Friday, 29 March 2013

Grappa face-off

Following the Friday night on which I did a comparative tasting of my 5 whiskies, I decided on the Saturday to do something similar with the two grappas that I had in. You’ve met one of them before – Grappa Julia Superiore(38% ABV) – here and here, but the other was a new acquisition that I haven’t told you about yet – Domenis Blanc e Neri (40% ABV), that I picked up from Carrington’s in Didsbury.

It was two days before Christmas, and we were over that end of town getting some supplies, and putting together a Christmas hamper for some very good friends of ours. I decided it would be a good opportunity to invest in a new bottle of grappa.

They only had two in stock, which I have to admit surprised and disappointed me somewhat, since it suggests I may have to order online in future. One was the Domenis Storica that is already a favourite of mine (that you can read a little about here and here), so I had to go for the other – Blanc e Neri. It was a couple of pounds cheaper than the Storica, and the bottle was 20ml bigger. This would also prove to be the first aged grappa I’d bought (not including the one I got long ago from Vom Fass, because I can’t remember any details about that one…), at 18 months. Considering it is aged and there’s more of it, I don’t know why it works out to be less expensive than the Storica – hopefully it’s not because it’s not as good, but rather is reflective of the staggering 10% difference in ABV – Storica being a heroic 50%.

I don’t know whether it was just because it was Christmas, or maybe people don’t often spend around £50 for a bottle of grappa for themselves, but the lady in Carrington’s seemed to assume I was making this purchase as a gift, but no; it was for me – I seriously don’t actually know anyone else who likes grappa. The same thing happened when I went in there to buy my El Jimador tequila. I don’t think I mentioned it in my earlier post on that, but the same lady assumed I was buying it to share with friends. No, I said, It’s for me – well; I might let some friends try it… but mostly it was for me. And if it was to be shared with friends, it was only so they could see how interesting and refined I am.

In the picture there, you can see the two grappas in their glasses. Obviously there’s some difference there, with the Domenis Blanc e Nero having taken on a luscious golden colour, while Julia – as standard - is translucent. And so, on to the nosing and tasting…

Now, in my Budget Brands: Tesco Grappa post, I admitted to being quite impressed with Grappa Julia Superiore. It remains the only grappa I’ve ever seen in a UK supermarket, and at £13 a bottle it’s a fraction of the cost you’d pay for other grappas. The only disappointment is the unremarkable and discouraging 38% ABV.

However, when compared side by side with a more premium brand, Julia’s failings are all too apparent – because this Domenis Blanc e Neri is an absolute de-light. Really; some of the flavours I was getting from this glass brought to mind a very classy single malt whisky, of the kind that has been finished in a sherry cask. It was sweet but not too sweet, a little salty, with a very nice tongue burn, and only a little bitter on the finish. Very classy indeed. I’m only an enthusiastic novice, but I feel pretty confident when I say that. Just thinking about it now makes me want another glass, and in fact, of all the spirits I have at the time of writing, this is probably now my favourite. I can taste it right now, just thinking about it. And you know; I like whisky, and keep several in stock, so that my favourite spirit from my cupboard isn’t on of them: that’s saying something.

My original intention when buying grappas was to just get the cheapest available, and while this was the cheapest available, it is already entering the premium spirits category as far as I’m concerned (shall we set the threshold at £50 for now?), so I guess that puts that idea to rest. I can see that The Whisky Exchange has a few more varieties for less than £30, but at least five of them are the same brand as each other, just based on different grape varieties, so that’s not necessarily ideal.

In conclusion then, let’s not take anything away from Julia. If you want a bottle of grappa without much outlay, and you’ve got a decent sized Tesco nearby, it is going to do the job – as long as you don’t try it alongside something special. That’s pretty good. If, on the other hand, you’ve got £50 spare, and you can justify spending it on some fancy booze for yourself, I find it hard to believe you could be disappointed with Domenis Blanc e Neri. I think the bitterness on the finish does put it slightly behind the Storica in terms of overall quality, but it has enough going for it to earn a hearty recommendation from me.

