Last weeks tasting, World whiskies is detailed below:-
At last I've got a chance tp write up last Thursday's World whisky tasting. There was only about a dozen of us so that suggets the interest level for the more idiosyncratic drams out there. I expect I'll keep doing one a year as those present, while they may not be lining up to buy thios stuff, mostly seemed pleased with the opportunity to try them on for size. Also I'm sure with the number of bottlings coming out of the rapidly increasing ranks of new distilleries world over there will be more of a choice in the future which should bring more examples of best practice.
First I thought a gentle introduction: 15yo Kilbeggan (Ireland). I think it was awarded Irish whisky of the year in the World Whisky Awards last year, or a similar organisation. Certainly we were not starting at the deep end. A waxy nose was quiet and gave little away but the discretion acted as a temptation to be patient and investigate further. On the palate there is suprisingly quite a degree of character albeit dominated by grain driven sweet vanilla notes. On the finish a fruitier estery malt contribution adds a twist. Overall whats not to like? On the other hand more would have been better. The short finish leaves a sense of unfulfillment. Couple that with the serious price tag (£50+) and the ostentatious packaging- reminds of a giant's aftershave bottle as Neil put it, or for me my mother-in-laws over sized hand soap dispenser.
This comes from Cooley distillery which has a great story of how Irish pride coupled with business smarts gave us an alternative to the monopoly that was the French owned Irish whisky industry. Infact when times were hard and the distillery was about to be purchased by the opposition (see smart business comment above) they were perhaps hoisted by there own petard as the monopolies commission banned the sale. More romantically the story of the original Kilbeggan distillery sounds the stuff of blarney fiction. Perhaps the oldest continually licensced still in the world, built in 1757 Lockes distillery (as it is known) kept it's licence thanks to the towns peoples' faith and hope- they paid for the annual re-licencing. Three years ago the new owners (Cooley) produced spirit for the first time in over 50 years. Triumph! The wash was brought in from Cooley but the spirit created in situ. Obviuosly no spirit from the distillery is in the eponymous blend yet but the day will come.
Cooley's own story is also special. The Irish government commissioned industrial distilleries to produce spirits from blighted tatties which could be added to petrol to stretch it out during the 1930s. Cooley was the last one and was saved from scrapping when the concept of conversion to potable spirits seemed a good idea and led to both continous and batch distillation.
123444(4.5)5 = a thin 38%, particularly weak when 5 was the highest score.
'Hansew', 'pleasant but bit of a YAWN', 'disappointingly pleasant', 'hot day, wet land, up on the roof looking for answers', 'nice nose and palate- diluted grappa', 'Irish :must be good'.
Next I thought we could try something completely different. Eddu Silver from Brittany. A kind regular (Bruce) brought this back from his hols in France a while back along with a couple of other finds. I always thought this could be a good mystery dram in a normal tasting but never stuck it in. At this tasting I was hoping to display just how broad the spectrum of taste is in the whisky world. This one was on the outer reaches of possibilities. The nose is sweet and reminds of a light fruit distillate. Most un-whisky-like, The palate is pretty big but not intense, the finish lingers much more than the Kilbeggan with an unwelcome metallic note surfacing from time to time. For me, I've tasted this many time, I have lost the shock factor and think I see through the peculiar aspects of the taste and have come to recognise and enjoy this for what it is, a flavoursome spirit of distinction- not poorly made just way out there and difficult for traditionalist to accept. Not unlike what I imagine having Weetabix with Weiss beer. 11122347 : not quite 'nil pointe' but pretty close, although a 7 sneeked in there. 'Tennants', 'reminds me of a White Lightening hangover- rich man's cider', 'quirky, nothing like a malt but interesting', 'pleasantly disapointing', 'strange and unique- love's first kiss, eyes open'.
Despite it's name Buckwheat (or 'ble noir' in French and 'eddu' in the language of Brittany) is not a cereal but comes from a weed in the dock family. I'd like some comments on this as my information is from a brief search. (I understand 'weed' means a plant growing where its not wanted- seems like they need civil rights) The producers normally make distillate from apple cider but installed what looks like a traditional pot still to make their whisky in 1998. www.distillerie.fr
for more, but not much more, information.
