Category Archives: Whisky

MIDLETON VERY RARE 2020 TASTING NOTES

Kirsty’s Notes

Nose:  A crunch sugared note is the first I notice, think sugared martini glasses and Hubba Bubba strawberry gum, it’s mouth-wateringly sweet, made sweeter still by notes of orange sherbet and fresh satsumas, tinned peaches and dried apricots and fresh cantaloupe melons.  There are effervescent notes being carried to the fore with lots of lime zest.  The fruitiness of the nose just swirls round and round, the fruits ducking and diving taking centre stage before being rudely pushed aside.  Given a little while longer, there is a waxiness, akin to crayons held in the pudgy, warm, chocolate coated hands of a small child, waxy, yet still sweet.  Given yet more time still those crayons become more grown up, it’s less crayon wax and now definitively beeswax being rubbed into an antique pine dresser.  As this still continues to open up in the glass the orange notes return but softer this time, more orange water and orange barley sugars.  There is a delicious fudge like quality to it, artisan fudge drizzled in white chocolate, creamy and sweet. There’s a rich vanilla note, think Farley’s rusks dipped into warm milk, comforting and inviting, the familiarity of childhood scents drawing you in, demanding you take a sip. 

Palate: There is an initial rush of sweetness that the nose suggested, the orange note breaks away from the more gentle, soft, orange barley sugars becomes more concentrated and astringent, comparable more to a chewable vitamin C tablet or drinking the dregs of a Berocca tablet.  It’s tangy and sour.  There is drying bitterness rushing on the to the tongue and instantly taking away any hint of the tangy, zesty orange.  The interplay between the oak and the spirit has imparted a heavy touch of wood spice, both dusty and brittle, evoking memories of Autumn forest walks with fallen oak trees littering the forest floor like sleeping giants.  There is a savoury note on the palate in complete contrast to the fruity gentleness of the nose.  Think Cajun spice rub, heavy on the mace, rubbed into well aged steaks cooked on a hot griddle pan over a fire of charred, dry, old oak branches.  Occasionally, through the abundance of rich, dark wood spices, and prickly cracked black and green peppercorn heat there are fleeting hints of sun ripened orchards, with ripening apples and fruit laden pear trees. The scent of honeysuckle and pollen heavy in the air, with fluffy bumblebees buzzing lazily around the flowering fruit trees.  This gives this rather rich, bitter dram a much-welcomed lift.

Finish:  Long, very, very long indeed.  Initially starting out very dry, with all of the damp oak notes, and heat from mace, cracked black and green peppercorns and savoury steak rub which featured so prominently on the palate, however as these notes start to slowly recede the orchard fruits, quietly and subtly appear bringing an much needed influx of sweetness before fading out leaving a creamy yet spicy mouthfeel to the very end.

Conclusion:  This is a very interesting whisky indeed.  One that you just cannot figure out.  The nose is so very different to the palate, a complete opposite if you will.  This demands you spend time on it, almost as though it were a small child shouting continually to its parents to watch it.  One of the great qualities about whisky, for me, is just how different they can be, not just to one another, but also from person to person.  Notes that I may love, you may hate, or vice versa.  Some whiskies are gentle, soft, a crowd pleaser, others come along and are decisive, like Marmite, you may love it or you may hate it but you are never going to describe it as merely ok.

This, I feel, is going to be one of those expression.  This will divide opinion, split households, split families and have you fighting to the death….too far?  Ok, it may not be quite that decisive, but this is definitely the dram that gets you talking.  If you love this, then you will love it entirely.  If it is not for you, then it does not matter how much someone may extol the virtues of the cask interplay, or of how much this expression show cases the excellent cask used, it will quite simply not be for you.  There will also be those who can appreciate the difference, the complexity and enjoy the surprise of a palate and nose, that are just so different.  That is where I sit. 

I absolutely adored the nose, I could nose this for hours, it is everything I think of, when I think pot still whisky.  There is a gentle sweetness, the orchard fruits abound, the peaches and honeysuckle are mouth wateringly inviting.  There are creamy fudge notes, white chocolate and that delicious waxiness.  I could not wait to dive into this.  The I hit the palate, and I was so surprised, where oh where were those fruits I was so looking forward to, where had the waxiness gone?  Left in its wake was oak.  Lots of rich, dark, damp, brooding oak.  Without a doubt this highlights outstanding casks, but for me there was just a little too much cask influence, a touch too much spice.  The fruits from the nose do make themselves known, however it is very fleeting, it no less pleasant, and does raise the dram a little, but not quite enough for my personal taste.  Then we move on to the finish and it is so very long, its spicy yet toned down a little.  The heat becomes more akin to a sweet chilli jam and the wood spice is muted somewhat.  The orchard fruits come back and are juicy and sweet, its cheek coating velveteen in its softness as it tails off.  Quite simply the finish is delicious.

