Tag Archive: 45-50% ABV


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.

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Heaven Hill : Rittenhouse: Straight Rye Whisky Bottled-In-Bond (USA: Rye Whisky: 50% ABV)

Visual: Bronze to amber. Fast thick streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Vanilla. Peppery. Rye crackers. Honey. Orange zest. Light menthol and mint leaves. Orange fruit sugars. Water keeps similar but more water adds apples.

Body: Mead. Thick. Golden syrup. Pepper. Brown bread. Syrup cake. Slight cough syrup. Water makes more menthol. Pears. Soft apricot. Vanilla. Peppercorn.

Finish: Peppery. Vanilla. Brown bread. Vanilla yogurt. Light menthol. Water adds more menthol.

Conclusion: Right, I’m never sure if American whiskey – be it bourbon, rye, corn or whatever – should have water added to it. I know the stereotype is with ice but I’ve never taken to that. What I do know though is that for this one, with and without water is a heck of a different experience.

Neat it feels like the platonic ideal of a rye whiskey in my (admittedly comparatively limited) experience. It is peppery and spicy over a sweet, syrupy base that makes it heavy and thick. Even taking into account the 50% abv this can take a metric wodge of water and still feel thick and syrupy on the tongue. It is a heavy, rustic, thick, peppery and just plain rye biscuit tasting whiskey.

Water, well, first comes out the menthol notes. Initially this is a drawback as combined with the thickness of the texture you get a kind of sickly cough syrup taste. This is but a stepping stone though, keep adding water you get past that, warning, it takes more water than you would think.

With that huge amount of water you finally get green fruit added into the menthol – lighter notes, still against the pepper spice, but hear a more revealing and subtly fruity whiskey rather than the sheer rye assault.

Neat it is the rye beast, water makes slightly too menthol, but with enough water it does have a rewardingly fruity spirit to go with the peppery rye even if it doesn’t 100% work like that. Still, this is a whiskey about the rye and going for that I have to say it does that bloody well.

Background: Since my mind has been expanded recently on the breakdown of American whiskey styles, including exactly what constituents a bourbon and what doesn’t, which I find I have been getting wrong for a while, I wanted to dance back into the American whiskey again, and I decided to go with the rye. Grabbed at Independent Spirit after having sampled a few ryes, this was drunk while listening to Guns and Roses – Appetite for Destruction. It just felt right.

Port Askaig: 8 Year (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 8 Year: 45.8% ABV)

Visual: Pale yellow with brackish green tinge. Fast thick streaks. Water makes very cloudy.

Nose: Medicinal. Reek of peat. Peppered beef slices. Peppercorn. Light salt. Water brings out more medicinal notes.

Body: Beef slices. Peat smoke. Overdone steaks. Salt. Slightly tarry. Vanilla. Golden syrup. Some alcohol weight and warmth. Water makes smoother. Adds vanilla fudge. Pears. More medicinal notes. Apricot. Light bread. Lime cordial.

Finish: Drying. Salt. Light vanilla. Tarry. Golden syrup. Apple pies. Water makes medicinal. Adds lime jelly and slight zestiness. Apricot.

Conclusion: This is a big ‘un. Yet water makes it oh so mellow. Ok, I am kind of lying my balls off there. It is not mellow, but there is a whole other subtle set of characteristics under the peat assault that only come out when you add water.

So, first of all let’s take a look at this without water. Whoa! This reeks, utterly reeks of peat. In a good way. It has huge intense smoke and smoked beef, mixed with peat, with medicinal notes in there as well. Without water a vanilla and golden syrup sweetness backs it up over time, but the rest of the intensity does not let up.

Now at this point it is not complex, but it does show the advantage of a younger spirit in keeping the peat intensity up. It is heaven for smoke fanatics, while utterly lacking in subtlety.

Then you add water.

It happens slowly – drop by watery drop. First vanilla fudge comes out, then soft lime notes, then finally sweet apricot creeps out from under the peat nest it is birthed in. What the heck even is this? Apart from delicious I mean.

Now it isn’t quite Lagavulin 16 level must have, but the range it runs with water – going from sheer assault, to still weighty but with a great range of fruit notes – well, that makes this a steal at the 40 quid ish price it goes for.

Both heavy duty Islay, and complex restrained Islay in one whisky. I advise grabbing a bottle and adding water to your preference. Very impressive.

