Thursday, 29 August 2013

Balblair 1989: 3rd Release

FOLLOWING my rum-soaked adventure with the El Dorado 12, I decided it was time to leave the coast of Guyana behind and sail back through stormy waters to Scotland to another excellent single malt - the Balblair 89.
    The Balblair Distillery was established in 1790, making it one of Scotland's oldest distilleries. It is based at Edderton, on the shores of the Dornoch Firth - which is almost due north from Inverness. It also featured in the Ken Loach film, Angel's Share which, if you haven't already, is well worth a watch.
    There are various expressions available from Balblair - also known as "vintages", but the 89 is - so far - the only one I've spent time with. However, given its excellent showing, I will definitely be exploring the distillery's other drams in the future.
    On the nose, the 89 initially gives off a huge waft of lemon and grapefruit and there's a smack of light wood and vanilla from the ex-bourbon barrels used to create this delicious dram. Keep digging down and there are definite hints of white wine, bananas, pears, green apples and honey.
    The taste is simply sublime, with soft golden fruit, pears, honey and vanilla filling the mouth.
The finish keeps up the excellent quality, with the vanilla and honey returning, before a slightly bitter citrus tang takes over. This then gives way to soft fruit and a slight salty note, before slowly fading.
    The Balblair 89 is a delicate dram but the more time you spend with it, the better it gets. It's not cheap, but you'll be buying a classy and complex whisky which is a real treat for the tastebuds. Cracking stuff.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

El Dorado 12-year-old rum

MY experience of rum is limited to say the least, with most of my tastings coming in the shape of rum cocktails and the very occasional rum and coke. However, I decided to dig a little deeper and searched for a quality demerara sipping rum and, under the guidance of Steven James - who runs the excellent and informative Rum Diaries Blog - I decided to take a punt on a bottle and plumped for the El Dorado 12-year-old.
    The 12 has won a galleon full of awards and although my rum knowledge is minimal, spend a few minutes with the glass at your nose, and it becomes clear that you have indeed bought a quality product.
    The nose is glorious, with an abundance of red berries, honey, toffee, caramel, brown sugar, molasses and nutmeg, while a sliver of lemon cuts through the sweetness to balance the aromas beautifully.
    The drink also has a slightly syrupy viscosity to it, which coats the glass and invites you to dive in.
    Take a sip, and the El Dorado 12 is a taste sensation. At 40%, the drink is exceptionally smooth and coats the mouth, delivering a wealth of sublime flavours; prunes, vanilla, cooked banana and caramel coffee - think of a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato - which dazzle the tastebuds. Yes, it's sweet but it's never cloying, with the sweetness superbly offset by a woody dryness, a long finish and a satisfying warmth as it trickles down the throat.
    This is a delicious spirit and for around £35, you really can't go wrong. A wonderful discovery and the perfect drink to kick start my rum adventures. Cheers, Steven.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Out and about - The Glengoyne Distillery

LAST weekend, my wife and I took advantage of the unusually sunny weather and hopped in the car for a drive into the country. The destination was the Glengoyne distillery, which is situated at the bottom of Dumgoyne Hill, nested neatly in beautiful Scottish countryside between the villages of Strathblane and Killearn.
    It's a stunning setting and, as you might expect, the distillery itself is rather eye-catching with its bright, whitewashed exterior and attractive pagoda roof. A walk round to the back of the cluster of idyllic buildings - complete with neat and colourful flower baskets - revealed a well maintained pathway, lined with old whisky barrels and a crystal clear waterfall which cascaded from the hills - the original water source at the distillery.
    We paid £20 each for the tasting tour, which included a friendly and informative walk through the distillery, and a dram of the Glengoyne 12, 15, 18 and Teapot Dram.
    The light and fruity 12 kickstarted the lunchtime tour along with a brief introductory video about the distillery. A wander through the complex followed, before we got to sample the excellent 15 and 18-year-old drams. In our 18-strong group, only two of us preferred the 15, which was beautifully balanced and laced with delicious slivers of vanilla, but the 18 was hardly a slouch, with its rich dried fruit and smooth honey flavours.
    The tour finished in the distillery shop and a taste of the Teapot Dram, which you could either have in a glass or china teacup. I went for the glass and took a sip. Bottled at 58.5%, it was hot and fiery and took the breath away, but there was no mistaking the quality. A touch of water opened it perfectly and it was delicious - big, bold and packed with dark dried fruit and spices, with a long, lingering finish.
    You can only get the Teapot Dram at the distillery - or if you're on the Glengoyne mailing list - so I had to buy a bottle, so expect a full tasting at some point in the near future.
    I left Glengoyne with my new bottle, a delicious box of whisky fudge, and a huge smile on my face. It was a fabulous but expensive afternoon, but let's face it, it's good to treat yourself every now and then.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

