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Sunday, 26 September 2010

Islay Jazz Festival 2010: Day One

Once again I find myself on the platform at Hammersmith, waiting for a tube train to Heathrow Terminal 5. As I mentioned in a previous post about Islay, Bowmore-on-Thames, I’m not the greatest flyer in the world. The idea that you have to go to somewhere entitled “terminal” before you get up in to the air just about sums up the whole experience for me. However, the pay off for the hour long flight to Glasgow and then the tiny turbo-prop to Islay Airport is more than obvious- 3 days on the whisky island to attend the Lagavulin Jazz Festival.

As the Feis Ile Festival of Malt and Music becomes an ever more established event in the whisky calendar, it seems the importance of malt has overtaken the desire for music to feature in any big way (I should think the always excellent Skerryvore must make more money out of the Feis Ile than The Old Kiln Cafe at Ardbeg does!) so a dedicated Jazz festival seems like the perfect opportunity to keep the artistry of the musician firmly alive on the island.

Jazz and whisky also seem like comfortable bed fellows. Sometimes jazz is very good, with fantastic subtlety, depth and interesting complexity. Sometimes it’s very bad; over complicated, confused and unstructured. Both being accusations we could level at certain whiskies we have had in the past...

Day One of the trip began early for the travel portion in which, I’m pleased to report, none of us lost luggage, missed flight or indeed died. Very much a result in my book! In fact, the whole affair was smooth and our plane actually landed early at Islay Airport. Something that is pretty much unheard of.

First stop of the day for our party was the Port Ellen Maltings. As a self confessed whisky geek, it is always fascinating to spend time looking at the minutiae of certain sections of the process and malting is something that has passed me by a little in the past. However, this time I learnt a great deal about malting and peating of barley; I even got to stoke a peat fire (dressed in a fetching high-viz jacket and hard hat. I’m assured this is exactly how it was done over 200 years ago in the Scottish Highlands. Those ‘elf and safety execs get everywhere...).

video

Afterwards we even had time to pillage some stones from the beach at the front of the distillery which, having been thoroughly washed, are now cooling in my freezer, ready to be dropped in to a dram when I feel the need to chill but not add water. You should all try this at home.

After visiting the legendary ex-distillery, it was time to meet a familiar face and all round whisky legend. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you... Iain McArthur.


Having just completed his 40th year in the business, all on Islay, Iain took us across to some of the peat bogs opposite the airport where we *tried* to cut our own stock of peat. The traditional Scottish weather made the process even more authentic and Alex Huskinson from The Whisky Exchange was totally fooled by the right handed nature of the tools used. I’m not sure there has ever been a left handed peat cutter on Islay...

Thoroughly windswept, peaty and moist it was time to make our way to the first concert of the trip, Jesse Davis, a fantastic saxophonist from NYC & Paul Harrison, a British jazz pianist. The old Malt Mill Distillery at Lagavulin was being used as a venue and the room worked perfectly; excellent acoustics, relaxed atmosphere and a free glass of 16 Year Old on entry. What’s not to like?


Lagavulin – 16 Year Old – 43% vol

Nose: The peat in this dram is up front, yet soft with freshly turned earth, carbolic soap, cereals, rich dark brown sugar and a surprising hint of Play-Doh. This current release also has hints of the “old bowmore style” exotic fruits, 5alive and pinapple juice. A timelessly classic.

Palate: The smoke and peat manifest themselves as fresh wholemeal bread. Whisps of burnt brown sugar, some green herbs and dark chocolate covered Turkish delight. Some crème brulee notes.

Finish: This current edition has a creamy finish which brings salty and chopped chillies through, but still all wrapped up in that delicate peat smoke. Fudge lingers.

Overall: Is this the finest whisky in the sub-£40 bracket? Answers on post card please...


