Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Kingsbarn Dream to Dram / Wemyss Nectar Grove - reviews

The whisky "Wo-Man cave"... is full and bursting at the seams!? December 30th 2019 and I'm taking down the little bit of Christmas decorations I had put up. I realize my front closet is full, so I open the doors to my whisky cave and it looks like a hurricane hit it...  Bottles recently purchased still in bags on the floor, no room on the shelves or credenza, drawers so stuffed with sample bottles they don't close anymore...  I make a promise to myself - I gotta clean out this place and start drinking this stuff! Clean I did. I organized the room a little better, gave a few bottles away and proceeded to go through all the samples I had - 122 to be exact!  How the heck do I end up with so many samples!??  The answer my friends - kindness of #whiskyfabric friends. It's pretty much tradition when abroad or at festivals to trade samples, bring sample bottles and go home with way more than you showed up with!??  

With 2020 came a few goals:

1. Run a 5k and 10k (what the hell was I thinking)
2. Write a blog once a week until Dec 30th/2020.
3. Drink at least one whisky sample/week.
4. Travel to Scotland and just "be" a tourist. (Not sure that is even possible?!)
5. Stay in touch with and be more active with many of the whisky friends I've made over the last 13 years.

SO far... I'm doing pretty good on these goals. I'll keep you in the loop on how I'm doing!  So another way to drink said samples:  REVIEW THEM!

A few weeks ago I created a spreadsheet (yes I'm that OC) and I have 24 samples ready to review for the year. May not sound like much but it's a good start.  I thought this week might be a great time to review two whiskies from Scotland. Related but not from the same distillery per say.

Whisky #1 - Kingsbarn Dream to Dram Lowland Single Malt, 46% ABV

Whisky #2 - Wemyss Malts Nectar Grove Blend, 46% ABV

Both samples were given to me by my lovely friend Jacqueline Sutherland (and I do really consider her a very good friend!) during my last trip to Scotland in October 2019. It's not often that we get to spend quality time so I was really chuffed when she and I got to spend half the day chatting over a lovely lunch.

On with the reviews, shall we:

The first whisky is from a modern distillery that has only been in existence for less than 5 years. Owned by Wemyss (Brother and sister duo), it stands on the reputation of their many years of blending and creating independent bottlings.  If you want to read more about Kingsbarn, click here:

I like to take my time when I review whiskies. This one I did over the course of a Sunday afternoon and revisited it on a cold Wednesday night the following week. 

Nose: I gathered from the get go this spent quite a bit of time in ex-bourbon casks: Delicate aromas of newly cut hay, meadows and fresh cantaloupe. Quite elegant and inviting.

Palate: Not at all like the nose, this is zesty lemon peel meets gingerroot with an oaky/resinous backdrop.

Finish: Not overly complicated but quite a satisfying sweet herbal flavour, sort of like chewing on spearmint leaves. 

On Wednesday when it was colder I had a much bigger appreciation for the lingering heat and gingery sensation the whisky was leaving behind.

I can't help but wonder what I would have thought this was had I received a blind sample. Not sure I would have considered it as a whisky that was younger than 5 years old, especially with that very lovely nose.  I remember tasting the newmake when I was there in 2016 and thinking if this sits in the rights casks they are going to have a cracker of a whisky.  Well...  it's lovely. I look forward to seeing/tasting what else will come out of Kingsbarn.

Whisky #2 - Nectar Grove from Wemyss

I'm always fascinated with the names of some of the whiskies that Wemyss comes out with. VELVET FIG... say no more!!! I don't look up anything about the sample when I'm reviewing so I sort of expected some sort of wine or sherry finish. This did not disappoint!

Nose: I immediately detect pumpkin compote (how do I describe that to English people!?) It's like a pumpkin/citrus spice (it has a bit of cinnamon/cloves) marmalade. My mouth watered almost immediately. After I let it sit for a little while and again on the Wednesday evening, I found much more vanilla and a weird freeze dried strawberry smell - not unpleasant just didn't make sense to me.

Palate: In French we have a word that describes silky but also "thick" - Onctueux.  For a moment I was a bit nervous as I was worried it was going to be sickly sweet but it was not.  The right combination of oily, silky, sweet and the feeling I had popped golden raisins that had been soaked in rum in my mouth.

Finish: Warm but then slightly tannic, again not expecting that. A few minutes later, a warming sensation from the inside out...  this, especially on Wednesday was a lovely winter warmer whisky.

It wasn't until I was done my notes on Wednesday that I went to read up on the barrels used and to my surprise Madeira casks are used. I'm not usually a fan as I find the influence leads to a really sweet, wine gummies, artificial flavour'ish…   NOT THE CASE with Nectar Grove.

If you are looking for something new and interesting to try I would certainly recommend either of these whiskies. Thanks again to Jacqueline for sending me home back to Canada with some very unique and special whiskies.

Next week I'm on vacation in Antigua (don't hate me) so I will be writing a blog about sand, rum and beaches. 

Cheers from cold and snowy Canada,

I remain:


Tuesday, January 14, 2020

To be or not to be... terroir is definitely the question!

