Red Casks – Linkwood 16 year (1998) Côte Rôtie 45%

From Gordon & MacPhail’s Private Collection, this special wine cask finish expression was released in the US.

We sampled this whisky blind without bias… knowing nothing about it beyond our immediate experience… until our host revealed it!

Linkwood 16 year (14 Dec 1998/Oct 2015) Côte Rôtie 45% (G&MP)

  • Colour – A gorgeous almost unreal ruby red
  • Nose – Starts as a delightful Christmasy rum raisin with varnish… full on fruity, berries, very sweet, plum cake… loads of caramel, vanilla, soaked dried fruits, red apples, cinnamon brown sugar, malt, herbal green tea, burnt syrup, oily, coconut, calvados, a bit of spice from the oak, some rose petals?
  • Palate – Soooooo sweet! Enough character to bring one back, a lovely mouthfeel, some oils on the palate yet still had a lighter body, green apples, delicious with a hint of tannins, sweet berries
  • Finish – The oil continued… ever so slightly bitter … more creamy nutty… gorgeous
  • Water – While not needed, it opened it up to make the whisky even sweeter and more oak forward on the palate

This one was certainly a shift from the 1st… we struggled to reconcile the rich colour with the lighter body, sparking considerable speculation – how could it be such a bright red? Surely it wasn’t natural! To which our host shared the whisky was not chill filtered and completely natural colour. Hmm….

This confirmed our suspicions of a red wine cask however it didn’t quite fit with previous experiences with whiskies matured in port, pinot noir, bordeaux… so then which red wine? How long was it finished for?

And the reveal? Delighted to see we had a treat from Linkwood – a distillery our collective experiences has given rise to an impression of an underrated whisky well worth catching – particularly if seen fit to be bottled by the folks over at Gordon & Macphail.

As for the wood and finish? The notes on the bottle revealed it was aged for 15 years to then be finished for 23 months in the Côte Rôtie – which is considerably longer than most finishes.

We set the whisky aside for some time and revisited – absolutely exquisite! Definitely one to slowly sip and enjoy.

While further details are not available in the Gordon & MacPhail website, there were short tasting notes on the bottle:

Sweet and cream accents with rich summer berries and green apples, which are complemented by a smooth milk chocolate edge.

Last seen in the US online for approx $160.

What did we try in our special “red” casks evening?

Other Linkwood experiences?

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Starward Wine Cask Project (2018) 41%

Starward’s New World Project series is deliberately intended to “buck” whisky convention. In truth, what is bottled is not “whisky” at all by the traditional guide of requiring a minimum of 3 years maturation. Instead it is a malted barley spirit, playing around with different wine casks – either fortified or table wine – in this case an undisclosed red wine.

And what better way to kick of our evening exploring Starward than with one of their experimental wine cask projects!

Starward New World Project Wine Cask 2.25 yr malted barley spirit batch 170721-A (8 Aug 2017) 41%

  • Nose – Pear drops, autumn leaves, wood, fresh sap, bourbon, very sweet, raw molasses then shifted into a lighter caramel, orange concentrate
  • Palate – Smooth yet youthful and a bit raw, a tinge salty, marzipan, fruits
  • Finish – Sits there with a slight nuttiness

Overall the aromas were much more interesting than the palate – one even described it as “palate stripping!”

It was certainly interesting… we wondered what it would be like with water. For those who added, it lost the delightful pear on the aroma and didn’t gain much on the palate or finish.

And when we returned after some time… was quite sour on the nose, became quite tart on the palate – think the inside of a kumquat.

My strong recommendation with this one is enjoy it but don’t linger too long. Or perhaps try it one of the many cocktails the folks at Starward recommend.

As for its cost? This bottle was purchased at The Whisky Exchange, London and currently retails for £50.25.

Here are a few other Starward‘s explored:

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Vault Collection – Hellyers Road Pinot Noir Finish 46.2%

The Vault Fine Spirits has single handed expanded the range of whiskies and other spirits available in India – more specifically through our Duty Free. Which is exactly the theme of the session – exploring a trio from this collection.

First up in the “The Vault Collection” trio was a blind tasting of a whisky from Tasmania, Australia. Our guest writer Nikkhil had the following tasting notes to share.

Pour 1: Hellyers Road-Pinot Noir Finish 46.2% | Non Chill Filtered | NAS

  • Color: Gold
  • Nose: Dense sweet chocolate, sweet and lactic at the same time. Light varnish notes, burnt matches. Then starfruit citrus with curious notes of paan and nutmeg. Most unusual nose and certainly non-Scottish. Let’s see how the palate lives up
  • Palate: Intensely roasted coffee beans. It was literally like chewing on the beans. Then came the sweet fruity flavors of pears and overripe pineapples. That lactic, porridge flavor was back. With a little time, it got spicy with bitter tannic notes at the back of the throat. This seems young and confused. Bottled a tad too early?
  • With water and about 20 mins of rest it didn’t change much. On the palate, it was now a tad oily with some cold coffee but the bitterness continues.
  • Finish: Very dry and the tannic bitterness continues.

As usual it was time to guess. This was most definitely non-Scottish. One member nailed it down to Tasmanian. And there it was, Hellyers Road! A very challenging whisky certainly not for the novice. Would like to revisit it once it settles down in the bottle. But based on the first impression it was certainly not my kind of a dram.

Official notes:  

The nose is immediately drawn to crisp summer citrus, lemon and orange that obediently withdraws on the palate to manifest a sweet, gentle layer of pepper and spice – a persuasion of the red wine cameo. Burnt blackberry sauce lingers in the aftertaste foreclosing a treasured confusion of the senses.

