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Tullibardine: 225 Sauternes Finish (Scottish Highland Single Malt Whisky: 43% ABV)

Visual: Bright shining gold with fast, thick streaks coming from the spirit.

Nose: Oaken. Honey. Dried apricot. Vanilla. Sulphur touch. Lightly waxy. Water adds pears to the mix.

Body: Smooth and thick. Honey. Oak. Sulphur touch. Waxy touch. Golden syrup. Water adds custard, pears, apricot and cake sponge. Cherries and chocolate fudge.

Finish: Waxy. Cherries. Dried apricot. Honey and golden syrup. Lots of oak. Sulphur. Water adds custard slices. Pears. Light fresh cut apples. Still a waxy sheen. Chocolate toffee.

Conclusion: From what I remember from visiting the distillery, Tullibardine has a lot of experience with unusual cask finishes. Ok course back then it was to help eke out the value from their remaining supply of the odd distilleries spirit while they got their new distillery up and running. Still, experience is experience, no matter how you got it.

Neat this thing is pretty oaken – nice enough but a bit too woody for my taste. Though there are already a lot of good things going for it in the feel. It is thick, smooth but just slightly waxy – an element that gives, along with the wisp of sulphur, the imagery of candles that floats across the whisky. Even neat the sweetness from the Sauternes finish is shown with very honeyed notes – fairly simple but bright, thick and tongue coating.

Water give it what the whisky needs though and that is subtlety. The sweetness becomes gentle and breaks as if light encountering a prism, spreading into honey, custard and golden syrup against apricot notes that that work over the sweetness. Similarly more of the flavour from the base spirit seems to come out, though I will remind you that I have not encountered much from the distillery’s stock made since it reopened. Still, out from under the powerful cask finish seems to come pear and cut apple notes, along with a more recognisable general whisky feel that now back up the sweeter notes. The wax and sulphur notes lessen but still help hold some grip to the whisky.

Even with water this does pack a few rougher edges that feel like younger whisky spirit notes, but nothing that majorly hurts it, it just lacks polish.

Overall this uses the finish very well for a dessert feeling whisky. It does have a few rough edges, especially neat, but with a dash of water it is a sweet and enjoyable dram.

Background: Tullibardine is distillery I first encountered as part of a road trip around Scotland’s whisky distilleries many a year ago. It is a far cry from the usual rustic imagery, on an industrial area in the midst of grey concrete. It hadn’t been open long at that point, having been recently reopened after being mothballed back in 1995 so they were selling the remnants of the whisky from its previous existence. Since then I think I have encountered their new spirit once before, but without my notebook to hand, so this is my first set of notes for the re-opened distilleries whisky. This was given to me at a whisky night I hosted a few weeks back – it has become a tradition at our whisky nights that everyone else chips in to buy a bottle for the host. Which is nice. Many thanks. Originally they had planned to grab a different bottling, but the supermarket was out of stock, so bumped them up to this one – finished in Sauternes sweet wine casks – for free. Which was also nice. Put on Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes – Modern Ruin for this one. Seems a gentler album that their first, may take a bit of time to get used to that, but still solid.

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Odyssey: Ego Wars: Simcoe vs Wakatu (England: IPA: 6.5% ABV)

Visual: Cloudy bruised apricot. Large brown to caramel touched head of loose bubbles.

Nose: Grapefruit. Blood orange. Flour. Tart. Jiff lemon. Tangerine. Very fresh.

Body: Tangerine. Vanilla. Pineapple and grapefruit. Passion-fruit. Malt toffee drink. Malt biscuits.

Finish: Blood orange. Fluffy hop character. Palma violets. Some hop bitterness. Malt biscuits. Kumquat. Hop oils.

Conclusion: Wow this is fruity – the malt part of the body pretty much gets out of the way quickly, taking with it the rougher notes of the hop bitterness, and just lets the fruit side of the hops do their thing.

Over time a kind of malt biscuit core does reveal itself – a fairly neutral weight – again letting the fruit character show itself and do the heavy lifting. So, the fruitiness then – tart orange dominates, lovely bright notes backed by an equally tart pineapple and grapefruit set of notes that give a mouth tingling air. This is the bright and beautiful core of the beer.

