Monday, 29 September 2014

The Spirit of Asama

I was first introduced to Karuizawa during a brief introduction to Japanese whisky from Marcin Miller's Number One Drinks Stand at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show back in 2012. Whilst the single cask releases are slightly beyond my budget there is a release that I can afford, their Spirit of Asama releases which I promised myself I would get a bottle one day.

The Karuizawa Distillery 1955-2000
Karuizawa was actually a vineyard in 1955 when then-owner Daikoku-budoshu decided to enter a Japanese whisky industry still in its infancy, and base a distillery in the shadow of active volcano, Mount Asama, an active volcano at 850 metres above sea level, and was the highest distillery in Japan. Distillation at the distillery ceased in 2000. 

The distillery was tiny and the aim was traditional, small-scale production to create quality whiskies. Karuizawa used 100% Golden Promise barley, Oregon pine washbacks, small 4,00 litre pot stills and sherry casks sourced from Spain, and are said to be perhaps the closest you'll find to the Scottish malt style in Japan but they still have their own unique character. 

Many of the younger casks distilled in in the final year of it's operation were vatted to create Spirit of Asama. I asked Marcin why we have two different strengths released and he told me that he bottled the first batch at 46% abv but when it went through the tasting panel at The Whisky Exchange, two variants were requested, one bottled at 48% abv and the other at 55% abv. You can read the full story from Billy on the TWE blog here

Whisky Discovery #210 

Karuizawa Spirit of Asama (48% abv) 
Japanese Single Malt 
Circa £55.00 70cl 
First tasted at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show back in October 2012 at the beginning of a five dram Japanese whisky education with No.1 Drinks. I fairly certain both strengths were represented but by the time I had made my way to their stand in the last hour of the last day, I guess the higher strength variant must have run out. 

So What Did I Think? 
Having the colour of a rich Oloroso sherry you know this is going to be a bit of a sherry monster right from the start. Rich woody sherry notes are certainly present, but there's an earthiness to this too, damp, mossy wood came,to mind. Later chocolate notes develop alongside the nutty Oloroso

The sherry flavours play quite heavily on the palate too, and alongside the earthy oak wood tones there's a slight metallic note. It does however, come across as a savoury dram but finishes with the sherry dryness I was expecting. It certainly has a good length finish, leaving woody flavours but no hint of bitterness. The following morning the empty glass yields great chocolately notes. 

Whisky Discovery #702

Karuizawa Spirit of Asama (55% abv) 
Japanese Single Malt 
Circa £75.00 70cl 
I was fairly certain I'd tasted both versions of this at the Whisky Shows of 2012/13 but when i checked the Liquid Log, and double checked my show notes realised I hadn't! Fortunately both expressions were available from Master of Malt's 'Drinks by the Dram' miniatures and so was able to register this new Whisky Discovery and complete my notes. 

So What Did I Think?
OK so there's just 7% more alcohol in this expression derived from the same batch of casks so I wasn't expecting the colour to be vastly different from the 48% abv version. Alongside each other in glasses it would be almost impossible to tell them apart from the colour!

The nose has a very similar profile, as expected, but this definitely seemed to have more chocolate flavours, albeit more powdery. The chocolate powder was spiced with cinnamon and allspice and there were stronger woody flavours.

Well you'd expect a similar profile for the palate too, and so it was, although I thought the wood spices were more dominant in this expression. The empty glass the following morning however was noticeably different, with more linseed putty notes.

Verdict
I loved these two expressions, and if I was going to pick a favourite from them I think the 48% abv version got my vote. I re-tasted these two expressions back in February but never got to finish this blogpost at the time. I was reminded of this when I went to look to replace a bottle recently and noticed it had all gone! I wish I'd bought more at the time now as these bottles seem to have disappeared into history.

If you see one let me know as I'd love to revisit these again.

Slàinte! Dave

Monday, 22 September 2014

Darkness! Range of Sherry Cask Finished Whiskies

Whisky Discovery
Way back in May of this year, UK Drinks Distributor Maverick Drinks announced the launch of Darkness! – a range of exceedingly dark single malt and single grain whiskies with an enormously punchy, unashamedly brazen character (their words, not mine!)

The range is the first of its kind, and these so-called “sherry monsters” are gloriously dark in colour thanks to the use of small, specially crafted sherry casks for finishing. 

They attain their deep, dark colour from a 3-month finish in specially coopered 50-litre first-fill sherry casks. These previously held some of Spain’s top sherries, including Pedro Ximénez – the sticky, sweet dessert sherry, and Oloroso – the semi-dry, nutty delicacy. These casks not only impart a deep colour but bring wonderful sherry flavours such as Christmas Cake, rich spice, prunes, raisins and dates. The small size of the casks allows more wood contact with the whisky, increasing both dark colour and rich flavour dramatically.
Whisky Discovery
The Darkness! range includes spirit from Scotland’s most prestigious distilleries. Notable bottlings include the delectable 21-year-old Ardbeg, finished in Oloroso sherry casks, a 16-year-old Clynelish, and a sublime Macallan finished in a Pedro Ximénez cask. The range doesn't aim for sophistication, but instead is made up of big, bold “sherry monsters”.

The stunning labels for Darkness! are beautifully foiled and embossed, and were hand-illustrated by Tom Lane – designer of the very popular Bicycle Playing Cards, as well as the artwork for the accompanying book for Heston Blumenthal’s Fantastical Feasts.

