Thursday, 1 October 2015

The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show 2015

The UK’s largest dedicated whisky exhibition, The Whisky Show, will return to the capital for its seventh year this weekend and is once again demonstrating its unparalleled collection of whiskies. Working alongside exhibitors, The Whisky Show will present a range of Dream Drams exhibiting rare, exotic and discontinued expressions.

As with previous years, all visitors to the show will receive a Dream Dram token to redeem against a range of outstanding drams from the exhibitors. With some expressions costing thousands of pounds to purchase, the Dream Drams offers visitors a once in a lifetime chance to sample some of the finest whiskies ever created.

Dave Broom, award-winning whisky writer: “I was blown away by the organisation and attention to detail which makes this the best whisky show in the UK by some distance”

Serge Valentin, Editor of “Impeccable as always. Whiskies, company and atmosphere – and I mean it. And a great opportunity to taste the newer bottling.”

The Whisky Show 2015 theme is ‘Whisky Legends’ and will be held at Old Billingsgate, London, EC3R 6DX

  • Saturday 3 October 2015: SOLD OUT
  • Sunday 4 October 2015, 11.30am – 6.30pm

Tickets for Saturday are sold out but there are still tickets available for Sunday (at time fo writing this post!) Day tickets £99 | Weekend tickets £165

Tickets are available from and for The Whisky Show packages:…/whiskyshowgiftpacks

Your ticket price includes:

  • All food and drink (apart from ‘Dream Drams’, see below) 
  • One token to try a rare ‘Dream Dram’. Additional tokens can be purchased at the show for £10 
  • A two-course whisky themed meal
  • Access to the food pairings, including Ibérico de Huelva jamon and cocktail confectioners Smith & Sinclair


The exclusive tasting opportunity aims to educate and excite guests with a collection of ultra-premium whiskies from some of the most famous distilleries, brands and regions of whisky production in the world. Highlights of the offering includes Scotch whiskies such as the extra-matured Glenmorangie Pride 1978 (RRP £3,900), The Macallan 1965 25 Year Old Anniversary Malt (RRP £2,500) and Benromach 1976 (RRP £495) as well as Japanese Single Malt, Yamazaki Sherry Cask.

Particular specialities exclusive to The Whisky Exchange’s stand include drams from the now silent distilleries, Karuizawa and Hanyu. Karuizawa Noh 31 Years Old 1981 Cask #4676 (RRP £2,000) and Hanyu 2000 will both be available to sample, as well as the new release of limited edition Karuizawa 1980.

Premium Japanese whisky distiller Karuizawa boasts one of the world’s most sought after whisky collections. Since the closure of the distillery in 2001, whisky aficionados have celebrated and held in high esteem this scarce, supremely crafted liquid and it has become one of the most lauded and treasured whisky brands amongst investors and collectors alike.
Matured in sherry casks, Karuizawa Noh 31 Year Old combines maraschino cherries and warm leather on the nose with rich bitter chocolate and damp oak notes. It’s strength reveals intense liquorice, soy sauce, damp earth, dark polished oak and burnt raisins. With a powerful berry, oak-laden spice finish, this is a dram not to be missed.

HANYU 2000
An exclusive bottling from Hanyu’s final vintage, this rare and exquisite whisky is the embodiment of Japanese elegance. After silencing the distilling back in 2000, this highly sought after whisky is now available exclusively at London’s ROKA and ZUMA restaurants.
A combination of toffee and toasted orange gives way to oats, raisins, sawdust on the nose, complemented by pine resin, sweet cinnamon, polished oak and stewed sultanas. The palate is delicate yet rich and intense with woody oak tones perfectly balanced with sharp green fruits. The flavour intensity develops as it sits on the palate, culminating in a focused apple and oak punch finishing with a lingering buttery spice.

Further Dream Dram tokens are available to purchase at the show for £10 each, get your tickets soon!

Check out their website here:
You can also find them on Facebook here: : and of course you can follow them on Twitter: @TWEWhiskyShow

The Whisky Show is run by The Whisky Exchange, who will have a shop on site where customers will be able to purchase the exclusive premium malts. The Whisky Exchange also has a shop at Vinopolis, Borough Market.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Whisky Discovery #1368

Hyde No. 1 'Presidents Cask' 10 Year Old 46% abv

Irish Single Malt Whiskey
circa £51.00 70cl
It wasn't that long ago that almost all Irish Whiskey came from either the New Midleton Distillery (Jamesons, Powers, Redbreast, Midleton, Greenspot and others) or Bushmills in Northern Ireland.

Cooley were the first of the new distilleries coming on line in 1987 producing Connemara, Michael Collins, Tyrconnell, and others. It wasn't until 2007 when the next distillery re-opened with Kilbeggan followed by West Cork Distillers in 2008. The next group of start-ups followed four years later, and they're still coming. Irish Whiskey is riding a wave of optimism and every month there seems to be news of a new distillery either coming on-line or new plans are being drawn up.

Hibernia Distillers are one of the latest new names in Irish Whiskey and has recently launched its Hyde Irish Whiskey onto the Irish and international markets, as this demand for Irish whiskey continues to grow. Hyde is a single-malt Irish whiskey, made from 100 per cent malted Irish barley and aged for ten years, named to celebrate Ireland’s first president, Douglas Hyde, who served as the first President of Ireland from 1938 to 1945.

There's no distillery just yet, but they have ambitions, with plans to start their own production in the near future in West Cork. So the casks for this release were sourced from the Cooley distillery (as read on and had been distilled in traditional copper pot stills from 100% malted Irish barley, aged in flame-charred oak first fill Bourbon barrels for 10 years, and finished off in toasted Oloroso Sherry casks from Spain for a further 10 months. It is non-chilled filtered and cut with West Cork spring water, and then bottled at 46% abv and limited to 5,000 bottles, all of which are individually numbered and comes in a bespoke wooden box.

Official tasting notes:
Nose: Delightful peaches & cream, vanilla, slightly custard, barley malt softness, with citrus, sweet, honey, caramel, vanilla, chocolate, orange, lemon, banana, & infused with spices.
Taste: Wonderfully smooth yet complex, creamy yet fruity with notes of caramel and manuka honey, apricot, plumb, and a silky malt texture.
Finish: Rich, Spicy, & Oaky. It lingers in the mouth with a long rich finish.

