Sunday, 27 April 2014

Fish + Cowboys = Talisker 10



 This week’s post is dedicated to the Talisker 10, a renowned single malt from the only distillery on the Isle of Skye. It is bottled at an unerringly accurate 45.8% ABV and is known for being full-bodied and peaty.

My first experience with Talisker came back in my formative years when my sister bought me a bottle for Christmas. It came in a kind of faux-leather bound, cylindrical box that I still have to this day – on my desk at work where it holds my tea bags and arouses suspicion on a regular basis.

I remember not being too impressed back then, though I was a long way short of knowing anything about whisky. I liked Laphroaig, but I still took my scotch with ice. Tsk, the naivety of youth.

Time passed and I discovered that I liked whisky so much that diluting those lovely flavours with ice was diminishing the experience, but they do say “first impressions last”, so it was a long time before I came to try Talisker again.

Well, here it is. No exceptional box this time (just an ordinary one with pictures of crashing waves that has been much disparaged by customer reviews on the various online whisky retail sites), but the bottle has an air of class about it, and it was only £25 in Tesco. Time to find out whether I was wrong or na├»ve or both all those years ago. Here’s some tasting notes.

In the glass: looks good, a nice dark colour, though I’ve read that caramel spirit is added to that end. I’m not sure why anyone would want to do that when classy drams like Ardbeg 10 have no qualms about being pale and interesting, but there you are. I would tend to be reluctant to buy a whisky that is too pale in colour, but you can offset that by using a coloured bottle – again, like Ardbeg.

Nose: tobacco, menthol, apple, possibly even a bit of orange.

Palate: menthol... and something else that was there for a second when I licked a drip off the side of the bottle… and then gone before I could identify it. It’s salty at the tip of the tongue, then there’s sweet barley. I know this is renowned for being smokey and peaty, but I really don’t taste any of that. Perhaps I’m so used to those things now that I am blind to them… taste-blind… if there is such a thing.

Finish: long and dry, with a sweetness at the back of the mouth.

For a while I was drinking the Talisker alongside the standard Glenmorangie Original, and to my surprise it was the Glenmorangie that was pushing my sensory buttons. My appreciation of the Talisker varied from one tasting to the next, but as I passed the halfway mark of the bottle, my appreciation started to deepen, with one occasion where I would say its MOMA was achieved. It actually followed the sampling of a “secret” cask strength dram that turned out to be a Glenfarclas. I hadn’t enjoyed that at all, so it made a welcome change to return to the Talisker. That proved to be the turning point.

Now, I don’t much go in for trying my whisky in different ways. Frankly, I just want to pour it into a glass and drink it. You do sometimes get suggestions though that you have to try. I added water one time, and as usual immediately wished I hadn’t, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. No, in one of the reviews I’m going to get to in a minute, someone suggested warming a glass with boiling water before pouring your Talisker. It sounded like a decent idea, so I gave it a go.

It didn’t take long for the spirit and the glass to equalise in temperature, so I’m not sure how much difference it made – presumably the hit of heat causes the spirit to transform in some way. What I did notice, is that the saltiness on the front of the tongue was enhanced and, while each succeeding flavour wasn’t exactly delicious, I did enjoy it very much. I probably won’t repeat the experience though.

shoddy photography there
On further tastings I strayed from my usual glencairn glass to try it in a rounded tumbler on the suggestion of a comment from a previous post. He didn’t actually say to use a rounded tumbler, but he did say glencairn glasses were detrimental to the tasting of whisky. I have to say, I didn’t notice any discernible difference, and certainly couldn’t say the whisky was less enjoyable in the glencairn. No, no better either, but I have come to prefer the glencairn glass, and have had considerably more success in tastings with it than I had before starting to use one. My preference has actually developed to the extent that I am wasting the precious liquid if I have to drink it out of anything else… although I can be placated if there is a wine glass available.

