Monday, 10 October 2016 / Belfast Whiskey Walk - Review

On Wednesday 21st September 2016 I had the pleasure of witnessing the launch of two new and exciting Irish whiskey initiatives right here in Belfast. 

The first of these new initiatives was the new online hub "".  Brought to us by drinks company Dillon Bass, "" launched with the aim to create a "one-stop shop for fans of Irish whiskey" allowing them to find out more about their favourite tipple.

The website hopes to bring together all the latest news and views with a guide to Northern Ireland's best Irish whiskey bars and stockists alongside a history of Irish whiskey, whiskey event listings, blogs and much more. 

As Dillon Bass state themselves: "The Development of the new Whiskey Club initiative is the latest step in the company's efforts to share its passion for Irish whiskey, whilst celebrating the quality bars and bartenders that have played a role in shaping the Irish whiskey story."

For those of you who may not be completely aware of who Dillon Bass are, they are the owners of the largest whiskey portfolio in Northern Ireland.  They are without doubt firmly in the stable of all things Midleton with such brands as Jameson, Redbreast, Powers and Midleton whiskey itself.

Here in Northern Ireland, Dillon Bass certainly seem to be at the forefront of Irish whiskey with their recent appointment of Joe Magowan, formerly of The Vineyard, Belfast, as a dedicated Irish Whiskey Ambassador and going forward they see a very bright future for the local market.

Commenting on the launch of the new initiatives, Joanne O'Hagan, marketing director for Dillon Bass stated: "We believe there is huge potential for Irish whiskey to become a bona fide tourism product in Northern Ireland.  Our visitor numbers are growing and people want to visit Irish whiskey bars when they come here."

Now, whilst this first initiative may be solely for the domain of the internet the second initiative to be launched is a much more tangible experience.

In partnership with Dillon Bass, "Taste and Tour" have created Belfast's first ever "Whiskey Walk".

"Taste and Tour" have been going from strength to strength, for some time now, bringing to Belfast tours such as the "Belfast Food Tour", "Belfast Bar Tour" and their "Meet the Brewer - Brewery tour".  Now they can add the "Whiskey Walk" to their impressive portfolio.

Phil Ervine, director of "Taste and Tour", has commented on the launch of the "Whiskey Walk", stating that it is their aim for "people to finish the "Whiskey Walk" with a new found appreciation and knowledge of Irish whiskey and the Belfast bars that serve it."

As stated, I was lucky to be invited to take part in the first tour and I have to say it was thoroughly enjoyable. 

The tour began at Belfast's Jaffé Fountain where we were introduced to Joe Magowan, not bad for a Whiskey Ambassador to be accompanying each tour, passing on his knowledge and expertise.  From here a few steps took us into "Bittles Bar" for a Jameson, ginger and lime.

Inside Bittles we enjoyed our drink while listening to the story behind, what I would say is, Belfast's best whiskey bar. 

From here we walked through Church Lane to "The National" where we were treated to a cocktail demonstration, showing us how Jameson "Black Barrel" can be used to create a whiskey sour, and of course we received our own whiskey sour to sip through.

Onwards we went, through Waring Street and on to Commercial Court, where we ended up at the iconic "Duke of York".  Here we were served up a Powers "Gold Label" while Joe Magowan took us through the background of this legendary whiskey.

Another short walk and we were into "The Dirty Onion", which itself was previously used as a whiskey warehouse many years ago.  As we entered the bar we were greeted by the sounds of traditional Irish music while the unmistakable aroma of burning peat wafted across our noses.

Here we were treated to a "Boilermaker", an old school serve consisting of a Jameson "Caskmates" alongside a half pint of local Belfast stout.  Each drink complimented each other perfectly while Joe Magowan explained the history behind Jameson "Caskmates".

Last of all we ended up in the luxurious surroundings of "The Merchant Hotel" to enjoy a fine trio of Irish whiskeys.  Here we received a flight which included Powers "Three Swallow", Green Spot and the heavy hitter that is Redbreast 12 year old.

