Wednesday, 8 December 2010

To Peat or not to Peat?

The title may look like a setup to a tired, tired, “Irish vs Scotch, which is better?” rant, but in this case it’s not, especially given the recent release of Cooley’s new Connemara bottling named “Turf Mor” which comes in at a smouldering 57ppm. This whiskey will be reviewed before the end of the week (hopefully).

The peating of whiskey / whisky has always been a bit of a weird thing for me. At worst it’s a way of covering up a bad bit of new make spirit, but at best it can be a splendiferous (yes, it is actually a word) triumph like Ardbeg Uigeadail or any of the brilliant Highland Park releases.

Whiskey in Ireland has been about barley and wood, rather than peat, for hundreds of years due to the closed kilns for barley. Since Ireland is basically a blob of granite, covered with peat, I find it hard to believe that Irish whiskey in the main has never been peated before the advent of Connemara.

In Scotland the half smiling folksy theory runs that whisky spread eastwards from the malt Mecca that is Islay, again a piece of granite covered with peat. Islay is the by word for peated whisky and uses it the great effect. I feckin LOVE Islay whiskies (with the oft noted exception of the tramps piss, cheap vodka and fag butts that present themselves as the Laphroaig standard releases), but when I think of a whiskey, the flavours that spring to mind don’t involve smoke.

I drink more Scotch whisky than I do Irish whiskey, that’s a side effect of living in Edinburgh and having the occasional privilege of sitting in on tasting panels for Scotch bottling companies. I have found that the vast majority of Scotch’s peating levels (at least the ones I have tried) don’t impart any discernable smoke to the actual finished product.

Is the default for Scotch drinkers that they expect smoke in a whisky? Or is it considered, as I consider it, an occasionally pleasant additive?

Bushmills 12 Years Old Distillery Reserve

10 years in Bourbon, 2 in sherry. 40% ABV, 70cl. £37.50.

I’m going back to writing about the whiskey in a less structured way. I can write my pretentious opinions without having to put it in headings…. Anyhoo… on with the pretentious opinions.

The 12YO Bushmills distillery reserve has always struck me as a little bit of a gimmick, as the whiskey is only available at the distillery. In all fairness, most distilleries now do a distillery reserve, but in the interests of capitalism, alcoholism and other ‘ism’s I think they should all be available on the open market (admittedly this would completely defeat the point of a distillery reserve).

The unreasonable paradoxical opinions aside, the distillery reserve is an extremely well balanced whiskey. The nose starts off with a massive hit of marzipan and honey. This stuff noses like diabetes in a glass. Once the immediate but suddenly forgivable cloying sweetness is gone, the more complex rum and raisin ice cream whiffs are in tow. Last nosing before tasting smells slightly of suede. First tasting is akin to digestive biscuits. This soon gives away to a nicely balanced sherry taste and a quite nice oakey finish.

This is mildly more buttery and slightly higher quality finish than the 10 Year old. The fact that you can have your name printed on the bottle and that it’s a distillery reserve means that it’s a cynical marketing exercise, but for now we’ll judge it as a whiskey. 7.5 / 10

Bushmills 10 Year Old Malt

This is the youngest of the Bushmills single malt range and the most widely available of the malt range. It has won a few accolades down the years, including ‘Best Irish Single Malt Whiskey’ at the world whiskey awards in 2007. It has the usual Bushmills Modus Operandi (bottled at 40%, triple distilled, etc).

Single Malt

10 years old, almost all of it in bourbon. A tiny undisclosed time in ex sherry casks

40% ABV

70 cl

Approximately £30

Colour: Yellow. I can’t be fucked with that “Angels halo in winter sunshine” bollocks, mainly because I’m not very good at colour assessment.

Nose: Dry hay and at the same time, fresh cut grass. The usual Bushmills nuttiness and honey come through. This is very much a summer whiskey. The barley is the underlying note, as it should be.

Taste: Triple distillation does its fantastic work again. A satin smooth mouth feel with no solvent notes whatsoever. Vanilla and marzipan, light oakiness and summer barley. Cereally notes with a hint of cherry. Seriously, how poncey are these tasting notes? I sound like some kind of hideous lovechild of Gilly Goulding and Laurence Llwellyn Bowen.

Finish: The finish falls *just* on the right side of astringent, a wee bit of burnt flour and distant milk chocolate.

Where Black Bush seemed to inspire a vague sexism, Bushmills 10 year old seems to invoke my mildly embarrassing pretentiousness, so in order to surmise, without sounding like a complete Twunt, I think this is a nice whiskey. I’d buy it with a spare 30 quid. Try to drink it on a beach in August. 7.5 / 10

Bushmills Black Bush

The ever amusingly titled Black Bush is a particular favourite of mine, having erm... 'liberated' various amounts of it from my Dad's spirit cupboard in my teenage years. It was mainly for the alcohol at the time, but this deluxe blend started off my interest in whiskey.

