The Whisky Tasting Club

Distillery online clubs

we were recently asked to promote Balvenie’s online “club” Warehouse 24 and it got me (Tony) thinking about other clubs. Distilleries are playing catch up with online marketing and there are often benefits of membership. So my advice to you would be to set up a new googlemail dedicated to these and get joining. These are the ones I am a member of. Please add to the list or comment on your experiences of these clubs. I would like to know of any good uns I’ve missed.

1 Warehouse 24 Given they inspired the blog, they go first. On joining you get sent a pack of tasting notes (only just joined myself so not seen what these are like), and you are entered into several competitions on joining. They let you enter your whiskies and score them, which is a nice feature, but there doesn’t seem to be any communication/forum mechanism, which is a shame. Very professional looking site though.

2. Friends of Laphroaig. As a FoL you get 10% discount from their online shop which increases to 20% on your birthday. You also get given a notional square metre of land in the field opposite the distillery, and if you visit can claim your ground rent of a minature and if you wish plant a little flag on your plot. They also instigated the Gathering in 2010. Michelle and I went and blogged about it here. They don’t seem to mailshot at all. They have a FoL log in area and have experimented with interactivity and messaging between FoL, but I think they got hit by spam bots so turned it off. There are over 400,000 FoL and 130000 of them are in the UK! They should all buy our Laphroaig tasting, but unfortunately they wont let me spam them all :) Website is functional but not flash like. Log on to the members area and watch a video of Dominic, filmed by our friend Deanna in the Whisky Shop Norwich.  Go on, watch it! They have a Laphroaig TV area with various slide shows and movies.

3. Ardberg Committee Membership of the committee gives the occasional chance to buy a limited releases, although they have not done this since the Rollercoaster release crashed their servers. They post you a nice pack on joining and send you an annual update and info on special releases. At the 2010 festival they were giving away baseball caps and free drink coupons to committee members (they checked against a print out of names and there are 50k+ members!). Website has a login for committee members, but there isnt much on it. Stylish though.

4. Bladnoch Forum. Bladnoch have a fairly active forum and membership gives you a 10% off Bladnoch Single Malt Whisky and the opportunity to buy their “Bladnoch Forum” Bottles, wide range of choice of their own independent bottlings at reasonable prices. I bought a Caol Ila 25 year old for about £50, and very nice it was too.

5. Glenlivet. I joined the Taste the Glenlivet club when they offered me a free minature 12 year old for doing so. What’s better is they then offered me a free minature 18 year old for recommending someone! So Pat joined too :) As far as I can tell there is no log on area, I’ve had a few emails since joining but thats it.

6. Makers Mark Ambassador Scheme . Sign up to this and they send you a large pack and apparently other freebees, but we have had nothing after a year. They also put your name on a barrel, which is pretty cool.

Thats all I know about. So what other clubs are there?


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VIP Tasting 2nd Nov 2010

Tonight was a mini press launch for Dom’s new book ‘The World’s Best Whiskies: 750 unmissable drams from Tain to Tokyo’ involving Andrew Nelstrop from the St. George’s distillery, Marcin Miller from the number one drinks company and several chaps from Archant.  In front of them was a row of empty glasses and several bottles of world whiskies that many had clearly never heard of, let alone drunk, including a Mackmyra Special (fabulous) and a Millstone French Oak reserve (equally fabulous).  Others included a South African grain, a Breton blend and an odd-smelling Swiss Santis single malt.

The consensus was that Dom’s book was a superb achievement and all whiskies were more than palatable, even the smoky Swiss one whose incense-laden nose reminded us of a Catholic Mass or perhaps a High Anglican church service (luckily, without the dose of guilt).  Either way, it was good support to the evening’s headline act – our VIP tasting.

Ballantine's Christmas Reserve

Having lost all but one of the press ‘pack’, we embarked upon a 6 whisky extravaganza (4 fewer than usual but time was short).  As usual, Dom excelled himself with his whiskies. First up was a:

BALLANTINE’S CHRISTMAS RESERVE (40% abv) which apparently is going to be made available every year, albeit briefly.  This was a very pleasant introduction; incredibly smooth with real complexity, lots of fruit, a touch of cinnamon and a hint of peat in the background.  The one down-side was the slightly light nose and very short finish.

The overall impression was that this was rather good. As to whether this represents value for money, I have no idea as I can’t find out how much it’s going for.

Miyagikyo 1989

Next was a MIYAGIKYO 1989 21 year old single malt (50% abv).

A good deal more depth on the nose than the Ballantine’s with a considerable dollop of peat.

Taste-wise there was loads of fruit and peat with sherbet, menthol and blackcurrant.  This was a big hit with the five of us.

We rarely have a Japanese that’s anything other than brilliant and this was right up there with them.

Eagle Rare 17

And then, it got even better. Forgive me if this sounds like another luvvy-fest with everything being “soopah dahling”, but this was a VIP tasting and the standard is exceptionally high.

Number three was an EAGLE RARE 17 year old (45% abv).

On the nose you have a soft hickory with lots of sweet wood.  On the palate there is a lovely soft vanilla and fruit with the merest ‘bite’.

Like the Ballantine’s we thought this ended rather abruptly, but, despite going for £87.95 at the Whisky Exchange,  there isn’t one of us who wouldn’t kill their own grandmother for a bottle of this (if she wasn’t already dead, that is).

Aberlour a'bunadh

Next comes a nasty surprise. An ABERLOUR A’BUNADH BATCH UNKNOWN (60%).

It’s fair to say that having included this whisky in our wood tasting, we are all big fans, but each batch is a very different beast. Most are brilliant but, alas, not all…

The first thing I thought of while nosing this was soy sauce, then salt, then sulphur.  Something of an alliterative nose, then.  Taste-wise, lots of liquorice, sherry, coffee and….sulphur.

This is the problem with sherry finished whiskies, a rogue cask can simply blitz the true sherry character and leave you with a sulphur-stained palate.

Verdict = “Not overly keen.  NEXT….”

Sazerac 18

…comes the star of the show in my eyes.  A SAZERAC RYE 18 (45%).

Many of us decided we would be happy just to sit and nose this.  Between us we decided that its signature aromas were “old handbags, leather, floral and dusty”.

If living proof were needed that you can’t do justice to a whisky with words alone, there you have it.  This was simply stunning and if anyone thinks that rye whiskies have to be aggressive, then try this. On the palate you had enough bite to remind you that this was a rye whisky with a healthy dose of melon.

Again, I don’t think the words exist to articulate how good this is, and at £87.95 at the Whisky Exchange, it’s time to bump off any other grandmothers you have kicking around the place.

World whisky of the year?  You betcha.

Caol Ila 25

Or is it?  Dom saved his personal favourite until last, a CAOL ILA 25 (OFFICIAL BOTTLING – 59.4%).

Surprisingly for such an old Islay malt, this had lots of peat present, plus oil, liquorice, fruit, citrus and aniseed.

In short, you’re not going to boot this out of bed for lacking in peat and complexity.  Dom thinks it’s better than the Sazerac but I’m afraid my heart was already well and truly stolen before my lips touched the Caol Ila.

At £135, this ain’t cheap but for a 25 year old Islay it’s still good value.  Having said that, with that money I could buy a bottle of Sazerac and a Lagavulin 16. ‘nuff said.


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Pat goes to Bowmore

Sunday 10th October

One day until I fly out to Glasgow and I’m nervous, although I don’t really have time to be. Between bouts of packing, I am marking MSc dissertations, preparing for 6 consecutive hours teaching tomorrow and looking up Colin Prior on the internet ( Colin is the reason I’m going to Islay, a world-class landscape photographer who organises courses mainly in various picturesque Scottish locations but also in places as far-flung as Bhutan. I’m no expert but this guy’s work is stunning.

This particular trip is five days based at, and sponsored by, the Bowmore distillery. Colin will be taking a gaggle of beginners to various locations and, weather permitting, take some unforgettable shots of the Hebredian islands of Islay and Jura. Although I’m there mainly to look at the trip from a whisky angle, I’m also hugely excited about the prospect of seeing Islay, learning from Colin and taking some great photos, even if it is with my cheap and cheerful digital camera.

Although the trip runs from Tuesday to Saturday morning, I have to fly back first thing Thursday for four hours of teaching on the Friday. You might think this is bad enough, missing two days of Whisky’s equivalent of Lourdes to talk to 40 spotty undergraduates about systems analysis, but it’s actually worse than that. Having just looked at the itinerary, not only do I miss the boat trip to Jura, a trip up the paps and a seafood extravaganza at the Jura hotel, but I also miss the VIP tasting at Bowmore and a meal pairing up various whiskies and seafood. Oh God, why must you mock me like this? I’m hoping the organisers will at least take pity on me and shoehorn a special trip to the warehouses to compensate. Some of the older Bowmore expressions are legendary and the thought of missing out on tasting Bowmore’s new 40 year-old leaves me wondering whether I could fake a broken leg or deviated septum simply to remain there another day or two.

