Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Make mine a double - Longrow

Late last year, I picked up a bottle of the latest limited-edition release from Longrow - the Red 11-year-old Port Cask. Not long after, I picked up a bottle of their Longrow Peated - a recent bottling to replace the Longrow CV which has shuffled off to the great big bottle bank in the sky. 
    So rather than review them separately, I thought I'd put them side-by-side and get my notes down. Both are from Springbank, both are non-chill filtered, both have no added colouring and both are excellent. Read on!

Longrow Peated - 46% (No age statement)

I immediately got mineral peat wrapped in sweet honey. There's also clean barley notes and chunks of vanilla Edinburgh rock. In fact, despite the ever present peat, this is a dram with a lot of vanilla. After a few minutes in the glass, I got the scent of wood - a bit like sticking your nose into a big box of matches.
    The Longrow Peated carries a hard, flinty edge but along with its angular character, it has a soft, fluffy centre - charred white marshmallows, a hint of sage and a paper bag full of sherbet lemons. A little water adds a bunch of citrus notes, a whiff of gentle tobacco and a touch of salt.
     Take a sip, and the delivery is sweet and mouth-coating. There's loads of vanilla here again, but the earthy peat soon makes itself known and there's a taste which brings to mind chilli-covered twigs! The honey sweetness return, though, and coats the flavour of malty Cheerios breakfast cereal. A little water brings salted lemons to the party.
    The finish is again packed with rich vanilla, while it's also slightly chalky with a little sour citrus. After a few sips, butterscotch-flavoured Werther's Originals come through. That drop of water adds an amazing tobacco taste but adds to the sourness. I think I prefer this one neat.

Longrow Red - 11-years-old Port Cask - 51.8%

As soon as I took a sniff of this whisky - which has spent all 11 years in a port cask - I got sticky toffee pudding complete with plump raisins and rich toffee sauce. Wow! The peat is certainly there, but it's actually quite restrained and help push dark fruit to the front of the stage, specifically dates, prunes and cranberries. It's also got quite a heavy menthol thing going on which reminds me of Tunes cough sweets (can you still get those?)
    A baked orange notes lurks around the edges and after a few minutes, ham-marinated in cola comes through. Crazy! I also get a slight putty smell. Water lightens the whole dram, bringing with it an increase in that orange note and adds a little tangerine to the mix. Bear with me here, but the smell with water reminds me of Pimm's with a drop of grenadine.
    Tasting this neat, I found it quite astringent and closed up. It's unmistakably sweet with a jammy, peaty edge. Water is most definitely your friend with this whisky and it opens the whisky up revealing even more red, jammy fruits and seems to intensify the peat. I also get a flat Irn-Bru taste which I always find in distillery bottlings of Bowmore.
    The finish is smoky and sweet and made my mouth water. It carries a fair whack of cinnamon spice and there are heavy tannins at work here, too. Water brings raspberry jam , buckets of smoky vanilla and then disappears leaving a hint of pomegranate, cranberry and orange rind.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Kilchoman crazy!

Over the course of the last eight months, I've been buying lots and lots of Kilchoman. After my mate Yan send me up a sample of the Loch Gorm, I immediately ran out to snaffle a bottle for myself. After that, I picked up the 100% Islay.
    Since then, I've also bought the 2014 edition of the Machir Bay and the Cask Strength release which launched back in October. As if that wasn't enough, my whisky chum Ben Cops from Ben's Whisky Blog very kindly sent me a sample of the PX finish which was exclusive to Abbey Whisky.
    So with two reviews already in the bag , I thought it was about time to take a closer look at the Machir Bay, Cask Strength and PX finish.

Kilchoman Machir Bay - 2014 edition - 46%

The smell from the glass was fresh and initially reminded me of Caol Ila. Give it some time and grapefruit and lemon rind come to the fore, along with smoke, brine, seaweed, peat and a touch of chlorine. It's lovely and malty and there's a slight red fruit note trying to come through, together with sweet ash and that green, slight herbal note which Kilchomans seem to share.
    It also carries a mineral note with Thornton's special toffee and the inside of a well used wooden pencil case. A drop of water brings a lovely and mellow sweet pipe tobacco note.
    Take a sip and sweet and salty notes are unmistakable. There's also slight golden syrup,  dusty charcoal, sharp menthol, green twigs, damp embers and the merest hint of apple.
    The finish has prickly spices with sweet peat, dry burnt wood, spearmint, toasted liquorice, a hint of vanilla and a slight buttery note along with a wee bit of lemon.

