Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A Trio from The Glenlivet

It's a good thing to revisit some classic whiskies every now and again. With new and exciting editions coming out seemingly daily it's easy to forget what some of the big names that started it all have a lot to offer, it's just that they just might not shout so loudly. The Glenlivet is massive in single malt terms. It's the second biggest seller in the world with an eye on the 10 million (12 bottle) case in a year sales figure that only the mighty Glenfiddich has ever surpassed. OK, it's wee drams compared to its big blended brothers, Ballantine's and Chivas, but it's certainly one that most whisky lovers will have tried at some point. 

This is a flight of three from their core range; the 12, 15 'French Oak Reserve' and the 18. The latter I have covered briefly before on this blog as part of a write-up of a Pernod-Ricard Scotch tasting, but like I say it's always nice to give whiskies a bit of a retaste and a rethink. Whisky's the world's most complex spirit and so if someone's taken the care to mature it for 18 years I suppose it's not a bad idea to spend a bit of time with it at the far end!

Glenlivet 12 

Floral and honeyed, with red apple. On the palate the barley comes more to the fore, and it has an unexpectedly dry core. The finish has a slightly bitter edge which detracts a little from the gorgeous nose which for me it the whisky's strength. Still, a good Speyside all-rounder. 

Glenlivet 15 'French Oak Reserve'

On the nose there's a lot more spice, although that apply note is still there, just maybe baked into a crumble with lashings of brown sugar and cinnamon. The extra maturation seems to integrate the dryness of the palate more with the finish - it's less unexpected, seeming to flow a bit more smoothly. That said it's not a massive leap in complexity, just a little more mellow and content with itself. 40% abv.

Glenlivet 18

By eighteen years old I think the whisky's really asserted itself - the apple crumble is there but it's as if the traditional, somewhat staid, recipe has been taken on by a modern TV chef with a kitchen full of crazy gadgets and ingredients. There's more of everything - dried fruits complement the staples, and the spice wrestles its way from nose to finish, changing all the way. This time the finish loses that bitterness, settling on a more generous, sweeter if still dry, and somewhat moreish note. 43% abv.

Whiskies like these are the tip of a scotch whisky iceberg, They're the most visible of the luxury, single malt category, and so in a way it's reassuring that they are of such obvious quality - if nothing else it's a reminder of what the others have to do to keep up the standard - but also, to quote Morpheus, they hint as to 'how deep the rabbit hole goes.'


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Three Discontinued Balvenies

Since I've neglected Whisky Wednesday for a while I thought I'd hit back with a trio of official bottlings (not that you get many unofficial ones) from Balvenie, all of which are now discontinued.

The 15 Single Barrel has a new incarnation as a Sherry cask Single Barrel, but there are still a few of the old Bourbon Cask expressions knocking about. The other two I'm not so sure, the Peated Cask is definitely getting very scarce, and there is a new Single Barrel 12 (all bourbon cask) that is roughly the replacement for the Signature in the core range.

Balvenie 12 'Signature'

Three casks; olorosso sherry, first fill and refill bourbon. It took a while after pouring to show its aromas; hints of vanilla and a bit of honey but somewhat reclusive! On both the nose and the palate the bourbon casks are more influential than the sherry. It's an easy-going dram, but then so is the Doublewood, which this is not as pleasant as since it seemed to have a bitter note that I've never picked up in the Doublewood. For me that bitterness is a bit off-putting. In a commercial bottling like this it's unlikely to be feints, and in a 12 year old whisky it's unlikely to be over-oaking, but there is a theory that because it's bottled at 40% the water has broken down oils leaving notes that aren't that desirable. This seems to be quite plausible although it makes me wonder why this doesn't happen in the Doublewood 12.

Balvenie 'Single Barrel' 15

Just the one bourbon cask for this one, each cask producing a 350 bottle run. This really does what I expected the Signature to do, with none of that unpleasant bitterness. On the nose it's like a fresh vanilla slice (icing sugar, custard) leading to honey sweetness on the palate. It's the good elements of the previous expression but taken to a new level by getting rid of the bad. I'd say this one will be missed from the range, but having tasted the new 12 year old single barrel I think that will fill the gap nicely - as a fresh bourbon cask, easy-drinking summery whisky I think it's hard to beat at the moment. I've yet to try the new 15, but I'm looking forward to doing so. Bottled at 47.8%.

Balvenie 'Peated Cask' 17

This one's genetic make-up is rather more complicated. It's not a peated whisky as such, but a non-peated whisky matured in a cask that has previously had peated whisky in it. While for previous 'peated cask' expressions they used casks that had contained Islay whisky, the casks for this were used to house a Balvenie created with peated malt from their own floor maltings. Around 60% of this whisky was made in this way and that was married with whisky from new oak casks.

Initially on the nose the peat overpowers the usual Balvenie attributes but after standing for a while the first dairy notes I got faded to be replaced by something a lot more interesting and pleasant! On the palate it really shines; it's floral, with orange blossom and incense notes combining with Balvenie's characteristic vanilla sweetness (presumable accentuated by the new oak) to balance the ashy dryness of the cask influence. This one is about as far away as you can get from being along the conventional Balvenie lines as you can get, but some of the distillery character does shine through, and it makes for one of the most challenging expressions I've tried from a distillery I enjoy, but often find their whiskies almost a bit too easy! I wonder what happened to that whisky that seasoned the casks? Bottled at 43%.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Los Muertos Brewing Co. Pair

I'll admit to being drawn in by Los Muertos' packaging here, I think those skulls revived the teenage metal fan a bit. Was I just suckered because of something that shares a thematic link to Entombed? Well, maybe, but if that was the only case then I was certainly more encouraged by seeing the brewery featuring over on Phil's blog than I was from previous excursions into Mexican beer territory.

