Friday, 25 April 2014

Glen Garioch Drambassador

Whisky Discovery
The beautiful Still Room at Glen Garioch, conveniently located in Distillery Road
If you've bumped into me at Whisky Shows recently you'll know I'm a big fan of Glen Garioch, I'll always drop by to saviour one or more of their Vintage releases, despite having sampled them all previously. I have a few from their range on my shelf too, and we called upon their 1995 Vintage for our first Whisky Tasting that we held towards the end of last year. The Glen Garioch distillery was also the first Scottish distillery I visited, so has even more relevance as I've met the people who make the Whisky.

You can imagine I was pretty excited to learn that I had been chosen to be a 'Drambassador' for the Glen Garioch distillery, an unpaid position, but with the opportunity to revisit the distillery on an expenses paid trip should this blog post be favoured amongst the others, how could I refuse? 

My first task (hopefully there will be additional duties) as a Drambassador is being to be among the first to discover a new Glen Garioch expression/vintage, receiving a blind sample along with some clues as to it's identity along with a bar of plain chocolate that had pieces of crystallised ginger stuck to it along with a small pot of jam.
Whisky Discovery
The Drambassador's pack
The Clues

The first of my clues told me that the entire batch of this expression was distilled one Summer's day when Scotland took part in a global sporting event, and that the country where this event took place being closely linked to their tasting notes. 

My mind immediately thought of The Commonwealth Games, especially as Scotland would be hosting the event in Glasgow this year, but was it truly a global event? I considered some vintages: 1994-Victoria, Canada; 1998-Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; 2002-Manchester UK. Three vintage years certainly, global? Yes, but not all inclusive. There has already been a Glen Garioch 1994 vintage, but 1998 could be a contender, but how could Malaysia be closely linked to the official tasting notes? Then there was 2002 and Manchester? I didn't think so!

With rugby being my favourite sport, this was my next line of investigation. I'm also aware that Morrison Bowmore Master Blender Rachel Barrie is also a big rugby fan, so this seemed to fit nicely. The Scotland rugby team have always featured in the Rugby World Cup tournament, a truly global sporting event, and totally inclusive (well if you can field a rugby team, and qualify!) and again I started to think of some vintage years: 2003-Australia; 1999-Wales; 1995-South Africa. Again three vintage years, but with 1995 and 1999 vintages already in the current line up, left only 2003 as a possible contender, alas being held in October and November didn't fit with the summers day, and with England being the winners that year seemed even less likely!

The only other Scottish sporting team I'm familiar with is the Football team, and with 2014 being a FIFA World Cup year, this also seemed 'topical'. Unfortunately Scotland hadn't qualified this year, and haven't done so since 1998, when the competition was held in France during the summer months of June and July. There's no 1998 vintage Glen Garioch, and since this year has cropped up twice in my initial investigations looked a strong contender!

My second clue told me that the Whisky is a perfect marriage of two regions, and that I might find that I may be reminded of something else. No research needed here? I wasn't sure, and thought I'd best read on to the end of my clues before tasting.

Clue number three told me the casks were previously stored in a cave, 100km from the Atlantic Ocean. Despite being the second largest ocean, with all of the East coast of the Americas and all of the West coast of Africa having Atlantic shores, I was still being steered towards a 1998 vintage and France, where 'cave' is also French for cellar and started thinking of wine casks from South West France.

The farmer called them 'effers' but I knew what he meant
The fourth clue was describing the type of wood this expression has been matured in: 'The oak shares it's name with a breed of cattle.' I know very little about breeds of cows but surprised myself with being able to write a fair number of cattle breeds down! All those Sunday evenings watching Countryfile paying dividends for my cow knowledge, but none of them closely resembling names of oak! Friesian Oak anyone? Perhaps I needed to review types of oak used for casks?

And so I discovered that Limousin was not only a region of France famed for its oak forests, but also for a breed of highly muscled beef cattle. While researching Limousin I discovered that it's grove of French Oak was prized for it's distinct character and flavours in wine fermentation, and that vintner Rémy Martin has exclusive rights to these oak groves, a partnership that has been established for over 100 years. 

I needed to find out a little more about Rémy Martin next, as it was most likely that the casks used would have once held something from them. Whilst I had heard of the brand and knew that they were famed for their Cognac, I wasn't aware of any whiskies being matured in Cognac casks. I also need to find out if Rémy Martin used caves to mature their Cognac! 

Further investigations told me that because of it's 'loose' grain Limousin oak is most suited for Cognac, Armagnac, Sherry and Whisky ageing. Discounting whisky, I considered the two French spirits, Cognac and Armagnac, both fitting into the 100km from the Atlantic range, but I'm not familiar with either of them, having never tasted either. Can you believe that? I'm the wrong side of 40 and have never tasted Cognac or Armagnac, something I intend to change this year! 

I then considered Sherry, and upon deciding it was indeed sherry o'clock poured myself a glass of Fino, that was a smart move! I've been on a bit of a sherry mission recently, initially from curiosity to find out a little more about the fortified wine casks so often used in whisky maturation. Sherry comes from Jerez in Spain, which also features an Atlantic shoreline, so could also be a possible contender! 

So before tasting this new expression from Glen Garioch I have determined (rightly or wrongly) that it was distilled one summers day in 1998, that it has been matured in French oak casks, Limousin Oak to be precise, and that the casks had been previously used, so definitely not virgin oak, and possibly Cognac casks.

