Sunday, January 31, 2010

Have just tried ... Kavalan Port Cask finish

kavalan port cask finishA Taiwanese whisky?
Kavalan is a single malt whisky that is made by the King Car Corporation in Taiwan. King Car was set up in 1979 and is now Taiwan's biggest beverage and food manufacturers. This new distillery is one of the most technically advanced in the world and is located in Yuanshan, a town in the north of Taiwan. Yuanshan lies to the south of the major cities of Taipei and Keelung and close to the Pacific coast. It has copper stills that were constructed in Scotland and the distillery has an annual capacity of approximately six million bottles.

Beating the Scots

The profile of Kavalan Taiwanese whisky has risen dramatically following a recent blind tasting. This was held by famous British newspaper The Times and they put Kavalan single malt up against three Scottish blended whiskies and the new St. George's English whisky. To read the full article from thetimesonline, click here. They cheekily did this on Burns Night (Scotland's unofficial national day and one where whisky forms an important part of the celebrations) and invited esteemed people from the world of whisky to taste each one blind. We suspect that they were trying to get a 'controversial' non-Scottish winner as the outcome and they succeeded as Kavalan gained significantly more marks than the other entrants.

Why Kavalan?
King Car decided to name their whisky range Kavalan after a group of indigenous people who lived in the Yi-Lan County where the distillery is located. The range of whisky is currently small and consists of two single malts (including this Port cask) and the Solist collection, which currently has two single cask releases - one from a bourbon cask and one from a sherry cask. The Kavalan whisky has been created, selected and blended by the legendary Dr. Jim Swan, the Master Distiller at Penderyn distillery in Wales. He is a worldwide authority in the field of alcoholic beverages and has consulted with numerous distilleries, breweries and wineries over many years. We have written about the regular single malt and the bourbon cask Solist - click on the links to read.

More 'angle's share'
This Kavalan Port Cask is bottled at 40% ABV and is matured in ex-bourbon casks before being transferred to Port casks. It is currently only available in Taiwan and major cities in China, with a bottle costing around £50. The whisky is only three years of age, but whisky ages much faster in Taiwan's warm and humid climate. They have to bottle it at this age as they lose around 10% of the whisky's volume each year to the angel's share (the name given to the evaporation of the spirit while maturing in the cask). In comparison, this figure is around 2% a year in Scotland. We would like to thank Ian Chang, the Head Distiller at Kavalan, for giving us this sample and Lisa Huang for introducing us to Kavalan whisky.

Our tasting notes
This Port Cask finish is walnut brown in colour and the nose is rich and appealing. There is a sumptuous mix of aromas - toffee and dried fruits (think of currants and dried apple) are predominant with vanilla, coconut, walnuts, honey and warming spices (imagine cinnamon and cloves). On the palate, this still has some richness but feels fresher, lighter and spicier than the nose suggests. There is again toffee (although this is more like burnt sugar now) and dried fruits (think of currants and dried orange peel) and these are joined by vanilla, nuts (more like walnut oil this time), honey and the warming spices (still cinnamon and cloves but slightly more peppery). The whole feel is a little reminiscent of mulled wine at Christmas. There is also more red fruitiness (imagine grapes or stewed cherries) that comes through with time. The finish is lovely, rich and of medium length. It is pleasantly sweet, fruity and spicy but a little tannic and drier at the end (this can be felt on your gums especially).

What's the verdict?
Kavalan Port Cask finish is an interesting, lovely whisky. The richness and complexity belies its youthful age and it makes for very pleasant and easy drinking whisky. It is the richest, fruitiest of the three Kavalan whiskies that we have tasted to date. All are very different and very good and we cannot wait to taste more or see what new expressions they are planning. If you are ever travelling through south east Asia, then we would recommend that you have to try these whiskies. Let's hope that with their recent publicity that Kavalan gets a wider distribution and enables more people to try it.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Have just tried ... Glen Garioch Founder's Reserve

One of Scotland's oldest
Glen Garioch (pronounced glen-geery) was founded in 1797 by Thomas Simpson. This makes it one of Scotland's oldest whisky distilleries that is still in operation. Glenturret is the oldest having been opened in 1775. The original name was Glengarioch (the Garioch is a fertile strip of local farmland that is well known for producing top quality barley) before changing to Glen Garioch in the 1930s. It is located in Oldmeldrum, a small town in the Highlands, which is close to Aberdeen. The distillery is Scotland's most easterly and has an annual production capacity of approximately one million litres.

New expressions
Glen Garioch is currently owned by Morrison Bowmore, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese company Suntory. They took control in 1994 and one year later, they decided to mothball the distillery (mothballing is the process where a distillery is closed but all the equipment remains intact and ready to go again, when required). Until this point, Glen Garioch had produced a lightly peated style of whisky but when it was reopened in 1997, Suntory decided to stop this practice and go for a non peaty style. The range of whisky is small and has just been completely revamped. This Founder's Reserve and a 12 years old form the main part of the range and these are joined by two vintage expressions, 1978 and 1990 (both of which are in the previous lightly peated style). These were released in Europe in Autumn 2009 and will be introduced to the north American and Asian markets shortly.

Our tasting notes
The Founder's Reserve is amber gold in colour and the nose is initially intense and punchy. There is strong malty cereal and some raw spirit, before the nose begins to soften and reveal some lovely aromas - caramel/burnt sugar, vanilla, coconut, dried fruits (especially sultanas), some woody spicy nutmeg and just a hint of citrus (think of orange oil). On the palate, this feels thick and coats the inside of the mouth, starting off sweetly before becoming drier. The sweetness has butterscotch, vanilla and dried fruits (imagine sultanas, raisins and candied peel) notes to it and these are joined by the drier elements - lots of malty cereal grains, a distinct spiciness (think of black pepper and nutmeg) and the tiniest hint of some peaty smoke. The finish has a decent length which has the butterscotch and dried fruit sweetness but also has some peppery spiciness, more maltiness and a tart, sharp spirity nature to it, which is slightly unpleasant (to be fair this become much more palatable and softer when we revisited this whisky the next day).

What's the verdict?
This Founder's Reserve is bottled at 48% ABV, which is a slightly higher alcoholic strength than most 'standard' whiskies in any distilleries range. A bottle should cost £30-35 from specialist retailers, although there are also plans to introduce it to the travel retail/Duty Free sector. Having never tried any whisky from Glen Garioch before, this was certainly interesting to see what the distillery has to offer. The higher than normal ABV led us to add some water but this made it flatten out and lose its vibrancy and intensity. At 48% ABV, it is more rounded and well balanced than expected. This was great to try but may not have the broadest appeal due to the strong maltiness throughout - as a beginner, it would be a good whisky to try once you have sampled some others and want to step up to something different.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Have just tried ... Glenmorangie 18 years old

One of the world's leaders
Glenmorangie is one of the most famous whisky distilleries and biggest selling brand names in the world. It is located on the edge of the north eastern Highland town of Tain, on the shores of the Dornoch Firth estuary. The distillery opened in 1843 by William Mathesen and the buildings were previously a brewery. The original name was Morangie before becoming Glenmorangie in 1887. It is currently owned by drinks company Moet Hennessy. Glenmorangie's range is extensive and covers different ages and cask finishes. The distillery tour is also excellent and we can recommend it. Their 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.

