Truffles, Tastings & New Directions


Just the other day I was reading a drinks e-mail I receive from the US and noted there’s a whiskey out there called Black Truffle Rye – a rye whiskey flavoured with – oh, yes! – black truffle, from Sonoma County Distilling Co. What an intriguing combination but not one we’d allow here. I kind of like the rules we have here which say whisky is whisky and nothing else and anything flavoured has to have another name. After all, we have  so many distilleries and excellent whiskies and a global reputation to uphold. However, I do admire the experimentation that goes on in the US and I’d like to see some more adventure in what we do – even if it can’t be called whisky. One for the newer guys and maybe some of the distilleries down south. Anyway, I wouldn’t mind getting hold of some Truffle Rye to see whether my first instinct of “Oh, yuck!” was right or whether my admiration for their creativity is the better reaction. If I manage to get hold of some, I’ll let you know.

Several new samples tasted this month. One is a whisky I received back in July but couldn’t fit into the last blog and one is the new kid on the block from Ardbeg.

Let’s look at the Ardbeg first. It’s called Ardbeg An Oa (pronounced an- oh), Oa being a part of Islay. It’s coming to specialist retailers in September and will be a permanent expression in the Ardbeg portfolio. Following maturation in Pedro Ximenez casks, charred virgin oak and bourbon wood, the various parcels were married in a vat of French oak then bottled at 46.6% abv and will sell for around £49. Nose and taste?

Nose – peat, smoke, wood char, spices – cinnamon and clove; some toffee and apple, chocolate, warm woods and some vanilla. With water it is slightly flatter at first then a bit of cream cheese and more light fruit like sultanas; a touch of cream.

 Palate – slightly oily mouth feel. Smoke, creosote/tar; charred wood and peat; astringent, peppery and cooking spices – more savoury than sweet. Quite mouth drying then sweeter, richly toasted barley notes bring up the rear.

 Finish – long, smoky and chewy with tar, char and toasted barley – that bonfire moment!

A good addition to the Ardbeg range, though so far I think I prefer Uigeadail and Corryvreckan amongst the permanents. Maybe it’s because they are more familiar so I certainly need to try this one again and take time to compare it with the others. No age statement but it doesn’t need one. It’s good enough without.

That great bastion of the single cask bottling, the Scotch Malt Whisky Society , has released a blended malt for the first time. Called Exotic Cargo and 10 years old, with plenty of sherry influence, it can be had from the SMWS from 1 September. Thereafter it will be rolled out to the US, Canada and Australia. By the way, the new Kaleidoscope Bar at the Society’s Queen Street premises in Edinburgh is now open to non-members. A lovely, friendly place to go and try some fine whiskies – and they’re not averse to mixing and cocktails. The restaurant has been open to non-members for a while but the bar feels more informal. There’s still a members only area upstairs too.

Another newbie is Inchmoan 12 Year Old (46%) peated single malt from Loch Lomond Distillers. It’s the peated version of their Inchmurrin whisky.  They’ve also released a 1992 distillation but more on that one next time. I thought the 12 year is likely to be the one most people see and buy or try.

Nose: soft, fruity, touch of orange zest; a bit of vanilla and a mere waft of sulphur, at one point. Some sweet spices- mace, allspice, clove and ginger. With water it’s softer still and creamier; slight warm wood note then some sappiness.

Palate: soft and quite mellow with touches of oak and vanilla, dried fruit and citrus peel; flashes of warm, sweet spice. licorice and smoke. Nicely balanced.

Finish: medium length, with some licorice and an interesting spritzy note on the tongue.

As I sit here typing, an e-mail has just come in to tell me that Benriach Distillery has just released its Batch 14 Cask Bottling. The selection features first fill Oloroso sherry butts, port pipes, a first fill virgin oak cask, a first fill marsala hogshead and a Pedro Ximenez sherry puncheon. We’re told, “Each cask has been hand-selected for the unique taste experience it offers. The whiskies are non-chill filtered, of natural colour and come in hand-numbered bottles with gift tubes.” If any of them come my way, I’ll report in due course.

Another piece of news that came in a little while ago is the release of three new Johnnie Walker expressions from the Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch range. The three new whiskies – Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Wine Cask Blend, Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Rum Cask Finish and Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Espresso Roast – are designed with bartenders and whisky enthusiasts in mind “to form the cornerstone of exceptional cocktails.” Aimée Gibson, who recently received the Rising Star Award at the International Spirits Challenge 2017, led the creation of Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Wine Cask Blend. It is the outcome of an experiment in maturation in former wine casks that was set in motion more than a decade ago by her mentor, Master Blender Jim Beveridge. Said Aimée, “My goal is to make whiskies that can be enjoyed by people with a range of taste preferences, especially by those who might previously have thought that whisky isn’t for them. So, to create our new Blenders’ Batch blends, the blending team and I drew upon some 200 years of whisky-making experience at Johnnie Walker and took inspiration from some of the world’s best bartenders to explore a new world of flavour.” I like the idea of consultation with bartenders to push Scotch Whisky onwards and upwards and to highlight fine blend.

Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Wine Cask Blend is launching in selected countries from September 2017 with an RRP from US$29.99. Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Rum Cask Finish and Johnnie Walker Blenders’ Batch Espresso Roast will be available globally at some of the world’s best bars from October 2017.  Is your bar one of them?

Well, I’m off on holiday looking to fill my car full of good wine – and maybe the odd bottle of French whisky.

Back in September. Until then, keep dramming.





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