Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Have just tried ... Highland Park 21 years old

highland park 21 years oldHighland Park is the most northern whisky distillery in Scotland. In fact, it is one of the most northern distilleries of any kind in the world, beating others in Canada and Russia. Highland Park is located on the Orkney islands to the north of the Scottish mainland, close to the capital Kirkwall, and is one of only two distilleries on the main island (Scapa being the other). Highland Park is one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland and was established in 1798 by Magnus Eunson. He 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 nosy Customs & Excise men.

An award winning whisky
Highland Park is one of the best selling single malt whiskies in the world. It is currently owned by the Edrington Group and has an annual production capacity of 2.5 million litres. 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. The core range is extensive and covers different ages (12, 18, 25, 30 and 40 years old). There are also exclusive Duty Free travel retail releases at 16 and this 21 years old, as well as occasional limited edition bottlings. Highland Park is readily available and popular with the independent bottling companies. This 21 years old was first released in 2007 and is currently bottled at 47.5% ABV. It was named as Best Single Malt of the Year at the prestigious World Whisky Awards in 2009. A bottle should cost £80-85 from larger travel retail stores.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this whisky is a dark golden amber. The nose is rich and heavy with caramel and coal smoke notes. These are followed by more subtle notes of honey, dried fruits (especially raisins and candied orange peel), butterscotch, cereal grains and dried grass (think of hay). There is also a distinct heather note (imagine dried heather), which comes through. With time, the smokiness becomes softer and melts in with the other characteristics to give a lovely balance. On the palate, many of the notes from the nose are present - caramel, dried fruits (especially the candied orange peel), honey, heather, smoke and cereals. The whisky feels rich and sensual in the mouth but it is much spicier and drier than the sweeter elements of the nose suggest. There are more woody notes, along with toasted nuts and wood spices (think of toasted almonds, cinnamon and nutmeg). These becomes more exaggerated on the finish. The finish starts sweetly with a hit of that caramel, before the wood, drying coal-like smoke and wood spices begin to take over. It is rich and complex with the spicy, dry notes adding great balance to the whisky. Finally, there is a hint of dark chocolate and espresso coffee grains.

What's the verdict?
The 21 years old is a rich, sumptuous whisky that demonstrates why Highland Park's whiskies are so popular. It has something for everyone - sweetness but not too much, smokiness but not too much, spiciness but not too much, dryness but not too much ... you get the idea. Highland Park make great all-round whiskies and the result in this case creates plenty of complexity and interest within the dram. It is worth grabbing a bottle of this next time that you are travelling through an airport. We are definitely tempted!

Friday, September 24, 2010

New releases ... Benriach 16 years old Claret finish

benriach 16 years old claret finishAn independent distillery
Benriach (pronounced ben-ree-ack) is a distillery in the Speyside region of Scotland and is located approximately 3 miles to the south of the city of Elgin. The distillery was founded in 1897 by John Duff & Co and its early history was very short lived – Benriach was closed in 1903 and not reopened until 1965. It was closed again in 2002 and mothballed (a procedure where a distillery is taken out of operation but left intact and ready to go, when required). In 2004, an independent group named the Benriach Distillery Company took over the distillery and all of its maturing stock. This group was headed by Billy Walker, a former director of Burn Stewart Distillers. This makes Benriach one of the few distilleries in Scotland that is currently independently owned. The distillery has a production capacity of 2.8 million litres per year, with most being released as single malts.

A centre for innovation
Benriach has one of the most innovative ranges of any Scottish distillery - the expansive regular range is matured in ex-bourbon casks, with an additional range of different casks finished whiskies and two smoky ones (they make peaty whisky at Benriach for roughly three weeks every year, which is an unusual practice for a Speyside distillery). This 16 years old Claret finish is part of a new trilogy of limited edition whiskies that have been finished in ex-wine casks. There will only be 4734 bottles available from specialist whisky retailers for between £40-50, depending on where you find it. This whisky has been maturing for most of the time in an ex-bourbon cask before transferring for just under a year to an ex-Claret red wine cask. The other two are both 17 years of age, with one finished in a Burgundy red wine cask and the other in a Rioja red wine cask. The three whiskies will all be released at 46% ABV.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this whisky is golden with a hint of amber and the nose is rich,expressive and fragrant. There is immediate obvious vanilla, oak and dried fruits (think of sultanas, raisins and apple), followed by rich caramel, honey and cereal grains. More subtle notes come through with time - oranges (the zest especially) and wood spice (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). The complexity of the nose carries through to the palate, which is buttery, silky and sweet to start with - think of dried fruit, caramel, vanilla, cereals, orange marmalade, wood spices and coconut - before becoming more spicy (think of the cinnamon and nutmeg again, with a hint of clove). The richness and sweetness is complimented by the spiciness and a hint of tannic red fruit (think of prunes and more raisins). The finish is long, spicy with a hint of white pepper and nutmeg becoming more prominent and vibrant, which combats a lovely buttery vanilla note. There is a distinct sweet brown sugary note that then becomes quite orange-like, before becoming dry, woody and tannic. The addition of water softens the spices with some honeyed sweetness and dried grass (think of hay) and oatcakes characters coming out.

