Two BenRiach cask samples. A Virgin Oak and a PX Sherry

Last year I went to Scotland on holiday. We visited BenRiach distillery, which is a truly great place for any whisky lover. Of course, there were some samples tasted and in this case they came straight from random casks in the warehouse. For some reason I didn’t get around to trying them until last night.

I find myself trying to pick a favorite distillery rather often. Of course, I can’t make up my mind as it somehow feels like something definite, instead of a semi random pick from a bunch of places I’ve visited. What I just realized, however, is that I have a couple of distilleries that I keep liking more and more. Those are Springbank, Bowmore and BenRiach (and to some degree, Highland Park).

Of those three, I visited all of them. I did extensive tours of all of them and there were interesting tastings involved too. I like those because of the distilleries themselves. Part of the ‘huh, that’s interesting’ moment regarding this wee list is that all those three distilleries do all parts of the process themselves. As in, they also have an active malting floor which produces at least some of their malt. An interesting realization and something to explore further.

Anyway, the cask samples. I don’t have too much information on them since I didn’t write too much down at the time. I know they’re fairly young, but the year on the cask can be both the year of distilling or the year they were put into this particular cask. And I don’t know if they’re finishes or not. And I don’t know the ABV. What I do know is that I’m going to keep my eye out for the Virgin Oak one.

BenRiach Virgin Oak, sample from cask #3808

BenRiach Virgin Oak cask 3808

BenRiach Virgin Oak cask 3808

Sniff:
Scents of heavy leather and lots of good quality fresh oak come off the glass right after pouring. There’s sherry, strangely, and a certain spiciness that I did not expect. Plums, raisins and some bitter woodiness. Sponge cake with some custard, and I would have sworn sherry trifle.

Sip:
The palate is rather sharp with quite a bit of alcohol and lots of fruit. It’s dry with a lot of oak again. Also roasted barley, like used in stouts, dark chocolate and espresso with its bitterness.

Swallow:
Oak, fruit and quite sharp. It mellows quickly to show a more syrupy fruitiness of raisins, plums and dates.

This is a strange whisky. I know which cask it came from, and I know it’s a virgin oak barrel. It might be a virgin oak finish and have been in a sherry cask before. That would explain a lot since I would have sworn this to be a sherry cask. The richness, and fruitiness were very much in line with that.

Regardless of what this cask is or is not, this whisky is bloody well delicious. 3808 is a number I’m going to keep my eyes out for since I really want a few bottles of it. Let’s say one to drink, one to keep and, well, another one to drink too.

BenRiach PX matured or finished, sample from cask 9138

Since the year on the cask is 2011, I’m taking a guess that this is a finish and the whisky inside is slightly older than two (by now three) years.

BenRiach PX cask 9138

BenRiach PX cask 9138

Sniff:
This is very gentle, and very fruity. Juicy peaches, and sugary grapes. It’s rather light in style for a PX. Some rock melon, mango. Rather timid but oh so fruity!

Sip:
The palate is gentle and syrupy sweet again, with lemon drizzle sponge cake. A hint of pepper with some sweet oak. Peaches with a slightly bitter hint of its stone. Mango, fruit syrup from a tin, wine gums. It takes a while to open up on the palate but becomes increasingly gorgeous.

Swallow:
The finish is unexpectedly different. Oak and wine gums still, but the fruit is more of a tinned red fruit kind. Strawberries, blackberries, that kind of stuff. It’s gently but it lasts quite a while.

Very different but very fruity too. A different beast than the Virgin Oak but not less gorgeous. It’s surprisingly gentle and light, and it reminds me a bit of the Auchentoshan Solera that came out a couple of years ago. There’s a lot going on and a lot to discover, although it’s all in the range of fruit. So, slightly more simple, but almost as delicious as the Virgin Oak.

Two random whiskies picked from BenRiach’s warehouse, and if this is the general quality level they’re putting out there, I might have to start collecting this stuff and forget about many other distilleries!

I’m just hoping they’re going to come out at some point!

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Lascaw 12 year old, 40%, truffle cask finish

I just got to try this one at Zeewijck in IJmuiden, which happens to be a great shop, run by a great guy, who also organizes last week’s Whisky & Rum aan Zee festival. Which is also great.

