The Half Century Blend

Bottled: 2016
Number of Bottles: 768
ABV: 45.5%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Far back in the mists of time, there existed an extraordinary era of whisky production where distilleries were unbridled by accountants and the constant demand for efficiency.

Whiskies produced in the 1960s and before display altogether different properties whether long-aged in barrel or in antique bottlings. The spirit production was slower with smaller yields but this more considered approach lead to a style of whisky that people are increasingly pining for.

To quote the chaps at The Blended Whisky Company,

“The result of all this inefficiency, waste and lost commercial-opportunity? Flavour, subtlety, poise, an incredible depth of fruit-character and a beguiling, ethereal quality sadly missing from many of today’s whiskies.”

This isn’t their first foray into exquisitely old and rare blends. Their Lost Distilleries blend and “The Golden Age” have each won multiple awards over the years so they really do know what they’re doing. This time around they’re decidedly tight-lipped as to the constituents. Maybe if we ask nicely they’ll give us a clue…

This blend is comprised entirely of whiskies aged for fifty years or more. That’s bonkers. You simply don’t get many chances to taste something like that. The challenging question is: is fifty years too much? Can the spirit stand up to that much oak?

God, I can’t wait to find out…

Colour: Amber – not as dark as you might expect for the age.

Body: Very viscous – thick beads and long legs.

Nose: Fruity and resinous. Apple blossom, brandied cherries, crème anglaise. Very clean, like fresh laundry, but with a spirity marker pen edge. As it opens up, there’s a little milk chocolate, sultanas, allspice, and fragrant wood resin. Cor, this is well layered.

Palate: Beautiful soft delivery with a promise of pepper that never quite stands up to the velvety oak. Yes, the decades in the cask has certainly left this feeling oaky but certainly not tired. There’s sweet satsuma, malty toffee, fiery gingerbread, warm strudel and viscous ice cream.

Finish: It just goes on… Warm, chewy oak with toasted coconut flakes and vanilla cream. Twenty minutes later and I can still taste it.

This is absolutely delicious. Very easy to drink (I found it needs no water) with a lot of classy whisky notes and plenty of character left after such an extended maturation. A tumbler of this in a wingback chair by an open fire and you’d be left wanting for nothing.

This stunning blend is available from today for the very reasonable price of £599.95 from those lovely chaps at Master of Malt. You can also find it at Amathus, Amazon, Harvey Nichols, Hedonism, and Ocado.

Bruichladdich Infinity 03.1

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 21.57.01Distillery: Bruichladdich
Age: NAS
ABV: 50%
Cask: Temperanillo and Sherry Casks
More Info: WhiskyBase

Another Laddie distillery bottling – this one was part of a plethora of small experimental releases in the noughties as the distillery found its feet again after revival by Mark Reynier and Co.

This one’s a lightly peated (20PPPM) “multi vintage” expression matured in refill sherry barrels and temperanillo wine casks.

Nose: Reminiscent of cognac, yet coastal and sandy. Dusty plum skin, pine resin, bramble jam, lime zest, and tinned fruit. A good whiff of rubber soles and josticks.

Palate: Syrupy sour plums. Malty shortbread and fruit syrup wraps up a rising and spicy peat tang. Slightly unripe red grapes and sour apples with soy and aromatic chow mein.

Finish: Chalky with Brazil nut skins, salty smoke, and more lime zest. Slightly soapy at the end.

This took a while to grow on me but I’m finding the complexity more appealing. Loads of funky sherry notes, the kind that you’ll love or hate. Pleasingly coastal and warming with great mouthfeel at that higher strength ABV.

The trouble for me with this dram is the lack of integration. The Bruichladdich distillery character is recognisable (malty, coastal, limey) but the wine/sherry influence feels very separate – like the two flavour profiles don’t get on with each other.

Overall: A flawed-yet-entertaining expression. Worth trying as a curiosity.

You can find this on auction sites for well under £100. Pretty tin and a good edition to a Laddie collection.

