Wednesday, 4 March 2015

SMWS 121.60–Arran - Interesting nooks and crannies

Here’s a random thing, well over 100 bottles of 13 year old Arran appearing on the SMWS site at 6pm on a Monday night.  This was in the June 2013 outturn if Google serves me correctly.  Having just opened a bottle of the 19 year old 121.77, it’s interesting to step back to 13 years old and remember how long Arran has been good.. 

SMWS 121.60, Arran, Interesting nooks and crannies, 13 years old, 56.4% A+

September 28 1999, Refill bourbon, 298 bottles.

IMG_3082Nose – Sharp and sour immediately.  Then very appealing with poster paints, new magazine, Milliput, green beans (raw), green grapes and carbon copy paper.   Dusty wood too, almost sandpapered.  Ultimately, a little solvent forward and harsh, although time gives it a bit more of a gentle, nutty edge.  With water, vanilla icing, matchmakers and apricot tart.

Body – Rich, ripe, slightly alien but brightly citrus and bitter, like grapefruit and liquorice root.  I haven’t had a young bitter Arran in ages!  Toffee pennies and a little milk chocolate are in there too, as requested.  Freshly squeezed orange juice with water, with a dash of bitter ruby grapefruit juice.

Finish – Long, lingering warm spices, ginger nuts and candied angelica.  But bright, citrus and numbing too, particularly with water.  And a massive blast of grapefruit tannins.  A hint of spirit sulphur.  Young and striking.

What’s not good about it – Solvent heavy, sour and a little harsh. 

What’s good about it – But pulls that off with confidence.  Complex, interesting and challenging.  Lots of bright, ripe fruit, some chocolate, lots of quality.

Monday, 2 March 2015

Port Dundas 20 year old

This has been around a long time and small pockets of it still existed.  Recently, Alexander and James had it on at a cut down price (£115) but those stocks have now gone.  I’m led to believe that this was an experiment by the staff blenders at Diageo (go wild! see what happens!) which explains the complicated finishing regime (three years in refill bourbon, then equal thirds “finished” for 17 years in American oak sherry casks, new charred European oak and first fill American oak bourbon casks), and the complexity of the finished whisky.  It was also the first grain whisky in the Diageo special releases. 

Port Dundas 20 year old, Diageo Special Releases 2011, 57.4% A⊕

grain_por7Nose - Sweet, clean clear sherry, juicy red fruit, peaches and old school permanent marker. Rich, bright, sharply wooded with an underlying vanilla current of old Scotch grain and old single cask rum. Slightly lactic? With water, more complex and deeper, richer wood, less grainy in fact. Lots of bright, ripe, Victoria plum and waxed wood, very very nice indeed. Lots of fun to be had here.

Body - Immediately very ripe, old grain. Boiled sweets and earth, some light peat. With water, juicier and fruiter - orange and plum come through – with some chewed pencil.  Lightly spicy, a bit oily, complex and interesting. 

Finish - Lacquered and slightly numbing. Oily and ripe. Water brings out a lovely, light sulphur edge, ripe oak tannins and more oils. Beautiful.

What's not good about it - Lactic notes and frankly, a bit grainy before adding water.

What's good about it - Loads of fun when you start adding water. You could spend happy hours adding small drops and chasing the nose. Very special.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Glendronach 11yo, Green Welly 50th Anniversary

This bad boy joins the cast of thousands of single cask Glendronachs out there. The good thing about PX puncheons is that (apart from making lots of whisky taste amazing) they're enormous, so this should remain in stock for a little while. This single cask was bottled for Green Welly Stop to mark their 50th anniversary and comes (for early customers) with a free GW glencairn.

Glendronach 2003, 11 years old, PX finish for the Green Welly Stop, 54.4% A⊕

5th March 2003 - January 2015, 649 bottles.

Jan15-GlenDronach50thNose - Deep, black fruit and oils. Rich, cakey with vanilla cream but balanced by complexity, good oak and toasted brazil nuts. Cigarette tobacco - I'm going for Marlboro reds this time. Really lovely. With water, richer and more classically sherry bombed, light spirit sulphur and malt.

