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Saturday, 23 January 2010

Content on the Continent - Part One

Having a 'hoot' in Belgium....

Apologies for our slight delay in posting new reports on whisky-flavoured goodies - January has proved to be a very busy month for both myself and Joel, but things are starting to resume their normal course now.
Anyway, one of the reasons for the delay was that I recently embarked on a malt mission to the continent, in search of Europe's finest.

It's amazing to think that in the past decade, we've seen new whiskies emerge from all over the globe, with notable successes from Sweden in the shape of Mackmyra, Penderyn from Wales and now of course, the rollercoaster ride which is taking shape over in East Anglia with England's first whisky in over a century.

But what of our European cousins?

One thing was clear. I had to traverse 5 countries in 7 days, each with a whisky flavoured story to tell.

My first port of call was of course the Eurostar - the gateway to Europe and also now home to one of London's finest new bars - the Whisky Bar at the St Pancras Grand. After a quick restorative dram of Highland Park 18yo, my train embarked on its short journey to Brussels.

We posted a blog roughly a year ago about a wonderful trip involving some fine Belgian beers and the peculiarly named bar- 'Drug Opera' so clearly this time round I would have to go one step beyond in search of something exceptional to write about.

In Brussels, this is easy. A quick skip-and-a -jump and before you know it, you're sat in a cellar, smoking a cigar, foaming tankard of Trappist ale in hand, tucking into a roast Cuckoo.

From this.............

Yes. I ate a Cuckoo.

It was delicious. Fiddly but, delicious.

The Belgian way of life may often be derided as slightly reserved and hum-drum, but after a few beers and a rare bird on a plate, the place certainly livens up.

Anyway, enough about the Cuckoo. We were here to try another Belgian delicacy, also named after an equally feathered friend- the wise old Owl.

Belgian's first single malt has finally arrived after it's creator, Etienne Bouillon started the only distillery in the Liege area in GrĂ¢ce-Hollogne after acquiring his first handmade, century-old still back in 1994. He hasn't looked back. The Owl Distillery has now bottled its 36 month whisky, made from the distillate of the finest Belgian malt.

Tracking it down in Brussels proved to be slightly tricky, as it isn't stocked by many bars, but I have to thank the lovely Petit at Vinalgros, who stock a great range of spirits, including The Owl Distillery whisky and also their spirit, bottled at 12 and 24 months old. The young spirit is very fresh and floral in character, with cereal notes and diced apple, but lacking any real depth.

Would this whisky soar majestically on the thermals, or plummet faster than a stuffed Dodo, falling from a pagoda roof?? let's find out...

The Owl Distillery - 3 year old Single Malt Whisky - First fill Bourbon cask - Bottling 141009 - 46% - 50cl

Nose: Still incredibly fresh like the younger spirit , but hints of oily lavender. A little harsh at first but a grower, especially when the sweet bourbon notes come through. Vanilla, golden syrup and Playdoh are all noticeable after a few sniffs.

Palate: A deft sweetness to this whisky. Marzipan, more of that syrup, fresh green apples and then a touch of spice. And it lingers!! quite surprising for a 3 year old whisky. A little oiliness on the palate leads into a pleasing mouthfeel.

Finish: Peppery, warm, with some salted licorice character.

Overall: Very impressive indeed- this has the legs to go somewhere, quite where, is anyone's guess right now, but the hallmarks are that it's heading in the right direction with the sat nav set to stun...

My time in Belgium was woefully short, but fortunately I was able to find a bottle of this excellent junior whisky. I have no doubt that you'll be seeing it a little more in 2010 as it 'wings' its way over to the UK. (sorry, couldn't resist that)

In Part 2 of the Euro malt mission: I visit Paris, nearly fall in the Seine and sample Eddu- one of France's several offerings to the canon of Malt whisky.... Stay tuned folks.