Springbank 16 year old Local Barley Review

expectations

Expectation is an interesting notion. It can bring excitement, worry or joy, amongst other things. However, when we expect something of someone, then it shows that they have given us a reason to believe in them. I have high expectations of Springbank as a distillery. High, but fair expectations. They produce beautifully crafted whiskies year in year out, don’t scream and shout about what they’re doing, whilst never seeming to succumb to the pressure of “certain trends” in the whisky industry.

When the news came out that there was to be a new special release of a local barley Springbank. My head was definitely turned. Only last year had I been lucky enough to taste a 14yo Springbank Local Barley which was a Society special release. 9016 It blew my mind. The perfect mix of light peat, spices, dark fruits and light sherry.
This news however was not only dangerous for my expectations, but also my wallet. £90 for a bottle of 16yo whisky isn’t shocking by any means in this market, but when parting with close to £100, you want to make sure you are more than happy with the contents. More pricey than last years 17yo sherry-wood, but with the wonderful provenance behind this new whisky, you can understand the slight price hike. I hope to see more in regards to provenance over the coming years, what with distilleries such as Springbank and Bruichladdich taking the lead.

 

When this new release hit certain online whisky retailers yesterday, many of the bottle stocks had sold out before people had a chance to say “Ooo I love Springbank”. There may only be 9000 bottles of this in the world, but it also shows that it’s not just me who has high expectations. Let’s hope that we don’t see too many of these appearing on auction sites over the coming months. However, how was this going to live up to my expectations? I expected it to be brilliant when ordering it yesterday. I expected it to be brilliant when it arrived on my doorstep less than 24 hours later. I expected it to be brilliant when I saw the classy and classic bottle design. It was Shakespeare who wrote “I am giddy; expectation whirls me around!” in his play Troilus and Cressida. I’m not whirling, but pretty close to giddy. What did I think?

Springbank 16yo Local Barley (54.3%)
1454162438SpringbankLocalBarley16yo54.3Jan2016 N: One of those beguiling Springbank noses. Deep sweetness, light peat, hint of floral tones and pepper. Giving it some time in the glass opens up aromas of wet rope and engine oil. Interestingly wine like. Some spice, stewed apples and raisins. It is like walking through a crop field on a damp summer day. Water opens the nose more, playing with the sweetness. Perfection of a Springbank nose.

P: Gristly on first arrival, before quickly alternating to a velvety delivery. Wow that was impressive. Pepper, toffee, earthy and full of depth, yet incredibly easy on the tongue and palate in general. This is oily, has a hint of rose petal and incredibly smooth for 54.3%. The gentle peat sits on the edge of the tongue. Each drop of water intensifies all of these flavours.

F: Long. The oil lingers before leaving a shred of salt water and apple peal. Peat disappears gently. A splash of water brought out the pepper on the finish.

Comments: This is one heck of a 90’s Springbank. This isn’t only the exact balance of fruit, peat and oil I was looking for; but it is complex and juicy with a finish that goes on for hours.

12662537_10153363249286961_4060279606887759117_n

This is a whisky that not only makes you sit up and question what some other distilleries are doing with their time, but most importantly puts a smile on your face. I would call this a near perfect Springbank in my book. Of course it is slightly rough around the edges, but that is what makes this distillery wonderful for me. Would I recommend you try to taste this whisky? It is beautifully made, delivers brilliantly and is without a doubt worth the money. Enjoy picking this apart, playing with drops of water and letting it draw our your smile. You can’t go wrong.

Alexander Pope once wrote “Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed”. I shall however keep expecting only the best from Springbank. I know I won’t be disappointed.

 

 

Advertisements

A Small Collection Of Cadenheads

Last week I made my monthly trip up to London to taste the new outturn from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. If you’re a whisky fan but you aren’t a member, then I think you should try and sort that out. But we aren’t here to talk about SMWS. Before getting to the society I decided to make a quick stop at Baker Street. Cadenheads to be more precise. Cadenheads is Scotlands oldest independent bottler running since 1842. They buy many different casks from around the world, bottling them when they think right (at great prices too). I have tasted some stunning expressions from them over the last few years and I’m continually excited by what they are releasing. They have three stores in the UK; Campbeltown, Edinburgh and my “local”, London.

Stopping in just to browse their fantastic range, I was met by Stephen the manager who I always enjoying chatting with. He encouraged me to try a selection of what they had in store. How could I say no? Here are the six drams I tried on that Saturday afternoon.

 

William Cadenhead 13yo Irish Malt (46%)
WMCadenhead IRISH 13-cr-400x600 N: Interesting. Can’t quite gauge this one. A sweet shop after the school rush. Creamy, fruity and malty with lots of marshmallows. Freshly polished metal.

P: Fresh, warm and vibrant. Clean cut grass and raisins. Honey and custard creams. Fresh fruit salad. Not overly malty as the nose suggests.

