Monday, 29 December 2014

Spirits of the Year 2014

It’s a brand new year on the Drink it How You Like it blog, so happy new year. This year actually marks the beginning of the fourth year that I have been doing this blog – more or less regularly, without any drop in quality whatsoever. That’s pretty amazing. So anyway, I thought I’d end 2014 with a tradition that I began only last year – the annual Spirits of the Year post. It’s nice to look back at what I’ve been drinking and try to decide which ones merit a little celebration, so let’s get right into it and see what 2014 had to offer. As ever, this isn’t in any particular order and there’s no single winner – these are all considered outstanding examples of last year’s drinking. I’ll be contacting the various producers in due course to congratulate them on achieving this presitigious status, but for now…

Single Malt Scotch: Berry Bros & Rudd, Bunnahabhain 1979

A fairly expensive one,  but I didn’t pay for it, so I have no qualms about including it here. In fact, I’d say it was impressive in spite of its price tag.

Read a whole lot more about it here.

Aguardiente de Orujo: Regio

An absolute bargain at less that 7 euros, and a surprisingly good pomace brandy – even though it did take a little while to appreciate fully. I have taken the price into account on this one. Is it the best pomace brandy I’ve ever tasted? No. Did I enjoy it heartily? Oh yes. And that’s why it is a spirit of the year. You’ll be able to read a lot more about this a some point during 2015.

Bourbon: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked

An absolute taste sensation, this one. I only bought it because I was disappointed in the various options available in Orlando Airport’s Duty Free, but it far surpassed expectations and even hopes. Again, you’ll be able to read a lot more about it on these pages in 2015 but let me just say; it was a bad decision to take this to a poker night. It went down a storm with the other players, and I was left with only half a bottle to snuggle up with. Highly recommended. In fact, if there was going to be an overall best spirit of 2014 (which there isn’t), this would probably be it (but it’s not. Cos there isn’t one.)

So let’s just finish with a brief look ahead into 2015… sure, a good proportion of my posts are already planned and partially written, but there are always further adventures to be had – unopened bottles in the cupboard, unpurchased bottles in the store and, for the first time in a long time, trips that Mrs Cake and I haven’t planned yet. I’m hoping for Japan and Italy, but we’ll have to see about that. Whatever happens, there’s going to be a whole heap of drinking on these pages. Join me frequently.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Mediocre-hol (or uninteresting alcoholic drinks)

My recent post on low cost Cognac Martell VS got me thinking about all the various bottles I get through that really leave very little impression – the ones that, when I look over my notes or the various things I’ve written over the course of time, had left me struggling even to pad out a paragraph or two. With the Martell I somehow managed to turn a dearth of thoughts and impressions into a post that could be said to have had a point but, it wouldn’t be fair to you (or to me), if I had to keep doing that. But the mediocre spirits deserve a mention too, don’t they? Of course they do (even if it’s just to let you know there are better ways to spend your money), so this week, let’s look back over the last 12 months or so and give a cursory nod to some of the bottles that were neither good nor particularly bad, the ones that the term meh was invented for, and that may have escaped a mention elsewhere. Perhaps we can make it an annual thing – like the annual Spirits of the Year post that I started last year and will continue shortly...

Let’s split it into categories.


Stolichnaya Gold – 40% ABV, 70cl for £21.65

I had high hopes for this, given my admiration for the other two unflavoured Stolis (blue (which was a winner of one of the coveted Spirits of the Year awards last year) and red), but an immediate comparison with the remains of my red led to crushing disappointment. Why would anyone knowing what I know now, deliberately stump up that extra £5-10 for an inferior product such as this? Everything that is enjoyable about the flavour of its siblings is absent – replaced with the pharmaceutical taste you get if you accidentally chomp on a pill. It just makes me feel sad. I mean, it probably is still better than a bunch of other vodkas – it does contain 40 ABVs at least, which gives it the advantage over supermarket fare but… come on. Who thought this was a good idea?


Tesco London Dry Gin37.5% ABV, 70cl for £12

Very sweet, but uninteresting. I’m yawning just thinking about writing anything about this one. Go on, let’s have a look at what we’ve got:

Non-descript bottle: check.

Obscenely low ABV: check.

I just don’t see the point in it.

Tanqueray – 43.1% ABV, £15 for 70 cl

This one was bought for Mrs Cake’s Christmas present as a means of supporting her predilection for g&t. £15 in Somerfield it was, that’s quite a bargain. It’s a good strength (that’s almost interesting enough to warrant it’s own post), though on the airline we flew with to Canada, they had a 47.3% variety (that would have been more interesting).

In terms of presentation, you’ve got a slightly off green bottle with a red faux-wax seal and utilitarian white label. It would probably make a good, sturdy bludgeon.

And that’s where I run out of things to say. How hard is it to write about gin? I suppose I’ll look up some gin blogs in a bit and find out. Nevertheless, Tanqueray is good enough to drink on it’s own, though obviously no one does. It’s probably even a waste to put it with tonic. But is it interesting enough for me to get a whole post out of it? No.


Tesco West Indian Dark Rum- 37.5% ABV, £12.50 for 70cl

Eee… I got nothing. Blah, blah, blah, whatever. I remember buying this one for taking on a camping trip. I knew I was going to be drinking out of plastic cups, so I didn’t want to get anything that would make me regret that. Yes, it’s suitable for drinking out of a plastic cup in a camper van in a field behind a Derbyshire pub. From there it became acceptable hip flask fare. Mrs Cake polished it all off as a matter of fact at the Sounds From the Other City festival when I bought her a cider she didn’t like.

Mixer fodder.

The Kraken – 40% ABV, £19.50 for 70 cl

Tesco actually sent me a voucher for this one, which I coupled with one of those £3 off a £40 shop vouchers to make a monstrous saving of £6.50. Yes!

Sadly, I’m just not into it. Mrs Cake seems to be very fond of it though. She came in one night telling me she’d been to a bar called Turtle Bay where they do rum platters and that she’d had one called The Kraken that she loved.

We’ve got a bottle of that, I said. You can have it if you like.

I was disappointed on first impression. It is essentially too sweet for my personal taste and the spicyness is just the wrong side of pleasant. I don’t know if this is representative of spiced rum in general, but it isn’t currently something I get the point of. The information on the bottle suggests it is blended with caramel also, so not exactly a rum for the spirit aficionado.

In spite of that, I’m pleased to be able to say I’ve turned Mrs Cake into a hard liquor drinker. When she goes out with friends these days, she always insists on not having a mixer. Her friends think she’s wild. I say what’s the point in drinking hard liquor if you can’t taste it? Apart from getting hammered.


Jose Cuervo Tradicional – 38%, 50cl for £19.99

Tired of the lack of tequila options available in my local supermarket, I was thrilled to find that Tesco had started stocking a 100% agave variety of Jose Cuervo – Jose Cuervo Tradicional. It’s £19.99 for 50cl and bottled at 38% (mine was at least – the internet suggested it’s 40% but I don’t know how that can be). It’s a reposado rather than a blanco so in spite of the disappointing ABV, I consider it to be pretty good value.

The bottle is tall and clear with a classy label and a cork stopper. Impressive. Each bottle also has a number printed at the bottom of the label that tells you how many years after 1795 it was produced. Not really sure of the point in that, but it’s a feature.

