Rogue Voodoo Doughnut...

... is the kind of name that could easily embarrass a person placing a drinks order. And when this, ahem, interesting bottle shows up, well, it ain't going to be easy to hide. The liquid, however, turns out to be remarkably drinkable.

The full name of this beer is Rogue Voodoo Doughnut Pretzel, Raspberry & Chocolate Ale, but when I smelled it, the dominant aroma wasn't Pretzel, but chocolate - the kind of cheap chocolate used in Easter eggs, I think. There's also a decent backbone of malt somewhere in the background.

The palate is very sweet - perhaps a little too sweet for a 5.4% beer - with plenty more of the cheap chocolate notes, along with a very enjoyable malt flavour. The raspberries provide some tartness rather than any flavour, and I couldn't pick out any pretzel at all. None at all.

In conclusion, I'd have to say the packaging is something of a sleight of hand. This beer is much more sensible and beer-like than I had expected, and really rather enjoyable.


It Is To Disappoint

So I finally managed to obtain some Casa Lluch Verdil 2014, long after my precious few bottles of a previous vintage were finished. Of course, I failed to check all the details, and - dammit - they've switched to stelvin closures.

Now this is definitely carping on my part, because I do think the current vintage is a pretty decent drop, but it's not as good as it was before. I'm going to have to keep the rest of this case for years before it evolves to where I want it.

Anyway, here's what's good about the wine:

  • It's organic
  • It has a pretty label
  • It's a very obscure grape variety
  • It's really rather tasty, like so:-

The nose is fresh, light, and lively, with tart citric notes and a (very little) something mealy or creamy. The palate is tangy - grapefruit and lime, but also mouth coating and slightly oily. The lime note is almost coconutty (which ties in, I think, with the mealy note on the nose). The finish is refreshingly sour.

Overall, it's a direct, refreshing summer white (with enough weight to handle salads and other light dishes, I reckon). Just not as good as the previous vintage, that's all.


Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart 2002

By good fortune, today I was able to attend a lunch at Prestonfield House in Edinburgh, hosted by Billecart-Salmon, which served to introduce the recently released Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart 2002.

Arriving rather early, we sat on a rooftop terrace in the shadow of Arthur's Seat, sipping the excellent and bracing Vintage 2006 (a polyglot and slightly unhelpful name, omitting to mention, as it does, that this is an Extra Brut champagne, with a dosage of only 1.5g/l). The Vintage is a fairly new venture for Billecart, this being only the second release, but as we sit enjoying the sun and the fizz it is definitely my favourite Billy.

Some indeterminate time later we are ushered into a room which has never knowingly had any item of decor removed, ever, and there presented with the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2004. Immediately, this is my favourite Billy. It's honeyed, with a glorious perfume of white flowers and biscuit dough, and even a little buttery. The palate matches the nose perfectly, and the mousse is billowingly soft (all of today's champagnes were decanted, which allows the wine to breathe and lessens the rasping initial carbonic acid bite of a freshly popped bottle). Over time, as the fizz lessens, the wine becomes ever more vinous. Not in an obvious, Burgundian Chardonnay1 sort of way, mind you. Vinous, but still Champenois.

Production of the Blanc de Blancs is 30,000 bottles, using grapes sourced from five villages in the Côte des Blancs - I wonder which of the six Grands Crus was snubbed? Avize, Cramant, Chouilly, Oiry, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger or Oger?

After a slightly embarrassing interlude (the food was distinctly fleshy, and I had foolishly assumed that in 2015 an establishment so prestigious would automatically be acreophage-friendly) the raison de déjeuner is poured. The Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart 2002 is intense, complex, interesting, and distinctly youthful. Aromas of white and yellow flowers vie with fresh blonde wood and, oddly, malt. There's honey as well, but an older, spicier honey. The palate is balanced and rounded, salt and honey and lemon pith all complementing each other. As with the Blanc de Blancs there's a vinous quality which champagne rarely shows. Whilst I'm enjoying this fine fizz immensely, the Blanc de Blancs remains my favourite.

The Nicolas François is produced using Pinot Noir from Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ along with Chardonnay from Avize and Chouilly.

Billecart-Salmon is arguably the best of all the champagne houses. It gets my vote for its ability to produce wines that manage to fuse delicacy and intensity, finesse and sheer unadulterated hedonistic joy. Long may it thrive.

(Oh. We may well have drunk some Gevry-Chambertin and 30 year old Coteaux de Layon too. I wasn't really paying attention to the other wines)

1: I love Burgundy. But who can resist the opportunity to use 'Burgundian' as a put-down?


