Thursday, 9 October 2014

A Quartet of sherried Balblairs

Anyone who likes whisky who knows me, knows that I am particularly fond of Balblair and I usually have several bottles at any one time being worked though. To me Balblair shines as ex-bourbon matured whisky as it is delicious spirit which doesn't needs hiding with finishing. Balblair however have always had sherried expressions available so it isn't new. Recently it seems I have gathered up quite a few sherried Balblairs, which include the 1999 first release vintage; an exclusive to travel retail, a 1999 second release vintage; a very similar release but which was on general release, the 1990 second release vintage which is an older and more mature expression, and finally a 2000 single cask vintage released exclusively for The Whisky Exchange.

Balblair 1999 (First Release)
Distillery: Balblair
Bottling: Own Bottling (Travel Retail)
Age: 14
Distilled: 1999
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 46%

Nose: The first thing that comes to me is young sherry which has a red wine tartness to it. Violets and blueberries, bitter cherry and dried raisins. The sherry led fruits continue as jammy strawberry. It starts to become more dessert like with sticky toffee pudding, after dinner mint chocolates and some pumpkin spice. The sherry elements here are lively and a little raw but some of the distillery character emerges with some mango and pineapple but they are in the form of the tinned syrupy kind.

Palate: Rich with forest fruits, jam, sticky highland toffee. Some rubbery sulphuric elements come in the form of latex gloves.

Finish: Lively and a little youthful which bites a little like grapefruit but with some rich flavours of cherry, blueberry, pepper mint to accompany it.

Balblair 1999 (Second Release)
Distillery: Balblair
Bottling: Own Bottling
Age: 14
Distilled: 1999
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 46%

Nose: Straight away this version of the 1999 noses differently form the first release. This is lighter on the sherry and has much more of the distillery character coming through, with evidence of either a greater portion of ex-bourbon matured malt in this vatting, or less in the finishing in general. Gala apples, banana foam sweets, white grapes, and some tropical fruits coming through but like candied versions of them. There is some vanilla led devonshire custard along side some raspberries which reminds me of a similar bread and butter recipe I used to bake. There is some nice burnt toffee and some barley showing as well.

Palate: Some young sherry elements here much like the first release which has a tartness which sours the sweetness a little but brings out a flavour profile like Dr Pepper or Fizzy cherry cola bottle sweets.

Finish: Sweeter on the finish with some barley and memories of washbacks. Pear and apple showing up some of those light distillery characteristics.

Balblair 1990 (Second Release)
Distillery: Balblair
Bottling: Own Bottling
Age: 14
Distilled: 1999
Bottled: 2013
Strength: 46%

Nose: Compared to the younger 1999 releases the sherry influence here is noticeably more mature and integrated and I am smelling it as a whole whisky rather than the individual components in the vatting. Crispy red apples, and poached pears in a red wine sauce really brings those richer dessert ex-sherry elements and lighter estery led ex-bourbon elements like mango, and pineapple which show off the Balblair character, stands up alongside it in harmony rather than at a distance. A real dessert dram. Dark chocolate with cranberry, Cuban cigars, chocolate covered Turkish delight. Jolly rancher candy sweets, and some Seville oranges.

Palate: Tangy fruits, orange marmalade with cinnamon spice and some melting chocolate.

Finish: Warm and rich with some dryness from the red apple coming through. Mulled wine, chocolate covered hazelnuts.

Balblair 2000 (Single Cask Release for The Whisky Exchange)
Distillery: Balblair
Bottling: Own Bottling (for The Whisky Exchange)
Age: 14
Distilled: 2000
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 53%
Cask Number: 1343

Nose: Strangely the first thing comes to my nose is a slightly vegetative note of mushrooms which reminds me of specifically Mushroom Risotto with creamy sauce and parsley. Very syrupy and saucey and I am reminded of when I was young and I used to go and visit my granny and she used to make home made chips and serve them up with some BBQ sauce. Glazed ribs continue the BBQ sauce notes. There is cherry coke, and that continues with maraschino cherries on top of a rich chocolate dessert like tiramasu with mascarpone and coffee. The rich desserts move into thick stewed berries with blackcurrants, blackberries, sloe berries and maybe some overripe raspberries. All of these reduced down into a thick jam and spread onto buttery toast, and washed down with some keemun black tea with its notes of plum and pine. There is no disputing the massive sherry dominance of this but if you work hard you can get to some of the softer lighter fruits synonymous with the Balblair character. Apple, pear, mango, pineapple etc. There are some sulphury elements some of which I find pleasant like struck match and spent fireworks, but also some rubbery ones again which probably give off the vegetative note from the start. I am pretty sensitive to sulphur though and I find it in abundance in a large variety of sherried whiskies so don't read too much into it unless you are as well.

