Monday, 9 November 2015

Glenleven Malt Whisky - 12 year old - Review

As we move into the festive season many people are, as always, on the lookout for something a little different to buy for the whisky drinkers they know and, whilst any fan of whisky should be happy with almost anything they receive, it is always nice to see people taking the extra time to find something that's maybe not always available on the supermarket shelves.

One excellent way to achieve this, without breaking the bank, is to keep an eye on the various online whisky auctions.  These auctions do have many collectable items,  at eye watering prices, but they also have many unusual, and older bottles, that won't hurt the wallet and will give said whisky drinker something truly out of the ordinary.

This is what leads me on to this review.  Last year, around this time, I made my first purchases from an auction site.  I managed to pick up this bottle of Glenleven and a bottle of Dimple, another older blend.  The final bidding price for each was £12.50 and with postage I was able to get these two, now unseen bottles, for about £20 each.  For me this is an awesome price to pay for something that can't be found anymore.

A question would always be if what you are buying is in anyway decent, and with a little online research you may be able to get some information, but I find that the adventure of opening up a bottle of an unknown, older whisky is reward in itself and, in fairness, most older bottles I've tried have different great qualities to them.

Moving onto this bottle of Glenleven, it is a 12 year old blended malt whisky, or pure malt, or vatted malt, or whatever way you choose to describe it.  Essentially what this means is that it is a blend of various single malt whiskies and in this case it is specifically a blend of 6 different malt whiskies.  While it is unknown exactly what malts are involved I have received information that two of the malts may be Glenkinchie and Glenlossie.

It was bottled back in and around the 1980s, at a slightly larger amount of 750mls and at a strength of 43% ABV.  The last info, as seen in the picture, is that it came from John Haig & Co. Ltd.

I don't care what anyone else says, for me, a 1980s bottle of whisky, containing only single malts, at 750mls and at 43% ABV for £12.50 (plus postage) is a bargain.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Old,  rich and indulgent.  Starts off with old wood, dusty wood, wood sap and pine.  Maybe a hint, just a hint, of wood smoke, probably from the casks.  Stewed apples, stewed oranges and a nice spirit undertone.  A little citrus and a little PX sherry with dark dried raisins.  All in all this is velvety and very inviting.  With a little water a lovely Jamaican ginger cake note arrives with more wood sap.

Palate - Old and smoky arrival.  Again this is definitely wood smoke and not earthy peat.  A little heat from the spirit and at this point it feels like a little water would help.  With water we get the apples and oranges but this time they feel a lot fresher.  Water also brings out a lot more of the dusty notes and with time we go back to the stewed, sherry notes.

Finish - Perfectly fine with a great mix of fruit juice.

Overall this is a fantastic experience.  The flavours involved here are simply not that easy to find in today's bottles.  The old dusty notes and wood notes, in my opinion, are indicative of the style of whisky being made back in the 1980s and also may give some insight into the way it may have been stored.

I've no doubt that back then, the whisky was produced differently, casks were a little older in their lifespan, storage conditions may have been a little rougher, damper and generally not as clinically clean as some modern day storage facilities and this, for me, has led to some completely different flavour profiles.

I've noticed this in this bottle, older Dimples and Old Parr whiskies.

It is these differences that make this a special experience.  Yes we could all go out and keep buying standard bottles of blends and malts but every once in a while it should be an aim to find something different and, the bottom line is, we don't need to spend hundreds of pounds to achieve this.

Happy hunting.

Until next time,



Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Whisky Magazine's "Battle of the Blends" - Review

Back in the December '14 / January '15 issue of Whisky Magazine "the battle of the century" was about to commence as we were advised of an upcoming, 8 round, "Heavyweight Championship Bout". 

No, Whisky Magazine had not suddenly decided that a little coverage of pugilism was required to beef up their publication, but rather this was the beginning of a serious battle of two heavyweights of the whisky world.

Dave "The Rummager" Broom and Neil "Copper Dog" Ridley were being brought together to put their considerable whisky knowledge to the test and to battle each other in attempting to create the perfect blend.

Starting off with identical 20 litre, first fill, American oak casks, which would be toasted and seasoned with a high strength neutral spirit, the contestants would kick things off by seasoning the casks with whatever liquid they so desired before commencing their blend.

A few ground rules were also set out:

1 - The first fill of each cask would be 1 litre of Clynelish, from the Highland region.

2 - All regions of Scotland had to be incorporated and there was no order as to their use.

3 - Each bottle used in the blend had to be commercially available in the UK and cost under £50, apart from a wildcard bottle.

4 - At least one grain whisky was to be used with no restriction on it's origin.

5 - One wildcard was to be used.  This could be a whisky from anywhere in the world but, again, had to be commercially available in the UK and cost no more than £150.

6 - The blend was to be under 50% ABV when finally bottled.

7 - A minimum of 15 litres of blend had to be prepared.

8 - There was no restriction as to the amount of each whisky category that could be used.

9 - The blend was to be completed by 1st September 2015.

As the contest got underway the first task, as mentioned earlier, was for the contestants to season their 20 litre casks.  Dave Broom opted for a rum seasoning whilst Neil Ridley went for a homemade blend of sherries consisting of Oloroso, Manzanilla, PX and Palo Cortado.

Over the course of the next 8 / 9 months the readers followed along as Dave and Neil battled with the components of their respective blends.  There were highs and lows as each blend ebbed and flowed with balance and flavour.

In the end the blends finally came together and what had been created were two blends packed full of diverse whiskies that were sure to challenge each other and fight for dominance in any drinkers glass.

