Whisky blending session with Grant‘s
 

In the afternoon of February 19 d., I had a chance to participate at the blending session hosted by „Grant‘s“ world ambassador Rob Allanson assisted by Baltics ambassador Ansis Ancovs. Pleasant surprise for me – that is the very same Rob Allanson that was chief editor for Whisky Magazine. I had a subscription of this one for a while in the past. So I had nice time to chat about that and about other topics and trends in whisky industry (including very actual topic about decreasing stock and whisky age). Rob seemed to me very simple and great guy. As ambassador and should be, right? So I was curious about what will be next..

And that was interesting – in front of us we‘ve got 7 small bottles of whisky – 2 grain and 5 single malts.

Just quick reminder – blended whisky contains both grain and single malt whisky mixed together in top secret about proportions and contents, while usually you can even get couple of dozen different ones inside. According to Ambassador, Grant‘s blends have proportion of about 70% Grain and the rest are Single Malts, but few people knows which ones.

So we also didn’t have much information about material to work with. There were only few words on the bottles – age (over 12), strength and style. Grains were “Rich” and “Floral”, while Single Malts – “Peated”, “Spicy” (I called him sherried, as obviously it was the only one matured in a sherry cask/butt), “Oily”, “Sweet” and “Robust”.

We were given a sample blend offering to make as much similar as possible. I am suspecting that „Secret blend“ was their new Grant‘s Select Reserve (which is about 12 year old? So logical? No?). This is a guess, as  I am too proud to taste such simple whisky. Well.. I am only sure that I had no occasion to try that one yet. Because at the session we were using our noses only. This is serious! It wasn‘t simple tasting of several newly launched whiskies. Well.. at the end my curiosity have won – I tasted all 3 samples we made.

Anyway, I had a chance to convince my colleagues to make something way much different than given sample which seemed too boring and well made/balanced and for mass taste (geek voice inside me said that).

 We had several rules (or limits, to say):

  • Grain whisky has to contain no less than 50% of final blend;
  • Max of 3% of Peated malt to avoid its domination;
  • To try imitate/copy the given sample (which we completely ignored).

 

We have agreed to make first sample really powerful and full of taste, so lots of Sherried one (oh, Spicy). And lots of Oily. So we have got bit dry, spicy, full of taste blend. And it became nicer and nicer with time and water. It was our winner. Every sample we seriously tested with nosing:

Second try was even braver – blend was even more dry and robust. I kind of liked it, but it had no balance at all. With bit of time left and effort remaining we took third chance to make more pleasant and balanced one. And we did it, in my humble opinion. Very pleasant, gentle and without too big notes. But not that interesting.. So group almost united agreed to leave first one as a favorite. So we blended it again for bit higher volume to share for everyone.

In general it was quiet interesting.. try to blend something. I would be happy to try it again with higher selection and to have more time. But it was enough to see how this process is difficult and it is really hard to make pleasant, drinkable and balanced blend. But I would love to do such a job. And you do not drink to much – just nose! 

Photos author - Andrius Ufartas/BFL © Baltijos fotografijos linija

Holiday is over or a story of a lost whisky bottle
 

Finally my decent long enough holiday is over and we will continue sharing our passion to whisky again here at www.whisky-bros.lt. I‘m happy with that!

I have more news – it’s maybe the most sad story related to whisky in my life (happily enough I had no really sad stories). While going home from vacation in airports ‘duty free’ (outside European Union), I have spotted quiet interesting one - Tullamore Dew Single Malt 12yo Sherry finish.

As we had transfer in Riga, I asked once again if I can carry it with me. The girl at the shop said she will pack it into special sealed bag (as they always do) and it’s like everywhere I will be able to carry it with me into the plane. So so so.. we land to Riga, we go to pass security to make our transfer and people there say I cannot pas with it – either I come back, make my check-in somehow and put it on my luggage or I can drink it before I leave. The answer is no because bottle is bought at the airport outside EU and that means they do not accept that despite the bottle is in the sealed stamped bag. I was to tired and wanted go home, so decided to give up. And bottle was put into trash bin. Airport staff was polite enough, so I barely resisted to offer them to buy it from me or to take as a gift (hope they did it after their shift, otherwise something living in the streets or dump area will be happy.

I’m warning you, my whisky friends in Europe (don’t know how’s elsewhere) – if you have transfer flight to home and you start outside EU, it’s better to save money. Buy your whisky at airports inside EU.

