Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Explain about ... Mixers for whisky

whisky and lemonadeThe mixing of whisky with soft drinks has been popular since the Victorian times. This coincides with the rise of popularity of whisky, especially blended whiskies, and the need to find a lighter and more refreshing way to drink them as the British Commonwealth spread to hotter parts of the globe. This tradition has carried on and there is currently a huge upsurge of interest in whisky cocktails and the market is becoming flooded with pre-mixed whisky based drinks, such as the newly announced Famous Grouse & Cola.

We plan to sample and review some of these pre-mixed drinks in the near future but we thought that it was time to review some of the more common soft drinks that are regularly mixed with whisky to produce a long drink.

To do this, we have teamed up with Chris Maclean who writes Drink Station - arguably the UK's leading soft drinks blog. Chris is also a big whisky fan and we decided to choose mixers from one company's range of drinks - the innovative Fevertree Limited - so as to create consistency. Most people have tried a whisky and cola at some point so we also decided to ignore cola for now, instead concentrating on alternatives. After sampling the soft drinks together, Chris has written the tasting notes for each and we then discussed which whiskies we thought would go well with each one, listing some suggestions for you to enjoy and try. Click the links if you want to read our full tasting notes of the suggested whiskies. Happy mixing!

No artificial ingredients
Fevertree Limited is a company founded in 2000 and they sought to create an Indian tonic mixer from all-natural ingredients, including quinine (the bark extract of the Cinchona tree, colloquially known as the 'Fever Tree'). Fevertree launched the tonic water in 2005, and have since managed to redefine the mixer category by totally banning the use of artificial ingredients (they only use natural sweeteners and flavourings, and avoiding preservatives), taking instead a qualitative approach to drink formulation and packaging. They have since grown their product range and here we try a few of them, starting with the original tonic water.

fever-tree tonic, lemonade and ginger beerFever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water
DS > Fever-Tree tonic water is a bright, clear liquid. It exhibits a lively carbonation, with small bubbles rising steadily when the drink settles in the glass. An attractive, fresh, delicate aroma of lemon icing on the nose, with that familiar dusting of icing sugar. On the palate, fresh lemon citrus, with some supple acids producing a gentle tang. There is excellent balance here between the elements, as a stimulating lemony bitterness develops and persists on the finish. A quality mixer that speaks for itself, with a unique texture and flavour profile, that avoids the cloying, salty nature associated with artificial sweetener and preservative use.

WFE > Whisky and tonic may seem a little retro these days but is a very refreshing drink, especially with some ice and a slice on a hot day. We have used a lighter style of whisky when making this, such as Auchentoshan Classic or AnCnoc 12 years old single malts. This drink really lends itself to blended whiskies though, with something like Bell's or Famous Grouse being perfect.

Fever-Tree Lemonade
DS > Fever-Tree lemonade is a bright, colourless liquid. After the initial rush of carbonation, much smaller bubbles can be observed rising slowly through the liquid in the glass.. A fragrant, biscuity nose with sweet lemon. This is juicy, mouthwatering and with plenty of sun-warmed fruit. This is a lemonade that is soft and round in the mouth, with warm, biscuity citrus flavours. Supple acids again producing a gentle tang on the short finish.

WFE > Whisky and lemonade is a classic drink. You can really mix most whiskies with lemonade, with the exception of the smoky, peaty style which clashes quite unpleasantly. Any whisky with decent sweetness (but not full-on sweetness) and possibly some fruitiness is good - think of Balvenie Doublewood or Dalwhinnie 15 years old for single malts or something like Jameson's or Grant's Family Reserve for a blended whisky. Bourbons are also very good with lemonade.

Fever-Tree Ginger Beer

DS > Fever-Tree ginger beer is a cloudy, pale yellow colour that takes on a green hue when examined in the light. There is a fine sediment of ginger particles in suspension. Instantly aromatic on the nose, with fresh ginger in abundance. There is an extraordinary scent here, earthy and distinctly spicy- cumin? It's intoxicating stuff. Be sure you're sitting down for this one! An intense rush on the palate, with a controlled explosion of deep, freshly grated ginger flavour, topped with lemon and black pepper seasoning. This is as peppery and fiery as you could want, with that entrancing and utterly unique spicy, earthy cumin note intact. Predictably long finish as the chilli and fire trail off, this remains clean and refreshing throughout. A heady, entrancing experience; a one of a kind ginger beer that sets a stylish example.

WFE > Whisky and ginger beer is a slightly more niche drink than the more popular whisky and dry ginger ale (see below). Ginger beer tends to be spicier than dry ginger ale, so you need a whisky that is strong enough in flavour to combat and compliment this. We recommend something with a high level of sweetness, such as Macallan 10 years old or Glenfarclas 10 years old in the single malt category or something from the Whyte & Mackay range for the blends.

fever-tree soda water, ginger ale and bitter lemonFever-Tree Ginger Ale
DS > This is a mid lemon yellow colour. The liquid is clear and bright, and a lively carbonation soon settles down in the glass to reveal the small bubbles now rising steadily. Warm aromas of honey, lemon and discreet, freshly grated ginger. There is a lovely purity and depth on show here. Light yet satisfying flavours, as some subtle gingers tickle the palate with a trace of pepper spice. This is fresh, biscuity and clean. The ginger here never escapes the leash, always held in check by some more determined caramel notes. Within the light structure one finds an excellent balance, and a clean finish that are the hallmarks of these mixers.

WFE > The mixing of whisky and ginger ale is a throwback to the 1970s, but is a combination that can work brilliantly. The 'Canadian & Dry' is the classic, which uses Canadian Club whisky with Canada Dry ginger ale and is worth trying in a bar or if you can get the ingredients. If not, then try using any ginger ale combined with a whisky with plenty of vanilla and cereal notes, such as single malts like Glenmorangie Original or Glenlivet 12 years old. The Monkey Shoulder vatted whisky works superbly for this also.

