Tasting Notes x 4; Can Islay Take More?; Chivas Bros Strike?

Hello everyone

Four tasting notes this time. There could have been more but I reckoned one from the Tomatin Italian Collection would do for now and I‘ll try to do the others soon. We also have a new Timorous Beastie from Douglas Laing & Co. just in time for Halloween, Loch Lomond‘s Steam & Fire and another toothsome bottling from Kilchoman.

Tomatin first of all. The three new expressions are Amarone, Barolo and Marsala. I‘ve tried Benriach from Marsala and Bruichladdich from Barolo but couldn‘t remember when I last tried a whisky finished in an Amarone wine cask, hence that choice.

Tomatin Amarone Cask (46% vol). This one was bottled in June 2023 (NCF/NAC) following distillation in 2010 and moved to an Amarone cask for finishing in February 2021.

Appearance: Tawny/light amber with pale brass highlights. Almost a pinkish-orange tint too.

Nose: Quite sweet and citrussy too. A touch of oak and a little bit of soft caramel; a fleeting rubber note ( a note you can find in certain Italian wines). With water, a wisp of struck match, barley sugar and soft toffee. A dab of orange oil and even a touch of butter. All quite subtle, rounded and sweet.

Palate: Sweet spices, citrus skin. A pleasant balance, warming and mellow. It‘s quite light on the palate and in the mouth. No harshness or astringency.

Finish: Medium length, sweet, lightly spiced and lightly fruity.

I have a tiny bit of this left so will look forward to comparing it with the two others in the collection. Price around £70.

Just in time for Halloween comes Timorous Beastie Meet the Beast Limited Edition 2023 from Douglas Laing. This range and their Scallywag offerings are two favourites for me from this company. Bottling strength is 53.4%. It‘s also not chill-filtered and has no added colour.

Appearance: Pale straw, Chablis-like colour. Watery lemon highlights. Tears very clingy and fairly close together.

Nose: Sweet icing (frosting) and soft sweets like Dolly Mixtures (UK sweeties!) + vanilla. Sugared almonds as the packet opens; fresh-cut grass. Light sultana fruit and a touch of damp earth. Very sweet floral and oak. With water, softer and flatter at first then vanilla custard plus sugars and oak reappear. A little bit of sweet spice and then a zesty/candied citrus almost grapefruit note.

Palate: Sweet barley; some herbal dryness; citrus zest. Slightly mouth-coating. Soft cake spices and warm ginger. [They say honey but I didn‘t really get that on first sampling].

Finish: Medium length; some powdered sugar, finishes tingly and dry with some lightly toasted barley.

The packaging for this is fun. The sample came with some red lenses and when you look at the label through them you see the scary beast on the label rather than the usual cute mouse. You can always rely on Douglas Laing & Co. for out-of-the-ordinary packaging as well as a fine dram. Price around £65.

Let‘s have a tasting note break here and mention something some you may have read in recent weeks – that Pernod Ricard have plans to build a distillery on Islay at Gartbreck. There was a dispute some time back around this land between Hunter Laing and an French owner who wanted to build a distillery. Of course, Hunter Laing took themselves away to build Ardnahoe. Years ago Pernod Ricard bought part of the company I used to work for, the other part going to Fortune Brands in the US. Fortune‘s owner was keen to have Laphroaig and drove a hard bargain to get it so PR have had a glaring Islay gap in their portfolio ever since. Obviously, they‘ve now found a way of plugging that (wonder why it took them so long) but it will be a number of years before whisky is released. I recall writing when Islay‘s 10th distillery was mooted – this latest will be something like the 14th when built – that I wondered how the island infrastructure would cope, including housing for employees and the Islay water supply. I‘m rather more concerned now especially since Calmac‘s ferries have performed so poorly this last year or so and that‘s how supplies get to Islay and whisky gets back off. I also wonder at the wisdom of those local authorities who’ve already given several planning permissions in recent years and I ask myself if they will permit another one. This site was approved before but PR’s plans are yet to be submitted.

On another Pernod Ricard matter, there are threats of strike action by Chivas Bros staff with some media saying this could affect festive season supplies. Well, when I was at the company they bought, Christmas stock was usually bottled in August to make sure it got to the right places in time. The strike ballot is open till 20th November so it can‘t happen before then and I‘d expect most of the Christmas/New Year stocks to be out of the door  or at least bottled before that. I dare say someone will tell me if that‘s incorrect.

Whisky number three is the latest from Kilchoman – Kilchoman PX Sherry Cask Matured at 50% vol and 50ppm. This one released hot on the heels of the one covered last column.

Appearance: Rich barley gold with light orange and brass highlights.

Nose: Richly peaty and smoky. There‘s that damp wool sock in front of a fire again! Burnt caramel and iodine; plain chocolate caramels; sea air saltiness. Smoked ham and richly malted. Quite a sweet and savoury dual personality but it hangs together well. With water, still plenty of smoke and peat but a little softer; a little hint of struck match. Surprisingly not rich with overt vine fruit though the fruit is there – it‘s rather more subtle with good depth and a bit earthy.

Palate: Immediately smoky and peaty but with a background bitterness and sweetness of burnt sugar. Rich roast coffee grounds; smoky honey and crisp honeycomb. Distinctly medicinal too.

Finish: Long, smoky and some warm tar like its flavour catching the throat when you walk past it ; residual sweet, toasted barley.

Another one I like from Kilchoman. It was fully matured in PX casks for minimum five years, their thinking being that casks that have contained a liquid as rich as PX don‘t need the whisky in them for a very long time. Price about £85 – £90.

Last sample for this column is one I wasn‘t expecting – Loch Lomond Steam & Fire (46% vol; NCF/NAC) which came out a month or two ago. This one contains spirit from the their straight neck and their swan-neck stills. It began maturing in first-fill bourbon barrels then refill US oak casks was finished in heavily charred American oak casks for 10 months.

Appearance: Ripe barley gold with brass and sunshine yellow highlights. Tears quite swift at first then slower and more widely spread.

Nose: The Loch Lomond Distillery includes some tall straight-neck stills which should mean a lighter spirit. This is lighter on the nose than expected given the heavy cask char finish. A touch of burnt sugar and the char starts to come through. Slightly tarry as well as some plain (dark) chocolate notes. With water, char disappears at first then returns more subtly. Lightly honeyed with icing sugar and a hint of almond.

Palate: Lightly spritzy which was surprising. Black and green pepper; some char, dark chocolate and maltiness. Apart from some pear skin I didn‘t get other fruit. No clue on the packaging as to age but it does have youthful notes about it.

Finish: Medium – long; malty and dry with a touch of sweet fruit at the rear.

It‘s not one that immediately knocks the socks off but it is a pleasant and relaxing dram. Price is around £45.

I had to smile recently at a story about French winemakers in the south smashing thousands of bottles of Spanish wines coming in to France, complaining about their cheaper prices and damaging sales of the more local wines. Destroying the Spanish output isn‘t at all funny but it‘s exactly like a cartoon I have in a book of Searle cartoons from years ago where he‘s drawn that year‘s first foreign wine imports being welcomed into France – the truck is driving over nails in the road bursting its tyres and wine is spilling everywhere. I wonder if that was an inspiration!

What are we drinking at home at the moment, apart from wine? Well, there‘s a bottle of Fettercairn 12 Y.O. open as well as a bottle of Jameson‘s Triple Triple and I‘m about to start working my way down the Steam & Fire (above) over the next couple of weeks.

Till next time, happy dramming.




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