Euston, we Have a Problem

Those of you that know me, have watched some of my videos on the YouTube channel, or follow me on social media will no doubt know of my fandom of the Bimber Distillery in London.

For me Bimber encompasses so much of what I love about the flourishing English Whisky scene. From the washbacks that were made by hand by skilled carpenter and owner Dariusz Plazewski (and team), to the direct fired Portuguese stills that empty in to stainless steel milk churns, Bimber screams innovation whilst sitting snugly alongside tradition.

Bimber’s home in London is also the home of one of the world’s most important and impressive public transport networks – The London Underground. Deep beneath the bustling streets of one of the world’s largest cities lies 250 miles (400 km) of track serving 270 stations. For context, as the crow flies London to Paris is 214 miles. That’s a lot of track.

Bimber has taken the bold decision to enter into a costly (but from their point of view hopefully lucrative) licensing agreement with TfL (transport for London). This enables the use of some of the Underground’s iconic station names, logos and references. With this in mind they have released their first ‘Spirit of the Underground Collection’ which features 4 bottles of Single Malt drawn from single casks all matured in ex bourbon barrels. These bottles, somewhat predictably, sold out within seconds and cost a slightly eyewatering £125 a bottle.

I was fortunate enough to take part in Bimber’s Tweet Tasting of the range hosted by the Whisky Wire so had an otherwise challenging chance to try all four initial releases.

All whiskies were bottled at natural cask strength, non-chill filtered, natural colour and drawn from 4 individual American oak ex-bourbon casks. I have to say as well that they are some of the most attractive bottles I’ve seen in some time. Fantastic design.

Waterloo – 58.% – £125 (Sold Out)

Paler in colour than the other three in the lineup. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Waterloo station be it through work or pleasure but we can all bond in the fact that we’ve heard that 1970’s ABBA hit of the same name that may want you to insert a sharp object into your ear canal.

Nose: Bimber but not as I know it. It’s light, flighty and prickly in places. Vanilla comes through with cream and a slight spice. Warm copper coins now become dominant. Over time becomes buttery and allows some of the Bimber core notes of cola cube and spice to come through.

Palate: Thick, syrupy. This one for me drinks to the strength – punchy and a tad hot. The cola cubes are now back but feels a little rough around the edge compared to other single casks and general ex bourbon releases I’ve tried from the distillery. Black pepper and toffee finish come through at the end.

Finish: Long, warm with spices and honey.

Overall: You can tell this is produced using good spirit but for me, not their best release. This probably shows the most youth I’ve seen from a Bimber in more recent times and feels a little conflicted and hard to keep track of.

Score: Solid

Baker Street – 58.1% £125 (Sold Out)

Home of the famous Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. Will this be a Hound of the Baskervilles akin to the Waterloo?

Nose: Already more refined than the Waterloo. Icing sugar, mango, banana and crème brulee. Cherry pie possibly? Ginger, cola (yes again) and something that reminds me of fresh churros. Already a massive improvement.

Palate: Good texture. Again very spicy up front but turns swiftly sweeter. Black pepper makes another appearance alongside golden syrup and a mild chilli heat. Honey comes in with Biscoff and pecan nuts.

Finish: Again long and sweet but with a hot intense spice.

Overall: A noticeable improvement on the Waterloo for me. However does still feel a little lacking in places and sometimes a case of chasing the peaks and troughs.

Score: Good/Very Good

King’s Cross – 58.5% £125 (Sold Out)

Being on the West Coast Mainline who’s trains go into London Euston, I’ve never set foot in Kings Cross which services the East Coast Line and yet sits a mere 200m or so to the East. That aside, it does contain a mystical 3/4 platform from a certain magical book and movie franchise. Will this cast a spell on me however?

Nose: Lemon zest, sherbet, the bottom of an empty sweet jar. Honey comes in with a touch of lavender and spices. A tad hot to the nostrils.

Palate: Again good texture and again it instantly let’s you know it’s there. A big spice hit followed by vanilla coke (yes I’m a heathen), nutty toffee and tinned fruit salad. Fresher nectarine and orange zest see things into the finish.

Finish: Long with soft cinnamon warmth and nuts.

Overall: A good dram and sits somewhere between the Waterloo and Baker St for me so far. Still, this does show it’s frailties and strengths in equal measure.

Score: Good

Oxford Circus – 58.9% – £125 (Sold Out)

Now, Oxford circus. If we take the steps up from the station we’re greeted with a medley of red double decker buses and bustling pavements thanks to this joining the West End – famous for it’s theatres, Oxford Street -London’s up market shopping street, and Regent street -again a somewhat up market shopping street as well as being home to the BBC’s old broadcasting house.

Nose: Deep fried Mars bar! More fried goodness in the form of fresh doughnuts. Walnut oil. Again this fleetingly becomes hot but is kept in check by the sweetness of a ton of honey pastries and dried oregano.

Palate: Good texture. So much more approachable. Despite the strength this one is eminently more drinkable at full whack. Peaches, Tikka Pineapple (yes it’s a thing and you’re missing out, get yourself to Dishoom), grilled paneer, cinnamon buns and honey. Butterscotch sweets.