One or two online reviews suggested this dram improves with oxidation, which is a bit of a curveball since that’s always something I try to guard against by finishing bottles within three months – it is supposed to lead to a deterioration in quality, but as you will see shortly (below), one review suggested it was seven months before the Talisker started to taste good. I’ve never actually noticed the effects of oxidation myself, but I can confirm that I have been enjoying the Talisker more with each glass – and that only bodes well since it means I don’t need to worry so much about the quality of my whisky deteriorating – it might get better. It was probably around 6 months in total from release to passing, and it really was one that I enjoyed more as time went on.

I’ve actually read in two different places recently a suggestion that after opening your bottle for the first time, you should let it stand for 15 minutes before pouring the first glass to let the whisky breathe a little – like red wine or something. I honestly can’t see the point in that. If oxidation can be a problem, then that way you are just leaving yourself open to it. Surely it makes more sense to pour a glass and then leave it several minutes before you take a sip? That way the whisky in the bottle is preserved for longer while the whisky in the glass has full scope to breathe. Once again, my logic could be flawed, so if you know any better than me, feel free to get stuck in in the comments.

Talisker 10 absolutely has to be tried, but for me it isn’t quite worthy of all the praise heaped upon it. If you are a fan of the peaty malts like I am, I would be more likely to recommend the Caol Ila 12, Lagavulin 16 and Ardbeg 10, but it’s all personal taste, isn’t it? Talisker does feature in 101 Whiskies to TryBefore You Die and I can see why – for some reason it doesn’t seem like a whisky education would be complete without trying it.

Time now for some of the best comments I’ve found in reviews of Talisker 10. As is so often the case, opinion is polarised. There are a lot of glowing reviews, well written and making good points and there are a number of terrible reviews – half a star and the like. As you can well imagine, it is mostly these slightly loony ones that are most creative and interesting. Peat seems to be the Marmite of the whisky world.

The first batch are from Master of malt:

“tasted like rabbit toasted in lamb”. – I’m assuming that’s a positive review.

“what is that? It was more than just the smoky after glow of a house fire, there was canvas and rubber in that house. Then It came to me visually. Burnt sneakers.” Nope, that isn’t the flavour that is eluding me.

“This whisky has no balance, soot and asphalt. Am I drinking or resurfacing a road?” I often get those two confused.

“Now, after 7 months of open bottle, my Talisker 10 is rich, delicious and sweet. For the first 6 1/2 months it tasted to me like crawling through the desert dying of thirst with nothing but seawater to drink.” How lucky we are that you waited 7 months before submitting your review.

“Those who do not enjoy Talisker 10 lack the palate for a true single malt.” Calling out the amateurs.

“Seriously, if the glass is warmed first by boiling water then this is simply superb. The heat takes the edge off and liberates the flavour and smell.” Seriously, maybe I like the edge.

Getting away from direct quotes for a moment, one review compares the nose and palate to Mozart and Metallica. I’m not sure where that’s coming from, but you can’t fault the enthusiasm. Is the nose Mozart and the palate Metallica?

“a finish that makes you think you could speak honey but breathe fire.” A taster from the next Mumford and Sons album.

“Try it for yourself, but first develop your pallet... One path would be: Glenfiddich18 (or 15 to save $)>Clynelish14>Oban14>Talisker10>Cao Ila12>Laguvalin16 Move slowly and then back and forth(uh...take days if not weeks :-) You will know your own mind on the matter.” And only then may you try the Talisker. People love to talk about directions – even when they’re talking about whisky.

“I could have bought a gallon of gasoline for $3.57 and saved myself a ton of money!” Next up, having a shit instead of going to MacDonalds.

“If you cannot appreciate this - well then, give it one star and declare that you are not a whisky drinker.” Yeah! Get back to yer JD and Coke.

This next one is from Amazon:

“It's whisky and the only way to review whisky is to drink it. If the taste suits you finish it off. If the taste does not suit your pallet you finish it off and buy another brand. I would buy more of this brand.” Practical, no nonsense. This pretty much sums up my philosophy.