Fever-Tree Soda Water
DS > Fever-Tree Soda Water is a bright, clear liquid. It is highly carbonated, with noticeably small bubbles rising steadily from various points in the glass when the drink settles. There is a very light, powdery scent to this, like a well diluted Alka-Seltzer or the spray of a vintage soda syphon. Lively mouthfeel, with the bicarbonate of soda pinging around the palate. Biscuity, with a creamy bite, like water biscuits covered in a thin layer of salted butter. A light bitterness precedes the short finish. A cleansing and refreshing mixer.

WFE > Whisky and soda is another old school classic combination. You can really use any style of whisky. The only exception is something smoky and peaty, where the soda water doesn't do it any favours. Again, like for the lemonade, something with a decent level of sweetness or fruitiness helps to create a more balanced drink.

Fever-Tree Bitter Lemon

DS > A pale yellow colour, slightly cloudy and with a wide watery rim developing towards the edge of the glass. The lively carbonation soon settles, and the trademark small bubbles settle in and tick over steadily. Concentrated lemon juice on the nose. Warm, appetising and juicy. There are powdery notes too, recalling lemon sherbet. This is aquatic, breezy and altogether nostalgic. A 'lemon grove' experience on the palate: Whole lemons, with pith, rind, oils, pips... Zesty and tangy, with good balance between the elements. Fresh and intense now with great clarity of flavour, leading to a bitter finale as the quinine comes through and adds length on the finish.

WFE > This may sound like a strange combination but with the right style of whisky, it is absolutely delicious. The whisky has to be light, fresh and used as an aperitif, otherwise it will overpower the bitter lemon and the final drink quickly becomes undrinkable. Single malts like Benriach 'Heart of Speyside' or Glen Grant Unaged are perfect, as would a light blend such as Bailie Nicol Jarvie.

All Fever-Tree drinks should cost approximately 75p for a 200ml bottle and are widely available from supermarkets and other specialist food stores in the UK and Europe.

* Please note - the image at the top of the post is taken from The centre and bottom images of the Fevertree drinks are copyright of

Monday, August 23, 2010

Have just tried ... Bruichladdich 20 years old 'Flirtation'

bruichladdich 20 years old 'flirtation'Bruichladdich (pronounced brook-laddie) is located on the western peninsula of the famous whisky island of Islay and sits on the shores of Loch Indaal. Islay is the traditional home of the world's smoky whiskies but the Bruichladdich distillery style is in contrast to these, being lighter, fresher and generally with little or no peatiness. The distillery was originally founded in 1881 - it was built using stones from the local beach and was one of the first buildings in the UK to be constructed using concrete! It is a small distillery with an annual production capacity of just 700,000 litres. Bruichladdich translates as 'the brae (hillside) by the shore' from Gaelic.

Innovative yet traditional
Bruichladdich is one of Scotland's most innovative distilleries and one of very few that remain independently owned. It was taken over by the Bruichladdich Distillery Company - a group of four entrepreneurs - in 2000 and they have given Bruichladdich's whisky production and release programme an experimental edge. They have become renowned for maturing their whisky in non traditional casks, such as those used for wine and dessert wine. The innovative range is big and always updated with new releases. In contrast to this, the new owners renovated the distillery to its former glory and decided to maintain the traditional whisky making machinery and techniques. There are no computers used for production and it is one of the most traditional and historical distilleries in Scotland.

More stability
On occasion, the Bruichladdich release programme seems difficult for consumers to keep track of. Different ages of whisky are released from different casks and the list is now extensive. The good news for consumers is that the distillery have now announced that they will continue to experiment but that the core range will remain more stable. This Flirtation was produced under the previous ownership and has undergone maturation in ex-bourbon casks for 20 years, followed by six months in Mourvèdre red wine casks from the Languedoc region of southern France. It is released at 46% ABV and should cost around £70, if you can find a bottle.

Our tasting notes
The colour is golden amber and the nose is rich and initially sweet. There is plenty of immediate caramel, honey and fruits. This fruit is a mix of dried fruits (think of sultanas and prunes especially) and stewed or cooked apples. Mingling with these are other notes which give the nose a slightly bitter edge - some distinct cereals, plenty of wood spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg) and a hint of damp soil. On the palate, this starts sweet and silky, before becoming drier, spicier and noticeably tannic. The sweetness is again led by caramel and honey, with plenty of the dried and stewed fruit notes present (think of the sultanas, prunes and apple again, plus stewed plums and a hint of orange zest). Then come the drier and spicier notes. These give the palate a slightly bitter edge and include some cereal grains, dried grass, plenty of spices (imagine cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger) and distinct oak. The overall feeling is slightly oppressive and heavy. The finish is dry and spicy, with a lasting prickly heat. The tannins from the red wine cask are most evident here and they give it extra dryness, meaning that the whisky quickly becomes very woody and oaky.

What's the verdict?
This whisky is another interesting experiment from Bruichladdich. Many people enjoy Bruichladdich for its lightness and freshness but this original delicacy is only hinted at here. The extra age and the red wine cask have beefed it up significantly. Mourvèdre is a rich, tannic, intense and dry style of red wine and these characteristics battle with the lighter elements of the whisky. Someone who was tasting with us described this whisky as being like a lithe athlete being bulked up with steroids. Some of the red wine cask finished whiskies are better than others and while this is interesting to try and a decent example, there are other younger ones which seem to offer more balance and value for money.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

New releases ... Arran 14 years old

arran 14 years oldIndependently owned
This whisky is a eagerly anticipated new release from the Arran distillery - one of the youngest single malt whisky distilleries in Scotland. It was founded by an independent group called the Isle of Arran Distillers Limited in 1993 and production began in 1995, with the first single malt whisky released in 1998. The distillery is located on the isle of Arran, near to the village of Lochranza. It became the first legal distillery on the island since the 1840s. The island lies between the Campbeltown peninsula and the west Lowland coast.

