Thursday, 20 November 2014

Ballantine's - Tweet Tasting - Review

On Wednesday 19th November 2014 I took part in another fantastic Tweet Tasting, hosted of course by Steve Rush of "", in which all involved were presented with a range of the much loved Ballantine's blended whisky.  

The five expressions on show this evening were the "Finest", 12yo, 17yo, 21yo and their 30yo.  A serious range for a serious tasting in which we were also joined, online, by Ballantine's own master blender Sandy Hyslop.

As many of you know Ballantine's is a huge name in the whisky market.  It has the honour of being the second biggest selling scotch in the world and, considering they are second only to the behemoth that is Johnnie Walker, that is a pretty impressive position to hold.  

The brand is also steeped in history, having been established in 1827, and has a wealth of stock to choose from when making it's blends.  Being owned by Pernod Ricard they can call upon close to 50 different whiskies to compile their whiskies with the signature malts being Miltonduff and Glenburgie.

I was particularly thrilled to be taking part in this tasting as, apart from quickly reviewing the "Finest" last year, I have had no other experience with this brand and on that note I shall move onto the whiskies themselves.

Ballantine's "Finest" - Bottled at 40% ABV this is the oldest recipe in their range having been first created way back in 1910.  There's more than 40 malts and grains in this blend which have been selected from 4 different Scottish regions.

Nose - Crisp, barley, lemon shortbread biscuit, oak resin and sugary orange syrup.  A light grassy note along with slight perfume.  Just the faintest smoke hides in the background then we come back to lemon sherbet and salted butter popcorn.

Palate - Fresh, spicy arrival that moves into zingy citrus, lemon, orange and lime juice.  Bags of toffee and caramel show a serious sweet side to this one and then you get red apple and clove rock sweets which is slightly "new makey".  The smoke doesn't want to show itself on this palate.

Finish - Slightly short but big on sweet red apples.

Overall - A very decent whisky that is perfect as an entry level blend and for the normal price you can pick it up for, especially coming into the festive period, a serious must for when friends call round.

Ballantine's 12 Year Old - Bottled at 40% ABV this holds the distinction of being the favourite of Sandy Hyslop who stated, on the night, that it ticked all the boxes due to it's smooth, creamy, toffee, vanilla.  The maturation of this is a combination of American and European oak and the core malts involved are, as mentioned earlier, Glenburgie and Miltonduff.

Nose - Tropical. Banana, orange, lemon and candied pineapple.  Some red fruits present here and back to the tropical with a feel of tropical mix dried fruit.  With time this becomes more sherried with dried fruit, Christmas cake and mixed spice.  Banana cheesecake and a light, gentle char.  Not obviously smoke and certainly not peat just char.

Palate - Beautiful warm spice and stewed fruits with orange being dominant.  This has a lot more depth then the "Finest".  Blackcurrant / strawberry jam, clove and warm red apple crumble.  Very smooth.

Finish - Slightly short with clove, menthol and deep warm fruit.

Overall - This is an obvious step up from the "Finest" yet shouldn't cost too much more, depending on where you shop, and in that respect this is fantastic value for money.  I'll be buying a bottle this Christmas.

Ballantine's 17 Year Old - Bottled at 40% ABV this is marketed on Ballantine's website as having an extra depth of flavour, due to the longer maturation, which is characterised by a subtle sensation of smokiness that differentiates it from the 12 year old.

Nose - Deep, earthy fruits that are almost mineral in nature.  Light coffee, Terry's dark chocolate orange and a whisp of smoke which doesn't appear to be any more than was present on the "FInest".  More grassy notes with brown sugar syrup.  Feels a lot like the "Finest's" big brother.

Palate - Very smooth but a tad flat.  Brown sugar, malted bread, light clove spice, deep orange and a good initial juiciness.  The flavour builds well enough but fades rapidly to the end with no distinguishable finish.  I tried this several times to confirm my thoughts and each time the experience was the same.

Finish - Short and disappointing.

