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: and

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!


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.



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.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Midlands Whisky Festival V

One of our favourite Whisky shows run by independent Wine Merchants Nickolls & Perks takes place in Stourbridge Town Hall in September and The next Midlands Whisky Festival is on Saturday 27th September 2014

Originally planned as an annual show held on the last Saturday in September, an additional show was added in April 2013 due to demand. Dave has been to every Midlands Whisky Festival apart from the very first, which took place during the very first year of his Whisky Discovery journey and before he'd even realised such Whisky show existed! You can see our previous Show reports here:

Midlands Whisky V
Whilst Kat hasn't always managed to make it to the Midlands Whisky Festival with Dave, she was able to accompany him on their most recent trip at the end of March. It is a bit of a trek from Bedford involving two taxi rides, eight trains and two short walks for the return journey, but certainly possible to do within a day trip even if a little exhausting!

The show has evolved bigger and better each year, and it got off to a great start. Recent improvements to the Town Hall over the winter months since the September 2013 Show meant finding the new entrance to the town hall, which now encompasses the new shopping centre and library, and is completely covered meaning if the weather is a little unsettled, queuing to get in under cover is another added bonus. Fortunately the weather on this Saturday in March was glorious

Whilst the show ordinarily opens at midday for ticket holders the are a limited number of VIP tickets which allow access from 1045 which not only gives you an extra 'Dream Dram' token, but more importantly to serious whisky fan, unrivalled access to the Brand Ambassadors and shop for a full hour and a quarter, in a relaxed unhurried atmosphere whilst canapés are served. This year in addition to the VIP ticket, a 'Devotee' ticket was available which not only gave all the VIP advantages but a sample of every Dream Dram to take home too! Both VIP and Devotee ticket holders are also treated to an exclusive Masterclass which starts at midday when the show doors open to the remaining ticket holders

Our first stop in Stourbridge was to go straight to the Nickolls and Perks Shop as it's always worth a browse when you're up that way, and because we had a very early start we had a good forty five minutes to peruse the shelves to see what might tempt us. We also bumped into a few of the #whiskyfabric from Twitter, some we'd met before like good friends Jon and Mike from Living Room Whisky, but also great to meet new faces @MikeJack1976 and @NickDaBird

Having spent the previous weekend at London's Whisky Live, it was impressive to note the number of exhibitors at the Midlands Whisky Festival V, with an additional room opened upstairs. Notable absentees from Whisky Live London were definitely in attendance at The Midlands Whisky Festival; Talisker, Highland Park, Jameson, Glenfiddich, Laphroaig, Glenmorangie, The Glenlivet, Arberlour Bowmore and Jura to name just a few!
An impressive Exhibitor List
With our VIP tickets in hand we headed for the new entrance for the 1045 start and made our way upstairs to say hello to the man who holds the key to all of the Masterclasses, @Ardbaggie, half Ardbeg and half West Bromwich Albion FC, it is @Ardbaggie who determines if you may enter the Masterclass room! With pleasantries exchanged we headed off to the new upstairs room and spotted Colin Dunn of Diageo who had a couple of great Dream Drams on offer.

I've found it's always best to study the Dream Dram list as soon as you can, and then make sure these are the first drams you try, or certainly very early on in the show. Leave it too late and your plate will probably be well past its best to take any real notice of what you've just enjoyed, or worse still the Dream Dram is nothing but an empty bottle.

We started with the Johnnie Walker King George V release, one that eluded me at the last Midlands Whisky Festival (did not heed the advice I'd just written above) which was followed by a Brora 35 Year Old - both of these whiskies needed time to sit down to ponder over, and fortunately there were indeed leather armchairs in this hall to do just that. Colin also had a couple of 'extras' under that table and I followed those two Dream Drams with a drop of the Talisker 1985 vintage which was just wonderful.
Our second Dream Dram of the day - just fabulous!
Scott Laing from Hunter Laing whiskies was our next port of call where we stopped for a quick catch up having last met at The Whisky Exchange Show back in October 2013. I went for a single grain and chose the 36 Year Old Strathclyde from their Sovereign release.

