Now i’m going to start with a confession – i’ve never tried Drambuie. I was not one for malt whisky or honey back in the day, but ever since i’ve started doing this career, my palate has grown and experienced lots of new flavours. So always up to giving things a second chance, i jumped at the chance to try the newly released Drambuie 15.
A little history of Drambuie first though.
The legend holds that the recipe of Drambuie was concocted by Prince Charles Edward Stuart (commonly known as Bonnie Prince Charlie) in Italy or France where he was brought up. In 1745, he lost the infamous Battle of Culloden where he was sheltered by the clan MacKinnon on Skye. The chief took him off Skye and to the mainland from where he made his eventual escape. It’s then reported that the recipe was then given in the late 19th century to a gentleman named James Ross. Ross ran the Broadford Hotel on Skye, where he developed and improved the recipe in the 1870s. The name Drambuie was then registered by him as a trademark in 1893. After Ross died, his widow sold the recipe to a different MacKinnon family in the early 20th century. The MacKinnon family have been producing it ever since.
The first commercial distribution of Drambuie happened in 1909 in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh. Only twelve cases were originally sold. In 1916, Drambuie became the first liqueur to be allowed stocked in the cellars of the House of Lords and Drambuie began to ship world-wide to stationed British soldiers. In the 1980s, the producers of Drambuie began to advertise the liqueur on tv, although advertising began way back in the first decade of the 20th Century.
The Drambuie 15 is a twist on the original Drambuie, using rare Speyside malts aged 15 years. It complements and balances the herbs and spicy aromas of the famed Drambuie. So with this in mind, here is my tasting notes –
The nose enjoys a soft honey and citrus notes that has a slight butterscotch end. The palate however welcomes a rather sweet blend of lemon and heather that creates an almost velvety texture on the tongue. The sweetness lingers on the after-taste and in my mind, begs you to have another sip.
Im surprised. I have to admit i really enjoyed this. It has a RRP of £35 but i would have no hesitation in recommending this famed spirit. And its award winning too! 2 golds at the Drinks International and a silver for ‘Best Liqueur’ at the Spirits Business Spirits Masters. Not bad for a product that’s only been out since September.
I’ll be hunting for the original now. I’m hooked!
Very sweet hit on the nose with instant honey aromas and a light scent of herbs. A kick on the palate of spice but soon mellows. Rather short but warming with a slow medicinal flavour coming through near the end.
Wemyss Malts were on of the first ranges on whisky I covered when I started Drinks Enthusiast back in 2011. Since then, Wemyss Malts range of expressions have grown, culminating in some hand-crafted beauties! Before I re-visit though, lets take a look at Wemyss;
Wemyss Malts, pronounced ‘Weems’, are a boutique whisky company with connections to the Wemyss family who hailed from Fife, Scotland. Wemyss itself comes from the Gaelic word for caves which stems from the rocky outcrop on the Firth of Forth on which the family home of Wemyss Castle sits.
The Wemyss Land was used at the turn of the 19th century where a gentleman named John Haig built his first distillery on the island. It is said that John’s passion for the industry made him realise the confusion that consumers had with the ever-increasing terminology of the whisky industry. With this, he aimed to create his whiskies and not only make them more accessible, but also understandable.
Wemyss Malts use a combination of the taste and aromas of each individual whisky to identify each bottling, rather than the traditional distillery way, resulting in the consumer understanding the style being purchased more easily.
But what about the whisky?
Wemyss Malts have two sub-categories – Blended Malts and Single Casks. With the blended, the Wemyss family hand select each individual cask, under the expert eye of Charlie Maclean, chair of the Wemyss Nosing Panel for both the Single Casks and Blended Malts.
Up to sixteen different single malt whiskies are blended together before introducing the “signature” malts to create the three distinct taste profiles.
Question is, does this really de-mystify the whisky labelling? Well below, I give to you my tasting notes –
The Hive 8yr – 40%
The Hive range uses a signature malt is from Speyside.
