With the Grain

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

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

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

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

A bit of history:

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

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

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

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

Let 2019 begin!

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

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

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

Caidenhead’s North British Grain

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

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

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

Finish: medium

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

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

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010

Aged 7 years in oak casks.  Colour 0.7

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

Palette: New cardboard, and a lightly sour note.

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

Bruichladdich Organic Barley 2009

Aged 8 years in oak casks.  Colour 0.3.

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

Palette: sweet, with a late sourish note.

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

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008

Aged 10 years in Oak casks.  Colour 0.4.

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

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

Palette: Aromatic, dry, a crepe bandage

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

Grants Elementary Blended Grain Whisky

8 yo, 40% abv. Colour 1.1

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

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

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

Springbank Local Barley

Aged 10 years, 57.3% abv.  Colour 0.8

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

Palette: sweet, smooth, caramel and raisins.

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

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

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

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

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

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Assorted Travel Drams

 

There a lot of tasting in this posting.

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

There’s quite an age spread, too. 

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

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

Are you seated comfortably?  Then let us begin.

Pat’s whiskies:

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

His latest foray has been around the world of Tomatin. 

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

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

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

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

Tomatin 12yo (photo)

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

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

Score 8.5

Tomatin 14yo  (photo)

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

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

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

Score: 7.5

Tomatin Wood (photo)

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

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

Score: 7.8

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

In the sea. 

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

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

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

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

Arran, Marsala Cask Finish (photo) 2018 Edition bottling

Finished in Marsala wine barrels.  50%, colour 1.7

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

Score: 7.8

Back to Speyside.  This time to Glenfiddich distillery.

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

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

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

Glenfiddich Havana Rum

21yo, 40%, finished in Cuban rum casks

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

Score: 9.0

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

Adelphi Glen Garioch

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

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

Score 7.8

Now back west to Islay.

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

Batch 2 was the best. 

A bottle remained that needed opening.

So I did.

Bowmore Tempest Batch 2, 56%

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

Score 8.6

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

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

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

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

Cardrona “just hatched” Solera (Photo)

Sherry & Bourbon Casks (2 bourbon : 1 Sherry)

64.4%, colour 1.3

“Flower honey, vanilla, spice”

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

Score: 9.1

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

Customer Service – or not.

“Your call is important to us.”

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

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

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

Yeah, right.

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

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

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

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

Further translation:

Further translation:

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

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

Further translation:

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

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

Or, more probably, the unemployment queue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try it.  It’s fun!

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

SMWS Tasting

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

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

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

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

Some totally random samples:

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

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

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

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

“Hints of autumn trips to the milk bar.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Score: 9.0

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

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

Score: 8.3

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

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

Score: 8.5

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

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

Score: 8.3

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

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

Score: 7.2

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

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

Score: 7.1


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

I can giveth, but can I taketh away?

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

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

I can’t borrow a book from the library.

KiwiSaver will accept my money happily.

But they may not give it back. 

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

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

Far more mundane than that. 

I don’t have photo ID. 

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

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

In short, she is no muppet.

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

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

You can’t:

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

– get a mortgage or renew a fixed one,

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

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

– buy something on a hire purchase agreement,

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

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

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

– to apply for a birth certificate in person

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

Wrong! 

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

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

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

The Ministry of Complication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four random tastings

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

Quite.

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

Who knows?

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

Here are four totally random tastings from January 2019

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

There is connections between them.  But not much.

They are all single malt Scotch whiskies.

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

And they are all rather nice.

Apart from those coincidences, see for yourselves.

 

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

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

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

Maturing whisky in sauterne barrels is a much better idea!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Password

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

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

And then the universe invented The Password.                                                                                        

Thou shalt not pass.

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

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

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

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

Password creation is Snakes and Ladders.

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

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

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

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

Back to Square One.

Password Background

Security of information has three identification factors:

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

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

Then things went wrong. 

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

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

Next Generation

Identification has now gone deeper into Never-Never land. 

Some sadist invented 2FA.

