Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Adventures in Loch Lomond - The Great Dramboree 2014

Take one stunning 19th century Lochside hostel in the shadow of Ben Lomond. Add a sprinkling of Whisky bloggerati, a smattering of spirit-industry leaders, a handful of society and event organisers and a generous number of all-round whisky lovers. Leave for one weekend to merrily bubble away. Add whisky to taste.

The Dramboree, a social event for whisky lovers, started last year - a bright idea from Jason B Standing of the Whisky Squad and Jonny McMillan of the Great Whisky company. The idea, loosely, is to assemble a group of whisky geeks together in Scotland and indulge in a weekend of whisky-tastings, a distillery visit, and general fun and shenanigans inbetween.

Hurtling up the M6, Señor Duckworth and myself excitedly speculated on what the weekend would have in store for us...

Andy dazzles with his pointing skills.

After a quick drop in to Bruichladdich HQ at Glasgow to say hello, we boarded our coach and headed towards Lomond amidst a flurry of sample swapping and tasty across the aisle and back and forth between seats. Andy's dram selection box went down an absolute treat.

Under a grey sky and in a fine drizzle we left the coach to board the ferry that would take us to the jetty of the Rowardennan lodge where we'd be staying on the north-east bank of the loch.

Gorgeous view across Loch Lomond.

The Dramboree guys had a great line up for us for the weekend. We enjoyed:

  • An exclusive tasting of work-in-progress whiskies from Dewars
  • Select antique bottlings from bygone eras in a tasting of 9 drams dating back to the 1940s
  • An exploration of the language of the senses from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society
  • Highland Park's latest NAS whisky, Dark Origins, plus some choice bottles from the rest of their line up.
  • Some of Dufftown Whisky Shop's more interesting offerings
  • A grand day out to the Glengoyne distillery
  • Epic meat barbecue from the lovely folks at Master of Malt
  • A shared drams table with around 130 different bottles of whisky to try at our leisure
  • A special commemorative bottling of Ledaig to remember the weekend.

There were far too many amazing drams to recount, but highlights for me were the 1970s ceramic decanter Bruichladdich 15, the 1980s Bowmore 12, 1950s Teachers (unbelievably tasty!) and an absolutely corking 30 year old Linkwood from Diageo's Rare Malts series.

The Drams Table - West Side

Such whisky. Much antique. Wow.

The Drams Table - East Side

The famously fickle Scottish sunshine even put in an appearance. Feeling warm and merry, we made it out for dips in the loch, leisurely cigars, and a pan-European kick-about out on the lawn.

And a glorious weekend it was. Thanks everyone - we'll see you in 2015!

You can find more out about Dramboree over at
- Sean

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The United States of Dramerica

For June's Whisky Club tasting we headed back across the pond for the second time to sample and enjoy some of the best Whiskey from the USA

First up a bit of info on different types of American Whiskey. There are predominantly 3 main types of American whiskey:

Bourbon - Made with a mash bill of at least 51% Corn and then made up of other grains such as Rye and malted Barley
Rye - Made with a mash bill of at least 51% Rye and then made up of other grains such as corn and malted barley.
Wheat - Made with.. well.. wheat. At least 51% of it to be precise

Tincup Whiskey - 42% (Colorado)

Jess Graber started to play around with distilling many years back. In 2004 he turned his hobby into a business and that was how Tincup came into existence.

The whiskey is named after the rich mining heritage of Colorado during the Gold Rush. The miners would take to having their daily libation from the tin cups that were around at the time. The bottle actually comes with a tin cup lid too. Matured for 4-5 years.

This is a high rye content bourbon whiskey. You could almost say a bourbon/rye hybrid in terms of flavour. The nose was very spicy sweet with clove and the palate rich, spicy and very long on the finish.

For around the £30+ mark you can't argue with that.

Willett Single Pot Still Reserve - 47% (Kentucky)

Named after the original distillery founder, Willett's whiskey is produced by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, the same people who make Kentucky Vintage that we had last year and the Noah's Mill in this post.

For the past few years, KBD's distillery has been undergoing improvement works and rumours are that they have actually been using Heaven Hill distillery to make their more recent products. This whiskey comes in a bottle that gives a nod to the pot still that it is said to be made in (although a column still is thought to be used for secondary distillation).

The nose was much deeper than the tin cup, not as tinny! Tasters mentioned plums, brown sugar and raisins, on the palate people said dark chocolate and a bittering medium finish.

Willett Pot Still Reserve is hard to get hold of in the UK when you can get it thoguh it retails for around £45-£50

Noah's Mill- 57.1% (Kentucky)
Our second whiskey of the night from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers and this time it's the turn of the head turning Noah's Mill. Bottled at a hefty 57.1%, unusual for bourbon given the demand and production methods, Noah's Mill is tentatively approaching as craft presentation.

Noah's Mill used to be a dedicated 15 yr old whiskey however it now contains whiskey between 4 and 20 years of age with no age stated on the label.

