Friday, 23 January 2015

Supermarket mystery challenge.

You've probably all seen them on the shelves but left them behind in favour of your favourite single malt or cheeky wee blend.

Supermarket whisky puzzles me and I'll tell you why; why all the fucking mystery? Whether it be the supermarket giving their own brands ye olde Scottish names like "Ben Bracken" or "Glen Orrin" which don't exist they are just made up names or sticking to the traditional "Tesco Speyside Single Malt" or whatever why don't they tell us where they are getting their whisky from?

I'll give you a couple of examples.

Ben Bracken is either a 12 year old Single Malt or with the bottle I have a 12 year old Blended Malt both are under twenty pounds and both are fantastic.

Now, Ben Bracken is a totally made up name by someone in marketing but the thing is it is Scotch, it is 12 years old and lovely, so why not tell us where they got it from? The truth behind this malt is that Ben Bracken is actually Tamnavulin. Tamnavulin closed a few years back and owners Whyte and Mackay sold off the remaining whisky, of which there was plenty, on the cheap to Lidl who re branded it. Thing is try and find a bottle of Tamnavulin and you'll struggle and if you do you're likely to be spending over a hundred pounds so why not for a little taste of history?

Then there is Waitrose and their Highland 16 year old Single Malt. Now I think it's a Dalmore, it just tastes like a Dalmore and I've had enough Dalmore over the years to make the jump and if it is it's around twenty quid cheaper, why not have a little line along the bottle saying where it's from? Would it be that damaging to the supplier?

My only explanation for this is that as mentioned before the Distillers need the money from supplying supermarkets but have no interest in having their brands damaged, if anyone can enlighten me drop me a line.

My final point on this is that Scottish whisky is one of the most stringently controlled industries in the world, what is put on the label is enshrined in law but not what isn't?

The Captain.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Starter package.

I'm sort of doing requests at the moment to get the blog up and running at full speed and someone has asked me what they as a relative beginner should buy to start a collection of drinkable whiskies so I thought I'd give you all some advice.

I'm going to assume you like whisky and you're not a total novice so what I'm going to do is select three bottles of Scotch that are easy to get hold of and not too expensive.

As I like to keep these blogs to the point I'll say now that there are so many different types and styles of whisky that it would be impossible to go into all the variations here so I'm going to suggest a peated blended whisky a young Single Malt and maybe something a little bit off piste.

Not everyone likes peaty whisky but I think you should try a bottle and as I've said before you can't really go wrong with Black Grouse. It packs a huge peat flavour and nose with some hints of spice and all for under twenty pounds, sometimes you can find this as low as fifteen pounds which is cracking value and because it's a peated whisky you don't get the same cheap grain taste you get from a standard bottle of Famous Grouse.

Next up let's talk about a Single Malt that's offering something exciting and isn't going to break the bank.  I'm going to suggest the fabulous Aberlour ten year old. There is no such thing as a bad Aberlour and this ten year old offers exactly what you should be looking for. Matured for a decade in Bourbon and sherry casks you get a real feel of warm sweetness with a hint of uncooked Christmas cake which is never a bad thing. You're getting this for under thirty pounds if you look and for my American readers the use of Bourbon barrels might be a good start for drinking aged Scotch.

Now I've been mulling over this for a while thinking about something interesting to start you off with and so I'm going to suggest Johnnie Walker Gold Label. The Gold Label is a blended malt with no grain and is superb, yes it's just under forty pounds but trust me if this was a Single Malt you'd be paying twice that. Bursting with character this eighteen year old blend is filled with sweet fruits and honeycomb flavours, go on give it a punt you'll love it.

The Captain.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Personal taste

So Jim Murray has just announced the Yamazaki Sherry cask to be the best whisky in the world and shocked the industry although I don't why because it's hardly the first time he's awarded a non Scotch the "top" prize but I totally fail to see what all the fuss is about.

I don't really understand why one man's opinion is so valued when whisky is such a personal thing and to be honest some of the whiskies he picks are so obscure or expensive almost no one else would be able to compare anyway.

One example of this is his favourite Scotch of the year, it's the Last Drop 1965. I have no problem with the Last Drop as a company but how can a bottle of whisky which almost no one will ever get close to sniffing let alone drinking be regarded as the best Scotland has to offer? The Last Drop are so exclusive and expensive it would be like me making my own whisky on a tour of a distillery and by pure chance creating a cracking drink and then offering that one bottle for sale at ten grand and Jim Murray liking it, hardly a proper representation of the industry is it? For me it just adds to a certain snobbery surrounding whisky, I've looked at his list over the last few years and the overwhelming majority of bottles are beyond the price range of most people.

Now I know Murray is telling what the best is rather than offering his opinions on whisky you can buy in Tesco but the exclusiveness of what he selects means it's almost impossible to judge whether or not he has any more tasting skill than you or me and so able to judge or if he's just picking the whisky who sends him the biggest sample or costs the most or is the rarest or whatever.

Oh and his numbering system or scoring is a lot of nonsense too, I've done game reviews and found it pointless attaching a "score" how on Earth you can attach a number to a drink is beyond me but he seems to do well out of it but if you're buying a whisky because of a score then you shouldn't be allowed near a whisky.

I've re written this article several times because I don't want to come across as bitter or a troll so I give this review 55.100 you see? You see how pointless giving a score is?

The Captain.


Tuesday, 6 January 2015

By a nose.

Last night I got a text message from a whisky drinking friend asking what the term for the "smell" of whisky and how he just can't enough of Glenmorangie.

The way a whisky smells is for some as important as the taste, the second you pop the cork the air is filled with that smell a smell that says "I'm here, I'm whisky and now the fun is really about to begin", well it does to me.

