Thursday, 29 October 2015

SMWS November 2015 Outturn

20151028_172219SMWS at November brings the “big list”, with the Society offering a bumper crop of bottlings to meet the massive demand for Christmas drinking and present buying.  After all, the casks can’t get any bigger (and given the current drought of sherry casks – there are none here again – they’re on average actually getting smaller), and they won’t blend more than one cask together to make a bigger release, so more individual casks must be released!  This poses quite a problem for completists, cataloguers, archivists and obsessives like me and you, but as always I’ve got your back, or at least I’m planning to.

But first there’s a little list, and it’s a little early this month, October 31st rather than first Friday (November 6).  This outturn has some really interesting whisky in it, with some beautiful noses in the “light or young” category, although I did find them a little disappointing in the delivery.  The exception here is the 44, the first one, which is cracking.  Then moving up the scale, there’s a couple of Arrans, both similar stats, both great.  One is in the outturn, the other is on the bar only and takes the place of a Glen Grant which is online only (and I haven’t tried).  Then there’s very little big old gear except for a Miltonduff, and a good bunch of Islays (especially the Laphroaig).  The Glen Grant and Miltonduff are both reissues from previous outturns.


But no real unifying themes with this outturn, kind of the calm before the storm too.  Be very afraid for mid-November, when the largest ever outturn will reveal its cards.  I’m bloody terrified… happy Halloween!

SMWS 44.68, Tea time treat, Craigellachie, 12 years old, 61% A⊕

27 June 2003, refill bourbon, 274 bottles

20151028_155822Nose - Complex and enticing; sweet but sour barley, barley sugar, roasted lemon shells, fresh pipe tobacco and lovely, dusty, sweetshop fruit-salad fruits. Fruity, mouthwateringly sweet but still fresh. With water, slightly more meaty - hints of stew and carrots.

Body - Big, sharp and spicy. Lots of boiled sweets and massive alcohol burn. With water, more floral, significantly gentler; demerara sugar and a much fuller mouthfeel. Quite delicious but quite a bruiser still.

Finish - Long, with dusty sweets and hard barley.

The bright boiled-sweet balances the hard youth perfectly on this malt, it's a cracker and a fantastic 40-something quidder from this months' outturn.


SMWS 37.70, Fresh as a daisy, Cragganmore, 15 years old, 56.9% A-

22 August 2000, refill bourbon, 303 bottles

20151028_163330Nose - Bright and fresh with waxy mints, green melon, cheap vanilla ice cream and Edinburgh rock. Herbal notes include cut flower stalk, just washed coriander leaf and something just a little sexier, perhaps lip gloss? There's also a big, important old whisky in here which was looking forward to coming out but didn't quite make it. It's a really intriguing and balanced young nose again. It'd be a great dram for a really bracing spring day.

Body - Gentle, sweet, slightly spicy with a surprising lack of mid-range and a touch of Swarfega. Some cinnamon jawbreaker, which I don’t really like. Better integrated with more oils with water, but that disconcerting cinnamon heat is still there.

Finish - Long and hot (in a dusty cinnamon manner), also some chilli spice.

A fantastic nose on this whisky but I can't get my head round the cinnamon jawbreaker and chilli heat. 

SMWS 39.113, An explosion of playfulness, Linkwood, 15 years old, 57% A

1 June 2000, refill bourbon, 300 bottles

20151028_164415Nose - Light, bright, waxy and quite girly. Strawberry laces (the plasticky hollow ones) and limoncello. Actually the longer I spend with it the more masculine it becomes; freshly dug potatoes, cardboard, earth. But then back with the fizzers and lemon toffees. Fascinating and balanced (I love the earthy ones). Come on delivery…. be good!

Body - Quite hard… and quite ordinary unfortunately. Unripe apple, fruit polos, quite a lot of spice and some apple pips. All quite muted against some bitterness. With water a lot better - softer with some marshmallow; odd elements though like Pritt Stick and liquorice root.

Finish - Medium, a little hollow. Spicy and numbing. At the end, unripe pear.

Quite a challenging whisky given the name; wonderful nose though.

SMWS 5.47, Floral perfumes in a Chinese restaurant, Auchentoshan, 14 years old, 59.8% A

11 October 2000, refill bourbon, 239 bottles. Given the name and the distillery, I have high hopes for this.

20151028_165422Nose - Another intriguing, balanced and fruity nose, with an interesting element of funk about it (that's the Chinese restaurant, with anise-doped pork fat and Asian fruits. I also love the funky ones, I wonder if I should mix the last two?). That intensely sweet but slightly held back Auchentoshan character is present too, with white lilies and old school permanent markers. Absolutely wonderful.

Body - Softly sweet, lots of hard oak and great funk, numbing though. Dusty at the sides of the tongue and spicy on the tip. Weirdly lacking in mid-range again, the feeling is quite watery with intense sweetness, floral funk and big tannins hanging out in their own corners but not really coming together.

Finish - Extremely drying tannins, very long and quite spicy in the overall delivery.

Another fabulous nose let down by heat and tannins in the late delivery.  Bah.

SMWS 36.90, Happy, frivolous, smoochy dram, Benrinnes, 15 years old, 57.5% A+

14th September 1999, 1st fill bourbon, 217 bottles.

20151028_170842Nose - Slightly darker wood, red wine soaked, sweet with first fill bourbon goodness (lemon tart, royal icing and the dipper from a sherbet dib-dab). There's a lovely fist-full-of-roses floral element in here too; obvious, fresh and crushable. Behind that, good clean hard barley fun. With water significantly more vanilla icing - almost buttercream icing. And just a touch of petrol.

Body - Soft, round and warm, a latte and a mouthful of Marlboro light tobacco. With water, apple juice, cannoli (thanks Mari Ella) and retronasal almonds.

Finish - Simple and relatively short, clean and delicious. Some milk-tart now but with just a hint of funk. With a different panel this would have had a bakery in the title. Delicious.


SMWS 121.84, What goes around…, Arran, 15 years old, 56.2% A⊕

2nd December 1999, refill bourbon, 263 bottles.

20151028_172234Nose - oh hello… deep "new" plastic (new library book coverings, a new magazine), sweet sherry, box fresh tools (hard plastic packaging and sweet machine oil), and just… compelling. Most unlike a "modern Arran" but certainly with the same DNA (actually I'm sure there are some casks in the recent OB 18 that were like this). Fresh and interesting, fruity and a bit dirty, and a ghost of toast with marmite. Great nose. With water, even better potentially - a little more toast, baked plums.

Body - Big and sweet with cereal led spice and orchard fruit. Toffee apple actually, oak and a lovely tropical wax behind it.

Finish - Medium, toffeed and quite oily. Better integration with water.

This is a fantastic Arran and reminds me of the OB 18 (if not overall, certainly in part). Big fan.


SMWS 121.80, A curious and eccentric conundrum, Arran, 14 years old, 54.6% A⊕

20th April 2000, refill bourbon, 292 bottles. Danish release? On the bar in London right now (not in the outturn).

20151028_174648Nose - Sweet but balanced by reduced red wine. Dark and earthy, this reminds me of the Bere Barley which was [BIG HEART]. Also, big jewelled sweetshop stuff (but held in check by the earth).

Body - Sweet, spiced, crystal malt and puff pastry. Actually now I’ve tasted it the nose is all puff pastry. Lovely sulphur and fruit backboned toffee too. Clean fruit - ripe pear and orange juice.

Finish - Quite long, toffee and tannins. Long after the "official finish" ends there's red wine cask and good sulphur.

Another fantastic Arran, it's easy to forget (given how much of it there is) how good Arran can be. It's all in good proportion here; great spirit, good cask, fruit, meat and a touch of funk. Come and buy a dram!


SMWS 1.196, Sunshine, motherhood and apple pie, Glenfarclas, 13 years old, 57.2% A⊕

7th June 2002, refill bourbon, 235 bottles.

Nose - Bright leaves, preserved lemons, Mukhwas and honey. Lemsip even. Stewed bramley apples and dunnage warehouse - wet oak, damp soil. Very good.