Kilchoman Cask Strength - 59.2%

On the nose there's pungent, farmy peat! But its character is quite unlike other Islay malts. Despite the peat blast, there's a light freshness to the dram with a bundle of delightful golden barley and smouldering twigs in autumn. I also picked up baked lemon and grapefruit rind.
    There's also honey covered charcoal bricks and fresh bandages and a hint of liquorice and a whiff of cooked ham. Vanilla and toffee notes are also present along with a light presence of soap, sweet honey and mint. The addition of two teaspoons of water really opens this cask strength beauty right up and immediately, delicious toffee and tobacco leaf scents gentle rise from the glass.
    The flavour is dark and rich with treacle and sweet powerful peat smoke. Without water, this is tough to get a handle on. A few drops blow through the smoke to reveal sweet citrus and toffee with a twist of white pepper.
    Hints of golden syrup emerge to coat the tongue and orange oil appears after a few good swirls. The peat is always present adding a dark backdrop to the flavours. Magnificent stuff.
    The finish carries lots of pungent peat along with a touch of citrus and vanilla. A well-made espresso follows right at the end of the long finish. A herbal note also adds an added dimension and tobacco notes cling to the back of the tongue.

Kilchoman PX sherry cask - 58.3%. Abbey Whisky Exclusive
Distilled on June 11 2009, bottled on July 17 2014. Four and a half years in a fresh bourbon barrel with an extra four months in a Pedro Ximinez sherry cask

This is heaven to sniff! Seriously good. A mass of deep, dark fruits such as sticky dates, juicy prunes, blackberries, blood orange and baked apple rise but the PX cask has given this a glorious gloopy sweetness.
    As it settles down, I get a dried tobacco smell - specifically cigarette tobacco. Almost like a ripped open cigarette. The peat lurks in the background but nowhere near the intensity found in other Kilchomans - it's sweet and mellow. In Ben's tasting notes, he mentions travel sweets and I see exactly where he's coming from - those icing sugar dusted tinned sweets come straight through. A teaspoon of water brings even more sweet tobacco to the fore.
    The palate is thick, sweet and mouth coating with fruits of the forest jammy notes asserting themselves. It's slightly herbal with fruity toffee and dark runny caramel. There's also apple, liquorice, a slight nuttiness, baked peaches and soft brown sugar. Mouthwatering stuff.
    On the finish the tobacco smoke is really prominent but dark molasses and those jammy fruits soon come through. It's thick and chewy with a lovely bitter note. Black coffee and good quality bitter chocolate are also there. I don't smoke these days, but this would be stunning with a cigar.

Three more excellent Kilchomans! My thank again to Ben for the PX sample which I really did appreciate as I want to try as many Kilchomans as possible. And it's a sure thing that throughout 2015, I'll be trying to pick up everything they release as they've fast become a favourite.
    If you've yet to sample a Kilchoman, go for the Machir Bay. It's a good price and is a great introduction to the range.

Friday, 9 January 2015

SMWS Caol Ila duo

Right then. I've been thoroughly enjoying a rather splendid Caol Ila from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society over the last few months. I've been rationing the 53.212 but thought it was about time to update the blog with this beauty. And, seeing as Mr Ben Cops from the excellent Ben's Whisky Blog had sent me a sample of a previous SMWS Caol Ila: the 53.210, it seemed like the perfect time to get some notes down. Off we go!

SMWS 53.212 Peat Smoke and Para Handy Puffers - 56.4%
A 22-year-old Caol Ila. 
Distilled: January 17, 1992 and one of 291 bottles. 
Cask: refill hogshead, ex-bourbon

On the nose, there's initially a huge blast of ash, but underneath that there's the beautiful scent of honey-glazed ham. Heavily salted smoky bacon crisps are also present. The refined peat is wonderfully sweet and helps to bring out a rich tobacco leaf note. This is ramped up considerably with the addition of a small drop of water and there's also crushed mint leaves and if you leave the whisky to settle for 15-20 minutes, a bag of salt and vinegar crisps rustles into view to join the snack party. A faint rubber note is also in the background but it's not unpleasant as it really is tucked away and doesn't overpower the malt - unlike that nasty Ardbog stuff.
    Take a sip and this Caol Ila has an incredibly sweet arrival which then turns to fresh burning embers and campfire smoke. The sweetness remains throughout and the peat gives it tremendous depth. Black liquorice laces are also in the mix along with black cherry cough sweets and fine sawdust.
    The finish is splendid, with tobacco leaf, sweet peat, a hint of spearmint, coffee beans, faint black pepper, cumin and undiluted blackcurrant cordial.