Dave started on his own Sherry journey because he wanted to understand the effect of the Sherry Cask on maturing whisky (you can read more about that here) The Darkness! Range takes this to the extreme! 

We were sent five samples from the range at the time of release and these are Dave's thoughts:

Whisky Discovery #827

Darkness! Clynelish 16 Year Old Oloroso Cask Finish 54.9% abv
Highland Single Malt
£74.95 50cl
Those of you that know me may be surprised that I picked this first, it wasn't the youngest in the box and alphabetically wasn't the first one I should be visiting. However, Clynelish was one of my 'pre-journey' whiskies and I have a soft spot for them (see The Beginning) and tend to gravitate to them whenever I see one.

So What Did I Think?
Nose: The Oloroso cask impart some lovely date and walnut notes, alongside figs and dried fruit. I found salted oranges with mint chocolate notes following.
Palate: Lots of rich spices with clove and licorice being the dominant ones. Dark fruit, plum skins and black cherry. The chocolate found on the nose comes through to the palate too, but with caramel now.
Finish: Licorice, dates and the slightest hint of fragrant pipe smoke. The empty glass the following morning has lovely minty chocolate notes 

Whisky Discovery #987

Darkness! Benrinnes 15 Year Old Oloroso Cask Finish 52.9% abv
Speyside Single Malt
£59.95 50cl
Whisky Discovery
Perhaps my OCD was kicking in subconsciously as reviewing my notes show that I picked the Oloroso cask finished malts first before moving onto the Pedro Ximénez finshed ones?

You don't often get to see Benrinnes bottlings, as the lion share of their malts is used in blended Scotch. In fact as far as I can tell there is only one official bottling, a 15 Year Old from the Flora and Fauna range.

What I was a little annoyed at was that I didn't use my head and try the two Benrinnes 15 Year Old expressions alongside each other. I was more than a little annoyed actually, and calling myself a muppet was about all I'm safely able to write here.

So what did I think?
Nose: I love the nose of a good Oloroso sherry and this has many of these lovely flavours. Young fresh walnuts, blackcurrant, dates and dried fruit with a dusting of pepper. With a little air a rich toffee note develops with just a hint of Licorice
Palate: This is a 'meaty' jammy mouth-feel, certainly has some chewy body to it, and is both rich and sweet. Rich fruit Christmas cake comes through, heavy and chewy fruit, finishing dry and nutty.
Finish: A long finish, starting sweet and ending dry and nutty.The following morning the empty glass gives a dark bitter chocolate note

Whisky Discovery #996

Darkness! Macallan 15 Year Old Pedro Ximénez Cask Finish 52.3% abv
Speyside Single Malt
£109.95 50cl
Whisky Discovery
Checking the Liquid Log I've not got a great deal of experience of Macallans. I bought a couple of their 10 Year Old expressions (Fine Oak and Sherry Cask) at the end of my first year, I've tasted their recent NAS 1824 Series and a handful of other independent releases. I know Macallans are a sought after brand with investors and hence prices always seem a little higher (notable against the 15 Year Old Benrinnes) and sell out quickly so can be a bit of a bun fight getting hold of one when released, so I don't tend to bother trying when there's a new or limited release

So What Did I think?
Nose: Lord this is truly a 'Sherry Monster'  and the first one of this series that really said that to me! Whether that was the PX cask or simply the way the whisky has reacted in the cask this time I don't know. All the dried fruit sherry notes are here; figs, dates, raisins and sultanas in bucket loads. A sweet walnut syrup follows and nosing this was simply heavenly!
Palate: I'm fairly certain that I inhaled more of this than I drank! Lovely rich dark fruits in this one for me; Black cherry and Blackberries along with figs and dates, with a nuttiness later.
Finish: Another long finish with sweet fragrant fruit, sultana, and lingering dark caramel. The empty glass the following morning was a treat of rich minty Chocolate notes with a hint of waxy furniture polish.
Overall: Attractive cereal, some good, clean Sherry and all manner of fruits in here.

Whisky Discovery #987

Darkness! Benrinnes 15 Year Old Pedro Ximénez Cask Finish 52.9% abv
Speyside Single Malt
£59.95 50cl
Whisky Discovery
The second of the two Benrinnes, and this time finished in a PX cask. Benrinnes is one of the few distilleries that use a worm tub which will contribute to the character of this Speyside single malt. My notes tell me that this was the darkest of the five I tasted and almost the colour of mahogany.

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Oh wow! This had immediately become my favourite with its rich and sticky nose. I was instantly reminded of Ribena (other blackcurrant drinks are available) but not the poured squash concentrate, more like the sticky drying syrup that always seems to glue the screw top lid onto the glass bottle when I was a lad. There was prunes and raisins alongside rich resinous hardwood notes and the hint of aniseed.
Palate: Another big meaty dram from Benrinnes (the worm tubs?) that started sweet, then slowly builds up a to a spicy woody crescendo, before falling back with dark chocolate flavours and licorice root
Finish: A good length finish that I wished wouldn't end with woody spices, clove and just a hint of cinnamon. The following morning the empty glass gave up the rich dark chocolate in a wooden pencil box.

