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.

Some Christmas Holiday Internetting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whisky Panorama

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

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

An outstanding piece of work by Stefan Maier!

Richard Mayston photography

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

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

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

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

Otherwordly

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

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

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

Westermeath

Westermeath Whiskey World.

Westermeath is an Irish blog site I find absolutely fascinating.

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

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

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

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

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

Slainte.

John

 

Lammermoor Distillery – whisky from paddock to bottle

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

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

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

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

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

The modern Lammermoor Distillery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Distillation Equipment

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

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

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

But the tea mixer lives on!

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

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

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

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

Lammermoor Special Reserve Single Malt Whisky

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

Lammermoor Special Reserve

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

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

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

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

McCashin’s – From Beer to Whisky

For the last 40-odd years McCashin’s Brewery have been supplying New Zealand with the iconic Macs beers.

And now they have turned their skills to the production of NZ whisky – luckily for us!  The company have been unobtrusively making whisky for the last six years.  In that time two really good whisky expressions have been released – one of which you can buy and the other you can dream of buying.

The first expression was an 800-bottle limited edition release entitled Stoke IPA Whisky – essentially a distillation of IPA beer.  Beer and whisky both come from fermented grain, then it makes sense!

The second offering is a whisky named McCashin’s Single Malt Whisky (link), a 6-year-old that has been matured in a combination of used NZ and overseas French Oak (wine and bourbon) barrels.  In current NZ terms for age-identified drams, 6 years is quite a while for a whisky to sit just getting older!

The Equipment

The distillery operates a huge 4,000 litre wash-still and two 400 litre Jacob Carl Plated Stills.

The sheer size of that wash-still amazes me – in the NZ distilleries that we have reviewed so far, most of the stills seem to be around the 500-litre mark (which some have admitted cramps their production capability a bit).  A 4,000-litre unit is massive in comparison.

We started on this voyage of discovery to see what there was in the way of locally produced whiskies.  There are a lot of craftspeople out there working very hard to make some very good drams indeed and the bar is being set high!

the whiskies

We reviewed the Stoke IPA in December 2019 and scored it very well – our original tasting notes are below.  Given the limited bottling run I would be surprised if you can still purchase a Stoke IPA but if you can you won’t regret it.  It’s quite an unusual drop.

The McCashin’s Single Malt is still available at around $130 – $155 for a 70 cl bottle.  Again, in my opinion, it is well worth having!

Stoke IPA Whisky

Stoke IPA Whisky

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

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

Which was absolutely no help at all, really!

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

It was very hard to pick this whisky’s antecedents from the information I was given.  But once you find out it’s distilled IPA beer everything becomes very clear!  The sour washing note on the nose is hops.
Score: 8.7
I want one, and now I have one!
With only a little bit of gloating, the rest of you will have to wait until the next batch.  If there is one!

McCashins Single Malt Whisky

McCashin’s Single Malt Whisky

6yo, 40% abv. Bottle 1030 of 2,300.  Matured in used NZ and overseas wine and bourbon French Oak barrels.

Appearance: A light gold colour with a good hold on glass and light legs.
Nose: Toffee (those old tough and chewy toffee bars in the blue wrappers we used to get as kids – why do I think they were made by Whittaker’s?). Sweet, with the memory of warmed golden syrup poured over hokey pokey and vanilla ice cream.
Palette: The sweetness continues into the taste.  Parsley & radishes add to quite complex flavours.  Drying on the mouth.
Finish: Shorter, and some spice flavour remains.
Comment:  A great “session” whisky if one was settling in for the evening.  I am left with the impression that I would have liked to try it with the abv a bit higher – say 46-50%.

However, in saying that, I would not want to detract at all from the whisky as it is presented.  It is a great drop, every bit as good and better than a lot of whiskies that can be got from around the world.
Score: 8.4

Preachy bit

We started on this voyage of discovery to see what there was in the way of locally produced whiskies that could cover us in the case of – heaven forbid – a whisky drought in New Zealand.