Body - Oh yes… gentle but slightly burnt (burnt pastry, burnt toast) a touch of sulphur and a deep dirty wax. Quite spicy but ripe and interesting. A dirty cask come good. Softer, more toffeed with water. Delicious.

Finish - Quite long, lots of bitter lemon zest and almost grapefruit. "French brown" pastry - quite nutty at the end (hazelnut membrane).

This is a fantastic whisky; nutty and delicious. Pity I forgot to take a photo.


SMWS 48.63, Up all night editorial, Balmenach, 11 years old, 62.8% A+

7th August 2003, first fill bourbon, 211 bottles.

20151028_180616Nose - Loving the magazines and dawn thing. The magazines are bright, sweet and plasticky. Dawn is cold, fresh and ozoney but with a bit of inner city petrol. Also: frost blown cheap ice cream, foam bananas and (weirdly) leeks. E45 cream! Don't shoot the messenger. I love it though. With water, wedding cake: marzipan and royal icing.

Body - Sweet, spicy and most clearly aniseed balls. Deliciously fruity with water, balancing bitterness.

Finish - More ice cream. More frost. Clean though, a winter whisky, with a really insistent toffeed fruit to it.


SMWS 28.26, Pile-driver punch whisky, Tullibardine, 10 years old, 61.4% A+

24th March 2005, refill bourbon, 192 bottles.

20151028_182530Nose - Fragrant and artificial like new carpet (in a good way). Long overdue orange juice, more crystal malt, granary toast and honey. Pretty warm stuff, a lovely nose.

Body - Middy, spicy, candied orange, soft fruit toffees and lovely cask. With water, even fruitier but perhaps the orange is dried and a bit more xmassy?

Finish - Medium, big oils, and lots of grapefruit bitterness.

A good one this, some hot radiator fruit, lots of orange and a balanced citrus bitterness.

SMWS 72.28, What a wonderful world, Miltonduff, 30 years old, 51.2% A⊕

17th November 1982, refill bourbon, 144 bottles. This is a reissue from May 2014, but I hadn’t tried it before.

20151028_183942Nose - After all this infanticide, a 30 year old! Quite a change of gears. Deep and jewelled, slow cooked lemon wax, and very clearly lime marmalade. Obviously delicious and quite citrussy, almost key lime pie. A touch of cloudy lemonade perhaps?

Body - Ripe, gentle, dark lemon curd. Perfect wood balance too but a touch too wooded.

Finish - Quite short, almost watery but delicious and easy drinking. This is the kind of old, gluggable drammer that would impress your boss. Probably get one in stock just in case.

SMWS 4.213, A regency Pomander, Highland Park, 15 years old, 56.6% A⊕

15th October 1999, first fill bourbon, 213 bottles.

20151028_185352Nose - Very whisky warehouse: sweet, beautiful spirit, fresh cask, clean air . Baked apple (fluffed up but still sour) with raisins. And here's the blessedly relief of a few PPM of peat! It's manifesting as more lovely earthy tones and ryvita (so quite cereal too). As for Pomander, I get a dried orange slice, perhaps some tobacco and some old honey. With water, more nuts, more hot radiator, sweeter wine lovely. A great, ordinary HP that reminds me happily of Edrington's bottling hall.

Body - Sweet but bitter, and here's the cloves from the Pomander as top dressing. Underneath there's classic deep HP toffee, wine, old wood and acrylic.

Finish - Long, quite bitter and almost cloying but rescued by floral coffee notes. Very nutty at the end.

This is quite a confused HP, and hardly well integrated but very tasty. With water it really works and at £60 this is a big, wine led, beautiful HP which I have no hesitation in recommending.


SMWS 3.254, Sweet and salty seaweed, Bowmore, 19 years old, 58.1% A+

27th March 1996, refill bourbon, 274 bottles.

20151028_191155Nose - Sharp and floral, lots of salt and ozone, quite citric acid led too. But with that "fish and chips" note that makes good (young, bourbon) Bowmore so satisfying. It's very toppy to be honest (malt vinegar) and quite young on the nose, but balanced and interesting (and in the same way S&V Chipsticks are, if we're all honest, absolutely awesome, this is delicious).

Body - Fresh, juicy, intense lemon and seaside peat. Pear and toffee. This isn't the progression I'd expect from Bowmore and there's no way I'd call this as a 19 year old.  However if you were offered this was a 5 year old Kilchoman for this money you'd probably bite the offerer's arm off.

Finish - Long and citric, dusty and bitter. On message.

This is a tough call. It's young for a 19yo Bowmore, and off balance with the citric bitterness, but it has a lot of interesting elements and quite drammable. Up to you dude.

SMWS 29.175, The day's catch, Laphroaig, 16 years old, 52.6% A⊕+

1st July 1999, refill bourbon, 289 bottles.

20151028_193126Nose - Fabulous. Meaty, peaty and salty, with old bandages, burnt pine needles and smoked mussels. It has a level of meaty savour I kind of assumed was reserved for refill sherry casks. Funkier with water too. Pink peppercorns and juniper, Sauternes and hubba bubba, but most importantly funky, medical Laphroaig. Delicious.

Body - White wine and perfect pepper. Dank peat and a little wet, even.  Funky and juicy but strangely drying.

Finish - Medium, quite fresh and bandage led. But so drying.

Bandages, white wine, quite dirty and very medical, I have no hesitation in recommending this to you as a frequent SMWS flyer. This is an excellent Laphroaig and very far from (now) mainstream Laphroaig.


SMWS 53.229, Life is a beach, Caol Ila, 19 years old, 55.3% A⊕

16th January 1996, refill bourbon, 303 bottles.

20151028_194345Nose - Gentle and ripe, fruit and S&V. Grapes? An absolute classic SMWS Caol Ila, with salt & vinegar peanuts, it’s musky and citric. Love hearts too, very distinctly. Maybe some Tokaji? I am a bit awash with SMWS Caol Ila at home but this is still turning my head.

Body - Clean and yes, it's got a real peat backing but mainly it's a pillow of marshmallow. Big, blousey artificial sweetness… it works surprisingly well. Some floral sourness too, like almost overripe raspberry.

Finish - Long, balanced, fruity and winey.

This is actually quite a weird Caol Ila and it took me a while to decide that I really like it. But then I did.


But don’t get too excited yet, there’s a lot more between now and December to spend your xmas money on!  Cheers all.

Japanese Whisky 3: Nikka

Nikka are the other big whisky producer in Japan, and own Miyagikyo, Yoichi and (weirdly) Ben Nevis. Nikka was founded by Masataka Taketsuru who ran Yamazaki for Suntory before starting Nikka in 1934.  Let’s start at the top.

SMWS 124.4, Miyagikyo, Full of secret pleasures, 17 years old, 60% A⊕+

August 22nd 1996, First fill PX sherry butt, 479 bottles.  This was the sister cask to 124.5, my favourite whisky of 2014 (probably).  I don’t think I’ve had a Miyagikyo I didn’t really like. 

124.4Nose - Ripe, nutty and fusty. Dark and intensely (and very dryly) sherried, but somehow still bright, with jewelled red berries. Still - old bookcase and ancient paper, prunes and hazelnuts. With time, a beautiful complexity comes through - ripe, dark cask, plum and peach pits. It's superb. When I first tasted this it was totally overshadowed by 124.5 (which I couldn’t buy because it was way off my price scale ), but coming back to it, I'm impressed. It doesn't have the soul of an old (sherried) Glenfiddich, but it has the authority. With water, more fruit and more beautiful wood.

Body - Fabulously rich, nutty complex sherry. Mellow and balanced (lots of toasted walnuts), but bright and exciting (rum and raisin, spicy sulphur and lemon pepper). An enormous, but balanced delivery. Softer, fruitier and riper, with more developed but perfect sulphur.

Finish - Medium, spicy, deep boiled sweets. Rolls with balsa, bandages, black peppercorns and fried pork rinds. Spicier with water. What a glorious whisky.