Scotland's tallest stills
Glenmorangie is one of Scotland's largest whisky distilleries and has a production capacity of six million litres per year. They also have the tallest set of stills of any distillery in Scotland with each one standing over 5 metres (16.5 feet) tall. The still room resembles a cathedral with the tall stills accentuated by equally tall windows. The current stills are direct replicas of the originals (these were bought from a gin distillery in London, which explains why they are different to other traditional whisky stills). This extra height means that only the purest and lightest spirit reaches the condenser and gets collected for maturation.

Our tasting notes
The whisky has spent around 15 years in bourbon casks and the further three years in Oloroso sherry casks. The colour is a vibrant gold and the nose is clean, fresh and tempting. There is an instant tropical fruit aroma (think of mango, papaya and pineapple) that is quite unlike anything that we have experienced before. This is backed up by plenty of oaky vanilla, malty cereal grains, brown sugar and a hint of citrus (especially lemon zest). On the palate, this feels rich and sweet but somehow remains fresh. The intense and unusual tropical notes are again prominent and mix beautifully with a complex combination of other notes - dried fruits (imagine sultanas and a touch of candied orange peel), nuts (hazelnuts and coconut), caramel, honey, vanilla and some zesty citrus (think of lemons and maybe grapefruit). The finish is long, complex and refreshing - it begins with the sweet caramel and tropical fruit notes (especially mango) before turning drier with a nutty and spicy (think of nutmeg) coming through. Absolutely lovely.

What's the verdict?
This Glenmorangie 18 years old is marketed and packaged as Extremely Rare and forms part of the core range, albeit as a limited release. It has received a packaging re-vamp in 2009 and should cost between £80-85 for a bottle. This is a delicious whisky that combines fresh aromas and flavours with a clean, refreshing nature. The tropical fruit notes are both very pleasant and surprising, as we have never tasted this characteristic to this extent in a whisky. An absolutely cracking dram. We thank Annabel Meikle from Glenmorangie for the opportunity to sample this.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Distillery visit - Penderyn

Penderyn (pronounced Pen-derrin) is the only single malt whisky distillery currently operating in Wales. It is located in the village of Penderyn in the Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales. The distillery is one of the youngest in the UK and is owned by the Welsh Whisky Company, which is made up of a consortium of local businessmen. The WWC was formed in 1998 and production began at Penderyn in September 2000. They adopted the name of the village - it translates as 'head of the kite' from the Welsh language (that's kite as in the type of bird and the Brecons is home to one of the largest populations of them in the UK).

welsh whisky posterPenderyn is the first legal distillery to produce single malt whisky in Wales for over 100 years. The previous one was named Frongoch (pronounced fran-gok) and this was located in the town of Bala in north Wales, close to the famous Snowdonia National Park. The distillery had a short life - the first spirit flowed in 1889 and it was closed in 1900, with the company being wound up in the High Court in 1903. They rather cheekily named their whisky 'Royal Welsh Whisky' (as shown on one of their posters, left), despite never being issued a Royal Warrant. Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales, is one of the Penderyn's biggest supporters and serves Penderyn whisky at his Highgrove House residence.

Our tour of Penderyn is taken by Sian Whitelock, the Commercial Director at the Welsh Whisky Company. It begins in the impressive visitor centre (actually, it began at Aberdare train station where Sian met us!). The visitor centre and the distillery are all housed under the same roof. The building looks impressive from the outside - it is black and has the increasingly recognisable Penderyn gold flash adorning it (see top image, above). We learn that this flash represents a seam of rare Welsh gold that can still be found in the local area and that the words Aur Cymru and AC initials that are on Penderyn labels, means 'Welsh gold' in Welsh.

penderyn's visitor exhibitionThe tour begins with an exhibition about Penderyn and its place within the local, Welsh and whisky communities. It feels fresh and light and gives plenty of information on wall and free standing boards and also a short film. The exhibition explains how the geology of the local area and the quality of their water source helped pick the distillery's location (it has a bore hole located next it). There is also a collection of interesting artifacts relating to the old Frongoch distillery, including one of the few bottles left in existence. However, our favourite part was a historical time line that stretched along one side of the room that incorporated significant dates in Welsh, world and whisky history. This helps greatly in putting Penderyn in to context within these three categories.

Next, Sian takes us through to the still room viewing area. Here, we get to see the unique set up that Penderyn have. Firstly, the production process is different. They use a pre-made fermented wash that is made to Penderyn's specifications at the Cardiff based Brain's brewery. In the Scottish whisky industry, the mashing and fermentation processes must happen on the same site as the distillation. We had a sniff of this pre-made wash and it was like a sweet ale, without the hops.

copper still at penderynThe still room is viewed through glass on the regular tour, but we were fortunate enough to be taken in to have a more detailed look through the tiny still room. This unique copper still was specially designed by Dr David Faraday, who is descended from Sir Michael Faraday (a pioneering scientist who studied electricity and magnetism and invented such things as the electric motor and the dynamo). The still has three main sections that are linked. A copper pot still (seen in the image, left) has a pipe leading from the top to another column-still-like structure and the final spirit is collected in a huge glass bulb still safe. The production is a batch process, with each batch taking roughly 10 hours and producing just a single cask of spirit.

The still produces very little waste product as for each charge or batch, it runs on a continuous process. The fermented Brain's wash is heated and the evaporated alcohol vapour rises up the neck before passing along the pipe to go through the column-still-like section. Here, the vapours
begin to re-condense and in a similar way to a column still the vapours can be collected as the desired spirit given that they re-condense at the desired point at which they are removed then piped in the huge glass bulb still safe. The spirits that are not collected are returned to the original copper pot part of the still via another pipe. They then pass through the process again and again until just 1% of the original 2500 litres put into the still is remaining. It is a fascinating set up and one that is truly unique, from transporting the wash in to the still design but also that this entire operation is manual.

casks at penderynThe spirit that is collected is higher in alcoholic strength (known as the ABV) than the Scottish distilleries casking strength. Penderyn's new make spirit is roughly 80% ABV when it is put into the cask, whereas the average figure is around 65% in Scotland. A higher ABV will mean that the spirit will draw more from the wood in the cask and therefore mature at a quicker rate. We tried some of the new make spirit and despite its strength, it was extremely fresh, vibrant and fruity (think of green juicy fruits like pears and apples) with a spicy chili-like nature to it. The casks are not stored on the compact site of the distillery/visitor centre but in a warehouse a few miles away.

