Thursday, June 30, 2011

New releases > Glenrothes 1995 Vintage

Berry Brothers & Rudd, the co-owners of the Glenrothes distillery, have released the latest addition to the award winning Vintages single malt range. The Glenrothes 1995 has been matured in three different types of casks – first fill American oak ex-sherry casks, first fill Spanish oak ex-sherry casks plus refill casks to add subtly. Although only just released in the UK (it was originally released at Whisky Live in Tokyo last March), the 1995 Vintage has already snaffled its first award at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2011, where it was given a Gold Medal. The whisky is bottled at 43% ABV and can be purchased through Berry Brothers ( and other specialist retailers. A bottle should cost around the £45 mark.

Glenrothes is one of the largest whisky distilleries and is located in the town of Rothes in the Speyside region. It has a current capacity of 5.5 million litres per year. Despite its size, Glenrothes remains fairly unknown as the majority of the whisky produced is used in the famous blends of Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark.  The distillery was founded in 1878 and has had its fair share of bad luck - two bad fires in 1897 and 1922, plus a devastating explosion in 1903.  Berry Brothers previously had strong links with the distillery, but were involved in the first release of Glenrothes as a single malt in 1987 and have been ever since.

The single malt range was revamped two or three years ago with Berry Brothers promoting Glenrothes more than ever before. As a result, the sales, reputation and awareness of the product are growing all the time. The restyling included the introduction of the distinctive bulb shaped bottle, minimal corrugated cardboard package and the whiskies being labelled as vintages rather than of a certain age statement. The core range now includes the Select Reserve and a number of these Vintages, with each vintage date refer to the year of distillation.  This range has changed over time, as some run out and are replaced by others.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this 1995 Vintage is golden yellow with a hint of amber.  The nose is full of rich aromas that suggest a soft, voluptuous whisky on the palate - there is plenty of butterscotch, toffee and sultanas to begin with and these are joined by notes of delicious candied orange peel, nutmeg, cinnamon and malty barley grains.  There is also a good dollop of honey and some vanilla.  On the palate, this feels soft, syrupy and rich with a lovely initial impression of sweet, almost sugary toffee and butterscotch.  Then come notes of fruit - caramelised apple, raisin, sultana, fresh green pear.  These fruity qualities are complimented by notes of orange zest (which adds a lovely tang), vanilla (which is almost custard-like), plenty of oak and wood spices (the cinnamon and nutmeg again), plus increasingly robust bittersweet barley grains and burnt caramel, which adds an interesting edge.  There is also a hint of distant sulphur smoke, similar to a struck matchstick, which accentuates the burnt feeling of the caramel note.  The palate is not quite as soft and voluptuous as expected, but still very pleasant and easy drinking.  The finish begins sweetly before becoming more oaky, spicy and a little dry. There is a nice hint of zesty orange also.

What's the verdict?
This is another decent offering from this increasingly popular distillery.  It should definitely be tried, especially if you love the rich, sweeter style of whisky.  Six words can easily describe it - rich, sweet, syrupy, sultanas, toffee, zesty.  The nose is fantastic, the palate is good but the change of direction on the finish is a little disappointing, probably exaggerated by the fact that the other aspects are lovely.  A good, all round whisky that offers good value for money.  Below is a short video where Ronnie Cox, who Matt was lucky enough to meet and spend some time with on a visit to the distillery last year.  Here he talks about the new 1995 Vintage whisky and does a tasting.  Enjoy ...

Twitter update > 3,000 followers & rising!

twitter logoYesterday, we passed the 3,000 follower mark on Twitter. This is amazing and a figure that we didn't imagine was possible when we joined Twitter just over two ago. We would like to thank everyone on Twitter who is following us, old friend or new reader alike, for helping us reach this great figure. We are delighted that so many people want to listen to what we have to say!

Our 3,000th follower was Helen Hill (@glamgirlgourmet), who writes a London based food and fashion blog called Glam Girl Gone Gourmet.  Helen has just started the blog, which includes news and reviews (and lots of pictures!) of various events and restaurants plus a bit of dress making! Check it out by clicking on the link above.

Karen & Matt

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

New releases > Jura 1996 Boutique Barrel

This special edition single malt has been released to celebrate Jura’s recent involvement in the world famous Islay whisky festival. One French Limousin oak cask was chosen by a select group of Jura residents from the distillery's warehouses and this cask has yielded just 493 bottles. It was then bottled at a cask strength of 54% ABV and will be sold exclusively on the island from the distillery shop at a cost of £100 each. It has just been released and is predicted to sell fast, so if you want one - hurry up!

The Jura distillery is located on the isle of Jura, which lies off the west coast of Scotland next to the famous whisky island of Islay. The distillery was founded in 1810 by Archibald Campbell and was originally called Small Isles distillery - named after the numerous small islands located in Craighouse Bay, which the distillery overlooks. It was closed for a long period between 1901 and 1960, when it was rebuilt and re-named as Jura by Charles Mackinlay & Co. Production restarted in 1963. The distillery has an annual production capacity of two million litres, which is large when considering its remoteness and the small population of the island (currently only 220 people).

Jura was given its name by invading Nordic warriors and it translates as 'deer island', because of the large number of the animals that inhabit the island. The current owners of the distillery are Whyte & Mackay, who are owned by the Indian drinks company United Spirits. They use Jura’s whisky in their popular range of Whyte & Mackay blends. However, they are putting more in to promoting Jura as a single malt whisky and sales have improved greatly. The Jura distillery is rare in that it produces whisky in different styles – of the current core range, the 10, 16, 18 and 21 years old are non-smoky, the Superstition is mildly smoky and the Prophecy is very smoky. There are older or limited releases from time to time, such as this 1996 Boutique Barrel version.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a deep golden amber and the nose is rich and intense, with plenty of immediate oak aromas.  The richness is further enhanced by distinct aromas of burnt dark sugar (think of caramel especially), robust malted barley grains and potent wood spices (imagine cinnamon, nutmeg and sandalwood).  With time, an increasing note of bitter (or maybe spiced?) orange comes through - this adds balance, as do other background aromas of cocoa, milky coffee, cloves and a tiny hint of salty brine.  On the palate, this whisky is again rich and intense, gripping your taste buds from the beginning.  It feels firm and viscous in the mouth and the flavour profile is driven by the same key elements as the nose - plenty of oak and barley grain, burnt sugary caramel and wood spices.  These are complimented by notes of bittersweet spiced orange (this is almost marmalade-like), honey and hints of cocoa powder and tangy brine.  The finish is heavy with the bitter zesty orange notes, which fight for attention with robust wood spices and plenty of gripping oak.  The intensity is good and leads to the finish being dry and mouth watering.  With a splash of water, the whisky opens further - the spices and oak are dampened slightly, giving a creamier feeling and the orange notes become more prominent.