Grappa is a criminally underrated spirit, here in the UK. I think it’s about time you made the effort and gave it a go. You listening? I’m going to make it my mission to put grappa on the UK map. I don’t know how – perhaps by mentioning it a lot – but hopefully we can get some more brands in supermarkets before too long. Is that a bad thing, mind? All the specialist off licenses are already going out of business round here, so maybe we shouldn’t be neglecting them in favour of the convenience of evil multinational supermarkets (not naming any names). Yeah! Nevertheless, get out there and get some frickin grappa.

Blimey, I almost forgot my weekly update! So, I'm afraid that will be all you'll hear from me for about 3 weeks because the missus and I are off to Vietnam. I'm definitely looking forward to picking up some duty free and seeking out some Mekong Whisky, so there should be plenty to tell you about when I get back. Try not to miss me too much. I'll try to tweet from time to time, so you can try following me there, if you like.

Ok, keep your lives booze-fuelled, and I'll see you when I get back. That is all.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Home tasting like a boss

One Friday night in the not so distant past, I thought it might be nice to conduct a tasting of all the whiskies I then had available, and now it’s time to give you an overview of the method and results.

get stuck in
As you can imagine, the main outcome was that it was a lot of fun. The five whiskies that you can see in the picture there were comprised of one blended scotch (Dewar’s 12 year old, double aged, 40% ABV), one Irish single pot still (Green Spot, 40% ABV), one Speyside single malt (Balvenie 12 year old, double wood, 40% ABV), one Orkney single malt (Gordon and MacPhail’s bottling of Scapa, distilled 2001, 43% ABV) and one Islay single malt (Caol Ila 18 year old, 43% ABV).

Due to a number of consecutive breakages I only had one of the glasses left that I have taken to drinking whisky out of, so I had to adapt my practices for this experiment, and got out five of these almost spherical rocks glasses. I know they’re not ideal, but they’re not that bad at holding aromas. The main problem is that they are slightly too large to hold comfortably, and slightly too heavy.

I poured [slightly more than] a little dribble of a different whisky into each glass and carried them through to the living room, where Mrs Cake immediately voiced her displeasure at seeing so much whisky queuing up for tasting in one go – as if this is something I do all the time. No; this was the first time – and it was the weekend. It doesn’t mean I won’t do it again when I have 5 other different whiskies to taste, but actually, the last time I did anything even slightly like this was probably around a year ago when I had 3 bottles of vodka in all at the same time. So cool yer boots, missy!

To be fair, she kind of had a point; it did turn out that there was far more whisky there than I had anticipated. There’s got to be enough to get a good taste though, hasn’t there?

The first thing I learned – and probably the most useful thing – was that in terms of analysis, I believe I got more value by tasting multiple whiskies at once in whatever order I fancied, than I usually get by just drinking one after the other, one at a time. I found that the differences in nose and on the palate helped me to ascertain and analyse what those differences were – because each whisky gives some kind of reference point by which to judge the others. I haven’t seen any whisky experts explicitly recommend this method before, so maybe it’s not the done thing, but as your attorney, I recommend you try this next time you have a chance. If you just drink one after the other, you can only compare each to the last, but if you mix and match, you can build up a complex comparative picture – this one is peatier than that one, but not than that one, this one is fruitier, this is oilier etc, etc…

So; down to the nitty-gritty then.

Being aware that generally you should taste Islay malts last as they have more [let’s say] aggressive flavours that can linger on the palate and affect your judgement of succeeding whiskies, I decided to let the Caol Ila sit it out, untouched at the end of the queue until all the other glasses had been drained – as a kind of treat to round off the experiment. Would it be a case of save the best till last?

I didn’t add water to any of these, since I figured at 40 and 43%, none were really strong enough to warrant watering down. Certain whiskies supposedly develop with water, but not only have I never had that particular experience myself (I can always taste the water - except when drinking cask strength bottlings), it would also have made the comparison harder to conduct in just this one sitting.

