It’s not everyday you get a whisky sample sent through the post – especially one as outstanding as Highland Rye Single Grain Whisky from Arbikie Distillery in Arbroath, Scotland.
To begin with, this is a farm to bottle operation.
The grains used – barley, rye & wheat in this instance – are grown in the fields around the distillery.
There is also no chill filtration nor added colouring to mute the fabulous flavours within.
And it’s a rye.
The first for many a year Scotland has produced.
Rye at one stage was a common grain used in a mixed mashbill distillation by both Scottish and Irish distillers as testified by a certain Mr Jameson at the 1909 ‘What is Whisky’ enquiry.
It happens to be a grain I’m very attracted to.
It adds a bit of bite, a dash of dry peppery spice, a certain boldness, a touch of character and a degree of complexity to any whiskey.
Rye has no legal definition in either Scotland nor Ireland. Yet in America – often seen as the home of rye – it must have a mashbill content of at least 51% rye to gain the title – which this Highland Rye does.
So what’s it like to drink?
The nose captures the classic dry peppery spice augmented by elements of cherry sweetness from the PX cask finish.
The barley & wheat bring a silky smoothness to begin with, coating the palate in a warm snug of dark fruitiness before the rye makes itself known.
The palate gradually dries off into a wonderfully prickly peppery spice with hints of cherries dancing around on the enjoyably long finish.
The PX finish adds another layer of depth & complexity to this rye.
On a back to back tasting with its 2 year old sibling – which I purchased on first hearing Scotland had produced a rye – the youthful exuberance & freshness resulted in a cleaner, more classic peppery spice experience balanced with a barley smoothness.
The PX finish of the 3 year old – which is still a relatively unusual style of rye even in America – boosts that joyful youthfulness with richer, darker elements.
Arbroath – more famous for stovies & smokies – can now add rye to the culinary & quaffable delights on offer.
My thanks to all at Arbikie for the opportunity to taste this gorgeous rye whisky.
Their sourced 12 Year Old Single Malt – ahead of their own distillate maturing – captured me with it’s bold yet clean design & cool bottle.
The liquid inside didn’t disappoint either.
A warm smooth & inviting start with a slight smoky hint of charred casks developed into a silky mouthfeel which slowly morphed into a gorgeously dry finish.
A great start to the show.
Their Spiced Irish Rum also tempted me.
The Guatemalan sugar cane mollasses are imported into Ireland, fermented, distilled & matured by Black’s to produce an Irish Rum.
Now rum isn’t my speciality – but this had an invitingly pungent nose of earthiness, smokiness, sweetness & spice. The taste followed in this style & was a far more entertaining tipple than I expected.
Thumbs up all round for Black’s entry into the distilled spirits market.
Rye River Brewing happened to be nearby with their ever enthusiastic beer ambassador Simon. Now we happen to know each other prior to his latest rise to beer fame & he didn’t have to twist my arm too hard to get me sampling a Rye River special brewed for the show.
It also wasn’t difficult to go on a slightly wavering tour of the festival – perhaps taking in more than we would have done individually – but having a great time nonetheless.
A newcomer into the market for Ireland this historic and extremely popular Chinese spirit often catagorised as ‘baijiu‘ is an area I’ve yet to venture into.
Gorgeously garishly attractive – both the bottle, stall design and uniformed – as well as informed – staff had me trying to get my head round the sorghum & wheat base, 9 distillation production technique and new taste sensations.
It has the nose & appearance of a poitin – yet the taste was something else. At 53% it was warm, inviting, softly sweet yet earthy & unusual. I’d have been tempted to buy a bottle to explore further – but on hearing the price – this is a premium product with a premium price tag I was informed – I made do with another sample that still had me yearning for more! One to watch as they say.
Knowing my predilection for darker, heavier beers Simon guided me to Clifden based Bridewell Brewery. Along with their core range a limited edition duo commemorating the historic first flight across the Atlantic by Alcock & Brown resulted in highly enjoyable & very satisfying Navigator Transatlantic Brown. The Pilot Amber Ale of Alcock wasn’t too bad either!
Yes, yes and yes! – is all I can say. Suits me sir!
A few other beers were had – some enjoyable – others not so – before Simon went back to work – and I back to whiskey – Pearse Lyons Whiskey to be precise.
Now I thought I had a reasonable handle on the fast moving Irish Whiskey Scene – obviously not when confronted by three age statemented Pearse Lyons offerings!
Turns out the original core range of 4 has been revamped, rerecipied & rebranded!
Gone are the non age statements, chunky bottles & keyhole like labels – in is a sleeker, leaner shared brand identity with a slightly higher 43% ABV. Also gone is the Cooper’s Select – grab it while you can!
The names & colours remain the same – with Original now a 5yo & Distiller’s Choice a 7yo. Founder’s Reserve was already a 12yo.
Short of a back to back comparison with the old 42% versions I couldn’t discern what changes have taken place. It was admitted the Original had lost a little of it’s smoky character from the former Alltech Lexington Brewery & Distillery barrels. It also looks as if that facilities output has also had a rebrand – but I failed to make the Town Branch stall this time.
The newly rebranded Pearse Lyons trio all still taste very appealing & are attractively priced – yet I was somewhat surprised by the revamp – so much so I needed a break – and a pie – to recompose myself!
Pieman continue to be a favourite festival pie provider of mine. A roast chicken & sausage stuffing pie sated my hunger & calmed me down for the final push. It also allowed some entertaining chats & discussions with fellow attendees on the shared table spaces dotted around the hall. Hats off to the Tempted ciderist who won Best In Show for their gorgeously dry & balanced Tempted Strawberry Cider & explained the intricacies of the trade to me over our meal.