All in all a perfect ending to an excellent tour.

I think the tour itself will grow from strength to strength as time goes on.  Undoubtedly "Taste and Tour" will see how well it is received and add or change anything they feel they need to in order to make sure the tour lives up the high expectations us Irish whiskey drinkers have. 

For me the only thing I would suggest is that the tour should maybe highlight the role Belfast played within the history of Irish whiskey.  Maybe with a small nod to the likes of Dunville's or even Avoniel.  Even if it was only to pay recognition, I still think it would be a nice touch.

I will also briefly touch upon the cost of the tour.  The price of the tour is £60 which gets you, as stated, 5 bars and 8 drinks.  Given the cost of drinks in Belfast city centre these days, and the fact that you are accompanied by an Irish whiskey Ambassador, I think the price point is just about spot on.

The fact that a company has come out with something new for local Irish whiskey lovers is worthwhile in itself and I think it should be applauded.  Hopefully the tourists also take notice of this tour which will allow it to grow and become a firm fixture in the local bar scene.

Going forward there are 3 further tours planned between now and the end of January.  The upcoming tour on Wednesday 19th October already appears to be sold out and there are still tickets available for the two other tours on Wednesday 30th November 2016 and Wednesday 18th January 2017.  Anyone wishing to book a tour can follow the link posted below.

Lastly I'd just like to thank the whole team at Dillon Bass for the opportunity to be part of these new whiskey initiatives.

Until next time,



Taste and Tour - -

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Teeling Single Cask - Cask 926 - Madeira Finish - Review

As Irish Whiskey continues to grow it is obvious to many that The Teeling Whiskey Company are right at the forefront of it's growth.  Since their formation, in 2012, they have set a high standard with excellent general releases and the opening, in 2015, of their brand new distillery and visitors centre.

As mentioned, the general releases coming from The Teeling Whiskey Company are of a very good standard and this has allowed them to build a solid reputation, but if you want to delve deeper into the treasure trove of whiskeys they have in their possession then you should look a little further.

A more detailed internet search will reveal a wealth of other bottlings that should rouse the interest of any whiskey lover.  The main bulk of these bottlings are single malt, single casks that have been finished in a range of interesting woods and it is one of these type of bottlings that I wish to talk about.

Back in July 2015 the Celtic Whiskey Club sent it's members out a sample of such a bottling.  This was a sample of a Teeling Single Cask that had been finished in a Madeira barrel.  Initially distilled in 2002, at "an undisclosed distillery in the North of Ireland", the spirit was matured in a refill Bourbon barrel before being finished in a Madeira barrel for a period of a year.

The cask was number 926 which yielded 315 bottles at a natural cask strength of 55.9% ABV.  These were obviously bottled without chill-filtration and without the addition of any colouring.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Sweet with the malt and Madeira.  Distinctly "North of Ireland" and much like the Bushmills 10 year old.  Slight grassy note and quite green with green apple and unripe banana.  Wood influence is slightly understated.  Feels like the Bourbon barrel was quite tired and the Madeira barrel has had more of a say with some sweet, dried fruit and a little damp, dusty note.  Subtle clove and black pepper.  We now get more of the Madeira notes with some orange oil and over ripe red apple.  The spirit still has a nice vibrancy and the balance isn't too bad.  With time a little creamy vanilla comes through and binds the flavours together.  With water the experience instantly becomes more like Christmas cake with touches of cinnamon.  The madeira influence is coming into it's own and works well with the malt.

Palate - Sour, bitter arrival.  Moves towards the sweet momentarily before jolting into pepper and clove.  As the heat eases we drift back to sweet red apple and orange but the spice continues to linger in the background.  With water the sour arrival is balanced out towards the sweet fruits.  Emphasis is on red apple, red currant and old wood.  The spices still try to have their say but are much more subdued.  The light vanilla also makes an appearance on the palate and again brings it all together.

Finish - Decent length with more red apple and dry spice.  Fruity to the end and becoming fresher, with water, as the spice seems to die first giving the dram a moreish feel.