Finish: Delightful, more cola, cinnamon and honey. Sweet but not cloying, warm but not hot, long but not intrusive.

Overall: By far and away the best of the line up for me. This stands out like a fully illuminated Blackpool tower. The strongest dram of the evening being the most drinkable isn’t necessarily unique but this is a fantastic dram in it’s own right.

Score: Outstanding

In conclusion, I was made up to take part in this tasting. Whilst I was initially surprised that some of these drams didn’t automatically push my buttons or taste like I’m used to when it comes to Bimber, it was refreshing to have to really engage with these and take the rough with the smooth. This will always be the case with single casks. Some see single casks as superior given their uniqueness and retention of core distillery characters. That’s not always the case and they can be incredibly varied both for the good and the bad.

I was initially tempted to also mention auction/secondary prices in the titles. I’m glad to report however that I didn’t see many. The reason being Bimber have stepped up to the plate in the fight against flipping. Bottles were limited to one per person across all releases meaning only one bottle could be picked up, not one of each. NFC tags were stuck to bottles under the foil caps which, when scanned after opening, gave the owner a £12.50 voucher. Upon scanning five of these over future releases, the owner would be given a free bottle from a future Underground range. A carefully curated numbered order system tracking who bought what bottle was also in place although this meant a lot of work in excel for a certain individual. If any of those bottles were seen at auctions within 12 months of sale? That individual was banned from entering any further ballots.

Sadly, as I’ve touched on here, people will still bring the worst out of themselves on occasions and this release was no exception. As a result, anybody to have been found to have abused, pestered, or be an inconsiderate FOMO chasing magpie was to have their membership cancelled and banned from purchasing from Bimber’s website.

For me, the Bimber Ex-Bourbon general releases have been my favourites to date closely followed by the Oloroso batches. These were also priced at £65/75 respectively which is nigh-on half the price of the Underground releases. Saying that, the Tfl licence will have been costly and Bimber by the nature of it’s capacity doesn’t have a huge amount of stock to play with for single cask releases which also factors in. These whiskies all showed in some way how the blending process can add together individual players to form a team for the better. Sure it’s nice listening to a moving cello or violin solo every once in a while – but nothing quite beats the envelopment of a full orchestral performance reaching it’s crescendo.

The varied scores here highlight the variety of single casks as with any other distillery and it’s good to see that Bimber is no exception to the rule, further highlighting that they really do belong at the whisky table.

Thanks again to the Whisky Wire and Bimber Distillery for the inclusion in this tasting.

The Malt Music for these whiskies is predictable as it is fitting. London’s iconic trio The Jam with Going Underground, need I say more?

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

Gone Fishing

I personally find it perfectly natural to have both a sense of want and belonging. Sometimes they can be connected, sometimes they’re not. In the last decade you only need to see the sheer level of fervour when the latest smartphone is released, for example. People that were perfectly happy with their current £700 handset and tied into ridiculously priced contracts, suddenly decide that its now only worth sticking in the drawer with various dead batteries, old currency, and half used Bic pens as they queue in all weathers to get hold of that latest piece of technology.

Keeping up with the Jones’ isn’t a new concept. Far from it – this is something that has been built into the human psyche for centuries. Whether this be wanting to blend in, be one of the gang or have the same – if not more – than your neighbours. For many this mentality is the signal showing to all that they are successful and content.

Whisky is no different. I’ve already beaten this particular horse to death but FOMO is a very unhealthy thing. Sometimes you only need to look at some of the vitriol that is spread around the fields of whisky social media that is perpetuating some frankly unhelpful and, in some cases, harmful opinions. For example, let’s talk about an email that I received today. This email was sent from Bimber distillery to their Bimber Klub membership – exclusively sent to those of us who have seen both potential and joy in what has so far been produced and in the manner in which is has. What a shame it was then to see that the email was highlighting abuse and negative interactions that had been levelled at Bimber staff as a result of their recent (and massively popular) Spirit of the Underground series. Some people missed out, I missed out, but to sink as low as to abuse staff of a company that worked hard to bring to market a product that you wanted but just couldn’t get on the day because it was popular? Have a word with yourself, move on, breathe in the life in the air around you. Also don’t forget to have another word with yourself whist you’re at it. You’re part of the problem as well as the thousands of others (including me) all chasing that same bottle.

As a result of some of this nonsense, the distillery have enacted a lifetime ban and refund of membership for those who have been found to have sent messages/calls/emails to staff with any form of abuse of harmful content. In addition, all future limited releases will be issued via a weighted ballot to make things a little more balanced. In a widely welcomed move, Bimber have also stated that anyone found to have flipped (their definition being sold within 12 months of purchase) a bottle of a limited release, will also be barred from purchasing directly from the distillery in future. This will take a lot of work to track, and I certainly don’t envy the person responsible for this undoubtedly hellish Excel spreadsheet. You know who you are.

I must take a second here to apologise in advance, as just like those long drives back from family road trips – we’re not stopping yet.

