Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Compass Box - Great King Street - The Artist's Blend - Review

Back in the year 2000 John Glaser, an American ex-pat with previous experience in the wine industry and an excellent knowledge of the whisky industry, decided to create "Compass Box Whisky Company", with an emphasis on evolving practices in the industry to make Scotch whisky more approachable, and relevant, to more people.

Right from the start his ambition was to create an exciting whisky company that re-established the standards for quality and style within the industry and, with this vision, Compass Box soon gathered serious momentum which, in turn, was backed up by releases of new, imaginative whiskies that pushed the boundaries and grabbed attention. 

Some of these releases included:

"Spice Tree" which, in it's initial form, ruffled a few feathers at the Scotch Whisky Association.  This was subsequently adjusted and is now presented as a blend of Highland malts that have been aged in special casks that have been fitted with new French Oak heads.

"The Peat Monster" which is a blend comprising of an Islay malt and other medium peated Highland whiskies.

"Hedonism" which is a unique blend of grain whiskies that have been mostly aged in first fill American oak casks.

All releases appear a little different from "the norm" and all seem to point towards the company heading in an exciting direction.

The innovation does not simply stop with the contents of their bottles as Compass Box have added a top notch website into the mix.  Visitors to this well maintained site are treated to nothing less than an intoxication of knowledge, and insight, that is rarely seen elsewhere in the whisky industry.

Compass Box don't hold back when discussing their whiskies and will go as far as they legally can to inform their fans, and customers, as to what is in their bottles.  Such transparency is hardly commonplace and, while I understand the absolute need for certain secrecy, I am drawn to the refreshing nature of Compass Box's openness.

Now that I've given a quick overview of Compass Box I shall move onto the whisky at hand - Great King Street (The Artist's Blend).

Compass Box believed they had identified an issue with "blended" whiskies in that people had grown accustomed to taking the term "blended" to mean that the whisky was somehow inferior and, with this in mind, they set about creating the Great King Street range.

In order to change these perceptions the premise behind the Great King Street range was to show these persons, that would otherwise shun "blended" whisky, that this style can be excellent and, to achieve this, they adopted a course of action to marry "the very best whiskies that have been aged in the finest quality oak".

The two styles that have been created, so far, are the Artist's Blend and the Glasgow Blend.

For these styles they have brought together a high proportion of malt whisky, over 50% in the Artist's  Blend, with grain whisky that has been completely matured in first fill American barrels.

With regards the Artist's Blend, specifically, the "no holds barred" attitude towards information sharing is displayed brilliantly on their website with the following details.

The Artist's Blend is made up of the following:

46% Lowland grain whisky
28% Northern Highland single malt whisky
17% Another Northern Highland single malt whisky
9% Speyside single malt whisky

And with regards maturation they continue:

66% First fill American oak
26% New French oak finish (New-headed barrel)
8% First fill sherry butt

All of these components have been brought together with no chill-filtration, no colouring and have been bottled at 43% ABV.

Amen to all that!!

Onto my notes:

Nose - Fresh and clean.  All butter lemon biscuits, soft light grains and gentle orange.  I have to say that I picked up a slight sense of a light fresh coastal feel with a touch of sea air and a little mineral chalkiness.  No smoke here whatsoever.   Milk chocolate, soft raisin and a light malt sweetness which is smooth and creamy.

Palate - The soft light grain dominates the arrival and is ably backed up by the malt component.  Fresh citrus, lemon, orange and now some nice peppery notes that give a good lip smacking warmth to the experience.  A little wood sap, from the casks, gives a green feel and again the whole style is smooth and sweet.

Finish - Light pepper, apple and citrus which is again clean, fresh and delicately delicious.

Overall this is a fantastic blend that, in my opinion, is ideal for the summer but would stand up at any time of the year.  Undoubtedly well made and displaying a strong complexity.  I'm not one to say that the term "blended" means inferiority but this certainly has raised the profile of the category.

I personally felt this had a slight Irish feel to it, with a gentle nod towards some of the good grain coming from Cooley, and, after reading the openness of the ingredients online, I was hooked into seeing how well the components would work together.  In this case, there's no doubt at all, they work exceptionally well.

I'm all for whisky companies pushing the boundaries in the right way, with a true understanding of how to make good whisky, and having sampled what Compass Box are creating I, for one, will be back for more.

I've included a link for the website below and strongly urge you all to have a good look yourselves and see what they're up to.

