Saturday, February 26, 2011

Have just tried > Tyrconnell

tyrconnell single malt irish whiskeyTyrconnell is a single malt Irish whiskey that is currently made by the award winning Cooley distillery in County Louth, approximately half way between Dublin and Belfast. The name is taken from the Irish Gaelic 'tír Chonaill' which translates as 'land of Conaill' (the 'Conaill' in question was an ancient ruler of the north western part of Ireland) and the whiskey is named after a racehorse of the same name. This horse famously won a race in Ireland in 1876, despite being a 100-1 shot and is depicted on the packaging.

The Tyrconnell range consists of four whiskies - this single malt, plus three other 10 year olds finished in Madeira, Port and sherry casks. They are all single malts made from 100% malted barley in copper pot stills - this makes them rare for Irish whiskies which are normally blended. This regular single malt has recently picked up numerous prestigious prizes including a Gold Medal at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in 2010 and Best Irish Single Malt at the World Whisky Awards in 2008.

Tyrconnell whiskey was originally made by Andrew A. Watt & Co at their distillery in Abbey Street in the city of Derry. The Watt's distillery was founded in 1762 and was one of the largest in Ireland during the mid 1800s. The Tyrconnell brand was later created to celebrate the famous victory of that 100-1 horse, which at the time was one of the first 100-1 horses to win a race. Tyrconnell was one of the biggest selling Irish whiskies in the USA before the Prohibition movement took hold in 1920. The Watt's distillery was badly affected by Prohibition and the drastic drop in sales. It struggled on, before finally closing in 1925. The whiskey then had to wait 70 years to be revived by its current makers at Cooley.

The Cooley distillery was founded in 1987 by John Teeling and his idea was to resurrect some of Ireland's oldest whiskey recipes and traditions that had become extinct during more difficult times. He converted an old vodka distillery and Cooley has since won over 100 awards worldwide, including the title of European Distillery of the Year at the prestigious International Wine & Spirits Competition awards in 2010. Their range includes Connemara (the only peaty Irish whiskey), Greenore, Kilbeggan, Locke's, Michael Collins and Millar's. This regular Tyrconnell has no age stated on the label, has an alcohol level of 40% ABV and should cost around £25 a bottle.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a light golden yellow and the nose has a lovely clean freshness and vibrancy to it. There is a tempting combination of aromas that make you want to take a sip. First comes some vanilla and tangy citrus notes (think of lemon zest), then others start to appear - plenty of distinct cereals (this becomes particularly sweet and malty with time in the glass), honey and some fresh crisp green fruits (imagine pear and apple). The nose is straightforward in a very positive way. On the palate, this whiskey is soft and clean with a lovely initial buttery feel in the mouth. Some tangy citrus notes then appear which add freshness (think of lemon zest, with possibly some orange also). Other detectable characteristics include plenty of malty cereals and vanilla, some honey, fresh green fruit (the apple especially and some white grapes) and a hint of cinnamon. The palate is a very good recreation of the nose. The finish is surprisingly long for a whiskey of this lightness and freshness. The tangy citrus is again prominent and leaves a pleasant crispness on the tongue. The cereal notes get maltier and maltier as the other notes begin to die away.

What's the verdict?
Tyrconnell is a lovely whiskey - it is not the most complex but is refreshingly straightforward and is clearly well made and matured. This makes it very pleasant and enjoyably easy to drink. It is a good example of a single malt whiskey in the lighter, almost aperitif-like style and as a result would be good for a whisky beginner. It also gives very good value for money when you consider the quality of the dram on offer. Delicious.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Inbox > February 25, 2011

whisky for everyone inbox logoInbox is our weekly round up of whisky news and PR type material that has found its way in to our email inbox. Sadly, we cannot write full articles or do justice to every piece that we receive, so Inbox has been born! It features items from around the world of whisky and is published by us each Friday. Within Inbox we will write a few lines detailing each press release/piece of news/PR event that we have received and provide links, where possible, for you to find out further information if you want to. Here are this week's findings ...
Chivas Regal & Vivienne Westwood
chivas regal 18 - vivienne westwood limited editionA new bespoke packaging design has been unveiled to celebrate London Fashion Week, which is now on. It celebrates the collaboration between the world famous Chivas Regal blended whisky, owned by Pernod Ricard, and iconic fashion designer Vivienne Westwood. The whisky in question is the Chivas Regal 18 years old and it is encased in a cloak of Westwood’s Union Jack print – this is to celebrate the year 1801, when both the current design of the Union Jack and the Chivas blends first appeared. The exclusive and limited release will consist of just 2,500 bottles and will be available globally for a retail price of $495.

Knob Creek > new bottling released
knob creek single barrel reserveThe American bourbon brand, owned by Beam Global, has announced a new bottling in its range – Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve. This is the first ever single barrel release of Knob Creek and each barrel has been hand selected for its supreme quality. It has been matured in charred new American oak barrels for nine years and is bottled at an alcoholic strength of 60% ABV (120 proof). The Single Barrel Reserve will initially only be available in the USA and will have a retail price of $40. Fred Noe, Beam’s seventh generation distiller and son of Booker Noe (the man who introduced the Knob Creek brand to the market) says, “we pay close attention to the barrels we select as we want to ensure that we’re bottling an extraordinary bourbon with a complex balance of aroma and taste.” For further information, go to

William Grant & Sons > new shop at airport
william grant's whisky shop at charles de gaulle airportThe famous owners of the Grant’s blended whisky range and top selling single malts such as Glenfiddich and Balvenie, have opened a designated Grant’s whisky store in Terminal 2F at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The shop features all of the Grant’s range, including the 25 years old and Distillery Edition expressions which are only available through Duty Free/Travel Retail channels. William Grant & Sons have decided to temporarily showcase their whiskies at the airport, which accommodates three million travellers each year, to celebrate the company’s incredible sales in France in recent years.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

New releases > Four Roses Small Batch Limited Edition

four roses small batch limited editionLast week, we were delighted to be invited to the UK launch of the latest bourbon whiskey release from the Four Roses distillery. It is located in the town of Lawrenceburg, which is in the famous American whiskey producing state of Kentucky. The event was held at the award winning Hawksmoor gourmet burger restaurant and was hosted by the Four Roses UK Brand Ambassador, Dan Priesmann. There we were treated to a whistle-stop tasting of the Four Roses range, before sampling this new Small Batch Limited Edition with a gut-busting chilli cheese burger (or a medley of butternut squash and vegetables in Karen's case!) and a plate load of chunky chips.

Four Roses was founded by Paul Jones Jnr. and first produced whiskey in 1888. It moved to the current Lawrenceburg site in 1910. The distillery is currently owned by the Kirin Brewery Company from Japan and is one of Kentucky's largest distilleries, producing eight million litres of whiskey a year. Much of this is released under the Four Roses name although, as with the other Kentucky distilleries, they also release whiskies and bourbons under different names. The most well known such example made at Four Roses is Bulleit bourbon.

Four Roses is unique amongst bourbon producers in that they use two different grain recipes (one with a recipe mix of 75% corn, 20% rye and 5% malted barley and the other with a mix of 60% corn, 35% rye and 5% malted barley) and five different strains of yeast for production. The result of this is that they end up with 10 different versions of Four Roses - each grain recipe is exposed to one of the five yeast strains and the resulting 10 bourbons have differing characteristics. To make each final bourbon in the range, they use a different combination of the 10 - the regular and best selling Yellow Label has some of all 10 included, the Small Batch uses just four of them and the Single Barrel uses just one which is specially selected for its supreme quality.

