Islay Festival Distillery Programmes now Online

This years Islay Festival will be held from the 23rd to 31st of May and it promises to be another fabulous week for locals and visitors alike. There is a huge variety in events such as traditional music, ceilidhs, Gaelic lessons, golf, bowling, fishing and many whisky related events organised by the eight distilleries on Islay and the Jura Distillery.

For this years programmes please visit one of the links below:

As of this afternoon most of the distillery programmes are online as well. Please note that anyone wishing to book Distillery Events, please contact the individual Distillery direct! Don’t wait too long to book your distillery events, some of them are already fully booked! Below are the dates of the open days and links to the distillery programmes:

Tag: whisky festival feis ile

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The introduction is light hearted and pokes fun at some of the outdated marketing lines regarding whisky drinking.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.

Irish Coffee Done Properly with Teeling Irish Whiskey

Other than whisky (And beer. And vermouth. And noodles. And Lego) one of the biggest loves of my life is coffee. I have a hand grinder that I imported from Japan (well, bought from a Japanese store on Amazon) in the office, buy my beans from a small London based coffee roaster, have used a thermometer and stop watch on occasion to ensure consistency, and use a set of scales to measure the water I need (because it’s more accurate. And a lot more pretentious). While I’ve calmed down slightly in recent times (I don’t use the scales in the office) I’m still slightly obsessed, but haven’t ever really tried combining coffee with my first love – whisk(e)y.

Irish Coffee

Ban this sick filth!

I’ve had an Irish Coffee before, I suspect there are few whisky drinkers who haven’t. I didn’t like it. The whisky turned into little but a pure alcohol hit, in both vapour and liquid form, and the coffee lost any complexity it might have had behind a heavy coat of cream and sugar. However, with a little tweaking the combination of whisky and coffee can work quite well.

The other week I met up with a bunch of (mainly) whisky fans to try this out at The Department of Coffee and Social Affairs in Clerkenwell. Bossman Tim Ridley is a whisky fan who has worked with the guys at Cask Strength in the past, as well as running a coffee tasting for a bunch of whisky fans a couple of years ago, which left me more broken than any alcohol filled evening has – I didn’t sleep for two days. With St Patrick’s Day on the horizon Tim and recently appointed Teeling Ambassador Sam MacDonald got together to come up with a different take on the classic combination of whiskey and coffee.

The traditional story behind the first Irish Coffee is that it was made for a group of tired American travellers on a stopover in Shannon airport in the 1940s. Joe Sheridan, bartender at the time, saw they were cold and damp, having walked to the terminal in the rain, and added a tot of Irish whiskey to each of their drinks. One of the guys asked if it was Brazillian coffee, to which Joe replied “No, it’s Irish Coffee”. Drink named, legend created.

The problem with mixing whisky of any kind with coffee is that it’s hard to balance – coffee is a strongly flavoured, bitter drink and whisky is normally sweet and alcoholic, not an easy combination. Sam and Tim spent a few afternoons experimenting with various different combinations and eventually came up with one that worked rather well thanks to a specific element – cold-drip coffee.

The regular method of making coffee is simple – grind coffee beans, allow them to come into contact with water for some time, drink the resultant liquid. The various different methods are all elaborations on that theme and cold-drip goes for slow infusion using cold water.

Cold Dripper

The machine above is basically just a regular drip coffee machine, however the little handle on the side adjusts the rate at which water drips out of the reservoir at the top onto the coffee in the basket below. Tim set up the dripper to take 9 hours to drip 700g (~700ml for those who prefer ‘inaccurate’ units) through 50g of ground Ethiopian coffee – specifically this was from the Kochere co-operative in the south of the country.

Using cold water extracts different compounds from the coffee beans, giving lower acidity and a ‘purer’ flavour (based on my limited experiments of varying levels of success as well as Tim’s expertly prepared coffee), with much less of the transformed, ‘cooked’ flavour you get with hot extraction.

Oh, it was also served cold.

Cold-dripped Kochere

Nose: Dark chocolate sweetness and light funkiness, with freshly turned earth, blackcurrants and mulchy fruit.

Palate: Bitter hit to start but a light body of cocoa (real 100% stuff), red fruit, charred wood and freshly ground beans.

