Ardbeg Uigeadail

Let’s start with Ardbeg. This is a great distillery that makes some exceptional single malt whisky. My introduction to the range was with the standard 10 year old. Though I don’t have any to review, (the 70cl bottle is long gone and didn’t last long), it is an exceptional 10 year old. Probably the best 10 year old own bottling expression I’ve tasted.

When it was gone I decided I had to get more Ardbeg, but why not try something new? Hence I picked up the Uigeadail. I’ve since been to the distillery and picked up a bottle of Alligator and 2 bottles of an 18 year old cask strength. I like Ardbeg! More on these in a future post.

The name Uigeadail refers to the loch from which Ardbeg gets its water. This expression is a mixture of Ardbeg from ex sherry and ex bourbon casks. Here are the dramstats:

Image

 

  • ABV: 54.2%
  • Non chill filtered
  • Price £46.50
  • No age statement

 

Nose: Pitta bread on a BBQ, burnt biscuits, overdone BBQ chicken legs, faint dusty fruit. With water it really opens up: Toasted coriander, cumin and cardamom, sticky BBQ sauce, cola bottles, black cherry, damson jam.

Palate:  Sweet heavy wood smoke, chilli, black pepper. Sticky BBQ ribs with charred edges. Fruit there but more like a fruity chilli sauce than fresh fruit.

Finish:  Huge pepper, chilli, smoke. Long finish with fruit notes, HP brown sauce and sweet chilli still lingering after 30 seconds to a minute.

Verdict: An excellent whisky with an amazing presentation. A standard expression bottled at over 50%and non chill filtered! Happy days! Oodles of that unique Ardbeg style smoke, very well rounded and full on the palate. A real Islay bomb. For the price this represents excellent value and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone. My only qualm would be whether to recommend this particular Ardbeg, the 10yo, or the Alligator. They are all excellent! Enjoy!

Mortlach 16 Flora and Fauna

On a trip to Edinburgh with Mrs dramstats I tasted my first Mortlach. It was an Indie Mortlach tried in a pub and I thought it was amazing. Ever since then I wanted a bottle, and Mrs dramstats weighed in with the 16yo Flora and Fauna for my last birthday.

 

The Flora and Fauna range contains bottlings by Diageo for some of their single malts that don’t make it into the Premier league of their classic malts range (Talisker, Cragganmore etc). This malt, like Lagavulin, gets 16 years ageing before bottling and is bottled at a slightly stronger than usual 43%ABV. Here are the Dramstats.

  • Price paid £64.99
  • ABV 43%
  • Age 16yo

Nose:   Starts with lots of pleasant fresh fruit, sherry, raisins, dates, marzipan, cinder toffee, crunchie bars, black current liquorice boiled sweets. Black wine gums covered in milk chocolate. There is also a metallic note that is not so pleasant and seems at odds with the malt. Time in the glass develops a cough mixture note.

Palate: Not as fruity initially as the nose suggested, the metallic note weighs in and reminds me of licking a bacon pan after frying, before the fruit takes over. Brambles, red fruits, poppets (chocolate covered fruit creams). The malt seems quite thin, with the fruit notes almost watery.

Finish: Bramble and blackcurrent cordial before licking the bacon pan again.

Verdict: Some lovely early fruit and marzipan notes are let down for me by the metallic note that seems at odds with the whisky rather than well integrated. Some enjoyable moments with this, definitely, but I think it’s a bit thin and could do with being bottled at 46%.

And now it’s rant time. This bottle was bought for me as a present from a prominent multi-outlet whisky retailer at the above price. A quick search on the internet (at the time and recently) showed I could get it from numerous places for around £45. Another check showed that the current price of this bottle at the shop in question is now over £70! I find it hard to believe or swallow the idea that overheads for running a shop, or “the personal experience” can be worth paying more than 30% more for a bottle than it’s available for elsewhere. In fact, learning of a price difference this large has left me feeling that someone buying a present for me has been ripped off and this has taken away from the pleasure of owning the whisky.