The gig was a fantastic but the highlight of the day for me was the second show, also at Lagavulin. The bill listed Graeme Stephen Quartet, an artist I’d never heard of until I saw the festival brochure and I’ve certainly found a favourite new band. 4 lads doing a mix of In Rainbow’s era Radiohead, Mogwai and Deus. Not something I would have ever pegged as jazz, but this acts eclectic, electric show proves the rich lexicon of the jazz language.

The band finished at around 9.30pm and by 10pm we were in Duffy’s bar with a couple of pints of Islay Ale and some selected drams.

Ahhh... two more days of Islay bliss before getting back to the big smoke.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Drinking Songs...



Rockstars and whisky.... infinitely brilliant bed-fellows. From the iconic imagery of 'Zeppelin's Jimmy Page necking Jack Daniels from the bottle, to the raw emotion laid bare in Robert Johnson’s seminal recordings of the late 1930s, whisky, of some kind, seeps with abundance from virtually every pore of a rockstar's body.

But hellraising seems so tedious these days, especially when all the best stunts have been done, to a far greater degree by legends of the yesteryear, who most modern day rockstars just couldn't hold a candle to. So it's heart warming when you hear about a few musicians channeling their love of whisky into something all the more wholesome and creative for a change, rather than just p***ing it up the wall.


One such fellow is the sensational Richard Hawley, whose solo career has gone on to achieve superb success over the last few years. Hawley's breakthrough album, 'Coles Corner' was highly acclaimed by the press and received a coveted Mercury Music Prize nomination (narrowly losing out to local Sheffield lads, The Arctic Monkeys)


Taking time out of his schedule to promote his new album, Truelove's Gutter, Richard recently visited the Glenfiddich distillery, using the trip as inspiration for writing a new batch of songs, which will be released later this year in collaboration with Glenfiddich.
I got to chat to Richard recently about his experiences and it was amazing to hear just how influential the visit was- from observing the journey whisky takes from the still, to full maturity in a cask, as well as the experiences and stories of the distillery staff, some who have been working there for upwards of 40 years.


The material was recently recorded at a studio in Manchester and we for one (as huge fans of Richard's albums) are very keen to hear the results.

For those of you who would like to know more- there's a couple of youtube links Here & Here.
There is also a competition for fans to win tickets to an exclusive gig planned at the distillery in the near future. Click here for more details:

You can of course hear Richard's wonderful music Here. Stay tuned for a longer interview with the man himself in the next issue of Whisky Magazine.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

Rosebank Rises From The Ashes?

Not an entirely new story (in fact, recently reported on Rob Allanson's excellent new blog) but a story that we felt compelled to share with you. We'd been hearing all manner of reports about the proposed new Falkirk distillery (from way back in 2008) apparently purporting to call itself Rosebank, which was making a few people very unhappy indeed. But now it seems that the distillery has been given the backing of the Scottish planning authorities and will see the light of day after all. The £5 million distillery had applied for the erection of a new distillery premises, bonded warehousing space, a visitor's centre, restaurant and 6 retail units and the picture below gives you some idea of their proposed layout.


All well and good. Great, a new Lowland distillery. But a new 'Rosebank'? Purists will argue that the distillery died, the day the original distillery was mothballed back in 1993, the final nail firmly driven into the cask when the original stills were apparently stolen and broken down into scrap. But according to recent reports, the distillery group have now also obtained the right to buy up all the remaining equipment, owned by the previous owners of Rosebank, DCL. The name Rosebank is a massively valuable asset (legally owned by Diageo) and we suspect the majority of whisky fans out there will be uncomfortable with any tenuous association to the new facility, despite the acquisition of original distillery gear, especially if it creates a 'Rosebank 2.0' situation. Remember folks...remakes are seldom better than the original... The Italian Job and Get Carter immediately spring to mind.


And what of the remaining stock? Clearly, the value of whatever is left will rise, probably creating some sort of gold rush of official and independent bottlings. Potentially good in one respect, as we dearly love Rosebank, but potentially bad, as the last few bottlings we've tried were in their late teens- and in our opinion, a little tired, over oaked and lacking in that wonderful zesty, floral note and the rich buttery charm younger bottlings have had.

