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SMWS1a

My wife brought me home the remains of some Scotch Malt Whisky Society tasting bottles that escaped the clutches of the Australian tasting panel (thanks Andrew!). Not quite the crumbs from the table when we are talking about some very rare single cask, cask strength whiskies from one of the great independent bottlers of the whisky world. Particularly whiskies coming from three diverse and rather uncommon distilleries. Suffice it to say, I was very excited.

The SMWS tasting panel samples hundreds of casks each year and only a select number are chosen to be bottled and imported to Australia. In this case, and subject to confirmation, I believe the three samples were ultimately bottled as the following: (Mortlach) 76.112 “Spiced Champurrado”, (Glenlossie) 46.22 “An Italian Kitchen”, and (Springbank) 27.106 “A boiler suit in ballet shoes”. The Springbank I had previously sampled at the winter SMWS tasting event in Sydney and it was my favourite dram of the night, so I was very pleased to find this showing up unbidden at my doorstep.

The first two are mature Speysiders and find expression predominantly through independent bottlings. Mortlach has long been favoured by blenders for its complexity and heartiness created by a rather unorthodox combination of stills and the use of tradition wormtubs in condensing the spirit. The owners release a regular 16 year old “Flora and Fauna” edition and the occasional rare malt, but most of the spirit finds its way into blends, and if you are lucky enough to stumble across one, chances are it will be by an independent bottler.

Glenlossie, like Mortlach, belongs to the Diageo fold and is offered as a standard 10 year old. Although built in 1876 it remains a rather unknown distillery despite being a staple in the majority of the Haig blends. This was my first taste of a Glenlossie single malt and I was not disappointed.

The last whisky, the Springbank, comes from one of the three remaining active distilleries in Campbelltown. Springbank is renowned for its firmly traditional and artisanal approach to producing whisky and, along with Kilchoman, is one of only two distilleries that perform each stage of whisky production on the same premises – from the malting of the barley to bottling the final product.

Mortlach 1986 – 27yr. (Bottled as SMWS 76.112 “Spiced Champurrado”)mortlachstills
Bottled 23/09/13
58.1% ABV
Cask 2041
10CL SMWS sample bottle

Nose: A little musty, feels almost arid. Lacquer. Dried herbs – thyme, touch of rosemary. Slightly metallic – aluminium scouring brush.
Becomes oakier with time in the glass. Honey notes emerge with water. Shandy.

Palate: Sweet and gamey. Venison in a port reduction. Honey-glazed cashews. Just a hint of some citrus in there – candied orange peel. Bergamot tea. Lavender. Grains of paradise? Complex but subtle palate. (Refill sherry cask?).
With water some of this complexity is lost, but a honeycomb sweetness surfaces and the palate becomes more rounded.

Finish: Not particularly long. A quirky dialogue between the sweeter elements and a savoury meatiness. Bay leaves and oak are left on the fade, becoming quite dry. There’s a slightly chlorinated note, but it’s not at all off-putting.

Thoughts: A fascinating drop offering rather disparate elements, some a little unusual. There isn’t a solid core to latch onto with this drop, but age has instead imparted a lot of complexity to Mortlach’s often idiosyncratic spirit. I’m not immediately sold, but am left intrigued, feeling this is a whisky that may take some time to get to know and appreciate but with reward.

83/100

Glenlossie 1992 – 20yr (Bottled as SMWS 46.22 “An Italian Kitchen”)
Bottled 16/07/13
50.7% ABV
Cask 3000966
10CL SMWS sample bottle

glenlossieNose: Very closed at first. Wet paint and waxy crayon. Really needs to breathe. Opens up with some praline. Quite malty. Old hay and hessian sacks.

Palate: Flash of a mineral note. Chamomile tea. Then wow! This is the peachiest palate I’ve ever tasted on a scotch. Rich skins of ripe yellow nectarine. Very fruity – some guava and tropical elements on top of the orchard fruits. Gentle and floral but incredibly sweet. Quite rich but refreshing. Not at all anticipated by the nose!