The neutral backing of the malt feels like both a benefit and a curse here. A benefit as it lets the hops shine, and boy do those hop shine. However it feels like if they used the malt base to add to the beer, rather than just get out the way then this may be on its way to being an all time classic. By making the malt such a neutral element it doesn’t intrude, but can’t add to the beer either, so it feels like they are missing a trick. I will admit that is a minor point, the malt does do its job which is to let the bright hops really shine, so I shouldn’t give them too much grief.

Looking at the two hops used, I think the Wakatu hop is the one that wins out in this ego war. While the beer does show some oily hop notes over time and a vegetable hoppiness that I associate with Simcoe, the Simcoe hop feels like a bit player with none of the huge alpha acid hoppiness it normally brings on show. Instead it just provides a backbone from the brighter fruit notes here. It isn’t the star, but it does its job so the Wakatu can shine.

A very good, very bright IPA that is a great hop showcase. It just feels that with a bit of malt tweaking this could be an all time great instead of just good.

Background: Last Ego wars I had was V2, they seem to have given up on numbering since then but a quick google tells me this is V5 of Ego Wars where they make a beer with two big hops going head to head. I’m a big fan of Simcoe, not tried much Wakatu, so should be interesting to see what it brings to the table. Huge fan of Odyssey beers, especially their hoppy beers, so this was another must grab from Independent Spirit. Put on Against Me! Transgender Dysphoria Blues while drinking – probably still Against Me!’s best album in my opinion.

Art Brew: Doppelbock (UK: Doppelbock: 7.4% ABV)

Visual: Very dark brown to black. Large Carmel brown touched looser bubbled creamy head.

Nose: Malt chocolate. Grated chocolate. Roasted nuts and cashews. Vanilla. Creamy.

Body: Hot chocolate. Black cherries. Grated white chocolate. Marshmallows. Chalk touch. Sour cream and chives. Moderate earthy bitterness. Treacle touch. Vanilla toffee. Bitter cocoa.

Finish: Bitter cocoa and earthy bitterness. Cashews and roasted nuts. Coffee cake and chocolate cake. Chalk.

Conclusion: While it takes a few moments to build up, this is actually a pretty robust and heavy beer – it just sneaks up on you rather than jumps out at first sip.

It is not that it hides things though – there is a creamy, thick hot chocolate vibe from the get go, but it uses that to sneak up a Trojan horse of bitter cocoa and earthy British style hops in under your guard.

There is also a slightly rough chalk character, but thankfully that doesn’t make as much impact. However time makes a fool of the expectations that the heavy front gave – light marshmallow and vanilla toffee notes slightly soften the beer back again. It is still big in the earthy and chocolate bitterness but more manageable and enjoyable, especially with hot chocolate and marshmallow imagery mixing.

By the end it has an enjoyable balance, possibly leaning a bit heavily on the earthy notes, but a fairly solid beer, if nothing too out of the ordinary. A slightly more earthy interpretation of the doppelbock style that is good but not exceptional.

Background: Decided it was time to return to Art Brew again, they were my go to on cask for many a year when I first moved to Bath so I still have a soft spot for them. Don’t think I’ve seen a Doppelbock from them before, so this is going to be interesting. Played some The Royal They while drinking – a band I had just been introduced to via Welcome To Nightvale. This was another beer grabbed from Independent Spirit.

Cassels and Sons: Extra Pale Ale (New Zealand: American Pale Ale: 4.9% ABV)

Visual: Clear pale yellow with lots of small bubbled carbonation and a small yellowed head.

Nose: Turmeric. Earthy bitterness. Orange zest.

Body: Orange zest and orange skin. Dry. Vanilla. Earthy bitterness. Sour dough. Cereal and shredded wheat. Light sour grapes.

Finish: Turmeric. Dry. Slightly rocky. Moderate bitterness. Nettles. Peppery.

Conclusion: This feels a very Birtish influenced pale ale rather than the American take which I think is more its aim. It is especially odd as this is Nelson Sauvin hopped – a hop I associate more with grapefruit and pineapple rather than the earthy, turmeric and pepper notes that we get here.

