2015 , A strange sort of Year…..

As another year draws to a close , as usual the last (or nearly last….) post of the year is a reflection on what has been a strange sort of year for us , extremely good highs but worrying lows…….

We were supposed to see the New Year in on Islay but just before Christmas i got a very bad cough that resulted in us cancelling the trip , a real shame as we’d been looking forward to the stay in Bowmore .The cough actually lasted 3 weeks and went just as the time came up when the Doctors were willing to treat it !

In February the 4th cask i had an interest in got bottled , A Peated Bunnahabhain that had been purchased through Raymond at Bladnoch Distillery , the full story is HERE

Margadale-Bottles

At the end of February we headed north to spend a night with some good friends of ours , The Cuthberts , it was great to see Francis , Hazel and the kids again , it gave us a chance to catch up and also see how Francis’s whisky was maturing , i also managed to talk Francis into letting me have a sample to take to Toronto (More about that later….) , another old friend from the area , Liv , also popped in for dinner .

Hmmm..... Which one ?

Hmmm….. Which one ?

March saw us resuming the Whisky Festivals representing Amrut and our good friend Ashok , We did 3 this year , Newcastle in March , Edinburgh in June and York in September .

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All were very good but i think we enjoyed Edinburgh the best , it was a glorious day , it was in a marquee and it was in a glorious garden in the New Town ! The only bummer about it was we had to do a course to serve at it as the Licensing laws had changed in Scotland. But it wasn’t the only online course i had to do to serve Whisky at a Festival , i had to do the Smart Serve Course for the Toronto one and that was a bugger ! Beware anyone that wants to serve Alcohol to the public in Ontario !!! As it turned out the York festival was our last serving behind the Amrut Table as (a) we didn’t make it to Manchester due to unforseen circumstances and (b) the UK distributors were taking over the running of the tables after Manchester . We’ve had a great time representing the Distillery at The Whisky Lounges Festivals , meeting people and enlighting them about Amruts Great Whisky , it is hard work but great fun !

Talking of Toronto…..  We decided to return there again in May , we originally were just going back s ‘punters’ this time but once Johanna and Charles found out they asked if we could do another Masterclass (must’ve done something right the last time…..) , we did , A Caol Ila one with a Daftmill thrown in for fun . We had a great 4 days in Toronto , The place is wonderful but the people make it extra special , a huge thanks to Johanna and Charles , Wendy , Rick , Paul and Nancy , Rob and many , many more for once again making us thoroughly welcome and hopefully we’ll see you in the not too distant future !

Toronto Skyline 2

You can read all about our visit HERE and HERE

Another strange thing about this year is it is the first year since 1998 that we haven’t set foot on Islay ! Normally we would spend at least our summer fortnight there , not this year as for our summer vacation we were invited by Amrut to visit India !

So come the end of August we boarded a flight at Newcastle with the eventual destination of Bangalore . To say we had a fantastic time is a bit of an understatement ! There were so many highlights, of which the top one for me has to be the day spent at the distillery in the company of the Master Distiller Surrinder Kumar and our good friend Ashok .

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The whole trip was an experience we’ll never forget , Our thanks to all at Amrut for their Kindness and Generosity , Rick , Ashok , Surrinder , Pramod , ‘Aunty’ Valli Margreat , Purshotham and Prakash you made it a very special holiday !

You can read about the Indian adventure on my other Blog , Amrut….. The Spirit of India ! , HERE , HERE , HERE and HERE

A few weeks after our return life was going to take a slight turn for the worse , on the morning of the 25th Sept i had a myocardial infarction , a heart attack as it is commonly known though not technically correct , luckily (if there can be such a thing for a MI) I was working at a local hospital and got took straight around to the Walk In Centre , from there I was whisked off to the brand new , super duper , Emergency Specialist Hospital at Cramlington accompanied by Melanie,  who’d been dropped off from her work place , After various tests and 10ml Morphine (have to say I’ve had a bigger kick off Jura than that…. But it did kill the pain) they said I’d had a MI and would have to be moved to The Freeman ( The Regional Heart Centre )  for a Angioplasty .