So far, we have been most impressed with what we have found.  And we still have quite a few miles and a raft of local distilleries yet to look at.

For whisky lovers in New Zealand, we strongly recommend the local products.  We are really looking forward to continuing our voyage and bringing you drams from around NZ.  As that old TV ad used to say, “Don’t leave home until you’ve seen the country”.

There are a lot of craftspeople out there working very hard to make some very good drams indeed and the bar is being set high!

Slainte

Level 4 Lock-down – Sampling Time!

Want to get creative during lockdown?

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

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

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

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

Divergence: Kiwi-ness in a bottle

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

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

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

The Spirits Workshop

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

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

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

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

The Process

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

Divergence Pot Still
The Spirits Distillery Post Still & Condensers

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

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

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

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

Divergence Virgin French Oak

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

My tasting notes are:

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

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

What to look forward to

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

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

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

I am so looking forward to trying these!

Manuka Experiments

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll see you there!

PS:

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

I recommend trying the Curiosity Pinot Barrel Sloe.

Curiosity Pinot Barrel Sloe

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

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

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

John

 

 

The Joy of Whisky Tastings

If I had to pick just one thing I have gained from going to whisky tastings, it is Knowledge.  With a capital K.

The people I generally share whisky tastings with are drawn from every imaginable sphere of activity and background.

But the common factor across all of them is the love of whisky.  They like whisky and they know stuff about whisky – whether it’s about production or consumption or anything in between.  And they are totally willing to share what they know, unconditionally and for free.

There is a lot to be learned about whisky – the history, how it’s made, what the various flavours are.  The How, the Where and the Why.  Some people have bits of the knowledge, others have a whole lot. Since I have been going to whisky tastings, the biggest thing I’ve learned is how much there is to learn!  But I have never found any preciousness or pretention about the knowledge or about freely sharing it.

I have learned that it pays to keep your ears open at a whisky tasting.  A tasting is a place where, if you want to learn, plenty will be presented to you.  There will always be something new, such as the effect that different production techniques, equipment, ownership or process will have on the final spirit outcome.

Tastings are the place where, for a relatively low cost, you get to taste some whiskies that would otherwise be unaffordable (or unobtainable!)

It may be that you will find out which drams you prefer and – possibly more importantly – which you don’t.  That knowledge alone can save you a lot of grief, purchasing a whisky which you later discover is not really one you fancy.  I can attest that the system is not universally fool-proof, but it’s better than none at all.

Tastings are also the place where, for a relatively low cost, you get to taste some whiskies that would otherwise be unaffordable (or unobtainable!)

Whisky tastings develop long-term friendships.

Stories of tastings past get told and re-told (and probably enlarged): the tasting where the offerings were so poor that the tasters elected to club funds together, go downstairs to the retail shop and purchase something palatable to share.  Or the bottle where the label read “we have bottled this at 40% so more people can get the benefit of tasting our whisky” – when the first sip of this very substandard dram split into two layers in the mouth, the more prevalent layer being the 60% water content!

How do you know it tastes like licking a cricket bat??

Tasting comments from the floor are insightful, very personal, totally random and frequently indelicate.  As are the comments that they engender from the assembled throng.  “How do you know it tastes like licking a cricket bat??”

The humour is high, and frequently neither politically nor socially correct.  It is insightful, unrelenting, unforgiving and very sharp.  Laughter is the key, sometimes laughing at but more commonly laughing with.

Another by-product of whisky tastings I enjoy is the exchanging of small sample bottles of whisky brought from home to be given to others to try.

Here are a few examples of recent exchanges …

G&M Caol Ila (Islay), from Mel

Cask Strength 57.8% abv.
Bottle 6 of 223
Refill Sherry Butt
Distilled 27 Nov 1988, Bottled 10 Jul 2002 (14 yo)

Colour: Dark Amber
Nose: Dull peat, but not over the top. A matured cow pat.  Alcohol heat comes through (not surprising, given the abv).  A medium-rare steak.
Palette: Alcohol burn, brown & dark, sweeter and with slight smoke.  With reduction, sweeter still & radishes.
Finish: Warming.
Comment: This quite surprised me.  Normally I have found Caol Ilas a bit too earthy and peaty for my preference.  But this one is quite subdued peat-wise and I could get very used to it.  Very yummy.

