Supermarket Sweep

Taste Review 148 – Smokehead

Christmas. Done and dusted for another year and good riddance to it all. I really cannot be doing with all the hustle and bustle of people getting ready for some festival that pretty much most people don’t seem to believe in and spending money that they may not be truly able to afford to waste.

The first recorded Christmas celebration was in Rome during 336AD, which is quite fitting, for the gluttony that traditionally takes place at this time of year wouldn’t be out of place in a Roman orgy. Perhaps nothing much has changed after all? I had decided that this year we’d just treat our child and keep everything else low key. Being a good Aberdonian, I wasn’t really wanting to waste cash on anything that wasn’t necessary, though I’d caved in a bit when it came to the budget for Brussels Sprouts, Pigs in Blankets and crisp based snacks. The wife intimated that she wasn’t really looking for much for Christmas (or she gave me that impression, which was to be my defence if needed) and didn’t look that disappointed when that’s exactly what she got. Well, sort of; more about that at the end.


A typical Roman celebration in December for Saturnalia. I suppose they didn’t have Hogmanay to fall back on. Doesn’t seem much has changed.

One of the things I dislike most about the festive season is being asked what do I want as a gift? I let it be known that I’d be happy with getting very little, but my wife wasn’t going to let me away with that so easily. As I tend to buy what I want when I need it, I couldn’t really say that I needed a new power tool. I’m pretty much fashion unconscious, so the offer of new clothing wasn’t taken up. My favourite designer is F&F and I only wear clothes because we have to in public. It gets pretty Baltic in this part of Scotland for most of the year, so clothes are a good idea for more than legal reasons. I sort of knew I was heading for the present that most whisky geeks may detest – Supermarket Whisky.


Putting all the batteries in the decorative animatronic toys is also a festive bugbear. And so is taking them out 4 weeks later.

I’m not that much of a whisky fascist, as there are sometimes a few bottles of whisky in a supermarket that may be acceptable, but the problem is that my dearest knows next to nothing about whisky, and shows little or no interest in reading my blog so had no idea what I’d like. I’d instantly start to feel guilty about asking for something like Talisker 18 while my wife is currently taking time out of her career to look after our child. There was a slight glimmer of hope when she went shopping in Inverness just before Santa day, as she was wanting to go into Leakeys Bookstore – just up the street from wine and spirits retailer Wood Winters. The command that was issued to the effect that I was banned from entering her dressing room once she came home from that trip meant the chances were even higher of something decent. But I was deceiving myself.


Please God, no! Don’t let her buy any of this! And since when did Welsh whisky become local to a Tesco in Speyside?

I’m no stranger to a supermarket whisky gift. Previous presents have been Johnnie Walker Red, Laphroaig Select, Cardhu Gold, Glen Keith, Glen Moray Classic. None of these I’d say are bad whiskies, but definitely not anything I’d purchase myself. There was a wee bit of worry that I may end up with a full size Jura Journey, which given it took me over 5 years to finish a half sized bottle that ended up being poured down the sink filled me with dread. Even if it was a whisky from a specialist retailer, what would she get me? At best I was looking at a Macallan or Glenmorangie, which aren’t to be sniffed at, but not that exciting either. I started to mull over the contemplation that the word “Gift” is also the German word for poison, and wondered if the person who entered that into their lexicon had received supermarket whisky as part of a Christmas present. The regret from not asking for something from the Master Of Malt site was growing. I knew all my contemporaries on social media will be parading the fantastic whiskies that I’d love to try and didn’t want the feeling of pity when they learnt I got something so uninteresting as supermarket whisky.

Come the big day and I was right. It was supermarket whisky. However it was a complete surprise, as I hadn’t had it before and it turns out that my wife had put a bit of thought into it. My gift was a bottle of Smokehead. Not the basic one at 43% but the 40% even more basic version. Probably loaded with colour, chill filtered and as thin as water. I was going to find out that my misconceptions were misplaced.

Smoked bottle makes it look darker than it is.

Smokehead – NAS

Region – Islay Age – NAS Strength – 40% abv Colour – Cherry Oloroso sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Not stated. Colouring – Not Stated but likely Chill Filtered Not stated but most likely. Nose – Sweet. Strawberry fondant cream, petrol, salty smoke, a hint of TCP, vegetal note of silage. Palate – sweet arrival with no obvious kick. Banana, ginger, malt, salt, smoked bacon, vegetal, liquorice. There is an oily mouthfeel which while light is surprising for such a low abv. A mineral note is present in the later part of the palate. Finish – Spicy but short finish. Ginger and nutmeg, mineral taste, coupled with smoke and a light TCP. Similar to Laphroaig, seaweed, oak and a hint of char.

A healthy pour. Well, it is only 40%!

You’d be justified in saying that I am a whisky snob; anything on a supermarket shelf just doesn’t get me excited unless heavily discounted, and even then there are limits. But this one was a bit of an eye opener. I don’t mean to sound so surprised but I enjoyed it. Complex – it wasn’t, but what grabbed me was the mouthfeel. It was more oily than expected, the smoke and peat was well controlled in such a way it was a pleasure to drink neat. There was a sweetness to it that persuades me that a Sherry cask may be in the mix somewhere. While I have had a lot better whisky than this, it was well balanced and pleasurable to drink while watching a Christmas movie. I may have some cheese and crackers with it when I watch my next Christmas movie. Scotty’s cheese box in the fridge is well stocked with smokey delights.

