Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #127


Ardbeg Almost There
Islay Single Malt Whisky
54.1% abv

£30

Had the Still Young yesterday, and we are getting a year older today with Arbeg Almost There. This bottling is from all ex-bourbon casks, all 9 years old. After dubbing the first two releases of this series "Very Silly" and "Still Silly",
even the ever-opinionated Richard Joynson of Loch Fyne Whiskies found something nice to say. "Ardbeg Almost There is not at all silly or even deserving of our proposed moniker of Almost Sensible, this is Perfect Ardbeg." And he is not alone. This stuff has been critically acclaimed across the board and the whisky world is pretty excited about the eventual release of the post-Allied, Glenmorangie plc produced 10 year old.

All Ardbeg Malt Mission posts can be found HERE

TASTING NOTES:

Black licorice, pine, fireplace, burnt beard/hair. Satsumas or mandarin squash/concentrate. Dirty Ardbeg bottom with some chemical odours of shampoo, tar, and tires. Has a winter-air effect, cold steel.

Big movement from sweets to salts with matzos in between. Syrupy, lemon Monin. Almost a smoky oil layer in the mouth too, smoked cod liver oil. Orange peels keep things bright while Play-doh and clay keep things earthy. Ardbeg coffee and chocolate are present along with more dirty Ardbeg characteristics in the form of compost or bad, bad breath.

SUMMARY:

Quite complex stuff that could be mulled over for hours. I am not ashamed to say that this is not really my bag, but I don't need to sell you on this. As I've said before, Ardbeg aficionados abound. This stuff will sell even if one whisky blogger says it tastes like compost or bad breath. I look forward to the new 10yo, but imagine I will remain a Uigeadail drinker when it's an Ardbeg evening.

Malt Mission #126
Malt Mission #128
Malt Mission #129
Malt Mission #130

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #126

Ardbeg Still Young
Islay Single Malt Whisky
56.2% abv

£33

We are going to start two weeks of Islay treats on the Malt Mission with a pair of young Ardbegs today and tomorrow. It will be a couple of extremely tasty weeks, if not entirely summer-themed... or perhaps perfect for this summer.

Glenmorangie saved Ardbeg from an uncertain fate when they bought the distillery in 1997. This bottle is from a series launched with a 'for discussion' committee bottling in 2003, it was sold out almost immediately and today it fetches a pretty penny at shops and at auction. Buzz in place, the three official releases in the run-up to a relaunched 10yo began in 2005 with Ardbeg 'Very Young'. Now this one is difficult to find and will cost you large once you do. I have said it before but Ardbeg has a maddening cult following. Crazy, and hard to believe today, but in many whisky books published between 1960-1990 Ardbeg is absent. In 1989 Michael Jackson feared for its future writing, "Too intense for the blenders [...] and that uncompromising nature may have silenced the distillery."

So this is from a series that is effectively a run-up to the relaunch of the 10 year old, commemorating 10 years of Glenmorangie-produced Ardbeg(2008). They are named Very Young(2005), Still Young(2006), and Almost There(2007) and are all bottled unchillfiltered and at cask-strength. Risky idea that some may have once criticised, but has proven that at least a fraction of the malt market is interested in works in progress. We have already seen similar moves from other Islay distilleries and a few indie mainland ones. Expect more.

All Ardbeg Malt Mission posts can be found HERE

TASTING NOTES:

Puff (of smoke), the magic dragon. Toasted cashews, vanilla, mint fudge, and a clean teapot. Slightly metallic, wet worms or oysters.

Soft and sweet in the mouth. Then hot. Whoa. Yeah, explodes in chilli, pepper, and lime. With peat and sugar. Drying and sappy with raw oak.

SUMMARY:

Amazing that there is no prickle or bite in the nose for the strength and youth, but not that amazing that I found the array of flavours quite simple. There is an exciting youth about it (feinty and, um... hard?) that makes it volatile in the mouth, but I imagine a few more sherry casks per batch and a few more years will calm this dragon down and add great depth... If that is something you think would be desirable. Some people love playing with knives, I prefer playing with balls. Um, that doesn't read so well.

Malt Mission #125
Malt Mission #127
Malt Mission #128
Malt Mission #129
Malt Mission #130

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Friday, July 27, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #125

Balblair 1989
Highland Single Malt Whisky
43% abv
£39

After 125 morning malts there can be little doubt that I love whisky. But when I hear the name Balblair I still feel the hair the back of my arms stand up, starting a wave from my elbows to my shoulders (yes, I have hair on my shoulders). A few years ago when I tasted the Balblair 38 a real problem began. Well it had already started, really, but this just accelerated it. It could not have been more than 15ml in my glass, but the impact was enormous.

I had been an ageist with regards to whisky in that I didn't hold older whiskies in higher esteem by default. Hallmark or Islay Mist 8, Aberlour or Glenmorangie 10 were enough for me. And my budget. Sure I found ways to try much more, but if I was going to take it home, it had to be below a certain price point. But Balblair 38, the concept that absolute spirit(ual) ecstasy was available by the dram, broke that budget and convinced me that money spent could be pleasure earned. The next bottle I bought was £30 and I felt like a big spender. And re-reading that paragraph, I sound like a whisky junkie.

Forgetting age, InverHouse Distillers has abandoned age statements for vintages. While most of the literature surrounding their launch makes claims about opportunistic investment while Balblair is held in high regard by connoisseurs, the
market opportunities on the premium end of the category and of capitalising on the emerging markets in Asia and Russia (to paraphrase Inver House marketing manager Karen Walker), there is a slightly more romantic justification that is more 'maturation warehouse' than 'management boardroom'. The vintage concept offers a totally different approach to cask selection: rather than having a goal of consistency from one batch of 10 or 16yo to the next, and therefore having to be sure to fill the appropriate number of X and Y casks every year to satisfy that objective in years to come, unusual expressions from varied casks of different vintages can be selected and vatted to create exciting and unique expressions of the diversity of this category 'A' blending malt.

