1 Sep 2013

Isawa 10 year old: 'Tasting is believing!'

I won a pack of Japanese whiskies the other month and included was a 5cl of this Isawa, a ten year old Japanese Malt. I'd never heard of it before and google didn't turn up much either. As far as I can tell Monde Shuzo, the distiller, is primarily a wine maker who dabbled in whisky for a while. Only their blended malt is available in the UK, with the 10 year old available on Whiskybase for about £35 for 50cl.

Have I stumbled across a hidden gem of a Japanese whisky? Alas no..

Nose:- Right from the beginning this is unlike anything I can remember tasting.

Intense sawdust notes compete for your attention with something that smells an awful lot like paint remover.

Slightly acrid and strawy this smells a bit like a rabbit hutch. A rabbit hutch that hasn't been cleaned for a long time. Some ammonia.. bleugh.

Lurking behind this is some vanilla, grain, some leather and quite an amount of star anise.

Taste:- It really follows on form the unusual nose with the grassy, sawdusty character asserting itself , but with blast of sweetness and a hint of woody smoke.

Finish:- It doesn't remain sweet for long. It fades swiftly and says farewell by leaving an overwhelming  imprint of sour star anise.

I must admit this is the first dram in a long, long time that I haven't managed to finish. Rabbit hutch, paint stripper.. no thank you.

This seems to be a relatively rare whisky, the distillery appears to be finished and at 10 years of age it's not like they didn't try.. but this is pretty vile stuff. I'll take soem NAS Balcones any day thanks.

I've about 30ml of this left.. if anyone wants it when I'm back in Britain they're more than welcome.

20 Aug 2013

Lighthouse Series: Old Pulteney Duncansby Head

Duncansby Head, courtesy of foxypar4

Following on from the Old Pulteney Noss Head we've got the second in the travel retail series, but this time moving up a few pounds and introducing some sherry casks.

Duncansby Head (RRP £45)

Once more the dram is 46%, un-chillfiltered and with no added colouring. Slightly more colour than the Noss Head and that probably means a sherry influence. I'm told the 

Nose:- Right away there is that sherry effect. Mixed fruits, raspberries, a kind of salty fizz, caramel and a waft of honey

Nose quickly settles down and softens with creamy vanilla and citrus notes

Taste:- Oaky spice, some fruits I can't quite pick out, but a drop of water really helps them come out.
Honey, sweet vanilla and increasingly bitter as the whisky goes down.

Finish:- That bitterness holds throughout and recedes nicely to leave a warm sweetness on the palate.

A very pleasant dram, personally I prefer the sweet simplicity of the Noss Head. I'm not sure if this whisky feels as whole, but looking forward to moving onto to the full on sherry Pentland Skerries next where we should see the full effect of the sherry on the whisky.
Thanks again to Alembic Comms who organised the tweet tasting. Find what others thought of the Lighthouse series by looking up #OldPulteney on twitter

8 Aug 2013

Lighthouse Series: Old Pulteney Noss Head

Noss Head, Credit: HJSP82
The Old Pulteney Lighthouse Series is a new set of travel retail only whisky bottlings from Old Pulteney and to start with it's worth giving them credit for the price points; £40, £45, and £55 for 1L bottles. Obviously there's cheaper whisky out there, but it's a nice change to see a reasonably priced travel retail set not aimed at those with corporate accounts and second homes. Still it needs to taste good, so let's get to it!

Noss Head (RRP £40)

46%, un-chillfiltered and with no added colouring, it's a lovely straw colour in the bottle and overall quite a light coloured whisky. You can tell this isn't going to be a sherried dram right away, but that's no bad thing

Nose:- Light citrus, sherbet and buttercream. (I love butter cream).

There's a fair breeze coming from the window that's making it hard to discern more. On the whole it's a very pleasant nose, not overly complex, but not a boring - malt, vanilla, vanilla - nose you get with some basic whisky.

As time progresses I can smell a lovely, yet light, fruitiness.

Taste:- Fizzy lemons, vanilla, faintest hint of orange.. orange bitters?

Finish:- Very much like the nose & initial taste.

A slightly spicy finish quickly recedes to leave a nice lingering sweetness. 


On the whole this is a very nice, gentle and sweet dram. While it comes with no age statement the whisky is not overly harsh to drink. I would definitely consider picking up a bottle of this, £40 for a 1 litre bottle works out at ~£28 for a 70cl which would be a good price for this.

My non-whisky drinking partner actually quite enjoyed nosing and sipping a tiny drop of this whisky, which says something!

Thanks to Alembic Comms for the samples as part of the 14/8 Old Pulteney lighthouse series twitter tasting!

30 Jul 2013

Scotch Whisky Auction: Getting a clear idea of the costs

Since it's now impossible to sell Whisky on eBay in the UK there have been a rise in the number and popularity of specialist whisky auction sites, but which one should you use?

Much like the whisky industry as a whole, the second hand market is big business and booming. Whether it's due to the much maligned whisky investors or just people being more likely to go online in search of a bargain or unusual bottling I don't know.

As businesses vie to fill the hole left behind by eBay there are quite a few specialist whisky auction houses out there..The most popular appears to be the 'Scotch Whisky Auctions' based in Glasgow, with a clear website and a massive selection up for grabs every month. Hopefully I'll go through a few of the most popular whisky auction websites that ship to the UK/EU and we can compare them properly at the end of it all.

Got a bottle you want to sell? Just drop it off at their Glasgow shop or post it away and within a month or two you should have your money.. but how much do they charge you for the privilege of selling, or even buying?


