Quick Fire Whisky Tasting Notes #34

Girvan Patent Still 25 Year Old



Nose: A warm
Nestle Caramac bar, vanilla fudge, Lyle’s golden syrup, a bowl of Kellogg’s Crunchy
Nut cornflakes, a toasted New York Bakery Co cinnamon and raisin bagel, an
Innocent mango and passion fruit smoothy, Twinings green lemon tea, ground pink
peppercorns and wondrous infused whiffs of orange oil and Airfix model glue.


Palate: Grilled

Whisky Insiders Interview – Martine Nouet


Food and Spirits Journalist


How long have you been working in the whisky industry?
I have been a journalist for 35 years but I started writing about whisky and
all spirits in the early 90’s.

What has been your biggest career highlight to date?
Can I give three? Meeting Michael Jackson and becoming friends with him,
being made a Master of

St Patrick's Day Jameson Tweet Tasting

Continuing our hugely successful teaming throng of Tweet
Tastings, we’re absolutely thrilled to announce that on March 17th we’ll be
celebrating St Patrick’s Day by sampling some of the joyous and jubilant dramming
ditties on offer from one of the most iconic names in the Irish whiskey;

On the night a specially invited ensemble of whisky weavers
will be sampling a tantalising and

Balcones Tweet Tasting

Not only are we thrilled to announce our 42nd
Tweet Tasting, we’re absolutely delighted to announce that on April 16th we’ll be hosting our second event with those tenacious, Texan trailblazers at
the multi award winning Balcones Distillery, as we take the Head Distillers
Private Barrel Tour.

Following the huge success of our first event, where we showcased
some of the dramspanking delights

Whisky Insiders Interview – Donald Colville


Global Scotch Whisky Ambassador – Malts


How long have you been working in the whisky
I’ve worked in the industry for ten years now, but
my family have been involved in whisky for many years. My great grandfather was
heavily involved with the whisky industry in Campbeltown, and among other
things owned Dalintober distillery and sold whisky

Quick Fire Whisky Tasting Notes #33

Glenmorangie Companta



Nose: A jar
of Luxardo maraschino cherries, the zest and peel from a blood orange, a bowl
of Delia’s summer pudding, Waitrose Seriously Sticky toffee sponge pudding, McVitie’s
Jamaica ginger cake, Angostura bitters, Hotel Chocolat dark blackcurrant
bombes, struck and spent matches, white pepper, cinnamon sticks, cloves and a
vinous wave of something teasingly

Teeling 21 Year Old "A Dramspanking Namesaker"

Whether it’s Grant and Smith from Scotchland, Torii and Taketsuru
from Japan or Samuels and Williams from the USA, there’s an iconic barrage of historical
and more recent names that are synonymous with the inception, production and indeed legacy of every whisky producing nation.

This is also reflected in abundance with our friends across
the Irish Sea, with such names as Power, Jameson and

Whisky: The Manual, by Dave Broom

This time last year I was busy sorting out classes for the 2013 Whisky Show, and in my search for interesting ideas, a slightly fuzzy-haired, glazed-eyed version of Tim Forbes (formerly of this parish) told me about a weekend of whisky experimentation with Dave Broom. Apart from the obvious outcome of Tim being a little on the unsteady side, the vast amount of research being done for the new book Dave was writing sounded fascinating. With this in mind I asked Dave if he would be happy introduce some of the attendees of the Whisky Show to the world of mixing whisky.

Whisky: The ManualA year on and the book – entitled Whisky: The Manual – has now arrived. I have snaffled it and am currently working my way through the recipes. As I owe Billy many blog posts on the many tastings I have attended over the years, I have written up the book instead [the debt is not yet paid – Billy]. The book itself is, as you’d expect, very well written and shows again that Dave has forged a path as the most approachable of spirits writers.

The introduction is light hearted and pokes fun at some of the outdated marketing lines regarding whisky drinking.  Dave points out: ‘Every stripe of whisky is enjoying unparalleled success around the world – and guess what? The way that most of the new converts to its charms prefer to take it is mixed.’ He uses the introduction to debunk the myths surrounding whisky consumption and boils it down to one overriding principle that we should all follow: ’The only rule now is: enjoy!’ Having gone through many stages of whisky snobbery myself, and now having my ability to pay my rent so completely tied to people consuming more whisky, I wholeheartedly agree.

The history section of the book concentrates on the creation of whisky and its various derivatives. Essentially, it is the story of the search for something that tastes good as well as making you feel warm and happy inside. Topics covered include the earliest records of the distillation of beer, the development of mixing in herbs in Scotland, the export of distillation culture to North America and the marketing drive of the 20th century.

As with Dave’s earlier book, The World Atlas of Whisky, the section on production is thorough without being overly complicated. For me, it is pitched at the perfect level for those starting to learn about this side of the industry. However, it is more in depth than the Atlas when discussing the flavours produced from each part of the whisky production process, which ties in nicely with the book’s focus.

