Wednesday, 30 April 2014

SMWS 59.47 A Dram For Shirley Valentine - 49.6%

On to the third and last of the 10cl bottles bundled in with my Scotch Malt Whisky Society membership pack. This is a 29-year-old cask strength single malt from the Teaninich distillery in the Scottish Highlands. It's also my first experience of Teaninich and I rather enjoyed it. Perhaps not as much as the last two drams in the membership pack, but still a lovely whisky. I should also point out that I really should know more about this distillery, as it was founded in 1817 by Captain Hugh Munro who owned the estate from which this distillery takes its name. The distillery was also in the hands of the Munros for almost a hundred years. Since my name is also Munro, I like to think I have a link to that time, therefore making me part of the Teaninich family. Anyway, enough of my wild speculations and on with the tasting notes...

Nose: Red liquorice laces, creamy peach, honey, golden syrup, sawdust, oak, freshly cut grass, white flowers, cranberry juice, butterscotch, rose water, lemon rind, strawberry toffee, malt vinegar and - interestingly - the inside of a matchbox.

Palate: Gooseberries galore! There's also toffee, baked lemon, blackcurrant Chewits, grass, cinnamon spice and a dash of traditional lemonade.

Finish: Lemon bonbons, caramel, vanilla, chilli flakes, pepper, a shot of espresso, Lockets cough sweets and a touch of soap.

Notes: Initially, I really wasn't sure about this dram. However, by the time I poured the last of the bottle into my Glencairn, I had started to warm to its wild ways. Water did nothing, except perhaps tone everything down, but even at 49.6%, this was very easy to drink neat. I would definitely seek out more from the distillery as it would be fascinating to spend time with a full bottle and get to know it a wee bit more. Top stuff. Next up, we have my first full bottle from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society...

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

A vote of confidence

IT IS a momentous year for Scotland, with the nation voting on whether or not to become independent in the referendum on September 18.
    Newspapers, websites and social media have all carried the latest views and opinion polls, with many pundits cautiously stroking their beards and gazing into their crystal balls to try and decipher the mood of the nation.
    However, you can forget all that thanks to the The Good Spirits Co. in Glasgow, who have come up with an innovative - and rather ingenious - idea to really get to the bottom of the independence issue - whisky!
    This Friday, the store in Bath Street, Glasgow will be launching their very own Scottish referendum blended whisky at 1pm. Only 140 bottles of this 23-year-old blend will be available, featuring either a Yes or No label. Good Spirits Co Director Mark Connelly described the whisky as: “A well-balanced blend with both a rich, fruity sweetness and a zingy spiciness battling it out for prominence. It’s very tasty and a great drink for any occasion.
    “This whisky was created to highlight the forthcoming referendum whilst having a bit of fun and enjoying a dram. We’re matching this historic event to our national drink and one of our biggest exports which seems entirely appropriate. Perhaps it will be used to toast the result or drown sorrows, come September.”
    On the back of January's hugely successful Mogwai whisky launch, this is yet another fine idea by the team at the store and one which certainly gets my vote.
    The whisky has been created by The Creative Whisky Co., a Scottish borders-based independent bottler and has been bottled at 52.5%, has no added colouring and is non-chill filtered.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

SMWS 53.193 To Bring A Smile To Every Face - 49.9%

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society adventure continues tonight with the second of the 10cl bottles bundled in with my membership pack. This is a 22-year-old Caol Ila and yet another stunning drop of drammage.

Nose: After pouring a dram, a waft of peat slapped me about the chops even before I had stuck my nose in the glass. I left it so settle for 10 minutes then went to work. There's peat, obviously, but it's sweet, fruity, mellow peat - initially reminiscent of the BenRiach Arumaticus Fumosus (tasting notes coming soon, folks). That said, there's more depth here and the peppy fruit notes seem more eager to leap from the glass. Dig under the layer of sweet peat and there's creamy blackcurrant yogurt, thick plum jam, banana skins and smoky bacon crisps. I even get a whiff of sugar-glazed donut. Give it a gentle swirl and that classic Caol Ila character jogs by, giving a casual wave before disappearing into the Islay mist, leaving only a whiff of damp leaves and wet embers behind. It really does smell more like a peated Speysider than a classic Islay malt.

Palate: Sweet, smooth and salty, with ash, golden syrup, burnt green twigs, white pepper, a chunk of hard toffee, damson jam, prunes and blackened oak.

Finish: Again, that delicious sweetness remains, but there's also dark fruit, bonfire smoke, salt, damp earth, wet embers, spicy cinnamon and a shake of chilli flakes. It's also long and satisfying.

Notes: Another top drawer dram from the SMWS. This really doesn't need water, but a drop certainly does it no harm. The SMWS team really know how to pick their introductory drams - and a it's a wonderful way to tempt members into parting with their cash on the first Friday of every month. I think I might keep the last drop in the bottle for winter, as this would be absolutely perfect for a cold Scottish night.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

SMWS: 35.97 Boozy Christmas Cake - 58.7%

Right, here we go - my first round of tasting notes from a whisky from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. I would have posted this sooner, but I've been over in New York and this is the first chance I've had to get writing since I returned. I'm kicking off with one of the 10cl samples included in the membership pack, the Boozy Christmas Cake. The other two samples along with my full bottle will follow over the next three posts. So pour a glass, kick back and join me on the next stage of my whisky journey

Nose: Clean, thick and bourbon-like (Elijah Craig), blackberries, thick dark toffee, rich hot apple pie with a slightly burned sugary crust, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, plump raisins and After Eight mints. Water brings creme brûlée to the fore along with a baking dish full of sweet stewed fruit. This smells utterly amazing.

