Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Merlyn Welsh Cream

Here’s an interesting one. I sent Mrs Cake out to pick up a bottle of Aldi’s Ballycastle Premium Irish Cream to accompany us to the family Christmas in Fleet last year… and she forgot – but not entirely. She’d already been in Aldi and had gotten to Tesco when she remembered. She considered Bailey’s but, much more interestingly, plumped for this. This is Merlyn Welsh Cream and it is made with malted barley spirit  from the Penderyn distillery.

It is housed in a black, matt, Bruichladdich-style bottle that the Penderyn website calls modern, with a red strip label that, together with the bottle, signifies the premium nature of the brand – it also says. Sounds like a pitch from The Apprentice to me. The writing is described as “hand drawn calligraphy” and “reflects its smooth and mellow flavour”. Quite how, I’m not sure but we’ll go with it. It goes on in the tasting notes to describe nose and palate impressions before backing out of describing the finish as it is “too complex to describe”. May as well not bother then.

They apparently produce just one cask of spirit per day as they use only the finest malted barley. That’s nice because, you know, it’s not like everyone else claims to use only the finest malted barley. Does that even mean anything? Does it mean they don’t make any of this finest malted barley into whisky, or does it mean they set aside one cask per day for making the welsh cream, while the rest goes to making the Penderyn whisky? Anyway, they bottle it at a commendable 17 ABVs  and while it normally retails around £17, this bottle was only £10. At £10 it’s good value, at £17 much less so.

A quick nose around the interwebs has revealed that the Merlyn has really tickled the fancy of a few people – many proclaiming it to be better than Baileys. Shall we give it an evaluation of our own then?

Let’s see, it’s much lighter in colour than I’ve come to expect from Irish cream. It smells malty and tastes milky and, while it’s quite thin,  you can taste the whisky – or perhaps more accurately, malt barley spirit – it won’t have been aged long enough (or at all) to be able to be called whisky. The balance is good; not too sweet. This is probably where some people’s preference over Baileys comes in. I actually prefer Baileys – and even the Ballycastle Premium – they are more like desserts, while this one is more the consistency and style of an iced coffee. It’s pleasant enough for a change, but it’s never going to be my favourite of the genre.

That's it for this week; just a quick one. Next week I think I'll be evaluating an Islay classic - the Bunnahabhain 12. See you then.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Berlinsterdam Booty Part 4: Maldoror

I’m looking at another bottle that I collected from Berlin this week; Maldoror absinthe.

Purchased from the designated Absinth Depot in Berlin, Maldoror has a claim to fame as (at the time of writing) the world’s first blended absinthe – and that isn’t seen as a bad thing. It’s a German product, but it is blended from Czech, French and Swiss absinthes. It is bottled at a friendly 66.6 ABVs and was around 55 euros for a litre.

As ever, I opened it in the presence of other heavy drinkers and we elected to use the backdraft method as a quick and easy way to get it into our systems in advance of the poker that a shot of absinthe has recently become a prerequisite to. You might want to think carefully before you incorporate that into your games since the play can get pretty messy and, if you’re intending to follow it up with some fine whisky, you might find you’re unable to overcome its influence and enjoy the particular charms of your designated spirit.

The next day I tried it on my own, adding just a few measures of ice water. It louched up real good, but I’m afraid it isn’t something I’m going to be able to come around to sipping like this. There is a bitter finish that makes it unpleasant to consume this way. In all fairness, all absinthe I had tried so far has been like this, though online reviews have suggested some absinthes aren’t bitter. That remains to be seen.

The next thing was to try with sugar.

I tried that at a new year party with a bastardisation of the bohemian method. Sadly I was unable to get the sugar to dissolve on this occasion, so it wasn’t entirely pleasant. I’ve since figured out that I was doing it wrong since I think you’re supposed to stir the sugary spoon in and stir while it’s all still lit, which I didn’t, so I’ll try again when I have occasion to. Sadly those kind of occasions just aren’t coming around – I never want to get that smashed too quickly and I always want to be able to taste something else afterwards, so I literally can’t fit it into my schedule. Frankly, a litre is far too much absinthe to have. I really made a mistake there, and have about a third of a bottle left now. It is very unusual that I get to post on a bottle before I’ve actually finished it, but this time, that’s the case.

I’d like to finish off by telling you something useful that will help you to select this product (or not this product) over any other brand of absinthe, but sadly I can’t. I just can’t say whether it’s any better or worse than any other bitter, aniseedy, super-strength brain destroyer.

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Berlinsterdam Booty Part 3: Berliner Brandstifter

Berliner Brandstifter and friend
Welcome to part 3 of my new series in which I evaluate the various spirits I brought back from Amsterdamand Berlin… actually around a year ago now. Shows how far behind I am with the writing of things, doesn’t it? A quick apology too; I don't seem to have a proper picture of it. Sometimes these things happen, ok?

Well, I really need to cobble something together here, as looking over my notes, I haven’t managed to write too much about this up to now.

