Wednesday, 25 May 2016

What is post-fatherhood drinking like? Part 1.

A suitable amount of time has passed now from the birth of my child, and I thought it was time I broached the subject of post-fatherhood drinking. How do your drinking habits change? What is it like? Is there life after parenthood?

I’ll be addressing all these questions as I take you now… into the dad zone. And I swear this will be the last time I talk about kids – unless something hilarious happens that is specifically relevant to the narrative, or I figure drinking at childrens’ parties is worthy of its own post. Time will tell.

Sadly for Mrs Cake, purging her womb of the little one doesn’t really make her any closer to renewing her acquaintance with alcoholic drinks. She’s breastfeeding and despite what people tell you about drinking while in the act of breastfeeding being fine, it just doesn’t seem right. People are so judgemental of mothers these days and anyway – just because the alcohol won’t be in your breastmilk at the instant you’re drinking, what about an hour later when your newborn wants to feed again? Where can you draw the line? Po’ Mrs Cake.

To be fair, it’s not just the lack of alcohol for which she deserves our pity – she’s essentially got nothing to look forward to now besides 12 months of baby care. I at least get to go to work 5 times a week, and while I’d probably rather be able to stay at home with our daughter, the reality of that would be far worse than you can imagine. Yes, Mrs Cake will get more precious moments than I will, but she has to assume responsibility for everything, and there’s no real prospect of leaving our little princess in anyone else’s care. I can merely help out in evenings and weekends and try to alleviate some of the strain. Can you tell it’s still the first month as I write this? It’s hard. Relentless. Po’ Mrs Cake.

Yes, I will go home tonight, and instead of going to band practice – from which I’ve taken a sabbatical in order to share the parenting load – I can have a beer while I cook tea, then later I can have a glass or two of spirits. Enough to relax and appreciate the boozy craftsmanship and maybe give me something to write about. Not so much that I can’t care for our daughter, get up in the middle of the night, and then still get up in time for work tomorrow morning.

As far as my home drinking is concerned, the biggest inconvenience so far is that little Sylvie will require some attention moments after I’ve sat down with my ice cold beer. I like my beer ice cold, and I’m always painfully aware that every second I’m away from it, some of that vital cold energy that I’ve imbued it with by keeping it in the fridge (or freezer) for so long is being lost and hence, my potential enjoyment is frittering away. I may sound annoying to you, but I’m probably exaggerating mainly.

The point is, as a result of our Distinct Beers Challenge, I tend to spend more on bottles of beer these days and I want to enjoy them as much as possible. Sometimes that doesn’t always happen now because I’ve had to take little Sylvie to the nursery for some daddy-daughter time and change her nappy and sometimes her clothes and sometimes both and sometimes both twice. After that she may be wide awake and I might want to try entertaining her for a while. I’ll try to grab a sip or two of my beer in the meantime, but it’s already approaching room temperature after the nappy episode. A lot of the time it takes two hands to bounce our spawn up and down, pat her back or whatever – and you don’t want to be burping beer fumes into her little face – that would be rude, and it’s never too early to start teaching manners – though we haven’t stopped swearing or watching grown-up programmes while she’s in the room yet.

Such things a new dad takes in his stride. You just do it because you have to and this little person is important to you. I’m not complaining, it’s just a thing. I’m observing it. I refuse to be one of those people that complains about their kids. Yes it would be nice to drink that beer uninterrupted, but it’s just a beer isn’t it? And our little girl’s a delight, even if she’s screaming in your ear, headbutting you in the face and struggling in your arms.

Other slight changes to my drinking habits concern my irish cream intake. I took the first 3 weeks of little Sylvie’s life off work, which was lovely and gave Mrs Cake and I the chance to have fresh ground coffee every morning, like we do at the weekend. I found though, that while I might normally replace the milk in mine with irish cream, I did so… much less – because I might need to drive our precious bundle somewhere and, while a drop of irish cream in coffee doesn’t really represent enough alcohol to make a difference, my little girl is more important than enjoying Columbo accompanied by coffee and irish cream. Not complaining, just an observation. Mind you, I haven’t been able to enjoy an episode of Columbo properly since the birth – there’s always lots of noise, something else is being done at the same time and the subtitles on these low budget tv channels are either way ahead or way behind the lieutenant.

