As a large Belgian media conglomerate has just swallowed up a chunk of Irish news media – I thought it opportune to swallow some Belgian Whiskey.
Now Belgium is relatively new to the game of whisky distilling – but have a long history of distilling jenever – so it’s rather refreshing to see a bold ‘Aged 3 Years’ statement emblazoned across the front of this very attractively presented bottle of single malt.
Just as every Belgian Beer has it’s own glassware – it seems as if Belgian Whisky is no exception to this highly entertaining & endearing custom.
My interest was certainly piqued.
Vuur – for anyone who doesn’t know – is Flemish for fire – I had to look it up myself – which is explained by the peat content.
Belgium does actually have peat bogs. Mainly around the Haute Fagnes area – oddly near the highest point in Belgium at Signal De Botrange. I only know this as I happened to visit the place when on holiday a few years ago.
Belgian lightly peated malted barley was used in this whisky.
Extra ‘fire’ content is provided by the use of ex-Laphroaig quarter casks for maturation.
And a great job they do too!
There’s a joyful youthfulness about it.
A little bit bold – a tad brash – but full of flavour & appeal.
The peat influence is relatively quiet to begin with – a trifle soft – while the barley sweetness slowly gets consumed into a glowing ashy peat smokiness that gradually dries out the palate leaving a very satisfyingly long warm feeling on the finish.
A beautiful little number from Belgium!
I sourced my bottle via the wonderfully named Drankenwereld shop in Belgium itself here.
A.D. Rattray are an independent bottler of fine standing in Scotland.
They happen to have a lovely Whisky Shop on the main access route – A77 – to & from the Irish ferry terminals at Stranraer & Cairnryan that I often use to cross the water.
Oddly enough on my last trip – January 2018 – it was the first time in well over a decade using this route I encountered armed police, a passport check, a personal check as well as a vehicle check – all for an internal crossing?
Brexit changes indeed.
The Whisky Shop itself is a treasure trove of whisky, some gins & local beers too. Predominately Scotch it has to be said – although there is a sprinkling of world whisky. There are also tasting classes, rare single casks to be had, a small museum and more to attract you in and delay your journey.
But as I was driving – I made do with an elegantly packaged & well presented 5 pack A.D. Rattray miniature selection.
Nearly a year later I eventually managed to sample them if only to mark Rabbie Burns Night – who happened to live nearby.
The standard Bank Note 5 Year Old Blend at 43% struck me as just being that – standard. Pleasant enough with it – but no stand out qualities to pull me in. I do like the label however.
Next up was the Stronachie Highland Single Malt 10 Year Old – also at 43%. With this A.D. Rattray branded malt you actually get the distillery of origin – Benrinnes in this case – unlike the blended offering.
Now 10 year old malts these days are often considered entry level – and I’m afraid my tasting experience only concurred with this hypothesis.
Smooth, easy drinking, well balanced butterscotch, honey & vanilla – just not enough character or oomph for my tastes.
Meanwhile the Stronachie 18 – also Benrinnes sourced but with a slightly higher 46% ABV – gained some lovely dry woody tannins from the extra years in maturation. I was pulled in with it’s suitably more complex , characterful & to my palate anyway – a much more appealing dram.
The next bottle – at least from the label – promised something special.
A single grain whisky from a closed distillery – Cambus – matured for no less than 26 years & presented at 59.9% with no chill filtering nor added colouring. – kind of suggests the other bottlings perhaps had added e150 or chill filtering as it wasn’t stated on their labels?
Part of the A.D. Rattray Cask Collection – which changes regularly – I was very happy to try this single grain.
It’s a category of whisky many people dismiss – which is fine – all the more for me to enjoy!
It’s fresh, it’s lively, it’s full of flavour, it’s got character, it’s got strength, it’s got lucious drying tannins & velvety vanilla which just explode in the mouth.
A wonderful whisky.
The final miniature was Cask Islay – an non aged statement (NAS) non disclosed distillery single malt presented at 46%.
Now normally an Islay influenced dram floats my boat – but not this sweet peat. I think I prefer dry ashiness myself.
Perhaps the cask strength offering of earlier had influenced my findings. But I had cleansed my palate after each sample, left a gap in-between & then re-sampled later. All to no avail.
The Single Grain Cambus 26 Year Old is clearly my top of the pile – a stunning drop.
It’s nearing Burns Night – 25th January – so I thought a bit of Scotch would be in order.
You could say Rabbie Burns is one of the first ‘celebrity’ endorsements of whisky – and he’s still going strong today.
My choice of whisky is one I rarely encounter – but the vivid yellow label & green bottle always stands out from the crowd & draws me in.
Cutty Sark has dual meaning.
Rabbie Burns poem Tam o’ Shanter – a tale about drinking & chasing cutty sark or ‘short skirts’ in modern terms – still resonates today.
