Thursday, 26 December 2013

Drinks By the Dram - a month in whisky heaven

WITH the last drop of Glenfarclas 40 year old now a distant memory, I thought I would reflect on my Whisky Advent Calendar experience. I sampled a total of 19 new drams and I discovered several which I will be buying in 2014.
    Everyone's tastes are different, so those who have also been sampling this fine collection of 24 drams might not agree, but my three favourites (from the new drams I tried) were: The Glencadam 21, the Mackmyra Brukswhisky and the Scapa 16 year old, while old favourites such as the Yamazaki 12, Nikka From the Barrel and the Glen Garioch 12 were  fantastic. On the negative side, I really didn't care for the Chivas Regal 18, the Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage or the Dalmore 18.
    I'll definitely be buying the calendar next year from Master of Malt and I'm hoping Linkwood and Old Pulteney make an appearance in some form, so I had better start saving now for November 2014's purchase.
    Going forward from here, I've decided to keep my tasting notes along the same lines as December's entries - short and sweet and free from rambling tales. I have a barrel-load of whiskies still to review and keeping everything concise is the only way I'll get through them. Cheers

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 24/24 - Glenfarclas 40 year old - 46%

Nose: Smooth and mellow, but give it time in the glass and wonderful aromas begin to appear. There's fragrant flowers, orange oil, leather, Brazil nuts, baked apple, sugared almonds, caramel macchiato coffee, fruit Toffos, a paper bag of sherbet lemons and a sliver of fresh kiwi fruit.

Palate: Smooth, sweet and dangerously easy to drink. There's sherry, floral notes, brown sugar, dark chocolate, a shot of espresso and plump raisins, while there's an earthiness which underpins the whole experience.

Finish: Dry with strong tannins, almonds, vanilla, treacle, dates and a sprinkle of white pepper.

Notes: Well this was certainly a surprise when I opened it on Christmas Eve. Costing around £300 a bottle, it's relatively cheap for a 40-year-old single malt, but it is still well out of my price range. It was a pleasure to sample this fine whisky and I took around an hour to fully take it in. It was also my first taste of Glenfarclas (shocking, I know) but I'll definitely be taking a closer look at their range in 2014.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 23/24: Yamazaki 12 year old - 43%

Note: Like some previous advent calendar entries, I have already reviewed - and raved about - the Yamazaki 12. It really is a wonderful dram and I will definitely be buying another bottle in the new year. Here are my tasting notes.

Nose: Oranges, freshly-cut grass, green bananas, cherries, spearmint and ginger snap biscuits. There's also a sappy, herbal; scent which comes from the Japanese oak - mizunara - which gives this excellent single malt a unique character.

Palate: Runny honey, aniseed, warming spices, vanilla and dry wood.

Finish: The Yamazaki 12 leaves a lovely biscuity flavour along with that wonderful herbal note. Utterly delicious.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 22/24 - Glenfiddich 15 Year Old Distillery Edition - 51%

Nose: Toffee, custard, dried fruits, malty cereals and a slight - but not unpleasant - soapy note.

Palate: Sweet and spicy, with toffee apples, pepper and a delicious creaminess.

Finish: Dry and fruity, with marzipan, baked plums and cinnamon and a hint of black pepper.

Notes: I have tried the Glenfiddich 12 and 18 but this beats them both in my opinion. For around 40 quid you'll be getting a lot for your cash. An enjoyable and tasty dram that goes down extremely easily.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 21/24 - Scapa 16 - 40%

Nose: Zesty, with loads of orange marmalade and honey. There's also a slightly salty note, while barley sugars, fresh grass and marzipan also rise from the glass.

Palate: Rich and oily and that wonderful orange taste coats the mouth beautifully. There are also floral notes, a dribble of sweet honey, vanilla, a touch of spice and a twist of white pepper.

Finish: Spicy orange, fresh oak, chilli flakes, butter icing and it's deliciously sweet and warming.

Notes: This was my first taste of Scapa and I really, really enjoyed it. Orange is obviously a key aroma and taste here and it's dangerously delicious. I could see myself really getting stuck into a full bottle of this and you know what, I just might do exactly that in the new year. Just imagine what this could be like at a higher alcohol strength. Lovely.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 20/24 - Johnnie Walker 18 year old Platinum Label - 40%

Nose: Soft toffee, vanilla custard, mellow dark stewed fruits, cola cubes, flat Irn-Bru and a whiff of smoke.

Palate: Light and fruity, dried apricot, grapefruit and that smoke is still hanging about.

Finish: Toffee, orange, a slight nuttiness, spearmint, chocolate, slightly sour and a sliver of peat runs all the way through it.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 19/24 - Auchentoshan Three Wood - 43%

Nose: Prunes, dates, fruity toffee, vanilla wood, milk chocolate and absolutely loads of cinnamon.

Palate: Very sweet, with caramel, molasses and sherry-soaked cherries.

Finish: Dark fruitcake, tobacco leaf, cinnamon, treacle and sappy green oak.

Notes: This was only my second ever Auchentoshan - shameful, as it's my local distillery as it lies just a few miles from my flat. The Three Wood is definitely a dram which really benefits from 20 minutes in the glass before diving in. The toffee and caramel notes intensify on the nose, while it seems to mellow out even more when you take a sip after giving it a bit of time in the glass. I enjoyed this - it's an easy going, every day sort of dram and for around £40 notes, it isn't bad at all.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 18/24 - Yellow Spot 12 Year Old Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey - 46%

Nose: Apricot, peach, raspberry, sharp gooseberry, sticky dates, bright floral notes, a hint of vanilla and good old sugary tablet.

Palate: Barley sugars, lemon, marzipan and liquorice.

Finish: Dry with sweet vanilla and light golden fruits.

Notes: This was my first Irish whiskey and I really enjoyed it. Would make a perfect dram on long summer nights. Towards the end of the glass, I added a drop of water which was a mistake. It drowned the whiskey's character and turned it into a rather average drop. Drink neat and you're in for a treat. Hey, that rhymed!