Stuart Harvey sampled 1062 casks (jealous?) in his search for the best casks for the vintages range, settled on 1997, 1989, and 1979 (all from American ex-bourbon casks) and expects future releases of Spanish oak vattings and more bourbon barrels of different vintages. This is a big investment for Inver House in terms of research, marketing, and new packaging, but we are all looking forward to each new release, glasses in hand.

Thanks to Whisky Magazine Issue 63(May/June '07) for some of the above information and to The Whisky Exchange for the taster.

TASTING NOTES:

Very fragrant, tangerines, sweet canned peaches. Succulent oak influences exposing great depth of aromas. Bourbon creams. Subtle and laid back and worth becoming so yourself as this whisky really develops in the glass with emerging rum and raisin creaminess, a mineral saltiness, and exotic fruits.

Soft and sexy in the mouth, perfumy and floral that explodes in a different direction upon swallowing. Gets smoky and toasty, slightly charred. Plastic bags. Walnuts and chocolate chips. Finish is a slow fade of a grassy freshness on top of perfume and coca-cola Hubba Bubba, all smothered in oaky dryness.

SUMMARY:

Delicious.
While I really enjoy the whisky, and love the bottle (cool shape, great big cork, great design on back, etc.), the box drives me nuts. Yes, the pictures by Finn McRae are really lovely, but the box is just too big, too square, too wasteful. They must annoy retailers! These are the new core range and will not sit on shelves very long. The bottles will be consumed and the boxes tossed. Do we really need these big, multi-material bottle coffins for standard bottlings?

Malt Mission #121
Malt Mission #122
Malt Mission #123
Malt Mission #124

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #124

Balblair 10yo
Highland Single Malt Whisky
40% abv

£22

Located just north of Glenmorangie (tasted Tuesday), Balblair is one of the oldest distilleries still in operation(1790), younger only than Strathisla(1786), Bowmore(1779), and Glenturret(1775).

An interesting stretch in the distillery's history not mentioned in my last Balblair post(Malt Mission 68) is 1909-1949. Asquith's proposed "people's budget" brought many great changes to social welfare but brought hard times to many industries, including whisky distilling. Owner Alexander Cowan lost the distillery and slowly stocks of Balblair were sold off. There are rumours that there may be (or once was?) some of Balblair from this era in Johnnie Walker Blue Label. Doesn't really make sense to me personally, but whatever (anyone buying up the stocks would have wanted to turn a profit immediately rather than wait 70years to invent a product in which to put the whisky). Through the Great War, the army took over the distillery. The distillery was saved from potential destruction after 36 years of uncertainty by Robert Cumming and production resumed in 1949. Balblair then became, and remains, a big part of Ballantine's aged blended whiskies.

Balblair has discontinued these aged statement releases and replaced them with a series of vintages, 1997, 1989(to be tasted tomorrow), and 1979. All Balblairs tasted in the mission can be found HERE

TASTING NOTES:

Soft and appetising. Breakfast cereals, sweet tropical fruits, coastal impressions with some salt and beachy earthiness.

Honey and nuts, Rolos, butter and some toastiness, all in a gentle/soft but weighty(flavourwise) impact. Salt in the middle. Drying with flavours of American oak and sucking on peach or apricot pits.

SUMMARY:

Great whisky, good balance of flavours, with general sweetness (grains, oak, fruits) dominating. Perfect for people who think they might not like whisky cuz all they've ever had are Bell's and Laproaig they stole from their father's liquor cabinet when they were 14. Highly drinkable. Great value, if you can still find a bottle.

Malt Mission #121
Malt Mission #122
Malt Mission #123
Malt Mission #125

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #123

Tomatin 12 yo
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
40% abv
£22

Oh, the poor letter 'T'. I have heard it mumbled among whisky nerds that there are no good whiskies that start with the letter 'T', save Talisker. Can it be true?

Taking its name from tha gaelic for "hill of the juniper", Tomatin has been a quite workhorse for many years. By 1973 there were 23(!) working stills and a capacity of 12 million litres of spirit per year. It was the biggest distillery in Scotland for over a decade. Tomatin became the first distillery to be acquired by Japanese interests in 1986 (Takara Shuzo Co. and Okara & Co) and production capacity was waned back to just under 7 million litres. Still quite a big boy, though.

So why haven't I ever heard of Tomatin, you ask? Well, this 12yo single malt replaced a 10yo in 2003, but only 1 or 2% of what the distillery produces ends up released as a single, and little of that tiny amount ever makes it to North America. Tomatin goes largely into blended whiskies (in Scotland and Japan) including Big T, Talisman, and The Antiquary.
The marketing lines suggest that the distillery has been modest about its achievements, and all signs point to a reassertion of Tomatin and Antiquary blended whiskies in the marketplace.

The single is released as a 12 and a 25 year old, and there are several really good independent bottlings out in the big bad world.

TASTING NOTES:

Linseed or flaxseed oil, a beer hops floral aroma, slightly sweaty and rubbery. Damp, air dried towels, pecans and butter tarts. If there is any peat, it comes off quite rubbery. I know this must sound vulgar, but the impressions are delicate and quite enticing.

Peppery, full in the mouth. Parsley. Buttery, with sugar. Nutty, musty, and oaky. Some industrial style peat again, but just perfumy.

SUMMARY:

Quite an unusual whisky, unique combination of flavours, or types of flavours; a whisky that shows subtle depth with a real Highland style about it. A difficult dram to compare with anything else and hard to find a place for it on my shelf... what mood would it suit? I guess those moments of indecision, when you can't be bothered to think about what you want. Very satisfying for pub dramming(Big T and Tomatin were often on optics when I lived in Edinburgh) and good value by the bottle.