And finally we have For Peat Sake where the contributors pull out all the stops:

Nose -   “horsestable” – the latest update from the vet is a weight off my mind.
“paintless refurbished furniture” – If you wanted me to paint it, you should’ve said so.
“shaking a cowboys hand while questioning ones sexuality”  - a particularly limp handshake, I assume. Less “howdy”, more “coo-eee!…”
 “water that had dead fish swimming in it” – dead fish don’t swim.

Body – “Like drinking Christina Hendrick's rack” – not to be confused with Jimi Hendrix’s sack.

Palate – “burping after a seafood dinner” – coincidentally, “Talisker” is how you describe the taste of that burp.

Finish – “like you licked a pirate.” Pirates are just cowboys of the sea, aren’t they?

Overall comment – “Diving into the Atlantic ocean on a drizzly afternoon with a mouth full of cut grass and fish scales” – Not something I’d ever be likely to do, but at least now I know what it would be like.


So we’re looking at fish and cowboys here. If any of these could be relied upon to be actual accurate representations of Talisker 10, I wouldn’t be going anywhere near it. Luckily they aren’t the first whisky reviews I’ve ever read, so I know that they are ultimately meaningless. If none of this makes you want to try Talisker, I don’t know what will.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Why not try abstinence?... with Dryathlon

As my birthday approached I thought to myself, “what I’d really like to do on the big day… is go on a craft beer pub crawl with two of my very good friends [who we’ll call… Pablo and Veronica]”.

It seemed simple enough until Mrs Cake happened upon their respective FB feeds one day, and discovered they were turning alcohol-free. What? Them? Oh, it’s only for a month – the month of January… but still.

Yes, Dryathlon. It was the first I’d ever heard of it, but it seems representative of the growing trend for doing all kinds of crap for charity. There’s the fun runs, the more serious runs, the sky dives, the bungee jumps… then for the more socially conscious there’s living below the poverty line… while for the wacky there’s moustache growing. And if you didn’t feel you could do any of those, but wanted to at least do something you could stop drinking for a month. A whole month?! The poverty one was just a week, how come you have to quit drinking for a month?

And why the month of January? If there’s ever a month when you need a drink, it’s January. I know, I know, we tend to overindulge through the Christmas and New Year period, and then emerge thinking holy shit, I should probably cut back a bit, but generally two days coming to terms with this is my life is enough to make me forget all that indulgence and be ready for a drink again…

… because January – despite being the month of my birth – is depressing. Returning to work, cold grey mornings… it feels like an interminable drudgery that will go on forever. And it does go on forever, but as the weeks go by the weather tends to get better and then you get used to it – so it doesn’t seem so bad. Then, finally, the clocks go forward (or back, no one really knows which, except it’s the one where you lose an hour of sleep), and you go, holy shit, life is actually ok when there is more daylight. Why must we persist with this bollocks?

So yes, if I was going to have a dry month it wouldn’t be January. It would be… November. Nothing happens in November, no birthdays, no holidays… and it would get me out of having to do that stupid moustache thing (it’s not the growing of the moustache that bothers me, so much as the shaving around it). So will I do it? Come to that, can you do it in November, or does it have to be January?

While the actual Dryathlon event promoted by Cancer Research UK and Alcohol Concern takes place in January, you can arrange your own month of abstinence and Just Giving can help you with that. The official one is apparently aimed at “raising awareness of social drinking” (as if we weren’t aware of it already), and to that end, the website provides a handy calculator to help you determine how much money you would save if you cut alcohol (though not just the social kind) from your diet for a month – like this is something you couldn’t work out for yourself.

Now, as a booze blogger, social drinking actually makes up only a small part of my alcohol intake. I don’t go out on the lash every week, and I don’t tend to buy spirits when I’m out – because the cost would be so prohibitive. Why spend £8 on a double of a good scotch when you can get 14 doubles in a bottle for £35 and often for less?

It wouldn’t save me all that much money then, but it would be something I would find very challenging. I look forward to the “one” midweek drinking night I allow myself, and of course the Friday, Saturday and Sunday that it’s a motherfucking free-for-all. I just don’t think I’d find anything to look forward to. Yes, I could probably do a week, but a month is just… it’s so long. That’s one twelfth of your drinking year written off. It’s always pleasant stuff you have to cut out for a twelfth of your year – why can’t we cut out a month of work, or a month of housework or a month of financial responsibility? Eh? EH?