This brought be straight back to clue number two; a perfect marriage of two regions, Scotland and France, the 'Auld Alliance', perhaps I could be on the right track?

Whisky Discovery
Where is this chocolate and jam leading me?
But where does the chocolate with crystallised ginger and pot of jam fit in with all of this? I hear you ask. I pondered with the same question, for hours. Before I knew it I'd eaten half the rich dark chocolate and picked off most of the crystallised ginger, I was getting nowhere! The French aren't well known for their chocolate, especially as two of their neighbours are renowned for their chocolatiers. The jam seemed to be a type of plum jam, not Victoria plums, but more of a Damson Plum, or Blackcurrant And Plum. France is famed for a type of Plum Jam, though Mirrabelle Plums are golden plums grown in the Lorraine region and much of the production goes into jam making, but it's an orangey yellow colour.

Whisky Discovery #779

Glen Garioch 1998 'French Oak' ex-Cognac casks (48% abv)
Highland Single Malt
Price tba
Whisky Discovery
I give you the new Glen Garioch 1998 Cognac Cask in front of some 'familiar friends
I tasted this on its own and immediately found the 'house style' in my mental notes. I decided That I must be frugal with each pour, keeping it to no more than 15ml each time as I wanted to sample at different times of the day, and get a morning tasting in too, seeing as I had a long Easter weekend. I also wanted to try it with and without water (really taking this role seriously) as well as sampling alongside the othe Glen Garioch expressions I have at home; Founders Reserve, 12 Year Old and 1995 Vintage

I decided to stick with the Cognac Cask for my guess as further investigations into the Suntory brands led me to Louis Royer, a Cognac producer from Jarnac which is just to the East of Cognac, fitting nicely with the 100 km rule, and closer inspection of their website seemed to indicate caves were used to store the casks. However, if I was supposed to find Cognac notes it this new expression, I've failed miserably as I wouldn't know a Cognac if it slapped me in the face!

So What Did I Think?
Colour: Yellow Amber (or Ambre Jeune)

Nose: A familiar Glen Garioch spicy herbal note of heather greets you, with an underlying honey sweetness. Not quite as spicy as the Founders Reserve, and not the soft honey sweetness of the 12 Year Old, something right in the middle of the two. There's no aroma dominating the nose, it just comes across balanced, with some gentle fruit notes, soft pears and white grape notes. a drop of water brings some fresh sawn lumber and releases waves of soft vanilla.

Palate: Rich and refined, a lovely malt-wood balance, with a mouth-coating quality that again feels right. The spices build quickly which last right through to the long finish, along with a zingy peppery note, but never over powering. There are flavours of fine oak wood, shavings from a carpenters plane, the grape juice note follows from the nose, bringing sweetness to the balance, then right at the end there is a touch of earthiness to it. a drop of water releases ginger, but not the crystallised ginger I was expecting.

Finish: The finish is long initially spicy, which is followed by the oak wood flavours, some of the oak tannins starting to dry the mouth, inviting another sip, then again a touch of earthiness at the very end.

Empty Glass: My morning treat, nosing the empty glass (covered overnight) the following morning gave malty chocolate notes and a touch of that herbal heather.

Verdict: A lovely inclusion to my flight of four Glen Garioch's, and it sat very nicely alongside one of my favourite vintages, the 1995. I'm very much looking forward to it's release and revisiting this, because it really is something I would like to put on my shelf.

Sláinte! Dave

Sunday, 16 March 2014

In-bottle Maturation Experiment

I tried my hand at ‘bottle ageing’ some whisky recently. The idea had first been put into my head after meeting William Borrell from Vestal Vodka at Imbibe Live last June. William had been experimenting with oak chips (sherry cask and bourbon cask) as well as other woods, within the bottles and there was a noticeable difference in both colour and taste within just a short maturation period.

Later Ralfy posted a couple of videos where he went about changing some cheap supermarket blended whisky through bottle ageing whisky, using different wood species to change the profile. I wanted to try this (you can find Ralfy's videos here: Part 1 and Part 2)

I wanted to use American White Oak (Quercus Alba) for my initial experiment and started searching for suitable wood. Initially I was hoping to be able to find some ex-bourbon barrel staves but ended up with a craft wood supplier and bought a handful of pen blanks, five American White Oak and five European Oak (Quercus Robur) virgin oak pen blanks.

Ideally I was hoping to find an uncoloured whisky, but every one of the supermarket single malts seemed to be heavily coloured. Not wanting to mess up a distillery bottling I picked a 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt from Tesco, in hindsight it was perhaps a little too dark already, but at just £21 was a low risk experiment.
I can do science me
Following Ralfy’s video I dried, then lightly charred the outer edges of the pen plank using a blowtorch. I wanted to give some sherry influence to the Highland Single Malt so, I made a small tray from some aluminium foil to soak my ‘stick’ in after charring. I used a glass of Oloroso, and left it to soak into the charred pen blank while I hunted for a suitable maturation container that would allow my pen plank to be suspended in it. My original idea was to use a kilner type jar, that has a nice wide neck and a resealable lid, but in order to hold the full length of the pen blank would have needed more than one bottle to cover the wood. I settled on using an old wine carafe that I had a lid for, and decanted the bottle of single malt into it, while keeping a sample for a control, so I could compare the differences later.

I suspended the charred and sherry soaked pen blank into the carafe and left for around 12 weeks. Initially I was checking it regularly to make sure I wasn't over exposing it to the wood, but eventually forgot all about it, leaving it out in the garage to continue the process.

