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“Because you can't buy happiness... but you can buy whisky and that's pretty much the same thing”

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George Ballantine and sons

By Miguel in Featured , Ballantine's
George Ballantine
George Ballantine

Ballantines grain distillery
Dumbarton Grain distillery

Sandy Hyslop Ballantines Fifth Master Blender
Sandy Hyslop

Ballantine’s whiskies are examples of what the art of blending whisky can achieve. Whatever you think of blended whiskies you really need to give a try to them.

The short name of George Ballantine and sons. A brand of blended whiskies located in Dumbarton, Scotland.

Founded in 1827 by George Ballantine, a farmer, as a grocery in Edimburg that supplied a range of whiskies to his clients.
In 1865 George delegates to his eldest son Archibald. He opens a larger establishment in Glasgow and concetrate in the wine and spirits trade.
Archibald Ballantine created his own blended whisky. As a result of the growing the second son enters in the business.

Ballantine’s is sold to Barclayand McKinlay in 1919. And adquired later by Canadian distiller Hiram Walker in 1937. Hiram Walker adquire Miltoduff and Glenburgie. These two single malts make the sould of the Ballantine’s blends. Also a new grain distillery was built at Dumbarton, the largest in Europe.

In 1988 became part of Allied Domecq. Four years later, the grain distillery is mothballed and the production of grain whisky is moved to Strathclyde.

In 2005, the brand is adquired by Pernod Ricard, which still mantains a large bonded warehouse and bottling plant in Dumbarton.

A year later, Sandy Hyslop is appointed Ballantine’s Master Blender, the fifth in 180 years.

These are my bottles of Ballantines.



The Famous Grouse

By Miguel in Featured , The Famous Grouse
The Famous Grouse, Hugging Grouse

the famous grouse-glenturret

The Famous Grouse is a brand of Scotch whisky that create blended malt and blended whisky. It has its spiritual home at the Glenturret distillery.

It was founded in 1897 by Matthew Gloag and Son and now owned by the Edrington Group. Gloag purchased whiskies from distilleries and created his own whisky blending them in Perth, Scotland.

In 1860, his son, William Gloag got the compan and start producing blended whiskies. His son, Matthew, created the Grouse brand in 1896.
In 1920 they established small overseas markets and in 1936 the brand built a bottling plant and a warehouse in Perth. It was not until 1960 that the Famous Grouse began to win support in Scotland becoming its best selling blended whisky brand since 1980.

In 1970 the brand was still owned by the Gloag family, but Matthew and his wife died and the family to avoid the big death duties sold the brand to Highland Distilleries, from where Gloag family bought many of its whiskies.

Highland Distilleries promoted the Famous Grouse under the direction of John Macphail, obtaining a big sales increases.

The blend is crafted with some of the best single malt whiskies such as Macallan and Highland Park.

Right now there are several expressions of the Famous Grouse and some of them special bottles for duty free or oversea markets:
Famous Grouse Blended Malt
Famous Grouse 12 years old Gold Reserve
Famous Grouse 15 years old
Famous Grouse 18 years old
Black Grouse
Snow Grouse

These are the bottles of The Famous Grouse that I own.



How Scotch blended whisky is made

By Miguel in Featured

Richard Patterson Master Blender

Most whiskies consumed in the world are blends: as much as 95 of 100 sold whiskies are blended whisky.

A blended whisky is a whisky that is the result of vatting together several single malt whiskies and some grain whiskies. The job of vatting together the whiskies choosing from a huge amount of distilleries is done by the Master Blender. Some brands are about creating an artisan whisky and some other brands are about getting a cheap booze drink.

So a Master blender, choosing from a set of malt and grain whiskies, has to ensure that resulting whisky is better than its individual components. Usually this tasks consists in the combination of 15 to 40 whiskies done according to a secret formula that each brand vary. There are light whiskies like J&B or more robust and complex like Johnnie Walker.

Master blender nose whiskies all along their maturation period until whiskies are mature and ready to use in the blend. Selected whiskies are then bring together, pumped in a vat according to a given proportion and finally back to casks were they take the final maturation period know as marriage. Not all brands do marriage.

Age in the label statement of a bottle is the age of the youngest whisky added into the blend. Many brands opt for a no age statement as a way of ensuring that they are not limited by age when choosing great whiskies to make the blend. Others just have no age statement because mayor part of the whisky is a cheap light grain spirit with no flavour used to make the blend more light.

So after marriage, whisky is nosed again to ensure that it reach the required profiles expected by the brand and reduced to drinking strength ( usually 40% alc. ) and then bottled.