Details of the bottling
This Small Batch Limited Edition has been described by Jim Rutledge, the Master Distiller at Four Roses, as "the best whiskey that I have ever made". That is some statement, considering that he has worked at the distillery for over 40 years! The Limited Edition consists of just 12 specially selected casks and therefore numbers are very low - most are destined for the American market with just 120 bottles making it to the UK, which is the only place outside of the USA where it is being released. The bourbon has been made by combining the 12 casks, which are from three of the 10 recipes. These have been aged for roughly twice as long as the regular range and it contains whiskey of 10,11 and 15 years of age. It is bottled at 55.1% ABV and will retail in the UK for £70.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a warm orange amber and the nose is expressive but gentle. There are plenty of vanilla and sweet oak aromas to start with and these are then joined by a lovely combination of notes - dark dried fruits (think of prunes), toasted almonds, cinnamon spice, bittersweet cereal grains, dried coconut and orange bitters. There is also a bitter charred whiff of charcoal. On the palate this feels creamy and mouthcoating. There is plenty of initial wood spice (imagine cinnamon, oak and sandal wood), which then softens to reveal other flavours. First come notes of spiced orange zest, caramel and fresh almonds. These are softened further by some vanilla and coconut. Then some bittersweet characteristics start adding depth and complexity - think of robust cereals and some tobacco/cigar leaf, which give a pleasant and positive slightly musty edge. The finish is very long, with the high alcohol level helping with this. There is a lovely mix of drying wood spices (the cinnamon and oak again), bittersweet cereals and distinct tangy orange zest.

What's the verdict?
This a delicious whiskey that is powerful, expressive and intense. It wakes up your senses from the moment that you come in to contact with it - it smells warming and comforting, it feels great in your mouth and slowly reveals its complex nature and it lingers on your palate long after you have swallowed it. It is a fine example of a well made and sympathetically matured bourbon and a whiskey to be savoured and sipped.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Have just tried > Lion's Pride Whiskey from Koval

koval distillery logoThe Lion's Pride whiskey range is made at the Koval distillery in the American city of Chicago. This is the first distillery to legally produce whiskey in the city, or the state of Illinois, since the abolition of Prohibition in 1933. It was founded in 2008 by the husband and wife team of Robert and Sonat Birnecker and is operated by themselves and other members of their immediate family.

Koval produces a range of boutique and traditional American whiskies, in addition to a large range of fruit based liqueurs, brandies and eaux de vie which are inspired by Robert Birneker's heritage. He was inspired to recreate these fruit based spirits as his grandfather had worked in the distilling industry making such products in his native Austria. Flavours produced include coffee, ginger, jasmine, pear and rose hip. They also produce a vodka at Koval, which is distilled from rye grains. The range of Koval products are currently only available in eight states of the USA - California, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Tennessee and Wisconsin - but as they start to pick up some industry awards this will surely grow.

the still at kovalKoval's whiskies are made from a variety of different cereal grains and are all certified organic and kosher. All of the materials used by Koval are locally sourced and this includes the grains and wood for the casks. The process of the whisky making, from the mashing stage through fermentation, distillation (see the custom made still from Germany, left), maturation and bottling, all take place at the distillery and are constantly monitored by Koval's small team of experts. This is unlike some boutique distilleries (also called 'micro distilleries'), who buy in pre-prepared wash or neutral grain spirit and then take the process from there.

We were delighted when we received a package containing a sample of each of the six Koval whiskies recently. We thank Meg Bell, Koval's Brand Ambassador, for sending these to us. Our package included the four whiskies released under the Lion's Pride label - the Oat, Rye, Dark Oat and Dark Rye - plus two versions of the new make spirit (or 'white whiskey' as it is know in America), which are named Midwest Wheat and Rye Chicago. For further information on the Koval distillery and its products, go to

The Koval whiskies are all made using 100% of the named grain (eg - the Dark Rye is made with 100% rye, the Dark Oat with 100% oats etc) and this is done so as to reveal the pure characteristics of each type of grain. This is different from the majority of American whiskies, which combine differing percentages of different grains within their recipes. Each whiskey is produced in 30 gallon (113.5 litres) batches and all are released with an alcoholic strength of 40% ABV, with the Lion's Pride whiskies being bottled in single cask batches. All of the Lion's Pride bottlings are released at two years of age and the difference between the 'regular' whiskey and the 'dark' whiskey are due to different casking (we suspect that the 'dark' may have been matured in more heavily charred casks than the 'regular').

Our tasting notes
koval midwest wheatMidwest Wheat
This unaged grain whiskey is made using 100% wheat. It is clear with absolutely no colour. The nose has lots of initial aromas of vanilla and is fragrant, fresh and positive for a new make spirit. Other aromas include distinct cereals, boiled fruit sweets (think of peardrops) and something slight earthy/musty. On the palate, this is light and tangy with some peppery spice, fresh green fruits (imagine pears and apples), icing sugar sweetness and bittersweet cereal grains. It becomes slightly creamier in the mouth with time. The finish is short and sweet with plenty of that icing sugar sweetness. Very pleasant and palatable for a new make spirit (being down at 40% ABV helps) and this would be great in a cocktail or with a mixer.

koval rye chicagoRye Chicago
Like the Midwest Wheat, this grain whiskey does not undergo any aging in an oak cask. It is made using 100% rye grains and has no colour. The nose is full of sweet cereal aromas, backed up by a hint of citrus (orange maybe?), sugar coated boiled sweets and a floral undertone (think of honeysuckle). The palate is very sweet and tangy with some lovely honey and vanilla notes complimenting the sharper citrus orange zestiness. There is a youthful burning spiciness that gives way with time to give a comforting creamy toffee feeling. The finish is short and soft - this is very well rounded and has a very good balance. Equally perfect and pleasant to drink on its own or as part of a cocktail.

lion's pride oat whiskeyLion's Pride Oat
Made 100% from oats, this whiskey has been matured for two years in American oak casks. The nose is expressive with plenty of robust cereals and fresh coconut fragrances. It becomes more scented with time in the glass - aromas of vanilla, honey, shortbread and a hint of orange oil come through. On the palate, this feels creamy and slightly oily - there are notes of distinct bittersweet oats (think of an oatcake biscuit), vanilla, honey, freshly grated coconut (plenty!) and hints of white chocolate and nutmeg. The finish is of decent length with icing sugar-like sweetness tempered by gentle bitter cereal notes. This grainy bitterness lingers and is delicious. A lovely dram to sip and savour.

lion's pride rye whiskeyLion's Pride Rye
This is made of 100% rye grains and has again been aged for two years in American oak casks. The colour is a pale golden yellow and the nose is very attractive and fragrant with some lovely aromas of dried banana, honey, vanilla, oat/cereal cookies (the combination of grain, butter and sugary notes lead us to this description) and boiled fruit sweets. On the palate, this is light, tangy and mouth watering with opening notes of vanilla, honey and coconut. Then comes delicious caramel and warm wood spices (think of oak, cinnamon and nutmeg). The finish is pleasant and quite dry with plenty of dry, woody bitterness. This is complimented by a hint of hot peppery spice and the dried banana note from the nose.

lion's pride dark oat whiskeyLion's Pride Dark Oat
Again aged for two years but in different casks, this whiskey has been made from 100% oats. The colour is a dark golden yellow and the nose is very sweet, fresh and highly perfumed. There are heavy aromas of robust cereals (these increase with more and more time in the glass) and golden syrup, backed up by more subtle ones of toasted almond and wood spice (cinnamon especially). On the palate, this is oily, firm and coats the inside of your mouth - there is a ton of caramel notes here, with others of honey, oak, coconut, golden syrup, toasted almond , cinnamon and nutmeg joining. The finish begins sweetly before becoming slightly bitter and astringent. This adds great balance and gives a palate cleansing feel.

lion's pride dark rye whiskeyLions Pride Dark Rye
Made from 100% rye grains and matured for two years, this whiskey has a vibrant golden yellow colour. The aromas coming from the nose are lovely and vibrant - bitter cereals, woody coconut, caramel, peardrop sweets, icing sugar and fresh sawdust/oak. On the palate, there is an instant hit of orange oil, followed by a massive dried coconut note. Then comes vanilla, boiled fruit sweets, icing sugar, charred/toasted oak and plenty of soft and rounded baking spices (think of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice). The whiskey feels viscous and a little oily in the mouth. The finish is long and enjoyably fresh with an abundance of oak, coconut and tangy, drying and rounded baking spices. Simply delicious.