What's the verdict?
This is a lovely and rich whisky that offers plenty of intensity and character.  It may be a bit oaky, spicy and drying for some palates but these elements can be tempered by the addition of water, if you choose to.  The whisky has a deep complexity and is trying to stand out from the crowd, which must be applauded.  However, if you want a bottle it is only available from the distillery shop, so start planning your trip now!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New releases > Auchentoshan 1975 Bourbon Cask

auchentoshan 1975 bourbon caskAuchentoshan (pronounced ock-en-tosh-an) is a Lowland whisky distillery located to the north east of Glasgow. It is unique as it is the only distillery in Scotland to continually practice triple distillation of their spirit. Other Scottish distilleries occasionally do this but the majority normally distil twice. Auchentoshan was founded in 1823 and the current owners are Morrison Bowmore, part of the Japanese company Suntory. They have carried on this tradition of triple distillation since they took control in 1994. The annual production capacity is 1.75 million litres and the name translates as 'corner of the field' from Gaelic. Also, the visitor centre at the distillery has been voted one of the best in Scotland and is one of the most visited, helped by its close proximity to Glasgow.

This whisky is a new limited edition of Auchentoshan and is the latest in a line of recent vintages to be released – this follows on from the 1977 Sherry Cask, the 1978 Bourbon Cask and the 1998 Fino Sherry Cask. These limited whiskies compliment the core range, which consists of 12, 18 and 21 year old whiskies plus the Three Wood, which has undergone maturation in three different casks (hence the name!). This 1975 whisky has been bottled at 36 years of age and at the natural cask strength of 46.9% ABV. It has been matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks and the whisky has been specially selected by the distillery manager from Auchentoshan’s prime Warehouse No.3, which sits at the foot of the Kilpatrick Hills. There are only 500 bottles – each one will cost £350 from specialist whisky retailers.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a bright yellow gold and the nose is very promising indeed and immediately tempting. There is a lovely, rich combination of aromas that rise from the glass - honey, vanilla, fresh coconut and oak dominate and are complimented by hints of orange oil, burnt sugar, sandal wood, waxy furniture polish, nutmeg and caramelised almonds. On the palate, this is surprisingly vibrant for a whisky of this age, with plenty of the oak, butterscotch and wood spice evident. It then softens and becomes quite oily in the mouth. There is a peachy apricot-like note that hits first, which gets quickly joined by plenty of vanilla and honey. This excellent mix of characteristics is further combined with notes of burnt/toasted almonds, more nutmeg (and possibly cinnamon), a dash of bitter orange and some delicate cocoa powder. The finish is much drier than the nose or palate suggest. This can be a problem within some whiskies, but not here as the dryness adds a good balance. The oak and wood spices (sandal wood, cinnamon and nutmeg) drive this dryness and are joined by complimentary amounts of the bitter orange, almond and some dried coconut.

What's the verdict?
This whisky has been marketed by Auchentoshan for collector's but if we could afford one, it would be very hard to resist opening the bottle! This is a superb single malt and is without doubt, the best Auchentoshan that we have tried to date. This is a dram to sit and savour over a long period of time. A common issue in whiskies that are 30+ years of age can be the dominance of the oak, but here the combination of sweet, oak and dry elements work in balance and it has everything going for it. If you fancy a bottle, then don't hang around! This is a stunner.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Inbox > June 24, 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 was 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's the news that caught our attention this week ...
Glencairn Crystal > Expansion plans announced
glencairn whisky glassThe Scottish glassware company Glencairn Crystal have announced plans for a £500,000 expansion plan for the next three years. The family owned company is well known for designing their whisky tasting glass, which is now virtually the industry standard tasting glass. In addition, they have produced various other items of bespoke glassware for other companies, such as decanters and bottles - this has helped Glencairn secure first place as the leading glassware supplier to the Scotch whisky industry. The £500,000 investment includes the recent acquisition of Collins Crystal and will then involve new product development, an expansion of their factory in East Kilbride and the creation of six new jobs.

Glenrothes > New 1995 Vintage
glenrothes 1995 vintageBerry Brothers & Rudd, the owners of the Glenrothes distillery, have released the latest addition to the award winning Vintages single malt range. The Glenrothes 1995 has been matured in three different types of casks – first fill American oak ex-sherry casks, first fill Spanish oak ex-sherry casks plus refill casks to add subtly. Although only just released, the 1995 Vintage has already snaffled its first award at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge 2011, where it got a Gold Medal. The whisky is bottled at 43% ABV and can be purchased through Berry Brothers ( - it will shortly be available through other specialist retailers. A bottle will carry a recommended retail price of £45. For further info, go to

Kilchoman > Release 100% Islay
kilchoman logoLast week saw the launch of the latest small batch release from Islay’s newest and smallest distillery of Kilchoman. The launch was held at the distillery and the world of whisky was invited – we were disappointed that we couldn’t take up our invite due to work commitments. Anyway, the whisky is a three year old that has been matured in ex-bourbon casks. It has been made in the lightly peated style with a phenol level of roughly 15-20 phenol parts per million (PPM) and bottled at a strength of 50% ABV. The name of 100% Islay is given as it is the first known single malt to have all aspects of its production carried out on the island. The barley has been grown and malted on Islay, then dried using its famous peat, before being distilled, matured and bottled at the distillery. There are 11,300 bottles in the release and each will retail for £69. There is also a special version which is being sold only at the distillery shop – there are only 1,060 bottles of this, which is 61.3% ABV, presented in a hand crafted oak box and will cost £149. For more info, go to

Royal Salute > Tribute of Honour bottling
royal salute 'tribute of honour'Royal Salute, the premium blended whisky of Chivas Brothers/Pernod Ricard, have announced a new special bottling to add to their portfolio – the Royal Salute ‘Tribute of Honour’. It has been created to pay homage to the UK’s oldest set of crown jewels, named The Honours of Scotland. It also marks Colin Scott’s 21 years in the prestigious position as Master Blender of the Royal Salute. Because of this, and the high age of the whiskies used in the blending (the youngest is 45 years old!), there are only 21 bottles. Each is presented in a specially commissioned flagon that is adorned by diamonds, gold and silver, which have been hand set by Garrard – the oldest jewellers to the Royal Family. The Tribute of Honour will be released in September. Each bottle is hand numbered and will cost in the region of £300,000.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

New releases > Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage

glen garioch 1994 vintageThe east Highland distillery of Glen Garioch (pronounced glen-geery) has released the third whisky in its Vintages range. It follows on from the popular 1990 and 1991 Vintage bottlings. This new 1994 Vintage has an alcoholic strength of 53.9% ABV and will retail in specialist whisky specialists for around £60. There is to be only 900 bottles released in the UK, with approximately 11,000 bottles distributed to other world markets. The whisky has been matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks and was produced in the lightly peated style, which the distillery made prior to its closure in 1995. When it was re-opened in 1997, the change was made to an un-peated style.

