Scotch 22: The Second Sitting

These are tasting notes from the second Scotch 22 invitation event held in Christchurch.

The notes are again provided by Ian Stopher and Mel Bromley.  As before, I am very grateful to them both for allowing me to use their writings here on the site.

I have identified each writer with bold lettering & colour.

Ian:
We started at Whisky Galore with an introductory dram and some Bee Gees. This was a clue to what had been kept a secret from us. But rewind 45mins because, of course, I had preloaded with an Scotch Malt Whisky Society code 64.97 at The Last Word:

Mannochmore 9yo Partner Bar exclusive 64.97

 Nose: delicious malty sweetness with soft lemon cif
Palate: still sweet but with some dryness as well in the reaction with the mouth; Opal Fruits
Finish: medium; not so much citric as white and green fruits like green melon and lychees. Malty as well but not spicy (Barrel rather than Hogshead)
Overall: impressive whisky pointed out by staff at The Last Word. Not spectacular but a solid consistent nose and delivery
Score: 8.3

Back at WG the introductory dram was an official 12yo Dalmore bottled c.1979:

Dalmore 12yo

Nose:  spirity with sherry
Palate: muted sharpness
Finish: a little thin and clinging
Overall: the dram was bottled in the 70s, in keeping with the theme of the evening
Score: 7.8

The Main Course

The Main Course
Colour-matching

6 drams distilled in the 1970s.  Total pricing just under $15,000. Ouch! I will not be buying any of these bottles, then. Unfortunately, I really wanted more time to go over the drams but as it was I was the slowest and I still didn’t have time to write very lyrical notes.

It looks a weird order: 3 peaty whiskies first and then 3 heavy sherry whiskies. But as we got into it we saw it made sense. The final three were more overwhelming than the first three.

Glass 1:   Brora 8th Release 30yo 1979  53.2%

Brora 8th Release 30yo

Nose:
Ian: oily, a little bit closed; distinct licorice notes
Mel: salted caramel, hints of vegemite, seaweed, and raisins
Palate:
Ian: quite soft and a little queasy
Mel: Sweet caramel, licorice, icing sugar, honey  [I can’t taste any peat!]
Finish:
Ian: thin-tasting at the end
Overall:
Ian: Bottle No. 2218 of 2,656; perhaps unfairly placed but this was the weakest whisky of the line-up
Mel: it was too saccharine-type sweet for me
Score:
Ian: 8.3
Mel: 7.5

Glass 2:   Bowmore 21yo 1973 43%

Bowmore 21 yo

Nose:
Ian: sweet and slightly sickly
Mel: salted caramel again, very smooth, raisins “love this nose” – does not smell at all peaty!
Palate:
Ian: very soft with some floral orange
Mel: Some peat, oily, liquorice, sweet, light smoke
Finish:
Ian: medium
Overall:
Ian: quite tasty and impressive for a 43% whisky
Mel: advertised as having been selected from casks in Warehouse #1 – the oldest)
Score:
Ian: 8.4
Mel: 8.5   There you go!  An unusually high score for me for an Islay these days!

Glass 3:   Ardbeg OMC 60th anniversary 36yo 43.5% (1 of 94 bottles)

Ardbeg OMC 36yo

Nose:
Ian: still very peaty and still sharp
Mel: marshmallow, smoke, sweet toffee, peat, cheezels
Palate:
Ian: quite impressive for the abv; softness and peat
Mel: Very Islayish – oily, sweet, smoky, peaty, but still very smooth
Finish:
Ian: medium+; delicate peat and maybe sherrywood as well
Overall:
Ian: a bit repetitive but surprises by the amount of peat after 36 years
Mel: apparently one of the oldest Ardbegs ever bottled!
Score:
Ian: 8.5
Mel:7.5, but only because I’ve drifted away from the peaty whiskies.

Glass 4:   Mortlach G&M 1971-2012 43%

Mortlach G&M

Nose:
Ian: heavy with the sherry, tarry; cough syrup
Mel: Chocolate, raisins, apricots, caramel, prunes, hint of vegemite (in a good way), figs, sweet, but not saccharine sweet.
Palate:
Ian: again that heaviness and already clearly very woody before even getting to the finish
Mel: bitter chocolate, prunes, liquorice, apricot, meaty, hint of vegemite … rolling flavours. OMG!
Finish:
Ian: long; with burnt cherry
Overall:
Ian: some might go for this extremal whisky but I find it is too much to make it a pleasant drink. Mel REALLY loved this one, even more than the Glendronach!
Mel: Oh Yes I Did!!!  Admittedly, I may have got carried away, but it is what I wrote down on the night!
Score:
Ian: 8.3
Mel: 10/10.

Glass 5:   Glenglassaugh Batch 2 42yo 47.3% Massandra Madeira Puncheon #2125 (1 of 124 bottles)

Glenglasshaugh 42yo

Nose:
Ian: fruity and spicy
Mel: Prunes, chocolate, aniseed, almond icing, Christmas cake, (something floral? Lavender?)
Palate:
Ian: sweet, delicious with a touch of mintiness
Mel: Old, prunes, varnish, sweet, aniseed
Finish:
Ian: medium; just a little dry
Overall:
Ian: This really hit the spot for me; I like my fortified wine maturation to bring some sweetness and fruit, and this one delivers. Strangely this was the oldest but also the cheapest bottle at $1,300.  Shame I still cannot justify buying a whole bottle but it makes it onto my 2019 Best of the Best list.
Score:
Ian: 8.7
Mel: 9.3

Glass 6:   Glendronach Batch 2 39yo 48.8% Oloroso Butt #489

Glendronach 39yo

Nose:
Ian: vinegar; heavy oloroso
Mel: Toffee, caramel (not sweet), woody, prunes, pepper, sulphur
Palate:
Ian: heavy and chewy
Mel: Chocolate, sherry, sulphur notes, licorice, almonds, intense, oranges
Finish:
Ian: medium to long; very tarry. It is not tart or sharp in the finish, fortunately.
Overall:
Ian: a bit of a technical score; not especially the brown&gold Glendronach I would go for normally. At $4,000 this was the most expensive purchase for the evening. Happy Birthday, Daniel!
Mel:  This was unexpectedly my second favourite, after my surprise love affair with the Mortlach … but for most people in the room this one came top!
Score:
Ian: 8.6
Mel: 9.6

The After-match Function

Ian: Following all this, we headed off for a meal. Many carried on with some drinking but after the above eight drams, everything would have seemed a little underwhelming.
Mel: my glass of red wine was certainly unnecessary.)
Ian: Besides, I had an early flight to catch and another set of whiskies the next night.
Mel: Ditto – although I caught the early afternoon flight that landed in a massive blustery storm.
Ian: Some work is never done.   
Mel: Too true – it is tough work indeed – lucky we are up to the challenge.

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – or Damson in Distress

This article is a departure for this generally a whisky-themed website, but the the project fascinated me.