So What Did I Think?
Colour: Rich Gold
Nose: Sweet with a creamy peachy type flavour initially.It feels unmistakably Irish to me, but would I have said that in a blind tasting? Probably not! Foam bananas come later along with a gentle orange note and lots of lovely ripe grains
Taste: Very smooth and creamy. Tinned peaches and evaporated milk (a tea time trat as a kid!) A soft orange note comes across later along with milk chocolate. The spices come late leaving a sherbet like tingle in the long finish. The empty glass the following morning yeilds plenty of malty chocolate notes.

A nicely balanced Irish whiskey and I'm looking forward to hearing more from this new company. Their next release, HYDE No.2 ; a 10 Year Old Rum Cask finished version will be ready to launch in September, however it will be a long wait until we get to see their own 10 Year Old release.

Slàinte! Dave

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Whisky Discovery #1367

The Dalmore Distillery Exclusive 2015 NAS (48% abv)
Highland SIngle Malt
£150.00 Only available from the distillery
The Dalmore recently announced the release of a Distillery Exclusive and Dave has been fortunate to receive a sample to review. This latest bottling, The Dalmore's Master Distiller, Richard Paterson, has hand selected a collection of Port, Moscatel and Madeira casks to mature this whisky in, before finally being finished in first fill bourbon barrels.

Richard Paterson Master Distiller for The Dalmore commented: “The Dalmore Distillery Exclusive 2015 is a stunning whisky. Our artisanal approach to whisky making bestows this bottling with a bold, rich, sweet amber gold colour with aromas of caramelised orange, forest fruits and marzipan, and on the palate macerated plums, almonds and pecans.”

Only 450 bottles have been made available, each individually numbered. Priced £150 The Dalmore Distillery Exclusive 2015 is available from The Dalmore Distillery.

So What Did I Think?
This sits in the glass, a rich amber gold and colour of my favourite Amontillado Sherry. The nose is rich and sweet with a distinct orange oil note that's been softened with caramel. There are wood notes too, a new cedar wood cigar box, followed by a slightly sour note of tart fruits and just the faintest hint of parma violets

There's an underlying sourness to the sweet entry, reminding me of stewed plums. An almond/marzipan note follows and on my second sip found dark cherry and that hint of parma violets found on the nose comes across on the palate. Spices linger on the long finish.

I enjoy visiting distilleries and always look out for a 'distillery only' release which is often in the form of a single cask, 'fill you own' affair. It's a great idea and a just reward for those who make the pilgrimage to the distillery. However I find £150 a little steep for a distillery exclusive. Don't get me wrong, it's a smashing drop of whisky that I thoroughly enjoyed, but I don't feel value for money at this price - it's a great deal more expensive that their 18 Year Old and King Alexander III releases that I also enjoyed.

Slàinte! Dave

Sunday, 12 July 2015

The Telegraph Whisky Experience

Another Whisky Show, but one we haven’t been to before. At 5.30 pm we arrived at The Telegraph Whisky Experience where we were greeted with a goody bag, and by the host, drinks author Charles MacLean. He gave a talk to a crowd of mainly newcomers to whisky, explaining how to maximise their tasting experience. Discussing how you should take your time to nose a dram, sipping the spirit, and importantly enjoying it how you like – straight, mixed, in cocktails, and adding water. Charles made it clear he doesn't agree with adding ice to neat drams because it kills the aromas.

To begin the experience, Charles took us through a mini tasting – a comparison of Wemyss Malts’ latest release of The Hive and Craigellachie 13 Year Old. We decided that both were equally as good as each other, a view that most would agree on if judging by the empty glasses (which were perfectly pocket sized mini Glencairns).
The 'goodie bag' contained a miniature of The Dalwhinnie 15 Year Old

The atmosphere was alive with many discussions and questions from an enthusiastic crowd. All of the exhibitors remarked at how refreshingly it was to be able to talk to so many people at the start of their whisky journeys. Other shows usually lean more towards a larger percentage of experienced drinkers; here many tasted core ranges for the first time.

Due to the show being held over a Monday and Tuesday, the feel was less about a going-out-drinking-party vibe, really setting the tone for drinkers wanting to be educated instead of being full of alcohol. Many purchased bottles of drams they really enjoyed, The Whisky Shop stand was certainly busy, running out of stock of certain bottles due to sales were being higher than they had anticipated. 
Dave about to get his nose into something!
One thing I did notice that left me feeling a little disappointed is the crowd was still made up of older men with just a few ladies peppering the room. A clear lack of under 35s too I'm not sure if this was any different on the other day but I was expecting a more mixed crowd. 

We found ourselves revisiting many drams we had previously tasted, for example the Highland Park 18 year old, Talisker Skye and Mortlach Rare Old. There were only a handful of drams that were new discoveries. Most of the non-standard drams where being poured in the master classes which we did not attend, so can’t comment. 

The full dram list enjoyed as follows, with only two Whisky Discoveries to add to Dave's 'Liquid Log'
  • WD #1219 Wemyss Malts 'The Hive'
  • WD #1149 Craigellachie 13 Year old
  • WD #1030 Mortlach 'Old and Rare'
  • WD #395   Highland Park 21 Year Old
  • WD #1274 SMWS G7.8 'Sweet Seduction in a Car Wash'
  • WD #951   Wemyss Malts Glenrothes 1988 'Aromatic Orange Tobacco'
  • WD #1218 Wemyss Malts Bowmore 1987 'Sweet Peat Posy'
  • WD #1301 The Arran Malt Sauternes Cask Finished
  • WD #533   The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finished
  • WD #1302 The Arran Malt Port Cask Finished
Just two new Whisky Discoveries to add to the Liquid Log this time
There were two masterclasses to choose from, one a tasting of The Macallan 1824 Series consisting of Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby with an added special dram of The Macallan Rare Cask. The second masterclass was led by Charles with a selection of drams chosen by him under the title of Charles MacLean’s Taste of Scotland.

