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.