Friday, 2 December 2016

Time to move on...

Well, I failed.

On the 20th July last year, in the windowless Bristol room of a house I shared with two huskies and a man who went on to defraud me (twice) I wrote my first ever post. In it, I confidently set out my stall – I even titled the piece ‘The Purpose of the Pilgrimage.’ Over the next 18 months, I asserted, I would travel to every whisk(e)y distillery in Great Britain and Ireland and taste their entry level expressions.

So on that score, I didn’t come close. Despite thousands of miles by boat and by Vauxhall Corsa, despite hundreds of pounds, nights in tents, hostels and wigwams and despite using every day of annual leave other than those earmarked for Christmas with family, my tally sits at exactly fifty. Not even the half way mark. 

There are mitigating factors, of course. Chiefest being my gross underestimation of the time and expense involved in undertaking such a task. You’d be amazed how many distilleries aren’t a short hop from Bristol, or from my current room in Reading. But the bottom line is that I didn’t get to nearly as many as I would have liked. I didn’t get to Ireland whatsoever, and I only ticked off a Speyside because I popped into Glen Moray on my way through Elgin a couple of months back.

And yet I really don’t find myself regretting much.

The last seventeen months, it strikes me, have been an incredible learning curve. I thought I knew a decent amount about whisk(e)y when I started out. Decent enough to be talked into writing a blog, at any rate. But looking back, what’s really staggering is how little I knew about a drink I professed to love. My regular readers may have noticed the phrase ‘I only tried xyz distillery for the first time a year/six months/three days ago,’ repeated with almost embarrassing frequency in the course of my articles. The Adam of 20th July 2015 was months away from his first Glencadam, and even further from Redbreast. Mortlach was a stranger to him, so too Blanton’s and Paul John and Glendronach and Teeling and Kilchoman and The English Whisky Company and Michter’s. The Adam of 20th July 2015 had only tried Springbank for the first time two weeks beforehand!  

In the last seventeen months I have thrust my nose into a Glencairn hundreds upon hundreds of times. My notebooks are bursting with hastily scribbled musings, and this site groans beneath the weight of 150,000-odd words. (I know my posts are too long). I have been privileged to meet hundreds of whisk(e)y fanatics both in person, and via twitter, where they have been very tolerant of my vacuous drivel about salt and vinegar crisps and the proper size of Kit Kat.

There have been weird moments – the double Willett’s poured into a pint glass stands out, as does my experiment with popcorn chicken... Occasionally there have been irritations, though mostly on the M6 or A9. I have lost count of the times someone has said something patronising about my age, and I’m still fed up of the number of people who don’t show any sort of common courtesy to their tour guides.

Mostly though, it has been an absolute joy, with too many high points to recount. Standouts of course were touring Islay with Pilgrim snr, and giving a whisk(e)y tasting to friends who formerly hated the stuff.

And here’s the thing. I set out to learn a little more about aqua vitae. And I wanted to introduce friends and family to something I’m so personally impassioned by. By and large I think I've achieved both of those.  So although I didn't make it to every distillery, in the last seventeen months I have done what I can, and it’s difficult to think of that as a failure. And it's not as if they're going anywhere. Three more have probably been crowdfunded in the time it's taken to write this paragraph...

Besides, the journey isn’t over.

I’ve often pointed out (not that I needed to) that this site is a mess. It’s about the least user-friendly blog on the internet; scruffy looking, full of obscure titles and pieces that run, at their longest, over 7000 words. I’m a writer. But web-design is well outside of my comfort zone. So when Greg at Great Drams offered me a weekly slot on his stunning-looking and massively informative site I nearly took his hand off at the wrist. Starting from the first week of 2017, that’s where you’ll find me every Wednesday. And far easier on the eye it’ll be too.

The content and style will remain the same, for which I’m massively grateful to Greg. I’ve always tried to make my writing a little bit different; a bit fun, a bit accessible, and at times perhaps a bit too full of garblings about Asterix the Gaul or table football. I’ll probably write a few more reviews than I have done here, but my policy on always calling it as I find it, and predominantly covering my own costs remains the same. In fact there’s not a single whisky written up on this blog that I didn’t put my hand in my pocket for, or swap with a fellow member of the fantastic online whisky community. I’m rather proud of that. 

Whisk(e)y is a wonderful thing. If I have one final thought for The Whisky Pilgrim, before I wind things up, it is this. The internet is full of – often justified – rantings about disappearing expressions and rising costs. Dead distilleries like Port Ellen and Brora are venerated as deities, well above and beyond the adulation they received in life. As the likes of Longmorn, Mortlach, Macallan and even my beloved Highland Park slip ever further out of reach, it is so easy to reflect upon what was – and I sympathise entirely with drinkers who pine for ‘the good auld days’ of a whisky loch to sip from and long-aged bottlings with change from a note.

But what I hope this site has stood for is the whisk(e)y that is still available to those of us whose pockets don’t match our passion. Yes, there are whiskies beyond our financial grasp – and I hate reading the press releases talking about how ‘aspirational’ such and such whisky is – but there has never been greater diversity within the whisk(e)y world, nor such a vast treasure chest to plunder if you take the time to rifle through it. If The Whisky Pilgrim helped someone, somewhere, to open that chest a little further, then I’ll call that a win.

Fellow lovers of medieval literature – we’re massive hits at parties – will know that the pilgrims of the Canterbury Tales never completed their journey. Perhaps they’re still around a fire somewhere between Southwark and Canterbury, spinning yarns of unsavoury characters committing unspeakable acts in pear trees, or sticking unmentionables out of windows. Well, The Whisky Pilgrim never made it to 'Canterbury' either, but this pilgrim will keep on writing. Hopefully for many years to come. Except I’ll just call myself Adam from now on. It’s far easier.

It has been an absolute pleasure and a real privilege to share my thoughts on whisk(e)y with you all. I truly hope that those who don’t already read Great Drams will follow me there for 2017. In the meantime, thank you so much for joining me here. I've always felt a bit of a fraud using the word ‘Sláinte’, the same way it's weird when Englishmen try to wear kilts, so I shan’t break the habit of a blogtime. Instead, and for the final time on The Whisky Pilgrim, I shall simply say:


Friday, 11 November 2016

The Pilgrim and the Drammer. 6th September. Fettercairn and Glen Garioch

My whisky pilgrimage could just as easily be referred to as ‘one man’s hunt to find a cup of coffee in rural Scotland than he actually likes.’ Ok, so I admit to a certain pernickityness (real word) when it comes to my morning mud. If it isn’t stronger than a steroid-addled rhinoceros it isn’t strong enough. That perfect cup still eludes me, but the Ramsay Arms in Fettercairn gets as close as any I’ve ever tasted.

I’m sat in the hotel lobby, sipping my caffeine concentrate and nibbling the complimentary tablet (I love Scotland) whilst various betweeded old Englishmen waving shotguns and chirruping excitedly about pheasants scurry back and forth. Needless to say I didn’t spend the night as a guest of the Ramsay Arms myself. I was berthed in a perfectly serviceable Aberdeen hostel. But the morning has taken me to Fettercairn to visit the eponymous distillery, and as ever I am early. It’s a small village, and the café’s closed. So I’m having coffee with the hotel. Ok? Good. Glad we cleared that up.

Anyhow, I’ve visited Fettercairn before, in my Dundonian days. It’s not the whiskynet’s most beloved malt, and I can’t say it’d make my own ‘greatest hits’ album. Probably not even my ‘most middling hits’ if I’m honest. But I’ve been looking forward to this tour in particular, because I’m being joined for the first time by a fellow member of the whisky blogosphere.

Andy, The Amateur Drammer, started blogging a few months before I did. Key differences being that his website is user friendly, looks good and features articles that are shorter than War and Peace. But we’ve been chatting away on Twitter for a while now; I did a piece for his Desert Island Drams series, and he was good enough to contribute to both the 40 under £40 and the current 50 under £50. Having clocked him as a Dundee native a while back I asked whether he’d be up for a day of pilgrimming when I found myself in his manor. A couple of months later, and here we both are in darkest Aberdeenshire sheltering from the inevitable drizzle and waiting for someone to open the doors.

It’s an incredibly quiet village, Fettercairn, and the distillery seems to have taken its lead from the near-silent surroundings. It actually has a very serviceable visitor centre, but it’s rather understated, and as Andy points out in his own write-up, they’re hardly trumpeting the brand online, despite a recent(ish) packaging redesign which makes the bottles look rather swish. (Contents still what my little sister would describe as 'meh', but we’ll come to that.)

Clive, our guide, does a cracking job showing us around the place. It’s all very casual, as you’d expect with a two-person tour, and having clocked that we’re not exactly first-time tourists he sticks to Fettercairn’s idiosyncrasies, rather than anything generic. The distillery has two wash and two spirit stills, churning out about 2.2 million litres of spirit per year. Of that, 90% goes off to blends, and a good chunk of what’s left heads off to Tesco, who used to have an exclusive on the ‘Fasque.’ (A peek online suggests they don’t any more. Unless Master of Malt and The Whisky Exchange employ highwaymen to hijack Tesco lorries, and I can’t see why they’d go to the effort.)

The chief curiosity of Fettercairn Distillery is on their spirit stills, where they deploy an irrigation ring unique in the whisky industry (to the best of my knowledge.) The rings lie just below the top of the swan neck, and send cold water down the outside of the stills. Essentially it’s an innovative way to promote reflux and copper contact to create a light spirit despite the stills being relatively short. 

Back in the visitor centre Clive apologises for the lack of any Fior to taste, so we’re on Fasque instead. Works for me, since Fasque is likely to be the more easily findable expression and therefore, by Pilgrim rules, the distillery ‘flagship’. Clive leaves us to it as we speculatively sip and scribble, exchanging thoughts as we go.

Fettercairn Fasque – The peat, what there is of it, sits very lightly in the background with a slight bacony inflection. There’s also a mild heathery honey which continues onto the palate. Does take a fair bit of nosing, after which some grassy notes emerge, followed by caramels and a little pear fruit. Twinge of citrus. Very much middle-weight in body and sweetness, with the zip of alcohol hinting at this whisky’s relative youth. Simple stuff. 42%ABV

I’d like to hang around a while longer – after all, it’s not every day someone steps out of twitter and into reality. Unfortunately I’ve another distillery on the menu for the day, so we say our goodbyes and I’m back in the Corsa and heading up the road. It’s been a pleasure to finally meet Andy in person, and hopefully Fettercairn won’t be the last distillery we tour together. Whilst I stupidly forgot to get a photo at the time, we bumped into each other at the Whisky Show a few weeks later and Andy got a picture with fellow blogger The Whisky Lady, which is at the bottom of this article. We’re the ones who aren’t a lady.

The weather takes a turn for the gorgeous as I drive back North through Aberdeen towards Oldmeldrum, where lurks the Glen Garioch Distillery. (Pronounced 'Glen Geery', because Scotland.) This is becoming something of a chorus for me, where East Highland Distilleries are concerned, but Glen Garioch wasn’t really on my radar formerly, besides being aware of its existence. Which I suppose made this East Highland pilgrimage all the more worthwhile. Oldmeldrum is about as far West as you can
go from Aberdeen without starting to climb up mountains. You can see the humps of the Cairngorms to the West, but as the smell makes readily apparent, we’re still in farmland here. 

I had a little sit-down in the visitor centre whilst waiting for the tour to start, as it was rather warm outside and I was feeling the pace slightly. Which must make me the first person in Scottish history ever to go indoors to cool down. Gave me a chance to have a squint at their range though. Rather a lot of pretty reasonably priced special editions dotted the shelves, and I was almost – almost – tempted by a fifteen year old, cask strength ex-Oloroso, but my wallet decided against it. Interesting to see that both of the ‘entry levels’, the Founder’s Reserve and the twelve year old, are bottled at 48% and non-chill-filtered. Well done Glen Garioch.

Our guide for the day was Fiona, who was absolutely brilliant. I was joined on the tour by a Norwegian couple who asked her question after question and she knocked them out of the park. Particularly impressive was her fielding of a ‘what makes you different?’ inquiry. Five minutes later she’d rattled off a comprehensive answer covering barley, stills, water and casks. Nice.

Once upon a time Glen Garioch was peated. Indeed you can still find peated examples of their whisky, as it continued to be made up until 1994 when the distillery was mothballed. Suntory then re-opened it in 1997, and since they owned a peated whisky in the form of Bowmore, they wanted an unpeated double-distillate to contrast with their triple-distilled Auchentoshan. So these days Glen Garioch is unpeated. They still have the old kiln – you can even go inside it – but they no longer malt on site, so along with the malt barn it is now strictly ornamental.

Also ornamental is one of the two spirit stills; Glen Garioch doesn’t make vast quantities of spirit these days, and there’s only one wash still anyway, so they decommissioned the second spirit still. Left it where it was though. For posterity or something I guess. Or maybe it was too much of a faff to move. You can touch it, anyway, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t leave you with much of a hand left.

Since I’m driving, Fiona gives me a sample of the Founder’s Reserve to go. I also buy a miniature of the twelve, as they’re pretty close in price. The twelve is eight years in ex-bourbon and four in ex-sherry, whilst Founder’s Reserve is almost all ex-bourbon. My note below is for the Founder’s Reserve, which, for the record, I actually preferred to the twelve. You may disagree. You’re allowed. Both good value though, and worth taking a swipe at if you find them on a bar shelf. Glen Garioch’s also a distillery well worth seeking out – if you get a guide half as good as Fiona you’ll have a hugely worthwhile visit. And the shop is full of tempting special editions beside their decent core range.

Glen Garioch Founder’s Reserve – Nostril hairs got a singeing – not that I have hairy nostrils, you understand. Youthful and a little fiery, but behind that some good fresh apple along with heathery honey (more pronounced and intense than that found in the Fasque) and a touch of sweet vanilla pastry. Very American oak accent on the palate. Flavours as on nose, but clearer because the booze, whilst still prickly, is controlled by a nice plump Highland viscosity. Great mouthfeel. Some sweet toffee and natural caramel beside the earlier honey and vanilla. Despite youth, not immature – nothing spirit or estery here. Clean. A whisky to wake you up in the morning. 48%ABV

I’ve had a cracking day touring Fettercairn with Andy and exploring Glen Garioch solo. Back to my Aberdeen hostel for now though. Tomorrow will take me to the two distilleries I’m most excited about on this trip.


