Sunday, 5 July 2015

Benromach - 15 year old - Review

At the start of the year I posted a review of the Benromach 10 year old, which I had sampled at a masterclass at last year's Whisky Live Dublin, and in that review I touched upon the pride I felt Benromach were taking in their whiskies and how whiskies of such obvious quality should be the ones that are paid most attention.

As previously mentioned Benromach are pushing themselves forward by recreating whisky in a style that would've been seen coming from Speyside back in the 1960's and it is certainly paying dividends.

Fast forward to May and excitement grew as Benromach announced the latest addition to their already impressive range - Benromach 15 year old.

Priced at just under £50, the Benromach 15 year old has been bottled at 43% and has been matured in a mix of bourbon and sherry casks.

Upon receipt of a sample I was obviously eager to get the chance to see how this measures up against the very impressive 10 year old.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Rich. Lovely interplay between damp wood smoke, slight menthol and fruits that range from red berries to baked apple to tropical notes of ripe banana and then onto some orange marmalade.  As it softens in the glass a distinct buttery note comes through the gentle smoke.  In time the nose balances out perfectly and retains a zesty zing of citrus.  Spices are minimal in the form of black peppercorn and cinnamon.  With a touch of water a green grassy note appears along with some nice oak char.

Palate - Incredibly smooth and slightly sour arrival.  Sweet oranges and lemon drops are to the front and followed by rich malty notes that border on malt extract.  The smoke is even more gentle on the palate and is also less than what I remember from the 10 year old.  The extra time in the casks has clearly rounded this off very well indeed.  Spicing is again well balanced and again is only the merest hints of cracked black pepper.  With water the sourness eases to allow sweeter notes through.  Buttered popcorn, sweet orange and crisp citrus.  A slight sense of the smoke returns in the form of charred wood and the palate rounds off with light berry and oak spice.

Finish - Lovely length with dry oak spice, red fruits and crunchy red apples.

Overall this is another stunner from the team at Benromach.  With the slight smoke running through the luscious sherry notes they really have, in my opinion, started to get that old style feel to the whisky they are producing. 

Over time I have tried many different whiskies that were bottled long ago, and each time I've tasted them I've always wondered if we would ever see anything similar in the future as the older bottled whisky really is so, so different.  With this Benromach 15 year old I am now starting to see serious similarities.

You could bottle this into an old bottle from the 60's, 70's or 80's and I doubt too many would question that it wasn't from that era.  That said I am honest in saying that my experience of older bottled whisky is not extensive but what experience I have had would definitely add up to this conclusion.

For years people have always asked me what my favourite whisky was and my answer has always been the likes of Redbreast or maybe Balblair and, while they are still answers I shall give, I can now honestly add Benromach into that list.

This really is seriously good stuff and at a price of under £50 some other big companies should sit up and take notice of how easy it is to get things right

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI
 
PS Huge thanks to Benromach for the sample.
 
 

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Quiet Man - 8 year old Irish Single Malt - Review

Last month I brought you all an update regarding the release of two new expressions of Irish whiskey from a brand named "The Quiet Man".

Based in Derry City, "The Quiet Man" is the new brand of Niche Drinks ,who are planning big things with a £15 million distillery hopefully to be started later this year.

As I mentioned before, once up and running they shall be producing triple distilled malt whiskey that will be "as traditional and as authentic as possible" but, as with all of these new companies, the problem always remains of how to bring in the cash while building and waiting for your own whiskey?

The favoured route seems to be to buy up stock from other Irish distilleries, add your own touch and release under your own name.  And with "The Quiet Man" this business model is no different.

For some years now Niche Drinks been buying, and maturing, grain and malt Irish whiskey, both new make and already partially matured.  It is from these stocks of matured whiskey that they have released their two new expressions, which are a standard blend and an 8 year old Single Malt.

It is the latter of these two that I shall be focussing on this time around.

As a direct result of many years of successful business within the drinks industry, Niche Drinks have managed to build up long standing relationships with some of the most successful Bourbon producers.  This has allowed them to get their hands on some of the best casks straight from the Bourbon industry. They are obviously planning to use these to great effect and have done so already in the release of this 8 year old.