Still, I shouldn’t complain, the itinerary does include trips to local hostelries and dinner at a different restaurant each night with seafood and whisky menus which are already making my palms sweat. One of them – the Port Charlotte Hotel – has a whisky menu with 140 Islay malts alone. On hearing this, my wife considers asking for a separate postcode for my liver on my return.

Monday 11th October

Casting a glance over the itinerary for the next few days, I see a number of 7am starts. Colin Prior is obviously an early bird. Ouch!  Happily, I also see they have shoehorned a VIP tasting session for me on the Wednesday while the photographers are off doing their bit. As sorry as I am not to get the chance to hone my photography skills and be driven round Islay to see many of its hidden corners, I am genuinely thrilled at the prospect of a solo visit to Bowmore’s vaults.  Hopefully with only one of me in attendance, they might let me dip into something really exclusive.  Oh well, we’ll see. Off to bed.

Tuesday 12th October

Meet Colin Prior and Iain Gardiner at Glasgow airport for the 20 minute flight across to Islay, and I like them both immediately. Colin is a softly-spoken Glaswegian who tells me about his various world trips and of the somewhat interesting dietary offerings he has had to endure. Iain is our man from Morrison Bowmore and will be our guide and driver around the island.

Taking off in overcast conditions, I resign myself to seeing nothing of Islay until we actually touch down and having to read the ubiquitous airline magazine which, to my horror, has Russell Brand’s odious features plastered over its cover. Luckily, despite the murk, some of Scotland is visible.  Multiple peaks poke up, making it look not unlike Greenland with the clouds doing a passable impression of an enormous glacier.

Happily, the cloud disappears just as we leave the mainland and by the time we reach Islay, it has all but cleared except for the bit over the Southern part of the Island. I had hoped to see the big three from above but alas…

Islay looks incredibly red, broken only by bright patches of green here and there interspersed with tortuously twisted rivers and streams. Like much of the rest of the country it was hit by periods of drought in the summer taking whisky production with it. Bowmore had to close down for 4 weeks because the river Laggan – its water source – had dried up. Nature is always very much in control here and if it wishes, it can make life on this and every other Scottish island very difficult. It can certainly make life very difficult for photographers and a few days’ drizzle can seriously put paid to any decent outdoor pictures. Fingers crossed.

We land in a very mild and bright Islay and are transferred by minibus to Bowmore where we meet our budding photographers, Iain, Jim and Simon, all of whom are far from amateurs and have been doing serious photography for years. All seem a little wary of me at first. Maybe they think I’m some sleazy hack.

Bowmore distillery is in the middle of the village of Bowmore, the ‘capital’ of Islay, and is positioned hard up against the shores of Loch Indaal which almost cuts an enormous gouge in the Western side of the island. Like many Islay distilleries, Bowmore is hard to miss it because its name is writ large in black letters on a whitewashed sea wall. I am immediately struck by the strong stench of seaweed from just over the distillery wall which doubles as a sea break. Surely a sewage pipe empties out nearby?  No, it’s the smell of the seaweed. If anyone was in any doubt as to whether the area immediately around a distillery influences its taste, come to Bowmore on a warm day.

Loch Indaal

Loch Indaal is a picture and still as a mill pond. I talk to Iain about whisky and it’s obvious that he’s a mine of information. One recent development that has us both worried is that the U.S. bourbon industry is now reusing some of its casks (hitherto illegal).  Using them only once has worried the green lobby who are concerned that their resources are being under-utilised, never mind the effect on the rest of the whisky world, but hey, that’s US policies in a nutshell.

The six of us head out to Saligo Bay on the West coast. The beach is deserted except for two figures and a dog. I ask Iain if this place ever gets busy; he replies that even in summer it remains pretty much empty. Although there are huge stretches of sand, there are also some impressive rocky outcrops that represent our first real photographic opportunity.

Saligo Bay

This is also the first chance for the three budding photographers to talk to Colin ‘in the field’. I sense one of the reasons why he is successful is his passion for his work and it’s not long before I glean a few hints which I promise to put into practice immediately.

We climb up onto a headland with stunning views up to the North-West corner of the island. On the top are great crevices of fractured rock, as if someone has simply cleared great gouges out, replaced them with grass corridors, and tossed the unwanted boulders away. In other places, the sea has worn the stone so smooth and sinuous that it looks like reject carvings from the valley of the kings.

Saligo Bay from the headland

Rocks at Saligo Bay

Colin talks about photographic integrity, and the need to shoot what is REAL and what you actually see, and not what you would like to see. Modifying pictures by artificially strengthening colours is clearly a no-no for him; he calls it fantasy.  The man is a purist, pure and simple.

We head back for a late lunch at the Lochside Inn. It’s only when I enter the bar that I notice the racks of rare whiskies at the backs that I remember where I’ve seen this scene before: Michael Jackson’s ‘Malt Whisky Companion’ has a photograph of the bar and I had always resolved that I would visit it. Each Islay distillery is given its own little section. I wonder if 2.15 is a little early to be starting on the whisky but I take a peek at the whisky menu anyway.  One whisky particularly catches my eye, a 1965 Ardbeg for over £200 per single shot. Mmm…maybe I’ll have a pint of draught Islay beer instead.

The Lochside Hotel's whisky section, or part of it

After lunch we turn South West to The Oa, a circular knobble of land on which is a monument to two American ships – The Otranto and the Tuscania.  These were both wrecked here in 1918, one courtesy of a German submarine.   Although many survived, many more perished, and looking down at the jagged rocks below, it is easy to see why.

Unfortunately Colin’s back, tweaked some weeks earlier shifting a table, is playing up again and it’s obvious from the morning session at Saligo that he’s struggling. Although some would be upset if their teacher decided not to join them for the afternoon session, Ian, Simon and Jim pretty much order him to rest it while we head on up to the monument. Clearly, Colin is not happy to do this but there is the real prospect of him making it worse so he reluctantly agrees and opts instead for a couple of hours in Jim’s Volvo, which is fitted with heated seats. As much pain as he’s in, his predicament is put into sharp context by a lady who suddenly appears and tells us her husband has almost collapsed on the path up to the cliffs. Having already had a brain tumour some time back, he is clearly not in a good way. As it happens, she is able to get the farmer’s permission to drive to the headland and pick him up. This makes us all feel rather better about our own health. I hope he’s OK.

The Oa, looking North

The views from the Oa are magnificient. The only other occupants of this headland were some sheep, some of whom are risking life and limb to get at the best grass, even if that means munching away on the edge of a sheer slope.

While the three photographers look for the best shots in the fast fading light, Iain tells me another interesting whisky-related titbit. Apparently, whisky can be filtered through milk. This came to light after one distiller had apparently used a barrel with a metal ring on the inside, thereby tainting the taste of the whisky. I have no idea how he did it, but this chap managed to remove the taste of the metal by using milk. Any potential chemistry Ph.D. students looking for a topic? He also discusses Bowmore’s commitment to marketing itself as an inextricable part of Islay and not forgetting its heritage and what actually makes it what it is, i.e, the island itself.

As the light fades, it gives everything a reddish glow which emphasises the redness to the rocks around the coastline. It also gives a healthy glow to the community of highland cattle we encounter. Just to see how brave they are (and I am) I walk up to one to see at what point it decides either to leg it or bunt me over the cliff. Happily, it is the former, but only at a distance of about 3 feet.

Highland Cattle

So, we decide to head back to the car and Colin. Ian, Simon and Jim seem happy with their day’s work and look forward to receiving feedback from Colin back at base – a former bakery next to the distillery converted into some high quality en-suite bedrooms. Head off to An Taigh Osda, a restaurant smack next door to the Bruichladdich distillery and have a quite superb meal in possibly the smallest dining room I have ever eaten in. If I ever go back to Islay, I’m immediately booking a table there. It’s here that Colin decides that the next morning’s excursion will be to Port Askaig, leaving at 6am.  Excuse me?  6am? That means being up at 5.30, doesn’t it. Oh God!

Wednesday 13th October

Somewhat blearly-eyed, we head out at 6am to Port Askaig to photograph the view across to Jura.  When we get there, it’s still dark. The car ferry and myriad fishing boats lie idle in the tiny harbour. There’s no-one around bar the odd fishermen preparing for an early morning voyage.  Apparently parts of the harbour here were rebuilt recently and only after a new section had been completed did someone bother to ascertain whether it was wide enough to accommodate the ferry. It wasn’t. Oops!  I wonder if it was designed by a software engineer.

