Wednesday, 26 March 2014

An educational pair of Balvenies

I’ve got a Balvenie blind spot.  I just don’t get it.  Lacks intensity, lacks confidence, lacks interest.  I’m working on it…

Balvenie 14 year old, Golden Cask (rum finish), 47.5% A+
Thanks to Yoav for the sample of this.  This was his educational dram - his response to my disappointment with Balvenie in general - a cask strength Caribbean Cask (the only Balvenie I’ve really enjoyed, and then, not so much).

balob.14yov2Nose - Bright banana sweets, a little table polish, light werthers originals, actually some really bright tropical sweetness in there.  This then starts to take a seat behind some cigar tobacco, which I do enjoy in a whisky very much, but I find myself missing and hunting for the fruit again.  It’s there still, taking a back seat, floral, perfumed wood.  This is an elegant, well integrated nose.

Body - Sweet, herbal, floral toffee, spicy wood, some interest with fruit and wood structure in the arrival - lovely in fact.  Great balance with the spice and sweet toffee.

Finish - Medium/short finish, ending is on quite bitter tobacco, and numbing in the same way that cigar tobacco is.
What's not good about it: There are some clumsy steps here - in the immediate arrival it’s a bit awkward, and the finish doesn’t quite hang together.
What’s good about it: But I love the addictive, masculine flavours of tobacco and wood, balanced with that toffee, floral, tropical edge.  Quite elegant.  Beguiling.

Bally Delicious 23 year old, 54% A⊕
Thanks to Shai for this sample.  This is a Balvenie that’s been teaspooned and part of the Master of Malt Single Cask range.  You can still buy it from the Times Whisky Club (and I’m going to)

bally-delicious-23-year-old-single-cask-master-of-malt-whiskyNose – Immediately shows more mid-range and intensity, more sultry depth than the Golden Cask.  Very lovely, sweet, dusty raisins and a beautiful sappy wood character.  Just the merest hint of drying sulphur (all good in this case).  An absolutely enchanting lesson in elegantly sherried sweetness.  Fabulous.

Body - Unexpectedly smoky, although still quite lightly so.  The drying sulphur is very good here, perfectly in balance.  The smoke has me confused but very happy.  Some more tobacco.  Just stunning.

Finish - It’s all going so well but then I’m let down a bit by the end of the end.  Some bitterness and a one dimensional sourness takes over right at the end of what was shaping up to be something of a blockbuster.  Before that we had a wonderful, dry sherry complexity and well integrated wood. 

What's not good about it: The end of that finish just isn’t right.
What’s good about it: But otherwise this is amazing hooch - I could spend many, many hours on 5cl of this stuff.  Complex, balanced, expensive nose.  Wonderful, smoky, sherried arrival.  Intensity and joy.

Friday, 21 March 2014

SMWS Blind Tasting

Last night I was lucky enough to be invited to a bloggers blind tasting at the tasting room in the SMWS venue in London.  Quite apart from the promise of “5 drams from the special shelf” (!!!) the opportunity to finally meet all the people I’ve been emailing, bottle sharing with and talking to on twitter for the thick end of a year was extremely exciting.  And all this the night before Whisky Live London!

The evening was hosted by John McCheyne, a fantastic speaker who played the lot of us like a fiddle all evening.  Oh what a a night!  Here’s the line up we tried, all tasting blind.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

SMWS 4.188 A Ploughman’s Picnic

Another day another SMWS Highland Park.  That’s two in March on top of the February one – seems like there are a lot of HPs and Bowmores around (I’m not complaining though).  I tried the 4.186 (Aromatic Spices and Exotic Fruits – a 22 year old refill bourbon) at Greville Street the other day but was disappointed by the delivery.  Great nose though and loads of smoke, a big surprise.  At the bar they claimed no knowledge of the 4.188 so they wouldn’t let me buy a drop, but my friend Q (something of a HP SMWS completist at the moment) sorted me out – thanks for the sample!

SMWS 4.188, Highland Park, A Ploughman’s Picnic, 61.8% A+


13 years old, 2nd June 2000, first fill bourbon, 196 bottles.  I really struggle with images for SMWS bottles, but as I don’t even have the bottle for this one I’ve finally had to resort to a screenshot from the SMWS site!

Nose – Fresh, lemony, light and with a boiled sweets backing.  With water, the boiled sweets subside and light orange and grapefruit juice elements take over.  Fresh, sweet and with a toffee backing.  Refreshing but quite restrained.

