Monday, February 22, 2010

Have just tried ... Caol Ila 12 years old

Islay's largest!
Caol Ila is a distillery on Islay, the island famous for its smoky style of whisky. It is the largest distillery on the island with an annual production capacity of 3.5 million litres but despite this, is one of the least known. The reason is that the majority of the stock goes to the Johnnie Walker blended whisky range, which is produced by the current owners, Diageo. The core range of single malts currently includes this 12 years old, an 18 years old, a cask strength version and a limited ‘Distiller’s Edition’ which is matured for its last two years in Moscatel fortified wine casks. Other limited bottlings are occasionally released and Caol Ila is extremely popular with the independent bottling companies.

A rugged location
Caol Ila was founded in 1846 by Hector Henderson, who had formerly owned the Littlemill distillery near Glasgow. It is located on the northeast coast of the island and means ‘Sound of Islay’ in Gaelic. This is the name of the fast flowing, narrow stretch of water that separates Islay from the neighbouring island of Jura and the distillery overlooks this. It has a remote location and is surrounded by cliffs and caves on three sides. This difficult site was selected for its proximity to an abundant water supply from a nearby loch and the good access to local shipping routes.

Our tasting notes
The colour of Caol Ila 12 years old is dark and golden and it has a nose that is lovely and peaty. There is a mixture of sweet, earthy smoke (imagine damp moss and bonfires) and saltiness (this reminds us of sea water/brine). There is also something herbal (think of dried grass or dried seaweed), a distinct meaty quality, that is reminiscent of smoky bacon crisps, and a hint of smoked fish (sounds odd but think of kippers!). The palate is robust but smooth with a lovely blend of flavours. It has a malty sweetness that combines with vanilla, a hint of citrus (imagine lemon zest), some salty seaweed and a slightly more understated peatiness (this feels more tarry than on the nose). This whisky feels heavy, yet clean and almost oily/creamy in the mouth. The finish is long, salty and smoky (now a cross between tar and meat smoke from a barbeque), with a drier feeling than the nose and palate. Some warm woody spices also start to come through right at the end (think of nutmeg or cinnamon).

What's the verdict?
Caol Ila 12 years old is the most popular and readily available of the current single malt range, although you will still have to go to a specialist or Duty Free/travel retail shop to find it. This whisky is a very good, well rounded smoky whisky from a much under rated distillery. It offers good value and a decent alternative to some of the more famous smoky Islay scotch whiskies, such as Ardbeg, Bowmore, Lagavulin or Laphroaig. A bottle should cost around £30-35 a bottle.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

New releases ... Benriach 18 years old Gaja Barolo finish

benriach 18 years old gaja barolo finishBenriach (pronounced ben-ree-ack) is a distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland and is located approximately 3 miles to the south of the city of Elgin. The distillery was founded in 1897 by John Duff & Co. They had already built the Longmorn distillery on a neighbouring plot of farmland in 1894 (you can seen Longmorn at the end of the road, when standing at Benriach). The original name was the slightly unimaginative Longmorn 2, before changing to Benriach in 1899. The distillery currently has a production capacity of 2.8 million litres per year, with most being released as single malts.

Independently owned
Benriach had a very short early history – it was closed and mothballed in 1903 and not reopened until 1965, when it was bought and restarted . It was closed and mothballed again in 2002. In 2004, an independent group named the Benriach Distillery Company took over the distillery and all of its maturing stock. This group was headed by Billy Walker, a former director of Burn Stewart Distillers. This makes Benriach one of the few remaining distilleries in Scotland that is independently owned. To read about our visit to Benriach last year, click here.

An innovative distillery
Benriach has one of the most innovative ranges of any Scottish distillery - the expansive regular range is matured in ex-bourbon casks, with an additional range of different casks finished whiskies and two smoky ones (they make peaty whisky at Benriach for roughly three weeks every year, which is an unusual practice for a Speyside distillery). They then also release another range that combines the smoky whiskies and the cask finishing! This 18 years old is one of two new limited edition whiskies that have just been released – this one has been matured for 15 years in a bourbon cask and then three years in a Gaja Barolo red wine cask. The other new release has been matured for the same times but using a Moscatel wine cask in place of the Gaja Barolo. Both releases are limited to just 3600 bottles.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this whisky is golden amber and the nose is rich, fragrant and appetising. There are a number of aromas that are present including obvious ones such as rich dried fruits (think of sultanas and raisins), caramel, vanilla and cereal grains. Underneath are more subtle notes - oranges, wood spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg) and coconut. The complexity of the nose carries through to the palate, which is warm, silky and spicy (think of white pepper). The elements from the nose are present - dried fruit, caramel, vanilla, cereals, orange (imagine something like marmalade), woody spices and coconut - and the richness and sweetness is complimented by that pepper and some tannic red fruit (think of sweet prunes and raisins). The finish is long, spicy (the pepper and nutmeg are especially prominent) and vibrant. There is a distinct sweet brown sugar note that then becomes quite orange-like before becoming dry, woody and tannic. With the addition of water, the spices are softened across the nose, palate and finish with some honeyed sweetness and a hint of dried grass (think of hay) coming out.