Waulkmill Mooseheid Perry

Perry seems to come in two varieties. There's the delicate, elderflower and fresh pear juice variety, and there's the more full bodied, tannic, occasionally funky type. The latter is much closer to cider, and can be very enjoyable, but the former, rarer version is, in my opinion, the more exciting drink. Mooseheid is very definitely at the cider-y end of the spectrum.

nose: initially very good in a brisk way, then rather sulphurous for a few minutes. With time and air, a proper woody (or tannic?), cidery funk develops.

palate: there's a light spritz. It's dry and fruity, with a light tannic note. Over time the pear flavours come through; very white pears, rather than green or yellow (I wonder if I'm actually picking up some stone fruit notes?). Overall it's well balanced, with pleasant tannins, and I reckon it's better than last year's bottling too,

Chris Harrison of Waulkmill brews a variety of drinks from apples and pears. Some, like the Irn Bru flavoured Clan McFannie, are alcopops. Mooseheid, despite the jokey label, is a proper perry. Waulkmill Mooseheid Perry: Very Good


Glen Garioch 1998 Vintage

At a tasting of the Glen Garioch range last night Phil Nickson of Morrison Bowmore Distillers (MBD) treated us to a preview of the latest vintage release, a 1998 distillation matured in ex wine casks, specifically Saint-Julien, a Bordeaux red wine appellation.

We started with the core expressions, the Founder's Reserve and 12 Year Old. These are drams of which I think highly, in part at least because they taste just right at 48%. This is not a common bottling strength, suggesting that it has been chosen for reasons of taste (easier to do if you only shift 19,000 cases a year rather than say 120,000 like Bowmore). Two sweet and spicy drams, good to very good.

Next was the cask strength 1999 Sherry vintage, first released last year. Very much in the bold spicy Glen Garioch style of the first two whiskies, it also showed loads of somewhat rubbery sherry, and a pile of sweet red fruits; tinned strawberries perhaps. The finish was treacly and spicy. Excellent.

Glen Garioch 1991, released in 2010, is an ex bourbon expression, dating from when Glen Garioch malted its own barley with a bit of peat in the mix.  A very elegant dram (most Glen Garioch is what I'd call powerful rather than elegant), with smoky honey and coconut notes and a milky waxy finish. Very Good.

And so to the drum roll dram, the new 1998 vintage. I have to declare an interest here. I am a claret fanboy, specifically the Northern Médoc, so I may be a little biased towards this dram. It's worth noting that Saint-Julien is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon, a cask type which is also used in the assemblage for Dalmore King Alexander, a superb whisky, albeit overpriced, and in the cracking Longrow Red from Springbank.

The spice notes I found in other expressions this evening were much rounder and softer in the '98. There was a qualitative difference in the fruit character too, with definite fruit-yoghurt notes, where the other whiskies showed dried fruits and lacked the creamy, buttery note. On the other hand, there is a bit of spirit burn, which the other drams didn't have. The palate is complex, with typical Garioch spice, soft buttery-treacle notes, and a wee touch - hard to pin down - of something savoury. Most decidedly excellent.

The one caveat I have regards the price. This release, 15 years old, bottled at 48%, costs about £100. The 1991, at cask strength and 19 years old, can be had for £70. It seems to me that MBD are cashing in on the current whisky bubble.

Or perhaps I just didn't like the whisky enough. Certainly, after the tasting, three people thought it was good enough to pre-order and pay for.

By way of a bonus, Phil then treated us to a wee taster of two other expressions, the Virgin Oak and the 1986. The Virgin Oak is delicious, although it perhaps ought to be called Bourbsky or Whisbon, since white oak is such a dominant flavour (irrelevant aside: naturalists say that a typical oak tree is home to some three hundred species of other plants and animals. Is it unreasonable to call humans the three hundred and first, since the flavour of oak is so important in so many human beverages??).

The 1986 was a fine, fine drop, and made all the finer by the subtle thread of smoke running through it. Since closing their floor maltings in 1994, Glen Garioch has been made with unpeated barley. On the basis of the '86, I would call that a big fat mistake.



To Edinburgh for the opening session of Create:Eat:Whisky, which I'd been looking forward to ever since the anCnoc #LightOnDark event in March, because the food/whisky pairings at that event, by Jelly & Gin, were so very fine.

The venue was hidden behind a very unassuming frontage, through a wicket in a battered old yard entrance near the bottom of Leith Walk in Edinburgh. I stepped through into a dark, peat filled space, beyond which I could see smoke drifting from the dimly glowing interior.

Inside, the old Nestle factory had been equipped for fine dining, with linen table cloths and little wooden boxes containing canapés.

After a very atmospheric introductory video featuring, Wizard of Oz style, the disembodied voice of Richard Patterson doing his "Hello, How are you" schtick we tucked into said canapés, including and some very fine Ayrshire Bonnet cheese, paired with Jura Elixir, a twelve year old expression. The whisky cheese combination really worked very well, especially in terms of texture (I think because Jura is a soft/mild whisky), and the fruit flavours in the pineapple chutney definitely enhanced the malt.

