Thanks for taking the time to do this Sean.
Do you have a favourite glass? Add to the comments section below.
Have you ever wondered how much difference your choice of drinking vessel makes? It has often been a subject of debate amongst Whisky drinkers and one of our intrepid members (Sean) has added his thoughts. His observations on three of the main whisky tasting glasses is really interesting. See his table below.
Thanks for taking the time to do this Sean.
Do you have a favourite glass? Add to the comments section below.
GUESS MY AGE
For many years whisky distillers promoted their product using an age statement and we were told that older is better. 12 years old seemed to be the magical point where whisky became premium and became a ‘quality’ product. Increased demand for whisky in recent years has depleted distilleries stock and many are now struggling to maintain production of 'age statement' whiskies. We now have whisky marketing departments looking for alternate ways to promote such as by colour, or by different types of finish, or by selling single cask versions, or by use of catchy names. Unable to promote quality by an age statement we get flowery descriptions and premium pricing; a £50 bottle must be better than a £25 bottle – right?
So how important is age really? There can be no doubt that longer in the barrel will impart more of the barrel's characteristics into the liquid. But a barrel can be re-used a number of times, and each re-use will diminish the impact it has on the maturing whisky. The quality of the cask is the most important factor in the ageing process, so a shorter period in a high-quality cask will most likely produce a much better whisky than a longer period in an inferior cask. A first fill cask will impart more of the wood qualities than a second fill cask, and so on.
All we can conclude about age statements is that they give some indication of what we are getting for our money. The best way of deciding whether it is worth splurging your hard-earned is to understand your own preferences in a whisky, (Light. Rich, Delicate, Smoky) and read online reviews
Our October meet was a blind tasting of five age statement whiskies, 4, 8, 12, 16 & 20 years old. Only Sean, who led the tasting knew what the drams were and the challenge for the others was to guess the age of the whiskies. The 20 year old was obviously going to be far better than the 4 year old, wasn’t it? Read on to find out!
There was nothing devious in the way the whiskies were selected (nothing scientific either!). All of them were highly rated. All of them were Scottish, four single malts and one blended malt.
Dram #1- Praban Na Linne, Pot Dhubh 8 YO - 43% ABV - £36
Praban Na Linne was founded by Sir Iain Noble in 1976. Poit Dbubh is pronounced "Potch Ghoo" and means "Black Pot", the Gaelic term for an illicit still. This is a blend of Island and Speyside malts. Matured in ex- oak sherry casks and bottled fairly soon after marrying together.
This is a blended malt mainly consisting of Talisker, not surprising as Praban Na Linne is based on Isle of Skye. Some Speyside malts are added to the Talisker in this blend.
Non-chill filtered but may have some E150 added?
Nose: Salt, toffee, spice, honey sweetness
Palate: Full-bodied, salted caramel and vanilla, some chocolate
Finish: Warm with lingering ginger spice
Dram #2 - Glenburgie 20YO, 51.4 ABV - £96
This is a Douglas Laing Old Particular limited release bottling of 336 bottles, matured in a single ex-bourbon hogshead cask. Hogsheads are the second most common barrel used in Scotland after ex-bourbon and are slightly larger than a standard barrel, around 250 litres as opposed to around 200 litres.
Glenburgie was founded in 1829 and is situated between Inverness and Elgin. In 1936 it became closely associated with the Ballantines brand which became part of Chivas Brothers portfolio in 2005. Glenburgie is generally only found in indie bottlings. In fact, their only official release was in 2017, a 15YO under their Ballantines branding. Now discontinued and very difficult to find. The vast majority of their output goes into Ballantines.
Nose: Ripe apples, oak, wet grass.
Palate: Almond cake with vanilla, orange and honey, pineapple sweetness.
Finish: a long mellow finish, fading into white pepper.
Dram #3 - Murray McDavid Benchmark 4 YO Tullibardine Limited Release - 46% ABV - £38
This is a limited release Indy bottling by Murray McDavid from their Benchmark series. Murray McDavid is based in the disused Coleburn distillery in Speyside just south of Elgin. Interestingly they helped re-open the Bruichladdich distillery in 2000 with the help of Jim MacEwan. This whisky was initially aged in ex-Bourbon hogsheads then finished for 16 months in 1st fill PX casks. Release of 1338 bottles (three casks). Non-chill filtered, no colourants. On the cap of their bottles is the Gaelic logo “Claichan a Choin” which translates to ‘The Dogs Bollocks’!