Body - Deep menthol raisin, that liquorice allsort that was covered in cyan hundreds and thousands, cough candy and more nuts. Water brings orange and apple juice, fresher oak.

Finish - The first hint of the relative youth of this cracking Glendronach comes in the finish, with a little sourness, otherwise this could have been 19 year old. Then sweet, sweet cereal, sulphur and sandalwood. This is so good I'm having to go back for another dram to add water…

What's not good about it - Not much, perhaps that hint of youth in the delivery.

What's good about it - Bright, rich, complex and balanced. A cracking Glendronach and intensely likeable. Don't hesitate.

Thursday, 26 February 2015


I know close to nothing about Japanese whisky, and hadn’t heard of Mars distillery.  My friend Bret Boivin ran a share on a bottle of the Revival which he scored from Japan directly.  He’s since scored me another expression so here’s a post!  Here’s what he tells me about Mars:

Shinshu Mars stopped Whisky production in 1992 and restarted in all previous releases until now (the Revival) have been from that previous stock.  I think Komagatake is a local mountain (but not sure), as this distillery is located in the mountainous Nagano prefecture.

Interesting thing about Mars is that the stills were copies of the original designs of Masataka Taketsuru (the father of Japanese whisky) and therefore are very similar to the stills at Nikka Yoichi distillery.

Mars "Komagatake" - The Revival 2011, 58% A⊕

I was spurred into writing these notes when the whisky exchange had this bottle suddenly for sale (just short of £100, here) but it sold out before I could get to it.  Never mind, it’ll be back somewhere else and you’ll see other Mars whisky available.

japan_mar2011Nose - Fresh, muscular fruit, furniture polish, kiwi and sour lacquer. It does the "good cask" thing with elegant, musky, slightly cloying sweetness and red fruit. It's spectacular what they can do in Japan with young whisky. With water, opens up a little giving shinier, juicier fruit, toffee and a touch of spirit sulphur. A great nose that has some youth to it but surprises you with other complexities.

Body - Spicy, sour wood, acrylic paint (yes I know what acrylic paint tastes like, don't ask), pear drops and aniseed balls. Quite compelling. With water, more marker pens and volatile chemicals.

Finish - Very long, very hot, very woody. With water, that heat is much reduced, with more pronounced cherry sweets and pear drops.

What's not good about it - Before the water, it's too hot on the delivery. Also, despite the youth this is very expensive in the UK.

What's good about it - A intense, musky, cask led nose that speaks of a higher age and matches the high price. Challenging and fascinating delivery. Seriously delicious to drink.

Mars "Komagatake" - Maltage - 10 years old, 40% A

Thank you Bret for very generously supplying me with this whisky!

20150224_140500Nose - Much simpler on the nose. Freshly bitten red apple, light wood, a touch of orange juice and apple sweets.

Body - Sweet, then bitter and highly wooded. A little burnt xmas pudding.  A lovely balancing touch of sulphur and a touch of spice.

Finish - Short, sweet, clean and finishing on some icing sugar.

What's not good about it - This whisky is meant to sit on the shelves in regular shops and is a standard malt from Mars. Therefore I won't fault it for being a lot simpler than the revival. This isn't challenging.

What's good about it - Fresh, balanced, polite and delicious.  Extremely drinkable.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Aultmore–Last Great Malts range

Following on from the Craigellachie set, the latest from Dewars and Sons is a bunch of Aultmores (although no prime numbers here).  These are in a range with the 12, 21, 25, 30 and 35, and I’ve got the first three here - given the cost of the 25 I doubt I’ll ever get to taste the 30 or 35.

But what a fantastic range, I’d be keen for any of these on my shelf.  The 12 is a well priced, classy glugger, the 21 a deep, complex contemplater – the 25 is a big, classy, classical whisky but sadly out of my price range.


Aultmore 12 years old, 46% A⊕

aultmore12Nose – I love noses like this, you only really seem to get them in non-single-cask single malts, and it’s what I’ve been finding so captivating with the big Glenfiddichs – I guess that’s vatting for balance.  Rich, old paper, leather, musky oak,men’s deodorant and sweet lemon wax, and that malted barley pull that grabs you by the hind-brain.  Balanced fruit, floral and classy wood.  Beautiful, and way in excess of its years.  Water (although I’m loathed to add water to something not at cask strength) doesn’t detract from the light, floral elegance and turns up the classy wood and sweetness.