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 17/24 - The Glenlivet 16-year-old Nadurra: Batch 0313W - 54.8%

Nose: Toasted cereals, baked apples, Edinburgh rock, vanilla, cranberries, butter icing and with a few drops of water, Cadbury's Fruit and Nut.

Palate: Oily, sharp and fresh, with sweet vanilla and creamy marzipan.

Finish: Baked almond slice, green wood, creamy vanilla and prickly spices.

Notes: I enjoyed my dram of the Nadurra but I think my tastebuds would benefit from a few more drinks from this Glenlivet. There's quite a lot going on and one dram simply isn't enough to discover all this single malt has to offer. Not bad at all.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 16/24 - Balvenie Caribbean Cask - 14 years old - 43%

Note: Like some previous advent calendar entries, I have already reviewed the Balvenie Caribbean Cask. In fact, I loved it and it's one of my favourite whiskies of the year. Here are my tasting notes.

Nose: Tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple and tart passion fruit are immediately obvious. Let the whisky settle and toffee apple, fudge, raisins and sweet vanilla custard start to appear.

Palate: Very sweet, with pineapple, honey, almonds and warming spices

Finish: Delicious, with hints of a raspberry and almond slice, lemon curd and golden fruit.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 15/24 - Dalmore 18 year old - 43%

Nose: Spicy sherry, fruit cake, orange, lemon, a touch of milk chocolate, Parma violets, pencil shavings and a hint of toffee and vanilla.

Palate: Quite a lot of sherry, tobacco leaf, orange juice, vanilla and a slightly sour note.

Finish: Fruity, cinnamon, stewed tea, white pepper and the sour note returns to sign things off.

Notes: I've previously tried the Dalmore 12 which, despite smelling wonderful in the glass, was actually a bit of a letdown. The 12 is bottled at 40% and even though the 18 has a slightly higher alcohol volume at 43%, it really could have benefited from a higher percentage to boost the overall flavour. I felt the Dalmore 18 promised much, but failed to deliver. And as it costs between £80 and £90, I don't think I'll be rushing back any time soon.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 14/24 - Tomintoul 14 - 46%

Note: Like the Glen Garioch 12, I already reviewed the Tomintoul 14 just last month. Trying it again now gave me a very similar experience, but I've marked my notes below to save you trawling through the blog.

Nose: Orange rind, grapefruit, green apple and hard Thornton's toffee

Palate: Nice viscosity, with walnuts, lemon, barley sugars and butterscotch.

Finish: A decent length with wood, warming spices, honey and a huge smack of marzipan, while a citrus note lingers in the background.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 13/24 - Balcones Texas Single Malt - 53%

Nose: Prunes, rich caramel and toffee, salted popcorn, baked banana topped with Muscovado sugar and there are definite traces of the Balcones Baby Blue here along with... wait for it... a Vicks nasal stick. I kid you not. This would make an excellent hot toddy!

Palate: Thick and sweet on entry which soon turns into a warming caramel sauce, with stewed tea and black filtered coffee - a breakfast dram? Dark fruits and dates are also noticeable.

Finish: The salted popcorn is transformed into sweet caramel popcorn along with winter spices, baked apple and butterscotch. The stewed tea note returns and it reminds me slightly of Glengoyne's Teapot Dram.

Notes: I really enjoyed this and Balcones continue to impress with their range. This is the third spirit I've tried from the Texan distillery and I've yet to be disappointed. It's also an incredibly easy to drink whisky despite its high alcohol content.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 12/24 - Evan Williams Single Barrel - 2003 Vintage - 43.3%

Nose: Creamy vanilla, lemon, raisins - typical bourbon notes and certainly nothing spectacular.

Palate: Cinnamon, raisins, a slight grassy note and burnt sugar. It's quite hot and seems to be much younger than its 10 years.

Finish: Woody grapefruit rind and then the creamy vanilla comes bounding back along with a truck load of prickly spices. There's a rather unpleasant spirit note here, too which does absolutely nothing for this bottling.

Notes: This was a disappointment. I didn't get anything new, it certainly doesn't stand out from the crowd and the spirity note just left an unpleasant taste. This is only a sample, I know, but I wouldn't rush back to this. In my opinion, there are far, far better bourbons out there.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 11/24 - Mackmyra Brukswhisky - 41.4%

Nose: Light and fruity with fresh raspberries, green bananas, crunchy green apples, fruit salad chews and golden caster sugar.

Palate: Thick, vanilla rich custard with a swirl of golden syrup, red liquorice, icing sugar, buttery pastry and a hint of lemon.

Finish: Sugar-topped shortbread, slight rye notes, a sprinkling of sawdust and a drop of vanilla essence.

Notes: I've long wanted to try something from this Swedish distillery and the Brukswhisky was everything I hoped it would be. It's a fine whisky and is beautifully balanced. I will definitely be buying a bottle early in the new year - if not before. Lovely.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 10/24 - Grant's 25

Nose: Nuts galore! There's also cigars, musty raisins, bakes apples, thick honey, crystallised ginger and chocolate covered dates.

Palate: Rich, with waves of dark chocolate, sherry-soaked dark fruit, orange and tobacco.

Finish: Chocolate cake with cream, dark cherries, oranges and After Eight mints.

Notes: This one took a long, long time to open up for me. I also added a tiny drop of water after 20 minutes which brought the whisky's fruit characters to the fore.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 9/24 - Bowmore 15: Darkest - 43%

Nose: Dark sherry notes, orange, slight smoke, raisins, sappy pine, figs, coffee cream chocolates and flat Irn-Bru.

Palate: Very sweet with more orange, understated peat, smooth caramel and a nice bit of warmth.

Finish: The coffee cream chocolate note returns along with a little mint, cracked black pepper, orange oil, tobacco leaf and a sliver of woody vanilla rounds everything off.

