Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Trip Down the Spey

Our second tasting in January was based around the Speyside region whilst also taking into account the cashflow issue following the New Year. We lined up 5 bottles that all came in at under £50 each with some usually overlooked bottlers and distilleries for a bit of variety.

So without further ado..

Glen Elgin 18 Yr old - Signatory 46%

Glen Elgin is rarely found as a single malt bottling. This is one of Diageo's portfolio that has been deemed only worthy of supplying whisky for their blended ranges. Glen Elgin predominantly goes into the famous White Horse range where it plays its part as the backbone of the blend.

There is only 1 official recent bottling of Glen Elgin as a single malt by Diageo, a 12 year old. This particular 18 year old we have was matured for the full 18 years in 2 refill hogshead casks before being bottled in November 2013 by famous indy bottlers - Signatory and is non Chill filtered with no added colour.

The nose is very fresh, fruity and malty with pear and Bird's custard with slight elderflower cordial notes. The palate while very smooth is sweet and syrupy, like tinned peach with slight wood influence and sugared porridge. Simple in its own way but satisfying. A medium length finish again sweet, this time caramel and peanut brittle.

A good solid start and coming in at £45 for a NCF natural colour 18yr old Speysider, you might find it hard to turn this one down and makes a nice change to the usual suspects.

Glenlivet 16 Yr old - Signatory 46%

Glenlivet is the second best selling single malt whisky in the world. This is mainly thanks to the US market where it currently stands as the most popular malt.

It is not surprising that Glenlivet hold this title, you can now find the 12 year old in practically every major supermarket in the UK and a swathe of pub chains and bars. Glenlivet are vying for the title of most popular single malt with regional neighbours and current title holders of the most popular malt worldwide, Glenfiddich. Glenlivet are owned by Pernod Ricard who's portfolio also includes other major names such as Aberlour and Longmorn as well as Irish distillers, Midleton.

This particular Glenlivet has been matured for 16 years in a 1st fill Sherry Butt before being bottled in November 2013 by Signatory, our second of the night by this popular bottler. Again this is Non chill filtered and natural colour.

The colour is noticeably darker than the Glen Elgin due to the sherry butt maturation. The nose offers warm toffee and a good sherry balance, not overly rich or too overpowering. There are notes of green apple peel and dried cranberry. The palate was a luscious mix of the balanced sherry character, warm chocolate sponge, banana chips and toblerone. The finish was long and warming and a slowly sweetening baked apple pie note. Delicious, for £47 you can't go wrong with this one.

Miltonduff-Glenlivet 19 Yr old - Cadenheads 46%

What? Another Glenlivet? Really? This is a bit boring surely? You'd be forgiven for thinking that from the title - Miltonduff-Glenlivet, that we're looking at another of the Glenlivet distillery's range, but no. This is a 19yr old Miltonduff, traditionally there are many distilleries named with Glenlivet in the title, Aberlour again for example is traditionally called Aberlour-Glenlivet as Glenlivet is a catchment area, like a postcode in a sense.

This bottling of the often overlooked Miltonduff was bottled in 2013 by famous indy bottlers Cadenheads for their small batch range, again this is non chill filtered and natural colour. Miltonduff is again a blend focused malt with the majority of production going into Chivas blends such as Ballantine's and rarely seen as a single malt.

This appeared to have been matured in what seems to be a first fill bourbon cask with a rich golden colour.

The nose was fruity, very rich in blackberry, apple and raspberries with a malty underlyer, akin to a blackberry and apple crumble. The palate again was rich, fruity, tropical this time like a tropical fruit juice, almond biscuit and vanilla. The finish is long with more vanilla and lingering fruits. This one went down well and provided good value for £49.95 (the most expensive of the night).

Glenfarclas 105 - 60% 

Our first distillery bottling of the night and what better way to kick this off than with a famous, family owned Speyside distiller? We've already tried one Glenfarclas at the Whisky Shop, this however is a different kettle of fish. A 60% 'No Age Statement, or NAS, (although its a 10 yr old) sherry finished whisky famous for its value for money with single malt anoraks..

The colour on the 105 is a dark gold, akin to the Glenlivet earlier on.

The nose carries those typical Glenfarclas-esque sherry delights alongside macadamia nuts, bitter chocolate and coffee grinds. Not a note you often find in whisky but it plays its part very well alongside the sherry influence.

On the palate the whisky finally spreads its wings with its 60% strength with indonesian long pepper, the coffee from the nose, more nuts and fudge. This leads in to a long and heated finish carrying more of the pepper from the palate and oak.

£42 you say? For a 60% sherried whisky at natural colour, this is a great affordable Speysider to have in the house all the time. Bargain.

Aberlour A'bunadh - 60.7%  Batch 47

Aberlour A'bunadh is possibly one of the most famous and popular sherried whiskies of recent times. A'bunadh is a no age statement batch release range of 1st fill Olorosso sherry cask matured, cask strength Aberlour Whisky.

This particular bottling is from the most recent batch #47 bottled in January 2014! Each batch varies massively and we had the benefit of Adam bringing his remaining Batch #46 to test side by side.