Dave's blend included whiskies from Clynelish, Teaninich, Girvan, Cameronbridge, Greenore (Cooley), Caol Ila, Aultmore, Springbank, Kilkerran (Glengyle), Ardmore and Glenkinchie.

Neil, however, went for whiskies from Clynelish, Aberlour, Dailuaine, Nikka (Miyagikyo), Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie, Highland Park, Arran, Bowmore, Overeem, Hazelburn (Springbank) and Springbank itself.

With both blends completed a winner had to be found and what better way to decide on one than by getting the readers of Whisky Magazine to sample each blend and submit a vote for their favourite.

Not knowing how many samples would be available I stuck my name in to volunteer and luckily enough I was one of the many selected.

The samples arrived, courtesy of "Drinks by the Dram", and I set aside a night to really give these the serious tasting they deserved.

I'd like to point out that at the time of tasting, those of us, who had volunteered to sample the blends, had nothing but a "Blend A" and a "Blend B" in front of them.  The tasting was therefore "blind" and truly fair.

However, at the time of writing, the results have now since been published and I have also shown which contestant blended which sample.

Onto my notes:

Blend A - 42.1% ABV - Now known to have been blended by Neil Ridley

This was marginally the darker of the two blends.

Nose - Green apple leading to waxy smoke.  Becomes more sherried with some dried fruit and hints of tropical, over-ripe, pineapple.  Pine wood / pine sap which then softens out with oak vanilla, orange marmalade and a little dustiness which hides just underneath.  A little note of BBQ wood chips comes through and with time a mellow sense of oak effect appears.

Palate - Sour arrival but quite smooth.  On second tasting there's a little more of a kick from the spirit with sweet malt, lemon drops, black pepper, vanilla and more wood sap.  Juicy with apples and still get a sense of the dusty wood.  In terms of smoke, there's just a little lurking in the background.

Finish - Quite good, a little bit of length with nice, dry wood spice.  Stewed oranges and apple crumble.  Quite lip smacking.

Blend B - 43.5% ABV - Now known to have been blended by Dave Broom

Nose - Candied fruits leading to light smoked bacon.  Smoke continues with dried wood smoke.  Quite spirity and a little bit hard to get into.  Does begin to open up with a little orange and lemon.  A little dried fruit and cinnamon.  After a little longer a coastal note comes through with mineral peat.  The longer this spent in the glass the more the peat came to the fore but all the time the nose retained it's spirit feel with a little added vibrancy from more lemon.

Palate - Youthful with orchard fruits and a little chilli heat.  More orange but to be honest a little one dimensional.  As with the nose the peat eventually comes along and is a nice change of direction.  Combines with the zesty lemon to give a salty lemon note, think aftertaste of a tequila shot minus the overpowering nature of the tequila spirit.

Finish - Just ok and, in fairness, maybe a little too confused.  Still not coming together and possibly the peat has cancelled the other elements out without being enough on it's own.

Overall this was every bit the "ding-dong" contest you would come to expect from an actual heavyweight boxing bout.

Blend A started off much the better with it's openness, and accessibility, being the highlight while it's counterpart remained very much closed up and difficult to get into.  This despite Blend B showing off some nice notes of peat.

Moving onto the taste, Blend A carried through it's flavours from the nose nicely whereas Blend B, initially, went along a one dimensional route and, as I waited for each to develop in the glass, Blend A brought along mellow notes of sherry and wood sap whilst Blend B refused to budge.

It was towards the end that Blend B began it's fight back.  As Blend A showed overall balance, and tailed off with some nice dusty wood, Blend B went a totally different direction offering up delicious peat which was mineral, coastal and earthy in nature.

With the finish, Blend A remained balanced, and well rounded to the end, but it has to be said it carried this off with little excitement throughout. 

Blend B's last minute injection of peat was a nice surprise but was also to be it's ultimate downfall, as this led it's finish to feel somewhat confused.

With these final thoughts it was clear which blend had come out on top - Blend A.

Looking back now, I am drawn to the amount of grain used by Dave Broom combined with his choice of rum seasoning for his cask.  In my humble opinion this appears to be where the problem of Blend B began.  The use of 3 different grains possibly caused a lack of depth and allowed the Caol Ila element to dominate too easily.  The use of rum also seems to have been an issue as Neil Ridley's choice of sherry was noticeable throughout his blend and seemed to bind it together with depth of flavour.

Whether I am even remotely close with this evaluation, or not, is somewhat irrelevant, as either way this has been a great experience which has taught me a thing or two about blends and how different flavours can work together, and also how they can not.

I have to take my last moments to congratulate Whisky Magazine on a quality feature.  To have a running article that allows readers to follow along and ultimately take part in the finish is outstanding.  It has been an absolute joy to be part of this experience and am already looking forward to next years contest.

If Neil Ridley is to come back, to defend his crown, then he will bring with him a far greater insight into what is required to make a blend work and I can only see the quality of the blends becoming better and better.

Similarly, Whisky Magazine will also be able to see what rules worked and what other rules they could maybe add in the future to allow for a greater test of blending skill.

Until next time,



Friday, 16 October 2015

An Evening With Glendalough Distillery

It had been a while since I had been down, but last month I attended the Hudson Bar, Belfast to partake in one of their "Whiskey Club" evenings.

The reason for making the extra effort was due to the fact that this evening was being hosted by Glendalough Distillery and more specifically, one of their founders, Gary McLoughlin. 

This is a distillery that has been around for a good few years but, at the same time, one I had little experience of.

Labelling themselves as "Ireland's first craft distillery", Glendalough was formed in 2011 and are one of the many new start distilleries that have been popping up across the whole of Ireland in recent times.  The Distillery was founded by five gentlemen who, having all previously worked in the drinks industry, decided to finally take the plunge and stop working for others, to start working for themselves.