So with friends coming over I decided to allow myself to dip into my booze budget for this one. We managed to polish off 4/5 of it in the one evening, which isn’t unusual for tequila. If there’s one spirit you buy solely for caning, then tequila is it. A lot of people might balk at paying £20 for a tequila such as this, as you’re essentially paying more for less, but when you take that step up to 100% agave, you don’t go back because it’s totally worth it.

In terms of actual quality, the agave flavours are somewhat mild, which is disappointing, but if you’re not as into tequila for sipping, as I am, this might be a positive. We did try it with lime and salt also and we all agreed that the lime wasn’t even necessary.

A word that seemed to come up a lot on online reviews was “earthy”, which I’m afraid I don’t really get on board with. I’d say it’s quite clean and fresh and I’d definitely buy it again – though obviously that’s unlikely since I’ll be keen to try something else – but as a go-to; do.

I’ll just finish with a word from a Master of Malt customer review:

“NEVER gives me a hangover.”

I don’t know why this is considered a sign of a good spirit… is it? In my opinion, only idiots judge alcohol on whether they have a hangover the next day because really, if you had a hangover it wasn’t what you drank, but how much of it.

Irish Cream

Country Mist – 14.5%, £5.19 for 70cl

A cheapo Irish Cream brand that I picked up from Morrison’s. Even cheaper in fact than the king of budget Irish Creams, Ballycastle Premium. It is presented in a standard bottle for this genre – squat and dark – and features a generic and uninteresting picture of a field – presumably to represent Ireland. Nowhere on the bottle does it state “produced exclusively for Morrison’s” or anything like that.

So Irish Cream brands have sorted themselves neatly into a few different types of late – sublime (Baileys, Ballycastle Premium), pleasant (Ballycastle), weird (Carolan’s) and wrong (Irish Country Cream). Country Mist is another one for the “pleasant” category. It is too cheap and thin to impress, not luxurious enough to delight, but in spite of its light body, the flavours are pleasant – no, they don’t jump out at you, but I have to give it credit for avoiding anything errant. Also in its favour is that it isn’t a conspicuous off-cream colour. It works in coffee, it works on ice. It isn’t up to the standard of either of the Aldi brands, but it is good enough.


Rosso Vermouth- 14.7%, £5.50 for 1 litre

Typically low rent bottle with a Spartan label.

Not sure why I prefer vermouth over wine because it’s clearly not as complex or fine as a nice wine, but it is more pleasant to drink. Perhaps it’s because it’s uncomplicated that I like it – it’s like alcoholic fruit juice – stick some ice in it and it’s refreshingly intoxicating.

As far as this one is concerned, I really like the colour – having gone for a Rosso variety this time, despite being tempted by an extra dry, I have to say I like the slightly brown tinge which, to a whisky drinker like me, suggests a degree of ageing in oak barrels. I have absolutely no idea what the real cause is, but in this aspect at least it meets with my approval.

Martini Rosato- 15%, £9 for I litre

First of all, hats of to Tesco for honouring an unapplied historical discount on this one. Your accounts may be unreliable, but your customer service has so far been decent in my experience.

Martini Rosato is described as a modern age, aromatic spiced vermouth, blended from red and white wines and featuring Madagascan cloves and Sri-Lankan cinnamon quills among the botanicals it is infused with.

I have to say, I was a little disappointed, and I’m going to class it as fairly standard.

I’ll leave that here for now, then. I know it doesn’t seem like all that much but, to be fair, a number of other uninteresting spirits will appear in posts I’m planning for the new year, so I don’t want to spoil the surprise as far as any of those are concerned. You can expect another roundup this time next year, in which some of those will feature. More importantly, you can find out what the recipients of my prestigious Spirits of the Year 2014 were next week. Until then, enjoy your Christmas. I hope you get plenty of chance to be day drunk  and that you receive plenty of interesting bottles as gifts. Me too. 

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Nikka Pure Malt - White Label: Islay style

Nikka Pure Malt is a Japanese blended malt that comes in black, white and red label varieties, all of which are bottled at 43%. The black is mainly composed of malt from the Yoichi distillery, the red from the Miyagikyo distillery and this one, the white, from Islay malt… which seems a bit weird. Really? Does this mean it isn’t Japanese at all? Does it mean they get whisky from Islay, ship it to Japan, blend it and then sell it back to us? It is confusing because the website says it is “a pure malt whisky made mainly with Islay, Scotland type malt”.  That could mean the malted barley is like that used in Islay, or that the whisky is in the Islay style, or even that they’ve bought a load of Islay malts and blended them. I’ve asked them, and they haven’t replied. However, numerous other blogs mention that whisky from the Yoichi distillery is blended with whisky from Islay. I don’t know where they all got this from, but enough of them say it to suggest it must be true.

At this point (on the various other blogs) discussion moves over to which Islay distillery provides the scotch portion, which the general consensus being Caol Ila since other distilleries are either allied with the Suntory distillery or don’t produce malt of this character. Further “proof” is supplied by detecting a taste of soap both in this bottling and in Caol Ila… though not to my mind. It does make sense on flavour profile that Caol Ila might be the mystery ingredient, but I don’t taste soap in either. Ruminations also become obsolete if you consider that blending whisky is supposed to create all manner of results – including revealing characteristics that weren’t originally present in any of the constituent parts. So, as ever, it can’t really be said to mean anything.

It is interesting that my friend Phil bought me this as a birthday present, and I had also coincidentally bought him a vatted malt for his. I got the better deal though, as his was a Cutty Sark. We tried both and first impressions were that the Nikka is better, though I don’t have any extensive comparison notes for you – he took his Cutty Sark home, and I enjoyed the Nikka over the next couple of months in peace.


Inside a plain but intriguing brown cardboard box you get a unique bottle with a wide but stubby neck that is almost like a jar and similarly proportioned cork.


You can expect to pay between £35 and £45, which I consider to be decent value, though you have to remember you’re only getting 50cl, so ultimately you’re going to be asking yourself whether you could pick up 70cl of one of your favourite Islay malts for a similar price and whether you’d prefer that.

The Pudding

Fruity with a rich saltiness on entry, this gives way to leather notes and a pleasant earthiness, before finishing a little too dry and slightly bitter.


Nikka White Label certainly has a lot to offer in terms of complexity. It’s very enjoyable, though sadly the half litre bottle restricts the opportunity to appreciate it fully.

Still, this is a very impressive spirit, which ranks right up with the best I’ve sampled this year so far – single malt or otherwise. The price and volume are a little prohibitive ( I can indeed get 70cl of a number of my favourite Islay malts for a similar price), but it’s definitely worth a punt, and if you’re looking for a gift to impress a whisky drinker, you won’t be far off the mark with this one.

It’s been nice chatting to you once again. Come back next week for some more booze related things. 

Thursday, 4 December 2014

A 32 year old Bunnahabhain: How frickin’ nice is this?!?

Woah, this one has snuck up on me a bit. I’ve had the post planned for a while, but when I came to checking it over before posting, I found it was only half done! Just a bunch of random sentances, no narrative, very little detail… time to cobble something together.