The nose was very tight at first with raisins, vanilla, cinnamon and tobacco with a spicy, almost perfumed palate as someone pointed out alongside herbs and oak. For those that tried with water it was said that more chocolate and grain notes became present but in some ways took away the depth on the palate.

A great small batch bourbon with a surprisingly smooth profile considering the strength although still packs a fair amount of punch! £50

Corsair Ryemageddon- 46% (Tennessee)
Our penultimate dram came in the form of the only dedicate Rye of the night. Produced by small self professed 'artisan' distillers Corsair based in the Bible Belt town of Nashville Tennessee. Corsair are creating some very interesting experimental and small batch spirits and are starting to build a name for themselves in the market.

So why Ryemegeddon? First of all a great name for a product, very light hearted showing that these guys are enjoying their craft. What sold this bottle for us though is that it contained a mashbill of Rye (obviously) and chocolate malt like that used ins some of the delicious dark rich beers we at the MWC enjoy so much inc porters and stouts.

The nose was sweet with a lot of people immediately making reference to the chocolate malt influence, Cacao powder, dark chocolate, spice and surprisingly supple for a Rye which is normally seen as Bourbon's fiery cousin. The palate was silky in texture with more mentions of chocolate based sundries, nesquick milkshake, then with a grain and vanilla influence from the rye itself.

A fantastic dram it has to be said and great to try something so unique. Available from The Whisky Exchange for £45

Balcones Brimstone- 53.1% (Texas)

No USA tasting in modern times would be complete without paying homage to one of America's rising stars from the Lone Star State. We featured Balcone's True Blue in our last USA tasting in 2013 here. However this year we plumped for a bottle of the famous Brimstone.

Brimstone is very unique in that the whisky (Brimstone refer to it as Whisky not Whiskey) is smoked. However, when we say smoked we don't mean like Scottish whisky where the barley is dried by burning peat oh no no no. Chip Tate and the team actually smoked the distillate itself using texas scrub oak chips. The same distillate as True Blue using Blue Corn. The result? Well...

"Frazzles!" "Pork Scratchings!" "BBQ Ribs!" were the immediate cries upon first nosing the freshly poured drams. After this there were mentions of gammon steak, wood smoke, chipotle and sweetcorn. On the palate everyone was quiet for an unusual amount of time.. "savoury" seemed to be a running theme with various barbecue meats listed with a long lingering finish that many of us had with us the following day.

A unique and engaging whisky indeed and well worth the RRP of £65

The overall favourite of the night was hard to determine as we had a 50/50 split between Brimstone and Willet with Ryemageddon bringing in 3rd place followed by Tincup and Noah's Mill bringing up the rear.

5 great expressions showing the variety and quality you can now find in the American whiskey industry.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

There's Liquid Gold In Them There Hills!

Whisky is enjoying an enormous boom worldwide. The distilleries from Lowlands to Highlands, from Islay to Orkney, are all struggling to keep up with a surging demand the likes of which has never been seen.

Countries with no established traditions of whisky-making have seen dozens of distilleries take root, ready to serve this growing demand. World whisky is a rising star. Having sampled some delicious specimens right here in the Manchester whisky club, I can confirm that whisky needn't be Scottish to be absolutely fantastic.

Whisky festivals and awards have been singing the praises of Australia's "Sullivan's Cove", the Amrut and Paul John whiskies from India, Sweden's Mackmyra, and so many more. Distilleries south of the border in Britain have confidently waded into the market with offerings like the excellent Penderyn whisky from Wales, and the English Whisky releases from Norfolk's St George's Distillery.

Meanwhile, on an old Victorian farm just north of Bassenthwaite Lake, something is stirring...

Soon, very soon, the sweet rising steam of stills will rise from the Lake District. Yes, folks, there will be a brand-new distillery right here in the North West - the fledgeling Lakes Distillery in Cumbria.

Cumbria actually has a well-documented history of whisky production throughout British history, much of it illicit (as is most whisky production historically through one era of prohibition or another). The tall peaks throughout the lake district receive a huge amount of rainfall every year (all those lakes were a bit of a clue!) and this makes it an ideal location for a distillery since the most important resource for making whisky is having a reliable water source.

With this in mind, Paul Currie set out to create a spirit that will do the Lakes proud. The Lakes Distillery is currently under careful construction with a view to running spirit off the stills before Christmas this year. The whisky will be in a highland style - sweet, floral and very slightly peated - and will be matured in high quality ex-bourbon and sherry casks. The distillery also have plans to experiment with casks and peat-levels in future.

Paul and his father set up the Isle of Arran distillery in 1995

Naturally, as lads from up North, it makes myself and Señor Duckworth very proud indeed that we're soon to see another English distillery drawing sweet delicious barley spirit off their stills. Like kids off to the seaside, we hopped in the car and hit the road for a visit.

A pleasant drive through the hills later, we were met by John Drake, the distillery manager, who gave us a run-down of his plans for the distillery: from the layout of the site, through to the operation of the washbacks, the stills, the water - the whole works in glorious geeky detail.

