Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Oban - 14 year old - Review

Whilst planning, and looking forward to, a recent holiday to Paris I had the best of intentions to seek out many unheard of French whiskies, and alike, whilst making my way around the little back street bars and cafes, but the allure of local red wine and continental beers, along with a disappointing lack of selection in the bars I visited, meant that as the holiday drew to a close I found myself having not had one single glass of whisky.....this disaster had to be averted.

One opportunity had arose when I was contacted by Donal Loughney, an Irishman, now living in France, who invited me to his bar to sample one, or many, of his massive collection of Irish whiskies, of which he states is the largest selection in the world, but unfortunately time was not on my side and I could not make the journey across town which only frustrated me further in my search for a good dram. (Incidentally the bar in question was "Patricks Le Ballon Vert" located at 33, rue de Montreuil, Paris and which is also a recent nominee in the Irish Whisky Awards 2014 - International Whiskey Bar category)

Still determined to try something new, of the single malt (or grain) variety, my girlfriend and I found ourselves in a fantastic wee literary bar, deep in the Marais area of Paris, named "La Belle Hortense".  

The delightful "La Belle Hortense"
Bursting at the seams with charm and charisma this little place was the perfect location to unwind and relax with a glass of the good stuff.

Looking across the shelves I noticed a lot of recognisable bottles and a lot that I had tried before, certainly no French whiskies in here, but thankfully I spotted a bottle containing a dram I had not yet sampled........Oban 14 year old.

From knowledge I knew that this was a west coast distillery that belongs to the enormous Highlands region and with a little more research I discovered that the distillery was founded in 1794 and has only two stills making it one of the smallest in Scotland.

Oban is currently owned by the beast that is Diageo and is best known for this 14 year old bottling which was first released in 1988.  They also have an 18 year old and a 32 year old release which I can only imagine requires a small mortgage to purchase.

Reading that this distillery benefits from a "West Highland flavour that falls between the dry, smoky style of the Scottish islands and the lighter, sweeter malts of the Highlands" made me quite happy indeed as I am increasingly finding great enjoyment in Highland and Island drams.

Onto my notes (which were quickly recorded on a mobile notepad app) -

Nose - Honeyed citrus and red apple which gives way to a distinct classic, coastal, salty note with obvious hints of fresh cut grass and some light buttered peat smoke.  Certainly seems to back up it's suggested flavour profile and is definitely enjoyable.  As this sits in the glass it holds it structure well and doesn't fall away like others which I personally would put down to a good character of spirit and a slightly stronger strength at 43% ABV.

Palate - WOW, without water this is truly a feisty beast that needs a little taming.  With some H2O the arrival is very measured with a fine balance of sweet malt and fresh fruits of which orange and red apple dominate.  Chilli pepper also has it's say throughout and at times still feels a tad overbearing (more water maybe?), and towards the end some soft oak wood shows itself.

Finish - Longish with a emphasis on pepper and more apple.

Overall I feel that this is a decent malt that has some depth but it needs a lot of time, patience and experience to get the most out of the glass.  In comparison it reminds me a little of the Caperdonich I reviewed back in June.  I think I'll be back to give this some more serious attention at a later date.

Well there you go, a malt review and a super quick snapshot of what Paris can offer.  Whilst disappointed not to get to try some local whisky, or visit Patricks Le Ballon Vert, I hope to return to Paris very soon and satisfy both these urges.

Onwards and as we move rapidly towards October I shall be back soon with a close look at the up-and-coming "Whisky Live - Dublin" which takes place on Saturday 25th October and is a must for all Irish whiskey fans.

Until next time,



Saturday, 20 September 2014

The Girvan Patent Still - Tweet Tasting - Review

Towards the end of August I was lucky enough to take part in another excellent tweet tasting which was, as usual, hosted by the wonderful Steve Rush from  

The whisky on show on this particular evening was that from Girvan Grain Distillery which is situated in South Ayrshire and is a distillery which I had no previous experience of.

Set up in 1963, in an unused munitions factory, Girvan Distillery was established by William Grant and Sons as a staple source of grain whisky for blending purposes.  It boasts a highly impressive annual production capacity of 15 million litres and also is the location for a new single malt distillery called Aisla Bay.  This, however, is not Girvan's first foray into the world of single malt as back in the 60's they expanded the distillery to produce a single malt named Ladyburn but this did not last long and eventually died off around 10 years later.

As you may or may not know, grain whisky is usually produced through the use of a "Coffey" still, also known as a continuous column still, and as a result the spirit that comes off these stills can be lighter, higher in ABV and usually less flavoursome to the single malt spirit that would be produced in a pot still.

This allows the grain whisky to become very useful in the blending process by smoothing out harsher single malts whilst allowing the blenders to achieve a good consistency in nailing down the flavour profile their brand has established.

On the other hand though, as this was my first time seriously sampling grain whisky, I was wondering how these would stand up against my favourite single malts.  Surely with a lighter, less flavoursome spirit, there'd need to be some seriously impressive maturation going on?

