Arran Cask Finishes – Sauternes, Amarone, Sherry, Port

A year ago we came together to enjoy an Arran Vertical – 14 year 46%18 year 46%23 year (1996/2020) Sherry Hogshead Cask No 436, 52.6%.

It was so enjoyable that our London-based whisky explorer went on a bit of an Arran purchasing spree – delighting in their cask finishes series. Confidently we thought we could easily acquire another bottle or two… until we realized our favorites from the Cask Finish series disappeared from Arran’s online shop! And then also from most UK distributors! Thankfully they are still available in Germany… but likely not for much longer.

For now, we can still enjoy this quartet of:

Currently, only The Bodega remains readily available. However hopefully it is simply a matter of time for the Amarone and Sauternes Casks to return to production.

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When you think you know the Penderyn Madeira 46%

Ever think you know something well? To discover perhaps you don’t it as much as you thought? For a couple of us, that was clearly the case with our blind tasting of this Penderyn Madeira finish!

Penderyn Madeira 46%
  • Nose – A curious forrest like quailty initially then shifted into the tropics – more specifically banana… even more a banana cream pie – a yummy banoffee pie, sugar and water, vanilla, berries with a dusting of white castor sugar
  • Palate – Banana, coconut, toffee…. consistent with the banoffee pie and yet also quite dry…
  • Finish – Bitter

Our speculation ran rampant. We could not guess the distillery however thought likely not a standard ex-Bourbon or ex-Sherry… one idea was perhaps a rum cask as we found a Caribean quality to the aromas and flavours…

In truth, we were stumped… and then shocked with the reveal. Why?

This evening was far from our first brush with this Penderyn. And that is when I pulled out previous notes…

To discover our memory was perhaps faulty as there were quite a few elements still in common – particularly the bananas from our 2017 experience! The bananas and bitter finish was even there back in 2011!

So what did our memory retain?
  • A bit of a tricky whisky – not a traditional bourbon or sherry influence (check!)
  • Can initially come across as a bit sharp or unbalanced (check!)
  • But give it time and it becomes quite enjoyable with the different elements start to come into an interesting tune (and…. check!)

I suppose it was more that the banana really dominated this time whereas our most recent tastings (in completely different environments!) had less of the banana and more perfume (2019, 2020). We were also influenced a bit by its cousin expression – Myth – tasted in 2021.

It is also possible that there was a shift in recipe, storage conditions… or just that we approached this one with a different mindset coming 4th in a completely blind tasting evening.

The overall conclusion is that it remains a solid dram and frankly we also just love the elegant cut glass bottle. Yes.. appearances do influence too!

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Another English entrant – Cotswold Signature Single Malt 46%

English whisky is starting a wee revival… nothing on the scale or breadth of the Irish, however there are modest entrants here and there… now numbering around 20+.

Apparently, the 1st in this English whisky revival came in 2007 with “The English” from St. George’s distillery in Norfolk that we tried earlier in the evening.

In a previous evening, one tasting companion and I had the pleasure of sampling a whisky from The Lakes Distillery – which has an Arran and Macallan connect that started in 2014.

For Cotswold, their distillery also began in 2014 with both gin and whisky… to be honest I heard more about their Gin which has been well received. So was delighted when the blind tasting revealed their whisky!

What did we think?
Cotswold Batch 06/2018 46% (5950 bottles)
  • Nose – Distinctive, floral, brown sugar, custard, tuberoses? Milky Toffee, hazelnut and honey
  • Palate – A nice kick, heavy, chewy chili whisky, very dry…. as it settles starts to reveal a delicate fruitiness on the palate too with that millky toffee and creamy custard also there…
  • Finish – Dry cloves, cinnamon bark, the kind of finish that prompts you to pucker up! Then again… like the palate… keep sipping and it settles in nicely, even reasonably long

Initially, we found it a tiny bit imbalanced but with the revisit, enjoyed the sweetness and spice… especially the aromas are enchanting and invite you to return to sniff and sniff again. Give it a bit of time and this whisky nicely opens up. As it is quite a ‘light weight’, there is zero need for any water – best had neat!

As we tasted it blind, we again turned to speculate the cask mix. Perhaps ex-bourbon maybe even a first fill? Though we had sweet spices on the finish, didn’t discern much of a sherry cask influence.. perhaps something else? But what do we know?

Turns out it is indeed from first-fill barrels – unspecified on the label. And as Cotswold works with batches, what we had in the 2018 6th batch could differ from what is available today.

