Friday, August 28, 2009

Have just tried ... Balvenie 21 years old 'Portwood'

balvenie 21 years old portwoodBalvenie is located in the famous whisky town of Dufftown in the Speyside region of Scotland. It is one of the largest and most famous scotch whisky distilleries in Scotland with an annual production level of 5.5 million litres. Balvenie is still owned by the original founders, William Grant & Sons, and was built in 1892 to help their other overworked distillery at Glenfiddich. Balvenie is next door to Glenfiddich and is a unique distillery. They have their own floor maltings (a room used for the germination of the barley), a cooperage where they construct casks and they even grow some of the barley used in the distillery grounds.

Each year over 1.5 million bottles of Balvenie are sold across the world, putting it well inside the top 10 for total sales. All aspects of the Balvenie brand - its popularity and core range - continues to grow. The core range currently includes two 12 year olds (one called Doublewood and the other called Signature), a 15 years old from a single barrel, this 21 years old which has been part matured in a Port wine cask and a 30 years old. Other limited editions appear regularly and they also have some bottlings exclusive for the duty free travel market.

The colour of this Balvenie 21 years old Portwood is golden amber with a noticeable reddish tinge. The nose is highly aromatic with a powerful mixture of characteristics - ripe dark fruit, nuts (think of almonds), caramel, dried zest (especially orange), warm spice (imagine cinnamon and ginger) and something woody and waxy (think of sandalwood and wax furniture polish). On the palate, this is equally as complex. It feels silky and buttery in the mouth with sweet vanilla, toffee, honey and cereal grains combining with darker elements such as brown sugar (think of moscavado or molasses), woody spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg), dark and slightly bitter dried red fruit (raisins especially). The problem is that it is almost too complicated and it is only with a dash of water that the intensity eases up. Then it becomes much easier to drink with more fruit (think of red grapes and sultanas) and more vanilla and yeasty creaminess appearing. The finish is long, rich and creamy with honey, molasses, dried fruits and nuts (a slightly more bitter nut this time, like a walnut) prominent. It begins sweet (almost sugary) before turning and becoming pleasantly dry and a touch bitter.

Balvenie 21 years old Portwood is an extremely enjoyable and well balanced whisky, especially when water is added. It is very complex and hard to get in to at times, but it is worth working through these this. This is an excellent example of a good cask finished whisky as the Port cask used in maturation has added numerous positive elements to the whisky. Portwood can be found in specialist whisky retailers at 40% ABV and at 47.5% ABV in duty free travel retailers. A bottle should cost £75-85.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Have just tried ... Highland Park 18 years old

highland park 18 years oldHighland Park is the most northernly distillery in Scotland. It is located on the Orkney islands, near the capital Kirkwall, to the north of the Scottish mainland and is one of only two distilleries on the main island (Scapa is the other). Highland Park is one of the oldest and best known whisky distilleries in Scotland and was established in 1798 by Magnus Eunson. He was an interesting local character who was known as the 'whisky priest' - he was a priest by day and an illegal whisky distiller and smuggler by night. The story goes that he used to store the whisky in the crypt under Kirkwall cathedral so that it would be safe from the Customs and Excise men! It is currently owned by the Edrington Group and has an annual capacity of 2.5 million litres.

Highland Park is one of the best selling whiskies in the world. The success of Highland Park comes as a result of them creating a spirit which is smoky but not to the degree of the majority of Islay whiskies. It is therefore more subtle and approachable and is a good whisky to try if you don't like too much smoky flavour. The core range is extensive, covering different ages (12, this 18, 25,30 and 40 years old) with the majority matured in sherry casks. There are also some exclusive duty free travel retail releases at 16 and 21 years old, as well the occasional limited edition bottling such as the new Hjarta. Highland Park is readily available and popular with the independent bottling companies.

The colour of this Highland Park 18 years old is a gorgeous dark amber. The nose is fabulous and full of dried fruit (think of sultanas), caramel, sweet heather honey, some woody spice (imagine nutmeg) and soft peaty earthiness. On the palate, the fruit and honey are predominant and it is incredibly smooth. The smokiness is there but it does not overpower the whisky and is slightly floral (imagine heather - this comes from the fact that they put dried moorland heather in with the peat when drying the malted barley), earthy (think of damp soil) and light. There is also a slight saltiness (think of brine or sea air), a distinct nuttiness and some warm spices (like ginger and cinnamon or nutmeg). The combination of all these elements gives a gloriously rich, well balanced and rounded whisky that is easy to drink. The finish is long and warm with mellow smokiness, dried fruitiness and those spices again.

Highland Park 18 years old is a great dram and it is easy to see why this classic whisky has won multiple awards around the world. It has the honour of being the whisky that got us interested in quality whiskies and single malts and tastes even better today than it did on that day two years ago. A bottle should cost £55-60 from specialist whisky retailers, although it can also occasionally be found in larger supermarkets with good whisky selections. Excellent stuff and a definate 'try before you die' whisky!

