Kilchoman & Chocolate – New Arrrrrrrdbeg! – Jim McEwan‘s Book – Untold Riches from Wemyss – Royal Salute Snow Polo Tasting – Dewar’s in Port – SMWS: Dinner & Drinks -Whisky Festivals 2021

So, did you celebrate Burns Night and what did you drink with your haggis? I had a teaspoon or two of Benriach Smoky 10 on the haggis as I hadn’t tried that pairing before. I usually like a Talisker for its smoke and peppery notes or Laphroaig for the peatiness with the haggis but also a residual sweetness. Anyway, Benriach worked well and a glass of Port Charlotte Scottish Barley alongside for drinking (a little bottle I’ve had for a while). Plenty of peatiness but also lovely barley flavours. Watched a web chat with Rachel Barrie afterwards and felt it appropriate to have a wonderful single cask expression of The Glendronach to drink with that.

I finally got round to tasting the Royal Salute Snow Polo received for Christmas. See the note further down. Sadly, I tried it on a 5:2 diet day and couldn’t have a proper dram after the tasting sample. However, there’s a whole bottle so plenty of time.

Kilchoman Distillery has just launched a whisky and chocolate pairing as a result of their online tastings held during lockdowns and travel bans. Some of those tastings were pairings with Scottish-produced foods and the final one featured chocolate. The whiskies are existing expressions paired with chocolate bars from Coco Chocolatier in Edinburgh who collaborate with cacao farmers in Colombia. The pairings are Kilchoman Machir Bay (mainly bourbon matured) with Atlantic Sea Salt & Lime Milk Chocolate and Kilchoman Sanaig (mainly sherry cask matured) paired with Haggis Spice Dark Chocolate. Forget the haggis – think only of the spices that go into it. When the release came in with the offer of samples, as a whisky devotee and chocoholic, how could I say no? By the way, I’d already wired into them before I realised I’d need photography which is why the bars here have been opened!

What they say is, “Machir Bay is a vatting of Kilchoman matured in a high proportion of bourbon barrels which creates a distinct balance of Islay character and fresh floral complexity. Kilchoman have paired this whisky with the Atlantic sea salt and lime milk chocolate. The fresh lime flavour and the sweetness from the chocolate balances very well with the citrus, fresh fruits and vanilla character of the Machir Bay.

Sanaig is matured in a high proportion of oloroso sherry hogsheads which imparts a balance of rich, dried fruits and peat smoke. Kilchoman have paired Sanaig with something very unique – a haggis flavoured dark chocolate. The spiciness from the nutmeg, allspice and cloves works beautifully with the sherry cask influence of Sanaig.”

I have now tried them and can say they do both work very well and the chocolate is delicious. Highly recommend that you try them. They should be available on the Kilchoman web shop from February. The chocolate bars are £4.17 each before postage. If you opt for a 2 x 20cl pack of Machir Bay and Sanaig, that will cost you £36.25 (+ postage) more.

The spiced dark chocolate was not as strongly spiced as I thought it would be but it does have a fine flavour to balance with the whisky. In the interests of research I tried the pairings the other way round. While the haggis-spice chocolate was pretty much okay with the Machir Bay, the sea salt and lime version didn’t do so well with Sanaig. Try it for yourself but their pairings are well-advised. You may want to try them without water and then with a little water too. I did both and preferred them without water but it’s personal taste. Another option is to try them with the whiskies and a cup of hot espresso coffee alongside (as outlined to me by Richard Paterson with another whisky some years ago), particularly with the Sanaig and dark chocolate. Sip the coffee then put a chocolate square on your tongue to melt. Another sip of hot coffee and then one of whisky. After dinner treat!

The people who made The Water of Life film about the reawakening of Bruichladdich and those involved have had a screening of it for Burns Night every night from 22 – 28 January. On each evening there was a live chat afterwards with whisky people, famous and not famous. One such was (the very famous) Jim McEwan alongside Charlie MacLean (very famous) and Adam Hannett (getting there!). Those of you who did watch will have heard that Jim has produced the text of his autobiography to be published this year and….it’s in German! I had to find out more so got in touch with Jim this week.

Turns out that a German whisky contact happened to mention it to a publisher friend who runs a large publishing house over there and who leapt at the chance to produce and launch it. The first edition of “A Journeyman’s Journey”, Jim tells me, is a hardcover edition on high quality paper and leather bound. The German edition won’t be launched for another couple of months as it’s currently going through the English to German translation step and the English language edition will follow on later. There will likely be a French version too. As a German and French speaker who rarely gets to speak either these days, I feel the first edition would do me some linguistic good but I’ll mainly look forward to the English version. I have some price info but I’m wondering if it was a wind-up from Jim… If not, it’s a very clever way to price it. More info on that and this sure-to-be eagerly awaited book when I get it.

Just this last week came news of a new Ardbeg Committee expression to mark the retirement of Mickey Heads. Many of you will know he retired as manager last October but was staying on as Chair of the Ardbeg Committee. Seems he’s now stepping down from that too. Anyway, the expression is Arrrrrrrdbeg! with a pirate theme behind it. It’s priced at £145 per bottle and goes on sale to Committee members next week. These things sell out fast. At the moment I don’t have more information about the make-up of the expression though there is a tasting note:

Wholly matured in ex-rye casks, gunpowder, smoked banana and pear drift into vanilla and rye on the nose. A spicy mouthfeel hoists up and ignites a blunderbuss of fruity flavours.