Notes: The Bowmore 15 is an incredibly easy to drink whisky. It's smooth and tasty, although it has to be said that I enjoy my drams with a little more punch. That said, this is another dram which seems to be perfectly suited for the festive season. Not my favourite by a long shot and I don't think I would be willing to drop 50 notes on a bottle - I still think the 12 is a better dram, but there you go.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 8/24 - Blue Hanger 9th Release; Berry Bros & Rudd - 45.6%

Nose: Fresh and floral, with sweet peat, cooked bananas, a drawer full of crayons and pencils, damp leaves, sherbet lemons and a touch of marzipan. Toffee and caramel notes start to develop after 20 minutes or so. Lovely.

Palate: Sweet entry, with honey, fresh floral notes, vanilla and a waft of smoky peat.

Finish: Long, with sweet woody vanilla, lemongrass, liquorice and spearmint.

Notes: This is the first time I've tried a Blue Hanger release and I'm very impressed. The fresh floral notes and peat play together beautifully, making this a whisky that could easily be enjoyed all year round. Great stuff.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 7/24 - Smooth Ambler Old Scout 7 year old bourbon - 49.5%

Nose: Sugar, cinnamon, mint, tablet, dark caramel, foam banana sweets and spicy rye.

Palate: Thick caramel, honey, more cinnamon and prickly spices.

Finish: Burnt dark sugar, eucalyptus, mint, corn and a sliver of lemon rind, although the finish fades pretty quickly.

Notes: This is a lovely smooth bourbon and I could certainly get used to this. I really like the rye character in the Old Scout and it's a highly enjoyable drop. That said, as far as bourbon goes, the ever reliable Elijah Craig 12 remains my favourite - for the moment, but I will definitely investigate this one again in the future.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 6/24 - Chivas Regal 18 - 40%

Nose: Toffee, candied orange, red apples, brown sugar, furniture polish and it has certain rum-like qualities which make this very pleasant in the glass.

Palate: The sweetness continues once you take a sip and there's a nutty taste along with honey and sultanas. I really didn't get much more than that.

Finish: Sweet vanilla, more toffee, honey, spicy orange and it all ends on a slight bitter note.

This certainly isn't a bad blend, but while the nose promises something truly wonderful, it didn't carry through for me and for a shade over 50 quid, I'm not sure I would part with my cash to add this to my collection. But then, that's the beauty of having a sample. For roughly the same price, I could have a bottle of Old Pulteney 12 and a Nikka From the Barrel. Actually, that's not a bad idea!

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 5/24 - Glen Garioch 12 - 48%

Note: Like the Nikka From the Barrel, I have already had a full bottle of the Glen Garioch 12 which I reviewed just last month. Trying it again a few weeks later gave me the same experience, but I've marked my notes below to save you trawling through the blog. Spoiler: It's a beauty!

Nose: Very rich with dates, figs, heather honey, tobacco, Amaretti biscuits, cinnamon and sweet nutty baklava.
Palate: Sweet, rich and really nutty, with floral notes and lots of dried fruit.
Finish: Magnificent, with creamy butterscotch, figs, dates, fresh ginger and cinnamon.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 4/24 - Glencadam 21-year-old - 46%

Nose: Waves of sweet vanilla, crisp green apples, hard boiled pear drops, kiwi fruit, honey, malty Cheerios, lime juice and a slight paper note. Wow!

Palate: A delicious mix of heather honey, creamy panna cotta, grapefruit juice and white chocolate.

Finish: Dry and woody, with vanilla, lemon rind, warming prickly spices and a dab of liquorice at the back.

A cracker of a dram and as a full bottle is available for a very reasonable price, I think I'll invest in a bottle in the new year. This would make a fantastic summer dram.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 3/24 - Nikka From the Barrel - 51.4%

Note: I first tried this whisky earlier this year and wrote about it back in August. As you can see from my notes below, this time, I found a few more tastes and smells.

Nose: Sweet oak, honey, mashed banana, golden syrup, marmalade, vanilla essence, freshly cut grass, ground cinnamon, chewy butterscotch toffee, dried apricots, crushed mint leaves and barley sugars. 

Palate: Rich and oily, with heaps of sweet vanilla, grass, spicy cinnamon and a dollop of thick honey.

Finish: Icing and marzipan, apricot jam, a hint of spearmint and dry oak. One of the best whiskies I've tried this year. A real cracker.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 2/24 - Talisker Port Ruighe - 45.8%

Nose: An initial burst of sea salt gives way to caramel, campfire smoke, rich orange marmalade, stewed plums sprinkled with cinnamon, lemon rind and the unmistakable scent of American Cream Soda.

Palate: Thick, sweet and oily with a decent ammount of chilli heat, along with jammy red fruit and a hint of dark chocolate.

Finish: Dry wood, caramel, spicy dried fruit, the warming heat of a mild chilli and it all ends up with a stewed tea note.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Whisky Advent Calendar: Day 1/24 - The Balvenie Doublewood 17 - 43%

TWO weeks ago, my wife totally surprised me by giving me a Master of Malt Whisky Advent Calendar. I couldn't quite believe it but I was absolutely thrilled. It has been sitting in the kitchen staring at me since then but today I finally got the chance to open window 1 and sample the dram inside. Below, I've put my tasting notes for the whisky and deliberately kept it short and sweet. Every day over the coming weeks, I'll post my tasting notes on the whiskies inside the calendar - no nonsense, no back story, just the facts straight from the glass. So, here we go.