I don’t know why things are always reduced to monetary benefits anyways. I already know that if I hadn’t bought that bottle of scotch this month I’d have £40 more to play with, but you’ve got to do something with your money, haven’t you? You could easily say that if I gave up golf for a month, I’d save £60 on green fees and however much in fuel it costs to get to the course – but what would be the benefit in that anyway? Yay, now I’ve got £60 that I’m not going to use for any particular purpose. Sure, I  guess some people struggle a little with money, and cutting out alcohol might provide a revelation, but… really?

If I stopped buying my wife Christmas and birthday presents I could save hundreds every year but… the love would surely die and that would be sad. Not that she loves me for my presents!

Don’t go on holiday, save yourself thousands. Live in a hostel, save on them mortgage payments.

Aha, you might say, but when you stop drinking you get health benefits. Well, stop making it about how much money I might save then. Health is no doubt one of the most important things, but on a day to day basis peace of mind and contentment are just as important.

So anyway, how did my friends get on? In all honesty, I was worried that they would feel so much healthier and happier that they might stay on the wagon full time – which would be a massive shame because you can rely on them for wanting a drink, and they appreciate good alcohol. It would also be a great shame for Mrs Cake, as Veronica is [one of] her bad influence friend[s]. Many’s the time Mrs Cake goes out with Veronica for a quick drink after work (I’ll be home by 7.30!), only to be ordering another bottle of champagne at 9 o clock, and come home steaming  drunk around midnight. I’d hate for her to lose that.

Well, they found it difficult. Veronica said she was pleased to be able to announce that she feels just as bad waking up in the mornings when she hasn’t had a drink as when she has. And everything was so boring. It would be, wouldn’t it? What are you supposed to look forward to? What’s supposed to make Saturday evening TV interesting? You’d have to smoke weed for a month, and I hardly think that’s the point…

I already suffer from anti-climax syndrome sometimes – you know, when you spend all week looking forward to Friday, then it comes and you go, oh, is this it? Now what? Imagine if you didn’t even have ‘having a drink’ to look forward to?

Our friends tried to deal with it by buying and drinking lots of fancy teas. I personally wouldn’t be too enthusiastic about that – tea is no replacement for fine booze - but you need something, right?

So, the last day of January slowly came to greet our friends, and they got some champagne in to celebrate. The plan was to pop the cork at midnight, though the boozinal dryness had actually started at 9am on January 1st, so by rights they should have waited until 9am on February 1st. Well, they didn’t even make it to midnight, but who’s counting?

So we arranged to go to the pub with them on the Saturday, and they were resolved never to quit drinking again. Good for them. Lesson learned.
If you took part, well done you.

So how about me? Well, if I do do it, it won’t be in January. Bu-u-u-u-u-u-t… there has to be something else I could do. Mrs Cake would probably end up killing me if I didn’t have my special spirits to look forward to a few times a week.


Hang on, maybe I’ve got something… all these events like to have clever, punny names these days, don’t they? Dryathlon, Mo-vember, Stop-tober… this year I’m going to do… Cock-tober. Instead of abstinence, it’s going to be about indulgence, and it’s going to be awesome. It’s going to be so good, that when it’s over and I have to stop, that is going to be the real challenge. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Actual important research, carried out scientifically - The Standard Supermarket Blended Scotch Test


Concept
Having started my whisky love affair around 10 years ago with Aldi’s 8 year old Highland Black, a blend I consider to be a ‘standard supermarket blend’ (though it probably actually isn’t, given its declared 8 years), I have, as my knowledge of whisky and taste for it develops, for some time now held a curiosity about how good standard supermarket blends actually are. I hadn’t bought one since the last time I bought the Highland Black, as you generally only have to pay a couple of pounds more to get a basic entry level brand – Cutty Sark, Ballantine’s Finest, Dewar’s, Whyte and Mackay, Bell’s, Teachers, Grant’s, Johnnie Walker Red, and The Famous Grouse are all what I would call affordable – but that curiosity kept on niggling away at me. I was going to have to do something about it, something like getting a bottle of each standard supermarket blend in all at once and holding a tasting – even if it was just with myself.