Batch 46 (bottled 2013) 60.4% - A rich nose with blueberry, melted nutty fudge, brown sugar, sherry. The palate was relatively punchy with dry sherry, fried pineapple, burnt toast with marmalade and demerara sugar. Finish long and lingering.

Batch 47 (2014) 60.7% - A well balanced nose, sherry, Madagascan chocolate, orange rind in a still
unbaked Christmas cake mix and a mixed nut tin. The palate was a bit more in tune with itself again with the sherry leading the fore alongside red currant sauce, Nutella on toast and freshly baked ginger biscuits. The finish was similar to the 46, long, but mellowing to show the sherry's true deep character that really did last for a long time.

From memory it was a bit of a split between the 46 and 47 so was down to personal preference and taste which is one of the great things about whisky.

The 47 retails at around £39.99 which not only made it the cheapest of the night but the most popular, there's a reason that people say Ablerlour A'bunadh is possibly the best 'bang for buck' whisky out there.

Natural cask strength, matured in 1st fill Olorosso Sherry butts, what's not to like?

The night was a roaring success with a good even split between the Glenlivet, Miltonduff and Aberlour in terms of popularity. It just goes to show that if you take a step off the beaten path, you can find little gems like the Miltonduff and that you don't have to spend a fortune to go home with a high quality, well made and enjoyable single malt from this utterly fantastic whisky making region.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Happy New... Whisky

Bringing in the New Year is often filled with resolutions such as "I'll get fit" (you know who you are) and those utter lunatics that somehow give up drinking for the entirety of the month of January.

At the Manchester Whisky Club however, we brought in the New Year the only way we know how. With whisky. Lots of whisky. To help us do this was the newest branch of The Whisky Shop which has taken up residence on St Anne's Square in the city and has quickly embedded itself as part of Manchester's retail elite.

We took the opportunity for our first club 'away day' at the shop with both hands. Here Jo and Ed put on a tasting just for the club featuring the shop's ever growing range of exclusive bottlings.

First up...

Glenfarclas 9yr - The W Club Bottling 46%

Anyone that has started exploring malts and whisky veterans alike can only but admire Glenfarclas. Both in it's traditional approach as an independent and family owned distillery, a rare thing indeed nowadays, and in the sheer quality of the whisky that George Grant and the rest of the team produce.

Albeit on the younger end of the scale for what you normally see from Glenfarclas. This bottling had been matured in first fill Olorosso Sherry casks and bottled to mark the formation of the shop's W Club in 2012.

Initially there are notes of classic Glenfarclas sherry, carrot cake and frosting, vanilla, brown sugar and nuts. The palate followed suit with brandy raisins, malt, marmalade and christmas cake. Another good expression from the Farclas stable.

Glenrothes 9yr - Douglas of Drumlanrig - 46% 

A 9yr old Glenrothes matured in a sherry butt, that appeared to be 1st fill due to it's dark copper colour. Glenrothes is an interesting Speyside malt owned by Berry Bros. This particular bottling is another Whisky Shop exclusive, distilled in May 2004 and bottled in August 2013, one of 210 bottles.

Another young whisky here although the nose would suggest an older malt, maybe of around 13-15 years. A very rich and luscious nose with citrus peels, honey and warm sponge cake. The palate followed this through with a surprisingly dry and balanced oak character.

BenRiach 17 Single Cask - 53.1%

Our 3rd Speysider of the night and our 2nd bottle of BenRiach in the whisky club. This time a 17yr old cask strength beast matured in American oak and that unstoppable whisky industry fad, Virgin Oak. BenRiach are an often overlooked Speyside distillery that produces a very consistently high quality spirit and offers a vast range of affordable bottling's with many varying styles and finishes.

Without water this offered pine resin, vanilla custard, leaning towards a red rope liquorice note. The palate, as you'd expect from 53%, was full, warming and delicious. Again sweet and leading with a demerara syrup note, as mentioned by Adam on his own blog, this was very alike a good quality Rye in many a sense. A long and lingering finish was a great sign off for this great drop from BenRiach.

Laphroaig 8yr - Douglas of Drumlanrig -46%

The first time you see this whisky you'd be forgiven for thinking; "Okay, very funny, who's replaced my whisky with the weakest chamomile tea imaginable?". This is a young refill bourbon matured Laphroaig bottled by the Douglas of Drumlanrig range. It's incredibly light in colour, whisky buffs with an knack for noting a whisky's colour might even struggle to use the often found 'golden straw' on this one. But the colour lulls you into a false sense of security..

Nose, oh hello Laphroaig my old friend. Smoked herring, black pepper, liquorice root and that trademark sweet peaty TCP like goodness we've come to know and love from this distillery. The palate was treated to a sudden peat bomb, although not hugely powerful, this was a well balanced peated whisky for its age. A short but continuously sweetening finish provided a chorus of "Mmmnn" from the group.

Overall a fantastic night and huge thanks to Joe and Ed from The Whisky Shop in Manchester for putting this on for us. The winner on the night? Well the Laphroaig just managed to steal top spot with the Benriach close behind. A good example of the exclusives range available here and good to see that Manchester finally has the whisky shop it deserves and that it is doing so well.

Long may it continue.