I spent the Friday night in Cramlington and was moved to The Freeman late on the Saturday night , they explained the procedure , they go in through my wrist with a tube , inject dye in , see what was wrong with xray cameras and if not much repair , all under ‘Local’ , would take about an hour or so . They might do it on the Sunday if an Emergancy comes in and they can utilise the team but more or likely on the Monday .

So on the Sunday afternoon (27th) at 3pm I got the call to get changed…….

They started at around 3.45pm , I was in for 3 Hours ! It’s not easy lying still for 3 hours while people shove things into you ! they eventually had to make a 2nd entry at the groin as it wasn’t as straight forward as they thought (never is with me…..) , in the end they fitted 4 Stents and I’m surprised there isn’t a hole in the ceiling when the removed the tube from my groin area……

Eventually I was returned to the Ward for possibly the most uncomfortable nights sleep, well not sleep, I’ve ever had , I had to keep the leg they’d used straight all night and a couple of “characters” on the ward didn’t help ! I was released from Hospital on the Monday Evening with a fine collection of Medication , I have to say the staff at all the hospitals were excellent , especially the procedure team .

I then spent the next 8 weeks recouperating , missing a few whisky events in the process , before returning to work at the end of November . So that is basically 2015 , 2 great Holidays and a major health scare ! There is one person i haven’t thanked yet , the person who accompanied me on all my adventures and who was my rock during the health scare , The love of my life , my gorgeous wife Melanie , she is one hell of a woman and got me through the recent months ! Thank You My Love !

So to the Good things /Bad things of this year……

The Good things……. Canadian Wine (again) , Canadian Whisky (again) ,  Indian Wine , Anything in Amruts Warehouses ! ‘Aunty’ Valli Margreats Biryanis , My Bunnahabhain Bottling !.

The Bad Things….. Ardbegs recent offerings (come on guys, get a grip you can do so much better!) , Lots of the Whisky Community ( get over the obsession with Jim Murray , if you don’t like what he does , don’t give him the publicity , just move along) , Even more ridiculous pricing of Whisky (that’s a good way to lose custom ) .

I hope everyone has a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Prosperous New Year ! 

sheridee

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3 Tasty Samples

It’s not often i buy samples but i wanted to try a few so i purchased 3 off the Master of Malt site….. 

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Douglas Laing Director’s Cut 1989 25yo Longmorn

Longmorn is my favourite Speysider , i’ve been keeping an eye out for a 25yo to add to my bundle of 25yo’s  i’m collecting for our 25th Wedding Anniversary in 2019 . From a refill Bourbon Hogshead distilled in April 1989 and Bottled in June 2014 at 54.2% , it is a pale straw colour in the glass . The nose is extremely fruity and fresh , almost the old Opal Fruits , very buttery and vanilla , quite spicy as well . A wonderful Nose ! The palate is peppery , also lots of oak spices , still lots of fruit but the spices dominate . The finish is quite long with a lovely pepperiness to it .

A Lovely Longmorn , good balance to it and a worthy addition to the “Silver 25” list !

Glenfarclas 25yo

I’ve always had a soft spot for Glenfarclas , it was the First Distlllery Melanie and myself ever did a tour in back in the 90’s , we’ve shared some great old Farclases from the SMWS so a 25yo wouldn’t go amiss on the “Silver 25” list . A very soft sherriness to the nose , the traditional Christmas Cake – cake dough , dried fruits , glace cherries – and a hint of Coffee . The Palate pretty much carries on from the nose with the addition of chocolate and Cola cube sweets , A very sweet medium finish to it .

A Lovely Glenfarclas , definitely a future one for the list…..

Caol Ila 1998 15yo Unpeated – 2014 Special Release

Coming in at a whopping 60.4% , i’ve been want to try this one for a while , i’ve had the 10yo , 12yo and Stitchells Reserve .

