Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Sazerac Rye

This Sazerac Rye Whiskey, along with quite a few that got delivered to The Whisky Shop at the time, is from the sprawling 149 acre Buffalo Trace distillery. I don't really have a problem with distilleries making lots of different whiskies under different names but sometimes I am a little suspicious as to motives. It happens a lot less under the aegis of single malt whisky, which I think is one of its big appeals, although there are plenty of distilleries that many might think are completely independent of one another which are in fact owned by one parent company. Given the recent takeover of United Spirits Diageo must now own half of Scotland, but at the other end of the scale the provenance of whiskies such as these that are once again being sold under the name Glen Marnoch at Aldi is something of a mystery. Given this situation it's interesting to have a read of this blog post which attempts to detail ownership of American distilleries and brand names.

Back to Buffalo Trace though, and I don't think provenance is an issue, although finding information about other whiskies than the flagship brand is somewhat frustrating. It was fascinating to have a chat today with one of their company ambassadors, Chris Hoy, who was both knowledgeable and forthcoming about how their different whiskies are made - to the point where he was giving out A4 size glossy brochures that go into quite some detail about how each of four different recipes of 'White Dog' become known as first one whiskey and then another as they go through the ageing process, in almost exactly the same way as a scotch from one distillery ends up bottled as a 10, 12 or whatever age. The Sazerac that I bought the other week is the first of the rye expressions, aged for 8-12 years. This makes it the baby brother of Jim Murray's 2013 whisky of the year; the Thomas H Handy - selected from casks at 12-15 years.

As you'd expect from a whisky matured in Kentucky's heat, even at a relatively youthful (in scotch terms)  8-12 years it's got a lot of character from the barrel - there's lots of vanilla oakiness and spice on the nose, along with demerara sugar. On the palate I got cloves and coffee and the finish has burnt toast and a sour kick that tempers that sweetness of the toffee on the palate, giving it dusty cocoa notes. All in all a great introduction to a whole new style of whisky for me, and one I fully intend to re-visit.

Many thanks to Chris for some great reading and research material, and even better conversation. I will hopefully get a more Bourbon-focussed Buffalo Trace post up if I get a chance to try more when I'm not quite so tied up with work.


I should have done this before but I've been a bit busy. In the piece above I suggested the Sazerac whiskies were older than they actually are. This was because of some incorrect information in the brochure I got - see the 'distillery matrix below.

On checking the technical specifications for the Thomas H Handy I realised it's a lot younger than I had been lead to believe. It's six years old, as is the 'Baby Saz.' Thanks to Florin below for pointing out the error.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Morrison Bowmore Tasting

This week we were treated to a visit from Gordon Dundas, the European Brand Ambassador for Morrison Bowmore Distillers, owners of Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch and, unsurprisingly, Bowmore distilleries. This meant that Gordon was armed with quite a formidable array of very different whiskies to entertain the thirsty masses of Nottingham.

First up was a pair of offerings from Glen Garioch, the 12 year old and a '95 vintage. The Highlands covers a wide range of styles, making it rather different to pin down. Is there really a genuine Highland style when the soft sweetness and fresh fruit of Glengoyne is bracketed in with the pepper, power and peat of Talisker? Well, if you were going for a traditional Highland style whisky then Glen Garioch is one that you should try; it's all about the creaminess and spiciness - more power than a Spey, but more restraint than the Islands. The two whiskies we tried were from two quite different points in Glen Garioch's history, the 12 from after the '95-'97 mothballing and the '95 the last of the gently peated pre-mothballing era. The 12 is double cask (bourbon/sherry) matured, although the bourbon is by far the largest component, giving it a luscious vanilla nose which is a little deceptive when you get into a surprisingly full-bodied palate brimming with sweet, ripe pear and a hint of toffee. On the finish the spice really kicks in, especially if you are tasting it at its bottled strength of 48% - with a little water the creaminess and fresh fruit is more to the fore. The '95 cask-strength, 100% first-fill American oak was all about that spiciness; white pepper complementing the vanilla-spiced nose, corn and coconut flavours. At 55.3% it's almost scarily palatable even without a drop of water. For me it's the spice that makes these two whiskies. Although there was some peat used pre-mothballing you can see why it was dropped, the whisky doesn't really need that to have plenty of character.

By way of contrast with the Glen Garioch, Gordon then produced a big sherried dram in the form of Auchentoshan 'Three Wood.' This is a personal favourite, one I used to sell lots of back in my Oddbins days, one of my best customers being myself! The Auchentoshan is the last Lowland distillery that is still triple-distilling its spirit, and as a result that spirit is very light, meaning that it will be able to pick up more of the character of the wood it's placed in. It began as a mistake, a whisky that had been in a bourbon cask, then finished in an Oloroso sherry cask was accidentally put into a Pedro-Ximinez sherry cask, but the results were fantastic. It's a mouth-coating, complex, sweet, dessert whisky, jam-packed with golden syrup, toffee, butterscotch and dried fruit. If you're after a whisky to savour after Christmas dinner or with a slice of whisky-fed fruit cake, this has to make the short list.