A sweet nose with a mix of wood and leather aromas, becoming more vibrant upon the palate. Smooth, plenty of light honey flavours to create a lingering finish.
The Hive 12yr – 40%
On the nose, the sweet scent of honey is dominant which carries nicely onto the palate. A slight buttery scent is also present. The fresh flavour of the honey spread along the palate and gives a bit of a spice kick near the end. A snip of vanilla is their but the honey is the main characteristic.
Spice King 8yr – 40%
Spice King range uses a signature malt is from the Highlands.
A fresh nose of spice become a little dry as it develops, although retains its smoothness. A slight sweetness on the palate, with dry pepper and spice evident creating a lingering warm finish.
Spice King 12yr – 40%
A bold, rich nose of sherry mixing with lemon zest but a slight harsh entrance on the palate. Bitter lemon and ginger flavours linger with spice notes and leads into an oak finish which leaves the mouth a little dry.
Peat Chimney 8yr– 40%
Bottled October 2010. The Peat Chimney range uses a signature malt is from Islay.
Light peat aromas on the nose, with a balance of heather and honey developing. Light on the palate too, with honey evident, moving to a lingering peat finish with some bold whispers.
Peat Chimney 8yr– 40%
A tweaked version of the above, sampled on 18th May 2014.
Very light, honey peated notes on the nose, with a little whisp of heather and heat. Incredibly sharp peat flavours on the palate, creating a spice heat that sticks to the roof of your mouth. Hard peat flavours on the finish, with a little smokey wood and honey elements thrown in. Lingering.
Peat Chimney 12yr – 40%
Soft peat notes on the nose with an oily scent soon after with a hint of sea salt. Heavy flavours of peat do mellow out as it comes to a finish, with a ‘peat chimney’ smoke on the after-taste.
Wemyss Malts are also the producers of premium blended whisky Lord Elcho. David, Lord Elcho, eldest son of the 5th Earl of Wemyss, was one of the most celebrated supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie during the ill-fated Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Flirting between England and France originally, he settled in Italy and met Charles Edward Stewart, playing a significant role in the uprising, eventually being appointed colonel of the Prince’s lifeguards. After being defeated at the Battle of Culloden in 1746, he was punished with the stripping of his land and titles and forced into exile.
Lord Elcho whisky is a nod to his life, created to honour the “refined masculine spirit of its namesake”.
Lord Elcho 15yr – 40%
Bottled August 2012. Crafted from a selection of malt and grain whiskies. Light, with lingering honey notes finishing with a slight sweetness on the nose. A well-rounded palate of honey and toasted wood, with the sweetness and warmth resulting in a lingering finish.
Lord Elcho NAS – 40%
Light cereal notes on the nose, with hints of honey and syrup coming through. Plenty of honey on the palate, with a light enjoyment of cocoa, fudge and creamy dry spice with cinnamon, ginger and cardoman. Long and warming.
Some absolute crackers to enjoy in your favourite whisky glass. But Wemyss Malts are versatile, with leading bartender Jason Scott of Bramble, Edinburgh creating gems such as –
Hive and Seek
40 ml Wemyss Hive Whisky 12yr
20 ml fresh lemon juice
2 bar spoons (10ml) saffron honey or orange blossom honey
Dash pasteurised egg white
Pour all ingredients into shaker and dry shake (no ice). Fill with ice and shake rapidly. Double strain.
50 ml Peat Chimney Whisky 12yr
14 mint leaves
2 bar spoons Demerara sugar
Spritz of Fernet Branca
Firstly spray the inside of cup with Fernet Branca. Separately, with all ingredients and cubed ice in a mixing glass, stir till ice cold and the flavours and aromas of the mint have infused into the liquid. Single strain over cracked ice in cup.