I’ve always been an advocate of drinking what you want how you want to and an anti-snob. I really don’t care if you prefer your 30 year old Glendronach with a splash of vanilla Coke, nor is it any skin off my nose if you’re perfectly happy drinking a £9 bottle of supermarket own label blended whisky. Deep down within me however, is something of a scrap book of various things that I’ve seen said about certain brands, distilleries and whiskies be it reviews or offhand comments. I’ve not necessarily regurgitated these opinions but they have inadvertently had an impact on my shopping habits. I’ve almost been trained to overlook some offerings from this unconscious bias.

One of the whiskies that I’ve long ignored is Speyburn. Could it be the big flopping salmon on the label or is it because you could argue that Speyburn is the runt of the Inver House stable? Competing for space with Balblair and Pulteney would never have been easy, although given the recent revamps to these two ranges; some light finally made it onto the forest floor that has allowed Speyburn to grow more into my consciousness.

In one of those ‘why not’ moments that I think we all get from time to time with online shopping – I picked up a bottle of Speyburn 10yr old. One of the main reasons being it had been reduced to £24 which is well down from the usual £34 RRP but also something in me just gravitated to it for the first time.

Speyburn 10yr old Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% –  Chill Filtered – Added E150 Colouring – RRP £34

Yes so already this is chill filtered and contains E150a colouring. Are we surprised at this given the price point. Are they the only company to do this? No. So let’s move on.

On the nose there’s initially from white wine like acidity. This softens slightly with sugary cereals, green apple, honey and vanilla. There’s also a slight fustiness in there too which detracts from the previous freshness a little. So far a little reminiscent of the many supermarket own label Speysiders. Towards the end there’s a touch of spice and candlewax.

The palate texture is pretty average but again I’ll allow it. We open up proceedings with more apple, vanilla custard and crumble topping. Basically a poncey deconstructed apple pie from some gastropub that’ll no doubt charge you £12 for the privilege of keeping all of those ingredients separately. I digress. Toffee comes through with a little spice and milky porridge with honey.

The finish is short to medium length with boiled sweets and more of that apple crumble.

Whilst this may sound like I’ve been spending too much time in local orchards, I was pleasantly surprised by this and is nowhere near as ineffectual as I was led to believe. This is a whisky that I’m happily drinking during these warmer days, or at least when they decide to turn up. For me, this was yet another reminder that there are plenty more fish in the sea.

Score: Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram is ..well.. this.

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.

This is Not a Whisky Review

One of the reasons that I started this written blog was to supplement the YouTube channel with content that isn’t all about whisky. I do enjoy a plethora of other liquids both in full, partial or non alcoholic forms.

One of those is Rum. I’m still pretty fresh, a noob if you will, when it comes to the sugarcane or molasses based nectar when compared to whisky. I have a natural leaning towards Bajan rum in particular after spending our honeymoon on Barbados. I hadn’t come across friendlier people with so much pride in their surroundings and produce.

There’s a couple of now overcooked images associated with rum of tropical beaches, questionable shirts, sunshine, or the full on Tiki culture that swept the globe a few years back. However given the vast spread of rum production across the world, you simply can’t assign these things so rashly any longer. Rum is produced in nations across the globe, from Antigua to Australia, Mauritius to Madeira and hell, even the Dominican Republic to Devon!

Rum also isn’t as simple as white, dark and spiced and extends far beyond the reaches of the local Tesco. People can get touchy about filtration and the addition of caramel colouring to some whiskies but they’d keel over in their chairs if Scotch whisky producers added sugar to their bottles which is a practice some Rum bottlers appear to be undertaking. This isn’t a new or necessarily underhand practice, I mean, it is but you could argue it happens in other drinks categories as it can also be seen practiced in Cognac.

Rum geeks out there; please do feel free to call out any mistakes – every day is a school day.

The variance in styles of rum can be as clear as a 12yr Glenfiddich compared to a cask strength Ardbeg and I’m yet to really dive deep into niches such as the ‘funkier’ Jamaican rums or Rhum Agricole etc.

The rum I’m looking at here is a bit of a departure from my normal bottles. This is an independent bottling that isn’t really all that independent at all. I’m talking about the Real McCoy. There is a close relationship between the Real McCoy and the Foursquare distillery in Barbados.

Foursquare Distillery image courtesy of iwsc.com

In 1920, the United States driven by a sense of religious fervour, outlawed the production, sale and consumption of alcohol. Ironically I suspect somebody passing that into law must have been under the influence but we’ll never know. In the same year, Bill McCoy and his brother Ben (yes Bill and Ben) having had their freight business in Florida fall on hard times due to the development of road and rail, sold their business and purchased a schooner. Bill was ex US navy and finished top of his class so knew a thing or two about the sea. So came into being their bootlegging business.

Cpt Bill McCoy

The brothers travelled through the Caribbean, Canada and South America smuggling Rye and Irish Whiskey, wines and, more notably, Rum. Sitting the bare minimum 3 miles off the coast of the eastern US in International Waters, Bill sold his wares to the medley of small boats that came out to meet them to fulfill the slaking thirst of America’s infamous speakeasys.