The Isle of Arran Distillers Limited decided to employ traditional whisky production methods rather than modern day mechanised alternatives and Arran is one of Scotland's smaller distilleries as a result, producing approximately 750,000 litres per year. Arran's visitor centre is one of Scotland's most visited, despite its relatively remote location, due to the island being served by frequent ferries from the west coast and being within relatively easy reach of Glasgow.

An expanding range
Arran is a very innovative distillery but their core range reflects this, although the small production capacity and the short length of its history limits quantities. The range consists of 10 and 12 years old, the cask strength 100 proof and an un-chill filtered version. In addition to this, they have been experimenting with maturation in different casks, including European wine casks and these are released periodically as limited editions. The distillery has also released some additional bottlings this year, such as the recent 15th anniversary special and this new 14 years old (only released on 11 August 2010). This new whisky is released at 46% ABV, should cost around £40 a bottle from specialist whisky retailers or Arran's website and represents the oldest whisky that the distillery has released to date.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a bright gold and the nose is clean, fresh and vibrant. It is very perfumed with plenty of sweet honey, vanilla and coconut notes up front. Following these are further aromas that give pleasant depth to the nose - distinct oak (think of wood shavings) and cereal grains, some dried grasses (imagine hay), brown sugar and hints of dried fruit (especially sultanas) and peach. It is a very promising start. On the palate, this whisky feels silky, fresh and juicy. The flavour profile is driven by the vanilla and honey from the nose and these are backed up by plenty of cereal and wood spice notes (think of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger). There are other notes detectable including nuts (imagine almond and coconut), some dried pear and apple and a hint of saltiness. The balance is almost perfect. The finish begins sweetly with the brown sugar, vanilla and honey prominent before becoming dry and particularly grainy and grassy (think of hay again). The wood spices, especially nutmeg, comes through right at the end.

What's the verdict?
This is one of the best new whiskies of 2010 that we have tasted to date. Why? The superb balance of the aromas and flavours in the whisky and the obvious use of quality casking are two reasons. Another is that it is released at a strength (46% ABV) that seems to do it maximum justice and create that balance. The Arran whiskies just seem to be getting better and better with increased maturation. Gone are the sharper, more citrus notes of some of the younger releases to be replaced by sumptuous, richer and softer characteristics. If you love your Glenfiddich, Glenlivet or Glenmorangie style single malts, then you have to search out this Arran 14 years old ... it's a cracking dram.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Have just tried ... Bladnoch 8 years old Sherry Cask

bladnoch 8 years old sherry caskThe Bladnoch distillery is Scotland's most southerly that is currently in operation. It is located in a remote spot of Dumfries & Galloway, close to the village of Wigtown, and is actually further south than parts of northern England, including the city of Newcastle. Bladnoch (pronounced blad-nock) is derived from the ancient Gaelic place name of Blaidzenoch and lends its name to the nearby River Bladnoch, which supplies the water for the whisky production. Bladnoch was founded in 1817 by two brothers - Thomas and John McClelland. The distillery has had a chequered history and has been closed and re-opened on a number of occasions. There have been various financial reasons for this but most closures have ultimately been attributed to Bladnoch's location.

New owners
The most recent closure was in the mid 1990s. The previous owners (United Distillers, who were later to became part of Diageo) closed Bladnoch in 1993 and the distillery was later purchased by Northern Irishman Raymond Armstrong in 1994. His aim was to assist the Lowland whisky industry. This only had two distilleries left at the time - Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie - having previous had over 30. However, following various legal battles with Diageo, Armstrong was not allowed to begin production until 2000 and even then the production capacity was capped at 100,000 litres per year (full capacity is around 250,000 litres per year).

New ranges of whisky
Initially, old stock from the previous owners was bottled and released, before in 2008 the first single malt produced during Armstrong's tenure was released. The current range is expanding and includes an eight years old, a lightly peated version and some special editions such as this small batch release of whisky matured in sherry casks. This is bottled at eight years of age and represents stock that has been distilled since Armstrong took control. It has an alcoholic strength of 55% ABV and should cost about £40 a bottle from specialist whisky retailers. We thank Sue at Bladnoch for the chance to sample this whisky.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a deep gold and the nose is very tempting indeed. It has a sumptuous feel and offers plenty of dried fruit (think of sultana especially with some orange peel) and cinnamon/nutmeg spice notes initially. This gives an aroma reminiscent of hot cross buns. A strong toffee and butterscotch aroma begins to come through, as do notes of cereal grains, dried grasses (imagine straw and hay) and delicate honeysuckle with time. These are all counterbalanced by the strong, prickly alcohol which gives a sharp freshness. This alcohol is what leads the palate and makes it zingy, hot and citrus-like. Once this sensation dies away, other notes quickly replace it - plenty of dried fruits and cereals (think of sultanas, orange peel and malty flour), wood spices (the cinnamon and nutmeg again with some oak), sweet honey, dried grasses and a hint of sulphuric coal smoke (this adds an extra dimension and depth of flavour to the whisky rather than being a negative note as it can be in some sherry cask whiskies). The finish begins sweetly (the honey and sultanas especially) before becoming much drier with the dried grass, cereal and oak notes prominent.