Finish: Lingering char notes and umami meatiness.

Comment: I’ve seen Tim produce some incredible coffees before so was expecting something quite special, but even so we were all surprised by how good it was. Lots of flavour at the same time as being delicate and very easy to drink. We were warned that it was quite high in caffeine, so I did ensure that it was drunk in moderation. This time…

The coffee was only half of the story, with the intention being to match it up with some of Sam’s whiskey. Along with the rum cask finished Teeling Blended Whiskey, which I’ve been a fan of since it arrived last year, he also brought along the latest addition to the range – Teeling Single Grain.

Back in 2011 the Teeling family sold their business, the much acclaimed Cooley distillery, to Beam Inc, the owners of Jim Beam, Laphroaig and many other brands. They didn’t hang around for long, and while John Teeling, the founder of Cooley, has now retired, his son Jack started up a new whiskey company – The Teeling Whiskey Company. He has been joined by a number of his former colleagues, including his brother Stephen and Alex Chasko, their product development head.

Teeling Distillery

The new Teeling distillery – why do artist’s renderings always include someone pointing?

Teeling have released a few bottlings, including the previously mentioned blend, some Poitin and the much acclaimed Teeling 21 year old, and have plans for many more – part of the deal when selling Cooley was a good supply of whisky to keep them going until they start producing their own. Their distillery, being built in Dublin at the moment, is well on its way, with the plans currently having production commencing later this year. With the experience of running Cooley behind them we expect great things to appear a few years down the line.

In the meantime they have spirit that they’ve been able to select from their previous stocks, which they have combined with Alex’s love of interesting maturation. The Single Grain is married and then finished in American Cabernet Sauvignon casks before bottling without chill-filtering. A risky move, with many red wine cask matured whiskies getting a bit of stick, but recent bottlings such as Glenmorangie Companta have shown that good things can come from wine casks.

Teeling Single Grain

Teeling Single Grain Whisky, 46%, £38.95

Nose: Meaty and sweet, with tannic touches, toffee, fudge, dark chocolate, marmalade, some green anis and herbal, leafy notes.

Palate: Toffee, more tannins, big spicy notes, some red fruit, grape skin, wood polish and an overarching buttery sweetness.

Finish: Lots of winey notes, although focused on spice, along with butter and shortbread.

Comment: Another entry in the world of successful wine cask finishes. Spicy, sweet and quite complex for relatively young grain whiskey. Mr Chasko seems to know what he’s doing when it comes to finishing.

However, the final test was combining the whiskey and coffee. Rather than mixing loads of coffee with a small amount of whiskey and topping the combination up with cream and sugar, Sam and Tim went simple – about 2:1 whisky to coffee.

Whisky and Coffee

Nose: Lots of fruit, chocolate and hints of sweet wood smoke. Moccachino with sprinkles, toffee and jelly babies.

Palate: Milk chocolate and caramel, digestive and Nice biscuits, red fruit jam, spice and a touch of green, leafy mintiness.

Finish: Even more chocolate (you can probably see a theme developing), oats and oak, and a hint of menthol.

Comment: A great combination that takes elements from both ingredients and creates something quite different. A few bartenders in the room started asking Tim where they could get a cold drip coffee machine…

A successful evening of experimentation and a new drink added to my repertoire. My mission of this St Patrick’s day is to see whether it works with the coffee I have in the cupboard, although brewed hot as I don’t have 9 hours to spare…

Irish Coffee image by Denkhenk and used under a CC license

Hakushu and Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve – A Tasting

Shinji Fukuyo

Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory Master Blender

Japanese whisky is proving to be rather popular at the moment and not being one to shy away from providing you with some lovely new whiskies, we were very pleased to have Shinji Fukuyo visit our shop for a very special tasting to launch the latest two releases from Suntory.  These bottlings are what Shinji describes as being the ‘next generation’ of Suntory whisky – Yamazaki and Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve.

Shinji, the fourth Chief Blender for Suntory since they started making whisky, was joined by writer Dave Broom to present the evening.  Dave has spent quite a bit of time out in Japan over the years and was asked to come over to Tokyo two years ago to assist in the home launch of these whiskies – it’s quite the challenge being a Scotsman in Japan, teaching locals about Japanese whisky!  Two years on he joined us to do the same in London.