All the Scotch whisky have to be distilled, matured and bottled in Scotland. It is not strange anyway to see whisky distilled in Scotland and later blended and bottled in another country.


Score: best whiskies numbers

By Miguel in Tasting , Featured

Each tasting note of this blog has a score that ease you comparing bottles. Any whisky or bourbon above 90 is really good. Do your best to taste it!.

[UPDATE: This article has been replaced by new content at Whisky ratings, my own personal view]

For some people scoring whisky is like saying who of your sons do you prefer. They don’t like to do it.

I think it is a fact of life that some whiskies are in my like and others are in my don’t like lists so I like to sort them using some quantitative measure. There are also whiskies that although not really great in score are great in quality vs price relation and so I do recommend them too but it score keeps unchanged.


The Godfather I’ll make him an offer he can’t refuse

How the numbers works in score

It is just the addition of the nose, tasting, finish and balance. Each score goes from 0 to 25.

Nose, tasting and finish has little discussion. We can agree or not but there they are.
Balance on the other way is how the whisky as a whole works. You can have a whisky that although fails on the finish overall does good so balance tries to show that.

Scores are a bit misleading. There is nothing so nasty and bad that is allowed to be placed on the market and has a score beyond 40.
Just try some whisky that you know it is bad, really bad, and smell, taste and look at the finish. It is really hard for it to go beyond 50.

Score scale

So my score guidelines are something like:
95-100: Awesome, great whisky. Get it no matter what!: Family, money, whatever!
90-95: A great whisky. A masterpiece. If you can, try it. Owning a bottle or two won’t damage you.
85-90: A good whisky. If you can, try it, just to know how good are the above whiskies.
80-85: A good whisky that miss that something to be a great one. Give it a try and get your own opinion.
70-80: Not my kind of whisky but not so bad that it would hurt your liver.
60-70: Avoid it.
<60: Really really avoid it. Bioharzard!. Poisonous.

[UPDATE: This article has been replaced by new content at Whisky ratings, my own personal view]


Best way of tasting whisky

By Miguel in Tasting , Featured

A tasting session has several important steps that are fundamental. It is a kind of cult, almost a religion! Done correctly, it will enhance your appreciation of the drink and you will enjoy it most.

UPDATE: Read the new article about which one is the best way of tasting whisky.

These are the steps I believe are best. Do you do tasting in this way? What do you do?

A tasting note with the drams

Setup the tasting session

1) Find the mood. If you are depressed, sad, stressed, angry or in a hurry. Don’t do it.

2) Try to find a calm place without heavy olours. Someone smoking, a campfire, heavy perfumes, food. The more olours the room already have the harder for your nose to find something.

3) Choose the time. Just after eating is not usually a good idea. I prefer to do it just before dinner or long after dinner. Foods with a strong flavours will make your time harder too: chili, curry, garlic, paprika, barbecues, …

Choose your whiskies

4) Choose the whiskies. I usually do five at a time. Just keep in mind that even a sip of each of them will mean that you have drunk a good amount of alcohol at the end. Be careful.
My preferences for choosing are:
- The similar the whiskies the better.
- Order them from youngest to oldest.
- From worst to best if you know something about them.
- From lightest to peatiest whisky.
Usually the more whisky you drink the better it becomes but on the other hand if you try the good one at the beginning the rest will look like bullshit.

5) Now get the glasses you need plus one more of whatever size. Do your best so that the glasses are all the same. The shape of the glass affects the way your nose perceive the aromas.

Empty glasses, water and whisky. Whatelse!

6) Get a bottle of mineral water near you and a few pieces of crackers or bread to clean the palate.

7) Now, fill each glass with a generous measure of whisky. Around 2-3cl should be enough. If you put less the whisky doesn’t really open in the glass ( give it a try! ) and if you put more you will end up throwing it as you can’t really drink so much ( and keep doing a tasting ). Just after filling it, place something on the top of the glass so nothing of the aroma left the glass ( a small cardboard does the work ).

Finally get enough tasting sheets or get a blank sheets of paper.

Tasting session

So now your situation is like this one:

A dram of Glenmorangie

Tasting a whisky

So let’s begin the tasting.
1) Get a tasting sheet ( from here ) or get a blank piece of paper.

2) Write name, graduation and whatever other info that identify what you are drinking.

Nosing

3) Now approach the glass to your nose and smell. Fast! Write down whatever comes to your mind.
4) Smell again.
5) And again. Try to disturb the less possible the glass during the process. Write down as much things as come to your mind.

6) Look the color and how the whisky falls on the walls of the glass when you move it.