Interesting things I noticed

The most interesting thing, other than my tasting experience being enhanced by tasting numerous whiskies at once, was that for the first time ever I was able to pick out different component aromas and flavours from some of the samples. Not that many, to be brutally honest, but some, and some is an improvement on none, and demonstrates a development in my tasting faculties.

In the Balvenie for example, I noticed a very hoppy aroma – like when you walk past a pub first thing on a Sunday morning. In contrast, Green Spot, was very fruity in the nose. Balvenie, as I said in my recent On the Nice List post, really reveals its complexities and shows its worth when compared alongside other whiskies – as, it turns out, does Green Spot. So again, both did quite well here. I’ve yet to derive much enjoyment from this expression of Balvenie on its own (unlike Green Spot), but perhaps that will come with time (bear with me and watch this space…)

I provisionally ranked the contestants for fragrance – just out of interest really – but unfortunately I made my notes on an old envelope that has since been lost. All I remember is that surprisingly the Scapa came out as least fragrant and the Caol Ila as most but, you know, Caol Ila literally jumps out of the glass - and then tries to smother you (in a good way, of course, like a lovely bosom let’s say).

On the palate, as real whisky aficionados say, all the whiskies performed well. I didn’t think it would be fair to say this blend is inferior to that single malt when the samples were drawn from a number of different ages, regions and styles, so I decided early on that there would be no overall winners and losers. If you’re satisfied with them all, let’s leave it at that.

I would like to say though, that the Dewar’s measured up nicely alongside some renowned and some expensive whiskies. It was probably the least complex and classy of those on offer… but it was the only blend, and the cheapest (though not particularly cheap for a blend). If the test had comprised more blends at or below the Dewar’s end of the price spectrum, I have a feeling it might have fared very well – though I suppose that remains to be seen, and would depend on which other blends they were!

If there was any disappointment at all, it was that Scapa didn’t distinguish itself as much as I thought it might. I consider it to be a well balanced whisky, but it paled in comparison to the others – no unpleasant flavours, but no outstanding pleasant ones either.

Similarly, Caol Ila’s 18 year old – while still an enjoyable malt – didn’t go on to outperform the others as I had expected (and secretly hoped) it would. At this stage it is looking like the 12 year old expression is superior, and far superior value at half the price of its older, sweeter tasting brother.

To be fair, most of these bottles still have a long way to go I’m sure, before they have finished revealing their mysteries to me. As ever, I’ll let you know if I have any other particularly interesting impressions as I go along. The tasting proved to be a fun way to spend a Friday night at home, as well as a satisfying one. Let’s hope I have occasion to do it again soon(ish).

Before I go, I suppose I should give you a bit of a heads-up as to what’s to come in the short term. I’ll have a post for you next Friday as usual, but after that I’ll be on holiday for a couple of weeks, so it will be complete radio silence I’m afraid.  I’ll try to get a post up on 19 April, but no guarantees at this point.

The missus and I are actually going on what we are calling “Honeymoon Part 2”, to Vietnam. Hopefully that will give me plenty of things to write future posts about. I’m particularly looking forward to getting hold of some Mekong Whisky, and hoping to find some decent Japanese malts in the Duty Free. If not… I’m sure I’ll find something in the Duty Free… I figured also that I’d pick something up at Manchester Airport on the way out, so that I’ve got something to accompany me for the duration. I’m looking forward to that, too!

Then there’s  all the other things that there are to look forward to, but they’re not relevant to this blog, so I’ll leave it here. For now, have yourself a great weekend, and see you next week.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Vintage Ale - Beer-in-a-box

As part of last year’s Christmas festivities, Mrs Cake decided to elevate her festive enthusiasm to new heights by creating an advent calendar for me. It wasn’t two bits of card with flaps concealing uninspiring chocolate in the shape of generic yuletide objects though, it was five carrier bags of presents that represented a treat a day – small things mostly; there were at least three Mars bars and Dairy Milks on separate days, but there was also a pack of cookies, a bag of Opal Fruits, chocolate money, Twiglets, Brannigans crisps, and… five individually wrapped beers.