Last weekend I remembered it and decided I needed to check it out, I also had some old bottles that I needed to get some spirit into them to stop the corks from drying out, so killed two birds with one stone.

There was a slight colour difference, which was easy to see in the glass, but perhaps not quite as easy to pick up in the photograph. The difference in the nose was more pronounced as was the taste, and I was pleasantly surprised with what I found.

Whisky Discovery #725

Tesco’s 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt
Highland Single Malt
Circa £25.00 70cl
This was the ‘donor’ bottle for my experiment and chosen because it was reasonably inexpensive and readily available:

Nose: Quite gentle floral notes, not dominating though. Gentle honey notes followed with a herbal heather note and some peppery spices too. Not overly complicated but certainly in the highland style

Palate: Opens with a herbal sweetness, grassy with heather and gentle citrus notes. Spices come through towards the end with some peppery ginger heat

Whisky Discovery #726

Tesco’s 12 Year Old Highland Single Malt (40% abv)
A Bedfordshire modified Highland Single Malt
The one on the left has been modified in Bedfordshire
Colour: A slight colour change was noticeable, with the 

Nose: Sweeter immediately, richer honey notes coming through to the fore and much enhanced spicy notes, the floral herbal notes had been overcome with buttery vanilla and the charred wood notes were evident

Palate: A greater wood influence was also apparent on the palate, with wood shop and sawdust notes, sweet honey notes and the spices seemed softer but overall a much richer mouth feel was achieved. The spicy heat comes through right at the end, and finishes much drier than the original whisky

I was hoping for more sherry influence from my experiment, perhaps I should have left the wood soaking in sherry overnight, or even longer. 

I would have liked to see a greater colour change, and for my next experiment I want to use some lightly coloured spirit, or new make if I can get my hands on some. I’d also like to use a higher abv spirit. I’m going to stick with my Oloroso conditioning as usually have a bottle or three to hand, but would like to run one of each American and European Oak in two separate flasks to see how different they turn out.

Not long after watching Ralfy’s videos and while hatching my own cunning plan I received and email from a local micro brewery. He had found our blog and wanted us to come and taste his English Spirit. Our local micro brewery was making a number of different beers for the local area, but every now and then would send a batch of his wash to a local distiller who would distil and bottle his English Malt Spirit at 40% abv, coloured with spirit caramel.

I discussed my in-bottle maturation experiment with the brewer who showed immediate interest and I pointed him towards Ralfy’s video blog. I need to follow up with him now and see how his next batch has gone down, as he was going to try some of his own experiments, he might also be my source of new make spirit for my own plans.

Then I was thinking…
There is a huge demand for whisky right now, distilleries have been caught off guard and there is a rush to expand capacity. New distilleries starting up on an almost weekly basis, aged stocks being consumed so fast that many brands have been abandoning age statement whiskies at the younger end of the scale, creating new NAS (no age statement) expressions allowing distillers/blenders to use younger stock with the older maturing stock to make it go further and get product to market to meet the demand.

The current UK law states that to be deemed whisky the distilled spirit must be matured in oak casks for a minimum of three years. New distilleries have been selling their distilled spirit, matured in oak casks, at younger ages, to raise necessary cash flow, but it cannot be called whisky.

When maturing spirit in oak casks a percentage of the spirit is lost every year due to evaporation (known as the Angels Share) H.M. Customs allow for two percent a year which can amount to over 50 litres over a typical 10 year maturation.

This new demand must increase demand for casks, both new for Bourbon and second-hand for Scotch whisky, and with distilleries worldwide all in the market for quality casks to mature their spirit in, perhaps now is the time to investigate alternative ways of exposing wood to the spirit?

I'm damn sure that I can't be the first one to think along these line, but closed containers with oak staves suspended in the distilled spirit, as per my in-bottle extra maturation experiment might be worth investigating on a larger scale. The planks could be thinner as all sides of the wood would be used, expensive quarter sawn timber would not be necessary as their would be no structural requirements. Yield should increase as the Angels Share losses should be almost eliminated. Perhaps with a larger volumes of maturing spirit, temperature would remain more consistent and with careful calculations just the right volume of oak wood could be used to maximise the life of the ‘plank’ whilst reducing the maturation time, and producing consistent quality. The oak planks could be pressure infused with Sherry, Port or any number of other wines currently used in cask form to finish whiskies, to create the whisky profiles we currently enjoy.

Perhaps this is a step too far right now, but surely things will need to change in the future? The demand on managed forests will eventually outstrip the supply of suitable cask timber, and how many times can a cask be 'rejuvenated' before it's lifeless?

I would love to hear your thoughts, but in the meantime I’m looking to start my next in-bottle maturation very soon, and perhaps an English Malt Spirit which has had oak influence in this manner might start a trend from the new craft distilleries.

Slàinte! Dave

Saturday, 8 March 2014


Whisky Discovery
The opportunity arose recently to taste some more 'New World Whisky' from the Australian Limeburners brand

So just who are Limeburners?
Limeburners is produced by Great Southern Distilling Company and can be found in Albany, Western Australia. They're a boutique distillery producing premium quality single malt whisky using time honoured techniques and traditional copper pot stills. Each batch is produced and bottled by hand. By world standards they are a tiny operation, but with a growing local demand there is pressure to increase capacity, and production has been slowly increasing by around 20% per year and now they are in the process of creating a new distillery in Margaret River.

