Sunday, March 1, 2015

Ardbeg Uigeadail Vertical 2004-2014

Lately there has been a lot of online discussions about the pro's and cons of NAS whisky

NAS stands for "No Age Statement". This is simply a catagory of whisky where the bottle doesn't bear any clue of the age of the whisky. There is a lot of NAS whisky out there and the biggest sellers in the world are NAS whiskies, Cheap blends, Johnny Walker Red, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam White. It's not a new thing. And due to various labeling and production regulations, we know that Johnny Walker is at least 3 years old and that Jim Bema White is at least 4 years old

But this is not really the whisky people are referring to when discussing NAS whisky. It's usually when NAS whisky is replacing whisky with an age statement. The producers argument for bottling whisky with No Age Statement is that whisky should be bottled when it's ready, not when it passes a more or less random selected age mileage. If you go into a typical warehouse and open two casks of whisky, both distilled at the same, and lets say 8 years old, it's not uncommon to find that one is very good and perfectly ready for bottling and the other is not ready at all and do need more years in the warehouse.

But if the bottle line up of that distillery is that this whisky has to be at least 12 years old, that good cask can't be bottled as part of the standard lineup. It doesn't meet the age requirement yet.

So the producers say: Lets drop the age statement on the bottle and bottle the whisky when it's ready. Let's not be a slave of the age requirement. Let's just bottle the whisky when it's good.

Unfortunately, consumers say, reality is something else. The last few years we have seen a whisky shortage. A whisky shortage is when demand is higher than the supply. Whisky is popular. There is a whisky shortage both for single malts and bourbons. There is a few shortcuts the producers can take to meet the demand. One is to bottle at a lower alcohol strength. If you add more water to your whisky, you can produce more bottles. Another one is to skip the age statement. By bottling a whisky at a younger age, you shorten the production time. This will initially give you quite a larger volume to pick casks from, but also as the bottling catch up with the now extended stock there will be a slight increase in production from the fact that whisky in the cask looses 2% volume on average every year. So if you bottle whisky at 10 years instead of 12 you will eventually, apart from a shorter production time, also have around 4% more whisky to put in bottles.

Most entusiasts are not very happy with this trend. Myself included. When you go into a duty free whisky store you see a lot of NAS 40% whisky. For Scotland particular, younger whisky has a higher alcohol percent than older whisky when resting in the cask. As whisky matures in a cask the alcohol percentage slowly goes down. In short this means that if you buy a 6 year old whisky at 40% and a 15 year old whisky at 40% you can be pretty sure that more water has been added to the 6yo to get it down to 40% than what was needed for diluting the 15yo casks. So young 40% whisky is really the last kind of whisky you wan't to buy. It contains a lot of water

I like age statement for standard products. It gives a tiny little guarentee of what goes into the bottle.

Some of these you can drink when pregnant, some not

So we set up this blind tasting of one of the most popular NAS bottlings out there. Ardbeg Uigeadail.

It's Ardbeg. It's bottles at 54.2%. It, unlike most other Ardbegs, have a heavy sherry part in the vatting. It's the essential peat and sherry combo in many peoples opinion. Peat and sherry doesn't always mix very well, but this bottling has been popular for over a decade now.

We managed to gather 6 bottlings. 5 of them was the with old bottlecodes

L4 315, L6 109, L7 325, L9 327, L10 032

L7 325 simply means it was bottled on the 325th day of 2007

The 6th bottling was a very new bottling from the new bottle facility, and it had a bottle code like this L59501 29072014. I interpret this as bottled 29th July 2014

So we had a selection of Uigedails from 2004 to 2014. The earliest bottling of Uigedail I know of, was bottled in 2003, L3 282 so I think we covered the era of Uigeadail quite well.

So how did we set this up?. We tried to set this up as a blind tasting. And we set two aims for ourselves.