The mystery dram revealed

mystery dramThank you to everyone who read and left comments about our ‘mystery dram’ challenge from earlier in the week. We can now reveal that the ‘mystery dram’ in question was the Highland Park 18 years old. The full review of the Highland Park 18 years old will be posted very shortly with some distillery information and others facts about the whisky.

We tried to make this 'mystery dram' more challenging, as nearly everyone guessed correctly on our first one - the new Laphroaig 18 years old. There was more speculation this time so maybe we will add a couple more clues next time! Only two readers got the correct answer - Jeff of The Scotch Hobbyist blog and Tim of The Whisky Exchange blog. Well done to you both.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New releases ... Connemara Sherry Finish 'Small Batch Collection'

connemara sherry finishConnemara is a Irish whiskey produced at the Cooley distillery - one of only three distilleries that are currently operating in Ireland (Bushmills and Midleton are the others). It is located on the County Louth coast, roughly half way between Belfast and Dublin and was founded in 1987 by John Teeling. His idea was to resurrect some of Ireland's oldest whiskey recipes and traditions that had become extinct during more difficult times. An old vodka distillery was converted and Cooley has since won over 100 awards worldwide.

At Cooley they produce whiskey using traditional recipes and mixtures of grains and their range includes some famous Irish whiskey names, such as Connemara, Greenore, Kilbeggan, Locke's, Michael Collins, Millar's and Tyrconnell. Around 95% of all the whiskey produced at Cooley is exported with the UK, mainland Europe and South Africa being the main markets.

Connemara is the only peated Irish whiskey that is in regular production. Other smoky whiskies are occasionally released but normally as limited editions. Connemara (which takes its name from the original site of the Connemara distillery on the west coast of Ireland, near Galway) and its old traditional recipe had disappeared into history before being resurrected by John Teeling. The first expression of the modern Connemara was launched in 1996 and this sherry finish forms the first part of the new Connemara Small Batch Collection, a series of whiskies to be released at regular intervals having been finished or matured in alternative casks. The launch of this sherry finish coincides with a Connemara range re-brand that is happening next month.

The colour is a golden amber and the nose offers some initial sweetness (think of caramel) and some fruitiness (a combination of dried fruits like sultanas and raisins and fresh fruit, especially green apples) - this reminded us of toffee apples. Behind this is a light smokiness that has a herbal element (imagine a grassy bonfire) and also something a little more acrid (think of rubber or tyres). The combination of all of these aromas creates a lovely, interesting and very promising nose. On the palate, a similar thing happens. There is an initial hit of sugary sweetness (that caramel and toffee again) that combines with the soft smokiness (still like a grassy bonfire but with a bit more damp earthiness). Then comes the dried fruity influence of the sherry cask finish (think of raisins, sultanas and candied peel, with a touch of a warm spice like nutmeg) and this grows in intensity. The result is a very pleasant richness that has all the elements balancing well together. The finish is long, pleasant and mouthwatering. It again starts off sweet (the dried fruit are particularly prominent, as is a hint of dried orange peel) and smoky before becoming quite dry and slightly bitter (your gums can feel the tannins from the sherry cask drying them out). This makes your mouth feel refreshed and wanting more!

This Connemara Sherry Finish from the forthcoming Small Batch Collection is a very enjoyable and well balanced whiskey. It offers complexity and subtly at the same time and the balance of the sweetness, fruitiness and delicate smokiness is particularly impressive. The whiskey is a good example of cask finished whiskey and gives a viable, interesting and unique alternative to the Scottish smoky whiskies or other non smoky Irish whiskies. A big thank you to Jack Teeling from the Cooley distillery for sending us this sneak preview sample.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Have just tried ... North of Scotland 39 years old 'Clan Denny'

north of scotland 39 years old 'clan denny'North of Scotland was a grain whisky distillery, located close to the Highland town of Alloa to the north of Edinburgh. The distillery was founded in 1958 by a man named George Christie, who later went on to found the Speyside distillery in Speyside (unsurprisingly!). Christie converted some old brewery buildings, dating back to 1786, and installed a special type of column still at the distillery called a Coffey still. This was designed to produce grain whisky, like traditional column stills, but could also produce single malt whisky. The experiment proved a costly failure and after just two years North of Scotland switched to solely producing grain whisky for a number of large blending clients. The distillery closed in 1980 and the equipment was dismantled and sold off in 1993.

The name of Clan Denny is used by Glasgow based independent bottling company Douglas Laing & Co. They use it for their ranges of single grain whiskies and a series of vatted malts. The origin of the name is a little hazy although Douglas Laing tell the story of a Taiwanese businessman who wanted a blended whisky to be made and named after himself. His name was Dennis and his suggestion was MacDennis, which Douglas Laing changed to Clan Dennis. Over time this has been adapted to Clan Denny.

