Thursday, 17 November 2011

Taste The Difference?

I am currently running around like mad trying to ensure that a tasting happens at the Glenfiddich Distillery next week. Tastings happen every day at the Glenfiddich Distillery I hear you cry, so why the big deal? The minor difference with this one is that it will be broadcast live over the internet. A collection of Glenfiddich, The Balvenie and Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference malts is the prize awaiting the tasting panel.
On Thursday 24th November, 7 days and 8 hours away at the time of writing, I will be responsible for the delivery of 5 people tasting 8 malts each for a one hour broadcast. They will taste and discuss all 8 single malts and somehow keep to within an hour – come on, we all know what whisky people are like when it comes to timekeeping. In order to actually have a broadcast there are several key challenges....
People – who to choose and how to make sure they are all in place. To make up the panel I have invited Richard Berry, a malt enthusiast but very much a highly knowledgeable amateur; Steve Smith, the malt buyer at Sainsbury’s; Jamie Milne from Glenfiddich; The Balvenie’s Global Ambassador Sam Simmons and to chair the event and keep them all in line, Eddie Ludlow, founder of The Whisky Lounge. Flights are booked, transfers in place and they all even have a hotel room so, fingers crossed, the people box is ticked.
Location – It is great that Glenfiddich have been so kind as to host us for our Distillery Tasting but even this has not been without a few struggles. Glenfiddich is a major tourist attraction and now that the season is over the preferred location within the distillery is subject to a little renovation work. Eventually we have found the right spot in the distillery and fantastic it is. Overlay on this the location of the distillery itself – up in the Scottish highlands and rather rural – then you end up with a few issues over actually getting the broadcast signal out of the area. Roll up the satellite truck and now we have a solution.
The Web – for me, this has been the first time I have had a web page created. Safe to say it is a harder, longer and more detailed process than I had imagined. Through several incarnations and many re-writes and edits I now have a fully functioning page –
So as I get into the last week before broadcast it seems most of the major elements are in place. My people, location and web page are done so the last step will be to actually deliver an hour of live television.
If you want to see how I get on tune in to on Thursday 24th November at 7PM GMT. See you there.  

Friday, 11 November 2011

One man's creation - The Balvenie Forty

When a distillery releases significantly aged stocks, let’s say 30 years plus, it is generally safe to say it has been a team effort of Malt Masters. Over the 30+ years it is almost certain that at least 1 Malt Master has been and gone, perhaps more. Therefore the new make spirit that was layed down in casks by one man (or woman) is being married and bottled by another.

This is where David Stewart's achievement at The Balvenie really comes into its own. With very nearly 50 years service (this amazingly does not make him the longest serving member of the team at The Balvenie) it was David himself that layed down the new make in the early Seventies that was released this week as The Balvenie Forty.

David Stewart is the longest serving Malt Master in the industry and has picked up a thing or two in his time at the helm of The Balvenie as well as previously Glenfiddich. This experience has led to some incredible releases over the years and The Balvenie Forty is due to follow in this line.

I have not had a chance to sample as yet (come back in two weeks and I should have the experience for you) so I will leave it up to David Stewart himself to share his tasting notes –

The aroma of The Balvenie Forty is deep and rich, with fragrant floral notes, underpinned by sweet vanilla oak, fresh fruit and hints of raisin, sultana and spice.  Its taste is a lusciously creamy complexity of sweet vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and oak, combined with a mouth-watering sensation of butter toffee and delicious sherried richness.

So there it is, £2500 well spent. If you have the urge then Travel Retail and Harrods et al are the places to spend your hard earned pennies.

New Look for an Old Pulteney

Fresh from being crowned World Whisky of the Year by Jim Murray in his 2012 Whisky Bible, Old Pultney 21 YO along with 12 YO & 17 YO, has been given a refreshed bottle and tube.

Looks like the packaging now stands up to the ever growing reputation of this fine distillery.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

A flight of fancy

Choice. Everyone wants it, it is positive, it allows us to select only what we want. But what do we do when we want it all?
I love whisky. Scotch, Irish, American, even the Australian and Swedish ones tried in the last week were eye openers. The trouble is there are so many of them – The Whisky Exchange lists 1869 single malts alone. Add in the fact that each of these cost anything from £20 up to £15 000 then choice starts look decidedly tricky.
I may however have found a small weapon in this struggle.  I spent a night this week at Albannach, a whisky bar and restaurant on London’s Trafalgar Square ( I could not quite bring myself to count how many whiskies are on the menu at Albarnnach but you can be sure it is a three digit number. Choice!
So when presented with the menu I struggled, until I noticed the flights that is. I know flights are nothing new and not only done in whisky but this was the first time I had been in a position to try one that was really thought out and designed to work as a whole. There were several on offer from the ‘Whisky Tour’ and ‘Sommeliers Choice’ to the ‘Classic Malts’. In the end I went for ‘Cask Finishes’. A few short minutes later and in front of me, in an interesting antler for a platter, were a Glenmorangie Astar, Glenfiddich 21, Auchentoshan Three Wood, Bowmore Darkest 15 and a 1994 Lagavulin.
I went through my flight in the order above starting with the Glenmo. I’ll be honest, I don’t drink much Glenmorangie, not for any particular reason other than I don’t often get round to it. The Astar here is probably not going to change that significantly. Yes, it was good. The American cask finish (what was it in before being finished in American?) gave it a real Bourbon hit – all the flavours one expects – caramel, toffee and vanilla. If however I wanted a dram that tasted like bourbon I think I would go for a bourbon.
Next up was the Glenfiddich 21 Year Old which earns its place in a cask finish line up courtesy of 4 months in a bourbon cask that has served its duty holding Caribbean rum. That Caribbean influence adds some fruit to the profile in the form of figs, banana and a fudge like sweetness. The sheer length of time in the wood means that there are some of the woody tobacco notes but the Glenfiddich DNA of a grassy freshness is still there. Overall, a sublime malt and one I know to go back to.
The midpoint of my tran-Scotland flight meant heading down south to the outskirts of Glasgow for some Auchentoshan Three Wood. The three woods in question are the ubiquitous American oak followed by Olorosso casks and finally Pedro Ximenez, each giving their own influence. Unsurprisingly wood is right up there in terms of its flavours but a wood with a real nutty side to it. Wood sweetnesses like caramel and treacle with a bit of banoffee pie add to the fun. This was not the first time I have drunk the Three Wood and it is safe to say it will not be the last.
The first half of my home straight was the Bowmore 15, a malt that has spent the last 2 years in Olorosso wood. That sherry influence makes unusual things happen when it competes with the Islay peat smoke. In the end I found myself thinking about eating a bar of dark South American chocolate while sitting in a cigar lounge. Can’t argue with the joy in that.
The final stop on my journey through cask finishes was something else altogether; Lagavulin 1994 Distillers Edition. What is so impressive here is the achievement of balance and a complete contrast. To the nose the Lagavulin was, well, Lagavulin – a real big hit of peat and smoke. This is exactly what I expected to get when I took a sip but instead there was a clear sweetness, almost honey. This honey then rolled through sticky raisin and golden syrup before reaching the Islay peat hit that I had initially expected. This Islay character continued into the finish which lasted as long as any I have tried before. And there it was – real contract but somehow delivered in perfect balance. Lagavulin 1994 really was the perfect stop to end this flight, if nothing else I am not sure I would have been able to taste anything after.
So there we have it. Presented with bewildering choice the answer was simple – allow someone else to narrow it down to the point where the answer became clear. Choice really is a positive but with over 100 distilleries in Scotland producing multiple releases every year it seems that a little guidance along the way can really set you on the right flight of fancy.