For those of you not familiar with Suntory, they own two rather special malt distilleries in Japan – Yamazaki and Hakushu.  Yamazaki was where it all began for them back in 1923, and it proudly boasts the title of Japan’s first and oldest distillery.  It is based in Kyoto, in an area believed to be the origins of the purest water in Japan – the old name for the area was Minaseno, “the field where water originates”. There are three rivers that converge on the distillery, which provide some of the country’s softest water, an element that Shinji believes is key to the style of his whiskies.  Half a century later, in 1973, Hakushu was born, nestled deep in the Japanese Southern Alps.  In constrast to those from Yamazaki, whiskies from the distillery tend to be lighter and crisper in style.

We could have just tried the two new releases and had a pleasant evening, but there was much more in store for us! To help us really understand these new additions, Shinji first took us through three cask samples from each distillery to explain the make-up of each final product. We started with Yamazaki:

Yamazaki Samples

Yamazaki Wine Cask Sample

Nose: Fruity nose with lots of red fruits – strawberries, raspberries – backed up with a touch of peach, honey and some notes of sandalwood too.

Palate: Quite a creamy texture.  Fruits dominating here once again with strawberries still and some candied cherries too.  There was even a bit of pineapple lurking in there somewhere.  Quite light and delicate.

Finish: Mild warmth to end with quite a sweet finish but backed up with a hint of bitter cherry. This sweet finish became more prevalent with water added.

Comments: It’s rare that I find wine cask matured whiskies particularly special.  I always find them interesting but often they’re one dimensional.  This had some good layers to it though and has the potential to be quite interesting if it were bottled as it is!  Interestingly, Shinji commented on the rigorous process of selecting the casks for this whisky.  Each cask is inspected by hand (and nose) and is then washed, shaved and cleaned if not already perfect.

Yamazaki Sherry Cask Sample

Nose: Big gutsy nose on this one.  Full of rancio aromas, very woody, not much fruit (just a small amount of dried fruit) but more coffee beans, dry bark, cacao beans, bitter chocolate and a light caramel-like character.

Palate: Quite tight/closed, with a sweet/sour clash going on.  Very mouth drying, sappy, dry wood and a hint of ash.  It was like coming back to a fire the morning after.  Alongside this there were some nutty notes, like walnuts and brazil nuts (not a nut) with lots of dried fruit like century old Christmas cake and packed full of tannins.

With water, it became softer and creamier but still this bitter, astringent, nutty finish dominated.

Finish: Long, dry and hot.  I think this was coming in at about 60-62%abv.

Comments: This is not a whisky to be bottled on its own.  It has some wonderful elements within it, the nose was beautiful, but quite simply it’s just too old.  This is where Shinju’s skill as a blender really comes to light!

Yamazaki Mizunara Cask Sample

Nose: Spicy nose almost reminiscent of a rye whisky.  It was hard to target exactly what spices were coming through, it was more like a pot of mixed spices rather than one key spice, but they were quite scented and aromatic.  Pink peppercorns maybe? Quite delicate, certainly in comparison to the previous whisky’s nose!

Palate: Seriously aromatic, creamy, and floral, again with this spice coming through.  Definitely pink peppercorns now and just a hint of fruit.  The aromatic spices and floral characters resonated more so with water added.

Finish: Interesting kick at the end. Spicy yet soft.

Comments: Mizunara casks are quite unique.  When asked what characters come through from this type of Japanese oak, Shinji merely said that Mizunara smells of Mizunara!  He did then develop on this, commenting that it smells of temples. He had a good point – those aromas of incense, spices and aromatic smokiness all suddenly fell into place and made sense.

Whiskies matured in those three cask types are combined to produce the new Distiller’s Reserve:

Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve, 43%. £TBA

Nose: The wine cask seems to dominate the nose here with strawberries and red fruit taking centre stage.  However, sitting quietly in the background is the incense from the mizunara, a hint of dried fruit from the sherry cask and a touch of coconut.

Palate: An abundance of red fruit again, with raspberries, strawberries and even redcurrants coming through, although there’s more dimensions to this than the first wine cask sample that we tried. White peach, a hint of wood and spice, back-up notes of red cherries and candied fruits all come into play here as well.