Palate: Thick and warm like the BBQ sauce again, but also some maple syrup with gives it some sweetness, and floral notes. There is some rubber here as well. If you let it dilute naturally from cask strength in the mouth it gets much lighter and the Balblair spirit emerges.

Finish: There is a touch of smoke here which I likely from some cask charring. Sappy and resinous going back to the maple syrup again. Finally some black coffee with a little chocolate cake.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

25.65 A whispered kiss (22 year old Rosebank)

Distillery: Rosebank
Bottling: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 22
Distilled: 1991
Bottled: 2013
Strength: 50.0%.
Cask Code: 25.65 A whispered kiss
Cask Type: Refill ex bourbon barrel.

Nose: The description talks about childhood memories, but this one takes me on my own childhood memory of the school tuck shop with Apple Jacks, Fruit Salad chews, "a quarter of raspberry fizzballs" (do you remember them?), Pineapple Cubes and blueberry "Millions" (that was those tiny chewy little balls) and finally those little foam milk bottle gums. Some slightly more savoury notes that are like a roll and Biker crisps. More pineapple coming through in Pineapple tarts. Lots of dusty old wood notes which remind me of pretty much my old school which was just full of dusty old benches and desks, old books and jotters. Finishing off with a salted fish supper for my dinner on my way home.

Palate: Lemon, Pineapple, White chocolate, spicy ginger, pepper and aniseed.

Finish: Long, fruity and warming with more pineapple, American Cream Soda, Balsa wood models with a touch of PVA glue, and a little cardboard.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Feis Ile 2014

Not being able to attend Feis Ile 2014, I made the decision to make an overnight whistle-stop tour of Islay and visit as many distilleries as possible and pick up the festival special releases as possible, both for myself and also for a bunch of whisky blogging and twitter friends who were doing a bottle share on some of the bottles with me.

Ben's Whisky Blog
Somerset Whisky Blog
Scotch and Sci-Fi
Whisky Gospel
Whisky Israel
Shai A
Yorkshire Fellowship of the still
Livingroom Whisky

The first day I managed to go to Lagavulin, and then over to Laphroaig and then Ardbeg which was unusually shut because everyone was recovering from Ardbeg day the previous day. I then headed to Bowmore and then Bruichladdich. I managed to find a lovely camping spot in Port Charlotte right outside the old Port Charlotte (Lochindaal) distillery which was pretty apt because Port Charlotte releases from Bruichladdich have became some of my favourite whiskies. The next day it was off to Bunnahabhain and Caol Ila, followed by Kilchoman and then back to Ardbeg.

Distillery: Lagavulin
Bottling: Distillery Bottling
Expression: Feils Ile 2014
Age: 19
Distilled: 1995
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 54.7%
Cask Type: Ex sherry, european oak.

Nose: Initial hit is of the richness of rum and raisin ice cream, topped with caramel pouring sauce. Cherry coke mixing with vanilla, cinnamon, orange oil. Salted pretzels, rolling tobacco, ash and soot. There is also a earthy heat like wholegrain mustard. Turkish Delight and Rosewater. Water makes this thicker and a bigger sweetness bringing out strawberries and raspberries.

Palate: Spicy and savoury. Pork crackling cooking with coriander, cloves and black pepper. Poached pears with cream.

Finish: Long and sooty with malty biscuit coming through. Espresso, dark chocolate and highland toffee. Savoury notes coming through again with lamb and rosemary.

Comments: Well balanced and constructed. As much as I hate to love Diageo, this really is quite elegant and faultless to me.

