Advent Minis – Heaven Hill 8 Year Old 2009 63.5%

While Heaven Hill hasn’t directly featured in prior tasting experiences, we’re no stranger to their brands like Pikesville and Elijah Craig from their distillery stable.

This particular sample was originally bottled by The Higginbottom, which traces its whisky roots to the late 1800s, when Henry Albert Higginbottom supplied whisky for British troops. The brand was recently revived by Higginbottom’s great great grandson Leo Scott-Francis.

It was part of a cool relaxed evening in Nurnberg sampling minis from my advent calendar. What did we think?

Heaven Hill 8 Year Old 2009 (May 2009 / November 2017) Cask 152736 63.5% – The Higgbottom Revival 

  • Nose – Bourbon banana caramel with a sharpness, honey oats, a granary, wheat husks, unripe
  • Palate – Whoosh! What spice! Dry but with a nice depth
  • Finish – Full spice
  • Water – Now this one cried out for some water. And wow – how fabulous with it. Suddenly out came a cornucopia of fruits with banana, pineapple, green apple, throw in a generous dash of Demerara sugar, the flavours were fuller, colourful with an exceedingly nice after taste

This was definitely an example of a dram that grew on you… the more we sniffed and sipped – particularly after water was added – the more we enjoyed it. We clearly wished there was more than the wee 3cl!

Particularly for my companion, there was a clear new world over old world vibe – she loved the Rye and also this Bourbon vs the Dalmore or Caol Ila. Which is part of the magic of such minis – an opportunity to discover tastes and preferences with a wee nip rather than investing in a full bottle.

What do the chaps at Master of Malt have to say about this Heaven Hill?

  • Nose: Honeyed fruit and fresh florals. Spicy cedar and nutmeg.
  • Palate: Quite punchy at full strength, with clove, menthol and black pepper. A drop of water helps to bring buttered corn and sponge cake notes forward.
  • Finish: Coffee bean, dark chocolate and oak.

Here are a few others we tried from my advent calendar minis:

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Advent Minis – Whistle Pig Rye 10 year 54.3%

I had to be amused by the journey our 1st sample has taken. Originally from Canada – like me – it then was aged at WhistlePig Farm in Vermont. To then be rebottled by the folks at Drinks by the Dram in the UK and finally shipped off to me in Nurnberg, Germany.

But this was no normal WhistlePg in my wee advent calendar of single casks – nope! This was a single barrel release at cask strength.

WhistlePig 10 Year Old  54.3% – Drinks By The Dram Exclusive

  • Nose – It started off with typical rye, some spice, cloves, orange peel, honey and oats, porridge, sweet caramels, hint of mint and a touch of oak
  • Palate – Had all the lovely elements of rye, some caramel, spice, more of the honey and oats, more of that butterscotch… it reminded me a bit of stroopwaffles
  • Finish – Light liquorice, butterscotch
  • Water – Racks up the spice, the rye became even more prominent, more barley and less honey, the light brown black liquorice danced on the palate, lots of spice on the finish in a most delicious way

I have to admit upfront that I’m not normally a rye fan. But this was a darn good dram. Nothing about it was harsh, and whilst there was no major variation and you couldn’t call it complex, it was full flavoured and really quite enjoyable and well balanced.

And my companion? Let’s just say she discovered that she absolutely IS a rye fan! Particularly for this one.

What do the folks over at WhistlePig have to say about the standard expression?

The spirit of entrepreneurship.

Fortune, superb taste, and hustle lead us to the discovery of an aged Rye Whiskey stock in Alberta, Canada. We rescued the stock from misuse as a blending whiskey, aged it in new American Oak, then hand-bottled this rye on its own. We’re honored to present the most awarded Rye Whiskey in the world.