Penderyn use ex-bourbon casks for the majority of their whisky's maturation. These are sourced from the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky, USA. The core range of Penderyn consists of three single malts - the regular release is then part matured in Madeira casks and there are two further, more limited bottlings. The Sherrywood is part matured in sherry casks and the Peated is part matured in ex-Islay smoky whisky casks (this is where it gets its peatiness, rather than using peated malt in the more traditional way). The whiskies are closely monitored and selected at their optimum age by Master Distiller Dr Jim Swan and on-site distiller Gillian MacDonald.

bottling plant at penderyn
Penderyn is also one of the few distilleries that do their own bottling. This is again viewed through a large glass window but we were allowed in to observe from a safe area. They bottle all of their products, including the Brecon gin and Five vodka that they also produce at the distillery. Before bottling, the whisky is brought down to 46% ABV using water from the local bore hole. The tour then concludes with a tasting in the sampling area (we were the first people to try out their new stylish chairs here!). On the regular tour, you are treated to two drams but we got the 'special' treatment! Sian and ourselves were joined by distiller Gillian MacDonald and Visitor Centre Manager Keith Tench, who sampled and explained everything from their current range.

sampling area at penderynTasting notes
Penderyn Madeira
- this is the cornerstone of the Penderyn range. The colour is straw-like with an interesting fragrant nose - vanilla, fresh fruits (apples/pears) and something herbal (dried grasses). On the palate, this remains light with sugary caramel, dried fruits and malted cereal notes present. The vanilla, fresh fruit and herbal elements from the nose come through also. The finish is reasonably long for something a light whisky and is refreshing, with an enjoyable sugary sweetness and woodiness. For our full review - click here.

Penderyn Sherrywood - partly matured in sherry casks, this whisky is golden amber in colour. The nose has an interesting combination of aromas - dried fruit (sultanas/orange peel), caramel, spices (cloves) and herbal grassy note (imagine dried grasses/hay). On the palate, there is sugary sweetness (brown sugar/honey), then dried fruit (sultanas/dried apple). It is buttery and coats the inside of your mouth. The finish is again initially sweet before a grassiness kicks in and makes the finish pleasantly dry. Click here for our full review.

Penderyn Peated - this is partly matured in ex-smoky whisky casks. Therefore, the peatiness is subtle. The colour is light and straw-like and the nose is subtle and fresh (vanilla/toffee/damp earth). On the palate, there is fresh fruit (pears/apples), vanilla and something floral (maybe honeysuckle) before the earthy peat smoke comes through. The finish becomes grassy, herbal and a little dry. Our full review will follow shortly.

Penderyn Rich Madeira - a limited edition whisky that was bottled to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Welsh Rugby Union Association. It has been matured in ex-bourbon casks then one year in a Madeira cask. Released at 50% ABV, there are only 1250 bottles. It is rich amber in colour and the nose is sweet (caramel) and fruity (dried fruits/sultanas/candied orange peel). These aromas carry through to the palate, combining very well with wood spice (cinnamon/nutmeg) and herbal (dried grasses) notes. A lovely long sweet finish. Our favourite whisky of the day. Our full review will follow shortly.

Penderyn Port Wood - this is Penderyn's most expensive (£275) and smallest (207 bottles) release to date. It was released in August 2009 and bottled at 60.6% ABV. The colour is dark amber/red and the nose has individuality - plenty of caramel/treacle, candied orange peel, dried red fruits and cocoa powder. This is rich on the palate but easy drinking, despite the strength. It is silky with the notes of the nose replicated. With water, more caramel/toffee comes out. The finish is rich, fruity and dry. This reminded us of an Armagnac or Cognac. Our full review will follow shortly.

gillian macdonald, sian whitelock and keith tench of penderynThe tour of Penderyn is unlike any other that we have been on, but that is because Penderyn is unlike any other distillery that we have been to. If you go expecting to see the grain mill, mashing, fermenting and maturation as on a traditional distillery tour then you may leave disappointed. However, this offers something fresh and new with a modern, ground breaking take on the traditional techniques. We both thoroughly enjoyed our time and recommend it highly. We thank Gillian MacDonald, Sian Whitelow and Keith Tench at Penderyn (pictured from left to right, respectively), for the invite to their distillery, their hospitality and information while we were there and for letting us sample their innovative whiskies.

Information for the regular Penderyn tour
Entry - £5 per person/ Tour duration - 45 mins/ No. of drams - 2/ Further details -

Friday, January 22, 2010

Have just tried ... Talisker 'Distiller's Edition'

talisker 'distiller's edition' 1998Talisker is an iconic Scottish whisky distillery on the isle of Skye. The island lies off the north west Highland coast and forms part of the Hebrides. The distillery is the only one on the island and is located close to the village of Carbost, in the shadow of the imposing Cuillin hills. Despite its remote location, the distillery is one of the most visited in Scotland. Talisker was founded in 1830 by two local brothers, Hugh and Kenneth MacAskill, and has a current annual production capacity of 1.9 million litres.

Talisker is currently owned by drinks giant Diageo and they have recently given the brand a lot of promotion, including a spate of Burns Night events such as the one that we have attended recently. The result is that worldwide sales have risen by 100% in the last five years and it is now Diageo's best selling single malt behind Cardhu. Talisker continues to win prizes around the world, culminating in their 18 years old winning 'Best Single Malt' at The World Whisky Awards in 2007.

The whisky produced at Talisker contributes towards Diageo's famous Johnnie Walker blended whisky range. The rest is released as single malts. The core range is small and contains a 10 years old, the 18 years old and this 'Distiller's Edition', which is finished in Amoroso sherry casks and released in regular batches. This batch was distilled in 1998 and bottled in 2009 with an alcoholic strength of 45.8% ABV. A 25 years old and a 30 years old are also released as limited editions.

The colour of this 'Distiller's Edition' is golden amber and the nose has a warm, welcoming feeling. There is a lovely mix of aromas - dark dried fruits (imagine raisins and sultanas), caramel, nuts (think of hazelnuts), malty cereals, Talisker's trademark peppery smoke, a hint of some cocoa powder - and they combine very well. On the palate, a spicy smokiness hits first (imagine cracked peppercorns and nutmeg) followed by rich, sweet dried fruits (the raisins and sultanas again, with some candied orange peel). The whisky feels velvety in the mouth and the initial characteristics are joined by sweet caramel, roasted nuts (think of almonds especially), something floral (reminiscent of heather), honey, just a hint of cocoa and a tang of saltiness. The complex mix of flavours carries through in to a spicy. It is malty (imagine cereal grains) and sweet before an earthy peatiness and spices (the peppercorns and nutmeg again) come through, making it feel drier at the end.

