Wednesday, 30 September 2015


The fourth tweet tasting for Wemyss (I was on the last one but missed the actual tasting due to circumstances out of my control), and I think I’ve finally learnt how to say and spell Wemyss.  These four are all NAS, and mostly NAS re-releases of blends that have previously been available as 8 or 12 year old whiskies – I don’t think they’ve suffered much from that.  No single cask stuff in here either (the single cask Wemyss I find consistently interesting and compelling) but that allows us to concentrate on the blends, which have the opportunity of course of being much more rounded, complete and easy to drink. 

The Hive (NAS), 46% A

hiveNose - Very light, some honey, vanilla pancake, digging for blonde oak and refill cask. Fresh ozone. Duskier cask with time and some air, Mcvities Gold Bars (thanks Joe), apple fritters and warm wax. Considerable digging though - this is a very gentle nose, but nicely balanced.

Body- Gently sweet and creamy, honeyed and soft on the initial delivery. Then quite unexpectedly spicy - baked plums, more vanilla.

Finish - Quite hot, wooded, some young cereal mellowed by toffee sweetness. Quite long too, unexpectedly insistent, in a good way.

Spice King (NAS), 46% A-

WemyssSpiceKingbottleNose - initially younger but then shows some interesting warm spice, funnily enough. Cinnamon, clove, warm toffee and furniture polish. definitely maxing on the "about to bake a chocolate cake" thing - dusty spice and cocoa, orange zest and chopped almonds.

Body - Very clean, clear and then lots of dry tannic wood and stick cinnamon. Well constructed - not overly sweet with a clear agenda. I'm reminded of pork crackling? Might just be the warm/Chinese spice thing. Soft and delicious.

Finish - Long, mulled wine, black pepper and soft oak. Spiced and wintery. At the end, it's a little bit firebally - there's not cinnamon actually added to this right?

This is a fine drink, a bit like Kings Ginger and Glenrothes is a fine drink.  But it’s not exactly what I’d reach for when I want a whisky.

Peat Chimney (NAS), 46% A

peatchimneyNose - Sweet and savoury, with a very light, woodsy smoke backing to it. Orange juice, rosemary and earth, very nice. Olives and wafer thin ham.

Body - Ripe, fruity and dried peat, well balanced and peppery. Hot dogs, lots of hot dogs, assuming that's Caol Ila. But overall its sweet and delicious.

Finish - Lots more dusty cinnamon - it must be a hangover from the Spice King. Spicy peat and a great amount of mango and oak.

Kiln Embers (NAS), 46% A+

kilnembersNose - Darkly sweet, lemon zest, orange juice, cut furniture and kaffir lime leaves? Earth again too- a deeply inviting nose. Quite sexy and very drinkable, why are peated blends so rare?

Body - Sweet, complex and delicious - peated blends are a good thing. Grape, pear juice, massive tannins and coca cola.

Finish - Pineapple cubes and gentle peat. Long and lemony, fishermans friends, balanced by more coke. Quite delicious, and more accomplished than the Peat Chimney.

Thanks Wemyss and Steve at the Whisky Wire for a great tasting!

Monday, 28 September 2015

Cadenheads September 2015

Cadenheads in September – some of it didn’t last long enough to get to try (the Royal Brackla), some is selling so quick there’s no tasting stock (the Cambus) and luckily the Burnside was already open! These are all rather good though, if it wasn’t for the whisky show at the weekend, first Friday at SMWS and the threat of another 45+ bottle outturn in November I’d be struggling not to walk away with all of these.  For the money, the Glen Elgin and Blair Athol are just amazing.  The Glenrothes is a big vanilla beauty that comes close to matching that small old bourbon cask in the dunnage warehouse at the distillery.  The Linkwood is epic.

There’s some good stuff coming next time too – a 20 year old Caol Ila, a 23 year old Caperdonich hopefully, and another 13 year old Hazelburn.  Remember, in the whisky world, Christmas is coming… be very afraid!

Burnside 26 years old, 48.8% A+

Burnside-cr-200x300Nose - Lovely sweet, ripe and appley, fresh crayon. A beautiful cask.

Body - Intense, fruity, oily, cherry and apple wood. Quite a lot of spice. Angular, blonde oak with water.

Finish - Long oak and a belt of bitterness. Juicy and spicy.

A beautiful nose on this but just let down a touch by the spice and bitterness in the delivery.

Glenrothes 26 years old, 52.3% A+

Glenrothes 26-cr-200x300Nose - Light, gentle wood, fresh green pears and strawberry laces, lots of custard. Effortless and gentle.