  • Nose – Allspice, orange peel, anise, oak, char and caramel
  • Palate – Sweet; hints of caramel and vanilla, followed by rye­spice and mint
  • Finish – Long finish; warm butterscotch and caramel

Here are a few others we tried from my advent calendar minis:

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Old vs New Japanese Blends

Once upon a time, an excise officer lived in Mumbai, India. Bucking convention, he married outside of his community and country to a lovely elegant lady from Japan. They enjoyed the good things in life and were happy to generously share with their friends too – including an enthusiasm for Japanese whiskies. It was through this connect a couple of bottles made their way into a South Mumbai home many years ago. And while most were consumed, some were not… and a precious few were passed on from father to son as part of a dusty yet diverse collection.

These gifts from the 1970s / 80s inspired an evening honouring the “old” and comparing them with the “new” – a fitting way to bring in 2020. Just to put this into perspective, some 40 – 50 years ago, hardly anyone in India even knew Japan made whisky. To then imagine the Japanese whisky craze that captured attention decades later? Unthinkable! Instead this was the era where Johnnie Walker Black reigned supreme – just exploring anything beyond “Black” was being a bit daring and adventuresome!

So what did we try? Two pairs of Japanese blends…

  • Suntory “Excellence” 43% compared with Suntory Old 43%
  • Nikka’s rare Super old 40% from the 70s/80s vs 2019

Now, truth be told, we had no idea how these sealed bottles had fared. Had the decades been kind? Or would we be hugely disappointed? And what made us most curious – how did the “old” style compare with the “new” equivalent?

As we could not predict what we would find when the bottles were opened, back up blends were acquired as well – a Mars Iwai and Hibiki Harmony. Just in case.

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Whisky Ladies visit Paul John Distillery

From our first Whisky Ladies Paul John evening, there was interest in making a trip to Goa to visit the distillery. Particularly after Paula’s visit and then mine, we knew it was only a matter of time.

After a few efforts to organize, we settled on August 2019. Flights were booked, an old Portuguese villa arranged for our stay… small group or large… we were determined to finally make it!

And it was COMPLETELY worth the trip. If you enjoy whisky and find yourself in Goa, DO NOT MISS!

Particularly as Paul John Distillery has a lovely visitor centre… That just invites you to  step up and explore…

Pankaj Poorvana greeted us with coffee and a quiz… Which is the world’s most popular whiskey by volume purchased? Apparently it comes from India and is a blend – Officer’s Choice!

With that, we were welcomed into a truly beautiful pavillion, with tiles and furniture lovingly restored.

It was like entering a whisky temple in the middle of a tropical paradise inspired by a Goan Portuguese villa…

Colourfully decorated with paintings by Bianca in the style of Mário João Carlos do Rosário de Brito Miranda, a popular Goan cartoonist and painter.Before the tour we were brought into a media room where we were shown a video about why Paul John felt ready to make single malt and more specifically in Goa, bringing the “soul of India” to world. The film shared how Paul John has won hundreds of awards with their core line of:

And then our tour began… stay tuned for details on our experience!

Paul John Visitor Centre, John Distilleries
Plot #M21A, Cuncolim Industrial Estate, Salcete, Goa – 403703. (Location available on Google Maps)

Days: Monday- Saturday (Sundays and Public Holidays closed)
Timings: 11:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Visitor Center Contact: +91-74477 88979
Website: https://pauljohnwhisky.com Email: visitorcentre@jdl.in

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Drammers Club is in Mumbai!!!

Another malty memory from 2019 was my first Drammers Club tasting in April… which was a practical cornucopia of whiskies!

For those not familiar, the Drammers Club started in New York and has been opening chapters around the world. For Mumbai, co-president Charlie Prince teamed up with Rohan Mirchandani.

In the session I joined, Charlie shared the intent to anchor Mumbai sessions with an Indian whisky and American  plus other interesting bottles picked up around the world.