My wife’s thought process was impressive, remembering that we’d both visited Talisker distillery and she knew I preferred that smokey whisky to the Dalwhinnie later on in the trip. While she had no idea how smokey Smokehead would be, she thought it a safe bet. And it was genius idea, as the chances of me having a supermarket whisky were to be frank, low. While I would have maybe preferred to receive a Talisker 10, that is based on my perception of quality and consistency. But the Smokehead was no slouch, despite it lacking in the usual geek credentials of ABV, age statement, NC and NCF.

It is so easy to dismiss whisky that resides on a supermarket shelf, but we need to remember one or two things that will keep us grounded. Firstly, not everybody has the same whisky budget. Some might want something cheap and cheerful. Some may want a bit of variety, some may just want something a little different but don’t want to break the bank trying something they may not like. While we are not likely to find whisky geek banger whisky in Tesco, we can get something that is palatable at a decent price. Crucially, it could be someone experimenting with whisky who doesn’t want to spaff £75 up the wall on some thing they don’t like. We’ve all been there or known somebody that has.

Mouthfeel was good. More oily than you might expect, giving a feeling of quality. While it is obvious the this spirit has seen a bit of chill filtering, there is still some thing left to give a hint as to what a cask strength one would be like. Unfortunately the standard release is only 43%. No massive spirit burn, although there was a little on the finish. I’ve no idea what distillery it is sourced from. Common belief is that it’s Caol Ila or Lagavulin, but I felt it was less peaty and more smokey putting it into Laphroaig territory for me. Wherever it’s from, I’m not going to say it’s definitely that, but hats off to Ian Macleod Distillers, for it was a perfect dram to sit and sip without the attendant analysis of what I could and couldn’t taste, along with the distractions that such processes demand. Just get it down you and enjoy.

I’m not that jealous of those who got better drams than me for Christmas. I’ve enough whisky in the house and had already had potential Christmas disappointment averted by a delivery of two Murray McDavids from Aberdeen Whisky Shop, though I’ve not felt the need to crack them open in lieu of my supermarket whisky. As we now move past 2022 and into 2023, it’s time to maybe forget such snobbery about supermarket whisky. After all, I’ve got a whisky which some people could pay ten times that amount for other whiskies and not have a much different experience with. Who’s the mug? Obviously there will be stinkers on the shelf, but a wise whisky drinker will know what they are. Just because they have 46% and and age statement means nothing; besides it’s all subjective anyway.

Lastly, just in case my wife does actually read my articles, I’d like to say thanks for your present – I’m really enjoying it. Hope you liked your ironing board cover.

Had to hide wifey’s face; but judging by that smile, she’s delighted with a top of the range Minky Ironing Board cover. Only the best for her!

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Public Domain Thomas Couture – The Romans in their Decadence

The hill with a mill and now some stills.

Taste Review #143 Tamnavulin Sherry Cask

Always a bridesmaid but never a bride. That’s the phrase that continually comes to mind when I think about Tamnavulin. It always seems to have a presence on any supermarket shelf, and never ever near the more premier brands. I’m a bit wary of Whyte and Mackay whiskies, as I can never understand their seeming obsession with chill filtering and adding colour, especially to Dalmore. I’ve never really connected to Fettercairn yet and the less said about Jura the better. I have thankfully connected to Invergordon, but normally just the independent bottlings. So that leaves the shelf queen of Tamnavulin. One of those whiskies that always seems to be available for £20 at the Co-op. As this price range often includes the Glen Keith NAS Distillery edition, you’ll understand why I give it a miss.

The Sherry cask edition appeared on Tesco shelves for £45 but it seemed to be a little more than I wanted to pay for a litre of whisky I may not like. But when it made a drop down to £30 it was a no-brainer to try. I did buy a bottle, but was reticent about opening it, so put it in the drinking pile in storage and then bought the sample from drinks by the dram.

According to the information on the Tamnavulin website, this has been matured initially in American Oak, which I am going to assume is Bourbon, and finished in a range of three sherry casks. I’m going presume that will probably be PX, Oloroso and I’ll assume another oxidatively matured sherry such as Amontillado, but no further details are given.


The Tamnavulin distillery opened its doors in 1966, so it is a relative newcomer to Speyside. It is one of three distilleries in Glenlivet, with Glenlivet being the most northerly one, Tamnavulin being the middle one, in the hamlet of Tomnavuilin on the B9008 Ballindalloch to Tomintoul road. The most southerly distillery in Glenlivet is Braeval, which is the highest distillery in Scotland according to my GPS. The whole area is quite remote and I’d hate to live up there in winter, but it’s easy to see why Glenlivet was so popular with illicit distillers.

Being on the west river bank of the River Livet, at this point the Tamnavulin distillery just sneaks into the Cairngorm National Park boundary. This distillery takes its name from the Scots Gaelic meaning ‘Mill on the hill’. There happens to be an old carding mill within the distillery grounds which is where local shepherds would take fleeces to be made into wool.

Rather than spinning out a story, let’s take a look at the whisky.



