Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Whisky Discovery #1647

The Golden Age Blend, 40 Year Old (44.3% abv)
Blended Scotch Whisky
£349.95 70cl
Named for the ‘Golden Age’ of distilling spanning the early ’60s to the mid-'70s, The Golden Age Blend has been named Best Blended Scotch at the World Whiskies Awards 2016.

The Blended Whisky Company are the creators of the award-winning Golden Age Blend and The Lost Distilleries Blend, which was named World’s Best Blended Whisky at the World Whiskies Awards 2014, as well as receiving Gold Outstanding and Master medals from the IWSC and Scotch Whisky Masters respectively.

To create this whisky, The Blended Whisky Company took a selection of the finest venerable malts. All the whiskies used are aged for over 40 years and have been distilled at Macallan, Glenrothes and Tamdhu. Next, additional character and ‘seasoning’ was added in the form of gently peated whisky from Bunnahabhain. Finally, an exceptionally well-aged grain whisky from North British was added to tie the other malts together and form the backbone of the blend, at a ratio of approximately four parts malt to just one part grain.

This superbly rich, intense and full bodied award-winning blended whisky stands as a testament to the extraordinary depth of flavour that can be found in some of the marvellous whiskies distilled during the ‘Golden Age’. Just 210 bottles are available worldwide.

The Golden Age Blend is available from all the very best retailers including Amazon and Master of Malt and has a recommended retail price of £349.95

So What Did I Think?
This was the one of my highlights from Whisky Live London, and I had the time to get to know this before the show opened on Saturday as we were working with Maverick Drinks. It was my 'breakfast' dram, or 'product training' as I like to call it. Fortunately, the thoughtful people at Drinks by the Dram also sent me a wee sample as a thank you for helping out on the day and it was my Easter Monday dram. It was wonderful to revisit it and it gave me the opportunity to write some notes.

This has the colour of oiled teak, a colour I'm very familiar with having spent a number of years building yachts that contained a great deal of it.

On the nose, I was reminded of chocolate brioche initially. Fruit followed with raisins, figs, and dried peel, like a Christmas cake steeped in Sherry. There are hints of dark 'old fashioned' marmalade, Demerara sugar, Cigar box and tobacco, and is simply divine. I didn't consider adding water to my sample. Glorious!

The palate opens with a gentle sweetness before the spices rush on to the tongue. As these settle, the sweetness returns, soft and warming while the spices leave a sherbet tingle. Flavours noted included Chelsea Buns, bitter chocolate, coffee grounds, and raisins. Tobacco notes come a little later with just the faintest smoky note developing towards the long finish. Delicious!

The finish is long, with hints of smoke and tobacco, turning woody, with an earthiness of a forest floor, eventually turning dry as the tannins remain at the very end.

I had the pleasure of not only tasting this but, working with The Maverick Drinks stand at Whisky Live London on Saturday, I had the opportunity to share it with appreciative whisky fans, as it was one of our 'under the counter drams'. 

Of course, it's not an affordable whisky for most, but then 40 Year Old whiskies don't tend to be. However, checking prices of other 40-year-old whiskies, this is competitively priced. This is a superbly blended Scotch, and a little piece of history. But don't just take my word for it, it has been named Best Blended Scotch at the World Whiskies Awards 2016.

Huge thanks to Drinks by the Dram for the review sample

Slàinte! Dave

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Glencadam, two new releases

Early in February, I received an email from Angus Dundee Distillers telling me about some new releases from The Glencadam and asking if I'd like some samples. Of course, we love emails like this, especially as we've really had little exposure to this distillery. Checking the liquid log, just two listed; the first was from a 'Drinks by the Dram' Advent Calendar back in 2013 when I was treated to a sample of their 21 Year Old. The only other expression was a superb single cask release from retailer and independent bottler Abbey Whisky, with a sample from their ‘Rare Casks’ series 22 Year Old

The Glencadam Distillery
Once again I had to turn to Malt Whisky Yearbook to find out a little more about the Glencadam Distillery. Located in Brechin, the Eastern Highlands, a region once known for its whisky smuggling past, whisky production has been decimated in recent years with the closures of North Port, Glenesk (Hillside) and Lochside distilleries. Just Fettercairn and Glencadam have survived, and apart from a short period between 2000 and 2003. The Glencadam Distillery seems to have been in continuous operation since it was founded in 1825. Angus Dundee Distillers bought the distillery in 2003 (they also own the Tomintoul Distillery) and its capacity of 1.3 million litres per year puts it at the same size as the Ardbeg and Scapa distilleries.

Michael Jackon’s Malt Whisky Companion tells us that the ‘House Style’ is; Creamy with a suggestion of berry fruits, and recommends that this is enjoyed with dessert, or after dinner
A few weeks after the original email was received, a wee package arrived, beautifully presented, with two small samples of their latest releases, and one evening towards the end of the month I sat down and enjoyed these two new Whisky Discoveries
Whisky Discovery No.1589

Glencadam Origin 1825 NAS 40% abv
Highland Single Malt
Circa £30.00 70cl
First out of the box was the recently released Glencadam Origin 1825 the first No Age Statement whisky that the distillery has launched. We’re told from the Press Release that a very special collection of casks was chosen, with the final selection consisting of a unique marriage of whisky matured in first-class American white-oak bourbon barrels with whisky “finished” in the finest Spanish Oloroso Sherry butts. 

So What Did I Think?
The nose has a creamy buttery feel to it with sweet floral notes alongside melting vanilla ice-cream. Hints of tangerine start to come through a little later. On the palate, it’s soft and light with a creamy fruitiness finishing with gentle spices and hints of cinnamon. The sweet fruit remains to the very end which turns a little dry.

