Well I say French Whisky – as it’s actually mainly Scotch which has been shipped out in bulk to Bordeaux where – under the guidance of master blender John McDougall – it is finished in locally sourced sauternes casks before being bottled & presented non chill filtered at 45.8%.
There is nothing unusual in this. It’s a well trodden path for Scotch to send out loads of bulk whisky to many countries around the world where it is blended – often with locally produced spirits – matured, finished & eventually bottled to the recipients requirements before being released – mainly in the home market.
Many a Scottish distilleries output is destined for such bottlings – and it’s a big market.
It also allows an up and coming whisky brand – like Moon Harbour – to test the waters, hone their skills and develop their brand in the absence of a distillery which they may – or may not build at a later stage.
Moon Harbour seem to have plans for their own distillery in Bordeaux – so this blend looks likely to be a stop gap until they have their own whisky to sell.
Could it emulate the successful football team and win in a World Cup Whisky tournament?
Well – in a back to back with the Bastille Single Malt – I’m afraid Moon Harbour lost out.
It’s certainly packaged in an attractive bottle however – complete with box – has a ruby red hue and displays deep legs.
There wasn’t all that much going on with the nose though. A soft sweet malty biscuit with a hint of grain.
A bit slow to start. The sauternes sweetness swiftly followed by a spirity robustness – quite a nice contrast really.
It left an enjoyable dry prickly heat at the end – but was somewhat lacking in depth of flavour & character. Perhaps the sauternes finish was just too subtle for my tastes.
If it had been presented without ‘Premium’ on the label and at a lower price I might have been OK with the result.
As it was it promised more than it actually delivered.
I do hope Moon Harbour get the distillery going however. I find it entertaining sampling all whiskies – especially new brands with a local twist – and welcome the diversity created by new distilleries.
It’s why I enjoy whisky, and despite not being a football fan, I did get a buzz of excitement watching the cup final on a sunny afternoon in a Parisian hotel garden with congenial company washed down with a whisky or two.
The fastest growing whisky making countries in the world do not include Scotland.
They do include Ireland, Japan and Canada.
So Scotch Whisky chooses to attack these countries in a series of articles and posts across various media platforms.
The common thread in all these articles revolves around the fact these countries manufacture and market their own whiskies in a manner not compliant with Scottish Whisky Association (SWA) rules.
Now I don’t know about you – but I must have missed the meeting when it was decided SWA rules applied worldwide. It shows a complete lack of respect for those countries indigenous rules, customs and practices.
The fact customers are seeking out those countries whisky products obviously means it has nothing to do with the rules – it must be something else.
Whisky from it’s very inception has never been about the rules.
Whisky has a long tradition and rich historical vein of tales involving illicit poitin & moonshine distillation, smugglers avoiding the gaugers on Highland trails and bootlegging during prohibition to name a few. It’s in the very DNA of what whisky is and has shaped the development of the spirit to this day.
Perhaps it’s about the taste?
Perhaps Scotch’s strict adherence to the rules comes at the expense of new and exciting tastes?
Perhaps those customers boosting non-Scotch making expression sales are seeking out those new tastes and the rules are not as important as they are made out to be?
I don’t believe 95% of what is on the label, and I don’t care much about the 5% I do believe. How does it taste and how much does it cost…those two questions make up the simple matrix that is my buying/drinking decision process.
As part of their Father’s Day promotions Aldi have brought to the Irish market the award winning Glen Marnoch range of Single Malt Scotch Whisky.
I’ve tried the Islay expression before here. The peat just managed to break through the caramelly sludge to make it a worthwhile bargain purchase – and the Highland bottle interested me next – but all that was on the shelves of my local Athlone store happened to be the Speyside Single Malt.
Now Speyside whiskies are among the biggest selling single malts in the world. They have universal appeal. They are approachable easy drinking & relatively mild. That equates to a lack of any bold flavours in my book and I wouldn’t be a fan.
With that caveat in mind – what did I find?