One of my worries about becoming a parent was whether we would become boring people. Would we be compelled to talk about our child all the time to everyone? I’ve been determined not to, but there is a world outside the home for me – less so for Mrs Cake. We’re both fairly resolved not to post every little thing on Facebook though. I still mostly post stupid things and I’ve posted barely anything about our little girl so far, though I have taken lots of photos and film footage.

So we wondered one Friday evening when Sylvie was three weeks old, what will we talk about when Pablo and Veronica come round? We’d invited them over for pizza and, as very good friends who were committed to childless lives, we wanted to maintain our friendship however we could.

We actually talked about all kinds of things. Luckily they are interesting people who are always doing lots of things, and we can just talk about crap instead of serious adult matters – even Mrs Cake, for whom it must have been difficult as caring for a baby is her life at the moment, and the only people she gets to talk to in her day are other mothers who talk about babies.

People say, “you won’t be able to go out and get smashed” or “you’ll never get another lie in”, but I don’t really do those things anymore anyway. I’d probably like to at some point, but Mrs Cake and I have already agreed to facilitate each other’s nights out by looking after little Sylvie over night and well into the next day while the other one has fun and then recovers. We just need to wait until a proper routine can be established and the breastfeeding is over. That may be some months off, but the thing about time is that it passes.

We’ve manged to get out to the pub once or twice in the afternoon, though not in the evening yet, and it’s fine as long as you’ve got your changing bag and mummy’s breasts with you. You can’t just stay out all day, or make a sudden decision to go on a crawl or anything, but you won’t be as bothered about this as you might think.

The first big test looked like it would be this year’s Indy Man Beer Con that we’d bought tickets to, just on the off-chance that we’d be able to work something out. Sadly, you can’t get a professional babysitter until your child is 6 months old, and my parents had a prior engagement to attend my nephew’s birthday party. I could possibly have booked them earlier, but I didn’t want it to be as soon after the birth as it would have had to have been.

Mrs Cake and I have entered into parenthood a little later into life than might perhaps be advisable, and the reason is that for many years we just weren’t sure. I certainly wasn’t ready, but mostly we looked at parents around us, and what we knew about parenting, and didn’t really want to see ourselves doing it. That did change. One day I realised I was getting bored with life. What was there to look forward to beyond going to work, just to earn enough money to go on holiday, have some evenings out and buy some bottles of fancy booze? It was fine, like, but when you picture that that is all there is, stretching into your future… it’s a bit depressing. And just like that, I realised there needed to be something to give life meaning. So I found god. Just kidding. I didn’t find god.

We still weren’t entirely sure, but it’s funny how your mind seems to prepare you subconsciously for these things once the decision is taken. Before we became pregnant I worried that having a child to be responsible for would be a burden, that I’d have to worry more about the state of the world and the future, and that I wouldn’t be up to the task. Those worries started to fade once we were pregnant, though I was still apprehensive about all the work we’d have to do – hundreds of nappy changes, feeds, sleepless nights and all that. But that’s all when the baby is still an abstract concept. Once it’s an actual, living, breathing human being all that changes. You just do all those things and you don’t care so much about all the things you were worried about compromising on before. I must have said it before, but when little Sylvie was born I changed from being apprehensive about the future to looking forward to it. We do have a lean period coming up, when there will be less money to spend on ourselves as we make up for a dip in Mrs Cake’s salary as she takes extended maternity leave that I’m slightly worried about but… we’ll just deal with it. You do.

So yes, things will change but you can be ok about it. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Spirit Log: Bepi Tosolini's Grappa di Chardonnay and Grappa di Moscato

As the Maxentia began to dwindle and my Amazon Prime trial approached expiration, I decided to think about getting some fresh white grappa in and came across three half-price products from Bepi Tosolini, a producer from the Udine region, north east of Venice. £13 they were for 50cl, boasting 40 ABVs.

I forget what my reasoning was at the time, but I went for the Grappa di Chardonnay, only to toss and turn all night (not really) and go back the next day to get the Grappa di Moscato too. They were half price, and that meant they cost about the same as a crap bottle of vodka. I’d have been mad not to get more than one. But I wasn’t mad enough to get all three. Anyway, this would be the ideal time to see how the same product, based on different grape varieties, could vary.