Body – Behaving a bit more its age now – a little flat on the arrival and a little sour, but with building sweetness, heat and very good, clean, classy lemon wood.  Retronasally very active, with pear poached in hot wine.  Water flattens the delivery further.

Finish – Quite short, but balanced with sweet, ripe fruit and bold with lots of tannins.

What’s not good about it – Quite ordinary on the arrival.

What’s good about it – Fantastic, classy nose, great balance throughout and excellent fruit and wood.  This is a very high quality whisky and would be a lovely summer glugger.

Aultmore 21 years old, 46% A⊕

Travel retail only.

aultmore21Nose – Sweeter, riper and waxier than the 12.  That classy single malt musk and oak element I loved in the 12 is still there with some grape, almost overripe apple and rose in the nose, even some crayon.  There’s an additional roast pork note in here too – lightly swiney and meaty.  A complex, rich, deep, fruity and balanced nose.

Body – No concerns about the arrival on the 21 - clean, intense, sweet and balanced.  Fruity and wooded, developing into intense wood oils and a gentle, rounded heat. 

Finish – Long, mouth coating, rich and very sweet.  Balanced though.

What’s not good about it – Quite a bruiser – don’t expect bubble-gum sweetness.

What’s good about it – Deep, excellent wood and ripe fruit.  Complex and rewarding.

Compared to the 12, the 12 is obviously younger on the nose, but lighter, fresher and more floral, and comparing the two gives more chocolate notes for the 12.  The 21 is richer and deeper, more competent on the nose.  On delivery, that chocolate comes through more on the 12, developing into light, fruit juice and quite balanced and drinkable.  The 21 is a big, serious whisky, with lots to say and interesting and compelling to drink.  They’re very different whiskies with some great components in common.  Both are worth buying but for different occasions.  The 12 is about £40, whereas the 21 is £125 (I think – duty free only). 

Aultmore 25 years old, 46% A⊕+

aultmore25Nose – Less obvious and in your face than the 21.  This is what Glenfiddich does when it passes 18, becomes less obvious and more elegant.  Gentle, clean toffee tones, bookcase (including that old paper from the 12), stewed apple, golden syrup, suet and custard – I want to say raisins but they’re probably just in the pudding.  That toffee note is so gentle but so insistent - very well judged.

Body – Balanced and elegant, but with insistent wood, toffee, malt and tobacco – and a hint of peat, some spirit sulphur and apple juice.  Beautiful, fruity, slightly tannic.  Love the sulphur.

Finish – Gentle tannins, tropical tones and lots of wood.  Hobnobs. 

What’s not good about it – Overpriced, sadly.

What’s good about it – Balanced is the keyword with this expression.  Beautifully judged.  I love it.

I must say I really enjoyed tasting these.  Thanks to Dewars and Sons for the official samples!

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Springbank 17 year old, Sherry wood

It feels like it’s taken me way too long to write this review – I’ve been “tasting it” since the whisky show.  It’s a great whisky, but unfortunately my friend Cuan pointed out that it costs pretty much the same as the society only bottling that’s one of my favourite whiskies ever. 

These are both good, and actually very different, despite the similar price.  If you’re going to buy the 17, I recommend you do not delay, it’s pretty much sold out – still available at the time of writing here.

Springbank 17 year old, Sherry wood, 52.3% A⊕

springbank-17-year-old-sherry-wood-whiskyNose – Deeply sweet and sour, not enormously sherried but very Springbank.  Deodorant, old permanent markers, ozone, wet oak, plastic book cover and sawdust.  Lovely, fresh, bright and clean, some orange, some crayon.  Maybe too clean – but Springbank gets clean and elegant sooner (age wise) than many other malts.

Body – Now the sherry – deep, ripe toffee, engine oil and light peat.  Lovely crayon.  Fabulous sulphur and lingering cherry.  A cracker.  With water, juicier and more complex.