Lastly I'd just like to thank Kirsty and Stewart of whiskycorner.co.uk for the sample, cheers guys.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Compass Box Website - http://www.compassboxwhisky.com/index.php



Thursday, 12 March 2015

"Bottle Your Own" Jameson Whiskey

Today, Thursday 12th March 2015, Brian Nation, master distiller at Midleton Distillery, launched a new initiative which invites visitors to the Old Jameson Distillery, Dublin, and the Jameson Experience, Midleton, Cork, to hand fill their very own bottle of Jameson whiskey.

Fans of the Irish whiskey can personally fill a bottle of Jameson Select Reserve Cask Strength Black Barrel from a live bourbon cask.  Visitors can then personalise the label by hand with their name, the date and the whiskey’s cask number and ABV, before logging their personal details in a "Bottle Your Own" ledger, becoming a part of the Jameson legend.

The newest member of the Jameson family, Select Reserve Black Barrel is a blend of rich, Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey and a rare small batch grain whiskey, which is triple distilled in small quantities just once per year.  The expression is available at its natural cask strength for the first time and exclusively through the Bottle Your Own facilities at the Old Jameson Distillery, Dublin, and the Jameson Experience Midleton in Cork at the cost of €100 per 70cl.
 
The original release of Black Barrel came with a RRP of €45 and this is obviously a mark up of €55 but for me I think this is fine idea and one that will surely prosper year on year.  I've no doubt that demand will be high and this offers fans of Irish whiskey, who happen to be in Ireland for a quick visit, the chance to take home something truly special and personal to themselves.
 
I might just get a bottle myself very soon.
 
Until next time,

Sláinte

SI
 
 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Abrachan (Lidl) - Blended Malt - Review

Just before Christmas I was doing my usual rounds of the supermarkets, checking out what delights were on offer, and upon passing a local branch of Lidl I thought I'd take a quick peek in case there was something different on the shelves.

How right I was as I immediately spotted a bottle not previously seen by myself.

This "own brand" bottling was named Abrachan.  Now normally I'd not be too interested in such a product but after checking out the packaging I was a little more intrigued. 

The information I was getting was that this was a blended malt, seldom seen these days, and was a triple matured whisky having drawn upon malt whiskies that had spent time in bourbon barrels, Oloroso sherry butts and Tawny port pipes. 

A further check revealed a bottling strength of 42% ABV and that this whisky had come to us courtesy of Clydesdale Scotch Whisky Co., Glasgow, G2 5RG.

Now, the reason I included the postcode is that after a little searching on the internet I discovered that this postcode is the very same used by Whyte & Mackay and relates to their headquarters on St. Vincent Street, Glasgow.

As highlighted within a recent Facebook group, Whyte & Mackay have a large range of whiskies to choose from, above and beyond those from their own distilleries, and therefore your guess is as good as mine as to which whiskies have been used to make this blend.

Pleasantly surprised at the fact this was blended malt, triple matured and bottled at a higher than usual 42% ABV I decided to take a punt whilst quietly telling myself to expect very little, after all it was a supermarket own brand released specifically at Christmas.

Very little is what I got.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Not too bad but very young and unbalanced.  All the usual red fruits were here with the slightest hint of buttered creaminess but all in all they were not integrated well.  The main problem was a distinct off note that smelt rather like rotten eggs.  Could this be my first experience of a sulphur laden cask??

Palate - Thin, watery, young, raw spirit that's had what feels like just a slight influence of possibly 3rd fill casks.  Again very unbalanced and a little nasty.  Only real positive was a slight red fruit note that dried on the mouth but this really isn't too far off being flavoured vodka.

Finish - What finish?

Overall one to definitely be avoided.  Whilst I commend supermarkets for going a little bit further in getting a decent, supposed, presentation out there, with the 42% and all, they really need to start taking a little interest in what's going into the bottle.  It's hard to believe that everything in here is malt whisky as it's so flat and raw but I suppose the distilleries do have to get rid of their crap somehow.  I don't know whether I'll stop buying these supermarket brands or not, in the hope of unearthing a gem, but please at least try to keep us coming back for more.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Royal Salute - Tweet Tasting - Review

Back in December last year I took part in fantastic Tweet Tasting, hosted of course by Steve Rush of "TheWhiskyWire.com", in which all involved were presented with 4 samples from the ultra exclusive "Royal Salute" brand.

The samples on show were the 21 year old, Diamond Tribute, 38 year old Stone of Destiny and 62 Gun Salute.


First released in 1953, as a tribute to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the Royal Salute brand epitomises luxury with the entry point for the range being 21 years old.  In their own words they begin where others end.

For a full run down of the whiskies I'm about to cover feel free to check them out on the Royal Salute website by clicking right here.

