Tuesday, 9 February 2016

40 under 40 - Scroll to the bottom for daily updates!

Giving up chocolate is so Lent '15.

That's why this year I've set myself a challenge I'm calling '40 under 40.' Pretty simple really - every day until Easter I will review a whisky that costs under £40 per bottle.

I don't normally do reviews beyond my hastily-scribbled notes for the drams they dish out on distillery tours, and this isn't going to be some slide towards giving scores and singling out the particular variety of orchid I can smell. Just a couple of thoughts on the whisk(e)y, a comment or two on style and broad aroma/flavour profile seasoned with the odd 'fun fact'.

I'll be charging my glass with Single Malt, Blended Malt, Blended Whisky, Bourbon, Rye and Pure Pot Still. (Not all at once.) Anything, in fact, as long as it can be found in the UK market with change from two purple notes. Obviously 40 whiskies only represent a fraction of what's available in this price bracket, but if you think there's one that I simply can't leave out then give me a shout on twitter or in the comments section below and I'll look into it. Or - if you fancy getting involved - write a note from your own tasting, send it my way and I'll see about sticking it up as the Whisky of the day. I won't even try to claim credit.

Right, I'd better crack on. I'll upload the notes to this article on a daily basis, so do keep checking in - should be a fun Lent!

Though I actually am also giving up chocolate.

Day 1: Elijah Craig 12yo. 47%ABV
Kicking off with this Bourbon, a personal favourite, as Heaven Hill recently announced they're discontinuing it, which is a great shame. It's basically reliability bottled. Proper hug-in-a-mug (or Glencairn in this case) stuff; just the right balance of sweetness and nutmeg-led spice. Big, fulsome aromas, and warming without being too pokey, this is a whiskey that says 'long day over, undo that top button and sink into a sofa.' A good friend who will be greatly missed.

Day 2: Talisker 10yo. 45.8%ABV
It's been a little while since I've had this old friend, so plumped for it last night at a colleague's leaving drinks and, on tasting, sent the following text to a friend: 'Christ, I know it's pretty commonplace but the Talisker 10 is just so good. I give it 2 years at best before Diageo knock it on the head - strongly recommend giving it a fair hearing before they do.' Not much more needs to be said really! It's fairly peaty, mostly savoury except for a sweet spot somewhere in the mid-palate and it tastes like it shouldn't be suitable for vegetarians. Oh, and when I said '2 years' I was being optimistic. As with so many age-dated whiskies the stormclouds are gathering. In Talisker's case quite literally.

Day 3: Crown Royal De Luxe Blended Whisky. 40%ABV
Crown Royal's a Canadian distillery which has been making headlines recently as a certain someone rated their rye pretty highly. I've not had a chance to give that one a whirl unfortunately, but a very generous friend recently gave me and Rachel a bottle of their house blend, and we - ok, mostly I - have been making our way through it. Pretty cute nose - the vanilla/caramel/oak triumvirate well in evidence. Nice silky palate too, with a touch of spice but mostly more of the sweet stuff. Canada's not my most familiar whisky country, but for the price you can do a lot worse than this anywhere. Whether Crown Royal makes the 'best' (weird term) whisk(e)y in the world I couldn't possibly say. Enjoying this one though - might even share a drop with Rach if she's lucky.

Day 4: Glenmorangie - A Midwinter Night's Dram. 43%ABV
One for fans of Shakespeare, of puns, or just of good Scotch. Being a disciple of all three I am currently a happy boy. This sample was unexpectedly donated by a new colleague following a long chat about all things whisk(e)y. I suspect we will get along very well. I can't taste Glenmorangie without being taken back to Tain - to that Ch√Ęteau-esque distillery and those gorgeous, tall, elegant stills. This dram is suitably sexy and silken - fans of the distillery's original 10yo will find plenty they know and love, but overlaid with a strudelly, raisiny, toffee-apple kind of thing. Apt name really - Hermia, but in a duffle coat and mittens. Still some left for under £40 in Sainsbury's by the way.  

Day 5: Adelphi Blended Scotch Whisky. 40%ABV
My first of the 20 'drinks by the dram' I bought from Master of Malt to help this project along. Gave me one of my proudest whisky moments too - asked Rachel to pick one at random from the sample box, gave it a nose and got it first time. Something I'll now doubtless spend years failing to replicate. A very decent, if slightly youthful and estery blend. Big on fruit - that was my first comment when its identity was still a mystery. There's a smidge of smoke which swells as the whisky opens up, but nothing that should deter peat-o-phobes. Maybe not the cleanest or most complex dram in the world but given you near as damn it get change from a twenty it's definitely worth a punt. Decent session whisky for sure.

Day 6: Rebel Yell Small Batch Rye. 45%ABV
I've been getting seriously into Rye Whiskies over the last half a year or so. Think Bourbon, but leaner and spicier. It's a great shame that UK supermarkets aren't really including any in their ranges, though I suspect that may change sooner or later. In the meantime it's well worth going off the beaten track, because it's a properly delicious style. Didn't know anything about this one when I bought it with the other samples, but he's a tasty fellow. Slightly muted on the nose maybe, but comes alive with a bristling intensity on the palate. Another for the sweet-toothed; lots of crunchy sugar going on with plenty of coffee bean and juicy fruit kicking in with the classic rye spice. Veering slightly too close to 'tasting note speak' there! Basically a tongue-tingling whiskey - and more importantly genre of whiskey - everyone should get to know.

