Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Have just tried ... Macallan 10 years old 'Fine Oak'

macallan 10 years old 'fine oak'Macallan is one of the most famous distilleries in the world. Its extensive range of whiskies are some of the best selling around the globe and Macallan is consistently in third place for sales, behind only Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. The distillery is one of Scotland's largest and has a production capacity of 6 million litres a year. It has a lot of stills (21 to be precise) but each one is small, fat and stands at less than 4 metres tall. This produces the richer, creamier spirit that people enjoy around the world and that Macallan has become reknowned for. Their success has been based on a change of strategy about 10 years ago. Macallan was already popular within the UK market but they decided to produce whisky exclusively for the travel retail/ duty free sector. That decision has proved a great success, as Macallan now lies in second place behind Glenfiddich for world sales in this market. Another strategic decision was taken to expand the range by moving away from their traditional sherry cask maturation. Maturation was started in sherry casks but then the whisky would be transferred to bourbon casks. This series was named 'Fine Oak' and was first launched in 2004. Macallan traditionalists were up in arms but again, the decision has been a great success.

With this 10 years old 'Fine Oak' (the newest edition to Macallan's range), the colour is a yellow amber. The nose is full of vanilla and malty sweetness with something a bit yeast like coming through. There is also some dried fruitiness present (think of sultanas). On the palate, this is light and soft but quite creamy (not as rich as I was expecting). There is vanilla and malt (imagine a sweet style of bread) with some dried dark fruit present also (think of raisins and candied citrus peel). An interesting biscuity note (like a digestive biscuit) joins these. The finish is full of the sweet vanilla and grains and more buttery in flavour than the nose or palate. It is still light and this makes the finish quite short. This is a good whisky that is clean, fresh and very approachable and drinkable! It would be a great choice for someone as an introduction to whisky, as a present if you aren't sure what they like or to refresh your palate on a warm day. It is easy to see why this Macallan is so popular around the world and it is widely available. This 'Fine Oak' is a bargain at £25-30 a bottle.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

News ... Whisky tastings at The Whisky Shop, London

the whisky shop, london branchThe London branch of The Whisky Shop chain has just announced its new Spring whisky tasting programme. During each evening, the subjects of how whisky is made, the history of whisky and how to taste whisky are covered before trying a diverse selection of fine single malts. The exciting new series of events cover three of the current hot topics within the whisky world - independent bottlers, cask strength whisky and the rise of Japanese whisky. The branch is also available for private corporate tastings on request.

Independent Bottling Companies

Wednesday 11 March @ 6.30pm £45 each
The evening will begin with a look at the history of whisky and how the spirit is made. The focus will then shift to the independent bottling companies, their history and what they contribute to the industry. We will then concentrate on the work of the Douglas Laing company and have selected five bottlings to taste from across their range, with the emphasis on championing lesser known distilleries.

Japanese Whisky
Wednesday 8 April @ 6.30pm £40 each
The popularity of Japanese whisky is growing rapidly following the winning of a number of high profile awards. Here, we plan to bring the flavours of Japan to a wider audience and explain how they are pushing the traditional boundaries of whisky making. We will look at the history of the industry in Japan and then taste four of the best whiskies that are exported to this country. Come along to try something different and see what all the fuss is about!

GlenKeir Treasures Cask Strength Range
Wednesday 22 April @ 6.30pm £50 each
The GlenKeir Treasures series is exclusive to The Whisky Shop chain. The whiskies are specially selected and those in the Cask Strength range are the premium available. Just one cask of each is released, making them extremely desirable and limited. Each whisky is bottled at the strength that it comes out of the cask to ensure maximum flavour and quality. For this evening, we will taste four whiskies from this series, including a 40 year old, giving further background about each of the featured distilleries.

