Whisky Tasting Club Blog

Whisky Tasting Club

To celebrate the birth of Prince George, St George’s released a limited number of bottles of this. Unfortunately, they have already sold out. Hopefully Kate and Wills got hold of at least one bottle.

Nose: Rich and fruity but not grotesquely heavy. Belgian chocolate ice cream. Salt. Butterscotch. There is obviously a sizeable sherry element here, but, no obvious signs of sulphur taint. Slightly perfumy and aromatic.

Taste: Rich, fruity and nutty with the now signature St. George’s kick of spice. I am immediately reminded (and forgive me if I sound a twat and a pseud here) of the Jura 21 year old 200th anniversary bottling with the lovely rounded and soft fruitcakey note, albeit with a load more spice. I loved that bottling, too. The finish is highly-spiced but with a soft and mellow undertow, if such a paradox is possible.

The English Whisky Company has just released their chapter 13, a lightly-peated malt matured in Sassicaia casks (Sassicaia is a Bordeaux style red wine). Obviously not the slightest bit superstitious, St George’s has embraced the negative connotations with the number 13 by;

Pricing it at £66.60
(geddit?)

Releasing it at 49% abv (4 + 9 = 13)
Releasing it on Friday 13th

I can’t think of another whisky which combines peat with Sauterne casks, ‘though BenRiach may have released something of this nature (I lose track). As usual, St George’s has surpassed itself. I was lucky enough to be the first person outside the distillery to taste this with my friend Karla Leal when we visited the distillery with a load of French Summer school students in August. ‘What do you think of this?’, asked David Fitt. ‘Wow, where can I buy a bottle?’, I replied. Reader, I bought one.

Tasting Notes:

Nose: Dark chocolatey smoke and spice. Tinned lychees. Green apples and cream. Black licorice. Oranges in jelly.

Taste: More mouth-puckering spice but with a soft and rounded sweetness with a fruitbowl quality to it (nectarines??). A pronounced dry smokiness and a superb coconutty vanilla finish to it.

Verdict? A cracker. I could drink this until the cows come home. (note: I woke up several hours later with my living room full of Fresians.)

Pat

Auchentoshan have just released their virgin oak matured single malt. Just to clarify, this is solely matured in virgin oak, not merely finished in it. Now this, coming from the distillery with one of the most subtle taste profiles in Scotland, is rather an oddity. There is no idea of age but the virgin oak would suggest a malt of less than 10 years before it is overpowered by the wood.
At a personal level, I have mixed feelings about Auchentoshan. The 12 I can take or leave and the Three Wood I’m coming round to. As one writer put it: ‘Where is the Auchentoshan-ness in all this?’ He has a point. Why take an essentially brilliant but light and floral spirit and then drench it in Sherry so that it loses all trace of its original character? The Auchentoshans I love are those bourbon matured malts where the distillery character still remains. So why would you want to obliterate the delicate and banana-ry Auchentoshan with a virgin oak cask? The answer is…errr, well I’m not entirely sure. To hell with conjecture, let’s give it a try.
Nose: At first, it smells a little European to me (i.e. quite sappy and young), but this soon passes. The spice from the virgin oak seems to have been held in check and is replaced by a sherberty note with lemon meringue pie and vanilla. Some green fruits in evidence and a hint of banana. Overall, a nice fresh and zesty nose reminiscent of a Speysider and not the nose burning I was expecting.
Taste: Jeeeeezus!! I think I might have bitten a chunk out of a new cask, such are the splinters now lodged in my lips and tongue after my first sip. But, when I have removed the last splinter with tweezers (and let me tell you, this might take a while), there is another hit of sherbert, more citrus fruits and vanilla ice cream with a nutty almond element and a refreshing spicy finish. But here’s the funny thing, the spice really works with this and doesn’t, after the initial explosion and when one’s lips have recovered their feeling, actually overpower the distillery character too badly.

Overall, I really like this but I maybe the virgin oak is a little too fierce. I suspect it would have been better with a limited time in virgin oak rather than solely matured in it.

