Category Archives: Scottish Whisky

Glen Marnoch, Islay Single Malt, 40%

I went looking for the much publicised Ben Bracken trio of single malts recently released by Lidl – but inadvertently walked into Aldi instead!

What confronted me were not only 3 single malts – Islay, Highland & Speyside – but also a 12 Year Old Speyside as well as 2 double casks –  one sherry finish & the other bourbon – all below £20.

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Aldi own brand whisky c/othewhiskynut

As I’m a fan of bolder flavours I went straight for the Islay Single Malt  to sample.

For the price – I wasn’t disappointed.

The nose was a pleasing mixture of Islay peat & muted caramelised vanilla notes.

For this category & price point, my assumed position is that caramel is added. You only need to look at some of the promotional photos of the different malts showing identical shades of golden brown for confirmation.

The taste was a bit of a non event. Soft, sweet, slightly watery & muted no doubt by that caramel – but after swirling it around in the mouth for a while, a rich peaty smoke surfaced into a pleasingly warming burn on swallowing which proceeded to develop a lovely long afterglow.

A very inoffensive easy sipping entry level malt whisky at an affordable price with just enough character to make it interesting.

I’m not sure which markets it will surface in the pan-european Aldi store area – but it will certainly fly off the shelves. It makes a decent everyday single malt for the drinks cabinet.

For good measure I compared it to another store brand offering. This time from the Co-operative Group.

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Co-op Pure Malt c/othewhiskeynut

The 8 Year Old Pure Malt is a blend of,

‘carefully selected choice malt whiskies from the Highlands Islands and Lowlands of Scotland.’

so says the label.

The same label doesn’t say caramel is added – but it has that same cloying mouthfeel which dulls any freshness or sharpness in the flavours on tasting. There was a little smoke – but not enough to rise above the morass of caramel & vanilla smoothness.

A rather muted dram in comparison to the smoky punch of Islay peat.

Sláinte.

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Kingsbarns Distillery, Fife, Scotland.

I happened to be in Scotland over the Bank Holiday weekend & used the opportunity to visit a whisky distillery.

Kingsbarns Distillery is the dream of local lad Douglas Clement who was frequently asked during his golfing caddie days if there was a local whisky distillery to visit.

At the time Fife – despite being the spiritual home of golf as represented by the St Andrew’s Links Course – as well as the spiritual home of Scotch whisky – well, at least the earliest written record as represented by the ‘8 bolls of malt‘ ordered in 1494 from nearby Lindores Abbey – had no whisky distilleries.

Well at least no sexy & sleek single malt distilleries.

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Cameronbridge Distillery c/othewhiskeynut

Because in Cameronbridge Distillery – which happens to be the largest in Europe – I would argue Fife has the spiritual home of blended whisky.

Originally founded in 1824 as the Haig Distillery, it used the newfangled invention called the continuous still – as designed by Stein & later improved upon by Irishman Coffey – to produce gazillions of gallons of grain whisky. This heralded in the rise of blended whisky which underpins & fuels the wealth of the whisky industry today.

Cameronbridge still produces gazillions of gallons of grain whisky to this day, but like most giant grain distilleries with their industrial style of production, it is out of bounds for whisky tourists.

Kingsbarns Distillery is definitely not out of bounds.

It’s whole premise in fact could be interpreted as a visitors attraction that happens to produce whisky.

It’s early days for that whisky yet however.

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The 1st cask c/othewhiskeynut

Only opened in November 2014 with the first barrel of new make being filled & registered in March 2015 – it can only legally be called whisky in March 2018.

In the meantime there is a lovely delightful Spirit Drink to sample as part of the very informative & enjoyable tour.

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B-raw spirit indeed! c/othewhiskeynut

Bottled at 63.5% this fresh, bright & clear raw whisky certainly exploded in my mouth with the high alcohol content. Yet it retained some subtle soft sweet barley notes which hinted at good things to come. Adding a drop of water only diluted the overall experience and I preferred the raw energy of the full strength offering.

All the barley used is grown locally with the water being sourced in an aquifer deep underground below the sandstone rock underneath the distillery itself.

Wemyss Malts – a long established & respected family of independent whisky bottlers & blenders also hailing from Fife – or should that be fae Fife? – are also behind the distillery. An eclectic array of their blended malts and single cask expressions are on display in the visitors entrance area.

Talking about Fay Fife – here she is singing her classic hit Top Of The Pops!

As part of the tour I sampled the Kiln Embers blended malt at 46%. A pretty little sweet smoke of a whisky.

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Kiln Embers c/othewhiskeynut

I also bought a couple of age statement Peat Chimney miniatures – airport restriction friendly – for later enjoyment back in Ireland.