Tasting

7) Now let’s taste it.
8 ) Drink a sip of it and move it around your mouth. How is it? Light, hot, oily. Write down!.
9) Concentrate on what does it remind you of.

Finish

10) Now swallow the whisky ( or spit it, I prefer to swallow as whisky was done for drinking! ) and listen it going away. What taste is left on your mouth?
11) Keep thinking about that taste? Does it long? or it is already gone?

12) What impression does the whisky leave on you? Do you want another sip? Perhaps need another sip to think more about it?

Now with water

13) Ok, relax a bit. Wait. Drink a bit of water and clean your mouth.
14) Add a drops of water to the whisky. Let it settle down for a moment and repeat the whole process.
15) Which effect does the water have on the whisky? Is it better? Does you find anything new with water?

Scoring a whisky

16) Now the hard part, set an score for nose, taste, finish and balance. Think about the whisky. Look how the score you have written compares to previous tasting sessions.

17) Drink a bit of water and take a cracker. Relax. Now move to the next whisky.

Review the tastings notes

18) When you are done, check your scores, do really show which whisky do you like most? Congratulations so, if that’s not the case nose again and again until both results agree.

Material

Get the Whisky Tasting paper from http://awardrobeofwhisky.com/content/files/whisky-tasting-paper.pdf


Ireland: Home of Whiskey

By Miguel in Featured

Irish countryside

Irish whiskey is the whisky made in Ireland. The land where whisky production started is now recovering of a long journey in the dark. And they are here to stay. Big distillers like Jameson and Bushmills release from time to time little jewels and Cooley, although a young distillery, has won many awards and trophies so far.

Introducing Water of life

Coast of IrelandThe name is an anglicisation of the ancient gaelic term uisce beatha that literally means water of life. It is believed to be one of the first distillate drinks made in Europe dating to mid 12th century. The art of distilling was introduced into Europe by missionary irish monks who probably learn it from arabs that used it to create medicines and parfums

Oldest license to distil whisky

Old Bushmills claims to be the oldest licensed distillery in the world since graining a license from James I in 1608, although whisky production didn’t started until late 18th century. In fact, it was Sir Thomas Philips the governor in Ulster who got the monopoly to make whisky from James I and from here Bushmills draw its founding. ( Thanks to Anders Gjrling for the correction )

How Irish whisky is done

Old Bushmills Distillery
All irish whiskey is distilled three times, peat is rarely used on the malting process and usually has a high proportion of unmalted barley. These facts makes irish whiskey lighter, smoother and more grainy than Scotch. Irish whiskey is distilled through column stills and pot stills. Although it is still possible to find some pure pot stills whiskeys.

Existing distilleries

Ireland has now only four distilleries, of the almost thousands of stills that there were at late 19th century.
Each distillery provides a good amount of different whiskeys profiles:
Midleton distillery

New Midleton distillery

Mammoth Irish Distillers Company, IDC, distillery at Cork.
Produces Jameson, Powers, Paddy, Midleton, Redbreast, Greenspot and other whiskies.

Old Bushmills Distillery

Produces Bushmills whisky.

Cooley

Produces Connemara, only irish peated whisky, Kilbeggan, Michael Collins, Tyrconnell

Independent brands

There are also many brands like: Tullamore Dew, The irishman, Knappogue Castle, etc.

Historical evolution of Irish whiskey

Good old Jameson with ice
Irish pot stills are bigger than scottish ones and they put more emphasis on the process and the casks than in the skills of the Master Blender.

Illegal distilling

The imposition of an excise tax in 1661 had the same effect as it did in Scotland, with the immediate production of poteen, an irish kind of newmake. The excise tax didn’t slow down the growth of the industry and by the end of the 18th century there were two thousands stills in operation in Ireland.

Under British rule, Ireland whiskey production was export oriented and it outsold scotch whisky in most markets because of its lighter body. Over four hundred brands of Irish whiskey were sold in the USA in the late 19th century.

Fall down

The fall down of the Irish distilling industry can be explained by several facts.

Blended whisky

Ireland distillers were slow to respond to the rise of blended scotch whisky that was a lot of lighter than single malts, targeting the same market that irish whiskey were ruling then.

Prohibition in USA

The Prohibition Era in the USA hurt exports tremendously and most of the small distillers had to close its doors. The others were not ready to anticipate the Repeal and were caught short of supplies, making easy for blended scotch to take their markets.

Great depression

Great depression, trade embargoes between newly independent Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom and the WWII caused further havoc among the remaining distillers.

Big unification

In 1966 three remaining distilling companies – Powers, Jameson and Cork – merged into a single company, Irish Distillers Company. Just six years later Bushmills joined IDC and all the distilleries of the island was under a single company hands.

