Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Taste of the Orient

Amazingly, for the past 4 weeks the weather in Manchester has been turned on its head. An odd, yellowish disc has been frequenting the sky, engulfing the city in a warm, almost tropical glow. This months Whisky Club theme wasn't exactly tropical but certainly took us away from our usual safe haven of the British Isles to the Pacific and the temperate climate of Japan.

Japanese whisky is having a bit of a surge in sales at the moment. There has been an increasing demand for Japan's high quality offerings across the UK and Europe.

We had a varying choice of 5 drams on offer including malts and a grain. No blends this time round as we're going to go back and revisit Japan and its blends at some stage.

Yamazaki 12 - 43%

We started off with what can probably be seen as the most common of the Japanese bottlings available in the UK, Suntory's Yamazaki 12. This is probably one of Suntory's biggest sellers, matured in both ex
sherry & bourbon casks, this offering is quite similar in a sense to some scottish whiskies.

Nose: Lovely rounded fruits, a bit of pineapple, raspberry preserve, christmas nut mix, raisins.
Palate: A very light lychee syrup, more raisins and a slight dusting of cinnamon.
Finish:Wow where the hell did that come from! On swallowing an immediate harshness comparable to more of a new make spirit! Long and lingering with a slight note of toasted pistachio nuts.

Nikka Coffey Grain - 45%

Nikka, Japan's other 'Big' distilling brand alongside Yamazaki are renowned for producing some of Japans best blended malts alongside some of their single malt and grain portfolio. Nikka Coffey Grain is named as such due to the production method of using a coffey still. We saw good examples of coffey still production in some of our Irish whiskies a few months back. This is a type of still that can be operated constantly and efficiently, producing larger batches of spirit that a standard still and pot still.

Nikka also produce a 'Coffey Malt' range which is quite a high end offering. This grain bottling is relatively new and has no age statement. This was the club's first taste of a single grain whisky. In this case produced using mainly corn rather than the more commonly used wheat. This bottling is produced at Nikka's Miyagikyo distillery.

Nose: Light and delicate, honey, apple pie, vanilla, clean cotton and cut grass.
Palate: A continuing lightness to this, more vanilla -custard this time, lemon tart, caramelised pear
Finish: A lovely sweet warmth, reminds me of the base of a freshly baked cheesecake, pineapple fritters.

Yoichi 10 yr old - 45%

Yoichi is 1 of only 2 whisky distilleries that make up Nikka's portfolio. Set in beautiful mountainous surroundings on the northern island of Hokkaido, the Yoichi distillery uses the traditional method of direct fired stills using coal. The Yoichi 10 is a peated whisky, is the rest of the Yoichi range, the 10 is matured in sherry casks. The distillery was opened in 1934 and was Nikka's first active distillery.

Nose: Again a sweet element, possibly brown sugar, banana bread, then the sherry begins to peek through alongside a damp peat.
Palate: An oily yet thin mouthfeel, initial sherry influence with dark fruits and bitter chocolate with the peat making a brief appearance.
Finish: Blackcurrant and black pepper, toffee with a lingering finish.

Sushi - 0%

One of our members - Charlie of the Ginfuelledbluestocking blog, very kindly brought some freshly made Sushi along from her sushi making class earlier in the night. It went along very nicely with the lighter whiskies and reinforced the flavour of the evening. Thanks Charlie!

Some lovely fresh vegetable sushi!

Karuizawa - Spirit of Asama - 55%

Karuizawa whisky can be something of a rarity in the UK. There has not been much distillation taking place in the last decade and recently the owners have handed in their distilling licences so it is very likely that Karuizawa's stills will fall silent indefinitely sooner rather than later. So far the releases that have made it to Britain's glorious shores have predominantly been of a single cask nature and generally costing over £100. That is, until now.

A Norfolk based whisky importer, Number One Spirits which is run by a chap named Marcin Miller - contacted Karuizawa and purchased 77 single casks distilled between 1999 and 2000. Rather than importing them in another single cask format, they have vatted all 77 to make a unique, no age statement bottling, which incidentally is an extremely affordable example of this distilleries wares.