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A pair of peat c/othewhiskeynut

The Kingsbarns Single Malt however – when it is fully matured – will be a softer, fruity & floral bourbon cask aged single malt. Fife after all has no peat banks but is awash with lush fields of barley & fecund banks of wild flowers & shrubs which attract a rich bio-diversity of wildlife.

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Used Bourbon Cask waiting filling c/othewhiskeynut

Even while sitting outside the well presented cafe – enjoying some locally sourced & produced fare – I was gently serenaded by Skylarks singing high in the sky above me accompanied by Pheasants rooting around in the hedgerows below.

As a visitors attraction Kingsbarns excels.

The long drive into the historic & carefully restored building from the main A917 road well serviced by the St Andrews to Leven 95 bus route. Views of the verdant countryside with the blue sea glimmering closeby. Friendly attentive uniformed staff both in the well appointed cafe & distillery. A highly informative tour that encompassed the history, geology, sights, sounds & smells of both Fife – as well as the process of whisky making itself.

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Aromatic display c/othewhiskeynut

I even surprised myself by correctly identifying a few of the interactive ‘aromatic world’ samples!

Along with some beautiful whisky.

What’s not to like?

Fife is also fast becoming a whisky tourist destination in it’s own right with up to 6 whisky distilleries either currently up and running as in Cameronbridge, Kingsbarns, Daftmill & Eden Mill – or yet to be completed as in Lindores Distillery & Inchdairnie.

A world of whisky awaits!

Sláinte

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Shackleton, Blended Malt, 40%

If this whisky was branded with an own label supermarket store logo at an attractive price I’d have been happy.

The nose was suitably soft – a slight hint of smoke being the only noticeable element.

The taste had that cloying caramel feel – common among entry level expressions – but was relatively inoffensive & pleasant.

Whilst the finish gave a soft warming kick that lasted a decent amount of time.

Overall – no real surprises here – a perfectly ordinary everyday whisky.

But this is no own label.

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Shacklton Whisky backstory c/othewhiskeynut

It’s attractively packaged & presented with the wonderfully adventurous back story of Shackleton & his Antarctic exploits. The tale of how his bunch of hardy men brought Mackinlay’s Old Highland Malt with them to fortify their spirits against the freezing temperatures & biting gales. About how some of the bottles were left behind in the abandoned hut for over 100 years in the permafrost only to be rediscovered, re-engineered & recreated by the brand owners Whyte & Mackay today in this current bottling.

All fabulous stuff.

It’s just a pity the actual whisky inside the bottle doesn’t quite match up to the heroic struggles those early explorers faced on the ice-fields.

An earlier recreation of those bottles certainly had character & robustness that made you feel by drinking it you were somehow part of Shackleton’s crew. Bottled at 47.5% the 2nd edition was presented in an elaborate package including maps & photographs of the 1907 expedition and even a retro designed bottle to match the original. Now that was a whisky to sink your teeth into.

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Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt c/othewhiskeynut

This current 40% rendition is sadly lacking.

It’s no better – or worse – than an own label brand & I was expecting something – well – more.

My only consolation is that a donation from every bottle sold goes towards the Antarctic Heritage Trust to preserve Shackleton’s Hut & encourage further exploration and adventure.

For those that would like to know more about Irish born Ernest Shackleton & his adventures, I’d recommend the Athy Heritage Centre – Museum. Located only a few miles from Shackleton’s birthplace in Kilkea House, Kildare, the museum houses the only permanent exhibition to Shackleton & shows many original artefacts, photos, cine & even an empty bottle of the recreated whisky found at the 1907 hut in the Antarctic.

Sláinte.

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Irish Whiskey – Which Way Forward?

Writing a blog about the future of Irish Whiskey with a headline photo of a trio of Scottish Single Malts released by the supermarket chain Lidl may seem a little askew – but it highlights an issue pertinent to the current Irish Whiskey industry.

Imagine I’m a supermarket chain of similar standing.

I want some Irish Whiskey.

Perhaps a single pot still, a single malt & a single grain to show off what Ireland has to offer.

I have the branding ready to go.

I have the bottling plant primed.

I have the customers.

Can Irish Whiskey deliver – like yesterday – to capitalise on the Scottish release?

Thoughts welcome.

Sláinte

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Bruichladdich Octomore 10 Year Old, 2016 2nd Ltd Release, Single Malt, 57.3%

Octomore is my kind of whisky.

Big, bad, peaty & powerful.

And like the Steve Aoki song – I felt The Power Of Now.

At 57.3% it fills the mouth with an explosion of smoke sparked off by some surprisingly sweet notes & tasty flavours.