What's not good about it - Nothing except the usual (price, availability).

What's good about it - Deep, intense, fruit and sherry perfection.

SMWS G12.1 “Oh so sweet”, Nikka Coffey Malt, 11 years old, 58.9% A⊕

6th March 2003, 246 bottles, re-charred hogshead

Reviewed previously as part of last December's ruinously good outturn

g12.1Nose - Fruity, good wax, and compared to the G13.1, much softer and warmer. I still get blackened banana skin, but no cherry, but also a really deep age to it. Amazing the wonders they can work in 11 years in Japan. Warm, polite wax and promise of something seriously sensual to come.

Body - Sweet banana - foam bananas, banana ice cream. It's actually quite nicely balanced out by the hard grain, that's very welcome here as I'm finding it is with all my favourite grain whiskies. With water, even more banana and even more excitement - banana cake? Absolutely delicious.

Finish - A good malt character in the immediate finish, weirdly, then hard oak, very sweet and chilli, coffee and finally very sour wood - almost joss stick. I get none of the orange juice I got in the G13.1 or when I tasted it previously. But then it's been open for almost a year.

What's not good about it - a harsh character to it, again near the end, takes the edge off the fun.

What's good about it - another fabulous nose, full of amazing old cask, tropical fruit and wax. Wonderful balance between intensely sweet banana and hard grain in the initial delivery. Intense and exciting.

Yoichi 1991, 62% A⊕+

1991-2014, cask #129459

yoichi-1991-23-year-old-cask-129459-whiskyNose - Lightly, elegantly wooded, with ripe tropical fruit (papaya, mango). Seriously, importantly sweet but totally poised (intertwined with earth, damp wood, coloured pencils, rosemary and port cask). It's a beautiful nose. Sweeter, with more pencil eraser with water, even better wood. Very "glazed" fruit and balanced sherry.

Body - Sweet fruit, crayons, spicy wood, black pepper. With water, very drinkable - lovely wood, fried rosemary, tic tacs and black tea leaves.

Finish - Pickled lemons, very hot and spicy, lots of black pepper. Needs water. Still spicy, but gentler with water - more pronounced wood sour, very long.

What's not good about it - The end of the delivery "doesn't rock" - it's very good but not up to the nose.

What's good about it - Fantastic nose, the whole thing is polite yet intense (quite a feat and something that Japanese whisky excels at).

SMWS 116.20, Fascinating complexity and finesse, Yoichi , 26 years old, 61.6% A⊕

7th November 1987, virgin oak puncheon, 452 bottles.

smws-0116-020nNose - Dark, sweet, highly wooded. When I first got the share of this, I was quite unimpressed with it - way too wooded (26 years in virgin oak). But it's really mellowed with some air. Now, the wood is balanced with red wine and burnt sugar, deep, burnt sherry and bonito. Quite Staggy, but much more balanced and complete. Brighter, glacé fruit with water. Cherry tobacco and rose water, the blue bobbly liquorice allsort, and a touch of gas.

Body - Sweet but bitter; menthol, cigar tobacco and sour, complex wood (MDF, balsa and oak floorboard sawdust). Unbalanced by water - that over-wooded note comes through a bit more.

Finish - Very long, sweet and bitter, intense and numbing, but somehow balanced and exciting.

What's not good about it - Hard work with 26 years in virgin oak. It walks a complicated path and just manages to hold it together. It is, by many measures, overly wooded (although not American measures).

What's good about it - Sweet tobacco and loads of complexity and fruit on the nose. Delicious. Massive - like a big bourbon on the delivery - toffee, hard vanilla, red wine and massive oak. A beautiful mid-point between Scotland and America.

Yoichi "1990's", 55%, Vatted Yoichi 1990-1999 A⊕⊕

This was when things started to get slightly hysterical at Bret’s place and I became slightly lost for words.

20151015_203709Nose - Deeply red winey, rich, cakey and carrot cake with nail polish. Spicy on the nose, bright and bold. Lightly peated and very sexy. Delightfully poised between light bourbon and nutty sherry.

Body - Red wine and tobacco, Oloroso nuttiness, lots of wood and very rich.

Finish - Spicy tobacco, lovely wood… it's hard to fault the intensity of the sherry oak with this level of integration.

What's not good about it - Nothing

What's good about it - Like settling into a perfectly made, very large, very comfortable bed at the end of a very stressful day. It's hard to put a price on that feeling.

Nikka - Single Malt Whisky "Miyagikyo" Sherry and Sweet, 12 years old, 55% A⊕⊕

Distillery only.

20151015_211805Nose - Big sherry. Perfect sherry bomb on the nose. Herbal and lightly sulphured, almost mineral, with matches and granite. A bit speechless.

Body - Quite orgasmic. A soft blow to the frontal cortex, very softly spiced and extremely rude. Unspeakably good.

Finish - Very long and spiced, oaked with orange chocolate and almost sour.

What's not good about it - nothing. hard to fault something this filthy.

What's good about it - Immense fruit, sherry and balance on the nose, incredibly compelling on the delivery. Amazing stuff. 

Nikka - Single Malt Whisky "Miyagikyo" Fruity and rich, 12 years old, 55% A⊕

Distillery only.

Nose - Beautifully jewelled. Oaked and dusty and lovely. Furniture polish, hot radiators, deeply sweet. Massive first fill bourbon but lovely.

Body - Sweet and rounded, how is this so young and delicious? Spicy and well oaked but correct.

Finish - Long, parallel wood and dark vanilla.

What's not good about it - Nothing

What's good about it - Perfectly balanced, and very interesting. How is this so good at 12?

Nikka - Single Malt Whisky "Miyagikyo" Malty and soft, 12 years old, 55% A⊕

Distillery only.

20151015_213549Nose - Darker and gentler, cotton wool oak and honey glaze. A little bit of bandage and very mid-rangey. As components of a bigger whisky these are all amazing.

Body - finally some youth! Spicy oak, bright white flowers.

Finish - Jarringly (given the others) spicy and spicy but the black pepper and musk is still exciting and fresh.

Blend of all 3 A⊕+


If these are supposed to be the component parts of Miyagikyo then presumably they’d do well together.  Marrying time was about 3 seconds.

Nose - Dark and sexy and clean and fresh and complex. Balanced and complete - damn they should sell this. Blackcurrants and granite,

Body – wow… enormous fruit, sherry, wood, vanilla, beer, berries and oak. Perfection.

Finish – Extremely long and brutally satisfying. Very spicy. I'm beginning to lose the ability to comprehend this much excellence.

That was tough, but amazing.  Next time, even more excellence with a triplet of Karuizawa.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Japanese Whisky 2: Suntory

Suntory are a mega-vendor in the world of alcohol and own big, well loved and well cared for names like Yamazaki and (through Beam Suntory) Jim Beam, Maker's Mark, Auchentoshan, Laphroaig and Bowmore. Listening to Jim Mcewan speak about the acquisition of Bowmore, it's hard to fault their involvement - Beam Suntory taking over is when he started to get access to good casks. In fact I can't recall a Scottish distillery complaining about their takeover by a Japanese company (Tomatin speak equally highly of their ownership by Takara Shuzo).

Anyway there’s certainly some great whisky out of Suntory. A fair few have been through this blog, including last years’ Yamazaki and Hakushu Distiller’s Reserves, the Yamazaki DR being one of the best value whiskies I’ve ever tasted.  Sainsburys had it on offer last Christmas as £40 a bottle and it’s still available right now.  Go get some.

Hibiki Harmony, 43% A+

Hibiki in made out of various Suntory whiskies: Yamazaki, Hakushu and grain from Chita, and is matured using some plum liqueur casks (umeshu).

japan_hib11Nose- Immediately sweet and light, like kola kubes (remember, they don't smell or taste of cola). Then blonde hardwood, refreshers, orange cleaning spray and that sweet, slightly angular note you get from good grain whisky in first fill bourbon. Actually the grain character is pretty front and centre, balanced by a light touch of peat. It's a lovely, well rounded, balanced but bright and young nose. After sipping, the wood comes through more on the nose.

