Saturday, July 31, 2010

Distilleries improved

We all have our favourite distilleries, well most of us I guess. We also have some distilleries we have some problem getting along with. Well I do...or did

Things change. A distillery might change their production, or the company owning them might change their bottling style, that can be a change in age, a new bottling range, alcoholpercentage, they might drop chillfiltering their whiskies, or just vat different types of casks together. And my palate changes as well. First time someone gave me a Laphroaig I thought it was the worst thing I ever tasted..that opinion changed fast.

Here's a list of some whiskies which I used to find very bad, just bad, or just plain boring. Bad whisky is often due to some kind of fault in the production, boring whisky can be caused by bottling from casks thats too plain, that is casks that haven't given as much to the whisky as they should, maybe they have been used too many times.

1. Bowmore
Bowmore bottles some fantastic stuff, but in the eighties, something went wrong at the distillery. A lot of bottlings from this era is too soapy and too floral. Any soap is too soapy. These flaws goes for both OB's (The distillery's own bottlings) and IB's (Independant bottlings). This became so bad, a PLOWED Bowmore fan coined the tasting note FWP : French Whore Perfume to describe his experiences with Bowmore. Employess associated with the distillery usually denied this, and some even took offense (You're just a of self-styled connoisseurs was a reply to above when he questioned the distillery, self-styled whisky connoisseurs is now the offficial PLOWED logo)
Well Bowmore isn't like that anymore. I did avoid them for something like a 5 year period, but visiting them in 2007 and trying a few of their drams made me realise that this distillery was worthy again. Avoid anything disitilled before 1994 and after 1979 just to be safe :-)
It must be a company flaw as I have experienced the same flaws in Glen Garioch occasionally and Auchentoshan rarely. Visiting Auchentoshan in 2007 I mentioned this to one of their staff and it was quite entertaining watching this poor lad pretending he never heard about it before
Anyhoo, its 3 great distilleries that has overcome these troubles

2. Isle of Jura
I went to Islay in 2001 and at a bar I ordered the 10, 16 and 21 if my memory is correct. They all tasted of sour socks to me, really really bad. I'd actually revisited these bottlings and other Juras occasionally, the 10 at Fringe 2009 and it was still the same. I must have been complaining too much about Jura, to such an extent, that several of my friends has caught me praising Jura's when serving them blind to me, much to the fun of the donator. So therre is good Jura around. I've tried good Jura at SMWS (better than good actually, it was brilliant). At the entrance to a whiskyfair in Hadsten, Denmark 2009, the welcome dram was a 10yo Jura from Chieftain's, another brilliant bottling. Recently the distillery has changed their line, added some peated malts to their vattings etc.. I like the Superstition and its on my to-do list to try their new bottlings, especially their boutique barrel series which have been praised to me by trusted whisky friends

3. Tobermory/Ledaig
The products from this distillery gave me similar troubles as Jura. Sour socks whisky. I tried some awesome old bottlings, but the general production just seemed bad from one end to the other. Well that didn't stop me visiting the distillery last year. Mull is a fantastic Island and Tobermory (the town) is one of the most picturesque villages in Scotland. At the distillery I had the pleasure of getting spotted by the guide showing us around. Two friends and I, who was on the tour, and never asked a question still got pulled aside from the rest of the group when we enjoyed our compulsary dram after the tour and offered a few more. Somehow we looked like people who like whisky :-)
We had the pleasure, and it WAS a great pleasure, to try their new Ledaig and new Tobermory, both bottled at 46.3%. Nothing wrong with any of these, which was a bit of surprise to me. I gently commented that this was a lot better than what I remembered coming out from the distillery. The guide straight away admitted that the quality of their whiskies had improved and that it used to be feinty. No denials here
Well - there's another distillery for you all to go out and try again.
The same Company also relaunched Deanston at 46.3%. I didn't find the old version of Deanston flawed, just pretty boring. The new version is a lot better

5 years ago I went through a few whiskybooks, magazines and online blogs and made a comparison of ratings of standard bottlings and took an average. The result can be seen here :

The post is in danish, but download the xls-document for the result, here's a key to the columns :
1st column is Jim Murray's Bible 
2nd column is MM Matrix 
3rd column is Whisky Magazine, recalculated 
4th colum is  Jacksons Companion
5th column is an average

As you can see Deanston is last. That wouldn't be the case with bottling available today 

4. Tomatin, Balblair, BenRiach, Imperial and others

Disitilleries can reinvent themselves or get some new owners that cares a bit more about the bottlings coming out. Or an independant bottler might put a distillery on the map

First time I tried the above malts it was something I drank and forgot about 5 seconds later. The distillery bottlings weren't anything worth remembering

Well Tomatin decided to revat their 12, 15 and 18 and going 46 on the last two. Well what a pleasant surprise. Going straight from below average to one of the best OB ranges available
My collection of 18yo Tomatins. Old and new OB's to the left

Balblair relaunched their malts as vintages around 2006 and what an improvement. Another great set of OB's

BenRiach had a change of owners. Billy Walker has been putting out one excellent bottling after the other ever since (except the Birnie Moss..but that wasn't even released as a BenRiach so I suspect they didn't fancy it that much themselves either)

Imperial. Anyone ever paid any notice to this ?. Well, Duncan Taylor did. They hoped they could purchase the distillery, which failed, but the sale was so close to coming through, they actually stocked up on a lot of Imperial Casks. And a lot of the stuff they bottled from Imperial the last couple of years has been awesome. 2nd distillery Duncan Taylor put on the map for me, first was Caperdonich.

