Thursday, October 26, 2023

Netflix and Distil 2

The full line-up

For October's tasting club member Dan brought us a sequel to his 2019 event Netflix and Distil, with another selection of drams connected to film and TV.

It wasn't whisky in our glasses to start with. Accompanied by the snowbound opening sequence of A View To A Kill we had an old style 1980s bottle of Stolichnaya, as enjoyed by Roger Moore shortly after biffing some Bolsheviks in deepest Siberia. These days it's been rebranded as 'Stoli', presumably to play down its Russian origins. But there was no doubting the pedigree of this particular bottle, imported to Italy at 40%. We paid £23 but post-Brexit fees brought it up to about £50. Not being a group of vodka connoisseurs, the sole tasting notes for this were "it's nice" and "it's very nice" but it was a very enjoyable way to ease into the evening.

Our six new friends (plus a vodka)
Drink number two, and the first whisky, was an even bigger curveball. Having watched a clip of Rwanda-themed drama Black Earth Rising, Dan produced a bottle of - yes - Rwandan whisky. The bottle was from the extremely little known 1000 Hills distillery and was supposed to be a 3yo, although on tasting it we really couldn't be certain it was actually whisky at all. It smelt unpromising ("terrible") and tasted like schnapps. A bit of liqourice in there, and shoe leather, with trace notes of vomit (!).

Things improved quickly with the next dram, a 3yo Old Overholt straight rye accompanied by a clip of James Cromwell playing that distillery's owner in Boardwalk Empire. Very pleasant, this, with pepper, cumin and aniseed all coming through on the nose. It was perhaps a little light on flavour on the palate, although it was definitely sweet. We picked out little bits of orange too. It was 40% and cost us £43.

In the classic series The Wire, everyone's favourite Baltimore cop McNulty (improbably played by Old Etonian Dominic West, but that's acting for you) is a noted Jameson's drinker, and in one scene describes Bushmills as "Protestant whiskey". Dan took us to one of the show's most memorable moments, the wake for officer Cole, when his colleagues toast him with a dram and a sing along to Body of an American by The Pogues. For our own purposes, we had a glass of a Single Pot Still Jameson's. It was quite sweet, with toffee apples, vanilla, orange and ginger all coming through. At £49, this was 46%.

A packed crowd!
The newest Batman film was the theme for the fifth drink. Lots of product placement in the movie for Dewar's, but instead we went to the sister distillery Craigellachie for a 13yo finished in Armagnac. It smelt absolutely great on the nose: we got nectarine, orange and toffee. Then it was waxy with a touch of smoke on the palate. A bit of heft to this one, we absolutely loved it.

Think whisky movies and it won't be long before you come across The Angels' Share from veteran director Ken Loach. There's loads of the good stuff in the film of course, and Dan produced a 17yo Ledaig for us, produced at the Tobermory distillery on Mull. This was from a bourbon hogshead and independently bottled. Mango, pineapple and slightly smoky as befits a Ledaig, but there was a lot more than just peat to this one. Really good we thought! It was £105.

We finished off the evening with a clip from the film Constantine and a drop of Ardbeg. They drink the 10yo in the film and we've had it before, so instead we had a bottle of Ardbeg Bizarre-bq, what I fear we are duty bound to call a 'collab' with someone called DJ Barbecue (presumably not his birth name). This was meaty and smoky with an undoubted barbecue flavour profile. Puffs of charcoal and soot supposedly, but we definitely got smoked ham, cinnamon and coffee. It smelt absolutely superb. This was 50.9% and it's available for £76.

That brought us to the dram of the night voting, and it was an absolute triumph for the Ardbeg with 14 votes. In second was the Craigellachie with the Ledaig third.

Thanks to Dan for picking out such a great range of whiskies and sourcing some highly appropriate clips for us all to enjoy. Also thanks to all at the Britons Protection for hosting us once again, and to all club members for attending and making it such a successful evening.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

Born in the USA

The full line-up

September is designated Bourbon Heritage Month, but for our tasting this year we had half a dozen whiskeys from the US which failed one of bourbon's golden rules. Adding to the intrigue, we tried them al blind.