Brewdog Paradox Islay

IMG_20160708_184117073_HDRBrewery: Brew Dog
Style: Imperial Stout aged in Islay Cask
ABV: 15%
More Info: Brew Dog

Who can resist a stout aged in an Islay malt cask? Yep, I sure can’t!

Ever the experimenters, let’s see if Brewdog have succeeded where others failed – peaty beers I’ve tried in the past have tended to be just too weird to be enjoyable.

Right-o, to the glass…

Nose: Damp Guinness-flavoured sponge cake. Iron filings. Liqourice root, chocolate fudge brownie, oak smoked meats.

Palate: Dark, rich and malty. Bourbon biscuits, thick sweet oily espresso, bitter citrus peel, and a rising oceanic peat (think crushed shells and dried peat bricks).

Finish: Tarry and ashen with a growing lip-smacking oakiness.

This is an interesting blend of two different worlds and one that I think Brewdog have pulled off beautifully.

The balance is masterful with enough peaty whisky flavour to make itself known but without overpowering the palate like other peaty beers. The stout itself is superbly indulgent – rich, chocolatey and velvet-smooth. That peat cask influence gives it that subtle twist to contrast against and bring out the depths of flavour.

Brewvo, Bradog.

Lakes Distillery Cask Sample

Screen Shot 2016-06-09 at 09.53.24Distillery: Lakes Distillery
Age: 1 year
ABV: 63.4%
Cask: First-Fill Bourbon (Heaven Hill)
Cask Number: 2015/#23

Now this is a proper treat – a preview taster of the Lakes Distillery’s malt spirit after a year or so in the barrel!

Founded by Paul Currie (who also co-founded the Isle of Arran distillery) the Lakes Distillery at Bassenthwaite first ran spirit off their stills in late 2014 to much local fanfare.

Let’s see how it’s coming on…

Colour: White wine

Nose: Delicate and floral with apple blossom and sweet hay. Soft, creamy egg custard and sliced banana. A whiff of salty lime skin. With water it opens up with: poached pear, choux pastry, hazelnuts and sultanas. After some time, mineral rich white wine akin to Chablis.

Palate: Perfectly drinkable at cask strength. Very creamy with old fashioned barley sugar boiled sweets. With water, apple and pear flesh – very clean and light – then a rising menthol spice with bitter grapefruit.

Finish: Creamy oak, more hazelnuts, and a touch of white chocolate.

This is a really fabulous spirit. It has a lot of unsherried Speyside character to it: floral, clean, and creamy. At only a year old, this bodes very well for older expressions.

If you’re planning a holiday to the lakes (or just fancy a detour from the monotony of the M6) then it’s well worth a visit.

Thanks very much to John Drake for the sample.

Tweet Tasting: The Dram Team

dramteam

Another Tweet Tasting is upon us, and this time it’s the inaugural tasting pack from The Dram Team.

Each tasting pack produced will contain six drams sent by post and you can buy them one-off or subscribe to one per month. The first pack is a tasting tour of the six whisky regions of Scotland.

Up first, the contender for The Highlands…

 


Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 09.08.43Inchmurrin 18 Year Old

Distillery: Loch Lomond
Age: 18
ABV: 46%
Cask: Bourbon 1st fill, refill, and re-charred
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Toffee, heather honey and cereal with green bananas and Ester-rich pear drops. Rum-soaked raisins and a malty beeriness. There’s a lot of funky notes incongruous with the style: pickled onions, soy sauce, Manzanilla, sulphur, and fermenting fruit.

Palate: Sour cider apples and green peppercorns. Beery malt and hops. Sourdough bread and grappa. Very young and new-make-ish for an 18 year old.

Finish: Short and chalky.