Pale Straw in colour , the initial nose is fresh green apples , VERY fresh green apples ! Touch of lemon and Malt . Wow ! This is an incredibly fruity little number after the Apple it bursts into a bulging bowl of fruit , Wonderful ! The fruit continues on the palate , excellent , highly drinkable at the full strength of 60.4% . Really Spicy as well , becomes very Apple Pie and Custard after a while , the spiciness continues into the finish . With a touch of water it certainly calms it down a touch but seems to take a bit of it’s bite away .

An excellent dram , the unpeated spirit seem to get better with age .

A purchase since……

Longmorn25

The “Silver 25” List Currently stands at 9 Bottles……

25s

  • Ardbeg Lord of the Isles
  • SMWS 1978 25yo Brora 61.20 (labelled 61.2)
  • Bunnahabhain 25yo O.b.
  • SMWS 1980 25yo Caol Ila 53.98
  • Bladnoch Forum 1984 25yo Caol Ila
  • Laphroaig 25yo O.b. 2013 Bottling
  • DL Directors Cut 1989 25yo Longmorn
  • Bladnoch Forum 25yo Port Ellen
  • The Wine Society 25yo Islay Single Malt

Two Berrys Own Bunnahabhains

At the recent Whisky Lounge Manchester Festival i was so wrapped up in serving Amrut i missed the chance to try two Berrys Own Bunnahabhains at their table ! Thankfully Rob (@BBRrob) Whitehead has kindly sent me a couple of samples to try .

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Rob at the Manchester Festival 

1987 Cask #2451 49.8%

A lovely golden colour in the glass , on the nose a slight hint of sherry (a refill sherry cask? ) , The Bunnahabhain Sweetness – Edinburgh Rock/ Confectioners sugar , Cola Cube sweets , dried fruits , Marzipan and Christmas Cake dough . The palate definitely hints at a Sherry cask ! Carrying on the flavours from the nose it adds a strong spiciness and a luxurious mouthfeel , the finish is long with spices , the Bunnahabhain sweetness and a hint of sherry .

Another cracking Bunnahabhain , not overly sherried just nicely balanced , i prefer my sherried whiskies this way from a refill rather than the fresh sherry bomb . Does not disappoint !

1989 Cask #5716 42.9%

This one is more of a ripe straw in colour , it does take a little while to open up , straight away on the nose you can tell it’s ex-bourbon , more of the spirit notes , the Bunnahabhain Sweetness (see above) , a touch of malt , digestive biscuits and lemon . The palate is very smooth , very malty , with a strong lemon citrus .The finish is long and loaded with sweetness  and the lemon again .

This one shows off the raw Bunnabhainess , i suspect it’s from a slightly inactive refill cask , it is actually a very nice dram and if you haven’t encountered unsherried Bunna maybe a good one to introduce you to this style from the distillery .

Many thanks again to Rob for the samples , which once again prove that Bunnahabhain is a very under-rated dram from Islay !  

Islay Visits Part XXXVII – A Tale of Two Distilleries…..

Tuesday 29th July 2014

It was a bit of an overcast morning when we emerged from the cottage , So after a rather late breakfast we decided to head up to a favourite spot of ours in the north-east of the Isle , Bunnahabhain . I love going up that part of the isle , the drive up the road makes you feel as though you are somewhere else , it was also quite sunny when we arrived there ! There was quite a lot going on around the distillery as they were transferring stock to new casks , mainly sherry butts by the looks of it , Long John was busy on the fork lift and there was bodies flying in and out of various warehouse doors ! We made our way up to the shop and were greeted by a very enthusiastic guide who no sooner were we in the door was offering us a dram and making pleasant conversation . Sorry i didn’t take her name but she did say you’d just started recently at the distillery and she is thoroughly enjoying her job , she was a lovely lass ! After a natter with Lillian we went for a bit of a walk along the pier , said hello to Long John and made our way back to “Other Places” .