Tullibardine is one of the most southerly of the Highland distilleries, situated between Stirling and Perth and founded in 1949. Was owned by White and Mackay until 2003 then acquired by a consortium of individuals calling themselves Tullibardine Ltd. Output around 2M bottles per year. They do not release age statement whisky, only by vintage year
Nose: Vanilla, toffee, as in Werther’s Originals, and dark fruits
Palate: Chocolate, crème brulee, dried fruit
Finish: Sweet and spicy with a tannic finish. A little one-dimensional
Dram #4 - Old Pultney 12YO - 40% ABV - £25
A Highland malt matured in ex-Bourbon casks this is part of their core range
Old Pulteney distillery was founded in 1826 is situated at Wick right up at the top north-east of Scotland, not far from John O’Groats. Has been owned by Inver House (Ancnoc, Balmenach, Knockdu Speyburn) since 1995.
Nose: Fresh and floral with lemon and orange notes
Taste: Fresh with sweet honey and citrus. Slightly salty. One person described it as alcoholic Lilt!
Finish: Oak spices, citrus fruits, salty tang.
Dram #5 Daluaine 16 YO Flora and Fauna. 43% ABV - £59
The only information I can find is that this is a Sherry cask bottling. Does that mean it is fully matured or finished in a Sherry cask? The latter I imagine.
Daluaine is Gaelic for Green Vale and was founded in 1852 and sits in the Spey Valley about 20 miles south of Elgin. It merged with Talisker in 1891. In 1899 it was the first distillery to be fitted with a pagoda style roof. The Iconic Pagoda style roof was designed by Charles Doig to improve ventilation in the malting area of whisky distilleries – nowadays they are more of a decoration as only a few distilleries still do their own malting. Now owned by Diageo, this 16YO is their only official bottling. There are some indie bottlings that tend to be expensive. The vast majority of their output goes into Johnny Walker blends. ‘Flora and Fauna’ is a brand used by Diageo to release single malt whisky from some of their lesser-known distilleries.
NOSE: Treacle sponge, butterscotch, apricots in brandy.
PALATE: Rich, sweet and warming. Some citrus fruits adding freshness, toffee. One person described it as a caramel cowboy!
FINISH: Warming, slightly nutty and drying.
So how did we all do?
Nobody correctly guessed the 20YO or the 4YO. Three got the 16YO, two got the 12YO, and four got the 8YO. This was never going to be an easy challenge. Maybe the most interesting result was that 6 of the 9 participants thought that the 4YO was in fact the 20YO. This is probably down to good cask selection and maturation of the 4YO Tullibardine by Murray McDavid.
When rated in order of preference we had
1st place – Daluaine 16YO - £59
2nd place – Tullibardine 4YO - £38
3rd place - Glenburgie 20YO - £96
4th place – Old Pultney 12YO - £25
5th place – Poit Dbubh 8YO - £36
The one most of us (6 out of 10) would buy was the Daluaine
There were no whiskies tonight that weren’t perfectly good drams. I could have chosen 5 different whiskies and we would have got different results. It was intended as a bit of fun, and at SWC we like a bit of fun!
Peat, Peat, Re-peated
Alan hosted the online tasting this evening featuring peated whiskies. Alan is what we call a ‘sherry head’ and not the biggest fan of peated whiskies, so it was going to be interesting finding out what whiskies he would choose. As it turned out, it was a great selection, but more about that later.
Peated whiskies can sometimes be a little challenging, especially for people in the early stages of their whisky journey.
Peated whiskies came about because of the use of peat as a fuel used for drying the barley prior to distillation. This adds phenol compounds to the liquid resulting in a smoky characteristic. In the early days of Scottish distilling, when peat was used almost exclusively as fuel for the drying of barley, most whiskies would have had an element of peatiness in their flavour profile.
There is a very broad range of peated whiskies from very lightly (almost undetectable) peated through to very heavily peated. Peats from different geographic regions will impart differing aromas and tastes, and the amount of exposure to peat and the length of time in contact impacts the level of peatiness.
The level of peatiness is measured in phenol parts per million (ppm). Lightly peated whisky, Highland Park 12YO for example, are around 20 ppm; heavily peated whiskies, Laphroaig 10YO for example, are around 40ppm. Bruichladdich released one of its Octomore range at an astonishing 309ppm. Does that mean it tastes 7 or 8 times more peaty than the Laphroaig? No, it doesn’t – ppm is a measure of the phenols in the malted barley and not the level of phenol in the finished liquid. There is a lot of debate in the whisky world as to how the level of peatiness should be measured and at what point in the distillation process, but we’re not going to go into that here.
So, what whiskies did Alan line up for our tasting?