The first dram tasted like a sweet, classic bourbon. Nutty, almondy, with a big dose of marzipan like a Bakewell tart. Strong and spicy, the fact this was in the low 50s for ABV (it was 51%) came as a bit of a surprise. It failed the 'barrel rule' to do with being aged in a new, charred oak barrel, and was from Heaven Hill, an 11yo from the Heroes and Heretics series available via Master of Malt. "Delicious" we thought. Decent value too, at £75.

The next dram was 50% so about the same in terms of strength. Vanilla on the nose in the typical bourbon style, with custard, banana and foam sweets as well. Spicy with a long finish. It failed the 'mashbill rule' because it wasn't majority corn, with rye in fact the dominant grain element at 43%. Tasting this blind we were surprised it was a Jack Daniel's. JD is known for its banana forward taste but this was more banoffee pie, especially with a drop of water. It's a Triple Mash, we paid £42 for it but it can sometimes be found cheaper.

Whiskey three was from Indiana, making its origin the MGP distillery although it was bottled by an independent from Baltimore. A glorious dark colour, this smelt like a sherry finish but could have been wine, but in fact it did indeed turn out to be Pedro Ximenez sherry. This failed the mashbill rule as it's mostly rye, so you get that spicy rye feeling but partly covered by the sweet sherry. The bottling was a Sagamore Spirit sherry finish, a 6yo at 53%. It arrived on these shores with a big reputation from the US but hasn't sold out, it is still available for £81.

We stayed with an MGP whiskey for number four, once again the work of a third party bottler. This gave us a real sweetie shop vibe. A blend of two whiskeys - rather like what we might call a vatted malt - this was a blend of a bourbon and a wheated whiskey meaning it failed the mashbill rule. Old Elk Double Wheat, bought by us in New York for $100, we felt the blend took the edge off this, as wheated whiskey can apparently be quite astringent. It was certainly cereal-y, like Shredded Wheat. Quite confusing really, a bit of a mixed bag, but worth trying.

Number five tasted strong! In the 60s we immediately felt, and it was, at 62.3%. This failed the distillation rule, having been distilled at no less than 90% ABV. This comes from a separate category called 'light whiskey' so named because it's normally proofed right down, but this particular bottle wasn't. It was called Barrel Dovetail and involved rum, port and wine casks. A bit all over the place we felt, with tasting notes including aniseed, liquorice, with a bit of cardamom or pepper. It cost us £94 and was a no age statement bottling.

We finished off with a peated whiskey, a blend of American malt and highly peated Scotch. We picked this one up at auction for £80 - but the retail price is more than double that! It's Westland Garryana 5th edition. The Garryana is the oak, and along with the fact it was a first fill bourbon cask it failed the rules all round. A 4-6yo, this used beer yeast as well so should have been a bit different (and was). Very nice, and didn't really feel like an American whiskey. Beautiful!

This brought us to the dram of the night voting, and all six of the whiskeys got at least two votes - the sign of a high quality line up. But it was whiskey three, the Sagamore Spirit, that came out on top with 12.

Thanks to all club members and those on the waiting list for joining us for the tasting, as well as everyone at the Britons Protection for hosting us once again.

Thursday, August 31, 2023

Organic Drams

Half a dozen organic whiskies

For August's tasting, club member Rich had selected six whiskies on the theme of organic drams. Organic has become one of the key buzzwords in food and drink production, and whisky is no exception: we had a line-up of half a dozen drinks from distilleries using organic techniques.

Benromach Contrasts
We started with Benromach and their Contrasts: Organic expression, an 8-year-old. A Speyside distillery that is nevertheless known for its range of smoky single malts, we had before us an unpeated bottling matured in virgin American oak.

This was very nice both on the nose and the palate. Fruity was a key tasting note all round, with hints of banana and other tropical fruits. We liked it even more when Rich revealed the price tag of £47. This represented strong value, and the bottle was as a whole "surprisingly good". There are also some bottles of earlier versions of it around for cheaper if you look hard enough. It's 46%.

