It was a new experience for me – taking part in a Whisky Auction.
I wasn’t after rare or collectable bottles – just a few odd ones to try at an affordable price.
I bid on some mixed bags of miniatures – a broad sweep of whiskies to sample – and happily managed to secure one.
The first result flunked.
An old Haig Dimple bottle with indeterminate writing on the back had obviously suffered some spirit loss.
The cap was loose too – allowing air in – with predictable results.
The whiskey inside had deteriorated to such an extent the nose was painful – the sample went straight down the sink!
I ploughed on with an intact bottle of Glenfiddich Pure Malt.
Now Pure Malt is an outdated term. It began to fade in the 1980’s and generally denoted what we’d now call a single malt i.e. malt produced at one distillery. It could also have meant a blended malt i.e. malt produced at more than one distillery, but as Single Malt also appears on the Glenfiddich label – we can count on the former interpretation.
Basically what I had in front of me was an old Glenfiddich Whisky bottle – so I cracked it open and poured myself a drink.
Clean & fresh!
A heavy butterscotch sweetness combined with a gentle soft smokiness greeted me.
I was just happy to get a bottle that hadn’t gone off!
To be honest I found the sweet caramel too much – but the gentle smokiness – like the wisps of a fire – made it an enjoyable experience.
A pleasant easy drinking single malt with enough character & flavour to keep it cheerful.
Mrs Whiskey brought back a selection of Irish Whiskeys from America after a recent trip.
They aren’t available in Ireland – and I was keen to check them out.
Kilbrin is an actual place in Ireland. A parish in County Cork with a GAA club, a school and a church. But no whiskey distillery.
Kilbrin Irish Whiskey is a sourced brand – I’ve no problem with that.
A search of their website here – leads you onto Quality Spirits International here – who specialise in Own Brand and Private Label products.
Quality Spirits International are in turn a wholly owned subsidiary of ‘the largest independent Scotch Whisky Company’ – which to you and me is William Grant & Sons – owners of Tullamore DEW, Glenfiddich, Glen Grant and others.
What interested me though was how the whiskey tasted.
The nose was caramelly sweet, honeyed & slightly fruity.
This followed through on the palate – which opened up into a decent sweet grainy feel with a lovely prickly spice developing.
The finish was sadly short – but the overall effect was rather appealing.
I quite enjoyed this one.
A pleasant easy going entry level blend with a bit of character & spice towards the end.
It’s always wise to visibly scan the whiskey shelves of any bar you go into to see what they actually have in stock – even if you are familiar with the premises.
I’d not been in the Tullamore Court Hotel for a few months and was very pleasantly surprised by the improved array of fine whiskey before me.
Not only was there a veritable wall of Tullamore DEW expressions lining the front bar, which befits the hotel only being a mere mile away from the new Tullamore Distillery – but also plenty of The Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Monkey Shoulder & Grant’s bottles all from the William Grant & Sons – owners of the distillery – portfolio.
How about a tasty trio of Tullamore DEW to test your tastebuds?
Clearly the hotel is a popular watering hole & welcome bed for the night to many overseas staff and visitors to the Tullamore Distillery.
Meanwhile the side bar had also broadened to showcase the large selection of Irish whiskeys currently available on the market today.
The trio that caught my eyes however were the very distinctive & attractively packaged Method and Madness range recently released by Irish Distillers to much acclaim.
Comprising of a single grain, single malt and a single pot still – these whiskeys have pushed the envelope in terms of style, cask selection & innovation for Irish whiskey.
This happened to be my 1st encounter with them – so I started at the beginning with the single grain release.
Presented at 46%, matured in ex-bourbon casks & finished in charred virgin oak, the nose immediately captivated me with warm rich vanilla notes associated with the bourbon casks but heightened with added depth from the virgin oak.
This followed through into a warm smooth snug of flavours in the mouth – very reminiscent of a good bourbon – which is hardly surprising as it is made from a high corn mash with some charred virgin oak cask maturation – albeit Spanish oak. There was a slight delay to savour these beautiful notes before a lovely warming, slightly spicy finish coated the palate and enveloped it like a cosy fireside hug.
There is no madness to this whiskey – it’s simply pushing the method of distilling & maturing the spirit to a higher level.
And in the words of Mr Belt & Wezol – I’m happy for Irish Distillers to Take Me Higher.
The single grain category bar has just been raised!
A high pressure weather system had been sitting over Ireland for a few days bringing with it a welcome dose of sunshine after months of wet, dank, grey days.
My first thought was to ‘Run To The Hills’. More in a hiking boots and compass kind off way rather than a leather and studs Iron Maiden rock out!
But herself had other plans. A weekend of gardening was the order of the day.
By Sunday afternoon the lawn had been cut. Hedges had been trimmed and all the mess tidied up so lunch out was proposed.