The first Masterclass was for the VIP ticket holders and was hosted by Duncan Ralph of Duncan Taylor Whiskies and we were treated to a five dram line up, starting with their Black Bull 12 Year Old Blended Scotch, a 50/50 malt to grain ratio bottled at 50% abv. It was a new Whisky Discovery for Kat but Dave had tried this before at a blind Whisky tasting. You can read what he thought about that here. We then went on to taste four of the Duncan Taylor single cask releases, three from their 'Dimensions Series' Dailuaine, Glen Grant and Bruichladdich and an 18 Year Old Mortlach from their Octave Series. Our favourite from the five was the Glen Grant 18 Year Old.
The exclusive Duncan Taylor Single Cask Masterclass
After the Masterclass I rushed back to see Colin Dunn to see if he had any more of the Talisker 1985, firstly because Kat didn't manage to try this and secondly a good friend had replied to my tweet posted and was desperate to try this! I was just too late, it had all gone, but Colin did have a drop of the Oban 21 to pour me in consolation!

We also bumped into Kirsty and Stewart from @Whiskycorner who had travelled all the way from Edinburgh to visit this show and must have been the furthest travelled guest that day! We'd met Kirsty and Stewart at the previous weekend'd Whisky Live London for the first time.

We headed downstairs after the class and caught up with Lukasz Dynowiak from The Edinburgh Whisky Blog who was busy talking all things Balbalir, Old Pulteney and anCnoc we quenched our malt thirst with a drop of the magnificent anCnoc 22 Year Old. We also bumped into another new face with a first meeting of @MyWhiskyGuide

Dave headed off to the Douglas Laing stand afterwards hoping to find the Clan Denny Port Dundas he found at the last Midlands Whisky Show. Unfortunately there was no Port Dundas on hand, but he did stop to sample another old single grain by way of a 21 Year Old Cameronbridge from 1990

We also caught up with Phil Huckle at the Pernod Ricard stand where there was a line up from Aberlour and The Glenlivet on offer before heading off to find some lunch. It was during our chatting and lunching that we missed one of the Masterclasses that we really wanted to attend, The Miss Whisky's Chocolate and Whisky one. It was a full house and by all accounts was a great session too. while we have known Alwynne from almost the very start of our journey, well certainly since we were allowed out in public, Dave has never seen her in action. (and I'll have no smutty remarks here please!)

We did make it to Lukasz's Balblair Masterclass though. Four Balblair vintages were in the line up alongside two Old Pulteney releases. although there were no new Whisky Discoveries to be had, it's always interesting to watch friends hosting a Masterclass as we're always looking to learn.
The Balblair/Old Pulteney Masterclass Line up
We started with the recent 2003 Vintage, one that featured in our Whisky Tasting we held in March, before moving onto the 1997, 1990 and 1983 Vintages, the latter of the two being new Whisky Discoveries at the previous weekends Whisky Live London Show. We then moved onto the Old Pulteney 21 Year Old finishing off with their fabulous 1990 Vintage.

Time was once again moving faster than we were anticipating and with last pours at 1630 looming we rushed off to speak to people we'd missed previously and stopped off to say our farewells to Scott Laing while sipping their delightful 26 Year Old Glenturret. Dave had tasted this previously, but wanted Kat to experience it. Then as last pours were announced managed to squeeze in a good measure of Glengoyne 21 Year Old to wrap up the show and say our goodbyes.

And so another great Whisky Show was over and it was time to make our way home, however the journey home was brightened up with the company of The Miss Whisky who coincidentally was not only booked on the same train as us from Birmingham, but also in the same carriage - how spooky was that! We stopped of in the City Centre to grab some dinner before heading to the station and arrived safely home after around 14 hours from when we left that morning!