After you've poured your whisky always take a big sniff and then when you add your water take another, here you will smell everything from leather and honey to cleaning fluid and salt and everything in between. Take your time though and think about the smells, close your eyes and imagine and then read the tasting a nose notes on the bottle or online and see if your sense of smell is the same as mine or the distiller.

Glassware is important for getting that smell right into the old olfactories as anything else so I thought I'd do a wee list for you, I'm just that nice.

1. Clencairn. This specialist glass was created by Raymond Davidson for the Clencairn Crystal Company and allows you to swirl the whisky without it flying everywhere and you can get your nose right in there. The glass is used all over the world now by master blenders and is seen as the best glass to smell whisky from.

2. Sherry glass. No, not that tiny little thing your Grandma used to take her Bristol Cream in but the taller sherry copita. Easy to get the nose into and good for swirling and they are more readily available than the Clencairn.

3, Snifter. You'll see these being used for Brandy as you can warm the liquid by getting your hand under the main bulb of the glass but works well with whisky, the clue is in the name of course.

Now you can drink your whisky in any glass you like, I use a heavy crystal low ball or old fashioned glass but that's just because I want to be Clint Eastwood.

Friday, 26 December 2014

The blend

Merry Christmas.

Now that's out of the way I'd like to talk about my new "thing" and that is finding blends which are better than even good single malts for depth of flavour and overall character.

I've been bought a bottle of Compass Box Great King Street Artist's Blend and without wanting to sound like I'm being paid to write this up, which I'm not, it is superb.

For those of you who don't know about Compass Box they are a small independent company offering smallish batches of some truly remarkable whisky, you can check them out here.

Anyway, the Artist's blend is a lovely smooth whisky, creamy on the tongue, lots of fruit, almost Christmas cake style and very easy drinking both neat or with a tiny touch of water but only just enough to release the oils, add too much water or ice to this and you'll lose the delicate flavour.

Blends are offering so much these days with many companies perfecting both the "pure malt" and blends.

Pure Malts or All Malt blends are blended whisky which contain no grain. Grain whisky is mass produced and used as a filler for most blended whiskies.

Normal Blends are made up of grain and malts and with better blends you can improve a particular flavour an example of this being adding malts which are peat based to improve and create a huge peaty flavour or the same with sherry barreled malts.

Decent blends are often expensive and put off the casual buyer because the marketing people within whisky have convinced everyone that Malts and aged Malts are all the matter and blends are inferior products but I challenge anyone to a blind taste off using top blends and malts and see if you can tell the difference.

My top five blends are;

1. Johnnie Walker Gold Label
2. Compass Box The Artist's Blend
3. The Bailie Nicol Jarvie
4. The Black Grouse
5. J&B Rare.

These are just five I really enjoy and are easily available either online or in most shops and only the Gold Label is more than thirty pounds and all are worth exploring if you fancy delving into blends.

Good luck and remember to either drink responsibly or drink like a man possessed.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Bored with Whisky snobbery?

Just had what was a well natured debate on whisky and what people enjoy turned into another tedious argument, which I bowed out of quickly, because you always get some men who think that if you're not drinking straight up Laphroaig then you're not really a whisky drinker.

I know I have been a bit school master with my views on ice in whisky which I stand by because you're adding water which you can't control, use those stones things if you want or stick the bottle in the freezer but drink what you want and don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

This sort of whisky hard man nonsense bores me to tears, some of the roughest men I know drink whisky with water and ice and they only drink nice sherry cask whisky never touching the peated beasts we all know and love.

This is sadly not the first time I've come across this, I criticised an Ardbeg a few back and got a torrent of abuse saying I didn't understand the whisky and blah blah blah.

Same goes for the dreaded line "you can't beat a single malt" yes you can, some blends are fantastic and offer complexity unheard of in half the single malts on the market, go and drink some Monkey Shoulder or some of the Japanese blends and tell me different.

If you enjoy peated whisky then good for you, I do too, but don't think you hold some kind of moral high ground because you don't, you're not more Scottish, more of a man (because it's always men coming out with this nonsense) or harder than anyone else just because someone doesn't like drinking something that tastes like it was scraped from a remote bog on the Western Isles.

Anyway I'm off for a peach schnapps and lemonade. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

My Christmas tipple

Christmas is here and rather than giving you tips on special offers or stuff I think you should be drinking I thought I would share with you what I'll be drinking over the festive period.

My Single Malt shelf is pretty full as always but I've been leaning more towards more brutal whisky, Talisker Storm is my current favourite but be warned it's not for the faint hearted, I take it with a drop or two of water and nothing else and it calms the soul no end.

For blends I'm drinking the Famous Grouse Black Grouse, it's smokey without being overpowering an is brilliant mixed with coke or ginger ale but drinking it on its own is perfectly acceptable. My other blend is Monkey Shoulder which is a blended malt and more expensive than your average blend but offers far more depth of flavour, I drink this either with a little water or ginger ale.

I've recently being buying bourbon. Perhaps it's watching Justified on Netflix but I was drawn recently to two bottles both on offer at Tesco and Asda. Woodward Reserve is beautiful, dark and sweet with subtle winter spices, it's a bit like a nice mulled wine and goes great in an old fashioned, in a hot toddy or with a cube of ice. My other nod to America again comes from Kentucky but a more earthy dram this time with Wild Turkey. Wild Turkey has a lot of Rye in the mash and is apparently aged in charred barrels giving it a character often missing in American tipples. I drink it straight as the honey and cinnamon spice that I pick up is lost when you start buggering about with it.

You'll find all of these whiskies in supermarkets and I imagine many will be offer, if you try any of them let me know what you think.

Merry Christmas.

The Captain.