Covid-19 – No Laughing Matter

I’m not the first person to make this observation, but isn’t it weird how the whole world can turn so upside down in such a short time?

Not three weeks ago I was one of 2,000+ people crowded together in the Christchurch Town Hall, revelling in Dramfest and the tasting of whiskies from around the world.  Two-metre separation was impossible – in most parts of the venue, two centimetres was challenging!

Now the world has locked us into our homes for at least the next four weeks, hopefully with someone we want to be locked in with.

And I’m not even allowed to go around to my brother-in-law’s to help him drink his whisky.

“Not three weeks ago I was one of 2,000+ people crowded       together in the Christchurch Town Hall, revelling in Dramfest”

At the start of lockdown, liquor stores were deemed “non-essential” and forced to close.  Sanity has fortunately prevailed and stores are now available again for on-line, “contactless” purchases.

The whole situation is quite typical of the fast-moving nature of this crisis.  And it is a crisis, even before the liquor stores got shut!

Things are changing so quickly it’s hard to keep pace.

I type a really good, fact-perfect, totally insightful sentence.  Then somebody changes something that turns the whole thing into a mockery.  For example, I wrote eloquently about how we could only get our nerve-relaxants from the wine section at the supermarket.  I waxed lyrical about the UK supermarket shelves that stock up-market whiskies.

And what happens?  The Authorities go and allow the liquor stores to open on-line and whole paragraphs have to be consigned to the rubbish tin!

Have some consideration, guys!

One major concern on the alcohol front, though, is that re-cycling in my city has been temporarily halted.  Which means the empties won’t be collected.

Perhaps we could start building a bottle-house with them.  That would fill several gaps – a project to do (pastime), save the re-cycling (conservation), and a new garden shed (utilitarian).

But there are some parts of this New Order which have no humour at all.

The rate and speed of infection spread and the death tolls are horrendous.

The decisions and public pronouncements of some of the world’s “leaders” border on the insane – no names, just think Orange (my last political comment).

The choices of some people to consider that lockdown does not apply to them displays a breath-taking depth of self-entitlement.  And a lot of other similar words, with adjectives.

“Working from home, previously regarded as the ultimate    oxymoron, has become the standard state. ”

However, against that dark background the human condition emerges and lightens the darkness with intense and poignant humour.  Witness:

  • The Youtube video of Jennifer taking her laptop into the toilet during a staff video meeting – forgetting that the camera was still rolling all the while. The looks on her colleagues’ faces was enough!
  • The fake-news item from 2050 which reads “.. and Thomas has just opened the last toilet roll that his parents purchased in 2020”.
  • People reacting classical artworks by playing dressing-ups in their homes.

The communication systems available now have made things possible that could not have happened even thirty years ago.

  • A group of whisky friends have been having email discussions. The chat is enlightening and confirms that tastes in whisky are enormously personal!
  • At 10am last Sunday (International Whisky Day) I Facebooked into a live-video Master Class being broadcast from Bunnahabbhain on Islay. The London Whisky Live had been canned so Derek Scott, Bunnahabbain Brand Director, ran their stand from his living room complete with open fire and Mac the Labrador.   And while the broadcast was going out live to the world, someone from NZ wrote in to say what kind of whisky they were having with their breakfast.  I love that!
  • There are family gatherings on Zoom or Skype, bringing people together virtually. That kind of gathering would normally only be at a wedding or funeral and, sadly, usually the latter!  My sister talked about Skype-reading a book in Dunedin to her five-year-old grandson in Vancouver.  Nice!

Working from home, previously regarded as the ultimate oxymoron, has become the standard state.  And is proving every bit as effective as sitting in an office in the centre of the city.  The 10-minute quiz get-together that used to be held around the morning tea table is now a slightly voyeuristic Skype peep into your colleagues’ homes (or at least that section of it that can be seen in the background of a slightly grainy video picture).

Closing thought

And here is a closing thought for you.  I’ve just been reading about some lovely whiskies that are available as “travel retail only” in exotic airports.

Considering it likely that air travel in the new, post-COVID world will be severely curtailed (and undoubtedly unattractive, too) what will happen to those drams?  Unsold at duty-free, are they likely to start turning up for on-line ordering?

I can only hope!

Dramfest 2020 – Pat’s Point of View

I only went down to Christchurch for the Saturday.  As a result, I had only a limited time to sample, chat and enjoy what is for me the premier event in my whisky life.