So, there you have it, a real dram of two halves.  There are elements I really enjoyed and ones that are not as much to my palate.  It is a grown up, complex, complete Chameleon of a whiskey and that makes it interesting.

Love it or hate it, its really will have you talking.  It is one you will want to give to all your friends to try to see what they think and to start the debate.  For those reasons alone it really is one you will want to try.  Find out whether or not it is the dram for you, or one you are not so sure on.  There are some really spectacular casks married together, and Brian Nation has left a curio of a whiskey as his parting gift. 

Give it a go, you will find something along the journey that you really love, and it will be a whiskey that you remember for quite some time.

Available from select retailers priced at approx. €180

ROSEBANK 30 YO CHAPTER 1 TASTING NOTES

It’s not every day you have a 30yo from a closed, (although now reinvented) distillery, and certainly not one as well known as Rosebank.   So without further ado, lets dive right in.

Kirsty’s Notes

Nose:  A sweet, gentle nose, fresh ripe peaches, with soft lemon there is no sharpness with it, think hard boiled travel sweets, or more specifically the powdered sugar on them.  There is a slightly sharper note of fresh gooseberries.  Left a while longer there are hints of grilled pineapple, sticky, sweet, with sprigs of fresh mint leaves which really add a touch of freshness.   Given time to breathe and on the second nosing this becomes sweeter, inviting with a dessert note akin to just baked apple pie still warm from the oven with thick homemade shortcrust pastry,  with crisp apples grown in a back garden and picked fresh that day and topped off with lashings of thick custard with a generous dusting of nutmeg.   Right at the very background there is a more earthy note, hessian sacks or potatoes still covered in damp soil.  It takes time to develop and you have to look for it, but for me, it is unmistakable and really adds depth and balance.

Palate: On first sip, it’s all very gentle the apple pie from the palate becomes soft red apples which mingle with dessert pears.  There is a richer, deeper note and at this time the oak marches to the fore.  It’s not overpowering, but comforting, like a walk through the woods in autumn, the leaves starting to turn red, crunching underfoot, acorns starting to drop to the floor, the wind fresh and bracing.  Rich, freshy roasted coffee beans make this feel very decedent, very grown up, almost dry, but just then the peaches from the palate come through, although they feel more akin to apricots now, not fresh, but tinned with syrup and with them the pineapple, intense and sweet.  Given a little longer in the glass there is an almost musty note, like browsing an antique bookstore or boxes of antique lace.  It balances the fruit and oak notes perfectly.  Returning to the glass there are lashings of thick clotted cream the vanilla comforting and sweet.

Finish:  Gentle, soft like suede.  It coats the inside of your cheeks and tongue in a way the lightness in the glass belies.   The apples are present throughout from nose to finish, however they continuity evolve from fresh and tart on the nose to cooked and soft on the palate and red and rich on the finish. The heavier, oaky notes from the palate become clotted cream and vanilla pods with a touch of orange blossom, and the pears from the palate.  This is a long finish, there are no big surprises, but just when you think it has given all it has to offer there is just a touch of the mint found with grilled pineapple from the nose at the start.  It’s elegant and beautiful.

Conclusion:  It is no surprise to hear that 30yo Rosebanks do not come along every day, and its no lie to say I was extremely excited and a little trepidatious.  I wanted to love it, it was so full of mystery and promise, I was almost afraid to open it.  I shouldn’t have worried.  There is no denying that this a beautifully crafted whisky.  It is grown up and elegant, timeless, a real classic.  It isn’t overly complex but this is by no means a negative, in fact it is its simplicity that really shines through.  This is a gentle, subtle whisky, where no one flavour pushes itself to the fore for any length of time and no battle for supremacy.  Instead each waits its turn, appearing one by one, almost as though waiting in line to dance, and it creates the most beautiful express.

Do not think that its subtly makes it boring as it does not, those 30 years have allowed the true magic of cask and spirit to marry together and to really shine. It is also so very moreish.  It really does invite you in for another sip.  I am very reluctant to even hint at the term “session whisky” when we are talking about a 30 year old whisky, and not just any 30 year old whisky, a Rosebank and at a rather steep price tag of £1,600, but I cannot deny that this is scarily easy drinking, and I feel that if I were lucky enough to open a bottle, it would not hang around for too long.

