Friday, 4 July 2014

Four Arran Whiskies (and 1 New Make) - Tweet Tasting Review

Those of you who follow me at @Whisky_Belfast will have no doubt noticed, on Monday evening past, my involvement in the latest fantastic tweet tasting to be hosted by Steve Rush from TheWhiskyWire.com.

This was the second tweet tasting to have been held in conjunction with Arran Distillery and having followed the first with envious eyes and salivating taste buds I was eagerly anticipating getting stuck into the 4 generous samples that were kindly provided by Arran themselves.

The moment the samples arrived at my door I was even more excited to see that they were accompanied by a small hessian bag that contained some malted barley, grist and........NEW MAKE!!!!!!!  A real treat indeed.

As I had admitted before, on a review of the Robert Burns Single Malt which can be found by clicking here, I have had very little experience of this distillery but at the same time I felt that the Robert Burns gave a good insight into the potential character of the distillery, hinting at a great spirit being aided by excellent casks.  Surely I wasn't to be disappointed on this evening?  Not a chance.

I shall quickly preview each sample before moving onto tasting notes for each:


Arran - New Make spirit

What else can I say other than this is, obviously, newly distilled spirit which comes in at a whopping 68% ABV.

Nose - Clove rock sweets, sweet malty raisins, rich and sumptuous, some stewed berries and with a little water a more cereal note comes through.

Palate - For the strength on show it is incredibly smooth and rich.  Dark dried fruits and more clove rock sweets dominate.

Finish - Evaporates at light speed off the tongue but is very tasty with sweet red apples.

Arran - 10 year old

Bottled at 46% ABV, without colour and non-chill filtered this is the latest release of their core bottling and is made with a mix of 80% bourbon barrels and 20% sherry hogsheads.

Nose - Lemon biscuits, fresh grassy note, light honey, buttery with mint / menthol through the background. More clove rock sweets that were found on the new make and with this the spirit style is evident here.

Palate - Sweet arrival, vanilla, more zingy lemon and now some orange. Initial warmth dissipates quickly to show some red fruit and red apples. With water the experience becomes sweeter.

Finish - Nice length, fruity, juicy and moreish.

This is a lovely light, fresh, summery whisky and obviously similar to the Robert Burns malt.

Arran - 17 year old

This is the last release in a trilogy counting down to the launch of the 18 year old in 2015.  The oldest official bottling from the distillery at the time of release, this was matured exclusively in ex-sherry hogsheads, bottled at 46% ABV and non-chill filtered with no colour added.

Nose - Tropical, banana on toast, orange, some more grassy elements but now accompanied with some perfume / floral notes.  Honey and mint with gentle pineapple.  The sherry cask has worked wonders with this and with some water an old woodiness appears.

Palate - Sweet red berries, red apple, warming spices, stem ginger, all spice, dark chocolate and stewed orange.  Fruit cake with lashings of butter and with water the spice reduces and the dark dried fruit influence increases.

Finish - Long, lingering, juicy and rich.

Fantastic dram with great range of flavours going on.  The balance between spirit and cask is near perfect.  Here's to the 18 year old when it arrives.

Arran - The Devil's Punchbowl III

In short the Devil's Punchbowl Series is a trilogy which started in summer 2012 and will conclude in 2014.  It is a blend of some of the finest Arran casks with this one having no peat influence but some influence of French barriques.  Bottled at 53.4% ABV, without colour or chill filtration this, last concluding bottle of the trilogy, shall be available very soon.  For a greater insight into this I shall add a link below.

Nose - Earthy and vegetal before sherry notes take over.  Xmas cake, mixed spice, creme brûlée, sweet orange marmalade.  Still tropical with banana and coconut.  Salted caramel and sweet & salted popcorn also make an appearance.

Palate - Intense spice, sweet malt and red fruit.  With water a more exotic waxy feel arrives with peppermint, clove and pepper.

Finish - Long and lip smacking.