Thursday, 3 November 2016

Over 20 years, under £50. Tasting the Lidl Special Releases.

I’m meant to be running my stocks down. I was accusingly reminded of this when I returned home yesterday and, in fairness, my accuser has a point. There is, after all, finite space on my desk. At this stage, calling it a desk is rather stretching credulity. But for the three bottles I brought back, I’m inclined to forgive myself and make an allowance.

I have nothing against NAS whisky in principle. Heck, the first article I ever wrote that wasn’t a tour write-up was on the subject. If it’s well made, good value, tasty whisky I’m happy. Just look how much I go on about A’Bunadh. But there is something undeniably profound and special about holding something in your hand that was committed to barrel years and years ago. Something that makes you think back to who you were then, and what you were doing. Perhaps something distilled before you were even born, or thought of. 

I have never owned a whisky older than myself. I have tasted scores of them, of course, and on two occasions I have bought such bottles for friends, but my budget simply doesn’t stretch to that sort of thing. It wasn’t something that especially concerned me – as ought to be fairly clear, I’m fascinated by exploring the more affordable galaxies in the whisky universe. There were more than enough bottles within my budget to prevent me from worrying about those that weren’t. But, as I’m sure there is for any serious whiskyer, there was always that little niggle; that pang at the back of the brain that wouldn’t quite make itself disappear.

Last year, in the run up to Christmas, Lidl, who are not necessarily the first folks you’d think of when the subject of aqua vitae is broached, made some serious waves. In partnership with the Clydesdale Scotch Whisky Company they bottled two single malts: an Islay and a Speyside, and three blended, sherry-finish whiskies. The malts went under their Ben Bracken brand, the blends Glenalba. So far so regular – but then we come to age and price. The Islay was 22 years old, the Speyside 28 years old and the blends 22, 25 and 34 respectively. Prices: £45, £50, £30, £35 and £50.

Naturally there were several sceptics. But reviews from the likes of Malt, Great Drams and convinced this cynic to take them seriously. Unfortunately, as might be expected given those staggering price tags, anyone who took a couple of moments to have second thoughts missed out on the opportunity to buy the malts. 

Yesterday I was idly scrolling through Twitter (during my lunch hour, I hasten to add) and I noticed that someone had spotted the Glenalba blends at Lidl’s Wokingham branch. In need of a birthday present for a friend, and Wokingham being just a quarter of an hour from my house, I decided to take a punt. So that evening found me hopping in the corsa after work and making a bee-line for the spirits aisle.

Where I discovered, to my great surprise, that the Glenalbas were not alone. I hadn’t even heard that Lidl were relaunching the Ben Brackens, but there, on the top shelf were two sets of very smart
boxes. Single Malt Islay 22 years old said one. Single Malt Speyside 27 said the second. ‘Well ok then’ said the third. Which was me. Not that I'm a very smart box. I didn’t even have the 'should I-shouldn’t I' waver that inevitably pops up whenever I make an impromptu purchase. I added two bottles of Glenalba 22 (one for my friend and one for me) and, following a hideously embarrassing fifteen minute interlude during which the rest of the store was held up as the shop assistant rummaged through the stock room, was back on my way to Château Pilgrim.

Let’s cut to the chase: are they any good? Well, within seconds of being through the door I had lined up three Glencairns, preparing to answer that very question. I began with the 22 year old sherry-finished Glenalba, then the 27 year old Ben Bracken Speyside and finally the 22 year old Ben Bracken Islay, and my tidied-up notes are below:

Glenalba 22yo Sherry Finish – The nose is ever so slightly faint at first (grows considerably with the tasting.) Very sherry – but clean and ripe. Raisins, currants and dates rather than anything dry or nutty. There’s definitely a sense of maturity – some nice rancio elements creeping in, and the lightest, lightest suggestion of smoke. There’s still a liveliness and freshness though – squeeze of citrus fruits cutting through the deeper characters. Palate is very juicy and very sherried. Has taken away an element of potential complexity, but can’t knock the flavours, which are excellent. Datey and slightly pruney. Mild suggestion of cigar tobacco too, and the merest hint of struck match on the finish. It isn’t immensely intense, but there’s plenty going on. Wingback chair in the evening whisky! 40%ABV

Ben Bracken 27yo Speyside – Charming nose. Whistle clean, and
goes like an ‘ex-Bourbon Classic Hits’ playlist. Tropical fruit? Tick. Sponge Cake? Tick. Vanillas and honeys? Tick. Also massive quantities of Apple pie! Surprisingly light on its feet for the age – the fruit is fresh and the malt is crisp. I’m put in mind of things like Tomintoul, Glen Grant and Glencadam. (Though I’m pretty certain it’s neither of the first two, and obviously it can’t be the third.) The palate is silky and middle-weight, with the flavours essentially exactly the same as the nose. Plus perhaps a banana-bread suggestion. Doesn’t lack intensity either despite the ABV. Definitely feels younger than 27, but still a developed and immensely drinkable ex-bourbon Speyside. 40%ABV

Ben Bracken 22yo Islay – What a splendid nose! The peat is distinctly mid-level – just how I like it – and of an earthy, sort of farmyard disposition. Behind that there’s pine wood, medicine cabinet and a truly gorgeous kipper smoke. There’s some sweeter elements of honeys, fruits and vanillas too, but they are very much second fiddle. Far and away the biggest of the Lidl noses. The good things continue on the palate, where there is actually more complexity. Some lifted, almost floral aspects arrive, balancing out the murkier, charcoal depths. A dark chocolate backdrop before the peat – which takes a little while to ‘rev up’ – adds lashings of beach bonfire, maritime seaweed and pipe tobacco. Huge flavour for a chill filtered 40%. My pick of the bunch. Islay fans, and indeed Talisker and Ardmore fans, will find a lot to love. 40%ABV

When I mentioned these whiskies on twitter, and to a few friends, a couple of questions were raised over alcohol level and filtration. And sure, another 6% would do great things, especially to the
Glenalba, and non-chill-filtered would be lovely. (I did chuckle that the Brackens have ‘Chill Filtered’ proudly stamped on the box.) But to be honest, in the face of what you get for the money, such quibbles seem almost greedy!

The Lidl Special Releases are not quite the best whiskies I have tasted for under £50 this year. (Although the Islay and probably the Speyside are top ten.) But to someone like me, who tries to promote affordable and interesting expressions, their value goes beyond the number on the flashy green Lidl price tag. I understand why whisky is hyperinflating so quickly, but beside the pecuniary silliness of the newly launched Longmorns and the nonsense of the Golden Decanters, Ben Bracken and Glenalba stand as something special. Of course I recommend them – I also recommend moving quickly, because once they’re officially announced they aren’t going to last. The Islay is my tip, but for what you pay, none will let you down.

And I finally own a whisky distilled before I was. Which I think adds up to £49.99 well spent. But fine - I'll start trying to run my stocks down again.

No promises, mind...


Sunday, 30 October 2016

"The Finest Whisky Book Ever": A Critique

"The finest whisky book ever," is awfully high praise, especially when the adulator in question is himself one of the most prolific whisky writers to have tramped the third rock from the sun. Yet those are the words of Dave Broom, writ large across the cover of the recent reprint of Whisky by Aeneas MacDonald, as appreciated (in no uncertain terms) by Ian Buxton.

I had heard this quote attributed previously, along with the no less glowing tribute from Charles MacLean which adorns the back of the dust jacket. It seemed as though token apotheosis of MacDonald and his tome are requisite to prominence in the Whisky Canon; even the author of my favourite blog was getting in on it. 

I myself had never formerly read it. Having scarcely been in print since its initial publication in 1930, copies were not exactly thick on the ground. Moreover, I have a lamentable tendency, in the face of such worship, to become slightly leery and suspicious. So I didn't go out of my way to find Whisky. But yesterday, in Waterstones, finding myself faced with a copy, I came over all what-the-heck. Ten quid later I was out on the chilly autumnal streets of Reading clutching my small bag and making a bee-line for the nearest coffee shop.

In fact, the slim volume (only 150 pages, so you've no excuses) was consumed alongside the coffee, and then subsequently a plate of Momo at Reading's unimpeachable Sapana Home, and a pint (not of whisky) in a wingback chair beside the hearth at a canalside pub. By the end of my gastronomic adventure I had polished off Whisky in its entirety, appreciation and all. Having now had twenty four hours to digest it, it falls to me here to examine the thorny question of whether it merits the veneration so lavishly bestowed upon it by such exalted luminaries of aqua vitae.

Let's start off with the contribution of Mr Buxton. I've read, and enjoyed, several of his books, notably the 101 series. His tone, in those works, is rather accessible and certainly personable, albeit with a slightly irritable and curmudgeonly edge at times. (Though that's probably expected of an author whose book titles contain the words 'Before You Die'. Besides, who am I to talk on the curmudgeonly front?) In his appreciation, however, there is a notable difference in how Buxton comes across. For starters, it's more scholarly; there are flashes of Buxton's lighter side, but for the most part it's rather heavy going. Academical, very reference-heavy, and somewhat dry. That being said, the salient points are thoroughly covered; the back-story of Aeneas MacDonald (whose real name was George Thomson) being of particular interest.

Buxton's own deep admiration for Thomson is evident throughout the thirty-odd page introduction. I suppose it would be odd for an appreciation to be written by someone who wasn't a fan, and to Buxton's credit he remains largely objective, particularly when describing Thomson's unsavoury work prior to Whisky. Whilst it is clear that Buxton struggles with the notion of his hero having written some blatantly racist pieces, he makes no attempt to hide the fact. And, as he points out, this racism does not spill into Whisky, and Thomson himself acknowledged and disavowed his former views later in life.

One comment further, before we abandon Buxton for MacDonald. I do wish he had opted for appendices, rather than footnotes. Whilst the notes offer useful and frequently fascinating commentaries on MacDonald's text, pointing out fallacies and indicating where whisky practices of MacDonald's 1930 have moved on (or not) the use of footnotes does distract from the flow of the text. I know you aren't necessarily under any obligation to read them, but human nature being what it is, you're almost certainly going to. And as we will see, the flow of the text is rather important. So I do think that back-referencing at the end, rather than continually 'pressing the pause button' would have been my own personal preference. 

But that's the aperitif covered; on now to the main. Does it justify the hype?

Well, define 'finest'. If you're looking for the lowdown on every contemporary Scottish distillery, with washback counts, PPM specs, histories, cuts and tasting notes then you are to be disappointed. Indeed, if you are looking for a meticulously researched book which presents only accurate facts you are to be disappointed; the work is littered with fallacy. As Buxton points out in his appreciation, we can't even be sure that MacDonald/Thomson visited distilleries. Although he was certainly in correspondence with them; he makes the enviable remark that it is easy enough to write to a distillery with your specifications of age and style, and have the requisite bottles sent your way posthaste. 

Nor is MacDonald anywhere near what you would describe as objective. The book, to a very great degree, is a scream of rage and pain. Rage at the inferior way in which whisky in 1930 was perceived. Rage at the people and practices which he perceived to be responsible for this state. (Many of which would strike a chord today; amongst his chiefest gripes is a lack of transparency in whisky labelling and information.) Most of all though, he rages against grain whisky: "tasteless...neutral industrial spirit.' Indeed he argues against such stuff being classed as whisky whatsoever; for MacDonald, only malted barley distilled in pots is worthy of the title.

Which brings us to another point. Whisky is a somewhat misleading title for MacDonald's work. More accurately, it would be called Single Malt Scotch Whisky: An Opinion. Yes, Irish is briefly touched upon, and yes, blends are mentioned. He also professes a fondness for blended malt (though you have to make your own inferences as to when he is referring to blended malt as opposed to blended whisky) and as we have seen, whisky blended with what he would term 'grain spirit' is dealt with in no uncertain terms. Bourbon, or American whiskey, is briefly sneered at, with the implication that using the term 'whisky' (his spelling) to describe it was causing MacDonald some degree of pain.

So: inaccurate, incomprehensive, predominantly subjective and heavily blinkered. 

And yet.

All of that may be forgiven of Aeneas MacDonald, because at its best, Whisky reads more beautifully than anything written on the subject before or since. The first chapter, in particular is poetry. It's lyricism. It's a rhapsody on what MacDonald believes malt whisky is - can be - should be - must be. From his pen drips the very essence of the Highlands; it is, as much as it is an ode to whisky, an ode to Scotland itself; the peat bogs and rugged coasts and quiet glens where antique smugglers distilled their spirit in secret. It is startlingly evocative, especially to someone who has lived in the Highlands, and spent so long driving and walking around them.

Curiously, MacDonald's prose is often at its best when lambasting; the ardour with which he deplores (he loves saying 'deplores') those who market whisky, those who drink whisky without appreciation and those who indulge in label snobbery is woven into near-rhythm. Here is where Buxton's footnotes become an irritation; here is where you want nothing to break the spell MacDonald weaves. Where difference of opinion becomes irrelevant, and all that matters is the text and the images it evokes.

His mastery is hamstrung slightly when he comes to describe more prosaic subjects; the mechanical processes of making whisky, for example, and 'recent' industry history. But none of that matters when you turn the page and find yourself lost in his outpouring of what whisky is, if you only take the time to listen. Here there are no nauseating notes of purple petunias or demerara sugar or any of the other nonsensical trivialities with which too often whisky is stripped of its identity in our obsessively archivist modern world. This is whisky with passion and soul and purpose and place. An elemental drink; a thunderous orchestra carved from the land itself and transmuted into a glass through copper pots and oak casks.

Of course, the whisky world has changed considerably since MacDonald's work was published in 1930. Distilleries have been built; others have been lost. (Though with no small satisfaction I noticed that Port Ellen was not ranked in MacDonald's top four Islays.) Practices and styles have moved on; new worlds and varities of whisk(e)y have charged our glasses. Single Malt, of course, is now far more available than it was to MacDonald, though the transparency argument rages on. Yet there is so much still to recognise in MacDonald's text; distillery names familiar to us all, ways in which the drink is manufactured - even, if we're honest, many of the groups of people he so poetically and vociferously decries.