Body - Vanilla icing, very creamy - cherry and dusty books.

Finish - Spicy - very hot actually. Long with orange juice and wood sour.

A fabulous nose on this and a lovely initial delivery - wonderful oak and vanilla throughout. Again, knocked at the very end.

Blair Athol 14 years old, 46% A⊕

Blair Athol 14 Sherry-cr-200x300Nose - Deliciously balanced between cask, sour plums, toasted wet and lightly charred wood. Cut red cherries and cherry chocolate cake. A wonderfully balanced, interesting sherry nose.

Body - Bright, sweet oak - incredible balance and depth for a 14 year old. Intense but quite gluggable, lots of antique furniture and popcorn.

Finish - Long, sweet and fruity, with jelly snakes and balancing sulphur. Lovely.

Glen Elgin 23 years old, 46% A⊕+

G Elgin 23-cr-200x300Nose - Immediately beautiful, sour furniture polish on fresh acrylic varnish, hard oak sawdust. Deep fruit and sulphur, fabulous.

Body - Deliciously fruity, liquorice too. Cream, balanced, and very old.

Finish - Long, refreshers and balanced but intense oak. Delicious and an absolute bargain with old Islay overtones and lovely wood.

I will have trouble resisting this.

Linkwood 26 years old, 50.2% A⊕+

Linkwood 26 sherry-cr-200x300Nose - Bright, jewelled sweets, raisins in Sauternes, lovely clean sherry wood. Underneath, orange juice and mixed peel - elegant and tropically sweet.

Body - Long, sweet, fruity and mouth coating. Orange zest and marzipan, incredibly delicious.

Finish - Long, tickled by sulphur and oak.

Another epic old whisky with a gold label.



Tuesday, 22 September 2015

London TequilaFest 2015

While whisky is my greatest love now, Tequila was there first.  I didn’t round to attending TequilaFest last year – or more properly Tequila (and Mezcal) fest 2015.  This year it was held in Old Spitalfields market – literally in a roped off area in the middle of the market.  That was a bit weird. 

20150919_144445On show were a small number of exhibitors – from the mass market tequilas like Olmeca and Don Julio, a great show of spirits arranged by Speciality Drinks (picture left) including Tapatio and Don Fulano, through to some very interesting Mezcals, particularly from Del Maguey (who were spoken of with great affection due to their contribution to Mezcal in the UK). 

There was music and food, although I didn’t have any food because I lost my show money.  There was a lot of standing.

20150919_144753We did have quite a few interesting tequilas and mezcals though.  Our favourite was, weirdly the Tapatio Plato – great oils, very fresh and green and delicious to drink.

20150919_145536Don Fulano had a good range too, the blanco had great mouthfeel, lots of good oils again, and the cask strength version was more perfumed, bitter and aniseed.

The 1800 range seemed a bit ordinary – the Reposado was pretty boring and the Coconut infused tequila was actively unpleasant – cloyingly sweet, very artificial. I should have known when I saw they had a set of bottles with “art” labels (not those below)


Del Maguey were much better – single village Mezcal.  Sometimes the same stuff from different villages, sometimes the same village, different species of plant used to make them.




20150919_154005I’d tasted a few of these on the barrel top at the whisky exchange after work one day, and bought the Chichicapa, but there were a few new ones to me here, like the San Luis del Rio – sweet, fresh, lots of ozone and hard tobacco.

And the same but finished in first fill bourbon barrels – this was overly sweet for me – a clash of styles.

Another cracking mezcal was Derrumbes, and the Michoacan was up there with the Del Maguey – delicious, salty, very green and very intense.

I was really looking forward to tasting the Siete Misterios range again (having sampled two of them at the whisky exchange mezcal tasting years ago) but they were all gone by the time we got to them.  In fact, all of the interesting stuff was gone by about 7:30. 

Apparently there were seminars and classes, but I couldn’t see any sign of them.  The food looked ok but not that interesting – we were expecting to feast but didn’t have any in the end.  Most upsetting though was that there wasn’t any water anywhere!  I’m not sure how you can run a spirits festival without water to hand everywhere.  The lowest ABV drink I was prepared to pay a fiver for was Mexican beer, and £5 seemed a bit steep for a 330ml can of Mexican ale.

So all in all, between the lack of water, the good stuff running out, some extremely drunk exhibitors and it all being very small, I think you could either call in charmingly unprofessional or I could admit that I’m a bit spoilt with things like Midlands Whisky Festival (held twice a year and about 4 times bigger than this) being the smallest I’ve been to.  We are, as my wife pointed out, lucky that whisky is such an institution in the UK and these other spirits have quite a way to go.  I’ll check back in 5 years or so and see if this grows.