Royal Salute - 21 year old blend - 40% ABV

Nose - Tropical pine sap, fresh cut wood, mashed banana with intense orange oil combined with lemon and honey.  Fruit salad sweets and a light buttery note that coats everything nicely.  Oak vanilla is highly evident.  Slight menthol and with time darker notes appear in the form of fruit cake and dried fruit.  Freshness holds up very well.

Palate - Intense fruit and spice arrival which is extremely juicy and quite warming.  Citrus bitter lemon, sweet orange, red apple and clove.  Smooth woodiness keeps everything soft and mellow.  Creamy buttered gingerbread.  Aged wood starts to dry into the finish.

Finish - Slightly short but drying with light spice and red apples.

Overall this is a fine blend with a great marriage of flavours.  As with all these whiskies time is required to fully appreciate the quality that lies within.  Not sure I'd pay the RRP for any of these whiskies but if you have the money then by all means splash out.  Whilst you will be buying something that looks good and tastes good I can't help thinking that there are other bottles out there that would offer better value for money.

Royal Salute - Diamond Tribute blend (21 year old) - 40% ABV

Nose - Not dissimilar to the 21 year old, which is no surprise due to the same age, but this has a much more fresh green feel via some fresh cut grass and a touch of a mineral note.  Orange oil and lemon are still here and now with a distinct brown sugar sweetness.  As with the 21yo, this becomes more "sherried" and rich with mixed spice, Christmas pudding, vanilla cream and indulgent banoffee pie.

Palate - The mineral note on the nose is still apparent on the arrival and this is not as spicy as the 21yo with everything being a bit sweeter and softer.  Sweet and sour lemon drops, light apple and some more oak feel but, as with the spiciness, this is not as drying as the 21yo.  This is more of a fruit juice dram.  Just as it develops, there is a faint hint of dry smoke lingering in the background which is not so much peat but possibly from the cask.

Finish - Longer than the 21yo but just the same with spice and apple.

Overall this just edges the 21yo due to an extra level of flavour and complexity. 

Royal Salute - 38 year old Stone of Destiny blend - 40% ABV

Nose - Intense and tangy with a fine sense of age, wood sap and old dusty leather bound books.  This is a serious step up and you just don't get whisky made like this anymore.  Menthol, milk chocolate and orange oil combine to give a Terry's chocolate orange feel.  Some redness in here too with strawberries and redcurrants coming to the fore.  Light clove spice with a delicate wood spice that's extremely well balanced in the make up of all the flavours.  Some more light wood smoke. Rum and raisin ice cream.  Loads going on here.

Palate - Sharp arrival that instantly gives way to old dusty malt that still packs a serious punch when it comes to flavour.  Wood influence is instantly obvious as the dryness begins early and continues throughout.  Dark fruits, peppermint, stewed oranges and blackcurrant jam.  Extremely rich and indulgent.  The wood influences asserts itself further with tingly spice and some more dry smoke.

Finish - Medium with rich dark fruit and winter spice.

Overall this is a brilliant blend.  For a whisky of 38 years of age to retain so much freshness and flavour is a marvel.  The age is quite obviously there but balances so nicely with the spirit and cask flavours.  In honesty though I, again, wouldn't pay the RRP which appears to be the high side of £550.

Royal Salute - 62 Gun Salute blend (40 year old) - 43% ABV

Nose - To be fair this is not as obviously old as the 38 year old.  Sweet tobacco, coffee beans, cocoa, dark chocolate orange, banoffee pie and cinnamon snaps.  This is slightly perfumed and the wood smoke again flirts in the background.  Soft pine, wood polish and a sense of some really old sherry wood which is quite simply fantastic.

Palate - Damp, old dusty wood that's packed with spice and tannins.  Sweet intense orange, pine sap, ginger cake, lemon oil and dry spice.  The spice holds back just enough before moving onto thick brown sugar syrup and melted butter.  More Christmas pudding, butter biscuits and light dry smoke that moves towards a lip smacking finish.

Finish - Longish with an excellent feeling of luxurious red apple.

Overall this is a serious glass of whisky and something everyone should try at least once.  Again far too expensive to justify but the experience of sampling something so old, and so different to modern day whiskies, is one that should be sought out.

Throughout this range there is a clear style of flavours running alongside some serious cask influence and to that end the master blender has done a great job.

All I have to say is a seriously huge thank you to Steve Rush at TheWhiskyWire.com for the opportunity to sample something so unique and another thank you to Chivas Regal / Royal Salute for the samples.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI
 

 
 
 

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Jameson - Caskmates - Review

In anticipation of the up-and-coming St Patrick's Day holiday, and an impending trip to Midleton Distillery over the holiday weekend, I thought it only right to bring you all a quick review of a Jameson whiskey that is quickly gathering a cult following amongst the collectors out there.