1. Could we identify the L7 325, which apperently should be a rather good one. Check out that link to The Ardbeg Project. A couple of years ago I tasted this at a another vertical and back then I picked it out as outstanding compared to other batches. Locating a bottle of this at one of my friends was what triggered organising this tasting.

2. Could we identify the L4315. Of the other 5 batches 3 was opened on the day, 1 a couple of days before and the 5th 3 weeks prior. The L4315 had been open for years. Untouched for years and with just around a 10cl dreg in the bottle we wondered if this could affected the whisky enough to be pinpointed amongst 5 others recently opened bottles

Fast answers: We couldn't identify the L4 315. It was easy to identify the L7 325. The cork broke and even though I tried to clean the whisky from small bits of corks it was identfiied by one of the participants.

I was pouring the whiskies and the other 3 shuffling them, I also knew which was the L7 325. I didn't need the cork bits to reveal that. It was considerable darker than the other 5.

2014 versus L7325

Here are my verdicts of the 6 bottlings. They were tasted blind. I knew which was L7325 though

L4 315.
Slight sourness on the nose. Parmesan and babypuke is what people often refer to when we meet this in whisky. It was also sulphured. The sulphurness carried over into the palate. As I am extra sensitive to sulphur, it meant I rated this lowest. This is a good example of a whisky that is not bad, but just get a low rating from me, cause I don't like it and can't cope with sulphur. Score 78

This had a very faint sourness as well on the nose. But the palate was fine. One of the particiapants really disliked this one, while us other three liked it. The nose couldn't drag it down a lot so Score 86

L7 325
We knew what is was. But it was easy no brainer to pick it out. A lot darker. With a hint of old sherried Ardbeg. A great whisky. My guess is that some 70's Ardbeg went into this one  Score 90

My favourite outside the L7 325. Just as a good Uigeadail should be with no flaws Score 87
Very well balanced and with substantial less alcohol burn than the other 5. I thought this was one that had been opened for years. Score 86½

Not very good. The nose was grainy, new boiled pasta and newmakeish. Not a havy sherry influence either. What a dissapoint. The L4315 got a low rating cause I didn't like it. This got a low rating cause it was bad whisky. Score 79. In hindsight today I feel I should have score it even lower

The whisky was served in this order: 2004-2014-2010-2007-2006-2009

When the whiskies were revealed even the atheists amongst us were paraying "Let #2 not be my bottle"

I couldn't help thinking that the reason the 2014 bottling was so bad was becasue Ardbeg Uigeadail is a NAS whisky. For this particular batch they seem to have used a lot younger whisky. I don't know for sure. Maybe the casks used were exactly the same age as the casks used for other ones. Maybe the whisky was just not very good. We don't know. But if I bought this bottle I would complain to the shop, and if I had this bottle in my shop I would complain to my importer

No matter if we averagied our scores or averaged our individual rankings we ended up ranking the 6 Uigeadails like this


3 out 4 had the L7325 as favourite. 4th participant had the L9 327 as favourite with L7 325 on the 2nd place.

If you wan't to read more about Ardbeg batches and Ardbeg bottle codes, I recommend The Ardbeg Project

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Kamuela Liquor Store - a trip to the Big Island

One of the fun thing when travelling in the US, is that you can stumble upon shop exclusives you had no idea existed.

A true shop exclusive is a single barrels that are selected by and sold only in the shop selecting it. Sometimes the shop is part of chain, like Binny's in Chicago or The Liquor Outlet in Las Vegas. This seems to be a lit more common in the US and for bourbons, but it's also seen with single malts and in Europe. When a shop like whiskybase, who has a strong online presence, have a shop exclusive like their recent Glendronach, it's often sold out within a day or so.

