Monday 22 August 2022

Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve

So Glenlivet's PR people very kindly got in touch to ask if I'd like to sample the Caribbean Reserve, a No Age Statement expression partly finished in rum barrels and expressly intended for cocktails. 

This whisky stands at the intersection of three trends in Scotch Whisky: it's a No Age Statement whisky, it's been (part) matured in something other than bourbon or sherry barrels, and it's meant to be mixed.

Distillers have been under pressure to keep up with demand for over a decade now, as the latest long boom continues. One common response has been to abandon age statements, preferring instead to blend casks to a flavour profile. Modern cask management techniques, as developed for example by Dr Jim Swan, allow distillers to send younger whisky to market - younger, but still properly matured.

The wider boom in brown spirits (how many new craft distillers are there in the USA?) means that there is ever greater competition to secure a supply of good quality casks. This has lead the Scotch industry to fill into ever more unlikely barrel types. These days it seems that even tequila casks fit the SWA's definition of "traditional". Rum, by comparison, is positively mainstream.

And the third trend is that of using Scotch in mixed drinks. Now, I'm a great enthusiast of Scotch cocktails (here's me, for example, on Roy Duff's most excellent YouTube channel Aqvavitae doing all sorts of tasty things. Or at least, mostly tasty.) I'm not so sure that this trend is a strong or as widespread as the other two. It feels a bit like the annual declaration somewhere in the drinks trade press that This Is The Year Of Sherry. But nevertheless.

So this No Age Statement Glenlivet, partly finished in rum casks, and explicitly presented as a cocktail ingredient, definitely sits at the crossroads of these three trends. 

Along with the bottle, Glenlivet sent me a list of suggested serves. I tried two of these, although of course I also sipped the malt neat - this blog is Smell The Malt, after all. Here's a quick rundown of the drinks and how they tasted.

The dram itself
It's immediately Glenlivet, with the signature green pear notes. It's sweet - sweeter than the flagship Glenlivet Reserve? I think so (but didn't have any to hand to make the comparison). But where's the rum?

The Caribbean Cooler
(50ml Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve, 25ml Pineapple juice, 2 dashes Angostura bitters. Build in an ice filled glass and top with peach flavoured sparkling water)

This was blooming delicious. As you can see from the picture it was a hot, hot day, and this went down a real treat.

Coco Breeze
(2 parts Glenlivet, 1.5 parts coconut water, 2 lime wedges, 0.5 parts simple syrup, 8 mint leaves. Build in a tin shaker. Muddle & then shake. Pour into an ice filled hiball and top with coconut water. Garnish with lime and mint)

For me the whisky got lost in this one. I enjoyed the drink, but it was a bit out of focus.

This is a very easy going dram. A good party whisky. A drinker not a thinker. And I enjoyed both of the suggested serves that I tried. But, I do think, if you're going to market a whisky as a Caribbean Reserve, you should probably use more, and more active, rum casks. I've just finished judging the 2022 World Cider Awards and one of the conversations we had over and over again in the Flavoured category was exactly about this. If it says Blueberry on the label, the consumer rightly expects to find blueberry flavour. If it says "finished in rum barrels", it ought to taste like it.

Thank you to Glenlivet for providing the sample bottle. If you'd like to read more about making cocktails with Glenlivet, here you go.

Friday 12 November 2021

Bruichladdich Biodynamic Project

Last week I attended the Glasgow launch of Bruichladdich's new Biodynamic malt at Rémy Cointreau's offices in Blythswood Square.

There were wonderful canapés provided by Fallachan (that Chicken of the Wood - good lord what a flavour), excellent mixed drinks by (my colleague) Danny McManus, and I had several fascinating conversations with different 'Laddie folks around the topics of biodynamics and sustainable agriculture. We even drifted slightly into terroir territory. But most importantly, we tasted the whisky.


We were joined from the Bruichladdich distillery by head distiller Adam Hannett, who talked us through the growing of the barley and the making of the whisky.