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We had a drive up the Mulindry Road which these days is remarkably quiet , especially of pigs ! Once reaching the High Road we headed into Bowmore to pick up a few Post Cards and try out the new “Taste of Islay” Bistro in the former distillery warehouse  . We’d heard mixed reports about it but decided to give it a go , you can get anything from a Sandwich (£8) to various dishes ( from £8 for Seafood ) , tea , coffee , cakes , wine , whisky , beer….

We went for a couple of Cream Scones and a Tea and Coffee . Things didn’t get off to a good start when one of the paper menus we were given had the remains of someone elses meal on it and for some reason the Scones took a good 10-15mins to arrive after the drinks . The other thing that spoiled it was the fruit scones were hot and the Jam and cream just melted and rolled off it….. The scones weren’t a patch on the ones we had at The Bridgend Hotel last week and the bill came to £3.30 more than the same drinks and cakes we have at The Celtic House Coffee shop . I’ll let you draw your own conclusion……

To finish the afternoon off we popped into the Distillery Visitors Centre , where the reception was the exact opposite of the Bunnahabhain one ! Now before anyone thinks we’ve got a downer on the Bowmore Distillery , we love the place , done loads of tours here , have stayed at their wonderful Cottages quite a lot recently (they are well recommended!) , it’s just that the Customer Service at the VC could do with improving , it’s always nice to get a friendly greeting when you walk in the door or some kind of acknowledgement ! (and this is not a new thing)

Anyway we headed back to the Cottage for a tea of Islay Venison Burgers and a few drams to finish the night……..   

 

The continuing Islay Visit Part XXXVII

Tuesday 22nd July

Turned into a bit of a quiet day activity wise (it’s allowed to , we’re on holiday!) , first off we drove across to Machir Bay where it was a bit blowy off the Atlantic , then we headed across to Bruichladdich to say hello to our good friend Mary (McGregor) and pick up some cask samples . After a bit of a blether we headed down to Ardbeg for a bite to eat but decided to give it a miss when we saw the crowd that was there ! So it was back to Bowmore for a coffee at Roys with a slice of possibly the best Lemon Drizzle Cake i’ve ever had ! Wherever we go for coffee/tea and cakes we have to say the home baking is exceptional on Islay ! Then it was a visit to the Islay Whisky Shop next door and i actually purchased a bottle there ! I’m a bit of a sucker for an aged Bunnahabhain so when i saw this 1991 22yo from a sherry cask at £65 i was sold (even though it’s only 46%)…..

(click on photo to see full size)

coopers_Bunna

Then it was back to the Cottage for an afternoon and evening of whisky drinking and messing around with the 400mm lens on the 6D…….

bowmorethe same previous view of Bowmore with the 400 lens 

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One of the farm breed Heilan Ponies

warehouses

What i think are the new Kilchoman Warehouses in Bruichladdich

Tasting Notes……

Lagavulin 2014 Feis Ile

lagfeis

54.7% Distilled 1995 Bottled 2014

Burnished Gold / Orange Marmalade in Colour , a wonderful sherried Lagavulin nose , smoky as you’d expect , touch of red and dried fruits , Christmas cake dough and bonfires on the beach .A delight on the palate again lots of smoke and Christmas cake . Also Cola Cubes sweets and dry sherry . The finish is long and smoky sherry .

Once again Iain has excelled at what he does best , finding the perfect Lagavulin Sherry casks to go into a Feis Ile bottling , at £99 it is good value for a 19yo Islay . Very recommended !!!

Ardbeg 1978 O.b.

1978 was a bit of a significant year in our lives , we both left school in the summer of this year (36 years ago !) and we both started work not long after , it was also a pretty good year for Ardbeg…….

ard78

A beautiful gold colour in the glass with lovely oily legs , loads of oak on the nose at first , then the Ardbeg-dine (as in Iodine but Ardbegs own special version) with a slight hint of peat and creamy coffee . On the palate again there’s creamy coffee , oak , touch of peat and the ‘dine . The finish is quite long with a lovely sweetness mingling with the peat and ‘dine  . It’s good to bring a special Beg ‘Home’ 16 years after it left  ! Beg as it used to be !