I will start by saying this: My educational background is a scientific one and marketing bullshit never sat well with me. I've debated with people in the past about things like the following: "You'll find a briny flavour in our whisky because the barrels age in the warehouse next to the sea". In that case my argument is that many whiskies should taste like cow dung and dirt since their warehouses sit near farmlands?? I hope you get my point.
We hear all sorts of statistics and statements from whisky people like: The wood is where most of the flavour comes from. I've seen percentages such as 60, 75 and even 80%. "Where" are they getting that statistical information? Mmmmmmm….. I have good reason to believe that it is pretty much based on one person's quote back in 1998 and everyone else sort of ran with it because I have yet to find "scientific" evidence to actually show that this was measured?

Hold on tight Alice because I'm about to bring you down the rabbit hole, Ready!?? 

Let's fast forward to my visit to Waterford Distillery in Ireland - October 2019. I arrived at 10:00am and spent the next six hours experiencing something I called (and tweeted) as: MIND FUCKERY. I'm going to out the elephant in the room and likely ruffle feathers, raise hair, you name it but until you have gone there and done the Waterford Experience for yourself I truly don't care what anyone says/thinks about my blog or their opinion on what Mark Reynier and his team are doing at this distillery.

TERROIR... there, I SAID IT!

Now everything I knew about distillation and what happens during that process is from my own university texts books. Basically and I'm really simplifying it: Distillation "strips" most of the flavours from any grain (and I did say most) because malted barley taste different than rye, corn, sugar cane juice and/or fruit distillate (pear, apple, grapes). So obviously the origin of the material used has to remain otherwise alcohol would simply taste like... well rubbing alcohol? The argument was/is ALL barley yields the same type of spirit. I'm going to take a moment to paraphrase the response from an industry person in a Facebook thread (To which the originator - a whisky author, was making fun of the possibility of the existence of terroir, tsk tsk… closed minded in my opinion). The industry person added something like: "At our distillery, we buy various varietal malted barley from different geographical locations from a number of suppliers and yet we maintain a consistent new make from crop to crop". In other words - terroir does not and cannot exists.

How about we consider the following:

Mark Reynier and his team at Waterford have embarked on a journey. It's called the whisky terroir project. It's in conjunction with many partners including Dr. Dustin Herb, PhD Plant breeding and genetics out of Oregon State University. How about you click on a few links and actually read, watch, with interests what they are actually doing at this distillery before you so happily discount any/all of it.

So is Johanne McInnis, aka Whiskylassie a believer in the possibility of "Terroir" in whisky. My answer is yes. Hold on now, don't go all out crazy on me just yet. I do, honestly believe after seeing, watching, nosing, tasting when I was there in person that it is possible.  Am I the only one? You might be really gobsmacked to know others also feel there is something very interesting and quite unique going on at the Waterford Distillery in Ireland. Serge Valentin, someone I have never had the pleasure to meet but who is known worldwide as one of the most honest Malt Maniacs recently reviewed two of their products:

So back to Mr. Reynier. His background is wine and everyone knows there is definitely terroir there. Terroir (btw) is climate, soil type and geomorphology (natural landscape). Wine is not distilled, it's fermented - hence terroir is accepted and proven. This term is not just used in the wine industry. It's being studied in coffee, tobacco, chocolate, hops, maple syrup and cannabis just to name a few. So why are so many whisky people up in arms about this? Why is this so preposterous and unimaginable that it might just be studied and discovered in barley?

Might I remind people that most are inclined, as humans, to simply be sheep and follow whatever gospel (no religion overtones when I use this word) we hear. More now than ever because you know, if it was on Facebook - it must be true!? At one point it was believed that planet earth was flat. Pythagoras stated in 500BC that it was round. For almost two hundred years people refused to fully believe that statement and it wasn't until Aristotle (300BC) gave scientific evidence that it was indeed round, that people slowly began to shift their way of thinking (mind you there are people in this world who still think it is???)For those of us old enough to remember, in 1982, a couple of virologists from Australia stated they had proven that a bacteria caused most stomach ulcers and that antibiotics would cure the issue. Again - cries from the scientific community that these two were absolutely nuts!? Yet... they were right and might I add won the Nobel prize for medicine in 2005 for it.
So here is a thought... why don't we all give Waterford Distillery the benefit of the doubt and actually let them do their thing. Is "terroir" the right word to describe what they are trying to accomplish and prove, maybe not... but who are we to judge? I mean seriously...  and what if there is scientific proof at the end of the project that clearly demonstrates there are differences in where/how barley is grown in climate/soil/landscapes - wouldn't that mean that there is even more reason to celebrate the fact that innovative experiments might be possible (because lord only knows a new beer cask or quadruple casking is NOT INNOVATIVE)!!!!

I firmly believe something amazing is about to hit the market when it comes to Waterford, so much so that we invited them to come to Cornwall Ontario Canada - Wonderful World of Whisky Show and let me tell you, everyone who is going to be at that show is not only happy but excited to be some of the first to attend the "Waterford Distillery Experience Road Show".

Whether you believe or not in Terroir is none of my business however, don't go off half cocked or full out bat shit crazy mode...  just yet.... Trust me on this one, you might be a little more than surprised when the evidence comes to light and there is proof that something exists in the way that barley is grown that we simply don't know about...  just yet...

Madman or genius??? Who knows... all I can tell you is that years ago when the industry tried to bury Mark Reynier, they didn't realize all they did was plant a stronger seed. He is a man on a mission, and ladies in gentlemen of the whisky world - let's hope it takes way less than previously mentioned examples for the rest of the us to open our eyes to the possibilities that lie ahead. To Mark, Ned and Ian - Keep up the hard work!

Until next week, I remain...