Last up were three expressions from Bowmore, Islay's oldest distillery, in the form of their 12, 15 and 10 year old cask strength whiskies. While the 'big smokies' of Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg let loose the power of peat, Bowmore's approach is more about balance. They keep the peating at a regular strength and let the casks have their say too; in the case of the 15 year old 'Darkest' those casks have an awful lot to say - the two I took a picture of were the 10 year old 'Tempest' and the Darkest. You can see what a difference three years in a sherry barrel can make to a whisky's colour! As a double-distilled peaty base spirit it contrasts markedly with the Three Wood, and even with the 12 year old expression being a marriage of American and European oak casks that character really comes through in the smoky nose, accompanied by what I put in my notes as a hint of something medicinal, like unwrapping a fresh bandage. On the palate the briny maritime influence comes through, and on the finish there's a sweet, dairy, almost buttery quality - it's definitely very smooth. The 15 is a different animal, Gordon broke out a plate of dark chocolate and got us to melt some in the mouth to accompany the whisky. It's another rich, after-dinner whisky, the characteristic Islay smokiness almost overpowered by three years in a sherry cask, but like the chocolate it contrasts sweetness with a dry finish. For me this was the revelation of the evening. Often I find peat and sherry to be an ill-fitting partnership, but for me this really worked because the smoke hides behind the richness, only revealing itself in the umami finish. The 10 year old 'Tempest' is a small batch bourbon cask-only dram, each edition coming out in batches of 1,000 cases compared to the 180, 000 a year case output for the 12. This is more conventionally Islay, the relative youth and cask-strength allowing the peat to shine. It's vibrant and citrussy, with characteristic saltiness and pepper in the finish.

Thank you very much to Morrison Bowmore, and in particular to Gordon for an excellent and informative evening. 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Suntory Whiskies: Tasting notes

I thought I'd put the tasting notes as a separate blog post for those who are interested rather than run it in with the (probably far more interesting) things that I actually got told by Tatsuru, the man who really knows his stuff!

Yamazaki 12

On the nose I found it very floral, with vanilla, butterscotch and a touch of caramel. Others suggested tinned pineapple too. Once you taste the whisky the cedar and sandalwood aromas really envelop you, it's got a dry, oaky bite at the sides of the tongue and lashings of sweet allspice. If it is the Japanese Oak that gives it the floral notes and the bite you can see why they have to use it sparingly or it would become overpowering.

Hakushu 12

On the nose it's got more noticeable bourbon cask notes, lots of coconut and green fruit; under-ripe melon and granny-smith apple peel. It does have some of Hakushu's heavily peated whisky in the blend, but at such a low level that I struggled to pick it up, - more Bunnahabhain than Bruichladdich even - although it does add to that complexity in an ethereal sort of way.

Yamazaki 18

This seemed to be more familiar to me as someone who is used to (and a fan of) big sherried scotch. There's an almost kirsch-like note to the nose, it's big and rich with lots of fudge and dried fruit. On the palate that familiar sandalwood note comes through once you pass the sherry hit, and there's a lovely subtle powdery chocolate finish. It's clearly the big brother to the 12, trying them alongside one another revealed the same Mizunara bite.

Hibiki 12

Light on the nose, I got fresh ginger and honey. The palate provoked a rather prolonged discussion about Pez sweets - not an easy thing to explain to someone who'd never heard of them, but it seemed to fit the profile.

Hibiki 18

On the nose I got marzipan and tropical fruit. It's not as big and rich as the Yamazaki 18, but it does have a high malt content and is very much a luxurious blend. The grain content seems to give it a touch of vanilla which complements the marmalade and what Tatsuru described as 'Belgian Waffle ' flavours; syrup and honey. After we'd tasted this one Tatsuru told us that this it is the 12 year old blend that is a newer addition to the range, and it doesn't sit as nicely alongside its big brother as the Yamazaki 12 does alongside the 18. Not to say that they are not both good whiskies, but they are almost too different to carry the same name - in order to give the 12 more complexity they use plum liqueur casks to finish the whisky, which they don't need to do with the elder statesman.

I'm not sure these whiskies are necessarily for everyone, but I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing. There is such a trend towards big, bold flavours that sometimes it's nice to see subtlety given pride of place. 'Mild, delicate, sweet and elegant.' Indeed, and thanks again.

All available from The Whisky Shop generally and here in Nottingham! Shameless work plug, but if they weren't available at the shop I work in then I wouldn't have got the chance to try them!