What's the verdict?
The aromas and flavour characteristics above are all battling against the high alcohol presence in this whisky. The addition of some water helps with this and makes a good whisky in to an excellent one. With the alcoholic strength reduced the grassy and cereal notes come to the fore and balance well with the now softer toffee, sultana and honey notes. The balance is very good and it maintains its intensity without masking the more delicate flavours. This is arguably our favourite Bladnoch that we have tasted and reviewed to date. A great example of how sherry casks can be sympathetically used to mature whisky.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

And the winner is ...

balvenie 17 years old 'peated cask' 10cl sampleLast week we had the pleasure of sampling the forthcoming release from the famous Speyside distillery at Balvenie - the 17 years old 'Peated Cask'. We decided to offer the chance to win one of the 10cl sample bottles of this new whisky that William Grant & Sons, the owners of Balvenie, gave us. We thank them for this sample. The idea of the competition was to create the longest word possible from the letters BALVENIEPEATEDCASK and we have had a great response and increased our vocabulary over the last two days! We both thank everyone who entered and hope that you enjoyed the challenge.

The winner of the competition is 'Fernando', who submitted the impressive 12 letter word 'ASCLEPIADEAN'. Can you please contact us at so we can send out your sample?

We had numerous vocabulary-expanding 11 letter entries. A special mention must also go to 'Ed' who impressed us by submitting four different words in a sentence! We have found an extra sample of something different in our cupboard, so 'Ed' please get in touch if you are interested.

Karen & Matt

Friday, August 13, 2010

Win a 10cl sample of Balvenie 17 years old 'Peated Cask'

balvenie 17 years old 'peated cask' 10cl sampleLast Wednesday, we were lucky enough to be invited to the London unveiling of the new expression from the famous Speyside distillery of Balvenie. This was revealed to be a 17 years old that has been finished in casks that have previously held heavily peated whisky. It was all very exciting, as Balvenie is not normally peaty or smoky at all (although someone has since told us that they did this about 10 years ago as well). What does it taste like? Is it any good? Is it a gimmick? To read our full review and tasting notes of the new Balvenie 17 years old 'Peated Cask' - click here.

Well now you get the chance to try it for yourself! This whisky is not released in the UK until the first week of September and then around the world later in the month. We were given a 10cl sample of the new Balvenie 17 years old 'Peated Cask' at the launch and have decided to offer it to one of our readers ... but you have to work for it!

The idea is simple - make the longest English word using the letters that make up the words 'Balvenie Peated Cask' and leave that word, with your name, in the Comments section below. Anyone who watches Countdown in the UK or one of its spin-off shows around the world has an advantage here! The 18 letters that you can use to construct your word are printed below.


Now for the boring bit ... The word that you submit must be an English word that is in an English language dictionary. Each letter printed above above can only be used once. In the event of two readers submitting the same winning longest word, then the first reader to submit it will be the winner. In the event of two or more readers submitting different words but of the same length, then we will draw the valid entries from a hat to determine the winner. Our decision is final and we will publish the winner and winning word on the evening of Sunday 15 August, so please leave your name. You may enter as many times as you want. To enter, you must be of legal drinking age in your country of residence.

We don't know what the longest word is, so now it's over to you ... our best word so far is only eight letters long! Good luck and we look forward to seeing your competition entries.

Karen & Matt

Thursday, August 12, 2010

New releases ... Balvenie 17 years old 'Peated Cask'

balvenie 17 years old 'peated cask'Last night we were lucky enough to be invited to the unveiling of a new release from the Balvenie distillery. This was held in the function room of The Old Queen's Head pub in Islington, London by the Balvenie's UK brand ambassador, Andrew Forrester. Here he presented the Balvenie 17 years old Peated Cask to his intrigued audience. "A peated, smoky Balvenie?", was the whisper around the room. It turns out that we were some of the first people to sample it, outside of William Grant & Sons (Balvenie's owners). An allocation of 3000 bottles will be released in the first week of September in the UK, with a further 3000 bottles distributed worldwide later in the month. The RRP (recommended retail price) will be £70 and the bottling strength is 43% ABV.

The 'complete' distillery
Balvenie is one of the most famous names in the world of whisky. It was founded in 1892 by William Grant, who wanted to build a new distillery in the Speyside region so as to help his other distillery at Glenfiddich to meet increasing consumer demand. Glenfiddich had opened six years earlier and its whisky was proving extremely popular, so Grant decided to renovate nearby Balvenie House and its outbuildings. Balvenie is a large distillery capable of producing over 5.5 million litres of spirit a year and is described as 'the complete distillery', due to the fact that every process of production takes place on the site. This includes growing some of the barley on land adjoining the distillery buildings (the only distillery to do this), having an active malting floor and making casks in their own cooperage. Balvenie has been one of the world's best selling single malt whiskies for a number of years and consistently remains in the top 10.

For further information on the Balvenie distillery, please visit the distillery profile page on our website

A peaty Balvenie?
Balvenie is not known for its peaty, smoky whiskies. They do actually use a small amount of peat in the malt drying process but the flavour is rarely detectable in their final whisky. Therefore, this makes this whisky particularly intriguing - the story is as follows. The Balvenie's legendary Master Distiller, David Stewart, is one of the whisky industry's true innovators and he is widely regarded as having pioneered the use of different casks for finishing. In 2001, he produced some heavily peated Balvenie whisky and put this in to ex-bourbon casks. In late 2009, after eight years of maturation, he decided to transfer this heavily peated whisky to some fresher casks and had planned to experiment and put some other suitable whisky in to the old casks. Stewart selected some 17 years old and transferred it to the casks that had previously held the heavily peated whisky and monitored its maturation progress. The result was then blended with some other 17 years old whisky that had been part matured in new American oak casks. The result is this Balvenie 17 years old Peated Cask.