Finish: Medium finish with the predominant peach flavour dissipating into green tea. Only a nod to the oak, which is perhaps surprising given its age. Likely a bourbon cask, but many of these vibrant fruity notes are reminiscent of a quality sauternes maturation.

Thoughts: A real disconnect between the nose and the palate. The former very closed and austere, but the palate a deluge of fresh, invigorating flavours. For an introduction to this distillery, one couldn’t be more impressed! [By the time I had sampled this and realised it was bottled and brought in by SMWS, it was long sold out. Disappointing, but in this case it did save me $293]

87/100

Springbank 2000 – 13yr (Bottled as SMWS 27.106 “A boiler suit in ballet shoes”)
Bottled 22/01/14springbankbarrel
49.8% ABV
Cask 164
10CL SMWS sample bottle

Nose: Peat and whiff of smoke – dry and minerally. Sweet, light sherry. Limes. (If I were to give this a quirky SMWS name of my own it would be: Key-lime pie in a woodfired oven). Golden raisons. Oily; inky. Golden syrup and cinnamon.

Taste: Immediate peat – zingy and clean. Very pastry/cake-like… Cinnamon cake or German carrot cake. Gingersnap biscuits. Chewy toffee. Mouthfeel is rich, full, and syrupy.

Finish: Long, layered and sweet. Still very mouth-coating. Plenty of wood, becoming nutty.

Thoughts: A quick look at the ABV will tell you this was a very active cask given its modest age and this is evident in the ample richness of this whisky. There is certainly no need for water, in fact it drowns easily. This whisky is just a great example of Springbank at its best, even at a fairly modest age. 

91/100

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It’s approaching two years since I last posted…. more on that soon. As I attempt to remount my blogging horse, I thought I’d ease myself into the saddle with some recent Scotch tasting notes.

macallan house

Today a couple of independent bottlings I just polished off from two very different distilleries.

The first, a Macallan, comes from one of the heavyweights of the Scotch whisky world (as of 2009, it was the second largest-selling single malt producer by volume, behind Glenlivet and ahead of Glenfiddich). Macallan is renowned for its traditionally* rich, sherried house flavour, and for its regular release of rare and older bottlings that often fetch astronomical prices. The bottle in review here is far removed from Macallan’s roots and should not be seen as indicative ofMacallan’s typically excellent releases (particularly in the sherried variety!). The Macallan 12 year old was in fact the first single malt that made me fall in love with sherry-matured whiskies and remains a special drop for me, despite its increasingly stupid price.

 Blair Athol Distillery

The second, a Blair Athol, while one of the oldest running distilleries in Scotland(built in 1798), is a rather invisible distillery in the Perthshire region of the Highlands, and likely unknown to most scotch drinkers outside of the most enthusiastic. This is not at all surprising as the vast majority of Blair Athol’s spirit goes directly into blends –particularly Bells, of which it forms the backbone. The owners dorelease a standard 12 year old “Flora and Fauna” edition but thisis typically only carried by boutique stores and specialty whiskymerchants. Outside of this, you may find occasional single cask releases by a variety of independent bottlers, as we have here, and at varying levels of quality.

On to the notes:

Macallan 15 years(Hart Brothers)

Distilled: December1992

Bottled: June 2008

46% ABV

macallan 15hb

Nose: Very muted.Overripe banana. Vanilla ice cream. Balsa wood. Hay, rolled oats, andpencil shavings.

Palate: Banana in continuity with the aroma. Glutinous rice and a touch of cinnamon.Dry bourbon notes. Flat cola and barley sugars.

Finish: Dry and a little starchy. A lingering vanilla sweetness and rather woody.

Thoughts: I suspect this was drawn from a refill bourbon barrel – a very tired one and it shows. From the nose to the finish on the tongue, the experience must be fought for. Look, while it’s not a bad whisky per se, it is definitely an uninspiring drop. The bottle never really grabbed me so I spread it out over quite some time and I will confess that ultimately it did grow on me a touch. Perhaps that is an understated complexity and the challenge of apprehending it. Still, I’d summarise it as a diffident whisky and not a Macallan to be proud of. (Keeping in mind that this was not an official Macallan release!).