Caramel. Lots of it. The dominant note I got reminded me of a corn based blend – yet this is a 100% barley malt. Added caramel – or e150 if you like – is often made with dehydrated corn – so maybe that’s what I’m picking up.
It certainly is soft & approachable – no rough edges here – with a smidgen of fruity notes appearing towards the end. A pleasing warm burn gently caresses the palate on the finish.
For the price – added caramel & chill filtration are the norm – the name of the distillery is also not stated either – you get what you pay for.
Having said that – over in rivals Lidl – the Dundalgan Charred Cask Irish Whiskey sells for the same price.
It’s also soft & approachable. It has a far more warming – even inviting – bourbon vanilla & caramel nose – and packs more flavour too. All this from a blend.
For a fiver more you get the Dundalgan 10 Year Old Single Malt Irish Whiskey.
Compared to the Speyside this is in a different league.
It’s cleaner, crisper, packs more flavour, more fruit & has a far more balanced appeal about it altogether.
Even in the bargain basement range there are enjoyable drinking experiences.
Not something I can say about the Glen Marnoch Speyside.
A good friend brought me back a selection of whiskies from a trip to Lagos recently. I wonder if he flew Afrikan Airlines?
Contained within the group was the delightfully named Best Classic Whisky.
Best is actually a bit of a misnomer. Even among the wider selection of brands in this style of whisky I’ve tasted before – Best is a bit rough & ready.
There is a very big range of locally produced & marketed brands of whisky around the world that generally use imported Scotch – shipped out in bulk – augmented by ‘spirits’ of an undefined source to make these blended expressions.
It’s a big market for Scottish whisky. The volumes these brands sell would be enough to swallow up the entire output of at least a few of the 120 or so Scottish whisky distilleries – even allowing for the possibly small percentage of Scotch in the blend.
Being a self confessed whiskey nut – I get just as excited cracking open a bottle of Best Classic as cracking open a bottle of the latest Irish release or Scottish malt.
It’s the thrill of finding out what’s inside. The taste, the flavour, the mouthfeel and possibly the story behind the brand too.
The Best Classic – to differentiate it from other releases in the Best range – would be their entry level offering.
The nose has that familiar hit of cloying caramel. I don’t believe the dark colour has come about by a long maturation alone.
Heavy caramel on the taste – with a slightly oily mouthfeel – soon morphs into a straight forward high alcohol heat which isn’t entirely unpleasant – just a bit devoid of any real flavours ageing in wood could have added.
The heat slowly fades on the finish with a rather unnatural chemically note.
Not exactly ‘Premium Product’ in my book – but I’ve tasted worse.
It’s an ordinary no nonsense added caramel laden blend that’s only real character is the warming alcohol heat.
So what’s the story?
A bit of digging seems to show BenRiach provide the ‘Finest Scotch Whisky’ element as mentioned in a Kenyan website here as well as Westside Distillers website here.
The ‘Premium Grain Spirit’ is from South Africa. At least that’s what it says on the label.
Now I thought the award winning Sedgwick Distillery – Bain’s Single Grain anyone? – was the only distillery in South Africa. Interestingly they also started out making blends mixing local spirit with imported Scotch. A truly acorns to oaks tale there I think.
But a quick internet search reveals a few other contenders; Durbanville Distillery, Silver Creek Distillery & Qualito Craft Distillery being some I found. There could be more.
Any one of these producers – even the company behind Best Classic Whisky – could go on to win in the international sphere too.
But as it stands at the moment – Best will have to get better.
Just how I like to seek out new & exciting whiskeys to taste – I’m also keen to try out new whiskey experiences – especially when they are the inaugural outing for the Fife Whisky Festival in the county town of Cupar.
The atmosphere inside the Corn Exchange building was far more welcoming than the rather ‘drookit & dreich’ weather outside as I made my way to the first warming whisky of the show.
Eden Mill distillery is only a short distance away and I have previously enjoyed their sourced blends in the very attractive Art Of The Blend series. The No. 4 bottle is a port cask finish which displayed that lovely dry yet fruity mouth feel I associate with this style of whisky. Very nice, but the sold out No. 3 still remains my favourite. Eden Mill’s own whisky should be ready for release later this year.