High West Double Rye

I HAD read quite a bit about High West's products online and, eager to learn more, I trotted down to The Good Spirit Co. in Glasgow to see if the boys had something by the Utah distillery in stock. I was actually looking for either their Campfire or Rendezvous Rye but there was no sign.
    Fortunately, the Double Rye sat on the shelf, looking magnificent in its fabulous long bottle. I was kindly offered a sip, which was very much appreciated, and that small taste was enough for me to part with my cash and I left the shop with the Double Rye - along with a cheeky wee bottle of Elijah Craig 12 to keep it company on the journey home.
    Now, I'm not one to put much stock into how products are packaged, but I've already mentioned the bottle, which really is rather splendid. The thick, lightly dimpled glass is filled with tiny air bubbles, giving the bottle some good old-fashioned cowboy charm.
    Thankfully, the whiskey inside the eye-catching container does the bottle justice, and High West have produced something truly unique here.
    The Double Rye is a blend of a 16-year-old rye and a fiesty 2-year-old rye and it's this younger spirit which makes this High West product sing.
    Give the whiskey a swirl and you'll be amazed at what you smell. Strong gin-like notes are unmistakable, and there's a huge smack of fresh mint, but these lively aromas are kept in check thanks to a spicy caramel presence tucked away in the background.
    Take a sip, and the youthful spirit makes itself known immediately, with burnt sugar and prickly juniper dancing across the tongue before the older rye takes over, leaving a rich and warming caramel taste. Let everything settle, and green woody notes and a touch of vanilla hit the palate.
    This is an excellent, well balanced whiskey and proof - if any were needed - that High West know exactly what they are doing. You really will be amazed at how gin-like it smells and tastes - just don't spoil it with a dash of tonic and a slice of lemon!

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Vietnamese Spiced Gin

ON a recent trip to The Hanoi Bike Shop in Glasgow's west end for some incredible Vietnamese food, I encountered some excellent drinks which went down really well with the deliciously spicy dishes from the restaurant's kitchen.
    The first was Hanoi Beer, which was big and bold and had a similar blackcurrant aftertaste that Dos Equis enjoys. After trying the beer, I decided to order the restaurant's intriguing Spiced Gin and was frankly blown away by how good it was.
    First impression was a bit of a 'wow' moment, as the glass was crammed with ice, lemon, sliced red chilli and a good serving of freshly chopped coriander. The taste was explosive and the restaurant were kind enough to tell me the ingredients so I could try and recreate the drink at home.
    It's a devilish twist on a classic Tom Collins cocktail - gin, lemon juice, sugar and soda - but The Hanoi Bike Shop spiced things up by adding a simple syrup infused with chilli and star anise. This not only gave the drink a slight viscosity, but also added a heap of wonderful flavours, while the addition of the fresh ingredients just took it to another level.
    It's a great drink and if you get the chance, try and make it at home. However, if you are in the Glasgow area and fancy trying the real deal along with a mouthwatering selection of dishes, get along to The Hanoi Bike Shop - it's my new favourite restaurant.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Elijah Craig 12

IT may not be the most famous or most expensive bourbon on the market, but Elijah Craig 12 is an excellent spirit from Heaven Hill, which is starting to make more and more people sit up and take notice.
    Elijah Craig was born in Virginia in the mid-1700s, became a Baptist preacher, spent a couple of stints in jail and - more importantly - founded a distillery in 1789 in Fayette County, Kentucky. He is also credited with being the first person to discover the benefits of ageing whiskey in charred oak casks.
    Now, I'm not sure that's true but what I do know is that his legend lives on thanks to Heaven Hill, who plonked his name on their flagship product and shipped it around the world, making thousands of people very happy in the process.
    Pour a generous glug, stick your nose in the glass and you'll find a huge amount of complexity and it's one of those drinks I could happily sit and sniff for a few hours. It's sweet and deep, with creamy toffee, spicy cinnamon, vanilla, butterscotch, rum-soaked cherries, flat cola and oak wafting from the glass and there's even a faint citrus note lurking at the very back. It tastes just as good as it smells, with lots of dried fruit, spice, honey and wood coating the mouth.
   The finish is long with a sweet oaky dryness and big marzipan notes which gently fade to leave a slightly salty caramel note at the back of the mouth.
    Bottled at 47%, Elijah Craig 12 is a humdinger of a bourbon and is delicious straight or with a sliver of ice on a warm night. A great price and a great bourbon.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Nikka Whisky From the Barrel

FOR today's post, we leave the shores of Scotland behind and head across to The Land of the Rising Sun to sample a rather exciting Japanese blend.
    Nikka Whisky From The Barrel is bottled at 51.4% and is instantly recognisable thanks to its unique flat-sided bottle and minimalistic label. It's a mouthwatering blend of grain and malt from the distilleries of Yoichi and Miyagikyo. There is no age statement here - something that is becoming increasingly common - but don't let that put you off; this is an excellent whisky, with a huge amount of complexity. On the nose, there's a huge smack of sweetness, with honey, chunky orange marmalade, maple syrup, bananas and almonds assaulting the senses, while a slight oaky note underpins the delicious aromas.
    Take a sip, and sweet floral notes are present, along with honey and warming, prickly spices. Despite the high alcohol content, this is suprisingly smooth, although a few drops of water help to knock down the heat and intesify the overall flavour.
    The long, dry finish is quite something, with the taste of candied orange, sweet caramel and spicy oak lingering on the palate.
    Nikka From The Barrel is an excellent drink and a perfect sipper for long, summer nights. Shop around and you should be able to pick up a bottle for around £30 and although it only comes in a 50cl bottle, a little goes a long way.