Some things are best left long lost and sorely missed...despite the unfairness of their demise.

On a positive note- if the distillery group get the project right, a brand new Lowland whisky will be born- and in this day and age, that much is worth championing, just so long as it isn't poorly dressed up in someone else's outfit.



Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Aurora Of The Lion



It's been quite a week in the life of Richard Paterson. Firstly congratulations to him for an extraordinary 40 years working in whisky, a sentiment, which i'm sure most of you will share. Secondly, congratulations on winning Whisky Magazine's Icon's Of Whisky 2011 Ambassador Of The Year. I'm told that there were a few 'tashed up impersonators spotted floating round Whisky Live and clearly 'The Nose' (and 'tash') has become a whisky institution.



But facial hair elegance aside, last week Richard was back doing what he does best and introducing a small assembled crowd gathered at London's Selfridges to another of his recent creations- Dalmore Aurora.

Richard, with one of
Dalmore's 'big' stills

After taking the group through several other Dalmore expressions, including the 15yo (lots of dark orange peel and drying spices) and the sublime Gran Reserva (a superb balance of woody, cigarbox cedar n' spice and fruity undertones) it was time for the main event, which saw Richard mounting a table, regaling attendees with the story of the distillery, its stills (described by Richard as 'big bastards') and the behind-the-scenes making of Aurora- taking its name from the Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights. The spirit began life on the 29th April 1964 and the remaining contents of the cask (which we believe was originally an Oloroso sherry butt?) are now decanted into just 200 bottles. Would Aurora be a delightful 'Dance Of The Spirits' on the tastebuds, or a limp version of David Brent's Disco moves....


Dalmore Aurora - 45yo - 45% - limited to 200 bottles

Nose: Superb sweet, floral plums, into sweetened licorice, rich bonfire toffee, ferns and ripe red apples. There is also a hint of musty dunnage warehouses, indicating that this is an old beast indeed. (the whisky, not RP... ;-) )

Palate: Very dry, mouth coating with cocoa beans, lavender floral notes, wax, leather and spicy tobacco notes. There could also be a hint of something peaty in here, just a wisp mind...

Finish: Huge, powerful and lengthy, with a crescendo of mint humbugs.

Overall: Impressive, not too over-oaked or woody, with a very eloquent spicy story to tell. Very much like its creator then... ;-) At £3000, this isn't going to be on everyone's bottle lists at christmas, especially with so many super, super premium bottlings available- including the Highland Park 1970 vintage, forthcoming 50yo Highland Park and Bowmore's 40yo. There's now another competitor in this field, dancing to a merry tune.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Unfettered At Last



So far, it's been a busy week for new whisky launches. (and, it seems, for twitter rumours... yawn) Bowmore's 40 yo, Dalmore's 45 yo Aurora (see tomorrow's post) were officially launched and on Wednesday, a distillery, which has yet to feature on Caskstrength decided to open its doors to a few guests. Fettercairn, named after the gaelic for 'wooded copse' was shrouded in darkness and a hint of rain, as we pulled up on Wednesday evening. But that didn't dampen our anticipation- tonight we were promised an insight into the re-birth of an oft-maligned brand... and a hearty dinner in some unusual distillery locations.

Our starting point was Fettercairn's 24yo, which was heartily thrust into our hands as Distillery Manager David Doig regaled the assembled guests with some history about the distillery. We were surprised to find out that William Gladstone, erstwhile Prime Minister of the UK once owned it and, being the good soul that he was, abolished the tax which used to be levied on the angel's share....
Truth be told, the 24yo really didn't sit that well on our palate- quite hot & rubbery, with a oaky/bitter note, which left us feeling slightly ill-at-ease about what was to come, but we needn't have worried- the whisky we were about to try was brand new in its inception, the handiwork of Richard Patterson, AKA The Nose...