Score:71/100

BlairAthol 12 years (The Old Malt Cask/Douglas Laing Co.)

Distilled:November 1995

Bottled:October 2008

50%ABV

1 of 760 bottles

Sherry Butt DL Ref. 4686

blair athol 12dl3Nose:Orange marmalade. Treacle. Honeycomb. The sherry influence is clear.Dried dates and grapeskins. Peanut husks. Continues to really open up into a very rich andcomplex nose with time in the glass. Light ginger ale or spritzer?

Palate:Sweet, malty, and quite spicy. Brilliant balance! Lively. Light fruitcake (and really very cakey or bready… think panettone). A lovelyinterplay between spice and wood notes. Plums. Cassia bark and a hintof star anise.

The mouthfeel is full and a touch oily. There is some heat coming from the higher ABV and it will take some water although it is delightful as it stands.

Finish:Butterscotch. A long, luscious fade. Woody andspicy… a touch bitter/sweet.

Thoughts:This bottle is areal cracker. It is in character with the distillery’s official Flora & Fauna release,
but is significantly augmented by the higher ABV and lack of chill-filtration. Richness,complexity, and balance in a glass.

Score: 89

The next review up within a few days, will be of some stellar recent Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottlings.

*Up until 2004 when Macallanintroduced the Fine Oak series, its whisky was matured solely inOlorosso sherry casks fromJerez, Spain. This turn hasbeen met with very mixed reviews, and more than a little heavycriticism in some quarters. Giventhe release of older age statement whiskies in the Fine Oak series itwould seem Macallan has actuallybeen aging quitea lot of their whisky in exBourbon barrels since at least the 1970s.

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My Two Rowans

Rowan is one of those names distinguished by its vague familiarity. It rolls easily enough off the tongue and rings a muted bell… which is to say you probably don’t have a close friend or sibling called Rowan, but maybe you think some distant cousin, or perhaps it was a cousin of a friend who may have had that name… or at least a name that might be quite similar.

It is unusual enough of a name, at least here in Australia, that Miranda and I are regularly asked why we chose it for our daughter. Particularly if the curious subject is aware that Rowan is a male name and wonders if perchance we were not aware of that, or were unfamilar with the femine form Rowena.

So, for the curious: We named Rowan after one of my favourite people – the theologian Rowan Williams, who is also the current Archbishop of Canterbury.

Dr. Williams has, of course, as many faults as the next man – and they have at time been scrutinised and magnified ex officio. But at his best he has modelled many qualities that I can only aspire to:

A breadth of scholarship and incisive thinking,
artistic and aesthetic sensibility,
a rich and examined life of faith,
concern for social justice, human rights and equality,
ecumenical and inter-faith outlook,
a distinctly critical eye to power structures,
and a genuine warmth and nobility of character.

He’s also a fine poet and quite an expert on Dostoevsky (my favourite author).

For the win, he looks like a wizard.

With the exception of the wizard part, and his impressive but rather angry, vertiginous eyebrows, I can only wish such virtues for the child we have brought into the world.

I leave you with two of his poems, both beautiful and challenging. Given the detestable shooting of Malala Yousafzai this week, the first poem seems particularly poignant.

Arabic Class in the Refugee Camp

One by one, the marks join up:
easing their way through the broken soil,
the green strands bend, twine,
dip and curl and cast off little drops
of rain. Nine months ago,
the soil broke up, shouting,
crushing its fist on houses, lives,
crops and futures, opening its wordless mouth
to say no. And the green strands
stubbornly grow back. The broken bits
of a lost harvest still let
the precious wires push through
to bind the pain, to join with knots and curls
the small hurt worlds of each
small life, to say another no: no,
you ar not abandoned. The rope of words
is handed on, let down from a sky
broken by God’s voice, curling and wrapping
each small life into the lines of grace,
the new world of the text that maps
our losses and our longings, so
that we can read humanity again
in one another’s eyes, and hear
that the broken soil is not all, after all,
as the signs join up.