This version of 'Distiller's Edition' is lovely. The sherry cask influence has softened some of the more fiery characteristics associated with Talisker. We sampled it at a recent tasting (thanks to Colin Dunn from Diageo and Jo at TrimediaUK) where many of the other guests had not tasted much whisky and the general opinion was that 'Distiller's Edition' was easier to drink, richer and more palatable than the regular 10 years old. Having said that, while this 'Distiller's Edition' is very good, the Talisker 10 years old remains one of our favourite drams and is a classic whisky.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

'Address To A Haggis' by Robert Burns

robert burnsThe Address To A Haggis is a famous poem written by Scotsman Robert Burns. It was written as a celebration and homage to Scotland and all things Scottish and has become an integral part of the annual Burns Night celebrations and supper. The 'addressing' of the haggis is one of the central parts of the festivities that happen on or around January 25th (Burns' birth date) each year. For more information on the history and traditions of Burns Night, read our post Explain about ... Burns Night. Here we go (it helps if you have a Scottish accent!) ...

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!

Aboon them a' ye tak your place,

Painch, tripe, or thairm:

Weel are ye wordy of a grace

As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,

Your hurdies like a distant hill,

Your pin wad help to mend a mill

In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil

Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An' cut you up wi' ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,

Like onie ditch;

And then, O what a glorious sight,

Warm-reeking, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an' strive:

Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,

Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve

Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,

'Bethankit!' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout

Or olio that wad staw a sow,

Or fricassee wad mak her spew

Wi' perfect scunner,

Looks down wi' sneering, scornfu' view

On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! See him owre his trash,

As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,

His nieve a nit;

Tho' bluidy flood or field to dash,

O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis fed,

The trembling earth resounds his tread,

Clap in his walie nieve a blade,

He'll make it whistle;

An' legs, an' arms, an' heads will sned,

Like taps o' thrissle.

Ye pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,

An' dish them out their bill o' fare,

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,

Gie her a haggis!

clark mcginn 'addressing the haggis'Confused? Not sure that you understand a single word? We found this excellent modern day translation that may help you follow this classic poem. It is written by Clark McGinn, an eminent speaker at Burns Night suppers around the world and expert on Burns' poetry and language. We had the pleasure to meet him earlier this week and he can be seen giving his vibrant, energetic 'address' in the image to the left. He has written numerous books on the subject including The Ultimate Burns Supper Book and has a website If this doesn't help you understand it, then nothing will!

You've an honest, round and jolly face
Great chieftain of the sausage race!

Above them all you take your place,
Offal, tripe or lamb:

You are most worthy of a grace

As long's my arm.

The groaning platter there you fill,

Your buttocks like a distant hill,

Your skewer would help to mend a mill

In time of need,

While through your pores the dews distil

Like amber bead.

His knife is wiped with rustic might,
To cut you up with ready sleight,

Digging up gushing insides bright,
Like out a ditch;

And then, Oh what a glorious sight,

Warm, steaming, rich!

Then spoon for spoon, they stretch out fast:
On they drive - Hell take the last,

Till all their swollen guts so vast

Are tight as drums;
Then old Grandpa, most fit to burst,

'Thanks Be!' he hums.

Who, with a plate of French ragout,

Or pig-sickening oily stew,
Or fricassee to make you throw
With real distaste,

Looks down with a sneering, scornful view

On such a feast?

Poor devil! See him eat his trash,

As feeble as a withered rush,

His skinny legs a mere whip-lash,

His fist a nut;
Through a bloody flood or field to dash,

O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,

His big fist holds a knife of dread,
He'll make it whistle;

Chopping legs, arms, and every head

Like tops of thistle.

You powers, who make mankind your care,

And dish them out their bill of fare,
Old Scotland wants no soupy ware,

That splosh in dishes;

But if you wish her grateful prayer,

Give her a Haggis!

Explain about ... Burns Night

robert burnsBurns Night is an annual festival that celebrates the life and works of Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns (also known as Rabbie to his friends) and has a strong association with whisky. Burns is widely regarded as Scotland's national poet and the festival has become Scotland's unofficial national day. It is celebrated on January 25th, the date of Burns' birth. Burns Night has a rich heritage in Scottish culture and combines two of the nation's favourite pastimes, eating and drinking whisky, with the legendary poetry of Robert Burns.

Robert Burns was born in 1759 in the small town of Alloway, Ayrshire. The town is located two miles (3km) to the south of Ayr in the Lowland region of Scotland. The house where he was born is now the Burns Cottage Museum. Burns was tutored mostly by his father for his early education before starting formal schooling in 1772. His first attempt at poetry was in 1774 - it was entitled O, Once I Lov'd A Bonnie Lass and was inspired by his first love. He went on to write hundreds of poems and songs including famous works such as Tam O'Shanter, My Love Is Like A Red, Red Rose and Auld Lang Syne, which is traditionally sung around the English speaking world on New Year's Eve.

As time passed and Burns' work became more renowned, so did his reputation for liking whisky and women. His heavy drinking and adultery gained him notoriety and scorn within literary circles, although the quality and output of his works remained consistently high. His first illegitimate child was born in 1785 and he went on to father 12 children with four different women (although these totals are believed to both be higher!). He died on July 21 1796, aged just 37, of rheumatic fever that is believed to have been accelerated by a degenerative heart condition from his childhood. His final child was born two days later, on the day that he was buried with full civic and military honours. Burns' grave stands in a graveyard in Dumfries.

So how did Burns Night begin and what does it involve? It is believed that the first Burns Night took place over 200 years ago in 1801. This is less than five years after Burns' death and was celebrated by a group of scholars who were fans of his works. In the early days, it was seen as the perfect platform to celebrate Scotland and being Scottish, incorporating Burns' poetry, Scottish food (most notably haggis, neeps and tatties) and copious amounts of whisky. The popularity and celebrations grew year on year until we have the Burns Night that we know today.