Distillery: Ardbeg
Bottling: Distillery Bottling
Expression: Auriverdes - Ardbeg Day / Feils Ile 2014
Age: NAS
Distilled: N/A
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 49.9%
Cask Type: N/A

Nose: Melon, green apple and lime juice. Liquorice and sports mixture sweets. A reduced sugar sweetnees coming through as maple syrup biscuits and tinned treacle. Oak but more like the bark from an oak tree. An old wooden boat washed up at the beach with bits of seaweed, old ropes and barnicles. The peat is light here and I am getting more woodlands and coastlines than bogs.

Palate: Fruity but unripe pear and apple. Drying and slightly tannic mouthfeel, and feels a bit thin.

Finish: Medium length with white chocolate and hazelnuts. Chocolate covered coffee beans.

Comments: I do like this and I think it is hard to always keep up with Corryvreckan and Uigeadail which are both strong brand leaders. An Ardbeg for when other Ardbegs are a bit too much maybe? A summer Ardbeg?

Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottling: Distillery Bottling
Expression: Octomore Discovery - Feils Ile 2014
Age: 7
Distilled: 2007
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 69.5%
Cask Type: Oloroso sherry.

Nose: Thick and meaty. Seared t-bone steak and gristle on a grill with burnt garlic and a plum and paprika sauce. I don't imagine such a sauce exists but if it did this is what it would smell like. Sunday morning bacon rolls. Sugar sweet marshmallows roasting on an open flame. My shoes have also caught fire, with burning leather and laces. There is road tar and engine oil dripping from an old bus. Cointreau orange liqueur and that first sip from a glass of Pepsi with a slice of orange at the top. Cinnamon, and vanilla. Mint chocolate, caramel and praline. Smoked haddock and smoked cheddar. Sweet barley emerges later on.

Palate: More carbolics that I couldn't detect on the nose. Soil, turf and moss. Tastes like chemistry class at school as if I shouldn't be drinking this. Combustion, drinking a car battery through a straw. The skin in my mouth is sizzling. Sweet and sour chinese sauce. Thick and oily.

Finish: A phenolic blast with the cinnamon and orange spices following through in what reminds me of a Halloween candle. Sharp wood. Smokey meat, cigars, melting plastic and burnt circuit boards. Powerful and full on.

Comments: This is quite powerful, and it has more of a heavy oily meatiness going on that I would associate with some Mortlachs but then with an added phenolic punch to it.

Distillery: Bunnahabhain
Bottling: Distillery Bottling
Expression: Dram an Stiureadair - Feils Ile 2014
Age: 10
Distilled: 2004
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 56.7%
Cask Type: Marsala finished for 1 year.

Nose: Sharp and spirity at first, the high ABV and youth is evident and I need to add some drops of water to tame it down right from the start. The marsala wine notes are dominating with cranberry, strawberry chewit sweets and a little blackcurrent as well. The wine also gives it as vinegary note which I sadly get from many wine finishes so might just be me. Ripe peach and apricots. Cola cube sweets and Stiffy's Kola Kubez vodka shots. A little of the Bunnahabhain itself coming through with olives in brine.

Palate: Concentrated berry juice, cranberries and peach.

Finish: Medium length, but possibly just being carried by the ABV. Tangy fruit, a bit like Tamarind pulp and tomato salsa. A touch of Trifle dessert. Drying.

Comments: If you like wine finishes you may love this, but to me it seems unbalanced and the wine dominates over a young spirit. This isn't Bunnahabhain to me sadly.

Distillery: Kilchoman
Bottling: Distillery Bottling
Expression: Feils Ile 2014
Age: 4
Distilled: 2010
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 58.7%
Cask Type: Fino sherry finish.

Nose: Dry apple from the fino. Rhubarb and custard sweets. Chocolate honeycomb. Tropical esters - pineapple, mango and grapefruit. Sharpness of peeling the skin from a tangerine. Lots of country side notes and I feel like I am standing in the middle of a field with bales of hay, heather in the ground and pollen in the air. Spring time. Also farmy notes of cowsheds. Pistachio nuts. Tech class (wood shop) at school, and also old wooden school desks. Coconut snowballs, biscuits, liquorice. 