Lastly the food at the show was the best that we have tasted out of all the shows we have been to – a two course meal was included in the ticket price. It’s a great intimate show, not too crowded giving more opportunities for people to have one-to-one chats with the brands, all set in a beautiful and historic surroundings. 

You can find more about the Telegraph Whisky Experience and their next event in December here:

We would like to say thank you to Wemyss Malts for inviting us as their guest. You can find out more about Wemyss Malts here:

Slàinte! Kat

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Midlands Whisky VIII

We've been to all but the very first Midlands Whisky Show, and it's getting close to our next hop up to Stourbridge for Nickolls and Perks' eighth event held at Stourbridge Town Hall

You can read how our day went at each of the previous events here!

Each event has been getting bigger and better and we're looking forward to seeing what the line up will be this September.

Once again there is a Friday evening show, tickets are £30.00
Entrance at 6:00pm, all drams on taste free inside venue, souvenir tasting glass, show programme

The Saturday event has a number of ticket choices:
  • Standard Ticket £40:00
    entrance at 12:00pm, all drams on taste free inside venue, souvenir tasting glass, show programme 
  • Premium Ticket £75:00
    All standard features, early entrance 10.45am, free masterclass, 2 x dream dram tokens, complimentary canapés 
  • Devotee Ticket £150:00
    All standard features, all premium features, selection of dream drams to take home, £10 food voucher
Tickets are now on sale for their September Show now - so don't delay, get yours now by clicking through the links below:

Monday, 8 June 2015

Three Ships Whisky

The James Sedgwick Distillery in South African sunshine
The James Sedgwick Distillery has a long history in South Africa, being founded in 1886 when Captain James Sedgwick, captain of the clipper 'Undine' purchased the distillery that would go on to become the oldest on the African continent. Set in the picturesque region of Wellington, about 45 minutes drive from Cape Town, best known for the spectacular Bainskloof Pass, and an economy centred on agriculture such as wine, table grapes, deciduous fruit and a brandy industry. The James Sedgwick Distillery is now owned by the Distell Group Ltd after the merger between Stellenbosh Farmer's Winery and Distillers Corporation in 2000. The company produces a huge range of wines and spirits including the popular cream liqueur Amarula Cream.

The whisky distillery produces both malt and grain whiskies on the same site and handles the entire whisky making process – from milling the raw ingredients through to maturation and blending. Our latest copy of The Malt Whisky Yearbook informs us that the distillery has undergone major expansion recently and is now equipped with one still with two columns for their grain whisky production, two pot stills for their malt whisky production, two mash tuns and 23 stainless steel washbacks. 
23 Stainless Steel Washbacks are hiding in here

Malt whisky is only produced during the winter months , just two months of the year in July and August. Fermentation is approximately 72 hours yielding a wash for distilling in the copper pot stills of circa 9% abv. Grain whisky is produced for nine months (one month of the year is for annual maintenance) and the wash is continuously fed into the column still which results in a lightly flavoured spirit of 94.3% abv which is reduced to around the industry standard of 65% before being filled into oak casks.

With more than 150,000 casks of whisky in maturation any given time, the James Sedgwick Distillery has been the home of South African Whisky since 1990, but the Three Ships story starts some thirteen years earlier.

The Three Ships brand of South Africa was launched in 1977, the brainchild of Irish marketing guru Francis Naughton. It couldn't be called a whisky at that time as the initial product was a blend of South African Grain spirit and Scotch malt whisky, but in 1981, when the South African grain had been matured for three years, Three Ships Whisky was born. It was certainly a bold and pioneering move to create a South African whisky to compete against the iconic Scotch Whisky blends that were available at that time, especially when the spirit of choice was still Brandy.
Distillery Manager - Andy Watts

We first met their sixth and current Distillery Manager Andy Watts at Whisky Live London a couple of years ago and we've kept in touch via Twitter and email ever since. We bumped into him again at this years show and asked him how he came to be involved with Three Ships Whisky, as well as why we weren't able to find it in the UK yet.

Andy's involvement started when he was appointed as the Spirits Blending Manager for the Stellenbosch Farmers Winery (SFW). At that time they were still receiving Scotch Malt Whisky in bulk and blending it with their own grain whisky, distilled at the Robertson & Buxton (R&B) distillery.

A technical relationship had been established with Morrison Bowmore Distillers and Andy had been volunteered to be sent to their distilleries to learn from them with the aim of improving the quality of South African whisky going forward. Andy was promptly packed off to Scotland and spent the next four years regularly travelling back and forward with extended experience working at all three of their distilleries, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and Islay's Bowmore which was then under the leadership of now legendary, Jim McEwan.
The Still Room at The James Sedgwick Distillery

Following a trip to Scotland in 1989, Andy was tasked with closing down operations at the R&B Distillery in Stellenbosch and move the business across to the James Sedewick Distillery, which up until then had been a brandy distillery. By 1991 the transfer was complete and Andy was given the Managers role at the James Sedgwick Distillery holding total responsibility for all whisky related activity excluding bottling.

It wasn't and easy start though, Andy had inherited stocks of both South African malt and grain which were a bit 'hit and miss'. There had been no 'wood policy' back then and Andy had been given all of the casks nobody else wanted. He had red wine casks, brandy barrels and some very old American whiskey barrels, blending was still a major challenge!. However, Andy remained positive and began a program of change, making small enhancements to their processes and equipment, and the quality of the new make spirit started improving.

During Andy's last spell with Morrison Bowmore he spent time on Islay and fell in love with the island, the people and their whiskies and returned to South Africa wanting to make his own peaty blend. Allowing some South African grain whisky to age a further two years, and purchasing five year old Bowmore malt whiskies in bulk, he created the Three Ships 5 Year Old Premium Select. However, when Suntory took over Morrison Bowmore in 1994, the bulk purchases were no longer an option and Andy had to find replacement components in order to continue the range.

Andy had already set up their own malt program, importing British barley each year, peated to his specifications for the different styles of malt whisky produced. Over the years he has been slowly replacing the Scottish malt content of the of the blends with South African malt whisky, but there still is a slight Scottish component to both the Select and 5 Year Old Premium Select, probably a marketing decision with a nod to the history of the brand.
The James Sedgwick Distillery sure looks a great place to work

When Distell was formed following the merger, quality improved significantly; a wood procurement policy was put in place, controls on fermentation were completely revamped (a necessity due to their high ambient temperatures) and in 2009 completely revamped and installed new equipment throughout the distillery for the next step in their young whisky making history. It is no coincidence that since the mid 2000’s and after all of the the major improvements had started making their impact on the maturing spirit that the international awards started to come.