While trying to keep a flow of flavours I thought it best to seperate the two renegades with something a bit milder. Millstone from Zuidam in Holland (thanks to Bas for bringing it over). Well known in Holland for their genevre, as well as gin, vodka and liqueurs they made whisky from 1998 but only first released anything in 2007 which was five years old. Their still is tiny- 1000 litres so output is very limited and copper contact high. This opens up tremendously in the glass giving again pronounced fruit notes with floral aspects mixing through the wood. New oak as well as ex-Bourbon and sherry are commonly used. A sticky almost liqueur like sweetness is appealing if you are inclined towards confectionary. They have a 100% pot still rye on the go and plan a peaty expression next year- I look forward to both but hope the latter doesn't follow the lead of most of the overly young peaty drams that have staggered onto the market of late. As for the rye I'm expecting a bit of a bashing from the full on flavours of pot still and grain. It seems the grist is produced in a windmill via a traditional method where a stone is rolled over the cereal. Further a lenghty 5 day fermentation at a low temperature must create all sorts of interesting esters. At www.zuidamdistillers.com
an angels share of 4 to 5% is quoted, I trust this is due to cask size leading to fast maturation and a lack of flavours associated with prolonged casking. The still is of the cylinder neck variety. 1222(2.5)335 faltering again with 29%. 'Tuborg', 'nose of basket of fruit in dusty attic', 'good effort', 'grain, Bourbon, orange, and very dry', 'too quick, lacking any love, stay behind after class'.
Next I went for broke. From Austria 'diukelwalz' from Weidernauer. Again sweet, once more this is a liqueur producer turned whisky distiller. The others had more of a settled nature while here the character is not so well integrated. Verging on sharp the time in the cask seems to have been too brief. The wood apparently is medium toasted but further details are scant. Cask type- size, oak variety, previous occupant if any are not stated. Not entirely without merit this should appeal to a sweet tooth but will challenge those who had Eddu as quite approachable. 0111112 a record equalling 11%, and the only zero of the night. 'Tuborg', 'thank god it has no finish', 'speechless, nasty taste', 'wouldn't kick it out of bed on a cold night', 'now we're talking, a proper world whisky'.
Now for me the big draw of the night- A. H. Hirsch from Michter's distillery, Pennsylvania. Almost port cask pink but certainly redolent of the casks the hue is impressive. Initially primus stoves jump out of the glass quickly followed by a rush of sensations, blood oranges, fermented marzipan, damp fertile soil, and all sorts of both dark and light chocolate. The palate is classy Bourbon with a devine middle palate and gorgeous finish. The gruff waves of rye never arrive and rather a big ball of flavour rolls over the palate throwing off sparkes of glazed fruits and oily concentrates of spicy essences. All in a comfortable warming flavour festival.
The distillery was the last to operate in Pennsylvania which was pretty much the starting point for the American industry. even by the late 1930s dozens of stills operated. Dating back to 1753 this was perhaps the oldest continuously operated still in the US. From the 1950s a high rye content bourbon was made using a pot still for the 2nd distillation. It seems this still was even direct fired. Strangely some 1974 stocks were dumped into stainless steel at 16yo and tapped off from time to time. This example is from one of these batches. Incredibly after the distillery closed in 1988 much of the stock was destroyed due to a problem of theft. More than a thousand casks were taken prompting a judge to order the destruction. Macdeffe told us they were used to power sports cars: the Irish were obviously ahead of the game.
3346788 a resounding 62%. 'Urquell', 'decent Bourbon', 'Crown Royal on steroids', 'US Laphroaig'. By this point some of the handwriting was illegible, I wonder if they did it on purpose to wind me up.
Finally Hakushu heavily peated Japanese single malt. Well the nose, plate, finish, flavour development are all precise and squeeky clean and I don't have a problem with that. This is expertly done. Wooden washbacks and direct fired stills at an altitude twice that of any Scottish distillery. From what was once the biggest malt distillery in the world. My only complaint might be the sweet peat isn't such a strong point after so many sweet drams but thats the fault of the line up on the night. Perhaps a little longer in the cask would have setled things down further but then again the price might have been the loss of vibrancy. I trust these guys implicitly. At over 2000 feet above sea level air pressure means a lighter spirit is produced so I imagine the peating levels took this into account as the smokey element seems very well integrated into the spirit. No imbalance here. Another unique comparison to Scottish practice is that this distillery is very far from the coast, much more than Dalwhinnie for example so the environment the casks lie in must be very differnt indeed. Having been built in the early 70s to mark the 50th aniversary of the founding of the Japanese whisky industry with the building of Yamazaki distillery Hakushu was enlarged in 1981. What we are drinking now surely comes from the extension as the original plant was closed in the mid nineties. (1.5)556668 a pleasing 60%. 'Urquel', 'pure nostalgia, sillage on the nose, the smell of my rural upbringing, plus not a bad peaty palate, finish slightly disappointing', 'Japanese Laphroaig', 'karaoke at its best', 'W.T.F.!?'.
Next tasting Thursday 25th November. £20/17
Not sure of the line up yet but certainly:-
Pulteney 17yo from the distillers- Loch Fyne Whisky's whisky of the year
Possibly a 25yo Blend from The Whisky Exchange
BBR's 4yo sherry cask Ledaig
Maybe Lombard's 1965 Springbank
and probably Cadenhead 17yo Clynelish