At first I suspected added caramel but no! Bruichladdich are emphatically against such practices. All the flavour results from the maturation in wooden barrels – in this instance ex-bourbon & French wine casks – hence the sweet notes to start with contrasting beautifully with the powerful – 167ppm – peat hit later into the fabulous tasting experience.

A stupendous dram!

Not all my fellow Whisky Birmingham attendees agreed.

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Port Charlotte 10, 2nd Edition c/othewhiskeynut

One preferred the Port Charlotte 10 Year Old 2nd Ltd Edition at only 50% & 40ppm. which I must admit I found harsher than the Octomore.

We agreed to differ on our findings,

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Sláinte! c/othewhiskeynut

But united on our love of whisky!

Sláinte.

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Gainsborough Bar, Derry & A Trio Of Peat

Despite doing a quick internet search before venturing up to Derry – I’d failed to uncover anything that got close to my definition of a Whiskey Bar as described in my blog here.

That’s not to say Derry doesn’t have some lovely bars that happen to sell whiskey.

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Gainsborough Bar c/othewhiskeynut

An attractive looking corner bar with decorative windows caught our eyes off the Guidhall Square – so we went in.

A fairly simple open square space adorned with nick-nacks & packed with friendly customers greeted us. I happily spotted a selection of Scottish malts to try & started out with a Talisker Skye.

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Scottish Malts c/othewhiskeynut

Being an NAS – non age statement – brother of the 10 Year Old I wondered if it would hold up to the bold peat I’d experienced and enjoyed with the aged expression.

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Talisker Skye c/othewhiskeynut

The peat certainly still satisfied – but a soft sweet note at the start tamed down the overall experience which left me preferring the 10 Year Old.

A collection of colourful characters inhabited the bar and we enjoyed the jovial comings & goings as well as the friendly banter that ensued.

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Inside Gainsborough c/othewhiskeynut

I spotted a Laphroaig Lore on the shelf & went for it.

This is another NAS release from a big peat hitter finished in Oloroso casks in this instance.

Again I found the peat hit had been softened by this finish to  a more soft & mellow smoke which gave it a more rounded & complex taste than the benchmark Laphroaig 10.

2 – nil to the age statements.

Mentioning there was a Wetherspoon pub near to our hotel we decided to have a last one there for the evening.

Now I frequented many a ‘Spoons’ bar when I lived in London and their dedication to craft beer & ales is certainly well received – but there were only a few whiskeys on offer.

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Soft peat from Jura c/othewhiskeynut

A Jura 10 Origin neatly provided a peated trio for the evening.

Oh dear!

Yes there was still peat – but the dominant note of vanilla sweetness let me down.

Big, bad & bold is what I was looking for – but all I got was soft, smooth & sweet.

A bit too much added caramel I think.

A bit like Girls Aloud’s Nadine Coyle who hails from Derry

Interestingly both Talisker & Laphroaig add caramel too – which would explain the sweet notes I detected. I just don’t understand why they have to do this with single malts. The sweet notes turned me off all 3 expressions.

But when it comes to your age statements versus NAS – Jura came bottom of the list.

The Talisker Skye came out tops – even although I’d prefer the 10 Year Old.

I generally don’t look down on an NAS bottling – but I’m increasingly looking down on added caramel – the proof of the pudding is in the eating however. All 3 of these whiskies tasted overly sweet to me – the Jura decidedly so – which was more of a deciding factor rather than the NAS or age statement issue.

Meanwhile the more variety of styles, tastes, finishes and ages – or not – out there the better in my book.

By trying them all out you begin to appreciate the differences & start to hone down your own particular style.

If you find a whiskey you like – embrace it – regardless of what others say.

We are all individuals with our own taste preferences and idiosyncracies – much like the whiskeys we drink.

Sláinte.

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The Rumble For Rye! PrizeFight Irish Whiskey vs Johnnie Walker Rye Cask

Ding ding ding ding ding ding ding!

Y’all ready for this?

Welcome to tonites fight!

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PrizeFight c/othewhiskeynut

In the Green corner we have Irish newcomer PrizeFight weighing in at 43%. An NAS – non aged statement – blended Irish whiskey finished in rye casks from Tamworth Distilling, produced at West Cork Distillers for Pugilist Ltd.

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Johnnie Walker Rye c/othewhiskeynut

In the Blue corner is heavyweight Diageo’s well known Johnnie Walker brand with their Rye Cask blended release at 46% with a 10 years old age statement.

Round 1

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PrizeFight jumps straight out and lands a powerful punch which wounds the Johnnie Walker Rye.

The rich dry rye spice nose of PrizeFight is simply bolder than the muted soft notes of JW Rye.

Round 2

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JW Rye is showing flabbiness with excessive caramel & sweet grain taking the edge of that rye kick.