Day 7: Yoichi No Age Statement. 43% ABV
OK, I admit this entry is a bit self-indulgent given Nikka culled this whisky along with all its age-dated siblings back in June. They have brought out a new no-age-statement whisky under the distillery's label, but it's not made its way West yet, and if I'm honest I don't expect it to any time soon. (One of these days I'll post a proper rant about the price and availability of Japanese whisky.) Returning to point, this one was under £40 before the quite recent brand cull, and since I wanted to try it and you can still find a bottle or two in that price bracket if you look hard I'm making the executive decision to include it. And if you don't approve...well nuts to you. My list, my rules. 

For the mischievously minded this is an A-Grade choice for tricking people into thinking a World whisky is a Scotch. If it's how Nikka like their peated whisky then Ben Nevis is a good fit for them - mid level rather than the full Kildalton, and rather prettily floral rather than iodiney. Some sherry has been involved here; there's a whack of sultana and - yes - a smear of sulphur. Albeit happily we are talking a teensy, teensy smear. More a smudge really. (Both important technical tasting terms, just as 'teensy' is a valid unit of measurement.) Peat sweet on nose, then prickles about in your mouth before fading to sweetness again. (Dried fruit rather than vanilla/caramel.) Very much my bag, and a very lovely thing indeed. I look forward to attempting to get my hands on some of the new stuff.

Day 8: GlenDronach 12yo. 43%ABV
GlenDronach is my distillery of the moment I think. Though when you're as fickle in your tastes as I am that means roughly the square root of zilch. I was won over by their balls-to-the-wall, 'subtlety's for wimps' Pedro Ximenez matured, cask strength, single cask range. This fellow isn't quite from the same school of unbridled, unashamed, glorious, 'take your shirt off and wrestle a badger' madness, being a much more shirt-and-tie 43%ABV. Still Very Sherry though, with capital letters and the emphasis strongly on both words. GlenDronach's sherry butts incidentally are some of the most reliable in the business. If you like your malt unpeated and if, like me, you're a sucker for this style of deeply sweet-fruited, mouthcoating, chocolatey, raisiny joyfest then this may be your perfect 12yo Scotch. Whatever your tastes it's up there with the best in the world for this price point.

Day 9: Spice King (Wemyss Malts) 46%ABV
They're good chaps are those fellows at Wemyss. This is one of their three blended (formerly vatted) malts, meaning it comprises entirely malt whisky. As opposed to blended whisky, which is a mixture of malt and grain. Confused? Don't blame you. Cheers SWA... Anyway Wemyss' other two blended malts are called The Hive and The Peat Chimney, giving you a good idea of what their intended flavour profile is. Which I think is a great shout. As I say - good chaps. The 16 malts (according to a Charles MacLean video) used in Spice King are Highland and Island, and so far as the name goes: mission accomplished, especially on the palate, where it is very pokey indeed. Lots of pepper; bits and pieces of something nutmeggy. For me though it's first and foremost a savoury, malty beast; real storm-tossed stuff, all brine and kipper and heather and charcoal, sewn together with a toffee sweetness that keeps it neatly balanced. As far as Scottish Kings go, definitely more a Macbeth than a Duncan. Love it.

Day 10: Compass Box Great King Street Glasgow Blend 43%ABV
After all the excitement of yesterday today's dram for under £40 just had to be a Compass Box. The stance they've taken has brought whisky lovers from around the world to their feet - and rightly so. See for my argument in support of more transparency in the whisky industry - and then please do use the link at the bottom to support the Compass Box campaign. And then buy a bottle of this because it's utterly delicious and laughs in the face of the 'single malts are inherently better than blends' notion. I'd like to know which bit of Glasgow they had in mind; the nose is a teasingly delicate citrus and lightly peppered peat affair. Does become slightly richer with a few minutes in the glass, but mostly it's youthful and balanced and exuberant and spicy. Honey and green fruit on the palate mingling with more light peat spice. Just a delight, and a great way to toast the worthiest of campaigns by some proper whisky legends.

Day 11: Fighting Cock 6yo Bourbon. 51.5%ABV
At 51.5% the booziest of the 40 under £40 thus far - though doesn't punch you too hard in the nose when you take a sniff. Proper spicy bourbon from the nutmeg and oak school - I gather it's about 10% rye but that spicy grain certainly makes its presence felt. Tastes totally, totally different to the nose - the booze finally pops up from where it's been hiding first of all, and then a kind of salty, buttery popcorn thing which melts all of a sudden into a vanilla and sweet spice finish. It's a roller coaster of a bourbon this one, which keeps you thinking about it long after you've finished. Ever more proof of just how hard American whiskey, especially bourbon, punches in this price bracket when it comes to quality, value and diversity of flavour.