Tamnavulin Sherry Cask

Region -Speyside Age – NAS Strength – 40% ABV Colour – Deep Copper (1.0) Cask Type – Sherry Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – a sharp acidic note which I am assuming to be E150, honey, vanilla, red apple, dried fruit, brown sugar, sherry notes, slight maltiness Palate – Slightly oily mouthfeel but thin. Cadbury Caramels – caramel and milk chocolate, blackberry jam. Slight nuttiness Finish – medium. Chocolate, sweet, slight wood spice, creamy.



Conclusions

There is nothing better than being proved wrong. I thought I was potentially up for a stinker of a whisky and I was mistaken. Premium this is not, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not complex in any way, but drunk neat this to my mind is a well balanced whisky. No sharp spices or alcohol burn. I mostly got fruit, caramel and chocolate from the smell and flavour notes.

In my humble opinion, £45 for a litre may seem to some as expensive but perhaps not. While I’m normally unlikely to pay that for supermarket whisky at NAS, at £30 this has to be a very good value bottle. I’ll probably buy another and open it, leaving one in store for later on as it would be something I’d want to drink again in the future.

My only complaint would be for Whyte and Mackay to stop chill filtering and colouring this whisky. I’m not a snob and I do enjoy whiskies that have been filtered and coloured, but I think it would be better without. 40% seems to be fine for what it is, I found the lack of burn was part of what made this experience much more enjoyable, so the flavours came through more strongly. For enthusiasts this may not the best whisky in the world, but enough of a sherried whisky experience without the sherry overpowering everything else, and would be a good whisky for a beginner to try. It certainly has my favour over the Aberlour 12 which at a similar price proved to be disappointing.

I’d say this whisky can represent value even at £45 for a litre. If you see it offered for less, snap it up. A 70cl bottle is currently being sold on Master Of Malt for £32.95 at time of writing and at Tesco £40 for a litre. At these prices you cannot go wrong. However I encourage you to seek this whisky out at your independent spirit specialist, as the big boys don’t really need your money.

Yours In Spirits,

Scotty

Index of tastings here

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Made In Taiwan

Taste Review #138 – Kavalan Classic / Sherry Cask

Made In Taiwan or Made In Hong Kong. That seemed to be the manufacturing location of a good proportion of the plastic toys I had as a kid. Back in the 70’s, this was the indication that your toy was most likely to be mass produced crap. But without casting aspersions over the quality of these goods, even though the vast majority of Christmas presents that originated from there were broken by Easter, that isn’t always the case with everything now.

Of course, Hong Kong has now returned to China, and Beijing still has eyes on Formosa, which it sees as part of its empire whereas the rest of the world knows its Taiwan. And the quality of produce from there has certainly taken an upward swing from the toys of the 70’s and 80’s to the adult beverages of the new millennium.


I’m being erroneously swayed by the colour!

Kavalan is a new distillery, built in 2005 and had its first spirit out by 2006. I’ll be upfront here as I’m being lazy and just regurgitating Wikipedia, as I’m trying to kill my backlog of pending reviews. But according to that most reliable resource of fact (or opinion), Kavalan did well enough to beat Scotch whisky in a Burns Night blind tasting in 2010. Jim Murray of sexy whisky infamy gave Kavalan Solist Sherry cask malt his award for new whisky of the year. I’d already heard on the grapevine that this was a distillery to sit up and take notice of, so z zzz who am I do doubt the behatted one?

As usual for now, I’ve no real tales to tell about this distillery, so let me refer you to the distillery website

www.kavalanwhisky.com


Kavalan Classic

Region – Taiwan Age – NAS Strength – 40% Colour – Deep Gold (0.8) Cask Type – Not Stated Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – wood polish, bananas, mango, vanilla, egg custard. Coconut and freshly cut green grass. Palate – light to medium mouthfeel. Vanilla, foam banana, dry white wine – possibly Chardonnay. Mango in background, along with creamy vanilla. Finish – short finish, quite unremarkable. Walnuts and a slight brine note. Drying towards the end.

Kavalan Sherry Oak

Region – Taiwan Age – NAS Strength – 46% Colour – Auburn (1.5) Cask TypeColouringChill FilteredNose – strawberries, blackberries, tobacco, puff pastry, cherries, almond. Quite sweet with a slight vegetal note. Palate – bitter oak, blackberries, raisins, unami, orange peel, caramel, slight malt there. Finish – drying. Medium length. Raisins, dark chocolate, slight note of hops and salt.


Conclusions

Not a lot to say here. To be short and sweet neither won me over. Having said that, these weren’t bad drams – just not for me. I got the cask notes without a problem I feel but for me there were notes in both that I didn’t resonate with. Starting with the classic, there was a white wine note there that was a bit too dry for me and brought back memories of drinking white wine at Christmas as soon as my family thought me old enough. It was usually Chardonnay and that’s a wine I avoid. Give me a good German Spätlese or Auslese, even a delicious Eiswein. Now we’re talking.

While I can be a bit of a colour-tart, regularly giving into the dark sherried whisky (because that is usually the flavour profile I crave; I know it doesn’t mean premium whisky) , I was surprised not to enjoy the sherry Kavalan. Again, a bit of dryness from the sherry wood; unmistakably Oloroso, the dry dark fruit was marred by the sourness and saltiness I picked up. The savoury note on its own was fine, but I was expecting something with a more prominent dark fruit note which was not as forward as I had hoped.

It’s always a disappointment when something you have looked forward to doesn’t float your boat, but that’s just the way it is. However I’d say there is enough there to try some more Kavalan in the future.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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Bringing Home The Bacon.