Book your place NOW
Contact 020-73295117 or london@thewhiskyshop.net

the whisky shop logo

Friday, February 20, 2009

Have just tried ... Hibiki 17 years old

hibiki 17 years oldThe Hibiki is a blended whisky from the Japanese company Suntory. It rose to prominence in 2008 by winning the 'Best Blended Whisky' category at the World Whisky Awards - the first time that a Japanese whisky had won such a prestigious prize. Hibiki was first bought to a wider audience when it feature in the movie Lost In Translation, where Bill Murray was advertising 'Suntory Time ...' at the beginning of the film. Suntory owns two whisky distilleries in Japan. These are Yamazaki (Japan's oldest founded in 1923) and Hakushu which was founded during the 1970s. Hibiki is a blend of single malts and grain whisky from these two distilleries and is released with a minimum age of 17 years. In Japan, when producing blended whisky each company will only use whisky from their own distilleries. This differs from Scotland where the trade of blending whiskies between different companies is big business. Hibiki means 'harmony' in Japanese.
The first thing to note is Hibiki's extraordinary bottle. It is a great mix of a whisky decanter and 1970s retro design. The colour of the whisky is dark amber and the nose is fruity (imagine dried fruit like sultanas and citrus peel) and malty (think of sweet grains). There is also some vanilla, some woodiness and a nutty element that comes through (think of toasted almonds, maybe). The single malts in Hibiki have been matured in sherry casks and the influence continues on the palate. That dried fruitiness (especially the citrus candied peel) and woodiness are more prominent, with the other elements from the nose present being joined by something slightly bitter (imagine a dark chocolate). There is the slightest hint of some peaty smoke in the background also. The finish is quite short and I was surprised that it felt as light and thin in my mouth as the nose especially, suggested something richer and heavier. This is a good blended whisky that is smooth, velvety and easy drinking. It is easy to see why it is popular and wins awards, although it is a bit pricy at around £60-65 a bottle.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Have just tried ... Glenfarclas Family Casks 1959 and 1979

glenfarclas family cask 1959 Glenfarclas is one of a few distilleries in Scotland that is owned by the family of the original founder, John S. Grant. The current company directors, George and John Grant, are Grant's great grandson and great great grandson respectively. It was established in 1836, close to the town of Ballindalloch in the heart of the Speyside region. Their core range is extensive and was joined in 2007 by the release of the 'Family Cask' series. With this, Glenfarclas have taken just one cask from 43 consecutive years (1952-1994) and bottled the contents at the cask strength. The result is a collection of rare whiskies with some of the older casks from the 1950s producing very few bottles (the lowest is 110 bottles only). The prices reflect this with a 1952 bottle costing around £1250 and the entire set costing in the region of £15,000. It is very rare to get the chance to taste any of them (without buying one!), so when the opportunity came along it had to be taken!

Family Cask 1979 - The 1979 bottling is one of only three in the entire series that is not matured in a sherry cask (the 1952 and 1984 being the others). This is unusual for Glenfarclas as they are famous for their sherry cask matured whisky. This was matured in a bourbon cask and the colour is golden. The nose is lovely and delicate with toffee and vanilla prominent, with a fruity element coming through (think of oranges). On the palate, the whisky is surprisingly light with some gorgeous vanilla, something nutty (imagine coconuts), a hint of a warm spice (think of ginger and nutmeg) and that citrus fruit (reminding me of orange peel or marmalade). Even more vanilla came with a drop of water. The finish is long and creamy with the toffee in particular coming through. A very good and balanced whisky that offers a chance to try a lighter, bourbon matured Glenfarclas. This will cost approx. £200 for one of the 225 bottles.

Family Cask 1959 - One of the oldest bottlings in the collection, this will cost you around £650 for one of the 194 bottles. This has the more traditional Glenfarclas sherry cask maturation and after almost 50 years in the cask the colour is a very dark brown. On the nose, this blows you away with its richness. There is lots of the dried fruits (imagine raisins and cranberries) that you associate with sherry cask maturation, but there is also something spicy (a bit like cloves, I think). The overall feeling is that of an intense, rich Christmas cake! The palate is even richer with all of the elements from the nose being joined by something darker and slightly bitter (think of an espresso coffee and dark chocolate), some creamy vanilla and burnt sugar. This is very complex and feels thick in your mouth. With water, it demonstrates the creaminess more and takes the edge off the bitter qualities. The finish goes on for ever as everything combines for one last hit. An exceptional (but pricy!) dram that is not for the faint hearted or those who don't like too much sherry cask influence.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In the whisky cupboard ... Laphroaig 15 years old