Dram 1: The Balvenie Doublewood 17 year old

Nose: Honey, vanilla, golden syrup, icing sugar, strawberry jam, apple turnovers, caramel and cinnamon.
Palate: Sweet, with dried fruit, raisins, caramel, milk chocolate and sugar-topped shortbread.
Finish: Long with a nice balance of wood, honey, vanilla, tobacco leaf and a slightly bitter - though not unpleasant - note.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Spice Tree

MY experience with blends is fairly limited, although I have tried some absolute belters in the last few months. So I thought it was about time I looked a bit deeper and one name that kept cropping up while I was doing a bit of research was The Compass Box - a specialist whisky maker based in London.
    I had heard about their run-in with the Scotch Whisky Association about the production of The Spice Tree a while back, but that's really all I knew. But discovering they had worked around the issue and intrigued by all the fuss, I decided to track down a bottle of the newer stuff and try it for myself.
    The presentation is fantastic, with the bottle encased in an eye-catching black box covered in swirling golden oak branches. Luckily, the liquid inside is just as impressive and as the bottle is now half full, I thought I would get some notes down about this fine whisky before it disappears.
    The Spice Tree is bottled at 46%, is non-chill filtered with no added colouring and is composed of a variety of Highland malts, including Clynelish, and is matured in bespoke casks made from both French and American oak.
    On the nose, there's pencil shavings, butter icing, dried banana slices, custard cream biscuits, stewed apple, milk chocolate, nutmeg, dates, a wee bit of soap and a hint of struck matches.
    On the palate, I found orange rind, milk chocolate, vanilla and cinnamon, while the finish is packed with more vanilla, dry wood, cloves, fresh ginger and a malty biscuit note.
    The Spice Tree is an intense and delicious dram and would make an excellent sipper over the festive season. Look out for it on your travels.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Bowmore 12

MY very first job was working in the studio of an advertising agency, well before new fangled technology such as digital cameras and the Internet. In fact, if memory serves, there wasn’t even a computer on our floor. We had to slave away with a giant machine called a Repromaster to resize images and text, create copy using Letraset and all our artwork was created using bromides and Spray Mount. Happy days.
    Why am I prattling on about life in an advertising agency in the late Eighties? Well, one of the company’s clients was Bowmore and we were responsible for creating their newspaper ads and corporate ID. Back then, as a fresh-faced youth with long, flowing locks, I had no idea about whisky and therefore they were nothing more than just another client. Only in recent years have I tasted their products and come to appreciate them as something more than a collection of text and images pasted to an A3 piece of white board propped up in a darkroom in Glasgow.
    Recently, I tried several drams of the Bowmore 12 and thoroughly enjoyed them, so here’s what I thought of this Islay malt and rest assured, that’s the end of the advertising chatter!
    On the nose there's stewed fruit, prunes, tangerines, bananas, a hint of flat Irn-Bru, fruit Polos, eucalyptus and it also carries a coastal tang. On the palate there's sweet orange juice, honey, warming spices and slight smoke. The finish is full of salt, honey, orange, vanilla and drying wood, while a lovely smoky note lingers in the background.
    If your thinking about diving into Islay malts but are unsure with all the talk about dark peat and heavy smoke, then I would definitely start with this. It has that unmistakable Islay character, is bottled at 40% and is far more subtle than some of the peat monsters found elsewhere on the island.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Big Peat

THE weather is getting colder here in Scotland - much colder, so my thoughts have been turning to Islay malts and their robust peaty character in order to take the chill off the old bones.
    After buying a bottle of Douglas Laing's excellent Scallywag recently, I decided to purchase one of their other products which lies at the opposite end of the flavour spectrum from their sweet wee blended malt - Big Peat.
    Big Peat himself is plastered across the front of the bottle - taking the full force of a blast of bracing coastal sea air and his mug sets the tone for this humdinger of a blended malt.
    Big Peat is non-chill filtered, bottled at 46% and is made up of several Islay single malts, including whiskies from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and the defunct Port Ellen distilleries. It is extremely light in colour and should anyone ever tell you that the darker a whisky the more flavour it has, give them a dram of Big Peat and watch their face as Peat happily slaps them about the chops with a hefty smack of deep, delicious flavours.
    On the nose there's slabs of sweet peat, smoky bacon crisps, wet leaves, bonfire smoke, TCP, soap, liquorice and it's all wrapped up in a wonderful salty tang.
    The palate is sweet and smoky, with honey, chipotle chillies and charcoal chips, while the sweetness continues through the finish, along with lovely deep peaty notes and crushed black peppercorns.
    It's a bruiser of a whisky and absolutely perfect for those long, cold winter nights. There's also a Christmas edition out now which is bottled at cask strength. I've not tried it yet, but if Peat asks, tell him I'm on the case and to go easy on me.

Monday, 18 November 2013

High West American Prairie Reserve

A FEW months ago, I wrote about the excellent High West Double Rye - a wonderful blend of a 16-year-old rye and a feisty two-year-old rye. Quite frankly, it blew me away so when I saw another High West product, I snapped it up straight away. This time it was the High West American Prairie Reserve - a blend of two bourbons which - from what I can gather - are a six-year-old spirit from Indiana and a 10-year-old Four Roses bourbon from Kentucky.
    The result of this 46%, non-chill filtered blend is pretty good, although when it comes to bourbons, my favourite is still the Elijah Craig 12.
    Let this settle in the glass and there's vanilla custard, runny caramel, green oak, cinnamon, honey and After Eight mints. Take a sip and there's sweet toffee and fruit jam with a streak of citrus, while the finish is dry and woody, with spicy cinnamon, crystallised ginger and a lingering stewed tea note.
    All in all, the High West Prairie Reserve is a very good bourbon. But, it's a little on the pricey side when compared to the Elijah Craig 12, which, for my money, is still the best around.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Glen Garioch 12

MY wife and I recently spent a few days in Edinburgh, and no trip to the capital is complete without a wander up the Royal Mile and diving into the many whisky shops dotted along the cobbled street. But on this particular trip, we also decided to visit the Scotch Whisky Experience and it was here that I bought a bottle of Glen Garioch 12.
    I had read a bit about this Aberdeenshire distillery but had never tried a drop. But, with a discount attached to the entry ticket, I decided to dive into this single malt - and I'm very glad I did.
     The whisky is bottled at a very respectable 48%, is non-chill filtered and has a lovely, rich taste which is quite unlike anything I've tried before. On the nose there's sticky dates, figs, heather honey, tobacco, Amaretti biscuits, cinnamon and sweet nutty baklava. There's also some good quality bourbon scents wafting from the glass. It's definitely worth spending a good 20 minutes or so with this beauty just to fully experience the wonderful aromas.
    Take a sip and it is floral, rich, sweet and nutty, with honey and dried fruit, while the finish is a mix of creamy butterscotch, dates, figs, fresh ginger and cinnamon.
    The Glen Garioch 12 is an exceptional dram. It's not a light, every day whisky but the sort of drink which slips down wonderfully after dinner. It's rich, heavy, full bodied and absolutely packed with gorgeous aromas and mouth watering flavours. A corker of a dram.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Tomintoul 14

