Category Archives: Scottish Whisky

Cutty Sark, Blend, 43%

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.

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Come sail with me! c/othewhiskeynut

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!

Sláinte

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Ben Bracken Islay Single Malt, 40%

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.

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Ben Bracken Single Malt c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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I get peat! c/othewhiskeynut

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.

At 25 euro.

I doubt you’d find a more enjoyable peatiness.

Sláinte

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The Charles House, Blend, 40%

The joy of whisky can come from unexpected and surprising places.

Like France.

When on holiday there I had a clear set of purchasing procedures.

Number 1 on the list were some French made whiskies which I quickly ticked off at the lovely V&B chain of stores on my way out of Toulouse.

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Rye Francais c/othewhiskeynut

Roof Rye certainly raised my spirits here!

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.

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The Charles House Whisky c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Nothing to see here. c/othewhiskeynut

I drink whisky because I enjoy it.

And I certainly enjoyed Charles House.

Why?

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.

Sláinte.

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Islay Storm, Single Malt, 40%

Islay experiences a lot of storms.

Situated off the West Coast of Scotland the island bears the full brunt of wild Atlantic weather fronts coming in on the prevailing winds.

Venturing out into the calm after one of these tempests can be a refreshing experience. Almost as if all the detritus has been washed away leaving a clear & invigorating air.

There is another side however.

The storms whip up the seaweed – or tangle – into big rotting piles heaped up on the shore front.

They don’t smell good.

That’s the only way I can describe my tasting experience of Islay Storm Whisky.

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Islay Storm NAS Whisky c/othewhiskeynut

I picked it up at an auction and I can only assume it hadn’t been stored properly.

It tasted stale, dull & flat – even sour – much like that minging seaweed on the shore – or the farmer’s welly socks after collecting the seaweed for the fields.

The only element to rise above the morass was a clear hit of smoky peat.

A washed out bottle.

Sláinte.

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My thanks to Whisky Lady for reminding me of this tasting experience.

Kilbeggan Small Batch Rye, 43%

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.

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When will this stunner be released? c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Small Batch Rye calling card c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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The back label c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Ireland v Scotland Rye test c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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Where are all the Irish Brands?

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.

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Pyrenees picture c/othewhiskeynut

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?

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Buffalo Bill Bourbon c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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4.5ltr selection c/othewhiskeynut

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.

How many more missed sales are there?

Slàinte.

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Sir Edward’s Smoky, Blend, 40%

Sir Edward has spent so much time in his adopted French estate he has imbued a rich dark mahogany colour.

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Sir Edward’s Smoky c/othewhiskeynut

The heavy sweet caramel overtones suggest it is not natural.

Sir Edward also seems to have given up the cigars – or perhaps even the Gauloises – as despite saying Smoky on the attractively designed label – I could only pick out the merest hint of peat to give some character to this otherwise inoffensively smooth yet basically bland blended offering.

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Peat so light it’s hard to find. c/othewhiskeynut

I was slightly disappointed – but at only €12 for a 1 litre bottle – and a very well presented bottle at that – the fact Sir Edward is actually pleasantly palatable is probably a plus.

Sláinte.

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Moon Harbour Pier 1, Premium Blended Whisky, 45.8%

Ooh la la!

I happened to be in Paris during the double bill of Bastille Day and France winning the World Cup!

My particular reason for being there was enhanced by both spectacular events and added to a memorable trip.

It therefore seems apt to pour out yet another French Whisky and give it a whirl.

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Pier 1 in a Tuath glass c/othewhiskeynut

Je donne Moon Harbour Pier 1 Premium Blended Whiskey.

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%.

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Parlez vous francais? c/othewhiskeynut

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?

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Bastille Whiskey in a Tuath glass c/othewhiskeynut

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.

Sláinte.

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The Scotch Whisky juggernaut is running out of road.

All is not well in Scotch Whisky.

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 know I certainly am.

But there is an even larger threat looming round the proverbial corner. It’s a threat not of Scotch Whisky’s making.

Brexit.

Now the Scotch Whisky juggernaut needs a lot of space to manoeuver. It’s a cumbersome beast with it’s own inertia and inflexibility. It may not be able to negotiate the tricky corners ahead.

The Irish, Japanese and Canadian vehicles are smaller, more adaptable & nimble. They might be better equipped to handle the twists and turns thrown up by Brexit – as well as the US tariff fiasco.

The irony of Britain leaving Europe – and Scotch Whisky’s biggest market too – as it did not want to be dictated to by Brussels whilst Scottish Whisky tries to dictate to some of it’s competitors.

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Brexit Whiskey c/othewhiskeynut

I think I’ll have to have a glass of Brexit Whiskey – a proudly non SWA rule produced very tasty Austrian Whiskey – and ponder over Rabbie Burn’s famous words;

‘O would some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as others see us.’

From where I’m sitting it isn’t looking pretty.

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Glen Marnoch Speyside Single Malt, 40%.

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.

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Supermarket whiskeys c/othewhiskeynut

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.

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All you need to know. c/othewhiskeynut

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.

Slàinte.

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