What's the verdict?
If we are honest, then we were pleasantly surprised by the range from Koval. This follows previous less than positive experiences with some young 'boutique' whiskies from around the world! The Koval range is excellent and with a distinctive (and quite hard to describe) character that is quite unlike anything tasted on our whisk(e)y journey to date. The range (and especially the new make spirits or 'white whiskies') clearly benefit from being brought down to a palatable alcoholic level of 40% ABV, as the raw spirit notes at a higher ABV can sometimes be off-putting and overpowering.

With the abundance of boutique/micro-distilleries that have set up in the USA within last few years (and that continue to set up), the hope has to be that they all produce distinctive whiskies as good as those of Koval. If they do, then we are all in for a good time!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Inbox > February 18, 2011

whisky for everyone inbox logoInbox is back after its festive break and is ready to bring you more news! Inbox is a weekly round up of whisky news and PR type material that has found its way in to our email inbox. Sadly, we cannot write full articles or do justice to every piece that we receive, so Inbox has been born! It features items from around the world of whisky and is published by us each Friday. Within Inbox we will write a few lines detailing each press release/piece of news/PR event that we have received and provide links, where possible, for you to find out further information if you want to. Here are this week's findings ...
Ardbeg > new website launched
The title says it all really – Ardbeg, the cult distillery on the island of Islay has launched a new version of its website. Your can visit this site at The new site offers insight and information on the island of Islay and the distillery, tasting notes of their whiskies (which are categorised by taste and expression), plus links to the Ardbeg Committee (which is free to join) and the online mail order shop.

Dalmore > new release announced
dalmore castle leodThe famous distillery in the northern Highlands of Scotland has announced details of a new whisky release – Dalmore Castle Leod. The whisky is a limited edition of just 5,000 bottles and will retail at a recommended price of £100. It is named after Castle Leod, which was built in 1606 and is located near to the Dalmore distillery. The castle is the family home of the MacKenzie clan, who have traditionally had a strong association with the distillery and its whisky. The packaging features a painting of the castle. The whisky has been matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, before being transferred in to red wine barrique barrels for the last 18 months. These casks had previously held Premier Cru Cabernet Sauvignon wine from the Bordeaux region of France. For further information, visit

Jack Daniels > new pre-mixed drinks launched
jack daniels' range of pre-mixed drinksMarch will see the launch of a range of pre-mixed drinks from the world famous Jack Daniels distillery in Tennessee. These will be available in most markets in the USA and will go by the label of The Perfect Mix. The range will feature three lines of their popular Old No.7 with different mixers - Jack Daniels & Cola, Jack Daniels & Ginger and Jack Daniels & Diet Cola. Each are packaged in recyclable aluminium bottles and will be sold in packs of four with a recommended retail price of $10. Each drink has an alcoholic strength of 5% ABV.

Mount Vernon > George Washington’s whiskey recreated
A group of history enthusiasts are bringing an old whiskey recipe back to life. The whiskey was originally made by George Washington, America’s first President, at his Mount Vernon distillery. At the end of the 18th century, Washington’s distillery was the nation’s most successful and few people are aware that he also ran other successful businesses, as well as running the new country! Now, a historical group led by Master Distiller Dave Pickerell and Distillery Manager Steve Bashore have rebuilt the Mount Vernon distillery on the original site and are making whiskey in the traditional way of the 1790s. Check out this informative video clip to see them in action.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Have just tried > Hankey Bannister 40 years old

Hankey Bannister is an award winning range of blended whiskies that are marketed and released by Inver House Distillers. The slightly strange name comes from a partnership of two business men (whose surnames were Hankey and Bannister) who set up a wine and spirits business in the West End of London in 1757. They were one of the first companies to take whisky from Scotland and blend it elsewhere. The popularity of their whiskies grew with time, especially amongst royalty and the wealthy. Previous fans have included King George V, King Edward VII and Sir Winston Churchill.

The Hankey Bannister brand is exported to over 40 countries, with the main markets being the UK, South America, South Africa and Australia. The core range consists of the Original, which is the most popular and widely available, plus a 12 years old, a 21 and this 40 years old (note that the age stated on a blended whisky is the youngest whisky that is present, with some older whiskies also included). We thank Cathy James of Inver House Distillers for allowing us to sample this rare whisky.

This 40 years old was produced to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Hankey Bannister & Co in 2007 and it went on to win the prestigious award of Best Blended Whisky at The World Whisky Awards 2009. The range of whiskies are loosely based on Hankey and Bannister's original recipe and contains around 30% of single malt whisky (mostly from Balblair distillery, but also from two of Inver House's other distilleries at Balmenach and Knockdhu). The remaining 70% is grain whisky, mostly coming from the North British and Port Dundas distilleries.

However, this 40 years old is different - the story goes that a selection of casks were found nestling in the back of a warehouse by an Inver House employee. Upon the research of old paperwork, it was discovered that the whisky within these casks had been blended together in 1966 and the casks had been maturing ever since! It was also found that it contained whisky from the distilleries of Garnheath, Glen Flagler and Killyloch, all of which have long since stopped producing whisky and are therefore very rare. It is limited to just 1917 bottles, has an alcoholic strength of 43.3% ABV and costs around £385 each from specialist whisky retailers.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a rich, dark golden amber and the nose is full of delicious aromas. It is rich, dense and complex with a heady mix of sweet fruity notes (think of dried fruits especially, like raisins, sultanas, candied orange peel and dates) and lovely wood spices (imagine sandal wood, cinnamon and nutmeg). There are also aromas of toasted almond and some waxy furniture polish (this is a classic sign of very old ex-sherry cask matured whiskies). The combination of aromas is fantastic and one of the people we were tasting it with likened it to a good Marsala wine. Interestingly, with further time in the glass the fruitiness takes on a distinct tropical note, reminiscent of mango especially. On the palate this whisky coats your mouth, digging in and gripping your tastebuds hard. It is rich, intense and displays a great balance between the sweeter and drier elements. Numerous characteristics are detected and these are layered upon each other - burnt caramel, dried fruits (candied orange, raisins and dates, with the tropical notes again returning later), hints of dark chocolate and coffee, plenty of cereals and wood spices (think of cinnamon and nutmeg), honey and a clove-like edge. Two things especially spring to mind - cloved/spiced oranges and rum soaked raisins. The finish is long and enjoyable. It goes from initial sweetness through dryness and back to some final tangy sweetness. There are plenty of soft wood spices here, complimented by notes of caramel and orange oil.