Whisky Discovery #988

Darkness! Ardbeg 22 Year Old Pedro Ximénez Cask Finish 40.1% abv
Islay Single Malt
£119.95 50cl
Whisky Discovery
OK, I saved the Ardbeg to last for a reason, I'm not quite sure what my reason was, perhaps it was because it was the only Islay I had, or that it was the oldest in the series? Ardbeg is another distillery that seems to attract an army of collectors for new releases, and hence plenty of 'flippers' who have the patience/perseverance to buy one of the new releases only to sell it on at the next auction without actually tasting it for themselves. I'm not one for queueing and have been known to walkout of shops leaving a full trolley of good near the tills if I deem the cashier to customer ratio is not high enough! That said, I am a fan of the standard Ardbeg range with Uigeadail being a particular favourite. So getting back to the Darkness! Ardbeg, this was the lightest of the five and hardly coloured from the PX cask at all, it was a bright gold.

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Just what I was expecting from this lightly coloured Ardbeg, opening with its characteristic sooty ash and peat smoke, but later fruits develop, and most notably for me the hints of BBQ'd pineapple, perfect! 
Palate: Surprisingly fruity, although after writing that note reminded myself that a PX cask had been used! It's sweet and juicy initially but later drier charcoal flavours develop with chocolate and coffee grounds
Finish: Smouldering charcoal and BBQ'd pineapple ending with chocolate and coffee grounds. The following morning the empty glass yields more chocolate and cigar tobacco.

Verdict
For my money, the Benrinnes' were my favourites of the five tasted here, with the PX cask just pushing into first place over the Oloroso cask, but I really enjoyed each of these. Although I loved the Macallan, I'm fairly certain I wouldn't have splashed out on a bottle when I could have had both of the Benrinnes for just a little more, but the Ardbeg certainly seemed value for money, considering it's age. Whilst a number of these have now sold out, the Darkness! range is still available at Master of Malt, and if 'Sherry Monsters' are your thing, they really are worth seeking out as the flavours are so intense!

You can find out more information on the Master of Malt website here: 

Friday, 12 September 2014

Girvan Grain Tweet Tasting

Whisky Discovery
At the end of August Dave took part in the #GirvanGrain Tweet tasting hosted by Steve Rush of @TheWhiskyWire. A beautifully packaged sample set arrived in good time containing four vials of Single Grain Whisky from the Girvan Distillery. Two of the samples immediately looked to be new 'Whisky Discoveries' alongside two that Dave had tasted before, when the 25 Year Old was launched last October.

The Girvan distillery was the most advanced distillery in the world at the time, and the very first still called 'No.1 Apps' (a distillery term for apparatus) was built in 1963 under the stewardship of Charles Gordon, a whisky production pioneer and the great-grandson of William Grant.  The Stills are Continuous Patent or Coffey Stills, named after their inventor Aeneas Coffey.  

We have a small claim to fame here, as we met Charlie Gordon, many years ago when Dave was working in the Far East. We were invited aboard his yacht 'Cinderella II' and Dave was given a bottle of whisky to take away and Kat was given a crew shirt (she would have been just 12 at the time), The crew shirt lasted a lot longer than the whisky. Dave, not being a whisky Drinker back then, gave it away to a friend who he thought would appreciate it!

The Girvan Patent Still Single Grain 25 Year Old Scotch was originally launched as a UK only exclusive on Friday October 4th 2013. It was the Friday before The Whisky Exchange Show, and Dave was invited down to the launch. It was significant landmark in William Grant & Sons’ history as it broke whisky convention with the first release of a Distillery bottling of a Single Grain Whisky. Yes there have been independent releases of single grain from Girvan, but the majority of this spirit is used in Grants blended Scotch Whisky. 

Whisky Discovery #979

Girvan New Make Spirit (42% abv)
Single Grain New Make Spirit
Not currently for Sale
Whisky Discovery
A beautifully presented tasting pack - surely there is a market for this?
Although termed 'single grain' in actual fact the 'mash bill' contains about 10% malt to kick-start fermentation, rest is wheat. The spirit normally runs off the still at around 94% abv but for comparison purposes has been bottled at 42% abv. New make spirit is the core raw essence of what will be whisky, once it’s been aged in oak casks for a minimum of 3 years according to Scotch Whisky Laws. 

So What Did I Think?
It's always interesting to taste new make spirit, and something I always strive to do when visiting a distillery. I would have loved to have nosed/sampled this at full strength and at the level it's reduced to before casking, but the samples sent out were all reduced to 42% abv, in line with the finished whiskies we'd be tasting.


Nose: Very tame for 'new make' but to be expected when bottled at 42% abv. It comes across as sweet and grassy. Steamed corn on the cob with a lime squeezed over. Popcorn notes too
Palate: Slight bitter pith-like quality to this although there is a sweetness underlying, quite creamy too. Quite a dry finish too and that pith-like bitterness remains right through to the end, leaving grapefruit  Second sip and finding some weak toffee notes with a touch of sherbet too
Verdict: Not sure I would consider buying this if it was made available, however it was a useful addition to the tasting so that comparisons could be made throughout the evening. I'd consider it at casking strength though, as it would allow me to experiment.....mwahahaha!

What Did Everyone Else Think?
@AlpacaJo: Slightly sweet, sort of sweet shop aroma on the nose with the new make spirit.
@MashtunandMeow: Lovely light headiness, with a lemony sweetness on the nose. Pear drops in there too?
@MyWhiskyGuide: Nose; first thought is of saké actually, sweet, light and grassy, not as harsh as I was expecting, has a smoothness to it
@TheWhiskyWire: Loving the fresh fruity feist-ette of the palate. Would love to road test this at the full 94% ABV 
@kizzsmyth: Quite sweet initially, fades quickly and is not too dissimilar to vanilla vodka
@mynameisgone: Palate; sweet smooth but with a warmth, slightly herbal/medicinal taste, vanilla coming through towards the finish
@BeersIveKnown: Light, elegant and fruity apricot/ pineapple, residual sweetness, touch of warmth on lips
@TheWhiskyBoys: Tastes very sweet with a hint of sweetcorn, I'm sure there's custard in there too
@rodbodtoo: Sweet and estery. Bananas - I see where you get the rum comparison Steve You could sell this stuff as Banana Vodka!