I am, of course, talking about Jameson "Caskmates".

This limited edition whiskey is born out of a collaboration between Midleton Distillery and the Franciscan Well Brewery which is based in Cork City.  After managing to get their hands on a few Jameson casks, Franciscan Well aged some of their stout in the barrels as an experimentation.

Once finished with, the casks were returned to Jameson who decided to give the process of experimentation a rattle themselves.  Jameson took their blended spirit, at around 60%ABV, and filled the newly returned barrels for around 6 months. 

The results were deemed to be so successful that Jameson set about releasing 3,500 bottles of the "beer finished" whiskey for us all to enjoy and it was with this release that "Caskmates" was born.

Released with a RRP of €35 the majority of bottles were quickly snapped up all over Ireland and are now rather difficult to track down.  The rarity of these bottles has also allowed the "collectors" and "investors" to cash in with many now appearing on various auction sites and one screenshot, I viewed back in January, showed a bottle going for at least £200...CRAZY!!

Thankfully though I managed to nab a couple of bottles at a proper price.

Rumour also has it that a second release is in the planning so keep your eyes peeled for those hitting the shelves.

Onto my notes:

Nose - What's immediately obvious that this whiskey has taken on a very new identity indeed.  The Irish style is not the first thing that hits you but rather an almost metallic, hoppy beer note.  The stout has had a serious effect on this spirit.  Undeniably youthful but well balanced with light grain and fresh citrus lemon integrating well with the touches of dark beer.  Coffee is suggested in official tasting notes but is not a prominent as you'd think.  The richness eases off and allows the young spirit to come to the fore with more of a light, gentle sweetness that's bordering on perfumed.  Light pepper sits nicely in the background and just keeps the pot still identity present.

Palate - Much deeper on the palate than on the nose.  Again the stout is ever present and gives a dark rich flavour to the whiskey that again has a slight metallic note to it.  As the deep flavours recede the light grain comes back in and holds up nicely with a slight dryness.  Dry spice comes through and there's a further feel of light lemon and some green apple.

Finish - In fairness short but sure just take another sip and enjoy it all over again.

Overall this is a whiskey that hits the mark.  It's not out there to blow you away with depth and complexity but it has plenty of it in it's own right.  It was brought together as an experiment and for me it has really worked.  The balance of flavours is spot on and this is, quite simply, great fun to drink.  At €35 this is a dram that's affordable and not lacking in care and presentation.  Some other companies should take note.  Whilst it may be hard to find there are still bottles knocking about and, for me, they are well worth seeking out.  As I said it's not the most breathtaking whiskey you'll drink this year but I doubt you'll drink anything that's more "fun".

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Glenlivet - Nàdurra - Batch 0113V - Review

Glenlivet distillery is one that I have had little experience of and naturally I jumped at the chance when a good friend offered me a sample from his bottle of "Nàdurra"

Nàdurra being the Gaelic word for "natural", it comes as no surprise that this expression is a no holds barred, cask strength, beast of a dram.  It continues to impress, whilst in the bottle, with information stating it's age of 16 years, the fact that it is non chill-filtered and has been matured in first fill bourbon barrels.

This particular batch is 0113V which was bottled, in January 2013, at a whopping strength of 56.9% ABV.  This expression can usually be found in supermarkets for around £50 and is also often discounted during key holidays such as Christmas and Father's Day.

With all the boxes seemingly ticked it only leads me to wonder why more distilleries don't offer so much apparent quality for a relatively small cost.  These thoughts are also relevant when talking about the current "NAS vs Aged Whisky" argument but I'll save my views on that for another time.

Onto my notes:

My first observation is that the whisky sits in the glass whilst displaying a beautiful oily texture that coats the sides well.

Nose - Intense spirit with big spices that touch on chilli pepper.  Buttered citrus and lemon oil.  Distinct white wine notes that intensify to almost grappa.  Vanilla is light and gentle with hints of green apple.  The fire of spice continues but never overpowers the spirit nor does it ever become too harsh.  Slight touch of dustiness also evident in here.  As the heat lessens we move back to a candied sweetness which is clean, crisp and fragrant with a little perfume appearing too.

Palate - Sweet, sweet fresh fruits that move over to allow the intense heat to come through.  Prickly, peppery heat arrives and oh my is it a serious kick.  This is more of an eye opener than was evident on the nose but thankfully it stops short of being unenjoyable, but only just.  More green apple and a touch of clove are the main points before I add a good amount of water.  This whisky can take the water so don't be afraid.  This allows the spice to subside a fair amount and the sweetness to return.  Sweet malt, lemon sweets,  apples and oranges.  There's some more dusty notes in here which give a good sense of the oak.

