Saturday, January 04, 2014

merry whiskmas

So here's another annual tradition - the post-Christmas whisky round-up. I'm pleased to say that my relatives and in-laws have now grasped the basic principles here, which are:
  • whisky as a Christmas present is great;
  • it really doesn't matter if two people end up both buying me a bottle of whisky, even if it ends up being the same brand;
  • just because you bought me a bottle last year doesn't mean that it would be inappropriate for you to buy me another one this year.
So this year's Christmas whisky haul was an encouraging four bottles, though only one was one I hadn't tried before. Fortunately I have three others of relatively recent acquisition in the cupboard to bulk out this post. I think it's often instructive to look at these in pairs, so here goes:

The first one is Strathisla. As I've said before, most Scottish distilleries lay claim to some sort of superlative, however esoteric, but Strathisla's is fairly simple: it is the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland. Needless to say there are a whole host of other distilleries (notably Glenturret and Bowmore) which make subtly different versions of the same claim, and no-one really seems to know the definitive answer.

Anyway, Strathisla's main claim to fame today is that it is the major constituent of the Chivas Regal blend, probably the second-most-famous blended whisky in the world after Johnnie Walker (the other claim is that the distillery complex is one of the most-photographed in Scotland). The single malt hasn't historically been that easy to get hold of, but as of recently they seem to be making a bit of a push into the supermarket sector by updating the packaging  from the old flat brown medicine bottles to some brighter clean white packaging. As far as I can gather the composition of the whisky hasn't changed, though.

Let's try a bit. It smells great - buttery, nutty, quite sweet, with the usual Speyside almonds and magic markers. To be honest what follows (i.e. taste-wise) is a slight disappointment - it's nice and biscuity and slightly less sweet then you'd expect, but it's not as rich and interesting as the initial sniff would suggest, and it doesn't hang about much in terms of aftertaste either.

Secondly, The Singleton Of Dufftown. Now I'm naturally inclined to be ill-disposed towards this one, as the silliness of the naming annoys me somewhat. What this is is a 12-year-old single malt from the Dufftown distillery, located in the town of the same name which is the spiritual (pun sort of intended) home of Speyside whisky and home to half-a-dozen active distilleries, most notably Glenfiddich. So why couldn't they just call it "Dufftown 12"? Well, mostly because the distillery is owned by Diageo, and they wanted a way of sexing up some of the products from their lesser-known distilleries like Dufftown, Glendullan and Glen Ord under a single "brand".

Despite that annoyance, though, this is really quite good. It's very inoffensive, as befits something clearly designed to compete with the standard 12-year-old versions of the Speyside behemoths like Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, but none the worse for that. It's slightly lighter and fudgier (and perhaps less interesting) than the Strathisla when you have a sniff, but there's more going on when you actually get to drinking it. Nothing massively startling, mind you, but just nice a sweet biscuity whisky that doesn't die away after a couple of seconds like the Strathisla does. If you're viewing it in the light of its obvious competitors I can't speak for the Glenlivet but I'd say it's more interesting than the standard Glenfiddich.

The second pairing is a couple of slightly more hairy-chested brutes - firstly Talisker Dark Storm. I'm very fond of the standard Talisker, and this one is supposedly a darker, smokier version of that, matured in heavily charred casks. It's currently only available in airport duty-free outlets which is where my father picked up a bottle for me on his travels a few months back.

It's been a while since I sampled the bog-standard 10-year-old Talisker, but this one certainly does seem very dark and smoky, perhaps veering towards the rich dark smoky Islay malts like Bowmore and Lagavulin compared to the standard Talisker which is more salty and peppery. It's tremendously rich and sweet to drink, perhaps slightly overpoweringly so, a bit like the Lagavulin. I don't usually, but this is one (particularly at 45.8% ABV) that might benefit from a dash of water. If pressed I'd probably have to say that the standard bottling is a better all-round whisky.

Next we head south of the border. We've done this before, of course, but this time we're off to Norfolk to sample the delights of the only proper distillery in England. The imaginatively-named English Whisky Company produce a number of products, Chapter 9 being their peated expression. They've only been going for a few years, so there aren't any really aged stocks, as you can see by the colour - very pale and straw-coloured, like healthy well-hydrated piss (the Talisker, by contrast, representing the morning after a night on the Guinness and vindaloo). There's plenty of peat, though, which combined with the paleness of the whisky makes it seem like some of the younger Ardbegs, without being quite so much like drinking an ashtray. It tastes young - quite hot, quite raw, a bit like the Penderyn, but without being off-putting.

If we're considering all this as a preamble to a pair of verdicts in the head-to-head contests, then I suppose the winners would be the Dufftown and the Talisker. That won't stop me drinking all of them in due course, though.


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