Balvenie 14YO ‘Week of Peat’: 48.3% ABV, £55
Balvenie is better known for its sherried whiskies, but one week of the year they distil using Speyside peated malt at around 30ppm
Nose: A whisp of gentle smoke with floral and honey notes.
Taste: Light smoke, then citrus fruits, apricot, honey sweetness and slight saltiness
Finish: Charcoal, creamy sweet, lingering pepper spice, and saltiness.
Ardbeg 8YO Committee Release ‘For Discussion’: 50.8% ABV, £57
A special release from the Islay based distillery aged in Sherry casks. Ardbeg describe this as a youthful and challenging whisky, encouraging people to give feedback and discuss on social media. Some of us at SWC think that this may be a hint that Ardbeg is thinking of introducing this, or another 8YO, as a replacement for its current 10YO baseline release. Ppm not given, but we would expect it to be in the region of 40-50ppm from Ardbeg.
Nose: Lots of smoke, toffee sweetness, slightly medicinal, creosote and liquorice.
Taste: Warming peppery spice, smoke, caramel, aniseed, some savoury flavours in background
Finish: Long and drying with cloves and peat smoke.
Talisker Distillers Edition: 45.8% ABV, £50
The Skye based distillery took its standard 10YO expression and gave it some ageing in an Amoroso Sherry cask to add some additional depth. Barley malted at 25ppm
Nose: Salt, seaweed, old briny rope, raisins, ginger biscuit, butterscotch, earthiness
Taste: Reminiscent of a bonfire, smoke, salty peat, and jammy sweetness
Finish: Long and drying with peppery notes and bitter dark chocolate
Kilchoman Original Cask Strength 2nd Release 2016: 56.9% ABV, £80
From the farm-based Islay distillery, this is now hard to find, and price is increasing as a result. Matured for 6 years in ex-Bourbon quarter casks and peated to 20ppm
Nose: A hit of smoke, caramel sweetness, apricots, and some salt
Taste: Peat smoke to the fore with citrus fruits and spicy wood
Finish: Creamy sweetness and smoke.
Tomatin Cù Bòcan Creation #2: 46% ABV, £49
The Cù Bòcan releases from Tomatin, based in the Scottish Highlands, are produced during winter for only one month each year and are finished in experimental casks. The release #2 is aged in ex-Japanese Scochu and European virgin oak casks. 15ppm. In case you are wondering, Schochu is a very popular drink in Japan, typically around 25% ABV.
Nose: Sweet and floral, citrus, pineapple, lavender
Taste: Very fresh, pineapple sweetness, white pepper, vanilla.
Finish: Sharp citrus, almost sour like lemon zest, orange marmalade
How did we rate them? The top three were separated by the finest of margins with the Kilchoman Original Cask Strength taking first place followed by Talisker Distillers Edition and the Balvenie Week of Peat. The Ardbeg and Cù Bòcan, left us divided, some liking, some not, and that reflected in their scores with the Ardbeg in fourth place and Tomatin’s Cù Bòcan #2 trailing some way behind. The Ardbeg was generally felt to be over-priced and their 10YO is much better value for money. The Cù Bòcan would be a nice whisky for a sunny summer afternoon, but the use of these particular experimental casks left us unimpressed and none of us could detect the influence of peat. One of us described it as alcoholic 7 Up!
Which bottle would we be tempted to buy for our own personal collections? This was split between our top three with the Balvenie just shading it from the Talisker and Kilchoman.
Many thanks to Alan for an excellent selection.
THE COTSWOLDS – SSWI (Site of special whisky interest)
This month was a very special tastîng with Dan Svor, the founder of the Cotswold distillery. Less than 30 miles away from SWC base, it is a distillery that we are very familiar with, and we have followed its development from initial conception, the first distillation in 2014, the inaugural release in 2017 to the multiple award-winning distillery it is today. Many of us invested some of our dosh giving us a prized bottle or two of the coveted first whisky to be released and an invite to the inaugural release party. Even though we are very familiar with the Cotswold distillery and its offerings, it was a great opportunity to have a catch up and to introduce some of our newer members to our local distillery.
We started off the evening by tasting:
White Pheasant New Make Barley Spirit: 63.5% ABV, £38 (500ml bottle)
As it comes out of the still with no maturation. At this point it is not whisky, as by law whisky must have matured for three years in oak barrels. It gives a great insight into the core characteristics imparted by the distilleries production process.
Nose: Tropical fruit, banana, and mint. Slightly musty.