2FA is an acronym for Two Factor Identification. 

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

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

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

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

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

Otherwise, the Snakes and Ladders analogy starts again.

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

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

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

You just look it up on your phone. 

Brilliant!. Love it!

Spot the drawback? 

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

To quote Peanuts’ Charlie Brown, “AAARGGGHHHH!”

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

And all of them are passwords.

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

With the Grain

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

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

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

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

A potted history of grain whisky:

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

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

Grain provides a flavour profile different from traditional malt whiskies – for example, a barley whisky will have a sweeter flavour and provide the caramel and brown sugar notes of a bourbon-matured malt.  Grain whisky is also more mild and lighter tasting than malt.  And is less likely to be influenced by geographic factors in the growing.I have read comment that grain whiskies could be a threat to malted whisky.  I don’t see a threat; I see two whisky types.  Like blends and single malts, I feel they can survive side by side perfectly amicably.  They complement each other: when you don’t need a powerhouse malt dram, pick a grain.

Let 2019 begin!

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

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

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

Caidenhead’s North British Grain

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

Nose: Softly milky with a very slight sour note, but very attractive.
Palette: Sweet, a leather chair, a sugar sack and brown sugar,
Finish: medium
Comment: This was from a tasting last year of Caidenhead’s bottlings.  Of the seven expressions in the tasting, this was top. 
Score: 9.0

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

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2010

Aged 7 years in oak casks.  Colour 0.7

Nose: The first nose was strong raisins – similar to a PX sherry whisky.  There is the sweet smell of a freshly-opened pouch of pipe tobacco.
Palette: New cardboard, and a lightly sour note.
Comment: This whisky didn’t really catch my imagination. 
Score: 7.9

Bruichladdich Organic Barley 2009

Aged 8 years in oak casks.  Colour 0.3.

Nose: sweet and dusty, the aroma of an oak furniture factory.
Palette: sweet, with a late sourish note.
Comment: Again, it didn’t really grab my attention but it is getting better.  Score: 7.9

Bruichladdich Bere Barley 2008

Aged 10 years in Oak casks.  Colour 0.4.

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

Nose: sweet sweaty socks (a poor mental picture, perhaps, but the nose is actually quite pleasant), cooked peas and creamy.
Palette: Aromatic, dry, a crepe bandage.
Comment: This was the best of the three samples, and worthy of further investigation. 
Score: 8.6

Grants Elementary Blended Grain Whisky

8 yo, 40% abv. Colour 1.1

Nose: from the bottle, it is sweet with a light nose of lemonade.  From the glas, the nose is soft and pleasant, but with not a lot to note.
Palette: The whisky is light.  There is a delicate rock melon flavour and a slight grassy note.  Pink candy floss from the fairground. 
Comment: This dram holds together well and could be good for a long evening with friends. 
Score: 8.7

Springbank Local Barley

Aged 10 years, 57.3% abv.  Colour 0.8

Nose: Sweet, with heaps of golden syrup, and baked apples in the winter.
Palette: sweet, smooth, caramel and raisins.
Comment: Pat describes it as ”heaven in a bottle”.  There is an enduring warmth, a comfort for a cold night.
Finish: long, warm, with hot pepper. 
Score: 9.4

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

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

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

A side note: my sister took home curried sausages that displayed a definite tinge of olive-green.  My father proudly (and, in retrospect, foolishly) ignored the unusual colour and ate some. 

He was violently ill.

Recent Openings and Christmas Spirits

Recent Openings and Christmas Spirits

Isn’t serendipity a coincidence?  The things the Universe brings when you weren’t really expecting but you leave it open to see what turns up.

You may remember the article about the opening of the Amrut Spectrum and how impressed I was.

Daniel asked if I could take him a sample, and he was prepared to trade a couple of interesting sherry-based ones that he had.

A fair swap!

Daniel’s Samples

Sample 1: Glendronach 15yo, PX, 54.7% abv

Colour 1.5. 

