Sunday, 27 January 2019

Armorik Sherry Finish

Picture: Distillerie Warenghem
Armorik whisky is produced by Distillery Warenghem in Brittany. They claim to be the first French distillery to bring a whisky and later on a single malt to the market.

The distillery dates back to 1900. Léon Warenghem started distilling l'elixir d'armorique, a liquor containing extracts from 35 plants. His son introduced numerous flavoured liquors such as mint and cassis. In 1983 they started working on the concept a whisky Breton.

Today we'll focus on an entry from the core range. The NAS Sherry finish is bottled at 40% alcohol and serves as an introduction to the brand. It is widely available in French supermarkets.

Identity Card Armorik Sherry Finish

  • Official bottling from Warenghem Distillery, Bretagne (France)
  • NAS French single malt (some sources say 4YO)
  • Maturation in ex-bourbon casks, finished in sherry casks
  • Alcohol: 40% ABV

Tasting notes

Colour: Gold. Fast legs reveal a thin texture.

Nose: Lots of candy, dates and raisins. A whiff of triple sec (Cointreau). Cinnamon and juniper berries. Sweet malt and vanilla. Burnt sugar, dried apricots and almonds.
With water: Caramelized malt, Werther's Original caramel candy. Cinnamon and liquorice candy. Dusty cardboard, oatmeal, oranges and dried mandarin oranges.

Taste: Caramel and oak. A soft and silky mouthfeel. A tiny pinch of pepper with raisins and blue grapes. Even a faint hint of smoke. Honey, nutmeg and brown spiced biscuits or speculoos.
With water: Liquorice candy and/or liquorice root. Salted caramel and buttery nut cake.

Finish: Warm sugar and brown spiced biscuits.

This is a fairly generic whisky from Armorik. There's nothing wrong with it, but it does not excite either. Given the price point, it's a decent daily driver. I've got nothing more to report on this except that I've heard some very good things on their higher strength single casks. So this won't be my last Armorik...

Sample: This Armorik came from a bottle share with a colleague at work coming back from Brittany.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

R&B Raasay While We Wait First Release

R&B Raasay While We Wait First Release
Picture: R&B Distillers

The Raasay Distillery from R&B Distillers was initially part of a diptych dreamed up by Alasdair Day. The Borders distillery has been (temporarily) shelved, but the Raasay distillery is up and running. The first youngster-whisky is to be released somewhere in 2020.

In the meantime, we already got a taste of things to come with the While We Wait whiskies. This single malt is a blend of unpeated and lightly peated malt whisky from the same unnamed distillery. The liquid was finished in Tuscan red wine casks.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

R&B Borders First Release

R&B Borders First Release
Picture: R&B Distillers
R&B Distillers had very big plans in 2015. They wanted to build not one, but two distilleries. One was to be located in the Scottish Borders and another one on the Isle of Raasay. The Raasay Distillery is already producing and will release their first whisky in 2020. The Borders Distillery was to be located in Peebles, but the whole project has been shelved to focus on the Raasay production unit.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Douglas Laing Big Peat Christmas 2018

Big Peat Christmas 2018
Picture: Douglas Laing
Douglas Laing's Big Peat annual festive bottling this year shows our trusty fisherman dressed in Santa Claus outfit, ready to descend a chimney on “his” island home of Islay. The Christmas Edition is a cask strength version of the classic Islay blended malt.

Cara Laing, Director of Whisky at her family’s firm, on the 2018 Christmas edition of Big Peat :
“You can expect a big, ashy, beachy, oceanic and smoky message in the bottle, all the way from the island of Islay. During the festive season, that chimney soot connection seems particularly appropriate, being the entry point of our gift-laden Saint Nick himself. Big Peat’s Christmas limited edition has become truly synonymous with the season, setting us up nicely as we prepare to celebrate his 10th birthday in 2019.”

Identity Card Big Peat Christmas 2018

  • Official bottling from Douglas Laing Remarkable Regional Malts
  • No Age Statement blended malt Scotch whisky
  • Alcohol: 53.9% ABV

Tasting notes

Colour: Light gold. Oily beads transform into thin and fast legs.

Nose: Sweet smoke. Smoked halibut. Preserved lemons and salty sea air. Wood stain mingling with earthy flavours. Wet moss, aniseed and fennel. Beef jerky. Pinewood and resin. White chocolate, pineapple and BBQ smoke.
With water: BBQ ash, salsify, butter and bacon.

Taste: Dry and tingling on the tongue. Wood smoke and violet (Hello Bowmore!). Aniseed and fennel seeds. Coriander and charcoal. Roasted pine nuts. Lavender, juniper berries and wine gums laced with peat smoke.
With water: BBQ fat and canned fruits.

