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.

Thursday 8 June 2017

Bottle o' Ridge!

When I was starting out as a booze merchant sixteen years ago, Ridge was a popular 'fine wine' choice with punters who had learned wine via such gems as the Penfold's range of affordable, full-bodied, fruit-forward Australian wines, and who preferred their soft jamminess to the dryer, more restrained style of the Bordeaux Crus Classé . The junior expressions were affordable enough that some of our more affluent customers could float in of a Friday evening and casually utter—what had become something of a staff catch phrase or in joke—"bottle o' Ridge please".

So even though my tastes lean more towards the European classics, I have a soft spot for Ridge. Turn to whisky and matters become more complicated. Red wine finishes are most definitely not to everybody's taste. Fortunately, I do like them, and am therefore the ideal person to review this one.

What we have here is the Glenrothes Wine Merchant's Collection 1992 24 Year Old Ridge Wine Finish Cask #08, which retails for £200. It is bottled at a natural strength of 55.1%, and has been finished (for six months? A year? Who knows?) in a Zinfandel cask, although we're not told which vineyard. Yes, it very likely wouldn't make much difference to the flavour of the whisky, but I'd probably look more fondly on it knowing it was Geyserville rather than Lytton Springs.

As I understand it, Glenrothes' reputation stands higher in Europe and America than in the UK, but nevertheless £200 seems quite expensive to me, even allowing for the expense of the fancy-schmancy barrel. With that grumble set to one side, here are my notes.

Nose: Vinous, but also rather spirity. Berries (generic berries. Or perhaps I mean Genericberries). Not malty. Adding a little water makes it more spirity (as is often the case), and brings out oak top notes. More water reveals dry, earthy notes, and leaf litter (sous bois if you want to indulge in the sort of Wine Spectator vocabulary that wines like Ridge seem to provoke). There's definitely something of mushrooms and wine cellars going on.

Palate: Thick and sweet, fruity, ripe, and red. Rather port-like, but with a faint bitter note in the finish. Water brings out more red fruits, and an earth or mushroom note which wine barrels often give. After a while a lovely almond pastry flavour develops.

Yet more water makes it very soft and easy to drink, and brings out high toned, perfumed, oak spices, along with a faint reminder of Edinburgh rock. It's fortunate that this whisky takes water so well; after twenty-four years and at natural strength of 55.1%, I do think it ought to be a tad less spirity.

Conclusion: This is an excellent 'sweetie' of a dram, with the proviso that you have to like red wine finishes. Glenrothes produces spirit of a very fruity character which in this case works well with the wine influence.

Zinfandel often has a character akin to Port, and that, I think is a useful comparison if you're not a wine drinker, but have tasted Port-finished whiskies. If you like such malts, then this one's for you.