Dr Stopher’s Multi-functional Madness

Some tastings require fanfare and commendation.

Others slide on by.

Photo courtesy of Richard Mayston

Ian Stopher’s tastings require fanfare and commendation.  His Multifunctional Madness tasting definitely requires them.

The reason participants love Ian’s tastings is because of a lot of factors.  The offering, the whiskies, and the bonhomie – but most especially for the breadth, width and depth of Ian’s knowledge.

It would take a book to describe Ian’s research into the whiskies he produced from the darker reaches of his collection.

His eight (or maybe ten, depending on how you count) Multi-functional Madness whiskies had no Madness, but rather were quite logical and sane.  This tasting centred around distilleries that are or had been multi-functional.

My rather too brief tasting notes are below, along with some of the stuff I’ve managed to discover about the drams and the distilleries from they came from.  Note that, unsurprisingly, Ian had all this stuff at his fingertips.

Start the Evening

Ian gave a Starting Choice choice of Welcoming dram – either

    1. Glen Flagler Single Malt, Distillery bottling.  100% pot still whisky, bottled as a 7yo in the 1970s at 40% abv, or
    2. Aerstone 10 yo from the Ailsa Bay distillery.  A 40% Single Malt, Land Cask, from William Grant and Sons.

The Glen Flagler had a visible similarity to the look of ginger beer.  I didn’t try that one – the Aerstone hove into my view first.

The Line-up. Photo courtesy of Pat
The Line-up. Photo courtesy of Pat

Then into the really serious stuff.  In order of tasting:

Glass 1

Dumbarton, 30 yo Single Grain, 48.7% abv, SMWS bottling G14.3

 From a refill ex-bourbon barrel cask, releasing 174 bottles.

This was distilled in 1986 and bottled as a 30-year-old in 2016.  It’s now 2022 so the dram was distilled 36 years ago.

Nose: Soap, with vinegar
Palate: Soft and buttery.
Comment: Beautiful
Score: 9.5 

Dumbarton distillery was closed in 2002.  It has been demolished for a housing development.

Glass 2

Gordon & MacPhail Kinlaith, 27yo Single Malt, 40% abv.

Distilled 1968, bottled 1995 –  distilled 54 years by the time we got to taste it.

Nose: Sweet, medicinal, baby sick.
Palate: Very watery!!  Not good.
Finish: Sourish, a slight mint flavour.
Score: 6.1 

This whisky has a Whiskybase score of 87.91.

Ian’s post-match comment:  “I think it lost some spirit through the cap during the time in the bottle. Even so, I find it hard to believe the rating of 87.91. If it was this good I suspect they would have found a way to keep the distillery going.”

Before its demolition, Kinclaith was the oldest malt Whisky distillery in Glasgow.   It closed in 1975.

Glass 3

Garnheath 35yo, Woodwinters bottling, Single Grain, 55.5%.

180 500ml bottles.  Distilled Feb 1973, bottled 2008.  Distilled 49 years at time of this tasting.

Nose: Baby sick (again).
Palate: Hot, wide mouth, quite well balanced
Finish: Sweet, then souring.
Score: 8.7 

Garnheath, a Lowland grain distillery, was developed to produce both grain spirit and grain whisky at a time of increasing demand for blended whisky. With five continuous stills, it had a capacity of 15 million original proof gallons, one of the largest grain distilleries at the time.

Garnheath stopped production ion 1986.

Glass 4

Ayrshire, 31 yo Single Malt, 47.7% abv. From the Ladyburn Distillery

 Bourbon barrel, 182 bottles.  Distilled Feb 75, bottled Feb 2007.  Distilled 47 years at time of drinking.

Nose: Alcohol kick, cheese
Palate: Sour
Finish: Buttery end
Score: 7.5 

The Ladyburn distillery was an expansion of the Girvan distillery built in 1963 by William Grant & Sons Ltd. The Ladyburn malt whisky distillery was created in 1966 with the addition of two pot stills. The malt portion of the distillery was closed in 1975 and demolished in 1976.

The independent bottlers Signatory Vintage and Wilson and Morgan have released Ladyburn single malt under the name “Ayrshire”, after the council area of Scotland in which Girvan is found.

Comment: This Signatory Vintage bottling was in a light blue tube, an unusual tube colour for a Signatory bottling.

 Glass 5 

Ladyburn and Inverleven, Ghosted Reserve, 26yo, Blended Malt, 42% abv

Bottled 2015, 4100 bottles

Nose: Wood
Palate: Not startling, but good
Finish: Citronella candle, tongue feel
Score: 8.4 

Ladyburn (part of the Girvan distillery) operated as a single malt distillery from 1966 until 1975.

Glass 6

Strathclyde (Cadenhead bottling) 30yo, Single Grain, 54.5%

 Distilled 1989, bottled 2020.  Distilled 33 years at time of tasting.  Sherry and Bourbon Cask.  360 bottles

Nose: Sherry
Palate: Nutmeg
Finish: The nutmeg stays.  Really nice.
Score: 9.2 

The Strathclyde distillery was founded in 1927 by Seager Evans and Co. The first spirit was produced in 1928.  Today Strathclyde is part of Pernod Ricard.

Glass 7

 Inverleven (Cadenhead bottling).  Single Malt 15yo, 58.1% abv

Distilled 1987, bottled 2003.  Distilled 35 years at time of tasting.  Bourbon Hogshead.  294 bottles

Nose: Dirty
Palate: Hot, sweet, wide-mouthed.
Finish: Tongue heat, with grapefruit.  The finish drops away quickly.
Score: 9.6 

A little bit of trivia. from Ian.  The Cadenhead bottling calls it Dumbarton (Inverleven Stills) so some people at first glass would assume it is a Single Grain, but it obviously isn’t a grain

Glass 8

Girvan (Douglas Laing bottling) 25yo 51.5% Single Grain

Distilled 12.1993, Bottled 2.2019.  Distilled 29 years at time of tasting.  Refill barrel.  227 bottles.