Don’t get too excited, they were all from Aldi, and some bore the legend, “bottled exclusively for Aldi”, but cast your snobbery aside. They were all nice, and Mrs Cake tells me, only £1 each (with one exception). These were of the premium beer variety, so in Tesco you’d be paying at least double for something similar to these.

The most interesting of the beers though, was this one; Bateman’s Premium Vintage Ale. This one was so special that it came in its own box – which led to some confusion at first, since I accidentally found it in the ‘calendar’ too early. “No!” cried Mrs Cake.

“That’ll be a pretty special beer if it comes in a box!” I exclaimed, while actually thinking it must be a small bottle of whisky. I didn’t want her to know I knew, and secretly made sure it was the right way up so that the cork wouldn’t damage the bottle’s contents.

So when 24 December came and it was finally time to open it, it turned out that it had been a beer in a box all along. I wasn’t disappointed though, as Mrs Cake had already put her proper presents under the tree, and one was definitely a bottle of whisky.

Also, I don’t think I’d seen a beer in a box before, and this one said, “limited release – Vintage Ale”. In fact, it was even numbered (out of 5000), though I didn’t make a note of what number it was – it was too high to be of any interest to me.

Vintage ale – I don’t think I’d heard that term before. It suggests it’s old, a supposition that was to some extent reinforced by the information on the box, which included a rather charming story about some cases of barley wine (strong beer) being forgotten about for thirty odd years, then discovered and found to be delicious.
Exciting stuff until you read on and discover that the bottle you’re holding isn’t one of those. It is inspired by the discovery of those cases. There’s no information on Bateman’s website, and the information on the box was incomplete, but this blog fills in the gaps. It seems the brewers attempted to recreate the old brew, and aged it in oak casks for a comparatively brief seven months. It all ends with your favourite grocery store and mine, Aldi, being pleased to distribute them. They still had some in stock at £3.29 a bottle for some time after Christmas, but sadly I’ve been too slow getting this post out, and by now I’m fairly sure they’re all gone.

The word ‘vintage’, I have since found out, doesn’t necessarily mean ‘old’. The term actually relates to the year in question, so you could easily have a 2013 vintage – that would be a beer made using malt and hops from this year of our lord 2013.

Stuart Bateman, the MD of Batemans reckons this is the best beer he’s ever tasted but, you know, he probably would. What do I think of it? Well, I’m no expert on beer, though I have been known to dabble with them from time to time, and er… well, I’ll tell you in a minute.

My friend Paul is a bit more enthusiastic about real ale than I am, so I thought he might appreciate the chance to partake in the tasting. I took it along therefore, to his house and we poured it into two glasses.

It’s a satisfyingly strong 7.5% ABV, so it gets points for that straight away, but what can I say other than it tasted like a strong British ale? Sure, it was nice, but the best beer I’ve ever tasted? No. I don’t remember it being that good. Yeah, I’d already had a few drinks, and was no doubt slightly distracted, chatting with Paul and Victoria and the wife, but if it was the best beer I’d ever tasted, I would still have noticed. I don’t think Paul was particularly taken aback either, but I’ve quizzed him since and while he doesn’t remember much specifically, he’s was quite positive about it.

I was a little perturbed by the incomplete nature of the information on the packaging, which made me sceptical as to the overall quality. Alcohol brands are full of impressive sounding boasts that on closer inspection are hard to validate, or not that impressive after all, so you’ll have to excuse me for being a little cynical.

It was still interesting to try though, and I couldn’t say at the time whether I’d tried any ‘aged’ ales before, though I’ve since learned that cask ales can often be aged for from as little as a few months to around a year, helping them to develop fully. There is still yeast in the cask or bottle with real ale, and this enables the brew to undergo a further fermentation process, so in theory the ale can get better and better, as long as you don’t open it and begin the dreaded oxidisation process.

