World Whisky Day; Almost a UK Tasting; Whisky Investments?; Speyside Results; WWD Cocktails

Hello Everyone

Well, tomorrow (Saturday 15th May) is World Whisky Day. Why not make it World Whisky Week? Not just for the alliteration but it gives all you talented on-trade people round the world more time to celebrate the wonderful spirit that is whisky – or whiskey – by showing your customers just what a vast array there is and how versatile. Same if you‘re on the retail or wholesale side – encourage customers to take an extra step into whisky. Do respond to this blog by telling us what you did for WWD. I intend to make a pre-dinner cocktail here at home and maybe open up one of my older whiskies later on. There will be a couple of cocktail recipes at the end of this piece.

Several promised samples arrived since my last column and so we have an Almost UK tasting this time – one from Scotland, one from Wales and one from England. Just a pity there was nothing new from Northern Ireland but those three take up plenty of space here already. Let‘s get to them:

From Scotland we have Kilchoman PX Sherry Cask Matured – 47.3% abv and 50ppm of phenols. That‘s a fair amount of peatiness. This has to be the most instantly attractive nose of any of the Kilchomans I‘ve nosed and that‘s quite a number. Must be the more overt sherry influence here from the PX soaked casks. I shall never tire of a good sherry-casked whisky. This is a limited edition of 12,000 bottles but a general release, available worldwide. It‘s a „vatting of 33 casks in total, 9 fully matured casks and 24 finished in Pedro Ximénez for between 12 and 18 months.“ It‘s available now at around £75 per bottle (UK) or local equivalent, dependent on duty and taxes.

Appearance: Warm light amber/caramel with orange marmalade highlights. Tears are swift at first then more clingy and not too widely spaced.

Nose: Straight off out of the glass – barbecue sauce and bonfire embers. Some dried vine fruits mingle with the peat smokiness. Spicy oak and earth floors. A hint of tropical fruits too – definitely baked pineapple. Some sea air with the slight salt air notes; cured bacon/ham. With water there‘s a little waxiness at first and a touch more oak vanilla. Smokiness and embers are a bit more forward. It settles into almost a pine resinous note with sweet, dried fruits, vanilla custard and creamy toffee.

Palate: Spicy; medium weight and slightly mouth-coating; smoke, char, tar, embers but also a sweet fruit note – grilled fruits from a barbecue and smoked hams. Yum – liked this one.

Finish: Long but mouth drying with smoke and char and sweet oak.

It would make an interesting tasting to line up a number of sherry influenced Kilchomans and try them all on the one occasion, just to see how their bottlings have developed or differ from one another.

While still on the subject of Kilchoman, their Feis Ile day is 3rd June and you can get the tasting kits now or order their Feis whisky release from their online shop. Hurry for the tasting kits so they reach you in time. I meant to mention them last time but ran out of room.  This year‘s Feis release is composed of „eight 100% Islay casks for this year’s release, two 2011 oloroso sherry butts and six 2012 bourbon barrels. The casks were filled with 20ppm 100% Islay spirit, distilled from Optic and Publican barley varieties, harvested at Kilchoman in 2010 and 2011. This Single Farm Single Malt was matured in their onsite dunnage warehouses before being bottled at cask strength; 56.3% abv“.

Next we move on to Wales with Aber Falls Single Malt Welsh Whisky Inaugural Release (46% abv), a limited run of 2,000 bottles. This comes from the first distillery in North Wales for over 100 years (https://www.aberfallsdistillery.com). It sits on the Menai Straits on the coast and the location is stunning. This first release was distilled in 2018 and is just over 3 years old. I knew it would be young but displays a delightful roundness already. The distillery is part of Halewood International whose distilling/blending activities are now overseen by Dr. Kirstie McCallum, formerly of Glen Moray and Distell. I wonder if part of the attraction to move here was having different spirits from many locations to play with. Several cask types used in this one, including virgin oak (to extract more colour) and orange wine casks. What? Well, it wasn‘t clear from the launch video this week but I asked the question afterwards and Kirstie says they were casks from Spain (Miguel Martin) holding a wine made from oranges and which is used for an orange liqueur sold only in Spain.

Appearance: Light amber with old gold highlights. Tears are initially quite sticky then faster and close together before slowing down again. The spacing hints at the youthfulness.

Nose: Definitely fruity at first and nicely balanced. Some vanilla, oak and soft spices. Vine fruits and baked pear with a touch of pineapple. This is a sweet and enticing nose – one of those you want to breathe in for a while before tasting (and after!). A little bit of milk chocolate and creamy toffee too. Barley sugar sweets. With water, more soft toffee at first but no major changes. The sweet spices, fruit and chocolate are still there plus a little nuttiness. Despite the orange wine casks there‘s only a slight hint of zestiness. Nosing from the bottle, there was toffee, golden syrup and fruit.

Palate: Oak, fruit and sweet spices here too, as you might expect. A slightly luscious mouthfeel. Some dried herb and grassy/hay notes. Nicely rounded and fairly mellow for its age.

Finish: Short – medium; dry but with some residual sweetness and with herbal/hay dryness and even a wisp of licorice.