Would I buy this whisky again? No. It’s definitely not bad whisky, it’s quite enjoyable, but it’s not exciting. That Mortlach in Edinburgh was exciting, and I’ll be checking out the indie bottlers for other Mortlach expressions in search of something similar.

This whisky did teach me a vital lesson though. Always compare prices on the internet before buying a bottle in a shop or at a distillery. On average, shop prices are likely to be a bit higher, and I’m fine with that. They have over heads, I enjoy the experience of being in a whisky shop, and there is something worth paying that little bit extra for in walking out of a shop actually holding a bottle. But I mean a little bit extra. Not +30%!

The Coopers Choice, Bowmore 1998

No sooner than had I decided to jump in with both feet and start blogging about whisky, I came down with the dreaded autumn cold. If only I’d kept a back log of tasting notes!

Luckily I’ve come out the other side and was able to review a wonderful independent bottle of Bowmore from the coopers choice. I’ve really gotten into independent Bowmores lately. I’ve noticed, from conversations with other whisky geeks and listening to some of the more prominent experts, that there is not a lot of love out there for Bowmore. Personally I love the unique Bowmore character, but I do feel it needs a craft presentation. Done right, it’s a wonderful and unique dram and really takes me back to Islay.

This February, Mrs Dramstats and I rented a college a few doors away from here:

 

The first day of our stay was a Sunday and, as there were no tours of any of the distilleries on after 3pm (when we arrived), I headed to the local whisky shop to pick up a bottle for the evening. I didn’t want to pick up any of the Own Bottling’s for the distilleries we’d be visiting, as I usually like to pick my favourites from the tasting sessions and buy those. However, I did want to make sure the first bottle I bought was an Islay!

So I opted for an Independent bottling of Bowmore by The Cooper’s Choice. Here are the dram stats.

  • Distillery: Bowmore
  • Distilled: 1998
  • Bottled: 2009
  • ABV 46%
  • Cask: Refill butt
  • Non chill filtered, natural colour
  • Price: about £40

Nose: Signature Bowmore with ozone, floral, peat, smoked mussels, fisherman’s friends. Like smoking fish on the beach with perfume-wearing girls at Loch Indall!

Palate: Peat, fisherman’s friends, then a wave of sea spray with mild white pepper and more smoke.

Finish: White pepper and salty peat fades quite quickly in a pleasant yet clean finish. This one gets in, gets you, then gets out.

Verdict: A real session dram this one (only 1/4 of the bottle made it off Islay, despite picking up 5 more bottles of whisky on distillery tours). An enjoyable and engaging nose, a lovely delivery and a short clean finish that brings forward the next sip. It won’t be long before I pick up another independent bottling of Bowmore!

 

A 9yo Arran (SMWS 121.50)

The whisky I’m reviewing today is a 9yo single cask Arran by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society named “Xmas cake and Afgan coats”.  There is one minor problem with this whisky though: You can’t buy it anymore!

One of the charming joys of single cask whisky is that once it’s gone, it’s gone. And this, my friends, is gone. I got to taste some courtesy of Tom Thomson, author of excellent tasting notes at http://www.tomswhiskyreviews.com/ (I will soon get the hang of posting proper links, but I’ve not worked out how to incorporate html code in these). Any how, go to his site and ready some of his reviews. Particularly if you are thinking of buying Jura.

So, the obvious question is, why am I reviewing a whisky that you can’t buy, and, more importantly, why should you read it? Well firstly, it is interesting to review single cask whisky from SMWS. If you are not a member, it might give you insight into the quality of drams I’ve tasted. Secondly, it is relevant to review single cask Arran. Though all casks are different, it might give some idea of what to expect, even if only loosely.

So, without further ado, here are the dramstats:

SMWS 121.50 Xmas cake and Afgan coats

  • ABV 61.3%
  • Cask type: Sherry
  • Age 9

Nose: Big raisins and sultanas soaked in sherry. The edge of a slightly singed christmas cake. Toasted almonds, Cadbury’s picnic bars, heated fruit and nut milka, stewed plums. Water brings raspberry cooli on vanilla cheesecake.

