Friday, 30 December 2016

Sherry casks

Traditionally the whisky industry uses transport casks for sherry cask maturation. The transport casks are more active than the solera casks that are used for years and mainly removed when they start to leak. In 1981 it became illegal to export sherry in casks. Today transport style casks are produced primarily for the whisky industry.

Fino has a dry style that is nutty and yeasty. The colour is light. Fino is almost always matured in American oak casks.

Oloroso is rich and complex with residual sweetness. When adding grape spirit to 17% the yeast is killed and will not build a protective layer as in the 15% fino process. The Oloroso is rounded and darkens due to oxidation.

Pedro Ximenez is made of dried grapes, almost raisins, and is pressed into a very sweet liquid. PX is used to sweeten the Oloroso made for the British market.

The sherry producers have used mostly American oak for the last 200 years. European oak casks are made by special order for Edrington, Glengoyne and G&M.

European oak used for sherry production is mostly sourced from places like Galicia, Asturia and Cantabria in northern Spain. Quercus Robur from Galicia gives a spicier product with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, dried fruits, candied peel, caramel, orange and Christmas cake, chocolate and wood. American oak has more flavours like vanilla, honey, coconut, almonds, hazelnuts, butterscotch, fudge and ginger.

Edrington cooperates with the cooperages like Tevasa, Vasyma and Hudosa who turn trees into casks. The casks are filled with Oloroso for 18 months. Edrington cooperate with bodegas like Gonzalez Byass and Willams & Humbert. They use different cask sizes like butts, puncheons and hogsheads.

Both butts and hogsheads are made of American and European oak. That is, butts are not synonymous with European oak, and hogsheads are not synonymous with American oak.

When it comes to single cask whiskies, the type of cask is generally written on the bottle. The whisky should in general be matured in the same cask for the whole maturation, but it is no guarantee. In a worst-case scenario, whisky could have been transferred from one or more casks to a new cask, which is described as the single cask. Some reasons for transferring whisky could be cask leakage or that the whisky is not maturing well.

The Edrington distilleries Macallan and Highland Park both predominantly matures their whiskies in sherry casks, but Macallan is generally known for a heavier sherry influence than Highland Park. How can this be, when they have the same Edrington cask source?

After talking to the Edrington ambassadors Sietse Offringa and Martin Markvardsen, I conclude that Macallan has an oilier spirit that is more active extracting colour and flavour from the casks. In addition, Macallan probably uses more active casks, that is first fill casks, than Highland Park. The ratio between American and European oak sherry casks is more likely the same. The climate influence is probably minuscule, even though larger temperature variations in general results in increased wood extraction.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Gjoleid 2016 release

During Oslo whiskyfestival Ivan Abrahamsen, the master blender of Arcus, presented their new releases of their Norwegian whisky Gjoleid. 

Their first distillation of Gjoleid was back in 2010, and they bottled two 3½ year old September 5th 2013. One was matured in an oloroso American oak butt (cask 9305) and the other in a first fill American oak bourbon barrel (cask 9359).

Arcus uses a narrow cut to get a light whisky, the heart of the distillate is 74,3% for the 2011 batch. The mash is made of 85 % malt and 15 % wheat. 15 % of the malt is dried using beech smoke.

Now they are releasing three whiskies of which one is for the tax-free market.

The tax-free release Praksis 1.1 is a mix of two casks, one American oak first fill bourbon barrel (cask 10329) and one American new oak barrel (cask 10342). The whisky was bottled on June 22nd 2016 close to five years old. There are 1400 bottles.

A similar release Praksis 1.2 for the general market has the same type of casks, one American oak first fill bourbon barrel (cask 10336) and one American new oak barrel (cask 10341). The whisky was bottled on June 22nd 2016 close to five years old. There are 1400 bottles. The difference between the 1.1 and 1.2 release is that the new oak is more heavily charred in the 1.2 than in the 1.1.
It is interesting how the extra charring gives a more intense whisky which appears sweeter and smokier. Both whiskies have the typical characteristics of American oak bourbon barrels with the beech smoke, wheat and new wood coming through. Both whiskies are coming on very well.

The last release Blindpassasjeren is originally matured on an old American oak sherry cask and finished on an oloroso sherry cask (465 litres) made of American oak (cask 5491) and used to mature Lysholm aquavita. Lysholm gives the whisky a light delicate flavour of caraway and star anise. Like the aquavita, the whisky has been out travelling on a ship across equator for four months. The effect of the ship travel is to move the whisky around, speeding up the maturation and taking more flavour out of the wood. The dried fruits typical for sherry cask matured whiskies is coming through together with the lighter flavours of American oak. The whisky is from the 2011 batch and was bottled June 23rd 2016. It’s the same new make as for the other whiskies.

All the whiskies are bottled at around 47 %. The whiskies are still young, but the bourbon matured whiskies are doing quite well. I think the bourbon matured whiskies for the moment are doing better than the sherry matured. But hopefully time will help.

Arcus has a new warehouse in Nittedal stacking 13 casks high. The whisky is matured at 18˚C in a dry climate. The result is an increase in alcohol of 0,4 % each year. The is watered down to 55 % during maturation to keep it under 60 %.