The distillery was founded by Cameron Syme in 2004 merging his love of whisky and his knowledge of business to establish the Great Southern Distilling Company. With roots extending back to Scotland and a history of family distilling, the path seemed a natural one. The distillery is named after Limeburners Creek, which is 10 minutes down the road from their distillery. In the convict days after Albany was first settled, Lime burning kilns were used for making mortar for the buildings. 

Whisky Making
Some of the best barley in the world is produced in South Western Australia, Southern wheat belt barley is the only barley that they use, and it's malted in Perth by Balston Maltings, the only part of the whisky making process they don't undertake. Their standard range of single malts are unpeated, but a limited release peated whisky is made using locally sourced peat.

The process starts with milling the malted barley in the mill and combining this grist with hot water in the Mash Tun before pitching the yeast and transferring the wort to one of their fermenters.

Their water source comes from limestone aquifers near the distillery and used in the initial processing, however when bottling, filtered rain water collected at the distillery is used.
Whisky Discovery
The distillery
They currently have two stills in operation, an 1,800 litre Wash Still and a 580 litre Spirit Still. both traditional whisky copper pot stills and were custom made in Hobart, Tasmania, by Australian Still makers Knapp Lewer. The parameters were selected in order to achieve a particular spirit profile. This decision was made after lengthy research on stills used by the distilleries producing some of their favourite Scottish Single Malts.

Whisky Discovery
580 litre spirit still
The shape of the still is one of the variables that affect the final flavour of whisky and, in line with the preference of many of the great distillers; they are using specially designed small pot stills, loosely based on the design of some of the Scottish legends. The lyne arms slope slightly down which helps to provide a great depth of character in the spirits distilled from these stills. Distillation capacity is currently three runs from each still a week, but no spirit safe is required in Australia.

Master Distiller, Ben Kagi is a local from Albany, joined the company in 2005 and put his refined palate, honed over many years as a winemaker and associate judge in wine shows, to good use. After initially looking after product quality control, he is now the main distiller

Whisky Discovery
Master Distiller Ben Kagi
Each batch of whisky is aged in specially selected barrels to infuse the depth of flavour, colour and aroma that make these whiskies so unique. Using both single and double barrel maturation, with an array of oak casks including Bourbon and old Australian Sherry, Port and Tokay, generally the first stage of maturation is undertaken in ex-bourbon barrels. They come in one piece from Tennessee as 200 litre casks. Once they have matured for two years to be legally called a whisky they are put in finishing casks which are sourced from various suppliers.

Some of their barrels are sixty to eighty years old, and can trace the provenance of some of these barrels to the US bourbon houses in the 1930’s and 1940s. These barrels have then held port or sherry for the next seventy odd years before being selected for maturing Limeburners Single Malt Whisky.

The maturation time ranges anywhere from three to nine years. Due to the climate a fairly fast maturation is possible, the warmer weather allowing the spirit to penetrate the wood taking on the flavours. Their oldest vintage released is from March 2006

We were sent three single cask samples, two from their standard range which are bottled at 43% abv having been brought down from barrel strength by filtered rainwater, and one from their barrel strength releases which are bottled at 61% abv.

Whisky Discovery #703

Limeburners Single Malt Whisky Cask M76 (43% abv)
Australian Single Malt Whisky
No longer available in the UK
My first Limeburners came from Cask rather unflatteringly named 'M76'. Distilled and barrelled on the 3rd of April 2009, initially in American ex-bourbon casks and finished in a very old Australian Port cask before being bottle on the 19th December 2012. Just 299 bottles were released.

So What Did I Think?
Colour: A rich ruddy red-ish hue

Nose: Initially sweet and sugary; barley sugar taking the lead masking most of the other notes to start with. Fresh mint leads the charge through the sweet barley sugar which is followed by some old decaying wood notes. Fruity notes come through by way of sweet toffee apples, stewed plums and red grapes, then later ripe boiled corn notes develop

Taste: This came across quite sweet on the palate, but there was a gentle spiciness too, bit overall it was the sweeter notes that dominate, although the mouth feel is quite dry. Sweet wine notes, sweet candied fruits turning more grainy later, finishing with a dry saccharin sweetness. The following morning the empty glass gave up mint chocolate 'Matchmakers which was a pleasant surprise.

Verdict: This was a little too sweet for me although very easy to drink

Whisky Discovery #704

Limeburners Single Malt Whisky Cask M92 (43% abv)
Australian Single Malt Whisky
No longer available in the UK
Cask M92 was distilled and barrelled on the 21st November 2009 and bottled almost four years later on the 9th October 2013. It was matured in an American Oak sherry cask for the full term. 345 bottles were released bottled at 43% abv

So What Did I Think?
Colour: While still quite dark, it was a shade lighter than M76

Nose: Another sweet nose but with more herbal notes. Waxy furniture polish notes follow with richer stone fruit notes, Victoria plum, perhaps some dark cherry. Putty notes develop later.

Taste: Again sweet but the herbal notes giving an almost heather like flavour. Lots of barely sugars and a touch of spice with wild fennel, sweet aniseed and licorice. The putty notes found on the nose come through towards the end too. The following morning the empty glass smelt of sawdust

Verdict: Another sweet dram and very easy to drink. I preferred this sherry cask matured expression to the Port finished M76

Whisky Discovery #705

Limeburners Single Malt Whisky Cask M61 (61% abv)
Australian Single Malt Whisky
No longer available in the UK
This was the second release from Cask M61 being distilled and barrelled on the 30th September 2008, initially left to mature in American ex bourbon casks, before being finished  in very old Australian port casks  and just 104 bottles were filled at barrel proof of 61% abv on 12th September 2013

So What Did I Think?
Colour: The darkest of the three samples received, almost mahogany

Nose: A candy sweetness with a touch of charcoal char behind it. The charcoal note develops with time, giving an oiliness, though no smoke, and a touch of menthol. There's also some polished hardwood notes, like old mahogany or Chinese rosewood furniture. 

