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

 

 

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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!

Customer Service – or not.

“Your call is important to us.”

“The next available customer service representative will be with you shortly.”

“We are experiencing higher than normal demand at the moment. Please stay on the line to preserve your place in the queue.  Calls may be recorded for staff training purposes.”

“If you are calling about this, press 1 now.  If you are calling about that, press 2 now.  If you are calling about the other, press 148 now.  Or stay on the line to speak to an operator.  Your call is important to us.”.

Yeah, right.

We have all encountered the abomination that is the automated telephone system at some stage, together with their assorted sycophantic variants too numerous to regurgitate.

No matter the actual words that are being talked at you, the translation for all of the variants is:

“Your call is an interruption to our day of navel contemplation and we wish you hadn’t bothered to call.  However, seeing you’re here, if you know the extension of the person you wish to speak to, please dial it now.  If you don’t, we will strive to irritate you for as long as possible by reciting this incredibly long list of options you can press now to be diverted to another automated answerphone system in a parallel universe.  Then, while you watch your life, your phone battery, and your will to live all ebb away,  we will insult your intelligence, the last vestiges of your sanity and self-worth with the most outrageously cacophonous music played by a tune-deaf zebra on an out-of-tum harpsichord down the far end of a toilet roll tube. And we will add insult to injury by interspersing it every 40 seconds with advertisements for products and services that you will never have any likelihood or desire to want or need.

“And. in the unlikely event that you do interact, we will gleefully take the opportunity to direct you to a third parallel universe.”

Further translation:

Further translation:

“In the interests of maximising profits for our masters and shareholders, we fired our minimum-wage-paid customer-facing staff and replaced them with this one-off, low-cost car crash of an automated phone system.”

“Our sole living operator is in the toilet / cooking a roast meal / on leave of unspecified duration and will be with you shortly.”

Further translation:

“if you press any button that we have recommended, this whole fool system will collapse in on itself and your call will be sent into a huge astrological black hole from which it will never reappear.”

Now, I understand that paying A Person to sit around reading magazines and waiting for the phone to ring will incur on-going cost.  It makes economic sense to have someone record a whole raft of standard waffle onto a tape that can be used over and over to bamboozle customers, while the someone moves on to pastures new. 

Or, more probably, the unemployment queue.

The pre-recorded message system works well where the transaction does not benefit from consumer feedback; for example, announcing the arrival and departure details of trains at railway stations.  Although that relationship came to grief recently when a power outage stopped the trains but not the announcements – the latter kept cheerfully announcing on, while no actual train action was taking place. 

The result was a whole heap of confusion which took a bit of sorting to get back in synch.

But for the enquiring customer, the whole point of ringing up in the first place was for People Contact: you ask a question, you get an answer. 

It gives a warm fuzzy feeling to have interaction with another human.  You might consider that providing customers with warm fuzzies would be a core building block of service. 

Setting your customer’s teeth on edge with stupid information that has no relevance whatsoever to their needs must be counter-productive. 

Maybe the logic behind it is that all your competitors are doing it to. There is no better service to be got, no matter where they might go.

But I keep coming back to the thought that if my call was that important to you, wouldn’t you have someone there for me to talk to?

Footnote: A friend recently provided a solution of sorts to the horror of the automated pre-recorded message. 

If you raise your voice to just below Screaming and start to loudly recite obscenities, a Person miraculously appears on the other end of the line.  There was one there all the time – they were just hiding!

Try it.  It’s fun!

And I’d love to be there when the recording of that call gets re-played for staff training purposes!

SMWS Tasting

The thing about whisky is that there really is one for every taste.  Your taste will invariably differ to mine and what appeals to me may very well not appeal to you.

So it is with Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) tastings.  There are some bottlings that I love, others that make me wonder why anyone bothered.

But the thing about SMWS whiskies is not always the whiskies – it’s the descriptions the bottlings have that is so fascinating. 

