Review: Hiding in Plain Sight

Dalwhinnie 25yo 1987 – 52.1%

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God, I love Dalwhinnie. It’s not the cheapest whisky out there, nor is it the flashiest. It doesn’t come draped in jewel-encrusted, oak boxes and it doesn’t come soiled by marketing flannel. It’s not even massively high quality, if I’m honest. It just sits there on the A9 and gets on with the business of making solid whisky and looking after visitors. Consistency; that’s the key, old chums, consistency. What? Winter’s Gold? Never fucking heard of it. Shut up.

If you’ve ever made the wonderful journey up to Inverness, there’s a good chance you’ve been past the Dalwhinnie distillery. Surrounded by flora-rich Highland terrain and colder than a witch’s tit, there are few sights that bring more of a glow to this icy, shrivelled walnut I call a heart.

Like a good number of Diageo distilleries, Dalwhinnie produces very little in the way of regular official bottlings. You’ll get their 15 year old (found everywhere), the oloroso-finished Distillers Edition (found mostly online) and, apparently, Winter’s Gold (found mostly in bins).

Every so often, the professional piss-takers at Diageo will throw out an older version as part of their yearly Special Releases to appeal to a small number of hardcore fans, although you’ll need to be willing to part with a fair chunk of your hard-earned to get your hands on a bottle. That cunning combination of limited demand and questionable pricing is why, more than five years after release, you can easily get your hands on a bottle of today’s dram.


Fun Facts*

  • Despite its rugged surroundings, Dalwhinnie’s proximity to a major trunk road means you’re far less likely to be sexually harassed by a farmer.
  • Despite its rugged surroundings, Dalwhinnie’s proximity to a major trunk road means you’re far more likely to be murdered by a truck driver.
  • Winter’s Gold was a vicious rumour started by a panicked brand ambassador in an attempt to make Mortlach appear less shit.

Nose: Big old whiff of heather honey, followed by malted milk biscuits, marzipan and a hint of allspice. Beeswax and a hint of snuffed candles as it opens up.

Palate: That wax from the nose is more evident, but the heather honey is the dominant force here. A decent amount of oak, flashes of cinnamon, some more honey and a good dose of roasted chestnuts.

Finish: Gentle but prolonged. Honeyed with spiced rice pudding and more of that gentle oak.

Thoughts: A real dark horse, but not for everyone. Hardcore Dalwhinnie fans (all eight of us) will really love this.


score BThe best Dalwhinnie I’ve ever tried. As much as it pains me, it’s got to lose a bit of ground because of the high price and niche appeal, but this is within touching distance of greatness.

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Review: With Your Glass Or In It

Springbank 10 – 46%

Springbank 10

*Lifts dust sheet*

*Says a prayer and fires up PC*

*Taps microphone*

Mother of God, this still works.

How’s it going, old chums? Been a while, eh? What have you been up to? Did that rash ever clear up? Champion.

Fair play, it has been well over a year since I put finger to keyboard with any level of intent. I’d like to be able to sit here and say that it’s been the result of some life-altering event or cataclysmic psychological meltdown, but the truth is I just got bored.

It is surprising, therefore, that I find myself suffused with newfound enthusiasm, nosing glass in hand, ready once more to foist my baseless scribblings upon you. Poor bugger.

Surprising because, in point of fact, I am no less frustrated with the world of whisky, no less saddened by the transparent fawning of bought-off reviewers and no less vitriolic at the sight of the latest ‘must-have’ turning up at auction within a month of release. Yet, lo! Here I am. Call it Christmas spirit, call it nostalgia – whatever you put it down to, you’ll have more of an idea than me. Anyhoo, the whisky. Springbank, yeah? Why not?

I have to admit, I was a late bloomer when it comes to Campbeltown. While the other, bigger, more developed drinkers were strutting around the whisky showers, proudly showing off their Longrows, I was huddled in the far corner, towel around my waist, covering my Littlemill. I found Campbeltown whisky to be challenging, unsettling and quite Spartan in nature. A little perseverance, however, eventually opened the door to some wonderful experiences, although I’d be lying if I said it was all plain sailing.