Auchentoshan

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Auchentoshan have unveiled three “exceptional expressions for the discerning whisky drinker”, the 1966, 1979 and the 2012 Valinch.

Rather than simply pass news of this intelligence on to you, we thought it would be a lot more professional if we put their “exceptional” claims to the test and tried the samples ourselves. Unsurprisingly, they weren’t able to part with a sample of the 1966 expression (Bah!) but were very happy to send samples of the 1979 and the Valinch.

Here’s what we (Pat and Tony) thought of them:

Valinch 2012 (57.2% abv)

The valinch is named after the weird metal pipette thingy that is used to draw whisky from the cask. In fact, this is the cask strength version of the Auchentoshan Classic that you can find in many self-respecting supermarkets for a snip. Never having tried that, and not being particular a fan of the 12 or the Three Wood, I had no idea what to expect. Well, actually, that’s not strictly, true; I have tasted some bourbon matured Auchentoshans over the past few years and they were stunning. Proper Lowland whiskies. This one, happily, is matured in first-fill North American ex-bourbon casks, so this looked promising.

Nose: Without water, quite closed but definite toffee, banana custard (an Auchentoshan signature taste, as far as I can work out) and crème brulee. With water it becomes more aggressive with chili spice complimenting the creamy apple elements. In fact, this was like a beefed-up Irish single malt.

Taste: With water, the Irish comparisons continue with apple skins, very light citrus (orange mainly) and sherbet.

Overall, a nice summery dram that didn’t move the earth but was a very pleasant way to spend 10 minutes or so. Auchentoshan, in other words. OK, so let’s move onto the 1979, which, by the look of it, has seen rather a lot of a sherry butt.

Auchentoshan 1979 (50.5%abv)

Only 1000 bottles of this expression were released, and the asking price is somewhere in the region of £350 per bottle. Ouch! Rather than being double matured, this was exclusively matured in an Oloroso sherry cask for the duration. The question is was it a sulphur bomb or a fruit cake extravaganza.

Nose: Bloody gorgeous! Obviously an untainted and high quality sherry butt. Meadow flowers (violets), minty, bitter coffee, sultanas, dates and caramel chocolate.

Taste: At first, clean and heavy sherry, then an explosion of red fruits, strawberry jam, spice, bitter chocolate and chili.

It’s a lot of money and it’s a moot point whether I’d pay £350 for a bottle but if you like whisky matured in great sherry butts, then this must be a contender.

Glengoyne

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Glengoyne have launched an extend range of bottlings, and were kind enough to send us some samples. We split them between me (Tony) and Pat. Pat drew the curtains, cleansed his palate, meditated for an hour or so, then allowed the whisky to interact with his nose and taste buds in strange and interesting ways. I took mine to the footy  and sneakily drank them with my brotherr in an Eric Morecambe style (*cough* Arsenal).

Glengoyne 15

Pat Says: Nose: Spiced apple, toffee, cachou sweets, candied lemon peel, nutmeg and Christmas pudding.

Taste: Light and buttery at first, then vanilla shortbread, coconut and wood spice, followed by a mouth-coating spice at the finish.

Although feels quite rich, this is more of an autumnal whisky.  Rich and yet light
enough for numerous refills.  Like it!!

Tony Says: After we went one nil up against Fulham we cracked this open to celebrate. We thought it drinkable but fairly anonymous. After the second goal we happily finished it. This costs about £48

Glengoyne 18

Pat Says: Nose: Voluptuous and fruity.  Red apple and ripe grape, poached pears and spiced fruit compote with a butterscotch base and, bizarrely a hint of fresh green peppers.

Taste: Perhaps a bit of a disappointment, given the nose.  Light, vanilla, macaroons, apples and almonds with a slightly vegetal quality.  Quite
drying at the end.

Don’t get me wrong, this is nice but is perhaps a little one-dimensional on the palate. Like it, but not as much as the 15.

