Monday, December 28, 2009

welshing on the whisky reviews? let me scotch that rumour

I seem to have acquired a couple of Christmas additions to the whisky cupboard, so here they are.

Actually the first one doesn't really justify the note of slight surprise in the previous sentence, as it was by way of an early Christmas present to myself. It's a Caol Ila I spotted with ten quid knocked off in Waitrose a month or so back. A quick note on pronunciation before we start: it's kull EE-la rather than kale EYE-la or anything like that.

Bit of background: Caol Ila is an Islay distillery, so you'd expect a big rasping peaty smoky knuckle sandwich of a whisky. However, this particular one is the 1995 Distiller's Edition which was finished, pretty unusually, in casks that had previously held Moscatel wine. What that means in practice is that you get a whisky with a slightly split personality, quite sweet and vanilla-y to start with but then with a nose-stinging, eye-watering smokiness at the end, like the one that you get when you're standing next to a bonfire and the wind changes direction suddenly. It's not a bad option for a peat/smoke wuss like me as it's not as mouth-puckeringly ashy as, say, Ardbeg. That said one might argue the non-standard cask finishes are a bit of a gimmick - this certainly isn't as well-integrated as, say, Highland Park.

The second one really was a gift, though, from Hazel's sister and her partner, and it's quite an interesting one: Penderyn. Interesting because, while it's single malt whisky, it's Welsh rather than Scottish: The Penderyn distillery is up near Aberdare, about 25-30 miles from Newport as the crow flies.

One of the interesting things about whisky in general is how close a cousin of beer it is; indeed the wash which is the input to the whisky distillation process is to all intents and purposes beer. In the case of Penderyn the wash isn't produced (from malted barley) on-site as it is at most distilleries, but is instead tankered up from the Brain's brewery in Cardiff.

A few variants are available; this one is the standard bottling which is finished in Madeira casks. So the same caveats regarding gimmicks apply as for the Caol Ila, I suppose.

This is a very different beast, though - unpeated so there's no smoke, in fact the first thing you get when you have a sniff is an almost raw, chemical, estery smell, backed up by some sweet, fudgy business as well. More fudgy toffee and caramel when you drink it, as well as something a bit biscuity, like a Twix bar. It's quite "hot", partly because it's bottled at 46%, and probably partly because there's no age statement attached to the bottle, so some of the whisky in it may be quite "young". I'd be interested to have a go at a 12-year-old or something like that, once one becomes available.

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