My first goal was to head straight to the Floki stand.  Floki is an Icelandic whisky distillery that I was not going to miss.

I was not disappointed.  This is the Eimverk Distillery family founded in 2009.

The two picks for me were the sheep dung smoked reserve Young Malt 47%, a 500 barrel limited reserve whisky.

The Floki website notes that the barley has been “smoked using generations old tradition of smoking using sheep dung”.  It is aged in virgin white oak casks.

The taste is wet grass / wet pine needles with a hint of cherries.  Score: 8 out of 10.

Another interesting bottling from Floki is the Birch finish, again with a unique taste.  Score: 8 out of 10.

If you get a chance to try these two malts don’t try to compare them to a scotch whisky – they are unique and have a completely Icelandic taste profile.

A Wee Dram With …..

I managed to get to two Wee Dram tastings.

The first was Glenlivet with Alan Winchester, MQ.  Alan manages 14 Pernod Ricard distilleries and has 40 years in the industry, so he knows a bit.  It was an amazing tasting and if you shun the big boys you might well be missing out.

We got to try two bottlings at the tasting.

Glenlivet Wee Dram
GlenLivet Wee Dram

The first was a 14 year old single cask (#100160), bottled at 53.1%. The taste was fruity, floral, pineapple, toffee, and banana with an oily mouth feel and a lip smacking 9.8 out of 10.

The second dram was the standard 25 year old at 43%.  It’s spent 23 years of its life in Bourbon barrels and the last two years in first fill Oloroso Sherry barrels.  The taste was Christmas cake, cinnamon, and raisins, very smooth (as you would expect of a 25-year-old).  9 out of 10.

The second tasting session was Arran with Rob Gray.  He brought with him two outstanding bottlings.

Arran Wee Dram

The first was “distillery only” (a whisky crime, in my view) 50ppm Machrie Moor called Fingal’s Cut Sherry Cask.


For all those who claim they don’t like peated whisky, you need to try this.  The taste was peat, sherry in loads and licorice, full bodied and lip smacking.  I had three tastings of this (Rob was very generous)!  10 out of 10

The next was a not-yet-bottled release #3 of the 21 year old Explorer series.  This was cask strength at 54.4%, with elements of port, Christmas pudding, sherry and brandy butter.  Another stunner, 9 out of 10.

The opportunities at Dramfest to have conversations with people in the industry are unique.  It is not just for the chance to taste rare and great whiskies, but to get the background on the distilleries and little anecdotes that may never be printed or shared except with whisky fans like you and me.

I had only limited time to go around the tables, so I headed back to the Arran stand (sorry, can’t get enough of the stuff).

I tried the quarter cask Bothy – another amazing dram from the distillery.  Mouth feel and rich taste. I liked it so much and could actually get this one. Easily 9 out of 10.

I bought a bottle.


There was so much to sample and great fellow whisky drinkers to socialise with.  I had trouble to pick the outstanding drams.

But here we are.  Apart from the tastings I had, I would have to pick the following three drams.

Floki Sheep dung smoked (bought a bottle)

   Glenallachie 15 year old

   The Arran quarter cask Bothy.

The reasons I picked these are simple:  I hadn’t tried them before, and they were all very good.

Yes, there were the old favourites there at Dramfest, and they are good, too.  But that’s not why I go to Dramfest.  I go to try new, weird, or simply overlooked whiskies that deserve my attention.

I am never disappointed.



The Edinburgh Whisky Academy – knowing your Quercus Alba from your elbow




That’s the first exam I’ve passed for 30 years!

It’s also the first exam I’ve sat in 30 years.  To quote baseball statisticians, I’m Batting a Hundred.

One of the “things” my generation (the Boomers) was taught was not to be boastful.  Hide your light under the biblical bushel.  “Pride cometh before a fall” and congratulations should come to you from others, rather than from within.

Which is all very fine and dandy if others know that you’ve done it.  They don’t, but I do!

In the last 15 years I have spent a lot of my time on whisky – looking at it, reading about it, tasting it, writing about it and even, on occasions, drinking it.

I have been at the far right-hand end of the whisky “chain”.

I knew a little bit about whisky.  The difference between a single malt and a blend, between sherried and peated, between a Bowmore and an Auchentoshen.  I know that this whisky will taste different to that whisky, sometimes just a bit and sometimes a whole lot.

I’ve listened to learned people talk about whisky, people whose opinion I respect.