They come unboxed in identical slender bottles with long necks and simple labels. The moscato has a blue label and the chardonnay – what would you call that? – greenish?

On to the tasting. In the interest of direct comparability I opened both at the same time and alternated a couple of sniffs/sips of each, comparing also with the Maxentia.

The Moscato has a sharp nose and is fully flavoured with floral, Turkish delight tones. In comparison with my incumbent white grappa, Maxentia, the Maxentia is much fresher, deeper and richer nose-wise. In terms of taste, the Maxentia is less immediate, but subtler and more complex. The fumes are much better – evoking the fermenting vats, and therefore a quality that the Moscato lacks.

In comparison to the Moscato, the Chardonnay is musky, though there is a touch of marzipan on the nose and the finish is overly bitter.

I then went on to compare the Chardonnay to the Paganini, and have been surprised to find the Paganini performing much better than previously. Bepi Tosolini’s product has a much better nose – far more representative of the smell of marc – but Paganini has a fuller flavour that I hadn’t noticed before.

Overall then, I have to say I’m disappointed with these two grappas. I suppose I shouldn’t have expected much for the price. I was hoping for two bottles that would entice me back time and again, but these just aren’t refined enough, and there’s no way I’d be using them to introduce novices to the world of grappa. They would just give an impression of weird vodka. In all fairness, they are a little bit better than that… but not much.

My preference was  for the moscato, but I tended to alternate them from one day to the next, finally putting the Chardonnay into my new bar optics because I thought grappa would be a ridiculously cool thing to have in there. I don’t know if direct sunlight had a positive effect, but as summer approached, the sun would beam through our kitchen doors and on to the optics for a while, and this coincided with my enjoying the Chardonnay very much as the bottle came to its end.

Sadly though,  I can’t recommend these two products, and even more sadly, this will be the last you’ll be hearing from me about grappa for a while. Nevertheless, we are returning to Italy at the end of next month, and a lot of grappa will be bought and consumed. It’ll just be a few months before my writing catches up with it. Keep coming back though. There are plenty of booze related adventures still to come.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Highland Black 8 vs the World... of Blended Scotch

This week’s post unites a few themes from previous months – Aldi vs Lidl and  The Standard Supermarket Blend Test spring most readily to mind – so let me fill you in on what’s going on. Many years ago, when I had less money and I hadn’t become interested in spirits yet, I used to buy the occasional bottle of Highland Black 8 blended scotch from Aldi. I believe it was £8.99 the first time. I couldn’t even afford to buy one every month at that point – or I didn’t place enough importance on purchase of spirits to do so (I was going out far more often, to be fair… and buying other…things) – but I’d try to add a bottle to the shopping from time to time, which I would enjoy over ice when I could.

Time went by and in a round about way, those bottles of Highland Black, via a bottle of Wild Turkey 101, led to an interest in spirits. I think I started telling people I liked whisky, and my sister may have started buying me a bottle for Christmas… anyway, the details more or less escape me now. The point is, I’ve tried so many different whiskies now, that I had started to wonder what I would think of the Highland Black if I ever tried it again. Now I’ve finally decided to find out by conducting a series of versus experiments. I will be comparing it, one at a time with some blended whiskies of a similar class, and one or two that I just happen to have in, for a bit of variety. Let’s briefly meet our cast of characters

Highland Black 8

8 years old, bottled exclusively for Aldi, no further meaningful information available… it looks the part at least. Kind of. I really wanted to include this in the aforementioned supermarket test, but it fell outside the criteria – which, if you remember were that it had to be available in 35cl and classifiable as “standard”. It doesn’t come in a half size bottle, and its proudly displayed “8 years”, pushes it up a category above standard. This time I paid £12.99 for 70cl.

Stepping outside of the realm of blended scotch for a minute, we come to what I would consider equivalent in an Irish blend. I’d been saving the last little bit for this experiment. It was £16 (for 70cl) when I bought it.


The winner of the aforementioned Standard Supermarket Blend Test. This is the second time then, that I’ve bought this particular blend, and it’s a pleasure to have it back to see how it stacks up against some different competition. It has increased in price since the last time I bought it, by 25p to £6.75 for the 35cl.