Anyway, last week he recommended I try the truffle cask finished ‘French’ single malt from Perigord Distillerie in the Dordogne. I didn’t, mostly because my memory was turning to crap already and I am really, really bad at following recommendations.

As a good copy of the American NDP (Non-Distiller Producer) stuff that’s been going on, the label states this whisky is produced by Perigord, but it doesn’t say they distilled it. Producing a whisky can also be buying whisky, finishing it and bottling it. Even just bottling it would be a product of your own, technically. Anyway, the confusing thing is that Perigord actually is a distillery, but the label nicely states that it is Scotch whisky in the bottle. Finished in truffle casks.

What the heck is a truffle cask? I guess in this case it is a cask used to give something a truffle infusion. I’ve a hard time finding out what it actually is. I get some related products online, most also from Perigord, and it is a spirit, but I guess it’s some kind of an infused brandy or so. If someone has more info, please help me out here.

Lascaw 12 year old

Lascaw 12 year old

The whisky then. As I was just standing in the shop collecting my bottles I didn’t really write tasting notes, but I do have some general finding.

The whisky is pretty decent. It’s not overly complex, it’s only 40% and I wouldn’t be surprised to find caramel coloring in it either. Of course, the website doesn’t give me much info either.

On the nose you don’t pick up anything strange. It’s a very smooth and gentle dram, that shows the slightly fruity characteristics of a Speyside dram. A bit in range of Tamdhu, or Deveron/Macduff. It’s on the palate that you get a very slight savory note, like when your paste has some truffle on it.

I was afraid that this would turn out to be a truffle oil with alcohol instead of the whisky that it is. Some chefs overuse the stuff which can turn out really hideous. Some oils have too much of it too. In this case they kept it to a minimum. Just enough to notice.

I actually quite liked this dram. Not on a level that I’m going to get my hands on a bottle of it, since I don’t think this is something you’d enjoy long enough to finish a bottle of. Although, if I was on holiday in the area, I’d sure buy a bottle since it would then be a very tasty souvenir as well a decent bunch of booze.

So, something rather interesting. Not as bad as I would have guessed when someone would’ve just told me I’d be having a truffle cask finished whisky. On the other hand, you do taste something different, but I would never have recognized it as truffle.

Thanks to Richard of Zeewijck for letting me try this!

A bottle should set you back a little over € 40.

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Balblair 2002, 1st edition, 46%

I love Balblair. Ever since I visited the distillery last year, and a Twitter tasting done before that I just love the distillery. Not even sure why since I didn’t try that many of their whiskies, since not many shops in The Netherlands stock the stuff. Also, the movie The Angel’s Share helped.

I also like what they’re doing with their vintage releases. They’re restricting themselves more than regularly age-stated bottles, but I like it for that very reason. When at the distillery we didn’t have much time after the tour and since I was driving I didn’t drink either, so we just poured samples and got on our way to Glenmorangie. A shame, since I would have enjoyed the guided tasting. If only just to see what they’re about during such an event.

The vintages I’ve tried are all over the map, with the focus being on the younger ones. Unfortunately I never got to try the 1969 and have only tried the second batch from 1975. Apparently, the 1983 is great too, and I’d love to try that. Maybe at some point in the future (read: I just thought of another bottle for on my wish list).

This 2002 bottles was shared between Matt Veira and me, we also shared a 1991 I bought and some samples. I like sharing bottles. It’s keeping the collection of open bottles moving, and you get to try more for your money, without it just being one glass. You still have some time to get to know a whisky before it’s gone, but won’t have to shell out for an entire bottle.

Balblair 2002

Balblair 2002

Sniff:
While there is a lot of aroma coming off the glass, the scents are very light. There’s some licorice root, maybe some pickled ginger too. I get a light vanilla syrup with some other wood spices too. Maybe even thyme.

Sip:
The palate is lightly spicy too, a bit dusty mouth feel with that. Vanilla syrup again. It doesn’t have the creaminess you generally associate with custard. There’s some bite, some spirit. Tasty, but not too special.

Swallow:
The finish is where this one lets me down a bit. It gets a little cardboard-y and isn’t very long.

This is a bit of a strange one. While I respect that this is the entry level Balblair and I can’t expect too much of it, I still think there are some mistakes in this whisky. But I still like it. I do think, however, that for the money they’re asking for it you can better spend another few bucks and buy the next whisky in their line, the second batch of 1997 is great, for example.