Nose: A strong nose of pipe tobacco, followed by fresh raspberries mixed with citrus peel, cloves, and granny’s Christmas pudding with brandy sauce. 

Palette:  As you would expect with a PX sherry cask whisky, the taste opens with a mouthful of sweet, spicy sherry.  Then comes orange peel and the cloves returning. 

Finish: The finish is long, with the flavour lingering but not the cask-strength heat.

Comment: I thought the nose was delightful and marked it at 9.2.  I was a little disappointed to find that the nose promised rather more than the taste delivered.  However, overall this is still a deliciously good drop!

Score: 8.8 

Sample 2: Adelphi Glen Rothes 7yo, 66.7% abv

The colour of 1.7 is the signature Glen Rothes sherry finish colouring. 

Nose: Here is an old leather couch and brown sugar, wrapped in a crepe bandage. 

Palette: The taste is thick with a slight sour note, predominantly from a lot of oak and an oloroso sherry cask.

Finish: My mouth was left with a feeling of tannic-y drying, but not unpleasantly so.  

Comment:  When the choice is between an Adelphi bottling and something else, I will almost invariably go for the Adelphi – they are consistently appealing.  Although my marking here is not at the top end, the 7yo Glen Rothes is well within my expected marking range for Adelphis (Adelphii?),.

Score: 8.8

The Christmas Spirits

There is a long-standing family tradition that we have created over the last couple of years.  It is called the family Christmas meal, and involves my wife’s brothers and their families.

It may not come as a huge surprise that a large part of the tradition involves whisky.  One year the whisky bit centred around an Advent calendar that contained twelve assorted single malt samples.  They were only small bottles, but it was a very Happy Christmas indeed.

This year the event went up a gear.  The invitee net was spread to include several items of note: two Glenlivet Nadurras, the Cardrona Just Hatched Sherry Cask, and Graeme.

The Glenlivet, “Nadurra” Bourbon finish.  59.8% abv

Colour 0.7.  Finished in a first fill white oak bourbon cask.

The expression “finished in” on a label is not really helpful if you’re trying to use the information to determine what a whisky might taste like before you purchase it.  Was the whisky finished in that barrel for 5 years? One year? Six months?  Who knows. 

Nose: lollies, airfix glue, sweet nuts (cashews or almonds), vanilla.

Palette: Full front of mouth, bourbon burn, tannic.  2nd mouthful is softer, greater heat.

Finish: long, slightly tannic-y drying but nice.

Comment:  This is the second time I’ve tried this whisky (the first was at a tasting session 9 months ago).  I bought a bottle of its sister dram (the oloroso finish version) as it catered more to my taste for sherried drams, but the bourbon finish is still very good and scores highly in consequence.

Score: 8.9

The Glenlivet, “Nadurra” Oloroso sherry finish, 60.3% abv

Colour 1.3

Nose: Leather, rich, fruit cake.

Palette: Heat!, sweet, fruit cake

Finish: fruit cake, oloros sour

Comment:  In my hand-written notes I put “unremarkable”, but this is not intended to minimise the whisky or be derogatory.  At 60.3% abv this is not a petty dram at all, quite the contrary.  Other whiskies at that strength hit you very hard, mostly with alcohol burn and little else.  This Nadurra  in exceptionally drinkable and – my other note – “goes down very nicely”.

Score: 9.2

So here endeth 2018, not with a whimper but with a bang!

I have been very fortunate to have found some amazing drams to taste, and there have been some ho-hum ones too.   But, as with so many things, at the end of the day beauty in whisky is in the taste of the beholder.  What fascinates me may well bore you to tears, and I will be last to say you’re wrong!

So thank you to all the distillers & suppliers and tasters.  Roll on 2019 and some more drams to sample!

Slainte

Cardrona “Just Hatched”

Two and a half years can be a very long wait.  But when the wait is over the outcome will prove that it was all worthwhile.

Two and a half years ago I was fortunate enough to be part of a group that got to taste the new spirit from a New Zealand distillery. The universal group view was that waiting for marketable output from this major new distillery was going to be extremely worthwhile.