"Determined to carve their own way", the founders looked towards the medieval monastic settlements, where the craft of distillation was born, for inspiration.  Located just south of Dublin, Glendalough, Co. Wicklow, is the site of one such settlement which was first established, in the sixth century, by the Irish monk St. Kevin.

Today St. Kevin is instantly recognisable as the figure on the front of every bottle of Glendalough Whiskey, "serving as a symbol of the independent character and ancestral reverence at the heart of Ireland's first craft distillery."......How's that for some marketing spiel??

Getting back to the night in question though, Gary McLoughlin did offer a lighter note, as to the symbol of St. Kevin, by suggesting that he was to Glendalough what Mr. Jack Daniels, himself, is to the bourbon we all know very well.

Moving onto the drinks side of things we had a nice line up to work through.  On show for the evening was the "Double Barrel" Single Grain, 7yo Single Malt, 13yo Single Malt and their brand new Autumn Gin.

Starting off with the "Double Barrel" we are told that this single grain is made from a mash bill containing 90% Corn and 10% Malted Barley.  The distilled spirit was then matured for 3 and a half years in a 1st fill ex-bourbon cask, from Wild Turkey, and then given a 6 month finish in an ex-Oloroso cask before being bottled at 42% ABV.

As far as single grains go, it's pretty good.  Very smooth with the Oloroso influence very evident and a nice peppery, savoury note.  We are also informed that this "Double Barrel" also recently won a double gold at this years "San Francisco World Spirits Competition".

At time of writing Glendalough also have a triple barrelled single grain available on the U.S. market which has had the addition of Madeira maturation.  In time it may make it's way to these shores.

It's important to note that, at the moment, Glendalough have no aged stock of their own whiskey, so each whiskey is currently sourced from Cooley in Co. Louth.  What is also important though is that it doesn't necessarily matter so much where the spirit is originally from, but how it is handled and released by those who purchase it.

Glendalough have started distilling their own whiskey and only 3 weeks prior to this event they had produced their first pot still whiskey which was casked into ex Maker's Mark barrels.

At this point I'd also like to add that I'm a firm believer that Irish single grain has the opportunity to dominate this particular area of the whiskey market.  With the likes of Kilbeggan (formerly Greenore) and Teeling Single Grain already out there, and also having recently tasting a Midleton Single Grain (although admittedly this may never be released as a single grain), I honestly believe that Irish Single Grain knocks the socks off anything coming out of Scotland, where it is mostly used as blend filler.

Moving onto the 7yo Single Malt we are treated to an array of further marketing as to why the number "7" is so important but to move things along I shall just concentrate on the liquid in the bottle.  This is a double distilled single malt that has been aged in 1st fill ex-bourbon barrels from Wild Turkey before being bottled at 46% ABV.

On first taste it is, for me, undoubtedly Cooley in origin.  An lovely bourbon smoothness is accompanied by green apple, soft banana and soft grain.  As far as awards go this also was successful in San Francisco, picking up a silver medal.

Before moving onto the 13yo we get an insight as to what to expect in the near future with explanation that Glendalough currently have 10yo whiskey maturing in 4 different casks: Port, Rum, Madeira and Cabernet Sauvignon.

As for the 13yo the story behind it's origin is pretty unique.  Whilst in a bar, in New York City, a certain Irish rugby legend, Brian O'Driscoll, spotted Glendalough's Poitin and happened to get speaking to one of the founders.  After hearing their story he loved it so much that he wanted to get involved. 

At this time Glendalough were attempting to source 12yo whiskey from Cooley but after getting "B.O.D." on board they wanted to honour this by releasing a 13yo, which as any rugby fan knows was O'Driscoll's shirt number.  This resulted in much hurried phone calls to secure the odd numbered spirit but obviously they succeeded.

What they have now is an excellent Irish whiskey.  The 13yo is packed full of fresh fruits that range from fruit salad and lemon sherbet to white wine / grappa and more banana.  The bourbon influence isn't as noticeable, upon first nosing, but with time the creaminess comes along and rounds off a pretty tasty dram.

In San Francisco this 13yo conquered all by receiving a double gold and also the honour of being crowned "Best Irish Single Malt".  I'm not sure what other single malts it was up against but this is still an amazing accolade to have.

Upon speaking with Gary McLoughlin, I quizzed him on how they intend on developing their flavour profile as they move from sourcing outside whiskey to releasing their own, and his answer was honest.  They don't intend on trying to carry the specific flavours you find in their current range through into the future. 

They understand that it would be near on impossible to replicate this and therefore, there will be a time when we should see a definitive shift from their current ages to a style that has been completely developed by Glendalough and Glendalough alone.  It isn't clear when that will be but, when it is on the horizon my advice would be to snap up the current range as they will then soon become collectors items.

To finish off the evening we are treated to a taste of their brand new seasonal Autumn gin. 

Each season Glendalough work alongside local forager Geraldine Kavanagh to handpick the very best local botanicals, berries and fruit.  They then produce their gin in small batches and keep each season's output to no more than 3,000 bottles.  As is obvious, the ever changing Irish climate ensures that each season is completely unique and will also change from year to year.

As for this particular gin some of the fine ingredients used were nettle, rosehip, rosemary, Fraughan berries, crab apple, ground ivy, ginger and bitter almond.

Now, I'm no gin expert but after tasting this I may have to start partaking a little more.  This smelt absolutely divine and I can only imagine how much fun you could have with a couple of choice mixers.  Truly delicious and one to watch out for.

To finish off this update I'd like to think about this:

As Irish whiskey moves forward it will be interesting to see what works and what doesn't.