I’ve been on distillery tours and visited visitor centres: I have the souvenir caps, etched glasses, and tee-shirts to prove it.

And I did have some samples of their whiskies as well, but those seem to have mysteriously disappeared.

However, when all is said and done, I have been at the far right-hand end of the whisky “chain”.

I know a good drop when I taste one, but when I’ve finished the bottle it goes out in the recycling without too much thought as to how the genie got into it in the first place.

It may sound pretentious or big-headed but, as I mature in the world of whisky, I would like to be taken seriously.  But it was growing on me that the more I got “into” whisky, the less I really knew about it.

Thought process:

  • How did the genie get into the bottle?
  • Why can one whisky taste so utterly different from another whisky?
  • Who invented the stuff in the first place? (the ‘Why” is pretty self-evident!)

Enter the Edinburgh Whisky Academy.

The Academy has been on my radar for a couple of years as an interesting learning centre.  Their cause is helped by testimonial from the respected Charles MacLean.

The first thing I saw was a course entitled Diploma in the Art of Tasting Whisky.

Now there’s an interesting idea – get a diploma for doing what I’ve been doing for 15 years!

Realistically though (and sadly), flitting over to Edinburgh for a one-day whisky tasting is not in the budget (yet), regardless of how esoteric the drams may be.

So let’s see what else is available.

There’s a Diploma in Single Malt Whisky.  That sounds fun!  Two-day course, including a private distillery tour, a breakfast of bacon rolls, classes on the sensory aspects of whisky (look, nose, taste) and a formal assessment.  The course requires me to go to Edinburgh, too.  Sad Face.

An Introduction to Whisky Certificate (On-line).  Now that sounds more like me!

It is certified by the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA), so it’s obviously got some cred.  And it’s an on-line course, so I can do it from the comfort of my own laptop.

The Academy’s website tells me that is a “fun … on-line course exploring the fundamentals of whisky”.

It goes on to say that the course covers whisky from history, business and raw materials to production and maturation.

Well, having just passed it, I can confirm that it certainly does all that.  And then some!

I have learned in-depth things about stuff I knew just a little about (worts, the mash tun, the rules around minimum ABV and age statements), enlarged on condensers and how they work (stuff that I dimly remember picking up by osmosis in college days in those brief periods between chasing girls), and got introduced to things I never knew existed (the 1784 Wash Act and the Illicit Distillation Act of 1822, Analysers and Rectifiers).

Worts and Mash Tuns and Lyne Arms are not just words anymore.  They have meaning in themselves now.  I know where they fit into the process and what effect they have on the outcome of production.

And, while it may not be feasible to go to Edinburgh for the tasting course, the things the Introduction Course has given me on the effects of cask and reflux and malt and grain and blending are already having a big impact on my nosing and tasting of whiskies.

The cost of the on-line course is 120 British quid (about NZ$200) and finishes with a self-assessment module.  There is another 80 quid if you want to sit the official SQA Certificate.

And there is also the Time investment.  I didn’t have the stopwatch going but I would estimate my time at around 15 hours (I was hand-writing copious notes as I went).

But whatever time it took I certainly do not regret one second of it!

Would I recommend the course to you?  Whole-heartedly, especially if you’re like me and know just enough to be dangerous.

Would I do it again?  No, I don’t need to.


Would I go on any of the other courses?  If the opportunity presented itself, stand out of the way!!!!

PS: after I wrote this article I was looking through an old Whisky Magazine.  I came across an article on charring.

In the past, I would have turned the page over quickly, thinking “that’s too esoteric for me”.

Not now.  I stopped and read it.  And understood it!

Three Beauties and A Beast

A Happy New Year to you all, and a huge welcome to the 2020s!

It’s always great to start a bright, shiny new decade, wondering what it will bring.  It started with these!

The three Beauties are just that – beautiful whiskies.  The Beast, on the other hand, is not an ugly beast: on the contrary, it is possibly more beautiful than the Beauties.

But it is the biggest Beast of a Whisky I have ever come across.  And I would happily go out looking for more dragons like that!


Bruichladdich, Islay Barley, Rockside Farm 2017, Unpeated Islay Single Malt, 50% abv.

Bruichladdich 2007 Islay Barley

This was Les’s ceremonial opening of a bottle he’d been given.  I managed to wangle myself an invitation to the event.  Glad I did!