Whisky Discovery #980

Girvan No. 4 Apps NAS (42% abv)
Single Grain Whisky
Circa £44.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
OK, not as pretty as Pot Stills, but as an engineer I find this rather exciting!
I'm fairly certain this is the same whisky that I tasted at the official launch of the 25 Year Old back in October. Back then however, it was named '#5974' and there were bottles labelled up accordingly. I registered it then as Whisky Discovery No.547 and have assigned a new discovery number for this release (It's my 'Liquid Log' and I make the rules)

No.4 Apps, takes its name from the distillery term for 'Apparatus' and has been in use at the distillery since 1992. This single grain whisky is maturated in vanilla rich American oak barrels. 

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Immediate impressions; Light and fruity and there's a 'Chewits' flavour to this. A short while in the glass and some grassy notes develop, not sweet fresh cut grass however, more like grass clippings that has been cut a few days previously, slightly yellowing. Later the vanilla comes through along with some freshly squeezed lime.
Palate; A candy sweetness, with 'pseudo' candy citrus flavours. Some pith-like bitterness starts to creep in, tempered with an icing sugar sweetness and I found a sugared almond note before it finishes with a dry woody flavour
Verdict: The price is affordable, and to be fair it's quite drinkable, perhaps a little too sweet and candy like for me, and wasn't my favourite of the evening. I didn't think it was great value whisky and would probably steer you somewhere else if asked directly

What Did Everyone Else Think?
@MashtunandMeow: This is like an orchard on the nose. Still with the bubblegum picked up from the new make, and very crisp yet gentle. Also getting a scent of sugared almonds and perfumed vanilla
@MikeJack1976: Very nice, vanilla notes through it, almonds? US sweets: sugar daddies. Clings nicely to the glass, syrupy texture. Which leads to a light maple syrup nose, 
would go quite nicely with a blackberry and apple crumble or into a whisky marmalade...!
@TheWhiskyWire: Green apples, vanilla fudge and Tootie Frooties all now providing some fab balanced interplay on the nose.
@rodbodtoo: Palate; light, sweet, honeyed. A very soft allspice note. This reminds me somewhat of Auchentoshan Classic 
@Whisky_Belfast: Palate - Gorgeous spices throughout this to the end, warm pepper and chilli and in no way harsh
@msykesjones: Palate - Sweetness coming through, still get some cereal, but yes, who said apples - toffee apples, but very subtle
@raithrover: Fudge, whipped cream with a Rich Tea biscuit vibe kinda like a deconstructed Orkney Fudge cheesecake
@NeilMacKinnon1: Tastes of sweet oak and the fruitiness is a delight, a perfect aperitif
@kizzsmyth: Sweet, overripe peaches and nectarines. Still quite spirity or ‘young’. Not the longest finish, but a pleasant dram

Whisky Discovery #546

Girvan 25 Year Old (42% abv)
Single Grain Whisky
Circa £270.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
A photo taken at the official launch of the 25 Year Old last October
The  25 Year Old was the first bottling from the Girvan Patent Still range of single grain whiskies released in October 2013 which Dave attended the launch of. We'd also both re-visited this at Whisky Live London in April 2014. The Girvan 25 Year Old has been matured in American oak barrels.

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Immediately the wood influence is clear with this; with well seasoned timber, and toasted coconut flavours develop alongside stronger vanilla notes. Spices follow with cloves, but not quite as strong as I was hoping for!
Palate: Soft, sweet and mellow. Vanilla giving some fudge like toffee flavours and the toasted coconut just comes across too, but the wood dominating the palate with pencil shavings, turning to forest floor towards the end. I Would love to have tried this at a higher strength, personally I feel it would benefit from it. 
Verdict: This is a nice drop of single grain whisky, I enjoyed it and it was my favourite of the evening. However I don't find the pricing very attractive! Yes it is a 25 Year Old whisky, but at £270 feel it's overpriced, I'd also like see it bottled at a higher strength and feel it could have offered so much more at cask strength.

What Did Everyone Else Think?
@AlpacaJo: Smells dark and rich. Just the thing for a dreary evening.
@TheWhiskyBoys: There's a really woody aroma with a big waft of candy or toffee apple
@mynameisgone: Nose; wood, slightly burnt barbecued bananas, dried figs, some citrus, slightly mulchy and petrichor.
@MyWhiskyGuide: Nose; Spicy, oaky, raisins, slight vanilla, citrusy, orange me thinks, s
ome toffee coming through, but a dark toffee
@WhiskyWriter: This is where the sweetness of grain really comes in play. Really combines with the wood to give a more complex nose
@rodbodtoo: Nose: complex; sweet vanilla, light rum, brown sugar, bananas. Lovely
@DramblerJM: Nose: creamy, some vanilla, *lack* of "acetone" character typical of grain is notable.Cereal, vegetal, faint banana. Reminiscent of light rum. Pleasant.
@TheWhiskyWire: The palate well and truly welcomes you along for the ride with its sumptuously smooth and darkly decadently delish delight.
@kizzsmyth: Festive spices (cinnamon, cloves), subtle sweetness gives way to quite a dry woody finish with a brandy quality to it overall

Whisky Discovery #548

Girvan 30 Year Old (42% abv)
Single Grain Whisky
Circa £375.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
The 30 Year Old comes in a rather splendid wooden box
This was also previewed at the 25 Year Old Launch back in October 2013, and was officially launched at Whisky Live London 2014. This is the oldest bottling in the Girvan Patent Still range, matured for 30 years in American oak barrels and is unique, at it is from the last year, 1984, that maize was used in the mashbill. Again 10% malt to start fermentation and 90% maize. From 1985 onwards wheat has been the grain of choice.

