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Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Tie A Yellow Ribbon, It's The Merry Month Of May: The Glenlivet Distillery Only SIngle Malt And Big Peat Islay Blended Malt Whisky Reviews

Before I kick off this post, we need to make a small announcement. Since we started writing this blog at the beginning of 2008, we’ve been on an amazing journey, met a lot of fantastic people and had some incredible experience in the world of whisky. There weren’t many whisky blogs around at that time (Dr Whisky and Whiskyfun take a bow for probably being the only other two – sorry if we’ve missed anyone out), with score-free whisky reviews seemingly like an idea from Mars.

Now in our sixth year, we’ve been extra busy with everything from writing work with the likes of Whisky Magazine, Imbibe, The Wall Street Journal in India and many more around the world, through to books (Neil and Gavin D. Smith’s excellent Let Me Tell You About Whisky), media work, our bottlings, hosting tasting far-and-wide, as well running our creative agency, Caskstrength Creative. This year we were even made Keepers of the Quaich and we were incredibly proud to receive such an honour from our peers.

As a result of our growing number of outlets for our writing (including a new book we have just been commissioned to write- more on that soon) we will be tightening up our posting schedule, condensing our blog to two articles a week, on a Tuesday and a Thursday, with any ‘special features’ (such as trips to Islay’s Feis Ile or anything else that needs more in-depth coverage or special attention) going out in between.

If you don’t want to miss out on our now bi-weekly posts as well as any other special features we do, you can subscribe to our mailing list (you won’t get any other rubbish, just our articles from here) on the right of the page.

So that’s it. Expect fresh and new content every Tuesday and every Thursday here on or mailed directly to your inbox if you subscribe.


May is a big month. 

Usually it is the time when relegation and promotion in the British football leagues are resolved (and as an Oxford United fan, that often induces ‘squeaky bum time’, as Sir Alex once called it), the FA Cup and Champions League finals are played and it is a month when you (if you’re me) start to think about booking a holiday, but realise it might be prudent to do a tax return first. But over-and-above all of these, it is also the season of the regional whisky festival in Scotland.

First up, for those of you who like a good Glen or two, the Spirit of Speyside festival kicks off. This year it was held between Thursday 2nd and Monday 6th May, with various events taking place across the region and some superb drams tasted, such as The Glenlivet’s first ever distillery-only bottling. Inspired by sister distillery Aberlour, they have added a fill-you-own cask in their new mini-tour section and, as you would expect, is labelled as ‘cask number 1’. So, for the second post in a row, let's try a new bottling from The Glenlivet.

The Glenlivet – Hand Filled At The Distillery – 18 Years Old - Cask No. 1 – Bourbon Cask – Number of bottles unknown – 56.8% ABV (£70.00)    

Nose: White peaches, rich maple syrup and vanilla. Some soft ginger loaf, highly polished oak furniture and over-ripe banana, apricots, nutmeg and cinnamon. There is fantastic age to this dram with a really rounded nose. A very active cask caught at just the right time, with a big in aroma. A really big aroma.  With water: the vanilla and banana come to the fore and red cherries appear.

Palate: At full strength, it is sweet on the palate (muscavardo sugars), with a hint of green tea, rancio and bitter orange, all wrapped up in very dark chocolate. With water, the whisky really comes alive, giving a boost to the previous flavours but with an added bonus of golden syrup and heather honey.

Finish: Soft and long with a rich treacle tart notes.

Overall: If you’re going to do something, do it well and that is exactly what The Glenlivet have done with first attempt at a distillery only bottling. A single cask, cask strength 18 year old for £70 is not bad value at all in my book.

The excellent, limited ed Aberlour
There were a few ‘special’ bottling flying around in Speyside, such as Glenfiddich's 200-only festival bottle (a light and floral bourbon cask from 1997 and bottled, hand bottled with an abv of 55.4%), an excellent Aberlour of just 1,812 bottles, designed for local sale only (a richer, stonger version of the a'bunadh with an age statement of 12 Years Old, 56.8% abv, 100% oloroso sherry) and a Mortlach named simply ‘48’ (3,000 bottles ‘only’) and bottled at the respective abv.

However, the home of the special bottling has to be Islay, which has consistently offered up interesting single cask releases such as the Lagavulins and Caol Ilas done by Diageo (not to mention their legendary Port Ellen), many interesting Bruichladdichs, Bunnahbhains and Bowmores and always something from Ardbeg and Laphroaig, who are now using the occasion to launch wide limited releases across the world. Add to this Kilchoman and Jura and the aforementioned holiday / tax bill seems to slip even further down the priority list when it comes to money!

As usual, we shall be heading out to Islay for the majority of the festival (a wedding precludes turning up for the first few days) but once we arrive we’re expecting the same fun-filled time as usual (although I’m not sure anything can top 2009 with @TWEBlog, Faceman and the Immortal Cowjetski). Having warmed up in April with a trip to Skye, tasting a couple of Port Askaigs and refreshed our palate with some excellent grain and Speyside offerings, it’s time to start warming up again for peat and what could be more apt than a new offering from the new arm of Douglas Laing, than their small batch Big Peat.

A brand which has been around since 2009 and has traditionally used whisky only from Islay, also at times using Port Ellen in their mix. The new release, available only at this edition, bottled at 50% contains whisky from Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore and Port Ellen. A 50cl offering is only £29.99 and only 250 bottles have been made.

Big Peat – 'Private Edition' - Blended Islay Malt – NAS - 50cl - 50% abv £29.99 here

Nose: vanilla, spiced green apple, peat smoke (obvs), white and green wine gums, some watermelon, pear drops, chamois leather and grapefruit, some coal dust.

Palate: Lovely and smooth, soft vanilla and those pear drops take centre stage. The back of the palate is where the smoke sits. Some dusty old tones and a little copper fill the mouth. Zinc and calcium notes round out a sweet, peaty and slightly chalky palate. With water, the vanilla develops and the chalky nature falls a little, leaving an oiler whisky.

Finish: Bitter lemon, marmalade and smoke.

Overall: For a penny short of £30, this is a solid peaty offering, if not a little leathery in places. The perfect ready-made hipflask for that CalMac ferry over to Port Ellen, this will warm your heart and your tummy with a fist of great peatiness, before you disembark to savour some of the whiskies which originally went into this mix.

Well, this has certainly warmed me up and the smell of peat smoke fills my soul. Speyside seems to be a regular on our travels at the moment and it has been a while since I’ve visited Islay, but this has given me a dreamy vision of arriving once more to see old friends, stay in old buildings and drink old drams.

Here’s to May- a month of many delights!