Oh and another thing!  We arrived a little early in Shoreditch and wanted to pop to a pub before lunch.  At 12:30 in Old Street/Curtain Road/Liverpool Street on a blazing hot Saturday none of the pubs were open.  That’s just insane.  It was like being in another country.

Actually The Reliance was open – all the doors were open but all the lights were off and nobody was in there.

Monday, 21 September 2015

Laphroaig Live 2015

On Thursday 24th September at 8pm local time the ninth annual Laphroaig Live will broadcast live on the web from the island of Islay

Previous shows have brought you the flavours of Spain, Germany, America and even Australia but this year will be tasting 4 very special expressions. The one off’ Laphroaig 15 YO – The official 200th Expression, Laphroaig Cairdeas 2015 (distilled using only the original small stills), Laphroaig 21 YO – Created for the Friends of Laphroaigs 21st Birthday and a unique Laphroaig 32 YO 100% sherry matured- A very rare, special expression.

And if I’m very lucky they might even let me try it!

Tune in at 8pm at or below...

Monday, 14 September 2015

Two Tomatin Stumbles

I’m struggling to think of any other whisky “enthusiast” who doesn’t list Tomatin as a favourite distillery.  But it’s probably only Stumbler who I think dedicates more processing power and physical resource to the distillery as I think I do.  So I was very pleased to receive this pair of uncommon Tomatins in a recent sample swap (I say swap, I think it’s my turn to post but I’ve forgotten what). 

The first is US only release from last year, and a recent addition to my auction watch list.  The second is an old, rare SMWS bottling of Tomatin (distillery code 11) – hopes are high for a rumoured SMWS Tomatin this year, fingers crossed…

Tomatin 12 year old, French Oak, 46% A⊕

US release only.  9 years in bourbon cask, then 3 years in a collection of red wine casks "decharred and recharred".

tomatin12frenchNose - Elegant, lots of fruit and a dusty cask. This is the kind of nose that takes me back to when I was really getting hooked on Tomatin. Sweetly balanced - red fruit, jelly beans, wet sawdust and white wine. The oak is lovely - elegant but bold. Extremely inviting.

Body - Gentle, but full, fruity and sweet. Winey at the back of the delivery, with a touch of sour toffee. Extremely drinkable.

Finish - Long, slightly spicy, a little toffee apple, lingering wood bitterness and finally some sour plum.

What's not good about it - Not a lot. It's a wine cask finish, which might not suit.

What's good about it - A beautiful, sweet and fruit filled nose and a delivery that delivers on those promises. Balanced throughout by excellent wood. What a great whisky.

SMWS 11.17, Tomatin, An Islay from Speyside, 10 years old, 61.4% A⊕

May13-Tomatin11-17Nose - Sharper, brighter, and very old school SMWS – it also takes me back!  Although not that far. Volatile marker pen, ripe cherry, the cork from a chilled bottle of Sauternes, some candle wax. Toffee and oak - old beyond its years. With water, juicier. Some barely ripe pear.

Body - Deep, sharp, plastic book covering and dusty spice. More plums, a touch of joss stick. Very fruity again but sharply held in check by big, blonde wood. Compelling.

Finish- Long, very dry wood. Winey again - then descending into old fruit bomb. I can hardly believe this is only 10.

What's not good about it - Quite strict.

What's good about it - Loads of distillery character, intense and balanced. An extremely well picked cask - exactly what you'd expect from the Society.

Cheers JS.

Thursday, 10 September 2015


Do they realise how hard it is to write MP2 and not MP3?

This was the second Bruichladdich “own run” tweet tasting – I had the goods from the first one (reviewed here) but missed the tweet tasting itself.  What they weren’t, on paper, were good value for money.  But in the end they were fascinating and extremely good tasting whiskies, which is why their original format of 3x20cl was so good.  So I jumped at the second run of three unnamed single cask whiskies from Bruichladdich. 

The tweet tasting itself was very different to the usual whisky wire thing, as it was run as a live video stream from Bruichladdich distillery hosted by new Head Distiller Adam Hanett.  We could add comments in the youtube site or within twitter, and I kind of did both, but it was a bit disjointed (for me) watching a presentation and then switching screens to Twitter.  My colleague Mark Newton at Malt-Review thinks it’s the way all tweet tastings should be run, but I just found it distracting.  But then I’m probably a bit more of an introvert.  I get loads of inspiring tasting notes out of the text based tastings!

