Friday, September 28, 2018

Rye Hard

The Rye Hard line-up!
There was another first for the Manchester Whisky Club's September tasting: an evening of drinking rye. Tim had selected six drinks for us to sample and expand our whisky horizons, or should that be ho-rye-zons? (No)

Koval Rye Whiskey.
We started off with a rye from Koval, a distillery that was Chicago's first new one in more than a century when it was established in 2008. We tried their single barrel variety called simply Koval Rye Whiskey, the term rye whiskey meaning (in the US at least) a drink made from a mash of at least 51% rye.

The Koval got an enthusiastic response from most of the room straight away. "Chewy" offered a couple of drinkers, with definite bits of honey and maybe maple syrup in there too. The overwhelming taste was a peppery spiciness though. If you can find one still available it's £43 for a 50cl bottle, with an ABV of 40%. A strong start to the night!

We stayed with a Koval theme for dram number two. In this case, it was not a rye as such, but a bottle of the familiar Caol Ila Islay malt, finished in a Koval cask by independent bottler Valinch and Mallet for their Peaty DNA collection.

V&M Caol Ila 6yo.
Given the powerful smell and taste of Caol Ila, some in the room immediately wondered why the good people at V&M would bother doing this. It's not exactly drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa, but many thought that the rye taste from the cask struggled to really register.

We got sandalwood and vanilla and the whisky was certainly smokier than you'd expect. There were mixed views, with some positive comments but others not keen at all ("it's gross!"), while someone suggested it might go down better alongside a cigar. The 6yo whisky bottled in 2011 came in at 47.2% and costs £73.

We moved from Scotland to the Netherlands for the third whisky of the night, and a rye offering from the Millstone label, produced by the Zuidam distillery.

Millstone 100 Rye.
On this occasion it was a Millstone 100 Rye, so named because everything to do with it was 100 something or other. So it was 100 proof, 100 months old (that's eight and a bit years to you and me) and so on. Perhaps most notably was the fact it was 100% rye grain, quite rare because it is considered a difficult distilling challenge for chemical reasons that were explained but which I can't quite bring to mind right now.

As for the actual whisky, the nose was great, the palate a little less so. On the nose we got something really fragrant and complex, with all sorts coming through including orange, brown sugar and, in my case, a waxy lump of Edam (although as someone pointed out, perhaps my Dutch stereotypes were already getting the better of me). The taste had notes of vanilla and the countryside, like bark. At £74 for this 50% ABV whisky, we thought it was a little expensive to rush to buy.

Sonoma County.
After a half-time break, it was on to the fourth dram and back across the Atlantic for a Sonoma County Cherrywood Rye. The nose was the immediate talking point here. Without putting too fine a point on it, it smelt like carpet. New carpet to be precise. So much so, it was reminiscent of walking into a branch of Allied circa 1987.

It tasted "all right" we thought, certainly better than it smells. But to be honest, no matter how hard we tried, it was tough to get over that powerful smell. Some thought it was awful, others lovely, but then you can't expect any whisky club to agree on anything, let along everything. It's £63 and comes in at 47.8%. Must rye harder? Possibly.

This is not whisky.
The next whisky was a particular oddity, in that it can't technically be called whisky at all, at least not in the EU. The drink is Alberta Premium Dark Horse from Calgary in Canada. And 1% of it is made up of sherry which the folks at the distillery literally just pour in. So the sherry is not from the cask, but is 'teaspooned' instead. Because it isn't 100% whisky, that means we simply can't call it that, and also means it's unlikely to be imported here anytime soon.

We had a bottle though, and very cheap it was too - 29 Canadian dollars (£18). It had one or two strong supporters, but that was about it. Someone suggested it was reminiscent of wet cardboard, which after the full on carpet explosion of the previous dram, suggested his tastebuds weren't having a great run of things. It's 45% and, as is more common with Canadian whiskies, comes in a 75cl bottle rather than the typical 70.

Dad's Hat.
The night ended with another oddity. In this case, the world's only whiskey to be finished in vermouth barrels. The brand is Dad's Hat from Pennsylvania, a state once famous for whiskey but which has somewhat lost that reputation over the years.

This was herby on the nose and that wine influence seemed to come through more on the palate, along with a spiciness that certainly helped to make it very pleasant. It's 47% and is £55. Certainly worth seeking out, not least because of its uniqueness.

And that brought us almost to the close of another successful tasting. The only thing that remained was the dram of the night voting, and for the first time any of us could remember, it was the opening whisk(e)y of the evening which took the honours. There were no fewer than 13 votes for Kobal from the Windy City of Chicago.

Thanks to Tim for sourcing such an interesting range of drams for us all to try, to members old and new for another well-attended night, and to all at the Britons Protection for hosting us once again.

Drinking whiskey and rye.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Wish You Were Beer

August's line-up of whiskies.
New club chairman Adam led the tasting for the first time in August, and he had a selection of paired whiskies and beers for us all to try. He also produced a club first - a PowerPoint presentation - to showcase the research he had put in to each of the chosen drinks, which Adam ran through after we'd tasted everything blind.