The next Midlands Whisky Festival is on Saturday 27th September and tickets are selling fast! You can find out more information here: Midland Whisky Festival September 2014 

We met a great number of people at the show and they're all definitely worth following if your on Twitter: @Ardbaggie @Nickolls_Perks @Midlandswhisky @LRWhisky @themisswhisky @NickDaBird @MikeJack1976 @Whiskycorner @KirstyClarke29 @ StewartCraigon @MyWhiskyGuide @ChrisWebb1984 @Double_Clicks @PTwhiskypenguin

If we met and I've missed you off of this list please let me know and I'll update it!
Kat and me with @Double_Clicks and @ChrisWebb1984 #Whiskyfabric
For more photos check out our Facebook page!

The full dram list as follows:
Whisky Discovery #754 Johnnie Walker King George V
Whisky Discovery #755 Brora 35 Year Old (2013 Release)
Whisky Discovery #756 Talsiker 1985
Whisky Discovery #757 Strathclyde 1977 a Hunter Laing 'Sovereign' release 36 Year Old

Duncan Taylor Masterclass with Duncan Ralph
Whisky Discovery #227 Black Bull 12 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky
Whisky Discovery #758 Dailuaine 1998 15 Year Old Dimensions Series
Whisky Discovery #759 Glen Grant 18 Year Old Dimensions Series
Whisky Discovery #760 Motlach 18 Year Old Dimensions Series
Whisky Discovery #761 Bruichladdich 20 Year Old Octave Series

back into the show
Whisky Discovery #762 Oban 21 Year Old
Whisky Discovery #383 AnCnoc 22 Year Old
Whisky Discovery #762 Cameronbridge 1990 a Douglas Laing 'Clan Denny' release 21 Year Old

Balbalir Masterclass with Lukasz Dynowiak
Whisky Discovery #747 Balblair 2003 Vintage
Whisky Discovery #272 Blablair 1997 Vintage
Whisky Discovery #748 Balblair 1990 Vintage
Whisky Discovery #751 Balblair 1983 Vintage
Whisky Discovery #58 Old Pulteny 21 Year Old
Whisky Discovery #638 Old Pulteney 1990 Vintage

back into the show
Whisky Discovery #690 Glenturret 26 Year Old from Hunter Laing
Whisky Discovery #388 Glengoyne 21 Year Old

Sunday, 17 August 2014

My Passion for Sherry

Forgive me brethren (whiskyfabric), it has been over three months since I last blogged......

Three months!!!? Where the hell have I been?

To be honest I really don't know where the time has gone, but I had 'lost my mojo' at the beginning of my absence, in terms of writing, and once I'd stopped, it has been incredibly difficult to recover the pace I was once setting. I guess I was burning the candle from both ends and something eventually had to give, Unfortunately it was the writing that has suffered. Then, just when I start to get my mojo back, my computer starts playing up. If you follow me on Twitter you'll already be aware of the hopeless internet connection I suffer, but losing the ability to blog was something I wasn't prepared for!

So how do I get this blog back on track? Well for now, I'm using a program that I can pick up anywhere to write to, but using my phone or old ipad mostly, and then I'll copy and past when I can access a computer to post the piece until I can get a new computer installed.

But for the subject of this post, I thought I'd tell you about my recent hunger for Sherry. This has only come about through my passion for Whisky. As part of my continuous professional development (CPD in CV speak) I wanted to investigate sherry to experience the flavours that's imparted to sherry cask matured Whisky. 
There are some very attractive sherry bottle labels around
I knew nothing about sherry and really didn't know where to start. My experience of sherry would probably be similar to most, a bottle would come out at Christmas time, and my Mother and Grandmother would have an occasional glass of Harvey's Bristol Cream over the holiday period and then it would disappear back into the cupboard for another year. My curiosity never went any further than acknowledging this ritual, although I'm fairly certain that I would have tried this when I was much younger.