Hard hats on, John was even kind enough to give us a nosy around the building site and talk us through how it's all going to come together.

Across the lawn, towards the courtyard

John walks us through each part of the building - this will be the bistro

This will be the still house, featuring the distillery's specification copper stills

Kid in a sweet shop
So, exciting times ahead for whisky in the North West! The distillery currently have a blend available for sale which they put together themselves. "The One" contains a selection of different whiskies from across the British Isles and is very tasty indeed.

You can pick these up on the Lakes Website

Thanks for the tour, John - can't wait to see how things unfold!

- Sean & Andy

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Battle of the Drams! Drampionship Fighting presents 'Blends vs Malts'

It's an age old argument in pubs across the land. Tempers fray, arguments rage, friendships are broken, all against the ancient question that has plagued whisky lovers throughout history: Is blended whisky better or worse than a single malt?

When a distillery runs a batch of whisky, the finished whisky can either be bottled as it is or it can be blended with many other single malts from other distilleries by a master blender who seeks to give it certain qualities that can have a broader appeal.

You could view a single malt as a young independent band down the pub with raw sound, unkempt looks and bags of character. The blend is an altogether more considered beast: the band is immaculate, the sound is rounded and carefully produced and mastered and the music is altogether more even-keeled and established.

Throughout the vast majority of the history of commercial whisky production, the single malt spirit produced in most distilleries ended up being used as a blending component in one of the major blends. Brands like Ballantines, Grouse and Johnnie Walker continue to claim almost every drop of whisky produced in Scotland today. Even now when the demand for single malt has never been higher, blends obviously have a huge global appeal in spite of many aficionados kicking them to the gutter in disgust.

Some people find single malts weird, geeky, hard to understand. Others find blends predictable, boring and tedious.

So.... who's right?

Gathered in the Castle pub in Manchester's Northern Quarter, a fine array of intrepid individuals settle in to answer this question once and for all! Six drams. Three single malts. Three blends. No labels.

Yes, folks - this is a blind tasting. So, without further ado...

Round One

In the red corner, we have Mystery Dram #1

Nose: Apple, pineapple, fruit salad sweets, apricots
Palate: Sweet, coconut biscuit, wood
Finish: Peppery, a little chalky

Overheard: "Smells like it could hurt", "Pineappley", "Coconut", "Sweet", "Little bit offensive", "Slightly stale bounty bar", "Orchard fruits"

In the blue corner, unfazed by Mystery Dram #1's swagger, Mystery Dram #2 squares up.

Nose: Rubbing alcohol, floor polish
Palate: Nutmeg, oily, lip-smacking, toffee chew, sultanas
Finish: Chilli pepper, tingly

Overheard: "Legs are good", "Lot deeper than the first", "More spices", "Darker colour", "Thicker, oiler mouthfeel", "Chewy", "Slow legs - like slugs going down the glass"


Red stumbles out into the ring, dazed and confused. Blue swoops in for the kill. It's brutal, folks - red's being pummeled against the ropes. The punch flies in and it's a knockout from blue in the first round. A smug look on its face, the blue stands victorious - in spite of a nondescript nose, the dram's got bags of flavour.

A clear favourite, the blue wins by a country mile. But which was the blend?

Putting it to the vote, 3 of the club say the red (now unconscious on the floor) was the single malt, 11 confidently say it was blue...

... and they were WRONG!

Mystery Dram #1 (the red corner) was our first single malt, the Knappogue Castle 1995, 40% ABV.

Knappogue Castle was distilled by Bushmills in 1995 and bottled in 2007, the oldest in their range at a full 12 years.

Mystery Dram #2 (the blue corner) was Teeling Small Batch, 46% ABV. Another Irish whiskey but this time most definitely a blend.

With a high malt content, this whiskey is one of 2018 bottles and is finished in rum casks for a bit of extra spice. It's won plenty of awards, too.

Hoodwinked and bamboozled by the cunning pair of Irish drams, the club soldiers on to...

Round Two

In the red corner,  Mystery Dram #3 dives onto the stage in a flamboyant show of bravado.

Nose: Subtle peat, salad leaves, flowers, nail polish
Palate: Allspice, caramel, biscuit, dried fruit
Finish: Short finish, tingly, peppery and drying - probably sherried

Quotes: "Smells like a blend", "Really nice", "Little bit soily, peaty", "Caol Ila?"

In the blue corner, Mystery Dram #4 shouts in jest at the crowd.

Nose: Pepper, dried fruit
Palate: Watery, sweet, slightly salty, touch of redcurrant
Finish: Spicy, cinnamon

Quotes: "Much darker", "Not keen"


Red is full of confidence, dancing around a limp and confused blue. What will happen next? Will the single malt be the one to come out victorious this round?

More importantly, which whisky is the single malt and which is the blend??

Put it to a vote, 8 hands say the red is the single malt, 6 hands say blue...

Turns out, the red was the blend this time! How deliciously devious!

Mystery Dram #3 (the red corner) was Spice King from Wemyss Malts, 40% ABV.