Everything was going swimmingly. The brothers’ were making good money, so much so that they expanded operations by buying a second, larger craft. However, this came to an end when Bill was captured by the US coastguard in 1923 who had to pursue him into international waters. Bill tried to flee but his 3 mast schooner was no match for a coastguard steamship which repeatedly fired 4inch shells at Bill and his crew. In fairness to Bill, he didn’t go into court cap in hand and was in fact quoted as saying “I have no tale of woe to tell you. I was outside the three-mile limit, selling whisky, and good whisky, to anyone and everyone who wanted to buy” ..and who can blame him?

The Real McCoy range is made up of a few releases, all distilled and matured and, as far as I’m aware, bottled at Foursquare distillery. Using molasses, the rum produced here is for me an iconic Bajan style rum. The rum I’ll be looking at today is the Real McCoy 14yr old Limited Edition. There are some crossovers with Foursquare’s own Doorly’s range as they also have a 5yr old, 12 yr old and 14 yr old.

Real McCoy 14yr Old Limited Edition Bajan Rum – 46% NCF Unknown Natural Colour Unknown No Added Sugars RRP £82.75 Bott 2019

This rum is produced using both pot still and column still spirit and was matured in ex bourbon casks.

The colour in the glass is a nice deep copper hue. If someone whispered the words ‘Dark Rum’ in my ear this is the sort of thing I’d envisage right before I called the police.

On the nose there’s initially some big eucalyptus notes, followed by grilled pineapple and coconut. Things open up a little more with more fruit but we’re taking a trip back in time for me, its banana with brown sugar and sultanas that you wrap in tinfoil and stick on the BBQ. Anyone else remember that? There is a touch of earthiness that is preceded by something akin to butterscotch and a small sprinkle of orange zest.

On the palate the texture is good, similar to most middle of the road non-chill filtered whiskies I’ve tried in the past 14 years. That earthiness from the nose comes in first of all alongside a honey like sweetness and a hint of smoke. Raisins, toffee and treacle are up next with a hefty helping of oak influence. Spices and vanilla take us into the finish alongside dark chocolate.

The finish itself is lovely and long, warming and with plenty of honey and spices including but not limited to Grenadian nutmeg.

Overall this is my kind of drinking rum. Complex and can easily stand shoulder to shoulder with many of the whiskies on my shelves. The legacy of Bill McCoy is alive and well. I’d note this is a little more difficult to get hold of here in the UK. It’s available at the Whisky Exchange but is much more readily available across the pond in the US…

Just saying..

Score: Outstanding

Fancy some tunes? The Rum Rhythm for this dram comes from Ohio based Monster Rally with Adventure, an instrumental tune with a tropical/bluegrass crossover vibe.

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.

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.
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.

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

Who’s The Daddy?

That was exactly my thought when I was first contacted by a representative for this whiskey brand. Scotch has always been my first love and has and likely always will form the biggest part of my collection. Vying for second place are the whiskies from the United States and the rest of the world.

My collection of American whiskies has grown over the last 5 years but certainly not at the same rate as my other bottles including English whisky. This is partly due to the tenancy of a certain individual resembling a disgruntled apricot – who was until recently sat behind a desk in a large white building in Washington D.C. Many months of political posturing and tantrum tariffs caused price increases in Scotch in the US, and American Whiskey in Europe by return. Thankfully that’s all behind us now and things (C*vid aside) are starting to return to some semblance of normality.

How fitting then that I am told about an American whiskey distiller that I’d not come across before. In American Whiskey, a bit like the Irish whiskey scene at times, waters can be muddied with sourced spirit, brands using suggestive phrasing on packaging, and a lot of fanfare without much end result. Luckily however there is a distillery tucked away in Tennessee that’s released a new to market whiskey to provide what appears to be an alternative.

Sat in an unassuming industrial unit in Columbia Tennessee sits the Tennessee Distilling Company and is headed up by J. Arthur Rackham, who spent more than fifty years in the drinks industry in various guises. Full disclosure, I hadn’t heard of these guys before but that’s more likely a reflection on me than them.  Their bottling, Daddy Rack Whiskey, is named after the nickname that J. Arthur was given by his daughter.

J. Arthur Rackham

Tennessee is already home to two whiskey titans in the form of the inescapable Jack Daniels and George Dickel so its always good to hear of smaller and under the radar alternatives. Jack Daniels and Dickell both market their whiskey’s as ‘Sour Mash’ referring to the process where the bacterial aspects are carried over from batch to batch to provide consistency. A similar concept as a sourdough starter. Realistically this isn’t an unusual process as the many of the large Bourbon players also utilise the process but don’t market their whiskey in this way.

Before we go on, let’s do away with a  few American whiskey myths. Bourbon doesn’t have to come from Kentucky, the mash ingredients and ageing process is what dictates that. In the same vein, Sour Mash whiskey doesn’t have to come from Tennessee. Tennessee Whiskey however can only be made in Tennessee.