Nc'nean Organic

The second dram was from Nc'nean, a relatively new distillery from the west Highlands based on the coast across from Mull. They have based the philosophy of the whisky around the concept of 'slow' and we had their Nc'nean Organic expression in our glasses.

A mostly red wine cask aged 3-year-old, this was punchy on the nose. A little bit chocolatey too, and we got some ginger as well. A bit meh for some in the club, and a little harsh as befits a young whisky, but there was general agreement this stuff had some decent potential. It's £45 and is 46%.

Da Mhile
Next up we went to Wales and farm-based distillery Da Mhile. Also known for their organic cheese and a range of other spirits, Rich had dug out a bottle of organic single malt that was finished in first fill ex-Madeira casks. This was a new distillery on just about all of us - not often you can say that about something we try at the club.

This certainly had some sweetness as you'd expect from something that is on nodding terms with Madeira. There were those tropical notes again and dried banana again prominent. There were mixed reviews around the room, though. We agreed it was a little unusual, almost like a liqueur in a way. Some liked it, others less so, making it a bit of a marmite dram. It was again 46% but despite the novelty factor, no sign of anyone rushing out to buy it at £93.

Deanston PX
After a half-time break to fill up our beer glasses downstairs at the Britons Protection, the second half of the tasting began with a visit to the distillery perhaps most often associated with the 'organic' label, Deanston.

It has been producing organic whisky for a lot longer than most - more than two decades - and so we were able to have a rather older organic expression. The Deanston we had was a 17-year-old distilled back in 2002, and ultimately finished in PX sherry casks for the last three of those years.

This went down very well. Lots of club members really enjoyed it. Tasting notes included toasted marshmallows, and also a rich, lemony sort of flavour. It's 49.3% and cost £125.

Bruichladdich Organic
Bruichladdich, the Islay distillery, is another one known for putting a focus on organic products since its revival in the early 2000s. They have a vineyard-style belief in terroir, and this particular bottling - The Organic 2011 - was part of their barley provenance series.

Unusually unpeated, this had a big nose on it much like a wine. Satisfying on the palate, too. The central thought we had at the end of trying it was "luxurious". It's £75 and was 50%.

Hven Tyco's Star

The last of our organic drams was from Sweden. Not club favourites Mackmyra though, but instead a bottling from Hven, a distillery based on a tiny island between Sweden and Denmark. Named Tyco's Star in honour of the island's association with its observatory and all things stargazing, we had a medium peated no age statement bottling to try (it was billed only as "well matured" so it's not clear exactly how old it was).

An unusual one, the main tasting notes we got were leather and liqourice. Not bad, but coming after a couple of strong drams from top quality distilleries, it perhaps suffered a little by comparison. It was £52 for a 50cl bottle, and was 41.8%.

Which brought us to the dram of the night voting, and unusually it was a win for the night's opener, the Benromach. In second was the Deanston with the Bruichladdich third.

Thanks to Rich for picking out the drams, to all at the Britons for hosting us and to club members and those on the waiting list for attending another successful tasting.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

English Whisky


The full line up

For July's meeting of the Manchester Whisky Club we had a great selection of whiskies from around England to try, as we visited a mixture of brand new names and some distilleries which have already become firm favourites.

A new one for most of us to start with though, Ludlow, which comes from, well, Ludlow. We had a bottle of the Batch 5 PX finish. Despite that advertised sherry hit, we didn't get much of it beyond the faintest of hints. The taste itself was a bit thin as well, but perhaps not unexpected for a 3yo at 42%. The price tag was off putting though: at £80 this was more than a bit steep, we felt.

The dram of the night: Bimber!

We moved south and east next for a bottle of Oxford Rye. The purple label gave away the theme of this expression, in that after two years in American virgin oak it was finished in purple Moscatel. A 53.6% cask strength dram, this was great on the nose. Very sweet but overall it divided the room, some very much liked it but the bigger rye fans in the room weren't as thrilled. A last tasting note: buttered toast! It was £75.