The modern Burns Night supper has evolved over time but remains quintessentially (some would say, stereotypically) Scottish. The core of the supper is the haggis (a mixture of offal, cereal grains, oatmeal, herbs and spices wrapped in the lining of a sheep's stomach) and this is served with neeps and tatties (turnip/swede and potato). This can be proceeded by a soup based starter - the three most common are Scotch Broth (a thick soup that contains barley and anything else that you may have), Cullen Skink (a fish based chowder) or Cock-a-leekie soup (the clue is in the name - it's chicken and leeks, then prunes are added). Dessert can take any form (if you have space or haven't had a heart attack by this point!), with cheese, Cranachan (whipped cream, whisky, raspberries and oatmeal) or Clootie Dumpling (a cake made with dried fruit, condensed milk, spices and golden syrup, then cooked in a cloth or cloot in Gaelic) being the most popular. These are traditionally accompanied by whisky at every opportunity.

addressing the haggisThe main ceremonial part involves the reading of Address To A Haggis - a poem written by Robert Burns to celebrate Scotland and its national food. The haggis is bought in and placed on a table and then the reader performs the poem to the haggis and the crowd. This can be accompanied by bagpipes at larger events (as seen in the image, left). The final act of the poem is to slash the stomach membrane of the haggis to reveal its contents and for the reader to down a dram of whisky (occassionally, another dram can be poured over the steaming haggis). Then the rule is to toast the haggis, have a fun evening and drink whisky!

Other Burns Night facts ...
* Approximately 15 million people worldwide annually celebrate Burns Night.
* There are statues of Robert Burns in Central Park, New York and at Poet's Corner in Hyde Park, London.
* It is estimated that 70% of the UK's annual haggis consumption happens on or around Burns Night.
* Burns Night contributes a staggering £150 million to the Scottish economy each year.
* The poetry of Robert Burns have been translated in to almost every known language and have been used in the works of legendary figures such as Jimmy Hendrix and The Beatles.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

News ... Diageo 'Manager's Choice Single Cask Collection' (Part 2)

This week has seen the release of the second phase of Diageo's 'Manager's Choice Single Cask Collection', which is an exclusive limited range of whiskies that are being released on four different dates. The idea for the range was that each of the managers of Diageo's 27 whisky distilleries in Scotland were asked to select just one cask from their maturing stock. This cask was to represent the definitive taste of their distillery's product and character. All are released at their natural cask strength. As each manager has only selected one cask, the number of bottles of each whisky is limited. This makes each one very rare and the prices reflect this (all are in the £200-300 bracket).

There was much discussion about the first release of the 'Manager's Choice Single Cask Collection' on blogs, websites and forums, with the majority focusing on the youthful ages and high prices. Due to the very limited nature of the releases, tasting notes and other information for the first release were scarce. There seems to be a similar story for this second release, with very few tasting notes around so far (check out Cask Strength for this, they have tried a couple of them). Information regarding the third and fourth phase releases is even sketchier.

Here, we have tried to gather as much information as we can about the 'Manager's Choice' series. The information for the first release can be seen on our original post, written last September - click here to read that article. For this second phase, we have included the RRP (recommended retail price) in the UK, the predominant cask that the whisky has been matured in, the alcoholic strength (ABV), the number of bottles available, plus the distilling and bottling dates. These all appear in brackets next to each whisky. For the third and fourth releases, we have still only been able to find the RRP to date, but plan to add more information when we can.

Release 2 - 11th January 2010
Blair Athol (£200/ex-sherry cask/57.4% ABV/570 bottles/distilled 1995, bottled 2009)
Cragganmore (£250/ex-sherry cask/59.7% ABV/564 bottles/distilled 1997, bottled 2009)
Dalwhinnie (£250/ex-bourbon cask/51% ABV/ 270 bottles/distilled 1992, bottled 2009)
Dufftown (£250/ex-bourbon cask/59.5% ABV/282 bottles/distilled 1997, bottled 2009)
Glen Spey (£200/new American oak cask/52% ABV/276 bottles/distilled 1996, bottled 2009)
Strathmill (£200/new American oak cask/60.1% ABV/300 bottles/distilled 1999, bottled 2009)
Talisker (£300/ex-sherry cask/58.6% ABV/582 bottles/distilled 1994, bottled 2009)

Release 3 - 4th March 2010
Caol Ila (£300), Dailuaine (£200), Glen Ord (£250), Glenkinchie (£250), Inchgower (£200), Mannochmore (£200), Royal Lochnagar (£250)

Release 4 - 4th June 2010
Auchroisk (£200), Benrinnes (£200), Clynelish (£250), Glendullan (£200), Glenlossie (£200), Knockando (£250), Lagavulin (£300)

There is also a rumour that Diageo may release a whisky from their new Roseisle distillery as part of this series. The whisky is still maturing to reach the legal age of three years and if true, this will be the first ever bottling of a single malt whisky from Roseisle.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

In the whisky cupboard ... Laphroaig Quarter Cask

laphroaig quarter caskLaphroaig (pronounced la-froyg) is one of the most famous whisky distilleries in the world. It is located on the island of Islay, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. Laphroaig is renowned for producing very smoky, peaty flavoured whisky and the 10 years old in their range is the best selling smoky whisky in the world. The distillery was founded in 1810 by two brothers, Aleaxander and Donald Johnson, and is currently owned by drinks corporation Beam Global. It has an annual production capacity of 2.9 million litres and they produce some of the smokiest whiskies in the world there.

The Quarter Cask is of a younger age to the best selling 10 years old expression (rumours are that it is 5-7 years old). The main difference is that Laphroaig partly mature the spirit in smaller casks that are a quarter of the size of a regular cask (these quarter casks hold approximately 50 litres each). This recreates the traditional practice when all whisky casks were roughly that size - a practice which has now largely died out. This means that the whisky has up to 60% greater contact with the oak than in a regular modern day whisky cask and therefore, the oak has a greater influence than normal on the final flavour.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask is bottled at the slightly higher 48% ABV. The colour is golden with a touch of amber and the nose is pungent, aromatic and very promising. It is a feisty mixture of the powerful smoke (imagine sticking your head in a bonfire) and earthy notes (think of wet moss), coupled with an underlying sweetness of malted barley, caramel and tropical fruit (this sounds strange but think of tinned fruit cocktail). There is also a distinct salty, briny note present that is reminiscent of seaweed or sea spray. On the palate, the sweet peaty smokiness leads the way but it feels more like burning ash or the embers of a bonfire now and this gives a gripping, bitter edge to the whisky. It feels thick and slightly oily in the mouth and the peat is complimented by some caramel and toffee, plenty of vanilla, sweet malty cereals and that distinct briny saltiness. Despite its robust nature, the saltiness refreshes the palate and leaves you wanting more (or maybe that's just us!). The finish is long, with the ashy smoke lingering before slowly fading away. The sweet caramel, vanilla and malt elements are counteracted by the saltiness, something bitter (imagine iodine and burning bonfire embers) and some peppery spice. The result is that it ends up being pretty dry. It is easy to see why many describe the feeling of Laphroaig as having an antiseptic or 'medicinal' quality.