SOS 1978 22yo Casks 1999/2000

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A slightly lighter gold in colour than the O.b. , not as much oak on the nose as the O.b. more farm yardie than anything else and very vegetal . Eventually you get Creamy Coffee and Chocolate coming through , not much peat or Ardbeg-dine . Very relaxed on the palate at first for Cask Strength but it does eventually kick in , more peat here with the ‘dine , it does resemble a beg but not one as in the 74’s , 75’s and 76’s , not even the beautiful monster that is the 77 O.b. . The Finish is long and….. well peaty , vegetal but definitely Beg !

Not ya standard Beg but I love it ! It does make you wonder if this is what it’s like at CS (56.9%) what would all the watered down Connoisseur Choices have been like if they’d left them like this ? An absolutely yummy Beg that I’m glad I bought to Islay !

Two Cask Samples……

 

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Port Charlotte 2002 Spirit of Islay Cask

OMG! This has progressed so much since I last tried it, there is now a strong hint of the Sherry Cask, there wasn’t before. The nose is of a dying bonfire on a beach mixing in with the sherry , it has all the hallmarks of the PC spirit , the palate is very chewy but the bonfire / ashes theme continues, the finish is very long. To me Port Charlotte has been the success of the distillery , i’ve bottled to excellent casks so far and this third one looks like it will be the same ! Jim had a sniff of this at the distillery and his eyes nearly popped out ! He remarked on a boot polish smell and what a cracking spirit it was . 3 more years to go…..

Bruichladdich 2008 Spirit of Islay II Cask

Still quite young (drawn days before its 6th birthday) but it has the Laddie characteristics, on the nose it smells wonderful, creamy toffee, green fruits, vanilla and coffee (?). On the palate it is still very spirity, he’ll of a kick (guess it’s still in the high 60 s ABV Wise) but it’s getting there! Addition of water calms the palate down a bit. Another 4 years for this should see the palate loose it’s spiritiness and it develope into a cracking Laddie .

Christmas 2013

In the Bleak Mid-Winter…..

Friday 27th December

So we set off for an extra Islay visit this year – we won’t be having our usual Spring trip and won’t be back till summer 2014 , there’s a very good reason which we can’t go into right now…… so we decided to squeeze an extra visit in when we’re both on holiday – staying in the Excellent Bowmore Cottages , this time the Stillmans . Once again it was a 4.30am start , this time in atrocious weather , the forecast wasn’t too good and after the recent spate of ferry cancellations we didn’t hold much hope of getting onto the isle . Fortunately on the way up we got as text saying after the cancellation of the 7am ferry the rest would run to timetable……..

Some say we are creatures of habit , we say we just have traditions on trips to Islay we stick to…… So it was Breakfast in Balloch and Coffee and cakes in Tarbert ! It did get sunny on the way up at one point but we soon got over that when the rain started again . Our ferry would be the aging ‘Isle of Arran’ and it seemed to be having some difficulty with the weather , it’s ramps wouldn’t lie at the right angle in the very high sea (combination of a large swell and the westerly wind I would guess) , they had a go with the rear one , then turned around and had a go with the front one . They eventually decided to put some extra ballast in the nose (they said) and bingo ! We were on !

Assuming our usual positions in the bar , we settled down to a nice smooth crossing ( Melanie  wishes…..) , we also got to say hello to Jim McEwan who is on the ferry , hope the cold gets better soon !

I was going to have a ‘Malt of the Month’  but it was Bowmore 12 , Sooooo went for a Laddie 10 instead .

