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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

    Friday, 11 November 2011 03:39

    Red Breast 12 year old

    My first pot still whiskey and my favorite, and the good news is it is quite easy to find and great value.  The nose is simply delicious, floral and full of red apple fruit and vanilla.  Reminded me a little of juicy fruit gum.  The taste is smooth and sweet, with some spice, vanilla and caramel. This whiskey is mouth filing and rich.  It has a long but gentle finish a hint of ginger.  The taste really delivers on the nose and every time I taste this I get something different.  In case you couldn't tell, I love this whiskey.
    The last distillery in my 2011 grand slam of the British distilleries (my self titled plan to visit a distllery in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2011), I managed to get to Bushmills just a couple of weeks before we returned to the USA in July 2011.  I was a bit underwhelmed by this one.  I realize I am a bit of whiskey fanatic and Bushmills obviously cater to the tourist, but even so I felt like they could try a little harder considering they charged over $10 and the still house was closed and off limits "due to maintenance".  Lots of attention, as you might expect, on their dubious claims surrounding the 1608 distilling licences granted by James I and a stroll around the facilities before some samples in their rather nice bar and shop.  I went for the Black Bush and I have to say I liked it.  The highight for me was actually the night before, sitting in the excellent restaurant of the Old Bushmills Inn, drinking a glass of Bushmills 16 year old single malt after a walk that afternoon around The Giant's Causeway. A great way to celebrate my 2011 grand slam.
    Thursday, 10 November 2011 02:23

    Bailie Nicol Jarvie (BNJ)

    I first picked a bottle of this up in Oddbins in Cults, attracted by the rather unusual label and value price.  It is a smooth and floral whisky and pleasant if a little oaky, and certainly nothing wrong with it (can you tell I wasn't taking detailed notes in 2009?).  However the simple fact is, for all the times I went back in that shop (and it was a lot until the Great Odbbins Closure of 2011)  I never felt compelled to buy another bottle again.  There was always something more interesting and appealing to buy even at that lower price point.  I like blends, I really do, and so I promise to revisit and do some more detailed tasting notes, but I feel the overall impression I was left with says more than any detailed notes can.  

    Update:  Here are some more detailed notes that I took after buying a 5 cl miniature on www.whiskyexchange.com in April 2012.  The nose has malt, fruity pear drops and a floral note, maybe even marzipan.  The taste is very smooth, more malt, caramel and then builds into an oaky, bitter finish with some of the flowers and esters from the nose.   With water the mouthfeel gets a little richer and it gets a little more peppery in the finish.  Definately a little better than I remembered.

    Wednesday, 09 November 2011 22:58

    Snow Grouse

    You get the distinct impression that after the Black Grouse the Famous Grouse marketing department came up with the name first and then looked for product to fit.  I followed the instructions on the bottle and chilled in the freezer and drank it ice cold (and quickly) so tasting notes are bit irrelevent, it was never meant to be sipped or savoured.  It's fun drink, presuambly targeting a completely different drinking demographic than their traditional products and I admire Famous Grouse for doing something different.  When served from the freezer it has no nose and tastes very cold and the mouth feel is thick and syrupy.  It leaves a not unpleasant, slight vanilla after taste.  If you like this sort of thing (and occasionally I do) then buy some and let's get the party started.
    Wednesday, 09 November 2011 18:49

    St George's Distillery, Norfolk, England

    English whisky sounds like an oxymoron. How can whisky be English? Well apparently there is no reason why not, it just can't be scotch whisky, and here we go with some more Scotch and Irish whisky industry myth busting.  Apparently a good distillery doesn't require a special, preferably magical, spring of gentle soft water, a hundred years of tradition and a master distiller who has worked on the site since he was 6 years old and was born in a cottage in the distillery grounds.   Apparently you can just build a distillery and make good whisky.  Who knew (other than the folks at Penderyn)?  You can also build a nice gift shop and a small café to go with it and attract a healthy trade in tourists.

    A different spin on the distillery tour, in that rather than a standard  tour guide (usual attire at the large Scottish tours include tartan skirt, blue jumper, a branded rain jacket or fleece and name tag) after a short video (I have seen better) the distiller comes and talks to you about the distillery and the process and then leads you around the small site.  I really enjoyed this interaction with the person who actually makes the whisky.  This particular distiller had been working in the brewing industry prior to coming to St Georges just a few years previously.  He was not born in a cottage on the site.  He also discussed St Georges water source, a hard water at 360 ppm Calcium, which is very different to the soft water espoused in Scotland.  Even Glenmorangie who famously use "hard water" in Scotland only has 160 ppm Calcium.  The process, other than aforementioned water hardness, is exactly the same as the major distilleries in Scotland with pot still double distillation at its core (unlike Penderyn) and as far as I could tell it would meet all criteria for being single malt scotch whisky if the whole operation was transplanted north of the border.  The other difference is they claim due to warmer climate in Norfolk, the whisky matures quicker so even the young expressions were comparable to the 10 to 12 years single malts from Scotland.

    At the end of tour we tasted both the peated and non-peated expressions and I bought a bottle of Chapter 9, the peated one, and if you want you can read my review (3 out of 4stars).  I liked them both.  English whisky can be good.   I also a bought a coffee mug with the words "I would be rather be drinking English whisky" but that has since gone missing from my office!

    I later realised that I had now visited a distillery in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (Jameson) and only a trip to Bushmills in Northern Ireland would be required to complete a distillery visit in every country in the British Isles.