5. Arran
Arran bottles a lot and they did so since their malt was 3 years old. Most of this wasn't very good in my opinion. A lot of the terribleness has been hidden by finishes, well, in my case, as I quite often don't like the winery taste of finishes it has been double faulted. I know others liked this, but whisky won't get worse than the Arran Champagne finish.

Arran Peacock and Arran Rowan Tree

Well things are changing. Arran is a young distillery, and some distilleries just need some years in casks before they start to work. As Arran has started bottling whisky 12years and older, it is the ugly duckling turning into a swan peacock. Recent bottlings has been very good. The 12yo OB is a huge huge improvement to the 10yo (look out for a 14yo coming out soon). As well as some excellent single cask bottlings, both from ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks I do regard The Arran Peacock as one of the best bottlings of whisky ever bottled in it's catagory (Single Malt, several casks - around 12yo)

So, it might be time to retry some of the distilleries you abandoned years ago ?

Friday, July 30, 2010

Edinburgh : Bottler's and SMWS

1. Balmenach 1984 21yo 57.8% 
cask 3056, refill sherry butt

The Bottlers is a small independent bottling company based in Edinburgh. The amount of bottlings this company has released recently is very limited, but the quality has always been exclusive in my opinion. I don't recall anything new coming out from them the last couple of years. A company like this that for some reason releases so few casks and are very selective about them, can afford to wait for the best of the best.

 Balmenach is a hidden gem of a Speyside distillery and is owned by Inver House, which also owns Knockdhu (AnCnoc), Balblair and Old Pulteney which is getting the company's main promotions. I find the general quality of their bottlings well above average for standard OB's and  I hope they will extend their range to Speyburn and Balmenach as well.
 Visiting their distilleries has always been a great joy for me, it has always been more about whisky and people than big company marketing which isn't always the case when visiting distilleries. I had a range of very fond memories from them :

 - Bottling Old Pulteney straight from the cask in Wick for some of the best whiskies I ever tried
 - Visiting Balblair in 2007 around the time they released their vintage series (1979 and 1997 are also favourites of mine)
 - Visiting Knockdhu at the 2010 SoS festival for one of the the best distillery visits I ever experienced (great whisky as well)

 Inver House is a company that just seems to do it the right way  (well.. the way I like it) and I really hope they get the success they deserve !!

Back to the whisky...
The nose is sweet, with a sourish touch which just screams to me that this is gonna be fullbodied - its like inhaling oils and not alcohol vapours. The palate is creamy, musty, minty, spicy with a big touch of vanilla
This is a very good example of whisky you get from a refill sherry butt and its clearly distinguished from malts that has been on fresh sherry butts. Wood has more impact in refill butts whereas the sherry has more impact on fresh butts (usually).  The colour is brown with a orange glow. I enjoyed this

Rating 90

2. SMWS 2.61 16yo 1988 59.0% (Glenlivet)

SMWS, Scottish Malt Whisky Society started as a small group of friends sharing one cask, and developed into a society with a membership restaurant and bar with club rooms, apartments the Vaults in Leith, with similar locations in Edinburgh center and London and quite a few overseas departments. The first cask bottled was labeled as 1.1 and this 2.61 is cask #61 from their distillery number 2. The number of distilleries that SMWS has bottled has passed 120, and includes irish, grain and japanese whiskies.
 - If you're a peathead it's compulsary to know that 33 is SMWS'ish for Ardbeg :-)
Their bottlings doesn't reveal distilleries, by not putting distillery names on the labels, they have easier access to trading with the distilleries. The distilleries of origin is not a big secret, here's one list available online :

When visiting their staff has no problems with revealing distilleries either, here's a video where 3 of their bottlings are presented, and I have to admit that video made me want a 33.84 :-) and I wasn't alone on that

Today the society has thousands of members, releases around 20 bottlings every months and has been bought by a big multinational company LVMH  -MOËT HENNESSY - LOUIS VUITTON who also owns a couple of distilleries (Ardbeg and Glenmorangie), so they have moved quite a bit from the start - a huge success

SMWS are also wellknown for their maltporn : their exaggerated tasting notes and bottle descriptions, a bottle of Laphroaig I bought recently was labeled "Kissing a Balrog's Bum" !