Daddy Rack is produced using a mashbill of 80% corn, 10% rye and 10% malted barley. The significant corn proportion all sourced from farmers within a 50 mile radius of the distillery which is both impressive and a nod to the local community. After distillation initially through a copper column still followed by a pot still, the whiskey undergoes what is known as the Lincoln County process. A production process popularised notably by Jack Daniels, the spirit is passed through an initial charcoal filtration. One difference utilised by Tennessee Distilling Co being they then pass the spirit through maple charcoal a second time.

Each batch is set to be made up of just 20 barrels.

After maturation the whiskey was then bottled at 40% and in true American whiskey style, without the addition of added colouring.

Disclosure: This sample was kindly provided by Daddy Rack/LX PR/Emporia Brands for review. However, as with any other whisky, just because this whisk(e)y has been provided to me this does not mean that it will automatically get a favourable review and as with all whiskies that I have reviewed and will review in the future shall be judged on it’s own merits.

Daddy Rack Tennessee Straight Whiskey – 40% – No added Colour

The colour is a light copper with some nice slow legs on the glass.

The nose is all fairground vibes and takes me back to my time at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. There’s an instant rich sweetness, warmth and savoury note to this that is a bit like walking passed the various food stalls. Donuts, corn on the cob and warm breads open proceedings. Buttered popcorn cherry pie and Bounty bars follow with a nice coconut and chocolate note. In comes browned salted butter and vanilla alongside a touch of menthol.

The palate carries with it a good texture initially. That cherry makes a welcomed reappearance alongside raw buttery cookie dough and milk chocolate. The corn influence is there in abundance and it brings with it a good level of sweetness and spice. Custard and granola finish things off with a warming finish of medium length.

Overall I’m impressed and on the face of it this seems like a welcomed addition to the market of a versatile Tennessee whiskey. This is approachable and interesting and as I don’t always sit analysing whiskies to death; I’ve also tried this in a few cocktails including Old Fashioned’s and sours and it works well with that sweet corn led note coming through. I’d happily sit back and sip this from a heavy bottomed tumbler in the evenings of the coming warmer months. Speaking of which I may just do that..

Score: Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram comes from Father John Misty. Given he’s one of my favourite artists its a wonder I’ve managed to wait this long to include him. The stage name of Joshua Tillman, Misty’s music is all encompassing. Surreal, punchy, toe tapping and at times lyrically hilarious. This particular song, Writing A Novel from his 2012 Album Fear Fun meets a lot of the above and for me perfectly encompasses the fun but laid back attitude of this whiskey.

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. 

Not Your Basic Birch

I like trees. Don’t get me wrong I’ve never chained myself to one to prevent the building of a new motorway bypass or anything like that but I do like them. There’s something reassuring seeing something old but still full of life as well as their colours and differing appearances.

You see this the world over with different varieties in different countries but ultimately there will always be a sense of familiarity to them. Sadly woodland and forests in the UK are dwindling although efforts are being made to replant trees in some areas to rekindle long lost woodlands, most of which were felled historically to make room for farming and more recent developments.

Sweden is a particularly lush country, more than half (57%) of it is covered in forest so the Swedes know their way around a tree or two. Whilst timber is big business in the country meaning a lot of trees are felled, Sweden plants more trees than it fells so their forests have doubled in size over the last 50 years.

Image courtesy of Mackmyra.com

In one of those forested areas sits a whisky distillery. Mackmyra – which is probably the world’s best know Swedish whisky distillery, is nestled just outside of Gävle in eastern Sweden. Founded in 1999 Mackmyra have always done things differently. Before we even get onto the topic of casks you only need to look at the ‘Gravity’ stills which operate in a more environmentally friendly way, the use of an old mine for cask storage and maturation, and the use solely of Swedish ingredients.

Mackmyra’s master blender and CNO (Chief nosing officer) – Angela D’Orazio has led many interesting projects at the distillery since joining in 2004. We only need to look back over the last 12 months to see some of the more weird and wonderful casks used in some releases. A couple of which I’ve reviewed on the channel. We saw the delicious Grönt Te which saw whisky spend a period finishing in casks that previously held tea liqueur. More recently we had the admittedly difficult to pronounce Jaktlycka which, among others, was made up from casks that included ex lingonberry and blueberry wine.

Image courtesy of Mackmyra.com

Part of the appeal of these experiments (aside from them being very good on the whole) is that they tend to form part of their seasonal releases that coincide with the changing of the seasons and are tailored to reflect them. The Jaktlycka for example for the autumn seasonal release really did carry across a lot of autumnal flavours and connotations which in my view really added to the experience.

I find Mackmyra’s spirit to be very satisfying in ex-bourbon as it’s light, fruity but is also incredibly adaptable and does seem to work very well with cask experimentation. A lot of which you wouldn’t be able to undertake if the distillery was magically transported across the sea and into Scotland.