Each of the three whiskies was tasted blind, and we found out what they were at the end.  Of course this is the best way to evaluate any liquid if you want to know if you love it for real.

Cask 149, 63.6%

2005, 10yo, organically grown barley – apparently the spirit was really creamy when distilled.

mp-single-cask-scotch-whisky-2005-organic-bourbon_0Nose – Typical... this is going to be really good isn't it. Sweet, bright berries, waxed fruit, lemon tart. Oak with clean earth, and coastal on exhale. Clearly bourbon cask (sweet, vanilla and toffeed), but crisply white wine too. Delicious, but with a top note of deodorant too.

Body - Rich, and thick in the mouth, beautifully winey but pretty soft and sulphured. Spicier with water, but lots more creamy fruit and malt. After some time, I get the bubblegum Adam is talking about.

Finish - Medium, very oaked. Big stuff.

This is a big, oaky, creamy, fecund whisky. Apparently this is young but it's delicious.

Cask 060, 64%


9 years old, first fill bourbon. Quadruple distilled, 89% into the cask. Once I knew this, I could feel the rum!  It was especially interesting to try this as I tried X4+3 blind too a long time ago at a whisky squad tasting and very much enjoyed that too.

mp-single-cask-scotch-whisky-2006-x4 9-bourbon_0Nose - Elegant, but quite hard blonde oak. It's more complex and restrained than the 149, and with time, it's harder. It's a lovely whisky though, the very definition of good, boring bourbon cask laddie - hard barley. With water, lovely oak on the nose.

Body - Even thicker - beautifully vanilla, great balance, a great clean, massive, refill bourbon.

Finish - Fresh, clean fruit - apple and glace cherry. Lots of bitterness at the end… beautifully made stuff though.

Cask 048, 52%

1992 - 23yo. First fill bourbon.

mp-single-cask-scotch-whisky-1992-bourbonNose - Significantly older. Ripe apples, orange juice, raisins, toffeed bourbon cask. It's a typical, old, unpeated Islay - I'd have called this as a mid-twenties Bunnahabhain. And incredibly delicious.

Body - Thick, ripe, dusky and a touch of sulphur. Waxy. Cakey. Stewed apple and black tea. Simplistic though, but seriously delicious.

Finish - Long and delicious. Sweet and ripe, thick and soft. Tannic at the end. The general feel of this whisky is that it's extremely high quality, but again this is a tasting rather than a drinking whisky.

I highly recommend the Laddie TTs - £90 for 3x20cl is a bit steep but they’re well presented and extremely interesting whiskies that you wouldn’t necessarily want a whole bottle of anyway.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Paul John - “Bold”

Paul John is the single malt output from John Distilleries, a large wine and liquor producer based in Bangalore, India - their main output is large amounts of Original Choice (a blended whisky) that claims to be the seventh largest whisky in the world.  The Paul John single malt is distilled and matured in Goa, allowing them to use clean spring water directly in the production process. Paul John single malt was only recently launched (2012), with a pair of single cask releases. Since then they have released Brilliance (single malt), Classic Select Cask (cask strength version of Brilliance) and Edited (containing 15-20% lightly peated malt).

All ingredients apart from the peat are Indian. The malt is from 6-row Indian barley, which is harder and more expensive to grow, but contains more proteins and they believe produces a better mouthfeel in the finished whisky. The peat itself is shipped in from Islay (usually - India has no peat), but the actual peating smoking is performed in India on Indian barley. The quality of the distillate is obviously high in the samples I tried, and the character of the peat is lovely, quite Campbeltown in character to me. In October they will be releasing a fully peated whisky, "Bold", which I was able to try recently, notes are below.

The output is pretty simple - all the spirit is matured in bourbon casks for 4-5 years, and released at 46% or "cask strength" (55.2%). Of course 5 years cask maturation in Goa is the equivalent of about 15 years in Scotland due to the hotter climate, although the temperature and humidity is pretty stable there.  This is in contrast with Kentucky, where high temperature fluctuations produce wild cask influence in even shorter timescales. My problem with a lot of American whisky (but certainly not all) is while the whisky doesn't taste young, it seems simple - lacks complexity, lacks integration. Japanese whisky seems to also do very well in its youth, and through great cask selection and skill drinks very well young, although sometimes lacks a little soul too (I've got a big Japanese post in the works and it's a mixed bag). This Goan whisky seems to play quite a good game with its youth, lots of interesting character, good integration (on the whole) and reasonably well balanced. And the new fully peated expression is very impressive.

Here's some quite notes I took while trying their range recently, and a marker for myself to do a fuller tasting another time.