Palate: Sweet and smokey with black cardamom. Fishermen's Friends sweets. Kop Kop sweets. Barley broth. Malty and earthy.

Finish: Long and creamy. Vanilla, pear and apple. Soil and leaves.

Comments: This is better than last year's Feis Ile bottle from Kilchoman. It is sweeter than I would have expected with the fino finish which is a sherry I would associate as being much dryer than Oloroso. I got a chance to try the new make as well which I will post a later review of but if anything shows that this is really good quality spirit as soon as it comes off the still. There is nothing in there that I would expect subtractive maturation to take care of.

Distillery: Laphroaig
Bottling: Distillery Bottling
Expression: Cairdeas - Feils Ile 2014
Age: NAS
Distilled: N/A
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 51.4%
Cask Type: 1st fill bourbon casks, Amontillado hogsheads

Nose: Lemon icing sugar which reminds me of my gran's empire biscuits. Lemon cheesecake. Creme fraiche. Scottish tablet and butterscotch. Werther's original sweets. Freshly laundered clothes and fabric softener - maybe that lemon element coming back through here again. Like a painter's studio with new canvas and watercolour paints. A bit of white chocolate toblerone. Burning incense sticks and a touch of gunpowder smoke. Cinnamon and ginger.

Palate: White chocolate and hazelnut. Baking spices.

Finish: Medium finish, another young and malty finish with fudge and cream. Falls a little flat.

Comments: Quite young and missing that phenolic Laphroaig punch I am used to, but very easy to drink and the Amontillado finish seems to integrate well.

Distillery: Bowmore
Bottling: Distillery Bottling
Expression: Feils Ile 2014
Age: N/A
Distilled: N/A
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 56.1%
Cask Type: 1st fill ex-bourbon

Nose: Tinned pears with vanilla custard. Banana foam sweets. White grapes coming through like a glass of champagne with a strawberry. Getting richer as toffee crisp bars with caramel and biscuit. I am getting a note like hairspray of which I get solvent and pure ethanol. Cereal elements of oats and wheat. Bubble gum. Belgian waffles.

Palate: Vanilla with the custard being quite prominent again with a bit of white chocolate in there. There is a waxiness like yankee candles with vanilla and coconut elements.

Finish: The ex-bourbon dominant vanilla and coconut leading the way. Medium length. Baked bananas. Jalapenos stuffed with sour cream.

Comments: Another young one, and again I don't think I detected any smoke there at all? This could have been any young highland - reminds me of a young Glen Garioch in many ways.

Distillery: Caol Ila
Bottling: Distillery Bottling
Expression: Feils Ile 2014
Age: 12
Distilled: 2002
Bottled: 2014
Strength: 55.5%
Cask Type: Refill ex-bourbon

Nose: Light and fairly delicate (for a young Caol Ila anyway). Ham and pinapple pizza lending it both a sweet and a savoury note at the same time. Bashed overripe banana and kiwis. Rowntree's tooty frootie sweets. Estery and malt. Soft dairy vanilla fudge. Coastal saltiness (yes I know it is matured in the central belt) in the way of salted popcorn. The salty note again is like a salted lime after a shot of tequila. Light smoke. Is there maybe a mix of peated and unpeated malt in here?

Palate: Salty sweet. Light and fruity while still having a fairly oily and chewy mouthfeel. Ginger beer. New wood.

Finish: Medium length. Shortbread, pepper and ginger.

Comments: Quite delicate and light for a young Caol Ila. Like some of the others I have tasted this year it appears to be quite an accessible dram.


The winners are:

1. Lagavulin. Considering the number of bottles available, Lagavulin have both managed to cater to high demand at and after the Islay ferstival and also producing a really great quality whisky at a great price. £99 for a 19 year old at cask strength is great considering the cask strength 12 year old version goes for not much less than this.

2. Bruichladdich Octomore Discovery. This is better than the Octomore Scottish Barley and I like the Oloroso influence and the meaty savoury elements. It is a big hitting whisky for sure. Down side is the price at £150 a bottle which I feel is a bit too expensive when compared to the standard Octomore releases. It would have been nice to see this be £100 or less.