Taste: Initially some heat from the high ABV fading into tropical fruits, pear drops and spices
Finish: Warming clove and cinnamon spices
Single Malt: 46% ABV, £38
Produced from barley grown in the Cotswolds and matured in a combination of ex bourbon and red wine STR (Shaved, Toasted, Re-charred) barrels.
Nose: Butterscotch, light fruits, citrus, orange zest
Taste: Apricot, butterscotch, cinnamon, and white pepper
Finish: Vanilla with oak spices giving an oily, spicy finish
Founder’s Choice: 60.5% ABV, £65
A cask strength whisky matured in American oak red wine STR (Shaved, Toasted, Re-charred) barrels.
Nose: Dark fruits, oats, orange, and ginger
Taste: Cloves and ginger, figs, cherries
Finish: Spicy oak, dried fruits
Sherry Cask: 57.4% ABV, £65
Distilled from locally grown barley and then matured in a combination of American and Spanish casks seasoned with Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry
Nose: Fruit cake, brown sugar, cherries, roasted coffee beans
Taste: Figs, raisins, almonds, vanilla
Finish: Peppery spice and dark fruits
Peated Cask: 59.3% ABV, £65
Aged in ex-Laphroaig quarter casks, much smaller than standard casks giving a greater exposure to the oak staves and imparting more flavour in a shorter period of time.
Nose: Vanilla and oaky spices. A whisp of smoke, not as much as you might expect.
Taste: Mild smokiness, wood tannins, light fruit, salt
Finish: Lingering peat smoke and honey sweetness
Another great evening! Dan has a very refreshing, straightforward, and frank approach to the subject of whisky that encourages discussion. All of the whiskies are top-notch and, overall, the Founder’s Choice was our favourite, closely followed by the Peated Cask and the Sherry Cask. The Single Malt came in last - it’s not a bad whisky, it’s just that the other three were more complex in character. That complexity comes with a premium of around £27. Are they worth it? Oh yes!
Thanks to Jo for organising this event.
Does Blending Whiskies Give Mixed Results?
For the uninitiated, the difference between a single malt, a single grain, a blended malt, and a blended whisky can be somewhat confusing. A single malt whisky, and a single grain whisky, are often a blend of whiskies from different casks, albeit from the same distillery. A blended malt, sometimes called a vatted malt, is a blend of single malt whiskies from different distilleries. A blended whisky is a blend of grain whisky and malt whisky. How’s that for clarity?
There is a common misconception that a single malt is better than a blended malt or a blended whisky. Generally, it is true that blended whiskies are less expensive than single malts, but that doesn’t mean they are inferior, and there are many blended whiskies that put some single malts to shame. Quite often blended whiskies are produced to achieve a price point, but it can also be a technique to produce a spirit that is better than its constituent parts. That being said, all that really matters with any whisky is whether you enjoy drinking it.
No prizes for guessing our theme for May! Paul selected four blended whiskies and one ‘secret’ whisky.
Dewar’s 15 YO: 40% ABV, £42
Dewar’s was founded in 1846 as a wine and spirit merchant, receiving a royal warrant in 1898, which it continues to hold to this day. Dewar's pioneered the process of "marrying" the whisky in oak casks to allow the blend to age as one within the casks. After the blend is created, the whisky is returned to an oak cask and allowed to mature.
Nose: Very fresh, green apples, fino sherry sweetness
Taste: Vanilla ice cream, orange zest, white pepper
Finish: Initial sweetness then pepper. Slightly drying.
Monkey Shoulder Batch 27: 40% ABV, £22
Blended by William Grant & Sons using single malts from a number of undisclosed Speyside distilleries. William Grant owns three Speyside distilleries, Balvenie, Kininvie and Glenfiddich, so we can be sure that these provide a major part of the blend. Monkey Shoulder, by the way, is the name of a medical condition common amongst the distillery workers on the malt house floor.
Nose: Baked apple pie, vanilla, toffee, orange
Taste: Orange mixed with vanilla and wood spices
Finish: Ginger spice with a little sweetness
Compass Box Menagerie: 46% ABV, £90
Compass Box is a highly regarded blender, founded in 2000 and headquartered in London. They have gained a reputation for challenging the strict edicts of the SWA (Scottish Whisky Association) and their campaign for transparency in the whisky industry. Their Menagerie release is a blended malt with single malts coming from Mortlach, Deanston, Laphroaig, and Glen Elgin distilleries, together with some of their own Highland Blend.