What's the verdict?
This is an exceptionally good whisky that has a fantastic balance between all of the characteristics, be it sweet, woody or spicy. The complex flavours hang around on the palate for ages. The softness and integration of all of these characteristics clearly shows the benefit of that 40 year extended period of the original blend sympathetically maturing and marrying in the cask. It is also a bargain price for something of this quality and age compared to other similarly aged whiskies, whether it is a blend or single malt. If you ever get the chance to try this whisky then don't hesitate. It's a cracker!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

New releases > Arran Machrie Moor

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

The Isle of Arran Distillers Limited decided to employ traditional whisky production methods rather than modern day mechanised alternatives. Arran is one of Scotland's smaller distilleries and has a capacity of 750,000 litres per year, although they are currently running at about a third of that. 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 Lowland coast and being within relatively easy reach of Glasgow.

A change of direction
The Machrie Moor is Arran's first foray in to a general release of the peaty, smoky style of whisky (they have released some single cask smoky limited editions in the past) and is lightly peated at 14PPM (Phenol Parts per Million - click here for our explanation). The name reflects this - Machire Moor is an area of moorland on the west coast of the island that is covered in peat bogs. It is released to compliment the lighter, fresher style of whisky that Arran has become well renowned for. There are to be only 9,000 bottles being released at the moment, although more peaty whisky is understood to be maturing at the distillery for future release.

New packaging
To mark the difference of their new release, Arran have designed alternative packaging to that of their regular range - Machrie Moor is presented in a dark green bottle with the lettering and an image of a dog in copper. The dog is a representation of Bran, the dog of warrior giant Fingal as the legend goes, who Fingal used to tether to one of the Bronze Age stones on the Machrie Moor. This new whisky is released at 46% ABV, with no age stated and should cost around £40 a bottle from specialist whisky retailers in France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the UK, the USA or from Arran's website.

Our tasting notes
The colour of the Machrie Moor is lemon yellow and the nose is light, fresh and subtle to begin with. Aromas of vanilla, honey, citrus (think of lemon zest) and unripe plums (or maybe greengages?) give way to more robust malty barley grains (imagine oatcake biscuits) and sweet, earthy peat smoke. These give the nose some punch and impact. There are also notes of shortbread, coconut and woody oak spice. The vanilla aromas increase with time in the glass and in contrast, the peat smoke softens. On the palate, this whisky has a clean but youthful and slightly hot, peppery burn which quickly subsides to give a lovely creamy combination of sweet notes - vanilla (reminiscent of custard powder), malty barley, honey. Then comes tangy citrus (the lemon zest again) and a hint of salt or brine. Finally, the soft subtle peat smoke appears with an initial damp earthy quality. With time, this smokiness takes on a feeling of toasted cereals and burnt caramel. It is very pleasant indeed. The finish is of decent length for a lighter style of whisky and has a distinct tangy, zesty freshness (think of lemon zest and a hint of sherbet). This becomes hot, peppery and slightly dry right at the end. The soft smoke burns away throughout, like the embers of a dying bonfire.

What's the verdict?
This is an interesting dram and an equally interesting experiment by the Isle of Arran Distillers. By producing a lightly peated whisky they are changing direction but without alienating fans of the traditional Arran style. As a result, this whisky lends itself to being a good choice for a beginner or someone that hasn't tried any or many smoky whiskies - it is soft and light with some of the characteristic aromas and flavours of peat, but without being too much. Machrie Moor is a pleasantly fresh and enjoyable dram.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Inbox > February 11, 2011

whisky for everyone inbox logoInbox is back after its festive break and is ready to bring you more news! Inbox is a weekly round up of whisky news and PR type material that has found its way in to our email inbox. Sadly, we cannot write full articles or do justice to every piece that we receive, so Inbox has been born! It features items from around the world of whisky and is published by us each Friday. Within Inbox we will write a few lines detailing each press release/piece of news/PR event that we have received and provide links, where possible, for you to find out further information if you want to. Here are this week's findings ...
Glenmorangie > Finealta's official European launch
glenmorangie finealtaThis week has seen the official European launch of Glenmorangie's latest single malt - the Finealta (pronounced fin-alta). The whisky is the first Glenmorangie to be made in the peaty, smoky style for nearly a century and it is a recreation of a recipe found amongst some old documents from the early 1900s. Finealta is already available, having been given soft launches to certain travel retail/Duty Free markets last autumn and then to the UK retail market last month.

The European launch was held at the famous (and recently renovated) Savoy Hotel in London. To mark the occasion, the Savoy's American Bar has created a Finealta based whisky cocktail named 'Smoke & Mirrors'. This is served in a Martini glass and is made with Finealta, aromatic bitters, Benedictine and a French aperitif called Byrrh with a garnish of orange twist. To read our recent review of Glenmorangie Finealta - click here.

Lagavulin > Sponsors Islay Jazz Festival
islay jazz festivalDiageo, the owners of the iconic and smoky Lagavulin single malt whisky from the western island of Islay, have announced that they are to continue sponsoring the Islay Jazz Festival in 2011. Lagavulin sponsored the event last year and this year's event takes place on 16-18 September. The festival attracts hundreds of jazz lovers and musicians to Islay each year and it takes place at various locations around the famous whisky island. Fiona Alexander from promoters Jazz Scotland welcomed the second year of sponsorship by commenting, ”With its distinctive and rich programme and undeniable sense of place, the Festival shares the values of its sponsor: Lagavulin. Both are fine Islay products with world-class appeal”. Highlights of last year's festival can be viewed at

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

New releases > 'King Car' from Kavalan

king car single malt whisky from kavalanThe King Car Whisky is made by the Kavalan distillery on the island of Taiwan. Kavalan is one of the newest and most technically advanced distilleries in the world and is located in Yuanshan, a town in the north of the island. Yuanshan lies to the south of the major cities of Taipei and Keelung and close to the Pacific coast. It was built over an eight month period in 2005 and 2006 and has copper stills that were constructed in Scotland. The distillery has a large annual capacity of approximately six million bottles. The name of 'Kavalan' is taken from a group of indigenous people who once lived in the Yi-Lan County where the distillery is based.

This whisky is named after the King Car Corporation, who are the owners of Kavalan. King Car was originally set up in 1979 and has grown to be one of Taiwan's biggest beverage and food manufacturers. As Taiwan's whisky drinking population has grown considerably over the last two decades, the chairman of King Car decided to build his own whisky distillery. He assembled an experienced team of professionals and took them to Scotland to learn the whisky making processes, traditions and techniques. The whisky was initially created, selected and blended by the legendary Dr. Jim Swan - a worldwide authority in the field of alcoholic beverages and a consultant with numerous distilleries, breweries and wineries over many years.

The range of whisky from Kavalan is currently small but is expanding all of the time. It is currently only available in Taiwan, larger cities in China and selected travel retail markets in south east Asia. The range consists of a single malt, a blend and the limited edition Solist collection. Kavalan's whiskies are usually released at a relatively young age (normally around three years old) - this is because the whisky ages much faster in Taiwan's warm and humid climate, losing around 10% of its volume each year to the angel's share (the angel's share is 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 a sample to taste and review. He explained to us about his special new single malt,

"The King Car single malt whisky is my latest creation and consists of 8 different types of casks. You have the most common refills, sherry and ex-bourbon casks plus 5 more specially selected casks in order to make the flavour to the fullest and most rounded possible. And this time, because we would like to retain the most flavours, the whisky is non-chill filtered and the alcoholic strength is raised to 46% ABV! This is the first expression in the name of King Car which is the name of the Group. The Chairman of the group, Mr. TT Lee, would like to have a whisky that can also represent the company to show the kind of diversity, multi-area of business that we do, and this King Car single malt can truly represent the company with its complex flavours, delicate aromas and multi layers of background fruitiness!"