The focus for India was Paul John with Yash Bhamre, Brand Ambassador:

  • Brilliance & Edited– I’ll admit, seeing 10 odd whiskies, skipped this pair to focus on sampling those not yet tasted
  • Nirvana 40% – An opportunity to try even before its official launch! It was friendly, approachable, fruity, caramel, easy going
  • Select Cask Peated from Yash’s personal collection, while it didn’t have the pronounced ‘bacon‘ of some editions, it was still a great example of their cask strength peated avatar
  • SMWS 134.3 “Hello Flavour” 56.9% ex bourbon cask, 189 bottles, released 2017… had tropical fruits like mango, pineapple, intense flavours and a delightful finish

And for the American side of the equation?
  • Barterhouse 20 year 45.1% – Easy going creamy and one I’d love to try again in more optimal tasting circumstances
  • Old Commonwealth Postage Stamps of Ireland – A very unique dram that deserves specific attention. I hurriedly jotted down a few tasting notes – Tight black currents and dark berries, black vanilla pods, rich creamy caramel coffee on the nose… Smooth flavorful tea leaf on the palate, a bit queer with the finish initially but harkened back to the nose
  • Heaven Hill Marsala Hogshead Finish (2001/2017) Cask 17074, 46.5% Bottle 13 or 199 bottles – I wasn’t sure about this one, it started off as very musty, nail polish, definitely different funky. However it tasted much better – smooth and sweet, wet fall leaves, berries with spice, finishing with tannin merlot

To round things out, we also explored from Japan:

  • Ichiro’s Double Distillery 46% – Not bad with lots of cantaloupe, honey dew melon, musk melon
  • Ichiro’s Single Grain – I skipped this one – too much of a good thing is, well… too much!

Now I will admit both my pics and tasting notes are rubbish. A crowded noisy bar – no matter how fabulous it is for sociable occasions – just isn’t my way of savouring a single malt. So you will have to forgive my scant impressions. It also cemented my preference for humble low key tasting evenings with a small group of friends over a trio or at most 4 whiskies not over 10!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m delights Mumbai has a chapter and wish the team all the best. Charlie and the gang are definitely bringing greater variety of whiskies to a larger audience – and that surely is a good thing!

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Method and Madness Pot Still Chestnut 46%

The last in our Method and Madness evening was a revisit of their Pot Still Chestnut Finish. We first tried it a few months ago so when we decided on the tasting order, thought to close with this one.

Method and Madness Pot Still Chestnut Finish 46%

  • Colour – Dark gold
  • Nose – When first poured had that damp cloth aroma, then shifted into sweet pink bubble gum, very sweet candy, jammy, a bit dusty with a dash of cinnamon
  • Palate – Fruity, more of that sweet berry jam, a bit oily
  • Finish – Finally a finish!

Overall we were surprised with how enjoyable we found it as hadn’t been terribly impressed in our initial experience. We were happy to be pleasantly surprised – particularly as it was a good one to sip while puffing on a cigar.

What did the folks over at Midleton have to say?

Single Pot Still whiskey aged in chestnut casks, a combination of what we’ve always done in Midleton and what we’ve never tried before. It’s not often we stray from the traditional oak, but one sip suggests it was well worth the deviation.

  • Nose – Red liquorice laces, fresh rosemary and mint, grated root ginger
  • Taste – Sweet fruit and spice, cinnamon toast, ripe banana
  • Finish – Aromatic green tea, dissipating fruit and spice, rich wood farewell

This bottle was purchased in London at the Whisky Exchange, currently available for £62.75 and opened in November 2019.

What else did we try in our Method and Madness evening?

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Method and Madness Pot Still Hungarian Oak 46%

Midleton Distillery in Ireland has an experimental line called Method and Madness. They play around with a base of grain, single malt or pot still whiskey, typically matured in ex-bourbon barrels then finished in another barrel. In this case it was a pot still whisky finished in oak from Hungary.

What did we discover?

Method and Madness Pot Still Hungarian Oak Finish 46%

  • Colour – Yellow straw
  • Nose – First whiff and it came across as quite distinctive – varnish but not your typical old wood polish or young sharp varnish – instead something else. Honeycomb, wood shavings, vegetal oils… shifting into ripe banana mash then fried banana chips. After the 1st sip
  • Palate – A nice spice, sweet liquorice, sweet and smooth
  • Finish – Practically absent, just warm
  • Water – Suddenly what made this whiskey interesting was just gone! The aromas simply faded into nearly nothing. On the palate it softened the flavour but… so what?