Glen Garioch was founded in 1797 by Thomas Simpson, making it one of Scotland's oldest whisky distilleries that is still in operation. The original name was Glengarioch (the 'Garioch' is a fertile strip of local farmland that is well known for producing top quality barley) before changing to Glen Garioch in the 1930s. It is located in Oldmeldrum, a small town in the Highlands, which is close to Aberdeen. The distillery is Scotland's most easterly and has an annual production capacity of one million litres. Glen Garioch is currently owned by Morrison Bowmore, which is a subsidiary of the Japanese drinks company Suntory. They took control in 1994, temporarily closing the distillery one year later, before reopening it in 1997. The single malt range has been recently revamped and while remaining small, it is occasionally punctuated with limited releases such as this 1994 Vintage.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a pale yellow gold and the nose is light, fresh and vibrant. There are an interesting array of aromas that hit your senses - honey, lemon sherbet sweets, vanilla, plenty of cereal grains, custard powder, dried grasses and a hint of something floral (maybe honeysuckle?). The cereal aroma increases with time in the glass and becomes quite gristy/malty with a faint whiff of dusty peat smoke. On the palate, this is initially tangy and full of zesty, juicy lemon notes and plenty of barley sugar sweetness. This freshness penetrates your taste buds and gives great intensity to begin with. This begins to soften after a few seconds and some lovely, softer notes of honey and vanilla come through. The combination is good and is further joined by notes of bittersweet cereals, oak shavings, coconut, dried grasses and a background dusty, earthy smokiness. The finish is quite spicy with plenty of drying oak and grains evident. The faint smoke lingers longer than anything.

A few drops of water take the initial tangy/zesty edge off both the nose and palate, although the lemon notes remain. These are more integrated with the softer, sweeter notes and the palate becomes creamier. The bittersweet cereals and dried grass notes also become less prominent. The whisky seems to lose a little something with even a few drops of water, but this makes it more approachable in our opinion and possibly more appealing to a wider audience.

What's the verdict?
This Glen Garioch 1994 Vintage is a surprising whisky. By 'surprising', we mean that when compared to the other Glen Garioch whiskies (including the other two Vintages) that we have tried to date, this one is lighter, fresher and more vibrant than expected. It is delicious and mouth watering, but more reminiscent of the lighter style of whisky from the Lowland region of Scotland (well, one with a hint of smoke if you can imagine that!). Glen Garioch seems to remain an under rated distillery that produces good single malts that don't make it on to most people's radars for some reason. This is another decent whisky and makes you wonder why this is the case?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New releases > The Naked Grouse

the naked grouseThe Naked Grouse is a new whisky that joins the ever expanding Grouse family. The Grouse brand is owned by the Edrington Group and the range are blended whiskies which include, amongst others, the popular Famous Grouse (the UK’s number one selling whisky), the Black Grouse (a smoky, peaty version) and the Snow Grouse (a mixer whisky designed to be chilled). This new Naked Grouse has been created as a premium blend and contains a particularly high proportion of single malt from two of Edrington’s most awarded distilleries - Highland Park and Macallan. These have been matured in most expensive sherry casks in the world, which are made from sun dried Spanish oak and have housed sweet sherry. In order to focus on the quality of the whisky in the bottle, the packaging has been deliberately pared back and is refreshingly minimal.

Monday, June 20, 2011

New releases > Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky Ltd.

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

samples from duncan taylorWe were delighted to receive a small package last week, which contained samples of some of the new releases from across their ranges - we thank Karen Law of Duncan Taylor for this. Normally, we may not write about these, as they are such limited releases, but the parcel contained a number of lesser known distilleries that we are not so familiar with and as such, therefore haven't written much about them. It's always good to try new things, right? If you like the sound of any of them, then don't hang around as none of their bottlings ever seem to stay on the shelves for long. They can be found in specialist whisky retailers.

Auchroisk 22 years old Octave
Auchroisk (pronounced ar-thrusk) is located in the eastern corner of the Speyside region. It is also one of the youngest distilleries in Scotland having been founded in 1974 and has an annual production capacity of 3.8 million litres. The whisky produced there is used within popular blended whiskies such as Johnnie Walker and J&B. Single malt bottlings are rare, so this one is a treat - it's distilled in 1988 and has been matured in an octave cask (a cask that is the eighth the size of a regular cask), before being bottled at 22 years of age and 52% ABV.

The colour is golden yellow and the nose is lovely with plenty of vanilla, brown sugar, oak and zesty lemons. It has a youthful freshness which defies its age. On the palate, the tangy lemon zest hits first and then give way to notes of robust cereal grain, honey, sweet vanilla, coconut and toffee. There are hints of dried grasses and toasted almonds. A final hit of oak grips the palate and carries on through to the finish, in which this oak gives a pleasant dryness. The toasted almonds and cereals are particularly prominent on the finish.

Bunnahabhain 32 years old Rare Auld
Bunnahabhain (pronounced bunna-ha-ven) is located on the north eastern coast of the famous whisky island of Islay. It is the lightest of the Islay malts, which are known for their peaty and smoky nature, and commonly is not peaty at all. The distillery was founded in 1881 and has a current production capacity of 2.5 million litres per year. Most of the whisky produced is used as the base in a variety of blends, including Black Bottle. This bottling was distilled in 1979 and is 32 years old from cask no. 1774, with an alcoholic strength of 46.9% ABV.