Overall - The promise of a great whisky, that was shown on the nose, did not deliver in the taste.  A bit of a let down to say the least.

Ballantine's 21 Year Old - Bottled at 40% ABV, we moved into the big hitters.  Hoping to see some great cask influence we were informed that this blend contains a higher proportion of European cask matured whisky than the rest of the range.

Nose - Rich and enticing.  Banana, grapefruit juice, orange and lemon oils.  Brown sugar, wood polish with rum and raisin ice cream.  Rich vanilla cream, perfume and an even more gentle whiff of smoke.  Huge deep leather and malt.

Palate - Sweet, sweet arrival with a good kick of clove and chilli spice.  Rich malt, dark red fruits and more red apple.  As hoped, there is a good sense of oak influence going on here.  In time you get a dustiness of old books and leather and right at the very end you get a little taste of smoke, first time it has shown itself in the palate.

Finish - Very good with dusty spice and right at the end you get a last taste of melted butter.

Overall - A great whisky and a great balance of age and spirit but you get the sense, as with the previous expressions, that this could do with a % or two more.

Ballantine's 30 Year Old - Now for the grand finale.  Bottled at 43% ABV, praise for the extra %, this is described as being the ultimate balance between distillery character and cask influence.  We are also informed that some of the whiskies involved are incredibly rare with the distilleries no longer in existence, but we get let in on the secret that these include Dumbarton and Dalmunach.

Nose - Old, dirty, damp smoke which I mean in the nicest possible way.  Thick oily feel to this one.  Old worn leather with lovely vanilla.  Tropical notes in here but the age dominates fantastically.  Ripe, mashed banana and more polished wood.  Dark melted chocolate and with time the, surprisingly fresh, fruit comes along with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Palate - Bitter / sour arrival.  Massive amount of damp, dusty wood that dries the mouth nicely.  Fruit is intense with a great feel of concentrated blackcurrant juice.  The rich malty notes interplay well with gentle spice.

Finish - Great length and moreish with blackcurrant, spice and an end of orange zing.

Overall - The star of the show which obviously comes at a price.  Great old flavours and sense of cask influence with intense fruit.  

Well that has certainly increased my knowledge of Ballantine's.  An excellent blend that shows great consistency of flavour through the range.  Their young blends are fantastic for the price with the serious oldies being of great character.  As for the 17 year old?  I'm not sure what happened there but maybe I'll try it again in the future and see if I'm impressed any more.

Once again a huge thanks to Steve Rush at, where anyone can apply to join in the fun of the tweet tastings, and also a big thank you to Sandy Hyslop of Ballantine's for passing on his knowledge on the night and giving us an extra insight into the whisky itself.

Until next time,



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Monday, 17 November 2014

The "NEAT" Glass - A New Era in Drinking Whisky?

A month ago, to the day, I was scanning through the realms of Twitter when I happened upon an offer from "The NEAT Glass UK" to sample their hot new piece of glassware.  Naturally I jumped at the chance and awaited it's arrival.

Upon arrival I was also treated to fine page of additional info which highlights the "NEAT" glass as being brand new to the U.K. and Irish market, hand blown and describes it as "the ultimate whisky tasting glass".  A pretty high claim if you ask me.

The secret, apparently, is in the shape.  The word "NEAT" stands for "Naturally Engineered Aroma Technology" and refers to the patented shape that is suggested to contribute to the "new whisky nosing experience."

The science behind this claim is that the neck of the glass concentrates the whisky whilst the flares disperse the ethanol over the rim thus eliminating the alcoholic burn in the centre of the "sweet spot".  The diagram below, taken from the "NEAT" glass website illustrates this beautifully.

The "NEAT" glass has won numerous awards including the Editor's Pick Award of Excellence 2013 in the Beverage Industry News Awards whilst also being the official glass for many competitions including the SIP Awards International Spirits Competition.

In order to examine this glass appropriately I felt it only fair to compare it directly with the one glass that it possibly trying to replace...The Glencairn.

