2014-04-19

Glenglassaugh Torfa

Newly arrived this week is a no-age-statement peated whisky from Glenglassaugh distillery, Torfa (which means turf in Old Norse. I spent an entertaining twenty minutes trying to look this up. The closest I could get was torf).


Glenglassaugh, since the change of ownership in 2008 have been pursuing a strategy of releasing very old and very young whiskies - a necessity after twenty two years silent. There were a series of three new make spirit drinks, alongside such beautifully aged drams as the 26 Year Old and the 30 Year Old. The current core dram is the Evolution, which was initially released at cask strength but is now bottled at 50%.

Torfa is, like the Evolution, bottled at 50%. It's a pale whisky. The nose is fairly intense and has lots of dry smoke, with lighter notes of heather and iodine or salt. I also found a suggestion of honey.

The palate is soft and slightly oily, with honey and plenty of dry smoke, shading into a metallic warm aroma (like heating a cast iron pan with nothing in it). The palate doesn't have any of the iodic notes from the nose, which is a definite difference from Islay style peated whiskies.

With water this is a very easy drinking dram, nicely smoky, although perhaps a little simple in the finish. Best to drink it at full strength I think.

Overall I'd say this is a pretty decent whisky from Glenglassaugh. Onwards & upwards!


2014-04-04

Tasting the new Arran 17 Year Old

I'm rather fond of Arran. The 10 Year Old is a good every day dram (and the bottle goes down mighty fast in my house). Some of the limited releases have been superb, such as the Peacock, and the Sleeping Warrior. I'm not so keen on the Machrie Moor  - it needs more peat - but overall I like their whiskies.

I recently tasted a single cask bottling of whisky distilled in 1996 which was outstanding, and left me thinking that Arran's plan to have an 18 Year Old as part of the core range was A Good Thing, because the mellow, rounded nature of that limited release 17 Year Old really suited the sweet toffee apple house style.

So, to this 17 Year Old, which is a limited release on the way to the Eighteen due out at some point in 2015.

The nose is sweet toffee, but with much less of the green apple note Arran usually gives me. There's a really attractive marzipan-nutty aroma. It seems a little more spirity than usual for Arran.

The palate is very rounded and mellow. Sweet syrupy apple juice, musty-dusty wood, and a little bit of the almond I found on the nose.

With water the nose opens up. Still nutty, but more macaroon or coconut, and biscuity. Not apple-y. The palate is now mouth coating and silky, very sweet and not so apple. The finish is really satisfying - lipsmacking even.

Overall, I'd rate it as Very Good Indeed.

2014-04-03

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....

2014-03-27

#LightOnDark

Ah, product launches, how we love you. The elaborate set dressing, the canap├ęs, the free booze, the goodie bag, the celebrity presenter, the hash tag...

To the Arches for the release of AnCnoc's peated whiskies, Rutter, Flaughter, and Tushkar. Even before I entered the launch space I could smell the smoke. Dimly and dramatically lit, it was hardly the best environment to taste anything for the first time (especially from the big mouthed tumblers the whiskies were served in), so I bravely resolved to stuff my face with nibbles, drink whisky, and network.

AnCnoc is a sweet, light dram. It calls itself Highland, although if you ask me it's a fine example of the Speyside style. There are peated Speysiders to be found, but not many of them. AnCnoc have chosen to go for a light smoking, with the added twist that the peatiness is defined according to the level in the new make spirit, rather than, as everyone else does, by reference to the barley. Clever marketing, or merely thrawn?

I tried the Rutter with a tiny blue cheese topped biscuit served from a smoke filled glass dome. It was
delicious. I've no idea what fraction of the deliciousness was whisky-based, but delicious it was.

The Flaughter didn't seem to go so well with some chestnut cream filled macarons, but on the other hand the mini edible peat bogs complemented it superbly. I ate at least five.

The Tushkar? Well, it's a bit thicker or oilier than the other two, I think. And somewhat smoky.

I left, clutching my loot, having failed to network, and reflecting on the whiskies. I like the Rutter best, because it retains most AnCnoc character, combining sweet barley notes with light, dry smoke. The other two are good, but they could be from any number of distilleries.

My ratings:
  • Rutter - Very Good
  • Flaughter - Good
  • Tushkar - Good
  • #LightOnDark - Excellent
  • Edible Mini Peat Bogs - Can I Have A Full Size One Please?
    Mmmmm, edible peat bogs

2013-11-22

3D Whisky

I tasted the Cask Strength and Carry On 3D whisky the other day, and rather to my chagrin, it was very tasty.

I say that because I've always held to the old whisky maxim "Dufftown by name, duff by nature"*, but this whisky rather disproves the rule (although to be fair to my prejudice it's only partly Dufftown - the 3D refers to Dailuaine and Dalwhinnie as well).