The colour is golden yellow and the nose is complex and pleasant. First up are aromas of dusty cereal grains, followed by toffee, something floral (honeysuckle maybe?), wood spices (especially cinnamon) and some salty brine. On the palate, this is soft and buttery but with an initial salty and slightly citric tangy (imagine orange rind). Then come notes of toffee, sandalwood, vanilla and heavy and yeasty malted barley, all of which are backed up by further brine. The finish is sweet and full of barley, with the toffee and brine never far away.

Craigellachie 11 years old NC2
The Craigellachie distillery is located in the village of the same name in the heart of the Speyside region. It sits at the point where two famous rivers meet - the Spey and the Fiddich. Craigellachie was founded in 1891 and was designed by famous architect Charles Doig. It currently produces 3.5 million litres per year with most contributing towards the popular Dewar's range of blended whiskies. Single malt bottlings are extremely rare - this one is 11 years of age, was distilled in 1999 and has an alcoholic strength of 46% ABV.

The colour is a pale lemon yellow and the nose is very light and delicate. The subtle aromas take time to evolve and include dry, gristy barley, honey, vanilla and toffee. There are also hints of lemon zest and dried grass or hay. On the palate, this is again light and delicate. It is initially very grainy, before this subsides and the other subtle notes come through - honey, vanilla, lemon sherbet, plus the tiniest hints of toffee, damp earthy smoke and hay. The finish is a little bittersweet and is deliciously fresh, vibrant and mouth watering.

Invergordon 1972 Rare Auld Grain
Invergordon is a large grain distillery which is located on the shores of the Cromarty Firth in the northern Highlands, near the town of Alness. It was built in 1961 and now occupies a huge 80 acre site. Invergordon produces grain whisky which is used a the base for the popular range of Whyte & Mackay blended whiskies. Releases as a single grain whisky are very rare and this one was distilled in 1972 and has been maturing in cask no.85255 ever since. It has been bottled at the cask strength of 45.5% ABV. We have never tried any whisky from this distillery.

The colour is a dark golden yellow and the nose is expressive and vibrant for a whisky of this age. With time, it reveals aromas of sweet honey, vanilla, robust cereals, orange oils, chocolate and plenty of wood spices (think sandalwood, cinnamon). On the palate, this really comes out of its shell. A fantastic combination of coconut, honey and oranges hits your taste buds, followed up by the robust grains, vanilla and drying, slightly tannic wood spices. The orange and vanilla notes carry through to the finish, which is otherwise deliciously dry, woody and spicy.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Inbox > June 17, 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 was 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's the news that caught our attention this week ...
Auchentoshan > Father’s Day free tours
auchentoshan distilleryLooking for a last minute gift for Father’s Day? Well, look no further than the Auchentoshan Distillery, near Glasgow, where dads will go absolutely free on Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 June. This is for The Classic Tour, a one hour guided tour of the distillery that provides the perfect introduction to Auchentoshan’s triple distilled whisky. Under 18s years old will also go free. The tour includes a dram for dad at the end of the tour, with tours running every hour from 10am until 4pm. For £5, places can be booked on The Enhanced Tour, which includes the distillery tour plus tastings of three whiskies from the Auchentoshan range. The final exclusive offer is that a complimentary personalised label can be added to purchases of the 12 years old or Three Wood bottlings in the shop. To book your place, please visit

Bowmore > Father’s Day free tours also!
Morrison Bowmore, the owners of Auchentoshan and Bowmore, have also extended the above Father’s Day offer to those traveling over to Islay. Dad’s will also go free at Bowmore , the oldest distillery on the famous whisky producing island. Tickets for this can be booked via

Glen Ord > Singleton grows rapidly
singleton of glen ord 12 years oldThe north Highland distillery on the edge of the Black Isle, owned by Diageo, has announced news of its recent sales figures. These show that The Singleton of Glen Ord 12 years old is the fastest growing single malt whisky in terms of sales in the Asia Pacific region. In 2010, sales grew by 40% in the region and were particularly strong in Taiwan and Singapore, with over 100,000 cases sold in total. The range has been added to with 15 and 18 year old versions, which have also proved popular. Mark Sandys, Diageo’s Category Director for Whisky in the region says, “We were confident from the outset that The Singleton of Glen Ord would be very well received in this vibrant and fast-growing region. Our consumers tell us that it’s the taste of The Singleton that appeals strongly to them, plus the strikingly elegant style and presentation”.

Jura > Festival bottling released
jura boutique barrels 1996 vintageThe Isle of Jura distillery again took part in the nearby Islay Whisky Festival this year and they have announced the release of the brand new Festival bottling – the Jura Boutique Barrel 1996 Vintage. One French Limousin oak cask was chosen by a select group of Jura residents, which has yielded just 493 bottles at a cask strength of 54% ABV. These will be sold exclusively on the island from the distillery shop and will cost £100 each. Whyte & Macakay, who own the distillery, have released the following brief tasting notes - This unique spirit has a rich body of creamy toffee and vanilla, ginger, spice and nutmeg with flavours of toffee apple and sweet marmalade, which complete a classic aftertaste. To order a bottle contact –

Lagavulin > Bottle returns home
lagavulin liqueur 1881A 130 year old bottle of whisky has returned home. The whisky, which was distilled at Lagavulin on the island of Islay in 1881 and carrying the name Lagavulin Liqueur, was bottled on 2 June 1911 at the age of 30 years. The bottle was recently purchased at auction by Lagavulin’s current owners Diageo and to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of its bottling, it was returned to Lagavulin on 2 June this year. The bottle will now be on display in the visitor centre at the distillery and will form part of Diageo’s comprehensive Spirits Archive . The whisky is particularly rare as it was highly unusual to bottle Islay whiskies as single malts, especially ones of this age, in the early 20th century.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Whisky gift ideas for Father's Day

wrapped presentThis Sunday is Father's Day in the UK and whisky is traditionally a popular choice as a gift. For many it may be the only time in the year that they purchase a bottle of whisky and it can be a daunting experience with the ultimate question being - which one of the vast array of bottles on the shelves is the right one to go for? Here is our quick guide and a few suggestions at different price points to help you purchase the correct present for your dad.

What do I need to consider?

It is a common misconception that you as a shopper need to know lots about whisky in order to buy something other than the big popular brands. This is not true. How much you know about whisky is actually not important at all - what has to be considered is what you think your father would like or prefer – light, rich, sweet, smoky? It may be that you know a whisky that he likes and you can ask for help to select something similar. Also think about if you want a famous brand/distillery or something a bit less well known.

How much do I want to spend?