Malt Mission #121
Malt Mission #122
Malt Mission #124
Malt Mission #125

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #122

Glenmorangie 10
Highland Single Malt Whisky

40% abv

£25

$48.15(CAD)

$40(USD)

Hard to believe it took over 120 Malt Missions to finally taste Glenmorangie. Sure, we had one at a tasting in Canada (HERE), but that doesn't really count as part of the Malt Mission proper. There is a huge whisky world out there and I hope to tick 'em off one at a time.

Glenmorangie is very proud to boast the tallest stills in the industry measuring in at 5.1m. They can also claim responsibility for the various wood finishes on shelves these days as they pioneered the resurgence of the method over a decade ago. In fact, the wood management at Glenmorangie is among the most strict in the whole whisky world and is the product of 20 years of ongoing research into slow-growing trees and techniques of air drying the oak of particular trees from particular parts of the US, used for particular bourbons before being used to mature the spicy, vanilla rich whisky that we all know as Glenmorangie. It is the biggest selling malt in Scotland and is slowly creeping up on Glenfiddich for the No.1 spot in the UK.

Glenmorangie comes from the part of Scotland that, for me, makes the tastiest malt whiskies. The stretch between Inverness and Wick includes (or included) closed distilleries Ben Wyvis and Millburn, demolished distilleries Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn, The Dalmore, Teaninich, Balblair, Brora(closed) and Clynelish, and Old Pulteney. I realised this some time ago when on the Black Isle it occurred to me that my desert island malts were all within reach in either direction and that there was nowhere else in Scotland I would rather be for sunrise, scenery, and single malts. On another personal note,
I will never forget spending a terribly depressing and lonely Christmas(2003) with a good friend and a1-litre bottle of Glenmorangie 10. Spirits were certainly lifted.

Tasting notes from my mate JM. All whiskies Jed has tasted for the mission can be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Orange rind, marmalade, bitter green grapes. Dry Chardonnay with hint of ocean air and lots of vanilla oakiness.

Heavy velvety mouth feel that doesn't coat, it reminds me of 2% milk or thin turkey gravy. Light and sweet, marshmallow spread (Fluff). Now wood and some smoke, lasting and tangy like hard cheese (parmesan).

SUMMARY:

Very easy to drink, none of the more offensive whisky qualities that may repel some drinkers. Definitely encourages another glass...

Back to Dr. Whisky talking now, Glenmorangie is a spectacular whisky that should never be overlooked or taken for granted. Being one of the very few malts that is made from hard spring water, coastal and lightly peated, aged in only the finest bourbon barrels, Glenmorangie is a unique and sophisticated whisky that will equally satisfy at noon or at midnight. The Artisan Cask expression is currently at the LCBO but has been discontinued so do try some (if you can afford it) if you haven't already.

Malt Mission #121
Malt Mission #123
Malt Mission #124
Malt Mission #125

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #121

Edradour "Straight from the Cask"
10yo Port Finish

25 Jan 1994-23 June 2004
Highland Single Malt Whisky

55.9% abv

£38

$145(CAD)*

$65(USD)


Back in action on the Malt Mission after a great time in Norway. So we'll start this Highland-themed week with something I tasted last week. I bought this for Kristin's brother (he is a port enthusiast) some years back and he brought me some to taste when we were in Norway. Skål!

Packaged in pretty cute wooden boxes of different colours, Signatory's 'Straight from the Cask' series of Edradours has been hit and miss from the start. Having a distillery that is known for making and rich, hearty highland whisky, but working with decades of less-than-ideal casks Edradour was filling in Pernod Ricard's years of neglect, Signatory has had to make the most of what was available to them from a certain era since acquiring the distillery in 2002, and in some cases, this has meant using a second maturation, or ACE-ing (Bruichladdich/Jim McEwan), or finishing.
The distillery has started to take great care in cask selection and currently fill only 12 casks per week. Bottled as a single since 1986, Edradour has managed to be one of the most visited distilleries in Scotland, providing guests with a great image of a cute farm distillery seemingly from a different era, perfectly located straddling a wee burn in a tiny glen in the hills above Pitlochry.

More info can be found at past Edradour Malt Missions HERE

TASTING NOTES:


Sweet spirit, wine, wet tootbrush without toothpaste. Tawny port. Floral and grassy. Water brings out a nutty oiliness and creates more wine-spirit (cognac?) impressions. "Burnt grape"- Espen

Oak and bran, cookie dough, pie crust. Sucking the water off the tootbrush above (like some people do when brushing their teeth). Drying with oak and puckering with grape skins.

SUMMARY:

The spicy, minty Edradour character is present, but beyond that this is an unusual whisky. The port influence is noticable, but it is the whisky spirit beneath that makes this such an unusual malt. A drop of water really lets the creaminess of the port wood do its thing.

*this price is for other finishes in the series currently available in Ontario, but just to give you an idea... and what a mad price!!! LCBOh my goodness...

Malt Mission #120
Malt Mission #122
Malt Mission #123
Malt Mission #124
Malt Mission #125

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Friday, July 20, 2007

The Royal Norwegian Cocktail Competition

Each country has its own way of dealing with the distribution of every alcohol, and so it follows that every alcohol company has it own way of dealing with each country. I have always taken a keen interest in the existence of particular malts or blends (usually blends) that exist in very limited markets as I think it is fascinating to see which brands and what imagery appeal to various national mindsets.

You may or may not be aware of this phenomenon but the Scottish whisky industry produces over a hundred different brands of blends and malts exclusively for particular markets, just like the automobile industry, for example. This phenomenon exists mainly with blended whiskies, but there are also malts that fall into this category. For me, it's the blends that provide the most nerdy entertainment.

There are big name examples of this phenomenon like Joh
nnie Walker Red being nearly unavailable in the UK but the biggest seller around the world, Old Parr 18 being acclaimed by an English critic but available only in Japan and a few other select markets, William Lawson's absence in UK but presence in Southern Europe and some North and South American markets, etc... But the little guys are the ones that really get me excited (Scottish Leader, Royal Castle, Queen's Seal, etc.) I always like to check out what is available and, if possible, try the stuff.