F: Medium. Smooth and slightly spicy. Menthol. Pretty elegant though. Very quirky and very nice. Don’t know when I would turn to it, but definitely one when you fancy something different. Only £47 though and pretty good value/fun ratio (still available here)

 

 

William Cadenhead 12yo Blended (46%)
(Contains 65% malt and 35% grain and is matured in a sherry solera system).
WMCadenhead 12 sherrywood -cr-400x600N: Slightly withheld. Dark chocolate gateaux. I got vanilla ice cream and sherry notes after a few minutes, but in general the nose didn’t do too much for me.

P: Pretty smooth delivery. Palate definitely better than the nose. Caramel sauce, malt and burnt wood. Dark fruits and chocolate.

F: Medium. Grainy notes on the finish with the sherried sweetness like christmas cake. This is a dangerously drinkable blend. £34 some would argue is good value for this. It is in the realm of cheaper single malts though…not that it’s a competition.

 

William Cadenhead 7yo Islay Malt (59.1%)
(This is a single cask)
WMCadenhead ISLAY 59.1-cr-400x600 N: Nice fresh and vibrant peat. Young in age and young in character. Nice briny notes though. Like freshly cooked mackerel on the bbq. The iodine and smoke don’t die down one bit.

P: Warm arrival of huge mouth smashing peat. Crashes around leaving no prisoners, but interestingly softens on the tongue. Salty, briny and accessible.

F: Long, lingering and smokey. What you want from a young and peaty Islay malt. This is a bruiser. If you want a peat bomb at a high strength then this is a good choice (still available here). Now this is definitely not Lagavulin. No seriously not Lagavulin at all. Definitely not. Nope. *cough*

 

Cadenhead Mortlach 26yo (56.1%)
N: Beautifully rich, Burnt toffee, malty and meaty. Candy-floss, cured ham and cherry bakewell. Like sitting on a bail of hay.Mortlach-26-cr-400x600

P: Dark toffee. The sweetness of the sherry is there along with the dryness too. Quite oily, meaty with some chilli flakes too.

F: Long and smooth. Rich syrup and cocoa. Very moorish. This tempts you. Plays with you. Complex and beguiling. For £115 it’s yours right here.

 

 

Cadenhead Craigellachie 21yo Wine Cask (53.1%)
(This spent half its life in a Sauternes cask from 2006)
W197_54081N: Pretty sweet with a real darkness. At the start pretty damp and withheld; it needs 10 minutes to compose itself. You get the wine tannins quickly with new packs of haribo and vanilla. Plums, honeyed sweetness and blackcurrent jam. Water brought out some spices and oiliness.

P: Thick arrival with some fizz on the tongue. The wine is powerful and drying, but not overstated. Dark, nutty and slightly bitter. Lemon sherbets, manuka honey and dark fruits. Water brought out the sawdust and chocolate orange.

F: Long, sweet, oak driven and drying. Rum and raisin ice-cream. Really oily and jammy. This was nicely crafted wine cask whisky. It complemented the malt well and brought out its qualities. I bought one of the last ones in the shop as it was great value for money.

 

Cadenhead Dumbarton 27yo (53.9%)
N: Beautiful grainy wafts of vanilla, honey and gentle sweetness. No rough edges on this one. Sweet shops, freshly cut wood and cake mixture. Intricate and delicate, you could nose this for hours.Dumbarton 27-cr-400x600

P: Powerful compared to the nose, whilst maintaining a beautiful smoothness. Grassy, woody and pretty fresh and vibrant for its age. Hints of custard and strawberries, make me think of jam roly-poly.

F: Long, delicate, drying, smooth and 100% moorish. Some people might call this breakfast whisky. I don’t care what you call it, it’s simply brilliant. This type of dram is for reminiscing. Probably one of the best Lowlanders I’ve ever tasted.

 

 

A great few hours spent in a wonderful shop. If you are near any of the Cadenhead stores, I would implore you to pop in. You won’t regret it.

 

 

Port Ellen 30yo (1979) : Day 24 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

Wow. What a journey the last 24 days have been. I have tasted some wonderful whiskies given to me by some incredibly generous souls. It shows that the #whiskyfabric is a strong community of people that want to share their love of the water of life. I have been lucky to have met most of the “contributors” and I’ve been humbled by their generosity. I know that my #whiskyfabric journey has only just started. Whisky is for sharing guys! What better way to finish, than with the infamous Port Ellen. Again, I tip my hat to Frenchman Franck for this awesome little sample. Here we go…

Port Ellen 30yo (1979) 9th Release (57.7%)

pe1979N: Seems withheld at first, but give it a few minutes and POW! The gristly warm peat leads the way with its best Islay foot forward. It seems soft and harmonious…nothing too brash about it. Salty, coastal, slightly medicinal. Similarities to the nose of older Lagavulins. Sweet honey, dried apricots and orchard fruits. After 15 minutes there is menthol mouthwash upon a bed of zesty notes. Complex, bold, refined, mature, yet completely accessible.

