Tasting Japanese, Bruichladdich, Irish Whiskey Winner, The Epicurean, SWA, Feis Ile
At time of writing it’s beautiful hot weather here in Glasgow and making lockdown that bit nicer if we have access to gardens and parks.
This week should have been Feis Ile (Islay Festival of Malt & Music) and I should have been over for a couple of days to do my annual Feis dinner. I’ve really missed not being there as I love the ferry trip there and back and seeing the island so busy with happy people, as well as the pleasure of hosting the dinner and speaking about the whisky/food matches I’ve chosen. That said, I hope many of you have been following the various distillery virtual events this week. I haven’t managed all of them but I am enjoying a (small) dram each day from the distillery of the “day”. Previous Feis Ile visitors will know that each distillery takes a day of that week as its special main day so Lagavulin on Saturday, Bruichladdich on Sunday etc. so there were two on Thursday for Jura and Kilchoman. Yay!
Do raise a dram to them all for their efforts to keep us entertained this week and generally during lockdown.
Bruichladdich Distillery has recently announced its success in becoming a certified BCorporation (B Corp). “What is B Corp?”, you may ask. The media release tells us, “Being a B Corporation (B Corp) means adhering to the highest levels of social and environmental performance, public transparency, and accountability. B Corporations take a more rigorous approach to business decisions by focusing on people and the planet, in addition to profit. B Corp Certification doesn’t just evaluate a product or service; it assesses the overall positive impact of the company that stands behind it. Certified B Corporations achieve a minimum verified score on the B Impact Assessment—a rigorous assessment of a company’s impact on its workers, customers, community, and environment—and make their B Impact Report transparent on bcorporation.net.”
Bruichladdich is the only whisky and gin distillery in Europe to meet the organisation’s detailed standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.
Amongst the attributes that gained Bruichladdich the accreditation are “developing career opportunities for 80 permanent Islay employees, improving benefits packages and training programmes as well as a focus on using local suppliers where possible… (plus) a renewed and ongoing emphasis on their sustainability agenda. Encapsulated within this is the purchase of 30 acres of land, set aside for research and development on sustainable agriculture.”
So well done to Bruichladdich for this achievement. It’s a lovely operation they have over there and they’ve had community commitment from the outset.
A few weeks ago I was sent a sample of Kamiki Sakura Wood (48%abv, no chill filtration) to nose and taste from the Yoshino Spirits Company. Doesn’t sound very Scottish you might say. Well, it’s Japanese whiskies blended with selected whiskies from other countries to create a blended malt. As you might expect from a Japanese product, the packaging is beautiful and very tactile. It looks solid and substantial but with delicate and dainty little details when you look closely. The whisky tastes rather good too. Tasting note below.
This one is more unusual in that as well as being finished in cedar wood casks it then also had time in sakura wood and they say it is the first whisky from Japan to be matured this way. Sakura is the Japanese cherry tree. Not many producers use cherry wood it though I’ve seen it from one or two small, independent whiskeys in the US. Cedar is a spicy and aromatic wood and that shows through here. The whisky is available from the dekanta website at around £154 (UK) and $200(US) for a 50cl. bottle.
Appearance: Rich old gold / light amber with orange highlights. The tears are fairly swift to form and not too clingy.
Nose: Caramel/toffee at first then sharp and sweet spices (mace, allspice, old nutmeg) with a hint of spicy, heady floral notes. There’s a little bit of sherbet citrus and cedar “tang”. Then it becomes softer with a bit more fruit (baked apricots) and flowers; no obvious oak but a little vanilla and an earthy undertone. Also a little waxy note. It’s not too pungent or assertive but gentle and refined.
With water, there’s a bit of light honey with the fruit and spices a bit more forward. More sweet floral and wood notes – not freshly sawn wood but cut and left to rest. A hint of custard and ripe banana.
Palate: Silky texture. Spicy and a little peppery with a waft of banana, some spicy wood and sandalwood notes; sweet but slightly vegetal and a soft, sappy hint. It’s also a little tongue-drying and slightly bitter cherry and liquorice notes; wood tannins.
Finish: Initially feels short – medium with washes of sweetness, bitterness and some dryness. Quite tongue-tingling from the spice. It was a little later on that I realised gentle but spicy wood notes persisted at the back like the aroma of freshly sawn aromatic wood when it catches the back of your throat.
Please bear in mind that these are my own tasting notes and not the official ones.
Also recently, Redbreast Irish Whiskey from Irish Distillers Midleton Distillery in Cork, announced the release of its third limited edition Dream Cask to mark World Whisky Day. Now, be aware that you can secure this one only by registering for an online ballot via Redbreast’s private members’ club, The Birdhouse and that ballot closes at 14.59GMT on June 2nd when successful participants will be given an opportunity to purchase a 500ml bottle for €490.
Redbreast Dream Cask Ruby Port Edition (51.5% abv) is the first Redbreast expression to be fully finished in a single port cask. We are told, “Created by Master Blender Billy Leighton, in collaboration with Blender Dave McCabe, Redbreast Dream Cask Ruby Port Edition is the culmination of four extraordinary whiskey journeys dating back more than 30 years, which were set aside during the crafting of Redbreast 27 Year Old. Aged for a minimum of 28 years in a combination of ex-bourbon barrels, an oloroso sherry butt and a ruby port seasoned cask, these exceptional liquids were then married in the ruby port cask to mature further as a single Dream Cask.”