SMWS Haggis (yum yum)

Now to the 2.61 !

Nose : fruity, apples and pears
Honey, more apples and pears, quite musty ash and dust, bitter on the finish
Feels like having an older dram that it actually is, there is a bit of warehouse feeling about this, the wood bitterness is a little bit to much

 Rating 80

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Peat and Sherry

Two very traditional ways of "flavouring" whisky is to use peated malt or to use a cask which prior content will affect the current

A lot of wellknown brands, like Highland Park, Ardbeg Uigeadail are of this type and BenRiach has been bottling quite a few old expressions of peated malt that received a finish (see : for a review of a 1984 BenRiach finished in a Pedro Ximenez Cask)

In this blog I'll be tasting a couple of Islays, one Caol Ila and one Laphroiag. These days a lot of distilleries have side productions of peated whisky, but only very few distilleries have the production of very peated whisky as their main expression. They are Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Lagavulin, Caol Ila, Kilchoman and Bowmore on Islay and Talisker on Skye. Port Ellen on Islay, which closed in 1983 would belong on this list as well. Caol Ila and Laphroaig uses mainly ex-bourbon casks for maturing their whisky, so getting your hand of a bottle of whisky matured on a sherry cask from these distilleries isn't very common.

Laphroaig 2001

The main "problem" with peat and sherry is balance. You want to be able to taste both. You don't really want one of the flavours to dominate the other too much. Maturing has its affect here. The peatyness of a whisky will decrease as the whisky matures, and the influence from the cask will increase. As the sherry influence comes from the cask, this will increase as time go by. Cask influence is not an exact science so some casks will hold their peat flavour better than others. The sherry influence is also dependant on if the cask used is a 1st fill, 2nd fill or so on, and also to what kind of sherry was used in the original cask!

Laphroaig 2001

1. 29.83 Kissing a Balrog's Bum (Laphroiag) 20yo 52.3% bottled by SMWS Refill Butt

This whisky somehow seems a bit closed and don't really want to to come out and say hello and release its flavours. It takes some time

Nose : ashes, fruity - some dried sweet fruits but "normal" fruityness as well, peaty
Palate : Nice peat, and the ashiness is still there, the sweet sherry hits you first but then the peat comes creeping in, some woodiness. The sweetness is there but the ash gives you a dry impression. Vanilla and then liquorice which dominates the finish

Overall a very nice dry mix of sherry, ash and peat.

Quite a few finds sulphur in this, but I don't!. I got the thought that what I pick up as ash (dust!) others get as sulphur, but who knows ?
Rating 85

2. Caol Ila 1996 Gordon and Macphail Cask Strength, 59.0%, cask 16070-16072. Dist. 29/10/1996 bottled 05/04/2007

Nose : Fudge and vanilla, benhind the peat and sherry

Palate : The first thing that hits you is a sherry whisky but the finish is a very powerful peated Islay. Liquorice

The finish on this Caol Ila is amazing long mix of liquorice and peat, ending up with a hint of smoked bacon/meat after several minutes
Rating 85

Caol Ila 2001

Friday, July 23, 2010

Beginner's Guide to Whisk(e)y part 1 : How to drink Whisky

Are you new to the world of whisky ? 

Here's a few of my guidelines to help you on how to drink enjoy a whisky and what to try and/or buy and how to broaden your horizons and get some experience. This is based on questions I tend to get most often

First a bit on drinking whisky. No, I am not going to tell you how you should drink your whisky, You have to figure that out yourself. Your nose and palate isn't the same as my nose and palate, so the way I drink whisky might not be the way for You to drink whisky. The world is full of whiskywriters, "experts" and brand ambassadors who can lecture You on how there's exactly one right way to enjoy a good whisky. It can be confusing as they can describe the only right way to drink a whisky exactly the opposite way as the "guru" you were listening to yesterday said. This is probably the area where there is most bullshit to listen to in the world of good whisky :-)

Whisky is an alcoholic drink. It contains alcohol, well alcohol is really a group of chemical compunds with a specific molecular setup and by that - similar chemical  properties, but when common people like you and me says alcohol we actually mean the alcohol named ethanol, CH3CH2OH 

Someone working with chemistry might be referring to the whole group of compounds, but when they are in bar with you and me alcohol is the same for them as us, so when I say alcohol I mean ethanol

Alcohol is an organic solvent, just like ether, formaldehyde, chloroform and terpentine is. Opposed to the other mentioned solvents, alcohol is "slightly" less toxic, and the state of mild toxication is sought need to hide the fact that part of the fun with whisky is getting a little tipsy :-)

But drinking alcohol exposes your nose, mouth, palate and throat to this chemical solvent; ethanol. If the alcohol is very diluted, like it is in beer, wine or a cocktail this is no issue, but if you drink a whisky neat, the ABV (alcohol by volume) can be from the standard lowest legal botling strength 40%, up to, in extreme cases, 70%, if bottled straight from the cask. Cask Strengths whiskies are normally in the range from 50 to 60% ABV. In these cases the "chemical solvent" exposure will affect you and the parts of your body it gets in contact with! 