Body - Bright, sweet citrus - lots of orange juice and orange zest, then white chocolate and musky wood.  Actually that sweet white chocolate is quite high up in the flavour profile the more you drink it.

Finish - Medium with grapefruit, orange juice and sweet wood.

What's not good about it - A little polite, and some youth is apparent in the initial delivery.

What's good about it - It’s clean and straightforward but it has lovely balance.  And it's absolutely delicious - lots of juicy citrus, great wood, and a lovely grain character to it throughout. I could happily settle into a bottle of this for the evening. This isn’t popular with some people (“it’s good for highballs”, which it no doubt is) but come to it with your arms open, expecting a gentle blended Scotch rather than a Japanese sherry bomb and I think it’s rather good. I have to confess that I wasn’t that impressed with the other Hibiki’s I’ve tried (there’s the 12 here, but I’m remembering a Suntory tasting once where I left my notes in the venue and so didn’t write it up on the blog, but my recollection was that I wasn’t too fussed). but in any case I think they’re ditching the age statemented stuff.

Chita Single Grain, 43% A-

Chita is "the grain distillery" Suntory built to provide grain whisky for their blends.

Thanks to Mark for the smuggled sample.

Chita_GrainNose - A breath of fresh air. Sweet honey, warm cask and sweet grain. Vanilla, a touch of liquorice torpedo, some emulsion paint and glace cherries. Very good.

Body - Very oddly almost exactly like El Dorado 12 year old rum (which is a guilty pleasure of mine, god knows how much extra sugar and colourant goes into it). Sweet but oaked, dark and oily, bitter backnotes of licked wood and grapefruit zest. Even more so with water - unbalanced now and just wet and bitter.

Finish - Medium to long, a lot of spice and rum, almost chilli hot at the end.

What's not good about it - Weirdly rum like. One dimensional.

What's good about it - A really lovely nose, quite tasty too - I do like El Dorado 12. Neckable, even. Responsibly, of course.

Chita Distillery, "Suntory Single Grain Whisky" A+

10yo limited edition, Japan only. This is the first of many from Bret’s stash of Japanese auction gems, all of which are unavailable in this country.

20151015_192229Nose - Sweet and gentle, lightly iced. Flirty sherry, a little oyster. Hard grains and leather. Clean and beautiful.

Body - Gentle, perfect grain. Ice cream and oats. Absolutely beautiful.

Finish - Medium but like eating the best ice cream.

What's not good about it - Quite an ordinary (but good grain) if you look at it that way.

What's good about it - Beautifully jewelled and clean, cute almost. Refreshing and complex grain. 10? Seriously? Lovely stuff.

SMWS G13.1, A complete revelation, Chita, 4 years old, 58.3% A+

October 2009, 622 bottles, virgin oak puncheon

g13.1Nose - Just lovely. Bright, very sweet, very juicy - totally refreshing. Orange barley drink, sweet wine, beautiful pronounced old cask (despite its age - wax, orange and refreshers), and a very well integrated but not lost grain character. Makes your heart skip a beat. More pronounced wood and fruit with water, but with some savoury notes - coated peanuts, poppadum. Beautiful.

Body - Bright, citrussy and balanced, very intense. The orange juice and great cask from the nose is very present in the initial delivery. Then a knock of something musty and syrupy and very spicy, the brutal virgin oak cask.

Finish - Then a long finish, lots of bitterness and spice, and unadulterated wood. With water it's softer, some tobacco.

What's good about it - Only four years in a brutal cask has to take its toll somewhere, and it's in the later delivery. It falls apart - bitter and unbalanced, overwooded.

What's good about it - Just the most beautiful, fruity nose - Asian and intense, with elegance and age. Just wonderful at the start. And with water, it does hang together in the final delivery, it's just not what it could have been.

SMWS 120.7, Hakushu, Sweet, fragrant and satisfying, 14 years old, 55.5% A+

Hakushu is the brother distillery of Yamazaki, located halfway up a mountain and deep in a forest it must be one of the most spectacular and wonderful places to work and make malt and grain whisky - great water too, although I'm not sure how wonderful it is getting the malted barley there! Grain facilities were installed in 2013, 40 years after the opening of the distillery.

September 1999, First fill Bota Corta, 517 bottles.  These first fill Bota Corta casks are very heavy handed with the sherry and deep coffee colour, although Japanese whisky does seem to do very well in them.   I have reviewed this before but that was with a just-opened bottle in the midst of a flight of absolute blockbusters.  What’s it like after a year of living with the bottle?

120.7Nose - Sweet rum soaked raisin and wet, new oak. Whiteboard markers and burnt toast. Coffee liqueur, fried rosemary and old ladies perfume. Fresh with perfumed hand soap and big, black sherry. Very fruity too - glace cherries, stewed plums and basil. With water, some cask begins to come through and hints at how majestic this spirit could have been with perhaps twice as long in refill.

Body - Intense, dry and spiced. Soft liquorice and strawberry laces. Seriously soft and delicious with water.

Finish - Long, spicy and intensely oaked. But this is still young - the blustering sherry isn't backed by quite enough wax.

What's not good about it - A little over the top perhaps and still young. Some sharp corners in the delivery.

What's good about it - But with time and water there is some serious complexity and fun when the cask begins to peek out from behind the sherry. A sweet, intense blockbuster.

WSO-008 from the W Shop in Osaka. Hakushu single malt, bottled 2015. A+

20151015_205634Nose – Bright jewels of clear varnish, oak with strawberry laces and yoghurt raisins. Impossibly bright, very lovely. Deeply sexy.

Body - Balanced and competent… but then, disappointing. Big toffee and tannins but slightly unbalanced.

Finished - Oak complexity, black tea and tannins.

What's not good about it - significantly less impressive in the delivery than the rest of Bret’s treasures. Unbalanced.

What's good about it - Just a fabulous nose - dusty oak and varnish.

Yamazaki, sherry cask 2013, 48% A+

Yamazaki was Japan's first malt distillery, established by Shinjiro Torii (founder of Suntory) and run by the famous Masataka Taketsuru after his time in Scotland learning and working in the Hazelburn distillery in Campbeltown in the 1920s. The distillery is the largest in Japan and is built in an area known for its water quality (unsurprisingly a big consideration for all distilleries, given how much of the stuff is used in the process).

This one's the Jim Murray bible winner. Thanks to Jim Rangeley (who won the bottle in a competition) for the sample!

japan_yam24Nose - Deep, sweet sherry - it's incredibly dark as a whisky. It's bright though, not flawed, but oddly muted, like it's being nosed through cardboard (maybe that's something to do with its time in a 3cl sample bottle). That's it though - no fireworks. A polite sherry bomb - you don't need me to write about fruit and nut, rum and raisin.

Body - A big, soft, mouthfilling delivery. Brown sugar, lots of tumeric and a fried chilli (although not hot). Fried honey and sesame. My friend once drunk a bottle of Jack Daniels on a plane to Australia and ended up in jail, and when he woke up, the police told him he was the politest drunk they'd ever locked up. Well, this is the politest sherry bomb I've ever drunk. A balanced and delicious delivery.

Finish - Long, some spice starts to come through - lots of spicy Oloroso, but not too dry. At the end it's significantly numbing - Szechuan peppercorns even.

What's not good about it - a little flat, oddly spicy at the end compared to the soft nose and delivery. Quite a boring sherry cask.

What's good about it - unflawed - soft and delicious. The spicy wood at the end provides some interest and it's a great sherry delivery. It's worth what it originally sold for, but not the grand it goes for now. The Yamazaki Distillers Reserve is better than this and was selling in Sainsburys for £40 a few months ago.

SMWS 119.14, Yamazaki, Raspberry imperial stout, 11 years old, 53.9% A⊕+

April 2003, 538 bottles, another first fill Bota Corta

20151027_192154Nose - Instantly epic. The kind of screamingly delicious sherry that only works by being balanced by bright toffee, perfect spirit, great wood and lots of juicy fruit. The fruit of a 35 year old highland whisky, with blackberries and red cherry and a cold drink of water. Beautiful.