Second story is, that my mood was cheered up by parcel from China – I had made order before vacation to some chinese tea directly from there. They came unharmed and happy. I will make some reviews and posts about tea maybe in the future. Good drink whether whisky or tea, is always a good drink.

Whisky Fair Limburg
 

One whisky fellow, malt maniac Keith Wood, calls this fair as a best whisky event for a advanced whisky anorak. I can agree – for that selection you can find. Either you are looking for rare old bottlings, either for recent releases – but mostly for independent bottlings. You can find almost everything there then.

So the format of this fair is bit different what I would usually expect. It‘s hard to find here official distilleries booths, but you can find many whisky rarities shops with tremendous offerings. There were well known Whisky Antique (they also own Silver Seal, Italian independent bottler), some also very known local german shops standings. The other rest were occupied by independent bottlers (many from Germany, for obvious reasons) like local The Whisky Agency (their owner Carsten Ehrlich is main organizer of Whisky Fair Limburg), Whisky-Fässle, Malts of Scotland and the rest. Other interesting point is that you pay 10 EUR only for the entrance and every dram costs something. They can pour 20ml or 40ml if you want, and you will pay what you will get. Prices are fair and affordable for sure.

So this event is a great occasion to try rare, expensive malt, which bottle costs too much to acquire. I had some whishes for my taste – some silent distilleries - Banff, Caperdonich, Port Ellen. I always wanted to acquire old “real” Macallan – so I did. I was also lucky to spot Glenugie, so I didn’t bother to consider (it’s rare whisky, distillery was functioning not for a long time). Acquire? Yes, indeed. I wasn’t going to try as much as I can. I was going to work – to fill my 50 small bottles I was bringing with myself. I wanted to bring them home for being able taste them and put my notes in a proper manner that anyone would be able to read my notes later on. So I did my best to fill all bottles and 3 additional ones as some people were already used for such people as me “buying samples to bring back home”. Thanks for this great idea, Keith.

Several photos from event and great bottlings I could spot:

One of the qeues to the event (not the biggest one)
 
Typical booth
Booth of well know German rarity malts shop
My lovely Signatory bottlings
Macallan 1956
Glenugie 1967
Glendronach 1972
Bowmore 1973

Worth mentioning – Limburg is small nice town with great old town and several great bars. Another great thing – Limburg has one of the best whisky bars in Europe – Villa Konthor. I never saw so many whisky bottles in one place! Their web site claims they have more than 700 whisky sorts. You can believe that. If there is no place, bottles are just placed on the bar. And ordering whisky is simple – not by the menu. You have to find the bottle you want by yourself, bring it to the bar and they will pour it to you. They also have nice German beer. I had great time there with my fellow Stefan and his relatives.

And there is my two days “work” result:

Does age matters? Some (dencent) young malts from Islay
 

Age always matters, when You know what You want. It helps to choose more easily. The more you try, the more easier you can understand different between differently aged malt – what type of cask gives what. How each malt change by maturing. Like significant wood notes (wood, old books, sawdust, oak, cedar, tannins) are more often the sign of long ageing, smoky character is a sign of relatively young age and peated malt which vanishes with time usually.

During ageing there vaiours chemical processes and oxidation what changes (mellows) malt character during the years and brings some new notes. So age is not either good or bad. It is more important to understant the mix of cask type, maturing time and distillery character. Want some sherry bomb for a decent price? It‘s not necessary to take some oldie – it‘s enough to choose malt matured (not finished) in a good sherry cask (Glenfarclas and Glendronach are usually good examples). Want some fruits? Some young Speysiders also can be good for You. For sure, it depends what „fruits“ are You looking for. With age some fuits become more „ripe“ or „dried“ (sherry case) or even become more delicate, exotic. (I never forget fantastic exotic fruits bouquet in White or Gold Bowmores). So, knowledge sometimes help to choose more wisely what you want to try or sip one day or another.

But when you want raw peat/smoke power, you don‘t need to look far away in the past. So I will take some entry level Islay malts for a review. I will try Bowmore, Caol Ila, Ardbeg and Laphroaig. And also more gentle malt before – recent Bruichladdich Laddie Ten. It is not peated, but it‘s young and from Islay.