Your budget is an important consideration. Set an upper limit - any salesman worth their salt will try and get you to spend more but stick to it! Single malt whiskies start around £25 for a 70cl bottle and most will be under or around £50. Blended whiskies can start for as little as £10 (sometimes even less if it is a supermarket own brand). There are whiskies that can fit any budget, including those costing hundreds and even thousands of pounds!

What are my shopping choices?
There are a few options - specialist whisky retailers, supermarkets and the internet. Specialist retailers, offer a wider range of whiskies and will have knowledgeable staff that can explain the differences and advise you to make the correct decision. These shops can be daunting but if you go in having considered the first two points, then they will be able to recommend you some great choices. Supermarkets are different in that they sell the products but staff may not know a great deal about them, especially as many have cut back on specialist wine and spirit staff in the recession. The distilleries marketing departments help you here, as many of them now print basic tasting notes on their packaging. The internet has many places to buy whisky - some are online specialists, while others are websites of the specialist whisky retailers or supermarkets - and many of these print helpful tasting notes on each page, with some giving more information, customer reviews and distillery facts to help you make your choice.

Our five whiskies for Father’s Day

£20-30 > Balvenie 12 years old ‘DoubleWood
balvenie doublewoodThis is a classic single malt and the whisky that got me interested in whisky. It may be widely available but this doesn’t detract from its quality. The nose is full of rich, sweet fruits (peaches, raisins, sultanas) combined with vanilla, coconut, caramel and honey. The palate, this is so soft, mellow and creamy that your taste buds go into ecstasy. There is a glorious dried fruity sweetness (raisins, sultanas), distinct malty cereals, nuts (almonds), orange zest and a hint of woody spiciness (nutmeg, cinnamon). The finish is long, rich and deliciously sweet. An excellent whisky offering a gorgeous and complex drinking experience.

£30-40 > Penderyn Madeira finish
penderyn welsh whiskyFancy something non-Scottish? How about this single malt whisky from the only Welsh distillery? The nose is light and vibrant with vanilla, honey, fresh green fruits (apple, pear), cereals and dried fruits (sultanas). The palate feels creamy and velvety with initial oaky woodiness (cinnamon, nutmeg) quickly fading to caramel, malted barley, vanilla, green fruit and almond notes. The dried grassy note also appears later. The balance is lovely and the finish is long and refreshing, with the enjoyable sugary sweetness giving way to a nutty, slightly spicy and woody bitterness. Delicious, fresh and very more-ish.

£40-50 > Lagavulin 16 years old
lagavulin 16 years old bottleThis whisky is a single malt from the famous whisky island of Islay. Produced in the island’s famous smoky, peaty style, this whisky is a worldwide favourite. The nose offers a sumptuous, complex mix of sweet peat smoke (dried earth, moss), oak, leather, vanilla and dried fruit (sultanas, candied peel). There are also aromas of lapsang souchong tea and cloves. The palate is creamy, full bodied and slightly oily with a blast of smokiness (think bonfire), some damp moss, sweet vanilla plus hints of saltiness and menthol. The finish is long and dry with plenty of powerful peaty smokiness. A truly fantastic example of a smoky Islay whisky.

£50-100 > Shackleton Whisky
This whisky is a recreation of one from Shackleton’s ill-fated expedition to the Antarctic in 1907/08. The originals were found under the ice after 100 years. The nose is clean, attractive and elegant with subtle aromas - vanilla, butterscotch, green pear, apple, walnuts, baked oat biscuits, wood spice, burnt sugar and a whiff of dry peat smoke. The palate has tangy sweetness (orange zest, honey), followed by creamy richness (butterscotch, toffee) and finishes with peat smoke and warming wood spice (cinnamon, nutmeg). The smokiness carries in to a long, lingering and pleasant finish. Absolutely delicious.

£100 + > Glenfarclas 40 years old
glenfarclas 40 years oldIf you fancy getting the cheque book out and spending about £300, then this old whisky is a stunning choice. The nose is intense with sweet notes (vanilla, toffee, brown sugar, dried fruits - raisins, dates and prunes) mixing with darker ones (treacle and dark chocolate). The palate is surprisingly vibrant for a whisky of this age. Wood spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg) are followed by sweetness (raisins, prunes, candied orange peel), butterscotch and brown sugar. This whisky is rich, intense and full bodied. The finish is long and lingering with plenty of dried fruits, wood spices and tannins. The combination is superb.

We are delighted to say that a version of this article has appeared in The Sun newspaper today - our first appearance in the national written press. We would like to thank Luke O'Mahony for making this possible and the kind comments we have received throughout the day.

New releases > Ardbeg Alligator

ardbeg alligatorThe Ardbeg distillery is located on the western Scottish island of Islay, which is famous for producing the smoky, peaty style of whisky. It is situated in the south east of the island and produces some of the peatiest, smokiest whiskies in the world. Ardbeg was founded in 1815 by John MacDougall, although records do show that a distillery was operating on the site as far back as 1794. The current owners are drinks company Moet Hennessey, who took over in 1997, and the distillery is small with a capacity of around one million litres per year. Most of the whisky produced is released as single malt, although Ardbeg also appears occasionally through independent bottling companies, although these are becoming rarer, and has a cult following of whisky drinkers across the world.

The Alligator is so called as it has been matured in heavily charred American oak casks and the heavy charring/burning makes the inside of the cask look like blackened alligator skin (this is actually called an ‘alligator char’, hence the name of the whisky). A number of these casks were filled and laid down to mature in 2000 and the Alligator has been created by marrying whiskies from a selection of these casks together with some regular Ardbeg ex-bourbon casks. The whisky is only available to Ardbeg Committee members (this is free to join via their website, and was released on 1 June. A further batch will get a limited general release in Europe, the UK, the USA and selected Asian markets in September of this year. This Committee version is bottled at 51.2% ABV and has already sold out! It had a retail price of £55 plus postage.

Our bottle of Ardbeg Alligator has just arrived in the post and it will remain sealed for now. We had heard a rumour that each of the Ardbeg Embassies (selected retailers who champion everything Ardbeg) have a 4.5 litre bottle of the Alligator for consumers to sample ... so, we paid a visit to the newest one in London to try a snifter of this intriguing new whisky. This was at The Whisky Exchange, the renowned specialist spirits retailer which sits on London's South Bank. For the full Ardbeg Embassy list and to find the one nearest to you, where you can try the Alligator for yourself - click here.