Les has appeared in this site before, as the co-founder of “How to remove unwanted bits of cork from wanted whisky”.

From that, you would have gathered that Les is a resourceful character.  With a well-defined sense of inquisitiveness and experimentation.

Les had planted a damson plum tree.  He’d turned the output into damson plum jam, damson plum (and rhubarb) tart,. Damson plum this, that and the other thing.  The uses for damson plums quickly became exhausted.

Then damson plum gin hove into view.

Damson Plum Gin

For those of you who have never heard of damson gin, the full recipe that Les used is to be found at the end of this article.

In the abbreviated version, the construction is quite simple.

It is gin. To which have been added some damson plums.

Or, more accurately, damson plums to which has been added a lot of gin.

And sugar.  End of ingredient list.

The Brewing

The parts are amalgamated in large jars, the whole then left pretty much unmolested for nine months or so.  The only attention in that period involves turning the jars over (like whisky barrels, but lighter) to help dissolve the sugar and encourage maturation.

The recipe requires just under a kilogram of plums and 1.5 litres of gin.  Les went for two gins – Seagars and half a bottle of Greenalls London Dry.  According to rumour these selections were made on a price basis, to keep costs down should the experiment fail. The two brews were kept separate, on the basis that if one failed the other would remain to hopefully take the pain away.

As my grandmother used to say, “Belt, braces, a safety pin and a piece of string.”  Although I think that quote related more to trousers than gin.

The Reveal

Les asked if we wanted to be observers at the ceremonial decanting of the finished liquid on a sunny afternoon.  You can’t turn down an invitation like that, especially when you have already experienced Les and his wife’s hospitality.

When we arrived, the large jars were arranged on the kitchen counter.  The source gin bottles, along with a large plastic funnel and a piece of clean muslin cloth, stood ready.

The Sorcerer – with Sauce

Gin is usually a clear liquid.  Like oily tap water, with Attitude.

Les’ damson plum gin was a lovely ruby colour.  Not an opaque dark ruby like a pinot noir, but light and translucent like the ruby red glass in a stained glass window.

There followed a bit of nosing, tasting and some note taking.  This was just to make sure that the project was worth continuing with, you understand.  The consensus was that it was.

Considerably.

Looking at the two original donor gin bottles, the thought was also raised that the addition of plum juice and sugar had likely increased the volume of liquid available.  And it might be practical to have another receptacle or two on standby, just in case.

So the decanting began.  The Seagars-based product was returned to its bottle via the muslin and the funnel, with the predicted surplus put into a passing wine bottle.

The Sorcerer, and Apprentice

The Greenalls version was decanted into a rapidly pressed-into-service crystal decanter – which the lovely ruby damson gin which really suited.  Especially with the light from the kitchen window coming through behind it!

The left-overs

With the decanting completed and the liquid removed, there remained the residue.

In the bottom of each jar was a collection of dark brown orbs.  Not smooth and round like plums, but wrinkly like fingers too long in hot water.

The Residue

Discussion ensued around how the orbs might taste and what use they could possibly be put to.  The first question was easily resolved by the Taste Test.  Unsurprisingly they tasted just like damson plums that had been steeped in gin – a lot of gin, some which had been reminded after the decanting process.

What to with them was a bigger issue.

Various options were mooted.  The contenders included:
– Keeping them for handing out to unsuspecting visitors;
– Taking them to nest month’s Wine Club meeting for evaluation; or
– Retaining them for after-dinner treats.

Les works at a local French café chain.  There is an in-house chef of undoubted skill – the winning suggestion was to pass the remaining gin-soaked plums to him to see what inventive ideas he might find for them.  It is encouraging to report that some have since appeared as a component of a rather nice dessert.

To the bottlings

Seagars (NZ) Gin, 37.2% abv

Nose: Almonds, Christmas cake
Palette: Plum (slightly sour from the Damsons) like plum jam on toast, liquerish, with a sweetness.
Finish: tannic drying, stays sweet but the plum taste remains.
Score: 8.7

Greenalls London Dry Gin, 37.5% abv

Nose: the plum flavour is stronger, with only a slight aroma
Palette: sweeter, with less sourness
Finish: the plum taste remains
Score: 8.5

The Recipe

The Recipe, as downloaded.

Overall:  I’m not a gin drinker.  I know little about the product.  But Les’ Damson Gin is one nice drop.

Matt’s Birthday – Single Cask Glendronachs

Black & Gold Glendronach Single Casks

For some time now Matt has been the custodian of a selection of extremely rare Black & Gold Single Cask Glendronachs, acquired through an auction.

It was coming up Matt’s birthday.

And what better way to celebrate his birthday than a whisky or eight with whisky-appreciating friends on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

Matt is a well-liked, well-respected member of the whisky fraternity and sorority.  Any one of the invitees would be happy to help celebrate his birthday.  Any one would also probably happily attend the opening of an envelope, let alone any kind of a whisky bottle.

Matt’s birthday and the opening of six Glendronach whiskies was a total no-brainer.

Apart from the undoubted quality of his whisky stocks, Matt also has an interesting view on experimentation.  Here is his take on sensory deprivation:  serve an introductory dram in a black, totally opaque tasting glass: the Introductory Dram

The glass is the same shape and size as a normal tasting glass.  You just can’t see the contents.

Believe me, not being able to see what you’re drinking is a very unusual experience indeed.

The line-up of Glendronachs in front of each taster is universally dark.  In the 1.7 to 1.8 range, like the scantily-clad models in an old Coppertone ad.  The whiskies are all so similar in hue that they could have all been poured from the same bottle.

The dram in the opaque glass smells and tastes as if it would be just as dark as the others

This introductory whisky is subsequently revealed as a Glendronach 9yo, 59.1%, but from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society range.  Entitled “Rocky road spice freakout” (36.22), it is one of 278 bottles matured in a first fill ex-PX sherry hogshead.  The nose and taste are very similar to the other offerings but when it is decanted from black opaque into a clear glass it is comparatively much lighter in colour – nearer a 1.0.  Not at all what was expected!

The Whiskies

The six single cask, Brown & Gold Glendronachs.  And a ringer.

Here, then, is Matt’s glass by glass summary of we tasted, with details and scores.  To quote Matt’s post-event write-up, “We tore through some amazing whiskies, and a lot of info was thrown at you”.

I have added some tasting notes distilled (pardon the pun) from the whiteboard record taken at the time by MC, Daniel Bruce McLaren.  All of the whiskies are Glendronachs, with the exception of one that Matt put in to keep us all honest.  And, to be honest, I don’t think that anyone picked the “ringer” for what it was.  However, its placing indicated that “one of these is not like the others”.

These are group notes and average scores across the tasters.  Although it bears no relevance to anything much, for this website’s consistency I have put my score in brackets after the group score.