Day 12: Redbreast 12yo. 40%ABV
Now that I've moved from the West Country to Reading I'm a little closer to London, that vast black hole which has sucked in so many of my old University friends. Having been nomadically making my way through Scotland and Bristol for the last two and a half years a catch-up was long overdue, so Saturday saw a trip to the pub. Arriving early I decided to take advantage of a spare 10 minutes to break my no-whisky-at-the-pub rule and tick off my under £40 entry for the day with this old favourite. One of Ireland's unique Single/Pure Pot Still Whiskeys made with a mixture of malted and unmalted barley. Also a candidate for the whiskey I'd use to convert a whiskey doubter. Not because it's my favourite, though it does rank very highly, but because it's fruitier than a fruit basket full of fruit, decorated with more fruit, standing on some fruit boxes labelled 'FRUIT!' all making up an art installation labelled 'fruity-fruit-fruit.' With a bit of brown sugar and cinnamon thrown in out of respect. In order to not love this whisky you'd need the soul of a 17th Century Puritan suffering gingivitis. And haemorrhoids. 

Day 13: Dalwhinnie Winter's Gold. 43%ABV
For further elaboration on the skimmed-over technical stuff below do get in touch. And prepare for a long chat!

Firstly, an apology to Dalwhinnie. Since I'm working from a 'Drinks by the dram' sample and not a regular bottle I missed their unusual suggestion to serve this straight out of the freezer. That obviously isn't how I'd normally take my whisky, but I'm always open to giving something a try. Promise I'll make amends next time! 

So this spirit was made during winter months only. On the face of it, sounds a bit gimmicky, and lots of people online have asked what difference that would make. The nerdy answer is that the way Dalwhinnie condense their spirit - a device called a worm tub - results in a chunky, sulphury new make, and the classic Dalwhinnie lightness is only achieved by 15 years in cask. In the winter time condensation happens a lot more quickly, and spirit is known to emerge bigger and heavier still. Given Winter's Gold is NAS I'm imagining fewer than the usual 15 years have been spent in cask, so prior to nosing and tasting I'm expecting a bigger, more robust whisky than the delicious 15, which I have previously called Whisky's answer to Chablis. I'm a pretentious little urchin when I want to be.

So the nose is pretty sweet. I don't have a 15yo to hand to do a comparison with, but I finished a bottle recently, and this is certainly a little brawnier. Still lots of honey and apples, but there are definitely also some estery notes at play. Pretty nice though. However - to my taste - it does come apart in the mouth a little. Just a bit harsh and spirity and disjointed really, leaving a slightly bitter aftertaste. For my money this one needed more time in a cask to iron out the kinks and develop the silken, honeyed mouthfeel I associate with Dalwhinnie. I still love the distillery and their hallmark 15, which I once drank on top of Ben Nevis (!) but this particular expression wasn't for me. Though I'll try it again sometime the way they recommend it being served. 

Day 14: Mackmyra Brukswhisky (Sweden) 41.4%ABV
I don't even want to taste this - I'm just lost in that nose. A few folk on Master of Malt's website have accused this of lacking complexity. Since they all posted in December I assume they just had colds. Sure, it's delicate, but there's just so much going on. Starts off very clean and crisp, very 'teacher's pet' whisky from the savoury, malty school - no feet put wrong but nothing out of the ordinary, then gradually develops into something much sexier with flashes of smoke and pine and honey and a splash of juicy tropical fruit. Have to say that the palate's decent, but can't quite keep up - curious I've thought that about two whiskies in a row now. What a nose though. Love this distillery's whisky after it gave me one of last year's most magical whisky moments. If you like your dram subtle and seductive I suggest you get acquainted.

Day 15: Hankey Bannister 12yo Regency. 40%ABV
Whenever I decide to pick something at random from the sample box I seem to get a blend! Not that's I'm complaining mind you. Nice and savoury this one, fresh, zesty, grainy. Little bit of meaty smoke, bit of caramel and honey on the palate. It's a very civilised blend - as you'd expect of a brand that Winston Churchill was a fan of. Enough complexity to keep you honest - certainly more than you'd get from an equivalent price Single Malt, if you could even find one! What a few people I know would call an excellent breakfast whisky - and very good value indeed. Rather nice fruit arriving after a few minutes too. I shall revisit this fellow in bottle and highball form...and next time I won't be picking at random.

Day 16: Corriemhor Cigar Reserve 46%ABV
Guest Entry from The Amateur Drammer. I've been chatting whisky to Andy on twitter for a while now, and even done an entry in his excellent 'Desert Island Drams,' for his own blog, so I was very pleased he agreed to do the first 40 under £40 guest entry.

Champagne lifestyle? Lager budget? This could be the answer. 