Palate: A real fruit blast with strawberries, stewed plums, neat blackcurrant cordial, and alcohol burn. Water develops the christmas cake note but it morphs mid-taste into sara lee blackcurrant cheese cake.

Finish: Lots of red fruit, black fruit gums, sour strawbs.

Verdict: This is really reminds me of the Aberlour A’bunah. For me, a fantastic sherried whisky with wave upon wave of fresh red fruit. I can’t believe it is only 9 years old as it doesn’t have a young bone in its body. Obviously I can’t recommend this as it’s not available, but I can tell you what I took from it. Whisky under 10 years old can be excellent, and it doesn’t have to be peated for that to be true. I’ll be tasting more Arran, and I may catch a young bottle or two from the SMWS in the future.

 

York Whisky Fest 2012

Yesterday I attended the York whisky festival 2012. Being just a 50 minute train ride from the North east, this is one of the most accessible whisky festivals for me, and I took the opportunity to investigate, adding a Berry Bros and Rudd master class into the bargain.

I don’t intend to do any tasting notes from the show, because I feel that the glasses are never properly free of the residue from other whiskies tasted and I like to take more time to write notes. However, I will give an overview of some of the best drams, more details on the master class and some stories from the day.

Having got to the festival 15 minutes early, queued, and made it inside, I was given my whisky glass and had a look round. The most interesting stands for me seemed to be the Berry Bros stand, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society stand, Arran, and the English Whiksy Co.. Bruichladdich couldn’t make it, which was a shame, but there were plenty of other excellent distilleries represented.

First port of call was the SMWS and my friend John, the SMWS ambassador, was pouring. I started with an excellent 27 year old Clynelish called “Scented candles in the sauna”, wonderful notes of pineapple cubes and guava. I was then given a 9yo Ardmore and told that this 70cl bottle comes free if you join today! i had intended to join in 2 weeks as a birthday present, but a whole bottle free was too good to resist. Without further ado, John signed me up and gave me a starter pack which included 4 10cl bottles.: A 12yo glenfarclas, 11 yo Glenmorangie, 9yo port charlotte and a 20 yo Rosebank!

Feeling pretty pleased with myself I headed over to Arran to taste their core range. Trying both the 10yo and the 14yo I was extremely impressed. A lovely note of cola cubes appeared in both and I hope to review both at some point in the future, but I was particularly impressed by the 10yo. Add to the cola note, cereal, hob nobs and sherry soaked fruits, this was one of the most appealing and value for money entry level malts I have tasted. It convinced me to buy a bottle which I will do soon and review on here when I can spend a little more time with the nose.

From Arran to the master class and awaiting us were 6 mystery drams from Berry Bros.

Image

The six drams turned out to be a 22yo grain from Girvan, a 15yo Cragganmore, a 20yo Craigellechi, A Connemara, a 14yo Bowmore in refill sherry and a 23 yo Caol Ila.

Of the 6 I enjoyed the Girvan, and the Caol Ila, but my favourite was the Bowmore. When you get a good refill sherry matured Bowmore it is one of my favourite whiskies and this was an excellent example. The grain whisky was one of those real sweet shop drams that I like, with plenty of foam bananas and banana milkshake.

The Caol Ila was excellent, though most of the peat had gone, but the tasting was marred when one punter who was looking at the bottle took it upon himself to finish the whole thing (drowning it with water first)! He then put 12 tasting glasses in his bag and tried to make it out the door. He was stopped, the glasses recovered, and he was made to leave the festival.

What I enjoyed most about this master class was chatting to some fellow whisky fans afterwards and sharing stories and finishing drams. Sharing a dram and a conversation is one of the things that really attracts me to whisky.

After the master class I went around the rest of the stands tasting various drams I hadn’t had before. Highlights included the English Whisky Co. Chapter 12, a sherried English whisky that I really enjoyed, a BB&R Authriosk, and a long chat with the guy at the Cooley stand about the future under Jim Beam.