Here are the facts I found most interesting or important about this new whisky:

  • Biodynamically grown barley gave Bruichladdich higher yields than conventionally grown crops of the same variety.
  • The whisky making isn't biodynamic, just the farming of the barley itself. Adam says that, with Bruichladdich making so many different expressions, they prefer to keep the brewing and distilling processes the same, since they're focused on barley varieties, locations (the T-word again), and barrel type. Although he's not ruling out future experiments with yeasts...
  • As yet, Bruichladdich doesn't have any Scottish biodynamic growers, so for this cuvée they sourced the barley from Yatesbury House Farm in Wiltshire. It's their only expression not made with Scottish barley, and I did rather get the impression that Bruichladdich is a little unsure of how their fans and followers will respond to that point of difference.

Tasting Notes

This is a cask sample at 55%, whereas the finished product will be bottled at 50%. It was distilled in 2011 from a variety called Westminster, and the whole batch has been matured in first fill ex bourbon barrels.

To nose, it's bright and fresh, with a slight initial spirity fire. There's a load of sweet dried grass or haylage, plus a real honey sweetness. Over time, fruitiness develops - peaches, stone fruits, ripe yellow orchard fruits.

With water there's more fruit and less grassiness, and I also found a floral note; specifically roses.

The palate is full bodied, very sweet, and mouth coating. I'm reminded of vanilla ice cream and peaches. There is a drying oak note in the finish, which is more emphatic with water. As with the nose, adding water brings out more fruit character - ripe yellow apples, peaches, and other stone fruits.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this whisky very much. Comparing this with other expressions of the 'Laddie, I'd say it has a really rich, mouth coating texture — oily, even. It also seems sweeter than most, and I didn't find any of the lactic or funky notes that I would often associate with the distillery. Excellent, would recommend.

You can read more about this whisky on Bruichladdich's website.

Wednesday 20 October 2021

Indie Bottlings, US-style: Ezra Brooks 100 & Rebel 100

Lux Row Distillers are a Kentucky whiskey producer who have been "steeped in the whiskey business" for over forty years, but only got around to opening their own distillery in 2018. 

Now, a "Straight Bourbon" which doesn't carry an age statement must be at least four years old, which means that these two drams were not distilled by Lux Row and are what the US whiskey market refers to as an NDP brand (a Non Distilling Producer)

If they were Scottish then we might call them independent bottlings, if they were single malts, or just a new whisky brand for blends.

Indie bottlers in both the United States and Ireland seem to have a reluctance to be as open about this as Scottish bottlers, and brands like Whistlepig in Vermont or Hyde in Ireland have had a bit of a kicking over their less than transparent marketing and labelling.

I'm keen on total transparency in whisky, but I'm also cynical enough to know that we ain't getting it any time soon, so with these samples I'm happy to just cynically nod in the direction of Heaven Hill, Bardstown, or Kentucky Artisan and concentrate on tasting the drams.


First up is Rebel 100, a wheated bourbon (my favourite kind). The most famous example of this style is Pappy Van Winkle, but that's just silly money, and even my favourite affordable wheated, Weller 12, has vanished off the shelves in the last couple of years, so a decent replacement at £35 a pop would be a real boon.

On the nose it's perfume-y oak, with almond notes and a wee hit of black pepper. The palate is soft and rounded, with vanilla cream and sweet caramel. I find a touch of cinder toffee or burnt caramel in the finish.

In conclusion I'd say it's a fine example of the wheated style, although I'd like it to be rather bigger on the palate at 50%. Good.


My second sample is Ezra Brooks 99, which in contrast to the Rebel 100 is a more rye heavy style of bourbon.

The nose has a strong honey note, and a more restrained expression of the green spices that rye brings to a whiskey. There's an interesting raisin note, which is something I'd not be surprised to find in a Scotch, but seems rather unusual for bourbon. Over time a lovely gingerbread note emerges.