Adapted from image by Martyn Jenkins

If I sell a £100 bottle?

£10 commission
£3 listing fee
20% VAT on fees 

Your total: £84.40


If I buy a £100 bottle?

£10 commission
£9 shipping
20% VAT on fees (commission + P&P)

Total cost:  £122.80

It's worth noting each extra bottle is £4 for UK/EU and you can avoid this by collecting from their Glasgow location. If you live elsewhere in the EU remember that the first bottle costs £20 to ship Credit card fees can be more easily avoided by paying by cheque, cash or debit card.

The whisky auction business looks like a fruitful one.. next up will be Whisky Online Auctions, although it looks like their fees are very similar.

28 Jul 2013

Cadenhead's Whisky Shop, Edinburgh.

Cadenhead's is an independent bottler that have a few bottle shops across Scotland, one of which is located down the lower end of the Royal Mile before you get to the Scottish Parliament and Holyrood Palace and a whisky lovers dream. (172 Canongate  Royal Mile, Edinburgh EH8 8BN)

I first came across their store on a particularly rotten day, the jobcentre had sent me on a two hour trip from home to Leith for a job interview that it turned out I wasn't even eligible for! I decided to try and make something of the day so. I went to the cinema (nothing on), went to Princes St gardens (too dreich) and finally wound up wandering down the Royal Mile with the intention of going to the Parliament to see a whisky exhibition.

Luckily I popped into Cadenheads's on the way down!

  Cluttered can be good. (Erin Jane)
As you can see from the pictures the store looks interesting to say the least.

Alongside a wide range of standard and single cask 70cl bottlings (an idea of their selection is at the end of this post) they have a great variety of 20cl bottles. Being rather skint this was fabulous as you can buy something unique for a fraction of the price of a full bottle.

I was honest and told the staff that I didn;t had enough money for a full bottle, but they were still very generous and happily allowed me to try a fair few of their expressions.

In the end I went for a fabulous 12 year old cask strength Springbank that had some delicious walnut notes at a wallop-in-the-face 55% strength.

Like other independent bottlers they rarely have some whisky (Lagavulin, Ardbeg etc) but that's the nature of the whisky business these days. Record high demand coupled with distilleries increasingly releasing their own single cask or special editions doesn't leave much for the independents.

Edinburgh set-up (Erin Jane)
It's become quite cool for whisky shops to keep their own casks, hell even 'The Whisky Shop' does it

Cadenhead's generally have five on their own blended malts on the go at once, broadly aligned with the Scottish whisky regions.

I was impressed by the honesty of the staff who gave a fairly objective opinion of the current tastiness of each batch.

Cadenhead's is a curious whisky lovers dream. If you're in Edinburgh make sure you head down to the less well travelled end of the Royal Mile to pay them a visit. Friendly, quiet with a wide range of accessibly priced bottles that you won't find anywhere else. It's a real shame they don't have a better online presence or store, I think they'd do pretty well if they had one.

Last, but not least.. a snapshot of their whisky board!

Thanks to Bananeman

25 Jul 2013

How not to run a members section: Come on Duncan Taylor!

I don't know much about Duncan Taylor bar the fact they're an independent whisky bottler based in Scotland. 

Having heard one or two good things about their website I eventually drifted to their website and joined the Duncan Taylor members section of the website.. woohoo! Members sites generally vary from the flashy and image heavy (Glemorangie) to the more functional with good discounts (Laphroaig). 

Congrats to Duncan Taylor though, they done something unique: you sign up, log in and are greeted with nothing, well that's not true, there's the tantalising notion of some 'Special Deals'!

One day?

24 Jul 2013

Look mum, I won an IWSC award!

It was hard not to notice on twitter today that there had been some kind of whisky award ceremony last night and all were merry as the PR machines pumped out the good news to all and sundry via twitter, blogs and the like.

As one or two folk on twitter noted rather wryly it seemed as if every whisky distillery and bottler had won award or another. I was lured over to the IWSC website to see quite how many awards were actually given? As we probably already knew.. an awful lot!

This year there were no fewer than eighty-five categories of Scotch Whisky and I'm not even going to count 'world wide whisky' But briefly, there are four categories just for Taiwanese whisky. Come to think of it, is there even another distillery in Taiwan apart from Kavalan's 'King Car distillery'?

Another good example is the category above. How many 5 y.o. cask finished Islay whiskies are there out there? You know I can't think of any other than... Kilchoman!

I wonder who won the coveted awards in this category...

Surprise! (?)

This is an extreme example admittedly, but for the 8 distilleries on Islay there are still plenty of other categories to go for and remember there can be more than one, two, three or four awards ;)
I don't want to say that the awards are completely worthless, but some of the categories really are mighty narrow and it has got to call into question the real usefulness of these awards. If you're in a shop comparing two drams would an ISWC award sway you? Perhaps and that's their value for the producers, while they may almost be meaningless when you look a little deeper.

Ok, so that 'Sheep Dip Amoro Oloroso; didn't win, but then again they don't have their own category of not 'quite Scotch, but basically scotch that was forgotten about in Spain'... doesn't mean the whisky isn't absolutely fantastic!! (It is really good.)

At £130 pound per entry you can see why the number of categories has sky-rocketed.. not that the producers mind too much, it just means there are plenty of awards to go around! But please, just be careful before you choose one bottle over another because it has a wee Bronze, Silver or Gold award...

Well done everyone!