We stood in a Vinmonopolet in Tønsberg and watched customer after customer (well, ten customers) come to the whisky section to see what bottles they were reaching for. The final score was single malts 0, blends 10 with Inverness Cream being picked 6 times, Peter Dawson twice, with Ballantines and Upper Ten each picked once. But what would we choose?

I love the 'royalty' theme in blend branding, with clan and kilt imagery coming a close second. So today we witness the The Royal Norwegian Cocktail Competition. The competing blended whiskies are
King's Legend and King of Scots. This idea has been inspired by Nonjatta's Mizuwari Challenge, Matthew's Monday Mixers, and Paul's Mixology Mondays


The Competitors:

In the King's Legend corner:

Highland Sling
1 tsp superfine Sugar
Water and Ice
Touch of Lemon juice
Whisky

Lemon twist/slice

Mizuwari
Whisky, Water, Ice

In the King of Scots corner:

Frisky Tonic
Cointreau
Whisky
Orange slices
Tonic


Bråten Spesial
3 cl Campari
1 cl whisky
1 cl vodka
1 cl Cointreau)


Dusty Nail
Whiskey
Drambuie
Akevitt/Aquavit


THE TASTING:

After several sour faces and not a second sip taken from all but one cocktail, the winner was quite obvious...

THE WINNER: King of Scots Dusty Nail


So yeah, nothing scientific, just some good old fashioned stupid fun. I will taste these blends as a part of the Malt Mission at some point in the future.

Norwegian Adventures

Malt Mission HOME


Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Educating Margarita, i Norge

Herradura Reposado
Tequila 100% De Agave

40%abv
$56.80(CAD)

$48(USD)


Still in Norway. Still loving it.

We enjoyed this out of a 950ml(!) bottle from Mexico that Tante(Aunt) Anne had at her flat in Oslo and brought out to Viksfjord for us to enjoy. She doesn't know from where it came or when. We made Margaritas, but a few of us needed to enjoy this straight to familiarize ourselves with our mixing ingredients. It also suits the usual format of this blog.

Reposado means "rested" and this 100% blue agave tequila rested for 11 months in oak casks. It is available in 50 countries, and apparently the UK is not one of them. Please let me know if I am wrong. Tequila is basically made like whisky, except that the fermented liquid that is distilled is not a grain but comes from pulped agave plants. Like whisky, tequila is generally distilled twice and matured in oak barrels. Tequila comes from a region generally around the city of Tequila, or more generally where blue agaves are grown.

TASTING NOTES:

Sweet and sour, peppery, hot and soft all at the same time. Very exciting. Horseradish. Fennel. Moldy wood. "Taking a deep breath it makes the hair all over my body stand up! Severe goosebumps! Sticking my nose deep into the glass there is no alcohol burn at all"- Kristin

Soft and spicy with cinnamon hearts and licorice. Bang! impact. Lemon sourness with a cake-batter sweetness. Lingering dry desert sandy effect, with herbal notes, white pepper and oak.

SUMMARY:

Oak maturation has really softened the impact and added flavours most would not expect in tequilas, and from what mates have been telling me for years, there is a whole world of tequila out there to explore. As nice as this is, I don't need a new spirit-based tasting mission in my life right now, but don't let that deter you. This is very tasty stuff that also affects your head quite differently than whisky; it feels more silly and quick that whisky, if that makes any sense. More research needed... Tasty and enjoyable stuff tho.
Almost a waste to mix, but man oh man what a cocktail this thing made. Flavours of pepper and spice balanced beautifully against the sugar and lemon in the margarita. Let's have another...

Norwegian Adventures

Malt Mission HOME



Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nature in Norway


Carrots

Root Vebegtable
0% abv
£0.80/kilo

I know there are many women who travel from Norway to the UK to buy The Rabbit at a cheaper price than it is here in Norway. Well ladies, help is close at hand, and cheap too!!!

Where else in the world do carrots come in both family and sex-toy format? They do taste the same, though...

Norwegian Adventures

Malt Mission HOME

Monday, July 16, 2007

Malt Mission Interruption (A week in Norway)

Quiet, Whisky drinker sleeping...


A week off from the mission cuz I am in Norway, where I plan to enjoy 19 hours of summer sun daily, swim in the sea, see friends and family, welcome a couple new babies into the world, and perhaps try a few gems at the Vinmonopolet. They carry many blends and a few malts
that are unavailable in UK or, in some cases, anywhere else in the world and this is a phenomenon I have become more and more obsessed with over the past few years. I love that Scotch whisky has so many faces and shows a different one in different places. Will post my findings when something/anything comes up...

Norway has a great national drink called Aquavit(tasted at Malt Mission 84), they produce some excellent vodkas, and you can read about the ambitions of Ole Puntervold and the birth of Norwegian single malt whisky HERE. Now back to the non-stop polse party...

Norwegian Adventures

Malt Mission HOME

Friday, July 13, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #120

Cutty Sark 25 yo
Premium Blended Whisky
45.7% abv

£110
$230(CAD)

Happy Friday the 13th...
Another week flies by on this Malt Mission. Thanks for reading.

We'll be taking a short break from the mission next week as I will be in Norway, but you never know what gems I might try in the land of Aquavit, rakfisk, and the Vinmonopolet, so do check in. Otherwise, see you in 10 days when we start a Highland-themed week followed by two stellar Islay-themed weeks. But now to Cutty Sark 25, the Prince of Speyside blends...

We all mourn the tragic destruction of parts of the namesake of this series of blended whiskies, the historic Cutty Sark sailing ship. Details of the recent fire and more can be found HERE.