THIS Speyside malt has the words “The gentle dram” emblazoned across the bottle in glittering gold - very similar to Dalwhinnie's “The gentle spirit” statement on their bottles. Both are clearly marked to try and attract non-whisky drinkers into the fold but is it all just marketing, or is their substance to their claims?
    As I previously mentioned, the Dalwhinnie 15 is a rather decent drop and is indeed very accessible. However, in my opinion, this Tomintoul 14 has that little bit extra going on and would be my recommended starting point for those new to single malts.
    On the nose there's grapefruit, orange rind, green apple, vanilla and a hard toffee note.
    On the palate, the Tomintoul has a nice viscosity to it, with lemon, walnuts, barley and butterscotch flavours coating the mouth. The finish is a decent length, with wood, honey, warming spices and a huge smack of marzipan, while there's also a slight citrus note lurking around in the background.
    I found the Tomintoul 14 to have more complexity that the Dalwhinnie 15, and an added bonus is that it has no added colouring, it's non-chill filtered, is bottled at a thoroughly decent 46% and costs around £35. Good stuff all round.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Sweet Wee Scallywag

THIS week, Douglas Laing released their latest small batch whisky and I grabbed a bottle as soon as it scampered into The Good Spirits Co. in Glasgow.
    I had seen the bottle design on Twitter and as Douglas Laing has a fine reputation - a Big Peat review is coming soon - I had no hesitation in bringing this young scamp home with me on Thursday afternoon.
    The Scallywag is named after the Laing family's long line of Fox Terriers and the label design was inspired by Binks, their wee rascal who sadly died recently. But even though Binks is gone, this excellent whisky is a fitting tribute and a fine drop.
    The Scallywag is a blended malt - also known as a vatted malt - made from a collection of Speyside whiskies including malts from the Mortlach, Macallan, Glenrothes, Inchgower and Dailuaine distilleries. It is bottled at 46% and is non-chill filtered.
    On the nose there's vanilla custard, macadamia nuts, orange oil, milk chocolate, icing sugar, rich fruit cake and a dusting of ground cinnamon. I even get a lovely whiff of sugary, hard boiled pineapple cubes.
    On the palate, there's sherry-soaked raisins, orange, cocoa powder, cinnamon and nutmeg, while the delicious finish has a slight woodiness, with vanilla, honey and icing sugar.
    The Scallywag is an excellent whisky and with its smooth and warming flavours, is ideal for the festive season. It's also available at a thoroughly decent price and is definitely worth a closer look if you are after a rich, full-bodied whisky.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Forty Creek Canadian Whisky

I HAVE been on the hunt for Forty Creek for the last six months - and it's certainly not easy to find here in Scotland. This Canadian whisky isn't for sale at retail in the UK, although I certainly hope that changes in the near future. But last week while on my way to an old work colleague's leaving bash, I thought I would nip into a nearby pub as I was running a wee bit early and didn't want to be the first to arrive at the party.
    While scanning the scores of bottles aligning the wall, I caught a glimpse of a bottle of Forty Creek. My heart skipped a beat and I immediately ordered a dram of the Forty Creek Barrel Select. I paid for the drink and retired to a quite corner to sample this highly anticipated whisky - and I wasn't disappointed.
    The Barrel Select is a blend of rye, barley and corn, which are distilled separately in small batches before being aged in American white oak barrels for between six and 10 years. The trio of spirits are then brought together and aged in sherry cask barrels for an additional six months to round off the spirit. The result is a whisky full of character and one I'll definitely be looking out for again.
    On the nose I got a smack of rye, sweet toffee, marmalade, juicy pears and a lovely toasty nutty quality. On the palate the Barrel Select is sweet and warming, with plenty of caramel, spice, honey, cherry, orange and buttered popcorn. The finish is lovely with an edge of dry wood and flashes of creamy vanilla. It was so good that I bought myself another two drams from the bar before heading off to the party in a rather good mood - but the night was about to get even better.
    At the bar at the next pub, I saw - slightly hidden behind several other bottles - a beautiful bottle of Forty Creek's Heart of Gold. This stunning whisky is limited to only 9000 bottles and is rare as hen's teeth in this part of the world so I felt incredibly privileged to have the chance of buying a dram - and I also took the picture on the right to prove I wasn't dreaming!
    Like the Barrel Select, the Heart of Gold also uses rye, barley and corn, but in this case the rye is the dominant force - and I do love rye! As I was in company - and good company at that - I didn't have a chance to get my tasting notes down, but I tried to memorise what was in the glass and here's what I found.
    The nose had a woody spiciness to it, with ginger, butterscotch, freshly cut grass, orange, dark fruit and a floral flourish. I even found the Heart of Gold to have some rum qualities to it.
    In the mouth, the whisky was fruity, with delicious brown sugar, cloves, cinnamon, thick, chunky orange marmalade and a lovely nuttiness, while the long, lingering finish was full of lively pepper, citrus, vanilla, and a wee drop of golden syrup.
    I was blown away by both these excellent whiskies and I really hope it's not too long before I can finally buy a bottle of Forty Creek to call my own as I really think spending some quality time with this fabulous Canadian product would open up more flavours and aromas.
    The odds are sadly not in my favour, but just having the chance to try two of Forty Creek's products in one evening was a dream come true and it left a huge smile on my face for days afterwards.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Tobermory 10 year old