P: Fantastic arrival, full on, powerful and graceful. Really coats the tongue and mouth. Rich smoke, brown sugared sweetness, peppery – rough, rugged and ready. Some nutmeg along with other gentle spices. Hint of custard cream and lemon fizz. Smoke dominates after a while, with some old sweets, oak and smoked salmon on the BBQ.

F: Very long. Lingering spices with some sweetness and a hint of liquorice. Pretty dry with smoke hanging around the mouth. I can still taste this an hour later. Balanced beautifully.

Comments: Amazing. I simply love it. Does the fact that it’s a Port Ellen play a factor? Maybe. But quite simply if I tasted this blind, I would have found it just a delightfully tasty and moorish as I do now. There is a perfect level of peat, earthiness and smoke. It is refined, not over complex and the height of beautifully matured whisky. A solid 93, and easily my favourite whisky of the calendar for me. Well done Franck…as usual.

IMG_0055

Well there we are. 24 whiskies tasted. It was a tough job, but someone had to do it. If you have followed this, then thank you. If you have contributed to this, then an even bigger than you. I think I might take a break for a bit. Not from whisky, but from writing about it. I need to spend more time enjoying it without pen and paper to hand. I’ll be back later next year. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

Matt

Highland Park 25yo (2004) : Day 16 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

We’re going to stay with the 25 year olds and move from Islay up to The Highlands. Highland Park was never a distillery that grabbed me. When I first got into whisky I tasted their 12 year old at a whisky shop whilst on holiday in Scotland and I found it brash, spirity and unappealing. Three years later, I bought a bottle of this 12 year old help my education, and it was one of the worst bottles I ever purchased. I am hoping that there was something wrong with that bottle, it was sulphured, off and simply disappointing. I didn’t enjoy it one bit and never actually finished it.

I mentioned the fact that I was not a Highland Park fan to some of my friends from the whisky fabric, and yet again it was the man from France, Franck Debernardi that persuaded me to try a greater range of their spirit, sending this little surprise to encourage me. Since then I have tried a plethora of OBs and single casks, and my perceptions of this distillery have definitely changed.

Highland Park 25yo (50.7%)

hlpob.25yov1 N: Stunning nose with so much going on right from the word go and a real thickness of complexity. Forrest fruits coupled with a floral character, whilst no being overly fresh. Woody, old waxed wooden furniture with some fresh polish. Vanilla and hazelnut chocolate with some menthol and mint towards the end. Water brings the gentle sherry into play with a splash of sea breeze towards the end.

P: A spirity arrival. Sherried fruits, christmas and coffee cake with some burnt toast. Fizzy on the tongue like refreshers, with the alcohol quite active for 50%. A real creamy texture with dollops on chocolate orange and vanilla ice cream. Manuka honey, lemon sherbets and bold apples towards the end.

F: Very long. Slightly sweet , zesty, dry and woody. I got some salt and pepper towards the end also.

Comments: This was a thinker with some huge flavours. Very easily the best Highland Park I’ve had in the pleasure of trying, offering so much complexity and balance throughout, showing its age beautifully. Solid 90.

Thank you Franck, you have turned me into a HP lover.

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2010 : Day 14 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

A big round of applause goes to Nick Bird, who not only shares my love of all things whisky, but is a bit of Islay nut too and must have known how much I enjoy a Lagavulin or two. This dram is from the 2010 ‘Islay Feis Ile’, so a nice special edition from this marvellous distillery (yes it’s Diageo, but I can confirm after visiting it earlier in 2014 that it still makes incredible whisky). I immensely enjoyed 2014’s Feis Ile bottling, having bought two myself, so I have high hopes for this.

Lagavulin Feis Ile 2010, 16yo 1994 (52.7%)
Untitled2 N: Similar nose to the standard 16yo but slightly meatier with some more earth and brininess. Beautifully sweet with a nice amount of balanced peat. I also enjoyed the dried fruit flavours with some apricots and pears. Salty seaweed with some peppered squid and creamy chocolate edges too. Quite a dirty Laga this one.

P: Ashy, coffee, pepper and sea salt. The peat is integrated nicely, with quite a feisty gristle to it. Some nice smooth dark chocolate notes with some hazelnut latte too. Ice cream, iodine and slight lemon zest.

F: Long, doughy and slightly dry too. Dark chocolate hanging around with some wet mud and strong woody notes.

Comments: This is a darker, more complex and gristly version of the 16yo you can buy in the shops. I enjoyed the peat level here and though everything hung together nicely. A solid 90.

IMG_8097

Big thanks to Nick. I’ll repay you with some of this years Lagavulin Feis…. you lucky thing.