The palate shows a broad range of sweet rye flavours, with a slight bitterness in the finish. Interestingly, I also found a light soapy lavender note, and very interestingly for me as a lover of the funk, a slight earthiness.

In conclusion I found this to be a very interesting bourbon, particularly for the slight funkiness. Excellent.

These samples were provided by Lux Row Distillers & The Whisky Wire as part of a flash blogging event on October 20th 2021. You can read some of the other reviews via the following links.

And you can find more commentary on Twitter via the #LuxRowWhiskey hashtag.

Thursday 17 September 2020

Single Malts of Scotland Bruichladdich 1992 26 Year Old

This is cask #3841, bottled at 54.9%, a sample very kindly provided by Elixir Distillers.

First impression: Fust! lovely old fust.

On the nose there's rich old malt and fust, and perhaps something savoury. It seems rather prickly for a twenty-six year old.

Yep, it's definitely rich, and smells properly old, and a little funky. Perhaps the herbalness of a tomato sauce as it cooks.

I do keep mentioning fust, don't I? It's a good thing too, in my book, but it does rather dominate. I don't see any of the lactic character one finds in younger Bruichladdichs.

On the palate it's sweet and thick and slightly bitter. There's an interesting spicy or peppery note, and something of bitter almond. I'd say the sweetness tends more to syrup than honey.

Over time the malt elements become stronger. It's persistently jaggy on the tongue and soft palate.

In conclusion I'd rate this whisky as good. There's a degree of complexity to it, and the fustiness (that damp-seeming aroma which reminds us of the delights of a dunnage warehouse) is great, but it's definitely a wee bit sharp for twenty-six years, and I don't think it really shouts Bruichladdich.

3+ (on a scale of 0: faulty / 1: poor / 2: adequate / 3: good / 4: excellent / 5: outstanding)

Wednesday 11 September 2019

Whiskysponge Glen Moray Thirtysomething

These days Glen Moray probably has a rather better reputation than it had a decade or two ago, thanks to the tireless work of Distillery Manager Alumnus Graham Coull, so it's a wee bit harsh of the Sponge to label this bottle with an admittedly funny, but definitely backward looking, label.

Then again, the Sponge is cursed to know whisky-that-was better than pretty much everybody, to remember and lament the Heroic age of drams, so we should probably forgive him/her/it for referencing the time when Glen Moray was the unloved third child of the suitcase-vending owners of Ardbeg and Glenmorangie.

(And besides, who among us does not love a bargain? If, in 2005, you had the choice between some dubious United Spirits blend for £15 or a single malt with an age statement, no matter how overtly Chardonoid, for £18, of course you would buy the Glen Moray. Probably two bottles.)

All of this prefatory material is to prepare you to be disappointed, or at the very least, jaded. So that, should you be lucky enough to actually taste the whisky, your joy will be all the purer and more unalloyed.

I should explain, by the by, that this tasting note is a joint effort between myself and the Whisky Wuman. We tasted this Glen Moray courtesy of a sample from the Whisky Sponge, and discussed it as we were taking notes, thus simultaneously illuminating and polluting each other's thoughts.

So, throats having been cleared, and positions having been established, I have to say that this whisky is absolutely fabulous. It has aged beautifully in a none too active cask, it shows a marvellous progression from the ester-heavy youth of good Glen Moray to a mature, oxidised, yet still fruity, concentrated dram, a waxy, umami-laden delight which references Clynelish and the best of Knockdhu.

It's remarkably clean for a thirty-seven year old dram, with not even a hint of dunnage character (and it's worth remarking than dunnage character is highly desirable, so this bottling is all the better for being so very tasty without relying on that crutch).

If I had to euphemise it, SMWS-style, it would be, "Spiced Grilled Peaches In A Dusty Hessian Sack". The non-commercial five word tasting note, per Peynaud, is, "Waxy fruit. Waxy brown fruit". And the score, for those of you who like numbers, is (on a scale of 0-5): 6+.

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!