It is no doubt exciting that there are so many new distilleries opening up but it has been well documented that it is absolutely imperative that each new distillery understands that the Irish whiskey industry isn't some craze that you jump on the back of to make a "quick buck", but something that should be treasured and respected.

Irish whiskey has been through some tough times, and throughout those times a select few carried the mantle and kept the industry going.  They were also the ones to see Irish whiskey through it's dark days whilst managing to maintain the standards and quality that are revered the world over.

This is the challenge facing new distilleries.  They have to carry on in the same light as those select few and maintain the standards themselves.  If each new distillery can achieve this then Irish whiskey has a very bright future and in the case of Glendalough I am confident that, after this evening with them, they have what it takes to carry Irish whiskey on into the future.

Good luck lads and I look forward to seeing what you have in store for us whiskey lovers in the future.

Many thanks to Gary McLoughlin, and the Hudson Bar, Belfast, for a fantastic evening and if you happen to be in Belfast and would like to find any of the Glendalough bottles then head to "The Vineyard" on the Ormeau Road, they have the full range in stock.

Until next time,



Thursday, 1 October 2015

An Evening With Midleton Master Blender Billy Leighton

Earlier this year, I attended another wonderful event hosted by the Merchant Hotel in the centre of Belfast.  This was the second in their "By The Fire" whiskey events and welcomed Midleton's master blender Billy Leighton to take us through a range of whiskeys from the Midleton portfolio.

As with the previous event, with Colum Egan, the room was set and provided the perfect setting for the evening's festivities.

Tickets had sold out well in advance and the crowd was eagerly anticipating what we might be treated to, let's face it, these nights always have a wee surprise in store.

To get us in the mood we started off with a Jameson, Ginger & Lime, a drink that Jameson have tried hard to market and in fairness I think it's starting to take hold.  When out in the town I hear more and more people asking specifically for this and even at a recent leaving dinner, in Newtownards, the drink on offer was this very concoction.

It's a drink that works and is a perfect little taster for people that want to try something different and might bring more into the whiskey world.

As Billy Leighton introduced himself the mood was relaxed, and laid back, with no strict script and questions flowing back and forward.

The main line up for the evening was as follows: Powers "John's Lane", Redbreast 12yo, Redbreast 12yo cask strength, Redbreast 15yo and Redbreast 21yo.  Not bad at all for the £25 ticket price.

As the conversation carried on Billy acknowledged the perception of him working in a lab, bringing together the wondrous flavours we know and love, but he was very honest in comparing himself more to a stock controller.

It's an aspect of the whiskey world that is often overlooked.  With such a large company, he is responsible for managing the huge stock at Midleton, the ages and cask types, to ensure that age statements and quality are maintained year on year.

When you consider that Midleton has something like 45 warehouses on site, each containing millions of litres of spirit, you get an idea of the scale of the task that faces him.

He continued by highlighting how his task is very different from scotch blenders who would have a larger range to play with.  As all Midleton blends are produced on site it's very much in his hands to maintain the stanards throughout all the styles.

To really hit this home he described that, because the much revered Redbreast 21yo has some 28yo whiskey contained within it, he has to have the next 28 years worth of 21yo already maturing.  As part of his role he also has to forecast for 10 years, so now the overall forecast is 38 years, and as a sherry cask takes 5 years to make, and season, this is now increased to 43 years.....this has to be done for all brands and their relevant expressions!!

As if this wasn't enough he also would divide forecasts into optimistic, pessimistic and realistic as the market changes.  Unbelievable really, when you think about it.

As we sipped the 12yo we were  informed that it roughly contains 12 - 14yo whiskeys.

He touched on global brand reach by stating that they are starting to do well in Russia and South Africa, have been doing well in the USA for about 10-12 years and are quiet in China, at the moment, due to other brands.

As we moved onto the 15yo we were treated to more inside information.  He highlighted the make up of the whiskey by stating the key character is sherry matured with a mix of first fill & second fill casks and also stated there is some 19yo contained within.

He also informed us that this was first made, back in 2005, as a "one off" for La Maison du Whisky in Paris, France. 

Four years later marketing came along asking him to re-create this expression for general release.  As this was initially a one off, the components were not readily available, to make the same flavour profile, but it was re-created as best possible from an original bottle held at Midleton. 

Only now, is the 15yo, more or less, at the same level as it was for that '05 special release.

We finished with the 21yo, which I absolutely adore, and if the tasting had finished there then I would have went home very happy came the surprises.

Five, yes FIVE, more samples that had been taken straight from the casks at Midleton.

They were as follows:

1 - Pot Still whiskey distilled in 1994 and matured in a first fill port cask
(Used in Jameson Rarest Vintage)
2 - Pot Still whiskey distilled in 1998 and matured in a first fill sherry cask
3 - Pot Still whiskey distilled in 1997 and matured in a first fill bourbon cask
4 - Pot Still whiskey distilled in 1996 and matured in an American virgin oak cask
(Small amount used in Jameson Gold)
5 - Grain whiskey distilled in 1990 and matured in a second fill bourbon cask

I could not believe my luck!!

He took us through each and the flavours were out of this world from, the almost meaty, port matured Pot Still to the exceptional single grain, which is quite simply the finest single grain I have ever tasted.

I quizzed him specifically on the single grain, and why there has never been a Midleton single grain released, and it seems that marketing just aren't that interested in getting it out there. 

I think they're mad in the head as this would put anything else on the market to shame.  I suppose it may be needed for more important blends but I'm sure if they got together they could get some maturing right now, even for some sort of a special release like the Mano a Lamh.