Glass #1: 

2002, 10 year old, Cask #1988, Bottle 360 of 664, 55.6%, PX Puncheon, Distilled: 03/07/2002, Bottled: 05/2013.
Nose: PX?, sulphur, sweet, banana chips, baby sick, grapefruit marmalade, rubber, Vegemite, barbecue, balsamic mushrooms.
Palette: tobacco, sweet, honey, vanilla.
Finish: Fizzy sherbet, coffee
Score: 9.35 (8.7).
Placed: 5=

Glass #2:

1995, 17 year old, Cask #4682, Bottle 428 of 631, 56.6%, PX Puncheon, Distilled: 08/11/1995, Bottled: 03/2013, Specially Selected and Bottled Exclusively for the Whisky Exchange (Brown & Gold Sleeve).
Nose: drier & deeper than glass 1, salty licorice, bright.
Palette: sweet, burnt golden syrup, smooth.
Finish: coffee, dries out, oloroso tang, celery, chicory log.
Score: 9.43, (8.6)
Placed: 3=.

Glass #3:

1993, 17 year old, Cask #529, Bottle 56 of 627, 60.5%, Oloroso Sherry Butt, Distilled: 26/02/1993, Bottled: 06/2010.
Nose: sublime. Xmas cake, treacle, a lot of leather, cream & butter, too woody, chocolate, spearmint.
Palette: dry, lip smacking, mouth coating.
Finish: wood, tannins, rubber, super-sour lollies.
Score: 9.35 (8.8).
Placed: 5=.

Glass #4:

Kavalan Solist Sherry Cask (The Ringer), Non-Age Statement, Cask #S090102006, Bottle: 268 of 505, 55.6%.
Nose: gravy, rubber, soy sauce, fruit cake, pumice, old cigar, hot old car.
Palette: licorice, Vegemite, gravy, bitter dark chocolate.
Finish: butter, cask dominated.
Score: 8.96 (8.5).
Placed: 7th

Glass #5:

1992, 19 year old, Cask #161, Bottle 361 of 500, 59.2%, Oloroso Sherry Butt, Distilled: 22/05/1992, Bottled: 07/2011.
Nose: malt vinegar, green wood, bamboo, broad beans, bourbon, Vicks VapouRub, mouldy old soft toy, bath salts.
Palette: liquer, caramel. Smooth, sweet, sherry (PX?).
Finish: smooth as silk knickers, dry coffee, dark plums.
Score: 9.85 (9.2).
Placed: 1st

Glass #6:

1991, 18 year old, Cask #3182, Bottle 52 of 633, 51.7%, PX Puncheon, Distilled: 15/11/1991, Bottled: 06/2010.
Nose: jersey caramel, big, brulee, dusty, fish tank, indoor grandprix, blackcurrant jam, denim, sultanas, grubby, complex.
Palette: exhaust, subdued, sappy, scented knickers.
Finish: cinnamon, spice, sarsaparilla.
Score: 9.43 (8.9).
Placed: 3=

Glass #7:

1996, 18 year old, Cask #1487, Bottle 418 of 677, 54.1%, PX Puncheon, Distilled: 16/02/1996, Bottled: 06/2014.
Nose: putty, charred, furniture polish, wet nappy, lemon meringue pie, rye & ink, hint of smoke, soap.
Palette: dirty, THC, fizzy, lemon sherbet, smooth.
Finish: sweet, salt drops, wine gums.
Score: 9.72 (9.3).
Placed: 2nd

My overall opinion?  I have seldom had such an entertaining and enjoyable afternoon.

And I’m very glad Karen was there to drive us home afterwards!

Here is the Glendronach page showing the Single Cask Batch Releases.

Until next time…+

(PS: Spell-checker does not like “Glendronach”.  Thinks it should be Philodendron – I’m damned sure we weren’t drinking them!)

Tasmanian Devils

Tasmanian Devils

To avoid confusion, this article has nothing to do with the four-legged Tasmanian devils.  It does have a lot do with some devilishly good Tasmanian whisky.

The growth of the Tasmanian whisky industry

According to Wikipedia, there were nine whisky distilleries in Tasmania in 2014.  There are now 31, with more planned!

Which makes Tasmania an attractive destination for the whiskian (be-whiskered?)

The obvious distilleries are Hobart’s Lark, Hellyer’s Rd in the northwest, and the picturesque Nant distillery south of Launceston.

Planning a short holiday in Tasmanian with Evelyn, I looked for distilleries we could conveniently visit.

Uncle Google (bless him) lit up Fannys Bay Distillery.

An hour and a half’s drive from our accommodation base, via selected Tamar Valley wineries.  And the website detail really whets my interest: small batch, hand-made drams.  Sherry and bourbon expressions, obviously, but also a strong wine cask series of whiskies from port, shiraz and pinot.

Fannys Bay Distillery has a view of Bass Strait restricted only by some sandhills and a few seaside plants.  The local wind blows the salt spray about.  It gets onto the house roofs and – by extension – the tank water supply.  Which adds a slightly maritime note to the drams.

The distillery is owner-operated by husband and wife, Mathew and Julie Cooper.

Mathew is largely a self-taught distiller, but I suspect that knowledge-gathering is something he is very practiced at!  There are some innovative ideas in the distillery – the gas hot water boiler being a major one, which Mathew says allows him better heat control.

Julie and Mathew are the most engaging of hosts.  They are very proud to talk about their drams, their production methods and whisky in general.  During an extremely pleasurable (and educative) couple hours in their company I tasted my way through four whiskies and a cup of coffee.  Then, as a “leaving present”, they gave me a large sample of their latest, magnificent, pinot-matured whisky.

Fannys Bay product is matured in 20 litre barrels.  When I first saw the racks, I was a little surprised, but if you think about the increased wood contact of small casks it makes sense.  The whiskies come in attractive squared bottles, with Julie adding a hand-completed label to each one.

The racks.  20 litre casks.

The tastings.

Sherry Cask
Barrel 48, First fill French Oak.  2.5 years.  Bottled 8 April 2019 at 62.3%
Appearance: holds well on the glass. Colour 1.3
Nose:  marine, dried fruit and brown sugar
Palette: Pepper, fruit, smooth.
Finish: slightly tannic, and slightly sour (possibly from the European oak?)
Comment: Very nice, how I expect a sherried whisky to taste.  The effect of the small casks is apparent, as is the salt air.
Score: 8.4

Port Cask
Barrel 61.  First fill French Oak, bottled 12 July 2019 at 62.5%
Appearance: hangs on well, good legs. Colour 1.5
Nose: Fruit (dried apricots), vine, brown sugar
Palette: soft and rich.  Mouth filling
Finish: long
Comment: want one, got one!
Score:8.9

Shiraz Cask
Barrel 61, First fill French Oak, bottled September 2019 at 63%
Appearance: hangs on well. Colour 1.8 (dark!)
Nose: Dark chocolate, red wine
Palette: back of the nose, pepper, shiraz (the dark chocolate), cranberries.
Finish: a late delicious nutmeg-flavoured steamed pud!
Comment: Evelyn’s favourite.  She wanted one, we got one (she may not get to drink a lot of it though).
Score: 8.7

Bourbon Cask

Two bourbon cask bottles, different cask numbers


Barrel 50, First fill American Oak, bottled 6 July 2019 at 62.5%
Colour: 0.7
Appearance: great legs.
Nose: nutty, sacking, vanilla (as you would expect)
Palette: Hot (from the alcohol), tastes of pepper, no bourbon sourness, some wood.
Finish: long, slightly tannic, bourbon sourness.
Score: 8.8

And then my “take-home” drop, the Pinot.