Taste Review #131 – Stauning Rye Whisky – Floor Malted and Mezcal Finish.

Once again I find myself looking at another world whisky as I endeavour to try whisky other than my preferred option of Scotch. And this time the pin in the map has landed on Denmark. Its not a country you really associate with whisky production but believe it or not there are a handful of distilleries in Denmark. It’s something that I have never tried before, so it was on my list to try for some time.

At one time I used to do tastings at a hotel my wife used to run, with one of the best customers was a Dane called Ulrik. It was he that introduced me to the fact that Denmark had a burgeoning whisky scene. According to the Malt Whisky Yearbook there are 16 whisky distilleries within Denmark, which came as a surprise to me. And here is me thinking that all Denmark was famous for was Danepak Bacon and the delicious butter cookies we often get offshore. I guess there is a reason for the Danish nation topping polls of who is the happiest nation. With biscuits, bacon and whisky. That is a country that has a lot going for it!



The Stauning distillery was founded in 2005 by nine friends and had a somewhat unconventional beginning. While it was quite normal to source your barley from somebody locally, perhaps the fact (according to the distillery website) they malted on a butchers cold room floor and used an old mincer as a grinder to make their grist. However it wasn’t until 2011 that the first commercial bottlings were released. There is absolutely no point in me telling you things you can read for yourself, so please take a look at their website at stauningwhisky.com

Stauning Floor Malted Rye


Region – Denmark (Rye) Age – NAS Strength – 48% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – New American Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose– Lime zest, Rye bread, malt, honey, fruit jelly candies, freshly crushed black peppercorns, Palate – Sweet and subdued with an oily mouthfeel, for me the taste is dominated by peppery oak, there is a hint of cherries and blackberries / Forest fruits, but not as sharp as a a raspberry. Finish – medium and drying – peppery oak and citrus peels. I get a taste of sour beer at the end as well. Adding water really balanced out the peppery oak in the palate and made the citrus sour taste in the finish more prominent and pleasant.

Stauning Bastard


Region – Denmark Age – NAS Strength – 46.3% Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – American Oak with 6 months Mezcal Finish Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Honey, Rye cereal notes, smokiness like toast crusts, Apple, strawberries, quite fruity under the grain and honey notes. Saline note also Palate – Medium body. No real spirit burn on arrival. Oaky, spicy, drying. Ginger, dry well fired toast gives a slight smokey note. Brown sugar. Finish – Spicy and hot on the way down. Quite a surprise given the lack of a spirit burn in the mouth. The finish is quite short and addition of water doesn’t do that much for the heat. Dry finish, brine, oaky spice ending in a brown sugar note.

Conclusions

I felt that the floor malting version slightly unbalanced with the peppery oak on arrival, but having added only a few drops of water from the pipette, this steadied the ship a lot more and it became a decent dram much to my liking. While I wouldn’t rush out to buy it, this would be happlily received as a gift, and should I know somebody who appreciates a rye whisky, I’d consider recommending it or giving as a gift. I do not know the age of this whisky. I would recommend this to people who want to experiment and try Danish spirits.

Given there was quite a gap between publishing this post and it’s writing, within this time I received a wee dram from one of the page followers of some Stauning Rye. It’s a bonus that I’ll enjoy this whisky straight away as I’ll know to add water to it.

The Bastard whisky? Well, it was an expletive that I nearly expressed when I swallowed for the first time. There was a sudden burst of heat that was unexpected given the lack of spirit tingle on the tongue while I held it in my mouth. This has been in a new American Oak cask for three years prior to a six month spell in a Mezcal cask. As I have never tasted Mezcal, I can’t say for definite if I could identify it, but I wonder if the sudden spirit burn was as a result of this. To counter that unpleasant spirit burn, I had to add a good dose of water to the glass. It then became a lot more drinkable but to be honest I wouldn’t recommend it. I think I’ll just stick to the Danish butter cookies and bacon in the future rather than have this again.

It wasn’t so long ago that I have tried a rye whisky that was similar, in that it needed water to become more palatable. Due to my relative inexperience of such grains in whisky compared to malted barley, it’s hard for me to say if this is just a general rye characteristic or if it’s just my personal preference. it’s worth noting that these two whiskies also have malted barley in the mash bill, meaning it’s not all the fault of the rye. I’m going to guess it’s just my preferences that may be why I’ve felt that these whiskies need water.

As for Stauning? I’d certainly be looking at more of their produce in the future, but will have the water on standby.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

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Going Green.

Taste Review #128 – Mackmyra Grönt Te

Being different. Sometimes it might not be better but it may be right. It’s a topic often discussed amongst my offshore colleagues. At the moment many of us are burnt out due to longer offshore trips, often leaving home without knowing when you will see your loved ones again. Regularly trips are over 2 months, which quashes the image of the typical offshore worker doing 2 weeks on a cushy North Sea platform before coming home to get smashed in the Spiders Web and causing havoc on the train to Elgin. The boat I am on now is running out of fresh water, salad is but a memory and the only fruit available will soon be of the tinned variety. I am sure those in the armed services will have similar experiences. At least I’m not getting shot at. Well, at least not yet.

And there are the little things that you often take for granted that get missed. Good internet is one of them – seeing trees, listening to bird song, home cooked food, being able to watch the TV you want to, going out for a pint or just something as basic as decent toilet paper. The stuff used offshore that is suitable for vacuum toilets is cheap, nasty and if you have piles then you may need to ensure you bring on plenty of Anusol or Preparation H.