Even now I find I have to build up to drams from ‘The Wee Toon’ and can honestly say I find whisky under the Springbank label the most challenging of all. Despite this, I maintain that Campbeltown is consistently putting out some of the best whisky in Scotland today and is well worth a look (and a visit).


Fun Facts*

  • Springbank bottlings are the Springbank distillery’s medium-peated offering, apart from when they throw Longrow in there just to fuck with you.
  • Getting to Springbank is relatively easy without a car; one plane, three coaches, a series of arm-wrestles and a staring contest just outside the town limits.
  • Campbeltown is the westernmost town on the island of Great Britain. Mallaig tried to challenge this claim in 1985 but the whole delegation withdrew after two Campbeltonians rocked up in a dinghy and whipped the piss out of them.

Springbank 10 is presented without artificial colouring, has not been chill-filtered and is bottled at 46%.

Nose: In a word, fresh. Pine oil, lemon rind, earthy peat (as opposed to oily), flint. It’s all very stripped back and hard. A bit of time to develop gives subtle buttery notes and some vanilla custard to round off the austerity.

Palate: Lemon, salt, peat, rainwater, white pepper. Sounds horrific to some people but it works very well, if a little challenging. Gentle oak and a subtle, creamy sweetness follow before things get too strict.

Finish: Long, stern and slightly bitter – like a snake deputy headteacher passed over for promotion. As you make your way through the glass, the finish gets spicier.

Thoughts: Good mouthfeel, well constructed, layered – there’s real quality here. It’s not too hard on the wallet either ; you can currently get this for around £40, putting it into Ardbeg 10 territory, as far as entry-level bottlings go.


score BThis is the whisky equivalent of taking a cold shower with wire wool; does the job wonderfully but it’ll take a fair bit of getting used to for some. Glen Scotia may offer an easier introduction to the region, but this really is the way to go, in my opinion.

Review: Dances With Cubs

Wolfburn Single Malt – 46%

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Those of you who read my diatribes regularly need to get a fucking life will know that I’m a bit of a tool and a tad quick to make snap judgements. This is far from ideal for a well respected blogger and regular reviewer of whisky, so it’s lucky I’m neither. New distilleries then.

They are popping up all over the place. Consumers’ thirst for Scotch whisky has reached such a level that wide-eyed, slavering business types are queuing up for the opportunity to bleed them dry. Usually I’d find the idea of drinking barely legal whisky as appealing as the cold leftovers from last week’s turd buffet but this one has a picture of a wolf on the bottle and winter is coming.

Wolfburn Distillery was originally founded in 1821 and ran for around 30 years or so before going to rack and ruin. The new distillery was built in 2012 about a quarter of a mile from the old site and started pumping out spirit in 2013. Earlier this year the spirit reached the magical 3 year mark and the distillery released two bottlings. One of the releases, today’s dram, is their standard single malt whisky, retailing for around £45. The other was their £200 inaugural special edition, crafted from the very first casks filled and, with 100 bottles being made available in the UK, a prime example of the utter wankery that surrounds the notion of exclusivity in today’s market. They all sold though; take a bow, marketing team.


Fun Facts*

  • Wolfburn is the northernmost whisky distillery on the Scottish mainland. Similarly, my house is the westernmost house on my road, if you ignore nos. 35 & 37 and that weird one on the corner that’s pretty much basically on Tuffnell Avenue if you ask me.
  • The distillery is named after a local water source and definitely not after a horrific incident that took place in Thurso Zoo in 1982.
  • My lengthy Twitter campaign linking the distillery name with an historic animal atrocity was inaccurate, regrettable and, evidently, libellous.

Wolfburn Single Malt is presented without artificial colouring, has not been chill-filtered and is bottled at 46%

Nose: Light and fresh. Very breakfasty in nature. Immediately there are wafts of cereal, biscuits and dollops of cream. Nothing especially challenging but nice enough.