This particular vatting of malt came about because bloggers Joel Harrison & Neil Ridley of caskstrength.net somehow persuaded The Borg Diageo to let them have access to some casks for the latest release in their Whisky Abecediary. For that achievement alone they deserve kudos.

So to the dram itself. (I was provided with a handy 3D tasting note sheet, but after filling it in I felt compelled to return to my notebook and write at rather more length. Perhaps you prefer the fuzzy floating 3D words.)

It's a light and floral and sweet whisky. Floral to the point of soapiness, but for me that ain't a fail. There is also a grassy note, and overall the nose is very fresh. The palate is in keeping with the nose, being light and soft. It is gently malty, and has a very tasty brown sugar note. And it's sweet, of course, thanks to the Dalwhinnie, or so it seemed to me. Altogether a very tasty vatting.

*Old whisky maxim: in other words, newly coined by me.

2013-11-20

Abbey Whisky Bunnahabhain 23 Year Old

In a twitter tasting organised by the tireless Steve Rush and Abbey Whisky, my favourite dram was a Ben Nevis 16 Year Old. Rather than talk about that whisky, this post is about Bunnahabhain.

I've a soft spot for Bunna. It's rarely superb, although of course there are some limited bottlings which shine. But it soldiers on, offering a gentle, creamline toffee dram, sometimes with a touch of salt, sometimes with a little more sherry. Of course there are plenty of whiskies doing just that. Jura, Arran, Tomatin spring to mind. What sets Bunnahabhain apart is a lightness of touch, a citric, lemony note which keeps it from being bland or uninteresting.

This particular Bunnahabain is a very fine example of the style. The nose isn't intense. Rather, it is elusive, with hints of citrus, hints of salt, hints of milk or cream, in a way which draws me in rather than boring me by their faintness. The palate is a bit of a surprise at first, with a huge hit of chilli astride the honey notes, but then the salty touch and the mustiness of old casks distracts me. Water calms the chilli, leaving a light sweet fudge flavour with a warming, albeit short, finish. A nearly excellent whisky.

And that's the point, I think. If Bunna was really excellent, one would need to be a bit reverential about drinking it. But because of that nearly, you can pay attention and find something to interest you, or you can simply be dog tired and in need of a dram without having to think about it, dammit, and either way Bunnahabhain will do the job nicely.






2013-10-31

Some recent Glen Elgins, and a Small Lament

Selling Whisky for a living is fun, and mostly pretty straightforward. "What do you like? Oh, well this and this are pretty similar, or this is pretty special".

But when I talk to whisky enthusiasts, fellow malt heads, I often find myself pursuing a gloomier line. "You had better grab this indie Mortlach while you can. The new official releases mean all future bottles will cost twice as much"; "Of course, it's all been matured on the mainland since the early 2000s so the taste is bound to change in a year or two".

And so it is with Glen Elgin, perhaps the fruitiest of Speysiders (or at least up there in the top three with Mortlach and Glenrothes). Until 2012, according to the Malt Whisky Yearbook 2013, Glen Elgin ran two different fermentations. During the week at 76 hours, and 120 hours over the weekend.

Following the addition of three new washbacks, so as to increase capacity by 50%, this approach has been dropped, and replaced with a standard 90 hour fermentation.

The result can only be a loss of complexity, which will become apparent in the malt in a decade or so. See this article at Chemistry of the Cocktail for an excellent and detailed explanation. You heard the moaning here first.

All of this is by way of a preamble to the following Glen Elgin tasting notes. It's a Speysider I particularly like, and I do hope my prefatory grumble will maker these expressions seem all the tastier.

Gordon & Macphail Connoisseurs Choice Glen Elgin 1996, 46%
nose: fruity, like fresh chopped apples. Light lactic notes, then light woody spice, then more fruit; chocolate banana sweets.
palate: rounded & fruity. Thick fruity syrup. Adding water brings out a tangy apple note.
(tasted 2013-10-08: not rated)

Blackadder Raw Cask Glen Elgin 17yo, 57.3%
nose: spicey (ginger), malty, slightly lactic, apple-y
palate: Quite light and dry and fruity. Water sweetens it and brings out a waxy toffee apple flavour, then sweet burnt toffee with a touch of smoke.
(tasted 2013-10-28: excellent)

Milroy's Glen Elgin 17yo 1995/2013, 46%
nose: airy, fresh, sappy and sweet. Grassy, then malt loaf
palate: sweet banana malt. Woody, then bananas and oranges. Fruity, thick and sweet. Malty
(tasted 2013-10-30 as part of a tweet tasting: not rated)