Our tasting notes
The colour of King Car is a bright golden yellow and the nose has a good intensity and is fresh, vibrant and highly perfumed. Firstly, there is an aromatic blast of vanilla and honey, followed by some fresh tangy green fruit (think of pear and apple especially) and coconut. Further aromas begin to develop with time - underlying sultana and dried apricot, malty barley notes and subtle hints of wood spice (imagine cinnamon, nutmeg and cedar wood). There are also aromas reminiscent of orange oil and liquorice. This is very promising and makes you want to take a sip. On the palate, there is again immediate and obvious sweet notes of vanilla and honey, but they are joined by the coconut and wood spices much earlier than in the nose. It grips on to your tongue and mouth. Then comes a distinct woodiness (think of fresh wood shavings) and plenty of malty barley grains. These elements are balanced by a lovely tangy quality, which is led by notes of fresh green fruits (the pears and apples again) and some citrus zest (imagine orange and lemon zest). The finish is long, intense and vibrant, again with plenty of vanilla and barley notes which are complimented by the tangy zestiness and wood spices from the palate.

What's the verdict?
This is a lovely whisky that delivers on almost every level and is very enjoyable. The danger when trying to combine eight different types of cask could be to create a mish-mash of a whisky, that is neither one thing or the other. However, Kavalan have clearly used high quality casks in a sympathetic way to create a whisky that is delicious, fresh and stands out from the crowd. It is easy to see why Kavalan are taking the whisky world by storm and starting to bag some impressive awards. If they keep producing whisky of this standard (and to the standard of their other whiskies that we have reviewed), then even the most traditional of whisky drinkers will have to sit up and take note. Kavalan is here to stay - it is just a shame that it is not yet available to a wider audience.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Have just tried > Bruichladdich 1984 'Golder Still'

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 with generally little or no peatiness. The distillery was originally founded in 1881 and was built using stones from the local beach (plus concrete, making Bruichladdich one of the first buildings in the UK to be built using it!). It is a small distillery with an annual production capacity of just 700,000 litres. Bruichladdich translates as 'the brae (or hillside) by the shore' from Gaelic.

Bruichladdich is one of Scotland's most innovative distilleries and one of very few that remain independently owned. It was taken over by a group of four entrepreneurs who formed the Bruichladdich Distillery Company in 2000 and their aim was to give Bruichladdich's whisky production and release programme an experimental edge. 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.

The Golder Still is a release that was distilled in 1984. It was bottled in early 2008 at 23 years of age and there were just 4866 bottles upon its release later in the year. It was bottled at an alcoholic strength of 51% ABV. The Golder Still forms part of a mini series that was released by Bruichladdich at that time, and followed two other limited editions - the Redder Still and the Blacker Still. You can still find bottles around, although at £125 it is a little more expensive than when it was released.

The 'Golder' name is believed to be derived from the intense gold coloration of the whisky, that is a direct result of it maturing ex-bourbon casks that were experimentally constructed to be shorter and fatter than a normal old bourbon cask. This means that the whisky to wood ratio is greatly increased - therefore, the natural compounds in the wood have more relative influence on the whisky. The packaging is also impressive and distinctive, especially the bottle which boasts a matt gold coating.

Our tasting notes
The colour of Golder Still is golden yellow and the nose is expressive and fresh for a whisky of this age. Initially, there is a ton of vanilla and these are quickly joined by a lovely combination of aromas, including honey, cereal grains (imagine oatcakes), almonds and some distinct woody spices (think of cinnamon bark and nutmeg). Two further subtle notes give pleasing depth to the nose - the first is reminiscent of custard powder and the second has a slightly dusty, earthy quality. On the palate, this whisky does not disappoint as the promise of the nose is fulfilled. It is initially surprisingly tangy, with a citrus zesty note particularly prominent (imagine orange especially) then giving way to some lovely, sweet and rich characteristics - think of vanilla, honey, malty cereal grains and increasing wood spice (that cinnamon and nutmeg again). The whisky feels syrupy and oily in the mouth with the spicy notes particularly gripping to the palate. The finish is lovely but quite short. It begins sweetly with vanilla and honey notes, before turning drier and spicier with some bitter oakyness coming through to give a fresh, mouthwatering quality. A final hit of zesty, almost spiced, orange accentuates this.

What's the verdict?
A delicious dram that is of high quality. It shows what can be achieved by using good ex-bourbon casks sympathetically. The Golder Still is lovely, with a complex mix of rich, pleasant and complimentary characteristics. The person that shared this with us said (before we knew what it was ...), "if you don't like this whisky, then there is something wrong with you!". We would not quite go that far but if you ever get the chance to try or buy it, then we will let you make your own mind up!

New releases > Greenore 18 years old

greenore 18 years oldGreenore is a whiskey that is made at the Cooley distillery in County Louth, Ireland. The distillery lies roughly half way between Belfast and Dublin and is one of only three whiskey distilleries currently in operation in Ireland (Bushmills and Midleton are the others). Cooley was founded in 1987 by John Teeling and his idea was to resurrect some of Ireland's oldest whiskey recipes and traditions that had become extinct during more difficult times. He converted an old vodka distillery and Cooley has since won over 100 awards worldwide, including the title of European Distillery of the Year at the prestigious International Wine & Spirits Competition awards in 2010.

At Cooley they produce whiskey using traditional recipes, each with a different mixtures of barley and other grains. Their range includes some famous Irish whiskey names such as Connemara (the only peaty Irish whiskey), Kilbeggan, Locke's, Michael Collins, Millar's and Tyrconnell. Around 95% of all the whiskey produced at Cooley is exported, with the UK, mainland Europe and South Africa being the current main markets.

Greenore is unique as it is the only Irish grain whiskey that is in regularly production. Grain whiskies contain no barley but are made from a mixture of other grains instead. This 18 years old is a brand new small batch bottling of just 4000 bottles and is the oldest bottling of an Irish single grain to date. It replaces the popular Greenore 15 years old which was highly awarded, including the prestigious Best Single Grain at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in both 2009 and 2010. The new 18 years old is bottled at 46% ABV and is non chill filtered (for a definition of this - click here). It will be available from mid February for approximately £65-70 a bottle.

Our tasting notes
The colour is vibrant gold and the nose is perfumed and very promising - it has aromas of distinctive and fragrant cereals, honey, vanilla, shortbread or butter biscuits (or maybe even uncooked pastry?) and some oaky coconut. In addition, there are more subtle notes of spiced orange, a whiff of burnt sugar and a hint of old polished furniture. With time, the aromas really jump out of the glass at you. On the palate, this is initially tangy and sweet with a golden syrup-like sweetness combining with some spiced orange (the combination is reminiscent of a good marmalade). Then plenty of distinct cereal grains and woody notes develop and the whiskey feels a little oily and syrupy in the mouth. Further notes of vanilla, honey, toasted almonds and warm wood spices (think of ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg) add to the enjoyable flavours. The finish is warming and long. It again begins sweetly before the woodier and drier notes come through to give a pleasant bitter, almost cleansing quality. Having said that, it is more 'bittersweet' than 'sweet followed by bitter'. The refreshing nature of the finish is reminiscent of a bourbon whiskey which has been sympathetically matured.