Nose: Vinegar
Palate: Nutmeg, Heat rises, lemon peel
Finish: Fades to medium
Score: 7.8 

Girvan distillery was built in 1963, with the installation of its first Coffey still the same year.

The Panel

 

OBE

In looking at the real age of some of Ian’s drams – the total distance between distillation and consumption – I wondered about the effects such a long time in the bottle might have on whisky.

I came across a condition known as OBE – Old Bottle Effect.

OBE Effect on wine

The issue of wine aging in the bottle is fairly well known.

In reds with cork corks, the colour starts to fade through oxidisation as air enters through the porous cork.  Synthetic corks are reputed to increase this effect.

Screw caps are reported as a better seal, effectively stopping the oxidisation process and keeping the wine fresh – a helpful point when you want the fresh fruit notes in whites or light reds.  But the lack of oxidation can work against the wine by increasing sulphur compounds.

OBE Effect on Whisky

From www.scotchwhisky.com comes an explanation.

The higher levels of ethanol in whisky are an important difference.  Ethanol absorbs the oxygen and reduces oxidative effects.

OBE typically returns descriptive notes of smooth mouth feel, wax, peaches, and low tannin.

When comparing an old whisky (Expression A) to its more recent expression (Expression B), you should consider what changes occurred in distillation processes and methods since Expression A was bottled versus  Expression B.

From scotchwhisky.com: “Think of the possible variations which could have happened at a distillery over the decades: peat may have been used in the past, barley varieties have changed, while wort clarity may have been altered if a traditional mash tun was replaced with a lautering systems; then there have been changes in yeast strains, and possibly fermentation regimes, direct fire may have been replaced by steam coils and worm tubs by condensers; then there are the cask types used, the quality of the wood and the conditioning of the casks.

“Because we are not dealing with a liquid which has been made in an identical fashion … it is impossible to say whether the OBE effect is driven by ageing in the bottle, changes in distillation, or a combination of the two.

“The only way to test this would be to take a whisky being bottled today, analyse its production methods, run a gas chromatography and sensory analysis and then leave it for 20 years in an unopened bottle to see what changes might have occurred.

“So, the conclusion? Something happens but it happens slowly. What it is precisely? We are still not sure. Maybe time will tell.”

Stop Digging

Searching for a collective word to describe people who like whisky, I kept coming back to the word “bibulous”.

From https://www.vocabulary.com/dictionary/bibulous

 Bibulous (adj): something that is highly absorbent that soaks up liquid well, like a towel or a sponge.

Bibulous comes from the Latin word bibere, which means “to drink.”

As it applies to people, bibulous means “likes to drink alcohol.”

The saying is that when you get to the bottom of the hole you should stop digging.  Sometimes you don’t recognise the bottom of the hole, so you dig on.

From Heinemann’s New Zealand Dictionary comes a rather more strident definition:

Bibulous: adjective.  Addicted to drinking alcohol.

Bottom of the hole, right there!  Stop digging.

 

 

Autumn 2022 Tastings – The Good, the Bad and the Unusual.

Islay sheep at the beach – why not?

Here we are with another set of five quite random tasting notes.

Three were samples donated by friends, the other two were my purchases.

One in particular hits the headlines.  The PX Sherry Cask from Divergence in Christchurch has the most incredible nose that blew my socks off!  I have since put another bottle of it into a tasting that I ran early in July – it did not disappoint.

Cardrona Just Hatched, Mt Difficulty Pinot Noir Cask
65.8% ABV, casked Sep 2016, bottled Oct 2019, bottle 113 of 592, donated by Graeme.

Nose: Vinous, which is probably only to be expected, given the casking.   A light curry powder and slightly peppery nose.  Fruit cake batter, a lot of alcohol.  That curry powder smell gets more prevalent with nosing.
Palate: Alcohol and heat.  Raw fruit and wine.  The “sharp tooth” of Youth and too high an ABV.  With minimal water reduction, it still hits the back of the palate and nose;  a few more drops widens the taste and adds black pepper.  It’s still raw and young, but the pepper is way more manageable at the reduced strength!
Finish: Pepper.  A lot of pepper, strangely mixed with Arrowmint chewing gum.
Comment:  I have had some really nice Cardrona experiences but this Pinot Noir expression isn’t another one.  It’s not my style, and I think it’s not as good as the other Sherry and Bourbon casks Just Hatched we reviewed a year or so ago.  Too much pepper aftertaste.
Length: long

Score: 7.4 

 

Divergence PX Sherry Cask, The Spirits Workshop
46% ABV, age 4-and-a-bit yrs. Distilled Nov 2017, bottled Feb 2022

Colour: Dark.
Nose: I would love to write the words we thought when we first nosed this, but decorum prevents me  This nose is absolutely amazing!  Floral, but stronger.  There are Berries (like you fell into the vat), fresh crushed parsley, pip fruit and Glacé cherries.  Dusty wood chips.  Nose score: 10.5
Palate: Sweet, gingerbread, lip-smacking waves of multi flavours.  There is quite a heat, considering the ABV.  Wide in the mouth.
Finish: Chocolate, heat, and the taste stays on!
Comment: The most amazing nose that keeps on giving.   We’ve tasted other Divergence whiskies earlier this year, but this PX Sherry Cask is a beauty and (hopefully) is starting to define the way NZ whiskies are going.
Length: Long

Score: 9.7

 

Auchriosk 10yo
Speyside, 59.1% ABV, PX Sherry Hogshead (sample from Kurt)

Colour: Dark Gold
Eye: Good viscosity that hangs on to the glass.
Nose: Fruit in sufficient quantity that I guessed a PX influence before I knew what the dram was.  There is wood dust, and the brown sugar/golden syrup notes that PX generally comes with. Floral, and Xmas fruit mince.
Palate: Foosty/musty at start.  Sharp – I initially thought it was young, but at 10 years old I would not have expected a shaprt note.  Sweet, and a later heat kicks in.  Hessian on side of tongue, slightly tannic,
Finish: Sours a bit, tannic – but neither are a negative to this very nice drop.
Comment: The taste doesn’t match the nose.  But this dram gets better and better and better with time.
Length: Long, and the flavour last and lasts.

