COMING OF AGE – QUALITY AND INNOVATION

Some whiskies stick in my mind.

Some of them stick under a sub-heading of “To Be Avoided”, others stick because they are so good, unusual, rare or innovative.

Pokeno Totara Cask

I recently introduced you to The Pokeno Whisky Company’s Totara Cask whisky, a dram that met me quite by accident at the Kismet Cocktail and Whisky Bar in Nelson.

The Totara Cask sticks in my mind because of all my “best” boxes it ticks.

It’s a capital G good whisky, borne out by a Silver Medal at the 2024 World Whisky Awards.

It’s unusual because I’ll bet you’ve never had a whisky matured in Totara before.

It’s rare because it is out of stock – at least for the moment.

And, beyond all doubt, it is the outcome of total innovation!

The Pokeno Whisky Company

The Pokeno Whisky Company in South Auckland, is owned by Matt and Celine Johns.

Prior to coming to New Zealand, Matt had been in the global whisky industry for over 25 years.  A lot of this was in Scotland, where he was involved in running some leading distilleries.

They started building the distillery in 2018, with production starting the next year.

The distillery’s current operating capacity is 80,000 litres pa, but this is scheduled to increase in 2025.

“It is clearly very different from a traditional oak barrel maturation, so may shock a traditional whisky consumer to some extent”

Pokeno Product Range

Pokeno Whisky has three strands of whisky product.

The first is a core range of three expressions:

    • Origin: a 43% abv matured in first-fill bourbon casks,
    • Discovery: 43% abv from first fill bourbon, oloroso and PX casks (my tasting notes below), and
    • Revelation: again 43% abv, matured in first fill bourbon & NZ Red Wine casks).

Next rung up is the Exploration series, a range of unique and innovative single malts (of which the Totara Cask whisky was one until stocks ran out).

The last strand encompasses the Pokeno Single Cask expressions.  These drams can only be purchased online from the Distillery Shop.

When I asked if there were plans to extend the core range, Matt said, “For the time being we are focusing on the three products in the core range”.

He adds that it is important to not have too many varieties to sell, as it is difficult to get enough retailer shelf space if the range is too big.

“For the Exploration series we are experimenting with other native woods, and so there could be more editions here in the future.    We regularly bring out single casks and we have some very cool stuff coming out this year, including more of our Prohibition Porter which is a collaboration with Liberty Brewing and already is a bit of a cult product after the first editions last year.”

The Pokeno Whisky Company also has New Zealand’s only working Cooperage, where Cooper, Mike Tawse, makes the Distillery’s casks out of native wood.  All the Distillery’s first fill bourbon casks come from the US, while sherry casks are sourced from Spain.

Totara Cask Whisky

Mike handcrafted what are the world’s first-ever 200-litre totara barrels for maturing whisky, and has given them a light toast and a light char.  Totara is naturally hard and straight-grained, with very sweet and creamy notes when toasted.

Mike Tawse with a Totara Cask

After a full three to three-and-a-half years’ maturation in first-fill bourbon casks, Pokeno transferred the whisky to the Totara barrels for a second maturation period of around six months.

Matt comments “We did not want to leave it longer than that as the Totara casks are virgin wood, and the danger was that we would take too much from the barrel.  Once they have been used for a finishing, we then fill the totara barrels with new make for a full maturation.”

Distribution

The first edition of Pokeno Whisky’s innovative Totara Cask Single Malt Whisky totalled 1,900 bottles.

Distribution of the output went into ten international markets – mainly France, the US, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia.  It has also just gone into Duty Free at Auckland.

Matt says that reaction to the Totara Cask Malt Whisky has been really good.  It won a silver medal at the 2024 World Whisky Awards, which Matt (modestly) feels was positive.

“It is clearly very different from a traditional oak barrel maturation, so may shock a traditional whisky consumer to some extent”, he says.   “Generally, people have been very interested though and genuinely appreciate what is a real Kiwi product!”

 Packaging/Presentation

When you get most whiskies home, you take the bottle out of the tube, maybe read the blurb while you have your first taste, and then the tube goes in the rubbish.

Not so the Pokeno Exploration series.  It’s definitely a Keeper!

Each of the series arrives encased in a box that is the most outstanding, mind-blowing presentation I can recall in a lot of years of buying whiskies.

To access the box’s contents, the top half of the box lifts off to reveal an artwork that tells the story of the product.

                    

Matt comments, “As the Exploration series is our range of creative and innovative single malts, we needed to make sure that the packaging reflected this.  We worked on the concept for the box with a specialised packaging company – Think Packaging – and the design was done by Ben Galbraith, who does all of our design work.  This concept will continue with all of the products in this range.”

Pokeno is experimenting with other native wood casks at the moment

Pokeno Discovery   (John’s tasting notes)

ABV: 43%

Casks: Fully matured in first-fill bourbon, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez Casks. Then laid these back down in cask to allow them to marry.

Colour: Dark Gold
Nose: Vinous, stewed fruit and a Dessert Wine.
Palate: Smooth and rich, throat-warming.  Notes of a quality brandy sauce, with tongue heat and dark chocolate.
Finish: A bit peppery, sherry
Comment: Great! Throat heat increases with intake.  A very drinkable dram, indeed.

Totara Cask   (combined tasting notes from John & Pat)

ABV: 46%

Colour: Lightish gold
Nose: An initial very slight Airfix glue note, quickly followed by light bourbon. Crisp, clean, and sweet, like you’ve just bitten into a Royal Gala apple.  Slight vinous (a sweet sauterne).  Reminiscent of the Champagne Ardnamurchan.  Chocolate & passion-fruit.
Palate: Sweet, hot on front of tongue (Pat: “A summer whisky”).  Oily.  A lot of mouth feel, peaches and then more peaches. Tannic but not drying.
Finish: The peaches taste on the front of my tongue stays on.
Comment: This whisky grows on you.  It is a seriously nice dram, with stone fruit, peaches and more peaches.  Pat’s lasting comment: a whisky that I will remember forever.

