from Earth.

As Sirius is such a rare and costly whisky, we will have to rely on Richard Paterson's official tasting notes. Richard is the Master Distiller at Dalmore distillery.

“Distinguished and elegant, age has gracefully finessed this brilliant expression. Aromas of intense citrus and honeyed chocolate are quickly joined by roasted coffee, crushed walnuts and hints of liquorice spice. Let the spirit gently roll over the palate, holding it long in the mouth to tease out its illuminating flavours. First coffee and bitter chocolate, followed by crushed almonds and ripe apple, then toffee, spicy cinnamon and toasted oak provide the perfect finish. Sirius is, quite simply, one of the world’s most perfect whiskies.”