I’m going to assume you can imagine my excitement at coming into possession of this one (full story here), given that it was distilled in 1979. Not only is that an absurdly long time ago, it is the year after I was born which… frankly goes only to reiterate what an absurdly long time ago it was. Everything in my life, except for the nine womb months and a lot of pooing and crying happened in between this Islay malt being distilled (by Bunnahabhain), aged (by Berry Bros and Rudd), bottled 32 years later (also by Berry Bros and Rudd), purchased (by my father-in-law), wrapped up (presumably by my father-in-law’s wife) and then given to me as a Christmas present in December 2013. I then freed this liquid from the bottle and released it back into the great cycle of life between March and June 2014. It has taken me since then to get around to telling you about it. It’s a good job you haven’t been holding your breath.

I think that’s a worthy enough introduction, don’t you?

Yes, the excitement you can imagine – I was starting to think I’d never get to own a bottle this old – actually, that should be spirit, shouldn’t it? The bottle would only be 2 years old or so, it is the whisky that’s aged 32 years  – though it had existed in its bottled form for 34 years by the time it came into my possession. I might be over doing this now… Anyway, sure; you can always try ridiculously old whiskies at tastings and festivals, but this one would be more or less all mine.

I opened it when friends came round to announce their engagement. There may also have been a cigar involved. So anyway, let’s have a look.

very dark
There was no box accompanying this one, just a reassuringly standard bottle and an intriguing label. It is bottled from a single cask at a hearty 51.8%, and is surprisingly dark in colour – almost like a Spanish brandy or dark rum. No information has been provided as to what kind of cask this was aged in so I can only speculate, but I’m not going to beyond some kind of… sherry… cask.

Bunnahabhain is of course, an Islay distillery, but is known for producing a more mildly peated spirit than most of its neighbours.

As you’d expect, we tried it straight and yeah, it’s strong both in alcohol burn and in flavour. In fact, it tastes a little burnt in its raw state but it opens up and sweetens nicely with the addition of water. It’s certainly fruity and I’m tempted to describe dried fruit on the nose, but that doesn’t seem sufficient.

If you hold it, neat, for a really long time there’s a fleeting impression of dark, dark chocolate but, i should you add more than a few drops of water, to the point where you think you might have added too much, there’s apple pie and cinnamon. I found this interesting, but my personal preference is to keep the dilution at just a few drops and preserve that bite that lets you know you’re drinking the strong stuff, while easily masking the flavour of spring water.

Now, Jim Murray had suggested Bunnahabhain doesn’t handle extreme aging so well and that might have put me off buying something like this for myself (as might the price tag, despite being fairly bargainous for this age of spirit), but on the strength of this evidence, I disagree with him. It does remain to be seen what a distillery bottling of comparable age would be like, though they retail for double or even more than I know (or strongly suspect) this bottling to have cost (which was about £90 – again, check my earlier post for more details).

I can only conclude that this is a terrific malt that that throws up all kinds of questions. How come it came to be aged for 32 years? Where was it aged? How was it aged?... How frickin’ nice is this?!?

That’s the important one: how fricking nice. There’s been a lot of spirit drinking over the course of this year, and when I look back, as I will do in a couple of weeks for my Spirits of the Year post, I’m certain I’ll be looking back on this one with fondness as one of the cream of the crop. I suppose this means it’s getting on for time I bought a Bunnahabhain distillery bottling for myself. I’m sure that day is growing ever closer.

Thanks for joining me once again. You know I’ll be back next week with some more booze adventures. It can’t’ve escaped your notice that the booziest time of the year is approaching and, while I have no plans to post anything specific about Christmas (or New Year) over the period you can rest assured I’ll be diving headlong into all the extra research that I get to take part in. Have a great week, and I’ll see you later.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Spirit Log: Glen Garioch Founder's Reserve

goddammn it! Had to borrow a pic from TWE for this one...
It was time to try something from the Highland region and some way or other (without the aid of a whisky guide) I arrived at the door of Glen Garioch. Reviews on The Whisky Exchange were favourable, but what swung it for me was that, with the desired criteria being no age statement/under 10 years and that I didn’t want to spend (much) more than £30, this one was both and a mouthwatering 48% - which turns out to be cask strength.It is  likely aged between 7 and 8 years and of course it also helps that it is non chill-filtered.

At the time of purchase they only did this, a 12 year old and a variety of vintage bottlings though that range has since been extended to include a 15 year old “Renaissance” edition which is the first of a 4 part series that is intended to chart “the fascinating progress of the spirit in the cask”. Fascinating? Over 15 years? More happens in the life of a cat over 15 years than happens in a cask sitting in a warehouse and you’d hardly call that fascinating would you? But you know what? I’ll go with it.

At around £75 the Renaissance edition seems a bit pricey, though I see you can also buy the pre-2009 15 year old edition at TWE for just a couple of pounds more. Interesting. For my Founder’s Reserve I paid £29.20 plus the P and the P.

In terms of presentation, it comes in a plain brown box with a bit of tartan trim while the bottle is pleasingly stout and sturdy.

While carrying out a little research on other peoples opinions of this expression, I came across one that raises a curious behaviour that, while whisky is considered to be the most complicated and perhaps worthwhile spirit, lauded and celebrated the world over, when people detect a note that isn’t entirely to their taste they seem to feel they have to improve on it – like, by adding “sweetened soda” – in this particular instance (naming no names).

I accept the stipulation that adding water can open up a spirit, and that it is necessary with higher cask strength bottlings (though the quantity to add is down to personal taste – I like to go for as little as possible), but… soda? How bad is it?

You get the impression that some reviewers treat their whisky like a puzzle; how can I make this right? - in the same way you add seasoning to a meal. I don’t think you’d ever get a wine enthusiast adding anything to their glass, would you? So why don’t whisky drinkers accept and enjoy an expression for what it is more?

The only instance in which I will try to “improve” a whisky is if I feel it’s so bad that I can’t drink it as is, and that rarely happens because in my experience, any bad spirit can be improved simply by sticking it in your hipflask or chugging it to get the party started… you don’t have to taste the fuck out of it. Mostly I’m happy to explore it and if I don’t like the trip, it’s more a case of finding a drink to use it up in.

It remains to be seen whether I’d feel anything needed to be added to the Founder’s Reserve, so let’s get around to seeing and open that bottle…

Since Jon had come round, who I hadn’t seen in a couple of years, I needed to open something new, and this was it. We caned nearly half of it that evening before I set it aside for a while to finish the HP12 and appraise all that has to offer. See last week for that particular self-indulgence.

The Founder’s Reserve has a similar taste to the Glen Scotia 16 – a tang that due to my limited experience still strikes me as weird. I’m thinking it is probably going to be indicative of a style since I have now found it in two different places – Glen Scotia being a Campbeltown and Glen Garioch a Highland malt.

In further comparison to the Scotia, the Garioch’s flavour profile doesn’t edge so far towards the synthetic impression that I mentioned in my earlier post. Nor is it as smoky.

Sadly, as the weeks went by I started to enjoy this less and less, to the extent that I would prefer many a blend over it. Consequently, at around £30 it seems overpriced when a Ballantine’s, Grant’s and even Asda’s own brand McKendrick’s would be preferable.