This is an impressive debut with great potential though, for me, less complex on the palate than on the nose for now. It‘s one I‘d like to try a bottling of each year, as it ages, produced to this same cask recipe to see how it develops. Another edition from Aber Falls is coming in September (at the lower 40% abv) and that will be a larger bottling with a slightly different cask make-up (no orange wine). The distillery is using all Welsh barley and even experimenting with Welsh-grown rye for future use. The visitor centre offering partners with Welsh food producers too and sounds like a great visit destination. The launch video featured chef, Ellis Barrie from Lerpwl restaurant (over the border in Liverpool) who prepared a Welsh lamb dish and a strawberry pudding. He reckons the latter works well with this Inaugural Release (though preferred to eat the dessert and then have the whisky right after) and the lamb dish would pair better with the September release. Obviously, he‘s had a sneaky preview of that. Having tried just this one, I‘m thinking desserts that might involve nuts and/or coconut might work well too. I’ll experiment at home. Lamb would be a fine main course partner, simply cooked and dependent on accompaniments, but also certain dishes involving ham or baked gammon. Must dig out my previous Islay Whisky Dinner menus to remind myself of what some of those were. Ellis Barrie‘s recipes are available from me if you want them.

The last whisky on taste this time is from England – Cotswolds Distillery‘s Hearts & Crafts Single Malt Whisky (55.2% abv). Another young one as this distillery hasn‘t been operational for too long either, opening in 2014 in one of the prettiest regions in England. This expression is the second in their Hearts & Crafts series and was matured in a Pineau des Charentes cask. In case you‘re wondering, Pineau des Charentes is made in the west of France from grape juice to which some cognac has been added. It‘s a vin de liqueurand it‘s delicious. Great in cocktails.

Appearance: Light amber with brass and tawny (lion colour!) highlights. Tears very close together, quite clingy then more widely spaced.

Nose: From the bottle at first, oak and damp woods. In glass, quite a dry, almost austere nose at first. Some pear drops and youthful spirit and the fruitiness comes through but takes its time. This once needs to be coaxed awake. Some oak begins to insinuate its way through along with wine gums and a wisp of heady floral notes. With water there is more toffee and fruit which becomes more prevalent as it sits.

Palate: Slightly oily mouthfeel. Undiluted it‘s peppery (but not just because of the high strength, I think). Some licorice and oak; maybe a bit of char. A slightly umami, meaty note to it. It‘s an attractive style but, again, this is one I‘d like to try each year to see how it comes on – using the same cask make-up but with increasing age. There‘s some zingy black pepper and dried herbs with a slight bitter coffee ground aftertaste.

Finish: Medium – long; dry and herbal with some black coffee, lightly toasted barley and slight bitter almond.

This is another distillery using local grain to craft its spirit. Find out more about them at https://www.cotswoldsdistillery.com/.

Before moving on to other positive news I have to have a whine about whisky as investment. I saw an ad in one of the Sunday newspaper magazines about whisky investment and it does make me rage. I‘ve said many times before that whisky is for drinking and enjoying, not investing in. Now, if they‘re maturing it and bottling for their own enjoyment, no problem. Whisky is a drink for all people (just as salmon and venison also used to be the foods of all levels of society) though I know too well that rarity and age can make it more expensive. I just cannot approve of it being used like a traded commodity. It’s not what Scotch Whisky is about. I looked up the website of the company which advertised and under the heading supposedly to tell us about who they are there‘s a singular lack of information on the people running this show. I know plenty of people, myself included, who have worked in the industry and maybe acquired a few bottles, not casks, they‘ve not yet opened which turn out to be worth a bit at auction later on. It‘s rather by accident than design. I also have several bottles that aren‘t worth more than their original retail value – I just haven‘t got round to them yet but they’ll be drunk, just like the more sought after ones. I certainly would not buy casks just to make money. I’d say it goes against the grain – no pun intended!

I asked the nice people at Spirt of Speyside Festival to let me know how the numbers of attendees went for this year. It proved brilliantly popular and I‘m sure virtual Feis Ile will be the same at the very end of this month into early June. For Speyside there were visitors both local and international with „688 guests from 15 countries….logged into Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival’s first online event…“ We‘re told further, „In addition to the main festival events, guests were invited to join virtual booths hosted by distillery managers, brand ambassadors, and whisky experts to chat with like-minded whisky lovers. The festival saw 2,877 visits to the 20 available booths, with guests using a total of 2,254 emojis [not sure why we need to know that!] and enjoying drams from 836 tasting kits. Benriach’s World of Flavour proved to be the top pick of the festival, with Global Brand Ambassador, Stewart Buchanan, leading a tasting of their core range, giving a sneak peek behind the scenes of their new visitor centre in Elgin. Virtual distillery tours were also high on the agenda for visitors, with tours of Benromach and Tamdhu distilleries being the second and third most popular events.“ So kudos to Speyside where they hope to have a festival people can visit in person from 3 – 8 November, 2021 if government restrictions allow. Next year‘s festival will run from 27 April – 2 May 2022.

And finally to a couple of those cocktail recipes promised earlier, one using a different expression for Cotswolds Distillery from that mentioned above and the second from internationally renowned blend J&B Rare.

Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky – Cotswolds Boulevardier: a rich and warming variation on the Negroni. A delicious marriage of honeyed malt, rich aromatics and bittersweet marmalade.“

Ingredients: 45ml Cotswolds Single Malt Whisky | 30ml Sweet Vermouth | 30ml Campari

Method: Place all the ingredients into an ice filled cocktail jar. Stir and strain into an ice filled rocks glass and garnish with an orange wedge or dehydrated orange wheel.

J&B Rare Whisky Sour

Add 35ml J&B Rare, 10ml lemon juice, 10ml sugar syrup and 3 dashes of Angostura Bitters to an ice-filled cocktail shaker. Shake all the ingredients with ice and then dry shake without the ice. Fine strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with maraschino cherries.

There are plenty of other recipes in previous columns – the delicious chocolate one from Douglas Laing as just one example – and maybe you have some great recipes you could share with us that I can post here. Please do and give your name and location.

So until next time (end May), happy dramming and an especially happy World Whisky Day.

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