Hakuna Mithuna

I’ve been struggling with peated whisky recently. That’s not to say I don’t like it, I do I love it and have enjoyed many fabulous bottles on many occasions. However of late I’ve found that I’ve been consistently gravitating to un-peated whisky and I can’t really explain why.

You could argue this is down to the changing of the seasons as personally I prefer those thick, heavy and smoky notes in the colder months. They remind me of open fires and coming back home from long and wet winter walks with the smell of fallen leaves and damp earth still in the nostrils. But to get to the point, the season hasn’t really changed where I live. Temperatures have topped out at around 13c today for example as I write this and provided another uneventful and boringly overcast grey filter on the local world.

Have my tastes changed? Not permanently no, at least I hope not but I can’t deny that I’ve been finding more enjoyment and sense of fulfillment from some of the un-peated paths less travelled. About half of my collection that’s readily available (read; isn’t in boxes in various parts of the house) is made up of peated whisky in some way shape or form. This has meant that I’ve been making much more of a dent in the whiskies that haven’t been introduced to the partially decayed vegetation that plays such a vital role both in local bio diversity, climate change prevention, and of course the whisky industry.

Image from Tumblr

For a really good read on peat specifically, check out Claire Vokin’s blog on the subject here.

I’ve already outlined my drinking patterns seem to coincide with the weather, which given I live in Northern England you’d think I’d be drinking peated whisky all year round. In stark contrast to today’s 13c, the temperature in Panaji – Goa, is 33c. Don’t get me wrong, it’s raining which is weirdly reassuring but still that’s one hell of a difference. Panaji is home to the Paul John distillery, a whisky distillery owned by Indian drinks company John Distilleries. The parent company doesn’t just produce whisky, but also distills brandy as well as owning vineyards for a range of Indian wines overseen by Italian winemaker Lucio Matricardi.

Paul John has been gaining more and more attention as the years have progressed. If you go back to when I started drinking whisky around 14 years ago, the thought of an Indian whisky in any capacity would likely have received many pairs of raised eyebrows. Happily this is no longer the case and the raft of distilleries across the globe and ever increasing world whisky boom is a pleasure to witness.

Image courtesy of Pauljohnwhisky.com

Given the average temperature in Goa sits at around 33c in the daytime and a balmy 25c at night (often higher), producing whisky in the region is an interesting concept. Angel’s share sits at a whopping 8-10% meaning that’s 10% of your spirit lost off the bat. The average in Scotland being anywhere from 2.5% to 4% over longer periods and that’s one hell of a difference. On the flip side, the higher temperatures when coupled with wood interaction arguably gives Paul John whisky a more mature profile in less time when compared to their Scottish counterparts with an altogether different profile.

I’ve never really been one for star signs or astrology however it plays a significant part in Indian culture. Mithuna, named after the 3rd zodiac sign in Indian astrology, is the counterpart of Gemini and marks the start of the monsoon season in the country. It is also the name of Paul John’s latest release.

Paul John Mithuna Indian Single Malt Whisky – 58% Un-Chill Filtered – Natural Colour RRP £200+

Mithuna is matured in first fill American oak and finished in first fill ex bourbon casks so the deep copper colour is indicating some potential richness off the bat considering the cask types not normally associated with such a deep hue.

Bottled at 58% and presented at natural colour without chill filtration, the Mithuna is priced at a hefty £200+ RRP.

The colour in the glass is a deep copper with very oily and slow legs on the side of the glass.

On the nose there’s an instant floral note to it. I was going to say orange zest but it’s really more orange blossom water which sounds ridiculous but it’s something used in baking quite often in this house. Things become instantly richer with fruit cake, toasted nuts, cinnamon, ancho chili and hot chocolate. With water there are more oily nuts alongside honey and vanilla.

The palate announces itself instantly with a lovely rich spice. Orange zest this time, saffron, cinnamon swirls and Cadbury’s fruit and nut. Over time there is a little warmth as well as toffee, cardamom and chai tea. This is dangerously drinkable at the strength with little to no harshness or alcohol burn. With water things soften but become darker with treacle, sultanas and dark chocolate.

This leads into a long, sweet and warming finish with more of that chocolate, honey and spice.