Offshore Toilet Paper. Better than sandpaper – only just, and high risk of finger poke-through.

Stocking up is the thing to do when working away from home, especially when it comes to the quarantine required before you go offshore. I’m limited to what I can carry. I like carrying those wee Robinson’s Squeezy concentrated squash, packs of chilli coated peanuts and various sweeties that I can’t get offshore. Depending on where I end up going I often bring around 6 packs of Taylor’s of Harrogate Coffee (Lava Java being a favourite) and some green tea.

Twinings do a great range of flavoured green teas, with the Lemon Drizzle Cake, Gingerbread and Cherry Bakewell being my favourites. The aroma of the green tea always reminds me of moist sponge cake. It is different, yet some of the teas snobs I work with turn their noses up at it. But how does Green Tea whisky work? Is it not better but different? Can it be both?

I wonder if Twinings will ever do a Swedish Whisky Green Tea? We can but hope.

The dram that I bring you for this review has been sold out in most places for a while. Thanks to my myopic concentration on Scotch, I don’t always pay attention to whisky outside that scene. However this is a release of a whisky that had been matured in a selection of ex bourbon 1st fill, 1st fill Swedish Oak, plus new and 1st fill Oloroso casks. These have then been vatted and finished in newly seasoned sherry casks that had been filled with Oloroso sherry and green tea seasoning, rather than whole leaf tea. This triggered my inner inquisitiveness and I’ve been drawn to it for some time. However as this was the 2020 seasonal release for Mackmyra, I never managed to get a bottle, though I felt I had to try it as another trip on my whisky journey. I mean, whisky and tea – what could go wrong?

Grönt Te. Swedish for tasty.

Mackmyra Grönt Te

Region – Sweden Age – NAS Strength – 46.1% ABV Colour – Amber (0.7) Cask Type – Oloroso / Green Tea cask finishing cask Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Green Apple, Watermelon, white pepper, green tea, sultana, slight nougat, vanilla, floral and sweet biscuity notes. Palate – Quite sweet initially, with red berry notes, green apples, well controlled spicy and slightly drying tannins, cloves, peppery. And more green tea. Finish – short / medium. Earthy notes, fruity and sweet, slightly drying with the ubiquitous green tea taste. Finish had a bit more kick when water added and I detect more spice (firey ginger and pepper) which isn’t overpowering.

The Dram

Conclusions

Was this different any better? No. It was not any better than any contemporary whisky. However, it was certainly different and a very pleasant experience that I would happily repeat. The green tea effect I felt was light and subdued, yet still noticeable. I felt it was well balanced and any more green tea taste may have led the whisky to be off-kilter to my taste.

I felt it had a fresh, refreshing palate, almost equivalent to a decent cuppa, but while I’d happily have it again, it won’t replace any of the staples in my drinks cabinet for now.

And that is probably for the best, as this was a limited release, so if you were wanting to try this then auction houses are your best bet. At an original release price of £59.90 in the UK on the Mackmyra web shop, the closer you can get to this price the better. At 46.1% abv this represents good but maybe not great value for the experience depending on your opinion.

If nothing else, now I know Sweden is good for more than Abba, Volvo cars, meatballs and flat pack furniture. I feel it will benefit you to consider paying attention to the produce of Mackmyra; I certainly will be doing so now.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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Take Heed Of A Red Flag

Taste Review #121 Penderyn Red Flag (Icons Of Wales)

As I meander through the whiskies of the world, I have to make time for the Celtic cousins of the Scots, the Welsh.

Penderyn was established in 2000 and was the first whisky distillery in Wales since the 19th century. There has been a resurgence of whisky distilling in Wales with a small handful of distilleries starting up. Aber Falls released their inaugural whisky in May 2021 to much fanfare, not only because its reported to be a good whisky but the low price of their first release. New startups take note – you don’t need to be greedy for what is only a three year old product.

The whisky I am tasting for you today is the Penderyn Red Flag from their Icons Of Wales series. It commemorates the first use of a red flag as a symbol of protest which took place over the execution of a miner during the 1831 Merthyr Rising. The miner was called Dic Penderyn (Richard Lewis) and was hung for the stabbing of a soldier during the riots.



Penderyn Red Flag

Region – Wales Age – NAS Strength – 41% Colour – Pale Straw (0.2) Cask Type – Madeira Finish Colouring – Not stated on box Chill Filtered – No. Nose – Caramel, Stewed Rhubarb, Raspberry, Orange citrus. Palate – Medium mouthfeel, obviously young whisky. Grassy, dried herbs that are long out of date, tarragon, unseasoned cashews, orange citrus, Apple Sourz. Finish -Medium. Creamy and nutty. A taste of petrol at the end.



Conclusions

I hate to say this, but in my opinion this whisky was truly awful. Not completely awful as I really appreciated the nose, but it went downhill rapidly from there. The dried grassy herbs note was not pleasant at all, as though I’d necked a jar of out of date Schwartz. I managed to finish the sample but had I bought a full bottle I suspect it would have become a very expensive drain cleaner.

The finish left me feeling as though I’d been syphoning the fuel out of a Rover Metro which for me was just the icing on the cake.