Score: My initial reaction score was 8.5, but after another taste or two it climbed to 9.3 

 

SMWS 51.15
Bushmills, Northern Ireland.  First fill Ex-Bourbon  ABV 56.4% (sample from Kurt)

Colour: Light Amber
Eye: Some legs come down the glass
Nose: A nose prickle, usually expected with rather unsubtle SMWS cssk-strength bottlings.  A note of banana and those banana lollies.  Oak sawdust and a chemical note.  A bit narrow in the mouth mouth.
Palate: softer than the Auchriosk, then Heat with a big H!.  Chemical, heat and sweeter later.
Finish: The sweetness doesn’t fade.  There is no tannin or sourness in the finish.  The majority of the taste tends to fade a bit early.
Comment: I like this a lot, but I don’t love it.

Score: 8.3

 

Ardnamurchan AD/11:14 CK 384 Dramfest 2022 Bottling
Oloroso hogshead.  ABV 57.5%, Distilled 2014, Bottled Oct 2021.  Bottle 146 of 178

Eye: Fascinating.  Give it a swirl and it climbs the glass, then hold the glass still and it all sinks back down again in a line.  No viscosity, no legs.  I’ve never seen whisky behave like that before, ever!
Nose: Christmas Cake! Heavy sherry.  A vegetal (cabbage) hint.  Oak wood chips.
Palate: Thin and no mouth “feel”.  Hot, salty, tannic and drying.  I can hold it my mouth for over 10 seconds without my eyes starting to bleed – which is unusual for a 57.5 ABV.  There’s none of the Christmas cake promised on the nose.
Finish: Drying.  The alcohol heat doesn’t stay.  The taste dissipates quickly, like a small cloud disappearing in the summer sky.
Comment:  I feel let down.  It slides down the sides of the glass in a sheet, but there are no legs.  Drinkable, but the dram lacks any Wow factor at all.
Length: Medium+

Score: 8.2 tops.

Four more tastings and some interesting internet browsing

Three new recent openings:  a third Singleton from Dufftown, a very drinkable Glen Grant, an update on a Naked blend, and a hot Adnamurchan for afters.

And there’s some quality on-line reading for you to peruse while you sip!

The Singleton, 15 yo, Dufftown Distillery

40% abv, Refill Bourbon and Pedro Ximenes sherry casks

We have tried Singletons before.

Back last year Pat reported on a couple of The Singleton whiskies he’d bought. 

The Singleton is a Diagio product, comprising whiskies from three Speyside distilleries – Glen Ord, Glendullan, and Dufftown.

              Dufftown, Speyside

I recently purchased another Singleton whisky, a 15-year-old from the Speyside Dufftown Distillery (map above).

Purchase price was a whopping $95.  It’s another of those whiskies that are very affordable and very tasty!

Colour:  Dark amber
Nose: Fruit, rich pipe tobacco/pipe smoke, nose prickle, deep nose.
Palate: Contradictorally (is that a word?) simultaneously sour but sweet (like sweet & sour pork takeaways). Wide and mouth-filling, integrated, soft & smooth with no hard edges (showing the age?).  Slightly oily feel, but not much.  The taste tends to “disappear” fairly quickly, but I’m not entirely sure to where.
Finish: Sweetness stays, with a warm throat.
Comment: Yummy.  A nice “session” whisky.  I’d get it again. 

Score:   8.1

The GlenGrant, Arboralis

Speyside Single Malt, 40% abv, nas

Colour: Light gold/amber.
Nose: Fruity, with sultanas and poached peaches.  Sweet with a slight note of perspiration.  Rich pipe tobacco, golden syrup, sherry
Palate: A quick sharp heat that disappears fast, leaving an oily mouth fell.  Nice but unsophisticated.  Oil tongue lining and top of mouth.  Slightly sour.
Finish: Taste is medium spice, and the oiliness stays on.
Comment:  Another good session whisky quaffer.  Length is medium (the Glen Grant website says “long” but it would, wouldn’t it).

Score:  7.5

Naked Grouse, Blended Malt, 19yo, 40% abv

F/F Sherry Cask Finish

Donated by Daniel

We tasted this recently as part of Matt’s Blended Tasting, where it came 3rd for nose and 4th overall.

This is a whisky that is rather hard to get a firm handle on.    It has been relaunched from the Famous Grouse family of whiskies as a stand-alone blended malt, without the previous grain component. 

The malt selections include Highland Park, Macallan, Glen Turret and Glen Rothes.  Those component whiskies have been matured in first-fill and refill American and European oak casks.  It has then been finished in first-fill oloroso sherry butts for a further six months.

Colour: Dark amber, with a reddish tinge.
Nose: Raisins and fruit cake fruit.  Grassy (straw) and chocolate.  Sour washing, but not necessarily an unattractive nose.
Palate: Sweet & soft, not wide but integrated.  Warming tongue.  A bit sharp (4/10). Sourish (may be from the oloroso sherry).  Slight sweaty sock at the end.
Finish: The main taste does not stay.  Sherry and the warm throat linger, with an oily residue on tongue.
Comment: Not demanding, not exceptional, but very drinkable.

Score: 7.1

I found a comment in thewhiskyjug.com that I thought was a good summary:  “This is not a good cheap Scotch, it’s a good Scotch that happens to be cheap.”

The Library

And then we went to Regional Wines’ Library tasting, where my clear hit of the evening was:

Ardnamurchan AD/04:21, 57.5%

The Paul Launois Release

The first limited release (2,576 bottles) from Ardnamurchan distillery.

