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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Most Recent Whisky

Most Recent Whisky Review

The Glenlivet Caribbean Reserve

I always find myself so drawn to rum influenced whisky that there is a part of me that thinks maybe I should just drink rum? Anyway this no age statement variation on the theme is bottled at 40% ABV and pretty good value at under $40 in bottle (in Texas anyway). The nose is sweet and fruity with perhaps the tell-tale Glenlivet pineapple notes lurking in the background. The taste starts sweet as well with toffee and brown sugars and I found quite oily. I don’t get fresh fruits but more candy fruit flavors, like Starburst or boiled sweets. The finish balances out the sweetness with bitter citrus oil and peel, essential oils and woody tannins. A little water turns the oily mouthfeel into something more creamy and brings out some banana notes. Really good value.

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  • Simon Seaton

    Simon Seaton

    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.
    Tuesday, 08 November 2011 02:35

    Glenglassaugh Spirit

    I tried the new make spririt from the recently reborn Glenglassaugh distillery at a tasting in Aberdeen with Ian Buxton, author of 101 Whiskies to Try Before You Die.   For new make spirit this was quite drinkable, but lets not kid ourselves anyone is picking this as their favorite pre-dinner drink anytime soon.  I am glad I tried it, but no hurry to try again.  As Bones from Star Trek might say "It's whisky Jim, but not as we know it." 

    Tuesday, 08 November 2011 02:28

    Jameson 18 year old Limited Reserve

    A great example of how good Irish whiskey (and blended whiskey) can be.  The nose is quite gentle but has notes of fruit and lots of vanilla.  The taste is all sweet toffee, vanilla, butterscotch and some mild spiciness, even coffee.   Smooth and mouthfilling and for 18 years in a cask surprisingly not overly woody or stringent.    A little nutty and maybe some oak and sherry in the finish.
    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:28

    Glenfarclas, Speyside, Scotland

    Describe Glenfarclas in two words?  Old school.  Putting aside the slightly annoying and confusing matter that this is yet another famous Speyside distillery with a Grant family prominent in its history (a different Grant from Glenfiddich and Balvenie and also not the same Grant as Glen Grant) and overlooking the slightly 1960's state school look and feel of the place, Glenfarclas produces high quality Speyside whiskies with a heavy sherry influence.

    The visitor's center does not have any café and the $5 tour is the usual fare with the interesting highlight that you will see the tallest stills in Speyside.  They also store and age all their whisky on site which many of the "corporate" distilleries don't do for rather dull reasons like they want to rent cheaper warehouse space in a more central location or for "risk management" (ie in case the distillery burns down they don't lose all the stock).    After walking around the site you leave with a strong feeling that this is still very much an independent family run business, that they are proud of what they do and they are not about to change anything any time soon.  Good for them.

    Monday, 07 November 2011 23:27

    Penderyn, Wales

    Interestingly this welsh whisky, or wysgi in welsh, would barely scrape under the bar as a "whisky" in Scotland.  It certainly wouldn't be considered single malt for several reasons I will discuss later.  I should also disclose some bias for Wales at this point, as I graduated from the University of Wales and lived in Cardiff for four years.

    The  Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) rules and regulations rightly protect the process and traditions of the industry, but it doesn't means that other methods and technology can't product a whisky (and this is whisky) of exceptional taste and quality.  In fact find it slightly ironic that the industry that was in many ways born from developing the new ideas for manufacturing whisky (the Coffey still, grain whisky and blended whisky) is so entrenched in its thinking today about what defines Scotch whisky, and inversely the sticking to old ways and traditions was one contributing factors of several that nearly completely killed the Irish industry.  Remember that those that don't learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.

    That said Welsh whisky is not about to take over the world, but this is very good stuff.  The distillery in the village of Penderyn, near Brecon is modern and compact.  One reason for this compactness is that the wash is made in Cardiff at the Brain's Brewery and brought to the distillery in tanker trucks.  That in itself would exclude Penderyn from the ranks of "single malt" if it were located in Scotland.  The tour is also compact, in fact it consists of two rooms.  One room houses a history of welsh distilling and the more recent history of the distillery.  The second room is basically the tasting room and has a glass wall.  Behind the wall is the unique still Penderyn use to distill the Brain's wash into an 86 - 92% ABV spirit and a small bottling line.  

    The Penderyn still is a combination of a pot still and a column still and this would again probably prevent this being considered single malt whisky, were it in Scotland, as it is not a traditional pot still.  The spirit is diluted with water drawn from a well below the distillery and put into bourbon casks, matured offsite, and then finished in Madeira casks before being bottled on site.  They also do a peated version of Penderyn which is matured in scotch casks that have previously held peated scotch and a sherry cask finished version.

    After the tour they pour samples from their range of whiskies and also they offer a cream blend called Merlyn.  We also got to smell and taste the new make spirit.  There is the ubiquitous whisky shop as well.  This is an interesting distillery that makes a great product, and is well worth a visit.

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    Random Whisky

    Bushmills Original

    The nose is quite fruity and fresh, maybe a sweet red apple, also has some vanilla  and fresh paint notes.  A bit more robust than a typical irish blend. Some oak spice in the taste, honey and vanilla and then a little pepper in the finish.  Overall quite full flavored, medium bodied, not overly complex and a short finish.  Given a choice I would probably go for the Black Bush over this but this is nonetheless an easy to find, easy to like, irish whiskey.