Overall this is a good, decent dram.  Classic young Bushmills with a nice Madeira touch, almost like a younger brother to the Bushmills 21 year old.  When poured neat, the spirit is a little on the feisty side.  It definitely takes a little water to calm it down and bring the flavours together, but it's very worthwhile to get a new Bushmills experience.

This sample was of particular interest to me as I have a very similar bottle in the house, except my bottle comes from cask number 935 and was bottled at 55.5% ABV, and the whole time I was sipping at this sample I couldn't help but think that cask 926 just wasn't quite as good as cask 935. 

This, however, only backs up what I have said before in that this is what makes single cask bottlings so interesting.  Never will you get two casks the same and this will lead to each cask delivering a different experience into each bottle that comes from that cask.  For me, this alone is reason enough to seek these bottles out.  What I find excellent, others may find slightly disappointing or vice versa, but this only adds to the enjoyment of whiskey.

Lastly I would like to make one other point.  While I have been mentioning Bushmills, quite a lot through this "Teeling" review, I would like to heap praise upon The Teeling Whiskey Company. 

Everyone should be obviously aware that Teeling are a new distillery, and naturally can't have their own spirit at this age, so therefore they have to have stock from other distilleries in order to get their name out there.  But what they also have is the skill and expertise in order to make sure that the liquid in a "Teeling" bottle lives up to the reputation they are aiming for.

As we have seen, a little too often, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to obtain stock from elsewhere and throw it into a hastily released product.  But what we have also seen is that this only leads to poor quality products which reflect badly on an industry that is trying so very hard to make a strong name for itself.

What Teeling are doing, however, is ensuring that, through excellent cask management and innovative ideas, they are strengthening the name of Irish whiskey and one can almost be certain that this will continue long past the time when their own spirit will be ready for bottling.

Until next time,



Monday, 18 April 2016

Redbreast - Single Cask 1999 - Review

For many years now people have asked me what my favourite Irish whiskey is and while it may change occasionally, depending on my particular mood, the answer they usually get is "Redbreast 12 year old".  I've always found myself drawn towards the Redbreast family for their superb use of sherry maturation combined with some of the finest Irish Single Pot Still whiskeys you could find.

I've attended many a tasting, sat in many bars and have even been lucky enough to taste some samples straight from the barrel, and I'm always taken aback by the wonderful flavours coming from the Redbreast whiskeys.  From the smooth and creamy 12 year old to the heavy hitting cask sample of 17yo, Oloroso matured, Single Pot Still, that bordered on the meaty side of the flavour spectrum, they all have their place in the Redbreast family.

Last year we were treated to a new release in the form of the Redbreast "Mano a Lámh", a dram I've still to review, and this year those at Midleton, and The Whisky Exchange, haven't let us down, although they may have let our bank managers down.

In March 2015 Billy Leighton, master blender at Midleton Distillery, brought two Redbreast single barrel samples over to the staff at The Whisky Exchange and after hosting a tasting, with their customers, barrel #30087 was selected to be bottled and exclusively sold through the online retailer.

Cask #30087 was first crafted back in 1996, at the Antonio Paez Lobato Cooperage in Southern Spain and was subsequently toasted and seasoned with Oloroso sherry at the Paez Morilla Bodega until 1999.  The cask then enjoyed a journey to Midleton where it was filled with Single Pot Still spirit and laid to rest, in warehouse M15A, until August 2015, some 16 years and 147 days later.

The whiskey was removed and bottled, without chill filtration and at a strength of 59.9% ABV, for sale through The Whisky Exchange's website.  It is now found online, after being fully released a couple of months ago, at the handsome price of £180 and it's also worth noting that this is naturally a limited release with only 576 bottles being made available for sale.