We eventually got on to the Isle at 4.30pm and headed for our place of residency , the Stillmans Cottage Bowmore Distillery , very nice it is too , probably the best of the 3 Distillery Cottages we’ve stayed in . After sorting out our stuff , getting a few supplies , having a Chinese Takeaway from across the road  and giving the Spa Bath a try , we hit the Lochside Hotel for a few drinks to end the night . Tonights Delights were Caol Ila 12 , Bunnahabhain 18 , Bowmore 15yo Darkest and ‘The Devils cask’ , I was very surprised about the last one as I was expecting to hate it after the recent hype .

We returned to the Cottage to have some well deserved rest after a long day……..

Part Two of the Visit
The Photographs….

That was the Year that was……. A Review !

So once again another year draws to a close , Just where do they go to ?

It’s been a traumatic last half of the year for me personally after loosing my job when the company i’d worked for for over 35 years shut down but i did manage to get another one straight away ! So lets look at things that have happened Islay and Whisky Wise !

Islay Visits

We’ve had 3 great visits this year….. so far ! Back in February / March we had our flying / quiet visit to Bowmore staying in the excellent Distillery Cottages . The weather was perfect , as was the company !

The Japanese Garden

The View down the garden (our cottage is the one with the patio doors)

We returned in early May for our spring visit and stayed in Port Ellen this time in a lovely little cottage on Frederick Crescent .

Port Ellen StitchAs well as a great encounter with an Otter we managed to fit in another tour with Iain at Lagavulin amongst other things !

For the Summer trip we once again returned to Maol Buidhe where we managed to do most of the usual things…… Relaxing , Walking , Eating and Drinking ! A good time was had by all on every trip !

Islay Distillery Bottling of the Year

So down to the nitty gritty , i haven’t tried as many as i’d hoped but the one’s i have i have to say have been excellent . This years runner up is a worthy winner any other time , the Laphroaig 10yo Cask Strength Batch 005 , these batches just keep getting better and better IMHO . The winner is a special which came out in September and is an absolute stunner of a bottling , even though i don’t think it’s a perfect example of what a Lagavulin should be but it is perfect in pretty much every way and it’s dangerously drinkable ! So my Distillery bottling of the year is the Lagavulin Jazz Festival Bottling !

Non-Islay Distillery Bottling of the Year

I think the one that has stood out this year (even though it isn’t in the shops yet !) Is the Amrut Peated Port Single Cask ! Superb stuff !!!! This distillery has kept up it’s very high standard of bottlings , this is , from memory , the peatiest Amrut i can remember .

Islay Independent Bottling of the Year

This one goes to an independent bottler who has produced some very good bottlings , this one was a 20 year old from my Favourite Islay distillery , Ardbeg ! Whiskybroker has released two Begs this year , the last been a 21yo but the 20yo edges it m a bit more oompth than it’s elder brother . And it was very reasonably priced as well !

Non-Islay Independent Bottling of the Year

This one goes to another Whiskybroker bottling , i first tased this at the Newcastle Whisky Lounge Fest and knew straight away i had to get a bottle . The 29yo Tormore had something different about it , nice and refreshing ! Just can’t figure out why it didn’t fly off the shelf !

Best Meal on Islay

This goes to the Islay Hotel for the one we had there in August , they had been a bit up and down with their quality since we’ve been eating there  but this one was superb ! Just please keep it up !!!!

Tasting / Tour of the Year

A close run thing this year between two tours we took at Ardbeg this summer , The deconstruction one was great , if you don’t know how Begs standard bottlings are made up this is the one for you but the Decades tour did it for me ! The surprised was the absolutely stunning 1989 that was on it , it even beat the 1974 in my eyes !

On the whole it hasn’t been too bad of a year , the alarming rise in the cost of some bottlings has been very disturbing , it’ll not be long before us drinkers won’t be able to afford the stuff ! That’s if we can get our hands on it…… it seems to be flying straight off the shelf and on to a rapidly rising number of Online Auctions that seem to be appearing everyday . Not good for us drinkers at all !!!! That is until the bubble bursts….. and it will…….

So what does 2014 hold ? We’ll have to wait and see , watch this space !