Summary

If what NZ distilleries such as Pokeno Whisky are doing, the product they are producing and the results and recognition being received are any indication, I think it’s totally reasonable to say that NZ Whisky has come of age.

For me, the Pokeno Whisky Totara Cask is an amazing whisky.  The experience lasts for its full length, right from presentation to drinking.  Personally, I am waiting on the edge of my seat for the next iteration of whisky fully matured in totara to emerge.  Mike also says that Pokeno is experimenting with other native wood casks at the moment.  These are still at the trial stage, as they work to find other woods which interact with the spirit in the way the distillery wants.

I think that what we consumers have to look forward to is a very exciting future!

Footnote:

This article has not been sponsored by The Pokeno Whisky Company 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 owner, Matt Johns.  Matt has been most generous with his time and information, and happy to answer some quite nosey questions.

John

A visit to the East – Suntory and Qinghau

The House of Suntory – The Nature and Spirit of Japan

Despite an obvious preference for single malts, and usually those of a Scottish persuasion, we have talked previously about the tremendous talents of whisky blenders.  And it doesn’t matter what part of the world they operate in – that they can combine very different component whiskies into great blends demonstrates amazing skill.

Pat recently attended a Japanese whisky master-class.

Under the impression that he was going to a tasting of the range of Japanese whiskies on sale.  Instead, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that he was attending a very informative presentation on Hibiki whisky and the components that go into the various versions of Suntory’s Hibiki blends.

Suntory Samples

The Japanese multinational brewing and distilling company group, Suntory Holdings Ltd, was first established in 1923.  The company now turns out more than 50 whiskies, including the flagship offerings of The Yamazaki single malt and the popular leading blend range, Hibiki.

Contributing Distilleries

Suntory comprises five separate distilleries – Yamazaki in Kyoto, Hakushu, Chita, Osaka, and Osumi.  Hibiki Japanese Harmony Blend is made from key components from the Yamazki, Chita and Hakush distilleries.

Five of the six whiskies presented at the tasting are exclusive to Suntory’s blending process.  The whiskies normally never leave the distillery, so it is a great rarity to try them.  All of the drams were 50% abv, natural colour and non-chill filtered.

The first whisky to taste was a white oak cask offering from the Yamazaki distillery.  Golden yellow colour.  On the nose, wetness, sweet, bourbon and apricot.  Palate is clean, mushroom, dry at the end with tannins.

Second was a Chita heavy double distilled.  This is a grain whisky showing sherry, golden syrup, wood chips on the nose, a clean taste, tannic and sweet.

Third, a Chita French red wine cask.  On the nose smooth, slight bicycle rubber, sweet, a palate of mushroom, and light tannin.

Fourth,  a heavy peated from Hakushu.  On the nose there is blue cheese, peat, sweet, bacon.  Taste is sweet, salty, tannin, pepper like a Kilkerrin heavy peated and tons of character.

Fifth was a Yamazaki Minzunara cask, on the nose sweet, red fruits, cherries and wine gums,.  Palate: dry, vaguely sweet and mushroomy,

And then the final product –  the Hibiki Japanese Harmony at 43%,  super smooth and refined

This was indeed a very special tasting.  The Wellington Suntory rep, Rory Donnelly, was extremely knowledgeable of the history and processes of Suntory whisky.  He did the presentation without benefit of screen or notes to refer to and was passionate about the product he sells.

For translation …

In my opinion, it is a very great shame that the component drams aren’t bottled separately – each one had plenty of character to be a stand-alone whisky.

Qinghau Fenjiu

Qinghau Fenjiu presents as a whisky.

The box looks like a whisky, the bottle looks like an upmarket whisky bottle.  It smells like a whisky ….

And that’s really where any similarity ends.

My son was taken by my daughter-in-law elect ( my apologies to W.S. Gilbert and The Mikado) to meet her parents in Shanghai.  On their way back to NZ they purchased  a bottle of Qinghau Fenjiu from DutyFree  at Shanghai airport for me to try, as you rightly should.

There is just one less-than-helpful factor – all the information is in Mandarin!

One out of the Box

Qinghau Fenjiu has a very striking visual presentation.

Qinghau Fenjiu – a beautiful presentation

A reflective electric blue box, contains a tactile ceramic bottle with brush-sweep decoration in the same electric blue.

As with Scottish malts, the box has a lot of product detail information written on it.

There is just one less-than-helpful factor – all the information is written in Mandarin!

Non-speakers can find an isolated bit that says “53%”. which the discerning  rightly assume is the percentage abv.  Also, a number “20” in big print subsequently proves to be the matured age.

Getting at it – an exercise in frustration

Opening the box to release its contents is an exercise that escalates through ingenuity and frustration to tantrum and brute force: pretty much in that order and mostly brute force.  To plagiarise the American poet, Ogden Nash, the total exercise and the outcome is reminiscent of a lioness opening up an antelope – although I doubt that lionesses use that much bad language getting at their lunch.  The task was not aided by the resident Mandarin-translating daughter-in-law elect missing the bit of very small calligraphy that translated as “Open Here”.

Who knew?

The Contents

After all the trials of getting to the damned thing, opening the bottle and having a drink to calm the spirit had become a necessity!

But hang on.  This stuff looks more like Japanese saké than whisky.  It’s as clear as mountain spring water.  But the nose is something else entirely: grassy, sweet honey, chocolate powder, apples, pears, greengages, and feet.  With enough alcohol content to eat its way out of the side of the glass.

Take a sip and hold it in your mouth for the requisite 20 seconds.

When your eyes have stopped watering from the massive alcohol hit, sufficiently to allow logic to be applied to what you’ve just swallowed, the honey notes continue into the palate.  The heat mercifully fades a bit to leave a sweet, strong honey flavour, and a slightly oil-coated mouth and tongue.

For a very long time!

What a drop!  If I was to whisky-score it, it would have to be a straight-up 9.5.  Magnificent!