So the ‘marketing speak’ was perhaps a little nonsense as Scotch whisky can’t be ‘unique’! Firstly the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) have strict rules of what can be and what can’t be done with maturing Scotch whisky. Secondly, American ex-bourbon barrels and Oloroso Sherry butts have been the norm for way longer than I’ve been drinking whisky!

I must admit I was immediately sceptical of another average NAS whisky launch but much to my delight, I was pleasantly surprised by this new release. Whilst not overly challenging, this is a very pleasant, dare I say it, ‘entry level dram’ and while it is a no-age-statement whisky they’ve decided to pitch it at a price point that reflects its position in the full range rather than ‘have our eyes out!

The original press release was dated October 2015, but I’ve not seen it on general sale from the on-line retailers yet and I tried to revisit it at Whisky Live London recently and it was unavailable here too.

Whisky Discovery No.1590

Glencadam 25 Year Old 46% abv
Highland Single Malt
Circa £250.00 70cl
The second sample was of their soon to be released 25 Year Old, with the press release describing this to be a limited release of just 1600 bottles with each bottle individually numbered. Master Distiller, Robert Fleming, deemed that the time was right to bottle the whisky at 25 years of age when the combination of exciting flavour notes such as sweet malt, exotic fruit and mixed nuts had reached a wonderful balance. 

So What Did I Think?
The nose was simply glorious! I’d only received a small sample but wanted this to last forever! Its maturity was instantly apparent with those ‘old malt’ notes. It wasn’t particularly sweet, but the light fruity notes picked up on the Origin were evident. This too was a delight on the palate. Creamy, light and wonderfully fragrant and gently spiced while ‘old malt’ notes of polished oak hinted at its vintage. 

I really loved this vintage release, and while it was just a small sample I sat and savoured this for as long as I could resist draining the glass. £250 is a great deal of money to spend on a bottle of whisky, and it’s certainly not something I consider on a regular basis, but I try to put it into context. There are 14 ‘healthy’ drams in each bottle (a single is rarely enough!) so think of it as 14 instalments for 14 special evenings over a period of time of your choice. I tried to revisit this at Whisky Live London recently too, but sadly it hadn’t travelled down with the team.

Want to find out more? You can find Glencadam on-line here and across social media with FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Slàinte! Dave

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Women in Whisky Lunch 2016

As mentioned earlier, March has been really busy, both in our day jobs and with the amount of whisky events we've attended. Kat even managed to squeeze a short trip to Scotland into our packed schedules.

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8th of March, Geraldine Murphy part of the famous whisky pub, The Pot Still, of Glasgow and founder of the women’s only whisky club The Pot Stills Whisky Girls held, what has become a new tradition, a Women in Whisky Lunch.

As soon as I saw the tickets go on sale, I booked myself to go. The lunch was held in the beautiful Grand Central Hotel which is situated right next to Glasgow's Central train station. The hotel was built in the Victorian times in the Queen Anne style, which has been renovated sympathetically, keeping many of the period features. I absolutely adored the character of this place. A great feature was a row of windows in one of the hallways where you look directly into the station. I admired the juxtaposition of the old ornate Victorian window frames fixed in view and seeing the rush of modern life outside.
The Grand Central Hotel from inside the station building
It was a truly international affair. On my table was the food & drinks writer Rosemary Moon, two ladies from Switzerland, and a group of ladies from Pernod Richard including Chivas Regal Brand Ambassador Lauren Mustard who brought along the new no age statement Longmorn.
This was great easy drinking dram, especially pairing well with the trio of dessert that was served with lunch. 
Two of the fabulous desserts (photos courtesy of Crystal Coverdale)
Before we heard from the industry’s key speakers we were introduced to the chosen charity Say Women, a local charity run by volunteers who offer help and support to vulnerable young women between the ages of 16 – 25 who have experienced childhood sexual abuse, rape or sexual assault. This includes finding safe accommodation, teaching & providing financial advice, through to counselling. The aim of the charity is to help give these women gain their confidence so they can have the right to choose their own positive path in life without living in fear.

In the UK it’s common to hear that demand for small charities like Say Women exists due to a lack of services being offered by the NHS or other local government. In Glasgow, it’s no different, very tragic considering whisky is a major export of Scotland, and many of these women grew up with alcoholic parents, which is the reason why they seek help. I feel it highlights an area that the drinks industry as a whole can do more to help.

With all the money raised from the event going to the charity, it was nice to see that under whisky, a positive light was shining through to show a different side of the drinks industry, and making a positive impact. As we were waiting to hear from two women where the whisky has changed their lives in a good way, hope that some of the vulnerable women might also these stories and be inspired to choose whisky as their new career path.
Rachel MacNeill addressing the Women in Whisky Lunch 
The first guest speaker was Rachel MacNeill from Whisky for Girls. Whisky has always been part of Rachel’s life growing up on the Isle of Islay. She told us of how she used to play in the malting barns of the distillery near her home as a child, not really knowing what it was until she got older. Then she got that lightbulb moment, realised she can turn her interest into a career when it hit her that people would pay her for taking them on whisky tours, courses, and tastings on Islay! Who can blame her, this was the golden ticket other people can only dream of. 
Dr Kirstie McCallum addressing the Women in Whisky Lunch (photo courtesy of Crystal Coverdale)
The second and last speaker was Dr Kirstie McCallum from Burn Stewart Distillers. Her whisky story started differently, entering the industry by chance, her passion for whisky then grew from there. With a Ph.D. in hand, her original goal was to work in the pharmaceutical industry but as needs must, she accepted a part-time role in a distillery. This lead to her becoming the youngest female blender in Scotland, then on to Global Brand Ambassador for Burn Stewart Distillers, and recently announced, into a new role of Senior Blender at Burn Stewart. She is currently finishing the last few events of her Ambassador role. 