I consider this to be the standard blend that all supermarket blends are based on, and that everyone has surely tried – if you haven’t tried Bell’s, your whisky education can never be complete. Found, it seems in every pub, newsagent, working men’s club, supermarket and duty free shop in the world, I haven’t tried it since well before starting this blog – before getting into spirits – so I’m very keen to find out what I think of it now. It was £12 for 70cl and is apparently blended from Caol Ila, Glenkinchie, Blair Athol, Dufftown and Inchgower malts – among many others no doubt, as well as a bunch of grain whiskies. Why those five malts are singled out I don’t know.

It receives generally positive reviews on TWE – except this one; “This just left me wondering how they got the cat to squat on the bottle.”

And this one, “Bells is great, if you were planning on committing suicide and had nothing else to drink. Even then you would wish your last drink had been a good one!There is no satisfaction when you drink it (other that the extra cash you have in your back pocket).”

It seems though that people seem to think it has improved over the past several years – since I tried it last, probably.

MoM reviews on the other hand are mostly negative, with one reviewer blaming it for his dad’s sneezing. Someone else mentioned sneezing, but not as a bad thing. “Better than no scotch” says another. Others are far less kind.

A lot of people ask why this is the most popular blend in the UK. I would suggest it’s because it’s pretty much the cheapest name brand. I don’t think people quite trust supermarket own brands, so they just go with Bell’s because it is well known – I mean, why do young people drink Foster’s? Exactly.

I ended up opening the Bell’s before the start of the contest. I had developed a cold by the weekend in question, so real tasting was to be out of the question. I still needed to drink something, so I thought I’d go for this. I have to say, I may not have been in full possession of my tasting faculties, but the Bell’s went down very well indeed. It’s sweet and full of flavour, gives good fumes and manages to avoid any of that burning  roughness that I generally associate with blends at the low to low-mid end of the pricing spectrum. It’s uncomplicated but not lacking in complexity – a whisky you can enjoy frequently.

My friend Phil, who was joining me actually guessed it was a Highland Park, but he hadn’t tasted any whisky for a good few months, and I hadn’t given him any clue as to what genre of whisky I was giving him.

Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. There are still some more blends to introduce you to…


Like the Highland Black, I had wanted to be able to include Marks and Spencer’s slightly above basic blend in the Standard Supermarket Blend Test, but it had to be excluded because of it’s 5 year old age statement. There is a proper basic one with no age statement, but last time I didn’t get it because they don’t do a half bottle, and this time I didn’t get it because the Kenmore fits better alongside Aldi’s aged product. It retailed at the time at £16, but my voucher made it £12. It is tastefully presented, but is unusual in that it lists all the ingredients used in its production – including that of caramel for colouring.

Queen Margot 5

Not being a regular at Lidl, I was expecting to bring home a standard Queen Margot, but it turns out they do a 5 year old for £12.89, so I had to get that. Then, the next day, I learned there’s even an 8 year old, though I didn’t see it when I was there. I started thinking I’d have to take the 5 year old back and exchange it, but then I started imagining it all going wrong – like maybe they wouldn’t have it and I’d try to leave the store without anything, and security would stop me, and I’d be like, “I was going to swap this, but you didn’t have the thing I was going to swap it for. Look I have the receipt”, but the receipt was 2 days old and security would be like, “just cos you bought one the other day doesn’t mean you weren’t trying to steal this one today”, and it would be very embarrassing because the shop would be all full of students getting their cheap food in and I would have been embarrassed about trying to swap it at the checkout anyway. The queue was way beyond the booze aisle when I bought it in the first place, and I’d have to join the queue with nothing, just to get a chance to see if they had the 8 year old at all. It’s kind of embarrassing, buying booze in Lidl, in front of students, at my age.

So in the end I decided I’d stick with the 5 year old. It was roughly the same price as Aldi’s Highland Black anyway, so it is still comparable.

A bit fancier, this one. We should really expect this one to stand apart with ease given that it’s just on the verge of what I’d called the premium blend category. I bought it in duty free, where it was £29.48 for a litre (converted from euros).