First up was the 4.8% 'Queen of the Night' Pale Ale, which was actually more orange in colour, almost like a blood orange. It didn't have a lot of aroma, although on the palate it had a good pithyness although I felt it would have benefited from being crisper. Decent enough, but I suspect it lost something in the journey across the Atlantic.

The 6.8%  'Dead On Arrival' IPA on the other hand seemed, rather ironically, to have survived a bit better. It was more aromatic, and with all you'd expect form an American style IPA, bags of tropical fruit and grapefruit hoppy bite. Very tasty indeed.

So one beer that really seemed to last the journey and one that didn't so much. Still, always good to see something more innovative happening than persuading idiots connoisseurs to stick fruit in the top of something because otherwise it tastes of nothing 'that's what they do in Mexico'.

They cam, I think, courtesy of Ales by Mail, although I forgot to note down how much I paid for them.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Nottingham Pubs

The folks over at Harviestoun recently asked me to write a guest post for them about my five favourite pubs in Nottingham

Now I’m sure there are all sorts of blog posts around about drinking in Nottingham. I suppose like most UK cities it has a rich brewing history, and there are loads of great pubs. A quick look at a copy of the Good Beer Guide (even if it’s the one copy I own dating from 1993) points you toward some pubs that have been regular haunts for visitors for a very long time. Now my recommendations are no sleight on those pubs that are something of a ‘must visit’ for visitors to Nottingham, but having lived here on and off for more years than I care to think about, there are some places that I would (and did) recommend that are maybe a little more off the beaten track. They are places that I drink when I go out to pubs now, having lived in Nottingham, and even at times lived in its pubs, for a large chunk of my adult life. These pubs are also entirely biased to where I have worked and played since I have lived here so apologies to some fine boozers that are not in my part of the city. It’s all personal, so go and have a read, hopefully enjoy it, and make other recommendations!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

William Grant & Sons 'Rare Cask Reserves'

This was a trio of (over) 25 year old whiskies selected for The Whisky Shop by a mixed team of staff and customers with guidance from Brian Kinsman; William Grant & Sons' Malt Master. They're all blends, but of different types of whisky, the results being a blended scotch, a blended grain and a blended malt.*

I tried these both with and without water. I also read through the master blender's notes beforehand to try and put them in a logical order, although I did retrace my steps. The idea was to try to pick up as much as I could from each whisky.

Batch No: 1/052500 - Blended Grain Scotch Whisky (47% abv)

Nose: As I usually get from grain whiskies, particularly older ones, there's decidedly more secondary notes and very little primary fruit. That said, amongst the vanilla and oak there's hints of burnt orange and cereals that are revealed a bit more once water is added, even if they're a little lost in the initial nose.
Palate: It's more powerful that I'd have thought from the nose. The sweetness is more muted too. Medium bodied, with lots of spicy nutmeg and cinnamon. Water allows more of the mixed peel to come through but this is by no means a fruity whisky, it's all about those grains playing off each other.
Finish: There's buttered wholemeal toast and a lingering oak spiciness.
Conclusion: It took a while to open up and for me get into it but there's no doubting the complexity and the quality here. It's certainly got more character at 25 years than I've encountered in some single grain whiskies at an older age - maybe a tick in the 'for' column for blending?

Batch No: 1/062501 - Blended Scotch Whisky (47% abv)

Nose: Again there's a lot of cask-created aromas on the nose; cigar-box and vanilla, with more depth to the oxidised, almost rancio notes than in the first dram.
Palate: For me this really blooms when water is added; once there's a drop of water in there that somewhat brutal cask influence is mellowed out a little and the flavours seem to spread out. I got more spices, along with hazelnut and dry coconut - the American oak influence really kicks in.
Finish: There's a touch of wood-smoke and a bit of a dry, harsh note to the finish, although that harsh note disappeared once I re-tasted with water.
Conclusion: There's a bit more going on here than in the blended grain but I think that it almost becomes a bit out of balance because of that. Still an interesting dram but not as enjoyable as the first.

Batch No: 1/042501 - Blended Malt Scotch Whisky (47% abv)

Nose: Although this was the most aggressive of the three on the nose it was no Islay bruiser. I got cinder toffee (or these even), caramel and vanilla.
Palate: Lots of flavour, if all a bit jumbled up again without water. This whisky does really gets the taste-buds excited though. Once water is added there's a bit more harmony to the palate; sweet toffee providing excellent contrast to powerful spicy dried fruit.
Finish: This is the first time I detected an Islay influence, when taken without water there's a hint of peat on the end there, although that dissipated with the addition of water.
Conclusion: I thought this had the greatest depth of flavour of the three whiskies; it was the one for me that really had a little spark that made me want to dive back in and try more.

I'm not sure my meagre tasting notes do these whiskies justice. The rarity that brings about a £250 price tag means they're in serious whisky territory, but they also seem so experimental, or at very least unconventionally branded, that they're aimed at the serious whisky geek. Because of those factors it's difficult to say whether the price is justified, but they were fascinating to try. There are more details on how the whiskies were put together in The Whisky Shop's magazine 'Whiskeria'.

* See definitions for those categories here.