What is it about whisky that stole her heart? She explained this is down to the range of smells, taste, and texture that’s unique to each whisky. Truly believes that there is whisky for everyone and it’s a drink that has no gender. Telling all the ladies in the room that there is no right or wrong way to drink whisky, reminding us it’s a drink, to be enjoyed however you like as long as you enjoy tasting it! 

All in all, it was a great afternoon, with everyone ending up for a few beers and more drams at The Pot Still. I'm proud to say that over £1000 was raised this year which I'm sure the charity will put to great use. If you too would like to donate to Say Women you can do so by following the link to their donation page here: Donate here

More pictures of the event can also be found on The Pot Still Whisky Girls Facebook page

Slàinte! Kat

Monday, 28 March 2016

Exile Casks Launch March 2016

We've had a very busy March and have so much to catch up on! With so much news to share I've decided to start with the latest news first! Last Wednesday, I headed down to London’s Soho Whisky Club for the launch of the first from Joel Harrison and Neil Ridley’s latest venture, The ‘Exile Casks’

The ‘Exile Casks’ is a new range of single cask scotch that will be available only from exilecasks.com For the past 3 years Neil and Joel been searching all over Scotland for lost and forgotten casks, and they say that they’ve found some gems amongst the warehouses.
Whisky Discovery
Three new Whisky Discoveries to log!
Whisky Discovery No.1653

Caskstrength And Carry On 3D Whisky 56.4% abv
Blended Malt Whisky
no longer available
The first dram of the evening was the last release from Neil and Joel under the ‘Cask Strength’ brand. 3D is a 'vatted' malt from 3 distilleries beginning with the letter D; Dalwhinnie, Dailuaine and Dufftown, was created by Joel and Neil themselves under the guidance of Diageo Master Blender Dr Matthew Crow.

Unfortunately, I never managed to taste any of these early releases from the Cask Strength label so this, the last in their short series was the first for me.

Just 504 signed and numbered bottles were produced, at 56.4% abv, complete with stereoscopic 3D label and glasses. They were available exclusively from Master of Malt at around £50 a bottle and have all sold out long ago, although if you really want to try it there were some ‘Drinks by the Dram’ available when I looked.

Whisky Discovery No.1654

The Trojan 25 Year Old 57.1% abv
Single Cask Speyside Whisky
£65.00 500ml (only available from exilecasks.com)
Exile Casks Whisky
This was being bottled on the day of the tasting, so no bottle shot!
The Trojan, a 25 Year Old single cask from a Speyside distillery will be the first release from Exile Casks. Neil and Joel were not prepared to discuss the distillery this came from, but records showed that this cask was filled with spirit from one distillery and then labelled as being something else. Distilled 19th June 1990 and matured in a refill hogshead, it was currently being bottled (as we were tasting) at 57.1% with just 306 500ml bottles, and will be available from 31st March at £65 but only from exilecasks.com

So What Did I Think?
Quite a punchy dram with a gloriously rich, almost sherry cask, colour. Lots of woody oaky notes on the nose with liquorice and nutty notes too, walnut in particular. There was also a surprising celery salt note detected – and I thought it was only Kat that had these oddities in her tasting notes! This is also surprisingly lively for a 25-year-old, with lots of rich spicy notes on the palate. Water tamed the spicy heat and sweetened the flavours. One of the Soho Whisky Club members had brought in some home-made chocolates, and this whisky worked wonderfully with the chocolate – Bravo!

Whisky Discovery No.1655

'TBA' 1992 55.5% abv
Single Cask Speyside Whisky
£TBA0 500ml (only available from exilecasks.com)
No bottle, No label, not even a name yet!
Our third and final dram was a teaser from their next release. Another single cask from a Speyside distillery and again no distillery name will be released, although we were told that this cask had travelled, having been moved to four different warehouses. Distilled 9th April and matured in a 200-litre refill ASB (American Standard Barrel) and the sample we were tasting was at 55.5% abv. This yet to be named release is about a month away and if you want to find out more you’ll need to sign up on exilecasks.com

So What Did I Think?
Now this very quickly won me over and was my favourite of the evening’s three new Whisky Discoveries. The nose having a tropical fruity feeling with pineapple and coconut cream, lots of coconut cream! - Delicious!

I always enjoy my trips to The Soho Whisky Club as more often than not it's because I've been invited to the launch of a new expression! The original plan of the Cask Strength team was to release an A-Z series of whiskies, but quickly realised that they were going to be hard-pressed to do this, especially in order! The first two casks are indeed very different and divided the Soho Whisky Club members fairly equally. That, however, is hardly surprising as single cask releases from the same distillery can be very different. There's no brand profile in terms of taste or style being sought here, just single casks that appeal to Neil and Joel. There's no exclusivity other than the limited release that a single cask can yield. When it's gone, it's gone!

hy 500ml bottles? Well firstly more people will be able to enjoy each release! The initial release, limited to just 306 500ml bottles would yield just 218 bottles at 700ml. Secondly, Neil and Joel looked at their own whisky collections and noticed that many of their bottles had around 200ml left in the bottom of them (yeah, mine too!). There's nothing like opening a newly purchased bottle, and these releases are meant to be drunk!

So, if you want to find out just what whisky Neil and Joel really like you'll just have to sign up on their new website as this will be the only place you can buy them from. You can follow them on Twitter too @ExileCasks we'd suggest you do just that!

Slàinte! Dave

Monday, 8 February 2016

Whisky Discovery #1565

Wemyss Malts 'Fallen Apples' 1989 Glen Garioch (46% abv)
Highland Single Malt
Circa £110.00 70cl
Glen Garioch 1989
Independent bottler, Wemyss Malts, announced their first Single Cask release of 2016 towards the end of January with six casks selected to showcase the best of Speyside, Islay and The Highlands and, ranging in age from 13 to 25 years old.