What's the verdict?
This Greenore is very good and one of the better single grain whiskies that we have tried to date. The joy is that while it has a certain level of complexity, it never gets too involved or complicated and the aromas or flavours are therefore well defined. It offers plenty of sweetness but also interesting spiciness to compliment. If you have never tried any grain whiskies before, then this would be a great starting point - it is clearly well made and well balanced, with the increased age softening some of the sharper elements sometimes found in younger grain whiskies.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Inbox > February 4, 2011

whisky for everyone inbox logoInbox is back after its festive break and is ready to bring you more news! Inbox is a weekly round up of whisky news and PR type material that has found its way in to our email inbox. Sadly, we cannot write full articles or do justice to every piece that we receive, so Inbox has been born! It features items from around the world of whisky and is published by us each Friday. Within Inbox we will write a few lines detailing each press release/piece of news/PR event that we have received and provide links, where possible, for you to find out further information if you want to. Here are this week's interesting findings ...
Glengoyne > 40 years old earns accolade
glengoyne 40 years oldThe limited edition Glengoyne 40 years old has been named as the Ultra Premium Dram of 2010 by the visitors and organisers of one of the UK’s biggest whisky events, The Whisky Show. The whisky was up against over 20 other premium single malts with a minimum price tag of £300 and was selected after a public sampling vote that took place at the event in October last year. The best-supported whiskies were then sampled by the event organisers. Glengoyne is a southern Highland whisky, which is located close to Loch Lomond, and is owned by Ian Macleod Distillers. The 40 years old has just 250 bottles, with each costing £3750, and has been presented in a hand-blown bespoke crystal decanter and stitched leather and solid oak presentation case.

Jameson > Special St. Patrick’s Day bottling
artist paul daly with his jameson designThe world’s best selling Irish whiskey has collaborated with highly acclaimed Irish artist Paul Daly to produce a limited edition bottle design (well, if you can call 100,000 bottles limited!). Daly’s contemporary bottle design was inspired by the legendary Celtic illustrations in The Book of Kells - an important part of Irish heritage that depicts the four gospels and was believed to have been produced in 800AD. Daly used a screen-printing technique on the bottles and the image is textured with gold-coloured. The launch will be supported by engraved glassware and limited edition prints of the artwork. There are also 50 bottles signed by Daly. It will be available from mid-February in selected markets including the UK and eastern Europe (including Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Latvia) and throughout the Duty Free/travel retail sector in Europe.

Macallan > Joint partnership announced
The famous Speyside distillery of Macallan have this week announced a three year sponsorship deal with The Royal Photographic Society, the world's oldest photographic society that was formed in 1853. The Society's annual awards are one of the most prestigious in the photographic industry and take place in September of each year. The 2011 awards will be the first to be sponsored by The Macallan and further strengthens the link between the brand and influential photography. This includes the Macallan Masters of Photography series of images and limited edition single malt bottlings with well known photographers Rankin, and more recently Albert Watson. Remember that you can still enter Macallan's photo competition - to enter, click here.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New releases > Kavalan Solist 'Vinho'

kavalan solist 'vinho'Kavalan is the first and only single malt whisky from the Asian island of Taiwan. It is produced by the King Car Corporation, which was set up in 1979 and is now Taiwan's biggest food and beverage manufacturer. The whisky distillery was built in 2005/06 and is one of the most technically advanced in the world. It is located in Yuanshan, which lies in the north of the island and is to the south of the major cities of Taipei and Keelung, close to the Pacific coast. It has copper stills that were constructed in Scotland and the distillery has an annual capacity of approximately six million bottles. The name of Kavalan is taken from a group of indigenous people who once lived in the Yi-Lan County where the distillery is located.

The Kavalan whiskies have been created, selected and blended by Ian Chang under the guidance of the legendary Dr. Jim Swan, who is a worldwide authority in the field of alcoholic beverages. Dr. Swan has consulted with distilleries, breweries and wineries around the world, including Penderyn in Wales. The first single malt was released at the end of 2008. This was joined in 2009 by one matured in ex-Port wine casks and two cask strength, single cask releases named Solist – one from ex-bourbon casks and one from sherry casks. The range is currently only sold in Taiwan and in a selection of cities in China, plus various airport locations in south east Asia. This Vinho is the third release in the Solist series and has been matured in ex-wine casks. Kavalan's whiskies are starting to win much acclaim and silverware around the world.

The bottling strength is a hefty 58.2% ABV and there are a very limited number of bottles. We were delighted to receive a sample of Vinho recently (our sample is at 59.1% ABV) from Ian Chang and have spoken with him about the bottling. He explains,

"The Vinho is fully matured in used American oak wine barrels that have been toasted and re-charred manually. The American oak that has been seasoned in the open air for at least 24 months. The oak is slow grown that results in a greater release of flavours into the whisky. This reduces the astringent effect of tannins and releases more vanilla spiciness and hints of herbs. The result is softness and added complexity. The casks have deliberately been used to mature both red and white wines and after their use for wine maturation the casks are carefully shaved inside then gently toasted over an oak chip fire for a strictly controlled period of time and temperature. This converts wine residues into a complex mixture of fruit flavours. Then the casks are charred for a short period of time to release lashings of flavours such as vanilla and caramelised sugars. The result is a more complex whisky than is possible than with whisky casks alone!"

kavalan solist 'vinho' sampleOur tasting notes
The colour of this Vinho is a dark reddish, almost chestnut brown. The nose is rich and intense with a battle taking place between the sweet and spicy aromas. There is a complex mix of aromas here - sweeter ones include dark dried fruits (think of raisins, prunes and figs), vanilla, demerara sugar and orange marmalade. These are counteracted by spicy/dry notes of cinnamon, tamarind, oak, sandalwood and herbal bitters (imagine cassia bark). Prominent notes of burnt caramel and green apple add to the complexity with time.

Wow - on the palate, this kicks you with initial hot, spicy alcohol (remember it is 59% ABV!) but this passes to reveal a rich, sweet and almost syrupy feeling whisky in your mouth. First are the sweeter elements - heavy caramel, the orange marmalade again, dark chocolate, treacle/molasses and fruity wine gums. The flavour profile is unusual but very good, with further notes coming through to give great depth - spiced orange, malty cereals, coffee grounds and some bitter, spicy, woody oak, cinnamon and cloves. The alcoholic strength asks you to add water and with a few drops the spices soften and there is much less initial heat. The orange and caramel notes are exaggerated well. The finish is very long and intense, being led by burnt sugar and heavy cereal characteristics. Through comes some peppery spice but overall, the finish is warm and sweet.

What's the verdict?
This is a dark, intense and complex whisky that makes you realise just why Kavalan are starting to win some serious awards for their whiskies and for their innovative use of casks. It may be a little 'over the top' and too intense for some, but should be tried all the same. The Vinho is reminiscent of a Cognac or Armagnac and would be very good as a warming after dinner dram - it is very enjoyable on its own or with a dash of water, but would be an excellent accompaniment with a decent cigar.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Whisky Round Table > February 2011

This month's edition of The Whisky Round Table is here! The Whisky Round Table was the brainchild of Jason Johnston-Yellin, who is the author of another one of our 'must read' whisky blogs, Guid Scotch Drink. His idea was to gather together 12 whisky bloggers from around the world and get them to discuss a whisky topic once a month. The Round Table hosting is passed around the 12 members, with each host setting the question for each month. We are delighted to be part of The Whisky Round Table and are equally as delighted this month, as it is finally our turn to play host.

The subject of our question has been brewing (or should that be distilling!) in our brains for almost a year since The Round Table was started. But we have waited patiently and seen some excellent questions come and go from previous hosts and some great and informative answers from our fellow Whisky Knights. The previous eight Round Tables can be viewed by clicking here.

For our question, we decided to find out a inner secret of each of our fellow Round Table members and we have received some entertaining and humorous answers (and one particularly different one from someone with a highly vivid imagination ... keep taking the medication, Joshua!). After all, it's a post-festive, bleak and depressing time of the year (for those of us in the northern hemisphere and especially in the UK - where is the sun?), so we thought that it was time for something a little more light hearted. We hope that you enjoy the following replies to our question ....