Another element that makes me think of English Pales is that light orange note and solid dry bitterness that is an oft overlooked part of the style – it is a less obvious note that the earthy character that just shouts UK hops, but still there – and odder still because this does not use UK hops. At all I think.

Maybe it is the well attenuated character combined with a lower abv that makes the hop express itself differently. I mean, 4.9% isn’t a low abv, but it is a lot lower than a lot of the bursting beers that I usually encounter Nelson Sauvin in, so that may make the difference. The attenuated character makes it super dry, so maybe there is little for the tart fruitiness to grab hold of, instead you get light fresh notes in a tart grape style, just below the earthy bitterness.

It is pretty drinkable though – there area a lot of heavy bitterness notes, along with some rough notes that should prevent it being so, but the dry character is used well and instead of hindering, instead gives a lager like drinkability, backed by just a touch of vanilla to wash the rougher bitterness down down.

It is a solid beer, not showy, nor showcasing the hop, but solid and easy to drink. It does the British pale style brilliantly, even if it seems that was not the style they were aiming for.

Background: Ever since my Sister spent some time in New Zealand, which made it easier for me to get hold of their beers, I have been interested and excited by the NZ beer scene. So when this new brewery on me turned up at Independent Spirit I decided to give one of their beers a try. This beer in fact. Went for their Pale Ale as it seemed a reasonable entry point, especially as it uses the Nelson Sauvin hops which are one of the utter gems of the NZ hop scene in my opinion. Had been at a 90’stastic gig in Bristol the day before drinking this, so put on some Terrorvision as seeing them live reminded me they are still a bloody good band.

Evil Twin: Prairie: Bible Belt Even More (USA: Imperial Stout: 13% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Large, small bubbled packed dark coffee froth brown head.

Nose: Cashews. Subtle bitter cocoa. Smooth coffee. Treacle toffee. Figs. Prunes juice. Barbecue ribs.

Body: Complex bitter coffee. Light chalk touch. Frothy chocolate. Walnuts and pecans. Touch of barbecue glaze. Slight treacle and liquorice. Chilli tingle.

Finish: Bitter cocoa dust. Pecan pie. Milky coffee and bitter coffee. Coffee cake. Barbecue glaze. Black liquorice bits. Spicy rum.

Conclusion: This is well textured beer – chewy and frothy with substance that doesn’t become syrupy or clinging – heavy but clean is the best way I could describe it. Despite that the beer is a slightly slow developer flavour wise. Early on it plays the standard Imperial Stout notes – big coffee, albeit rounded complex coffee that gives a lot to the beer – bitter coffee notes against smoother coffee cake richness. Similarly in the expected notes there is a big chunk of cocoa -just bitter enough to add some weight, but still nothing we haven’t seen a million times in the crowded quality Imperial Stout range that comes from living in these halcyon beer drinking days.

Now I will admit that at this point I looked at the can and thought “Chilli was used in making this? I don’t taste any chilli notes” So what I say next may have been influenced by that realisation. Disclaimer over.

I spent some time enjoying the generally nutty, with specific pecan notes, style character that adds some savoury depth to this beer when … oh, look what came out but some kind of meaty, barbecue glaze kind of note waiting at the underside of the beer to warm it up. Am I being very easy to influence or is this the chilli elements kicking in?

It rocks a balance between meaty, chives and barbecue sweetness as an undertone to the cocoa and coffee. It isn’t a must have, even with the extra notes, but it has become a lot more interesting and is undeniably high quality. It uses the elements of the base beer, and the mass of added ingredients to make for a beer with a wide range of notes while still rocking the base imperial stout very clearly.

Now imperial stout is a category that has been spoiled with so many super high quality beers, and this can’t fight the best of those beers, but it is a fine beer it itself with subtle chilli usage and meaty notes that sets this apart from the rest as something different and very good.

