Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Glenlivet 18 Year Old

My quest was to seek out, hunt down and purchase a bottle of The Glenlivet 18 year old whilst it was still on special offer in Waitrose. Mission complete.

I picked up the bottle for £28.49, which for an 18 year old whisky, is good value. Ultimately though, the value is in the drinking qualities.

It was sitting in my room with me, with an already open bottle of Glenfiddich 12 year old and The Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak Reserve. However, the allure of the 18 year old was too much, so I decided to open it yesterday evening whilst settling down to watch episode 3 of The Pacific. The Pacific commenced last week with two blockbuster episodes focused on the battle for Guadalcanal. Being English, the World War 2 operations in the Pacific Ocean mean little to me, it wasn't our war so to speak, so apart from the two nuclear bombs that were dropped on Japan and information picked up from the highly theatrical Peal Harbour film, it’s all pretty new to me.

The Pacific is a 10 part series and one of the most expensive ever produced. The beginning two episodes did little to introduce the characters, who were real life US Marines, part 3 however focused solely on characterisation during their downtime in Melbourne. So far, the series has been good entertainment, but after all the publicity and hype, it does seem somewhat lacking at the moment. I know that the battles of Peleliu and Iwo Jima are still to come, so hopefully the programme goes up a notch or two.

Also accompanying me during this 'me' time, was some homemade macarons with a chocolate raspberry ganaché. I recently enjoyed some Pierre Hermé macarons following his opening of a concessions stand in Selfridges in London. At £2 per macaron though, whilst out of this world, they are a divine luxury in the same category as whisky. I realised straight away whilst commencing my cooking, that there was a reason that I had paid Pierre £2 for each of his macarons. After many hours spent in the kitchen, my macarons were complete and I have to say, my efforts were sterling for a first timer. They looked like a macaron, tasted pretty much like a macaron and were thoroughly enjoyable!

So the scene is set, The Pacific, homemade macarons and The Glenlivet 18.

After recently trying The Glenlivet 15 year old French Oak Reserve  (please click here for the sampling) and finding it an enjoyable and sophisticated drink, my first thoughts were that the 18 year old was underwhelming. On the nose is the subtle hint of oak, it is not woody, rather sweet and a touch of butterscotch. Also present is the fresh smell of the garden in summer. The whisky is fairly liquid and does not stick longingly to the glass.

As ever, the proof is in the pudding. On tasting, the 18 year old is dry, a touch of oak and slightly bitter with citrus fruit zest, I did not find the finish particularly long. It had a taste of oak and the dry taste that was present on the palate.

Whilst enjoying the 18 year old, something calls me back to the 15 year old French Oak Reserve. It felt that little more complex, was more interesting and had more distinguishing flavours. I stand by my opinion that the 15 year old French Oak Reserve should be served following a rather enjoyable dinner, perhaps a well aged Longhorn rump steak for example. It deserves that setting.

On the other hand, the 18 year old feels like a whisky for all occasions. If a 12 year old is simply too young for you, then this is the one for  an everyday drinker. It does not have the sharpness of the alcohol that I have experienced with 10 or 12 year old whiskies, has slightly more complexity and in drinking an 18 year old over a 12 year old, has that touch of sophistication.

For more information on The Pacific, it can be found here -
Further information on Pierre Hermé is obtainable here -

More information on The Glenlivet can be found here -

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The Glenlivet 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve

As mentioned previously, I was looking to purchase the 18 year old Glenlivet as opposed to the 15 year old French Oak Reserve, however my local branch of Waitrose does not stock the 18 year old, and whilst the 15 year old is also on offer, and I was after a whisky from The Glenlivet distillery, I picked this up.

The Glenlivet is the best selling malt whisky in the United States, and the fourth best selling in the UK with a 7% market share. The Glenlivet is the world's second best selling single malt whisky, and current global sales total 6 million bottles per annum. Sales are achieved primarily across the core range of 12 Year Old, 15 Year Old French Oak Reserve, Nadurra 16 Year Old, 18 Year Old, 21 Year Old and XXV 25 Year Old. The distillery produces enough whisky to fill 6 million bottles per annum.

It was founded in 1824 and markets itself as "The single malt that started it all." Within the packaging is wrapping with a print of the original distiller's licence, which made The Glenlivet one of the first legal distilleries.

The 15 year old French Oak Reserve is matured in traditional oak casks and specially coopered new French Limousin oak casks which are commonly used for Cognacs. The alliance between the new French oak and the traditional oak results in a balanced whisky with the hint of oak.