This 25 year old is a recent addition the Cutty Sark line-up and won Whisky Mag's Best of the Best 2003. Its introduction certainly puts it up against Johnnie Walker Blue, Chivas Royal Salute, and Dewar's Signature, etc., in the ultra premium blends category. I have no idea what whiskies make up the blend but can say there is a definite emphasis on sherry matured malts and I imagine Glenrothes is in there somewhere. Any and all info would be welcomed...

More brand information and history can be found at other Cutty Sark whiskies we've tasted in the mission HERE.


TASTING NOTES:

Brown sugar, sweet cream, raisins, rich sherry notes without losing whisky character. Black tea, licorice, coffee liqueur, and a touch of chocolate mint.

Big but soft impact, sherry and malted barley, some vanilla and orange ice cream with grain sweetness that has some petrol elements balanced perfectly against the malty nuttiness. Still with the cream and raisins and coffee-ish impressions from the nose. Finish has citrus and a touch of metallic smoke and dry sherry.

SUMMARY:

Confident whisky for decadent dramming. Love the slightly higher than average abv%, it really adds some grip and spice to the drinking experience. Brilliant blending on display here. Johnnie Blue could benefit from this lesson and up their abv% a few points.

*Price was great at LCBO ($175), but jumped 55 bucks since I first posted this. Expect more of the same across the board.

Malt Mission #116
Malt Mission #117
Malt Mission #118
Malt Mission #119

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #119

Balvenie 15 yo
Single Barrel

Single Malt Whisky

47.8% abv

£39
$65(USD)

Still kicking it Speyside-style and coming back to the stills of Dufftown. Had a couple of very tasty Balvenie's last week (Malt Mission 113 and 114) and am quite excited to try this as a part of the mission. Thanks to William Grant and Sons for sending me the samples. If they had included a letter or business card or ANYTHING in the package other than samplers, I could thank them personally and relay questions readers have had (is the 10yo being phased out completely?), but oh well. Down to business...

TASTING NOTES:

Feisty with spirit. Back garden smells of flowers and trees. Hard yellow plums. Quite mineral, and slightly salty. Time and water bring out a particular synthetic creaminess(Cool Whip) I absolutely love in bourbon matured whiskies.

Hard, salty licorice, honey and nuts. Apricots. A little bit of papadoms with Indian spices, pickle. Hard, woody, and quick. Water adds a lavender presence, and absolutely kills the bite... and the flavour.

SUMMARY:

A very individual Balvenie, and an odd one at that. It should be said that this is from a wee sampler and as all the 15 year olds are single barrel, this will vary from release to release. Unfortunately, there are no details of cask number, filling/bottling dates, etc. After really enjoying the 10 and 12 last week, I was a bit disappointed with this overall but appreciate its uniqueness among the Balvenie range.

Malt Mission #116
Malt Mission #117
Malt Mission #118
Malt Mission #120

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #118

Glenlivet 12 yo
Speyside Single Malt Whisky
40% abv
£22
$42.65(CAD)
$40 (USD)

Now available in an odd new package/box from some retailers, Glenlivet 12 is to many people THE quintessential Speyside malt whisky. They have upgraded the packaging (and pricing) on their 21 year old as well. Not much more to say than that. I am happy to finally tick this classic off the list in this Malt Mission, and it's about time!

They have just released a 25 year old (Glenlivet XXV) to become a permanent release in the Glenlivet range. I haven't had a chance to try it yet, but I hope Neil Macdonald and Chivas Brothers deem me lucky enough to get a drop of this stuff to try this as a part of the Malt Mission...

More distillery information and other Glenlivets tasted as a part of the mission can be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Light and perfumed. Quite complex in spite the light impressions. Apples. Breakfast cereals. Incredibly appetizing.

Heartier in the mouth, full oak flavours and some gentle spice. Again, complex but in no rush to give away its secrets. Marzipan and tiramisu. This balance of oak and spice sits comfortably for minutes, gently drying late in the game.

SUMMARY:

A favourite the world over and quite easy to see why. As dangerous as this might be to say, I think this is a morning dram! Light and refreshing, even minty. Might be confused as bitterness to a newbie, so not a first-timers tipple. Has a real pick-me-up quality with great oak characteristics, even if the malt is slightly hidden by the spice. Plays it a bit safe, but is a real charmer.

Malt Mission #116
Malt Mission #117
Malt Mission #119
Malt Mission #120

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #117

Macallan 10 yo
Speyside Single Malt Whisky

40% abv

£26.50


Kick-off on another Speyside themed week here on the Malt Mission where today and tomorrow will tick off two classic single malt whiskies we've not yet had.

This is the flagship Macallan bottling in the UK and beyond. It is a 12 year old in North American markets. This particular Macallan, and, as far as I can tell, all Macallans in the Sherry Oak range (as opposed to the Fine Oak range) are exclusively matured in sherry casks from Jerez, Spain. Many people believe Macallan is the best single malt in the world,
among blenders it has been used as "top-dressing" for over a century, and it fights between Glenmorangie and Glen Grant for the third spot/bronze position in the worlwide top-selling malt lists, always figuring into the top 5.

Macallan famously has some of the smallest stills in Speyside, but with 21 of them, they are among the top 3 producers by volume (after Glenfiddich and Tomatin). As a result, their range of releases is absolutely enormous. Sherry casks are much more expensive to source than bourbon casks, so Macallan has had to buy their own new wood casks and have them seasoned at particular bodegas in Spain to ensure their ability to follow the Macallan's heavy sherry emphasis in maturating. The Fine Oak range released in 2004 alleviated some of this stress of supply, and offered the world a new and exciting range of Macallan expressions. Now both ranges are popular and critical successes in their own right.

And so with all these successes and indications of wise foresight in an industry that demands it (their timely expansion after going public in 1966-68, brilliant brand development, and clever cask allocation decisions since the 1980s), Macallan owners and others warn us that due to demand outstripping supply, the price of whisky will rise by 10% in the near future. That hurts. I guess once you've run out of premium releases you can still premiumise the whole industry. And if China is to affect the price whisky as it has oil, I say invade Scotland. And then Canada.