This whisky uses component island whiskies that are each aged 12 years and it won Best Blended Scotch in 2013 at the World Whiskies Awards.

Mystery Dram #4 (the blue corner) was Fettercairn's Fior, 42% ABV.

Not sure what else to say about it, really.... I suppose it has a unicorn on the label. That's quite fun.

So, all in all, a tighter round this one, but still the club's no nearer to getting the call right. How will the fight end? Let's move on to the final round...

Third (and final) Round

In the red corner, Mystery Dram #5 steps up fresh and spoiling for a rumble.

Nose: Touch of peat, toffee, apricot, banana, grass, milk chocolate
Palate: Sweet, lemon tart, peat smoke
Finish: Chalky texture, a little spice, very smooth

Quotes: "Pleasant nose", "Water improves it a lot", "Boozey on the nose without water", "Galoshes", "Generic whisky", "whisky flavoured whisky"

In the blue corner, Mystery Dram #6 bellows out across the ring to intimidate its opponent.

Nose: Smoky bacon, frazzles, umami, smoke, soil
Palate: Salty, churro doughnuts, (with water) rice pudding and cinnamon
Finish: Very thin and light, almost watery, evaporates in your mouth

Quotes: "Mmm", "wow", "Most interesting nose of the night", "Fat-greasy-guy-in-a-shirt-style doughnuts", "I enjoyed smelling it, not so much tasting it"


A much more even match this one, some love, some hate on both sides. The whiskies duck and weave and hold their ground... who will come out victorious?

The final show of hands: 7 say the red is the single malt, 4 say it's the blue.

And the result is.... red is the blend again!

Mystery Dram #5 (the red corner) is a sneaky peated contender from the Far East - the Japanese Nikka White blend, 43% ABV.

Mystery Dram #6 (the blue corner) is our single malt, the lightly peated Moch from Caol Ila, 43% ABV.

Post Match Round-Up

The results are in, folks; and it's a shocking conclusion. The winner of the battle of blends vs single malts? Apparently, it's the whisky - the club itself has no idea what's going on!

Interestingly, blends were most popular each round. And the majority vote for blend vs single malt was consistently wrong for all three rounds.

After a show of hands, Caol Ila Moch was declared the overall champion and crowned Dram of the Night*.

A final award for the most insightful comment: "Blended whisky brings out the macabre in people."

Fight's over folks, see you next time.

*That's the best dram of the night, not some horror film about a fiendish, coffin-dwelling Dram of Darkness that sneaks into people's whisky cabinets and replaces all their whisky with Fettercairn.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Old & Rare II

April's whisky club saw us tackle our second Old & Rare night since forming in 2012.

A good turn out formed the basis of a great evening. Here's how it went...

Glenmorangie 10yr (Bottled early 1990's) - 40%

First things first, "That's not old or rare!" we hear you cry. Sure it might not be wielding a zimmer frame at a spritely 10 years but this particular bottling was bottled in either 1993 or 94 and was therefore distilled in the 1980's.

We also put this side by side with a modern bottling of Glenmorangie 'Original' which replaced the official 10 yr bottling in the early to mid 2000's.

The 1990's bottle displayed a fresher, more herbal characteristic than its newer sibling, with a whiff of green apple and cereals too. Much warmer and spicier on the palate with a good oily mouth feel.

The modern Original bottling is a bit sweeter as well as creamy although retaining some of the green fruit qualities of the older bottling but lacking in the finish.

Overall there was a general consensus that the older style of whisky was better although there wasn't a huge amount of difference "It's still just Glenmorangie" was mentioned, fair enough.

Purchased at auction for £35 excl postage and auction costs

Aberfeldy 27yr Old - The Creative Whisky Co - 43.4%

The first of the independent bottlings of the night, this 27yr old Aberfeldy, again purchased at auction, was bottled in either 2010 or 2011 after being distilled on the 9th November 1983.

Aberfeldy is a Dewar's owned distillery with the majority of production going into the company's own blended whiskies. Dewar's as a brand are owned by world famous Bacardi

Aberfeldy is available as a single malt in the distillery bottling range that includes a 12 year old, 16 year old and a 21 year old among others.

This dram had a rich hue indicating some time spent in a refill sherry cask of some sort or a decent hogshead with a nose of Demerara sugar, a touch of fig and various dried herbs. The palate was admittedly a bit of a let down in many respects but offered a touch of liquorice and strawberry jam.

Not a bad effort. The creative whisky Co don't appear to have bottled anything since 2010 and their bottling's aren't often found in normal circles. We're not sure if these chaps are still going or not.

The bird on the label is quite pleasing, however, the dog on the back of the box provided a bit of a laugh to everyone.. We're all mature adults here at the Manchester Whisky Club and since we're all mature adults we decided to have a drawing contest to see if someone in the club was suppressing a hidden talent for drawing dogs... The results are in, aaaand they're still sh*t but much better than the one on the box!

Since the Markies addiction, Spot the dog had really let himself go.