What a cracking whisky this is! It is certainly not going to be to everyone's taste but if you like your heavily smoky whiskies, then you simply have to try this. The complex combinations of sweet, smoky and salty elements work very well and offers excellent value for money. Laphroaig Quarter Cask is readily available from specialist whisky stores, larger supermarkets and travel retail/Duty Free. A 70cl bottle should cost £25-30.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Have just tried ... Paddy Old Irish Whiskey

paddy old irish whiskeyPaddy is an Irish whiskey that has a rich heritage. It was first produced by the Cork Distilleries Company in 1779 and was called Cork Distillery Old Irish Whiskey (not the catchiest name, was it?). In 1881, a new salesman joined the distillery and he was soon to become legendary. His name was Paddy Flaherty and his sales technique and figures led to the profits of Cork Distillery Old Irish Whiskey rocketing. His name became synonymous with the product to the point where people all over Ireland would ask, "Have you tried Paddy's whiskey?".

The name was changed by popular demand in 1912 and Paddy whiskey has been available ever since. The whiskey is distilled three times (as most Irish whiskies are) in small pot stills. It has a particularly high malted barley content compared to other Irish whiskies and is then matured in ex-bourbon casks for seven years. Sadly, Paddy is now increasingly hard to find in the UK following the decision by Midleton, the current owners of the brand, to restrict the export of it and some of its other brands. If you can find a bottle (check out smaller convenience or liquor stores especially - that's where we found it), then it should cost £15-20.

As mentioned, Paddy is now 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, Powers, Redbreast and Tullamore Dew.

The colour of Paddy is a pale golden yellow and the nose is aromatic and clean. There is plenty of fresh vanilla and malted cereals up front, before they are joined by some lovely honey, nutty (think of almonds and hazelnuts), oaky and grassy notes (imagine dried grasses or hay). On the palate, this whiskey is mild, soft and light with the mellow malted barley and vanilla again particularly prominent. A very strong honeyed note then comes through and this is joined by other elements - sweet coconut, some toffee, more grassiness (dried hay again), toasted nuts (almonds especially) and some woody spice (think of cinnamon). The finish is soft, sweet and very malty and grainy. The finish lingers for a good length of time considering the general lightness of the whiskey. It becomes quite dry and woody right at the end and this is joined by a strange slightly metallic note.

Paddy is a lovely, light and fresh whiskey ("quaffable" we once heard it described as!). It is very easy drinking and would be a great introduction to Irish whiskey for a beginner. The whiskey is uncomplicated but thoroughly enjoyable and refreshing. The good pricing also means that it represents decent value for money (if you can find it...).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Have just tried ... Old Pulteney 'Isabella Fortuna' WK499

The Old Pulteney distillery is the most northerly mainland distillery in Scotland. Located near to the Highland fishing town of Wick, it lies around 15 mile south of John O'Groats. Old Pulteney is currently owned by Inver House and has a production capacity of three million litres a year. It is also one of the most environmentally friendly distilleries with the excess thermal energy produced there being used to heat over 1000 local homes! The distillery was founded in 1826 and was named after Sir William Johnstone Pulteney, who was the biggest name in herring fishing at the time. This makes it one of the few distilleries to be named after a person.

Old Pulteney's core range consists of a 12, 17, 21 and 30 years old. The brand has grown massively in the last three years and this has seen Old Pulteney climb into the top 20 for world sales of single malts. Worldwide sales grew by 16% alone in 2008. This expression of Old Pulteney was first released last year and is exclusive to the travel retail/Duty Free sector. It is rumoured to include Old Pulteney whiskies of differing ages (between 8 and 12 years) and is bottled at 52% ABV. A one litre bottle should cost around £35.

The name Isabella Fortuna WK499 is taken from a herring trawler that served the port of Wick for over 80 years. The Isabella Fortuna was one of the longest serving boats ever - it was built in 1890 and fished for herring in the North Sea until being retired in 1976. She was registered to the port of Wick, , hence the code WK and 499 was her registration number. An etching of the boat appears on the bottle of this Old Pulteney.

The colour is light golden and the nose feels crisp, fragrant and very promising. There is an immediate hit of vanilla, fresh coconut and green fruit (imagine pears and apples) before a distinct maltiness (think of cereal grains) and a hint of saltiness (imagine salty sea air or brine) comes through. On the palate, the vanilla, coconut and green fruit are evident and it feels slightly heavier than the nose suggested. There is a creamy butter-like quality in the mouth and it is sweeter with a fudge/toffee note particularly prominent. The saltiness is also stronger and very brine-like and is joined by some tangy citrus (think of lemon zest). The combination of all these elements gives a slightly odd zingy, fizzy feeling that is reminiscent of sherbet or bicarbonate of soda and is, frankly, not very pleasant. This is disappointing, as the nose was very promising. However, the finish is more disappointing as it is bitter and dry, with woody and malty (think of the cereal husks especially) notes dominating. Adding water brought out more of the bitter, salty notes and while it softened that 'fizzy' feeling, it flattened out the enjoyable fresh, clean elements of the nose and early palate.

This Isabella Fortuna WK499 is definitely not one for the masses. If you like your whiskies crisp, salty, intense and tangy then it is one you should try, especially for the very decent price. If not, then you may find this hard going. The nose is lovely, the palate starts well but the dram gets progressively less enjoyable from there, which was disappointing given the early promise.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Our Top 10 whisky blogs

Whisky for Everyone Top 10The number of whisky blogs on the internet has risen massively over the last couple of years and each contributes to a lively and vibrant whisky community online. From comments that we have received, a whisky blog seems to tap into something in people - they don't want to wade through endless pages of convoluted notes, they like up-to-date and honest reviews that are concise and describe whisky in layman's terms and they value the writer's personal opinions as these are perceived to be more genuine than manufacturer's notes or other PR material.

A couple of other blogs have stolen our thunder a bit by publishing articles about the number and quality of whisky blogs on the web, since we began writing this post. But that is the beauty of the online whisky community - there is enough room for everyone's voice and opinions. The fact that each blog is written by different people, with different writing styles and with differing opinions is what makes it so interesting.