The last Macallans I tasted as a part of this mission were way back at Malt Mission #9 and Malt Mission #10.

Neil Peart, the madman of beats behind Geddy Lee's bass riffs and vocal screeches and Alex Lifeson's guitar wall of sound in Rush, is apparently big fan of Macallan.

TASTING NOTES:

Tight package on the nose. Chewing tobacco. Apple pie, smoke or hot oven, and less sherry dominance than I remember.

Oh, there's the sherry. But maltiness and ginger spiciness are present too as the sherry doesn't make things too soaked in dried fruitiness. Stewed rhubarb and champagne. A touch of smoke and a sort of mintiness through the finish.

SUMMARY:

A less overpowering sherry than I remember that allows subtle spice and smoke to seduce the drinker. Perhaps it could benefit from a slightly higher abv%, it does come off as a touch flat to my nose today, but with the current array of Macallan's available to the consumer, it's pointless to mess with what works.

Malt Mission #116

Malt Mission #118
Malt Mission #119
Malt Mission #120

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Monday, July 09, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #116

Innis and Gunn Oak Aged Beer
Limited Edition 2006

7.2% abv

£1.99


For this special release of Innis & Gunn, the brewers have used a more heavily roasted barley as well as Slovenian hops to add some zest. The beer was filled into ex-bourbon American oak casks and matured for 107 days. After emptying the casks, the brewers decided that it could use more time to marry and develop more carbonation so they laid it down to mature in casks for an additional 47 days. That's 154 days of maturation... Expect some oak-influenced beer!

All Innis & Gunn beers tasted in this Malt Mission can be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

Good initial fizzy head that vanishes quickly. Smells of Danish or German rye bread. Sweetish. Vanilla tea. Dark chocolate.

Sweet and heavy, molasses, almost oily mouthfeel. Full bodied like Shiraz. Carob. Oaky and quite fruity. A lingering hoppiness that encourages filling your mouth with the stuff again and again. "The extra alcohol content actually makes this easier to drink" Svein

SUMMARY:

Peculiar, but satisfying. One is plenty, and you almost need a beer afterwards.
"A pleasant beer, even as a dessert. Excellent to put in a sponge cake" - Svein Knudsen
"Nei, not sweet enough for a sponge cake" - Elisabeth Knudsen

Malt Mission #115
Malt Mission #117

Malt Mission #118
Malt Mission #119
Malt Mission #120

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #115

Whisky Scotch Reviews GlenfiddichGlenfiddich 12 yo
Toasted Oak Reserve

Speyside
Single Malt Whisky
40% abv
£28 *

The fifth Glenfiddich to be tasted in this malt mission, the 12yo Toasted Malt was premiered at Whisky Live Glasgow in September 2006 and released as a 'limited edition' for Christmas 2006 (France and UK), although it wasn't really available in most shops until 2007. The recipe is quite simple, really. The Malt Master David Stewart selected whisky that was maturing in first fill ex-bourbon 195 litre casks, vatted the selections, refilled to cask to marry for some months, and this release was born. Bourbon barrels are charred or 'toasted' and yield a lot of vanillin, which is what Stewart was trying to capture in this release; an oakier, spicier, more vanilla-ed version of the Glenfiddich 12 year old.

Today, it is easy to take the existence of hundreds of single malt whiskies on the shelves of our favourite shops as a given, as something that has always existed. I think it's important to remember that until Glenfiddich released their own whisky as a Single Malt (1963), such things could only be found through independent bottlers (Gordon & Macphail, Cadenheads, etc.) as most whisky produced went into blended whiskies. During the economic boom after WWII, Wm Grant & Sons began to face stiff competition and decided to undertake this endeavor and push the single malt format outside of Scotland. Up until as late as 1974, when 120,000 cases of the stuff was being sold annually, and Glenfiddich as a brand became a real market presence, many companies still saw the move to single malts as foolish. Michael Jackson writes, "The vision and persistence of the company was in more than one sense single-minded. It was an example and precedent, without which few of its rivals would have been emboldened to offer themselves as bottled single malts. Devotees of the genre owe a debt of gratitude to Gelfiddich." (MJ's Malt Whisky Companion, 1989)

To quote myself from Malt Mission 28, "
Yes, they are seen as the McDonalds (not the clan, the clown) of the malt whisky world. Although it is true that you can find a bottle in almost every drinking establishment in every country(worldwide Glenfiddich roughly doubles sales of its nearest competitor) the notion that it is just mass produced pish is quite unfair to the quality of their bottlings. And besides, they were the first whisky to be marketed to the world as a 'single malt'... it's not like McDonalds invented the hamburger."

Let's drink. Happy Friday...

Thanks to The Whisky Exchange for the sample.

* worth noting that Royal Mile Whiskies currently has this stuff on offer (July, £23.50)

TASTING NOTES:

I usually dont mention colour, but I know a lot of people are convinced this stuff is Irn-Bru orange. It isnt. The packaging makes it look that way, and that is all.

Very soft. Lychee. Peaches and cream. Golden syrup instant oatmeal. Oak, but very juicy, not dry.

Vanilla, oak. Soft and straightforward. Pleasing, but extremely short opening up of flavour upon swallowing. Dustings of white vanilla on milk foam. The oak becomes bitter and finishes quite dry.

SUMMARY:

If oak and vanilla were the goals, then tick those boxes. Loved the seductive sweetness of the nose. Pleasant, but not much presence. Pretty, but pretty simple.