Conscious that time was limited to make the last train home – I found another barrel aged beer to sample at the Clocked Out stall.
Brett yeast seems to be a growing trend in craft brewing but I’m still not sure of the sour & funky taste even with this fine barrel aged stout. I did manage a quick catch up with the ever energetic Mr Guilfoyle whose rise in beer has been a pleasure to witness.
Scottish punk drink empire’s BrewDog stand earned a final visit. I knew they had a sourced whisky lurking under the counter waiting to celebrate Scotland’s win over England in the Six Nations which ultimately went to a draw.
Uncle Duke’s is a Cameron Bridge sourced single grain with American virgin oak maturation, no chill filtration & natural colour. Rich, warm & inviting with a lovely dry spiciness showing through the soft & smooth delivery.
A proud testament to the enduring legacy of Irishman Aeneas Coffey whose continuous still was adopted by Cameron Bridge back in the 1830’s – and is still going strong today – in a larger modern version – with wonderful results like this.
And with that it was all over for me – despite the growing crowds still entering to enjoy the evenings entertainment.
All I was looking forward to now was that hot cup of tea on the train home!
I was supposed to be revising for an exam – but the Teeling Small Batch on the Aer Lingus flight only reacquainted myself with this lovely little blend & provided a taster for what was unknowingly to come.
After checking into the city centre hotel – a quick read over the course book – it was out for a wander to visit the Whiskey Jar pub.
The promise of 400+ whiskies to whet my appetite accompanied by a tasty pie for the late Sunday afternoon lunch sounded too good to miss.
On entering I was taken aback!
Gathered in the pub were a clutch of whiskey companies displaying their wares.
A small cover charge – along with a tasting glass – had me at the first stall.
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.
I got fierce excited at last years Whiskey Live Dublin over the opportunity to sample an Irish rye whiskey that was still maturing in Kilbeggan Distillery.
The bottle was filled straight from the cask at over 60% ABV & presented non chill filtered without added caramel.
It was powerful – yet the mashbill of malted & unmalted barley together with a high rye content displayed that wonderful peppery rye spiciness with a smooth & creamy barley influence.
Almost a year on the production bottle has been released in time for Whiskey Live Dublin 2018 – as well as picking up a Gold Medal at the recently held Irish Whiskey Awards.
As a self confessed rye fan I picked up a bottle in the distillery on my return from the highly enjoyable awards evening at Slane Castle.
Now the bottle design is rather muted & understated. There are some lovely tasting notes on the back label – an unexplained handshake logo on the neck – and a nod to the historical inclusion of rye in Irish whiskey making from times past.
I fully welcome the return of rye to the modern Irish whiskey scene.
On the nose it’s very soft, slightly sweet with just a hint of peppery spice that signifies the rye content.
The palate is also very silky & smooth. The barley content dominates the initial experience before that black pepper spiciness – which I love – kicks in to leave a wonderfully drying mouthfeel at the end which slowly fades away.
At 43% & with added caramel – which is found throughout the Kilbeggan range of whiskeys – I couldn’t help feeling some of the spark & vitality of that original cask sample had been lost a little in this more tame offering.
I just had to compare it with the Arbikie Highland Rye released late 2017 in Scotland.
Now this is also a barley/rye mix – but there’s no unmalted barley – and the rye content is higher at 52%. It’s also younger at only 2 years old & has no added caramel or chill filtering. It’s bottled at 46%.
There is more pronounced rye on the nose.
The smoothness & creaminess of the barley belies it’s young age before a joyfully massively drying peppery spice explodes on the palate leaving a fabulously prickly finish.
I’m afraid to say – when it comes to rye – Scotland do it better.
Out and about on my holidays in Southern France I did as many of the locals do and took a day trip into Spain for a spot of shopping, sightseeing, Spanish sausage & chips and a cold San Miguel.
The border is only about an hour away set in the stunning scenery of the Pyrenees mountain range.
Les is the first town you reach on the particular crossing I ventured on. What greets you on the outskirts of town is a car park full of French vehicles taking advantage of the cheaper tax regime on a variety of goods including fuel, tobacco and booze.
I eagerly browsed a couple of shops looking for some Spanish whisky – non was available.
There we’re some interesting American & Scottish offerings however.
How about some Buffalo Bill Bourbon?
Or perhaps William Peel, Black Vulture or even Sir Edward might please your palate?
These are only a few of the locally based brands that are widely obtainable in France or Spain – yet are rarely encountered in the country of origin.
Maybe you’d feel safer with more familiar brands like Jack Daniels, William Lawson’s or Ballantines.
Amidst all this liquid there was only one Irish representative – Jameson.
Where are all the new Irish Brands?
Where are all the locally branded & marketed French based Irish Whiskeys with fancy names like Green Dragon, Seamus Shaughnessey or even Shamrock Sile?
Now I realise this market is more about quantity rather than quality.
There are no pretentions to provenance and terroir is trodden underfoot with trollies laden with 4.5 litre bottles of your favourite whisky bound for a celebratory social occasion or party.
Yet even within this segment there are a variety of styles, tastes and prices.
I know Irish Whiskey is capable of producing a decent tipple at a bargain basement price – Irish Reserve 4 Year Old springs to mind – so why not here?
I have nothing against Jameson – but by my purely anecdotal browsings you’d be forgiven for being unaware of the explosive growth of Irish Whiskeys on the market.
Irish Whiskey is seriously under represented in this segment.
Apart from Jameson – it’s not even in the market.
I was a customer in that market. I bought a Scotch I hadn’t tried before. That’s a missed Irish opportunity.