So What Did I Think?
Nose: This opened up with tarred paper on first pouring, but as soon as it had settled in the glass it was much softer than I was expecting, perhaps I've been spoilt with too many single cask grains? My notes on the evening found; Soft caramelised fruits with vanilla ice cream topped with ginger and toasted coconut.
Palate: Again quite soft and mellow on the palate but spicier than the 25 Year Old with some nice tobacco notes too. Woody with cloves, a gentle chilli heat before turning creamy, creme brûlée-like, with a touch of charcoal too.  Again would have loved to taste this at a slightly higher abv, circa 50% ish to allow me to play with the profile
Verdict: Again a very nice whisky, but not quite sure where the marketing department were going with this one! £375 puts it out of reach to the majority of us and also puts it up against some very good single malt whiskies. Again, I'd also like see it bottled at a higher strength and feel it could have offered so much more at cask strength.

What Did Everyone Else Think?
@TheWhiskyWire: Tea dunked bread pudding, vanilla custard cream biscuits, blackberry's and wood spice. Fruity, fresh and finesselfull.
@mynameisgone: Nose; frusli apple and cinnamon cereal bars without the cinnamon, slightly medicinal (cough syrup?), lime, cream, peppery.
@NeilMacKinnon1: Nose; Crisp clean and earthy, has the fruitiness again but softer, getting a pipe tobacco scent
@TheWhiskyphiles: Nose: Tropical mango, pineapple, perfumed Turkish delight, syrup and honey sweet, creamy toasted coconut
@SWWIG: Some almond on the nose, citrus and that signature sweetness we've found throughout the range As the nose develops, I get more tropical notes coming through
@BeersIveKnown: This is actually fairly sweet, plenty of vanilla, warming, peppery some orange oil in finish
@MikeJack1976: Palate, Not initially sweet, but then explodes on your tongue, "so sweet it's furred up the back of my teeth" More vanilla, cleaner than the 25. Almonds again? Very smooth still, no rough edges at all. Getting a little pepper on the finish now too. Water releases some orange notes.
@DramblerJM: Finish: Long. Builds from cream to sweetness to spice. Very pleasant.

And finally....
A massive THANK YOU to Steve Rush at @TheWhiskyWire, to @KevinAbrook Global Whisky Specialist at William Grant & Sons and the team at the Girvan Distillery and of course the tweet tasters who were:

@TheWhiskyWire @WhiskyDiscovery @DramblerJM @raithrover @TheWhiskyBoys @SWWIG @simon_m_field @MyWhiskyGuide @Alpacajo @kizzsmyth @mynameisgone @WhiskyWriter @NeilMacKinnon1 @MashtunandMeow @Smokiechops @Whisky_Belfast @scotslarder @rodbodtoo @msykesjones @MikeJack1976 @BeersIveKnown @TheWhiskyphiles @annawizauk

For more information see: www.thewhiskywire.com and www.grantswhisky.com

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Wemyss Malts Single Cask Releases July 2014

Whisky Reviews
Edinburgh based boutique Spirits Company Wemyss Malts announced the release of their latest parcel of single cask Scotch whiskies at the end of July. The range included a single grain single cask whisky for the first time as well as the most valuable whisky Wemyss has ever released, a 31 years old single cask from Bowmore distillery.

Each cask is a celebration of the unique and contrasting appeals of the different Scotch whisky regions and the latest release covers grain whisky and four of the regions: from Islay, Highlands, Speyside and Campbeltown.  Wemyss whiskies are each named after their natural taste and aroma and the full cask list of this release comprises:
  • "Lemon Cheesecake" -  1988 single cask from Invergordon, Single Grain
  • "Loch Indaal Catch" - 1982 single cask from Bowmore, Islay
  • "Oysters with Lemon Pearls" - 1991 single cask from Bunnahabhain, Islay
  • "Aromatic Orange Tobacco" - 1988 single cask from Glenrothes, Speyside
  • "Melon Vine" - 1994 single cask from Aberfeldy, Highlands
  • "At Anchor in a Cove" - 1991 single cask from Glen Scotia, Campbeltown

Each cask has been selected and named by the Wemyss tasting panel, under the watchful eye of industry aficionado Charlie Maclean.   There are only a few hundred bottles from each cask and the suggested retail prices range from £80 to £700.

Whisky Discovery were delighted to receive samples of three these releases and here is what Dave though of these new Whisky Discoveries:

Whisky Discovery #949

Wemyss Malts 1988 Invergordon 'Lemon Cheesecake' 46% abv
Single Cask Grain Whisky
circa £82.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
This is the first single grain whisky that Wemyss have ever released, so it was a real honour to be sent a sample of this 25/26 year old to review. Distilled at the Invergordon Distillery and laid to rest in a barrel until bottling this year. Just 220 bottles at 46% abv have been released.