Finish - Huge sour apple sweets with more warmth.   Even after 5 - 10 minutes the apple taste is still rattling around the mouth.

Overall this is an enjoyable dram that pushes the boundary of harshness.  Big on the sweet fruits and spices this whisky really does not hold back.  I love the fact that this is delivered in such a natural form and much prefer this to a bottle of 40% averageness that's been thrown together.  Whilst this may not be to everyone's taste I feel whiskies like this can be of huge benefit when starting out on your whisky journey.  These types of expressions should be treated with patience which should allow even the most novice a chance to get into a whisky over time and find those notes that come from spirit and cask.

I'll be honest and say that whilst this hasn't knocked my socks off it is certainly a bottle I wouldn't think twice about buying and keeping in my collection as spirit that's been presented in this light can last a long time and always offer something different each time you reach for it.

Huge thanks to Jamie for the sample.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Sunday, 22 February 2015

New Release - Dunville's - Very Rare Irish Whiskey (2nd Release)

A while back you may remember I brought you all an exclusive regarding the re-emergence of the Dunville's Irish Whiskey brand and this was promptly followed up by a review of the "Dunville's - Very Rare", which was the first bottling to be released under the title of Dunville's in nearly 60 years.

To recap quickly I feel it is important, for those who haven't seen the original update, to quickly go over again where this re-emergence has come from.

Around the start of June 2013 a distillers licence was granted to Echlinville Distillery, which is situated on the Echlinville estate in the small town of Kircubbin, County Down, Northern Ireland, and with this it became the first Northern Irish distillery to receive a licence for over 125 years.


It is this very distillery, under the owenership of Shane Braniff, a businessman from the local area, who is also responsible for bringing you the Feckin' Irish Whiskey brand, that has got it's hands on the "Dunville's" brand and they are intent on reviving the great memory of Dunville's by producing a top quality product to sit in it's bottles.


Echlinville itself has big ambitions for it's own spirit and a quick look on their site shows that they are producing single malt and pot still whiskey, which seem to be maturing in a variety of casks, and the first releases of this unique whiskey should be with us by 2016.


In the meantime though, and as seems the norm, we have these releases of Dunville's appearing, not only to seemingly get the money rolling in, but also for, in my opinion, another more honest reason.  I get a genuine sense that Shane Braniff has a very real desire to get this once great brand back to where it belongs, not as a stop gap, until the distillery's own whiskey is released, but as a high quality product to stand proud in it's own right on the same shelves.


Whilst the ambition is there, and I wrote previously of my excitement of seeing the brand back in our off licences, there was, in my opinion, an initial let down with the first release of the Dunville's - Very Rare.


Not to dwell on it too much I shall simply say that I felt as though it was a rushed release with little substance and little care seemingly put into the finished product and it really showed when tasting.

  
A final point I also noted in the previous review was - "I fully understand the need to get the brand out there with this initial release but I feel if they are to release other bottlings, prior to their own spirit being matured, then, cost permitting, they should secure some matured whiskey that will really start to add a touch of quality to their brand."


Well, I must be clairvoyant.


Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to meet Shane Braniff where I received a bottle of what, apart from a slight change in labelling, is to be the next release of Dunville's - Very Rare and I have to say they are certainly going in the right direction.


This new release is a Irish malt whiskey that will be hitting the shops with an age statement of 10 years old.  Obviously not from Echlinville itself, the spirit has been obtained from elsewhere but "finished" by Echlinville in their warehouses on the County Down coast.


The finish is in the form of PX casks in which the whiskey has been rounded off for about a year and the added quality doesn't stop there.


This new release also benefits from a higher bottling strength of 46% and has not been chill filtered.  On speaking to Shane Braniff he is quick to point out that they do have a chill filtration unit on site, so to bottle this whiskey without the use of this facility is solely down to a desire to obtain that higher quality that the brand deserves.


I've included a picture of the label as it sits at the moment to give you an idea of how it will look when it hit's the shops.


As I mentioned there are a few last minute changes planned for the label, but once finalised the whiskey will be released with a price point of just under £50.  Considering the first release was £29.99 I feel an extra £20 for the extra quality mentioned is a fair amount.


Whether the whiskey itself is worth £50 remains to be seen but on initial taste I can say that there is certainly a lot of potential and I look forward to really getting into the bottle with the hope of positively reporting back soon that Dunville's is now hitting the heights it should be.


Until next time,


Sláinte


SI