Brilliant! A superb range across the board, with personal favourites being The Hive and Peat Chimney. Although I’m yet to experience their Single Casks, I can only imagine that I will be impressed. Wemyss are coming out with a fantastic portfolio, diving into their heritage and creating blended whiskies, premium offerings, single casks and even two expressions of gin. You may not see this everywhere when it comes to bars and restaurants, but I can guarantee, if you know a venue with a good whisky selection, expect to see some Wemyss. It would be VERY rude not too. If not, pick one up for your drinks cabinet.
A friend of mine was given a small miniature of a Gaelic whisky named Té Bheag (40%), or ‘the little lady’, and I with a traditional name like that, I was intrigued to try it! A blended Scotch from the West Coast (with more than double the malt content of most standard blends), it contains mixes from Islay, Island, Highland and Speyside malts aged from 8 – 11 years.
A slight peaty aroma hits the nose first, but a smooth blend of malt and sherry mix well and continue onto the palate. A smoky wood flavour comes through that dances with a fresh kick of liquorice and toffee. A soft finish with a small peaty after-taste.
The Té Bheag was the winner of the gold medal in the 2009 International Wine & Spirit Competition, Gold Label in the International Spirits Challenge Competition in 1997 and a Gold Medal from Selectione Mondiale in 1998.
I have to admit it isn’t my favourite blend and I’m not too much of a fan when it comes to peaty whisky, but it’s a mix that I wouldn’t turn down if it was offered to me. Give it a try!
I was recently contacted by the luxury fragrance company Penhaligon’s from London regarding their new fragrance, Juniper Sling, which is apparently inspired by London gin. Ever one to branch out in to drink inspired products, I duly obliged to give it a go!
Penhaligon’s first started up way back in 1872 by a gentleman named William Penhaligon. At this time he opened up a barber shop on Jermyn Street near Piccadilly Circus and created fragrances from light botanicles instead of the usual heavy, floral hitters that were found at that time. Nearly 140 years later, the company had brought out a new fragrance which influences itself from the London gin scene. With promotion of a ‘mock-umentary’ which takes a tongue in cheek look at the ‘Juniper effect’ (video link at the bottom), it entices you to find out what all the fuss is about!
It’s target is for both boys and girls, it boasts a ‘crisp cocktail shot of gin’ and the use of juniper, angelica, black pepper and black cherry mix well to create a soft, but not too overpowering hit of gin aroma. A sweet brown sugar scent follows with an almost subtle forest wood like finish (don’t worry, you won’t get the look from people thinking you’ve just been swinging in the trees!).
Master Perfumer Oliver Cresp has done a splendid job at re-creating the essence and experience that London gin produces. I’m surprised nothing has really been produced like this before as London gin has many qualities to create a great range of fragrances. Hopefully Juniper Sling will be a hit for all gin and non-gin lovers and perhaps see a rejuvenation in gin fragrances.
And as Penhaligon’s say ‘Apply liberally and drink in’. Agreed.
Hendrick’s. A gin that signifies the quirky, the pompus and the extraordinary – and they didn’t disappoint! Taking over a small premises near Covent Garden, they transformed the place into a Victorian haven full of extravagant ornaments, quaint wooden tables, a traditional stall serving Hendrick’s cocktails and even a Hendrick’s bath! The tasting session i was to embark on though was situated down a flight of wooden stairs leading to a ‘theatre’, with wooden chairs and tables scattered around and Victorian styled umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. Duncan McRae (the Hendrick’s UK ambassador) was on hand to greet us all with a G & T as we sat to listen about the history of Hendrick’s.
Launched in 1999, the history of Hendrick’s Gin actually goes way back to 1860 where the Bennet still was created in London, and the Carter-Head still in 1948 by John Dore & Co. Both these copper stills were bought by Charles Gordon (the great-grandson of William Grant) in 1966 at a London auction and after some restoration work, the first beginnings of Hendrick’s Gin were put in motion.
The distillation process of Hendrick’s Gin combines the two spirits from both the Carter-Head and Bennet stills to create the finished Hendrick’s product.