Ardbeg 18yo (Master of Malt) : Day 7 #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

I’m not gonna lie. I’m quite a fan of peaty and smokey whiskies. It was a Lagavulin 16 that made me realise how truly amazing whisky could be, and since then I can’t stop myself from buying strong peaty goodness (as you can imagine, I was in my element on my recent trip to Islay). So when Day 8 of this journey revealed an 18yo cask strength Ardbeg, I was pretty happy. Having visited Ardbeg recently, I had been able to try a few of their older expressions, but this bottling from Master of Malt had evaded me when it was released (at a very good price) a few years ago. The sample was given to me by Danny Williamson (@Dramstats) of the blog Dramstats – You don’t see him around Twitter that much anymore, but he was generous enough to send me this sample out of the blue.

Ardbeg 18yo (bottled by Master of Malt) (56.3%)
IMG_0033N: Part of me wants to say that this is a classic Ardbeg-y nose, but I think I would be lying. I get lots of lemon citrus and fruit, all on a bed of creamy butter and light wood smoke. The gentle warming peat evolves in the glass, but is a component rather a clear leader. Fruitiest Ardbeg I’ve had with pears, melons and green grapes. Some chocolate orange, chilli and earthy notes too. Not half as medicinal as i expected, but water brings out smoke and tropical fruit…even a slight meaty aspect.

P: Great delivery. Peat arrives head on, showing its involvement. Peppery, salty, maritime style. Not masses of smoke, but it’s definitely there enveloped by a warming sweetness on the tongue. Quite oily and ashy with a slight bitter grapefruit note. Oatcakes, tinned pineapples, & the sherry appears at the end with some dark fruits. Gorgeous stuff.

F: Long, ashy, fresh, dry and sweet. The layer of smoke sits on the tongue coupled well with a slight citrus bitterness. Ashen and lingering with a cigar like aftertaste.

Comments: Brilliantly ashy, robust yet vibrant Ardbeg which has been nicely aged. I wish all new releases of Ardbeg had this kind of quality. I simply enjoyed drinking this and wish I had a bottle (or four). The spirit worked well with the cask over the 18 years and the marriage with the refill sherry was really successful. Similarities to the Uigeadail. 91.

IMG_0021

Thanks to Danny for this cracking Dram

 

 

Tomatin 30yo: Day 4 of #Whiskyfabric Advent Calendar

Tomatin is one of those distilleries that slipped my radar when I first got into single malts. This was a huge mistake as they produce some fantastic whisky. Over the past year I have been pointed towards some lovely expressions from a number of #whiskyfabric friends including a certain Ben Cops. A blogger who writes very regular reviews on Benswhisky.com, Ben has opened my eyes to a number of new distilleries, is incredibly persuasive when it comes to bottle shares and an all round good chap. We don’t meet up enough, but when we do, he is always a bad influence good fun. Not to forget he is a generous sharer of his fabulous whisky collection (I don’t know how he has space in his study!) This sample was given to me a number of months ago and has been sitting with a few others, waiting to be enjoyed and reviewed, so here we go.

Tomatin 30yo (46%)
IMG_0017N: A really full and rounded nose which noses stronger than the ABV suggests. Sweet and waxy to start. I get sour apple Hubba Bubba chewing gum straight away with huge juicy fruits, in fact very fruity without being overbearing. Apples, pears, pineapple and mangos. Old fashioned sweets such as pear drops, marshmallows and gummy bears. After some time in the glass, lots of honey and a herbal note towards the end. Quite an enticing nose this one. Enjoyable.

P: Oaky…. Very oaky in fact. Fresh and vibrant on the tongue with freshly cut grass and fresh fruits again; Bananas, apples and mangos. Lots of penny sweets, particularly Fruit Salad sweets. Victoria sponge cake with vanilla icing sugar. Hint of honey again.

F: Long, oaky finish with a soft fizzle of spice. Well balanced. Fruits still hanging on with some rich tea biscuits too.

Comments: Robust and fresh fruit bomb. Nice and vibrant for a 30yo, I would have guessed at it being a 21yo. Sweetness leads this one, but doesn’t dominate. 88.

IMG_0166

Thanks again to Mr Cops for the sample. Go check out his site!

A Brace Of Balvenie

I once heard a musician remark: “Jazz is smooth and cool. Jazz flows gently like water. Jazz isn’t over the top, but it isn’t messy either. Jazz is a relaxed conversation”. Whilst I sit here contemplating Balvenie, I would be tempted to use these adjectives again. Balvenie can be incredibly smooth in taste and character. It has become one of the “cool” brands in the whisky market at this time. Whilst drinking, it can certainly flow gently, enticing the taste buds with each sip. The whisky and branding, in my opinion, is not over the top, or messy and slapdash in any way. Finally, drinking Balvenie really is like a relaxed conversation with an old friend.

I enjoy much of what Balvenie produce and I’ve never been disappointed by one of their whiskies. Saying that, I have only tried two of their expressions that have really made me jump up and down with excitement and they were both at The Whisky Exchange Show last month (you’ll have to wait to hear about them). I find that Balvenie constantly churn out gentle, solid and beautifully crafted whiskies. I know many whisky drinkers who simply find the core range “boring”, but I would have to disagree with them. It’s not necessarily  (apart from the Tun 1401/1509 series) ground breaking whisky, but it is one that you can constantly rely on to bring enjoyment to your tastebuds.