I have had a fair amount of real ale in the past, though I don’t remember ever learning how long any particular beer had been maturing – I’m sure many will have been a good few months old nevertheless.

As someone who finds aged liquor fascinating (just the thought of it sitting there in barrels for years – or months in this case – is interesting to me), I was intrigued by what this bottle would reveal. In conclusion though, it tasted like many other ales I’ve tried previously, so perhaps the only question is why hadn’t I heard of vintage ale before? As I say, I’ve drunk a lot of beer over the years and been to a fair few real ale festivals – I shouldn’t have to actively research this stuff in order to find out about it.

Don’t get me wrong here, it was a nice beer. It’s just that my excitement at the prospect of something I thought was quite unique faded when I realised firstly that the story on the box was only part of the story, and secondly that this would not be the first time I had ever experienced ‘vintage’ ale. Seems it’s just about how it is packaged and presented.

This blog sure is turning out to be educational (for me). I expect a good number of people who happen across it already know a lot of this stuff anyway, but thanks for stopping by! I hope you will do so again. Next week I’m planning to reveal the results of a tasting of five whiskies that I did recently - it is subject to change depending on how I feel about it at the time, but come by anyway. I’ll try to make it interesting.

I’ll be indulging in more drink-related activities this weekend as usual. I’m looking forward to this evening in particular because I plan to polish off my bottle of Bladnoch 10 year old, and I’ve told myself that once that’s gone I’ll allow myself to open a new bottle. I’ve decided to make it a blend because I have a bit of the Dewars 12 year old double aged left in my hip flask, and I’ll be able to do a comparative study. That should probably be “study”. The blend in question is one that I picked up on my recent distilgrimage to Islay, but I won’t mention it now because I want to save the details for my travelogue (“travelogue”) that should be coming up in a few weeks. Opening a new bottle is one of my favourite things. I am such a geek.

You make sure you have a good weekend now, ok? See you soon.

Monday, 11 March 2013

On the nice list; Balvenie and Scapa

Christmas is long past now, but a few things came out of the period that I wanted to talk about, so before it becomes even more irrelevant than it already is, here’s one of them.

One of the best things about Christmas for the booze-hound, is the prospect of receiving a new bottle that you didn’t have to buy yourself – i.e a gift. My friend John is in the enviable position of doling out projects to building contractors, and as such can expect several bottles of whisky from them each year. I’m sure there’s nothing dodgy about that at all.

While I’m not so blessed as to be the director of a large government funded organisation, I’m usually quite lucky at Christmas time, and tend to end up with two or three bottles once Father Christmas has been - and the magic lube that enables him to insert himself in your chimney - even when you haven’t got one, but instead have a gas fire… has settled. I must be on the nice list, though I can’t think why…

This year was no exception. Father Christmas obviously didn’t mind that I drank the bottle of Sol that had been left out for him by my brother-in-law and young nephews, because he still brought me a bottle of the Balvenie 12 year old, ‘double wood’ (40% ABV), and a Gordon and MacPhail bottling of Scapa (2001, 43% ABV). It was an honest mistake on my part; I thought the beer had been left out for me. I was a little suspicious as to why there was a cookie and a carrot there, but I didn’t want those, so I left them. Here’s some information and first impressions then of both my new distilled brethren.

Balvenie first: Father Christmas had brought me a bottle of this before, several years ago and I remember not being all that impressed. I was glad of a chance to try again though, since back then I was still taking my scotch with ice, so I couldn’t really have had any idea of what it is really like. I’m not being a snob; that’s just a fact. Given my first impression though, it meant I was unlikely to ever buy myself a bottle – short of seeing an absolute bargain. So a gift is just the ticket! You should be able to find this for around 30 quid. The Signature Edition is supposed to be better, by the way, and that’s about £5 more.

As I say, it’s 12 years old, aged for most of that time in ‘whisky’ barrels (no further information about those specified), and then finished for a few months in sherry casks. It’s a nice dark colour, and comes in a satisfyingly chunky bottle.