BACK in the mid-Nineties, my friends and I decided to go on a camping trip to the Isle of Mull. Long walks across the rugged island - most of the time in the rain - certainly worked up a thirst and although the Tobermory distillery was never far away, I liked beer more than whisky back then. Shocking, I know. However, we did take a trip to the distillery and I was later given a bottle of the Tobermory 10 as a gift. But that was a long time ago, so I decided to revisit this 10 year old single malt recently, which is now bottled at the higher strength of 46.3% to discover what I had been missing. Here's what I found.
    On the nose, there's lemon, salted butter, light oak, slight smoke and a vegetable note, which is underpinned by the merest whiff of marzipan. On the palate, I found the 10 to be very floral, with honey and a heap of peppery spices. The long finish gave me tangerine rind, a little dab of cinnamon, oak and a slight bitterness. All in all, a very enjoyable dram - I'm just sorry it took me so long to unearth the Tobermory's delights.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Tweeddale Twitter Tasting

LAST week I was lucky enough to be selected to take part in a Twitter tasting - an event I had witnessed several times but never had the chance to take part in. It was organised by Steve Rush from The Whisky Wire and Alasdair Day of Tweeddale and it was a corker of a night. We had four batches to try and everyone involved agreed that all four drams were something special. What made the event so much fun was hearing everyone's opinions. This helped me identify certain tastes and smells I couldn't quite put my finger on and I found it to be an enjoyable and educational evening. Here are my notes from the night and a wee bit about the whiskies themselves.

Tweeddale Batch 1: 10 years old, bottled at 46%
This was created from one single grain whisky and eight single malts between 10 and 21 years old from the four regions of Scotland: Lowlands, Highlands, Speyside and Islay.

Nose: Initially there's lemons, vanilla, grapefruit, slight smoky peat and a dusting of cocoa powder. But as it settles down, the aromas evolve to reveal raspberry, cinnamon, apples, grass and a biscuity note which brought to mind fig rolls.

Palate: Sweet arrival, with raisins, toffee, dark autumn fruit, cloves, a wee bit of grass and a slight smoky peatiness.

Finish: Fresh ginger, pepper and a hint of spice, while a lovely fruity note runs all the way through.

Tweeddale Batch 2: 12 years old, bottled at 46%
This has the same grain whisky as Batch 1 but this is 15 years old from a sherry butt. The seven single malts used in this blend are also from the same casks as Batch 1 but are between 12 and 21 years old.

Nose: Much richer than Batch 1. Polished wood, raisins, leather and Lockets cough sweets. Blackberry, red and black jelly babies, salt, damp leaves, kiwi and passion fruit, pomegranate, plum jam, slightly earthy, icing sugar, orange, root beer and pencil shavings.

Palate: Sweet, almost jam-like. Toffee, vanilla, rich honey, toffee apples, dry wood, caramel.

Finish: Vanilla and strawberry jam with a wee dab of liquorice.

Tweeddale Batch 3: 13 years old, bottled at 46%
This features the same single grain as before but it's 18 years old from sherry butts. Seven of the single malts used are from the same casks as Batch 1 and 2 but are a year older. The core malt is 14 years old from a different cask.

Nose: Porridge with a swirl of strawberry jam, lots of cinnamon, herbal, butter icing, apples, dried fruits - specifically yogurt-covered banana slices.

Palate: Almost cake-like, with lots of sweet jam, brown sugar, honey, orange and there's a fizzy confectionery note - I'm thinking of a packet of Refreshers.

Finish: Sweet and warming with a biscuity note similar to Ginger Snap biscuits.

Tweeddale Batch 4: 14 years old, bottled at 46%
The single grain here is slightly younger - 16 years old. Seven of the single malts are from the same distilleries and same casks as before. The Lowland malt was matured in an Islay cask.

Nose: Rich and full-bodied with the same lovely fruity jam note as batches 1, 2 and 3. White wine, very floral, malt loaf, ginger ale, raspberry panacotta, pepper, gooseberry, sherbet lemons, sherbet Dib-Dabs and fruit salad chewy sweets.

Palate: Lots of fruity jam again, but it's slightly softer here. Black pepper, blackberry, wine gums and strawberry Chewits.

Finish: Liquorice, lots of autumnal fruits and a hint of spice.

As you can see, all four have a lot going on and they all have a wonderful fruit jam note which is utterly delicious. If I had to pick one, it would have to be Batch 2, but it's a very close call. I was so impressed with the Tweeddale range that I bought a bottle of Batch 3 yesterday which I'll save for a wee while, especially as there are only 300 clanking around the UK - most were sent to the US and Canada.

I would also just like to thank everyone who took part in the Twitter tasting and to Steve and Alasdair for organising the event. If you see a bottle of Tweeddale out in the wild, don't hesitate and buy it straight away.

Let's hear it for the blends! 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

GlenDronach 15 Year Old Revival

FOLLOWING my rum-soaked adventures of the last few weeks, my thoughts swiftly returned to whisky and this rich Speyside single malt from GlenDronach.
    This is a sherry monster - it's matured exclusively in Oloroso casks for a minimum of 15 years - and it's the darkest whisky I've ever seen. It's also non-chill filtered with no added coloring and is bottled at a robust 46%.
    On the nose, there's prunes, walnuts, caramel coffee, sugary tablet, rich dark fudge and I even get a whiff of soy sauce. Strange though that is, it's certainly not unpleasant.
    On the palate, there's bitter dark chocolate, black coffee and orange rind, while the lengthy finish is dry, with walnuts, stewed tea, dark chocolate truffles and Muscovado sugar.
    It's a heavy whisky and certainly not a light, every day dram - but if you're after a sherried single malt which packs a punch, then the GlenDronach 15 Year Old Revival should be right up your street.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Kraken Black Spiced Rum