..... The results are in, aaaand they're still sh*t, but more importantly, much better than the one on the box!

Purchased at auction for £80 excl postage and auction costs

Strathmill 26yr Old - - 50.4%

Watch not included.
Next up, a 26yr old Strathmill from Another single cask offering but this time from a distillery that makes up part of Diageo's portfolio to supply the huge demand for blended whisky.

Strathmill is an integral part in the famous Blended whisky J&B Rare. The only official bottlings are a 12 year old in Diageo's Flora & Fauna range and a single cask release as part of Diageo's Manager's Choice range.

Whisky Broker is run by Martin Armstrong, son of Ray Armstrong recently of the fantastic but sadly closed Bladnoch Distillery. Martin selects some fantastic casks.

Strathmill is a very overlooked Speyside distillery that has had a very stable/uneventful past. This particular bottling was distilled on the 18th March 1988 and matured for 26 years in a refill Hogshead cask before being bottled on the 19th March 2014.

Despite maturation in a refill Hoggy this bottling has a very rich and luscious nose with chocolate, fruit preserve, strong biscuit like malt and icing sugar. The palate is spicy, rich and warming with cinnamon, pink peppercorn and warm custard.

Fantastic value for money at £65, keep up the good work Martin!

Highland Park 28yr Old - Cadenhead's - 48.3%

Yup, another bottle at the Manchester Whisky Club from Cadenhead's.. seeing a pattern?

This particular bottle comes in the very delightful form of a 28 year old Highland Park from the windswept island of Orkney. Orkney is famous for its Scandanavian and Celtic heritage. Highland Park recently released Viking warrior related releases and very collectible Pagan God releases including Thor, Loki and more recently, Freya.

Matured for 28 years in a Bourbon Hogshead this bottling was distilled in 1985 before being bottled in October 2013.

The nose is initially very sweet and surprisingly fruity! Pears and plums galore, the official tasting notes mention black wine gums which are nearly there but there's also an aniseed-y element too with the peat slowly coming into play.

The palate is surprisingly smooth, again carrying a great oily mouth coating texture, salt?, a bit of citrus and a nice soft peat element alongside.

This is a very good whisky indeed, another fine example of choice single casks picked and bottled at the right time. Not what you might expect from Highland Park in comparison to the core range but well worth the £125 spent.

Caol Ila 29yr Old - Cadenhead's Small Batch- 55.5%

So we're onto our final bottle of the night and what do we have..

A 29 year old Caol Ila.

Another Cadenhead's bottling? Yup, they bottle some damn good whisky and they know what they're doing. If you've never tried one of their bottlings before, seek one out.

This Caol Ila was distilled in 1984, matured for 29 years in a Hogshead and bottled in 2013. As Islay whisky goes Caol Ila is one of the most popular, their 12 year old is a fantastic introduction to smoky styles.

A large amount of Caol Ila's production is transported from Islay onto the mainland to mature in Diageo's vast warehousing network. So whilst this is an Islay malt it has no doubt spent the majority of its time on the mainland.

This particular dram has kept it's strength very well indeed considering the 29 years it has spent maturing.

The nose is enveloping in richness. Smoked meats but also herbs, toffee and peat. The palate is peat led but is also very refined, dark chocolate, marzipan and cinder toffee start to develop. The 29 Caol Ila is a dram that just really topped the night off and kept on giving.

£125 from Cadenhead's online shop.

A fantastic tasting with a lot of variety and uniqueness. Overall the Caol Ila came out on top with the Highland Park a close second and the Strathmill a very close third.

In May we're on course to tackle another Blended whisky night! This time a head to head for Blends Vs Malts, who wins, we'll soon see!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Photo Finish

The Whisky Club's latest tasting saw us look at the prospect of different cask finish and maturation styles. We made it our mission to take a look at some more.. experimental and unusual cask finishes and maturation techniques from across Scotland.

First up, a few basics and background on whisky maturation.

Whisky differs from other spirit and wine producers for the most part in that the vast majority of casks used to mature the liquid are second hand. Yup, that's right, this noble spirit often thrust upwards into the stratosphere of luxury uses cast offs. Wine producers for example tend to use new European or American oak casks.
Whisky however, as a rule uses former Bourbon, Sherry and varying types of refill casks.

A stack of used Bourbon barrels at Penderyn Distillery

Bourbon casks are very popular across the whisky world for maturation as they are widely available. Since US Bourbon producers must mature their spirit in new oak casks for a minimum of 2 years in order to be called Bourbon, what can they do with the casks afterwards? They can't use them again.. Sell them to the Scotch and world whisky industries! Win win for everyone. Bourbon cask maturation tends to impart vanilla, sugar and spicy characteristics into the maturing spirit. Penderyn for example source their casks direct from Kentucky Bourbon distiller, Buffalo Trace.

Sherry is also very popular too, and arguably Sherry matured whiskies tend to be the most sought after and can cost more than their Bourbon cask matured counterparts. Sherry casks are a little bit harder to get hold of for distillers however. The best Sherry casks hail from Jerez in southern Spain. However, everyone and their mum is generally after a good sherry cask to lend those trademark Christmas cake and deep, rich flavours.