The first thing I have to say is that "The Girvan Patent Still", to give them their proper name, have got their marketing and presentation of product down to a fine art.  As you can see the samples arrived in elegant glass vials which themselves were contained within a fantastic presentation case.  This allowed one other taster to comment on how this almost felt scientific.  Certainly got my excitement levels up.

As for the samples, there were four on show.  New make, No.4 Apps, 25 year old and 30 year old.  All were bottled at 42% ABV, including the new make which was done to allow better comparison, and all were natural colour.  

New Make Spirit - Normally this would come off the still at 94% ABV and, as pointed out on the accompanying taste card, this obviously can not be called whisky until matured in oak for at least three years.  The card also suggests a fresh, fruity and vibrant spirit that is a perfect starting point to show how the flavours would develop over time.

Nose - At a lighter strength the spirit is deliciously fruity, prune juice, raisin, concentrated lemon juice, white wine vinegar and a sugary / sherbety feel to it which comes across as fruit pastilles.

Palate - Sweet and sour arrival with warm spice.  A touch watery and vodka-esque.  Lemon, apple and slightly herbal.

Finish - Great green fruit aftertaste with some more herbal notes (maybe basil strangely enough)

Whilst a great experience to try, and while I understand the reason behind bottling it at 42%, I felt that this would have benefited from being closer to 50%.  The watery, vodka-esque feel was a touch bland but there were some distinct delicious flavours in there.

No.4 Apps - In 1992 GIrvan installed a pioneering new still which they named "No.4 Apps", with "Apps" being a term for apparatus.  This new still, operated under a vacuum, permitting distillation at low temperatures.  This, according to the card, produces a pure, fruity and intense spirit.

Nose - Soft, creamy, green fruit, vanilla biscuits, perfumed and aromatic with more cereal notes.  When nosing this you get a sense that the spirit is working well with the effects of maturation.  After time the raisin returns along with a strange feel of a milk ice lolly.  Reminds me a lot of the Irish grain whiskey Greenore.

Palate - Fantastic warm fruit arrival with great strength.  Bags of oak spice.  Sweet, toffee, green apples and the lemon is now zingy and sharp.  Gorgeous spice throughout and towards the end some pepper and chilli which is not too harsh.

Finish - To be honest, slightly short, warm and drying with some more green fruit.

This for me was an excellent example of grain whisky.  Good spirit being married well with good casks and the balance wasn't too bad either.  My only complaint, and this does run throughout, is that the finish could be longer and I think this could also benefit from being bottled at a slightly higher strength.

25 Year Old - Priced around the £250 mark, this whisky has been matured in american oak and should show "notes of toffee, vanilla and caramelised fruits."

Nose - This is distinctly tropical, banana, raisin, stewed orange, red apple, light pepper with more toffee and very perfumed.  Huge sherry feel and great wood effect going on here.  Gets better and better becoming fudgy and unctuous which was perfectly described, by another taster, as sticky pudding.  After 10 minutes it's age starts to show through with a typical dustiness.

Palate - Spicy toffee apple, citrus lemon and orange, caramel, pepper, vanilla cream, ginger and more sweet, sugary sticky pudding.

Finish - Medium in length with after notes of the palate but again the finale just feels, well, a little flat.

The standout dram of the evening.  I don't know if it's worth £250 but it certainly won the battle of the four grain samples.

30 Year Old - Distilled in 1984, this dram is unique for having maize included in the mashbill.  It is lighter in colour than the 25 year old and as pointed out age is not necessarily a guarantee of darkness of colour.  A final read of the cards would highlight "notes of vanilla, zesty fruit and woody spiced finish".

Nose - Still in the tropics, banana, pineapple, menthol, mint and vanilla toffee.  Cereal and oats.  The raisin and prune is still hiding in there but the citrus has eased off compared to the 25 year old.  More light pepper and again no initial sense of age but this comes with time along with another sherried feel.

Palate - Raisins, allspice, clove, dark dried fruit and cinnamon.  Heat is less intense and eases for amazing juiciness.

Finish - Medium, warm and juicy.

Whilst being highly accomplished this just did not feel as good as the 25 year old and to nab this old liquid will set you back about £360.  The underlying strength issue is still here, as with all, but like I said, it is highly accomplished and worth trying.

All in all this was one amazing experience.  A great journey through the life of single grain whisky and a journey that can regularly be experienced through the likes of the tastings hosted by  I can not recommend enough to get yourselves out there and try any tastings you can, however they may be found.  

As for these drams I would have to go out there and say that while the 25 year old was my favourite I'd opt for the "No.4 Apps".  I put this down purely to value for money and the fine balance that this whisky displays.

To nearly finish off I'll take a short moment to highlight that I shall be back again, very soon, with my views on the Oban 14 year old, which I had the huge enjoyment to sample whilst recently in Paris and to finally finish off I'll give a huge thanks to Girvan Grain and Steve @ for yet another fine tasting.

Until next time,