Pinot Cask
Barrel 20, bottled at 62%
Appearance: Rich colour, dark amber, stays on the glass.  Colour 1.1.
Nose: dried apricot, dark Rum & Raisin chocolate, cooked Black Doris plums.  No direct wine nose, which Is odd considering the cask provenance.  Hint of vanilla when the glass is hand-warmed.
Palette: chilli hot, pinot, BITEY.  Big mouth, dry + heat on tongue.  Slight sour (from wood?).
Finish: heat stays around, affecting my gums.  Long finish, warming my thorax.  Nice sour note, tannic.
Score: 8.9
Comment: With reduction, the nose is more vanilla, Christmas cake fruit & figs.  Brown sugar, but still no red wine!
The palette softens, with no harsh heat and less chilli.  Banana/Eskimo lollies.
The finish shortens a little, drying, sour like a bourbon cask.

My “take homes”.
Port on the right, Shiraz on the left.

Visit the Fannys Bay distillery website – it’s worth it!

Some personal thoughts on “young” whiskies

Now here is something I did not know – Tasmanian law requires only a 2-year maturation before the product is able to be called whisky.

I have read articles recently by whisky scribes far more learned than me.  They seem to decry the practice of drinking just-legal whiskies, saying they really should be kept in the wood for longer to develop “character”.

They may be right, but I have recently tried and written about Cardrona’s output (bottled at 3 years and 1 day) and now the Fannys Bay whiskies (coming out at not much over the 2-year mark).  In India the maturation rate is so impacted by humidity that the whisky needs to be bottled early to avoid it disappearing from the cask totally – if it were left in the barrel for 20 years the Angel’s Share could quickly become the Lion’s Share.  There would be nothing left to bottle!  And who can go past Amrut Spectrum?

Yes, it would be interesting to see how these whiskies would turn out if they were allowed to run on to 10 or 12 years, but they are by no means short on character now!

And I will happily go back to Tasmania for some more Devils.

The Joy of Packaging

The rise and fall of the Salted Cashew

There they sat.

Arrayed in their colourful red and yellow, consumer-attracting, heat -sealed plastic bag.

A hole has been punched in the geographic centre of the top so it can be hung on the little hook on the display just to the right of the bar.  Convenient.

Very “Point Of Sale”.

All mouth-wateringly salty looking.

Who can resist roasted salted cashews?

The table has a sticky quality.   Drink has seemingly not made it from glass to mouth, and the table top has missed the attention of a clean wiping rag for some time.

Possibly days.

There is a similar stickiness to the carpet – the underfoot feeling leaves the sensation that there is something amiss with the soles of my shoes.  A feeling that  reinforces the distrust of the cleaning regime.

I sat at the sticky-topped table, clutching my unopened bag of cashews in eager anticipation.  Just pull apart the heat-sealed flange at the top of the bag and cashew heaven would be mine!

I am astounded by just how far unsupervised cashews can travel when that heat-sealed top releases abruptly!   A veritable fountain of cashews!  Up in the air.  Onto the floor.  Over both shoulders, to every point of the known compass, and beyond.

In the interests of at least getting some cashews from this debacle, I deemed that the ones that landed in my lap were edible, those that finished on the sticky table met the two second rule – at a stretch.

The ones in my drink were not improved by the experience.  And neither was the drink.

Those that finished on the carpet – sadly the vast majority of the bag’s contents – were definitely no longer for consumption.  Even if I had the inclination to release them from the sticky fluffy matt that now adhered to them.

I didn’t.

The art of destructive packaging

Destructive Packaging has been defined as the modern phenomenon that actively prevents access to the product it contains.  Sadly, we encounter it daily.

Because it seems that these days the packaging is more important than the product it contains.

And if by some miracle you do achieve access, the price of admission is the destruction of the product in the process.  Or possibly the physical and mental well-being of the person attempting to gain access.

Examples of particular “hates”:

Lift and tear tabs that lift and tear the skin on your finger, leave a serious indent around your finger but leave the tin’s contents gleefully intact.

Gleeful ‘Peel here” labels that come away in your hand but don’t free up anything else useful; the lid, for instance.

Plastic wrapping on magazines that defies entry without ripping the magazine in the process.  And to stop people from using the magazine shop as a de facto reading library on wet days. The same wrapping is also emerging as a way to entomb fresh bread.

Glued down foil tops on bottles of pills.  So well glued down that it finally comes away with such suddenness and explosive power that the contents are scattered to the four winds.  The foil layer is, of course, considerately hidden under a perfectly serviceable screw cap – which in turn is secured by an untearable plastic halo arrangement.  Surprise!!!

Seals on bottles of shampoo, fiendishly hidden underneath the jovial flip-top lid.  Seals that you don’t discover until you are under the shower.  With wet slippery fingers and without your glasses. And you don’t even know the little seal is there until you have finished tearing out he last of your locks wondering why the shampoo won’t damn-well come out!

Labels and price tickets attached to clothing by nylon “arrows” that have been neatly fired through the most unforgiving part of the product and require scissors to remove.  Or the labels are sewn on so tightly that removing them risks cutting the fabric.

Plastic milk bottles where twisting the cap is intended to free it from the little ring bit – but doesn’t, and you have to resort to knife or scissors to get at the milk.

The plastic wrapping that surrounds multi packs of toilet rolls or kitchen paper towels.

A questions: why do batteries need to be in plastic inside plastic inside cardboard?

Battery packaging is quite superb.  The product is presented in beautifully windowed, cheerful cardboard.  The semi-perforated panel on the reverse side of the cardboard is intended for the purchaser to push firmly and batteries will be revealed.

Two thoughts:

1  the panel is not discernible to the naked eye, and

2  the levering action with a sharp implement is a very dangerous manoeuvre that should not be undertaken by other than the very experienced unpackager. Or the very desperate!

Once upon a long time ago, the most challenging item to open was a bottle of champagne.

Can we go back there, please!

The Main Event – Scotch 22 Strathisla

These are tasting notes from an invitation event held in Christchurch.

The notes are provided by Ian Stopher and Mel Bromley.  I am very grateful to them both for allowing me to use their writings here on the site.  And I am considerably jealous!

I have identified each author’s contribution for (to quote Mel) “… anybody who is interested in playing along vicariously.”

Acronyms used in the descriptions:

FFSB: First fill sherry butt
FFSH: First fill sherry hogshead
RSB: Refill sherry butt

In the course of the writing, Mel came up with a couple of new phrases:

  • “single cash Glendronachs”. When you can only afford to buy one at a time?, and
  • “Highlandronach”. The offspring of Highland Park and Glendronach.