The label notes for most whiskies get quite effusive, but the writers of the labels for SMWS bottlings have thrown out any pretence to understatement! 

Some totally random samples:

“The chewy, substantial palate gave us pomegranate syrup, blackcurrant and dried apricot, with a warming pink peppercorn and moist gingerbread finish.”

“A smouldering hay bail, and a hint of buttery marmite toast.”

“Finally, a return to more farmyard qualities with cow sheds, earth and wood embers.”

“Reduction produces notes of roasted pine cone, and frying bacon along with a meaty, fennel sausage note.”

“Hints of autumn trips to the milk bar.”

“A big old bag of kippers, wood smoke, grilled whelks, smoked mussels in brine, lemon juice, wood ash and fishing nets.”

“A dollop of mercurochrome and ash-rolled Goat’s cheese.“

All of which challenges me to up my game and produce better tasting notes – although competing with the Society notes might be a near-on impossible task!

Code 123.3.  “A cheeky little number” 61.7% abv, a 9-year-old from Glengoyne.

Nose: Raspberries and the deep aroma of an old leather couch, reminiscent of the upholstery in from my old and leaky Wolseley.  Dark chocolate and apricots.
Palette: the edgy sourness of the first-fill bourbon cask, hot pepper and chilli, a leatheriness, musty and creamy and orange peel.
Finish: long, with fruit, chocolate, and spice.
Comment: Glengoyne whisky is made in the Highlands, but it is sent to the Lowlands to mature. 

While this may appear an unnecessary cost, the truth is that the imaginary line between the Highlands and the Lowlands regions passes through the distillery.  The stillhouse is on the northern side of the line, and the warehouse is on the southern (lowlands) side.  

Thus, although they are in different “regions”, the travelling distance between manufacture and maturation is measured only in feet.  Still, it is a good story!

Score: 9.0

Code 136.2 “Paradise in a paradis” 60.4% abv, 3yo, Eden Mill

Nose: A first whiff of mayonnaise, then garden binder-twine string and hessian, old dress material, old leather, brown sugar and sherry.
Palette: Soft but strong in the mouth, with sacking, fruit, a slight sootiness, and cake fruit mix.  The taste is a bit immature (it’s only three!) with a lot of oak.  The end is chilli heat.
Finish: The finish is long, with the tannic mouth drying of stewed tea.
Comment:  This is the first output from the new Eden Mill distillery.  The dram is from a first fill oloroso hogshead and the strong flavour remains. Not at all a bad drop!  It will be interesting to see what later products emerge.

Score: 8.3

Code: 52.23 “ice cream and gorse by the sea” 58.9% abv, 11 yo, colour 0.6. Old Poultney

Nose: There are sweet lollies, grapefruit peel and marmalade, with vanilla ice cream.
Palette: Sweet and spices, cloves, cinnamon, and arrowmint chewing gum.  It is dry, with a hint of aniseed.  Adding a little water smoothes it out. And the last taste remaining is chilli heat.
Finish: Mouth-numbing and dry.
Comment: 9 years in bourbon, followed by two in a second fill PX cask.  Yum.

Score: 8.5

Code: 4.249 “The mermaid’s marmalade” 64.6% abv, 13yo, Highland Park (Orkneys)

Nose: There is fruit and slight smoke, with a slightly oily aroma.
Palette: Peat is present, but surprisingly sweet rather than an overriding bacon note.  Charred salt and rye toast are also present.  Reduction with water accentuates the heat.
Finish: It is a light peat finish and a hot tongue.  Not drying. Medium long, and the heat stays.
Comment: Refill oloroso.

Score: 8.3

Code: PTB M01 “Peat Ferrie Batch 3”, 50% abv, colour 0.3, 10yo blended peat malt

Nose: The first nose is slight smoke, vanilla ice cream, licorice and sandsoap. The overall impression is delicate  and slightly floral.
Palette: The floral stays in the taste, with peat.  Water smooths the drink, and lowers the peatiness, but soot and coal remain.
Finish: The light peat flavour stays.  And stays.
Comment: This brew was blended by the Society.  Personally, they could have saved themselves the trouble.