On a recent holiday trip to the Big Island, Hawaii, my mind was more set on tasting local beer than searching for whisky. Usually (always) when I travel I use the map function on to look for interesting places to try some new beers. As brewpubs very often have food well above average they are an excellent choice for lunch stops. Especially for someone like me :-)

This day I tried to drive up the peaks of Hawai'i, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. As normal rental cars wasn't allowed above the visitor centre on Kea, I was returning early. I had allready planned to have lunch at the Big Island Brewhaus in Weimea, but being early I decided to look for a liquor store on my GPS-navigator and something called Kamuela Liquor Store showed up. Just a few hundred meters from the brewpub, so there was no reason not to drive by and have a look. The place was rather anonymous, and initially I simply just drove by the shed-a-like looking liquor store. As my navigator is about 5 years old I simply thought the place didn't exist anymore and turned the car around and drove back. On the way back I noticed the place, so I turned around again and managed to enter the right parking lot, which was actually just a pebbled space next to what I now knew was the liquor store. Not very impressive looking from the outside, I expected this to be just another small store with a couple of standard bottlings like Crown Royal, Glenlivet, Maker's Mark and Jack D. Inside the shop was more classy from what I expected from the outside. And bigger. It looked like a nice selection of wine (I wouldn't know). It for sure had a nice selection of beers (I do know) and also a fine selection of whisky. Nosing around for a couple of minutes I discovered this Shop Exclusive Four Roses

The bottle wes selected by the shopowners on a recent Kentucky trip.


E means this is the 75% Corn, 20% Rye, 5% Barley mashbill and the K is the yeast type used for this whiskey (Four Roses uses 5 different yeast types, visit their website for more info)

The rye is very present on the nose, and blind I would have guessed this to be the 35% Rye mashbill. There is a nice delicate minty sweet nose on this and leaving the bourbon in the glass for some minutes evolves the nose into something really wonderful

The palate is quite powerful on the alcohol, and also quite woody compared to other Four Roses single barrels I have tried. The woodyness gives this whisky a dry feeling but it is also very oily and creamy. Still very minty At ll times, as the flavours roll from alcoholic, to woody then creamy and fianlly minty the experience is quite intense. Adding water didn't benefit for me as it made the whisky taste bitter, but at least the creamy finish improved

Score 87/100 

As I left Kamuela Liqour Store I learned that just two days later they would put up another single barrel, A 9yo Knob Creek 120 proof. I could probably have talked them into selling me one, and I did want one, but as I had to dump things from my suitcase just to fit in the Four Roses, I let it go .-(

Going back into Waimea I went to the Big Island Brewhaus. And that was another very pleasant surprise. The food was excellent, brewpub food with an Hawai'ian touch, the beers were very good as in awesome, super fresh beer which is actually quite rare to come by. Basically one of the best brewpubs I have ever been to

Big Island Brewhaus

The Overboard IPA was so fresh, so delicious

Two days later I rented a 4-wheel-drive with a couple of friends and went up to the top of Mauna Kea. 4200m and a newly opened  Four Roses

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Whiskybrother Glenlivet

Whiskybrother is located in Johannesburg, South Africa. According to their website it's Johannesburg's first speciality whiskystore.

Whiskybrother was started by Marc Pendlebury, whose adventure from a whiskyentusiast into running a whiskyshop I have been following on twitter the last several years. He kindly supplied me with sample, which will be my first review in more than 6 months! 

Here we go:


In my glass the whisky actually appears darker than in this promotional photo.

There is no doubt this is heavy on the sherry. Slight hint of rubber on the nose, With my sensitivity to sulphur I doubt many others could detect this. Maybe a gnome could, but I bet most humans wouldn't.

The nose rather quickly turns into a cold soup of raisins. That's dried fruits. Basically this is essential sherry whisky. Below this sherryfruit, there is a faint nice spicyness, vanilla, licorise, almond, marcipan and cardemom

The palate is not that sweet, it's dry and nutty. A solution of dried grapes. This is semi-heavy on the sherry side but I also find a really creamy nice butterscotchy compliment when the finish is approaching. 

The finish itself is long, spicy and the dried fruits keep lingering in my mount

I tried adding a bit of water, just a drop or two, and the whisky benefits from this, the alcoholic burn is lessened and the flavours enhanced.

