smoky

Talisker Port Ruighe

Reviewed by: Nick

Talisker Port Ruighe

Talisker does a lot of things consistently well. Being located on the Isle of Skye certainly helps – there is surely not a more spectacular cross section of scenery to be found anywhere in Scotland. Offering exclusively peated drams also comes in handy. There is nothing that guarantees dependable yumminess like a distinctive smoky swirl through all available products.

And then there are the little things. Talisker’s packaging is always beautiful, their individual bottling names are always evocative and their non-cask strength releases almost exclusively sit at a beautifully balanced 45.8%.

All of the above is true about the Talisker Port Ruighe. And yet… and yet… This one is more than a little different. The clue is in the name, Port Ruighe being somewhat of a non-sexual double entendre. Not only is it the Gaelic spelling of Skye’s largest (and candidate for Scotland’s prettiest) town, Portree, but it has also spent the last part of its barrelled life in ex-port casks. And it is this point of difference that makes the Port Ruighie stand out from the Talisker pack.

The nose is typical Talisker. Sweet. Peat. Chocolate. Salt. A bit of orange. Basically what you’d expect from the 10 Year Old. It’s on the palate that this diverges. It’s a little rough and pleasantly ashy but alongside the smoke is burnt fruit, sticky raspberry jam and hints of Turkish delight. The port influence is clear for all to see and really rounds out the peat hit. The finish is surprisingly long with a bitter, perhaps tanninic, dark chocolate linger.

While Talisker do many things consistently well, one gripe I do have with the distillery is the up and down nature of their copious NAS releases. I can take or leave the Storm and the Skye but this one really provides enough contrast to justify the release of a 7 or 8 year old whisky. It really is the sweetest peat on offer on the Isle of Skye.

★★★

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GlenDronach Peated

Reviewed by: Ted

Glendronach Peated

You know when you take one thing that is really good (like heavily sherried whisky) and combine it with another really good thing (like peated whisky) and the result is a winner? Well, strap yourselves in then, because you’re going to love The GlenDronach Peated Single Malt Whisky.

The GlenDronach distillery, nestled in the NE highlands of Scotland, is famous for its heavily sherried style of whisky, utilising Pedro Ximenez and Olorosso casks in all of its core range. These whiskies are rich, fruity and sumptuous, but one element they do not usually feature is smokiness.

This lack of smoke was not always the case though. Like many other old highland distilleries, The GlenDronach (founded 1826) originally used peat to dry its malt, however over the years the practise fell out of favour through a succession of owners and the rise of cheap coal. Indeed, the distillery was one of the last in Scotland to use coal power for its stills, right up until 2005 when it converted to steam.

Bucking the current The GlenDronach flavour profile and harking back to its roots is the Peated expression. Unusually for The GlenDronach, the Peated actually starts its life in ex-bourbon barrels before being transferred into the usual ex-PX and ex-Olorosso casks for finishing.

As such, while still being full of the warm, rounded, fruity characteristics usually associated with The GlenDronach, the Peated is perhaps a touch lighter in feel than usual. The nose evokes burnt marmalade, stone fruit, leather, almond and walnut. The smoke is soft, toasty and earthy, with none of the strong coastal elements that drive Ileach and Island peated whiskies.

The mouth presents a mixture of juicy sweet yellow and white stone fruits, honey, Turkish delight and toffee. The lighter flavours likely derive from the bourbon casking while the heavier ones draw from the sherry casking. The smoke lingers gently at the back of the throat on the finish.

The GlenDronach is an excellent example of how well peating can complement the rich flavours of sherried whiskies, particularly because the smokiness is well balanced in the dram. Peat-heads and sherry-bombers alike will find something to entertain and interest them and will likely keep being drawn back to sup from this particular fruit’n’smoke chalice time and time again.

★★★

Reflections on a visit to Islay

Posted by: Nick

nick-port-ellen-lighthouse

It is no exaggeration when I say that the isle of Islay is, without a doubt, my favourite place that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The quaint lime washed houses of Port Ellen, the spectacular coastline and beaches, the stark peat bogs and the friendly locals waving as you drive by all combine to create a coastal utopia. And then there’s the whisky. Ah… the whisky…

There is a reason that drams made on this Hebridean isle are famous the world over: they taste like nothing else on earth. Smoky, salty, oily and fiery as hell itself. On my first (gloriously sunny!) day upon the island I visited Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig: the worlds’ ultimate pub crawl. In the evening I lay down on the sand at Kintra Beach and watched the sun go down with a belly full of South-Ileach whisky. There  was not a more content man on the planet.