There was also a famous tea clipper – Cutty Sark – which just happened to be docked in London back in 1923. Berry Bros & Rudd decided to name & launch their new Cutty Sark Blended Scots Whisky on the back of this.
Marketing – when you get it right – it works.
And it’s still working today.
I picked up this miniature in a local off-licence when I spotted it.
The colour is reassuringly pale. There is added caramel – common practice for entry level blends – but not too much.
The nose is rather soft & light – with just a hint of sooty smoke & sweet grainy vanilla.
A very easy entry on tasting.
Nothing very much in the middle – before that gorgeous smoke influence wafts in and just makes this blend sail!
It’s simple yet well balanced.
None of the up to 40 different – and ever changing – single malt & grain ingredients dominate.
The particular bottle I sampled is from Berry Bros & Rudd and presented at 43%.
The brand has since passed through the Edrington Group & subsequently been acquired by French group La Martiniquaise-Bardinet.
It’s a lovely easy drinking yet suitably smoky blend that certainly floats my boat!
It’s been well over a year since I first went out to purchase this whisky.
The idea of a budget supermarket branded single malt appealed to me. I had to find out for myself what it tasted like.
Inadvertently I walked into the wrong German supermarket store and came out with Aldi’s Glen Marnoch instead.
Now in this segment of the market you have to accept chill filtering & added caramel. There is no provenance – nor terroir. There isn’t even a Glen Marnoch or Ben Bracken distillery – let alone an actual physical Ben or Glen of the same name to visit. You get what you pay for – entry level single malt.
The Glen Marnoch Islay was fine – a decent hit of peat over a rather hefty dose of caramel.
I’d actually stopped looking for Ben Bracken.
It’s reach didn’t seem to make it across the Irish Sea – and there were far more entertaining bottles to bring back from the UK.
But when it appeared in my local Lidl store in Athlone – I couldn’t really give it a miss. If only to show no favouritism towards either store.
To kick off with there’s that dark ruby mahogany shade of added caramel – but on nosing – a refreshingly clean & clear smack of peat smoke greeted me.
I found it very inviting.
The initial taste was rather soft, watery & almost insipid – but then a big waft of peat just blows in and makes it sort of alright!
My peat baby is coming back to me!
The experience left a softly drying ashiness. Like a warm & cosy seaside fire rolling around on my palate.
I’d rate this higher than Glen Marnoch.
The caramel quota isn’t as pronounced – which allows a more powerful & peaty punch to shine through.
There isn’t much else.
It’s rather one dimensional.
But if like me you enjoy a smack of smoke in your glass.
2nd on the list was any locally based Irish whiskey brands – but there weren’t any – as I found out in my recent blog here.
3rd on the list and last pickings were locally based Scotch brands – there were LOADS of them!
Have you ever wondered why only half of the 130 or so Scottish Whisky Distilleries have visitors centres?
The others are so busy pumping out liquid to 3rd party blenders, bottlers & spirits wholesalers throughout the world to bother with tourists.
Liquid like what I found in The Charles House Blended Scotch Whisky.
Now I must admit most of this market is entry level stuff. It usually means they are blends augmented with added caramel – which I can detect & dislike – as well as being chill filtered. There is no pretence to provenance or terroir – in fact there is very little to go on even on the label.
But I don’t drink whisky based on what the label does or doesn’t say.
I drink whisky because I enjoy it.
And I certainly enjoyed Charles House.
When poured into the glass the colour was relatively light – there was caramel on the nose – but not overpowering – and a lovely burnt note which drew me in.
Soft, smooth & slightly sweet grain on the palate – mellow enough as befits an entry level blend – but what’s this coming through?
My mouth began to dry out leaving a prickly tingling on the tongue with a lovely soft ashiness.
Aha! I detect a bit of peat influence in this.
The peat adds a bit of bite – some lovely smoky flavours – and just raises the tasting experience up a notch or two.
It brought a smile to my face.
Sorry Run – I’d much rather go back to Charles House.
It breaks with conventional wisdom as to what an Irish Whiskey should be.
To begin with it’s double distilled.
There never was – isn’t – and hopefully never will be – a rule that states all Irish Whiskey must be triple distilled.
And it’s peated.
Again – no rules to say it can’t be.
Considering Locke’s Distillery – which is the former name of Kilbeggan Distillery – has been making whiskey in the Irish Midlands town of Kilbeggan from 1757. A town that happens to sit beside the Bog Of Allen – the biggest bogland in Ireland – and a ready source of turf – or peat. It’s inconceivable some of that fuel on-the-doorstep wasn’t used in the whiskey making process in times past.
The addition of a small percentage of peat malted barley – around 10% – lifts the spirit in the bottle with extra flavours & complexity.
There’s a slight whiff of smoke on the nose.
The smooth fruity palate has added bite & depth from the peat element.
Whilst a bit of spicy dryness at the end is most welcome.