laphroaig 15 years oldLaphroaig is one of Scotland's most famous and iconic distilleries. It produces the best selling smoky whiskies in the world and is located on the western island of Islay. The distillery is currently owned by Jim Beam Global, who are the fourth largest spirits company in the world, and has a capacity of 2.5 million litres a year. Laphroaig is one of the few distilleries left that have their own floor maltings (this is a traditional room where the barley is left to shoot, releasing the natural sugars that later get turned to alcohol). The malted barley is then dried by a peat fuelled fire for 18 hours and the thick blue smoke gives Laphroaig it's intense and smoky flavours. Laphroaig is one of Prince Charles' favourite whiskies and he issued a Royal warrant to the distillery in 1993. As a result, they can display the Prince of Wales crest on their bottles. The core range consists of two 10 year olds (one of which is cask strength), this 15 years old, a 25 years old and the Quarter Cask (which is matured in smaller casks). Other limited bottlings are released occasionally but are normally pricy. Independent bottlings are readily available and represent good value.

The 15 years old is not as readily available as the famous 10 years old and should cost £40-45 per bottle. The colour is a dark golden amber and the nose is full of character. The smokiness is milder than the 10 years old (in smoky whisky the smokiness tends to soften with increased age) but is still loaded with earthy peat (think of a bonfire). There is some fruitiness (imagine dried fruit like sultanas), some sweet vanilla and something antiseptic (this is a classic Laphroaig characteristic). On the palate, this whisky comes alive. The fruitiness, vanilla and peaty smoke are joined by some toffee (or caramel, I can't decide), something slightly salty (think of brine), a nutty element (imagine roasted nuts though) and some warm spice (like nutmeg). There is also a touch of bitterness (reminiscent of iodine - another classic Laphroaig character). The finish is long, warming and dry with the peatiness dying away to nothing. This is a truly excellent and rounded whisky. The 10 years old is a superb smoky whisky but the extra maturation time here has given the 15 years old extra complexity and smoothness. It is certainly one of my current favourites in our whisky cupboard and a great example of the smoky whisky genre.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Have just tried ... Talisker 57° North

talisker 57° north Talisker is an iconic Scottish whisky that is produced by the only distillery on Skye, an island that lies off the north west Highland coast. The distillery is owned by multi national drinks giant Diageo and they have recently given the brand a lot of promotion, resulting in sales rising by 40% in the last three years. Talisker continues to win prizes around the world, culminating in their 18 years old winning 'Best Single Malt' at The World Whisky Awards in 2007. Some of the whisky produced there goes towards Diageo's famous Johnnie Walker blended whisky range but most is released as single malts. The core range is small and top quality and contains this 10 years old, the 18 years old and a 'Distiller's Edition' that is finished in Amoroso sherry casks. A 25 years old and a 30 years old are also released as limited editions. Independent bottlings are rare and two of the most popular are called 'Tactical Director's' and 'Isle of Skye', as Diageo do not allow anyone else to use the Talisker name.

This 57° North is a limited but new addition to the Talisker range. The name is derived from the point of latitude on which the distillery is situated and I recently had the pleasure of trying this in the company of Mark Lochhead, the Distillery Manager at Talisker. It is bottled at cask strength (57% ABV) and has secured this limited UK release following a successful release in the Duty Free/ travel retail sector. The colour is golden and the nose is full of dried fruit (think of sultanas), something spicy (imagine black peppercorns - Talisker is famous for having this unique characteristic) and peaty smokiness (imagine a bonfire or embers in a fireplace). On the palate, this is full bodied and feels thick in your mouth. The power of the alcohol is balanced with intense and complex flavours. There is a mixture of sweet malted barley, vanilla, that dried fruitiness and smokiness from the nose, maybe just a hint of saltiness and some warm spices (that pepper again, with some nutmeg possibly). A touch of water really brings out the sweetness of the barley and the peat at the expense of some fruitiness. The finish is long, warming, smoky and spicy. 57° North is an truly excellent whisky and should cost around £50-55 a bottle from independent retailers.