Our tasting notes
The colour is golden yellow and the nose is interesting. There is initial sweetness (think of caramel and honey), distinct cereal grains and some dried fruits (imagine raisins, sultanas, orange peel and apricots). Through this comes a whiff of light, earthy peat smoke that hints at bitterness. Finally there is a hit of wood spice, especially cinnamon, nutmeg and liquorice. It's a promising start. On the palate, after an initial dash of fresh citrus-like zestiness (more like lemon than the oranges of the nose), a complex mix of elements combine to give you plenty to think about. There is a more obvious smokiness that the nose suggested and this is earthy, with a hint of bonfire ash. Sweet caramel, honey, dried fruits (the raisins, sultanas and apricots again) and some cooked/stewed fruits (especially apples) give a lovely rich, rounded sweetness that is counteracted by the cereal and spice notes (think of ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and a touch of clove). The finish is decent in length with honey and dried fruit sweetness becoming drier and spicier, with the earthy smokiness never far away. The addition of water slightly flattens the zesty and bitter notes, while making the peatiness a little sweeter.

What's the verdict?
Well, we certainly didn't see this one coming when we got that invite! This is an interesting whisky that is well made with plenty of character. Are Balvenie taking a risk with this peaty, smoky whisky? Probably not, as the smokiness is light and subtle, probably due to that characteristic coming from the cask rather than the traditional peated malt. Also, Balvenie has a big worldwide following who will want to try this, so it should be a success. What is intriguing is to remember that there is still that original heavily peated Balvenie sitting in their warehouses somewhere. When will they release that? Now, there is something else that we would love to try!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Have just tried ... North British 30 years old 'Clan Denny'

north british 30 years old 'clan denny'One of Scotland's largest bottlers
This whisky is released by the Glasgow based independent bottling company Douglas Laing & Co, under their Clan Denny name. This name is used for their ranges of single grain whiskies and a series of vatted malts. The origin of the Clan Denny name is a little hazy, although Douglas Laing tell the story of a Taiwanese businessman who wanted a blended whisky made by them and named after himself. His name was Dennis and he suggested 'MacDennis', which Douglas Laing persuaded him to change to 'Clan Dennis'. Over time this has been adapted to Clan Denny. Douglas Laing & Co were founded in 1948 and are one of Scotland's largest independent whisky bottlers.

Popular for blends
North British is a large distillery that produces single grain whisky, using 100% maize, for a multitude of blended whisky brands. These include heavyweights such as Johnnie Walker Black Label, Chivas Regal, The Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark and J&B Rare. No official distillery bottlings of their whisky exist and the only way to try them is through independent bottling company stock, such as this one from Douglas Laing & Co. Even then, North British whisky is extremely hard to find. This whisky was distilled in 1979 and is bottled at 30 years of age. It has been matured in a single sherry cask and is released at the natural cask strength of 54.2% ABV. A bottle should cost £80-85 from specialist whisky retailers.

Edinburgh's only distillery
The North British distillery was founded in 1885 by three independent blenders - Andrew Usher, Willy Sanderson and John Crabble - who decided to build it in order to produce a constant source of grain whisky for their own ranges of blended whiskies. It is located in Edinburgh and is the last remaining whisky distillery within the city's boundary. North British has been owned by Lothian Distillers since 1993 and is one of Scotland's largest grain whisky production facilities. The current capacity is around 60 million litres per year and the whisky is made by three column stills that are operated 24 hours a day. This design of still is sometimes called a Coffey still and is named after Irishman Aeneas Coffey, who patented its design in 1831.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this North British 30 years old is dark gold with a tint of brown. The nose is intense and packed full of cereal grains (think of a slightly bitter type of grain like rye). There is also plenty of distinct caramel and toffee, along with some dried fruits (especially raisin and orange peel) and heavy wood spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). As the whisky sits in the glass for longer, the whiff of a burnt/charred aroma starts to come through - this is reminiscent of a cross between burnt sugar or treacle and sulphuric matchstick smoke. On the palate, much of the nose is replicated. The whisky is heavy and intense with a ton of cereal grain, woody oak and spice flavours present. These threaten to overpower everything else, although some sweeter elements (especially some dried fruits and zesty orange) manage to get through. The burnt/charred note again appears and increases with time to give a distinct bitter edge. This whisky seems to be much stronger in alcohol than its 54.2% ABV (and that's already strong!), and the prickly heat from the alcohol is evident. The finish begins sweetly (think of caramel), before being overtaken by bitter grains and that sulphuric charred woody note.

What's the verdict?
It is always good to try a whisky from a distillery that you have never previously tried. Grain whiskies are known to be intense with a bitter edge and this North British certainly demonstrates this, only more exaggerated due to its increased age. As a result, its intensity, grainy bitterness, spiciness and dry woody finish make it more of an acquired taste and not particularly user friendly. However, with the addition of water (and it can take a lot of water!), it becomes more accessible, sweeter and softer on the nose and palate but the grains and burnt/charred/sulphuric notes are still in the background. An interesting dram to try but you would have to be a real grain whisky fan to love this.

News ... Glenfiddich Explorers

glenfiddich explorers logoThe iconic Glenfiddich whisky brand has just launched a new interactive section of their website. This is called Glenfiddich Explorers and it offers insights in to what makes Glenfiddich the quality product that it is and invites you to think about what you wish to achieve in your life. The emphasis is on the pioneering spirit within all of us, with Glenfiddich used as an example of an continual innovator within its field.

The distillery's founder, William Grant, was one of the pioneers of the whisky industry and his company, William Grant & Sons, continue this through to the modern day. The list of achievements includes Glenfiddich being Scotland's largest whisky distillery with a capacity of 10 million litres, being the first to actively market single malts in travel retail in 1963 and the first to open a tourist visitor centre in 1969. Many argue that without this innovation, the modern whisky industry would not be what it is today. As a result, Glenfiddich is now a massive global brand and accounts for 35% of all single malt whisky sales in the world.