Palate: Crisp. The breakfast cereal is there but it’s underscored by faint bubblegum and lime cordial with barley sugar nearing the finish. A suggestion of peat, perhaps.

Finish: Not great. Short and fairly spicy but with a hint of the maritime about it.

Thoughts: Putting my vitriol aside, this is actually quite promising. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nowhere near ready at this age and charging £45 shows a huge amount of brass neck, especially in light of Glengyle’s recent 12yo release at £35. Nevertheless, there’s quality in the glass.


Score C

If you can snag a sample from a friend, it’s worth a try. Shows a great amount of promise and I’ll be watching the distillery with interest. I just can’t recommend a bottle at this price. 

The Arse Explores: Islay

Ahoy there, my old chums. Today we’re going on a trip. The Stumblebus has been washed, the seats have been steam-cleaned and I’ve even put one of those smelly tree things on the mirror. So climb aboard, crack open your hip-flask and keep your emergency pants close at hand. We’re off to Islay!

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The Geography

A little background, if you’ll permit me. Islay is a Hebridean island off the south-west coast of Scotland. It’s known as the Queen of the Hebrides, presumably for its Teutonic connection. You see, for most of the year, this tranquil little isle holds a population of a little over three thousand people, fourteen hundred sheep and Iain McArthur. However, for one week a year, it is invaded by roughly nine million Germans to take part in the annual World Queuing Championships. This means, for a brief period, Islay has the world’s highest density of Bavarians outside of Oktoberfest or a Royal wedding.

The History

Ask your average whisky fan to describe Islay malts in one word and they’ll probably say overpriced peaty. This is down to the methods the distilleries use to dry their malted barley. It is said that, historically, there were high costs involved in importing coal from the mainland. Consequently, producers used what they had on the island; peat, vegetation and, in the case of Laphroaig Select, value charcoal briquettes from the Bowmore Co-op. The robust flavour of the resultant whisky is highly prized, leading to a number of mainland distilleries using peat to both cash in on the current trend and disguise the horrible shit they’re trying to flog.

The Whisky

Islay currently holds eight working distilleries. The Kildalton coast plays host to three of them, Laphroaig, Lagavulin and Ardbeg, all known for their heavily-peated style. Head up the east coast and you’ll happen upon Caol Ila, the clinical, tech-powered leviathan that’ll satisfy all your lemon-napalm cravings. Bunnahabhain is a hop, skip and a jump away and notable only for the fact that it’s not notable for anything.

The west of the island will bring you face to face with Kilchoman, Islay’s newest distillery. The stuff it pumps out will bring a smile to your face and an ache to your wallet. Drop down to Bruichladdich for everything from inexpensive, unpeated drinkers to costly palate-fuckers with crazy finishes. Bowmore completes the picture. Islay’s oldest distillery can provide you with some real treats, if you can cut through the marketing bullshit.

The Facts

  • If you’re not sure how to pronounce Islay, go up to the biggest bloke in the pub and say ‘Islay View’. If you don’t get kissed or punched, you’re not pronouncing it correctly.
  • Failing to wave to a fellow motorist on Islay is punishable by death.
  • Theorists predict that by 2017 the world will end as a result of the Caol Ila distillery finally achieving sentience and launching draff missiles in an attempt to destroy Nick Morgan’s detractors.

The Arse Picks

Under £50: Ardbeg 10

Often touted as the best entry level Scotch whisky on the market and miles better than a lot of Ardbeg’s highly prized special releases.

£50 – £100: Kilchoman 100% Islay

More lightly peated than their excellent Machir Bay but bags of flavour and poise. A real revelation.

Over £100: Caol Ila 25

A criminally underrated distillery that will one day enslave us all. Many bemoaned the drop to 43% (me included) but this has brought a gentle elegance to the fore. A delicious whisky, perfect for evenings by the fire trying to remember life before the uprising.


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So there you have it, pals; a lightning tour of a region that has something for everyone. Now back on the bus, quickly. There’s a strange rumbling from the east.