Paul John, Brilliance, 46% – Liquorice torpedo, apple boiled sweets.  Quite sharp and bright but with a deep numbing sweetness.  Not light, but bright, sweet and well integrated.

Paul John, Classic Select Cask, 55.2% – More wax, lemon wood on the nose, but more restrained.  Sharper, and even fruitier on the delivery with numbing wood, and a lovely mouthfeel.  The finish has rich wood; very long and quite dry.

Paul John, Edited, 46% – This is lightly peated.  Fruity and nicely seasoned with peat – very complementary.  There’s no hint of youth here. There’s a lovely, considered initial delivery with a touch of bandage but it doesn’t quite hold it together later, becoming slightly harsh as it develops. The finish is long and numbing, but has an offputting bitterness – the peat doesn’t quite go all the way for me.

20150904_153449Paul John, Bold, 46% - This is fully peated. The nose is deep, sweet and sour but with a touch of tobacco and joss sticks. Very perfumed. The delivery is big, complex and old, quite spicy and has lots of tobacco and apple, lovely fruit, coffee and lots of oak. The finish is very long, with excellent peat character and great balance. It's a little spicy with hard, blonde oak, and reminds me somehow of Longrow. Peppery at the end.

I think this will be a big hit when it lands in October, highly recommended!

Monday, 7 September 2015

Springbank Green batch 2, Sherry Cask (preview)

The year long wait for the second batch of Springbank Green is nearly over!  As reported nearly a year ago the first batch of Green was all bourbon cask, and the second batch would be a 13 year old all in sherry casks, released Autumn 2015. 

I tried a cask sample/preview of this at the London Cadenheads recently (as I did for the Port cask release) and I’m pleased to report that it’s fully awesome.  It’ll be out in a month or so and won’t last long – Springbank are on fire at the moment and sold out their 9000 bottle allocations of the new batch of 12 year old cask strength and Longrow Red in about a day (tasting notes to follow shortly), so I wouldn’t hang about for this one when it’s released.

The sample is at 50% and is 12 years old.  It’ll be at 46% when bottled and maybe we’re waiting for it to  be 13 years old, I’m not sure. 

Springbank Green batch 2 cask sample, sherry cask, 2003, 50% A⊕

20150904_145622Nose – Ripe with lovely sour top notes, very red winey.  A belt of engine oil, cut floorboards and dried orange slices.  Light structural peat, cut, unripe lemon and shredded sage.  It’s like a slightly young 14 year old local barley (and that is a very good thing).  With water (bearing in mind this will be bottled with a little more water),a touch of coffee, softer wood, more rich fruit.

Body – Classic Springbank – tons of midrange, engine oil, French oak, numbing tannins, red wine and black cherry.  With water, dusty, dark wood and a little juicier.

Finish – Tannic, perfect sulphur balance, ripe pear and glace cherry.  With water, very long, tannic red wine.

A classic Springbank – red fruit, tobacco, engine oil and very ripe.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

SMWS September Outturn

20150904_202418Sorry it’s late!  There’s some big stuff in here, hiding in an outturn that doesn’t look too great on paper.  Also I think I’ve made some peace with Laphroaig (for now).

Lots of funk, incense and dirty whisky in here and some really sweet stuff.  Most things are still available at the time of publishing, if not online, in the bars.  And it’s a big outturn in the end, enjoy!

SMWS 48.61, Concerto zenzero, Balmenach, 13 years old, 63.1% A

7th March 2002, 240 bottles, refill bourbon

20150904_165028Nose - Bright, perfumed and quite zesty - green wine gums. A good backing of floral sweetness though, herbal too with cut flower stalks and lemongrass joss sticks. Typical young society stuff, but rather lovely, very sweet and floral.

Body - Clean and clear, big beautiful fruit (apple, pear skin) and young, blonde oak. Some marzipan

Finish - Spicy, very tannic - over perfumed perhaps.

A solid young society dram and quite tannic in the delivery - lovely nose though. A lot softer with water but retains that marzipan and young wood.

SMWS 37.65, Bursting with interest and imaginings, Cragganmore, 29 years old, 46% A⊕+

19th December 1985, 192 bottles, refill bourbon

20150904_165056Nose - Deep orange wax, lily petals, soft toffee and a lovely (library) plastic book covering backing to it - it's not just blustering old soft whisky, it's got structure. Marmalade on hot buttered, slightly burnt granary toast. A  gentle and elegant nose. With water, much fresher, juicier, lots of orange - almost fake orange squash.

Body - Deep, rich, buttery, with a wonderful texture and lovely structural sulphur. Just the most gentle, sweetly balanced, drinkable old whisky. With water, fatter and totally delicious.