Appearance: a light, clear, golden 0.6. Lovely to watch the sun shine through!
Nose: new mown grass, plums, but not a lot of “distinctive” aroma.
Palette: soft, dark, sweet and floral, slightly drying.
Finish: Medium +, a dryness left on the tongue.
Score: 8.8
Comment: Very drinkable.  According to the tube, this is barley from Rockside Farm on Islay.


Johnnie Walker, Pure Malt Scotch Whisky.  15yo, 43%

Johnnie Walker Pure Malt

Another out of Les’s stash, emerging from the darkness just after the Bruichladdich was opened.

It’s another bottle he had been “given”.  It has been sitting unopened for maybe 15 years – it  seemed almost a shame to open it, but sacrifices must be made…..

Nose: nutty, slightly marine/salty, sweet.
Palette: silage, grassy.  Is there PX sherry somewhere in here?  A slight bitter note.
Score: 8.6
Comment:  This is good!  The label is a camouflage green colour, reminiscent of JW Green but darker.

The whisky is a blend.  In consequence, a lot of potential high notes seem to be missing.  But it is definitely one of the top JWs I’ve tried.


Bruichladdich, Islay Barley 2010, Unpeated Islay Single Malt, 50% abv.

Bruichladdich 2010 Islay Barley

I discovered this bottle shortly after sampling the 2017 version.  Too good a comparative opportunity!

There are seven barley sources listed on the tube, not just the Rockside Farm of the 2017.

Appearance: The colour is darker than the 2017 – reminiscent of varnished rimu.
Nose: light and sweet with a note of freshly picked apricots.  Salt ash and looking for shellfish in rock pools at low tide.
Palette: Honey.  Soft and more honey!!  A first bell-curve of taste, climbing swiftly then dropping away.  A slight oiliness left coating the mouth.
Finish: Waxy and oily.
Score: 9.1
Comment: Impressive!  As my “holiday dram”, I have been having some of this each night this week.  I could be encouraged to stay on holiday a little longer!


Images of Ayrshire Dalrymple Bridge, bottled by Malts of Scotland, Sherry Hogshead, teaspoon Ailsa Bay, 68.3%.

Note: A “teaspoon” whisky is where a teaspoon (or more) of another whisky has been added to a cask.  This addition makes the whisky a blend, and therefore cannot be bottled as a single malt.  One reason for doing this may be to protect a particular distillery’s brand.

Commentary:  I have tasted one or two whiskies over the years.  They have ranged from brilliant, through good, OK, and So-So to “Dear-God-why-did-they-bother?”.

But I had never met a whisky that I was physically unable to drink.  Until now!

Ian gave me this sample.  He said I might like it because I like Ailsa Bay whisky.  He omitted to say just how much caution this sample should be treated with!

My usually formulaic noting of whisky tasting could not possibly do this dram the justice it deserves.  So I am going to write this one as a story.

The story

The tasting came as a sample.  I didn’t have the usual advantage of being able to read the tube or bottle blurbs to get a steer as to what I’m about to taste.  No age statement, no maturing notes of any kind to guide me.

I pour the sample into my glass and hold it up to the light.  Its appearance is medium viscosity, quite dark in colour (1.3).  The hogshead must have been a good one.

The initial nose is rather strange.  It has vinegar and rich fruit cake with those little cocktail pickled onions.

The Tasting

The sample’s label says 68.5% abv.  My first sip is judicious (read “timid”) in quantity.

The general tasting practice is to hold the sip in your mouth for the same number of seconds as the year age of the whisky – ten seconds for a ten year old, etc.  The practice is usually dictated by the age.

Not this time.

The length of sip-holding is dictated totally by a rapidly acquired sense of self-preservation! 

The Outcome

I had not presumed it was going to be a soft, cuddly kitten whisky.

I certainly was not expecting a full-grown tiger with its claws out, trying to eviscerate my tongue!

This is HOT!!!  Like licking the barbeque!  Total Firewater!

There is an underlying sweet taste – I was going to say “sweetness”, but you might misconstrue that as “gentleness”.  Gentleness is not a word that can be applied to this whisky!  The alcohol level creates way too much heat for the taste to be appreciated.

When feeling had started to return to my tongue – about four minutes later – I venture another sip.  This is similar to slamming your fingers in the door a second time to see if it really did hurt that much the first time.

It did.

Cowardice being the better part of Discretion, and not wanting just yet to sacrifice my life for whisky tasting, I decide some reduction would be appropriate.   I headed for the water and the dropper.

