Douglas Laing’s Epicurean

Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 20.02.38Bottler: Douglas Laing
Region: Lowlands
Age: Unknown
More Info: WhiskyBase

Here’s the latest regional blend from indy bottler, Douglas Laing.

“The Epicurean” steps up to represent the Lowlands region, alongside “Big Peat” for Islay, “Scallywag” for Speyside, “Timorous Beastie” for the Highlands and “Rock Oyster” for the Islands.

Some of them are completely up-front about their blending components and some aren’t. The Epicurean remains enigmatic about the source malts that have gone into this blend but the Lowlands region isn’t exactly stuffed full of distilleries so maybe we can work it out…

Nose: Very young. Grappa and yeast, sourdough, rock salt. Lots of unripe fruit – crab apples and green bananas. After breathing, some stewed baking apple and even a whiff of smoke and cured meat.

Palate: Grassy and green with barley sugar and sour cherry. Touch of banana bread then becoming quite hot and spicy. Numbing cinnamon and cloves with a milky chalkiness akin to those candy necklaces you get in sweet shops.

Finish: Quite short with liquorice root and a little peppermint tea.

Dear, oh dear. As a fan of Laing’s blends on the whole, this one falls flat for me.

This chap’s far too young to be an epicurean. It’s just barely beyond new-make spirit in terms of flavour profile and really lacking in the regional traits that I know the Lowlands for – floral, buttery, delicate and subtle.

As for which distilleries may be in the blend… given the price tag of this, I doubt whether much malt from silent distilleries has made its way into the blending tun. Perhaps a minute splash of Littlemill, like the dab of Port Ellen they put into the Big Peat.

Daftmill have never yet sold any of their whisky and Annandale spirit isn’t legally whisky until 2018. That leaves Ailsa Bay, Auchentoshan, Bladnoch, or Glenkinchie.

Given the slightly smoky nose, cinnamon palate and youthfulness I’d wager there’s a fair chunk of Ailsa Bay in this blend. It is a little grassy to start with, which makes me think Bladnoch’s in there too.

Wherever the components came from, I can see this being a lot more interesting after more time in the barrel.

They really need to give this little bruiser some time to get potty trained, colour in some books, discover music, rebel against the establishment, dye its hair, move out, discover tweed and armchairs and settle into a dusty bookshop with its long term partner, Graham.

Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 20.48.34Distillery: Old Rip Van Winkle
Age: 20 years old
ABV: 45.2%
Cask: Charred New American Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

Ah, Pappy. You can’t talk about rare Bourbons without Old Rip Van Winkle’s Pappy coming up in the conversation. This stuff is legendary.

Produced by Sazerac at the Buffalo Trace distillery in very limited quantities, this whiskey is unusual in its use of wheat instead of rye in the mashbill (in addition to corn and malted barley).

Typically auction fodder, I was very surprised to see it for sale by the glass in one of my favourite Manchester bars. Given it’s as rare as hen’s teeth, I knew it’d be daft to pass it up.

Nose: Fragrant sandalwood, cola cubes, butterscotch, hay, rolling tobacco, cider apples, gumballs, milk chocolate and dairy ice cream.

Palate: Spicy, mouthcoating and rich. Cherry menthol, lime and grapefruit. Capsicum, black pepper, cinnamon and clove. Spices die down to reveal soft raspberry ripple ice cream and sweet tobacco.

Finish: Black pepper and oak. Long and creamy. Very smooth.

Very creamy, fruity, and oaky with tons of barrel spices. Easy sipping, elegant and complex. Just what I was hoping for – this is just so smooth, balanced, and utterly delicious. Try it if you get a chance, it’ll put a smile on your face.

Lagavulin 8 Year Old

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 20.09.28Distillery: Lagavulin
Bottled: 2016
Age: 8 years old
ABV: 54.4%
Cask: Refill American Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Medicinal and carbolic! Airfix glue, coal-tar soap, salt-dough, dried ham and a touch of moules marinière. Citrus peels and some sooty, ashy smoke.

Palate: Sweet lemon sherbet, barley sugar, and drying lapsang souchong smoke. Mulled wine spices: Clove, black pepper, cardamom. A little funky damp driftwood note and then bitter cocoa powder.

Finish: Long, chalky, and dry with more pepper, smoke, and creamy oak peeking through.

Very moreish. It has a young, fresh, zesty character – lighter than the 12 and less complex but more integrated and smooth. The smoke itself is very refined with trademark notes of tea and soot but the rest of the palate has that young and green character.

I’m a fan of this, and I think Diageo did well releasing it at 48%ABV. It’s a more affordable non-sherried Laga and if you like young Islay notes and savoury drying smoke then this will definitely do it for you.

Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 11.16.22Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2016
Age: 8 years old
ABV: 57.8%
Cask: European Oak (Cognac Cask)
More Info: WhiskyBase

Hello, hello! A cask-strength Port Charlotte release…

The PC series proved immensely popular in travel retail and now we’re onto vintages: the 2007 Cognac Cask. Always complex, never boring, and a very tempting reason to book a holiday this year.