Background Research

Qinghau Fenjiu is not whisky.  It is a colourless liquor – known in China as baijiu .

If baijiu is not something you have previously experienced, here’s a bit of background research done after my world had returned to a more level keel.

Baijiu is the most-consumed hard liquor on the planet (north of US$95 billion worth in 2022).  The global market size of whisky for the same period was US$64 billion.  It reportedly can turn an innocuous game of Mah Jong into an hilarious blood sport!

The Fenjiu baijiu is a grain drink, made from organic sorgum.  It is the oldest baijiu in China, with a history reportedly dating back 6,000 years.  It is double fermented, with corn husks added to the fermented grain, and a long maturation in ceramic pots (which explains the clear colour – no wood contact).

Solid State Fermentation & Ceramic Maturation

Baijiu relies on a “solid state” fermentation.

Unlike whisky, a liquid is not boiled in a still and the vapour re-condensed.  Rather, yoghurt-like bricks of wet rice or sorghum are heated in a still so that the alcohol vapourises.

The resulting liquid is then matured in ceramic jars that allow micro-oxygenation of the spirit and impurities removal, all without adding flavour or colour.

A Little Lie-Down

If you haven’t already been on the receiving end of baijui, I can strongly recommend you lay your hands on some to try.  You may also want to check that you are handy to somewhere to have a little lie-down afterwards.

A little lie-down

As a result of the experience, my opinion of Chinese bravery has increased considerably!

Lost it – and getting it back

It’s an age thing, apparently.

I started losing things.

“Losing it” started small – my hair, what day of the week it was, knowing why I’d come into a room, my eyesight (never really been that good), hearing, the keys, my memory and my temper.

Then the losses spread to my balance, what direction I was headed in, reality and – some have been overheard to say – good taste.

But losing things recently took a huge turn for the worst!

Looking Down In The Mouth

It started when I wanted to write to you about a particular whisky I was going to taste.

I poured it out and, in the best tradition, took a big nose-full to check it out.

Strange!  I was expecting much more nose presence than than I am getting, but the nose is almost non-existent.  Water?  Odd for a high-end, high abv whisky to have no aroma at all.

Her weapon of choice has a cotton bud at the business end which she proceeds to shove up my nostrils

Now I come to think about it, food hasn’t had a whole lot of taste recently.  I wonder …….

What have I got that has a strong smell that I would recognise?  I go and pour a couple of drops of my wife’s Lavender Essential Oil into the palm of my hand and take a big sniff.

Nothing.  Nada.  Zilch and Zero.

My nose has gone on strike!

And so have all the taste buds.  Out to lunch – a totally flavour-free, rather boring lunch!  My sense of smell and taste have left the room.  Totally.

To test or not to test

Fortunately I don’t have the dreaded sore throat.  Three home Covid RATs over the next 24 hours are all negative.

These are followed by an ocean-going Covid test at the doctor’s.

Coming for you!

The nice nurse lady wipes an unnecessarily long stick around inside my mouth.  Her weapon of choice has a cotton bud at the business end which she then shoves so far up my nostrils that I’m sure I can feel a small bump the back of my head.

Now I understand the stick’s length.  It’s so she’s got a little bit to hold on to and she can get it back!

And my eyes are watering enough to make the world appear to be viewed through rained-on window pane.

Again, this test is negative too.

Turns out the no smelling/tasting is the result of a sinus infection,  That’s shelved for a while the plan to make whisky tasting an enjoyable passtime!

A Tasteless Joke

Having no taste sensation is really no joke, but it’s funny the way my mind plays tricks on me; not so much with smells, but certainly with tastes.  Like the sporting muscle-memory, taste seems somehow to be attached to my awareness of what I’m eating: for example, bacon has no discernible taste at the moment.  But I know from life experience how bacon should taste, so in my mind this tasteless bacon has a bacon taste to it.

Generally speaking though, all food has no identifiable taste.  There’s only sensation – the sensation of eating polystyrene.  When all the food feels like polystyrene, it tastes like polystyrene.   Breakfast feels like polystyrene, so does morning tea, lunch, dinner, between meal snacks.  Sometimes the food crunches, sometimes it’s soft and pliable.  But it’s till universally polystyrene,

And when any liquid tastes like water, I may as well drink water.  Sometimes heated and called coffee

Getting it back

My wife’s immediate answer  is a course of her garlic-and-horseradish-and-liquorice-and-vitamin-C tablets.  Daily.

The good side to losing my taste is that I can’t taste garlic-and-horseradish-and-liquor-and-vitamin-C tablets.  Believe me, that’s a blessing.

Another good side is that the tablets are gradually making me better.

As I start to get better, though, the bad news is that I can start to taste the garlic-and-horseradish-and-liquor-and-vitamin-C tablets.  Not quite such a blessing, there!

The good news is that, at the time of writing, the polystyrene is fading.  Smell and taste are slowly returning.  At this late stage there’s not much I can do about the other losses, but there is whisky to look forward to!

Some Tastings

These notes were made before my senses of smell and taste departed (well, smell anyway.  My taste has always been a matter of opinion).

Douglas Laing’s Provenance

From Benrinnes Distillery

Provenance

Alcohol By Volume (ABV): 46%,  Age: 12 yo, (distilled 7/07, bottled 2/22)

Colour: Light Amber, Non-coloured and non-chill filtered  (NC2)
Nose: Raw green beans and fainted fried eggs, old rusty tin can, a “low voltage” nose (not much action), brown toast.
Palate: Heat, Black peppercorns, sweet, nutty, cloves.  Sours.
Finish: Hot pepper stays around mouth edges.  Bitter, but no tannin.
Length: Medium/long
Comment: Simple but pleasurable.  You can’t go past a Benrinnes!

Craigellachie
Craigellachie

A Speyside dram

ABV: 46%, age 13 yo
Colour: Dark Amber
Nose: Wood on a hot summers day, dried fruit peel.  Mouth-watering and makes me want to drink it.
Palate: Soft, smooth.  Well integrated, sweetens.
Finish: An oily finish on lips and tongue.  The taste drifts away.  Very drinkable dram, but it doesn’t stay around long.
Comment: Session whisky.  Dangerous – I could drink too much quite quickly.