SMWS 53.210 Fantastic Stuff - 53.3%
A 24-year-old Caol Ila. 
Distilled: December 19, 1989 and one of 240 bottles. 
Cask: refill hogshead, ex-bourbon

Taking a sniff, the fist thing I got when sticking my beak in the Glencairn wasn't peat but pomegranate juice. Spend a few minutes with it and the peat becomes noticeable but it's not a phenolic blast - it's refined and restrained and gives dark depth to the dram. I also got an earthy farm note which I often find in Kilchomans but again, it's not in your face.
    Burning green twigs are also in the fire along with a delightful vanilla note along with a thick spoonful of banana and toffee yoghurt. The dram actually reminds me of a well matured Ardmore and I remember thinking the same during a blind tasting of another Caol Ila last year. Caught me completely off guard. A drop of water brings out dusty cinnamon and waves of vanilla. Lovely.
    On the palate, the whisky is refined and elegant, with a delightful brown sugar sweetness. Again, the peat is there but it plays around the edges and forces some wonderful dark fruit notes through such as ripe plums and blackberries. There's also charcoal, creamy vanilla, white pepper and dried tobacco leaf.
    The finish is sweet with slight wood and a kiss of vanilla, dark salted toffee, pipe smoke, blackcurrant notes and delightfully refined peat. Wonderful.

So there you have it - two absolute corkers from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It's safe to say I'll be buying more SMWS Caol Ila bottles in the future - in fact, I already have. I picked out a cheeky wee 14-year-old from this month's outturn. I just can't get enough of the stuff.

A huge thank you to Ben for the sample of the 53.210 and for giving me the opportunity to try it. It really was Fantastic - the label didn't lie!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Benromach Organic - 43%

I had a small glass of the Benromach Organic at the Glasgow Whisky Festival back in November and declared it one of my drams of the day. So when I saw a bottle out in the wild, I promptly scooped it up and brought it back home. Seems like I'm not the only one, as it's disappearing from the shelves rather quickly.
    I've spent a bit of time with it now and the bottle is about half full, so it's time for some tasting notes.
    On the nose, there's a copious amount of fresh wood - no real surprise as this six-year-old Benromach was matured in virgin American oak casks. Give it a bit of time and the spirit begins to settle down. I even found that a drop of water helped release some of the aromas which were initially hidden behind the fresh sawdust notes. Cranberry and sharp raspberry became immediately apparent, along with dark toffee and hints of vanilla latte. There's also citrus rind in there, too, in the shape of orange and lemon, while a rich maltiness attacks the senses. This is definitely a whisky which improves the more time you spend with your nose wedged in the glass. I also picked up white sugar, a little candied mixed peel and that delicious porridge and honey smell which also appears in the 10 year old.
    Take a sip, and the delivery is hugely sweet, which gives way to fruity wood after a few seconds. Vanilla, warming winter spices and a little citrus then take over. But the fresh oak is never far away and it lingers in the background as you swirl it around. I also got a slight green note (fresh twigs) which was quite pleasant.
    The finish was packed with vanilla and baked lemon, while some white pepper notes danced around the back of my tongue, along with a sweet coffee note.
    I have to say that while I've been enjoying this bottle over the last few months, it's not the most complex whisky in the world. But then, sometimes it's good to just kick back and enjoy something without trying to analyse it too much.
    Benromach also go to great lengths on the bottle to let us know that the Organic has been created with Scottish organic barley and it also carries the British Agriculture logo and the Organic Soil Association badge. That's all well and good, but I'm confused why the distillery has chosen to add colouring to this malt and chill-filter it. I am assuming this is the case as there's nothing on the bottle to say otherwise. By presenting a product as organic, why not go for full craft presentation and bottle it at a little higher percentage? It's also on the pricey side for a young whisky.
    Still, these grumbles aside, this is a very decent dram - although I'd probably plump for the 10 over this in the future.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Clynelish 14 - 46%

