Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Five Kilchomans

On September 24th George Wills visited the Good Spirits Co. in September 2018 as part of the Kilchoman Land Rover Tour. He's an extremely amiable chap, and a very entertaining speaker. These notes were written after the tasting had finished, whilst in conversation with a colleague, so I hope I wasn't too influenced by Mr Wills's bonhomie.


Kilchoman 100% Seventh Release, 50%
(having a half bottle of the previous batch of the 100% Islay to hand, it seemed only sensible to make the comparison. Although more than half full, it had been open for several months, possibly nearly a year, so I assume there's been some oxidation)
Nose: salty and coastal rather than overtly peaty (to be expected, given the lower peating level for Kilchoman's floor malted barley). Sharp, citric, & green. Banana goop. Waxy candles. A note of decayed vegetation.
Palate: Rounded & oily. There's plenty of vanilla, pepper, and an enjoyable funky note which I think relates to the decayed vegetation I found on the nose.
Conclusion: Tasty, but also somewhat raw. I like the green aspect.

Kilchoman 100% Islay Eighth Release, 50%
Nose: again, it's initially salty and coastal before sweet mellow peat comes in to play. There's a touch of the waxy candles found in the Seventh Release, but it ain't so strong.
Palate: fruity and rounded, with gentle peat and some hard to tease out (hence intriguing) funk. The finish is a bit aggressive.
Conclusion: I think I prefer the Seventh Release - but perhaps just because it's had a good airing?

Kilchoman Loch Gorm 2018, 46%
Nose: Wow, this is really funky. Kinda stinky like high ester Jamaican rums (Dunder!). Really, this is verging on Ledaig levels of funkiness. There's a mineral quality which I asssociate with sherry barrels too - unfortunately, I can't find a better word for it than petrol. (petrol as a tasting note is usually associated with the presence of terpenes, most often in relation to Riesling. But terpenes are found in sherries - see here and here for more information). There's also the classic sherry barrel note of struck matches. And lots of funk.
Palate: it's very sweet, but that's balanced by the salty character of the peat. It's also slightly on the sulphurous side - well within my sulphur comfort zone, but definitely not for everyone. Alongside the typical Kilchoman grassy funk, there is allso plenty of caramel and chocolate.
Conclusion: I love sherry and peat! This is a great example of the style, only let down by being a bit nippy in the finish.

Kilchoman Land Rover Tour 2018, 59.8%
(In other words, cask strength Machir Bay)
Nose: posh smoky vodka. Peat and funk. New make. Young, raw. Hairspray! (a note I find from time to time in Brackla. I have no idea what the common factor between Kilchoman and Brackla could possibly be). There's still plenty of the Kilchoman grassy funk.
Palate: Youthful. Raw. Hot and salty. With water it becomes much sweeter and less raw
Conclusion: what was that Ian Banks book again? Oh yes, "Raw Spirit".



Kilchoman Sauternes Finish Cask Sample
(we were given this in lieu of the forthcoming Sauternes finished release, which isn't bottled yet. And yes, it's not in the picture. Nevertheless.)
Nose: sweet grassy smoke. Very clean - there seems to be rather less of the Kilchoman funk in this one. There's an oaky spiciness which reminds me of Lagavulin. With water it becomes syrup-sweet, and the peat smoke dies down.
Palate: wow, this is super sweet - icing sugar, jelly babies (yellow ones). It's light bodied and rather nippy. Interestingly, the aftertaste is much more about the savoury peat, which (unusually) is verging on umami. With water it seems to go from syrup to toffee, almost  into treacle. It's still nippy, and the oak spice has veered off into Oddfellows territory. The finish is a much more familiar earthy peat.
Conclusion: a decent dram, not too complex. Not my kind of whisky, apparently.

Of the five drams, I think my favourite on the night was the 100% Islay Seventh Release. I suspect this might be as much to do with what I'm enjoying at the moment, which seems to be veering slightly away from monster cask strength whisky.

I've had a bottle of the Land Rover Tour Machir Bay before (here's a video review by the Whisky Wuman) and I reckon I liked that quite a bit more than this year's.

If you like your peaty malts to have a bit of funk about them then you should definitely try Kilchoman. Also, they have absolutely the best artwork of any distillery showing how whisky is made. Check it out here. I can't find it! I do hope they haven't ditched it. Awww man, I think they've ditched it.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Insert Punning Title Here

Cococtomore? Octoless? Concoctomoretion?  It's not working, is it?

