Thursday, 4 March 2010

A welcome return

On the turntable: Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Jacksonville City Nights
Uncorked: Highland Park 12

The weekend has come early to the Clubhouse. No work tomorrow so Thursday is the new friday.

I'm listening to Jacksonville City Nights which is a great album and an old favourite. Probably the most countryfied record of Ryan Adams post Whiskeytown output, this album was recorded pretty much live in what is, by modern standards, a very short space of time. There is an excellent documentary about the making of it called September, which shows a genius at work. He's currently taking a break from music but hopefully he'll release something soon because I for one miss him.

And tonight I'm drinking another old favourite, Highland Park 12, the baby of the family. This was one of the first malts I ever tried but I haven't sampled it for a long time so I'm looking forward to this one.

Nose: There's a sweet fruity fizz that tickles the nostrils for brief moment before transforming into a honeyed note. Something slightly chemically, maybe glue or paint, intrudes briefly followed by the barest hint of smoke.

Interestingly the nose develops after being left in the glass for 10-15 minutes (I'm feeling patient tonight), once its stood for a while the gluey chemical tones dissipate, I'm quite pleased about that. Honey and something fresh and floral have replaced them.

Palate: A medium body, starts with some barley sugars developing into a warm malty sweetness, hints of fruit coming through, something zesty. In the medium palate things begin to dry out and a hint of smoke wafts around. This is all very pleasant. Nothing is over dominant, just some well balanced, quite delicate flavours, good complexity moving from sweet, floral and bright to dry wood and very gentle smoke.

The finish is quite light and not over long.

This is an interesting whisky that seems to divide opinion, some people seem to think its a little light weight and I've heard it describe as not very "Scotchy", whatever that means.

I have to say I think people might be misled by its delicacy, its quite subtle so if you want big smoke or maximum sherry you're not going to find it here.

Taking into consideration the price (its not that expensive) this is a very accessible and easy malt that still has subtle complexity. Good for a relaxing drink if you're a seasoned whisky enthusiast and a great place to start if you're a beginner.


As Ryan Adams once sang, "I'll have another then I'll go to bed."

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Across the Great Divide, sherry to peat?

In the glass: Talisker 1998 Distillers Edition
On the speakers: The Band by The Band.

The Clubhouse is a good place to be this evening. The music is good, really good. The boys from the Band at their peak coming through the speakers - kicking off with "Across the Great Divide." I can't believe this record is 41 years old, it still sounds so vibrant.

A good friend of mine describes it as woody, I know what he means. In my hand a glass of something woody too, this is from 1998 not 1969 though, none the less this also a classic.

I'm a huge fan of Talisker, it used to be my regular whisky, but I've been dallying elsewhere recently. So this is like meeting up with an old friend; albeit one who has something new to tell me. I am excited, with good reason.

On the nose unsurprisingly for a Talisker there's peaty smoke, a hint of tar but unlike their regular expressions there is a distinct note of burned orange peel wrapped up in sherry and oak. Its got that salty tang you expect but with a sweet undertow.

On the palate its medium bodied, rich but not quite oily and it has all the Talisker hall marks, lightly peaty, slightly salty but the sherry cask has added a sweetness and depth. This is a great example of how to combine dry, peaty flavours with oaky, sherry flavours. Smoky and sweet doesn't always work but this is a masterclass. The flavours never compete unfolding in a harmonious and delightful way.

For me a Talisker should be a robust, manly whisky and this is no exception. The sherry finish doesn't diminish the punch in the way that some sherried whiskies become luxurious but slightly benign.

The finish is slightly shorter than I expected but in a moreish way! Sweetness in the medium finish gives way to that familiar Talisker saltiness.

The Band have only got as far as track 5 "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", surely Virgil wouldn't begrudge me another dram!

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Quel fromage!

Well actually quel whisky?

I'm sitting here in the clubhouse with a piece of Strathdon Blue, a delightfully creamy blue cheese with a hint of saltiness, from Ross-shire. In front of me are six bottles of whisky and six glasses, each with a small measure. I didn't think it would take six bottles to make a decision but its proved to be harder to decide than I thought.