We have decided to champion some of the best whisky blogs that we have discovered since we first joined the community less than two years ago. We have made many friends and acquaintances along the way and this Top 10 is a tribute to each one's work (well actually it's a Top 11 as we couldn't choose which one of our favourites to leave one out!). It would be unfair to rank these, as each offers something unique and which you prefer is up to you, so we have listed them in alphabetical order. A similar list of our favourite whisky websites will follow shortly.

cask strength logoCask Strength
This is one of our fellow London based blogs and we regularly bump in to writers Neil and Joel at various functions around the city. Cask Strength offers an eclectic mix of informative, highly descriptive tasting notes, whisky hot topics and interesting travel pieces relating to whisky (check out the reviews of their trips to Japan and Islay). This feels different from any other whisky blog, so you must pay a visit to 'Cask Strength Towers'. Look out for their ever changing 'profile pictures' also!

dr whiskyDr. Whisky
One of the pioneers of the online whisky blog, Sam began Dr. Whisky around three years ago. His 'Malt Missions', which are now totalling almost 400, hold legendary status and offer probably the most descriptive and thought provoking tasting notes available anywhere. He also, importantly, has some background to the whisky in question, giving it context. In addition, there are articles on hot industry topics and while he may not post as regularly as in the past, each one is of the highest quality and a 'must read'. Go check out what the Doctor has ordered!

edinburgh whiskyEdinburgh Whisky
Lucas and Chris write one of our favourite blogs and cover pretty much anything whisky related. They are lucky to be situated in Edinburgh and bring their industry experience to the world from there. Edinburgh Whisky includes comprehensive tasting reviews, bar reviews, whisky news, book and website reviews, cocktail recipes and interviews with industry experts. They are also never frightened to offer a controversial viewpoint, that others may think but dare to write!

guid scotch drink logoGuid Scotch Drink
A cracking blog that is written by Jason Johnstone-Yellin. It was formerly an extension of the Whisky Host website but Jason has now decided to go solo and has transferred everything to this new site. The blog offers whisky reviews, latest news and various other snippets of information and fun video clips. Our particular favourite parts are their 'What did I learn this week?' (a section which breaks down both the serious and slightly more irreverent whisky related news/stories from around the world) and the entertaining 'Say what?' series, which explains some of the more unusual tasting notes found in some whisky reviews. Excellent thorough tasting notes also.

richard paterson - master blenderMaster Blender
This is the online presence of the legendary Whyte & Mackay master blender Richard Paterson (well, in addition to his Facebook and Twitter accounts and Whyte & Mackay's website!). Richard offers a wealth of insider industry information, the workings of Whyte & Mackay and even the odd recipe/cocktail in which you can use his whiskies. Anyone that has met him will not be surprised to know that it is written in a very expressive yet informative way. There is naturally a huge Whyte & Mackay bias but Richard's experience in the industry cannot be ignored.

nonjatta logoNonjatta
If you need to know anything about Japanese whisky, then look no further than the excellent Nonjatta. It is the most comprehensive guide to Japanese whisky and the Japanese whisky industry that is available in English. It is written by Chris Bunting, a British journalist and whisky lover, who lives in Tokyo and he has an impressive list of guest writers including Ulf Buxrud, Serge Valentin and Dr. Whisky. The back catalogue of tasting notes is extensive and very impressive.

scotch hobbyistScotch Hobbyist
We really enjoy reading this blog and it includes down to earth, informative tasting notes and other whisky news and views. Jeff, the writer and founder of Scotch Hobbyist, has also devised his own unique scoring system that ensures he is consistent between all of his tastings. We like the way this system is used and the part where he explains what he thinks would improve or decrease the score given and which other whisky the sample can be compared to.

what does john know?What Does John Know?
What does John know? Pretty much everything that you need to know about whisky! The John in question is John Hansell, the publisher and editor of the esteemed whisky magazine Malt Advocate. If you want to keep up-to-date with everything to do with the world of whisky - new and forthcoming releases, distillery and industry news, tasting notes, PR/press releases - then this is the place. John has many followers and some of the comment streams at the end of posts are well worth checking out, as there are few places where you will see such whisky debate. John is a true whisky guru.

whisky fun logoWhisky Fun
Serge Valentin is the brains behind Whisky Fun and he has almost single handedly pioneered whisky online. Serge is a legend in the whisky world and started Whisky Fun seven years ago. He also part-runs the iconic Malt Maniacs website. Whisky Fun is an eclectic mix of highly detailed tasting notes, news and music/concert reviews. The back catalogue that has built up over time is massive and almost any whisky that you care to try and find will be on there - you must check it out. A unique, excellent blog that all other whisky blogs aspire to be.

whisky notes logoWhisky Notes
An excellent blog written by Ruben, who seems to share his time between living in Spain and Belgium. Whisky Notes has only been going for a year but Ruben has already built up a back catalogue of over 200 whiskies, including some that are only available in mainland Europe and not in the UK. Most of the blog posts are whisky reviews and these are concise yet descriptive with a little background information about the bottling included. Other articles includes whisky news and views.

whisky party logoWhisky Party
Whisky Party are Mike, Mike and Dan and they have the mission to "demystify the world of scotch drinking and help folks find good whiskies at good prices". And they do it very well! The blog has a number of unique and interesting features that makes it stands out - they have a 'Whiskies under $40' series, 'Best in blog' (a regular round up of the latest interesting articles from whisky blogs around the world) and also news of tastings and bar reviews in their local New York and Chicago areas. They also include their own concise and informative tasting notes from their private whisky collections, as well as whisky news and other interesting articles. One of our Top 3 favourites.

If you regularly read these 11 fine blogs (plus Whisky For Everyone of cause!), then you have pretty much all facets of the world of whisky covered. In addition, there are many other good whisky blogs on the internet, but that we have only just discovered or know the writers less well. Check these out as again each one offers a different perspective - Dubber & Clutch, Malt Imposter, Ralfy, Scotch Blog, Scotch Chix, The Whisky Exchange Blog and Whisk(e)y Apostle. There is also the new Whisky Israel blog, where our good friend Gal battles the astronomical Israeli tax rates on alcohol to bring his expert and descriptive tasting notes. He also produces another blog in Hebrew.

Please note - all images and logos are taken from the original sites.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Have just tried ... Glencadam 1990 16 years old from A. D. Rattray

glencadam 16 years old from a. d. rattrayGlencadam is a little known distillery that is located in the eastern Highlands. It was built in the town of Brechin (between Dundee and Aberdeen) in 1825 and is the last remaining distillery in an area that was once a thriving whisky producing area. The current owners are Angus Dundee Distillers and they took over the distillery and in 2003. It had been closed by the previous owners in 2000, but kept intact so that production could restart when required (this is known as 'mothballing'). They soon had Glencadam running back at full capacity (approx. 1.4 million litres per year). Glencadam has a reknowned history for producing and supplying whisky to Scotland's biggest blending houses and formed an important part of top selling blends like Ballantine's and Teacher's.