 

 

Rublev

One day, God walked in, pale from the grey steppe,
slit-eyed against the wind, and stopped,
said, Colour me, breathe your blood into my mouth.

I said, Here is the blood of all our people,
these are their bruises, blue and purple,
gold, brown, and pale green wash of death.

These (god) are the chromatic pains of flesh,
I said, I trust I shall make you blush,
O I shall stain you with the scars of birth

For ever, I shall root you in the wood,
under the sun shall bake you bread
of beechmast, never let you forth

To the white desert, to the starving sand.
But we shall sit and speak around
one table, share one food, one earth.

 

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The Inglorious Blackhole

Hiatus is too weak a term for the three plus years since I last posted here. So flaccid and dull, abrupt and forgotten like a seasonal sneeze. Hiatus  is the comfort between bowel movements.

Better would be…

                      void, or cavity, or blackhole.

Dark gaping and forboding words, full of imagery and intrigue.

Or better yet…

                      lacuna. An open riddle promising no purchase of resolution.

I can’t completely explain the reason for such an extended absense, or perhaps don’t want to think too much on it. A lot has happened over the last several years, and I do suspect the “empty” and “dark” terms I chose above were apt, with a pretty long-term and somewhat crippling depression interrupting my studies and cutting short my time in the US. And since then life has felt more like persistent waves of activity without a lot of room for blogging. I moved back to Australia at the end of 2009, returned to work in the IT industry, and in the most joyful and life-changing of events, my wife and I just had our first child – a baby girl.

As the time away from blogging has increased so too has am itch to write and to write about more than the beer and scotch reviews I had previously given the most focus.  My precious drinks (Smeagle??) will remain a part of this endeavour, but I am most excited to turn some attention to books and ideas, both of which consume so much of my thought but rarely see much light of day.

With this in mind I will be making some changes to the blog and will return tomorrow with The Project that will occupy much of the next couple of years between nappy changes. For now let’s just say it feels ambitious, involves one hell of a lot of books, time, and no little blogging 🙂

I leave you with a picture of my new family,

Damien.

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session_logo_all_text_200

This month’s Session is hosted by Joe and Jasmine of Beer at Joe’s, and their  topic of choice was Beyond the Black and Tan. Here’s what they had to say in the original post:

Most people have had a black & tan, which is a combination of two kinds of beer and think it’s pretty tasty. Most people have heard of a Shandy, beer with lemonade or soda added, and think it’s not so tasty.

But beer cocktails go far beyond these two famous examples… What’s your favorite beer cocktail (and yes, despite the title of this post, it can be a black & tan or a shandy)? Find a recipe for that or a new one, try it, and tell us why you did or didn’t like it–even if you think beer cocktails are nothing but a good way to waste a beer. Have fun and try something new!

I’ve had a few beer cocktails over the years, and find them to be a mixed bag. A few bad experiences has elicited such trepidation when I contemplate ordering an untried beer cocktail, that I invariable settle on ordering just a beer… unadulterated. But curiosity and shamelessness has rarely prevented me from suggesting such a cocktail to a trusting compatriot (read my wife). I must confess that when I take my consulting dues of a mouthful or two, I’ve found myself suspiciously impressed on more than one occasion.

This Session topic forced me to the decidedly awkward position of having to take risks.

Re-reading the last sentence and thinking of what that says about my person forces me to the awkward position of sounding thoroughly British. Horrifying thoughts such as these lead a sensible man to drink, and it might as well be a beer cocktail.