THIS is the last in my mini series on rums, but don't worry, I'll be returning to this spirit again in the months to come.
    I've tasted a few quality rums over the last few weeks - most of which are fairly easy to track down either online or from specialist retailers. But for this entry, I thought I would go for The Kraken, which you should be able to find without looking too hard.
    The first thing you'll notice is the distinctive bottle, which features double rings on the neck which - I suppose - are there to hook your fingers around before you take a generous glug straight from the bottle. Don't do this as a) you're guaranteed to spill it down your favourite shirt and b) this is not the ideal way to enjoy your rum!
    The second thing you are bound to notice is The Kraken's label. It's a bit of a beauty, featuring the titular mythical beast wrapping its tentacles around a galleon before dragging it down to Davy Jones' Locker. Both the label and the bottle make this one jump right off the shelf, but is it any good? Let's pour a glass - remember, no swilling from the bottle - and find out.
    On the nose there's Cherry Coke, root beer, black cherries, molasses, vanilla, cough medicine, lemon and even a trace of mint chocolate - I'm thinking specifically of a mint Aero bar.
    On the palate, The Kraken has a slightly oily feel and has bags of creamy butterscotch, cloves, vanilla, espresso, black cherries and flat cola, while the finish has more cherries, black peppercorns, wood, coffee and that medicinal note returns.
    I rather like The Kraken for an occasional sip, but where it really comes into its own is in rum cocktails, where it slaps you about the face and imparts wonderful flavours.
    The Kraken is bottled at 40% and is fairly cheap - expect to pay between £20-£25 for a bottle and for that price, you really can't go wrong.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Ron de Jeremy

PRIOR to sampling this Panamanian 40% rum, the only thing I knew about Ron Jeremy was that he was the leading man in a selection of films featuring quite a lot of nudity. As a result, I'll try and resist the temptation to include double entendres and any quips about stiff drinks etc...oops!
    Back to the rum, then, and the first thing I noticed was how delicate the rum was in the glass. I had to leave it for 10 minutes and spend another 10 minutes or so with my nose in the glass searching for aromas. They are there, but this is a rum where it pays to be patient.
    On the nose, there's bananas, apples, white sugar, honey and caramel - but each of these scents I found to be very delicate. Take a sip, and this actually proves to be quite a robust rum with a good bit of flavour. There's golden syrup, raisins, honey, spice and vanilla, while the finish is dry, sweet and very smooth.
    I may have been spoiled by some of the other rum tastings on this blog, but while this is certainly a decent drop, it doesn't match some of the quality rums I've previously tried. That said, I did very much enjoy the Ron de Jeremy and I would definitely order it in a bar - although I might feel a wee bit bashful asking for it.
    My thanks once again go to Captain Steven James at the Rum Diaries Blog for sending the Ron de Jeremy this way. Cheers, fella.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Appleton Estate 12 year old Jamaican Rum

CONTINUING my mini series on rum, today I have the Appleton Estate 12 year old.
    Now, this isn't my first experience of Appleton's rums - I have previously tried their 8 year old, but the experience wasn't entirely positive. I ordered the rum from a bar and was given the dregs of a dust covered old bottle - not the best start - and the rum really didn't taste great. It had an overpowering spirit scent and the taste was equally nasty. I put this down to just an unfortunate experience, so I was really interested to try this 12-year-old from the comfort of my sofa. Happily, this particular drop left a much more favourable impression.
    On the nose, there's brown sugar, orange marmalade, raisins, cigar tobacco, caramel, dessicated coconut and walnuts, while the scent of lemon rind is ever present.
    The rum has a rich taste and coats the mouth beautifully. There's an unmistakable alcohol kick, which then gives way to fruity caramel and sweet wood. The finish is dry, sweet and spicy, with vanilla notes coming to the fore after a minute or so.
    The Appleton Estate is a robust and tasty rum. However, it can't hold a candle to either the mouthwatering El Dorado 12 or the elegant and refined Plantation XO in my opinion. It would, dare I say it, be rather good in a cocktail though.
    Thanks again to Steven James at Rum Diaries Blog for sending me a sample of the Appleton Estate 12 year old.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Plantation XO 20th Anniversary Barbados Rum

I'VE taken a look at a couple of rums before now - the El Dorado 12 and the R.L Seales - and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I now have a few more rums to sample thanks to Steven James at Rum Diaries Blog , so I thought I would do a mini-series focusing on rum, rum and more rum.
    The first of these is the Plantation XO 20th Anniversary Barbados Rum, and this will be followed by the Appleton Estate 12 from Jamaica, the Ron de Jeremy from Panama and I'll finish off with the widely available Kraken Black Spiced Rum. So without messing about, let's get straight into it.
    The Plantation XO is bottled at 40% and matured in both bourbon and cognac casks and boasts an incredible complexity which carries through from the nose to the finish. Pour a drop of this dark golden rum and have a sniff and you'll find this spirit is quite refined and not as pungent as some other rums.
    There's caramel, baked apples, dried banana slices, plump dark cherries, muscovado sugar, pipe tobacco, buttery toffee, dates, nutmeg, sweet coconut and a hint of milk chocolate - and if you can resist keeping it in the glass for another 10 minutes or so, these scents intensify.
    The palate is just as good, with heaps of sweet vanilla, warming caramel, dark orange marmalade, gentle spices and the whole spirit has a beautiful sweetness. On the finish, there's cherries, vanilla, soft golden fruit and that wonderful coconut and chocolate rounds everything off beautifully.
    The Plantation XO 20th Anniversary Rum is wonderful and my generous sample simply wasn't enough - this is now firmly on my shopping list.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Edradour 10

SINCE I started this blog, I've tasted drams from all over Scotland, including one from Scotland's highest distillery and another from one of the country's most northerly distilleries. However, until recently, I had never tried a drop from Scotland's smallest distillery.
    I put that right last week, when I enjoyed several drams from Edradour - a beautiful little distillery nestled in the heart of the Perthshire countryside.
     As you would expect from a small distillery, the staffing levels and amount of whisky produced are also pretty small - only three men are involved in the distillation, while Edradour produce only 12 casks per week.
    But while the process might be diminutive, this 10-year-old hand-made whisky has a big taste, far beyond what I would normally associate with a 10-year-old single malt - especially for a spirit bottled at a meager 40%.
    Oloroso sherry casks have been used in the maturation of this spirit and that character comes through straight away on the nose. There's also a rum-like quality which sneaks through, while lemon, dried fruit, cherries, apple pie, cinnamon and a drizzle of sesame oil make themselves known after a few minutes. It really does boast an excitingly complex nose.
    Take a sip and there is, as you would expect, loads of sherry, but there's far more to this than just a heavy sherry influence. There's caramel, raisins, cocoa, buttery pastry, creme brulee and flecks of vanilla, while the long finish is mellow and seems to go on forever.
    A cracking dram and one I will definitely be keeping an eye on.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14