A.D. Rattray is one of Scotland's best known independent whisky bottlers and was originally an importing company for wine, olive oil, continental spirits and aperitifs. Formerly known as Dewar Rattray, it was founded by Andrew Dewar and William Rattray in 1868 and soon became involved in the bottling and blending of whisky from some of the local distilleries. Nowadays, the company is run by Tim Morrison, who is a fourth generation descendent of Andrew Dewar. He took control in 2004 and independently resources top quality whiskies from all over Scotland, with the aim to bring unusual, different and single cask whisky to the consumer. For further information, go to

This Glencadam was distilled in 1990 and bottled at 16 years of age. It is a single cask release (a bourbon cask), consisting of just 271 bottles and is at cask strength (a hefty 59.7% ABV in this case!). The colour is bright and golden and the nose intense but very fresh. There is a lot of malty cereal grain initially with a lovely combination of intense coconut, vanilla and a hint of dried fruits (think of apricot especially) coming through. On the palate, this is clean, lively and again very fresh. Despite the high alcohol content, the whisky feels very well balanced but we did try it with some water later. The maltiness is again the first thing that appears before being quickly joined by the vanilla, coconut and apricot notes from the nose. In addition, there are some oak, toffee, nuts (think of almonds) and spices (imagine nutmeg) that add to the complexity. With water, it feels creamier in the mouth and the initial zingy nature is reduced, with even more maltiness and nuttiness. The finish is lovely and long with a heap of toffee, vanilla and coconut. The prominent maltiness is strong, almost to the point of becoming a little too dry for comfort. Otherwise, an absolutely cracking dram.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New releases ... Hazelburn CV

the campbeltown cv packHazelburn CV forms part of a new series of whiskies for 2010 from the cult Springbank distillery. Springbank is located in the town of Campbeltown, which is found on a narrow peninsula on the west Highland coast of Scotland.The distillery is unique in the fact that it regularly produces three different single malts on the same site - Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn - and each has its own definitive style. Springbank is lightly smoky, Longrow is very smoky and Hazelburn is not smoky at all but is distilled three times (compared to twice, which is the Scottish norm).

Hazelburn whisky was first distilled at Springbank 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), a 12 years old which was first released in August 2009 and now this CV version. Hazelburn is named after one of the long defunct Campbeltown distilleries, as is Longrow.

J & A Mitchell, the owners of Springbank, have decided to add Hazelburn and Springbank CV to the already existing Longrow CV, that was first released about two years ago. The CV stands for 'Curriculum Vitae' and the whiskies are created using single malts of varying ages from each expression. At this moment, they are only available in a pack which contains one 20cl bottle of each expression. This is on sale as the 'Campbeltown CV pack' for about £35 and all are bottled at 46% ABV. The news is that full 70cl bottles of the Springbank CV will be available very soon in late January, with the 70cl bottles of the Hazelburn CV coming later in March/April 2010 depending on stock levels. Prices are as yet unavailable.

The Hazelburn CV (pictured above, in the centre) has a light golden, almost straw-like colour. The nose is aromatic and clean with a lovely initial hit of fresh green fruit (imagine a pear or apple). Following this comes a tempting mix of sweet vanilla, malty cereal grains, honey and something floral (think of honeysuckle). The nose does exactly what it should and make you want to taste the whisky immediately! On the palate, this does not disappoint - it is again clean and fresh and slightly fuller bodied than the nose suggested. It feels creamy with the honey as the prominent note, backed up by the sweet vanilla, malty cereals, a hint of honeysuckle and green fruits from the nose. The whisky becomes sweeter with the addition of a dash of water, with the green fruits particularly coming out and getting more exaggerated (think of peardrop sweets). The finish is reasonably long, pure and refreshing, combining all the elements before fading away. The honeyed and vanilla notes are lovely.

Hazelburn CV is the first great whisky of 2010 (OK, it was released just before Christmas but who is counting?). The whisky is fantastically fresh and is softer and more balanced than the previous Hazelburn releases that we have sampled (these have been heavily influenced by the sherry cask maturation that they have undergone and while being of good quality and enjoyable to drink, the subtly of the whisky is in danger of being lost). It is similar to some Lowland whiskies, that are light, clean and floral in style. Let's hope that J & A Mitchell find enough stock to give this whisky a deserved full release!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New releases ... Springbank CV

the campbeltown cv packThis new release forms part of a new series of whiskies for 2010 from the cult Springbank distillery. The distillery is unique in the fact that it regularly produces three different single malts on the same site - Springbank, Longrow and Hazelburn - and each has its own definitive style. Springbank is lightly smoky, Longrow is very smoky and Hazelburn is not smoky at all but is distilled three times (compared to twice, which is the Scottish norm).

The Springbank distillery is located in the town of Campbeltown, which is found on a narrow peninsula on the west Highland coast of Scotland. It is Scotland's oldest distillery that has been continuously owned by the same family, the Mitchell's. Springbank was set up in 1828 by the Reid family (who were related to the Mitchell's by marriage) and it later passed fully to the Mitchell family. Springbank has a small capacity with a maximum production capacity of 750,000 litres per year and is one of the few distilleries to do all parts of production on their own site including malting the barley, distillation and bottling.

As mentioned, Springbank CV forms part of a new series. J & A Mitchell, the owners of Springbank, first released a version of Longrow CV roughly two years ago and have now created a new version. To this, they have decided to add Springbank and Hazelburn CV. The CV stands for 'Curriculum Vitae' and the whiskies are created using single malts of varying ages from each expression. At this moment, they are only available in a pack which contains one 20cl bottle of each expression. This is on sale as the 'Campbeltown CV pack' for about £35 and all are bottled at 46% ABV. The news is that full 70cl bottles of the Springbank CV will be available very soon in late January, with the 70cl bottles of the Hazelburn and new Longrow CVs coming later in March/April 2010 depending on stock levels. Prices are as yet unavailable.

We were very lucky to be able to get a sneak preview of these new whiskies. The reviews for the Hazelburn and Longrow versions will follow shortly. This Springbank CV is dark golden amber in colour and the nose is pungent and expressive. The two main elements that come to the fore are some dark sweet caramel and a sulphuric smokiness (think of coal smoke or burnt match heads). Through these come other notes - dried fruits (imagine raisins and candied orange peel), toasted nuts (especially almonds), a salty whiff and a hint of liquorice. On the palate, this is rich, mouth coating and initially sweet. The dark, almost burnt, caramel is prominent before some dried fruits (raisins and peel again), woody spices (think of cinnamon) and salty brine-like notes battle through. The smokiness starts pleasantly peaty (imagine damp earth) before turning sulphuric again. At the last moment, the palate become quite dry, woody and particularly spicy and this feeling carries through to the reasonably long finish (in fact, it becomes quite bitter right at the end). The sulphuric edge to the smokiness is dulled with the addition of water, as is the bitterness.

The Springbank CV is an interesting whisky. We tried it with a huge Springbank fan and he was disappointed by it, saying that it lacked 'distillery character', complexity and was "a bit flat". We would say that it is expressive, robust and uncomplicated but it was really the prominent sulphur on the nose, palate and finish was our main disappointment. Other than that, this whisky was pleasant especially with the addition of a few drops of water. Then the lovely fruity and caramel sweetness were allowed to shine.