I wanted to attempt a beer cocktail from drinks and ingredients that I already have in the house. The idea here was to not spend extra money on a project I feared was doomed to failure, and I also wanted to see if I could construct something from scratch based on taste and intuition alone.cocktail 1

So I started by grabbing a bottle of New Belgium Sunshine Wheat Beer. This is a year-round offering from one of my favourite breweries that I’ll typically enjoy a few sixpacks of when the weather gets hot. It rather loosely falls into the Belgian Wit beer fold, sporting additions of coriander and caracao. As a well-fashioned, refreshing, but quite delicate wheat beer, anything I added needed to be subtle and delicate itself. In retrospect, this would be a wonderful candidate for a shandy if ever I saw one, but lacking lemonade and juice of any description, I opted instead for a gentle spirit. The Cragganmore 12 I consider to be one of, if not the most elegant, and delicate scotches I’ve consumed. I thought its floral nose and palate, with its subtle wood and hints of tropical fruit (rockmelon/cantaloupe) might just make a nice marriage with the New Belgium.

Well… I was wrong. Epic fail. The Cragganmore that I never drink after another scotch because it is so easily overpowered, consumed the Sunshine wheat like a fat kid on cake. It’s woodiness was amplified disproportionately, and all of its elegant beauty transformed into an insipid spicy alcohol, which I tossed after a few puckering mouthfuls. Thankfully my pessimism about the project prompted my using only about a third of the bottle, and I could wash the taste away with the unspoiled remainder.

Not wanting to end on a sour note, I thought I’d take one more crack. Instead of starting with a specific beer and building from there, I decided to start with a concept and see if I had the right ingredients to get there.

This time around I wanted to use items that were stable and strong in their own right, and also, if possible, to use more than two. When I think bold and drink, I want an espresso, a dark, strong beer, or a rich, Islay scotch. I couldn’t see a reason why at least a combination of a couple of these wouldn’t work together. Of course they have before, in the form of coffee stout, or oak aged beers, where the barrels have previously housed a whiskey.

Perusing the beer cupboard, I thought my best bet would be Rogue cocktail 2 Shakespeare Stout as the base, with some fresh espresso for the next step. The beautiful, crema head of the stout certainly resonated with the espresso, and the sweetened dark chocolate aroma begged for coffee. I wasn’t sure about the grapefruity cascade that was so prominent on the nose however.

I started reasonably small, with a half glass of Shakespeare, and about 3/4s of a shot of espresso. Adding the coffee triggered a baking soda like effect, with a new head bursting forth, and forming a pockmarked, ravine striped landscape, reminiscent of images from the Voyager Mars probe.

The coffee aroma fit seamlessly, and the cascades took a magnanimous step back, allowing the sweeter scents to accent the espresso. Wow, this actually works! Using decent espresso coffee, and being careful not to over-extract prevents the bitterness from being too high, and the residual sugars in the Shakespeare round off the edges. The existing heavy roastiness of the malt certainly compliments the coffee too.

Next addition – Laphroaig 15 yo. Even when blending scotches, I’m hesitant to use Laphroaig, as it’s such a dominating and singular flavour – the 10 in particular. But I was really hoping the smoky quality of an Islay would add to my blend, and sadly without anoterh Islay option on the shelf, it would have to be this. So I started with a teaspoon, and worked up to a second.

More iodine than smoke came through on the nose, which wasn’t entirely unexpected given the aggressively peaty profile of Laphroaig. It doesn’t seem entirely foreign in the mix, but is still unembraced. Still, a delightful woodsy character appears that only a significantly oaked stout could hope to display.

On the palate it’s an interesting picture. The Laphroaig wants to play, and the smoky oak is welcome, but its seaweedy side is definitely an outsider. Not bad, but not where I want it. I figured at this point that I would experiment a little further, so I added a dash of cinnamon. I probably added slightly too much, but this addition did much more than I expected for the cocktail. Dulling down the iodine flavours and augmenting earthy notes it really lends a winter-warmer feel to the beer.

Were I to do this over, I’m thinking Ardbeg would be a better candidate as the scotch component – more smoke, less peat. An imperial stout with a more rigid structure and greater weight should make a better beer host – maybe Samuel Smith’s Imperial.

So where are we? This cocktail is far from earth-shaking, but its promising… even good. With some tweaking, I might even be on to something!