Asleep yet? No? Good..

Not all Whisky spends its time in a  specific cask for all of it's life though. Many are matured in what are known as Hogsheads or "Hoggy's" as Whisky anoraks like to refer to them (guilty). These are large casks that are rebuilt using wooden staves from previously used Bourbon and sherry casks. These are a cheap way of ensuring distillers have barrel stock to fill with spirit without having to splash out on new casks elsewhere. The term 'refill Hogshead' comes from how many times the cask has been used to mature Whisky. E.g a 2nd refill Hogshead has already been used to mature whisky once and has now been refilled to do the same again.

You might be able to recognise what type of cask a whisky has been matured in from it's colour. Bourbon casks produce a deep gold, Sherry a rich amber and ruby hue and hogsheads generally a light, paler gold depending on how many fills it has had.

So, after that cask information overload, let's move on to see what the night held.

Deanston Virgin Oak - 46%

Virgin Oak is a relatively new fad for Whisky. This is where producers used brand new, unused 'virgin' casks to mature the spirit. The casks are still charred before use as is common practice as with all casks used in the industry.

Deanston is an interesting distillery in Sterlingshire, an old textile mill, the distillery uses hydro-electric power to power the distillery itself. Groovy man. Apart from the Virgin Oak their mainstay release comes in the form of a 12yr old in addition to a few special editions.

Bottled at 46% this has been matured for an undisclosed number of years in virgin oak casks from Kentucky before bottling in 2013.

The nose is very spicy, rich with a sugar barley tone present. Moving on to the palate which displayed a fresh chili-like heat, toffee, honey and lime zest.

The tag at the bottom of the bottle "Simple, Handcrafted, Natural" goes someway to describing Deanston's style. A good dram indeed and it won't break the bank.

RRP £35

Royal Lochnagar 17 yr (Rum Cask Matured) Single Cask - Cadenhead's - 57.4%

Royal Lochnagar, a very regal sounding distillery, is nestled in the Highland region not far away from the royal homestead of Balmoral. Once known as just 'Lochnagar' until Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert were invited to take a tour of the disillery and took a liking to the whisky from Lochnagar. The distillery gained its royal warrant in 1846 and was known thereon as Royal Lochnagar!

This cask strength bottling is another single cask selected and bottled by the bods over at Cadenhead's. The whisky was matured for 17 years in an ex rum cask and as usual with Cadenhead's is bottled at natural colour and strength.

The spirit within this quirky bottle carried notes of cut grass, lemon zest and cinnamon and apple pie on the nose. The palate was warm, spicy but light with vanilla and danish pastry. A lingering, sweet finish rounds off a very interesting and worthwhile dram.

This seems to be a whisky that wouldn't be your 'go to' everyday dram but will answer when you have a bit of an itch for something a bit different.

RRP £57.99

BenRiach 16yr Sauternes Finish - 46%

That's right, another BenRiach, this is our 3rd BenRiach in various guises since last year. 

This particular release from the Speyside distillery is made from un peated spirit that has been matured in an ex bourbon barrel for 16 years before being transferred and finished in Sauternes barrels. Sauternes is a rich, sweet white wine from Bordeaux and is made with Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillion and Muscadelle grapes. 

BenRiach have been gaining a reputation for their various finishes. Others in the range include Dark Rum, Pedro Ximénez, Virgin oak, various types of Port inc Tawny, Madeira and this Sauternes release.

The nose is quite cloying initially, with slight notes of pecan, honey, lemongrass and there was also mention of marzipan. The palate is very thick and rather sweet as you'd expect from the type of wine cask used and this flows well with more honey, lots of vanilla and well balanced oak. The finish is quite oaky again with the vanilla and pear.

A very good dram. One taster (a lady I might add) declared this as being a lady's whisky due to its sweet and delicate profile. Who are we to disagree but it was certainly enjoyed by the majority both men and women alike and was a very good example of how well wine finishes can compliment a good base spirit only 1650 bottles were produced. Kudos BenRiach.

RRP: £40

Tomintoul 12 yr Portwood Finish- 46%

Tomintoul is the self proclaimed 'gentle dram', a sizeable Speyside distillery owned by Angus Dundee, they are well known for providing a soft, sweet and uncomplicated whisky experience for an affordable price.

In this instance this comes in the form of one of their limited edition bottlings, the 12 year old Portwood finish. This is the first Port finished whisky from Tomintoul and is bottled at 46% which is good to see as  a lot of their range is down at the 40% mark.

Immediately the eye catching thing about this whisky is the vibrant pink hue that it has. It's very, very pink.

The nose immediately makes it's Port-fueled past known with a lot of rich strawberry jam and vanilla cream. This a fruity dram make no mistake, if you don't like berries with your whisky look elsewhere now. Interestingly someone mentioned cream soda which is also a tasting note spotted on a certain whisky retailers website but is pretty bang on in our book.
The palate is along the same lines but is very gentle as Tomintoul claim, it's well balanced sweetness isn't sickly or overpowering. There's watermelon with sugary cereal, plum and dried cranberry. The finish is short but very pleasant a return of the fruit here with more strawberry and custard.

