Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Spirit Log: Appleton Estate Signature Blend

This week I am revisiting a rum brand that first made my acquaintance some time before my blog began. I can’t compare now and then, but I can do some vague comparisons with other spirits of the genre. That won’t be the primary focus of this post though. We’ll judge it on its own merits for the most part.
This one was £16 from Tesco, who claimed it was £8 off. That it was the biggest discount over another product I was looking at, swung the balance in Appleton Estate’s favour. It carries 40 ABVs and is identified as a dark rum, the flagship of the Appleton Estate range, blended from 15 rums, with an average age of 4 years.
That’s interesting; average age. Nothing further to say, I just find that interesting. I don’t think I’ve come across a spirit with an average age statement before – not that it is declared on the bottle. That’s just from The Whisky Exchange’s product description, so it must be fairly casual, easy to obtain information.
Appleton Estate is the oldest sugar estate and distillery in Jamaica apparently, and in Joy Spence boasts the first appointed female master blender. How enlightened.
Presentation is in a bulbous and stubby bottle that is oddly pleasing to hold, and sealed with a crappy screw cap. My brother-in-law spied it on a recent visit, and thought it looked interesting. He can’t drink whisky and, looking for something to fill that void in his drinking habits, thought rum might be the answer. I opened it and he was very impressed. He didn’t seem interested in trying the PlantationBarbados XO, for some reason, but as long as he was happy, that’s fine with me. I tried the Appleton the next night, and my immediate impression was a cheap alcohol nose and heavy dose of ketchup. Not good. It looks the part in the glass; glossy, but more orangey than the red shade you might expect. It’s quite rough on entry to the mouth, but it does develop quite nicely.
A week or two later I got around to trying a three way rum taste test, against the Plantation Barbados XO (of which less than a measure remained), and the Havana Club Anejo Especial. Against the Havana Club, something very odd about the Appleton Estate reveals itself. This is very, very rough spirit. It makes me wonder why they didn’t choose to make it a little better. That would surely reflect well on the brand as a whole. As it is, it is appearing over priced. The Havana Club Anejo Especial is generally priced around the same, and that comes off a little better. You do at least get the impression that you’re drinking something a rung or two above supermarket basic with that.
I tasted the Plantation Barbados last of the three, knowing it was likely to stand head and shoulders above, and it really did. So refined, full-bodied, and such sublime sweet vanilla. In general it is too sweet for my personal taste, but you can’t help but appreciate its quality.
Against competition then, the Appleton Estate didn’t fare too well. There was plenty of time though, for it to ingratiate itself with me over the coming months, though it never did. I rarely pulled it off the shelf, still less frequently pouring it into a glass. In fact, as I post this, there are still a few measures left in the bottle. I wouldn’t normally post a “review” of a spirit before finishing the bottle, though in all honesty, that isn’t so much a rule as an indicator of how far behind my drinking my writing is. Nevertheless, that’s still very telling.
I’ll finish with some recommendations then. First and foremost, I’d avoid this unless you’re intending to use it purely for cocktails and you’re getting a hefty discount. Even then, you may as well get a comparable supermarket brand. If you’re looking for a sipper, stay well away. In fact, you may as well stump up a few extra pounds and get the excellent Plantation 3 Stars. It may be a white rum (of some description), but it’s superb and easily overcomes any problems caused by difference in genre.
Thanks for stopping by once again. If you come back next week, I’ll be back on the peaty single malt trail with the Old Ballantruan. They don’t make it anymore, but that doesn’t mean you can’t read about it! Well, does it?!

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Spirit Log: Kilchoman Sanaig