Body - Absolutely beautiful and totally balanced - black fruit (cut plum, black cherry), a touch of vanilla prune. Softer with water and more obviously sherried. I prefer it neat.

Finish - Now coffee and lightly spiced sherry and sulphur. Almost perfection - the only thing not quite there is the dip in fruit levels at the end. Blended into something significantly older and refill I can imagine some spectacular NAS whisky here.

What's not good about it - unsubtle to say the least. Bruising, almost.

What's good about it - But balanced and extraordinarily moreish. Fantastic balance and intensity. Even with my current "not sure about these sherry bombs" thing going on, I'm impressed.

Mibuki: Osaka blend A+

Another Bret auction special, made by the various departments of Osaka university – each department picked a different cask and it was released as a graduation whisky as a  "joint project with Suntory".

20151015_192330Nose - Complete. Lovely depth and excitement, seasoning of peat, lots of fruit. Even, perhaps, coastal?

Body - Very HP in the initial delivery but then falls a little flat. Initially fruit and tobacco, lots of tannins, quite dry and delicious but not too well integrated.

Finish - Bitterness and disappointingly short.

What's not good about it - clearly designed by committee.

What's good about it - A seriously beautiful nose – dusty, clean and lots of hot radiator.

Next up, Nikka!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Japanese Whisky 1: Introduction

A Japanese whisky primer for Scotch drinkers

Japanese whisky has been something of a blind spot for me for a while - almost intentionally (a so called “cultivated incompetency”). Like Irish whisky and rum I was trying to stay away from it in case "Scotch" happened to me again. Believe it or not, I used to work in my whisky room, back when it was called "The Study". Anyway the cat's definitely out of the bag now, although in truth last Christmas's Japanese blowout at SMWS really did that.

I don't need to tell you about the global excitement that accompanies Japanese whisky, and it hasn't helped having Jim Murray proclaim a relatively ordinary sherry cask from Yamazaki as whisky of the year 2015.  Consequently I have studied some whisky from Japan for you and can report that there’s definitely something in it.  I’ve tasted some absolutely spectacular whisky – heart stopping, mouth shutting, toe curlingly amazing - and at often quite tender ages.  How is this possible, and almost common in Japan when it’s altogether harder in other countries?  I’m beginning to suspect the answer is that a bit of everything is right.  Outturns are lower, and perhaps more care is taken in production (not that anyone in the Scotch industry I’ve met is anything but enormously proud of their art). Maybe some of those racial stereotypes about the Japanese being absolute perfectionists and taking massive pride in every little job might be in play?  Cask selection must be (from tasting this stuff) very high up the agenda with very few jobbing or poor casks being considered.  And finally, terroir has to be a factor.  You only have to look at the location of these distilleries to know that the environment has a major impact in the quality of the whisky. Hakushu (on the side of a mountain, in a forest) below, must have the most amazing air, water, light and atmosphere.  It also shouldn’t be a surprise if this has an effect on the attitude of the people making it, with direct benefits for the whisky.  As I’ve said before, I believe that attitude plays a part in making Islay whisky so good and I consider it to be a part of “terroir” almost as much as the physical environment. 

Hakushu Distillery Hakushu Distillery

It’s not all incredible of course – there’s a lot of over the top sherry action which doesn’t always quite work, and things like a 26 year old SMWS Yoichi full term in virgin oak which is epic but slightly ridiculous.  And there’s some quite boring drams created in the name of highballs (although they can, of course, still be good, like the Hibiki Harmony). 

Miyagikyo DistilleryOne of the observations I made early on in “researching” this post is that they can sometimes seem to lack soul compared to Scotch.  I think there’s a couple of factors at play here.  First the whisky I was drinking smells and tastes a lot more mature than the same aged Scotch would, but that accelerated maturation comes with reduced integration and complexity (as is my observation with bourbon).  Second, I just wasn’t acclimatised to Japanese whisky, and my experience with Scotch gave me a false feeling of comprehension.  The industry has many similarities to Scotch, after all it was setup in the early 1920s by Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru after the latter studied in Glasgow and Campbeltown, but Scotland and Japan have diverged over the last century.  Just as American’s speak the same language as the English but you only have to visit America to release that it’s a very foreign country, the more you dig the more the similarities between Japanese and Scotch whisky seem skin deep. 

Putting it another with with an analogy, consider Japanese food – the sweet, sour, salty elements are all there in balance, as they are in Western foods.  But the colours used to paint the picture are different; soy, kombu, rice wine, mirin, etc.  The result is a balanced and satisfying cuisine, but with a very different feel and experience.  It takes a little acclimatisation before you get it, but then you really get it.


Yamazaki Distillery

The Scotch whisky industry is based on exchange of casks due to its long history of creating blended whisky.  Blended Scotch whisky is balanced and well integrated because the blender has access to whisky from all locations, styles of making and styles of still to create a balanced whole.  In Japan however, like with rum production, there’s no great tradition of swapping casks, so distilleries tend to have multiple types of still onsite producing different whisky styles in order to blend to make a balanced whole.  There are of course exceptions, for example Hibiki (a blended whisky made by Suntory) has casks from multiple distilleries.  But they’re all owned by a single company.  Contrast this with Famous Grouse, which is mostly whisky from Edrington owned distilleries, but also has whisky from other parties in it based on long standing exchange agreements, and North British grain distillery is only part owned by Edrington.  As a result, there is no real concept of distilleries being almost anonymous and the majority of the output “blended away”.  In Scotland many distilleries can count on long standing arrangements to have great tankers full of their three year old spirit dealt with, and with some distilleries that’s where all the whisky goes.  Having to have all the liquid stand up to scrutiny on its own or with other whisky from the same site must result in some greater care being taken.

Japanese Distilleries

There’s (significantly) fewer distilleries in Japan than Scotland so it’s easier to find your way around.  Two big companies, Suntory and Nikka, account for a big chunk of the output of Japan.

mapSuntory (of Beam-Suntory fame) own Yamazaki, Hakushu and the grain distillery Chita (in the “SunGrain” facility)Hibiki is a blend of Suntory whiskies.  Suntory will be the subject of the next post.

Nikka own Yoichi and Miyakigyo.  All the Nikka whiskies are from these two distilleries. Nikka Coffey Malt and Grain are malt and grain whiskies distilled using the Coffey (continuous) stills at Miyagikyo.  Of course in Scotland, all grain whisky is distilled in continuous stills, and all malt whisky in pot stills as this is what the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association) dictate.  Nikka feel free to use the Coffey still to produce both malt and grain whisky.

Chichibu is new and owned by Ichiro Akuto whose grandfather used to own Hanyu (now closed).  There’s quite a few of these hitting the shelves in the UK as Chichibu, Akiro’s Malt or releases from the surviving stock from Hanyu (such as the Joker). 

Mars is the name given to a whisky from a reasonably overlooked distillery called the Shinshu distillery, which is owned by the Hombo brewing company – it was mothballed for a bit then reopened so we’re starting to see whisky come in now from the “new regime”.  More Mars whisky is coming into the UK now and what I’ve tried has been rather good.

And some others you don’t see much of in the UK: Fuji-Gotemba is owned by Kirin (of the beer).  White Oak distillery is owned by Eigashima (a sake and shōchū brewer/distiller).  Fujikai is produced at Monde Shuzo distillery (traditionally a wine maker).  And the rest are closed – Karuizawa, Yamazakura, Hanyu, Kawasaki, etc.

In the course of my research, and in the notes that will follow, I’ve had a few bottles that were commercially available in the UK (although quite a while ago in some cases).  A few, however, have been sourced from Japan by Bret (aka Whisky Japan) and will be harder to track down; distillery only bottles, vattings and whisky blended by Osaka University students.  Apologies for that, but it gives you a feel for the much greater activity that’s happening on home soil.

Tomorrow, some whisky from Suntory.