Their latest single malt offering – BJÖRKSAV which is the latest Spring seasonal release was in part made up of Swedish oak casks that previously held locally sourced Swedish birch sap wine from the Grythyttan winery. Already in the space of two paragraphs we’ve seen lingonberry, blueberry and now birch sap wine. Is there anything the Swedes don’t turn into wine? The wine itself is created by tapping the birch tree for it’s sap just before it ‘cracks’ in the spring as the temperature rises.

Full cask Breakdown:
• ex-Bourbon, 200 Litres
• Oloroso-seasoned American Oak, 128–200 Litres
• Birch sap wine seasoned Swedish Oak / American Oak, 100–200 Litres

I find this cask choice particularly fitting given the birch tree is Sweden’s national tree and really does seem to fit with their overall philosophy and approach to using local ingredients alongside their very unique production methods.

Note: This sample was provided to me by Mackmyra for review. As I say on the channel however – Just because this sample has been provided does not mean it will automatically get a favourable review.

Mackmyra Björksav – Natural Colour – Non Chill Filtered 46.1%- RRP £62

The dram has quite a rich appearance in the glass somewhere in between an ex bourbon and sherried dram which I’d probably best describe as deep gold.

On the nose there is initially sweet vanilla, Amaretto, crisp green apple adding freshness and ginger. Quite floral. After this there are pine needles, honey and a touch of Olbas oil. This is a moving feast as after this out comes warm baking and spice towards the back.

The palate carries a good texture. Delicious. Surprisingly tropical initially. Think mango, vanilla, banoffee pie and a second helping of more of it’s biscuit base. Honey, Turkish apple tea, green tea, and nuts. Slightly waxy and spicy too.

The finish is long and warming with a good balance of that sweetness and spices with a touch of the lighter floral notes coming back in that reminded me of apple crisps.

Overall this is really, really lovely and very charming. I like what Mackmyra do and how they do it and this whisky is no exception. With this team and approach to whisky making, I can see Mackmyra continuing to do great things for many years to come and is yet another firm reminder that whisky doesn’t start and end with Scotch.

Skål.

Score: Outstanding

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram comes from Malian four piece Songhoy Blues who combine uplifiting beats and guitar with some more traditional Malian influences. This track – Bon Bon – is a remix from Mike Lindsay and for me is a really uplifting piece of music, a bit like the whisky itself.

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.

That’s Amarone

What a week the last 7 days have been for whisky. We saw Glen Garioch announce them returning to direct fire distillation via some pretty cool tech, the second Summerton whisky festival running into technical difficulties but still offering some great content, and another Bimber release that sold out within a timescale that can only be measured by the Hadron collider.

Scientists at CERN are working round the clock to establish the exact timing that Bimber’s latest releases sold out in

As I said in a previous post; people can be fantastic, they can also be not.. The technical issues at Summerton (which were all down to the software provider and distinct lack of tech support) and the sales of Bimber’s latest releases brought out both the best and the worst of some people. In both cases messages and posts were made on the various social media platforms (that have both enhanced human interaction as well as set it back 10,000 years) making their displeasure known via the medium of some pretty derogatory language. Sure, people were disappointed that the festival didn’t go ahead fully, it has now been rearranged for the following weekend, but Dan and Tom – who ran the day got as many presenters and brands on screen as they could to talk all things whisky for a few hours to still provide some content. In the case of Bimber there were cries of injustice such as Klub members sharing discount codes, Founding members feeling aggrieved that bottles were put on general sale, and add in the website struggling due to demand and you have the perfect outlet for what I’ll call FOMOR – FOMO Rage.

We all need to remember that there are real people on the other end of those screens. Whilst the pandemic may have desensitised us to this to some extent given the increased usage of electronic communication, we need to be interacting and treating people in the same way as if we were standing in front of them. We need to be better, together.

Photo courtesy of @wolfdram1 on Twitter. The Summerton Festival chat with heavyweights such as Amy Seton, Colin Hampden-White, Matt McKay and more.

I find it’s incredibly important in today’s whisky scene that whilst yes, there are a myriad of new and exciting limited releases – there also remains a wealth, a myriad, an embarrassment of riches if you will when it comes to general sale core range and independent bottlings. My personal advice? Move on, take a breath, and take joy in what you have and what we can all share.

This brings me on to the Arran distillery. Arran has long been a distillery that I have respected and enjoyed for many years. I loved their older releases with the fresh and fruity 10 and tropical beach 14. Hell, despite the limited content of this blog so far; I actually opened up the site with a review of the new 10yr old so you could argue it’s too soon for another. But I don’t feel that way.

For me Arran is up there when it comes to maintaining a market presence of accessible, affordable and quality single malts that aren’t going to go out of stock at the press of the F5 button, or that will change hands on auction sites for 10x the original value within a week of release. I find this comforting, I find this reassuring, I find this is right for me. 9 times out of 10 I would much rather share in the mutual experience of a general release to a wider community than a more limited and FOMO driven release. Don’t get me wrong there’s still a place for them in the market and on my shelves but I’m making a lesser habit of chasing them down.