Experienced drinkers, including me, often drink their whisky neat, whatever the bottle strength is, or add a drop or two of water, to "open" up the whisky. You don't really add these drops of water to dilute your whisky but to start a chemical and/or physical reaction that releases flavours. 

Newcomers to whisky are usually not used to drink neat alcohol at these high strengths and it can cause an unpleasant "alcoholic" burn that will take away any kind of pleasure and mask all flavours of whisky

The first thing you have to overcome is dealing with this. You won't enjoy a whisky with an unpleasant burning sensation in your mouth and throat, trying to cough out blood  through the white of your eyes. As you get more experienced drinking strong alcohols, experience and a few tricks will help you. Here's a couple of common strategies :

1. Diluting with water. This will dilute the alcohol, the disadvantage is that you also dilute the flavours but you can work on this a bit and try to find a balance, you really want to add as little water as possible, just enough for the burn not to destroy the whole experience

2. Cooling the whisky in a fridge or more commonly with icecubes. Cold will mask the alcohol strength and the flavours to an extend where you can't taste anything but a cold sensation. This works best with very strong flavoured alcohols or it can be a way to be able to drink stuff you think tastes bad. Here in Denmark it's very common to drink Snaps from the fridge, which I find understandable as I don't think it tastes very good. Adding ice to a wellknown Tennessee whiskey like Jack Daniels is also understandable. I find JD very strong flavoured and even with ice its still possible to taste the stuff

If you drink good single malt whisky, also a good bourbon or ryes which has become very popular and available lately, adding ice is really not a good idea. The reason you go out and pay 2, 3, 10 times or even more than the cheapest whisk(e)ys availble costs is because of the better flavours, the higher complexity and the whole enjoyment factor is worth it. If you add ice your money could as well has been spend on cheaper stuff.

A lot of the great flavours in a whisky are very subtle and hard to find, you might need some practise or help to find them, but if the whisky is cold it will be next to impossible

The more you drink, the wiser you get!

So my advice is balancing the spirit with water, which some experience you get used to it, and will be able to add less and less water. Personally I start up with adding no water at all. First I take a dropsize sip of the whisky. This is to get myself accustomed to a drink with high alcohol content. The small sips prepares my palate so to say. The saliva in my mouth  helps me diluting the whisky. Further on I just take bigger and bigger sips keeping the whisky in my mouth. You drink whisky cause its supposed to taste very good, so you don't want to pour it straight down the belly as when you drink to get drunk, you want to keep it in the mouth, chew it, breathe thru it and whatever tricks there is to perform to extract the flavours. As you practise you'll find your own ways of doing this and also get better at it

You actually taste a whisky mainly with your nose or the smelling sense. If you have a cold and the passage between your mouth and nose is blocked it gets very hard or impossible to taste things, something we all unfortunately have had experiences with.

Nosing whisky

So when you got a great whisky in a glass you want to nose it. You want to smell it, inhale it, breathe it through your nose. This is where you need a proper glass. You need to find a glass that delivers the aromas best for you. There's no "best" glass as your nose isnt the same as my nose. But in the industry, the proffesional nosers are using nosing glasses which is actual a classic copita sherry glass. These exist in many variations and are highly recommandable. Here's a few examples

The Glencairn Glass has become very popular, its a 
copita type glass with a solid bottom and hard to break

Different types of Copita style glasses for whisky drinking and a wee water decanter.

A more well known glass type like the tumbler, I find unsuitable for nosing purposes and whisky drinking. Unfortunately most bars have no clue on this and insists on serving whiskies in tumblers. A pity. If a bar doesnt have copita type glasses ask for a wine glass or cognac bulb and repour your whisky. Personally I am no fan fan of cognac bulbs as they dont delivers for me but I happen to know a few who prefers these to copitas. But as said above, we all got different noses

Nosing a whisky, you need to practise it a bit. You need to find your right distance between the glass and the nose. Some people like to stick it (if it fits in) as far down the glass as possible, others like to catch the aromas high above the rims of the glass. Play around with this, the closer you get to liquid the more alcohol you get, but also more intensity. It's a bit like adding water, you need to practise to find the right balance. Fortunatelly practise is quite fun when it comes to whiskydrinking

Some people like to nose first then drink, I like to nose a bit, then take a sip, then mix between nosing and drinking until the glass is empty and another whisky is poured

Well this was Part 1, next parts will be on where to start in the whisky jungle and how to get around it

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


5 Glenglassaughs on a monday evening

One of the webmasters of the danish whiskyforum came by the other day and we shared our Glenglassaughs !
Glenglassaugh has been been closed for around 20 years and I don't think many predicted it would reopen. Whiskynyt contributers ganged up and bought 3 50 liters casks of which 1 is with peated malt. I got a 1/20 share in both of the unpeated ones