Now, I didn’t want to be stuck with 3.6-4.2 litres of crap scotch when I was done, but the supermarkets have already thought of that – you can buy most of them in 35cl bottles, so while I wouldn’t normally buy a half size bottle without good reason, I decided to make that one of the experiment’s conditions of entry. Unfortunately, that prevents Highland Black from entering, but I can always get it to play the winner later on – assuming this experiment doesn’t put me off cheap blends for good.

I was actually thinking of doing this with all the genres of spirits, but while drinking a glass of standard Sainsburys white rum one day, I realised white rum, gin and vodka were all likely to be dull – and then I would be stuck with litre upon litre of crap spirits. On top of that, budget spirits brands tend to be around only 36-37.5% alcohol and that renders them fairly uninteresting for a start, but with whisky, you can’t even call it whisky unless it reaches the standard 40%. To paraphrase Jim Murray; don’t add water to your whisky, as in most cases that will bring it to below 40% ABV… and then it ain’t whisky no mo’. Something like that.

So anyway, finally we will know which supermarket has the best standard blended scotch. I’ll be contacting the winner to congratulate them on their prestigious achievement, and I’ll let you know if they respond.

Competition Rules

  1. It must be a standard blended scotch. Some supermarkets offer a super cheap expression – budget, no frills, value, everyday essentials (perhaps not every day… I’m not sure a supermarket would be allowed to suggest you drink scotch every day…) and the like – these are ineligible, as is any supermarket expression that is slightly above standard.
  2. It must state “bottled for [insert supermarket]” on the label.
  3. It must be available in a 35cl bottle (or smaller).
  4. Those are all the rules.

There was going to be a rule about not having to ask for the whisky at a counter, thus weeding out mini-markets and things that can’t be considered a supermarket. In the end though, I had to drop this rule because the Cooperative is a supermarket, it does have its own brand of blended scotch, and I had to ask for it from behind the counter in the Piccadilly Gardens branch.

Collection

Yes, I am a geek, but I am not geeky enough to visit all the supermarkets in one day in order to buy their standard blend. Nor did I want to spend around £50 on cheap scotch in one day. Instead, I figured I could just collect one whenever I was passing a supermarket, or happened to be popping in…

Time to start engineering “impromptu” trips to Tesco, Morrison’s, Asda, Sainsburys, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer. Aldi don’t do a half bottle, nor do Lidl, though they would have been able to enter if they did.

Tesco (Burnage) and Morrison’s were accomplished with no difficulty, since I go in Tesco fairly frequently anyway and we were passing the Morrison’s by Sheffield’s Parkway on the way to Phil’s one weekend.

A week or two later a leisurely Saturday afternoon turned into a trip to the big Asda (Hulme), and then a need to pick up lunch one Wednesday led to a stop at Sainsburys (Birchfields Road).  It wasn’t all plain sailing though.

I knew Waitrose would be tricky, since we don’t have many of those in the north. I heard Mrs Cake was heading to Wilmslow one weekend and enlisted her to pop in, even finding the product online in order to provide her with a picture and make sure she got the right one... only for her to change her plans and therefore scupper mine. That turned out to be the last I collected, having to call into the small one on Bridge Street after a Christmas party.

The same week Mrs Cake changed her plans with regard to Waitrose, a trip to the M&S in Trafford Centre proved fruitless. They didn’t have their standard blend in a 35cl bottle, and while they did have a 20cl of the 5 year old Kenmore variety I quickly decided that would be ineligible since it was one class above standard. I actually stood there for about 5 minutes, hoping I’d spot a 35cl standard blend if I looked hard enough, but in the end I had to admit defeat and wait until I could pop into the M&S in town – even managing to resist the temptation to buy the Kenmore just for the sake of it. Rules: sometimes they are good.

