Tuesday, March 31, 2009

We have been on holiday!

australia mapYes, it doesn't happen very often but we at Whisky For Everyone have been on holiday for the last two weeks. We are sorry for the lack of posts during this time but internet connections were hard to find at times, especially in darkest Queensland! Normal service will be resumed shortly as we report back on a number of interesting whiskies that we tried while over in Australia, including some duty free exclusives and an Australian whisky from Tasmania.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Have just tried ... Maker's Mark

maker's markMaker's Mark is one of the best known distilleries in America. It is the most southernly in the biggest whisky producing state of Kentucky and is located in Loretto, Marion County. Maker's Mark is a large distillery with a capacity of 8 million litres per year (this dwarfs most of the distilleries elsewhere in the world) and is one of the oldest in America, having been founded in 1805. The distillery is famous for its imposing black and red buildings, especially some of its warehouses which are up to six storeys high. The original name of Star Hill Farm Distillery was changed to Maker's Mark in the 1950s when new owner Bill Samuels decided to revamp the whole organisation. He changed the recipe and the combination of grains used as he wanted to create a premium bourbon rather than the economic ones that were flooding the market following the end of the Prohibition period. It was a risk but the popularity grew to the point where the distillery was awarded the 'Kentucky Icon' label in 1980 and now it is one of the best selling American whiskies across the world. It is currently owned by multi national drinks firm, Allied Domecq.

The colour is a deep amber and the nose is rich and complex. It has a good, rich balance of sweet vanilla, fruitiness (think of dried fruits like sultanas and dried candied peel, especially orange) and cereals. On the palate, it feels slightly lighter than the nose suggests but your mouth still explodes with intense flavours. It is buttery with elements of honey, nuts (think of coconut), caramel, sweet cereal grains, oakiness and tons of that dried fruit and vanilla. There is just a hint of some spiciness (imagine cinnamon or nutmeg). The finish is soft, rounded and long with the caramel and vanilla particularly prominent and the spiciness also increasing. This is an extremely good and well structured dram that gives an intense combination of flavours and is very easy drinking. An excellent example of a bourbon whiskey (although Maker's Mark are the only American distillery not to use the 'e' in the word 'whiskey' in honour of Bill Samuels' Scottish heritage) and good value at £25-30 a bottle.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Have just tried ... Macallan 10 years old

macallan 10 years oldFollowing the recent 'Have just tried ...' entry for the Macallan 10 years old from the 'Fine Oak' series, it seems only fair to try the traditional 10 years old from this famous distillery. Macallan is one of the biggest selling whiskies in the world, being consistently in third place for sales, behind only Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. Their range of whisky is extensive and includes limited editions and an exclusive range for the travel retail sector. Despite the diversity of the current range, this 10 years old forms the foundation on which Macallan's success is built. From the time that it was originally launched in the early 1970s as one of the first mass marketed single malts, this whisky has been regarded as one of the most classic examples of sherry cask maturation. Macallan take the quality of their casks very seriously and they have owned a bodegas in Jerez in southern Spain since the late 1970s. They instruct the sherry producers to care for the wood, what type of sherry to put in each cask and the length of maturation time required. It is this rigorous attention to detail that has helped establish the quality and brand of Macallan. The rumour says that Macallan have £15 million tied up in sherry casks alone!

The colour is a distinctive chestnutty red brown and the nose is lovely and full of interest. There is clear evidence of the sherry casks here with lots of the dried fruits (think of sultanas and raisins), candied peel (especially orange) and warm spices (imagine nutmeg and cinnamon). These are joined by a nutty note (think of almonds) and a sugary sweetness. All of these are classic sherry cask characters. On the palate, the elements from the nose mingle and it feels like liquid gold. this whisky has a slightly viscous feeling in your mouth but is very clean and refreshing. The sugary sweetness becomes more caramel-like than on the nose and there is just loads of the dried fruit, peel and spices (especially ginger coming through). The finish is a bit drier and quite long, fruity and woody. This is a very good whisky and a great example of how good sherry cask maturation can compliment a whisky if carried out sympathetically. It is also a bargain at around £30 a bottle and is readily available. A real 'try before you die' whisky.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Have just tried ... St. George's new spirit

st. george's distillerySt. George's is the first English whisky distillery to be built and producing whisky for almost 200 years. The distillery is located in the heart of East Anglia, close to the town of Roudham in Norfolk. The English Whisky Company was founded in 2005 by Andrew and James Nelstrop and construction of the new facilities began shortly after. The first spirit came off the stills in November 2006 under the guidance of the legendary master distiller Iain Henderson, who had previously managed Laphroaig on the island of Islay. As whisky cannot legally be named 'whisky' until it has been matured for three years, the first full release date is pencilled in for December this year. However, if you visit the distillery and take a tour then you will get to try some of the new or partially matured spirit as part of this. The first full release of whisky will be very limited so when we got the chance to try a sample at the recent Whisky Live event in London, we had to take it.

