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.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Balcones Brimstone

AND now for something completely different.
    Scotland may be the home of whisky, but exciting things are happening around the world, with many distillers pushing boundaries and challenging our perceptions in the process.
    One such distiller is Chip Tate at the Balcones Distillery, which is situated in Waco, Texas. Chip and his team have been working with hopi blue corn to create a range of outstanding whiskies, but it is the Brimstone which has been gathering a lot of attention.
    This is no ordinary whisky - it is a Texas scrub oak smoked corn whisky bottled at 53%, and it packs one hell of a punch. It may be smoked, but this is nothing like the peaty smoke found in Islay's excellent malts; rather than smoke the grain, Balcones actually smoke the whisky to produce the Brimstone, giving it a unique flavour profile which is quite unlike anything I've ever tasted before.
    Its fiery red colour is the first sign this spirit means business - it should also be noted that Balcones don't chill-filter their whisky or add colouring.
    Pop the cork and you are immediately hit with a rubber note, like screeching tyres on baking hot tarmac. Pour a drop and you don't even have to stick your nose in the glass - it makes its presence known straight away. However, bring it up, take a sniff and be prepared for a quite incredible experience.
    On the nose there is the unmistakable smell of smoking embers, burnt salted popcorn, dry roasted peanuts, dark chocolate, brown sugar and honey-cured bacon slathered in a spicy barbecue sauce. It's utterly unique.
    The taste is similarly impressive and slowly 'chewing' the Brimstone is unforgettable as the spirit has a sweetness to it which then turns into a sweet and hot chipotle sauce which coats the mouth beautifully.
    The finish goes on forever, with honey-covered charcoal bricks and waves of dark chocolate, red chilli, rich caramel, black cherry syrup and a touch of mint hanging around for ages.
    Admittedly, the Brimstone won't be for everyone and initially, I really wasn't sure about it. However, I am now more than half way through the bottle and this is definitely a whisky which gets better the more time you spend with it. I've found that initial rubbery smell to have subsided quite a bit and my tastebuds are now used to the spirit's unique characteristics.
    It's not an every day dram, that's for sure, but for sitting round a bonfire or eating with food prepared on a barbecue, it is a perfect fit. I had a dram with spicy pulled pork and it was a taste sensation.
    Excellent stuff from Balcones - one of the most exciting distilleries around at the moment.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Old Pulteney 12

I WAS introduced to this single malt by one of my closest friends, who also just happens to be a bit of a whisky aficionado. He lives in England these days, so we don't often see each other. But back in May, we met up in Manchester for a gig and before we headed out for a few drams and some live music, he unveiled a selection of whisky samples.
    Among his fine portable collection of jingling spirit bottles was an Old Pulteney 12 and, before my glass was empty, I had fallen in love with this excellent spirit. So much so, that when I jumped off the train back in Glasgow the following day, I immediately bought a bottle - and it didn't last long.
    Situated in Wick, Old Pulteney was, until recently, the most northerly Scottish mainland distillery, before being upstaged by those rascals at Wolfburn. The rugged wind-swept location in the north-east gives the single malt a coastal tang, which might sound unpleasant but it is anything but.
    The 12 is bottled at 40% and on the nose there's orange peel, vanilla, grapefruit, apples, grapes, gooseberries, honey and pineapple - all held in check by an ever-present salty sea breeze. Stunning.
    Take a sip, and lemony marzipan is immediately obvious, before it slips away to leave a nutty, salty note on the back of the tongue.
    That first bottle of Old Pulteney 12 lasted me a couple of weeks - a bottle usually lasts months in my house - but I just couldn't get enough. It is a fabulous whisky and without question one of my favourites and it's safe to say I will always have an Old Pulteney in my collection.
    Supermarkets also regularly have a sale on the 12 - usually reduced to £25 - so keep your eyes peeled. In fact, it's on sale right now at Tesco, so what are you waiting for?

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Dalwhinnie 15

THE Dalwhinnie 15 is said to be the perfect way to introduce non-whisky drinkers to the wonderful world of single malts. Indeed, the bottle proudly states the fact it's "The Gentle Spirit" before leaping into a few paragraphs about the fact the distillery is the highest in Scotland and a wee bit about windswept mountains and oodles of fresh spring water. All very nice, but is this a gateway to a spirited adventure, or is it just marketing fluff designed to make you part with your cash?
    Well, as soon as you pop the cork on this Highland malt and pour a dram, you are instantly drawn in to the sweet smells wafting forth from the bottom of the Glencairn. Green apples, juicy peaches, raspberry, sugary hard boiled pear drops and a light smoke make the Dalwhinnie 15 instantly attractive.
    Have a taste, give it a swirl and an intense honey flavour smacks you about the chops. In fact, there is so much honey, that it took me several mouthfuls to start to distinguish this malt's other characteristics. The runny honey eventually subsides, giving way to soft summer fruit and that wisp of smoke detected on the nose ties it all together.
    The finish isn't particularly long, but it is light, fruity and has a delicious malty vanilla note before that abundance of honey returns to say a final goodbye and then disappears, leaving a slightly sour lemon taste.
    So there you have it. I can see why this would appeal to those starting their whisky journey. With its light, delicate flavours and honey overload, this should appeal to a wide range. But even if you're a seasoned whisky drinker, don't turn your nose up at this. It may lack a degree of complexity, but it's an easy going dram much like the lovely Aberfeldy 12.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Ardbeg Uigeadail

IT'S about time I featured a peaty malt, so what better place to start than with the Ardbeg Uigeadail. I bought a bottle back in January and its dark, earthy character perfectly suited those long, cold nights.
    However, when summer rolls around, I usually put the peated stuff at the back of the cupboard and wait for winter. But this weekend, the wind picked up, the rain pelted against the window and the central heating noisily rattled into life again. Any excuse to revisit my winter collection! The Uigeadail is named after the Islay loch from which the distillery draws its water and it comes with no age statement. The spirit is matured in a combination of ex-bourbon casks and sherry butts and is bottled at a hefty 54.2%.
    As you would expect, there's a hefty punch of peat on the nose, but there's also a wonderful sherry sweetness which immediately follows, giving the whisky a rich and rounded character. The tartness of sharp red berries is also prevalent along with bitter dark chocolate notes. It might be a strange observation - and forgive me if I go all Jilly Goolden on you here - but I also get a whiff of tar, damp wet leaves and salty sea spray, too.
    In the mouth, the Uigeadail is silky smooth and slightly oily, with waves of salty sweet peat, smoke, oak, chillies and dark chocolate assaulting the taste buds.
    The finish is long and spicy, with a coffee-like bitterness, while a delicious sweetness kicks in to take the edge off the smoky peat to leave a warm and comforting taste.  
    A superb whisky and just the ticket to take the chill off the bones when the temperature starts to drop.