Your old mate,

Arse

The Arse Explores: The Regions

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Ever wondered what all that information on the label of a whisky bottle means? Numbers, words, more numbers – how is the average drinker supposed to know what the hell is going on? Never fear, old son, Arse is here to save the day again.

Why are we looking at the label in the first place? Answer: We want to know if the whisky inside is any good before we buy it. Before we get down to that, it’s worth recapping on what we do know:

  • If the label says Ardbeg, it’s bound to be brilliant and worth every penny
  • Age definitely equals quality
  • The more you pay for a whisky, the happier you’ll be when you drink it
  • If you crack half a dozen bottles open in the store, Tesco will definitely press charges this time

Here’s the problem though; you already have all the Ardbegs put aside for your retirement, old whisky doesn’t exist any more and that sexual harassment defence put a massive hole in your savings. How can you be sure you’re going to like that Glen Moray Tizer Cask? You could read one of the many whisky blogs online but, let’s face it, who’s going to take advice from some random mush off the internet?

One way of assessing the general profile of a whisky is to look at the region from which it was produced. Now pay attention pals, I’m giving you pearls here.

Despite what people will tell you, there are only five officially-recognised whisky producing regions of Scotland. Those of you with two hands will have incorrectly counted six, while our amputee friends are probably trying to remove a shoe right about now; we’ll just wait a while for them to catch up…

… back with us? Jolly good. You may have counted six, but don’t worry, it’s a common mistake. Despite what online retailers may have led you to believe, ‘Island’ is not officially recognised as a region by the Scotch Whisky Association. Those of you who work for Diageo will be sitting back smugly right about now as you knew that, didn’t you? Well, ‘West Highland’ isn’t a region either, gobshites. As for Agent X, ‘Smoked Dog Turd’ isn’t a region either, so quit your Lagavulin-bashing, you prick.

The SWA lists Speyside, Highland, Islay, Lowland & Campbeltown as the five official whisky-producing regions of Scotland. “So what?”, you may ask. Well, my old chums, this is where it gets clever. Whiskies that come from the same region all share similar characteristics. Think about it, yeah? It’s why all Islay whiskies are peaty, all bourbons taste identical and all Canadian whiskies are crap.

Over the next few weeks months blog posts, we shall hold hands as we merrily skip through Scotland, exploring the locations, histories and styles of the areas that bring us our beloved booze.


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Get packing.

Your old mate,

Arse

5 Steps to Enjoying Single Malt Whisky

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll be aware that whisky is painfully trendy these days. Consumers are becoming more and more clued up when it comes to knocking back Scotland’s favourite tipple and, let’s face it, it can be quite daunting when looking to jump on the malty merry-go-round for the first time. After all, you don’t want to look like a total prat, do you? That would be awful. Thankfully, I’ve taken the time to whittle down the ins and outs into five simple steps. Never fear, old mate; let the Arse be your guide.


1. Buy Some Single Malt Whisky

Thanks to whisky’s popularity this can be done online, in a supermarket, at a petrol station – pretty much anywhere. A word of warning though; be sure to check the label for the words ‘Single Malt’ to ensure you’re getting the real deal. I once grabbed a box off the supermarket shelf during a rushed lunch break and arrived home only to find that in my haste I’d bought a three pack of energy-saving light bulbs.

 

2. Open the Bottle

Most Scotch single malt whiskies are sealed with a cork stopper topped with metal foil. Pull the foil tab off, twist the cork gently, run and get a plaster for your sliced thumb and remove the rest of the foil. You can now twist the cork free to the sound of a satisfying pop or, in the case of Signatory Vintage bottles, a sickening crunch and thirty minutes of swearing.

 

3. Choose Your Receptacle

This is a vital part of the process. Drinking from the bottle may have been fine in your Uncle Pete’s day, but he’s always been weird and the family doesn’t really talk to him that much since that incident on the Isle of Wight. Glass is almost universally favoured, although there is that one company that swears wooden tumblers are the way forward and it’s all about oak, oak, oak, which is pretty much a rip-off of BenRiach’s stance, come to think of it. Stick to glass, yeah?