PrizeFight lands one after another with it’s leaner, cleaner & crisper rye punchiness!

Round 3

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It’s all over now!

PrizeFight delivers a knockout blow with a lovely rich dry spiciness that just goes on and on.

JW Rye retreats to it’s corner – unable to match the youthful invigorating power of PrizeFight.

Three cheers for the Green corner!

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Sheep Dip, Blended Malt, 40%

Sheep Dip.

A liquid formulation of insecticide & fungicide used to protect sheep from parasitic infestation.

Not something you’d want to drink then.

Unless it’s a whisky.

And you’re attracted by the bold name & proud ram emblazoned on the label.

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Sheep Dip c/othewhiskeynut

Like I was.

Sheep Dip is produced for The Spencerfild Spirits Company.

It has a very satisfying rich malty feel denoting a blended malt composition – no grain content here.

Pig’s Nose is it’s stablemate.

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Pig’s Nose c/othewhiskeynut

The malty notes are tamed down on tasting by the sweet grain used in this pleasant blend.

Ian MacLeod Distillers have recently acquired The Spencerfield Spirit Company and – like all new ventures – there is a revamp.

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The new labels c/othespiritsbusiness

Sheep Dip & Pig’s Nose have shiny new labels.

As the World Whiskies Awards have a category for label design – I feel it worthy to comment – regardless if the content remains the same – which I believe it is.

The proud ram of Sheep Dip – the very emblem that sparked my initial attraction – is now more muted.

Meanwhile the pig for Pig’s Nose has taken on a rather snooty posture – very reminiscent of George Orwell’s Animal Farm character Napoleon.

There’s a current world leader that also has Napoleonic tendencies.

Doublespeak, fake news & vanity.

I’d recommend a re-read of Animal Farm – along with a bottle of Sheep Dip.

The combination of an enjoyable whisky together with a very prescient book is just what the doctor ordered.

Slàinte.

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Tanyard Lane, Tullamore

I got a little tip-off there was a new kid in town.

The town is Tullamore.

The new kid is the Tanyard Lane bar on William Street.

Housed in the old Wolftrap building, Carrig Brewing Company have moved into running licensed premises in addition to craft beer brewing from their Leitrim base.

Mrs Whiskey and myself had an opportunity to call in on a Sunday evening for a night-cap.

The premises are large and roomy & spread out over 3 main areas.

A smallish snug area on the front left, a large lounge bar with dining area on the right with an attractive walled bar at the rear.

There is an extensive food menu, a large outside smoking area behind the snug, all equipped with a modern sound system & large sports screens which were thankfully turned down low when we visited.

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Tanyard whiskey shelf c/othewhiskeynut

Carrig craft beers were obviously to the fore. but a decent array of other beer brands featured too, along with an impressive display of gins, wines and over 40 whiskeys to choose from.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult for me to walk into a bar & find a whiskey I’ve not tasted before. Tanyard Lane had a couple of Knappogue Castles to tempt me – but I settled on an Ardbeg 10 year old for a base-line Islay peat hit.

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Ardbeg 10 c/othewhiskeynut

At 46% & non chill filtered – as most Ardbeg releases are these days – I found the familiar satisfying peat hit to be the only show in town. Maybe I was expecting more from this award winning dram? In contrast, my earlier experience of the non age statement Uigeadail release sang to me on many levels & had a longer finish. It left the 10 year old rather one dimensional in my book.

The bar staff were very friendly & helpful and I got chatting with the bar manager Con who was keen to expand on his whiskey selection – which was music to my ears.

The walls were well adorned with pictures of old Tullamore, whiskey mirrors and old drinks adverts.

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Kinahan’s ad c/othewhiskeynut

Kinahan’s made an appearance, along with a Three Swallow ad for Powers and a blatantly sexist ad from Old Dublin Whiskey which you’ll have to visit to see as I refuse to reprint it here.

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Three Swallow c/othewhiskeynut

Whiskey drinking is for both men and women.

Thankfully both were well representing drinking & eating at Tanyard Lane.

A welcome addition to the Tullamore pub scene.

I wish Con & all the crew future success.

Sláinte.

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Beinn Dubh Flying Scotsman Single Malt, 43%

I’m not normally a fan of added caramel.

But if you are going to use it – do it with style.

This Beinn Dubh Flying Scotsman release makes no bones about the added caramel.

To get a whisky this dark by wood alone – even if heavily charred port casks are used – is pretty difficult without E150 – yet the Flying Scotsman is a very pleasing dram.

Yes it’s sweet – but not beyond the usual parameters – and there’s a lovely rich flavoured malt coming through on the taste & finish.

A novelty whisky befitting the panache of the famous steam engine it’s named after.

Sláinte.

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