To be honest, while this is again an extremely well made whisky, it's not quite my cup of tea.  A wee bit rough around the edges and a touchy spicy but as with all whiskies this may simply be a dram that you need to take your time with as you can still see certain qualities within.

Arran - Miss Black  

Bottled at 51.6% ABV this, distillery only bottling, is now completely sold out with your only chance of getting your hands on this awesome whisky being a constant trawl through the various auction sites out there.  This cask was specially selected by the Arran Distillery visitor centre manager Faye to celebrate her wedding.  Bottled at cask strength this sherry hogshead is just under 17 years old.

Nose - Rich, cocoa, coffee, stewed orange, banana, spicy coffee cake, brown sugar syrup, pineapple chilli jam, slight rubbery note (but not bad at all).  Moves effortlessly into rich red fruits, sweet tobacco / cigar, loads of dried fruit and with water it becomes more exotic with dark chocolate coffee creams......FANTASTIC STUFF!!!!

Palate - Sweet, rich and very, very smooth.  Dusty leather, dark chocolate, woody coffee, dried fruit and red fruit.  Stewed orange, chocolate orange and an amazing balance of sweet fruit and spice.  ABSOLUTELY DELICIOUS!!  

Finish - To be honest this one is a little short compared to the others but I simply do not care.

This is easily one of the best whiskies I have ever tried.  Amazing complexity and balance throughout and one which delivers on nearly every level.  Such a terrible shame it's no more.  I for one shall be keeping an eye on the auction sites.

Well, there you go, that is me now well and truly acquainted with Arran and I have to say, I've been missing out.

Once again a huge thanks to Steve Rush at TheWhiskyWire.com where anyone can apply to join in the fun of the tweet tastings.  It's a truly great way to experience fantastic whiskies and meet fantastic people.  A huge thanks also to Arran distillery for producing fantastic whisky and being generous enough to share it with us all.

As with all of my updates further, relevant links can be found below.

Until next time,

Sláinte


SI

The Whisky Wire - http://www.thewhiskywire.com

The Whisky Wire Twitter - https://twitter.com/TheWhiskyWire


Arran Whisky - The Devil's Punchbowl - http://www.arranwhisky.com/story/468




Friday, 27 June 2014

Midleton Very Rare 2014

Since taking over from Barry Crockett in March 2013, as master distiller of Midleton Distillery in Country Cork, I'm sure Brian Nation has already experienced many a high but I'm also quite sure that overseeing the upcoming release of his first bottling of the iconic Midleton Very Rare will be a moment that he treasures for years to come.

Launched in 1984 the Midleton Very Rare is a yearly release of 50 exceptional casks that have been handpicked by the master distiller and blended together to showcase all that the distillery has to offer.  This exclusivity and personal touch ensured that, from the first release, the Midleton Very Rare was to be revered and cherished.  An iconic status soon followed and now these bottles are sought out all over the world to be placed as a star asset in many a whiskey drinker's collection.  

All vintages are still available out there but be ready to pay a hefty price for the early releases with the Celtic Whiskey Shop, in Dublin City, offering the first release for a wallet beating €899.99.  Incidentally the very same shop can offer all of the 30 releases that have ever been released....up to this date.

And it is with this statement that I shall move onto the, soon to be released, 31st vintage - Midleton Very Rare 2014.

A good few weeks ago I arrived home to find yet another Dublin post stamped parcel lying in my hallway and upon seeing this amongst the other nonsense, that had been posted that day, I instantly became utterly excited as I knew that this little package of joy contained yet another sample from "The Celtic Whiskey Club".  Needless to say I was over the moon when I opened it to find a sample of the latest Midleton Very Rare neatly hiding within. 

For a little more insight into the whiskey itself it's worth pointing out that all Midleton Very Rare releases are a blend of the many styles of pot still whiskey made at Midleton Distillery along with some older grain whiskey.  The whiskey is matured in 1st fill bourbon casks which allows this to be regarded as one of the smoothest Irish whiskeys available.  With regards to age many age ranges are used, starting from around 12 years old all the way up to just under 30 years old.  