What's the verdict?
Another lovely example of a cask finished Benriach. This one is reminiscent of the earlier Gaja Barolo finish that we sampled (and loved so much that we purchased one!), but not as spicy. This whisky also offers great value for money for its age and relative rarity. We can now not wait to try the others in the range, if we get the chance. If they are as good as many of Benriach's recent wine cask finished whiskies, then it will be worth the wait! A terrific dram with plenty of depth, balance and character.

NEW! Inbox - September 24, 2010

Over the last few weeks we have been receiving an increasing number of press releases and PR type stuff about the world of whisky. Each seems to begin with ‘this may be of interest for your blog’ and they are. However, while most contain interesting news or information, we are finding ourselves unable to write about or do justice to each one. We do not simply want to end up ‘copying and pasting’ the aforementioned press releases in to a blog post, so have been thinking about ways to bring this news and information to the wider audience.

As a result, Inbox has been born! Inbox will be a weekly round up of such material from the world of whisky and will be published by us each Friday. Within Inbox we will write a couple of lines about each press release/piece of news/PR event and provide links, where possible, for you to find out further information if you want to. Let us know what you think as we would love to hear your comments.

Karen & Matt
Amrut - Two new single malts
The Indian single malt distillery from Bangalore has announced the release of two new whiskies - the ISM (Intermediate Sherry Matured) and the Kadnambam. Both are limited editions. The ISM combines ex-bourbon, sherry and virgin oak cask maturation and will be available through La Maison du Whisky in France. The Kadnambam is a mixture of regular and peated Amrut single malts and has been matured in Oloroso sherry and then brandy casks. It will be available in Europe and Canada only.

Balvenie – updated Warehouse 24

The popular members section of the Speyside distillery’s website has been updated with new features, including whisky tasting films and news from Balvenie. To celebrate, they are offering a competition to win a VIP trip to Balvenie in the town of Dufftown. To enter, go to www.thebalvenie.com.

Glendronach – Visitor centre awarded 4 stars
A recent visit to the Speyside distillery by VisitScotland has awarded the refurbished visitor centre 4 stars, stating that Glendronach offers tourists “tours that are tailored carefully to meet the expectations of visitors, being structured around the product itself for the enthusiast or a good dash of history”. Further info at www.glendronachdistillery.com/news.

Glendronach (again) – Distillery manager’s cask
You can now hand-fill your own bottle when you take one of the tours at Glendronach. One single cask has been specially selected by distillery manager Alan McConnachie and will cost you £66.99. It was distilled in 1993, has been maturing for 17 years in an Oloroso sherry cask and has an ABV of 58.4%. each bottle is hand labeled and numbered.

Glenfiddich – 1978 Vintage Reserve released
A very rare cask of whisky was selected by William Grant & Sons Malt Master Brian Kinsman and, in a pioneering step, an elite group of whisky Twitterers and it is now ready for release. It is Brian’s first selection for the Vintage Reserve since he was made only the 6th Malt Master in the companiy’s history. There are 184 bottles at cask strength and the retail price will be £480. For further info, go to www.glenfiddichvintagereserve.com.

Glenfiddich (again) – Richard Hawley pens tracks
Richard Hawley, a MOJO award winning singer/songwriter and former member of Pulp, has recently visited the famous Speyside distillery and has agreed to write a number of whisky inspired songs. Click here for the chance to win tickets to an exclusive gig by Richard to be held at the distillery and also to see him recently performing some songs at Glenfiddich.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

New releases ... Dalmore 45 years old 'Aurora'

dalmore 45 years old 'aurora'Dalmore is a distillery that is located in the northern Highland town of Alness. It is one of two whisky distilleries in the town, with the lesser known Teaninich being the other. Dalmore was founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson and is currently owned by the famous whisky name of Whyte & Mackay, which is now a subsidiary of the Indian owned company United Spirits. United Spirits took over in 2007 and have since re-branded the Dalmore whisky range and packaging. They have also recently done this to the two other Whyte & Mackay single malts – Jura and Fettercairn. Dalmore has an annual production capacity of around four million litres and has long been renowned for their use of sherry casks to mature their whiskies.