The whisky is a vatting of unpeated spirit matured firstly in first fill Bourbon barrels.  It is finished in wine barriques from Paul Launois, a new Champagne producer in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger (an area to the east of Paris, known for chardonnay grapes). 

Added into the mix is an unpeated cask of Ardnamurchan.

Nose: Grainy, meusli with dried apricots and oats.  The alcohol level prickles the nostrils.  A very attractive nose, indeed.
Palate: Sweet, with the youth show through.  At 57.6% abv and young, the alcohol and sharpness overrule the  world – score 7.8.    However, with a minimal amount of reduction the flavours come through, the whole lot softens quite gloriously and the score goes to 8.9.
Finish: Medium, and a mysterious bit of smoke.
Comment:  I managed to wrangle another couple of servings when backs were turned – just to check my scoring, you understand.  It’s a big pity there were so few bottles!

Score: 8.9

 

Post script

Pat came across  the Whiskyintelligence.com website. 

There is a raft of absolutely fascinating articles here.  I’ve just been reading about a new Islay distillery (Portintruan) that is being built by Elixir Distillers on the island’s South Coast on the way to Laphroaig.

Elixir’s core brands include Port Askaig, Elements of Islay, Single Malts of Scotland and Black Tot.

Give yourself plenty of time.  This site is a real rabbit hole of information – you could get lost down it for a long time!

 

Some Peated Ardmores from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society

From Ian Stopher

Ian has previously reported for rantandwhisky.com on the Scotch 22 selections at Whisky Galore in Christchurch. 

Ian Stopher – photo by Richard Mayston

This time he has reviewed a selection of his Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) collection of peaty Ardmores.  He has very generously given us permission to reproduce his tasting notes here.

 

So, let’s get tasting!

As I had opened a few recently, I would give you my tasting notes by combining six SMWS offerings of Ardmores into one peaty lineup:

The SMWS Ardmore Bottles

And their contents

As the photo shows, colours range from a glorious light gold to burnished copper.

Glass 1: 66.167 “Big And Punchy”.  7yo Refill Oloroso Puncheon

Nose: Cream and toffee, newly waxed floor, lemons, not much peat.

Palate: So drinkable with water, creamy toffee, some tang of peat and a hint of Oloroso but it is so soft.

Finish: The same tang of peat and it does leave that whiff in the mouth afterwards.  Maybe a bit short in length but acceptable for a 7yo.

Overall: A glorious whisky for 7 years.  Water definitely makes it better, bringing out a sweet toffee note.  No domination by either the Oloroso or the peat.  Punchy at full strength but a soft purring kitten diluted.

Score: 8.5

Glass 2: 66.151 “Tiffin in a Blackhouse”.  10yo Refill Bourbon Barrel

Nose: Prickly and sharp, hand sanitiser, some chemical off notes.

Palate: Manageable (just) at full strength but hard almost mineral.  A small amount of water still does not soften this down – it is tough going.

Finish: In the more lightly peated category but still quite noticeable.  The peat and the spirit leave a rather hollow feeling in the throat: more of a “medicinal TCP with warm water”.  Not what I was expecting.

Overall: I opened this a couple of days ago and was pretty disappointed.  I don’t mind the odd Bourbon Barrel, but this one does not match me very well.  More for the masochists.

Score: 7.4

Glass 3: 66.129 “Barbeque on a Banana Boat”.  12yo Bourbon Hogshead/Second Fill Hogshead (Heavy Toast Medium Char)

Nose: Lovely and spry, summer meadows, light tang with mild peat.

Palate: A little difficult to discern without water.  Do-able but it is a touch hard work.  With a reasonable amount of water those new oak end caps start to work their pepperiness.  More peat now noticeable after some consumption.

Finish: Rather green stick, verging on sour and mouth-coating.  This is not the finish I remember when I opened it a couple of days ago, it’s a bit over-cooked.  The peat is there, with also that aspirin aftertaste.

Overall: It seems to start well but that finish is rather an acquired taste (so to speak); it might soften with some time open but so far this bottle isn’t the complete package.

As I was reviewing these notes, I thought this whisky was just a single maturation but something wasn’t right.   I went back and checked and found it has an HTMC hogshead finish.  This for me has wrecked the finish, which would explain my overcooked notes above.

Score: 8.2

Glass 4: 66.175 “From Arbroath to Bogota”.  12yo Refill Bourbon Hogshead

Nose: Overripe fruit bowl, moderate peating, dusty drawers, wet leather wallet.

Palate: Wow, this is nice and compact without any water.  Lovely sweetness, quite syrupy, a dash of peat and lychees, very slight pepper, this is my kind of palate.

This seems to be in the Goldilocks zone for finishing with red wine,

Finish: Not that distinguishable from the palate.  It does not leave a heavy mark but more a golden sliding ebb.  The finish is not screaming hoggie though.  I am missing the pepper or spice hit.

Overall: Water tends to harden this whisky, better with just 2 drops at most. This seems a good sweet spot for me: a good hogshead, a decent amount of peat, not released too early: a very good drammer

Score: 8.5 is slightly generous, on another day it might be an 8.4.

Glass 5: 66.161 “Chateau du Pork Scratching”. 13yo Bourbon Hogshead/First Fill Red Wine Barrique Finish

Nose: Raspberries, lanolin, quite mature and heavy musk odours.

Palate: Hot, hot, hot, crisp red apples rather than the fruits you might expect with red wine.  The tartness is still on the side of likeable.

Finish: A bit acidic and refluxing, so something to contend with.  It is evocative of those lees in the bottom of a bottle that really you should pour away rather than consume

Overall: While the above suggests I am not in favour of this dram, it does have a homely, warming winter evening aspect to it.  It is perhaps more like a warm mulled wine equivalent of a drink, just at 58.1%.

Score: 8.3

Glass 6: 66.184 “Smoked Seaweed Smoothie”.  13yo Bourbon Hogshead/Second Fill Red Wine Barrique Finish 

Nose: Peaches, office after the cleaners have wiped down the surfaces, mild peat.