Our tasting notes
The colour is a dark gold with a brownish tint and the nose is youthful and punchy. This hits you with aromas of vibrant zesty lemon, rich oatcake biscuits and spicy burning peat and moss. Initially, it is difficult to detect other aromas through these powerful, robust ones but with time some sweet vanilla, honey and oaky wood spice come through. There is also a whiff of scorched or burnt rubber in there. On the palate, this whisky has an instant and huge impact with plenty of notes fighting for attention - tangy lemon zest, spicy chilli peppers, sweet syrupy honey, vanilla, roasted nuts (this is particularly evocative of roasted chestnuts at Christmas), burnt oat-like cereals, damp moss and plenty of smouldering charcoal and bonfire embers. The spicy and peaty/mossy notes are huge and increase as you move towards the finish. The finish is intense and very long with a lovely combination of the oaty cereals, burning peat/ashy embers and chilli-like spiciness prominent. The high ABV alcohol strength and the powerful nature of the whisky suggest adding some water - after just a few drops it seemed to fall apart slightly and become unbalanced, with the sweeter elements becoming diluted and the bitter/scorched charcoal notes coming to the fore. The more water we added, the more it seemed to become unbalanced.

What's the verdict?
Ardbeg Alligator is not for the faint-hearted. It is a big, brash, fiery whisky with numerous pleasant but exaggerated notes. The heavy charring of the casks used for maturing the whisky dictates that it cannot really be any other way and as a result, this whisky will be too much for some. It takes plenty of work on the drinkers part to get through each sip, but it is well worth it as Alligator offers so much. The apparent awkward mix of characteristics combine well, with the sweeter notes compensating for the bitter, smoky and spicy ones. The only disappointment is that this balance is broken by adding water. If you like your whiskies with plenty of peat, then you should love this - it's very good and lives up to the hype.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

New releases > Bowmore 1982 Vintage

The Bowmore distillery is located on the famous whisky island of Islay, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. Islay is well known for producing the smoky, peaty style of whisky. Bowmore was founded in 1779 by John Simpson, making it the oldest of the eight distilleries currently operating on Islay. The distillery is located on the shores of inland sea loch Loch Indaal and the name of Bowmore translates as 'sea rock' from Gaelic. The distillery in currently owned by Morrison Bowmore, a subsidiary of the Japanese company Suntory, who also own two other Scottish distilleries at Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch. Bowmore has an annual production capacity of two million litres and is one of the biggest selling single malt whisky brands in the smoky, peaty style.

This new 1982 Vintage has been bottled at 47.3% ABV and will sell for approximately £300 each from specialist whisky retailers. It follows on from 1981 Vintage, which was released in 2010. There are only 501 bottles that have been taken from specially selected ex-bourbon casks and these casks have been maturing for 29 years in Bowmore's fabled Vault No.1 - this warehouse has an outer wall exposed to the sea, but is below sea level and this creates a unique cool, dark and damp climate for the whisky to mature. Another interest fact is that by this age over half of the contents of the cask has already evaporated as ‘angel’s share’, so this make the whisky even more special!

Our tasting notes
The colour of the 1982 Vintage is a light golden yellow and the nose is complex, expressive and fragrant. It is full of surprisingly fresh aromatic notes which combine to create a very pleasant but slightly unusual nose. There is a vanilla and honey-like sweetness to begin with, but these are quickly followed by distinct citrus (think of lemon zest and orange peel), hints of ashy smoke and damp soil, plus a delicate floral note which is reminiscent of something like violets and honeysuckle. This floral aroma gains strength with time in the glass and is joined by a hint of liquorice after five minutes or so. On the palate, this is sweet, fresh and tangy - all pleasantly surprisingly qualities in a whisky of this age. It explodes in your mouth with an initial super-sweetness (think of icing sugar and honey), which is complimented by rich floral notes (definitely violets now), robust oak (imagine vanilla, wood spice and coconut) and plenty of citrus character (that lemon zest again, plus a dash of orange oil). This is all backed up some distant ashy smoke and then a dry woodiness. The palate is very complex and the combination is fantastic, yet unorthodox. The dry woodiness carries on, and increases, in to the finish. The floral violets and the ashy smoke linger the longest.

What's the verdict?
This is a stunning whisky that is amazingly fresh and vibrant for something of 29 years of age. It shows a great complexity on the nose and palate, and has some highly unusual aroma and flavour profiles (especially the sweet floral violet notes). These are complimented by subtle, delicate notes and this gives the whisky a touch of class. This 1982 Vintage is unique and elegant and is a whisky to savour and sip over a long period of time. Truly fantastic stuff.

Monday, June 13, 2011

New releases > Glendronach 15 years old Tawny Port finish

glendronach 15 years old tawny port finishThe innovative independent distillery at Glendronach have launched a new addition to their Wood Finishes range – this 15 years old Tawny Port finish. The Glendronach distillery (pronounced glen-dron-ack) is located close to the town of Huntly, in the east Highlands of Scotland. The distillery was founded in 1826 by James Allardes and later went on to become an important part of the William Teacher & Sons empire. By the 1960s, most of the whisky produced at Glendronach was being used within the popular Teacher's blended range of whiskies. The distillery is relatively small with an annual capacity of 1.4 million litres and one claim to fame was that Glendronach was the last distillery to use coal fires to heat its stills - these were converted to steam heating in 2005.

In 2008, Glendronach was given a new lease of life, following a period of closure by previous owners Pernod Ricard. The distillery was taken over an independent company called The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd, who are the innovative owners of another Speyside distillery at Benriach. They immediately made a decision to expand the range of Glendronach whisky, which now contains 12, 15 and 18 year olds. These are complimented by numerous single cask releases from their premium older stock, plus the Wood Finishes range. Within the three years since the takeover, awareness of Glendronach as a single malt whisky has grown massively and sales have reflected this by growing tenfold.