Overall this is a lovely dram and certainly managed to transport me to warmer climbs, albeit temporarily. You may read through some of these notes and think cardamom? Chai? Bit coincidental? Not at all. In fact I really enjoy it when I get more localised tasting notes from someone’s whisky. I even shared this sample bottle with my wife who shouted ‘Cardamom!’ within seconds of trying this dram which was reassuring as she has a much better palate and nose than I do.

My only concern is the price, not many will be able to afford this release and if they can then there are many other well aged alternatives. However there is no denying that this is a high quality and thoroughly enjoyable spirit.

Score: Outstanding

Malt Music

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this whisky just feels right both given the style and name! In this case it’s Gemini Rising with The Future. Here the LA based trio put out a really nice rich mix of 80’s style back beat with a strong vocal performance all offset with a great catchy melody.

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
– I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
– No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
– There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
 – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear 
– Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop
 – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.

Faintly Fèis

Confession time; I’ve never been to Islay.

That’s right, I am yet to make the pilgrimage across the sea to one of whisky’s most iconic homes. I have never queued to buy the limited festival releases, pitch a tent or stay at the Port Charlotte hotel. I have for years sat on my sofa when May comes around and seen my whisky friends’ pictures on Twitter of them on sailing ships tasting whiskies, arm in arm at distilleries, and often sun burned.

I’m writing this post from a cottage in a Cornish fishing village where my wife and I have made our first successful escape in over 18 months. Along with the majority of the populace all our plans in 2020 were cancelled and we grabbed this opportunity with both hands and don’t regret it one bit. We love it down here. I feel a connection with the sea and rarely take my eyes from it, it’s ever changing mood and sheer power shaping people’s lives and the island on which I live. I live in quite a rural area with relatively clean air but there is nothing that can replace the smell of sea spray, seaweed, wet rock and old rope as you head down into a small Cornish cove.

Image courtesy of Islay.org.uk

This is my Islay. This is one of the few places in the world where I feel truly at ease and at home; although I doubt this will ever be the case given the price of housing and limited opportunities in my line of work in the county. Even more poignant is that this is also the case for local people. Communities are being slowly dissolved away with many my age and younger having to leave their beloved home to find work and affordable housing elsewhere.

I feel there would be similarities between here and Islay. The rugged coastline, the variety and sudden change of weather, but more importantly the sense of community and a tight knit group of local people who are proud of their heritage and surroundings.

The pandemic has caused chaos, loss, and stress for many. There have however been some positives. More companies are opening up to the idea of remote working which will no doubt improve mental and physical health, restaurants, whilst they have suffered, have in some cases also changed the way they traded by offering at home delivery boxes. Fèis ìle was cancelled in 2020 but for 2021 distilleries have for the most part have seen an opportunity to adapt and have gone virtual. This meant that I could buy festival drams directly from distillers rather than seeing hundreds of bottles appear at auction within a week of the festival’s end at a 250% markup – as is tradition.

One of those distilleries is Bunnahabhain. Affectionately known as Bunna by many, this distillery forms one of three Scotch whisky distilleries in the Distell portfolio and has a loyal following. I won’t talk about production methods, technical stats or the history of the distillery here, there are plenty of other websites out there that covered off all that kind of stuff years ago. Their 12 year old is, in my opinion, up there with some of the best value for money whiskies that you can buy. I’ve already mentioned here, in my videos and Twitter feed that the clamouring for limited edition bottlings is becoming increasingly unhealthy and unfriendly. We could all do with having a word with ourselves and settling on some of the more consistent, affordable and quality whiskies such as the 12yr old.

That being said, Bunnahabhain put their festival bottles on the website and whilst there was the predictable server issues from being hugged to death by whisky fans and flippers alike; I came across a tasting set of two samples of the festival releases and a sample of the 12 yr old. That’ll do for me says I and proceed to breeze through the checkout process.

So in this instance Islay came to me and was then promptly brought to the most southerly tip of England. These 3 drams have had quite the journey.

The tasting set in question was £20 plus postage. The two festival drams are an 8yr old Móine (heavily peated) distilled in 2013 that spent a finishing period in Bordeaux wine casks and a 2001 Marsala finish. Both are un-chillfiltered, natural colour and bottled at natural cask strength. The Bordeaux retails at £85 and the Marsala at the slightly more eyewatering £199. At the time of writing, both of these drams are still available to buy.

