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.


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.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The Royal Brackla Appreciation Society

Royal Brackla is never going to be a star of Scotch. The style of malt it produces—which these days is very sweet, like toffee pennies—whilst delightfully easy to drink, lacks the complexity of the truly great whiskies.

And the current owners, Bacardi, despite their supposed intention to raise the profile of their distilleries, seem to be somewhat indolent in their approach. They took over the "Last Five Great Malts" at least a decade ago, and the relaunch staggered on through 2015 and 2016, which pace is never going to set the heather on fire.

Despite these grumblings, I am a member of a small whisky club1 , the Royal Brackla Appreciation Society. The society was founded one night after we had a dram of the old 10 Year Old, and found in it a surprising—and surprisingly delicious—herbal/earthy/dirty note which we couldn't recall having encountered previously in a malt whisky. It was such an intriguing flavour that we were moved to try other Bracklas, but alas!, as yet we haven't found it again.

Last night's fine Bracklas did include one which hinted at the stink we are always looking for, and we also discovered a new whisky aroma note, as well as gaining a useful insight into how the Scotch Malt Whisky Society names its bottles.

We started off with a sample of 16 Year Old Brackla drawn in 2014 and intended for the US market, presumably in the run up to the launch of the range. This was pure toffee pennies, sweet, smooth, supremely easy to drink. If it were fruity too, then it's be easy to mistake it for VSOP Cognac, and I should think it's probably aimed at the same market; Christmas presents for clients, once a year whisky drinkers. For us, it was a nice wee palate warmer.

Next up was the most interesting dram of the night, a mini of whisky distilled in 1974 (and, according to the interwebs, bottled in 1990). It was much maltier than 90s/2000s distillate; maltier in a very toasty, flapjack, roasted malt fashion. And after a while, a hint of the elusive stink started to emerge - if only we'd had a bigger sample.

(We did a quick search, and full bottles are going for £200-£300, which is rather more than we care to spend. We like Brackla, but come on, it's not worth that money. And that's why we don't just purchase endless bottles of the old 10 Year Old at auction. Prices are silly.)

Third dram was another Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice bottling, from 1997. Very much in the modern style of soft, sweet toffee, but we also found, after we'd tried the next one, that the 1997 had acquired a sweaty note.

Whisky number four was a Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottling, numbered 55.22 and named Backstage at a Burlesque. It had the toffee pennies—half a crown's worth at least—but it also had a distinct hairspray note, and an equally distinct note of sweat. And as I say, after trying this one we went back to the 1997 only to discover that it too was sweaty.

You do have to applaud the SMWS for their cunning. Finding hairspray and sweat and accurately, if slightly disingenuously, reporting it as Backstage at a Burlesque.

We finished off with another SMWS bottling, In the Shade of the Fruit Tree. Which certainly lived up to its name, but was somehow unexciting.

All told, an interesting and varied set of Bracklas. I suspect that the reason I liked the last one least was down to it being the cleanest. It's generally the case that I like my whiskies slightly dirty, and I'd say that counts double for Royal Brackla. The search continues.

1. When I say, "a small whisky club", I mean that I comprise a third of the membership.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Tasting Note: Kilkerran 12 Year Old

I was very excited when the first Kilkerran Work In Progress was released. I bought a bottle, and was then rather disappointed by it. I've tasted every Work In Progress since, and I've come to the conclusion that Kilkerran shouldn't be drunk young.

Indeed, while I'm moderately keen on the 12 Year Old, I have a feeling that it'll be much better once it gets up to 15 or 16. Of course, this won't stop me drinking the 12, for reasons given below.

The nose is herbal or grassy. It's also sweet - somewhere between honey and syrup. I do find it a little bit spirity, alas.

Initially it seemed very grassy or hay-like, perhaps even barnyard-y, but over time it becomes less grassy.

There is a wee bit of iron or old engines (what I call the true Campbeltown goût). There's the merest trace of oak spice - these'll be refill casks by the taste.

The palate is rounded, easy going, not obviously peated in any way. There is a little woody spice, but it's very gentle, and really the grassy notes dominate.

In conclusion: I really like the texture, which is slightly mouth coating, although not quite what you could call oily.

It's interesting to compare this dram with my notes from a year ago. It seems clear to me that the legendary Springbank batch effect is in evidence. This year I can't find even a trace of peat, whereas last year I noted, "tangy sharp brown sugar smoke".

I like that this malt is not coloured and non chill filtered, and from a family owned distillery which does everything on site. Given the extra costs involved in the small scale production of Mitchell's Glengyle, I reckon it's a total bargain.

About Kilkerran
The distillery is Glengyle, but the brand is Kilkerran, for tedious legal reasons.

Glengyle makes lightly peated (except when it's not) malt by double distillation (except when it's triple distilled).

Glengyle distillery operated from Victorian times through to about 1930, when it, along with nearly all of the Campbeltown distilleries closed. It was refurbished and reopened in 2004 by J&A Mitchell, owners of Springbank, and staff from that establishment run Glengyle on a part time basis.

The ostensible reason as given by J&A Mitchell for the re-opening of Glengyle is that the Scotch Whisky Association was planning to introduce a rule that a whisky region could only be a region if there were three or more distilleries operating in that region.

This has always seemed like nonsense to me, and I've never been able to find any documentary evidence for it, but I'd be happy to be proved wrong. Anybody?

Monday, 26 June 2017

Whistlepig Farmstock Crop No. 001

It's fair to say that Whistlepig have had a few hiccups along the road, and the company founder, Raj Bhakta, seems to have a knack for getting himself into hot water. On the other hand they have also been very highly praised for some of their whiskies. While I'm definitely in favour of transparency, which arguably has been a bit lacking with Whistlepig, it remains the case that what matters most is how a whiskey tastes. And this whiskey tastes rather fine.

The Vermont based company have only been distilling their own whisky for a couple of years now, so I guess it'll be a while before they can offer something which is 100%, grain to glass, Whistlepig. In the meantime, they have released Farmstock #001, which I'm told is a blend of their own distillate with bought-in Canadian and U.S. rye.

Nose: There's quite a bit going on here. The rye is mild and sweet, like beery rye bread, or rye and ginger biscuits (are they a thing?). It's also fruity, in a sappy green apple kind of a way, then there's an emulsion paint note. Before you stop reading, I should explain that "emulsion paint" is an aroma I often find in Scottish Grain whiskies and bourbons. It's not a bad thing, it's just a Quercus Alba thing that I haven't figured out the correct name for yet. I like it when I find emulsion paint in a whisk(e)y. The whiskey is very soft on the nose and not spiritous at all.

Palate: sweet, rounded, and mouth coating or slightly oily.  Mild nutty rye bread spice, burnt bread, well fired Scotch morning rolls. After a while it becomes much more fruity: specifically apples and pears. Towards the finish it dries out a little, and develops a prickly warmth. With time I also found a mineral quality in it, which I liked.

Conclusion: There's lots of soft rye spice, but rather less of the toffee, coconut, and caramel notes that white oak imparts to most American whiskies. It's also much fruitier than I expected it to be. Whilst it's not life-altering, it's a very enjoyable drop. I reckon that it's over-priced, but that likely reflects the hype surrounding Whistlepig. Perhaps Mr Bhakta belongs to the "There's no such thing as bad publicity" school of thought.