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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Most Recent Whisky

Most Recent Whisky Review

Glenfiddich Fire and Cane

This release is part of the Glenfiddich Experimental series and bottled at 43% ABV (which is quite unusual from Glenfiddich).   It is a peated malt that is finished in rum casks, hence the Fire and Cane (as in sugarcane)  name.  The nose is smokey, but more camp fire rather than strong peat.  Fire before the Cane.  The taste is spicy and nutty, chocolate, pepper, brown sugar and some honey and a hint of the phenol from peat.  The finish is a little hot, like eating burnt cake batter off a wooden spoon.  Water brings up more brown sugar and some lemon peel.  Very nicely done but not sure I would pair peat and rum casks, personnally I prefer peat and sherry casks.

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  • Simon Seaton

    Simon Seaton

    Thursday, 23 July 2015 03:42

    The Singleton of Glendullan 12 year old

    A perfectly acceptable and well made single malt (but not a single cask as the slightly cheeky name alludes to) but like many others this suffers from being just being pretty good. Even the name of the distillery…. glenDULLan… is a little too close to truth for comfort. The nose is sweet and fruity with vanilla and something a little fragrant and perfumed. The taste is creamy on the palate and quite rich with toffee, coffee, honey and some woodiness. The finish is dry with more wood and black tea tannins and strongly suggests some sherry in the maturation process somewhere.

    Thursday, 23 July 2015 03:35

    A Lesson in Technology from 1880

    As the Great Labelling Debate around words like “Small Batch”, “Artisan”, “Traditional” and “Handmade” continues apparently forever and mega distillers, micro distillers and even Pepsi (see last blog) cling to the word “craft” like a sailor clings to wreckage in a storm it seems to me that the value in these labels must be that people perceive it to be a better product.   It is rare on Scottish distillery tour if at least once the guide doesn’t point to a particular piece of equipment – usually the spirit safe – and explain how it was “the original one and built in eighteen blah de blah” as if somehow installing one less than 200 years old would run afoul of the SWA regulations and ruin the flavour. I can assure you that plenty of average to poor whisky has flowed through old equipment; Bruichladdich with their vintage and largely original Victorian distillery for example has had a few lows as well as lots of highs. However in general most whisky people seem to value “handmade” and by default see “technology” as somehow a bad thing. I have also observed the same people often seem to prefer it if their whisky was made by a character and have nice signature printed on the label to prove it. I have met plenty of whisky (and other industry) characters; often it is just a polite way of saying “important but occasionally grumpy bastard”. If someone put “Made mainly by Computers” on the label and the bottle was signed by a member of MegaDrinkCorp’s Graduate Trainee program people would run screaming but in many cases it is might be closer to the truth than many of the labels we see today.

    With this in mind I recently made a trip to Alaska and was killing time in Anchorage airport when I found a museum style diorama (see picture) depicting the traditional method the Athabascan tribes, native to the Cook Inlet, used to hunt beluga whales.   It involved a massively complex system to find a spruce tree, create a platform out of the root structure, drag it out into the inlet at low tide and erect it. Then one hunter would climb onto the platform wait until the tide came in and for the whales to come by, then harpoon it and the others would come out and help drag it in.   I read this story, utterly absorbed and fascinated and then at the end read how the last time someone hunted for beluga like this was 1880 – ironically about the time that all those Scottish distilleries were all installing their “vital to the taste” spirit safes – because then they got rifles and could shoot the belugas from safety of beach. Ta da! Technology arrived. I am pretty sure and will go out on a limb (out on a limb – come on that is a hilarious Athabascan hunting on Spruce tree platform related joke) and say no-one complains that their blubber doesn’t taste the same when it isn’t traditionally hunted. Google reveals no whale blogs with reviews along the lines of “I can taste notes of the spruce platform and harpoon tang in the meat”.