I finally had to exclude M&S altogether when I did make it to the big store in town, and they didn’t have a 35cl bottle. They do have it in 70cl, and I would really like to be able to compare it to all the others, but I’m sorry M&S, rules are rules so don’t go breakin em.

Pricing

More or less across the board, the blends were priced at a tempting and affordable £6.50 to £7. Asda, Tesco and Morrison’s inhabited the lower end of the scale, while Sainsburys consider themselves that 50p classier. Waitrose’s website states that theirs is £7, but that must be online and in the big stores, since I had to pay something like £7.35 (sorry, I forget exactly how much it was).

The real surprise though, was that I had to pay a ma-hoossive £8.35 for the Cooperative’s entry. At this stage I don’t know whether this is because I bought it from a small city centre store and whether it would have been cheaper say, in West Didsbury or whether it’s just that expensive. What I do know is that I don’t want to be collecting supermarket whiskies forever, so I just bought it anyway to hurry things along a little. What started out as a long term project to be completed whenever had quickly turned into an obsession as I clamoured to complete my collection and get the tasting underway. Time would tell whether it would be worth all the effort.

In total then, I spent £42.19 on 210cl of  standard supermarket blends.

Method

McKendrick's (Asda) vs Waitrose
So how would the test be carried out? I considered pouring all six into glasses at once and then just drinking them side by side, but I actually wanted a companion for this experiment. Enter David, fellow member of the Manchester Whisky Club, who was delighted to come over one Friday night and help out.

I would ideally have liked to have two rounds, three whiskies in each round with a winner being picked from each and facing each other in the final, but it turns out I only have 5 glencairn glasses. So instead, David came up with a winner stays on system, whereby we would each start with the same two samples, decide on a winner, and then compare it with the next sample until one was left standing at the end.

Before we could start the tasting though, let us consider another important factor, presentation.

Presentation

spirit wheel
I like that they all come in bottles of an identical size and shape. It means you can arrange them like this for interesting photographs. I actually like this bottle shape anyway, since it is clearly designed to fit snuggly into your jacket pocket, like a hip flask (though it isn’t shaped to fit your hip). If you see someone buying one of these, you just assume they’re going to drink it straight away, don’t you? Perhaps that’s why M&S don’t do one – they’re too classy for that kind of thing.

It is interesting to me to see the various similarities and differences. Both Tesco and Asda have gone for a traditional and professional look. Asda have actually gone so far as to name theirs McKendricks Whisky - lah-di-dah -  rather than just something generic like Blended Scotch or Select Reserve.

Sainsburys and Morrisons on the other hand, have gone for minimal fuss with a modern, uncluttered label, one depicting a distillery in a circular box and the other a thistle. Co-op have depicted a piper and included a silver medal from the IWSC (the only entry to do so), while Waitrose haven’t even bothered to include a generic Scottish image, but there you go.

I find it interesting that Asda and Tesco have specified that their product was aged for at least 3 years in oak barrels, since that’s a minimum requirement for calling it scotch whisky. So for whatever reason, the other supermarkets have chosen to eschew that information, presumably secure in the knowledge that their customers either know that already, or aren’t likely to be swayed by any lack of age statement and maturing information. I suppose if you’re buying an own brand blend, you’re not snooty about these things – since the only other option is to leave the supermarket and go to another one… not really worth it for the sake of an age statement.

Particularly amusing was that, when I searched for Asda’s standard blend on their website, it informed me that the 35cl bottle is frequently bought with Asda brown onions. Make of that what you will.

Colour

before...
This is weird. They are all exactly the same colour. There has to be caramel added, so presumably this represents an exact whisky colour profile that is considered to be most attractive to the consumer – though I can’t think why; I certainly don’t find it inspiring. This is whisky that is brown rather than an attractive pale gold or amber. One thing’s for sure, none of the supermarkets have decided to take a risk by being any different to any of the others. It makes you wonder whether the whisky is in fact the same. It will be a massive disappointment if that turns out to be the case.

Surprisingly, this uniformity doesn’t carry over into the glass. Yes, they are similar, but when we poured our first two samples (Asda and Waitrose), we noticed that the Waitrose was darker. Then, later we noticed that Tesco’s entry was closer to the Waitrose colour, but not as… shimmery.