Score: 7.2

Code: 29.253 “Drifting and dreaming” 57.1, colour 0.1, 19yo Laphroaig

Nose: Peated and very smoky.
Palette: There is too much peat that is over-riding whatever else there is to offer.
Finish: Quite drying.
Comment: From a refill ex-bourbon cask.  The peat is very prominent.

Score: 7.1


Overall view for the evening?  A variety of offerings, some of which I covet and others I happily leave to others to covet.  But there is no uninteresting whisky tasting, and this one gets a sound score of 9.0 from me!

I can giveth, but can I taketh away?

Now, here is a problem that I did not know I had.

I’ve got a whole heap of blood, but I can’t give it away.

I can’t borrow a book from the library.

KiwiSaver will accept my money happily.

But they may not give it back. 

I can’t even borrow a wheelchair in a shopping mall. 

The stumbling block in my life?  The cause of all this grief?  A convicted fraudster?  An undischarged bankrupt?

Far more mundane than that. 

I don’t have photo ID. 

Having photo ID is the modern Holy Grail.  Without photo ID, the list of things that you not able do covers pages.

It was a friend who brought the issue to our attention.  Without giving too much away, she has had a couple of name changes through marriage, owns her own home and grandchildren, has serious professional responsibilities, has held high offices in national organisations and has won national recognition for her efforts.

In short, she is no muppet.

But in her life she never had a passport, a driver’s or firearms licence – the acceptable forms of photo ID.  In order for her to be able to sign official stuff, meet her eight year old grandchild off an aeroplane or collect her pre-paid purchases from the store, she has had to get herself an 18+ card – the same card teenagers use to get themselves into the pub!

Now, I understand that, in the modern environment, protection of one’s identity can be problematic.  But here are some of the things that you cannot do without photo ID.  This is not an exhaustive list, just the more bizarre ones!

You can’t:

– close a bank account or cancel a credit card that has a nil balance,

– get a mortgage or renew a fixed one,

– become a signatory to an organisation’s bank account when you have been elected treasurer, secretary or president,

– change the name on your driver’s licence when you have changed your name through, for example, marriage,  Note: you don’t need photo ID to change your name by marriage, just the one on your driver’s licence,

– buy something on a hire purchase agreement,

– pay your rates bill over the counter at the post office,

– visit a prisoner in jail.  You don’t need photo ID to go to jail, unless of course you’ve been using someone else’s,

– to apply for a driver’s licence you must provide either your photo driver licence (the old one, which can have expired up to two years ago), or your current New Zealand passport, or your current overseas driver licence and current overseas passport, or your New Zealand birth certificate (issued on or after 1 January 1998),a student ID card or an 18+ card,

– to apply for a birth certificate in person

And here is another interesting one that I tripped over recently.  I went into my bank to change a $20 note into two $10 notes.  A very simple transaction, I thought.

Wrong! 

Without going into the conversation too deeply, to complete this meagre transaction required that I produced my bank card and photo ID!

I wish I could say I was joking but I’m not!

The entire interaction to change one bank note took five precious minutes of my life while they checked my ID on the computer, got two $10 notes from the draw, put my $20 note there and signed a piece of paper to say that they had swapped my note for two other notes.

The Ministry of Complication

I have been long convinced that there is an Official Authority somewhere whose sole task it is to ensure that the ends can never meet.  This Authority – let’s call it the Ministry of Complication – works to ensure that, if four criteria are needed to reach an official goal, it is only ever possible to meet three of them.  And in the unlikely event that one does manage to meet the fourth, it will have negated one of the other three. 

The processes for getting a firearms or a new drivers’ licence are very good examples of their work.

Our friend whose problems were the genesis of this Rant inadvertently came up with the superlative version of the Ministry of Complication’s handywork. 