The colour of this North of Scotland grain whisky is golden amber and the nose is fresh and vibrant despite the age of the whisky. It was distilled in 1966, bottled at 39 years of age in 2005 and has an alcohol strength of 44.4% ABV. There is a lovely combination of vanilla, oak, cereal grains, dried fruit (especially sultanas and candied lemon peel) and coconut. On the palate this feels creamy, smooth and mellow. The cereal grains are more prominent and give a slight bitter edge to the other sweeter elements - vanilla, honey, dried fruit (think more of candied orange peel this time, rather than the lemon of the nose). There is also a woody note that adds a spicy edge to the palate (think of a wood spice like cinnamon, some ginger and the oak from the nose). This again balances with the bitter and sweeter notes well. Upon adding a drop of water, the whisky becomes more woody and feels thinner and less pleasant. The finish is long, creamy and lingering with plenty of sweet vanilla, cereals and the woody spiciness.

This was a rare chance to try a grain whisky at such an age and was well worth it. Truly lovely and enjoyable stuff. We must thank Michael Hopert of Royal Mile Whiskies for allowing us a sample of this gorgeous grain whisky from his own personal bottle! It is hard to find, even in specialist whisky retailers, but well worth it if you do. A bottle should cost £130-140.

Another mystery dram - Can you guess what it is?

mystery dramHere is the second in our occasional 'mystery dram' series. The idea is that we write tasting notes for a whisky and then ask you to try and guess what the whisky in question may be. This can be done by clicking on the 'comments' section at the bottom of this post once you have read the notes, following the instructions and leaving us your guess/answer. The first 'mystery dram' was seemingly too easy for some, so we have tried to make this one a bit more challenging!

The answer will be revealed on Thursday when we will post a full review. This will incorporate these tasting notes and also include our regular dose of distillery history and facts, as well as information about the whisky in question. There are no prizes for guessing correctly but correct answers will be mentioned in the final article, so please leave your name! We aim to set a new 'mystery dram' challenge roughly once a month in the future. Good luck ...

The colour of the 'mystery dram' is a gorgeous dark amber. The nose is fabulous and full of dried fruit (think of sultanas), caramel, sweet heather honey, some woody spice (imagine nutmeg) and soft peaty earthiness. On the palate, the fruit and honey are predominant and it is incredibly smooth. The smokiness is there but it does not overpower the whisky and is slightly floral (imagine heather), earthy (think of damp soil) and light. There is also a slight saltiness (think of brine or sea air), a distinct nuttiness and some warm spices (like ginger and cinnamon or nutmeg). The combination of all these elements gives a gloriously rich, well balanced and rounded whisky that is easy to drink. The finish is long and warm with mellow smokiness and those spices again. It is easy to see why this classic whisky has won multiple awards around the world.

So, what is the 'mystery dram'? Please post your answers in the 'comments' section below.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Have just tried ... Lauder's Original

lauder's originalLauder's Original is a Scottish blended whisky. It is consistently a best selling whisky in Scotland and is one of the oldest blends to still be in production today. The blend was created by Archibald Lauder in 1834. Lauder owned a grocery store in Glasgow and began selling wines and spirits, before branching out and creating his own series of blended whiskies. After two years of experimenting with different styles, he decided on his final recipe by getting his friends and associates to taste and comment on each whisky, then selecting their favourite. Lauder's Original has been in continuous production ever since.

The brand is currently owned by spirits specialist Macduff International. They are based in Glasgow and were established in 1992. They own a number of other whisky brands, including Islay Mist and Grand MacNish, as well as gin and vodka. Lauder's Original is composed of Highland, Lowland and Speyside single malt whiskies combined with grain whisky. Macduff International currently export nearly two million bottles of Lauder's to over 50 countries each year. Its main markets are the UK, southern Europe and south east Asia.

The colour is amber and the nose is light and fresh. There is an initial whiff of raw alcohol spirit but this is soon replaced by more pleasant aromas including some lovely sweet vanilla, coconut, cereal grains and something nutty (think of almonds). The palate follows a similar path and offers a thin, spirity feeling in the mouth that then blossoms as other characteristics start to come through. It is very grainy (almost bitter) but this is balanced well with some sugary sweetness - think of brown sugar, honey, vanilla and caramel. There is also a distinct herbal element that appears the longer the whisky is held in the mouth (imagine dried grasses or hay). This grassiness continues on the finish and joins with the sweet grains in particular. The finish is light and sweet, before turning dry and suddenly disappearing.