The procurement of this one was almost a case of the alignment of stars and all that shit. It all starts of course, with my general preference for an Islay malt, and my regret at not being able to visit the Kilchoman distillery on my visit there a couple of years ago. Since then a Kilchoman has always been on my “must buy at some point” list, but I’ve always opted for other things until now, and the reason is that I received one of my regular emails from Flaviar.com in which the Kilchoman Sanaig looked to be available for somewhere around £47. They reckoned that was £7 off or something, though it was only a couple of quid cheaper than at Master of Malt.
I had room in my booze budget, so I thought I’d click through and see how much delivery was. Oh. It’s £10.99.
That was that then. Or so I thought, because later in the day I got an automatic email asking if a technical problem had prevented me checking out. I replied informing them that the problem concerned their delivery costs, which made the item more expensive than at their competitors.
At this point, I went home for the weekend and forgot all about it. I don’t check my emails over the weekend, so it was a surprise to find three further emails from Flaviar on Monday morning – one of them offering free delivery. I soon saw though, that the offer only extended to the end of Sunday.
Disappointed, I got on with my work, but a couple of hours later, I thought maybe I’d click the link in the email anyway, and when I did, the order was still showing as free delivery. At this point a little box popped up and told me I could have 8% cashback through Quidco. Then I noticed I still had a £5 credit from ages ago when I’d signed up to Flaviar that I’d figured I’d never get to use. So there you see – not one, not two, but three discounts making this long awaited bottle something of a bargain at £41.99.
Will this work again? I don’t know, but it’s probably worth a try next time. As Flaviar pointed out, shipping costs decrease with every bottle you add to each order, and if you buy 4, your 4th is essentially free. That does mean you’re looking at spending more than £150 on your booze in one go, so it probably rules me out, but I’ll consider them again.
Enough about that, then. What about the product?
I couldn’t find this on the Kilchoman website, and the reason appears to be that it was produced solely for the French market, as the French felt Machir Bay wasn’t sweet enough. It has since spread to other parts of continental Europe. This then, contains more sherry cask content than Machir Bay.
Why would you make something just for the French?!? I don’t know; favourable rates over supplies of garlic, maybe? Advance access to new episodes of Spiral? Baguettes? That’s all I can think of.
So, you get a decent quality blue box, inside of which is a sturdy bottle with matching colour scheme. The stopper is big and tight.
The first thing that hits me is a nice, tangy nose. There’s an element that reminds me of the Glen Scotia 16. The first hit of flavour is unexpected. It’s earthy, but that quickly transforms into being open, sweet and full bodied. That earthiness soon becomes a highlight, but you can only experience it on your first taste each day. It does seem a little young, but it is also well-rounded.
On the second day, the nose was immediate and stunning; vanilla ice cream, then leather and a little bit of mint. Later, tobacco and bacon. There’s lots to admire here.
You may have read some weeks back about how much I was enjoying Talisker’s Skye expression – another no age statement (read: young), peated scotch. At £25 that was an absolute bargain and one I’ll be happy to revisit at some point in the future. To get hold of a bottle of Kilchoman Sanaig, you’re looking at exceeding £50 with your P&P included (unless you’re lucky like I was), but I still think you’d be getting good value. This is another cracking malt, and one that will bring me back to trying Kilchomans more often.
Looking ahead a few weeks, I’ll be posting about another peated malt very soon, that I have actually been enjoying even more than this one. So look out for that.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Very Special Brews

A quick stop into Manchester’s Beermoth bottle shop led me to dropping £12.90 on a single bottle of beer. That was a new record for me, but I had to have it when I saw it was a stout, aged for 6 months in old Ardbeg whisky casks, and brewed by Cloudwater – one of my two favourite breweries. I’d loved everything I’d tried by Cloudwater up to that point, and Ardbeg is a favourite distillery too. I didn’t think about it for too long, so there’d be no chance I’d change my mind.
This then, is Cloudwater Imperial Stout Ardbeg, checking in at 10.7%. It’s a largish bottle (750ml), that should get you smashed like Special Brew, should you drink it all in one go, so I saved this for a time when Pablo came over. He absolutely loved it and, just as with the Ola Dubh, he gave it 5 stars on Untappd straight away.
I was more conservative, opting for 4 out of 5. Imperial Stout probably isn’t my genre, in all honesty, but I definitely enjoyed the influence that the Ardbeg casks exerted. It was kind of a background thing, almost as if you were tasting something from another dimension, that made this beer one of the most complex I’ve ever experienced. Perhaps the elements weren’t married as seamlessly as the aforementioned Ola Dubh, but this was certainly an intriguing experiment.
Soon after, my other favourite brewery, Thornbridge released Eldon, a 7% beer that had been aged in bourbon casks. I added two bottles to my order, which I would have done anyway, regardless of bourbon cask ageing, and eagerly awaited the day I got to open one.
Sadly, any disappointment at the volume of Eldon being only 330ml instead of the usual 500ml is compounded by the beer not quite reaching the standard I have come to expect – not bad beer, just not great, and not as distinctive, either as other Thornbridge fare from beer in general, or as distinctive as the other whisky cask aged beers I’ve been trying have turned out to be. I gave the other bottle to Mrs Cake, and she absolutely loved it.
Almost by mistake I recently bought a bourbon aged sour beer – Bourbon Skyline by Buxton Brewery (7.2%). It was a little overpriced perhaps at £5 for (I think 375ml), but really very good. I could tastethe bourbon early in the experience, though this faded as the sipping progressed. I scored that one 4 out of 5.
In conclusion, ageing stout in old whisky barrels seems to me to really add another dimension to a genre of beer that wouldn’t tend to be a favourite of mine. Sure, it tends to ramp up the cost quite a bit, but you can pay a lot for sub-standard beers too. What I’d be looking for, if I were going to drop a substantial amount on one of these, would tend to be a favourite brewery and a renowned distillery. Then you can look forward to trying your favourite product in a new way, and hopefully a way that channels the qualities of some top class whisky.