I've always suggested that I would be loathe to pay such a price for any bottle of whiskey but thankfully I managed to get a small sample of this awesome sounding dram for review.  As much I was looking forward to tasting the liquid I was also looking forward to seeing if this could change my mind and make me think that I'd spend such an amount on a bottle of my favourite spirit.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Rich and indulgent with intensely sweet sherry.  Alcohol soaked dried fruits, deepest, darkest Christmas cake.  Slight nuttiness, peppery red fruit and mixed berry compote.  A little delicate note of cream appears and gives it a slight blackcurrant cheesecake feel.  This is most definitely a sherry bomb and while not quite as "meaty" as the sample I mentioned earlier,  it's definitely on the right track.  With water the dram opens up to allow orange and apple to come through.  Water also gives the fruit a distinct freshness, almost like a fruit salad, while also bringing out older notes of the wood.  Impressive, very impressive.

Palate - Thick and velvety.  Fantastic mouthfeel like a thick berry coulis.  Nutty notes from the nose continue before moving onto intense peppery spice.  The spice seems to be a gorgeous mix of wood spice and the pot still elements.  You really need to "chew" through the sherry to reveal a little stewed apple, think apple and blackberry crumble.  Deep stewed orange and a little vanilla cream also come through.  With water the mouthfeel, naturally, thins out but it does not lose any of it's gorgeous flavours.  If anything it has softened the sherry down just enough to allow the red fruits to really come into their own and it still retains a lovely dry oak spice.

Finish - Is very good with spicy red fruits lingering on and on in the mouth.  Delicious.  A word of warning though, in my opinion this needs only a little water.  This is definitely a dram to take care with so start with very little water and work up the way if required.

Overall this is quite simply stunning.  It hits all the right notes in all the right places and you could easily spend a couple of hours with one glass, just to let it open up naturally and reveal all it's hidden depths.  Having previously tried, and enjoyed, the sample from the warehouse it's so good to see a general release that's in the same ballpark. 

Earlier I mentioned that it would be interesting to see if this whiskey could encourage me to spend £180 and do you know what?  I think it maybe just has.  It really is utterly fantastic.

Until next time,



Monday, 4 April 2016

Echlinville - Port Morant Rum Finish - Preview / Review

While attending last years "Whiskey Live Dublin" I was lucky enough, whilst chatting at the Echlinville stand, to nab a sneak preview sample of a whiskey they shall be hopefully releasing later this year.

Since establishing themselves, not far from Belfast on the Ards peninsula, Echlinville have been quietly going about their business.  Not only have they set about producing their own spirit, which is already maturing away in a range of casks, but they have also revived the much revered "Dunville's" brand.

This revival has continuously gathered momentum with the Dunville's 10yo PX Sherry Finish recently picking up the award for "Best Irish Single Malt - 12years & under" at the World Whiskies Awards......for the second year running.

Now they are planning to add to their range of finished whiskeys with a new release later this year.

In 2015 Echlinville acquired some 14yo whiskey, my guess is that it may be from Cooley, and set about placing it into some very interesting casks.  Echlinville seem to have pulled out all the stops and managed to get their hands on rum casks from the exclusive Port Morant distillery in Guyana.

The casks have held the flavoursome rum for many years and are now transferring the aged flavours onto this Irish whiskey.

The sample I received was after the whiskey had only been in the casks for a few weeks but the finished release will have seen the whiskey being possibly finished for up to a year which may make this a 15yo release.

For information the sample I received was at 50% ABV but it remains to be seen what strength the final release shall come out at. 

I would also just highlight that this is obviously no more than a general indication as to the quality of the whiskey, and how it may fare with a serious rum finish, and any notes listed below should be slightly different to the final release but, as you will see, I doubt there will much to worry about with regards how the final release should taste.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Initial note is of intense tropical fruit, banana, pineapple and a little melon.  There's also a little green apple going on in here.  Creamy vanilla combines delightfully with the fruit to give a sense of a glorious dessert.  Fruit salad sweets.  A little dusty old oak comes through and is almost sherry in nature.  There's also a little prickly spice but not too much and the whole experience is very well balanced.  Rum notes are present but are very subtle with rum and raisin ice cream.  Definite sense of dried fruit which only backs up the sherry feel.  With water the oak is toned down and the fruits seem to marry together like a stew.  Touches of orange also appear.