Although the malted barley is imported, it is where the product is distilled and matured which gives it its origin, and Andy tells us that they have some amazing work in the maturation warehouses just waiting for the chance to be released to the market. The Three Ships Single Malt, released in 2003, Bourbon Cask Finish, released in 2005 and Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky are 100% South African. All of the new releases going forward will also be 100% South African and there are some exciting things on the horizon which includes the re-launch of the 10 Year Old Single Malt in September this year.

Andy is now into his 24th year in charge of the distillery and blending and says that it's been an amazing journey with no two years being the same. Whilst Andy is in the twilight of his career, South African whisky is only at the dawn of theirs.

Dave first came across South African Whisky at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show in 2012 where a bottle of their limited edition 10 Year Old Single Malt was on the table. It's the only time we've seen it and stocks have long since sold out. Searching for South African whisky online in the UK only brings up Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky, their 5 Year Old single grain release that has eluded us to date! Over the last ten years sales of their whiskies has more than doubled with about 97% of these sales within South Africa itself, but is this about to change? We were recently given a miniature pack containing one of each of their current range allowing us to make these discoveries.
Whisky Discovery #184

Three Ships 10 Year Old 43% abv
South African Single Malt Whisky
circa £50.00 70cl a while back
The 10 Year Old I tried at TWE Whisky Show 2012 - Why did I miss that Bain's?
South Africa's first single malt whisky was another pioneering first for The James Sedgwick Distillery. First launched in 2003 as a limited release, it wasn't until autumn 2010 that the next batch was released. It sold out quickly and a further 8,000 bottles were released in October 2011 and a fourth batch followed in in December 2012. These three releases commemorated the pioneering voyages of Bartholomew Diaz, Vasco da Gama and Jan van Riebeeck in a special collectors' series. 

Dave 'discovered' this at The Whisky Exchange Whisky Show in 2012, it was his first dram of the day and initially noted 'light and floral'. Looking at the release information it was likely that this was from their third batch from October 2011 unless early release bottles of batch 4 were at the show. The photo taken that day doesn't show the release information, but the tin packaging that it came with featured the ship of the pioneering voyager. He certainly wishes he'd bought a bottle then!

The chaps at Master of Malt gave these notes:
Nose: Sweet honey up front on a fresh nose. Almond notes give way to sticky toffee pudding.
Palate: Spicy and mouth-coating. Vanilla and hints of greengages.
Finish: Fairly long and warming with plenty of lingering oak.

Stop Press! Dave found a bottle of their first 10 Year Old release in London at the weekend and it has been safely stowed in the WDHQ Whisky Vault - we'll bring it out one day soon I'm sure!

Whisky Discovery #1263

Three Ships Select 43% abv
Blended Whisky
Not widely available in the UK yet
Three Ships Select is where it all started, a three year old blend of malt and grain whiskies, first introduced in distilled in both pot and column stills that have been left to mature for a minimum of 3 years. It still contains a 'token' amount Scottish malt whisky. If you search carefully you should be able to find this in the UK for around £30 a bottle delivered, however it's not widely available. In South Africa this retails at circa R120-R135 which equates to around £7.50 for a 750ml bottle. Astounding value!

So What Did We Think?
Kat says (a lot more than Dave): The nose begins with a sweet salty savoury note reminding me of Serrano ham. Not overly sweet on the nose, very subtle. There’s also a hint of floral and spicy notes, as to the exact notes, I can’t quite put my finger on. Overall a great balance of sweet, spicy, and dryness but with a noticeable crisp clean quality.

Taste:  The sweetness hits you first, compared with the nose it’s sweeter than anticipated but not overly sweet. Sweetness comprises of dried fruits – specifically dates, raisins, sultanas, later turning into something more refined sugars - specifically demerara sugar. The texture is that of light syrup. Next spice notes come through mainly of cinnamon. The dry crisp and clean feel to this dram continues from the nose, resembling that of a Fino or Manzanilla sherry. Subtle floral notes are also present. Towards the end a toasted nut quality appears with the sweetness returning, reminding me of peanut brittle or sesame brittle.

Finish: Spicy with hints of dryness, and a lovely toasted oak note which lingers.

Dave says: I found this quite oily in the glass, with a floral, yet spicy nose. On the palate it was both sweet and spicy with fruity barley sugars. The empty glass the following morning gave rich barley sugar notes. I obviously didn't go into the depths Kat went into, however I was very much enjoying this very sippable blend.

Whisky Discovery #1264

Three Ships 5 Year Old Premium Select 43% abv
Blended Whisky
Not widely available in the UK yet
First introduced in 1991 following Andy's Islay adventure, it was named the World's Best Blended Whisky in 2012. This too contains a token amount of Scottish single malt.

In South Africa this retails at circa R135-R150 which equates to around £8.00 for a 750ml bottle. More astounding value!

So What Did We Think?
Kat says: (far more than Dave!) The nose of this also begins with a similar sweet savoury note, this time more of caramelised BBQ meat with gentle cold wood smoke coming through.  I feel there’s enough Peat here to keep the Peat heads happy and will still be acceptable to non-Peat heads who occasionally fancies a hint of smoke to get that extra roundedness and depth to their dram. Floral spices then starts to come through – black pepper and cloves. All of this reminding me of black pepper covered salami.

Taste:  Sweeter than the previous dram, plenty of clear runny honey here and dried fruits – specifically of figs and sultanas. Again very well balanced with distinctive wood charcoal smokiness, spicy floral black pepper, as well as a hint of floral notes, again can’t quite put my finger on the exact note. Whole coriander seeds maybe?

Finish: Spiciness lingers throughout, dry and smoky yet retaining those sweet notes. Really reminds me of the overcooked dried out bits of glazed honeyed BBQ ribs.

