Thursday 13 November 2014

Tasting Note: Springbank 15 Year Old Rum Cask

I tasted this at the end of a brilliant evening of whiskies and sherries, so my notes may be slightly more euphoric than is strictly justified.

Whiskybroker Springbank 15yo Rum barrel #300 52.8%
The nose is light and smoky. Perhaps brown sugar? It's sweet, but sweet without being syrupy - it is noticeably light in body. Fresh and maybe a wee bit salty.

With some water it becomes distinctly metallic; iron (which I often find in whiskies from Campbeltown) and aluminium. I should explain that when I find iron in a whisky that's a good thing, whereas aluminium is nearly always a bad thing.

The palate is very light and sweet. There's that lovely Campbeltown smoke in the finish. Just delicious.

Adding water doesn't change the palate so much. It remains soft, rounded, and smoky. Perhaps a little peppery note creeps in.

Conclusion: This is just ace. I'm a Springer fan, but even if you're not I think you'd find this to be a superb whisky. I'm not sure how much sweetness the rum barrel added, but it was certainly a good cask.

Thursday 5 June 2014

Glen Garioch 1998

Until I complete the move of whisky posts from my other booze blog, Smell the Cork, here's a link to my post there about Glen Garioch 1998.

Thursday 22 May 2014

Comparison: Càrn Mòr Strictly Limited Mortlach 1998 vs Wemyss Pastille Bouquet Mortlach 1998

Wherein I make invidious comparisons between similar whiskies from different bottlers, and indulge in a moan about pricing.

Càrn Mòr is the brand of a family run Perthshire based bottler of malt whisky. Wemyss Malts is Fife based, but similarly a family affair.

Càrn Mòr's packaging is, to be kind, cheap and cheerful, while Wemyss is rather more classy, with a retro bottle shape, pastel coloured labels, and poetic names (or, if you want to be unkind, word salad).

I tasted Càrn Mòr's Strictly Limited Mortlach 1998, which is a bottling from two ex bourbon hoggies, versus Wemyss Malts Pastille Bouquet Mortlach 1998, from a single hoggie. Both are bottled at 46% ABV. There was a great deal in common between the two, with plentiful confected fruit flavours tending to the yellow and red parts of the flavour rainbow (or map or wheel or mandala or whatever it is these days) in both bottlings. Both also showed an elegance, and had a rounded and long finish.

But, whereas the Càrn Mòr whisky had well integrated wood notes, which added to the overall complexity of the dram, the Wemyss bottling seemed rather dryer, and the oak tannin was slightly aggressive in the finish. Only in the direct comparison, mind you. Having previously tasted both these whiskies separately (or rather, against other malts, not other Mortlachs), I would have struggled to describe the differences.

It seems to me that Càrn Mòr obtained the better casks, or were able to produce a better whisky by selecting two casks of contrasting character. So it's probably about right that the Wemyss is a fiver cheaper (£53.50).

Both of them, however, seem cheap when one contemplates the forthcoming new official Mortlach releases. On commercial grounds Diageo can't be faulted for their decision to reposition Mortlach as a luxury brand, competing in the same segment as Macallan and Dalmore. But in going from £55 for 70cl of 16 year old malt to  50cl of no-age-statement malt for the same price they're really taking the piss underlining the arbitrary nature of whisky pricing. Their costs haven't suddenly jumped up (although I suppose that bottle design doesn't come cheap)

To me, a whisky drinker with a long memory (and an obsessive note taker), the current steep upward trajectory of malt prices, despite rising demand, looks awfully like greed and short-termism. Here's hoping it doesn't precipitate another crash and a wave of closures. Caol Ila as the Port Ellen of 2050, anyone?

Thursday 3 April 2014

The Scotch Whisky Regulations – Reading Between the Lines

Recently at work we've been debating where to fit AnCnoc whiskies on the shelves. Partly, in truth, because the Highland shelves were over full, but partly also because the whiskies from Knockdhu distillery are fine examples of the classic Speyside flavour profile, even if it does say 'Highland' on the tin.

Now, prompted by some twitter chat regarding what constitutes Speyside, I've been having a read at the Scotch Whisky Regulations 2009 (the SWR), and also the Scotch Whisky Order 1990 (the SWO).

The SWR gives a detailed geographical description of the Highland-Lowland boundary, and also defines the protected localities of Speyside, Islay, and Campbeltown. Speyside and Campbeltown are defined by refering to electoral wards, Islay is defined as the island of Islay.

The SWO is less particular; its definition of Scotch runs to just 175 words and doesn't mention anything at all about regions.

So here's my interpretation of these bits of legalese. It was always (or at least since 1893, with the Sale of Goods Act) the case that the label on a bottle of Scotch had to tell the truth – you couldn't label a bottle of Lowland malt as being from Islay. So it wasn't necessary for the 1990 order to specify regions because other legislation would effectively do the job.