What more do we know? I believe we tasted one of their Signature Single Malts. In which case they have this to say:

Our award-winning Cotswolds Signature Single Malt Whisky, the first whisky ever made in the Cotswolds, is crafted using the finest locally grown, traditionally floor-malted Cotswold barley. Matured in highly active STR (Shaved, Toasted and Re-charred) ex-red wine casks and premium first-fill ex-Bourbon casks, this single malt whisky provides an incredible depth of flavour with notes of honey, Seville orange marmalade and dark red fruits.

An interesting introduction – I would certainly keep an eye out for other opportunities to explore further.

At the moment, this expression (but not batch) is available for GBP 39 – which is quite reasonable all things considered.

What else did we try in our Scottish ‘adjacent’ themed evening?

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Blind tasting The Famous Grouse 40%

Nothing like tasting blind to set aside preconceived notions… particularly when it comes to well-known blends…

A version of this blend has been around since 1896 with the “Famous Grouse” name remaining consistent since 1905. Considered a top-selling whisky brand in the UK, I have to confess that I don’t recall ever having tried The Famous Grouse before.

What did we think?

Famous Grouse 40% 

  • Colour – Bright gold
  • Nose – Raisins, sherry influence, oily and heavy, overripe fruits, wet mop and phenol, island influence, bit of brine, fermented bread, light iodine, wet leaves,
  • Palate – Smooth on the palate, gentle, watery softness, honey-sweet, nice mouthfeel, reminded a bit of mead
  • Finish – Soft white pepper, long, sherry element with juicy whisky soaked raisins

Nothing hugely distinctive or complex, but there were still some nice elements. However they were a bit curious – on the one hand, there was a briney Island style and on the other hand, a more traditional sherry dram.

We speculated this may be Scottish but beyond that? We had no clue!

Turns out this was the real “googly” in the mix for the evening. The other three were deliberately Scottish ‘adjacent’ whereas just for kicks, our whisky host decided to bring into our evening something we would not have expected!

With the reveal?

It all made sense – why there was a duality of character, why it came across as Scottish but not distinctively this or that. The Famous Grouse is known to use both Highland Park and Macallan – which certainly helped explain what we found!

As for the official notes?

  • Appearance: Full golden, clear and bright
  • Aromas: Candied fruits, buttery shortbread, citrus peel
  • Taste: Dried fruit, soft spices (cinnamon/ginger), hint of oak
  • Finish: Smooth, well balanced

Interesting to try and why I enjoy blind tastings! Here is what else we tried that evening:

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Reviving England’s Whisky Production – The English “Original” 43%

St.George’s Distillery in the UK (not to be confused with the Californian St George), was founded in 2005 by James Nelstrop and his son. Whilst initially they had a micro distillery in mind, the permit would only come with a full blown operation – so that’s exactly what they decided to set-up!

Taking advice from whisky expert Iain Henderson, production began in 2007 with both peated and unpeated standards. We were introduced to the unpeated “Original” one fine evening in Mumbai, early January 2022 – sampled blind.

We started with The English… what were our impressions?

  • Nose – Citrus, resin, sharp alcohol, pine, green apple, boiled sweet, shy, allspice, as opened up becomes sweeter
  • Palate – A piquant spice, curry leaf, very bitter – Allspice? Dry mace flower (Javithri)… has quite a dry mouthfeel
  • Finish – Bitter… like bitter almond (which is a bit off), or that slightly salty dried Chinese sour cherry, one sampler even found a bit of licorice

Overall? We found that the nose required a bit of a workout, we really needed to carefully pay attention to be rewarded with a few different elements. It had many of the right ingredients however it felt a bit like it wasn’t quite there yet…

As we were tasting blind, our speculation turned to cask – we thought likely an ex-bourbon cask. We weren’t convinced it was a typical Scottish single malt… but no clue beyond that.

And the reveal?

Interesting and a good introduction to this English distillery. This whisky also stood up well with a cigar – which is always a good thing with these gens!

What did the folks at The English have to say about their “Original” standard?

The English – Original. Aged to perfection in specially selected Bourbon Casks. An unpeated single malt whisky. A great easy-drinking classic single malt

With their official tasting notes:

A gentle aroma with hints of vanilla and tropical fruits. Like a soft whipped vanilla ice cream. Melts on the palate. Slightly nutty with a long malty finish. Finish is clean, dry and slightly salty.

This whisky retails for GBP 42.50.

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Scottish Single Malt “Adjacent” – The English, Famous Grouse, Cotswold, Penderyn Madeira

Once upon a time in Mumbai, a lass with four merry gents used to regularly gather together to explore whiskies, relax puffing cigars, exchanging witty remarks, tending to close the evening with most enjoyable repasts….

We are now scattered across four countries and in COVID conditions, the chances of meeting in person are slim. So we’ve made do with the rare combination of partly in-person and partly virtual…

Somehow at the start of 2022, we managed to kick off with nearly all of us together! Beginning with a set that our whisky host had saved and ready since 2019!