Arcus has a new batch made of 100000 litres of wort that was distilled in 2013. So it seems that we have more goodies to look forward to.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Ceobanach compared

The Ardbeg 10 year old has been one of my favourites for many years, but since introduction of the new distillate from 1998 and onward, the quality of the 10 year old has gradually decreased.

Today Ardbeg is getting serious competition from Bunnahabhain which is very good at its best, but a chocking catastrophe at its worst.

This evening I compared Bunnahabhain Ceobanach, Bunnahabhain Toiteach, Ardbeg 10 and the Edradour Ballechin 10 year old.

I prefer my peated ex-bourbon matured whiskies without the new make character which I find rancid and stale, and without the rubber/sulphur character which maturation in good quality ex-bourbon casks should remove.

The Toiteach has too much new make character and seems immature. The new make hides the nice Bunnahabhain character which I find plenty of in the Ceobanach. To my taste Toiteach should never have been bottled. But I will give Toiteach one thing, when getting it in the mouth and trying to forget the nose, it is quite good.

The Ceobanach is a beautiful whisky with citrus, sweetness, light fruitiness and flowers on the nose. The smoke is a crystal clear wood smoke. Today I find the Ceobanach much better than the Ardbeg 10 year old which has got more of the new make and rubber/sulphur part than the old 10 year old. I find the Ceobanach to be more citrusy, sweet, fruity and floral on the nose than Ardbeg. Ardbeg 10 is still a good whisky.

But, are there other good peated whiskies out there? Fortunately, yes! This evening I gave the Ballechin 10 year old a chance. With some sherry matured whisky in it, it has a hint of new make one the nose and is a bit heavier than the Ceobanach. It has also a hint of rubber and sulphur, but it works ok with a heavier whisky. All in all, I find the Ballechin to be a good whisky.

I can sit down and enjoy Ceobanach, Ardbeg 10 and Ballechin, but the Toiteach is a pain.

Got a sample of Bunnahabhain Moine, the Swedish edition from 2015, and compared Moine, Toiteach and Ceobanach.

The Moine has quite a bit of new make character, but lack the decay of the Toiteach. Both are young NAS whiskies, but I think that the sherry influence of the Toiteach is a problem. The casks have not been able to remove the decay character from the Toiteach, while the more pronounced ex-bourbon influence of the Moine has. 

The nose of the Moine is sweet, vanilla and fruity, but the citrus and floral part is drowned by the new make character. The Moine is not bad on its own, but head to head with Ceobanach it has a long way to go. It is too young.

A problem with the Moine is that the aftertaste fades away quite fast. It goes from sweet and new make to peppery and then dryness which fades away fast.

The Toiteach goes from intense to dry and then heavy pepper for a good while before getting dry and fading away. It has a longer aftertaste than the Moine. The Ceobanach is less peppery with a long dry oaky aftertaste. It is very clean and nice.

The Moine works well on its own, but I will rather buy a bottle of Ceobanach. I find Moine to be a much better whisky than the Toiteach.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The development of Ardbeg 10

Ardbeg changed their distillation regime in May 1998, and the new Ardbeg 10 was first bottle the summer of 2008. Back in 2011 I compared an old Ardbeg 10 from 2006 (L6 150 4:50 p.m. 4ML) to the new Ardbeg 10 from 2009 (L9 203 1:49 p.m. 6ML). Both whiskies were 46% abv. and non chill filtered.

According to my notes, the aroma and taste were quite similar, but there were differences. The difference in colour was close to zero. Both had sweetness and citrus on the nose, but they were not directly fruity. The old had a touch of peach, honey, toffee and acetone, while the new one was somewhat lighter and fruitier with a flowery touch. Vanilla was also more prominent in the new. The new developed to a greater extent from a sweet to a bitter and astringent mouthfeel. The old was more full-bodied, and appeared immediately smoother. Nevertheless, the new one had the smoothest mouthfeel.

Both whiskies had the characteristic Ardbeg creosote, sea, salt, pepper and smoke, even though the new one was more pronounced in all these areas. I finished asking if these are to completely different whiskies. The answer was no, and a statement that it would probably be possible to taste the difference even when you taste one by one, but if you don’t think about it, they would probably be taken for the same whisky.

Last week, I had the opportunity to compare a 2006 version against a 2015 version. I was in for a big surprise. I did not expect to find a big difference. The Ardbeg 10 year old is still 46% abv. and non chill filtered, but then come the differences.

The 2015 version was much paler than the 2006 version. Since no colour is added, a sign of younger whiskies.

The 2015 had a much more rubbery and smoky character than the old one which had much more of the Ardbegian creosote character. The new one seemed crisper, spicier and with a hint of crème brûlée, while the old one was the smoothest. Overall, I like the 2006 version much better than the 2015 version.

Why did I not find a big difference between the 2006 and the 2009 version, while I found a big difference between the 2006 and 2015 version? Has Ardbeg been moving gradually to younger whiskies with more rubber and less creosote? It seems reasonable. In the 2006 version, it is probably a large amount of older whisky from around 1990, while the 2015 version probably consists mostly of ten years old whisky. Doing the change overnight, would have caused a too fast change in flavour. It seems like a good idea to do the change gradually over several years. Is this what has happened?