What's the verdict?
This Benriach 18 years old Gaja Barolo finish is available through specialist whisky retailers and should cost £50-55 a bottle (the Moscatel finish is the same price). It is a lovely, complex whisky and is our favourite new release of 2010 to date. The whisky offers an incredible mix of richness, subtlety and spiciness and demonstrates how interesting and good quality a wine cask matured whisky can be. Wine cask maturing is a current hot trend in the whisky trade and it is a shame that not all of them are up to this standard. A top dram.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Have just tried ... Glenfiddich 18 years old

glenfiddich 18 years oldScotland’s largest
Glenfiddich is the most famous whisky distillery and brand in the world. The distillery is located on the outskirts of the town of Dufftown in the Speyside region. The name is taken from the Glen Fiddich, the valley where it lies and translates as 'valley of the deer' from Gaelic. This reference led to the origin of Glenfiddich's famous stag logo. The site has grown to be massive and has a capacity of 10 million litres per year – this makes it Scotland's largest distillery. It has a staggering 29 stills, 45 warehouses for maturation and its own cooperage, coppersmith and bottling centre.

A whisky innovator
Glenfiddich's world domination of the single malt market is due to their continued innovation. They were the first distillery to consistently bring single malt whisky to the international market in the early 1960s, the first single malt to be sold in an airport travel retail shop in 1963 and the first to open a visitor centre in 1969. Following their successes, other distilleries followed their strategies. Now, Glenfiddich is sold in nearly every country and accounts for nearly 35% of all single malt sales in the world. Many argue that without Glenfiddich’s innovation, the whisky market would not be what it is today.

Family owned
Glenfiddich is unusual as it is a family owned business. The distillery is owned by the same family that established it - William Grant began construction of the Glenfiddich distillery in 1886 and William Grant & Sons was formed in 1903. They cannot have imagined the massive success that it would become. The distillery is currently owned by the fifth generation of the Grant family. They also own Balvenie, which was built on neighbouring land in 1892, and Kininvie, which was also built nearby in 1990. Unlike many other distilleries, 90% of all whisky produced at Glenfiddich is bottled as single malt.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Glenfiddich 18 years old is a light golden yellow and the nose is fresh, vibrant and promising. There is obvious vanilla, oak and malted barley to begin with and these are complimented by other aromas - fresh green fruit (think of pears and apples), dried fruit (imagine sultanas), citrus peel (especially oranges), dried grasses (or hay) and a whiff of ashy smoke. On the palate, this whisky feels soft and velvety and has a clear sherry cask influence. There are elements of sultana, raisin, candied orange peel and wood spice (think of cinnamon and nutmeg). Other characteristics present include cereal grains, nuts (imagine a creamy nut like almonds and hazelnuts), vanilla and plenty of honey. The finish is clean, fresh and pleasantly long with the honey, dried fruits (especially the candied orange peel) and warm spices prominent.

What's the verdict?
Glenfiddich 18 years old is a very pleasant and easy drinking whisky. It is soft and approachable yet with extra complexity compared to the more readily available younger expressions. This is a whisky to treat yourself with and also offers very good value in comparison to its 18 years old competitors. A bottle should cost you around £45 and should be found in larger supermarkets and specialist whisky or liquor stores. It's well worth a try for the price and it is easy to see why Glenfiddich whisky is so popular throughout the world.

New releases ... Ardbeg Rollercoaster

ardbeg rollercoasterArdbeg – a cult distillery
The Rollercoaster is one of the most eagerly anticipated new single malt whisky releases of 2010 to date. It is from the innovative Ardbeg distillery on the western Scottish island of Islay. Islay is the spiritual home of the world's smoky style of whisky and Ardbeg forms an important part of the island's history, having been founded in 1815. The distillery is renowned for its production of smoky whiskies and has a large cult following around the world, despite only producing one million litres of spirit per year.

10 years, 10 casks
The release of Rollercoaster is exclusive to Ardbeg Committee members and is released to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Committee, which was started in 2000. The whisky is a vatting (or mixture of single malts) of 10 casks of Ardbeg of differing ages. Each cask represents one of the 10 years that the Ardbeg Committee has been running. The oldest whisky included was distilled in 1997, then 1998, 1999 and so on until you get to the youngest whisky, which is just three years old (the minimum legal age for Scotch whisky) and was distilled in 2006. Most of the casks are ex-bourbon but some are ex-sherry. It is bottled at 57.3% ABV, costs £50 a bottle and is released in mid February 2010.

ardbeg mailer for rollercoasterWhat’s with the name?
Rollercoaster may seem a strange name for a whisky but it fits perfectly with the modern outlook of Ardbeg as a distillery and brand. Take one look at their innovative website ( or marketing material and you will see that it is different from most other distilleries. They combine strong traditions with this innovation and this allows them to combine the two elements in their range. As a result you have whiskies with Gaelic inspired names such as Airigh Nam Beist, Corryvreckan and Uigeadail alongside the Supernova and this new Rollercoaster. We thank Davinia Small from Ardbeg for the opportunity to sample this new whisky.