The theme was simple – explore English / Welsh whiskies – adjacent to Scotland…. but then he threw in a ‘googly’ with a well-known Scottish blend just to challenge us. All four whiskies were tasted blind before the reveal.

So…. what did we try?

This Scottish Single Malt ‘adjacent’ theme featured:

It was a good mix of introduction and re-introduction, wrapped up in a  blind package one fine January evening in Mumbai.

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St Kilian ‘Seven’ Sherry PX + Oloroso 51.7%

Back in October 2021, the Bombay lads and I explored together St Kilian distillery from Germany’s Signature Edition One, Four and Six. One set made its way to India whereas a second remained in Europe. I augmented the European ones with the Seven, which was enjoyed in more sociable settings rather than proper sit-down tasting… until the new year!

Described by the St. Kilian folks as an “ideal companion for summer”, they introduce this expression by sharing it is

Matured in ex-sherry barrels, this bottling reflects the Andalusian summer sun. The balanced balance between ex-Sherry PX and ex-Sherry Oloroso barrels ensures a harmonious enjoyment.

What did we think?

St Kilian Signature Edition ‘Seven’ (2017/2021) 51.7% 5,700 bottles

  • Nose – Dark, rich treacle, coffee, plump and juicy raisins, salty licorice… shifts more and more into fruity elements, apricots, dates, sherry berry aromas
  • Palate – Spicy! A rich chocolate bar with cherries, raisins and nuts, a clear sherry stamp – chewy and rich, warming, full-bodied
  • Finish – Long, strong with a nice spice on the tail end…

While it starts out dark and stormy, with an initial hit of acetone, this one soon displayed its clear Sherry cask influences. We also tried it with water – with a bit of a debate depending on whether you prefer your whiskies more intense and indulgent or preferred a fruitier and creamier dram.

In some ways, I would say with a dash of water, this is the most ‘accessible’ of the quartet we’ve tried. While all four St Kilian’s tried from the Signature Editions are bursting with character, this one has more of a ‘nod’ to more classical sherry aromas even if the flavour retains something distinctively different.

What more do we know? The St Kilian recipe is:

  • 73% ex Sherry Olorosso and
  • 27% ex Sherry PX

As for official tasting notes? Here’s what St Kilian has to say:

  • GERUCH Süße Noten von Rosinen und in trockenen Sherry eingelegte, dunkle Früchte lassen Raum für reife Pfirsiche mit Walnuss sowie feinen Kräutern, vorrangig Minze und Salbei.
  • GESCHMACK Die trockene Süße von Rosinen und Walnuss wird begleitet von reifen Pfirsichen und sahnigen Malzbonbons, mit wärmenden Anklängen von aromatischer Eiche, frischer Minze und Salbei.
  • NACHKLANG Lang, cremig und würzig-warm mit feinen Sherry-Noten, Honig, Malzbonbons sowie reifer Walnuss.

As for a rough translation?

  • Nose – Sweet notes of raisins and dry Sherry, dark fruits leaving room for ripe peaches with walnuts as well as fine herbs – primarily mint and sage
  • Taste – The dry sweetness of raisins and walnuts is accompanied by ripe peaches and creamy malt sweets, with warming hints of aromatic oak, fresh mint and sage
  • Finish – Long, creamy and spicy-warm with fine notes of sherry, honey, malt sweets as well as ripe walnut

What else did we try from St Kilian?

I would easily recommend Edition ‘Seven‘ however also kept coming back to the ‘One’ – which so far is my favourite! Next would be the peaty ‘Four‘ with the ‘Six‘s Rye / Burgandy combination not working quite as well for me. Based on this experience, I will also keep an eye out for future Editions too!

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St. George Gins

Years ago a fabulous friend and former Whisky Lady came for a visit to Mumbai from the US… she brought along some treats!

These California beauties patiently waited for the right opportunity… cracked open to help bring in the new year, in hopes that 2022 would break the COVID cycle!

So what do we know? Well… this isn’t our 1st brush with St. George… We first explored this American craft distillery’s Single Malt – more specifically from their Lot 16. It was a positive experience and I was certainly looking forward to discovering more from these folks.

Enter these St. George Gins – Terroir, Botanical and Dry Rye

Rather than detailed tasting notes, I’ve shared overall impressions…

St. George Terroir Gin 45%

Love this one! It has a fabulously fresh and clean quality – like stepping into a forest during a spring rain. Could completely catch the fir, sage, sweet bay leaf… intoxicating in a delightful herbal way.

