This is an accidental follow-up to my last post, with a visit to Tesco leading to an unexpected beer purchase. Stocking up on my favourite brand of Kimchi flavoured noodles in the increasingly-innaccurately-named Polish section of my local branch, I came across a beer that I mentioned last time – the imported, Nigerian edition of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout.
It’s all about craft beer these days. From Budweiser’s advert during the Superbowl and their behind the scenes snapping up of craft breweries, to Thwaites’s Crafty Dan annexe, all the big boys want in on the scene, and Diageo are no different. They’re the biggest drinks company and the produce one of the best-selling beers in the world – Guinness. So, into the fray they have launched a pair of new beers, Guinness Dublin Porter and Guinness West Indies Porter.
In a dance as old as time, as Morgan Freeman didn’t say, if you have a group of people pretty much anywhere in the world, then they will make booze. If they have too much booze to drink before it goes bad, then human ingenuity will inevitably lead to spirits. My latest evidence of this is Tovuz Azeri Original Whisky 10 year old, a product of Azerbaijan.
When it comes to my current state of booze geekery, there are a number of ticky boxes to be ticked to get me interested in a drink. So, when I came across a beer that is not only made in London, but is a sour, low strength, three-way collaboration that included a gin distillery, the amount of box-tickery was quite compelling. Step forward Londonerweisse from Beavertown, Dogfish Head and the East London Liquor Company.
Amongst my pile of whisky samples there are a few that I don’t know much about. One of those is a whisky that arrived as part of the Whisky Tasting Club’s Whisky World Beaters pack, which has sat on the side for a while, waiting for an excuse for me to crack it open. I’ve not written much on here recently, but it’s now the new year and the time for hopeful changes is upon us – that counts as an excuse. So, what is Lammerlaw 10 year old?
A quick Google showed that I knew a lot more about the whisky than I thought. Distilled in New Zealand at the Willowbank distillery, this whisky is not easy to find these days, but there are a few siblings that have been making waves recently.
When it comes to own brand food and drink in the UK, there are a couple of shops known for being a cut above the rest. While Waitrose has steamrollered its way into the mainstream lead, there’s one pseudo-supermarket who has been doing the ‘posh provisions on the high street’ thing longer than most: Marks and Spencer. While my childhood trips to our local branch were focused on buying clothes (I am to this day almost exclusively dressed by M&S, due to a fear of all clothes shopping and Marks being a never-changing bastion of easy body-covering selection) they’ve been selling food and drink under their own labels since the 1920s.
Their booze selection is pretty decent, and I’ve quaffed many a bottle of rebadged and specially brewed beer over the years, however, I’ve never got my hands on their whisky before now. To start with, their blended whisky: Kenmore 5 year old.
I’ve written in the past about my scepticism about the potential for bottle ageing high-alcohol boozes, but something that I’ve long understood is that things are quite different for lower strength drinks. This has been very much brought home by some of the Italian bitters and vermouths I’ve been able to try, thanks to my boss’s love of old liqueurs and aperitifs, and I’ve been meaning to have a bit of a taste test of my own for a while. While the market has realised that 1970s, 1960s and earlier bottlings of vermouth and bitters are worth some money, fortunately for me the 1990s still sound recent enough that bottles from the era are still reasonably priced. Digging through The Whisky Exchange website the other day I noticed that we had some 1990s Punt e Mes and grabbed one, as well as a more recent bottle for a bit of a comparison.
I have a confession to make: I don’t really like Bruichladdich’s whisky. They’re the geek touchstone; the independent Hebridean distiller that showed that the little guy could go it alone; the home of Jim McEwan, his crazy experiments and his even crazier tasting notes; the one with their own shade of blue. However, with a very small number of exceptions, I’ve not enjoyed a bottle with the word Bruichladdich on it since I got into whisky. So, when I found one I liked, I thought I’d better make a note of it, especially as it’s one I assumed I would hate – Bruichladdich X4+3.
In recent times, the proliferation of whisky awards has had one strange effect that I didn’t predict: supermarket whisky is getting some recognition. The competitions operate in a simple way: companies send their bottlings in to be judged and then some (most?) are awarded medals. It’s a self-selected pool of whiskies that are eligible, as producers who don’t send in their whiskies don’t get a look in, and as the power of awards has increased, we’ve seen more shops send in their own-brands. I’d not heard of any of the smaller companies entering until a press release landed in my inbox announcing a silver medal at the International Spirits Challenge for Banoch Brae, the whisky bottled for Nisa.
In a change form my normal obsessive note-taking, this year’s trip to Islay for Feis Ile, the “Festival of Malt and Music”, was surprisingly note free. I’m still trying to work out whether this was a deliberate choice, to step back and enjoy the experience in the moment without feeling a need to record it for posterity, or whether I just drank too much and lost the ability to write coherently. In the meantime I need to get the few notes I did scribble out of my notebook and brain and into the ether, so as to cement them in history rather than disappear slowly from my leaky head.
So, a pair of festival bottllings – Caol Ila Feis Ile 2014 and also last year’s, the 2013.