The Whisky Pilgrim sent me out shopping with £40 in my pocket to spend on a bottle of whisky and asked me to tell you all about it. There is a surprising amount of competition for your hard earned money at this price point so I thought I would try to pick something that is perhaps a little more unknown. £40 will buy you a well blended, balanced and surprisingly drinkable whisky in the form of the Corriemhor Cigar Reserve. This has got Dalmore written all over it (well, it has Richard Paterson's name written on the side of the bottle) so it is a fair guess that it is either the last of the old style cigar reserve sold on to another company (perhaps even bottled by a Whyte&Mackay subsidiary) or maybe some secondary barrels left over and blended together (If anyone does know exactly whats going on here please feel free to contact me and let me know)

The nose is dark but soft, elements of muscovado sugar, raisins soaked in tea and a nice chocolate orange note. The palate isn't quite as complex or deep as you would take from the nose however.  Light leather, cedar wood and tobacco mix together with sultanas (not raisins as per the nose) and a little chocolate. The finish is short and mildly drying but really quite pleasant, leaving a nice buttery vanilla note behind. I can think of whiskies I have spent double, or even triple the price of this on and been left a little disappointed. I've not yet tried this with a cigar, unfortunately I couldn't afford both on my allocated budget...

Thanks to Andy for the contribution - I'll have to try this myself! In the meantime his excellent blog can be found at

Day 17: BenRiach 12yo Sherry Wood. 46%ABV
Can't believe it's taken until Day 17 to get to Speyside - quite a commentary on how many different whiskies there are available these days. (Yes I know I've not done Islay yet either, but I'm actually going there the week after next - be patient!) Anyway, BenRiach is Speyside ticked off with a vengeance - and behind Glendronach 12 and the A'Bunadh it's probably also the most sherry you'll get from a Scotch for less than the magic £40. I tell you what - it's not shy about it; dried fruit and baked apple practically oozing through the stopper! Nipped to the kitchen for a moment, leaving this in the lounge, and could smell it from the hallway on my way back. One of the most unctuous, mouth-coating palates you'll get with change from two twenties - and one of the longest finishes. Those who say Speyside or unpeated whiskies are dull have not been drinking enough Benriach. I don't just love this whisky - I kneel before it. Not literally, obviously. Someone might come in and get the right impression... 

Day 18: W.L.Weller Special Reserve Bourbon. 45%ABV
Wheated Bourbon from the Buffalo Trace stable, and the (very) little brother of the hugely lauded, ultra hard to come by William Larue Weller, which I've only been lucky enough to try twice. This one is very much a sweet young thing as Bourbons go, and for 'sweet' read 'caramel and vanilla.' Funnily enough the nose isn't as sweet as all that though - I'm getting butter and grain mostly. I admit I mainly bought this for the name when I wanted a wheated Bourbon for around this price that wasn't Maker's Mark. That being said, it's quaffable, it's got a nice, juicy palate, and I topped my glass up again when it ran dry. And you can't do better by them than that!

Day 19: Longrow Peated. 46%ABV
I'm there again. I'm back. Like I always am when I smell a Longrow or a Hazelburn or a Springbank. Back in that astounding, wonderful temple to whisky about which, as with Highland Park, I just can't be truly objective - albeit this is unquestionably an objectively excellent dram. Sure, there's peat, though not as much as you'd expect from the name or the ppm, and it's cloaked on the nose by citrus and honey and light white flowers. Smoke does pop up to say hello in charcoaly fashion on the palate and lingers to a long finish, though never aggressively; always wrapped in velvet. Longrow and Springbank age magnificently, which has led some to suggest that they're not worth drinking young. Fine, that's their opinion - all the more for me then. At this stage they have a glorious teasing delicacy - this dram and its 10yo Springbank sister - and they have me utterly in their thrall. Everyone who loves whisk(e)y can name a couple of distilleries whose creations strike a special, inexplicable chord. In also producing Longrow and Hazelburn, Springbank gives me three for the price of one. 

Day 20: Teeling Single Grain. 46%ABV
After hearing the sad news of the passing of a stage and screen hero, Frank Kelly of 'Father Jack' fame, the under £40 entry for today had to be Irish. I've not had much single grain before to be honest - and based on this sample I've been massively missing out. That nose is a thing of beauty. Don't know what grains have been used here, but I'm guessing a fair bit of corn, because there's more than a hint of some of the smells I'd normally associate with a bourbon going on. Some tasty fruit going on here too. Wine casks? Oh God, that palate's silken as well, with just the right amount of alcohol to keep things lively.

So I've just checked and apparently this chap did his time in a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon cask, which explains the vanilla and the caramel and the red fruit. As a huge lover of Californian Cabernet it also offers another reason I like this whisky so much. I've always thought of Redbreast as my favourite Irish. Too early to reconsider?...oh, whatever. And, incidentally, DRINK! FECK! DRINK!

Day 21: Ardmore Traditional Cask. 46%ABV
Another from the ‘discontinued’ school I’m afraid - though still findable in the right places. Picked up a dram after nosily seeing that a couple of twitterers had lamented its replacement by the Ardmore Legacy. Not a distillery I have much experience of, though once again it feels as if I’ve been missing a trick. Right up my street - peated but not excessively so, various bits and pieces of honeys and vanillins in the background. A good whack of sweet honeycomb and butterscotch balancing out the smoke in what is a really cracking whisky. As is so often the case with these younger peated whiskies the peat pops up more on the palate alongside a nice boozy prickle. All in all a very decent dram. Shame it’s going - will have to try the Legacy sooner or later. Will be in the East Highlands in June, and this is top of the ‘to visit’ list.