What is your whisky 'dirty little secret'? That's the whisky that you always enjoy but would never let your 'whisky connoisseur' friends know that you do (apart from us!). It is the big brand/well known name that you may drink when out or the one that always sits in your whisky cupboard, alongside your limited edition cask strength bottlings from those niche distilleries. Tell us why it is your 'dirty little secret' whisky, as we like a good story.
Chris >
This really is dirty. Filthy. Sometimes, when out and about in Tokyo's impossibly hot and sticky summer, I have been known to buy a whisky highball in a can. Yes, you read that right: a can. It can be surprisingly refreshing, but it is the lurid depravity of drinking "whisky" out of a can that makes it a special and unspeakable experience.
(Thanks to Chris for sending us this photo ... it looks alright to us!)

Mark >
I have a bit of a whisky-fetish for Abhainn Dearg, which seems to be a spirit (almost typed 'whisky' there - oops!) that many whisky drinkers dismiss as being a bit rough and ready. Funnily enough that's exactly why I like it. Here is a bit of history in a glass: illicit-style stills churning out handmade spirit in a distillery that was built in an old salmon hatchery (and not too far from an original illicit still...). In fact they are now using an old illicit still that previously sat out in front of the distillery! If you get the chance to visit you will find, at the end of a long and winding road, a couple of ramshackle buildings in the middle of nowhere surrounding by rolling hills and facing long, golden sands and clear blue sea. I'm just dying to go back.

Since that's not really controversial then I'll admit that in the height of summer, if we get one, I'll sometimes be tempted by a nice, refreshing G&T. I probably shouldn't have said that, but snobbery in drinks is a bad thing so let's not frown for too long, eh?

Gal >
Well, I usually drink single malts and not many blends, but there are two wee blends that i am quite fond of, from my early days of whisky drinking. The first is Teacher's Highland Cream. While not extra complex, it's a very nice blend, that offers a wee bit of smoke, and malty notes as well. I enjoy it quite a bit from time to time.

The other one is also a cheapish blend named "Islay Mist" (the basic NAS version), which contains quite a bit of Laphroaig. I used to like this one very much before i become addicted to fully blown peat monsters. it's quite peaty, and not delicate as some other Islay featured blends tend to be (Black Bottle for example), and it was priced reasonably even in Israeli standards.. I no longer have a bottle of this handy, but hey, it makes a mean cocktail base, if you'd like to add some peaty stuff to your cocktail world...

Both have a warm corner in my heart, and when no one is watching, i may sneak a dram or two of those ... Shhhh... don't tell anyone eh?

Keith >
Ha, trust our Knightess to be the one asking about our "dirty little secrets", as if we have any, or would even own up to them. I mean, do you think I go around trying cheap, own label supermarket brands in my 'Cheapo Challenges'? Do you think I enjoy these? Although I must admit all four in my 'Four for €40' were surprisingly drinkable.

There's also Kilbeggan, currently priced around €14 and certainly the older label (until 2010) was great value rather than a dirty little secret. In fact brilliant value! Now, don't tell anyone, this is just between the three of us, right? But every year I look forward to the latest An Cnoc vintage release, which is usually an excellent dirty little secret, sorry, good value!

But possibly my dirtiest little secret of all is the main ingredient for my hot toddies which I use in attempts to fight off dreaded colds. What is it? Ssshhhhh, don't tell anyone, but I tend to use Grant's Family Reserve blended whisky. Dirty little secrets? Nah, don't know what you mean ;-)

Neil >
Ah! The classic 'guilty pleasure'...or to put it another way- the whisky equivalent of Phil Collins, Roxette or driving a Vauxhall Cavalier.

To be honest, we don't have a single whisky in our possession that we would be uncomfortable to happily tell people about- from super cheap blends (sure there's a bottle of '100 Pipers' round here somewhere) to bizarre Lithuanian attempts at single malt - they're all worthy of being guzzled. However, if we have one guilty pleasure (Joel's tartan under-garments is another matter) it would be occasionally drinking a light and crisp Lowland style single malt (like Glenkinchie 12yo) with a mixture of ice and sparkling water, topped with a hint of tonic and a slice of lemon zest. What sacrilege!!

Try it, and we can feel utterly sordid, but ultimately satisfied together!!

Chris >
When I first read this question, I wondered what Matt and Karen were looking for. Were they asking if secretly I had a passion for blends? But then I thought, surely that can't be a "dirty little secret". Blends finance the industry. Maybe instead I could admit that really I enjoy Absolut, (I don't, but say for arguments sake) but just the other day there was an article in Just Drinks extolling the virtues of Vodka as a stepping stone to the darker spirits. I suppose if I made my own Whisky in my basement and drank it, that would be a "dirty little secret" (I don't, in case any local constabulary are reading this)

When I think about what my dirty little secret is, I have to think of something that caused me some apprehension when telling my Scotch Whisky loving friends and their reaction to the revelation. When I thought like this, I hit on my "dirty little secret". Jameson Irish Whiskey! I absolutely love the stuff. I have always enjoyed the standard expression and since our absolutely brilliant trip to Midleton, I really love the aged stuff. The flavour really appeals to my sweet tooth. I am actually just ordering my second bottle of the 18 year old. The history of being so close to closure in the sixties and rising from the ashes, really enhances my respect for them as a company. Most of my friends are huge Scotch fans, so turning up to the pub in a Jameson Rugby top caused some consternation.

So there we are. My dirty little secret. It feels good to get it out. Thank you to Matt and Karen for helping us all admit our "dirty little secrets". It's like group therapy.

Joshua >
Interesting question! Perhaps the toughest one yet seeing that it's no secret I have a love for entry level/easy to come by whiskies; especially the Glenmorangie Original! What may shock you, however, is how I came to love the Glenmorangie Original. Until now, I've never told a soul. Actually, this is not true. I told my story once but sadly, I had to kill the recipient of this tale as she swore she would leak it to the world! Sorry dead ghost-type lady - you know who you are!

Today, however, is a new day and I am ready to tell my story to the world. You'll just need to watch your backs after reading this! Just kidding. I PROMISE not to be the one that makes you take the big nap or the dirt sleep (to use the parlance of your time).

My name is not Joshua Hatton. My true moniker is H.G. Wells, born in Bromley, Kent, UK, 1866. Author and inventor of a Time Machine. What??? You thought my book was fictional?? Ha! No good folks, my story was a fictionalized biography or sorts. I am about to tell you what really happened (but can not put it into book form so I will summarize as best I could):

A) I invented a time machine. B) I travelled into the future! Booyah!! C) I did not find a civilization of two hostile species however, I found that the world of whisky was segregated into shit blends and few, if any, good single malts.

This would not do!! This could not happen to the future! My children and grandchildren needed better malts and better blends to enjoy! Secretly being an illicit distiller myself and tasting my good whiskies from the late 1800's I knew I needed to go back in time to fix things right quick!

I travelled back to the 1700's and I decided to act as a consultant to all Scottish distilleries to help them produce good malts (and grain whiskies). I then fast forwarded to the 1800's as well, 1843 to be exact, and founded Glenmorangie. I found some fantastic long swan-neck shaped stills that used to produce gins killed the owners of those stills and began to produce malt whiskies in Tain (sorry dead ghost-type gin producers - you know who you are!!).

Glenmorangie, by the way, actually means the "Glen of the SuperJew, Joshua Hatton" (my new alias). It was my opus and we made some good whiskies, aye. That is until 1995/1997 when I distilled what would soon become 2007's "Glenmorangie Original". A layman's whisky more awesomer than my silly time machine!