Recently, we were delighted to be invited to the London launch of Dalmore's new premium whisky - the 45 years old Aurora. The event was held The Wonder Bar in the iconic Selfridge's department store on Oxford Street and was hosted by Richard Paterson - the irrepressible veteran Master Blender for Whyte & Mackay, with an amazing 40 years service under his belt. Things were started with an informal whisky and chocolate matching exercise, involving the Gran Reserva, 12, 15 and 18 years old Dalmore expressions. We then moved on to the introduction of the new Aurora, which is to be released at the end of October. It is named after the Aurora Borealis, a natural phenomenon also known as the Northern Lights or 'Dance of the Spirits'. This whisky was put in to a cask (an Oloroso sherry butt to be precise) on 29 April 1964 and having sat in a warehouse for 46 years was recently selected for this special bottling. There are to be only 200 bottles released at 45% ABV, with each one costing £3500.

Our tasting notes
The colour of the Aurora is a dark amber with a reddish hue. The nose has much evidence of age and notes that fight for your attention - there is a heavy orange zest character (think of marmalade), caramel, dark dried fruits (imagine sultanas and prunes), nuts (especially walnuts and almonds), plenty of wood spice, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, dusty bookshelves and waxy furniture polish. On the palate, this is rich, intense and complex with the orange marmalade and wood spice notes from the nose particularly prominent to start with. The combination is reminiscent of spiced oranges. Through comes a lot of oak and the waxy polish - this makes you think of old furniture. Sweeter notes also start to reveal themselves with time and these include intense caramel, milk chocolate and dark dried fruits (the raisins and prunes again, plus some candied peel). Finally, some further bitter notes appear - espresso coffee, a whiff of cigar smoke, burnt sugar and a hint of liquorice. The finish is long and dry with plenty of the dried fruits and wood spices present. It becomes very woody and increasingly tannic as time goes on, before fading to leave a hint of the aforementioned coffee and tobacco smoke.

What's the verdict?
The Dalmore Aurora is one of the oldest whiskies that we have ever tasted, so this makes it hard to compare with anything. It is an intense and powerful whisky that reveals a softer and more delicate side with some work, patience and time. The increased length of time spent in a sherry cask has led to a number of the younger Dalmore characteristics - dried fruit, caramel, wood spices - becoming more exaggerated. This makes the whisky very interesting, as other elements that only appear with increased aging in a cask - coffee, chocolate, wax polish etc - also appear to create an amazing complexity and richness. This may be too much for some, as will the price tag and availability!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011

malt whisky yearbook 2011 coverThe latest edition of the Malt Whisky Yearbook will shortly be released on 8 October. This will be the sixth edition of the book that is released annually and is the brainchild of Ingvar Ronde, who is the book's editor. The Malt Whisky Yearbook is one of the most comprehensive whisky books available on the market and covers the facts, people, news and stories that make the whisky industry tick. It is renowned throughout the industry as an essential item for any whisky beginner or connoisseur to own. The book is set out in an easy-to-use format and is written with industry jargon kept to a minimum.

The book holds a place close to our hearts at Whisky For Everyone - it is 'the' book that has taught us the most and continues to teach us the most about the many facets of the whisky industry. When we were first beginning less than three years ago, the whisky world was a daunting place and we found that the Malt Whisky Yearbook was the most accessible of any book - it made things make sense. As a result, we are delighted that Whisky For Everyone is included in the book for the second year running in the 'Favourite websites' section.

The Malt Whisky Yearbook 2011 has a long list of features that are worth mentioning. These include ....
- Distillery profiles, including a history time-line for each and what is currently going on at each with regards to production, bottlings, marketing etc
- A total of 250 different tasting notes, including over 100 new ones
- In depth articles by heavyweight whisky journalists such as Ian Buxton, Charles MacLean, Hans Offringa, Dominic Roskrow, Gavin D Smith and Ian Wisniewski
- An enlarged chapter on foreign distilleries around the world, including a brand new re-written chapter on Japanese distilleries by Chris Bunting of the Nonjatta whisky blog
- A new, expanded section about the independent bottling companies
- Comprehensive reviews of the last year within the whisky industry, including facts, statistics and figures
- The latest information on new bottlings, websites and blogs, plus a section recommending good existing whisky shops, books, magazines, blogs and websites

Our advice is, if you buy no other whisky book this year, then buy this one! Details of how to pre-order can be found on www.maltwhiskyyearbook.com or it will be available on general release on 8 October.

New releases ... Glendronach 14 years old Virgin Oak & Sauternes cask finishes

the new glendronach cask finish rangeThe Glendronach distillery (pronounced glen-dron-ack) is located close to the town of Huntly, at the far south eastern tip of the Speyside whisky region in Scotland. The distillery was founded in 1826 by James Allardes and later went on to become an important part of the William Teacher & Sons empire. By the 1960s, most of the whisky produced at Glendronach was being used within the popular Teacher's blended range of whiskies. The distillery is relatively small with an annual capacity of 1.4 million litres and was the last distillery to use coal fires to heat its stills. The use of this traditional heating method died out when Glendronach's stills were converted to steam heating in 2005.

