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My Handcrafted Opinions on Whiskies, Distilleries and Other Related Stuff

Most Recent Whisky

Most Recent Whisky Review

Mortlach 12 year old

The nose on 43.4% expression is very floral with some wheaty breakfast biscuits and spicy notes.  The taste is very smooth with baked spiced apples (maybe even slightly burnt) caramel and honey.  The finish has some slow building heat along with some Bovril (salty / meaty) notes.  Reminded me of good Texas barbeque brisket with strong spice bark.  Overall a ittle too much burnt, salty and bitter notes with not enough sweetness to balance it for me. 

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  • Simon Seaton

    Simon Seaton

    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. 

    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.

    Whiskies Tried...

    Total to Date: 692

    Distilleries

    Visited to Date: 66

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    Random Whisky

    Original Moonshine

    The second whiskey we tried in the Whisky Cast "white whiskey" virtual tasting I did in December 2011.  (If you are interested you can download the audio file from iTunes or www.whiskycast.com.)    This is 100% unaged corn whiskey and distilled 4 times which explains (for me) a lot about the tasting notes – or lack of them.  The nose has fresh paint and bubble gum and the taste is very sweet and smooth, in fact so smooth it's almost unrecognizable as whisky.  It tastes more like flavored vodka and perhaps some hints of tequila and even mineral water.  It is obviously well made and not "bad", but lacks all the complexity and depth I love about whiskey.   On the 1 to 5 scale of WhiskyCast I gave it a score of 1.5 and on my scale of 1 to 4 stars I gave it 1 star.