The full list from this tranche of single casks released:
  • "Sizzling Charcoal" 1997 single cask from Bunnahabhain Distillery, Islay,
  • "Coastal Confection" 1996 single cask from Bowmore Distillery, Islay, Cask Strength
  • "The Highland Mariner 1997 single cask from Clynelish Distillery, Highlands
  • "Fallen Apples" 1989 singe cask from Glen Garioch Distillery, Highlands
  • "Barrista’s Dram" 2002 single cask from Craigellachie Distillery, Speyside
  • "Toasted Anise" 1996 single cask from Glenrothes Distillery, Speyside
Each cask has been selected and named by the Wemyss tasting panel, under the watchful eye of industry aficionado Charlie Maclean, and Dave was one of the few who received a review sample of the Glen Garioch 'Fallen Apples'

There are only a few hundred bottles from each cask and the suggested retail prices range from £55 to £110. These bottlings will be available in selected retailers in the UK, EU and key Asian markets.

So What Did I Think?
When I saw the press release, two of the six single casks interested me a little more than the others; the 1997 Clynelish and this 1989 Glen Garioch and cheekily asked if there was a sample available to review.

In 1989 Glen Garioch still had their own floor maltings, hence my immediate interest when I saw this list. When the floor maltings were in operation, the malt was peated, albeit to a very low level, at circa 8-10 ppm.The practice discontinued when the distillery was mothballed in 1995, and like most distilleries these days, all the malt is brought in from independent maltsters. 

'Fallen Apples' bottled at 46% abv at the end of last year was distilled in 1989 and just 266 bottles are out there so when it's gone, it's gone!

As with so many of their single cask releases, the Wemyss Malts team are bang on the money with naming this one as an Autumn apple harvest was my first impression when bringing the glass up to my nose. With a drop of water, it's baked apples covered in glazed brown sugar, while a herbal heather note brings up the background. There's also an elusive hint of smoke, not an earthy peat-like smoke, but more like the smoke from a blacksmith's forge (anthracite) and some charred wood.

Apples dominate the palate flavours too, with stewed apples initially, which is followed by apple wood notes, freshly cut at first, seasoned and polished later. The gentle wood smoke comes through right at the end of the spicy finish.
Verdict: I really enjoyed this traditional Highland malt, it's a little over my £100 budget but for a little piece of history, this gently peated 25 Year Old Single Cask Glen Garioch is good buy. Many thanks to Wemyss Malts for the sample (any chance of a sample of the Clynelish too?)

Slàinte! Dave

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Whisky Discovery #1564

Japanese Whisky has been very much in the news over the last twelve to eighteen months and we were very excited about our invitation to the UK launch of the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 Edition
Whisky Discovery
We'd missed out on the previous release which made all the headlines after being crowned the world’s best whisky by Jim Murray in his 2015 Whisky Bible. A friend and fellow Bedford Whisky Club member who had bought one before the announcement now had a predicament to consider as to if or when he should open it. He actually bought two, one for his Father-in-Law who did open it, and it all went down very well! The second bottle is now in a safe place while he decides if he's going to 'cash in' or wait for a significant 'life event' to open it, but anyway, I digress....

The launch event, organised by Thrsxy was held in London's Savoy Hotel and Suntory's global brand ambassador, Mike Miyamoto, was on hand to take us through the company's philosophy and history, as well as a tasting of three core expressions before introducing us to the 2016 release. Mike Miyamoto joined Suntory in 1978 and is well qualified for the position of Global Brand Ambassador having spent time in all areas of whisky making; from running a cooperage in the USA, running distilleries with Morrison Bowmore, to the blending rooms working alongside the Master Blenders creating their 'alchemy' with both masterpieces and experiments that didn't make it to market. 

The 2013 release was a very limited edition and by the time it was announced as the world’s best whisky, it had all but sold out. The 2016 release is again a very limited edition, the UK allocation of 2,000 bottles will be available from Monday, February 1st from Selfridges, The Whisky Exchange and Harvey Nichols. Priced at a little more than twice the price of the award winning 2013 release, at £200 for a 70cl bottle, it would appear that Suntory has either decided to trade on their previous success or have made the move to reduce the incidences of 'flipping' by speculators.

The birth of Japanese Whisky
Whisky Discovery
Global Brand Ambassador Mike Miyamoto
Before the tasting began, Mike took us through a brief history of Japanese whisky that will be celebrating it's centenary in just seven years.

Shinjiro Torii 'The founding father of Japanese whisky' established the first Suntory whisky distillery, now known as the Yamazaki, the birthplace of Japanese whisky, on the outskirts of Kyoto 1923. The stills first ran in December 1924, and initially, Japanese whiskies copied the then current Scottish styles. The Suntory branded 'Shirofuda' released in 1929 did not go down to well being too smoky for the Japanese palate, but just eight years later they got it right when they released 'Kakubin'. It's smoothness and balance was a big hit in Japan. Shinjiro who had a knack for blending whisky, remained master blender up until 1960. The following year, he passed the role of president and master blender on to his adopted son Keizo Saji. The Third and current master blender, Shingo Torii took the helm in 2002, maintaining the family bond, the basic philosophy of the Suntory business.

Unlike Scotland, Japan only has a handful of distilleries, and trading between distilleries just doesn't happen. Suntory has just three distilleries, two making single malts and one making grain whisky and in order to create the range of whiskies, they have had to become a little more resourceful. Yamazaki, for example; has two types of fermenting vats; wood and stainless, 16 pot stills, with seven different types and using both direct firing and steam heated. Then for maturation, they have oak casks of various types, ex-bourbon, ex-wine, ex-sherry and of course, Japanese oak. The variety within this distillery alone allows them to be able to make a number of different whisky styles.

