Posts Tagged With: Barrel

Tasting Notes: Compass Box – The Spice Tree

Compass Box Range – The Spice Tree

Now this is the whisky that first put Compass Box on the map! Not just for its flavour profile but because it was a) the first time that Compass Box had printed the blend’s recipe on their bottles and b) used an unusual maturation method, both of which got them in trouble with the Scotch Whisky Association. Whilst the recipe does not feature on the bottles anymore, the recipe is still available on their website (some classic legal pedantry at play here). This whisky features the same blend of malts as their Oak Cross blend: 60% Clynelish, 20% Dailuaine and 20% Teaninich. The final liquid in your glass has been matured via a mixture of vanilla toasted hybrid barrels / infra red toasted hybrid barrels / mocha toasted hybrid barrels / and good old American Standard Barrels (“ASB”). The exact process and contents are available here, and it weighs in at a punchy 46% ABV.

Nose: There’s a strong boozy nose here at first with caramel and oak in play upfront and then there’s a real contest for the follow up flavours – presumably all of the spices!

Taste: A smooth, sweet start and then, only after it’s sat on the tongue for a moment BOOM! All of those spices are now in play. Think coffee, star anise, stem ginger and both white and black pepper, all coming in and trampling all over that initial toffee sweetness.

Finish: A really peppery, lingering finish there. You can taste the whisky long after it’s gone.

Verdict: Yep, it’s living up to its name. It’s so on point. Exactly how long it took the team to match up each of these maturations and variants to the barrels remains a mystery but one thing for sure is that this is a distinctive whisky, and very enjoyable. The history of the whisky having to be discontinued due to its original experimental nature is indicative of Compass Box’s innovative approach and a sign of great things to come. On the debrief afterwards, we had to be honest and agreed that you probably couldn’t have more than a single (but still generous) serving in one night, as it seems to be more of a dram for savouring than swift supping, but a damn enjoyable and intriguing dram it is.


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Tasting Notes: A Tomatin Masterclass

On Sunday 22nd May 2016, the Carden Park hotel in Cheshire played host to Edencroft Wine & Spirit’s whisky tasting event. The ticket price included your entry, all your drams, a buffet lunch and attendance at one of the masterclasses that were being run that day. The ticket was also exchanged for a handy booklet containing promotional materials of the resident distilleries and representatives, along with an order form (at well discounted prices) for Edencroft – I tactically stowed mine away, just in case I became tempted to make some ill-advised, squiffy purchases later on – I mean that is kinda what they’re hoping for, right? Along with the initial, well-thought-out purchases too, of course.


On the day, myself (MH) and JB went along to the Tomatin masterclass because a) we were intrigued by the offerings, but mainly b) it was the last one of the day with seats remaining. Long story short, it became a concerted attempt to stay reasonably lucid (we were merry, at the least) for the tasting, but it was certainly worth the wait.


Up for grabs in the tasting were five offerings from Tomatin’s distillery, including a 36 year old that had been bottled only a couple of days before. Definitely headlining stuff!


Tomatin Masterclass Expressions

First up from Tomatin was their 18 year old – and not too shabby a start either. Despite the legnth of time it had spent in casks, the whisky had a light nose and one of our tasting buddies stated that there was the smell of figs. Of course, the power of suggestion took over and that was all I could smell, but on the taste, a LOT of flavours started to arrive and it delivered an amazing sweetness throughout with the sherry, fruity and spicy tastes then coming through on the finish. A great start.


The second dram of the tasting was their 1988 release, which has a port wine cask finish and that made for strong sweet smells and tastes, with more citrusy and sharp lemon/grapefruit/pineapple flavours. The yellow fruits then continued with the warming whisky alcohol burn and left a lip-smacking finish.


Next up was an interesting take from the Tomatin distillery – two drams packaged together in a “Contrast” tasting bundle. These were two whiskies bottled from the same distillate vattings, with the first being solely aged in bourbon barrels, and the second solely in sherry barrels. Whether or not it is just some clever marketing, these guys have hit on a great idea on as the difference between the two was great and a welcome experiment for our table of whisky nerds. Both drams were non-chill-filtered at 46% ABV and were a blend from (the same) 6 different years of Tomatin distilaltes – the oldest drop dating back to 1973! It may have just been my fairly battered palate, but, other than their light body, you could barely tell that they were from the same product. The first dram delivered a nice clean, vanilla and oaky whisky with a sugary sweetness throughout, whilst the second offered red fruits and more of a tangy tipple. Both were great whiskies, and it was great to be able to compare and contrast the two and see just what effect the barrels have and I would hope to see more of the same in the future. The bottles themselves are half-size bottles that have been packaged together in a twin box, and are available in limited quantities at an RRP that comes in just under £100, which itself is an interesting experiment when you consider the contents!