Body – Ripe grapefruit, quite spicy, loads of silky milk chocolate and some oily, musky wood.  A lightly herbal, hammy note (that’ll be the ploughman’s pork pie) and quite peppery. With water, lovely toffee malt, a little chocolate and spice and light oak.  Later, some of the waxy, lacquered chocolate you see in some of the OBs starts to arrive.  Very smooth, quite interesting, again a little restrained but good.

Finish – Quite long, a little hot, young with citrus bitterness but not misjudged.  Despite the youth and strength, well integrated but lacking midrange.  With water, far more complex and balanced with long chocolate tones. 

What's not good about it: Young and a bit spiky, and too strong.  Certainly benefits from water.  A little restrained for me all over, but actually I think that probably works in this case.

What’s good about it: Challenging, bright, sappy, an interesting profile, well made, lots of chocolate and good value. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

SMWS February–Old and Dignified

Ruinously expensive or unmissable?  Old whisky is both, sometimes.  SMWS whisky is unpredictable – sometimes epic, sometimes toe curlingly delicious, sometimes confusingly complex, sometimes just confusing, and a few times a bit of a let down, but never ordinary.  The older, I have to say, the more likely they are to be a let down; expectation management and cost.

This pair were the “Old and Dignified” pair from the February 2014 outturn and I was able to arrange a bottle split with a bunch of friends in order to offset the £250 odd it cost to acquire them.  The 76 is a Mortlach, a distillery which Diageo just announced its intentions to make unaffordable, so we’re all setting about buying it up and trying it before someone takes it away from us.  It’s good.  The 35 is a Glen Moray, almost 30 years old and classically presented. 

SMWS 76.112, Mortlach, Spiced Champurrado, 58.2% A⊕+

od227 years old, 24th April 1986, refill bourbon barrel, 239 bottles

Nose – Immediate authority.  Candied peel and dried pineapple, sweet toffee malt and thick, well dried oak staves.  Freshly laid plaster and plastic.  Lightly spiced, a cigar backing… actually once noticed it’s very intense.  All in all, quite an authoritative, dignified and forceful character, and serious delicious on the nose.  I didn’t get chocolate for a while, but then on returning I suddenly got the belt of classy, expensive chocolate popcorn and spiced toffee. 

Body – Lots of milk chocolate and caramel, lots of chocolate popcorn, then ripe, fruity, floral uplift.  Suddenly the nose is all toffee apple with a musky, sandalwood note.  Wonderfully intense oak flavours, balancing the deep, chocolate, spiced sweetness.

Finish – Very long, balanced but quite sharp.  Beautifully sweet pineapple burps.  Lingering cigar tobacco bitterness – by the end, I may as well have been chewing a cigar: love it. 

What's not good about it: The whole thing is perhaps a little angular?

What’s good about it: But all the more fascinating for it.  I love the long reveal on the chocolate popcorn, balanced by the cigar, wood and tropical elements.  Truly fascinating, tempted to get another.

SMWS 35.103, Glen Moray, The Great Easter Bake Off, 58.8% A+

od129 years old, 22nd December 1983, refill sherry butt, 236 bottles.  I labelled this as 35.105 for all my bottle share pals, and I was wrong, but I can’t be arsed relabeling all those bottles, sorry!

Nose – Immediately: classy, sherried wood, lots of malt, lots of fencing.  Dark, old fruity leather.  Treated pine fence, ripe pears, mixed dried fruits, a little bit of a real ale brewery tour in the background.  At the fore though, is definitely a dark, tropical, classical, dried fruit and leather affair.   Extremely elegant, a little restrained perhaps but lots of poise and complexity.  And chocolate, of course.

Body – Oily, cream, milk chocolate.  A spiced malt backing and a hint of men’s deodorant.  Dark, warm spice balances the sweetness.  Quite a bit of pepper.

Finish – Very long, balanced and very fine – loads of tobacco and liquorice.   Smooth, furniture polish landing, lacquered and with a peppermint edge.  Quite a complicated delivery.

What's not good about it: Overall, a bit sappy for me.  The nose is enchanting and addictive but the body has too much pepper and wood spice to hang together quite. 

What’s good about it: But don’t get me wrong, this is very good whisky.  Complexity and leather, spice and fruit on the nose.  Creamy, chocolaty delivery.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

SMWS 25.65–Rosebank–A Whispered Kiss

My first Rosebank and a 2 bottle split with a bunch of other bloggers.  This is very good but suffering from very high expectations.  However, even when SMWS drams don’t do what you want them to, you’re challenged and learn something. 