Background; Ok, is this “Even More Bible Belt”, just “Bible Belt”, “Bible Belt Even More”? I give up. Googling does not help. Even more Bible Belt makes most sense, but the bottle seems to lay it out as Bible Belt Even More, so despite that sounding silly that is what I am going with. This is a big imperial stout made with coffee, vanilla, chillies and cacao nibs. From the name I guess it is a spin off from Even More Jesus, but that could just be the name fucking with me. Again. This was grabbed from Independent Spirit, and drunk while listening to Eels – useless trinkets and B-side. Despite being an Eels fan I never really listened to that one that much, so decided to give it another spin.

Loka Polly: Citra Double IPA (Wales: IIPA: 8% ABV)

Visual: Hazy bruised apricot to lemon. Large bubbled white head.

Nose: Pineapple. Apple. Crisp hops. Light bitterness. Soft vanilla.

Body: Thick. Huge apple. Honey. Custard. Pineapple. Peach. Solid bitterness. Oily. Passion-fruit. Light sour cream. Banana touches. Strawberry comes out over time.

Finish: Peach juice. Pineapple. Vanilla toffee. Hop oils. Greenery and bitterness. Oily passion-fruit. Guava. Sour cream and chives. Good bitterness.

Conclusion: This is an oily, thick beer. A fact that surprised me at the aroma was all tart pineapple and crisp hops, fooling me into thinking this was going to be a light, fresh thing – not the oily flavour bomb that it actually is.

It isn’t full on “dank” as they say, it is more juicy, with the oily character it mixes to make a thick fruit syrup and oily bitterness thing that results in a bursting with flavour, well contrasting beer.

Flavour-wise it leans heavily on the pineapple freshness and fresh cut apple sweetness to get the job done – I didn’t know hops were capable of sapience enough to link naming similarities of pineapple and apple and to use it to give itself a theme, but apparently it does here! There is peach and even banana sweetness behind that – seriously, jokes aside, I didn’t realise that, as a single hop, Citra could deliver this much range. I can definitely see why it has such a reputation as a hop now.

This is wonderfully full flavoured, with lovely thickness and brilliant oiliness. A slow drinking weight of a beer – no alcohol burn, smooth but weight enough that you know every inch of its abv despite that.

This is very impressive – uses Citra better than nearly any IPA I have encountered. I’ve got to check out more beers from this brewery.

Background: This is one of those beers where I don’t know much about the beer, or the brewery – they just caught my attention as a new brewery to try. Went for the Citra DIPA – I didn’t really get Citra as a hop when I first encountered it, but running into it again and again over the years has made me see exactly how well it can be used, so this seemed a fairly safe jumping on point for the brewery. Another one grabbed from Independent Spirit. I was in a pretty good mood when I drank this – Was just back from watching Deadpool 2 and put on some Andrew WK to match my party mood!

Elements Of Islay: OC5 (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 59.8% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellowed grain. Slow thick streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Chilli pepper. Chipotle chilli notes. Light charcoal dust. Fresh white crusty bread. Water adds dried beef, beetroot and pulled pork along with a salt touch.

Body: Golden syrup. Mass of alcohol. Barbecue glaze. Water adds more barbecue sauce glaze, custard. Salt. Drying. Syrup notes and cherries.

Finish: Barbecued meat. Pear. Smoke. Water makes more oily. Slow cooked stew. More water adds more peat, beef and syrup. Light strawberry. Chipotle sauce.

Conclusion: I’m slightly mixed on my opinion on this, as there is a heck of a lot going on in the near 60% of abv and a hundred whatever levels of peat per million it throws at you. In general I love the Octomore in all the expressions I have encountered, I love the range it brings in, but with this one it feels like there are many different mashed up elements that are great, but do not come together here.

Early on it is mainly showing the intense alcohol, with less peat intensity than you would expect as the sheer strength makes it come across quite closed. Water is definitely needed to bring out the cornucopia of clashing notes I alluded to earlier. There is a glazed barbecue backbone, smoke but still less that you would expect. It is more meaty than anything else, slow cooked, falling apart to touch meat in the stew and pulled pork imagery.

More water clashes with the peat imagery even more as an oddly sweet syrupy core comes out, another element added in that pulls the whisky in yet another different direction. First the glazed barbecue, then the meat and peat, the syrup, red fruit late on – all elements I enjoy,but not a coherent whole.