Day 22: Nikka Pure Malt Black. 43% ABV
The 'mummy bear' of the Nikka Pure Malt range - Red being unpeated, White 'heavily' peated and Black in the middle. Which must make me an unlikely Goldilocks, because to my taste it's just right. Peat barely noticeable on the nose initially, to the point that it almost comes across as just being salty. Perfect balance of sweet fruit and savoury barley with just the faintest hint of something meaty in the background. Pretty lip-smacking palate too - not overly full-bodied but plenty intense on the flavour front. As standard the peat pipes up a bit more here, but then so does the fruit, so that lovely balance isn't lost. Returning to the nose a bit later to discover a gorgeous rich custardy, trifley thing going on. Within this price bracket you can't do much better than Nikka on the blended malt or blended whisky front. I'll even forgive them their smaller bottle sizing policy, so delicious is this 'mummy bear.' Though with a description like that, possibly one for Leonardo diCaprio to steer clear of...

Day 23: Glenalmond Everyday. 40%ABV
Knew literally nothing about this one at the time of purchase - hadn't even heard of it. Just needed an extra dram to get free delivery from Master of Malt and it reminded me of all the long A9 drives up to Inverness and over the beautiful River Almond. So here goes...

OK, not sure what blend of malts went in here - going to go out on a limb and say the Lower Highlands. Whichever they were they were blended too young - tastes a bit like licking the stills at times. Still very spirity - Rach said 'smells chemically' when I gave her the glass, and that girl has a properly sensitive nose. There are some nice moments of appley sweetness, but I can't fight off a suspicion that it's rather heavy on the caramel colouring front. Not an unpleasant dram, but just a bit bland and unexciting. Keenly priced, but considering I can get Four Roses Small Batch for a quid or two more this isn't the everyday dram for me. Finished my glass mind you...

Day 24: Tomintoul 10yo. 40%ABV
I'm midway through packing for my trip to Islay, which is sure to be a week of storm-tossed fury and snarling peat. So juxtaposing that today with this offering from a distillery which styles its whisky as 'the gentle dram.' Certainly an apt note so far as the nose goes - not one of those you'll scent from the far side of the room. Pretty cute though - no 'nose-wrinkler' off-notes, and a nice blend of sweet and savoury; vanilla and barley. Surprisingly lively on the palate - had to double check the label to confirm only 40%, but then it is still only a comparative nipper at 10 years old. Flavours more or less exactly as on the nose. Tomintoul is one of those single malts more people should be drinking - but I'm actually almost glad they aren't. Because I can't think of a distillery with a better priced core range. I mean if I looked hard I could find their 16yo for less than £40, which in the current market is just astonishing. And I don't want those prices to go up! Ok, this 10yo might not be the loudest, brashest whisky in the world, but it's whistle-clean, the flavours are great, there's decent complexity for 40% and - most importantly - I reckon I could convert 9 out of 10 people to drinking Scotch with this dram. And with change from £30 that's a very decent shift.

Day 25: Highland Park 12yo. 40%ABV
Just driven 200 miles up the M40 and M6 after a hard week of work. It's been pitch black, pouring with rain and with no one else in the car for company it's a long and lonely old trip. So getting home to a glass of this is like flopping into a favourite armchair. (Which I have also done!) That familiar heather-honey, splash of orange, gently fragrant peat - a world away from what I'll be experiencing this week on Islay - and that spray of Orcadian sea-salt. Once you've had HP a few times its signature is hard to forget. When you've had it as often as I have it stays with you forever. I make no secret of my love for this distillery and this whisky. Is it perfect? No - for starters it'd be lovely to see it at 46%ABV. Is it 'the best'? No - there's no such thing in whisky. Will it be for everyone? Of course not - nothing can be all things to all folk. But is it something everyone should try, if only once? Oh yes. Yes, yes and yes again. In this drinker's (highly biased) opinion your whisky experience will lack a vital chapter until you do. 

Day 26: Mekhong - The Spirit of Thailand. 35%ABV
To no degree should this be marketed as a whiskey - a quick Google search shows it's 95% molasses and 5% rice. Also only  35%ABV! But I'm out at a Thai restaurant with my folks, the menu and the nice Thai waiter insist it's a whiskey and if you don't try such things then you're one of  those with no spirit of adventure about you! One sniff and you know this ought to be labelled 'rum'. It's sugar, it's caramel, it's everything that makes whisky purists run for the hills. But hey - it's a lot of fun, it's tasty enough, we're passing it around and having a smell and a sip and a laugh. Which it's what it's all about at the end  of the day. And the label does insist 'whiskey'! Plus, go to
India - the world's biggest whisky consumer - and anything you try that isn't Paul John or Amrut will probably taste like this. What the hell - here's to good times and the spice of life!