The English Whisky Company from Norfolk kickstarted the resurgence in English whisky more than a decade ago, and we tipped our collective caps to them with dram three, a 9yo dating from 2018 released especially for friends of the club Aston's of Manchester. We weren't sure of the tasting notes as only 60 bottles were produced. But it was definitely citrussy, smooth, strong and tasty. There must have been some wine barrels involved somewhere, we felt. Committee member Martin, who raided his own stocks for this one, couldn't quite remember how much it cost, but it was £80 or thereabouts.

After a half-time break to recharge our glasses downstairs at the Britons Protection, we were back for the fourth whisky, from the Weetwood Distillery close to home in Cheshire. Only just over 3yo but, in contrast to the Ludlow, full of flavours such as foam bananas (!), this generated a lot of excitement in the room for what the spirit might turn into in years to come. This had more on the nose than the palate but was still great all round. It was 46% and £60.

Wire Works in the Peak District has already become a favourite with many club members after succcessful outings at previous tastings. We had in our hands a bottle of their latest collaboration with nearby craft brewer Thornbridge, Necessary Evil, where beer and whisky are swapped around before bottling (this expression involved stout). Absolutely delicious, this, there was an almost universal love for it. It was 51.3% and £65 (full disclosure: I went online and bought a bottle straight away).

The biggest name in English whisky is arguably Bimber from London, popular with hipster drinkers and savvy investors alike. We had a bottle from Martin's cask. At only just over 3yo this was another young one, but having been warehoused in a particularly hot location (it had lost ten litres) this really accelerated the maturation process. This had a hint of smoke and was absolutely lovely. It was no less than 58.9%.

This took us on to the dram of the night voting, and it was a win for Bimber with ten votes, just ahead of the Cheshire in second place and the Wire Works third.

Thanks to all in the club, those on the waiting list and everyone who hosted us at the Britons for another great evening.

All the drams

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Now vs Then

The full line up

For June's tasting, Martin chose a theme of 'now versus then' with an opportunity to compare older style bottlings from three well-known whisky brands, with their modern equivalents, all tasted blind.

With a crowd packed into one of the cosy downstairs rooms at the Britons, we got started with the opening duo. Number one initially came over as more savoury, with the second notably sweeter. The first dram gave us a strong breath of smoke, but two was more fruity. One certainly had stronger wood influences: floorboards, furniture polish, sawdust, even the very specific tasting note of chestnut furniture.

These two were from the Glasgow distillery of Auchentoshan. The older dram (two) was from sometime between 2002 and 2008 (judging by the packaging), while the new whisky (one) was the Auchentoshan Three Wood - widely available and often for a decent price on offer in your local supermarket. They cost us £75 and £40 respectively, both very good value.

Aberlour 12
There was a definite change up for drams three and four. Three initially got us thinking of pear drops, bubblegum and cream soda, while its cousin dram four also smelt creamy. Both were very drinkable, with notes of custard and custard cream biscuits, bananas and even sticky cough syrup. Four was a little salty.

This time we were looking at - and drinking - two expressions of Aberlour 12. The older dram (four) was from quite some time ago - the early 1980s in fact. The newer version is again widely available for about the £30 mark, while the older bottle we secured for £150. As with the Auchentoshan, it was notable how well the new whisky went down in the room during this blind tasting, suggesting it's well worth taking a closer look at some of the more familiar drams on the shelves.

Glen Grant
The final pairing of the evening featured something very old indeed: a bottling from 1973 (which, as it was a 12-year-old, featured spirit distilled back in 1961). That was dram number six, which on the nose was very citrussy: organic, grassy, even a bit of fruit salad in there. A really great, distinctive whisky, with juicy tangerines another tasting note thrown out there during our chat. The modern bottling, five, was also fruity, with lighter notes and apples too.

Speyside? Campbeltown? We had no idea, but it did turn out to be Speyside again, with Aberlour followed here by Glen Grant. The older one probably had some sherry influence in there but was mainly bourbon, and would also have been made using coal-fired stills. Despite the age, we got the older bottle for £180, while the modern Glen Grant retails for £35.

It came to the dram of the night voting, and it was very evenly split, with all whiskies getting at least three votes each. But the clear winner was the last of the night, the 1973-vintage Glen Grant 12yo, with nine votes.