The Vault Collection trio:

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Wieser’s Uuahouua Pinot Noir 40%

One of the fabulous things about our Whisky Ladies is their adventurous spirit and itchy feet… which means any given month a few can’t make it as they are off traversing the world.

For our group – this is a huge plus as it means bringing back little gems which otherwise could never be obtained.

Even while back-packing with minimal luggage, one of our ladies scored in Austria a few very interesting miniatures which were duly shared at our “winter” session… paying homage to European ski destinations.

What did we think?

Wieser’s Uuahouua Pinot Noir 40%

  • Nose – Very sweet with a bit of spice, oranges, buttery, then like gummy bears
  • Palate – Very winey, like a desert whisky, though still a bit raw, goes down rather well
  • Finish – Spice with a surprisingly long finish

Now this whisky might just be worth seeing where they go next. Like many European wine cask finishes, there is something unique.

While I have no idea what the 200 ml  bottle set our Whisky Lady back, it seems you can purchase a full 700 ml bottle from a supermarket in Austria – how civilized! It currently costs approximately €54 for the 7 year version.

Here’s what they have to say:

Luminous Chestnut red. Fruity and velvety like Pinot Noir. Feminine wine flavour and masculine Malt in perfect harmony. A contrast which couldn’t be greater: a high-tech distillery in a 1,000-year-old house, a joining of things traditional and modern. Markus Wieser, the grandson of the Austrian wine pioneer Josef Jamek, is a passionate master distiller of … Alle Produkte von Wieser 

What else did our backpacking marvel bring back from Austria?

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Another French whisky? Guillon Banyuls 43%

Once upon a time if you spoke of whisky from France, folks might look at you with a rather puzzled expression. Whisky? France? Surely you mean the other W – Wine, right?

Fast forward and there are an increasing number of contenders vying for a place in the world of whisky… including from France. And with France the 2nd largest consumer of whisky after the UK and before the US, no wonder French distilleries are popping up and getting into the act.

This Guillon spirit was our 1st in a quartet of NAS whiskies with our original Bombay Whisky tasting group – sampled completely blind.

Guillon Banyuls (2015) 43%

  • Nose – Some chocolate cherry, almost a rum quality, fresh lemon then vanilla, light banana fruits, a ginger oil, then shifted into some cereals with a hint of sweet spice
  • Palate – Mirchy pepper hot with raisins, young, no body and oddly flat
  • Finish – Short – just alcohol warmth with a bitter
  • Water – Doesn’t enhance – if anything makes it a bit dry

It initially reminded us of a bourbon – not with the typical brash banana caramel but instead a softer, fresher approach.

With the reveal and the decanter styled bottle, we started joking about whether we were having perfume or whisky or something else entirely?

While new to us, Guillon Distillery has been producing spirits since 1997. Owner Thierry Guillon has been aging spirits in oak barrels from French vineyards of the AOC regions of Champagne, Banyuls and Sauternes.

This particularly spirit was matured in Banyuls wine casks – a French dessert wine similar in style to Port.

But is it whisky? Turns out… it is not. After I originally shared this post, a wee twitter flurry commenced which clarified this is a ‘malt spirit’ rather than whisky… as Franck Debernardi   pointed out “They use white alcohol mixed with malt extracts/flavors and sugar. They were forbidden to sell their spirit as whisky.” 

What this meant was during our evening of sampling, we were under a misconception. Where talk had turned to French whiskies… Given the range of wine casks in France, it is entirely logical that French whiskies play around with maturing in wine casks. Our Whisky Ladies recently sampled a whisky from Alsace (AWA) matured in ex Pinot Noir cask and another (Brenne) in ex Cognac casks. But was this particular liquid in that category? Apparently not!

What else did we try in our NAS evening?

French whiskies sampled over the last year or so include:

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Who knew Alsace produces whisky? AWA Pinot Noire 42%

Next up in our risky whisky evening was another offering from France – this time the Authentique Whisky Alsacien (AWA) Pinot Noire.

The whisky lady who brought this unusual offering shared how she discovered this whisky nestled amidst all the wine in France. As in AWA was the ONLY whisky to be found amongst a LOT of wine! Apparently there are other varieties of AWA – linked to different wines like Reisling, GewurztraminerPinot Gris and this Pinot Noire. Plus someone clearly has a sense of humour with AWA’s “The Dog’s Bullocks” whisky!

So… what did we find?

AWA (Authentique Whisky Alsacien) Pinot Noire 42%

  • Nose – Dark purple grapes, fruity almost reminds one of a sloe gin, fresh figs, flower like wild rose or hibiscus, then took on a deeper quality with malty treacle
  • Palate – Initial hit of raw grain for some, flowers like a bouquet bursting in ones mouth for others, bit of a sharp zing, sits on top
  • Finish – Grapey wine-like finish

There is a playful quality to this whisky. Sophisticated? Nope. Just fruity fun! Perhaps it was our imagination but we certainly found the wine influence which made it quite a departure from your standard ex-bourbon / ex-sherry cask fare.

Overall this surprise from a Whisky Lady’s trip to France received a ‘thumbs up’ just for being… rather.. well like-able!

When we contrasted tasting this whisky in our standard Glencairn glass vs Norlan, we found in the Norlan it flattened the nose to brown sugar however brought much more out in the palate – much spicier with cloves, quite a delicious piquant quality.

The verdict? Comes across more like “whisky” in the Norlan than the Glenairn glass. So all depends on how you like your tipple.

You won’t find much about AWA however… try as I might no luck finding any official tasting notes! If anyone does – let me know!

What else did we sample that “risky whisky” evening?

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