May 29, 2013

Blend Project...

The Cockpit, London
The idea of a series of reviews focused on a special topic on this blog is not something new. I had it for a long time but honestly couldn't come up with something exciting and/or interesting. During my last summer in London when I was frequently hopping from pub to pub a concept started to shape in my mind. After a tiring, long and stressful work day walking in a pub with friends and ordering a malty beautiful British ale with a blended Scotch next to it started to be our routine and I have to say I didn't have any difficulty to get used to it quickly. In the beginning as a whisky geek I was kind of grunting not to be able to find my favorite or interesting single malts on the shelves and was asking all kind of annoying questions to the bartenders but in time I began to see the other side of the situation. Going to pubs in UK early evenings and having a pint on the side walk is all about the social experience and not about tasting unique and/or rare brews or drams and geeking out about them. You don't choose your pub because what they have on tap or on their top shelf, you go there to meet people you want to have a drink with. You know that they will be there... The social side is what you care of. You select your pint from what they have on tap that day and order a Scotch with it. You just say Scotch... That's it... Simply beautiful.

Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, London
Now with the weather getting warmer here I am finding myself thinking more and more about the pubs of London and the blends I used to drink: Bell's, Famous Grouse, Teachers, Scottish Leader and some others. This made me also remember the blends which are not around anymore (at least in US) but I used to see in my father's small cabinet: Vat 69, White Horse, Black & White and Queen Anne... Since they were pretty hard to get in 70's Turkey he kept them usually for special occasions. They were pulled out when friends or family members were visiting and served in his favorite tumblers with two ice cubes. Blends are made to accompany social gatherings. They don't try to steal the scene, they don't need attention and you don't talk or think about what you are drinking. They just taste good... The whisky you sip in your glass is there simply to keep you good company and to keep the chit chat going with your buddies.
Dirty Duck, Stratford-Upon-Avon

So, starting in June throughout the summer I will taste as many entry level/bottom shelf blended Scotch expressions as I can put my hands on and make a series of them which I will call the Blend Project. I don't have a set time frame or any number of different whiskies in my mind. I just want to find out what my favorite blend(s) would be, discover some blends I didn't taste before and share them with friends. I also think that it is important to emphasize how important affordable everyday blends are for the industry, for the whisky culture and for whisky drinkers all over the world.

Please contact me via email or twitter (@bozkurtkarasu) or just leave a note below if you have a suggestion, comment, a special story/connection with a particular blend or if there are any blends you want me to taste. It will be tremendous fun...

The Ardview Inn, Islay

May 27, 2013

Caol Ila 14yo Unpeated...

Caol Ila 14yo Unpeated (59.3%): This unusual expression of Caol Ila is one of Diageo's special releases released in October 2012. It is the oldest unpeated Caol Ila released so far, aged in ex-sherry European Oak casks and bottled at cask strength. Only 5958 bottles have been made available worldwide. Thanks to Joe Howell from Federal Wine and Spirits for securing a bottle for me. Color: Gold. Light amber with quite visible legs. Nose: Fruit salad with gala apple, bosc pear, honeydew and cantaloupe slices. Late Sunday breakfast with a bowl of muesli tropical topped with milk and honey. A few drops of water elevates the honey aromas and add middle-eastern spices: a great deal of cinnamon and nutmeg with tobacco leaves, newly purchased buckskin jacket and old decomposing upholstery leather aromas. I also get hint of smoke... Are we sure that this dram is completely unpeated? Palate: It's surprisingly easy going without adding water in spite of its high abv but pretty much muted with only sizzling black pepper, coarse salt and cheap orange candy notes. With water the palate opens up. It is unexpectedly salty: good news! I was afraid that it will be a sherry bomb. Fruit bowl we had from the nose is now topped with zesty citrusy slices and table salt. It reminded me my father sprinkling salt on his grapefruit slices. Some peach compote, crunchy malt notes and that suspicious smoke again. Am I making up this smoke thing? Finish: Medium long with brine and white pepper. Overall: Hmmm, this is a tough one. I easily can say that I liked it and to be honest I will enjoy it as long as the bottle last. No doubt about it... But turning a very good spirit into a main stream sherried whisky shouldn't be enough to make it "special". I am not talking about the regular peated expressions. I am a huge (I mean huge!) fan of the earlier ex-bourbon cask matured unpeated Caol Ila releases and I missed those beautiful grassy and malty notes. Somehow ex-bourbon casks suit much better to the Caol Ila spirit. It lifts the core and amplifies it in a beautiful way. On the other hand this European cask experiment could end up easily at a darker side. I am glad that nobody tried to push the idea further and drowned the whisky in sherry butts. At the end if you leave your expectations at a side it is a nice, smooth and enjoyable dram with a slightly high price tag and a good alternative for Highland Park 12.

May 24, 2013

Monkey Shoulder...