They may well join the lexicon of whisky terminology.

A starter for 10 –

Ian:  I turned up at Whisky Galore at 5pm to make some purchases. I told them I was interested in the Single Malts of Scotland Aird Mhor, so I gave it a whirl before buying a bottle (at $83 for a cask strength 8yo it was going to be hard to resist).

Aird Mhor: 8yo 59.4% (ex-Laphroaig Cask)

Nose: yes of course peat, but in amongst the bourbon notes there is something more coastal like salt grass or maybe fresh seaweed. I have no idea where Laphroaig is actually matured but there is that tang of the coast. More like a Caol Ila than an Ardmore.
Palate: clean, not as dry as some Ardmores, but still staying away from the sweet; some tart gooseberries
Finish: just short of medium; it leaves something of a synthetic hole, nothing too alarming but not the satisfying ebb I was hoping for. Perhaps the youth shows through here.
Overall: I have tried very hard not to let the cask autosuggest things that possibly are not there. I think the nose is superior, the palate is fine but the finish is a bit lacking if I was to compare it to other cask strength Ardmores. This is a decent cask strength Ardmore and I like the novelty of knowing the provenance of the cask. At the price paid this is a no-brainer.

Score: 8.2

On to The Main Event

The main event is a Scotch 22 tasting of six Strathisla whiskies, with a mite bit of age and all first fill sherry of some sort. All 43%. (Ian’s description).

Glass 1: 1963-2011 (48yo) Two FFSB (but American Oak it seems)

Colour:
     Mel: Colour lightest of the line.
Nose:
     Ian: spirity, dark hay, herbal
Mel: varnish, stonefruit, pineapple lumps, tinned plums, mahogany, apple crumble with cinnamon
Palate:
     Ian: Watery, delicate, some floral elements
     Mel: Stonefruit, hints of dark bitter chocolate, raisins, creamy, hint of liquorice and nice cigars.
Finish:
     Ian: medium
Overall:
     Ian: it is interesting as a FFSB.  If is American Oak, that might explain the light colour.
Score:
     Ian: 8.3
     Mel: 8.5

Glass 2: 1957-2013 (55yo) FFSB

Nose:
     Ian: resin, marker pen, a bit coastal
     Mel: marshmellow, tinned peaches, hint of chocolate, sherry prominent, creamy, musty, orange peel.
Palate:
     Ian: dense, herbal
     Mel: Dark chocolate, musty, grapefruit, tannin notes, sweet but balanced, cocoa, strong woody notes
Finish:
     Ian: wow, woody bitterness
Overall:
     Ian: This is a bit of an oddball Strathisla. I am not a fan of the woodiness in the finish which brings down the overall score but until that point, it has a rather marked interest.
Score:
     Ian: 8.5
     Mel: 8.9

Glass 3: 1972 -2013 (40yo) RSB+FFSH

Nose:
     Ian: yes sherry, what else?
     Mel: Creaming soda, sweet, caramel, caramello chocolates, sponge cake, hint of rum ‘n’ raisin ice-cream.
Palate:
     Ian: fruity, like a condensed distillate, some dryness
     Mel: chocolate, malt biscuits, (slightly soapy?), stewed apricots, slight Cuban cigar notes again, bit tinny.
Finish:
     Ian: medium (just)
Score:
     Ian: 8.4
     Mel: 8.3 Loved the nose a lot more than the palate – that hint of soap dragged the score down for me.

Glass 4: 1964-2013 (48yo) FFSB

Nose:
     Ian: dark cherry and Oloroso
     Mel: Chocolate, Rum n Raisin truffles, plums, tobacco, marmalade, gorgeous, stunning, apricots, raisins, Christmas cake
Palate:
     Ian: sappy, some dark fruits, definitely prunes
     Mel: Chocolate, raisins, coffee, liquorice, marmalade. I commented: “If Glendronach and Highland Park had a baby …”
Finish:
     Ian: wood; but there is a fruitiness in amongst the tannins
Overall:
     Ian: immensely dark and the best overall of the six; where this wins is in the delivery rather than the nose, reminding me of the fruitiness of my Lochside. Delicious!
Score:
     Ian: 8.7
     Mel: 9.5 [I was feeling very happy by this point! And enjoying the whole concept I had come up with of the Highlandronach …]

Glass 5: 1960-2014 (53yo) FFSB+ FFSH+RAH

Nose:
     Ian: engine oil, cloves
     Mel: Sulphur, burnt toffee, orange rind, chocolate, Christmas cake, marzipan
Palate:
     Ian: medicinal, cough syrup
     Mel: Dark chocolate, oranges, tinned mandarins, tobacco, rust (the good kind), creamy.  I also noted down “Stunning dark mahogany colour”
Finish:
     Ian: medium->long
Overall:
     Ian: too old and too over-the-top in the finish, way too much woodiness. Whatever they have done to ameliorate this by the combination of three casks is not enough for my personal preference.
Score:
     Ian: 8.4
     Mel: 9.3

Glass 6: 1954-2013 (59yo) FFSB

Nose:
     Ian: wow, icing sugar, sugar cream, this is amazing
     Mel: Cocoa, chocolate, strawberry cream, plums (My favourite nose – despite the lack of descriptors, maybe I just stopped making as many notes!)
Palate:
     Ian: tarry, flat coca cola
     Mel: Caramel (tastes higher than 43%), plum, cigars, hokey pokey chocolate, butterscotch
Finish:
     Ian: medium->long; dry, with some resin
Overall:
     Ian: the nose of something this old and fantastic, this is one to just smell. It gives no indication of being old at all. However, come the delivery itself it makes itself clear. This is wood and tar and although not as bitter as some old Strathislas it still has many of those aspects that I don’t appreciate in old sherry maturation. So a mixed bag overall but that nose, what made that?Score:
     Ian: 8.6 (but 9.6 for the nose only)
     Mel: 9.4

Overall Event summary

Mel:
“It was great to get to taste this range of seriously aged whiskies all from the same distillery!

“Although they were all bottled at 43% (which can often seem low), they generally all appeared to be higher strength and did not suffer from the relatively low alcohol per volume.

“There were some common characteristics that came through – Speyside notes of chocolate and various stone fruits, and sometimes a bit of orange or marmalade, and in a number of them a very nice touch of Cuban cigar!

“Delicious though they were, would I pay the price to own them?  At more than NZ$19,000 for the set, or an average of around NZ$3,200 for a bottle – definitely not.  (Give me 7 or 8 single cask Glendronachs, thanks!).  Delicious – enjoyable –overpriced!”

Ian:
 “There you have it and you don’t need to suffer the next day as I did.”

The Cat and the Cream

 

 

Three Single Malts and Two Blends to taste

Here’s five new tastings for you.

I’d like to find a way to join them up, but it’s difficult.

Travel has given me personal connection with the first two.