I started to detect hints of lavender (a plant I don’t think has any business being eaten (or drunk)), and also found the extra strength (its selling point) to be ultimately unpleasant, requiring more dilution than I would like just to soothe the unpleasant burn and leaving you drinking an underwhelming whisky squash.

In comparison to the admittedly pricier Glen Scotia 16, it was falling by the wayside, and even in comparison to the vast majority of single malts in my index. In terms of price per centilitre I’ve previously paid less for the Glanfarclas 10, Glenmorangie Original, Talisker 10 and HP12, all of which I consider vastly superior. Sadly, that can only lead us to the conculsion that you can do a lot better for £30.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Reacquainting - Highland Park 12

If you read my recent Canadian Adventure posts, you will already be familiar with the story of how I came into possession of another bottle of the Highland Park 12, a personal favourite and one that I have bought numerous times previously as presents for friends. On this occasion, it is as a failed gift attempt that I am able to revisit and see if another couple of years’ drinking experience has affected my opinion. It turns out my father-in-law doesn’t like peated whiskies at all – even this one which, being familiar with Islay’s heavily peated fare, I consider  to be mild.

Highland Park is still one of the coolest bottles around, with it’s chunky shape and oversized cork – not classy in a traditional sense exactly, just invitingly robust (just how I like my women…), treading that fine line between modern and classy with consummate ease.

I can’t help noticing the peaty aroma that escapes from the bottle on opening every time, but in the glass, the smoky nose is more subdued, and you forget there’s any peat in there at all. On first tasting, I’m thinking it’s not exactly a fine spirit, but it is so damn tasty. The body is a little light, but the profile is all class.

On first taste this time around, I was actually worried for a moment that Jim Murray was right in his 2013 Whisky Bible about the HP12 losing some of its quality, but I remembered I hadn’t appreciated my first bottle to its full extent immediately, and resolved to reserve final  judgement until a full appraisal could take place.

He doesn’t specifically say what’s wrong with this bottling, but puts it down to the cask and hopes it’s an anomaly. Consequently he scores it a mere 78. I have to say, I do believe I may have detected the slightest hint of a bum note in there, that it would seem was a logical effect of a cask issue, but even this note appeared only fleetingly and was quickly eclipsed by the mouthwatering flavours that are evident elsewhere within the spirit. So even with what I am going to accept as a possible slight flaw, HP12 is still significantly tastier than many a malt - especially at this price point.

I thought for a while that I might be loath to buy this as a gift until I could be certain the high standard was restored (or unless I needed to buy a gift, but couldn’t afford anything else at that particular time…), but as a dram for evening enjoyment, it clearly still has a lot to give.

By the end of my second tasting, I was convinced I’d been right all along, but to confuse matters further, other tastings proceeded to prove disconcerting; it isn’t quite right, is it? I thought, Or is it?

One night after band practice (and a beer), I settled in for another glass, and the flavours were delightful as they were dallying around on my tongue. I picked up a bit of bacon on the nose, along with the usual vanilla tones, and the spirit itself was soft, sweet and light. Probably the most I’d enjoyed a dram in many a week.

What is going on with this bottle?

I wondered maybe if this was a whisky to drink late at night (it was almost 11 when I poured it) but then, I usually drink it later on, having prepared myself with a blend first. Maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong, maybe it follows pilsner best…

Reviews on have alluded to the way the whisky can taste different from one day to the next. This is something I’ve noticed before but, perhaps this time, that effect is more pronounced than previously noted. Many of those reviews mention that this bottle has become a trusty backup, one to keep in the cabinet at all times, and I think that tendency to  transform further supports that practice.

So far I’ve found my second bottle of this more puzzling than the first though, by turns, no less satisfying or intriguing. It seems to me now, that if I don’t get another bottle in and on the go soon after this one, the whole quandary could begin over again – so why not keep it on standby and enjoy the rollercoaster consistently, repeatedly, in perpetuity…?

It is that good. And because of that, I am elevating this malt from where it stood at number 6 in my all time single malt rankings to number 2, behind only Caol Ila 12 and ahead of such luminaries as Ardbeg 10, Bladnoch 10 and Caol Ila Distiller’s Edition 2012. High praise indeed. I want another glass tonight, but it’s Thursday… sadly not a drinking night. Ah, but tomorrow…

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Spirit Log: Martell VS, or How to make a post out of uh... verylittle.

Brandy! It’s not as good as whisky is it? It’s not. It’s nice and all, and probably easier on the palate, but that’s why it comes up short when you compare it with a nice whisky. I do like it though, and its status as a must-have spirit in my house remains unthreatened with a view perhaps to one day finding a great one. Is there such thing as a great one? And more importantly, can you get a great one at an affordable price (as you can with wihsky)? That’s what I’m asking this week as I look at a low cost Cognac, Martell VS.

"fine" cognac? Or simply "all right" cognac?
At least, that was the plan as, when I looked at my notes I found I’d made very few. When I cast my mind back and tried to pull impressions from my memory… I hardly remembered drinking this bottle at all. What happened? It’s like some aliens have stolen three months of my life. I can’t remember a single specific instance of drinking it – how did I get through a whole bottle without it leaving a single impression one way or the other?

I do know that there were some pounds off this one (six), making it an overdraft friendly £25. I ruminated at the time that you can’t get a great single malt scotch for £25 as a rule, but that from time to time you can – I’ve picked up the Highland Park 12, Talisker 10 and Glenmorangie 10 at this price point before, so I had been hoping to draw some conclusions as to how this measured up.

Based on previous experience, my expectations were fairly low. Cognac is generally known to be expensive and the ones at the cheaper end of the spectrum thought to be poor – as borne out by the Courvoisier VSOP I bought some time ago, also for £25.

So what else do we know? I remember that the bottle was uninteresting aesthetically, that it was 40% ABV and that I had found from research that it is thought to be aged for between 5 and 7 years. So far, so particularly dull. I did read some good comments from user reviews online but clearly they didn’t inspire any particular impressions from me. Finally, in my simple “like?” column on my geeky spreadsheet, I have entered “yes”. That doesn’t really mean much where brandy is concerned as it’s all kind of all right, isn’t it?

So there you go. I hope you weren’t hoping for some in depth insight. I could make some up, but it wouldn’t be fair either to you or the product. And in the end, I think the lack of an impression it made tells its own story. Drinking the Martell VS has ultimately turned out to be the liquid equivalent of getting home drunk and watching your favourite TV show on the TV recorder, then deleting it… then waking up the next day, thinking “ooh, I’ve got that show to watch… where is it?” You’ve already watched and deleted it. It’s like that.

How is that supposed to help you? Well, if you’re going to buy it, don’t expect much.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Ruminating on whether to start a proper whisky collection

Purchasing a cheap blend called Jim McEwan’s Symphony No 1 (which you can read a bit more about here and here) on a trip to Islay, started me thinking about people who collect whisky. For me, having a whisky collection is essential, but only from the perspective of wanting a selection of whiskies to choose from whenever I want a drink (and perhaps to some extent for the purpose of learning about whisky), but some people collect whisky for other reasons.

Buying a new bottle of whisky is one of my favourite things at the moment, which sounds a bit sad, so it would be a shame if I only allowed myself to buy one at a time rather than maintaining my collection or allowing it to grow (slightly). Given the amount that I’m learning about whisky, could I put that learning and enjoyment to a more useful purpose, I wonder? That’s one of the things I’ll be asking in this feature.