Not all of the site is whisky related and includes some very interesting short films and interviews with well known pioneers and entrepreneurs to demonstrate the point. We have included one such interview below, with explorer and mountaineer Sir Ranulph Feinnes describing his inspirations and the conquering of his fears.

The new site can be accessed through the regular Glenfiddich homepage or on Much of the site, such as the short films about the ingredients, production and drinking of Glenfiddich whisky and the information about numerous activity ideas can be accessed freely. However, the special members warehouse section requires you to sign up and leave your details before allowing you in. It is in this section that you are given the chance to enter a competition with a first prize of £3000, which you can put towards your trip of a lifetime - be warned though, it does freeze on occasion and leaves you frustrated and having to return to the beginning. We speak from experience!

Having said that, this is a great idea that is well executed and easy to navigate. It follows on from William Grant & Sons recent success with the similar Warehouse 24 website for Glenfiddich's sister distillery at Balvenie. The Explorers site should help Glenfiddich to achieve their goal, which is to increase the rapport and frequency of contact between the brand and its drinkers, as well as to create a worldwide online community that will share their experiences with each other. The new website also includes a blog which allows readers to leave comments.

Check it all out and good luck with the £3000 prize!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Have just tried ... Kavalan Solist sherry cask

kavalan solist sherry caskTaiwan's first 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 giving the distillery an annual capacity of approximately six million bottles. Kavalan is Taiwan's first and only whisky to date.

Kavalan's range
King Car decided to name their whisky range Kavalan after a group of indigenous people who once lived in the Yi-Lan County where the distillery is located. The range of whisky is currently small and consists of two single malts (a bourbon cask version and a Port cask) and the Solist collection, which are bottled at cask strength and includes this sherry cask and one from a bourbon cask. The Kavalan whiskies have been created, selected and blended by the legendary Dr. Jim Swan - a worldwide authority in the field of alcoholic beverages. Dr. Swan has consulted with numerous distilleries, breweries and wineries around the world over many years, including Penderyn in Wales.

Details of the whisky
This Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask is bottled at 58.2% ABV and is currently only available in Taiwan, some major cities in China and limited locations in the south east Asian travel retail sector. A bottle will cost the equivalent of £65. The whisky is aged for three years , 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 sending us this sample and for his support of Whisky For Everyone.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Solist sherry cask is very dark and chestnut brown, almost mahogany, in colour. The nose has a clean freshness to it but is rich, intense and packed with aromas. There is a treacle/molasses-like sweetness present and this is joined by the further sweetness of lots of dark dried fruits (think of raisins, prunes, figs and dates). Behind the sweetness are hints of more bitter notes, including some herbs, eucalyptus or menthol, cocoa and roasted coffee beans. It is sumptuous and tempting, making you want to taste it. On the palate, this whisky is initially extremely fruity with plenty of those dark, juicy dried fruits present (especially the raisins and prunes). This characteristics turns a little more jammy or cooked as you hold it in your mouth (imagine plums and cherries). The syrupy sweetness of the treacle note hits the tip of the tongue and the whisky feels thick, coating the inside of the mouth. The darker, more bitter elements come through again (imagine menthol, cocoa powder and the coffee beans), as does a distinct hit of wood spice (think of allspice and nutmeg). The finish is long and toffee sweet before becoming very woody and spicy at the end (especially the nutmeg). Also, the strength of the high alcohol ABV is only really evident on the finish and gives a sharp, prickly heat.

What's the verdict?
This is fascinating stuff. The high ABV strength and the Taiwanese climate have accelerated and exaggerated the elements pulled from the sherry cask here. The cask was obviously of excellent quality, as there are none of the sulphuric notes that can sometimes appear in sherry cask matured whiskies and puts a few Scots to shame - the Kavalan remains clean throughout. It seems older than it is (although the alcohol strength gives it away on the finish) and is reminiscent of a brandy. One person tasting with us commented that it reminded him of an Italian digestif called Cynar, due to the distinct bitter menthol notes. It has to be said that there is so much sherry cask influence here that it could be difficult to identify it as a whisky, although this eases with the addition of water which allows some cereal notes to emerge. The Kavalan Solist sherry cask is a very nice dram indeed and one that becomes more user friendly with the more water that is added. This whisky maintains the high standards that we have tasted in other Kavalan releases.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2011

the cover of the jim murray's whisky bible 2011Here we offer you a sneak preview of the cover design for the forthcoming version of Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2011. We thought it was interesting, as it marks a fairly radical departure from previous designs that have followed a slightly more traditional route. It is understood that the contents and layout of the book will follow the same format as in previous editions, but with a more contemporary feel. Matt discovered this while looking on the BBC Northampton website. They recently featured an article on Jim Murray and the forthcoming book, as it is printed in a town in Northamptonshire (a little tenuous we know, but that's local news for you in small town UK!). Matt found this on one of his regular checks of the site, as he was born and grew up in the county.

To read the full article about Jim Murray and the forthcoming Bible - click here.

The Jim Murray's Whisky Bible series is arguably the most comprehensive guide to whisky on the market. The 2011 edition will be the 8th version of the book. Each edition contains almost 4000 tasting notes of single malts, blends, vatted malts and grain whiskies from around the globe. Approximately 900 of these are new whiskies that have been released since the publication of the previous edition. Each whisky is assessed by Jim Murray, who writes tasting notes in his unique style and marks each one out of 100 using his own criteria for the nose, taste, finish and balance. The Bible has amassed a cult following around the world and Murray's opinion holds significant weight both in the consumer market and the whisky industry.