Nose: Sherry! Sherry in all its Speyside-esque glory, Nutella spread, raisins, freshly oiled wood.
Palate: Lots of sweetness with more chocolate, dark this time, damp earth and rather herbal
Finish: Another example of a lingering finish from a Japanese whisky here, edging into savoury notes this time before tailing off with a glowing warmth.

Mike and Richard sampling the Karuizawa

Hakushu 12 - 43%

Our final whisky of the night was another of Suntory's range. This time, from the Hakushu distillery, built in 1973 and set among the forests at the foot of the Japanese Alps. A lightly peated offering, this has been matured in ex bourbon casks.

The Hakushu alongside Yamazaki is probably up there as one of the more popular Japanese whiskies widely available in the UK

Nose: A fantastic nose on this one. similar in a sense to the Nikka grain in that it is so light and floral, plenty of orchard fruits, sherbet lemons and yet with a slight breeze of peat tickling the nose.
Palate: Crisp, sweet apple again, before sliding into a delightful mix of vanilla and Danish smoked salt.
Finish: Relatively brief but again sweet with the peat making a reappearance, macadamia nuts, dried apricot. Lovely

Overall we had a good varying selection of Japanese malts (and Grain!) that certainly showed the potential of the country's spirit and why it has become so popular of late. We had a split in opinion as to the best bottling of the night with a rough split between the Karuizawa and the Hakushu with one or 2 going for the Yoichi as their dram of choice.

You can certainly tell that Scottish distilling practices have had an affect on the way Japanese distillers approach their production method. In some cases seemingly trying to mimic certain existing styles. Hopefully in the next few years Japanese distillers such as Suntory and Nikka will throw caution to the wind and finally begin to create a true Japanese style malt in its own right.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Living The American Dram

The night was the 27th June 2013, the place, the Castle pub on Oldham Street. A slow and constant drizzle had settled over Manchester but inside the Castle there was plenty of southern state sunshine courtesy of this month's whisky club lineup.

This was to be the club's first non- UK/Irish based tasting and featured some of the best Whisky and Whiskey the USA hd to offer.

Before we start all at the club would like to say a huge thanks to everyone at the Castle for making the club feel so welcome and Jonny in particular for providing us with the wonderful facilities.
The surroundings really did add to the atmosphere of the night, the Castle really is an incredible venue.

The Dukes of Hazard were kind enough to drop off some supplies!

We had a good turn out on the night with people from the waiting list and even the Castle itself in attendance. The room had a great buzz about it.

Above was the night's lineup. From Left to Right - Kentucky Vintage, Four Roses Single Barrel, Balcones True Blue, Sazerac Rye and Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1

Kentucky Vintage Small Batch Bourbon - 45%

When you think of traditionally styled bourbons you might automatically think of well known names such as Jim Beam, Four Roses, Bulleit, Makers Mark or Wild Turkey. This bottle of Kentucky Vintage Bourbon from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Co is anything but well known and anything but mass produced. This bourbon is sold as small batch and individually hand labelled.

This whiskey itself is matured for longer than most standard bourbons at a whopping 8 years. Other bourbon expressions are matured for the minimum 2 year term in order for the spirit to be labelled as Bourbon Whiskey.

Nose  - Intense sharp sweetness, bananas and demarera sugar under the grill, oak, warm caramel, cinnamon and star Anise and some sort of citrus note such as lime rind.
Palate- Initial light brush of maple syrup, buttery, back to the sugar from the nose, treacle tart, lots of vanilla extract and sultanas
Finish- Medium length, very warm but then quickly fades to delicate notes of candy floss (or since we're going US cotton candy!) and slight oak and smokiness.

Four Roses Single Barrel - 50% Barrel 11-3

 Next up on our tour was an offering from renowned bourbon producer Four Roses. In this instance it came in the form of their premium bottling, the Four Roses Single Barrel. In this case the bottle was from warehouse NV and barrel 11-3 which incidentally is the same batch that Jim Murray of whisky bible fame scored a whopping 94 points.