Dave says: Another easy sipping blend with a little added interest with the peated malt in the make-up. This is no smoky beast, but it does show itself towards the end. It's fresh and fruity initially with some warming spices along with the hints of peat smoke.

Whisky Discovery #1265

Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish 43% abv
Blended Whisky
Not widely available in the UK yet
First introduced in 2005, Three Ships Bourbon Cask Finish is the first 100% South African blended whisky, with the malt and grain components distilled in both pot and column stills and then all matured at The James Sedgwick Distillery with a three year initial maturation followed by six months marrying in first fill bourbon casks.

In South Africa this retails at circa R155 which equates to around £8.50 for a 750ml bottle. Bazinga!

So What Did We Think?
Kat says: A little different from the two previous drams, this begins with a sweet sour and savoury note to the nose. Next you get spicy floral notes of freshly milled Rainbow peppercorn mix. Now, unlike the other two drams, there are lots of creamy vanilla notes that you expect from Bourbon casks, starts to really shine through. Reminding me of vanilla Pana Cotta without the heavy cream feel, as to balance this out, the crisp clean notes and hint of dryness is again present.

Taste:  Lots of demerara sugar and hints of bitterness like that of muscovado sugar. It’s also slightly smoky and savoury, with some dried fruit notes, all a bit like mixed dried fruits with warm toasted walnuts. Towards the end bitter sweet notes are more noticeable – specifically dark chocolate covered coffee beans. Throughout there’s a spicy back note of cinnamon.

Finish: Roasted sugar covered walnuts with the same dryness at the end like the other drams.

Dave says: This disappeared much quicker than I was expecting it too. Lots of creamy vanilla as I was expecting, but with some black pepper and cinnamon spices - another easy drinking blend and a true spirit of South Africa!

Whisky Discovery #1267

Three Ships 10 Year Old 2015 Cask Sample 66.4% abv
South African Single Malt Whisky
Patiently waiting for news of this release!
At Whisky Live London in March, Andy slipped us a sample of his latest 'work in progress', the next release of their limited edition 10 Year Old. The success of the first release took the distillery by complete surprise and there was no stock for single malt bottlings as the production all went into their blends. It wasn't until 2005 that planning for future releases was started and this should be the first release from this forethought.

The 'Angels Share' in South Africa is around 4 to 5% a year which is over double that of Scottish single malts. At 5% loss after 10 years 40% of the original spirit laid down has been lost to the Angels, but due to the warm dry South African climate, the Angels sip more water than alcohol and the alcohol content actually increases over the period. This cask sample was at a whopping 66.4% abv but the final release will be a quirky 46.4%.

With such a high loss through evaporation, the casks are are re-vatted after a period of time under Customs and excise supervision.

So What Did We Think?
Kat says: Because of the very high ABV, I’ve had to add a good slug of water to this dram. The others have had no water added.

Initially there are lots of fresh apples and pears on the nose. Next darker notes start to come through. Notes of damp wood, black and white pepper also present similar to the other drams but a lot spicier, fresh chili heat is there too, with the fruitiness it’s reminiscent of Habanero chilies, however might not be detectable depending on how much water you add. Lastly towards the end there are dry straw notes, citrus zest, cinnamon, and cloves.

Taste:  Completely different beast to the nose. It’s full on high impact flavours. Beings with some sweetness – dark honey, chili spice, as well as those cinnamon and clove notes (leaning more the clove end for me). Next toasted oak/wood notes then starts to come through, turning into a mahogany note, with some bitter dark chocolate and dark dried fruits – dates and prunes. Similar to the drams before the dram doesn’t feel heavy even though there are plenty of richer darker notes, and all of the flavours are still fairly balanced after ageing.

Finish:  Toasted oak/mahogany notes, dark chocolate, cloves and cinnamon, and dark fruit notes lingers.

Dave says: Initial nosing revealed a citrus burst with lime tangerine and sherbet lemons. With water creamy vanilla notes develop

This was quite challenging to sip at cask strength, but very enjoyable with water added, I probably took it to below 50% and closer to it's final bottling strength and it came across as a perfect summer dram, very refreshing! This has a long lingering finish with sweetened limes

Kat's verdict: All three blended whiskies are very well balanced drams, showing great balance between sweet and savoury notes whilst still having a crisp clean feel. I was surprised to find that when I compared my tasting note to the official tasting notes on their website, they were pretty similar for all three drams. This doesn’t often happen so a nice surprise.

For those that don’t know I always write my tasting note without reading official tasting notes from the distillery or any marketing material, as I don’t want this to have any influence on my tasting notes.

I love all four but if I had to rank them in order of which one I liked most it will have to go Select, Bourbon Cask,and 10 Year Old leaving the Premium Select last. Personally the Select could easily become a session dram as it is really easy drinking. I really like that the crisp dry feel leaves the palate feeling clean. Can also see this going great with many different foods, and from what I’ve writing, leaving me yearning for a BBQ.

Dave's Verdict: If you're travelling to South Africa on your holidays, or business, make sure you bring back your full quota of South African Whisky, and bring one back for me too please! I found a bottle of the 10 Year Old halfway through writing this post and had to have it. Bain's Cape Mountain Whisky is next on my list!

When are we going to see more South African Whisky in the UK?

Slàinte! Dave and Kat

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Havana Club Iconica Collection

Last Monday evening Dave took part in the Havana Club Rum Tweet Tasting and enjoyed four premium rums from their Icónica Collection. The rum is 100% Cuban, made from all natural Cuban ingredients, and overseen by six Masters blenders, or Maestro Roneros as they are called Cuban.

Cuban Rum
Cuba has become known as the "Isle of Rum", due to a combination of world-famous sugar cane (first introduced by Christopher Columbus in 1493), a favourable Caribbean climate, fertile soil, and the unique know-how of Cuban "Maestro Roneros" (master rum-makers). Sailors, swashbucklers and locals liked to use this exceptional sugarcane to make fermented nectar and "tafia" (an early type of rum).

Quality improved drastically in the 1800s with the introduction of copper stills and the first attempts at ageing. Pedro Diago, known now as the father of Cuban rum, can be thanked for this. He had the idea of storing the "aguardientes", or eaux-de-vie, in pots and burying them in the ground. The second half of the 19th century saw the production of a lighter and more refined rum, known as "Ron Superior".