To get her 18+ card, she went to the post office and got the necessary form to complete.  It required a whole lot of stuff, including a witnessed statutory declaration in front of a JP. 

When she took the form back to get her card, she was advised that she had “the old form”.  It had now been replaced with a new form. And they were very sorry but they could no longer accept the old form – so she had to start all over again. Including the statutory declaration bit.

And, to rub salt into an already gaping wound, the fees had gone up!

I hear an uncomfortable rumour that we may soon require photo ID to be born.

Four random tastings

Pre script: In the November 2018 edition of Whisky magazine, editor Rob Allanson noted that the question he is most often asked and never knows how to answer is “What is your favourite whisky?”

Quite.

My favourite is maybe one of the last five I tasted.  Or it may be one of the next five I’m going to taste.

Who knows?

But we keep on looking, because the fun is in the looking!

Here are four totally random tastings from January 2019

The first is a sauterne cask finished Arran from the Highlands.  The second and third are Speyside drams: a 25 year old from Tomintoul and the Longmorn 16 year old.  Fourth is the travel retail Highland Park Einar from their Warrior series.

There is connections between them.  But not much.

They are all single malt Scotch whiskies.

They all came in bottles (although one was a miniature).

And they are all rather nice.

Apart from those coincidences, see for yourselves.

 

The Arran Malt Sauterne Cask Finish, Non-coloured, non-chill filtered, 50% abv Colour 0.7

The label advises that the whisky has been matured in traditional oak casks then ‘finished” in a sauterne cask. 

In the Bad Old Days of New Zealand wine, sauterne was one of the wines of choice.  It usually lurked in the lower shelves of the refrigerator in a cardboard box with a plastic liner.

Maturing whisky in sauterne barrels is a much better idea!

Nose: earthy and light.
Palette: Dry and tannic, with the effervescence and “fizz” that traditionally comes from a sauterne finish.
Finish: Long on the heat, slightly oily tongue, but quite a pleasant dram. Comment: very much as I would have expected from a sauterne-matured whisky.  It is dry, light (almost watery, but not) and slightly effervescent.  The 50% abv holds it together for a long time after the swallow.  A nice drop, indeed.
Overall score: 8.2

Tomintoul 25 year old
This is described on the label as “Speyside Glenlivet”.  40% abv, colour 1.2.

Nose: Peaches and stone fruit, with furniture polish and vanilla.
Palette: vanilla (from an unspecified bourbon cask?), wood chips and new boxwood, thick and creamy, mouth-lining.
Finish: medium/short.
Comment: This whisky arrived on the table as an unexpected miniature bottle: it had to be tasted, because when else were you going to get to try a 25 yo Tomintoul?  It was worth it!
The deep colour is indicative of the age, as is the smoothness of the dram. The shorter finish means that the flavour doesn’t last as long I would like. 
Overall score: 9.0

Longmorn, 16 year old. 48% abv, colour 1.3

Nose: an old leather lounge suite, sweet and fruit cake with a hint of citrus. Palette: sherry and sweet , with the note of an oloroso cask.  Hot on the tongue, sea shore and rock pools, leather polish with an earthy end taste. Finish: mouth-lining oily on the lips and tongue.  Medium length. Comment: I have yet to meet a Longmorn whisky I didn’t enjoy.  I like this one, too!
Overall score: 8.7

Highland Park “Einar” (Travel Retail Only). 40% abv, colour 1.1

Nose: Rock pools and seaweed on the beach after rain. A taste note like the slight kerosene taste in a good riesling.
Palette: sweet, hot at the front of tongue, seaweed continues to the taste.  Oily on the mouth, salt on the lips.
Finish: Medium.
Comment:  A nice colour, a slight peatiness.  If they had kept the abv up another 3 to 5 percentage points it might be more impressive.  But overall, it’s good.
Overall score: 8.0

The Password

In the 1980s I read that the modern generation would have to know five times as much as their grandparents.   