In 1972, Suntory opened their Grain distillery, Chita and it wasn't until 1973 that their second single malt distillery, Hakushu was established. Hakushu, located in the foothills of Mt. Kaikomagatake, is known as Japan’s Southern Alps, where cool, clear waters flow through a bountiful forest environment. Suntory launched Yamazaki as a single malt whisky in 1984, followed by Hakushu in 1994, while their blended whisky came to the market with the creation of Hibiki in 1989. With the introductions over we moved onto a short Masterclass with three current expressions, one from each of the two single malt distilleries and their blended whisky Hibiki before moving on to the reason we were all there.
Whisky Discovery

Whisky Discovery #89

Yamazaki 12 Year Old (43% abv)
Japanese Single Malt Whisky
circa £120.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
This, a favourite of Mike Miyamoto, is now getting difficult to find, even in Japan, and it was good to revisit this delightful single malt. First discovered fairly early on in my personal journey, at The Whisky Loung London Fest in 2012, I wish I'd brought a bottle or two! The nose came across fruity with plenty of zesty grapefruit at first. Soft peach and ripe pineapple follow along with fudge and vanilla while hints of Amontillado Sherry balance the flavours with a distinct nuttiness. The palate is soft with a gentle sweetness and subtle spices.

Verdict: Fabulous! Unfortunately due to the current trend with Japanese whiskies this is very difficult to find and it's not currently available from either The Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt

Whisky Discovery #1563

Hakushu 12 Year Old (43% abv)
Japanese Single Malt Whisky
circa £75.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
Whilst I've tried a few from the Hakushu Distillery, the 12 Year Old was a new Whisky Discovery for me. The nose comes across clean and fresh, with menthol, pine forest notes and an almost 'sanitised note' initially but with time the forest smoke starts to develop in the glass. Herbal with thyme and dried pine needles interplaying with each other. The palate is softer than the nose suggested but still reminded me of a pine forest, although a little more smokey, Lapsang Souchang sprung to mind but the spices that follow remind you that it's whisky, not tea your drinking! The smoke lasts long into the peppery drying finish

Verdict: Lovely fresh smoky Hakushu. This one is currently available at The Whisky Exchange but for how long who knows? It is out of stock at Master of Malt

Whisky Discovery #168

Hibiki 17 Year Old (43% abv)
Japanese Blended Whisky
circa £100.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
In Japanese Hibiki means Harmony, and the Hibiki range is a blended whisky, but unlike Scotch, all of the whisky in this blend brings together the many styles of matured malt and grain whisky from the companies three distilleries. I'd forgotten just how lovely this whisky was after first coming across it at Nickolls and Perks Midlands Whisky Show. This is so easy to drink and I was able to go back for seconds of this! The nose comes across clean with a sanitised note initially, perhaps the Hakushu showing it's colours first? Creamy caramel notes follow after some turn in the glass, buttery but again with a herbal oregano note. The palate is smooth and creamy with caramelised banana. Spicy oak flavours develop towards the end

Verdict: I could drink this all night, but, unfortunately, it's not currently available from either The Whisky Exchange or Master of Malt

Whisky Discovery #1564

Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016 (48% abv)
Japanese Single Malt Whisky
circa £200.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
One of the oldest casks at Suntory was the Sherry Cask. As with all good whisky makers nowadays Suntory select their own oak from the forests of Northern Spain. With the wood seasoned, they work with the coopers to create their own sherry casks, shorter with more girth (puncheons) so they still hold the same capacity as a butt. Oloroso sherry is matured in these casks for three years before they are shipped to Japan for whisky maturation. The new 2016 Yamazaki Sherry Cask release has spent three years longer in oak than the 2013 release, and Mike told us that it contains some 25 Year Old Yamazaki too

So What Did I Think?
Of course, this falls into the sherry monster category, the nose is thick with liquorice, aniseed, and clove initially. Once settled the chocolate notes start to develop, and whilst there is a rich fruity raisin note, there's also a meatiness to it too, a very savoury dram.

Moving onto the palate, the quality of the balance is immediately evident with a velvet-like smoothness. My initial note written was Black Forest gateau, rich with chocolate, and dark cherry while the woody notes start to build, clove and woody cassia dominating the spices for me. As expected, it's drying, and you can almost feel it starting to suck the moisture from your mouth as the body builds! On second sip a sour cherry note was more evident, reminding me of the Chinese dried plums/cherries I used to love in the Far East, but the savouriness continues reinforcing the meatiness I noted on nosing.

Verdict: It would have been amazing to be able to try the new 2016 release against the previous release, I don't suppose there are many that will get the opportunity to do this though.

I used to be a big fan of Sherry monsters, however, some bad experiences over the years with some real woody drams, I'm a little more apprehensive with them nowadays. I must admit, this recent release from Yamazaki is something special and there's not a hint of 'struck match' sulphur. I'm fairly certain this will be another Jim Murray hit, but by the time the next release of his Bible comes out it'll be all gone! In fact, if you're umming and arh-ing like I am on whether you should get a bottle, you're probably too late as well!

Splendid stuff! Now can I really afford £200 for a bottle of this?

Slàinte! Dave

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Whisky Discovery #1560

Glenmorangie Private Edition 'Milsean' 46% abv
Highland Single Malt
Circa £76.00 70cl

Private Edition
Candy stripes on the bottle seal but wait till you see the box!

We always look forward to marking the start of the year with a Glenmorangie Private Edition release! On cold grey Tuesday afternoon in mid-January, we sneaked out from our respective 'day jobs' early in order to make the 1700 train into London and headed down to Browns Hotel Ablemarle Street to join Dr. Bill Lumsden and his team for the launch of the latest release in Glenmorangie’s Private Edition series.