Previously matured for some years, at another distillery, this 8 year old has enjoyed the benefit of some time in a first fill Bourbon cask and you can certainly notice this when enjoying a glass.

On a slight downside though this whiskey has been bottled at 40% ABV, chill filtered and probably been enhanced with a little E150a.

Hopefully this won't detract from it too much...

Onto my notes:

Nose - Unmistakably Cooley.  Very smooth and very much like Greenore Single Grain.  Fresh fruits, banana, lemon, dusty light orange and apple are all present.  Smooth, soft oak vanilla and light cereals.  The malt is not big and beefy but soft and easily approachable.  With time the tropical notes, with which I've associated Cooley for some time, appear in the form of pineapple and coconut milk.

Palate - Malty arrival that's accompanied by a big peppery, chilli kick.  Thankfully the heat doesn't overpower the spirit and without water the citrus just shows through with dry oak and some more vanilla.  With water the orange comes out on top with clove spice and more creamy oak.

Finish - Medium length with dry spices and fresh fruit with cream.

Overall this is a very enjoyable dram with it's roots firmly in Cooley.  If you are a fan, like myself, of the Greenore whiskeys then this will not disappoint.  Bags of flavour on the nose and good strength on the palate.  If I had any criticism then I would rather have seen this with a few more years under it's belt, maybe 10 would be perfect.  The 8 year old packs a good punch but the chilli heat is only just restrained.  A couple more years would smooth this out to perfection.

All that said this is a fantastic start for "The Quiet Man".  I've mentioned before that it is absolutely imperative to hit the ground running in this business, and that means on all fronts: quality of spirit, style & presentation, price point etc etc, and I have to say I think Niche Drinks have done a very good job indeed.

Where I've seen this stocked it is at a very agreeable price and the bottles certainly look good sitting beside their Irish counterparts.  As word of "The Quiet Man" spreads I can see it gaining a very decent reputation that will give the perfect base to push on from once their own distillery is up and running and eventually their own spirit is in their bottles.

Many thanks to Ciaran Mulgrew, of Niche Drinks, for the sample bottle.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI

Bushmills - Tweet Tasting - Review

Recently I took part in another fantastic Tweet Tasting, hosted by Steve Rush of "TheWhiskyWire.com", in which all involved were presented with 5 samples from the "Oldest Distillery In The World" - Bushmills.

The samples on show were the Original, Black Bush, 10yo, 12yo Distillery Reserve and the 16yo.

Bushmills is a distillery that I have had much experience of, both through it's official bottlings and bottlings through other labels, and to be perfectly honest there's been some mixed results.

I often find that while the flavours of the spirit are light and delicately delicious, the way in which the official bottlings are presented does not do much to bring the flavours across in all their glory.

Most official bottlings are bottled at 40% ABV, and undoubtedly with the use of chill filtration and E150a, yet a lot of the other bottlings are of a higher strength and presented in their natural form. 

These other bottlings I am referring to include those offered by The Palace Bar, Teeling, Knappogue Castle and The Celtic Whiskey Shop.  All of which have either been confirmed as Bushmills or are very probably Bushmills due to other information to hand.

All that said, it wouldn't take very much for Bushmills to hit the stratosphere with a little bit of tweeking in their production line and hopefully, now that Diageo have buggered off, they can get on with what they do best and produce great whiskey.

Until that time though there will obviously be a transition and we will have to be patient as the new owners find their feet in the Irish whiskey industry.

While we're waiting, we still have a good range of official bottles to try and I had been looking forward to this tasting as, whilst I have tried all the whiskeys before, I had never tried them all side by side.

Onto my notes:

Bushmills - Original

Nose - Fresh green apple, light and clean with a little malted sweetness and light grains making their presence felt.  "Rice Krispies" breakfast cereal and a little unripe banana.  Some light perfume / floral notes appear along with a definite sweet caramel and vanilla from the oak.  In time some citrus comes through but it's all very gentle and laid back.  If you weren't trying you'd almost definitely miss a few of these flavours and I guess that might be the point as this makes it an easy starting point for newcomers with no difficult flavours to contend with.