Palate: Incredibly rich, with fruity baked apples, plums, blackberries and fruit syrup. Those deep fruit notes really get the mouth watering and I found this amazingly smooth despite the high alcohol percentage. There's also a sprinkling of ground cinnamon tucked away, while water intensifies those fruity notes.

Finish: Those luscious dark fruity notes return, which continue to tingle the tastebuds. I also get purple fruit Polos and smooth milk chocolate. Stunning. Water adds cinnamon, vanilla and soft brown sugar. Lovely stuff.

Notes: This is a single cask whisky from Glen Moray and for just 10 years old, it packs one hell of a fruit punch. It's a quite exceptional dram and really makes the mouth water after your first sip, tempting you to dive straight back into the glass. It's packed with dark fruit notes and goes down a treat. I wish I could have picked up a full bottle, but there will be others from the distillery. A fabulous introduction to the SMWS.

Monday, 7 April 2014

An irrepressible spirit of adventure

AFTER much arm twisting (well not that much), a great deal of informative Twitter chatter (I'm looking specifically at you Ben Cops, Matt Veira and Tom Thomson) and a quick glance at the old bank balance, and I decided it was high time I joined the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Why? Well, let me explain.
    I'm a recent whisky convert, a watered-down malt weakling who only began their whisky journey back in 2012 when, as a Scotsman who had just turned 40, I thought I really should make a concerted effort to try and appreciate this complex brew from my windy, rainy homeland.
    My good friend and guiding light, Yan had been banging on at me about whisky for decades. I foolishly chose to ignore him, deciding to have the occasional beer and bottle of wine instead. My loss, eh? But he’s a sensible chap and with his words of encouragement and advice ringing in my ears, I took a fistful of cash and exchanged it for a bottle of Aberlour A'bunadh and a couple of Glencairn glasses. This marked the start of my journey to the spirit world and, let’s face it, it wasn't a bad place to begin, was it?
    Other bottles came and went, samples were regularly exchanged, and nights down the pub served as an enjoyable education, turning my nose up at frothing tankards of ale in favour of a wee dram instead. Yan even brought cheese, caramel shortcake and chocolate to the pub to accompany our tastings, which, as you can imagine, was met with quizzical glances from some of the locals.
    Since then, as can be seen from my scribblings both here and over on Twitter, I've been sipping, swirling and sniffing drams from all over the world ever since and what was once a mere curiosity has now turned into a full-blown obsession.
    I am always looking to bolster my whisky knowledge, buying books, scouring blogs, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube vlogs and devouring whisky magazines on a regular basis. So when I heard my Twitter chums eagerly discussing the merits of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, I was desperate to find out more. Most people reading this, I'm sure, will know all about the SMWS and what they do, but for those who don't, here's the deal.
    As a member, you are given access to a dizzying array of single cask malts - and a few other curiosities - from all over the world. On the first Friday of every month, the society release its latest offerings and once they are gone, they are gone for good. Sometimes there might be 600 bottles of a particular whisky, other times there's only a couple of dozen.
    Membership also gives you access to the Society's members' rooms in Edinburgh and London where you and up to three friends can settle down with a few choice drams and a bit of food. Not only that, but when you join, you get an automatic subscription to Unfiltered magazine and three tempting 10cl bottles to get you off on the right foot.
    Each bottle is given an imaginative name - such as Pork Chops in Red Wine Sauce and Hard Glazed Pretzel Sticks - and has a code plastered across the label which cryptically tells you what distillery the spirit is from, along with a mouthwatering paragraph of brilliant tasting notes which sets the mind racing.
    So, after seeing Twitter light up with SMWS chat, I did a bit more research and quickly decided I just had to experience some of what they were having. Decision made, I then discovered the SMWS were offering a package deal to tie in with the Cocoa Loco celebration - membership and a bottle for a special price. This sealed the deal and I threw money at this cask strength whisky haven as fast as I could pry my credit card from my wallet.
    To my delight - I was expecting it sometime this week - my membership pack smartly arrived last Monday, complete with journal, membership card, three 10cl bottles, a £10 voucher, and a rather splendid 70cl bottle of the wonderfully titled A Delicatessen Shopping Basket - a 16-year-old Bowmore.
    I will obviously still buy whisky locally - I think it’s extremely important to support local businesses, especially whisky and wine specialists - but I'll also be dipping into the SMWS range to expand my whisky knowledge and taste a few weird and wonderful drams.
    Exciting times ahead, then, and plans are already being laid out to visit the Edinburgh members' rooms in May to coincide with the Edinburgh Whisky Stramash. That could be messy, mind, so we'll see how it pans out...
    Tasting notes for the four whiskies I received will follow, along with a few details about where they’re from, but it might be a while, as I don't want to rush any of them!
Let the journey continue!

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Tomatin 12 - 40%

Nose: Someone at Tomatin has clearly been given the keys to the local sweetie shop, as this 12-year-old is a riot of sweet confectionery aromas. It's like a paper bag full of pineapple cubes, red liquorice sticks, sherbet lemons and red and black jelly babies. There's also spicy vanilla, grapefruit and barley sugars. A couple of drops of water bring out a faint salted popcorn note.

Palate: Quite delicate, with oaky vanilla, baked lemon, fizzy lemon Refreshers, ground cinnamon, mixed dried fruit. Again, that popcorn note makes itself known.

Finish: Black pepper, and slightly rough around the edges. There's also vanilla, prickly spices, a dab of sour lemon and sherbet-filled flying saucers. The pepper note lingers a bit too long, though.

Notes: This 12-year-old Highland single malt is a refreshing and thoroughly decent wee dram. Probably better suited to a hazy summer day than a cold and rainy Glasgow evening, but there you go. It's a little bit thin and has a few rough notes around the edges, but for around £30, it's worth picking up if you see it on your whisky travels.