Finish - Medium, some tannins but perfectly balanced - with water there's a lot more orange and grapefruit zest.

A wonderful, old whisky with perfect balance and structure. Very good, and between this and the Glenfarclas, the pick of the outturn.


SMWS 63.32, Bitter-sweet, eccentric character, Glentauchers, 25 years old, 49.6% A⊕

28th November 1989, 128 bottles, refill bourbon

20150904_165107Nose - Ripe stone fruit, copper penny and just a little hint of peat? Waxed, definitely good cask but not giving much up. Quite masculine, in a sweet way. Some Sauternes and Kiwi fruit.

Body - Winey now, sweet, dusky, quite meaty - crackling and pork fat. More Kiwi fruit, very drinkable.

Finish - Long, lots of sweet toffee and sulphur and the return of the copper penny metallic note near the end, finishing on malted barley.

This is a seriously delicious, drinkable whisky - loads of balance and interest, not quite the nose of the 37 or the elegance but very good.


SMWS 35.137, Delightful evocation of the boudoir, Glen Moray, 25 years old A+

25th August 1989, 87 bottles, first fill bourbon.  25 years in first fill!

20150904_165119Nose - Very sweet, overripe fruit (pear?), Victoria sponge with buttercream icing. Too sweet and obvious for me - cloying. Floral now, more Sauternes, more cake, particularly with water - much more interesting with time and water.

Body - More vanilla and buttercream, icing decoration, and plastic like a brand new Action Man (thanks Sam). Sweeter, juicier with water, and a long overdue balancing hand from the cask.

Finish - Long, lots of sweet wine, lots more icing sugar.

This is a very drinkable, delicious drink, but it's barely whisky and it's improbably sweet.  This whisky’s faults are a good illustration of what's so great about the 37.

SMWS 46.32, Summertime and whisky is easy, Glenlossie, 22 years old, 53% A-

16th November 1992, 275 bottles, refill bourbon

20150904_165038Nose - Hard and muted. Hard toffee, more toast, malted barley and lots of new make. A very inactive cask. Better with water though, it's bringing out more sugar, some cask, some plum.

Body - Sweet and robust in the delivery, good musk, unripe fruit and just … not much. Much better with water - better made, some sulphur.

Finish - Medium, quite tannic. Drying with water.

It's competent with water but quite boring otherwise.

SMWS 4.210, Whisky Smash, Highland Park, 16 years old, 60% A+

19th April 1999, 228 bottles, first fill bourbon

20150904_174915Nose - Really dark and winey, perfect balance and loads of deep, red depth. And it smells of Dal - starchy, warm spices and cinnamon. But throughout (the whole thing in fact) it has a really sweet backbone that ties is all together.

Body - Big, sour and spicy - quite big peat, and with a real funky, sour back note to it. Seriously delicious though.  Sam says it tastes like a Northern Irish bonfire – burning wet wood crates and traffic cones, effigies of the pope.

Finish - Very dirty - lots of burning rubbish (in a good way), but balanced out by beautiful sweetness. Coffee, but then a big, brutal dirty edge to it. Strange, but absolutely wonderful stuff. Now it's quite cloying? Complex and challenging. Tobacco and more oak with water. 

This is a big, complicated and seriously delicious whisky, but it's a real taster rather than drammer, and quite hard work – you play a dangerous game with dirty sulphur and funky off flavours in whisky but this carries it off well.


SMWS 58.16, Margarita cocktail, Strathisla, 9 years old 59.4% B⊕

30th March 2006, 289 bottles, refill bourbon

20150904_174850Nose - Barely there - green apple, hard pear, woolly fruit. Lots of new make. Menthol tobacco? With time it opens up, giving deodorant and a touch of pastry, but it's pretty young and closed.

Body - Now I get the tequila - green, herbal and bitter. Quite soft with a touch of spice. Very interesting, but again, barely whisky.

Finish - Medium, clean. Better with water, like a good new make. Lots of barley.
This is an interesting dram – one for the bar to break up a session- but not one for your collection.

SMWS 121.79, Over the rainbow!, Arran, 15 years old, 54.8% A+

20th April 2000, 146 bottles, refill bourbon

20150904_180012Nose - Sweet and nondescript. Another new makey one. PVC, barley sugar, mastic but a musky backing too. It's pretty hard work. With water, quite petrolic and a lot better but with a burnt bread edge.

Body - Sweet, overripe plum, very fruity but I want to say peated. It's musky, dusty and oaky. Much more balanced with water and a tiny bit of sulphur. It definitely grows on you but it's really not very Arran.