This was developed on the instructions of the Spanish Crown, which wanted a more delicate rum that could "satisfy the court and the elite of the Empire". El Ron Superior is the father of today’s Cuban rum: light, smooth, delicate, crisp and exceptional straight or in cocktails. Its popularity was such that by 1860 there were more than 1,000 distilleries in Cuba.
Havana Club
The distillery was founded by José Arechabala in Santa Cruz del Norte in Cuba in 1878, however the Havana Club brand was first introduced in 1934, and was sold worldwide. Following the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the brand was nationalised by the government. Sales to the US ceased and the Arechabala family emigrated to Spain before finally moving to America, after his company was nationalised, In 1994, the company was owned by a fifty-fifty partnership between the Cuban government and the drinks giant Pernod Ricard.

Havana Club has become synonymous with Cuba. It’s the leading Cuban rum in Cuba, and fifth-largest rum brand in the world. Havana Club has kept alive the art of añejamiento: the art of distilling, ageing and blending premium rums. Its strongest markets include France, and Germany, and it is also bottled in India, the world's second-largest rum market.

Havana Club’s rums have and the range is made up of a few standard bottlings which are essentially mixing rums, as well as the seven year-old, which is intended for sipping. In November 2006 the ‘ultra-premium’ Máximo Extra Añejo was first released. 

At the launch, Havana Club’s Maestro Ronero said “There will never be a rum that better expresses the Cuban rum culture”

It's been a while since I was last sipping rum, so was really looking forward to tasting these premium expressions. The evening started with:

Rum Discovery #4

Havana Club Selección de Maestros (45% abv)
Cuban Rum
circa £50.00 70cl
The new edition of Havana Club's very popular Cuban Barrel Proof, Selección de Maestros is bottled at the higher strength of 45% abv.

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Woody, oiled cedar? Resin, liquorice toffees and burnt sugar initially. Fruity, with a dark citrus note, BBQ'd lemons? There's a slight mustiness too, earthy, damp with woody spices. Nutmeg and Cassia are the spices I'm picking up, along with the nutty notes of Brazil nuts and Pecans - very nutty

Taste: An initial sweet burst of Chocolate Orange, rich and dark, followed by coffee beans, hints of cigar tobacco too. Spices follow and then a hint of smoke, finishing sweet again with citrus twist before turning dry. Love it!

Rum Discovery #5

Havana Club Añejo 15 Años (40% abv)
Cuban Rum
circa £125.00 70cl
This 15 year old is created by 'repeatedly' blending the rums and aguardientes and maturing them in old oak barrels. Havana Club's Primer Maestro Ronero, Don José Navarro, describes this as "Cuban rum's great classic".

Legally for Cuban rum the age of the youngest rum in the blend is displayed (as with Scotch) Although the minimum age is 15 years old, I was told that it's a blend of rums from 15 to 35 years old

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Richer, yet lighter toffee notes. Again spices of nutmeg and cassia. Brazil nuts too. Chocolate comes later along with the dried fruits. Another lovely nose. 

Very easy to sip: Chocolate, rich and dad, coffee beans and treacle. Not as earthy as the first one. Spices follow. This is gentle, smooth and creamy and so sippable! There's dried fruits, figs and raisins. Tobacco later and a hint of vanilla essence too

Rum Discovery #6

Havana Club Unión (40% abv)
Cuban Rum
circa £250.00 70cl
Next up we tasted the newest rum in the Icónica Collection, Havana Club Unión is available in specific liquor stores in Cuba and 20 other countries. I think we were among the very few to have tried this in the UK

So What Did I Think?
Nose: Antique wood notes alongside a sweet cough syrup note, cherry perhaps? Also finding some lemon

Taste: High cocoa content chocolate, 'trade mark' Brazil nuts, although woodier, Brazil nut shells? There's a dusting of pepper too and finishes with a musty wood note with cigar tobacco.

Rum Discovery #7

Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo (40% abv)
Cuban Rum
circa £1,200.00 50cl
The Havana Club Máximo is an Extra Añejo rum made from a decidedly illustrious blend of rare, old rums taken from their extensive reserves, crafted by the skilled hands of Maestro Ronero, Don José Navarro. An extraordinary Cuban rum for the cognoscenti and connoisseurs. Of course, a rum of this stature comes presented impeccably, in a handmade crystal decanter alongside crystal stopper with the Giraldilla etched upon it.

Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo isn’t widely available, but can be purchased via specialist spirits retailers and online

So What Did I Think?
Nose: There's a slight smokiness to this, charred wood too, while coconut tries to sneak through rich toffee.

It's surprisingly fruity on the palate, lots of dried fruits, figs dates and raisins. It's sweeter than the nose suggested too. This really is something special - I could sit and sip this all evening if only my disposable income levels would allow!

OK, so these are not your ordinary 'everyday' rums, they are all a little special with the starting price at around £50 a bottle. The Havana Club Máximo Extra Añejo works out around £60/shot based on the bottle price - expect to pay an awful lot more than that at a bar! The Havana Club Selección de Maestros is certainly within my budget and it's something I'd like to revisit again soon, and although I would love to spend more time with them all, it's highly unlikely due to current UK prices.

I'm looking forward to hearing what Kat has to say about these, as I saved half of each of the samples received for her.

Salud! Dave

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Whisky Discovery #1147

Douglas Laing's 'Rock Oyster' NAS 46.8% abv
Blended (or 'vatted') Malt
Circa £38.00 70cl

Joining Douglas Laing's family of 'vatted' malts at the beginning of 2015, Rock Oyster pays homage the sea, created using the finest maritime Malts including those distilled on the Islands of Jura, Islay, Arran and Orkney. 

Sitting alongside their other core regionally themed vatted malts – Big Peat from Islay, Scallywag from Speyside and Timorous Beastie from the Highlands - Rock Oyster is a small batch bottling at 46.8% abv without colouring or chill-filtration. As typical with this range, much attention has been spent creating the packaging which features a bespoke illustration of both an oyster, and a nautical scene, while telling it's story.