Fettercairn's Fior (meaning 'Pure') is the distillery's re-birth bottling. Limited to 1,500 cases, it is essentially a NAS vatting of 3 styles of Fettercairn; A large proportion (60%) comes from 15yo casks, 25% from 14yo casks (both sherry and first fill bourbon hoggies) and 15% - and rather importantly, the most interesting note comes from a 5yo heavily peated whisky.
Fior was to provide the pairing to our starter course, (distillery 'Come Dine With Me' perhaps??) smoked salmon served in one of the warehouses (possibly the where the cask filling takes place)


Fettercairn - Fior - 42% - Limited Edition - 1,500 cases

Nose: Treacle toffee, dark orange peel, smoked ham and some very fresh fruity bourbon/vanilla notes. Then more peat smoke, gentle but enveloping. A really delightful balance.

Palate: Tropical fruits, sweet cereals, cherry sherbet and Hubba Bubba bubble gum (the original, fruity pink version)

Finish: More sweetness, leading into a nice orange citrus note.

Overall: Robust, but wonderfully light in places, backed up with the peated notes. Fettercairn has most defintely come alive with this brand new bottling. With any luck it'll be introduced as a regular bottling.

Next up and we were whisked away from the filling warehouse to our next culinary destination. David explained that we might want to remove our coats at this point... as we mounted the stairs to the stillroom!!

Yes, that's right- a fully set dining table had been laid out within the stillroom, which was in operation as we took our seats. Extraordinary stuff!



Anyone who has visited Fettercairn will notice something unique about their stills. Around the neck of each, lies an irrigation ring, which gives a continuous cascade of water (heated to 93 Centigrade) running down the outside of the neck, aiding reflux. In essence, it's like a little waterfall for the still and Fettercairn are the only distillery in Scotland to use such a technique- dating back since their inception.

A pile of wholesome meat pie was our next course, washed down with the next dram- Fettercairn 30 yo. Sleeves rolled up and with a slightly fevered brow, we got stuck in...


Fettercairn - 30 yo - 43.3 %- 70cl

Nose: Immediate tropical fruit notes, giving an almost irish whiskey aroma. Licorice, some slightly waxy oiliness, fruit pie and cream, fudge and then a little Demerara sugar. Absolutely cracking.

Palate: More fruit (Passion fruit) tropical sherbet, classic lemon sour sweets, menthol and that licorice from the nose all unite for a very complex palate indeed. With a little water, a mandarin orange note emerges.

Finish: The tropical fruit lingers, with a slightly soapy back flavour (reminiscent of older Bowmores)

Overall: This really is a very impressive dram - incredibly fruity and lingering. Highly recommended.



Once again, we were whisked off to another location (but not before we'd managed to finish our generous dram of the 30yo!) to enjoy dessert and the final drams of the night. The dunnage warehouse was considerably cooler than the stunning backdrop of the stillroom, but nonetheless thrilling.



The room was thick with the classic aromas of maturing whisky- musty oak, dry sherry and a fruity topnote of bourbon, all of which combined beautifully with our pud (a slab of chocolate mousse) and the Pièce de résistance - Fettercairn 40yo. Aged in Apostoles palo cortado sherry casks, 463 bottles have been produced of this malt from 1969, highlighting the huge ambitions that Fettercairn clearly have.


Fettercairn 4o yo - 40% - 463 bottles - 70cl

Nose: Highly polished mahogany surfaces, Playdoh, some very malty cereal, honeycomb, leading into tannic oak, and some freshly laundered linen. Mightily complex- perhaps not as exciting as the 30yo but still very beguiling indeed.

Palate: Similar tropical fruits (clearly something of a distillery character) big oak influence (dry, but not bitter) hints of bourbon vanilla/citrus, sweet milk chocolate and caramel.

Finish: Although this is bottled at 40% a few drops of water really did broaden the palate out, with the fruit firmly taking the lead.

Overall: Perhaps not as impressive as the 30yo, (which really oozed absolute class) this bottling is an indication that the distillery has produced some fabulous casks in the past. Long may that continue.