Nose: Vanilla ice cream, honey, fino sherry
Taste: Very fruity, some peat and lemon drizzle cake
Finish: Again fruity, subtle peat and refreshing lemon sherbet
Timorous Beastie: 46.8% ABV, £32
A Highland blended malt from Douglas Laing & Co, made with whiskies from Dalmore, Glen Garioch, Glengoyne and others. Douglas Lang has been blending whisky since 1946. The name of this release is a homage to Robert Burn’s famous poem.
Nose: Oranges, green apples, cream
Taste: Sweet and fresh, wood spices, honey, some peat and minerality
Finish: Pepper, honeyed sweetness and just a little peat.
….and the secret dram was…
Lismore 21YO Legend: 43% ABV, £52
Lismore do not disclose where this single malt was distilled, but widely rumoured to be Glenfarclas. The Lismore range was introduced in the 1950’s by William Lundie & Co. In 2004 the brand was sold to J&G Grant who own Glenfarclas distillery which now blends and bottles the Lismore range.
Nose: Jam tarts, almond, vanilla, melon, sherry
Taste: Milk chocolate, figs, cherries, cinnamon spice
Finish: Short for a 21YO, initially spicy then plummy sweetness
…and our ratings were… Compass Box Menagerie in first place just shading it from Timorous Beastie, followed by Lismore 21YO, Dewars 15YO and Monkey Shoulder.
Interestingly, this puts two blended malts ahead of the single malt. This is an ‘honest’ result as none of us knew that there was a single malt in the tasting until it was revealed after the tastings were finished.
The club recently introduced another question after the tastings, which one would you buy? Even though a whisky might come first in the tasting, it can have a high price tag, so this gives us the opportunity to vote for the one we feel is best value for money. This month's winner was fairly easy to predict, it came second in the tasting and only costs £32 - Timorous Beastie walks away with the coveted title of our recommended whisky of the month.
Our get-together this month was a fascinating and informative online tasting led by Danny Saltman and Saul Taylor of DS Tayman Independent Bottlers introducing four of their current range of whiskies and a Speyside new make spirit. DS Tayman specialise in single cask, single malt Scotch whiskies. Each cask is specially selected for appearance, smell, and flavour before being finished in Israeli wine casks giving unique characteristics to their limited releases. All of their whiskies are Kosher.
New Make – Undisclosed Speyside Distillery: 63.5% ABV, £49
A bonus, being able to try a new make spirit before any maturing or finishing.
Nose: Green apples, creamy natural yoghurt
Taste: Initially some heat from the high ABV fading into fruit, liquorice, aniseed, and spices
Finish: Fruity, mild white pepper.
Linkwood 12 YO Galil Cask Finish: 46% ABV, £49
A Speyside whisky matured in a refill hogshead cask and then finished in a Galil wine cask. Galil is a wine producer based in the mountainous north of Israel not too far from the Sea of Galilee.
Nose: Very floral, creamy, buttered toast
Taste: Pear drops, green apples, citrus, Victoria sponge
Finish: Lingering spice with ginger notes
Linkwood 12YO Flam Cask Finish: 46% ABV, £49
As above but this time finished in a Flam cask for 18-20 months, letting us taste the results of the differing finish casks. Flam is a wine producer based in the mountains around Jerusalem.
Nose: Creamy baked apples
Taste: Stewed fruit and cinnamon
Finish: A slightly drying finish with some oak spices, but less spicy than the Galil finished version
Blair Athol 12YO Flam Cask Finish: 46% ABV, £49
A Highland whisky finished in a Flam cask.
Nose: Salted caramel, apples, mandarin jelly
Taste: An oily mouthfeel, with milk chocolate and tart fruits
Finish: Drying tannins and black pepper spiciness at end
Caol Ila 12YO Flam Cask Finish: 46% ABV, £49
This time an Islay whisky finished in a Flam cask
Nose: Tooty fruity sweets, meaty, medicinal
Taste: Peat smoke, coastal salt, red fruits, and rich coffee
Finish: More smoke then saltiness and meaty tannins to finish
A very informative tasting with two excellent and amusing hosts from an Indy bottler not that well known in the UK. The whiskies we sampled were very unusual, very palatable and pitched at a very reasonable price point for a single barrel, single malt Scotch whisky. Any of these would be a great addition to your whisky shelf and make a good talking point. Overall, we preferred the Caol Ila Flam finished dram (a word of warning - we are big fans of just about any Caol Ila release). If you like some peat smoke, then this is the one to go for. It isn’t heavily peated, but if you prefer no peat, any of the others would be an equally good choice. Many thanks to Danny and Saul for a great evening.
Stroud Whisky Club will be writing about the Whiskies we try as well as general points of interest about the drink we love.