The next day I stood beneath the distinctive Port Ellen lighthouse, looked across the bay and felt more connected to a place than I have ever experienced in my life. I would go back today. I would drop everything. Just for one more whiff of that peaty air. Just for one drop of that liquid aptly described as the water of life.

nick-content

#IslayWeek

#LetsGetPeaty

Hellyers Road Peated

Reviewed by: Ted

Hellyers Road Peated

So, you’re a big fan of peated Scottish single malts, but in order to save the world from certain destruction (just go with it, ok?) you have to buy a Tasmanian whisky. What are you going to do? Never fear, Hellyers Road has your peat needs covered with their appropriately named Peated expression

When it comes to peated whisky in Tasmania, the situation is a little more complex than first meets the eye. Tasmania actually has its own peat bogs, however the smoke is quite different to the Scottish stuff, being softer, gentler and more rounded. It is also restricted to a few distilleries that own leases to the bogs (the rest is locked up in national parks and the like).

In Hellyers Road’s case they don’t have access to a native bog, so instead they import peated barley all the way from maltings in Inverness, Scotland. The side-effect of this is that Hellyers Road Peated is much more closely aligned to Scottish drams than other Tasmanian malts (side note: Hellyers Road use local grown barley for their non-peated expressions).

Nosing the Peated expression is like standing in a grain storehouse, grabbing a big handful of peat-smoked barley and taking a deep sniff. Underneath the big, fat, bold, smoky cereal flavours can be found cocoa, black currants, pencil shavings and smouldering leaves.

The first layer of taste is what you would probably expect from a heavily peated whisky – strong, thick smoke that billows around the mouth, a bit like standing on the wrong side of the campfire. When you clear away the smoke however, you are left with a light, smooth and slightly sweet dram, without too much else going on. The finish is long and smoky, but gentle. In fact, the smoke probably rounds out the feel of the dram as a whole, smoothing out some of the harsher edges that can be found in a younger whisky such as this.

When compared to a traditional Islay single malt like Laphroaig or Ardbeg, the Hellyers Road Peated perhaps misses some of the strong coastal flavours that punch through from underneath, but makes it up in other areas. A light whisky, heavily peated, this Hellyers Road expression delivers a different experience to anything else available from Tasmania.

★★★

HR n Ted

Tasmanian whisky: One state. Three ingredients. Unlimited flavour.

#TasWhiskyWeek

Bakery Hill: the final frontier

Posted by: Nick

Bakery Hill Tasting 5

Many bakers. Many hills.

Lark? Check.

Nant? Yep.

Limeburners? Sure have!

Hellyers Road? Of course.

Starward? Been there, done that.

Bakery Hill? Ah.

There it was: the one black mark on my record of Australian whisky tasting. I had never tried anything from Victoria’s acclaimed Bakery Hill Distillery. This had to be rectified. But how?

I decided to employ the tactic used by whisky drinkers throughout the ages: I would go to a bar.

The bar in question was the Woodlands Hotel in Coburg. And despite not being near any trees, let alone woods, it was an excellent establishment. As well as providing me with multiple pints of locally produced cider and one of the best burgers I’ve had in my life, they also stocked not one, not two, not even three, but four (I know, FOUR!) different bottles of Bakery Hill.

I glanced across the table at my friend and drinking-buddy-of-the-moment Viv, and nodded. Either by telepathy or the fact that we had previously discussed doing a tasting, we both knew: tonight was the night.

Bakery Hill Tasting 2

My drinking buddy Viv (sadly Ted was in the wrong state)

The four varieties were each as tempting as the next. There was the classically titled Classic Malt. Next to it was the doubly exciting Double Wood. I had a strong urge to try the Cask Strength. And finally, how could we resist the Peated Malt. One of each, we demanded.

One sip into the Classic Malt, I knew that I was onto something. It was an enormous revelation: an elation! Which was also my reaction upon trying it. Raisins, condensed milk, limes, dates. Deliciousness. Viv concurred, labelling it simply: “tasty” and admitting he could drink an entire bottle.

The Classic Malt smelt amazing, but the Double Wood smelt better with notes of vanilla, even dark rum! It was longer, more complex and nuanced. Viv decided it was “tastier”, and “what whisky should be like”.

The Cask Strength was next. And boy was the finish long. It was warm with caramel, spicy cinnamon – even garlic. Viv decreed it “tasty” and claimed that it was so smooth you would not think it 60%.

Finally came the Peated Malt. We possibly had saved the best til last. There was smoke and there was vanilla. There was smoke and there was fruit salad. There was smoke and there was… plenty. This was no Islay peat monster. It was subtle, without compromising on the smoke. Viv agreed: “tasty smoke”.

Bakery Hill Tasting 3

This is the one. Equal best. With three others…

We left the bar oblivious to the cold, kept warm by our whisky coats. It had been a fascinating night, tasting the range of Bakery Hill products vertically while not ending up horizontally. If you are ever near the Woodlands Hotel in Coburg, nip in for a nip. It is well worth it. I already had a huge level of respect for Australian whisky when I entered the bar. And I left it with even more.