Dave finishes the first half of the book by looking at the different mixers used with whisky across the world, before launching into the meat of the work – how to use them with whisky. This book has been produced, like a good recipe book, to be used rather than left to gather dust – my copy already has a watermark on the cover and a distinct aroma of coconut water. This is reflected in the mixers that Dave has chosen. Although not a basic range, they are all available in supermarkets and do not cost the world to buy (apart from the coconut water which I had to trade my left lung for in Tesco).

Ollie, reading

An entirely unposed photograph

In regards to the whiskies, again this is about using ingredients that are accessible – there are no £100,000 bottles here. A lot of the whiskies could be found in your local off-licence, and all of them can be found at TWE, but this does not mean that it is just the standard blends that have been tested. There are whiskies from around the world of differing styles, as well as varying prices.

Before the book’s release we were looking for a simple serve for Lagavulin 16 Year Old for our Islay Jazz comes to London event, and Dave suggested pairing 16 Year Old with Coke – with equal measures in the glass. The idea seemed so wrong that we immediately put it to the test. The combination works very well: the big meaty notes of Lagavulin combining with the sweetness and undercurrent of liquorice in the Coke.

My favourite discovery, however, has to be Compass Box Great King Street with soda, which was refreshing but packed with flavour, and which has become my drink of choice with food. On the other end of the scale, I tried Ardbeg 10 Year Old with coconut water and found that the combination subdued all the flavours I like in Ardbeg while dulling any sweetness from the mixer. After trying coconut water with a few things, I believe it is the water and not the whisky that I have an issue with.

Blood and Sand

My house cocktail – the Blood and Sand

The final section of the book covers whisky cocktails – both the classics and some well-thought-out new twists. As most bottles in my house contain whisky, it’s always nice to find new recipes to mess around with. Most are easy to make and the list of ingredients is relatively short – for me, the most important aspect of any cocktail recipe.

I have only tried a few of the recipes in the book and while I feel not every combination worked, some were very tasty indeed. The Manual is a fantastic way of introducing more people to whisky, but also a great book for existing fans to encourage them to try something new. It is far too easy to become a whisky snob and lose sight of why you got into the subject in the first place. The book took me right back to the first two things I liked about whisky: the variety of flavours and how enjoyable it is to drink.

The last thing I will say is this: don’t buy this book to read; buy it to use. It is a manual, after all.

Whisky: The Manual is now available from The Whisky Exchange, priced at £14.99

Dole out the Barrel – Scotch Whisky Industry in Crisis

Despite the specific nature of the word ‘Scotch’, the Scotch whisky industry is one with international tendrils. In order to be called Scotch whisky, the distilled spirit has to mature in oak casks for at least three years, with the vast majority of those casks sourced from the USA. Stateside regulations demand that whiskey be matured in a new cask, which leads to a large number of second-hand casks going spare, and the Scotch industry has based its strategy around this continuous supply.

Leaked DocumentThis year, Diageo, the largest drinks company in the world, and Brown-Forman, owner of Jack Daniel’s, have been tussling over the definition of ‘Tennessee Whiskey’. Diageo wants the law to be amended to allow barrels to be reused in the maturation process – and a leaked document from the all-powerful Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) that we were passed by an industry insider shows that such an amendment is not far away.

The relevant section from the leaked document (click the image to see the whole thing) reads:

Following the findings of our research committee, we have concluded that it would be in the best interests of all parties to uphold Resolution 11/7115D which would enable all producers of bourbon to implement a second-use policy across all aspects of their cask management system.

Simply put: they recommend that cask reuse should be allowed in the USA.

In the past, the mere suggestion of allowing US producers to reuse barrels would have been shot down by the whole industry, but recent cask shortages coupled with a surge in demand for American whiskey has triggered panic among producers. The document strongly points to a change to the Federal laws governing whiskey production and labelling – and that they will be passed by Congress.

In short: the US will soon be able to reuse whiskey casks and Scotland’s supply of cheap wood will dry up.

While this news will shock most Scotch whisky lovers, the industry itself is already taking action to cope with the serious shortfall. The recent acquistion of Beam Inc by Suntory seems to have been almost entirely driven by this development and we have reason to believe that the document was originally leaked to them. There are strong rumours that William Grant will further expand its micro-distilling holdings, with offers on the table for a further 27 distilleries across the continental USA. We have also seen reports that Bacardi has placed a high-billion-dollar bid for Brown-Forman, with finance experts suggesting this would easily be paid for by curtailing its advertising spend for approximately 12 months.

Other companies are taking more drastic action:

Glenmorangie, well known for its cask experiments, is in a bidding war with Bruichladdich for a number of giant redwood trees.

Diageo's Multi-Level Forest

Picture shot from the window of TWE HQ, showing the project’s current progress

Diageo has begun work on a multi-level forest on the remaining unused parts of the former Guinness site in north-west London, next to TWE HQ. It has also stepped up its acquisition of Tequila brands, giving it access to large stocks of ex-bourbon casks currently being used to mature agave spirit.

