Thursday, 23 April 2015

Cry God for Harry........

English Whisky Chapter 16 - Peated, Sherry Cask - 46%

Kicking arse and taking names (and slaying dragons)

Englishmen. We're a strange breed. An historic hotch-potch of Anglo-Saxons, Normans, Norsemen and Celts, we love a good queue, think nothing of going out in the midday sun and have a nasty habit of getting a bit 'fighty' and invading other countries (sorry about that, by the way). Where we really excel, however, is in the art of tutting; we're World Champions at it.

Walter J. Stumbler frowns upon your shenanigans
I myself come from a long line of accomplished tutters. In fact, I have it on good authority that my grandfather tutted for Oxford and would have gone to the '48 Summer Olympics had he not relinquished his amateur status shortly after the war.

One thing guaranteed to provoke a chorus of tuts up and down the land is the subject of St. George's Day. What follows is a conversation heard in my office yesterday:

#1: "St. George's Day tomorrow."
#2: "Yeah."
#1: "Why don't we ever celebrate it?"
#2: "Dunno."
#1: "The Irish go mad for St. Paddy's"
#2: "Yeah."
#1: "Tut."
#2: "Tut."

Every. Bloody. Year.

Definitely worth a visit
Evidently, those chaps down at the St. George's distillery in Norfolk have bucked the trend of apathetic patriotism and, by putting out some excellent young whisky, have been doing their damnedest to put the spirit back into St. George. Therefore, I think it's only fair that on today of all days, I do my duty as an Englishman and sample the spirit coming out.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.

School pencil cases, or rather, the contents. The first thing that comes through here is old pencil sharpenings mixed with wax and wisps of burnt rubber. This isn't giving off a lot of peat but there's a pleasing smoke there. Sweeter aromas come to the fore as the casks start making a play, although with a sugariness that puts me in mind of rum rather than sherry. A bit of patience brings dates, sugared almonds and toffee. 20

A little thin to begin with. Hot, spicy and a tad flat. Give it a while though and a sweet creaminess builds, the woody smoke makes an appearance and...yep...there's the peat. Ten minutes go by and the palate becomes more fleshed out, more structured and more-ish. Orange oil, cinnamon, cardamom and a touch of clove. Still a tad on the fiery side so a few drops of water is advisable to calm things down. 21

Roaring finish with a decent amount of wood, spice and sherried nuttiness. Excellent length, if a little numbing. 22

Very good. A bit of wood, a bit of smoke, a whisper of peat and some sherried sweetness to hold it together. Balancing peat and sherry can be a tricky business but I'm glad to say that nothing really gets too boisterous to take away from the overall presentation. 21

This took a lot of opening up before the quality came through, but come through it did. It's a precocious malt with some excellent traits. Wish I'd bought a full bottle.


Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Arran Whisky Tweet Tasting

Arran Whisky: A Journey

Ahh, they grow up so fast. It seems like barely a moment ago that the chaps at Arran whisky were making solid progress with their 12yo and thrilling us with their 14yo. Now their whisky has earned the right to vote (just in time!) and the eagerly awaited 18yo has hit the shelves. 

Not content with this, they're also on the verge of their first "White Stag" release, a bottling chosen by their very own members' tasting panel. Needless to say, when I saw the opportunity to give them a bash, I didn't hesitate.

Arran Sauternes Finish - 50%

Hello honey! Sweet opening with some fruit lurking in the background. The fruit develops more clearly into peaches, pears and maybe a hint of strawberry mousse. With patience, the whole affair becomes more syrupy; the peaches are tinned and there's some grape must in the mix. A little more time brings barley sugar and a hint of spice.

Oof! After being seduced by the sweet playful nose, a bit of oomph on the palate catches me by surprise. Thick, sweet and honeyed with a fair amount of fire in its belly; good level of spice here. Fruity but underscored by a pleasing woodiness. A bit of time delivers more fruit, honey and some stem ginger but all the while there's a decent amount of wood to keep things from getting too one-trick.

One for the sweet-toothed among you. It's good quality, although not especially balanced. A good after-dinner dram.

Arran 18yo - 46%

This is a little more balanced than the Sauternes finish.There's a creaminess at first but this is tempered by a light, waxy note. Green orchard fruits to follow and some herbal flashes. Very good indeed with plenty going on. The nose is changeable but nothing ever shouts too loudly and spoils the party. After a while the fruit drops away and it goes a bit floral. Superior.

Soft, patient arrival with a grassy, herbal, floral vibe. This opens up into a sweet, buttery pastry wrapped around apple compote. Every inch as balanced on the palate. A little demerara sugar and a fine, woody finale. Not the thickest of whiskies but excellent structure nonetheless.

Balance is the key word here. This is an excellent example of what can be done with the right presentation and an excellent approach to blending. One to sit and savour.

Arran 13yo Single Bourbon Cask #99/103 - 55.3%

Wood shavings to start, with a light, dill pickle note I'd usually associate with bourbon or virgin oak. Lively, so don't nose it too closely. Hob-nobs. Yup. Vanilla custard develops with some tropical fruits and a whiff of damp cellar. Very interesting.

Big, alcoholic punch to begin with but settles down quickly. Unripe mango and a hearty blast of sea-spray. Here comes the fruit and also a pleasing amount of sweet-shop goodies, namely fudge and salted caramels. With water (recommended) it becomes a lot more civilised and adopts a position of balance between sweetness and wood. A nice nutty note nearing the finale too.

Lacks the refinement of the 18 but makes up for it in fun. Big, shouty and unashamed. With water, it's a different beast entirely; so much more structured and cerebral. Quite an achievement.

Arran White Stag Bottling - 1st Release - 54.2%

Unusual. Not what I expected from an oloroso cask at first. Very rich and buttery with the merest suggestion of menthol. A touch of wax too. Patience brings a whiff of coffee cake and steamed milk. Some icing sugar and even light treacle. As things open up we get into more familiar territory with the trademark oloroso nuttiness; hazelnuts, brazils and even a touch of walnut.

That coffee note is back, flanked by crisp, red fruits and a thick sweetness. Well balanced with lemon-pepper notes in one corner and candied fruits in the other. Beautiful mouthfeel and structure.

Whereas the Single Bourbon shouts and punches, this slips quietly in the back door and assassinates you. You don't see this one coming but, boy, does it deliver. A gem.

It's nice to see a good deal of variety in the line-up and I dare say there's something for everyone here. The team at Arran really does pump out some good stuff and, although some of their bottlings can be priced at the upper end of reasonable, I tend to find that they deliver. If I had to pick one to spend my hard-earned cash on though......'s the 18 that wins it for me. It's by no means a session whisky but if you want something to challenge, entertain and reward (and I do), this is the way to go. Keep an eye out for the White Stag though.

A big thank you to the team over at Arran for providing the treats, to Steve at The Whisky Wire for organising the whole affair and to my fellow tweet tasters. As always, a true pleasure.