    I visited this distllery in July 2006 and that trip probably more than anything else stirred my interest,  now a full fledged passion, in whiskey.  We were on vacation in Cork in part because my mother's side of the family (maiden name Bradley) came from Cork.  This tour was simply on our list of things to do.  Up until that time I was a social scotch drinker, probably because my father always had a bottle in the house growing up so my brother and I had to learn to like scotch or not drink at family events.  We chose to drink.  I dont remember much of the actual tour other than the guide at almost every point in the process pointed out the difference between Irish and Scotch and the reason why Irish was better.  It felt like they were actively trying to convert Scotch drinkers (I was once in Salt Lake City and the tour guides there also tried to convert you, in their case to Mormanisim, it pretty much felt the same).  They really pressed home that they they didnt use peat in the malting process and that triple distillation created a much sweeter and smoother spirit.  It almost came across as a bit desperate, as if they had an inferiorty complex, because so much attention was put into Scotch rather than focussing on their product.

    At the tasting at the end of the tour they offered two samples, one of Jameson and the other of "scotch".  After tasting both (and the previous 30 minutes of indoctrination and brainwashing... Peat is Bad)  I was convinced Irish whiskey was the greatest stuff on earth.  For the next 3 years I drank almost exclusively Irish whiskey and it was not until I moved to Scotland in 2009 that I began to explore Scotch again.

    A few years later I subsequently learned they use Johnnie Walker Black Label as the blended scotch in those comparison tastings, one I personally don't like (see my review) and so in reality I never stood a chance. 

    Tuesday, 08 November 2011 17:25

    Loch Ewe, Aultbea, Scotland

    Don't bother looking for this one in your standard guidebooks or whisky books.  It won't be there.   This is quite literally a distillery built in a garage at the back of a hotel.  The owner of the Drumchork Lodge Hotel exploited a loophole in UK law (now closed) which requires stills be 1800L or more to get approval for 120 L still and makes his own spirit.  He even allows you to come to his garage and make your own spirit (remember it is only called whisky if it stays in oak cask for 3 years).  You can read more on his website (http://www.lochewedistillery.co.uk) but I can tell you it was simply amazing to see everything done on this small scale by hand, including lighting the gas under the alembic styles stills to fermenting the wash in a wheelie bin (yes a wheelie bin) and maturation in small wooden casks .  The small size accelerates maturation to where it is quite drinkable in a matter of weeks – they usually bottle at around 6 weeks.  What Loch Ewe produces is probably the closest thing to traditional Uisge Beatha you can buy today (including the new make spirits that some distilleries sell).  The hotel by the way is a great, remote spot in Wester Ross and as you might expect the bar is very well stocked with Loch Ewe and lots of other whiskies.  Well worth the trip and one day I will be going back to make my own batch of whisky in a wheelie bin.
    Tuesday, 08 November 2011 03:08

    Basil Hayden's

    Mmmm, hard to describe my feelings about this bourbon.    The nose was quite fruity, caramel and had some freshness.  The taste had brown sugar, spice and wood notes and was quite bitter.   All the elements of bourbon I like were there, caramel, spice, oak, sweetness but like one too many boy bands it didnt quite come together in harmony.   I also found it very light, a little unbalanced with a short finish.
    Tuesday, 08 November 2011 02:52

    Smokehead Extra Black

    This was one of the whiskies we sampled at Ian Buxton's tasting in Aberdeen in May 2011.  Quite simply this is a peaty whisky.  Very peaty.  It might be more accurate to call it a whisky flavored peat.  Once you get beyond the peat there is a sweetness that reminded me of Ardbeg (and perhaps it is - it is an Islay single malt anyway) and I enjoyed it as a whisky "experience", but I doubt I would buy it.  If you like peat you need to try this.  If you don't then you should probably avoid this one (unless you are on some slightly pointless quest to drink a list of 101 whiskies that you found in book).
    Tuesday, 08 November 2011 02:42

    Monkey Shoulder

    Crazy name, crazy whisky.  This is a blended malt from William Grant, the company behind Glenfiddich and Balvenie and presumably contains malts from both of those distilleries. I first bought this at the Glenfiddich distillery in Dufftown in 2009 and it is great value as well as good whisky.  It is also very common in Aberdeen pubs and bars and I often drank it on nights out in Aberdeen.  I find it very reminiscent of the Bavlenie whiskies, the nose is sweet with cirtus, and the taste has honey sweetness, more fruit and even floral notes.   It is not massively complex,  but it isn't trying to be, it is well made malt whisky.  It is a great pity they don't sell in the USA (yet) as it would be very popular with bourbon drinkers, in cocktails and as an introduction to scotch.

    Whiskies Tried...

    Total to Date: 660

    Distilleries

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    Random Whisky

    Old Fitzgerald 1849

    I have mentioned before my deep suspicion of any product that starts with the word "old".  However some American whisky marketing class must teach that all products should contain the words "Old" or "Reserve" or at least be named after an individual such as Jack, Jim, Elijah, Evan, George or Pappy.   "Old" Fitzgerald, once produced at legendary and now closed Stitzel-Weller Distillery is a wheated bourbon now produced by Heaven Hill.  Nice nose, bubblegum, candy, vanilla and some floral notes.  The taste is sweet at first; pancake syrup, honey, black treacle then burnt caramel and licorice notes.  Burst of spice at end that lingers through finish.   Pretty good is you like that sort of thing.  (I do).