New independent owners
In 2008, Glendronach was given a new lease of life, following a period of closure by previous owners Pernod Ricard. The distillery was taken over an independent company called The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd, who are the innovative owners of another Speyside distillery at Benriach. They immediately made a decision to expand the range of Glendronach whisky that previously contained just a 12 years old and a limited edition 33 years old. They found sufficient maturing stock to add a 15 and an 18 years old to the range and these were released in mid 2009. Within the two years since the takeover, awareness of Glendronach as a single malt whisky has grown massively and sales have reflected this by growing tenfold.

Expanding the range
The plan of The Benriach Distillery Company Ltd is to continue increasing the popularity and availability of Glendronach and capitalise on the world's current trend for quality single malts. The first stage of this has arrived in the form of four cask finishes - two 14 year olds (one Sauternes finish and one Virgin Oak finish), a 15 years old Moscatel finish and a 20 years old Port finish. Each has been matured in ex-sherry casks for the majority of its life, before being transferred in very small batches to the different named casks. The exception is the Virgin Oak which has been in charred ex-bourbon casks for most of the time, before moving across to a small batch of fresh, new American oak casks.

Details of the whiskies
Each whisky is bottled at 46% ABV and are available now from specialist retailers. The two 14 year olds should cost £40-45 each with 4584 bottles of the Sauternes finish (a sweet French dessert wine) and 5760 bottles of the Virgin Oak available. The 15 years old Moscatel finish (another sweet French dessert wine) has 3240 bottles available and should cost around £45-50, with the 20 years old Port finish (a fortified wine from Portugal) having only 2052 bottles released at around £65-70 each. We have been lucky enough to sample two of this new range today, so here goes ...

glendronach 14 years old virgin oak finishGlendronach 14 years old Virgin Oak
The colour is yellow gold and the nose is packed with intense characteristics. There is plenty of vanilla and oak present and these are backed up by notes of nuts (think of coconut and almond especially - the combination of the almond and vanilla is a little reminiscent of marzipan), oatcake biscuits, butter and a hint of burnt sugar or caramel. On the palate, this whisky is full bodied with a nice texture and feels thick and syrupy in the mouth. It is initially sweet with a good richness and intensity and this is led by the vanilla and oak again, with further sweetness added by a note of golden syrup. With time, other notes begin to develop - a distinct tropical fruitiness (imagine dried mango and apricot, with plenty of coconut), some oat-like cereal grains and a whiff of charred woody smoke. The finish is shortish and starts with some sweet honey and vanilla notes before more bitter, with the burnt sugar and charred wood elements from before coming through. In the end, this whisky is quite dry, woody and spicy (think of cinnamon bark).

glendronach 14 years old sauternes cask finishGlendronach 14 years old Sauternes
The colour is a light gold and straw-like. The nose is very expressive and perfumed with honey, vanilla and sultana notes up front, followed by a floral character reminiscent of something like honeysuckle or orange blossom. Then things start to change and become even more interesting - a distinct whiff of custard powder and a lovely, but strange, combination of fruits appear, some of which we have never experienced in a whisky before - imagine gooseberry, rhubarb, grapefruit zest and dried apple. It makes you want to dive in and try. On the palate, this is sweet, creamy and rich with a viscous feeling in the mouth. There is plenty of sweet honey, vanilla, sultanas and custard powder with the note of grapefruit adding some balance with some zing and bitterness. The 'unusual' fruits of the nose are detectable, although less evident than on the nose. The same goes for the floral notes. The finish is again sweet, rich and long with some further citrus zestiness giving superb balance.

What's the verdict?
Both of these are very good whiskies. The Virgin Oak is a good example of a bourbon cask matured whisky and offers something different in a Glendronach range that is well regarded for its use of ex-sherry casks. The Sauternes finish is an unusual but highly enjoyable whisky. We say 'unusual' because of those fruity characters that we have not previous experienced in a whisky, such as gooseberry and rhubarb. It may be too sweet for some but we think that its refined nature and almost perfect balance make it a winner. A cracking dram.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Have just tried ... Tullamore Dew Original

tullamore dewOwned by an innovator
Tullamore Dew is a multi award winning Irish whiskey. It was originally first distilled in the village of Tullamore, County Offaly in central Ireland in 1829. The Tullamore distillery was founded by Michael Molloy before passing to Daniel E. Williams in the 1880s. Williams had started working at the distillery as a teenager and had done almost every job there by the time he had worked his way up to the position of General Manager. He was a major innovator as well - he introduced electricity and the telephone to Tullamore village and its distillery, making it one of the most modern whiskey making facilities of the day. Williams also gave his name to his whiskey by combining the town's name with his initials, hence Tullamore DEW.