Monkey Shoulder (43.0%): Now watching the rain pour down in Cambridge for five days I cannot help but remember my last summer in London and Stratford soaked in cold rain almost every day. It was tremendous fun... When I was crawling pub to pub almost every night my go to whisky to accompany a beautiful cask ale was Monkey Shoulder, period. Tonight I feel like to pour some Monkey Shoulder to remember London and talk about it a little. The whisky is a blended malt of 27 casks selected by David Stewart from three Speyside distilleries: Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Kininvie. The name comes from a temporary injury caused by working long hours with big shovels to turn the barley on malting floors in distilleries for hours and hours. Color: Polished copper, orange blossom honey. Nose: Milk chocolate with whole hazelnuts and raisins, St. Dalfour orange marmalade, dried dates and cooked prunes. Cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. Also some sweet floral aromas: hyacinths, jonquils and daffodils. Palate: Orange zest jam, fresh bergamot peels, clover honey and allspice. Dried Turkish apricots, butter on warm brioche and clementines. It has a little watery mouthfeel but doesn't make you feel like it's lacking something. Actually suits pretty good to the style. Finish: Not short, not long... Vanilla beans, lightly brewed earl grey tea and touch of lavender. Overall: Incredible value for 30 bucks! Don't even think about it, just order a bottle... For some reason in US bars it is considered as a high shelf whisky and being charged way too much compared to Europe. I don't think it is fair to the brand. This malt is created to compete and win in its price range and definitely not benefiting to take part in a higher weight category. Anyway, I have to admit that it was way more fun to sip it in an old London pub with a pint of London Pride but it is raining pretty similar outside... A fine Friday night indeed...


May 19, 2013

Ardbog...

Ardbog (52.1%): Well, it's that time of the year again... June 1st, Ardbeg day is approaching fast and Ardbeg fans started to fidget nervously quite a while ago. The distillery's new special release for the day is about to be released and most probably it will be sold out even before it hits the shelves. Drammers everywhere are trying to get their tickets to attend one of the release parties happening all over the world and also playing all the tricks known to whisky world to get their hands on one of those very limited bottles. The name was announced a while ago: Ardbog! It's matured in Manzanilla Sherry butts and in traditional American white oak ex-bourbon barrels separately for ten years and then mixed just before it got bottled in cask strength. Color: Clear amber with quite visible legs. Nose: Much rounder and softer than I expected. Salted caramel, olive brine and warm olive rolls. When I close my eyes I see myself at the counter of a tapas bar in Barcelona. Cured meat, olive oil with thyme and rosemary, grilled banana peppers and asparagus. Dried sea salt spots on your skin after a pleasant afternoon swim. Peat is there but more like a slow going beach side barbecue, nothing aggressive. Water adds some faint fruity notes like fried bananas and salted pineapple slices. Palate: Pretty briny start. Unfiltered Mediterranean extra virgin olive oil over meaty Kalamata olives. Cured meat parade promised at the nose is all there. Consistent but by no means overpowering peat notes are present throughout the whole ride. Very oily and creamy texture covers your mouth and delivers some gentle sweetness towards the end. Adding a few drops amplifies the salty notes. Finish: Long with all the sweet notes surfaced towards the end of the palate. Roasted salty pecans and maybe some buckwheat honey. Overall: So, I don't like to compare these yearly special releases with the earlier ones like everybody does. I also don't think that Dr. Bill Lumsden and his team are trying to come up with a better crowd pleaser every year. I am actually pretty glad that we are tasting something radically different every time. Otherwise this tasting/blogging thing would be pretty boring... Anyway, I can easily say that I liked the Ardbog very much. Amazingly smooth and easy going in spite of it's high abv of 52.1%. All those salty, coastal and meaty qualities on top of the sweet and peaty backbone of Ardbeg worked perfectly harmonious for me. I think it would suit quite amazing the coming summer nights. If you are a whisky lover who feels time to time a little sore to sweeter expressions of Islay distilleries you will definitely love this one. Thanks to Ardbeg and David Blackmore for the official sample.

May 16, 2013

The Glenlivet 12yo...

The Glenlivet 12 yo (40.0%): Oh, the emerald queen... What a great companion to a real spring day in Cambridge. First time this year I am sitting in front of my TV with windows open. I  just got home, poured some The Glenlivet 12 in my glass and getting ready to watch The Wire Season 3, Episode 7.  Hold on a minute: Let me pull out quickly my tasting notes from Glenlivet masterclass at Whisky Live Boston last year and update them... Color: Clear amber with a nice copper shine. Nose: Bright malt, banana chips, hyacinth flowers and rose petals. Freshly sliced Granny Smith apples and Anjou pears. A nice afternoon board walk on a breezy day at the beach through the willows. Pretty sweet... Palate: Underripe peaches and spearmint, more like minted peach ice tea... Not so sweet as the nose suggested. Very refreshing. Dole pineapple rings dusted with little  cinnamon and wet tobacco leaves stuck on your lips from the cigar butt. Creamy Mexican Coconut flan. Finish: Short(ish) finish with faint spiciness. White pepper and allspice. Overall: Great dram for warm days. Refreshing, easy going but very satisfying with a very reasonable price tag. Not so adventurous but sometimes you don't need adventure. You just need to calm down and sip your whisky...