Frankly, for eighty pounds a bottle I know plenty of other 18 year old expressions I’d prefer to buy. This is a flawed whisky, full of new-make character and off notes. I’m a fan of unusual flavours (in fact I prefer whiskies that surprise me) but this isn’t the kind of surprise I enjoy…

Next up, the Lowlander…

Auchentoshan Three Wood

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 09.17.30Distillery: Auchentoshan
Age: NAS
ABV: 43%
Cask: Bourbon, Oloroso and PX
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Oloroso sherry notes, nutty and sweet. Hot cross buns. Cough mixture and cola cubes.

Palate: Looks viscous in the glass but it’s lighter on the tongue. Gentle barley sugar sweets, old fashioned cough mixture, and a rising pepper spice. Dusty sherry.

Finish: Oaky vanilla and rum raisin ice cream.

This isn’t bad, though it is somewhat over engineered. I prefer Auchentoshan as it comes out of the cask, without watering down, chill filtering, or caramel. This just tastes like whisky-flavoured whisky.

From Campbeltown now…

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.11.17Glen Scotia Double Cask

Distillery: Glen Scotia
Age: NAS
ABV: 46%
Cask: 1st Fill Bourbon and PX
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Soft cotton, like sheets out of the dryer. Freshly sliced banana. Dark sugar and cracked black pepper.

Palate: Thick and resinous. Bourbon barrel spice with vanilla, cinder toffee, and caramel sauce. Sweet and tasty.

Finish: Lipsmacking with gingerbread.

Amazing nose! Really impressed all round, for an affordable NAS this is eminently quaffable.

I’m definitely getting a bottle of this on pay day!

And weighing in from Islay, we have…

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.11.33

Bowmore Darkest

Distillery: Bowmore
Age: 15
ABV: 43%
Cask: Oloroso Sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Leathery and coastal, like a wax jacket on a clifftop walk. Dark chocolate with prunes and dates. A little marzipan with tangy marmalade.

Palate: Sumptuous sherry with juicy raisins and figs giving way to that signature Bowmore floral peat.

Finish: Dry oak and flower petals.

A classic! One of the better sherried peaty whiskies on the market. If you like this, I also recommend a bottle of its cask strength cousin, Laimrig.

Up next, the Speyside candidate…

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.11.57Glenfarclas 105

Distillery: Glenfarclas
Age: NAS
ABV: 60%
Cask: Oloroso Sherry
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Fierce! That ABV packs a punch. A drop of water reveals ripe apple flesh, and soft toffee. Really dark bitter cocoa and burnt treacle with a touch of rubber plimsol.

Palate: Café mocha with dark berries and orange peel. Creamy and spicy, like nutmeg in rice pudding.

Finish: Warm oaky chocolate.

Great value for the ABV. This is in the same league as A’Bunadh, a sherry bomb fresh from the barrel. Both need water in my opnion, so they’re almost like a whisky cordial. The ‘farclas is a more subtle and complex beast though, some great dark low notes in it.

Finally, we go to the Islands for the sixth dram of the night…

Highland Park 21 Year Old

Screen Shot 2016-06-08 at 15.12.14Distillery: Highland Park
Age: 21
ABV: 47.5%
More Info: WhiskyBase

Nose: Calm and gentle, soft and delicate. Chamois leather with a hint of clifftop sea breeze petrichor. Fresh blossoms. There’s an ice cream van in the distance.

Palate: Divinely balanced. Smoky grilled pineapple with black pepper. Vanilla cream and condensed milk with a handful of baking spices and waxy fruit skin.

Finish: Peat smoke reveals itself with gentle wafts that stay with you long after your last sip.

Oh, wow. I love old Highland Park and this does not disappoint. Classy, balanced, delicious. Absolute heaven.

Bowmore Tempest (Batch 5)

Screen Shot 2016-06-05 at 20.46.47Distillery: Bowmore
Bottled: 2014
Age: 10 years old
ABV: 55.9%
Cask: 1st Fill Bourbon
More Info: WhiskyBase

I’m a massive Islay fan but Bowmore’s always sat apart from the other distilleries on the island for me.

Sure, it’s the oldest and so probably has the biggest claim to being the epitome of whisky from the region but something about it for me puts it in a different category.