Hankey Bannister Original

A very late entry to the competition, thanks to the generosity of my friend David who picked this up from Duty Free in Egypt. I know I’d heard of it before through one of the many blogs I’ve perused over the last few years, but I didn’t know anything about it. It’s a standard 40% ABV, and the limited information on the bottle is concerned with a legacy of “being enjoyed in society for over 250 years”. Something about the website ( – images of a top hat and a pocket watch – and the way they mention royal seals of approval from Prince Regent William iv to George v suggest they are referring to high society rather than that to which we all belong.

Let’s finish this introduction by ranking each competitor on price per cl – with the exception of Hankey Bannister, which I didn’t buy:

1.       Ballantine’s 12 – somewhat unsurprising that this should be the priciest. It comes in at 29.48p per centilitre (from Duty Free).

2.       Bushmills Original - 22.86p per centilitre, though I seem to recall there was £4 off at Asda.

3.       McKendrick’s – 18.57p per centilitre, making it just 0.01p more expensive than…

4.       Highland Black 8 – 18.56p per centilitre.

5.       Queen Margot 5 – marginally cheaper than the focus of this piece at 18.41p per centilitre.

6.       Kenmore 5 – only 17.14p/cl this one, though that’s because I had a £4 voucher. Otherwise it would be the same as the Bushmills.

7.       Bell’s – also at 17.14p per centilitre, but on this occasion it was at £3 off at Asda.

So now that everyone’s had a bit of an introduction, we can move on to the contest. The point of this exercise isn’t to find out who is the best overall – though I’m sure we’ll inevitably come to that conclusion – but to determine how Aldi’s Highland Black stacks up against products of a [mostly] similar class. For that reason, the experiment will be conducted as a series of Highland Black versus… tests. We may find out very early on where it stacks up against other brands without having to carry out a specific test, but we shall determine that when we come to it.

Test 1 – Highland Black vs Bushmills Original

This ended up being the first test because Bushmills was the blend I’d had open for the longest. There was about a double left in the bottle that, until deciding to do this post, I’d been saving to soup up a disappointing can of lager.

Let’s see then; in the glass these are almost identical in colour, with the Highland Black possibly being slightly darker. On the nose, the Bushmills is sweet, while the HB is very rough. Based on that, I’m inclined to worry about drinking a full bottle of Aldi’s finest, but let’s get onto the tasting anyway…

On the palate, the Bushmills is buttery with a hint of bran. It is sweet and quite pleasant. HB on the other hand is light and reminiscent of a personal favourite, Ballantine’s Finest, though it doesn’t follow this good initial impression with much. It seems rough and it burns a little, but it does give good fumes.

Luckily, as the tasting progressed, the HB began to grow on me, until ultimately, there wasn’t enough in it so I had to call it a draw – and that means Aldi wins because it is cheaper.

Test 2 – Highland Black vs Ballantine’s 12 year old

The contents of the Ballantine’s 12 are starting to wane also, so while this is easily the most expensive bottle in the test and should easily outperform the HB, it still needed to prove itself in the heat of competition. I have been enjoying the Ballantine’s, as you’ll know from my earlier post, though I haven’t been convinced it is as good as its cheaper and younger brother. Let’s see how it fares against Aldi’s blend…

The HB is grainy on the nose, in contrast to Ballantine’s malty sweetness, though  on the palate, the HB is still giving great fumes. I’m actually disappointed in the Ballantine’s, given what I remember from drinking it so far. It is sweet with a bit of spice at the back of the mouth, but it isn’t full of flavour. It is better on the finish though.

I conducted a second tasting a few days later, but this time I tasted the Ballantine’s first, and was surprised to find this seemed to have an effect on the outcome. The HB was still giving great fumes, but in comparison there were one or two off notes about the finish.

Overall then, the Ballantine’s is marginally better, but certainly not in proportion to the difference in price.

Test 3 – Highland Black vs Bell’s

Bell’s gives good fumes, and I have to say I’m surprised at how much I’ve been enjoying it. It either really has improved over the last decade, or drinking it with ice ruins it. You could say that about the HB too. I’ve been enjoying both much more than I used to, and I find this very encouraging. I’m sure your whisky snobs will continue to scoff at the idea of drinking either of these two blends, but for my money, they provided excellent value. Bell’s is a little sweeter, perhaps a little more complex, and I am going to say marginally better. Equally though, it is a bit more expensive usually. You can pick it up in the sales for the same price as Aldi’s HB, as I did, which means on this occasion, HB isn’t the winner. But it isn’t by much.