Tullamore Dew is the second best selling Irish whiskey in the world, with Jameson's in first place. This Original is triple distilled (as most Irish whiskies are) in copper pot stills, matured in ex-bourbon casks and released at 40% ABV. A bottle should cost around the £20 mark. It forms the backbone of the Tullamore Dew range, which also includes the sherry cask matured blend Black 43, 10 and 12 years old blends plus a 10 years old single malt. Tullamore Dew whiskey is also used within the popular Irish Mist liqueur, where it is mixed with herbs and honey.

New Irish distillery?
The Tullamore Dew brand has recently been acquired by the Scottish whisky company William Grant & Sons and is made at the Midleton distillery in County Cork, southern Ireland. Midleton were the previous owners of the brand and have agreed to distill the whiskey under license for the foreseeable future. Midleton took over the distilling of Tullamore Dew in 1965, after the Tullamore distillery closed and have produced it there ever since, along with other famous Irish whiskey names such as Jameson's, Powers and Paddy. It is rumoured that William Grant & Sons are planning to build a new distillery in Ireland, so as to produce the Tullamore Dew whiskies themselves.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Tullamore Dew Original is a pale gold and the nose is light, fresh and zesty (think of lemon zest especially). There is plenty of oak and vanilla to begin with and these are joined quickly by some distinctive malty cereal grains and dried grasses (imagine hay or straw). Also evident are some pleasant wood spices (especially nutmeg) and an interesting doughy/ yeast note. On the palate this is again light, refreshing and zesty. It grows in richness as you hold it in your mouth with some lovely sweet elements combining well together - creamy vanilla, nuts (especially almonds), toffee and butterscotch. These are balanced by a good helping of bittersweet cereal grains, dried grasses and a pinch of wood spice (think of cinnamon and nutmeg). That yeast-like note comes through right at the end and carries through to the finish, which is short and sweet. The honey and vanilla are again prominent before the distinctive cereals come through to give the finish a drier edge.

What's the verdict?
This a good and simple whiskey that is worth trying if you get the chance. It would be particularly good for a beginner as it offers pleasant softness and smoothness, while having some interesting characteristics present. It could easily be mixed with something or would be great in an Irish coffee (they market it as such on their website!). An enjoyable and easy drinking dram that offers particularly good value for money.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A sneak preview ... Kavalan Peated

kavalan peated sample and glassKavalan is the first and only single malt whisky from the Asian island of Taiwan. It is produced by the King Car Corporation, which was set up in 1979 and is now Taiwan's biggest food and beverage manufacturer. The new distillery was built in just eight months in 2005/06 and is one of the most technically advanced in the world. It is located in Yuanshan, which lies in the north of the island and is to the south of the major cities of Taipei and Keelung, close to the Pacific coast. It has copper stills that were constructed in Scotland and the distillery has an annual capacity of approximately six million bottles.

The name of Kavalan is taken from a group of indigenous people who once lived in the Yi-Lan County where the distillery is located. The Kavalan whiskies have been created, selected and blended by Ian Chang under the guidance of the legendary Dr. Jim Swan, who is a worldwide authority in the field of alcoholic beverages. Dr. Swan has consulted with numerous distilleries, breweries and wineries around the world over many years, including Penderyn in Wales. The first single malt, which is matured in ex-bourbon casks, was released at the end of 2008. This was joined in 2009 by another matured in ex-Port wine casks and two cask strength, single cask releases – one from an ex-bourbon cask and one from a sherry cask. The range is currently only sold in Taiwan and in a small selection of cities in China, as well as various airport locations in south east Asia.

This peated version of Kavalan is yet to be released and we are lucky enough to have received this advanced sample from Kavalan’s Head Distiller Ian Chang. It is young at just over two years of age – Kavalan release their whiskies at this age because the whisky ages much faster and evaporates more quickly than elsewhere in the world, due to the high humidity and heat in Taiwan. This sample is drawn directly from the cask and is at 57.6% ABV. The story is that the whisky was accidentally filled to ex-bourbon casks that had previously held some peaty Scottish whisky and King Car are not sure if they will ever release it. We therefore thank Ian for this unique opportunity.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Kavalan Peated is a light golden yellow and the nose is expressive, but not obviously peaty to start with. There is plenty of oak and vanilla notes and these are backed up by some distinct cereal grains, lots of sweet honey and an intense, hot prickle from the high alcohol level. The peat begins to come through with time in the glass and has a damp earthy quality, with a hint of dried grass. However, the peat smoke remains understated and It is very promising and makes you want to taste immediately. On the palate, this feels juicy,fresh and zingy (think of lemon zest) with plenty of vanilla and sweet, sugary honey. It is also intense with the high alcohol level accentuating each note to a higher level. The sweet elements are complimented by noticeable wood spices (imagine nutmeg and ginger). The peaty smoke is again understated, before bursting on to the palate once the whisky is swallowed. The smokiness then takes on a much higher level than suggested on the nose and remains earthy and grassy, although with a more bonfire ashy edge. The finish starts sweetly with oak and vanilla again prominent. Then the peat kicks in to make the finish very dry and ashy in the end, with your mouth watering and wanting more.