The older Bowmores I’ve tried have tended to be stunning but so spectacularly expensive that they’re beyond the reach of us mere mortals. The younger, well, didn’t stand out much at all.

This bottling piqued my curiosity since it ticks a lot of boxes: It’s lightly peated, cask strength, small batch, cheap, NCF, colouring free, and matured for ten years in first fill Bourbon. Can’t knock any of that!

So how is it in the glass?

Nose: Massively citrus. Orange sherbet, tangerines, and lemons. A good whiff of coastal salt, bonfire ash, and chalky rocks. After a while, a little coconut ice and lime skin.

Palate: Rich, sweet, and malty with metallic tinned pineapple. More citrus, juicy and sweet: satsumas and bitter grapefruit. Tingly peat builds with numbing red pepper and an Opal-Fruits-esque synthetic fruit flavour.

Finish: Bowmore signature parma violets with a touch of earthy oaky peat and bitter lemon.

Mmmmmm. We have a winner.

That tropical citrus core character works well with the 1st fill Bourbon characteristics and the Bowmore smoke. This is absolutely worth buying a whole bottle of and I’m now keen to see how the other batches compare.

Thank you, Bowmore, for releasing a whisky that’s interesting, characterful and (most importantly) affordable.

At £45 per bottle on Master of Malt, this is cracking value and a perfect Summer dram for a warm evening as the sun sets.

Kilchoman Coull Point

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 20.34.13Distillery: Kilchoman
Bottled: 2013, Distilled: 2009
ABV: 46%
Cask: Bourbon and Oloroso
More Info: WhiskyBase

Another airport treat here. I picked this up ages ago and decided to open it for World Whisky Day.

It took a little while to open up but after nearly a week I’m getting a ton more character coming through.

Nose: Oceanic and salty with a vegetal feel. Coltsfoot rock, sultanas, oily espresso and waxed leather. There’s a dusty earthiness with grist and dried herbs. With time, ready salted crisps and a whiff of tequila.

Palate: Luscious mouthfeel with a great balance of sweet and savoury. Peaty and rather Ardbeglike with the character of the smoke coming through as flavours of iodine and dark tar amid sweet notes of treacle, roasted hazelnuts, and burnt coffee.

Finish: Long and dry with bitter dark chocolate, sawdust, white pepper, and a wisp of earthy peat smoke.

This is a terrific whisky. Peaty, tasty, but subtle and evolving plenty in the glass over time.

Elements of the palate remind me of 70’s Ardbeg with its restraint and balance. I respect that’s very high praise for a whisky that’s only spent four years in wood but it turns out that you can get a very high quality distillate when you take the small batch farmyard approach and do things slowly and properly.

I picked this up for under £50 in Manchester Airport. It’s going for more than that online (a lot more in some cases). Keep an eye out for it if you fly via/to the UK, it’s well worth the RRP.

 

Midleton Very Rare 2014

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 20.49.09Distillery: Midleton
ABV: 40%
More Info: WhiskyBase

About time for a visit to Ireland!

The Midleton Very Rare blended whiskey is released in limited quantities every year using a blend of whiskeys aged between 12 and 25 years old.

Thanks very much to Nick for the sample.

Nose: Very soft. Apple blossom, oak chips, beeswax, egg custard tart, fresh cranberries, brown sugar and crème brûlée. A whisper of dark chocolate.

Palate: Demerara and baking spices: clove, cinnamon and liquorice. A fizzy pop element, like Panda Pop cola. Gets rich and buttery as it builds on the tongue with caramel cream and vanilla fudge.

Finish: Very creamy and long with vanilla, oak, sweet rolling tobacco and a touch of tangy pepper.

Mmm, goes down very nicely this does.

It has that characteristic Irish pot still creaminess – very smooth and moreish. It’s not massively complex, but it’s certainly been expertly crafted: Very balanced, elegant and pleasing.

The 2015 edition is still available to buy on Master of Malt for £149.70.

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.