So What Did I Think?
The nose exudes lovely soft coconut ice notes; a freshly opened pack of McVities Digestive biscuits (other digestive biscuits are available); honey and a woody note that reminds me of sawn coconut wood. There is a faint Bourbonesque note too (made up word relating to American Whiskey and not the biscuits). This is indeed very fragrant and although I've never had a cheesecake under my nose long enough to nose it (read 'gannet') I did note cake mix and custard creams though.

Sweet and spicy is the overall profile of the palate. A creamy mouth coating Bourbon sweetness with some coconut notes open as the spices build with a touch of cardamom alongside cloves and some gentle chilli heat while the fragrant coconut wood notes comes through towards the end, before finishing with a spicy tingle that leaves cloves and cardamom while dessicated coconut lingers to the very end.

I really loved this! At the time of tasting I tweeted that Wemyss Malts should take a bow. Their first ever single grain release is superb, please send me more!

Whisky Discovery #951

Wemyss Malts 1988 Glenrothes 'Aromatic Orange Tobacco' 46% abv
Speyside Single Cask Malt
circa £120.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
A 25/26 year old Sherry butt matured Glenrothes from 1988, and being a sherry butt the yield was a very healthy 730 bottles at 46% abv, enough for us all! (well 730 of us). So what were you doing in 1988? There's something about an age statement or a vintage that can take you straight back to that period in your life. Fortunately I can still remember although there are quite a few holes due to my mis-spent youth.

So What Did I Think?
My first impressions upon nosing this was Jamaican Ginger cake, lovely rich sticky cakey notes. Later orange oil notes develop followed by some tobacco! Wemyss most definitely have got the name of this release bang on the nail!

Initially this tastes soft and sweet before some tobacco notes develop. The sherry influence then shows its hand with Amontillado flavours before the spices lift the palate with a sherbet tingle, finishing with the sherry/tannin dryness which reminds me of grapefruit pith.

The following morning the empty glass yields rich dark chocolate notes, I really liked this Glenrothes.

Whisky Discovery #955

Wemyss Malts 1982  Bowmore 'Loch Indaal Catch' 46% abv
Islay Single Cask Malt
circa £740.00 70cl
Whisky Discovery
Definitely considered as the star attractuion of this release, and heralded as their most valuable release to date, this 31 Year Old Bowmore  was distilled back in the day when I was half way through my shipbuilding apprenticeship! I was working on Steel hulled, aluminium superstructure fast patrol craft for Egypt and Oman. My hair was down to my waist, I rode fast and loud motorbikes and was a roadie for a local rock band! A teenage rebel without a clue!

So What Did I Think?
Wow this was very fragrant! Floral with a candy sweetness, Parma Violets of course, and talcum powder. Later the maritime notes start to develop, remember its been sleeping for at least 31 years, with a salty sea breeze and some tarred driftwood.

The Parma Violets dominate the palate for me, again very floral and fragrant while drinking. A candy sweetness with a gentle sherbet fizz. For a 30 plus year old whisky it is surprisingly light and fresh on the palate. There is a sandy beach note under the perfume.

The perfumed fragrance remains right through to the very end, perhaps a little too perfumed for me. 'Nice perfume but must you marinate in it?' would be the name of this release if I was allowed to label it! I'm sure this will appeal to more than the 165 bottles available, both my wife and youngest daughter thought it smelt delightful!

The empty glass the following morning loses the heady perfume and gives earthy malty notes which I preferred.

I was very pleased with the three samples received and although the Bowmore is not to my taste (or my budget) I'm sure there are plenty who will love it as experienced at other tastings when this flavour profile come up! The single grain is outstanding in my opinion, I absolutely loved it and it certainly is within my budget. I loved the Glenrothes too, but a little to expensive for me, I still struggle with spending over £100 on a bottle of whisky, but that's down to my disposable income, and to maintain peace and harmony within the household! The other three releases sound equally interesting and would love to taste each of them!

Slàinte!Dave

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Whisky Distillery Discovery No.2 - Glen Garioch

Whisky Discovery
It was exactly one year ago that I visited my first Scottish whisky distillery, The Glen Garioch Distillery in Oldmeldrum and I still have fond memories of that September Friday afternoon.

I got the opportunity to visit Scotland on a business trip to Aberdeen during the that week of September. A large industrial show was being held in the city of Aberdeen I and was being sent up there to evaluate the show for a possible future exhibition. Although I hadn't left it too late to book flights which were readily available and still reasonably priced, booking a hotel was a little more tricky. The nearest place I could find to stay was in Elgin, some 60 odd miles away and an hour and a half drive each way.

Originally I was scheduled to travel with my Managing Director and I was already making plans to extend the trip over a weekend in order to take in some sights (read distilleries) but upon seeing the distance we would be traveling each way, he decided that I should go on my own, as he has little patience for travlleing, and so the trip was arranged. With a double room booked at the Premier Inn Linkwood, just outside Elgin, from the Wednesday evening until Sunday morning, and a hire car for the duration I thought it would be a good idea to ask my wife to accompany me. My wife doesn't drink and as long as I stayed awake to give directions, she would drive me home from the distilleries.