Nose: Loving the dry, earthy Port Charlotte smoke here! Drifting through the peat we get aromas of mango pulp, dried apricot, peach, kiwi, mandarin and lime skin. Great savoury notes too – soft rubber soles, smoked cheese, roast potatoes, rosemary, and rock salt. I’ve been nosing for ten minutes and it’s still fascinating.

Palate: Campfire smoke, candied orange, more mango pulp, plums, raspberry then a whoosh of sea salt and the drying, mineral-rich peat steps in with juicy sweet malt, vanilla, and milky coffee. Wowser.

Finish: Ashy and savoury with salted cashews.

Excellent stuff, this. Reminds me of a PC valinch bottling I picked up on Islay – full of distillery character with fruit, smoke and malt beautifully interwoven and a complete bargain for the RRP.

I think Adam Hannett’s found a sweet spot here agewise for cask-strength Port Charlotte.

Can’t wait to see what comes next…

The Port Charlotte 2007 CC:01 is available from World Duty Free for £67.99.

Bruichladdich “The Laddie Eight”

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 11.16.06Distillery: Bruichladdich
Bottled: 2016
Age: 8 years old
ABV: 50%
Cask: European and American Oak
More Info: WhiskyBase

The Laddie Ten was one of the first truly exceptional single malts I ever tried, way back in Edinburgh in 2012. A whisky tasting was thrown in as a fun round-off to a technical conference and one of the Bruichladdich reps talked us through three expressions from the pre-Remy core lineup.

With the 10-year-old being pulled back to a distillery-only release recently it’s great to see another Laddie making its way onto the core lineup. With global demand still incredibly high for Scotch, an eight-year-old malt is a more sustainable age to meet the demand without resorting to multi-vintage bottlings.

Bruichladdich’s attitude to NAS bottlings is exemplary, though. They’ve always been open about the age of the whisky in the bottle (even if it’s not on the bottle, they make it known in the online literature) and their solidarity with Compass Box regarding the SWA ruling on showing “too much information” is heartwarming to see.

Nose: Fresh barley grass! Very sweet and lively. Delicate straw, candy-floss, lemon drizzle cake, and butterscotch. A whiff of eucalyptus, pear skin and granny smith, then faint salty shells and sand.

Palate: Luscious. That signature slow-distilled Laddie spirit, thick and buttery on the tongue. The flavour’s led by more fresh barley, sweet toffee, vanilla, and a touch of caramel biscuit then big waves of warming chai tea spices roll in – ginger, clove, black pepper, cinnamon. As it breathes in the glass, wafts of raspberry and peach come through

Finish: Warming and spicy with buttery oak and a salty, foamy edge.

Ahhh – fruity, malty, salty and so buttery on the tongue. Good stuff, Mr Hannett. I shall be keeping an eye out for this next time I’m at the airport!

The Bruichladdich Eight is available now from World Duty Free for £44.99.

A Pair of Indy Strathmills

Strathmill isn’t a name you see on the single malt market very often.

Another Diageo-owned blending malt, you’ll find this one in the popular J&B blended Scotch. Known for a delicate flavoured distillate, I’m hoping these two independent bottlings will showcase the distillery character without too much cask influence.

Cadenhead Strathmill 1995

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 14.28.46Distillery: Strathmill
Bottled: 2014, Distilled: 1995
Age: 18 years old
ABV: 54.4%
Cask: Bourbon Hogshead
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Fiery pepper but fruity – peach fizz sweets, unpasteurised yoghurt, strawberry ice cream, kaffir lime leaves, sage, cinnamon and caramel. A whiff of aromatic permanent marker pen.

Palate: Simple sweet malt toffee, barley malt, vanilla. Water reveals a touch of banana. Smooth to start, becoming spicy and numbing with Szechuan pepper, cinnammon, and cloves.

Finish: Tingly with allspice, ginger root and cardamom.

This is a pretty solid old-school style Speyside hoggy malt.

Sweet shop notes with esters and fruit. It’s quite unbalanced and fiery, but a great nose on it. I’d say the cask was a tad too active here with the palate starting off well and gradually cranking up the spices further than I’d like on an unpeated malt.

It’s a good whisky overall, but I wouldn’t buy it.

WhiskyBroker Strathmill 1990

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 14.27.59Distillery: Strathmill
Bottled: 2012, Distilled: 1990
Age: 22 years old
ABV: 51.9%
Cask: Refill Bourbon Hogshead
More Info: WhiskyBase

This is four years older than the Cadenhead’s bottling, but quite a bit paler. I’m hoping the refill cask here has been kinder to the spirit.

Nose: Green fruit – apples, kiwis, limes. Spicy crème brûlée, salted fudge, lavender honey, cloudy cider, and barley grass. Some green chillies too.

Palate: Buttery fudge, cinder toffee, cheap cola, rum-raisin ice cream, sweet malt, and another rising, numbing pepper note that comes to dominate the palate.

Finish: The fire calms down to leave Bourbon barrel spices – cinnamon, sweetened hazelnuts, creamy oak.