Palate - Light and sweet with more emphasis on orange citrus and now some heat in the form of black pepper and chilli flakes.  A little water eases the heat brilliantly and allows some dry oak spice and lemon drops to come through.

Finish - Short, clean and slightly drying.

Bushmills - Black Bush

Nose - More tropical, from the influence of sherry casks.  Ripe banana, deeper orange, slight menthol,  grapefruit and a sweeter, stickier malt.  Brown sugar syrup, a little milk chocolate which isn't unlike "Terry's Chocolate Orange".  As the nose opens up you definitely start to get the darker sherry notes.  Mixed spice, dried fruits, dried fruit mix that includes dried orange and lemon peel.  Christmas cake for sure and maybe some "Jamaica Ginger Cake".  Right at the end I got a distinct note of crushed walnut.  Excellent nose for a humble blend.

Palate - Sweet and sour arrival that moves over for lovely sherried flavours.  Rich mixed spice, deep, intensely rich, orange.  A little chilli shows itself again but this is much more balanced than the Original.  Menthol is still present on the palate and you get a sense that the malt whiskey used in Black Bush is of a very high standard indeed.

Finish - Not too bad at all with a lovely dryness from the oak and a concentrated red apple flavour that borders on sour red apple sweets.

Bushmills - 10yo

Nose - Still some tropical banana and light pineapple but this is a great deal more "green" in it's delivery with apples and pears also on show.  Some honey sweetness appears but at the same time you get a savoury feel to the whiskey, if that makes any sense??  The oak effect is here but the spirit dominates in a good way.  Lemon biscuits with vanilla cream.  Very fresh and summery.

Palate - Sweet red apples, good hefty kick of peppery spice and cooked oranges.  Menthol with oak spice.  With a little water a slight herbal note appears, this is a note I rarely find but could easily pick up in this whiskey, which to me underlines it's "green" qualities.  Some malted biscuits towards the end.  Again, this is all very clean and inoffensive.

Finish - Ok with apples and a little spice.

Bushmills 12yo Distillery Reserve

Nose - Honey, toffee apples, orange barley sweets (you can see the distillery spirit character flavours each time here) and banana ice cream.  Just a little dusty wood lurks in the background and then the dried fruits start to appear.  More cooked orange, red apple, cinnamon and creamy butter notes show through.  As this sits in the glass more of the dusty continues to evolve with leather and old books.

Palate - Salted caramel, light spice and hints of blackcurrants and raspberries.  More duty old sherry wood appears here with, again, cooked orange and maybe just some more chocolate.

Finish - Again, ok with warm spices and red apples.

Bushmills - 16yo

Nose - Deep, rich, buttery banana, raspberry coulis, blackcurrants, in fact most berries seem to be in here.  Blood orange marmalade, brown sugar and this actually retains it's freshness quite well before moving anywhere near anything resembling old dustiness.  The Port cask influence keeps this rich with red fruits and this is definitely not as musty as the 12yo.  Spice is soft and easy going.  This is how marriage of maturation should be done.

Palate - Intense rich berries, undiluted "Ribena", raspberry coulis and apple + blackberry crumble.  Dark chocolate orange, stewed orange and mixed spice.  Christmas cake, cherry bakewell tarts.  Indulgent and beautifully presented, lord only knows how good this would be at 46% and un-chill filtered....I'd say it would be one of the best whiskies in the world.  Huge statement I know but it really is that good.

Finish - So moreish with red fruit goodness.

Overall it was so enjoyable to work my way through the Bushmills range from, more or less, start to finish. 

The winner was undoubtedly the 16yo by a fair distance ahead of the 10yo which only just pipped the 12yo.  Then out of the blends the Black Bush easily won over the Original.

If I'm being honest though the 16yo is really the only one of these I would recommend with any great conviction.  The rest of the range is obviously well made, and carries some lovely character flavours, but in my opinion Bushmills need to do more.

Their spirit is so delicate that I feel it needs either to be bottled at a higher ABV or matured in more extravagant casks to elevate it to a higher level.  The 10yo and 12yo just don't have enough oomph behind them to really make them "stand out" whiskeys.

