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

Index of articles here


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All Photos – Authors Own

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Turning Japanese

Taste Review #139 – Nikka Coffey Malt / Nikka Coffey Grain

Like many millions of people the world over, I like to start my day with a coffee. My caffeinated drink of choice is very important to me; you can’t beat a slightly sweet and milky coffee.

People often make the mistake of trying to communicate with me in the morning before I’ve had any coffee. This can be hazardous to your health as I’m not able to issue much more than a grunt. Indeed, on the last day of an offshore trip where I was ambushed to sign off paperwork before I even made it to the mess room for breakfast, it was all a semi-conscious blur. I could have been signing death warrants, as being without liquid stimulation I wouldn’t have been able to tell. Thereupon I have decided for everybody’s safety, it has been necessary that I invest in a new t-shirt.

That should be easy to understand

Of course I’ve been talking about the wrong coffee. I actually meant Coffey, which is a continuous running still, designed in the 19th century by Aeneas Coffey, normally being used to produce grain whisky. These are a lot more efficient in distilling spirit compared to a traditional pot still, easily capable of reaching over 90% alcoholic strength. Not that you’d want to be drinking that, as you’d possibly go blind, and nobody wants that.

This is the first Japanese whisky that I’ve reviewed. I’m not that adventurous with world whisky, although I have had some in the past. The last experience I had was Hibiki 17, long before the blog started. I can only dream of drinking that now, such has been the rise in secondary market prices since it was discontinued.

The Nikka company has two whisky distilleries in Japan, the Yoichi distillery in Yoichi, Hokkaido and the Miyagikyo distillery in the northern part of Honshu. While I’m not fully sure what distillery these whiskies were created in, the Yoichi distillery is capable of grain and malt production, so I’ll hedge my bets and say it originates there, as the latter only has pot stills. The Yoichi distillery is also the oldest of the pair, being founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru.

On the right; the not so perfect measure. Irony at its finest.

Masataka learnt his trade in Scotland, having studied in Glasgow, then obtaining an apprenticeship in Longmorn distillery near Elgin. Later that year he moved to the Lowlands to the Bo’ness distillery and onwards to Campbeltown’s Hazelburn distillery. He returned to Japan to work for Suntory and by 1934 had founded his own distillery in Yoichi.

You can find out more about Nikka and their brands at their website :-

www.nikka.com

Nikka Coffey Malt

Region – Japan Age – NAS Strength – 45% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Initially I get fresh fruits, lemon zest, then moves on to Danish pastries, caramel, cocoa. There’s something solvent-like in there as well. Wood note is there too, and smells like freshly cut timber. Palate – medium body palate, with a pleasant mouth feel. Velvety. Quite timid on the arrival with more solvent, but less lemony and more caramel and vanilla. Sweet taste, like honey or foam banana candies. Quite light on the wood spice, there is a taste of chocolate and coffee going on there as well. Finish – bit of spice after swallowing leads on to a relatively short finish, with malty, coffee and chocolate notes, coupled with a hint of vanilla.


Nikka Coffey Grain

Region – Japan Age – NAS Strength – 45% Colour – Yellow Gold (0.5) Cask Type – Not known Colouring – Not Stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – very subtle. Slight solvent note, but vanilla ice cream, camomile tea, slightly floral, but because is so subtle I am struggling to sense much of a nose. A hint of grain perhaps. Palate – very light and dare I say delicate? Totally different to the Coffey malt. The mouthfeel and initial taste to me is like sugared water with a hint of almond. In fact; sugared almonds can also be sensed. It has a light, creamy and custardy taste, almost like the cream in a custard cream but I don’t get the biscuit component. If I get any grain influence, I’d say it’s unseasoned popcorn. While there are solvent notes on the nose, these hardly carry through to the palate, unlike most other grains that I have tried. Finish – very short. Bit of oak spice and fruit on the finish and a hint of dairy milk chocolate.

Conclusions

The Coffey malt wasn’t anything challenging and was quite easy to drink.

The Coffey grain was completely different; a lot lighter and delicate yet still very pleasant. I liked both drams but if I was to express a favourite of the two it would be the grain version. And then I change my mind, preferring the malt. It’s all so confusing.