Palate: Quite dry, but that fruit that was quite overt in Glass 5 is more reined in.  That might be psychological, as I know this one is 2nd Fill Red Wine, not 1st Fill.  But so far this one is a better match.  It works without water giving an intense alcoholic punch but providing a glow from the wine. I added some water and I get more intense redcurrant coming out.

Finish: Still the fruit lingers, along with some marshmallow and a slight medicinal peat mixed with foot crème.

Overall: This seems to be in the Goldilocks zone for finishing with red wine, with some interesting elements thrown into the mix.  Works well both with and without water, I even refilled this glass.

Score: 8.4

Conclusions:

Originally this review was spurred by my disappointment with 66.151, Tiffin In A Blackhouse.  But when put them head-to-head I am a little surprised by the result. Some final concluding remarks:

    • When I opened the bottle for Glass 3 it was a definite improvement compared to Glass 2.  But now I realise it is an HTMC finish it makes my misgivings about the finish plausible after the fact.
    • I nearly finished the red wine finished bottles. I had been rather reluctant to embrace red wine finishes but these two show it does have an interesting dimension.  As the notes above suggest I think the 2nd Fill Red Wine Barrique works better than the 1st Fill: as should be obvious, you can always overdo it.
    • I knew I enjoyed the 7yo but I have not experimented with water with that one which really works. Fortunately, I have a bottle from a sister cask still unopened.
    • I may be rather inured to the peat, but it wasn’t the thing I hope I harped on about: it was there but often it just served a supporting role.

The Bottom Of The Bottle – Reading the Marks

From Pat

The most interesting part of a whisky bottle is usually its contents.

But, as I revealed in my last epistle, a bottle has a whole netherworld that no-one really notices.

Last time I wrote I talked about the variety of corks and stoppers.  Now I’m turning attention to the markings at the other end of the bottle.

Spoiler Alert
Before checking the markings on the base of your whisky bottle, check that the cork or stopper is firmly in at the top!

No good story ever started with “We were eating drinking this tea  …”

This story started recently when we were consuming a few drams to celebrate my son’s 21st birthday.  As it does in these situations, the talk turned to the bottom of whisky bottles.

We became a bit fixated with what the confusing array of markings on the bottom may reveal.

This was quickly followed by some remarkably ill-informed discussion (read “guesses”) as everyone gave their theories on what the markings meant.

The thing about good whisky is that it allows – nay, encourages – the mind loose to dwell on trivial things that quickly can take on a life of their own.

The Search Begins

A day or so after the birthday bash Uncle Google and I started on a few hours of research.  I was looking to see if I could find out what the markings meant.  The initial searches led mostly to unhelpful American sites – no assistance at all with British bottles markings

My bottle of choice was the Benriach 21 year old tawny port finish we had opened for the birthday.   I found in my research was that Benriach had changed bottle suppliers since Brown Forman had bought the distillery!

My bottle, however, was from the earlier time when Billy Walker had owned Benriach.

The bottle had the following marks embossed on the bottom: LI, 2414, 700ml. 63mm, 05 and a reverse Epsilon mark.

After many web searches I arrived at the UK Government’s services and information site.  There is a sub-site that has a lot of info about bottle marks, including all the UK codes for glass bottle manufacturers.

Aha, the Enigma code was tottering, if not completely broken.

Allied Glass Containers Ltd

L1 is the code for bottle manufacturers Allied Glass Containers Ltd, located in Leeds, Yorkshire.

in a highly efficient 24 hours a day environment, Allied has the ability to produce 13 million glass containers every week.

The reverse Epsilon symbol is the European Economic Community mark for conformity.  Post-Brexit, new bottles sold outside the EEC will have UKCA on them instead.

On the Allied Glass Containers Ltd web site I discovered that 2414 was the project code allocated to their 750ml round Whisky shaped bottle.

700ml is the internal volume when filled to the neck plus an air gap, and 63mm is the internal diameter of the bottle.

The underscored 05 was the last piece in the puzzle.

To dig into this a bit further, I checked a few more bottles in my cabinet.

I found bottles from the same manufacturer but  with different shapes and used by other distilleries.  Each different bottle had its own project code, but with the same 05 number.

It seems that the 05 identifies a specific production line.

in a highly efficient 24 hours a day environment, Allied has the ability to produce 13 million glass containers every week.  With 16 production lines over two sites it is extremely important to be able to identify if issues occur on any line without having to shut down the entireprocess.

Benriach Bottle Base

Note that the production line on this photo is underscore 19 (in the bullseye of the photo), from a different production line to the bottle discussed above.  The batch number is different, too.

The Allied website is a cool site if you want glass.  All sizes and shapes are there, with their own project codes and details.  If you have a whisky bottle made by Allied and want all the information on it, enjoy the anorak moment.

 

Glenmorangie Spios

Glenmorangie Spiros Bottle Base

This is the bottom of a Glenmorangie Spios bottle.  The Allied Glass site indicates that they make for Glenmorangie (the clue is a photo of a Glenmorangie bottle on their site).  However, the markings in this photograph (at about 7 o’clock) show that the bottle was made by Ardagh Glass Portland – I suspect is Portland, OR, US of A, although it’s hard to tell.

 

Icons of Whisky awards 2022

From the Whisky Magazine are some of the Icons of Whisky (Scotland) awards for 2022:

Distiller of the Year:   The Glenturret Distillery
Sustainable Distillery of the Year:   Glengoyne Distillery
Visitor Attraction of the Year:   The GlenAllachie Distillery

And for Ireland:

Distiller of the Year:   Waterford Distillery
Sustainable Distillery of the Year:   Teeling Whiskey Distillery
Visitor Attraction of the Year:   Jameson Distillery Bow Street

All regional winners now go forward to be considered for the global titles in 2022.

 

Whisky Stoppage – Stoppers to delight

By Pat

Note: To avoid creating any panic-buying, this article is not about whisky stocks!