Jura, to me, is a decent malt, but not more than that. It's soft and easy going, and seems to suit palates not used to whisky. Perhaps this softness makes it easier to match to food. Or perhaps Jelly and Gin are geniuses. There were some outstanding flavours going on here.

Next was a wholly carnivorous serving, which looked ace but did not pass my lips. The whisky was Jura Prophecy, the heavily peated one. This is a super sweet toffee-ish dram with a goodly hit of mellow rounded smoke. Decent enough. Prophecy always reminds me that Jura likes to position itself as the whisky for every occasion. Every bottle of Jura has a kind of flavour wheel printed on the box with - would you believe it! - a Jura in every quadrant.

Third up was Origin with a pear compote. This was just delicious. The texture was right, the cooked pear brought out a similar note in the whisky, the cream I could have eaten by itself. Never before has Jura 10 Year Old tasted so good.

We finished with the Diurach's Own (a 16 Year Old) and some artisanal chocolates, which I didn't eat, preferring to take them home as tiny bribes for my family. However, I do know from other tastings I've done that Jura is the right kind of whisky for chocolates - if it were woodier the oak would seem bitter, and it's sweet enough too.

An aside: Jura emphasise (on this page) that the Diurach's Own is matured in ex Amoroso Oloroso sherry barrels. But that's just cheap Oloroso which has been sweetened, which is perhaps not the greatest recommendation.

The music (see below), subtle lighting, and props never intruded on the organoleptic experience, and the food pairings definitely made Jura taste much more interesting than it normally does. Well done to Jelly & Gin.


A Bruichladdich Tasting with Jim McEwan

Since 2001 Bruichladdich tins have carried the tag line "Progressive Hebridean Distillers". The 'Laddie has built a reputation as a distillery willing to experiment - Octomore, Black Arts, and the quadruple distilled X4 come to mind - and certainly the packaging is very modern.

Bruichladdich (like many an Islay malt) has also acquired a fanatical following, at least in part because of the work that Head Distiller Jim McEwan has done over the last thirteen years. So when Glasgow's Whisky Club invited him to host a tasting, there was a rush to sign up - I've never seen so many club members gathered in one place before.

Mr McEwan is a compelling and passionate speaker, and we were treated to a fiery defense of the Way of the Laddie, along with some great anecdotes of how distilleries worked in the 1960s. And of course, some very fine whiskies.

The first three were from the latest iteration of the Bruichladdich range. Bruichladdich Classic is a no age statement malt bottled at 50%, which replaces the Laddie Classic 10 Year Old (which was bottled at 46% and cost rather less). It has the pure, clean, malty character which, along with the lactic or sour note, defines Bruichladdich. Sadly, the new Classic isn't as elegant as the Ten. It's a fine dram, but the quality has dropped a notch. Here's hoping the distillery can manage to build up stocks to the point where the Ten can be reintroduced.

Bruichladdich Islay Barley 2007 is one of the products which justifies the "Progressive" tag. I wish more producers were exploring this kind of ultra local provenance, but at the moment there's just Bruichladdich, Kilchoman, and the not yet released Daftmill. Comparing it with the Classic, this whisky seems sweeter and creamier, and also more elegant. A very fine drop indeed.

The third "standard" was Port Charlotte. Again, no age statement (although peaty whiskies - for me anyway - seem to taste better at a young age). Really rather smoky, but also very very fruity, it still manages to show some of the Bruichladdich elegance.

The other three drams were (I think) cask samples. In the past you could be sure they would be released, but the latest Bruichladdich range is minimalist, so these may never be commercialised.

A 22 year old which has spent four years in a Haut Brion cask was my dram of the night. I have a real weakness for wine cask flavours, and this had everything I love. Elegance, vinosity, fruit (strawberry jam on buttered toast into raspberry balsamic vinegar), a slightly dirty note (faint struck match, plus very faint mushroom), it was truly complex. Superb whisky.

Don't even ask
A 28 year old from an Oloroso butt was perhaps not the best example of Bruichladdich character, but it was an outstanding example of sherry cask character. Rounded, sweet (but with big drying, grippy oak spice in the finish), nutty, treacle-y, I really enjoyed it. On reflection, there was some 'Laddie character to be found, in the balance and elegance of the finish. Another superb whisky.

We finished with some 2008 Octomore from a virgin oak cask. Of all the Octomore releases, I've only ever really enjoyed the Comus, which had some sweet wine cask influence. My first taste of this left my palate anaesthetised (64.7% ABV you see), but once I got over that the combination of ultra-peat and ultra-oak resolved into a rather tasty barbeque sauce effect. I'd still call Octomore a concept whisky rather than a drinker's dram, but this one was better than most.

At the end of his presentation Mr McEwan got us all to stand on our chairs with a foot on the table, so that we could toast each other properly (that is, by roaring at each other in Gaelic). All tastings should finish thus. A very fine evening. Here's hoping that 22 Year Old Haut Brion cask gets bottled sometime soon...