This particular bottling is bottled at 40% ABV.

As with all "Celtic Whiskey Club" samples a date and time is set aside for all lucky members to come together, via Twitter, for a "tweet tasting" and this particular tasting took place on Wednesday 25th June.  If you're quick you can still check out the tweets from the night via the hashtag #midleton14.

Here's my tasting notes:

Nose - Tropical with banana, mild orange and a nice underlying sweetness.  Unmistakably Irish and unmistakable pot still notes.  Initially the wood is understated but towards the end a distinct wood sap note appears which also gives a slight green / herbal feel to the whiskey.  Toffee and creme brûlée come through with the sweetness yet at the same time a lovely peppery spice sits in the background.  There's a great balance here between fruit, spice and sweetness.

Palate - Sweet, brown sugar, arrival.  Very, very smooth.  Pepper and ginger take over then give way to a green herbal note which feels more vegetal.  The fruit then starts to show with more banana, orange and now lemon juice.  Then after a few tastes the vegetal note turns back to the distinct wood sap that was found on the nose.  Very nice indeed.

Finish - Decent length with more fresh fruit and a tingling of ginger and clove all over the mouth.

Overall this is an impressive dram and an excellent start to the Brian Nation era of Midleton Very Rare.  The whiskey is balanced perfectly and the casks used have been particularly excellent with clearly a fair amount of life in them to deliver a wood sap note I've only ever experienced before in virgin oak matured whiskey.  

Long may his reign continue.

Thanks, once again, to the Celtic Whiskey Club and the Celtic Whiskey Shop for sourcing such a wonderful sample to enjoy.  I for one shall be renewing my membership when the time comes.

As always you can find some relevant links below.

Until next time,

Sláinte


SI

Celtic Whiskey Shop - http://www.celticwhiskeyshop.com


Celtic Whiskey Club - Facebook Page - https://www.facebook.com/CelticWhiskeyClub

Celtic Whiskey Club - Twitter Page - https://twitter.com/CelticWhiskeyCl


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Belfast City Airport - Duty Free

On a recent trip to England I had the delightful pleasure of flying out of the George Best - Belfast City Airport and had an opportunity to browse through the whisky selection within duty free.

Now any of you who have flown out of this airport will know that it is not exactly up there with Heathrow in terms of size, choice of shops or facilities but as far as a lowly Northern Ireland airport goes the whisky selection is not too bad at all.

As you edge through duty free, towards the magical shelves, the first thing that strikes your eye is a "2 for £70" offer on selected bottles.  At the time of writing this the bottles in this offer included - 

Aberlour 12yr 
Ardmore - Traditional Cask
Auchentoshan - Springwood
Benromach 10yr
Chivas Brother's Blend
Drambuie 15yr
Glen Garioch - Founder's Reserve
Glenrothes - Robur Reserve
Highland Park - Einar
Jura - Superstition
Old Pulteney - Noss Head
Woodford Reserve

In addition they have a "2 for £60" offer on Johnnie Walker - Double Black.

With each bottle being 1 litre in size I'm sure you'll all agree that £35 a bottle for any of these (or £30 a bottle of Double Black) is good value indeed.  I am of course saying this in the knowledge and recognition that the majority of these are NAS whiskies but when you are hindered by a small number of quality whisky shops, in Belfast, I feel these represent good value to try something a little different.

Looking elsewhere along the shelves you will find more duty free exclusives from distilleries such as Talisker, Glenfiddich, Bowmore, Glenlivet amongst others.

For those of you wishing to sample a dram from a little closer to where you are flying from they have a decent selection of Irish whiskies with Bushmills and Jameson represented well alongside standard bottlings of Tyrconnell, Connemara, Greenore, Kilbeggan and Tullamore Dew.  The only real exclusive of note amongst these was a Jameson Signature Reserve.