Bunnahabhain Feis Ile 2021 2013 Bordeaux Finish Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 59.5% Un-Chill Filtered – Natural Colour RRP £85

I said in a recent video that a good Bordeaux blend is one of my go-to wines. Approachable, good quality and well priced they are a very good all round claret that goes well with a lot of food or just an enjoyable evening.

This 2013 is on the punchier end of the percentage spectrum at 59.5%.

The nose is initially reminiscent of the recent Glen Scotia Bordeaux cask finish for the Campbeltown malts festival in that there’s lots of berries and a distinct creaminess to it. There’s also some of the same sea air quality that I love in a whisky and a slight hint of smoke, certainly not the level you may expect. This then becomes buttery with a touch of smoked chipotle and honey. With water the oak becomes a little more pronounced alongside more red berries and a malty quality.

The palate carries great texture as you’d expect from an untampered with spirit of the strength and wine influence. There’s an instant peat hit which, for me, came as a bit of a surprise considering the profile of the nose but still a welcomed one. More of those berries, red fruits and butter appears alongside nutty crumble topping that’s slightly caught. Digestive biscuits and cream make way for more oak influence which becomes increasingly apparent alongside some heat as we head in to a long, warm and sweet finish with a hint of that peat throughout.

Overall certainly enjoyable and multidimensional with a good balance of oak and smoke. The wine cask adds interest and for me helps add balance and structure to what would otherwise be some pretty powerful flavours.

Score: Very Good

Bunnahabhain Feis Ile 2021 – 2001 Marsala Finish Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 53.6% Un-Chill Filtered – Natural Colour RRP £199

Now onto the Marsala which is a lovely deep copper in the glass.

The nose is initially a little closed and dominated by the rich marsala influence with underlying notes of turmeric, raisin and nuts. With water honey and malt extract appear.

On the palate this dram is much more of an open book although carries a thinner texture than the younger Bordeaux finish. The core Bunnahabhain nutty character is there off the bat alongside tobacco, honey and an almost shitake mushroom kind of earthiness. There is a dryness throughout which is interesting. More nuts come through along with a slight nip from the alcohol. With water I find it a little more approachable with chocolate orange and cinder toffee in the mix too.

Overall an interesting dram for sure but I prefer the much cheaper Bordeaux finish. Speaking of which the Glen Scotia 10yr Bordeaux finish sits around £40 less than that but value is unique to the individual.

Score: Good

As touched on above the Bordeaux wins out for me but this was a great opportunity to try festival exclusives that ordinarily I wouldn’t have been able to.

Malt Music

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for these drams is an unadulterated self indulgence. I’ve sat for hours listening to shanties in the Cadgwith Cove and can never get enough of the melodic and foot tapping nature of many of the coastal folk songs, many of which hark back centuries and have been passed down generation to generation. Given the surroundings of both Islay and Cornwall, this just felt right. Sloop John B sung by the Fisherman’s Friends.

Scoring Scale:

Holy Grail – Indiana Jones himself can only hope to find such a treasure.
Unbelievable – Among the best I’ve ever had. Must be tried at all costs.
Outstanding – One you should try to get hold of. Qualities in abundance.
Very Good – One to have on the shelf regularly. Provides consistent enjoyment.
Good – I’d happily drink this. One to buy at the right price.
Solid – No particular flaws but no wow factor either.
Fine – There to take the edge off. Good for highballs and won’t need much thought.
Meh – Somewhat flawed. More of a chore than a pleasure.
Oh Dear – Consistent flaws. Gets you where you’re going at the speed you want to get there.
Please Make it Stop – Not one to seek out. Hope for a gift receipt.

A £100 Whisky Collection?

There’s a lot of time and money involved when it comes to putting together a whisky collection over a number of years. But what about those of us that are new to whisky or want to start drinking it and are on a budget? What’s the best way to get this started?

Perhaps you don’t want to invest too much money into something that you may not enjoy as much as you thought? Maybe you’re thinking about spending a considerable sum on two bottles to start your whisky journey?

Many of us that have been drinking whisky for years can often forget how we started and what bottles started our collection and oft times feel that we’ve moved on from those bottles?

With this in mind, I set myself a challenge. That challenge being to put together an affordable and accessible whisky collection that can easily be attained. The difference being we’re not talking £300, £250 or even £200. Here I look at putting together a whisky collection… for £100