Finish – Long, sulphured, burnt toffee and oak.  Very good.

What’s not good about it – Like the Springbank 18, it’s starting to play the elegant game a bit early, and the many litres of 12 and 15 year old Springbank in my collection will attest to my enjoyment of younger springers.

What’s good about it – Complex, elegant and captivating.  Almost perfect spirit sulphur balance, really meaty with balancing sweetness.  This rocks. 

Springbank local barley, 14 years old, for the Springbank society, 57.8% A⊕+

Refill sherry butt.  September 1999 to April 2014, 546 bottles.  I first reviewed this at the Springbank Masterclass at TWE back in June 2014, where I caught the bug.  This was partially due to this whisky (but equally due to the 12 year old cask strength).

20150217_203055Nose – Immediately more winey.  Spicy like a summer pudding on the nose with raisins, grains, and stewed apple.  Intense, dark and brooding.  An epic nose.  Adding water, even “quite a lot of water” intensifies the fruit and Springbank character.  More engines, more magic balloons, more cherries.

Body – But it’s the delivery that really swings it.  Enormous depths of toffee, sulphur and red fruit. Water brings out fresh chalk and fruit toffee, and intensifies the oil and overall experience.

Finish – Long, spicy, hot and oily.  Springbank on 11.  And one to explore with water and lots of time. 

What’s not good about it – Perhaps it’s too intense?   

What’s good about it – The epitome of Springbank. Even with the £50 joining fee (for life) this is worth joining the Springbank society for (by which I mean it’s worth £130 to me).  It’s still in stock.

Comparing the two?  It’s a bit like comparing the Springbank 15 and 18.  The 18 is obviously a bit less in your face and elegant, it’s an excellent whisky.  But the 15 just brings a massive smile to your face.  Here, the local barley is deeper, darker, meatier, more intense and just a massive whisky.  The 17 is much more elegant and gluggable.  But I prefer the big grin.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

The London Distillery Company

I toured The London Distillery Company last year with a bunch of other whisky bloggers, before Whisky Live London, met Darren Rook, co-founder, and saw the kit - various liquids being pumped noisily between large stainless steel vessels, and blue plastic kegs full of test spirit. The site is an old Victorian dairy cold room near Chelsea, London. The windows were bricked up then, to save on window tax (a tax on the number of windows in a property in the 18th and 19th centuries - hence the term "daylight robbery"), and during its refurbishment, the London Distillery knocked them through again with the addition of period style windows made in Liverpool.

Inside it's very compact for a whisky distillery, imagine yellow brick with a central white enamelled brick band, the space dominated by their lauter tun, fermenters, copper stills and a mix of pipes. They have two stills; a small 140 litre copper alembic, ‘Christina’, for producing the base of their Dodd's Gin (gin is produced by macerating neutral grain spirit with flavourings and then redistilling it), a laboratory Rotary Evaporator (a small glass still that works at low temperature under vacuum) for experiments and producing the top note component of Dodd's, and a 650 litre copper pot still with a detachable side column. The side column contains five plates, each of which can be set in different positions to produce a different output, which gives the distillery team a lot of freedom to create different spirits.

When producing single malt they detach the column completely, reattaching it for rye production. However, if the team decided to make single malt spirit with the column attached and plates plates closed, increased reflux means that they’d produce a stronger, cleaner more floral spirit . This flexibility is banned by the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) – Scotch single malt whisky must be produced in a pot still, distilling wash from malted barley only.  But the London distillery aren't constrained by the SWA, and they’re experimenting with all combinations of the still, grain and yeast to produce interesting spirits. It’s a small operation though - their main still and other fermentation equipment can only produce enough spirit for a single cask each time a batch is made.

I met Darren a few weeks ago at the SMWS bar on Greville street (where he used to be the venue manager and continues to be an ambassador), and he had some plain British malt and 100% rye spirits (new make) with him.  One of these had come off the still that afternoon, another was some rye spirit that had been in cask for 3 months.  I got to chat to him and try the spirits. They’re very good pre-maturation and I can see why they’re thinking of marketing the rye as a cocktail or white spirit in it's own right.