Glencadam Reserva
Glencadam Reserva

Andalucia single malt (Andalucia is an orange-growing area of Spain) (sample supplied by Pat)

ABV: 46%, no age statement, NC2.
Colour: gold
Casks: Oloroso & Bourbon, then oloroso finish.
Nose: Oloroso sourness.  Citrus peel and golden syrup.  An astringent note.
Palette: Heat in the middle of tongue.  Sour oloroso.  I keep wanting to go back and re-nose it.
Finish: Drops off quite quickly.
Comment: A quaffable dram.

Tamdhu First Edition

ABV: 59.9%, Age: 14 yo,  Single Cask Sherry Butt

Colour: Dark Gold.  Hangs on to the glass, light legs.
Nose: Rich, nose prickle, Sweet sherry, Manuka honey.  Cloves!!  Fruit steamed pudding.  Gorgeous nose!
Palate: Soft and hot, The cloves cut in, and the initial tongue heat settles.  There is a slight dirtiness in first sip.  A wee bit tannic later and a bit white peppery.
Finish: Heat & dry tongue stays.  Clove flavour overlay, but nice.
Comment: where can I get this?? Love it!

Bendromach 15

ABV: 43%,  Age: 15yo.

Colour: Light gold.
Nose: Sherry, medical (bandages), sweet.  Oak sawdust.
Palate: Smooth, peat (that was not expected!), tannic.
Finish:: First peat taste dies quickly, at the second sip it stays!
Comment: The peat starts to over-ride, with nothing to ease it.

Slainte!

 

 

Dramfest 2023 Review – Chapter 2 – The Adventures of Pat

Over the weekend of 4th and 5th of March I got to go to New Zealand’s premier whisky event, Dramfest.

Before I went, my wife told me to treat this like an adventure – very good advice, as you will see.

Saturday morning flight to Christchurch and off to the Te Pai Convention Centre at 12:30 to be meet a queue of other Whisky addicts.  Te Pai has plenty of space and the show was well laid out on one level (t as the afternoon went on, that was good as everybody became relaxed in various degrees of inattention).

After a lovely bagpipe intro, the stands were allowed to pour.

The Show

This year I decided to forgo the master classes and instead just do the stands. At previous Dramfests I have gone to every master class available; this time I wanted to spend more time just mingling.

On Saturday I managed to try about forty drams, the majority cask strength (the Wellington Curse).

Saturday picks

My pick for the day – and indeed as one of the stand outs for Dramfest – was the Cotswolds Founders Choice at a hefty 60.5% ABV.  My notes record just the word “Wow” under Nose, with the same recorded in Taste.  I don’t usually limit myself to a few words, but this was fantastic.

Cotswalds Founders’ Choice

The next memorable stand was the Alistair Walker Whisky Company. They had two drams that stood out: the Infrequent Flyers Benriach at 57.2% and the Glenrothes at 62.8%.  I feel the Benriach nudged ahead and indeed shares my first equal as the best dram of the weekend with the Founders Choice.

Infrequent Flyers Benriach

The impact of 40 high-strength whiskies during Saturday afternoon created a few internal GPS issues.

 A surprising Saturday find for me was the Sagamore Spirit stand.  Sagamore make Rye whiskey, and I like Rye whiskey.  Two drams on the stand stood out, mainly by not having that minty taste you sometimes get with Rye.  I found one not listed in the menu but that had a very much a Wow moment – the Sherry Finish Rye finished in PX sherry barrels at 52%.  It came at you in two layers on the taste, and I hope Whisky Galore gets more in!

Sagamore Rye – Sherry Finish

The Adventure – aka Pat’s Magical Mystery Tour

The Te Pai venue is 200 metres in a straight-ish line from our hotel – a short walk.  However, the impact of 40 high-strength whiskies during Saturday afternoon created a few internal GPS issues, and getting to the hotel became a much greater challenge than anticipated.

I had walked four blocks past my hotel before I encountered another Dramfest attendee.

“Pat, you’ve gone too far.  You need to turn around and go back into town.”

So I went back three blocks, then sat down thinking “This is hard work!”

There followed a text conversation with my wife (who was waiting with deteriorating patience in the hotel lobby) – refer photos below.  My part in the conversation was rather confused, and my wife was not amused in the slightest.  I walked  the last block and saw a large neon sign identifying the hotel.  Bliss.

Screen Print 1 – Blue messages are from Mrs Pat.

For clarity, the phrase “No funding idwa” contains typing errors.

Screen Print 2
Screen Print 3

Sunday

I started the Sunday session with the Kavalan 58.6% Port finish.  It is amazing, and surprisingly better than their Sherry finish.

The New Zealanders

I was taken aback with delight by the New Zealand offerings at Dramfest, and my Sunday tour of various NZ distillers’ stands revealed some new delights.

I visited the stand of Christchurch’s own Spirits Workshop, with their 5-year-old Divergence 5 and the new bottling of the Portwood in tawny casks.

Next was the Pokeno Whisky stand.  The Origin was a lovely smooth dram, but the pick was the Prohibition Porter from a first fill bourbon single cask – dark chocolate all the way and very smooth indeed.  I had to leave the stand; staying was far too far too tempting.

Then on to Waiheke Whisky.   I had sort of written Waiheke off a few months back after tasting some of their sample minis.  After tasting their offerings at Dramfest, I admit I definitely was wrong.  They gave me the Dramfest special bottling at 46%.  There is amazing mouth feel and, typical of NZ peat, just a hint of sea, smooth with a long finish.

I was then given a dram called Cantankerous which they said was for a cantankerous person.  Moi???  Again, this dram was not on the menu.  It is excellent and well worth finding – if you can.

Going home

No worries getting back to the hotel this time.

It is always a pleasure to go to a world class event here in NZ and, as usual, the team at Whisky Galore have done an superb job in a great venue.