Milsean (pronounced ‘Meel-shawn’) meaning 'sweet things' in Scots Gaelic, marks the seventh release in this range, and follows Tusail in 2015, Companta in 2014, Ealanta, Artein, Finealta and Sonnalta PX from previous years.

In a packed room, dressed with jars of Flying Saucers, Dolly Mixtures, Sherbet Lemons and icing sugar dusted Bon-bons (both strawberry, and lemon flavours) to remind you of an old-fashioned sweet shop. Dr Bill Lumsden commenced proceedings with a dram of The Original, the single malt that almost all of the Glenmorangie releases start from.
I wish all sweet shops looked like this!
OK, perhaps the sweet shop was a little stretch of the imagination with the back wall lined with alternate bottles of The Original and the new Milsean, but there were plenty of sweets to go round, and we all had at least one bag of sweets to take home with us. Dr Bill explained his love of old-fashioned sweets before going off piste for a short while, telling a story of the state of teeth in Scotland, and his relationship with his dentist!

Back on script Dr Bill went on to explain how the Private Edition series came to be. Prior to the first release, Glenmorangie had released some single cask editions that were very well received (and now highly collectable) but single casks make each release very limited, and exclusive, and a wider release was desired.

Extra-maturation is a process pioneered by Glenmorangie. Whisky is first matured in one type of cask (such as ex-bourbon), then is transferred into a different type of cask (such as ex-wine casks) where it spends additional years gaining further layers of flavour. With a greater outturn the risk is higher, so for the first Private Edition release Dr. Bill decided to stick with a known 'finishing' cask, Pedro Ximenez Sherry.

Milsean is the first Glenmorangie expression to be extra-matured in heavily toasted Portuguese red wine casks. Milsean, draws on the effect of charred wine casks, unlocking an unusual dimension in extra maturation.

Created from Glenmorangie first matured in ex-bourbon oak casks, Glenmorangie Milsean then spent a number of years in casks which had contained Portuguese red wine. Yet before they were used to create a Glenmorangie Private Edition, the casks were heavily charred to enhance the sweeter notes of Glenmorangie, which has created a whisky with such attractive hints of sweetness, that it has surpassed even his expectations.
Tthe Douro valley is said to be one of the most distinctive terroirs in the history of world viticulture
Before presenting the Milsean, Dr Bill had a glass of the Portuguese Red Wine for us to adjust our senses while introducing future successor Brendan McCarron who played a major part in creating this new release.

Dr Bill told us: “A glass of Glenmorangie Milsean transports me straight to an old-fashioned sweet shop with its sweet and spicy bouquet, with hints of sugar cane, ripe fruits and fudge. Extra-maturing Glenmorangie in heavily toasted red wine casks for the first time, has allowed us to create a whisky recalling a bygone era. I hope its deep tastes of cherries, angelica, candied orange peel and unusual intensity of caramelised fruits, will surprise and delight whisky aficionados and malt connoisseurs.”

Bottled at 46% abv, and non-chill filtered for extra body and texture, Glenmorangie Milsean will be available from specialist whisky shops worldwide, including The Whisky Exchange, Soho’s Vintage House, Selfridges and Royal Mile Whiskies from 19th January 2016

mmmm Flying Saucers and even a hint of giraffe!

So What Did We think?

Kat says: The difference with this year's release that interested me was the way the cask was toasted. The wine cask was re-toasted over a brazier of oak chips before the whisky went in, instead of the whisky going straight into a wet cask. Their plan was to make a whisky that smells and tastes like old fashion sweets. This explains the red and white stripped packing resembling the striped paper bags you get in the older or traditional British sweet shops. It's very cute, very playful.

Nose: Begins with a full on sugar hit, full of fudge, Dolly mix sweets, sticky sweet tobacco and figs. With some time in the glass, the more familiar house style of orange zests starts coming through with more aromatic notes specifically picking up bay leaves. Lacing between all of this, more robust notes of toasted coconuts and sesame seeds, adding some good depth. The general feel is sweet without feeling sticky or clinging, the sweetness being uplifted by the zesty notes, and the toasted aromas offering dryness offering some balance to the sweetness.

Taste: It came as no surprise that the sweetness carries on through into the taste. Found it to be a straightforward sweetness of white caster sugar, with the same consistency as watered down sugar syrup. Following on is orange zests, providing a nice all-round light coating of orange essential oil, same as the nose, this provides a balance to and lifting the sweetness stopping it becoming sickly sweet. As time goes on, other notes that were picked up on the nose is pretty much mirrored in the taste and in a similar sequence. Leather notes and toasted coconut emerges with some welcome dryness, allowing spice notes of mace and nutmeg to come through. Subsequent sips still begin with plenty of sweetness but turns more complex, becoming more of Dolly mixture sweets and fudge.

Finish: Here surprisingly, it’s not overcome with sweetness but of toasted oak and coconuts. Some of the essential oils are also here, with some spices that vanish a bit too quickly for me. Would say a medium finish but only because I wished it would linger for a little longer.

Dave Says: Well not quite as much as Kat! When someone is waxing lyrical about something they are passionate about, it's easy to be led through the power of suggestion, especially when you're in a room dressed as a sweet shop, with open jars and bags of sweets that we were 'expected' to find during the tasting. It had been an awfully  long time since I'd had 'Flying Saucers' and these made a very happy food pairing with Milsean for me! Fortunately not only did we get to enjoy this at the launch event, we were also sent a review sample to follow up on.

Whilst this is a very sweet dram, something I picked up on both at the tasting and at WDHQ, was that the distillery character certainly comes through and much more evident than the previous four editions that we've tasted.