But in order to give the same sort of protection to Scotch that is enjoyed by Parmesan, or Barolo, or Grand Cru Burgundy, it is necessary to follow the kind of geography based definition that's used by those other tasty products (PDOs or PGIs, if you're interested).

Hence the minutely detailed boundaries in the SWR-2009. However, since whisky making isn't like grape growing, the boundaries don't need to follow the line of a valley or a river, and so electoral districts are a handy pre-defined set of units to use.

However, the regulations had to be framed to accommodate existing practice. Macallan chooses to label its own bottlings as Highland, whereas Gordon & Macphail, for example, sell Macallan under the Speymalt name. Glenfarclas calls itself Highland; Tormore, just up the road, is 'The Pearl of Speyside'.

And thus, confusion reigns. It could be worse though. Burgundy is so complicated that people can't even agree on the number of appellations. Is it 300? 500? 700? And of course, there is an entirely separate debate as to whether regionality or terroir even exists in Scotch whisky, but I think I'll leave that one for another day....

Sunday 9 February 2014

Tasting Note: Compass Box The General

The Scotch Whisky Regulations (SWR) are written by the industry, and thus arguably don't serve the consumer as well as they might.

This fine dram is, I think, a case in point. Compass Box are so constrained by the SWR that they can only say that one component of the blend is 33 years old. We can infer that the other is older, and I've been verbally assured that the second component is forty years old, but it's all a bit unsatisfactory really.

Compass Box can tell us, however, that the two components which make up the General were both blended at a much younger age and then left in barrel, which isn't usually the case. Most blends will have only a brief marrying period, often in a huge steel vat, before bottling. I think that extended second ageing has contributed to the flavour of the resulting dram.

My grumblings about rules and regulations aside, I do think that this is a very, very fine dram indeed. Here are my notes.

Nose: A promising mix of woody and fruity aromas. Caramel, butter, and oranges. It seems very fresh and lively for such an old whisky. The caramel is evolving into Cream Line toffee, and the woody notes are growing stronger. There's even a little touch of fust or dunnage warehouse. Adding water releases much more sherrywood character, and now the toffee is moving over into tablet territory, and then further into Murray mints.

(For those of you who didn't grow up in Scotland in the 1970s: Cream Line was a brittle toffee with very strong creamy character. Tablet is a Scottish delicacy made by boiling up cream, butter, and sugar. Murray mints were a mildly minty boiled sweet.)

The palate is rather grippy with wood tannins, but also super-sweet, in the same toffee and fruit vein as the nose. There's also a touch of struck match from the sherry influence. The finish is malty, in a beery sort of way, but then loops back to the fruit toffee notes before going out on a kind of herbal mintiness. With water it settles down to an unctuous creamy toffee, underscored by a savoury note which rather reminds me of a Madeira-based gravy.

In conclusion, this is an absolutely superb blended whisky. It's thick and sweet and deeply satisfying to drink, but also complex enough to intrigue malt snobs. I recently tasted the Whyte and Mackay 40 Year Old, which costs about twice as much as this bottle, and I reckon this is the better of the two. Well done Compass Box.

For another take on this whisky, have a look at Steve Prentice's review over on Somerset Whisky Blog.

Friday 7 February 2014

Tasting Note: 10 Year Old Rip Van Winkle

Last night I helped an ex colleague out by running a wine tasting for him (he was double booked, and doing another wine tasting upstairs in the Art Club). It was something of a boozy affair, with a welcome glass of fizz, eight wines, and a half-time Mezcal. My friend, having finished his tasting and returned, decided that the best way to encourage the punters to leave was by mixing up G&Ts and playing darts with them. Once we had seen them off the premises we tidied up a little and sat down to a few drams.

I offer this preamble as some sort of excuse for the rather vague tasting note which follows, but also to remind myself that the best way to enjoy whisk(e)y is in good company.

Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year Old  (53.5%)

The nose is an attractive mix of spicy oak wood and what seems like rye to me (I know, I know, wheated bourbon. Nevertheless, I feel obliged to report my perception). It's also much more fresh and lifted than most distillates (as if it were a wine) and there's even a minty note. Over time it seems to develop a nutty aspect (I wonder if that's down to the wheat?).

The palate is soft and round, but also somehow alkaline. Perhaps that's because it's my first whisky after a selection of wines (or, I guess I could blame the Mezcal).

The flavours match the nose nicely. There's spicy rye, and it's  soft, woody, and very easy to drink. There are lots of American white oak notes like coconut, and a lovely mild spice in the finish.

I'm not usually all that enthusiastic about American whiskeys, since I usually find them too sweet and oak dominated. But this I enjoyed - as I said already, the best way to enjoy whisk(e)y is in good company. It was a great night.