Palate - Rich and indulgent.  Initial hit is of serious oak maturation which is dry and spicy.  This gives way to more of the tropical fruit salad flavours.  Banana and green apple are to the fore.  We then move back to the wood influence with more dusty dried fruits that ease into a spicy dry pepper.  Quite complex and delicious.  With water the fruity notes of the spirit appear to be elevated with a distinct zing about them.

Finish - Fresh apple and dry spice with decent length.  A little buttered note appears right at the end.

Overall I'm impressed.  If this is a sign of where Echlinville is heading then they've got my attention.  It seems that with this 14yo, and the previously mentioned 10yo, Echlinville are getting their hands on some great whiskey and putting their own touch on it with some amazing casks. 

This whiskey has already taken on fine fine notes of tropical rum and could be an absolute beast of a whiskey come its release date.

The only thing to query is what price the finished product shall hit the shelves at?  My answer would be that, as along is it's not outrageous, it should be well worth it.

I'm genuinely starting to get excited about the direction Echlinville is heading.  All I can say to them is please give us more of he same and roll on the day your own spirit is ready for us all to enjoy.

Until next time,



Saturday, 2 January 2016

Bowmore - Mizunara Cask Finish - Review

Happy New Year!!

Back in August, last year, whisky based social media began to explode with a hashtag of #EastMeetsWest and the reason behind this was the long awaited new release from Bowmore, their Mizunara Cask Finish.

Now, NAS whiskies, with a fancy finish, are certainly nothing new, and you'd be right for questioning why such a whisky was getting so much hype, but it seems the unique selling point behind this whisky was the fact that it had been finished, for around 3 years, in Mizunara oak, which had been exported from Japan for the first time ever.

Mizunara casks, whilst widely used in Japan, have, until now, never seen the shores of the British Isles and I was certainly interested to see how this exotic wood would impact on a classic peated malt.

The whisky itself is made up of whiskies distilled in the 1990s which would mean that all whiskies involved in this bottling could maybe be between 15 and 25 years old.  Given that this is a NAS whisky I would guess that we are looking at the lower end of this spectrum and Beam Suntory knew fine rightly that if they were to stick an age of 15yo on this, at the price it retailed at, then eyebrows would be raised even further than they already were.

Moving onto the price, a look around most websites shows that, when in stock, this retailed at around £650!!!  Further investigation would suggest that the inevitable arrival of these bottles onto the auction scene has seen them reach around £1000 per sale.


The release was limited to 2000 bottles and the whisky itself was bottled at a cask strength of 53.9%.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Delicious. Soft gentle peat, as you would expect, with soft toasted oats and rich porridge.  Ginger biscuits.  The fruit borders on the tropical with cooked banana, watermelon and spiced orange.  Nice note of vanilla chocolate which leans towards milk chocolate.  There's a few dusty notes in here that give a sense of age.  With water the wood becomes more prevalent and it is smoked in nature...naturally.  It also becomes more vibrant with intense orange cream.

Palate - Bitter, acrid smoke arrival but this is not as unpleasant as it's sounds.  Definite hint of salt.  As the arrival eases the fruit starts to appear but it needs a little water.  Just before the water was added there was a little dry wood and wood smoke.  With water the bitterness is eased just enough to let the orange and smoke to come together wonderfully.  The casks still have their say though with a lip smacking intensity.

Finish - Great length with the fruits becoming fresher and the mouthfeel becoming drier, think of an intense dry white wine.  At the end the soft Bowmore peat comes back for one last hurrah and this entices you back in for a another sip.

Overall this is a great whisky and a great example of an excellent Islay distillery showing that you don't always have to be all Ardbeg with your peat to get the peat experience across to whisky drinkers.  The Bowmore style is one that I am enjoying more and more each time I encounter it.  This is no exception, the softness of the peat marries perfectly with the fruits and you do get a sense that the wood has brought this all together.