Colin decides to take us up on the Bunnahabhain road to catch a decent view of Jura’s ‘paps’, the famous hills shaped like lady-bumps.  As the outline of Jura slowly becomes visible, it’s obvious that the cloud cover is going to be a problem for photography.  What we need is sunlight to highlight the various colours on the island, but, alas, there is no sunlight, only a murk filtered through low cloud. Whatever colours there are are visible to neither man nor lens so we decide to give up and go back to Bowmore, but not before we have taken a look at Bunnahabhain distillery, which is another three miles or so further North.

Bunnahabhain’s position at the far Northern tip of Islay renders it a fair way from any supplies of peat, which probably explains its lighter and more delicate nature.  Certainly the most inaccessible distillery on the Island, it is a huge visual disappointment.  As we approach, the few village houses seem drab, grey and uninviting, as is the distillery which looks a little unloved to my tired eyes. I suspect even bright sunlight wouldn’t improve it much. Don’t get me wrong, its whisky is wonderful, but as a place to set the pulse racing, it fails.  Oh well, back to Bowmore and breakfast.

You will probably notice a distinct tailing off in the number of pictures in this part of the blog and this characterises the problem of being on these kinds of trips. They are pretty much weather dependent and the lack of sun today means that any landscape shots are going to be rather uninspiring because of the lack of colour. Obviously taking pictures of anything in this early-morning murk is not going to produce anything of interest, except pictures of dark distant hills in the dark covered by only slightly less dark cloud.  Maybe things will pick up in the late morning.

Given the early start, my intention was to take the rest of the morning off to prepare myself for the afternoon tasting (mainly through sleep), but Colin mentions that this morning’s trip will include a drive along the South-East corner past Port Ellen, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg.  Suddenly, whatever tiredness I feel suddenly evaporates and I can’t wait to see them. It also means that I will have covered all four corners of the island during my time here and this isn’t an opportunity I’m willing to pass up.  Hopefully while they are photographing Rowan bushes or whatever it is he has in mind, I can lose myself in the one of the South-coast big hitters.

After a wonderful breakfast served at the cosy and welcoming Harbour Inn (opposite the Bowmore distillery), we head off to the South-Eastern corner of Islay, through Port Ellen and past the distinctly low-key Laphroaig distillery.  But not quite.  Colin has suddenly seen something worth photographing in the woods and we turn back to the warehouse entrance adjacent to them.  I should say at this point that the distillery warehouses are not always their finest feature.

Warehouse at Laphroaig

Laphroaig’s warehouse is drably painted and encrusted with a greeny-black fungus. And then it strikes me: fungus is a by-product of the maturation process as it seems to love the atmosphere in and around the distillery warehouses.  Warehouse managers will often religiously leave it on the walls to perpetuate whatever conditions have worked for them.  Colin has seen some distinctly weird lichen patterns on the trees next to the warehouse suggesting that they might also be affected by the alcohol-laden atmosphere.

Tree Lichen at Laphroaig

His back is getting progressively worse which doesn’t bode well with the prospect of a choppy boat trip round Jura the following day. He is gutted that he cannot give his students as much ‘in-the-field’ attention as he would like and he is probably going to have to leave the photographers to their own devices for some of the trip. He will, however, ensure that he gives them plenty of time to critique their work afterwards. It is clear that the three amateurs revere Colin for his excellence as a photographer and teacher but also as a man of genuine humility and humour.  He even has time to chat to me about the basics. Although I only have my cheapo digital camera, there are still some things I can do to improve my own photography.  Firstly, is to take some time to work out exactly what my shot will be. Before he launches into actually taking pictures, Colin conducts a rigorous search of the wood before working out where the best images are to be found. He also recommends that if I am to take pictures of these lichen-covered trees (or indeed any other colourful foliage) that I keep any background sky out of the shot.  Looking at the shots I have taken, he’s absolutely right. The light detracts from the stunning patterns of the lichen and the one shot I do have that really works is the one with no background sky.

Tree Lichen sans sky

We spend at least 40 minutes shooting in the wood before we move on to our next stop, which happens to be an enforced nature break at the Ardbeg distillery.  Going past Lagavulin and Ardbeg was a real treat because they are both beautifully maintained distilleries (I didn’t really see Laphroaig from the road) and are remarkably close to each other, probably less than a mile. After the briefest of stops in a seemingly deserted Ardbeg, we head on to the Kildalton Cross, one of the UK’s earliest Christian crosses, set outside a ruined chapel.

The Kildalton Cross

It is a wonderfully peaceful and atmospheric place and I fall immediately in love with it. After a few photographs we move north to Claggain Bay, a large cove near the bottom of the East coast. The cloud still hangs over the bay and renders any colourful pictures unlikely. We decide instead to tuck into our packed lunches, to which Iain Gardiner has added a three pack of Bowmore special editions, bless him.


We sit and eat our packed lunches and sip the different Bowmores, all special editions ordinarily unavailable in the UK markets except travel retail. The 15 year old ‘Mariner’ is excellent with the usual Bowmore Parma violets seam running through it, as well as a hefty but not overbearing dose of pepper and peat. I then try the Oloroso-finished 17 year old which, like the Mariner, also has that signature sweetness but also a sherried and fruity smoothness too. As much as I would happily sit and drink the 17 on a distinctly cool day like today, it is the Mariner that takes my heart on this occasion. I don’t get to try the other 12 year old but intend to put that right later on.

Bowmore, obviously

We get back to Bowmore in time to meet distillery manager and Islay-born Eddie MacAffer who has been at Bowmore for over 40 years and who is going to give us a VIP tour of the distillery, including the legendary number one warehouse where some of the oldest and rarest Bowmores are kept. But first we start in the malting floor where I try my hand at turning barley, unsuccessfully as Eddie points out. Bowmore is only one of two distilleries on the island that malt some of their own barley (Laphroaig being the other).  Then we do something I have never done before – we go onto a peating floor, where the barley is dried using peat fires.

Smoked Pat, anyone?

Bowmore is not really a heavily peated whisky, only using peat to a phenol level of between 25-30 parts per million (half that of Ardbeg), not that you’d know it on the peating floor. The air is thick with swirling smoke and I step outside with my glasses completely steamed up and feeling like an Arbroath smokie.  Just in case I hadn’t been fully-peated by that experience, we are allowed into the peat ovens themselves which are pitch-black save for the unearthly glow of the fires over a wall.  As fascinating as Eddie’s commentary is, the rest of the tour of the distilling process is intrinsically no different from other distillery tours I have been on; after all, how many ways can you find to discuss what happens between the malting stage and the filling of barrels?

The Stills at Bowmore

One thing that does stand out, however, is the smell from the washback number two. I had expected the usual sweet and flat beery smell.  What I hadn’t expected was a beautiful fruity and berried sweetness, like a fruit squash. Frankly, I could stick my head in here for hours. Eddie tells me that this smell is produced by the distillers’ yeast used, and for the first time I regard yeast as an important determinant of a whisky’s smell and taste. In washback number six I am further amazed by the volatility of the yeast’s effect on the wash; it looks like it is being vigorously boiled but is, in fact, simply the yeast doing its job.

Caution! Yeast at work.

After the production part of the tour, we move in to the cavernous number one vaults which I am assured is the oldest maturation warehouse in the Scottish whisky industry and which is below sea-level. Part of its appeal is that regardless of the conditions outside, it is always between eight and nine degrees Celsius inside, perfect for whisky maturation.

Bowmore's Number One Vaults

With the ubiquitous black fungus adorning the walls, it has some of the most valuable un-bottled whisky in the world.  Eddie heads straight away for casks dated 1957 and 1958, whose values are beyond estimation at the moment. Of course, we don’t get to try these but simply to see them is a thrill.

But we do get to try some of the new stuff. First we try the new-made spirit, about four hours old. Normally, I can’t detect anything other than acetone in new-spirit, but this one (in the nose at least) had a peppery but real red-fruits belt to it. I don’t actually taste any of this on account of Eddie’s story of a Japanese tourist who, some hours earlier, had downed a glass of it in one. I suspect he’s tracing a comet’s path around the island even now.

Our first actual taste is of a 1999 bourbon-matured malt which it seems will soon see the light of day in the shops.

Bowmore 1999 bourbon-matured:

Nose: Citrussy, creamy, white chocolate, banana.

Taste: Tropical fruits, banana, vanilla and light peat evident only at the end.

Despite being 69% abv, there is no alcoholic burn, but only a playful pepper around the tongue and a long, light peppery finish. I think we are all stunned by how good this one was.  Next, we tried a:

Bowmore 1995 Oloroso first fill-matured:

Nose: Clean sherry, smooth, dark fruits.

Finish: Christmas pud, coffee, more dark fruits, late pepper and peat.