Have just tried ... Scottish Leader

scottish leaderScottish Leader is a blended whisky that first appeared on the market during the 1940s. The brand is currently owned by Burn Stewart Distillers and they use single malt from their Deanston and Tobermory distilleries to form the foundation of the blend. This is then blended with other grain whiskies to produce the final blend. As with many blends, there is no age stated and this can indicate that there is some young whisky present (in a blend, if there is an age it legally has to indicate the youngest whisky that has been used). Scottish Leader is one of the biggest selling whiskies in Scotland but few places sell it elsewhere in the UK (The Whisky Shop chain are the main stockists). It is positioned at the cheaper end of the market, costing less than £15 a bottle.

This whisky has a colour of dark reddish amber and the nose is sweet and initially pretty aggressive. There is lots of spirit rawness that attacks your nose hairs but once you get passed this there is sugary caramel and toffee present, some woodiness and maybe just a hint of peaty smokiness. On the palate, things take a similar course. You are immediately hit with raw spirit (this suggests that there is some young whisky in the blend) but again once your mouth gets used to this some more pleasant characteristics come through. That caramel (reminding me of burnt sugar, I think) is present again as is the woodiness (that is almost makes it a little bitter) and the smokiness in the background. There is also lots of malted barley that gives a slightly bittersweet feeling. The finish is fairly short with the lasting characteristic being the raw alcohol spirit. This is a cheap blended whisky and while not being my favourite whisky when drunk straight, I think that it would be a decent whisky to have with a mixer as it has enough interesting elements present. Certainly not too bad for the price.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Have just tried ... Scapa 14 years old

scapa distilleryScapa is located close to the village of St. Ola on the Orkney islands, which lie off the north Highland coast. In fact, it is the second most northerly distillery in Scotland and is misses out on first place to Highland Park by just half a mile! Scapa was founded in 1885 and is currently owned by drinks giant Pernod Ricard. It is a small distillery that produces one million litres of whisky a year, although a decent percentage of this is passed on to be used in the range of Chivas Regal blends. As a result, this 14 years old and a new 16 years old are the only whiskies released by the distillery at present with occasional bottlings of older versions. Scapa is popular with the independent bottling companies and is more widely available through them. This 14 years old was only released for the first time in 2004 and both sales and Scapa's cult following continue to grow. A bottle should cost £35-40.

This has a gorgeous golden colour and the nose is very promising. There is a sweetness that is a cross between malted barley and butterscotch, with some vanilla and nuts (imagine almonds). When tasted on the palate, the first thing that is noticed is that this whisky feels very creamy and thick. It is full of vanilla and that butterscotch again. That almond nuttiness starts to come through and more interesting elements join too. There is a hint of a warm spice (like nutmeg or cinnamon), something citrus that pleasantly cuts through the creaminess and some dried fruit (think of sultanas). Maybe, there is a slight salty tang to it also. The finish is quite long and warming with the butterscotch particularly prominent. A very pleasing dram that would be an excellent choice to give to someone who thinks that they didn't like whisky or who hadn't tried much whisky. It is very approachable and easy drinking and is well worth hunting down a bottle.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

How do you drink yours? ... Vote now!

vote now!The votes are coming in for our first readers poll and the results are starting to take shape. However, it is not too late to register your vote and change the outcome, so VOTE NOW! At Whisky For Everyone, we have set this poll up in order to try and find out how everyone of our readers around the globe drinks their whisky. This will help us when we are planning the writing of new articles. In addition, if you have any further comments about this or any articles or other ideas that you would like to see, then please leave us a comment or email whiskyforeveryone@gmail.com.