Personally, I preferred this one straight on the rocks… letting the chilled water heighten the bright cheerful experience.

What more do we know?

Forest-driven and earthy, Terroir is a profoundly aromatic gin with a real sense of place. We wanted to make a spirit that conveyed what we love about the monumental groves of trees, moist and misty glens, and sun-baked chaparral of our favorite local parklands.

With Terroir Gin, we try to take you there with Douglas fir, California bay laurel, coastal sage, and other evocative botanicals. 

St. George Botanivore Gin 45%

Super sweet and summery, this gin is amped up on botanicals – a cornucopia of scents.

If Terroir was a cool fresh spring rain, Botanivore was hot summer sunshine, bursting with a garden of herbs, flowers and spices….

For me, this one worked well with a slightly bitter tonic which acts as a nice counter-point to the sweet abundance of aromas. I also suspect it could make a mighty fine dry martini. 

What more do we know?

Botanivore, our “botanical eater,” is comprised of 19 different botanicals working in concert. Think of a meadow in bloom—herbaceous, fresh, and elegant.

What’s in it? Count with us… angelica root, bay laurel, bergamot peel, black peppercorn, caraway, cardamom, cilantro, cinnamon, citra hops, coriander, dill seed, fennel seed, ginger, juniper berries, lemon peel, lime peel, orris root, Seville orange peel, star anise!

St. George Dry Rye Gin 45%

OK… This one surprised me. I don’t quite know what I was expecting but imagined it would have just a hint of rye? I certainly hadn’t dreamt of a full-force rye battling with juniper, a curious cross-breed which is neither rye nor gin!

As I sipped and sniffed, I found the Rye side was quite grain forward. Yet it was paired with equally bold gin elements – clear juniper, black peppercorns, citrust twist… 

I confess that I struggled with the Rye Gin. When I first tried it, I had only tonic water and soda as mix options. Frankly either ocmbination didn’t quite work for me.

If anything this made me think of a Canadian rye & ginger ale. So many days later, I pulled Dry Rue out to try again.. this time with the right mix! 

The result? Much better! It was still curious but worked well with ice and ginger ale – something brighter than a standard Rye and deeper than a typical Gin.

The folks at St. George also recommend using it as a base for an Old Fashioned or Negroni. Hmm… perhaps the next try!

What more do we know?

A base of 100% pot-distilled rye makes this a gin for whiskey lovers—and for gin im-purists willing to take a walk on the rye side.

Think genever, then think again—and brace yourself for a gin with structure, spice, and an impossibly rich mouthfeel.

…for Dry Rye Gin we chose just six botanical ingredients: Juniper berries are the star here (50% more than in either of our other two gins), complemented by black peppercorn, caraway, coriander, grapefruit peel, lime peel—which were all selected to play up the peppery nature of juniper that we love so much.

Once again, many thanks to our lovely lady (you know who you are!). We miss you like mad!

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Whisky Lady – Farewell 2021, Welcome 2022!

As flights around the world get cancelled, we are clearly not out of the woods yet with COVID. And yet 2021 brought a few glimmers of optomism and windows of freedom before further caution prevailed.

Whisky-wise that meant a couple grand adventures. No surprise, now being based in Europe there was a decidedly continental bent to whisky explorations…

France – starting with my Parisian whisky companions, we explored both in person and virtually an array of French whiskies:

Sweden – What better excuse to go to Sweden than an opportunity to catch up with a friend and explore a couple of distilleries!

Germany – Naturally there must be more than one “nod” to my new Work home…

In some cases, it was exploring virtually like St Kilian Signature Edition ‘One’‘Four’ ‘Six’ and Seven’Or recalling a rare in-person distillery tour of Ziegler Distillery with their range of Aureum whiskies that have – alas – since been discontinued!!! In others, it was a highly memorable weekend in Berlin with a triple pairing and “showstopper” at Union Jack! Yet not all explorations are brilliant – some were a surprising ‘hit’ (J. B.G. Münsterländer Grain whereas others a decided ‘miss’ (Black Forest Wild Whisky Peated ) and some like the St Kilian samples went from promising to perplexing.

Belgium – While I haven’t yet managed to make it to Belgium since moving to Europe, thanks to the kind folks at The Belgian Owl, we had the remarkable opportunity to try all five of their expressions: OrigineIdentitéPassionEvolutionIntense.

Were there other experiences? Certainly! And one hallmark of these continued strange COVID times is the creative ways we connect, exchange and explore… whether in person or virtually.

So I remain cautiously optimistic that 2022 will bring more momentum to movement, perhaps even a trip to visit family and friends in Canada and ideally more frequent trips home to India – not just twice a year!

Curious to know more? Check out one of the monthly summaries:

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