My main motivation in buying whisky is that I like to drink whisky, and I want to know what they taste like – let’s say with a view to experiencing the pinnacle of what distilled spirit can offer (for some reason – why distilled spirit and not tea or something cheaper and non-alcoholic is a question for another day). I don’t know yet if one day I’ll feel like I’ve achieved that – presumably it is possible that I’ve already enjoyed a glass of whisky more than I ever will again (it certainly feels that way from time to time - and what is the greatest it, or any sensory experience can be anyway?), but for now my journey continues.

Until very recently then, I literally couldn’t imagine me purchasing a bottle of whisky for any other purpose than to drink it. If I buy a bottle with the intention of not drinking it, then I’ll always need to purchase another bottle for drinking, and I don’t have that much disposable income.

To be fair, my collection method probably doesn’t even really count as a collection any more than having four different types of pasta in your cupboard counts as having a pasta collection. If it does, I’ve got one of those too. No, I buy whiskies (special and not so special), I cherish them, I open them, I drink them, I don’t cherish them as much as I did before I opened them, I buy more (but different – I ver y rarely buy the same bottle twice).

People like to collect things, so for some, having an impressive collection is an end in itself, but when it comes to whisky, that’s something  I actually have trouble understanding – what are you keeping it for? It is at odds with the essence of what whisky is; that, as a distilled spirit – it is for drinking, unlike you know, people who collect pigs or whatever – those items are made for collecting; they have no other purpose (not real pigs, items in the shape of pigs). Even a collector of cars presumably drives his cars occasionally.

What I can understand though, is the value of actively collecting whisky as an investment. Rare bottles can sell for thousands of pounds, so with a little long term planning, smart buying and a lot of luck, in 20+ years even I could be making profits in the thousands… maybe… assuming whisky will be valuable in 20 years time. It probably will.

Presumably some whisky collectors don’t ever even drink whisky, though I expect there is some crossover for most people. They enjoy whisky, become intrigued by all those rare, expensive bottles, then maybe they realise that they could have one in the future if they start a collection now.

 What intrigues me about those expensive bottles though is what does it taste like? I’ll never actually find out – unless I buy something now, keep it, and get lucky enough for it to be rare and expensive in 20 years. However, it will only taste the same in 20 years as it does now, so in reality, I could already know what it tastes like, I just don’t know what those bottles that are already vintage and expensive now taste like – and some collectors will never know despite owning a bottle. So isn’t it still better to buy it and then drink it? Yes, but then of course, I haven’t made any money. But nor will I have had to keep something for 20 odd years.

It just brings me back to how good can it be? In some last minute research before posting this entry I looked up the most expensive bottles that are available on The Whisky Exchange and found an Ardbeg at £3500 (not the most expensive by a long way, to be fair, but I chose to focus on Ardbeg that day) that Jim Murray had supposedly raved about… giving it 96 out of 100. But the ordinary 10 year old Ardbeg that you can buy for around £40 scores 97 out of 100… so there’s really no point, is there?

The ultimate, innocent ideal in terms of collecting is probably someone collecting whisky for fun, as a child does, and then one day realising their collection is worth a staggering amount of money. Overall though, there can only be three purposes behind collecting whisky; drink it, sell it, bequeath it to a loved one. You can’t take it with you, so collecting for the sake of it doesn’t make sense. One day you’ve got to decide am I going to drink it, am I going to sell it? And if neither… well your heirs might appreciate it, or they might just have a party and throw it away, all the while shouting, “Chug! Chug! Chug!” and going, “Woooooooo!

And that would be a massive crime. On your part.

Or if you haven’t got heirs, you could have a massive house made of scratching posts constructed for your cats and feed them fresh trout for the rest of their natural lives. Or get someone else to.

Buying whisky for investment isn’t all that attractive to me anyway. It begs the question, if a bottle of whisky can be sold for thousands of pounts… what is the motivation of the person who buys it? Presumably doing so is no longer an investment, so must surely be a vanity project – to own the most expensive whiskies.  

It’s been a while since we had an imaginary conversation on the blog, so imagine you met someone who told you they had an impressive vintage whisky collection, and took you to see it:

wow, this is amazing! I’d love to try… this one… and this one… and in fact, all of these…

Well you can’t.

Have you tried any of them?


Do you think you ever will? Cos if you do, can I come?

I probably won’t open them.

[collective sadface]

An acquaintance of mine tends to buy two of everything – one for drinking, one for collecting. That’s all very well, but not all whisky is cheap, and it seems likely that a good proportion of the whisky that one day is going to be valuable is already fairly expensive, so in the short term, that £70 you’re indulging yourself with… just became £140 [yes dear, we can still go on holiday… it’ll just be Clacton-on-Sea this year.]

Of most potential value is going to be anything that isn’t widely available, and particularly bottles from closed distilleries and limited editions – where the bottles might be numbered, or from a single cask, and generally particularly old. That stuff don’t (necessarily) come cheap, though it is useful as a guide for whether you should buy two bottles of something.

My thinking at the moment is that I would rather have had a rare bottle and drank it, than to have one and never find out how it tastes. So maybe one day I’ll be perusing expensive bottles and find one I’ve already drunk. And then I think I’ll feel smug rather than upset that I didn’t save it. Perhaps some collectors reach a point where it doesn’t matter how the whisky tastes – it is in fact purely a commodity and no longer an example of one of life’s finer pleasures.

Nevertheless, THIS interesting and informative website has some interesting points to make on the matter of tasting and collecting – two of which are very good pieces of advice.

Firstly, if you are serious about starting a collection, you should agree an investment budget with your partner per year. That sounds doable, and I have even mooted this possibility with Mrs Cake. I reckon that for £200 a year  I could select between 2 and 4 bottles that might give me some chance of turning a profit a number of years down the line.

But what if you don’t live long enough to either sell it or enjoy it? That brings me to the other suggestion which actually deals with the dilemma of collecting versus drinking. The solution? Not buy two bottles, buy three. Then you drink one, save one to sell in the medium term in order to accrue more funds for investment, and keep the third indefinitely to accrue maximum value – except then you have to triple your outlay… which is frankly ludicrous.

Collecting whisky for investment is obviously a long term endeavour. You aren’t going to make much money for a good while and you’re going to need somewhere to safely keep that growing collection, but if you can keep it up and forget about it, one day you might find yourself sitting on an impressive sum and maybe even afford that yacht you’ve always dreamed of (but still probably not).

For now, I’m content to simply buy and drink. The future’s a long way away and, thinking about it, the potential benefits probably aren’t that significant anyway, once you’re ensconced in the reality of life and money. It’s like recently when Mrs Cake and I were thinking about getting life insurance, and based on how much we were willing to pay each month, they determined we could have a £150,000 policy, so if I or Mrs Cake died, the other would get that sum. Frankly that just doesn’t seem enough to be worth bothering with. It would help if we had kids, but since we don’t (Operation Impregnatron pending), I can’t see an Aston Martin or a paid mortgage or a lonely holiday in Asia and a few years off work mending a broken heart (aw).