Malt Mission #111
Malt Mission #112
Malt Mission #113
Malt Mission #114

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #114

Balvenie Scotch ReviewBalvenie 12 yo
DoubleWood

Speyside Single Malt Whisky

40% abv
£28
$58.15(CAD)
$50 (USD)

When I first moved to Scotland and my whisky interests were in their infancy, I clearly remember this whisky coming in closer to £25 than £30. And over this past weekend we learned that whisky prices will accelerate at 3 times the rate of inflation in order to "keep up with demand". A price rise of at least 10% is to be expected on whisky over the next year. This seems absolutely absurd as the trend of emerging markets is hardly new, it has been clearly occurring over the past 10+ years. We have seen some whisky makers adjust. How does selling more of something make it more expensive?
Read the news HERE.

Whisky is not truffles or diamonds. It is manufactured. Now, I understand the whisky industry is unique in that it takes years to adjust to demands because of the nature of the product, Lagavulin phenomenon of price jumps 2003-6, etc. but after 200 years of existence, the whisky industry should be experts at market predictions. Information I have to hand shows that in 1997 malt whisky was produced at 88% of capacity and has dropped to 70%-ish over the past 10 years. Same trend with grain production. So there should be plenty of whisky over 10 years old. And if production was mistakingly decreased since 2000, I don't see why the consumer should have to bear the brunt of this error.
Maybe they shouldn't have been spending all their stocks on this and that finish and creating Pink whisky.

This definitely seems like just a cash grab while the going is good. Additonally, it is feared that now that the smoking ban is in full effect in the UK, drinks might be the next target. Whether this is true or not, it cannot be denied that the many good years whisky has had of no tax increases on spirits is likely to be met with an imminent increase. Lucky for us, this will coincide with the 10% price increase. Again, this trend is much in line with premiumisation strategies and subsequently I imagine (and fear) a whole section of whisky drinkers will be edged out.

Right, enough of that rant. So, Balvenie...

Malt Master David Stewart is quite a legend in the whisky world and he has been responsible for some of the biggest brands in whisky for over 30 years. This is nothing new at William Grant and Sons, as Grant himself remained active at the distillery until he was 83. Balvenie is one of the largest distilleries in Scotland (although it is often overshadowed by its neighbour, Glenfiddich) and was used exclusively for blending until 1973 when it joined the emerging malt market, largely initiated by Glenfiddich. Today, about 50% of Balvenie's output is destined for blends.

In addition to what was said yesterday, the Grant's distilleries have their own cooperage and malt 10% of their needs in their own floor maltings. All of these factors make it an ideal distillery to visit as one can witness all the stages of whisky production on one site... a rare experience these days.

This particular expression is matured in traditional ex-bourbon hogsheads for a full 12 years and then put down for a further maturation in sherry buts for 9 months. Hence Double Wood.

Again, I express my gratitude to Wm Grant&Sons for sending me these samples.

TASTING NOTES:

Standing in a farmers market near fresh, ripe fruit. Hay. Marmalade. Apple and rhubarb pie. Gentle sherry and banana or strawberry sponge/foam candies.

Surprised by some smoke, beautifully integrated with sweet malt and sherry flavours. Spice and tobacco. It is creamy and toasty and fruity and... more please? Long lingering woodiness.

SUMMARY:

Quite different than I remember it. That is the fun, isn't it; you can't enjoy going through a whisky life saying "had it, had it, havent had it, had it..." A malt can change from year to year, but more importantly, YOU change from year to year. But yeah, this is different than I remember. Fuller finish and more oak. Mellow and rich, great toastiness and smoke that would absolutely stun the lucky drinker alongside (or as) a nice dessert after a big meal. Yum.

Malt Mission #111
Malt Mission #112
Malt Mission #113
Malt Mission #115

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #113

Balvenie Scotch Whisky ReviewBalvenie 10 yo
Founders Reserve
Speyside Single Malt Whisky

40% abv

£26
$45.20(CAD)

$40(USD)


Now here is packaging that we all hope sticks. After some years messing about with cognac style bottles, Balvenie has really found a good look that shouldn't join the current update packaging craze. We all hope they don't follow some ill-advised re-design campaign to 'get hip to the kidz'. Having worked in whisky retail I can assure them that the kids are alright. The look is still hot even if some folks around a table in a boardroom think otherwise.

But about the whisky...

"Balvenie Castle" has been the principal building of the Balvenie Distillery since it was established in 1892. A huge fire at Glenlivet in 1891 created a sudden demand for Speyside whisky for blending. Using equipment from Glen Albyn and Lagavulin, William Grant seizes the opportunity and builds a distillery adjacent to Glenfiddich. Distillation begins in May 1893.

Balvenie uses barley from the family farm that it malts in its own floor maltings. The stills are also unique in that they are, well. I dont know how to describe them. See them here. Balvenie is the 10th biggest single malt seller in the world, and to touch upon the point I opened with, this is a 90% increase in sales since the days of the cursive text and cognac bottles. (Okay, they have been gone since 1993, but still...)

Big thanks to William Grant & Sons for sending me the sample(s). We will have another tomorrow. All Balvenies had on the mission can be found HERE.

TASTING NOTES:

It's the smokiness that surprises me at first, then comes honey and fruit pastilles. A touch shy. Beef and barley soup. There is a green element in there alongside nuts and raisins, hinting at the slightest sherry influence.

Honey, bourbon oak, and malted barley. Then an explosion of toastiness upon swallowing, showing more of the sherry influence. Spices, outdoorsy freshness and general liveliness that really excites the mouth, physically.

SUMMARY:

Such a wonderfully integrated package of flavours, often too difficult to pinpoint particulars, the complexity and surging effect of lively flavours make this a real tasty treat. Gentle and complex, who needs the monkey; this is an ideal introduction to malt whisky.