Taste: Leather an polish were the first two words I wrote in my notebook. It's spicy and an odd balloon rubber note too. Earthy forest floor notes follow, woody spices, cinnamon bark, all spice and star anise. Fruits; Black cherry and rich dark plum and chocolate by way of Black forest Gateaux at the end, finishing with aniseed and damp wood. The following morning the empty glass smelt of sawn wood, resinous

Verdict: My favourite of the three, and the rich Black Forest Gateaux notes were lovely, although the balloon rubber was a little odd!

And finally
Whilst not my first Australian single malts registered on the Liquid Log, this is the first comprehensive tasting I have had the pleasure of discovering, but it is the first dedicated blog post on an Australian brand. Limeburners Single Malt Whisky is available at Master of Malt in the UK, but as you can imagine being single cask whisky will not always be in stock. However the appointment of a UK Brand Ambassador Andrew Purslow, certainly shows their intentions of bring this whisky to the UK. Many thanks to Limeburners and Andrew for the samples

Slàinte! Dave

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Whisky Discovery takes the Discovery Road

International whisky writer and 'new world whiskies' specialist Dominic Roskrow has put his money where is mouth is and has launched his own New World Whisky range. 

We've met Dom a couple of times, I think the first time was when he was doing his epic Compass Box Whisky tasting with John Glaser hitting eight Whisky Shops from Inverness to Brighton in just 24 hours, and of course we've bumped into him at several whisky shows, but I really got to meet him at last years Birmingham Whisky Club Show where Dom was fronting the Craft Distiller's Alliance stand (he's the founder and director) introducing me to a hint of what was to come? Dom had brought whiskies from Australia, New Zealand (including the now infamous DoubleWood 10 Year Old) France and Sweden. His enthusiasm for World Whiskies was infectious then and that was reinforced by his masterclass later in the afternoon.

Discovery Road is the name for a new range of whiskies from across the world, specially chosen by Dom, who has spent the last eight years visiting distilleries from outside traditional areas and has built up a vast font of knowledge on the subject and with an enviable contacts list of distillers and distillery owners as far afield as the South Island of New Zealand and the frozen plains of Northern Sweden. 

Now, with a growing interest among the whisky-drinking public for new and exciting tastes, as well as for unusual stories from the world of whisky with their own heritage and provenance, Dom has decided to call upon his contacts to take world whisky to its next stage, and he has ambitious aims - to effectively create a new whisky category known as 'New World Whisky

"There are only two ways you can make whisky," he says. "You can try and do it like Scotland does, and you will almost certainly fail. Or you can dare to be different, make a whisky which reflects your heritage and culture, and adopt local customs, grains and production methods to produce a whisky that is unique. 

That's how I see the best New World Whisky - it is in a  different category to Scotch or Bourbon and comparing it to those categories is as relevant as comparing Aussie Rules footie to Soccer or American Football. It's not better, not worse, just different." 

Dom launched the first four whiskies at the end of last year; Two single malts from England (a very limited cask strength version of the standard expression) and two from Dutch distillers Zuidam, a rye and a single malt. He has also secured casks from India, Taiwan, France, New Zealand and Sweden. Each whisky will be bottled at 46% abv, will be limited to under 300 bottles (there are just 215 bottles of the English malt) and will be packaged in a stylish premium bottle.  

We were fortunate to receive samples of three of the range and here are our thoughts:   

Whisky Discovery #669

Discovery Road 'Smile' (46% abv)
Dutch Single Rye Whisky
£65.57 available only from Master of Malt
This is a seven year old 100% Rye Whisky from Dutch distillers Zuidam Distillers. The Dutch distillery was founded in 1975 by Fred van Zuidam, the initial idea being to start a small distillery producing exclusive products. It all began with just one small copper still in a 300 square meter distillery. It was along hard beginning and it took Fred van Zuidam over 10 years to create the reputation of being the finest distillery in the Netherlands.

These days both sons Patrick and Gilbert run the distillery under the watchful eyes of their parents. With Patrick caring for the distillery and production and Gilbert looking after the customers. They run a state of the art distillery of 3600 square meters with 4 brand new copper stills, over 1000 oak barrels,  four production lines and a modern tank storage.

Dominic's notes: This mixes spicy rye notes with a distinctive coconut start, delicious toffee and milk chocolate. Think Bounty Bar dipped in chill. There's also soft peach and apricot fruits and a red liquorice core.

So What Did We Think?
Kat Says: Nose:  This has a drier aroma to it, like dried twigs and lichen. It also has a lighter and more floral note when compared with Courage. Has a sweeter aroma, full of vanilla, with plenty of lemon rind & zest. With a little time, a whipped cream note develops, turning into the smell of a moist lemon drizzle cake. 

Taste:  None of the creaminess or sweetness comes through at all for me, instead it beings with the taste of cinnamon powder; a slight dry dusty feel, followed by plenty of caraway/fennel seeds. The only thing that comes through that resembles the nose is the lemon zest, which comes through after the spices. Some sweetness then appears but quickly fades, giving way to some dry wood notes. To me tasted like I was eating a pencil, not bad but not tasty either.