Our tasting notes
The colour is golden and the nose is powerful and pungent. There is plenty going on here – the rich smoky peat is obvious and seems to be a cross between damp moss, a bonfire and sooty coal smoke. The overall feeling is quite acrid, industrial and mechanical. Underneath this potent smoke are more subtle elements – caramel, dried fruits (think of pear, raisins and apple), iodine, salt and something like menthol or eucalyptus. On the palate, this is powerful and spicy (think of red chilli peppers). The acrid smokiness fills your mouth and nasal cavities and is reminiscent of combination of strong antiseptic, fresh tarmac, coal soot and bonfire embers. Sweet caramel and vanilla begin to come through and these are joined by dried fruit (imagine sultanas, apple and pear), some tangy citrus zest (lime, we think), a distinct saltiness (think of brine or sea water) and menthol. The finish is extremely long and spicy (those chillis again), with the smoke seeming to burn away forever.

With the addition of water, the nose softens and becomes less pungent to reveal more sweet vanilla, fresh green fruits (pears and apples especially) and some lovely malted cereals. The palate becomes creamier with vanilla, coconut, dried grasses and sweet mossy flavours being allowed through. The finish is still long and smoky but is softer, sweeter and less spicy.

What’s the verdict?
Ardbeg Rollercoaster is good but is one for the big peaty smoky whisky fans - most others may find it hard going. Its intense, brash and youthful nature makes it a difficult drink, that only reveals its less obvious characteristics with a bit of persistence and time. In our opinion, the addition of water softens all elements and creates more balance and enjoyment on the nose, palate and finish. It is certainly a very interesting whisky that has a very interesting concept behind it. Will curiosity get the better of you and make you order a bottle?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Have just tried ... Glenmorangie 25 years old 'Quarter Century'

glenmorangie 25 years oldScotland’s favourite
The name of Glenmorangie is one of the most famous in the world of whisky. The distillery is located in the Highland town of Tain and is approximately 40 miles (65km) north of Inverness. Their single malts whiskies are multi award winning and are consistently in the top three for world sales. Glenmorangie Original is also the best selling single malt in Scotland. The distillery was founded in 1843 and was housed in old brewery buildings. It is one of Scotland’s largest whisky distilleries with an annual production capacity of six million litres.

Interesting differences
The current stills at Glenmorangie are the tallest in Scotland at 5 metres (16.5 feet) high and make the still house resemble a cathedral. They are exact replicas of the original stills that were purchased from a gin distillery in London in 1843. In 2009, they installed two further stills to increase capacity and these were also modeled on the originals. Another unusual fact is that the water used in the production at Glenmorangie is hard. It is taken from the mineral rich Tarlogie Springs, which bubble up through the bedrock in the distillery grounds. Most distilleries use soft water, as this is thought to produce the best spirit.

Modern innovation
The current owners are Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH) and they have embarked on research to find the wood to make casks that would perfectly compliment their whisky. They decided on white American oak and more specifically wood from the north facing slopes of the Ozark Mountains in the American state of Missouri. LVMH now owns and maintains a forest in this region and this is where the trees are grown and casks are made. They are then filled with bourbon and matured in Kentucky and once empty, shipped to the distillery. All stages are scientifically monitored to produce the best results in the final whisky.

Our tasting notes
This 25 years old is produced in small batches and appears under the name Quarter Century. The colour is a lovely golden yellow and the nose is vibrant, fragrant and tempting. This is fresh for something that is 25 years of age and the sort of whisky that you could sit and sniff all day! There is a lovely and complex combination of aromas - vanilla, honey, waxy furniture polish, nuts (think of walnuts), citrus fruit (imagine orange and lemon zest), peaches, something spicy (think of nutmeg) and a touch of acetone (this is reminiscent of nail varnish remover). On the palate, this is soft, silky and very complex with a distinct combination of oaky woodiness, honey and vanilla to begin with. Then the other elements come through - orange peel, peaches and apricots, walnuts (and maybe some almonds?), toffee, some spices (think of nutmeg and cloves) and gingerbread. The finish is long, dry and woody. It softens very well as time passes and vanilla, honey, nutmeg spice and zingy orange notes reveal themselves.

What's the verdict?
This Quarter Century is bottled at the alcoholic strength of 43% ABV and will cost around £250 a bottle from specialist alcohol retailers. It is a very good whisky that is enjoyable and full of complexity. The quality of the spirit and casking is evident but only you can decide if that quality is really worth paying the price. We thank Annabel Meikle from Glenmorangie for the chance to sample this excellent whisky.

Friday, February 12, 2010

New releases ... Scotch Malt Whisky Society - February 2010

scotch malt whisky society logoA worldwide club
The Scotch Malt Whisky Society is a members club devoted to bottling single casks of whisky. The Society is UK based and has two members rooms in Edinburgh and London. There are also now offices spreading around the world and these currently include America, Australia, Japan and throughout Europe. Their collection of whiskies is extensive and ever growing. A panel of members select the whiskies from exclusive casks and these are then bottled and released at regular intervals throughout the year. You can join the club and check out their exclusive range of whisky at

scotch malt whisky society - february 2010 releasesDifferent labels
The Society has a unique label system that uses numbers rather than naming the distillery. For example, something labelled as 24.108 has 24 being the Society's number ID for the distillery and 108 being the number of casks bottled by the Society from that distillery. They do this to prevent any positive or negative prejudice that a consumer may have against a certain distillery. They provide comprehensive tasting notes and these are compiled by a tasting committee that discuss the merits of each bottling. The notes can often be curious and very creative! We were lucky to be invited to a tasting evening at the Society's London offices this week, where we sampled some of the whiskies from the new February releases. Thank you to Darren Rook for an excellent evening.