Thanks to Martin for sourcing and then presenting such a great range of paired whiskies, to the Britons Protection for hosting us once again, and to all club members and guests for attending.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Cask Matters

The full line-up

For May's tasting, Anna took us through a range of whiskies with some interesting cask maturations and finishes. As she explained, about 60-80% of the taste of a whisky comes from the cask, and so factors including the type of wood used, the size of the barrel and the liquid the cask previously held are all critical components which impact the character of what ends up in your glass. 

Pintail Glen Elgin
She had selected half a dozen varied examples, and we kicked off with an independently bottled 14-year-old Glen Elgin, produced by Edinburgh-based Pintail. They specialise in unusual finishes, and this particular bottle was finished in a cask that previously held Floc de Gascogne, a fortified sweet wine consisting of Armagnac and grape juice.

This was very strong tasting and really packed a punch. Chewy with strong cereal notes, and some blackcurrant too. Water brought yet more on the nose, and generally upped the floral taste as well. This was 54.1% and cost £75.

Deanston tequila
Deanston is a popular distillery with club members, known for its organic approach to distilling and distinctive use of a former mill building as its base. Its latest expression is an unconventional one, a 15-year-old finished in casks that previously held Agave tequila from the Mexican highlands.
This one again was very striking on the nose. It smelt quite strongly like marmite in fact. While a good drop, the consensus in the room was that it was the tequila aspect we didn't actually like as much. We would possibly have been happier having a plain old Deanston 13-year-old, without the last couple of years in the tequila. It's 52.5% and you can get a bottle for £95.

Fishermen's Retreat 9
Onto dram three and something very close to home: a bottling from the Fisherman's Retreat restaurant in Ramsbottom. It's Batch 9 of their own stuff, a heavily peated Bruichladdich.
Again unusual, we got smoked onions and oily grass along with, appropriately enough, a real fishy mustiness. Someone even suggested sardines. This was 50% and cost £75 for a 50cl bottle, but if you can spare the cash it's well worth supporting a local indie bottler.

BenRomach Polish oak
After a half-time break to recharge our glasses downstairs at the Britons' Protection, Anna gave us something with connections to her Polish homeland. BenRomach have brought out a limited edition 10-year-old single cask expression, with full maturation in first fill Polish oak (in fact there are two sets of these, in sister casks).
This was stunning! Sweet and citrussy, especially orangey. We also had notes of toffee and apple, with a touch of smoke in there as well. It's 59.1% and costs £95.

Linkwood 12yo
We stayed in Speyside next and moved on to Linkwood and another independent bottler that was new to most of us, Fragrant Drops. I say new to us, but the team behind the brand - George and Rachel - were welcome attendees at some of our virtual tastings over lockdown, so it's wonderful to see them branching out with this new whisky business. This particular expression was a 12-year-old, fully matured in a fresh Tokaji barrel, Tokaji being a Hungarian white wine.

Fruity was the key tasting note here. Although beyond that it was a bit mystifying, in the sense that we couldn't tell whether it was sweet or savoury or herbal, with a bit of pastry in there as well. This went down very well all round. It's 58% and cost us £110.

Teaninch 12yo
And this brought us to the last of the six drinks, a 12-year-old Teaninch finished in the Scandinavian spirit Aquavit. Teaninch is a Diageo distillery but has a relatively low profile in its own right, rarely seen outside the Flora and Fauna range. This expression was from the independent bottler Lady of the Glen.

Herby and spicy, we felt this was one was both complex and subtle. A great way to finish a superb line-up, it was 57.3% and decent value at £75.

For the dram of the night voting, the Teaninch did well enough for the third step on the podium, behind the Fragrant Drops Linkwood in second and the winner - the BenRomach Polish oak.

Many thanks to Anna for choosing and taking us through such a great selection of drams, to all at the Britons for hosting us once again, and to club members and guests for attending in such good numbers.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Filey Bay from the Spirit of Yorkshire


The tasting in full swing

For April's tasting we were joined by one of our nearest distilleries - Spirit of Yorkshire - to give us a rundown of some of their excellent Filey Bay whiskies.

