May 052019
 

I’ll come out and say it: I’m a fan of the use of virgin oak in Scotch whisky and think that there isn’t enough of it used. I’m sure this will be controversial, but it’s my opinion, and I’ve stated it before.

Of course, with a few exceptions, full maturation in virgin oak is something that is saved to very few expressions, especially if you’re talking about whisky that’s fully matured in virgin oak. For those, we have the Glen Garioch Virgin Oak, Auchentoshan Virgin Oak and the Benromach Organic.

Glen Garioch Virgin Oak Batch 1

Photo Credit: thewhiskyexchange.com

When it comes to finishes and partial composition, things get easier. The Bruichladdich Octomore X.4 have varying compositions of virgin oak matured whisky, Deanston has a nice Virgin Oak NAS, Glenglassaugh has a peated whisky in a virgin oak finish and you’ll recall that the Ardbeg Kelpie had some whisky matured in virgin Adygea Oak, and you can read more about it in my post on the Committee Release. You might also recall that the Amrut Spectrum has partial virgin oak matured whisky. Going a little further back, I’ll mention the long gone Vintage 1993 Glenmorangie Ealanta, matured in virgin oak casks for 19 years.

You’ll find my tasting notes on the first edition here.

 

Photo Credit: Glen Garioch Distillery

Glen Garioch Virgin Oak No. 2 (48% ABV, NCF)

Appearance: Light copper, it’s lighter in color than the 2011 virgin oak single cask reviewed yesterday, which would suggest that coloring wasn’t used (and shouldn’t be in the first place in ANY Glen Garioch expression). Thin and slow legs come off a pretty sturdy necklace.

Nose: Toffee and vanilla, with a note of baking bread and some nutmeg. The nose is mild and fresh, but in no way young. Some time in the glass brings out some Granny Smith apples and more of the mash tun notes, with that toffee.

Palate: Honey and malt, with gentle black pepper. There’s a barky bitterness tinged with the honey sweetness with a hint of floral notes coming up the nose as you hold it in your mouth.

Linger: First you have the layer of the black pepper on the dry tongue, with a tingle on the inner cheeks. Then the sweetness comes out, and while the pepper is still there, as the linger slowly fades, it leaves more of the sweetness in there.

Conclusion

This expression seems milder than the first batch, but this might just be my memory of it. I really like it, and this could easily become my daily dram bottle. I think Ron did a great job with this one!

 

May 042019
 

This 2011 Glen Garioch is a harbinger for the sequel to the very successful Virgin Oak. Indeed, a few months before the release of Batch 2 of the Virgin Oak, the distillery released a very limited single cask of the whisky that will make up that expression, at cask strength.

Glen Garioch

Photo Credit: blog.parkinn.com

I’ll have more to say about Batch 2 of the Virgin Oak in the upcoming review, but this is a very lovely single cask.

Virgin oak works very quickly on new make, and seven years are plenty of time for some real flavor to develop in the cask.

Photo Credit: Dave Farquharson

Glen Garioch 2011, Cask 1409, Distilled May 23, 2011, Virgin Oak Cask Distillery Exclusive (60.8% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Bronze, very slow and thin legs coming very slowly off a sturdy necklace.

Nose: Toffee, caramel and coconut, with sweet honey and fresh wood shavings. Faint popcorn and a creamy butteriness. It has some traits in common with bourbon on the nose. Water takes it further toward bourbon or grain. Water also brings out the malt, or specifically the mash, as well as a hint of fresh ginger and brine.

Palate: Dry and spicy, pretty intense. There’s a lot of oak – almost sawdust – and harsh pepper. It definitely could use some water. The addition of water highlights the pepper, but brings out some mint and some yellow plums and some chalkiness.

Linger: Warm and spicy on a dry palate, with a buttery sweetness remaining in the mouth. The gullet has spice lingering. With water, the linger is spicier and sweeter. It’s actually a more intense finish with the water.

Conclusion

It’s only seven years old, but the virgin oak really allows it to mature nicely. This is complex and deep, albeit a little ‘in your face’, and is fun. I’ll be reviewing the second edition of the general release of the Virgin Oak in the next few days, as well as a few other distillery exclusive casks.

Mar 122018
 

This is the second release in Milk and Honey’s portfolio of the 2014 experimental casks. They were distilled in 2014 to check the character of the spirit, and were distilled by the distillery’s master distiller Tomer Goren and the late Dr. Jim Swan.