A very delicious whisky, and this is gonna be hit with sherry fans, and a nice little treat for the South African whiskyentusiast

Score 88/100

It's the finish I like best with this whisky. By now I am used to a lot of sherried whisky having a sulphur approach on me, but the creamy finish followed by dried fruits makes this something I enjoyed drinking. If it makes sense saying a finish can be followed by something else :-)

This whisky has also been reviewed by Dramming and Malt Fascination , I'll add more when I get aware of them!

Friday, January 2, 2015

The biggest problem with bourbon

is diversity.

One thing is the flavour gap. Compared to single malt most people think that bourbon are more similar. This is true, but with some experience you can distuinguish flavours in bourbons better. So the more you drink, the more you get back. If you include ryes you get a bigger flavour gap. Not as big as single malt, but this is due to single malt using a lot of different types of cask and also peat.

No, when I say lack of diversity it's the diversity of different bottlings. I suffer from this personally. I am in charge of a few bourbon tastings in Denmark. Just coming up with a different setup once a year for an annual tasting is tough. Mind you, most of the things I want to present has to be a little more interesting than common stuff like Jim Beam White and Bulleit. It has to be something new and exciting. But the lack of diversity makes me struggle just finding bottles to present.

I could organise a top single malt whisky tasting every week from now on and 20 years in to the future, All different bottlings and all interesting special bottlings. Every week. Probably twice a week if I wanted to.

With bourbon I struggle to do one tasting a year. I know the selection in Denmark is not as big as other places, especially like the US. But the selection in the US is also quite mediocre. Not the quality of the bottles but the amount of different bottlings. I have been visiting many shops selling whisky in the US, and it's not like the bootles are jumping into my basket

The main reason for this is fewer distilleries and fewer independent bottlers and the added fact that both destilleries and bottlers do not bottle that many different interesting things. The only distillery that has a bigger setup is Buffalo Trace.

When a distillery do bottle single barrels they tend to bottle very similar stuff (Like the Evan Williams SB, or the Four Roses SB)

I reckon SMWS, an independent bottler of mainly scottish single malts, bottles more diffrent new stuff than there is bottled new bourbons

One thing I omit from this discussion so far, and which must be included is the explosion of new small distilleries all over America. Hundreds of distilleries, most very small, make bourbon today.

But most of this is too young to be considered. It can also be hard to find except locally. But maybe there is hop for the future. Some of this stuff will grow up and be very interesting in the future. Some of it allready is. If you can find it.

But end of the day, festivals, private gatherings and tastings will be centered around single malt. There just isn't enough interesting bourbons out there to match it. 

It's a shame. I love bourbon. Most of of my bourbon collection is multiple bottles. If you want the good stuff you need to stock up. Single malt wise, I tend to have only one of each. There is just so many different bottlings and it's impossible to keep track. How many different new bottlings of single malt is released every year. I reckon more than 3000

As a bourbon drinker this is probably not a very big problem. There is always good bourbon to be drunk. But as an entusiast, it's hard to gather people for bourbon, when there is 3000 bottles of single malt to be tasted.

I wish there were more bourbons for us entusiasts. It could be fun.

It doesn't help either that bourbon is so popular these days that the most interesting bottlings is getting vacuumed of the shelves. Who wouldn't want to organise a van Winkle vertical?

Monday, July 7, 2014

Cadenhead will release a bourbon

This May I went to the Campbeltown whisky festival with the whiskylassie. A festival I can recommend highly, it was an excellent couple of days, and the organisers did things that makes it worth to travel for this event from all corners of the world. Music, ales, whiskypeople and the most important, a lot of whisky to taste

One of the tasting consisted of a some high end releases from Cadenhead, accompanied by some cask samples. A cask of 25yo Rosebank was opened, gauged and tasted, and anyone who wanted a bottle could purchase this for 150£. This was an excellent malt and offcourse I bought this.