That Boutique-y Whisky Company are independent bottlers of fine repute well known for their distinctive cartoony labels – as well as their award winning showman in the shape of Boutique-y Dave.
How could I not resist the ‘My Lovely Horse’ of Irish Single Malt #1?
It’s a 13 year old unnamed source single malt – although you can always guess – and is a very decent representation of the Irish ‘style’ – if it can be pigeon holed in one bottle. Soft, subtle, fruity & sweet. I couldn’t help thinking there’s better than this released now with all the exciting new expressions & distilleries emerging.
Undeterred I ventured onto 2 similarly unnamed Scottish offerings. Blended Malt #2 & Blended Whiskey #3. Both were delights & highlighted the true masterful work of a great blend. If anything – #3 was probably a far more complex & rounded offering but the peat in #2 won it for me. Gorgeous.
The nearby James Eadie stall also did a fine blend with a bit of history – and peat – by the name of Trade Mark X which certainly pleased my palate.
Strathearn meanwhile were new to me and despite having a display of malts in different cask finishes – the interesting stuff couldn’t be photographed. They had a selection of spirits which represented the history & development of ‘whisky’ throughout it’s long career.
I was presented with a sample that looked like whisky. It certainly tasted like a young & fresh peated whisky with delightfully different notes. Only to be told it happened to be a peated malt aged in chestnut casks for only 6 months!
Totally outside the SWA (Scottish Whisky Association) rules – yet totally tasty & innovative. I just hope Strathearn can come to some arrangement whereby it can be released. I’d be first in the queue to buy it.
I should point out that I rehydrated with water after every sample & rinsed out my tasting glass too to avoid ‘over extending’ myself and contaminating the next sample, which happened to be from Campbeltown distillers Springbank.
They recently released a Longrow Red edition finished in French wine casks which balanced that lovely peaty punch with some sweet fruity notes. Very enjoyable.
I did spot an unusual offering at the other end of the table. A triple distilled Hazelburn! Sadly the soft, smooth & subtle characteristics were a little lost on me after my previous drink – and it was way too sweet for my liking – but a worthy try.
Lough Fyne’s Living Cask – using a solera style maturation with batches drawn off at various intervals – impressed me more than their rather lacklustre blend.
The Islay Boys Flatnöse blend also passed me by. Too much Speyside malt had turned down the Islay peat fire for my liking. The blended malt was a far better offering whilst their Bårelegs Single Malt – from an unnamed Islay distillery – stoked that peat to it’s maximum. I enjoyed it so much – in combination with the attractive packaging & Viking tales – I happily gave it my dram of the day – current release – for the festival.
Oh! The boys were abroad themselves, so one of the mums served me and did a very good job of it too, #whiskymum!
Another Fife distillery recently opened is Lindores Abbey. Famous for the ‘eight bolls of malt’ order from 1494. Their unaged Aqua Vitae infused with gorgeously warming spices is loosely based on what those monks may have been drinking back then. It certainly raised my spirits. What raised my spirits even further was their 70% new make. The clean, crisp & clear taste impressed me very much. Bodes well for intended whisky releases in years to come.
Inchdairnie – another Fife distillery – had the most unusual whisky stand I’ve ever encountered. A black box you’re invited in to be shown the workings & philosophy behind this bold venture. They are using an unusual bespoke Lomond Hill still with unconventional mash filtration along with unusual mash bills containing my favourite – rye. I did get a sample of their new make spirit which impressed me with it’s softly spicy rye & creamy barley mix. I just had to give this my dram of the day – future release – for the whole ‘drama’ of the presentation as well as innovation & taste. I’ll be keeping an eye on the development of this one.
Time was beginning to run out on this session so I had a brief chat with Shilton – the constantly traveling & cheery rep – staffing the only non-Scotch stall of the day showcasing the excellent Paul John Indian whisky range.