If you want a go, then just go to the side navigation bar to register your vote now. Thank you.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Have just tried ... Jura 16 years old

jura 16 years oldThe Jura distillery is located on the isle of Jura, which lies off the west coast of Scotland. The island's closest neighbour is the famous whisky island of Islay and they are seperated by a narrow, fast flowing stretch of water called the 'Sound of Islay'. The distillery was founded in 1810 and is quite large (2 million litres per year) considering its remoteness and the small population of the island (currently 220 people). Current owners, Whyte & Mackay, use the whisky produced there in their popular range of blended whiskies but are also putting more time in to promoting Jura as a single malt whisky. This has seen sales improve greatly in the last two years and as a result they continue to expand the core range. Currently they release a 10, 16, 18 and 21 years old plus the 'Superstition', which is an unaged smoky whisky. Jura is also popular with the independent bottling companies with numerous different ages and casks available.

Having first tried this at the Distil 2008 trade show last year, I got the opportunity to taste this Jura 16 years old again. The colour is golden and the nose is very promising. A malted barley sweetness hits you with a dried fruitiness and a whiff of earthy smokiness coming through. The whisky feels creamy in your mouth but is not rich. Instead it is light with the malted barley sweetness prominent again. There is a slight saltiness to it and this mingles with the dried fruit again (think of sultanas and raisins), a citrus note (imagine candied peel or zest) and that earthy smoke from the nose (it reminded me of damp moss). The finish sees the sweetness replaced with a drier woody character (think of vanilla) and the saltiness and smokiness particularly noticeable. This is a good whisky that is more rounded, enjoyable and approachable than the younger versions of Jura that I have tried. It would be a good choice for someone who likes a bit of smokiness in their whisky but not too much or as an introduction to the smoky style. A bottle should cost around £40.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Have just tried ... Glenfarclas 105

glenfarclas 105Glenfarclas is one of the last distilleries in Scotland to still be owned by the family of the original founder. It was established in 1836, close to the town of Ballindalloch in the heart of the Speyside region. The current company directors are George and John Grant, who are the great grandson and great great grandson respectively of the founder John S. Grant (whose name also appears on all the labels). Glenfarclas translates as 'valley of the green grass' in Gaelic and produces three million litres of whisky per year. The majority of this is released as single malt and although it is popular in the UK, its main markets are in southern Europe, America and the Far East. The core range consists of a 10, 15, 21, 25 and 30 years old plus this 105, which is released at cask strength (60% ABV). Independent bottlings are available but cannot carry the Glenfarclas name by law, as J & G Grants do not allow it. They will be found named as 'Speyside's Finest', 'Secret Stills - Speyside' or something similar.

Glenfarclas use sherry casks to mature their whisky and this is evident everywhere, starting with the colour which is dark amber/gold. The nose is full of dried fruit (imagine raisins and sultanas), candied peel (especially orange), rich butterscotch and something sweet (it sounds strange but it reminded me of candy floss). There is also some warm spice present (think of nutmeg). The palate is rich and creamy, feeling thick in your mouth. The dried fruit is prominent again and mixes with the butterscotch note. Also, there is a slight herbal and woody note that comes through and something a bitter (reminding me of dark chocolate or black coffee). With water, the fruitiness opens out and this is joined by some maltiness from the barley. The finish is long, creamy and warm. A very good example of a cask strength whisky that despite being very easy drinking at 60% ABV, gets even better with a dash of water. A bottle should cost £35-40.

glenfarclas 105 40 years oldWhilst tasting the 105 above, I was offered the chance to try the newly released Glenfarclas 105 40 years old. This is again bottled at 60% ABV but has been in a sherry cask for 40 years and costs considerably more at over £500 a bottle! I was not going to turn it down! This is dark brown, almost black with a tinge of maroon. The nose is full of dried fruit (raisins and candied peel) but there is a rich dark chocolate character that is the difference with the regular 105. This gives a warming and slightly burnt quality to the nose, that was reminiscent of a mix of dark bitter chocolate and a strong espresso coffee. In your mouth this is rich, creamy and full bodied with the fruitiness taking a back seat to the chocolate and coffee notes. There is just a hint of woody bitterness, but certainly not as much as I was expecting considering how long it has been in the cask. The finish just went on and on and the addition of water brought even more complexity through (especially some dried berries like cranberry or currants). A truly gorgeous whisky.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Explain about ... Chill Filtering

non chill filtered logoChill filtration is the process where substances in the whisky are removed before bottling. The main reason to chill filter a whisky is purely cosmetic. A non- filtered whisky that is 46% ABV or lower will go cloudy when water or ice is added and when the whisky is cooled. This is seen as undesirable by some consumers and the distillers react by removing the offending particles from the whisky, so that this doesn’t happen. The distillers want their whisky to be seen as a top quality product. Whiskies above 46% ABV do not require chill filtration, as the higher alcohol level prevents this cloudiness from occurring.