SWMS 25.65, Rosebank, A Whispered Kiss, 50% A⊕

rosebank-smws-25-6522 years old, 1st July 1991, refill bourbon barrel, 220 bottles

Nose – Lovely bright wax and hardwood.  A little felt tip pen, some grapefruit, juicy red cherries and orange juice.  A baby’s forehead, overripe pear and Turkish Delight.  Whisky soaked wood and milk chocolate.  The brightness verges on sour, if I’m being critical, but the wax is moving towards a primary school parquet floor (which everyone loves).  A peppery, savoury backing.  It noses: old, competent, expensive, bright.

Body – The wooded fruits are carried through to the palate with a sandalwood edge, but its a little harsh on the immediate delivery, in the top of the palate, with an overly bright, sour note. This hits me as a little off balance and not totally integrated. 

Finish – Clean, perhaps a little unbalanced again.  Some long lasting toffee malt and smooth but sappy woods.  The whole thing does grow on you more and more, with oily, sappy, front of palate interest. 

What's not good about it: A few misfires on the delivery. Unexpectedly unbalanced in places.

What’s good about it:  Love the nose, very self assured and dignified.  Good chocolate malt and richness on the delivery.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Highland Park Horizontal

I’ve previously dismissed Highland Park as overpriced and marketing led.  Not that marketing is a bad thing of course, but the ornate wooden cases (while cool) made me think the liquid was overrated.  I was wrong.  Sadly, it’s too late, none of this glorious liquid is still available.

Massive thanks to Johnnie Stumbler for this flight.  They are mostly tiny remnants of tweet tastings I didn’t manage to score – so lots of nosing and very little drinking (perfect for a Monday night!).


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

A Pair of Littlemills

Another day, another dead distillery.  Not only is whisky production long on the ROI, but hazardous as well.  Littlemill closed in 1984, reopened in 1989, closed again in 1994, was dismantled in 1997 and then burnt to the ground in 2004.  Eesh.

I’d not had any before.  I’m quite impressed, despite the peril.

Littlemill Batch 1, The Boutique-y Whisky Company, 47.4% A+

Littlemill Batch 1

Nose – Immediately a bit sicky but that passes, work through it. Then a bit gluey.  Then, light and fruity but with a satisfying, malty chewy quality which goes very nicely.  There’s a floral, fatty edge too, reminiscent of a good rillettes, and a musky, appley note which reminds me of the start of a gig (cider, men’s deodorant, generally malted liquids, floor polish).

Body – Balanced, spicy malt, perfumed and fruited, a bit of Vimto, some pear.  Fresh and light.  Really rewarding.

Finish – Short. Leaves you with the fresh malt and pepper.  Pleasant.

What's not good about it: A little bit light for me, short, ordinary finish, although otherwise fault free.

What’s good about it:  Lovely fruity nose, great balance with rich, fresh clean malt and lovely pepper notes in the delivery.

Thanks to Master of Malt for the sample.

Lady of the Glen, Littlemill 21 year old A⊕


Nose – Light and malty this time, with a delicate wooded richness, biscuity oak. juicy red cherry and a lovely waxed lacquer.  A lovely interplay of cereal, biscuit, furniture polish, pear and a hint of cigarette tobacco.  Very elegant and extremely rewarding.  There’s something else, something Asian in here too – like an Asian butchers or some Durian or something – and some bookcase.  Very complicated and elegant, but really malty too.  In the empty glass, toffee malt, popcorn and a furniture maker’s workshop.  Fab nose.

Body – Sweet, smooth, balanced, musky and malty, Sichuan peppercorns and a lovely sugared malt.  Wood spice and fresh toffee apple.

Finish – Bit short, but a backing of dusty barley sugar, werthers original and travel sweets makes you come back for more.

What's not good about it: Finish a bit short, maybe the nose is a bit muscular at first, although if that’s the price of complexity, I’ll pay it.

What’s good about it:  Complex, elegant and delicious.  Bold and well structured.  Great integration and interplay between the elements.

Thanks to Lady of the Glen for the official sample.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Wolfburn Distillery- new make and 6 month old


If I won the lottery (the national lottery, not the Whisky Exchange Japanese lottery), I’d open a distillery.  Probably not in South London – probably Scotland, although who knows.  As business models go, it’s a crazy one – massive upfront investment, loads of running costs, and not a penny back for three years by law, and not much back really for at least a decade.  And even then, you’ve got to have made the right decisions ten years ago to end up with something that people want to buy.  And then there’s all that hammering all day.  Actually maybe I’ll stick to just drinking it.