To round off this fabulous festival a final couple of drams we’re had at the Ben Nevis stand. Their old recipe based McDonald’s single malt proved peaty, punchy, robust & charming – which made the 10 year old rather soft & subtle in comparison. Give me the bolder character any day over the smoother sibling!
And with that, it was all over!
The bell to clear the hall sounded & happy punters melted out into a wet Cupar warmed by wonderful whisky.
Congratulations to all the team involved in putting this show together.
When out and about I enjoy popping into bars I’ve not previously visited on the off-chance of finding a gem.
The Masonic Arms in the picturesque East Neuk village of Anstruther sits at the end of the West Pier and is more of a rough diamond.
It’s easy to get sucked into conversation in this character driven pub – both from behind the bar as well as in front of it – but the main attraction for me – aside from the gently warming fire – is a great selection of whiskies.
A plethora of single malt Scotch, the usual big brand blends, assorted Irish & some bourbons adorn the back wall.
My tipple of choice however was a local offering – Cameron Brig Single Grain.
Cameronbridge Grain Distillery was among the first to utilise the new technology of the Coffey Still back in the 1830’s.
Irishman Aeneas Coffey failed to find many backers in his native land for his controversial invention – yet the Lowland Scottish distillers took to it with gusto. They effectively kick started the rise of blended whisky which went on to ensure Scotch as the biggest selling whisky in the world.
Over 180 years later, Cameronbridge is still pumping out 120 million lpa (litres of pure alcohol) per annum – making it the both the largest and oldest grain distillery in Europe.
George Roe used to have the largest distillery in Europe – but he (and other Dublin distillers) campaigned against grain whisky calling it ‘silent spirit’.
It’s rather ironic George & his friends are no more – yet Diageo – who own Cameronbridge – are currently resurrecting whiskey distilling on the old George Roe distillery site in Dublin.
So what does this ‘silent spirit’ taste like?
Well being a bourbon cask matured single grain it has that sweet vanilla & caramel nose going on. I wouldn’t rule out added caramel too.
A soft smooth inviting palate with a pleasant depth left a gentle warm glow in the mouth.
Nothing special really. An easy drinking dram ‘hard to find outside of Fife‘ my fellow barmate informed me – along with the anecdote he often enjoyed it mixed with Scotland’s other national drink – Irn Bru.
I didn’t check the veracity of either statement – but did enjoy a quiet half hour out of the wet & miserable weather to raise a glass to Aeneas Coffey & the Irishman’s contribution to the rise of Scotch.
As well as having a good array of local craft beers, gins, wines & chocolates – they also do whisky – mostly Scotch. (I should add the wines are definitely from further afield.)
Not having tried any GlenDronach before – I was intrigued by their peated expression.
Now GlenDronach are usually associated with sherry bombs – which many hold in high regard – but that reminds me of putting ketchup on your chips. I’m more of a brown sauce man myself – more spice, more bite & to my tastes at least, more flavour. So the peated bottle made it into my carry-on flight bag.
GlenDronach Peated is presented at 46%, non chill filtered and no added colouring, which is always a bonus. It’s still finished in sherry casks like it’s stablemates – peated malt being the difference.
The peat was actually quite muted on the nose. The sherried notes still came through – though with a bit of a spirity kick. Perhaps being a non aged statement there were some young malts involved.
The taste was quite crisp & clear – perhaps a little sharp – with more of that lovely soft smoky peat fire quietly mingling with those sweet fruity sherry elements. Rather than competing with each other – they came across balanced & co-ordinated.
A lovely dry mouth feel – I find characteristic of PX or Oloroso cask finishes – slowly faded at the end.
Just lacking that something special to make it stand out from the crowd.
There are a number of factors mitigating against holding a Burn’s Night in the heart of Ireland.
One of them is the difficulty in finding a haggis for sale in Westmeath!
Thankfully I brought some of the prize pudding back with me from a recent Scottish trip – along with some whisky I had in mind – which is my cue for a song!
So January 25th found me in Sean’s Bar – the oldest bar in Ireland – hosting an Irish versus Scotch blind whiskey tasting.