Test 4 – Highland Black vs Queen Margot 5

The Margot had no nose to speak of, but initial impressions were that is was not unpleasant on the palate. There may even be a hint of pears. I couldn’t actually separate them on the occasion of direct comparison, so that was looking good for Lidl.

I tried the Margot on its own a day or two later, and sadly it didn’t fare so well. It’s unduly rough on entry, and while it’s not bad overall, you really have to taste the fuck out of it, to get any benefit. And that amount of effort isn’t really worth it overall.

In response, I tried the Highland Black on its own, and was pleased with its dry earthiness and its sweetness. So, once again, the Highland Black is the victor.

Test 5 – Highland Black vs Kenmore 5

You’d be hoping for something special from Marks and Spencer, being as they are, purveyors of fine foods. I was pleased to find it gives decent fumes with a nice hit of peat, but the nose itself is a bit yeasty. It was fairly tasty, but a disappointingly cheap alcohol feel detracted from that. There was also a slightly off note – a very strong taste of cloves threatening to derail everything. Overall though, the Kenmore is just too sweet for my personal taste and, again, I have to declare Aldi the winner.

Test 6 – Highland Black vs Hankey Bannister
Side by side, you’d be hard pressed to pick a favourite from these two. Right now they are both seeming like the kind of cheap blend you can swig casually in the early afternoon without feeling you’re wasting your product. The Highland Black probably edges it slightly with it’s marginally sweeter, lighter components, while it’s cheap grain to the fore with the rough and burny Hankey Bannister. I’m starting to feel that cheap blended scotch is all much of a muchness these days, with there being little in the way of variation among the brands overall.

Test 7 – Highland Black vs McKendrick’s

That leaves just one more test – against the undisputed supermarket blended scotch champion. They are almost identical in colour, but Asda’s product has a bit more caramel about the nose – but in a nice way. Aldi’s product reveals a touch of menthol. On the palate, McKendrick’s is actually marginally sweeter with good fumes and an appley, spicy finish. There still isn’t much to separate them, but I’m actually going for the current reigning Standard Supermarket Blend Champion on this one. It actually reminds me of the 7 year old Fettercairn that I had been enjoying for a while – light in flavour, but not quite as light in body.


I’ve just noticed a startling omission. Why didn’t I save a bit of the Bell’s to try alongside the McKendrick’s? What an idiot! Both have turned out to be marginally better than the Highland Black, so it would be interesting to know how they would fare against each other. I suppose that’s one for another time. I was going to say that from memory, the Bell’s is probably better than the McKendricks, but I had another glass of the McKendrick’s the other night, and it just never fails to surprise and delight. A true budget gem. The Ballantine’s 12 is probably the best overall, but again, the price has to count against it slightly – it just isn’t that much better.

In all then, Aldi’s Highland Black fares quite well. There are of course a wealth of blended scotches available for around the same price point, and this one is better than some, but not the overall best. If you want surprising quality and real value for money, McKendrick’s is the budget blended scotch of choice.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

No Age Statement Scotch: Ardmore Legacy & Bowmore Small Batch Reserve

 Apologies for posting a bit late this week. I’ve actually been applying for jobs, so wasting time sorting out the blog has been a bit low on the agenda. Anyway, I’m here now, so just read what follows and enjoy your weekend. Alright, cool.

We’re looking at two products today that are comparable across a number of areas, meaning we might learn something and may even be able to say something about the state of the modern scotch industry afterwards.

So yes, both are examples of peated single malt scotch, both are bottled at 40%, and both are low cost, fairly recent, no age statement expressions from renowned distilleries. Allow me to introduce, representing the Highland region (according to the producer, though I’ve seen it described as Speyside elsewhere), Ardmore Legacy. Pause for applause. Ardmore Legacy is made from 80% peated malt and 20% unpeated.

Then, representing Islay and the oldest of the eight distilleries on that magical island, it’s Bowmore Small Batch Reserve, which is entirely peated, as far as I’m aware.

