Thursday, November 13, 2014

Age is a Virtue?

Thanks to Josh for the Picture

Our second tasting of August was based around a recent trend in the whisky industry; the increase in No Age Statement releases.

A No Age Statement release or NAS for short, is pretty much as it sounds, a whisky where the company does not disclose on the bottle (or anywhere else for that matter) how old the whisky is.

SWA regulations say an age statement must show the age of the youngest contributing spirit in the bottling. Ie  With a bottle of Glenfarclas 15 the youngest whisky contained within it will be 15 years old although there may be some older malt content in there also.

One of the reasons for the large increase in NAS releases is that distilleries cannot meet demand and are having to use younger whiskies in order to allow their spirits to mature.

So what happens when the gloves come off and we take a look at some of the industries flagship releases?..

Image Courtesy of the Whisky Exchange
Tomatin Legacy - 43%

The club has a bit of a bitter sweet relationship with bottles of Tomatin in the past with the old 12 year old version not performing well but the 15 and 30 receiving high acclaim. However how did the 2013 NAS Legacy release from the Highland Distillery fair?

Bottled at 43%, a good start. Matured in ex bourbon and virgin oak the nose is spicy, yet creamy with a touch of citrus. Fresh and spicy. The palate is surprisingly strong but well balanced, cinnamon,  barley, apple, brown sugar and honey with a long and spicy finish.

At around £20-£25 a bottle this is indeed very good value for money despite not having a number on the bottle. The clubbers guessed this sat around the 7-8yr old mark. A good mid week pick me up.

Singleton of Dufftown - Tailfire 40%

No dear friends this is not an indication that Diageo have spanned into film production with the release of a new James Bond film starring Jim Murray as a Panama hat wearing, Glencarin toting MI5 agent.

Tailfire, coupled with the other release, Sunray are the 2 latest NAS releases from the Dufftown distillery.

Tailfire was matured in refill sherry casks and bottled at 40% with the red label indicating what the producers feel are associated red berry flavours of the spirit.

Nose, well, fair enough there is a bit of strawberry jam there, a touch of malt, crunchy nut cornflakes and warm bread. The palate is smooth but quite a thin texture. Honey, apple pie and victoria sponge. This is a very, very sweet whisky.

Tailfire sank a bit with only a few positive comments about the nose. On the plus side unlike Sunray it doesn't sound like a Care Bear film.

Tailfire's RRP sits around the £30-£35 mark.

Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve - 43%

Image Courtesy of the Whisky Exchange
This is the club's second Yamazaki with the 12 yr old tasted back in summer 2013. The 12 yr old now sells at between £45-£55 which compared to £35 in 2013 is a big hike so we settled on this dram to see how it compares.

The Distiller's Reserve was released alongside the sister distillery Hakushu Distiller's reserve.

The nose is quite fruity, think pineapple upside down cake, coconut and almonds with a touch of oak. The palate is again fruity but will a well balanced sherry and oak character as well as peach and a dab of milk chocolate. The finish is medium in length and smooth with a touch of spice.

Distiller's reserve got a mixed reception with clubbers feeling it lacked a bit of depth.

Highland Park Dark Origins - 46.8%

Assassin's Creed Dark Origins David Beckham Edition
Our 3rd Highland Park of the month! Highland Park Dark Origins was hot off the press after release in late July 2014. Andy and Sean had already snaffled a sneak preview of the release at Dramboree thanks to Daryl Haldane's tasting (where he also let them in on a little secret as to it's age but our lips are sealed).

Dark Origins takes inspiration from the distillery's somewhat illicit past centered around a local man a butcher come smuggler - Magnus Eunson. Eunson was a renowned smuggler of spirits who used the local church to stash his goods. The new packaging bearing what some described as 'Assassins Creed David Beckham' with a hooded figure shrouded in a dark smokey tones leans towards what HP seem to be going for. (Obviously we cannot confirm or deny if the chap actually looked like the former England footballer)

Matured in 80% first fill sherry casks and 20% refill sherry and bottled at 46.8%. The nose is musty, tar, tobacco, oak and dark chocolate. The palate shows some orange zest, pepper and thick toffee alongside the signature Highland Park smoke.