Furthermore I also decided that it would only be right to compare the glasses over different styles of whisky so for this test I decided to compare the two glasses, firstly, over a cask strength (55% ABV), bourbon cask matured, whisky that I find to be particularly hot with alcohol, and, secondly, over a heavily sherried whisky bottled at 43% ABV.

Now for the results:

CASK STRENGTH WHISKY IN GLENCAIRN - An intense flavour profile and in honesty now that I'm comparing the two I can get a sense of the alcoholic burn in the middle of the nose which is a tad unpleasant when inhaled at any length, but in fairness a cask strength whisky would obviously be treated with more respect when being nosed by itself.  The flavours are bold and last forever in the glass.

CASK STRENGTH WHISKY IN "NEAT" GLASS - First thing to say is that the glass is a delight to hold, but holding at length might warm the whisky as your palm holds right around the base where the liquid is held.  It is also important to note that it is perfectly fine to drink from and quite obviously does not alter the taste in any way, but of course this is about the nosing.  In that respect; to get the full experience you really need to get your nose right into the glass.  They are perfectly correct in their claim that the alcoholic burn is taken out of the nose, there is simply no sting whatsoever.  The flavours are light and subtle, and you could argue that this allows you to discover the finer points of the whisky, but initially this made it difficult to distinguish definitive flavours but with a little practice, and adjustment of inhalation, you can get the hang of it.

VERDICT - While, undoubtably, it does exactly what it says on the tin, by eliminating the alcoholic burn, I'm left wondering if we're losing some of the spirit character, and with that some flavour, with the ethanol that is being dispersed over the rim.  I am of course no chemist and am unsure of exactly how much flavour, or character, is contained within the ethanol itself and with a lot of searching on the internet I'm still none the wiser.  Please feel free to respond if anyone knows the exact answer on this matter.

With the result decidedly ambiguous it was time to move onto the heavily sherried whisky bottled at 43% ABV.

SHERRIED WHISKY IN GLENCAIRN - Fresh and potent with the initial emphasis on fresh fruits before eventually moving onto the deep sherried notes after time.  Again is this the spirit showing through first?  With the Glencairn you can certainly take your time as the whisky seems to evolve a lot slower in the glass but yet again the extra alcohol is noticeable on the nose when compared to it sitting in the "NEAT" glass.

SHERRIED WHISKY IN "NEAT" GLASS - For me this is where this glass really comes into it's own.  With the dispersed ethanol we can immediately get into the sumptuous sherried notes.  Masses of dark fruit and Xmas spices, it's deep and inviting...everything a sherried whisky should be.  With the shape of the glass, and the lack of alcohol, you can really get into the whisky in the nosing sense.  Initially I felt that this was lacking in the fresh fruit that was noticeable in the Glencairn but to my great surprise, just as the Glencairn was easing on the freshness and alcohol, the whisky in the "NEAT" glass started to become fresh with fruit.  Completely unexpected but brilliant.  

VERDICT - With this particular whisky the "NEAT" glass is an absolute triumph.  To allow you access the whisky in so much detail but then bringing out the fresher notes towards the end goes against anything I was expecting.  All the flavours on show in the Glencairn were here in the "NEAT" glass in abundance but without any sting on the nostrils.  Fantastic stuff.

OVERALL VERDICT - First and foremost I feel it's important to state that you should all drink your whisky in whatever you find enjoyable.  The most vital thing is that you enjoy the whisky that you've chosen to spend your time with.  That said, I also believe that it is important that we push ourselves to experience our whisky in new ways and this is certainly a new way.  

Whether the "NEAT" glass establishes itself as a major player in the U.K. and Irish whisky market will remain to be seen but one things for sure, it's worth the try.  

I'm not going to sit here and say I've covered all the bases as it would take a serious amount of comparison to get to the bottom of how good the glass is but from what I've seen, especially with the sherried whisky, the "NEAT" glass has a place in the whisky world.  

Obviously if the "NEAT" glass can replicate that experience with all forms of whisky, old and young, including, heavily peated and blends, then we are all going to have to sit up and take notice.