Let’s just make it easy. Both are good and are worth a purchase. However the price is a bit salty, both being north of £50 unless you hunt about. At 45% I’d expect it a little cheaper, but you are going to get an subtly expressive drink that I think most people would enjoy.

These are often seen in travel retail and next time I see one, I may buy a bottle.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

It’s the season to be jolly.

The festive (or festival) season is here.

No, don’t panic, it’s still over three months until that season at the time of writing. It’ll be some time before your kids will be getting excited by a fat man in a red suit carrying a large bag. My kid gets that any time of year I put on an old pair of work overalls to do some tidying up in the garden. Just need the reindeer to finish the look.

The season that I refer to is my whisky season, where I get a free pass from her that must be obeyed to enjoy myself by doing some tours and sampling some whisky. Traditionally it is a bit busy for my work over the summer months, so I always tend to try and take breaks in September or October when the weather in Scotland can still be settled before the onslaught of winter. Whisky season for me this year involved three distillery visits and a small whisky festival.

Distillery 1 was the small and very scenic Speyside distillery. It’s on the opposite side of the River Spey from me, a short 5 minute drive. Despite living in the village for 8 years, I’ve never actually been. The tour was good enough, but I found myself as pretty much the only person on the tour who had been around a distillery before, so I just absorbed the atmosphere and the sights, plus chatted to one of my former work colleagues who is now a senior operator on the site.


Waterwheel that forms part of Speyside distillery.

Distillery 2 was Ballindalloch. I’ve visited a few times in the past and this time I redid the Art Of Whisky Making experience. Pricey at nearly £200 but still a great experience to see first hand exactly how whisky is made. Questions are encouraged, with each staff member being very knowledgeable about the process. On Thursdays it is casking day, so you get the experience of filling casks of the previous weeks spirit and then getting them stored in the warehouse. Can you master the art of ‘clocking’ your casks to ensure the bungs are always at the top? That is certainly an art!


The perfect mash. By me. With a wee bit of help.

My final distillery visit was Cragganmore. I nearly first visited this distillery in 2019, but never managed to fit it into my schedule. The tour is about an hour long, but much better than my last visit to a Diageo distillery. The tour guide this time knew a lot about the process and she kept the tour fun, interesting and engaging without pushing the company line. I even got extras from the gift shop of the rarer malts, one of which was the distillery 2016 special release of which I have a bottle. A really nice touch, one I’m very grateful for. I’d definitely recommend this tour.


I like big butts. Sherry butts of course.

Well, I’d love to say this was my last distillery visit, but I’m lying as I popped into Strathisla for a bit of retail therapy and purchased I a couple of distillery reserve collections, both the produce of sherry butts. One was a Longmorn, and another local malt that I dare not speak its name. The disappointing thing about the Pernod-Ricard distillery reserve is the fact they are often 50cl bottles. However, they are usually at cask strength and single cask. The non-single cask ones are often 70cl.

And on to the National Whisky Festival, Aberdeen. The main reason for taking the month of September off, to ensure that I got a chance to meet Nick (twitter – @ayewhisky); a fellow Aberdonian who has exiled himself to Belfast. But it doesn’t end there as I also bumped into a couple more of the Twitterati. It goes to show that it is indeed a small world. Firstly it was Steve Gray and his pal Alan, who I first met on a tour of Glendronach in June 2019, then Paul Dempsey (twitter / @whiskyweegie) who was formerly a brand ambassador for Speyside distillery but is now working for Brave New Spirits. It was also a pleasure to meet Colin Sim (Twitter @distillerybikes).

Alan, self and Steve. Oh, and THAT shirt.

There were plenty of drams to try but I’m not even going to attempt to remember all of them but I’ll have a go –

Murray McDavid – Glenburgie 13. Sherry butt with a Sauternes 1st fill finish. 58.2%

Murray McDavid – Cambus 30. Cognac finish. 47.8%

JG Thompson Sweet Blended Whisky NAS 46%.

Brave New Spirits – The Nailed Puppet. Tormore 11. 1st and 2nd fill a bourbon. 52.6%

Benromach 10 Cask Strength. 2012 vintage. 60.2%

Speyside Distillery – Spey Tenne CS NAS Batch 4. Tawny Port Finish. 57.7%

Glenallachie – 8 y.o 46%. Sherry, Red wine matured.