Dark Origins went down well, with the clubbers noting the depth of flavour and amount of first fill sherry casks but in turn thinking the RRP of £65 was steep given that the age statement 12 year old is £25.

Laphroaig Select - 40%

Unbelievably, only our second Laphroaig. The Select has caused something of a stir with the online whisky community. We won't tell you why but here's how it went down at the club.

Select is matured in a vast number of cask types including Olorosso sherry butts, American white oak, PX Hoghsheads, Quarter casks, ex bourbon casks and more. We have a contingent of in-house peat heads as you might expect from a whisky club but nobody had prepared themselves for what came next.

The nose, salty initially, a touch of seaweed, lemon, caramel and a very faint dry smoke. The palate was quite distant and never really got started. More lemon, a touch of menthol and chocolate, think Fry's mint bars, Caramac and a final note of the traditional Laphroaig TCP. The finish was short with a touch of peat and clove notes seeing you to the end.

"Hmmm" Those being the words of several members.

This was certainly not like any Laphroaig any of us had had before. With an RRP of £35 + which is more than the 48% Quarter cask - £27 and around the same price as the 10yr old, this release seem to be a few pints short of a party.

Talisker Port Ruighe - 45.8%

On that bombshell we raced onto the final dram of the night. The Talisker Port Ruighe. Pronounced 'Port Rhee' after the Skye town, the release is bottled at the trademark Talisker strength of 45.8% and was finished in Ruby Port casks.

The nose is surprisingly chocolatey with dried cranberry, fig, cigar leaf? and a touch of woodsmoke. The palate is smooth yet produced the expected peat smoke but also kept in line with toffee, cherry and summer fruit pudding notes. This was topped by a lingering drying sweet finish.

A pleasant surprise from this little number. A few around the room mentioned their disappointment in the Talisker Storm and Dark Storm releases that were put to market around the same time as this bottling but very much enjoyed this one.

Sitting at around £40 RRP this is a little indication of how tactile Talisker spirit might actually be if paired with a more unusual cask type. Good stuff.

 Overall Dram of the night was tied, undecided if you will between Highland Park Origins and the Talisker with a few votes for the Tomatin. The Tomatin though got top marks for value.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Duty Free Drams

Our first tasting in August saw us play host to several famous whisky brands and examples of their Travel retail Exclusive whiskies.

These are bottles that can only be picked up in airports across the globe and provide an interesting look at different stock as well as providing good value for money in many cases due to the sheer size of the bottles with most being 1 litre in size.

Before we get started the club would like to say a huge thank you to Inverhouse Distillers, Jameson and Highland Park for providing us with the bottles for this evening.

Old Pulteney, Noss Head - 46%

The first Pulteney at the club and we have the Wick distillery's entry level in to their travel retail range, Noss Head'. Part of the Lighthouse Series' named after different lighthouses on the north Scottish coast, Noss head was matured exclusively in ex Bourbon casks and bottled with No Age Statement.

Light in colour, this appears to be a young whisky as from the nose it is light, spritely and spicy with green apple and what is often seen as the trademark Pulteney salt. The palate too features citrus, vanilla and spice with a surprisingly long finish.

This retails at £39.99 and for a litre of Pulteney, this is fantastic value for money and provides a step away from the usual house style.

Jameson Select Reserve - 40%

As we've had this little Irish beauty previously, the notes can be found here.

Balblair 2004 - 46%

Balblair is a picturesque distillery nestled in the Highlands who are quickly (and quite rightly) becoming recognised as a leading player in the whsiky market. Balblair bucked the trend of the usual Age statement a few years back, rather than show '12 years old' they chose to show the vintage of the whisky, which is more akin to wine than whisky. In this case a 2004 vintage.

The 2004 is a 10 year old whisky bottled in 2014 and is matured solely in ex bourbon casks.

The nose is light, honey, vanilla, lemongrass alongside a savoury note and a touch of malt. The palate is fresh and comes back with the vanilla, brandy snap biscuits make an appearance before a dry medium length finish.

Retailing at £44.99 this Balblair provides a god chance to try a lighter highland style without breaking the bank.