The release goes on “The result is a smooth and silky Irish whiskey with notes of assertive spices, dark chocolate and cinnamon which slowly reveal a luxurious layer of sweet ripe plums and exotic fruits reminiscent of the signature Redbreast style. Bottled at 51.5%, the ruby port cask finish further contributes notes of raisins, sultanas and berries, adding an extra layer of depth and complexity. It is this final marrying phase which also gives the expression an intense mahogany colour.” Just wish I had some!
In further recent news about Irish Distillers, they have been given the Importer of the Year honour at the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition 2020.
The Importer of the Year honour recognises the achievement of the distiller who attains the greatest number and level of medals. In addition to this, the judges of the annual tasting competition awarded its portfolio of Irish whiskeys with six Double Gold medals – including an exceptional performance from its Spot range as Red Spot, Green Spot and Yellow Spot all collected a Double Gold medal. Jameson Bow Street 18 Years Cask Strength also received Double Gold and newcomer Midleton Very Rare Dair Ghaleach Knockrath Forest was also highly commended, achieving a Double Gold medal on its first outing at the competition.
Even further. Redbreast 12, Redbreast 15, Redbreast 21 and Redbreast Lustau Edition were presented with coveted Gold medals. The Powers range was also recognised, with the judges awarding Powers John’s Lane, Powers Three Swallow and Powers Gold Label with Gold Medals.
I’d love to be at the party that celebrates all that when everyone at ID is allowed to be in the same place once more!
Glen Scotia’s 2020 Festival Edition, the Glen Scotia Limited Edition 14 Year Old Tawny Port Finish has been released this month. It was to be celebrated at the Campbeltown Whisky Festival in the week before Feis Ile but obviously that had to be cancelled. Samples are difficult right now but they say they can send me one so more info and a tasting note in June, if all goes to plan.
A new announcement from the Scotch Whisky Association this week, concerning Scotch Whisky’s efforts in protecting our environment. The Scotch Whisky Industry Environmental Strategy, created in 2009 and the first of its kind to cover an entire sector, listed a range of targets across the industry and its supply chain. The 2020 report uses data from 2018 so the situation could be even better than shown here. Core results are as follows:
2020 targets (and 2009-2018 progress)
- Source 20% of primary energy from non-fossil fuels: 28% of primary energy use is now from non-fossil fuel sources. This has contributed to a 34% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
- Improve energy efficiency by 7.6%: Energy efficiency has improved by 9.2% since 2008. The industry has achieved its target 2 years early.
- Improve distilling water efficiency by 10%: Water efficiency has improved by 22% since the 2012 base year.
- Reduce average unit weight of packaging materials by 10%: Packaging weight has increased by 2.6% since 2012. The main driver is continued consumer demand for premium products. (That means glass, folks)
- No general waste from Scotch Whisky operations will go to landfill: Landfill waste is now down to just 1% over the last decade.
- All packaging will be reusable or recyclable: Reusable or recyclable packaging now sits at 94%.
- 40% of product packaging to be from recycled materials: The recycled content of our product packaging is 37%. Glass has the biggest impact on this target.
Among the revised targets to be published later this year will be a commitment to sustainable land use, including the implementation of a Peat Action Plan and commitments to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The full report can be accessed via the SWA website. I must find out more about the Peat Action Plan. There are a number of environmentalists who want to ban peat from so many uses. Fair enough but it is integral to the character and identity of so many whisky brands with those carefully cultivated (no pun intended) over very many years so I’m wondering what the intentions are. Some environmentalists have specifically mentioned the whisky industry, despite its responsible use of peat. I recall a former colleague from the industry on Islay telling a group of our visitors that there was enough peat on Islay to last about 1,000 years even if it wasn’t renewing itself, which it does. Not sure what he based his numbers on, though!
Just as I had finished my early May column I was sent some info about a new expression of The Epicurean from Douglas Laing & Co. – The Epicurean Cognac Cask Finished Limited Edition. The Epicurean is their Lowland malt and the second of their single cask Wood Series releases with it where DL seeks to demonstrate the significant impact the cask can have on the Whisky.. No samples so we’re told, “an overriding tropical style with lychee, fiery ginger, sandalwood and coconut as a result of the finishing in two specially selected French Cognac casks”. It’s bottled at 46%abv and no chill-filtration.
This time the cask selection was led by CEO, Chris Leggat and he considers it, “A rather exciting – certainly distinguished – addition to the family”. The Epicurean generally is also one they encourage you to play with using mixers or in cocktails and this one is no different. It will retail at around £59.99 in the UK. No price indication for other markets.
On pricing, this week I ordered my bottle of one distillery’s bottle for the cancelled Feis Ile. No problem with the price of the bottle but when I got to the checkout the shipping charge was over £15! Apparently the shipment company is based in Germany. I’m gobsmacked, disgruntled, feeling a bit ripped off. It’s not the distillery’s fault. What can their HQ be thinking? I’ve ordered other things from Islay’s distilleries, the most recent being a bottle a few months back and the shipping charge was less than half of that.
A note recently from Glenfarclas telling me that their visitor centre will be closed for the rest of this year. Sad but sensible given all the quarantine restrictions in various places and some countries managing the virus better than others. They want to protect both their visitors and their lovely staff. I’ve spoken to one or two other distilleries but their response is that further decisions are still to be taken on when/if they might be open again. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if others did follow suit. If I hear more, I’ll post it here.
A bottle of one of the world’s oldest surviving cognacs – Gautier Cognac 1762 – broke a world record this week after selling fror £118,580 at an online auction. Not that I’m being competitive or anything but much more recent whiskies than 1762 have done better than that! Till June, keep smiling and keep well. Maybe a dram a day keeps the doctor away…(but only as part of responsible drinking).