Tuesday, 26 July 2016

More No Age Statement Scotch: Talisker Skye

I wasn’t intending to buy any single malt that Sunday afternoon. I was actually looking for Christmas themed beers, but when I saw a new Talisker expression with £13 off, it made me ask what the point was in having a booze budget, if I couldn’t take advantage of offers like this. When it came to money for buying spirits on our upcoming trip to Canada, I’d just have to make do, one way or the other.
So it was £25. Sure enough, this isn’t the renowned Talisker 10, which I’ve also bought at such a bargain price before, but that doesn’t make it any less worth £25. Yes, it may be made of younger spirit, it may be a no age statement offering (following in the footsteps of Talisker’s other recent offerings, Storm and 57 Degrees North – neither of which I’ve tried beyond a single free sample), it probably isn’t going to be as good as the Talisker 10… but so? It is still bottled at 45.8% and you never know, I might actually enjoy it more.
For all intents and purposes, it looks pretty much the same. The label is blue this time, and it is called “Skye”. Of particular note though, is that instead of a box, this one is packaged in a little maritime style bag that fastens with… paper fasteners, I think they’re called. It’s a nice touch, though I can’t deny that I nearly dropped the bottle, struggling to extract it.
I know, I probably shouldn’t be encouraging this move towards no age statement expressions by buying them, but it was £25! A note, though; you shouldn’t just take up offers willy-nilly, or you’ll always be settling for the kind of things you can get cheap in your local supermarket. You can find out what I thought last time I tried some NAS bottlings incidentally, here where I have a close look at releases by Ardmore and Bowmore.
It could go either way, looking at online impressions. User reviews encompass the whole range from sublime to undrinkable. Let’s find out for ourselves.
Mrs Cake looked over as I was removing the seal, and said with razor sharp incisiveness, “booze is a great hobby. Because it’s like buying yourself a present but, not only do you get the excitement of buying the present, you also get the excitement of opening it.”
It’s beautiful that, isn’t it? I’d never thought of it that way, even though I’ve always been well aware that I get excited both at the moment of purchase, and even more so at the moment of opening (which can often be several months later). Just now, I can’t think of any other presents or purchases that give pleasure like that. You could buy tickets to see your favourite band, but you’re not excited about the tickets, you’re looking forward to going to the show. Maybe that is the same. Anyway, I think it’s beautiful.
Speaking of beautiful, how nice is this Talisker Skye? I’m not kidding, this is superb. Even the first glass out of the bottle was all it could be. Grassy and malty on the nose – a classic whisky smell, silky, full-bodied, sweet and full of delights, but with none of the negative edges that can sometimes hide in your single malts. Just a joy all the way down.
The last time I had a bottle of the 10 year old, I noticed how it took around 6 months for the spirit to develop into something sublime. This, despite no doubt being a blend of younger stocks, is already what the Talisker 10 finally managed to be. Probably even better – and being this good, I’ll be very surprised if there is any left in 6 months’ time to see how it compares then.
Really, the youth was quite undetectable until I tried a glass after the very classy Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit. I’ll definitely have the Talisker first if I drink both of these on the same night in future, but nevertheless, a slight hint of youth shouldn’t be considered detrimentally.
I took a break from the Skye of a few weeks when I decided to open a bottle of Crown Royal at the same time as the Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye. I’ll be writing much more about those later, but the point I want to make is that my return to the Skye resulted in absolute delight. This is such a beautifully balanced whisky that I’m thinking I already have a front runner for the 2016 spirit of the year. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though; there’s lots of drinking still to come this year.
All in all though, you ought to give the Talisker Skye a try. Very, very good value.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Spirit Log: Olmeca Altos Reposado Tequila

It was Black Friday, but I wasn’t looking specifically for Black Friday deals. I just figured I’d see if there was any tequila on Amazon that I could use our Prime membership on – and there was. So delivery is free, instead of the usual £4.50 or £4.95 you have to pay to buy spirits online, and it was also £14 cheaper (at £20) than at any of the other online suppliers. Here it is, the Olmeca Altos Reposado.
It’s only 38% as most tequila seems to be, but it is full agave, which is a minimum requirement for me these days. Aged for 6 to 8 months in American oak ex-bourbon casks, this particular variety is notable because some of the agave used has been juiced using the artisanal tahona method, where a 2 tonne volcanic millstone – carved from one piece of rock – is used to crush the cooked pinas. A full, and quite interesting story of the production is available at altostequila.com, but it looks like the range varies according to the amount of tahona liquid (and possibly other aspects of the production process) incorporated. The basic Olmeca, for example, isn’t full agave, but it does incorporate a portion of tahona liquid, while the more premium Tezon, is certified 100% tahona liquid. So what we’ve got is an intermediate level expression for the brand, that should be decent quality.
I suppose it’s worth asking whether this Tahona method is really the most effective way of getting juice from the cooked agave hearts. There must be an ultimate method, but what it is, I don’t know. For now we’ll just have to assume the tahona one is a good one.
Let’s just say first of all, it is packaged quite beautifully in a square bottle with a small label and a fancy mottling effect. On opening, it transpires that what looks like a fancy wood-topped stopper is actually an oversized screwtop.
As ever, the full agave proved popular with our guests Pablo and Veronica on the night of opening, so were quite easily able to polish off nearly half a bottle. My overall feeling though, is that while this is drinkable and pleasant, with a fresh peach smell prevalent on the nose, it is far too mellow to deliver my favourite aspects of tequila. It should sting a little bit – and that quality seems to be something that dissipates when the spirit has been rested in wood even a brief while.
So next up for me will be a return to the blanco varieties – and after that, I think I’ll have to go the whole hog and try and anejo expression – just to be sure –though I won’t be going all the way up to extra anejo, since you’re looking at £80+ for a 3 year old. For now my preference lies with the blanco full agave varieties anyway. Nevertheless, this would probably make an excellent introduction to tequila for someone who is a little less familiar with the agave sting. And if you can still get it for around £20 (at the time of writing, Amazon UK have it at £23.09 on Prime), it’s definitely worth a punt.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Spirit Log: Springbank 10