Photo Credit: timesofisrael.com

This is a lightly peated version, that was peated locally by Tomer for this run. It then sat for 28 months in a virgin American oak cask, and was then finished in a first fill ex bourbon cask for an additional 15 months.

While this isn’t a Whisky Live Tel Aviv bottling, it will be making its debut at the show.

 

Photo Credit: Milk and Honey

Milk and Honey Cask 2014-0002, Lightly Peated Single Malt Whisky, Matured in Virgin Oak, Finished in ex-bourbon, Distilled 22 April 2014, Bottled 23 November 2017, Yield 324 Bottles (46% ABV, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, pretty uniform legs run down the glass leaving quite a bit residue.

Nose: This definitely doesn’t belie its three year and seven months of age, as it feels quite mature on the nose. Vanilla greets you with a hint of peat, hay, a hint of brine and cardamom. With a little bit of time in the glass you get white pepper and some floral notes.

Palate: Here the peat is much more noticeable, with pepper and peat playing over citrus sweetness and a lemony cleanliness.

Linger:  Peat and freshly ground black pepper, with some bitter grapefruit rind and mild spiciness around the gullet. The finish is long, and a sweet honey note appears after a bit on the tongue. The finish is really where the peat shines through, leaving your mouth smoky

Conclusion

The local peating really works in with the spirit, and it seems that the peated runs the distillery makes will be hugely successful. This cask is pretty mature on the nose, and bodes very well for the regular whisky expressions expected sometime in the next year or so.

May 232017
 

Milk and Honey Distillery in Tel-Aviv crosses a significant threshold with the release of one of its first experimental casks, aged 38 months (3 years and two months) in two casks: A virgin oak cask 2014-0001, filled on January 14th, 2014, and then into an ex bourbon cask last September. The cask was bottled on April 2nd, 2017, and yielded 391 bottles.

The threshold being, of course, the three year mark, allowing the product to be called “whisky”. But wait, SWA regulations do not apply to Israel, nor are there any other legal definitions of what may and may not be called “whisky”. Yet, the distillery is very strict about the use of the word whisky, and has released all previous casks as “young single malt” but not as “whisky”. Indeed, this is yet another indicator of the seriousness the distillery takes its craft and where it sees itself fitting into the whisky world, by voluntarily adhering to the Scottish regulations. This isn’t surprising given the very consistent commitment to quality and to “doing things right” that has been a cornerstone of the distillery working from the onset.

The distillery launched that first whisky at an event in Tel Aviv, and distillery CEO Eitan Attir gave a full press briefing on the product and the state of the venture. I bring you the main points and a tasting of the new whisky.

Photo Credit: Plan B Creative

I’ve reviewed the production process in a previous post (see here), in which I told you about the distillery being ready for full production. Indeed, we’re at the point at which the distillery has two working fermentation tanks, each holding 10,500 liters, with the third one on the way. Distillery capacity now is 700 casks a year. Just to put that into perspective, we’re talking about 140,000 liters, which is basically Springbank’s yearly output.

Now that the distillery can work at full capacity, the distillery is moving into a round the clock production routine from Sunday to Thursday (with an optional half day on Friday, if needed). The production team now includes four full time employees – with a fifth recruitment on the way. The team is headed by Tomer Goren, the distillery’s brilliant master distiller, who worked with the late Jim Swan to perfect the distillation process. A steady line of core bottlings is expected in mid 2019.

In addition, the distillery is vamping up marketing with three steps:

  1. Appointment of Dana Baram, who was Carlsberg’s brand manager in Israel as VP Marketing.
  2. Appointment of Yuval Soffer, one of Israel’s leading mixologist, as brand ambassador.
  3. The distillery has started distribution of its products in Israel with HaKerem, one of Israel’s oldest alcoholic beverage distributors (importers of Wm. Grant and Sons, Suntory and Morrison Bowmore). At the launch, Ariel Epstine, HaKerem’s CEO, said that while David Stewart, OBE was in Israel, he helped HaKerem assess the Milk and Honey product, and it was his opinion that clinched HaKerem’s taking on the distribution.