However, it is about the things that stop your whisky from unexpectedly falling out of the bottle.

We all know about letting the Genie out of the Bottle, but have you taken a close look at what stops the Genie from getting out?

in the joy and rush to open that new bottle of whisky you probably haven’t noticed the effort that some of the distillers go to produce some very intricate designs on the bottle stoppers.

I was recently taking a look at some of my open bottles of Whisk(e)y.  Then I noticed something – the amazing range and variety of design  printed or etched into  corks and metal screw tops, or embossed into plastic tops attached to the cork.

The Glenlivet’s stopper design in particular stood out.  Then I noticed that almost every bottling I had from them was adorned with a different pattern.  Each one is a sort of variation to a theme: a marketing fetish or made for collectors?

Markings

On bottles with corks, the markings are usually covered by the bottle seal and the pattern only becomes visible once you open the whisky.

I have noticed that the distillers usually put screw caps on blends. But even there they still go all out to print company branding on the caps.

Single malts have corks aimed at a different market and the stoppers tend to be fancier.

If you collect these little gems, over time you will soon get a lot of different patterns.  The marketing boffins seem not to like to stick with a particular bottle shape or stopper for more than a few years.  This maybe to prevent consumers getting used to seeing the same thing.   A case in point is Glenfiddich, which delights in coming up with a new variation on their triangular bottle every few years.

Having (as it were) opened this bottle of worms, I started to pull out the array of partly-consumed bottles from my whisky cabinet and take a longer look.  To my joy, most stoppers had a different pattern on them.

Making a Cork Board

This led to a light-bulb moment and a dash to the Bat-cave (read “workshop”) and a “Here we go again” look from my wife.

I have a decent stock of old rimu off cuts in the cave.  I set about designing and making a whisky cork board  to put in my covered courtyard (when you get older it is ok and maybe even expected to become slightly eccentric.

In case you are interested in making a whisky stopper board I have found that there seem to be two size corks.  One is an 18mm hole (the majority) and the other a 22mm one for the larger size ones.  I kept the centre tp centre gap between the holes to either a 45mm or 50mm for a nice balanced effect.

The Cork Board

As you can see in the photo, I have left room for future corks.  The board looks very arty and is a great way of repurposing old wood offcuts.

Any wood would do and you can either polyurethane it or paint for the desired finish before fitting the stoppers and mounting the board.

So, if you have time, want to save the planet, feel arty and have an excuse to consume more whisky think about making yourself a cork board.

Cheers

Pat

Notes from around the world

“Light” whiskies

Picking up on an article on the Irish Westmeath site, I came across the phenomenon of “light” whisky.

Westmeath are reporting that Scottish blenders Whyte & MacKay and Ballentines look to have joined the Irish Dromberg in West Cork in producing a “lighter spirit drink”, running an abv in the early 20% area.

The producers seem a little coy on the target market.  I would not want to speculate.

Minimum Unit Pricing of Alcohol (MUP)

Again, from Westmeath comes the interesting new Government-driven pricing regime of MUP, imposed in Ireland on 4th January 2022.

Under the (quite reasonable) banner of social harm reduction, the idea is to reduce the availability of cheap booze.   The legislation sets a minimum pricing on a unit of alcohol, and the unit cannot be sold for less than that price – regardless of whether in a bottle store, a high-end restaurant or anywhere in between.

A standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol, and the minimum price for a standard drink (in Ireland) has now been set at 1 Euro (NZ$1.73).  As such, that is not a problem really, as most drinks in a bar are well above that price.

But a bottle of 12.5% wine has 7.4 stand drinks, and therefore cannot be sold for less than 7.4 Euro (NZ$12.80).  Plus, of course, all the other production, distribution and profit costs that are present in pricing of wine.

A bottle of whisky has 22 standard drinks, so the MUP will be NZ$38.28, plus the ancillary costs mentioned about.

So, if the NZ MUPpets get a hold of this idea, expect an impact on low-priced whiskies here.

Just as well we are holding good stocks, isn’t it!

Slainte

John

Some Christmas Holiday Internetting

I thought you might be stuck for things to do over the summer holidays.

So I have been feverishly scouring the interweb to  ferret out some things that I found interesting for you to pass some time with.

Well, not feverishly, exactly – a glass of whisky, a keyboard and a mouse and following links to see what entertainment they led me to.

And not just me, either, really.  Some good friends helped out by sending great links they had discovered.  I am grateful!  And please keep sending them.

One interesting by-product of the internet is that you can search for something worthwhile – and seven hours later you’re watching videos of owls riding unicycles.

I don’t think you’ll find a lot of owl videos here unless you really get off-track, but who knows (pun intended).

So, in no particular order, here some interesting internet places that I hope you will enjoy going to.

Whisky Panorama

Sent to me by Martyn is the brilliant Whisky Panorama:  1,200 magnificent bottles of whisky in one photo.

Zoom in on any particular bottle/  Then click on the “Show more Info, notes and Whiskybase” at the bottom of the screen – you will get taken to all the details about that bottle.  Including tasting notes.

An outstanding piece of work by Stefan Maier!

Richard Mayston photography

Richard really does take magnificent photos.  I had a wander through his beautiful Great Barrier Island album just now, recognising some of the shot venues from a recent holiday my wife and I took there while the world wasn’t shut.

With his permission, of course. I have fairly shamelessly borrowed from Richard’s work previously.

A great highlight of looking through the albums is Richard’s photography from various whisky events.  He has covered Best of the Bests, Dramfests and other tastings.  It is great to look back over the years, remembering the events and looking at all the smiley people.

However, it does feel a little bit voyeuristic trawling through other people’s (sometimes personal) photo albums.  That is especially so when they are not looking over my shoulder providing guidance.   I guess that if the photographer puts pretty much all their output on Flikr where it is readily available to be looked at ….

Otherwordly

And talking about photography, Michael sent me this literally Otherworldy link.