In both of these, it’s only at the end that the Bowmore character is evident, with a balanced pepperiness. This 1995 vintage is nice and smooth but maybe a bit over-sherried for me. The 1999 is a stunner and hardly reminiscent of an Islay malt at all and everyone is keen to get hold of a bottle of this.

Before our last treat, Eddie tells us many funny tales of his 40 years at Bowmore, none better than how they used to deal with officious young excisemen. By laying out pornographic magazines at strategic points throughout the warehouse, it seems the excisemen found better things to concentrate on than the contents of various casks or the activities of the warehousemen. Simple but effective.

Hard at Work

Then it was on to our last treat, a mere sniff of a now empty cask.  By stunning coincidence, this is a cask that held whisky a bottle of which I was promised by the man who bought it. World Duty Free had purchased however many bottles’ worth there were (less than one hundred) and sold them for about six thousand pounds at various airports. Forgive me if I lapse into hyperbole on this one but this is possibly….no, definitely the best nose of any whisky I have EVER had the pleasure of sniffing. This is:

Bowmore 1965 cask no. 811, bottled at about 42 years.

Nose: Ripe fruit bowl, vanilla, red berries, cherry spangles.

The above notes don’t and can’t do this whisky justice. This is such a clean and immensely fruity nose with immense depth, untainted by any negative aromas at all. Needless to say, the promised bottle never appeared from my friend. Damn!  So ends our tour of number one vault. I could happily have sat and listened to Eddie’s stories for about a week.

And so to the Bowmore bar to taste the Tempest version 2 which isn’t a million miles away from 1999 bourbon-matured Bowmore from the vaults. Both have a low level of peating that make them more of a highland style and they would certainly be palatable to those who profess not to like Islay malts.  The bar is in the visitor centre, which is small but packed with interesting bits from Bowmore’s history. It also looks out over Loch Indaal and, as places to sit with a dram go, is perfect.

The Bowmore Visitor Centre

Back to our rooms for a brief rest before dinner at the Harbour Inn where we have another great meal and more whiskies. I try the new Kilchoman (pronounced Kilc-homan, as far as I can ascertain) and find it a little spirity. No doubt this is because it is still very young, only about 4 years old or so. Pleasant enough but maybe I’ll give it a few more years. Next up is Ardbeg’s Corryvreckan which I love but which isn’t doing it for me tonight. Maybe this is an example of those fleeting ephemeral moments whereby a whisky will hit the spot at a certain time or place. Outside that place, nothing quite clicks. Back in Norfolk, I sat nosing it for 30 minutes. Here, I cannot find the same depth. Oh well.

Iain hands me another little treat, samples of the new 1981 vintage and 40 year old. What a star the man is. Given they’re in fragile-looking sample bottles, I had better try them now, just in case the airport baggage handlers get a bit frisky.  Or thirsty.

Bowmore 1981 (28 years old) bourbon cask, 49.6% (only 402 bottles available)

Nose: Parma violets, sweet smoked oak, citrus skins, vanilla, toffee, blackcurrants.

Taste: Sweetness predominates, a very distant hint of peat and spice.

A lovely nose but, as much as I love the ubiquitous Parma violets taste of older Bowmores, I find this one a little one-dimensional. The nose is great but the palate is rather disappointing in terms of its depth.

Bowmore 40 year old bourbon cask

Nose: Wood, ripe fruits, coffee, dusty and perfumy, blackcurrants (again), light peat.

Taste: Immediate citrus skins, lychees, vanilla pods, woody sweetness, light peat.

This is excellent but you’re going to have had large amounts of disposable income to afford it at £6500 a bottle, even if the bottle is actually a stunning hand-blown glass decanter. Such was the lightness of the peat that my first impression is that someone had slipped me an aged bottle of Balvenie by mistake, and for me that’s no bad thing. As great as this is, would I choose this over a bottle of the one I nosed in the vaults? No, but then there’s not much I would choose over that.

Right, that’s enough whisky for one night. To bed.

Thursday 14th October.

Ahhhh Sleep!!! Up at 7.30 for a decadent 8am breakfast at the Harbour inn and then it’s off to the airport where checking in takes about 2 minutes.  Islay airport apparently has the tightest security in Europe and the prospect of having my luggage systematically dismantled is a very real one. It’s not suitcases full of alcohol they’re looking for, but drugs. Apparently, it’s not uncommon for foreign fishing vessels to drop off large quantities of drugs on the Islay coastline to be smuggled onto the mainland. Hopefully I don’t look like a drug-dealer. As it happens, I get through without a murmur while infinitely more honest-looking people than me get pat-downs (no pun intended) and suitcase searches.

The Harbour Inn, Bowmore

As I’m writing this, I see an elderly chap in tweeds who looks familiar. Blimey!! It’s Professor Toby Lewis, who actually taught me at UEA in the 90’s and who, having retired, can still be seen occasionally flitting about campus. Don’t know him to ask him what he’s doing here. Maybe I’ll try and ingratiate myself with him later on; presumably he’s on his way down to Norwich too (he was).

If my account of the last three days all sounds a bit luvvy, I’ve been met with nothing but kindness and good humour in the short time I’ve been here. The people of Islay in general and Bowmore in particular were hugely welcoming and I have been looked after superbly. I’ll be back, hopefully for the festival next year.

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New club offers whisky galore

British whisky fans are being offered the chance to try a selection of new and exciting whiskies thanks to a new on-line business.

The Whisky Tasting Club, which is launched today, offers malt drinkers packs of five different whiskies in 5cl bottles. The whiskies are accompanied by information and comprehensive tasting notes from a number of sources including from whisky writer Dominic Roskrow and the three other club directors.

The club grew out of Roskrow’s regular Norwich tasting evenings and he has worked with the other directors to choose exciting and attractive malts. People buying whisky packs are encouraged to score the whiskies on-line and discuss them on the club’s forum.

The club’s founders plan to release a new whisky selection each month as well as special one-off packs. People who choose to buy a set of five whiskies do not have to sign up to club membership or commit to buying whisky more than once should they not want to do so.

“But obviously we hope people will want to come back again and again,” says club founder Tony Bagnall. “and to make it worth their while we will offer incentives to people who sign up for regular tastings, including a copy of Dominic’s new book The World’s Best Whiskies, worth £30, and membership of The Whisky Shop’s Glenkeir Club, worth £25.”

Each pack of five whiskies cost £25 plus £2.95 post and packaging. The first three topics are The Regions of Scotland, Whiskies of the World, and Get Wood.

A special vertical Laphroaig containing six malts including the 2010 Cask Strength 10 Year Old, the 18 Year Old, Quarter Cask and Triple Wood is being offered at £30.

Plans for the club include broadcasting Dominic Roskrow’s tasting evenings live on the web, inviting distillers and whisky makers on to forum sessions, offering selected regular purchasers special complimentary samples including new releases and even ‘works in progress’ and working with individual distilleries to offer unusual and special vertical selections.

For more information visit or contact The Whisky Tasting Club at

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August VIP Tasting

Pat, the author of this blog, wondering what to write

Some years ago (I can’t tell you exactly when as it’s lost in a kind of a spirity haze) Dom had a great idea. This isn’t an unusual event in itself as Dom has lots of great ideas, but in this particular case he had decided that it was a good idea to extend his usual tastings to include rarer and older whiskies, charge more and invite his regular attendees. So, the VIP tastings were born. Not just a good idea, Dom, it’s a genius idea.

What makes these tastings particularly special is that he has access to some very rare and wonderful beasts indeed. Having just completed the Michael Jackson book and his soon-to-be-released ‘World’s Best Whiskies: 750 Unmissable Drams from Tennessee to Tokyo’, he has been sent stacks of whisky to review from round the world. Now, as a man who cares about his liver and kidneys, he can’t drink all of every bottle he is sent, so once he has sampled a whisky and discharged his professional responsibilities, the remainder becomes a contender for the VIP tastings.

Welcome to my tasting!

So to the ‘underbelly’ of the Rumsey Wells pub and another ten-whisky-extravaganza. I should point out here that each sample is very small – we take the safe drinking message very seriously! [speak for yourself – ed.] In addition to the usual 8 regulars, we picked up a new friend who turned up expecting a regular tasting and who was invited to stay for the event. VIP doesn’t mean elitist.

Right so, to the whiskies themselves:

Whisky Number 1:

Zuidam Millstone 8yo matured in French Oak (40% abv)
£58.49 from Whisky Exchange

We’ve had rye whisky from this distillery before and LOVED it, but this was something new to us, although Susie is convinced we’ve had it before. No matter, because we loved this one as well. Its nose has a slight schappsy note along with a healthy dose of caramac (the caramel chocolate). Taste-wise, it’s nothing like it smelled. The French oak gave it a lovely spicy and peppery element which didn’t detract from its smoothness. Some thought it a little too young at 8 years and that maybe another couple of years would make it even better; I guess we’ll never know.