We must however address the elephant in the room; the price.  It is undeniably pricy at £1,600, however I can understand why the price is as it is.  Whisky prices as a whole have exploded over the past couple of years and prices continue to climb.  18yo whisky, which you could up at around the £60 mark a few years ago now regularly retail at the £200 mark, this of course impacts the price of older expressions.  Now factor in that this is a whisky from a closed distillery.  Yes Rosebank is being revived and that is hugely exciting, but this is old stock, it has lived, it comes from simpler, happier times, it is history; and what price that?

Whether or not you think that history justifies the price tag, only you know.  What I do know for sure is that this is a beautiful, classic, elegant expression.  One sip is not enough, it calls you back to the glass again and again and I was sorely disappointed to find my glass empty.   I cant wait for next years’ release.

Stewart’s Notes

Nose: The first thing I notice is a lovely scent of lemons, like putting your nose in a small paper poke of lemon drop sweets. This is followed by creamy fruit, white grapes and gooseberries covered in single cream. Very light, almost floral in places and very inviting.

Palate: Wonderfully sweet, crisp, almost menthol feeling, this gives way to fruit but unlike the nose, this is more like apples that have been coated in toffee. Holding it in the mouth brings light spices, dancing on your tongue, but gently in a very pleasant way.

Finish: I would say the finish brings a freshness, like the first suck on a mint sweet, this lingers while you contemplate picking up the glass again and as you do the last hint of sweet crisp fruits dies away leaving you feeling very satisfied in the knowledge you have been drinking a special whisky.

Conclusion: I’ll be honest I’ve not had many Rosebank in my whisky drinking life and certainly not one as old as this one, so I cannot comment or compare to previous whiskies from this distillery, however what I would say is that this is a fantastic drinking whisky, it is really difficult to put the glass down as each sip positively encourages you to take another.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to purchase a bottle, then I would think it a great shame to leave it unopened on a shelf gathering dust. It may not be an every night dram but is certainly made to be drunk as it really demands tasting.

The only downside I can see is the price. Now I know that certain distilleries have a special aura around them and Rosebank is no exception, but at £1600 is it worth it? Is any whisky worth that? I suppose that is a discussion for another time and I would imagine there will be no problem in selling this, as people who can afford it will surely snap it up.

Available to purchase directly from Rosebank’s website.

DRINKS BY THE DRAM ADVENT CALENDARS 2018

Christmas is fast approaching, but there is still time to get that special someone a very special advent calendar.

So whether it is a whisky lover, a gin fanatic or a rum obsessive, we are sure there is something for everyone available.

 

The Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar - Festive
The Scotch Whisky Advent Calendar 2018 – Festive Edition

Following on from the success of 2017 with sales increasing by almost 75% year on year, Drinks by the Dram has refreshed its calendar line up and is pleased to reveal its 2018 offering, including new themed packaging, exciting collaborations and plenty of ways to ensure you countdown to Christmas in style.

This year some of Drinks by the Dram’s Advent Calendars have taken on a global feel, each featuring the finest liquids from different countries, all wrapped in unique, themed packaging. In the collection there’s the classic Whisky calendar, The Tequila calendar, The Scotch Whisky calendar, The Bourbon calendar, The Rum calendar and The Gin calendar —  each containing 24 wax-sealed 30ml drams of fine global spirits.

Without giving too much away (we all know Father Christmas won’t visit if you open all of your calendar at once), there are some very exciting tipples to be discovered behind these doors. Enjoy rare spirits, award-winning expressions and distinguished drams from all around the world.

Whisky lovers are in for a treat with this year’s calendar offering; in the Old & Rare Advent Calendar you’ll find truly exceptional expressions, including The Blended Whisky Company’s XL Blend – aged for over 40 years and extra large in intense flavours.

The best-selling original Whisky calendar returns this year in festive red packaging, and inside you’ll find 24 delicious drams including the highly sought-after Lost Distilleries Blend Batch 8 from The Blended Whisky Company, and the incredible Japanese Nikka Whisky from the Barrel. And, new to the line-up for this year is the World Whisky Advent Calendar, showcasing exceptional whiskies from around the globe – try whiskies from Ireland, Japan, Taiwan, England, India and more.

For gin enthusiasts, there’s a whole host of calendars to tantalise the taste buds, and after the huge success of last year’s calendar, That Boutique-y Gin Company has once again teamed up with Drinks by the Dram to bring you 24 incredible gins to count you down to Christmas. Behind these doors you’ll discover gins with interesting botanicals, incredible flavours and unique concepts. Sample award-winning expressions from boutique producers, and even get into the festive spirit with Yuletide Gin, containing gold, an entire gingerbread house and even Christmas tree needles.