Finish: Relatively long finish with vanilla and sweet spice dancing around the tongue.

Comments: This seriously develops and expands on the three previous samples.  It’s really interesting to see how characters from each sample resonate onto this whisky but with so much more character coming into the final product.

Both the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve and the Hakushu are bottled without an age statement, something that has been a hot topic in the blogosphere of late! I’m treading very carefully, with this being my first TWE post, but I thought Shinji did explain his reasoning exceptionally well.  His goal in creating whisky is maturity and not age, this he feels is key to his product.  If it were to be bottled with an age statement, at a guess I would expect the youngest in here is about 8-10 years of age.  However the sherry cask was probably closer to 20 years old! Food for thought…

On to Hakushu!

Hakushu Samples

Hakushu Lightly Peated

Nose: Delightfully green! Grassy, vegetal, green fruit, kiwi, grape, green apple, grapefruit.  The very lightest touch of smoke – if I didn’t know it was lightly peated I probably wouldn’t have picked this out.  If any of you grew up in the countryside, in Hertfordshire, and went walking through the fields, around harvest time…well it smells just like that.

Palate: Touch of sweetness coming through, yet very fresh and clean, with a hint of acidity even.  Still very green though again with the cut grass, lime, kiwi, grape.  There was even a pine/spruce note in there which was lovely and just a touch of juniper.  Very subtle and delicate.

Finish: Very light, delicate and soft and exceptionally well balanced.

Comments: This was one of my favourites of the night.  I’d love it if they bottled this as it is! One minute I felt like I was walking through the fields back home, the next I was in Scotland going through a pine forest.  At just 2ppm (roughly) the smoke element was very subtle and often rarely detected at this level but it appeared to add that extra edge to make this that bit more special. Just, absolutely delicious.

Hakushu Heavily Peated

Nose: The smoke took a bit of time to show on this one.  At first I couldn’t really pick it up but after five to ten minutes it really came through, almost like a bonfire with a medicinal kick.  Lots of dry smoke quite a bit of pine and spruce.  Dave Broom added a great addition here also with “chopped railway sleepers”!

Palate: Sweet touch at the beginning, again with dry smoke and the peat kicks in on top of the sweetness.  There’s a great balance between these two elements.  The smoke really develops in the mouth and it’s like being at a bonfire that’s been burning late into the night and surround by ash.  It packs quite a heat with just a touch of citrus and there’s some green fruit coming through towards the end.

Finish: The fruity side of this sample really drives through on the finish.  Loads of melon, kiwi, lemon, mint, a herbal note or two and just a touch of smoke.

Comments: It’s tough to pick a favourite between this one and the lightly peated sample.  I just love them both so much!

Hakushu Aged American Oak Cask

We enquired about the age of these casks and were met with a rather obvious answer – they’re old American casks!

Nose: Much richer than previous two samples.  There’s vanilla here backed up with Scottish tablet (if you’ve never had this, get yourself to Scotland now and buy some!) but a fruity edge to it too with some citrus, tangerine, lemon and grapefruit.

Palate: Quite a rich texture to this one with a fair bit of fudge coming through.  Very creamy with flavours of vanilla, tangerine, citrus fruits, banana, just a hint of wood and a kick of alcohol at the back.  With water it got more and more fudgey.

Finish: Fiery and sweet with a touch of peppermint.

Comments: Although not my personal favourite, this clearly won the hearts of many on the night as there were several requests from people to have this one bottled too!

Hakushu Distiller's Reserve

Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve. 43%. £TBA

Nose: Quite herbaceous.  Green fruit, mint, cucumber, pine, grassy, spearmint.  Just loads of green fruit in this one.

Palate: Loads of green things coming out of here! Mint, cucumber, green fruit, grapefruit and just a touch of smoke at the back.  Dave got yuzu…I’ve never heard of yuzu…

Finish: Light, delicate, refreshing and some subtle smoke.

Comments: This is so easy to drink.  It’s fresh, easy going (almost too easy) and just divine.  I wrote delicious at the top and circled it! That’s a big thumbs up in my world.

To top off this fine selection of drams, we were provided with one final, very special, treat.