All St. George's spirit is matured in bourbon casks that have previously been used at the Jim Beam distillery in Kentucky, USA. They currently are producing and maturing both a peated and unpeated version of their whisky. The sample we tried has been matured for 18 months and the colour is a pale lemon. The nose is very promising and is full of juicy, crisp fruit (think of pears and apples). Pears and pear drops are common aromas that can indicate young spirit and they mellow and mingle with other flavours, as the spirit draws more influence from its cask over time. On the palate, this is young and bold with those juicy fruits combining with some vanilla, caramel and an interesting spicy note (imagine white pepper). As the alcohol strength is high (62.5% ABV), we decided to try it with water. It was described to us as "becoming like a good Glenlivet" with water and while I am not quite sure about that, it certainly was very clean, enjoyable and became creamier in the mouth. The finish was quite long for a young spirit with loads of buttery vanilla. This really has great potential and we can't wait to see what that first release will be like. It is clear that the spirit has quality and it is not raw or blasting your nose and palate with alcohol, as many young or new spirits do.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Whisky Live 2009, London - Day 2

whisky live, london 2009Day two at London's Whisky Live was a sell out with over 1000 tickets sold. Again, both of us at Whisky For Everyone were working at the event. So here are some of our tasting highlights that we managed to sneak off and try ...

An Cnoc 30 years old
This whisky produced one of my 'Wow' moments at this years event. Distilled in 1975 and bottled in 2005, it is the oldest whisky released in the An Cnoc range produced at the Knockdhu distillery. It has been partly matured in sherry casks and then transferred into bourbon casks. The complexity of this whisky is evident even from smelling it. The rich golden colour is complimented with a sumptuous nose that is full of vanilla, butterscotch (or toffee, I couldn't decide) and rich dried fruit (think of raisins, sultanas and candied orange peel). The whisky explodes on your palate and is incredibly rich and smooth. The buttery vanilla and sweet malted barley combine well with that dried fruit and a hint of spice (imagine nutmeg). The finish is long, smooth and elegant. A truly great dram!

Caperdonich 38 years old from Duncan Taylor
One of the oldest whiskies on offer at the show. This 38 years old bottling from mothballed Speyside distillery Caperdonich has been released by the independent bottling company, Duncan Taylor. The colour is dark and the nose has a distinct burnt caramel element to it. It has sweetness but with that slightly bitter edge. Underneath this is vanilla, some dried fruits (think of apricots) and a hint of menthol. On the palate this feels dry, oaky and slightly bitter. There is lots of that vanilla and burnt sugary element again. It is surprisingly light for a whisky of this age and the finish is quite short with a pleasant earthy note present.

Glenmorangie Signet
The opportunity to try expensive whiskies from some of Scotland's most famous distilleries does not come around very often, so we had to take it! Glenmorangie Signet is the epitamy of modern whisky styling with its plush case and extravagant bottle but more importantly, is the whisky actually any good? The process used to produce Signet is slightly different as some of the malted barley used is called 'chocolate malt'. This malt has been dried for longer than usual and then roasted to produce a dark grain that is then put throught the production process in the regular way. Here Glenmorangie have put some of this 'chocolate malt' whisky together with some older regular whiskies to produce Signet. The nose tempts you to try the whisky (as it should!) and is packed with interest - vanilla, spices (think of nutmeg) and some of those roasted qualities that reminded me of espresso coffee. The palate is rich, creamy and again full of character. There is lots of vanilla again but there is a pleasant slight bitterness that must be coming from the roasted malt (think of dark chocolate and coffee beans). The finish is very well balanced with all the elements combining and a interesting hint of heather that we detected coming through. We have our answer ... the whisky is good! Very very good.