 

gin
That Boutique-y Gin Company Advent Calendar 2018

“Our Drinks by the Dram advent calendars have become an annual Christmas essentials for many consumers, along with the tree, turkey and festive jumpers,” said James Griswood, Senior Product Manager, Drinks by the Dram.

“We see great loyalty for these calendars, and a large number of consumers come back year after to year to treat themselves to one. With stunning new designs this year, on a range of our best sellers, they look better than ever and also make the perfect gift for any drinks enthusiast.”

Drinks by the Dram first launched its line of advent calendars in 2012, starting with The Whisky Advent Calendar. Since then the range has grown year-on-year, always showcasing the most exciting liquids across each category and price bracket.

This year the full Drinks by the Dram Advent Calendar range includes Whisky, Premium Whisky, Old & Rare Whisky, Very Old & Rare Whisky, World Whisky, Scotch Whisky, Bourbon, Japanese Whisky, American Whiskey, Irish Whiskey, Single Cask Whisky, Gin, Vodka, Rum, Cognac, Tequila, Armagnac, Mezcal and Absinthe.

In addition, the calendar range sees some exciting collaborations including with That Boutique-y Whisky Company, That Boutique-y Gin Company, Origin, Douglas Laing, Glenfarclas, The Hot Enough Vodka Co and The Gin Foundry, whose in-demand Ginvent calendar returns for another year.

The Drinks by the Dram 2018 Advent Calendars are available from 31 DoverBeer Hawk and Master of Malt, and from all good drinks retailers.

RRPs range from £99.95 to £9,999.95.

 

Gordon & MacPhail – Connoisseurs Choice Highland Park 2004 – 13yo.

First Fill Sherry Butt, Cask Strength at 60% abv.

One of 655 bottles of cask number 3812

The G&M entire range has undergone a rather dramatic facelift.  Always a firm favourite with the whisky buffs, G&M always means quality, I have never had a whisky from G&M I didn’t like.  No matter which distillery, no matter which age, you cannot deny that G&M means quality and consistency that many other bottlers can only dream of, with experience that spans more than 120 years, they have built up an impressive range of casks, contacts, and one hell of a liquid library!

img_8952This is one of the first offerings from the new range, it’s a Highland Park, a much sought-after distillery with quite a fan base, it’s 13 years old and hails from a first fill sherry butt, a single cask offering of 655 bottles.  It’s priced at around £90 across the board, although we did see it at £85.

Right, you’ve got the basics, lets see what G&M have to say about it.

What they say

For more than 120 years Gordon & MacPhail has pursued a singular path to become the master of single malt Scotch whisky maturation.

Connoisseurs Choice

Passion for single malt Scotch whisky has been at the heart of our family business for four generations. This range is an ever-changing collection of unique perspectives on distilleries’ own bottlings, non-chill-filtered single cask and small batch expressions bottled at cask strength and exceptional one-offs.

For the malt whisky explorer, it promises a journey of discovery through different flavours, finishes, strengths and vintages.

Highland Park 2004 Bottled at 60% Vol

img_8960

  • Distillery: Highland Park
  • Region: Island
  • Distilled: Monday 21 June 2004
  • Bottled: Thursday 22 February 2018
  • ABV: 60%
  • Years Old: 13
  • Cask No. 3812
  • Cask Type: First fill Sherry butt
  • Outturn: 655 bottles
  • Batch: 18/016

 

G&M Official tasting notes:

Colour: Dark Gold.

Nose: Fresh, sweet, balanced: hints of seaside moss transform into tangy lemon, sweet meringue, and silky butter shortbread. Soft toffee notes unfold over time.

Taste: Creamy leading into warming spice, hints of milk chocolate and toasted hazelnuts mature into warm cinnamon buns glazed with brown sugar and sweet raisins.

Finish: Medium with a delightful and lingering wood smoke edge.

What we say:

Stewart

Nose:

Some newly melted milk chocolate is the first thing you notice.  This is closely followed by some berry fruits, almost blackberry and raspberry jam like.  These die down and a fresh feeling can be found, clean, sharp, like the wind on your face of a fresh breeze.  This is all cloaked by the red hot mist of the unmistakable ABV of this whisky.

Palate:

The milk chocolate from the nose is there, along with the berry jams.  As these die away your tongue starts to tingle as spices dance around.  Not peppery thought, more like popping candy, jumping and popping on the tongue.  You can tell this isn’t the standard 40% but it isn’t as sharp as the nose first indicated.

Finish:

The finish is middling, not overly long, but enough to know you have had a nice dram.