The Cask of Yamazaki 1979

The Cask of Yamazaki 1979, 29 Year Old. Mizunara Oak Cask #RF1037. 55%. £1500

This was one of the star drams at last year’s Whisky Show and we were rather pleased to have managed to get a bottle into the tasting.

Nose: This one is big.  Rancio, wood, dried fruit, lanolin, polished wood, some dried plums, old Christmas cake, sweet spice (cinnamon), touch of fudge, resin, incense, leather and a feeling of being in a traditional shoe shop.

Palate: Big, rich, mouth coating and oh so creamy.  Loads of sherry notes, dried fruits (fresh out of the pack), sweet spices, wood, Christmas cake, dark chocolate, After Eight mints, incense, coconut, hints of a vegetal character but also quite fresh too.

Finish: Very long, rich and just utterly delicious!

Comments: This was just such a fantastic whisky to finish the night on.  It’s rare that we see whisky that has had full-term maturation in Mizunara oak as they’re prone to leaking a lot.  A very special whisky to end a very special night.

Huge thanks to Shinji and the team at Suntory and also to Dave for hosting such a fantastic event.

The new Distiller’s Reserves will be available at The Whisky Exchange (both online and in our shop) soon – we hope to have them by the end of March. You can sign up to receive an email when they’re up on the website on these pages – Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve & Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve.

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal

While some drinks categories fire out new releases every few days (I’m looking at you here Gin), some are more steeped in history and produce fewer new entries. One that sees little in the way innovation is vermouth, with the historical brands often unchanged for centuries and few new challengers appearing. While that’s far from a bad thing, with Antica Formula and Punt e Mes being among my favourite drinks, it’s nice to see new producers appearing from time to time. Fortunately, with vermouth receiving more attention as part of the worldwide cocktail rennaissance we’ve had some newbies, and joining more recently appeared names such as Vya, Mancino and London’s own Sacred we have La Quintinye Vermouth Royal.

Here’s a video from the launch party:

The trio of vermouths – an extra dry, a blanc and a rouge – come from a collaboration between Jean-Sebastien Robicquet, the grape loving distiller behind Ciroc vodka, and EWG, the folks who brought us G’Vine gin. The style of the vermouths very much fits in with that brief, with the botanical heavy approach of G’Vine pairing with the the unique idea that Robicquet brought to the table – using Pineau des Charentes in the mix.

Vermouth is, as with most drinks categories in Europe, quite distinctly defined. The legal definition, as paraphrased by our friends over at Diffordsguide says that vermouths:

  • Are based on wine made according to EU wine legislation and be present in the finished product in a proportion of not less than 75%.
  • Are fortified by the addition of alcohol.
  • Are flavoured with Artemisia spices and substances and/or natural flavouring (including vanillin), aromatic herbs and/or spices and/or flavouring foodstuffs.
  • Maybe sweetened only be means of caramelised sugar, sucrose, grape must, rectified concentrated grape must and concentrated grape must.
  • Maybe coloured with caramel.
  • Have a minimum alcohol strength of 14.5% and a maximum of 22% alc./vol.

In short – mostly wine, flavoured with ‘stuff’ including Wormwood (artemisia) and fortified by the addition of some other spirit to between 14.5% and 22% ABV. Robicquet’s idea was to use Pineau des Charentes as one of the fortifying spirits in the recipe, adding in more flavour as well as raising the strength.

Pineau at first looks to be along the same lines as wine – it’s made from grapes and bottled at a high ABV of around 17%. However, its production is quite different, being instead a blend of grape spirit and fresh grape juice.  Robicquet is best known in the spirits industry for his creation of Ciroc, a vodka made using grapes as a base rather than the more common potatoes or grain, so this is right up his street.

They’ve named the vermouth for Jean-Baptiste de la Quintinie, Louis XIV’s gardener. Being the king’s gardener involved a bit more than just tidying the borders and he was one of the architects and managers of the building of the Gardens of Versailles, 800 hectares of classically sculpted garden. Part of his responsibility was to provide fruit, veg and herbs for the King’s table when he was visiting the palace, and his expertise as a botanist is honoured by the vermouth.

La Quintinye is unfiltered and naturally coloured, unlike many of the other aromatised wines on the market, and is packed with flavour.  As with G’Vine gin, the focus is on interesting flavours and the range is certainly quite a different prospect to other vermouths on the market.