And so it has proved.

The western mountains of Central Otago on NZ’s South Island are some of the most picturesque in the world.

New Zealand’s newest producing distillery – Cardrona – is located on the highest alpine pass tourist route through the mountains.  Up until now the Cardrona area, some 40 kilometres from the southern tourist mecca of Queenstown, has been best known for winter sports,

I confidently predict that is about to change!

One of the non-skiing attractions of Cardrona is the quality of the local water source.  That has been one driving reason for building the distillery there.  The current Concerto grain used in production is imported from the UK, and the water is able to be added unfiltered to the mash.

The first release bottlings, appropriately entitled “Just Hatched”, were bottled two weeks ago from barrels casked at the beginning of December, 2015.

Two expressions have been released.  A bourbon cask and a first fill Oloroso cask.

Both releases have been in 375 ml bottles.  There are 474 bottles of the bourbon cask and 1,295 bottles of the sherry.  Both are presented in a very attractive, professionally designed wooden outline box, with a bespoke locking arrangement to keep it all securely together.

The Whiskies

Just Hatched – Bourbon Cask

66.7% abv, colour 0.2

Caution: undiluted, this is in the top five strength whiskies I have ever tasted.

Nose: Taking the cork from the bottle, you are met by a strong, endearing aroma of honey.  From the glass, the first thought is of the sweetness.  There is alcohol and a distant memory of the glue boys used to put model aeroplane kits together when we were young.  Then it quickly turns to pears, green apples, and another memory of those lovely baked apples stuffed with dates, brown sugar and cinnamon that your mother used to cook.

Taste: Taking a large mouthful and holding it for ten seconds is not for the faint-hearted, unless you have medical insurance to put your head back on.  There is capital A alcohol, hot, full, a huge mouthful and the honey coming through.   The second – and more judicious – mouthful still has the big flavour, but now it has smoothed out to deliciousness.  At rest, there is gentle perfume and, most surprisingly, a hint of fresh mushrooms.

Finish: The finish is long, equally of flavour and heat with a comforting warm throat.

Comment:  The time in wood has had an effect.  The whisky is quite light in colour, and I didn’t find the vanilla notes that normally come from bourbon casks.  There is a New Zealand mythical “Southern Man” – tough, climbing a steep hill in snow carrying a sheep under each arm.  This, in its undiluted form, would be his whisky.  It is, in a word, magnificent!

But, as my brother-in-law observed, “This is definitely not a session whisky!”

I’ll be back for more.

Overall: 9.0

 

“Just Hatched” – Oloroso

63.2% abv, colour 1.6

Nose: first nose from the bottle is a slight rubber bike tyre (sulphur).  That goes very quickly with exposure to air, and turns to honey.  From the glass, there is more honey, a sharpness, with golden syrup and rolled oats, and a gentle sugar sack.

Taste: There is grain and honey, rolled oats, leather polish, a slight bitterness that is typical of oloroso casks, and pepper on the tongue.  There is a beautiful roundness and fullness in the mouth, reminiscent of a low Christmas cake.

Finish: The finish is long on the flavour, and I wish it would stay even longer!

Comment: As with the bourbon cask expression, from the bottle this is a high abv whisky but very drinkable, even undiluted.  The dark oloroso engenders a much darker colour than its bourbon sister.  I am becoming quite a fan of sherried whiskies, and this is at the top of the very nicest I have tasted.  I’m just sad that the bottle isn’t bigger!

On a personal level, I prefer this whisky to the bourbon expression but I stress that is only my taste and nothing at all to do with the whiskies.

Score 9.5

 

Overall comment: These whiskies may not be old enough to go school unaccompanied, but they are both more than capable of playing for the college First 15!

Or carrying a sheep up a hill.

These are two excellent whiskies!  The two and a half years was well worth the wait, but I hope it isn’t going to be another two and a half years before we get a second release.

Note: this article is unsponsored, but I would like to extend my thanks to staff at the Cardrona distillery for background information provided so willingly.