    I suspect there is not a major “craft Beluga blubber” craze sweeping Southeast Alaska. At the end of the day technology provided a better way to hunt. It is clear that sometimes technology can also provide us with a better way to make whisky and it makes no sense to me to reject something (or for that matter enthusiastically embrace something) because of the way it is made and then labelled. We simply should try it first. It’s a radical idea I know… but like the whale hunter who bought that first rifle and thought “Hey this just might work” I suggest we at least consider it.

    OK whisky people, regardless of what a Florida judge may say, can we all agree it is now time to take the word "craft" out back and shoot it in the head like a diseased dog as it has become totally meaningless as Pepsi announce launch of their "craft soda". Time to call a good class action attorney? Mmmm a "good class action attorney".... add that to the list of sentences I thought I would never write.

    http://m.nydailynews.com/life-style/eats/pepsi-introduce-craft-soda-line-article-1.2247719

    Thursday, 11 June 2015 00:59

    Deoch an Doras Glenugie 30 year old

    This one will take a little explaining.  Deoch an Doras is a series of rare whiskies from Chivas Brothers that are no longer produced and Glenugie was a Highland distillery in Peterhead (a fishing port north of Aberdeen) that closed in 1983.  That is the distiilery closed, not the town (although that would explain my last visit there).  This bottle was distilled in 1980 and bottled at 52.13% ABV in 2011.  The nose has wood and campfire notes, with spice and heat from alcohol and dried fruits.  The taste is sharp at first with more wood, leather, dark chocolate and dried fruit.  A little dry and astrigent showing signs of both its age and sherry wood home for three decades.  Lacks a little sweetness for my palate.  The finish is all wood at first with some more chocolate and cinnamon at end.  Overall very nice and but like me starting showing some signs of age.

    Thursday, 11 June 2015 00:45

    Alberta Rye Dark Batch

    This one of those whiskies that I like and would choose even though I know there are "better" whiskies out there because of how I found it.  I was given a mini bottle while playing golf on a perfect day in Las Vegas and I really enoyed the day, the company and the whiskey.  The, nose is subtle with some vanilla and spices and a little cafe latte.  The taste is dry and fruity (sherry influence is clear) with cocoa and raisins and even a little creamy though some more grainy spirit notes push through.  The finish is spicy with pepper, milk chocolate and quite long.

    Thursday, 11 June 2015 00:38

    Garrison Brothers Single Barrel

    This single barrel edition was bottled exclusively for Reserve 101 at 47% ABV after being aged for 3 years under the hot Texas sun in Hye.  The nose is rich with familiar fresh paint and spicy notes.  The taste is sharp and spicy with toffee, marshmallow, coffee, fruits and even cola. Overall sweet and spicy.  The finish is woody and and gets a little hot.  At the end of the day timing is everything and this is very good and complex but I am not sure it could stand much more maturation under that Texas sun.... 

    Thursday, 11 June 2015 00:34

    Cutty Sark Prohibition Edition

    This is a blend with more than a little oomph at 50% ABV.  The nose has a little smoke and a lot of citrus zest.  The taste has more lemon, pepper, toffee and the smoke comes through as tobacco.  The finish is perfumed, dry and with a little more smoke.

    At the risk of never getting free samples from Beam and others ever again (oh wait… I never get free samples from Beam or others anyway) I thought I would express my thoughts on current US class action law suits launched against Beam, and many potentially many others, regarding the use of terms like “hand made” and “craft”. To keep this blog brief I will focus the debate around Makers Mark which is one of my favorite bourbons, that way it is clear this entry is not a hidden agenda or “spurned blogger with axe to grind” kind of thing. Also, as a fan of Makers, I have been to their distillery and seen it for myself so I can have an opinion on their production which is harder for me to do with other whiskies and spirits caught up in this.   I should also mention that I am a minor shareholder in a small “craft” distillery in London, The London Distillery Company, so I have some experience regarding production in that environment also. Mostly my experience to date involves writing checks to them.   (When asked about this investment my usual response is to recall Richard Branson’s line; the fastest way to become a millionaire is to start out as a billionaire and then start an airline.   However I am not a lawyer (or a billionaire). I do not understand class actions suits and I don’t understand burden of proof in such cases. This is not a legal discussion but my opinion on what these terms mean and how they are used by this industry.