Lauder's Original is a whisky that is pleasant enough when drunk straight but that would be perfect with a mixer, in a cocktail or over ice. We tried it with tonic water, ice and lemon and it worked very well. It can be hard to find in the UK (outside of Scotland) and a bottle should cost £15-18, for which the whisky represents good value. Look out for its distinctive four sided indented bottle, that is modelled on the original design used by Archibald Lauder.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Have just tried ... Old Ballantruan

old ballantruanOld Ballantruan is a single malt whisky that is produced by the Tomintoul distillery. Tomintoul (pronounced tom-in-towel) was opened in 1964 and is located in the famous Livet glen, close to the village of Ballindalloch, on the southern edge of Scotland's Speyside region. It is large and produces around 3 million litres per year. Tomintoul is the second highest distillery in Scotland at 286 metres (808 feet) above sea level and regularly suffers poor weather and cold temperatures as a result. Dalwhinnie in the central Highlands is the highest at 326 metres (1075 feet). The current owners are Angus Dundee Distillers, and most of the whisky produced there is allocated to blending contracts.

Old Ballantruan is unusual for a Speyside whisky as it is produced using peated malted barley and is very smoky in nature. This style of whisky is normally associated with island distilleries but there is a growing trend in Scotland's other whisky regions to use peated malt. This is due to the current high demand for smoky whiskies around the world. Old Ballantruan was first produced in 2001 as an experiment and is bottled at roughly five or six years of age and 50% ABV. It has a peating level of 30ppm (phenols per million) which puts it at a similar strength to Until recently, it formed part of Tomintoul's core range but has now been discontinued. Tomintoul produce another smoky whisky called Peaty Tang, which is lightly peated and fresher than Old Ballantruan and production of this continues.

Old Ballantruan has a golden yellow colour with a brown tint and a nose that is simple but striking. There is plenty of peaty smoke (think of damp moss and earth) and malty barley grains. The nose has a touch of raw alcohol spirit to it which indicates that this is a young whisky, but it is not detrimental and is joined by an interesting dark and slightly bitter element (imagine a dark chocolate or espresso coffee). On the palate, this packs a peaty punch (that damp moss and earth again) but then settles nicely so that the peaty smoke element combines with the other elements present. This is rich, creamy (almost oily) and full bodied in your mouth. There is a lovely level of sweetness that comes from the peat and barley as well as elements of caramel, vanilla and a touch of something savoury (it may sound strange but it is reminiscent of smoked bacon). The finish is vibrant and long with a lovely combination of the obvious smokiness (this seems more ashy and less earthy here), sweet caramel, vanilla and some wood spice (think of cinnamon).

The Old Ballantruan is a pleasant and enjoyable dram. It offers some interesting characteristics and can certainly sit comfortably amongst its more well known smoky whisky rivals from the islands. It offers an interesting smoky whisky alternative, although it is hard to find as the bottlings were limited. A bottle should cost £28-35 from selected specialist whisky retailers.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Have just tried ... Longrow 10 years old

longrow 10 years oldLongrow is a single malt whisky that is produced by the Springbank distillery. Springbank is located in the town of Campbeltown, which is found on a narrow spit of land that is on the west Highland coast of Scotland. It is Scotland's oldest distillery that has been continuously owned by the same family, the Mitchell's, although it was set up in 1828 by the Reid family (who were related to the Mitchell's by marriage). Springbank has a small capacity with a maximum production capacity of 750,000 litres per year and is one of the few distilleries to do all parts of production on their own site including malting the barley, distillation and bottling.

Longrow takes its name from a former Campbeltown distillery that was next to Springbank but this closed in 1896. Part of that distillery remains and has been converted into Springbank's bottling plant. Springbank produce three different whiskies at the distillery. The first, released under the Springbank name, is lightly peated (around 15ppm) and is distilled two and a half times (this means that the spirit is distilled twice but some of it is allowed to drain back in to the still and is therefore distilled for a third time). The second takes the name Longrow and is heavily peated (about 55ppm) and is distilled twice. The third is called Hazelburn and is completely unpeated (0ppm), distilled three times and is the rarest of the three. The production is split throughout the year with 80% of the time going to Springbank, 10% to Longrow and 10% to Hazelburn.

This Longrow 10 years old is golden in colour with a nose that makes you want to sit an take in the aromas for hours. There is a lovely sweetness that combines malty barley grains with vanilla, some citrus fruit elements (think of lemon and orange zest) and smoky earthy peat (imagine compost soil and damp moss). The smokiness has a slight bitter edge (imagine iodine or antiseptic) but balances well with the other elements. This balance is replicated on the palate where the vanilla and barley mix well with the fresh earthy peat smoke, some caramel, a distinct salty tang and a hint of spiciness (think of black peppercorns). It feels thick in the mouth and rounded with the saltiness giving it a refreshing lighter edge. The finish is very long, smooth and smoky (this feels more like bonfire smoke or ash now). The combination of vanilla, peat and saltiness gives complexity to this very enjoyable finish, with the salty tang leaving your mouth watering and wanting more!