First up, the Blanc:

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Blanc

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Blanc, 16%, 75cl

Nose: Sweet up front, with grapefruit, hay, pine and lots of leafy herbs, including lots of sage.

Palate: Sweet with orange and liquorice touches, but with fewer herbs and less complexity than the nose. Wine gums, woody hints and an oily mouthfeel lead to gentle herbal bitterness and a touch of fragrant wood and herb.

Finish: Sweet orange and grapes, brioche, spiced pastry, dried apples and a touch of green leafiness.

Comment: I rather enjoyed this on its own, with the bitterness of the wormwood balanced well by the sweet fruity notes.

Next, the Extra Dry:

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Extra Dry

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Extra Dry, 17%, 75cl

Nose: Very herby, predominantly dried herbs rather than fresh: rosemary, sage and lavender, especially. Some buttery notes and a hint of grape sweetness.

Palate: Lightly soured white wine to begin, with buttered bread and an almost soapy softness in the middle. There was a lot of lavender and towards the end a growing tannic grapeskin note.

Finish: Peppery spice, sage, wormwood bitterness and lingering tannins.

Comment: One for mixing, as you’d expect from a Extra Dry, with the otherwise fairly complex palate quite light and dry in the middle, welcoming other flavours. However, it does work surprisingly well on its own, with the central dryness being a relief from the strength of character in the rest of the palate.

And finally, the Rouge:

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge

La Quintinye Vermouth Royal Rouge, 16.5%, 75cl

Nose: Syrupy sweetness overridden by bitter wormwood, sage and bay leaf. Spicy black pepper with sandalwood, ground roots (elecampane root?) It’s a flavour that I found when investigating absinthe that I can’t otherwise describe) and perfumed wood.

Palate: Sweet and rich, with a gentle woody and herbal bitterness behind. Sticky cherries, ground spice, coriander seed and leaf, and a woody dryness.

Finish: Lingering green bitterness and soft, sweet port notes turning to dry, tannic bitteness over time.

Comment: I am a big fan of sweet red vermouth but this was too much to drink on its own. Lengthened with some ice or in a cocktail it should be perfect, although will need to be handled carefully due to its complexity.

All in all a very different and adventurous range of vermouths. They are, as expected, quite different to many already on the market and shouldn’t be used willy-nilly. With careful cocktail selection they will add a new herbal twist and I suspect we’ll see a few bartenders experimenting over the coming months. At the launch a Negroni using G’Vine Floraison gin (one the natural companion to the range), Quintinye Rouge and Campari, along with a dash of Regan’s Orange Bitters went down very well, and I expect that more adventurous twists on classics are around the corner.

The La Quintinye Vermouth Royal range is now available at The Whisky Exchange.

Bruichladdich: A Visit

We all have our favourite styles of whisky, each personal to us. For me, there’s nothing better than a whisky that’s a little bit different, or one I can sit and think about for hours of an evening.

For that reason, one distillery that’s always intrigued me is Bruichladdich. Widely regarded in the industry as being blessed with some of the best spirit anywhere in Scotland, the self-proclaimed ‘Progressive Hebridean Distillers’ like to experiment wildly with a range of peating levels, finishes and wood types.

Having missed out the distillery on my previous (and first) trip to Islay back in 2012, I insisted that three fellow whisky aficionados accompany me to the distillery as part of my birthday holiday. And yes, I know that for those who don’t like inclement weather it’s about the worst time to visit Islay…

We arrived only ten minutes late for a Saturday 9am start (I’m told this isn’t bad for what the locals call ‘Islay Time’) to be met by vivacious Brand Academy Host Kate Hannett.

Bruichladdich Distillery

Not a problem with my camera, it really was that overcast!

So a quick bit of history first. The distillery was established in 1881 with money William Gourlay III had left to his three sons (William IV, Robert and John) and endured around half a dozen changes in ownership, mainly by blending companies, before ending up in the ownership of Whyte & Mackay, who mothballed it in 1998.

