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  • Visiting the Black Isle

    It's been a while since my last post and the whisky reviews have been stacking up! One of my favourite places I have visited recently was The Anderson in Fortrose and in particular their whisky bar. With 218 malts on offer the choice was extensive and the owner was happy to engage in whisky banter. After studying the list my friend Giles and I decided to go for broke and try the Port Ellen 24 (1978). Having only ever been given the tiniest of sniffters at an undisclosed distillery I was keen to get my hands on a glass on this legendary malt. Coming in at cask stregnth it was a fiery mouthful without water. Golden syrupy in colour the nose was light, sweet and suprising delicate for an Islay malt. The flavour was beautifully complex, developing nicely on the tongue. A salty start mellowed into sweet, subtle smoke before splitting to give a woodiness at the back of the tongue and what can only be described as a pleasant, medicinal 'gning gning' of peat on the sides. I could happily have had a number of these but at 10 a go and with Kirsten (Giles's wife) patiently putting up with our musings and hand wavings (some 25 minutes worth) we made do with just the one. A great find and many thanks to Giles and Kirsten for the introduction to this great bar.

  • Benromach Organic

    BenromachIt's fair to say that I'm not one of these people that has embraced the organic lifestyle. I always seem to associate it with people who will chastise you for throwing used tea bags out (why aren't you composting them?), insist on cycling everywhere and like to give their offspring names like Sequoia or Ptolomey. Organic zeitgeist obsessives who couldn't actually tell you what is allowed to be used in the production of their organic food (would you really give little Jaspar his organic asparagus spears knowing they were laced with aluminium calcium phosphate and elemental sulphur?). People who think GM foods are so bad that Frankensteinesque carrots will lay  waste to the whole world leaving it resembling something akin to Cumbernauld town centre. I need to calm down with a nice herbal tea and a spot of yoga .... much better.

    So it wouldn't suprise you to hear that I didn't jump for joy at the prospect of an organic whisky. In fact, I didn't know such a thing even existed until I was at a friend's wedding last summer (see earlier post from August 2008). I had forgotten my hipflask so instead had a Sigg bottlefilled with Glenfarclas 105. Great tip actually, if ever you forget a hipflask get a Sigg water bottle (around £10) and use that instead. It might be bulky, not as pretty and you need something like a camera bag to put it in, but it works like a dream. The best man at the wedding had been better organised than me and had remembered his hip flask, within which he had some Benromach Organic. Fast forward 6 months, I'm in Mcleish getting my lunch and notice that it has that empty shelf look of a 1990's Bulgarian department store. The credit crunch had hit and unfortunatley they are now in administration. However, Mcleish's loss is the whisky drinkers gain as there is currently 25% off all alcohol and they have a great selelction of malts. I remembered how nice that particular Benromach had been and bought a bottle for around £20.

    The nose is fresh, grassy and with a hint of pear drops. In fact, freshness is something that just keeps on coming with this whisky. It has been finished in American Oak casks and this is so evident in the taste which comes as a burst of flavour. You might think that using virgin barrels and a lack of peat smoke might leave this whisky wanting but this just simply isn't the case. The finish is suprisingly long, but mellow and sublime with, you guessed it, that fresh, light oakiness persisting. Would this whisky taste as good if the barley used  to make it had been blasted with Roundup? Is Benromach simply cashing in on the organic tag? To tell you the truth, I don't know and I don't really care, it's just a great whisky and I'm still not composting my tea bags.

    Benromach Distillery Location

  • Aberlour 10 year old

    The Aberlour 10 year old should be a staple of anyones whisky cabinet, collection or stash. I've heard really good things about the Aberlour a'bunadh but that doesn't mean that you should bypass the 10 year and skip straight to the old stuff in the fancy bottle. A lovely caramel colour, It has quite an interesting nose, not just the classic speyside sherry. There's something really quite interesting hidden in there, almost like eucalyptus which also persists in the taste. There's  a dryness and citrus like quality on the tongue that is similar to the French Oak finished Glenlivet. What makes it even sweeter is that Sommerfields is currently knocking £10 off a bottle, meaning you can aquire a bottle for a steal at £15. No excuses.