IMG_7306

A few months ago, I popped into another local whisky tasting held by the lovely Lyn at the Guildford Whisky Shop. This time the Balvenie core range was on the menu, tempting stuff. What helped me make my final decision though, was the news that Alwynne Gwilt, or Miss Whisky to some of you, would be taking the tasting. I had been lucky enough to meet Alwynne at a number of whisky events and meets in London over the past year and thought it would be good to get along to one of her tastings. I would highly recommend checking out her website here. My drinking partners for the night; John McCheyne, a good friend and a SMWS Ambassador and Ben Matthews of Littletipple.com.

IMG_7307

We tried six expressions:
Doublewood 12yo
Doublewood 17yo
Portwood 21yo
Caribbean Rum Cask 14yo
Single Barrel 12yo
Single Barrel 15yo

I already reviewed the Doublewood 12yo on this site last year (here), and wrote down similar notes: vanilla, raisiny sweetness, nuttiness and overall smoothness. It’s a solid, warming dram that won’t let you down, but won’t necessarily excite you that much. Looking at low 80’s.

Balvenie Doublewood 17yo (43%)
IMG_7315N: Similar to the 12yo, but shyer, slightly fuller and richer. Balanced between some fresh oak and raisiny sweetness before I got quite a bit of vanilla and coconut. Some hint of roses and crunchy apples too.  To me it felt more complex but also quite withheld.

P: There is an overriding sweetness here. Toffee apples, dark fruits, slightly nutty. There seems to be quite a bit of oak here, which isn’t always a bad thing I guess. With time I got some orange zest on delivery. Again seems confidently more complex than the 12yo.

F: Medium/short. Honey, heather and a lingering dryness. I was slightly let down by the finish as I felt I was slightly overwhelmed by the oakiness and not much else. It’s an interesting one, but for me, a slightly more complex version of the 12yo but at more than double the price. Mid/Low 80’s for this one.


Balvenie Portwood 21yo (40%)

IMG_7316N: Again, this is a fair bit richer. For 40% it feels slightly punchy. Heather, dark Manuka honey, dark fruits, ripe summer berries and tannins. Light yet full of structure and elegance.

P: Slightly disappointed by initial arrival, until the spices arrive. Dark red fruits, honey and raisins. When the port notes arrive, they seem pretty delicate with a duty sweetness. Quite a jam like quality, but seems slightly thin.

F: Medium. Pretty peppery and dry. Cocoa powder with a hint of bitterness. It is quite graceful, but seems to be lacking something to fully hold my attention. For me, the spirit and the port don’t seem to be coupled as well as other port matured/finished expressions that i’ve tried and that it also suffers at the weaker strength of 40%. A bit more bite would round it off a tad. Mid/Low 80’s again.


Balvenie Caribbean Cask (43%)

IMG_7312N: Sweet spices grab you at first, before the honey, vanilla pod, and red currents take hold. Some fresh fruit and dusty tones too. A strong sweetness leads the way with some fresh coconut before a slight metallic note towards the end. Pretty shy nose again.

P: Better arrival this time. Similarities to the Doublewood’s but spicier with hints of cinnamon. Glides around the mouth more, giving some heathered honey, vanilla and tropical fruits. Citrus, fudge and brown sugared sweetness. Nice levels of oak throughout.

F: Medium. A lingering dryness doesn’t dominate the quality malt and oak notes. At times I found the sweetness to be slightly cloying, but the robust maltiness balanced it nicely. This is a session dram in my book. Easy drinking, graceful and slightly sweet. You could sit down with a friend and finish this bottle before you knew what hit you. Mid 80’s.


Balvenie Single Barrel 12yo (47.8%)

IMG_7309N: Now we’re talking! Wide, full and fruity – mostly apples, but hints of melon too. Rich and honeyed sweetness. Lots of vanilla ice cream. Marshmallows over an autumnal fire. Very moorish nose right here.

P: Beautiful. Complex flavours intertwining gracefully. Fruity, malty, slightly prickly and exciting. Freshly cut strawberries & bananas  balanced with a graceful oakiness. Slight sawdust note with lots of vanilla. Absolutely spot on!

F: Long. The fruits linger nicely leaving fresh overtones, with some gentle sweetness throughout. Quite simply gorgeous. This is quality whisky with some fantastic flavours. Simply enjoyable. If you can get your hands on a bottle, do it! Elegant, graceful, complex and exciting. Whisky of the evening. High 80’s.


Balvenie Single Barrel 15yo (47.8%) 

N: You can tell this was fully matured in sherry casks. Noses just like a sherry. Leathery, dusty, sawdust, daaark fruits with orange and honey. A hint of wood polish towards the end. Overall fruity and spicy.