So with whisky, clearly I’d have to be making a profit of lottery jackpot proportions in 20-30 years if I was going to consider it worthwhile and, given that so many bottles have a price in the thousands for age, vintage and rarity when released by the distillery is it actually going to be those that I can’t afford in the first place that are more likely to increase in value to astronomical levels rather than my modest £50-£100 efforts? Probably. I’d want the return on my investment to be life-changing, not representative of a fairly large drop in a cosmic sized ocean. I’ve never really been motivated by money anyway.

So I think I’ve talked myself out of it for the moment. Don’t let me convince you it isn’t worth your while though. Perhaps you can justify the kind of investment required more than I can. You have to speculate to accumulate after all, they say. It’s just that my speculation leads me to thinking I’m not really that bothered. You’re not me though, are you? No. Make your own mind up. And just think, if I keep drinking all those bottles that might be valuable one day, that only serves to make yours more valuable (because there will be less of them). You’re welcome.

That’s it for me for another week. Thanks for staying till the end if you did. I’ll be back uh… perhaps not next week as I think I’m going to Amsterdam and Berlin to seek out some beer, jenever, absinthe and possibly brandy but, after that, as ever I’ll be back with something equally as interesting as this week’s post no doubt. In the meantime, enjoy yer week, enjoy yer booze and if you’ve already got a whisky collection, leave me a message eh? I’d be interested to hear what your motivation is, how it’s going, how you got started and, more importantly, what’s in it?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Now this is a story all about how... I invented a Fresh Prince drinking game

As ever, this post was written a few months ago, but it seems strange that fate should determine I consider posting it so soon after Alfonso Ribeiro should reprise the awesome Carlton dance on America’s Dancing With the Stars to the delight of the entire internet.So while I wasn’t sure I was even going to bother posting this at all, in honour of that excellent dance, this week I’ll throw off my pretence of being a civilised drinker and encourage you to chug it down as we play… The Fresh Prince Drinking Game.

I was waiting for Mrs Cake to finish making her brew so that we could watch some Breaking Bad, and decided to just flick the telly on for a couple of minutes. What I saw was an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, in which Will and Carlton compete in a gameshow against DJ Jazzy Jeff and another guy. It was pretty funny, and that reminded me of a Fresh Prince drinking game that I invented with my friend Pits when we were flatmates.

The Fresh Prince used to be on TV early on Friday evenings – right about the time we’d be warming up for a night out. So one evening we decided we needed a party starter of some kind – something that would encourage us to drink more quickly and get our buzz on.

Despite enjoying The Fresh Prince throughout our youth, we had both come to the conclusion that the show was a bit lame by now, but these were the early days of Freeview, and there wasn’t anything else on, so we found ourselves watching it anyway. If you aren’t British and/or don’t remember the era I’m referring to, just think about now and The Big Bang Theory… it would be the same if I could bring myself to watch that for more than two minutes without developing into a seething mass of rage and murderous intent.

We still got a few laughs out of the Fresh Prince from time to time, and that led us to the theme of this game – you had to drink three fingers of your beer or a shot (dependant upon what you were drinking) every time you laughed at a joke.

It turns out you can get pretty smashed in half an hour in this way. The alcohol you imbibe as a result of that first laugh inevitably leads to more laughs and more drinks as you start to find things amusing that would normally make you tut or go, “meh”. For me the laughs were coming so fast that I’d incur another three finger penalty (sounds er… interesting) before I’d even refilled my glass or drank my last penalty.

I suppose that’s where The Big Bang Theory game would fall down; there wouldn’t be a first laugh to get you started. Instead though, you could have to drink every time the “studio audience” laughed, but that would be less subjective and fun.

Anyway, by 6.30 we would be tanked and ready to hit the streets of Didsbury.

Most tv themed drinking games rely on everyone drinking at the same time, or in concert with something that happens in relation to a designated character as it’s a case of ‘drink every time this happens, drink every time that happens’. Ours was purely dependant on whether you could control your rapidly widening sense of mirth. We didn’t have time to think up drink triggers, but if you wanted to, you could go with something like ‘everytime Carlton does that funny dance’, ‘every time Carlton mentions Tom Jones’, ‘every time Will makes a fat joke at Uncle Phil’s expense’, ‘every time Hilary says something stupid’, ‘every time Geoffrey says something sarcastic’…

Now it’s your turn. Do you have any tv shows that you like to drink to? What are they, and what are the drink triggers? Answer in the comments. I’m thinking How I Met Your Mother (every time there is a play) and Arrested Development (every time there is immediate irony) would make good drinking game source material, though I’ve heard there is also a drinking game based around Grand Designs that sounds particularly brilliant. 

And I'll leave you there for this week. Next week... I might be discussing the practice of collecting whisky. See you then.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Is it worth spending that little bit extra on gin? Oliver Cromwell vs Plymouth

We’ve been going through quite a bit of gin recently. Mrs Cake has grown fond of the odd gin and tonic and that combination has become her standard drink for taking to parties, so I’ve quickly gone from never having bought a bottle to… having now bought a few bottles. I don’t think I’ve made any secret of my apathy for this particular spirit thus far, but a spirit it is, and therefore not undeserving of some attention on these pages.

Now, the last bottle I bought was the Plymouth brand and admittedly, it was the result of some woefully shoddy mental arithmetic on my part (particularly for someone who works in accounts – shhh…) concerning a certain cross-spirits offer that was on at Tesco that day. I didn’t mind though because I didn’t have to buy Gordon’s, and for my money (£20.30, I believe it was) I got a litre of gin at an encouraging 41.2% ABV. We tried it almost straight away, and agreed that it was… all right.

Moving on, and a short while later it was time to gin up once more. This time Mrs Cake and I agreed between us that she should buy it, since as I say, she drinks most of it. We happened to be in Aldi, and though we’ve had it before, we decided to try the multi award winning Oliver Cromwell – Aldi’s finest. It’s only £9.49 for the obligatory 70cl.

First test was head to head gin and tonics. Like the drinks themselves, the results were mixed. Mrs Cake preferred the one made with Aldi’s finest while I preferred the one made with Plymouth – expensive tastes. As expected though, there wasn’t much to choose, and consequently I still haven’t found any definitive reason for spending all that much money on gin.

I moved on – this time ably assisted by Mrs Cake, as opposed to being joined by her – to doing a neat gin test. This time I figured we may as well go blind, so I asked Mrs Cake to do the pouring for me. Without keeping you in too much suspense; I was able to correctly identify that sample A was the Plymouth. It was sweeter both on the nose and on the palate, though only marginally. The most noticeable difference was the strength. Plymouth holds a 3.7% advantage over the Cromwell, and it shows – not that the Cromwell is unpleasant, it just tastes watery by comparison.

As ever, it leaves you with the question of value; is the extra strength and a very slightly preferable taste worth that extra £10? It depends what you intend to use it for. If you’re going to drink it neat, you need the extra strength and flavour in my opinion. If it is for mixing though, which so much of the market of gin seems to be, I can’t see the justification. You pays your money, you takes your choice. So you decide.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Duke vs The Lord

Good evening! We’re looking at brandy this week, and comparing two brands of admittedly different varieties from mainland Europe. From Spain, and in the brandy de Jerez solera gran riserva style, aged around 10 years, it’s Gran Duque D’Alba – henceforth to be known as The Duke.