I for one will not be abandoning my beloved Glencairn but I will also most definitely not be abandoning my "NEAT" glass and I can only look forward to trying a lot of my future whiskies in each glass and bringing some of the results to you.

All that's left to say is a huge thanks to "Beaumont PPS" for sending me the "NEAT" glass and I highly recommend you all check out the website, I've linked below, where you can find an absolute wealth of further information explaining the science behind the glass in more detail than I could ever imagine to cover.

Until next time,



The "NEAT" Glass UK website -

The "NEAT" Glass UK Twitter -

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Beam Suntory's "Peated Malts of Distinction" - Tweet Tasting - Review

On Wednesday 12th November 2014 I sat myself down for another evening's Tweet Tasting fun in which all involved were presented with Beam Suntory's newly named "Peated Malts of Distinction".

The four whiskies that make up this collection are:
The Ardmore - Legacy, 
Connemara - Original,
Bowmore - Small Batch, 
Laphroaig - Select.

Capitalising on their "leading position in the category", Beam Suntory have brought these whiskies together to allow "both the trade and consumer to explore an extensive variety of peat flavours and taste profiles."

The whiskies involved are powerhouses in their own right and for this collection they have chosen to use NAS presentation (bottled at 40% ABV), which, in my humble opinion, will provide a great entry level insight into peated whisky and allow anyone, who has maybe stayed away from peated whisky in the past, to re-approach this unique flavour in a fresh way.

An accompanying press release, that arrived with the samples, provided some insight into rise of the peated malt category by suggesting that it is currently experiencing a 8% growth rate in the Europe, Middle-East and Africa region.  We are also informed that peated malts currently represent 17% of total malt volume sales within the same area.  

Perfect timing then for such a collection to be presented to the world?

Onto the whiskies themselves.

First up on the evening was The Ardmore - Legacy.

Replacing the "Traditional Cask", as it's core expression, it is described as being "aimed at challenging mainstream single malt brands, offering a lightly peated liquid that is sweet and uplifting."  

To push the boundaries Ardmore have experimented by balancing unreleased unpeated malt with their traditional peated malt.  They have also gone "all out" with the packaging by having a design that "reflects the spirit of Ardmore" which, by their account, is a symbolic eagle and a contour map of Ardmore's home Kennethmont.

Nose - Crisp smoky bacon, lemon biscuits, mashed banana on toast.  The smoke is light and playful.  Sweet, creamed rice pudding with citrus honey.  Not much spice going on here and with time the sweetness eases to allow it to become more green with grass and pine.

Palate - Sweet with underlying earthiness that wasn't too visible on the nose.  Incredibly smooth (possibly too smooth, if possible).  Orange peel, lemon citrus and some menthol.  Spice is still absent and the green flavours lurk in the background with the emphasis again on grass.  Also a light caramel flavour running through the spirit.  Obviously not Islay but great to try against them.

Finish - Short with slight smoke and fresh fruit.

Overall - A very easy drinking malt that's interesting to try against the bigger Islay flavours.  A touch on the thin side and, as with all these whiskies, could do with a bit more oomph on the ABV front.

Connemara - Original  

This is one worth watching as time moves on.  I have long been a fan of the whiskey produced down in Cooley, with Greenore single grain and Locke's being two stunners, but I have to be honest.  Recently, as you may know, I wasn't at all blown away by the new Connemara 22yo and again, with this tasting of the "Original", I've been left feeling a little let down.  

I can't quite work out what the problem is.  Is it that the lovely spirit character of Cooley does not integrate well with peat?  Is it that they are being too restrained and need to pump more phenols into their entire range?  Is it that they have rested on their laurels too much from the days when Connemara was winning awards across the world?  The honest answer is that I do not know but, as I stated, I'm looking forward to seeing how this brand develops under the new Beam Suntory regime because I love Irish whiskey and would love to see this become a great, great representative of what we can produce. 