In 2000, a group of investors led by Murray McDavid founders Mark Reynier (from a wine merchant background), Gordon Wright (formerly a director at Springbank) and Simon Coughlin, purchased the distillery and maturing stocks at the very reasonable price of £6.5m and. With the help of Master Distiller Jim McEwan (formerly Master Distiller at Bowmore) they set about transforming it into something a little bit different and non-conformist. Such was their success that they drew the interest of Rémy Cointreau, who became the new owners in 2012 in return for £58m. Rémy’s CEO Jean-Marie Laborde has insisted they will carry on in the same vein, which has allayed some of the fears of the distillery’s loyal followers.

Sadly the distillery was not in production at the time of our visit due to the open-topped mash tun being repaired. It’s one of a few pieces of production equipment which date from 1881, although it was on the other side of the island, at Bunnahabhain, for most of its life. In keeping with their traditional values, it has been decided to replace it like for like, rather than with a modern system, so will take around two months to complete. To contradict erroneous press reports in some quarters, this is simply due to wear and tear over the last century and a quarter, rather than an explosion in the distillery.

The distillery makes three kinds of single malt:

  • Unpeated Bruichladdich named after the eponymous distillery (at 0 to 3ppm).
  • Heavily peated Port Charlotte, taking its name from the closed distillery in the next village, which was purchased as part of the acquisition in 2000 (at 40ppm).
  • Super heavily peated Octomore, named after James Brown’s nearby farm which supplies the distillery with their water (up to 169ppm).

Whilst the ethos remains to try to keep as much of the production as local as possible, the maltings on the island, at Port Ellen, could not guarantee to supply them with local barley, so it’s sent over to Baird’s in Inverness to be peated and sent back. Kate told us that it is Baird’s who do most of the experimenting with the peating levels for Octomore, to see how high they can go, rather than Laddie looking for an exact headline number.

During the tour, we were fortunate enough to have a few distillery breakfast delicacies – namely super heavily peated Octomore barley (it’s actually really tasty and I hope they’ll have enough to start selling it separately – it could be the new breakfast of champions!), Octomore new make at 70.3% (surprisingly smooth given the youth and peating level) and delicious peated Scottish tablet made with Port Charlotte.

Three cask tasting at Bruichladdich

That broken glass was there before we arrived – honest, guv!

The highlight was a tasting from three casks in one of their eight warehouses on the island:

  • A 24 year old 1989 Bruichladdich, one of the maturing casks that dates from the days when the distillery was owned by Invergordon Distillers, matured full term in a straightforward Bourbon barrel.  Fresh and fruity, this was our first whisky of the day and a rather delicious ‘breakfast dram’.
  • An 8 year old 2005 Port Charlotte, from a cask that formerly held wine made from the Grenache grape.  I’ve never been a huge fan of long aged wine cask whiskies, but this one had real character and entertained us for approaching an hour – we found something different in every sip and it was interesting to see it evolve over time in the glass.
  • An 11 year old 2002 Octomore from a Chateau D’Yquem cask.  The sweetness from the cask balanced the extreme peat rather well, and was interesting to compare it in my mind to the Sauternes cask-finished Comus I tried a couple of years ago. This was made even more interesting by the fact it was part of the first ever filling of Octomore casks, back in February of 2002.

All three glasses made it back with us to the visitor’s centre where we were treated to more drams from their extensive range – sadly I was the nominated driver for that day so couldn’t partake fully, but I was very generously given a sample of the Laddie Classic to take home (for note and blog post writing purposes of course).

Bruichladdich Laddie Classic, 46%

Fully matured in Bourbon casks, Laddie Classic is a no age statement release intended to showcase the distillery’s classic floral and elegant style.

Laddie Classic

Nose: Fruity nose of conference pear, honeydew melon and red apple, combined with sweet vanilla and the faintest hint of salinity.

Palate: Semi-luscious texture with the fruits from the nose joined by papaya and guava, the vanilla from the oak slightly more noticeable but without being overpowering and a mouth-watering salinity.

Finish: The tropical fruit flavours slowly fade to leave a delicious mixture of salty vanilla.

Comment: The perfect example that Islay whisky doesn’t have to be peaty. This does as it says on the bottle, showcasing the house style (as they would say in Champagne) of the distillery.