    Aberlour Distillery Location

  • Bowmore Legend

    Bowmore LegendEver wondered what a day in the life at a distillery is like? Well worry no longer! The Bowmore distillery website has an excellent selection of webcams which you can use to spy on what's happening at Bowmore. Who's in the car park? Are there any boats passing by? Just visit the Bowmore webcam and you can find out for yourself.

    I was given a bottle of Bowmore Legend as a Christmas present and a lovely present it has turned out to be. Don't let the absence of an age on the label put you off! I get royally cheesed off at whisky bores who think that age is an automatic sign of a good whisky. I could name a number of aged malts that I'd rather clean my loo with than drink (not really, shame to waste any whisky). The nose of this particular Bowmore is more subtle than the 12 year old and slightly lighter on the smoke. You also get a lovely salty honeyness that harks back to the years its spent lying next to the Islay coastline. The taste is similar to the nearby Jura but lighter in body and with a citrus like sweetness. The finish is not very long or complex but pleasant. Really the bottle should come with a warning as it is seriously easy to drink and what I would call a good "starter whisky". If you're an Islay peat freak this might not be the dram for you, but I'd say if you like Scapa or the afore mentioned Jura then give this a go.

    Bowmore Distilley Location

  • Kays Bar

    I was out and about in Edinburgh last night and found a great pub. The New Town was never an area that I would go for nights out but recently I have found a treasure trove of pubs tucked away in this part of town. Kays Bar is the latest of these and would probably be described by an estate agent as "bijou". The whisky selection is respectable in size but what it lacks in volume it makes up for in variety. The Port Ellen jumped off the shelf but at £15 a dram I went for a very pleasant 18 year old Highland Park instead. A great wee pub that I will definitely be back to spend some time in.

    I had started the evening at the Canny Mans on the other side of town and I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth the effort anymore. The selection in the CM is vast but you unfortunately have to speak to the staff to get served. The CM is a pub that splits opinion into the those that find it charming and idiosyncratic and those that think it's a pretentious pub with ideas above its station. Unfortunately the sarcastic bar manager doesn't help to swerve opinion away from the latter. I tried the Ardbeg Blasda (drier and saltier than the superior "Beastie") and was on my way.

    Kays Bar Location
    Canny Mans Location

  • We are sale-ing, we are sale-ing

    Now is the time to get out and buy some whisky, with many shops and off licences knocking a bob or two off a range of malts. The best buy I've seen so far is in Sommerfields where the Glenlivet 12 year old has had 10 taken off meaning that a bottle can be yours for the bargain price of 15! If you're looking for something a bit more exotic then head to Waitrose and get a bottle of Caol Ila Distillers Edition. This wee beauty has had six months finishing in dark Moscatel barrels and is really rather good. The peat takes a while to emerge through the sweetness but this creates a pleasant and lasting finish. I can't remember the exact price beacuse the promotional man from Diageo was distracting me with the offer of free gifts and pretty pictures, but it's on special offer until the start of January.

    Gelnlivet Distillery Location
    Caol Ila Distillery Location

  • The Three A's

    Ardbeg is a distillery that seems to be churning out bottlings like there is no tomorrow. Over the past few months I've happened across three different Ardbegs in different guises and can start to see why this Isaly distillery is deserving of its reputation.

    To start with there is the Airigh Nam Beist (The Beastie). I'd love to give some detailed notes on this one but it was just too tasty and didn't last for long. Of course there is the characteristic west coast peatiness (as with all three) but it's much easier on the taste buds than the full blast that you get with the likes of a Laphroaig. It had a smoothness and roundess of flavour that made this a real winner.

    Then there is the Uigeadail. If you believe Jim Murray then this is THE whisky to be drinking. In the 2009 edition of the whisky bible he rates this as the best whisky of the year. Usually I agree, but I just didn't think it was as an oustanding malt as he described or in fact the best from the Ardbeg stable. It certainly has a fiery peaty punch, but I didn't pick up on the perfect balance of flavours that Jim talks about. Of course, this is probably down to personal preference but I would recommend sampling some of the other Ardbegs before settling on this one.