As you approach the 15 year old French Oak Reserve, you note the present of oak in the air, not strong, not overpowering, but pleasantly on the nose. Move in a little closer and a sweet smell of vanilla and a touch of citrus zest make headway towards you.
Raise the glass a little further, touching your lips and you begin to enjoy this pleasant whisky. It has a buttery feel on the tongue, velvety, with the faint taste of wood which is always present. It develops with a hint of spice and a slight bitterness like a good quality dark chocolate.

It has a lingering finish with again the hint of spice. Again, the pleasant presence of the oak is there. 

Overall, I have enjoyed this whisky. It has a touch of sophistication and has more complexity that is not found in a 12 year old, it is very pleasant on the palate. I can see this being served after dinner. Your guests would be very pleased that you have generously offered it. It does not come across as showy, but it does offer that step up from a younger whisky or a perhaps a blend, which is sure to impress.

That is not to say that you cannot also enjoy it alone once it is opened after that dinner party. It wouldn’t be an everyday drinker, it feels too sophisticated, too deserving for that, but it is definitely one that you could sit down to occasionally, for that special occasion, or perhaps to finish a particularly long week. Obviously presuming that week in, week out you do not have long weeks!

Please however, be warned...I saw somewhere online that someone was displeased that this whisky came in a glass bottle and not in French Oak! 

More information on The Glenlivet can be found here -

Monday, 5 April 2010

A New Whisky, Purchasing Whisky

I decided that to assist me in my writing, I would need a new single malt of which to sample. Having, as has been mentioned, dined in The Fat Duck last week, and sampling The Glenlivet 12 year old in one of the courses, I decided I would get a bottle from this distillery.

When shopping just before Easter, I noticed in the Waitrose that I was in, that the 15 year old French Oak and 18 year old were currently on special offer until the 13th April. Because of this choice, I was hard pressed between the two, but decided I would go for the 18 year old, the only other 18 year old of which I have sampled being the Highland Park.

So this afternoon, on Bank Holiday Monday, I trundled down to the local Waitrose to pick up my 18 year old The Glenlivet for a good price of £28.49. Small problem with that. It does not seem that my local Waitrose, is in enough of an affluent area, as some of the whiskies that I noted the other day, do not appear in the locals offering. A more basic and younger range is present.
Therefore, I have come away with a French Oak 15 year old The Glenlivet which was on offer at £25.99. I would say that this is a pretty reasonable price on face value, of course I haven't tried it yet, but a 15 year old for under £30.00 is uncommon. It is with anticipation that I await trying The Glenlivet.
Something inside of me is not satisfied though. I really wanted to get my hands on the 18 year old. I will make it my quest over the next week to track down a bottle at a Waitrose for sampling, which at that price, a saving of £8.00 seems a good offer.
This all leads me on to some thoughts I have. In commencing this writing, I have naturally scoured the internet looking for availability of whiskies, researching different distilleries and where to purchase the whiskies. It is without doubt that the reason that Glenfiddich, The Glenlivet, Glenmorangie et al are so widely consumed is that they are commonly found in the supermarkets. Some of the more obscure distilleries, or some of the older or rarer vintages come from one of two sources. Either direct from a visit to the distillery, or if available, their online shop, or via an online retailer.

This would seem easy, especially for me who purchases many things online, usually DVD's etc, but these all come with free shipping. Whisky, it seems does not. This might be understandable, as it is a fairly heavy product, but then, I have had huge cook books delivered free of charge or for a small nominal value for the postage.

They aren't competitive with everyday single malts, so if you are looking online, check the local supermarket first. They do have an interesting collection of more unusual distilleries or vintages, but if you are purchasing this way, it is probably best to order more than one to at least spread the cost of the postage out. £6 or so for postage is quite a large percentage if you are only paying £30/£40/£50 for a bottle. It is a shame they do not do a competitive price for just one bottle purchases.

If anyone does know of a retailer who is competitive one both the price of the whisky and postage for one bottle, please do let me know.

To find out more about The Glenlivet, please visit - 

Glenfiddich 12 Year Old

I have decided to commence with Glenfiddich for two reasons. The first being that when we visited Scotland many years ago now, my parents took me to the Glenfiddich distillery. I still have vivid memories of the tour and seeing the process, something I would like to repeat now that I am older and of course can try the samples. Secondly, Glenfiddich is a staple single malt whisky. It appears in supermarkets, it appears in pubs, it appears in bars and it appears in off licenses. This is perhaps detriment to the whisky itself, as it all too often comes across as an inferior product, a victim of its own success and is perceived as a cheap product. In fact, Glenfiddich is not the cheapest single malt available, but it is competitively priced and falls into that 'everyday' category.

The Glenfiddich Distillery is located in the Speyside region in Dufftown and is owned by William Grant & Sons, who also produce Balvenie whiskies and the blended Grant whisky. The distillery was founded in 1887 and now amasses sales of 700,000 cases per year.