I’ve had a couple of tries of it by now, and I’m still undecided. The first taste was on our return home from Christmas with the family, and I’m thinking my taste buds must have been fried because I couldn’t taste anything. It was weird – it didn’t even taste like whisky, no matter how long I held it in my mouth and chewed it.

Then there was another unremarkable tasting before I took the bottle to our friends’ house for a takeaway night. Paul had bottles of Famous Grouse and Glenmorangie in already, so we each had a tasting of the three whiskies, side by side. We took a look at them first, before tasting them blindly.

I don’t think I’ve ever bought a bottle of The Famous Grouse, but Paul says it’s the only brand his dad will drink, so if anyone ever buys him anything else for Christmas, he just gives it away. I have had it, mind; it’s like the standard one that you get in miniatures on airlines.

In comparison to the Balvenie, the Glenmorangie and Famous Grouse were similarly pale, and in terms of taste, both were bland and watery. Paul and I both identified these two the wrong way round, but there wasn’t much to choose between them, and I think we assumed the better tasting one must be Glenmorangie, when it actually wasn’t. Their insipidness made the Balvenie seem complex and rich in comparison. We couldn’t be sure though, whether the Glenmorangie had been compromised in some way by sitting in Paul’s dad’s cupboard – perhaps on its side for some time, since Paul told me the cork had atrophied, and he had sealed it with one of those wine stoppers, but it didn’t fit properly.

As far as the Balvenie was concerned, this was encouraging and made me look forward to trying it again in more peaceful and serene circumstances. As ever, further tastings await, but I have decided the next one will be a full comparative test with all the other whiskies I currently have at my disposal – 5 in all (which seemed a lot until I met Andy from Manchester Whisky Club – 44!), but I’m looking forward to that tasting nevertheless. You’ll be able to read about how that went sooner rather than later – maybe next week, maybe the week after – so keep coming back.

The other bottle then, was the Gordon and MacPhail bottling of Scapa. Mrs Cake tells me that this one was recommended to Father Christmas by the people at the Reserve wine shop in West Didsbury, and you should be able to pick it up for around £35.

Gordon and MacPhail are merchants, and the way that works, is that merchants buy quantities of new make whisky direct from the distillery, then it can be aged either at the distillery, or by the merchant, in their own barrels. Presumably the merchant then decides how long it is aged for, and in what kind of barrels. I’m unclear at this point, as to whether they then blend different barrels of the spirit to achieve the desired effect, or whether all the contents come from the same barrel. It probably depends. Lots to learn.

So this particular bottle is from Orkney’s Scapa distillery. It was distilled in 2001, and bottled in 2012, so that could potentially have been aged for between 11 and 12 years, depending on exact dates (I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an 11 year old whisky…). How strictly do they stick to dates? Do they age for exactly 12 years, or do they just go with roughly 12 years? They probably blend from a variety to get it tasting right. The rule, after all, is that the age statement has to correspond with the youngest whisky that was used, so some will be 12 years and 2 months, some maybe even a year or more older than the statement. When the bottle states ‘distilled in 2001, bottled in 2012’ though, you can be sure there’s going to be nothing older in it.

Scapa is a er… pale yellowy colour, but it’s presented quite nicely. The fancy box it comes in has two gaping holes in it, so that you can see the labels on the front and back of the bottle. That’s all very well, but I presume that cancels out the practical considerations of a whisky box, which are to protect it from sunlight, should you not have room in your cupboard. I don’t think it’s important anyway. Supposedly if you leave whisky in direct sunlight it can turn cloudy, though this effect isn’t irreversible. It probably doesn’t matter if it’s chill filtered, and I suspect that since this is bottled at 43% ABV, it probably is chill filtered. It would probably say if it wasn’t, since that’s considered a good thing among enthusiasts.