1. Glenglassaugh Murray Mcdavid 1965 40yo 47,8% 
Citric fruits. No winegum. Some Lavenderish, bowmore-a-like floweryness here 
Rating 86

2. Glenglassaugh Signatory 1976 32yo 44,4%
The nose is sweet, but the palate is somewhat dry, the candylike fruit winegum character is there. Some Lavenderish, bowmore-a-like floweryness here again
Rating 86

3. Glenglassaugh Dewar Rattray 1986 21yo 53,4% 

Powerful sherry bottling with a weird milky acidity, that goes away, but it took some minutes. Milk acidity is what I get from nosing freshly milked milk
Rating 86

4. Glenglassaugh 21yo OB 46% Batch 1Classic bourbon cask with the candy sweetness and also some malty nutty sides as well. Fantastic sweet winery nose with a touch of vanilla
Rating 85

5. Glenglassaugh TWE 1978 31yo 44.6%

This is the most candylike of the 5, its sweet with a heavy big touch of sweet wood as well. The sweetness-wood combination makes this one of those malts you can nose forever. Spices - Cocoa, Minty
Rating 91

Resume : Very very easy drinkable malts, all goes down like a soft drink, except the AD Rattray bottling which is a little more rough, due to the higher ABV. The candy fruit gummy bear  I'd say is now a typical Glenglassaugh notes as it is in 4 of the 5 malts in this series, but its less apparent in the OB. 

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Port Askaig at the Cockney Pub, Århus and a Superb BenRiach

Cockney Pub is an english/scottish pub in Århus with a good selection of bottled beers, beers on tap and malt whisky. There's a good turnaround, so theres always something new to try out. And it's the only place in Århus serving real ale. On the shelves this week were the three Port Askaigs bottled by Speciality Drinks, which is a bottling company within the The Whisky Exchange, one of the worlds leading whiskyshops

1. Port Askaig Cask Strength 57.1%

2. Port Askaig 17yo 45.8%

3. Port Askaig 25yo 45.8%

It was a hot day, and the bar was hot so the malts was served at a relatively high temperature. There's been some short discussions which distillery these are from, and the fact that Caol Ila is located just next to Port Askaig adding that Caol Ila is the biggest distillery on Islay and the distillery that most frequent feeds independent bottlers with peated malts made it an obvious guess. The bartender at the Cockney pub said the salesman from which he bought the whiskies from, had told him that these were from different distilleries. Labels like this might also change distillery from batch to batch, but as far as I know there's been just one batch so far of Port Askaigs. 
From tasting these I can't tell which distillery is the origin, but it tasted like they were from the same distillery as they had a lot in common. Actually they reminded me most of Ardbeg 10, but not really of any other Ardbeg bottlings. I do believe in Caol Ila for the above reasons, and also the fact that if anyone had casks of 25yo Ardbeg it would be worth a lot of £££ to sell it with Ardbeg name on the bottle.
Here's a bit on the whiskies :

The 25yo was delicious lightbodied, apple and pears, with a tobacco smokyness and slightly floral

The 17yo was meaty and more fullbodied but much of the same with the apples and pears being more subtle. This will definetely suit peat fanatics more than the 25yo will

The NAS cask strength version, was a lot more powerful but wellrounded whisky with clear relations to the older bottlings. 

Its a set of good simple classic Islay malts which I'd probably rate around 85, with no particlar favourite, theres a different one for whatever mood you're in

Here's the whiskybar of Cockney

Well I thought I could manage one more dram before heading home so I picked up a

4. Benriach 1984 24yo 49.2% Pedro Ximenez sherry finish

(Bottom shelf, bottle no 5 from the left on the photo above)

When Benriach was bought by the new owners they discovered a range of peated casks in the warehouses, and they have bottled quite a lot of it over the last few years. This includes a few port and sherry finishes, the 1986 Plowed Benriach is also a Pedro Ximenez finish)

This is a magnificient dram. Often the heavy wine finishes can disguise the peat but here the peat and the dark sherry works together very well with neither overpowering the other. It's a sweet mellow kind of peat, the dark sherry is classic dried fruits with underlying vanilla. There's actually a span of peat giving this a playful complexity. I also thought I picked up a tiny bit of wet rubber..latex  (sulphur?) in it, not really unpleasant, I didnt find that when I had the same malt the week before! 

Rating 94

Well, pubs forces me to enjoy myself and be social opposed to be too analytic, but I tried to concentrate a bit on these. When I was about to go home and relax, an old friend from out of town "unfortunately" walked in, which cost me a few extra and not planned hours in the pub and quite a bit of hangovers the next day! 

EDIT summer 2011. After retasting this at home, this is one of my all time favourites!