Sunday, 25 October 2015

Diageo Special Releases 2015

This year a small dream came true (and many large drams came true) and I attended the October release party for the Diageo Special Releases!  Not quite on my own ticket yet, Tom Thomson let me have his.  As with the Glenfiddich Gallery launch, I wrote up more of a report on his blog, and I’ll put the detailed tasting notes on here. 

In short it was a wonderful evening full of wonderful whisky and great to hang out with some people I spend quite lot time talking to online.  The absolute highlights for me were the Clynelish and the Dailuaine, with special mentions for the Pittyvaich and of course the Brora and Port Ellen.  Star buy for ordinary budgets was the cheapest and youngest whisky, the Lagavulin 12 year old. 

20151020_185236Thanks to Jon Bryant for letting me use his photos for this blog (the light in the venue was orange and moody and just terrible for photos and my poor phone couldn’t cope.  Jon’s proper camera had a proper lens, you can read his post about the night here).  Thanks to Diageo for letting me come along and try these epic whiskies.  And thanks to Tom for passing me his ticket!

Dalwhinnie 25 years old, 48.8% A⊕

1989, refill American oak hogsheads, 5.916 bottles, £325.

DSCF4523Nose - Bright and citrusy, almost agave. Very menthol with hand soap and light wax. Lovely lemon complexity and a little urinal cake (nicely)

Body - Sweet and brightly balanced, lots of lemon sherbet and a little spice. Lovely.

Finish - Very long, but with an awkward cereal spice and oak edge. Lovely though

The Cally, 40 years old, Caledonian single grain, 53.3% A+

1974, refill American oak hogsheads, 5,060 bottles, £750.


Nose - Intense oak and toffee led, a classic (and actually quite ordinary) grain nose. That said, some lovely contrasting notes - ham and ozone, glace cherry and Mcvities gold bar. Increasingly (and pleasantly) sweet the more time you spend with it.

Body - Soft but piney, quite spiced and quite clearly tastes of paperback books and rose wine.

Finish - Long with lots of bitter tannins and hard oak.

This is very good but for a £750 whisky this required much more and I think the Hedonism Quindecimus could stand toe to toe with it and some recent SMWS old grains have bettered it (I’m thinking in particular of G1.13, Summer Fete and flower shows, North British, 36 years old from August). Even in this outturn, the Dailuaine is a lot better and half the price.

Dailuaine 34 years old, 50.9% A⊕⊕

1980, refill American oak casks, 2,952 bottles, £380.

DSCF4521Nose - Deeply classy - orange wax, orange juice, lemonade and waxed bannister. Beautiful and elegant, and plenty of gravitas. Exactly as you would expect from the special releases.

Body - Bright, spicy, intensely waxed with ancient cask. Tropical backing; mango, but totally balanced. With time, develops into a real fruit bomb with loads of spiced orange wax. Delicious.

Finish - Long, wonderful, fruity, poised.

Split a bottle with friends and then you'll actually open it. It's worth it.

Pittyvaich 25 years old, 49.9% A⊕+

1989, refill American oak hogsheads, 5,922 bottles, £250

DSCF4515Nose - Sweetly jewelled, a little oaked and quite closed for a while, but remember the context. Lemon waxed wood, competent and clean.

Body - Much more complex and classical than the nose would suggest. Charred wood, red fruit, old cask. Restrained but important.

Finish - Long, toasted, tropical and toffee spice.

A closed nose on this one but robust and elegant, a delicious delivery and a real grower.

Clyenlish Select Reserve, 56.2% A⊕⊕

Ex-bourbon first fill american oak barrels, rejuvenated and refill American oak hogsheads and ex-bodega and refill European oak butts.  2,946 bottles, £550

Another NAS Clynelish release; the youngest cask in here is 15, with others going back into the ‘80s.

DSCF4526Nose – Sweet and waxy, truffles and cross-channel ferry (in a good way, diesel fumes and oil). Lots of wine cask, lip gloss and cigarette, reminds me of being a teenager.

Body - Soft and intensely beautiful. Feminine and muscular. Melon, cigars and scented erasers, white fruit and marshmallow. Very structured but very rude and gives you bedroom eyes.

Finish - Long, sensual, spicy and balanced.

Blimey. It's probably for the best I don't drink that one in public again.

Brora 37 years old, 50.4% A⊕+

1977, refill American oak hogsheads, 2,976 bottles, £1,300

DSCF4533Nose - Even for a SR Brora this is obviously a Brora. Dirty wine, old smoke, toast and pork fat and crackling. Incredibly compelling.

Body - Initially totally epic. Soft, toasted malt, plums roasted with vanilla, wood sour and varnish. Then quite tannic with a nice seasoning of sulphur. But then the tannins start to become a little overwhelming.

Finish - Very long, gently spiced with warm spices (faint cinnamon and powdered ginger) and very gentle old oak. But with time those building tannins start to coat and there is an enormous amount of wood.

The nose on this Brora is just epic, redolent of oak panelled study, old leather furniture and Victorian wine cellars, and carries itself with enormous gravitas. But the finish is a little too much, perhaps the whisky is just about to become too old? For a whisky over £1000 a bottle, this just holds it back from perfection.

Port Ellen 32 years old, 53.9% A⊕+

1983, refill European oak butts, 2,964 bottles, £2,400

DSCF4542Nose - Also definitely a PE, but lighter on the alien-Islay than last year. Still; kiwi, sandalwood, musk and seashells. Some plasters, a dash of young Caol Ila; smells like a guest house attached to an Islay distiller (full of history).

Body - Softly spiced, dark long car journeys (travel sweets and petrol), incredibly complex spice, oak, sulphur and boiled sweets and quite robust peat. Epic.

Finish - Very, very long, alien tannins with bright lemon peat and dark south-west France wine.

Balanced and robust, this is less ancient and weird than other PEs I've had including last years’. Serious structure, lovely sulphur and tobacco balance, and a perfect delivery.

It was a mistake to try these next two (the Caol Ila and Laga) after the Brora and PE but it would have been a bigger mistake to lose the big guns to these smaller guns.  We’re buying and splitting these next two anyway so hopefully I’ll revisit them on a clear palate and have a little more to say (and perhaps even different scores, but usually that isn’t the case).

Caol Ila 17 years old, 55.9% A+

1997.  The tenth and oldest unpeated Caol Ila release, the first to come from American oak ex-bourbon casks.  £90

DSCF4546Nose - Bright toffee apple, lemon sherbet and a touch of wham bar. A hint of S&V.

Body - Soft and spicy, S&V crisps quite clearly (I thought that was the peat, I guess it’s in the spirit, I assume it's citric acid), Chupa Chups and tannins. Toffee.

Finish- Long and dusty and tannic, surprisingly peated again for the "unpeated".

Lagavulin 12 years old, 48.8% A⊕

13th release of the 12 year old, refill American oak casks, £80.  I always buy this bottle.  Might get two this year.

DSCF4548Nose - Classsic Laga and very good. Sweet coastal lemon, crushed barley and musk. Lovely, gentler than I was expecting and very fresh.

Body - Beautifully sweet and gentle. An elegant Lagavulin with a touch of wine.

Finish - Medium long, satisfyingly sweet and balanced. Altogether a very gentle, complex but well rounded Lagavulin.

This was an epic tasting, great people and amazing whisky. Cheers!

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Glenrothes Peated Cask Reserve

Last night I attended a very cosy launch of the new Reserve expression from Glenrothes in one of the cellars in Berry Bros & Rudd's amazing 300 year old off license in St James. I have such a soft spot for Glenrothes having visited the distillery back in March and subsequently spent most of the year talking about thinking about Edrington Group for work reasons, so it was lovely to spend some time with the people and liquid again. We tasted the Sherry Cask Reserve again (still a lovely nose) and the Alba Reserve, which has been renamed to Bourbon Cask Reserve (to avoid confusion) which is one of my favourite "drinking" whiskies.