With a postprandial drop of Fior to help us on our merry way, We can report that Fettercairn is most definitely a distillery in the frame for further greatness. We can only hope that Whyte & Mackay's investment will continue to be healthy. Many thanks to David and his team for a most entertaining and highly insightful evening!!

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Bowmore-On-Thames




Next week I'm off to Islay and to be honest, I'm not really looking forward to it.

Of course, that statement is a whopping great lie. I'm really looking forward to it. As a country boy, I love getting out London, I love going to Scotland and I love, in particular, Islay; a totally magical place.

But what I'm NOT looking forward to is the flight. I'm a pretty nervous flyer at the best of times, but once you get to Glasgow Airport you have to board the worlds smallest plane for a twenty minute flight, all the while having Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valence and the Big Bopper playing a medley in the back of your head...

So imagine my delight when I received an email informing me that Bowmore were to "bring Islay to London". No flying, no turbulance, just a thirty min bus journey to the National Geographic Store on Regent Street. Not even Bob Crow* could stop me going.

Bowmore is in the process of building a relationship with National Geographic Magazine which kinda makes perfect sense. One of the great things about distilleries is the artisanal nature of the process. Yes, it's a manufacturing process. But it's so much more than that. You don't get people taking special trips to visit vodka distilleries or crisp factories. But you do with whisky. And to partner with a magazine that highlights the worlds natural wonders makes a lot of sense.

Along with highlighting this new relationship, the event was also in aid of two new limited edition expressions of Bowmore; a 1981 limited to 402 bottles and their posh new 40 Year Old which comes in a hand blown bottle with a whopping price tag of £6,500. At that price, I'll take all 53 bottles, please...!

The prelude to the 1981 and the 40 Year Old was a journey through some of the standard Bowmore expressions, starting with the excellent Tempest (previous review here) which was matched with chocolate covered orange peel, the 12 year old with Oysters and the 15 Year Old with Scottish venison. All of this within a 30 min ride on the number 3 bus? Oh, yes!


Having made our way through the lower reaches of the core expressions, it was time to meet the new boys. After an introduction from Eddie MacAffer, the incredibly experienced Distillery Manager who has spent his entire life working at Bowmore, it was time to dig in to the 1981. This is the first in a new range for Bowmore which is going to be called The Vintage Series and this is retailing at what seems a very reasonable £270 (or have I lost a grip of reality entirely? That may be a possibility...) for one of just 402 bottles. But the price and the rarity means nothing if the liquid in the bottle doesn't stand up, so let's find out:


Bowmore - Vintage Series - 1981 - 28 Years Old - 402 Bottles - 49.6% vol - 700ml

Nose: Clear honey and licorice mix with light blackcurrant and parma violets backed up by light peat smoke, some salt and lemon zest. Some capers and a hint of juniper too. Remarkably fresh for a 28 Year Old whisky.

Palate: Vanilla Ice Cream is the dominant flavour as peat smoke swirls around. Hints of delicate wood spice come through with time on the palate, white flowers, violets and a delicate wave of baked apple at the death.

Finish: Lemons and limes, more smoke, which this time is a touch more prominent than on the palate. Dry vanilla wood spices. The strength gives it enough oomph for a medium length.

Overall: I've got to be honest and say that this is how I like my whisky. Lightly smoked with vanillas, sweet spices and white florals and apples. Anyone want to lend me £270...?! Go on... please?!


Onward now to the 40 Year Old. Just two key facts here:

1. This is £6,500 a bottle

2. There are 53 bottles available in, what has to be said, is a beautiful hand blown glass bottle on a plinth made out of Islay slate. The whole thing really is quite stunning.

Needless to say, this isn't going to make our "reasonably priced dram of the week", unless inflation continues in the current vein, when I'll be able to afford a bottle of this with the change I get from buying some eggs and bread down the local Costcutter.