To finish off the evening we were treated to something truly special.  A chance, albeit slightly rushed, to see Billy Leighton at work.  It was at this moment he collected up one of each of the sample bottles and went round each table asking how much to use and, with that, he set about creating what I shall call the "By The Fire Blend".  

As we suggested measures he adjusted them accordingly to balance the flavours and we were then treated to a taste of this once in a lifetime blend. 

Amazing, just simply amazing.

As Billy brought the evening to an end he left us to enjoy what was left of the samples and my oh my did they disappear quickly.  Maybe even back to some people's houses....I'm saying nothing.

All in all an absolutely awesome evening and a great chance, yet again, to hear from the people who truly are at the heart of Irish whiskey.  It's not the bosses of Pernod Ricard, or previously Diageo, who fund our much love distilleries, but the people actually working there, day in day out, creating something special for everyone to enjoy.

With people like Billy Leighton at the heart of Irish whiskey, especially with the passion he has, I know we're in very safe hands as Irish whiskey continues to grow.

As for the "By The Fire" event, I know they were having a break over the summer months but I believe they are planning to start up again soon with a possible visit from Tullamore on the cards.

Lastly I would just like to thank the Merchant Hotel, and Billy Leighton, for a memorable evening and I look forward to more of the same.

Until next time,



Thursday, 17 September 2015

Powers - Three Swallow Release - Review

Another month and another new release from Irish Distillers.

Last night, as part of the Celtic Whiskey Club, I took part in a tweet tasting sampling the latest release under the Powers label - "Three Swallow Release.

Powers "Three Swallow Release" continues Irish Distillers' investment in the Powers brand and specifically Single Pot Still Powers.  This is aimed to fit into their range just below the Powers "Signature Release" and is intended to offer whiskey drinkers an alternative to the more expensive pot still whiskeys with age statements.

Due to be released in the next few weeks, Powers "Three Swallow Release" has been bottled at 40% ABV and without chill filtration.  For maturation they have selected a range of ex-bourbon barrels and a small portion of Oloroso sherry casks.

The name allegedly comes from the fact that a mouthful of Powers should never be swallowed in one go, but in three separate gulps.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Initially fresh and fruity.  Orchard fruits, green apple and there's a nice youthfulness to it.  Light grain and even lighter vanilla.  The casks are not overpowering this dram.  As it develops in the glass a smooth creaminess comes through from the bourbon casks.  We move on to tropical banana / banoffee pie with some sherry notes coming through too.  Ripe pear with a little spice in the form of black pepper.  This nose is really inviting and there's a great balance of cask influence with the sherry notes noticeable but coated by the bourbon elements.

Palate - Smooth with huge amounts of cream.  Red apple, ripe banana, a little butterscotch and a vanilla hit of crème brûlée.  While it would be nice to see this at 43% / 46%, it still retains a nice spirit kick at 40%.  With time a little dusty wood appears from the sherry casks and again the balance is lovely.

Finish - Medium with a nice dryness of wood spice, red apple and, at last, a little red fruit.

Overall I'm very impressed with this whiskey.  It displays a brilliant balance of cask influence and also carries through great fruit flavours from the pot still distillate.  In comparison to another recent Irish Distillers release, the Green Spot "Château Léoville Barton", I feel this wins hands down as it's an honest dram that doesn't try too hard to be anything other than what it is....a well made, well matured, Irish whiskey. 

While still not on general release (it's due to be released in the coming weeks) it remains to be seen what price point this whiskey appears at, but providing it is priced well, which it should be, then I would have no hesitation in recommending this as an excellent "go-to" pot still whiskey to have in your collection.

More of the same please Irish Distillers!!

Until next time,



PS - Excuse the slightly blurry image as a little jiggery pokery was required, given the fact no official photos have been released yet

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Cutty Sark - 33 year old "Art Deco" - Review

Hello there.  Things have been a little quiet on the "Whisky Belfast" front recently as I've been off enjoying a road trip around the west coast of Ireland, but now that I'm back in Belfast you can expect things  to move along quite nicely indeed.

To kick things off I've decided to post a quick fire review of a sample I've been meaning to taste for a while.

Back in November of last year collectors of old and fine whiskies were given a treat when Cutty Sark, the iconic blended whisky with the yellow label, released a 33 year old expression.

Named "Art Deco" this limited edition release came about as Cutty Sark continue to explore the rich history, heritage and origin of their brand.  This release specifically focused on the exciting Art Deco period of the 1920s and early 1930s.  Celebrating a time when Cutty Sark found its way into America and "flourished within the emerging cocktail culture and changed the face of Scotch whisky forever".

The release was limited to 3,456 bottles, was bottled at 41.7 ABV and came with a RRP of £650.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Rich orange, wood sap, a little old damp dustiness and it's worth noting the thick consistency in the glass.  Red apple and a little lemon but this stays firmly on the rich side of things.  A naturally indulgent nose.  Hardly any spices, just orchard fruits and blackberries.  There's a touch of soapiness in here, which might be mineral in nature, and at this age I'm not even going to bother adding any water.  Incredibly smooth with no hot notes of alcohol.  "Dairy Milk" fruit & nut chocolate and we continue with apples in the guise of warm apple crumble.  A slight melted butter note comes towards the end and with more time this only gets dustier and dustier in the glass.  Awesome nose!!

Palate - Quite spirit heavy which wasn't apparent on the nose.  This arrives with the dusty notes from the nose.  Old wood is obvious and gives away to the apples - cooked, ripe, stewed, every sort.  Seville orange marmalade and now a little mixed spice balanced with wood spice.  A little more wood sap, lemon drops and after a while this turns to pure fruit juice in the mouth.  The blackberry on the nose is more of a raspberry on the palate.