Nose - Fruity, orange, lemon, pineapple and some red apple.  The smoke builds slowly.  Not massive, earthy, turf but rather light, gentle, peat smoke that drifts lightly over the fruit.  Slight perfumed note hiding underneath and you get a great sense of freshness and vibrancy.  Pear drops appear and a strange plastic note comes through but not in a bad way.

Palate - The very instant fruit arrival is quickly dominated by spice and heat.  Chilli pepper, black pepper and cloves.  After a while the orange and lemon return but you get a feel that it's all a little watery and thin.  There is some wood influence showing through and again the peat smoke just hides in the background.

Finish - Medium due to the heat which lingers on in the mouth.  To get any big sense of the peat you really need to take a hell of a gulp which a) will get you hammered, b) burn your mouth to a cinder with chilli and c) give you no sense at all of what this spirit should be.

Overall - I just find this OK.  Does not fill me with excitement and I certainly wouldn't rush to buy a bottle.  Work needs done to turn this into a whiskey that can truly contend with the big Peat champions out there.  By all means try it if you can and formulate your own opinion but in comparison to the likes of Locke's and Greenore this does not hold it's own.

Bowmore - Small Batch

Any of you that have followed this blog from the very start will know that this was briefly reviewed by myself back in December 2013.  Back then I stated that I was worried about the NAS presentation and expected it to be a young, feisty dram that would be hard to like and to my surprise I was delighted with what I had tasted.  

Naturally then I was excited to see this in the line-up, to give me a chance to confirm what I had thought last year, and compare it amongst it's other entry level rivals....again I was not disappointed.

Nose - Salty, plastic seaweed.  Proper earthy mineral peat that feels it has been ground into the malted barley.  It is by no means over the top though and the peat asserts itself in a restrained way.  Citrus freshness is here in abundance and is accompanied by toasted oats, light vanilla honey and milk chocolate.  The feel becomes lighter with time but does not detract from the fact that this is extremely well balanced.

Palate - Clean, fresh with a lovely combination of lemon, honey, smoke and spice.  A light wood smoke comes through along with some more salty notes.  The spice is perfect and integrates so well with the other flavours.  Yet again I can not believe that this is a NAS whisky.

Finish - Slightly longer than I remembered with smoke, spice and a serious urge to drink some more.

Overall - This has once again taken my breath away.  For a NAS whisky to be so well balanced and, comparatively speaking, so complex is truly a wonder.  With talk that you can pick this up for as little as £25, in certain stores, all I can say is BUY, BUY, BUY.  Really magnificent stuff.

Laphroaig - Select

A release that was chosen out of 6 different samples by the "Friend's of Laphroaig", who also chose the name.  This particular whisky is a real mix up with Oloroso sherry butts, straight American white oak (non-filled with bourbon), PX seasoned hogsheads, Quarter Casks and first fill bourbon casks all being represented here.

Having not tasted this before I was naturally curious as to how all these strong influences would marry together (if even they do?)

Nose - Sweet, malty peat smoke.  Iodine, salted popcorn, pine and pineapple (yes both), sticking plasters, some dark chocolate and with time the sherry notes appear with dried fruit.  As with the Ardmore I get some rice pudding and familiar Laphroaig toasted oats are here.  This is distinctly Laphroaig but much, much more restrained.

Palate - BOOM, we're definitely in Islay now with big earthy peat smoke. Mineral, iodine, TCP, sweet with a little red apple and salted caramel.  Some chilli spice in here which is maybe it's age showing through and towards the end a little tar / oil feel comes into play.

Finish - Decent length with a nice linger of peat.

Overall - A good solid whisky but could this be too over complicated?  Have too many cooks spoilt the broth?  I think this is one that I would need to spend a lot more time with before making a real final conclusion.

Well that's all for this journey through the peated drams of Beam Suntory.

Once again a huge thanks to Steve Rush at, where anyone can apply to join in the fun of the tweet tastings, and also a big thank you to Alexandra Gerolami of Focus PR for the lovely samples and press release.