Background: I had Port Askaig for the first time many a year ago at a whisky show. It was very nice, but I never did get around to grabbing a bottle of it for myself since. That mistake has now been rectified. Port Askig is not a distillery, but a bottling of one of the other existing Islay distilleries under the Port Askaig brand. So far quality has been very high. The most common guess of what distillery it is from is Caol Ila and Ardbeg. I have no idea. Anyway, I grabbed this from Independent Spirit and broke it open with some Karnivool to listen to – Sound Awake to be exact. Saw them as a warm up band once, and enjoyed them enough to grab the CD there and then. Pretty soothing music for background noise.

Douglas Laing’s Provenance Single Cask: Auchentoshan 11 Year (Scottish Lowland Whisky: 11 Year: 46% ABV)

Visual: Very light and pale, with a slight brackish hue. Very slow streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Strawberry crème. Viscous alcohol notes. Dark Belgian chocolate. Pine cones and pine needles. Water adds peppermint, more water turns menthol.

Body: Warming. Grapes. Shortbread. Vanilla fudge. Oak. Lightly peppery. Water adds slight sulphur. More water adds creamy notes and lots of grapes. Cinnamon doughnuts.

Finish: Oaken. Pine spray. Menthol. Fudge. Strawberry crème. Water makes more menthol. Mint leaves. More water adds grapes, light cinnamon and Belgian black chocolate.

Conclusion:There are lots of different elements in this – ones I would never expect to see side by side. The most disparate elements never seem to overlap, instead you get each of the distinctly different elements coming out one after each other.

First aroma notes come out like Belgian chocolate and strawberry crème- yet the body after that comes out as tart grapes and light fudge. Then, as that goes out the strawberry crème comes back out in the finish.

On another run it was alcohol strong, piney and heavy on the aroma, going into a peppery body, then somehow out into menthol freshness in the finish. I’d like to claim that it is water, or time that makes this change – but while water does bring changes, it seems like any of the prior elements can return at any point.

So, to try and generalise a whisky that seems to actively resist categorisation – well, generally there are some grapes. Generally there are slight pine to pine cone notes. It is generally smooth but warming and generally there are some sweet notes behind that – be it toffee, chocolate of strawberry.

What is oddest, for all that is odd about this whisky, is that for all the odd notes, this does not actually really stand out as a whisky. It has the odd moments, as described above, but they all clinging around a solid but unexceptional whisky. Very contrary, no? Not bad, hard to sum up which is a value in itself. Not a must have, not one to avoid. Not bad.

Background: Yay, mini hip flasks of whisky- chances to try different experimentations without spending a vast amount on a full size bottle. It is especially nice with lowland ones like this as I can be a bit mixed on how I find stuff from this region. The Provenance lot, whisky taken from a single cask and bottled at just a tad stronger strength than normal, has been pretty solid so far. I grabbed it from Independent Spirit and put on Miracle Of Sound’s Level 8 while drinking – very cool drinking music.

Douglas Laing: Independent Spirit: Old Particular: Port Dundas 13 Year (Scottish Single Grain Whisky: 13 Year: 48.4% ABV)

Visual: Very pale. Brackish water to pale yellow. Fast streaks come from the spirit.

Nose: Viscous alcohol. Apples. Menthol. Water makes creamy and adds light peppermint.

Body: Baileys. Green apple. Strong alcohol. Water makes more creamy. Light peppermint. Toffee. Pears. More baileys. Viscous jelly alcohol feel.

Finish: Alcohol air. Menthol. Baileys. Pear. Water adds white chocolate. Tinned tropical fruit. Creamier and with peppermint notes.

Conclusion: This is a mix of the expected and the unexpected. I had tried this in the shop before buying and I have general memories of being impressed by it. Hence why I bought it, it wouldn’t make sense otherwise, right?

On first open of this bottle this seemed familiar, but I couldn’t work out why it had jumped out at me before. It had green fruit that spoke of a younger spirit matched with a thicker, viscous body – warming with a jelly like alcohol feel, but not burning like a young spirit would be. Good, but hardly stand out.

Which is why, these days, I do notes about a week after breaking open a bottle. It really seems to make all the difference.

Now, a week on, it has a lightly creamy liqueur like set of notes which becomes distinctly Baileys like with water. It is a completely unexpected blast that mixes with the green fruit to crate a thicker and heavier single grain experience. It is still that thick, viscous alcohol character in the body that you often get of grain, but with the creamier flavours heading out into a fresh peppermint and menthol endgame.