The third has been in New Zealand wine barrels.

The last two I just like.

Close enough!

Inchmurrin 15yo

Inchmurrin – the most beautiful bottle!

15yo, 46% abv, colour 0.4

Loch Lomond Distillery, Dunbartonshire.

The whisky is named after the largest island on Loch Lomond.

We took a boat cruise around Loch Lomond three summers ago.

According to the tour guide, Inchmurrin is the headquarters of the local Sun Club.  “Not the ideal place to be a nudist.” I thought at the time. “Bit chilly, even in summer.”

Maybe that’s where the idea for Smurfs originated?

All that aside, this is a very drinkable whisky.  It’s attractiveness starts with the presentation, even before the cork has been pulled.  Inchmurrin 15yo comes in the most beautiful bottle ever:  a transparent label puts a black silhouetted scene of hunters, pipers, deer and mountains against the golden background of the whisky.

Nose:  A complex nose, with a whole lot going on.  There is fresh fruit and pear juice, the grassy note of dewy green grass in the early morning, and the spicy woodiness of nutmeg.
Palette: Woody and oaky like a wine.  The pear juice sweetness in the nose comes through into the palette, and a slight background of boiled Brussel sprouts.
Mouthfeel: Astringent and sharp, drying.
Length: Medium/long, with a delightful warm after-effect.
Comment: Complex and very drinkable.

Score: 7.8

 

Longrow Red

Longrow Red

53.1% abv, 11yo, peated Campbelltown single malt.

From the label:

“Matured for 8 years in bourbon barrels, followed by 3 yrs in Refill Pinot Noir Barriques from Central Otago, NZ.”

Nose: Peaty and smoky, with smoked kippers.  There are a few off-notes at the start, with a bit of sulphur, rubber, and a match-head.  A sweetness of brown sugar comes later.  The nose changes with time – the matchheads grow, and so does the sweetness.
Palette: Pepper, sea salt, smoked cheese and an oil coat.  The smoke drops away, leaving a seaside brine with an oily residue, but the tongue quite dry.
Comment:  The dryness is likely an effect of the red wine barrels.  Anticipation of this dram has been high{ the actuality, sadly, I found slightly disappointing.

Most Campbelltown drams are good; this one, not so much.

Score: 7.2

 

Ailsa Bay

Ailsa Bay display

Girvan Distillery.  48.9% abv,  colour 1.0

On the same trip as we learned about the sun club on Inchmurrin, I attended a whisky tasting event at the Edinburgh Surgeons’ Hall.

One of the drams at the event was Ailsa Bay, a whisky I had never heard of before – and which, I suspect, a lot of people in New Zealand have still not heard of.  We were told the bottle being sampled was one of the last available, that we were very fortunate to being tasting it, and that it was no longer procurable.

I remember taking the photo (above) as a memento of the display and thinking that, if I ever saw it again, I would grab a bottle very fast indeed.

Now here we are, three years later, and I got one!

Nose: Strong peat, like a hairy Ardbeg.  There is peat and smoked cheese, with the vegetal taste of boiled cabbage and cooked frozen peas.
Palette: After that nose, it goes without saying that there is Peat.  Strangely, though, there is a big sweetness that goes sweeter with more sips.  The end is drying.
Finish: Long (peat), and nutty.
Comment: I was surprised to find this degree of peatiness – I really don’t remember it from the first tasting.  But my original instincts to get one were correct!  This whisky really grows on you as you drink it.

And it leaves you with a delightful chest-warming sensation.

Score: 7.8

 

Johnny Walker Game of Thrones, White Walker

Johnny Walker – White Walker

41.7%, colour 0.3

This is the JW that you keep in the freezer.  Cold.

Nose: Coriander and fruity lemon zest, with meaty leather as it warms (“warm”, here, is a relative temperature, still below zero!).
Palette: Unsurprisingly cold, and slightly bitter.  There are wood chips, a leather couch, and the lemon-zest nose turns into orchard fruit.
Comment: It is a very dramatic bottle, indeed.  But holding it to try to read the label freezes your fingers – an exercise best done wearing heavy insulated gloves.

And it is possibly the best Johnnie Walker I’ve had.

Score: 7.8

 

GlenLivet Captains’ Reserve

GlenLivet Captain’s Reserve

40% colour 1.1.

Finished in cognac casks.

From the label: “Honey and apricot jam, notes of cinnamon bread and spicy liquorice.”  “Palette – mandarins in syrup, ripe poached pears and chocolate-dipped raisin.”  “Finish smooth and luxurious.”

Nose: Rich and deep (it was finished in cognac casks), with definitely the apricot jam.
Palette: Given the rich nose it is strangely thin, then oily.   It has a dry finish, with honey and a slight floral note on the end.
Finish: The finish is short, and the taste didn’t linger.
Comment: It stays together in the mouth. I have noticed other 40% drams which I felt have – for lack of a better expression – “split” into distinct layers of alcohol and water.  GlenLivet Captains’ Reserve does not do that!  A very good session whisky.

Score: 7.5

Aging Gracefully

Did you ever wonder why they stopped printing phone books? 

I have identified two reasons. 

Firstly, even “el cheapo” cell phones have facility to load the contact details of your favourite people into them. 

Secondly, the only people who have landlines these days haven’t got a snowball’s chance in hell of reading the print in a phone book!

So why bother to print the book.

QED.

Somebody said that getting old is not for the faint-hearted. 

Sadly, aging isn’t a voluntary process.  Nor a reversible one – despite what the cosmetic, gymnasium, or plastic surgery industries would have us believe.

Age sneaks up like a thief in the night and resoundingly kneecaps you when you’re not watching.

Sure, you can stave aging off for a while if you’re determined.  A healthy life style, gobbling down handfuls of vitamin tablets, or heading off to the gym encased (entombed?) in lurid pick or green hi-viz lycra tight enough to display all your indiscretions. 

But if you don’t take aging too seriously it is a condition that can provide its own humour, albeit slightly black and perverse.  In fact, if you’re not into gymnasia or facelifts, humour is the thing that will do you the best.

And it’s free!

I used to worry about eyesight, but I don’t see it as a problem now.  How can I, when everything I look at today is so small and fuzzy on the edges? 

Hearing, too, is a looming issue. Conversation and television programmes today come filtered through a winter-weight woolen sock.  I did think for a while that I could overcome hearing-loss by learning to lip read – right up until the eyesight started to blur.

But aging allowed me to discover other stuff.

It started off being small stuff, like a reduction in available trouser belt holes.  Or an increase in the distance between button and button hole. 

But now the stuff is getting bigger and more important.

For a start, my feet used to be so much closer to my hands – the act of putting on socks or shoes never used to be a challenge.  Or taking the socks and shoes off, either, if it comes to that.

But it seems age has either made my legs longer or my arms shorter.  Either way, it has happened without my being consulted.

Birthdays that are a major in the aging stakes. 

When you were young, your birthday seemed to come around maybe every two or three years.