In the meantime I started investigating possible distillery visits and hatched a plan. The nearest distillery to Aberdeen is The Glen Garioch Distillery in Oldmeldrum, it was practically 'on the way home' taking the scenic route, and as the trade show finished early on the Friday (scheduled to close at 1400) it certainly seemed feasible to make an afternoon appointment for a tour. I made the necessary calls and booked it all up for 1500 which gave me plenty of time to escape from Aberdeen and meet my appointment.
Whisky Discovery
The Still Room
Glen Garioch is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland. Founded in 1797, it is Scotland’s most easterly distillery. Situated just twenty minutes from Aberdeen in the town of Oldmeldrum, it’s known as Aberdeenshire’s malt. Proud of their north east heritage, the Doric pronunciation is everything when it comes to Glen Garioch. Pronounced Glen Geery (which means Granary) the whisky takes its name from the local dialect for a tract of richly fertile land. It could be said the area was made for whisky production. The beautiful and richly fertile land has been famed for centuries as the ‘Granary of Aberdeenshire’, known for producing the finest barley in Scotland. When we visited the fields around were very busy with the farmers working hard and long hours trying to bring all the harvest home before the autumn set in

Arriving at Aberdeen late that Wednesday evening, we drove straight up to the hotel, it was very late when we finally reached our destination, overnight roadworks on the A96 causing some delays to the expected ninety minute run, and with a fairly early start the following morning decided to call it a day (the pub next door had already closed, so no dram before bedtime possible)

After a very long day at the trade show (Offshore Europe is a huge show and I spent the whole day walking each and every one of the halls, checking out the exhibits, looking for business opportunities and checking out competitors) I decided that we would take the long way back to the hotel, via Oldmeldrum, to check the route, the time needed and to make sure at could find the distillery the following afternoon. (I was a boy scout and being prepared is my motto!)
Whisky Discovery
Pagodas in the sunshine - the old Maltings are to the left
Over the years Oldmeldrum has grown around the distillery, now nestled on the outskirts of the thriving town. It was a glorious afternoon, clear blue skies with bright sunshine and when we pulled up in the visitor centre car park, there were still a few cars there, so we made our way into the visitor centre to have a quick scout around, meeting Frank who confirmed we we were expected for the following afternoon. With the weather so fine it was also a good opportunity to take a few photographs as the weather forecast wasn't quite so good for the Friday. 

The show in Aberdeen seemed to fizzle out earlier than expected on the Friday, with many of the exhibitors starting to pack up while I was still trawling the aisles so we decided to leave early and head out to explore Oldmeldrum first, stopping for lunch in the community cafe in he middle of town. The community cafe was a wonderful find. Every table was taken when we popped our head in, but one of the tables had two spare seats and we were asked to join them, as they were just having their lunch before their shift at the cafe started. The cafe is all run by volunteers, for the community, and all the food was home made and we got to chat to some of the locals and find out a little bit about Oldmeldrum

After lunch of home made soup, followed by tea and scones we made our way over to the distillery, which was conveniently located in Distillery Road. We were met by visitor centre manager Fiona who poured me a large dram of their Founders Reserve while we waited for Distillery Manager Kenny 'Digger' Grant to take us around.
Whisky Discovery
Although founded in 1797 The Glen Garioch distillery, like most of our older distilleries has had a chequered history. Production stopped in 1968 due to a chronic water shortage and five years passed before it started producing spirit again in 1973. It was then mothballed again for two years in 1995

Kenny has some history with Glen Garioch, having worked his way through every part of the process since joining the company as a young man after an initial career with the Army. His connection with the distillery goes back further than his own career, as his father affectionately known as 'Digger' Grant was responsible for finding a suitable water source after the distillery was mothballed in 1968.

Kenny, who has also assumed his fathers nickname 'Digger', took us straight across the road and into the old maltings. The maltings haven't been in use since the distillery was last mothballed in 1995 and so have been slowly decaying through lack of use. It's sad to see such a grand old building with its two malting floors and two grain storage floors unused. Repairs were being made to the upper wooden floors and roof when we visited, but I'm not sure what they will be used for.
Whisky Discovery
Enjoying a dram of the 1999 'fill your own' with Kenny
As it was my first full distillery visit I'd never walked the malting floor, and although familiar with the process, Kenny explained what it was really like, back in the day when he was working in the maltings for real. It certainly sounded like back breaking work, but like all places of work, there seemed to have been a lot of fun there too, as Kenny let on about some of the pranks they would play on each other, and especially with the new guys.

From the maltings we went through to see the old kilns, again no longer in use. When the distillery was reopened in August 1997 it was decided that malted barley would be shipped in. Nowadays the malt is unpeated, but pre-1995 there peat was used in the kilning process to circa 8-10 ppm.
Whisky Discovery
Stainless Steel Washbacks
From the kiln we moved into the current working operational side of the distillery. The 4.4 tonne full later mash tun is used 15 times a week, filling the eight stainless steel wash backs where a fermentation time of 48 hours is usual.