The first single malt ever to come from Yorkshire, we've been enjoying it since it first hit shelves in 2019 (the inaugural release goes for more than a few quid at auction these days - quite a few of us in the club naturally drank ours years ago). One thing that particularly sets it apart is the field-to-bottle philosophy, with more or less everything done on the same site on the North Yorkshire coast, from growing the barley to bottling the finished product.

We got straight into it with a chance to try their main expression, the Filey Bay Flagship. Matured in ex-bourbon casks, this is the entry point to the Spirit of Yorkshire range.

Moscatel finish
A nice calibration dram to start the evening, we thought. Lovely and fruity, with a short finish. Not exactly the most challenging dram, but it's not really supposed to be. Accessible and tasty. It's 46% and you can get a bottle for £55.

We moved on to a Moscatel finish, part of the distillery's third batch of these bottles, mostly matured in ex-bourbon once again but then finished in casks which previously held Moscatel sherry from the south of Spain.

There was more going on all round with this one, while remaining an easy-to-drink dram. The finish was longer and very pleasant. Other tasting notes from members included "intense" and "chewy" and it was definitely also quite sweet. Again 46%, but this time a slightly higher price point of £60.

STR finish
For dram three we had a bottle of STR - shaved, toasted and recharred - finish. Again the third batch of these from the distillery, the STR technique is a way of rejuvenating ex-red wine casks (in this case Rioja), pioneered by the late whisky guru Dr Jim Swan who advised Spirit of Yorkshire in its early days, among many others from the new breed of modern distilleries.

We got pepper and fruit on this one. It was creamy and smooth to taste, reminiscent of old style boiled sweets such as Werther's Originals. "You could easily get very drunk on this" someone suggested, although of course we could never condone that sort of behaviour. A bit chocolatey too. It's 46% and also costs £60, perhaps the high point of the opening trio.

Port finish

After a half-time break for everyone to recharge their glasses downstairs at the Briton's Protection, we were all back for the second part of the tasting.

Our fourth whisky was a port finish, from the first batch of this expression produced by the distillery, using port casks to add a different twist to the standard ex-bourbon liquid.

Those Portuguese Ruby port casks really did the job. This was more complex than the previous drams, we thought, with a velvet, creamy sort of taste to it, along with the sort of red fruits and berries you'd expect from a port cask. Lots of the club members enjoyed this one the most of those so far. It's 46% again, and costs a touch more at £65.

Double Oak
On to the Filey Bay Double Oak Batch 2 next, matured in a combination of ex-bourbon and virgin oak casks.

Or to put it another way, this was the "Flagship on steroids". Creamy again, but like cream soda this time. Big tasting, and it went down very well, no mean feat as it can be tricky to get it right when using virgin oak because it can give such a powerful and distinctive flavour. Again 46%, this is available for £75.

All too quickly it was the final dram of the evening. And we had something a bit special lined up, with the distillery's Yorkshire Day release from 2022. As ever, my notes are a bit vague by this stage of the evening, and so all I've really got about the content of the bottle is that it is a "vatting of different stuff". In reality, it's a vatting of whisky from ex-bourbon, ex-Moscatel and ex-Oloroso sherry casks.

Yorkshire Day 2022
In terms of what we actually thought, I've written "this is the high point - superb stuff". And that's about it. I did bring a bottle home with me though, courtesy of the folks from Aston's of Manchester who were there as well. If you've never been, their shop in the Royal Exchange is a real trove of great whisky, and much else besides.

As for the Yorkshire Day 2022 release, it's no longer available from the Spirit of Yorkshire website, but you might be lucky and find one on an auction site somewhere. The distillery brings out a special release each Yorkshire Day though, so keep an eye out for this year's (it's August 1st by the way).

To the dram of the night voting then, and even though number six did indeed attract some support it was in fact dram four - the Port finish - which took the honours with 14 votes. The STR finish was second, with Yorkshire Day 2022 in third.

Thanks to all at Spirit of Yorkshire, Aston's and of course the Briton's Protection for all helping put on such a great evening with some top quality whisky - and thanks to all club members and their guests for attending another successful tasting.

The full line-up