Overall Thoughts:

This is a highly sherry influenced whisky, which isn’t always to my taste, but if I was to go for a sherried whisky, this is the sort I like.  Lovely berry jams all the way through and the right amount of spice makes this a whisky wort returning to.  A great introduction to the new CC range.

The price point of £85 may seem steep for a 13 year old single cask, but it is a sought after distillery and the ABV will play a part in that.  If you want my opinion, this is well worth buying.

Stewart Craigon – @StewartCraigon

Kirsty

Nose:

Usually the first note is an easy thing to pick out, however that wasn’t the case here.  I was convinced that the first note was the robust earthiness of autumn leaves, then, that it was the sweet, creamy notes of warm melting milk chocolate, before deciding it was the sharp yet sweet notes of lemon zest, quickly becoming sweeter and more gentle, more dessert like.  Think lemon curd topped with meringue pieces that came to the fore.

The three flittered in and out tussling and jostling for first place.  Returning to the glass once more it was the earthiness of dew covered moss and crunchy autumn leaves turning to dust under foot, as the air, hanging heavy with mist encircles your face, both refreshing and musty all at once, which won out.   Not far behind  the sweet, dense, creamy milk chocolate started to make itself known, bringing a honey drizzled sweetness with a rich, chopped Brazil nut notes, and roasted chestnuts edge adding a grown up, savoury dimension.

Blood oranges with a dusting of icing sugar and just a hint of winter berries appear, with sticky brambles and damson, and a beautifully lively spiciness, with sweet dessert spices of nutmeg, cinnamon and five spice appearing first, followed up by a slight heat, like a dry rub on steak, meaty and yeasty, all paprika and peppercorns giving a prickle that dances around like the flames of a campfire, imparting a little smoke as it goes, giving a slight nod to the abv.

Palate:

The berry fruits from the nose burst on to the plate, the rush of sweetness so great it makes your mouth water.  There’s blackberry and raspberry joined by wild strawberries, apricots, stewed plums and sticky dates.   Lemon marches in, cutting through the sweetness, sharper than it appeared on the nose, yet soon it takes a turn for the dessert trolley once again, with notes of lemon drizzle cakes, with a rich vanilla buttercream.

The orange is there from earlier on, with a rich, sticky, marmalade quality, with softer notes of mandarins lurking behind it.   Before it all becomes overrun by sweetness personified the spices and earthy notes from the nose combine, bringing it quite literally back down to earth.   Think digging fresh, damp soil in the garden, uprooting turnips and potatoes with a touch of the hessian sacks you will fill, and thick fishing nets, salty and damp, with just a touch of the sea.

The spices make this such a vibrant whisky, and they aren’t found on the back of the tongue where you would usually expect to find them, instead they dance on the very front of the tongue, tumbling and churning like waves crashing on the shore.

Finish:

It is easy to dismiss this as a relatively short finish at first, however the spicy notes linger gently on the lips, making them tingle, like a kiss from a lover, making you smile long after the glass is empty.  The fruitiness from the berries is replaced by the sweet caress of milk chocolate and lemon meringue pie, fading out to a warm crepe suzette, those orange notes refusing to disappear, with just a touch of bitterness of chopped brazil nuts and polished mahogany.  Which takes this spritely, sweet, almost childlike dram, to sophisticated and grown up with just a hint of mischief.

Overall Thoughts:

I like this a lot.  Its not a typical first fill sherry whisky at all, but that is no bad thing.  13 years in a first fill sherry butt would lead you to expect a sherry monster that hits you round the head and almost overwhelms you with a youthful exuberance.  This is far more gentle, and in fact I’d go as far to say that this is a first fill sherry whisky for those who would not normally reach for such a dram.

It is beautifully put together, with notes that are strong enough to stand alone, yet are far better combining in a beautiful crescendo.   It starts out with the rich base notes of the earth, before middle notes of autumnal fruits and then high top notes of all things sweet and sing like the most beautiful melody.  Truly an orchestra of flavours.

The new look Connoisseurs Choice range is much like this, its grown up and sophisticated, no nonsense labelling tells you all you need to know and embossed coins and heavy bottle adds a touch of luxury.  The price is £90 and at first I struggled to decide if I thought it too steep, however quality will always out, and that it’s what G&M do so well.  Excellent spirit, fantastic casks with top quality wood and perfect maturation.    There’s a reason they have coined the #maturationexperts and I for one would not disagree with this self awarded accolade.

Buy this whisky, it’s from a popular distillery with a cult following and upon trying this, it’s easy to see why.

Kirsty Clarke – @KirstyClarke29