Also on the marketing front, distillery bottles have been redesigned, and will now come in 700 ml bottles (as opposed to the old 500 ml. bottles). In addition to the First Single Malt Whisky, a new cask is being released in the Cask Series, a series of young cask releases showing the “work in progress”. The new release is cask 33, an ex bourbon cask which is a year old.

So how will this expression be sold?

Photo Credit: Plan B Creative

The 391 numbered bottles will be distributed as follows: Bottles 1-100 will go on a special auction on Whisky Auctioneer opening July 7th. The other 291 bottles will be sold in Israel, about 130 of them at the distillery and the rest in specialist whisky stores by HaKerem.

 

Photo Credit: mh-distillery.com

Milk and Honey Israel’s First Single Malt Whisky, Experimental Series Single Cask 2014-0001, Yield 391 Bottles (46%, NCF, NC)

Appearance: Gold, slow long legs with residue.

Nose: Oaky, honey, malt, vanilla and toasted coconut shavings. A drop of water brings out some fruit maybe green apple.

Palate: Rich mouth feel, citrus peel, freshly ground pepper with some sweetness.

Linger: Dry, here’s where the virgin oak really shows itself, the pepper is long – chili like and with quite a bit of bitter citrus. The dryness remains for a long time on the inside of the cheeks.

Conclusion

Israel’s warm climate basically takes the whisky in casks to levels of development you won’t get in Scotland in double the time. Compound that with the late Jim Swan’s knack for getting distillates to go through the maturation process more rapidly in the first place, and this three year old is really ready to drink. This whisky had 2.5 years in a virgin oak cask, and was finished in an ex bourbon. I’d be curious to see the reverse, with the virgin oak finish after an ex bourbon maturation.

Milk and Honey are clearly on the path that Kavalan took (sans the sherry casks), and don’t be surprised to see a serious world following, 8-10 years down the road.

The writer was a guest at the official launch event in Tel Aviv.

Apr 052017
 

I approached this expression with caution, after being quite underwhelmed with the Auriverdes, Perpetuum and the Dark Cove, and figured the NAS road chosen by Ardbeg will inevitably lead to  progressively uninspired festival bottlings.

But I’m always open to be surprised, and indeed, I have been.

The Kelpie is finished in virgin oak taken from Adygea. Now, I know geography pretty well, but have never heard of the place. Turns out, it’s a republic in Russia, nestled in the Caucuses, between the Black and Caspian Seas.

Photo Credit: abovyangroup.org

What are the specific characteristics of this wood? Is it closer to European, American or Mizunara oak? There really is no information on this. And how about the name “Kelpie”. Where does that come from? Kelpies are mythical shapeshifting creatures said to inhabit Scotland’s waters, the seas and the lochs. They have been immortalized in the iconic statues at The Helix in Falkirk.

Photo Credit: thehelix.co.uk

But there’s a greater conncection between Ardbeg and the Kelpie legend, as is evidenced in Charls Mackay’s poem “The Kelpie of Corrievreckan” of which I bring the opening and closing stanzas:

He mounted his steed of the water clear,
And sat on his saddle of sea- weed sere;
He held his bridle of strings of pearl,
Dug out of the depths where the sea-snakes curl.


I warn you, maids, whoever you be,
Beware of pride and vanity;
And ere on change of love you reckon,
Beware the Kelpie of Corryvreckan.

 

 

Photo Credit: thewhiskybarrel.com

Ardbeg Kelpie – Committee Release (51.7% ABV, NCF)

Appearance: Gold, with thin legs forming quickly.

Nose: First thought that comes to mind is “Was this sourced from Lagavulin?”. Smoked meat, smoked fish, seaweed and a very warm smell of a barbecue going at full strength. This is definitely not your everyday Ardbeg, and is, honestly, a nice surprise. After some time in the glass, some massive saltiness comes in, and mixes with the ongoing burning campfire. A few drops of water shifted the nose a bit toward the briny with some malt coming through.

Palate: Very peaty and salty, it’s actually quite aggressive on the palate. It has a pine-y quality. A few drops of water bring out a touch of the bourbon barrel with a hint of vanilla on the palate.
Linger: Salami and smoke ,with the peat remaining on the tongue and peppery spice on the top of the gullet.

Conclusion

Has Ardbeg stopped the slump they were in over the past couple of years with the Committee Releases?
This expression is interesting and intense, and while the nose is better than the palate, this is a bottle I’d be happy to have on a tasting table.