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.


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