Since Longrow first appeared on the market in 1985, it has been gaining increasing recognition and on this evidence is a serious competitor to the more well known smoky whiskies produced on the neighbouring island of Islay. It is easy to drink and balanced and this would make it a good choice to introduce someone to the smoky whisky style or as an alternative to some of the bigger Islay brands. Longrow 10 years old has a complex mix of characteristics and the smokiness seems less pungent than Islay whiskies of the same or similar peat level. A bottle should cost £35-40 from specialist retailers. A very good whisky.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Have just tried ... Tobermory 10 years old

tobermory 10 years oldTobermory is the only distillery on the island of Mull, which lies a short ferry ride from the west Highland coast of Scotland. It was founded in 1798, making it one of Scotland's oldest distilleries and is named after the small town of Tobermory on the island. Tobermory is small and compact with an annual production capacity of one million litres and is currently owned by Burn Stewart Distillers. The whisky produced there is popular with blenders and this means that only around 15% of Tobermory's whisky is released as single malt. The most popular blended whisky that uses Tobermory is Scottish Leader.

The distillery's original name was Ledaig (pronounced ley-jeg and translating as 'safe harbour' from Gaelic). The history of the distillery is littered with periods of closure for one reason or another, with the two most significant being 1837-1878 and then 1930-1972. Following another sporadic period of production, the Tobermory Distillers Ltd. was set up in 1979 and they changed the distillery's name from Ledaig to Tobermory. However, they were soon in financial trouble and sold off some of the outbuildings and warehouses to developers and these were converted to apartments. Burn Stewart then took control in 1993, buying the distillery and all the old maturing whisky stock.

Tobermory produce three different styles of single malt whisky at the distillery. The majority is produced in the unpeated style and is called Tobermory. There is also a lightly peated version which is sold as Ledaig and a heavily peated version called Iona (named after a small island that neighbours Mull and the whisky is only available from the distillery shop). This 10 years old is available in larger supermarkets and specialist whisky retailers and can be priced anywhere between £20-25 (sometimes even cheaper if one of the big supermarket chains have it on promotion). It forms part of the Tobermory core range which also includes two more limited editions at 15 and 32 years old.

The colour of this Tobermory 10 years old is golden yellow with an interesting nose that changes drastically with time. First there is a combination of cereal grains (reminiscent of oatmeal or porridge oats) with some dried fruit (think of sultanas) and some honey and toffee. Then when revisiting after five minutes or so, it has a sort of damp musty smell (the nearest thing to think of is a dusty old book) and the fruitiness has turned in to more like stewed or overcooked fruit (imagine pears and apples here). On the palate a similar thing occurs. There is a pleasant hit of sweet grain, caramel and honey mixing with a distinct salty tang (think of brine), a hint of licquorice (maybe?) and a nutty note (imagine a creamy nut like almond or hazelnut). It feels reasonably full bodied and creamy in the mouth but then the flavours suddenly become much lighter and die away dramatically leaving a lot of alcohol spirit and not much else. It falls totally flat, which is disappointing as the initial nose and palate are quite promising. This happens almost before you realise it, even when tasted a couple of times afterwards, and it means the finish is pretty much non existent leaving a drying woody spirity feel in your mouth. This whisky is quite 'beginner unfriendly' and while not the worst whisky around, it is certainly not the best.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Have just tried ... Ben Nevis 10 years old

ben nevis 10 years oldThe Ben Nevis distillery is located close to the town of Fort William in the western Highlands. It is one of only two distilleries currently in operation in this area of Scotland, with Oban being the other. The distillery has a yearly capacity of two million litres and takes its name from Ben Nevis, which is the UK's highest mountain at 1343 metres (4406 feet) above sea level. It sits at the foot of the mountain in one of the most rugged and scenic settings of any distillery in Scotland. The water used in the whisky production at Ben Nevis is collected from a spring that is supplied by rain or melted snow that has fallen on the mountain.

Ben Nevis was founded in 1825 by John McDonald and remained in his family until the 1950s when Canadian businessman Joseph Hobbs took conrol. He revolutionised Ben Nevis by installing a Coffey still (a type of still used to produce grain whisky) and made Ben Nevis the first distillery able to produce single malt and grain whiskies at the same location. The late 1970s and 1980s were difficult for the distillery and it was closed for varying reasons for most of this period, until the Japanese distillers Nikka bought it in 1989. Nikka is a subsiduary of the Asahi Brewery Company and they restarted production in 1990 and Ben Nevis has been operating ever since.

This 10 years old is the only regular bottling that Ben Nevis release. It is occasionally joined by limited edition special releases from the distillery and is also popular with independent bottlers. They also produce two blended whiskies at the distillery - Dew of Ben Nevis and Glencoe. This 10 years old is matured in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks and is golden amber in colour. The nose is rich and sweet with an interesting mix of aromas. There are lots of prominent cereal grains and toasted nuts (think of almonds) and these combine with rich dried fruit (imagine sultanas and candied orange peel), some caramel and a hint of smokiness (think of coal smoke as it has a slight sulphuric edge to it). On the palate this is rich and creamy with some initial sugary sweetness (that caramel again). The cereal, nut and dried fruit (especially the orange peel) elements from the nose are all present and are joined by some vanilla, some warm spices (imagine cinnamon) and some slightly bitter woodiness (think of damp oak). The finish is decently long, rich and sweet but turns bitter towards the end, leaving a bitter alcohol spirit burn as the last thing that you experience.