Bakery Hill Tasting 1

Mmm… tasty…

‘Big Peat’ or ‘The Perks of Random Conversation at the Bar’

Reviewed by: Ted

Big Peat

This story begins, as so many great stories do: m’colleague and I were at the bar. Admittedly not an unusual state of affairs. On this particular night we were chatting to our barman mate, and a friend of his that he’d just introduced us to. For the purposes of this story, let’s call him Doug. Doug was feeling in a rather celebratory mood as he’d just scored himself a job working as a pharmacist in sunny (and I mean that in the most ball-of-thermonuclear-fire sense of the word) Alice Springs, which is pretty much smack bang in the centre of Australia. Quite a change from little old Burnie on the NW Coast of Tasmania, which can occasionally be sunny if it really makes the effort.

After the usual necessary social preamble was out of the way, the conversation happily turned to that most mysterious, complicated and variable of subjects… women! No, wait, I meant whisky! Doug, as it turned out, was quite the connoisseur (and not just of whisky. On a side note he very charitably bought us a glass of Cognac from the highest extremity of the top shelf, an interesting experience to say the least). We all shared a common passion for peated whiskies, particularly those from what is arguably the spiritual home of the smoky dram: Islay.

These days people mostly talk about Islay in terms of its single malts, but historically the island’s distilleries injected popular blends with some much needed character (and they still do!). However, there is a theory that history works in cycles, and what was once old becomes new again (which probably explains the questionable return of scrunchies and chokers). Interestingly enough, what was getting Doug excited that evening wasn’t the single malts from one of the hallowed Islay distilleries, but a blend. An all-Islay blend. “It’s fantastic! You should track it down”. Fateful words readers, because a few cheeky drams relaxing the mind and the heady world of internet shopping instantly at ones fingertips is a dangerous combination. Let’s just say that I didn’t take much convincing, and moments later I was the proud owner of a bottle of this curious beastie.

Cut to a few weeks later and m’colleague and I were staring with anticipation at a large post box that we had dubbed ‘The Bunker’. With no little ceremony (mostly involving the humming of the tune from the start of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’) we cracked open the box, and were greeted by one of the coolest bits of tube artwork this side of Eilean Mhic Coinnich. Meet the Big Peat, an all-Islay blend purporting to contain ‘a shovelful’ of single malts from the distilleries of Ardbeg, Caol Ila, Bowmore, and Port Ellen. The aforementioned artwork is a brilliant graphic-style picture of a hirsute gentleman standing in front of what I can only assume is the Rhinns of Islay lighthouse on a beautiful island day (which is to say that the sky is the colour of tea, and our man has his face squinched up against the wind, which is trying its best to blow his hair away).

Chuckling with glee we popped the top and unsheathed our prize from its scabbard. Gasps of surprise met the sight before us (don’t worry, we hadn’t been ripped off and sent a bottle of JW Red instead). You see, normally we would picture the drams of Islay as being dark and brooding in hue, but the Big Peat was filled with bright spirit the colour of pale golden straw. Some people just like to mess with your mind. Of course, there was only one sensible recourse to meet the conundrum before us, and it wasn’t hiding under the table. Bust out the glasses and crack that sucker open good sir!

A generous splash of whisky later and we were ready to begin uncovering the secrets of the Big Peat. There was no denying that it lived up to its name. The smoke was there as soon as we poured it into the glasses, infused with plenty of dark chocolate, malt, rich earth and those medicinal notes that Ileach whisky is famous for. We were in no doubt about the heritage of the spirit sitting before us, whatever the colour. A closer snort revealed thick sweet notes and perhaps a bit of overripe fruit, like a squashy banana. We eyed each other off; curious, but not too bad a start.

Slurp! Hot, woody, ashy smoke poured into our mouths and then… not much else. Sure, there was a light, sweet after-taste, but it was gone in a flash, and all that was left was spicy, medicinal smoke coiling around the tongue. It was like being on the edge of a bush fire; plenty of smoke getting all up in your face, but no blazing heat to go with it. Hmmm…

We could see what Douglas Laing & Co, the makers, were trying to get at; surely crafting a vatted blend out of the great single malts of Islay should be as awesome a combo as haggis with tatties and neeps! Yet somehow they’d got a wee bit over excited with the whole BIG PEAT malarkey and forgotten that it isn’t just the smoke that makes an Islay dram exceptional, it’s the bricks and mortar and the shape of the fireplace too. The way that sweetness melts into savoury, medicinal tang challenges the tastebuds, dark flavours are shot through with light, seaside elements help wash everything across the palate, and then finally the smoke that sits over them all. It’s a complex ecosystem that requires careful balance to work well.

Sitting back we mused upon the Big Peat. By no means did we think that it was a bad dram, far from it, just that somehow it deserved to be better. Perhaps the mix wasn’t quite right, maybe a dash of Bruichladdich or Bunnahabhain could have rounded out the flavours working underneath the smoke. Who knows? What we did know though, was that the Big Peat had challenged us, and that a random discussion in a bar can lead to interesting and unexpected places. So go on, strike up that conversation, you might just find something new.

★★★