What's the verdict?
This is a lovely whisky and possibly our favourite Kavalan that we have tried to date - click here to view our other Kavalan reviews. That is saying something, as we have enjoyed all of the range so far. The reason for saying that it is our favourite is simple - the whisky is intense but has a great subtly and balance. The peaty smoke is obviously present but adds to the balance rather than being the dominating feature, as can be the case in young smoky whiskies.

So, should Kavalan release this whisky? - a definite YES! It may not be to the Taiwanese taste but if they put this in to the European or north American markets, then it would undoubtedly sell. This is especially true if you consider four factors. 1 - Kavalan is a unique product that has created much interest around the world, 2 - we are approaching winter in the northern hemisphere and peaty whiskies always sell better in colder weather, 3 - a number of traditional 'non peaty' distilleries, such as Balvenie and Glenmorangie, are branching out in to this market with their new 17 years old Peated Cask and Finealta expressions respectively, and 4 - it tastes really, really good!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New releases ... Bowmore 1981 & Bowmore 40 years old

the bowmore presentation and bowmore 40 years oldLast week, we were delighted to be invited to a special evening that was hosted by The National Geographic Society and Bowmore single malt whisky. The event was held at The National Geographic’s flagship retail store in Regents Street, central London and was to launch two very special whiskies from Bowmore. The reason for these two iconic companies coming together in central London was that both have just announced a partnership where Bowmore are one of the main sponsors of The National Geographic’s new photographic competition.

The National Geographic Society is more than just an iconic and pioneering magazine. The Society was founded in 1888 and its magazine was one of the first to bring photographic images and reports of little-seen foreign lands in to the homes of the late Victorian era. The Society has long been an advocate of innovative photography and some of their historic images are world famous. The iconic magazine with its yellow border on the cover forms the backbone of the organisation to this day but they also fund geographical expeditions, educate people worldwide and have a massive retail branch to their business. For further information, go to http://www.nationalgeographic.com/.

Bowmore distillery is located on the western Scottish island of Islay. It was founded in 1779 by John Simpson - this makes it the oldest of the eight distilleries on the famous whisky island and one of the oldest in Scotland (only Glenturret in the Highlands is older, having started production in 1775). It is located in the centre of the island and the distillery walls back on the shores of the large inland sea loch of Loch Indaal. The name of Bowmore translates as 'sea rock' from Gaelic. The distillery in currently owned by Morrison Bowmore, a subsidiary of the Japanese company Suntory, who also own the other Scottish distilleries at Auchentoshan and Glen Garioch. Bowmore has an annual production capacity of just two million litres and is one of the biggest selling single malt whisky brands in the smoky, peaty style.

oysters with bowmore 12 years oldThe initial three whisky samples of the evening were each paired with an item of food. The idea was that the food complimented and enhanced the characteristics present in the whisky and vice versa. We started with the Bowmore Tempest – a small batch, cask strength (55% ABV) whisky from ex-bourbon casks – and this was paired with orange peel dipped in dark chocolate. We had never sampled the Tempest before and our full review will appear shortly. Next was the Bowmore 12 years old, which is the cornerstone and biggest selling whisky in the core range. This was splashed over some fresh oysters. Finally, we sampled some Bowmore 15 years old ‘Darkest’, a whisky that has its final three years of maturation in an Oloroso sherry cask. This was paired with some venison steak, with the final sips being taken with some dark chocolate truffles. Then it was on to the launch of the two new whiskies, both of which will be available from later this month ….

bowmore 1981 bottle and packagingBowmore 1981
To sample this whisky, we were taken down to The National Geographic’s ‘climate control box’. This device is for testing out their range of thermal and outdoor clothing and trust us when we say that it is pretty cold inside, especially as we weren’t wearing any of the ‘thermal or outdoor clothing’ that it was designed for. Karen particularly enjoyed it (not!) and was left standing holding her dram to try an extract some heat from it! The new 1981 has been bottled at 49.6% ABV and will retail at approximately £270 each. There are only 402 bottles and it has been maturing in ex-bourbon casks for 29 years. An interest fact that we were given was that by this age over half of the contents of the cask has already evaporated as ‘angel’s share’.