Tomatin Masterclass Expressions

Finally, the headliner, was the 36 year old. The place setting had a 35 year old listed, but what’s a year’s difference when you get to that sort of age? Probably a lot when it came to the price tag to be honest (though for the age, it is significantly cheaper than other single malt scotch whiskies out there!), but one thing that particularly struck me was that this dram had been in a barrel for longer than some of the people on our table had been alive for. Was it worth the wait? Well, I hope that the original distiller at Tomatin had got to taste it, because it was a brilliant dram. Lots of complexity in the flavour, but still a relatively light bodied whisky. Rich wood and fruits complemented one another and left this writer very pleased. If anything, it proved that I have expensive taste, but luckily, as mentioned above, I had stashed my order form far away so as not to be nearly even tempted to put pen to paper…


The masterclass itself was really well curated and the promotional video and presentation was well received by all involved. The experience certainly opened my eyes toward a brand of single malt that I was not overly familiar with and, personally, the discovery of the two “Contrast” bottlings was a highlight of the day’s event.


Tomatin Masterclass Expressions

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Colour By Numbers – A Lagavulin Case Study

You will sometimes hear whisky being referred to as ‘liquid gold’. This is mainly due to the value associated with it, but it also obviously refers to the various shades of golden beauty that the liquid can have. In spite of this however, when whisky is being made, the ‘new spirit’ that is created from the distillation process is actually colourless. In fact, you cannot call it ‘whisky’ unless it has been in a barrel for 3 years, and it is this aging process and the interaction with the wooden barrels that gives whisky its distinctive colour.

Auchentoshan's Spirit

Auchentoshan – 0, 1 & 2 Years Old

Clearly, the longer that the liquid is in the barrel, the more time it has in contact with the wood and the more of the wood’s qualities therefore infuse into the whisky. Put simply, the older the whisky, the darker it gets. WU were lucky enough to go to a warehouse tasting at Lagavulin where local legend and distillery hero Iain Macarthur (a.k.a. “Pinky”) entertained us and took us through a selection of drams taken fresh from the barrel, from which we could really see the effects of aging on their wonderful whisky.

First up was the ‘new make’ spirit that was fresh from the still that day. At a fairly astronomical 68% ABV we expected this to blow our heads off, but surprisingly it didn’t – though it still packed a punch! Perfectly colourless, you could essentially just taste the barley and the distillery’s distinctive peat once you got past the alcoholic burn. Not something that you should have every day at 10.30 am!

WU meet "Pinky"

WU meet “Pinky”

The second dram was a 9 year old from the barrel, and the barley taste was still there but it almost felt like it had more of an alcohol burn, despite ‘only’ being 58% ABV. Not surprisingly, the whisky had taken on the colour and tastes of the barrel, but was still relatively light gold in colour compared to the staple Lagavulin 16.

The third sample was straight from the barrel after 11 years, and the liquid was a touch darker again in colour. This dram had developed quite a sweet taste from the wood and a noticeably smoother finish to its predecessors but still packed quite the punch.

Lagavulin Warehouse Tasting

Lagavulin Warehouse Tasting

Next up was a 15 year old – one year away from the distillery’s core output – and it had really taken on caramel notes from the wood, matching the sweetness with a softer finish, but still delivering lots of smoke and peat. This dram was now at that rich, deep gold colour that Lagavulin is known for.

Last but not least, we skipped a few years and had a dram of a 31 year old Lagavulin. Now this was a real treat for us, and whilst the value of the dram isn’t known as it is fairly unique and only available from the distillery, the estimate was that each dram would be worth £100-£150. Interestingly, the colour of the liquid itself hadn’t actually deepened that much compared to the 15 year old and whilst it still had an obvious woody taste and sweetness, it was mysteriously returning back to that original barley taste that we had first encountered in the new distillate.

Barrel Chair

Barrel Chair

Oddly, the interaction between the spirit and its wooden surroundings can actually vary from barrel to barrel. So much so that two barrels containing the same base liquid, which have been made from the same wood and have been aged over the same period of time, can produce two entirely different coloured end results. To combat this, some distilleries choose to add a caramel to get a uniform colour, so that customers ‘see’ the same product time after time and whilst this may be disappointing for some purists (and is even denied by some distilleries), it is essentially drawn from necessity to keep the buyers happy. What this goes to show is that whilst whisky-making it is not an exact science, there is still some truth behind saying that it is colour by numbers.

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