If MacDonald were to write his book today, I doubt whether it would be published. His research would have to be more thorough, his personal attacks stripped back. The subjective would give way to the clinical and the objective. The poetry, to a very great degree, would be sacrificed for information. Such is the stark nature of the digital age, in which whisky is often made a creature for dissection; in which being able to rattle off still capacities is rated as highly as sitting in quiet contemplation and letting a glass speak, uninterrupted, of itself. (Perhaps those footnotes are emblematic...) Where currants, sandalwoods and vanillas are flashed across five minute Twitter Tastings (God knows what MacDonald would make of those) and where the crowning of a 'Best Whisky in the World' fires online auction prices into apocalyptic obscenity.

In many ways I imagine whisky writers feel they have their hands tied. I remember reading an interview with Dave Broom in which he commented "I hate scores - but my editor makes me give them." Modern whisky writing is a profession, like any other, and writers are slaves to the demands of their editors, publishers and a market increasingly hungry for distastefully 'quantifiable' information. No, to rage and blast as he does in Whisky, MacDonald would have to take to the internet, where raging and blasting has reached its tumultuous apogee. But what blogger writes with the finesse of MacDonald? In Whisky, rage is made poetry. Online, it is almost invariably crass.

So perhaps all those writers see in Whisky a lofty ideal to which they can only privately aspire. Perhaps they envy a level of written prose with vibrancy, heart and depth which the information-obsessed demands of the public necessarily strip from their own. But I hope that, like me, they simply revel in the beauty of language skilfully used. And in his "mountain torrents and scanty soil on moorland rocks and slanting, rare sun-shafts" remember why they fell in love with whisky in the first place.

The finest whisky book ever? I'm not sure. The most fulfilling I have read? Unquestionably.


Monday, 17 October 2016

I don't know whether I like this Single Malt - and here's why that's a good thing.

You know the feeling. You’re doing some tasting; maybe you’re cracking a new bottle, or making your way around the tables at a festival. Perhaps it’s a sample at a distillery, or something a generous friend has opened up. Whatever the occasion, something about this particular pour just stops you in your tracks. Stands out from any of the others. ‘Speaks to you’, if you like, above and beyond the norm. And then plays on your mind for hours, even days thereafter, as you contemplate the aromas, the flavours, the experience over and over again. No? Just me? I don’t believe it.

By any measure, I make my way through my fair share of whiskies. In fact I probably make my way through several peoples’ fair shares. And over the years I’ve had several such epiphanies. My first taste of A’Bunadh stands out, of course (can it really be six years ago now?) as does my maiden encounter with Four Roses Single Barrel. I’ll never forget my first taste of Springbank – at the distillery, as it happens – nor my first Westland. Nor a couple of dozen other lightening bolt whiskies which have struck me so memorably in my decade-and-a-bit of aqua vitae.

Just the other day I tasted another whisky which I have been completely unable to stop thinking about since. The difference here is that I’m not sure whether I actually liked it.

The whisky in question is the Brenne Single Malt from France, and it was due to appear in the 50 under £50 before I realised that the Master of Malt price was from a little while back, and that they don’t have a full-sized bottle in stock. My American readers can snap up a bottle for around that price in dollars, but a quick look at the only available European pricings suggested I’d be cheating a little were I to include it. In case you’re interested, the price I found was about €65, which in post-referendum Sterling is roughly £10,000. (Or a twentieth the price of what Booker’s Rye has probably gone up to on the secondary market this afternoon.) Whether you’ll want to invest in a bottle (of Brenne, not Booker’s) following this piece is another question.

As is my wont, I didn’t look up the whisky’s vital statistics prior to sampling. It was on my radar insofar as I’d read an article or two, and a couple of interviews with the apparently charming and clearly very business and marketing-savvy Allison Patel, who created and owns the brand. But these were a little mum as to how the whisky tasted, or why it tasted thus. ‘French’ was about as much description as I’d heard. And I’m not going to speculate on what ‘French’ tastes like, as I’d likely find myself in dangerous territory. 

I’ve crossed paths with about 20-25 French whiskies in my time, so I’m a novice at best, but there are a couple of which I’m very fond indeed. I was particularly enamoured of an Armorik I tried which had been matured in local oak. But whilst I’ve not sipped as many as I’d like, I’ve tried enough to know that Brenne is not typical of the style. Indeed, were Brenne to be the first French whisky you encountered, you’d be forgiven for getting entirely the wrong impression of French whiskies in general, because I can say without hesitation that its aroma and flavour profile is amongst the most striking and unusual which I have ever come across on a whisk(e)y, and that I have never tasted anything like it in my life.

I couldn’t quite believe what I was smelling when I stuck my snout into the glass. Indeed I wondered whether I had somehow ended up with a wrong, or contaminated sample. (Not that I would imagine the fine chaps at Drinks by the Dram making such an error.) So I scribbled my thoughts, and immediately went online to see what others had written.

Straight away, the reviews seemed to confirm my own findings. ‘Bubblegum,’ said one – a note I’d made myself. ‘Slightly confected – almost sweet-shop like,’ wrote another. The general consensus was that here was a very distinctive whisky indeed. And if I’m honest, most of the reviews – particularly those written by primarily scotch-focussed sites – were rather damning in their criticism. A friend turned up as I was spooling through the online verbiage, and had a Glencairn unceremoniously thrust under her nose. ‘What on Earth’s that?’ she asked (actually a PG translation of her exact words.) She too was less than a fan.

For my own part, the jury’s still out. But here’s the thing: none of the aromas or flavours are the result of an obvious ‘fault’. For starters, it isn’t sulphured whatsoever – whether or not you subscribe to the ‘sulphur’s a fault’ school of thought. As far as can be discerned, the cut’s fine too – no feints here. And you certainly can’t accuse the whisky of being in any way light on aroma or flavour, despite the minimum strength 40%ABV. Which means that all these flavours – these bizarre, polarising, unforgettable flavours – are the result of casks and malted barley distillate alone.

Some have suggested that the style of cask is responsible. Post-tasting research reveals it to be matured in oak from nearby Limousin, before being finished in ‘wet’ ex-Cognac barrels. (As an aside, I like that it’s all kept local.) One reviewer suggested that the Limousin oak was behind Brenne’s peculiarity, but that doesn’t seem to stack up. Because I’ve encountered a lot of Limousin oak in my chequered drinking career. It’s widely used in Cognac and wine, for starters, and given the worldwide respect commanded by French oak I’d be very surprised if much of the Scotch we know and love hadn’t done at least some of its time in a butchered Limousin tree. Nor is this whisky especially reminiscent of the flavours of any Cognacs - or Cognac finished whiskies - I've come across.

So is it some kind of grand-scale reaction between the two? Does Limousin + Cognac equal the whisky world’s answer to Potassium + Water? Or are the stills responsible? They’re alembic in style, so I’m imagining something along the same lines as those I saw at Eden Mill – the creators of an equally memorable spirit. But Eden Mill’s kit is nothing like Brenne. I know exactly how much I like Eden Mill; when it comes to Brenne I have no idea where I stand. Every aspect perplexes me, maddens me with curiosity; makes me want – need – answers to the questions branded so strongly upon my palate.   

And that is why Brenne is an unqualified success as a Single Malt whisky.

Contrary to marketing spin and the perception of the non-obsessed public; contrary to what you might be told by old men in kilts, or wielding cigars in gentlemen’s clubs, Single Malt is not about the ultimate age, or the ultimate rarity, or the ultimate flavour, or even the ultimate 'quality'. It’s not inherently about reaching a pinnacle or earning points or tasting like Kiwano Marmalade or sun-dried Sneezewort Yarrow. It is, fairly obviously, about creating singularity. A flavour specific to one place. A flavour created – and creatable – nowhere else. About expressing that place through liquid crafted in copper stills and oak casks. Whether you want to call that terroir or not is another question. (I don’t, on the whole, but have no issue with those who do.) What is certain is that Single Malt only truly succeeds if it has a flavour like nothing made anywhere else. Whether that flavour is to your personal taste is virtually immaterial. 

So thank you, Brenne, for reminding me of that. In a sense, for helping me remember what Single Malt actually is. For what it’s worth, although I’m still in two minds whether I’m a fan, I’ll be trying another glass as soon as I come across it. And I recommend, for the expansion of their whisk(e)y universe, that other malt fans do the same. (Though, as I must have made clear by now, it will definitely polarise. I’m not sure many Scotch purists will put a bottle on their Christmas list.) 

And if Allison, or anyone else from Brenne, has time to get in touch – please do. I’d absolutely love a chat. My curiosity is 100% piqued. Single Malt Mission Accomplished.

I never usually attach tasting notes to these pieces, but in this instance I felt compelled to, and they are below.

Cheers! (Or, more appropriately - Santé!)

Brenne Single Malt – Now there’s a nose to conjure with. Jumps out of the glass very gamely, and not like any whisky I’ve ever had before. Very distinctive. There’s a kind of ginger spice and then a real sweet strawberry character. Almost confected. Almost like bubblegum. Bizarrely – and I can’t believe I’m writing this of a whisky – there’s a definite whiff of Jäger bomb!* Certain to polarise – but keeps the attention. Flavours exactly – exactly – identical. Where has this come from? How have they made this? I have never tasted or smelled these flavours on a whisky before, and for that reason alone I’d recommend giving this a whirl (by the glass). Also very clean, and for 40% there’s a big intensity of flavour, though it’s medium bodied. Insane. 40%ABV

*This was also the first thing my friend smelled, completely unprompted. And believe me, she knows a Jäger bomb when she smells one. So it's not just me.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Brechin and Balmoral. 5th September. Glencadam and Royal Lochnagar

So there I am in Brechin, and as so often is the case on these trips, I haven’t found a proper coffee. Thus you find me gingerly sipping a Tesco Costa whilst sat, of all places, in a graveyard. To one side is Brechin’s football stadium. To the other, behind a wire fence, the dark grey walls of Glencadam Distillery.

At the time of writing (shockingly late after the visit, but it’s been a busy month and a half) it is almost a year to the day since I first encountered Glencadam’s whisky. It was in the form of a miniature of the 15yo presented with other offerings on a tray at my friend Will’s stag. I can’t really offer a photo, as there was also something else on the tray, of a more typical stag-party persuasion. But these whiskies were the first drinks of the day, and despite being in very good company the Glencadam shone. My next encounter was two months later at the wedding, when late in the evening a bottle of Single Cask 35 year old was produced from somewhere. Will and I dutifully gave it a hearing, and since the resultant photo was rather more PG, you’ll find it at the bottom of this article.

From those points on I have made up for lost time where Glencadam has been concerned, and now rank it in my top ten distilleries worldwide. Single Malt is only a very minor concern of theirs in production terms though; about 96% of what they make goes into blends, and they don’t have a ‘Visitor Centre’ per se. Not
wishing to pass by without paying a visit to a distillery I rate so highly, I had sent an email asking whether a tour might be possible, and received a swift reply from Douglas Fitchett, the distillery manager, inviting me to meet him at 10am.

I arrived early, as is my wont, and was met by David, who is Douglas’ assistant. We talked whisky (and the A9) for a while, until Douglas arrived to show me around.

Glencadam has been distilling since 1825. It was mothballed during both World Wars, and in 2000 was closed. Happily, owners took charge in 2003, and decided to release the distillery’s first ever own-label Single Malt in 2005. There are only two stills, but they must be working pretty hard, as they’re pumping out something in the region of 1.4 million litres of spirit a year. As a general rule of thumb, I’ve found distilleries tend to average about 1 million litres per pair of stills, give or take, so 1.4 is a very good amount. Though when you consider that only 4% of this goes to Single malt, the size and diversity of their range therein becomes all the more impressive.

It’s quite a compact distillery, is Glencadam. Purpose-built as a distillery over the stream which acts as its water source, there’s a lot happening in a small area. I suppose it has to really; like Oban or Glen Moray, Glencadam doesn’t exactly have room to spread; tucked as it is into the heart of Brechin. One thing I loved about the tour, and in which respect it differed to every tour I’ve been on, was that it is a working distillery full stop. Now I love a visitor centre. If I didn’t I’d have had a pretty miserable time of it over the last year. But there was something brilliant about a distillery ‘stripped bare.’ No visual aids, nothing ‘for the tourists.’ Just people getting on with the business of fermenting, distilling and blending. A little whisky hive in Brechin, and a wonderful thing to see.

The hive’s going to be busier in pretty short order. Glencadam’s output is growing and growing – Douglas mentioned that they’re hoping to double in size ultimately, which is going to be some undertaking. What this means for their single malt output I’ve no idea, but it’s a nice thought that there’ll also be more Glencadam in my blends. Either way, I’m a happy boy.

The ‘tasting room,’ to which Douglas took me, has to be one of my favourites of the pilgrimage so far. Because it’s not so much a tasting room as a lounge, with squashy upholstered armchairs and the whiskies stored in a little bureau-cum-cabinet in the corner. The sample generosity was fantastic too. Apart from the 10, my note for which is below, we tried the new make, the 15, the 18 and the 14, which is finished in Oloroso and grapples with Kilchoman Sanaig for the title of favourite single malt under £50 I’ve tried this year. As a curious aside, the 18 and the 15 are both ex-first-fill bourbon matured only, yet I totally agree with Douglas’ assessment that the 15 is deeper and richer. Both worth buying anyway.