Whisky Number 2:

Sheep Dip 1990 Old Hebredian (40%)
£44.95 from The Whisky Exchange

Sheep Dip seems to have been around for years and I’m not sure that many of its many drinkers will have realised that it’s actually a blended malt (vatted malt to all of us, but the SWA obviously know best) and not a blend. In fact this bottling shows that blended malts can be every bit as good as single malts when they get it right.

A recent addition to their range, this peated beauty contains a 20 year old Ardbeg (according to the man who travels round the country marketing it at various shows). Now for many of us at the VIP tasting, this is very good news indeed. After we had finished it Dr. Bagnall was seen trying to squeeze another few drops out of the bottle.

It had quite a restrained peaty nose which was quite rich and grapey. Taste-wise, you immediately get a hit of Islay, followed by spicy wood. Its finish is long, spicy and drying. As peaty as it is, it isn’t overpowering and would make a great introduction to Islay for those who wished to cast their whisky net a little further afield. When we were in Islay we were told that this is actually 80% Ardbeg, cracking value -Ed.

Whisky Number 3: Balvenie, drawn from the cask 29/07/09. Cask number 10334/1996 (60% abv)
Distillery only

A real rarity, Dom had been given this while on a trip to Balvenie and had decided that he liked us all enough to bring it to a VIP rather than drink it himself. I have to say that I could never bring myself to share any of my Balvenie with anyone, so full marks to Mr Roskrow for his generosity.

Normally, I can spot a Balvenie by its nose but this one fooled me completely. The signs were there – the slightly dusty, perfumy nose, white chocolate in the mouth, but I still didn’t twig. Others chipped in with their thoughts too. Geoff got bananas on the nose, I detected more than a hint of apricots, Susie got rice pud. Once it hit the taste buds, we had an avalanche of spicy Del Monte fruits. I loved it. So did we all. God, I love Balvenie.

Whisky Number 4:

Amrut Double Cask (46%) Limited Edition 7 year old. (46% abv)
Dom has reviewed this here

We are big fans of Amrut but this one simply didn’t do it for any of us. Its nose (meaty and sweaty, slightly pasty) was a bad start. Matters improved slightly when we tasted it: tropical fruits, coconut and a ‘refreshers’ fizz, but there was still a kind of plasticine taint and (so Michelle reckoned) a hint of cumin. The finish was grapey and long. This was a limited edition of 306 bottles and is pretty steeply priced at over £70. I think the consensus was that we would rather buy two bottles of Fusion rather than invest in this. Seven years old is very old for an Indian whisky, given the rapid maturation. Amrut say it is unlikely to be repeating such an experiment. This is a very wise decision, on the evidence of this. In fact, it gave Susie a nosebleed, so there you go.

Whisky Number 5

Old Malt Cask Glen Grant 30 y.o. (50% abv)
Can’t find the exact one, this one is similar

Glen Grant isn’t a distillery we taste very often. Pity. On the evidence of this, it’s a distillery I would like to know more about. With a fabulously clean and crisp nose, full of sherbet and fruit, it’s about as far removed from the Amrut as is possible to imagine. In the mouth, it was more of the same: creamy, fresh, fruity and spicy, although some might perceived this latter quality as being quite aggressively woody. The finish was long and fizzy. Overall, I like this immensely. Given that it currently goes for over £100, some might see it as expensive.

Whisky Number 6:

Mackmyra Special Number 4 (53%).
£63.49 from The Whisky Exchange

Mackmyra Special Number 4 came within a gnat’s crotchet of winning our Whisky World Cup in July, 0.5% behind the eventual winner. Needless to say we loved it again. If anyone sneers at the prospect of the European mainland making whisky, give them a bottle of this or Belgian owl and then tell them to go away (but not before they’ve poured you a glass of both). Plum and mango with a hint of the expected juniper on the nose, herbal liqueur and spicy fruit in the mouth, tropical fruit on the finish. Bear in mind that after five whiskies our taste buds might not be up to detecting the subtleties of the later whiskies so if you want to know a slightly more sober and thorough assessment of the Mackmyra, look at the Whisky World Cup here

Whisky Number 7:

Old Potrero 18th century-style whiskey. (62.05% abv)
£88.75 from Drink Finder

Distilled at the Anchor distillery in San Francisco, this Old Potrero is, as the name suggests, an attempt to recreate a style of whiskey from yesteryear. More than that, though, this is an attempt to make the original whiskey of America. At only two years, three months old, it’s still incredibly young and our immediate thoughts on nosing it were that it was the product of another distillery in the same city, St. George’s (not to be confused with the English whisky of the same name). In fact, one might be forgiven that this was an eau-de-vie or gin rather than whiskey. Now, I realise that sherbet is a word rather overused in this blog but believe me, this has such an effervescent and fizzy mouth-feel to it, the analogy here isn’t an idle one. As nice as this was, I can’t say I like it as much as some of the other whiskeys that Old Potrero has put out. As an experiment though it is fascinating and, as Tony pointed out, add some tonic to it and it would be a great alternative to a G&T.

Whisky Number 8:

Thomas H Handy Rye (64.5% abv)
£94.50 from theThe Whisky Exchange

This was a first for us. Susie’s extensive records hadn’t ever recorded a Thomas Handy so we had no idea what to expect. In the event, it was quite restrained for a rye. Underneath a distinctly hickory nose, you could sense that there were some of the spicy little Rye blighters waiting to spring out and give your taste buds a good kicking but were kept under strict control. I could sit and drink this all day long. Strangely muted for a rye but quite wonderful.

Whisky Number 9:

Laphroaig 20 yo Double Cask Limited Edition, exclusive to Paris Airport (€225). (46.6%)

After eight whiskies, you need something memorable to finish on. Dom, as usual, didn’t disappoint. The peat was enveloped in a sweetness that was creamy, smooth, with a hint of liquorice. This was matured for 18 years in hogshead barrels and then in quarter casks for the last two years to give a ‘sweeter, richer style of Laphroaig, while retaining the traditional peaty smoke tang’. At €220, this isn’t cheap, but judging by the reaction last night, they might sell our rather quickly so grab a bottle while you can. Michelle thought there was less of the medicinal or iodine twang in this than you might usually associate with Laphroaig, but still loved it.

Stop Slouching!

So there we have it……hang on, what’s that you say, we have a little extra treat? Blimey! Not quite sure what we did to deserve this but none of us are going to turn it down, not least when it’s another Bourbon. Dom produced a rather citrusy and light Elmer T. Lee from the good people at Buffalo Trace. Not as good as the Thomas Handy but excellent and a great way to finish a great evening.

Oh my god, another whisky!

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August Whisky Shop Tasting

Come on then Dom, entertain us!

The Whisky Shop Norwich holds free shop tastings for their regulars. I was in the shop this morning talking WTC with Dom and realised I’ve never been to one of these events. For such an inveterate boozer as me that seemed an oversight, so tonight I went along to have a look.

The Whisky Shop is quite small and is located in the Norwich Lanes (it’s sad, Norwich is Brighton’s frumpy older sister, trying to be cool but somehow not quite pulling it off).

Cheer up, have some whisky!

Nevertheless, 15 punters crammed into the shop to taste six whiskies and hear Dom’s unique tasting presentation. I’m not giving any tasting notes because we didnt make any, so this is a short blog, but I’ve taken some photos so I’m going to write it anyway!

We tasted 6 whiskies:

1. Braeval 8 Year Old, Douglas Lang bottling. So this is some strange 90’s touristic invention aimed at a non existent market in a strangely shaped rusticated bottle. Its eight years old and a single cask bottling, they have had it in the shop for four years, so we got to drink it in order to free up some shelf space. It was drinkable but nothing special, very speyside.

2. Ben Nevis 10 year old, Provenance bottling. I’ve drank Ben Nevis a few times and never been a fan, always tasted a bit barley and simplistic. However, this was pretty nice, choclate and orange with a nice long finish.

3. Glenfiddich 15. Nice to have the one-up-from-house option, but this doesn’t really do it for me. As with the 12 y o it is pleasant enough, but not imo worth £45.

Dom has a very unique presentation style. He basically freeforms from his stock of whisky knowledge whilst crossing over into his general life experience in other areas. So, for example, we got an excellent description of the developments that lead to Glenfiddich more or less inventing the single malt market coupled with tales of sibling rivalry with his brother who apparently writes books about engineering. I can honestly say he provides a unique whisky experience and if you get a chance to go to one of his tastings take it.