P: Feels lighter than the Single Barrel 12yo, but it does continue to build on the palate. The sherried fruits couple with notes of leather and wet wood to bring quite a heavy feel on the tongue. I got some notes of burnt fruitcake, especially strong chewy raisins. This has quite a musty feel to it.

F: Medium/Long. Dry and dark. As the sherry subsides it leaves a slight bitter note. Rum and raisin ice cream. It does have quite a creamy character. I did find the finish slightly cloying, but some would find it spot on. Enjoyable and the sherry works nicely, not over the top at all. Second best of the night. Mid/high 80’s.


A great evening had by all. Alwynne was entertaining, informative and as always, fun. My pick of the evening was the 12yo Single Barrel. Although I’m a big fan of sherry matured whiskies, I felt the 12yo (the cheaper of the two) had the upper hand this time.

An Evening With Dominic Roskrow

I sometimes think to myself: “Why do I like whisky so much?”

The smell? The flavours? The experience? The quality?

I can’t narrow it down to one singular reason. Yet there’s something that will continually enthuse me and keep me smiling. The people.

This can range from friends you share a Saturday night dram with, to drinks writers. The main reason this “review” is one of the later.

IMG_6317

Back in May, I was persuaded by Nigel Crew of Sassenachs Dram Whisky Club to cancel my plans and come along to a joint tasting with Lyn Adams of Guildford Whisky Shop. What made this even more tempting, was the fact that it was being taken by celebrated whisky writer Dominic Roskrow. I’m not going to tell you all about him as that’s what Google is for; but suffice to say, he knows his stuff. He had chosen three world whiskies, with Lyn choosing three from the shops range. They were as follows:

– St.Georges English Malt Whisky – Four Lions (Discovery Road)

– Dutch Rye 7yo (Discovery road)

– Dunedin New Zealand 15yo DoubleWood

– Redbreast 15yo

– Balcones Single Malt

– Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014

IMG_6325

Dominic is a fun and welcoming chap, who is obviously enthused by whisky and the people around it. His background includes journalism, music writer/critic and a move out to New Zealand (we both share a love of this marvellous country). One of his opening lines – “I’m going to say things that are controversial”, certainly brings excitement, and his interesting views on Scotch whisky are met not only met with raised eyebrows, but many nods throughout the room. He discussed different viewpoints of blending, use of colouring (cynical about it, rightly so), politics and the good ol arguments behind Non-Age Statements, or NAS if you will. Even with his terrible German accent (Sorry Dom), the crowd warmed to him instantly, discovering quickly his passion for world whisky. He just couldn’t contain his excitement whilst talking about St.Georges distillery – his “local”.

Although he loves world whisky, this doesn’t stop him enjoying scotch. He spoke fondly about many Scottish distilleries and I have experienced this first hand after sharing and discussing enthusiastically a magnificent 1972 Balvenie with him at The Whisky Exchange Show this year. His argument for why Scotch whisky is the best in the world: Not cutting corners… i.e. the quality oak.

IMG_6324

For me, I have been in tastings where I’ve been told what to do and what to expect. Whereas here, Dominic instantaneously told everyone “You do what you want with whisky, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” Wise words. He continued to tell us the reason he “…does that he does”, is because he has practiced, not because he is the best taster in the world.

He was engaging and humorous throughout, remaining entertaining all night. His insights into areas such as Irish whisky and conflicts in the whisky world were eye opening, and I came away not only enthused, but educated also. If you get the chance to pop along to one of Dominic’s tastings, I would recommend it. You won’t regret it.

IMG_6326

Here are some quick tasting notes on the whiskies we tried.

St.Georges English Malt Whisky – Four Lions (Discovery Road) (46%)

English Malt Whisky - Four Lions

N: Fragrant and very slightly floral. Buttery softness, some vanilla, maltiness and sweet fudge before quite a bit hit of pineapple. Towards the end I get a hint of dustiness.

P: Nicely smooth. Big malty hit upfront before some gentle woodiness. Sawdust, heather, pineapple and sweet pears. Some light spices balance out the sharpness here.

F: Medium. Liquorice on the upper palate and some raisins lower down too. I look the woody quality here. Quite enjoyable.

Dutch Rye 100% 7yo – Smile (Discovery Road) (46%)

IMG_6320N: Sweet nose. Grain like. Slightly grape-y with some polish/waxy notes. Pretty soft overall with some gentle spices and toffee notes too.

P: Good arrival. Vibrant and exciting. I found some similarities to certain bourbon sweetness. Although pretty sweet, it remains quite dry. Soft toffee, warm spicy tones and even some red liquorice laces.

F: Medium. Slightly dry. Rip fruits including banana. Spices slowly simmer down. This was pretty quaffable.

Dunedin New Zealand 15yo DoubleWood (40%)

Dom discussed the difficulties Willowbank distillery had been having with the naming of this DoubleWood, as you might recognise the name from a certain well brand- here. He also explained that the spirit spent 6 years in American Bourbon barrels, before finishing in French Oak NZ wine barrels, giving its slight pink hue.