Having said that, this is a pretty decent whisky. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with it, but it just doesn’t deliver all that I hoped it would. Still, I’m happily finishing my 35cl sample over the next couple of weeks.

If you can still find this one, it’ll set you back from £ 41 / € 50

Balblair 2002, 1st release, 46%, non-chill filtered and such.

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The Reference Series by Master of Malt, part 2.2

The second part of the second post on the Reference Series by Master of Malt, this time I’m trying II.2 and II.3, to which I still have to look up the introduced variables.

Reference II.2

Reference II.2

I just did that and the addition to II.2 is some heavily peated malt, where II.3 has added caramel. I saw that last one coming since the color was really different from the others, and after yesterday’s post the variable couldn’t be the use of more sherried whiskies, or sherry finishing since that was already done.

Let’s get to it.

Reference II.2

The raw scents on the nose are back, like in II. I missed those in II.1. Quite peaty and spirity, less woody again with some spices. Pepper and heather, but also rather floral. The palate is light with the same spiciness as on the nose. Fairly young tasting again, with heather, pepper, some licorice and maybe ginger. Some smoke, vanilla and caster sugar. The finish is a bit less raw with more flavors of barley and spices. Peaty, some oak, licorice and rather long.

Reference II.3

Reference II.3

Reference II.3

Again, rather light on the nose, warming but a bit more ‘flat’ than the previous one. The peatiness (compared to II) is diminished too. The heather is gone at first and it takes a long time for it to come out. Sweeter with some chocolate tones, and raisins. The palate is spicy with light peat (more like II than II.2, mind). Oak, sweetness and some spices, but again, less than previously. Slightly drying. The finish has the familiar spiciness again with hints of pepper. The finish is shorter and sweeter.

In this case I quickly identified the changes made to the whisky. Of course, the 10% heavily peated malt over other malt (lightly peated? unpeated? Help me out here, Master of Malt!) changes the profile, but not as much as I’d expected. It’s noticeable, but it doesn’t change everything.

The caramel then. This is a highly debated pet peeve of many whisky enthusiasts. I think I’m against it now too. For some whiskies it probably doesn’t matter as much as for others, but I did realize that in this case, it makes quite a difference. The whisky has less depth, there’s more sweetness that diminishes other flavors. I find this worrying, even though everybody in the industry says it doesn’t matter.

Anyway, I prefer II.2 and II.1 over the others. II.3 is the one I like least since that shows so much less depth that there just isn’t much to it. This has, again, been a rather interesting experiment and one that I hope will shed some light on industry practices that are usually shrouded in mist, or at least not many people are too clear about it. I wonder when the chill-filtering range will come out and will definitely get me some samples then!

Reference II.2, 47.4%, 50 cl, £ 56.95 / € 71.25
Reference II.3, 47.2%, 50cl, £ 55.95 / € 70

Master of Malt sent me those samples to review. Thanks guys!

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The Reference Series by Master of Malt, part 2.1

A while ago I got some samples from Master of Malt again. They had just released the second iteration of their Reference Series, which could also be called Whisky Homework.

I’m still slightly in doubt whether or not Master of Malt sent me those samples because they like me to taste their whisky, or because they think my reviews suck and want me to improve. I’ll focus on the first of those, but I’m not adamant on that choice.

Anyway, I haven’t looked up what the difference are between Reference II and Reference II.1, so all is based solely on what I taste in the glass, instead of information I got of the interwebz.

Reference II

Reference II

I was a bit apprehensive about these samples since I’ve noticed quite often that Master of Malt’s blended whiskies, as in, the stuff they blend (which might also be blended malt) can get quite fennely, like they hadn’t cleaned their apparatus properly after running a batch of absinthe. I found it in some (mind: not all) That Boutique-y Whisky Company releases and in the first batch of Reference whiskies. A little birdy told me though, that the problem had been identified and taken care of. Which also means I wasn’t the only one.

Reference II

On the nose I find the whisky smelling young and raw, with some oak to it. I get brown sugar, a rye like spiciness and a hint of fruit. The palate has the same sugar, but also pepper, malt. There’s some fruit and spices again. It’s still young, oaky and spicy. It’s pretty nice, to be honest, but not very ‘special’ yet. Maybe some peat? The finish has a hint of sweat. Not necessarily in a bad way. It’s not very long but it is consistent.