I've been playing around with Rob Roys and variants thereof for at least the last six years, but in 2018, encouraged by The Whisky Wuman and other colleagues, I've been branching out into highballs and other things.

This article in the Independent, with its vague reference to "smoky whisky, coconut water, and lime juice" intrigued me. But rather than get in touch with Emily Chipperfield or Nuala Bar directly to ask for a recipe, I just set about trying things.

Having some Octomore to hand it seemed entirely reasonable to use that as a starting point.

I stuck to a straightforward theme of Octomore / coconut water / lime juice / bitters, only varying the proportions of each and the type of bitters.

Owing to not actually having any ice the first time I made this (and thus resorting to the time honoured technique of bunging everything into the freezer for a bit before assembling the drink) I discovered that not shaking seems to give a more interesting drink. Yes I know, I should have dry shaked (dry shook? dry shaken?) the chilled ingredients. I didn't. Get over it.

It's probably important to note (for those of you fool enough to try this at home) that "more interesting" doesn't necessarily mean better. Octomore is a weird, chameleon liquid, and lime juice makes your palate sit up and pay attention. When you combine the two the result can be startling.

Here's one version of the drink, with my notes on how it turned out. If you want the real funk, use less coconut water.

~20ml Octomore Discovery 2
~10ml lime juice
~120ml coconut water
3 dashes Bitter Truth Tonic Bitters

Stir all ingredients together. Serve in an ice filled rocks glass.

On the nose the coconut comes through nicely. This is a long, fairly weak drink, but when I used lesser quantities of coconut water it was just getting lost.

On the palate there's a nice balance of sweet / fatty / nutty coconut notes with the sharp lime and the earthy / salty / not quite grassy notes of the Octomore.

This is the friendliest version of the drink that I've discovered so far. Using a smaller quantity of coconut water gives a much more funky, feral, wild result: whether you want that or not is a question only you can answer - by making this drink for yourself. Go do it now!

Monday, 10 September 2018

A D Rattray Samples


Balblair 2011, 59.7%
A bourbon barrel that's been PX finished. I didn't enjoy this at all (but then, as The Dandy says, Balblair doesn't really come into its own until its mid teens). The nose is painfully nippy, with an odd mixture of raw wood and brown sugar. The palate is sweet, peppery, and raw. Sandpaper and sawdust. Ouch. Poor

Strathmill 2006, 58.1%
Another bourbon barrel. It seems rather quiet in comparison to the whiskies around it. It's not unpleasant, but having recently had a couple of lovely crisp, malty Strathmills, this is merely humdrum. There's little to fault here, but no fireworks either. Sort of Good

Balmenach 2010, 57%
Another sherry finish, although I didn't note what kind of sherry. There's a pleasant cooked note, as if one were in a kitchen where boiled sweets are being boiled. It's not at all spirity. To taste it is in fact rather on the hot side, but the flavours are really interesting. Savoury, with some beery malt, a hint of sulphur, and a very pleasant finish. Very Good

Macduff 2009, 57%
From a bourbon barrel. The classic Macduff nose of creamline toffee, fudge, or toffee pennies (depending on which of those your family favoured when you were growing up). The palate follows
through with exactly the same notes. The thick oily texture and its simple sweet nature make this a lovely comforting dram. Good

Tamnavulin 2009, 59.4%
From a bourbon barrel. At the start of the year I had a young Tamnavulin-Glenlivet from the Seventies, and this rather reminds me of that. The modern one isn't nearly as fruity of course, but there's a floral elegance to it which is delightful. Pea blossom and greenery - it's fascinating. The palate is soft and sweet, a kind of flowery toffee. The only thing which keeps this from being an outstanding whisky is a slight bitterness in the finish. Excellent

Glenrothes 1996, 51.9%
Unusually for Glenrothes, this is a bourbon barrel. It still somehow has that cello seriousness which a lot of Glenrothes exhibits.

I realise that's not very helpful, so let me explain. Glenrothes, like Mortlach, takes very well to sherry barrels, but unlike Mortlach, which seems to come from bourbon barrels fairly often, pretty much all the Glenrotheses (Glenrothi?) that are ever released are sherry barrel matured. Mortlach, from a bourbon cask, tends to go to a bright, lively pizzicato violin fruitiness. This Glenrothes hasn't done that, hence the comparison to the cello.