There are three stills in the still room, there used to be two pairs back in the mid seventies, but now the 'spare' spirit still sits between the wash still and the spirit still that is used. The wash still is a traditional onion shaped still with a capacity of 25,000 litres, the spirit still similar, but a little smaller at 12,000 litres capacity. When we visited the distillery was more or less running at full capacity of circa 1 million litres a year, so it is one of our smaller distilleries in terms of capacity. There's very little room to expand, but if the missing wash still was replaced I guess production could be increased.
Whisky Discovery
The 12,000 litre Spirit Still
The spirit collected is tankered away for cask filling and although there is on-site dunnage the majority of the maturing stocks is held offsite. 
Whisky Discovery
Kenny reflected in the Spirit Safe
Our visit included a trip into one of the four warehouses where some 8,000 casks lie maturing. This was something I was really looking forward to, having heard so much about the 'Angels Share' and it certainly didn't disappoint. The heady aroma of maturing Whisky combined with the whisky soaked oak barrels and cool damp earthiness is just sublime!
Whisky Discovery
Traditional dunnage at Glen Garioch - the smell in here should be bottled
There's an opportunity to fill your own bottle straight from a cask in the warehouse. It was the first time I'd handled a valinch, but managed to fill the glass beaker without making a mess, or without bringing too much of the charred oak that lies in the bottom of a cask.. When we visited the 'fill-your-own' was a 1999 ex-bourbon cask (cask number 2907) that was filled on the 27th November. Once bottled you get to label your bottle and each is individually numbered, mine being No.100, bottle on 6th September 2013. I haven't opened it yet, but will be soon I'm sure.

Back in the visitor centre there are a selection of their current range to taste from their core staples, Founders Reserve and 12 Year Old, to some of their vintage releases. I have both the Founders Reserve and the 12 Year Old on my shelf, with the 12 Year Old my favourite of the two. Of the vintages I've tried, the 1986 is a stand out dram, although slightly above my budget, and the 1995 is just superb, although scarce now. I recently added a bottle of their 1999 Sherry Cask Matured vintage to my shelf having finished the 1995 vintage

Glen Garioch is certainly well worth a visit, and being just 30 minutes away from Aberdeen , and 'on the way' to Speyside it must be in your plans! I'm hoping to be able to return there soon, I'd love to spend time there to really get under the skin of the team. Whisky is about the people, and everyone we met at Glen Garioch are passionate about what they do. In addition to that, Oldmeldrum is a lovely Aberdeenshire town which has grown up and around the distillery and visitor centre making it truly part of the community.

If you've not been there yet, do something about it, you won't be disappointed
Whisky Discovery
My single cask bottle, No.100 from 1999 Vintage Cask No.2907
I've tasted quite a few of the Distillery releases as well as a couple of independent bottlings. I have (or have had) the following on my drinking shelf; Founders Reserve, 12 Year Old, 1995 Vintage, 1999 Vintage and my 1999 single cask that I filled myself.

CORE RANGE



VINTAGES


Glen Garioch 1978 57.8% ABV


Glen Garioch 1990 54.6% ABV.

Glen Garioch 1991 54.7% ABV.

Glen Garioch 1994 53.9% ABV.


Glen Garioch 1997 56.7% ABV


Glen Garioch 1999 56.3% ABV Sherry Cask Matured (Whisky Discovery No.529)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Book Review: MacLean's Miscellany of Whisky

A few months ago I tweeted a request for recommended books to read. This one wasn't on anyone's list but in my search for the books that were mentioned it kept popping up and so when I found it on Ebay for a song (less than a pint of Guinness, delivered) it certainly seemed worth the punt.

This is not a new book by any means and it may even be out of print. My copy says it was first published in 2004, long before I started my whisky journey. However, I really wish someone had told me about this book earlier.

Here is my review of MacLean’s Miscellany of Whisky, by Charles MacLean. 

I had of course heard of Charles MacLean when I bought this book, by then I was well into my third year of the journey when I picked it up. I knew that he was involved with Wemyss Malts, and also was enjoying the status of movie star following the release of the excellent film by Ken Loach 'Angels Share'. Then while I was about halfway through the book I got the opportunity to meet Charles at a press launch in London just before The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show last October.

I've really enjoyed reading this book, my only gripe being the size, as it is comparable to an A6 notebook but twice the thickness. It made it a little unyielding for my fat fingers! I'm not going to moan about the poetry in the book because I never 'got' it when I was a lad. I still don't care for it much now. I know to some of you that might seem blasphemous and while I would never ridicule a poet, it’s just not my thing. I did at least try to read the excerpts from Robert Burns, honest, but don't let this put you off reading this book as there are loads in it that will both educate and entertain especially if you are a newbie in the world of Whisky like me.

As Charles states in his introduction, a miscellany is defined as “a mixture of writings on different subjects, or by different authors.” This is neither, but it is a mixture of topics broadly related to the subject of Scotch Whisky intertwined with some of his favourite quotations about the same subject.
In this book, he has poured a lifetime's love and knowledge of Scotch whisky giving the reader a sound foundation in what is needed to know and appreciate about Scotland's most generous gift to the world and arguably the world's finest spirit.

Twenty chapters takes you through a short history about Whisky. Starting with its definition and origin of what we know whisky to be today as well as a quick look at the the other major whisky makers (at the time of writing) Ireland, America, Canada and Japan.

If you ever wanted to find out about 'proof' it’s all explained in this book (if you were born after 1980 you may be wondering what I'm talking about). The entire process is explained from water to barley varieties, albeit that time again has moved on and current strains will certainly be different since the original publication date, but the history is there. If you are just starting your whisky journey this is a great little book that answers so many questions. The chapters are wide ranging but are easily digested. The reader can pick up, delve into at any point and there is no need to read it in chronological order.

As I mentioned earlier I've really enjoyed reading this and I'm glad it is part of my whisky shelf. I will continue to pick it up to re-read chapters from time to time, and will even have another bash at trying to enjoy the poetry!

If it's not in your Whisky Library now, do yourself a favour and pick up a copy quickly!

Sláinte! Dave.
A word of thanks also to @whiskylassie for proofreading this post and correcting a few things for me.