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Monday, 14 February 2011

Sweetness or Shite?

With so many great whiskies on offer these days, it's easy to get a little complacent about the category as a whole. I mean, as well as the exceptional single malts we all know and love, the superbly subtle blends and everything in between, today's whisky consumer is totally bowled over with what to drink, whenever the mood takes them.

But where does that leave those who aren't particularly 'into' whisky? There are a number of people (some of whom read this very blog) who like to enjoy some of the distinct flavours and aromas of whisky, but simply find it too strong a spirit to fully appreciate. Mrs Caskstrength recently wrote of her 'whisky epiphany' when she discovered Auchentoshan Three Wood for the first time and this has lead her into many other new forays with the spirit. Today we bring you something a bit different for us- a little trip into the world of the whisky liqueur.

Before you (carefully) slam down your Glencairn's in disgust and hatch plans to lynch Joel and I at the forthcoming Whisky Live, listen up... they're not all that bad!!

For years, the whisky liqueur was the domain of the perennial 'non' drinker, studiously keeping a crusty bottle of supermarket own brand, Glensickly at the back of the cabinet, along with some bottles of flat Lemonade and Dandilion & Burdock, should someone require a festive tipple at Christmas. I have witnessed a curdled bottle of Bailey's (how is this possible?) which put me off cream liqueurs for life and the prospect of sinking into some similarly sticky, sweet drams was a less than exciting prospect.

We bring you a snap shot of a few out there, in our 'Sweetness...or Shite?' taste test.

To start the ball rolling we were sent a sample of Drambuie's recent re-release, using a 15yo Speyside whisky, along with the usual blend of herbs and heather honey. Drambuie was initially formulated in 1909, so must be doing something right!!

Drambuie - 15yo Speyside Whisky Liqueur - 43%

Nose: Nutty, with hazelnut aromas straight off the bat, with a hint of licorice, nutmeg and toffee covered bananas. Dig deeper and you realise why this is a pretty strong liqueur- a big hit of bourbon influenced whisky hits first, followed by a hint of dried fruit and musty sherry casks.

Palate: The sweetness is clearly the first thing that hits you, but the whisky isn't far behind- zesty and light, but then revealing some charred notes, dark chocolate and a complex blend of honey, tropical fruits and spice. (anise and nutmeg)

Finish: Very fruity, with lingering notes of spice.

Overall: Very complex and balanced with the whisky. If the whisky was less robust, it would be lost to all the sweetness, but not so- it is very much at the heart of this liqueur and i'm very surprised just how good this is. Try it in a Rusty Nail- works a treat.

Sweetness Or Shite?... Definitely a winner, so 'Sweetness'....

Next up: Another honey based liqueur- Bruadar, which means 'A Dream' in Gaelic. It is given an additional fruitiness, with the addition of Sloes thrown into the blend. Lets find out if it's a sweet dream or a bloody nightmare...

Bruadar - Honey Liqueur - 22%

Nose: Completely different to the Drambuie, this is very strange at first, with a sort of sharp, fermented/ over-ripe fruit note leaping out at you. Anyone who's left a bottle of Innocent Smoothie in a hot car for a few weeks will instantly recognise this aroma. Whilst it's not totally unpleasant, it is pretty off-putting. Get past this and you'll find a floral parma violet note and a very thick heather honey aroma.

Palate: Much thinner and less viscous than the Drambuie and sadly, not at all nice on the initial sip. It's just too sweet, with little or no influence of the whisky coming through. The fruit develops a little, but it's like having a mouthful of fizzing fruit sweets, with no discernible flavour to anchor it.

Finish: Surprisingly better, with the honey lingering and the parma violet notes dissipating.

Overall: Not a patch on the Drambuie and a reminder why i've not traditionally been a fan of whisky liqueurs.

Sweetness Or Shite?... Sorry guys...

