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Michelle's Premium Pack

Five high quality whiskies chosen by Michelle

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Here at the Whisky Tasting Club (WTC), we aim to bring you great whisky at affordable prices. Hopefully, over the past five years we’ve been doing that, but now we want to raise the bar a little and bring you increasingly interesting, in some cases older and more expensive whiskies, but still at affordable prices to you. Part of the plan was to allow customers to try smaller samples of whiskies they might not have wanted to risk buying themselves. Given that both Tony and Pat have released their own special premium packs, I thought it was about time I did the same, so here it is. I have selected five of my favourite expressions. Naturally, given our love of Islay, the island is represented but this pack is less hell-bent on peat than Tony’s or Pat’s packs.

From Islay, I have selected a whisky from a distillery that has only been opened for 10 years but is already producing whiskies that can hold their heads up in the illustrious company of the Ardbegs, Laphroaigs and Lagavulins. Kilchoman was a labour of love for owner Anthony Wills, and his whiskies prove that the effort and financial difficulties were worthwhile. If this is good at 10 years or under, heaven knows how good it’ll be in another 10 years.

From just down the road (or should that be “track”?) comes a whisky from the much underrated Bunnahabhain distillery. Underrated because it isn’t a peat monster and so often gets overlooked in favour of its brutally phenolic neighbours. Bunnahabhain has a strong connection with the sea (look at the distillery logo) and the thought of sitting by a fire with a glass of this in your hand watching, though the window, a ferocious Atlantic storm roll in, is a particularly appealing thought (to me at least, on these short winter’s days).

From Speyside, we have a famous and a not-so-famous name. The Macallan isn’t referred to as “The Rolls Royce of Whiskies” for nothing. It even warrants the definite article (“The”), as if to ward off any impostors. Like many distilleries, The Macallan has embraced no-age-statement whiskies, and this Sienna expression is part of a range that attempts to select whisky on colour and taste rather than age. From just down the road from Macallan was the little-known Imperial distillery, recently demolished. This has always been a favourite of mine and shows the crass stupidity of the economic logic which supports the demolition of a distillery capable of producing spirit of this quality.

Lastly, we have a whiskey (note the “e”) which was originally meant as a limited release but is thankfully now part of the core range. The Redbreast 15 is an absolutely stunning example of a style of whiskey that is unique to Ireland – the Pot Still.

I hope you enjoy drinking these whiskies as much as I’ve enjoyed picking them.

Merry Christmas and a happy new year!

Redbreast 15 year old

Redbreast is a pure potstill whisky made at the Midleton distillery by Diageo. A pure potstill whiskey is defined as one that is made from a mash of malted and unmalted barley and is distilled in a potstill (i.e. in batches, as opposed to in a continuous distillation process used for whiskeys like Jameson). So the production process is the same as a Scottish single malt, except for the fact that they use a mixture of 40% malted and 60% unmalted barley in the mash. Matured in a combination of Spanish oloroso sherry casks and bourbon casks, this was originally launched as a limited edition, but is now (happily) a part of their core range.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Light and fruity. Alcoholic toffee apples. Dark chocolate. Slightly gingery.
Palate: Sweet. Loads more apples with a citrus and oaky accompaniment and an oat biscuit undertow. Lemon puff biscuits on the finish. Beautiful!

Retails for around £70-75

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Bunnahabhain 18 year old

Bunnahabhain (pronounced "boona-hah-ven") is arguably the most remote Islay distillery. To get there you need to traverse an amazing winding coastal path with the paps of Jura as a backdrop. It is also the most un-Islay of the Islay whiskies, being lightly-peated (although they also do heavily-peated versions). A few years ago, their range was relaunched by owners Burn Stewart at a higher strength and un-chill filtered and meant this “new” range was more rugged and “aggressive”, although this beautiful whisky is anything but aggressive.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Moist fruitcake. Sherry. Dates. Sultanas. Lemon. Oak. The clarity of the sherry is stunning!
Palate: Rich and voluptuous. The sherry isn’t so strong as to hide the citrus and fruit underneath. A healthy nip of oak to accompany the vanilla and citrus finish.

Retails for around £70-75

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Gordon & MacPhail Imperial 1996

The Imperial distillery was demolished in 2013 to make way for Chivas Brothers’ space-age, highly efficient and rather beautiful Dalmunach distillery, which was completed in August. What a pity, as Imperial was capable of producing some of the best whisky in Speyside. Its problem was that you either made lots or none at all, due to its immense stills. However efficient the new distillery is, it defies belief that a distillery that could produce whisky of this quality should be demolished. I hope someone bought the old stills with a view to setting up a new distillery at some point in the future. In the meantime, Imperial’s malt is still easy to find. So, what are you waiting for…..?

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Warm apple cake. Rich and juicy. Bananas. Slightly smoky.
Palate: Rich and voluptuous. The sherry isn’t so strong as to hide the citrus and fruit underneath. A healthy nip of oak to accompany the vanilla and citrus finish.
Finish: Creamy. Juicy. Oaky. Tar. Blue licorice disks. Mint toffee with coconut and vanilla on the finish.

Retails for around £70

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Macallan Sienna

This is part of the recent unaged 1824 range, which takes colour as a means of progression from the young and lighter Gold all the way up to the older, dark and heavily-sherried Ruby. This is the second darkest and most expensive of the range and uses a narrow range of first fill sherry casks (using a mix of European and American oak). This expression introduces a rather lovely but un-Macallan-like minty note to the range not evident in any of the other three.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Crisp aromatic, fruity and creamy. Occasionally richer and deeper oaky notes with a blast of menthol and a vegetal (cucumber?) note. White chocolate and orange muffin. Ginger snaps.
Palate: Orangey and oaky at first before the orange fades revealing a sherried depth, but this is a lighter and crisper Macallan. Toffee and spice to finish.

Retails for around £70

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Kilchoman 100% Islay

Kilchoman distillery, located on Rockside farm a few miles to the west of Bruichladdich, began production in June 2005. They are very small and everything about them is authentic and traditional. For this 100% Islay expression, all parts of the production process have taken place at the distillery – from barley to bottle. The barley is grown, malted, distilled, matured and bottled at Kilchoman.

The Whisky Tasting Club Notes:
Nose: Lemony. Nutty. Peaty. Sweet. Salty. Tinned pears.
Palate: Light, sweet and intensely peaty. Lemon, honey and vanilla on the finish.

Retails for around £65

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