No question this came across as being on the young side but the aromas were interesting, had the best mouthfeel of the Method and Madness series so far however the finish was warm but not much more. Overall we decided this was a pleasant but innocuous whiskey.

We set it aside to revisit and guess what? It regained a bit of its character and did rather well paired with a cigar. Just goes to show how it important it is to try different things to see what works best for a particular dram.

What did the folks over at Midleton have to say?

The quest for uncommon casks led us to the Carpathian Mountains of Hungary and the rich volcanic soils that give rise to Quercus Petraea, Virgin Hungarian Oak and Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey – a curious combination, with a very special outcome.

This Limited Edition release is a ‘World- First’ for Irish Whiskey; a Single Pot Still Irish Whiskey aged in Bourbon Barrels and finished in Virgin Hungarian Oak.

  • Nose – Treacle toffee, toasted coconut, campfire ashes
  • Taste – Silky smooth richness, bittersweet liquorice, dry woodland notes
  • Finish – Dissipating spice, toasted oak, mountain mist

This bottle was purchased in London at the Whisky Exchange, currently available for £80.95 and opened in November 2019.

What else did we try in our Method and Madness evening?

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Method and Madness Single Malt 46%

Our Irish Method and Madness quartet explored the core trio plus on limited edition. We began with the Single Grain and moved on to this Single Malt.

What did we think?

Method and Madness Single Malt French Limousin Oak Finish 46%

  • Colour – Bright light gold
  • Nose – Honey mash, oats, vanilla, young varnish. After the 1st sip, unripened bananas, raw sawdust, oatmeal porridge with honey
  • Palate – Started a bit bitter with peach pits, linseed oil
  • Finish – The odd bitter oil continued in the finish

The aromas were quite straight forward with little variation – nothing wrong with it but overall unremarkable. Our impression was of a young uncomplex dram. While not particularly ‘friendly’, there was no harshness found in some immature malts.

We set it aside and continued tasting the other Method and Madness whiskies. When we revisited, it had settled in quite nicely and revealed a nice honey quality, a bit of spice, holding its own. Not bad after all then!

What did the folks over at Midleton have to say?

Single Malt whiskey laid down in Midleton in 2002 finished in a French Limousin Oak. A first for us, resulting in light perfume notes giving way to dry barley and ice cream cone wafer.

  • Nose – Freshly shelled peanut, cereal malt aroma
  • Taste – Cracked cinnamon stick, ice cream cone wafer
  • Finish – Fragrant bon bons, a hint of toasted barley 

Would I agree with their tasting notes? Definitely about the cereal but not so much the balance.

We opened this in November 2019 from a bottle purchased in London at the Whisky Exchange. You can still find it for approx £70.

What else did we explore in our Method and Madness evening?

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Method and Madness Single Grain 46%

First up in our Irish Method and Madness quartet was a single grain, matured in ex-bourbon barrels then finished in virgin Spanish oak.

What did we think?

Method and Madness Single Grain Virigin Spanish Oak Finish 46%

  • Colour – Straw
  • Nose – We immediately thought of veggie bhajia, a deep fried desi savoury snack made with besan (chickpea flour)! Behind the vegetable oil, we found some honey, a hint of floral fragrance, with a herbal bitterness. After the 1st sip, the vegetal quality gave way to a nutty vanilla toffee aroma.. shifting into balsa wood or fresh pine
  • Palate – First impression was banana with sharp spice, then it calmed down revealing a bitter ajwain element. A few sips in and the wood increasingly came to the forefront with a bit of vanilla pudding or honey depending on the sip
  • Finish – Soft feeling, coats with warmth but nothing very specifically discernible, more like a shadow of the woody palate than anything distinctive, yet the impression remained
  • Water – Some added water and one thought it completely transformed the grain. Certainly it smoothed and rounded it out more, the spice remained but was tempered and not so honeyed

Overall we found there was more character than expected in a grain. The wood certainly came through and could very well be the influence of the time spent in virgin Spanish oak casks.