Our tasting notes
Cask 99.11 (
Glenugie 29 years old)
Whisky from this distillery is scarce and the SMWS has not released any Glenugie for years, so to get the opportunity to taste some was a rare treat. Glenugie (pronounced glen-oogee) was located in the coastal Highland town of Peterhead, to the north of Aberdeen, and was closed in 1983. The colour is golden yellow and the nose is full of cereal grains and vanilla. These are joined by floral (think of heather) and herbal notes (imagine dried grasses and straw). The palate is very grainy and buttery and is reminiscent of Scottish oatcakes (this characteristic increases the longer the whisky is in the glass). Also present are vanilla, dried grasses and spice (think of nutmeg). The initial sweetness turns drier with a bitter edge. The finish is short, dry and light. An acquired taste but one that grew on us with time. 43.4% ABV/192 bottles/£78

Cask 119.12 (Yamazaki 16 years old)
This cask has only been released to the American, Australian and Japanese Society members. Yamazaki is Japan's oldest whisky distillery and was founded in 1923. The colour is rich golden amber and the nose is promising but has a distinct acetone note (think of nail varnish remover). There are a number of sweet notes present - caramel, raisins, dried peaches, dark sugar. The palate is note as sweet and offers a complex mix of flavours - candied orange, raisins, prunes, hints of liquorice and nutmeg - and is reminiscent to fruit cake and brandy. the finish is long, dry and slightly astringent and is full of spices and tannin. The addition of water softens this. A lovely dram. 54% ABV/262 bottles/no UK price available

Cask 22.28 (Glenkinchie 21 years old)
Glenkinchie is a Lowland single malt and the nearest distillery to Edinburgh. The colour is pale gold and the nose is light and fresh. There is distinct grassy notes (think of dried grass or hay) and these join with vanilla and fresh green apple aromas. On the palate, this whisky is light and inoffensive and offers an initial hot alcoholic burn. When this fades, other notes come through - vanilla, cereal grains, butterscotch and citrus (imagine lemon zest). The finish is short and crisp. The addition of water brought out some citrus on the nose (that lemon zest again) and more grains and dried grass on the palate. 54% ABV/223 bottles/£63.50

Cask 7.55 (
Longmorn 40 years old)
Longmorn is a little known but well renowned distillery that lies close to the city of Elgin in the Speyside region. We don't get the chance to sample 40 years old whiskies often, so this was a real treat. The colour is orange amber and the nose is rich and sumptuous. There are plenty of aromas here - dark sugar, treacle, dried fruits, orange peel, cocoa, espresso coffee, waxy furniture polish and a hint of leather. WOW! The palate does not disappoint and is silky smooth, intense and rich. First comes orange marmalade and dried fruits and is followed by leather, cocoa and coffee. There are also minty, eucalyptus and liquorice notes. The finish is long and gorgeous. This has a dessert wine/Cognac feel and is a lovely complex whisky. 54.9% ABV/451 bottles/£186 (a great price for a 40 years old whisky!)

Cask 53.139 (Caol Ila 27 years old)
Caol Ila is located on the famous whisky island of Islay and they produce whiskies in the smoky style. The colour of this whisky is golden yellow and the nose is smoky, sweet and fresh. There is a delightful combination of aromas - sweet earthy peat, vanilla, candy floss, salty brine and something fishy (others in the group suggested anchovy). On the palate, this has a complex mix of notes - sweet vanilla, cereal grains, dried grasses, damp moss, slightly acrid bonfire smoke, salty brine, lemon zest and spicy chilli peppers. The finish is long with the peat smoke lingering for ages. It is light and fresh for something of this age and drinks well without water, despite its ABV strength. With water, more vanilla, grass and burning bonfire come out. An absolute cracker of a dram. 55.5% ABV/256 bottles/£82

Cask 33.80 (Ardbeg 11 years old)
Ardbeg is also located on the western island of Islay and the current insatiable thirst for their whiskies has seen this bottling sell out in just three days! Therefore, the only place to try it is at the SMWS rooms in Edinburgh or London. The colour is golden yellow and the nose is pungent and fresh. There is plenty of smoke here (a combo between bonfire ember and damp soil) and some citrus (think of lemon zest), salt, seaweed and vanilla. On the palate, this feels even smokier (especially the peaty/soil element) and feels oily and buttry in the mouth. Other notes include vanilla, caramel, grass and bitter iodine. The finish is very long and peaty. Water brings out more sweetness and this is balanced by more salt and iodine. 56.6% ABV/242 bottles/£55.50

Dram of the night >
a difficult choice but the Caol Ila 27 years old.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Have just tried ... Tomintoul Peaty Tang

tomintoul peaty tangFamous neighbours
Tomintoul (pronounced tom-in-towel) is one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland. It was founded in 1964 and is located close to the village of Ballindalloch, on the southern edge of the Speyside whisky region. The distillery is the nearest neighbour to the famous Glenlivet and Cragganmore distilleries and produces around 3 million litres per year. Tomintoul is little know to the wider audience but they are well reknowned for their use of quality sherry casks for maturation. The main market for Tomintoul single malt whisky is mainland Europe.