At the end of the festival I joined a few new friends and fellow malt heads for a couple of beers before heading home.

Verdict: All in all, for the price of £25 the festival was a bargain! The master class at £7.50 was great value and very informative (did you know that the BB&R shop in London has 3 Acres of underground cellar space?!). The SMWS is great and I’ve signed up. Arran seems to have fantastic malt (reviews to come). A successful Saturday was had.

The Balvenie 17, `Peated cask’

The Balvenie 17, ‘peated cask’ is part of the range of 17 year old Balvenie releases that, up to last year were released annually.

There is an interesting story behind this one too. The whisky is aged as normal Balvenie and then introduced to casks that held PEATED BALVENIE! It is then married with Balvenie in new American oak before being bottled. They released something similar and highly popular a number of years earlier involving peated Islay casks, but the intrigue here lie in the nature of the peated Balvenie (malted barley dried with peat smoke, distilled at Balvenie and now maturing).

You see Balvenie don’t make peated whisky and have never, as far as I know, released a peated version. Though tasting this finished whisky is not the same as tasting the mystery peated version, it at least gives some insight (in the absence of any other kind) into what peated Balvenie might actually be like. That peated Balvenie is being matured somewhere in Scotland and, one day, it will be available. 

Image

 

 

So, knowing the above I had to buy a bottle of this to try. Here are the dram stats.

The Balvenie, Peated Cask

  • Age 17
  • ABV 43%
  • Price £75 (when bought), £67 (today)

Nose: Sickly sweet peat smoke. Smokey sherbet. Honey, baked red apples, cinnamon, star anise. With water richer fruits appear with baked plums, a touch of nutmeg, but with the smoke toned down.

Palate: Honey, golden syrup, baked red apple and cinnamon spice. Touch of pepper.

Finish: Sweet smoke, honey sweetness well balanced with oak at the end. Dries more with less smoke with water added.

Verdict: This is a moreish whisky and a real session dram. Don’t add water! Whilst it doesn’t ruin the dram,, it hides a lot of the lovely smoke from the peated Balvenie. This is a different kind of peat. Sweet and unusual. The big question is, would I recommend buying it? The answer to that depends on your reason to buy it. My problem with this whisky is not the taste, but the price. £70 is a lot of money for what I would call a session whisky. It’s not overly complex for a 17yo and I expect a little more for that sort of money. However, there is the intrigue of trying peated Balvenie (even if it only impacts the finish and is not yet the real stuff). If you want to know what peated Balvenie is going to be like, this is the best hint we have, and for that reason this is a bit of a whisky geek’s whisky. I don’t regret buying the bottle and if, like me, the curiosity is too much, then ultimately it is a good purchase. The inner geek will be satisfied and you still have a very drinkable bottle of whisky to enjoy. If you can wait for the release of the real peated version, I’d do that and explore something else from the excellent Balvenie range in the meantime.

 

SMWS London whisky show mini pack

Time for my second review. I was going to pick something from my shelf, but then I noticed that the SMWS London whisky show mini pack (pictured below) was on sale, but that there were only 27 out of 390 packs left. I have a review for the whiskies this pack, so I thought that I’d best get it up pronto in case anyone was thinking of buying.

The pack comes in a lovely box and contains 4 10cl bottles of single cask, non-chill filtered, uncoloured, cask strength whisky. Good start. Here is a picture

The whiskies include a 9 year old Balmenach, a 14 year old Bowmore, an 18 year old Invergordon and a 22 year old Craigellachie. I was given this kit in order to take part in a twitter tasting as part of the excellent http://www.thewhiskywire.com series of online tastings. The price to buy is £52.50 but you have to be a SMWS member and you have to be quick (only 27 left). Skip to the end to see my opinion of the value of this box of drams, but without further ado, here are the 4 sets of dram stats:

48.33 ‘Marshmallows and chocolate eclairs’

  • ABV 58.9%
  • Age 9 years
  • Distillery: Balmenach

Nose: Sweetshop flavours with flumps, icing sugar and foam shrimps. A little air reveals ‘blue’ flavour, as in blue hubba bubba bubble gum and blue cables that you buy in a cinema. Halibo orange vitamin C tablets. With water the icing sugar and flumps are concentrated, whilst malted milk biscuits come through,

Palate: Sweet fondant icing and foam shrimps develops and leads to a peppery blast. With water the pepper is toned down but the foam shrimps and flumps are very much there. Lovely!