Finishing is also a bit of a divided topic in the deeper mines of the whisky community. Finishing is the practice of transferring maturing whisky from a more ‘casual’ cask such as a refill hogshead or ex-bourbon cask, and transferring it into another of a more unique variety for a shorter period of time that will impart an alternative flavour and influence. Think sherry casks, wine casks, beer casks and more. I will be writing another article on this but ultimately what constitutes a finish? Finish is a bit of a fluffy word, 3 months in a cask? 6, 12, 36? There are no written rules about the time that a whisky can sit in the second or third cask for a finishing period.

Arran aren’t new to the concept of finishing. They had released three wine finished whiskies in their old livery that have now thankfully transferred over in to the new. These are the Amarone finish, Sauternes, and Port finished whiskies. All No-Age-Statement but all presented at a higher strength of 50%, are non-chill filtered, and natural colour.. and blimey what a colour the Amarone cask finish is. I find the aesthetics of the new(ish) Arran range really pleasing to the eye and I really like that they went all out with full colour labels on the finished range.

Image courtesy of thewhiskybarrel

I find Arran’s fruity spirit can lend itself really well to wine finishing. Some people aren’t a fan of wine finishes generally but me? They take two of my favourite things and combine them into one neat and tidy serving.

Amarone is a well regarded and quite intense Italian wine produced in North East Italy. Usually of high strengths of 14.5% and upwards into the 15’s and 16’s in some cases. The grapes used (Corvina, Rondinella and others) are harvested in early October and left to dry. By drying the grapes, the desiccation both concentrates the flavours of the grapes but also helps add tannin’s to the final finish, giving the wine further structure. The wine also spends a minmum of 2 years in casks, hence in part the availability here to put whisky in them. The core flavours tend to be quite robust with a good strong body, earthy with berries and oak/vanilla.

Arran Amarone Cask Finish – Natural Colour – Non Chill Filtered – RRP £44.99

The pink/red hue in the glass really is striking, it couldn’t stand prouder and gives you an early indication of what’s in store. No colouring needed here.

On the nose there are sliced strawberries coated in black pepper and a bit of sea salt (try it honestly). Red liquorice, more strawberry but in lace form now, warm pain au chocolat and honey. A little longer in the glass I get a load of warm, fresh Danish pastries. There’s a slight nip to the nose also but you still wouldn’t think that this was a 50% whisky.

The palate is both typically Arran and typically not.. Initially I get some of the traditional Arran fruit and maltiness with more black pepper, honey and spice but then the wine influence hits home and changes things up. Dried cranberries and macadamia nut mix precedes bitter dark chocolate and pomegranate before heading into a long and sweet finish, led by that chocolate and tart pomegranate.

For me this whisky does a lot of things and it does them well. I like how rather than become overbearing, which and Amarone cask could easily have done, it works in harmony with Arran’s fruity distillate.

This is a great example of a well matched and well timed finish and at a great price too. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a whisky at this level of presentation, strength and enjoyment for the money.

Score: Very Good

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for this dram comes from British all female trio Girl Ray. For me this works perfectly with this dram, where the Amarone is in perfect harmony with the spirit, here the melody, backing beat and vocals work perfectly in harmony with each other. Show me more has to be my favourite track from this outfit to date. A real foot tapper with a melody that will let you ride the wave from start to finish.

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.

The Lidl Things in Life

Lidl is my favourite supermarket for a number of reasons. Sure, one of those being that you can buy a set of well priced drill bits at the same time as a Spanish cheese selection and hell, why not throw in some scuba gear while you’re at it, but I’ve also become quite attached to their wine range. This changes regularly and has in the past provided good value and in some cases particularly good quality – this including 30 bottles of their Comte de Senneval champagne that we bought for our wedding.

Wine and drill bits are one thing but what about their spirits? Well, for a start I’ve already reviewed their Queen Margot 3yr old and Abrachan blended malt and was very much a fan of both of them. I’m a fan of blends in general and I’m all for well priced and accessible blends that don’t come at the cost of quality. Single malts, and whisky in the wider sense, can sadly suffer from some of the most intense and misguided levels of snobbery you’ll find. I’d say it had improved in recent years but I still see it on a regular basis, yes some of this is down to a lack of awareness or education, but in some cases this is due to a disregard of them with many immovable in their unfounded opinions.

What a good job it is then that a retailer such as Lidl can bring everyone back down to earth by providing a small range of single malts for a good price, and when I say good price, I mean it.

What can you buy for £17 these days? Well let’s take to the internet – From a quick google search for a start there’s this bargainous sack from ‘Little Peckers’ , no? What about this absolute gem? Still no? Well, for the princely sum of £16.49 you can instead purchase one of a range of three Single Malt Scotch whiskies in Lidl. Full sized bottles, not 20cl or 50cl. £16.49 for 70cl of single malt is a good price no matter what you’re used to. By comparison the cheapest full bottle single malt on well regarded retailer Master of Malt is £21 plus shipping in the form of the Speyburn Bradan Orach. This in itself is still a good price for a single malt but let’s get back to Lidl.