Tony says: The bitter taste in my mouth was down to Fulhams equaliser, not this whisky. This struck us as more complex and interesting than the 15, a bit nutty and mouth filling. Dont listen to Pat, my brother and I liked it more than the 15. Mind you, it costs £75.

 

Glengoyne Cask Strength

Pat Says:

Nose (without water): Quite vegetal and closed.  Lardy cake and lemon buttercream and ginger.

Nose (with water): Really opens out.  Sultana, walnut, wood polish, citrus peel,
tangerines, bitter dark chocolate.

Taste: Lighter than you think. Date and walnut cake. Creamy, smooth and silky.
Spicy, but not overpowering.

This is what the 18 should have been.

Tony Says: 2-0 up, 3-2 down, the only solace I have is that I still have a cask strength whisky in my pocket. Initial joy was tempered by an overriding anticlimax when the finish failed at the last and stunned disappointment was all we could feel. But enough of the football, the whisky was really nice. This costs about £45

 

Pat says: All in all, a lovely trio of whiskies, and would go for the Cask Strength, 15 and 18 in that order.  Three Autumnal crackers.

Tony says: what he says. I actually really like the standard 10, so might not stump up for the 15 or 18. I would definitely consider upgrading from the 10 to the cask strength though.

 

Whisky Opus

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Dominic Roskrow and Gavin Smith’s ‘The Whisky Opus’ (with the help of Davin de Kergommeaux and Jürgen Deibel) is a book that looks firmly to the future. And what a future. Whisky is currently at the height of its popularity with distilleries opening at a rapid rate on every continent except Antarctica.

This isn’t, however, an exhaustive account of the world’s distilleries – that would need a book twice the size – but it gives a great account of how whisky is changing in a world that can’t get enough of the stuff. It details both the established regions (e.g. Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Japan, the US) and those that are rightly starting to gain recognition in the whisky world, such as India, Switzerland, France and Australia (which gets its own 14-page section).

Whilst eschewing the usual pages’ worth to what whisky is and how is it made – although these are covered in just enough detail for the newbies – The Whisky Opus instead seeks to answer some of the pertinent contemporary questions about, for instance, where whisky is going, its challenges, how should it be drunk, what makes it unique and why oak barrels are so important. And, rather than relying on the authors to make these judgements, it asks a range of senior figures from the whisky industry, such as distillers, brand directors, and others whose job it is to predict and slake an increasing world thirst for the stuff. Anybody who’s ever used Dorling Kindersley’s reference books will surely rate them as just about the cleanest and most beautifully thought out and presented reference books on the planet. The Whisky Opus continues in that vein.

Included are selected tasting notes for some standard and more esoteric expressions, giving a taste of the kinds of whiskies currently available from each documented distillery. No doubt some will gripe about the omissions (quite a few of the smaller or more blend-oriented Scottish distilleries only get a sixth of a page each). But, in fact, such brevity allow the authors to go into more depth on, frankly, far more fascinating subjects than minor or closed Scottish distilleries. In their place are documented newer distilleries that only the hardcore whisky enthusiast will ever have heard of, such as the Roseisle, Bosch, Langatun, Belgrove and Tuthilltown distilleries. With his own ‘World Whisky Review’, there is simply no-one better to document this new whisky world than Dom, who has been promoting and fighting the corner of the smaller distillers for some time, culminating in his setting up of the Craft Distillers Association.

This is a perfect coffee table book that you can dip in and out of at will. And, as you’d expect, there are some great whisky tales here too. If you are interested in whisky, where it is at the moment and where it is going, then you need to buy it. Currently on sale from amazon for £22.66

Pat

this new Bowmore expression is in the same entry level market as Bowmore Legend (and may replace it), with a RRP of £32.99. Like Legend, it has no age statement, and is a combination of first and second fill bourbon casks. It is a limited volume release, we imagine in the way A’bunah is, although its not clear if they will number the release.

Nose: Very light at first, then sweet and sour. Tropical fruits with a distant sour smoke (this is a good thing, before you start to wonder), interspersed with a hint of lemon tea

Taste: A thin layer of creaminess as the smoke again keeps its distance, allowing the salt and lemon to flourish. The smoke, however, returns late on in peppery form, finishing with a squeeze of lime juice.

