It's spring
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It’s the season where “a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love”, or so the poet (Tennyson) told us. Well, some of us turn to thoughts of whiskies we might drink in these months where the light gets longer and the days a bit warmer, we hope.

One whisky I have tasted recently is the new Benriach Cask Strength Batch 1 at 57.2% abv. At that strength not for the faint-hearted and it does need water or you don’t taste it properly at all. It’ll just numb the taste buds otherwise, as any high strength spirit would do. It needs a bit of time to open up but is worth the wait. Colour is rich gold with copper highlights. On the nose it promises much – oak vanillin, barley sugar, fruit juice, sultanas and baked apple, damp moss too. With water there is a more toasted note, toffee /caramel and citrus zest. It has quite a luscious and syrupy mouthfeel at first with toasted oak and toasted barley, heathery and quite rich; a touch of oak, some dry spices, licorice and a bit of smoke. It has quite a long, dry finish with spices and heathery notes and some licorice sweetness. Definitely worth a try.

A new whisky coming out soon is the Lagavulin 8 Year Old for specialist stores to celebrate Lagavulin’s 200th  anniversary this year. No sample as yet but I’m hopeful! If one arrives I’ll review it in next month’s blog. I deliberately haven’t read their tasting notes yet as I prefer to do my own. Owner, Diageo, is keen for as many as possible to come and visit the distillery on Islay this year and they will also be taking Islay/Lagavulin to people worldwide, but not all is revealed yet.

An exclusive to World Duty Free at Edinburgh Airport is a new expression of The Glenlivet to mark the airport’s 100th birthday. It must have been a vastly different place in 1916! This one is called The Glenlivet Alt nan Seileach Single Cask Edition. It’s at cask strength (55.8%) and not chill-filtered. No sample of this one – well, it is £250 a bottle so not to be thrown about. We’re told it’s “inspired by one of the original smuggling trails out of the Glenlivet Valley to the Scottish market town of Perth. The routes were originally used by the founder of The Glenlivet, George Smith, and the illicit distillers of the 18th and 19th Centuries to transport their goods to sell in larger Scottish towns.” One for a special gift methinks.

An excellent piece of news a couple of weeks ago. Kirsteen Campbell, Master Distiller for Cutty Sark at Edrington, is now to take on the tasks of Master Blender for The Famous Grouse (TFG) too. Her predecessor in that job, Gordon Motion, is still with the company but taking on the position of Edrington’s Master Whisky Maker for their malts like The Glenturret, Highland Park and Macallan. I’ve interviewed Kirsteen before and found her to be open, friendly and really interesting to listen to. Not to mention the passion she displays for her brands and whisky in general. An enormously talented blender, she has a fondness for US oak sherry casks describing their effect as “rich and smooth with good vanilla notes, a bit less woody than bourbon. Smoother and sweeter”. I’m looking forward to the continuing success of TFG and to see if she  develops any range extensions as she has done with Cutty Sark.

In other news Old Pulteney Single Malt has teamed up with top chef Aiden Byrne in a partnership which will see him create special food pairings and menus to serve with each award-winning Old Pulteney expression – all inspired by the single malt whisky’s distinctive flavours and faint hint of the sea. More power to their joint elbows on that one. Matching whisky to food is one of my favourite things and I love doing menu pairings for the whisky dinners I do in various places. The cooking is left to the professionals in that arena. Indeed, I’ll be back on Islay during Feis Ile week at the end of May doing my 14th annual dinner there at the Port Charlotte Hotel. I’m awaiting this year’s menu at the moment and really looking forward to seeing what challenges chef Ranga has set me this time. Elsewhere in the range Old Pulteney 1989 Vintage, launched in September last year, was awarded ‘World’s Best Single Malt’ at Whisky Magazine’s prestigious awards ceremony earlier this month.

Highland Park has launched a new Ice edition but the sample has just turned up as I finish this column so a review next time. Kilchoman launched Sanaig (46% abv) at the start of March as the distillery’s second continuous release. It’s named after an inlet North West of the distillery and has a predominantly sherry cask influence owing to the significant time spent in oloroso sherry hogsheads, though there is bourbon maturation there too. Should be a nice contrast to Machir Bay. I’ve not yet had the chance to compare the two side by side.

I’m off to Islay end of next month but will be back with at least one review as promised here and more news next month. And we’re told it’s turning wet and miserable just in time for Easter weekend. Grab a dram and keep out the cold and damp.

Caroline