The Whisky Round Table - August 2010

whisky round table logoThe third meeting of The Whisky Round Table is now available. The group was the idea of Jason Johnstone-Yellin of the excellent Guid Scotch Drink whisky blog, and he has gathered together 11 other whisky bloggers from different locations around the world to take part. We are delighted to have been asked by Jason to form part of the Round Table and look forward to contributing to it in the future.

The idea is that the Whisky Round Table convenes once a month and the chair person sets a topical whisky related question that they have always wanted to ask. The chair person will change each month and rotate between the 12 Round Table members. Once the question is asked, each member will present an answer and this will be posted on the hosts blog when collated. The reader will then see 12 differing opinions and interpretations of the same question and this will hopefully introduce new ideas and approaches that may not have been thought of previously.

This month's Whisky Round Table is hosted by Peter Lemon of The Casks blog and the subject is the influence of marketing in the whisky industry. It has produced arguably the best Round Table to date and to read it - click here.

twitter logoThe Whisky Round Table is also now on Twitter, so you can follow what is going on @WhiskyKnights. All 12 of us hope to see you there!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Have just tried ... Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey

stranahan's colorado whiskeyColorado's first whiskey distillery
Stranahan's is an American single malt whiskey that is produced in Denver, Colorado. It is made at the Stranahan's micro distillery, which was founded in 2004 by Jess Graber, George Stranahan and Jake Norris, and was the first micro distillery to ever be granted a license to distill whiskey in Colorado. The partnership was born when Graber, who was a fireman, attended a barn fire at Stranahan's farm. The two got talking and discovered a mutual love of whiskies. Upon Graber's retirement from the fire service, the two decided to start a micro distillery along with Norris, who remains the head distiller and production manager. Between them they formulated the recipe and still design for Stranahan's whiskey.

Stranahan's whiskey is made using water from the Rocky Mountains, which is filtered through charcoal, and 80% of the barley used is also grown locally in the Rockies. The still is almost unique in the whisky world as it combines a copper pot still and a column still (the only thing that we know is similar, can be found at the Welsh distillery of Penderyn). The spirit is distilled twice and the make up of the still produces a high yield with little waste. The new spirit is matured for 2-5 years in heavily charred new oak casks and this takes place in climate controlled warehousing. Each cask can hold 200 litres and only 12 casks worth of spirit is produced each week (therefore 2,400 litres per week and around 125,000 litres per year).

Details of the whiskey
Stranahan's is released in small batches. Each batch consists of between 10 and 12 casks (approximately 2500-3000 bottles), which are married together for a short period and reduced to 47% ABV for bottling. Every bottle is filled by hand and the each label has hand written details including the batch number, the date that the youngest cask included was distilled and a comment. Our bottle is from batch 53, with the youngest cask of whiskey distilled on 28 January 2008 and a comment of 'Listening to Nick Cave'. Stranahan's has started to win awards, both in the USA and abroad, including Best Small Batch Whisky in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2008.

Our tasting notes
The colour of Stranahan's is a deep rich gold and the first thing that you notice is that this whiskey grips on to the glass and doesn't let go easily. The nose hits you with its intensity and the complexity is surprising given the youthfulness of the whiskey. Firstly comes a massive hit of vanilla and oak (think of sawdust) before sweet malty cereal grains and some fresh fruits come through (imagine pears, apples and some zingy citrus, possibly orange). These are all backed up by increasingly intense wood spices (think of cinnamon and nutmeg) and a hint of sulphuric smoke (this is reminiscent of coal smoke and is probably a result of the heavily charred casks used in maturation). On the palate, it is full bodied and viscous but the alcohol seems powerful and threatens to overtake everything. This is nullified by some big, bold characteristics that are present - heaps of oak, wood spice (the cinnamon and nutmeg again) and vanilla, some honey, orange zest and a heavy malty grain influence. The sweetness of the palate is replaced by dryness on the finish, as a charred, burnt woody element comes to the fore. This gives extra bitterness that is accentuated by further bitter cereal, wood spice and burnt sugar notes.

What's the verdict?
Stranahan's is a very interesting whiskey, although certainly not a subtle one! It is big, bold and a little brash with plenty of exaggerated aromas and flavours on offer. This may make it a bit overpowering for some. It certainly tastes and seems older than it is, although it gives hints to its youthful age with the pear and apple notes on the nose and the spicy alcohol on the palate. The comparison with 'Listening to Nick Cave' cannot be ignored - you will think it is great if you are into that style of lyrics and music (or this style of whiskey), but will find it difficult and almost inaccessible if you are not. There are few American single malts so it is well worth a try if you can get a bottle or a sample.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Have just tried ... Bladnoch 8 years old 'Beltie'

bladnoch 8 years old 'beltie'The furthest south
Bladnoch (pronounced blad-nock) is Scotland's most southerly distillery that is currently in operation. It is located in a remote spot, close to the village of Wigtown, between the towns of Dumfries and Stranraer - it is actually further south than parts of northern England, including the city of Newcastle! The distillery takes its name from the nearby River Bladnoch, which supplies the water for the whisky production, and was founded in 1817 by two brothers - Thomas and John McClelland. The distillery has had an intermittent history and has been closed and re-opened on a number of occasions, mainly due to its remote location. The most recent closure was in the 1990s.

The distillery is reborn
The previous owners (United Distillers, who later became part of Diageo) closed Bladnoch in 1993 and the distillery was purchased by Northern Irishman Raymond Armstrong in 1994. His aim was to boost the diminishing Lowland single malt whisky industry (there were only two distilleries left at the time - Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie - and this number had previously been over 30 in boom times). However, following legal problems with Diageo, Armstrong was not allowed to begin production until 2000 with the production capacity capped at 100,000 litres per year (full capacity is around 250,000 litres per year). Initially, old stock from the previous owners was bottled and released, before in 2008 the first single malt produced during Armstrong's tenure was released. The current range is still expanding as more stock reaches maturity.

