Monday, 8 October 2012

Longrow Red in Lochaber

Whisky is undeniably a product of its environment. In Scotland, in many situations, it is really the only drink to have. Say for example an Autumn break with a bit of walking thrown in and the landscape speaking to you with names such as Buachaille Eite Mòr, Stac a' Chlamhain or an Coire Dubh or the recently rediscovered originals of a' Chàrnaich (Glencoe Village), Baile a' Chaolais or Clo Mhuilinn. In the October sunshine when the mixed woodland around is starting to turn amber, a hipflask of your own last-drop-of-the-bottles-blend cannot be bettered. And, upon retiring to your bothy or cottage, what more could you want than an astoundingly good dram of Longrow?

Tradition is great. But not as a straightjacket. Whisky is a perfect example of an indigenous cultural product that has embraced the wider world. With Longrow Red, you have a Campeltown whisky that's borrowed from an Australian import of an Old World wine. Funnily enough, the Cabernet Sauvignon casks in which this 11 year old spent 4 years, come from the Long Row range of Ozzie wines.

And, it's good. Very good.

So good, that it had the Whisky Frau's nostrils pulsating with joy and her tongue exclaiming that its been a while since she tasted a dram so unusual and yet so damn good. In short, it's got a lot going on.

On the nose we got red fruits - strawberry compote to be precise for the my partner. The sweetness goes a long way to masking the smoke.

On the tongue, there's something a bit dirty and oily. An old leather bookmark maybe? Certainly something you can get your teeth into. On top of that there is another helping of fruit with peat. Strawberry bon-bons in peat stoor?

Finish is longish and unsurprisingly peaty with some more fruit.

Another superb offering from the Springbank crew - still independent and still going strong.

Finally, and back to Lochabar, I am ashamed to admit that I had never realised the extent of the Clachaig Inn's whisky menu. There's no point in going over it all here but should you be in the area, I'd recommend the Ben Nevis 25yo cask strength.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Whisky Fringe - only a year away

So, the Xmas of the whisky year has come and gone. As usual, not one to disappoint despite the new introduction of a standard 1cl measure across the board. I was a bit nonplussed at first but the lower alcohol intake for each dram simply means an opportunity to sample a wider range of malts.

It was busy with lots of non-Scots in attendance - heard a few 'Glendronak' pronunciations from visitors from the south though the Germans and Spaniards present had no bother with the Scottish 'ach'. Lots of female connoisseurs too - the auld days of whisky being principally an auld man's drink are over.

As to the exhibitors, there seemed to be one or two omissions from last year. Sadly there was no sign of Duncan Taylor or Compass Box and while Gordon & MacPhail were present, it was only in their Benromach guise. That isn't a bad thing but G&M have such a wide and varied range of malts and it was a shame not to taste some of the jewels from their deep treasure-chest. Who can forget last year's cask strength Imperial from 1977?

Fortunately, there were still some cracking drams on offer.

My vote, and those of friends, for the Spirit of the Fringe award, went to dark horse that is Glen Moray. The Glen Moray 2003 Chenin Blanc was simply a revelation. Sweet, complex and mouth filling, it had all you want from a dram. A single cask at 60.7%, this will be worth every penny of the £59 they ask for it.

Glendronach had 4 excellent drams on offer but the 1993 Single Cask 19yo was the pick of the bunch and almost the dram of the Fringe. A true sherry monster, it seemed to expand on the palate until your mouth was filled with clouds of sweet vapour - honey, raisins and prune juice. Drams like this one just make your day.

Honourable mentions should also go to Adelphi as well as Tomatin with their expensive but elegant 1982 Single Cask. All in all, Tomatin which some may describe as 'unfashionable' along with Glen Moray, had an excellent Fringe. Interesting whiskies poured by an enthusiastic, friendly (imagine that!) and knowledgeable ambassador for the distillery.