Malt Mission #111
Malt Mission #112
Malt Mission #114
Malt Mission #115

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #112

Monkey Shoulder
"Triple Malt Scotch Whisky"
Vatted Malt

40% abv

£20.99


While last week had a Diageo bent, this week we'll look at a series of whiskies from William Grant and Sons (All WG&Sons tasted in the Malt Mission can be found HERE)

Created by David Stewart, Master Blender of Monkey Shoulder and Malt Master of Glenfiddich and Balvenie, "whose reputation for discovering fantastic objects of desire is world renowned," Monkey Shoulder is a "genuine modern classic." (quotes from the website). Monkey Shoulder is a vatting of different re-charred bourbon cask-aged whiskies from Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie. All three distilleries are located on the same large piece of land in Dufftown, Scotland. While you may have heard of the first two distilleries, it is unlikely that the third is familiar to many of you because it is not released as a single malt and is exclusively (?) used for Grant's blended whiskies, Gordon Highlanders, and Monkey Shoulder.

Clearly marketed as one for the style bars, Monkey Shoulder has done a masterful j
ob of capturing the attention of men and women across Britain and America with nifty packaging and clever advertising. They have held a marketing campaign fostering associations with NME, Casinos/Poker events, fashion, and rock concert venues to address a "new generation of whisky drinkers." But does it work and is it good for whisky as a whole?

The goal of the marketing behind Monkey Shoulder has been to bring new drinkers to the category. According to MS Brand Manager Rob Curteis, "we first need to change people's perception of Scotch whisky." Now, I am not sure at what point the between emphasis on traditional floor maltings and the presence of ice and cocktail shakers William Grant and Sons thought they were changing anything but the perception of bartending. In a video readily viewable at the Monkey Shoulder website, we learn in a very effective and clear fashion how whisky is made, with cocktail interruptions to cater to the short attention span of this new
generation of whisky drinksters. Between the New Orleans bitters, raspberry eau de vie, and lemon sugar, I am not clear what percetions of whisky were being changed. In fact, there seem to be more terminology and jingoisms to learn than any whisky stereotype out there. Triple Malt? Wort? Batch matured? SWA? Grain whisky? Oh, cocktails, there is a language I understand... duh!

The labelling is not just confusing with terminology, but is clearly trying to cash in with deception. Batch 27? Triple Malt? Both terms on the bottle to confuse the customer about age and superiority (oh, it is even BETTER than a single malt.. it is triple action!!!)


This is, at best, a campaign addressed at bartenders. By appreciating their craft, suggesting ways to use Monkey Shoulder in cocktails, sending them merch and taking them on trips and tasting tours, Monkey marketers are working to become a standard behind the bar. A tough sell, but it would be cool if it worked. But still, what about the customer who will have to ORDER this Banaynay Figtastic Monkeytini?


Dr. Whisky is more about diagnosis than commentary,
and I am running out of time and patience, but I hope you can see what is wrong with each of the following taglines that are tossed around in Monkey marketing.

"Old school malt categorization is not what Monkey Shoulder is about"
"Matured to perfection"
"No grain whisky in monkey"
"Not the original whisky. More original than that"

Can the whisky just speak for itself without being a misleading monkey with a superiority complex, drowned in sugar and bitters, struggling to be "hip" and trendy, or degrading the integrity of scotch whisky traditions? Let's see what it has to say for itself.

TASTING NOTES:

Soft malt and vanilla sweet. Has that Glenfiddich pear, that Balvenie orange and honey, with some slight saltiness, green strawberries, bananas, licorice, and oak.

Creamy and sensuous in the mouth, baked, toasted and roasted, approaching smoky. Honey, spice, banana mash.

SUMMARY:

Balvenie tastes like the core of this flavourwise, with honey, spices, orange and beeswax, but the light estery features of young Glenfiddich (and Kininvie?) are perfectly used as the decoration. Well designed for new whisky drinkers and thoroughly enjoyable for the already initiated.

*** According to the website, Monkey Shoulder is ideal for mixing but is best savoured in a Brass Monkey: with ice and water. Now, as far as I am concerned that constitutes mixing, but lets try it this way and see what goes on...

TASTING NOTES:

More cardboard and root vegetables emerge with ice. Scotch broth, barley, and shortbread. Dead and drying nose.

Soft, vanilla, pastry. Unoffensive, but uninteresting.

SUMMARY:

The dusty storage room features are much stronger with ice both in the nose and on the palate. The delicate charm is all lost and the sexy mouthfeel is sacrificed to the cold ice. Extremely tasty at 40% without ice or ginger ale or fig brandy or ... As I said above, very well made whisky that deserves to be consumed straight out of the bottle and enjoyed by whisky drinkers new and old.

Malt Mission #111
Malt Mission #113
Malt Mission #114
Malt Mission #115

Malt Mission HOME

Monday, July 02, 2007

Malt Mission 2007 #111

Innis and Gunn Oak Beer Tasting notesInnis and Gunn Cask Strength
Oak Aged Beer
7.7%
£1.99

Back at Malt Mission 77 I tasted the original Innis & Gunn beer. Please see that post for more brewery details cuz I want to get right down to business. Today we will have the Innis&Gunn Cask Strength oak aged beer to start what will likely be the first of two Speyside-themed weeks.

This release is taken from select casks that reached a higher abv than normal after 77 days of cask maturation. The original release is 6.6% and this stuff comes in at 7.7%

Obviously, using the maturation emphasis and terms like 'cask-strength', the brewers are trying to appeal to whisky drinkers. The box certainly verifies this. Not just marketing though, Innis and Gunn has released some gorgeous award-winning beers.

TASTING NOTES:

Woody and kind of grapey. Bready sweetness, toffee. Very appetizing.

Big and rich, crazy smooth. Malt, molasses, and a slight toasty smokiness. Raisin bran? Chocolate covered raisins in a bag of warm popcorn. Almonds. Nothing that gives away the high alcohol strength, but shares the flavour combinations often found in whisky: oak, toffee, malt... and more.

SUMMARY:

I like beer. And I like this beer. Amazing how the adedd kick goes unnoticed. No, wait.. . i'M nociting it n ow.

Malt Mission #110
Malt Mission #112
Malt Mission #113
Malt Mission #114
Malt Mission #115

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