This whisky is the latest addition to the Wood Finishes series and has spent a majority of its 15 years maturing in European oak ex-sherry casks, before being transferred for a short period to Port casks. This expression has been bottled at 46% ABV and is available from specialist whisky retailers in the UK for £45-50 a bottle. It will also be sold in another 20 export markets. The whisky is non-chill filtered, natural in colour and there are only 6,000 bottles in the release.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Glendronach is golden amber but with a distinct (and slightly unusual) reddish, pink tint. This makes it look almost peach-like and similar in colour to a light rosé wine. The nose is full of bold aromas - dried fruits (think of raisins and dates), burnt caramel and stewed red fruits (imagine plums and blackberries). These are backed up by robust bitter cereal grains, plus hints of high cocoa chocolate and baking spices (especially cinnamon and nutmeg). On the palate, this grips your taste buds - it begins quite sweetly with some lovely sugary caramel and a drop of honey, before some tangy orange peel and the stewed red fruits from the nose temper this slightly. With time, the peel and stewed fruits are joined by the dried fruits (the raisins and dates again, plus figs now) and everything is complimented well by increasing cinnamon and cereal notes. The whisky continues to grip your mouth with vigour and the tannins from the Port cask really begin to come through at the end of the palate. These are carried through to the finish, which is particularly dry as a result. The stewed fruit and orange peel are also in evidence, which add pleasant balance.

What's the verdict?
This is a good whisky and one that offers a decent value for a Port cask matured single malt, which are still relatively rare and expensive. As a result, it would be a good example to introduce someone to the concept with, as it shows some lovely red fruit and wood spice notes associated with Port cask whiskies. It is not as sweet as some Port cask finishes that we have tried to date and the dry, tannic nature of the end of the palate and the finish may not be to everyone's taste. However, it should be tried and is another solid release from this innovative distillery.

The Whisky Round Table > June 2011

The latest edition of The Whisky Round Table is now available for all to read. For those of you that may have just discovered us, The Whisky Round Table is the brainchild of Jason Johnston-Yellin - the author of the 'must read' whisky blog 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 hosting of The Round Table is passed around the 12 members, with each host setting the question for each month - the subjects have been wide and varied to date. Links to the previous editions of Whisky Round Table articles can be found by clicking here.

The Whisky Round Table has just celebrated its first year and all 12 members have now hosted. For the start of the second year, the baton is passed again to its founder Jason. He has come up with a beauty of a question regarding the ethics and quality of whisky blogging and whether the rise in the number of blogs writing about whisky will be detrimental in the long run. It has created a big response from the Round Table members, so Jason has published it on Guid Scotch Drink in two parts - Part One includes our reply, while Part Two has been published today. We hope that you enjoy the debate and please feel free to add a comment at the bottom of either posting.

The Whisky Round Table can also be followed on Twitter. Come and join us @WhiskyKnights.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Inbox > June 10, 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 was 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's the news that caught our attention this week ... there's quite a lot, so pour a dram and put your feet up!
Early Times > Search for artwork
early times mint julepThe popular Kentucky bourbon has announced a unique competition where the winner will see their artwork reproduced on a bottle. The Early Times Mint Julep – a pre-mixed version of the classic cocktail bottled at 30% ABV – has been the official bourbon of the famous Kentucky Derby horse race for the last 24 years. For the last two of these years, Early Times have run this competition and this year’s winner was a design by Marita Walizer from Oklahoma (pictured, left). To enter - log on to to submit your artwork and read the contest rules and details. The prize includes a VIP trip for two to the 2012 Kentucky Derby, $5,000 in cash and the artwork featured on the 2012 Early Times Mint Julep bottle. The closing date is 28 June.

Glendronach > ‘Cask in a Van’ tour
the glendronach 'cask in a van'The independently owned east Highland distillery of Glendronach has announced a unique tour of Belgium, which is one of the single malt’s biggest growing markets. Called the ‘Cask in a Van’, it will visit various towns and cities throughout the country between 20-25 June. This will be the third year that such a tour has taken place. As in each other year, Glendronach have selected a special cask to be driven around the venues in a van and samples from this will be available for tasting, along with the core range (the 12, 15 and 18 year olds). This year’s cask is an eight years old at 55% ABV, distilled in 2002 and matured in a Pedro Ximinez sherry cask.

Glenfiddich > New 50 years old released
glenfiddich 50 years oldThe famous Speyside distillery, owned by William Grant & Sons, has announced the third release of its 50 years old single malt. Just 50 bottles will be available through high end specialist retailers and each one will cost £10,000. The whisky is bottled in individually hand blown bottles, which are then wax sealed and then presented in a hand stitched leather bound case. The case includes a certificate and a silver plaque featuring the William Grant hallmark. Brian Kinsman, Glenfiddich’s Malt Master comments, “The Glenfiddich 50 Year Old is a true reflection of our dedication to producing the ultimate single malt Scotch whisky and represents the very pinnacle of our whisky-making expertise.”

Glenglassaugh > New managers announced
new managers at glenglassaughThe independently owned Highland distillery of Glenglassaugh have announced a restructuring of their distillery management. The previous Distillery Manager’s job has been split in two to create the new positions of Production Manager and Maturation Manager. The new Production Manager is Mhairi McDonald (pictured, on left), who has a first class Honours degree in Brewing & Distilling and has been in training at the distillery. She will look after all aspects of production from the raw materials to final spirit. The new Maturation Manager is Graeme Morrison (pictured, on right), who has been at Glenglassaugh since it re-opened in 2008, and he will manage the filling of the casks and the subsequent time that the spirit spends maturing.

Macallan > The Six Pillars
The Macallan have released a short film entitled ‘The Six Pillars’. This film documents the six elements that the famous Speyside distillery feel makes their single malt whiskies so special. The six cover all aspects of the Macallan’s production from the oak to the final whisky and includes insight from some of the people that work at the distillery. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New releases > Balvenie Signature Batch No.4

balvenie signature batch no.4This is the latest release in the Balvenie Signature single malt range. Balvenie was founded in 1892 by William Grant, who wanted to build a new facility in the Speyside region next to his Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown. Grant decided to renovate nearby Balvenie House and its outbuildings. Balvenie has a current annual production capacity of 5.5 million litres a year and is often described as 'the complete distillery', due to the fact that every process of production takes place on the site - they grow some of the barley on land next to the distillery (the only distillery to do this), have an active malting floor and 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.

The first batch of the Signature was released in 2008 to mark the 45th anniversary of Dave Stewart, the Balvenie's legendary Master Blender, working at the distillery. A new batch has been released roughly once a year since, with this one being the fourth. The whisky is named as such, because it is felt to represent the perfect 'signature' flavour and aroma profiles of Balvenie. All releases of the Signature, including this one, have been bottled at 12 years of age and using a combination of three different types of casking for maturation. These are ex-sherry casks and two types of ex-bourbon cask - first fill (ie, used for maturing bourbon but the first time it's been used for whisky) and re-fill (ie. used for maturing bourbon and then for whisky at least once). Batch No.4 is bottled at 40% ABV and should cost around £35.