Day 27: Laphroaig Quarter Cask. 48%ABV
Given where I've been for the last week it just wouldn't be right for the recommencement of the 40 under £40 to be anything other than Islay. Apart from anything else our hotel bar whisky options were Islay, Islay or Islay. Or Jura. This dram is exactly what great NAS whisky should be about - superb, characterful spirit married to clever, thoughtful work in the warehouse. Those tiny casks have really worked their magic, and there's bags of vanilla and shortbread and sweetness alongside the coalsmoke, kipper and peat. Hats off to Laphroaig for bottling this at 48% incidentally - really allows the flavours to shine without being excessively boozy. 'Cleaner' than your standard whisky from this distillery - Laphroaig with its shirt tucked in! Still loads of the classic seaweed and iodine though, and still a proper peat beast as all whiskies from that Kildalton stretch should be. Supremely well balanced - the casks more than a match for the smoke without overwhelming it as sherry or other wine casks might. Bought a glass of 10yo to try next to this so I could  test a hunch, and yes - I really do think this is a big step up. And that's saying something.

Day 28: Wild Turkey 8yo 101 Proof. 50.5%ABV
I love Islay, and what an amazing week I've just had there, but time for a change - and by 'change' I mean we're off to completely the other end of the flavour spectrum for a juicy, spicy slug of this gorgeously aromatic Bourbon that wouldn't know what peat was if you buried it in a bog. It would certainly know what caramel was though - and brown sugar. And it smells like it'd know its way around a baking spice rack too. Big, boozy slap on the palate, and actually less full-bodied than the nose led me to expect, but still a proper off-dry mouthcoater. Taken out of its cask at just the right moment to my taste; all the goodness sucked out of the oak, with none of the bitterness. Flavours don't quite live up to that intoxicating aroma, but yet another stunning example of why I love Bourbon in this price range. If I can save some pennies I simply must make a trans-Atlantic pilgrimage one day...

Day 29: Hazelburn 10yo. 46%ABV
Possibly shouldn't be doing a second entry from a distillery I've already included, but Hazelburn and Longrow are further in style from each other than a lot of whiskies of completely different provenance, so I reckon fair play. Also, it's my list. Sue me. This one's another from the 'whistle-clean' school of Scotch. Floral in style with a lot of green apples and pears going on. Just a touch of something slightly white-spirity if I'm to be picky - could possibly have done with either a couple more years or slightly more assertive casks... That being said, it has a lovely freshness - an A-grade aperitif whisky. Some nice, sweet honey notes creep in after a few moments too. Being completely honest I do prefer the entry level Springbank and Longrow to this. But that's personal preference for you, and this youthful, triple-distilled, unpeated dram is still an interesting and very drinkable whisky.

Day 30: Stronachie 10yo. 43%ABV
Guest entry from Will Jefferson
A close friend and co-conspirator in all things wine and whisky. I first encountered Will when our company sent us both to Inverness for a few months. Years later we've worked together, studied for exams both tasting and theoretical together and we've sunk a good number of bottles of whatever's available at any given time. Here's his response on being challenged to pick a bottle under £40:

This is an interesting one. Until recently anyone drinking a bottle with the name ‘Stronachie’ on the label would have popped their bung and shuffled off this mortal coil many years ago.  That’s because the original Stronachie distillery closed down in 1928, leaving only a legacy and an ever decreasing supply of whisky.  It was’t until A.D. Rattray managed to get hold of a bottle of 1904 Stronachie (one of only 4 left!) that the name, and the whisky, came back to life. After taking a sample (for scientific purposes) and comparing it against the whisky produced by several distilleries they finally found their match - Benrinnes distillery in Speyside was chosen and Stronachie was set to rise from the ashes. 
Now the flavours aren’t incredibly complex, but they definitely do get them right!  Imagine smearing your face with honey, stuffing a handful of malted barley into your mouth and rubbing your face against a highland heather bush and you’re getting close to the flavours this malt has to offer. The honey on the nose is sweet and pure, gently transitioning into aromas of rich malt. The initial sweetness of the palate is suddenly accosted by a lively peppery bite which will kick your taste buds into action, leaving a long, lingering finish. Coming in well under budget (£31.50) this dram is a steal for the price.

Thanks to Will for the contribution - another I'll have to go looking for - if only to experience a drink that tastes like shoving one's face into a bush!

Day 31: Bushmills 10yo. 40%ABV
Last time I drank this was St Patrick's day 2012. I was in my last year of Uni, and over the afternoon I watched In Bruges and The Departed with a couple of mates, after which we attended a house party and between us sank a bottle of Bushmills 10. I woke the next day to a proclamation on facebook that I was in a new relationship. Four years later she still hasn't escaped - and I've never seen off a bottle in a night again, assisted or otherwise. There's a lesson in there somewhere... To the whisky - soft barley and fresh, juicy, green fruit are the headlines. Scotch-only drinkers fond of Lowland and Speyside malts would find a compelling argument here for broadening their horizons. Pretty silky mouthfeel, albeit slightly diluted - 40%. Very easy-drinking though; went a lot more quickly than some of the other samples. I can see how my friends and I made our way through that bottle four years ago. Obviously I'm older and more sensible these days...still, happy memories. If fuzzy ones. Happy St Patrick's everyone!

Day 32. Bulleit 95 Rye. 45%ABV
There's not much I don't love about this whiskey. I love the look of the bottle, I love the name of the brand and I love that it describes itself as 'Frontier Whiskey.' In every regard this whiskey is somehow cool. Which, if we're honest with ourselves, isn't an epithet one can often attach to whiskey. Scotch in particular is almost never cool. It's very difficult for something to be cool when its fans include people like me. But in some indefinable way this whiskey manages it. 