The early mission of the distillery is to explore heritage and high quality single cask whisky. While we are seeing a few distilleries starting to release whisky with "craft" grains (recently Arran's Bere Barley and Glenmorangie's Tusail with Maris Otter), Darren is primarily experimenting with specific yeasts to produce different flavours in the wash and hence the spirit, making use of the national yeast library to retrieve heritage brewer's and distiller's varieties. Of course, barley makes a big difference to the spirit too, and he's been building relationships with English grain producers, such as Warminster Maltings, to get access to barley which correlates with the heritage of each of the yeasts they’re testing.


Because of this focus, each time I’ve met Darren, we’ve spend some time talking about my amateur efforts brewing beer at home.  Homebrew really drives home to me the marked differences malt and yeast make to the wash (called beer when I make it of course). I know that Belgian beer tastes as it does because of the components in the grist and most importantly, the type of yeast. For example, yeast is responsible for some of the seriously orangey notes in one of their experimental spirits, with a variety aptly names ‘Orange Esters’ (although this won’t be make it into the final whisky as this isn’t the direction Darren wants to take their final, consistent single malt). 

Their attitude toward production reminds me in some ways of homebrewers - less about yield, more about quality, more about learning the craft whilst doing something different and trying things out. I'll happily stick half a kilo of expensive hops in a 25 litre batch of beer because I want to see how much hop flavour I can get in there (in the boil, whirlpooling them in in steps as the wort cools, through a hopback into the fermenter, then dry hopping), because I like hops and because I can, and it's fun.  I don't think Darren would hold back from using malts that cost twice as much, or using more of them, or treating them in a different way, if he thought the end result would be interesting and/or great. And we've both got to live with the results for a while (me drinking it, him maturing and selling it).

Tasting these, there's some flavours I've always assumed were cask driven coming through. While we're seeing different malts making a difference to commercial whiskies being released, and some the results of some experiments coming through (a recently Cooley from SMWS - 117.5 – apparently used crystal malt), I'm yet to hear of anyone really using anything but distillers yeast (powerful, alcohol resistant and fast). Over the next decade, assuming it can keep the business model working, we're going to see some seriously interesting spirits coming out of the London Distillery.

London Distillery, 100% Plain British rye new make spirit, 91.4%

20150203_184452This is distilled using two plates on the column, and made with 100% rye when usually you'd have at least 80/20 rye to barley in the mash bill. Rye whisky is usually made by boiling the hell out of the grist and then fermenting the whole lot, grain and all. This is instead produced like a single malt - so after mashing, it’s lautered, crash cooled, then fermented off the grains using an old brewers yeast. It's then run through two distillations, the second one uses the plates on the column (these aren't used for the distillery's single malt).

Nose - Neat: clean new make, light citrus and orange wax. With water, very citrussy, very orangey.

Body - Intense lacquer and wax, with a lot of water, orange oils and pink grapefruit.

Very, very promising.

London Distillery 100% British rye, 3 months old, 59.9%

20150203_183752This is the above spirit, diluted down to 62.5%, then racked into 100% virgin English oak casks with a medium char (these are made by Alistair Simms, the last British master cooper).

This is the “Testbed2" spirit 3 months in. After three years in this oak, they'll fill these casks with English single malt to make a unique English Single malt Whisky.

Nose - Clean, soapy, sweetcorny, quite delicious on the nose.

Body - Bright, clean - amazing for 3 months old!

Finish - Good oils, texture. Again, very promising.

London Distillery, Youngs yeast (heritage yeast 1900s)- plain spirit , 78.1%

20150203_184005This was fermented with Youngs (brewery) yeast strain, from the national yeast library.  It uses the organic Quench barley variety (and a lager malting process) which makes it much more oaty - I tasted the raw malt and it's very edible, but the Maris Otter he's using is much more tasty raw. 

Nose - Beautiful new make - like fresh crushed malted barley. Orange, cake and icing. Actually quite waxy - I always thought that was from the cask? Maybe it's to do with the yeast.

Body - More orange icing, incredibly sweet. Some ice cream. Very good.

Finish - Good oils.