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Kilchoman Port Cask 2018 release | Malt of the month

Kilchoman Distillery

It’s been a while since I’ve scribbled notes for our Malt drinkers, but this month we have a real gem. Kilchoman have released two limited edition Malts this year both of which we have secured a tiny allocation. The Loch Gorm 2018 which is an annual release and the second ever release of a Port Cask Malt following the first effort in 2014; it’s the latter little beauty which features this month.

I’ve been fortunate to visit this distillery twice in the last three years while on Islay, and if anybody else has ventured that far you will know it seems like the end of the earth getting there. Keeping everything crossed down a single-track road as you make your way to the most western distillery in the UK. But once there a warm welcome awaits, and the nearby beach on a sunny day rivals that of the Caribbean. Well it does until you dip your toe in the water!

Common practice is to ‘finish’ a Malt in a different cask but this one has spent its whole life in a Port cask and thus is adorned with big layers of rich plummy fruit. Earthy peat entwined with candied peel, blimey what a glass that just grabs your attention. A truly brilliant Malt and a limited edition from the lovely folk at Kilchoman on Islay’s wild west coast. We have a very small allocation of what is sure to become one of the all-time greats from this ever-improving distillery.

£85.00 and worth every penny! Buy here

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Bruichladdich ‘The Classic Laddie’ | Malt of the month

Bruichladdich

demand for whisky has never been stronger and it must be a nightmare making predictions on demand a decade or so in advance.

Well, what a busy festive period that was for all of us at Hennings with whisky flying off the shelves to keep the winter blues at bay. Now the quieter months are here I can ramble on again about the beloved spirit! I managed a few trips to Scotland last year and made it to several distilleries to taste and soak up the atmosphere at as many visits as my wife would allow me. It has surprised me in that rather than competing against each other, they all seem to be pushing in the same direction together and yes, although some distillers do things differently, there seems to be a real camaraderie in the trade as a whole.

Global demand for whisky has never been stronger and it must be a nightmare making predictions on demand a decade or so in advance. I’ve noticed in the past 12 months, more than any other, a shift away from core expressions with age statements to ever increasing non-age statement malts. If you look at this from the distilleries point of view it’s easier to dip into slightly younger stocks moving forward if demand outstrips current production levels, but will this affect the quality of the product? The industry seems divided on this point. The non-aged whiskies are certainly marketed very well with bold names and clever packaging, and the majority of the buying public in my opinion have been taken in by this more than realising that the age statement (the legal age the youngest whisky in the bottle must be) has disappeared, without knowing the implication of this.

The world seems a smaller place regarding exports and I totally understand the strategy behind them doing this but ultimately for me the new non-aged expressions I have tried so far fall short compared to the previous aged offerings. Yes, most distilleries still have age statements on other, usually more expensive, malts in their ranges but core or entry level sales are their bread and butter. Ultimately we are going to see more of this as the demand on stocks increases.

But on the plus side we, as a buying public, have never had so much choice with new expressions appearing on a regular basis. I managed to visit London in October to taste the entire Diageo range along with all the rare releases from closed distilleries and I have to say I had forgotten how good some old favourites tasted, none more so than the Linkwood 12yr old Flora and Fauna, my personal top malt of the year and still just under £50!

And what better way to replenish your stocks for 2016 than with ‘The Classic Laddie’? Yep that unmistakable pale blue bottle that sticks out a mile on our shelves, the unpeated version of the now infamous Bruichladdich from Islay. ‘The Classic Laddie’ is the signature bottling from the “progressive hebridean distillers” (their words not mine). It uses 100% Scottish barley, and for those who were not aware, Scotland cannot produce enough barley required so source from outside the Scottish borders in large quantities. For example, Norfolk produces vast amounts of barley for many distilleries north of the border.

Originally the brainchild of Jim McEwan who has now retired and passed on his wisdom to the current head distiller Adam Hannett. The first thing that you pick up on is that it is ultra clean, very floral, delicate and involving. Every time I put my nose to the glass subtle flowers, herbs and a real freshness appear. For me the nose tells me so much of what to expect whether it be wine or whisky. The palate does not disappoint either with a clean nose that the barley shines through. Hints of nuts vanilla and summer flowers, all very clean. On the palate lovely bruised apples and a hint of apricot and citrus fruits. A barley sugar finish cap off what is a really lip-smacking dram.

Slàinte.

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Caol Ila 12 | Malt of the month

Caol Ila 12 Malt of the month

After a whirlwind week walking and distillery visiting on Islay, well you have to have somewhere to go when it rains, I left with a much clearer understanding of peated whisky. I have to say this style of malt used to be a bit of a struggle for me and I had to very much be in the mood for it. After extensive tasting I now find myself really enjoying the smoky malts from these parts. Some Islay whiskies are peated more than others. Kilchoman, a new(ish) distillery established in 2005, is peated to 20-25ppm; considerably less than Coal Ila, at 30-35ppm, and less still than Ardbeg (a whopping 55ppm). The important thing is how this affects the flavour so let me explain ppm and how peat influences the style of a whisky.

To make alcohol for Scottish whisky you first need to convert the starch within barley into sugar because without sugar you cannot ferment and then distill to produce alcohol. Heating the barley and adding water tricks the barley into germinating and the by-product of this is a conversion of starch into fermentable sugars. Dry this out and at this point you can call it “Malted Barley”.

On a hard to get to place like Islay, where electricity or coal need to be imported to create heat, you need to use something cheap that you already have. Enter peat, a layer of compacted organic matter formed over thousands of years that is in abundance on most of the west Scotland. Once cut from the ground and dried it is a superb and slow burning heat source. The smoke from this slow burning heat imparts a smoky flavour to the barley which over the course of production stays with the spirit all the way through to the final bottled product.

This level of smokiness is measured in what we call ppm (phenol parts per million). Malted barley is usually purchased smoked to order and a distillery will use the same level for all its malts. However it’s then cask ageing, and indeed the type of wood used, that go on to make the biggest differences in flavour. Gas and electricity are now commonly used for heating the stills but Islay whiskies are known for their smoky flavours so distilleries still use peat to keep that distinctive traditional flavour. A couple of years ago the Scottish government ran a study on the ecological impact of peat extraction and the distilleries got very nervous. Fortunately they found that Islay alone has enough peat to last the next 800 years with no discernible change to the habitat. Although taking peat is not the free for all it was and is now licensed.

Finally to produce enough malt whisky you need a plentiful source of water, and believe me it rains an awful lot in west Scotland. About 10 litres of water are needed to produce 1 litre of new make spirit. Blimey, if anybody is still with me well done, lesson over and please read on!

Well after that it wouldn’t be right to have a malt of the month from anywhere else would it? Caol Ila is one of two Diageo owned distilleries on the island and the Caol Ila 12 Year Old is the distillery’s signature malt. As soon as you mention the word peat, people expect to taste big medicinal smoky drams, but this is just the opposite. It’s light and fresh. Yes you can smell the smoke, but it’s gentle and interwoven with lovely nuances of cream, apple and hints of raisin and is floral, almost Pinot Gris like. On the palate it’s more of the same, fresh and alive with an extremely smooth texture. Caol ila showed me this malt paired with some creamy blue cheese, sounds strange but blimey did it work. A big thank you to Justina who showed my wife and I around and paired the whiskies with different food.

Slàinte.

Stop Press!

We will be hosting Kilchoman for an evening of Islay malt whisky here in our Pulborough shop on Friday 4th November from 7.00 to 8.30pm. Places are limited to 24 so please call me on 01798 872671 to book your place.

Please view our events section for information on all tastings.

 

 

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