A cask of Rosebank

Another cask sample was a bourbon. This was served blind and caused some puzzled faces amongst the attending whiskyentusiast, I guess most wasn't that experienced with bourbon

Here is my review of the cask sample drawn a few months before bottling.

The bourbon was distilled at the old Heaven Hill just before it burned down in 1996. In 2005 the barrel was transferred to Scotland. This bourbon has been maturing half it's time in Kentucky and the other half in Campbeltown. This makes quite a difference as the temperature differences is much less in Scotland than in Kentucky. This bourbon is a lot less woody than you average bourbon. 

Nose: Sweet, corn, solvent. Does this sound good ?. Maybe not, but it is. Deliciously good. This noses like a sweet grain, but with a lot more body

Palate: Strong, this do for sure have a high ABV. Loads of butterscotchy vanillaed flavours. Remarkable lack of wood compared to what you expect from a bourbon. This reminds me of ryed version of Jefferson's Stitzel Wellers, which I found less woody as well.

This benefits a lot with a bit of water. The alcohol burn, both on the nose and palate dissapears and makes the whisky come to it's true right. Quite surprisingly, a little water makes this whisky more oily, actually remarkable more oily, and the wooden flavours hidden inside comes out

Due to the "double maturation" of this bourbon. 8 years here and 8 years there, I wonder why Cadenhead hasn't claimed they have invented a new whisky catagory. They have done this before. This isn't the first bottling of Heaven Hill to be released from Cadenhead! My suggestion would be to call this kind of bourbon for outland whiskEy, but I think that name has allready been taken by a World of Warcraft realm 

Rating 88/100

There won't be many bottles of this, less than 150 I would say

The festival had many other nice events, like the one shown blow here:

The Springbank Warehouse tasting
With Distillery Manager Gavin McLachlan

Thursday, June 19, 2014

La Alazana

A distillery in Argentina

I have never heard of it, until just recently when I received an email from La Alazana distillery, asking if they could be added to my distillery maps. Off course they could :-)

After asking for the location I have now added it the the "Americas" map, take a look at the location, it's on the east side of the Andes Mountains in the western parts of Argentina.

There is a link to the rest of my maps in the column just right of here------------------------>

It didn't end there. I got a little curious about how it was to run a distillery in Argentina. I asked Nestor Serenelli of La Alazana if he would do a little email interview for this blog which he agreed. Thanks for that, here is my impression from the interview, I went for some hard facts most of all

First, there is a few photos in this post, all from La Alazana's facebook page

La Alazana Distillery

La Alazana, the name of the distillery is actually the name of the farm where it is located. In Spanish, the word "alazan" us used to refer to the copper colour of a chestnut coated horse. The farm is named after a favourite horse, a chestnut mare they used to have. Personally, with the copper reference, I think it's a great name for a whisky distillery

The Stills of La Alazana

Every single step in the proces, from milling to bottling, is done by La Alazana thenselves. The production is very limited, to around 30 casks a year. That's about a third of the actual capacity. 

La Alazana use domestic barley and peated belgian barley for their different levels of peating, so far three levels of peating is used, light, medium and heavy

The fermentation time is 120 hours

They work with high cut points, from 78% down to a minimum of 70%

The different casks are a mix of three types. Ex-kentucky barrels, ex-sherry from Hagmann, an argentinian sherry producer in the San Juan province and finally ex-cognac butts, made from Limousine oak. The casks is filled at 63.5%

La Alazana belongs to the rural area of the small patagonian mountain range town of Lago Puelo, which specializes in growing berries. The distillery started as a fruit brandy distillery, with a small homemade still, then they made corn whisky and then decided to go malt whisky on a larger commercial scale, with a special set of stills as seen above. Not very large compared to most other distilleries I have visited

Blended whisky has always been popular in Argentina and there is a growing market for single malt whisky. Nestor has been a whisky lover since his youth, so it was a natural evolution for him as a distiller to turn toward this product. With his partner Pablo Tognetti, they started the first licensed malt whisky distillery in Argentina

 La Alazana casks to be filled

Expect the first bottling of La Alazana whisky to be bottled at the end of this year. I hope for the argentinian whisky entusiasts and La Alazana that it's going to be tasty

More info on the website of La Alazana

The nice photos and just looking at the map, makes me consider doing a whisky trip to Argentina :-)

Monday, June 9, 2014

Just one of them lucky months - part 1: Sherry

May was a very lucky month for me, whiskywise.