Nose: There really is a great deal going on in here. The sweet shop notes are all here as initially directed, Dolly Mixtures and Sherbet Lemons for me. The bags of sweets given to us at the beginning of the tasting made a great reference point for candied fruity notes. I picked up some summer fruit notes too though, raspberries in particular. The 'house-style' orange notes were clear but there was also an interesting toasted coconut flavour.

Palate: This is a definitely a dessert whisky. with soft fudge leading the flavours, before a cornucopia of sweet fruits evolve, with ripe cherry, golden plum, melon, mango and a hint of BBQ'd pineapple, alongside citrus, which was more grapefruit than orange for me. The sweetness is balanced by the spices that follow, ginger predominantly but hints of cinnamon were noted, and I found that toasted coconut coming across towards the short and sweet finish.

Finish: As mentioned above, short and sweet is most apt. There are so many interesting flavours, both on the nose and on the palate, but once swallowed, it seems to finish abruptly.

Verdict: Definitely moreish! Compared with the previous two releases, this stayed much closer to the house style and flavours of The Original. It is a seriously sweet dram and those without a sweet tooth, this is not the whisky for you. Dr Bill and his team set out to make a whisky that resembled the smells and tastes of an old-fashioned sweet shops and Milsean pretty much did that.

This was also the second time we had met Dr. Bill Lumsden, and was very happy that we managed to have a good chat with him. We discussed the flavour profile of the previous release Tusail and what the Maris Otter barley brought to that whisky. Kat told him how she would be interested in doing a side by side comparison with Tusail and The Original, and Dr. Bill agreed this would be an interesting comparison. Something they carried out at the time, with The Original acting as a control.

Having been fortunate to taste the last four Private Editions we'd really like to run a tasting with them all alongside each other with The Original acting as control. At the time of the release of Ealanta, I wasn't a huge fan. I'm not sure 'I got it' then, so would really love to revisit it. Now to get my hands on a bottle of Ealanta…

Slàinte! Dave and Kat

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Whisky Discovery #1546

Karuizawa 33 Year Old Cask No.136 (55.3% abv)
Japanese Whisky
Only available at Auction
Karuizawa Cask 136
My first Whisky Discovery of 2016 and what a way to start! A single cask release from the now legendary Japanese Distillery Karuizawa, which ceased all production in 2001 when the distillery was mothballed.

Distilled in 1981 this has spent 33 years in a Sherry butt before being bottled in 2014 at 55.3% and thanks to French Whisky enthusiast and blogger Franck Debanardi for this very special sample. Cask 136 was a single cask release for French whisky specialist La Maison Du Whisky and just 595 bottles were released. Whilst not a cheap buy at the time of release, at a recent auction a bottle of this sold for over £2,500!

So What Did I Think?
I must admit that I'm no longer a huge fan of 'Sherry Monsters' as there have been a few that have put me off over recent years but I was pleased to say this one did not disappoint.

Of course, the nose is full of rich sherry notes, but there's a rather pleasant sourness of Chinese preserved plums, a dried fruit snack I particularly enjoyed during my time out in the Far East. There are hints of liquorice, waxy furniture polish and leather. With a drop or two of water, the sour cherry notes sweeten giving cherry liqueur, hints of orange peel appear and eventually some floral notes come through too.

On the palate, the woodiness comes through strong and a little waxy, but not overpowering as it's balanced by the slightly sour cherry/dried plum flavours and a pleasant hit of peppery spice. As found with the nose, a drop of water sweetens the palate too, giving ripe plums and liquorice which last long into the woody finish.

Verdict: Gorgeous and a great way to start the Liquid log off in 2016. Unfortunately with auction prices forever climbing, getting the chance to try anything from Karuizawa is getting more and more difficult. Thanks again to Franck Debenardi - why not follow him on Twitter @lacaveducobalt and check out his blog

I'm looking for a sample of another Karuizawa release that I was hoping to get onto a bottle share, with but just missed out! If you have an open bottle of The Whisky Exchange release 1984 Vintage Cask #3663 56.8% abv I would love a sample, please!
Karuizawa Cask 136
Slàinte! Dave

Sunday, 8 November 2015

The Whisky Exchange Single Cask Exclusives - English Whisky

Head Distiller David Fitt and Kat and the two Whisky Exchange Single Cask exclusives at the show
We caught up with The English Whisky Company's Head Distiller, David Fitt, at this year's Whisky Exchange Whisky Show, who as usual blew us away with their new releases (as well as a rather exciting 'under the counter' experiment). David took us through the new triple distilled Chapter 17, which we followed with the 2015 release of Chapter 10 before moving on to two single cask releases that he was immensely proud of.

Two casks personally chosen by Sukhinder Singh, founder of the Whisky Exchange, bottled as exclusive releases and launched at the show. We were mightily impressed with both of them on the day and were delighted to receive a pair of review samples a few days afterwards, to revisit them.

These are only available from The Whisky Exchange, and being single cask releases, only a limited number of bottles are available.

Two review samples at WDHQ  (no I didn't blend them into one glass)
Whisky Discovery #1438

English Whisky Classic a TWE Exclusive 53.4% abv
English Single Malt Whisky
£59.95 70cl only available from The Whisky Exchange
This Whisky Exchange exclusive release from The English Whisky Company is one of their favourites that they've produced. Soft and fruity, despite being bottled at cask strength, it's a perfect example of how great whisky from the distillery is.

The specially commissioned packaging features a red telephone box which has been a feature on the streets of England since 1926, becoming an iconic sight across the country. As time has moved on, most of them have vanished, with the few remaining saved for posterity through private ownership.