Finish - Medium, simple and sweet-tannic. At the end, rye bread and some artificial sweetener.

Remembering the telling off I got from John about distillery expectations - this is a BUY

SMWS 7.119, Lubbly jubbly!, Longmorn, 11 years old, 60.9%  A⊕

26th May 2003, 227 bottles, first fill bourbon

20150904_180056Nose - Bright and hard, but not citrussy - hard acrylic varnish, swimming pool toilets and maybe (going back on the not-citrus) there's some grapefruit zest in here too. Young but confident. After tasting it, the hard toffee comes through a lot more, with richer cereal. With water, lots of cake and more buttercream icing.

Body - Much richer and fruitier than the nose would suggest, plus a lot of rich cask and balancing musk. Fruity coffee. Riper with water, and more balanced.

Finish - Long, spicy and nutty - it took me a good while to dig nutty out of this fruity whisky! Especially with Darren telling me off about Laphroaig the whole time.  Good balance, tannins and sulphur.

This is a hard but confident drammer. I could get behind this. Lovely stuff, although takes a time to get going.


SMWS 55.29, A barley harvest and "fizzy buzz", Royal Brackla, 14 years old, 56.9% A⊕

26th September 2000, 239 bottles, refill bourbon

20150904_180029Nose - Barley sugar, and clean, competent but at first… not that interesting. A bit thin. Some second hand cigarette smoke and cut potato. A much better presentation with water, the musky cask is more apparent – light tropical fruit finally, and those fags are now funky and complex.

Body - Sweet, good musk backing, grapefruit flesh and butter sandwiches. Asian fruit and apple danish.

Finish - Oddly cloying, a big chocolate/mars bar belt throughout the finish and very long. But with citrus bitterness and an agave touch.

Another confident, well put together whisky and showing complexity beyond its years, but takes a bit of digging to get going.  Some time with the bottle open would probably improve that anyway.


SMWS 1.194, Attractive, rounded and comforting, Glenfarclas, 16 years old, 60.6% A⊕+

9th April 1999, 211 bottles, first fill bourbon

20150904_180040Nose - Deeply ripe and sweet, balanced and yes, extremely attractive. Beautifully winey, lots of glace cherries, lovely cask wax, but happily backed by some more funk - musky, overripe peach, cat basket. Bloody lovely on the nose.

Body - Ripe, waxy and spicy, but with burnt butter and burnt bread (my first thought was a toasted baked bean sandwhich, which I used to love when I was a student). Wonderful mouthfeel, very ripe. With water, spicier, more wooded, and lovely.

Finish - Long, numbing grapefruit and quite bitter too. Pineapple kubes or burnt apricot jam at the end?

This is a seriously delicious whisky - it's complex, challenging, drinkable, mature and balanced. I can't fault this.


SMWS 3.246, The Curious Apothecary, Bowmore, 16 years old, 57.2% A+

4th May 1999, 192 bottles, first fill bourbon

20150904_194004Nose - Close to heaven after the amount of bourbon sugar and vanilla in this line-up, as usual the peat is a blessed relief. Grilled lemon halves, lemon sherbets. A sandalwood box (I keep my earrings in one), and some fried fish bones. There's a big hint at the sweetness to follow but a lot more complexity on the nose than the body delivers.

Body - Juicy and sweet, an intense blast of tobacco and vanilla. But this is a bit simplistic - very Tempest like.

Finish - Long and cloying. I initially loved Tempest but I've recently come to view it as too sweet. I'm afraid this is a bit, too (although it's defintely better than Tempest). Lots of Mukhwas (after dinner Indian seeds).

This is a big, classic, MUST BUY society Bowmore on the nose, but let down by the delivery - it would have been better in refill.

SMWS 66.73, Midnight feast at pony club camp, Ardmore, 10 years old, 61.1% A⊕

5th October 2004, 268 bottles, 1st fill white wine (from previous Ardmores I would presume Chardonnay but it’s not stated).

20150904_194015Nose - Deep and lovely, and again with the funk! The gentle Ardmore peat is assertively spoken over by some really dirty white wine. Rotten apples, bacon, pancakes, maple syrup and ├ęclairs.

Body - Complex and quite savoury. Pork and apple, wild rice and white wine. An absolutely delicious delivery. With water, it catches at the back of the throat (a bit) in the way that I don't like Ardmores do. But otherwise it's lovely stuff.

Finish - Cloying, artificial sweetener. Long and juicy but a bit brutal.

This is overriden by the white wine cask, but very well. The throat catchy thing is just me with Ardmores.  And I love the funk.