White Peak – Wireworks Inaugural release 50.3%

Dalmore – cigar malt. 44%. American White Oak, Matusalem Oloroso and Cabernet Sauvignon casks.

Balblair – 15 y.o Bourbon with 1st fill sherry finish

SMWS – 4.311 “Tiptoe Through The Heather* Highland Park 13. 1st fill bourbon. 61.1% (*this is a guess as it was a scrum to get to the stand as some idiots were treating it as a public bar, and I only got a glimpse of the bottle as it was being poured. I had no chance of speaking to the guys pouring).

If anybody can help me out with the ID of the Highland Park, I’ll be grateful.

So only 10 drams. It wasn’t a lot but you do try to savour as much as you can to get the flavours and aromas, but after so much cask strength spirit, it’s impossible to really appreciate some of the drams. Plus I was constantly getting interrupted due to positive comments on my sartorial excellence with one of my specialist Hawaiian shirts. The way I’m going to choose to look at it is that we say whisky is a social drink, therefore it’s probably more important to focus on people rather than solely the whisky and trying to drink as much as you can in the allotted time.

People being friendly with liquid social lubricant.

Any stand out drams from the festival? No, not really. I was surprised at this. I was however pleasantly surprised by the Tormore, really enjoyed the sweetness of the Glenburgie and the smoothness of the Cambus. Dram of my night was probably the Tormore.

A quick pint before going our separate ways in the Howff (where I had my first proper Bourbon at age 18!), saw me back into the hotel before 10pm and thus the curtain was drawn on this years festival of whisky. Old friendships renewed, new ones made. A perfect end.

What’s your perfect festival?

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Ready to take the Fall.

Taste Review #136 Aber Falls Inaugral release

Time waits for no man and that is a saying that I’m only too aware of. It’s been some time since I’ve written, but forgive me, it has been a hectic time at work. Like so many other professions, we find ourselves short of people and I’ve just not had the energy to catch up with my backlog after shift. With so many reviews in hand, it means I have been a bit reticent about reviewing other samples or bottles lest I fall behind even further.

But in my line of work we often accept that as long as we are not moving backwards, then that is a good thing and I’ve decided to take a plunge in my run of tasting anything but Scotch to try another Welsh whisky. Quite a risk after having the last one which I’ll only remind you that I was glad not to have bought a full bottle.

The inaugural Aber Falls was a keenly anticipated release, but unfortunately wasn’t released in a large volume, with only 2000 bottles reaching market. These were quickly snapped up by those who wanted to drink them and those greedy cretins who wished to flip and make profit. Kudos to the Aber Falls distillery for making a realistic charge of only £45 for your first bottling. Ya boo sucks to those marketing it now for over £300. You are despicable.

I could waste a lot of time by telling you about the distillery but I feel it better to let you visit the website of the distillery itself, so the link is here :- www.aberfallsdistillery.com


Aber Falls Inaugural Release

Region – Wales Age – NAS (3 yrs) Strength – 46% abv Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type – American / European Oak, Spanish Sherry, Virgin Oak, Orange Wine Casks Colouring -Not stated Chill Filtered – Not Stated

Nose – quite tropical initially. Got a big hit of passion fruit. Butterscotch angel delight, orange citrus, vanilla, dried fruit, raisins, sultanas. Slightly nutty, walnuts.

Palate – medium bodied and gives a pleasant mouthfeel. Gingery heat builds straight away but is well controlled. The orange wine casks play a big part, and I get plenty of marmalade notes. The heat subsides and becomes a bit more biscuity and syrupy and floral sweetness, akin to heather honey. This morphs into a creamy smoothness, something similar to American Ice cream soda with that magical tickle on the tongue.

Finish – Medium finish. Coffee, dark chocolate, honey, ginger and oak spices. Drying towards the end.

Conclusions

I was quite surprised by this dram. I wasn’t expecting much from it, but it was quite drinkable, despite the young age. The continual fashion of releasing young whisky irks me somewhat. It is rapidly apparent that this whisky is going to be a good one, so why release it so early? It just seems to be that another couple of years in the cask would have done it a world of good, but I can only imagine that the accountants and those waiting on returns on their investments had other ideas.

