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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Most Recent Whisky

Most Recent Whisky Review

Kew Orangery

Not to be confused with Compass Box Orangerie, a product I remember having very mixed feelings about. I have never been able to get fully onboard the Compass Box bandwagon for reasons that elude me, but I think that products like Orangerie contributed too. In my review at the time (https://www.somanywhiskies.com/reviews/item/381-compass-box-orangerie) I called it a “franken-whisky” and said “this feels to me like a whisky drink aimed at people who don't like whisky” which is genre I am personally not a fan of… (hello Skrewball and Fireball). However I digress and this is in fact an organic Triple Sec produced by The London Distillery Company under their Kew brand license and bottled at 29.9% abv.  

The nose is pure orange oil, juicy and sweet. The mouth feel is creamy and thick while the taste is little washed out and faded; what is there is sweet, satsuma more than orange and some oily and bitter pith notes as well. Not much to say really but no-one is really drinking this stuff, it is being used in cocktails.

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  • Simon Seaton

    Simon Seaton

    Saturday, 12 November 2011 19:45

    Return of the Dinosaurs?

    I have been thinking a lot about the return of Glenglassaugh and must confess to some mixed feelings.  Didn't we learn the lesson of the Jurassic Park franchise (other than a third movie should never have been made) as Dr Ian Malcolm said "Dinosaurs had their shot, and nature selected them for extinction." 

    Seriously though is it just me or is the whisky world's interest with extinct distilleries and those that were extinct and have since been reborn a little misplaced?  I find myself asking this question more and more and as I taste some of these whiskies I find the questions don't go away.  Let's put aside the rarity question.  I fully understand that extinct whiskies are going to be collector's items and that itself creates an interest.  No I am talking about the simple fact, often ignored, that they were probably not always particularly good whiskies (not whether they are collectable).

    In my mind a combination of free market economics and natural selection would suggest that in order for new and better whiskies to come along, less popular whiskies must improve or fall to wayside.  As popular as whisky has become it is still a finite market and therefore only a finite number of whiskies can exist.  If we want better whiskies shouldn't we want less popular or unsuccessful whiskies to perish?    Instead we seem to mourn passing of whisky distilleries or celebrate the re-opening of old ones without asking the important question – why did it close to start with?  Is the reborn distillery really remaking the old spirit and product, if so why?  Or is it using the modern equipment, standards and techniques, and in effect it's a new distillery in an old building.

    The emergence of new distilleries and new whisky making countries suggests to me that in balance we as whisky lovers should welcome the passing of some tired old production that was never successful or large enough to survive and welcome the next whisky that will inevitably follow in footsteps, almost certainly a better product given the high standards of distilling and maturation today.  Simply put some of these whiskies weren't good enough or loved enough or viable for whatever reason at the time and for the good of the whole industry they had to die.  My guess is that they weren't the best whiskies and therefore the fittest survived.  If total whisky production or producing countries was falling I would understand, but clearly that isn't the case, so let's collectively move on.   

    If you do come across a rare bottling of single malt from a closed distillery enjoy by all means, but don't try and tell me it is a loss to the industry.  My guess is it probably isn't, although I am sure from time to time some good production has been lost it has been more than outweighed by the good new whiskies added almost every day.  I am sure almost any distillery can produce, from time to time, a one off single cask bottling of exceptional quality but it doesn't mean that everything produced there was of the same standard.  Occasionally even a blind squirrel will find a nut.

    So let's not mourn the passing of distilleries or worry about the rebirth of others, perhaps we should even encourage and welcome it, raising the standards of the global product for everyone, like a gardener pruning old tired flowers so healthy new growth can come through. 

    Saturday, 12 November 2011 02:12

    Thomas H Handy Sazerac Rye

    This is powerful stuff, if didn't want to drink it you could always run your car on it.  Bottled at 64%  the nose has fruit, cinnamon and some cereal notes, perhaps corn or rye.  Without water the alcohol dominates at first but with some water some other flavors come through, especially rye, chocolate milk and caramel, spices and cayenne pepper come through on the finish. But lurking behind all those spices there is also a fruity note, like a mandarin orange or even mango.  A long finish, really long.  I liked it with water.  Powerful and not cheap, it as much a biofuel as a drink without water, definately not for the beginner.  This one is a "creeper" and the more I drank the more I liked it.
    Friday, 11 November 2011 21:38

    Glenglassaugh 26 year old

    I tasted this rather rare whisky in 2011 at a tasting led by Ian Buxton and as I am still alive at time of typing this review I can safely say, as per his excellent book, I tried it before I died.  Simply put I was not blown away by this one, hence 2 stars, and with 100 other whiskies to find and drink I am not planning to spend some pretty serious money, probably over $200, on another bottle based on that experience.  If I see it in a bar some time I will try it again and take some more detailed notes and post those.  I have some reservations about the hype surrounding extinct or "re-born" distilleries... seems to me they were shut down for a reason (while others succeeded and even thrived) so why are they suddenly so great?  Bringing this whisky back from extinction is potentially dangerous, didn't we learn anything from the Jurassic Park franchise (besides that making a third movie was a terrible idea)?   I admit I am being deliberately contentious, and this whisky is unlikely to eat anyone, but this is a theme I will explore further in my blog. 
    Friday, 11 November 2011 21:10

    Ardbeg, Islay, Scotland

    This was the distllery I was most looking forward to visiting when we went to Islay in 2010.  Why?  Well Arbeg was the reason I even started drinking Islay's peated whiskies, though I had tried the unpeated Bunnahabhain before, and it was because of an expression called Blasda.   I tasted a sample of Blasda in Oddbins in Cults and thought it was delicious, very sweet and flavorful and with a lighter, more subtle peat taste.  So I bought a bottle and found it was the perfect entry into the world of Islay whisky.  The fact they made a whisky that was so approachable encouraged me to explore Ardbeg more and to look for the subtle, sweet flavors I loved in Blasda in their other expressions and to succesfully "look past the peat".  Before I knew it, I loved peated whisky.  The distillery is really well done with a great cafe, an expansive gift shop and a detailed tour with a knowledgable and passionate tour guide (all for about $3).  However the best part was the tasting as they pulled out the really good stuff.  They offered the standard 10 year old, Blasda (Tammy chose that), Uigeadail and even the amazing 60% abv Supernova.  I ended up buying the Supernova because it was so good.  Other distilleries take note, pouring your premium offerings can help sales, after all I am much more likely to spend $100 on a bottle of whisky if I have actually tried it.... just a suggestion.
    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. 

    Whiskies Tried...

    Total to Date: 672

    Distilleries

    Visited to Date: 63

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    Random Whisky

    Evan Williams

    Another US whiskey named after an early distiller.... as in Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Elijah Craig and George Dickel.   In this case Evan Williams is a Welshman who emigrated to Kentucky in the 18th century.  The nose on his namesake bourbon is fruity (perhaps lime) and caramel.  Also some popcorn and bubblegum notes.  The taste has more caramel, sweetcorn and a little fruit (I read a review that suggested Cherry Cola and I have to say that is not a bad descriptor).  There is also some alchohol detectable, this expression comes in at 43% ABV.  The finish is a little peppery with some bitter oak spice notes  but still quite balanced with sweet notes.  Overall this is quite drinklable and very acceptable for a low cost bourbon hence my 3 star rating, I think it a bit better than the standard Jim Beam for example.  Is it a great bourbon?  No.  Is it a nice bourbon worth the price... I would say yes.