I picked it up from Berlin’s Finest Whisky on the recommendation of the proprietor there, and it was 22 euros 50 for 70cl and 38 ABVs. As I stated in my earlier travelogue (if you can call it that), going in favour of Berliner Brandstifter (arsonist) was that only 1000 bottles are produced every year, that each is individually numbered – something sought out in the scotch whisky world – and the stated unique selling point that this brand of korn (essentially German vodka) has been filtered so many times that everything that could possibly give you a hangover has been taken out of it – presumably including 2% of the alcohol. How they found the specific 2% that causes headaches, anxiety and insatiable thirst, we just don’t know.

There’s a problem with that last claim anyway; I’m never going to drink enough of it, on its own, to give me a hangover – I’m always mixing my drinks, and I seldom have more than one glass of any particular product in an evening. So I was never going to find out whether it is possible to have a hangover or not from drinking the Brandstifter. Being an experimental booze blogger, you’d think I’d be interested in finding out, wouldn’t you? But I’m not. I’m far more interested in enjoying this at my own pace and in comparison with tried and tested vodkas to see which I prefer.

I’ve read also that Berliner Branstifter is best served neat at 1 degree in a frosted shot glass – but is drinking vodka worth that much effort? How do you achieve this one degree? Isn’t putting it in a frosted shot glass enough?Again, I never actually found out as I was just enjoying it neat and at room temperature, as you should be able to enjoy all spirits.

It is nice, taken on its own terms, and if you like vodka – probably about as good as the Stoli Red, though 2 ABVs lighter and a few pounds pricier.

In fact, in a direct, blind taste test against the Stoli Red I actually made the incorrect idenitification. Yes, sorry to shatter your illusions, but I am only human after all. I decided though, that Mrs Cake had provided verification too soon and should have allowed me to finish the samples and change my mind before revealing the true identities of our combatants.

Nevertheless, there was very little to choose between them. The Berliner was smoother with a less tart finish and, while I initially put this down to the seven times filtration, it later occurred to me that it might be the lower ABV. This also led me to conclude that it might be slightly less interesting and complex than the Stoli. Still, in terms of flavour, very comparable.

Pablo, of Much of a muchness fame was very impressed with the Brandstifter. I told him it was basically German vodka and he said it lacked that “hairspray” taste that vodka tends to have, and you can understand that he considered this a good thing. I followed it up with a Stoli Red to see what he thought in comparison, and he preferred the Brandstifter.

As far as I’m concerned, I have concluded that it doesn’t quite trouble the Stoli at the top of my vodka rankings. After all, it is weaker and a bit more expensive.  It is worth a try though, and if you are the kind of person who drinks a bottle of vodka in a night, this could be the answer to your prayers.

Right, that’s it. I’ve tried padding this out, and I’m out of ideas. I’ll be back next week, no doubt trying to pad out part 4 of this odyssey, when I’ll be looking at Maldoror absinthe.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Berlinsterdam Booty Part 2: Asbach Urbrand brandy

Following on from last week’s post in which we looked at one of the spirits I brought back from my Berlinsterdam adventure, this weekwe’re looking at another – Asbach Urbrand brandy (40 ABVs). This was the first bottle I decided to open, as all the others appealed to opening at parties or in the presence of particular friends.

I’ve been asking for some time whether it is possible to get great brandy at a decent price (like it is with whisky), though in all fairness I haven’t been trying that hard. I certainly haven’t been able to answer in the affirmative yet, but while I always keep a bottle of brandy in stock, it isn’t a spirit I delve into all that often. Neverthelss, with this German brandy, it looks like I’d done it. Seriously; this is going straight to number 1. I don’t normally like to blow my load like that straight away, but I’m so thrilled and it’s so rare to find such a brandy that I just can’t wait.

The Asbach Urbrand has a hint of new trainers on the nose (and in no way is that a bad thing – I love the smell of new trainers), a body like silk and a complexity of flavour I just haven’t found in brandy before. To top things off, there’s a pleasant alcohol bite, just to let you know you’re drinking the good stuff. Not a note out of place, from the fruit to the candy to the spice tones; just superb.

My only gripe is that I had to use a knife in order to get the cap off; it wasn’t anchored so it just kept turning round and round instead of unscrewing. I couldn’t get a decent grip on the seal with my sausage fingers, so in the end I had to slice through the joins and now the cap won’t seal properly. Instead it does that annoying thing where it goes from almost but not quite tight to completely unscrewed and back again ad infinitum when you try to seal it until you have to make a decision as to where you think might be sufficient to keep the goodness fresh. On top of that, it was a plastic bottle, which is good for not adding weight to your baggage, but having bought it at the airport, that wasn’t really a consideration anyway.

Putting that aside, at 9 euros for half a litre, this is top notch. I really wasn’t expecting much, and had almost decided not to buy anything in Duty Free that day, but with my Carlos I almost gone and brandy specifically being something I’d been looking for, I had to, and I’m glad I did. Keep an eye out for this as you’re passing though the German airports; it’s worth a punt.

Next week (assuming I can finish writing it to my satisfaction), I’ll be presenting part 3 of this series and looking at German korn with Berliner Brandstifter. See you back here for that.