Friday, July 16, 2010

A visit to Fary Lochan Distillery

In May a group of friends and I visited the wee danish Distillery Fary Lochan

It's a very small distillery located in a small danish village called Farre. That's in central Jutland, not far from Billund (Legoland).
The small house is for storage and the slightly bigger one is the distillery with a small warehouse in the cellar

Here's the wash-still, mashtun and washback with distillery owner Jens-Erik Jørgensen.

The Spirit Still

Here's a bottle from a test run a few years ago. These stills made its first spirit on December 2009

Here's the first 7 casks. Now here I experienced something I found very unusual. He was supposed to use 50liter casks but due to failed deliveries he had to start fill "normal" 200liter barrels. Once the quartercasks is delivered the plan is to empty some of the barrels into the quartercasks, but also leave some barrels for some longer time maturation. Now, as the batch size is smaller than 200liters (around 60-70liters) the barrels are filled step by step. I think most of these barrels are partly filled. He was eager to fill some up as the official date of filling a cask would be when the last portion goes in. But nosing two of these casks revealed the most intense butterscotch-fudge-toffee nose I ever experienced. Havent' really found the reason for this. The whisky inside was between 0-4½ months old and I guess the casks were filled to 50-75% by now

Here's another interesting thing. Jens-Erik Jørgensen told me, that when he received the casks there would be quite a lot of this stuff inside. This is from one cask just. It looks like manufactured charred chipped wood. It wasn't just something that had fallen of the inside of the cask. His theory was that it was a little gift that could help the spirit mature. (he removed it as you can see). Well I am not sure about that -the wood chips was pretty much very neutral in the smell and my theory is that it has something to do with transport/storage of casks

It was a very pleasant visit, with a nice guided tour by Jens-Erik, and also my chance to taste my first danish newmake, which semi-light compared to other newmakes I tried and I think this whisky will age well, but from the nose it seemed like it did unusually remarkable within a few months. Casks seemed to be good ex-bourbon casks

This is actually an almost repeat of a post I did on a whiskywhiskywhisky here :

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

4 Whiskies bottled by Norse Cask

Glen Grant - Port Ellen - Rechlerich - Royal Lochnagar

The former danish importer of whisk(e)y and other spirits - Qualityworld, ran its own small independent bottler business, bottling around 10 casks a year. The whiskies were relatively cheap, you bought shares of 2-4 bottles approx 1½ year before the casks were bottled. QW unfortunately went bankrupt, but the reputation of their Norse Cask label lives on as a legend

Here's 4 of the bottles I haven't emptied yet and its some of their best ones:

1. Royal Lochnagar 1977 29yo 50.4%
Royal Lochnagar is a small distillery owned by Diageo. It's actually one of the smallest distilleries in Scotland, with only a big handfull or so that's smaller.  It's a very handmade malt and the company use the place to teach their employees the craft of fundemental whiskymaking. It's lesser known as single malt and hard to find as independent bottling. I have to admit I am not particulary impressed with anything I tasted that was released from the distillery and I can't recall other IB's but this one makes it up for everything
The nose is excellent. Sweet fruits, apples and pears - mixed with floor varnish!. Its fullbodied and oily, a bit of roasted wood emerging as well. Think an oily armagnac with a twist of wood
Rating 88

Glen Grant - Port Ellen - Royal Lochnagar - Rechlerich 

2. Glen Grant 1965 40yo 52.5%
Glen Grant used to be part of the Chivas group but they were forced to get rid of it for monopolistic reasons. Under Campari's and Dennis Malcolm's leadership a new approach has started. Beside co-working with and selling new-make to Gordon and MacPhail again, the distillery have extended their bottling range to a "sligthly" more exciting range. I didn't particulary like the 5yo/NAS and 10yo but the recent new bottlings are very good. Look for them if you havent tried allready
A few years ago I wanted to buy my mother a birthdaypresent so I decided for this Glen Grant 1967 which is my birthyear. When Norse Cask bottled it, they excused and said, we are sorry but its from 1965 not 1967.. well sometimes I really can't get myself to complain when things turn out different than promised :-)
This Glen Grant has a fruity acidity (tart?) on the nose, and a very spicy palate - I get some very powerful mintleaves, I'm actual put back 4 weeks when I did a vertical mint leave tasting in my parents japanese garden, trying out 4 or 5 different kinds. It's a very delicious dram, with a long minty-woody-spicy finish. Very Fresh
Rating 88

3. Port Ellen 1979 28yo 53.6%
A lot of people think that Port Ellen is overrated and recent bottlings has gone overage. I am a big fan of old Islays, especially the 5 peatier ones : Caol Ila, Ardbeg, Laphroaig, Port Ellen and Lagavulin, and I have to say that I like PE as well as the others. This is a classic old Islay with a the classic citrus+peat combo I tend  to find or describe quite often. The wood embraces the peat in a perfect match making this a great mouthfull, with a long, very long fresh minty finish..I think I got the mint pinpointed from the Glen Grant
Rating 90