A suggestion of a meal at the Tullamore DEW Visitors Centre was accepted. Despite herself having worked in Tullamore for a few years – she had never visited the Old Bonded Warehouse by the Grand Canal and I thought it would be a great place to show her.
The sun was still shining a half hour later when we arrived and the solid wooden benches on the boardwalk outside the centre were very attractive – just a shame there was still a spring chill in the air. We decided to head indoors.
The warmly wooded interior complete with whiskey barrels adorning the walls together with Tullamore DEW mirrors and old photographs was very impressive. We both took a few pictures before the friendly and helpful staff greeted us .
The tempting food menu soon appeared and we ordered up a few tasty treats.
This gave me an opportunity to check out the gift shop where the entire range of Tullamore DEW whiskeys were on show.
Pride of place was given to the relatively new 14 Year Old Single Malt. A triple distilled offering finished in Bourbon – Oloroso – Madiera and Port barrels.
As I was the designated driver I didn’t indulge but did get the sales talk from the crew.
Also on show were;
The flagship Tullamore DEW Original. Triple distilled – triple blended using 3 types of grain – and triple cask matured too.
Tullamore Dew Trilogy 15 Year Old. A blend additionally finished in rum casks.
All of these were available at the bar too where a selection of wines – craft beers and ciders – plus a sprinkling of Scottish whiskies from the parent group William Grant & Sons included Glenfiddich – Grants – Monkey Shoulder and a Balvenie 12.
A shout from my wife alerted me to our meal. I enjoyed my beef steak with whiskey sauce whilst herself had a pulled pork bap and chips. Decent pub grub to enjoy a glass or two of the hard stuff if only I wasn’t driving!
Despite not adhering to my Whiskey Bar criteria of an earlier blog – I do think the visitors centre is eligible for honorary membership of that club by virtue of it’s historic and picturesque location. Serving the in-house range of whiskeys plus parents selection too. And the general buzz of the place as visitors – who are generally all whiskey fans of one sort or another – congenially come and go before and after their guided tours.
You don’t have to go on the tour to enjoy the delights of the restaurant – bar or outside seating area. Just get there before the closing time of 5pm on Sundays and 6pm otherwise.
A final touch to our day was the tie-in with a local chocolate producer in nearby Ferbane who has infused their dark chocolate with Tullamore DEW whiskey to create a wonderfully rich sweet treat to finish off our enjoyable stay.
Do yourself a favour.
Choose a day when the sun is shining.
Sit outside by the banks of the tranquil Grand Canal where once the barges busily loaded the whiskey to transport it around the world in the early 1900’s.
Work your way through the tasty Tullamore Dew expressions fortified by a hearty meal and savour the sights – smells – aromas and experiences of Tullamore both past and present.
Aachen – a city of 250,00 souls in the North Rhine Westphalia area of Germany founded by the Romans and famous for it’s Cathedral as well as Charlemagne – and also my chosen spot to explore the Benelux countries.
My first day in town was spent exploring the lovely cobbled streets of the old historical centre snapping away like the proverbial tourist I’ve become. Very enjoyable it was too – especially when I gained some free time to wander round the whiskey shops whilst my better half did a tour of the Charlemagne Museum!
Neooro die liquidboutique shop is handily just near the museum on Markt. A fine display of assorted drinks from around the globe greets the customer and they had a small selection of German whiskies for sale including the alluring – if not highly priced Preussischer Whisky. Now I realise that German distilleries produce spirit on a small scale which is reflected in the cost – but it’s at the top end of my budget – so it has to be exceptionally good, have a great story, have been previously tasted and set my tastebuds alight or have been offered a sample to try before I could commit to it. As these criteria were not met – and the other releases were mainly grain whiskies in lovely looking bottles but similarly priced – I simply window shopped and moved on.
Barrique – also on Markt and just around the corner – is a much more down to earth establishment selling a wide array of wines, spirits, oils and vinegars – all of good quality. It’s method of selling these wares was rather refreshing – and something I’d never come across before.
It’s how all whiskey used to be sold in times gone by. The distillery would sell the wine merchant (for example) a large quantity – the consumer would then bring along a suitable container into which the wine merchant would decant the spirit. No fancy labelling – no artwork – no bottle – no ABV marking – no mission statement. Now this I had to try!
Sadly no German distillery had offered their spirit by this method – but with a fine array of Scottish, American, Canadian and a sole Spanish expression on offer – it took me a little while to choose.