This is the step up from white label Bushmills, it's got a high malt:grain ratio, and though it's got no age statement on the bottle, but I have it on good authority that it's an 8 year old minimum.
Heavily Sherried.
8 years old.
This should be fun!
Nose: Starts off with dark fruits, the sherry overtones reminding me a bit of Christmas cake or Madeira cake, and who doesn't like cake? Beneath that lovely, but uncomplex note you can smell walnuts and almonds. The nose is tempting but subtle, like a girl with just enough cleavage (apparently Black Bush invites mild sexism too, for which I apologise).

Taste: The first taste is again, quite nutty with a slight woody element to it. As with the vast majority of Irish whiskey, and Bushmills in particular, it is smoother than a satin covered billiard ball.

Finish: A mix of dark and milk chocolate abound on the finish, which is lingering, but again, uncomplex. A slightly ferny end to an otherwise pleasant well balanced nip.

Reduced: Basically, as above. There is no real development with water, except a slightly lavender part to the taste. I wouldn't recommend adding water to this whiskey.

In summary, I would have to say that Bushmills Black Bush is a wonderful wee 'every day' dram that is pleasant enough to have to unwind after work, but not something you would open for a birthday, but then it's a deluxe blend, it's not supposed to be the ultimate in whiskey. IT is a damned fine blend though and a great one it you're trying to introduce someone to Irish whiskey. 7 / 10

Sorry Folks!

I'm a busy busy man, and to be honest, completely forgot about my blog for a wee while. Hopefully normal service will resume soon.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The Bushmills Range, and why it’s awesome

Its been a very very long time since the lovely people at Bushmills started whiskey. The current range contains some stunning malts and blends. Some of historic significance, some sublime, and some not so sublime. The history of Bushmills and distilling in the area is a complex story, not just due to the much vaunted, disputed and rebutted 1608 to say the least, and is best kept for another blog entry. This week's entries will deal with the whiskey.

Bushmills Original

This is the basic blend. There's often a propensity for referring to this as 'ordinary' Bushmills. This causes umbrage with fans of Bushmills. There is only extraordinary Bushmills and MORE extraordinary Bushmills. Although I am a HUGE fan of Bushmills, I disagree. This is very ordinary Bushmills, very ordinary indeed. It noses quite thin and solventy, there is a bit of leafmould and and reedy notes on the palate and finish respectively, on the up side of course there is a bit of light toffee and caramel and even a touch of digestive biscuit, but nothing much to report. It's a bargain basement blend. It's the Irish equivalent of Bells so there's not much surprise on the lack of fireworks. Respectable but nothing 'extraordinary' 5 / 10

Later this week....

Bushmills Black Bush

Bushmills 10 Year Old

Bushmills 12 Year Old

Bushmills 16 Year Old Triple Wood

Bushmills 21 Year Old

Bushmills Millenium Malt

Friday, 26 March 2010

An overview of Islay

Just off the west coast of Scotland is the spiritual home of Scottish Whisky, the Island of Islay. Islay is known for its incredibly smoky peated malts. The Island has 8 distilleries with one more on the way at Port Charlotte near Bruichladdich. The island even has its own kind of subsections.

ardbeg 10 year oldlaphroigLagavulin-DE-twe
The Kildalton Distilleries
Ardbeg, Laphroaig and Lagavulin are all based on the south western part of the Island of Islay, these distilleries produce some of the most amazing Scottish whiskies that have ever been bottled with Ardbeg being particularly complex and amazing and wonderful and great and the greatest argument for taking up alcoholism there has ever been.
Laphroaig boasts the proud claim that it is the Prince of Wales’ favourite whisky and Prince Charles does visit there at least once a year to visit his casks and generally be a jug eared patronising wanker to everyone he meets. Laphroiag is alone in the Islay distilleries in that its produce is bloody awful stuff that tastes like someone has poured cheap vodka into a tobacco chewer’s spittoon (but that’s just my opinion).
Lagavuilin on the other hand produces some quite heavily peated malts that are finished in sherry casks and are awesome. Lagavuilin is the kind of stuff you have after a big dinner with roast beef and gravy. The independent bottlings are quite high in alcohol too.
All the Kildalton distilleries are well worth a visit, with Ardbeg being a particular favourite.

bruichladdich 12bowmore-islay-single-malt-whisky-12yearold
The Loch Indaal Distilleries
Bruichladdich and Bowmore are on opposite sides of the shores of Loch Indaal. Of these have quite different house styles, well Bowmore has a house style and it’s an interesting one. Bowmore does peaty whiskies, and they do them very well and there are a lot of interesting finishes coming from the Bowmore distillery. There’s a lot of sherry and port wood finished and generally quite quite delicious. Nom.

Moving swiftly onwards to the eclectic madness of Bruichladdich, there needs to be a little bit of explanation. Bruichladdich just do whatever the hell they damned well feel like. Most distilleries have standard, 10 or 12 year old malt for general luxurious consumption, then a slightly older one for the occasional treat and then a 20+ for the birth of your first child or something.