Usually I expect single grain to show more of the cask influence, but here the whisky is very much its own thing. There is white chocolate, toffee and tinned tropical fruit notes, that say bourbon ageing to me – but they take time to come out and take the stage.

This is very good – it does have some rough alcohol edges and slight overly heavy jelly alcohol character at times which are not the best, but generally it is very enjoyable. A touch of water helps but never quite removes the alcohol character – a flaw but not one that ruins this interesting experience.

Background: Another independent bottling from Independent Spirit – this time in collaboration with Douglas Laing. This is one of 126 bottles and was aged from 2004 to 2017. Port Dundas was a single grain distillery that stopped production in 2011. I’ve tried a 20 year bottling of it before, but is my sole experience of this distillery and not quite to my tastes. This was drunk while listening to the new Arch Enemy CD for the 2nd time– seems more varied than prior albums, taking a bit of time to get used to it.

Independent Spirit: The Hideout: Aberlour (Scottish Speyside Single Malt Whisky: 17 Year: 46% ABV)

Visual: Light gold with thick streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Pencil shavings. Honey. Warming alcohol. Nutmeg on apple. Vanilla. Pears to pear drops. Almond slices. Water adds light sulphur, more pears and slight raisins.

Body: Warming and slightly waxy. Sugared apples. Cake sponge. Water makes very smooth. Salted caramel to fudge. Sherried raisins. Iced Christmas cake. More water adds subtle orange to blood orange notes.

Finish: Waxy. Cake sponge. Lightly oily. Almonds. Malt chocolate and toffee drinks. Water adds salted caramel, apple pie and light choc orange. Rum and raisin. Slight red wine. More water adds marzipan over fruitcake. Sugar icing and tangerines.

Conclusion: It always seems odd to encounter an Aberlour that hasn’t been sherried to within an inch of its life. This, which does have some sherry influence I think – a refill cask maybe? – does a lot more in showing the native Aberlour elements that are often hidden behind that (admittedly tasty) sherry shell.

For one thing this is more fruity, with soft pear and apple notes – lightly spiced, but coming out in a way that calls to the bright fruit of a young whisky. However this is smooth, warming when had neat but not burning and that is soon soothed with a drop of water. This more natural, more open Aberlour character allow a more waxy and oily character to show themselves, giving a nice thickness for a matching salted caramel and fudge sweetness to back the fruit.

The sherry influence comes later in, especially when you add water. It brings raisins and vinous notes into fruitcake like imagery – starting sultana like and building over time. Here is feels like more traditional Aberlour, but it never gets so heavy as to hide those more intriguing characteristics below.

Finally, the capstone on this is a moment that allows a cake sponge to almond slice like flavour and feel to come out – a delicious savoury to sweet mix that becomes marzipan like by the end – A solid, hefty point to give the whisky some grip.

As you can probably guess by now, this uses the often hidden side of Aberlour to create a smooth and complex whisky – I am impressed.

Background: So, another independent bottling from Independent Spirit – this one done in conjunction with the excellent whisky bar – The Hideout. This one is an Aberlour – one I’ve been a fan of since I encountered them doing their excellent distillery tour with their incredibly friendly guides. On the eye this looks sherried, but less sherried than most Aberlour releases which should make it an interesting one to try. Drunk while listening to Testament -Low. It was only a few quid and gave me a chance to listen to more of Testament’s stuff before seeing them live. A very solid album as well.

Kilchoman: Sanaig (Scottish Islay Single Malt Whisky: 46% ABV)

Visual: Rich deep gold with thick streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Smokey and peaty. Wet rocks. Salt touch. Big aroma. Brown bread. Kippers. Water adds vanilla and light apples.

Body: Smooth mouthfeel with caramel, fudge and vanilla. Warming. Beefy. Peaty. Stew character. Salt. Water adds apples with cinnamon. Sherried raisins. Nutmeg. Dried apricot. Oily.

Finish: Medicinal. Salt. Brown bread. Paprika spice. Dried raisins. Dry cake sponge. Malt chocolate. Light peat. Dry in general. Water adds cherries, sherry and now juicy raisins. Creamy coffee. Menthol. Caramel.

Conclusion: There is a nice mix to this – I’m going to break it down into its layers and examine each individually as there is a lot going on here.

On first pour you get a big booming aroma that you can’t mistake for anything but Islay, and it is recognisable from metaphorical miles away from the glass. Classic Islay peat, smoke, salt and rocks all delivered thick and oily.