Palate cleansed, we move onto another traditional name in the whisky liqueur world - Glayva.
For a brand to make the outlandish claim to be 'The Best Liqueur In The World' (TM) is pretty outlandish, but admirable. Their website is also something of a revelation, with a campaign to 'Save The Drinks Cabinet' by calling for an amnesty on all those horrid, crusty bottles I mentioned earlier. There's even a neat guide to the best moustaches throughout history... did someone tell them I was coming to visit??! ;-)
Anyway- onto the liqueur, which is a blend of whisky, tangerines, cinnamon, almonds and honey.

Glayva - Whisky Liqueur - 35%

Nose: Masses of nutmeg, with the festive waft of those tangerines cutting through nicely. There's quite a lot of nose prickle, leading into some more gentle egg custard notes. Not much of a whisky aroma though.

Palate: Supremely thick on the palate, with a dark spiced orange note liberally coating the tongue. The tangerines are here in force, with anise, more nutmeg, a grating of dark chocolate and perhaps the faintest touch of smoke. Very full bodied indeed.

Finish: Strangely lacking in length, with the spicier licorice notes clinging on the longest.

Overall: A big, bold liqueur, not too sweet, but lacking any real finish is how I see this. Perfect for a seasonal nip, to get those non-whisky drinkers in the mood for party games, but I doubt they'd even detect the presence of any whisky.

Sweetness Or Shite?... not bad at all, so a middling 'Sweetness'.

A little hop across to Ireland for our next whisk(e)y liqueur. I'm not sure if Feckin Spiced is technically a liqueur, but it is the very first Irish whiskey to be bottled, infused with vanilla and spices, giving a sweet liqueur like note, so we're sticking it in...

Feckin - Spiced Irish Whiskey- 35%

Nose: Immediately the Irish whiskey notes grab your attention, with sweet grain notes and a hint of oily linseed. Then the vanilla comes through to dominate, very sickly sweet but just what you'd expect from a vanilla-infused whiskey. It's pretty one sided, with a lack of any other noticeable spices, but not unpleasant.

Palate: The vanilla dominates the palate too, with a slight bitter-sweet note, leading into more of the grain notes. Not much else to write about, it's sweet and vanilla'ry....

Finish: Guess what... Yes, you've guessed it.

Overall: I imagine this would be highly palatable within a creamy Irish coffee, or poured over ice cream. Maybe even in a long drink. Its lack of depth almost doesn't matter and to be honest, you forgive it for not having any complexity.

Sweetness Or Shite...? Let's give this one the benefit of the doubt- a resounding 'Sweetness'

Our final sweet treat is actually a bit of a coup... Not yet released but soon to be hitting the shelves (well, the virtual online shelves) is a new aged whisky liqueur from our pals at Master Of Malt. The guys have been formulating their liqueur solely using 10 year old, sherry matured single malt from Speyside as the base.
Master Of Malt - 10yo Speyside Whisky Liqueur - 37%

Nose: Big wafts of dried, aromatic fruit, with nutmeg, anise, angostura bitters and cola notes, peppermint, dark chocolate and dried ginger. The whisky presence is unmistakable, giving this a huge and beguiling complexity.

Palate: Burnt creme brulee, blood oranges, mint humbugs and sweet malty cereal all combine with the spiced notes and a syrupy sweetness, which isn't overpowering. You'll find a subtlety here, with the more aromatic spices slotting in neatly with the more fruity aspects. Nutmeg, cinnamon and vanilla are the prominent notes, with a hint of something charred and woody.

Finish: The sweetness subsides, leaving the anise and nutmeg notes and lingering notes of woody casks.

Overall: A very impressive balance to this liqueur, with an 'au natural' feel. The spices are vibrant and the whisky is hugely prominent- which, after all is what it should be!

Sweetness Or Shite?... Most definitely 'Sweetness'

So there we have it. Not sure i'll be popping out to stock up on stickies just yet, but certainly well worth seeking out the odd one or two...

Normal service will be resumed on our next post!!