The palate is all soft rounded sweet toffee. Very Good

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Daftmill Inaugural Release

The most exciting whisky release of 2018, despite the high cost, is undoubtedly the first official bottling from Daftmill.

I was lucky enough to taste a wee sample of it, brought back from the launch event by colleagues who were in Fife to see the first bottle opened, and then tasted it again the other night at Glasgow's Whisky Club.

Most new distillers have a pressing need to bring in some cash to recoup their outlay, but the Cuthbert brothers were in the fortunate position of growing barley and also of having some old buildings going spare that could be used for distilling and warehousing. Hence, despite the endless questioning as to when it might be bottled, Daftmill has only now been released, as a twelve year old (I would have asked the question myself, but we were forewarned by Francis Cuthbert not to do so, on pain of eviction from the distillery).

And so to the liquid. Bottled at 55.8%, this is a vatting of three casks filled in December 2005, all first fill ex-Heaven Hill bourbon barrels.

nose: white chocolate or chantilly cream, soft, but also somewhat spirity. Is that mocha coffee?
something sharp and grassy - perhaps a minty note? The oak spices are beautiful.

palate: it's malty, dry, and rich, getting more and more malty in the finish. The texture is slightly oily. There are flavours of coconut, loads of sweet boiled fruit notes, plus something fresh - green apples and mint I think.

conclusion: it's a very good twelve year old. Is it outstanding? I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it is lovely. Is it a Lowland whisky? Well, it certainly doesn't conform to my mental model of that style. It's too rich and malty, although there is something light and grassy in there somewhere.

Is it worth £210? Of course not, but while whisky's equivalent of tulipomania continues, it makes sense for Daftmill and Berry Brothers to benefit, rather than the *!?@$** flippers and auction houses.

Future releases will consist of a regular Summer Distillation and a Winter Distillation, plus occasional single casks. The regular releases will be priced around the £100 mark - still expensive compared with, say, Glenfiddich 12, but considering how Daftmill is made, not at all unreasonable.

£210 is far beyond my whisky budget, and indeed the consensus at the club was that most people wouldn't buy it. So much the better, then, that we were able to taste it as a group.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

A New Dufftown

Dufftown is one of three malts bottled with near-identical labelling, and in a slightly unusual hip-flaskish bottle. Why this should be the case is a matter for another day.

Aside from the twelve and eighteen year old expressions, there are some fancifully named releases without an age statement. Similarly, this latest expression lacks an age, but bears a more traditional or old-fashioned name.

In full then, it's The Singleton of Dufftown Malt Master's Selection.

If you have the patience, you can click or tap on the picture of my tasting note and read it in full. For those of you in a hurry, here's the executive summary, plus analysis.

It's a gentle, easy drinking, well balanced dram. I found flavour notes of:-

  • chocolate sweeties (Chelsea Whoppers)
  • clootie dumpling (specifically, the outside bit. If you've never enjoyed this delicacy, then I'd make the comparison to flapjacks or raisin-studded biscuit dough)
  • lavender & rich tea biscuits
  • more chocolate sweeties (orange matchmakers)


In other words, a mild mannered refill sherry barrel whisky.

I think many seasoned malt drinkers would find it a bit too light, or would use it as their warm-up dram. On the other hand, if you're looking for a change of pace from Johnnie Walker but want to keep that ultra-smooth palate and texture, then this is for you.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Some Grain Whisky Samples


Inspired by a recent vlog from Aqvavitae about samples, I pulled these four grain whiskies out of the cupboard to taste, as well as a few other samples to give away. As Roy says in the video, if someone has gone to the bother of sorting you out with a sample, you shouldn't leave it to gather dust.

So what do we have (let me translate those spidery labels for you)

  • A D Rattray North British 25 Year Old (unknown strength)
  • Whisky Barrel Dumbarton 30 Year Old 1987-2017 56.5%
  • Sovereign Cambus 1985 (age unknown, strength unknown)
  • Whiskybroker Cambus 25 Year Old 1991-2017 56.9%


I've tasted the Whiskybroker Cambus and know I like it, but what of the others?

North British in my mind is a solid distillate but I've never had one reach the heights that Cambus or Invergordon or Garnheath can manage.

Dumbarton is an unknown unknown. Never tasted it, I know nothing about it, people never seem to talk about it. So....

A quick sniff along the glasses and I think I still like the Whiskybroker Cambus best, perhaps because of its sherry overtones. The Whiskybarrel Dumbarton smells interesting but perhaps not very friendly, the Cambus is worryingly vodka-like, and the North British is what I'd call canonical grain whisky.

