Category Archives: Scottish Whisky

Pittenweem Arts Festival, Whiskey & Beer, Fife.

We’ve been coming to the Pittenweem Arts Festival for well over a decade. We being Mrs Whiskey & myself.

It holds a certain draw for the both of us ever since we stumbled upon the event whilst up visiting friends & family.

Nestled as it is in the picturesque & historic fishing village of Pittenweem in the East Neuk Of Fife about an hours drive from Edinburgh – which is visible on a good day across the Firth Of Forth from the harbour walls.

Strolling through the numerous venues my eye was drawn by all the whiskey & beer connections within the varied art on display. Scotland after all is the world’s top whisky producing nation as well as having some fine beers.

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Ovenstone109 c/othewhiskeynut

A new venue for the festival opened this year just a short drive up the road from the village in a place called Ovenstone. Formerly a tractor showroom, the space is now the home to Ovenstone 109 Brewery – the East Neuk’s newest craft brewery!

For the duration of the festival there was a rich diversity of art on display – paintings, jewelry, sculpture & for my delight – craft beer. Well isn’t brewing an art?

I got chatting to Nick – the man behind the brewery – and the video above – and sampled his dark IPA beer. Now I have to admit IPA isn’t my style – but it was crisp, fresh & hoppy & went down well. It was so fresh it hadn’t even been bottled or canned such was the rush to get it out for the festival. I certainly look forward to developments in the years to come.

Back in Pittenweem itself we made our way to the harbour area & the always amusing and entertainingly attractive ceramic designs of Craig Mitchell. One of his pieces caught my eye.

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Scooter still? c/othewhiskeynut

I’ve seen some micro distilleries in my time – but this one perched on the back of a scooter definitely takes it to a different level.

Just don’t drink & drive kids. It’s not big & it’s not clever – ceramic man might fall to pieces!

A little further along the shore Susan McGill had a stunning larger than life modern interpretation of the popular Oor Wullie cartoon character.

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Oor Wullie c/othewhiskeynut

I just had to go in for a closer look!

Some of the intricate design work seemed familiar – then it dawned on me – that lovely bottle of dark, malty & heavy Scotch Ale I had the other night from the St Andrews Brewing Co?

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Eighty Bob c/othewhiskeynut

Not only does Susan do the artwork for the brewery’s lovely range of beers – she has also collaborated with independent whisky bottlers D R Scotch Whisky to release Ae Fond Kiss. A whisky celebrating the writings of Scotland’s favourite national poet – Rabbie Burns.

And if you were in the market for some glasses to drink that whisky with – glass blower Elin Isaksson just happened to have a pair of hand blown chunky whisky glasses for the job. As well as her own whisky pairing to boot!

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Fill ’em up! c/othewhiskeynut

I didn’t indulge on this occasion – but all this art was making me thirsty. So we repaired to the nearby West End Bar for a display of the art of distillation!

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West End Bar whisky shelves c/othewhiskeynut

Bowmore 12 won out in this contest.

I was expecting a peatier punch from this Islay single malt. What I got was a smooth, lightly smoky, sweetly sherried approachable dram. More of a kiss from Bowmore!

If you haven’t been to the Pittenweem Arts Festival before – do visit.

You won’t be disappointed!

Sláinte.

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Cow at top by Kev Paxton!

 

 

 

Grant’s Sherry Cask Reserve, Blend, 40%

From an own label,

To a branded product.

William Grant & Sons have a long history & tradition of whiskey making.

They also own Tullamore DEW.

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Grant’s Sherry Cask Reserve c/othewhiskeynut

The distinctive triangular bottle shape of their blended range is probably more appealing than the contents.

It’s soft, sweet from the sherry cask plus added caramel & lacks any clarity or distinctive flavour.

It’s a big seller.

Just not in my happy house.

Sláinte.

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Caribou, Wood Quay, Galway

Choose one of the following.

1 – Caribou, a four legged animal prone to herding during annual migrations across it’s North American range. Mainly eats lichens.

2 – Caribou, a recently opened bar in the Wood Quay area of Galway that stocks an amazing array of craft beers, gins & whiskeys.

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A wall of whiskey, beer & gin c/othewhiskeynut

Pick your poison.

a) Craft Beer as in Commotion Lotion.

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Commotion Lotion c/oL.Phelan

A delightfully fruity easy summer drinking lager from the Wexford based Yellow Belly Beer in collaboration with pop punksters King Kong Company.

b) Whisky as in Scapa Skiren.

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Scapa Skiren c/othewhiskeynut

A sweet, smooth honey laden single malt from the Orkney Islands in the far north of Scotland.

Throw in a hard working yet friendly & informative bar crew.

Fill with an eclectic mix of;

i – Herds of bearded hipsters gathering – like the aforementioned Caribou – to graze on the amber nectar of craft beers along with their tattooed love birds.

ii – Whiskey geeks discussing the merits of non-chilled filtration & the de-merits of added caramel whilst sniffing, nosing & actually getting round to drinking the expressions before them!

iii – Music fans chilling out to the funky tunes played on the sound system contrasting the perfectly professional yet perfunctory performance of Radiohead at Glastonbury with the wild youthful exuberance of Otherkin at Slane.

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Bar & menu c/othewhiskeynut

Finish with a solid wooden bar filled with craft beer taps, comfortable tables, chairs & the odd sofa to relax in, board games to play with & a lovely floral display outside.

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Choose yer poison. c/othewhiskeynut

I choose Caribou – the bar.

I choose to sample both poisons – and more from an excellent range.

I choose to go back after my first visit on the ‘Hit The North‘ whiskey distillery tour.

I choose to be that whiskey geek accompanied by the music maestro enjoying the best Caribou has to offer.

I choose life.

I choose ceol agus craic.

What would you choose?

Sláinte

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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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