Normally, my rate of reduction would be four drops of water in a tasting sample – enough to get change in nose and palette, without turning the dram to weasel juice.

I put twelve drops into the Ayrshire.  The nose goes to prickly, with the cocktail onions slightly abated.  The palette becomes dark fruit cake and rich plum duff.  But the whisky is still way too strong to appreciate.  Further reduction needed!

My reduction method is not scientific.  It provides no way of accurately calculating the altered abv: I would guess the final mix would be around 50% abv.  At this point, the whisky becomes a seriously good dram.  The palette is uncomplicated, there is pepper still and heat in the throat.  And there is caramel & beautiful rich fruit cake steeped in dark brandy.

At the end, the finish is lingering sherry, with a slight (not unpleasant) oloroso sourness.  A bit of leather furniture, too.

My score is 8.8, possibly marked down a bit because of the experience.  I will be angling to see if there is another sample lying around unattended somewhere!

Footnote: I had planned to have another whisky before heading to bed that evening.  I decided against it.

Christmas Cheer 2019

Here is a set of six random tastings from the lead-up to Christmas 2010.

The offerings are:

    • Cardrona “Just Hatched” Pinot Noir matured,
    • Glenallachie 12yo PX “Sherrywood finish”,
    • Glendalough Irish Whiskey
    • Stoke IPA whisky, and
    • two from Ireland’s West Cork.

So, without further ado, let’s start tasting.

Stoke IPA Whisky

59% abv, matured in a Pinot Noir cask, from McCashins Brewery in Stoke, Nelson, NZ.

Appearance:  Colour 0.8.  A nice, rugged, squared-off, dark bottle.
Nose: berry fruit, wine cask, and sour washing.
Palette: Smooth, strong, soft honey note, mouth-filling, with a bit of a beer note.  Yummy!
Finish: Short, with the beer note remaining.
Comment: I talk about the beer note, but I was given this dram as a totally blind tasting.  I had no hint at about its background other than it was cask strength, one of only 800 bottles produced and cost NZ$80.

Which was no help at all, really!

And my tasting notes were all written before I knew anything more about the whisky.

It was very hard to pick this whisky’s antecedents from the information I was given.  But once you find out it’s distilled IPA beer everything becomes very clear!  The sour washing note on the nose is hops.

Score: 8.7
I want one, and now I have one!

With only a little bit of gloating, the rest of you will have to wait until the next batch.  If there is one!

Cardrona “Just Hatched” series, Pinot Noir

65.8% abv.  3yo.  Colour 1.3

Matured in pinot noir barrel #283, sourced from the Mount Difficulty vineyard.

Nose: furniture polish with vanilla, golden syrup, salt on sea rocks, parsley.
Palette: Massive spice burst, more parsley, a heat hit and slightly sour (from the wine barrel).
Finish: Medium-long, with a faint vegetal silver beet note.
Comment: The whisky is not as instantly attractive as the first Just Hatched sherry & bourbon versions released in December last year.  The high alcohol content may be masking some of the subtlety of the wine maturation.

Although I’ve marked the Cardrona high, it is a bit disappointing against my expectation for it.

Score: 8.4

Let it get some air – it can make a world of difference


Cardrona – The Second Cut

Now, here is an interesting thing.  At a tasting event recently it was mentioned that the second pouring from a bottle is sometimes better than the first.

The theory goes that opening a new bottle, taking a dram or two off the top and putting the cork back has let some air into the mix – sort of like letting wine breathe.

The dram you next pour from the bottle can taste very different to the first one.

A week or so after I did my fist tasting some friends came around for a dram.  I pulled out the Cardrona to give everyone a sample.

This second taste was a lot better than my first try.

Below are my revised notes, made from the second tasting.

Nose: vinous, the aroma of a newly opened packet of cigarettes, a dark nose, and no high alcohol prickle.
Palette: sweet, soft then heat, waxy, raw peas from the pod.
Finish: medium.
Comment:  I am delighted to revise my first view, and to have this second cut erase my first disappointment.  This is a very nice dram indeed, quite in keeping with Cardrona’s other outputs.
Score:  8.9

Glenallachie 12 yo

48% abv, Pedro Ximenes, Sherrywood finish.

Appearance: Colour 1.2 (mahogany).
Nose: sellotape, parsley, grass mown for silage.  No PX nose discernible at all.
Palette: no PX taste, non-descript.
Finish: short and abbreviated, nothing remains.
Comment: drinkable but disappointing.