Finish: Warm, smoky, peppery. Smoked paprika and juniper berry.

Douglas Laing Big Peat Christmas 2018

Big Peat's festive edition is a classic peat fest. I could elaborate on the subject but the message is fairly simple: make sure there is a Big Peat Christmas Edition under the Christmas tree.

This is classic Big Peat. Smoky and meaty but nevertheless well-balanced. Our fisherman in Santa attire will never give false promises: a shovelful of Islay single malts from Caol Ila, Bowmore, Ardbeg and (a teaspoon of) Port Ellen.

Bottle image & sample: Douglas Laing

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

A Tasty Dram's 2018 Christmas Guide

A Tasty Dram's 2018 Christmas Guide

The first empty doors of the boozy advent calendars are popping up on social media, Christmas trees are decorated and people are inundating their followers with #whiskysanta wishes. That means it's time to start compiling the annual Christmas gift list for whisky geeks and occasional whisky drinkers.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Gordon & Macphail Private Collection Inverleven 1985

Gordon & Macphail Private Collection Inverleven 1985

Tonight we'll dive into the second release from Gordon & Macphail's new-look Private Collection, a 1985 Inverleven.

The Inverleven Distillery was actually a distillery within a distillery. This compact distillery was built on the Dumbarton grain distillery site. The malt whisky produced on site was used in Ballantine's Scotch whisky. In 1956 Hiram Walker installed an experimental Lomond still at Inverleven.

Much of the distillery equipment was saved from demolition by a team of ten distillery workers from Bruichladdich. The Lomond still - nicknamed "Ugly Betty" is still in use at Bruichladdich to distill The Botanist Gin. The wash and spirit still were also shipped to Bruichladdich but were never used. Nowadays these stills work their magic in Mark Reynier's Waterford Distillery in Ireland.

Identity Card Private Collection Inverleven 1985 cask #562

  • Independent bottling from Inverleven Distillery, Dumbarton (Lowlands)
  • Gordon & Macphail Private Collection
  • Cask #562 - refill bourbon barrel - 130 bottles
  • 1974 vintage single malt Scotch whisky
  • Alcohol: 57.4% ABV
Dumbarton Distillery
Picture: Eddie Mackinnon - Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tasting notes

Colour: Gold in colour with a fat texture.

Nose: Roasted coconut. Sweet and soft. Honey, caramelised pineapple and demerara sugar. Popcorn and sweet apple. Lemon-cheesecake, Key lime pie, linseed oil, orange and candle wax.
With water: Somewhat dustier. Coconut and banana. Vanilla and brioche or sweet buns. Jamaican pepper.

Taste: A peppery start. Having a bite of an unpeeled red apple. Grapes. Coconut and mint versus coffee and caramel. A heap of dark cacao and muesli or granola with seeds and malt.
With water: Vanilla brioche with slices of banana and coconut. Creamy and sweet. Granola sprinkled with brown sugar.

Finish: A long and soft finish. Vanilla, sugar and wood with a touch of mint and heather.

I don't have any previous experience with Inverleven but it's a great start. When re-reading my notes on a 1991 Bladnoch from Malts of Scotland, there are some similarities in the tasting notes. Same region and the same type of barrel but Bladnoch was more widely available than Inverleven.  Solid quality whisky but it comes with a price tag.

Read the full background story on the Inverleven stills on Waterford Distillery's website.

Sample Disclosure: Samples of the new Private Collection were offered by Gordon & Macphail. Opinions expressed in this review remain of course my own.
Bottle Image: Gordon & Macphail Media Centre

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Gordon & Macphail Private Collection Glenrothes 1974

Gordon & Macphail Private Collection Glenrothes 1974

Gordon & Macphail recently revised their entire core range. The Private Collection, featuring rare and older single casks,  are selected by a member of the Urquhart family.

Stuart Urquhart - who also selected cask #512 filled with 1961 Longmorn - picked the first two Private Collection whiskies with the newly designed bottles: a 1974 Glenrothes and a 1985 Inverleven.

The Glenrothes distillery has been in de hands of Edrington and its predecessor for roughly 130 years. The whisky was mainly used in blends such as Cutty Sark from Berry Bros. & Rudd.  Glenrothes as a single malt brand is much younger. The first official 12-year-old whisky first appeared in 1987. This 1974 single cask predates the official single malt whiskies from The Glenrothes.

Monday, 19 November 2018

The Big Fat List of Feis Ile 2019 whiskies

2019 is still some weeks ahead but it's time to start compiling the annual list of upcoming Feis Ile whiskies and events. It is easily one of the most read articles of the first half of the year so without further ado let's dive into the frenzy of the Islay Festival of Malt and Music!