We used to eat out at an Italian restaurant on a Saturday evening when I was working in the Far East. At the end of the meal the owner would bring out a chilled sweet Thai sherry alongside some almond biscotti, it was always a nice end to the evening.

So after remembering my sherry history it was back to my new quest. It seemed that many whiskies were stating that they had been matured or finished in Oloroso casks so that's where I thought would be a good place to start, and bought a bottle of it, while I searched the Internet for further information about Sherry.
I've always wanted to have a go with a venencia and recently got the opportunity - one is on my shopping list!
So what is Sherry?

Sherry is a fortified wine made from white grapes, Palimono grapes mostly (and yes I've started reading up grape varieties too) grown in Andalusa. It's also an Anglicized name of the town Jerez (Xeres) where sherry is protected, just like Scotch Whisky is.

Spanish producers have registered the names Jerez / Xérès / Sherry and will prosecute producers of similar fortified wines from other places using the same name. 

From my first bottle of Oloroso I went onto to buy a bottle of Fino (as I once was lucky to taste a fabulous Bowmore 1964 Fino cask) and then Manzanilla and Amontillado was on my shopping list as I declared Sundays to be reserved for Sherry, well at least until the evening when I would be looking to return to a glass of whisky!

I learned quickly that sherry is not as sweet as I was expecting, apart from a few types of Sherry and of course the sweetened or Cream Sherries that my Grandmother would have enjoyed. No, most sherries are quite dry, despite having glorious sweet noses. I also learned that Sherry was meant to be drunk alongside food, hence the Spanish Tapas bars

Sherry doesn't really keep well once opened either so it's best to buy smaller bottles if you're drinking on your own, don't rush out and but a flagon of dry sherry unless you're entertaining a large group of friends! My earliest sherry purchases came from the Wine Society. If you enjoy a glass of wine and you're not a member, you really need to ask yourself why! If you live within striking distance of Stevenage where their members shop and tasting room is located then you really need your head examining if you're not considering membership! It's one of my favourite places to visit on a Saturday morning. There are always a selection of new wines and sherries to taste, a huge selection of wines and knowledgeable staff to guide you. They also have a good range of sherries!

I also started picking up bottles in our local supermarkets, both Tesco and Marks and Spencer stock smaller bottles which are perfect for a couple of weekends enjoyment. Unlike whisky they don't keep well once opened, so I tend to only open one at a time and don't open another until I've finished the last.

Some of my picks so far

Fino: Crisp, dry, yeasty, nutty and tangy, fino is the freshest and most delicate of sherry styles, an bottled at around 15% abv. Fino is aged in barrels and protected from oxygen during its development by the flor or film of yeast. Fino, like most sherries is a versatile food companion, and like a white wine, should be drunk chilled.
Sherry Reviews
I've tried a few Fino's and have had a couple of bottles of The Society's as well as one from Tesco's Finest Range however the Sanchez Romate has been my favourite so far
Manzanilla: This is an especially light variety of a Fino Sherry made in the port of Sanlucar de Barrameda rather than in the cities of Jerez or Puerto de Santa Maria and because the more humid environment in the bodegas here encourages a thicker flor layer, these wines are typically lighter and even fresher than fino, often with a distinctive salty tang 

Like Fino it needs to be served chilled and drunk fresh so always buy from a shop or online retailer that has a good turnover of bottles There's also an extended aged version or has been partially oxidised, called Manzanilla Pasado that has a richer, nuttier flavour
Sherry Reviews
The Manzanilla Pasada from M&S was lovely but my latest find from La Guita has been very nice
For food pairings with Fino and Manzanilla I recommend taking a look at Fiona Beckett's 'Matching food and Wine' site here:

Amontillado is a variety of Sherry that is first aged under flor but which is then exposed to oxygen, producing a sherry that is darker than a Fino but lighter than an Oloroso. Naturally dry, they are sometimes sold lightly to medium sweetened but these can no longer be labelled as Amontillado. Amontillado is an amber-coloured sherry that is nutty and complex, with a long finish. It is fortified to around 17.5 ° alcohol to protect it during its development, and because it has been aged oxidatively does tend to last for longer once opened. I've kept smaller bottles at room temperature, but have chilled the litre bottles from The Wine Society. I love the nutty flavours of an Amontillado so keen to explore others.
Sherry Reviews
Again bottles from The Wine Society and Tesco's Finest Range have been sampled and enjoyed
Palo Cortado is a variety of Sherry that is initially aged like an Amontillado, typically for three or four years, but which subsequently develops a character closer to an Oloroso. This either happens by accident when the flor dies, or commonly the flor is killed by fortification or filtration.

The label on the back of this bottle from Cayetano Del Pino states: This is an excellent example of the rare Palo Cortado style. It is an elegant wine with an intense nutty aroma and an attractive roundness on the palate, an impressive length of flavour from long ageing in butts.
Sherry Reviews
This Palo Cortado has been one of my favourites so far and I've had a number of bottles and keep one in hand, just in case!
For food pairings for Amontillado and Palo Cortado I recommend taking a look at Fiona Beckett's 'Matching food and Wine' site again here: 

Oloroso ('scented' in Spanish) is a variety of Sherry aged oxidatively for a longer time than a Fino or Amontillado, producing a darker and richer wine. With alcohol levels between 18 and 20% abv Olorosos are the most alcoholic Sherries. Like Amontillado, naturally dry, they are often also sold in sweetened versions called Cream Sherry. As with Amontillado "Sweet Oloroso", "Rich Oloroso" and "Oloroso Dulce" are prohibited terms now.

My first bottle came from The Wine Society and it was a bottle of their Viejo Oloroso Dulce, a term no longer appropriate and no longer available! I've also bought a bottle or two of Tesco Finest range (for a while they were selling these at under £5 a bottle) and more recently one from Marks and Spencer. I love the rich nutty flavours and can see how some of these traits pass through to Oloroso cask matured whisky.
Sherry Reviews
I love the rich nose from an Oloroso and will be popping back to M&S for another of this one
Matusalem is made by enrichment of a dry Oloroso sherry with 25% Pedro Ximenez, followed by additional ageing in its own solera, and is produced in very small quantities compared to the other sherries. This is so rich and opulent in feel but not quite as sweet as the nose would suggest. I bought this Matusalem because I remembered Dalmore have used Matusalem casks to mature their whiskies, notably The Dalmore Cigar Malt, King Alexander etc. It was also going for a song in Costco one Christmas, less than £15 for a thirty year old sherry seemed like the bargain of the season. It was only a small bottle but so incredibly complex, both nose and palate are awash with notes of a walnut syrup (if there is such a thing) dates, raisins, figs, candied orange peel and pudding spices. I've just bought a another bottle.
Sherry Reviews
Just purchased another bottle of this recently - decadent!
Pedro Ximenez or PX is made from air-dried Pedro Ximenez grapes, with fermentation stopped early by the addition of spirit. I first thought this would be too sweet for me, but bought a bottle from Marks and Spencer that seemed to be calling my name. It is deliciously sweet and for me, full of blackcurrants and prune syrup! I enjoy it as it is or chilled and have even poured a glass over my fried banana and ice cream dessert. Currently we have a bottle of English Whisky's PX open
Sherry Reviews
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised with PX and will be buying more of this!
Cream sherries are more commercial products that have been sweetened by the addition of Moscatel or Pedro Ximénez, they are quite different to the 'single malt' sherries but are still worth investigating, especially if you have a sweet tooth!

What's next for me? Well a trip to Jerez is definitely something I'm dying to do and must be in my plans for 2015. I also want to get myself a Venencia so I can hone my sherry pouring skills  at home. I will of course continue to pick up bottles of sherry on my shopping trips, always looking for something new. If you have any suggestions for me, please don't hesitate to let me know!

So what are you waiting for? As a whisky drinker you have a moral duty to drink sherry!