Glencadam 10yo – Proof that the ‘flavour list’ tasting notes really don’t tell a proper story about the whisky. Sure there are apples, pears, vanilla, honey blah blah. But the take-home here is how dazzlingly clean and fresh this is. It’s vibrant; a beautiful zip from the Alcohol without anything spiky or fiery. Silken mouthfeel. The balance is just right. A crowd-pleaser in the best sense of the word. Could give this to anyone from hard-core malt nerds to people who barely touch whisky, and I’d be confident they’d enjoy it. 46%ABV

My love of Glencadam all the deeper, but my day only half done, I thanked Douglas and was back in the Corsa in the direction of Royal Lochnagar. It’s getting into proper Highland territory here; the drive took me up through banks of fog, onto one-track roads through the chilly foothills of the Cairngorms. Lochnagar itself, however, is more or less on the banks of the Dee, in a green, woody and rather charming glen. A delightful neighbourhood all round, though some nearby residents have been known to lower the tone with raucous all-night Jäger and death metal parties. These days police are stationed outside the gates of that house though, to keep the occupants on their best behaviour.*

Royal Lochnagar is the smallest distillery in the Diageo treasure-chest. It earned its ‘Royal’ by dint of Queen Victoria being a fan, and apparently she took her malt mixed with claret. (Dear Diageo marketers: please don’t do a Bordeaux barrel matured Lochnagar and call it ‘Monarch’s Favourite’. Oh Hell, I’ve put the idea in your head now.) It’s also where Diageo have their ‘brand home,’ to which new ambassadors are trooped for Basic Training in how to nose and taste and bend it like Beckham and so forth.

As standard I’m excessively punctual, and bumped onto an earlier tour. (I honestly have sometimes done the tours I’ve actually booked.) It’s a big group, and our guide for the day is Annie, who on seeing my notebook quips ‘can I tell you something? There’s lies, there’s damned lies and then there’s whisky.’ Duly noted – I’ll be careful what I jot down. 

Being a Diageo distillery, cameras are off-limits, so no on-tour photos I fear. It really is a tiny place, fed by waters from a spring at the bottom of the nearby mountain. Open-top mash tun, á la Bruichladdich/Deanston, with a four-water mash the Lochnagar standard. 

Annie was really excellent at managing such a large group within such a small distillery, though it should be noted that those present were rather less rowdy than similar sized groups I encountered at Talisker and Caol Ila. We’re taken past the fermentation room, which unusually is blocked by a glass wall. That being said, it’s a tiny room with three tuns, so it would have been a rather tight squeeze even if we had been allowed in.

Talking of tiny, the stills are miniscule. Really small and stubby. You’d think that they’d make a rather rich and robust malt, but Annie explained that extra copper contact, and therefore lightness of spirit, is achieved by only partially filling them. Also worth noting is that they still use traditional worm tubs to condense the distillate. Under normal circumstances this would again result in a
more meaty, sulphurous spirit, but at Lochnagar the worms tubs are filled with warm water, to condense the spirit more quickly, thus promoting copper contact and lightness of character. Very unique indeed.

Being the brand home, there’s a warehouse in Lochnagar in which all casks have had their duties paid. It’s full of casks from distilleries across Diageo’s portfolio, both dead and alive. I certainly noticed a couple of Broras and Port Ellens, and more than a few barrels which, were they people, would be applying for a free bus pass. Lucky brand ambassadors. We, however, were not allowed to taste, though a judicious sniff or two of certain samples was permitted. I would have tried to hide behind the door when we all left, but had I done so I’d be dead by now. Even if they’d come back for me ten minutes later. One day, perhaps.

Bit of a moment when Annie asked us all whether we liked younger whiskies. I mentioned how much I admired Kilchoman's kit, despite their usually being only five or so, and some old bloke took it upon himself to tell me that my palate was immature. That’s the second time in as many months that someone has said that. You’d think by now that’d I’d have a witty retort planned. Hey ho. I’d bet a reasonable sum of money that I’ve tasted more whisk(e)y this year than he has in his life. And he’s the one missing out if he isn’t drinking Kilchoman.

Back in the tasting room Annie brought out the Royal Lochnagar 12yo as well as the Distillery Edition for comparison. Since I was driving I took advantage of Diageo’s excellent takeaway scheme, so my notes were made later at a hostel in Aberdeen, and my comments on the 12 are below:

Royal Lochnagar 12yo – Nose takes some coaxing. Certainly some grassy/hay notes. Light for sure. A little bit of currant perhaps; certainly some European oak influence, and a splash of vanilla. Intensity definitely on the mild end of the spectrum. Needs a lot of time to get going. Palate is also light, and flavours follow nose. Medium sweet, and actually fairly juicy. Some honeys and caramels too, with perhaps a touch of pear. Brown sugars and coffee on the finish. OK.

Having not booked accommodation for the night, the rest of the day was spent hunting for a campsite, shouting at my tent, booting my tent, apologising to my tent, hurling my tent into the back of the car again, remembering it was actually my dad’s tent and I should probably treat it better, and then giving up and driving to Aberdeen
to find a tent made from bricks. I’m happy to camp, but on your own it’s purgatory. Conclusions of the day then: I still love Glencadam. I love it even more than I already did. Alongside Kilchoman it’s probably my distillery of the year. As for Lochnagar, the jury’s out. It’s not that I won’t drink the stuff – just try to stop me – but what I’ve tried so far leaves me slightly lukewarm. Possibly I just need to try more.

In the meantime, further East Highland distilleries await. And so does a tour with a familiar face...


*I made this up. As far as I know the Royal Family don’t throw Jäger and death metal parties. And if they do, no one around Lochnagar has complained.

Friday, 7 October 2016

50 under £50. Scroll to the bottom for daily updates!

Well, the Diageo Special Releases are out; so too the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, and no doubt they’re all pretty fancy bottles o’grog. However, let’s be honest, they’re not what the averagely-heeled consumer reaches for, and we’re gradually approaching that time of year where the majority of my friends emerge from their 11-month whisky hibernation and start asking for recommendations. 

During Lent I ran a series entitled ‘40 under £40,’ which is relatively self-explanatory, but can be found here should you fancy a gander. My only reason for setting the price cut-off at £40 was that there are, of course, 40 days in Lent, and ‘40 under £50’ doesn’t quite have the same ring. But with a light smattering of exceptions per year, £50 tends to be my by-the-bottle max, and it’s usually the upper limit of the budgets I’m given by friends and colleagues.

So here goes: 50 under £50. Fifty days of wallet-friendly whiskies, eschewing the ultra-rare and the unaffordable. No Port Ellens or Broras here (one day I’ll set down my Port Ellen/Brora/etc rant properly) nor will you find Karuizawa or anything ending in ‘Winkle.’ What I hope you will find - what I certainly hope I’ll find! – are whiskies which punch above their weight and which offer genuine quality. Bottles you can easily pick up to warm the cockles as the nights get longer and as old, bearded Turkish Saints start threatening to flume down the chimney brandishing sacks and bawling for spirits. (Don’t fob Santa off with brandy – you’re better than that.)

A couple of adjustments from my Lent series. Back in March, over 70% of the whiskies tasted came from either Scotland or the USA. That’s going to be pared back considerably this time, so we’ll see far more from Japan and Ireland, as well as Canada and several other whisky-making nations. (Anticipating 11 in total.) 16 out of the 40 were Scottish single malt last time round – this time we’ll be looking at 7 out of 50. One from each region, plus a Wild Card! Beyond that we’ll have a good number of blended whiskies, blended malts, pure pot still, bourbon, rye and single grain. In other words, the 50 will be made up of whiskies of all shapes and sizes, and that’s definitely for the best.

Looking down what there is of the list so far (still a gap or two to fill!) I’ve probably tried about ten of them previously. The rest will all be surprises, lovely or otherwise. Crucially, none have been reviewed here before. 

Right – let’s get cracking. There’s a lot of whisky to taste between now and 25th November. Hope you enjoy it; I’ll certainly try to...

Day 1: Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon 7yo. 49.5%ABV
I opened the 40 under £40 with a Bourbon - and I'm doing the same today, because this is one of my favourite discoveries in the sub-£50 price category this year. It's a properly voluptuous whiskey - full bodied and richly flavoured enough to wrap up its alcohol, so there's nothing unpleasantly prickly about the heat. As the evenings start to lengthen, this is the sort of whiskey I want to reach for and sink into an armchair with. Lots of thick, chewy vanillas and fruits - will be high on my bottle wishlist in a couple of months.

Day 2: The Feathery (Blended Malt) 40%ABV
I don't tend to look at the specs of the 'Drinks by the Dram' I buy for these series beyond price and whisk(e)y classification, so I knew absolutely nothing about this whisky before I tried it. And what an absolutely lovely surprise! Whistle clean; malts perfectly married. Obviously sherried, but not excessively so - we're talking more orchard fruits than stewed, and there's a lovely clear honey character too. Possibly not the most complex animal in the world, and I can already hear the sneers of hard-core maltsters at that ABV, but listen - if you want a beautifully behaved, very tasty whisky you can share with anyone, confident it'll be enjoyed - this is well worth a punt. Absolutely charming stuff; next time you're thinking of something like Glenfiddich or Glenmorangie, give this a go instead. I certainly might. In fact, come my next pay day I probably will.

Day 3: Starward New World Malt Whisky. 43%ABV
Watched Australia win the first game I've seen live at Twickenham yesterday, so it seemed appropriate to feature an Aussie malt today. And what an interesting malt it is. I actually tasted it for the first time at the Whisky Show last weekend, but wasn't taking detailed notes, so this is a very pleasant revisit. It's a robust and chewy fellow; more than a little reminiscent of a Highlander or meaty Speyside. The Fortified Australian Wine Casks have left their mark - plenty of oxidative, nutty characteristics, but also a distinct red fruit character. Rather unusually there was also a note that reminded me of pink wafers! Palate told a similar story - this is a good medium-well done number on the body front, and the malt-cask balance is just right. Definitely a must-try for malt purists; it's interesting, it makes you think - and it's jolly tasty. I'm heading to some Australian distilleries in February. Looking forward to them even more now!

Day 4: Togouchi Premium Blended Japanese Whisky. 40%ABV
A whisky with triple-citizenship, this. Malt distilled in Scotland, grain (corn, I understand) distilled in Canada, and then blended in Japan and aged in an old railway tunnel. If you did that in Scotland they'd never let you put 'Scottish' on the label, but hey ho. Takes all sorts. Onwards. This stuff is pretty young. I've no issue with whisky being young, but here 'young' translates as 'immature.' Grain whisky tends to have a lot of poke before casks have had a good bit of time to tame it, and it's the grain that pops here. Slightly spirity, and spiky in the nostrils despite the modest ABV. Some apple/sherbet/grass character as well though. Story was exactly the same in the mouth; being fairly light bodied, and with not much cask influence the alcohol was very sharp, very fiery, and rather character-hiding. I didn't add water, but given the lowish intensity of flavour I suspect doing so would have killed the character along with the booze. All in all, not my thing I'm afraid; though this is clearly designed with highballs in mind, rather than as a neat sipper. I also understand that the Togouchi 12 and 18 are excellent, so I'll definitely look them up. But I'm afraid I'll be leaving this one on the shelf. 

Day 5: Bain's Cape Mountain Single Grain Whisky. 43%ABV
Five days, five whisky styles, five countries - heck, five continents too; this one's from South Africa. On first nosing I was taken straight back to Ireland though - there's more than a fleeting similarity to Teeling's Single Grain, as featured in the 40 under £40, but this doesn't have the red fruit. Bourbon lovers will find plenty to adore here; lots of the vanillas, honeys and caramels we're so fond of. This is a lighter style though - there's a floral edge too. Perhaps not surprising; my understanding is that this is a 100% maize (corn) mashbill, so it's less spicy than, for example, Day One's Old Scout. But it's not a Bourbon, nor trying to be - it's a South African Grain whisky, and it's very tasty, very approachable and, with its sweet, accessible flavours, another good 'in' for the unconverted. At about £31 for a 75cl bottle it's also the best value of the series so far. I think I just prefer Teeling, but that's really only opinion. This is lovely.

Day 6: Kilkerran 12yo. 46%ABV
This could have been put together using the ‘how to make Scotch Malt Whisky purists happy’ template. Age statement? Tick. Natural colour? Tick. Non-chill-filtered? Tick. Bottled at 46%? Tick. Bit of peat? Tick. Off-piste distillery not-findable-in-supermarkets-and-therefore-offering-a-talking-point? Tick. Well priced? Double tick. The moment Glengyle distillery released this two months back (gosh, has it really been that long?) handfuls of the online whiskerati announced it as their poison of the year. If I was feeling especially cynical I’d wonder whether one or two hadn’t earmarked it as such before they’d actually tasted it. For the record, whilst I don’t know whether it’s my number one, it’s unquestionably in my top five of the year so far. It’s cut from the coastal cloth of Pulteney, Springbank, Clynelish, Highland Park, Bruichladdich etc, so very much my thing. If you can find it, definitely give it a try. It may or may not be your thing, but it’s objectively cracking stuff and quite simply superb value. And what it stands for is unquestionably worth celebrating.

Day 7: Writers Tears Pot Still Blend. 40%ABV
I've been getting into Irish more and more recently, so this was a whiskey I was particularly looking forward to trying. But what has upset the writers I wonder? The punctuation of the brand name? Certainly don't think they're shedding any tears over the nose, which is very cute. Distinctly Irish; this is a blend of Single Malt and Pure Pot Still - devotees of Green Spot/Redbreast will find much to like, albeit it's medium intensity as a nose - doesn't pack Redbreast's oomph. Lots of sweet apples, vanilla and a lick of oak. Give it a minute and some sweet spices join in too. Cinnamon for me. Pot Still character is even more pronounced on the palate, albeit there is a savoury barley element keeping things in check. Really is a juicy whiskey, though if you'll forgive a bit of what I call 'tasting notery', the apple juice is paired with a harder apple peel aspect I didn't find on the nose. Overall the palate isn't as complex as the nose, nor quite as intense. The finish is also a little short - this is definitely an instance in which 46%ABV would have gone a long way. That said, it's still a more than drinkable whiskey, it's very keenly priced (I've seen it in the twenties) and it offers another dimension to the excellent Pure Pot Still style. Certainly nothing to cry about. 

Day 8: 1776 Straight Rye Whiskey. 50%ABV
Very, very rye heavy. Peppery, green; almost a herbal, medicinal edge, and absolutely throwing itself out of the glass on the nose. Don't know where James E. Pepper sources the rye for this, but it seems to me that there's more than a smidge of MGP-ness about it...if anyone has any information, you know where to find me! Behind that crackling rye character there's a little ripe fruit and oak vanillin. Booze makes itself known in the nostrils, but not excessively so. Becomes very prickly on the palate though - the leanness of the high-rye mash means the alcohol does cut through, but there's plenty of flavour to keep pace with it. Almost a menthol quality behind the peppery spice and the oaken vanilla/caramels. Not enormously fruity. This is a very good, classic rye whisky. I enjoy it on its own, but with that spear of booze and huge intensity of flavour next to a relatively medium body, I'm salivating at the thought of the Manhattan it could make. I shall make it my mission to have one.