Gorgeous photos here, and there are more if you click on the links below the last photo.

It does sort of beg the question, though, that if the bottom of the whisky glass looks like this what does your stomach look like?  Maybe better not to go into that.

Westermeath

Westermeath Whiskey World.

Westermeath is an Irish blog site I find absolutely fascinating.

Run by Whiskey Nut (complete with a Nut graphic) the site is – from their own description – “A hopefully humorous, informative and enjoyable blog from, but not necessarily about Westmeath.

“Usually themed around whiskey, although other beverages may feature.”

There is a veritable plethora of stuff on the site.  It starts with beer and goes from there.  And where it goes is a simply massive rabbit hole of whiskies and whisk(e)y tastings from all around the globe.

It is a huge site, with a huge amount of well-presented information about pretty much any dram you could imagine (I even found a note on the Icelandic Floki whisky – that was a scary discovery!

Enjoy yourselves.  Please stay safe during the break.  Have a good Christmas and a very Happy New Year, and I will look forward to seeing you all again in 2022.

Slainte.

John

 

Lammermoor Distillery – whisky from paddock to bottle

“Moonshine” Whisky has been distilled illegally on the Lammermoors since the 1860s.

But I think that what Lammermoor Distillery produces now would be a far cry from the stuff that was made 160-odd years ago!

The moonshine whisky was made for the thousands of gold miners travelling the Dunstan Trail.  The Trail was created during the Central Otago Gold Rush, and today lies close to the popular Otago Rail Trail.

The Lammermoor property lies in the Maniototo district of Central Otago, south of the town of Ranfurly.  Geographically, it’s a place pretty close to as far from the sea as it is possible to get in NZ!

Temperatures in the Maniototo can go from over 30C to -20C, hot enough in summer to ripen the local  fruit crops and cold enough in winter to require whisky!

The modern Lammermoor Distillery

Certified Master Distiller John Elliot and his wife, Susie, are the current owners of the 5,200-hectare property.  The Elliott family have owned Lammermoor since 1928.

In 2016 John and Susie restarted the Lammermoor distilling history. They built the present distillery in 2017, hand-milling the station’s trees into planks for the construction of the building.

The distillery is now four years old, producing exceedingly fine gin and whisky.

In the current age, Lammermoor is one of the few distilleries to grow their own grain, malt and mash, ferment, distill and mature on site to craft very legal gin and whisky from paddock to bottle.

200 hectares of Lammermoor are in fully certified organic cropping, growing feed for the farm stock.  Possibly more importantly for us, they grow barley for whisky and gin distillation.  A newly imported Laureate barley is used, reputed to have a very good alcohol yield.

I poured my first dram and then happily spent the next 30 minutes just breathing it in, finding a new and different aroma with each sniff.

Distillation Equipment

The sensible New Zealand attitude of “never throw anything away that might come in useful later” seems to work well at Lammermoor.  Major parts of the distillery’s operational equipment have been re-purposed from other lives.

The grain is malted in two Italian Vallero drums.  The drums’ original use was the tanning of lamb skins.  They were rescued from lying idle at the side of the road and now serve to steep the barley with warm water to start the grain germination process.

And a Glasgow-born grain drier has become the distilery’s drier and smoker.  It came from the Bell Tea factory in Dunedin, spending its early years as a tea mixer blending Bell Tea.  The factory was closed in 2014 when necessary earthquake strengthening proved too much.

But the tea mixer lives on!

The dried green malt is heated over a nix of Lammermoor peat from an area named the “Great Moss Swamp” (now the Loganburn Reservoir) and manuka sawdust from locally grown wood.  The Elliots also have plans to use pohutukawa sawdust, which will be an interesting innovation I will look forward to.

Lammermoor whisky uses French oak barrels, previously occupied by quality Central Otago pinot noir.  Out of etiquette to Scottish tradition, John has determined a maturation minimum three years for his whisky.

But the thing that stuns me about this Lammermoor whisky is the nose.

I poured my first dram from the bottle and then happily spent the next 30 minutes just breathing it in, finding a new and different aroma with each sniff. Simply astounding, and so complex!

Lammermoor Special Reserve Single Malt Whisky

46% abv, bottle #415, batch 002, bottled 6/7/21

Lammermoor Special Reserve

Appearance: tawny with a slight reddish tinge (undoubtedly from the pinot noir) and a nice hold on the glass. The whisky is presented in a beautifully decorative bottle with an almost cut-glass lattice finish – a bottle is so pretty that I am sure it will dodge the glass recycling bin when the contents are finished!
Nose: Extremely complex, caramel toffee, floral (clover), sweet, raisins and new bandages, cloves and ripe figs.  So many aromas – it is very hard to stop nosing it, and every time I come back to it I find something different.  I think the barrel is having a lot of impact here. Nose score: 9.7
Palette: Meaty, like the meat juice around a beef roast.  The dram starts with an oily mouth-feel then quickly becomes tannic & drying with a note of milo powder.  Sourish from the French Oak, but not in a bad way.  The initial mouth heat drops quickly.
Finish: A nice, complex, lip-smacking and hard-to-identify flavour lingers.  Fruit conserve is in there.
Comments: I could nose this all day!  And every new sniff gives me a different aroma to contemplate.  The amazing nose perhaps promises a little bit more than the flavour delivers – but I would hesitate to mark the whisky down because of that.  The nose is so superb that I don’t know that any taste could compete!

When I try to ignore the nose and concentrate purely on the taste this is a very attractive and excellent session whisky.
Score: 8.8.

As we’ve said here before, over the last few months we have been increasingly captivated by the standard of the NZ whiskies we have found.  Lammermoor Distillery has definitely added to that captivation!

Footnote: This article has not been sponsored by Lammermoor Distillery in any way – the opinions and views expressed are entirely my own. However, I would like to gratefully acknowledge the support and assistance provided to me by the distillery.

Level 4 Lock-down – Sampling Time!