Adelphi chipped in with the likes of the 15yo Clynelish at 54.4%. This had one of the most interesting noses I've even had the pleasure to introduce to my nostrils - big time sweetness dripping with maple syrup, honey and nectar. The palate didn't disappoint either.

Drink me.
Other drams that will join the above on my wish list are the Bowmore Tempest, Benromach Sassicaia, Glen Keith 1993 OMC and the 1996 Caol Ila also from OMC.

The half-time oranges were almost worth the ticket price alone. Two 50yo North British grains?! A 40yo Tomatin?! All of them a joy and privilege to lay on your tongue.

Those that did disappoint were few and far between but also deserve a mention. Kilchoman 5yo Single Cask is the worst dram I've tasted since the first Abhainn Dearg release. Fiery and hot, it had none of the complexity of a young Ardbeg and even the Glen Moray peated spirit was in a different league from this expensive but poor excuse for a whisky. I love Bunnahabhain usually but I fail to see the excitement in their 25yo. Flat, flat, flat. This is one that should be bottled at cask strength.

Others that underwhelmed were: Smokehead 18yo - very pleasant but far too tame, especially at £91! Laphroaig 18 knocks the socks of this one. Arran Amarone and BenRiach Solstice  were also in the 'pleasant but uninspiring' camp.

All-in-all another well organised and stimulating Whisky Fringe.

Hopes for next year? How about a Bladnoch/ Whiskybroker stand to showcase their impressive range of Bladnoch and other bottlings? A well stocked Gordon & MacPhail would also go down a treat. Similarly, a Diageo stall that permits us to sample some of their own gems and not just the usual supermarket heroes we all know anyway. How about a Loch Lomond stall showcasing some crackers from Glen Scotia, Inverleven or the deceased Littlemill?

On top of that is what really makes a successful Fringe. Friendly staff and not just automatons hired from a PR company go a long way. On this count, both Tomatin and Balvenie did well as did Glen Moray. For that alone, I intend to visit all of these distilleries before the next Fringe comes along.

Start ticking off the days...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Bowmore 100 Degrees Proof

Bowmore are going up in my estimation with this own bottling. Previously, I'd found Bowmore's various expressions to be a bit wishy-washy with not much to shout about. Only Mariner at 43% hinted at something more interesting and powerful. Independent bottlings from the likes of Cadenheads and SWMS have been excellent.

Recently though Bowmore unveiled a series available for purchase at 'travel retail'. After tasting the 100 Degrees Proof offering at Manchester Airport, a purchase had to be made. At £49 for one litre at 57.1% this is pretty good value for a lip smacking cask-strength.

Took it to a local whisky group and it went down a treat. Lots of salt and a layer of peat ash on the tongue. However, there's also a sweetness in there that you cannot help but like. Most seem surprised as the strength as its quite smooth. I found that a drop of water went down well though.

Look out for it at your next airport stop and request a sample.

Here's what others say:

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Deanston calling?

Deanston is an intruiging distillery and a pleasant dram. They have had a promising new website under construction for a while now. They've released a new expression. They want publicity...don't they?

Myself and a partner, who apart from bringing hundreds of tourists to Scotland each year to visit our distilleries, are compiling a new guide book for visiting Scotland's whisky sites of special interest have been trying to contact this reclusive distillery. Emails and phone-calls are unreturned though.

Deanston is owned by Burn Stewart Distillers whose stable also includes the rampant and welcoming Bunnahabhain as well as the revitalised Tobermory/ Ledaig. Their youngest distillery though seems a bit shy.

Has the perilous state of the economy seen things put on ice at Deanston? Watch this space...

Monday, 5 March 2012

Another jewel from Bladnoch?

Purveyor of many a fine single-cask bottling at superb prices, not mention the house dram, Bladnoch Forum has released a new bottle. The Port Dundas 21yo at £33 is not one to be sniffed at. Grain whiskies are somewhat 'in vogue' at the moment as are closed distilleries so its no surprise that this one didn't hang around. As of yet, I await my delivery.