Time to delve a little deeper into the Campbeltown region, and add another 10 year old to the spirit log.
This one was £41.44 (incl P&P) for 46 ABVs, and as such, is my new most expensive 10 year old, narrowly edging past Ardbeg by 65p. It will have its work cut out to beat that on quality.
Starting out with aesthetic considerations, I don’t feel the producer has tried too hard with this one. It isn’t a very attractive bottle or label – all a bit underwhelming really, with no information at all provided, though I understand there is supposed to be cask and bottling information under the label. It will take a bit of time to be able to see that, I think. (Postscript – I forgot to look when the bottle was empty).
If you compare the packaging to Ardbeg, there isn’t really that much difference. The bottles are a similar shape (though Ardbeg’s hides the spirit’s natural colour by being tinted green), both labels are black and composed in a similar fashion, even utilising similar fonts. Even the boxes are of similar dimensions and the card they are constructed out of is of a similar grade. There’s just an indefinable quality about Ardbeg’s. You might disagree and prefer the Springbank. That’s up to you.
I think that’s enough direct comparison with Ardbeg. Any spirit should be judged on its own merits – maybe with a conclusive comparison at the end.
Springbank is aged in bourbon and sherry casks and the distillery malts all its own barley, actually producing 3 malts on one site. The distinction between the three seems to depend on whrether the malt is dried over a peat fire (Springbank), hot air (Hazelburn) or a combination of both (Longrow), and how many times the spirit is distilled – two and a half for Springbank. I’m not sure, and the distillery’s site doesn’t specify, how you can distill something half a time.
So let’s have a look at some critics and customer reviews. It receives glowing reviews from Jim Murray (89.5 points), and especially from Ian Buxton, while it’s unbridled enthusiasm from the reviewers at TWE.
I think I’m starting to realise what it is I want from my whisky these days – and what I don’t. And finally, all those flavour lists that whisky reviewers delight in are starting to be useful. This one, for example, from MoM sounds like just what I’m looking for:
“The nose is big-bodied with oaked aridity. The peat is present and quite pungent with an earthen rootiness. Notes of exotic fruits and a hint of salinity. The palate is full-bodied with a good helping of cereal sweetness. There is a richness to the peat, with a dark nuttiness and whirling smoke. The finish is long and crisp with a coastal tang and a trailing peat with oaked dryness.”
Peat, earth, salinity, sweetness, smoke, dryness… elsewhere I’ve read that it is oily and creamy – this could be the one to renounce all other whiskies for. It might even eclipse long time favourite Caol Ila 12
Not sure how much credence I should give this next one though, also from MoM; “No doubt a wonderful whisky for those who drink it but it can make the drinker rather nasty and argumentative.” How much are they drinking?! Anyways, that’s just alcohol in general, as far as I’m aware.
Enough with the prevarication then, and on to the experience.
Peaty and sweet, warming. The flavours are strong and the sweetness lingers for the finish. It is briney, oily – even a bit squeaky in the mouth - and full bodied. I enjoyed it, but in spite of all those positive features,I can’t say it made the impression on me that I was hoping for (as is suggested by how little I have to say about the experience of it overall). It just didn’t feel special enough, and given a choice between the Springbank 10 and the Ardbeg 10, I’d have to choose the Ardbeg every time.
Against single malts in general, I’ve only placed it at number 20 in my all time list, while in specific competition with other 10 year olds, I’ve placed it behind Ardbeg, Bladnoch, Ledaig, Laphroaig and Glenfarclas – but above Talisker, Glenmorangie and Aberlour. That’s not bad really, because I really enjoyed all the ones I’ve placed above it, and the ones that are below it are still favourites to many though a little changeable (Talisker) or uninteresting (the others) to me.
The whisky exploration continues apace then, and next time we discuss whisky on these pages, I believe it will be to take a look at the no age statement Talisker Skye. That should be in a couple of weeks. Next week I think the focus is on tequila. See you then.