Managing Director Fred Laing say: “Rock Oyster showcases the archetypal Island character of gentle peat-smoke, vanilla’d honey and salt. If I could select just one dram to transport the Whisky enthusiast to the Islands of Scotland, it would be this one. 

So What Did We Think?
Following on from the recent additions of Scallywag and Timorous Beastie, Rock Oyster certainly looks the part in it's bespoke packaging, and a line up of all four would look great on the shelf! We've taken our bottle down to the Bedford Whisky Club and it has been very well received there, and we've only seen positive reviews for this on social media. 

Kat says: I was instantly transported to rock pools on the beach, and weekends visiting my Grandparents down at Portsmouth and Southampton docks. It just smells of pure brisk sea air, sun, salty sea spray, seaweed, damp ropes, and wet oak docks. Left for about 5 minutes in the glass, the sweeter notes makes its way through – for me fresh conference pears and seared scallops, along with a dry dusty soot notes. 

Fresh ginger cuts its way through, balancing the sea notes and sweetness, lifting the dram. Tasting begins with soft honey sweetness, followed by a touch of oak note, leading gently into a delicate soft peat note that’s more of cold soot or cold smoke. There are two spices that really come through here, black cardamoms and star anise. There is definitely an earthier note on the palate than the nose, and the iodine/seaweed note doesn’t come through here for me. The finish is long and lingering – earthy, dry soot and spices.

Dave Says: We both wrote our notes completely separately but upon receiving Kat's notes to write this post feel she'd covered all of mine too! My notebook is full of one word descriptors that Kat has tied together nicely with memories. 

I find this soft, sweet, with smoke, salt and ripe grain. I also found hints of aniseed and Bassets 'liquorice allsorts'. Returning to it again recently it's fresh and lively definitely bringing memories of beach walks and salty rock pools. On the palate it comes across as young and feisty, but a little richer than expected. The salty sea breeze leads, but there's a spicy black pepper note too. The peat smoke follows, but it's gentle rather than 'in your face' leaving charcoal notes and hints of vanilla and sweet green grapes, before finishing peppery and a little drying leaving that maritime saltiness, with the empty glass the following morning yielding sweet toffee and charcoal.
Verdict: A very balanced dram, we loved that the peat notes are not over powering but still noticeable, giving the dram a delicate smokiness and still let the sweetness shine. Kat was surprised to find this dram was light and delicate, as she was expecting this to be heavier. A fantastic dram and certainly fitting in the 'bang for your buck' category. We can’t recommend this enough for anyone who prefers their peat on the lighter side and with some soft sweetness, and those who like a long finish.

Slàinte! Dave and Kat

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Whisky Discovery #1277

SMWS 3.243 'Dark, Smouldering Flamenco Gypsy' 57.1% abv
Single Cask Single Islay Malt
Price £80.00 (members price)
I haven't made my pilgrimage to Islay yet, it's something I really must get round to soon. It was an Islay malt that started me off on this path I decided to travel along, but I don't think it's going to happen this year unfortunately.

Every year, in the last week of May The Islay festival of Feis Ile is held. It's origins date back to 1984 when the first Gaelic Drama Festival took place, In the early days it was more of a traditional music festival and it wasn't until 1990 that the first ever whisky tasting took place. The islands distilleries started getting more involved in 2000 and introduced their special Open Days and ultimately their Special Feis Ile releases.

The Feis Ile is the charitable organisation from which this now huge Festival of Music & Malt has evolved. The Island population triples during the week of the Festival which means it's no longer something you can simply turn up to, forward planning is essential nowadays with many making their plans a year in advance.

This years Feis Ile runs from Friday 22nd May until Saturday 30th May and if you're thinking about making plans for 2016 the dates are Friday 20th - Saturday 28th May. You can find out more details at the Islay Festival Feis Ile website

This year The Scotch Malt Whisky Society will be, for the first time in their history, will too be hosting an open day on Friday 22nd May, when Islay House becomes their home for the day and in celebration they're releasing a their own limited edition Islay Festival bottling, and it will be available to members and non-members alike.

If you're not a member of the SMWS then you might not be aware of their bottling and labeling specifications. Every release comes in the same green society bottle and labeling never refers to a distillery directly, with every release bearing a pair of numbers separated by a decimal point. The first number referring to the distillery, and the second referring to the cask number that the society has bottled from this distillery, i.e. 3.1 would be the first cask ever bottled from distillery No.3

Each release has a quirky name which is put together from the notes of a tasting panel, as are the tasting notes printed on the label. Dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy's notes read as follows:

Wow - so much on the noise - sherry, tarry wood, clean smoke, dates, figs, roasted chestnuts, Christmas spices, egg custard, maple syrup-glazed pork ribs and HP sauce on bacon rolls. The palate was substantial - liquorice, treacle toffee, coffee and chocolate, with caramelised onions and Demerara-smothered, clove studded ham over embers. The reduced nose suggested spiced prunes, Branston pickle, fig rolls, treacle tart, duck in plum sauce and warm welly boots by a drying bonfire. The reduced palate's smoke and sherry combination gave us interest and pleasure - the toffee and oloroso, toasted almonds and barbecued meats gave it a dark, smouldering flamenco gypsy personality.

It goes on to give this drinking tip: Between dances at a Spanish barbecue party

SMWS 3.243 is from the Bowmore Distillery that has spent 17 years maturing in a refill ex-sherry butt before being bottled at 57.1%. Sherry butts have a capacity of 500 litres, and allowing for 2% Angels Share over the 17 years I'm calculating that there will only be around 500 bottles available

So what Did I Think?
I've tasted a number of superb Society sherried Bowmore's and this certainly does not disappoint. After typing out their notes while writing this post and comparing them to mine, I can say I agree wholeheartedly with them! My notes as below are exceedingly similar.

Lovely sherry notes immediately on the nose, woody, nutty and the peated spirit giving notes of tarred parcel paper alongside a sweet alluring smoke. Barbecue sauce features heavily as the nose develops and there's that sweet meatiness to it; roast duck in Hoisin sauce (honestly, I never read the 'official' notes until after I'd finished writing mine!) A drop of water brings out the sherry fruits and Christmas cake notes I was expecting to find. 

Superb! and I'm hoping I can get my hands on one from the London HQ later this month fingers crossed.