It's almost pointless writing a review on this whisky. Firstly because it's bloody excellent; of course it is. Bowmore have a cracking track record of putting out first class old whisky. One only has to look at the Black Bowmore series to see that. But secondly, it's over Six Thousand Pounds a bottle.

Six. Thousand. Pounds.

In summary, all you really need to know is that it smells of dark chocolate, peat and oak. It tastes of black cherries, licorice and mandarin. On the finish you get an explosion of classic old Bowmore exotic fruits, mangos and sweet satsuma with dying peat embers to keep the whole thing alive. But if you are thinking of buying a bottle and really want to know the full details, then read on...


Bowmore - 40 Years Old - Cask No. 2162 - Bourbon Cask - 44.8% vol - 700ml

Nose: Delicate peat smoke, high coco content dark chocolate, figs, dry oak, old leather and lanolin. Rich and deep as you would expect from a 40 Year Old whisky.

Palate: Black cherry, rich oak, leather, cigar tobacco, sweet dark sugars muddle with a fruit juices and orange bitters.

Finish: That explosion of exptc fruits and peat that you would expect from a good old Bowmore.

Overall: A great whisky which is very, very rich and like good dark chocolate can't be taken too much at one time. It's a bottle to savour and enjoy. And at this price, it bloody better be!


As I made my way back out to Regent Street, to the hustle and bustle of every day London life, I realised that, no matter how hard you try, you can not bring Islay to London. You might bring the people, you might bring pictures and videos. You might even bring the whisky. But the only true way to experience Islay is to visit. It's not a world away from London. It's a different world altogether. And a better one for it.

For the time being however, I'll sit with a small glass of Bowmore 15, draw the curtains, burn a peat cone, my own "postcard" of Islay and dream of stepping of the little plane at the Airport to a magical world of whisky and nature.

Godspeed.

*dick

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

You're Taking The Piss / A Wee Dram / Urine For It Now (Choose Your Own Title Day)



Quite often we have visitors over to Caskstrength.net HQ for a cup of tea, some dinner or most commonly a dram or two. People who have never been before are often forced in to that awkward question people ask when they hear you've had time off work sick.

"Errr.... are you okay?"

people ask as they see an array of small vessels holding light brown liquid.

"No, those are my samples."

I'll often quip back. And indeed they are. Samples of whisky. The above pictures shows a small selection of drams waiting to be written up for the site and the warehouse.

But one man has taken the idea of the sample a little too far. Wired Magazine UK is reporting on a whisky made by a Mr James Gilpin which is distilled from the sugar rich urine of diabetes sufferers. Gilpin himself has Type 1 diabetes and, according to the piece, this is a project to assess if we can (re)use natural products produced by the body.

The "pissky" is available to view (and apparently to taste) in London during September at the 100% Materials design event and in October at the Abandon Normal Devices event held in Manchester.

It's around about now that we put out an appeal for "work experience tasters". Can you guess what your first assignment is?

At least with the trend of very expensive whisky that has been on offer over the last few year, for this one you only need to spend a penny... boom, boom.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Staycation


Some days you just have to let go. Some days are for indulging. It’s why we save money. It’s also why up-scaling exists. Would Johnnie Walker Blue Label be the whisky it is, if it weren’t for the Red, Black, Green and Gold? Would Premiership football be “Premier” if there weren't 4 other levels of professional football in this country? Life is all about context. And in this bloggers case, it’s holiday time!

However, what would holiday be without work to create the contrast? That constant barrage of voicemails. The red light blinking on your blackberry as if the device will explode imminently. The pile of paperwork on your desk climbing every higher towards the sky. Holiday is a time to forget this all, to put it to one side and to relax.

This year I find myself in Cornwall, one of the most beautiful parts of the United Kingdom. Long sandy beaches, rolling fields and (usually) sunshine have combined with a weak pound, economic downturn and general belt-tightening, to ensure that the staycation is the holiday of choice for a larger numbers of Britons than ever before.