Taking them one by one, here are my tasting notes.

A D Rattray North British 25 Year Old (strength unknown)
nose: mild, sweet, even a little wattery. Over time there's more oak spice and increasing woodiness.
palate: rich and spicy, with orangey boiled sweets, then a roasty toffee note. It's hot in the finish.

Whisky Barrel Dumbarton 30 Year Old 1987-2017 56.5%
nose: light, clean, sweet, with a burnt note. Cinder toffee. A green note, and slightly mineral. With water it gets really complex, herbal, old fashioned, and also old.
palate: light and fairly dry. The alcohol is grippy. There's sweet coconut cream and/or very creamy condensed milk. With water there's a suggestion of smoke (which must be from the barrel somehow). It's less herbal than the nose and slightly bitter in the finish.

Sovereign Cambus 1985 (age unknown, strength unknown)
nose: rather boozy - the ghost of vodkas past. A wee bit of fust, plus some creamy toffee. Mellow oak spice, but definitely boozy.
palate: mild and sweet, with vanilla. With water it becomes soft and rounded, with juicy sultanas. Cake and a burnt toffee note. With another splash of water it reminds me of an oaked Chardonnay.

Whiskybroker Cambus 25 Year Old 1991-2017 56.9%
nose: rich and sweet, like boozy brandy. Spicy (again like brandy), with almonds and a clear sherry note. Herbal and complex. With water, the sherry grows stronger, and a baked apple plus sultanas note appears. It's very sweet and welcoming.
palate: Sweet brown sugar, and sherry (fino I think!), plus crème brûlée. It's complex, soft, and welcoming. With water a citrus note appears, plus royal icing and nutty toffee. Adding more water really emphasises the sherry notes.

It's fair to say that the size of each of these tasting notes reflects how much I enjoyed the dram, and perhaps also how good each one was. I found most enjoyment in the Whiskybroker sherried grain, but I'm so very glad I had a chance to taste the Dumbarton, which I'd say was interesting and challenging. The Cambus was a disappointment - I've had far, far better - and the North British was perfectly acceptable, the vin ordinaire of the line up.

Now, let me go and label up those other samples...

Sunday, 5 November 2017

What's The Point Of Ardbeg An Oa?

For more than two and a half centuries Scotch Whisky—I mean the industry, not the drink itself or the culture—has moved in cycles or waves of popularity, expansion, and prosperity for distillers, followed by slump and closures.

Some producers have taken advantage of the current upturn of the wheel to try and move their whisky up-market. In the (very successful) case of Ardbeg, this move began, I seem to remember, in the early 2000s, and over the course of a few years the price of Ardbeg Ten drifted upwards relative to other Islay brands. The invention of the annual Ardbeg Day release, and the introduction of Ardbeg embassies helped push the price increases, by building an air of exclusivity.

I suppose Ardbeg can't really be faulted for this. After all, corporations are obliged above all else to maximise their profits, and Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy operate in the luxury market, where the price and the utility of a good are but loosely connected, so why not see how far you can go?

So we have had a succession of releases of varying quality, some excellent, some anodyne, none sensibly priced, but one thing that all the previous Ardbeg Day specials did have was a decent level of the sweet smokiness that helps to place Ardbeg in the front rank of Scotch Whisky distilleries.

And this is where I found myself bamboozled by the new permanent addition to the core range, An Oa. It just doesn't have that same intensity of peat.

The nose in particular is very mild mannered, to the point of blandness. Honestly, it's faintly coastal, and that's it.

The palate is much better: sweet and smooth, with salty peat. It's very fruity too - lovely yellow fruits (yellow brambles, if they existed). The aftertaste is clean, peaty, and a little salty. But still and all, it's mild.

Ardbeg-lite.

And there's when I realised what the point of Ardbeg An Oa really is.

It's the brand extension for people who don't particularly care for smoke. Just as Brockman's is a gin for folk who dislike juniper, or skittle vodka exists to hide the unpleasant taste of alcohol, An Oa opens up the world of peaty drams to a whole bunch of people who wouldn't otherwise buy them.

So there you have it. Mystery explained. LVMH aren't about flavour, and it doesn't make sense to think about their products like that, or to question the introduction of an Ardbeg which doesn't taste much like Ardbeg.

And with that question resolved, I'm off to drink a Ledaig.