Only one tasting of this whisky has taken place so far, this time at the home of some other friends (Phil and Laura), where we spent New Year’s Eve, drinking, eating, and dancing around like idiots – not even noticing midnight, when it came around. Not much to report then as yet, but I was suitably impressed – it seems like a classy whisky to me, though certainly not as interesting as the Lagavulin 16 that I’d given Phil for his birthday.  Let’s hope my fondness for the Scapa develops and deepens in the weeks to come.

That’s it for now, but don’t worry if you feel like you’ve been left hanging a little there; I do have plans to update you on impressions from future tastings, and there have been developments, they will just be part of a whole host of different posts dealing with my various experiences in alcothusiasm, rather than in any dedicated review of a single bottle. It is, after all, a blog, not an encyclopaedia or review compendium. And I ain’t no expert either way. Just sharing a bit of the love.

Before I go, I did have a whole weekend related newsletter for you, but since I didn’t get to post this before the weekend, it’s all irrelevant, so never mind. Instead, I hope your working week isn’t too painful. Join me back here on Friday evening for another post. Until then, remember you can follow me on Twitter, @alcothusiast.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Green Spot Story

hmm... looks like wine...
This isn’t actually an historical and factual story of Green Spot single pot still Irish whisky, but rather my convoluted story that culminates in me getting hold of a bottle, which I’m sure you will find absolutely fascinating. Incidentally, if you do want to know a bit of factual information about Green Spot, allow me to recommend Scotchnoob’s review, which you can find here.

In 2002, when I was still in a band, we were offered the chance to play a gig in Dublin. We booked flights with Easyjet or Ryanair, and arranged to stay with the band that invited us, and borrow their amps.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. The gig was cancelled, and Pits and I were left with two tickets to Dublin and no reason to go. Brenda and I decided we would go instead, but sadly this didn’t happen either; accommodation looked to cost more than we could afford, and it was proving impossible to get through to the airline’s phone number to change the name on Pits’ ticket. So we decided to write it off – couldn’t really afford to, but we couldn’t afford to go either.

I’ve still never been to Dublin, but I would very much like to. I know, I know, it should be easy enough, but it won’t be happening in the next year. The missus and I have already got our various travel plans mentally arranged, so sadly it looked like there would be no opportunity for me to indulge in a bit of Irish whisky collecting – outside of a trip to Tesco.

But, just when I’d given up hope, I had a text from my friend Dave, telling me he was going to Dublin for a couple of days. I wouldn’t normally get all that excited about other people’s travel plans, but I think I was having a bit of a bad week, and for some reason that cheered me right up.

Figuring Dave might have his own Duty Free requirements, I suggested that, you know, if you don’t, and if it’s not too much trouble, would you consider picking me up some nice Irish whisky?

Absolutely no problem, said Dave. He actually sounded delighted to do so, but what did I have in mind? Well, my mind was fairly blank – I just knew that I wanted something I couldn’t buy in Tesco, so I had a quick look at The Whisky Exchange. It wasn’t far down the page that I found Green Spot, another whisky that I recalled reading about in 101 Whiskies toTry Before You Die

It’s surprising, the amount of information in that book that turns out to be inaccurate – or rather, to have changed since publication. Green Spot, it says, is produced in small batches of only 6000 bottles every year. I don’t know how many bottles are produced each year now, but this whisky is much more readily available than it once was - due to Irish Distillers Ltd acquiring the distribution licence in 2011 (thanks, Scotchnoob). I suppose I’ll never know whether that has had any impact upon its quality, though Scotchnoob’s review suggests that while the whisky isn’t supposed to have changed, some suspect the newer packaged product is younger and lighter.

Dave had a lovely time in Dublin. He and his missus visited the Guinness brewery, where they learned to pour a “perfect” pint, and then visited the Jameson distillery where they learned some pretty interesting things. [If I remember rightly] they were shown inside a barrel with some new make whisky in it that was almost full, then a barrel of [let’s say] 12 year old that was only half full, and then a barrel of [again, the effect is more important than exact detail] 18 year old that was perhaps a quarter full.