 

Silly Statistics

Because we were interested (and a little bit bored) we analysed some of the numbers in the Dramfest catalogue.  They make for quite interesting reading.

The total price of all bottle in the catalogue:  $34,320.76

The average prince: $138.39

The highest orice: the Glenfiddich “Grand Cru” 23yo 40% $592.00
Second: the Buffalo Trace Stagg JR 64.2% $401.00
Third: The Whisky Cellar  Cambus Single Grain33yo 52.5% $386.00

On the (probably slightly under attended) Black Tot rum stand on Sunday, we used three bottles of each of the two drams we had.  Assuming the same level of consumption for all the other stands over the two days, that is $205,900 worth of whisky consumed!

And that wildly undependable calculation:
– undoubtedly understates the number of bottles used on many of the stands,
– does not include the values of the “under the counter” bottles, or
– the value of merchandise sales from the front shop.

Dramfest 2023 Review – Chapter 1

Event Overview

A very happy, well-oiled crowd.

That was Dramfest 2023, New Zealand’s largest whisky event.

NZ whisky enthusiasts have been waiting for three years to get back to Dramfest.  The last festival, in 2020, took place on the weekend before NZ’s first Covid lock-down, when Dave Broom got “kept in” in NZ and had to receive care packages of whisky to keep him going!.

And then came Dramfest 2022.  Sort of.

We had all our entry tickets sorted.  Airfares and beds were booked, and we were eagerly awaiting the exciting range of Dramfest Sessions to come up for grabs.

Then, just as the starting gun was about to fire, the rug was brutally snatched from under our collective feet by yet another bloody lock-down!

It all seemed a diabolical plot, like someone telling a 5-year-old that Santa Claus doesn’t exist!

Patience gets its Reward, though: Dramfest 2023 (2022.5?).  And it has been well worth waiting for!

Putting whisky aside for a moment (just a moment), what a magnificent venue Christchurch’s new Te Pae Convention Centre is.

The Te Pai Convention Centre

And the Whisky Galore team added a mouth-watering 68 stands, with over 70 brands of whisky and rum on offer this year.  Happiness and smiles all around.

My very rough count of this year’s assembly was 324 drams available to sample, plus those at the Sessions and a few “under the table” ones that I missed in the reckoning.

Dramfest 30 minutes BC (Before Customers)

My Dramfest Highlights (View from the Chair)

Travelling in Style

Compared with previous Dramfests, my intake of alcohol at this year’s event was minute.  Maybe something to do with drink-driving.

Instead of tasting everything available, I took the opportunity to spend my time introducing myself to the owners of New Zealand distilleries.  I had previously met quite a few of them by email or telephone but not in person.  It was great to meet them, introduce myself and shake a hand or two.

I was delighted to get a warm welcome from everyone I spoke with.  As a result, I am looking forward to being able to provide this Blog with many more articles on NZ distilleries and the local whisky scene.

I did weaken a bit during the tripping around and took the chance to test-drive a few NZ-produced drams.  Here are my views:

Lammermore Distillery, The Jack Scott Single Malt, 46%

Nose: Sweet and floral.  A slight tinge of sweaty shearing shed.
Palette: Tongue bite at first, but that drops away quickly.  Young and plenty of alcohol heat, vinous from the Pinot Noir barrels.
Finish: The tongue sting stays.  The taste sours at the end (again, the influence of the pinot noir barrel?), but then again so do a lot of whiskies.
Score: 8.1

Cardrona whisky Pinot Noir, 52% ABV

Nose: Vanilla custard with dried stone fruit.  The pinot noir barrel gives the expected vinous note.
Palette: Sharp, and not too alcohol hot.  Under the sharpness the whisky is smooth and even, with pip fruit on the tongue.
Finish: A heat stays on the tongue, roof and walls of the mouth.  The vanilla custard note remains.
Comment:  This is the second iteration of Cardrona to be matured in pinot casks.  We reviewed the first “Just Hatched” Pinot Noir-matured whisky is Dec 2019.  This second one is way better.  I have tried this before Dramfest, and I was just as impressed then.
Score: 8.7

Waiheke Whisky, Peat and Port, 46%, 5-yrear-old, 40ppm peat.  Dramfest bottling.

Nose: Marine, like rock pools.  Citrus peel with vanilla
Palette: Rich and sweet.  Slightly “sheepy”, but not in a bad way.
Finish: The sweetness stays.
Comment: This is capital N Nice!  Actually, a whole lot better than nice.
Further comment:  Although the 40ppm of phenols is accurate, if you are expecting this to be like one of Islay’s more heathen expressions you will be disappointed.  In all the New Zealand peated whiskies I have tasted from Waiheke Whisky the peat notes are there, but they are way more subtle than Scottish peated drams – with Waiheke whiskies I really have had to look to find to find them.
Score: 7.9

And then I spent Sunday working on the Black Tot Rum stand.  For an ardent (and sober) people watcher, manning the stand is so much fun.

Graeme’s Dramfest Sessions

Email traffic in Wellington prior to Dramfest, getting tickets to the sessions was a bit of a  keyboard lottery.  Some punters won Powerball, others were left bemoaning their poor fortune.

Graeme got particularly lucky.  He scored entry both the Arran and the Glen Scotia mini sessions.  He then followed that streak by getting into Sunday’s Top Shelf session, led by Dave Broom and Michael Fraser Milne.

Graeme has kindly provided his tasting notes from those events.

The Arran mini-session

Arran 17yo rare batch Calvados cask 52.5% ABV.

Matured for full 17 years in second fill casks previously used to mature Calvados.

Nose and palette: Both apples and pears dominate, spiciness.
Finish: Medium-long with flavour persisting.
Score: 8.5

Lagg release one ex-bourbon  50% ABV. 

Matured in bourbon cask, peating at 50 ppm.