Want to get creative during lockdown?

I admit that lockdowns come with a whole range of less-than-wonderful side effects:  queuing to get into the supermarket and everyone watching you buy toilet rolls, not being able to get a proper latte, not being allowed out, and rubbish TV programmes (if you don’t count the Paralympics, which are amazing!).

And some of the postings on social media indicates that a lot of people have way too much time on their hands!

But every cloud has a silver lining.  Not having to dress properly for work means less laundry (who needs to wear pants for a Zoom meeting?), no cars on the road and heaps of empty parking spaces.  And a tank of petrol lasts forever!

To top it off, there is the chance to stretch your metaphorical legs and stroll gently through your whisky stocks without having to drive home. Continue reading “Level 4 Lock-down – Sampling Time!”

Divergence: Kiwi-ness in a bottle

Don’t worry about the state of whisky in New Zealand.

True that our “traditional” Scottish-sourced sauce may be a bit harder to come by while the world recovers.

But sometimes when you go digging, you hit a gold seam.  And that seems a good view of the distillery featured in this article.

The Spirits Workshop

The Spirits Workshop began in late 2015 when four whisky lovers got together and bought a small still, curious to develop distinctly New Zealand spirits.

The company describes itself as ”a small batch, craft distillery” in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Canterbury grain is used to make a range of spirits that include quality single malt whiskies, gins and other spirits.

Researching and talking to the company, I have been extremely impressed with what they do and where they look to be headed!

The Spirits Workshop’s whisky brand name is Divergence.  I recommend that you note that name  – I confidently predict it will become a big player the next few years.  And that opinion is reinforced when I look at the mouth-watering expressions they have in the pipeline.

The Process

The whisky spirit is double-distilled in a 500 litre copper pot still with a horizontal lyne arm and a copper shell and tube condenser.

Divergence Pot Still
The Spirits Distillery Post Still & Condensers

The company currently forecasts capacity to make 8,500 litres of barrel-strength new make annually, operating a single shift, five days a week.

The recently drawn NZ Whisky Guidelines and Definitions  have set a two year maturation minimum for NZ Single Malt Whisky.  However, the distillery has opted for a minimum three year period for their range.  And it looks as if some upcoming production may be held in barrels for longer than that.

Other single cask options include aging in ex bourbon casks, ex Australian and Spanish sherry casks,  and ex Portuguese Tawny Port casks

The mainstay whisky is a multi Gold Medal award winning New Zealand Single Malt expression.  It is double pot stilled, fully matured for 3 ½ years in 50 and 100 litre virgin French Oak casks, and bottled at 46% abv.

Divergence Virgin French Oak

I purchased a bottle of this delightful dram – strictly for research purposes, you understand!

My tasting notes are:

Visual: Orange amber, with good legs.
Nose: Sweet and aromatic, soft poached pip fruit (nashi pears?), a light-weight dark chocolate, musty.
Palette: Tongue heat feels a bit harsh at first then quickly mellows out to sweetness.  Well integrated and balanced.  Oaky wood comes through.
Finish: Tannic drying, and the oak wood remanis.
Comment: Good, at the first glass from the bottle.  But this whisky, like a lot of others, benefits from a bit of breathing.
Score: My initial first dram score was 7.5, but improved to 8.5/8.6 a few breaths of air later.

At the time of writing, the distillery also had stock of their Port Wood expression.  This expression is a 46.3% abv, matured in a 100 litre ex-South Australian Tawny Port barrel.

What to look forward to

Company Managing Director, Antony Michalik, says “Our next bottling will be another single cask, cask strength, release of the Sloe Gin Barrel Finished. This time finished in the Sloe Gin barrels for more than 12 months.

“We also have ex NZ Pinot Noir barrels both finishing whisky (which should be ready for bottling in the next 6 – 12 months) and fully aging whisky (which will be at least 2 years away).”

Also in the mix are ex New Zealand Port barrels both finishing and fully aging whisky at the moment. There is a further range of other single cask options aging in ex bourbon casks, ex Australian and Spanish sherry casks, ex Portuguese Tawny Port casks – some of which may be ready for release in the next couple of years and some of which the distillery may choose to age for longer periods.

I am so looking forward to trying these!

Manuka Experiments

The company is determined to put as much “Kiwi-ness” into their product as possible.

Antony talked about some experimenting they had done using native manuka wood to create a more NZ flavour.

“Unfortunately we can’t make barrels from manuka but we have experimented with using charred and toasted manuka chunks. The results have been very pleasant and promising of a potential truly NZ flavour profile.”

“However, the newly developed … rules for NZ Whisky do not allow for the addition of free-floating wood in aging New Zealand Single Malt Whisky so we have to find another way to introduce the Manuka wood contact, which we are working on”, said Antony.

The Spirits Workshop distillery is situated a short walk from the centre of Christchurch CBD, open for tours and tastings Monday to Saturday.

As well as the distillery itself, they also have a small cocktail bar at the Riverside Market right in the CBD where you can enjoy their whiskies as individual drams, in a flight of up to three current expressions or in delicious cocktails.

I’ll see you there!

PS:

As I mentioned earlier, The Spirits Distillery make a range of gins under the Curiosity label.  They use the same pot still but with a different lyne arm and a stainless steel condenser.  There is also a 20-plate copper column used to refine barley malt spirit for the base spirit of two of the Curiosity gins.

I recommend trying the Curiosity Pinot Barrel Sloe.

Curiosity Pinot Barrel Sloe

This gin liqueur is something else!  Taken straight without additives, it is the most delightful Christmas Cake like your grandmother used to make.

And that is why I’m hanging out for the Pinot Noir Divergence whisky!

FootnoteThis article has not been sponsored by The Spirits Workshop in any way – the opinions and views expressed are entirely my own.  However, I would like to acknowledge the support and assistance provided to me by the distillery.  They have been most generous with their time and information, and happy to answer some quite nosey questions.

John