Lastly I'll also make mention of the service that is provided for those of you who wish to avail of these offers but are flying away on a short trip and don't want to have to carry a couple of bottles of whisky around with you on your trip.  If this is a worry then you can buy as much as you like and allow the airport to securely store these for you where you can collect them upon your return to Belfast. 

All in all I feel, that amongst a limited market, the duty free at Belfast City Airport is an extra outlet that can sometimes be overlooked and should maybe be considered more often for a chance to expand your whisky collection.

Until next time,

Sláinte.


SI

"World of Whiskies" website with more info on bottles and offers - http://worldofwhiskies.com

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Caperdonich 17 year old - Whiskybroker.co.uk

After the fun of reviewing the Big Peat tweet tasting last week I thought it was time to start working my way back through my collection and with this I decided it was time to get into two specific bottles that I had bought a while back from Whiskybroker.co.uk.

Set up by Martin Armstrong, Whiskybroker.co.uk is a company that was set up to source and sell casks of whisky to enthusiasts and clubs wishing to purchase larger quantities of whisky at cheaper prices per bottle.  In addition they also bottle a few more mature whiskies for anyone only wanting a bottle or two.

Obviously being only a lowly individual blogger I'm more suited to purchasing from, and commenting on, the individual bottles they have for sale.

A quick scan down through the online shop will show that they have a fine range range of whiskies available.  Most regions are covered with an excellent selection of ages and all bottled at very good prices.  Most are bottled at natural cask strength with all having no added colour and only lightly filtration to remove large particles of wood sediment.

Last year I made my first purchases from this site, treating myself to two types of whiskies I had yet to enjoy owning, a bottle from a closed / demolished distillery and a bottle of a decent age.  It is the first of these bottles that I shall be reviewing today.

First built in 1898, Caperdonich was originally known as Glen Grant #2 after being opened by the founders of Glen Grant distillery.  In it's initial form it only managed to last 4 years before being closed until 1965.  When re-opened it's name was changed to Caperdonich and in 1967 two steam heated pot stills were added to the distillery.  

Pernod Ricard bought the distillery in 2001 before closing it in 2002 and in 2010 the distillery was demolished for good.  

In it's heyday it was a component of some of the blends manufactured by Chivas Regal and in 2005 it's only official bottling was released which was a cask strength sixteen year-old.

The bottle I obtained from Whiskybroker.co.uk was, as stated, a 17 year old that was distilled on 13th May 1995 before being bottled on 14th February 2013.  It is a single cask bottling that has been bottled at 55.0% ABV and the further information states that this is a third release of 220 bottles coming from hogshead number 95068.

Onto my notes:

First thing I would like to say about this whisky is that it took a good 6 months and half a bottle to allow this whisky to settle down.  When first opened this was unbelievably feisty and struggled to show it's true character but it has now managed to relax itself down enough for me to get to grips with it.

Nose - When first poured this whisky coats the glass beautifully.  If without an ABV you would be in doubt that this was very strong in alcohol due to the liquid being thick and syrupy.  With a little time in a glass we start to get properly into the flavours.  Orange, clove, coconut, wood vanilla, menthol and bags of butter dominate.  There's some serious, sugary, sweetness going on, presumably from the malt, along with some mashed banana and red apple.  This is a real fruity number when given time.  With a good blast of water the nose becomes even more buttery with perfume and a strange zing that I can't quite put my finger on, maybe sherbet.  

Palate - Chokingly hot!!! Chewing through the alcohol drys the mouth out to extreme levels but if you work with it the fruit on the nose eventually shows through.  More orange and apple with hints of pear.  Still very sweet and creamy but hard to pin any other flavours down due to the intense alcohol.  With water the dram does become softer and in fact it can take a serious amount of water which does allow the fruitiness to take over.

Finish - Numbing with final finishes of fresh fruit.