A peaty Speyside whisky?
Tomintoul is the second highest distillery in Scotland at 286 metres (808 feet) above sea level and regularly suffers poor weather and cold temperatures as a result. The distillery is frequently cut off by heavy snowfall during winter. Dalwhinnie in the central Highlands is the highest at 326 metres (1075 feet). The current owners are Angus Dundee Distillers and most of the whisky produced is allocated to blending contracts. However, the popularity is growing and the single malt core range is expanding to reflect this. The range consists of a 10, 12, 16 and 33 years old, as well as two peated versions - this Peaty Tang and the heavier Old Ballantruan. Peaty whiskies are traditionally produced on the Scottish islands and are a rarity for Speyside distilleries.

Our tasting notes
The colour of Peaty Tang is light and golden and the nose is fresh, clean and crisp. There is initial vanilla and cereal grains (think of the husks especially) before the vibrant 'peaty tang' kicks in. The peatiness is reminiscent of damp earth and has a root-like element to it. There is also a slight floral note (imagine heather) and a hint of dried fruits (particularly sultanas). On the palate, there is distinct malted barley and nuts (think of almonds) and these are joined by the vanilla and dried fruit from the nose. The 'peaty tang' is sweeter and slightly more prominent than on the nose but still has that earthy, rooty quality to it. These elements combine well with an additonal touch of saltiness and spiciness (imagine peppercorns). The overall feeling is vibrant, fresh and uncomplicated. The finish begins sweetly before turning oaky and dry, with the peaty smokiness lingering after the other elements have faded. The addition of water leads the whisky to fall apart slightly - a more floral, honey-like note comes out on the nose and the 'tang' is flattened.

What's the verdict?
This was a pleasant surprise and much nicer than expected. It is uncomplicated yet enjoyable and the level of peatiness/smokiness would make it a good whisky to introduce someone to the smoky whisky genre. Peaty Tang is also more delicate than the regular sherry cask matured malts from Tomintoul. It offers something different to the regular Speyside whiskies and also gives good value for money at £25-30 a bottle. An interesting whisky.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Have just tried ... Penderyn Rich Madeira (WRU 125th Anniversary Edition)

A commemorative bottling
The Six Nations rugby tournament started last weekend, so it seems like a good time to review this rugby related whisky that we sampled recently. The Six Nations is an annual tournament that involves England, France, Ireland, Italy, Scotland and Wales. We are not the biggest fans of rugby but we are fans of whisky and this one is from Penderyn, the only Welsh whisky distillery. It was first released two years ago to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) and was limited to just 1250 bottles.

First Welsh whisky for 100 years
Penderyn (pronounced Pen-derrin) is the only single malt whisky distillery currently operating in Wales. It is located in the village of the same name, on the edge of 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 set up by a consortium of local businessmen. The WWC was formed in 1998 and production began at Penderyn in September 2000. Penderyn 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 closed in 1900. It was located in the town of Bala in north Wales.

Older, longer, higher!
The whisky is labeled as Rich Madeira and is firstly matured in ex-bourbon casks, before being transferred to Madeira casks for one year. The regular Penderyn release undergoes the same order of maturation but this Rich Madeira is older, has a longer Madeira influence and is higher in alcoholic strength than the regular release. The whisky is bottled at 50% ABV, costs £125 a bottle and can only be purchased directly from the Penderyn website. On our recent visit to Penderyn, they told us that they still have a few bottles of this commemorative bottling left, so hurry if you fancy a bottle!

Our tasting notes
The colour of the whisky is dark golden amber and the nose is fragrant and aromatic. It has a rich, sumptuous feel and is sweet with sugary caramel prominent, along with dried fruits (think of raisins, sultanas and apple), some candied orange peel and a whiff of woody spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). On the palate, the sweetness and richness is again prominent, although this feels less like caramel and a little more like crumby brown sugar now. The dried fruits are there - raisins and sultanas, with the candied orange peel particularly distinctive. There is a further lovely green fruitiness and this combines with the sugary note to give something reminiscent of stewed apples. The cinnamon/nutmeg warm spice notes emphasise this. Due to the strength, we added a dash of water and this bought out some woodiness (think of damp wood) and a slightly bitter grassy herbal note, which balanced the sweetness well. The finish is long, warming and enjoyable with the sugary fruitiness fading slowly.

What's the verdict?
This is a lovely whisky. We were lucky enough to sample five whiskies during our visit to Penderyn and both of us voted this one as our favourite. It offers good balance and character and has plenty of sumptuous notes. The whisky feels velvety and soft and gives you a lovely big, warm cwtch (that's the word for cuddle in Welsh and it's pronounced kutch - thanks to Sian at Penderyn for that little piece of info!).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Have just tried ... Aberlour 10 years old

In the heart of Speyside
Aberlour is a whisky distillery that is located in the village of the same name. The village sits on the banks of the River Spey in the heart of the Speyside region. 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 completely destroyed by fire and was re-built on a different site by a wealthy local man called James Fleming. Fleming had further massive influences on the town by financing the building of town hall (which still carries his name), a cottage hospital, a school, the installation of electric street lamps and a toll bridge across the River Spey.

France's number one
Aberlour is currently one of the best selling single malts in the world and is known for its use of quality 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, who consume the most whisky of any country in the world! 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).