I’d decided to go blind – the whiskey that is, not me – wrapping the bottles in tinfoil to disguise the brands – so there would be no bias in the results. The nose & taste of the spirit would be the crucial factor.
I roughly paired the whiskeys into 4 categories.
‘a’ being grains,
‘b’ obviously blends,
‘c’ single malts &
‘d’ being undefined – which will become clearer later. I tried as far as possible to get pairs of equal cost, style, flavour & profile – with only 50% success. The idea was to get a winner for each pair – then a ‘best of’ for the evening – having some fun along the way.
Votes were cast at the end of the tasting round to get the 4 individual winners – as well as the overall winner – before any of the whiskeys were revealed to some surprised faces.
The first winner of the evening was Egan’s Vintage Grain.
I’ve featured this single grain previously in a blog here. For a grain whiskey Egan’s delivers some punch both in flavour & style which didn’t go unnoticed by the audience. Most of them assumed it was a Scotch. 1st surprise of the evening.
I’d cheekily paired this with McDowell’s No 1 – the 2nd biggest selling brand of whisky in the world. This is actually a blend of Scotch, malt & neutral spirit – as it says on the label. Guinness Nigeria is also on the label – although McDowell’s is distilled in India by a company founded back in 1898 by a Scotsman unsurprisingly named McDowell.
Some 90% of all whiskey sold throughout the world is blended. So category ‘b’ is the real battle ground. The winner of the evening?
Well – being held in Sean’s Bar what else would you expect? But remember – this was a blind taste test and not all the participants had tried either of the entrants before.
The other bottle was named after an Irishman. Ernest Shackleton was born in Co Kildare in 1874 and went on to became a famous Antarctic Explorer. This blend I found a rather weak representation of a whisky he took to those frozen lands in the early 1900’s. My audience seemed to agree.
The single malts also had a clear winner. It gives me great pleasure to announce the wonders of this whiskey.
I’d paired this with the Dalmore Valour which delivers quite a nice rich, dry port & sherry finish to the palate. It’s youthfulness probably let it down when compared to the depth of flavour of the Irish 26yo. On a price front however – they are comparable.
The last category contained spirit which is not currently available in both countries. Ireland has it’s single pot still whiskey made with a mash of malted and unmalted barley. While Scotland has just released it’s 1st rye for over 200 years. The winning margin in this case wasn’t as wide as previous categories – but a winner there was.
The cleaner, bolder, more upfront spice hit of Arbikie Highland Rye gave Scotland it’s only winner of the evening. There were a few surprised faces during sampling on this one – and even more when it was revealed – but clearly rye is a style to be reckoned with – and I can’t wait for that 6 year old Kilbeggan rye to be released. Unfortunately Green Spot just didn’t hit the high notes in this round.
Of all the category winners – in fact of all the entrants – I’d asked for a favourite for the evening. The 67% majority vote took me a little by surprise.
What else can I say but congratulations to Aldi & all the team that were behind this amazing release.
The bottle was drained, the haggis was shared out, and the participant that turned out immaculately attired in a kilt was duly given a bottle of whisky by way of a prize.
I’d like to thank all those that attended. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and from comments on the evening, everyone else did too! Big thanks also to Sean’s Bar for hosting the event. By the sounds of it – we’ll be back for more!
I visited Daftmill Distillery back in August 2017 along with some family members who happen to live nearby.
The visit left me somewhat confused and perplexed, as well as being very impressed all at the same time!
Daftmill is a fully functioning whisky distillery specialising in producing Scottish single malt matured in either ex-bourbon or sherry casks. There is no visitors centre – arrangements have to be made with the owner to gain access to the farm on which the distillery sits.
The farm itself is off the main A91 Cupar to Auchtermuchty road, but there are no signposts pointing the way. When you do find the right farm track to enter, an impressive array of attractive stone built buildings – along with an almost obligatory glass fronted still house – greet you – as well as a welcoming Francis Cuthbert himself.