Old Pulteney Duncansby Head - 46%

Next up, another Pulteney, this time though Duncansby Head which was matured in both Bourbon and sherry casks giving this a little more of a rounded edge.

The nose gives off the Pulteney salty sea air again, this time though with toffee, honey and hazelnut. The palate is warm with a good oily texture. Flavours include orange oil, raisins and herbs.

The finish is medium length with vanilla, oak and spice.

At £45.99 this gives an altogether more classic Pulteney experience with more depth and richness than the Noss Head.

Balblair 1991 - 46%

Ok now, next up is a bit of a curveball in that it wasn't a purely Travel retail bottling coupled with the
fact that it was only available for a 6 month period back in 2010 when a stand in was needed before the new 1990 bottling replaced the old 1989. However this gives the 1991 a rather unique edge.

A very bourbon affair with that Balblair honey again, orange peel and vanilla. A light and fragrant palate, thin mouthfeel but a long spicy finish.

Highland Park Svein - 40%

Highland Park's Warrior series has been one of the success stories of the modern Travel Retail market for whisky producers. Based on legendary Viking warriors due to Orkney's Viking past, this 1ltr offering is No Age Statement comes in at a very reasonable £39.99 but what did we make of it?

Nose gives some initial toffee and a very soft underlying smoke, oak and coal. The palate is somewhat mellowed due to the 40% but retains a robust cinnamon, dark chocolate and smoke influence. Maybe some tropical fruit back on the nose now too?

Overall? Good value for money at £40.

Highland Park Harald - 40%

Lastly we come fact to face with another Viking Warrior from Orkney. This time Harald. No not our
favourite tuba playing Australian neighbour, but another bottling in Highland Park's Warrior series.

Harald is named after Hrald Fairhair, a Viking King of Norway who first set up viking earldom on  Orkney. Bottled at 40% and using whiskies matured in both European and American oak casks, Harald gives nuts, orange peel and spice on the nose. The a palate is thick and almost clunky with toffee, vanilla and christmas spices.

A nice bottling here from Highland Park with an extra dimension compared to the Svein.

Harald retails at £70

Monday, August 25, 2014

Commonwealth Nations

24th July saw us tackle a line up of whiskies from across the commonwealth in conjunction with the Commonwealth Games.

Australia - Sullivan's Cover Double Cask - 40%

First up we tried the Sullivan's Cove Double Cask, a Tasmanian whisky matured in both American and French Oak.

Australians are well known for their competitive nature when it comes to sport whether it be Cricket, Rugby or Tiddlywinks. Likewise the Australian whisky industry has flourished and has recently been making real in roads into the world market like a momentous scrum pushing into Scotland's half.

The Double cask is a vatting of 3 different single casks from the distillery.

The nose is velvety with the unmistakable notes of rich Cognac and milk chocolate. The French oak lends well to Sullivan's base spirit.

Onto the palate and this dram is a completely different beast! Now the American ex bourbon casks come into their own, vanilla, spice and a warm toffee note.

A short but warm finish ends proceedings.

This was certainly a dram of 2 halves, coming in at an RRP of £65, like all 'New world' Whiskies part of what you pay is the air miles getting it to the UK. If it was touching the 46% mark and cost a bit less the consensus was that it would be a good bottle to have on the shelf.

New Zealand - Milford 15 - 43%

Next up just a hop skip and a jump away from Australia and we're onto New Zealand, home of the Mighty All Blacks, Lucy Lawless and the Lord of the Ring's The Shire.

There is no distillery called Milford, in fact his bottling is that of the Willowbank Distillery in Dunedin on New Zealand's South Island that closed it's doors back in 2004. It's always interesting to feature a whisky from a closed distillery.

The whisky was matured in ex bourbon casks for 15 years before being bottled in 2004 prior to the distilleries closure.

Whisky gospel scribe and Panama Hat advocate Jim Murray is a past supporter of certain NZ whiskies. Let's see how this one fairs.

The nose is, frankly, harsh. Spirity and callously dry. There are some notes of banana and brown sugar in there but alongside are ever present notes of nose stinging Birdseye chili... Odd considering this whiskies 15 year maturation.

The palate retains it's form to the letter with altogether shallow and throat stinging onslaught. Not much else to say really..