Islay - The American Monument


Ardbeg is always one of the first distilleries that prepares for Feis Ile. The 2019 Ardbeg Drum is a rum-finished single malt. Expect a Carribean themed Open Day!

Ardbeg Drum

Picture: Colas Online

Take Ardbeg Scotch whisky from ex-Bourbon casks, rest it awhile in ex-rum casks from the Americas and you have... Ardbeg Drum. A flamboyant jamboree of flavours with fragrant pine resin, woodsmoke and seaspray dancing alongside ripe banana and pineapple. Lavender, liquorice and vanilla sway into rich dark chocolate before parading into a long smoky finish.

The Scotch Malt Whisky Society

The independent bottler SMWS already has plans to bottle a 10YO Caol Ila for Feis.

SMWS 53.286 - Salt strewn on smoky marmalade (Caol Ila)

SMWS 53.286 - Salt strewn on smoky marmalade
Picture: Colas Online

Source: Colas Public Registry

Entries from the TTB Public Registry (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax & Trade Bureau) are a fairly reliable source for upcoming new whiskies. Although not all entries make it to the market. There’s always the possibility a brand decides not to launch a whisky, even if the label has been approved. Until the distillery sends out a press release, this whisky should be considered a rumour…

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Tomatin 30YO (2018)

Tomatin 30YO (2018)

Tomatin launched in September 2018 a new 30-year old single malt in its range. The new whisky will replace the 1988 Vintage.

The single malt was finished in first-fill ex-bourbon barrels and was bottled at 46% ABV.

The first batch of around 3.000 bottles will market for around £300 or a price close to €337.

Graham Nicolson, Tomatin’s Sales Director, said, “This luxurious expression is elegant and flavourful – a neatly packed whisky with taste sensations to delight the senses. From the spices that add an incredible depth to the creamy buttered vanilla that brings an unbelievable layer of richness – the 30 Year Old is definitely one for every whisky drinker’s gantry."

Monday, 15 October 2018

Halloween Special: Pairing 9 whiskies with classic & contemporary horror movies

Halloween Special: Pairing 9 whiskies with classic & contemporary horror movies

Halloween - or Hallowe'en - is on the doorstep so it's time to open up my cabinet of horror and sci-fi DVDs for a fright night with appropriate drams.

The name Halloween was first used somewhere in the 16th century as a Scottish shortening of the fuller All-Hallows-Even. Scotland's national poet Robert Burns portrayed some of the customs in his poem Halloween. According to Burns, Halloween is "thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other mischief-making beings are all abroad on their baneful midnight errands".

Interested in the 28 stanzas of the poem?

I will once again pick 9 classic horror movies from my collection and pour a matching whisky when the ladies of the house are asleep.

Ready for a long night of horror movies and drams?

Poltergeist (1982) - Glenrothes 13YO Halloween Edition 2018

The Glenrothes distillery in Rothes lies next to the town’s graveyard. For numerous years distillery workers claim to have seen a ghost around the distillery. The ghost was described as a white-haired dark man that resembled Biawa Makalaga, the servant of Major James Grant. After professor Cedric Wilson "had a chat" at Biawa's tombstone, the issue was resolved. Even today it is not uncommon to hear people in Glenrothes doing a “toast to the ghost”. Ghosts, graveyards? Enter the eighties horror classic Poltergeist from Tobe Hooper. A young girl converses with a static TV-channel and a series of supernatural events unfold in the following days. The house had been built upon the site of a cemetery. No surprise that the restless ghosts aren’t exactly friendly to the invading Freeling family… "They're here..."

Glenrothes 13YO Halloween Edition 2018
Picture: The Glenrothes

Horror Express (1972) - Tamdhu Batch Strength

The Tamdhu distillery was built next to the Strathspey railway. Railways were an important part of the logistics chain in the Victorian age to supply distilleries with malted barley and to transport whisky to the brokers and resellers. At first sight, The Horror Express is a classic whodunnit movie. The greater part of the movie is set on the Trans-Siberian Express from Chine to Moscow. A British anthropologist - the late Christopher Lee - travels with a crate containing the remains of a primitive creature. The creature starts a killing spree on the train and slowly its true identity is revealed: a formless extraterrestrial that uses the bodies of living creatures as a host. The two of you together. That's fine. But what if one of you is the monster? - Monster? We're British, you know.

Tamdhu Batch Strength
Picture: Tamdhu

Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) - Bowmore 12

The entry age statement whisky of Islay's Bowmore Distillery is a classic dram. A mixture of sweet heather, honey and dirty smoke. And still readily available for smaller wallets. When looking upon the Bowmore distillery from the coast, it is easy to imagine the infamous boiler room from the teenager's dreams. The habitat of Robert Eglund's character, a ghastly razor-fingered child killer, is filled with smoke and oil fumes. The smell of burnt flesh and sweet perfumy notes of children's bedrooms making it an ideal combo with Bowmore 12. Why are you screaming? I haven't even caught you yet.

