Tag Archive: Independent spirit


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.

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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.

independent-spirit-left-handed-giant-black-angus
Independent Spirit: Left Handed Giant: Black Angus (England: Imperial Stout: 9.1% ABV)

Visual: Black. Still. Brown bubbles at the edges but only a thin grey dash at the centre.

Nose: Peaty. Wet moss. Brown bread. Smoked bacon. Slight medicinal notes. Cake sponge. Oily cooked fish skin.

Body: Bready. Creamy. Smooth chocolate. Light gin notes. Vanilla. Touch of sugared oranges and orange liqueur. Tart and creamy lemon mix. Chocolate strawberry. Milky coffee. Blue cheese. Nougat.

Finish: Bitter cocoa. Creamy lemon. Bready. Bitter coffee. Cream. Chocolate strawberry. More cocoa as it warms. Nougat and vanilla ice cream.

Conclusion: Terrible. Utterly Terrible. No, not really. Was just saying that to wind up everyone at Independent Spirit. Because I am evil. Anyway, cruel jokes aside – going into this I wasn’t sure if it was their Arran or their Fettercairn cask that was used to barrel age this. I thought the Fettercairn was more likely, as the Arran had only been bottled recently, but wasn’t 100% sure. So, now having sipped this (then confirming with the shop, but sipping is the important part) I am 100% certain it is the Fettercairn. It is unmistakable.

Anyway, will get to that later – as we have something a bit different to the usual Imperial Stout story here; However first we have the fact that up front is is exactly what you expect – A heavy, smoked Imperial Stout that booms, all peaty, forthright and meaty. Tempting, but no hint of the barrel ageing here.

This bold, booming front then soothes down into a creamy, lemony and orange influenced body – utterly shouting the Fettercain influence over the chocolate and coffee notes that you would expect. It wears the weight of the smoke openly, but ends up creamy and sweet heading out into a very different last note on the finish from the peaty smoke that welcomed you on the nose.

This develops even more with time and heat – the smoke style brings subtle blue cheese as it warms, which adds a well used savoury note to go with the sweeter creamy style.

The more traditional chocolate and coffee notes, while there, and more present when warm, actually feel more like a backbone for the more unusual notes to do their work. The smooth texture the barrel ageing brings has given a lot of room for the interesting notes to float. Often a smoother Imperial Stout can feel too light for me, but here it just seems to give room for the lemon,cream and such like to work.

You have a very competently made and very different beer here. Heavy up front, smooth out back with surprises in-between. Very good indeed, and I’m not just saying that to avoid getting barred from the shop.

Background: Bias warning: Independent Spirit jokingly said they would ban me if I gave this a bad review. I am 90% sure they were joking. Probably. Anyway, grabbed from the aforementioned shop this is their collaboration beer of which only 188 Bottles exist. It is a smoked Imperial Stout that has been aged in the cask that previously held Independent Spirit’s Fettercain whisky release. Drunk while listening to Massive Attack: Mezzanine. It is almost cliché by this point to love the opening track – “Angel” but it rocks, and the entire album is wonderful background atmosphere for drinking music.

independent-spirit-arran

Independent Spirit: Arran (Scottish Island Single Malt Whisky: 17 Years: 58.7% ABV)

Visual: Quite light grain to gold.

Viscosity: Generally slow thin puckering, with a few fast streaks from the spirit.

Nose: Alcohol jelly. Lime. Salted caramel and apple. Water brings out more caramel, a touch of milky coffee. More water adds floral notes.

Body: Alcohol touched. Salted toffee. Moderate oak. Salted caramel. Water adds apples and makes smoother. Much more salted caramel. More water adds more apples and pears. Light cinnamon. Creamy notes and some lemon curd.

Finish: Charred oak. Apples. Alcohol. Toffee malt drinks. Drying. Water adds salted toffee. More water adds lemon curd and light milky coffee.

Conclusion: Ok, this has a lot of water room to it. Like a proper serious amount. Not entirely unexpected at best part of 60% abv, but what does stand out is that it is actually pretty approachable even when neat; Which means that you have more room for quality water play as you don’t have to add a ton just to get it to where you can taste it. No innuendo on water play please. That is my job.

Neat to middling amounts of water it is very unlike any Arran I have encountered. Very toffee and caramel driven. Salted interpretation of both no less. Neat it is a little alcohol thick but still very drinkable, if a tad burning. Even a little water though turns it into a very smooth, kind of salted toffee doughnut style whisky. I was kind of addicted to salted toffee doughnuts for a while, I know of what I speak.

More water, like heavily more water, adds a mix of traditional green fruit that feels like a more Arran by way of Hakushu whisky style. Initially just soft notes around the toffee, enough water means that the green fruit takes centre stage with the salted caramel around the edges.

Initially as a salted caramel heavy whisky I found it soothing, smooth and easy drinking but not too complex. I was going to call it a whisky that did one thing but very well – a whisky for the high end of enjoying to sooth and relax with rather than examine.

Water turned that on its head; lots of fresh green fruit, a good mix of character. It is still easy to drink but now more freshening than soothing, and with a touch of that creamy Arran character. Very enjoyable either way, and with lots of room to explore. Both defies Arran expectations and confirms them depending on how you take it. A very high quality whisky.