In the end I went for a 12 year old Ledaig – as this expression from Tobermory was mentioned as a favourite during conversations back in London – and the Spanish DYC Single Malt – as I’ve previously tasted and enjoyed the DYC blend before whilst on a trip in France. Barrique supplied a printout with information on the spirit purchased – but as it was in German I didn’t understand it – as well as an assortment of bottles to put the spirit in. I went for a 100ml size with the intention of bringing them home on the plane – but as we arrived in late every night after a hard days sightseeing a tasty dram was in order and they were empty before we even got to the airport!
The Ledaig proved to be lovely and smooth with the peat giving it a bit of body to the malt. The DYC didn’t have the peaty kick – but was a more complex and flavoursome tipple than it’s sister DYC blend I enjoyed before.
Now the vatted Ledaig and the DYC in Barrique are probably not available in a bottled release from either distillery – but this method of selling whisky certainly gives the consumer an opportunity to sample an expression from a number of distilleries and gain a insight into the flavour profiles of those premises at a reasonable price – something I’m all for. I wonder if this method could catch on elsewhere – or is viable – as the shop keeper mentioned – not all distilleries are willing to sell their spirit this way. Pity.
There was another shop selling spirits this way in Aachen – Vom Fass – which is an international chain with premises around the world. Despite wanting to get some refills in an attempt to sample yet more fine drams – I never managed to visit whilst it was open.
Reunited with herself after our respective tours a spot of light refreshment was in order and we repaired to The Ergmont watering hole on Pontstrasse. A wonderfully decorated friendly place it turned out to be. Despite an extensive drinks menu there were no German whiskies so I tried out Cutty Sark – which is one of blends that is more popular abroad than it is at home.
This light delicate blend with a soft peaty punch together with a snack from the neighbouring cafe perked me up no end.
Further up the street we stumbled upon yet another drinks vendor.
Weinhaus Lesmeister is a lovely emporium of fine wine, whiskey, rum and other alcoholic beverages. The staff were very friendly when I enquired about German whisky of which they had a few. Sample tastings were offered and the familiar light yet woody flavour profile I associate with these releases were soon hitting my tastebuds. A bottle of Coillmor Bavarian single malt was duly purchased which completed my baggage allowance for the flight home.
As the transaction was going through – the shop keeper asked if I knew of a distillery only 10 minutes from Aachen?
Whiskey Tip No. 3 Always do your research! Despite checking for nearby distilleries on the excellent site deutsche-whisky.de – I’d failed to check out Belgium, Luxembourg or Dutch distilleries.
I had a big smile on my face with the thought of calling in on a distillery during our car trip tomorrow – but one look at herself told me that would definitely be verboten!
Radermacher – 1 of 7 whisky distilleries in Belgium I’ve come across – have been distilling since 1836 – mainly gins and liqueurs – but also a few whiskies. Lambertus single malt was the one I’d encountered but resisted and now I had to drive past the distillery in Raeren on the nearby E421 road as we made our way – as part of our sightseeing tour – to the highest point in Belgium!
Signal De Botrange at 693m – the height of Belgium. A welcome cafe awaits the traveller in this popular skiing area of the Hautes Fagnes Natural Park. There is actually a Signal De Botrange beer available – but as it’s brewed in Colorado – it wasn’t for sale in the cafe.
Luxembourg’s high point was even lower at 558m. There is no cafe but we called in at the nearby smatch supermarche on the N7 road where I glanced at the whisky shelves.
Whiskey Tip No. 4 If you’re going to buy whisky in Europe – check the tax rates first!
There was a bottle of Glenfiddich for 11 euro – and that Belgian Lambertus for 25 – it cost nearer 45 in Aachen! Oh dear -not enough homework done!
I also didn’t do my homework when I found a Luxembourg distillery after I returned home too! I think a European Whisky Distillery Tour could be in order!
The Dutch distilleries I did know about – but they were a little off our route the following day. I was hoping there would be some on the menu when we called in for a meal in Maastricht but alas no such luck.
As with all holidays – time flies – and so we began our return journey via train to Cologne for the evening. There were more whisky shops – but none open during my time in this picturesque city. I made do with a refreshing pint of wheat beer enjoyed whilst taking a lovely cruise along the majestic Rhine on what proved to be the warmest day of the trip.
The last whiskey purchase was courtesy of Heinemann Duty Free at the airport. Sadly there were no German expressions – but I did pick up a bottle of something which seems to be a private bottling for a German wine merchants.
Now this 10 year old single malt tastes as lovely and picturesque as the pretty little village it’s named after in Wester Ross, Scotland – but if you go looking for a distillery there you won’t find one.
William Maxwell are marked as the bottlers but an internet search leads you to the well respected and award winning independent bottlers Ian Macleod from whom this very drinkable dram may originate. There is no indication of the distillery it came from unless you narrow it down to Highland printed on the label.
So there you go – a European Whisky Odyssey – plenty discovered and a lot more to find.
What have been your European discoveries? It’s a growing market with new releases all the time.