Day 9: The Antiquary 12yo Blended Scotch Whisky. 40%ABV
A blend with a rather highland accent, and actually a rather smart one. Well aged, so none of the metallic tang sometimes found on young blends through immature grain. A certain degree of fruit and honey beside an almost coastal salinity. Has a very classic, savoury feel on the nose. Palate feels like a sort of battle between Speyside and the coast. A rather plump, juicy mouthfeel balanced by that malty, savoury core. Plenty happening despite the low ABV. No peat, or at least none worth mentioning but a certain meatiness. An interesting whisky, and well worth the £30. Thing is, that's Johnnie Walker Black territory, and in honesty my money would probably be on the Black more often than not. But peat isn't everyone's thing, and the Antiquary 12 is definitely a blend worth having on your radar.

Day 10: Peat Chimney (Wemyss Malts) 46%ABV
Not as much peat as the name suggests. (Kiln Embers is the place to look for blow-your-face-off peat from Wemyss.) Still not in short supply though, behind which there's crispy barley, oak vanillin and a kind of medicinal soapiness. A somewhat rounded nose with plenty to keep you interested, but if I'm honest, not a huge amount to differentiate it from other peat-focussed blended malts. But it smells good, and I like peat-focussed blended malts, so kind of who cares!? Because ppm isn't insane, the palate becomes nicely complex. Rather oily, but the oil is cut through and balanced by a citric fruitiness, the smoke itself and the extra 6% ABV. Very nice indeed, and I do enjoy finding a peaty whisky with a palate more complex than its nose. Often seems to be the other way round. So yes, I like this a great deal. Keenly priced too. Peat lovers, go nuts.

Day 11: The Irishman Single Malt. 40%ABV
Back to Ireland today, as you'd never have guessed from the name of this Single Malt. It's a fruity nose, as you'd expect from a whisky triple distilled, then aged in sherry and bourbon. (For 10+ years according to the spiel.) Tropical fruits seemed to be the headlines, so far as my nose was concerned; bit of banana jumped out. Pear character too, and some fudge. Pleasant enough - medium intensity, pretty clean. Not much else to report here. On to the palate. Booze just the tiniest of prickles at the back of what is a fairly run-of-the-mill Single Malt. Again, it's perfectly clean, perfectly well-behaved...but a bit dull. Nothing leaping out and grabbing me initially. Some apples and pears eventually emerge alongside a toffee sense. Funnily, fruit seems to heighten on the finish. No fireworks really, and whilst this is perfectly pleasant, and perhaps isn't aimed at the more adventurous or long-serving whiskonaut, I can't help feeling that at this price, first-time sippers are better served elsewhere. That being said, this is praised in other quarters and boasts a clutch of medals. Perhaps it's best to find a glass and decide for yourself. But don't blame me if the earth doesn't move.

Day 12: Nikka Whisky From the Barrel. 51.4%ABV
Unquestionably one of the whisk(e)y world's greatest bargains. Even when you adjust the price to account for the bottle size this sneaks in under £50, and you'll be hard pushed to do better for your money. What's more, this is a whisky you can pour for anyone - Scotch lover, bourbon lover, malt lover, blend lover (oh, and, fairly obviously, Japanese whisky lover) - and they'll almost certainly enjoy it. Let's start with that outrageously excellent nose. It's so rich, and the flavour level perfectly balances the booze. The cask influence is almost bourbon-esque in terms of the aromas it has imparted; vanilla, nutmeg, caramel and so forth. But behind that there's a meatiness and what I can only describe as a sort of oriental spice. Seriously complex. Palate initially takes a turn for the sweet - cinnamon, brown sugar, vanillin oak. Then that subsides a little, and a dark chocolate character creeps in. It's a deep and unctuous whisky, verging somewhere between medium and full bodied. Obviously 51.4%ABV is a lot of booze to the uninitiated, but believe me, the heat is entirely covered by flavour and body. This warms - it doesn't burn or prickle. I've found myself either loving or hating whiskies from Nikka over the years. As should be fairly obvious, this one falls strongly on the 'love' side of the fence. Please - for me - go and invest in a bottle. There is no Japanese whisky currently retailing in the UK that offers more for the money.

Day 13: Blanton's Special Reserve. 40%
Ah, Blanton's. The pioneers of Single Barrel Bourbon. One of the real darlings of the American Whiskey enthusiast. In fact I can already hear fellow members of the British Bourbon Society demanding to know why I haven't plumped for the 'Original,' which also clocks in under £50, and boasts 6.5% extra juice. Well, my reason is threefold. Firstly, this one is the cheapest. Secondly, most of my friends aren't of the whiskey-obsessed persuasion, and tend to lean towards lower proofs. And thirdly, leading from that, this bourbon is evidence that you can still get a big mouthful of flavour at the minimum 40%ABV. Single Barrel, as all Blanton's are, this fellow boasts a pretty rye-heavy nose. Crisp, woody and spicy. Actually rather dry by bourbon standards. A delight to nose, all-in-all. Focussed. Poised. Great stuff. Palate slightly less intense ('Ha!' I hear enthusiasts cry) but still not short on flavour intensity. Does well to stay on the drier side of the ledger - rye still has its hand  on the tiller - but some sweet buttered corn is in evidence too. Medium bodied and plenty going on despite being 40% and from a single barrel. Even at entry-level, Blanton's excels. And still comes in a fun bottle. (But for what it's worth, do invest in the next level too. So worth it.)

Day 14: Arran 10yo. 46%ABV
Arran will always be rather special to me. First distillery I ever visited (I was about 8 at the time - they didn't give me a taste) and almost certainly the first Single Malt I ever tried. (My family have been going to the Island for years, though pilgrimage aside, it's been ages since I was last there.) So, to the ten year old. It's light. Very light. Have to do some serious nosing to really get anywhere, though the aromas, once they emerge, are rather charming. A nice mix of the sweet and the savoury - there is a little bit of gristy malt and pastry, but there's also a heathery honey and a touch of pear. It's seriously delicate, but it's clean and rather attractive. The palate, despite the lightness and relative youth, doesn't have the hot prickle I expected from the 46%ABV. The alcohol's actually very well integrated and balanced, though again, you're hardly being slapped in the face with intensity of flavour. It's a subtle malt, but there's plenty going on. Slightly more floral and grassy than the nose, although most of the aroma elements are also manifesting themselves as flavours. No prizes for guessing the body weight. It's clearly an aperitif malt, and it does need time, but it's charming and characterful. Personally I'd be tempted to trade up, as the distillery offers plenty of other options in the sub-£50 bracket. But I'm not sitting here complaining about this one!

Day 15: Paul John Brilliance. 46%ABV
Just over six years ago two mates and I drove a tuk-tuk 3000km across India. I only had a couple of whiskies, which were of the local, molasses-based persuasion, and we stayed in the North. That's a shame, because had we gone South, to Goa, we might have bumped into this distillery, whose whisky I absolutely love. Brilliance is the unpeated entry level from Paul John, and to this consumer lives up to its bold name. Much like Starward, it's a fulsome, forthcoming nose. Some sponge cake character (though I have just been watching bakeoff) as well as some lighter nuts of the Almond/Hazel persuasion and a whole load of orange. Things get rather fruitier on the palate, and go in a stone fruit direction. Sweetness of the fruit is kept well balanced by a prickle of booze, and a dry, savoury spice. Good malt, good casks, good whisky. For what it's worth, I like their 'Edited,' which is ever so lightly peated, even better. But this is gorgeous, attention-holding stuff, which only deepens my love of Indian whisky, and indeed the sub-continent in general. I really must find a way of getting back. Perhaps I could drive a tuk-tuk from Reading...

Day 16: William Lawson's 13yo. 40%ABV
'Big and bold' claims the copy on the William Lawson's website. Not a blend you find in the UK very much. Unpeated, a fact of which they're very proud, and based around the Macduff Distillery's malt, whose single malt is sold these days as 'The Deveron.' The nose is more comforting than bold, for me, but I have no problem with that whatsoever. Some cooked fruits, plenty of honey, and a distinct American accent from that year finishing in charred ex-bourbon. Middle weight, which is to be expected from the ABV; a clean nose which sort of cruises. Takes it easy, if you see what I mean, but certainly not boring. Then we move to the palate, and this is where impressive things happen. Properly mouth-coating, with no alcoholic harshness whatsoever. How drinkable is that? Really sticks to your teeth, and fruity as all hell - there's got to be some serious sherry in that mix, surely? A richer palate than The Feathery of Day 2. Plenty of natural sugars, buoyed no doubt by that charred ex-bourbon, which certainly has left a toastiness. No harshness at all from the grain - I'm left wondering which distillery the grain was from, and whether this isn't maize-led, rather than wheated. Either way, give me an evening, some mates and a bottle of this, and the world will be put bang to rights.

Day 17: Johnnie Walker Green Label 15yo. 43%ABV
There were many cheers echoing around the whisky world when Diageo brought Walker's Blended Malt back earlier this year. (Technically it had still been kicking about in Taiwan.) Despite containing judicious slugs of Talisker and Caol Ila, the peat-based aromas are initially a little reluctant to creep out of the glass. Speysides Linkwood and Cragganmore clearly acting as firm ballast. The meat and peat and smoke does eventually emerge, but more potent is the suggestion of honey, coffee and something a little lighter and more lifted. Mint? Pine? Something very fresh with its hand up at the back anyway. Onto the palate, where it is the stuff of Scotch lovers' dreams. You're practically licking a Glen - this just screams Caledonia - heather, peat, seaweed, then inland for sweet, intense honey all balanced and kept on the dryer side of the table by a deep, malty barley. Enough smoke to be bracing, and to speak of the coast - not so much to stop the malt and honey from being heard loudest. This is a real Spirit of Scotland. All of Scotland. A class act. Need to taste this next to Black, or I'll be in danger of making some bold statements about my favourite from the JW stable. 

Day 18: Connemara Peated. 40%ABV
A peated Irish Single Malt. First encountered by this Pilgrim whilst dodging into a Royal Mile shop to get out of flyering for a few minutes during the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe. I've come back to it a few times in the interim, but this is the first time I've scribbled a note. First off - the peat's gentle. Very gentle. I mean you barely notice it on the nose initially. You certainly won't get the wrinkled face and look of disgust that you might find on plonking a glass of Lagavulin in front of the haters. Which makes space for the barley to express itself, alongside some rather plump, juicy tropical notes. Stone fruits and a little banana to this proboscis. Nothing sharp going on, either alcohol or flavour-wise. Very soft.
Similar tale on the palate. This is my first alcohol of the day, yet barely even a prickle. Super soft. Peat appears with more enthusiasm, creating a slight soapy/medicinal effect, but the headlines remain that stone fruit, and a fair bit of vanilla. This is peat at its least intrusive; peated whisky at its easiest drinking. Very much doubt you'll find too many violent reactions to this - though by the same token you may not find huge numbers of people going into rhapsodies. But I don't think that's the point. Fairly simple stuff, sure, but perfectly pleasant - I'd have another glass if I wasn't going from a Drinks By the Dram sample. 

Day 19: Knob Creek Rye. 50%ABV
If I'm completely honest, my first memories of Knob Creek are of sniggering at its name on nights out in first year. And then not buying it, because at the time I didn't look at whisk(e)y that wasn't Scotch. Which was all rather immature, but more fool me, because Knob Creek are bottling some cracking stuff. Essentially the big brother of Jim Beam, the brand took some heat earlier this year for dropping the age statement from their bourbon. But today's pour is the rye, and let's take a look.
Don't know what the mash-bill is, but we're not talking mega-high rye. Certainly nowhere near MGP's 95% recipe for example. There's definitely some of the characteristic spice, and some developments into nutmeg and even dry fruit do point towards decent maturity. But there's also a bourbon-esque fatness and richness on the nose. Caramels and toffees. Aroma clarity is cracking. Could whiff this all day. On the palate, a real nuttiness presents itself. Despite the hullabaloo around abandoning age statements, the brand is clearly still using well-aged whiskey in its products - there's a nice sense of maturity here. Fatness of the corn has really soaked up that ABV - sipped blind I wouldn't put this at 50%; really good balance. Rye adds dried fruit, spices and woodiness to the base layer of caramel. Smashing sipping whiskey and a super bridge from bourbon to rye. 

Day 20: Akashi Meïsei. 40%ABV
This whisky has irritated me. It has irritated me because I am such a fan of, and advocate for, Japanese whiskies, yet this is the second stinker out of three I've reviewed for the 50 under £50. It has irritated me because I love blended whisky, and this is exactly the sort which gets the category erroneously sneered at by large swathes of the malt-only crowd. It has irritated me because, as I pay for everything I taste, I have wasted my own money - even though I've only bought a Drinks by the Dram sample. It has irritated me because the brand and distillery behind it makes some cracking stuff. Perhaps most of all, it irritates me because I try to be circumspect with my reviews - to consider why a product has been made, who it's target market might be, and whether it succeeds in what it sets out to do. But this whisky just makes me angry. 
It is quite simply too immature. The grain is not ready yet, and the taste is metallic and raw. Considering this is Akashi, and therefore a product from the White Oak distillery, there's an ironic dearth of anything cask-influenced. Vanilla, if I'm being kind. But, as is probably clear, I'm not in a kind mood. Roughness and rawness continues on the palate. Swamped with e150a, of course, but that might be a blessing here, as the chewy, cloying toffee is about as good as this whisky gets. The worst thing about it all is the price. £34 a bottle. If it cost half that money it would still be rubbish. I know there are import duties etc etc, but this whisky wasn't worth importing, considering the quality you can find elsewhere for that money. 
There may be those who are wondering whether I've simply got out of the wrong side of bed. I haven't. I tasted this whisky last night and was just as irritated then. In fact, it's the first drink I've ever sampled after which I felt compelled to mouthwash. And when your drinking hit-list is as chequered as mine, that says an awful lot. So I am terribly sorry, but when it comes to Akashi Meïsei I have no redeeming words. Your experience may differ of course; if you do find yourself with a glass of this, then for your sake, I hope to God that it does.