Background: Second of Independent Spirit‘s independent bottlings of whisky. This time an Arran bottling – one of 57 bottles, distilled in 1997 and aged for 17 years in a sherry puncheon. Bottled non chill filtered at cask strength this definitely caught my eye. The label may look identical to the last, Fettercairn bottling – but if you look closely the cape colour has changed. Huge difference. Drink while listening to a general mix of metal – around the thrash to death side of things.

Independent Spirit Fettercairn

Independent Spirit: Fettercairn (Scottish Highland Single Malt Whisky: 7 Year: 56.2% ABV)

Visual: Deep gold.

Viscosity: Very slow, medium thickness streaks.

Nose: Very viscous, jelly like, alcohol. Lemon curd. Apple pie. Heather. Custard slices. Pepper. Water brings light oak, vanilla, and a smoother character. More water brings a fresh lemon and citrus mash-up and apricot.

Body: Initially smooth then ramps to burning warmth. Oaken. Apples. Water brings lots more apples, pepper. More water brings custard, light strawberry, tinned tropical fruit, apricot and lemon sorbet. Later apple pie with sugar and pineapple jelly.

Finish: Oak. Warming and numbing. Pepper. Water brings light treacle, soft fudge and malt drinks. More water adds heather, strawberry softness, tropical fruit and apricot.

Conclusion: Ok, neat this is freaking rocket fuel. It is vodka jelly like, oh my god shouting level strong. Yet, for those of you who have already read the background, you know that I helped pick it being released at this abv. What is up with that? I mean, it is young at seven years, and 56.2% abv, surely that is a terrible plan? Why would I recommend that?

Well, I did so because of the depth you can get from this with some water play to find your sweet spot. Even neat there are apple hints, pepper notes and sweet backing against lemon curd. Ok admittedly that is rapidly lost behind the alcohol burn, but is a hint to the fact that there are some big flavours here. Tellingly, when I first tried it blind, I thought that it could be calvados or some other apple brandy cask finished. It really shines with soft, sweet apple notes in a fashion that usually comes from that kind of cask ageing. I really wanted that unusual character to be preserved and not lost to a lower abv expression.

Now, neat this is is interesting for a couple of sips, but seriously don’t keep drinking it like that or you will kill your taste-buds. This thing can take a metric shitload of water – in fact it is probably the only whisky I have tried that can take so much water that I actual regret the poor quality of water around here as the flavour of the whisky is still good, but I can feel the elements of the hard water coming through. I should invest in a water filter again really.

Anyway, with a little water you have an intense, calvados aged feeling, custard sweet, peppery whisky. With more water it finally hits its stride. There comes out a huge amount of fruit – from subtle strawberry to apricot, to the expected tropical fruit influences of bourbon ageing. During this it never loses that sweet apple taste that first made it appeal to me. You have to add a mad amount of water before that vanishes. It is a serious wave of flavour and here it is a very enjoyable, very bright, very fruity whisky.

Now, it never stops being a young whisky, and showing that younger character – and even with a wealth of water here is a slight alcohol edge to it. So, with water it is still a slightly rough edged one, and without water very rough edged, but you get a whisky that mixes the exuberant fruitiness of a young whisky with the illusion of calvados ageing, and the subtle pepperyness of an older whisky. It is a rough edged gem, but one I enjoy examining.

Background: Welcome, to another tasting note I will confess a possible bias warning to. When Independent Spirit were trying to decide what strength this should be bottled at, I assisted with some tastings to give my opinion. We went with this cask strength in the end. So, yea possible bias. This is one of 50 bottles of this cask strength whisky available that was distilled in 2009 and bottled 2016. This was drunk while listening to the utterly terrifying soundtrack from “It Follows”, I was hoping to counter my possible bias by creating an acoustic counterpoint of potential dread. Good movie as well BTW, a very unsettling, creepy horror film.

Drinks By The Dram Whisky Calender
Ok, I am breaking my rule. I have a rule. No talking about Christmas until at least December. It is now November. However these are special circumstances. In a nigh The Culture level intervention scale.

Hey I’m allowed to make “The Culture” references. Iain Banks was a huge whisky fan. It is thematically linked.

Anyway, no talking about Christmas until December, but… When Chris Scullion of Bath Whisky and Rum Club, which is now part of the Independent Spirit store asks for your assistance in doing tasting of twenty four whiskies you do not say no because of a mere point of pride.

So, Masters of Malt, the people behind Drinks By the Dram, have provided him with a copy of the advent calendar. And for the mere cost of my aid in putting up our notes on Alcohol and Aphorisms I am invited to add my thoughts on half of each bottle. Many thanks to both Masters of Malt and Chris, it is an honour.

So, the notes themselves will be going up as and when we manage to drink them, but for now a quick glance at what is coming up. I’m going to put this behind a click to see more in case people have this and don’t want the surprise ruined.

WARNING: I will be putting up the notes over the next few weeks, so if you want avoid spoilers you may want to take care on browsing the blog until we are done.
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