You'd probably struggle to find a comparable well balanced port finished dram for the money. This carries itself very well indeed

RRP: £40

Edradour 11yr 'Straight From the Cask' Chateauneuf Du Pape Finish - 58.5% 

Last up was what was potentially the most unique bottle of the night. An 11 year old whisky from Edradour's 'Straight From the Cask' series finished in a Chateauneuf Du Pape barrel before being bottled at a whopping 58.5% and natural colour.

The range also includes finishes including Barolo, Marsala, Port wood, Burgundy, Bordeaux and others.

Now apologies in advance for the pictures used. Sadly I wish we had a picture similar to those above from the night but sadly this doesn't appear to exist. So this is club Chairman/Dogsbody Andy holding the rather garish packaging that comes in the form of a small bright pink box which thankfully was later passed to a lady in attendance who will have, by now planted basil in it.

Edradour was formally Scotland's smallest distillery and is a bit of a Marmite distillery in some circles. This dram again carried a pink hue akin to the Tomintoul but deeper in colour.

The nose is crammed full of various fruit jams, conserves and compotes once again. The strength carries the wood influence along with it as well as rich fruit crumble and boiled sweets. On the palate we had cries of marshmallow, fruit laces and pick n mix shrimps. A medley of childhood sweets basically. The finish is long and rich retaining the wine cask influence.

A very fine example of a cracking single cask selection and finishing method here from Edradour. Only 420 bottles were produced for this release.

RRP: £50 

So that was the end of our epic adventure in to the world of cask finishes. The drams in the lineup really highlighted how a certain cask can put it's own stamp on a whisky.

The Edradour won dram of the night at the vote but the Tomintoul followed close behind.

All content included in this blog is property of the Manchester Whisky Club and will not be used without its express permission.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Tasting With Midleton

Another month, another whisky club. Or should we say, whisk(e)y club? On the 27th February we welcomed the North West of England's Midleton brand rep - Greg to take us through some of Ireland's best whiskey. Pernod Ricard have a big presence in Irish whiskey so it was no surprise to see such a fantastic range of whiskey being lined up for this one.

Irish Whiskey has enjoyed the same renaissance as Scotch and other world whiskies over the last 5 years or so, and despite Ireland's share of the market still sitting below 10%, Irish whiskey retains its status as being a very strong and unique producing region with truckloads of tradition. Many argue that Ireland is the true home of whisk(e)y as it is known today. We're sitting on the fence with that one to retain our close ties with our whisky producing neighbours...

Greg taking the club through distillation processes and Jameson's History.

The packed room knew we were in for a treat when Greg rocked up armed with a crate and a heavily leaden holdall bag like Buckaroo fallen on hard times.

When everyone arrived Greg started by taking us through the distillation processes used at Midleton with the use of informative videos and examples. These included the unique way they dry their malted barley with natural warm air and the fact that Jameson is one of the few whiskies to use malted and un-malted barley.

Sore heads in the morning
In addition to the below we also tried; Jameson (standard), Jameson Select Reserve and Redbreast 12. We've skipped the bottles above that we'd already tasted at our last Midleton tasting, the notes of which can be found here.

Yellow Spot - 40%

Yellow Spot 12 yr
In our last tasting we'd tried Green Spot, a 10yr old offering named after the blobs of paint applied to casks by then whiskey merchants Mitchell and Son to identify the contents of casks sat to mature. Now we looked at Yellow Spot, Green Spot's older brother at 12 years old and matured in 3 different cask types; Bourbon, Sherry Butts and Marsala wine casks. Yellow Spot, like Green Spot is a single pot still whiskey.

The nose is very sweet and delicate, taking more of its lead from the Bourbon and Marsala casks than the Sherry. With a palate which was very tropically fruit led with spice, vanilla and oak. This is an altogether different Whiskey to Green Spot, where Green Spot was clunky and rich, the Yellow Spot seems more refined and aloof.

A very good dram and surprisingly different to the Green Spot. Both have very differing and favourable characteristics. This retails at around £60 from places such as Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange


Redbreast 15 - 46%

The ever present Redbreast 15
The theme of the night was single pot still releases and this bottling followed the trend. Redbreast 15, like its younger counterpart the 12, is adorned with that Garden favourite, the Robin. Hence the name. However, the name originally stemmed from the slight red hue of older releases according to Greg and the Robin was added later.

Packing an increase in strength by 46% and this bottling and having been matured exclusively in Olorosso sherry casks, the Redbreast 15 again, is a different whisky to it's younger counterpart.

Where the 12 exudes floral, green fruit and toffee notes, the 15 comes in with a heavy stewed fruit, warm pastry, honey, mango and orange pith nose. On the palate due to the whiskies Non Chill Filtration, is a wonderfully thick and oily consistency carrying more jam/ preserved fruit, vanilla cream and orange oil. The finish long and warming.