My introduction to Clynelish was at last month's Glasgow Whisky Festival - and I was rather spoiled considering the fact I was swirling a 29-year-old cask strength humdinger. 
    While I knew this 14 would struggle to match that SMWS behemoth, I happily took the plunge to better appreciate the Clynelish character. The bottle hasn't lasted long - a sure sign I've enjoyed it - while a hip flask brimming with this fine single malt accompanied me on a trip to London a few weeks ago. It certainly improved the four and a half hour train journey!
    On the nose, the first thing I encountered was glue and corned beef! Honey, dried mixed fruit and salted lemon followed and there's a smokiness to the malt but not peat - more like a whiff of campfire smoke from a mile or so away. I also found marzipan, icing sugar-covered bonbons, a slight yeasty note, musty tangerine, a hint of petrol, butter icing, honeydew melon, orange oil, Lee's macaroon bars and a herbal note which reminded me of sage. Sweet and savoury in perfect balance. Left for 30 minutes I got a smell which reminded me of walking into a Mexican deli - chipotle chillies and all! With a dribble of water, the savoury scents took a step back and the orange citrus notes moved forward. In some ways it reminded me of Old Pulteney 12
    The palate had a slight alcoholic nip at first which then gave way to orange oil, golden syrup, vanilla, milky coffee, a fair bit of chilli flake heat along with chicory leaves and peppery rocket. The finish was spicy with more vanilla, a light caramel sauce, dried fruit and was slightly bitter.
    I really enjoyed this one and found it a bit of a challenge at times due to its sweet and savoury character. Some days it would be fruity and sweet, while on others, those savoury, meaty notes seemed to be more pronounced. It's really made me want to taste more from the distillery and since quaffing this bottle, I've bought a 16-year-old independent bottling of Clynelish. I'll be opening that one in the near future - perhaps for my birthday later this month. We'll see!

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Tomatin 18 - 46%

Following my adventures with the 12, Cu Bocan and their four Cuatro releases, I decided that rather than mess around with a collection of samples, I would buy a full bottle of Tomatin. 
    And, seeing as their 18-year-old is a great price for a whisky of that age, I had no hesitation in parting with my cash. I found this challenging - something I didn't expect. Why? Read on, malt heads.
    On the nose there were bright citrus notes accompanied by what can only be described as old oak slathered in salted caramel. Fresh spearmint comes through after a while in the glass, followed by honey, vanilla and a dribble of honey. The whisky also has a floral character which intensified with a drop or two of water. But that heavy wood note really does dominate and it's this that I struggled to get my head around.
    Taking a sip, that heavy oak note continued. But rather than being sweet on the tongue, I found it to be quite savoury in character, although citrus notes push through with a little water. It was as if orange, lemon and grapefruit had been dipped in floral honey. It also carried a zinging spicy note, with lots of cinnamon, grated nutmeg and black peppercorns.
    The finish was extremely woody and warming, with more vanilla hints joined by lemon mousse, more cinnamon and green peppercorns. There was also a distinctive sour note which played right the way through but it actually worked quite well with the winter spices.
    I'm still really on the fence with the Tomatin 18. The wood character was just too much for me and I wonder if that's the 18's defining characteristic - or whether my bottle was part of a not-so-sparkling cask. I plan on trying a dram in the pub to see how it compares, though. With that said, I found it an interesting experience and it did have its moments with those lovely citrus and floral notes.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Caol Ila: Young & Feisty: The McGibbon's Provenance - 46%

Distilled 2009, bottled winter 2014
A bottling from two refill hogsheads
DMG REF: 10178 & 10179

I've become something of a fan of Caol Ila over the last 12 months since receiving a bottle of the Cask Strength as a present last Christmas. And although my tasting notes on the distillery's produce are scarce, much more is to come, including a couple of SMWS beauties.
    This particular Caol Ila caught my eye at this year's Edinburgh Stramash. I was intrigued by its 'Young and Feisty' tag and having consumed my fair share of young - and quite fabulous - Kilchomans recently, I asked the folks at the Douglas Laing stand for a drop. I loved it immediately and upon my return to Glasgow, I purchased a bottle as soon as I had the cash. Young it might be, but it's full-flavoured, is unchill filtered and has no added colouring.
As always with a full bottle, I don't review it until I'm at least half-way down the bottle to see how it fares as time passes. In we go!
    On the nose I'm immediately stuck by how creamy this whisky is. It's also packed with black liquorice, treacle, damp leaves and earthy peat. There are some zinging citrus notes dancing around, too which cuts through the earthy notes and actually sweetens it slightly. Vanilla arrives after 10 minutes along with smashed gooseberries, a square of white chocolate, fresh mint leaves, white pepper and banana. There's even a hint of grassy manure lurking around - and reminded me of walking past the elephant enclosure at the zoo when I was a lad. But hang on! Rather than being unpleasant, it actually tied in with the other scents and is quite lovely. What is happening to me?
    On the palate, complex citrus notes coat the tongue before a blanket of sweet peat shoves them aside and makes itself comfortable. There's also damp embers, ash, more white chocolate, bonfire smoke, bananas and cough sweets. It also has that lovely Caol Ila light freshness going on.
    The finish was medium to short and carried a slight off the still note. However, there was also tar, wet hay, smoke, slight vanilla, a sliver of wood, instant coffee granules, menthol cough sweets and a shake of smoked paprika.
    An interesting and strangely refreshing dram. Definitely glad I bought a bottle.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Amrut Fusion - 50% Batch no.24, bottled June 2013