Our destination this year is the North Coast and a small village near Newquay (a place often favoured by stag parties and surfers, for those readers outside of the UK). The biggest quandary that befalls me when packing my suitcase is not which shorts I should pack, how many jumpers is too many or whether or not to take the snorkel, but “which whisky shall I take with me”. With limited space I opted for a hipflask full of Highland Park 12 Year Old. It was open, in the cabinet and seemed to fulfil all the obvious criteria (Will it be delicious and cooling on a hot day on the beach? Yes. Will it be warming and soothing when I’m stuck in doors due to torrential rain, depressed that I stayed in England? Yes.) so away I went with some nice Scotch in my luggage.

The highlight of the trip was a lunch, booked in honour of Ma Joel’s 60th Birthday (Happy Birthday Mum!), at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant, imaginatively called Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant – clever huh! – in Padstow, just along the coast from where were based.

Now, I love cooking. But Rick Stein I am not. The only Michelin stars I have are on the car I drove to Cornwall in. But I do love food (who doesn’t? You see that on people’s profiles on things like Facebook “I like food”. No! Really!? “I like comedy” No shit, Sherlock. Tell me something I didn’t already know.) and what better way to provide total holiday contrast from my usual coco-pops breakfast / prêt sandwich lunch / chicken and bacon salad dinner, then to treat oneself to some proper food, from a proper chef?

The lunch was excellent (sardines in a herb and parmesan crust for starter, pan fried ray wing with béarnaise sauce for main and some chocolate thing for pudding, since you asked) and you get three courses for around the same price as a bottle of Ardbeg 10 Year Old. Not at all bad, really. But I was on holiday. With my Highland Park 12 at home, I needed some whisky. Some good whisky. No... some really good whisky.

My usual experience of restaurants, particularly seafood restaurants, and whisky is pretty poor. I wasn’t expecting much when I asked to see the spirits list. But I was shocked to see the following listed:


Arran 10 Year Old

Glenmorangie 10 Year Old

Laphroaig 10 Year Old

Talisker 10 Year Old


Okay.... Okay... it’s all good so far. Just back from Arran and as good as the 10 Year Old is, I’ll give it a miss for now. Glenmo, Laphroaig and Tally 10’s. Na. Not here. Not now.

I kept reading.


Tullibardine 1993 Port Wood Finish

Bruichladdich 16 Year Old Sauternes Finish


Er, okay. That’s a bit unexpected. But we’ll keep going.


Macallan 18 Year Old

Ardbeg 1990 (Nam Biest)


Nice! I’m erring towards the Ardbeg to finish this cracking meal off, but let’s just finish reading the full list.


Port Ellen Provenance 25 Year Old

Bowmore Old & Rare 25 Year Old


Ladies and Gentlemen, I think we have a winner! Or two. It looks like it’s going to be a straight slug out between the Port Ellen and the Bowmore and weighing in at two pounds per dram lighter, your Champion for the day is: the Port Ellen.

With a large smile on my face, I ordered up a measure. The perfect way to end a perfect meal:


Port Ellen – 1982 – 25 Years Old – Provenance – Sherry Casks No. 4452 & 4453 – 46% ABV

Nose- A good slug of peat mixed in with deep, rich woods. If there was a definition of "rich", this would be it. The wood notes range from pine to oak with everything in between. Lovely stuff.

Palate- The palate tastes old but with plenty of energy, coming though with orange quarters and dark chocolate which adds to the delicate peat smoke.

Finish- A big whack of peat, followed by hot and spicy red chillies, followed by orange peel, coffee and those beautifully balanced wood spices. Marmalade at the death.

Overall- I have no idea how long the restaurant had this bottle, but I bet this is all sold out now. And the world is a poorer place for it.