The finish, well I'll leave that to your imagination.

We picked this up from the Whisky Exchange for £57 and appeared to be one of the last available in the UK from what we've seen afterwards. I think with this dram we saw why this distillery ended up closing it's doors for good.

Can't win them all!

Canada - Pike Creek - 40%

Oh Canada, never one's to blow their own trumpet Canadian whisky has somewhat fallen to the back of people's minds. However this was not always the case with Canadian whisky representing a huge market share in the US and beyond. Think Canadian Club in the hands of Don Draper in the 1960's HBO Series Mad Men.

However, Canada is back on the attack with several new distilleries and releases representing a huge increase in Canadian whisky output.

Pike Creek is a No Age statement blended whisky from Corby Distillers distilled at the more than amply sized Hiram Walker distillery in Ontario. The whisky is then sent off to Hiram's warehouses in ontario, interestingly these warehouses are unheated, temperatures can vary from 28C in Summer to around -10C in winter. This results in the casks expanding, retracting etc in the varying temperatures as well as having an effect on the actual speed of maturation.

The whisky is initially matured in American white oak casks before being transferred into ex Port Pipes.

The nose is fruity, very fruity. Think pears, cranberries and blackberries with a slight cinnamon backdrop.

Moving onto the palate, this displays a lot of grain characteristics, vanilla, honey and a touch of strawberry from the nose possibly.

The finish is short but again quite fruity with a touch of oak.

At £48 from The Whisky Exchange this provides an interesting alternative to Canadian Club and Crown Royal, with the added bonus of avoiding that somewhat garish purple faux velvet pouch.

Scotland - Glengoyne 15 yr old - 43%

Onto the host nation! You could almost hear Flower of Scotland bellow from the tin as this bottle was
poured out.

Glengoyne is an interesting distillery in many ways, it is one of the very few Highland Whiskies to use purely un peated barley, it also has the slowest distillation times in Scotland. Your 3rd Glengoyne fact of the day is that despite Glengoyne's Highland status, it's own warehouses right over the road are in the Lowlands showing Glengoyne is only a Highland whisky by the skin of it's teeth/tarmac.

The 15yr is matured in a mixture of first fill ex- sherry casks, bourbon casks and refill hogsheads.

The nose? Altogether more Scottish, heather, quite creamy with toffee and black forest gateaux alongside.

On the palate this whisky retains a thick oily texture that whisky lovers well... love. More toffee here before turning to nutmeg, shreddies cereal and honey.

The finish lends itself more to the oak from the casks with spice.

For £45 at Master of Malt, this provides a very smooth and fulfilling single malt from the modern home of whisky.

India - Kadhambam - 50%

To finish we go back east to the sweltering climes of Bangalore in India. We've tried a few Indian whiskies now, this one however has to be one of the most unique.

This was matured in 3 different cask types with one being that of a local liquor delicacy, Bangalore Blue Brandy, but don't let that put you off, the whisky is also transferred into Rum casks (from Amrut's own rum) and Oloroso sherry casks.

Luckily it seems that Amrut ran out of cask types to mature the spirit in otherwise we could have been here for a a while. A very modern approach to whisky production though which is always good to see.

As mentioned in a previous post the hot climates of countries such as India lends itself very well to the maturation of whisky with spirit maturing at a faster rate than that of one kept in the somewhat cooler and moister Scotland.

The nose is spicy, think cinnamon and star anise alongside brandy butter over a christmas pudding.

The palate is where the 50% comes in to it's own. Raisins, orange oil, cinnamon again and dark chocolate. Oddly a slight twang of a rich, thick Port in there too at times, ironic considering this to be one of the few cask types not used in this whiskies maturation!

The finish is long as you'd expect with notes of leather and oak.

Overall a very unique and tasty dram indeed. Kudos to Amrut for pushing the boat out with some top notch cask experimentation here.

Available at Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange although be warned this is a limited release and comes in at £68 - £73

Dram of the night along with the Gold Medal went to the Glengoyne.. but only just! With a well deserved Silver and for the Amrut Kadhambam and the last podium finish and Bronze to Pike Creek.

Overall a fantastic showcase of what whiskies are out there from countries you might not always expect!

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.