I tried a dram of this Indian whisky at the Newcastle Whisky festival back in March and loved it. On slightly wobbly legs, I approached the festival shop at the end of the day and bought a bottle. I even remembered to leave the pub with it later that night - a fact I'm rather proud of considering the state I was in.
    Word of advice: don't go to the pub after a whisky festival. It might seem like a good idea at the time, but it's not. Trust me.
    Now, I took my time with this one as it's a beefy dram, packed full of flavour and certainly not an every day sipper - at least, not for my palate.
    The 'fusion' in the name comes from the fact that the malted barley used to create the whisky is from both India and Scotland. Nice!
    On the nose, huge, heavy fruity notes dominate, with juicy peaches and nectarine aromas making the mouth water right off the bat. Let it settle - add a few drops of water - and the Amrut Fusion starts to evolve and show its true character. Underneath those rich golden fruit notes, there's also chewy chocolate fudge, peppermint, fruity flapjacks, dry roasted peanuts, golden syrup, dried banana chips, hard-boiled travel sweets and barley sugars. This is a pungent malt you could sit and sniff happily for hours.
    Swirl it around your tongue and those big, beefy flavours match the nose perfectly. There's a huge oak influence here but it’s peppered with cinnamon, stewed fruit, thick jam, black tea, treacle, dates and strawberry bonbons. It also has some herbal notes dancing around, with hints of cardamom and coriander clearly having a good time. It also has a good viscosity to it and it coats the mouth beautifully.
    The finish is robust - imagine licking a plank of dried oak a few times and you'll get the same drying effect here (without the splinters). There's also prickly spices, deep caramel, rich coffee cake and it also carries a slight bitter note.
    As I said previously, this isn't an every day dram - the  dry oaky note tends to dull the senses after a few glasses but it’s a whisky that would go splendidly with Christmas pudding. After dinner, don't go for a glass of port, pour this instead. For a non-age statement whisky, this is a belter. The spirit matures faster in the cask in the stifling Indian climate so don't worry about it being young - just dive in!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

BenRiach Arumaticus Fumosus 12 - 46%

Last Christmas I was given a bottle of this Speyside beauty by my parents. Only now, almost a year later, am I getting round to reviewing it.
    The bottle is long gone but recently I realised I hadn't updated the blog with my tasting notes. I had kept a 5cl sample and compared this last week with my original tasting scribbles. I found a few new things in the glass and this dark rum-finished dram was a corker. Unfortunately, with only 1240 bottles produced, I doubt it'll still be around. Oh, it's also non-chill filtered and has no added colouring - just the way I like it!
    On the nose there was an abundance of rum and raisin milk chocolate along with sweet peat, figs, sticky medjool dates, prunes, malty Cheerios breakfast cereal, hard boiled barley sugars, plump blackcurrants, Tunes cough sweets and Vimto chew bars.
    On the palate, the delivery was initially sweet with a twist of pepper before a flood of mouthwatering dark fruit notes arrived, carried along on a puff of dark peaty smoke.
    The finish continued with the rich, dark fruit theme while smoke, vanilla and white pepper joined in the fun. Right at the end, there was the unmistakable flavour of thick cough medicine. Lovely.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Tomatin Cuatro series

A few months ago, there was a Twitter tasting involving Tomatin's new range of sherry finished whiskies. I didn't take part, however, my Twitter friend Simon Smith kindly offered me some leftover samples from the event. I sent him a couple of drams to say thanks and got stuck in.
    All four expression are 12 years old and spent the first nine in American oak barrels. They were then transferred to four different sherry butts (Fino, Manzanilla, Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez) for a further three years before being bottled.
    What's really interesting about these is seeing how the various sherries affected the spirit and although the bottles will be long gone by now, all four offered something worthwhile and different. If you see any of the four on your travels, go for it! Also, all four are bottled at 46% and are non-chill filtered.

Cuatro Fino
The nose was sweet with vanilla, Maltesers chocolates, butter icing, walnuts and alight strawberry jam. After a while in the glass, a lovely apple turnover scent emerged. There was also a hint of salt and a white flower note. A really beautiful smell.
    On the palate there was a delicious jam note along with figs, toffee, mocha coffee and wood-infused golden syrup. There was also a slight acetone note kicking around, too,
    The finish was spicy with a touch of pepper, vanilla and cranberry, while creamy white chocolate notes came through along with a touch of grapefruit and a well-fired pecan pie.