The 16yo gets through because of the extra influence of Port casks and I have previously enjoyed their 21yo, which also gets by due to the extra influence of Madeira casks.

When you see what Teeling (Rum amongst others), Celtic Whiskey Shop (Anima Negra Wine) and Knappogue (Marsala) are maturing their stocks of Bushmills, and then look at how well these come across at a higher strength along with the Place Bar's bottling "Fourth Estate", it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the direction Bushmills should be going.

For sure this may rock the boat with the long term, die hard fans but I honestly believe that something has to change if Bushmills are to maintain, and grow, their standing amongst Irish whiskey; and let's be honest it's only going to get tougher with the amount of new distilleries that are quickly catching up.

I'll finish with this though, and I've said it before, this is a very exciting time for Irish whiskey and long may it continue.

As always, a massive thank you to Steve at "TheWhiskyWire.com" for hosting the tasting and to Bushmills for the samples.
Until next time,

Sláinte

SI





N.B. Apologies for the different shaped images but they were the best I could find.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Glen Moray - Tweet Tasting - Review

Yesterday evening I took part in another fantastic Tweet Tasting, hosted by Steve Rush of "TheWhiskyWire.com", in which all involved were presented with 5 samples from, the very much underrated, Glen Moray Distillery.

The samples on show were the Classic, the Classic Port Cask and the Classic Peated along with samples of Standard New Make and Peated New Make.

Based in Speyside, on the banks of the River Lossie, just outside Elgin, Glen Moray Distillery has been quietly going about it's business since 1897, after originally starting life as a brewery.

The distillery was closed in 1910 before being purchased, by the then owners of Glenmorangie, in and around the 1920s.  In 1958 the owners set about adding two more stills, to the two that were already present, thus increasing capacity to around 2,000,000 litres per annum.

The distillery was then sold on, in 2008, to the French spirits company "La Martiniquaise" who increased capacity even further by adding another two stills, in 2012, which brought the total output up to around 3,300,000 litres per annum. 

Now, while "La Martiniquaise" use some of the production for their blended whisky "Label 5", Glen Moray do have some aged releases under their belt.  These come in the form of a 10yo Chardonnay Cask, 12yo, 16yo, 25yo Port Cask Finish and an impressive 30yo.

Getting back to the tweet tasting though, I would be honest in saying that it would've been nice to try some of their aged whisky but I was more than happy with the samples provided.

I felt, with the new make included, I was getting a chance to get a true sense of the distillery's character with only the slight addition of cask influence and some peat.

Onto my notes:

New Make Spirit - 69% ABV

Nose - Not as rough as you'd possibly expect.  There's a serious amount of red berry notes going on here with raspberry coulis being the dominant flavour.  Clove rock sweets, hints of white pepper, strawberry opal fruit sweets, orange oil, green cooking apples, ripe melon and cereals with a lovely malted barley background.

Palate - Very sweet then the heat comes, naturally, with clove spice, more clove rock, black pepper and chilli flakes.  You get some malty cereal and stewed orange then you really need to get some water in there.  This allows the orange to become deeper and almost move into a sort of dried fruit spice.

Finish - Lively yet smooth, if that makes sense, with a good dry spice fruitiness.

Classic Single Malt - 40% ABV

Nose - Clean,  crisp, light and summery.  Cut grass, buttered biscuits, light orange oil and you can pick up the malty cereals that were present in the new make.  Crunchy green apple and some lemon sherbet.  Some light pepper and the faintest hint of oak spice.  The berries from the new make are almost non existent but are just about there with candied sweets.

Palate - Here you can instantly see the similarity with the new make with more clove sweets, malted sweetness, orange barley sweets and orange oil.  A little dryness comes through from the oak influence and this is accompanied by lovely light citrus.  This is a proper summer dram.  Needs no water whatsoever as it's a lovely balance of fruity spirit and spices from the cask.

Finish - Surprisingly decent length with more dry oak spice.

Classic Port Cask - 40% ABV

Nose - Mashed over ripe banana, spiced orange and the port hasn't over dominated at all, from the 8 month finish, as there's only hints of blackcurrant and dried fruits.  Still retains a lot of the distillery spirit character.  Lightly perfumed and for the first time I get some toffee / weak banoffee pie.  Becomes deeper, over time, with more red fruits.  Still has the peppery spice from the new make but this time it feels much richer and even stickier.