Recent grains have not disappointed though. Aged grains are undoubtedly the most reliable but some recent goodies at around the 18yo mark have come via the SMWS from the likes of North British, Invergordon and the also defunct Cambus. Most are relatively easy going on the sporan too, the exception being the excellent Clan Denny Caledonian 45yo at £120 odds.

Back to Bladnoch though. Most of their Forum Bottlings have been excellent value from money. A 25yo Caol Ila and 28yo Inchgower come to mind. Only a 20yo Glen Ord didn't set the heather alight though for the price - £36ish - I wasn't complaining. Recent releases have been non-existent though. However, the 'Son of Bladnoch' aka Whiskybroker has stepped in with his own range of cask-strength single malts. More power to their elbows.

As mentioned before, if you get a chance to visit Scotland's south-west, a visit to Bladnoch is a must.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Winter fuel: the good and the not

Funnily enough, our two national alcoholic beverages go down better in the dark months. Scotland has a good reputation for whisky and winter - at least in terms of events. Starting with St Andrew's Day and continuing through the old winter Solstice festival - now known as Christmas - and then to Hogmonay before finishing with Burns' Nicht, Scotland is the place to be for barry booze in the dark months.

The quality of our beer has been somewhat more mixed though. Recent years has arguably given us an explosion of sorts in the number of ales, porters and lagers available from local or small enterprises. Some of it is every bit as good as anything from Belgium or Germany. Some though is as every bit as bad as what the bodach used to make in his garden shed.

Here's a sample...

  • Innis & Gunn. Wow! Not only is the standard supermarket range expanding but there's always one or two extra special releases at this time of year. The Highland Cask is superb - bursting with all the flavours you'd expect from a beer aged in casks that once held 18 yo whisky. This year has seen several supermarket offers on the Original, Rum Cask and Blonde which cleared the shelves in no time. All of them superb and start at a healthy 6.6% abv.
  • Ola Dubh. 8% abv. Darker than an Auld Reekie close on a January night. The standard is matured in casks that formerly held Highland Park 12. This is a meal in itself from Harvieston Brewery. Usually retails at around £3 but some offers recently had it for a decent £2 odd.
  • Paradox. By Brewdog. Aged in ex-Isle of Arran casks and similar to the Old Dubh above but with a whopping 10% abv. Mouthfilling and satisfying stuff. Try it with veggie haggis. The best product I've tasted from the Brewdog kennels.
  • McEwans Champion. Very malty and with some serious dark fruits in there. Comes across as a traditional bevy that my grandfather might have enjoyed down in darkest Gorgie Dalry. 500ml of 7% Scots ale. Has a slight bitter aftertaste but goes well with scran once again. Widely available at supermarkets and the price has fluctuated somewhat between £1.25 and £2.
The sheer amount of ales and porters available now makes it easy to snag a fair amount of driftwood too, if you pardon the nautical theme. Williams Brothers in Alloa are one of the better ones and their Midnight Sun 'dark and spicy' porter is as good as any other on the market. Traquair House and their Jacobite Ale at 8% abv is another hero.

Some of micro-breweries can produce the odd guid yin though its fair to say that maybe some should stick to home brewing for their pals. As much as I like the islands, some of the 'local' brews there are underwhelming to say the least. Colonsay make some palatable if uninspiring brew. I've also had the misfortune to taste two of the Islay Ales and the less said about that the better though thankfully Islay's more traditional 'cottage' industries are still producing stunning malt whisky.

Whisky is for another day though it's only fair to namecheck some that have kept the hame fires burning this winter...
Laphroaig 13yo 60.6%, October 2011 bottling from Cadenheads.
Bunnahabhain 20yo 49.7%, January 2012 bottling from Whiskybroker
Longrow CV 46%, distillery bottling from the Springbank family
Glen Scotia 12yo, 62%, 'Immense, manly, meaty and peaty -93.48' from SMWS
Invergordon 18yo grain, 'Extraordinary taste intensity - G5.3' from SMWS