The Bennett still allows most of the flavour characteristics of the botanicals to pass into the spirit. The still is filled with neutral spirit and the botanicals are added to the liquid, along with water. This is left to steep for 24 hours and then heated. As the pot begins to boil, vapour moves up the short column of the still and makes its way to the condenser. There, the vapours are turned back to liquid and collected.
The Carter-Head method of production differs, with only the neutral spirit and water added to the pot of this still. All the botanicals used with the Carter-Head are added to a flavour basket at the top of the still. Rather than boiling the botanicals, (which produces the strong spirit of the Bennett still) the Carter-Head bathes the botanicals in just the alcohol vapours. As these rise up through the still, they enter the base of the flavour basket. Inside the flavour basket, the botanicals are held in copper baskets, which hold them together while allowing the vapours to be fully exposed. As the evaporated alcohol moves through the botanicals, it extracts flavours from them. These are then carried out of the basket along with the alcohol until they reach the condenser. Only the lighter, floral and more sweeter flavours are extracted by this method.
The combining of the spirits from each still, with the addition of cucumber and rose-petal essence, creates the final product.
Laid out in front of us were 7 different tasting glasses, each with a different step of the Hendrick’s distillation process. Below are my tasting notes on each one –
Bennet Still Distillation – 80%
Concentrated juniper on the nose, with spice, citrus and pepper mixed in. The palate intensified the aromas but a little water added created an earthy, chocolate flavour. It was noticeable to see oils forming from the botanicles too.
Carter-Head Distillation – 80%
Lighter on the nose and palate than the Bennet still with no main flavour hitting the senses.
The Distillates Combined
A mix of both Bennet and Carter-Head stills, a high and intense flavour with a strong juniper flavour.
Cucumber & Rose Petal (both in separate tasting glass)
A very high concentration of both with strong flavours.
Hendrick’s Gin Uncut – 80%
A subtle scent on the nose yet the palate encounters a very strong, potent mix of juniper, cucumber and rose petals, with a kick just before it mellows for a long after-taste.
Hendrick’s Gin – 41.4%
Small mixes of cucumber, rose and juniper on the nose create a mouth-watering effect on the palate that enjoys a smooth and very well-balanced gin. Clean and crisp on the after-taste.
I unfortunately had to duck out fairly quickly to get to my next event for the London Cocktail Week, but I enjoyed an interesting insight into a unique history of what I can safely say is now one of my favourite gins. Duncan also recommended a classic reading material too – The Mixellany Guide to Gin by Geraldine Coates
I’ll be sourcing that one some time soon!
If you ever get the chance to sample Hendrick’s Gin, take it. You might be pleasantly surprised!
You can check out the Hendrick’s Gin website here – http://www.hendricksgin.com
Whilst in London, the Sipsmith distillery held an open bar day at their premises as part of London Cocktail Week, and not one to shy away from a chance to try something new and homegrown, I made my way to Ravenscourt Park. Now I have to admit, I’ve never been lucky enough to visit any kind of distillery, so going off what I’ve seen on tv and in books, I was hunting for either a large warehouse or a factory with smoke billowing out! But as I walked down road after road of residential housing, I came across a small garage, and low and behold here it was! Stepping inside, the first sight that will grab anyones attention is the copper still (named Prudence) and its many copper piping, apparatus and machinery that makes spirits including London dry gin, barley vodka, and sloe gin.
Greeted by James Grundy, one of the team behind Sipsmith, he started by giving us a run-down of the origins of Sipsmith distillery.
2009 was the birth of the first copper-pot based distillery to start-up in London in 189 years (Beefeater being the last in 1820) and is now one of only 5 city based licensed distilleries. As with all new ventures, it never goes as straight-forward as it should, and Sipsmith was no exception! Prudence (the copper still) was constructed as a one of a kind in Germany by Christian Carl (Germany’s oldest distillery producers), but when it arrived in Hammersmith, it barely fit! The measurements of the building were taken, but only realised the sloping ceiling at the last-minute! As with all distilleries, you need a licence, especially if your brewing alcohol in a residential area, but as the government hadn’t written a distiller’s licence in nearly 190 years, they virtually had to invent the process all over again! When it was finally granted, they realised the date stamped was a year ahead! After all that though, the licence is proudly displayed in a frame and hung for everyone to see.