Overall this is a great experience.  In my opinion this distillery had some amazing flavours within it's spirit which appear to have been outdone, in this instance, by a bad cut of alcohol / a poor cask being used.  I think the way this has been bottled is completely perfect as it allows you to see, naturally, the good and bad points of this distillery.  Without doubt I'm enjoying working my way through this whisky and it's certainly not one you can taste once and drink through quickly.  It takes time and patience to allow it to gradually open up along with a bit of experimentation with water to see how to best to extract all those flavours hidden deep within.

As far as my opinion of Whiskybroker.co.uk goes it is easily my favourite site to purchase whisky from due to its excellent range, style of bottling and fantastic prices.  Where else would I get a 17 year old demolished distillery and a 29 year old single malt for a little over £100.

In case you all fancy getting yourselves over to pick up a special bottle or two I've included a few links to Whiskybroker.co.uk below.

Until next time,

Sláinte.


SI

Whiskybroker main site - http://www.whiskybroker.co.uk


Whiskybroker Twitter - https://twitter.com/whiskybroker


Thursday, 29 May 2014

Ardbeg 23 year old - Director's Cut - Douglas Laing

Well here we are, the final update from the Big Peat tweet tasting that has taken over a good chunk of the whisky blogging world over the course of the last week.  As the previous four updates have shown Douglas Laing treated all those taking part to some absolutely stunning drams and the last one was no exception.

For the final sample of the evening we were privileged to have in our hand an unreleased single malt from none other than Ardbeg, arguably the most popular distillery on Islay.

Coming from Douglas Laing's "Director's Cut" range this was a 23 (YES 23!!) year old Ardbeg which was bottled at 53.1% ABV.  Other information provided stated that this was from a single cask which yielded 114 bottles and that the spirit was distilled in 1991 before being bottled in 2014.

Seeing as all whiskies were revealed after we had tasted them we all were absolutely stunned to learn that this was from Ardbeg.  Usually known for it's big peaty notes this Ardbeg just blew us away with it's stunning flavours and deep complexity.  As I nosed the whisky  the peat didn't arrive and as a result it reminded me a lot of the new Balblair '90 vintage which I previously reviewed here.

Onto the notes:

Nose - Tropical beyond belief. Banana, pineapple, coconut deep orange, bubblegum, banana on toast.  Banoffee pie and slight touches of blackcurrant cordial.  With time the age begins to show itself with distinct notes of sweet tobacco and leather dustiness.  Truly amazing.

Palate - Sweet, fruity with huge blackcurrant, strawberry, raspberry and in fact all berries seem to be present.  More tropical banana with definitely more of the old dustiness hiding within the whisky.  The strength is perfect, not too much at all and allows the spirit to completely open up in the mouth.

Finish - Long, lingering and completely fantastic!! Old and rich fruit combine with great wood spice complexity.  Totally moreish.  

Overall this is simply out of this world.  In my opinion this is very un-Islay like but still breathtakingly brilliant.  The fruitiness from the spirit has combined so perfectly with the cask to produce one of the finest drams I've ever had the pleasure to sample.  The fact that this comes from Ardbeg just impressed me even more.   It just goes to show that they don't always need to mess around with fancy, sometimes gimmicky, releases and instead they should treat us all to these utterly gorgeous whiskies that are lying dormant around their warehouses.  If they don't then thank goodness we have Douglas Laing who will.

Incidentally, if you wish to get your hands on this whisky you had best save up and keep your eyes on "Master of Malt".  With the price still to be confirmed I can only imagine this will cost a pretty but believe me it's worth it.

As with the last four updates, all relevant links can be found below.

Well that is that.  All five drams sampled and reviewed and I'm sure you can all agree what a set of whiskies they were.  

