Sunday, August 3, 2008

Heaven and hell in the lower price range.

A while ago I commented on the 10 year old Goldlys. Today I've tasted the 3 year old.
Definitely not worth the buy! Nothing in it reminds of whisky, it is too woody, and simply awful. I tried spiking my coffee with it, only to get bad coffee. No use for it, well apart from giving it to visitors you'd rather see leave.
If you really need to buy Goldlys buy the 10 year old.

I did come across something far better though. Glen Martin is a pure malt which sells at very acceptable prices (about half the price of a standard single malt) and it is a very enjoyable drinking whisky. It is a mix of highland malts (no citation which ones) that are all at least 12 years of age. Fruity, sweet and a real crowd pleaser. Now, this is what you pour for visitors you want to stick around a bit longer.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Fancy titles and limited editions

The commercial guys of the big whisky industry are constantly pushing new fancy titled whiskies and limited edition bottles on the market. Are these worth the effort of trying or buying?
One thing I had to realize very quickly after becoming totally enthralled by malts, was the fact that, no matter what, I was never going to be able to taste all of them.
Simply look at someone like Jim Murray, who's tasted thousands of whiskies, and yet he's not tasted all of them.
Now, fancy titled whiskies and limited editions just move the already unreachable target just a little bit further out of reach, so I don't mind very much.
I have a few friends who are also into whisky and we share tips and pointers to what's new and good, and what's new and not so good. This is also great about whisky blogs and forums. The big guys may be able to fool the average consumer, but the connoisseur will unveil the charade fairly quickly.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Simply peaty

Oh, my! How I've been ignoring my blog in past months. Well, becoming a father may have been interfering with my time. No matter. I'm back!
Lately I've been enjoying a simple 10 year old Laphroaig. No cask strength, or finish stuff. Just clean simple peated Islay goodness. In these times when all kinds of players are jumping on the bandwagon of peat, the Laphroaig 10 remains a testimony of what makes these whiskies so special.
So do yourself a favour, and buy yourself a nice simple Islay and enjoy it for what it is.

I would recommend Laphroaig 10, Lagavulin 16, or an Ardbeg 10. Also very very worth the purchase is a Ledaig 10. Not an Islay, but something that will please any peat enthusiast.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Very recently I became the proud owner of 1/10 of a cask of new make spirit distilled at Bladnoch distillery. A new venture for me, actually owning maturing spirit. Ok, a tenth of a cask sounds a bit lame, but actually this is a very nice deal, since you only have a tenth of the risk involved as well.
You could split the risk by pooling your money with 9 friends, and then buying a cask, but the nice people at Bladnoch will find 9 friends for you.
Now all I have to do is wait for the spirit to mature. People seem to think that this is a bad thing, having to wait all this time. I think it's great, because all the time the spirit is maturing into a hopefully nice whisky, I can boast owning a cask maturing in Scotland. (a tenth, yes just a tenth, but it's so easy to leave it off isn't it)
I've been promised a picture of the cask (no the entire cask, not just a tenth) so as soon as I get it I'll be sure to post it here.
Obviously I'll report on the progress of the maturation in the coming years...

Sweet drams,


Sunday, March 23, 2008


Years back, pretty much the only whiskies I knew were some of the blends that were popular in my parent's house, J&B, William Lawsons and Old Smuggler. I also knew Glenfiddich, but it was not often that my parents got a bottle. Whisky was really of no interest to me. But something about that Glenfiddich being of higher quality for some reason had stuck in my mind, although I didn't really realize or care why.
Much later around my 18th year in life I and some friends pooled some money together to buy and enjoy a bottle of Glenfiddich. A night to remember. Although it was more the company than the whisky. A few years later still I had purchased a bottle of my own. I wasn't into whisky still, it was just something I liked drinking on occasion.
Fast forward again a few years, my girlfriend and me went to Ireland on a holiday, in the good company of a friend. We'd been visiting Irish pubs in Belgium and had discovered that those Irish made some good whiskey too. Our special attention went to Midleton Very Rare, it was really expensive in the pubs, my friend and I had both set our minds to buying a bottle in Ireland so we could enjoy it back home at a relatively cheaper price.
Ireland was a hit, and next year we went back. We carefully planned our route to pass Midleton distillery, which we intended to visit. I must admit that I went a little crazy in the distillery shop and bought no less than three bottles. A Jameson 15 year old, a Jameson 12 year old of the distillery reserve, and a Midleton Very Rare. Truly the whisky virus must have gotten me there and then, because I had just bought what would become the start of my collection. Back home I started to look out for whisky tastings. That was quite difficult back then, as there weren't that many as nowadays. But I managed to score one or two anyway. I had caught on to the blend/malt difference, and regularly bought malts in the supermarket.
In the mean time whisky popularity was rising and tastings became easier to find. My collection had already considerably grown, and I was now buying from specialized stores. I had already developed a fairly good idea of the taste range of whiskies in general. I loved them all. In the last few years a nearby drinks store has started organizing regular whisky tastings, and I try to attend all of them. As a result I have now tasted literally hundreds of different whiskies and own about a hundred myself.
I have now come to the point where I think of myself as a whisky connoisseur, one step beyond whisky enthusiast, but not a true whisky buff either.
Irish whisky will always have a place in my bar, and it pains me to see many people dismiss them so easily. I really love the true Lowland style whiskies, in fact one of the most amazing whiskies I've ever drunk was a 1981 St.Magdalene bottling by Gordon & MacPhail's. Islay also has a few of my favourites, but for me, nominating a favourite whisky is sheer impossible, because any choice I make, would only do injustice to all the others I really like.