Chinese Oak IBC

Compass Box has written a letter to the Scotch Whisky Association asking for guidance on maturation techniques, including the lining of IBCs (unreactive plastic holding tanks) with hiqh-quality oak veneers, toasted to various levels.

A number of distillers have also been investigating the use of other woods, including MDF. While the maturation character of an MDF cask is still an unknown quantity, Diageo head of whisky outreach, Dr Nick Morgan, was seen leaving a branch of B&Q earlier this week, grinning.

Garden Centre

The Speyside Cooperage’s experiments with ‘Cut-and-shut’ barrels have had mixed results.

Speyside Cooperage has acquired several garden centres and has scoured customer lists for people who have bought old whisky casks as planters. If anyone has a cask they no longer require, we recommend contacting the cooperage, as it is offering good rates.

Thankfully, many distillers are part of larger companies with interest in wineries – and therefore a decent supply of casks. LVMH has acquired barriques from famed Sauternes producer Château d’Yquem; Pernod Ricard is planning its own ‘Barossa Bourbon’ thanks its ownership of Jacob’s Creek; while Diageo is said to be ‘thrilled’ with early trials of whisky aged in Le Piat d’Or casks.

And some distilleries are sitting pretty. Executives at both Macallan and Glenfarclas, distillers who eschew bourbon barrels in favour of Sherry casks, were unavailable for comment due to injuries sustained from heavy laughter.

London Bourbon

A mockup of the new London Bourbon

While we are a primarily a spirits retailer, we have been quietly making plans to develop our own brands – the current situation has accelerated matters. We are very pleased to announce that, pending a thorough water-supply investigation, we will be opening a distillery in Park Royal in north-west London.

We will be producing a totally new style of whisky: London Bourbon. To remove any confusion, Bourbon is pronounced in the same manner as the chocolate biscuit (ie, ‘Bore-bon’), rather than any other exisiting whisky category. To help with this understanding, we will be releasing a limited-edition bottling of London Bourbon, infused with natural Bourbon-biscuit flavourings.

To find out more about the story of London Bourbon, or to learn about our cask futures plan, please click here. If you are interested in securing a supply of our used, ex-bourbon casks please contact us through our website.

Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach

There’s a lot of talk in the whisky world at the moment about Mortlach. They’re not the most mainstream of distilleries, but they are much loved by whisky connoisseurs (or geeks, as I like to call us). However, Diageo have recently discontinued their one regular ongoing bottling, the 16 year old Flora & Fauna release, and have announced a new, premium range that will be arriving in June:


New. Shiny. Hopefully tasty.

We’re not going to talk about the new range yet, other than to show the rather blingy bottles in the piccy above, as we’ve not tasted it yet and don’t want to wade in to any debates about pricing and the like until we have. Reports are starting to surface that the spirit is really good and we are feeling encouraged.

Mortlach 16 Flora & FaunaWe have also recently found a cache of the Mortlach Flora & Fauna 16 year old, so don’t fret about its disappearance quite yet (although don’t hang around for too long if you want a bottle). However, for those looking to the future and want something to keep you going when the Flora & Fauna runs out – step forward Gordon & MacPhail.

G&M are well known for putting out ridiculously good-value bottlings, mainly things that you don’t see elsewhere. While you get the slightly more quirky things, like their 8yo Bunnahabhain and Highland Park, and the Macallan Speymalts, you also get releases that would slot happily into most distillers’ ranges – step forward Longmorn 12, Linkwood 15 and 25Old Pulteney 8 and 15, and, relevantly, Mortlach 15 and 21.

Coming in at about £45 and £70 respectively, they’re already competitively priced for 15 and 21 year old whiskies, but with the new Mortlach range on the horizon, they’re looking even better than ever. I recently cracked open a bottle of the 15yo at a tasting that I hosted in honour of my birthday (I hate organising parties, so thought that hosting a whisky tasting would get me out of doing one – it worked) and it went down particularly well:

Mortlach 15 Gordon & MacPhail

Gordon & Macphail Mortlach 15 Year Old, 43%. £42.95

Nose: Sugared raisins, buttery pastry, cinnamon toast, stewed apples, linseed oil, fruit gums and garibaldi biscuits. There are some dark notes hiding around the back, with a touch of liquorice and demerara sugar.

Palate: Lighter than the nose suggests, with sweetness and woody spice up front – sweet apple, nutmeg, cinnamon and a touch of clove. The buttery notes from the nose carry through, with darker and more savoury flavours developing – damp wood and mulching leaves.

Finish: Medium length, with anise and cinnamon providing heat that fades into apple skin, apple sauce and liquorice.

Comment: Not too sherried but showing off some sherry influence – good spice and dark fruit notes balanced by some more fresh and rich buttery notes. A great everyday whisky that firmly ticks the traditional Speyside box.

We suspect that the days of G&M’s prices on Mortlach staying where they are may well be numbered, but for now they are an easily obtainable, alternative source of Mortlach and we’d recommend checking them out sooner rather than later.