A FEW months ago, I was in a bar in Glasgow and spotted the Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14. Since I really enjoyed the Balvenie Doublewood 12 and wanted to try a whisky which had a hint of rum, I had no hesitation in ordering a dram. Thoroughly enjoyable it was too and, a few days later, I bought a 70cl bottle.
     Like the Yamazaki 12, there's only a small drop left, so I thought it was high time I put some thoughts down before the whisky disappears.
     The Caribbean Cask is aged for 14 years in oak barrels and is then finished in rum casks. For exactly how long isn't known, but my guess would be for a few months - just enough time for the whisky to take on some rum characteristics.
    On the nose, the rum makes itself known immediately, with hints of tropical fruits such as mango, pineapple and tart passion fruit coming through. But the sweet scents don't stop there and let the whisky settle for a few minutes and toffee apple, fudge, juicy raisins and sweet vanilla custard appear. It really does smell amazing and it's another dram which really comes into its own if you leave it for 10 minutes or so after pouring.
    Take a sip and the pineapple returns along with a dollop of honey, almonds and warming spices. The finish is long and delicious with hints of a raspberry and almond slice, lemon curd and golden fruit.
    It's another splendid drop from Balvenie, who, along with Old Pulteney, are fast becoming one of my favourite ditilleries. The Caribbean Cask might be a touch too sweet for some, but I think that sweetness will give the whisky a wider appeal and while another bottle is on my list, I plan on investigating other Balvenies before I return to this excellent dram.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Whisky popcorn

I AM always on the lookout for interesting whisky products and can certainly vouch for Glengoyne's delicious buttery fudge - although, sadly, the box didn't last long. Maybe I'll have to take another trip to the distillery to restock.
    However, to keep me munching, I discovered Joe & Seph's amazing gourmet popcorn. While looking through the website and choosing a few pouches, I found they had whisky popcorn - Caramel, Macchiato & Whisky popcorn to be precise. So, unsurprisingly, I ordered some along with a few other flavours.
    Their air-popped, handmade popcorn is amazing and this whisky blend is no different. It has 4.9% of whisky in the mix and although that's not a great deal, it gives the crunchy popcorn a lovely rich, deep and nutty taste.
    The other flavours I've tried include Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter and Toffee Apple and Cinnamon - all of which were fantastic, but it's hard to beat the whisky version in my opinion.
    To find out more, head over to Joe & Seph's  website and take a look.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

The Yamazaki 12

THE last time I tried a whisky from Japan it was the excellent Nikka From The Barrel, a fabulous blend from the the Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries.
    However, while I was enjoying that particular whisky, I also had my eye on a bottle of Yamazaki 12, a single malt from Suntory's Yamazaki Distillery - the oldest distillery in Japan - and I finally picked up a bottle last month. Now, with only a few drams left, I thought I had better write down my thoughts before the bottle runs dry.
    Japanese whisky is becoming much more noticeable and easier to get hold of these days, with a marked increase in retailers stocking the country's varied range of both blends and single malts. In my opinion, every time a bottle rolls off a production line in Japan, everyone involved should give thanks and a polite bow to Shinjiro Torii who, inspired by Scottish whisky, founded the Yamazaki distillery in Kyoto, north of Osaka in 1923.
    The product is beautifully packaged and I love the shape and colour of the bottle - the glass has been slightly smoked which I really like - but it's the quality of the whisky that really stands out.
    On the nose, there's a lot going on and it's a whisky which keeps evolving the longer you leave it to settle in the glass - I have spent up to 20 minutes just smelling the mouthwatering aromas. There's orange, fresh cut grass, green bananas, cherries, spearmint, ginger snap biscuits and a heap of botanical notes. There's also a herbal, sappy scent, which I can only imagine comes from the Japanese oak - mizunara - which is used in the whisky's maturation. It's simply amazing and gives the spirit a unique character which is quite different from Scottish whisky.
   When I finally get round to tasting the Yamazaki 12, there's the sweetness of runny honey, aniseed, warming spices, vanilla and dry wood, while the finish has a slight biscuity taste and that lovely herbal note returns to round off a perfect mouthful.
    The Yamazki 12 is simply magnificent and although priced around £45, it's worth taking a closer look at. I'll definitely be buying another bottle soon and I'm also eager to try the 18, although at closer to £100, I might have to start saving.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

R.L. Seale's 10 year old Barbados rum

SINCE today is officially Talk Like A Pirate Day, I thought I would celebrate this ridiculous occasion by having a few more swigs from my newly acquired bottle of R.L. Seale's - another recommendation from Captain Steven James at the good ship Rum Diaries Blog. Steven has been my guide to the wonderful world of rum, and I owe him a great deal for introducing me to the splendid El Dorado 12 and this magnificent bottle of grog.
    The first thing you notice about the R.L. Seale's is its magnificent bottle - it looks as if it's had one too many flagons of fine rum and then fallen asleep in front of a roaring fire. I am told the bottle's unique shape is meant to replicate the leather pouches sailors used to carry their rum in and it works for me.
    But there is much more to this rum than its funky bottle - this is another excellent spirit which, at 43%, would even warm the cockles of old Blackbeard's dark heart.
    The nose is simply sublime, with buttery fudge, vanilla, baked apples and a dusting of spicy cinnamon making this old pirate very happy. The taste and finish are even better, with lots of delicious dried fruit swirling with cherry bakewell and sugary lemon tart. Crashing waves of vanilla then wash over the tongue, while wood, as dry as a well-used galleon's plank, holds everything together.
    In my mind, it compares very favourably with the El Dorado 12 and if you find that a little too sweet, give the R.L Seale's a try, as it's not as sweet but still has that wonderful complexity.
    This is a warming and comforting drink which is best savoured neat. Another exceptional rum I would be quite happy to be stranded with if I was shipwrecked on a desert island.