Enjoyable, and a wild ride, but doesn’t do better than the more focussed, though lower abv, intensity of the standard Octomore – and with that you get a silly shiny bottle as well.

Background: Final of the whiskies from the recent Uber whisky tasting at Independent Spirit. If you are wondering what happened to the foruth whisky, I already have a bottle of it and will be doing full notes at a a later date. This is an independent Octomore bottling, from the very respectable Elements Of Islay range – Octomore being Bruichladdich’s very highly peated whisky. This is probably the only cask strength bottling of Octomore I have seen, which makes it interesting in itself. I’m a big fan of Octomore even if the super high peat level is more of a marketing gimmick than a huge element of the whisky itself. As is usual for these kind of events I was slightly distracted by the event, but still tried to do the best notes I could as who would know when I would get the chance to try whisky like this again. I was more inebriated by the point I took the photo of the glass, so it is just a tad out of focus, to say the least.

Douglas Laing: Platinum XOP Ardbeg 1992 (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 25 Year: 50.5% ABV)

Visual: Very clear light grain with green touches. Fast, thick streaks form from the spirit.

Nose: Charcoal. Medicinal. Soot. Cheesy yeastiness to mature cheddar. Light orange zest. Burnt marshmallow. Water adds white chocolate, kippers and vanilla.

Body: Strong alcohol. Oily. Almost evaporates on tongue. Waxy and medicinal. Slight traditional lemonade. Water adds mature cheese, fudge and a lime touch. More water adds custard, smoked fish and nut oils. Later vanilla, coconut and light golden syrup notes.

Finish: Butterscotch. Oily. Charring. Tart grapes. Salt. White pepper. Water adds mature cheddar, squeezed lime and light cherry. Walnut oils. Milky chocolate.

Conclusion: Well fuck me, this is one heck of a dram. Now, neat it is intense, but slightly closed. There is massive charcoal, medicinal notes, massively oily and waxy. It is one that hits the throat and then almost evaporates away, just leaving charring and salt. There some hints of more to it though – a cheese yeastiness, slight sweetness, but they are only hints. Similarly traditional lemonade imagery floats over it, but never quite forms fully.

Now, when you add water, holy shit that is when you start to get real play from this! Mature full bodied cheese flavour now matched with oily nut flavours and feel that adds such depth to the once closed whisky.

The bourbon cask notes are now slowly coming out with the usual vanilla, fudge and coconut sweetness as light notes against the heavy oils – notes that rise up the more you add water into syrup and custard fuller sweet notes. However at no point does it forget its base, booming with charcoal and smoked kipper heaviness, just now with more behind that.

This is intense, complex, sweet with delicate notes somehow surviving the oily nut character and medicinal style. Now, this is not nine hundred pounds good to me, as I don’t have that kind of cash to throw around, but it is the best damn Ardbeg I have ever encountered, so for people who have that kind of money, then yeah I would say get it.

Background: So, before we go any further, I found out how much this cost. Nearly nine hundred fucking quid. Fuck me. Anyway… this was the third whisky of Independent Spirit‘s recent Uber whisky tasting. You may have wondered where the 2nd went. It was Glenfarclas 21, I had already done notes on that. Still a good dram. Anyway, this is cask strength, single cask, bottled in 2018, unchillfiltered, Ardbeg that is one of 251 bottles, so something very special to try. As is usual for these kind of events I was slightly distracted by the event, but still tried to do the best notes I could as who would know when I would get the chance to try whisky like this again – especially for this one.

Clan Denny / Douglas Laing: North British : 1991 (Scottish Single Grain Whisky: 25 Year: 46.7% ABV)

Visual: Very pale yellowed grain. Fast thick streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Baileys. Orange cream to choc orange. Crushed bourbon biscuits. Water adds tannins, lemon cheesecake and menthol to grapes notes.

Body: Custard. Golden syrup. Apples. Calvados. Water adds icing sugar, lemon cheesecake, has more of a waxy and alcohol feel.