The cloudiness is caused by the natural fatty acids, esters and proteins that are present in the whisky. These occur naturally during the distillation process and are also imparted from the cask during maturation. When the whisky is cooled, these fatty acids, esters and proteins clump together to give the cloudiness. A whisky that is not chill filtered is also likely to develop sediment in the bottle if stored in a cool place. During the early 20th century, it was realised that this ‘fault’ with the whisky could actually be used to the distiller’s advantage and that if they chilled the whisky, then these elements could be removed more easily.

The process of chill filtration involves dropping the temperature of the whisky to zero degrees Celsius in the case of single malts and -4 degrees in the case of blends. The temperature for blends is lower as they contain grain whiskey and these have a lower natural concentration of the fatty acids. Once chilled, the whisky is passed through a series of metallic meshes under pressure. The amount of residue collected depends on the number of filters, the pressure used and the speed with which it is done. The slower a whisky is passed through the filters at a lower pressure, then the more residue will be collected but this is also more costly. During this process, any other sediment or impurities from the cask (called ‘coals’) that are present will also be removed.

The subject of chill filtration is a current hot topic in the whisky industry. It is looked upon badly by some, as consumers demand more natural or organic products in all areas of their lives. The other contentious issue is whether chill filtering a whisky affects the taste. Those against it are convinced that the removal of the natural fatty acids, esters and proteins alters the aroma, flavour and characteristics and leaves you with a diluted product. Those for the procedure argue that the taste and characteristics remain intact and that filtering gives better control to produce consistently high quality whisky. In reality it is difficult to compare as no one releases the same whisky in a chill filtered and non chill filtered form.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Have just tried ... Glen Ord 'Old Malt Cask' 18 years old from Douglas Laing

glen ord 'old malt cask'Glen Ord is a distillery that is located in town of Muir of Ord, to the north of Inverness in the north Highlands. This area is referred to as the 'black isle'. This name comes from the colour of the soil and is one of the most fertile farming regions in Scotland. The distillery was founded in 1838 and the location was selected due to its proximity to the abundance of quality barley, dark peat and fresh local spring water. The distillery is currently owned by multi national drinks company Diageo and it is one of their largest. It produces over three million litres of whisky a year but remains one of Diageo's least known distilleries. The main reason for this is that the majority of whisky made at Glen Ord is taken to use in the owner's world famous Johnnie Walker blended range. However, Diageo are looking to increase the popularity of the single malt and expand the range, as the world's thirst for whisky continues to increase. While Glen Ord is relatively unknown in the UK, its most popular markets are America and South East Asia. The distillery releases just one regular bottling - a 12 years old - although this is supplimented by occasional older versions. Independent bottlings are rarely found but are worth trying if found.

This bottling is released by an independent bottling company called Douglas Laing & Co. They are based in Glasgow and have been bottling whisky since 1948. They buy casks from different distilleries around Scotland and bottle them in a number of ranges. This range is called 'Old Malt Cask' and everything is released at 50% ABV and is from just one cask, so the amount of bottles available in each release is very limited. This Glen Ord is an 18 years old and is one of just over 800 bottles. The colour is rich and golden and the nose is very promising. It is full of vanilla and coconut with a hint of warm spice (imagine nutmeg or cinnamon). This is warming and full bodied on the palate with lovely, creamy vanilla sweetness, a good level of malted barley that gives a slight bitterness, some warm spices (especially ginger, I think) and just a tiny hint of smokiness in the background. Due to the strength of alcohol, I decided to add some water and this really brought out that gingery spiciness, some coconut and maybe a floral note (imagine heather). The long and creamy finish makes this a very good all round whisky and is a bargain at £60ish a bottle, considering the quality, the limited release and the age.