Nose: light peat.
Palette: more pronounced peat, otherwise undistinguished.
Finish: long, peat dominant.
Comment: In no way measures up to the Arran Fingal’s Cut tasted at last Dramfest.
Score:  6.5

The Glen Scotia mini –session

Glen Scotia 25yo, refill ex-bourbon casks, but finished in first fill ex-bourbon.  48.8% ABV 

Nose:  Standard vanilla.
Palette:  Chocolate, vanilla, sweetness.
Finish:  Medium-long with flavour lasting well.
Comment:  This won whisky of the year at the 2021 San Francisco spirits forum.
Score: 8.5

Glen Scotia 9yo first fill ex-bourbon  Cask no 9.  56.7% ABV

Distilled 2013.  Specially selected for Dramfest, six  bottles only taken straight from the cask still sitting in the warehouse.

Nose:  Standard vanilla.
Palette:  Oily, salty, fruity.
Finish:  Long flavour persistence.
Comment:  Watch out for the release of this one.
Score:  9.0

The Top Shelf

The theme of the Top Shelf tasting was reviewing the traditions of whisky-making.

Daftmill 15yo first fill American oak  55.7% ABV cask strength

A Lowlands distiller, Daftmill is from the traditional farmer distiller, making whisky in his spare time from on-farm materials.

Nose:  Oaky, vanilla, spice.  Palette: buttery, mouth-filling, well integrated flavours.
Finish:  Everlasting flavour.  So long that it was necessary to drink some water before moving on to the next whisky!
Score: 9.8

Glenturret 30yo matured in ex-sherry cask  42% ABV. 

One of 750 bottles from this Highlands distillery.

Nose:  Sherry, spice, geranium (the last Dave Broom’s comment).
Palette:  Soft, floral, sherry, dark fruit and dates.
Finish:  Long and subtle flavours (but not as long as the Daftmill).
Comment: A light whisky, well-integrated and soft.
Score:  9.0

Springbank 22yo from Adelphi, 46.3% ABV.

One of 239 bottles.  Easily the oldest Springbank anywhere in Dramfest.

Nose:  Sherry, new-made bread.
Palette:  Sherry, low-level peat evident.
Finish: Medium-long, fades more rapidly than first two.
Comment: Slightly disappointing after the first two.
Score: 8.0

Caol Ila 40 yo Director’s Special bottled by Whisky Exchange. 49.1% ABV.

Nose:  Fruity, grapefruit, very light peat in the background.
Palette:  Fruit, salty, peat remain light and in the background.
Finish: Long, with lasting flavours, peat finally becoming more evident but beautifully integrated.
Comment:  the bottler loves tropical fruit whiskies.
Score:  9.5

Overall Tasting Comment: Fully lived up to very high expectations.

Bits and Bobs

We have a round-up of Bits and Pieces for you.

We start off with the Rantandwhisky Tasting journal, now back in limited stock ready for Dramfest.

There’s a whisky (Glayva) sauce recipe to brighten up your eating, some tasting notes from Pat, and a bit of a laugh to finish.

RantandWhisky Tasting Journal

With Dramfest 2023 just around the corner (less than six drinking weeks to go!), rantandwhiky.com has released the latest version of its Whisky Tasting Journal.  The Journal proved very popular at the last Dramfest (if you can remember back that far!)

 

The A5-sized journal is designed to fit conveniently into your carry bag at the event.  Good space is there to record all the details you could ever want about what you’ve tasted.

There is provision for the usual Nose, Palette and Finish notes.  We also have place for details of ABV, Age, Year Distilled and Year Bottled, the Colour, whether it’s been filtered or not, and your score.

Each journal has space to record 20 whiskies – about a day’s tasting for the average whisky fan, two days’ tasting for some, and half a day for the truly dedicated!

But no matter how many whiskies you taste, the Journal has one great added extra advantage – it will help you to recall your tastings in the days and weeks after the event.

A limited run of the Whisky Tasting Journal will be available, so it will pay to be in quick if you want to score a couple.

You can order the Journal via the form on the Contact Me tab on this website.  Just tell me your name and address and how many copies you would like.  Alternatively, if you know my details, please phone or text me.  Or ask me, if we pass on the street!

There is no asking price for the Tasting Journal, although a koha would be greatly appreciated.  Please note that I will have to charge you cartage if you need me to post them around the country or elsewhere.

Geoff’s Sauce

My mate, Geoff, is a dab hand in the kitchen.  He’s also an export from Glasgow with a taste for things whisky.

He was telling me the other day about spicing up his Whisky Sauce with a smidge of Glayva.

It sounded so good I just had to pass his recipe on …..

Things you’ll need to make Whisky Sauce
  • A frying pan or large pot
  • A lighter (ideally the kind with a long handle) or a long match
Ingredients for Whisky Sauce

The recipe serves two.  Increase the ingredients proportionally if you need to make for greater numbers.

  • 3-4 tbsp whisky
  • 100ml Double cream
  • 50ml stock – you can use a quarter of an OXO cube dissolved in hot water (veggie but chicken works just as well).
  • Knob of butter
  • 1 tsp dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Construction

Heat the fry pan/pot to medium, add the knob of butter and melt.

Add 3 tbsp of your choice of whisky then light the whisky with the lighter and allow it to burn off the alcohol. This makes the sauce less bitter. Be careful at this stage, the flame can be quite aggressive but will burn out quickly.

Add the cream, stock, and mustard to the pan once the flame is out.

Allow to thicken and reduce on a low heat while continuing to stir then add salt and pepper to taste

If you like a stronger whisky taste then add another tablespoon of whisky or Glayva at the end!  As this won’t have the alcohol burned off it will be a much stronger taste.

IT Takes about 10 minutes to make (possibly longer, depending on your consumption of the ingredients during the construction process!)

Tastings from Pat

Sadly, I’m still not able to taste whiskies (please let this be over before Dramfest!), so I have substituted some sent from Pat.  These are his words ….