And the revisit? Nope! Not to our taste. Let’s just say there was a funky sour quality that was thankfully completely missing in our original tasting.

What did the folks over at Midleton have to say?

This release asked the question: What if we take a step away from the familiar with a Single Grain whiskey aged in Virgin Spanish Oak. Without giving too much away, the two made very good partners, with a taste of gentle wood spice playing off the natural sweetness of the grain.

  • Nose – New pencil shavings, light rose petal, fresh rain on pine
  • Taste – Warm toasted oak, fresh peeled grapefruit, zesty wood spices
  • Finish – Sweet cereal, clove spiciness, fresh mint

Would we agree? We certainly found the woodsy quality, floral hint and spice, however we certainly didn’t find the grapefruit on the palate though perhaps our interpretation was bitter with out the citrus element. Overall we were glad to have a chance to try but this wouldn’t be one we would run out and buy again.

This bottle was purchased in London at the Whisky Exchange, currently available for £43.75 and opened in November 2019.

What else did we try in our Method and Madness evening?

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Teeling Brabazon Bottling 49.5% – Sherry Twist?

For those who make it to Ireland and start to explore beyond the big daddy Midleton, known best for its Jameson brand, there are a plethora of options… yet still only a small yet growing number of distillers.

Teeling is one of them and relatively recently launched a new “Brabazon Bottling” series – to explore maturation experiments with fortified wine – kicking off with this Sherry avatar and then launching a Port version for the 2nd series. Our host had tried both and knew to reverse the tasting order so we had the 2nd first and the 1st second. But what matters more than series and tasting order is what we thought!

Teeling Brabazon Sherry 49.5% (Series 1, 02/2018)

  • Nose – Heavier than the Port, dark plums, fruity, sharp cheddar, direct, liquorice, black olives or capers… and after the 1st sip, it was an explosion of Christmas qualities, dried fruits, cinnamon, cloves, ginger…. then settling into a caramel with a hint of salt and toast
  • Palate – Usual… like a sweet apple and ginger chutney, kiwis, cloves, chocolate… while wasn’t massively complex, it had a strong character, quite tasty with a light Christmas pudding
  • Finish – Beautiful! The finish was really long… really really long… with a curl of liquorice

Early reactions to this one after the 1st sip was “I like it! I really like it!” With comments about how it simply envelops into a nice warm hug… In many ways it was the yin to the yang of the Port with a slower start on the nose, blooming fully on the palate, and slowly tapering into a lingering finish.

Which sparked a lively comparison between the two non-chill filtered Brabazon Bottling boys… Which was preferred? Why?

Some were decidedly against this one. Finding it a bit challenging and lacking in a certain something required to make an appealing tipple. Others had the opposite reaction, really enjoying it.

I’ll admit I was in the 2nd camp and found it an interesting twist on the sociable quality I’ve come to expect from Teeling

And what do the folks at Teeling have to say?

The Brabazon Bottling Series is a limited edition collection of unique Irish Single Malts capturing the full impact and flavour crafted through fortified wine cask maturation.

Series No. 1 focuses on sherry cask maturation and consists of a range of carefully selected sherry cask aged whiskeys producing a full flavoured sherry influenced Irish Single Malt. This bottling consists of a vatting of 6 different sherry casks, carefully chosen for their complementary character. The Brabazon Bottling Series 1 is bottled at 49.5% ABV with no chill filtration allowing for all the natural flavours of this whiskey to be retained. Limited to just 12,500 bottles, this is a whiskey to savour.

Teeling’s Tasting Notes:

  • Nose – Earthy dried fruit and roasted hazelnut, with marmalade, peach, plum and burnt toffee.
  • Taste – A rich sherry sweetness, red berries, nuttiness and toffee, with a hint of of liquorice and clove.
  • Finish – Lingering mixed spice, trail-mix, crisped marshmallow, dry tannins and spice with toasted wood.

What else was picked up Whisky Ladies Irish Trio:

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