SMWS 29.168, Fade to black, Laphroaig, 15 years old, 51.8% A+

1st July 1999, 281 bottles, refill bourbon.

20150904_194027Nose - I'm a bit torn between causing controversy and not! So I'll just tell it how I see it. It is light, but it's herbal and savoury, some pastry, and actually quite mineral - granite rather than metallic. With time, and after tasting (and water) there's some medicinal notes - dirty bandage, old med kits.

Body - Gentle, good balance between white wine, peat and apple. Carrots? Gooseberry? Lovely (refill) cask.

Finish - Medium, quite dirty, dry peat. Blackberries (bearing in mind they tastes of almost nothing despite being so richly coloured) and stale bandage. I do prefer it to last months though - it's better balanced - but it's still very light, although there's big peat tannins in the finish.


SMWS 53.227, Sweet, salty & smoky, Caol Ila, 18 years old, 56.8% A+

3rd March 1997, 248 bottles, refill bourbon

20150904_194034Nose - Bright, jewelled fruit. The nose is sweet and perfumed, with Sotol and cream, a hint of sour cherries and E45 cream. Expensive (musky) honey and speciality malt (hot and dusty at the start of a brew day in summer).

Body - Beautifully rich, demerara sugar and apple pie. Toppy with bright, sweet peat, and lovely sweet wine.

Finish - Very long, and very sweet, big oak and less dirty than usual.

This is a big, sweet, beautiful Coal Ila. The peat takes a back seat but it's there. Fruity sweet funk works though.


Thursday, 3 September 2015

A pair of North British

North British is a grain distillery owned by Edrington Group and Diageo, and provides the bulk grain whisky to the two big Edrington blends (Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark) as well as J&B rare and JW black for Diageo.  Most of this whisky arrives for bottling in tankers – production of blended whisky on this scale and price point is an significant, industrial operation.  But a high level of care is still taken to make good whisky.  Cutty Sark is becoming a firm favourite of mine – it’s frequently in highballs and Glencairns chez Cops.

Lots of the grain whisky that’s produced by North British leaves in tankers after three years in cask, but in order to make old blended whisky, you need old grain whisky.  So while the best casks don’t typically make it into the big grain distilleries (which can lead to some very old, not very interesting grain whisky, such as the recent Society G7.8), the single cask bottlings that escape are often pretty interesting. 

So here’s a pair!  The first is a single cask from BBR (intimately linked to Edrington through their ownership of the Glenrothes brand (but not the distillery) – also a big component of Cutty).  This caught my eye because it’s quite young, and single grain bottlings are often quite old (and also because BBR intrigue me). Next is a North British Old Particular, part of a quartet that mark the first OP grains, released recently.

Berry's, North British 2000, 13 years old, 46% A

Cask 4314

20150902_201844Nose - Ripe, stern and cakey. Red berries, a touch of bandage, hard wood and a woodworking file. On exhale there's kola cubes (remember, no cola) and a honeyed edge, like sesame snaps. Finally, a touch of bacon, swiney rather than smoky. This is rather strict, but somehow very refreshing and quite enjoyable.

Body - Plays a good wood, sour, vanilla game, right down the middle. Bright and feisty

Finish - Short but refreshing - clean and tart. Wood at the end.

What's not good about it - strict and simple. Quite a lot of youth still.

What's good about it - But refreshing and quite dangerously drinkable. When I first opened it I was quite disappointed but I am slowly learning that single grains take a while to open up.

Note that while this score, A, is pretty “low” from me, I find this a very drinkable, good value bottle of whisky – lots of fun and interesting.  I would definitely recommend this.

Old Particular, North British, 21 years old, 50.9% A+

Cask 10797, refill hogshead.  This is a typical Old Particular release – good for the long run but doesn’t blow the doors off at first.  I think that’s right.

north-british-21-year-old-cask-10797-old-particular-douglas-laing-whiskyNose - A lot more wine, stewed carrots, sweet raisins. It's savoury. Cut flower stalks and more metal. A world of difference at 21, the youth is gone, yet still a little austere.

Body - Oddly compelling - sweet and sour, I'm reminded of dandelion stalks for some reason? That savoury note makes it very drinkable again - rich and meaty but light and herbal.

Finish - Long with a bright, sour note at the top of the palate, like vinegar (but it's not acetic at all). Well balanced throughout.

What's not good about it - Odd stuff - it's how I imagine an un-smoked mezcal might taste.

What's good about it - Very interesting though, and extremely drinkable - both of these are but this is the more interesting. I could see myself enjoying a bottle of this.