I’ve had a few people tell me that Penderyn wasn’t to their taste. I have given them the benefit of the doubt. But red flags usually signify danger and I’m wishing I had paid attention to my friends and even Clarky on Four in a Bed.

Clip from Channel 4’s Four In A Bed. Clarky gives an honest appraisal

I would have thought a fortified wine finish would have had more body, more sweetness but while this was present in the nose, it was missing in action everywhere else. I cannot recommend this particular bottle. However it has let me know that if I was to try further Penderyn, a sample first before buying will be required.

Of course I will give Penderyn another try, but not in the near future.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


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I Come From A Land Down Under

Taste Review #120 Starward Dolce

You just can’t be in two places at one time. As much as there is plenty to go around, you can’t split yourself in two without negative consequences. And that’s why I found myself on a ship in India and not on my usual vessel, which is now in Australia. Twice with this company I have obtained an Australian work visa and twice I haven’t gone. Guess I’m just going to taste their whisky instead.

There are a few distilleries to choose from and in my quest to try a few world whiskies I decided to try one from the Starward distillery. This isn’t your typical distillery hidden in a glen or a valley; it’s set up in the middle of Melbourne. Founded by David Vitale in 2007, the distillery makes use of locally grown ingredients and casks from the Australian wine industry. Add some variable hot and humid weather and you get a perfect environment for rapidly maturing whisky.

The whisky I’m tasting today is the Starward Dolce. Limited to 4800 bottles, it is around the 4 year old mark. Matured in Australian Red Wine casks and finished in a dessert wine cask, let’s see if the New World whisky is as good as some of their wines.



Starward Dolce

Region – Australia Age – 4 y.o Strength – 48% abv Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type – Red Wine / Dessert Wine Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Red fruit, strawberries, Raspberries, chocolate, Pink Marshmallow, quite sweet. Salted caramel. Palate – quite spicy on the arrival. Spirit burn to the fore. Ginger, pepper, gives way to sweetness, again with the marshmallow. Dates. Medium mouthfeel, slightly oily. Finish – short and sweet. Pretty pleasant to be fair. The caramel theme carries on and fades into stone fruit. Possibly chocolate coated cherries. The spices drop off quite quickly.



Conclusions

I’m glad the original inhabitants of Australia were poor at evading capture after committing criminal activities, as without those original colonial settlers, we would not have had a whisky as delightful as this one. I picked this one as the tasting notes of fruit were right up my alley and I have not been disappointed in the slightest.

It is worth remembering that despite its young age, the environmental conditions in Melbourne mature whisky faster, and this while still detectably young, drinks like an older whisky than it is. I could go onto wine critics descriptors such as a tango on the tongue, like lambs gambolling across green grass meadows, a party on one’s palate but I won’t. It wasn’t that good. I would however strongly recommend if you enjoy a fruity whisky, this is one to get. I’ll certainly keep an eye out on this distillery.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

In The Bleak Midwinter

Taste Review #117 Glenmorangie A Midwinter Night’s Dram.

As I write this, the bleakness of a Highland winter couldn’t be further from my mind as I head to warmer climes. Pity it’s not a holiday and will mean Christmas away from my family again. But on one point I can’t really pretend to be sorry, as who really misses having to constantly shovel snow off the path, de-ice windscreens and the long dark nights? No, I didn’t think there would be many hands shooting up with keen voices shouting “Me, Me, Me!” If you were one of these deranged people then I’ve got a wee job for you…


A hard frost this morning. Nae looking forward to de-icing the car.

Thinking of the title of this latest review, I was reminded of a snowy winter scene. I am a bit nostalgic for the winters we used to get as children. Snow was often a magical, beautiful thing and it’s arrival often was around the time that the fat guy in the red suit started leaving presents. I remember way back in the day going round the streets of my home village in Aberdeen singing carols at Christmas time. In the snow was the best, as it seemed to deaden the sound of the adjacent airport and made the whole activity seem that little bit more traditional.

But the truth of a Scottish winter can be miserable with short days and long nights for months on end. It’s no surprise that the suicide rate in the Northern Highlands and Islands is sadly so high. So the kind bosses at the Ross-shire distillery Glenmorangie used to have a tradition that saw them give the workers a gift of whisky to help them warm themselves at home over the festive season. Perhaps giving people alcohol to assist their mental health may not be so approved of nowadays, but in the past this would have been appreciated when distilleries employed far more people and times were definitely not as easy as today.


That’s a bit of a frost. Midwinter in Kingussie 1978. The building on the right is the Tipsy Laird pub. I won’t be complaining of de-icing the car so much now. (Am Baile)

As a nod to this tradition, Glenmorangie released a whisky called a Midwinter Night’s Dram. It harks back to that whisky that was given to employees. It’s supposed to be fruity and spicy so sounds as though it’s just the job to cuddle up to on a cold winters night.

I managed to get this sample as part of a delivery from the Really Good Whisky Company. They had a bit of a flood and stock was damaged. So they had a draw in which you paid £49.50 for a ticket. The bottle would be at least that value. There was at least one bottle that was worth £1800. While I wasn’t imagining I’d win the first prize, I thought the chances of me getting something worth more than £50 was high.


Unrequested freebie. Still, all said and done a nice touch.