The Peated Cask Reserve is the new expression, and it's almost unheard of to find a peated Glenrothes (the last peated liquid from the stills was in the '70s and that was at microscopic levels of peat by today’s standards). This is a vatting of 3 1992 Glenrothes casks finished in a "Williamson" Islay casks (Bessie Williamson was a distillery manager at Laphroaig, I think we’re invited to read what we like into that).  The first batch is an initial release of 1,500 bottles (so they must have been sherry butts) which has been entirely taken by M&S so you’ll have to look there to pick one up. The whisky only spent 2 months in the Islay cask to finish.

Glenrothes Peated Cask Reserve, 40% A+

20151020_171018Nose - Sweet and dusty, bright toffee apple, just a light seasoning of fag ash and joss stick

Body - Spicy, green chilli, menthol cigarettes, fried green pepper. Underneath this is a balancing backbone of sweet Glenrothes spirit but it's interesting how "supporting" this has become after only 2 months in an Islay cask.

Finish - Quite bitter, lots of tobacco and not very typical of the distillery! Interesting to see the brand changing and experimenting a bit more too.  From speaking to Ronnie Cox (brand ambassador) Glenrothes is going to start accelerating in quality due to more focus on casks and quality over the last decade or so.
I do like this though, it's an interesting spin on a classic, easy drinking whisky and that sweet core makes it quite returnable. Recommended…. as the alba/bourbon cask reserve.  I’m still chasing that 80s bourbon cask…

Monday, 19 October 2015

Caol Ila 30yo - Diageo SR 2014

The launch party for the 2015 Diageo Special Releases is tomorrow night and it’s long been an ambition of mine to go to it.  And thanks to Tom Thomson I now will, as he’s kindly donated his ticket to me in return for some words for his blog.  I am extraordinarily excited.  You know how excitable I am when it comes to whisky anyway!  This year’s releases look as wonderful as ever, with dependable yearly releases like the unpeated Caol Ila (for the first time at 17 years old), 12 year old Lagavulin, NAS Clynelish making its second appearance, and the Brora and Port Ellen comets as top dressing.  Curve balls this year come from Pittyvaich and Dalwhinnie, a very old Caledonian single grain.  Finally, and most promising for me is a really special looking 34 year old Dailuaine. All the details are on the new site.

The last two years I’ve sampled lots of the special releases at the annual Whisky Exchange tasting at Vinopolis.  Last year I was particularly looking forward to trying the Coal Ila 30 year old but they didn’t have it, and it’s taken me this long to score a sample (from the public service run by Master of Malt).  It was worth the wait.


Caol Ila, 30 year old, 1983, 2014 Diageo Special Releases, 55.1% A⊕⊕

caol-ila-30-year-old-1983-2014-special-releaseNose - Dreamily caught between bright, sweet deodorant, refreshers, fried seafood and ozone. Dirty cereal on exhale. Pipes directly into the old Caol Ila receptors in the brain. Sweet berries too - jewelled, red - honey glazed sesame snaps and Sauternes. Pretty epic. Damn. With water, a lot sweeter, more boiled sweets - but funkier and a bit dirtier too.

Body - Spicy and ballsy and surprisingly peated. Lots of toffee, toffee apple and unlit cigar tobacco. Toast and honey, fried bay and glacé cherry. With water, very distinctly black forest gateau - how strange. It has the character (luxury, maturity and anticipation) of a high quality cigar.

Finish - Very long, very juicy with apple juice, pineapple cubes and a touch of liquorice imps. Rolling and very satisfying - certainly not a blousy old Islay from another planet this time - lots of structure but still dusty and with tropical wax on the way back. After the long, excellently balanced finish, it's oily and sweet with bourbon cask and perfect old peat.

What's not good about it - apart from price, nothing. And even at this price, it's heavily tempting.

What's good about it - where do I start? Probably the best old Caol Ila I've tried (and I'm making it a mission to try many). Incredible complexity and balance, old, dirty sweetness but loads of blood and guts. Old Islay plus lots of structure and well integrated peat.  Dirty, funky, important but not from another planet - buy now!

Thursday, 8 October 2015

TWE Whisky Show 2015 Report

20151003_112204First year in the new (bigger) venue and TWE Whisky Show 2015 was a big success.  Over a thousand people each day and it didn’t feel crowded at all.  Also, while the Vinopolis venue felt a bit like one of those nightmares where you’re lost and confused in a maze of tunnels and suddenly find yourself back where you started or unable to find the exit, the new venue is mercifully two dimensional.  Large and flat, the masterclasses and lunch the only things up the stairs.  Here’s a really cool thing – on the way out there were a big pile of bottles of mineral water to take you home.  They made my life immeasurably better on both Saturday and Monday night. 

Like your first few weeks of university, where everyone asks you what subjects you did at school and where home is, the topic of conversation on meeting someone new at TWS is usually “what have you discovered”.  My highlights, whisky-wise were the following:

  • Show bottling Ledaig 9 year old
  • Wemyss Applewood Bake, 1988 Invergordon
  • Balvenie 30 year old
  • Springbank 21 year old (80s bottling)
  • Laphroaig 32 year old
  • Everything at Compass Box
  • Nearly everything at English Whisky
  • Douglas Laing Invergordon and Auchentoshan
  • TBWC Ardbeg

I took some notes, simple impressions (I need to write something in order to remember it), here’s some:

(* by the whisky means I’d buy it if I had the money/room/inclination.  I’ve linked to the bottle if I can find it (briefly) preferring TWE if they have it (as it was their show) but have used MoM too.  Some of the stuff isn’t out yet though of course)

20151003_121909Clynelish Single Malts of Scotland – n: light, sweet, oily, vegetal, delicious. b: spicy and rich, dust and cereal but a bit hot.

* Ledaig Show bottling (retro label) 9 years old – n: Complex and aged, lightly herbal.  b: Spicily peated, bright and sour, big cereal and very well balanced.

* Bruichladdich Masterpeices – n: Beautiful ripe nose, very sweet. b: Incredibly ripe and sweet, very good.  Perhaps too sweet?  Big one though.

20151003_120841* Compass Box Oak Cross – n: beautiful fruit and wax.  b: rich and supple, delicious.

* Signatory Glenrothes 17 year old cask 15957 – Dusty and ripe, old beyond its years, lovely.  Smells like being at Edrington.

Signatory Balmenach 1988 26yo – Sweet, dusty, quite spicy, but an amazing nose.

20151003_122825Signatory Caol Ila 31yo – n: Sweet but quite bright, quite sweaty? b: Musky, some refreshers, but not altogether wonderful

Signatory Bowmore 40 years old – Deep, dark, blue cheese, tannic red wine, very very long finish.

Arran TWE exclusive – n: Musky and overripe.  b: Too sweet, spicy, cloying, chilli heat.

Arran Port Cask finish – balanced, satisfying, good spice, lovely.

20151003_131454* Wemyss Applewood bake (1988 Invergordon) – Beautifully sweet nose, lovely apple wood, hauntingly balanced and totally wonderful.  Bought a bottle of this.

20151003_132221Wemyss Cherry and Lemon treat (1995 Glen Grant) – Clean and sweet, very professional.  Sweet tannins in good balance, subtle wax on the nose.

Wemyss Afternoon Tea on the Terrace (1992 Linkwood) – n: herbal, toffee.  b: sulphured goodness, quite ordinary though.

20151003_132704* Wemyss Blowing on a Sea Breeze (1990 Bunnahabhain) – n: Clean, malty, musky.  b: Great dusky fruit, salting and refreshing.  Drying.

20151003_133239Wemyss Sea Swept Barnacle (1987 Bunnhabhain) – Lovely sherry nose, lacking something in the delivery.

20151003_134308* Springbank 21 year old, 1980s bottling (dream dram) – Speaking to a director of Soho House he was saying they used to have these piled high for £80 back in the 80s – sold them off cheap when needed.  n: Sweet, dark sherry nose, very elegant and balanced.  Complex stewed fruit and sealing wax, WD40 and fresh carrots.  b: Incredibly soft wax and bright old wood, fresh raspberry leaf.  f: Very, very long, almost ancient Islay dust, gentle tannins, cocoa powder and DME (dried malt extract) – epic.