The single barrel is a high quality offering and has been matured for 2+ years. The standard Four Roses Yellow label is made up of a selection of ten single barrels from the Four Roses stable. Incidentally if you're ever looking for a good bourbon to replace the usual suspects of Jack Daniels (which isn't actually a bourbon) Jim Beam etc check out the standard Four Roses Yellow Label bottling. For £20 it's a steal.

Nose  - An all together different beast from the Kentucky Vintage. Where the KV was delicate and light the Four Roses is deep and rich. So much going on here, intense plumb crumble, strawberry jam, créme caramel and warm parkin cake.
Palate- A lovely warmth & oily mouthfeel. Definitely feels older than it is. Oreo cookies, another breath of the plumbs from the nose, and a warming cinnamon fragrance leading to a wonderful hint of Peruvian chocolate (yes chocolate really can be that unique!) and finishing off before the tail with black cherry compote
Finish- The cherry lingers before being shouldered aside by a sweet yet powerful Oak.

Balcones - True Blue 50%

Now our next bottling is a very interesting dram indeed. Balcones you say? Who are these upstarts? Well, Balcones are making shockwaves throughout the Whisky/Whiskey industry. Founded in 2009 by a chap in Waco (yup a town called Waco), Texas named Chip Tate, Chip and a few friends purchased a run down warehouse, went on to make their own stills by hand and started to produce some of the most highly sought after small batch whiskies on the market.

As you can tell from the description above the entire Balcones range is lovingly crafted by hand and only produced in small unique batches. True Blue is one of the best whiskies in their range and is our first purely corn whisky of the night (its worth noting Chip has used the traditional Scottish spelling rather than whiskEy). In this case the corn used is blue corn, hence the name.

Nose  - Heavy and rich, spice, lots of spice, possibly nutmeg. Butter in a hot iron pan, honey, and warm fudge cake.
Palate- Starts off sweet more brown sugar here, then banana bread and Jamaican ginger cake followed by cinder toffee and honeycomb.
Finish- A long and warming finish with a return of the spices, there even starts to be a hint of sweetcorn with salt crystal butter before slowly fading away with a lovely warming glow.


Sazerac Straight Rye Whiskey - 45%

We now move onto our first and only Rye Whiskey of the evening. Sazerac Rye, now produced by Buffalo Trace, was originally named after the famous coffee house in New Orleans where the Sazerac cocktail was invented.

Rye whiskey is named as such as the mash itself used to create it must contain at least 51% rye. This bottling is labelled straight rye as his has been aged for 2 years or over. In this particular case a 6 year maturation. Rye is fantastic in cocktails and is known to be a spicy and punchy offering. Sazerac is no different!

Nose  - Spiced oranges, ginger and rainbow peppercorns.
Palate- More orange, possibly blood orange this time, root beer float, cola cubes, very peppery again and finally a bit of Irn Bru can you believe!!
Finish- Liquorice root, more citrus and yet another heated kick followed by lingering vanilla and oakiness.

Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1 - 62.5%

White Dog Mash is a very interesting spirit. This is basically the very same mash used to create the famous (and great value for money) Buffalo Trace bourbon. The only difference is that this particular spirit has not been matured for 2 years to soften and mellow in virgin oak casks. Oh no no no. This bottle of wet death has been taken straight from still to bottle.

The mash itself consists of corn, rye and malted barley - the normal mix for a bourbon mash.
It's no wonder this is only bottled in very small bottles and again, very small batches!

Nose  - Initially thinking 'oh god what have I done' before realising there are layers here. Lychee syrup, cocoa dusting and bakewell tart.
Palate- Surprisingly smooth, obviously not to the extent of a matured bourbon but considering the mash involved and the abv there is more sugary syrup, a bit of rough cut marmelade and pepper.
Finish- Quite short but peppery and warm, this is everything that the Baijiu could only wish to be!

We had a great selection here tonight, 2 bourbons, a unique corn whisky, a wonderful rye and finally a little bit of white lightening! I think overall the vote was ties between the Sazerac and the Four Roses but all the drams both Whisky and Whiskey alike stood up to the scrupulous tastebuds of the MWC members.

Until next time!