Reference II.1

Reference II.1

Reference II.1

The nose comes off as a bit more peaty than the previous one. Not too sure though. It’s a bit more gentle too, which makes me think it’s a little bit older. A little less raw, so to say. The wood spices are tuned up a little bit with cinnamon and nutmeg. The palate doesn’t have this added gentleness, with more spices, pepper and oak. The finish is longer, again more gentle. I get the hint of peat here as well.

Well, this is embarrassing. I looked up what the difference is between II and II.1, but it seems there’s just an added finishing in mini PX-treated casks. A third of what goes into II.1 is finished in those Sherry casks, and it does make quite a difference. The extra oak contact has made it more gentle and more spicy. I haven’t been able to find the typical PX fruitiness and sweetness, though. This might seem strange but these expected flavors weren’t always present in their Darkness series either, which Surprised Ben Ellefsen too.

I expect the sense of extra peatiness I got might have come from increased oak flavors, but to be honest, this might have just been a figment of my imagination. It happens. That’s also why Master of Malt should send whole bottles so I can try again and again, to get those weird flavors properly determined and/or crossed off.

So, yes, there is quite a difference when even a little bit of the whisky in the bottle has been finished in miniature casks. In this case it is, however, difficult to determine whether or not the change in flavor comes from the PX that the cask contained, or from the increased wood contact that bit of whisky has had. Interesting and a thought for future releases?

To end the review: I liked both of them, they only had a little of the fennely flavor, but in this case that also might be the spirit and youthfulness of the whisky. I didn’t mind at all, this time. It’s fun stuff to taste! I think I prefer the II.1 over the II, in this case, so the sherry finish works in its favor.

Reference Series II, 47.5%, 50cl, € 70 / £ 55.95
Reference Series II.1, 47.5%, 50cl, € 76 / £ 59.95

Thanks to the chaps at Master of Malt for the samples! The next two will follow shortly!

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Whisky en Rum aan Zee 2014

This year saw the 9th edition of Whisky en Rum aan Zee (Whisky and Rum at Sea), not to be confused with Whisky by the Sea, and several other whisky festivals in coastal venues.

Since my brother in law is a rum drinker, and I am a, well, mostly whisky drinker (I love variety, let’s keep it at that) we decided it would be a good night out. The women could stay home to guard the fortress.

Our local liquor shop, Drinks & Gifts, is nice enough to organize a bus to the festival every year, so for a tenner on top of the ticket price your taxi is taken care of too. Which is great, since the venue (The IJmuiden Holiday Inn) is more or less as far from public transport as you can get around here.

We tasted a variety of rums and whiskies during the night. We focused on stuff that we really found interesting and not too regular, so there was quite the high end rum stuff happening. By high end, in this case, I mean some properly aged rums without getting into ridiculous territories of 35 year old single cask, early landed blah blah blah. Just, like the 21 year old El Dorado, or the 15 year old Borgoe. Nice rums.

Some highlights:

Borgoe rum from Suriname. Pretty good, pretty spicy

Borgoe rum from Suriname. Pretty good, pretty spicy

10 year old Genever, matured in new American oak. Fucking epic.

10 year old Genever, matured in new American oak. Fucking epic.

Arran White Wizard. Great stuff, but so popular it never hit the shelves

Arran White Wizard. Great stuff, but so popular it never hit the shelves

El Dorado 21 year old. Mostly sweet without much depth

El Dorado 21 year old. Mostly sweet without much depth

Me being an idiot. Drinking the Don Abuelo Centuria. A really great rum. Depth, character, sweetness, spicy. This year we were in time for the hat.

Me being an idiot. Drinking the Don Abuelo Centuria. A really great rum. Depth, character, sweetness, spicy. This year we were in time for the hat.

Dos Madera. Rum finished in a PX cask. Strange, mostly gimmicky

Dos Madera. Rum finished in a PX cask. Strange, mostly gimmicky

Mulata from Cuba. Rather good. A bit thin on the palate

Mulata from Cuba. Rather good. A bit thin on the palate

Ron Prohibido. Buttery on the nose, and the palate, and the finish. Just not it.

Ron Prohibido. Buttery on the nose, and the palate, and the finish. Just not it.