Ben Nevis 10 years old is a good and enjoyable single malt that seems a bit older than it is. It is more complex than expected with an interesting combination of characteristics. It would be a good whisky to introduce someone to the world of single malt as it is easy drinking, smooth and rounded. The only slightly disappointing element is the touch of roughness on the finish (this is if you don't count the dreadfully dated, some would say retro, packaging that has a mock leather/formica effect and a wishy washy watercolour painting on it!). A bottle should cost £30-35 from specialist whisky retailers.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Have just tried ... Ardbeg Uigeadail

ardbeg uigeadail Ardbeg is a distillery on the western Scottish island of Islay. The island is famous for the production of the peaty, smoky style of whisky and the Ardbeg distillery produces some of the strongest versions of these. Ardbeg was founded in 1815, although the first record of a distillery on the current site was in 1794. The distillery is currently owned by drinks giant Moet Hennessey and despite its small capacity (one million litres per year), Ardbeg has an extensive core range that is complimented with regular limited release bottlings.

The word Uigeadail (pronounced oog-a-dal), despite looking like a Scrabble disaster (well unless you have loads of vowels left!), is actually a Gaelic word and is taken from the name of Loch Uigeadail, whose waters run down a valley to be collected and used in the whisky production at Ardbeg. It was first bottled in 2003 and is a marriage of both bourbon and sherry casks of differing ages. Uigeadail has gone from strength to strength since its launch and has become a multi award winning whisky around the globe. It is released at 54.2% ABV and should cost £40-45 a bottle from specialist whisky retailers.

The colour of Uigeadail is a deep amber with a brown dusty earthy tint. The nose is very smoky and lets you know that you are about to taste a serious whisky. The intense pungent peat smoke the obvious characteristic but this combines well with the other interesting elements which start to come through - something meaty (think of fresh leather), dried fruit (especially raisins, sultanas and candied peel), sweet cereal grains, something waxy (imagine spray furniture polish - sounds strange but it is the nearest thing to try and describe it) and then caramel and something nutty (the combination of these last two is reminiscent of popcorn). Each of these characteristics are present on the complex palate, although the pungent smokiness is less earthy and more ashy (think of charcoal or a bonfire) and this gives a slight bitter edge. It feels full bodied and velvety in your mouth and there is also a spicy heat (imagine peppercorns or chilli), a salty tang and just a hint of dark cocoa powder. Due to the high ABV, some water was added and this made the whisky sweeter with more vanilla and cereal grains able to come through due to the slight reduction in the smokiness. The finish is intense and seems to go on forever. The ashy smoke keeps burning away before finally fading after a number of minutes. There are plenty of the sweet vanilla and dried fruits before it becomes more dry and woody.

It is easy to see why Ardbeg Uigeadail has won so many accolades. It is a fantastic example of a smoky whisky and is rich, rounded, balanced and wonderfully complex on all levels. Having said that, it is not one for the faint hearted as it packs a real peaty punch, even with the addition of water. Excellent stuff.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Have just tried ... Grant's Family Reserve

grant's family reserveGrant's Family Reserve is one of the world's best selling blended whiskies. It currently lies in third place for total sales in the UK (which is its main market) behind the Famous Grouse and Bell's and fifth overall in the world behind Johnnie Walker Red and Black labels, J&B Rare and Ballantine's. The Family Reserve is the cornerstone of the Grant's blend range, which also includes 12 and 18 years old versions and two cask finished whiskies - the Sherry Cask and the Ale Cask. The entire range sells a staggering 20 million bottles of whisky per year around the world!

This Family Reserve was first blended and introduced by William Grant & Sons in 1898 and is made by combining their two famous single malts of Glenfiddich and Balvenie with grain whisky. More recently, the blend has also included single malt whisky from the Kininvie distillery, which William Grant & Sons built in 1990. The brand benefited from the spread of the British Empire in the late Victorian era and was established in over 30 countries within 15 years of its launch. This has set the foundation for its popularity today.

The three cornered bottle was first introduced in 1957 and in 1964 Grant's decided to use this design for the ground breaking launch of Glenfiddich as a single malt. It was ground breaking as Grant's were the first to release and professionally market a single malt whisky and also introduce the brand to the blossoming Duty Free retail sector. This innovation has led Glenfiddich to become the biggest selling single malt whisky in the world and stay in first place for years. The bottle design has now become a design icon and the rest is history, as they say.