That said, I do have a few issues here.  Firstly, I don't really get what this wood has added to what I've already tasted before from Bowmore.  Maybe a few more tropical notes but nothing mind blowingly different. 

Secondly, the price for this whisky is quite simply OUTRAGEOUS.  In my opinion, those of you who paid the £650 when it was released are crazy, and those of you who are paying £1000 for this at auction need locked up for your own good.  Yes this is a very tasty whisky but I'm going to make a suggestion that might send a few of you over the edge.

There is another Bowmore expression, that I have enjoyed in a similar sense, and it won't cost you the earth to buy.  For me you can all keep your bottles of Mizunara Cask and I shall stick to the Bowmore "Small Batch Reserve".  

At around £35 a bottle this won't break the bank and, for me, is just as tasty.  Slightly different, for sure, but a clean, crisp, peated whisky that shows off a soft character whilst showing the classic Bowmore spirit off in a relatively natural form.

Well that wraps that up and lastly I would to say a special thanks to all who have read this blog over 2015.  Unforeseen circumstances meant that my writing tailed off towards the end of 2015 but this is now 2016 and I shall be getting back into the swing of things with plenty of reviews coming up.  Hopefully you shall enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy tasting them.

Until next time,



Monday, 9 November 2015

Glenleven Malt Whisky - 12 year old - Review

As we move into the festive season many people are, as always, on the lookout for something a little different to buy for the whisky drinkers they know and, whilst any fan of whisky should be happy with almost anything they receive, it is always nice to see people taking the extra time to find something that's maybe not always available on the supermarket shelves.

One excellent way to achieve this, without breaking the bank, is to keep an eye on the various online whisky auctions.  These auctions do have many collectable items,  at eye watering prices, but they also have many unusual, and older bottles, that won't hurt the wallet and will give said whisky drinker something truly out of the ordinary.

This is what leads me on to this review.  Last year, around this time, I made my first purchases from an auction site.  I managed to pick up this bottle of Glenleven and a bottle of Dimple, another older blend.  The final bidding price for each was £12.50 and with postage I was able to get these two, now unseen bottles, for about £20 each.  For me this is an awesome price to pay for something that can't be found anymore.

A question would always be if what you are buying is in anyway decent, and with a little online research you may be able to get some information, but I find that the adventure of opening up a bottle of an unknown, older whisky is reward in itself and, in fairness, most older bottles I've tried have different great qualities to them.

Moving onto this bottle of Glenleven, it is a 12 year old blended malt whisky, or pure malt, or vatted malt, or whatever way you choose to describe it.  Essentially what this means is that it is a blend of various single malt whiskies and in this case it is specifically a blend of 6 different malt whiskies.  While it is unknown exactly what malts are involved I have received information that two of the malts may be Glenkinchie and Glenlossie.

It was bottled back in and around the 1980s, at a slightly larger amount of 750mls and at a strength of 43% ABV.  The last info, as seen in the picture, is that it came from John Haig & Co. Ltd.

I don't care what anyone else says, for me, a 1980s bottle of whisky, containing only single malts, at 750mls and at 43% ABV for £12.50 (plus postage) is a bargain.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Old,  rich and indulgent.  Starts off with old wood, dusty wood, wood sap and pine.  Maybe a hint, just a hint, of wood smoke, probably from the casks.  Stewed apples, stewed oranges and a nice spirit undertone.  A little citrus and a little PX sherry with dark dried raisins.  All in all this is velvety and very inviting.  With a little water a lovely Jamaican ginger cake note arrives with more wood sap.

Palate - Old and smoky arrival.  Again this is definitely wood smoke and not earthy peat.  A little heat from the spirit and at this point it feels like a little water would help.  With water we get the apples and oranges but this time they feel a lot fresher.  Water also brings out a lot more of the dusty notes and with time we go back to the stewed, sherry notes.

Finish - Perfectly fine with a great mix of fruit juice.