Tasting

I had planned to break this next section down into categories of nose, palate and finish, but let’s be realistic; with all that booze floating about and only a very light tea consumed, we were starting to get hammered pretty quick and my notes became illegible and fragmented. I’ll just try and relate what I’ve got.

We started, as I said with Asda’s McKendrick’s and Waitrose. The nosing immediately revealed a startling difference. We liked Asda, but Waitrose gave a hit of nail varnish, caramel and molasses.

When we moved on to the tasting, we were immediately impressed with Asda. It is light and sweet, reminding me of the Ballantine’s Finest that I’d recently been enjoying. David said it had a ‘grittiness’ that he liked. I didn’t really understand and we had a brief discussion about how people seem to describe spirits they are trying for the first time as “smooth”, and how in a lot of cases I a) don’t know what they mean, and b) think they’re just making it up for something to say because smooth is considered good. David and I agreed we both like a degree of roughness to our spirits, a bit of burn.

Anyway, when it came to the Waitrose, we were both horrified. What the fuck is this? It’s minging. How dare they bottle this and pass it off as blended scotch? It reminded me very much of the Wall Street that I picked up in Vietnam. We concluded it had definitely been coloured with caramel spirit, and was devoid of any character or redeeming features. Waitrose, this is just awful.

So Asda was the clear (and unexpected) winner. We selected Tesco as the next contender, refilling our Asda glass, and swilling out the Waitrose one. I tried drinking the whole Waitrose sample, but it wasn’t nice, so I threw some of it down the sink. For the second round I poured smaller measures.

We noted that Tesco gave an impression of being artificially coloured on the nose, but it didn’t appear as shiny as Waitrose. When it came to tasting though, we concluded it was bad, though not quite as bad as the Waitrose had been.

Asda was victorious again, and would next face the Morrison’s offering. By this stage I was struggling to taste anything so we had to start sipping sparkling water in between samples to keep our tired palates awake.

Morrison’s proved to be fairly inoffensive on the nose, and on the palate a little harsh – but I liked that. It had a slightly dark flavour at the end, but while it was no match for Asda, it was actually quite pleasant.

Co-op was next up. As [easily] the most expensive of the competitors, you’d be hoping it would have a flavour profile to match. I’m going to give you direct quotes from my note book here:

I like the Co-op, & [sic] I’m not sure if it’s Asda beating… It was agreed that Vince Vaughn is a twat… Yesh [sic] Co-Op not as good”.

Not as good, but fairly good nonetheless.

Finally then, we have Sainsburys. David proclaimed that this sample was identical to Asda, but I maintained that Asda just has a little something extra, that I’m going to call the edge. There was just a note about the Sainsburys that didn’t sit quite right. Nevertheless, a decent effort.

Before we move on to the verdict, I’d just like to share one more note from my book in direct quotation:

...more or less after.
David is now unsure what he is drinking, while Neil is unsure of what went before.”

Yeah, we were pretty hammered and ready to start drinking the special stuff we’d been saving. David had brought an Amrut Fusion while the most special thing I had at the time was the Glen Scotia 16. It was about time we ordered some pizza also.

Verdict

When considering the verdict, you’ve got to ask yourself what was the purpose of all this anyway? Obviously I want to see which of the supermarkets has the best blended scotch, but to what purpose? I suppose I’m trying to use this as a benchmark. You see, it isn’t just blends that supermarkets produce their own versions of. There are also ultra-cheap blends, slightly more upmarket, even aged blends, single malts based on various of the distilling regions of Scotland then there are the different varieties of rum, brandy… so I’m wondering whether the quality of the standard blend might tell us something about all the other varieties of own brand alcohol. Sadly you know it won’t. I’ll ultimately have to try all the other varieties too. Since I’m destined to fail on that score, why don’t I break it down to the following questions, and see if that tells us anything:

Are these comparable in terms of quality to the cheap standard brands that they are emulating?