Many thanks to the society for thinking of me and sending me this sample. If you want more information on the SMWS's Islay trip, visit

Sláinte! Dave

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Charity Whisky Tasting

Earlier this year we were asked if we would hold a Charity Whisky Tasting for the Walking Warriors, a newly formed team in the Relay For Life Aylesbury, a Cancer Research UK Charity.

Last July their newly formed team helped raise £6k during the 24 hour walk around Aylesbury Rugby Club, coming third, out of 33 teams, in the final team standings, and on the day won the Spirit of Relay 2014 team award.

After the event was out of the way it was time for the team to come up with ideas to raise money for Cancer Research UK over the next year (the next Aylesbury Race for Life is scheduled for July 4th 2015). One of the Walking Warriors was a good friend of Dave's and during their time working together, Dave had introduced Steve to whisky, and with his new found early interest in whisky an idea popped into his head.

With a busy schedule at the beginning of the year we settled for Friday 24th April so we could get everything together and thanks to the support from some of our friends in the Scotch whisky world, we managed to arrange a formal six dram line up with raffle and auction prizes, as well as holding back a special something for the finale dram.

The Walking Warriors organised the venue and food with Aylesbury College's Harding's Restaurant, a fully commercial establishment and headed up by a professional team.
All set up and ready to go
It was the first time we had enough glasses to lay out a full compliment for each of the tasters and we'd printed out tasting mats alongside the usual information we'd ordinarily provide. The set-up looked impressive thanks to the team at Harding's Restaurant who'd laid out the tables ready for us.
Tasting mats too!
After the initial drinks, food was served in the adjacent dining area before the tasters took their places and we started our whisky tasting. We had set up for twenty tasters; with both new and established whisky drinkers we hoped we had something to please everyone! 
We had malted barley, new make spirit and a piece of oak stave too!
Whilst we weren't able to cover all of the Scotch Whisky regions we did have an impressive line-up of single malts, and started the tasting with an Auchentoshan 12 representing the Lowland Region. 

Next, we visited two distinctly different Highland single malts from Aberfeldy and Tomatin before another two distinctly different Speyside single malts from Craigellachie and The Glenlivet. Our final whisky of the tasting came from Highland Park representing the Islands while we discussed the other regions.

Favourites were quickly established and additional drams poured while we answered questions. We had a very special finale dram from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, a 25 Year Old Glen Grant, 9.84 Playing 'Sea Battle' in the Garden' which  everybody agreed was the highlight of the evening.
A very special treat to close the tasting
At the end of the tasting we auctioned off all the heels raising additional funds before finishing with a raffle that included bottles of whisky and glasses kindly donated from Glen Moray and Glen Garioch.

The end result? 

£517 raised for Cancer Research UK and a few new whisky converts! If you want to find out more information about the Walking Warriors check out their Relay for Life Team Page where you too can donate!
Whisky related raffle prizes too!

Sláinte! Dave 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Genever Discovery #1

Zuidam Zeer Oude Genever 5 Year Old 38% abv
Dutch Genever - Single Barrel
circa £28.00 50cl
Last night I tried my first ever Genever thanks to lovely friends Ansgar and Thomas from Dutch whisky blog Whisky Speller 

Whilst I am familiar with Dutch distillers Zuidam, famed for their Millstone range of single malts, I'd never tasted a Genever before. The Zuidam family have over fifty years of distilling experience and all of their products are hand crafted, so I was already expecting good things!

Genever is the juniper-flavored national and traditional liquor of the Netherlands and Belgium, from which Gin is said to have evolved. Traditional jenever is still very popular in the Netherlands and Belgium and European Union regulations specify that only liquor made in these two countries, two French provinces and two German federal states can use the name jenever/genever/genièvre.

Zuidam Genever is distilled from the finest selection of Malted Barley, Rye and Corn. The grains used for the Zuidam Genevers are milled by traditional windmills. In using windmills for milling their malted barley the distillery helps preserve the important Dutch heritage of the world famous windmills. Even more importantly the traditional millstones of the windmills slowly grind the malted barley into flour. This traditional way of milling causes almost no increase in the temperature of the grain and thus helps preserve the wonderful aroma’s.

After the milling the mashing begins by adding hot water to the corn, rye and malted barley. The hot water triggers the enzymes to convert the starch from the grain into sugars. The process takes about 8 hours per batch and afterwards the resulting Mash is cooled to 20° Celsius and pumped to the fermentation tank.

In the fermentation tank the fermentation takes place in small batches at a very low temperature to give these genevers its fruity flavours. The fermentation takes about 5 days. This is much longer than is customary but is Zuidam say it's essential to allow for the delicate flavours to form.

At the end of this 5 day fermentation the resulting mash is distilled three times in handcrafted copper pot stills before the distillate is clean and fruity enough for their Genevers. Part of this new spirit is then distilled again over a secret mixture of botanicals (among others, Juniper, Liquorice root, Aniseed). Then everything is blended together before putting it into the barrels.

After the careful distillation the Genever is aged in small barrels. Zuidam use new barrels of American White Oak as well as barrels that have previously held Bourbon or Olorosso Sherry. The reason why their Genever ages rather quickly is that they use new or young barrels and they are stored in a warm and dry warehouse. The downside is that the evaporation losses are rather high and typically the “Angels Share” is between 4% and 5% per year.

This 'Old' Genever is a 5 Year Old Single Barrel chosen from casks that have been aged for a minimum of 60 months, and each release is bottled from one carefully selected cask and it is not blended with other casks. 

So What Did I Think?
This immediately reminded me of Canadian Whisky, it was the rye I'm sure (and I have developed a real love of rye whisky). I was expecting to find the botanicals to be too over powering for me, but it wasn't like that at all, the five year maturation in quality wood has ensure a remarkable balance of flavours with rich vanilla and toffee flavours complementing the rye spiciness. This is eminently quaffable! 

More good news as I've seen it's available at The Whisky Exchange (thanks for the main photo!)

Huge thanks to +Thomas Speller+Ansgar Speller and their whisky blog +Whisky Speller Make sure you're following them on Twitter too! @thomas_speller @ansgarspeller  @WhiskySpeller

Sláinte! Dave