The colour of the Bowmore 1981 is light considering the age and is a lovely golden yellow. The nose has a remarkable freshness for an old whisky, with tons of vanilla and honey backed up by plenty of floral notes (think of orange blossom and honeysuckle) and a hint of salty sea water. On the palate, this had more surprises. The intense vanilla and honey were present and complimented fantastically by more floral notes. These are more evident that on the nose and seem to have different levels – there is something reminiscent of dried pot pourri, the honeysuckle and blossom from the nose, a distinct hit of parma violet sweets and the merest hint of an earthy, peaty smoke. This may sound like an odd combination but the high strength of alcohol really helps to bring each note out and show itself at its best. The freshness is also very welcome. The finish is a little more peaty but remain refreshing with a touch of woody dryness at the very end. This is a cracking dram!

bowmore 40 years oldBowmore 40 years old
For the grand unveiling of this new 40 years old, we moved back upstairs to the warmth. The packaging is unlike anything we have seen before - each bottle is individual and made of hand blown crystal glass adorned with images of rocks from Islay and sitting on a thick plinth of Islay slate. The age of the whisky and extravagance and bespoke nature of the packaging mean that this isn't going to be cheap. It is going to retail for £6500 a bottle and there are only 53 to be released to the world. The whisky has been taken from a single specially selected ex-bourbon cask and has been bottled at 44.8% ABV.

The colour is a dark amber and the nose is rich and fresher than expected, considering the age. There is butterscotch and dark dried fruits present (think of raisins, dates and prunes) but also some surprising notes of tropical dried fruits (imagine mango, pineapple and a hint of banana). These are supported by the merest hint of some peat smoke, although this has a slight tobacco-like edge, and some damp woody spices (cinnamon and nutmeg especially). On the palate, this whisky remains as pleasantly fresh as on the nose but is rich with plenty of deep characters fighting each other - dark dried fruits, candied orange peel, tobacco smoke, a whiff of peat, some salty brine, caramel, spices (add some clove to the cinnamon and nutmeg of the nose) and those vibrant dried tropical fruits. It is a cracking combination and the finish carries on and becomes increasingly dry and tannic with plenty of those wood spices. A lovely dram but only you can decide if it is worth spending £6500 on! We may have to pass on that one ....!

We thank DK Cheung of Margaret London for inviting us to this innovative event and Cara Laing, the UK's Brand Manager for Morrison Bowmore, for her time spent talking with us after it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Have just tried ... Dalmore 15 years old

dalmore 15 years oldA Scottish Highland whisky
Dalmore is a distillery that is located in the northern Highland town of Alness. It is one of two whisky distilleries in the town, with the lesser known Teaninich being the other. Dalmore was founded in 1839 by Alexander Matheson and is currently owned by the famous whisky name of Whyte & Mackay, which is now a subsidiary of the Indian owned company United Spirits. United Spirits took over in 2007 and have since rebranded the Dalmore whisky range and packaging. They have also recently done this to the two other Whyte & Mackay single malts – Jura and Fettercairn.

Sherry cask maturation
Dalmore has an annual production capacity of around four million litres and has long been renowned for their use of sherry casks to mature their whiskies. The current core range reflects this and contains some of the best examples of whisky in the richer, sweeter style. They currently release a 12 years old, this 15 and an 18 years old in the core range. These are complimented by more expensive and limited releases, such as the MacKenzie and King Alexander III. Independent bottlings are on the rare side but they do offer a good way of buying older Dalmore’s at a decent price.

Our tasting notes
The colour of this Dalmore 15 years old is dark amber with an orange hue. The nose is rich and fragrant with plenty of sweetness evident. There is immediate caramel and treacle, which is followed by dark dried fruits (think of raisins, sultanas and dates), some distinct cereal grains, orange zest and hints of espresso coffee, cocoa and sulphur smoke. On the palate, the richness and sweetness continues with the whisky feeling thick and oily in the mouth. There is again plenty of caramel, treacle and dark dried fruits (the raisins especially) and these are backed up by some honey, a tangy orange zest note and the coffee and cocoa from the nose. These last two combine with some gristy cereal grains to give a bittersweet feeling towards the end, where some wood spices (imagine cinnamon, nutmeg and sandalwood) come through. The finish is long and rich, which begins sweetly with the caramel and dried fruit notes (especially some candied orange peel) prominent. It then becomes drier and woodier with the spices coming through well.

