Whisky Advent Day 16

And day 16 is….

Glendronach 15 year old “revival”.

I’m pretty excited about this as I’ve never tasted it, but I’ve heard only good things. Glendronach was restarted by the good chaps behind Ben Riach and so represents an independent distillery that needs our support. they inherited old stock distilled before the place was mothballed, and judging by the awards it must really have been decent stuff.

Here are the dramstats for the revival:

glendronach15

  • Price ~£40
  • ABV 46%
  • Age 15 year

Nose: Tons of rich sherry fruit. Lovely! Chocolate raisins, medjool dates, toffee apples, muscavado sugar, then very malty ovaltine.

Palate: Oh yes! The nose, which promised so mucy rich malty sherry is carried through to the palate with a rich malty sherry fruit explosion! chocolate, dates and malty ovaltine!

Finish: Raisins, sherry and chocolate vanilla with malty ovaltine.

Verdict: YUM! Serious bargain, one I really enjoyed finishing off!

Glasgow whisky and Springbank Cask Strength 12yo

Mrs Dramstats and I try to make it up to Scotland a couple of times a year on holiday and we’d managed to get to Glasgow for a weekend in a nice hotel.

We always do some whisky things whilst in Scotland and on this trip the main things were a trip to Glengoyne (see this post for a review of that tour). Two other things we did were trip to the Pot Still and the Bon Accord. These are whisky pubs in Glasgow city centre that do things the right way! Glencairn glasses, hundreds of single malts, good beer and a good atmosphere. Check them out if you are ever up there.

Whilst in Glasgow we checked out a specialist spirits shop called the Good Spirits Company. You can find them on Facebook and twitter, but if you are ever in Glasgow I heartily recommend a visit.

The staff in the shop know their stuff and they are interested in talking to you and helping you. We got chatting and the guys there mentioned a tasting they’d had the previous night and asked if I wanted to try a couple of the more popular drams. I said I’d be delighted and so off my host went to fetch a couple of glencairns containing tasty samples.

Now the following is very important: I didn’t want to buy anymore whisky! It had already been a pricey trip and I’d picked up a bottle at Glengoyne, so the plan was to visit and maybe pick up a couple of nice real ales.

However, my intentions had not factored in the dram now in my hand. Cask Strength 12 year old Springbank with a startling nose and a palate that had me instantly ready to part with my cash! We ended up charmed and walking out of the shop having spent over £120 on 2 bottles of gin and a bottle of this.

Before reviewing the Springbank I want to thank the owners of the good spirits company for their hospitality and recommend the shop to you. The whisky was competitively priced, the owners knowledgable and friendly. I’ll be going back.

Anyhow, Springbank cask strength 12 year old. Here are the dramstats:

springbank12cs

  • ABV 52.2%
  • Non coloured
  • Non chill filtered
  • Price: £38 from the Good Spirits Company

Nose: Salty, dry roasted nuts, peat, dark sherry, HP fruity and spicy sauce. Complex with always something different vying for dominance with each sniff.

Palate: Salty chocolate covered roasted nuts. Roasted and smoked with peat. Dandelion and Burdock (sasparilla I think it’s called in the states).

Finish: Snickers bars, peanuts, chocolate caramel and nougat and it keeps coming. Excellent! Black liquorice, dandelion and burdock.

Verdict: This is a brilliant whisky. Absolutely fantastic. This new edition of cask strength Springbank really has ticked all the boxes for me and, at the price I found at the Good Spirits Company, I wish I’d bought 2!

Johnnie Walker Double Black

November and December are excellent months for super bargains on whisky in the supermarkets. I picked up a few bargains this time around and here is one of them. Johnnie Walker Double Black. This is a Diageo blended whisky that, at least from the name, appears to be pitched as a richer and smokier version of the famous black label.

Here are the dramstats

sheepdipjane

  • ABV 40%
  • Price £24 (supermarket deal) ~£33 normally

Nose: Closed. This is very difficult to coax out of it’s shell. There is smoke and a sweetness that is almost cigar-like. Drop of water opens up furniture polish, old leather and a salty tang. The nose is complex but is still quite faint (and I’ve sampled this multiple times). Best not to have had a malt before nosing this one.

Palate: Extremely mild but sweet leading into smoke then ash. The smoke is cigar like, warm and lovely. There is a burst of barley sweetness as the palate develops with the smoke.

Finish: Cigar ash and a bitter caramel.

Verdict: Even though there is smoke, this is a dram for early in a dramming session as it’s delicate and would be dominated by a single malt. It is subtle and complex and certainly interesting. One I would buy again at the price I paid, but perhaps not one I’d seek out at over £30.

Highland Park 12yo

Highland park 12yo, one of the mainstream single malts and an early stop on most people’s malt journey. Indeed the classic journey begins at Glenfiddich or Glenlivet 12, before moving on to Highland park and then onto Islay. Highland park has that little bit of everything. Mild smoke, sweetness and a real all rounder.