I've picked up pencil shaving notes before but always in the nose, not from the palate. The taste is distinctive of anyone who had chewed on pencils when they were younger (or maybe still do now?) whilst day dreaming; that taste of cedar wood and whatever type of paint they use to coat the outside of the pencil.

Finish:  The sweetness returns here and stays for noticeably longer than it did in the palate. This is followed by lemon rinds and leaves a zesty tingle to the end. A long lingering finish. 

Conclusion:  I liked the nose of this one very much but did not like the stark contrast in the palate, but by the end it won be back again. I’m on the fence about whether I like this dram, I don’t instantly like but think it’s interesting. Probably one that I should give a second chance to, tasting it over several drams, cause I think it might surprise me the second time around. 

Again after I did my tasting notes (I always do my tasting notes blind so as to not get sucked in by any marketing), I found out at this is a matured rye whisky. Perhaps this is why I find it interesting as my rye whisky experience is limited, and not flavours I’m familiar with. 

Dave Says: I've been getting into my Rye Whiskies recently and this arrived at Whisky Discovery HQ right in the middle of the Canadian Whisky event DavinTT2. It was the Dutch and German settlers that took rye whisky to Canada which is now synonymous with Canadian Whisky.

The nose, as I've come to expect with rye whisky, opens up with those dusty grain notes before the coconut takes over, sweet and creamy vanilla and caramel follows and although I didn't read Dominic's notes until after writing my first drafts can easily see where he finds the Bounty Bar notes. Fresh cut lumber follows, softwood, a resin rich pine and a sweet menthol note too.

The palate has a sweet creamy mouth coating with that spicy rye kick and fresh ginger, but as soon as it settles down I was reminded of Fry's Chocolate Creams and the coconut comes through on the palate too.

One of my absolute favourite discoveries with rye whiskies is the smelling the empty glass the following morning. Whereas some single malts smell woody or musty, and sherry cask whiskies often smell or rich dark chocolate, rye whiskies tend to smell fresh and still has those sweet spicy rye notes sweet with a hint of liquorice and certainly raises a smile.

Whisky Discovery #685

Discovery Road 'Four Lions' Cask Strength (58% abv)
English Single Malt Whisky
£72.70 available only from Master of Malt
Four Lions was chosen from four fifty litre casks from maturing stock at The English Whisky Company's St Georges Distillery in Norfolk. These casks were carefully selected by Dominic, St George's distiller David Fitt and Whisky Tasting Club members Tony Bagnall and Pat Barrow.

Also available but not tasted here is the standard 'Four Lions' bottled at 46% abv at £58.42 and only available from Master of Malt

Dominic's notes: This is a single malt with a distinctive spicy and earthy taste, some tropical fruits and citrus, and hints of menthol.  

We were very fortunate and were sent a sample of the Cask Strength version of this release, A very limited edition with just 45 bottles available, each signed and numbered.

So What Did We Think?
Kat Says: Nose:  Instantly I was hit with loads of soft fruits – ripe strawberries, slightly sharp raspberries, and blueberries. More fruit comes in the form of cantaloupe melons, followed by fresh whipped cream, and the smell of crunchy short crust pastry. Suddenly the smell of a lovely fresh fruit and cream tart comes into my mind.

Taste:  To my delight, the soft fruit flavours continue providing a sweet yet sharp fresh taste. The creamy notes also come through; carrying the same cream tart flavours. It has a nice medium body to this, not too fresh and light but not heavy either. Vanilla notes and Manuka honey starts to come through, making me think there’s probably some sherry casks influence in there. 

Finish:  The soft fruits are replaced with darker dried fruit flavours here – dates and raisins mainly, followed by a long white peppery finish. 

Conclusion:  I instantly love this dram. At first I thought it might have been something from the Swedish distillery Mackmyra, as it was similar to their Jaktlycka Special 05 release, because it had similar flavour profiles. I was happy to find out that this fine dram came from a distillery close to home turf, the English Whisky Company. 

Dave Says: The English Whisky Company St George's Distillery in Roundham, Norfolk was the first distillery I visited. The stills first ran in December 2006 when 29 barrels were filled and it has been going from strength to strength since. This is very obviously a young whisky as the oldest whisky available from St. Georges would be just seven years old, but it's spirit matures a little faster in the warmer climate of Norfolk

Nose: A summery fresh aroma greets you with green grassy meadows, sappy pine wood, fresh mint and menthol. The tropical fruits come a little later; papaya with lime juice and melon

Palate: Sweet and spicy with peppery pears and crisp green apples, we're my instant tasting notes on first sip, but there is a great deal more going on in this cask strength release. With a little time the sweetness has a honey softness about it and the initial sharp fruit notes also soften with an abundance ripe fruit.

The empty glass the following morning has rich toffee notes and a slight earthiness to it.

Whisky Discovery #687

Discovery Road 'Courage' (46% abv)
Dutch Single Malt Whisky
£72.70 available only from Master of Malt
This is another Dutch Whisky from Zuidam Distillers, and this 14 Year Old Single Malt has been matured in a first fill Oloroso sherry butt.

Dominic's notes: This is a big beastie of a sherried whisky, with liqueur-like berry flavours, dark chocolate, coffee liqueur, dates, dark cherry and Christmas spices.

So What Did We Think?
Kat Says: Nose:  Very fruity - pears and apples mainly, and with cereal notes that's similar to corn flakes. All reminding me of warm sunny days in early Autumn/harvest time. 