Anyway, those reasons for loving Bulleit 95 Rye are slightly superficial; onto the guts. Firstly, it's brilliant value for money. I know I'm always saying that about US whiskey, but that doesn't make it untrue, and this offers one of the best value to quality ratios of the lot. I also suspect it will become the first Rye to become a staple across British supermarkets, and that's great too. Most importantly it's absolutely delicious. The nose is just alive with nutmeg and Granny Smith rind and coffee bean, and manages to convey beautiful sweetness without anything sickly or cloying. It's lean and toned and focussed, if that makes sense at all. Tastes amazing too - balance still there; grain and oak imparting their flavours in beautiful tandem. Like I say, there's not much I don't love. Nothing, in fact - except that my bottle is running low, and my 'no repeat buying bottles' rule still stands. I'll just have to hope - desperately - that someone buys one for me.

Day 33: Big Peat. 46%ABV
I like the name of this blended malt. Nice and to-the-point. So just how big is this peat then? Well, you don't need to look hard; seal of bottle cracks...yep, there it is! Good job chaps - definitely not a misnomer. Unmistakeably Islay, lots of iodine and brine with a touch of background vanilla keeping things balanced. I find that in the best young peated Islays the cask takes a back seat and just acts as balance, allowing the whisky to depend on the quality of the malt. That dependence has been rewarded here, because there is character in spades. Or should that be peat shovels? Unusually I actually think there's more peat on the initial nose than there is on the palate...until the finish kicks in, and wham! BIG PEAT SMASH! An awesome, full-throttle, rock-and-roll kind of a whisky that, as I had hoped it would, transports me straight back to Islay. A blend, apparently, of Bowmore, Caol Ila, Ardbeg and even the late, great *looks furtively around and whispers: 'but not as great as so many people slavishly insist'* Port Ellen. What I really...unkh. [The Whisky Pilgrim has just been shot by a Port Ellen fundamentalist. We're confident he'll respawn for tomorrow.]

Day 34: Aberlour 12yo Double Cask Matured. 40%ABV
So fervent is my dedication to the A'Bunadh that I often overlook the rest of the Aberlour range. But seeing this at the insanely good price of £26 in Sainsbury's stirred my usually more fiscally conservative impulses into action. Nice to see a double cask whisky in which the components have spent 12 years in Sherry or 12 years in 'traditional' oak before being married together as opposed to 11 years, 364 days, 23 hours and 59 minutes in Bourbon and then rolled over to the filling point in a Sherry cask. (To be clear, this is a slight exaggeration.) As you'd expect the Sherry character isn't as loud as in, say, the Glendronach 12yo. In fact the nose generally is a soft-fruit driven affair; I wonder if it's tailored to what the French whisky drinker likes given Aberlour's status as France's favourite malt? Anyone from Aberlour or France - please feel free to amend my ignorance in this regard. Some caramel touches too, but mostly sweet apples (definitely not the Granny Smiths mentioned two days back. More of the same on the plumply-bodied, juicy palate. Not a desperately assertive malt perhaps, but it doesn't try to be. Touches of spice, more sherry fruit (fresh, not dried) and a bit of wood tannin on the finish. Another with which I could convert hordes to whisky. A charming, well behaved and very tasty malt. And for £26 per bottle an absolute steal. I recommend heading to Sainsbury's...

Day 35: Asyla (Compass Box) 40%ABV
If every blend was as good as this one this Single-Malt-Only drinker wouldn't exist. This is real lightness and beauty; it's malt and almond and vanilla and honey. The nose does take some prompting; nothing brash, nothing you can rush, but when it arrives - and my God it arrives - there is just so much complexity and so much to admire, with no off-notes whatsoever. Palate balance is spot on - don't know whether to focus on the sweet or the savoury at any given point. Again, must be stressed, not one that's going to hammer away at you on the flavour front, and I'd love to see what this whisky could do at 46%+ but if you're after a light, aperitif style of whisky that's awesome value and intelligently made then this Compass Box creation is very much your friend.

Day 36: Four Roses Small Batch. 45%ABV
Word of advice to all tasters. Just occasionally pass your glass to someone who isn't a fellow whisky nerd and see what comes back. Gave a glass of this to Rach whilst I was sipping and scribbling. Immediately: 'ooh...smells like banoffee.' What can I say? The girl's spot on. All lovers of fruit and cake should branch out more - whisky tasting's ideal for them if they can get past the booze! Anyway, Four Roses is my favourite US distillery, which considering my feelings towards American whiskey and how fickle my tastes are is a massive, massive statement. Their Single Cask is one of my all-time top whiskeys from anywhere - also under £40 if you fancy looking for it. This expression is lighter and fruitier - far fruitier, and Rach is bang on with bananas, to which I would add mango and coffee. Caramel and toffee are also about; ditto a big dollop of vanilla. And yes - on the finish - some Christmassy spice too. Whistle clean, big on body, big on flavour. Bourbon with personality; Bourbon as I like my Bourbon to be, simple as that. And, given the price, you really do have no excuse not to give it a whirl. 