Finish: Fizzy refreshers sweets and more of the orange from the nose. Those refreshers are even fizzier with water.

Verdict: A penny mix sweetshop dram. If available on its own I’d definitely buy a 70cl bottle for around £50-£70 pounds and be dead pleased with myself. My type of whisky (well one of them).

44.52 ‘The artist, the brewer and the baker’

  • ABV 52.1%
  • Age 22 years
  • Distillery: Craigellachie

Nose: Green grass, lime zest, salty butter shortbread, marker pens. With water, chocolate limes and icing sugar come through. Time in the glass brings varnish and malty notes.

Palate: Biscuity and dry, like sweet cream crackers. Bitter light hops in craft blonde beer. With water there is a faint hint of liquorice.

Finish: Drying oak with shortbread and vanilla. Water brings chalkiness and fading liquorice and pepper.

Verdict: This is older and needs more coaxing to find itself. Probably not one to taste with the others. It is perhaps a little oaky on the finish for my taste, but I had a lot of fun with the hoppy biscuity palate.

G5.6 ‘Bye bye miss American rye’

  • ABV 65.3%
  • Age 18 years
  • Distillery: Invergordon

Nose:  Huge vanilla, green giant extra sweet sweetcorn, aniseed balls, vermicelli coated chocolate rum balls, rum raisin, brown sauce on supermarket cafe sausages. Wonderful! With water toffee popcorn replaces the sweetcorn. This can take a lot of water.

Palate: Huge alcohol burn, very sweet vanilla develops into rum and aniseed. With water lots of charred oak and toffee popcorn.

Finish: Rum balls, creamy sweet vanilla custard and banana yogurt. Becomes drier with water.

Verdict: This is a grain whisky and what a dram! Think complex scotch bourbon (matured in virgin oak). Only 18 years old is quite young for a grain. So many notes and something new on every taste. An excellent whisky and one that has inspired me to try more grain!

3.194 ‘Surf and turf BBQ’

  • ABV 58.3%
  • Age 14 years
  • Distillery: Bowmore

Nose: Smoked honey glazed ham, peat BBQ, BBQ glazed ribs by the sea. Garlic prawns, sea spray. Lovely! Water seemed to dampen the nose.

Palate: Honey marinated BBQ meat, ozone, sweet smoke, sticky ribs, hint of pepper, smoked paprika, licking mussel shells.

Finish: Sticky ribs and peat smoke with a faint echo of a dusky summer BBQ. Slight oak comes in at the end.

Verdict: This is a wonderful dram, just what I want from a bowmore. Memory making and evoking! The title has this one nailed!

Overall verdict on the package: First I have to say that I was very lucky to get hold of this pack of 4 drams. There are 3 wonderful whiskies in here, with the 22yo Craigellachie, for me, perhaps not as good as the others, but still very interesting. The price makes these roughly £13 per 10cl or £6.50 a 5cl double. On that basis, I’d say it is worth it, when you think of what a double dram in a pub would cost. The charm of the box is how different all 4 drams are. If you enjoy nosing and tasting different whiskies with different characters, boxes like these are great. For the price of a whole bottle of one type of whisky, you get 4 quality quadruple drams of multiple types. However, you don’t quite get as much whisky, volume-wise, for your money and that is something to consider. The eclectic mix makes this box interesting and ideal as a purchase for a mini home tasting for a couple for friends. If you want more details and on what the twitterverse thought of these search for the hashtag #smwstt.

#smws,