Score: 8.8

  SMWS 76.126 “Racy Lady, Wearing Leather”.  From Mel
Mortlach, refill bourbon hogshead, 57% abv, no age statement.  Distilled 22 Sep 1987.

Nose: Laundry powder. Alcohol is up, sandsoap and a grassy meadow.
Palette: Alcohol burn, soap, fencing timber and a hot tongue.  A big mouth, sweet and sourish.  No obvious bourbon influence (eg no vanilla note).  Dusty leather.
Finish: Long heat, tannic, dries off and slightly waxy.  Thorax-warming, the pepper mouth stays.
Comment: The Scotch Malt Whisky Society do not reduce the abv of barrels they get – that option is left to the consumer.  This Mortlach could tolerate some reduction to lower the effect of high alcohol and let the flavours through.

Score: 8.4

  Bruichladdich Octomore 8.1.  From Brian

8 years aging in ff American oak bourbon, 167 ppm*, 59.3% abv

Colour: Light
Nose: Smoky, uncooked bacon (with no eggs).  Sweetish.
Palette: Soft and a bit fizzy.  Bacon & black pudding for breakfast, ash & high alcohol
Finish: The smoky bacon lingers on (and on). And on.
Comment: I can sort of understand why people go for this, but it’s considerably too peaty-laden for me.
Score: 7.5

*ppm: Parts Per Million – a measure of the phenols (the “peaty-ness”).

  G&M Mortlach 15yo, 43%.  From Graeme

FF and RF sherry casks

Colour: Amber
Nose: Peaches (stone-fruit peel), sweet sherry, fresh cookies, tinned spaghetti in tomato sauce.
Palette: Leather polish, sourish (oloroso?), not as sherry-sweet as I had expected.  Wood, tannic (drying mouth)
Finish: Fades off early (from the low abv?).  Dark, slight smoke towards the end.  Raisins from a packet.  The sourness stays, although it is not unpleasant.  Warms the throat and chest.
Comment: Totally different from the SMWS Mortlach earlier.  This is nice as a relaxing whisky, without the over-the-top alcohol level.

Score: 8.5

Cragganmore 12yo 58.4%, donated by Thomas (Pat’s tasting notes)

Matured in American oak

Colour: Light
Nose: Coastal, seashore, salty, barbeque plate, sweet bourbon
Palette: peat, sweet & warming, smooth
Finish: Medium
Comment: I could quite happily buy a bottle.

Score: 8.0

Toki (Suntory) 43%, donated by Thomas (Pat’s tasting notes)

‘Toki’ means ‘time’ in Japanese.

Toki is a blended whisky from Suntory’s three distilleries.  Its main components are Hakushu single malt and Chita grain whisky.  This is a round and sweet blend with a refreshing citrus character and a spicy finish.

Colour: Very light
Nose: Soft peach, beeswax polish, honeycomb
Palette: Oily mouth feel, smooth, cherry
Finish: Short, with soft tannin
Comment: A “quaffer”.  Pleasant enough, but not challenging, run-of-the-mill

Score: 7

 

A Closer Look at New Zealand Distilleries – Kiwi Spirit Distillery, Takaka

In my last post  I looked at the disturbances that the last 18 months is likely to have on NZ whisky stocks. As a part of that discussion, I considered there was a great opportunity for New Zealand distilleries to fill probable gaps in the supply line. This article on Waitui Whiskey is the first of a proposed series focussing on local NZ distilleries and whiskies. Who are the distilleries?  What are they doing?  And what is the product like? There is only one way to find out.  Talk to them, sample their wares and report back.   I will look at some of their production details and at the whiskies they are producing.  Then I will give you my tasting notes and opinion on the results. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