Overall this is a fantastic experience.  The flavours involved here are simply not that easy to find in today's bottles.  The old dusty notes and wood notes, in my opinion, are indicative of the style of whisky being made back in the 1980s and also may give some insight into the way it may have been stored.

I've no doubt that back then, the whisky was produced differently, casks were a little older in their lifespan, storage conditions may have been a little rougher, damper and generally not as clinically clean as some modern day storage facilities and this, for me, has led to some completely different flavour profiles.

I've noticed this in this bottle, older Dimples and Old Parr whiskies.

It is these differences that make this a special experience.  Yes we could all go out and keep buying standard bottles of blends and malts but every once in a while it should be an aim to find something different and, the bottom line is, we don't need to spend hundreds of pounds to achieve this.

Happy hunting.

Until next time,



Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Whisky Magazine's "Battle of the Blends" - Review

Back in the December '14 / January '15 issue of Whisky Magazine "the battle of the century" was about to commence as we were advised of an upcoming, 8 round, "Heavyweight Championship Bout". 

No, Whisky Magazine had not suddenly decided that a little coverage of pugilism was required to beef up their publication, but rather this was the beginning of a serious battle of two heavyweights of the whisky world.

Dave "The Rummager" Broom and Neil "Copper Dog" Ridley were being brought together to put their considerable whisky knowledge to the test and to battle each other in attempting to create the perfect blend.

Starting off with identical 20 litre, first fill, American oak casks, which would be toasted and seasoned with a high strength neutral spirit, the contestants would kick things off by seasoning the casks with whatever liquid they so desired before commencing their blend.

A few ground rules were also set out:

1 - The first fill of each cask would be 1 litre of Clynelish, from the Highland region.

2 - All regions of Scotland had to be incorporated and there was no order as to their use.

3 - Each bottle used in the blend had to be commercially available in the UK and cost under £50, apart from a wildcard bottle.

4 - At least one grain whisky was to be used with no restriction on it's origin.

5 - One wildcard was to be used.  This could be a whisky from anywhere in the world but, again, had to be commercially available in the UK and cost no more than £150.

6 - The blend was to be under 50% ABV when finally bottled.

7 - A minimum of 15 litres of blend had to be prepared.

8 - There was no restriction as to the amount of each whisky category that could be used.

9 - The blend was to be completed by 1st September 2015.

As the contest got underway the first task, as mentioned earlier, was for the contestants to season their 20 litre casks.  Dave Broom opted for a rum seasoning whilst Neil Ridley went for a homemade blend of sherries consisting of Oloroso, Manzanilla, PX and Palo Cortado.

Over the course of the next 8 / 9 months the readers followed along as Dave and Neil battled with the components of their respective blends.  There were highs and lows as each blend ebbed and flowed with balance and flavour.

In the end the blends finally came together and what had been created were two blends packed full of diverse whiskies that were sure to challenge each other and fight for dominance in any drinkers glass.

Dave's blend included whiskies from Clynelish, Teaninich, Girvan, Cameronbridge, Greenore (Cooley), Caol Ila, Aultmore, Springbank, Kilkerran (Glengyle), Ardmore and Glenkinchie.

Neil, however, went for whiskies from Clynelish, Aberlour, Dailuaine, Nikka (Miyagikyo), Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, Highland Park, Arran, Bowmore, Overeem, Hazelburn (Springbank) and Springbank itself.

With both blends completed a winner had to be found and what better way to decide on one than by getting the readers of Whisky Magazine to sample each blend and submit a vote for their favourite.

Not knowing how many samples would be available I stuck my name in to volunteer and luckily enough I was one of the many selected.

The samples arrived, courtesy of "Drinks by the Dram", and I set aside a night to really give these the serious tasting they deserved.

I'd like to point out that at the time of tasting, those of us, who had volunteered to sample the blends, had nothing but a "Blend A" and a "Blend B" in front of them.  The tasting was therefore "blind" and truly fair.

However, at the time of writing, the results have now since been published and I have also shown which contestant blended which sample.