Glenmorangie Sonnalta
Another offering from Glenmorangie, this time in the form of a sneak preview of their new whisky that will be exclusive to the travel retail/Duty Free market. Released for the first time at the end of March, it is the first whisky in the 'Private Collection' series that is going to be exclusive to that retail sector. The story is that the whisky has been matured for 10 years in their regular American oak casks and then transferred into specially selected Pedro Ximinez sherry casks from Spain and matured for a further year. When you put your nose to this, it smells extremely promising. Vanilla is there in abundance as is some sweet malted barley, but they are joined by a more sugary sweet fruitiness (think of dried fruits especially raisins, candied citrus peel) that must be coming from that Pedro Ximinez cask (PX is one of the darkest, thickest and sweetest sherries). On the palate this is full bodied and creamy, yet explodes on your tongue. An intense but pleasant sugary burst hits the front of your tongue and dies slowly to reveal those elements from the nose. Strange as it sounds, there is a tropical element to this (something like mango or papaya, I'm not sure) and this carries on to the finish, which is just as intensely sweet and fruity as the nose and palate. Another 'Wow' moment and we seriously hope it is out by the time we travel at the end of this month so we can grab ourselves a bottle. Quality stuff.

Hibiki 12 years old

The Hibiki 17 years old is an multi award winning whisky from the Suntory company of Japan. This 12 years old, which has yet to be released in the UK, therefore has a lot to live up to! Whereas the 17 years old is dark with sherry cask influence, this is much lighter and fresher. This is fragrant on the nose and the fruitiness is fresh rather than dried fruit (think of stone fruits like cherries and plums). There is also a hint of a peppery spiciness (imagine white pepper). The palate is refreshing and light with lots of those fresh juicy fruit notes present (especially the plums). It has a crisp, short finish that makes your mouth water and want to drink some more! A very promising whisky that we later discovered was partly matured in a Japanese plum liqueur cask, which explains that fruitiness that is present.

Laphroaig 21 years old 'Old Malt Cask'

'Old Malt Cask' are a range of whiskies from the independent bottlers Douglas Laing & Co. They select casks from numerous distilleries around Scotland and within this range release just a single cask at 50% ABV, therefore limiting the amount of bottles available. This whisky from the iconic Islay distillery Laphroaig is light in colour for something of this age. It is quite woody on the nose (think of oak) with vanilla and an ashy smokiness (imagine a bonfire). There is a more rounded creaminess on the palate with the vanilla, pleasant sweet malted barley and that woody ashy smoke all mingling well. Maybe, there is just a hint of some spice coming through as well (something warm like ginger?). The smoke burns away for ages making the finish long but it gets slightly bitter right at the end.

Mackmyra Special 01
The first in a planned series of whiskies from Swedish distillery Mackmyra. They are one of the world's most innovative distilleries and the idea behind this new series is that they have created "a drink for special occasions and sharing wth special people". The Special 01 has been matured in sherry casks hand selected from Jerez in Spain. No age is stated but it is clearly young. The colour is a very pale lemon and on the nose with the aroma of peardrops present (a classic smell to identify a young whisky). It is light, herbal (think of grasses) and citrusy (imagine lemon zest). On the palate, this is very zingy (almost aggressive) but once you get over this the dried fruitiness that you expect from sherry cask maturation does come through. Overall, it is light and quite refreshing. What else will be in this series?

Yamazaki 18 years old
The oldest whisky in the core range of Japan's oldest distillery, Yamazaki. It is a whisky that has started to pick up awards around the world over the last two years and even though we have tried it before, we just had to try it again! The nose is rich and full of dried fruits (imagine raisins and sultanas), burnt dark sugar and an almost overpowering citrus note (I know it sounds strange but think of orange marmalade). This richness does not quite convert to the palate, which is lighter but still very complex. Some spiciness is present (think of cinnamon), along with just the slightest hint of peat smoke. The finish is long and enjoyable with the orange citrus notes particularly prominent. An excellent whisky that was worth the re-visit.

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Sunday, March 1, 2009

Whisky Live 2009, London - Day 1

whisky live, london 2009The Whisky Live event was staged at the prestigious Hurlingham Club in London on Friday 27 and Saturday 28 February. Both of us at Whisky For Everyone were on official duty for both of the days (in other words, we had to work there for our respective companies!!). However, we still had the opportunity to taste some of the whiskies that were on offer at the show, including some new or as yet unreleased drams. So here goes with a few of our highlights from day one.

Balblair 1975
This is the oldest whisky in the current core range of Balblair, a north Highland distillery that is attracting much attention following the winning of a couple of major awards in 2008. The nose is full of dried fruit (imagine raisins and sultanas), intense citrus (think of candied orange peel) and some peaty smokiness burning away. The smokiness was unexpected but marries together with the other elements well to give a sumptuous, full bodied whisky. There is also a warm spiciness on the palate (like ginger) and the finish is long and enjoyable. A very good whisky indeed.