4. Rechlerich 1964 40yo 53.5%
Well, Glenfarclas has the weird idea that other bottlers can't use their distillery name when they bottle Glenfarclas. So when you got a speysider with an alternative name (Speyside Finest, Speyside no. 1, Ballindalloch etc. it's probably a Glenfarclas). I think Glenfarclas are straight away wrong here, they simply miss a lot of free marketing. Most of my entrances to distilleries have been through independent bottlers, who bottle lot more varied casks, than what's available from the average distillery through OB's. And end of the day I prefer their kind of products (No caramel, single casks, no chillfiltration, full strength) opposed to distilleries who tend to do the exact opposite. Enough said, it been said plenty of times by me and a 1000 other anoraks :-)
This one is a sherry monster. Its very hard to find unflawed sherry whiskies, but here's a perfect one.
Liqeurice, vanilla, dried fruits. Its a very intense and powerful dram, one of the kinds that can only be sipped drop by drop. So its not easy drinking whisky, but it is very enjoyable whisky. The finish is neverending, you probably won't find longer finishes than this. If you're crazy with sherrymatured whisky you probably regret you didnt get hold of a bottle of this. 10 minutes after the last sip a bit of smoke/tobacco appeared. Amazing
Rating 90

Glen Grant - Port Ellen - Royal Lochnagar - Rechlerich

Whisky-Emporium got the last two of these blind together with 2 others. I think he did rather well, a fine set of tasting notes, and blind guessing is harder than you think..unless someone serves a Bowmore :-)

Norse Cask bottlings might still be availbale here : (The above is most likeable sold out)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A flight of 5 peated malts

1. Ardbeg SuperNova 2010 60.1% (L10 070)
 Anoraks can discuss peat ppm values forever, something that started around when Bruichladdich decided to got all-inn with peat in barleys and produced Octomore (80ppm) and later Octomore with even more peat. Some claims that there is a theoretical limit below these values for peat content.
 Here's a few things about ppm, peat and whisky :
ppm stands for parts per million and is measure to describe small contents of whatever... When it comes to peat its the phenol contents, as phenols gives malt whisky its peated/smoky taste.
 ppm values given are for the content in the barley. The ppm value actually diminish in distillation, so even though Ardbeg uses the most peated barley for their standard produce, the newmake of Laphroaig has a higher ppm value than the ppm value for Ardbeg new make. Phenols must be breaking down when a whisky mature, as the ppm value goes down as whisky mature in the cask as well. This is no exact science and sometimes you get old whisky that are surprisingly peaty
The ppm value for this Ardbeg supernova is given on the bottle as 100ppm, opposed to the standard 50-60ppm for Ardbeg. I am not sure how much difference this will give in the newmake, but the fact that this is younger than the Ardbeg 10 will add to the relative peat difference as will the fact that this is cask strength
Now back to the whisky : The first thing I note is that this doesnt actually seem to be that peaty. I don't get the chok-effect that Ballechin gave me (heavily peated Edradour)
This doesn't have the sweetness I got in SN2009, I find it a lot more one-dimensional (actually described as a deeper, earthier character on the bottle compared to SN2009, In which I agree)
My comments : Dry, peaty, newmake - I prefer the SN2009
Rating 85

2. Ardbeg Rollercoaster 57.3 (L9 344)
I've been a member of the Ardbeg committee since around it started (I think I got number 389). In the early days I had pleasure of acquiring almost all of their releases, but the bottlings out the last years hasn't been the same (everything was much better in the good ole' days). Legends like the 23yo-ish sherry casked Ardbegs, Kildalton, 21yo, early 70's single casks etc. are now in my collection of empty ardbeg bottles. Recent bottlings has also been a heavy lift in prices unfortunately. Guess we shoulkd't have told everybody how good Ardbeg is 10 years ago ?.
The Rollercoaster is a bottling to celebrate the 10th year anniversary of the Ardbeg Committee. Its a vatting of casks distilled every year from 1997 to 2006, making this a 3yo technically. Young Islays has become a catagory of its own the last decade. It's very popular, the world is full of peatjunkies. So offcourse every distillery and every IB is having something in this catagory.
Ardbeg probably had the most, but this is more to the fact they only distilled regularely since 1997 so their main stock has been young whisky
This is one of the best young Islays I had, far better than any of the AVY, VYA, Still Young, Almost There etc., seems like they kept their best casks!
My comments : citrus, peat, complex (I need that T-shirt), the different cask vintages in here works together like a rollercoaster
Rating 85

Note : SN2010 is 80£, Rollercoaster 50£. These are high prices, a lot of people refuses to pay 50£ for a "3yo", but I think the whisky got the quality to justify this is bit. I find it lot better than the SN so in the Ardbeg catagory it's good quality for money!