So, why is the Glenmorangie my favorite?! Because, good people, as I have told you, I created the stuff. And because of the consulting work I did throughout the centuries, you all can thank me for the good blends out there (thank John Glaser too as that dude knows what he's doing with his Compass Box whiskies! Another love of mine...). Now, I have to kill you. Just kidding...

Peter >
Hmmm...well, I do have a soft spot in my heart for semi-decent, cheap bourbons like Old Crow, but I haven't had a bottle of that stuff around since the half-pint I bought to torture myself all for the sake of a post a few months back. Come to think of it, I still have half of that half pint left...

The only bottle that fits this description that makes a near regular appearance in our cabinet at home would be Bulleit Bourbon. In the States at least, it's oval-shaped bottle and off-center orange label are pretty much ubiquitous in any bar or supermarket you walk in to. It holds a special place in my heart because it, uh, figured pretty heavily into one of my wife's and mine early dates. There used to be a great neighborhood bar on San Francisco's Potrero Hill called Sadie's Flying Elephant where we ended up one night after a nice dinner and well, one Bulleit led to another and we decided that the dark little table we were at was the perfect place to "steal a few furtive kisses". Being the kind and sensible souls that we are, we realized that such passionate displays of activity (such as they were) were perhaps not to the liking of the more Victorian patrons of the bar. So, after clearing most of the bottle, we decided to move to greener, more comfortable pastures.

Unfortunately, as we were leaving, one of these aforementioned prudish barflys decided to offer his slurred critique on my technique and proposed that he and I engage in some rudimentary contests of strength. Now, for those that know me, you know that I'm a lover not a fighter...mostly by default, as I come in around 150 lbs and have arms like toothpicks. In a fight with me, there'd be two hits, me hitting you and me hitting the ground, wincing in pain as I cradle my broken hand. Luckily, I was able to see my peril through the Bulleit-y bourbon-y haze, and though my date might have found fisticuffs romantic, I opted to take the high road which, not coincidentally, is also often the less painful road in these types of circumstances. I forfeited the match, and instead got to walk my girl home where, after biding her a chaste goodnight, proceeded to woo her with sonnets up to yon window.

Oh, stop cringing, you asked for a good story about a dirty little secret whisky. Bulleit is always welcome in our home as a reminder of those lusty days of misspent (relative) youth. It doesn't hurt that it's a well-priced, really quite good, super-high-rye-content bourbon made, believe it or not, by the Four Roses Distillery.

Dan & Mike F >
Mike F > Wild Turkey 101 Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey: if it’s on my shelf, it won’t stay there long, and if I’m at the bar, it works every time. The price is around $25 for a liter, but at over 100 proof, you’re getting an awful lot of bang for your buck. Irrespective of value, it’s really an excellent 8 year old bourbon, having been distilled at a lower proof and barrelled with very little water. As well, the higher bottling proof gives it versatility. Neat it’s full of spices, vanilla, and oak tannins, and it can really help put a dent in your liver. For a casual dram or to stretch your barroom dollars you can add loads of water without over-diluting it, producing a sweeter, honeyed profile with notes of maple syrup and oranges. It also makes some mean cocktails, and so it’s always the life of the party.

Dan > Johnnie Black. Though I think that it probably wouldn't be derided by the whisky community, Johnnie Black is my "dirty" secret. It's EVERYWHERE, so even if I go to somewhere that only offers three whiskies, I know I can get it (or Dewar's white label or Johnnie Red). It's a satisfying if simple drink, providing sweetness and smoke, all in an inoffensive 40% mix. I've gotten used to drinking it neat out of plastic cups, gibraltar glasses, and even my nosing glasses at home. It's something friends recognize, so when they won't appreciate a 27 year old cask strength because it might be too harsh or not name brand enough, they'll appreciate the Johnnie Black, and I can know that I'm not doing them a disservice and helping them realize that scotch can be drunk without soda.

Jason >
This is a great question and a perfect way to begin 2011, however, my mouth is big enough and my confidence solid enough that I don't have any whisky secrets, "dirty" or otherwise. I broke my whisky cherry, so to speak, with Glenfiddich's entry level dram. Back when Morrison's was still Safeway I drank Safeway's own Islay single malt (Bowmore from 1998-2000, apparently) while a student in Aberdeen. I still greatly enjoy mystery-name releases: Ellenstown; Classic of Islay and Isle of Skye. I confidently tell whisky newbies that, if they like smokey whisky, Laphroaig 10 year old will be one of the best whiskies they every purchase, and it's cheap as chips. I'm even working on enjoying more blends. Compass Box's blended releases might be too good and too expensive to be kept as a "dirty" secret but Arran's Robert Burns Blend was a very pleasant surprise when I tasted it for the first time a couple of weeks ago and I wouldn't think twice about adding a bottle or two of that to my collection (less than $30 a bottle in the US and under £15 in the UK).

If I was to delve down really deep, though, in an attempt to satisfy the salacious curiosity of this month's hosts, this Scots lad who currently finds himself living in the US might just admit to developing a taste for American rye whiskey. However, the stuff I've really been enjoying is in the $100 range. That's a lot of Bowmore Legend!

Ruben >
I’m afraid I don’t have secret bottles or dirty preferences, although my cupboard contains a few bottles that make me wonder why on earth I’ve bought them (Pittyvaich Flora & Fauna, Islay Mist and a few sulphury or wine finished monsters). Those were clearly beginners mistakes. On the other hand, my biggest little secret would probably be that I’ve never visited a distillery in Scotland. I don’t try to hide it in any way, but yes, I have the feeling it occasionally causes a worried look in the eyes of connoisseurs. In my defense, I do know a few things about the process of distillation and many of its parameters (albeit in a slightly theoretical way). Also, the Scottish weather is too similar to our Belgian weather to persuade my girlfriend of its holiday potential. Anyway, I‘m seriously planning a trip now, so ask this question again within a few months and I’ll probably have to think about another little secret...
So finally, what of our 'dirty little whisky secret'? Well, we have been known to enjoy plenty of things that we shouldn't (and yes, we are talking about whisky!) but none more so than the much maligned Jack Daniel's. The famous Old No.7 outsells any other American whisky, and most other whiskies for that matter, by the shipload (yes, that does say ship ...) and it's distinctive advertising can be seen all over the world. Despite this, it seems to have a poor reputation and is seen as nothing more than a mixing companion of cola or the cure for a depressingly bad day (think of all those movie clichés where someone is seen swigging from a bottle of Jack to try and 'make things better').

Jack Daniel's seems to lead most people to assume the classic "it's popular therefore it can't be any good, can it?" But isn't the opposite true? Isn't something popular, or becomes popular, by being of an acceptable quality in the first place and easily available so that lots of people buy it? OK, the current marketing juggernaut doesn't help the public's perception of Jack Daniel's, but we think their whiskies, especially the more limited releases, are all pretty good and quite under rated ... and we mean to drink straight and not just with cola. The sweetness of the regular Old No.7 is simply delicious and quite refreshing.

karen and matt enjoying a jd and colaHaving said that, one of our favourite ways of drinking Old No.7 is with cola and especially from a pre-mixed can. We first tried this at a music festival in Spain a couple of years ago (pictured, left) and despite paying far too much for it, we haven't looked back since! The feeling of 'dirtiness' soon passes, especially after a couple more cans and some good music!

We all having 'secrets' but if you enjoy drinking something - popular, big brand, cheap blend, single cask single malt from a little known cult distillery or otherwise - then don't worry what other people think and just enjoy it. Because, do you know what? Many others will be enjoying it too.