Our tasting notes
Aberlour 10 years old is the distillery's flagship single malt and the one that recently knocked Glenfiddich off the number one spot for sales in France. This is bottled at 40% ABV. The colour is golden amber with a slight reddish hue. The nose is aromatic with a clear influence of sherry cask maturation. There is a lovely combination of caramel, butterscotch, dried fruit (think of raisins, sultanas and candied orange peel) and a touch of woody spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). On the palate, this starts off quite sweet and sugary (that caramel again with some toffee and brown sugar) and has lots of dried fruit (those sultanas and raisins especially). There is also plenty of vanilla and the candied orange peel from the nose is particularly prominent. Other elements present include distinct cereal notes, something nutty (think of hazelnuts) and that woody spice again (especially the cinnamon). It feels rich and creamy and pleasantly coats the inside of the mouth. The finish is long, starting sweetly before turning dry, nutty and refreshingly woody and spicy.

What's the verdict?
A lovely soft, gentle dram that is a very good and affordable example of a sherry cask matured whisky. A bottle should cost around £25, although we got ours from large UK supermarket chain Tesco who had it at the bargain price of £17.85! You should also find it in other large supermarkets and specialist whisky retailers. A cracking, value for money whisky.

The 'Mystery Dram' revealed

the 'mystery dram'We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who read and left comments about our latest ‘Mystery Dram’ challenge that we set last week. We can now reveal that the ‘Mystery Dram’ in question this time was the Aberlour 10 years old. The full review of this Aberlour 10 years old will be posted shortly with some further distillery information and facts about the whisky.

There were a number of very good guesses but only one person guessed correctly - Oliver Klimek (AKA @olikli on Twitter), who runs the informative Whisky Rating blog. Check it out for concise tasting notes and other featured whisky articles. We are planning to have another 'Mystery Dram' soon - so watch this space.

News ... Ardbeg Rollercoaster is coming!

a rollercoasterThe Rollercoaster is a new whisky release from the innovative Ardbeg distillery on the Scottish island of Islay. Islay is the spiritual home of the world's smoky style of whisky and the Ardbeg distillery forms an important part of the island's history, having been founded in 1815. The release of the Rollercoaster is exclusive to Ardbeg Committee members (you can join by going to, if you haven't already) and is being released to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Committee being started.

Ardbeg release one or two special bottlings each year for their Committee members and Rollercoaster is the first of this years. The whisky is constructed of a vatting (or mixture) of 10 casks of Ardbeg of differing ages. There is one cask representing each of the 10 years that the Committee has been running. The oldest whisky included is from 1997, then 1998, 1999 and so on until you get to the youngest whisky which is just three years old (the minimum legal age for Scotch whisky) and was distilled in 2006. Most of the casks are ex-bourbon but a couple are ex-sherry, so the results should be very interesting! It will be bottled at 57.3% ABV, will cost £50 and will only be available exclusively to Ardbeg Committee members through The release date is Monday 15 February.

ardbeg rollercoasterRollercoaster may seem a strange name for a whisky but it fits perfectly with the modern outlook of Ardbeg as a distillery. Take one look at their innovative website and you will see that it is different from most other distilleries. They combine strong traditions with this innovation and this allows them to combine the two elements in their range. As a result you have whiskies with Gaelic inspired names such as Airigh Nam Beist, Corryvreckan and Uigeadail alongside the Supernova and this new Rollercoaster. As yet, there are no tasting notes on any blogs or websites but these should soon start to appear as samples and bottles get opened by the lucky few. We will be posting our tasting notes as soon as possible. We can't wait!

Friday, February 5, 2010

A mystery dram ... but what is it?

mystery dramWe apologise for the fact that there hasn't been a 'mystery dram' for a while. Below, we have posted the tasting notes of a whisky that we have tasted recently. The idea is that you try to guess what the 'mystery dram' is from these notes. To register your answer, click on the 'comments' section at the bottom of this post once you have read the notes and follow the instructions. We aim to set a new 'mystery dram' challenge roughly once a month in the future.

The answer will be revealed next Monday, when we will post a full review of the whisky in question. This will incorporate the tasting notes below, information about the whisky and include our regular dose of distillery history and facts. There are no prizes for guessing correctly but correct answers will be mentioned in the final article, so please leave your name next to your comment! Good luck and here goes ...

'Mystery dram' tasting notes
The colour of the 'mystery dram' is golden amber with a slight reddish hue. The nose is aromatic with a clear influence of sherry cask maturation. There is a lovely combination of caramel, butterscotch, dried fruit (think of raisins, sultanas and candied orange peel) and a touch of woody spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). On the palate, this starts off quite sweet and sugary (that caramel again with some toffee and brown sugar) and has lots of dried fruit (those sultanas and raisins especially). There is also plenty of vanilla and the candied orange peel from the nose is particularly prominent. Other elements present include distinct cereal notes, something nutty (think of hazelnuts) and that woody spice again (especially the cinnamon). It feels rich and creamy and pleasantly coats the inside of the mouth. The finish is long, starting sweetly before turning dry, nutty and refreshingly woody and spicy. A lovely soft, gentle dram that is a very good and affordable example of a sherry cask matured whisky. A bottle should cost around £25 and it is bottled by the distillery at 40% ABV.