Day 37: Old Pulteney 12yo. 40%ABV
From a distillery I love comes this benchmark Single Malt of which I have been a fan for years. There aren't many you can find these days which better Old Pulteney 12 for price, and those that come close are massively different in style, meaning that this whisky offers a real (and delicious) USP at a very competitive rate. Good news all round, especially since you can easily find this chap in your local supermarket nowadays. A proper salty sea-dog; whether it's the maritime air or that eensy-weensy (traditional British unit of measurement) touch of smoke, there's an unmistakeable saline element. Behind it sweet, biscuity malt jostles harmoniously with honey, vanilla, a squeeze of lemon and the light tropical fruit that usually says 'ex-Bourbon casks.' Yum yum yum. A lovely Wick whisky. At some point in the summer I need to head to Thurso since Wolfburn is now officially in bottle. Rude not to pop in here again on the way past I think! At any rate, I bet they're glad the town doesn't still prohibit alcohol. I certainly am.

Day 38: Glenfiddich 15yo. 40%ABV
The guys at work have clocked that I like a whisky from time to time. (As well kept of a secret as that is...) Was busily working away yesterday afternoon when a colleague suggested I make my way downstairs. Following his advice I headed to the tasting room (a must-have in all good offices) to find myself faced with bottles of Balvenie, Glenfiddich and Bruichladdich - not typical names seen at a wine merchant's! Half an hour of happy tasting ensued (or at least that was how long I insisted to my manager it was) and one of them just had to be today's 'under £40.' I plumped for the Glenfiddich 15 - an old favourite, and very wine-merchant-appropriate given the Sherry-style solera system Glenfiddich use for it. 

For those to whom 'solera' means nothing it's basically a system of blending a mixture of ages in which whenever you take out a little from the solera you replace it with new spirit (or in this case 15 year old spirit). Since you don't fully empty the solera at any point the liquid left behind slowly increases in average age, leading theoretically to a richer and more complex product. (Glenfiddich's is unique to Scotch whisky.) 

For the price, one of the best quality Scotches you'll find of any provenance, sort or age; that honeycomb/beeswax nose is just a glorious, glorious thing. Silky, fruity palate; more full-bodied than I remember. Finish shortened a bit by the minimum 40%ABV, but actually the flavours are a lot more lingering than many drams you'll find at this strength. From the first distillery I toured as an adult and the makers of the first malt I bought with my own money, this is an absolute treat. And the people who dismiss Glenfiddich for being 'mass market' are seriously missing out. 

Day 39: The One. British Blended Whisky. 40%ABV
OK, so this is a bit of a gimmick. But it's a fun one, and why not? From a distillery I absolutely can't wait to try the first of its own whisky from, and not just because the Lake District is easily in my top 5 places on Earth. It's a blend of English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish whisky, though there's no info whatsoever as to whether it is blended malt or a blend of malt and grain. I'm not helped by the back label of the bottle being all in Spanish. (Weird, given my parents brought me this bottle back from the distillery itself.) Whatever the blend is, it's young as all hell. Can practically taste the copper of the stills; real metallic tang going on. Lots of new-make style notes, with some fruity freshness and touches of barley. It's perfectly drinkable but needed far more time in some more charismatic oak. Still - as I say, can't wait for the first release of their own fully English whisky!

Day 40: Aberlour A'Bunadh (Batch 53). 59.7%ABV
You'll have to shop around to find this under £40 - but it's so worth the hunt. When I planned my 40 under £40 I didn't know what the first 39 would look like, but I knew that this would be the 40th. The malt I love best; the Scotch Whisky which I believe offers better value for money than any other. Matured entirely in ex-Oloroso sherry butts and bottled at cask strength. Has everything you would expect such a whisky to involve; massive raisin, massive dark chocolate, massive aroma, massive body, massive complexity, massive finish and - if you don't sip carefully - massive heat. I discovered this whisky in the duty free of Delhi airport 5 and a half years ago and I have been a disciple ever since. The objective best I've ever tasted? No. The right whisky for every occasion? Of course not. But my favourite - a whisky that delivers whenever I pour myself a glass, that is brimming with that all-important and definition-defying 'character.' Everything I ask of a whisky, in fact, and all for under £40. 

Which is, I think, the point. And the right way to round off this Lenton exercise. Because what the A'Bunadh - and indeed the previous 39 drams represent, is huge diversity of flavour and astonishing quality made the world over, and affordable to whisky lovers everywhere. Of course it's great to try a Special Release, or something very old or very rare. But as whisky's hyperinflation continues and bottles appear for the price of a car or a house; as the prices even of entry levels climb unrelentingly and so many of our favourite expressions disappear from the shelves or beyond the reach of our mortal purses it is a great comfort to know that whiskies like the Teeling Single Grain, like the Four Roses Small Batch, like Longrow Peated, like Nikka Pure Malt Black, like the Aberlour A'Bunadh and like so many others exist. Because so often I hear distilleries say that whisky is about people, and I believe it is. These great whiskies, then, are very much for those people. They have the flavour of greatness, and for under £40 a bottle we can all have a taste.

Thanks again to Andy and Will for their contributions - and thanks to all who've been reading!


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