A lot in common with the Cadenhead – fruity Speyside character coming through, but different notes and more depth of flavour and complexity. It still has that rising spice, but it’s not as harsh as the 18 and dies down to reveal more flavours on the finish.

Thanks to Andy for this sample!

A Case of Kiwi Craft Beers

Yeastie_Boys

 

“Your mom busted in and said, “What’s that noise?” Aw, mom you’re just jealous: it’s the Yeastie Boys!”

 

Ok, so a slight departure from whisky today – I have here a fine selection of beers from the Yeastie Boys, a brewery outfit from New Zealand who’ve started selling beers here in the UK with the help of our beloved renegade Scottish beermasters, Brewdog.

As you probably know, beer is just half-finished whisky so it mostly qualifies as a relevant post, right? Yeah, of course it does*.

Founded in 2008 by Stu McKinlay and Sam Possenniskie, and using a fierce blend of savvy modern branding, a love of experimentation, and the ability to make high quality, interesting beers – these chaps are really doing the Southern Hemisphere proud on the global craft beer stage.

So let’s get it in the glass, eh?

* To make sure I’m appeasing the wrath of the whisky gods, one of these beers is made with heavily peated malt. Oooh! Aaaah!

IMG_20160330_203819369Stairdancer (Pale Ale 4.4%)

Colour: Cloudy yellow.

Nose: Fruity! Lemons, Golden Delicious apples, Grapefruit. Quite doughy, and slightly herbal.

Palate: Malty, soft, frothy and tart developing to salty hops. Slightly chalky.

Finish: Lipsmackingly salty.

Pretty straightforward overall. It’s smooth and clean – as you’d expect from a pale ale.

I think I’d have this one with food; it’s more interesting than your average lager but it’s not complex enough to be spoiled by an unclean palate.

IMG_20160329_205748037Digital (IPA 5.7%)

Colour: Golden yellow, slightly cloudy.

Nose: Floral blossom. Hay, wax and chamomile with a little waft of tropical mango and wet honeydew melon slices.

Palate: Light and crisp with more delicate floral notes. Akin to a dry cider without the sweetness. Fruit skins and tangy salty malt.

Finish: Salty and yeasty with a gentle bitterness coming through.

This is a really easy sipper. Made dry-hopped with Motueka, Nelson Sauvin, and Southern Cross hops, it’s a lovely light floral twist on the IPA style.

I could drink this all day long.

IMG_20160401_200000152Cloudbuster (Saison 5.8%)

Colour: Cloudy pineapple.

Nose: Coconut shavings, lemon pancakes, grapefruit, yeasty white bread.

Palate: Pear, nectar, tropical fruit, vanilla cream, more grapefruit and floral hops.

Finish: Malty and wheaty with dry hops.

This is one for the Weißbier lovers.

Yeasty, wheaty and tons of bright fruit and floral notes. Would pair well with smoked meats and charcuterie.

 

IMG_20160331_190842453

Gunnamatta (Earl Grey IPA 6.5%)

Colour: Cloudy amber.

Nose: Salty, grassy, herbal, and slightly medicinal. Jasmine blossom and honey.

Palate: Bitter orange peel, tangerines, more jasmine. Peaches and soft fruit, becoming fresh, hoppy and grassy.

Finish: Salty, nutty, tangy, with dry tea leaves.

Mmm, another great twist on the IPA style.

This is a personal favourite of mine as an Earl Grey tea drinker – the dry, floral notes really work with the hops. It’s more robust and challenging than the Digital IPA but very refreshing and accessible all the same. Yum.

IMG_20160402_165751793

Pot Kettle Black (Porter 6.0%)

Colour: Jet black, beige froth.

Nose: Brazil nuts, dark chocolate, iron, and salty Marmite.

Palate: Dark malt, Bourbon biscuits, bitter treacle, dark liquorice, granary bread.

Finish: Tangy, with more iron and liquorice root. Ever so slightly smoky right at the end.

This is a lovely malty, chocolatey porter.

Lots of depth to those rich, dark, heavy flavours – this is a quiet fireside sipper on a wet, cold night.

 

IMG_20160402_180753538xeRRex (Heavily Peated Imperial 10%)

Wow, here’s the pièce de résistance. An imperial strength ale with heavily peated malt. This really is not something you see every day!

Colour: Cloudy chestnut, with quite a bit of sediment. Is that peat floating in it??

Nose: Wow, medicinal peat smoke! Germaline and soft rubber. Bacon rind masks a very soft fruity note of stewed apple.

Palate: Surprisingly very fruity, malty and dry, like a Belgian beer. Peaches, pineapples and cream and then the peat rushes in and pow! It’s Bonfire night and wood smoke, dry leaves, and salty smoked ham are all over your tongue.

Finish: That smoky smell that clings to your clothes in November. Keeps going and going, long after the last sip.

Wow, what a singularly unusual beer. You’d have to travel far to find many others like this. It reminds me of the wash we tasted on the Lagavulin tour (though not as yeasty).

Definitely challenging, and don’t expect to be able to taste much but smoke for a while afterwards. If Rauchbier or peated whisky do it for you then you’ll definitely appreciate this.