Cuatro Manzanilla
Straight off the bat, I smelled hard toffee, toasted granary bread and dark fruit notes such as blackcurrant, damson and mushed up strawberries. There was a pasty note there which reminded me of a sugar-topped donut and I also picked up undiluted Ribena, fresh mint, cumin seeds and a hint of slow gin.
    In the mouth it was sweet and incredibly mouthwatering thanks to the abundance of juicy blackcurrants, apples and plums. There was also a hint of spicy cinnamon. The finish continued the sweet tastes along with toffee, dark chocolate, prunes and lots of dry wood tastes.

Cuatro Oloroso
On the nose I immediately got orange, juicy pears, apples, blackberries, blackcurrants and strawberries. There was also treacle toffee, vanilla fudge, some granary toast notes again, pine needles, juicy fruit chewing gum, gooseberries, brown sugar and golden syrup.
    The dark fruit notes returned on the palate along with caramel, fruit and nut chocolate bars, a touch of coffee and a slight bitter note ran all the way through.
    The finish had a lovely deep sherry character along with bitter dark chocolate, treacle, damson jam, mint, a hint of creme brulee and sticky toffee pudding.

Cuatro Pedro Ximinez
Hard boiled sherbet lemons hit me straight away on the nose, followed by cola cubes, Edinburgh rock, apple juice, white sugar and a hint of marzipan. The granary toast note from the last two was nowhere to be found and the whole dram was incredibly sweet.
    On the palate, there was hard boiled fruit-flavoured sweets, treacle, woody cinnamon sticks and lots of honey-slathered dry oak. The finish was spicier than the other three, along with baked apples, prunes, red grape skins, raisins and a hint of milk chocolate.

Four cracking whiskies and my favourites in order were: Manzanilla, Oloroso, Fino and Pedro Ximinez. Hopefully this will become a regular release from Tomatin as all four were quite special.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Out and about - The Glasgow Whisky Festival

With the nights getting darker and the temperature starting to plummet, what better way to raise the spirits than to go along to a whisky festival?

Friendly faces and top drams were on show at the recent Glasgow Whisky Festival - and I was one of the fortunate souls who eagerly lined up to sample some rather excellent whiskies.

After stuffing my face with a lamb burger and more fries than I've ever seen on a plate before, my brother and I headed down to The Arches in Glasgow city centre and dived into a swirling cauldron of blends, single malts and other spirits at 1pm sharp.

Now, it should be noted here that while I enjoyed many excellent drams, jotting tasting notes down was an impossible task - and I refuse to wear one of those ridiculous lanyards. I'd rather be in full control of my glass at all times - not dangling round my neck like some oversized new age crystal.

Before I even had a dram in my hand, my good Twitter chum Neil MacKinnon came over to say hello and swiftly dropped the words "Springbank" and "new release" into the conversation. No further persuasion was needed and I happily skipped over to their table. Plenty of bottles were on display, tinkling invitingly in the subterranean gloom. But the only one I was after was the new Springbank Green. I found it quite delicate, without that powerful hit other Springbanks have - but it's very drinkable and think it would make for top summer drammage. Colour me impressed - but it is pricey.

Now, I've been a big fan of Compass Box for a while. I've always found their whiskies interesting, complex and delicious. But I had my eye on one in particular - their new Glasgow Blend. After all, being at the Glasgow Whisky Festival, it would have been rude to pass up the opportunity to have a snifter! Incredibly enjoyable stuff it was too. Lots of banana and cereal notes on the nose and a touch of spice on the palate. Great stuff and available at a good price. I marked it as "one to buy" but then I realised I have more whisky than sense (not hard I'll grant you) and decided to wait until another day to pick up a bottle.

Next it was over to the always reliable Douglas Laing table. Again, a range of bottles tempted me but not wanting to block the table I quickly plumped for their Timorous Beastie blend. I'd heard some mixed reports of this excellently packaged whisky but I found it rather good. There was a robust sherry character and it was rich and tasty. Not sure I'd buy it over their Big Peat, but enjoy it I did.

I recently picked up a bottle of Weymess Malt's Peat Chimney and I'm enjoying its rich, chocolatey notes. So I was delighted to see the company back in Glasgow. I went straight for their dramspanking new release Velvet Fig - and I'm glad to say the blend tastes as good as its name implies. Sweet, mouth-coating and luscious - this was an absolute belter. Again, it sells for a good price and I'll be picking up a bottle as soon as I can get away with it. Lovely.