So many other distilleries have been releasing at a young age and it seems to have flooded the market with whisky that has just passed its exams and is trying to take on those with a lot more experience. I’ve tasted whiskies which to me did not manage this at all in my opinion, so why make your whisky one more face in that crowd? I’d think it would be a better idea to follow the Adelphi way of thinking and wait 5 yrs to get an nicely balanced whisky with a couple more years under its belt like Ardnamurchan.

Of course this is only my opinion, but getting whisky out as soon as possible seems to also please the flippers who can make tons of money by flipping three year old spirit. The only thing that makes me happy is knowing that those who have paid flipper rates for a £45 whisky will essentially be left with nothing once better, more mature Aber Falls comes out, as that is I suspect to be a very delicious prospect.

One thing I am thinking is whether or not the long line of cask types in this release is sustainable and will they have a core release of say ex-bourbon so we can get a better idea of distillery character? The Orange wine cask had quite an influence on this bottling but I am wondering what a standard core release will taste like. The second release was only £26 so based on this tasting, that is a bargain if it meets the quality of this one.

Despite my various reservations, I would recommend this whisky. The problem is that only 2000 bottles were released and it is fair to assume that those opened will now be long gone, so your only hope is to find one going cheap at auction. During a bit of research for this post, I had seen one for sale at £449 at whiskys.co.uk. Absolutely scandalous pricing as this whisky can never expect to hold up to that and anybody stupid enough to pay that must either be really desperate to try it or they have more money than sense. On secondary market, even £100 is overpriced unless you really enjoy it when you drink it.

If you are really interested in trying it, Master Of Malt still had samples at the time of writing (29th March 2022) costing £5.28 for 3cl.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

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


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

Sheep Lovers Of The World Unite.

Taste Review #122 Thomson Manuka Smoke

Seeing as I am doing a review of world whisky and have already reviewed an Australian whisky, I thought it a bit rude to miss out New Zealand.

I can’t say I know a lot about New Zealand. It’s the other side of the world and I’ve never been. However everybody I’ve met from there seems to be a good laugh. They are also famous for playing rugby, and regularly pump the Scottish Rugby team, although they aren’t always invincible.

One small fact about New Zealand that has always stuck in my head has been the ratio of sheep to humans. It’s quite impressive. From a population of around 5.084 million, there was estimated to be around 26.16 million sheep in New Zealand. That’s better than a ratio of 5-1. Being from the north east of Scotland I can appreciate a decent ewe. In fact I once dated a girl who ran a sheep farm to which I once joked that if she fell out with me, there were 500 other options outside.

Is that a come-on?

Of course, I’m joking. I did say that, but the intention was never there. Besides if you’ve ever been near a sheep, the back end is usually covered in sharn (that’s Doric for sh*te) and their eyes are creepy like goats. I’ll stick to watching lambs frolick in the field on the other side of the fence and wait until they grow up to be a kebab or a decent curry.

But enough about that and let’s move onto todays world whisky. It’s the Thomson Manuka Smoke single malt. The distillery is located in Riverhead, North West of Auckland and was founded in 2014. This whisky uses barley that has been malted using Manuka wood. The distillery only uses ingredients from New Zealand.

The whisky

Thomson Manuka Smoke

Region – New Zealand Age – NAS Strength – 46% abv Colour – Pale Straw (0.2) Cask Type – Bourbon Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Wood smoke, Honey, sweet Liquorice, Rubbery, Cloves. Palate – Smoke, burnt toast, slight astringency, yet sweetness is allowed to keep its head above water. Orchard fruit. Light to medium mouthfeel. Finish – Short. Sweet liquorice and peppermint tea. Slight smoke.

The dram

Conclusions

Pleasant enough. Had smoky and sweet flavours throughout. You get the sense of a young whisky with a very light mouthfeel. Nothing wrong with this whisky, but I didn’t take to it until the last couple of sips. At 46% and all natural presentation, I felt this dram benefitted from added water.

I wouldn’t rush out to buy this but would think a few more years in the cask would improve it. I’d certainly try it again.

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


Photo Credits

Sheep – 123rf

All other Photos – Authors Own

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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


Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own

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

An Indian Winter

Taste Review #119 – Amrut Fusion

When I thought of doing a wee run of world whiskies for review and to expand ones horizons, one of the natural choices was Indian whisky. This is most appropriate at the time of writing I am currently working offshore the east coast of India, working from the port of Kakinada.

