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.






2013-10-05

Ridgeview Pimlico

English sparkling wine is a very fine thing indeed, if not yet the equal of champagne, but I wouldn't say the same of such English still red wines as I've tasted (although that's no great sample size - not even a handful).

Hence, via some unconscious calculus of likely quality, I had no great expectations of a bottle of Ridgeview Pimlico. And so I was very pleasantly surprised - it's delicious.

It pours a dark, dark red, with properly pink froth, sending my mind on Austral paths, but of course the cepage is the Pinots Noir & Meunier, so it is light in body, despite the dark colour.

The nose is a very attractive mix of bitter cherry and dark chocolate. The palate matches the nose precisely, and adds a mature, gamey note - although I was reminded more of Chianti and Sangiovese than Burgundy and Pinot Noir.

The finish, alas, is short and abrupt, but nevertheless, for the colours and flavours, I would rate it as mostly excellent.

There didn't appear to be a vintage marked on the bottle, but it seems that this was made in 2003  because it was such a hot year that the grapes were supremely ripe. So don't be looking for this in your local wine merchant any time soon.

2013-08-27

Shacketon's Whisky, sort of.

I've been reading Shackleton's Whisky by Neville Peat, which seemed like a good enough excuse to drink some Glen Mhor - the Gordon & Macphail 1980 vintage, bottled in 2006. (Glen Mhor was the Inverness malt whisky distillery built in 1894 to help fulfill the demand for the Mackinlay's blends, so we can be fairly sure that the expedition bottles would have contained some of the Glen Mhor malt)

The short version of this review is that neither the book or the whisky are outstanding, although both are enjoyable, and of course there is an added interest in the Glen Mhor since the distillery is long silent, a victim of the downturn of the early 1980s.

The story of Shackleton's expedition to Antarctica is fascinating. On the other hand, it's clear from reading the book that the 300 bottles of whisky which travelled south from Scotland were no more or less important than the 450 tins of baked beans, and certainly less important than the 300 bottles of lime juice, which were brought along to help guard against scurvy.

I found it irritating that Peat continually speculates as to the various expedition members' thoughts about the whisky - it's about as illuminating as speculation regarding their thoughts on the beans or the lime juice.

I would also say that he gives rather too much credence to Richard Paterson's enthusiastic evaluation of the recovered bottle. And I can see no reason at all to believe that Macinlay's would have been a vatted malt or single, despite the assertion by Dr Richard Pryde of Whyte & Mackay that "there's no sign of grain whisky in it." Surely the whole point of grain whisky (at least as far as blending is concerned) is that it is neutral or dull or bland; it does not contribute flavour.

The whisky is very light for a twenty-five (or -six) year old. There are some notes which could be long wood contact, but essentially this is a delicate, lactic spirit, with some apple notes. I was reminded somewhat of Bruichladdich, albeit without the finesse which characterises the Laddie. I enjoyed it, but it doesn't really fit the profile which this book gives to Mackinley's. Perhaps the quality of the whisky had declined by 1980.

My quibbles aside, the book is a quick and interesting read, and it was definitely fun to drink the Glen Mhor while dipping into the book.