At the recent Whisky Den event run by Balvenie in London, we had the opportunity to sample the new Signature Batch No.4. Also, we were lucky to get a unique insight in to the casking used in the maturation of the whisky as they had each of the three cask types on display, plus the opportunity to taste a sample from each original cask. This was fascinating as we saw how the three individual elements, plus the skill of the blender, came together to produce the final whisky. In the short video below, Eddie Ludlow of The Whisky Lounge explains about each of the three casks to our friend Chris. We hope you enjoy it and that it explains the process a little more.

Our tasting notes
The colour of Batch No.4 is a rich gold with some dark amber tones. The nose is rich and warming with a number of very pleasant aromas evident. Initially there is plenty of dried fruit (think of raisins, sultanas and dates) and an equal amount of caramel and toffee. Underneath are lovely aromas of vanilla, honey, almond and a pinch of baking spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg especially). There is also a whiff of orange oil/essence. On the palate, this is again rich and feels velvety and creamy. The dried fruit, in particular the raisins and sultanas, and the sweet toffee are prominent but the other characteristics work their way through these with time - distinct malted barley, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, bitter orange peel, oak, dark chocolate and a hint of burnt sugar (or is it distant peat smoke?). The combination is excellent and very well balanced. The finish begins sweetly with the fruit, toffee and honey leading the way before it turns drier with the oak, woody spices and some bittersweet cereals taking over.

At the Whisky Den event, Matt met up with Sam Simmons, the Global Brand Ambassador for Balvenie who some of you may know as Dr. Whisky, and they sampled the Signature Batch No.4 together. It was the first time that Sam had tasted it at the 40% ABV bottling strength, so watch the short video below to see his and Matt's thoughts. Enjoy ...

What's the verdict?
This is a delicious whisky that is rich, reassuring and very easy to drink. It combines lovely sweet elements with spicier and drier ones, which add a great depth and complexity to the aroma and flavour profiles. It would be great as an after dinner dram, possibly with some cold meat, medium-strong cheese or a cigar. Despite its complexity, we think Signature Batch No.4 is easily accessible to most and as a result it would be an ideal choice for a whisky beginner. It also reminds us as to why Balvenie was one of the first whiskies to get us seriously interested in whisky, as it offers so much.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Alchemist Dreams

There are times when we want (and need!) a break from whisky, whisky sampling or anything whisky related and last weekend was one such occasion. We were lucky enough to be invited to sample some of the creations of Alchemist Dreams - a London based artisan liqueur maker who produces and blends each bottle by hand.

ruth ballAlchemist Dreams was started at the turn of 2011 by chemistry graduate Ruth Ball (pictured, left). After completing her Masters degree, Ruth decided to use her skills in a creative way and the idea of producing bespoke liqueurs was born late one evening (we say - all the best ideas are formulated at these time and normally after a couple of drinks! After all, Whisky For Everyone was one such idea!). The formation of Alchemist Dreams followed and now Ruth offers the service of creating your own flavourings via, each of which she then blends by hand to your specifications.

Following a chance meeting a couple of months ago with Ruth in a north London wine shop, where she was doing a sampling session, we were kindly invited to Alchemist Dreams HQ to see some blending in action and to taste some of the flavours that she has within her catalogue. So, last Sunday we headed to Ruth's lovely Victorian terraced house on the edge of a leafy square in south London to learn about the art of blending liqueurs. Our friend Tom also joined us.

alchemist dreams - blackberries infusingAfter a welcoming cup of tea, Ruth started to explain how she makes her base liqueurs - these are the elements which are used to construct the final liqueurs. She uses an organic neutral grain spirit for this, which she receives at an alcoholic strength of 95% ABV. Each of the base ingredients - be it fruit, herb or spice - are then placed in the alcohol to infuse their flavour, colour and aroma (above - the image shows blackberries after two days). They are then assessed daily for progress. Ruth has established the optimum time for each ingredient and these range from just two days for rose petals to one month for cocoa nibs. The colour starts leeching out almost instantly and tricks the eye in to thinking that the liqueur may be ready, but it is Ruth's experience gained through extensive experimentation that determines when the flavour profile has reached its peak and the infusion is then stopped.

The liqueurs are split in to two categories for blending - bases and accents. The bases are all fruit infusions and are used as the foundation for each liqueur, with the accents being herb or spice infusions that are more concentrated in flavour. These are used in small amounts as essences to compliment the base flavours, similar to the use of essences and oils in the perfume industry. For the list of the base and accent flavours - click here. Once the alcoholic base and accents are blended together at the 95% ABV strength, Ruth mixes these with a combination of sugar syrup and water to produce the final liqueur. Each liqueur has a final strength of 19% ABV.

alchemist dreams - test tubesRuth has four house blends that she has created and sells via her website and at various trade fairs and markets. In addition to this, she offers the service where the customer can choose a base and a set of accents, which she then blends together to create a unique liqueur each time. Ruth is always experimenting with different infusions and combinations of infusions and we were particularly excited and surprised when she invited us to create our own flavour combinations. To help us, she provided us with a selection of test tubes holding some of the accent herbs and spices (pictured, above).

Suddenly, we were having to think about flavours and building flavours in a different way! Matt was first up and tried to use some basic principals from the recent Master of Malt blending exercise. His liqueur used orange as the base with coffee as the accent, which Ruth then blended with the syrup/water. It was a little bitter when taken straight but was better with a splash of tonic. Karen then decided on a combination of raspberry, rose and black pepper, which when mixed with the syrup/water created a deliciously fresh and summery liqueur. This was lovely and delicate when mixed with tonic. Tom, being a bit of a gin fan, decided to go against convention and not use a fruit base but three accents - vanilla, juniper and dash of wormwood. Ruth added a relatively high percentage of sugar syrup to compensate for some expected bitterness and it worked a treat. This liqueur was very gin-like and went very well with tonic and was tangy and refreshing.

alchemist dreams liqueursWe had a great and fun afternoon with Ruth, who is offering something new, fresh and unique to the market. It is great to see someone using their high level of skill in a non-conventional, enthusiastic and creative way (or "better than analysing samples of paint in a lab" to use her words!). So if you fancy making your own flavoured liqueurs or want to buy a present for someone, then pay a visit. At this time orders are only available for UK residents, but if you are based outside of the UK (and are over 18 years of age!) we urge you to take a look anyway! We would like to thank Ruth for her time and hospitality.