Holidays are a wonderful thing, but I’m back to reality now with deadlines, rush hours and travel cards to buy. I will once again be returning to the humble sandwich lunch and home cooked supper. Sadly my life doesn’t allow me to live in beautiful Cornwall and I can’t afford to eat at a posh restaurant every day of the week. But the one fleck of bright light, the one area I can take away is the whisky. I may never have that Port Ellen ever again. I certainly don’t have whisky of that quality and rarity after ever meal. But I can be happy with what I have. And right now, I’m here finishing off my holiday allocation of Highland Park 12 and you know what? On a Sunday evening, in the quiet before work tomorrow, it tastes like the rarest, most expensive whisky known to man, because it’s my whisky, my time, my moment.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Adventures Of A Young Distiller



It's guest post time folks - and we have a really superb introduction to the world of distilling from a relatively young (but very experienced) chap. We recently met up with Matthew Pauley, part of the Thames Distillers operation, but also the man behind a wonderful new site - Distillers Nose. Matthew delivers highly entertaining but detailed discussions on the art of distillation and naturally, we thought you might want to get to know him!! Anyway check out the Distillers Nose site and.... take it away Matthew!!


The Adventures Of A Young Distiller

Firstly a brief introduction to myself and how I came to be a distiller.

I was very fortunate in comparison to many young people that I come across today, in as much as from the age of about 16, I have had an idea of what I would like to do jobwise… it was just a case of how. Part of my school curriculum was to go and do a weeks work experience. It was my mother’s idea to send her science mad son to the local brewery. During the week I was walked through every part of the process from keg cleaning (getting covered in dead yeast and oxidised beer) to wracking off, rolling and stacking kegs into the hundreds next to a lazy temp, who kept sitting down on the job.


More often than not I would make a weary and smelly scooter ride home.

I was bitten by the bug and realised I wanted to get into the industry in some way or another. During 6th form, I heard there was a course in Brewing Distilling and Malting at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh and having put it as my only option on my UCAS form, I was lucky enough to get a place. Edinburgh has to be the ideal place to be a student and Scotland is great place to get to know the drinks industry. I used to work in a pub during the holidays from uni and one day, I encountered a customer I had known for a while and got talking. It turned out he was a master of the Worshipful Company of Distillers.


It was through this conversation that I managed to get a job at Glenfiddich Distillery as a tour guide and I must admit, it gives an Englishman pause for thought when asked what size kilt socks he wears! I stayed in the Balvinie distillers cottages, walking in the foot steps of distillers past, also quietly perfecting a taste for whisky. Overall I spent the best part of two summers in Speyside.

During the summer, Dufftown, has regular Ceilidh, which for a relatively quiet village in Speyside, is both exhausting and exhilarating I am still unfortunatly rubbish at Ceilidh dancing. I spent a week in the company of the distillers at Glennfiddich turning big wheels to open needle valves and levers. I spent a day with Ali who, despite his advancing years, was as fast as a hare at getting from one end of the still house to the other. It was a real education and helped cement a love of the art and science of distilling.

When I went back to Edinburgh for university, (having built up a taste for whisky) I managed to get a part time job at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society on Queen Street.


It was here that I was given a free dram at the end of the shift, which being a hard up student, my eyes where naturally drawn to the prized golden ribbons.

Never one to be backwards in coming forwards, I asked if I could sit on their selection panel where you sit around a table and score cask whiskies and describe them as eloquently as you can. If a high enough score is awarded it is listed with a little description in the guide. I managed to wangle a place and was thrilled to get a description printed in their tasting guide. Among my other experience, I spent a placement at Tate and Lyle’s Tunnel Refinery looking at their continuous fermentation plant, which was lacking in the romance but from the technical geeky perspective was pretty cool.

I was pleased to graduate with honours and after a little while looking, accepted a position at Thames Distillers working with a novel distillation system and small scale beer bottling plant which has kept me busy to this day. The good thing about Thames is we do all sorts of small scale and specialist products, so things are seldom the same twice, which stops things getting stale.

I have still have a huge passion for the craft of distillation, despite doing it every day and I enjoy finding other spirits to tantalise and intrigue me.