What am I trying to decide? I have to do a pairing for a course at a dinner this weekend. Everyone else is doing wine pairing but when I was given the cheese course I thought I'd show off and do whisky.

The problem I'm having is not that the whiskies don't go but, rather, that more of them marry well with the cheese than I expected. My instinct was that a nice smokey Islay would be the ideal companion. It worked too. A Caol Ila cask strength went well in the sense that it didn't clash and neither the cheese nor the whisky won the battle.

Laphroaig Quarter Cask didn't work quite as well as I'd hoped but an SMWS limited edition Ardbeg really nailed it. The flavour of both was enhanced and remained distinct and complimentary, the whisky lost none of its articulacy.

But then I thought, actually, if you don't like phenol whisky, and I should point out some of the other guests aren't regular whisky drinkers, it might not be what you want to taste, even to educate yourself.

So I thought maybe I should try something easier. Aberlour A'bunadh worked surprisingly well, straight up at cask strength, the cheese exposed a quality that reminded me of port.

Then I tried a Yamazaki 12 year old, not because I thought it would work but because I'm feeling experimental by now. And do you know? It was interesting, the vanilla notes really danced around the cheese.

By now I am feeling less certain than ever and reach for a bottle of Glenfiddich 18 year old. As soon as I smell the spicy orchard coming from the glass I now its going to work. Like a piece of apple with a slice of blue cheese, its going to be a classic flavour combination. And on the palate it really worked, the combination bringing out a nutiness in both the cheese and the whisky. Sensational.

But the Ardbeg is a winner too. And anyone who enjoys port and stilton at Christmas is going to love the A'bunadh.

What to do, what to do?

All the time I've been listening to "$87 and a Guilty Conscience That Gets Worse the Longer I Go" by Richmond Fontaine, the whole mini album. Which is beautiful. Maybe even as good as "The Fitzgerald".

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The Original and Emmylou

Its easier to get to the Clubhouse now the snow has cleared but I miss the crunch under foot. I had planned to try that bottle of Glenfiddich 18 year old but after supper I wasn't in the mood. I was feeling a little blue, got some bad news from my brother, needed to cheer myself up.

Dram: Glenmorangie 10 (The Original as they call it now)
Soundtrack: Pancho and Lefty - Emmylou Harris version - something about Emmylou's pure voice just seems to go with the Glenmo, and anyway if you're feeling sad...

Glenmorangie was one of the first single malts I ever tried and I'm a little ashamed to say I didn't appreciate it back then, couldn't understand the fuss.

On the nose it smells of marzipan, a nutty, gentle sweetness. A hint of oak comes in and something than reminds me of marmalade or grapefruit, sweet but beautifully balanced with a slight acidic tartness. Soft honey notes waft around the edges but don't dominate.

On the palate the impression of the marzipan notes picked up on the nose is reinforced by the rich lightly oily texture, and like a good quality marzipan the nutty sweetness never approaches anything you'd call sickly or overtly sweet. A light oakiness supports the nutty flavours cradled in gentle malty tones. And there's just the right amount of acidity to balance the richness. This is an elegant and understated whisky, the flavours develop, arriving gently without a fanfare.

A long satisfying finish with the almond notes dying last.

"And All the federales say, They could have had him any day, They only let him slip away, Out of kindness I suppose." A bit like Pancho you can't quite tie the Original down, happy to have it within your grasp but ultimately content to let it go, until the next time.

Welcome to the Clubhouse

I got tired of city life and found myself a nice quiet spot in the country to build my Clubhouse. If you listen carefully late at night you'll hear the sound of steel guitars and the squeak of whisky corks as I sip a dram or two while listening to Gram Parsons or Whiskeytown.

This is a magical spot, far away from it all, where the only things that matter are sad country songs and single malts.

Over the coming months I'll share my thoughts on both.

Thanks for stopping by.