Bowmore 12YO
Picture: Bowmore

Rubber (2010) - Kilchoman Loch Gorm

Rubber is a movie about a tire that starts killing people with its psychic powers. Yes, you read it right the first time. The main character is a car tire with a Jack The Ripper attitude. The first victims of Rollin' Robert are a plastic bottle and a scorpion. Our killer-tire learns to use his psychokinetic powers to kill harder targets such as a beer bottle and a rabbit. To make things even a bit more absurd, there is an in-movie audience that gets completely killed-off by the murderous tire. The rubbery notes of Kilchoman sherry-matured single malt are the portal to this movie. I once nickname this whisky "Bicycle repairer in the E.R. after a mud fight". The teamwork between the Oloroso casks and the peaty Kilchoman spirits is almost as good as the bond between Batman and Robin. Smoke and rubber versus fruit and spices. Hey, wait! It's not the end! He's been reincarnated as a tricycle!

Kilchoman Loch Gorm
Picture: Kilchoman

A lonely place to die (2011) - Ben Nevis 10

A group of mountaineers meet up to go hiking in the Scottish Highlands. They discover a young captured Croatian girl and decide to bring her to safety. The rescue party is followed by the kidnappers who are trying to kill them and get the girl back. The movie isn't the biggest name on the list and Ben Nevis 10 has the same reputation. It is not a big name, it is not the most beautiful bottle but the quality is self-evident. A staple in the cabinet. Complacency is a killer out here.

Ben Nevis 10
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

Night of the living dead (1968) - Wigle Deep Cut Rye

Another classic horror movie that never made it to the previous two lists for some unknown reason. George Romero's first big movie wrote down the rules for the next generations of zombie movies. Although the word "zombie" is never used in the movie. Romero referred to the flesh-eating undead as ghouls. Most of the movie was shot in Pittsburgh., so one could see it as the birthplace of zombies. Wigle Distillery calls Pittsburgh the birthplace of American whiskey. Wigle mainly distills organic rye and wheat whiskeys. Too bad it is nearly impossible to find Wigle in Europe. A widespread investigation of funeral homes, morgues, and hospitals has concluded that the unburied dead have been returning to life and seeking human victims.

Wigle Deep Cut Rye
Picture: Wigle

El Dia de la Bestia (1995) - Compass Box Story of The Spaniard

This is a case where I started looking for a movie to go with a certain whisky instead of the other way around. Compass Box's new blend The Story of Spaniard - a mix of Spanish red wine casks, sherry casks and virgin French oak cask - is a permanent addition to the core range. It will join the ranks of Oak Cross, Spice Tree and Peat Monster blended malt. But back to the movie. This Spanish horror comedy revolves around three characters: a Spanish priest committing as many sins as possible, a death metal salesman and the host of an occult TV show. Their mission: preventing the Antichrist to enter our human world. Well, it's fundamental. lt inspired me to see the Apocalypse not as an allegory but as an equation.

Compass Box Story of the spaniard
Picture: Compass Box

Army of Darkness (1992) - Johnnie Walker Black Label

The loud-mouthed braggart Ash Williams returns once again to fight the Deadites and to retrieve the Necronomicon. Sam Raimi's third instalment gained cult fame in the second half of the 90's. Our oneliner-spitting anti-hero ends up in the Middle Ages with his chainsaw, shotgun and Oldsmobile Delta 88. This part comedy part horror movie is dirt cheap, it looks dirt cheap but it has an army of loyal followers. Much like Johnnie Walkers Black label. It's dead cheap, it is far from the best whisky out there but it has a loyal following, even malt maniacs will grab it from time to time. It is a classic blend and a huge step forward compared to the Red Label. Sure, I could have stayed in the past. I could have even been king. But in my own way, I *am* king.

Johnnie Walker Black Label
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

The Birds (1963) - Caol Ila 12

The Birds is but one of the many classics from Alfred Hitchcock. A quiet harbour town, Bodega Bay, suffers from a flock of violent birds. The attacks are always coming in waves and follow a consistent pattern. The birds gather, attack suddenly and disappear again to gather somewhere else. Say hello to mister Consistency that has his roots in a quiet harbour town: Caol Ila. The official 12YO might be a bit underrated but it is damn fine whisky. And the still house offers a perfect view of the sound of Islay. I have never known birds of different species to flock together.

Caol Ila 12
Picture: The Whisky Exchange

What is your favourite Halloween movie en whisky pairing