    And finally, a well known legend of the whisky world, although you won't find it listed on the Ardbeg website. The story of Serendipity is based on the tale that some well aged and very expensive Ardbeg was 'accidentally' blended with an inferior Glen Moray. Far from being a disaster, this blending blunder resulted in a delicious dram and hence how the whisky came by its name. Now, if your looking at purchasing a bottle then good luck. Most whisky shops are selling this for over 100, althought some online dealers are selling it for less. I bought a bottle over a year ago now which is now gathering dust and, hopefully, value. Now I know it's a travesty to just keep a bottle of whisky but my thinking is that I will sell it in a few years and you guessed it, buy more whisky! However, my local friendly Oddbins man tipped me off that a certain hostelry close by had a bottle open behind the bar. I duely wandered off to investigate and sure enough there it was. The barmaid warned me that it was 3.30 a nip, I feined shock and paid up. It is delicious stuff, lighter in colour than your regular Ardbeg but well balanced, smooth and smokey. As for the location of this pub, well I'm afraid that will just have to stay a secret.

    Ardbeg Distillery Location

  • Glen Garioch 15 years

    The Glen Garioch (pron: Geery) distillery is nestled in the Aberdeenshire village of Oldmeldrum. Tucked away down Distillery Road (where else), the distillery was renovated and reopened in 1997. It'll take about half an hour to drive to from Aberdeen but it is well worth the trip. Out of all the distilleries I have been to this is where I received the biggest welcome. The staff were brilliant and no where else has ever let me taste so many bottlings as well as malts from other distilleries. Even some of the Islay malts that were stored in their warehouse (including the teensiest drop of some sublime Port Ellen) were brought out.

    Apart from the 21 year old (which is pushing over 60) the 15 is my favourite of the Garioch stable. Everyone went crazy for the 10 year old release and you'll be lucky to get a bottle these days, but I definitely prefer the smoother and richer 15. It's a lovely honey colour with a malty, floral nose. The taste is sweet and butterscotch like with a pleasant, smooth, woody finish.

    Royal Mile Whiskies 24.95
    The Whisky Exchange 28.49
    Parker's Whisky 27.99

    Glen Garioch Distillery Location

  • The Glenfarclas 105

    August in Speyside can be a rather wet experience. As with anywhere in Scotland, it is far from guaranteed to have sunshine. It was on one such typical dreich day last week that I found myself sheltering under a brolly in Granton-on-Spey wondering how to spend a rather damp morning before a friend's wedding that afternoon. Of course the obvious thing to do in Speyside, in the rain, is to go distillery bagging.

    Having already visited Cardhu a few months earlier I decided to try nearby Cragganmore and after following a rather slow procession of holiday makers up the A95 I turned off the main road and found myself winding down a verdant, lush lane to the distillery. Needless to say, it was shut. Whoever decides to close a visitor centre on a weekend at the height of tourist season is a braver man than I. However, Cragganmore's loss was to be Glenfarclas' gain. I've often driven past the sign for Glenfarclas but sadly never had time to stop, so I pushed on a bit further up the A95.

    The Glenfarclass distillery has a little bit of an industrial feel to it and is not as quaint or romantic as some others, however the back drop of Ben Rinnes makes a fantastic setting. Sadly I didn't have time to do the statutory tour, but as a consolation I picked up a bottle of Glenfarclas 105 from the gift shop (the real reason for dropping by).

    The 105 is a belter of a malt! It's a 10 year old, matured in sherry casks and bottled unchillfiltered at cask strength (60%). The colour is deep and golden, with a nose of fruity Christmas pudding and after the addition of a drop of water you also get a hint of smoky woodiness. The taste has a rich spiciness on the sides of the tongue that is well balanced by the sweet sherry. The sweetness continues into a long finish that is warming and rounded. It tastes like liquid Christmas, perfect for a cold December evening or a wet August morning.

    Royal Mile Whiskies 33.95
    The Drink Shop 41.89
    The Whisky Exchange 35.99

    Glenfarclas Distillery Location

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