Kiwi Spirit Distillery

The first distillery is the Kiwi Spirit Distillery in Takaka in the very beautiful Golden Bay at the top of the South Island. The company is a family owned and operated distillery, specialising in unique spirits handcrafted from homegrown ingredients. Almost all Kiwi Spirit Distillery’s ingredients come from the local region.   The water is drawn from one of the aquifers that feed Te Waikoropupū Springs (the Pupu Springs) just out of Takaka.  The malt is from the South Island, but Kiwi Spirits is looking to get their supply more locally. The distillery produces a wide range of spirits – Tequila, two gins (Championz and Greenstone), three liqueurs, Honey Mead (of which more later), and two vodkas.

If you put the cork back in and leave it for 24 hours to absorb the little bit of extra air that has been allowed into the bottle, you get a whole different experience!

But the focus of our interest is, or course, Waitui Whiskey. Waitui Whiskey is a unique New Zealand single malt that commenced production in 2002.  The small batch output is one of only a few true honey malt whiskeys produced in the world today. With no malt blends or other additives, the whisky spends eight years maturing in 200 litre barrels previously housing manuka honey mead. The current production levels are in the process of being increased to 2000 litres, thanks to some new equipment on its way.  The refining still is a very lovely looking Arnold Holstein unit, with a large ogee to encourage reflux and a level Lyne arm.

Arnold Holstein Still

The Product

I purchased a bottle of Waitui Honey Mead matured whiskey to try.  Although not as expensive as some other NZ drams, it did push my purchase tipping point a bit. The bottle details are:

Waitui Single Malt Manuka Honey.  Natural Colour, Manuka Honey Mead Oak Casks.  Distilled 17 Mar 2012, bottled 2 June 2020, bottle 68 from cask 91.

Waitui Honey Mead Whiskey

An interesting point …

Sometimes when you open a new bottle of whisky the first dram is not as good as it is going to get.  Put the cork back in and leave it for 24 hours to absorb the little bit of extra air that has been allowed into the bottle and you get a whole different experience! So let it be with Waitui Honey Mead Whiskey. My first dram was a bit underwhelming. The colour was a lovely dark mahogany.  But, against that, my tasting notes show a slightly sour nose, with honey and a sugar sack.  The palette was not as sweet as I would have hoped either, and I felt it could have benefited from being bottled at a slightly higher abv – maybe around 46%.  I scored that first dram at 7.4, a mark that I was a bit disappointed with. I put the cork back in, hoping that things would improve with the benefit of a bit of increased air in the mix.

Fast forward 24 hours and we have a whole new ball game!

Nose: Mixed fruit with spice for a fruitcake.  There is a slight metallic/coppery note in the background, cinnamon & dark chocolate with honey, wood and old varnish. Palette: A lot of sweetness, tongue heat and a slight fizz.  Mouth-filling (despite the lower abv), metallic again but at a very low level, Madeira fruit cake and cinnamon. Finish: Way longer than the previous evening.  A very lovely oily residue, with no drying tannic notes. Comment: An exceedingly attractive dram indeed.  The added air in the bottle has made a tremendous difference and created a whole new whisky!  I doubt that one bottle is going to be enough! Score: 8.5 Summary:  Kiwi Spirit Distillery and Waitui Honey Mead Whiskey is the second direct contact I have had with a New Zealand distillery and its product. Over the years there have been some fairly dire NZ whiskies unleashed on our citizenry, but if this Waitui dram is where NZ whiskies are headed our outlook for local whiskies is going to be brilliant! I think that NZ whiskies will very capably hold their head up in any marketplace, and I am greatly looking forward to our future. Slainte FootnoteThis article has not been sponsored by Waitui in any way – the opinions and views expressed are entirely my own.  However, I would like to acknowledge the support and assistance provided to me by the staff at the distillery who have been most generous with their time and information, and happy to answer some quite nosey questions. John