Glen Garioch 1986. Good, but not strong enough to combat the sugar rush we were having. Wrong time.

Glen Garioch 1986. Good, but not strong enough to combat the sugar rush we were having. Wrong time.

I tried a cigar. I didn't enjoy it. I'm not a smoker. Cool picture though

I tried a cigar. I didn’t enjoy it. I’m not a smoker. Cool picture though

Marlon with the same cigar. He enjoyed it more.

Marlon with the same cigar. He enjoyed it more.

After-booze-snack. His smoked salmon is good, but not as good as Wullie's

After-booze-snack. His smoked salmon is good, but not as good as Wullie’s

Apart from all this we also had:

Arran Dark Lord (the White Wizard’s sherried cohort), J.M. Rhum XO (really good with even some phenolic thingies happening), Zacapa 23 (f-ing epic rum. Maybe my favorite), Borgoe 8 year old rum (not as good as the 15, but not bad either), Flying Dutchman Dark Rum (this one didn’t do it for me), Corsair Ryemageddon (weird, not very tasty, but interesting), Wemyss ‘Tarte au Citron’ Auchentoshan 14 (really lemony, curd like, very tasty), some Ledaig bottled for the King’s Court Whisky Society (I didn’t like it), Ron Abuelo 12 (very good, as the Centurio, but much better priced), Mount Gay 1703 (meh)

Most of these glasses were shared so I didn’t feel all that hammered afterwards and the bus home went well. By looking at the list of drams available I realize I missed quite some interesting stuff, but you can’t have it all.

In short: This is a recommended festival. I might buy a passe partout next year if that’s available. Pretty cool stuff, all in all.

Till next year, IJmuiden!

Posted in - American Whiskey, - Festival, - Other Distilleries, - Other Spirits, - Rum, Arran, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch, Millstone, Zuidam | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Raw Spirit – Iain Banks

It’s been a while since I finished a book. The new kid being around has kept me busy and when you’re already slightly too tired for your own good, reading isn’t the thing that’s going to keep you going.

Raw Spirit by Iain Banks

Raw Spirit by Iain Banks

Anyway, I picked this up after a discussion about it on Twitter and I was lucky enough to find it on sale so including shipping from the UK, this book only cost me about € 4.00. That’s a hard cover book, and international shipping. Not sure how they do that, but the bigger whisky web shops should look into those transportation deals!

Now, the book. It’s written by the recently deceased Iain Banks who was a novelist. As far as I know this is the only non-fiction book he has written. There are articles and other publications, but no books.

Since it’s written by someone who generally writes fiction, you notice a very fluent way of writing from the start. In this case a rather witty and pun-loaded style of writing too. The strange thing is that I honestly can’t say this book is about whisky.

That’s pretty strange for a whisky book, but it’s not. It’s a book about driving through Scotland and getting paid to visit distilleries. Most chapters only mention whisky, if at all. The rest is about how nice the drive is to somewhere, what the best roads are and how much fun you can have with friends while doing a road trip. Also, it’s a book about drunken antics, the benefits of the Landrover Defender, crap weather and how lucrative a writing career can turn out.

Iain Banks

Iain Banks

While this sounds strange, it does fit right in the slew of books I’ve been enthusiastic about recently, that contain stories instead of data. This one fits that bill. There is enough mention of whisky to keep it within the category, add to that a great writing style and fun anecdotes. You’re golden in my book!

To sum up this book in short, without giving too much away, it’s a bit like this:

It’s cool that a publisher wants to pay you a quite substantial amount of money to drive around Scotland in search of good whisky. Since you’re driving you can’t drink so you more or less are obliged to buy cases and cases of whisky, part of which is considered expenses. As it turns out, even after drinking drams at most distilleries, and buying bottles from even more of them, sometimes by the case, there is no perfect dram (so much for the sub title ‘In search of the perfect dram’).

If you dot that story with 300 pages of fun bits and pieces, and still manage to get paid, you’re doing it right.

I highly recommend this book, especially if you can get it ridiculously cheap like I did (pro tip: You can, here). If you normally like swapping stories, this book is for you. If you are looking for details on how it’s made, what tasting notes are to be found in which dram, look elsewhere.

I am now curious to see how some of his often mentioned other books are, so I might end up ordering some of those.

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