So let‘s take Laddie first. Fresh and coastal. Salty with lots of citrus fruits. It should be a new favorite for coastal character lovers who do not necessarily need peat. Can I say – fresh citrus saltiness? Next is Bowmore. I do not find nothing official in my open bottles space, so I take Gordon and MacPhail Secret Stills Islay 1999 4.16, where’s Bowmore behind. It has some coastal character too. But not so expressive as the former. Some flower notes, that I like helps to appreciate it also. I am almost sure that age would change this character significantly – some notes would be change by wood notes probably.

Let‘s continue with Caol Ila 12 year old. It is interesting distillery, bit controversial let‘s say – they do produce the most in Islay, give most than any other for blending, not the most famous there. But make great malt. Especially you can find great examples of independent bottlings nowadays. So, their core expression, 12 year old. It gives some youth – good mix of bit sweet peat, coastal character and smoke (despite the fact, that bigger part of CI is matured in mainland, in Diageo warehouses). This one is worth a try as their 25 yo also. It’s a good thing to compare what age can give to this malt and if you like it or not. I like both, even they are really different. Let’s take another peat monster here – the famous (or at least liked by many) Ardbeg 10 year old. Pungent, shows it’s power. I know many people that like it a lot. Sometimes I prefer its dry smokiness like ash, earth, pepper and lots of bonfire. I can’t call it most complex malt on Islay, but it can show it’s character expressively. Really clear and easy to like.

Last but not least – we take 2 Laphroaigs - Triple Wood (TW) and Quarter Cask (QC). Let‘s take them both together. TW is matured in sherry, bourbon and quarter (for more wood impact) casks, while QC in bourbon and quarter casks only. So, Triple Wood – it‘s less pungent than it‘s brother. Some notes coming from sherry maturing also.  Bit sweet and bit different than other Laphroaigs I had. I like it a lot – I feel like eaten some smoked ribs with nice caramelized sauce (I don‘t like to eat it, by the way!). Has it‘s place in my closet. But QC is more clear and simple. More smoke, more other notes. Worth mentioning that both should age 10 at maximum, usually bit lower. Some say they are 7-9 age malts. I believe it and that shows once again that for nicely peated malt we do not need much years of ageing. Let‘s assume that peated malt is more attractive to taste than unpeated while maturing is several years only. I had tried 4 year old Bunnahabhain and couple of Kilchomans (3 and 4 year old) and those were already drinkable and quiet enjoyable.

There is now best malt (or whisky), we all know that (I hope). There is no optimum age also. Each cask, each year can make a difference. So keep looking – curiousness can offer great pleasure by searching and also finding. This is good to have a favorite ones, but sometimes they are too boring. It‘s funny to get to know others. Even more funny to understand how distillery character can change depending on cask type and age. Just keep improving the knowledge and share it!

Filtration and strength differences
 

I am strong believer that many whisky lovers and especially experts thinks what strength is the best to reveal whisky character at it’s peak. And what proportion of water to add. For my personal experience, I love cask strength malts – you can always add water. But you can never add strength and character. So it’s simple – if you have a malt higher in strength, you have less water in it, so more character, right? The same thing is about filtration – it’s almost a fact (or it’s really a fact) that chill-filtration removes part of the taste and aroma from whisky. It was done very often to remove “clouds” (rich oils) from the drink that it would be ok when you put water or ice.  That was very appealing to simple customer. Correct. But for whisky enthusiast aroma and palate is much more important that aesthetic view, right? Nowadays people want the real taste and the truth, right?

Anyway, I want to experience it at least a bit by myself. And I have simple chance. Thanks Aurimas from CL World Brands, I can have my experiment done. As we know, the distillery under their ownership, Bunnahabhain, ceased chill-filtration in 2010 and also improved their strength up to 46,3%. So I have two 12 yo’s. Older one at 40% and chill-filtered, and a recent one at 46,3% without unchill-filtered.

Let’s pour both in separate glasses. The color is very different – we have much darker with unchill-filtered one. Does it have difference. Let’s take “weaker” one. Aroma and palate are simple, fresh and pleasant enough. Easily drinkable with coastal character and some kick. But with recent version I have got more aroma and much more deep notes. Wow, it’s really much more different than I thought. It’s more remarkable and bit different even. Taste is also not the same – more intensive for the “stronger version”.

If distillery didn’t change much in the making process (vatting proportions are the same comparing to former version), I enjoyed recent version much more. It’s more complex and full. With more aroma and taste, keeping distillery character.  This time I can really assume that higher strength and non chill-filtration gives more taste and is more appealing to my taste. I will try to repeat similar thing if I’ll get a chance. With Ledaig maybe?