Until next time,



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Monday, 3 November 2014

Whisky Live Dublin 2014 - Review

A few weeks ago I brought you a bit of a preview of Whisky Live Dublin, which took place in the Mansion House, Dawson Street on Saturday 25th October 2014, and now it's only right that I give a brief review too.

Needless to say it was one hell of a day with more stalls than ever before and a bumper crowd of enthusiasts all enjoying the many delights on show.

Now I have to be honest and state that I didn't quite get the chance, during the show, to get tasting notes down but I shall take you around some of the stalls on show and highlight some of the drinks to keep an eye out for in the near future.

Kilbeggan Distilling Company - Their new 21yo blend has now been released and is as smooth as you'd expect to find from Cooley distillery.  Also of note is that the Greenore 8yo is now named Kilbeggan and the Kilbeggan 18yo is now in a Greenore shaped bottle.  The Greenore shaped bottle is now used across a lot of the range and is obviously going to be key in their marketing going forward.

Echlinville Distillery - You may remember a while back when I got excited at the return of the Dunvilles Whiskey brand only to find the first release to be a little lacklustre?  Well everything I had hoped would happen is happening.  After speaking with distillery owner, Shane Braniff, and seeing what direction future releases shall be taking, I can confirm that exciting times are ahead.  A new Dunvilles release should be imminent which shall be an aged single malt (from a distillery unknown), PX finished and bottled at 46%.  All exactly the way it should be for this distillery to make it's mark on the Irish Whiskey scene.  Watch this space for more on these arrivals as and when they happen.

Glendalough Distillery - Up until this event I was only aware of their 7yo single malt but literally as I was taking a quick pre-show look around the Celtic Whiskey Shop a brand spanking new 13yo single malt appeared before my very eyes.  Having tried both I can confirm that both are of good solid quality and extremely well priced in todays NAS orientated market.  If I'm being honest though the 7yo edged it for me but only just.  Furthermore there is some talk of a possible Belfast tasting coming soon but again watch this space and I shall be updating you when I hear any further.

Knappogue Castle - The stand out highlight of the day was their new 14yo, single cask, marsala wine finished, single malt (which is, of course, from Bushmills).  The complexity combined with layer upon layer of flavour was just outstanding and yet again goes to show what Bushmills could be with a little more licence to be creative, hopefully this shall come with their change of ownership next year.  Knappogue also have a 14yo, single cask, burgundy finished, single malt which, while still good, was nothing compared to the marsala finish.

Teeling Whiskey Company - Yet again here in force and pushing their brand new NAS single malt.  A fantastic wee dram and one which I shall be checking out further in the future.  Another taste of their single grain, backed up by their award for Irish Single Grain Whiskey of the year, just confirmed my opinion that it is a class act.

Celtic Cask (Celtic Whiskey Shop) - JUST the three new releases to show off then?  On show was Seacht (Seven), Ocht (Eight) and Naoi (Nine) which was a peated malt.  Stand out of these three was the Ocht which is an older brother of the Sé (Six) which I've reviewed previously but I have to acknowledge that the Naoi has recently picked up Irish Single Cask Whiskey of the year.

Palace Bar & Jack Ryan - Palace Bar 14yo single malt and Jack Ryan 12yo single malt were the two I tried from these companies and have to say both were excellent with the Palace Bar's offering being particularly special.

Ruby Blue Liqueur -  Whilst not a whiskey I believe they deserve a special mention for their presentation of their drinks.  A delicious range of liqueurs which include blackcurrant, wild blueberry, cranberry and chilli pepper (which got my vote for liqueur of the year).  Using real fruit and grain spirit their drinks are clean, fresh and delicious, especially with cocktails.  Well worth looking out for.

It goes without saying that there were far more stands on show but I probably could've went to both the afternoon and evening sessions and still not have seen everything.  

Well hopefully that has given you an idea of what you missed and what to look out for in the near future.  The main point that I took away from this show was that exciting times are ahead for Irish whiskey and judging by the people involved it's reputation is in excellent hands.

Until next time,