3. Ardbeg Auriverdes. Again I like this, and maybe it doesn't hold up in price and taste to some of the standard releases, but it is by no means make it any less. Again a bit expensive for a NAS release when using the Lagavulin as the benchmark.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Three peated Bruichladdichs

Recently I sat with a few very similar drams from Bruichladdich to do a casual comparison of them. These were 127.33 "Mouth-numbing mountaineering dram", a 11 year old Port Charlotte from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society; PL2, a no age statement Port Charlotte from the Elements of Islay range; and Octomore 6.1 Scottish Barley, a 5 year old heavily peated Bruichladdich.

Distillery: Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich)
Bottling: Elements of Islay
Age: NAS
Strength: 63.4%.

Nose: Light and mildly fruity, with citrus and lemon but lemon bathroom cleaner. Some unripe banana which hints are some fairly young malt in this. Light vanilla sponge cake. The carbolic notes are less than I have seen in other expressions, with the peat being exposed in more earthy farm notes which are again not uncommon in various laddie releases. There is also that sweaty sock element, which although sounds bad, is more like a good cheese. Leather couches in a freshly polished room. This has a maybe too raw and young feel which is slightly out of balance, and is the most spirity of them all.

Palate: Sharp with some sour fruit. Young malty elements and a rugged earthiness. Water drowns this a little and doesn't seem to add much to it.

Finish: Sharp oak, and some dry apple. Finish itself in general is pretty dry, and although it is fairly long the flavour dissipates before the spirit burn leaving the end of the finish unsatisfactory.

Notes: This was a little unbalanced and a little too raw.

Distillery: Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich)
Bottling: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 11
Distilled: 2002
Bottled: 2013
Strength: 63.5%.
Cask Code: 127.33 Mouth-numbing mountaineering dram
Cask Type: Refill Barrel, ex-bourbon.

Nose: A lot sweeter than the PL2 with banana, pear but also some richer red fruits such as strawberry. Boot polish, and getting a little savoury with Cajun spiced meat. Lots of vanilla and coconut and the wood isn't as sharp as the PL2 and in general the nose is a lot more rounded. That cheesy note is still prominent. Honey, crunchie bars (honeycomb) and a touch feinty.

Palate: Creamy, totally carbolic, very fizzy with sherbet. White coffee and citrus fruits. Water brings out more of the earthiness and some wax.

Finish: Long and leathery. Coal tar and liquorice.

Notes: Better than the PL2 but maybe a touch unbalanced still. While I love these SMWS Port Charlottes, the best and more balanced ones to me are the ones which are coming from sherry butt maturation which lends just that little extra sweetness and richness to the raw earthiness which is dominant in these.

Distillery: Octomore (Bruichladdich)
Bottling: Distillery Bottling
Age: 5
Distilled: 2008
Bottled: 2013
Strength: 57.0%.

Nose: Raspberries, elderflower. Pineapple and grapefruit tartness. coal sheds, vanilla, bounty bars, fishing nets, menthol cigarettes, medicated shampoo, sweet marzipan, sugar coated almonds, woody notes but like fresh timber rather than old oak. A little of that rawness which was in the PL2 but missing in the 127.33 is back again. Less creamy the 127.33 but also much more malty.

Palate: Sweet and creamy. Malted milk biscuits. Trifle and tinned fruit in syrup.

Finish: Long and malty, young and raw but no overpowering spirit. The pineapple and grapefruit again, topped with vanilla ice cream.

Notes: A lot more complex than the other two and you can tell it has been put together well. Surprisingly it doesn't seem that peated though given the pre-distillation phenol level.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

127.39 Intensely Tasty (Port Charlotte 11 year old)

Distillery: Port Charlotte (Bruichladdich)
Bottling: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 11
Distilled: 2002
Bottled: 2013
Strength: 66.7%.
Cask Code: 127.39 Intensely Tasty
Cask Type: Refill sherry butt.

These Bruichladdich Port Chalottes grow fond on me as a no frills, no nonsense young peated punch in the face sort of experience.  If you are an Octomore fan you will enjoy these, and the Port Chalottes from the SMWS are no exception if you read my post from last year on cask 127.37 - Dinosaurs dancing to Stravinsky which has already developed an almost cult following after its success as such an amazing drop of spirit among some of my fellow bloggers and twittersphere malt maniacs. Will cask 127.39 live up to the bench mark?