Palate - Well, quite underwhelming I must say.  Sweet red fruits - yes, blackcurrants + berries with good oak spice - yes, but - it just feels like that cask and spirit have cancelled each other out.  I know that some tasters found this to be the best of the evening but, in my opinion, I found it a little flat and tasteless.  Holding the liquid in the mouth brings out a little more port notes but this fades quickly.

Finish - A little amount of red fruit and dry spice

Peated New Make Spirit - 69% ABV (18ppm)

Nose - We're back to the raspberry coulis but now it's lessened by freshly extinguished matches, wood smoke, charred wood, your clothes after standing by a bonfire all night.  There's a slight rubbery note and some mineral too.  The clove, I would always usually get with new make, is well subdued.  The peat isn't too earthy and you feel you're a long way from Islay with this one, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Bit of a dampness to this too, but again I quite like it.

Palate - WOW!!!  This nearly blew my head off, in a good way.  Instant smoked kippers gives way to the most intense chilli heat.  Wood ash, charcoal, bags of pepper and chilli.  There is sweet malt in there somewhere but this needs serious water.  With water classic TCP / sticking plaster notes appear.  Any thought of being a distance away from Islay has been taken away sharply with this palate, tons of more intense peat going on here.

Finish - More dry smoke and quite delicious to be fair.

Classic Peated - 40% ABV

Nose - Very good indeed.  Tropical notes with fresh citrus.  Wafts of light mineral smoke work well with lemon and a light orange.  A little deeper peat lurks in the background but never comes to the fore.  Toasted oats, green apple, banana on toast and freshly made porridge.

Palate - This comes across as a slightly more mineral version of the standard Classic.  Oak has really taken the intense peat notes and softened them right down.  Slight bacon fries flavour in the background and this feels a little more "spirity" than the other two "Classics".  The extra youthfulness is no bad thing though as this is still very clean and crisp with notes of lemon, orange and a slight chalkiness.  The spirit is of good intensity and right at the end you get some dry oak.

Finish - Not bad at all but, if I was being honest, this could do with just a little more peat oomph on the palate. 

Overall this was a very impressive tasting.  I'd never sampled peated new make before and have only sampled a handful of new makes beside their matured counterparts.  Previous tastings have usually had new make along side quite old whiskies but with these "Classic" samples you can match up the notes of the new make with the 40% bottlings quite well.

All in all I have to say that I am very impressed with what Glen Moray are doing.  They aren't trying to be an "all singing, all dancing" distillery, with fancy marketing campaigns.  They are just getting on with things and releasing very respectable whisky at an even more respectable price range.

I recently picked up a bottle of the standard Classic,  in a local Makro, for around £16.  Considering the ongoing NAS arguments this is a fantastic price to pay for what is quite simply a very well made single malt whisky.

Granted I didn't quite get to grips with the Port Cask Finish but hey that's no reason to be put off.  Quite a few tasters picked it out to be the dram of the night. 

The Peated Classic was my pick of the night, just edging out the standard Classic, as it had a little more going on in the glass while retaining the lovely spirity notes from the new make,  but I have to stress it only won by the narrowest of margins.

In conclusion I'd have to say to get out there and get yourself a bottle of Glen Moray ASAP.  It may not compete with your Brora's or your Port Ellen's, or whatever your favourite "go to" malt is, but for the price it's selling at you will not be disappointed with the quality in the glass.  A personal example I could give is to give me a bottle of the Classic or the Peated Classic any day over........let's say a Balvenie "Double Wood".

As I make my way to Ayr, this weekend, for the Robbie's Drams "Whisky An' A' That" festival, I am already hoping to find a Glen Moray stand waiting for me so I can see what else they have hidden up their sleeves.

Lastly I would just like to say, as always, a massive thank you to Steve at "TheWhiskyWire.com" for hosting the tasting and to Glen Moray themselves for the lovely presentation of generous samples.