Three years later, in 1975, following the great rules of the market, to reduce costs and improve efficiency, a new mammoth distillery was built at Midleton, in Cork and all the production of irish whiskey was transfered there.

Fortunately, in 1989, Cooley Distillery started producing malt and grain whiskey ( and of a great quality by the way ) breaking the monopoly of whiskey production in Ireland.

Irish whisky frommy collection

Here are some bottles from my collection of Irish whisky. Some of them has tasting notes.

Jameson


Cooley


Old Bushmills distillery


Tullamore Dew



Easy way of tasting whisky: Learn fragances, aromas

By Miguel in News , Featured

Whisky is a drink with a very powerful flavor and nose. Lots of fragances and aromas can be found in it. Learn what to expect.

Like wine, nosing is a big part of drinking whisky. The nose tells us about what is about to come before we drink the whisky and it is together with the taste and the finish of the whisky what distinguish a good whisky of a great one.

Nosing whisky can be a bit hard at the beginning until you get used to the alcohol in the nose. At first it will burn you and make your eyes tear, but on the end you will find one of the most rewarding experiences.

But, where do these aromas came from?

Fermentation

Glenfiddich Washback label
The type of barley, the kind of malt, the yeast used, how much the whisky ferment, at which temperature. All of it will give a different character to the beer.

Distillation

Stills
The type and shape of the stills is considered of vital importance of the final aromas and flavor of the whisky.
Pot stills usually impart more flavor than column stills. And between pot stills, the taller one create lighter spirits while the shortest ones create a more dense new make.

Maturation

Mortlach Barrel Sherry Oak Cask
Finally, the way the whisky matures impart a great amount of flavor to the whisky.
The type of wood used in the barrel: american, spanish, french, japanese oaks.
The size of the barrels, the bigger the slower the maturation and so the less flavor impart the wood to the whisky.
The temperature and humidity of the warehouses, extreme climates mature the whisky faster than softer ones. Additionally, the hotter the place the faster the whisky evaporate from the casks, this is known as angel’s share. While in Scotland it is around 2%-3% of the total of the cask, in Spain it lose 3% annually and Amrut has created its oldest whisky, Amrut Double Cask, at seven years old when the cask had already lost 60% of its content!.

Types of fragances and aromas

So, what kind of aromas can be found?

Nosing skills are placed in the right hemisphere of our brain, while talking is on the left one. Nosing is so a creative process, everyone can nose, all of you, unless you have a medical problem can nose. If you think about it you will find that you can nose but it is really hard to say what you are nosing, you can even remember an aroma but it is impossible to explain it with words. Don’t panic! We are done that way, it is a feature, you need to workaround it.

I classify aromas in blocks to help me find what I am nosing:

Sweet aromas

It is usually the first thing you will nose on a whisky.
Think of sweet:
- Honey
- Candies
- Toffee
- Sugar

Smell and think what it remind you more of?

Spices

There are many kind of spices but you won’t usually find curry on Whisky!.
Some of the things easier to find are:
- Vanilla
- Sherry wine
- Nuts, almonds, walnut, chestnut
- Cocoa, chocolate
- Liquorice
- Salt, sea
- Ginger
- Hickory
- Mint
- Tea
- Cloves
- Juniper
- Coffee
- Pepper

Wood

On whiskies, usually the older they are the more woody flavor they have.

Peat

Peat a dead vegetation that died covered in mud. Not very romantic, not fuel-efficient but seems that there is a lot of it in Scotland. If a whisky is peated you will smell that for sure. It is a profile that not most of the people enjoy on the other hand.
- Smoke
- Bacon
- Toast
- Iodine
- Seaweed

Malt

On whisky it is easy to find aromas of what it one was; beer.
- Barley
- Biscuits
- Bread
- Corn

Fruity and floral

Fruits are usually sweet, so keep thinking, sweet like what?
- Cherry
- Raisin
- Citrus, lemon, lime, orange
- Banana
- Figs
- Apple
- Pears
- Apricot
- Flowers

Conclusion

As you see there are many things that are not hard to find at whisky.
But the most important thing that you have to know when you nose whisky is to have fun. Just try to find things and don’t get obsessed by what others says. Most of times, you will coincide on the basic profiles.