Together then, these illustrate a growing trend within the industry towards production of no age statement bottlings – said generally to be due to an increase in demand and a decrease in older stocks. I like age statements, but I don’t see why a no age statement expression can’t be a winner with careful blending.

These were selected from a number of price reductions in Tesco and purchased at £20 (£10 off) for the Ardmore and £25 for the Bowmore (£8 off). Those are excellent prices for some potentially good single malt, though they aren’t the kind of thing I’d normally get excited about these days. They probably aren’t special, but they could be good. I mean, £20 though. That’s ridiculous value. You shouldn’t even need to think twice about spending £20 on 70cl of single malt – unless it was one you’ve bought before, and it was shit.

Previous Experience & Consensus

I suppose that, if I’m really going to say something about no age statement releases, and where these expressions sit in relation to their distillery’s other output, I’d need some previous experience to draw on. Sadly I don’t really have too much of that. I just happen to have these two bottles. I’ve tried a sample of the Ardmore before (I think) – during my time as a member of the Manchester Whisky Club – and I remember enjoying it, but that’s little use to us now. As for Bowmore, again, I’ve only had a glass of one or two expressions. If I remember rightly, I wasn’t too impressed with the standard 12 year old, and I don’t remember what I thought of the 15 year old Darkest.

In fact, the reason I was attracted towards buying these two bottles rather than any of the others that were on offer at that time, was that I wanted to be able to give these distilleries a proper appraisal – or at least make a solid start to setting out on the journey of giving them one.

What I can do though, is a bit of research around the internets and give you some idea of what other people are saying – saving you from having to take the time out from your own busy lives, and giving me something to do.

In general, opinion is quite positive. Both bottles seem to get mostly good user and “expert” reviews, though with regard to the Ardmore in particular, there is some grumbling about supposed dumbing down. That’s understandable, in all honesty, since the Legacy, is apparently conceived as a replacement for the very reasonably priced Traditional Cask expression that was many peoples’ favourite. That one was bottled at a generous 46% and, while it is supposed to be returning during 2015, it will be only for the international travel market - though it was already a no age statement expression.

I like my extra 6% alcohol  and my non-chill filtration as much as anybody, and I don’t really see why so many distilleries are choosing not to give the people what they want. I suppose it can only be economical considerations but… surely you could just increase the price a little - and surely it would be cheaper not to filter something. The cost of scotch is interminably rising anyway, so it’s not like anyone’s going to notice, and if your product’s good enough, people will be happy to buy it.

As far as the Bowmore is concerned then, what’s the deal about being a small batch reserve? What exactly is “small batch” about it isn’t clear, and at a normal price of £30-35 you’ve got to be wondering how this is supposed to appeal to the discerning whisky drinker its press releases profess it is aimed at. Then you’ve got to ask why it hasn’t been bottle non-chill filtered at cask strength – or at least at 46%. No information has been given as to how small the batch is and, as one other blogger I read put it, what constitutes a small batch is all relative to the size of a distillery’s output.

In general, it is thought that no age statement is given because of the way you can only call it as old as the youngest malt in the mix, so even if you’ve gone to the effort of putting some 15 year old in there, you might end up having to put “aged 3 years” on the bottle. That makes using older spirit rather pointless. Though I guess you could just be specific about the ages of spirit you used in your press releases…

A quick look at previous no age statement experience might be enlightening. Let’s just take you over it:

Aberlour A’bunadhBatch 47renowned and classy, but not to my personal taste. Great value but by no means a low aspiration release.

Bruichladdich Rocks good value and a good quality introduction to the distillery. Supposedly conceived for enjoying over ice, but I just don’t get why they would even bother doing that. Bottled at 46%.

Caol Ila NaturalCask Strength you need to shell out a bit extra for this one. Great stuff.

Glen GariochFounders Reserve bottled at a welcoming 48%, this one is trying to make a good impression, but it figures as the first disappointment on this list.

Glen Moray Classic don’t worry, Glen Garioch, you aren’t the worst on the list. This is. Cheap and nasty stuff.

Highland Park Einar the 1st of two HP Duty Free releases. Not as good as the better value 12 year old.

Highland Park LeifEriksson a more expensive HP Duty Free release. Correspondingly better than the Einar, but still nowhere near the quality of the 12.

Jura Superstition – another disappointment. This one put me off trying anything else from Jura.