Say what? - our first guest blog post

whiskyhost logo'Say what?' is a weekly feature that appears on the excellent WHISKYhost blog. Within the article, they aim to dissect some of the stranger tasting notes that you may encounter or overhear at whisky events or tastings (therefore making you exclaim, 'say what?'). The series makes you think about what you are tasting, is written in a light hearted style yet informative and includes recent classic articles regarding obscure tasting notes such as 'baby sick' and 'rubber gloves'.

WHISKYhost is written by Joe and Jason and is an extension of the Whisky Host website. The blog offers whisky reviews, latest news and various other snippets of information and fun video clips. This includes the '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). It is one of our favourite whisky blogs and as a result made the shortlist in our recent Top 10 Whisky Blogs feature.

Therefore, when Jason asked us to appear as a guest writer on WHISKYhost and write our own 'Say what?' article, we jumped at the chance. This is our first article that we have written for someone else and we thoroughly enjoyed it and writing in a different style. Our 'Say what?' was inspired by us overhearing a chap at a recent whisky tasting who exclaimed that the smoky whisky that he was sampling "reminds me of screeching tyres!". To read the full article on WHISKYhost, click here. We hope that you enjoy it and if you leave a comment on WHISKYhost, then you stand the chance of winning a sample of the new Highland Park Magnus!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

New releases ... Black Bull 40 years old

black bull 40 years oldA new addition to the 'family'
The Black Bull range of blends is owned by Duncan Taylor & Co, one of Scotland's largest independent bottling companies. They have recently revamped the brand and this new 40 years old joins a 12 and a 30 years old in the range. The Black Bull brand has been around for over 70 years since it was originally produced in the early 1930s, with Duncan Taylor taking it over in 2001. We thank Karen Law at Duncan Taylor for supplying us with this sample. More information can be found on

Large collection of casks
Duncan Taylor and Co. were set up in Glasgow in 1938 with the plan to bottle and blend whisky for export to America following Prohibition. They are now based in the town of Huntly, close to the Speyside whisky region of Scotland. Duncan Taylor are reported to have one of the largest privately held collections of rare whisky casks in the world and bottle approximately 200 different whiskies a year. Their range is extensive and has numerous branches to it . For more information on their ranges of whisky and Duncan Taylor, check out their website

High single malt content
The Black Bull 40 Year Old is a premium blended whisky and contains 90% single malt whisky and 10 % grain whisky. As with all blended whiskies, the stated age (in this case, 40 years old) is that of the youngest whisky that is contained within the blend. This is the first batch of Black Bull 40 years old. It is released this week and it contains whiskies aged between 40 and 44 years of age. The single malt whiskies included are from a broad mix of distilleries - Bunnahabhain, Glenburgie, Glenfarclas, Glenlivet, Highland Park, Miltonduff, Springbank and Tamdhu, with the grain whisky coming from Invergordon. It is bottled at 40.2% ABV and should cost around £125 from specialist retailers or Duncan Taylor's website.

Our tasting notes

The colour of Black Bull 40 years old is a deep golden yellow and the nose is inviting. It feels fresh considering the age of the whiskies including. The nose is packed with obvious vanilla, coconuts and lots of oak. These aromas are joined by more subtle notes - honey, dried grasses, cereal grains, something citric (think of lemon or orange zest) and a slight hint of dusty mustiness creeps in with time. On the palate, this is intense and zingy with the vanilla, oak and coconut at the forefront again. These mingle with other more subtle notes that give this whisky pleasant complexity - there is plenty of honey, some almonds, dried fruits (imagine raisins, sultanas and apricots), cereals and dried grasses/hay. A lovely oaky spicy element appears towards the end of the palate that is reminiscent of a combination of ginger and nutmeg. The finish is massively woody and oaky, with vanilla and cereal grains prominent. It becomes very dry, very quickly but remains as clean and intense as before.

What's the verdict?
This is a very pleasant whisky and offers exceptionally good value for money, when you consider the age of the whiskies involved (check out the prices of some of the 40 year old single malts that are around and you will see what we mean!). It is remarkably fresh for a whisky of this age and maintains its intensity despite the relatively low ABV alcoholic strength. A lovely dram.

Monday, February 1, 2010

News ... Glenmorangie Sonnalta on general release

Wider distribution
Sonnalta, a previously limited edition special bottling from Glenmorangie, has just been made available on general release. Sonnalta was first released in April 2009 and was exclusive to the travel retail/Duty Free sector stores around the world. Now, Glenmorangie are releasing 3000 cases (36000 bottles) to be put in to the UK, European and north American markets. The whisky is the same as that used in the previous Duty Free releases and is still bottled at 46% ABV. The only difference is bottle size - Duty Free bottles are one litre and the UK/European bottles are 70cl, with the American bottles being 75cl. A 70cl bottle should cost around £60. Sonnalta will still also be available in the Duty Free/travel retail market.

A famous whisky name
Glenmorangie distillery is located in the northern Highlands, close to the town of Tain on the Dornoch Firth estuary. The distillery and its brand name are world famous and they produce some of the globe's biggest selling whiskies there. The distillery was opened in 1843 and is now owned by drinks company Moet Hennessy. Glenmorangie is one of Scotland's largest whisky distilleries with an annual production capacity of 6 million litres per year and also has the tallest set of stills in Scotland. Each one stands over 5 metres (16.5 feet) tall and this height means that only the purest and lightest spirit reaches the condenser and get collected for maturation.