India is for me one of these countries of extremes. It can be filthy, yet colourful. It has many rich people within, yet sees the extremes of poverty when you do an excursion around the Dharavi slums, made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire. You can experience the mountains of the North, leading onto the Himalayas, or have a beach holiday in Goa, and everything between.


Cows everywhere in the streets of Kakinada – I think this one is interested in seeing a moo-vie

When I last worked in India during 2009, we used to fly from an airport called Rajahmundry, about an hours drive from the port of Kakinada in Andra Pradesh. The journey between the two towns was in a rural area giving the opportunity to see some very pastoral scenes. The city sits on the eastern bank of the sacred Godavari river, and we’d often get a night in a hotel there before flying out the next day. One of the hotels I remember sat on the riverside and we used to have our well deserved beer after 6 weeks of abstinence. Forget the ideas of Kingfisher lager – we were in India and the brands we were offered were Haywards 5000, Royal Challenge, Knockout and Maharaja. If you know the Scottish sit-com Still Game, you’ll understand when I say images of Fusilier lager came to mind!

And so it comes to pass that Indian whisky has always been in my head as an unknown quantity. Totally incorrect I will have to admit. As I am writing this, I don’t have any facts and figures to hand, but I’m sure that I remember that Indian whisky is the largest seller worldwide. You’ll need to check the Malt Whisky year book to confirm, but I’m sure Johnny Walker is the highest selling Scotch brand but only manages third place. So, if Indian whisky can sell so much, it can’t be bad, eh?

Because I didn’t want to invest in a whole bottle that I may not take to and I already have a surplus of open 70cl bottles, I chose to buy a variety of world whiskies using the Perfect Measure from The Whisky Exchange and Drinks by the Dram from Master Of Malt. The Indian sample I chose was from The Whisky Exchange and is Amrut Fusion.

Amrut Distilleries started out in 1948 after the British Colonising forces withdrew the previous year. Based in Bangalore, the current distillery was built in 1987. It came to more attention when whisky ‘expert’ Jim Murray gave their whisky a 82 out of 100 in 2005 and 2010. These were in the days when many Indian whiskies were made up of cheap imported Scottish whiskies blended with local spirit, so the bar had been raised for Indian whisky.

Maturing spirits in a hot and humid climate is totally different to doing it in Scotland. The higher temperature gives a much higher evaporation rate of around 10-12% compared to 2% in Scotland. Therefore I doubt we’ll ever see significant age statement Indian whiskies in quantity.

The whisky I chose was Amrut Fusion. This was originally launched in 2009 and it is made with 25% peated Scottish barley and 75% Indian unpeated barley. While some of the ingredients have Scottish provenance, it is very much still an Indian Whisky. So let’s see if the fusion of Scottish and Indian barley makes a taste sensation on my palate.


Amrut Fusion – a fusion of Scottish and Indian Barley

Amrut Fusion

Region – India Age – NAS Strength – 50% abv Colour – Chestnut Oloroso Sherry (1.2) Cask Type – Oak Colouring – No Chill Filtered – Not Stated Nose – Barley, wood shavings, light smoke, peaches, orange peel, runny honey, barley sugar. With water added got an ozone note of distressed electrical equipment. Palate – gentle arrival, light / medium mouth feel. Pineapple, wood, barley, chocolate (?), smoky peat. Creamy caramel. Orange rind. Finish – medium / long. Peat smoke, astringent, brine, woody taste (oak). Fades into a marmalade-esque sweetness and a bit of a spicy burn. Water takes away most of the spicy finish.


The Dram

Conclusions

Not too bad is my conclusion. I’m not a regular drinker of world whisky, so my experience of this is limited. I’d drink this again, but not sure if I’d buy a bottle. I’d say I much preferred this with a drop of water.

I don’t understand how Jim Murray can say this was the third best single malt whisky in the world in 2010, as I can think of many more that I’ve enjoyed more than this, but don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad whisky at all. Perhaps I’ll get a chance to pick some Indian whisky up on the way home…

Yours In Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


All content subject to copyright and must not be replicated without permission.

Photo Credits

All Photos – Authors Own