So that's more or less how I became a whisky aficionado, what's your excuse ;)

Friday, March 14, 2008

Belgian Whisky II

Belgian whisky is booming! I recently tasted two more new Belgian whiskies. "Gouden Carolus" and "The Belgian Owl".

Gouden Carolus is made by a Belgian brewery. These guys distilled their malt beer and had the spirit mature for four years. Currently only available at the brewery itself, it is more of a rarity, and not a serious commercial product (yet). I tasted it, it was really interesting to find the character of their beer prominently in the product. My best guess is it is due to the type of yeast they use.

The Belgian Owl is made to resemble Scottish whisky. I've only tasted young cask samples, but they have a promising product. I'll make sure to get my hands on some of the resulting whisky and assess their progress.

So Belgium now has three whiskies. I guess the whisky hype isn't about to recede just yet.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Independent bottlings

I once met a man who was a member of a whisky club, this was in the days I was myself fairly new to whisky, who assured me independent bottlings were always superior to the standard distillery bottlings. I strongly disagreed with the man. I guess I still do, although I can see his point.
A standard bottling is created in a totally different way from an independent bottling. The distillery is looking for consistency, so they use their entire stock of casks to compose the same (or very much the same) whisky every time. Their brand is associated with a specific taste, and they have to reproduce this every time. Sometimes they make a limited or exclusive series, which is unique but in the general direction of their standard product.
An independent bottling is unique every time. The independent bottler has a much more limited stock of casks from any given distillery and usually bottles one cask at a time. This bottling's quality depends on that one or two casks it was made from, so there is no way of balancing a lower quality cask with a better one. Of course (most) independent bottlers select the casks, they want to bottle for quality, (yes some will just bottle anything).
So it seems reasonable to conclude that a standard distillery bottling has a consistent quality, and an independent bottling can be better or worse, depending on the casks they bottled.
As a connoisseur a standard bottling is good, but since it is the same every time, it seems more interesting to explore the wild variety of a plethora of independent bottlings. Sometimes they may disappoint, but there is also the very real possibility of finding a hidden gem.

The man from the whisky club claimed independent bottlers would only buy the high quality casks from distilleries and therefore each of their bottles would be better than the distiller's. It seems highly unlikely to me a distillery would sell only their best casks to an independent bottler. Furthermore, this claim relies on the fact that bottler's would buy matured casks from the distillers. Most of the time it works the other way around. Bottlers, typically blenders, have filling contracts with distilleries, or buy unmatured casks, and only years of maturing will prove it to be bad, average, good or perhaps even great. Douglas Laing co., as a blender, has filling contracts with distilleries, and opts to bottle some exceptionally good casks as single malts, and the rest goes to the blending. Gordon & MacPhail even mature most of the casks they buy in their own warehouses.
A bottler isn't always assured of getting only the best of casks, and so he faces a challenge : what to do with casks that are sub par? As I already mentioned, some bottler may deal with this challenge by ignoring it and bottling it anyway. Others, such as Douglas Laing, just use these for their blend, and others still, such as Gordon & MacPhail, have large enough stocks and the know-how to combine several casks to get a good quality result.

If you want to buy an independent bottling, you as a consumer face a wager, will this bottling be worth the price you pay for it? There aren't many guidelines. Not much on a whisky's label can tell you about what you will find inside. Distillery? If it's only one or two casks they are no way guaranteed to taste anything like the distillery's standard. Age? Given that every cask reaches a peak in quality, and that this peak is different for every cask, age is no useful guideline at all. Vintage? Is of absolutely no consequence. The type of cask may give you some general idea, but doesn't assure quality at all. In the end you'll have to rely on the bottler. Is he committed to bringing high quality products to the market, or is he just interested in another sale. Knowing how the bottler operates helps, but nothing beats experience. If a bottler hasn't let you down, time after time, it's not likely you're going to get rubbish the next time. It all comes down to reputation.

Lastly :
I want to note that some distilleries' standard bottlings are so varied that it becomes hard for the customer to discern a typical taste or nose for that distillery, I'm thinking of Bruichladdich, Glenmorangie, etc. Whether this is commercially a wise move, only time will tell.