Just 270 bottles were filled

So What Did I Think?
Nose: A gorgeous soft candy nose. There's dusted milk bottle sweets, candied lemons and shortbread biscuit. These biscuit and lemon notes in time give lemon drizzle cake notes while floral notes bring up the backdrop
Taste: A very creamy mouth feel and again reminding me of milk bottle sweets. There's vanilla creams, the biscuit notes coming through before the peppery spices push through and hints of pencil shavings
Finish: Vanilla ice cream with a hint of chilli comes in right at the end

Whisky Discovery #1439

English Whisky Peated TWE Exclusive 53.4% abv
English Single Malt Whisky
£59.95 70cl only available from The Whisky Exchange
Only a small amount of the whisky produced at St George’s distillery is heavily peated, adding a thick layer of smoky flavour to their fruity spirit.

The telephone box theme is repeated, but in black. In the 1980s, a few of the UK’s red telephone boxes were painted black as the telecommunication industry moved into private ownership. While the iconic shape designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott did not change, these telephone boxes were stood in stark contrast to their red counterparts.

Just 290 bottles were filled

So What Did I Think?
Nose: My first impressions when revisiting this was Citrus peel and charcoal ash. The lemon peel notes coming across at toasted and a sweet smoke follows. There's even a 'beach feel' to this with sea spray and driftwood before some hedgerow fruits of blackberry and blackcurrants
Taste: A very chewy dram with a great mouth-feel which seems to thicken over time, with a liquorice sweetness, enriched with cloves while an underlying earthiness that slowly builds into the long peaty finish.
Finish: Long peaty earthiness, gentle smoke with just a hint of candied peel.

We're both big fans of English Whisky, it was the first ever distillery I'd visited and these two single cask releases are simply superb. At circa £60 each won't  break the bank either. If I had to pick a favourite and only had £60 to spend? I'd pick the peated cask, and then ask Kat to buy me the Classic cask for Christmas.

Slàinte! Dave

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Whisky Discovery #1470

Littlemill Private Cellar Edition 2015 25 Year Old 50.4% abv
Lowland Single Malt
Price tba

The Littlemill distillery was founded at Bowling to the west of Glasgow on the banks of the river Clyde in the 1770’s and laid claim to being Scotland’s oldest distillery. That was up until 1992 when it stopped production. Triple distillation was practised at Littlemill until around 1930, when new equipment was installed. The stills had rectifying columns and were also isolated with aluminium. Their goal being to produce whisky that would mature faster (Malt Whisky Yearbook 2016). The distillery was dismantled in 1996 and part of the buildings demolished, the remaining buildings were destroyed by a fire in 2004.

Michael Jackson described the house style as 'Marshmallow-soft'. A restorative, or perhaps with dessert

All that's left is the ghost of Littlemill and the last remaining drops of this Lowland whisky, once gone, an important piece of Scotch whisky's heritage will be lost for ever

I've only tried three releases from the Littlemill distillery previously;
and so the opportunity to taste this new and rare limited release from The Loch Lomond Group was a very special treat indeed.

The Loch Lomond Group's Master Blenders John Petersen and Michael Henry have selected ten of the remaining casks from 1989 and 1990, which they believe to best represent the style of Littlemill to create this 2015 release. The spirit was originally laid down in American and European oak casks on 17th December 1989 and April 1990. For this special release it has been married together and has been finished in first fill Oloroso Sherry casks from European oak. Just 1500 numbered bottles will be available, each packaged in a premium bottle with ornate stopper and collar house within a bespoke wooden box. Each box contains a miniature of the the whisky too.

So What Did I Think?
I know I've often mentioned this before, but a whisky with an age statement takes me back to that point in time. From what I remember 1989/90 was a bit of a wild time for me so we won't dwell on that here, but I can tell you a few stories of the shenanigans that I was up to if you pour me a drink or two!

We're told that this has been made with locally grown peat kilned barley and blended with spring water from Auchentorlie Burn. When I first poured my sample into the glass, bread dough notes came through initially but these were quickly masked by the sherry notes - a first fill Oloroso cask will do this! The light delicate Lowland style I was expecting has been covered up by the dark fruity Sherry with notes of blackberry and cherry. A drop of water brings the malty notes which is followed by dark chocolate, with that slight bitterness from a high cocoa content.

Tasting and the 50.4% abv comes across as quite punchy  and I felt benefited with a drop or two of water just to open it up. The water brings a silky chocolate note and texture, balanced with a woody maltiness. Gentle spices of cloves and just a hint of ginger are here too. Both the chocolate and spices linger for the long finish, which concludes with the slightest hint of smoke.

Many thanks to Steve Rush of The Whisky Wire and to Loch Lomond Distilleries for sending me this review sample

Whilst this is a pleasant enough dram, I was a little confused as to why this little piece of history needed to be finished in a Sherry cask. The renowned 'Lowland Style' has been completely masked by the Sherry in my opinion, and I would have preferred to have tasted this in its unfinished state. The cynic in me thinks that perhaps these 10 casks were not quite up to scratch for single cask releases. With such a high perceived 'book value' these rare casks (there can be no question about their rarity as no whisky has been laid down since 1992) needed some 'work' in order to make the book value into commercial value.

I once spoke to a spirits buyer and master of cask selection who told the owners of a large stock of old maturing whisky that the majority of their perceived book value had to be written off, as quality was not good enough for single cask releases and was therefore sold off for blending stock. I'm sure this story brought on this recent bout of cynicism. Writing off 10 casks of a closed distillery would be hard to swallow (no pun intended) and I too would try anything permissible to rescue and retrieve it’s value. 

Finishing in a first fill Oloroso cask will impart a significant flavour profile. My cynical mind says that this has lifted what was perhaps a mediocre whisky into something the master blenders would be happy to put their name, and reputations on. But perhaps I'm completely wrong and it has simply been done to update the whisky to align with today’s taste.

That said, I did enjoy the chocolatey notes the Sherry cask has imparted, and this release should interest a Littlemill collector as I'm sure Sherry cask finished releases have been few and far between.

Slàinte! Dave