As well as their wide range of whiskies, they also produce a gin – The Botanist, which was our Spirit of the Year 2013. The gin is made in a Lomond still (sort of a cross between a pot still and a coffey still) that was formerly used at Inverleven distillery, situated in the Dumbarton distillery complex, from the late 1950s until 1991. Bruichladdich acquired the still in 2010, christened her ‘Ugly Betty’ and began using her to produce The Botanist. Nine base botanicals are macerated and then distilled very slowly (for about 17 hours), the vapours rising through the botanical basket which contain a further 22 botanicals, all of which are native to Islay, resulting in a double infused gin. Betty is so large that one run creates enough spirit for 250,000 bottles and as a result only one run is needed each year, with only 4 distillations having occurred since she arrived.

Ugly Betty and Dumbarton

Ugly Betty Lomond still (left) and Dumbarton Distillery remains (right)

The Botanist Islay Dry Gin, 46%

Botanist Gin

Nose: Complex and overtly floral nose with elderflower and mint being the two botanicals that really start to stand out above the crowd after a few minutes.

Palate: A rich yet silky smooth gin that is a rare beast in that it is pleasant to drink neat. A citrus note from the lemon balm is prominent throughout, balanced by a smorgasbord of floral flavours from the many botanicals used. Sometimes too many ingredients can be a bad thing, but in this case the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

Finish: Long and complex, with the botanicals slowly disappearing, one by one to leave a lovely minty freshness at the very end.

Comment: I can count the number of gins I have enjoyed neat on one hand and this is one of them. However it’s versatile too and can stand up to Fentiman’s tonic as well as making a deliciously floral martini. Betty’s not done badly for an old girl!

I must say a big thanks to Kate for kindly giving up her Saturday morning to accommodate us and being an excellent host. If ever you’re heading to Islay, a visit to Laddie is a must. Nowadays when everything appears to be moving towards becoming standardised, it’s refreshing to see people and companies who take the risks involved with doing something a little differently.

Whisky Exchange Whisky Show 2014 – Tickets on Sale!

A quick but informative post today – tickets to The Whisky Show are now on sale. Click on the alarmingly large picture below to head over to the show website, or read on below for a few details:

Whisky Show Tickets on Sale!As the picture says, the show will be running on the weekend of the 4th and 5th of October and we’re back for a 4th year at Vinopolis near London Bridge.

Day tickets for both the Saturday and Sunday of the show are on sale, as well as a limited number of weekend tickets. We’re running an early bird offer on the weekend tickets, selling them for £145 rather than £165 – £53 off the price of a pair of day tickets.

We’re still 7 months away from the show and things are still being organised, but we’ve got more of the venue than ever before and have plans to fill it with more whisky, more exhibitors, more food, more fun and games, and more, well, stuff than ever before. We’ll have more details up here as well as over on the Whisky Show news page, Twitter and Facebook pages.

If you have any questions let us know and we’ll see what we can find out – Andy, show organiser extraordinaire, sits only a couple of desks away…


Single Malts Direct “NOW SHIPPING TO THE USA” – Whisky News



After many months of hard work, sweat and toil, we at Single Malts Direct are delighted to announce that we have commenced shipping to the United States. I would like to thank those of you who have contacted me directly over the past number of months for your patience while we got all of the pieces of the Jigsaw into place, so “Thank you guys”, and I will contact you all personally. I hope you like the new look website and the selection we are carrying but, as always we want to provide you with the best possible service and DO listen to your ideas and suggestions, so if you have any, please contact me directly

 AA USA Flag

You will find our carriage rates under the shipping tag on our website, these charges include the FDA charge and a signature charge as our consignments need to be signed for to ensure the recipient is over the age of 21. The only additional charges to this is the cost of the whisky you select (you will get the ex-VAT price) and the US import duty which is calculated at checkout point depending on the strength of the whisky and the size of bottle. e.g. a 70cl bottle at 40% abv = £1.19.


Just for your information, we are also an Independent Bottler and have an extensive range of our own label “Whiskies of Scotland” single malt whiskies bottled at natural colour and natural strength and in a range of sizes, mostly 50cl but also in 70cl and 20cl. The 20cl size allows you to choose a selection from various distilleries, and there’s a couple of blends in the range too. In 2013 our own label whiskies won 6 gold medals and 3 silver medals in the Whisky Magazine’s “Independent Bottlers’ Challenge”.

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