Macallan Gold – I only got to try a miniature of this, but I thought it was quite nice.

So does that tell us anything? Well frankly, it tells us that, as ever, there’s a great deal of variety and variation in quality. The Bruichladdich Rocks and Caol Ila Cask Strength are personal favourites (and as such represent both the high and low ends of the pricing spectrum). Elsewhere you have ones that would be a matter of personal taste (like the Aberlour), some that are acceptable (HP) and others that are spectacularly bad (Glen Moray).

Out of those examples, only the Bruichladdich Rocks, Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve and Glen Moray Classic are comparable to these new arrivals in terms of being low cost, entry level relations to the distilleries’ core expressions. And curiously, they fit neatly into the categories of good (Bruichladdich), mediocre (Glen Garioch) and bad (Glen Moray). Let’s find out where mores Ard and Bow fit in.

The Test

one on one
I decided to open both at the same time, and had Mrs Cake pour two doubles for me – one into a Laphroaig glass and one into a Lagavulin glass – the idea being that I’d decide which was best on a blind basis, and use what little knowledge I had or had gleaned from reading about the products to determine which was which.


Both give a decent impression of “standard” by being presented in a manner typical of £30+ single malts. Ardmore has its own cardboard tube, Bowmore a rectangular box – both of which display a little bit of light reading. Bottles are of a more or less standard whisky bottle shape (Bowmore with the trademark, slightly angular shoulders, tapered body and wider base), label design is reserved and contains representations of each spirit’s place of origin, and both have a little bit of gold trim – Ardmore’s in the shape of an eagle.


There isn’t a whole world of difference, but The Ardmore is more yellow/uriney, while the Bowmore is golden.


Time for the blind tasting.

I tried writing up my results in terms of what I thought was in each glass, but I soon realised this was confusing, and that you wouldn’t be left with any clear impression of how each product did. I’ve re-written it then, thusly:

Nose: the Ardmore was peaty and sweet – very promsing – while the Bowmore was far more restrained. Before the contents of each glass were revealed, I had assumed them to be the other way around.

Palate: In contract to the Ardmore’s flamboyant nose, I noted that it was disappointing on entry and a little rough. The peat gave good fumes, but in comparison to the lighter bodied Bowmore, it failed to impress. The Bowmore developed very well in the mouth.

There hadn’t been a lot to pick between them, and nothing between the nosing and the drinking made me change my mistaken mind about which was which. I made sure to finish both glasses before revealing what they were, so that I could be sure I’d absorbed all there was before making any rash decisions. Nevertheless, I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised to find out I had been wrong. That turn of events actually made things more interesting. The Ardmore, which is presented as only partially peated offers far more peat (on the nose, at least) than the Bowmore  – which is the one I’d been expecting to be overtly peaty.

At that stage I tried to decide which was best, but it wasn’t really possible – swings and roundabouts. To be fair, at these prices, these are both great value. You might be a bit put out if you had to pay £40, but they are both good examples of no age statement single malts. I probably wouldn’t be bringing them out to impress guests though.

Second tastes

The next night it was time to evaluate each separately on its own merits. The Ardmore was first. The first hit on the nose from the bottle is great, but on the palate the spirit is a little sour and lacking in sweetness, though that does settle into a pleasant woodiness.

The Bowmore though, has a better balance of flavours and no bitterness, which overall means I’m tempted to pick that as my favourite.

And the rest of the experience

It’s been nice having these two, fairly similar products on hand at the same time. I’ve been tending to alternate them on different nights and, while I’d probably still say that the Bowmore is my favourite overall, it has turned out that there’s a lot to enjoy in the Ardmore. There have even been occasions where the sourness was absent, leaving a fully rounded taste that matched up to the aroma emerging from the bottle.

Overall then, both of these are excellent for the price I paid for them, but at their normal prices, perhaps not quite so much.

There’s a whole world of no age statement whisky out there, and if we were to stack these two up against the ones I mentioned earlier, I’ll admit, these would be in the top half. As ever, I’ll keep trying more and eventually we might have a definitive list. In fact, I’m approaching the end of another no age statement release right now that I think might just be a bit of a game changer. You’ll have to look out for that in (at least) a few weeks though.