It was then time to leave Scotland behind and head to the rarefied air of Colorado, USA for a splash of Tin Cup whiskey. I do like some of the stuff currently coming out of the States - but I really prefer the spiciness of rye over the sweetness of bourbon. To my delight, Tin Cup carries a wonderful rye character and I thought it was quite something. The mash bill is made up from 4% malted barley, 64% corn and a healthy 32% rye. The presentation is also rather smart, with the bottle coming with its own tin cup measure. Could see this making cracking cocktails, but it also makes for a great sipper.

The great thing about whisky festivals is getting the chance to try before you buy and I'm glad I tried the Glen Moray Port Cask finish rather than splash the cash on a full bottle. I've tried a couple of SMWS bottles of Glen Moray and they were amazing. But this was not for me. No punch, very thin and really lacking character. One of the day's rare disappointments.

And speaking of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, it was time to visit there glowing red room full of quality drams. The lad on the door was controlling the numbers in the closed-off space - a great idea as last time the SMWS were there, it was in the middle of the venue and it was almost impossible to get near the tables.


They were heavily promoting their latest huge outturn and although I had previously ordered three bottles from the new range, none of these were present. It would have been nice to get a wee preview but never mind. The bottles are now safely tucked away for the moment and will be popped some time in the new year.

Here's what I sampled. Ready? Here we go!: 53.214: Seafood Cocktail - a 17-year-old Caol Ila, 26.105: Bumblebees by the Sea - a 29-year-old Clynelish, 46.26: Killer Bee Surf Wax - a 21-year-old Glenlossie, 66.58: There is Only One...! - a nine-year-old Ardmore, G8.4 Summer Meadow Hoedown - a 25-year-old Cambus, 9.91: A Whispering Dram - a 23-year-old Glen Grant, 36.80: Dorothy Dances the Yellow Brick Road - an 11-year-old Benrinnes, 41.60: Fun to Chase - a 25-year-old Dailuaine and finally a 37.97: A Symphony of Sophistication - a 23-year-old Cragganmore. Phew!

All were nothing short of splendid, but the 29-year-old Clynelish blew me away. An absolute corker of a dram and my whisky of the day. Just lovely. In second place was the 25-year-old Dailuaine, which my brother and I agreed was top drawer.

Following the cask strength madness, we stumbled out of the room and back into the bustling throng of noisy whisky aficionados. Time for a break and plenty of water before we tightened our belts, rinsed our Glencairns and headed bravely back into the heaving mass of inebriated souls - all in the name of science.

A trip to the Balblair table was in order and within a few minutes, I had a cheeky wee glass of the Balblair 83 in my hands. Cracking stuff it was too - although it has to be said if there's a bad Balblair, I've yet to find it. Everything they produce is solid gold. Magic!

I then spotted a Cooper's Choice 1996 Ben Nevis and, seeing as I'd never previously tried a drop, I took the plunge. I'm glad I did as I found it to be pleasant stuff. However, it should be noted that by this point in proceedings, my senses weren't exactly in sparkling form. Onwards!

I then stopped by the Haig Club stand, where large blue perfume bottles glinted under the lights. This is the stuff David Beckham's trying to flog and I was wary. I'm not a whisky snob - far from it, but I'm always dubious when a celebrity puts their face to a product. All I see in my mind is wads of cash changing hands and I don't like it. This is a grain whisky. And it's young. Prejudice aside, I found it painfully average. And for about £45 a bottle, I won't be going near it again. If you want my advice and you’re looking for a really interesting young grain whisky, go for Teeling Single Grain. It's lovely and knocks Beckham's effort clear over the crossbar and into the stadium's car park.

Next was a delicious Hazelburn 12 before I sauntered over to see the hard-working Benromach team. I asked for a splash of the Benromach Organic - and I thought it was a marvellous drop. One of the highlights of the day. I do like their 10-year-old, but this has more depth and richness. Lovely.

An Arran Machrie Moor was the next drop in the glass and while enjoyable, I still prefer the standard 14-Year-old. Which reminds me - I need to buy another bottle to welcome the 2015 spring.

Now, there comes a time at a whisky festival when I decide to hit the peated drams. Usually with around 90 minutes to go, I start to get stuck in. On this day, I had obviously tried a few throughout the session but from here on out, only peated spirit would pass my lips. And when it comes to peated single malts, no one does it better than Kilchoman in my opinion.

So that's where I headed next. They had several of their 2014 releases including the excellent Machir Bay (tasting notes soon). Also here was their khaki green-labelled Cask Strength bruiser. I bought a full bottle a few weeks ago - although it remains unopened for the moment. This was a great chance to try it and discover what awaits me in the future. I'm glad to say it was impressive. Full of Kilchoman character and a bottle I'm going to enjoy spending time with. Either this or my cask strength Christmas edition of Big Peat will see in the new year with me.