Well, me and a lot of others were disappointed as what we got was an old style Glenturret. This had been discontinued in this packaging for over a year and I couldn’t help but feel I had been duped into entering a draw to move new-old stock. I was livid, as my bottle was completely undamaged. If you know my whisky journey, you’ll understand that I know exactly what a flood damaged bottle looks like. But now I’ve calmed down and now we approach Christmas and the season of goodwill, it is time to forgive and move on. Perhaps this is the appropriate dram to have.

Glenmorangie – A Midwinter Night’s Dram

Region – Highland Age – NAS Strength – 43% abv Colour – Burnished (1.1) Cask Type – Bourbon / Oloroso Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Red apple, orange peel, biscuit, caramel, biscuit. Palate – Medium body – oily. Malted biscuits, orange, slight drying bitterness. Caramel in background but hidden a bit by oak spice – cinnamon and nutmeg. Peppery too Finish – spicy and drying. Medium length. Pepper, cinnamon, citrus – more lemon / lime bitterness.



Conclusions

Not requested or expected. That’s the best way to sum up this free dram. I thought it to be a nice touch in all honesty and had discounted its value when thinking of my raffle prize. Eventually I’m going to get calm about TRGW Co using me as a patsy to shift excess stock. And it was a Glenmorangie I wouldn’t have otherwise bought so I got an experience that was reasonably enjoyable.

Would I buy it? No, not based on this taste but not because there was anything wrong with it; the whisky didn’t light my fire, as simple as that. However given that it was free was a big plus point. Being Aberdonian made me see the value. Should I be offered this again I’d be happy to drink it. The whisky for me was spicy and drying while I prefer the more sweet and fruity drams.

This will be the last review before Christmas, so I’d like to take this opportunity to wish all of you all a very Merry Christmas and all the best for 2022. Here’s hoping it’s an improvement on 2020 and 2021.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Kingussie High Street November 1978 – Am Baile Highland Archive

All other photos – Authors own

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Don’t Be A Knob

Taste Review #114 – Knob Creek Small Batch

There is a saying about how absence makes the heart grow fonder. This my first review / article in a while and to be honest being away from it all due to a heavy work schedule had only made my heart grow fungus. I’ve not been able to write about whisky as I just haven’t been able to drink any and standing well back from whisky social media has not helped me gaining any insight. Well, until last week that is…

I’ve written a few articles over the past year about how social media is anything but social, the truths of the whisky community and how not to blog. You can click on the links to be reminded of my words. Recently a fellow blogger wrote a post that has left me wondering if she is reading my mind, as me and a fellow member of the Whisky Twitterati regularly gurn about the same subject ad nauseum. You can read the article by Claire here about Can’t See The Whisky For The Words’

It’s words that bring me to the subject of this article. One thing that tires me about whisky social media is the regular ego-fest when one person thinks they know better than another, or thinks they know what others should do with their whisky. There was a situation recently where there was a Twitter post about how somebody got bent out of shape because of them failing to secure a release from the Lakes Distillery. That in itself could be an article, but I’m zeroing in on the subsequent fallout from it. We need to review some guidelines for the Whisky Community methinks.

I’m going to blot out the names of the main participants but should they see this article then they will know who they are. One of them needs to learn a bit of online etiquette. See for yourself in the images below.

So let’s get one thing straight.

  1. Whatever somebody chooses to do with their whisky is entirely up to them. For me the exception is flippers for whom the focus is never the whisky, but the money it could raise. These people are not whisky lovers.
  2. If it’s expensive whisky you wouldn’t have bought anyway, why get upset about it?
  3. Placing the odd picture of your collection on social media is not showing off.
  4. If something doesn’t please you online, shuffle past it. Ignore it. Mute the person or conversation. Failing that, unfollow them.
  5. Calling people offensive names makes you look the a**hole.

There is much debate within social media about those who collect whisky as an investment, some saying that it is preventing genuine drinkers from experiencing limited drams. While I can see the logic in this, if you couldn’t afford it in the first place, why worry about it? After all, you wouldn’t have been buying it anyway. I myself have whisky I have bought with no intention of drinking, but some of it has been to complete a collection; most has been bought on the secondary market where I’ve taken the chance prices could also go down and is also at the price the average drinker would not be able to regularly afford. And while I have bought bottles as an investment, I’d be happy if they don’t make any money, as long as they kept pace with inflation. It’s basically a liquid piggy bank. And here is the crucial point – at any time I could change my mind and drink it. This is why it’s nobody else’s concern what I or anybody else does with their bottles.

Furthermore, there are bottles I have bought with the intention of opening but the price has risen so much, I’d possibly be mad to open them. This is where there is wisdom in the practice of obtaining two bottles if you can. If you are still feeling aggrieved about somebody posting pictures of expensive whisky that you can’t afford or wouldn’t drink anyway, it’s sometimes better to just say nothing rather than reveal yourself to be the knob in the room.

Whisky social media will always reveal people who have larger wallets than you, more expensive tastes than you and also more knowledge than you. Be content with what you have and be ready to learn. A battle of egos online is so boring, especially when one of the parties is probably jealous. Copying that example means you could be part of the Dead Brain Collective and look like the knob in the corner.

Speaking of which, I saw a Knob Creek in the corner. Returning from Mozambique meant I can’t go back to Scotland without being locked up in quarantine for 10 days. Due to the rules for seafarers being less stringent in England, I decided to stay in London for this period. In the hotel bar, I spotted a bottle of Knob Creek and thought it was time to review another bourbon. So let’s get cracking.