As I have mused about before, when I see the phrase “finished in…” I wonder just how long “finished” means.  In the case of this Glenallachie, I suspect that it may not be long and that the wording on the bottle is critical to the outcome.

If you’re expecting any kind of a sherry hit, you won’t find it here!

Score: 7.2

Glendaloch Single cash Irish Whiskey

42% abv.  Grand Cru Burgundy cask finish.

Appearance: hangs on to the glass.
Nose: sea shore, grassy, slightly perfume-y, old pipe tobacco
Palette: quiet, slight sour, smooth
Finish: short/medium, with a low late heat.
Score: 7.2

West Cork, Single Malt Irish Whiskey. 12 yo, 43% abv, Sherry Cask (PX) for 110 days

Appearance: Colour 0.8.  The liquid is viscous and hangs onto the side of the glass like a monkey to a palm tree.
Nose: slight floral, crepe bandages and grapefruit peel.
Palette: mandarins, citrus peel and dark chocolate truffles.
Finish: marmalade.  Medium-long
Comment: The marmalade is high.  In my view it’s not a really typical PX, but the influence is definitely there.  The 110 days in PX may be the first indication of truth in advertising for “finished in …. “!
Score: 8.5

West Cork 12yo
West Cork, Blended Irish Whiskey, Cask Strength, 62% abv

Irish Whiskey, blended from Grain and Malt Irish Whiskies.  Blended into Bourbon barrels.

Appearance: thinner than the single malt, probably from the grain component.
Nose: floral (blossom), perfumed, sour/green citrus – grapefruit and /limes.  New, machined wood.
Palette: a bit fizzy on the tongue, slightly oily, hot chilli and grapefruit.  A big mouth & warming.
Finish: Medium/long and warm., but with no distinctive flavour.
Comment: very drinkable.


So that’s it for the 2019 scribblings.

I am continually delighted, impressed and thankful for the companionship that the world of whisky and whisky tasting has brought me.

My great thanks to all those friends who have contributed words, thoughts, and whiskies to this site.

I wish you all a safe & merry Christmas, and I look forward to seeing you all back in 2020!



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.

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

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

Ian: oily, a little bit closed; distinct licorice notes
Mel: salted caramel, hints of vegemite, seaweed, and raisins
Ian: quite soft and a little queasy
Mel: Sweet caramel, licorice, icing sugar, honey  [I can’t taste any peat!]
Ian: thin-tasting at the end
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
Ian: 8.3
Mel: 7.5

Glass 2:   Bowmore 21yo 1973 43%

Bowmore 21 yo

Ian: sweet and slightly sickly
Mel: salted caramel again, very smooth, raisins “love this nose” – does not smell at all peaty!
Ian: very soft with some floral orange
Mel: Some peat, oily, liquorice, sweet, light smoke
Ian: medium
Ian: quite tasty and impressive for a 43% whisky
Mel: advertised as having been selected from casks in Warehouse #1 – the oldest)
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

Ian: still very peaty and still sharp
Mel: marshmallow, smoke, sweet toffee, peat, cheezels
Ian: quite impressive for the abv; softness and peat
Mel: Very Islayish – oily, sweet, smoky, peaty, but still very smooth
Ian: medium+; delicate peat and maybe sherrywood as well
Ian: a bit repetitive but surprises by the amount of peat after 36 years
Mel: apparently one of the oldest Ardbegs ever bottled!
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

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.
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!
Ian: long; with burnt cherry
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!
Ian: 8.3
Mel: 10/10.

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

Glenglasshaugh 42yo

Ian: fruity and spicy
Mel: Prunes, chocolate, aniseed, almond icing, Christmas cake, (something floral? Lavender?)
Ian: sweet, delicious with a touch of mintiness
Mel: Old, prunes, varnish, sweet, aniseed
Ian: medium; just a little dry
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.
Ian: 8.7
Mel: 9.3

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

Glendronach 39yo

Ian: vinegar; heavy oloroso
Mel: Toffee, caramel (not sweet), woody, prunes, pepper, sulphur
Ian: heavy and chewy
Mel: Chocolate, sherry, sulphur notes, licorice, almonds, intense, oranges
Ian: medium to long; very tarry. It is not tart or sharp in the finish, fortunately.
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!
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.

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.


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!

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!