Highland park 12 is a whisky I found quite early on in my own journey and one I became quite familiar with. So, when opening christmas presents, to find a bottle of HP12 in the new style under the christmas tree I was very happy. Can’t go wrong right? Here are the dramstats:

  • Age 12yo
  • ABV 40%
  • Price £26.99

Nose: Peat smoke, chocolate raisins, plums, blueberries. There is something harsh and unpleasant though. An “off” note that burns the nose and is extremely unpleasant

Palate: Fruity delivery with plums and chocolate raisins. The harshness from the nose makes a very brief appearance followed by a wave of gentle peat smoke and cocoa.

Finish: The peat and cocoa fades and becomes weaker. Reminds me of peated nesquik milkshake.

Verdict: What has happened? This is not the Highland Park I’ve been drinking over the years. Sure, there are similarities, but the burning nose is new and, for me, particularly unpleasant. It just dominates and makes the whisky difficult and not enjoyable to nose. Not sure what has gone wrong. The brief appearance on the palate isn’t as much of a distraction as it was on the nose and, the whisky is quite drinkable. I enjoy the chocolatey notes and the nesquik finish is pretty cool.

I don’t know what is wrong with this. We’re all at different points in our whisky journey, and I probably need some guidance in this area. What I do know is that there is something on the nose that I find unpleasant that burns and overpowers. I’ve nearly finished the bottle and every time I’ve come back to it (even blind alongside other whisky) there it is. So it’s something.

I’ve had HP12 before and there was no problem. So this could be a one-off. At the price I am tempted to buy it again, just to see if it has gone away. I’m not done with Highland park. The flavour profile of chocolate fruit and smoke is just too far up my street. But I will be keen to try before I buy again.

Update: Since writing this I have sent samples to a couple of fellow bloggers, both of whom insisted there was something not right with my bottle of HP. At least it’s not me.

Kilchoman Inaugral 100% Islay

As part of my Islay visit in February 2012, we managed to get across to Kilchoman distillery.

I recommend anyone visiting Islay with a loved one, particularly one not into drinking whisky, that they make a day out of visiting the west coast. Pack a picnic (and a hip flask) and head over to Machir Bay on the west coast. You can have a lovely beach walk, maybe even a beach picnic if the weather goes your way. The more adventurous can have a beach hack with a local riding school.

In February, the weather was dry but very cold and windy. Hardly sunbathing weather! So we had our walk, ate the picnic in the car, then headed round the corner to Islay’s farm distillery for a very personal tour of a tiny place.

And Kilchoman really is tiny! I’ve never seen smaller stills and washbacks! This only adds to the charm of the place and you really feel like this is a farm that also has a couple of stills.

After the tour comes the tasting and we got to sample the whole range at the time, including the then just about to be released Machir bay expression, named after the beach that, if you have followed my advice, you will have just come from. I liked the Machir Bay, but the dram that really caught my palate was this one:

kilchol

Kilchoman Inaugral 100% Islay. This is Kilchoman, but made 100% from ingredients grown on Islay. So they take local barley, malt it themselves on their own malting floor, make the whisky and mature it right there. It’s more expensive, but you could really tell the difference between the 100% islay and the standard Kilchoman. Here are the dramstats:

  • Price: ~£70
  • ABV 46%
  • Non coloured
  • Non chill filtered

Nose: Tropical fruits, banana, mango, passion fruit, coconut, and, of course, peat smoke. Vanilla, creamy barley. Time in the glass leads to sticky smoked chinese style ribs. This is still obviously young though.

Palate: Creamy smoke, more medicinal than the nose. Faint passion fruit and creamy barley. Almost like porridge made with barley not oats, (if there is such a thing).

Finish: Smoked coconut and banana with mango. It’s subtle and very nice. Malted milks fade.

Verdict: It’s nice but it does need a few more years. I’d like to try this at 6 or 7 years old. You get the notes I mention if you work hard, but there is a lot of that youthful harshness to get through first. At £70 I would not buy this again. I realise that growing and malting the barley on Islay adds to the cost of producing the whisky, but you might think that some of that cost would have been offset by only having to have stored it for 3 years and by having barely tired the cask (so that it can be reused many more times). It is, by far and away, the best 3 year old I’ve ever had, but the price is pretty annoying.

You may ask why I bought it, and I think, to be honest, I wasn’t considering price and was treating it more like a holiday souvenir. I’ll be looking out for the 100% Islay Kilhomans and, specifically, looking for them to get older and come down to a reasonable price point. Kilchoman is a great distillery and a great place to visit, but I have come away feeling somewhat of a sucker. 😦

Glengoyne 17 year old

This is an excellent dram that I bought in October after doing a tour of Glengoyne distillery.