Teeling / Galway Bay
The effort was much appreciated as we got stuck into the first of the evening's 12 glasses. The opening pairing got us off to a stout beginning. The beer was clearly something black and chocolatey, although not all that strong. And the whisky, which tasted kind of familiar to many in the room, must have been finished in stout casks, we guessed.

This was a particularly close pairing as it turned out. The whisky was from club favourites Teeling, finished in casks from Galway Bay stout. The beer was also Galway Bay, their milk stout called Buried at Sea. The members' noses were certainly on point at this early stage of the evening, as sure enough the stout is a certainly drinkable 4.5% (it's £2.49 a bottle) while the Teeling Stout Cask is 46% and available for £40, again offering decent value. Perhaps best of all, nobody felt the need to break into a few bars of the song Galway Bay, although if Adam had saved this pairing until the end no doubt someone would have had a go at it.

Weller / Welde
Pairing two gave us a whisky that immediately put us in mind of a bourbon, with that classic sweetish, vanilla sort of flavour. The beer was what got more of us talking, in so much as it smelt terrible. Lots of people didn't like the nose at all, and that extended to the palate as well. "It tastes of regret" was one of the more charitable tasting notes, but certainly not inaccurate.

The bourbon in the bottle was from the Buffalo Trace family. As Adam explained, this is quite an extended family, with a huge range of brands familiar in the US (although perhaps less so here) all being produced at the distillery in Frankfort, the historic capital of Kentucky. This one was under the Weller name, and we liked it a lot. It's 45% although the price is highly variable because it's so scarce over here, so good luck getting hold of it. The beer, which evidently went down less well, was Bourbon Barrel Bock produced by German brewer Welde which spent time in bourbon, rum and tequila casks. At 6.6% and £2.49, you can probably give it a miss.

Glen Moray / Windswept
We finally visited Scotland for pairing three, and while the whisky seemed a little bland, it was certainly highly drinkable. "A young Speyside" was one guess from the membership, and indeed the distillery in question was also correctly identified! The accompanying beer was a strong brown ale, and we liked this one too.

Indeed, it was a bit of a surprise to discover the beer was 9%, because it again seemed nice and easy to drink. The common thread between these drinks was the Glen Moray distillery, with the whisky a 40% expression finished in port casks and available for the very reasonable £25. The beer was made by brewery Windswept in nearby Lossiemouth and called The Wolf of Glen Moray. It's £8 plus postage though so it's probably one to save for when you happen to be passing, unless you're ordering a job lot.

Highland Park / Harviestoun
After a half-time break and a chance to get further refreshment, as if it were needed, from the bar at the Briton's Protection, it was on to pairing number four. And what stood out immediately from the two was the beer. Sticky and meaty, this was like an intense, spicy barbecue. The whisky was perhaps a touch less immediately memorable, lightly peated, and a little more pleasant on the nose than the palate.

The beer we enjoyed so much was an Ola Dubh black ale produced by Harviestoun, and finished in whisky casks from Highland Park. Sure enough, the accompanying whisky was indeed Highland Park, on this occasion the standard 12-year-old bottling that you can probably pick up in your local supermarket for £30 or so. The beer is 8% and £4.49, and Harviestoun has been something of a pioneer in cask aged brews so there are plenty of versions to try if you want to investigate.

Double Barrel / Wild Beer
There was another distinctive taste to beer number five. On this occasion it was salty, "like being hit by a wave in the sea", or munching on some salt and vinegar crisps. This did divide opinion a little, but overall this was the first beer of the night to actually be preferred to a whisky (although given we're the Manchester Whisky Club, this probably wasn't entirely surprising). The whisky was a bit peaty, but overall certainly seemed more conventional.

As it turned out, the whisky was not exactly conventional, being a 'double barrel' blended malt concoction of Ardbeg and Craigellachie, bottled by Douglas Laing. At 46% and £48 this got a general thumbs up. The beer, a Belgian Dubbel from the Wild Beer Co. called Smoke 'n' Barrels involved casks of both Islay whisky and red wine, which helps to explain the real mixture of flavours on the go. Certainly worth trying once even if you don't like the sound of it, it's £5.49 and 7.4%.

Smooth Ambler / KBS
As is often the case, by the last dram of the night the tasting notes that I managed to record had become somewhat less expansive. All I really ended up putting was that the beer seemed quite treacly, and that the whisky tasted like a bourbon. But these were both accurate statements so there's no harm in leaving it at that.

It turned out that both of these were American. The whisk(e)y was a blended bourbon from the Smooth Ambler brand, sourced from the huge MGP distillery in Indiana. At 50% and £70 this was certainly good, but not as memorable as the beer, which was Kentucky Breakfast Stout. Whether anyone would actually drink a 12.3% bourbon-finished beer for breakfast or not is another thing, but at £6.99 it's worth trying at any time of the day.

Overall the whiskies won the day, but within that it was a triumph for the whiskey over the whisky. The voting revealed our top choice was the Smooth Ambler after it initially tied with the Weller, while the leading beer was the Smoke 'n' Barrels despite the love-it-or-hate-it reception it got from the membership.

Thanks to everyone for attending another successful tasting and in particular to Adam for choosing and then explaining such a fascinating selection of drinks. Thanks also to the Briton's for hosting us once again.

The full line-up!