Drinking a sip keeps the thick character, but now with that peat expressed in a beefy style – layered over thick caramel and fudge notes. It is a dry sweetness, very chewy, very big and a great backing and contrast for the big Islay flavours.

The finish finally shows the story of the sherry influence – coming in as dry spice and raisins over the, still showing but now medicinal, Islay character. All of the levels has alcohol warmth, but the texture is luxury level smooth.

So, what can water do with this then? Quite a bit actually – soft green fruit and sweeter spice notes while the sherry influence ramps up nicely giving cherry and sherry notes into dry nutty finish. Well the finish was always quite dry – I forgot to mention that before. Forgive me please there is a lot to get through here. Anyway, compared to the chewy main body the finish is a nicely done dry underlying, drawing a line under the experience.

So, yeah, the fact I’m forgetting stuff while trying to get the notes done is showing how much this has going on – huge peat, big Islay, big sherry, yet with enough room to show the lighter notes. Big, but not so big that it becomes simple from overpowering notes.

It lacks only that “je ne sais quoi” to make it an all time great, but it is as good as you can get without that. Bloody nice.

Background: Another chance to dip into Islay’s youngest distillery – not got much info on this one. It’s a no age statement made with a mix of bourbon and sherry casks. Grabbed in ickle mini form from Independent Spirit so I could give it a try. So lacking in detail on the whisky – I listened to a collection of No Doubt’s single while drinking this. While I didn’t like all of the musical directions they took they were always good – just some of the tracks were not for me. When they were at their best IMHO was when they took on topics akin to the punkier scenes I enjoy so much, but delivered in such a way that it reached a much wider crowd without descending to the saccharine Spice Girls style “Girl Power” delivery. So there you have it.

Douglas Laing: Scallywag: 13 Year (Scottish Speyside Blended malt Whisky: 13 Year: 46% ABV)

Visual: Deep bronzed gold.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Plums. Some alcohol air. Vanilla fudge. Honey. Treacle. Water adds grapes to the mix.

Body: Smooth but warming. Honey. Raisins. Grapes. Some tannins and oak. Golden syrup. Water makes silky smooth. Adds grapes, quince rakija and pears. More water adds plums and dried apricot.

Finish: Light oak. Slightly peppery. Fig rolls. Tannins and tea bags. Honey. Water adds tart white grapes and pears.

Conclusion: Ok, with and without water is like night and day for this whisky. By which I am not saying that one is good and one is bad – just that they are radically different in emphasis while still having slight reflections of the other in some circumstances.

Neat it is very sherried, from a plum aroma to a tannins and grapes filled body layered over honey sweetness. There are hints of green grapes as well as the more expected red grapes in the there, but generally it is heavy sherried spice added to the native speyside sweetness. Water releases that green fruit so it can come to the fore, still matched with speyside sweetness, now with the plums and raisins at the back as mere sherried hints.

Time lets the two sides come to a compromise – the sherry raisins, pepper and tannins merging with the clear vanilla toffee and green fruit to give a very satisfying and silky smooth whisky. The slight raw alcohol it has neat, while never heavy in the first place, now has completely vanished.

This is a very good example of both the wide range that different Speyside distilleries can bring, the range you can get from blending the malts, and the smooth package that such blending can result in. No real rough edges, but manages to keep a lot of the individual malts character, and give room for water experimentation. I’m impressed.

Background: The first age statement release of the Speyside blended malt from Douglas Laing – this one matured in sherry butts in its entirety. So far their blended malts have impressed me highly – generally keeping the smoothness of the blended malt, without completely losing the character that their malt components bring. This was another of the rarer releases that Independent Spirit had a minis, so I, of course, grabbed one while I could. Felt like some straight forwards metal for music while drinking after being more experimental recently – so went for Shadows Fall – Fear Will Drag You Down.


Douglas Laing: Timorous Beastie: 18 Year (Scottish Highland Blended Whisky: 18 Year: 46.8% ABV)

Visual: Clear pale yellow.

Viscosity: Fast thick streaks.

Nose: Madeira cake and plum pudding. Old sweet shops. Pear drops. Slight alcohol. Hard sugar coating. Water makes similar but with varnish like notes.

Body: Light front, with warming alcohol that builds in intensity quickly. Vanilla toffee and vanilla custard. Oak. Madeira. Lime jelly. Raisins. Water makes more caramel like, and adds red wine. Pears and pear drops.