Its opposite number is from France, and represents the Armagnac style. It’s Bas Armagnac delord – or The Lord, as it will be known from now on, and it is of the Hors d’Age variety which means it should also be around 10 years old.

The Duke was procured from a duty free shop in San Javier airport in Spain, while The Lord was a very generous and thoughtful gift from my friend Geoffray Westside, when he visited from France in July.

I had asked that Geoffray bring me some Armagnac, and provided a list of potential targets, but I had to cancel when I spent more than I had planned on the Golfageddon holiday. Geoffray ignored my instruction and brought it as a gift. Good man.

So what are we looking at here:


The Duke: 21 euros, but you can expect to pay around £45 in the UK.

The Lord: I don’t know how much Geoffray paid, and I haven’t been able to find the exact same bottling online, but it’s looking to be somewhere from £45-60 here. Check this page though, where certain vintages push the price up to beyond £1000. Clearly it is quite renowned.


The Duke: quite fancy; it comes in a box that is trying to look old, while the bottle itself is in an interesting cylindrical Benedictine style, according to this website. The top is quite large and it is topped off with a large cork, making a refreshing change from the booze resistor cap you get in so many Spanish liquor bottles. Then there is a faux wax seal and (for some reason) a bit of ribbon, giving a three musketeers feel to the whole thing. Overall it gives the effect of potentially being quite special.

The Lord: here we have the brandy coming in its own little wooden coffin – very special – while the bottle is a kind of flask shape and is frosted. There’s a bit of faux wax on there also. It all adds up to a great package. Of course, you wonder how much you’re paying for the packaging, but who doesn’t like that little bit extra?


Both are bottled at 40% ABV.

In the glass

I can’t tell any difference; deep and dark.


They actually smell the same, but The Lord is better, giving more of an impression of wooden barrels and a gentle smokiness on top of the fruity tones that they share.


Again, they taste the same, but The Lord is better. It’s just that little bit more complex and varied even though I can’t put my finger on a single element that makes this so. I suppose it’s the recognisable Armagnac tang that just edges it over the Jerez bite.


Equal length. Nothing specific to note.


While I can’t compare the value of these two products, since I don’t know the cost of one of them, with the one that I do know - The Duke – it does have to be a consideration. At £45 I certainly wouldn’t be buying it here in the UK when you think of all the classy single malt scotch you can get for that price. However, it does make a decent souvenir to bring back from your Spanish holiday.

Pricing considerations aside, it is plain to see that I have a slight preference for The Lord – great package, fine brandy. Nowhere near approaching delivery of the kind of pleasure that my favourite whiskies bring, but that’s entirely subjective.

And that’s all I have to say about that. Next week I’ll be dipping my toe into the waters of one of my least favourite spirit genres: gin, and asking what’s so fucking special about gin?!? So until then… I’ll see ya.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Homemade Limoncello

This was another gift from Mrs Cake at Christmas. It’s an Italian liqueur made from the zest of lemons, and as such is sweet rather than sour. The zest is steeped in grain alcohol until the oil is released, and the liquid is then mixed with syrup. Mrs Cake tells me she put the zest in a bottle of vodka and then added sugar, which to my mind is tantamount to the same thing.

If you’ve ever been to Italy, you might have been tempted to spend a few euros on a bottle of this at the airport. If you’re like me, you didn’t and promptly forgot all about it.

I’m glad then, that Mrs Cake came up with this idea, because it means I can find out what it’s like without having to part with any funds for it. And what I have found out is that I’m glad I never bothered buying it. I’m not saying it’s horrible, but… it isn’t very nice.

I tried first of all, drinking it over ice but it isn’t pleasant enough for that, so it looked like I’d have to get back into making cocktails for a bit. Luckily I have become fairly adept at just throwing things together, and while I don’t have too much time for the science of mixology these days, it’s useful to be able to create drinks from time to time.

If there is one thing to say in favour of limoncello, it is that it has the versatility to mix with numerous different spirits. I consulted my various cocktail books for ideas, but they were surprisingly bereft of recipes, so I had to take it upon myself to fly blind. I found it goes well with pomegranate juice, pineapple juice, the various types of rum and even tequila and gin.

It is somewhat ironic though, that one particular thing I have found is that, whatever you make with your limoncello, it is essential that you add lemon juice to the final concoction. Limoncello just lacks that citrus bite that makes cocktails so enjoyable. It seems a shame to use lemons for creating a liqueur that doesn’t have the essential character of a lemon in it, such that you have to put it back in yourself but… hey-ho.

So I did have one or two notable successes with my creations, and the details are as follows…

Limoncello and Pomegranate

This has become a particular favourite of Mrs Cake. I wouldn’t be surprised it she made another batch of the sticky, lemony substance so that she can drink it through the summer. The dry bitterness of the pomegranate is an ideal accompaniment. Just add a dash of lemon juice or squeeze a wedge of lime into it to top it off.

Lemon Curd Coctail (tm)
Lemon Curd Cocktail – 2x rum, 2x limoncello, 3x pineapple juice, lemon juice to taste.

I have named this after the famous variety of tart because it is uncannily similar.

Scotch and Limoncello – 2x blended scotch whisky, 2x limoncello

This discovery came when I decided I’d best see how limoncello mixes with all the spirits for the purpose of this post. In theory it can’t be that far away from a whisky sour, really. I still have to admit being surprised at how good it is. I used the Waitrose brand scotch that was left over from the supermarket blend battle and decided to start with equal measures. That proved just right – as long as a little lemon juice was added.

One to try in the future…

Wikipedia helpfully signs off with a recipe for a cocktail called Viagroncello, so I may as well do the same. It seems this one has been said to have arousing effects – not that I need any of those. Sounds like bollocks to me, but it’s probably worth a try. For this you need sambuca, chili pepper and mint, though quantities are not specified. I can’t actually imagine myself buying a bottle of Sambuca any time soon, so I’m just going to go straight into the conclusion which is… limoncello is decent for mixing. I wouldn’t buy it, but I can find a use for it. That is all.

Next week it is planned that the post will be a comparison I did between two types of brandy some time ago, but there’s a chance I never actually wrote it, and it’s far too late to do so now – both are long gone. So, join me next week to see if I did write anything about that, or if I find something else to tell you about. 

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Spirit Log: Lot No 40 and Centennial Limited Edition Canadian Rye Whisky

Lot 40 is the highly acclaimed single pot still Canadian rye whisky that I collected back around Christmas time. I was sold on the pretext that it is said to be comparable to scotch whisky… in some ways – though particularly to those who aren’t connoisseurs of scotch whisky. It seems Canadian whisky enthusiasts are jumping up and down about it, since the whisky of their great nation is often disparaged as being mixer fodder. Well, if this represents an outstanding example of what they have to offer, I have to try it, don’t I, if only to see what comparable to scotch means.

Lot 40 is produced in Ontario, and is the rebirth of a brand that, while noted for its quality, wasn’t able to survive on the market the first time around. It seems the prevailing opinion is that people weren’t ready for this kind of Canadian whisky. Far be it from me to comment on long term whisky trends, but I find it hard to believe a quality product could be considered too good to survive – if indeed it is a good quality product.