Taste:  Not as sweet as the nose made out to be. Firstly the corn flake flavour comes through, followed by a short moment of sweetness as if someone has just added a pinch of demerara sugar into my glass, then the bold spiciness of clove oil punches through, giving a velvety/lightly oiled texture. 

Finish:  Abundance of lemon and lime zest, with some bitterness to balance out the zest, and a candle wax flavour stayed to the end. Overall a lingering finish with a med-dry mouth feel. 

Conclusion:  Not a bad dram but for me I would like more of the fruity flavours to come through from the nose into the palate. After I had done my tasting notes, I was surprised to read that it was matured in Oloroso sherry casks for the last 4 years of it maturation, so it’s interesting that I didn’t get more fruit flavours through in the palate. 

Dave says: I really loved the nose of this Dutch single malt. Fabulous sherry notes like a well aged Oloroso; English walnuts, so fresh that the shells are still soft, ripe figs and Medjool dates. There is just a touch of that 'struck match' here but it quickly disappears once the glass is uncovered.

I'm one who loves a struck match note, being very fond of playing with matches as a kid (not very PC I know, but I grew up where we were allowed to play freely, including playing with fireworks on an almost daily basis, and no one was hurt!) There are great notes of dark cherry and chocolate reminding me of a 'Black Forest Gateaux' with perhaps a hint of blackberry and earthy bramble bracken. Returning to the glass after tasting I started finding a sweet aniseed-licorice note, you know the ones, the blue or pink Licorice Allsorts covered in the tiny balls.

The sherry influence dominates the palate too, but it would do, wouldn't it? It was a first fill cask so the wood would have been saturated with matured Oloroso. Although initially sweet, the tannins kick in and dry the mouth for a brief moment before returning to being sweet and chewy like a thick red wine, There's an aromatic tobacco quality in here for me with rich woody Christmas spices of cloves and cinnamon too. The Black Forest Gateaux returns on the palate with its rich dark chocolate and dark cherry which stay right through to the long finish along with the dry tannins and a little must wood. Very satisfying indeed!

Returning to the glass the following morning (covered overnight) and the chocolate notes have intensified but fade quickly leaving a musty damp wood note.

And finally
An impressive selection of whiskies for Dominic's first release of 'New World Whiskies' and I love the names selected. Which one did Dominic name first? did the 'Smile' come about while thinking up 'Dutch Courage' or the thought of the 'four lions' sitting, sipping English Whisky cask samples.

While Kat preferred the English single malt 'Four Lions' my favourite was definitely the sherry matured Dutch single malt 'Courage' although I really loved the Dutch rye whisky 'Smile', which was Kat's least favoured of the three, but that would probably be to not being as familiar to rye whisky.

All four are available from Master of Malt, although with the limited release I doubt they'll be there for too long.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Intelligent Hand sponsored by The Balvenie

At the beginning of this month we were invited along to our first film premier. Oh it sounds all very show biz for two country bumpkins from Bedfordshire! And when we found out the event was held at the BAFTAs, well I was thinking ‘Should I prepare a speech? It mustn't be like Gwyneth Paltrow.’

No we didn’t go home with a BAFTA. What we did see was a moving documentary celebrating craftsmanship from around the world. The film was produced by James Rogan and was directed by Oliver Cheetham. 

Their journey and inspiration for this film grew from their initial short film that was commissioned by The Balvenie to honour David Stewart, Balvenie Malt Master, marking his half century involvement with William Grants & Sons Ltd, and for the launch of the Balvenie Fifty Year Old whisky in honour of this occasion. You can see this short film here: David Stewart 

I can see why they were inspired, for me it is great to see a big company like Balvenie choosing to employ and use as part of their operations, in-house coopers and copper-smiths, keeping these traditional skills alive. They don’t have to do this but by choosing to do so they are making a statement that says they care more about quality than quantity. For anyone that knows about the The Balvenie, you will know that craftsmanship runs through the core of their brand. From my interactions with various people from The Balvenie over the years, this value does seem to be more than skin deep. Additionally the Balvenie Double Wood is one of my favourite drams because it was the first dram that made me fall in love with it instantly, and still does.
James Rogen then had an idea about capturing stories of other craftspeople from around the world. Backed by The Balvenie he discovered these master craftspeople who are the focus of the film:

Biren Vaidya Jeweller, Mumbai, India

Isabella Wen  Fashion designer, Taipei, Taiwan

Rick Kelly  Luthier, New York, USA

Maxim Sharov  Handbag maker, Moscow, Russia

Paul Bergamo  Bell-founder, Normandy, France

The name of film was taken from French bell founder Paul Bergamo's description of craft. He said: “What’s really powerful and beautiful about craft is that these are professions that require a great theoretical knowledge, because we work with very technical things. But also what I call ‘the intelligence of the hand’ – things and know-how that you cannot write about, things that are handed down from worker to worker, from person to person.”

Not one of Rick Kelly’s but by a London base luthier
What I took from the film is the joy that each craft person gets from gaining as much knowledge as possible about their chosen craft, perfecting their skill until it becomes automatic; almost effortless and the importance of quality. For example, in the film the luthier, Rick Kelly talks about why he uses reclaimed wood from timbers that are over 100 years old, he said it’s because you can’t get the same sound from newer wood that’s been dried in a kiln. The way that these old timbers have been dried out naturally over decades, gives it special qualities, knots and all. With the skills he’s mastered, he incorporates the knots into the design of each guitar, making each piece completely unique. The uniformity of things made my machines doesn't have the same quality.