Finish: Apples. Pears. Creamy to baileys. Pear drops. Lightly waxy. Slight dry shortbread. Water adds light oak and white chocolate. More water brings out menthol notes and grapes.

Conclusion: This is a sweet and creamy one. Initially it really pushes a Baileys style – thick and creamy against young spirit style green fruit notes. There is a slight thickness to it, actually a kind of polish to wax feel that actually enhances the creaminess.

Water makes it drier and slightly spicier, but otherwise manages to marry the two sides of the neat whisky. The fruit notes become creamier in a soft lemon style over a sweet cheesecake like base, rather than the brighter green fruits of the neat spirit.

Here, with water, more of the bourbon cask influence shows, more oak, more white chocolate, all emphasising sweeter notes that makes this feel like a bright, dessert style, whisky. Adding just a drop of water does bring out more alcohol roughness, but if you can push through that, adding even more water mellows it down again and lets you enjoy the gentle lemon character.

It always keeps a touch of energy that comes from the grain spirit style, but matches it to a sweeter, gentler, dessert style which means it manages to be relaxing despite that grain energy. It feels like some thing to enjoy post meal and relax with.

A lovely bit of a dessert edged dram.

Background: One of about 300 bottles this is a single cask single grain whisky and the first of five whiskies I tried at the most recent Uber whisky tasting at Independent Spirit. Single grain gets a lot of shit as the lesser cousin of single malt, but there are some gems hidden in its depths as I have found over the years. Time will tell if this is one of them. This was aged in a refill hogshead cask. As is usual for these kind of events I was slightly distracted by the event, but still tried to do the best notes I could as who would know when I would get the chance to try whisky like this again.

Left Hand Giant: Heretic: Monuments (England: Saison: 8% ABV)

Visual: Pale lemon yellow with a gold hint. Large white mound of a head.

Nose: Raspberry. Wheaty. Light cloves. Light dried banana. Flour. Soft bitter red wine.

Body: Pomegranate. Cherry picked digestives. Wheaty. Peppery. Light lemon. Slight sour red wine. Apircot. Funk. Raisins. Plums. Moderate, earthy, low level bitterness.

Finish: Rum. Pomegranate. Raisins. Turmeric. Dry red wine. Dry plum notes. Milk. Port notes. Lightly earthy with a yeast funk.

Conclusion: I’ve had to take quite a while with this one, as it isn’t a beer that instantly jumps up and punches you in the face with what it is all about.

It is a gentle rustic style saison rather than the highly hopped take on the style – slightly milky, oaty mix with the rustic and wheaty notes that makes a soothing background that the pomegranate notes can come out from in a natural feeling and not too heavy way.

There is an earthy bitterness that becomes, well, present over time if not overly evident. The barrel ageing starts off light in raisin and plum backing notes, but becomes fully fledged with sour and bitter red wine notes coming out by the end after flirting with sweeter red wine notes for a moment before. It is never heavy, more a robust body that is a competent part of the beer, but doesn’t feel overly dominant.

It is both blessed and cursed in its balance – it is definitely barrel aged, but not so much as to make you go “wow” but also not to lose the base beer. It is definitely showing its fruit, but I would not call it a fruit beer for better and worse. It has a good rustic base, but the other elements of ageing and fruit mean that you don’t really get to see it at its best.

So, it is balanced, super easy to drink but… also 8% abv at that. At a low abv this would be a fairly awesome beer that you could drink forever. As it is is a master-work of balance that uses that balance to deny itself the large moments that would justify the 8% abv.

So it is very good and very impressive, but can’t quite earn the high abv, nor work as a session beer, so it struggles for a spot in the drinking line up.

Background: This came on my radar for a couple of reasons – one, I dig saisons and they don’t seem to pop up as often as I would like, so new ones tend to catch my eyes. Two, this is made with pomegranate puree, which was unexpected – saisons also seem to be a beer style where people don’t try the odd experimentations as much as some other styles. Finally – burgundy barrel aged, another bit of experimentation that often is overlook with saisons. So I grabbed a bottle from Independent Spirit to give a go. Put on Television Villain again while drinking – so proud of those guys for their awesome music.

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