Generous and liberal
The Sonnalta, meaning generous or liberal in Gaelic, is the first in a series of special releases named Private Collections. The plan is to run these alongside the large core range of Glenmorangie whiskies, initially in to the travel retail/Duty Free sector and then on general release. The next Private Collections bottling is expected to appear in Autumn 2010. Sonnalta has been matured in ex-bourbon casks for 10 years and then transferred to Pedro Ximenez (pronounced pedro him-en-eth) sherry casks for a further year. Pedro Ximenez is a very sweet grape variety that originated on the Canary Islands and was bought over to Jerez on the mainland of Spain by a man called Pedro Ximenez in the 16th century. He went on to produce a very sweet, dark and sticky style of sherry that is still made today.

Our tasting notes (from June 2009)
The colour is a lovely rich golden brown and the nose is fantastic. It is delicate with a combination of caramel-like sweetness, dried fruits (think of raisins and candied orange peel) and something dark (imagine high cocoa chocolate and espresso coffee). Vanilla is there also, as is some sweet malted barley. On the palate this explodes on your tongue and is full bodied, viscous and creamy. An intense pleasant sugary burst hits the front of your tongue and dies slowly to reveal the elements from the nose. It has a great mixture of vanilla, caramel (think of dark brown sugar), dried fruits (some apricot this time as well), a distinct nuttiness (imagine coconut), slightly bitter dark chocolate and coffee and, strange as it may sound, a tropical fruit element (something like mango or papaya). This tropical note carries on in the lengthy finish, which is just as intensely sweet, complex and fruity as the nose and palate. Some cinnamon spice comes through towards the end.

What's the verdict?
Sonnalta is a top quality whisky. There is so much going on and fighting for your attention on the nose, palate and finish yet it remains balanced. It has the feeling of a good dessert wine, Cognac or Armagnac and would be great to have as an after dinner drink. This is a real 'try before you die' whisky and that is why we gave it 3rd place in our recent article, Top 10 whiskies of 2009. Fantastic stuff and now available to a wider audience!

Have just tried ... Penderyn Peated

penderyn peated, madeira and sherrywoodA long wait for new Welsh whisky
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. It is owned by the Welsh Whisky Company, which was formed in 1998 and production began in September 2000, making it one of the youngest distilleries in the UK. Penderyn is the first distillery to produce single malt whisky in Wales for over 100 years with the last one, Frongoch in north Wales, closing in 1900. Prince Charles, the current Prince of Wales, is a big fan and serves Penderyn single malt whisky at his Highgrove House residence.

Innovative production methods
The production at Penderyn is unique and innovative. They buy pre-fermented wash from the local Brain's brewery and this is made to their specific recipe. They then distill this in to whisky. This is method is illegal in the Scottish whisky industry where at least some of the mashing and fermentation must happen on the same site as the distillation. The water used in production at Penderyn is taken from a well next to the distillery. The still room is also unique and houses a bespoke still designed by Dr. David Faraday, that is part copper pot and part column still. For further information on the unique methods used, then read the article about our visit to Penderyn.

Peaty but with a difference
Their range is small and consists of a regular bottling which is finished in Madeira casks, a sherry cask bottling and this lightly peated version. Limited expressions are also available, with other releases being planned as more stock reaches optimum maturation. This peaty expression of Penderyn (the bottle in the green packaging on the left of the image above) is limited to approximately 5000 bottles a year and is bottled at 46% ABV. Interestingly, Penderyn do not use peated malt to create the peaty, smoky flavour as is traditionally practiced in Scotland and elsewhere. Instead, they produce their regular spirit and then mature it in casks that have previously held smoky whisky from the island of Islay. Therefore, the smokiness and other flavours from these ex-Islay casks are imparted to the spirit in the same way that the characteristics are imparted from regular casks such as ex-bourbon or ex-sherry. A bottle should cost £35-40 from specialist whisky retailers or Penderyn directly.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Penderyn Peated is light and straw-like and is the lightest of all the Penderyn's that we have sampled to date. The nose is very light and slightly understated. There is vanilla up front and a distinct orchard fruit note (think of green pears and apples). These are joined by something grassy and herbal (imagine dried grasses or hay), a hint of citrus (think of lemon zest) and gentle, subtle, bonfire-like peat smoke. On the palate, this is basic but reasonable. A pleasant floral note (we couldn't quite place what it was to be honest) and the fresh green fruit from the nose kick things off, before the peatiness joins in and grows (this feels a little more earthy now). The citrus and vanilla are understated but present, as is the grassy/herbal note from the nose which suggested mint or eucalyptus to us. The finish is short, fresh and quite peppery (think of white pepper), with the peat appearing and then disappearing almost before you realise.

What's the verdict?
This is a tricky one. Penderyn Peated is one of the most uncomplicated, lightest, freshest smoky whiskies that we have tried to date and it has a number of pleasant features. The peatiness/smokiness is very subtle and understated - this would make it an ideal whisky to use to introduce people to the tastes of a smoky whisky without scaring them off for life. However, fans of big, peaty whiskies may struggle with it. We enjoyed Penderyn Peated but the subtle nature of the peat leaves it seemingly trying to decide if it's a true smoky whisky or not.