Day 21: Kilchoman Sanaig. 46%ABV
Heading to Islay for the third sub-£50 Single Malt Scotch of the series. I have got more and more into Kilchoman this year, and I know Pilgrim snr would now rank it in his top two or three distilleries anywhere. Certainly it's difficult to think of a distillery in Scotland which makes the case for young malt so compellingly. This expression got its UK launch about a week before I visited in March, so I got an early taste in - and put it straight on the list for my annual August binge-bottle-buy. An 'inverted' version of their flagship, Machir Bay, in that where Machir Bay is mainly ex-Bourbon, with a smidge of ex-Sherry, this is predominantly ex-Sherry cask influenced. Sherry can have the effect of blunting peat, but there's still plenty of phenols in evidence on this nose. Loads of fruit next to it though, of a rather trifle-esque variety - fresher than the usual raisins and walnuts you often find in ex-Oloroso.
That sweetness continues on the palate, as fruit and smoky, maritime seaweed battle it out. Being really picky, they aren't quite as balanced as the elements in Machir Bay, but the fat oiliness of the malt glues everything together. Certainly there's plenty going on, and the sherry isn't at all overwhelming; demure enough for the peat and the barley to say their pieces. It's rather juicy and vibrant, and very full bodied indeed. As is abundantly clear, I'm a fan. Of the whisky, and of the distillery it came from. There aren't many whiskies made in the style of Sanaig either - none that I can think of, in fact - so if you're an Islayphile then absolutely give it a go. 

Day 22: Eddu Grey Rock Brocéliande (Single Grain). 40%ABV
Another Single Grain. Hurrah! And another country ticked off for the 50 under £50. Hurrah! France today - a country whose whiskies have been fascinating me lately - but the Distillerie des Menhirs hadn't previously come onto my radar. (I love the name, incidentally. I imagine it being a favourite with Obelix.) This particular whisky is not at all Obelix-like though. Very light, very delicate. Underlining-level light and delicate. Also rather appley. There's a slight metallic tang, but we're not talking Day 20 grade metallic, thank goodness. Wonder what the grain is? I'd guess wheat-focussed, but I'd be prepared to be wrong. It's pretty young and simple though. Possibly a touch of coffee, and an element of cognac-esque fruit too. Quite faint.
Still pretty basic on the palate; flavours largely kick in post-swallowing (or spitting, if you prefer.) More of that apple, and also some apple peel. Fruitier, and slightly (slightly) more intense than nose. Again, a little cognac-esque. Not rough or unpleasant at all, but for upwards of £40 a little thin, a little shy, and leaves me wanting a little more. I have done some post-taste digging, and gather that some of the others in the Menhirs' range are absolute gems. I shall have to go a-searching. Anything for an excuse to talk about Asterix a bit more.

Day 23: Baker's 7yo Bourbon. 53.5%ABV
Hadn't actually planned to do this as the entry for today, but I was tinkering about with some Bourbons yesterday evening, tasted this for the first time, and rather liked it. Very much liked it, in fact. So you're getting Baker's. Which presumably is so called because it smells as if the barrels have been baked in the hottest bit of warehouse Jim Beam can find - hugely developed for a seven year old. Mega nutty and dry on the first nosing, with some dark caramels hiding in the background. Some rye-like notes of spices, fruit cake and even cola suggesting themselves, but perhaps I'm going mad. I'm using a spittoon on a Friday night, so I must be a bit unhinged. Anyway, this has tonnes going on, and bags of complexity on the nose, even if it isn't quite the most intense in leaping out of the glass by comparison with some competitors for the price.
Development continues on the palate. One for Brian Butterfield fans - 'Nutty-nut-nuts' very much the strapline. Does sweeten up a little by comparison with the nose; the caramels and sugars play a balancing role. Still incredible maturity for a bourbon seven years young. Holds its prodigious booze remarkably well, which I think we can attribute to a chunky body, big flavours and that depth of maturity. Super balance all round, really, and very well structured. There's nothing cloying here - well on the dry, spicy side of the ledger. All the things Scotch snobs claim bourbon can't be. Actually, by bourbon standards, rather shirt-and-tie. Presumably Mila Kunis is a big fan - and rightly so. This is cracking.

Day 24: Mackmyra 'Mack'. 40%ABV
Ok, first thing's first: this is ok malt. Not up to the distillery's usual stratospheric standard; pretty simple, bit young - but there's still characteristic freshness of pine/grass/honeysuckle etc on the nose. It's fine. It's not going to blow anyone away.
Now we've covered that, let's (unusually) move on to the way this whisky has been marketed. You see Mackmyra have said that this malt is aimed at 'younger drinkers.' Well, speaking as a 'younger drinker'...gee, thanks Mackmyra. Hey, all you other young people, stop mugging that pensioner for a second and skateboard on over here. Mackmyra have generously made a whisky we're allowed to drink. It's in a bright blue bottle, which of course appeals, and they've graciously shortened the name, so we won't be put off by long, untrendy words. Better still, they've made it in a simpler style, so we won't freak out at the overwhelming flavours, immolate ourselves and leap screaming off a cliff. (I still miss Fred.)
I absolutely love Mackmyra, so it's rather hacked me off that they've done something as thoughtless and as patronising as this. Firstly, if they think they're going to break the night-out tyranny of the Jager Bomb with a £35 bottle of malt they've gone mental. Secondly, most young people just aren't fussed about whisky - and it's an expensive luxury, so unless you're an enthusiast and prepared to cut back on other things to indulge your interest, you probably won't bother. Thirdly, those of us young people who are enthusiasts are unlikely to be impressed by being labelled as the target market for a dumbed-down version of a distillery's whisky.
So no, I can't recommend buying the Mack. Though I do urge you to explore the wealth of treasures to be found in the rest of this distillery's range. Oh - and by the way, Mackmyra - if you're going to market a whisky for young people, at least do the decent thing like Kinder Eggs and Happy Meals and throw in a free toy. We appreciate those small gestures, us youfz.

Day 25: Orbis Aged World Whiskey. 40%
As we reach the half way mark, now for something completely different. This is a blend of - ready for this? - Scotch, Irish, Japanese, Canadian and American whiskies. And some poor sod had to decide whether or not it needed an 'e' in its name. I can only assume there were no Scots in the room when they reached their conclusion. Also - 'Aged World Whiskey'? As opposed to some new sort of whisk(e)y that isn't aged...?
OK, so this is as gimmicky as it gets, and having sampled The One from The Lakes Distillery, which didn't entirely come together, my soul was prepared for this to be a bit naff. But actually, they've done their blending homework at the St James Distillery. It's a weird nose, I'll grant you; slightly funky, some cereals, a sense of tropical fruit, and even some of the aromas you find coming out of a washback at the end of fermentation. Not quite 'yeasty,' but giving the impression of yeast's effects, if that makes sense? It's also a rather pronounced nose, given we're only at minimum strength. Weird, but not unpleasant.
The palate is very different, and actually rather fine. Fruitier, and with a dark chocolatiness. The flavours are more Scotch/Irish/Japanese than US/Canadian. The mind boggles at what sort of US whiskey went into this, and what the cask breakdown might be, but actually the palate is very harmonious, and again rather intense and complex for 40%. I'd been trying to make up my mind whether there was peated whisk(e)y involved, and there was a definite sense of smoke on the finish. I'm not sure quite how much it's added; would be interesting to see how things tasted in its absence.
So, overall, I'm pleasantly surprised. Unusual nose, which I'm certain will polarise, but a very decent palate. One to look out for. I love it when whimsy comes together.

Day 26: Cutty Sark 12yo. 40%ABV
Very cute nose to this. Salty and savoury initially - sea spray and gristy barley. Behind that lurks a sweetness though; a kind of vanilla marshmallow character, alongside a bit of berry fruit. Nothing raw or immature here. It isn't the most prominent nose I've ever encountered, but equally there's no straining to coax it out of the glass. It's fresh, it's light-middle weight and it's very harmonious indeed. Well balanced and rather lovely.
Unfortunately it does come apart a little on the palate - the harmony and balance are lost slightly, and some bitter elements do creep in. Again, it's not immaturity - this is very decently aged - but I wonder whether a dodgy cask or two made their way into this batch? Possibly the various whiskies simply didn't have the happiest of marriages. That being said, the sea-spray, honey and vanilla are still there.
All-in-all, a very good nose which is let down somewhat by its palate. Still an OK whisky; the problem is that if you want a maritime-style drop with a light-medium body and a lifted freshness, you can find Old Pulteney 12 for the same price with not much difficulty at all. And, to be honest, I don't see why you wouldn't.

Day 27: Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve. 43%
Nipped into a bar on the way back from buying a book last night and saw they had this chap on the shelf. Probably the most famous name in Japanese whisky courtesy of someone rating the Sherry Casks edition pretty highly a while back. This is their entry-level malt, and their only whisky that clocks in under the magic £50. And it's a nice nose. Nothing wrong with it. Except that it's fairly safe and sedentary. Malt, orchard fruit etc etc. Kind of 'you know the drill' whisky really. The sort of thing that would be about a tenner cheaper in the UK if it was Scotch. Nothing to seriously get the pulse racing.
More of the same on the palate, by and large. More green fruit, more fairly deep malt. There's a decent warmth, I guess there's a little baking spice. It's pretty rounded, middle-weight stuff. Just no 'wow' moment. £45 is about as cheap as you'll find a bottle of this, and unless you just really want a specifically Japanese malt it seems slightly steep. Day 3's Starward will give you more interest for the money if you want something from a far-away place. The pressure on Japanese whisky stocks compared to the demand for them, and the limited quantities imported in the UK mean that bargain-hunting from the Land of the Rising Sun is no easy feat. Which really highlights just what good value Day 12's Nikka From the Barrel represents. 

Day 28: A triple-bill special...
See here. And move quickly. Today is a big one!

Day 29: Jim Beam Double Oak. 43%
My God that's a lot of oak. Almost too much - unlike with the Woodford Reserve Double Oak, here the casks seem to have overwhelmed everything else - possibly because they're housing a lighter base spirit. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't like the smell per se, but there's not much subtlety to it, and you can't help feeling that complexity has been sacrificed too. Besides the oak there's intense brown sugar and some hazelnuts, it's mostly just oak otherwise.
Somehow there's almost more oak on the palate, to the point that it gets a little bitter for me. And speaking as a man who has never put milk in his tea or coffee, and who sometimes eats the wedge of lime out of a gin and tonic - rind and all - I have a high tolerance for bitterness. Sort of feel left picking splinters out of my tongue. There are some attractive vanillins and caramels at play, but they're masked by the overwhelming sense that someone at Beam has just puréed a barrel. I've been excessively critical here, as I don't dislike this bourbon, and it's definitely a step up from White Label. I just think that less would have been a whole lot more, that I'd struggle on more than one glass and that personally I'd take my money elsewhere on the bottle front.

Day 30: Amrut Peated. 46%ABV
I'd be fascinated to know the level of peat that went into this. Definitely doesn't overwhelm. Gorgeous and heady nose - real depth of exotic savoury spices amidst earthy tobacco. Think Bowmore fans will find much to adore - there's a similar juicy orange quality here amidst the smoke. Complex and wonderful.
Very spicy palate. A prickle of heat actually accentuates the crackling peppers. Rounds out into a nice chocolatey sense and some nice tropical fruit before the smoke properly rears its head for a lean and lingering finish. Mature well beyond its years, as is standard for south Indian whiskies. Less fulsome and juicy than Fusion - feels closer to a mid-peat Scotch. I really am coming further and further to the conclusion that the peated numbers are the picks of India's treasure chest. What's more, they're unquestionably pound for pound the best peateds under £50 you'll find outside of a Scottish island. And they're as good as most of the ones inside too.

Day 31: **GUEST ENTRY** The Amateur Drammer Presents Ballantine's 17yo. 43%
Andy and I have been sharing thoughts on all things aqua vitous for well over a year now. We've even bagged a Distillery together - which I still need to write up! He wrote up a pour for the 40 under £40 and was straight on board to bring you another reasonably priced pour. (And an outstanding one!) Check out his website for more excellent recommendations.
I remember struggling to find a good nomination for Adam's previous project (40 under 40) and I eventually nominated a Corrimhor Cigar Reserve. I still struggled a little this time but after a few attempts at stretching the rules and a bit of a rummage through the cupboard later I have unearthed a favourite (and age stated) blend to throw into the mix.

Step forward Ballantines 17 Blended Scotch Whisky.

Its a little harder to find than it was when I was first introduced to it but it's still available under the magical £50 limit. Previously voted as Jim Murray's blend of the year back in 2010, it is a blend of up to 50 other whiskies including Scapa and Miltonduff. I have noticed that later releases of this were lowered to 40%ABV rather than the 43%ABV bottling that I own. 

This is a real easy drinker and pretty much showcases what a blend should be. 

The nose is floral and intensely sweet with vanilla hints and green fruits. On the palate there is big vanilla, sweet cereal and honey. There is definitely quite a thick and viscous feel to this whisky and the finish is, again, very sweet and honey influenced with a slight sharpness, perhaps more of a tang, on the finish, reminds me vaguely of sherbet lemons.

This whisky feels ‘big’ but is quite smooth and the finish is not quite as powerful as you would imagine.  

It's well balanced and will suit most palates, however doesn't have the huge complexity some drinkers are looking for. 

This will be, until it runs out, my go to ‘Dinner Party Whisky’

It's also the only bottle in my collection with a screw top, rather than a cork.