Now the next birthday has arrived almost before the smoke detector has stopped going off from the candles of the last one!

And all the numbers seem to end with a five or a zero and a requirement to re-sit your driving licence.

Gravity, though not in itself part of the aging process, is another experience with which I have issues. 

Gravity has such wide-ranging effects.  On everything. 

Once upon a time, if you dropped something, your quick reactions allowed you to catch it on its way down.  Or you just bent over, picked it up without a second thought and moved on. 

Now reaction time is such that whatever dropped is on the floor before you even realise that it has left your grasp.  Unless, of course, there is somewhere even more inconvenient it can drop that is lower than the floor – such as over a bank. 

The only things that don’t fall to the floor are the things that it would have been better if they had.  Cooked egg of any type, tomato soup, ice cream (particularly boysenberry or chocolate flavoured), coffee dribbles, jam or anything else of a liquidy form.  All will only go down as far as your shirt front.  Or a really dark place under something that you can’t reach without getting on hands and knees. 

Or, worse still, your trouser front.

And gravity not only affects things you were holding.  It also affects hair. 

I used to have hair on my head.  I still have some there, but gravity has taken a lot of it further south to my ears and shoulders.

And my back.

There used to be a clear demarcation line between neck hair and chest hair.  But now – as is the case with so many things – the line has become blurred, and where to stop shaving has become a threat to sanity.

And I really don’t want to discuss nasal hair. 

Do I stop at the line of my shirt collar?  Or do I just keep on mowing south until I reach somewhere hairless?  Which may possibly mean I finish up shaving at the end of my toes.

My wife lovingly offered to help me with that.  She was holding a pair of malevolently sharp bathroom scissors at the time, which made me just a little uneasy. 

As she brought the scissors towards my nervously twitching nostril she got the giggles, making her hand shake alarmingly. 

Health and safety (mine) made it judicious to separate her carefully from the scissors and resolve not to mention nasal hair again in her presence!

I don’t need to have a plain English contract, thank you.  I will be quite content with the big print one! 

With the Grain

Hamish Guthrie was the woodwork teacher at my primary school.  Those days when the boys took home crudely constructed letter holders to their admiring mothers while the girls took home needle-worked gingham aprons, baked scones or curried sausages.

Mr Guthrie came from Scotland.  To our untrained ears his speech was almost incomprehensible.  To us boys, he may just as well have come from Saturn.

But Mr Guthrie taught us about grain.  His catch phrase, delivered with a broad brogue, was “always go with the grain”.   You cannot argue with that kind of logic.  Especially from a Scotsman.

Sadly, he was referring to the grain found in pieces of pine tree, rather than the grain found maturing in oak casks. 

A bit of history:

Grain whisky was once only used for blending as it tended to give the blend a bit more body.  As grain whisky was generally cheaper than malt, its use also helped to keep the price down.

But grain whiskies in recent years have become a “Thing” in their own right. 

Grain provides a flavour profile different from traditional malt whiskies – for example, a barley whisky will have a sweeter flavour and provide the caramel and brown sugar notes of a bourbon-matured malt.  Grain whisky is also more mild and lighter tasting than malt.  And is less likely to be influenced by geographic factors in the growing.

I read comment that grain whiskies could be a threat to malt whisky.  I don’t see a threat; I see two whisky types.  Like blends and single malts, I feel they can survive side by side perfectly amicably.  They complement each other; when you don’t need a powerhouse malt dram, pick a grain.

Let 2019 begin!

To welcome 2019 with style, we tasted some grain whiskies that were handy: three from Bruichladdich distillery, a blended offering from Grants, and a Springbank release of a local barley.  

To round out the tasting, Caidenhead bottling from a 2018 tasting is included in the notes.

Without further ado, let me introduce …..  the Grain Whisky Tasting!

Caidenhead’s North British Grain

1985 32yo.  Alcohol by Volume (ABV) 55.2%.  Colour: 1.2

Nose: Softly milky with a very slight sour note, but very attractive.

Palette: Sweet, a leather chair, a sugar sack and brown sugar,

Finish: medium

Comment: This was from a tasting last year of Caidenhead’s bottlings.  Of the seven expressions in the tasting, this was top.  Score: 9.0

Next come three samples from Bruichladdich.  All the samples were non-peated and bottled at 50% abv.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010

Aged 7 years in oak casks.  Colour 0.7

Nose: The first nose was strong raisins – similar to a PX sherry whisky.  There is the sweet smell of a freshly-opened pouch of pipe tobacco.

Palette: New cardboard, and a lightly sour note.

Comment: This whisky didn’t really catch my imagination.  Score: 7.9

Bruichladdich Organic Barley 2009

Aged 8 years in oak casks.  Colour 0.3.

Nose: sweet and dusty, the aroma of an oak furniture factory.

Palette: sweet, with a late sourish note.

Comment: Again, it didn’t really grab my attention but it is getting better.  Score: 7.9

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008

Aged 10 years in Oak casks.  Colour 0.4.

The barley used in this whiskey is reportedly harvested on Orkney.

Nose: sweet sweaty socks (a poor mental picture, perhaps, but the nose is actually quite pleasant), cooked peas and creamy.

Palette: Aromatic, dry, a crepe bandage

Comment: This was the best of the three samples, and worthy of further investigation.  Score: 8.6

Grants Elementary Blended Grain Whisky

8 yo, 40% abv. Colour 1.1

Nose: from the bottle, it is sweet with a light nose of lemonade.  From the glas, the nose is soft and pleasant, but with not a lot to note.

Palette: The whisky is light.  There is a delicate rock melon flavour and a slight grassy note.  Pink candy floss from the fairground. 

Comment: This dram holds together well and could be good for a long evening with friends.  Score: 8.7

Springbank Local Barley

Aged 10 years, 57.3% abv.  Colour 0.8

Nose: Sweet, with heaps of golden syrup, and baked apples in the winter.

Palette: sweet, smooth, caramel and raisins.

Comment: Pat describes it as ”heaven in a bottle”.  There is an enduring warmth, a comfort for a cold night.

Finish: long, warm, with hot pepper.  Score: 9.4

Footnote: I purchased this bottle after a tasting 10 months ago.  I had the intention of anticipating its opening for a year or so.   But it did really have to come out to join this tasting, if only to show what can be done!

Overall comment:  A  great tasting, a wide range of experiences and a determination to experience and enjoy more grain whiskies!

Slainte, Mr Guthrie, wherever you may be.  Always go with the Grain!

Assorted Travel Drams

 

There a lot of tasting in this posting.

The whiskies come from a diverse range of distilleries – Speyside, Islay, the Isle of Arran, the Highlands and southern Central Otago.

There’s quite an age spread, too. 

Of those that have an age statement – the youngest is 3 years old, the oldest 22.

With alcohol ranging from 40% to a whopping 64.4%.

Are you seated comfortably?  Then let us begin.