After the history lesson, James went through the distillation process that they conduct to create the gin and vodka. A base spirit is produced that they then distil once to produce their vodka. Some of the product is then re-distilled to make their gin (the still is always cleaned before starting again). The distilled spirit is poured into the copper still which can hold up to 300 litres. The liquid is heated and the vapours rise up through a pipe known as the swan’s neck.
As the vapours travel along the pipe and away from the still, they start to condense and fall down another pipe into a cooling chamber where it turns back into a liquid. It’s held for a short time and then heated once more before passing through the condenser and becoming liquid again. It then sits in the spirit safe where it is ‘cut’. This means the removing of the initial product (named the head) and the end of the product (the tail) which are both of poor quality. The middle is kept (the heart) and it’s pure enough that it doesn’t need to be filtered. 40% of the heart is kept, diluted with pure water from Lydwell Spring in the Cotswolds, and bottled to become their vodka. The remaining 60% goes on to make the gin.
The botanicals that Sipsmith use (named below in my tasting notes) for their gin are left overnight in the pot still at 75 degrees so that they can release their flavours, before once again making the journey though the still. Once in the spirit safe, the liquid is cut to remove the heads and tails, and the remaining heart blended with the Lydwell Spring water and then bottled.
James then announced it was time to taste some spirits! Below are my tasting notes on the Sipsmith products –
Sipsmith London Dry Gin – 41.6%
Distilled using 10 botanicles – Juniper, Coriander, Angelica, Liquorice, Orris Root, Almond, Cassia Bark, Cinnamon, Orange Peel and Lemon Peel. On the nose it gave off a soft floral with a fresh citrus and slight juniper note. The palate enjoyed the sweetness of Seville orange, with a hit of juniper to follow. It led to a dry finish with a slight kick of spice at the end.
Sipsmith Barley Vodka – 40%
The nose enjoys a mix of nut and barley that transfers itself onto the palate. A hint of spice emerges on the tongue to create a well-balanced spirit. I noticed a slight pepperness near the after-taste.
Sipsmith Sloe Gin – 29%
Aromas of red currant and cherry on the nose mix together and dance on the palate to create a warm, rich flavour of currants and plums. The finish is sweet that balances well to a crisp finish.
This finished off the afternoon really well and it was great to call Sipsmith my first ever visit to a distillery! Big thanks to James who has the most enthusiasm over gin and vodka I’ve ever seen! I’ll be returning for sure the next time im in London, as should you all.
Kicking off my week of festivities was a trip on the Underground to Liverpool Street and the quietly hidden away Liberty Lounge and Mark Thomson of Dramatic Whisky. Mark heads up the tasting with expertise in Scotch as well as being part of 5* establishments in both Scotland and London. A former contributor to CLASS magazine (as well as last years London Cocktail Week), his enthusiasm for the subject is immense! With the time of day being an unfortunate factor, the event turned into a more one-on-one masterclass. A quick talk about the Balvenie 24 and their interactive venture involving videos of the distillery, as well as nosing techniques, we then made our way to Boisdale whisky bar.
Here we met the global ambassador to Balvenie, Sam Simmons and the Balvenie range of Signature, DoubleWood, Single Barrel and PortWood. Both Sam and Mark explained the history of Balvenie and how it started with William Grant back in 1893. From their, we started to try the Balvenie range, first up being the Signature 12yr.
Below are my tasting notes on the 4 bottles available –
Balvenie Signature 12yr – 40%
Matured first in bourbon, then refill bourbon and finally in sherry casks. On the nose, a very soft aroma of corn with honey and vanilla essences coming through later. The palate enjoys dried fruit balanced out with a soft spice that drives into a warm honey after-taste.