Finish - Short with some wood spice and red apple.

Overall this is a bit of a mixed bag.  Really enjoyable on the nose, good on the palate and disappointing on the finish.  I love the older style aromas that old whiskies offer up but I'm beginning to find the short finish a common theme amongst the older blends.  Dare I say it that, with blended whisky, it's possible for them to become too old???  Maybe they can but they will still be released while people are prepared to pay for "premium" product.  I've yet to find a blended whisky that I'd pay anywhere near £100 for let alone £650.

Until next time,




PS - Thanks to Jamie for the sample.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Hyde - No. 1 - 10 year old Irish Single Malt - Review

Irish whiskey is certainly booming.  Everywhere you look these days there are endless articles in newspapers, and online, about the way in which Irish whiskey is moving from strength to strength.

New companies seem to be popping up every other month and one that has appeared over the last year or so is Hyde Irish Whiskey.

Situated in West Cork, in the far south of Ireland, Hyde are using a model adopted by many.  Whilst patiently waiting for their own whiskey to mature they have bought up single malt whiskey from another distillery, finished it themselves and are releasing these bottlings to build up much needed capital.

The first release is the Hyde No.1 - Sherry Cask Finished - 10 year old Irish Single Malt.

This first release has also been named "The President's Cask" in honour of Douglas Hyde, the first President of Ireland, who was sworn into office on 26th June 1938.

Hyde whiskey state that West Cork provides perfect maturing conditions and this first release has spent 10 years in a first fill bourbon barrel before finishing off for 9 months in an Oloroso sherry cask.

They have then brought this down to 46% ABV, avoided chill filtration, and bottled 5,000 bottles, which have been individually numbered.

Not that it really matters, but for the serious knowledge hunters out there, it seems, from the press release, that only the sherry cask maturation has taken place in West Cork with the previous 10 years presumably having taken place in Co.Louth where this Single Malt originates from.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Straight from the off I always love the strange initial smells I get when I immediately pour a whiskey into the glass, and this is no exception, with a very faint initial hit of damp newspapers.  Let me assure you though that this is not at all a bad smell and is probably coming from the sherry casks.  The fresh / tropical fruits of the spirit are here along with the obvious touch of sherry cask and they work quite well.  Looking to the spirit side of things there's fresh apple, prominent ripe banana (maybe over ripe), a little fresh pineapple and some lemon / orange citrus.  Very much a fruit salad.  There's a slight buttery creaminess that leads into the sherry flavours but just before there's a little perfumed floral note.  The sherry influence is restrained but obvious.  The damp newspaper I got has now levelled out to a traditional dusty old wood effect.  Strawberry, raspberry and a bit of a youthful kick that brings some spice into play.  Over time the distinction between spirit and cask becomes less noticeable and the cask takes over.  The only thing that seems to happen with a touch of water is the fresh fruit gets a boost for a moment or two.

Palate - Initially soft and sweet that leads into strawberry chews.  A little on the thin side but all the flavours from the nose are here.  The dusty wood can be found in the arrival and the youthful spice takes over.  Orange, lemon, strawberry, raspberry and red apple which combines with the sweetness to give a taste of toffee apple.  Drying off quickly into the finish and with water the flavours are killed off quite quickly.  Best leaving water out of this.

Finish - A little short with some more fresh fruit.  To be honest, the finish is a little on the average side, but to be fair to Hyde I do not blame them in the slightest.  I have always found the finish, on most whiskeys from Co. Louth, to be on the average side, regardless of how it's been handled.

Overall this is a very decent whiskey that's been finished well to provide a nice balance of original flavours from the spirit with some fruity notes from the cask. 

When reviewing new whiskeys I always try to think about price as well, and this Hyde whiskey is currently on sale, in a well known Irish Whiskey store, for a fraction under £50. 

If I'm being honest I think this is too expensive for a 10 year old whiskey.  I understand the need to raise funds but this is a bit on the high side for my liking and for that reason I'd probably not buy it. 

That said, that is the only reason I would not buy it.  Flavour wise I think this hits the right notes and shows off the Co. Louth spirit whilst allowing Hyde to express themselves through a nicely managed finish.

As with a lot of the new companies I think Hyde have an excellent platform on which to build and I'm eagerly anticipating their new release which is due out very soon.  This will be their "Hyde No.2 - Rum Cask Finished - 10 year old".

Rum cask finishes are something I'm starting to come round to, after recently trying a single cask version, so I'm intrigued to firstly see how Hyde manage it and secondly, if the spirit is from the same distillery, how the already abundant tropical notes combine with a tropical finish.  Exciting stuff and hopefully the Hyde team will be at Whiskey Live Dublin to allow me to try some.

I would lastly just like to say a big thank you to Conor Hyde for the generous sample.

Until next time,



Thursday, 13 August 2015

"Fill Your Own" Teeling Whiskey

Towards the end of April I was lucky enough to get the chance to have a behind the scenes tour of the new Teeling Whiskey Distillery. 

Whilst on this tour, which I previously reviewed, I sampled two whiskeys that were due to be launched in the distillery shop and this morning I learnt that both are now available to buy.

The first of these whiskeys has been released as a "fill your own bottle" opportunity in the distillery shop.  It is an 11 year old Irish single malt that was distilled in 2004.  It spent the majority of it's life in a bourbon barrel before being finished for, what would now probably be, around 16 months in a White Burgundy cask.

This is being offered at a very good price of €100 and will obviously be bottled at cask strength, which at the time of writing is 58.4% ABV.