I was lucky to experience a range of new places and meet a range of very nice people

Here is part 1

Through facebook I had the luck of meeting Alberto Corales of Toneleria del Sur

This is a cooperage located in Montilla in Andulusia, Spain, about 1 hours drive north of Malaga. I had the pleasure of visiting Toneleria del Sur and the nearby Bodegas Pérez Barquero where they make, what us ignorants just call sherry. But this isn't Jerez, and here it's called Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso and PX. Not Sherry. Fino. It was repeated to me a few times when I said the S-word

Now, my knowledge of these products were next to nothing, and my interest in these wines comes from the fact that the casks used to mature it, can later be used for maturing whisky. It was time for learning

Traditionally Pérez Barquero Fino is made on a solera system, with three layers of casks. The new wine is filled on the top level. Every now and again, 40% is drawn from the bottom level casks, which is filled from middle level, which is then filled from the top level, which is filled with new wine

Fino Solera

Some of the casks were very old, and you could arguably ask how much wood influence would be left for the Fino and Amontillado versions prepared. Not much I would expect, but I was proven wrong. Both the Fino and Amontillado had a destinctive wooden flavour, which I really liked (I drink whisky for a reason). Some of the casks were said to be near 100 years old so this is remarkable.

Our guide was spanish speaking, she spoke to Alberto in spanish, who translated to me in english, which is neither of us first language and then I translated to my parents to danish. I wonder how much got lost in translation there..

I managed to pick up a few things. All products were made from the same grape called PX, Pedro Ximenez

It's a white wine. The dark colour of oloroso and PX is a result from oxidations. The oxidation in Fino is biological, but limited since the wine is protected by a layer of natural yeast laying on the top of wine in the barrel. If the yeast is allowed to die, the wine will undergo oxidation and becomes quite darker. This is known as Amontillado. Both Fino and Amontillado are dry and woody, and quite delicious if you ask me. Especially the version made by Pérez Barquero, which were well aged for longer than 10 years (I still wonder how this is defined in a Solera system)

Oloroso is fortified and has the yeast removed in an earlier stage, giving a much bigger oxidation and a darker brown wine, with a nuttier taste.

Pedro Ximenez, named after the grape, is made with a wine from dried PX grapes and is also fortified. This is a very dark, very sweet thick fluid, and actually far too sweet for my likings. Tastes like raisins more than anything, and no surprise, as it's made from dried grapes. I don't like PX sherry, but I really like the whisky that can be produced from casks that held PX sherry, so I think you all should do me a favour of go out and buy a bottle and drink it. Most others has this as their favourite amongst the different varities coming out of Andulusia, so please do :-)

The spirit used for fortification is wine spirits

Sherry Casks

After the Bodega, we went for a short tour at the Toneleria del Sur cooperage, which is a small cooperage in Montilla that specialises in repairing and preparing sherry casks for the scotch whisky industry.

They also make new sherry cask to be seasoned. Seasoning sherry casks is done a lot these years as the demand for sherry casks is high and the natural production isn't sufficient for the big distilleries in Scotland

American Oak is the main oak used

This is an old cask

A cask is getting a new stave

The workshop

When in Spain, I decided to try a few local brandies. I was very positively surprised, as I am not usually a fan of say Cognac

The brandies I tasted had a clear impact from the sherry cask they have been matured on (also Solera style typically). My favourite was this one

Now where do I get a cask strength version of this ?