Finish: Oak notes. Alcohol air. Madeira cake. Raspberry yogurt bits. Water adds sweet red wine. Raisins. Pear drops and slight varnish notes.

Conclusion: As someone who has really enjoyed the various Timorous Beastie takes I have tried recently, I am kind of split on this one. Some of this may be because of the first impressions you get on sipping. The age seems to give it a tad overly light front, but then a stronger than normal alcohol burn quickly rises to overwhelm it. So, when taken neat you only really get hints of the flavours that it may carry, too much burn, and no pay off for that burn. You get the idea there is a tale going on below that, but nowhere near the full story. You need to use some water to get some decent play from this.

So, onto trying with water then. Water does help, and there is more play from the flavours here with more sherried notes coming out in an understated but rewarding way. It matches red wine and raisin notes that feel sherry influenced to pear drop flavours that remind me of younger, cleaner spirit. However even with water it feels a tad rough, with a slight varnish like touch. Normally I can dig rough edges, as long as they give extra layers of complexity. This has a decent range of complexity, with fresh lime jelly sweetness and Madeira mixing, but doesn’t create something special that feels like a reward for the need to use the slight varnish like notes.

Now it has promise, but it seems either too light, or too varnish touched, depending on when you have it – it feels like the promise of this is delivered in their far superior, and excellent dram that is the 21 year sherry cask version, for which this feels like an inadequate replacement for that one’s vanishing.

So, this has lots of good notes – a nice mix of spirit influences, and nice use of sherry cask ageing, but has a few too many off notes to be great – odd, especially for a blended malt where usually they usually mix things to within an inch of the most smooth it can be.

Ok, but far from top bombing.

Background: This was grabbed in a mini from Independent Spirit – as before they have a bunch of rarer limited edition minis of the blended whisky range. I’ve been enjoying them a lot so far, so grabbed this one to give a try. I drank this post watching the piece of shit that is the Netflix adaptation of Death Notes, and I have to admit I think I was a bit distracted so these aren’t my best notes. Tried to tidy them up on write up before posting, hope they are ok.

Douglas Laing: Rock Oyster 18 Year (Scottish Island Blended Malt Whisky: 18 Year: 46.8% ABV)

Visual: Pale gold.

Viscosity: Slow thin streaks.

Nose: Wet rocks. Sherried raisins. Alcohol tingle. Sea breeze. Brown sugar. Salt. Water adds more grit.

Body: Very smooth but warming. Brown bread. Honey. Sour dough. Slightly light at the front. Quince. Dried mango. Water makes lightly medicinal. Vanilla. Apricot. Beef slices. Peach.

Finish: Salt. Sherried raisins. Crushed rock dust. Light peat smoke. Sour dough. Dried beef slices. Tart grapes. Very light liquorice. Water makes a lightly medicinal air. Vanilla. Orange crème.

Conclusion: This took a lot of examining before I felt happy writing this conclusion. By which I mean I spent time drinking whisky. Such hardship. Such pain. Still, it is a difficult one to sum up.

Initially it seemed simple enough; The rocky, slightly salty touched air that comes with Island whisky was there, but here matched by sweet sherry and raisin notes that enhances what is normally a quite clean character. As is to be expected it is nowhere near as harsh as the Islays, despite sharing a few notes, instead walking the line of sweet notes and salty island character well. Here it is slightly empty up front in its smoothness, despite slightly rocky character – it is impressive in what it matches together but not overly exciting.

Water changes it a little, time changes it more. Water adds an Islay medicinal touch together with vanilla notes – quite lightly done but recognisable – more harsh is the additional grit and rock notes added to it along with a hint of beef slices and peat. Time, well, time is what made me look at this again with new eyes. Soft creamy fruit from peach to orange comes out – carefully used sweet notes against the more medicinal character before. It gives a whole new rewarding layer that takes this from impressive in what it does, but not great, to a genuinely good experience.

As time goes on the more medicinal notes take the fore again, but by that point it has taken you on a worthwhile taste journey. Not an instant classic, but earns its keep.

Background: I enjoyed the Douglas Laing range a while back at a tasting at The Hideout, and since have been trying to grab examples to do notes on. This one is a bit special, being an 18 year old limited edition take on their standard Rock Oyster – the vatted malt made up of spirits from the varied Island distilleries. I found it at Independent Spirit as part of their range of miniatures – which makes it very easy to try, which is awesome. Drunk while listening to some Willy Mason – not listened to him for a while, but awesome gentle, but meaningful folk style music to sink into while enjoying whisky.

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