All I shall finish with is to once again thank Douglas Laing, "Big Peat himself" and of course Steve Rush at @TheWhiskyWire for this amazing opportunity.  I can highly recommend to any new whisky fans, or experienced connoisseurs, to get themselves onto Twitter and check out @TheWhiskyWire.  The tastings that Steve Rush manages to set up are nothing short of fantastic.  Thanks to social media, @TheWhiskyWire allows us all, experienced or not, to get involved in the world of whisky while making new friends, expanding our knowledge and trying some of the best drams around.  Can't argue with that.

Until next time,

Sláinte.


SI

The Whisky Wire - http://www.thewhiskywire.com

The Whisky Wire Twitter - https://twitter.com/TheWhiskyWire



Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Big Peat - Batch 59 - Douglas Laing

As promised I'm back again to bring you my review of the penultimate dram of the recent "Big Peat" tweet tasting which was superbly hosted, as always, by @TheWhiskyWire.

For this fourth dram we were treated to the big man's own dram - Big Peat himself.

Bottled at 46% ABV, Douglas Laing's "Big Peat" is a blended Islay malt containing spirit from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and, amazingly, Port Ellen. It's reputation is further backed up by the fact it picked up the top prize in its category at the World Whisky Awards 2010 and for those anoraks out there this sample was from batch 59.

Nose - Buttered cut grass, smokey lemon, salted caramel and more lemon with it becoming more like zingy cheesecake.  Peat and smoke soon take over with the saltiness from the salted caramel becoming more coastal.  A well rounded nose with great balance of peat and spirit fruitiness.

Palate - Soft sweet smoke, still extremely well balanced and very smooth.  Some darker dried fruits arrive and combine with the citrus notes on the nose to make something similar to the dried fruit citrus mix you would get for making cakes.  The alcohol contained within is not drying in the slightest and given time in the mouth disappears to allow the dram to become very like a fantastic apple juice.

Finish - Clean, short and very refreshing.  Fresh fruit juice ending.

Overall this is everything I expected it to be.  A perfect blend of all that's great about Islay.  The fantastic peat, the fruity spirit and the coastal style that only comes from maturation on the rugged island itself.  An excellent dram and well worth the price which is very reasonable indeed.  One could say a whisky that everyone should own.

Well after the four drams we had sampled I could get a great sense that something very special was about to be unveiled as the grand finale...and how right I was, 23 year old Ardbeg no less and I shall return tomorrow to bring you my notes on this absolutely awesome whisky.

As with all of these updates relevant links can be found below.

Until next time,

Slainte.

SI

Big Peat by Douglas Laing - http://www.thewhiskyexchange.com/P-10738.aspx

The Whisky Wire - http://www.thewhiskywire.com




Monday, 26 May 2014

Bowmore 12 year old - Old Particular - Douglas Laing

Here we are again to follow on from my recent update, where I introduced the "Big Peat" tweet tasting, to take you onto the 3rd of the 5 drams sampled.

For the third dram of the evening we headed north from the south coast to the oldest distillery on the island, Bowmore.

This dram is 12 years old and comes from Douglas Laing's "Old Particular" range.  Bottled at 48.4% ABV, this bottling is from 1 refill hogshead which was filled in 2001 and bottled in 2014.

Onto the notes:

Nose - Mashed banana, fresh, gentle smoke. Smokey bacon which becomes more earthy with smoke becoming mineral peat. Distinct hints of toasted oats and milk chocolate. Very appetising.

Palate - Initial blast of good quality peat. Very contrasting sweet and sour notes flash around the mouth. Milk chocolate raisins, sweet malt and sour lemon sweets.

Finish - Long and juicy yet slightly drying.  Flavours go on and on making this very moreish. The peat remains to the very end.

Overall this is a fantastic malt. Great depth and complexity surround it. The constant peat is welcome as sometimes, in my opinion, Islay whiskies can die away at the very end. The sweet and sour contrast is extremely engaging with perfect levels of both which are highlighted by the great flavours that accompany them. Top notch stuff and highly recommended.

As with all of these updates relevant links can be found below and I'll be back tomorrow with the 4th dram sampled.

Until next time,

Slainte.

SI