    Those being sued, like Beam, are of course keeping their arguments for court as they have to, but what little comment they have made has been less than compelling to me. The idea that their manufacturing processes are in fact posted on their websites and so all you have to do is search the internet, locate their webpage, identify the videos you want to watch, stream those and then make you own mind up if it is indeed handmade as the bottle says. When am I supposed to do this? In the liquor store? Clearly Beam’s lawyers don’t have T Mobile data services.

    While I have seen some quite visceral reactions to the lawyers who are bringing the class action suit, I have not seen that many leap to the industry’s defence. With one exception… www.bourbonguy.com penned a very spirited defence on April 7th (free joke there – enjoy) that making bourbon is indeed a craft because so much of it happens away from the manufacturing plant (yup I said it) and the real magic happens in the barrel and in the blending. I agree this is a great argument. I think this is what makes bourbon (and other whiskies) so special. I believe I could, with a few hours training, operate a still but I could not make a batch of Knob Creek (although there are times I have thought whoever blends Basil Haydens could use a few more hours of schooling). Based on this logic however I think Tito of Tito’s vodka (also being sued as they claim to be handcrafted) might want to pour himself a stiff drink because they don’t have that argument. Going straight from “still to bottle” is not a good look for this case.

    I understand all of this because I have invested time and money to learn about whiskey but I am not so sure the judge will see it the same way.   Huge production sites with shiny stainless steel equipment everywhere and scale that simply does not scream “craft” to the layman. I also think massive sales volumes for products like Makers Mark won’t help either. I worked in enough oil and gas facilities to know there is nothing in a distillery that you could not walk into any of the Texas City petrochemical plants and find and I seriously doubt I could get away with selling hand crafted gasoline to hipster car owners. To use another metaphor, for me the problem is Beam have been found next to the body with a gun in their hand and a bad case of amnesia and despite whatever actually happened it really doesn’t look good. There has been some abuse of labelling without a doubt and I fear that some of the “good guys” will be on the wrong side of this decision at the end of the day. Perhaps it is time for Beam to accept a deal from the DA’s office? If it turns out the judge does dismiss the law suit then be on the lookout for Seaton’s Handcrafted in Texas Gasoline coming to a gas station near you soon.

    Friday, 01 May 2015 07:27

    The Macallan No. 6

    I was fortunate to get to try this very rare expression (only 200 bottles were produced and packaged in Lalique crystal) at a Macallan masterclass in Las Vegas at the Nth Whisky Experience in March 2015.  The sample was a little small (no surprise there) so I am recording these notes more for historical record than anything else.  The nose is fruity and delicious with toffee and dark chocolate.  The taste is rich and creamy with more toffee, pepper and classic Oloroso sherry notes.  The finish is also very sherry led.  A fantastic tasting dram for sure and generous of Macallan to pour at a tasting event.

    Friday, 01 May 2015 07:21

    The Macallan Rare Cask

    I dont know too much about this expression, but I got to try it for first time at a recent Macallan masterclass with US brand ambassador Kieron Elliot.    The nose has toffee and dark fruits, a classic sherry led Macallan nose.  The taste is sweet with a light mouthfeel, caramal, coffee, malt and with water a little orange.  The finish is sweet and long with hints of barley sugar.

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    Random Whisky

    The Arran Malt Amarone Cask Finish

    This expression bottled at 50% ABV and finished in Italian red wine casks. The nose has malt fruit cake and a bite of alcohol. Sweet and spicy. The neat taste is a little robust and harsh with dried sweet fruits, vanilla, pepper, orange peel, chocolate and spices. The finish is hot and oaky and shows some youth (this is a No Age Statement expression so it almost certainly contains some younger spirit). It is better with a little water, it gets smoother with some brown sugar notes. Overall complex and tasty but a little rough around the edges.