The single malts are available in a core collection of 12, 15, 18, 21 and 30 year old with other rare and reserve whiskies available.

The 12 year old is of course, the most widely available and comes as a 'standard' 12 year old and a Caoran Reserve 12 year old. I am looking here at the 'standard' variety.

When I first tried drinking whisky, the over-riding sensation was that of the whisky burn. However, the more you drink whisky and by that I do not mean to excess, but on a more regular occasion, the less this burn becomes apparent. Obviously each individual whisky has a varying degree of burn. Part of the success of 12 year old Glenfiddich can be put down to, in part by its lack of a significant whisky burn, which makes it accessible to more palates.

The notes of 12 year old are pleasant and not overpowering. There is no overriding smell of oak or peat, which can be off putting to first time or novice drinkers. There is a light smell of oak and a sweet smell of honey and fruit, but not sickly sweet.

As the whisky enters your mouth, you feel a gentle warming sensation. It has the texture of melted butter on the tongue. You can taste the wood, but it doesn’t overpower, it is subtle. It is slightly sweet with the flavour of fruit.

As you swallow, it has a very pleasant finish, you can feel it ever so slightly coat as it goes, providing a flavour that lasts a nice length.  

The more adventurous drinkers will progress from Glenfiddich onto stronger whiskies and perhaps stay away from it due to its lack of adventure with the flavours. However, many will in time return for the odd bottle here and there for the memories it gives of that first experience with whisky, or possibly because of its accessibility and value, it becomes an everyday drink, one for that period of time when you want something simple.

In reality, there is nothing to dislike about the 12 year old Glenfiddich, it won’t set your heart racing, but it will always be there, consistent and reliable. It is also a consistent award winner. 

More information and purchasing direct from the distillery can be found here -

Sunday, 4 April 2010


Prior to our annual visit to Hawksmoor in London, I tried to find out which single malts they had available. Their website lists the wine list and cocktail list, but no spirit list.

Needless to say, I didn't find out. However, I did stumble over a post about a 'new' way of serving Macallan. As previously stated on my introduction, I am not a fan of Macallan, but was willing to revisit it. 

So, I thought, this was my opportunity. 

Macallan have supplied some of the best bars around the country with a new gizmo which turns a square piece of ice into a ball. So I promptly ordered two Macallans, one for me and one for a friend, along with ice balls. Sadly, the server didn't have a clue what I was talking about, despite when walking past the bar I noticed the copper machine sitting in the middle of the bar!

We therefore sat patiently waiting for the drinks to arrive. However, the barman came over instead and informed us that they did not have any Macallan 10 year old left. I thought, this might be the end of the opportunity to try the ice ball. Instead, we were informed that we could have any whisky with an ice ball.

Having had a quick look at the available single malts as we entered the restaurants, I promptly ordered two Highland Park 12 year olds. 

The Highland Park's arrived with a large sphere of ice contained within the tumbler. Now, I know the purists view on drinking whisky with ice, but it was a gimmick that I wanted to try out.

I have to say that I am not sure what the ice ball brings to the experience. It doesn't, for obvious reasons taste any different and it doesn't enhance the whisky in any way. I read that the ice takes longer to melt due to the shape, but mine still melted fairly quickly, I ended up fishing it out the whisky and put it in a glass of water I also had.

In conclusion, I would say that whilst a nice gimmick, it certainly is not worth going out of the way to hunt one of the bars that has this available. The Highland Park cost me £15.50, which I have to say is far too much, as much as I enjoy this particular whisky. It represents, by my estimates, a 1000% mark-up on a supermarket bottle! I felt a tad ripped off when I saw the bill, especially when a Johnnie Walker Blue costs £25.00! 

Below, I have included comments from a press release by Macallan. 

Macallan’s Marketing Assistant, Pat Lee, explains the science part: "The Ice Ball Press was inspired by Japanese cocktail culture where artisans hand-carve ice balls from massive slabs to create an uninterrupted surface that cools spirits quickly and evenly.  The ice ball melts slowly to preserve the integrity of the spirit.  We have updated this process, by developing a copper press that instantly trims a block of ice into a flawless ice ball.  This, combined with our masterful single malt Scotch whisky, is The Macallan Perfect Serve."

"The Macallan’s liquid excellence is continuously defined by its unprecedented elegance and versatility. The ice ball balances these qualities. As global cocktail culture has evolved, ice has become central to the modern-day spirits experience.  With an eye on this trend, we created The Macallan Perfect Serve, to modernise the way single malt can be enjoyed and appeal to a wider range of consumers."