Well apparently, the time is right and the people are now ready to stump up 40-50 dollars Canadian for this new 43% 2012 edition.

Nicely presented, the bottle comes complete with a cork stopper, which is a nice touch for those of us who appreciate a nice single malt, while the bottle itself shows a diagram depicting the production process which is partially obscured by a modern but tasteful label that has been posited at a jaunty angle. Then there was an extra bit of bumf – another label – looped over the top. So far so good.

In terms of colour, Lot 40 appears to be much darker than you would expect of a single malt scotch – to the extent that I would actually compare it to a blend, though it is perhaps richer and more luxurious looking than that – in fact, it positively shimmers in the glass.

On the nose… yes, that’s the smell I have come to associate with Canadian whisky. Lacking the terms to describe my olfactory senses, I have to say I don’t know what that consists of, but it is what it is. At this stage, I am struggling to see how anyone could mistake this for scotch – other than the people who aren’t aware that not all whisky is scotch.
Lot 40 in the glass

It’s when you get to allowing that luminous liquid to frolic on the pink lawn of your tongue [when the hell did I write that?] that you (or at least I) get some idea of what all the fuss has been about. I’m still not saying it’s anything like scotch, but there is definitely a complexity here, far greater than my admittedly limited experience of Canadian whisky has thus far revealed.

How much is the quality of whisky down to complexity though? I’ve certainly counted lack of complexity as a negative before, but oftentimes something can just be a pleasure to drink… and if there’s complexity but no balance… well, I would expect it wouldn’t be a pleasure to drink – and if it isn’t a pleasure to drink… who’s going to want to drink it?

What I’m getting down to here is that while there is a great deal going on, on first impression Lot 40 lacks the subtletly to be truly great. It doesn’t wear its extra 3% alcohol too well and there is a sour bite that I suspect (though can hardly say for sure) is the result of aging in virgin oak casks – which I’m sure you’re already aware, is quite rare in scotch production as it is felt the virgin oak imparts too strong an influence on the mellow, malted barley. Curiously enough, some scotch distilleries have started releasing virgin oak aged expressions, so that’s one to try in the  future.

Now, I’ve noticed a lot of respectable whisky bloggers like to try their samples with a little water, to see if the spirit opens up any. It is supposed to, and in some cases it is said to improve the spirit, while in others it may not. I’ve made it no secret that this is lost on me (unless you’re talking about cask strength), but in the spirit of professionalism, and given that I felt the Lot 40 struggled a little with it’s strength, I thought I would add a little drop of water one time.

Sadly the result was that, once again, I felt I’d ruined a perfectly acceptable glass of whisky. No, I know my opinion is that the Lot 40 isn’t perfect, but neat is far superior to the watered down shadow of a dram it became with water. I’m just going to say, once and for all, this is the last time I try adding water to my whisky – except in the case of particularly strong cask strength editions. 50% ABV and below remains neat, above that I will [maybe] try a little water – but definitely not the liberal amounts some books suggest. Stop ruining my whisky!

Now, I’m coming to understand that you should never judge a whisky on first impressions. That may make a mockery of all those tasting sessions and festivals, but I have found it to be almost unequivocally true that whisky ‘opens up’ after the bottle has been open for an indeterminate amount of time. It can be months or merely weeks, but whatever it is, it really seems to work.

So while I was able to accept the complexity of Lot 40 at first, it was a few weeks before the sharper edges appeared to mellow out to produce a far more rounded and balanced spirit. All the negative elements I described previously… were still there, but they had actually begun to add to the experience, and make their contribution to Lot 40 deffo being my number one Canadian whisky. But how long would it last?

As the bottle approached the bottom, it was time for a direct comparison with another Canadian rye that I picked up on our last trip there, Highwood Distillers’ Centennial Limited Edition.

So what have we got here then?

The Centennial comes in a really tall bottle with a utilitarian black label. It is bottled at 40% and comes replete with a story about the master distiller being set a challenge and deciding to use only winter wheat or something. I forget now, I found it quite boring. I do wish distillers would give a bit more information about their product, but sometimes it’s like they’re merely pretending to give information like, tell my why? What was it supposed to achieve? Why is it interesting?

It is supposed to be a limited edition, but there’s no information as to why or how many bottles were produced, or anything really. Limited edition, limited information.

Highwood Centennial in the glass
For the appraisal of the Centennial, let me refer you now to some notes that I made.

Lacks any kind of sweetness or sharpness, leaving me with the impression of dust and tissues. Uninteresting on entry, though growing in confidence the longer you hold it on your tongue.

And that’s about all I got? Seriously, over the course of a whole bottle, I was left with very little impression at all. If we are talking direct comparison, the Lot 40 comes out well on top. I’m not saying there was anything bad about the Centennial, I just think that, like the “story” of its creation, for a “limited edition” it is singularly uninteresting.

Let us leave the Centennial behind then, and consider the place of Lot 40 in the wider context of whisky in general. There is of course good and… not so good… in all styles and categories, so it is unfair to say single malt is better or blended scotch is worse – nothwithstanding that I haven’t tried them all yet.

Where does it fit though? Well, it is the best Canadian whisky I’ve tried so far and it is probably the most expensive though it is still cheaper than most single malt scotch at the lower end of the price spectrum. Is it better than them? It is obviously dependant on personal taste – it’s better than some, but in my opinion is it is still bested by such entry level products as Glenfiddich 12, Strathisla 12, Balvenie 12 Double Wood, Talisker 10, Glenfarclas 10, Laphroaig 10, Highland Park 12, Glenmorangie Original  and Caol Ila 12. It is preferable to Glenlivet 12, Jura and Jura Superstition and Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve.

If you compare it to blended scotch, it tends to fare a bit better. I would say it is superior to Whyte & MacKay Special, Grant’s Family Reserve, Cutty Sark, Dewar’s 12, Grouses Black and Famous and all the supermarket varieties except Asda’s McKendrick’s. Jim McEwan’s Symphony, Ballantine’s, White Horse, and Grant’s Sherry Cask are all preferable. I only haven’t mentioned Bell’s, Teacher’s and other basic blends here because it has been a long time since I have tried them and don’t know myself where they fit in at present.

It would be nice to be able to give you some idea of how it compares with various brands of bourbon, but I have even fewer terms of reference in that regard at this point. Hopefully that will change soon, pending the results of my recent holiday in Florida… but as ever, that is for another time.

Time for a conclusion I suppose. Lot 40 is reasonably priced for those of us who are accustomed to UK liquor prices, though if you’re in Canada you might be used to getting slightly more for your dollar. That said, I’m going to advise you that it is worth a punt – to us Brits who might be interested in expanding our horizons, to Canadians who might like a homegrown product that gives the impression a little more care has gone into it, and to anyone else that’s curious about whisky. Give it as go and let me know what you think.

And that’s me for this week. The weekend comes early as I have tomorrow booked off for a trip to Alton Towers. That means I might be having a scotch tasting four-way this evening. And then – it’s a good weekend for me, this – there’s a big poker night on Saturday and I’ll be breaking out a couple of bourbons and an absinthe, so if I was to say I wasn't excited, you know I'd be lying.

I'm going to have a good one, I hope you do too. I'll see you next week.