Thinking back on my grandparents’ life, the statement made sense.  Telephone numbers to remember, learn how to use a wringer washing machine or a pop-up toaster.

And then the universe invented The Password.                                                                                        

Thou shalt not pass.

Once upon a time you only had to remember your own name, like Rumpelstiltskin.

Then whether you had put the 123 before the word Password or after it.  

Then it was the name of your pet or an old girlfriend.  And when you needed to change your password, 123 was changed to 124.

Electronic systems require passwords to be at least 10 characters long, include upper and lower case letters, some numbers, and something called a “Special Character”.  After some trial and error I found out that means one of the +, >, <, } or # keys – who knew?

Password creation is Snakes and Ladders.

Square One: think of a word that makes sense to you.  Not your name or your birthday date or your telephone number.

Square Two: try to write the word in hieroglyphics on the keyboard so it will end up looking like the word you chose but has numbers or symbols replacing letters: for example, replace ‘a’ with @ or ‘e’ with 3. 

Square Three: put in a + or a > or a ? to jazz it up a bit.

All good ­- until the computer system says that you can’t use that one.  It looks too similar to the last one you used and “violates password history”

Back to Square One.

Password Background

Security of information has three identification factors:

  • who you are (your name, your photo or, in extreme cases, your fingerprints),
  • what you know (a password or a PIN number), or
  • what you carry (a key or a swipe card).

Back in the day, any one of these three factors on its own was sufficient for most security purposes.  You had a key to open the door or you had your driver’s licence or your (very simple) password.

Then things went wrong. 

Someone who didn’t have the correct door key turned up with a piece of field artillery and blew the door off.  Or they “hacked” your password (note: using “Password” as a password is a bit obvious, even if you add 123 to it). 

And this is how we got to the hieroglyphic stage I mentioned.

Next Generation

Identification has now gone deeper into Never-Never land. 

Some sadist invented 2FA.

2FA is an acronym for Two Factor Identification. 

(A pedantic side-track: shouldn’t the acronym for Two Factor Identification be 2FI?  Obviously smarter brains than mine ……)

Anyway, the essence of 2FA is that you know your password to the system.  And after that you have to know a code.  But you don’t have to remember the code – it constantly changes and the current one has been sent to your smartphone. 

You open your phone (another password needed here). Then open up the password-protected application that has the number you need.  Then you go back to the system you were originally trying to get into and enter the code that was sent to the phone. 

Of course, this last stage presupposes that the computer hasn’t gone to sleep from boredom while you’ve been away mucking about trying to remember the passwords needed to get the code number off your phone.

If you’ve managed to get all these ducks to line up in single file, Hey Presto!  You’ll be allowed in.

Otherwise, the Snakes and Ladders analogy starts again.

And passwords are like raw meat.  They “go off” after a while.  The system advises that you have ten days to create a new password or you will be shut out of its secrets.  More snakes and ladders while you try to invent a new password that makes some kind of sense to you, doesn’t resemble any other password you’ve used in the last decade, and looks like some ancient Egyptian scholar drew it on the wall.

If you’ve managed to navigate this minefield, how do you keep track of all these passwords pin numbers and user names?  Writing them down on paper is frowned upon – someone might steal it and you will be password-less.

Technology has a solution to this most modern of dilemmas.  You can get a password recorder “app” for your smartphone.  Here you can enter all your passwords in little files that separate your password collection.  Great idea! – now you don’t have to remember that password that you created yesterday to protect your valuable account at the on-line haberdashery shop. 

You just look it up on your phone. 

Brilliant!. Love it!

Spot the drawback? 

You have to create a password to protect the password collection.

To quote Peanuts’ Charlie Brown, “AAARGGGHHHH!”

I don’t know about my grandparents’ knowledge, but I’ve calculated that I have to remember 123 more things than I did even five years ago.

And all of them are passwords.

PS. There is a life saver.  Using swear words for a password is OK, so long as they are suitable encrypted and don’t read the same as real swear words.