Andrew Flatt is a freelance whisky writer and reviewer. He writes and edits his own personal website 'The Amateur Drammer' and regularly contributes to other websites. Describing himself as a whisky adventurer and drinker he can be found on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as well as

Day 32: MacDonald's Glencoe 8yo. 58%ABV
This is a blended (vatted) malt, but it's put together by the chaps at Ben Nevis distillery, so it's a reasonable bet that there's a good dollop of their own juice in the mix. I hadn't noticed the ABV before nosing, so my sinuses got a good clearout. Loads of sherry influence - fresh red apples, and then tonnes of boiled fruits and brown sugar. There's a meatier aspect too - this is the West Highlands after all - as well as a few wafts of sooty smoke and a small twinge of sulphur. (Not too much though.)
The body and flavours are big enough to muscle past the booze, but there's still a lot of palate heat here. I suspect a few drops of water would go a long way. The flavours almost form a bit of a procession; sweet and sticky fruits both fresh and dried in front of a woodiness initially. The savoury aspects then present themselves; meat, then smoke, then that touch of struck match sulphur again. It's a big, brawly, chewy bruiser of a whisky this. Not the most elegant, or the cleanest in the world - but full of character and attitude. There is a lot happening in the glass and on the palate. And let's not forget that this is an age-dated, cask strength, sherry-influenced malt whisky which you can find under £33. I make that very good value indeed. Fans of the meatier Highland style, fill your boots. Definitely something to come in to after a brisk and blowy autumn hike!

Day 33: Kilbeggan 8yo Single Grain. 40%ABV
No Irish whisky for a fortnight? Well here's that put to rights. In the 40 under £40 series I tasted Teeling Single Grain for the first time ever, and absolutely fell in love. I bought a bottle for my birthday, and it is definitely in my top ten whiskies of the year for the price category. So I was greatly looking forward to another Single Grain Irish. 
Kilbeggan isn't quite in the same league as Teeling for complexity and intensity. That being said, it shares the immense drinkability that seems to be common to young Irish Single Grain. Actually, make that to corn-based single grain full stop. This one reminds me more of Day 5's Bain's Cape Mountain. To the best of my tasting it's all ex-bourbon, and there's absolute bucketloads of vanilla. Add to that some corn-oil, honey and candied pear. It's sweet, but it isn't cloying or overly confected. There's definitely a freshness that keeps things light, and that's definitely to the good.
Palate is rather simpler - less complex than the nose. Vanilla and popcorn. Maybe a little more honey. This is where the lower ABV and sole use of ex-bourbon leave it a step or two behind Teeling for heft and complexity. It's light and sweet, but as with the nose, freshness is still there. Yes, it's simple - maybe too much so for long-in-the-tooth whiskey heads - but it's hugely pleasant to drink. As a converter to the cause I doubt you could do much better. If someone can't manage a few glasses of this easy-drinking treat then there really is no hope for them.

Day 34: Glencadam 14yo Oloroso Sherry Finish. 46%ABV
I've expressed my feelings about Glencadam before. This is my favourite of their whiskies under £50. I like their 15yo even more, but I can't find it south of the magic number, and I enjoyed this one almost as much anyway. Finishes, as we know, don't always work: to me, this one does. The buttery tablet character and clean vanilla of Glencadam hasn't vanished - simply been overlaid with all that's best of Oloroso Sherry casks. Raisins, certainly, but also a fresher pudding apple character. Some dryer aspects on the finish of a nutty disposition. It's superb.
I'm not really in the best mood for writing, so I apologise for that note being slightly perfunctory. This is a great whisky. Whether it's your cup of tea or not is of course another question. Not everyone enjoys sherried whiskies. The same way not everyone enjoys Single Grain, or peat or blends or Bourbon. As I've said before, not all whiskies can be all things to all people. Which is one reason I don't score, and why I make abundantly clear in all my reviews that what I write is opinion, not quantifiable fact. This is amongst my favourite whiskies that I have tried this year for less than £50 a bottle. I believe, for whatever my belief is worth, that you should try it if you come across it. If you don't enjoy it, or it isn't for you, then you have my sympathies, if not my apologies. But I enjoy it. Immensely. Which is why, on a day when I want nothing more than to sink into a chair and switch everything off, it's with something that I know myself to truly love. Which, after all, is what whisky should be about.

Day 35: Rittenhouse Straight Rye 100 Proof. 50%ABV
Bought a bottle of this last year without knowing anything about it, and thought it was an absolute cracker. Didn't last long, since my friends tended to gravitate towards it more than other whiskies in my modest selection - which speaks volumes in and of itself. Anyway, never really wrote it up, so revisiting it here. Call me nostalgic. It's not as full-throttle rye-heavy as some you might find, but that adds a certain body and texture to the Rittenhouse that I actually rather enjoy. A dry, spicy, nutmeggy nose with a dollop of polished oak. That proof really trampolines the aromas out of the glass, but without being so boozy that it gets in the way of them. There's some citrus too, and an almost botanical element which gives it a wonderful high-note lift. Pronounced and complex.
There's a brief moment of real sweetness on the palate - demerara and caramels, but it's a split second before the rye kicks in and wallops you with dry, sharp characters of orange peel, fragrant wood and more of those botanicals. Possibly some cinnamon and leather towards the finish. Again, there's loads going on, and for my taste they've judged the alcohol level exactly right. Lean, focussed and makes you sit up and pay attention. Delicious on its own, which is how I personally took most of my own bottle. But if you happen to be a cocktail fan - I am - this also makes an outrageously good Manhattan. If you're a better mixologist than me - most people are - then have some fun with it. And don't be put off by the screwcap. For what you pay, this is serious whiskey. Almost certainly my favourite rye under £50. And no - I've not forgotten Sazerac.

Day 36: Glen Breton Rare 10yo Single Malt. 43%ABV
It's about time Canada had an entry in the 50. This is the first of their single malts I've ever tried, and it caused a bit of a tiff with the Scotch Whisky Association, who took umbrage with the Canadians calling it 'Glen.' Not entirely sure why - you don't see Brittany whining about the use of 'Breton.' Hey ho. Onwards...
From the colour I was expecting lightness and youth, and that's pretty much exactly what the malt serves up. It is very malty, very grainy, very cereal...y. A dusting of green orchard fruit, a little bit of slightly immature, estery spirit, but only a touch. I mean it's not awful, but there's no wow factor, and you sort of get the impression that another few years or more assertive casks would have gone a long way. Smells slightly unfinished. That said, have smelled many a Scottish malt with more or less exactly the same issues. (Not that that makes them any better.)
Palate is also rather faint and a little dull. There's possibly a smidge more cask influence here - vanilla, coconut, marshmallow. Delicate stuff, but there's also a slightly weird soapiness. Whether or not this can be chalked up to immaturity I've no idea, but I noticed after writing my note that whiskylassie had found soapiness too. All in all, doesn't quite feel the finished article. I've certainly had poorer whiskies in the course of this series (Akashi Meïsei will take some beating. Or rather losing to, I suppose) but I'm in no hurry to spend my £45 here. Keen to try the rest of the range though. In fact, keen to explore Canadian whisky more in general.

Day 37: Syndicate 58/6 12yo 40%ABV
Was sent this blend by the immensely generous @Pop_Noir. Bottled at 46% that nose would be what my colleague calls a Bobby Dazzler. As it is, a nice meaty aspect faces off against juicy sherry raisin fruit and an elusive thread of fireplace. A very pleasant thing with a nice harmony of lifted topnotes and deeper cask aspects, but this is one of those 40%-ers that really does leave you wondering what could have been.
Palate rounded and soft and plumply textured. Again the sherry cask influence shows itself, and the whisky has rather more depth than you'd expect of the age. No immature spirit here! Dried fruit, baked apple, and a few touches of leather, but here and there are little bursts of lifted grain or citrus or ember that keep you guessing and add that bit of pep. It's easy-drinking, but it does demonstrate the gulf in quality when you move from the £20 blends to the £30+ kit. Not wildly complex or ferociously intense, but a smashing 'comfort whisky' for an evening in an armchair at the end of a long week. Cheers Dave!

Day 38: Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky. 45%ABV
Ok, straight off the bat this is a more serious proposition than Day 5's Bain's or Day 33's Kilbeggan. The notes are similar, but there's more depth here. The syrup, muscovado sugar and hint of vanilla are just that bit more intense and rich. The ABV for this Nikka is 5% higher than for the other two, and I do think that's contributed. As with all Single Grains of this age that I've tried it lacks the third dimension of complexity - it's an easy nose to understand and appreciate - but that doesn't mean it isn't perfectly attractive and enjoyable. 
The mouthfeel is silken and lightweight - but again, that degree more voluptuous than the South African or the Irish covered in this series. There's a little pep from the alcohol, but it's nothing like a burn - in honesty it adds vibrancy and structure. The flavours are more or less identical to the aromas. Maybe a tad more corn oil, vanilla and a flutter of white chocolate, but it's still simple, easy drinking stuff. I got a little bit of heat for my praise of Kilbeggan, and I think possibly what I said was misconstrued. I'm not saying these Single Grains are complex beasts - they aren't - but that's not the point of them. They don't take hours to deconstruct, and you're probably not going to find something new every time you return to the glass. But I have plenty of friends who don't like whisk(e)y, and who especially don't like anything particularly powerful, smoky, harsh or high alcohol. But I do think they'd like these lightly sweet, tasty, easy drinking corn-based Single Grains. Personally my pick from the Nikka stable under £50 is still the From the Barrel. But this is nice stuff. And if it gets my friends into the spirit I love, then I'm all for it - heat or no heat.

Day 39: DYC 8 year old. 40%ABV
I am a disciple of Spanish food and drink. A Rioja Reserva gave me my Road to Damascus wine moment, and so many of my favourite whiskies have done their time in ex-Sherry casks. Plus they're artists with pork and seafood, and I'm a man who loves his pig and fish. So I was rather excited to try my first Spanish whisky, in this case an 8 year old blend.
My excitement waned a little when it came to nosing. I wrote 'hmm' three times. Didn't really know what to make of it initially. There was almost a sort of porky, animal smell - and I swear I don't just have pork on the brain. I was in two minds as to whether I thought the immature, spirity notes had been fully ironed out, which probably means that there are one or two, but I was feeling kind. There's a little brackish brine, a smidge of Werther's Original. To be honest the aromas are so faint and basic that strong conclusions aren't easy to draw. But I wasn't screwing my face up. So that's a positive I suppose...
Poured a little into my mouth, in the approved fashion. Waiting for flavours to come along...still waiting...quite a pleasant mouthfeel in the meantime I gue...hey was that vanilla?...oops, too late, it's gone. There's something slightly sweet and grassy, and there's nothing that tastes 'nasty', but all things considered this is kind of the person at the party who says nothing whatsoever for fear of causing offence. So they don't offend, but you also forget them almost before they've gone. Like whisky's answer to me in Sixth Form. 
I'm not after a bottle of this, but it is very cheap, so if you just want some alcohol and vodka's not your thing, I guess here's one to consider... For now I'll keep my eye on Spanish whisky. And my palate on Spanish pork.

Day 40: Old Grand-Dad. 40%ABV
A bourbon from the Jim Beam stable which doesn't actually smell all that old. (It isn't.) Does smell of rye though - so much so that if you nosed it blind you could easily mistake it for a rye whiskey, rather than a high-rye bourbon. It's on the leaner, more peppery end of the bourbon spectrum. There's also a sort of lifted menthol quality beside a drier, spicier sense. For the money and proof the aromas are commendably clear, clean and crisp - pleasant stuff, and takes no coaxing to emerge from the glass.
Palate a little grainy initially. Again, could nearly pass for a rye. There's a flavour almost of peanuts. Bit of palate fatness and corn oil to remind you it is a bourbon after all. The sweeter oak aspects come into play at this point. Ok, it's fairly straightforward, but you have to consider that this is a £25 bottle of whiskey in the UK market. Which puts it squarely in competition with the whiskeys tasted here (not the Van Winkles, obviously.) And within that group I think it'd do rather well. Buffalo Trace would still be my pick, and I'd probably um and ah and take Four Roses Yellow second. But for my money this sniffs right at their heels. And in this price bracket that's very good going.

Day 41: Auchentoshan Springwood. 40%ABV
Booked a holiday completely out of the blue last night, so seems appropriate that today's pour be something from travel retail. (Though you can still find it through the obvious online channels...) I don't always get on with Auchentoshan, though I've had a couple of cracking expressions, and I accept that a lot of that is personal preference. The whisky they make is very unique, and whether or not you like the taste, their singularity is certainly to be applauded.
This one has a simple nose, but there's also something slightly weird going on. Vanilla, but in a slightly manufactured, slightly plastic-y way. Not fresh vanilla, if that makes sense. Almost smells like vanilla flavouring. There's also honey and a pronounced floral/honeysuckle aspect. Overall intensity is light to mid-light. Gets out of the glass ok, but very quietly and without much complexity.
Trips up a little bit on the palate. For the ABV there's more than a bit of prickle, which rather underlines the youth and possibly the assertiveness of the casks this was made from. It's a little bitter and spirity too, which gets in the way of the more pleasant flavours and means there's even less depth than found on the nose. More of that vanilla and honeysuckle, with a dab of citrus running through. More bitterness on the finish I'm afraid. There are better malts for the money. I think, were I to see this on holiday and feel in need of Auchentoshan, I'd wait until I got back home and get the 12 year old or the Three Wood. 

Day 42: Compass Box Spice Tree. 46%ABV
I love Compass Box, as I've made clear several times. But then who doesn't love Compass Box? (Other than the SWA?) This one's a blended malt whose first entity was outlawed for using barrel inserts, but which returned sans inserts, but with barrel heads made of newly toasted French oak. If you happen to be in the wine industry, or just know your Quercus pretty well, you'll know that toasted French oak results in spicier, toastier flavours than its American counterpart. I won't go into the reasons why here. My friends would stop reading. But if you want a long chat, give me a shout.
So. The Spice Tree. Well, it's a perfumed nose. Lots of citrus (orange for me) and then the wood and the spice kick in and they are oh so pronounced. There's a dry, nutmeggy smell not a million miles away from that generated by a rye whisky, but here it's backed up by a woody richness of cigar box and sandalwood. Smells very sort of 'old wooden furniture,' if you get my drift. Oozes out of the glass rather than smacking you in the fact as a peatbomb or a big US whiskey might. It's very classy and classic. A civilised whisky, if that makes sense? Speaks very clearly without shouting. 
Things get even spicier on the palate. There's a certain waxiness, but cut through by a sharper citrus, pepper, more of that dry, nutmeggy oak and the 6% extra booze. It's awfully well structured all in all, and very well balanced too. Keeps you guessing throughout the experience but no one element dominates. Again I've written civilised in my notes. It's very much a sort of whisky I would spend a whole evening with. Cerebral; makes you think, but comforting enough to relax into an armchair with. This is a whisky made by whisky lovers for whisky lovers. And I think it's smashing. 