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Ardbeg Perpetuum

There are two releases of Ardbeg Perpetuum; the 49.2% distillery release (DR) and the 47.4% general release (GR). The DR was released in March 2015 and the GR in May 2015. I got the opportunity to compare the two at Ballygrant Inn on Islay some days ago. Are there any differences except for the strength? How is Perpetuum compared to Arbeg 10Y? I find the GR more mature than the DR. The difference can not be explained by the strength alone. A rescue operation going on between the release of DR and GR? I find both to be immature versions of the 10Y.  I find no reason to buy the Perpetuum unless you are a fan of the Ardbeg new make. Personally I prefer a more mature version of the Ardbeg, so I dropped buying the DR when I visited the distillery for lunch. Should I buy a Perpetuum, I would keep to the GR. But the quality is far from earlier special releases like Alligator, Galileo and Ardbog. A sign of running low on mature whisky, forcing the release of substandard NAS?

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Amrut tasting at Mister India

This week I arranged a tasting of Indian Amrut whiskies, followed by dinner, at Mister India in Oslo. Mister India provides one of the better Indian dinner experiences anywhere, very good food, nice atmosphere and service. They have a very good selection of wines and whiskies, which you do not expect to find in an Indian restaurant. Had it been a French kitchen, they would have been a candidate for a Michelin star.

We tasted the following whiskies:
- Amrut Single Malt 46%
- Amrut 2009 single cask #2697 PX finish 4YO 56.5%
- Amrut 2009 single cask #2714 Portpipe 4YO 59%
- Amrut Kadhambam 50%
- Amrut Greedy Angels 8YO 50%
- Amrut Intermediate Sherry 57.1%

Except for the Greedy Angels, the whiskies where around four years of age. Due to high temperatures in Bangalore, the evaporation is close to 50% in four years, and the whisky is maturing quite fast. Except the Portpipe, I find all the whiskies well matured. The whiskies have something exotic and intense about them.

The standard 46% is matured in new American oak and ex Bourbon barrels. It has a vanilla, citrus, exotic fruit, floral and light oak character with a peppery finish.

The PX has a vanilla, light coconut and dried fruit character. With water spice and exotic fruit comes through.

The Portpipe appeared with some new make character and an alcoholic sting. It is quite smoky with lot of spice. It dries out the mouth.

The Kadhambam started its maturation in ex Oloroso casks before being transferred twice to brandy casks and rum casks. It is quite heavy. It has an exotic fruit character with vanilla and sweetness with light rum character. It has a small alcoholic sting, but it is not overpowering the nose. It is a bit sharper than the PX.

The Greedy Angels, matured in ex Bourbon barrels, is quite intense with vanilla and citrus. The most round and integrated of the whiskies. It has a vanilla/linoleum character that is almost too intense. It has a dry finish

The Intermediate Sherry has a vanilla, dried fruit and spicy character with a dry finish. It explodes in the mouth and has a quite long finish compared to the other. Some new make character when tasting it right after the Greedy Angels.

My favorites are the PX and Intermediate Sherry. Tightly followed by Kadhambam, Greedy Angels and the standard 46%. The Portpipe was not to my taste

After dinner, we were ready for the treat of the evening: GlenDronach Grandeur 31YO at 45.8%. It is matured in an ex Oloroso cask. It is extremely well balanced, sweet and heavy with lots of dried fruit character like raisins, dates and figs. It has a dark mahogany colour. It was never an option to add water to this whisky. This whisky alone is worth a visit to Mister India.

A memorable evening.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Ardbeg Almost There against the ten year old

Comparing two whiskies head to head gives me often a better experience than analyzing them individually. This time it is the Ardbeg Almost There against the ten year old.

I must face the sad fact that I have reached the bottom of my Almost There bottle. What did I do with the last drops? To make the most out of the last memory, I needed a frame of reference. What better way than to use the ten year old? As Mickey told me when I asked for more of the rough rich style: "Almost There, I call it Almost Perfect".

I find AT richer and more intense than the 10Y. The abv (54.1% versus 46%) and the balance between first and refill bourbon casks plays a major role. Both whiskies are very pale, though the AT is slightly more golden. AT has an intense brutality that makes it still to tear links, although it has reached nine years and is about to be tamed. The smoke of the AT is more intense and richer than in the 10Y. AT shows more sweetness, fruitiness, citrus and vanilla than the 10Y. This contributes to the richness. The Ardbeg finish of salt, pepper and seaweed is also more intense in AT, which has a more intense astringent aftertaste than the 10Y. I feel I get closer to the barrels in AT than in the 10Y, which is characterized by being rounder and more balanced than the AT. I find the smoke in the 10Y more abraded than in the AT, which is more reminiscent of a fire plot. I think the 10Y has a cleaner, sharper and more acidic smoke with a trace of ashes, although the overall impression is that the smoke in the 10Y is more balanced.

The savagery of Ardbeg Almost There will be missed.
Ardbeg Almost There, 27th February 2007 to 14th November 2014