Knob Creek Small Batch

Region – USA Age – NAS Strength – 50% abv Colour – 0.8 Deep Gold Cask Type – Charred American Oak Colouring – Not stated, but I believe Yes. Chill Filtered – No Nose – Vanilla, coconut charred oak, caramel, a hint of mint perhaps? Palate – Caramel, vanilla, charred oak, peppery spices Finish – Peppery, caramel, corn, a hint of cherry at times.

This was a knob I could get along with.

Conclusions

I’m not going to wax lyrical about how good this whisky was, as for me it was just so-so. But this was the first whisk(e)y I’d drunk since mid April, so maybe I’m requiring a little calibration. Knob Creek is an upmarket Jim Beam made by Beam Suntory. This version has no age statement, but the age in the bottle is somewhere around 9 years old. The age statement was removed a couple of years ago when stocks dictated they couldn’t guarantee the minimum age. As of this year, the age statement has resumed.

I paid £4.50 for a 35ml measure in a Kensington Holiday Inn which was a good price given location. Was it value though? Probably. I got a smooth 50% bourbon, and it didn’t feel that strong. It was an easy drink to take neat and ended with the same cherry notes that I got from Wild Turkey Longbranch. Perhaps that’s a Bourbon thing.

Would I drink it again? Yes. Would I seek out a bottle? No. It was nothing special and I enjoyed the Lagavulin 16 that followed it much more. I’m discovering my Peathead dark side at the moment. It’ll be a while before more bourbon is drunk.

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

A hidden Islay.

Taste Review #113 – Finlaggan Old Reserve

Hiding in plain sight. Thats often what I think when I essentially ransack my study or bedroom looking for something that is sitting innocently on a shelf in full view when I am doing my mental calculations as to where I last saw it. Before I left for my last offshore trip I couldn’t find my head torch. I always have a dirty one for work, yet also carry a clean one if I am going to be staying in a hotel or have one in my cabin. Should there be a fire, you never know when you will need help. After wasting a day and a half looking for it and realising that I could have left it in a hotel in Borneo, I was only able to start to end the mental anguish by ordering a new one. And 6 hours after ordering, I found the old one tangled up in the lanyards of my memory sticks. I shook my head, as I tipped that bag out twice. It’s never easy being me sometimes.

The dram that I am going to review just now is the similar, although I haven’t had to waste a whole day looking for it. Sitting on the shelves of whisky retailers and even sitting on the shelves of my local Tesco Extra from time to time, Finlaggan was another of those whiskies I kept clear of because I did not know what distillery it was from and I’ve plenty of other drams to keep going on with. I remember seeing it on the shelves of the Whisky Shop Duffown, plus in their 5cl range, but I decided against it. “I’ll stick to what I know of” I kept saying to myself.

It was a trip into Inverness to a kilt makers of all places that also had a range of tourist souvenirs that prompted me to look in by. It was actually a recommendation of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill across the road, which incidentally also have a good range of miniatures. I know what I said about going into the touristy places in my Loch Lomond review, but it was in the EWM that I found a 16 year old Glentauchers G&M miniature for £7. You just need to be careful but bargains can be had.

Finlaggan is an anonymous Islay Single Malt which is released by the Vintage Malt Whisky Company, formed by Brian Crook in 1992. Brian was a former director from Morrison Bowmore Distillers. Finlaggan was one of its launch brands, which were updated in 2014. Currently the core range is Finlaggan Old Reserve at 40%, Eilean Mor at 46% and a cask strength one at 58%.


Finlaggan Castle and Chapel

As the whisky distillery is anonymous, the brand is named after Finlaggan Castle, which sits on an island in Loch Finlaggan, Islay. There isn’t really a lot to write about it, so I’ll just proceed with the tasting.

Finlaggan Old Reserve

Finlaggan Old Reserve

Region -Islay Age – NAS Strength -40% ABV Colour – Old Gold (0.6) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – Yes Nose – Peat, hard cheddar, iodine, toasted wholemeal bread, citrus. Palate – Light mouthfeel, brine, lemon, peat, nutmeg. Finish – medium short. Peat, brine, sweet. Strong wood spices going down the throat, but a small splash of water brings it into control. Drying in the end


The Dram

Conclusions

I don’t like judging things on first tastes, but my first taste of this to be honest was not positive. Not too bad a nose, a calm palate with spice building and the insanity breaks out once swallowed. Hot spices and a weak peat, the sweetness turning to dryness. It became more balanced with a splash of water.

I like peaty whisky, so it’s not that I don’t like peat. In my opinion this is a young Caol Ila. I’ll base that thought on that it is the closest distillery to Loch Finlaggan and it is probably the distillery most likely to have the capacity to keep up with demand for the independent sales. It doesn’t taste anywhere near as nice as other Caol Ila’s I’ve had and that’s being kind. I hate to admit this, but I couldn’t finish it and sadly had to dispose of it down the sink. You can’t like everything unfortunately.

It may be cheap, but I’ll be leaving this one on the shelf though in my opinion it’s best left in a dungeon, never to escape. I’ll be continuing to hunt for something more tasty. However if I see a mini of one of the other drams, I’d love to try for a second go, but this dram was definitely not for me.

*** There will be a following article about this review in the very near future. Be sure to catch it ***

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Finlaggan Castle – Heikki Immonen (CC BY-SA 3.0)

All Other Photos – Authors Own