Onto my notes:

Blend A - 42.1% ABV - Now known to have been blended by Neil Ridley

This was marginally the darker of the two blends.

Nose - Green apple leading to waxy smoke.  Becomes more sherried with some dried fruit and hints of tropical, over-ripe, pineapple.  Pine wood / pine sap which then softens out with oak vanilla, orange marmalade and a little dustiness which hides just underneath.  A little note of BBQ wood chips comes through and with time a mellow sense of oak effect appears.

Palate - Sour arrival but quite smooth.  On second tasting there's a little more of a kick from the spirit with sweet malt, lemon drops, black pepper, vanilla and more wood sap.  Juicy with apples and still get a sense of the dusty wood.  In terms of smoke, there's just a little lurking in the background.

Finish - Quite good, a little bit of length with nice, dry wood spice.  Stewed oranges and apple crumble.  Quite lip smacking.

Blend B - 43.5% ABV - Now known to have been blended by Dave Broom

Nose - Candied fruits leading to light smoked bacon.  Smoke continues with dried wood smoke.  Quite spirity and a little bit hard to get into.  Does begin to open up with a little orange and lemon.  A little dried fruit and cinnamon.  After a little longer a coastal note comes through with mineral peat.  The longer this spent in the glass the more the peat came to the fore but all the time the nose retained it's spirit feel with a little added vibrancy from more lemon.

Palate - Youthful with orchard fruits and a little chilli heat.  More orange but to be honest a little one dimensional.  As with the nose the peat eventually comes along and is a nice change of direction.  Combines with the zesty lemon to give a salty lemon note, think aftertaste of a tequila shot minus the overpowering nature of the tequila spirit.

Finish - Just ok and, in fairness, maybe a little too confused.  Still not coming together and possibly the peat has cancelled the other elements out without being enough on it's own.

Overall this was every bit the "ding-dong" contest you would come to expect from an actual heavyweight boxing bout.

Blend A started off much the better with it's openness, and accessibility, being the highlight while it's counterpart remained very much closed up and difficult to get into.  This despite Blend B showing off some nice notes of peat.

Moving onto the taste, Blend A carried through it's flavours from the nose nicely whereas Blend B, initially, went along a one dimensional route and, as I waited for each to develop in the glass, Blend A brought along mellow notes of sherry and wood sap whilst Blend B refused to budge.

It was towards the end that Blend B began it's fight back.  As Blend A showed overall balance, and tailed off with some nice dusty wood, Blend B went a totally different direction offering up delicious peat which was mineral, coastal and earthy in nature.

With the finish, Blend A remained balanced, and well rounded to the end, but it has to be said it carried this off with little excitement throughout. 

Blend B's last minute injection of peat was a nice surprise but was also to be it's ultimate downfall, as this led it's finish to feel somewhat confused.

With these final thoughts it was clear which blend had come out on top - Blend A.

Looking back now, I am drawn to the amount of grain used by Dave Broom combined with his choice of rum seasoning for his cask.  In my humble opinion this appears to be where the problem of Blend B began.  The use of 3 different grains possibly caused a lack of depth and allowed the Caol Ila element to dominate too easily.  The use of rum also seems to have been an issue as Neil Ridley's choice of sherry was noticeable throughout his blend and seemed to bind it together with depth of flavour.

Whether I am even remotely close with this evaluation, or not, is somewhat irrelevant, as either way this has been a great experience which has taught me a thing or two about blends and how different flavours can work together, and also how they can not.

I have to take my last moments to congratulate Whisky Magazine on a quality feature.  To have a running article that allows readers to follow along and ultimately take part in the finish is outstanding.  It has been an absolute joy to be part of this experience and am already looking forward to next years contest.

If Neil Ridley is to come back, to defend his crown, then he will bring with him a far greater insight into what is required to make a blend work and I can only see the quality of the blends becoming better and better.

Similarly, Whisky Magazine will also be able to see what rules worked and what other rules they could maybe add in the future to allow for a greater test of blending skill.

Until next time,