4. Lochnagar 12. Whiskies like this show me why I couldn’t be a whisky taster. This was quite nice, but pretty non descript. Happy to drink it, got nothing to say about it. By this point the crowd was getting louder (as always happens a few drinks in)  and Dom was engaged in football asides, admittedly mostly at my prompting.

5. Ledaig 9 (Glenkeir Treasures?). Building up to our peat finale, this Ledaig was I think from Glenkeir Treasures, which is the Whisky Shop’s independent bottling label and offers a wide range of interesting whiskies.

They sell these in the Whisky Shop, seemingly straight from the barrel. This is of course a bit of a gimmick, since the barrels can’t be real! They are in fact lined with plastic so that the whisky no longer interacts with the wood. Still, thats probably just as well and its a nice shop feature.

6. Longrow 10. This is a lovely peaty number and I think we might use it in one of our tastings. Dom is very keen to visit Springbank, so we started planning our first WTC “business trip”. I hope to visit on the way up to the Islay festival next year.

So that was it, most enjoyable and the punters seemed very happy. The Norwich Whisky Shop is a roaring success and has surpassed the company’s expectations. They have avoided moving into one of the malls, which is good, but I wish they would move next door to larger premises.

WTC news, we have sorted out our packaging and sourced most of the whisky for our first four tastings. Jay has designed our brilliant new logo which we will incorporate in the site and brand everything with soon. The website needs some work and I need to embed online payment. We are never going to be super slick and corporate, its not our way really, but it needs to be a little less amateurish. We are not going to get the member area ready for the start, I have too much teaching this semester, but hope to get it running in the new year. One thing that has amazed me is the amount of spam the blogs get. The Islay blog has had over 250 comments, but only 26 of them were by real people. What a pointless form of spam, it doesn’t even have the chance to go live. Silly people, just means I have to spend ages deleting it all.

Next tasting is on 31st August at the Rumsey Wells in Norwich.

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August Tasting: Whisky World Beaters

Our latest tasting saw us back in the basement (or as they call it, “the Underbelly”) of the Rumsey Wells pub. The Rumsey Wells is a fine example of how pubs need to adapt to the modern market. For decades the St Andrews Tavern (as it used to be called) was an old mans’ real ale pub. Nothing wrong with that, except they had no punters. I suspect the owners, Adnams, kept it afloat as a loss leader simply to maintain their presence in Norwich. They tried it as a Thai restaurant/pub combo but it was still dead. Then in 2008 new tenants took over and with fairly superficial changes transformed it into a funky place and it soon became packed full of young uns. And they still sell real ale, so even us old gits are happy.

Anyway, the tasting. There were only 12 of us at the event (a lot of regulars are on holiday) and 4 people were newbies. Pat is on holiday but, never one to miss out on a tasting, took samples with him and commented live via facebook. That’s not sad, honest. Mind you, I can talk, I spent the evening on my laptop chatting to Pat on facebook.  Of course I should have been listening to Dom’s words of wisdom, sorry Dom.

Scores below are from Tony, Pat and Michelle. They do not reflect Dominic’s opinion.

We started off with two Glen Grants:

1. Glen Grant 170th Anniversary 46%

Limited edition bottled to celebrate their 170th anniversary. Dominic has written tasting notes for this here and described his trip to Glen Grant here.

Pat says “Nose is quite grassy and herbal, not dissimilar to a Lowlander, but with a faint tang of aniseed and citrus. Little bit sherbety, reminds me quite a bit of the Mackmyra special number 4, on the nose at least. Taste: Wow! An immediate hit of salt, then some lovely green fruits. Was this the one that Jim Murray detected sulphur? If so, his taste buds are a **** sight more senstive than mine… VERY drinkable. My first Glen Grant and I like it a lot.”

Tony’s thoughts “Taste is sweet and chewy, starts a little thin then has a fairly hefty kick. Long but the finish is slight, although warming. The key feature for me is the surprising step change in taste that kicks in after the understated beginning”

Michelle “nose is grassy, sweet fudge, toffee, citrus. Taste: soft, mellow rounded and long. Mild astringency on the palate.”

Susie got some plum tastes (I don’t have Susie’s full notes, hopefully she will post them herself). 

Some of us came round to thinking there might be a touch of sulphur right at the end in the form of a slight metallic taste on the tip of the tongue after the finish. However, for me at least this was only observed once the idea had been planted, so it could just be the power of suggestion.

Score: Tony: 8.5, Pat 8.5, Michelle 8.

Buying: Not yet on sale, will be August 2010 for €100

2. Glen Grant 25 (Gordon&Mcphail bottling) 40%

Pat: “The nose has tropical fruits, melon and mint.  Seems to develop in the glass. Really nice nose although a kind of doughiness to it too. Oooohh, tastes more like an old North Highlander – lovely combination of demerara sugar and toasted oak. Puts me in mind of older Balvenies and Broras, even the Mortlach we had for the whisky world cup final. Love it!!! I think I could get to like Glen Grant”

Michelle “Nose: licorice, fruity, raisins. Taste: strong wood giving bitter tones on the tongue. Sulphur”. I must admit when I first tasted this I just got loads of what Dom calls ‘grunginess’ that I usually associate with sulphur, although its not really the same.

Score:Tony: 8, Pat 8.7, Michelle 7.

Buying:I think this is the one, £55.81 from The Drinks Shop

3. Jamesons 18 year old

Susie “Smells like something you’d use to oil wood – massive linseed hit.  Last time we had this I got nothing but blackcurrant leaf. This time I managed a second sip and got blackcurrant leaf and blackcurrant fruit pastille. Would possibly be lovely if I didn’t hate blackcurrant..”  Hard luck Susie, I was happy because I got to drink hers :) Michelle on the other hand loves blackcurrants and this is the most positive I can remember her being about an Irish whisky “Nose: woody, spicy, ginger+blackcurrant bushes. Taste: yum! Very long with a good spicy kick.”

Pat:  Nose: again tropical fruits, apples, linseed oil (you’re right, Susie). A very light and typically Irish nose . A real blackcurranty heart to the taste on this one. I wonder if,  like the Parmaviolet taste in some old Bowmores, this might be a production fault because it is a common theme in old Jamesons”.

Personally I quite liked its spicy finish but the sweet taste was a bit one dimensional for me.

Score: Tony 8, Pat 7, Michelle 9

£69.95 from The Whisky Exchange

4. Fettercairn Fior

Dominic has written notes on this here

Pat: “Like a marmalade made with less bitter oranges. I quite like this”

Susie: “It’s got some interesting orange and nut stuff going on in the middle, but rather rough & ready.”

Michelle says “Cheesy, musty, doughy, yeasty, don’t like it!” Is this starting to sound like an episode of Frasier? Tony says: “Nose: Sulphur. Taste. A bit thin, with a bit of an aftertaste. Really not that keen” I think I must have been obsessing over sulphur, you start looking for it and you find it everywhere. At this point my laptop battery ran out, so no more notes from me!

Score:Tony 6 Pat 7.5 Michelle 6.5

Buying: You can get this from the whisky shop, dufftown for £34.50.

5. BenRiach 15 Year Old (Tawny Port Finish) 46%


Susie: “Tawny port really comes through on this. Bit sharp round the edges, but I like it – it’s like very alcoholic chocolate coated cherries.”

Due to a last minute change of whiskies Pat didn’t have this one with him, but we know he would have liked it as he always likes port finishes. Michelle and I were not that impressed with this, but unfortunately we left our notes in the pub!

Score:Tony 7.5, Michelle 7

Buying: £36.99 from Whisky Online

6. Eagle Rare single barrel, 10 years old, 46%.

Pat: “Nose: Liniment, cough candy, lemon puff biscuits, quite a restrained and smooth nose. Taste: coconut, alcoholic glace cherries (and I didn’t steal this from Susie’s last tasting notes, promise!), bitter chocolate and rye, sweet cigarettes, faint hint of Parmaviolets on the finish.  Not too spicy but with enough depth to really make it a treat for those with refined and educated tastebuds (and I don’t include myself in that, before you ask…)”.

Susie: it is a good one – there’s no doubt that it’s bourbon, but there’s plenty going on behind the generic character. Dark, complex, a little more earthy than many. Good one to finish on.

Score: Tony 9, Pat 8, Michelle 9.5

Buying: Bargain £29.49 from The Whisky Exchange

All in all an excellent tasting, thanks Dom. The Jamesons was probably the most popular with the group as a whole, closely followed by the Eagle Rare and the Glen Grant 170. Next tasting is on highland whiskies at the end of August.