IMG_6318N: Quite a light, closed and over ripe nose. With time, I found it a tad thicker with a certain sweetness with dark fruit notes. A slight floral sweetness too.

P: The wine cask jumps out straight away. Far more fruity here with some damp wood and fresh sawdust. Sweet vanilla tones, heavy toffee and slight dry tannic notes.

F: Pretty long. Lots of stewed fruit. Slight savoury/meaty note. Lots of the wood profile comes at the end. Pretty complex and needs time. But overall quite enjoyable.

Redbreast 15yo (46%)

IMG_6319N: Slightly withheld to start with. Dark sweetness, demurrer sugar, sultanas and vanilla pod. Lots of old sweet shop flavours here, especially sherbet fountains. Very fragrant, oily and rich. Similar to certain old grain noses.

P: Light on the palate yet retains the oiliness. Big sweetness followed by some big malt tones. I get some salted meat, especially bacon before some sweet American candy takes over.

F: Medium. Sweetness is there for quite a while. Some sweet apples and light citrus too. This is very drinkable and glides down the throat beautifully. I’m glad I have a bottle already.

Balcones Single Malt (53%)

IMG_6323N: Big bacon and BBQ Ribs notes to start. Not as smokey as other Balcones. Some banana, vanilla and honey before you get the pancetta and peppered notes. Slightly dark and sour too. Pretty creamy character.

P: Warming, brown sugar. Far more fruity than expected. Quite buttery with notes of burnt caramel. I think I get banana bread here.

F: Medium/Long. The wood spices reveal themselves towards the end, with quite a doughy character. Fiery yet relaxed. Another good bottle from this crazy awesome distillery.

Kilchoman Machir Bay 2014 (46%)

Having just finished a bottle of this the previous month, I was well acquainted with this lovely bottling. It actually came out as the favourite dram for the evening with the Dutch Rye and Redbrest 15yo taking runner up spots.

IMG_6321N: Pretty sweet peat here. Soft stewed fruits and vanilla custard take the lead role to begin with. Sweet chocolate floating on a sea of peat. The smoke continually builds, leaving the sweetness to waft around.

P: I could tell this was Kilchoman straight away. Great powerful arrival with some strong burn straight away. Peppery, citrus and oily. Quite a nutty flavour later on once the young vibrant peat subsides.

F: Medium/Long. The peat doesn’t run away, instead dancing upon the tastebuds. Ashy, wood smoke. The sweetness again maintains its course, balanced with the citrus, a hint of chocolate and a slight cereal note too. Considering the age, this is fantastic. In fact, forget the age… it’s fantastic. I cannot wait to see what Kilchoman is like in 5 years time!

IMG_6328

A massive thank you to Nigel and Lyn for putting on this tasting, and of course to Dominic for bringing the fun and insight!

Over(eem) And Out

When it comes to sport, the Australians know what they’re doing. They have a brilliant mix of work ethic, skill, drive and sheer determination that puts the fear into any other team facing them. However, it’s not just the sportsmen we should be in awe of: Their whisky makers are rapidly becoming a rather talented and successful lot.
“Now they’re just showing off”, I hear you cry. “Not only do they have the weather, beaches, wildlife and sports teams… But they now have good whisky too?!”
Yep. Sorry.

I have to admit that even I, Mr Sceptical was…. Well sceptical about it at first. But when I met Neil and Joel (the two likely lads from Caskstrength) for the first time back at Whisky Live; Australian whisky was the first drop they poured me at their masterclass. Overeem whisky to be precise, and I haven’t looked back since.
IMG_6373
  You can imagine how happy I was to hear from them 3 months later inviting me to a tasting of the whole Overeem range that they were hosting in London – quickly becoming two of my favourite people. Yes I’m that easy. A great evening was had tasting this delicious liquid and I was truly converted to the full range.
IMG_6372
   The final chapter to this story however, came just 4 weeks ago when Neil asked me to whip together some tasting notes for an Overeem competition over at Master of Malt. The snazziest, most eccentric (and hopefully fitting) notes for the 43% sherry bottling would win a wonderful prize – the chance to help pick a new bourbon matured expression. Having tried a previous bourbon matured Overeem at the tasting (only bottle in the Northern Hemisphere by the way), this was pretty exciting stuff. I didn’t win first prize, but did come runner up with the good man that is Ben Cops, winning us each a bottle of the sherried expression! You can read our runner up posts along with the victors here.

Overeem New make (68% – I think)
Nose: Sweet, pure, powerful, berries and some sourness.
Palate: Pretty heavy on the tongue, but light in character. Slight sourness still there. Fizzy and sherbet-y like old skool fizzy sweets.

IMG_6377Overeem Port Cask (43%)
(Using Australian “port”)
Nose: Even more vibrant, juicy and full. Slightly dusty too. Spices hiding but start to crash around.
Palate: Good port notes, some berries, woodiness, sweet and slightly gloppy. Cherries and blackcurrant.
Finish: Dryer with a nice build up of spice and sweetness.
Comments: This had a nice delivery, with well balanced sweetness. I was expecting slightly more fruits though.