3. Bruichladdich : Port Charlotte Cuairt Beatha PC6 61.6%
Finished in Madeira Casks
First impression is that this is a slight sourness, which lessens as you take the first sips. Still very detectable in the nose unfortunately. This seems quite fierce, and I do admit I often have problems with finishes. This is no exception. I don't find that the peat and the madeira works together here.
Rating 65

4. Brora - Old Malt Cask cask 2294 50% 23yo Nov. 1982
First I'd like to point out that if you look for peated in a Brora, go for something distilled in the early-mid 70's. But the lack of peat in this won't let me take it of todays vertical. This is from a sherry cask, but it isn't overpowering. But the nose and palate doesn't lie. It's woody in the good sweet way I often see, and absolute adore, in old Brora's and Clynelish', is it the mix of this and peat that make 70's Brora's outstanding ?. The nose is a delightful sweet spicy mix with a big flowery/honey touch. The palate is sweet, prickly, and sherry-woody
My comments : sweet, sherry, prickly, flowers, spicy
Rating 89

5. Glen Keith 33yo old 1971 Lorne MacKillop D&M Aficionados' Club 43%
Glen Keith is the neighbour of Strathisla in Keith, and has been silent since 1999, functioning today as filling store and technical center. This is a sample of an american bottling I got from plowed-exile Rodger Howard. 
This is surprising me with its peat!, not something you expect from a Glen Keith. I also find citrus in this one. A lot, this is probably one of the most citrus-lemon whiskies I had. Which is good, cause I like that. It reminds me Ardbegs the same age and vintage. The intensity is high so I suspect not much or no water at all has been added to reach the 43 ABV. This is pure joy to me
Rating 89

Edit summer 2011: I am pretty sure the sample bottle was contaminated as when I tasted this directly from the bottle there was no peatyness AT ALL, fact is that I tasted something else and I don't know what and I wonder if Rodger does :-)

Real Rating 82

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Bourbon, Straight by Charles K. Cowdery

Book review

One day, when I was doing my daily tour of whisk(e)ywebpages, there were a guest poster on WDJK, Chuck Cowdery was explaining bourbon regulations 101

I thought it was a fine article, followed up by a string of questions which were answered !

This made me purchase the book!. I found the book quite messy in the way the chapters were organised. I think this origins from the fact that I am (very) used to read books about scottish distilleries. Distilleries.
 That's is the keyword. When dealing with scottish malt whisky the focus is on distilleries. Here theres a lot less focus on distilleries, but more focus on people, history and brands
This book doesn't contain any photos at all. Not a lot of effort has (deliberately?) been put on appearance. This is the kind of book that has been published by a small publishing comnpany for a small cost. But what you don't get in appearance, you get in content. Chuck Cowdery knows what he writes about, and he guides you around the people, the history, the brands, the distilleries, reviews bottles and guide you about which whiskeys to taste to get around the main examples of different bourbon types (you can't say bourbon without saying ryes, something you realise after reading this book)

This is from 2004 and might allready be about to be outdated. This is for a reason I don't want to complain about..The entusiast market has caught the attention of the american whiskey markets and the variety of bottlings has grown a lot the last few years.

But you get around all the "classic" brands and a bottling like George T Stagg is in the book as the first of these were out in 2002

Verdict : Highly recommended and a must have for anyone who wants to have a book collection to go along with their whisk(e)y collection

Buy the book here :

Four Amruts

Four Amruts

Amrut is an indian distillery located in Bangalore, at 3000+ feet above sealevel. The hot temperature makes this whisky mature in it's own special fashion. Fast, different and with an angel's share that threatens to empty casks more than 6 years old!

I generally find the Amruts very full-bodied, and I always get the feeling that someone added a tiny amount of ash-dust to it, I also get a tiny hint of the smell of plasticines I used to play with as a kid. Sweet tropical fruits like pineaplles and peaches. Apart from the OB's I've tried a few Blackadder's which are also recommended!

Amrut Fusion 50%
A mix of Scottish (peated) and Indian Barley
This is the most "asian" of these Amruts, despite its scottish content. 
My comments : Tropical Fruits, Ash-dust, sweetness, woodbitterness, Ginger, slightly peated. Very complex
Rating 91

Amrut Double Barrel 46%
Amrut Double Cask. Cask filled : 27/2-2003 and 25/7-2002. Bottled 27/2-2010, cask #2874 and 2273- 46%, oldest expresion of Amrut released so far, Ex-bourbon casks
My comments : Vanilla, tropical sweet spices, slight sweet woodiness, delicious, 
Rating 86

Amrut Two Continents 46% 
Matured across two continents. I've seen photos of Arran Casks with a wee Amrut label!.
My comments : Plasticine, Sweet wood, full-bodied texture, 
Rating 82

Amrut Peated cask strength 62.8%
February 2009 bottling
The barley used for Amruts isnt on the same peat level as the southern Islay malts, more like a Bowmore with 15-20ppm. The effect of this peat is on par with the southern Islays thou. I think a reason for this is the young age of Amrut
My comments : fierce - but not as fierce as you would expect for this high ABV., peaty, sweet. The sweetness and peatyness competes!
Rating 85