Information about the Hawksmoor restaurant can be found here -


It is hard to say the exact date when I first had a drink of, or began enjoying whisky. I would hazard a guess at the end of 2004. I remember the period in my life as it was during my time with Waitrose. As part of the security measures in the branch, a member of staff, or partner as they are called, would have to patrol the alcohol section, face up when products were removed from the shelves and note down when spirits were purchased. This effort is no longer conducted, but it was during my employment there. It meant many a day or evening walking around the section, noting all the different kinds of alcohol available to stem the boredom. Whisky has always been appreciated as a 'mans' drink and during my time walking around the aisles, it was the selection of whiskies that predominately caught my eye. After all, everyone knows that a whisky has its own defining taste, texture, aroma and colour, which cannot be said in the same way about other spirits.

As I say, I cannot exactly remember the first time I tried whisky. However, I do remember my first bottle. It was a Balvenie Double Wood. It was on offer, as the time frame we are talking about was over Christmas. This was good, as along with the discount, I would have also got my employee discount, making the price even better. I do not remember this particular whisky that much, I couldn't describe the nose, texture, notes or finish, however I do seem to remember enjoying it. This cannot be said of some of the later whiskies I have had since then, up to now.

Following the Balvenie, was a Macallan 10 year old, which I remember longing to end so I could move onto a different distilleries whisky. I remember not enjoying the Macallan, though I am willing to re-review this.

As it was in the preceding period to Christmas, it was of course that time of year when you will see the little miniatures available in the seasonal aisles. I purchased a couple of these, the Glenfiddich one and a Glenmorangie one. I still have the little bottles which adjourn a shelf in my room. Glenfiddich is perhaps my earliest memory of whisky, as we visited the distillery as a family in a holiday to Scotland. The enduring memory is of my brother sticking his head into a vat of whisky and almost knocking himself out from the fumes in the process. 

Following the ending of the Macallan, I seem to remember a blended whisky, but as I am only going to focus on single malt whiskies, this is a mute point.
Next, an epiphany in whisky drinking. The whisky goes by the name of Highland Park. Without a doubt, the single most pleasurable whisky I have enjoyed. I was at a food show, when I stumbled across a stall for Highland Park. There they had on trial the 12 year old and the 18 year old. I tried both and preferred the 18 year old. The price was a show special and around £50 for the bottle. I frantically gathered the cash from my wallet, along with that of my girlfriends and friends in order to purchase this bottle. A wise choice as it turned out. This 18 year old will always have strong memories for me. It was following the death of my grandmother that this bottle was opened. It was there for me during some tough times and it is by far the most drinkable and enjoyable whisky that I have ever had.

Additionally I have also enjoyed a Talisker 10 year old, a Highland Park 12 year old and I was also given a Highland Park 25 year old miniature. Although I am not mentioning blends, I have a small amount left of a Johnnie Walker Blue, quite something in terms of a whisky, but I do not believe it compares to a fine single malt.

So why now, do I have the focus on writing about my experiences with single malts. I enjoy some nice things in life, primarily fine food and travel, which are my two guilty pleasures. In addition has been the odd bottle of whisky here and there. I am the average Joe, Mr Middle of the Road and so, I want to approach my thoughts and taste of a whisky just like that. In the past, short of the Highland Park 18 year old, I have otherwise purchased whisky from the supermarket due to a special offer or an attractive box. I want to appeal to the average person, so I will present the whisky how I see it, as the average taster. Help them make an informed choice, be it buying on the high street or by mail order.

The taste of whisky is extremely subjective. Some people like the taste of peat, others oak and others fruit, so I will bear this in mind.

In enjoying fine food, and I have eaten in some of the best restaurants in the United Kingdom. The most recently being The Fat Duck. One of the many courses on the tasting menu is Whisk(e)y Gums. A take on wine gums using whisky. It takes you on a tour of 4 Scotches and then over to Tennessee to Jack Daniels. The experience of the four Scotches stuck me and prompted me to make the decision to write of my experiences with single malt whisky. Frankly, the Jack Daniels inclusion into the course is a touch disappointing, I have never liked the stuff and how can you compare it to Glenlivet, Laphoraig, Highland Park or Oban?

So this leads me on to my current collection. I have a Glenfiddich 12 year old, Talisker 10 year old and Glen Moray (without a stated age) currently open. I also have waiting for me to enjoy, their chance to shine in this world, a menagerie of Highland Parks, 12, 15 and 18 year olds. Then come to wildcards. My Uncle, knowing my appreciation of whisky, had two unloved, uncared for and unopened bottles sitting on his sideboard. These are an Auchentoshan 10 year old and a Lochnagar 12 year old, which are many years old. I almost inadvertently donated the Auchentoshan to a charity event once, but, having inquisitively checked the value of one online, found the bottle to be worth £80. So I kept it! I kindly donated a bottle of Jim Bean, which quite frankly I find disgusting.

So, onwards and upwards and I will get cracking for you – enjoy!