Glengoyne is a nice little distillery just north east of Glasgow. It is technically a highland region single malt, though it sits right on the highland-lowland border. According to our tour guide, the malt is distilled in the highlands and matured in warehouses across the road which are technically in the lowlands. To me it looked as if it should be the other way around, but who am I to argue?

Actually, as distillery tours go, it wasn’t a great one. Our guide insisted that blended whisky is really clear unmatured spirit with caramel added (don’t worry, that is spectacularly untrue), and generally misinformed our party regarding the particulars of the whisky making process.

The tasting at the end though, was pretty good. Glengoyne make some excellent whisky. You can’t really go wrong with the 10 year old as an entry level malt, the 21 is a lovely rich ruby red and is very rich and fruity, but, for me, the 17 was the pick of the bunch.

Most Glengoyne whisky is sherry cask matured for the entire time of its maturation, so this malt is heavily fruity, whichever expression you buy. Here are the dramstats for the 17 year old:

 

glengoyne17

 

  • Age 17
  • ABV 43%
  • Price £50

Nose: Moist christmas cake, raisins, sultanas and dates with soft brown sugar, fig rolls, warm buttered toast, cinnamon and oak barrels.

Palate: Bitter muscavado sugar, bitter dried fruit, buttery, caramac bars.

Finish: Blackcurrant liquorice, drying oak, melted butter and bitter dried fruit.

Verdict: Glengoyne have now gotten rid of the 17 year old and replaced it with an 18 year old expression. It is worth getting hold of a bottle of the 17 if you can, and if you shop wisely I think you can pick it up for under £40.

Sheep dip amoroso oloroso 1999

So last weekend (the first weekend of December), Durham had it’s annual Christmas market. This is a great event where a huge marquee pops up on palace green (our world heritage site) between the Cathedral (where I graduated) and the castle (where I lived ten years ago as a student). The marquee contains dozens of stalls selling christmassy food, drink and crafts.

One of the first stalls was a stall for the company that makes sheep dip, pigs nose and Edinburgh Gin. This company, Spencerfield Spirits, are a small company making a handful of craft spirits. Check them out. They make an excellent Gin, which I would review if this were a gin blog and I had any experience tasting gin, and a handful of blended and blended malt whiskies. Anyway, whisky, at a christmas market, brilliant idea! More indie bottlers and craft distillers should do this.

Here is Jane Nicol, one of the directors of the company, running this market stall with her husband (also a director). I find that so impressive. As a consumer, the personal touch really means a lot, and almost always leads to me parting with my cash…

dram1

I’ve tried Sheep dip and pig’s nose before, but havn’t had any to review yet and wasn’t really planning to buy any (though I was tempted by the twin pack of miniatures they were selling). I went to see Jane intending to hear how sheep dip were doing and to try the Gin, because I’d heard good things.

But then Jane said that they had a new whisky. Sheep Dip Amoroso Oloroso 1999. And quite the fascinating story it is too.

This is a blended scotch whisky, at least it was. It was 3 year old sheep dip, blended whisky that was then sent to Jerez where they put it into fresh oloroso sherry butts for 9 years. So, first things first, it’s not scotch. That has to be matured in Scotland the whole time. It’s also an unusual blend, because it been matured as a blend, in what are amazing sherry casks.

JWdoubleblack

So I was pretty interested in trying this. One of the problems with trying whisky at a market or in many shops is that they use those mini plastic mouthwash size cap covers to give you samples. They can’t use glasses of course, with so many people coming by, so they use these. The problem for the experienced drinker is that they are almost impossible to nose from and capture any flavours.

Anyway, I gave this a cursory sniff, intending to get onto the tasting and really work it around the mouth. But I was blown away. Even in this awful plastic none-glass, the notes leapt out screaming “I’m one of the most unusual whiskies you’ve come across!” The taste bowled me over, I bought it and I now wish I’d bought 3. Here are the dramstats:

  • ABV 41.8%
  • Price £45 (at the stall)
  • 3 year old blend matured for further 9 years in Sherry barrels

Nose: Wow! Is this really whisky? If this was in a blue glass, I might guess a new flavour of Baileys irish cream! Milk chocolate, amaretto (almond), juicy raisin, Nesquik chocolate milkshake, biscotti, egg custard tart. Truly wonderful!

Palate: Rich chocolate milkshake with almonds and raisin. Raisin-biscuit yorkie bar.

Finish: Nesquik with extra melted chocolate, raisins, fades like ovaltine.

Verdict: This is really terrific stuff. Unusual, delightful. At £45 it’s a frickin’ steal. Sheep dip’s last special edition was sold at £45 and is now worth more than £90. I wish I’d bought 3! Why didn’t I buy 3? WHY? After I’ve posted this I’m going to buy 2 more. I’ll drink one and, when the other is worth over £90, I’ll drink that too. This will be my Christmas Eve dram this year!