Pat’s whiskies:

Pat likes finding – and subsequently tasting – some less-than-mainstream whiskies.  Which is fine with me, especially when he invites me to help with the tasting part.

His latest foray has been around the world of Tomatin. 

Tomatin is a Speyside distillery, located a bit south of Inverness.  Apart from its massive levels of production, one of Tomatin’s claims to fame is that it was the first Scottish distillery to be owned by a Japanese company. 

In the early 1970s Tomatin boasted 23 stills and a capacity of 12 million litres of whisky per year.  In 1985 the distillery went into liquidation, to be rescued the following year by the Takara Shuzo Corporation (now part of the Marubeni Group).

Tomatin remains a large distillery, although it is not particularly well known in its own right.  This is in part because, although the distillery currently annually produces around 5 million litres of whisky, 80% of the production goes to a variety of blended whiskies.

So here are three single malts, released under their own banner.

Tomatin 12yo (photo)

Bourbon and oloroso sherry casks.  43%, colour 1.2.

Nose: Apples and pip fruit.  Sweet and welcoming
Palette: Warm and sweet, with a slight but not unpleasant floral tinge of perfume
Finish: short-medium, oily.
Comment: A very nice and convivial dram that one can spend the evening consuming. 

Score 8.5

Tomatin 14yo  (photo)

Finished in port casks. 14yo, 46%, colour 1.3

Notes from the label include “Sort, smooth, sweet” “tawny port casks – held port for 50 years”, “red berries, sweet honey and rich toffee”.

Nose: Dark & rich, with fruit, fruit cake, thistles and wet nappies.
Palette: The first taste gives a quick chilli hit but that stops, leaving a slight bourbon-y bitterness.
Comment: There is a pink tinge to the whisky, originating from the port casks. It feels a it thin on the palette: it is 46% abv, but feels less.

Score: 7.5

Tomatin Wood (photo)

Matured in a combination of French, American and Hungarian casks.  46%, no age statement.

Nose: sawdust, leather, green pears, ground nutmeg, reduction brings smell of enamel paint
Palette: Sharp heat at first, drop off quickly.
Comment: It is fuller in the mouth than the 14yo, but for me it still falls short of completeness.

Score: 7.8

Next, a quick trip to the Ilse of Arran, below and to the left of Glasgow. 

In the sea. 

Between the mainland and the slightly suggestive Kintyre peninsula (made unnecessarily famous by Sir Paul McCartney).

Legend has it that there were many stills on Arran back a couple of hundred years.  But pressure for quantity over quality brought failure of distilling on the island and the old distilleries fell into disuse. 

When the new Arran distillery was built and a three year old cask was opened, just under 10 years ago, it was the first legal dram of Arran whisky in 160 years!

Incidentally, in 1997, two casks were presented to Her Majesty, the Queen, one each for Princes William and Harry.  These casks – now around 22 years old – are still in the Arran warehouse.  I wonder if they need a hand with that?

Arran, Marsala Cask Finish (photo) 2018 Edition bottling

Finished in Marsala wine barrels.  50%, colour 1.7

Nose: Sweet, rum & raisin chocolate, and leather.
Palette: Fruity and spicy (Cinnamon and nutmeg), with a very slight oak sourness (bourbon barrel).
Comment: Looking through the dram at the sunlight, the liquid has a reddish tinge from the Marsala. 

Score: 7.8

Back to Speyside.  This time to Glenfiddich distillery.

Glenfiddich is one of the most famous distilleries.  Their product is claimed to account for nearly 35% of all single malt sales in the world and sold in nearly 200 countries.

We’ve seen a lot of Glenfiddich over the years – from the superb accident that was Snow Phoenix, through the 18 and 21 year olds and the delicious Project XX to a few less than memorable drams. 

But this Havana Rum one is well up in the top end of Glenfiddich output.

Glenfiddich Havana Rum

21yo, 40%, finished in Cuban rum casks

Nose: Raisins, rum, oak, Christmas cake, with brandy butter and honey.
Palette: Very big in the mouth, with oil on the lips.  The honey comes through, with boysenberries, honeydew watermelon, and an after-taste of delicious nashi pear.
Comment: A delightful, rich and full dram.  Well worth going back for seconds.  And thirds.

Score: 9.0

Away to the most eastern and one of the oldest operating distilleries, Glen Garioch.  I was given this tasting dram of an Adelphi bottling by long-time friend, Graeme, a fellow-traveller in whisky tastings, idiosyncratic sport, and birthdays.

Adelphi Glen Garioch

22yo 58.6%, distilled 1993.  Colour 1.8 (super dark)

Nose: Rich and sweet, fruit cake, spices (nutmeg & cinnamon), alcohol
Palette: There is a thickish full mouth with a slightly bitter note, and chilli.   A large amount of heat, tending to over-ride any other flavours.  A note of leather at the end.
Finish: The heat stays medium to long on the tongue.
Comment: Has this been in a sherry cask at some stage?  A good cask would help to explain the colour.

Score 7.8

Now back west to Islay.

A few years ago we did an (unrecorded) vertical tasting of batches 1 to 3 of Bowmore Tempest.

Batch 2 was the best. 

A bottle remained that needed opening.

So I did.

Bowmore Tempest Batch 2, 56%

Nose: Salt air, beach, smoked bacon.
Palette: Earth, smoke, sweet bacon, and a taste of green bananas at the end.  Sweet, overall.
Comment:  A typically Bowmore aroma, with peat smoke and beaches.  I have moved away from peated whiskies over the last few years, but tasting this one shows it to be way better than expected!  It’s actually very drinkable.

Score 8.6

And now across to Cardrona Distilery in Otago, New Zealand.

I was lucky enough to review the first outputs from Cardrona – the “just Hatched” bourbon cask version, and its sherry cask sister – when they were released in December 2018.  I thought both expressions were superb, the sherry just coming out on top by a couple of points.

Kenny Vaugh, the distiller, was kind enough to offer my wife and I a tour of the distillery, an invitation I accepted with alacrity!   

The tour was an extremely educational two hours and covered all aspects of Cardrona’s production – The Source Barrel Gin, “the reid” Single Malt Vodka, Rose Rabbit Elderflower liqueur, and the latest Just Hatched 3 yo Solera whisky.

Cardrona “just hatched” Solera (Photo)

Sherry & Bourbon Casks (2 bourbon : 1 Sherry)

64.4%, colour 1.3

“Flower honey, vanilla, spice”

Nose: Wood, fruit, sacking, toffee, treacle, butterscotch, and alcohol burn (before reduction).
Palette: Leather and a sugar-sack, drying.  With reduction, it becomes mouth-filling and sweet, with a prevalent sherry finish.
Finish: Warming, long, tongue-numbing
Comment: Solera is the merging of two Bourbon cask to one Sherry cask.  It is good!  Pour it, taste it neat and then reduce with a little water.

Score: 9.1

Many thanks, Kenny.  Your hospitality and the fantastic tour were greatly appreciated.  And we will be back, to see what else comes out in the next few years!