Overall, this is a lovely summery Bowmore which is light and coastal and yet peppery and lightly-peated. For those that find the standard expressions too peated, this is definitely one to try. Created from a selection of first-fill and second-fill bourbon casks, the Small Batch Reserve is Bowmore’s lightest and most delicate expression to date and is incredibly competitively priced at £32.99 from May 2012.

This is a supermarket only whisky, which gives you an insight into the arcane and bizarre way of whisky wholesaling. Morrison-Bowmore sell via a company called Cellar Trends, who require a minimum order of 20 cases. We met with Cellar Trends and they were really helpful, but we are a bit small time to deal with them. However, this new expression is not sold by Cellar Trends, it is presumably sold direct to supermarket chains. Apparently, even the largest online retailers such as Whisky Exchange cannot get hold of it directly. This sort of direct sales relationship is not unusual (think Travel Retail or the Whisky Shop OB exclusive bottlings) and I guess there is logic to it: the retailer is likely to promote your brand more and the price the retailer pays is not generally known. However, it confuses the hell out of small players like us! One day we will be big enough to deal direct … maybe :)

 

 

St. George’s Distillery Diamond Jubilee Decanter 46%

This latest limited release from St. George’s distillery is an intriguing combination of whisky matured from a variety of casks, including port casks and lightly peated whisky from sherry casks.

Tony’s notes:

Nose: takes a while to overcome a young maltiness on the nose, but after 5 mins in the glass a light fruitiness dominates. Some depth, hinting at smokiness.
Taste: young and malty at first, then a rounded full mouth fruitiness pops in and out. Some wood then kicks in and lingers.
Finish: a pleasant bitterness persists.
Overall: This is a tasty dram and fairly complex for such a young whisky. More going on here than with some of the previous chapters, and a step forward. Personally, I think the peaty English whiskies are premier league, but the unpeated ones still have a way to go. This expression shows they can merge their stock creatively to produce something interesting. It not only shows their shows their skill at making whisky, but also at creating expressions.

Pat notes:


Nose: Buttery and rich. Rich tea biscuit, wood spice, golden syrup & peaches.

Taste: Immediately sour plums, then spicy and malty. Spiced cherries and apples and custard with a finish tending towards bitterness.

WTC member Phi Blake’s Notes phil bought our first tasting pack and has been with us the whole way.  

At first in the glass its quite savoury, with balsamic vinegar and malt. Left a while the sherry comes through more and sweetens up (candyfloss or marshmallow) the malt is still there and comes through more.

Feels a lot stronger than 46% in the mouth. Lots of spice and nice sweetness, almost sherbet like and slight peat, in the style of a Connemara peated.

Finish has lots more more spice and light pepper and then metallic lemon rind at the end.

 

Summary

Its no secret we are big fans of St. George’s, we do a tasting pack of their whisky and we gave them the top award at a blind tasting when judging the World Whisky Masters. However, its not our Norfolk bias that leads us to say that this expression is distiller David Fitt stretching his wings and the result is, in our opinion, an excellent whisky. You can buy it for around £60

 

 

Connemara

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Reviews by Pat

To cut a long story short (and because I can’t think of a better way to start this off) I decided to try out some of Cooley’s Connemara range.

Cooley do a nifty little three pack, in packaging shaped like a Norman church, or more specifically Winchester cathedral, although that’s where the religious analogy ends (I’ll try and avoid mentioning angels, a heavenly taste, peat fires of hell, fondled by priests, etc.).

For £19 or thereabouts, you get 5cl of the unaged, cask strength and 12 year old expressions, plus a glass. I have long been an admirer of the cask strength but, not having tried it for a while, had you asked me to describe it to you, I wouldn’t have been able to, hence my selfless act of spending the WTC’s money for research purposes.