IMG_6378Overeem Sherry Cask (60%)
(I tried this one at WL, let’s so how I do on second tasting)
Nose: Wow, how can this be 60%?! It’s delicate and so easy to nose. Woody and sweet with some soft tropical fruits. Incredibly moorish.
Palate: Dusty and sweet, with sherry at the forefront. Chocolate covered raspberries. Robust woody spices, fizzy like refreshers (mmm) and a hint of ash.
Finish: Nutmeg, cinnamon, slightly nutty and woody. Less sweet, but with a lingering dryness. Spices lead the way.
Comments: For me, this was the star of the show. It wasn’t trying to show off and the smoothness balanced with the complexity of flavours really kept me on edge. Would never believe this was 60%.

IMG_6379Overeem Port Cask (60%)
Nose: Again, how is this 60%?! Fantastic nose with a beautiful blend of dark fruits, light sweetness and dusty/musky tones. Slight yeasty note too with some dark chocolate. I could nose this for hours.
Palate: Glides down the tongue with a silky texture, feeling more like 48%. Heavier sweetness than on nose, slightly drying with wood spice and berries.
Finish: Long and not too dry. Smooth, velvety and simply glam.
Comments: This had you coming back for more and I spent quite a while on it. It’s mixture of drinkability and complexity made for interesting note taking!

IMG_6374Overeem Bourbon Cask (43%)
(Ex heaven hill casks. We tried the only bottle in northern hemisphere)
Nose: Delicate and very rounded. Lots of fruits: apple peel and tropical fruits that got bigger and bigger. Grassy notes too.
Palate: Quite light compared to the sherried/port expressions. Slightly spicy, but hidden under a bed of fruit and hay. Some ripe apples and pears.
Finish: Short, but leaves the mouth fresh and happy.
Comments: Complex again, with a number of flavours hiding behind corners. Not my favourite of the bunch, but drinkable and tasty (like the rest of the range to be honest). The 60% is now due to be released.

And finally, my completely over the top and slightly tongue in cheek mammoth notes for the competition:
IMG_7595
Overeem Sherry Cask (43%)
As I sit in my favourite armchair on a warm September evening, with John Coltrane providing a certain serenity to the room, I’m enticed by this deep amber nectar of the gods. Much like a Mahler symphony, I don’t know what to expect; utter beauty or simple confusion. I’m welcomed to the glass like a long lost friend, with the first sniff embracing my nostrils like a warm hug. At first, this beast from down under seems rather vibrant in the glass. However, it’s deceptively smooth and rounded, with whiffs of fresh wood and sweet tropical fruits smothered in dark chocolate, reminiscent of old sweets my Nan would hide in her purse. A sudden rush of fruit; especially sticky cherries, banana and plums before the delicate spices start weaving their way through my nostrils, with cinnamon and orange zest clamouring to also get a nod. This is all followed by a wave of nostalgia – chocolate covered raisins. All the while, the light dusting of sweet sherry sneaks in round the back to drive this nose forward. With a dash of water, a sweet note of vanilla interplays with a gentle grassy-ness.
  I find myself desperate to delve into the deep layers of flavour found in this beautiful liquid. An abundance of Sunday stewed fruit crumble with vanilla custard attacks my taste buds before a sudden onslaught of liquorice, raisins and cereal notes appear. A real sweetness you get from demerara sugar or fresh icing sugar on a warm sponge cake is present too. Robust woody spices continue to build with each sip, and frolic on the tongue with a particular dustiness leaving a slight chilli note. Chocolate covered raspberries this time, whilst the sherry now takes a leading role. My favourite note? The fizzy refreshers and slight hint of ash.
  John Coltrane is playing his final number of his ‘Live in Paris’ album. His sweet melodies in “Impressions” leaves me feeling somewhat melancholic, whilst the whisky lingers leaving warm spices, orange infused chocolate, vanilla, and Werthers Originals. Somewhat nutty, with a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg from the spice rack and a residual dryness also. There is no hiding it, there has been some quality interaction between wood and spirit here. This is not only strongly robust, but is a vibrant, exciting and alluring dram that glides round your mouth delightfully like velvet. I think it was Santana and Rob Thomas that once sung about this whisky: “Oh you’re so smooth…” When I think about it, this wonderful whisky is much like Mahler’s famous 5th symphony. It is utterly beautiful, starting with a tender movement which elegantly continues to build into a triumphant masterpiece. Complex and fulfilling. It is said that Mahler wrote it as a love song to his wife, with a poem attached: “How much I love you, I cannot tell you that with words. I can only lament to you my longing and love”. My sentiment exactly for this Tasmanian Devil.

Thanks once again goes to Neil and Joel from Caskstrength.net – look out for their new book, they know what they’re talking about!