An armada of aniseed is tailed by smoked toffee and a distant hint of sourdough biscuits. The long finish lingers, with gentle smoke listing on the palate.“

Also now in the UK from Ardbeg, is a new permanent expression, Ardbeg 25 Year Old bottled at 46% abv though in limited quantities, via their web shop and Ardbeg embassies in various countries. The tasting note says, Majestic aromas of smoked cream and earthy bonfires are masterfully interwoven with layers of pine and fragrant candle wax. Hot pepper rises on the palate, twisting around lemon sherbet sweetness while hints of carbolic soap and tar flow into a long aftertaste characterised by delicate aniseed entwined with lingering cream and fudge.“

It sounds delightful but at £710/bottle it won’t be gracing my shelves anytime soon. However, there are plenty of Ardbeg lovers out there who will be keen to buy. I must rummage about in my whisky cupboard because I’m sure I have a bottle of long-aged Ardbeg given to me by my former colleague, Iain Henderson, when he was manager at Laphroaig and Ardbeg. He was clearing out his cupboards. Right place, right time…

Wemyss Malts have come up with another aged treat for us. It’s Untold Riches – bottled at 49.1% abv, non chill-filtered and natural colour – which is a limited edition Bunnahabhain single malt from casks that have been maturing for over 28 years. It’s the first single malt they have crafted themselves from casks in their ownership. They carefully selected 31 hogshead and sherry butt casks from several parcels of decades-old, unpeated Bunnahabhain to blend into a single malt. The resulting whisky has an abundance of cereal rich and dried fruit flavours, an oily, mouth coating body and a subtle saffron spice finish, the release tells us. Their official notes say:

Colour Walnut

NoseLeather, dusty books and antique wood. Dark fruits and maraschino cherries follow.

TasteDemerara-coated walnuts and pecans with plums, dates and banana bread.

FinishSaffron, clove and nutmeg.

Untold Riches has been available from since 25th January, Find it in top independent spirits retailers in the UK, Europe and Asia from February 2020. The whisky comes in a 70cl bottle and gift box at a price around £149.95 or local equivalent but dependent on local taxes and duties. I love a good Bunnahbhain and am tempted by this one. A whisky of that age at that price is really great value if the liquid is of the right quality – and it will be.

The latest expression in Dewar’s blend range is Dewar’s Portuguese Smooth – an eight-year-old blend finished for 4 months in ruby port casks. This is the third edition in its cask finish range, the others being Dewar’s Caribbean Smooth Rum Cask Finish and Dewar’s Ilegal Smooth Mezcal Finish. 2021 also marks the brand’s 175th anniversary. The Dewar’s brand is still a huge one in the US and this is a US launch, priced at around US$21.99. However, I’ve asked for a little sample to do my own tasting note so hoping that turns up soon.

Brian Cox, vice president, Dewar’s, North America (and another former colleague of mine), said: “The whisky category has a certain mythology of its own, replete with traditional conventions. We created the Dewar’s cask-finished series to break the mould and evolve those traditions by bringing two product elaboration cultures together – in this case from Scotland and Portugal – to create something richer.” In an interview elsewhere last year he commented that they‘re also seeing growth in blends in the US so long may that continue for the blend category generally.

I’ve mentioned Royal Salute Snow Polo Edition quite a bit recently and here’s my tasting note at last:

Appearance: Rich orange marmalade with old brass and tawny highlights. Tears very swift at first then slow and clingy like peach juice.

Nose: At first quite cologne-like but it fades quickly. Vanilla and sweet grass, gentle but insistent toffee. Waft of elegant oak; warm, buttery notes also and the creamy toffee develops further as it sits. Some warehouse floor earthiness and a little hint of orange or clementine zest. With water, a little baked pear fruit and brown sugar and some butterscotch. Over ice, as they recommend trying it, the toffee and a zesty citrus note remain in the glass.

Palate: Slightly unctuous in the mouth. Silky and elegant; very smooth. Warm, buttery toffee, vanilla and sweet grain. A slight astringency and dryness on the tongue too. Over ice there’s still that little dab of orange/clementine zest and more herbal, “green” notes.

Finish: Medium – long; buttery with grain sweetness, ending dry.

Do try some if you get a chance.

For those readers in the UK, The Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) is bringing its Home Dining experience to you. Home Dining kits are available for delivery across mainland UK on 4th – 5th and 11th – 12th February, priced at £95 for 2 people or £165 for four. They are also available for click and collect from the 28 Queen Street, Edinburgh or 38 Bath Street, Glasgow Members’ Rooms on 4-6th and 11-13th February priced at £85 for 2 people or £155 for 4 people: .

It‘s a three-course menu, served alongside chef’s own chocolate truffles and a special Cupid’s Whisky Sour cocktail, and “three expertly paired SMWS drams… You will also receive videos from Executive Head Chef James Freeman and SMWS ambassadors, helping you skillfully plate your meal and appreciate your delicious drams.” I don’t know if this service is available from SMWS branches overseas but it certainly sounds good value for here in the UK.

Sadly whisky festivals are being cancelled yet again. For those hoping to attend Limburg in Germany this spring it is cancelled but they have set dates for 2022. Better news is that both Spirit of Speyside and Feis Ile will go online again this year with plenty of events to watch/participate in. Check out their websites for more details.

I guess February’s event to line up your drams for is Valentine’s Day. Kilchoman and chocolate maybe?

Till next month, happy dramming.




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