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The Whisky World Cup Final

Those of us who have followed football over the past 20 or so years will remember the 1994 World Cup when it was predicted that Africa would soon produce a world champion from among its ranks. Even if the likes of Nigeria, South Africa and Ivory Coast didn’t get as far as they had hoped this year, they have shown that in football nothing can now be taken for granted. Countries that 20 years ago would have been completely overwhelmed in the company of their more illustrious neighbours are now seriously challenging the established football world order. The same was true yesterday in the Whisky World Cup where the established likes of Scotland, Ireland, Japan and the US were given one hell of a run for their money by Northern European upstarts from Netherlands and Sweden. To say it was close was an understatement.

Eight new whiskies were chosen to represent the categories that had made it through the earlier rounds. Dom sought out top class whiskies to represent each category. They were:

  1. Millstone Rye (Netherlands Rye)
  2. Van Winkle 13 year old (US Rye)
  3. William Larue Weller Small Batch, Cask Strength (US bourbon)
  4. Nikka Tsuru 17 year old (Japanese Blended Malt)
  5. Miyagikyo 15 year old (Japanese Single Malt)
  6. BenRiach Authenticus 21 year old (Scottish Single Malt)
  7. Mackmyra Special No. 4 (Swedish Single Malt)
  8. Jameson Crested Ten (Irish Blend)

hmmm, what is that?

In order not to show any favouritism, we drank them blind and in no particular order. Normally, the bourbons, rye and peated whiskies would be drunk last in order to give the lighter whiskies a chance to shine, but it was felt that this was tantamount to seeding, so they were done randomly (i.e. “pick a number between 1 and 8”). However, before the serious business of choosing a World Champion could commence, Dom gave us all a little treat in the form of an Ardmore 25 which slipped down beautifully and, as ‘pre-match entertainment’, was infinitely preferable to the nude rugby match he was ‘treated’ to before an All-Blacks game a few years ago.

Pre-Match Entertainment – Ardmore 25 y.o. (46%) abv

Nose: Salt, fruit, sweet vanilla, tobacco, orange skins, with peat lurking in the background.

Taste: Crystallised pineapple, more vanilla and fruit, strong oak.

Finish: Medium with the oak kept in check and smooth vanilla.

Actually, this would have performed admirably in the contest itself. Heigh Ho! Available for £116 at Loch Fyne Whiskies

What follows in an amalgamation of the tasting notes of the 9 of us for each of the eight contenders in order of tasting:


Whisky Number 1: Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye 13 year old (47.8%)

Nose: Rum and raisin ice cream, fondant banana with a hint of oak and spice in the background. Quite restrained.

Taste: Gathering oak and rye held in check, sweet candy, molasses,

Finish: Woody, fisherman’s friends, ending in peppermint.


Whisky Number 2: BenRiach Authenticus 21 y.o. (46%)

Nose: Over-ripe grape, tropical fruit, iodine, slight sweaty.

Taste: Smoky bacon, fabulously integrated peat and fruit, raw peppermint leaves.

Finish: Blackcurrant, constant but faint peat, dry and extraordinarily long.

£59.95 from masters of malt



Whisky Number 3: Miyagikyo 15 y.o. (43%)

Nose: Pork scratchings, frazzles, coffee and toffee, late dryness.

Taste: Golden syrup and sponge pudding, soft and smooth Del Monte fruit, cookie dough, great balance.

Finish: Vanilla ice cream, mild spiciness, fabulous integration.

 £76.95 from the whisky exchange



Whisky Number 4: Mackmyra Special Number 4 (53%)

Nose: Sherbet, bubble gum, herbal, almonds, sweet William pear, acetone.

Taste: Quite faint to begin with but then explodes with fruit, salt and pepper, sweet and savoury, fisherman’s friends, miso soup, late spice and peat. An absolutely mind-blowing whisky.

Finish: Vanilla sherbet, an oaky surge and then fading woodiness.

this is not yet for sale, if you see a bottle let us know

Whisky Number 5: Millstone Rye (40%)

 Nose: Green apples, treacle, Seville oranges, candy peel, cloves and marzipan, old pantries.

Taste: Sherbet, apples, dried fruit, mocha, late coffee ice cream.

Finish: More Seville oranges, late bitterness.





Whisky Number 6: Jameson Crested Ten (40%)

 Nose: Metalwork shop, pears, hot apple pie.

Taste: Salt and fruit, toffee, more metal.

Finish: Thin and short.


Whisky Number 7: Nikka Tsuru 17 y.o. (45%)

Nose: Sherry, soy sauce, damp saki, a Madeira-style stewedness, aniseed, baking bread.

Taste: Spice and oaky sherry, licorice.

Finish: Long, spicy and oaky.

Whisky Number 8: William Larue Weller Small Batch (67.4%)

Nose: Acetone, rum and raisin, body musk, demerara sugar.

Taste: coconut, very spicy, woody, sweet cigarettes.

Finish: Smooth oak.

It has to be said that some whiskies did suffer from their tasting position. The Miyagikyo didn’t really benefit from being tasted directly after the Authenticus and the Van Winkle. Who’s to say what would have happened had it been tasted first, but hey, that’s the world cup.

Under normal circumstances (whatever those are) no-one would have given the Millstone or Mackmyra a snowball in hell’s chance against their illustrious and established opponents. Evidently however, hell is a rather colder place these days, and we have been lucky enough to trace Mackmyra’s progress from the junipery and very moreish Preludiums to the present day offerings. We knew exactly how good it could be.

I have a mixed relationship with the Swedes. In July 1994, I spent 90 minutes of utter tedium in the Pasadena Rose Bowl watching Brazil edge to a 1-0 win over Sweden in the World Cup semi-final. This was the footballing equivalent of watching a plank warp in the sun, and such was the boredom served up by the teams, grown men were asking LA’s finest to put them out of their misery permanently. I had never really forgiven Sweden or Brazil; until, that is, I tasted Swedish whisky (I might feel the same way about Brazil had I tasted their whisky, but alas…..). I simply love Mackmyra and particularly this Special Number 4. Even those of us who weren’t madly keen on the Preludiums were blown away by this. When we were tasting it, we were looking at each other wondering if we might have a new world champion on our hands. Maybe, just maybe.

The Millstone too, was talked about as a potential surprise winner. We had tasted a few examples recently and without exception we are all converts (where can we buy it????). It had surprised many people by the ease with which it made it through the qualifying rounds. No hint of that European-style schnapps kick; just lovely spice and fruit.

Anyway, we had 8 top class whiskies to judge….

The Results

8th place – Jamesons Created Ten – 71.44 points

7th place – Millstone Rye – 80.45 points

6th place – William Larue Weller – 83.25 points

5th place – Van Winkle – 84.3 points

4th place – Nikka Tsuru – 84.75 points

3rd place – Miyagikyo – 85.5 points

2nd place – Mackmyra – 88.2 points

THE WINNER – BenRiach Authenticus 21 year old – 88.8 points.

Well, there you have it, the BenRiach won, by only a whisker, pushed all the way by the Mackmyra. Although it won’t always appeal to Speyside purists, the Authenticus is a truly astonishing whisky that deserves every accolade it gets and it was clear right from the start that this was the one to beat. Perhaps only the Jamesons was outclassed by the opposition right from the start; too metallic and thin. Like the Miyagikyo, the Millstone suffered from its position in the tasting, coming as it did after the Mackmyra.

This man wrote this blog entry....

By the time the next world cup comes around things should get really interesting.  The European whiskies will have had a further four years to mature. Given their performance in this world cup, what are the chances of silverware next time around? Pretty good, I’d say.

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Whisky World Cup Round 4

So to recap, we are in Micawbers Tavern, in the heart of medieval Norwich (and handily 100 yards from our house) and have just finished round three of the whisky world cup. After a brief interval to cleanse our palates (Nelson’s Revenge is good for that) we dived in to group 4. Many would think tasting 10 whiskies in one go is excessive, and my notes for this group are noticably less extensive.  

And another thing ...

However, 10 whiskies does make for a fun evening and it gives Dom a platform for promoting his communist agenda and for Pat to recruit for the black shirts (I’m joking guys! both of their extremist politics have been tempered with age). It actually ended up in a loud discussion of the relative merits of each other’s jukebox selections and critique of my business plan for WTC (thanks Derek and Susie, I wish I’d taken some notes).  

So group 4 turned out to be the best of the four groups with some great whiskies. It was also the round that most confused us when trying to guess the origin of the whiskies (this might have had something to do with the back to back tastings).   

Dutch: Millstone 8 year old French Oak.  

So this was the joker in the pack. Dutch whisky? Come on, I bet it’s another schnapps-like affair. Only its not, its actually really very good. “the Ji-Sung Park of whisky” says Pat. Not quite sure what he means, but it sounded good at the time. “Christmas in a glass” thought Derek. Susie’s notes: “Nose rich & sweet, hint of apples. Taste – Chistmas spices, warm, gentle savoury foundations. Hits of woodsmoke, bitter orange and salt.” Michelle says “Coastal, warm, round, spicy. Easy drinking” Or at least I think she does, her writing is getting very hard to read. Tony notes down that its very nice but fairly plain, and he loves everyone in the group. Generally we couldn’t guess where this came from.  