When I sampled this down at the distillery it was a fruit flavoured beast of a dram with notes of grappa and a seriously dry finish.  Extremely enjoyable and worth a look for sure.

The second of these whiskeys has been bottled already and is available in the distillery as a sort of "distillery reserve" bottling.  It is a 16 year old Irish single malt that was distilled in 1999 and has spent it's entire life in a rum cask.

This, in my opinion, is even better value at €85 and is also bottled at a cask strength of 59.7% ABV.

When I sampled this beauty I was blown away.  Rum and raisin ice cream gone mad whilst being incredibly smooth and deliciously sweet.  Out of the two whiskeys tasted this rum cask edged it for me but to be perfectly honest I'm probably going to get myself down to Teeling ASAP and get myself a bottle of each.

There are also rumours of a much older single malt becoming available very soon.

All I can say is that a strongly suggest you get yourselves down to Teeling, if you can, and see for yourselves everything they're doing to push Irish whiskey on to levels never seen before.  I honestly believe in what they are doing and think they will be leading the way for innovation as Irish whiskey continues to grow for years to come.

Until next time,



Monday, 10 August 2015

Green Spot - Château Léoville Barton - Review

Irish whiskey fans have already had a year to remember with Irish Distillers treating us to a few new releases including the Redbreast "Mano a Lámh" and the Midleton "Dair Ghaelach".  But it is their latest release that I shall be looking at this time around.

Green Spot "Château Léoville Barton" is the first ever Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey to be finished in Bordeaux wine casks.

Set in the heart of Bordeaux, one of the most revered wine making regions in the world, Léoville Barton is a grand cru Château renowned for producing world class wine.  Léoville Barton is overseen today by Anthony and Lilian Barton who are direct descendants of Thomas Barton, a "Wine Geese" winemaker who founded a wine merchant company in 1725 after migrating from his native Ireland.

For those of you not familiar with the term "Wine Geese" this refers to winemakers who migrated from Ireland in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries to establish wineries in countries such as France, Spain, Australia and the USA.

Green Spot, as I'm sure you may already know, can trace it's roots back to Dublin based wine merchants, Mitchell & Son, who matured, bottled and sold the original Green Spot under bond.  

Established in 1805, Mitchell & Son aged whiskeys, bought from John Jameson's Bow Street distillery in Dublin, in their own casks up until 1968.

It is this distinct connection between the two histories of Léoville Barton and Green Spot, that makes Anthony Barton feel very privileged to be able to contribute to the merging of these industries to produce something unique and "exceptional".  

With regards the whiskey itself, it has initially been matured in a traditional mix of ex-Oloroso sherry, new bourbon and ex-bourbon barrels.  The whiskeys were then transferred into the ex-Bordeaux wine casks for between 12 and 24 months, imparting "distinctive floral flavours of varying intensity" and "resulting in a perfectly balanced whiskey".

It has been bottled at 46% ABV, with no added colour, and no chill filtering, and has been available from June at a RRP of roughly £40.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Initially a savoury butter note, some "green" notes that I would noramlly get with Redbreast 15yo and a distinct dusty note lurks in the background.  As it opens in the glass it becomes much sweeter, almost candy like, with foam banana sweets, a little green apple and the butter now becomes quite fudge like with the sweetness.  There's not a massive amount of red fruit going on but some gentle strawberry is here.  Not much spice either.  Feels very smooth from the bourbon barrels with a creamy sweetness to match.  With this nose it feels like the bourbon barrels are definitely the dominant force but with time a wine note does come through in the form of grappa.

Palate - Nice balance of the sweet flavours with a now notable dry spice coming from the European oak.  More green apples and vanilla cream.  Red berries are more prominent here with a spicy cracked black pepper undertone.  Mouth feel is a little on the thin side but I stress only a little.  On the whole the "perfectly balanced" comment is definitely noticeable on the palate.

Finish - Nice length with the red fruits really starting to show along with a nice lingering dryness from the cask.  In opposition to the nose, the finish feels like the wine casks are the dominant force.

Overall this is a good whiskey, heading in the direction, but just falling short, of the very good.  It is well made and the wine casks have imparted a subtle note onto the spirit.

As with most reviews I usually get most notes down on the first taste and go over the notes with a second glass, to add any further flavours, and with the second glass this was improving with the fruit flavours becoming more complex.

That was until I added the tiniest drop of water which did more damage than good.  In my opinion this needs no water whatsoever and is best left as presented.

Would I recommend this whiskey? Yes.  Would I buy this at the price it's meant to be sold at? Yes.  Would it win any awards in the mythical awards ceremony in my head?  On this taste, probably not.

I'm left to ponder this against another release mentioned earlier, the Redbreast "Mano a Lámh", as they are both NAS Pot Stills, at a similar price point, and to be honest I'd probably opt for the Redbreast.  (Incidentally a review of this shall be up soon)

That said though, do not let that put you off.  As with anything this is obviously only my opinion and the only way to get a personal experience is to get out there and try it yourself.  If you love the normal Green Spot then this just may be the one for you.

Until next time,



PS A huge thanks Richmond Towers Communications for the sample and press release.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Benromach - 15 year old - Review

At the start of the year I posted a review of the Benromach 10 year old, which I had sampled at a masterclass at last year's Whisky Live Dublin, and in that review I touched upon the pride I felt Benromach were taking in their whiskies and how whiskies of such obvious quality should be the ones that are paid most attention.

As previously mentioned Benromach are pushing themselves forward by recreating whisky in a style that would've been seen coming from Speyside back in the 1960's and it is certainly paying dividends.

Fast forward to May and excitement grew as Benromach announced the latest addition to their already impressive range - Benromach 15 year old.