Locke’s 8 Year Old Single Malt is always one of those standard easy drinking malts I’m pleased to see.
It also happens to be on special offer in Aldi right now. (November 2018.)
So if you haven’t had the pleasure of encountering this one before – now’s your chance!
It’s not an order of flatpack furniture from Swedish retail giant IKEA.
It’s 3 quality whiskies from 2 of Sweden’s growing whisky distillery scene.
The samples arrived on my doorstep courtesy of Irish Drams blog here.
I’ve previously enjoyed a Mackmyra before – Edition 1 to be precise – so I was looking forward to more delightful flavours from these sample jars.
Box I haven’t had the pleasure of tasting before – nor will do in the future as the distillery has been renamed as High Coast Distillery after a legal dispute with Scottish whisky bottlers Compass Box. The sample before me was bottled as Box however – and I’m reassured the liquid will remain the same in the new livery.
Pity they didn’t call themselves Hygge – as I got a lovely warm & cosy feeling after drinking their Single Malt 2nd Step Collection 03.
At 51.3% it’s both strong flavoured yet delicate at the same time. A lovely dry ashiness permeated throughout the spice rich taste. Fabulous.
I may have tried the samples in the wrong order – as the Mackmyra Svensk Ek – Swedish Oak – failed to ignite my tastebuds as instantaneously.
At 46.1% it’s possessed of more subtle & smoother notes with a gentle spiciness mixed in – it may have been overpowered by the Box. One to savour at a later date.
What wasn’t overpowered was the Mackmyra Reserve Single Cask.
At 58.2% this was Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy!
Just my kinda whisky!
It said peated bourbon cask on the label. Yet I got ash.
Damp ash in a Swedish forest after a smorgasbord of barbecued meats and fish from the night before.
The wonderfully oily beginning assaulted the palate with flavours dancing all over the place before drying out into a fantastically ash laden & long lasting finish.
If it possibly could have gotten any heavier – I’d have cut it up into chunks.
Now you could go onto both Mackmyra & Box websites to read up all about the transparency, terroir & provenace of these whiskies – but when they taste this good – it’s only icing on the cake.
I’m happy to let my tastebuds tell me all I need to know.
Living in the Heart of Ireland next door to the Bog of Allen – the largest peat bog in Ireland covering 950 square kms across 9 counties – I just had to try out this Irish Single Malt from Berry Bros & Rudd.
It celebrates the rich cultural & historical ties Ireland has with these boglands on my doorstep. During the seasons I can smell the burning turf from chimneys on my street, I can see the sods of turf drying in ricks from the motorway as well as a steady stream of tractors & trailers bringing it back home from the bog before the winter sets in.
There are 2 peat – or turf as it is called in Ireland – fired power stations within an hour of my house. A local politician was elected to office on the back of a Turf Cutter’s Association protest over restrictions to bog cutting.
Bogs are the very DNA of Midlands Ireland.
There were 2 whiskey distilleries in Athlone. 2 each in Tullamore, Kilbeggan and Banagher. Birr had up to 4 working distilleries. All within a 30 mile radius and all surrounding the bog with it’s readily available fuel source.
Turf would have been used in the whiskey making process – either to directly fire the stills and/ or to dry the malted barley – thus influencing the character & taste profile of that whiskey.
By the mid 20th century – all of those distilleries closed. Only one kept it’s licence – Kilbeggan – and is now back in production after John Teeling & others started the Cooley Distillery back in 1987.
Cooley Distillery reintroduced peat into the Irish whiskey scene with it’s own Connemara range – as well as many third party bottlings.
Sadly by that time – there were no maltsters producing Irish turf dried barley – nor used Irish turf barrels at hand. All who previously did so were long gone. Such raw materials had to be imported from abroad – usually Scotland.
Craoi na Mona is one such reintroduction.
On the nose there is only a slight welcome waft of smoke on the soft sweet & fruity barley malt.
It’s on tasting a warm roaring turf fire becomes apparent, perfectly balanced by softer fresh fruity notes which start off slightly oily before drifting into a prickly dry sensation.
The smoke lingered like a softly glowing fire at home after an evenings entertainment.
This is a delightfully fresh & almost youthful expression that pleased me no end. I could have stayed all day to embrace it’s charms.
It’s a pity it takes an outside independent bottler to salute the history & tradition of turf cutting in Ireland – but it’s one I’m glad to see.
I just can’t wait for a bottle of Irish whiskey made using Irish turf. Due to the different species of plant that make up that turf – the resultant taste profile will not be the same as Scottish peat – nor Tasmanian peat for that matter – as I found out when I visited that wonderful island here. It’s what’s called ‘terroir’ – and has sadly been missing for a while. Thankfully Nephin Whiskey in Mayo are planning to malt Irish barley with Irish peat as their inaugural release.
Craoi na Mona has been out for a number of years in various expressions. It’s not commonly encountered. But if you do come across it – go for it!