Nose: Initially freshly squeezed lime with cola - Almost like a Cuba Libre rum cocktail. Lemons which seem to be a common trait in this spirit both as lemon sherbet sweets and also slightly bleachy as Lemon floor cleaner. Some bitter red apple, a little sharp pineapple but a sweetness from ripe banana. Some solvent like notes of Hubba Bubba bubble gum. The oak gives up its vanilla and dry coconut along side new wood and some pencil shavings. The sherry influence is lovely here and sadly was missing from cask ex-bourbon cask 127.33 (review coming soon) with creamy chocolate, ground almonds, glazed cherries and raspberries. Those wood notes combined with the peaty, earthy punch remind me of an old garden shed and everything you would expect it to contain, with perhaps tins of oil, diesel, oils, and paint but also old gardening gloves and wellies as well. There are also pots of soil and compost lying around. The smell of spring is in the air with greshly cut grass and farmers burning their fields.

Palate: The sweetness hits first with a real juicy fruit tang like biting into a grapefruit. Then comes the smoke, tar and oil.

Finish: Very long, syrupy and tooth coating with dessert fruits, being overtaken by TCP and tar and fading off into espresso coffee and dark bitter chocolate.

Comments: We have a winner. Is this as good as 127.37? I will need to do a side by side with the very little of .37 I have kept aside in my archive. I will be buying two bottles of this anyway and it will be available in the new outturn available on Friday 2nd May.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

9.80 A rocking chair dram


Distillery: Glen Grant
Bottling: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 20
Distilled: 1992
Bottled: 2012
Strength: 49.5%.
Cask Code: 9.80 A rocking chair dram
Cask Type: Refill ex-bourbon barrel

A bunch of like minded whisky bloggers decided to do a bottle share for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society's "Whisky for a year" which involves getting sent out a new bottle every month for the full year, and by sharing the cost among us we were all able to get a share of each bottle to try at a relatively low cost. This allows to experience even more whisky from the society than before.

The fellow bloggers and tweeters are:

Gal (@galg) from Whisky Israel
Yoav (@yoavgel) from Whisky Gospel
Ben (@ben_cops) from Bens Whisky Blog
Tom (@TomsWhisky) from Tom's Whisky Reviews
Jon (@dvdbloke) from Scotch and Sci-fi
Matt (@mattveira) from Guildford Whisky Blog
Adrian (@mynameisgone) from Whisky Chronicle
Ansgar Speller (@ansgarspeller) from Loving Whisky
Thomas Speller (@thomas_speller) from Whisky Speller

Nose: Tinned peaches and creamy strawberry milkshake. Lots of sour apple coming through, like the the Apple Sourz shot drink you get. Apple Jack sweets. Strawberry Jam on toast. The oak is prominent as well with oodles of coconut and vanilla as you might expect. Some more chewy chocolatey caramel elements like Twix Bars and topped off with pecan nuts. A little wood char smoke is there as well.

Palate: Less fruity than I expected in the mouth but where it is lacking in fruit it makes up in wood spice. Coconut Snowballs with a jammy middle. That tangy sour apple is there as well.

Finish: Long and lingering turning a little dry with spiced apples and a touch of lime.

121.64 Maggie Thatcher at the funfair

Distillery: Arran
Bottling: Scotch Malt Whisky Society
Age: 14
Distilled: 1998
Bottled: 2012
Strength: 54.5%.
Cask Code: 121.64 Maggie Thatcher at the funfair
Cask Type: Refill ex-bourbon barrel

Nose: Very fresh and malty with home cooked barley broth soup. The fruit coming through here are banana, raspberry, some tangerine but that orangey note continuing with some vanilla into some summery orange sorbet ice cream. There is a young woody note of pencils, but strangely more the smell you get when you chew a new pencil. There is a yeasty element that is like new beer fermenting.

Palate: Sweet fruits, malty with that orange sorbet.

Finish:  Long with the sorbet again, finished with liquorice and aniseed.