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With out of state travelling and wedding festivities these last few days my poor blog has been suffering patiently and quietly. This is not to say that beer, scotch, and philosophy have fallen by the wayside – nay, the opposite is so very true. I’m staying in the home of my best friend, himself a keen lover of the aqua vitae, and we have enjoyed quite the menu this weekend.

Take a look at this happy spread:

happy weekendLeft to Right: Evan Williams Single Barrel 1999 Vintage Bourbon, Bunnahabhain 12yr, Talisker 18yr, North Coast Brother Thelonious, Laphroaig 10yr, Highland Park 12yr, Pauvel Kwak, Arbeg 10yr, Avery Czar Imperial Stout, and Unibroue Quelque Chose.  Very much an island focused scotch adventure, but to my mind that’s awfully hard to beat.

 

We also visited a fine pub in downtown Oklahoma City called James E. McNellie’s North Coast Old Stock AlePublic House. They had about 60 craft beers on tap (including about 10 Belgians and 15 Germans) and a further 323 bottled – yes, I did just run the numbers on their menu. The great majority of these were American micros, with more than a perfunctory nod given to the Belgians, a decent German representation, and a smattering of other beer countries making an appearance. Overall I was quite pleased, especially with their prices. I opted for a pint of the Ayinger Brau-Weiss on tap (they were out of the Tripel Karmeleit, which was my first choice), and followed that up with a bottle of 2007 North Coast Old Stock Ale. This set me back just $12 – quite nice for pub prices.

 

I’ve been giving a lot of thought over the last few days to ways I can make this blog more relevant and interesting for my readers. When I return home I hope to hit the ground running. I’ll be posting several reviews each week, increasing the number of scotch reviews, to give a little more balance, but I also have in mind writing a lot more non-review posts. I have some restructuring of the blog in mind too and am aiming to be much more consistent with my updates, and to generate more structured content under a variety of themes. Watch this space and I’d appreciate any feedback, ideas, or recommendations you may have. Cheers!

 

I’ll leave you with a couple of pictures I took yesterday:

 brother thelonious yard Chris’s yard through a glass of North Coast Brother Thelonious Abbey Style Ale

 

north coast cork 1 Elegant North Coast Cork

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In an attempt to retain my rather minimal German, I like to occasionally read the German news or stumble upon Germanic blogs. Today I perused some Bier blogs and found a few items that caught my attention.

The first was a special release for a German soccer event – Lorenz Bier Geschmack Crunchips. lorenz bierchips That’s right, beer flavoured potato chips! What particularly tickled me was the way several beer bloggers evaluated the chips in the same manner they critiqued their beers. This blogger was less than impressed:

“Der grosse Vorteil von diesen Chips ist dass man nicht viel davon essen will – der Nachteil besteht darin dass sie alkoholfrei sind… Fazit: bäh – nein danke.”

The greatest advantage of these chips is that one doesn’t want to eat many of them – the disadvantage exists in them being alcohol free… Conclusion: Yuck – no thankyou.

He described the aroma as “floury chicken (battered chicken?) with a little beer”, and the flavour as “salty and somewhat smoky – not nice.” Fair enough!

Another beer blogger was a little more positive, ultimately suggesting his readers give them a try. His impression was that while it takes several chips to get there, the flavour of spicy Pilsner eventually appears, albeit a salty one. Can’t say I’m sold.

One of the more interesting and humorous blogs I came across was a German beer blogger living in Japan. In one post the intrepid reviewer sampled a Japanese Kinderbier – or Kodomo no nomimono: Japanese beer for children. Watch the commercial below. Apparently it tastes like German Fassbrause, or keg brew, a non-alcoholic drink made from fruit and spices that tastes of apples and not particularly like beer at all. Got to love the Japanese!

 

 

The final clip that caught my eye was on the same blog and is comedic skit from the Los Angeles based husband and wife team at LivFilms. At a quarter of a million hits I’m surprised I hadn’t seen this one pop up before. They do some funny, if a little edgy stuff.

 

And back to study I go.

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