DYC: Spanish oldest whisky distillery

By Miguel in Featured , DYC

Destilerias Y Crianza del Whisky is the result of a man’s determination: Nicomedes Garcia, to create a whisky with the highest standards of the scotch whisky but with a reasonable price. Fifty years later, DYC is the best selling whisky in Spain and they are entering the market of the single malts.

distillery dyc

Humble origins

DYC stands for Destilerias y Crianza del Whisky ( distilling and maturation of whisky ) and it is an enterprise created in 1958 by Nicomedes Garcia Gomez. He started working on his father’s humble distillery of liquours at Valverde del Majano in Segovia, creating in 1919, with just only 18 years, Anis Castellana.

Nicomedes was a bussinessman and started all kind of things like a bus company, a marketing agency, a ships company. But he started making whisky just by bad luck.

A bad luck strike

In 1929 a batch of Mahou beer was rejected by a client because it was faulty. So instead of dropping the beer, he distilled it and stored in oak butts. After three years he gave a try to the potion and he realized that it wasn’t that bad at all, so he spent all the war drinking that whisky and started up the interest in distilling whisky.

Inspiration

Pot stills at DYC
In 1955, after being travelling around Scotland he talked with some friends and they founded a whisky destillery at Palazuelos de Eresma on the place where the old Marques del Arco’s mill was standing. The place was choosen for the great quality of the water supply from the river Eresma, the good climate for whisky maturation so near the sierra de Gredos and the near supply of good quality barley from the fields of Castilla.

Success

The first distillation started in February of 1959 after having fought to change the law that forbid distillation of malt in Spain. It wasn’t till 1963 when the firsts bottles were made available to consumers.

The DYC distillery includes the distilling factory, a bottling plant and a warehouse for maturation.

DYC began to grow exponentially and by 1987 its sales stock up to 40 million and owned the 46% of the spanish market. DYC even bought a scottish distillery, Lochside, to secure an extra supply of whisky to create their blends.

In 1989 DYC was sold to Pedro Domecq group and at a later time sold again to Beam Global.

The process

bodegas dyc
DYC uses a double distillation process similar to scotch whisky. The mash is distilled in pot stills made with the same techniques than scottish ones.

For the grain distillation, that is done in Valverde del Majano, DYC uses a column still. The grain is mainly corn.

Later whisky is usually matured in american oak barrels of 190 litres that contained bourbon before. The angel’s share is around 3%.

Malt whisky is later blended with grain whisky prior to bottling. Bottling is also done at Valverde del Majano on the distillery plant.

DYC has now two plants in Segovia, with around 100 workers and produce annually around 2.3 million litres.

DYC whisky bottles



Destilerias Liber: Alhambra and mountains distilled

By Miguel in Featured , Destilerias Liber

Destilerias Liber creates Embrujo de Granada whisky at Padul, in the south of Granada, Andalusia. It is the first Spanish single malt whisky to be commercialized.

Foundations

La Alhambra Granada Espaa

Destilerias Liber is the dream of a man, Fran Peregrina, about making whisky on the south of Spain, just under Mulhacn, spanish mainland highest mountain. Their whisky is crafted with passion, and patience, using cooper stills, the best barley from near fields and the pure water of Sierra Nevada, to mature later in the darkness of the warehouse sleeping in pedro ximenez oak casks.

Destillerias Liber was founded in May of 2001 and started operations in December of 2002. It started as a cooperative of 55 partners, most of them friends. The whole process is run by three of them. Embrujo de Granada is an artisans whisky.

The Process

Sierra Nevada Granada

The idea of creating a distillery at the south of Spain was inspired into Francisco Peregrina after reading “El Amante del Whisky” ( Whisky Lover ). They decided to run the full process at the distillery: flooring, brewing, distillation and maturation in american oak casks.

Brewing

The water that comes from Sierra Nevada natural park and the malt is choosen from near fields. After that malt is milled and mixed with hot water to create the grist. The wort is then filtered and the yeasts are added to it to start the fermentation that last between 48 and 72 hours. The result is a beer of around 6 to 8.

Distillation

Still where Embrujo de Granada is distilled
The stills, created by a copper artisan at the Albaicin, Granada and designed by Liber, distills the beer two times: the first up to 25 to 30 and the next day removing heads and tails up to 60.

Ageing

This spirit is stored in american oak casks of 600 litres that contained Pedro Ximenez sherry for ageing. The whisky is matured at the warehouse around 5 years before being reduced to 40 and bottled from a single cask. The maturation is faster than scotch whisky because the weather alternates very hot summers with cold winters. The angel’s share varies between casks but it is around 6% per year.

Embrujo de Granada: the Whisky

a bottle of Embrujo de Granada
The whisky is not coloured nor chill-filtered. Each batch consists of a single cask although sometimes it is blended with other casks to keep up a standard flavor and color.

Read the tasting note.