Connemara No Age Statement (40%)


A lovely nose, although not what you might expect for a peated whisky. The peat is definitely in the background allowing some lovely light fruits their place at the fore. In addition to the expected apple, there were hints of melon, toffee apples, grape and peaches. Taste-wise, there is more of the fruit and the peat makes a slightly less apologetic appearance.

Conclusion: Lovely, but more Highland than Island. I know that Ireland is an island, but that’s pushing it a bit. An excellent introduction to peat for those that want to dip their toes in and not jump in fully-clothes and head first. And it’s only
£30-odd. Bargain!

 

 

Connemara 12 year old (40%)

Pretty much the same as the No Age Statement (NAS) on the nose. The smoke is still quite shy and there are lots of apples and melons on the nose. On the palate there are hints of lychee and an overall heavier feel than the NAS. There IS more smoke but not a LOT more.

Conclusion – this is like the NAS expression after a couple of months in the gym. Considering it is about £40 more expensive (ed: it actually costs about £60.), I think I will stick with the NAS for now. Think of this as Ardbeg’s fruitier and light younger brother, before he started smoking in a serious way.

 

 

 

 

Connemara Cask Strength (57.9%)

Blimey! This is much more like it. Whilst not exactly reaching Supernova levels of peat, this is significantly more peaty than either of the 40% expressions, plus a lovely dose of Jamaican ginger cake on the nose and a slight savouriness. Palate-wise, the peat is more peppery than medicinal with a bitter dark chilli chocolate edge and more pepper to finish.

Conclusion – a real step up in class. The first two are lovely, don’t get me wrong, but this ups the phenols to something approaching the Islays with a lovely peppery and gingery element. However, it’s priced around £50. which makes it a better bet than the 12 year old.

My bet – go for the cask strength. But, if you can afford, get their small batch Turf Mor expression. It’s £60 , but stunning.

Tony adds: rumour has it that Beam Global, new owners of the Cooley distillery that makes Connemara, is massively cutting back on the range of expressions in order to concentrate on making Kilbeggan a competitor to Jamesons. This means small batch whiskies like the Turf Mor and Cask Strength are likely to be discontinued. Shame!

A couple of weeks ago Jura held a competition on their blog to win a sample of a new release. You had to answer the question of what is good in life. Someone at Jura is obviously a fan of Conan the Barbarian, because my answer of “crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of the women” qualified me for a mystery dram! Hurrah!

We went to Jura on our festival visit. Its an amazing place, it makes Islay feel like a bustling metropolis. Very beautiful, although it has tipped down both times we have visited.

So it has taken me a while to get round to tasting it, primarily because I wanted Pat and/or Dom to try it too. Could not pin down Dom long enough, but last week Pat and I got together to do some end of term tastings. We also tried Superstition (which is going in a soon to be released Islands pack) for contrast.

Jura mystery dram –

Pat’s notes:

Nose – orange cream on the nose, gingersnaps, vegetal, burnt sugar, white chocolate, Caramac.

Palate – very different from the nose!  Light, fresh, smooth, creamy, honey, mint.

Finish – light spices and light tingly wood spices.

Tony says: There is no beating about the bush, I don’t like the nose on this. I am overly sensitive to sulphur, or at least a type of smell I call sulphur, and this has it in spades. Brimstone! It put me off big time. However, the taste is very surprising and unusual. There is a light, minty flavour on the roof of the mouth and edge of the tongue. Tastes almost like an Armagnac.  After the initial light touch it develops a tickly spice on the middle of the tongue that persists pleasantly. Minty length too. No peat discernable to me. This is clearly a complex and interesting whisky which I think I would like a lot more if the nose was not so grim…


Jura superstition – Pat’s notes

Nose – white chocolate, lychee, v distant peat, green fruits, figs, Marmite

Palate – minty, creamy, slowly building peat, liquorice, spice

Finish – vanilla, mint, fireplaces, slightly bitter notes at the end.

Tony says: This is a nice whisky, but the first thing I noticed was how less complex it is than the secret dram. It is also very different and much more what I associate with Jura. So thanks Jura for the sample, I’d love to try the secret one out again,  maybe the nose was an aberation of the sample I had.