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.