Our party of 4 were treated to a thoroughly full & informative tour of the premises. From the fields where the barley is grown to the bins used to introduce the malt to the mashtuns. Through the workings of the Forsyth stills and finally into the dunnage warehouse to sample the gorgeous whisky.
Francis was very open & honest about the whole operation and his passion for whisky shone through. Especially in the still house where I noted the squat bulbous stills and suggested the spirit would be heavy & rich because of that shape.
‘On the contrary’ I was rebuffed. Francis countered with a marvelous explanation of the distillers art that rather than still shape dictating the spirit style & flavour, it was down to the distiller by careful use of charge times, temperature control as well as the crucial spirit cuts that influenced the final distillate.
My praise of ‘farm to bottle’ distilling also took a bit of a knocking.
Originally Francis sent his farm grown grain to a local maltings in Kirkaldy. Sadly due to ‘rationalisation’ that plant closed & the grain had to go further afield. The new plant only accepted bigger batch amounts – which put more pressure on the farm – rather than batches from individual fields – it became batches from all the fields.
I mentioned Mark Reynier‘s plans for different malts from different farms providing a degree of terroir as well as differing taste. This was somewhat dismissed as a marketing ploy.
I don’t wholly agree.
Yes – it is a marketing ploy – but one that should be aspired to.
I haven’t tasted whisky from different barley – but I have tasted bourbon from different corn.
Widow Jane Distillery in New York used a variety of colourful corns to produce 4 bourbons with the same mash-bill, distilling process & maturation regime as possible. The only difference being the corn variety. I must say I was extremely skeptical I would notice a taste difference. But I was proved wrong – it did make a difference – and a very enjoyable one at that too!
We moved into the still room. A magnificent shrine to copper, wood, glass & the mysteries (or not as the case may be) of distillation. Francis was in his element here. I was just a little perplexed that he clearly focused so much passion & attention to detail in this area of production as opposed to other areas.
Maturation in oak barrels is the final piece of the whisky jigsaw – or at least it was when I visited.
Now the wood policy at Daftmill was taken care off by a cooperage who supplied Grade A casks of ex-bourbon barrels from America & ex-sherry casks from Spain. What this means in practice is that the bourbon barrels are sourced from a number of different distilleries in America. There didn’t seem to be attention taken as to the source distillery for each individual barrel which would again result in slight taste differences.
This isn’t necessarily a problem. In fact by the time we got round to entering the bonded warehouse for that all important tasting, the 11 year old ex-bourbon single cask simply blew me away with it’s winning combination of rich vanilla & caramel notes combined with a lovely oakiness – as well as that gorgeous dry mouthfeel associated with cask strength whisky.
A similarly aged ex-sherry cask impressed even more with a soft sweetness contrasting with the oaky tannins of over a decade in wood. Francis suggested there was a musty note on the sherry cask – which I found appealing – which should disappear with further ageing.
But here was the conundrum.
Daftmill is a wonderfully attractive distillery. It sits in the middle of a farm that grows the barley used for distillation of it’s stunning single malt whiskies, there is at least 12 years worth of stock AND it is run by the farmer that grows the barley who has a passion for that whisky. Yet there was no idea of a release date planned for the gorgeous spirit!
Or at least that’s what we were told at the time.
Because as of December 2017 an announcement was made to the effect that Berry Bros & Rudd – wine & spirits merchants, blenders & bottlers of good repute & reputation – had entered an agreement to release Daftmill whisky beginning in 2018!
I have every faith in the winning combination of Daftmill’s skills in distillation – together with Berry Bros & Rudd’s attention to detail in both ‘grain to glass’ ingredient control as well as a stricter wood policy – will not only release some stunning single malts in the months to come – but go on to produce award winning malts of distinction.
I eagerly await the first bottling.
I’d like to thank Francis at Daftmill for the hospitality shown during our visit. Congratulations to all at Daftmill Distillery & Berry Bros & Rudd for the partnership agreement. I doubt the negotiations were easy. Best wishes for the future success of all concerned.