 

4. Pour it Into Your Mouth

For the avoidance of doubt, this is the hole in the middle of your face, just above your chin and just below your nose. If you regularly wear skinny jeans, red braces and lumberjack shirts, there’s a pretty good chance the majority of your face is covered in matted hair. To locate your mouth, stand in front of a mirror and say the words “Their single is the worst song on the album”, then throw the whisky into the centre of the moving part.

 

5. Tell All Your Friends

Some say that this is the most important part of being a single malt drinker. Phone, text and IM all of your friends, colleagues and family. You now get to force your new-found sophistication into their grubby, plebeian faces. Remember to tell them how single malt whisky is vastly superior to the blended swill they knock back and that real whisky connoisseurs would never think of adding anything to their dram. This way, when you actually learn a few things about whisky, you can look back fondly and marvel at what an insufferable prick you were.


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Good luck to you, pal.

Your friend,

Arse

Review: Um…forgettable

Aultmore 12 Foggie Moss – 46%

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Ever get the feeling that you’re not quite normal? That you’re not singing from the same page as everyone else? That you’re, well, odd? Welcome, dear friend, welcome; you’re my kind of person. Vanilla milkshakes, ready salted crisps, my mother-in-law; all things that, presumably, other people rave about, yet the point of them has passed me by completely. You can add Aultmore to that list too.

Despite having nosed, tongued and bluffed my way through 1000+ whiskies, a quick check of the list reveals I’ve tried precisely five expressions of Aultmore, all independent bottlings. Here’s the strange thing – I can remember precisely bugger all about any of them. They’re so firmly entrenched in my blind spot, they may as well not exist. They were neither good nor bad enough to implant echoes of themselves in this booze-soaked mess I call a brain and, in my book, there’s nothing worse than that.


Fun Facts*

  • The name Aultmore comes from the Scots Gaelic for ‘Big Burn’, the former MP for Dundee and holder of the Guinness world records for ‘Most F-bombs in a recorded political speech’ and ‘Loudest piss in the House of Commons’ (jointly held with Margaret Beckett).
  • Current owners, Dewar’s, have owned Aultmore once before, in the mid 1920s. Nobody told them though and it was two years before they realised and managed to get shot of it.
  • A goose bit me on the sternum once.

A little while back, as part of ‘The Last Great Malts of Scotland’ collection, Dewar’s released a bunch of OB single malts from such memorable distilleries as Craigellachie (nope), Royal Brackla (me neither) and Glen Deveron (think I went to school with his brother). Also released were three aged expressions of Aultmore – the 12, the 21 and the 25. All bottled at 46%, all unchill-filtered and all presented with natural colour.

The subject of today’s ramble is the entry level bottling, the 12yo. I can’t say I have particularly high hopes.


Nose: A sweetie. A riot of sugar-soaked orchard fruits – think caramel apple betty with a liberal dose of poached pear. Barley sugar and travel sweets follow but clear to reveal warm hay, breakfast biscuits and a gentle maltiness.

Palate: Great, medium-weight mouthfeel. Icing sugar dusted fruit jellies. Sweet and malty with some glimpses of grass and a light savoury note; I hesitate to use the word meaty but there’s a slight salted game element to the whole thing. Takes on a more vegetal slant nearing the finish.

Finish: Coats the mouth beautifully, allowing the finish to linger. Not especially spicy or woody but there’s a solid earthy note that reminds me of the Benromach 10 100 Proof, if not quite as vegetal.

Thoughts:  Good balance of sweet and savoury, although weighted in favour of the former. Can’t fault it for body – the benefits of a natural presentation, perhaps. I’ve seen this priced online anywhere between £35 and £55, excluding delivery, although you probably won’t want to stray too far north of 40.


score BSure, it won’t make you go weak at the knees but it’s a sizeable step up from the majority of entry-level Speyside bottlings and punches well above its weight. Affordable, available and, most importantly, just the right side of memorable.