Laphroaig Masterclass


Laphroaig 10 year old (current version) – n: Clean, coastal, refreshers, sweetshop.  b: Light, burnt toast.  f: Short, bitter, but good stuff.

* Laphroaig 10 year old, bottled in the late 70s – this would just be the small stills as the big stills went in in the early 70s (the 2015 Cairdeas is just the small stills).  No idea about wood as Laphroaig didn’t have a wood policy until the 80s.  Current 10 year old is about 3x as peated as this 70s version, and as Laphraoig made plain whisky (unpeated) until the late 60s, this could also have been let down with some unpeated whisky.

n: Deep sweet sherry, still very light and clean.  Deodorant. b: Sweet and leathery, chocolate and prunes.  f: Creamy and fizzing, delicious, quite long tobacco.  This is significantly better than the new 10 year old – it’s like an old Islay with the alien, dusty thing going on.  I’ve always assumed that was what happened when the peat wore down after 25-30 years in wood.  Maybe they just made them like that back then, or maybe it wears down like that in glass too?

* Laphroaig 15 year old anniversary edition.  Whisky in here is apparently generally between 18 and 21 years old, with some refills in the older casks.  n: beautifully floral and sweetly bright, quite harsh cereal compared to the old 10yo.  b: Sweet with cigar tobacco, menthol fags and big tannins.  Still delicious (reviewed before here).

* Laphroaig 30 year old.  n: Deeply fruity and waxy, swarthy men’s cologne and sea water.  Refreshers and tobacco.  b: Ripe, stewed apple and stewed prunes.  f: Long, tannic, winey, prunes and refreshers.  Delicious.

* Laphroaig 32 year old.  Contents are 40% 32yo refill oloroso, 10% 35yo first fill oloroso, 50% 34yo bourbon hogsheads.  All European oak.

n: toast with dripping and bananas.  Sweet but drying. b: Intense, dusty but strident and very Laphroaig.  f: Long, very sweet, deliciously fruity.  Perfect restrained sherry.  Like being a teenager again.

Berry Bros and Rudd Caperdonic 1995 #95076 – n: Rope, warm and balanced.  b: Rich cereal, quite a lot of spice.  Too hot at the end.

20151003_164348TBWC Lagavulin – n: Bright and sweet.  b: Delicious dusty cereal, fizzers.  Very good.  Overpriced though.

TBWC Paul John – Coffee, bitter, plasticky, cloying brown sugar and clove.  Not great.

* TBWC Ardbeg Batch 6 -  n: Alien sweets, white wine and musk.  b: Extra strong mints and deep cask toffee, excellent.

20151003_172128G&M Speymalt – Macallan 2006 – sweet cereal but not unbalanced.

G&M Strathisla 1965 – n: Beautifully deep and perfect sherry, epic wax.  b: Dark, mid rangey, toast and bright tannins.  Shortish finish but very good.

G&M Glen Grant 1954 – (just a quick toot on Darren’s dram) – n: imperial leather b: stoney, red fruit.

Port Askaig:

* 16yo (Caol Ila) – Beautifully rich, calm, waxy nose.  Delicious, clean finish.

19yo – Sharper, harsh good funky nose.  Bright.

* 30yo – n: Extremely lovely, wonderful cask.  b: Complex, glorious, but quite hard.

20151005_120839* Balvenie 12 year old single barrel cask 5851 – n: Ripe and cask led, honeyed.  Light and lovely.  b: Slightly austere, but balanced.  Slightly sharp too.  f: A little hot?  Good though.

20151005_121527* Balvenie 25 year old single barrel cask 6999 – n: More sweetly oaked, honey, beautiful cask.  b: Beautifully floral and well structured, lovely wood.

Balvenie 15 year old single barrel sherry – n: Overripe but slightly sharp. b: Spicy, fruity and wood sour, quite chilli hot too.

20151005_122712* Balvenie 30 years old – n: Deeply honey toffee, beautiful structure.  Waxy and tropical, intensely perfumed.  b: Incredibly sweet with a toffee, honey and lilly backing.  f: Incredibly balanced, wonderful structure, very long. 

20151005_124224Grants Ghosted Reserve 26 yo – Ladyburn and Inverleven. – why? Apparently because they just have so much old stuff hanging around at Grants they need to get rid of it in oddball blends like this. Apparently there will be more of this kind of thing in future.  n: Sweet but restrained, drying wood, breezy and floral. b: Quite dry, orchard fruit.  Restrained spice and toffee.  f: Lovely, deeply sweet toffee and balanced spice.  Lots of barley at the end.

20151005_130603* English Whisky Triple Distilled – beautifully sweet, balanced fruit; delicious.

* English Whisky Chapter 14 – n: sweetly structured, liquorice imps. b: Quite spicy, lovely character (integrated structure).  A good “ordinary” whisky.

20151005_131629* English Whisky “For TWE”, approx 7yo.  n: orchard fruit, austere, some spice.  b: Fruit, toffee, lots of lovely malt in the delivery.  Delicious, loads of structure.  Can’t see this on the site, I think it’s not released yet but potentially sold out at the show.

Show bottling, Irish Whisky, retro label 22 year old.  Tastes like it might be lightly peated double distilled Bushmills, apparently.  Lovely nose, good structure and sweet sulphur.  £160 though.

20151005_133549Rosebank True Love – this is the first in a series of seven - all in bottle now and each is a separate recipe of combinations of various bourbon and madeira casks.  700 bottles of each (so quite a lot of casks). n: Sweet and minty.  Lovely.  b: Bright, sharp, cidery almost.  Great depth, complexity.  Very long finish, liquorice.

20151005_141109* Douglas Laing OP Invergordon 25yo –Another totally unmissable Invergordon at the show, thanks Phil for pointing it out.  Sweet, lovely, hard candy, beautifully restrained. b: Ripe, friendly, creamy and delicious.  Beautiful.  f: Medium, cheap vanilla ice cream.  Excellent stuff.

20151005_14133220151005_141112Douglas Laing OP Miltonduff 2005 – Incredibly murky this one!  Like milky sherry spirit. Fruity, really gentle – delicious. 


20151005_141729* Douglas Laing OP Auchentoshan 14 years old – n: Beautiful, elegant, floral, deeply malty. b: Softly sweet, epic but restrained.  Bought a bottle of this – good Auchentoshans are a thing of great beauty.

20151005_143211* Douglas Laing OP Allt-a-Bhainne 15 year old – Tokaji wine cask, I love Tokaji and sweet wine, and this has such a beautiful colour.  We were warned about some people being susceptible to a particular type of bitterness which spoiled this whisky for them.  I apparently am not.  n – Boiled wine, rusty intensity.  I am surprised how much red wine is in here rather than sweet wine, it’s really taken on the darker side of the Tokaji character.   b: Stews, carrots, very red wine.  Very dry but delicious.

Douglas Laing OP Caol Ila, 18 years old – n: Sweet malt, light salt and vinegar. b: Sweet and acetic, baby bels.  f: some bitterness.  This is good but I’m drowning in equally good SMWS Caol Ilas

bcDouglas Laing XOP Bowmore, 25 years old – n: Nutty and toasty but not very old?  Lightly sweeter with water.  b: Dusty and floral.  f: Big bitterness, chewed flower stalks and burnt coffee.  Perhaps this isn’t the time and place to try this…

BBR 1987 Bunnahabhain Cask 2451 – n: Sweet, dark raisins, honey cask, epic.  b: Initial delivery is beautiful but then falls short.  Oddly peated, short finish.

20151005_150455BBR North British Cask 224766 – sherry cask, weird but 20151005_145844interesting.  n: Lightly sherried, deep colour.  b: Simple, overripe fruit, weirdly deep sweetness.  Oddly lacking but interesting.  Old sold out long ago anyway.

* BBR Laphroaig 1997 – n: Sweet light peat and peas (? my handwriting is a bit stuffed at this point). b: Perfect Laphroaig delivery, sweet fruit, toffee, sweet and bright.  Lovely stuff.

And these other things were good too.  Next year I’m doing the whole thing, what a great event!