Redbreast 15 retails at around £65-£70 from specialist whisky retailers.

Powers John's Lane 12yr old - 46%

Next up, yup you've guessed it, another single pot still whiskey! Powers is a 12 year old matured in Bourbon and Olorosso sherry casks and is named after the distillery where the whiskey was originally produced which like many in Ireland, closed many moons ago.

The nose is a very vibrant yet deep affair despite its age and maturation partly in Sherry with notes of wet barley (sounds odd but akin to the Bruichladdich Laddie 10 in many ways!) which then turns around to the more sherry led profile with leather, polished wood with a liquorice and stewed blackberry note throughout.

On the palate straight away you can tell you are in for a smooth ride, it's worth noting Powers is a very well balanced dram, it remains smooth on the palate in true Irish style yet retains its spice and depth of flavour. Think cinnamon, chocolate Hobnob, more black fruits such as prune and more sugared blackberry before rounding off with a long and spicy finish.

Powers retails at around £45 from specialist retailers.

Jameson 18 Limited Reserve - 40%

A very refined and unique Jameson offering
Our 3rd Jameson bottling of the night and we're back to the blends (prior to Yellow Spot we'd racked up with Jameson original and the Select reserve). This, the 18 year old Limited Reserve is selected by the Jameson master blender and bottled at 40%.

A very sweet introduction with something similar to the barley in the Powers but more akin to cereal which is a note also present in the standard Jameson bottling with the use of un-malted barley in the wash. Jameson is closely associated with its standard release and one or two other bottles available in supermarkets. The 18 certainly isn't any of the above. The 18 is a blend of 2 single potstill whiskies and a grain whisky that are then matured in Olorosso sherry casks before being finished in first fill bourbon casks.

The nose is rich, possibly leaning towards the oaky side but retains a sweet honey like character as well as orange oil and toffee. The palate is again smooth, as we've come to expect from the Jameson range and carries toffee, polished oak, espresso, vanilla and hazelnut. The finish lingers sweetly for a 40% dram.

Where you can find it this retails at the edged of £70.

Midleton Barry Crockett Legacy - 46%

The Barry Crockett Legacy,
not to be confused with the Barry Chuckle Range from Diageo

This whiskey is the first to bear the name of the Midleton distillery in its own right for many years. Barry Crockett legacy is named after legendary master distiller of the same name in homage to his many years of work and craft at Midleton. This is a single pot still whiskey at 46% and features spirit matured in ex bourbon casks and new American oak casks.

This a special release at around 2,500 bottles a year and since coming onto the market has been picking up awards worldwide.

The nose provides lots of honey and a malty character not normally associated with Irish whiskey. Next to these were notes of lemon zest, sticky toffee and grilled corn on the cob.
On the tongue there is more honey initially but is clawed back with chocolate orange, fruit salad sweets and cinnamon. The finish is where vanilla really plays its part, its a long, sweet finish with a slight hint of toasted marshmallow. A very special bottling indeed and worthy of it's acclaim. At £140 a bottle we can't comment on the cost but this is a very well crafted whiskey indeed.

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve 2007 - 46%

Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve
Yet another treat from Greg here a very rare bottle of Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve 2007. For some perspective here, this bottle is the Rolls Royce of their range. This bottling is a blended whiskey made from some of the oldest stocks in the companies warehouse and selected by t
he master blender himself. What is interesting about this whiskey is that one of the contributing spirits has been matured in port pipes. The grain whiskey component is around 24 years old.

We were very chuffed indeed to have this little beauty feature. Not only does it retail at around the £250 mark but it is also very, very hard to get hold of nowadays. So again huge thanks to Greg for stepping up with this lineup.

A sweet and rich nose here, this couldn't be more different to it's £20 standard bottling cousin. Nuts, raisin, cherry yoghurt and black forest gateaux with warm toast covered in honey a consistent feature.
The palate was an even more rich and graceful affair, think an executive's office with rich mahogany paneling and many leather bound books. This guy doesn't need a Mac or a PC.. oh no sir, he uses a fountain pen with an iridium nib. This carries a luscious damp leather note, and immediately replaced with stewed redcurrant and dried cranberry, then followed by a deeper, richer heather honey and freshly baked victoria sponge. Finishing with a long, and incredibly moreish waft of strawberry jam. These red and fruity notes probably all thanks to the contributing Port matured spirit.

We heard many murmurs from around our table saying how this is without a doubt the best irish whiskey, in some cases, the best whisky overall, that people have tried. A fantastic accomplishment.

Overall the consensus seemed to run with the top 3 being the Redbreast 12, Midleton Barry Crockett and Jameson Rarest Vintage Reserve.

Tonight not only highlighted the tradition, skill and  passion within the Irish whiskey industry, but also really showed how and why Irish whiskey can easily hold its own with the big boys from Scotland.

Thanks again to Greg Slattery for taking the club through this amazing night.