In some cases, yes. Asda, Morrison’s, Sainsburys and Co-op all supplied decent, even pleasant products. As I said, Asda seemed very similar to Ballantine’s, while a later tasting of Sainsburys brought to mind the standard Grant’s. They certainly aren’t to be sniffed at.

Would I buy any of these again?

I would definitely buy Asda’s again, without a doubt. The others listed as comparable above? Sure, if I only had £7, needed a bottle of scotch and only had access to one of those supermarkets. I would buy with confidence.

Is any one supermarket brand the daddy of them all?

Finally, yes. Asda confounded expectation, and is duly crowned the daddy of them all. Seriously, well done Asda and keep up the good work. All that remains is to give you the full list, in order of preference. Here you go:

  1. McKendrick’s by Asda
  2. Morrison’s Blended Scotch Whisky
  3. Sainsburys Blended Scotch
  4. Cooperative Blended Scotch
  5. Tesco Special Reserve
  6. Waitrose Blended Scotch

Thanks for joining me for this scientific experiment. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, found it useful, and that it has answered the question of whether supermarket blends are any good once and for all. Don’t worry, this isn’t the end by any stretch of the imagination. There are always more spirits to try, and David tells me he’d like to do the same thing with the super cheap supermarket blends, so I’ll be sure to let you know how that turns out.

See you again, then.

Postcript

While David and I agreed on the night, and while the results will stand as testament to that, in personal tastings since the Cooperative Blended Scotch has actually excelled, while Morrison’s, which placed 2nd, has failed to impress, so I would actually like to elevate the Co-operative Blended Scotch to 2nd, but that’s just for me. For the rest of you, take the ranking above.


Thanks, and see you next time.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

If you happen to find a pair of knickers down the back of the sofa...

To give you an idea of the things Mrs Cake and I do to make ordinary things interesting, let me tell you about one Saturday night recently… when we went babysitting. Yes, you heard me.

You see, for some mad reason my dangerously generous wife offered to babysit for some very good friends of ours while they went out for a swanky 60th birthday celebration. The little girl, Megan is something like 18 months old and, we were told, would sleep right through. Mrs Cake sold the idea to me by:
1.       Getting the request in early – ie, before I’d managed to plan anything else.
2.       Packaging it like a teenage thing – you know, where the boyfriend comes round (I can be a bit kinky like that). Mrs Cake hadn’t had a boyfriend to come round when she did babysitting as a teenager, so you could say this was a dream coming true for her…
3.       Confirming all the usual things (snacks, pizza, booze, TV) would be present.

Why not then?

We loaded up and headed over to Altrincham where our friends live. I offered to stay in the car until they’d gone out to facilitate the whole teenage fantasy thing, but evidently we weren’t taking it that seriously, so in we went.

I had decided to spend the evening drinking the Gran Duque D’Alba Solera Gran Riserva brandy that you may remember me buying in Spain (see Golfageddon), and even took my own brandy snifter, in case our friends didn’t have any of their own. [achievement unlocked: glass geek].

 I had taken disc 1 of series 1 of 24 that I had just borrowed from someone at work, but the DVD player wasn’t connected, so it was telly or on demand movies for us (for the record, we never got beyond episode 4 anyway). We proceeded then to spend about an hour browsing the on demand stuff and not finding anything much… finally we settled on a film we’d never heard of, The Incredible Burt Wonderstone with Steve Carell. It was pretty good – along the lines of Anchorman and the like, though not quite as good as that.

And that was our Saturday night – the same as so many others, just at someone else’s house instead of our own.

The brandy went down fairly nicely but I’m beginning to think it lacks a little complexity, particularly in comparison to the Armagnac, Bas Armagnac Delord Hors D’Age. I suppose though, you can’t ask for too much for only 26 euros… mind you, that’s fairly expensive for Spain.

When our friends returned after midnight they made a quip about ‘making out’. “Let’s just say if you find a pair of Mrs Cake’s knickers down the back of the sofa, you can return them next time you see us,” I said.


There were no knickers down the sofa. Just to clarify. Or if there were, they weren’t ours…