Priced at just under £50, the Benromach 15 year old has been bottled at 43% and has been matured in a mix of bourbon and sherry casks.

Upon receipt of a sample I was obviously eager to get the chance to see how this measures up against the very impressive 10 year old.

Onto my notes:

Nose - Rich. Lovely interplay between damp wood smoke, slight menthol and fruits that range from red berries to baked apple to tropical notes of ripe banana and then onto some orange marmalade.  As it softens in the glass a distinct buttery note comes through the gentle smoke.  In time the nose balances out perfectly and retains a zesty zing of citrus.  Spices are minimal in the form of black peppercorn and cinnamon.  With a touch of water a green grassy note appears along with some nice oak char.

Palate - Incredibly smooth and slightly sour arrival.  Sweet oranges and lemon drops are to the front and followed by rich malty notes that border on malt extract.  The smoke is even more gentle on the palate and is also less than what I remember from the 10 year old.  The extra time in the casks has clearly rounded this off very well indeed.  Spicing is again well balanced and again is only the merest hints of cracked black pepper.  With water the sourness eases to allow sweeter notes through.  Buttered popcorn, sweet orange and crisp citrus.  A slight sense of the smoke returns in the form of charred wood and the palate rounds off with light berry and oak spice.

Finish - Lovely length with dry oak spice, red fruits and crunchy red apples.

Overall this is another stunner from the team at Benromach.  With the slight smoke running through the luscious sherry notes they really have, in my opinion, started to get that old style feel to the whisky they are producing. 

Over time I have tried many different whiskies that were bottled long ago, and each time I've tasted them I've always wondered if we would ever see anything similar in the future as the older bottled whisky really is so, so different.  With this Benromach 15 year old I am now starting to see serious similarities.

You could bottle this into an old bottle from the 60's, 70's or 80's and I doubt too many would question that it wasn't from that era.  That said I am honest in saying that my experience of older bottled whisky is not extensive but what experience I have had would definitely add up to this conclusion.

For years people have always asked me what my favourite whisky was and my answer has always been the likes of Redbreast or maybe Balblair and, while they are still answers I shall give, I can now honestly add Benromach into that list.

This really is seriously good stuff and at a price of under £50 some other big companies should sit up and take notice of how easy it is to get things right

Until next time,


PS Huge thanks to Benromach for the sample.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Quiet Man - 8 year old Irish Single Malt - Review

Last month I brought you all an update regarding the release of two new expressions of Irish whiskey from a brand named "The Quiet Man".

Based in Derry City, "The Quiet Man" is the new brand of Niche Drinks ,who are planning big things with a £15 million distillery hopefully to be started later this year.

As I mentioned before, once up and running they shall be producing triple distilled malt whiskey that will be "as traditional and as authentic as possible" but, as with all of these new companies, the problem always remains of how to bring in the cash while building and waiting for your own whiskey?

The favoured route seems to be to buy up stock from other Irish distilleries, add your own touch and release under your own name.  And with "The Quiet Man" this business model is no different.

For some years now Niche Drinks been buying, and maturing, grain and malt Irish whiskey, both new make and already partially matured.  It is from these stocks of matured whiskey that they have released their two new expressions, which are a standard blend and an 8 year old Single Malt.

It is the latter of these two that I shall be focussing on this time around.

As a direct result of many years of successful business within the drinks industry, Niche Drinks have managed to build up long standing relationships with some of the most successful Bourbon producers.  This has allowed them to get their hands on some of the best casks straight from the Bourbon industry. They are obviously planning to use these to great effect and have done so already in the release of this 8 year old.

Previously matured for some years, at another distillery, this 8 year old has enjoyed the benefit of some time in a first fill Bourbon cask and you can certainly notice this when enjoying a glass.

On a slight downside though this whiskey has been bottled at 40% ABV, chill filtered and probably been enhanced with a little E150a.

Hopefully this won't detract from it too much...

Onto my notes:

Nose - Unmistakably Cooley.  Very smooth and very much like Greenore Single Grain.  Fresh fruits, banana, lemon, dusty light orange and apple are all present.  Smooth, soft oak vanilla and light cereals.  The malt is not big and beefy but soft and easily approachable.  With time the tropical notes, with which I've associated Cooley for some time, appear in the form of pineapple and coconut milk.

Palate - Malty arrival that's accompanied by a big peppery, chilli kick.  Thankfully the heat doesn't overpower the spirit and without water the citrus just shows through with dry oak and some more vanilla.  With water the orange comes out on top with clove spice and more creamy oak.

Finish - Medium length with dry spices and fresh fruit with cream.

Overall this is a very enjoyable dram with it's roots firmly in Cooley.  If you are a fan, like myself, of the Greenore whiskeys then this will not disappoint.  Bags of flavour on the nose and good strength on the palate.  If I had any criticism then I would rather have seen this with a few more years under it's belt, maybe 10 would be perfect.  The 8 year old packs a good punch but the chilli heat is only just restrained.  A couple more years would smooth this out to perfection.

All that said this is a fantastic start for "The Quiet Man".  I've mentioned before that it is absolutely imperative to hit the ground running in this business, and that means on all fronts: quality of spirit, style & presentation, price point etc etc, and I have to say I think Niche Drinks have done a very good job indeed.

Where I've seen this stocked it is at a very agreeable price and the bottles certainly look good sitting beside their Irish counterparts.  As word of "The Quiet Man" spreads I can see it gaining a very decent reputation that will give the perfect base to push on from once their own distillery is up and running and eventually their own spirit is in their bottles.

Many thanks to Ciaran Mulgrew, of Niche Drinks, for the sample bottle.

Until next time,