Day 43: William Cadenhead's 12yo Blended Whisky. 46%ABV
The 'house blend' for Cadenhead's, who are one of the best value, and best quality independent bottlers around. They're owned by J. & A. Mitchell and co ltd who also boast Springbank and Glengyle distilleries, so it's not an unreasonable bet that there's a slosh or two of Springbank juice in this blend. Apparently it's 65% malt, 35% grain, which is a pretty high malt ratio in the great scheme of things. Preamble over.
Unquestionably the most assertive nose of the blended Scotch whiskies sampled thus far for this series. Leaps out of the glass, springboarded by that extra 6% of grog. Some sherry-influenced characteristics straight off the bat; balance of ripe orchard fruit and drier currants next to a more brooding sense of meat and a touch of struck match sulphur. Then there's thick syrup and a thread of salty maritime smoke. If there isn't Springbank in this then something is doing a jolly convincing impersonation.
Palate is really lively; the alcohol lances through, but by blended Scotch whisky standards this is a big, fat, rambustious mouthful of flavour that balances it out. I'm put in mind of Day 32's MacDonald's Glencoe. Similar brawling West Coast personality. More sherry influence; sticky fruit and a really juicy, mouthcoating body. A bit more struck match - actually, more than a bit if I'm being critical - then meat, and a return of that seam of maritime smoke.
Most Scotch blended whisky is mild mannered, demure and relaxing - that tends to be the point of it. This one isn't singing from that hymn sheet; it's busy, bustling and full of boisterous, complex character. Possibly a smidge heavy on sulphur, but for less than £35 it's a very good time indeed.

Day 44: English Whisky Co. Chapter 11 (Heavily Peated) 46%ABV
All this tasting whisk(e)y from countries around the world and I'm yet to include one from my own. So better late than never - a sub-£50 pour from the English Whisky Co. I'm hugely fond of these chaps, as I've made clear before. When I visited for my birthday in 2015 my uncle was particularly taken with this particular Chapter, and went home with a bottle. So what are my thoughts?
Well, yep, pretty peaty nose. It's a lean, clean style of peat though, rather than anything murky. More on the Ardbeg side than Laphroaig or Lagavulin. (Though it's not quite as peaty as any of those three.) Beyond the peat it's pretty malty; lots of gristy barley and so forth. With a little medicine cupboard and Lapsang Souchong. Perhaps a touch of grapefruit keeping things fresh.
Sweetens out on the palate, as so many peaters inevitably do. This one actually sweetens out a lot though - lots of sugars playing around. A sharp prickle on your tongue underlines the relative youth, with the smokier notes battling to keep things balanced and in check. Then after a few moments there's a pronounced farmyard character. In my notes for some of the unpeated chapters I've written 'dairy,' but this one's more farmyard/stable. Takes me back to childhood farm park trips with Grandparents! The peat doesn't quite mask the fact that this whisky is still ever so slightly immature - faster development in sunny Norfolk notwithstanding. If I was to buy a bottle I'd look at trading up to the older Chapter 15, but of course that would take me over the magic £50, albeit only by about £1.50! Still, rules are rules. This is a good pour for peatheads though, and the Chapter 16 remains one of my all-time favourite bottles from anywhere. 

Day 45: Penderyn 'That Try' (Icons of Wales) 41% ABV
I've been getting more and more into rugby for the last couple of years. Managed to miss all the Autumn Internationals yesterday, mind you - too much else on. Making up for it by tasting this celebration of Gareth Edwards' try for the Barbarians against the All Blacks.
Don't normally comment on the colour of whiskies, as there's so much e150a about that it hardly seems worth it sometimes. In this instance though I have to draw attention to the fact that That Try appears to be wearing an incongruous England kit. Or at least looks like vodka waved at a barrel. I know Penderyn is often light, but this one's practically albino. Moving to the nose. And again, Penderyn is frequently a fresh, delicious, aperitif-y whisky, but in this entity it just smells a bit too much like eau-de-vie. There is a light fruitiness of soft apple and blossom, but there's a stronger sense of pear drop and even a touch of nail varnish remover.
Same story on the palate. It's lively, and fizzes with energy and vibrancy around your mouth. And to be fair it's there's nothing really harsh and it's certainly not feinty. So great cut, great spirit - but where's the cask? Feels like slightly softened, mellowed new-make with a wisp of smoke. It's drinkable, not unpleasant, and I actually don't mind new make per se...but it's not what I'm looking for from a whisky, and those less all-encompassing in their spirits preferences would likely be even less forgiving. Happily there are several other Penderyns under £50 in which I can take delicious solace. 

Day 46: Grand Old Parr 12yo. 40%ABV
I follow a lot of sports, but tennis is my number one. Given I grew up next door to a tennis court that's perhaps not surprising. So whilst I hadn't planned on reviewing a Scotch today, the events of yesterday persuaded me to bring a sample to work get up early and taste something Scottish. So you get Grand Old Parr 12. Named after Thomas Parr, who was alleged to have lived to 152 and fathered a child at 100+. I've also found a description of him being 'old, old, very old,' which sounds rather like a marketeer defending the contents of an NAS whisky.
Anyhoo. This is a pretty big nose for 40%. Straight out of the glass bounds a richly comforting sense of toffee fudge and dark chocolate. Behind that some red, strawberry-ish fruits and a little bit of raisin. A sharper aspect of something close to citrus maintains a bit of balance, whilst in the background, cured meat points towards a helping of decomposed vegetable matter in the malting process. A pretty solid nose all round.
Unfortunately, that's sort of where the positives end, because this really falls apart on the palate. The wood is a little more pronounced, but other than that there aren't many good things to say. The flavours are less complex than the nose was, and the body is far thinner than those unctuous aromas would have led me to expect. What's more, I'm left with a distinctly bitter aftertaste, and even a bit of tongue furriness. There are some nice moments of demerara sugar and raisins in syrup, but they're all too fleeting sadly. I think 'Grand Old Parr' here translates as 'Slightly Below Par.' Not a great way to bring the Scotch blends under £50 to a close for this series, and not exactly a brilliant tribute to Andy Murray's incredible achievement either. Oh well. Fingers crossed he'll be number one for a while. I'm sure there's time to find something better.

Day 47: Hyde 10yo No.2 President's Cask. 46%ABV
As ever, ordered the Drinks by the Dram sample without fully checking the specs of this whisky, so was caught rather off guard by the rum cask nose. Intensely tropical; coconut, vanilla and pineapple, but rather than being soft and mellow as an ex-bourbon cask whisky, particularly a long-aged one, would be, there's a real hardness and sharpness to the aromas. Does gradually give way with time, and there are some pastry notes more than a little reminiscent of some Bruichladdich 'Classic Laddie' pours I've had over the years. But something spirity does lurk at the back...
Palate is rather more approachable and friendly. More pastry and tropical fruits. Actually, flavours pretty similar to the nose, but minus the harsh edge. There's some sweet demerara sugar, and there's just the right amount of pep from the alcohol. Bananabread too. Just too hard to be a sit-back-and-relax sort of whisky, but there's still plenty to enjoy here. As a 12-15 year old, when that edge starts to give way, could be an absolute treasure.

Day 48: Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. 43.2%ABV
There'll always be a special place in my heart for the entry-level Woodford Reserve. After all, it was the pour that showed me that bourbon was more than just a beloved childhood chocolate biscuit. But for some reason I'd never got round to trying the 'step-up' Double Oaked. In honesty it was probably the same reason I was wary of Day 29's Jim Beam. One virgin oak cask adds a lot of wood to a whisky. Stick your bourbon into a second and you're rather pushing your luck. But I bought a bottle of this around my birthday nonetheless, in hopes it wouldn't tarnish my feelings for the brand.
It's a big nose. Massive, really, when you consider the comparatively modest ABV. Rich and oily with loads of the standard caramel and vanilla. That sits on top of a chocolatey and immensely fruity - almost buttery - base. Obviously there's a lot of oak, but it's balanced out by an equal measure of sweetness.
The palate is almost syrup-thick. Elsewhere it might run to cloying, but here, with the wood, it finds an equilibrium. This is probably where it succeeds over the Beam - the weight of JB just doesn't have the heft to match the oak in an arm wrestle. But here Woodford has thrown in layers and layers of flavour - those same opulent chocolate and dark fruits discovered on the nose. There's nothing bitter and - thank goodness - you're not left with a mouthful of stave. The light prickle of alcohol also acts as ballast; keeps things fresh and veers the whiskey clear of turning sickly. It's a long, long finish, and you can practically chew on that body. A real mouthfiller, and a proper 'level up' from the Distiller's Edition. Don't know if it's my number one American whiskey under £50, but there are only a handful in that price category that even begin to compete. Love it.

Day 49: ***GUEST ENTRY*** London Liquor Presents The Balvenie 12yo Doublewood. 40%ABV
I met @london_liquor at a bourbon tasting back in early Summer, where he introduced me to his newly formed group, The British Bourbon Society. Several tastings later Mr Liquor and I still share notes on all things whisk(e)y, and the Bourbon Society has gone from strength to strength. Though obviously today his pick is a Single Malt Scotch...

Almost every whisky nerd/collector/aficionado/imbiber (I leave you to pick the hat that best fits) can vividly remember the first whisky that they truly enjoyed. The whisky that made them think:  this brown stuff is much better than gin and vodka, think I'll have another. 

Ten years ago, I was a long way off reaching that point. My whisky journey had gotten off to a bad start with various run-ins or, less charitably put, highway robberies involving heavily peated Islay-malts. And then I stumbled across something rather different in a cold, damp student house in Elephant & Castle that my mother had uncharitably christened the 'crack-den'. The stumble took the form of a chipped mug partly filled with The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood handed over by a university friend. Finally, here was a whisky that ticked all the boxes: gone were the stinging, medicinal flavours replaced with smooth, rich, sweet red fruit (that several years later I began to understand came from the substitution of first fill European oak Sherry casks for refill American Oak casks in the final stages of maturation) followed by a satisfyingly long finish. 

If there'd been an open fire and an armchair, I would have happily sat there all night trying to pin down all of the reasons why this whisky was so much better than the others that had gone before it. If my friend and I had known about David Stewart's, The Balvenie Malt Master, pioneering work on double-casking or 'finishing' in the 1980's, we might have talked about how simple yet genius the barrel-substitution process was that had culminated in the liquid in our glass. But we didn't have or know anything of those things so went to Wetherspoon's instead. 

A decade later, I still have a real soft spot for The Balvenie 12 Year Old DoubleWood. It's exactly the type of whisky that I would happily enjoy around the Christmas table with family and friends: approachable to newbies as well as road-weary nerd/collector/aficionada/imbiber's alike. And, when you can buy it for around £30-35, simply fantastic value for money (although I am more than happy to jump on the bandwagon and admit that Adam's Day 6 pick, the Kilkerran 12 Year Old, kills all before it when it comes to value). 

On the off-chance you have rather more than £50 to spend (400 times more to be precise) The Balvenie DCS Chapter II isn't half bad either! 

Thanks to London for his reasonably priced pour. Obviously the DCS Chapter II will be covered in my upcoming 50,000 under £50,000 series. In the meantime, do look him up on twitter or instagram and check out the British Bourbon Society here.

Day 50: Springbank Cask Strength 12yo (August 2016 release). 56.3%ABV
Someone asked me on twitter a couple of weeks back whether I preferred this whisky or the Kilkerran 12. My reply was that I loved both, but if I had to drink one of them forever it'd be the Springbank. To test that theory I've just now tasted them side by side. Many people will list the Kilkerran as their whisky under £50 of the year - and they'll hear no argument from me, as it's astonishing stuff. But this one is mine. The whisky I would be most willing to spend my red note on. The pour which gives me the fullest experience over the course of a glass.
I've noticed several luminaries of the whisk(e)y world comment that cask strength Springbank is nigh impossible to nail in a tasting note. I embrace that. I've made my feelings on tasting notes clear before, whilst admitting that my own need a lot of work, and I love the notion of a whisky which defies the soulless 'shopping list' dissection all too often presented. A few weeks back I texted Will, my partner in tasting crime, commenting that every time I returned to a glass of Springbank 12 I found something I hadn't seen before. And that remains the case. It's a deep, brooding, thunderous whisky; one sniff might bring a basket of stewing sherry fruit and lashings of orange, the next mountains of meat and campfire. Then the sea-spray and maritime lash might arrest you, or the pine, or dunnage warehouse, or whatever grows out of the glass - and it is a crescendo, this one - to take you to that most special of distilleries in Campbeltown.
The alcohol is big. The body is gargantuan enough to wrestle it up to a point, but there is a pronounced warmth to this pour. A couple of sips later and that prickle is entirely overwhelmed by flavour, which begin deeply, as on the nose but transform into citrus, pine and smoke lightness on the long and lingering finish. 
It may not be your cup of tea. You will likely have another whisky you hold as your own favourite of the year. Wonderful. That's what whisky is about. But this is the bottle that has given me most for less than £50 in 2016. It's what I'd want someone to hand me if I walked in from a cold winter's night. It's what I'll pour for Christmas, and when the clocks strike 12 on New Year's Eve I hope I've a glass of this in my hand again. And if you have something that speaks to you so profoundly and personally then you'll have a very Happy New Year indeed.

Which leaves me to round up this 50 under £50. Some dizzying highs, some nauseating lows, and a few that fell somewhere in the middle. But that's whisk(e)y. As special editions and astronomical prices become ever more commonplace I hope that this list stands for the diversity of flavour to which those, like me, on lower budgets can still enjoy. Of course we must campaign against hyperinflation when it is employed unnecessarily, but there is also a time for celebrating what whisky is, rather than what it isn't. That's what I have tried to do with my 50 under £50. To the thousands who have joined me in doing so - my sincerest thanks for reading. I do hope you've found at least a few pours to try in the process. And I hope that now we've come to the end, you've a glass of something that you can raise with me to the whiskies we can all enjoy a taste of.