The Family Reserve has a rich golden colour and a nose that takes time to open out in the glass. Initially it is full of cereal grains (reminiscent of a grain based biscuit like a digestive) and vanilla but these are joined by other elements. This results in a nicer warm and comforting combination of aromas - some sweet honey and yeast, some citrus (imagine candied or dried orange peel) and just the slightest whiff of some earthy smoke. On the palate, this is light, delicate and mellow. There is initial sweetness (think of a combination of sweet grains, vanilla, honey and caramel) and fruitiness (imagine crisp green fruit like pears and apples) with some interesting bitter charcacters coming through (imagine nuts, especially almonds, and some dried grass). This gives balance to the whisky. The finish is short and sweet (that caramel again) before turning drier and more spirity right at the end. The nut and grain notes are also noticably present here.

Grant's Family Reserve is widely available in the UK and beyond and represents a good quality blended whisky at a bargain price (anywhere between £12-18 in the UK). It is very pleasant and easy drinking when taken straight and would also be ideal with a mixer or cocktail, as it has enough flavour characteristics to hold its own. A very decent whisky and it is easy to see why it has been so popular for so many years.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Whisky For Everyone on Twitter

twitter logoWhisky For Everyone is now on Twitter, the free social networking site that allows people to share messages and news with each other in real time. The act/craze of 'tweeting' is sweeping around the world and is quite addictive (trust us on that one!). It is made more interesting by the fact that you can only use 140 characters in each message. There are now millions of people worldwide using Twitter on a daily basis including celebrities, organisations and bloggers.

So, not wanting to be left behind we set up a Twitter account for Whisky For Everyone. We have been using Twitter to post regular updates about new posts on the blog and new pages when they are uploaded to the website, with the relevant links. Our Twitter name is @whisky4everyone, so look out for us! We have also met numerous interesting people from all facets of the whisky industry and beyond with whom we regularly communicate. So why not start following us? If you do, you will get Whisky For Everyone updates directly to your Twitter inbox and you won't have to remember to look at the blog or website as we will come to you! If you start following us, you will also be able to interact with both of us by telling us news, ideas or info and asking us questions or for recommendations.

To follow us on Twitter, please click here and follow the instructions. It will ask you to 'Log in' if you are already a Twitter user or 'Join today' if you are not. We look forward to hearing from you soon!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Have just tried ... Hankey Bannister Original Blend

hankey bannisterHankey Bannister is an award winning range of blended whiskies. The most popular and readily available whisky in the range is this Original Blend. This is joined by a 12, 21 and a 40 years old (the age stated on a blended whisky is the youngest whisky that is present, with some older whiskies also included). The 40 years old was produced to celebrate the 250th anniversary of Hankey Bannister & Co and it was this that won the most prestigious award available of Best Blended Whisky at The World Whisky Awards 2009.

The slightly strange name comes from a partnership of two business men (surnames Hankey and Bannister) who set up a wine and spirits business in the West End of London in 1757. They were one of the first companies to take whisky from Scotland and blend it elsewhere. The popularity of their whiskies grew with time, especially with royalty and the wealthy. Fans have included King George V, King Edward VII and Sir Winston Churchill.

The Hankey Bannister brand is currently owned by Inver House Distillers and it is exported to over 40 countries. Its main markets are the UK, South America, South Africa and Australia. This Original Blend is based loosely on Hankey and Bannister's original recipe and contains around 30% of single malt whisky (predominantly from the Balblair distillery but also Balmenach and Knockdhu). The remaining 70% is grain whisky mostly coming from the North British and Port Dundas distilleries.

The colour of this Hankey Bannister is golden amber and the nose is light yet aromatic. It is immediately fruity (think of dried fruits like sultanas and candied peel, especially orange) with some spiciness (think of ginger and nutmeg) and lots of cereal grains giving a hit of bitterness. This balances the sweetness that is present (imagine vanilla and caramel). Also add in a hint of slightly sulphuric smokiness (reminding us of struck matchsticks). On the palate, there is a lovely initial combination of sweet notes - the dried fruits from the nose, vanilla, honey and caramel. This feels quite creamy and buttery in your mouth and then some slightly bitter elements start coming through. A note of sweet cereal grain begins this but they quickly turn bitter (think of chewing the grain husks) and this note is joined by some almost exaggerated woodiness. While this may sound unpleasant, it is actually enjoyable and gives the whisky difference and character, compared to other blends which can be quite bland. The finish is reasonably long and sweet with some sugary caramel and vanilla giving way to some heavy cereal grains and wood spice (imagine cinnamon).

Hankey Bannister Original Blend is an enjoyable and characterful blended whisky that is very easy to drink either straight or with a mixer (we tried it with tonic water and it was particularly good!). The slightly harsh bitter cereal notes may not be to everyone's taste but it still offers great value for money at only £12-15 a bottle.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Have just tried ... Balblair Vintage 1989

balblair 1989Balblair is one of Scotland's oldest distilleries with production starting in 1790 - only Glenturret, Bowmore and Strathisla have been operating longer. The distillery is located in the northern Highlands in the village of Ederton, which was found in a 2006 EU survey to have the cleanest air in Scotland! It lies close to the shores of the Dornoch Firth with the Highlands rising behind it and has the North Highland Railway track running next to it, making the distillery one of the most picturesque in Scotland. Balblair is currently owned by Inver House Distillers and is reasonably small, producing around 1.3 million litres per year.