What’s the verdict?
The Dalmore 15 years old is a decent example of a rich, sweet sherry cask matured whisky. It would be great as an after dinner whisky or one to have with or compliment a cigar. The sweetness and richness may be too much or heavy for some, as these characters are slightly over exaggerated. The presence of the spicy and more bitter notes adds some balance but doesn’t quite go far enough in our opinion. A bottle should cost £40-45 from specialist alcohol retailers.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Whisky Round Table - September 2010

The latest edition of The Whisky Round Table is now available for all to read. The subject of this month's meeting is the world of the independent whisky bottling companies and is hosted by Ruben, who writes the excellent Belgium-based whisky blog Whisky Notes. We are delighted to be one of the founder members of The Whisky Round Table, so hope that you will join us and our colleagues for this edition - click here to read the September Whisky Round Table.

Be warned ... put your feet up and pour yourself a large dram, because it's a long one!!

The Whisky Round Table is the brainchild of Jason Johnston-Yellin, who is the author of the 'must read' whisky blog Guid Scotch Drink. His idea was to gather together 12 whisky bloggers from around the world and get them to discuss a whisky topic once a month. The hosting of The Round Table is passed around the 12 members, with each host setting the question for each month. The September edition is the fourth offering from The Round Table and the other three articles can be read by clicking on the links below.

> August 2010 - Peter from The Casks asked about whisky marketing

> July 2010 - Joshua from The Jewish Single Malt Whisky Society asked about trusting your senses

> June 2010 - Jason from Guid Scotch Drink asked about our whisky rules and breaking them!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

New releases ... Penderyn Port Wood PT26

penderyn portwood pt26Penderyn (pronounced Pen-derrin) is the only single malt whisky distillery in Wales. The distillery is located in the village of the same name in the Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales and is owned by the Welsh Whisky Company. This was formed in 1998, with production beginning in September 2000 - this makes it one of the youngest distilleries in the UK. Penderyn translates as 'head of the kite' from the Welsh language (that's kite as in the type of bird and the Brecons is home to one of the largest populations of them in the UK). Penderyn is the first distillery to produce single malt whisky in Wales for over 100 years with the last one closing in 1900. That was named Frongoch and was located in the town of Bala in north Wales.

Unique production methods
The production at Penderyn is unique and innovative. They buy pre-fermented wash from the local Brain's brewery in Cardiff and this is made to their specific recipe. They then distil this in to whisky. This is method is different to that of the Scottish whisky industry where at least some of the mashing and fermentation must happen on the same site as the distillation. The water used in production at Penderyn is taken from a well next to the distillery. The still room is also unique and houses a bespoke still designed by Dr. David Faraday, that is part copper pot and part column still. For further information on the unique methods used, then read the article about our visit to Penderyn.

A limited edition
Their range is small and consists of a regular bottling which is finished in Madeira casks, a sherry cask bottling and a lightly peated version. Limited expressions are also available, with other releases being planned as more stock reaches optimum maturation. This Port Wood was released in July 2010 and comes from a cask (Port cask number 26, hence the PT26) that was specially selected by Dr. Jim Swan, Penderyn's Master Distiller. It was limited to just 216 bottles at £275 each and bottlied at the natural cask strength of 60.6% ABV. Its predecessor, which was released in 2009, won the accolade of European Single Cask Whisky of the Year in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2010. We thank Luke O'Mahony at Penderyn for the chance to sample this whisky.

Our tasting notes
The colour of PT26 is dark amber with a dark reddish hue (dark is the key word here!). The nose is rich, sumptuous and has plenty of sugary sweetness (think of caramel or treacle), dried fruits (imagine raisins, candied orange peel, dates and prunes) and a hint of dark, bitter chocolate and coffee. On the palate, the whisky starts sweetly with the caramel and treacle notes prominent. These are backed up by other sweet elements - dried fruits (especially the dates and prunes), vanilla, cereal grains and a dollop of orange marmalade. It then becomes woody and slightly bitter very quickly, with plenty of wood spice (think of cinnamon, nutmeg and clove), dark chocolate, espresso coffee and a hint of menthol coming through. There is also a distinct hit of burnt sugar or black treacle. The finish long, dry, tannic and very spicy with burnt sugar, high cocoa chocolate, dried fruits and cinnamon standing out. Port Wood is very rich but well balanced without water, especially considering the high strength. We decided to try it with a few drops of water. This gave more caramel and buttery toffee (think of butterscotch) on the nose and palate, although it flattens the enjoyable spiciness and dryness.

What's the verdict?
This is one rich and full-on whisky, that may be too rich and full-on for some. The high alcoholic strength (60.6% ABV) combined with the Port cask has given this whisky a wonderful intensity with exaggerated aromas and flavours. Penderyn whiskies seem to be coming of age as more of their stock reaches longer maturation and it is hard to believe that they have only been making whisky for 10 years. Only you can decide if the high price tag is worth it but this lovely whisky should be tried if you get the chance, as it is one of the better Port cask whiskies that we have tried to date.