Until next time,

Sláinte

SI
 

 

 

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Here Comes "The Quiet Man"

"The Quiet Man" Blended Irish Whiskey
In recent times it has been no secret that Irish whiskey is back with a bang.  Sales are on the up, big style, and with this we are seeing a flurry of new and planned distilleries all over the island of Ireland.

My interest is obviously heightened when one of these distilleries is planned for my home province of Ulster, in the North of Ireland, and this brings me on to Niche Drinks who are located in Derry City, Co. Londonderry.

Niche Drinks was set up back in 1983 and since then they have been producing cream liqueurs, Irish coffee, and "ready to drink" cocktails for their retail partners in Ireland, the UK, the USA and Europe.

As a direct result of this well established business they have also managed to build up long standing relationships with some of the most successful Bourbon producers.

Fast forward to 2015 and now Niche Drinks are planning to build the first whiskey distillery in Derry for 200 years.  This £15 million project is set to begin later this year and is to be located in the Campsie area, on the outskirts of the city.

Once up and running the plan is to produce a triple distilled malt whiskey that will be "as traditional and as authentic as possible".

In addition to the distillery, which will be named "The Quiet Man Craft Distillery Co. ltd", Niche Drinks have, for some years now, been buying and maturing grain and malt Irish whiskey, both new make and already partially matured.

This whiskey has been bought to allow them to release their own range of Irish whiskey named "The Quiet Man" or "An Fear Ciúin".

Through the aforementioned relationships, with the Bourbon producers, they have already secured ongoing supplies of barrels and it is into these barrels they are filling their bought new make and partially matured whiskey.

The plus point here is that the bourbon barrels they are using are all first fill and therefore will impart some serious flavour into the spirit they have.

They also have some sherry casks in which they are already maturing some 4, 5 and 8 year old malt whiskey.

To bring this altogether, in perfect harmony, Niche Drinks have acquired the services of experienced Scotch whisky blender Billy Mitchell and are currently putting 4 employees through the "Diploma in Distilling" course run by Heriot Watt University.

"The Quiet Man" 8yo Single Malt Irish Whiskey
The Quiet Man whiskey range will be released with two expressions - a NAS blend and an 8 year old single malt with both expressions being chill filtered, although managing director, Ciaran Mulgrew, does state that future single cask bottlings will probably be released at cask strength and obviously without chill filtration.

They are also working out a detailed recipe so that they can make a seamless transition when it comes to Niche Drinks starting to use their own whiskey once fully matured in years to come.

When it comes to the naming of the brand Ciaran Mulgrew has an excellent story behind this, in case you thought whiskey names were plucked out of thin air -

"My father was a bartender who worked for over 50 years in bars around Belfast.  Sometimes he would bring me into work with him and so I grew up loving the sounds and smells of the bar, the craic, the laughter, and the smell of the beer and the whiskey.  Especially the whiskey.

Now that I am making my own whiskey, I am naming it after my father.

In 50 years as a bartender he saw a lot of things and heard a lot of stories but, like all good bartenders, he was true to his code and told no tales.

My father, John Mulgrew. 'The Quiet Man' or, as they say in Irish, 'An Fear Ciúin'."

From being in contact with Ciaran, hearing what he has to say, and seeing what they have planned, I have to say I'm very excited about this project.  They are moving into this venture with an already good knowledge of the drinks industry and by combining this with expert whisky knowledge, from Billy Mitchell, and focussing on delivering a top notch product, they should be hitting the heights in no time.
 
I like that they are using only 1st fill bourbon barrels, to mature the spirit they have already bought, and if the new releases of "The Quiet Man" are to move seamlessly into the era of their own whiskey then they could have some serious standards to maintain.
 
Being a malt whiskey distillery I am looking forward to seeing how their own spirit matches up against the other north coast powerhouse - Bushmills and in simpler terms I am just overjoyed that the northwest of Ireland is starting to put itself on the map in terms of Irish whiskey.
 
This is further backed up by the plans in Donegal for Sliabh Liag Distillery (pronounced Slieve League) but that is for another update.
 
Well there you have it, keep your eyes peeled because "The Quiet Man" is coming to a bar near you.
 
Until next time,

Sláinte

SI