Glendronach 18 years old
This is a sweet and malty whisky from one of the lesser known Speyside distilleries. Glendronach are launching this 18 years old shortly, along with a new 15 years old, as they expand the core range. This has a lot of sherry cask influence with dried fruitiness (think of sultanas and peel especially), sweet malted barley and some woodiness on the nose. The palate was thinner than the richness of the nose suggested. The dried fruit and barley combined well to give a pleasant whisky, although the finish was quite short, woody and slightly bitter.

Glendronach 33 years old

After 33 years maturing in a sherry cask, this whisky is dark and complex. It forms the oldest part of Glendronach's range, with limited batches released each year. The nose is packed with dried fruit (imagine raisins), woody oak (think of vanilla and warm spices like nutmeg) and dark burnt sugar. The palate is rich and even more complex with some more warm spice (imagine ginger this time) and an unexpected mossy smokiness in the background. The finish is long with that burnt sugar and smokiness hanging around. A very rounded whisky for those with expensive taste!

Mackmyra 1st Edition
First edition was the first official release from Swedish distillery Mackmyra and follows a series of six experimental bottlings called the Preludium. The initial batch sold out in Sweden within hours, so having enjoyed a couple of the Preludium series we had to see what all the fuss was about. It has been matured in roasted Swedish oak casks and a distinct toasted nuttiness comes through on the nose (think of almonds or hazelnuts). On the palate, the nuttiness is present and joined by vanilla, some crisp green fruit (imagine pears and apples), honey and a zingy citrus note (think of lemon zest). The finish is short but interestingly a hint of smoke drifts in. This is a young whisky but has complexity beyond its years and continues to show Mackmyra's whisky making potential.

Old Pulteney 21 years old
The oldest whisky currently available from the reknowned Old Pulteney distillery in the north Highlands. This 21 years old has won awards around the world and the colour is a rich gold. The nose indicates some of the richness that will come on the palate. There is lots of vanilla and malted barley, some sweetness (think of honey) and a hint of something floral (imagine heather). The palate does not disappoint and is rich and creamy, with all of the elements above combining to give great complexity. Some warm spices are also present (think of ginger and nutmeg). The finish is quite dry compared to the nose and palate with just a hint of that Old Pulteney saltiness coming through. Truly great stuff.

Scapa 16 years old

This latest release from Scapa on the Orkney Islands is planned to replace the popular 14 years old in the core range. As they have positioned this at a higher price point, it was a must try to see if it was worth their gamble. The colour is golden and the nose is sweet with lots of vanilla, toffee (it is almost fudgy!), malted barley and dried fruit (think of sultanas and candied peel) present. This is rich, creamy and thick in your mouth with butter, toffee and vanilla particularly prominent. There is a lovely warm honey note and a hint of some cinnamon also. The finish is long, creamy and rich again but slightly on the dry side. Not greatly different from the 14 years old but still pretty nice stuff.

Springbank 18 years old

The eagerly anticipated limited new release from the cult distillery in Campbeltown. This is expected to sell out fast when it is released at the end of March. The nose is very promising with some gorgeous sherry dried fruit combining with some sweet malted barley and a hint of something slightly musty (like and old, dusty book). On the palate, this is slightly lighter than expected but the dried fruits and barley remain prominent. There is a pleasant bitter edge (think of burnt sugar or caramel) as well as a zesty citrus freshness that lifts the whole palate. The finish was slightly disappointing and short with just the smallest whiff of smoke present. Overall, a decent whisky.

Van Winkle 12 years old
One of the few bourbons at the show this year. Van Winkle is a fourth generation company whose range of whiskey is made at the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky, America and follows strict secretive recipes that have been handed down since the late 1800s. Their unique combination of corn, wheat and barley produces a softer spirit that is more condusive to longer aging than other bourbons, who use rye instead of the wheat. This smells like a fruity Christmas cake with some coconut and vanilla thrown in. It is warming on the palate with that vanilla and coconut prominent. It feels creamy in the mouth and the finish is long with some warm spicy notes coming through (think of nutmeg or cinnamon). Very smooth, very easy drinking and very good.

Van Winkle 23 years old 'Pappy's Family Reserve'
A very limited release that is named after the founder - Julian 'Pappy' Van Winkle Snr. Only around 1500 bottles are released each year (the next batch is coming out in late Spring) and bourbons of this age are difficult to find. This was an opportunity not to be turned down! This is one rich, creamy and complex bourbon. The nose is full of woody oakiness, vanilla, citrus (imagine dried orange peel), coconut and warm spices (think of nutmeg). On the palate, these elements combine exceptionally well and the finish goes on and on. It is not too woody or bitter as some old bourbons can be. Excellent whiskey - one of the Whisky Live 'Wow' moments.

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