Bruichladdich bottlings at time of writing, (there’ll probably be more by next week). 7 Year Old ‘Waves’, Peat, 2001 Resurrection, LINKS ‘K CLUB’, 15 Year Old Links 8 ‘Torrey Pines’, 15 Year Old Links 9 ‘Royal Birkdale’, LINKS 15 Year old Valhalla, X4 Quadruple Distilled (as featured in Oz and Clarke!), 1998 Manzanilla, 1998 Oloroso, Infinity #2, 16 Year Old Bourbon, 18 Year Old 2nd Edition, PC7 Port Charlotte Unity 61%, 20 Year Old ‘Islands’, 21 Year Old Oloroso, 1984 Golder Still, 1972 Legacy V, 1972 Legacy VI, 40YO, Valinch.


caol ila 12ans
The Sound of Islay Distilleries
The Distilleries up on the north east coast are Caol Ila and Bunnahabhain. Bunnahabhain is kind of the forgotten distillery of Islay. It’s quite a large establishment really by comparison with some of the others but it’s not quite so high profile. This is a bit unfair really as Bunnahabhain has some gems of whiskies amongst their bottlings. The standard 10 year old is medicinal and lightly peated and sweet and nice and precisely everything an Islay should be.
Caol ila has about 90-95% of its bottling being taken away and put into blended whiskies for other distilleries. I have been fortunate enough to try some of the wood finishes that Caol Ila are going to be bottling for the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and they are amazing. Well worth a look if you’re ever on the Island.

Kilchoman is in the area of Kilchoman church (not near anything really). It’s a fairly new distillery that has been distilling for the last 3 years or so and rather interestingly they released some of their new make spirit in miniature bottles. Scottish whisky cannot officially be called Whisky until it has been in the cask for at the very minimum three years. Kilchomans new make spirit is probably the best in Scotland with the possible exception of Ardbeg. Keep watching for the first release casks.

Port Charlotte Whisky
The other distillery that was mentioned at the start is the new one opening up in Port Charlotte under the stewardship of the guys from Bruichladdich. Might try to buy a cask!

The Island that is the home of Scottish Whisky is a beautiful and amazing place to visit, I would urge everyone to go there and try the amazing whiskies on offer.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A quick note on Connemara whiskey.

Connemara Whiskey

A quick note on Connemara whiskey.

Irish whiskies hadn’t been peated for several hundred years before the fine folks at Cooleys distillery in Dundalk restarted the process back in the 80s. Until then the Irish whiskey had been more about the barley than the peat, preferring smoothness to smokiness and sweetness to the cured meat overtones of the Scottish counterpart.

Connemara peated Irish whiskey manages to combine the easy drinking and generally awesome experience of a fine Irish malt with the smokiness that would be signatory of an Islay malt. The results are phenomenal in each one of the expressions that they have released. The first peated Irish whiskies in 300 years come out swinging.
See the over enthusiastic and slightly drunken notes that follow.

Connemara Peated Irish Malt 1 ABV 40%
This is a lovely wee whiskey that starts off with a kind of hot buttered toast smell then goes into honey and hazelnuts and a kind of chocolaty overtone. You leave it for 40 seconds and go back for another sniff. The same aromas are still there but after that there is a massive surge of peat, unexpected at first but after the initial surprise you can see how well it fits in with the other more irish style characteristics. An initial taste yields orange peel and apricots and a smidgen of beach campfire. The finish hangs around for a long time with a light citrus ending followed by a cigar style contraction on the back of your tongue.
8/10 Gutsy but gentle whiskey. Amazing introduction to Irelands peaty side.

Connemara 12 year old ABV 40%
The 12 year old is a different beast to the regular Connemara. It starts out with a more genteel floral smell with a really pleasant pine resin whiff. It gets a bit like chewing mint leaves covered with nutella (in an incredibly nice way). The peat smoke is quite subtle. It tends towards pipe smoke rather than the campfire style of the regular Connemara.
The first thing you notice on the taste is the pipe smoke again. It comes in first shortly followed by bursts of honey, then smoke, then kippers, then melted butter. This stuff is liquid gold. The finish is more ashen than you would normally expect from an irish malt. Pleasantly nutty.
8.5/10 A peated malt that is smoother than oiled silk. Awesome.

Connemara Cask Strength ABV 60%
Jesus Fucking Christ. This is one for the record books. The incredible strength of this big hairy aggressive bastard of a malt is something to behold. The first sniff is an assault on the senses. Don’t sniff too deeply or you can anesthetise your nostrils with the alcohol (no, seriously). The brilliant crystal clear explosion of malt and smoke blend together like peaches and cream, in bursts and bursts of amazing sensory overload. The inital taste is understated and smooth. The first impressions are of brown sugar caramelised over freshly made porridge. Then the peat shows up. Smoke just keeps creeping in over and over again revealing another layer every time to this fantastically complex malt. The Irish signature smoothness keeps the peat in check (just about). This is something you should toast the arrival of your first child with. Or to celebrate someone’s wedding, Or world peace Or it being a Tuesday.
9.5/10 Smoother than Selma Hayeks inner thighs but stronger than Mr T and Chuck Norris on steroids. Buy it. Buy it now.