Well, I finally got through the samples that I was given at the Best of the Best.  Here are the results, and many thanks to all who made my tasting at home amazing

Jack Daniels single Barrel Rye 47% (from Matt)

Nose: smooth, vegetal.
Palette: smooth as silk, caramel and chocolate.
Comment: very fine Rye almost gave it a 9, even compared to a SMWS.

Score: 8.7

Dalmore 2011 SWMS 13.91 62.5% (from Richard)

Nose: Golden Syrup, Sherry ?, cocoa,
Palette: mouthfeel, oily, high alcohol.
Comment: I reduced it, but still alcohol driven got citrus

Score: 7.5

Regards, Pat

It’s a viewpoint

I know it’s a bit naughty to copy stuff off the interweb without attribution, but I came across this the other day.

I thought it was rather good but I don’t know who made it originally, so I’m going to share it and hope that whoever built it in the first place recognises and accepts my thanks for it!

Looking greatly to seeing you in Christchurch at Dramfest!

Slainte

John

 

 

 

Whisky Wednesdays at Hare and Copper

Whisky Wednesdays at Hare and Copper.

A catchy and pretty self-explanatory event title – What, Where, When and, to a certain extent, Why.

Hare and Copper is a delightful Eatery & Bar, located just outside Turangi at the southern end of Lake Taupo on NZ’s North Island.  Both the Eatery and Bar and its Whisky Wednesdays are the brainchilden of entrepreneurial owner, Andrew Wood and his wife Liliana.

Hare and Copper Eatery and Bar, Turangi, NZ

The name Hare and Copper initially conjured up an image of a large rabbit taking a nice warm bath in a large shiny cauldron, in the company of a selection of chopped carrots, onions and potatoes.

A nice concept, although maybe naming the kids’ pet rabbit Stuart was a little thoughtless!

But this Hare and Copper is not a recipe suggestion – at least not for rabbits.  The Hare and Copper is a species of fishing lure, used locally to invite trout to dinner.

A Hare and Copper Lure
The Hare and Copper Lure

NZ Whiskies

Three Whisky Wednesdays have been held at Hare and Copper this year, one each on the first Wednesday is July, August and September.

The first featured three NZ whiskies.

Very high interest in the event resulted in 30 attendees booking seats.

The event was sponsored by Central Otago’s Cardrona Distillery.  who generously provided their Territory Manager, Jonnie Cocks, to the event.  And they equally generously provided bottles of Cardrona Solera plus another as a door prize.  (The prize was won by Neville, who had travelled to Turangi from Havelock North especially for the event – a well worthwhile trip!)

As well as sampling the Solera, the event tasted Kiwi Spirit’s Waitui whisky from Takaka and The Spirits Workshop’s Divergence PX Sherry whisky from Christchurch.

Winner was Solera, followed closely by the Divergence.

Japanese Whiskies

August’s event was Japanese whisky focused.  Chosen drams were:

    • Nikka’s Rare Old Super, a 43% blend with a lot of colour,
    • Matsui’s Kurayoshi. An 8yo “pure malt” at 43%, and
    • Matsui’s Mizunara (Japanese Oak) cask, bottled at 48%.

The Nikka Rare Old Super is described as “an entry level premium blend” – whatever that is!  It is a good easy-drinking, simple, inoffensive blend.   It lacks a bit of character beyond the faint hints of peat and nuts.

The Kurayoshi from Matsui Shuzou is also a blend, this time made from whiskies sourced from Scottish distilleries blended with Japanese whisky and “volcanic-stone-filtered water”.  A big (and seemingly impenetrable) question is which Scottish distilleries were involved – no-one is saying!

The Mizunara is named for the Japanese oak used in the expression’s maturity.  At the end of World War II, Japan faced shortages of medicine, food and other daily necessities.   Against this backdrop, the lack of imported casks in which to age whisky was the least of the country’s problems.

However, whisky was popular with the occupational armed forces, so whisky makers had to do something.  Local distillers began to use the native oak, mizunara.

Mizunara-aged whisky is known to impart distinct sweet and spicy flavours with unique aromas reminiscent of sandalwood and incense. Coconut and vanilla are also pronounced characteristics.

The Islay Tasting

The last event for the winter season was September’s 5-dram Islay tasting.

A record 36 people turned out for this one, including Mike and his bagpipes.

Mike, with bagpipes

The dram selection was pretty much what you would expect, but with a couple of odd ones thrown in for interest and variety.

The starter was the standard Laphroaig 10 yo, 40%, 45ppm phenols (may as well get The Peat in first!).

Second was a new entry from Kilchoman – Sanaig, named after a local bay just north of the Kilchoman distillery.  I am generally a bit ambivalent about Kilchoman expressions, but this one is rather nice.

Then the old Standard, Bruichladdich Classic Laddie Scottish Barley in it’s striking turquoise tube.

Next came Ileach, which I’ve not had before.  58% abv and around 40 ppm of phenol, the genesis of Ileach is a bit obscure.  Suspicion is that it is either a teaspooned Lagavulin or Caol Ila.  Either way, it’s totally drinkable, if a little youthful.

Last was the latest Port Charlotte, PC10, 59.8% abv and 40ppm.  I vividly remember my first introduction to the PC ranges – someone gave me a glass of PC7 and the peat in it nearly blew my head off!  PC10 is not like that – a wee bit underwhelming when you’re expecting a blast!

Group scores for the evening:

    • Classic Laddie 8.75
    • PC10 8.48
    • Sanaig 7.88
    • Laphroaig 7.86
    • Ileach 7.67

Whisky Wednesdays

It’s an informative title, if a bit bland.

It really doesn’t cover the essence of the events.

It doesn’t cover the roaring fire, the bonhomie of whisky tastings, and it specially missed out the extremely critical bit of the fantastic platters and service provided by hosts, Andrew & Lili.

Whisky Wednesdays are sadly parked now for the summer months.  But look forward to them resuming again next winter!  I’ll be queuing up to be there!

The Bagpipes

I have always liked the skirl of bagpipes.

I used to sit on a summer Sunday in Wellington’s Botanical Gardens and listen for as long as my parents would let me.