The Lidl range goes under the name Ben Bracken. This isn’t a distillery but a suitably Scottish sounding header for the Clydesdale Scotch Whisky co who provide this lineup to the retailer. The postcode under the name is G2 5RG which is an address on St Vincent st and what do you know, is also the same postcode as the head offices of Whyte and Mackay. Anyway, the range consists of an all NAS (no age statement) line up, all are bottled at 40% and all will no doubt be chill filtered and have added E150a colouring. At this price point I’m not going to make a fuss out of that. The three whiskies take the form of Highland, Speyside, and Islay single malts.

Ben Bracken Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% Chill Filtered – Added E150 colouringRRP £16.49

If we buy into the post code detective work and do guess at Whyte and Mackay stock, this would either come from Dalmore or Fettercairn with them being the group’s two Highland region distilleries.

I had to let the whisky sit in the glass for about 30 minutes as it was very closed initially. That being said, the nose opens with Orange zest, hot chocolate and plastic model glue. Then we move into sweeter territory with warm toffee, almond essence and spices alongside a slight astringent nose burn towards the back.

The mouthfeel is pretty good but fades quickly. Initially I thought the flavours were pretty intense upfront with coconut and dark chocolate (for the sake of ease let’s say dark Bounty bars) cardamom, cinema popcorn and warm spice. This is all contained to a couple of seconds as it drops off a cliff a little bit and goes very quiet. Then from nowhere there’s suddenly a really enjoyable long and chocolate led finish alongside more of that toffee.

Overall I felt this was a little bit closed and straight forward but then again approachable and enjoyable.

Score: Fine

Ben Bracken Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% Chill Filtered – Added E150 colouring – RRP £16.49

Now if this is indeed Whyte and Mackay that supply these malts and using their own stock, their only Speyside distillery is Tamnavulin.

The nose is rather lovely indeed. Compared to the highland this already shows more cohesion and harmony. Creme brulee just after the top has been crystallised by the blowtorch. Vanilla, toffee and banana bread. Staying on the bread front there is Soreen there too with all it’s malty and raisin based goodness.

The palate again has a decent mouthfeel that sticks around a bit longer than the Highland. We’ve hit a vein at the sweet mine and we’re going to see how deep it goes. Butterscotch, spices and honey intermingle well together. There’s also something reminiscent of cognac that appears alongside raisin and walnuts. There’s then more of that maltiness here alongside an almost wine-like astringency (sherry perhaps?) that balances out the sweetness as we head into the finish. The finish itself is rewarding and almost chewy in texture with gums suitably dried alongside a dense but enjoyable sweetness that isn’t overly cloying that reminded me a bit of Madeira cake.

Overall a really enjoyable sipper that would make a great no-nonsense tumbler dram to sit back with and enjoy.

Score: Good

Ben Bracken Islay Single Malt Scotch Whisky – 40% Chill Filtered – Added E150 colouring – RRP £16.49

Now onto Islay, the small but distillery laden island off the west coast of Scotland, famous for it’s peated whiskies creating a smoky profile.

On the nose we instantly have some of those classic Islay notes in the form of sticking plasters, TCP and interestingly a bit of flitting tropical fruit in among a gentle but welcomed smoke. Leather and fresh tarmac pop their heads up at the same time as a slight saltiness.

The palate again starts with a good texture. The smoke is apparent but is joined by dried cranberries, vanilla and bonfire toffee. I love getting bonfire toffee notes in whisky as it immediately takes me back to being in the kitchen on bonfire night eagerly asking my mum how long it will take for her latest batch to cool before it could be demolished. My dentist and I are now on first name terms. You could argue there’s some of that salinity in there again but more prominent than that for me was a good level of spice and nuttiness.

Again this dram is well composed and really does provide a great introduction to a classic Islay style. The smoke isn’t as pronnounced as your average official Ardbeg, Caol Ila or Lagavulin release sure, but for me it still provides enough for me to sit up and take notice.

Score: Good

Overall I’m genuinely impressed with these drams. Even the Highland that was probably the lesser of the three provided a positive experience but overall you really can’t argue with the value on display. For what it’s worth I’ve actually had bottles of the Ben Bracken Speyside previously so am already familiar with it. I’ve also tried Aldi’s standard Glen Marnoch range which is effectively the same set up of 3 NAS 40% drams from the same regions, but for me Lidl’s Ben Bracken range just pips their fellow German rivals.

If you’re starting out on your whisky adventure, you could do a lot worse than spending the £49.47 on one of each of these. I’ll be honest, even those of us who have been drinking and picking whisky apart for decades could do a lot worse. Sometimes we all need something affordable an approachable and these fit the bill perfectly.

One thing’s for sure, the next time I head to the middle of Lidl, I’ll make room in the trolley between the Italian sundried tomatoes and chainsaw for a couple of bottles from the spirits aisle.

Malt Music

Fancy some tunes? The Malt Music for these drams is a bit of a reflection of them. Are they Whyte and Mackay stock? Do Dalmore and Tamnavulin feature? I’ll let Queens of the Stone Age answer that for me. No One knows.

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.