I had always thought that older whisky was more expensive simply because of the amount of time it had to be sitting in a warehouse, not making any money before it could be sold – that’s basic accounting principles. It turns out though, that it is at least as much to do with evaporation of the product –you see, the longer you age it, the less of it you have. This evaporation is known as the angel’s share, which coincidentally is also the title of a 2012 Ken Loach film that I’d never heard of previously…

Suddenly older whiskies don’t seem quite so expensive. In fact, that (again, at thewhiskyexchange) you can buy a 12 year old bottle of Jameson for £50 and an 18 year old bottle for £70, makes the 18 year old start to sound like a bargain! I would just hope the 18 year old is actually better than the 12 year old – not always the case.

Well, I found all that fascinating. Incidentally, Dave also said he took the opportunity to get himself a ‘proper’ whisky glass. When I questioned him about it later though, it turned out not to be the Glencairn glass, but something else entirely, with ‘Jameson’ written on it.

He did indeed come through with the whisky though, and returned bearing a bottle of Green Spot, exactly as requested. Thanks Dave, it’s much appreciated. I’d told him my budget would stretch to £40, and it came in at £35. Cash back; though he did say they were selling it at the Distillery for £60, so it’s a good job he waited to try Duty Free.

It’s not much to look at – in fact, it looks like a wine bottle – but I had high hopes for this, the first bottle of Irish whisky I’d ever try that wasn’t (strictly) Jameson, even though it is distilled at the Jameson distillery, so really it is Jameson, isn’t it? It’s nice to build up a little anticipation, so I waited about a week before allowing myself to open it.

When the right Sunday night came, the missus and I settled down in front of The Inbetweeners Movie, and I opened proceedings with a glass of the Dewar’s, that I might then have something to compare the Green Spot with. I could tell straight away that the Green Spot was a little classier, but the difference wasn’t so pronounced as to push it into the special category. Indeed, it wasn’t until a week (and two glasses) later that this whisky began to show its worth. In fact, I’ve since concluded that Sunday night is not the best time to drink your special spirits. I don’t know about you, but heavy drinking on Friday and Saturday night usually means there is some interference in my tasting faculties by Sunday – or so it seems.

 This time then, we were watching a weird French film called Lemming. I poured a generous glass, and enjoyed it about as much as I think it is possible to enjoy a glass of whisky without, I don’t know, being naked and in the company of a beautiful lady.

The liquid felt soft and oily, it played around the tongue, causing excited jets of saliva to spring forth and enclose it like your cosiest duvet. It was delightful, and was followed by a tinge of sadness when I finally allowed myself to finish the glass around 45 minutes later. Fantastic. I can’t wait till I bring it out again.

That’s all I have to say about Green Spot for now, though I do want to take this opportunity, to set the record straight about the Dewar’s. Once again, I have allowed myself to judge too soon, and it turns out I haven’t been entirely fair. The Dewar’s has revealed itself (over quite a long time) to be a far more complex blend than I have been giving it credit for. Yes, it has the blend taste, but it can also be woody and sweet by turns and has a generous finish. I hereby recommend it. And I recommend Green Spot, too.

That then, brings me to the various pre-weekend formalities. It’s looking like being a quiet one for me tonight, but I’ll still get some of the spirits out – nothing special though; given my hungover state, that was brought on by going a bit mad at the Manchester Whisky Club’s Tomatin night, I think the good stuff would be wasted on me. There’s always tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, our good friends Gav and Clare are coming over, and I’m actually looking forward to opening some wine, because I attempted to follow the advice that Clare gave me after last week’s How DoYou Select Wine? post. We’ll see how I did, and I’ll probably be blogging about all that at some point in the future, so look out for it.

So yes, tomorrow will be drinking and eating, two of my favourite things. I’ve also heard that the legendary DJ Premier is appearing at Sound Control, and I’m wondering whether that might be on the cards later…

Whatever you’re doing, make sure it’s booze-fuelled and trouble free, eh? Have a good un.