The majority of the whisky produced at Balblair goes in to the popular blend Hankey Bannister, with only about 10% being released as Balblair single malt. However, this amount is rising as Balblair becomes more widely recognised and the latest range continues to add to the numerous worldwide awards that it has recently won. The core range is released as vintages, rather than the more common age statement in numbers of years - there is an evergrowing range including a 1965, 1975, 1978, 1978, 1979, this 1989, 1997, 1990 and a 2000. Independent bottlings are available but stocks vary from year to year.

The colour of this 1989 vintage is light gold and the nose is lovely and clean, enticing you with an interesting mix of aromas. There is some obvious vanilla and oaky wood, followed by something nutty (think of almonds). However, underneath these is a gorgeous fresh fruitiness - firstly something reminiscent of fresh green apples and then something tropical (this sounds strange I know but there was definitely hints of banana, pineapple and mango detected in there!). The palate is full of sweetness with vanilla, honey and toffee all present. These combine well with some dried fruit (imagine sultanas and candied lemon peel), something spicy (think of nutmeg) and the fresh fruit from the nose (those green apples and tropical fruits again). The sweetness is counteracted with a slightly sharp element (imagine lemon zest) and this gives good balance. The finish is reasonably long and enjoyable. The vanilla, toffee and both dried and fresh fruits make it complex and a slight peppery burn (think of peppercorns) comes through at the end, leaving your mouth watering and wanting another dram.

The Balblair 1989 is a smooth, enjoyable whisky that is very easy drinking. It would be a good choice to give as an introduction for someone to single malt whisky, as it offers loads of character and complexity without being too overpowering. This is a very good whisky from an under rated distillery. It will be found in specialist whisky retailers for the bargain price of £40-45, which only adds to its appeal!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New releases ... Double Barrel (Laphroaig/Macallan) from Douglas Laing & Co

double barrel Double Barrel is a newly released vatted malt whisky from the independent bottler Douglas Laing & Co. A vatted malt is one that contains two or more single malt whiskies and nothing else. Double Barrel consists of two iconic single malts - Laphroaig and Macallan. Douglas Laing & Co have selected only one cask of each and then vatted these together for a period of time. As a result bottles are limited and one will cost between £35-£50, depending on where you find it.

Laphroaig (pronounced la-froyg) is one of the most famous distilleries in the world. Located on the western island of Islay, the distillery was founded in 1815 and produces the world's best selling smoky single malt whisky (the hugely popular 10 years old). Laphroaig is currently owned by Beam Global, who are one of the world's largest spirits companies, and the distillery has a capacity of around 2.5 million litres a year.

Macallan is another famous distillery and they also produce some of the biggest selling whiskies in the world. They consistently lie in third place for total world sales, behind only Glenfiddich and Glenlivet. The distillery is located in the heart of the Speyside region and is one of Scotland's largest, with 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.

The colour of this Double Barrel is light gold and the nose is light, fresh and vibrant. There is a lot of pungent smoke (think of burning ash and bonfires), although there is also an astringent bitter element to this as well (think of hot tar and antiseptic). There is also some vanilla, malty cereal grains and a fruity sweetness (imagine dried fruits, apricots especially, and honey), although these struggle through the smoky elements and you have to work hard to get them. On the palate, the smokiness is the predominant feature (it is sweeter and more peaty and earthy this time, although the ashy/tarry notes are definately still present). There is some saltiness (think of sea water) and something bitter (imagine iodine and also damp wood). Other elements are present but again they are subtle and have to battle through the smokiness - vanilla, honey, something buttery and baked (reminded me of a biscuit or shortbread) and a hint of dried fruit. Add to this some raw spirit (this indicates that at least one of the two whiskies present is on the young side) and you have an interesting but ultimately unbalanced and zingy palate. The finish is sharp and spirity with a lot of alcohol burn - this is surprising as it is bottled at 46% ABV. It starts with some sweetness (that vanilla and honey again) before turning dry and a touch bitter at the end (that woodiness and iodine again).

This Double Barrel is a difficult whisky to get to grips with. The two iconic distilleries involved are not natural partners in many people's eyes and this can be seen in the final whisky. Laphroaig and Macallan are like chalk and cheese in the whisky world, having their own distinctive styles and fans. Here,the Laphroaig totally dominates and overpowers the more subtle Macallan, which struggles to show its own quality. This leaves me wondering who would buy this for £50? Fans of Laphroaig? Maybe. Fans of Macallan? No. Fans of both? Maybe. The Double Barrel is an definately an interesting whisky and an interesting experiment.