Its not cheap though, you can get it for £58.49. Blimey, that’s a lot for an eight year old Dutch whisky! I would have bought some at £30, but not at that price. 

Dutch Score: 8.83.   


Scottish Vatted: Monkey Shoulder 
Susie’s comments: “Nose: faint, light, bit of citrus (lime curd?). Taste:  light and fruity, quick burst of spice, then vanishes leaving slightly bitter aftertaste.” Michelle thinks “barley, fruity shy, teasing nose, initially soft, then toughening with shades of wood. Astringent hot finish “. Sounds like a weather forcast! Tony says: “its quite bitter, I’d have another”. Insightful as ever. Has anyone else noticed the women in the group write much better tasting notes?   

Retails at £22.95. Pretty good good value. 

Scottish vatted score:  7.75 

A good showing, but will it be enough? 

 Spain: DYC (Destilerías y Crianza del Whisky) Pure Make  

(cue lots of purile jokes about Pat wanting some more DYC) . I initially think this is the English Chapter 9, but then announce that it tastes completely different to the last time I tried it … err …maybe because it is? Getting a bit tired and emotional at this point, so I’ll hand over to Susie again “Nose: very warm and soft, barley, sunny dry lawn, hint of orange. Taste starts a little thin, dry tannins from wood but little of its flavour. Slightly lemony but mainly nondescript.” She at least sounds like she knows what she is talking about! “Barley nose, medium length, young barley taste” says Michelle. I can’t find this for sale in the UK. Any info appreciated.

 Spain score: 7.08. Not enough to qualify, but a good showing. 

Japanese Blend: Old and Rare Nikka Pure 

Not sure this is the right whisky!

We all immediately took to this, lots of appreciative noises. I can’t actually find this one listed anywhere online.  It might be the one in the picture, if so, I’m getting a bottle, its only £25 or so. Susie: “Nose: strong and gingery. Taste: very good match to nose – ginger, spicy wood, vanilla, hint of butterscotch, plenty of depth and richness” Michelle: “A good nose, cooked sugar, sea/coastal. Astringent. Taste: warm, round and spicy.”

Japanese Blend Scores: 9.23. Japanese blends are through!


  England: English Whisky Company Chapter 9 

WTC have already reviewed this, see this blog , but half the people at the tasting hadn’t tried it before. So first off I have to say England were very unlucky to be drawn last and particularly after the Japanese. It also should be pointed out that we were by this point confused about which whiskies were which. To give you an idea, I won a fiver from Pat for correctly identifying the Nikka as the Japanese. Now, you may think this makes us rubbish tasters, and you might be right, but blind tasting is harder than you think. So most people scored this whisky quite low (although I ranked it second myself).  “New suede on the nose, spicy wood taste” says Michelle. Susie says “Nose has a hint of oaty gingery biscuits, with a touch of squash courts.  Interesting but…. Quite woody, a bit brash and ununified”
Chapter 9 retails at £39.99. Not cheap, but definitely worth trying.

England Score: 7.23. England are out, but can be considered unlucky.

So Japanese Blend and the Dutch through, Scottish Vatted, England and Spain all out.

The finalists are:
Japanese single malt, Bourbon, Scottish Single Malt, Sweden,
American other, American Rye, Irish Standard, Japanese Blend and the Netherlands

Tasting notes? I'm not giving you any bloody tasting notes!

Finals on July 7th, can my liver cope with it? The Scottish are down, but not out and still favorites to win. Japanese have two chances, as do the Americans. Sweden and Holland flying the flag for Europe, but are rank outsiders. Hot news is that the Dutch have a major selection headache ahead of the finals. Do they stick with the game plan which saw them emerge triumphant from the group stage but which they acknowledge might not be enough to outwit whisky’s big guns in the latter stages; or do they deploy their rye option, giving them a potential advantage? It’s a risky strategy because they could be out-muscled by the big flavours of Scottish single malt, the Japanese whiskies, bourbon and especially American rye.

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Whisky World Cup qualifying round 3

The truth about our whisky tasting group is that one flight is never enough, so we held rounds three and four of the whisky world cup on the same night. Please bear this in mind when reading the tasting comments below.  Our usual pubs were being used by regular paying customers, so at the last minute I asked my local Micawbers Tavern if we could occupy the back of their bar.

Mines a large bone please

Arby is a regular in Micawbers, it’s an old style boozer with excellent real ales (including my favorite pint Nelson’s Revenge) and an eighties jukebox. Dom was in his element, at least he was until Pat got at the jukebox and for some reason put on 6 tracks by The Doors.  Attendees were Tony, Pat, Michelle, Derek, Susie and Andrew. Opinions below are Tony’s unless otherwise attributed.

Anyway, the whisky. I’ll do the two rounds as separate posts. The way it works is that Dom tells us what all the categories are, but we don’t know the actual whiskies and we taste them randomly. This is good because preconception cannot effect our votes, but it does mean upsets are likely. It also means we cannot control the order and some whiskies over power others.  Oh well, it’s all just a laugh anyway.  We also mark quite harshly on these events and tend to use the whole range from 0-10. I will perform a spline point adjustment if I put these on the Connosr website (hey, its just like an exam board!) 

Group 3: (in the order we tasted them)

Australian:  Bakery Hill Peated:

Official notes say: “Rich gold russet of evening sunset. A rich subdued peat aroma combined with a natural leathery earthiness with overtones of kumquat and fruit mince tart.” Yes, well. We say: Sherbety, lemon and honey, peated but rounded with a spicy middle. I thought it tasted quite young and barley, only partially masked by the peat. Michelle thought it was slightly floral with a soft smooth finish. I’ve always been very disparaging about ozzie whisky and some we have had have been truly awful. However, this goes some way to bringing me round, it was very drinkable. I had a quick search and I can’t find it on sale in the UK, let me know if you better. It retails for 8oAUSD, which is about £45.  

Australian score: 7.17

Scottish Blends: Johnny Walker Gold Label.

 (err, isnt this a blended malt? Ed.) So lets say straight off that we were all really surprised when Dom told us what this was, because none of us liked it that much! I love black, green and blue (fly first class with Thai Airways and they will pour you a healthy dram of JW Blue and leave you the bottle, but that’s another story).  However, the Gold was not to my taste. Licorice nose, some porridge (when pressed on what type, Andrew says Ready Brek). Creamy taste, slightly oily with a bit of an unpleasant aftertaste (Tony). Creamy initially, spicey, pleasant bitterness, very long complicated finish, quite harsh though (Michelle). We generally thought it complex, but not all that nice! Its available from the Whisky Exchange for £48.95, but I dont think they will sell many off the back of this review!

Scottish Blends score 6.08 Blimey, the Scottish blend scores worse than an Australian whisky and could be going out.

American Rye: Sazerac Rye Whiskey

And bang there go our tastebuds! I went back and tasted the first two again after trying this and they were completely different. It’s somewhat the luck of the draw really.  Anyway, this rye is really nice. “Smells like a small Greek supermarket” say Susie, and who can argue with that? Nose: malted milk. Taste: Woody root beer, soft easy drinking, says Michelle. We seem to be developing a taste for rye. This is very reasonably priced, its £26.95 at
The Whisky Exchange I think I will be buying a bottle.

American Rye score: 8.07  Scottish blends are out! Hard to beat this score.


French: Eddu Gold

Every single one of us who nosed this recoiled in horror. It reminded me of my mispent youth, loitering in parks sniffing Tipp- Ex thinners. Michelle said “Can’t nose it, it’s too disgusting”. It doesnt taste like whisky either, its more like cognac, but not a good one. There are two countries whose whisky I always slag off: France and Australia. I have to kerb my ozzie bashing  after the Bakery Hill, but this just reaffirms all my prejudices (although strangely it’s not full of sulphur like the other frenchies its been my misfortune to taste). I don’t know how much it costs and I don’t care, I’m not going to put a link to it!

French Score: 5. Say no more.

Irish Standard: Powers Gold Label 12 Year Old 

Guessing the countries in this round was easy, and the apples on the nose gave this away immediately, even after the palate numbing blast of the rye and the french paint stripper. It’s a lovely smooth dram, very easy to drink.  Not much more to say really, neither Michelle nor I are huge fans of Irish, but this is a very good example of why the style is much loved.
£39.95 from TWE

Irish Standard score: 8.08.

So an American rye and an Irish standard go through, a shock exit for the Scottish blend and the Australians put up a good show but don’t quite make it.

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