Next, it was over to India for the Paul John Heavily Peated. Maybe it was the fact I had bounded over straight from Kilchoman, but I just didn't get a heavy peat note at all and found it rather disappointing. I then dabbled in a drop of the English Whisky Co and their peated Chapter 15 release. I really enjoyed it, too and I'm looking forward to delving a bit deeper into their releases in the future.

The final dram of the festival wasn't whisky. Instead, I dived into Bruichladdich's Botanist gin. I'm no expert, but I enjoyed what was in the glass and it certainly refreshed the palate with its sharp, aromatic qualities.


It was then time for fond farewells to friends old and new and off I tramped with a slightly fuzzy head to the bus stop with thoughts of a greasy fish supper taking form in my pickled brain. But before I could fill my cake hole with battered fish, undercooked chips and a couple of pickled eggs, I spied The Pot Still - one of Glasgow's finest whisky bars. Standing in the cool Glasgow twilight, I convinced myself that I clearly hadn't had enough whisky for one day, so in I barged with a fistful of crumpled notes clutched tightly to my chest.

If I was a little weather-worn and bedraggled, the guy behind the bar didn't seem to notice. I ordered a Kilchoman Port Cask finish - a bottle that disappeared as soon as it hit the shelves a few months back. I was delighted to see it out in the wild and even happier that I got the chance to sample a full dram of this ruby-coloured gem. It was rather good, although I admit by this point my sense of taste, smell and direction weren't exactly pin-sharp.

And as I gently swirled that last drop round my mouth, it marked the end of my 2014 four festival run. But the fun continues on various fronts. For the last year, myself and three friends and former colleagues have been squirrelling cash away each month in a whisky club. This weekend, the four of us will pull the cash together and head out and spent around £500 on whisky. The details about exactly what we'll spend the cash on are still slightly up in the air, but for that kind of cash, we'll get something special, I'm sure.

They're a good bunch but led me astray at the Edinburgh Stramash back in May and coerced me into throwing money at a cask at the new Isle of Harris Distillery - but more about that in the future. And as if all this wasn't enough, my good mate Yan has already secured tickets for the Newcastle Whisky Festival in March - the 11am start from what I can gather so that'll be fun. Breakfast drams, anyone?

But despite all the good things to look forward to over the coming months, I'm going to end this ludicrously long post on a downer - a bit of a rant, if you will. It's something that has plagued all the festivals I've attended this year and I need to get it off my chest because it's been twisting my melon. The subject? Blocking tables.

Please note: Tasting tables are not bars - they're not there to stand at and chat with your mates. They're there for people to sample a whisky and find out information. Once the info has been imparted, a dram poured and thanks given, move away from the table. It's not difficult. I had to ask time and time again for people to shift. Most people just glared at me - as if I was gatecrashing their own private party. It's ignorant and there's really no excuse.

So stop it or you might just find some sharp elbows in your ribs in the future. You have been warned!

Friday, 24 October 2014

Glentauchers 12 (Provenance) - 46%

Distilled Autumn 1999
Bottled Winter 2012
From one refill hogshead: DMG ref: 8014

On my shopping trip to pick up a bottle of the thoroughly delicious Glenglassaugh Evolution, I also bought this Provenance bottling of Glentauchers. I had never tried a dram from the distillery, but seeing as the bottle was a good price, the whisky was non-chill filtered with no added colouring, and the fact I've had several other whiskies from the Douglas Laing/McGibbon's Provenance range, I thought, 'Why not?'
    On the nose there's loads of tropical fruit notes, primarily pineapple, mango and peach. There's also a dark malty note and it's incredibly aromatic and floral aromas rose from the glass. There was a dab of liquorice, red jelly babies, sherbet, slight banana and clean barley. I also got something which reminded me of watermelon Life Saver sweets. I also found a sour wood note running through, which got worse with the addition of water.
    Take a sip and it coats the mouth well with a lovely syrupy taste. There's also a huge smack of floral notes, honey, spicy cinnamon heat, white pepper, a touch of toffee and some wood underpinning the malt.
    The finish had vanilla, pepper, liquorice chews, malty cereals, caramel and little salt. The sour note which came through on the nose was also present here after the addition of water. Not unpleasant, but certainly noticeable. Much better neat in my opinion.
    I did enjoy the bottle, but it lacked sparkle and was missing that special something. It has me intrigued, though, and I'll be keeping my eyes peeled for more Glentauchers in the future. Glad I bought it as it's furthered my ongoing whisky education.