For future reference, hearing the bagpipes played outdoors on a hillside is one thing.  Having them played indoors and a metre from your ear is a whole other matter entirely.

By quite a few decibels!

Slainte mhath

John

 

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!

 

Matt’s Blended Tasting – Six at Seatoun

Matt is a long-time whisky taster.

He is also a very knowledgeable whisky connoisseur. So the prospect of Matt holding a tasting of blended whiskies made my ears prick up.  A lot.

The majority of my whisky education has come from listening to people who know more than me – which is a big group of people! Matt is very deservedly in that group.

I’ve sat in the room with him at a lot of whisky tastings over the years. In recent times many of those tastings have involved reasonably esoteric Single Malt bottlings.

While drinking esoteric single malts is all very fine and ego-building, they are generally harder whiskies to find. And they tend to be at a higher price point if you do!

As a rule, blends tend to be more accessible – and more affordable, especially if you need to buy petrol too.

Single Malts v Blends

I don’t want to be lecturing on the difference between single malts and blended whiskies.

Suffice to say that – in exceptionally broad terms – a blended whisky is a combination of two or more whiskies that have been distilled in different distilleries and then put together in one bottle. That’s a very simplistic description – there a considerable number of variations on the theme!

I greatly admire whisky makers. They do stuff that I couldn’t do: I’m happy to let them do it and leave me to reap the benefits three to thirty years down the line.

Examples of blended whiskies include the Johnny Walker range, Chivas Regal, and Famous Grouse whiskies.

Making blended whisky

Any single malt whisky is the combination of a set of given ingredients and circumstance – the materials (grain, water, yeast), the manufacturing equipment and process, the duration of maturation, the type of cask used. Within these parameters the outcome is reasonably predictable, but the results can also vary widely.

I greatly admire whisky makers. They do stuff that I couldn’t do: I’m happy to let them do it and leave me to reap the benefits three to thirty years down the line.

But whisky blenders are a different breed! Their task is to produce a whisky that noses, tastes and feels the same as the one they produced last year and the years before that.

Like making the same chocolate cake each birthday.

But the whiskies the blenders took to get make last year’s cake may not be available this year. Eggs can’t be got and the chocolate supply has dried up. The blender is left to source other component whiskies that she/he can blend in different ways and quantities to produce a cake that is indistinguishable from last year’s.

That’s skill!

The Tasting

Matt had six blends for the tasting. All of them are reasonable available if you shop around a bit.

The Line-up

As usual, five of the whiskies were known to the tasters and the sixth was a “mystery”, the drams were presented “blind”.

The tasting notes and scores by glass are mine from the evening. Any resemblance to the overall results at the bottom is purely coincidental!

Glass 1:  Naked Malt, 40% 19yo, Naked Grouse without the grain component

Nose: Brown-bread toast, grassy (straw), chocolate
Palate: Sweet and soft, then pepper corns
Finish: oily residue on tongue & lips
Conclusion: OK, but not startling. First fill oloroso casks
Score: 7.1

Glass 2:  Monkey Shoulder “Smokey Money” Batch 9, 40%

Nose: There’s the peaty one! Raw bacon in a crepe bandage, banana-flavoured lollies.
Palate: Watery & thin.
Finish: Peat stays on … and on. Oily.
Conclusion: A bit disappointing. I’ve had other Monkey Shoulder expressions that left a better impression. The peat gets in the way here.
Score: 6.8

Glass3:  The Mystery (revealed as Johnny Walker Blue Label)

Nose: Nose prickle, sherried, and hint of smoke. Honey and Solvol soap.
Palate: Tannic and a bit non-descript.
Conclusion: I didn’t pick it as a JW.
Score: 7.2

Glass 4:  Whisky Trail “Rockabilly Hoedown” 19yo, 45%. Sherry Butt .

Nose: Potato crisps and poached stone fruit.
Palate: Sweet & soft, inoffensive.
Finish: Berries and brown sugar. Long!
Conclusion: Nice!  This whisky is from Elixir Distillers, who’s other brands include Port Askaig and Elements of Islay. At 19 yo the Rockabilly Hoedown may be the combination of two purchases of raw spirit that have been casked and matured together. Could be a teaspooned Longmorn?
Score: 8.1

Glass 5:  North Star SuperSonic Mach 4, 7yo, 60%. 2 Sherry Butts

Nose: Slight nose of kerosene, like a Riesling wine. Buttery, with good legs, citrus marmalade, Honey & sawdust and brown sugar.
Palate: Rich and vegetal (not in a bad way), coffee and goes hot with a tannic edge.
Finish: Sack-y, sherry, hot, dark chocolate
Conclusion: Want to buy one!
Score: 8.5

Glass 6:  Adelphi Private Stock Reserve, 57%

Nose: “Hell of a good nose”, medicinal and bandages, smoke and marine, buttery bacon.
Palate: Salty, peaty, sweet bacon.
Finish: Warming.
Conclusion: Lives much more to the promise of the nose than a lot of earlier Ardnamurchans.
Score: 8.5

Group Results

The results for “Best Nose” are:
Glass 1: Naked Malt: 7 Votes (3rd Place)
Glass 2: Smokey Monkey: 6 Votes (4th Place)
Glass 3: Johnnie Walker Blue Label: 2 Votes (5th Place)
Glass 4: The Whisky Trail: 9 Votes (2nd Place)
Glass 5: Super Sonic Mach 4: 12 Votes (1st Place)
Glass 6: Adelphi Peated” 1 Vote (6th Place)

The results for Overall Favourite with the average score from the toom are:
Glass 1: Naked Malt: score 6.24 (4th Place)
Glass 2: Smokey Monkey: score 6.14 (5th Place)
Glass 3: Johnnie Walker Blue Label: score 6.06 (6th Place)
Glass 4: The Whisky Trail: score 7.86 (1st Place)
Glass 5: Super Sonic Mach 4: score 7.24 (2nd Place)
Glass 6: Adelphi Peated: score 7.14 (3rd Place)

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.