Balvenie DoubleWood 12yr – 40%
Starting its maturation in a traditional whisky cask, it is then transferred to a first fill European oak sherry cask. Sweet, rich aromas of fruit and honey mix together in your nose, but mellowing out into a smooth blend of raisin, nut and a slight cinnamon hint.
Balvenie Single Barrel 15yr – 47.8%
Created using only a single oak whisky cask of a single distillation. Each bottling forms a limited edition of no more than 350 hand-numbered bottles, meaning each bottle is unique and unrepeatable! The nose of soft corn and citrus with heather blended well in the nose and made its way onto the palate in the same manner, but a kick of oak and spiced apple hits you at the end. Sam recommended adding a drop of water to the dram, which gave it a spicier longer after-taste.
Balvenie PortWood 21yr – 40%
A blend of rare Balvenie is moved to port casks to create a strong yet fresh floral aroma with sweet notes and a hint of smoke on the nose. An extremely smooth and creamy flavour of fruit and honey on the palate.
My personal favourite was the Balvenie DoubleWood 12yr due to its sweetness and blend of raisin and cinnamon on the palate.
This was a great insight into the Balvenie range, especially as I’ll be visiting the distillery in January next year, and it has introduced me to yet another great personal favourite which I’ll be sourcing to put onto my shelf in the coming weeks!
Visit the Dramatic Website here – http://www.dramaticwhisky.com/
Friday the 7th was the start of the annual Manchester Food & Drink Festival which was centred around the town halls Albert Square as well as a variety of bars and restaurants in the city centre. To start the festival off, the Greater Manchester Real Ale and Veltins Oktoberfest had their tents ready to promote a good range of local and international ales, cider and even a hog roast on a rainy morning! So with all this in mind, myself and a friend of mine made our way there to experience the best the North West has to offer!
First up for me was the Stockport based Robinsons and their Double Hop (5%) which was rich, with a good balance of hops bitterness and flavour. A citric yet malty finish lingered around with a slight dryness. This was a great starter ale and an easy drinker!
My friend enjoyed a Ginger and Cinnamon Warm Cider which went down very well. Not too sure what the recipe was but I imagine it was the simplicity of mixing ginger, cinnamon and apple cider together! Crazy I know but it works well on a rainy Friday!
Whilst she was finishing off the ginger ale, I tried Chorlton’s Marble Brewery ‘Manchester Bitter’ (4.2%). A very light ale with fruity aromas with a slight sweetness on the palate. Great for my sweet-tooth!
We decided to have a walk around what else the festival had to offer and made our way to the main marquee called the ‘Gastro Room’ which held the Chilli Lovers fair. Local producers mixed with Manchester restaurants to showcase exciting dishes as well as samples of various chilli sauces. Unfortunately I’m not a fan of chilli so I’m unable to tell you how this part of the day went, but I can tell you that Kro bar (a Danish venture based in Manchester) had themselves a stall and were creating cocktails involving chilli! Ever one to try something new, we both bought two chilli based drinks – La Vida Loca and Absolut Redhead.
The La Vida Loca had pineapple juice shaken with Sailor Jerry and chopped chillies whilst the Absolut Redhead had Absolut Pepper, freshly squeezed lime topped with lemonade and grenadine. Both two very fiery cocktails, especially the Absolut Redhead with its good dose of pepper vodka!
With fire in our mouths we wandered down to St Anne’s Square where there were pop-up stalls selling everything from pastries, fudge, curry and chocolate. One stall that caught my eye was hosted by the Snowdonia Cheese Company, with a rather interesting product named Amber Mist. Why was it interesting? Its whisky cheese! I’m yet to fully try this, but expect a review as soon as I do!
This capped off a great day at the festival, with thumbs up from both myself and my friend!
I’ll be writing up reviews on two trails organised by The Liquorists that were conducted as part of the Food and Drink Festival so stay tuned!
Check out the following sites for more information on the brands mentioned –