Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Bunnahabhain 12 Year Old

It’s taken me a while to get round to Bunnahabhain, I've previously given it a miss with my attention has being drawn to the more peaty/smoky whiskies from elsewhere on Islay. But now, thankfully, I've got around to picking up a bottle. 

And I'm glad I did as this stuff is very good. Three words came immediately to mind as I tried it – dry, spicy and full. As those words suggest it’s very tasty, almost savoury in a way. It has a sort of unsweet sherry flavour to it - by which I mean it has the fullness of flavour that sherried whisky has but without the sweetened taste.
There were oranges there too. But not like orange juice orange, this was more like opening a wooden crate that has whole oranges stored inside, but a crate that’s been at sea for a while. It has the promise of orange mingled with wood and salt. Also lurking in there was a touch of cigar and of leather. Very refined and very savoury.

This really strikes me as a very unique whisky. Very singular, a bit like Old Pulteney in the sense that it serves up something I've not really found elsewhere.
It looks wonderful in the glass too Рdark caramel, it's the same colour as the singed top of a cr̬me brulee.
It has a kind of dignified air about it. The packaging is not showy or shouty and I like that. The whisky generally is like the quiet guy that sits in the corner at a party rather than clamouring to be the centre of attention. But when you actually get around to speaking to them you find they actually have the most interesting things to say. Or maybe I'm getting carried away looking at the old fella on the bottle...

So, where was I? This is not a typical Islay, it’s not a typical anything. Pricing-wise it’s a slightly more expensive entry level bottle going for about £35. But it's worth picking up. For me personally getting this bottle was partly about completing  an Islay set (i.e. a bottle from every (working) distillery on the island) but it's without doubt worth picking up on its own merits.


Friday, 14 March 2014

An Irish Trio

Well it’s nearly St. Patricks day and here are my thoughts on three random Irish Whiskies that happen to be in my possession; because that’s about as close to a coherent theme as I’m going to get.

First up the Clontarf Classic Blend – I happened to have this after a friend gave me half a bottle he had left over. It’s a blend and it looks very stylish with its black label. But I’m sorry to say that I thought this was pretty poor. I really struggled to get anything out of it beyond the sharp alchohol taste. There was a tiny hint of vanilla (subtle if you were being kind) but beyond that it was very spirity. Water just seemed to make it flatter. I don’t know – not the one for me I’m afraid. Also I don't know how my mate came by it because it seems tricky to get hold of.
Jameson – ah, now I’ve heard of this one. This was a little half bottle knocking about the cupboard. Darker than the Clontarf, certainly sweeter on the nose. Very pleasant nose,  I was getting Rhubarb and Custard.  It was nicely smooth – albeit with a bit of grain spirit edge, I wrote down burnt grass which represented a little bitterness. Not a long finish but pretty good all in. Plenty to recommend it, goes for about £21/bottle.
Finally Cassidy 5 year old. I have no idea if this exists outside of a M&S tasting pack – I’ve not found it for sale any other way. So I don’t know anything this distillery but there it is, I hope you weren’t coming here to be enlightened. To taste, less sweet than the Jameson but more buttery with a bit of vanilla – which I think is imparted by grain. A bit of alcohol burn but not bad. In my unscientific opinion it seemed like the edge was taken off with the aging. The best of the three.

So there you have it - 3 whiskies brought together for comparison for no other reason than the fact that they are Irish and it’s mid-March.

I don’t know if there’s much to conclude except that I won’t be buying another Clontarf, (even if I could find the stuff) I wouldn’t be averse to picking up a Jameson (although I have other blends to explore first). And I’ll probably never see another bottle of Cassidy again (unless it’s another M&S stocking filler).


Tuesday, 4 March 2014


Or, fun with home blending.

I went to pour myself a drink a couple of weeks ago, whilst perusing the options I noticed my almost entirely empty bottle of Dalmore Dee standing there.
It was a nice whisky but for whatever reason I’d never quite got round to finishing it off, nor was I in the mood for it right then. And finishing off whisky should never be a chore, so what to do?
I remembered something I’d seen watching this video from the excellent Ralfy. The video is mainly about keeping whisky fresh but towards the end of the video he blends together 3 whiskies from the Springbank distillery (Springbank, Hazelburn and Longrow) – I forget why but it seemed an interesting thing to do.

Since there was only a drop left I thought I’d give it a go with the end of my Dee bottle… pouring it out there was 60ml left. Based on Ralfy’s advice I needed another 2 whiskies to be added in equal measure. What to choose? I looked around at what else was open - a newly topped bottle of Bunnahabhain? Yeah - I could spare 60ml of that. A fancy bottle of SMWS … hmm… that seemed a touch extravagant so I settled on the some Glenlivet Nadurra. Three nice whiskies all of a similar value (£35-45). I mixed them together then poured the concoction into couple of empty miniature bottles and left them for a week.

Fast forward a week and I poured myself a drop of the newly created world’s first Daldurrahabin.

Well, the first whiff was alcohol and not much else. Disappointing - had I flattened the whole thing and killed the flavours? I gave it another minute before trying again. This time it was much sweeter, much more like the Nadurra in fact.
So now I worried the Nadurra was dominated proceedings. But then that sweetness started to be tempered that distinct Bunnahabhain spiciness, which worked nicely.
What about the Dalmore that prompted this in the first place? I wondered if the Dalmore had been a bit lost but it kind of sits in the middle of those two whiskies anyway. Certainly this was smooth like the Dee – it didn’t need water.
Anyway, there’s little point going into the tasting too much since I can pretty much guarantee no one else will ever make this blended malt (?).

The verdict on home blending generally: I wouldn't for one second say I had improved on the whiskies but it was good fun to test the theory out and I was pleased that I hadn't created a total abomination. I had created something new and interesting, but that could also be traced back to its roots.
I doubt I’ll be risking any serious quantities on this type of venture, but I do think it could be a fun way of throwing together ends of bottles in the future. It was genuinely quite exciting to test what had been produced. One last thought is that I’m glad I kept the standard of whisky roughly similar. Not point slinging a rough blend in with a 50yo MacCallan, you're only going to ruin a good whisky rather than improve a bad one.

Back to proper reviews for the next post.