Another example is the bell foundry still using the same techniques that they did hundreds of years ago because it still offers the highest quality end product, however with a modern twist. He had the clever idea to cast the bells upside down as it was more efficient. Same idea that ship builders had during WWII to build ships upside down.

The two things that I found very moving, was how emotional Rick Kelly got when he talked about a bit of woodland that is very special to him, as he describe how magical this place is to him, tears formed in his eyes, choking him with emotion. Being among the trees, some very old big trees, surrounded by wood in its living form really connected with something deep within him. The second is Paul Bergamo being ecstatic about already reaching the pinnacle of his career by casting the bell at Notre Dame, and the first time that the bell was chimed, some 4,000 people turned up and were there waiting in silence to hear it. I can only imagine how electric the atmosphere would have been as he looked down on the crowd from the bell tower. 
From left: Award winning film maker Roger Graef OBE, Director Oliver Cheetham, Balvenie Brand Ambassador Sam Simmons, Jeweller Biren Vaidya, and Producer James Rogan.
Making good whisky is a craft as not only do you have to know the science, you’ve got to have that knack of knowing when its ready, that’s the magical part that Malt Masters, like David Stewart, learn through years of experience and trusting his intuition. 

A trailer of the film can be found here: The Intelligent Hand , and if you do get a chance to see the documentary in full it is well worth watching. 

On the night there were no new whisky discoveries. We did enjoy tasting the Doublewood 17 year old and the Caribbean Cask again, although checking the blog we haven't actually posted our thoughts on these yet

I would like to say thank you to The Balvenie for inviting us along to this Warehouse 24 event. 

Slàinte! Kat

Friday, 31 January 2014

Burns Night 2014

Last week, the Monkey called, that’s Monkey Shoulder to you, and asked me to come along to an alternative Burns Supper at The Caledonian Club. I thought we would be celebrating Scottish poet Robert Burns. As I've never celebrated Burns night before, I didn't know what to expect, but knew that I was in for an eventful night. 

Not being able to leave work early meant I arrived an hour after the start time, at this point completely oblivious to the mayhem that happened shortly before my arrival. Being a polite guest, I donned a white hazmat suit with no questions asked the got rushed to the upstairs of the club. I only had a split second to wonder my suit had a radioactive badge on, and why the man rushing me had a face mask hung around his neck. 

Walking into the room I've abruptly left normality behind as I walked into a surreal alternate reality. Within a few minutes of sitting down, I was greeted by an excitable lady who introduced herself to me as Carolyn Cumhardy and asked ‘Oh you got through the nuclear fallout OK?’. Then I was told that the suspicious white substance on her face was just nuclear fallout cream, and was nothing to do with how she got her family name. Hmmm, I thought, this is pretty freaking surreal as I stared at the bowl of three eyed fish soup, and a glass of Rob Roy.
RIP Binky, you were bloody tasty 
Scanning the room trying to find anything familiar, anything at all, anything that I can use to make sense of this madness. My eyes fell on a life size taxidermy polar bear, metal fencing, what looks like a stack of oscilloscopes, then I saw the framed picture of Mr Monty Burns from the Simpsons…..the penny dropped. 

The night was to celebrate Charles Montgomery Burns, you know that lovely old man from t’ Simpsons. 

Oh well, I thought, there’s no point trying to understand, just accept, relax and drink your Rob Roy. 

If you want to make the Rob Roy at home here is the recipe:
It certainly hit the spot
after being plunged into an alternate reality

50ml Monkey Shoulder
25ml Sweet Vermouth
3 Dashes Angostura bitters

Add all ingredients to mixing glass, add ice and stir. Once desired dilution is reached strain into chilled glass and garnish with twist of orange peel.
Stemmed cocktail glass

Next I tucked into my Three Eyed fish soup, followed by some Radioactive Haggis with orange coloured neeps and green tatties, and of course we had to have Lardy Lad Donuts for desert. It was a bit strange eating green mash; I kept on expecting that it would taste like peas. 

Mmmmmmm donuts….. 
After dinner we had another cocktail, a Mammie Taylor, very refreshing after the richness of the haggis. Then I finally got to meet in person Jake Mountain from Master of Malt, and I also got to meet Graeme Gardiner from The Edinburgh Whisky Blog. These two lovely chaps kept me company as I was at the event on my own. 

Graeme in particular had me in stitches when he didn't realise he was sporting some major carpet burns after winning the hound racing. 

I take full credit for sharing the pics on twitter. Sorry Graeme.

Mammie Taylor
I love my Mammie

30ml Monkey Shoulder
10ml Fresh Lime juice
80ml Ginger ale
Lime wedges

Add all ingredients to glass, add cold dry ice and stir.


I won’t go into detail about party games some of us played, I recommend reading the blog post by the boys as there’s simply nothing more I can add to this part of the story that hasn't already been said. You can find their posts about the event here The Edinburgh Whisky Blog - Burns Night and here Master of Malt blog - Burns Night In retrospect I got away lightly by missing the caricaturist!

We finished the night with music from Third Degree Burns, a good old sing song and dance. We all left with sparklers in hand and grinning like kids as we made our way back to reality. 

It was a fantastic and the most fun I've had at a whisky event! All I have to say is the next Burns supper I attend has a lot to live up to.
Actually we were making a zombie apocalypse B movie 
For more information about Monkey Shoulder and to join the Monkey Shoulder Social Club at their next event, visit their website here Monkey Shoulder 

Slàinte! Kat