Details of the 'Beltie'
This whisky was one of the first to be released that was made by Armstrong's regime, rather than using old Diageo stock.. It is bottled at eight years of age and at the cask strength of 55% ABV. The whisky has been matured in ex-bourbon casks and should cost around £4o per bottle (a bit of a bargain for a cask strength whisky) from specialist whisky retailers and It is named after the 'Beltie' or Belted Galloway, which is a rare breed of Lowland cattle found near to the distillery and they feature on the label. We thank Sue at Bladnoch for the opportunity to sample this whisky.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a vibrant golden yellow and the nose is fresh and fragrant. There is an immediate floral aroma (think of honeysuckle) and loads of vanilla. These are followed by a lovely combination of sweet notes - honey, almonds, marzipan and rich white oak - and some more bitter aromas (imagine dried grasses or hay and cereal grains). More vanilla and almond comes out the longer that the whisky remains in the glass. On the palate, this is again fresh and feels creamy in the mouth despite giving a hot sensation due to the high strength of the alcohol. Once this starts to soften, other notes start to come through - a distinct zesty and pleasantly acidic citrus note (think of lemon zest especially), plenty of vanilla, honey, almonds. These are again backed up by the more bitter cereal and dried grass elements. The finish is fairly short, zesty and refreshing. The finish lacks any real sweetness and remains enjoyably crisp and dry. With the addition of a few drops of water, the nose becomes more grainy and grassy. The same happens on the palate, where the balance is tilted away from the sweeter vanilla and honey elements. It takes plenty of water to lose the heat from the alcohol, although by this stage the whisky is becoming very bitter and drying on the finish.

What's the verdict?
This Bladnoch is very enjoyable and would be great as an aperitif/refreshing whisky. It has pleasant sweet, almost delicate elements that battle with the high alcohol percentage and the balance is just about maintained. With water, it seems to fall apart a bit but is easier to drink and still very pleasant. It may be a little dry for some palates but is an excellent example of this style of whisky. This is one tasty dram.

To compare this eight years old 'Beltie' with the regular eight years old bottling (released at 46% ABV), then read our recent review by clicking here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Have just tried ... Edradour Caledonia 12 years old

edradour caledonia 12 years oldA King's dram?
Edradour is marketed as Scotland's smallest single malt whisky distillery and produces just 90,000 litres of whisky each year. Technically, it is no longer the smallest as new distilleries, such as Kilchoman on Islay and Abhainn Dearg on the isle of Lewis, have opened and are producing less spirit per annum. Having said that, Edradour is the only one that produces a core range of bottlings to the market, so they can hang on to the tag for a while longer maybe! Edradour is located in the central Highlands, close to the town of Pitlochry, and is owned by the independent bottling company Signatory Vintage, who took control in 2002. The name of Edradour is thought to derive from the Gaelic 'Edred dobhar' meaning 'the stream of King Edred'.

Traditional methods
Edradour is housed in its original farm buildings and little has changed since it was founded in 1825. Everything at Edradour is small with all the distilling equipment (a mash tun, two washbacks and a pair of oddly shaped stills) jammed into one room. All processes use traditional methods with no automation and much of the equipment is made from wood. The pair of stills are also the smallest size permitted for commercial distilling by the Customs & Excise department. The picturesque farm buildings and the 'smallest' tag help the distillery to be one of Scotland's most visited, attracting approximately 100,000 tourists per year. The single malt core range is small and based around the 10 years old, with more limited expressions (such as this Caledonia) also available as cask strength or with experimental cask finishes.

Details of the Caledonia
This whisky was selected by the owner of Signatory Vintage (Edradour's owners) Andrew Symington and songwriter/poet Dougie MacLean. It is named after MacLean's well known song Caledonia, which he wrote in 1977. The bottling is limited and was released to commemorate Homecoming Scotland in 2009, an event that celebrated the 250th anniversary of the birth of Scottish national icon Robert Burns. It has been matured for 12 years in an ex-Oloroso sherry cask, is bottled at 46% ABV and can be found in specialist whisky retailers for around £40 a bottle.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Caledonia is a golden caramel with a dull brown tinge. The nose is initially appealing with some pleasant sweet notes present - dried fruits (think of raisin, sultanas and candied orange peel), vanilla, caramel (although this becomes more treacle-like and a little bitter with time), toasted nuts (especially almonds) and cereal grains. However, a slightly acidic sharpness develops quickly and this catches in your nostrils to give a slight unpleasant feeling. The sharpness is hard to pinpoint what it reminded us of. On the palate, this is prickly and sharp to begin with, before an interesting combination of notes battle through. These include raisins, caramel, vanilla, butterscotch and some wood spices (think of cinnamon and nutmeg). It then dramatically turns bitter, very woody and citric with dried grass, cereal husks, dry oak and bitter orange peel appearing. Some burnt sugar comes through right at the end. The finish follows a similar pattern to the nose and palate - it starts pleasantly sweet (imagine toffee and raisins especially) before becoming very dry, spicy and tangy (the oak, wood spices and bitter orange again).

What's the verdict?
This is a strange whisky. It must be said that it starts off very pleasantly but then the bitter, drying elements appear and make it ultimately disappointing. Why? Firstly, it feels very thin on the palate for a sherry cask matured whisky, which you would expect to be more sumptuous and velvety. Secondly, the bitterness/dryness/acidity is a surprise as Oloroso is a sweet style of sherry that is high in natural sugars and you would expect a whisky matured in it to be softer, sweeter and smoother. Thirdly, it really doesn't finish well and leaves your mouth very dry, parched almost. Ultimately, these elements lead to it seeming unbalanced.